HC Deb 12 June 1888 vol 326 cc1953-8

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [8th March "That the Bill be now read a second time."

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.

MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)

said, the object of the Bill was to prohibit trawling within the three-mile limit of the coast of Scotland as a general rule and principle, in accordance with the Report of the Royal Commission on Trawling. If there were, as there might be, cases in which it would be desirable that some exception or qualification should be introduced, Amendments to that effect might be conveniently made in Committee.

THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. H. A. MACDONALD) (Edinburgh and St. Andrew's Universities)

said, the proposal in the Bill was absolutely to prohibit all trawling within the three-mile limit on the Scotch Coasts, and outside a line drawn across estuaries, putting an end, in fact, to all trawling within territorial limits. It was not the time of night to properly discuss what all must admit was a question of great importance. As the law stood, the Scotch Fishery Board had the power to do what the Bill proposed to do, if satisfied that at any place within territorial limits beam-trawling was injurious to the fishing industry generally. Such he took to be the power of the Board under the Act in reference to trawling, or they could shut up any place for the purpose of making experiments to satisfy themselves whether any mode of fishing was injurious to the fishing interest. In point of fact, under that clause, the Fishery Board had been engaged in numerous experiments; they had shut up fisheries in certain parts of territorial waters, and from time to time they had re-opened them. Nothing could be clearer than that the Act of 1885 contemplated such experiments for the purpose of arriving at satisfactory conclusions, and nothing also could be more clear than that in such a matter it was not possible to come to any clear decision without full and complete experiments, extending over a considerable period of time. The Fishery Board, at the present time, had responsibility under the Act of 1885, and they had not yet seen fit to come to any conclusion that this mode of fishing was generally injurious or otherwise. Under the Act of 1885 they could have proceeded to take steps for doing exactly the same thing as the Bill proposed to do—shutting up beam-trawl fishing throughout all the territorial waters of Scotland. They had not yet done so, nor had they yet laid before Parliament the results of their experiments in any form to enable Parliament to judge what the effect of such a step would be, and the expediency of taking it. Many people had expressed a most decided opinion that no further experiments were necessary; and, relying on their personal knowledge or information they had derived from various sources, they believed a Bill of this kind should be passed. But then there were also a great number of people who entertained an entirely different opinion; and, undoubtedly, up to the present time it had not been ascertained by experiment, that it was quite clear that the powers of the Fishery Board to stop trawling ought to be exercised. He thought, therefore, the Bill was, in the first place, premature; but his main principle of objection was not whether or not ultimately beam-trawling ought to be stopped in territorial waters—he put his objection to the Bill on the ground that a large sum of money had been invested in the beam-trawling industry, and that industry ought not to be destroyed until by complete experiments it had been ascertained that, in the interest of Scotch fishing generally, it ought to be abolished. That was only common sense and reason. He would not deny that it was possible it might turn out that beam-trawling was injurious to fishing within territorial waters; but if that should appear to be the case, then, with the consent of everybody in the House, beam-trawling would be abolished. But the Legislature, in the Act of 1885, had given the Fishery Board power to make experiments, and stop any mode of fishing proved objectionable, and there was, therefore, no need for the Bill. Time must be occupied to arrive at any definite and fair result. He was sure his hon. Friend (Mr. Hunter) did not wish to put an end to an industry before it could be shown that it was detrimental to other industries. It would be premature to decide in the present state of matters that that was so, and to ask Parliament to step in and by direct Act prohibit this mode of fishing for all time. He did not think his hon. Friend should press the Bill, and meantime the Fishery Board would proceed with their experiments.

MR. MARJORIBANKS (Berwickshire)

said, he desired to support the second reading. He was a Member of the Trawling Commission, and could say that the recommendation the Commission came to, that power should be given to the Fishery Board to stop trawling in territorial waters, was a recommendation arrived at in the manner usual on Commissions, by way of compromise. Members who had served on Committees and Commissions would know that a great deal had to be done in the way of compromise. No doubt, many Members of the Commission held the view strongly that trawling ought to be stopped within territorial waters altogether; but, at the same time, they gave way to the views of other Members of the Commission on the point. But he was certain that it was proved before the Commission that trawling within territorial waters was attended with the greatest possible amount of harm to fishing generally, and the least possible amount of good. The Lord Advocate had alluded to the loss to the trawl-fishing industry if trawl-fishing within territorial waters were prohibited; but the amount of trawling carried on within the territorial waters of Scotland was very small, and he believed that trawlers themselves in England and Scotland would object very little to trawling being stopped in terri- torial waters. But it was there that the greatest amount of interference was caused by the action of the trawls with other classes of fishermen. What should be looked at in those fishing matters was to secure that one class of fishermen exercised their industry with the least interference to others. Within the territorial waters the amount of trawl-fishing was very small indeed; whereas the amount of fishing carried on by long line and by drift nets was very much greater, so by the prohibition of trawling there would be but little interference with one branch of the industry, and a great benefit conferred on fishing by net and line. As to the opinions of scientific men, he believed that the scientific representative of the Board, Professor Cossar Ewart, held a strong opinion in favour of the prohibition, and so he was quite sure did Professors Macintosh and Ray Lankester. He challenged the Lord Advocate to cite professional opinions in regard to this matter. The question should not be decided by the amount of damage done by trawling to food fishes; but he was certain that if trawling did do damage to food fishes, it was greatest in the shallow waters, where the young fish came in their earliest stages. He was certain that a largo number of immature fish were destroyed by trawling. But he did not want to go into this at length, for he hoped there would be time to take a Division. The principle of the Bill he thought the majority would admit, and he urged the Government to accept the second reading, leaving minor questions for Committee.

MR. MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbright)

said, he thought the question raised required more consideration than it could receive at that time. The amount of good or harm done by trawling was an open question. Personally, he disliked the beam-trawlers; but in Solway Firth, with which he was best acquainted, there was a wide area of shallow water, and there was a considerable amount of trawling. Southern fishermen had found out that fish were plentiful in this shallow water, and numbers of small craft came from far south to fish there. From their point of view, trawlers did a good deal of harm. But, on the other hand, it was said that the trawls did good by turning up the bottom and providing food for young fish. With a wide area of shallow water, some miles in extent, there should be some distinction made from other seas, and he gathered that his hon. Friend (Mr. Hunter) would be disposed to consider such points in Committee, should the Bill get so far. However, he should prefer a longer discussion, if he could see his way to support the Bill. He hoped if a Division was taken it would not be upon the merits of the Bill, but rather upon whether time should be given to consider it more fully. He would therefore move that the debate be now adjourned.

MR. KELLY (Camberwell, N.)

seconded the Motion. He should have expected that when such tremendous restrictions were sought to be imposed upon beam-trawling much more would have been stated against it. When he saw the Bill, he was perfectly astonished at the utter recklessness with which the rights of this class of fishermen were sought to be interfered with.


The hon. Member is now proceeding to discuss the Bill. The Motion before the House is the adjournment of the debate.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Mark Stewart).

The House divided:—Ayes 87; Noes 53: Majority 31.—(Div. List, No. 145.)

Debate adjourned till To-morrow.

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