HC Deb 02 August 1907 vol 179 cc1458-65

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, said it was of a non-controversial character. About three years ago a whale fishery was established in the North and West of Scotland, and consequent upon the establishment of that fishery there was an inquiry into its effects. It happened that about that period there had been one or two rather bad seasons in these particular districts in connection with the herring fisheries, and some alarm was aroused lest there should be a direct connection between the establishment of the whale fishery and the depression in the herring fisheries. The Fisheries Board appointed a Commission to inquire, and a Bill based on the Report of the Commission was introduced to regulate the whale fishing industry. The Bill did not pass, and that was partly because the movement in support of the measure had greatly diminished owing to the return of prosperity in the herring fisheries. For a year or two there had been no great evidence of a desire that the Bill should pass. Last year, however, the herring fisheries again failed in those particular districts where the whale fishing industry was carried on, and, responding to a request, the Government undertook to consider whether it would not be well to introduce legislation founded upon the Commission's Report of 1904. This Bill was the redemption of that pledge. The Bill was drawn on lines similar to previous Bills. There was a strong feeling in many parts of Scotland that the question should be dealt with on the lines of the present Bill, and he believed it was possible that it might be passed this session, with the general consent of both sides of the House. It did not prohibit the whale fishing industry, but sought to place it under regulations of licence. There were some critics who desired that the Government should prohibit the industry altogether. The Government did not take that view, and this step towards regulation and licence, he believed, would have the general assent of both Parties. The herring fishing industry in Scotland was so important that it behoved them to do what they could to protect its interests. Several points would no doubt arise in Committee, but they were capable of adjustment. He hoped the House would assist in passing the measure this session.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time — (Mr. Sinclair.)


said that this was a Bill of very considerable length and its details were highly complicated. He had listened carefully to the speech of the Secretary for Scotland, but he could not understand what was the object of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman had said that the herring fishing had failed, but he understood that it was because it had something to do with the whale-catching industry. What bearing the whale-catching industry had upon the herring fishing industry he did not know. He did not pretend to be a fisherman himself. He would have thought that if the whales were bad for the herring, then the more whales caught the better. If the whales were good for the herring, then he did not see how regulations and licence were likely to attract the whales. He could see, however, that the Bill was a severe one. It proposed to subject an industry at present carried on free to a very heavy licensing duty. A licence for a steamer for example, would cost £100, and any one who contravened the provisions of the Bill would be liable to penalties amounting in some cases to as much as £500. There was a mysterious clause, entitled "saving for certain whales." He did not know what whales it was supposed to save— although in the clause bottle-nose and caaing whales were mentioned. He desired some explanation why these whales should be slaughtered indiscriminately, when for the killing of sperm and other whales a licence was required.

MR. GULLAND (Dumfries Burghs)

Marylebone whales.


The hon. Gentleman clearly knows all about it. I do not see why these "bone" whales should be killed ruthlessly.


Merely bone whales.


Oh, it is a joke. I beg pardon.

MR. AKERS DOUGLAS (Kent, St. Augustine's)

It is a Scottish joke.


It is very creditable at any rate, I assure you. He desired to know what particular advantage was to be got out of the Bill; and he hoped the Secretary for Scotland would explain what he really wanted by the Bill.


said there were many different kinds of whales. The bottle-nose and caaing whales were not injurious to the herring, and there was, therefore, a saving for those whales under the Bill. Under the Bill were several other kinds of whales, which were the subject of pursuit by whale fishers, such as blue whales, "finners," and sperm whales. With regard to the licences the establishments were to be licensed according to the number of steamers used in the fishing. A factory on shore was proportionate to the number of steamers employed. The injury attributed to the whaling industry was two-fold. In the first place, it was an injury to the locality in the sense that sanitary precautions were necessary to prevent offensive smells and the pollution of sea water near the factories. In certain establishments such sanitary precautions were already taken. Every portion of the whale was used, and when the factories were properly administered there was no nuisance, or it was reduced to a minimum, and certainly the local authorities would consider these facts. He had visited one of these establishments last year, and he found it one of the best in the whole district. He was sorry that an hon. Member who sat opposite was not present because that establishment was on his property. The other injury was the danger to the herring fishing by the towing of carcases from where they were killed to the factories on shore. Scientifically that was a matter of dispute. It was certainly not proved that the presence of whales or the existence of a whale-fishing industry under proper regulations was necessarily injurious to the herring fishing.


What is supposed to be the injury that the whales do to the herring, and how are you to stop it by licensing?


said it was alleged by practical men that herrings had disappeared where whale fishing was carried on. Scientifically that was a matter in dispute. It was alleged that the Norwegian authorities prohibited in certain districts of that country the whale fishery because it did damage to the herring fishery; but he had ascertained that that was not the case. However, there was ground for alarm at the present time, and if they did not restrict the growth of the whaling industry it might attain dimensions which would double whatever evil existed. While they had no desire to destroy an industry in which British as well as foreign capital was employed, no steps should be omitted which could allay the existing alarm in the herring fishing industry while not damaging any other interest. As to the amount of the licence, no doubt they could come to agreement in Committee on that point, as well as to the number of steamers to be allowed to each of the factories. A case had been made out for the regulation of the industry. It was not intended to act in the least harshly towards the whaling industry which had grown up. They certainly ought carefully to watch the growth of the industry. They were placing it under the administration of the Fishery Board in Scotland, and it would be for them to keep their eye upon it and to watch its development. He would ask the House to allow the Bill to be read a second time. There was a great consensus of opinion among Scottish members and those interested in fishing constituencies that it was exceedingly desirable both on the merits of the case and in view of the public opinion which existed on the question that the House should allow the Bill to pass, and, as he had said, there were points which could be adjusted in Committee.


said that representing as he did some thousands of fishermen on the coast of Fife he hoped he would be allowed to say a word or two in favour of the Bill. He did not think there was a single fisherman among his constituents who would not welcome the Bill with all his heart. It provided a close time for whales and prevented the murder of them when they were accompanied by their young. The fishermen liked the live whale and hated the dead whale. The dead whale fouled the water and drove the herring away. The live whale drove the herrings into shoals, and they thought they drove them towards the shore. Naturally they could catch the fish better near the shore than if they had to go hundreds of miles after them, as they now often had to do. He was sure there was nothing in the Bill that anybody could reasonably object to. Personally, he wished it had gone further and had abolished the whole of the whale-fishery in the interests of the fishermen of his constituency. So far as it went, he thought it was a reasonable Bill and one which would be heartily welcomed by all fishermen on the coast of Scotland.

MR. CATHCART WASON (Orkney and Shetland)

said he desired to express his thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for having introduced the Bill and also his sincere hope that when they got into Committee he would carry it a great deal further than it went at the present time. It was practically impossible for him at this period of the session to represent the feeling of his constituents upon the measure. For five or six years the use of herring boats had been gradually diminishing till where formerly there were hundreds there were now practically none. He sincerely hoped the Bill would go through, and that his right hon. friend would take power, should he find it necessary in the interests of the herring trade, to apply the drastic remedy of stopping the whale fishing altogether. It was not an industry at all. It was simply an operation of killing animals of whose habits of life we were absolutely ignorant. When they got them, they were comparatively useless, and it was a wicked and wrong thing to upset the herring fishing industry without reason. No one could imagine what a serious matter it was to the people living in Orkney and Shetland, and unless something was done in the north of Scotland to put the whaling stations under proper control and regulations, and unless the Secretary for Scotland took power to stop them, if necessary, they would have a similar state of things there to that which existed in Norway.


said he supported the Second Reading of the Bill, though he thought the hon. Member who had just spoken and who put down all the evils attendant upon the herring fishing industry to the whale fishery was rather too sanguine as to its result. Competition in the whale fishery had increased lately and had driven the fleet further and further to sea, and, when the right hon. Gentleman talked about the whales having been caught within a few miles of land he was in error. The whales were captured at great distance from the shore. He hoped the Secretary for Scotland was going to allow the Bill to stay in the House. The whales were not caught in Scottish waters, and the Bill therefore was not one which should be sent to the Scottish Grand Committee.


We do not propose to send it to that Committee.

* MR. MORTON (Sutherland)

said he had had a great many complaints on account of the nuisance caused by the killing of the whales, and, although it was late in the session he hoped the House would allow the Bill to be passed so that the whale fishing might be regulated and an end put to the nuisance which was dangerous to the public health and interfered with the trade of the fishermen.


said he would not have intervened in the debate had he not been informed of a fact of which he was not previously aware, that a relative of his took an active part in destroying this Bill on some former occasion. He was bound to say it seemed to him that the hon. Member had very good ground for the action he took on that occasion, and for his part he should, if they went to a division, be forced to vote against the measure. His constituents had not the slightest interest in the whale fishery. The House therefore would realise that he was at any rate impartial, and, having listened to the debate, he did not even now understand the, grounds upon which the Bill was put forward. It was clear they had a considerable and growing industry in the whale fishery all round the coast of Scotland. Factories had been set up and a considerable amount of capital and labour was engaged. It was now proposed for the first time that a great and growing industry should be put in leading strings and under restriction. He respectfully submitted to a free trade House that prima facie that was a serious matter. It required great justification to restrict in any way by Government action an industry which was spontaneously growing up. The Secretary for Scotland had said there were two sorts of whales, one harmful and one harmless. He had further said that there were two kinds of whales harmless to the herring. But what was he doing? He was allowing these two kinds of whales quite harmless to the herring fishery to be killed with perfect freedom. He did not know whether the carcases of those whales would not be prejudicial to the herring fishery, but, whatever the effect might be in that regard, the fact remained that those harmless animals were to be destroyed by anybody, while with regard to the other kinds of whales which were harmful and which destroyed the herring fisheries their slaughter was to be restricted, because they were only to be destroyed by persons licensed to slaughter them. He objected entirely to putting any industry of this kind into leading strings unless good cause could be shown, and in this case he did not think good cause had been shown. The right hon. Gentleman had clearly demonstrated by his remarks that his proposal, if carried into effect, would be of no use, and that a good deal more harm than good would be done.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House for Monday next. — (Mr. Sinclair.)