Debate on the Address.

Part of Orders of the Day — King's Speech. – in the House of Commons on 6th December 1939.

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Photo of Sir Arthur Harbord Sir Arthur Harbord , Great Yarmouth

I should like to draw the attention of the House to the serious effect of the war upon towns on the East Coast, and, in particular, the borough of Great Yarmouth which I have the honour to represent. In considering this question it is necessary to point out that Great Yarmouth is almost entirely dependent for its livelihood upon summer visitors and the herring fishery. There are very few industrial undertakings in the town. The House will be aware of the regrettable decline in recent years of the herring fishery. This has had a very serious effect in the borough, as it has entirely deprived hundreds of seafaring families and shore workers of their only income and the town has become almost entirely dependent upon its summer trade. The loss of the income from the fishing industry has created an increasing financial burden in relief of distress and an abnormal amount of unemployment during the winter months. The effect upon the town has shown itself in increasing rates. These have now reached a limit beyond which it will be impossible for the majority of the ratepayers to meet their obligations in that respect.

When war came upon us in September the visiting season was at its height and the immediate effect was an exodus of visitors. Many people who had sent on their luggage in advance and had booked rooms, had to cancel their bookings. Practically all visitors had gone in a few days with the result that the proprietors of hotels, shops and boarding houses were faced with a financial crisis. I understand this situation because I was mayor of the borough for two years during the last war. Our experience during that war was that we had 2,000 shops and dwelling-houses closed, and that we lost 10,000 people by migration. The town then went through a period of distress comparable to that experienced in the distressed areas whose condition has so often engaged the serious and sympathetic attention of the House. It is because I know that this House is never deaf to appeals on behalf of distress where the reality of that distress is proved, that I am now asking the Government to turn a sympathetic ear to this plea on behalf of Great Yarmouth and to give some financial consideration to this town as well as to other towns which are similarly affected. I ask that what has been done with such marked success in the distressed areas should be done in this case also, and that we should be favoured by having a commissioner who could come down there and by careful inquiry ascertain whether the case which I am now advancing is not justified by the facts, and whether in his opinion it is not up to the country to do something to meet this situation.

Further, I suggest that something should be done in towns like Great Yarmouth on the lines of what has been done in the distressed areas by the establishment of works or factories in order to provide employment. It should not be a hard task even now at such a crisis as that through which we are passing, to achieve something of that kind once the Government are satisfied that distress really exists in the marked degree which I am describing. I would also ask the Government to do what was done before and to enable the town to suspend sinking fund contributions during the period of the war and extend the period of the repayment of loans. The council has done its best to meet the difficulty, but even this will not be sufficient, and it is compelled to ask the Government for immediate financial assistance. I am aware that what I have said applies to other towns and I should like to support the appeal which was so eloquently made by my colleague who represents the adjoining constituency of Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus). I would remind the House that Great Yarmouth has supplied a number of those who man our drifters, minesweepers and mine-layers. A tribute has been paid to them this afternoon, and I consider that that constitutes a further claim on the attention of this House.

I would again point out that at 1he end of August and the beginning of September many of our shops were closed, with the result that staffs had to be reduced or discharged. Shopkeepers were left with their goods unsold. They were not able to reap the normal season's profits and were faced with serious difficulties and liabilities. I know the conditions which exist there, and I repeat that, while everything possible has been done locally, it is urgently necessary that something more should be done to alleviate the distress existing in this and other towns on the East and North-East Coasts. I am sure that this appeal will not be received unsympathetically by the Government. In the last war they helped the town to tide over a long and difficult period. We had help from the Canadian Fund, the Prince of Wales Fund and grants from the Treasury in aid of local rates. I hope that on this occasion no less financial assistance will be afforded to Great Yarmouth and other towns similarly situated to help them to tide over these years of war and enable them to maintain an existence which otherwise will be seriously threatened.