HC Deb 30 April 1900 vol 82 cc351-86

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(The Secretary of State for the Home Department.)

* SIR CAMERON GULL (Devonshire, Barnstaple)

In rising to move the rejection of this Bill, I wish to say that I think the House has some ground of complaint that a measure which proposes to take away what would be the natural right of the fishermen to exercise their calling on the sea should be moved formally, not by the Minister in charge of the Board of Trade, but by the Home Secretary, and that at the present moment we are in complete ignorance of the grounds which the House is to consider sufficient for dealing with this question. At the outset let me say that I have no desire to pose as in any way an advocate for the indiscriminate destruc- tion of undersized fish, and if this Government, or any Government were to propose some measure which, without interfering unduly with the rights of the fishermen to take the fish, would really have the effect of preventing the destruction of immature fish or lead to the still greater increase of the supply of fish, certainly that measure would have my cordial support; but I hope I shall be able to convince the House that this Bill, even if it is passed, will not conduce to the prevention of the destruction of immature fish, while at any rate it will cause unnecessary interference with the fishermen, and in many cases certainly will cause a considerable amount of friction and annoyance. The history of this question is rather a lengthy one, and I think I shall be justified in very briefly calling the attention of the House to what has gone before. Really, I think, if the House will look at the question, it comes to this, that for a great many years there has been continual friction between various kinds of fishermen—those who fish one way and those who fish another way; and, at any rate at the beginning of the history of this question, it was a question between the trawlers and the other fishermen. We have had already four public inquiries. There was one in 1864, another in 1878, another in 1885, and another in 1893, and the result of these inquiries is that the Board of Trade takes out of the Report of the last inquiry—one of very many recommendations—a recommendation that certainly was keenly opposed on that Committee, was carried only by a majority of seven against three, and that though the Committee itself consisted of seventeen members. Therefore the Committee have not even a majority of members in favour of this Report, and the Government press that recommendation while they leave out of sight many other very important recommendations which I am sure the House will be very glad to have brought before it. I do not know that I should be in order in dealing with those recommendations directly as a ground for moving the rejection of the Bill, but I think I am entitled to point out one or two of the recommendations. With respect to the question of police, the fishermen have very little protection indeed against the foreigner. Foreigners come into our waters and poach upon our preserves, and questions are constantly being put, certainly as regards the Scottish fisheries, which show that they have not the protection they ought to have. I do not think that in England they have that protection either. The Report of 1893 asks for the consideration of the improvement of harbours for fishermen. We have pressed that over and over again in this House and got nothing at all but kindly words of sympathy from the President of the Board of Trade, and, as far as I can gather, the total amount of beneficial legislation that a large number of fishermen—especially the smaller class of fishermen—get from this House is in the form of certain boards for imposing bye-laws, and thereby fining the fishermen in carrying on their trade. The Reports of these various Commissions are by no means all consistent. The Commission of 1864 was appointed to consider whether the supply of fish was increasing, stationary, or diminishing, and whether any of the methods of catching fish involved wasteful destruction of fish or spawn. Beam trawling they determined was not, and as regards the taking of small fish they said there was no evidence. On the 14th of July, 1878, Mr. Secretary Cross—the present Lord Cross—appointed commissioners to deal with the question of net and beam trawling, and also to again report whether the modes of fishing cause the wasteful destruction of fish. Again, the Commission report that there is no evidence that the fish on the coast is decreasing, but they recommend that there should be power in the Secretary of State to issue a prohibition order. That is the recommendation of the second Commission. The first recommended that if the destruction of small fish should ever be satisfactorily proved the best remedial measure would be to place a restriction on the size of the fish to be sold, In the first of these Reports there is the satisfactory conclusion that there is no evidence of any wasteful destruction of fish, but if there was, and it could be proved, one Commission says you should limit the size of the fish to be sold, and the other says you should close certain areas. Then there is the Commission of 1885. There, again, there does not seem to have been any clear evidence as regards the unnecessary destruction of fish, and the recommendations of that Commission certainly do not deal with the prohibition of the sale of small fish. Then we come to the last inquiry, so far as I am aware— that is, the Select Committee of 1893. That Select Committee reports that as regards round fish there is practically no diminution, but when they come to the class of flat fish, which this Bill proposes to deal with, they say that the circumstances differ. The Committee in their Report say— Off the south coast of England the evidence seems to show with regard to these fish also that there has been little or no falling off in their size or abundance; but when we turn to the great fishing grounds of the North Sea, from the evidence which has been given by all persons interested in the fisheries, whether trawlers or linesmen, whether smack owners or fishermen, whether scientific experts or statisticians, there seems to be no doubt that a considerable diminution has occurred amongst the more valuable classes of flat fish, especially among soles and plaice, and that this diminution must be attributed to over fishing by trawlers in certain localities. … The great falling off, too, in the size of the flat fish caught on the older fishing grounds in the North Sea is also a matter of universal observation. An immense number of these smaller sized fish are caught on the shallow, sandy grounds on the east side of the North Sea, oil the Dutch and German coasts. On the greater part of the coast of this country there is no falling off of small fish. Therefore, on the evidence, so far as we can find at the present moment, there is no sufficient evidence for the passing of a general Act dealing with this question. If it is true that in the North Sea and the neighbouring coasts there is this serious diminution of fish, then there may be good ground for some local measure dealing with that part of the sea, but at present I cannot see that there is any evidence of any diminution over all the areas that are fished. Then there is no evidence that the lessening of the supply of fish is caused by the destruction of immature fish. If we look at the Report of the Commission of 1885 the evidence is certainly against that contention. The Report says that though the evidence is very conflicting, Professor Macintosh seems to think that there is not really anything like the destruction of immature fish that is suggested. But there are other very obvious means of accounting for the smaller catches of fish of this kind in the North Sea. There is no doubt at all that by the constant trawling over certain areas where these fish were once found these trawlers have destroyed all the spawning fish and there is practically very little fish left. Apart from that, in an area constantly fished over it is natural to suppose that the fish have been driven out of the area they once occupied and have gone to other places in the sea, and though there is plenty of evidence both for and against the destruction of immature fish, I do not think it is so conclusively proved that we ought to pass a Bill of this kind, affecting the interests of the whole of the fishermen all round the coast. But supposing these fish are caught? Let us assume there has been a decrease of these kinds of fish, and that it has been largely caused by the destruction of immature fish. Take the case of the North Sea—and that is the only district this last Select Committee held to have been proved to be depleted of its stock of fish —I do not think it would be denied that the vast amount of fish caught in the North Sea are caught by trawlers. Therefore, if you are to lessen the destruction of these fish, you must interfere with the way in which the fish are caught, because of the fish which are caught with a trawl when they come on deck 90 or 95 per cent. are either dead or so hopelessly mangled that there is no chance of their living if thrown back into the sea. But what does this Bill purport to do? It does not prevent, or attempt to prevent, these fish being taken. The men are told that they should not sell them, but that they are to waste them. Therefore, this Bill, if it is a Bill for anything, is a Bill for the further wasting of fish. The evidence on that point is quite clear. There was one of the fishermen called before the Select Committee, a Mr. Dyer, and he was asked:— If this small fish was not saleable what would be done with it? (A.) It would have to be thrown overboard. (Q.) Do you think it would be caught all the same? (A.) It would be bound to be. (Q.) In what state would it be if thrown overboard; would much of it live? (A.) No; 90 per cent. of it would be dead. Then there is another fisherman—Mr. Scott—called, who gives the same evidence— Do yon catch many small fish? (A.) Yes, a tremendous lot of small fish. (Q.) Do you find any sale for them? (A.) No. (Q.) What becomes of them? (A.) We have to throw them overboard. (Q.) In what state are they when they are thrown overboard? (A.) There is a certain class that lives, the greatest part of them, such as small plaice; small plaice will live a considerable time out of water, but a dab will live only a very short time. The consequence is, if you throw that fish overboard he is very liable to die, but a plaice will live considerably longer than a dab. He does not give any evidence as to what the effect of being kept on deck for a considerable time is on soles, brill, or turbot, but I. think most hon. Members who have been out trawling and seen the trawl hauled up after being down for several hours, will agree with me that a very small proportion of the fish have any chance whatever of living if they are put back into, the sea. It seems to me that the provisions of this Bill are absolutely ineffective, and would not conduce to the survival of any number of these small fish. The right hon. Gentleman, in, answer to a question in regard to this Bill, put last session, said, "We have no statistics as regards the survivals," and he suggested that the object of this Bill was really not to prevent the fish being taken, but to prevent trawlers going to districts, where they knew only small fish were. I do not know where those areas are, but no doubt there may be two or three of them, possibly more; but, if that is the case, why does not the Bill deal with them directly? Why does not the right hon. Gentleman propose to have those areas closed? If they are in foreign waters, the obvious remedy is to have an international agreement. We are asked to put our fishermen in a different condition altogether from that of foreign fishermen. [An HON. MEMBER: No.] I know the hon. Member who interrupted me says there are restrictions. So there are; but I also know this, that even now these small fish, which are not worth bringing to our markets, are constantly exchanged with foreign fishermen. Therefore, while you are not preventing these small fish being destroyed, you are not taking steps which might, and probably ought to be, taken towards closing, if you can find them, these areas which are supposed to be entirely filled with small fish. Why a trawler who can get a certain number of good fish, for which he can get a good price, should occupy his time in catching a whole lot of these little fish, for which he can get very little, I cannot imagine. There is another recommendation which was made by this last Select Committee—that of a close time for these fish. You are allowed to catch these fish at all times of the year, in the spawning season and out of it. Important as is the supply of fish to this country and foreign countries, we ought to do all we can to have an international agreement upon the question. As far as I can see, while this measure will not stop the destruction, it will unquestionably cause a considerable amount of hardship, especially among the smaller fishermen. If any man is convicted of the sale of fish under a certain size he is to be liable to a penalty of £2 for the first offence and £10 for a subsequent offence. To the big fishermen that is an insignificant matter, and I do not wonder, on the whole, that they have accepted this measure. They can, no doubt, see the red light in the distance and realise that unless they are prepared to accept some kind of legislation such as this, which clearly will not interfere with them or their methods of fishing, they may find themselves face to face with much more stringent regulations in the future. But when you come to the smaller men, the men who have not these big capitalists at their back, these measures may work extremely hard for them. There is something further than that. Not only are they liable to a fine, but if there is any suspicion that any closed box or receptacle contains small fish an officer of Customs, or an officer appointed by the Board of Trade, may detain the package and open it, and in the event of the fish being or becoming unfit for human food it may be destroyed. Although there may be some case made out for the North Sea, there is no evidence whatever in favour of the extension of these provisions to the whole of the coast, and certainly the men from Torquay, Brixham, and similar places, in their evidence before the Select Committee, showed clearly and conclusively that they had no desire or wish for any such legislation. With the consent of the House, I will read one short extract from the evidence on this point. It is on page 56, Mr. Little's evidence— You have heard the evidence of the Hull and Grimsby witnesses that it would be desirable to prohibit the landing and sale of the undersized flat fish; do you agree with that or not?—I agree with that from their standpoint, but I disagree with it from our standpoint. Will you explain your position with regard to that?—My position is this: We say that on our grounds, and on any ground where no steam trawlers are at work, there is no falling off in the supply of flat fish; and as we are not sinners in the same manner as the Hull and Grimsby men are, we disagree with any legislation which would do us an injury without doing any good. We say, where our vessels work there are no known breeding-grounds, there is no place I know of in the whole of the English Channel where a vessel would go to-catch a larger proportion of small fish than others, so that whatever legislation was enacted on the subject it would be simply making us throw away saleable fish, and it would not improve the supply of flat fish at all. That shows the very reasonable position men of that kind take up—that while they have not, on that part of the coast, at any rate, any of these districts where the small fish congregate, and while the Bill would not prohibit the taking and the practical destruction of these small fish, they would be compelled to waste them instead of making what they can out of them. The admission of the right hon. Gentleman that he is going to send this Bill to a Select Committee shows that he has no great opinion as to the use of it. I do not quite know why he should ask the House to agree to the Second Reading on that condition. Either the Bill is a right one or it is a wrong one. This is no new subject; it is not as if we were absolutely in the dark, and had no evidence to go upon. We have had Report after Report, and, instead of having a Committee which can deal with the whole of the question, not only of the destruction but of the various methods by which it might be prevented, we are to be asked to send this Bill——


Order, order! The hon. Member is anticipating the motion for a Select Committee.


I bow to your ruling, Sir. I was only attempting to point out a reason why it was rather hard to expect the Second Reading of this Bill, unless the right hon. Gentleman could show us there was some good ground for it; I thought we had all the evidence before us, and that we should not have much added to our knowledge by delaying the matter any further.


Hear, hear!


The right hon. Gentleman says "hear, hear," but my point of view is that that evidence is quite sufficient to show that this is a bad Bill. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to kill the measure by that method I have no objection, but it is because I am not satisfied that there is over the whole area for which we can legislate a general decrease in the supply of fish, and because I feel that even if that were proved the present measure would be wholly ineffective for preventing the destruction of immature fish, and that, while not preventing the destruction, it will cause a very considerable waste of fish which are perfectly edible and useful, and give rise to considerable friction in a large part of the country, I ask the House to accept the Amendment that this Bill be read a second time this day six months.

MR. PRICE (Norfolk, East)

I rise to second the Amendment. I was one of the members of the unfortunate Committee which sat through the summer of 1893 to inquire into this matter of undersized fish, and the meeting of the Committee at which the Report was finally considered took place on the cheerful date of the 17th August. I do not know whether our Report was as good as it might have been, but I confess, though I speak for no one but myself, I was thoroughly glad when the work of the Committee was over, and I think that must have been the common feeling of all the members of the Committee. The Government of the day very kindly and graciously selected one of the very numerous recommendations we made. I believe that throughout the greater part of the Report we did talk fairly good sense, but the one part of our recommendations that was hotly fought and very much disagreed with in several quarters was the one and only point which the Government thought ought to be turned into law. At that time the Gentlemen who sit on this Front Bench were on the Treasury Bench, and one of my honoured leaders had put down a Bill somewhat similar to the one now before the House—I am not sure it was not a trifle more offensive. I remember he was intensely indignant because some of us objected to it, but the fact of the matter was that although we had great, affection for him we had even more affection for our constituents, and our constituents very strongly objected to being fined £2 whenever they had a small dab in the middle of their shrimp net or mixed up with their whitebait. The evidence is, of course, well in the minds if hon. Members; they will naturally have waded through the whole of this volume. But if they have not read it they will take it from us who were present through the whole of the debates of the Committee upstairs that substan- tially the evidence was that from 75 to 100 per cent. of the under-sized fish caught in the six-hour trawl were dead when the trawling was at an end. Consequently, from that point of view, this Bill would not be of the slightest use in saving fish. The Report states that there was considerable difference of opinion as to what the size should be. There was the ideal size, given by the scientific witnesses. These gentlemen said that unless the fish reproduced or were in a condition to reproduce their species they could not be said to be mature, and they advocated as the ideal, the height of excellence, some enormous-sized fish—I think it ran into feet sometimes. From the scientific point of view, in all probability they were quite right. But this Bill does not pretend to be scientific; in point of fact it is eminently unscientific. The evidence as regards other measures was a good deal stronger than that as to the advisability of saving these minute fish. There certainly was very strong evidence that owing to some mysterious operation of nature there are certain areas where the small fish do mostly congregate. The evidence distinctly was that the fish, after being spawned in deep water in the middle of the North Sea—and it was really only the North Sea the evidence was about; there were practically no complaints as to any other part—get over to the Dutch and German coasts in the neighbourhood of Heligoland, where there is a long, shallow, shelving bank of sand something like seventy miles in length by thirty miles wide, where these small fish are in millions and millions and thousands of millions. Most unfortunately for these poor little fish, who are doing their best to grow up to be good useful fish, there are a certain number of good-sized—what they call sizable—soles which will go intruding into the nursery. I dare say they are unfortunate fish that have never had a family, and that is the only way in which they can indulge their maternal feelings. The evidence was that you could catch large—well, 3s. 6d., 4s. 6d., and 5s. soles among these small fish. Then down comes the Grimsby trawler, which is the scoundrel of the sea in this department—the steam trawler, that does not care for wind or the bottom of the sea, and killing everything living there, in order to catch a few sizable soles. Unfortunately, soles are so expensive and valuable that a few sizable soles will repay these trawlers for dragging a lot of mere offal home again, but in killing these few sizable soles they kill thousands of millions of undersized fish, which may be good for manure, but they are good for nothing else. This Bill is not going to do any good to the little fish or to the consumers of fish in this country, but it is going to be a source of danger in our small fishing districts. Our small fishing districts carried on their business for generation without there being any diminution in the population of the sea. They caught undersized fish, of course; you cannot go out with a shrimp net and not catch undersized fish, but with a shrimp net you can throw those fish back into the sea, and I believe that is what, as a rule, is done. I do not doubt that the small trawler from Yarmouth and such places where they do not go in for this big trawling business do destroy a certain number of undersized fish, but the amount of destruction they do would never interfere with the value of fishing one iota. Fish reproduce at an enormous pace, and it was not until we got these steaming monsters that plough up the sand over and over again in the same place in any class of weather that we knew what it was to have any apparent diminution in the population of the sea. What the Committee recommended as its most serious recommendation, and upon which we were perfectly unanimous, was that it was the duty of the Government to try and arrange terms with foreign nations. There are other people besides ourselves who are interested in this question. Belgium, Holland, France, and Germany are all interested in the fishing in the North Sea, and, I should have thought, interested in their own advantage. I do not believe there would be any difficulty in arriving at an international agreement to keep some of these areas guarded, so that fishing could not take place over them, either at all, or at all events during certain seasons of the year, if a really earnest attempt were made. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will tell us what the Government have been doing in reply to this strong recommendation of the Committee. We know what they have been doing about these undersized fish. They have brought in a miserable abortive thing every year since, and the First Lord of the Treasury usually, in making the sacrifice of the innocents at the end of the session, talks in a cheerful tone about this Bill having no opposition to it; then we howl out "No!" or something of that sort, and he says, "Oh, I was not aware of any such thing." It is really an interesting feature of every session, and we have come to look upon this Bill as a hardy annual. But we do not know what the Government have done with regard to trying to get this international agreement. I do not think my right hon. friends on this side ever tried. Of course, it is a great nuisance trying to get an international agreement; I should not like it myself. But if I was paid an adequate salary, and had a unanimous recommendation like this handed to me from a Select Committee which had attended to its business so far as to sit up to the 17th August, I think I should take some notice of it, and not allow seven long years to elapse without doing anything at all. I do not believe the Board of Trade have over attempted to get the Foreign Office to put itself into communication with the foreign Powers. I do not know exactly how these things are done, but I do not believe any attempt has been made to get the foreign nations to agree to protect these areas, which undoubtedly are the nurseries of the growing fish, that being a course which would do a great deal more than this Bill in the direction of preserving a very great industry. I hope no one will think that I do not wish the North Sea to be repopulated, and if I thought this Bill would do it would support the measure. It is because I think that this Bill is a mere red herring drawn across the real trail that I have pleasure in seconding the motion that this Bill be read a second time this day six months.

Amendment proposed— To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the question to add the words 'upon this day six months. '"—(Sir Cameron Gull.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."—Debate arising:

* CAPTAIN PRETYMAN (Suffolk, Woodbridge)

I think we ought to deal with this matter upon reasonable and commonsense lines. There are other fish besides flat fish, and I am not aware why, in dealing with flat fish, we should adopt any other principle. I think it is generally recognised that if you want to get a certain number of fish to maturity it is desirable to protect the young ones. I do not know how we can expect to have any large stock of fish in the sea if we allow this kind of destruction to continue. The question we have to consider is whether there is any destruction now going on which this Bill will tend to prevent. I have done a good deal of trawling myself, and I can speak from personal experience of the condition of these fish when brought to the surface. It has been said that between 90 and 95 per cent. of the undersized fish brought up in a trawl are dead. There is some truth in that statement, but it only applies to deep-sea trawling, and not to inshore trawling. The natural history of these flat fish shows that this destruction is caused by inshore trawlers. The facts are these: when the fish spawn at sea the young fish make for the shallow inshore waters, and for the shallow estuaries about the coast. That is where the inshore trawlers work, and that is exactly where the greatest mischief is done. A few figures upon that point may be instructive to the House. Experiments have been made on the coast of Lancashire in order to ascertain the amount of damage done by the taking of these undersized fish, and here are some of the figures:—Fifty-two scrapes were taken with a 21ft. shrimp trawl. In fishing for shrimps and eels and other small fish it is necessary to use a small mesh net. In these fifty-two scrapes no less than 128,893 undersized fish were brought to the surface. This total gives an average of 2,500 undersized fish per scrape. [An HON. MEMBER: What time of the year were these experiments carried out?] I will quote from the return issued by the Lancashire Sea Fisheries Board, in which these experiments are described as follows— Result of some experimental hauls made with the shrimp trawl during the proposed closed time on the Burbo Bank Shrimping Ground during the years 1895-1899. The fish taken were chiefly soles, plaice, dabs, whiting, haddock, codling, and ray. In considering the amount of undersized sea-fish taken in shrimp! trawls, it should be remembered that each shrimp trawler makes several hauls during the day. The time of the year was July, August, and September. In some of these individual scrapes the actual number of undersized fish was 5,927, 6,000, 5,319, 4,404, and 3,559; and in one scrape alone there were no less than 567 undersized soles, which are a most valuable food fish. The sole is an extremely tough fish, and has a habit when in a trawl net of working its way up into the pockets. It does not go down into the bag of the net, and therefore it comes up alive and is not killed with the less valuable fish. The majority of undersized soles are brought up alive, and can be returned alive. In the case of deep sea trawling the net is dragged for five or six hours, with the result that the undersized fish are generally crushed and destroyed and cannot be returned to the water alive. Another reason why the inshore net picks up more small fish than the deep-sea net is that the construction of the net is entirely different. The object of the shrimper or eel trawler is to pick up the small fish, therefore his ground rope will almost pick up a pin. The moment the small fish gets inside the shrimper's net, which has a very small mesh, it has no chance of escape. In the case of deep sea trawling there is a heavy ground rope which rolls over the bottom at a considerable height from the surface, and the net is of a very large mesh. Therefore, a very small fish will often pass under the deep-sea net, and will sometimes pass through the mesh. Therefore, there is not the same proportion of destruction with the deep-sea trawler as with the inshore trawler. The question resolves itself into one of stopping this wholesale destruction by inshore trawling. When we see that in fifty-two scrapes, averaging about one hour and a quarter, each scrape produces an average of 2,500 undersized fish; when we bear in mind that around the area where these experiments were carried out as many as forty other trawlers were at work; if you take the number destroyed in that ground alone during the season some idea may be gathered of the destruction of fish life which is going on. No doubt a certain number of these fish are returned to the water, but what is done with the remainder? A large number of those caught by the deep sea trawlers are sent into the London market, but those destroyed by the inshore trawlers are not sent to the market at all, but are sold locally, and people are glad to buy at a very small price a large number of these undersized fish, which they can buy very cheaply. The question we have to con- sider is not the advantage to an individual who eats small immature fish, but we have to consider the enormous waste of food supply to the community which is caused by this destruction. I do not blame these people who are enabled to get food cheaply—that is the interest of the individual; but it is the duty of this House, when it is found that a particular advantage which some persons possess of getting what appears desirable food overrides the interests of the community, to provide such protection as may preserve that valuable food supply to the nation. That is the point of view from which I look at this question. We have heard some rather curious statistics about the North Sea, which is not as the hon. Member for East Norfolk seems to suppose, the happy hunting ground of the Gulf Stream, but it is a shallow sea which is the natural habitat of this particular kind of flat fish, and the Gulf Stream has nothing whatever to do with it. That accounts for what we have heard of there being no falling off in the take of fish on the western and the southwestern coast. The reason for that is that the area available for trawling on the south-western coast in proportion to the area of the Atlantic is very small. The whole area of the North Sea is available for trawling, and the present increased take of fish is largely due to the great catching power of steam trawlers, which are working in all directions and causing a great destruction of fish life. I think it is in the interests of the nation that this food supply should be kept up. I have tried to establish that there really is a great waste of fish life going on, and that that waste is largely on our coast. I might mention one other matter of which I have have had personal experience. On the east coast I happen to be the chairman of one of the Fisheries Committees, and we have taken up this question within the three mile limit. Upon that coast fish practically disappeared in consequence of trawling. This particular area was then put under bye-laws sanctioned by the Board of Trade prohibiting trawling, and the consequence was that within two or three years an area which was before practically destitute of fish is now swarming with them. I think that shows what protection will do. If it were possible to have small areas and place them under efficient protection a great deal of good might be done, but this is impossible outside the 3 mile limit. I am in favour of procuring an international agreement upon this question, but we all know what a time that takes, and if we are to wait for such an agreement I am afraid there will be very few fish left. It is our duty to do all we can for ourselves, and I believe that most foreign nations have recognised that the ordinary practice which prevails even in this country in regard to undersized fish and small crabs, lobsters, and trout, which are already protected should also be supplied to flat fish. I think that. a natural reply which would be given to any request for an international agreement would be, "Why do you ask us for this agreement while you are allowing undersized fish to be sold in your own markets?" I think we ought to first put ourselves upon a level with them by prohibiting the sale of undersized fish, as prohibited already in foreign countries. I think this prohibition of sale would have the effect of stopping this waste of fish life. If such fish are not saleable there will not be anything like the same temptation to catch them. Shrimpers go ostensibly to catch shrimps, but they now go where they can also catch those undersized fish; but if they were not? saleable they would not go to those grounds. I think prohibition should be extended not only to sale, but also to being in possession of undersized fish. I feel very strongly on that point, because I know from personal experience that hundreds of thousands of these undersized fish, not so big as the palm of my hand, are tied together and strung upon wires, to be used as bait for lobster-pots. That is a waste of fish which, in the course of two or three years, would have become very valuable, and it is a wicked waste of fish life. Therefore, when this matter comes to be discussed in Committee, I hope we shall prohibit not only the sale, but also the possession of undersized fish. I believe that the passage of this measure has been urged upon the President of the Board of Trade by every authority interested in fisheries in this country. [Cries of "No, no!"] But I have sat and heard myself those feelings unanimously and strongly expressed, and I know that the right hon. Gentleman has been most severely taken to task by those interested, because his measure has not been passed. I hope that now we have got this Bill before us, it will be discussed in a businesslike spirit, and that not only the Second Reading but also the subsequent stages will be carried, and that it will lead not only to an increase in the national food supply, but that at the same time it will also promote the prosperity of the fishing industry.

MR. HARWOOD (Bolton)

For some years past experiments have been made upon the Lancashire coast, and these experiments prove conclusively that the principle contained in this Bill is totally unsound. This is not a simple matter of detail, but it is a fundamental principle, and upon that ground I venture to oppose this Bill altogether. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has stated that this destruction is the result chiefly of inshore trawling, but if the House reads the Report of the Committee they will see that it is nothing of the kind. The Report states that in regard to herring and round and flat fish there is no falling off, and the only question is as to the great fishing grounds of the North Sea.


That is exactly what I said.


There is no question about inshore trawling, and there is absolutely no evidence as to any falling off in the general supply in consequence of trawling. On the strength of evidence of that kind, we are asked to pass a Bill founded upon a principle which I venture to think is totally unsound. The hon. Member opposite spoke of an analogy in regard to a close time with salmon. The House must remember that there is a fundamental difference between salmon and other kinds of fish which do not come up the river, and therefore it is not necessary to protect them in that way. I want to call the attention of the House to one thing in regard to fish which must not be forgotten, and that is that there is an illimitable supply of fish in the sea, and it does not matter how many fish you take. I join issue entirely with the hon. Member as regards the taking of these small fish. I do not know what an undersized fish means, but I know that small soles are better than large ones. As to what an undersized fish is I do not think it is for this House to say. Let the House consider these statistics in regard to fish. A cod, for example, lays 9,000,000 eggs a year, and a conger eel lays 15,000,000 eggs a year. A very short calculation will show that if all the eggs which are laid upon the Lancashire coast came to maturity, you would not be able to sail a ship in the Irish Sea. Her Majesty would not have been able to cross the Irish Sea recently if the principle of this Bill had been allowed its full scope. I am not alone in upholding this principle, for those who have gone into the matter at all know that Mr. Frank Buckland entered upon this inquiry with the conviction that the principle involved in this Bill was right. What conclusion did he come to? He was at first in favour of the principle of these measures, but after the most exhaustive inquiry he came to the conclusion that there was no reason for thinking that the supply of fish, taken as a whole, was decreasing, or, if there was any decrease, that it was due to over-fishing. Another well-known authority, Professor McIntosh, also gave evidence, and he gives numerous instances. in his recently published book of attempts to carry out this principle in the Forth and St. Andrew's Bay, and after twelve years of operations in his own country he has come to the conclusion that there has been no falling off in our fisheries.


What is the date of that book?


It was published in the year 1899, and I think if a writer puts these views in a book published in 1899 they may be taken as representing his views up to that time. It seems to me that if the principle of this Bill and the principle laid down by the hon. Member opposite is at all sound we ought to give over eating eggs and lamb, and we ought to eat nothing but the sirloin of an old bull, old roosters, and aged rams. We know that on land this principle is not carried out. The real truth is that there are thousands of candidates waiting for this fish that is caught. It may be asked,, how do you account for the fact that certain places have lost the supply of fish? That has not been on account of trawling. I can give cases where fish have disappeared for long periods from certain places, and have come back again, and no man can give the reason why. Then look at Fleetwood. I can remember very well when haddock were freely caught, but between 1870 and 1880 they entirely disappeared. And then, after a period of some fifteen years, they reappeared. Then with regard to whiting —here is a striking case with regard to the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman—of all fish whiting would be most affected by the prosecutions taken in Lancashire, yet what is the result? Before this Bill operated in Lancashire whiting were brought into Fleetwood by dozens per week, and since this measure has been adopted no whiting are brought in at all. That is not due to the adoption of this measure, but probably to some other cause altogether. Take the case of herrings. Forty years ago there were large takes of herrings in Morecambe Bay; they have now disappeared. But that is not due to trawling, because there has been no trawling there. Then take Southport. Southport used to be called Shrimpopolis; it was the centre of the shrimping trade. What is the result of this measure? I saw only the other day in Southport a number of shrimps marked as having come from Holland, because your irritating Commission has prevented the people catching them off Southport. There is an old saying, "Take a cockle, and have a cockle," that applies to all fish. In 1879 there were 700 tons more cockles taken in Morecambe Bay than last year; that is to say, with all your Fishery Boards and irritating arrangements, you take 700 tons less of these fish than you took. I do not wish to weary the House, but I really think we should use a little common sense in the matter. The whole principle on which this Bill is based is a wrong principle. An hon. Member said we are leaving them to grow, but if that were done the sea would be so full that there would not be enough room for them all to live. It is more than a matter of joking; it is a serious thing. In the first place this Bill interferes a very great deal with the British fishermen. We have heard a great deal of getting an international agreement, but you stop British fishermen catching fish and do not stop the foreigner. Look at the ineffectiveness of the proposal: you get the fish out of the sea, and you are not to sell them. Why are you not to sell them? You are not to let the people have cheap food. Most of these fish would be no use if they were thrown back into the sea. It adds to the difficulty of the fisherman if he has to sort the fish on the trawler and throw them back. Let the House remember the men do not catch these fish unless they are there. They do not go for the purpose of catching immature fish. In conclusion I would only say we have heard a great deal from time to time about the grandmotherly legislation of the Liberal party; but I do not think, however guilty we may have been, we have ever been guilty of such grandmotherly legislation as this.


Might I remind the hon. Member that the late Government introduced this Bill first?


I am sorry to hear it, but I am no defender of the late Government. This Bill seeks not only to teach people what they ought to do, but to teach Nature what she ought to do.


Mr. Speaker, is it not a little humiliating, on the first working Monday after Easter, when this House is wont to treat of some high affair of State or some great measure of legislation, that we should have fallen so low as to discuss the number of inches to which a sole or a brill shall grow before they shall be sold in our markets? I feel under these circumstances like a worm crawling in a pond. The whole of this trouble about fish arises from the initiation of a number of Committees, some of them self-constituted, and some of them worse—constituted by the Board, of Trade, generally composed of farmers, lawyers, and captains of horse, foot, and artillery, who know no more about fish than I do about the mites in the moon. But they all have theories, and can all. quote statistics. My hon. friend on my left, who is always to the fore when there is a weak ease to be supported on behalf of the Government, quoted statistics which had nothing to do with the case. He gave us portentous figures as to the catches of undersized fish, but when I asked him what was fullsized fish and what were undersized fish he could not say; and then it turned out that all his statistics were for inshore fishing. Are you going to limit this Bill to inshore fishing? If so, I have not so much objection to it. But this Bill is absolutely general, and I; was amazed to hear the hon. Member for the Woodbridge Division say that he wanted to get fish food cheap. That is a very good object, but judging from the time he took I imagine he wanted some other generation or some other people to get this good food cheap. Now, have these farmers, lawyers, and captains any basis for their arguments? Their argument is that the food supply of fish is in danger. Is it? I turn to the statistics issued on the 15th February last, the last; statistics issued by the Board of Trade, including those for the years 1897, 1898, and 1899. For the moment I am not going to use the figures for 1899, because I notice we are told that those figures are provisional, and subject to rectification, and when the Board of Trade puts that into its statistics we know you can double them or halve them and not do much harm. "Brill, solos, turbot, and prime fish." There was landed in 1897 in the United Kingdom 18,000 cwt. of brill in 1898, 19,878 cwt.; and in the same way with soles and turbot, there was not a decrease, but an increase in favour of the fish which it is proposed to deal with by this Bill. Then where is the foundation for this Bill? Let me remind the Committee that the increase during the last ten years is far greater than the proportionate increase shown by the figures of these two years. In 1889 thirteen million cwt. of fish were landed in the ports of the United Kingdom, and they were worth £6,000,000 sterling; in 1898, the last year of reliable statistics of the Board of Trade, there were landed 16,000,000 cwt. of fish, the value of which was not £6,000,000 but £8,500,000. I want cheap fish food for the people, and that is what it seems to me the hon. Gentlemen who support this Bill do not want. First of all, the foundation for their argument disappears when I have shewn that during the last ten years there has been a vast increase of all fish landed on every part of our coasts. [An HON. MEMBER: Can the hon. Gentle-man say what the increase of trawlers was during that period? There were fewer, and that makes it all the more remarkable. Fewer fishing boats and fewer fishermen, but the methods have so improved that they catch more fish than in former years. But if the number of trawlers had increased it would not affect my argument, because the question we are dealing with is whether there is an adequate increase of the fish food for the people. The complaint is, that it is getting too cheap. I am glad it is getting cheap. The cheaper it is the better. Now look at this Bill and compare it with the Bill of last year. Last year it was called the Undersized Fish Bill. This year the Bill is identical with the Bill f last year, word for word the same, but instead of being called the Undersized Fish Bill it is called the Sea Fisheries Bill. This Bill has been brought in every year since 1895, and I have often stood almost alone in opposing it. It has as many aliases as a burglar, or the younger son of a peer. Last year it was brought in by the Lord Advocate of Scotland; this year he has repented himself of the mischief he would have done, and his name is no longer on the Bill. His constituents have looked after him too well to allow it to appear; this year the Home Secretary's name appears upon it. Last year it was said to provide against the destruction of undersized fish, which it did not do, this year it is called a Bill to Amend the Fisheries Acts, which it does not pretend to do. When I look at this Bill I am reminded of the woman of Samaria, of whom it was said in Holy Writ, "For thou hast had five husbands, and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband." This Bill has had many titles, and the title which it now has is not its proper title. The object of it is to prevent the people getting food cheap. Now I believe there are many good honest people living in inland towns who have never seen a fish or a fishing boat, who believe that if they can prevent people from selling small fish they will add to the supply of large fish. The right hon. Gentleman is one of those, but I am not sure that he has not got the whole of that idea from one of those enthusiasts on the fisheries question with whom we are familiar. There was a gentleman who used to sit in this House, Lord Heneage, who was largely the inventor of this method of preventing the people getting good cheap food, and no doubt he would be with us now were it not for the fact that by exercising the natural tyranny of a Liberal Unionist over a Tory Government, he got himself translated to another place. He brings his Bill down here and forces it down the throat of my right hon. friend, who from the appearance of his countenance does not like the flavour of it at all. But let us assume for a moment, as these good honest gentlemen do, that there is going to be good done to the food supply of this country by the preservation of these undersized fish. What the hon. Member for Bolton said is true, that there are such an enormous number of fish in the sea that, but for the fact that they prey on one another like politicians, the sea would be overstocked with them. Man is not the enemy of fish; it is the fish themselves which keep the stock down to what might be termed habitable limits in the sea. I notice that there are only four fish provided for in this Bill. Observe the generosity of Lord Heneage and the right hon. Gentleman: they do not touch whitebait. We do not always know what are young fish and what are old fish, but we do know that whitebait are all young fish, and if ever this Bill gets into the Committee stage, I shall move to include whitebait, and then we shall see whether the right hon. Gentleman and his noble friend will include all the fish in the sea. I believe in some parts of the country, particularly in the West, there is a large amount of unsound opinion, but the vast majority of the fish with which the Bill deals are caught on the East Coast, commencing with Lynn and going round by Lowestoft and Yarmouth, and further: south by Ramsgate, and the opinion on that part of the coast is absolutely solid against this Bill. My first criticism on this Bill is this—I think it is a very serious truism, which will not be controverted—that we do not know absolutely everything about fish. [Laughter.] I have put it in the very mildest form, and hon. Gentlemen who laugh at me must remember that when once they admit that, they have not sufficient ground to begin legislating for fish. My hon. and gallant friend knows a great deal, but even he does not know the size of an undersized fish. I have never been able myself to tell what is an undersized fish, or what is an undersized man, and if you do not know the size of an undersized man, what can you know of undersized fish? And, so far as anyone can tell, in the sea there is no limit to the size a fish will grow if he is allowed to go on living, and always providing he is not eaten by another fish. Then where is the necessity for this Bill of inches? Of course we are told again and again that they are not thrown back into the sea, but they are sold, and sold cheap; that to my mind is the great advantage. Let me tell the House what happens with regard to trawling. It is perfectly true in deep sea trawling you cannot keep the sole alive. Sometimes the sole, being an agile fish, will get up into the pocket instead of remain- ing in the sag, but certainly not the small ones; they get dragged down to the bottom of the trawl with a mass of larger fish and seaweed, and by the time the trawl is hauled up they are so nearly dead as to be of no use, even if thrown back into the sea. There is nothing in this Bill to prevent your catching them; something might be said upon that. But to say go on catching them as long as you like, but if you bring them ashore you shall not sell them, is absurd. In the third sub-section of the first clause it says when the fish is in an enclosed box the person who sells it shall not be liable if he has a certificate that he got it from somebody else. By the 4th sub-section the authorities can, if they see any such fish, order it to be destroyed. This is a bad Bill indeed. It prevents the poor fisherman from getting the price of his catch, and the poor man generally from buying cheap food. Let me urge the Government not to pass a Bill which contains nothing but mischief, and which will inflict a most cruel and unmerited injury not only on the poor people who live on such fish, but above all on the brave and honest fisherman who faces so many dangers in the pursuit of his calling.

SIR MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbrightshire)

I rise to-night for a few minutes to say this is a question of facts, and not of theories. My hon. friend who has just spoken gave us a good deal of theory, but I doubt if he has much experience in trawling, or the various modes of fishing on our coasts. The fishermen are losing the knowledge of their craft altogether, because there is no fish to catch, and therefore it was high time for the Government to interfere. I thank the Government for having brought in this Bill. In the south-west of Scotland we used to have first-rate fishing, but from the time trawling was introduced the fish began to decrease. This is a question of national importance, because it means cheap food for the people. Fishermen and others who live by the fishing industry are in despair, and they have asked the Government to send down gunboats to take notice of what is going on; but as soon as the "Jackal" or some other Government vessel appears, the trawlers make off south. The question affects not only the sea fisheries, but the fisheries of the rivers of Scotland, England, and Ireland, which are losing their fertility, and the fish which used to be bought so cheaply by the working classes is now beyond their means. In my part of the country there was at one time a regular agreement that the farm servants should not be fed on salmon more than six days in the week; and salmon could be bought at a penny per pound. If the rivers were properly administered under proper laws, we should soon have an abundance of salmon and trout, and if trawling was prohibited there would again be a great abundance of fish off our shores. I trust the Government will persevere with this Bill. I am satisfied that, with the exception of three or four fishery districts in England, the whole kingdom will hail any measure which will put an end to inshore trawlers, and in this way the fishermen would get work, and the working classes obtain food in greater abundance.

* MR. WEIR (ROSS and Cromarty)

The hon. Member for King's Lynn made a strong appeal on behalf of the fishermen, and the hon. Member who first raised objection to the Bill also made a similar appeal, but the latter gentleman let the cat out of the bag by saying that he was in favour of the shrimpers. It is said that there is a large increase in the catch of fish, although there is a diminution in the number of fishermen in Scotland. Of course there ought to be a large supply of fish, because the trawlers are fitted up with the best machinery and go at the highest rate of speed. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade on his bringing in this Bill. Representing as I do a constituency with an enormous seaboard and a large number of fishermen, I think I should know something of the mischief done by trawlers. We have heard to-night that small fish are more abundant on the south coast of England than on the coasts of the north of Scotland, and in the North Sea. It is just possible that in the south of England the gunboats sent by the Government for the purpose of watching the trawlers are more active. At any rate they have less ground to cover than in the north of Scotland, and that may account for the greater abundance of the small fish. No doubt the trawlers, coming as they do in shore, do an immense amount of mischief, and are gradually ruining the industry of the line fishermen. Some object to the Bill, and want an international agreement. We should be very glad if the Foreign Office came to a more satisfactory agreement with the Continental Powers, in regard to the North Sea Fisheries Convention. But these matters move slowly, and in the meantime I prefer this Bill to no Bill at all. [An HON. MEMBER: No!] An hon. Gentleman says "No." I can only suppose he represents the trawling interest; I represent the line fishermen, a class of men for whom we ought to do our best, and, from a national point of view, it is our duty to stand by them. Reference has been made to the diminishing number of persons engaged in the line fishery. In 1894 there were 50,589 persons employed in the Scottish fishing industry; in 1898 there were only 38,508, or a falling off of 12,081. The number of fishing boats—not shrimpers, which are manned by longshoremen—was 11,217, in 1894. In 1898 they had decreased to 10,485, or a falling off of 732. Well, that is a serious matter, and this Bill, I trust and believe, will have the effect of helping the line fishermen materially. When the British trawlers were excluded from the Moray Firth the line fishermen got an increased catch, and were making a comfortable living until the foreign trawlers swooped down on these rich fishing grounds. The foreigners still, I regret to say, infest these waters in increasing numbers, with the result that the line fishermen are being ruined and fishing depopulated. There is one fault I have to find with the Bill, and that is the penalties are too low. What is a penalty of £2! In Committee I shall move that the penalties be increased. I trust the right hon. Gentleman will not give way to those who are apparently more interested in longshoremen, shrimps, and cockles than in the line fishermen, but that he will push the Bill through so that it may become law at the earliest possible moment.


As one of the members of the Committee of 1893, on whose Report this Bill is to some extent based, I thank the President of the Board of Trade for having regard to a great national interest, and making an attempt to deal with this most important subject. The Committee of 1893 sat for twenty days, and the fact that they remained at work during the month of August showed their conception of the great interests committed to their charge. They examined many scientific witnesses and had before them a representation of all the practical people connected with the industry. Grimsby, Hull, and other ports strongly and unanimously expressed themselves in favour of these proposals. At the Conference held lately in the Fishmongers' Hall, the proposals in this Bill were carried practically unanimously after a discussion in which the other side had been fully heard. I heartily reciprocate the remarks of the hon. Member for King's Lynn about the importance of fishermen to our Navy and the Naval Reserve, and that unless we take care of our fisheries in that larger sense, we may run some national danger. In France, for the sake of the Newfoundland fisheries, they give large bounties to the fishermen—not, however, that I approve of bounties. The principle on which the Bill is based is that many of us, practically engaged in this industry, are wishful that the interests of to-morrow should not be sacrificed for the interests of to-day. We want to prevent the killing of immature fish, and so prevent our stores of mature fish being diminished. It is not true that there are now proverbially as good fish in the sea as over came out of it. On the contrary, in number and size they are undoubtedly decreasing. Now, how is that? Our Committee heard evidence, which was unanimous, that the trawlers went to the grounds and nurseries of the fish, and to the shelving shores to which the fish come from the open sea to spawn. We have heard about the Lancashire District Committee having gone scientifically and practically to work, and having done great things to improve their fisheries. And in the case of the Humber, whore the same kind of work had been done, soles, which were decreasing, are now becoming much more numerous. To illustrate the extent to which immature fish are caught, I may say it was proved to the Committee that in Billingsgate Market twenty fish were sold to the pound, and that a box of plaice contained 400 instead of forty, which would have been the proper quantity if the fish had been of the proper size. Of course if that goes on we shall have something like a depletion of the sea. The old fishing grounds in the North Sea are now becoming vacant, and our fishermen have to go as far south as Portugal, and as far north as Iceland in order to obtain a good catch. When we hear that the catching power of a steam trawler is equal to that of four or five of the old smacks—that their catching power is illimitable, it is clear that you must have a diminution in number and a deterioration in the size of the fish caught. I quite grant that the diminution is not so great in the case of round fish as in flat fish. Statistics have been quoted, but statistics may mislead. Evidence was brought before the Committee even by trawlers, that the decrease in flat fish had been, in less than twenty years, 50 per cent. The price of fish has risen from 5½ millions in 1889 to 8½ millions in 1898, showing that the quantity caught now commands an increased price. Those who talk about the increased quantity of fish brought to market, never alluded to the greater catching power of the fishing vessels, and the greater area fished. The Committee went into most of the points which have been discussed to-night. They did not fail to consider the question of closed areas; but closed areas mean limits, and definite boundaries, which at sea are matters of the utmost difficulty. The Government has been urged times without number to enter into a convention with the Continental Powers in regard to this matter, but the reply has always been that we must, first of all, put our own house in order, and that they would see afterwards about putting their laws in operation. The Committee also considered the question of close times; but inasmuch as the maturity of different fishes and their re-production varies, it is impossible in dealing with a sea area to say there shall be a close time generally for a particular species. You cannot discriminate in the processes of catching. This is altogether apart from the question of a Sea Fisheries Convention. The conclusion to which the Committee arrived was that the only practical mode of dealing with this matter was to remove the inducements to the fishermen to go to the districts where these fish are caught, and to take care that if they did go, when they came to land they would not find their voyage remunerative. Therefore, we did not object to the fish being consumed for food and being brought on shore and given away or otherwise dealt with. We had ample evidence to show that when the fish were so very small, even the poor would not buy them. Many witnesses came forward who said that if these small fish were returned at once to the sea there would be no difficulty in their living, and that a great portion of the evil would thus be prevented. The Committee felt that from every point of view they had had a very difficult question to determine, one which involved most material national interests. They were agreed that it had been conclusively proved that there was a great diminution in the harvest of the sea, and that the best course, as I have said, was to remove the temptation to catch fish that are not sizeable, and so in the end benefit, not only consumers, but even those who now think their interests may be injured by this class of legislation, and at the same time preserve a most valuable and wholesome food for the people of this country.

MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)

This Bill is no stranger to the House. It was brought in as far back as 1894, or at any rate 1895, and has re-appeared every year since. I believe that this Bill has the support of by far the larger number of people in this country. I remember in 1894 receiving a deputation representing all the Sea Fisheries of the United Kingdom on the subject, and they were unanimous in asking for a Bill of this kind, and I believe that they are unanimous now. I am informed that all the Sea Fisheries Committees are in favour of it, and I believe that at the Annual Conference held in Fishmongers' Hall it has always been approved by an overwhelming majority. So far from it being the case that the important trawling centres are opposed to the measure, I can speak for my own constituency, which is one of the most important of these centres—having tripled or quadrupled the trawling tonnage during the last few years—as being in favour of the Bill. The truth is that the case is overwhelming, considered in regard to the real facts. It has been alleged that there has been no diminution in the supply of fish. Yes, but what is the difference of the areas from which the fish come? These trawlers, instead of confining themselves to our shores, go far into the North Sea and into the Atlantic; and some spend a great deal of time off Norway, Denmark, and even Iceland. Some trawlers are so well equipped as to take coal for these long voyages; and the catch of fish is therefore immensely greater than it was a few years ago. Therefore, any reasoning based on a comparison of the statistics of the fish sold in the United Kingdom a few years ago and now, must be useless, because the area from which the fish come is so extensive that although there may be a large diminution of the take off our own coasts, there may still be an immense increase in the supply in our markets.


Fewer boats catch more fish.


The tonnage is larger, and the quantity of fish is greater owing to that great increase of tonnage. That being so, it is quite plain that this increased catch is quite compatible with the diminution in the supply around our coasts. There is no doubt about this diminution. I believe it has been perfectly well established, and the local authorities, who are in a position to know, are unanimously of opinion that it exists. Furthermore, it is a fact that other countries abutting on the North Sea, which are largely interested in fishing, have adopted similar legislation. It has been adopted in Germany, Holland, Denmark, and, I believe, also France. The result in the case of Denmark has been very beneficial, and the Danes are very well satisfied with it. The objection which has most plausibility in it is that this measure might affect many of the fishing towns. That is true to a certain extent, but not altogether. The real argument in favour of the measure is that in the shallower parts of the sea the proportion of small fish is extremely large, and that trawlers resort to these districts and catch large quantities of these small fish, and if this measure is passed that practice will be no longer worth their while. It is from that point of view that it is likely to prove beneficial. I think that a primâ facie case has been made out for it, and I hope, therefore, that the House will pass the Second Reading, and that we shall all do what we can to diminish a large amount of preventable waste in one of the most important elements in the food of our people.


During the discussion on this Bill one very important fact has been admitted, even by hon. Gentlemen who have spoken against it, and that is that immense quantities of immature fish are killed every year. Starting with that admission, surely the argument follows that when immense quantities of immature fish are killed there must be a corresponding decrease in the available food of the people. Surely it stands to reason that if you kill a largo quantity of immature fish which would, if allowed, have grown into large fish, you ultimately decrease the quantity available for food. Of that there can be no question whatever. When hon. Gentlemen speak about depriving the poor of a large and valuable supply of cheap food, I say the object of this Bill is not to deprive the poor of a large supply of cheap food, but to secure to the poor that large supply of food which is ruthlessly destroyed year by year by the operations of some of our fishermen. It has not been denied that the quantity of fish landed is decreasing. The hon. Member for King's Lynn established, to his own entire satisfaction, that instead of the quantity of fish landed being smaller than it was, it is increasing considerably. I will give the House one or two figures with regard to that point, and I will direct the attention of hon. Members not only to the quantity of fish landed, but to the price that it fetched in the market, as compared with five or six years ago, and the House will see whether the effect of this Bill is likely to decrease the cheap food of the people or the reverse. The estimated value of the fish landed on the coast of the United Kingdom in 1899, excluding shell fish, was £8,871,000, and the quantity was 14,796,000 cwt.


Those are provisional figures, subject to rectification.


Yes, subject to rectification. In 1896 the value of the fish landed was £7,057,000, and the quantity which in 1899 was 14,796,000 cwt., was in 1896 14,711,000 cwt., so that the House will observe that whereas the quantity of fish landed in 1896 and in 1899 was estimated to be almost exactly the same, the value was £1,800,000 greater in 1899 than in 1896. Now, let us go to the fish dealt with in this Bill. The average quantity of flat fish landed in 1894 was 4,530,000 cwt., and in 1899 4,592,000 cwt., or only an increase of 1½ per cent.; but, as hon. Gentlemen know, there has been a greater increase in population in the period between these two years than 1½ per cent. I should like to give one or two figures with regard to the average price which this fish brings in the market. In 1894 brill fetched £2 10s. 1d. per cwt.; in 1898 the price was £2 10s. 4d., and in 1899 £2 15s. 6d., or an increase of 10 per cent. Sole also increased in price 10 per cent., and turbot 8 per cent. Plaice is much more the food of the common people than any of the other fish I have mentioned, and a large rise in the price and a diminution in the catch of this fish is an exceedingly serious matter for the working class population. The quantity of plaice landed in 1894 was 855,000 cwt., and in 1899 only 752,000 cwt., and the price, which was 19s. 6d. a cwt. in 1894, was in 1899 £1 3s., or an increase of 17 per cent.; and if we take a period of five years the increase in price is no less than 26 per cent., accompanied by a diminution in the catch of 100,000 cwt. These figures are taken from the Board of Trade Returns, and I think nothing can speak more eloquently as to the necessity of something being done in order to endeavour to increase the available fish supply than they can. And let it be remembered that we are dealing not only with a growing population which requires more and more of this kind of food every year, but we also have to consider the fact that the diminished catch and the increased price have taken place notwithstanding the enormous increase of the facilities for catching fish, which has taken place within the last few years. An hon. Gentleman opposite quoted some figures of a somewhat ancient character, when nothing like the present facilities for catching fish existed. The circumstances have entirely altered, and the figures I have given the House must convince hon. Members that when we appeal to the House to assist us in endeavouring to preserve the supply of fish for the poor we are acting on a sound statistical basis. Who are the chief persons who are asking for this legislation? They are those who are engaged in catching fish. I heard some murmurs of dissent when an hon. Gentleman opposite said that the Sea Fisheries Committee was in favour of this Bill. I have presided over their statutory meetings every year since I have been at the Board of Trade, and they have continually pressed upon me, above all other matters of reform, to represent to the Government that the one thing necessary for the preservation of the fishing industry was that we should adopt the recommendations of the Select Committee; and when it is alleged that they are not unanimous in favour of this Bill I absolutely deny it. There was only one occasion on which a single voice was raised against the proposal advocated by the Committee, and that was by my right hon. friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet, and in order to judge the strength of the opposition I asked the members of the Committee who agreed with the speech of my right hon. friend to hold up their hands, and not a single hand was held up. The hon. Gentleman the Member for King's Lynn said that the Committee was composed of officers and merchants and farmers, but I tell him it is composed of representatives of the fishermen themselves, of representatives of steam and sailing trawlers, and that it is fully representative of the industry it professes to represent. My hon. friend has made a great confession. He has told us that there is one thing which he did not understand, and that was fish. I was surprised he should make any such; admission, as I thought he knew something about everything. I can assure him that he is entirely mistaken in. supposing that the Sea Fisheries Committee is not fully representative. Then we have the Report of the Select Committee, which fully justifies us in proposing the Bill which we now ask the House to accept. No doubt hon. Gentlemen, who have remarked on the fact that this legislation has been proposed year after year are justified in the reproaches which they have directed against the two Governments who did not secure the passage of this Bill, but every Member of this House must know that it is very hard to get even an important matter of this kind pressed forward. But now we have an opportunity, and we ask the House to decide this question. I hope that hon. Members will follow the example set by the other maritime Powers—by Germany, France, Holland, and Denmark—who have all passed a law regulating the size of fish which shall be sold. As regards an international agreement, I entirely concur with my hon. friend, who said that would be most desirable, but if we are to wait until that is brought about we shall have to wait for many years. I do not see what good answer we could give if we approached foreign countries and they said, "We have our own laws on this matter. Why do you not legislate also." We would have no answer to that. Surely if we pass this Bill we do not in any way damage our position to make representations to foreign Powers; on the contrary, we greatly improve it. A great deal has been said about our own coasts, but our own coasts are nearly all protected by the Sea Fisheries Committee, Nine-tenths of our coast is already protected within the three-mile limit, and no destruction takes place there. But there are parts of the coast, represented by the hon. Member for King's Lynn and by other hon. Members who have given notice of opposition to this Bill, where they will not have any local authority or bye-laws set up, and it is from them that this opposition comes. I hope the House will, notwithstanding all that has been said against this measure, assent to the Second Reading. There has been much criticism on the details, but these can easily be dealt with in Committee. I hope the House, by passing the Second Reading, will agree with the Government in saying first of all that there is a large destruction of immature fish at present; secondly, that the quantity of fish which is being landed is not increasing but decreasing; and, thirdly, that that being so we are justified in asking the House of Commons to take some steps such as were recommended by the Select Committee for the purpose of stopping this destruction, and to pass legislation on similar lines to that which has been passed in almost every other European country.

* MR. H. S. FOSTER (Suffolk, Lowestoft)

I am glad that after six years the House of Commons has an opportunity of discussing whether or not it is practicable to prevent the destruction of under-sized fish, by prohibiting their landing and sale in this country. During this discussion a number of curious misstatements have been made, but I think no misstatement has been more curious or unjustifiable than the gross misstatement that this measure has practically the unanimous support of those engaged in the great fishing industry. I have the honour to represent in this House the third fishing port in the kingdom—Lowestoft. Other hon. Members representing other important fishing centres hold the same views as I do, but, speaking on behalf of Lowestoft—whose opinion is entitled to be heard on a question such as this—I say that the opinion of those engaged in the fishing industry is absolutely unanimous against this Bill. I may perhaps be permitted to call the attention of the House to the fact that in 1899 the fish landed at the port of Lowestoft amounted to 50,000 tons, of a value of £638,000. It is also a curious fact, and a fact to be noted, that when the Select Committee on whose report this Bill is supposed to be founded—a Committee of which I had the good or ill fortune to be a member—sat in 1893, statements were made to us on behalf of those who supported a measure of this kind that the fishing industry was going to ruin, and that in a few years the whole of the supply would, be exhausted. In that year the quantity of fish imported into Lowestoft was 31,000 tons, as against 50,000 tons last year, and the value was £530,000, as against £638,000 last year. It is quite true that there has been a great alteration in the methods of catching fish, and a great improvement in the catching capacity of vessels. But the arguments which were good enough a few years ago, when the change first came about, no longer apply to-day, and I think it is unfair for the President of the Board of Trade to advocate this measure with statistics which might have furnished a good argument in 1893, but which do not support that argument in 1900. We have statistics which show us the number of men employed and the tonnage of the vessels during the last three years, and the House will find that with a smaller catching power in 1899 than in 1896, and with a smaller number of men employed, there was a larger catch of fish. I think in fairness the President of the Board of Trade should have pointed out to the House that during the last few years the argument of an increased catching power is no longer applicable to the statistics he has quoted. The Bill now before the House is supposed to be founded on the Report of the Select Committee of 1893. The President of the Board of Trade, in reply to a question from me last week,* * See page 15 of this volume. stated that, in the event of this Bill being read a second time, he was prepared in the first place not to consider that as in any way prejudging the question as to whether the prohibition of landing and sale would affect the destruction, and in the second place that he was prepared to refer the Bill to a Select Committee. I must confess that, to a very large extent, that minimises the objection which I have to this Bill, because if it is referred to an impartial Committee of this House, with power to call evidence, and if that Committee considers the question in the spirit of its not having boon prejudged, I am perfectly satisfied that the Committee will unanimously report that this Bill would inflict a maximum of irritation on a great industry with the minimum of good. A great many matters connected with the fishing industry were referred to the Committee of 1893, and among them was the question of regulating certain methods of fishing. I can say, without contradiction, that it was proved conclusively that the great destruction of fish is due to the new methods employed during the last few years by the introduction of steam trawlers. It was pointed out in evidence before the Committee that sailing trawlers were subject, by nature, to a close season of wind and tide, whereas steam trawlers knew no such conditions. It was pointed out that sailing trawlers were frequently subjected to calms for days, and sometimes practically for weeks, whereas, as some of the witnesses said, steam trawlers scraped the bottom of the sea independent of wind and tide, and practically destroyed all animal life over the area of their operations; and it was also pointed out that the increased catching power of the steam trawlers had largely affected the habits of the fish.

It being midnight, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Thursday.