HC Deb 11 March 1880 vol 251 cc813-4

asked the President of the Board of Trade, Whether Her Majesty's Government will consent to postpone the enforcement of the now regulations for lights for fishing vessels till the 1st of September, 1881, so that, on the re-assembling of Parliament, a Select Committee might be appointed to inquire into the history of the proposed regulations and the objections urged against them by the fishing interest?


Sir, it is necessary that I should remind my hon. Friend of the origin of the new regulations to which his Question refers, and which excite considerable interest in many parts of the United Kingdom. In 1874 a Commission was appointed by the Admiralty, Board of Trade, and Trinity House to revise the regulations with Respect to the rule of the road at sea, lights, signals, &c, with a view of making the regulations still more effectual for preventing the collisions which have been so fatal to large ships as well as to fishing vessels. I may add that the inconsistency of the laws as to the present lights of fishing vessels has been a great subject of complaint. That Committee reported after two years, and, during three years, communications went on with all the foreign Powers to induce them to come to an international agreement on this important subject. Many suggestions were received from them, and many of them were adopted. A general agreement was come to at the end of last year, and the result was that the regulations were passed by an Order in Council, which provided that they should come in force on the 1st of September, 1880. I need hardly say that the arrangements as to lights with respect to fishing boats, to which my hon. Friend alludes, were drawn up solely with the view of protecting the lives and property of those at sea, whether in fishing boats or ships. Had the Session been prolonged, no Government would have thought for one moment of resisting the very reasonable request which is made by the men connected with the great fishing industry of the country to be allowed to make their views heard by a Committee of the House of Commons on a subject which so largely affects their daily habits; and I need hardly say that it is my wish, as representing the Board of Trade, to interfere as little as possible with the usages and practices of the fishermen consistently with the safety of their own lives and of those who navigate the seas. As I cannot grant the Committee now, I think the best course will be that I should engage, if I am in my present official position when the new Parliament assembles, to propose that a Select Committee be appointed on this subject, so that the men may have every opportunity of making known their views. With the object, however, that ample time should be provided for this inquiry, I have consulted with my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty; and we have agreed that it would be expedient, as we find we have the power, to propose that another Order in Council should be passed with regard to Article 10 of these regulations—that is to say, the one which affects the lights of fishing boats, providing that, as my hon. Friend suggests, that that part of the regulations should not come into effect till the 1st of September, 1881; and we shall, of course, make the necessary communications with foreign Governments on the subject. In this way, ample time will be secured for the full and further investigation of this subject, which I am very glad to be able to forward.