HC Deb 14 June 1895 vol 34 cc1227-36

formally moved the Second Reading of this Bill.

SIR G. BADEN-POWELL (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

said, that the Bill dealt with an important industry, and important international rights were involved in it. Although he agreed with the direction in which the Bill went, he hoped that his hon. Friend had noticed that in many respects it did not go far enough, notwithstanding the fact that it was so far an advance on all previous Bills on the subject as to cross the limit of the 180th degree of longitude in order to conciliate Russia. He thought, however, that the parts of the Pacific Ocean "adjacent to" Behring Sea could not be taken to include certain other seas and parts around Kamschatka which he would have liked to see included. He would also like to hear that some negotiations had been opened with Japan. He regretted, moreover, that this Bill, like its predecessors, failed in any way to meet or carry out the very important declaration made by the Paris arbitrators, which said that the regulations for the seal fisheries which they were empowered to make were applicable only to the high seas, but that they should, in the opinion of the arbitrators, be extended within the limits of the jurisdictional waters, and even on the shores of the Powers involved. He considered that this Bill was very deficient, and he thought that its details might, with advantage, be amended. The Act was, for instance, to remain in force until December, the most inopportune time in regard to the industry, because the vessels were all at sea in December and January, and fresh regulations, if promulgated, could not reach them conveniently. Section 7 declared that this Bill was to be in addition to, and not in derogation of, the Behring Sea Award Act, 1894; but that clause would cover and render nugatory a portion of Clause 2, by which this Bill empowered Her Majesty to issue regulations for the hunting and taking of fur seals. If, under Section 2, Her Majesty, by Order in Council was to regulate the implements to be employed in catching the seals, nothing could be done in that respect, because under the Act of 1894 that matter was dealt with. The most important point of all that was dealt with in this Bill was the close time, which, under the Act of 1894, was specified to be between May 1st and July 31st. The Act of 1894 remained in force until the provisions in the Schedule of that Act were altered, and those provisions were the award of the Behring Sea Arbitrators, and only the Merchant Shipping Act was altered. This Bill perpetuated the vicious provisions of the Act of 1894. He thought some of its clauses ought to be very carefully amended in the respects he had mentioned; and he hoped the Under Secretary would be able to give some assurance that the Act would be made to extend not only over the Behring Sea, but over the whole of the Pacific Ocean north of the 42nd parallel of latitude. He hoped they might not only have the willing consent of Russia and Japan, but some stipulation on the part or those Powers that, in accordance with the decision and recommendation of the Arbitrators, at least there would be some regulations for the preservation of the fur seal fishery extending not only over the ocean, but over that far more important area of the seal fishery industry on shore.

*MR. GIBSON BOWLES rose to move— That no Bill dealing with the taking of seals in the Pacific will be satisfactory which withdraws British protection from British subjects on the high seas, and subjects them and their vessels in lime of peace to search or seizure by foreign naval officers. He thought it extremely unfortunate and a matter of reproach that, although the Government had known perfectly well for two years that the Act expired on the 1st of July next, they made no effort until now to introduce this Bill. This Bill was intended to carry out that part of the agreement regarding the western portion of the Pacific Ocean that concerned Russia, just as the Bill of 1894 was intended to carry out that part which concerned the United States. But the argument that the Bill was founded on the agreement was bad in two respects. The agreement only extended to the 31st December, 1893, and it stipulated that the British Government should prohibit its subjects from hunting seals only within a limited zone. But the 31st December, 1893, was long passed, and the Bill dealt with the whole of the Pacific Ocean from the 42nd parallel of north latitude to the North Pole. The Bill, therefore, went very far beyond anything that was in the agreement itself. This question began with the seizure of certain English sealers by the United States Government. The sealers were taken into Court and tried, and when the United States recognised that the seizures had been improperly made they at once made restitution and granted compensation. Then there was the Arbitration in Paris, and in consequence of the Award which was made the Act of 1894 was passed. But in the Russian case, where there was also a seizure, and where the greatest outrages were alleged to have been committed, there was no trial and no legal procedure of any kind, and so far as he knew there had been no compensation for the acts of the Russian cruisers. Therefore, as the House would see, the case for the Bill of 1894, which carried into effect the award of Paris following on the American incidents, was good enough; but the case now made for carrying out the agreement with Russia, following upon an entirely different set of incidents much less lawful, and followed by no award or arbitration, was very different and far weaker. Coming to the question of these alleged outrages, the case was perfectly monstrous. Time did not allow him to enter into them, but there were at least half-a-dozen cases of outrages committed on British sealing vessels by Russian naval officers. Her Majesty's Government made representations to the Russian Government, but the complaints were referred to no Court of Arbitration, but a Commission was appointed to examine the charges of very serious offences alleged against Russian officers. Who composed this Commission he did not know, nor the names of the Commissioners, but it was appointed exclusively by the Russian Government, whose officers were charged with these outrages. He had the Report of the Commission, which, however, he would not read for time did not permit; he would content himself by saying that in his opinion a more unsatisfactory answer to definite charges, supported by the evidence of reputable witnesses upon all the facts and circumstances, was never made, not even by an anonymous Commission. It was confined to a simple denial on the part of Lieutenant Levron of the statements of all the witnesses set forth by Her Majesty's Government. But even this anonymous Commission felt constrained to admit that in the case of two sealing vessels there was no adequate justification for seizure. Anybody who read the papers would see that the arguments put forward by the Commission as justification for seizure of sealing vessels were trivial and inconclusive. In two cases, however, they did admit there was not justification, and in regard to these the Russian Government proposed to give compensation. There has not been a word of this since. He asked if any compensation had been paid. If not, then he thought it was perfectly monstrous for the Government to come to the House and propose for the second time to put English sealers under the control of Russian cruisers, while compensation for unlawful seizures remained unpaid after a long lapse of time. In the course of correspondence Russia claimed to have power to make seizures on the high seas. Against this claim, of course, Lord Rosebery protested, but he was told what the Russian view was, and that the Russian Government would take no account of his, and would continue to seize vessels within certain limits beyond the three miles territorial limit as before. Her Majesty's Government repudiated this claim in despatches. Yes, but they acknowledged it in this Bill. In the regulations we were to make under this Bill, we absolutely acknowledged the claim of Russia over the high seas! He had no spirit of animosity towards, or that dread of, Russia which seemed to pervade the Foreign Office to an extent that the very mention of Russia there was almost sufficient to send everybody to hide in the cellars. His own opinion was, that if Russia were treated in a proper and dignified way, and we held to our proper rights and our duties to British subjects, we should obtain proper results, but not in any other way. The agreement with Russia was arrived at in 1893, and in that year Her Majesty's Government brought in a Bill. In consequence of his opposition, negotiations ensued, and it was arranged that instead of being perpetual it should cease to operate on 1st July next. The Bill was sufficient to cover the time embraced in the agreement with Russia. This agreement stipulated on the part of Russia that the number of seals to be killed on the Russian islands and territory should be limited to 30,000, but what was the security for this limitation being observed? A similar agreement was made in regard to the number to be killed on the Pribyloff Islands, but instead of the stipulated number of 7,000 being adhered to, 12,000 were killed. What security was there that this limit of 30,000 would be observed in the case of Russia? There was none whatever. The House would propably be told that there was an engagement on the part of Russia that a British agent should be admitted to the islands to gather from the local Russian authorities all necessary information as to the results of the arrangement arrived at. But this agent was required to give notice of the place and time of his visit, which was not to be prolonged beyond a certain number of weeks, so everything would be carefully prepared for him, and he would gather information from Russian sources such as would enable him to write home some beautiful despatches saying that the stipulated number of 30,000 had not been exceeded. His main objection to the Bill was formulated in the Resolution of which he had given notice. In that beautiful prayer which was read daily in our Fleet it was declared that Her Majesty's Navy existed for the protection of all those "who pass upon the seas on their lawful occasions." This Bill withdrew the protection of the Queen from those who passed upon the seas on their lawful occasions. It was sometimes said this was in the interests of the seals. The seals were left to be killed with the utmost brutality both on the American islands and the Russian islands. There was on question of humanity in it. It was done in the interests of certain monopolists—in the interests of the Alaska Company on the American islands, and of other monopolists on the Russian islands. But the Bill fell short of what would be necessary to secure these absolute monopolists, because, when they had passed this Bill, in addition to the Bill of 1894, they would only have dealt with the subjects of England, America, and Russia; but there was Japan hard by, and the Japanese would have absolute power to go on the high seas and kill and take the seals. He was told they did it now. He had no doubt they did, and he had equally no doubt that before very long a very largely increased number of Japanese sealers would be found engaged in the industry. So that when they had passed all their Acts, and made all their orders, monstrous orders as he considered them, depriving Englishmen of the protection of the Queen on the high seas, they would not have achieved their object, because they would only have prohibited Englishmen, Americans and Russians from sharing in the advantages which all the other nations of the world, including the Japanese, might enjoy. There was one other point. Had Canada consented to the arrangement embodied in the Bill? Had she in any way signified her consent to the arrangement? He did not believe she had. In consequence of the action he took last year and the year before, he had received a large number of letters protesting in the most emphatic manner against the interference with their honest industry by regulations of this kind authorised by Bills of this nature. He asked the hon. Baronet the other day whether this matter had been communicated to the Canadian Government, and he replied that it had, and that they objected, but that, so far as possible, their objections had been met in this Bill. Yes, so far as it suited the convenience of the Foreign Office and the British Government; but would the hon. Baronet tell them that evening, or at some other time, what were the exact terms in which the Canadians had last expressed their views upon this matter? He, for one, was perfectly certain that the Canadians held now the same views that they did in 1893 and 1894. There was one clause which was perfectly monstrous, and he had thought first of submitting it to the Speaker on a point of Order. On p. 4, in the last clause, Sub-section 5 provided that:— The Seal Fishery (North Pacific) Act, 1893, is hereby repealed as from the passing of this Act, but shall be deemed until that passing, to be continued in force. So that if this Act did not pass into law until the 1st of August, they would have passed an Act of Parliament regalvanising an Act that died a month before! This Act, it was provided, was to remain in force until the 31st day of December 1897. This was an Act which absolutely deprived Her Majesty's subjects of their common rights on the high seas, and which subjected them to seizure by foreign cruisers—not merely by American or Russian cruisers, but by any cruisers to which, in time of peace, Her Majesty, by Order in Council, chose to give the authority which she was empowered to give under this Act. An Act of this kind, withdrawing in such an important degree rights so important as these, was at least of the same importance as the Mutiny Act, and, like the Mutiny Act, it should be passed for one year only. The Queen's protection ought to be extended to Her Majesty's subjects on the high seas, and as this Bill involved the question of the liberty of the subject at sea, he must move his Amendment.

MR. F. G. BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)

seconded the Amendment.


admitted that the terms of the Bill were wide, but it was not intended to do more than carry out our agreement with Russia. With regard to the question of compensation this was what had happened. The Russian Government admitted certain liability in the case of two seizures. Before presenting a claim for those two seizures the Government desired to go into the cases of the other seizures respecting which the Russian Government were not prepared to admit that they were under any liability. These other cases had caused difficulty and delay, there being a conflict of evidence as to the facts. Further information on both sides had now been produced, but it had taken a long time to procure that information, and the conflict of evidence had not yet been reconciled. The original idea was, that a settlement of all the claims might be arrived at at the same time; but as the delay had been so great the intention now was to present a claim in the case of the two vessels respecting which liability had been admitted. That claim was to be presented at once. The Canadian Government's views had been put very fully before the Colonial Office, and although the consent of that Government had not been given to the text of this Bill, Her Majesty's Government were convinced that everything had been done to meet the objections of the Canadian Government that could be done, consistently with the obligation to carry out our agreement with the Russian Government. [Mr. GIBSON BOWLES: "What were the objections of the Canadian Government?"] Some of those objections had been already met. For example, under the original Act a vessel could be seized because, in the judgment of the commander of a ship, she was making certain preparations. This would be changed under this Bill, and a vessel would only be liable to seizure if the commander of a vessel should have reasonable cause to believe that an offence against the Act or the regulations had actually been committed. The hon. Member opposite objected that power should be given to the commanders of foreign vessels to seize British ships; but it would be impossible to carry out our agreements if that power were taken away. What the House had to consider was whether the agreement with the Russian Government was a fair agreement.


Am I to understand that this agreement has been renewed?


Yes, it is because the agreement has been renewed that the Bill has been introduced. The question was, whether it was reasonable that any restrictions should be imposed. That question was submitted to arbitration, as regards the eastern side, and the award given admitted that restrictions were necessary and justifiable for the preservation of the fur seal. Had the award itself been justified as to the expectations that the restrictions, while necessary, would not interfere to damage the Canadian sealers to the extent that was apprehended? He answered that the regulations had not so interfered. Since the award had been in force the catch had been a satisfactory one, and from the point of view of the Canadian sealers the apprehensions expressed as to the effect of the restrictions had been removed. Now, some restrictions being justifiable and even necessary, there was the further question—Were these restrictions reasonable? These restrictions were much less stringent than those under the Award. He said, therefore, that in the interests of the Canadian industry these restrictions were reasonable, and, as we were bound to carry out the agreement with Russia, and the Bill was limited to two years, and was provisional in its nature, he asked the House to pass the Bill.

SIR G. BADEN-POWELL (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

said, the hon. Baronet had raised some novel points. He did not understand the explanation, nor that this Bill was to carry out an agreement with Russia. The hon. Baronet, had raised some important points of principle, and he raised his earnest protest that, owing to the action of the Government, time was not permitted him to reply to the strange arguments of the Under Secretary.

Question put: "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the question."

The Committee divided:—Ayes, 87; Noes, 11.—(Division List, No. 126.)

On the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill,


asked the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs whether he could inform the House of the actual circumstances under which this measure was promoted. He understood there was a Convention with Russia which expired in 1893. That Convention apparently had not been renewed. Something had been said about an agreement——


Order, order! The hon. Member cannot continue the Debate now that the hour of interruption has come. I have put the question for the Second Reading of the Bill, and it can be taken if the House desires, but there can be no Debate on an opposed Motion.


I must object to the Second Reading without an answer.


I would appeal to my hon. Friend to withdraw his objection, and allow the Second Reading to be taken——


I object most strongly.

Debate postponed.

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