Local boats landing their catch on the shingle beach adjacent to Portnaguran Pier during construction.
Photo courtesy of Murdo F Campbell
This is the story of how the pier at Portnaguran came to be built. It is not the story of the fishing out of Portnaguran. That I will leave to those with longer memories than mine. I was eight years old when work started on the pier and it was naturally a big event in my life at that time. It offered an opportunity for my friends and I to engage in forms of mischief that had hitherto been unavailable to us. I can imagine the frustration of the workforce morning after morning on finding that the tipper railway wagon had again mysteriously run down the track in the night and was either completely submerged or if the tide was out, full of water. The tea hut padlock was easily picked and the comparative warmth of the hut provided a welcome shelter from the elements on winter evenings.
We youngsters were completely oblivious to the events that had preceded the commencement of the project and we simply availed ourselves of the opportunities it provided for adventure and enjoyment in our usual carefree way. I sometimes wonder if we children of the World War II baby boom were the last totally free generation. Free that is, from radio and television and all the other intrusions that have since become the norm. Nobody seemed to worry about us, where we were or what we were doing; we went home when we were hungry and went reluctantly to bed when all our energy was gone. I for one, greatly resented the fact that I had to go to school. To me, it was an unwelcome and unnecessary intrusion into my freedom for exploration and adventure. I’m not sure that I have ever changed my mind about that.
The story that I have pieced together is of necessity lopsided. There are few accounts other than parliamentary records that have been digitised and in the public domain that I can draw on. Nevertheless I think it is worth doing; even if it proves to be to no one’s satisfaction but my own.
It appears that the provision of a harbour at Portnaguran was seen locally as desirable at least as far back as the middle of the nineteenth century. In fact the Angus Macleod Archive records that Portnaguran was first surveyed for a pier in 1828. A written record of the township’s aspiration is dated 11 June 1883, when Angus Macleod (no connection with the Archive), crofter and fish merchant of ‘Portnaguirin’ gave evidence before the Napier Commission in Stornoway. This may well have been Aonghas Uilleam, father of John Macleod, proprietor of the fabled Shonnie’s Shop at the corner of the Broker/Portnaguran road during my childhood and even during that of my parents and whose family still own the premises. The transcript of his evidence before the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Condition of Crofters and Cottars in the Highlands and Islands chaired by Francis Lord Napier is copied from:-
Stornoway, Lewis, 11 June 1883 – Angus Macleod
ANGUS MACLEOD, Crofter and Fish Merchant, Portnaguirin—examined,
You have given in a statement to the Commission?
“I have been appointed to appear before the Royal Commission by the crofters and fishermen of this district to state their grievances. First, crofters are overcrowded. In many instances three families are in the same croft. The land is poor, and they have too little of it. Second, they suffer heavily for want of harbours to prosecute the fishing. Portnaguirin is one of the oldest and best fishing ports, and there is from 100 to 150 fishermen depending upon it for the most part of the year, and is still neglected and left in its natural state, consequently the fishermen have to load and unload from a ton or two tons of ballast, and then haul their boats from 50 to 100 yards every time they go to sea; and owing to the roughness of the shore and want of protection, the boats that ought to last them ten years, will only last them for three. There is no doubt if there was a harbour they would have larger and better boats, and could land twice the quantity of fish. Third, we suffer from want of telegraphic communication to the fishing ports, so that we cannot have ready communication with the southern markets, which now would be of great advantage to the fishermen. – ANGUS MACLEOD, delegate.”
This is written by Mr Walter Rose, Secretary of the Lewis Highland Land Law Reform Association?
What you most complain of is a want of fishing accommodation, a pier or shelter for your boats?
Yes; even a pier would be better than nothing, but a harbour is much required.
Would it be easy to make a harbour?
Not very easy.
Portnaguirin is in Broad Bay?
Is it the best situation for forming a harbour?
That or Gress. Portnaguirin is a much more important fishing place.
How many boats fish there?
Perhaps twenty to twenty-five, for cod, ling, and lobsters, during the year; and if there was a harbour there would be many more.
That concludes Angus Macleod’s evidence to the Commission.
The next reference I found to Portnaguran Pier is dated 1889 and comes from a New Zealand publication entitled New Zealand Tablet. The Tablet was a periodical that was published weekly in Dunedin from 1873 to 1996. The following text appears under the banner Scotch Notes.
New Zealand Tablet, Rōrahi XVII, Putanga 28, 1 Whiringa-ā-rangi 1889, Page 2
If we may judge from the manner in which a crofter named Donald McKenzie expressed himself the other day at Aignish, in Ross Shire, a man, although a rioter, may still be a true man. McKenzie was one of those who took part in the riots that occurred some two or three years ago, and in consequence, served a fifteen months sentence in Calton prison. At a discussion held the other day at Portnaguran, with Mr J Douglas Fletcher, of Rosehaugh, and Mr Baumann, M.P., who had come there for the purpose of enquiring into the wants of the crofters. He welcomed the visitors, and thanked God that some gentlemen were still left who had a kindly feeling for the poor. His hair was grey, he explained, but he was not so old as he looked, his suffering in gaol accounting for his appearance. Notwithstanding this he added, he would undergo the same term again, if the Government would, on that account, build a harbour at Portnaguran. Where men like McKenzie are found among the rioters, it is evident that riots do not occur without cause.
On August 5th 1891, a new act of parliament, the Western Highlands and Islands (Scotland) Works Act, 1891 received royal assent. This legislation followed on the heels of yet another royal commission, this time chaired by Spencer Walpole. One of the recommendations of the commission was for the construction of a harbour of refuge at Portnaguran.
The issue was first raised in the House of Commons by Dr Roderick Macdonald, MP for Ross and Cromarty on 25th April 1892 and continued to be debated periodically until work finally started on Portnaguran Pier in 1952.
THE MAIN PROTAGONISTS
Mr Arthur James Balfour 1st Earl of Balfour (Conservative)
Member of Parliament for the East Manchester Constituency from 1885 to 1919.
He was appointed Secretary for Scotland by his uncle the Marquess of Salisbury and later became Prime Minister.
Dr Roderick Macdonald (Crofters Party)
Member of Parliament for Ross and Cromarty from 24 November 1885 to 28 June 1892.
It is interesting to note that around 1887, while he was still MP for Ross and Cromarty, Dr Macdonald was elected as coroner for the north-east part of East Middlesex. He presided over the inquest into the death of Mary Jane Kelly, one of the victims in the Whitechapel murders, at Shoreditch Town Hall on 12 November 1888.
Mr James Galloway Weir (Liberal)
Member of Parliament for Ross and Cromarty from July 4, 1892 – until his death on April 18, 1911
As I have stated elsewhere
James Weir is my hero; in this no less than in the matter of health and sanitation in the Lews. He was the MP for the whole of Ross and Cromarty, yet he was indefatigable in his efforts to improve the lot of the people of Lewis. Unfortunately, his determination was more than matched by the establishment’s indifference to the plight of the Gael and their outright hostility to his language and culture (even when I went to school in 1949, speaking Gaelic in the playground was discouraged).
Sir George Otto Trevelyan 2nd Baronet (Liberal)
Member of Parliament for Glasgow Bridgeton; Also represented Hawick District of Burghs; Tynemouth and North Shields. Entered parliament on 11 July 1865 and left on 30 January 1897. Secretary for Scotland from 8 February 1886 to March, 1886 and from 18 August 1892 to 21 June 1895.
Mr Andrew Graham Murray 1st Viscount Dunedin (Conservative)
Member of Parliament for Bute and Caithness from 1891 to 1905.
Secretary for Scotland from 9 October 1903 to 2 February 1905.
Mr Thomas McKinnon Wood (British Liberal)
Member of Parliament for Glasgow St Rollox from 1906 to 1918.
Secretary for Scotland from 13 February 1912 to 9 July 1916.
Sir James Ian Macpherson 1st Baron Strathcarron (Liberal)
Member of Parliament for Ross and Cromarty from June 14, 1911 – January 14, 1936
Mr Malcolm Kenneth Macmillan (Labour)
Member of Parliament for the Western Isles from November 14, 1935 – June 18, 1970
Mr Joseph Westwood (Scottish Labour)
Member of Parliament for Stirling and Falkirk from 1935 until his death in 1948.
Secretary of State for Scotland from July 1945 until October 1947.
Mr Walter Elliot Elliot (Scottish Unionist)
Member of Parliament for Glasgow Kelvingrove from 1924 to 1945.
Secretary of State for Scotland from 29 October 1936 to 16 May 1938.
Mr John Colville 1st Baron Clydesmuir (Scottish Unionist)
Member of Parliament for Midlothian and Peebles Northern from 1929 to 1943.
Secretary of State for Scotland from 1938 until 1940.
Mr. Thomas Johnston (Labour)
Member of Parliament for Stirling and Clackmannan West from 1935 to 1945.
Secretary of State for Scotland from 12 February 1941 to May 1945.
Mr Tom Fraser (Labour)
Member of Parliament for the Hamilton constituency from 1943 to 1967.
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland from 4 August 1945 to 26 October 1951.
Mr Arthur Woodburn (Labour)
Member of Parliament for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire from 1939 to 1970.
Secretary of State for Scotland from 1947 to 1950.
Mr James Gray Stuart 1st Viscount Stuart of Findhorn (Scottish Unionist)
Member of Parliament for Moray and Nairn from 1923 to 1959.
Secretary of State for Scotland from October 1951 to January 1957.
Mr Hector McNeil (Labour)
Member of Parliament for Greenock from 1941 until his death in 1955.
Secretary of State for Scotland from February 1950 until October 1951.
Sir William McNair Snadden, 1st Baronet (Scottish Tory)
Member of Parliament for Kinross and West Perthshire from 1938 to 1955.
Joint Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland from 1951 to 1955.
Parliamentary References (debate titles) in Ascending Date Order
Note that HC Deb means House of Commons Debate
HARBOUR OF REFUGE AT PORTNAGURAN.
HC Deb 25 April 1892 vol 3 cc1300-1 1300
DR. RODERICK MACDONALD: I beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury if the Government is now prepared to act on the recommendations of the Western Highlands and Islands Commission of 1890, to grant a sum of £30,000, or other sum of money required, for the construction of a harbour of refuge at Portnaguran, in the Island of Lewis, so as to enable the fishermen to prosecute their avocation with some degree of safety and success; and if there is any intention of giving a grant, as similarly recommended, for erecting a lighthouse on Tiumpan Head adjacent to Portnaguran?
MR. ARTHUR BALFOUR: I shall be obliged if the hon. Member will put off this question until to-morrow or Thursday, and I will obtain full information from the Scotch Office on the subject.
PORTNAGURAN HARBOUR OF REFUGE.
DR. RODERICK MACDONALD: I beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury if the Government are now prepared to act on the recommendations of the Western Highlands and Islands Commission of 1890, to grant a sum of £30,000, or other sum of money required, for the construction of a harbour of refuge at Portnaguran, in the Island of Lewis, so as to enable the fishermen to prosecute their avocation with some degree of safety and success, and if there is any intention of giving a grant, as similarly recommended, for erecting a lighthouse on Tiumpan Head, adjacent to Portnaguran?
MR. ARTHUR BALFOUR: A sum of £17,000 was voted last year, as the hon. Member must be aware, for the construction of harbours at Ness and Carloway, and there are at present about sixteen applications from the Island of Lewis for piers and boatslips under the consideration of the Secretary for Scotland, which, if granted, would involve a further large expenditure of public money in Lewis. The Government are, therefore, not prepared at present to grant a sum of £30,000 for the construction of a harbour at Portnaguran. Last year £4,500 was voted for the erection of lights, out of which sum £475 was expended on a light at Carloway. There is only a sum of £1,000 taken this year for lights, the main portion of which will be required for lights in Shetland; but the claims of Tiumpan Head will be considered next year along with the claims of other places.
MR. JAMES WEIR: I beg to ask the Secretary for Scotland whether, in view of the fact that Portnaguran, in the Point District of the Island of Lewis, was specially recommended by a recent Commission as standing greatly in need of a boat slip, pier or harbour, and that up to the present time nothing has been done, steps will be taken to give effect to the recommendations of the Commission without delay?
MR GEORGE TREVELYAN: It is true that the Western Highlands and Islands Commission recommended the construction of a harbour at Portnaguran, to cost £30,000. But no grant of such a large amount has been made by the Treasury, nor, considering the large sums being spent elsewhere in the Lewis, am I prepared to recommend this one.
HARBOURS IN THE ISLAND OF LEWIS.
MR. JAMES WEIR: I beg to ask the Secretary for Scotland whether, in view of the fact that Portnaguran, in the Point district of the Island of Lewis, was specially recommended by the Highlands and Islands Commission as standing greatly in need of a boat-slip, pier, or harbour, and that up to the present time nothing has been done, steps will be taken to give effect to the recommendation of the Commission?
SIR G. TREVELYAN: Portnaguran is one of the three places recommended by the Commission for larger harbours in Lewis, but they remark that there is considerable difference of opinion as to the site. Of the other two, one at Carloway has been finished. The other at Port Ness is under construction. It has not yet been found possible to commence a harbour at Portnaguran, the cost of which is estimated at £30,000. In addition to these, three minor harbours are being constructed from Government funds this season in Lewis. One of them at Portnambothag is only five miles from Portnaguran across the Bay.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £17,500, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1898, for expenditure in. connection with certain public works, and for improved communications, and other purposes, within the Highlands and islands of Scotland.
MR. JAMES WEIR: was glad to hear that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would endeavour to give effect to the promises he had made in connection with postal reforms. He wished to draw attention for a moment to the statement of the Lord Advocate, that £170,000 had been expended on works in the Highlands and Islands. He did not know whether he was aware that the Napier Report strongly recommended that a harbour should be made at Portnaguran, Lewis, at a cost of £30,000. Nothing had been done. A sum had been voted annually for piers, harbours, and minor works, but there was a want of energy, of effort, or of tact on the part of those who had the expenditure of the money. The money ought to have been spent. The Highlands were too poor to allow £10,000 to go back into the Treasury each year. They could not afford to have any money diverted from the congested districts of the Highlands of Scotland. They would have the question of “black” houses to deal with as soon as the Public Health Act became law, and every penny of the £20,000 would be wanted to build suitable houses for the people.
PIERS AND HARBOURS.
Resolution proposed – That, in the opinion of this House, in the interests of trade and communication by sea between places on the coasts, and with a view to the protection and development of sea fisheries and the safety of the persons engaged in them, it is desirable that the Government should take immediate steps to extend the existing provision of Piers and Harbours by cheapening and facilitating the acquisition of powers to construct or improve Piers and Harbours in the United Kingdom, and to aid where necessary such works by grants of public money.”—(Sir Edwin Durning Lawrence.)
MR. JAMES WEIR: I was glad to hear the promise made by the right honourable Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, that in poorer districts he will consider the desirability of making grants for harbours. In many instances it is quite impossible for the people to make the harbours so much needed themselves. I am sure that many honourable Members will be glad to have, in addition to the assurance of the President of the Board of Trade, the assurance of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that he will agree to the grants being made. When the Light Railways Bill was before the House I called special attention to the case of the poorer districts in the Highlands and Islands, but no more consideration has been given to these poorer districts of the Highlands than to the rich districts of England and the Lowlands of Scotland. We have the Congested Districts Board, which has power to make small doles for boat slips and piers, but we want harbours of refuge. Surely this is a matter which should engage the attention of the Government. There is frequently terrible loss of life for want of these harbours of refuge. In my own constituency, a short time since, 19 lives were lost owing to the want of a harbour at Portnaguran, Island of Lewis. The Walpole Commission on Harbours of Refuge stated that Portnaguran was a suitable place for a harbour of refuge, and strongly recommended the construction of such a harbour there. But nothing has been done. It is very hard that the Island of Lewis should remain in the same condition as to harbours as it was forty or fifty years ago. There is not a harbour in the Island of Lewis suitable for large fishing boats, except Stornoway. Now, with a harbour at Portnaguran fish could be speedily sent to market, and the enormous risks run by our fishermen on a wild and stormy coast would be diminished. There is the harbour at Port Ness, also in the Island of Lewis, which is in a worse condition than it was twenty years ago. On the east side of the county there is the harbour of Portmahomack, a harbour which, year after year, is silting up, and the result is that Portmahomack, instead of being the prosperous place it should be, is declining. I do not know whether the Solicitor-General knows the place, but I sincerely hope he will put in a word for harbours on the north coast of Scotland. I would beg the Chancellor of the Exchequer to take this matter up, for, after all, it is money that is wanted. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer buttons up his pockets and says, “I won’t give the money,” the President of the Board of Trade cannot do what his generous heart would prompt him to do. Millions of money are squandered in foreign parts, while these important matters at home are left unheeded. The right honourable Gentleman has spoken of the importance of looking after the welfare of our seamen, but why have we foreign seamen manning our ships? We ought to take greater care of our fishing population. Look at the great and growing expenditure on our Navy. I do not grudge that expenditure, but what about men to man the Navy? Many of our young men in the Highlands have to go to other lands in order to earn a living, or worse still to large cities to swell the overcrowded population – all this in consequence of the need of suitable harbour accommodation around our coasts and the destruction of the fishing banks by trawlers. But I will not touch on trawling. These matters do not receive the attention of the Government which they deserve, and I shall be very glad, before the Debate is ended, to hear some statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in which he will show willingness to help this work, not only in the North of Scotland but all round our coasts. Take the coast of Norfolk, for instance. It is in a very bad way. Many parts of the English coast are in a similar condition. I say that harbours of refuge ought to be provided by the State, and the burden not laid on the shoulders of the local authority.
SIR SAMUEL SCOTT (Marylebone): Is the honourable Member for Ross-shire aware that there are two good harbours of refuge in the Hebrides, near the places he has mentioned, namely, Loch Seaforth, a large sea loch, a part of which divides Lewis from Harris, the rest being in Lewis, about 30 or 35 miles south of Stornoway; and East Loch Tarbert, in Harris, 40 miles from Stornoway? And is the honourable Member also not aware that harbour works are being carried out at the Island of Scalpay, 30 miles from Stornoway, at West Loch Tarbert?
MR. JAMES WEIR: That is the constituency of the honourable Member for Inverness-shire, whom I look around for in vain. But I hold here in my hand a list of the piers partially constructed under the Highlands and Islands Board, which has now ceased to exist, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer withdrew the funds for these small works.
MR. JAMES WEIR: I beg to ask the Lord Advocate, having regard to the fact that a harbour is urgently needed at Portnaguran, Broad Bay, Island of Lewis, and that the estimated cost, about £30,000, is greatly in excess of any sum which the Congested Districts Board can give, will the Secretary for Scotland consider the expediency of making application to the Treasury for a special grant for the construction of this harbour in order that effect may be given to the recommendation of the Walpole Commission of 1891.
MR. ANDREW MURRAY: Considering the requirements of Broad Bay in proportion to those of other parts of the Kingdom, and considering also the liberal grants which have recently been made for works in Lewis, the Secretary for Scotland does not feel at present that he can recommend the Treasury to embark on any such costly work as Portnaguran Harbour. The Treasury have refused to consider grants unless two-thirds of the estimate is provided locally.
Motion made, and Question proposed, “That a sum, not exceeding £8,858, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1900, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of Her Majesty’s Secretary for Scotland and Subordinate Offices.”
MR JAMES WEIR: Another harbour I wish to refer to is Portnaguran, Island of Lewis. That was recommended by the predecessors of the present Government. A Commission appointed in 1890 went down to the place and recommended it as a suitable spot for a harbour of refuge. Such a harbour, which is very sadly needed, would cost something like £30,000. We know that this is a sum largely in excess of any amount which the Congested Districts Board can give. It is because the Congested Districts Board is unable to construct such a harbour that I asked the Secretary for Scotland to approach the Treasury. We are told that a pier was put up on the other side of Broad Bay, Island of Lewis, but that is not the slightest use. It is intolerable that we should be shunted about from pillar to post in this way, and because of the indifference of the Secretary for Scotland I beg to move to reduce his salary by the sum of £50.
Motion made, and Question proposed, “That Item A (Salaries) be reduced by £50, in respect of the salary of the Secretary for Scotland.” – (Mr. Weir.)
Motion made, and Question proposed, “That a sum, not exceeding £127,465 be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1903, for the salaries day expenses of the Office of the Committee of Privy Council for Trade and Subordinate Departments, including a Grant in Aid.”
MR. JAMES WEIR: said that a Committee was appointed to consider the question of harbours of refuge in the north-west of Scotland, and the people had been led to believe that works of this kind would be constructed, but nothing had been done, although many applications had been made to the Board of Trade for assistance. He was glad to hear that if renewed applications were made by the local authorities they would be considered by the Department. The Walpole Commission of 1891 reported in favour of the construction of a harbour of refuge at Portnaguran, in the Island of Lewis, but no assistance had been obtainable. What was the good of Royal or other Commissions if the Government did not act upon their Reports? He would urge the right hon. Gentleman to take some action. One stormy night in February, 1899, one half of the fishing fleet in Avoch harbour, Ross shire, was destroyed owing to the harbour being out of repair. The poor fishermen had no funds for the building or maintenance of harbours. In many of the fishing villages the population was diminishing because of the want of harbours, and if that was allowed to go on, where would the Admiralty get their Naval Reserves in the future? In the Ness district Butt of Lewis there were more widows and orphans in proportion to the population than in any other part of the United Kingdom, and this was mainly attributable to the want of suitable harbour accommodation.
It being Midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
FISHERMEN’S BOATS (PORTNAGURAN, STORNOWAY).
SIR JAMES MACPHERSON: asked the right hon. Gentleman whether during the gale of Thursday, 20th March, three open boats belonging to fishermen at Portnaguran, Stornoway, were destroyed; and if he can see his way to grant assistance from any fund at his disposal to enable these fishermen to replace their boats?
Mr. THOMAS McKINNON WOOD: I have not received any information on the subject except that conveyed by my hon. Friend’s question. I regret that there are no funds at my disposal which are available for the purpose suggested by my hon. Friend.
SIR JAMES MACPHERSON: In view of the dangerous nature of the coast, will my right hon. Friend consider an application for a Grant for a harbour there?
There then followed a gap of twenty four years during which there is no parliamentary record of any mention of Portnaguran or the proposed pier. The first four Elected Members for the Western Isles Constituency never once uttered the words “Portnaguran Pier” on the floor of the House of Commons. They were Dr Donald Murray (Liberal), Sir William Dingwall Mitchell Cotts (National Liberal), Mr Alexander Mackenzie Livingstone (Scottish Liberal) and Mr Thomas Bridgehill Wilson Ramsay (National Liberal). What on earth were they doing there?
It is clear however that it was still an issue locally. See the following extract from:-
Tolsta District News as reported in the Stornoway Gazette
Well, well; there’s hustle for you! It was only in 1890 that the Walpole Commission reported that a pier at Portnaguran was necessary and desirable and a few days ago officials from the Board of Agriculture were on the spot to find out what it would cost to build a pier. But, with the feverish preparation for War, we would advise Portnaguran Fishermen not to smother Messrs. Charles Morrison & Son with orders for fishing gear, etc., rather wait and see. We wonder and ask when the Tolsta “case” which is far more pressing, is to be under consideration.
HARBOURS, PIERS AND FERRIES (SCOTLAND) BILL.
Order for Second Reading read.
MR. MALCOLM K. MACMILLAN: It is remarkable that the most amusing incident tonight seems to have been the reference to getting something done in 12 months. I really think that a saving Clause might have been put into the Bill, which does not give full satisfaction to any hon. Member who has spoken so far, saying that something should be done within 12 months’ time. We have waited for 12 years, indeed for 12 generations in some cases, for something to be done for the improvement and construction of piers and harbours in certain parts of Scotland. I am going to confine myself to the Highlands and Islands, the parts most affected by the Bill. This is an area covering about one-fifth of Great Britain, but it maintains only a very small proportion of its population. It should and could maintain a much larger population, if it was properly developed. It is the direct responsibility of the State, not of the local councils or the people themselves, to develop this area of Great Britain, and the State cannot shirk that responsibility for ever or pass it on to the many local authorities with their different policies and different compositions and ideas.
AN HON. MEMBER: And no money.
MR. MALCOLM K MACMILLAN: That is right. In the Memorandum to the Bill we are told that we cannot expect any money. Indeed, we are promised no money for the construction of any harbour or pier. The only suggestion is that there is to be money for the demolition of harbours and piers, not for the construction of piers and jetties. I am sorry that in the Bill there is no provision for the compulsory acquisition by local authorities of assets belonging to railway companies. It would be a more profitable proposition if local authorities could take over marine works belonging to railway companies. Indeed, they are almost the only properties worth considering by local authorities as worthy of acquisition. With all due respect to the intentions of the right hon. Gentleman and the Scottish Office, and with all due gratitude for the little good that the Bill does, it really is nibbling at a very big problem. It is a very small Bill in contrast with the problem it aims at solving. If it aims at solving this problem it is a somewhat puny attempt. No effort is made to consider it as a whole. Let me quote an opinion about such Measures as this for dealing with this problem in the Highlands and Islands. In the “Oban Times” of the 25th July, 1936, this appears: The recent discussions in the House of Commons on Scottish agricultural affairs, particularly these affecting the Highlands and Islands, were again disappointing. The misfortune is that Parliament has never formulated or followed a concrete policy for the Highlands and Islands. Isolated measures have been squeezed out of the Ministry and each of the concessions to public demand has included some counteracting restriction or excluded the essential accessory. In this case the essential accessory which is excluded is money. That, in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, is the most important aspect of the whole case; and there is no question whatever that it is going to spoil entirely the effect of the Bill in so far as it has any effect at all. The money is not there. Apart from the Orkneys and Shetlands, the most prosperous part of the Islands, which cannot be compared with the rest of the Highlands and Islands, the right hon. Gentleman knows, as I know from first-hand information and as his predecessor was agreed, the money is not there. The county councils cannot do these things unless the financial assistance is forthcoming. I will quote further: At present there is a Committee to investigate the possibilities of economic development in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and the possibility of developing local industries. That Committee ought to have certain powers with regard to piers and harbours, and things of that sort, and this Bill ought to be related to the report of such a committee. Indeed, we ought to have had the report of such a committee before us in discussing this Bill tonight; but even if we had the report of the present committee, its terms of reference are far too narrow. It ought to be a statutory committee having certain powers, but it has none. When it was advertised that this Bill was to be introduced, the right hon. Gentleman raised great hopes. I will quote again from the “People’s Journal,” which expressed the very great expectations that were aroused by the prospect of the introduction of the Bill: One of the greatest sources of grievance in the Western Isles and along the Western seaboard of Scotland may be shortly removed if Government business in the next Parliamentary Session will allow of the passage of the new Bill. This is a Measure to enable local authorities in Scotland to take over piers, harbours and ferries which are privately owned. The expectations were that all those things would be included in the Bill, and that there would be no exceptions such as those where railway companies and private interests are involved. The Government are running away again from the railway companies simply because they have been given a Frankenstein power over those who create that power. For years the question of these piers, harbours and ferries has been a bone of contention up and down the West Coast of Scotland. Now at last an effort is to be made to solve the problem. Briefly, the Bill aims at making it easier for local authorities to acquire privately-owned piers, harbours and ferries in Scotland which the present owners are no longer able to maintain adequate to the needs of the areas they serve. So says the “People’s Journal.” So the article continues in a very cheerful note, as though all the problems would be solved, and a very courageous Measure brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman, aiming at some of that co-ordination which he has preached so much in the past and which he has certainly tried to obtain in agriculture during the past few years.
There are several examples that I intended to quote, but as other hon. Members wish to speak, I shall be brief. There is the case of Craignure, in Mull, where the owners have offered to concede the pier at a reasonable compensation. There are other cases, such as that of Portnaguran, in the Island of Lewis, where they have been waiting since the Walpole Commission’s Report 46 years ago for the construction of the pier which that Commission recommended. Last week a local newspaper wrote: Last week the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries visited this district in order to find out what would be the cost of building it. How many fishermen who met the members of the Walpole Commission in 1890 met the Economic Committee on the Highlands and Islands, who were also reporting during last week? How many sons of those men perished in the War? How many grandsons are telling the same stories to the Committee as their grandfathers told in 1890? The Committee which visited Port Naguran seems to have been favourably impressed by the fishermen’s pleas. The need for a pier still exists. The boats have still to be drawn more than 100 yards along the beaches each time they are launched and each time drawn up again. Every stone for ballast has to be lifted out. There are good fishing days when the boats cannot be launched because of breakers on the beach, and in stormy weather they require constant attention or they may be smashed to pieces. Still the fishermen at Port Naguran are waiting as they waited in 1890. Some have waited longer. There are many examples I could quote. I could give a dozen grievances from the 1935 election address of the hon. Gentleman who used to represent the Western Islands in this House, Mr. Ramsay. Dozens of different schemes have been delayed for years and have been supposed to be under consideration. There have been reports of various committees which have made favourable recommendations, but these schemes have still not been undertaken either by the local authorities or by the State. I do not intend to oppose this Bill because it does give certain powers to the local authorities which we welcome. As the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) said, the piers, harbours, jetties and boat-slips in the smaller villages are not to be overlooked. They are the beginning and end of the roads; they are the gateways of the Islands and they are the gateways of the ports. All that comes into the ports passes through them to the hinterland, and all that goes out from the ports goes through the harbours. They are as important as the middle of the roads or any other part of the roads. They are the beginning and the end of the road, and in the Islands the most important part of the road.
The case for rural distressed areas has never been stressed in this House, and I will not at this moment discuss those distressed areas at length, although they have a very definite and immediate bearing upon this subject. While we may be able to get along for a while somehow with the industrial distressed areas, there is one thing we cannot get along with in this country, and that is the rural distressed areas when we can no longer feed the industrial areas with the produce of the countryside. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland has been responsible for very much reorganisation in agriculture, and he will agree that these areas of the Highlands, one-fifth of Britain’s area, really must be given the opportunity of development which they have so long been denied.
There is an expensive steamer service run by the MacBrayne Company across the Minch and to the various Islands, the inner Islands and the Western Islands. It is subsidised to the extent of over £50,000 a year, a substantial sum, and for it we expect a good steamer service. We expect cheap rates for freights and passengers, but we do not get them. We have various grievances because of the irregularity in certain parts especially in the Southern Islands, although to the Isle of Lewis and the Northern Islands the service is very good and the seamanship excellent all over. In some cases there are good boats, but in other cases there are not. There are great difficulties in stormy weather, particularly in some parts with the very bad harbours and dilapidated piers. The problem of a proper transport service by sea between the Western Islands and the mainland is most urgent. In order to justify the very substantial subsidy given to the MacBrayne service and allow that service to give its best, there must be proper landing places, proper harbours and proper piers at which the boats can land their cargoes and load freights and embark passengers. People must not be asked to get out of the steamer at sea and go down a rope ladder into a rocking little boat, and travel two or three miles across very dangerous seas in some cases. They should be able to land properly, as people in any other part of the country are.
However, we have in this Bill, in the provisions for consultation between the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Minister of Transport, and the Board of Trade, the seeds of a policy of co-ordination between the Departments which will assist in dealing with this problem as a whole. I would like to see the right hon. Gentleman pressing for a Measure taking State control of these piers, harbours and ferries. I would like to see a really bold Measure, to place all these things under the State and run them as part of the national transport service. After all, these are public services and ought to be publicly owned, with a Minister directly responsible for them and a Department directly in control of them. The people are all for public control of these services. If you ask the fishermen whether they prefer to deal with a county council or with a private body they will tell you that they would rather deal with public property than with the property of private individuals.
There was a recent case in the Island of Lewis where a private individual for some reason or other claimed the right of proprietorship of a little jetty and sought to exclude the fishermen from landing from, and using their little fishing boats there. The case was heard and, of course, the decision was given that he had no right whatever to exclude them. Lossiemouth is another example. There you had the Lossiemouth and Elgin fishermen going to the local authority and asking them to take the pier over from the company and run it under public control. At Lossiemouth they delayed till the water rose “up and up” till now it has swamped the whole thing and landed the company, as it may land the county council in future years, in very heavy expense under the Bill. That is only one example, and all over the country you find that fishermen would prefer these services to be publicly owned and controlled.
There is another point in connection with the MacBrayne services. On 18th May, 1928, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) in a discussion on the MacBrayne contract said: This great steamship company owns many of the piers. That makes competition difficult or impossible and compels, sooner or later, a Government to take over piers and ships.”]
MR. FREDERICK ALEXANDER MACQUISTEN (Scottish Conservative & Unionist): The company does not own the piers.
MR. MALCOLM K MACMILLAN: It does not own so many now.
MR. FREDERICK ALEXANDER MACQUISTEN: It only owned one or two at any time.
MR. MALCOLM K MACMILLAN: The company has taken over the pier at Tarbert. I understand it is improving that pier. Nevertheless we object to a subsidised company which more or less fixes its own rates, subject to some Government control which has not been exercised, owning these piers. Notwithstanding the power of controlling these freights they are still exorbitant.
MR. MALCOLM K MACMILLAN: I know, but they were exorbitant at the time and they are still far too high. Nevertheless we are prepared to accept and to be grateful for the half loaf which is better than no bread. But the bread of hope, of patience, of long-suffering, which was cast upon the waters so many years ago by the people affected has come back after many delays and proved a poor investment. I think this Measure is too half-hearted. I should like to see a national Measure on a national scale taking the whole problem into the direct responsibility of a Minister instead of leaving it under the multiple control of all these county councils with conflicting interests and leaving so many exceptions as in the case of the railway companies.
Another point which ought to be stressed is the necessity for the limitation and in some cases the reduction of the pier and harbour dues. One example has been given bearing upon this point but that had reference to the case of a ferry. But there is the instance of Stornoway Harbour which is one of the most progressive. It must be said that the Stornoway harbour trust has exercised its borrowing powers to the limit and is doing very good work. But if you go to Stornoway with a car you have to cross the Minch and you have to pay about £2 or £3 for having the car taken across. It is landed on the pier at Stornoway for about two minutes but you have to pay 15s. for landing the car at the pier and on the return journey the same charges are made. Thus it costs about £6 10s. to take a car to and fro across the Minch to land it there and to pay the harbour dues. You pay about half the annual licence duty on the car.
MR. MALCOLM K MACMILLAN: I hope the Minister will exercise whatever power he possesses or will take power to have these harbour dues and similar charges substantially reduced. There is also the injustice of asking local authorities to bear the cost of the maintenance of these works in cases in which the Minister has taken compulsory powers for the maintenance of piers and harbours. A very small grant for some minor operation in connection with the pier or harbour may be given by the Government and thereafter the Minister claims that because he has invested some small amount in the work, the local authority should pay out, possibly thousands of pounds, on further repairs and maintenance. That is quite unfair. The cost of maintenance should not be borne by the local authority There are piers owned by local authorities at present which are not always in the best condition for the simple reason that the local authorities are not able to bear the necessary costs. We can imagine cases in which it is not possible to levy a high rate. One can imagine cases such as those which have been referred to previously, where a penny rate, say in the Isle of Scarp, on the whole population would raise only about 4s. 2d. I think that was a case which was mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman himself in another connection, and there are hundreds of cases throughout the Highlands and Islands in which the local authorities could not be expected on the strength of local rating to undertake new work or to maintain existing works in proper condition.
PROPOSED PIER, ISLE OF LEWIS.
MR. WALTER ELLIOT: A proposal by the County Council of Ross and Cromarty to construct a pier at Portnaguran with the aid of a grant from public funds is under discussion. I understand that the question of providing an adequate local contribution is at present being investigated by the county council.
MR. MALCOLM K MACMILLAN: In view of the fact that this matter has been discussed for nearly half a century – certainly for over 40 years – will the right hon. Gentleman do the best he can to expedite the matter?
PROPOSED PIER, ISLE OF LEWIS.
MR. JOHN COLVILLE: I would refer to the reply given to the hon. Member on 8th March last. Since then the county council have completed their investigations into the question of an adequate local contribution towards the cost of the proposed pier at Portnaguran. The possibility of a Government grant is under consideration but the project is a costly one and I am unable in the meantime to announce any decision.
PROPOSED PIER, PORTNAGURAN.
ROADS AND PIER, ISLE OF LEWIS.
HC Deb 16 March 1939 vol 345 cc641-2W
MR. MALCOLM K MACMILLAN: asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is now able to state when work on the Portnaguran Pier, Isle of Lewis, is to begin and the number of men it will employ?
MR. JOHN COLVILLE: I would refer the hon. Member to my reply to his question of 31st January. I regret that I am not yet in a position to intimate a decision.
ISLE OF LEWIS.
MR. JOHN COLVILLE: I regret that I am not yet in a position to announce a decision.
PORTNAGURAN PIER, ISLE OF LEWIS.
MR. JOHN COLVILLE: I hope to make a statement about the proposed Portnaguran Pier before the Recess.
PORTNAGURAN, ISLE OF LEWIS.
MR. JOHN COLVILLE: I am glad to be able to state that I am now in a position to offer the County Council of Ross and Cromarty a grant on the usual conditions in aid of constructing a harbour at Portnaguran, Isle of Lewis.
Then World War II intervened and it was more than five years before the matter of Portnaguran Pier was raised in the House of Commons again.
SCOTLAND (PIER, PORTNAGURAN, ISLE OF LEWIS).
MR. MALCOLM K MACMILLAN: asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether the Scottish Department of Agriculture will make available an increased grant for the construction of a pier at Portnaguran, Isle of Lewis, as a means of encouraging the restoration of the fishing industry in the Hebrides.
MR. THOMAS JOHNSTON: As the hon. Member is aware most of these harbour improvement works were postponed at the outbreak of war, and I am at present unable to give any undertaking about priorities in the immediate post-war period. I can, however, assure my hon. Friend that any application by the County Council for assistance in carrying out this project will receive sympathetic consideration.
MR. MALCOLM K MACMILLAN: asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether the pre-war offer by the Department of Agriculture to the Ross-shire County Council of a 75 per cent. grant towards construction of the proposed pier at Portnaguran, Isle of Lewis, is now available, or will be renewed at the earliest date, in view of the importance of this project to the restoration of the island’s fishing industry.
MR. TOM FRASER: The prewar offer was for a grant of 75 per cent of the cost of the construction of a harbour at Portnaguran subject to a maximum of £10,500. As a similar harbour now would cost: a very much larger sum a renewal of the former offer would not meet. the case. The possibility of revising the plan with a view to reducing costs is being examined.
SIR WILLIAM DARLING: Because it was too much?
MR. TOM FRASER: No, not enough.
PROPOSED PIER, PORTNAGURAN, LEWIS.
MR. MALCOLM K MACMILLAN: asked the Secretary of State for Scotland, what progress has been made between his Department and the Ross-shire county council in the negotiations in respect of the proposed pier for Portnaguran, Isle of Lewis, for which a 75 per cent. financial grant was offered before the war.
MR JOSEPH WESTWOOD: The Department of Agriculture hope shortly to be in a position to furnish an up to date estimate of the cost of a harbour at Portnaguran. When this has been done it will be for the county council to consider whether they wish to make a fresh application for a grant and what degree of priority to attach to this particular project.
MR. MALCOLM K MACMILLAN: Is my right hon. Friend aware that this, like the Applecross Road, is a question which has been thrashed out over the last 70 or 80 years, and that before the war considerable progress had been made as a first priority job? Will he see that nothing is allowed to stand in the way of what is an essential project for the local inhabitants?
WESTERN ISLES (BRIDGE AND PIER SCHEMES).
MR. MALCOLM K MACMILLAN: asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether a decision has been arrived at regarding the proposed bridge to link North Uist, Grimsby and Benbecula; what the cost will be; what percentage and sum of the total cost will be borne by the Scottish Departments; what the cost of Portnaguran Pier, Isle of Lewis; will be; what the assistance available from the Scottish Departments will be; and when construction is to begin.
MR JOSEPH WESTWOOD: The proposal to bridge the North Ford is being considered by the Minister of Transport and myself, but no decision has yet been reached. I am not in a position to give an up-to-date estimate of the cost of this project, but in 1944 the county council estimated the cost at £100,000. As regards Portnaguran Harbour, I offered last year to make a grant of £24,000 towards the cost of a scheme estimated to cost £32,000. The county council have since suggested amendments to the plans which would increase this cost and the matter is now being further discussed with their engineers.
WESTERN ISLES (SCHEMES).
MR. MALCOLM K MACMILLAN: asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is aware that many ex-Service fishermen and others in the Western Isles are unable to take any advantage of the grants and loans available for fishing boats or gear because of the lack of piers, boat shelters and jetties; that this is causing unemployment and loss of fresh fish supplies; and whether he will expedite the settlement by his Department of all cases where schemes are sponsored by local authorities, including the proposed Portnaguran, Isle of Lewis, pier.
MR ARTHUR WOODBURN: I am aware that there is a widespread demand for the provision of piers in the Western Isles and any reasonable proposals in this connection which are put forward by the responsible local authorities, will receive sympathetic consideration. The County Council of Ross and Cromarty are considering, at my request, whether the needs of Portnaguran would be met by the provision of a pier and boat-slip.
MR. MALCOLM K MACMILLAN: Is my right hon. Friend aware that for more than 90 years we have been having sympathetic consideration for the Portnaguran Pier, but that sympathetic consideration has neither built the pier nor caught any fish? Will he make these grants useful to the men by going ahead with the work?
MR. MALCOLM K MACMILLAN: Perhaps I am more familiar with that area and its problems than my right hon. Friend. I am not in the least ungrateful for the grants for boats and gear which are most generous, but we cannot take advantage of them until the piers and shelters are built. Surely that calls for some action by the Treasury and the right hon. Gentleman?
PIER, ISLE OF LEWIS.
MR ARTHUR WOODBURN: A scheme for a pier and boatslip at Portnaguran in place of the harbour previously proposed was submitted by the County Council in April; and is now under consideration.
PIER SCHEME, PORTNAGURAN.
MR. MALCOLM K MACMILLAN: asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether sanction has yet been given by the Scottish Department concerned to proceed with the proposed pier at Portnaguran; and when the work is likely to commence.
MR ARTHUR WOODBURN: The scheme for a pier and boatslip at Portnaguran submitted by the county council in April has been examined by technical officers of the Scottish Home Department and the county council were asked on 8th June to consider some modifications.
MR. TOM FRASER: A 75 per cent. grant towards the cost of a pier and boat-slip at Portnaguran has been offered to Ross and Cromarty County Council, but I am unable to say when actual construction will begin.
MR. MALCOLM K MACMILLAN: Is my hon. Friend aware that this pier was recommended 90 years ago, was approved before the war and twice since by Secretaries of State, that an offer of a 75 per cent. grant was made but that the matter has got no further?
MR. TOM FRASER: The 75 per cent. grant I mentioned has just been offered, but there are still some formalities to be gone through. A Provisional Order will be necessary, the local authority having some responsibility in the matter as well as the Government.
MR. MALCOLM K MACMILLAN: asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether, in view of the delays in connection with the proposed pier at Portnaguran, Isle of Lewis, he will now taken urgent measures to ensure that no further delay at his Department will prevent the work starting this autumn.
NEW PIER, PORTNAGURAN.
MR. MALCOLM K MACMILLAN: asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether Ross and Cromarty County Council have yet found a contractor to undertake the construction of the new pier at Portnaguran, Isle of Lewis; when this work is to begin; and, if contractors have not yet been engaged, whether he will make a statement on the prospect of an early start with this scheme.
MR. MALCOLM K MACMILLAN: May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that all of us who are concerned with this project are extremely glad that it has the blessing of an Order confirmed by the late Secretary of State for Scotland, after waiting for nine years for the Tories to do something?
NEW PIERS AND JETTIES (APPLICATIONS).
MR. MALCOLM K MACMILLAN: asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many applications for grants for construction of piers or jetties in the Outer Hebrides he has before him from the county councils of Inverness-shire and Ross and Cromarty, respectively, apart from the Portnaguran, Isle of Lewis scheme.
MR. WILLIAM McNAIR SNADDEN: My right hon. Friend has before him at present two applications from the county council of Inverness for piers or jetties in the Outer Hebrides and two from the county council of Ross and Cromarty.
MR. MALCOLM K MACMILLAN: Does the hon. Gentleman think that this is a good example of two Tory county councils helping to reduce the transport charges in the North of Scotland when they show so little enthusiasm for the development of their own areas, to which piers and jetties are absolutely essential?
PIERS AND JETTIES, WESTERN ISLES.
MR. JAMES STUART: The County Council have found it necessary to apply for additional assistance towards the cost of the pier at Portnaguran, and their application is being urgently considered. The County Council’s proposals for jetties at Berneray and Newton are being examined, but I am unable at present to say when the work will begin.
MR. MALCOLM K MACMILLAN: Is the Minister aware that many months ago work on all these jetties was on the point of beginning? The Berneray jetty, in particular, was to be begun in March, and the local people have had no explanation of why there has been this delay. Can he give any indication when this work will be started?
MR. JAMES STUART: Work on Portnaguran jetty will, I hope, be proceeded with at an early date. As to the arrangements with regard to the other jetties referred to, I am afraid I cannot give a date at the present time.
That was the last time the construction of a pier at Portnaguran was discussed in the House of Commons. On 27 July 1959, Malcolm K Macmillan asked the Secretary of State for Scotland to what extent he was prepared to offer financial assistance for the extension of the jetty at Portnaguran, Isle of Lewis, in order to provide better protection and shelter at all tides and to encourage further the development of the local fishing industry.
Secretary of State John Maclay responded that he should be prepared to consider any proposals for the extension of Portnaguran Pier which Ross and Cromarty County Council, as the responsible harbour authority, may put forward.
Such an extension never came to pass.
So there you have it; work on constructing the pier at Portnaguran started in 1952 and finished about a year later; sixty two years after the recommendation of the Walpole Commission in 1891 and one hundred and twenty five years after Portnaguran was first surveyed for a harbour in 1828. Too little, too late and totally inadequate. It stands dry 50% of the time, not due to silting up over the years, but because that is the way it was built. The only protection it offers is from the prevailing wind, it offers none from the waves and the storm surge rolling into Broad Bay. Certainly not the ‘harbour of refuge’ envisaged by the 1891 commission.
Fishing out of Portnaguran is a far cry from what it was in its heyday and a far cry even from what it was when the pier was constructed. Boats being used today are much smaller and lighter than those of the fishermen of yore, and they don’t carry tons of ballast, but they still have to be drawn up on the shingle in bad weather. The pier as built, would have been equally inadequate had it been constructed in 1828 or 1891.