§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £14,998, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1909, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Fishery Board for Scotland and for Grants in Aid of Piers or Quays."
SIR ARTHUR BIGNOLD (Wick Burghs) moved a reduction of £100 and said that it seemed to him that the local question of fishing in the Moray Firth had drifted into being treated as an International one, but that was no reason why it should pass away from the consideration of a Scottish Committee, for the basis of international law and international comity was international Conventions, and these were as open to the observation of the Committee as they were to that of Dover House or the Foreign Office. What the fishermen of Caithness desired was to know how they stood in respect of their rights to claim the closing of the Firth; three unanimous decisions in their favour had been given by the highest Court in Scotland, the first on 19th July, 1905, and one decision against them, viz., by the, present Government, but whether that decision was unanimous or not, was unknown. The Conventions which affected the matter were but four, and even that number was reducible. First the Convention of August, 1839, between the Queen of England and the King of France, secondly; the Convention between Great Britain and Belgium in 1852; thirdly, the Convention between the Emperor of France and Great Britain in 1867; and, fourthly and lastly, the North Sea Convention between Great Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands. The first of these four Conventions, namely, that of 1839, was merged in and abrogated by the Convention of 1867. That between Belgium and ourselves was limited to reciprocal concession of the most favoured nation clause to each country. The sole point in the Convention of 1867 was practically limited to an agreement in respect of a three miles limit between the two
signatory parties, France and Great Britain, on all their shores save one angle of France. The North Sea Convention declared that it referred solely to policing the waters of the North Sea. It recognised as between the parties to the Convention a three miles limit in all waters and in all cases. It set out how the line was to be drawn in bays not exceeding ten miles in breadth, in the case of larger bays it was silent, and in one case and in one case only, in the neighbourhood of the Firth, it made a special delimitation, i.e., between Duncansbay Head and the Southern Point of South Ronaldshay. There was not in the Convention a word or a suggestion that as long as subjects and foreigners were treated alike a country did not retain the right to regulate the fisheries off its own coasts. There was not a word or a suggestion in the Convention that the Moray Firth was international waters. He wished to refer to how it was that the case came before the High Court of Appeal:—The Fisheries Board in 1890 by virtue of the powers conferred upon them by the Herring Fisheries (Scotland) Act, 1889, and the Herring Fisheries (Scotland) Amendment Act in 1890, drew a line within which they ex-excluded from the Firth all trawlers from the Ord of Caithness to the Craghead in Banffshire, and again in 1892 under the same powers, drew a line from Duncansbay Head to Rattray Point, enclosing the entire Firth. Each signatory to the Convention received notice of that action of the Fishery Board, none demurred to it, all have tacitly respected it. On 18th March, 1907, the Secretary for Scotland said in that House—
For many years there have been no trawlers in the Moray Firth except the pseudo Norwegian Grimsby trawlers.
And that statement was unquestionably correct. The reason why the Grimsby trawlers registered under the Norwegian flag was because it was known that under the flag of any one of the Signatories to the Convention they could, and would have been excluded, for they, the Signatories, had accepted the action of the Fishery Board. The Signatories to the Convention never claimed to enter the Firth after 'ts closure by the Fishery Board in 1892, but the Grimsby boats registered in Norway proceeded to do so, and in 1904 it was determined to take a test case to the
High Court, which case he had had the honour of promoting. On 25th February, 1905, and he particularly directed the attention of the Committee to the date, the case of Peters v. Olsen came before the Sheriff-Substitute, in which case a Grimsby boat, registered at Stavanger in Norway, was found fishing four miles from shore in the Moray Firth. The Sheriff-Substitute acquitted the defendant and the case went before the High Court of Appeal and was adjudicated upon on 19th July, 1905, the Judges being unanimously in favour of a conviction and a justification of the Fishery Board. After this event he communicated with Lord Linlithgow, the late Secretary for Scotland, and before leaving office he (Lord Linlithgow) wrote to the Secretary of the Moray Firth Fisheries Association on 4th December, 1905, as follows—
That instructions have been issued with a view of the prosecution of persons guilty of illegal fishing as interpreted by the High Court.
And thus it was left on the record of the late Government that they were determined to stand by the linesman of the North. When a change of Government came it was found that the new Government were continuing the policy of their predecessors and in August, 1906, the "Mortonsen" case was hoard with a similar result, and finally the Government having selected three test cases pressed them for final decision before the High Court of Appeal who delivered voluminous judgments thereon. Each of the twelve Judges of the High Court of Appeal had a copy of the Convention in his hand; he took care of that. The judgement of Lord Kyllachie was as follows—
There is certainly nothing in the Convention which in the least conflicts with the right of the several contracting nations to impose each of hem "within" its territorial limits (whatever these are) restrictions universally applicable against injurious practices or modes of fishing, such as are by this statute and bye-law imposed here.
Thereupon ensued the Elgin prosecutions by the Government on 31st January, 907. Heavy sentences of fines and imprisonment were imposed, followed within three days by what might fairly be termed a bolt from the blue, in the form of a remission of the fines, release of the prisoners, and the restoration of he gear. But now the Answer of the
Secretary for Scotland to his (Sir Arthur Bignold's) Question as to foreign trawling in the Moray Firth, though the Secretary did not in his reply name the Firth (26th March, 1908) was—
That the Government, for reasons of international comity, are not prepared to institute proceedings against foreign trawlers engaged in trawling outside the limit of territorial waters recognised by International Convention.
The Moray Firth was not recognised in any Convention as international waters. He claimed the right of Great Britain over the Moray Firth on the same terms of argument as France established her rights over the Bay of Chaleur and the Granville Bay, the United States Chesapeake Bay, England the Bristol Channel, Norway at the Lofodens, and Newfoundland the Bay of Conception. There was no such thing as an international three-miles limit; the limit was an arrangement, at will, between nations. Spain and Portugal claimed a six-miles limit, Austria and Italy a five-miles limit, and between the Signatories to the Convention a three-miles limit was agreed to. No European Government in modern times had formally defined the absolute extent of the neighbouring sea it claimed as pertaining to it. Lord Salisbury, 6th May, 1895, had said—
Great care had been taken not to name three miles as the territorial limit.
Lord Chancellor Herschell, whose surpassing ability would be remembered when they were dead and forgotten, said—
He was far from saying three miles was to be the limit of territorial waters.
Lord Halsbury added—
They took care specially to avoid any measurements.
§ A right to fish in the Moray Firth had never been claimed by the Signatories to the Convention, but now to the utter consternation and dismay of the dwellers on the shores of the Firth the Government professed to have discovered that the foreigner had a right to do what he, the foreigner, himself had considered beyond his international privileges. The position of the twelve Judges of the High Court was unassailable under any Convention in existence, or any precedent of international comity. All along the North Sea and on its bosom had arisen races of men to make their mark in the world. 1748 Was their industry to be starved and ruined by the catchwords "International Comity"? He would never believe it, but he did believe that, if Scotland were Scotland still, as she would be but for England's Ministers, the linesmen of the North would not now be left to perish.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed," "That a sum, not exceeding £14,898, be granted for the said service."—(Sir Arthur Bignold.)
§ MR. WILLIAMSON (Elgin and Nairn)
said the House had listened with very great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for the Wick Boroughs. He had put before the House with great clearness the historical aspect of the question, but there were other grounds of a more or less local character which compelled those who represented constituencies in the north of Scotland to urge the Government to maintain the condition of exclusion in the Moray Firth, which had existed in regard to British trawlers and to use every effort and to take steps to close the Forth entirely to foreigners also. One of those grounds was the destruction which took place by this method of fishing by trawling in inshore waters. The Fishery Board for Scotland had made some experimental trawling in the Moray Firth and had found that over 70 per cent. of the fish taken were unmarketable. The destruction in certain months of the year, particularly in the inshore waters, was very great, and he therefore wanted to urge that these bays and shallow waters should be protected from the destructive power of the trawlers. Then again trawl fishing ought not to be pursued where it was destructive to the interests and livelihood of other fishermen, and in these narrow waters like the Moray Firth the destruction to lines and nets was greater than in the open sea. The complaints in regard to damage to nets and lines had markedly increased. In 1906 the complaints numbered twenty seven, but in 1907, there were no less than fifty-two, showing that the number had almost doubled in twelve months. Another indication of the destruction done by trawling was to be found in the number of prosecutions for offences committee in narrow waters. In 1906, there were 1749 thirty-eight prosecutions, while in 1907 there were 131, but it should be remembered that not half of the offenders were brought to trial. The third point which he wished to urge was that the Moray Firth had been selected by the Scottish Fishery Board, and their scientific advisers, for the conduct of certain scientific experiments. The results of those experiments had been very largely nullified by the presence in the Firth, not of British trawlers, but of a number of what might be described as poaching trawlers, owned in Grimsby, but masquerading under a foreign flag in order to catch fish by a method which in the prescribed water their own fellow-countrymen were precluded from adopting. There was much dissatisfaction among the fishermen on that account. A great deal had been said about the three mile limit. He believed that the owners of trawlers were very much afraid that if the Government made representations to the Governments of other nations in regard to the limit, the other nations might extend their territorial limits and so preclude British fishers from fishing round their coasts. He believed that that was largely why they feared Government action. There was a valid ground on which the Government could take action in this matter. In 1901 the British Government sent delegates to a convention at Christiania, at which Norway was represented. A resolution was passed unanimously declaring that when any Government undertook scientific investigations in the interest of fisheries in areas of sea such as the Moray Firth it was to be desired that methods should be adopted to remove such hindrances as might be caused to the carrying on of the investigations by the operations of trawlers. He thought, therefore, that apart from more debatable questions, such as extension of three mile limits we had ground for going to the Norwegian Government, and saying that the operations of trawling vessels flying their flag were a nuisance, and that they were interfering with the investigations which were taking place in the Moray Firth. The Secretary for Scotland had given the assurance that the foreign Governments concerned would be communicated with with the view of taking such action as was suggested. He was very much 1750 afraid that the right hon. Gentleman was hampered in his action by opposition from other quarters in London, which precluded him from getting something done which 95 to 99 per cent, of the people of Scotland desired should be done, but which was stopped by the attitude of another Government Department. There was another very important matter. The Government ought to take an interest in the policy of men as well as matter, They had been debating for some time in the House what should be done to restore people to the land on small holdings, not because it was necessarily the cheapest way of tilling the land, but because it was best for the people and the nation as a whole, that the people should be attached to the land. The same question arose in connection with the fishing industry. If the Government were going to follow the policy of preventing the line fishermen from earning their livelihood in the small towns which they had built up along the coast by their thrift and enterprise, they would drive them to big ports like Aberdeen and Grimsby, where they would become not independent owners but the paid servants on weekly wages of the capitalists and companies. They ought rather to strive in every way to maintain that sturdy race of fishermen who had improved their position so much during the last fifty years, and to encourage them to earn their livelihood where they were born and brought up. There was yet another matter to which he wished to call the attention of the Secretary of Scotland, and that was with regard to the very great increase of late years in the size of fishing boats in use. There had been a remarkable change from sailing craft to steam-fishing vessels, and, consequently, a want of accommodation for them. In 1900 the number of steam drifters and liners was seventy; in 1907, it was 508. And he would point out to the Grimsby trawlers that these boats were built by the money of the fishermen themselves, and not that of capitalits. This increase of these boats was apart from the increase of trawlers. The Moray Firth, with which he was connected, had added in 1907 no less than 101 steam-fishing vessels to her fleet, and the total now reached 250. When the 1751 boats were the old saifng-boats it was all very well for them when pursuing their calling to go to Aberdeen, Granton and English ports, but for two months of the year—December and January—the steam liners did not fish and the boats were laid up. However, as there was no suitable accommodation for them in their own small ports, such as Lossiemouth, a large number —he believed thirty-five—owned in that port, had to go to Inverness to be laid up. The owners of the boats had to do the repairs to them and to refit them at the cost of about £200 each, which amounted altogether to £7,000, all of which was spent in Inverness instead of at their own ports where they had built their homes. He thought they were entitled to a share of the grants which had been made for harbour improvement so that their own boats might be able to lie up in their own ports. He was afraid that a great deal of the £97,000 spent on harbour improvements by the Fishery Board had been spent upon ports that were unsuitable. There were many estuaries of rivers which could be dredged at little cost and made available for the safe laying up of these boats. He was sure the Scottish Members felt very keenly that they had not received with regard to the Moray Firth that strong line of support which as supporters of the Government and as representing the Scottish nation they were well entitled to expect.
MAJOR ANSTRUTHEK-GRAY (St. Andrews Burghs)
said he cordially agreed to what had been said by the two previous speakers. Certainly he thought that the Moray Firth was in a most deplorable condition at present. Nobody knew whether the foreigners were legally there or not. The truth was the Government did not back up the Scottish law. The matter had been very carefully gone into. The late Lord Linlithgow, who was a personal friend of his own, and whose loss he would ever deplore, laid it down very distinctly as to whether these waters were to be preserved or not, and now since the present Government came in the whole question had been turned topsy-turvy and nobody knew where he was. It was a disgraceful anomaly that a British fisherman should 1752 be hauled out of a foreign trawler and prosecuted while the owner of the trawler went scot-free. Either the Moray Firth ought to be open to all or closed to all. The hon. Member for Wick had already quoted different waters which were preserved in France, Germany, Holland, and Denmark. These were broad waters without a three-mile limit, and there was no difficulty in carrying out the law there. As to the Grimsby trawlers flying a foreign flag, that was a controversial point, and had been bitterly resented by some of his English friends. However, he resented the use of a foreign flag by these trawlers. There was an excuse for it if they thought it was legal to go within the three-mile limit. What was wanted was a little backbone in the administration of Scotland. All this flabby work would not do. He did not think they should have a decision by the Judges of the High Court upset by a telegram from London. He wished that the Secretary for Foreign Affairs had been present, for he was sure that that right hon. Gentleman would have given the Scottish Members some sympathy and would have spurred on the Government to do something to solve this matter. He believed the right hon. Gentleman would yet do it, for in reply to a Question he put to the Foreign Secretary the other day the right hon. Gentleman said he hoped that within one year an arrangement with foreign nations would be satisfactorily concluded. If that were so, there would be an end to the difficulty, and nobody would welcome it more heartily than he. He was not there to annoy the Secretary for Scotland or hamper him in his work. Every Scottish Member, on whatever side he sat, was loyal to what he wanted, which was that Scotland should flourish. He hoped this anomaly would be speedily put an end to. He would leave the Moray Firth and the trawlers within the three-mile limit, and pass on to say something about the size of the nets used by the trawlers. He had been looking at the Report of the Fishery Board for this year, and found it stated there—To those engaged in the fishing industry in Orkney and Shetland waters, the growing increase in the quantity of small haddocks landed is matter of concern. These haddocks are occasionally sold for manure.1753 The same thing might be said of the upper reaches of the Firth of Forth, where the circle net was in use. Many tons of immature herrings had been thrown away or sold for manure. That could not commend itself to the Secretary for Scotland. He was glad the Fishery Board were taking steps to inquire into the matter. Their next inquiry should be into the size of the nets used by the trawlers. The mesh should be limited to one inch or more, and not to a quarter of an inch as it was in some cases. Nobody wanted to catch these immature fish or to destroy their prospects of a future harvest. He hoped the Secretary for Scotland would take a note of this matter and look into it. In regard to the Fishery Board, he thought it came in for a great deal of unfair abuse. When an hon. Member had nothing better to do he abused the Fishery Board. He only knew one of the members of the Board personally, and that slightly, but his experience of the Board was that they took the greatest trouble and pains to keep things right. They were, however, sadly handicapped. They had only half the number of fishery cruisers which they ought to have, and their hands were tied by the limited means at their command. He hoped that in future there would be less abuse of this energetic body, and that they would get a little more sympathy from hon. Members. He trusted that something might be done to further and help the interests of the fishing industry, and improve the fishing harbours, of which there was no doubt the greatest need. The Anstruther harbour was the biggest harbour between Leith and Aberdeen, and its present condition was a disgrace, when with a little help from the Government it would be a credit to all concerned.
§ MR. R. L. HARMSWORTH (Caithnessshire)
thought the fishermen in the Moray Firth suffered a peculiar hardship. At the present time the law was in their favour, but it was not exercised on their behalf for reasons of international comity. Meanwhile the livelihood of the line fishermen was being taken away from them. He joined those who had protested against the slow movement of the Scottish Office in this matter. He himself 1754 self would not hesitate to refer to Norway in this connection, and he did not think the attitude of Norway in regard to this matter was calculated to improve international comity. The trawlers who emerged from Grimsby and other harbours under a false flag were not allowed to fish in Norwegian territorial waters. He would not refer to the three-miles limit because the question of a limit ought not to come into the matter. The Moray Firth was the great breeding ground for fish, and on that ground alone it ought to be closed to trawlers altogether. He regretted the absence of the Foreign Secretary on this occasion, but asked the Secretary for Scotland for an assurance that he would evolve some solution for the mitigation of this grievance which was felt very much all round the Moray Firth.
MR. STANLEY WILSON (Yorkshire, E.R., Holderness)
could not help expressing his regret at the absence of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs during the speech of the hon. Member for Wick Burghs, whose remarks were full of historic details and interesting information. He entirely agreed that this was a question of great international importance. If we were going to insist on the closing of the Moray Firth to the trawlers of foreign countries it would result in the altering of all the Conventions that at present existed between us and those countries, and such a thing might lead to complications. It was extraordinary under the circumstances that the Scottish Secretary should have been left to answer these questions, which were questions of urgent international importance. He had at first intended to move to report progress, but, on consideration, he thought his purpose would be served by telling the Scottish Secretary frankly that he was not qualified to answer questions of international importance. He himself had taken great interest in the question of the Moray Firth and had asked the right hon. Gentleman whether the British trawlers were to be given the same rights and privileges as were extended to foreigners. The answer he received was that the right hon. Gentleman was in favour of Englishmen keeping the law. So was he, but in this case he contended the law was wrong. As the law now stood English 1755 trawlers were debarred from trawling in waters whilst foreign trawlers were allowed to go there with impunity. The same rights ought to be extended to all. Either the Moray Firth should be closed to all or opened to all. The Government were being pressed to prevent foreign trawlers selling their fish at English ports; they had already done this in Scotland, but the only result would be that they would deprive the English people of this important food supply. And what benefit would they get? None, because the foreigners would go and sell their fish at the nearest foreign port. Trawling in the Moray Firth was objected to because it was said to be the breeding ground for fish and great damage was done to the young fish. He did not think more damage was done there than was done by trawling in deep sea. It was an area of 200 miles of the best sea fishing on the coast, and to protect a few line fishermen the Government was asked to close it to trawlers. He felt in considerable difficulty as to the way in which he should vote on this occasion, because he disagreed both with the Government and with the hon. Gentlemen who advocated closing the Moray Firth.
§ MR. ANNAN BRYCE (Inverness Burghs)
thought the Government did not realise the very strong dissatisfaction which existed in Scotland in regard to this matter. It was especially strong because at the time of the general election a speech was made by a member of the Government which indicated that the Government were going to pursue with the utmost rigour the prevention of trawling in the Moray Firth. The only result had been to throw ridicule on the administration of the law, for, while verdicts were got in the Court of Session, those verdicts could not be executed because, it was said, their execution would interfere with international comity. He did not agree that because the foreigner could not be kept out, the Moray Firth should be thrown open to all. That would only lead to greater damage being done. The damage was not likely to be increased so long as the law remained as it was, because it was unlikely that more ships would engage in the trade than those already employed in it. He thought the Government might take measures to en- 1756 force the three-mile limit more strictly. By the removal of the coastguard, a very efficient method of protection had been abolished and the law weakened. The Government might at all events have a larger number of preventive boats. It would not cost very much money. There was a great number of small and handy boats which did not do very much, and boats which every now and then were being scrapped, and surely some of them might be put on to preventive service in the Moray Firth, round the coast of Ireland, in the Irish Channel, and various other parts where constant infractions of the three-mile limit were being committed. Whatever might be the decision of the Govern-regarding the enforcement of the law when it was in violation of international Conventions, he trusted they would prevent the infraction of the three-mile limit by the increase of the preventive service, and the prevention of the landing of illegally trawled fish in English ports. The hon. Member for Holderness had said that if the fish were not landed in English ports, they would be landed in Continental ports; well, let them be landed in Continental ports.
§ MR. ANNAN BRYCE
said that he presumed the fish were landed in English ports because they got a better market for them. If they were prevented from being landed in English ports, they would have to be taken to a worse market, with the result that illegal trawling would be discouraged.
§ CAPTAIN WARING (Banffshire)
said he did not desire to say more than a few words on this subject since, after the constantly reiterated assurances of the right hon. Gentleman that this question was being dealt with, they might safely anticipate a renewal of these assurances on that occasion. One point only he desired to emphasise, arid that was the enormous need for haste in this matter. The fishermen on the coast of the Moray Firth had waited patiently now for three years for a settlement of the trawling question. The right hon. Gentleman had raised their hopes repeatedly to the highest pitch by the statements he had made; for three years since the Liberal 1757 Government came into power they had borne their disappointments with patience and resignation. They had made no attempt to attract attention to themselves or to enlist the sympathy of the Law Officers by breaking the law. But he assured the Secretary for Scotland that they would brook no further disappointment or indeed unnecessary delay. For this reason he asked the right hon. Gentleman to hurry on the negotiations that were pending. It would be impossible for the fishermen on the Banffshire coast to stand another winter such as the last, when hardly a night passed but one or other of the boats had its nets destroyed by trawling vessels, cruising round without lights and giving no heed to the damage they did; and this apart altogether from the depletion of the beds by this method of fishing, a method which necessitated often two-thirds of a catch being thrown back into the sea as useless because it consisted of immature and undersized fish which could not be landed, and every fish thrown back from a trawl was invariably dead or dying, absolutely wasted. But more important than this, owing to the continued presence of trawlers in the Moray Firth and the extraordinary delay on the part of the Government to deal effectively with the question even after repeated promises, the fishermen, or some of the younger ones, at all events, were beginning to lose heart, and were leaving the fishing villages and migrating to the larger towns. Some had gone, many others were threatening to leave. If the Government failed to bring this question to a successful issue, it would not be long before every village on the coast was deserted and a heap of ruins—villages in which at present the children were reared in a healthy rustic atmosphere. It would be a case of rural depopulation worse than any yet heard of. And this was the Government for small men, for the small holder, the Government that had introduced in three years all sorts of land legislation. Every proposal for the various parts of the country had had his support, in order to help the landward population and bring the people out of the towns and back to the land. But here they had a rural population on the land and the Government had not made the slightest attempt to keep it there. A large population in country districts was a 1758 great thing for any nation, but surely to a maritime nation such as ours the coast inhabitants ware by far the most important, and by the inaction and delay on the part of the Government they were being driven away into the slums of the towns. If the Government drew back now or failed to carry out what it had promised to do in this respect it would incur a grave responsibility, for it would have wantonly and deliberately destroyed that type of rural population which he ventured to say had done much to make the Empire what it was to-day. He did not desire to quote statistics to prove the damage done by trawlers in enclosed waters and near the coast line. He had merely stated what was going on. The people were leaving. When was the Government going to take the necessary steps to keep them in their homes? They had waited long for the details of the right hon. Gentleman's scheme. He trusted they would hear it that night, and he hoped, for the sake of the reputation and political career of the all powerful triumvirate that governed Scotland now, that their spokesman the Secretary for Scotland would satisfy that larger audience which was waiting so anxiously for his answer, the fishermen of the Scottish coast, who had such faith in the Liberal Party, whose principles they have consistently supported for the last seventy years.
§ MR. POWER (Waterford, E.)
said he had no doubt the question was one of particular interest to Scotland and Scottish Members; but it also largely affected the fishing population in England, Ireland, and Wales, and was an international question. There used to be an idea that the supply of fish was inexhaustible, and in the time of the old beam trawler that was to a large extent true; but the steam trawlers had done an immense amount of harm, and there was no doubt that the quantity of fish caught in the North Sea was much less than it used to be. There were 1,000,000 cwts. less fish trawled in the North Sea in 1905 than in 1903, and 2,000,000 cwts. or 30 per cent. of the fish landed on the east coast in 1905 came from foreign waters. Unless something was done to prevent the wholesale destruction of immature fish in shallow waters, the fishing industry would go 1759 from bad to worse. The hon. Member for Inverness had alluded to the necessity for more efficiently protecting the fisheries of Scotland and Ireland. He could congratulate the Scottish Members and the Scottish Fishery Board upon having been very much more successful with the Admiralty than they in Ireland had been. He was reminded that they had had a new boat built to protect the Irish fishery, but the money for building it came from Irish sources, and they got no assistance what ever from the Admiralty. The Admiralty at present lent two boats to the Fishery Board for Scotland, but none to Ireland. He therefore thought the Vice-President of the Irish Board of Agriculture and Fisheries had an unanswerable case. He drew the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover to the matter when he was Chief Secretary, and he told him that he intended to press on the Admiralty the necessity of giving them similar assistance for the protection of their fisheries. He made no apology for taking part in this Scottish debate. It was not only a local, but an international question, and he hoped the Powers who signed some of these Conventions would see their way to adopt a bigger limit of territorial water than at present existed. Most of the destruction of immature fish took place in shallow waters, and it would be for the good not only of this country but of every country that that territorial area should be extended.
§ MR. SUTHERLAND (Elgin Burghs)
said he felt certain the hon. Member who had last spoken would find that in reference to the line fishermen of Ireland this question of trawling would become ever and ever more important. Might he give one or two reasons that appeared to him to be good reasons why the Foreign Office and the Scottish Office should do a great deal more than they were doing at present? When the hon. Member for the Holderness division told them that trawling did not deplete the fishing beds he spoke somewhat in ignorance. Let him take evidence which even the trawling industry would consider untainted. In 1890 the Fishery Board for Scotland received a letter, quite unsolicited, from the secretary to the 1760 National Sea Fisheries Protection As sociation—an association if not composed most of trawl owners, was largely in sympathy with trawl owners—to the effect that the Board ought to take into consideration the advisability of holding an inquiry with a view, if necessary, to closing the Moray Firth from Kinnaird Heard to Duncansbay Head against trawlers. In April of the same year a Conference of representative of the trawl fishing industry of the east cost resolved that having realised the enormous loss which the trade had sustained year by year through the wholesale capture and destruction of immature and inedible fish, a stop should be put to the growing evil, and as a preliminary to abstain during the coming summer fishing on the grounds where immature fish were generally caught in great abundance. The area alluded to exceeded 5,200 miles. Then again, in 1905, the association met in Aberdeen, when a motion to consider the advisability of re-stocking fishing grounds which might be wholly or partially exhausted, was carried unanimously. The mover of the resolution said—Unless they did something as a counterpoise to the continual trawling which was going on they would find themselves powerless as regarded that important fishing ground, the North Sea. He did not believe the North Sea, if left to itself, would last for ever. He was one of those who thought it would not last very long.As he had stated, he quoted that evidence from an association biassed in favour of trawling. Then they had the opinion of the English Board of Fisheries and Agriculture. Certainly no one who knew the facts would deny that there was an antagonism of policy between that Board and the Fishery Board for Scotland. Neither would anyone assert that the Board of Agriculture was hostile to trawling. The latest Report which he had been able to see was that for 1905. It was only since 1903 that statistics were given distinguishing between fish, caught in the North Sea and elsewhere. The main features brought out by the figures of the Board of Agriculture were the growing importance of waters beyond the North Sea for maintaining the fish supply of the country, and the fact that it was from the North Sea alone that a decreased supply was shown. What was 1761 true of the North Sea told even more strongly, in his opinion, in regard to the Moray Firth. That Firth was a comparatively small area, in which immature fish existed in great abundance. Within its limits there were important spawning grounds where vast shoals of the food fishes congregated at the breeding season. It contained Smith's Bank, the most valuable and prolific spawning ground near the east coast, and which was a source of supply to waters outside the Firth. They had the high authority of Mr. W. Garstang for saying that from 1889 to 1898 the fish caught by a trawl-smack was reduced from sixty to thirty-two tons. If they compared the fish caught by trawlers in. the North Sea in 1903 and 1905 they found a reduction of 25 per cent. Or put in another way, 1,000 tons—some said 1,400 tons—less were caught weekly in the latter year than in the former. If they took the waters outside the North Sea where trawling had not been continuously conducted, it was remarkable that there was an increase of over 500 tons a week. All that went to show that trawling depleted the fisheries. The present trawling fleet was equal to over 12,000 of the old fishing smacks. In an interesting article which appeared in the "Scotsman" some time ago, the writer said that it was calculated that the spread of nets or the with of sea bottom covered extended at least to twenty-five miles, and that with a net towed at a speed of three miles per hour for twenty working hours per day, the area daily swept by them amounted to 1,500 square miles. The whole of the Moray Firth would thus be swept from shore to shore in a day and a half. The same fleet could trawl the North Sea from the Straits of Dover to the Shetlands several times a year. In view of the facts which he had stated he put it to the Committee, whether it was not wise on the part of the Scottish Fishery Board to prohibit trawling in the Moray Firth. The hon. Member for the Holder-ness division had said, that they in England would obey the law even if it were only a by-law of the Fishery Board. The sanction given to the Board or framing the by-laws was in an Act of Parliament, and therefore these by-laws had the authority of that House. He might repeat what he had stated on a 1762 former occasion, that the Sea Fisheries Association had met in Aberdeen in 1905, and that the hon. Member for Grimsby had practically justified Grimsby trawl owners in not merely evading, but in flouting the law of Scotland. The hon. Member had admitted that Grimsby trawl boats sailed under a foreign flag, although the shares were held by Englishmen.
§ MR. SUTHERLAND
said that he based his statement on the official report of the association. There was no evidence, according to his information, that when English trawl vessels were transferred to the Norwegian flag, any money passed between the parties, or that share quotations appeared in the Norwegian newspapers. As bearing out what he had said, he might mention that in 1905 a gentleman who had resided at Grimsby went to Stavanger, and was now a registered owner of five trawl boats. A clerk who was employed by a Leith firm, and who he was informed received only from 15s. to 20s. a week, had, within a short time of his having gone to Norway, become the registered owner of several boats.
MR. STANLEY WILSON
asked whether the hon. Member thought we could congratulate ourselves on having by our policy driven these men out of England.
§ MR. SUTHERLAND
said he could not congratulate anyone who tried to evade the law in the way he had described. Hon. Members opposite were never tired of taunting Irishmen with framing conspiracies to violate the law of the land. The attempt on the part of Grimsby trawl owners to defeat the law was a cold-blooded, merciless, squalid conspiracy, a conspiracy intended not for purposes of patriotism, but in order to secure bigger dividends.
§ MAJOR ANSTRUTHER-GRAY (St. Andrews Burghs)
said it was unjust that the whole of the Opposition should be branded as having taunted Ireland in the way suggested. He had never taunted Ireland with anything.
§ MR. SUTHERLAND
said the Committee would bear him out in saying that the Opposition as a whole denounced Irishmen for entering into conspiracies to defeat the law. What were they to do? The question was very urgent; feeling was acute along the shores of Moray Firth. In the case of Olsen, which was referred to by the hon. Member for the Wick Burghs, whom he congratulated on hi speech, Lord Kyllachy expressed the view that the Act of 1889 applied to foreigners as well as British subjects in respect to waters specified in Bye-law No. 2, and that such waters must be regarded as territorial in the light of Article 2 of the North Sea Convention. The High Court of Justiciary was unanimously of opinion that the bye-laws could be enforced against all foreigners, and in the whole area inside a line drawn from Duncansby Head to Rattray Point. As hon. Members were aware, proceedings had practically been stopped not only against the foreign trawlers but also against the Grimsby trawlers. In October, 1906, the Secretary for Scotland said, in answer to the hon. Member for Ross, that the whole question of prosecuting offending trawlers was under the consideration of the Government. They were thus confronted with the fact that the Government, which included the Foreign Secretary, and must have considered all possible complications, took three weeks to consider whether foreign trawlers were to be prosecuted, and shortly after deciding to prosecute, and after obtaining convictions, proceedings against foreign trawlers were stopped, and the attitude of the Government was not easy to understand. It appeared to him that there should not be so much difficulty in getting the Moray Firth clear of all trawlers. A year or two ago the Norwegian representative informed the Fishery Board of Scotland that if the North Sea Powers were called together to consider the question of closing the Firth, Norway would give the matter the most favourable and sympathetic consideration. What was the position in regard to foreign countries on this question? Since the year 1872 beam trawling had not been allowed in Denmark. In: France, Belgium, and Germany trawling was practically prohibited in territorial waters, and in Norway 1764 trawling was not allowed within a geographical mile from the furthest outlying island, which was fifty miles distant. When those considerations were taken into account the way seemed cleared for coming to an agreement with Norway. The Secretary for Scotland told the House, in answer to a Question, that it was the intention of the Government to prohibit the landing of trawl-caught fish in England as well as in Scotland, and Lord Fitzmaurice made a similar statement in the House of Lords. Nothing had been done in that direction. He remembered having a talk with their Ambassador to America who was for long one of the distinguished Members for Aberdeen. Mr. Bryce said in reference to this trawling question that practically the same speeches were made year after year. He did not know whether that was so or not, but he knew that, year after year, the same complaints were made, the same answer was given on behalf of the Government, and they seemed to get no "forrarder." He knew that when the Member for Grimsby made the statement to which he had alluded, the representative of the English Board of Agriculture and Fisheries was on the platform and uttered not a syllable of protest. He must say that, Scottish Members were surfeited with the promises of the Secretary for Scotland. It was nonsense for the hon. Gentleman opposite to say that the fishermen of the Moray Firth were behind the times. No class of men were more up-to-date in their methods. In the old days the brown sails of their boats studded every sea along the coast. Those men were as brave and industrious a body of men as could be found anywhere. The question of what action was to be taken was a very urgent one. Feeling along the shores of the Moray Firth had grown intensely acute. Many of the fishermen there had only been prevented from taking the law into their own hands by the persuasion of others. The Fishery Board for Scotland had done its best, but had received very little backing. It was for the Secretary for Scotland to tell the House what stage the negotiations had reached. It was no good his saying month after month "everything is going right," if nothing was being 1765 done. From the month of March until now communications had been going on between the Board of Agriculture of England and the Scottish Office. Surely it was an easy thing in five months to come to an agreement which would enable the Foreign Office to open negotiations with the North Sea Powers. Was one Department being played off against another, and were their communications to each other to be continued for other five months with as little fruit? He asked the right hon. Gentleman to say what prospect there was of this question being speedily settled. He appealed to the Foreign Secretary and to the Secretary for Scotland not to ignore the claims of those men who took their lives in their hands to earn a scanty livelihood, but to recognise the prime and pressing importance of the two questions, and to deal with it effectively.
§ CAPTAIN ARTHUR MURRAY (Kincardineshire)
said he was glad to see the Secretary for Foreign Affairs on the Treasury Bench, because it would appear that the Secretary for Scotland had shifted the whole responsibility for the trawling question to the shoulders of the right hon. Gentleman. Various representations had been made in regard to the inaction of the Government during the last two or three years with regard to this particular question, but he would like to go back a little further. In 1892 when the question was first raised it was proposed to exclude trawlers from the Moray Firth, and various objections were brought forward by the trawlers' association, the Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce, and by meetings of the citizens of Aberdeen. The chief objection was that if bye-law No 10 was passed and confirmed it would not be possible to exclude foreign trawlers to whatever extent it might exclude British trawlers from the Moray Firth. Before bye-law No 10, was confirmed by the Secretary of Scotland, he understood that it was submitted to the Foreign Office, and the Foreign Office replied that they had no objection to the confirmation of the bye-law provided that so far as extra territorial waters were concerned it only applied to British subjects. That was to say, in the year 1892, the Foreign Office accepted that 1766 situation, and they recognised the fact that under this bye-law it would be impossible to exclude foreign trawlers from carrying on operations in the Moray Firth. He would, therefore, like to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what the Foreign Office had done during all those years, knowing at that time that this was a question which had come prominently forward and that it would eventually become a question which would cause serious injury to all the populations along the shores of the Moray Firth. He appealed to the Foreign Secretary, on whom the responsibility rested, gravely to consider the situation. It could be settled. If there was a will there was a way. He asked the right hon. Gentleman to revolve the wheels of inter-State communications a little more rapidly in order to bring to an end a situation which was irritating to British trawlers and line fishermen alike.
§ MR. MORTON (Sutherland)
hoped the Scottish Members would insist on Scotland being governed in accordance with the opinion of the majority of the Scottish Members of the House. There were two questions now before the Committee. One was the question of trawling in the Moray Firth, and the other the question of illegal trawling at other parts of the Scottish coast. They were told a few days ago by the Secretary for Foreign Affairs that nothing had been settled up to the present and that the Foreign Secretary was waiting to hear from some of the other departments of the Government in this country. The right hon. Gentleman did not say what the other departments were, but he presumed the Scottish Office was one. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would tell the Committee to-night who was the person who had been delaying the matter by keeping particulars from him and preventing him from completing the negotiations with Foreign Governments. Their complaint was not against foreign trawlers but against English trawlers whose ships were registered under foreign flags. He could understand the Norwegian Government taking a serious interest in this matter if Norwegian subjects were making money out of it, but nothing of the sort was happening. The trawling in the Moray Firth was carried on by Grimsby 1767 and Hull fishing companies, whose boats were registered in Norway in order that they might be able to break British law. He was bound to say that he did not think the Norwegian Government were doing what was right. He did not think they should allow their flag to be used for breaking the law in this country. He trusted the Foreign Secretary would point out to that Government the state of things which might arise if all Governments were to take the same course of allowing their flags to be used for the purpose of breaking the law.
MR. STANLEY WILSON
asked whether the hon. Member was aware that the trawlers referred to as registered in Norway were owned by companies who found the money there.
§ MR. MORTON
said that so far as he had been able to get at the facts they were English ships in everything except the cook and the registration. If the hon. Member could prove to him that the vessels belonged to Norwegians whose money was involved in the industry he might have another opinion of the matter. The Scottish Judges had given an opinion in 1906 as to the legality of trawling by foreign ships in the Moray Firth, and yet the Secretary for Scotland had done nothing in the matter. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to be rather in favour of the trawlers because there was so much money invested in the industry. He stated in a speech some time ago at Wick that he wanted to protect the trawlers and-that he wanted fair play. All that he and his friends were asking for was fair play for their own country. Of course they could not ask fairly for more, but so far as he could understand from the Foreign Secretary's answer nothing had been done up to the present moment. The Secretary for Scotland ought to take upon himself the settlement of the preliminaries which would enable the Foreign Secretary to take some action. He wished to say a word about the illegal trawling round the coast of Sutherlandshire. There again he wanted fair play, and above all he wanted the law to be enforced. The people of Scotland were law-abiding, but the Secretary for Scotland was not; at least, he did not make others obey the law. 1768 He allowed the rich to go free. The policy pursued by the Secretary for Scotland would, if persisted in, drive from the country some 60,000 hardy fishermen, a class most useful in supplying recruits to the Navy. They had been told about the three mile limit, but there was some doubt as to whether it was a legal limit at all. What they asked was that the three mile limit, such as it was, should be respected, and trawlers, British or foreign, should be kept out of these waters. He had written many letters to the Secretary for Scotland and he had asked him Questions on this subject, but he had been unable to get any redress whatever for the grievance which was felt so strongly. They were told that in some cases the law was not strong enough. If that was so, why did not the right hon. Gentleman get the law strengthened? The right hon. Gentleman did not come to the House asking for further powers, but on the contrary he opposed every attempt made by private Members to get increased powers. The right hon. Gentleman blocked their Bills every night when they brought them up. His complaint was that the Secretary for Scotland not only would not look after this matter himself, but that he would not allow others to do so. [Laughter.] He was sorry that anybody should regard this as a laughing matter. It was an exceedingly serious matter. The policy of the Government was to drive the fishermen out of the country, though no better men could be got for the naval reserve. No effort had been made to secure the services of fast boats to catch the trawlers which were engaged in the illegal proceedings complained of. Let the right hon. Gentleman get the use of some of those fast torpedo-destroyers, which would be much better employed in detecting and capturing illegal trawlers than in running down each other. A case of illegal trawling was tried at Campel-town on 4th September, 1907, and the Sheriff, before pronouncing sentence against the offender, made the following pregnant remarks—From a tolerable experience of convictions of those who have been guilty of transgressing the law as to otter trawling, I venture to think that until Parliament sees fit to permit the imposition of much more drastic punishment than the limit which at present the Courts have 1769 power to inflict, and the provision of more adequate means for the detection and capture of offenders, such as more and faster cruisers, little can be done effectively to prevent illegal trawling, and what at present, it must be confessed, appears likely to be the ultimate consequence—the ruin of the entire fishing industry. It is becoming notorious, amounting almost to a scandal, that the punishment which at present it is in the power of the Courts to inflict is wholly inadequate to prevent the infraction of the law, and that the number and the speed of the protective vessels at the disposal of the Fishery Board is wholly incommensurate with the necessities of the case.It might be said that hon. Members who represented constituencies in the North of Scotland where fishing was an important industry were politically interested, but the words he had quoted expressed the opinion of an independent Scottish Judge. He urged the Secretary for Scotland to see that the fisheries and the line fishermen were properly protected, and that the law was obeyed by everybody, rich and poor alike.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir EDWARD GREY,) Northumberland, Berwick
said he was sorry he was unable to be present to hear the speeches in the earlier stage of the debate, for he realised from what he had heard since that a good deal of attention had been directed to the position of the Foreign Office in relation to this matter, and that desire and expectations were shown for some statement from himself from the point of view of the Foreign Office. He would be sorry to disappoint the expectation, but he had no confidence that he would be able to gratify it. He could not, of course, speak in his personal capacity as Member for his own constituency, or else he might have a good deal to say on the general question of trawling in the Moray Firth; and when he spoke in his official capacity as representing the Foreign Office he might say that the Foreign Office was not very intimately concerned in the matter at all. Though he could speak on one point in which the Foreign Office was concerned, he must speak as a Member of the Government rather than as the head of a particular Department. The hon. Member for Elgin Burghs in a very forcible and eloquent speech had dwelt very strongly on the merits of the question with regard to the Moray Firth, his point being that in the interests of the preservation of the fish supply 1770 and breeding grounds it was essential that trawling should be prohibited in the Moray Firth. He had no desire to dispute any statement the hon. Member had made on the merits of the question. He had not the knowledge even if he had the desire. When he first became cognisant of the trawling question at all, trawling was allowed within the three-mile limit, and the demand was put forward, many years ago, that trawling should be prohibited within territorial waters. He came into Parliament pledged to that, and that had been imposed long ago. But the contention now was that the three-mile limit was not enough, and, especially in regard to the Moray Firth, that there ought to be special regulations going far beyond the three-mile limit. Parliament had recognised that with regard to the legislation it had passed. There was no doubt that the legislation passed was good law for all British subjects, and he would have no sympathy whatever with those who, being British subjects and knowing perfectly well what the opinion of Parliament was as regards the law for British subjects, took advantage and made use of a foreign flag in in order to evade the regulations of the Moray Firth, which it was obviously the desire of Parliament should be enforced. But when they came to the question of enforcing the law Parliament had passed upon foreign owners, they were placed in a very difficult position. The policy of this country hitherto—the national policy of this country—had been to uphold the three-mile limit, but to protest against and to resist by every means in our power the pretension of any foreign country to enforce its own jurisdiction on the sea beyond the three-mile limit. He was sure there must be more than one case in which we had gone to international arbitration and had attempted to contend before an international tribunal that the three-mile limit was the only one we could recognise as the limit of foreign jurisdiction over British vessels. What would happen if we applied in the Moray Firth to foreigners the law which we had made for our own fishermen who went beyond the three-mile limit?
§ MR. C. E. PRICE (Edinburgh, Central)
asked if there were not considerable 1771 qualifications of the three-mile limit in the case of bays.
§ SIR EDWARD GREY
said it had generally been understood that such qualifications applied to bays ten miles wide, but the Moray Firth was far more than ten miles wide.
AN HON. MEMBER
said it was applied in the case of the Bristol Channel, which was thirty-seven miles wide.
§ SIR EDWARD GREY
said they must be very careful as to how far they pressed this doctrine of the width of the bay. The qualified application of the doctrine he thought applied to bays with a very narrow entrance. But they must be very careful before they laid down an international doctrine on any particular bay. They must think of what the application of it might be in other parts of the world. The important point was that they had generally contended for the three-mile limit as that beyond which they resented the jurisdiction of foreign Powers over British ships; and having taken that point of view in such cases as the Behring Sea arbitration case quite recently, suppose they themselves were to attempt to enforce a doctrine going far beyond the three-mile limit on foreign ships—and he supposed the House was as strongly attached to the principle of arbitration as to any other principle, and would not resist a demand for arbitration if it were disputed by a foreign Power— how would it be possible to contend with a good chance of success before an international tribunal in an arbitration case for a doctrine precisely the reverse of that for which they had used their strength on previous occasions? He would be the last person in the world to wish to underrate the capacity, the ability, or the energy of the Foreign Office; but it would be absolutely impossible for the Foreign Office one year to give instructions for the conduct of an arbitration case on the rule of international law with the three-mile limit as the extreme limit of the jurisdiction of any nation, and in the following year to fight an arbitration case on a precisely opposite doctrine. It was obvious that that would bring us into ridicule in the world at large. Our international doctrine hitherto had been that 1772 of the three-mile limit; it followed from that, that if there was to be a modification of the rules relating to trawling in the North Sea, it must be by agreement with foreign Powers. That clearly seemed to him the practical point on which the debate might turn. It had been rather assumed in the debate that the Foreign Office as such had some particular policy in the matter. The Foreign Office had no policy whatever in regard to the fishing industry. It had not the knowledge or the means for framing a policy. The business of the Foreign Office was to approach every case on whatever lines the Government of the day had decided to be those of the national interest. Once it was decided that it was to the national interest that we should get a certain agreement with foreign Powers, the Foreign Office would use every means in its power to induce other nations to take the same view and to enter into an agreement with us. It was absolutely impossible on an important question affecting not merely Scottish and not merely English and not merely Irish interests, but the interests of all the three countries combined—for they were all interested in the fishing industry, taking it as a whole—for the Foreign Office to approach other Powers with a view to reaching an agreement with them until it was quite clear that it was doing it in the interest of the policy which had been adopted and affirmed and declared by the Government of the day to be the policy which was in the general national interest of the United Kingdom. For that same reason he thought it was going too far when some one in the course of the debate spoke as if his right hon. friend the Secretary for Scotland was open to reproach in the matter. It was not possible for him alone to declare what the national policy of the country was to be in the fishing industry. He would be perfectly prepared that they should approach foreign Powers, and it had always seemed to him, judging from the very great force with which the case had been presented in such regions as the Moray Firth, and the strong feeling that existed, which was not confined to the Moray Firth alone, that there was a case for grave consideration on the part of any Government as to whether any change and any new regulations were required in the interests 1773 of the preservation of the fishing industry in the North Sea at large. The Government could not sacrifice a legitimate industry unless they were going to do so in the national interest, and nobody disputed that trawling in itself was a perfectly legitimate industry. It was also a considerable industry, with large capital invested in it. Therefore, if the industry was to be restricted the restrictions must be upon the same grounds of really important national interests, which transcended what would otherwise be the legitimate interests of that particular industry. They had no right either for the sake of particular interests or particular places to sacrifice the general interests of the consumers of the country. They had no right, for instance, to adopt in the interests of particular localities any special restrictions upon the methods of catching fish with the result of diminishing the supply and raising the price of one of the most wholesome articles of food in a great industrial country. But having laid down those two principles, it was equally true that, if, on the other hand, it was the case that the supply of fish in the North Sea was being affected by want of further regulations, they were entitled to say that the interests of any particular industry must be subordinated to the general interests of the supply of fish in the North Sea, for, after all, in the long run, it was not merely the national interest, but the interest of the industry concerned. If it was the case that in areas like the Moray Firth, which were important breeding grounds, the supply of fish was being seriously interfered with by the prosecution of trawling in narrow waters, then it became a matter of national interest that they should as soon as possible come to some agreement with foreign Powers under which they would be able to make the arrangements which proved to be necessary in the national interest at large. He could only say that the subject was one which had been occupying the attention of the Government. In view of the arguments which had been brought forward and the strength of feeling which was known to exist on this important subject, it was quite clear that the Government must have time to come to a deliberate decision, and to investigate the case which had been presented, with 1774 the object of considering whether it should not approach other Powers in order to come to some arrangement which would enable breeding areas such as the Moray Firth to be secured from molestation by any methods of fishing which were likely to be injurious. He could only say that the subject had occupied the attention of the Government for a considerable time. The Government had, unfortunately, many things to occupy its attention. He was alive, as the Secretary for Scotland had been extremely alive, to the importance of the question, and though he was not in a position to tell the Committee what the decision of the Government might be when the investigation which was now proceeding by the departments concerned had been concluded, he thought those Members who represented the constituencies keenly interested in the question had a right to expect that the decision of the Government should not be indefinitely delayed, but that they should know in a reasonable time whether the Government thought they had a case for approaching other Powers, and if they thought so what were the grounds and what were the propositions which they should advance.
§ MR. PIRIE (Aberdeen, N.)
hoped that the result of the debate would be to hasten the action of the Government, and that some active step would soon be taken to reach some agreement on this important point. But those who represented Scotland had a right to ask why the importance of the question had not been realised at an earlier period. As the matter stood, ridicule had been incurred both abroad and at home, and especially in the North of Scotland. They had also to complain of the kind of answers they had received from the Scottish Office on the matter, which were just the same as had been given to similar questions on the matter for many years. They recognised the difficulties of the situation and did not wish to press the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs unduly, and could only hope that a solution would soon be arrived at. They hoped that the strong protests made would bring home to the Government, if the Scottish Office had not succeeded in doing so, the importance of the question. He 1775 could not refrain from taking exception to the action of the hon. Members for Sutherland and Ross in introducing repressive legislation against trawlers. He alluded to the Sea Fisheries Regulation Bill (No. 2), and to the Suspension of Trawler Masters' Certificates Bill. They were Bills he had blocked and intended to block in common with the Government. The repressive legislation only had the effect of frightening capital and harming a useful industry, and it was not the way to procure the strict keeping of the law. The action of those two Members was in marked contrast with that of other Members. He, as strongly as anyone, repudiated the action of the so-called British trawlers steaming under a foreign flag in order to evade the law, and he joined in the condemnation of British subjects who were guilty of such proceedings. He thought the debate might possibly do some good in bringing about a speedy conclusion, and if it did they might congratulate themselves upon having obtained three hours and made good use of them.
§ MR. CATHCART WASON (Orkney and Shetland)
said he was sorry the hon. Member had struck a discordant note by attacking the hon. Members for Ross and Sutherland. If he lived amongst or represented the people in those small bays, he would know that by the visit of these trawlers whole communities were ruined and devastated in the course of one night; and he would not have attacked his hon. friends as he had done. If they took the fishing away from these people, they left them practically nothing. The speech of the hon. Member was to be regretted. They did not find in his district that the owners of trawlers had much respect for the law. Their doctrine was "Catch fish, never mind how; never mind if you break the law or devastate a village, bring home fish; it does not matter if you go to gaol." And the poor captains had to go to gaol. They did not want to send the captain and the men to gaol; they wanted to send the owners there. He had told the hon. Member for Grimsby on the occasion of the great trawlers meeting at Aberdeen that it was the owners of the trawlers who should be sent to gaol. It was a serious and burning question 1776 in the extreme North. They regretted very much that the Fishery Board for Scotland had not been able to do everything that they wished it to do, and had not protected their fishing industry as well as it might have done; but the Fishery Board had not received much help from the people in the districts. They had formed associations from one end to the other, and they had encouraged the fishermen to try and catch the trawlers. This had done a considerable amount of good, and he guaranteed that owing to the liberality of his hon. friend opposite and important persons who had subscribed considerably to their funds, they had secured more convictions in Orkney and Shetland than in the whole of the rest of Scotland. He thought they might all do more in this way to support and encourage the Fishery Board. It would be absolutely impossible, even if the Secretary for Scotland had two or three more cruisers, to protect every little bay or creek in the territorial waters of Scotland. The area was enormous, and it would take more vessels and more men than he was ever likely to have at his disposal. With regard to the remarks of the hon. Member for the Holderness Division of Yorkshire as to the food supply of the people being in peril, he thought, if any Party in the House had any right to speak on that subject, it was the Party on that side of the House, and not the Party on the other side of the House, who had tried to attack the food of the people. The trawlers brought in a large quantity of immature fish and even destroyed them. They could not sell them in Scottish or continental waters; it was only in England where they were allowed to dispose of them. They complained of that more than anything else. Fish which was caught illegally was sold in English waters and could not be sold anywhere else, and it was here where they thought the Government might take very important action. He admitted the difficulties under which the Foreign Secretary laboured. Even supposing he was successful in his negotiations with the foreign Powers, it would still be open to persons who had no respect for the law to have Grimsby or Hull boats registered in some unknown land and to defy the British laws. He thought the 1777 Foreign Secretary might try and induce foreign Powers to be no longer a party to the absolute scandal of allowing their flag to be prostituted to enable British trawl owners to break British laws. If a person employing capital in such trades as gun running or slave owning, or drink selling, where such actions were prohibited, was liable to confiscation, it would be quite within the province of the Government to declare that where British capital was employed illegally under a foreign name there should be some means by which the capital should be impounded and confiscated. He saw no other way out of the difficulty. If that was done and the fish were prevented from being sold in British waters it would be a great stride towards protecting their industries. From all one could learn, trawling had increased so enormously that the fish supply in the Northern part of the country was rapidly being depleted, and where the supply in the future would come from was very hard to realise. He was not making any attack on the Secretary for Scotland. The same policy had been pursued for fifteen or twenty years in Scotland; but they might do a great deal more than they did to encourage fishermen to protect themselves and might do more than they did to try and make some alteration by which those persons who illegally and wrongfully sent poor people out to do wrong should be punished instead of their poor instruments.
§ MR. MUNRO FERGUSON (Leith Burghs)
said this question of trawling had been for a long time before Parliament and it was not now in a very satisfactory condition. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had given the Committee as usual the common sense of the matter in regard to British relations with foreigners. Probably there would have to be some regulation of the North Sea fisheries. A great deal of investigation was still being carried on into that matter, and he doubted whether the moment for international agreement had arrived, but the sooner an understanding was reached the better it would be for the fisheries of all the countries concerned in the North Sea. The Foreign Secretary had admitted that in this island at any 1778 rate, the policy of Parliament ought to be supreme. The Moray Firth had been closed upon the ground that the fisheries there were being depleted and it would add to the fish supply if it were closed. An important part of the restriction upon fishing in the Moray Firth was that fish caught there could not be landed at any Scottish port; but what to him was the weak point in the policy they had pursued of late years, was that they could be landed at any English port. They could not be landed at a port in Berwickshire, but they could be landed at an inlet in the constituency of the Secretary for Foreign Affairs. There might be admirable reasons for it, but they were not arguments that had ever appealed to his understanding and he was as yet unconvinced that the English ports ought to be free to the fish caught within a prohibited area. If they had no sympathy with the British owned trawlers who broke the law in the Moray Firth, he did not think their sympathy need be extended to the owners of the catches, and he held the strong view that if this policy of restricting the catch in the Moray Firth was to be persevered with the prohibition should be extended to all British ports, and if it could not be so extended it would be better to open the Moray Firth altogether. He thought on the whole the restricting policy was right, but they had never yet had any satisfactory explanation from any Government as to the reasons for prohibiting the catch from the Moray Firth being landed in Scotland and allowing it to be landed at English ports.
§ MR. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)
said he was somewhat disappointed with the statement made by the Foreign Secretary. Hs had heard similar speeches made by Foreign Secretaries for many years. He hoped he would see that something was done. The right hon. Gentleman said he was prepared to approach the foreign Powers. Had he done nothing at present? He had believed matters were progressing. He could only hope they would be pushed forward. Surely to keep the line fishermen along our coast, one of the finest assets we had, was a matter of national importance. In the event of a great naval war, where would the country be without the line fishermen? It had been one of the 1779 most refreshing nights he had ever had in the House of Commons. There was dissatisfaction in the air. and it had been expressed by hon. Members who had recently come into the House. He had refrained specially from getting up and making observations until they had had their say, and he was very glad they had spoken their minds. It was a good, healthy sign, and there was some chance of Scotland waking up to the fact that she had been very badly treated indeed for many long years. The promises which had been given by the Liberal leaders that the grievances of the line fishermen would be attended to, were no doubt the means of catching a great many votes. Of course, he did not blame the leaders of either Party for making speeches which would catch votes, but if pledges were given, they were entitled to have them redeemed. Upon this subject the Government had entirely failed to fulfil their pledges. All round the coast this illegal trawling was going on and nothing was done to stop it. The grievances of the line fishermen remained unredressed, while the number of steam trawlers in Scottish waters had increased enormously. The fishery cruisers, however, remained at the old number, and he urged that more were wanted to catch the sea thieves and foreign pirates in the Moray Firth. The Secretary for Scotland and his colleagues in the Government were doing their best to drive the people into the slums of our cities. The fishing industry was being ruined, and he blamed the Secretary for Scotland for the indifference he had shown in the matter. Hon. Members representing Scotland had continually put questions to the Secretary for Scotland, but they always received the same answer. They wanted more cruisers, and if they could not get them from the Secretary for Scotland they ought to apply to the Board of Admiralty. He could not understand why so much consideration was given to Norway in regard to this subject. Some prompt action ought to be taken to stop the illegal trawling. These Norwegian ships owned by British shareholders were paying enormous dividends and ruining Scottish fishermen, who were being continually told that their case was being attended to. He had with him statistics 1780 appertaining to this subject, and he could talk easily for a couple of hours. [Cries of "Go on."] The line fishing industry was getting worse every day. He hoped the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs would be able to make some satisfactory arrangement with foreign Powers to put an end to this grievance.
§ THE SECRETARY FOR SCOTLAND (Mr. SINCLAIR,) Forfarshire
said that as that was the only opportunity they would have this session of reviewing the position of Scottish fishermen he was glad to have that chance of saying a word in regard to the whole subject. One would gather from the closing remarks of the hon. Gentleman that the Scottish fisheries were in a depressed and decaying and ruinous condition. The fact was entirely the other way. There never was such a record year for the Scottish fisheries.
§ MR. SINCLAIR
said that if his hon. friend would allow him to proceed with the statement he was about to make, he would show that he had not been in-different to the interests of the fishermen. In years past he had shown and the Government had shown entire sympathy with the position of the line fishermen. With regard to the Moray Firth itself, there had been an increase in twelve months in the capital invested in Scottish fishing boats—not steam trawlers, but steam drifters and liners—of £600,000, and of that no less than £400,000 was attributable to the industry and enterprise of the Moray Firth fishermen. He really thought that deserved to be put on record. He agreed with much that had been said in regard to the desirability of securing adequate closure of the Moray Firth to trawlers, but it should not go forth from the House that the industry was otherwise than in a very prosperous condition. The hon. Gentleman had attributed to him the responsibility for the decay of the Scottish fisheries. He hoped the hon. Gentleman would look into the statistics and figures of which he had given only one example. The figures, at any rate, absolved him from the charge of having no sympathy for, or interest in, this most important industry. 1781 He would make one other observation. There was undoubtedly a disquieting symptom when they looked at the fishery statistics. It was undoubtedly the case that the fishermen had to go further for their fish, and that there were some symptoms which led good judges of the subject, like the hon. Member for the Elgin Burghs and others who had spoken that night, to fear that there was a depletion of the North Sea, which was the main source of our fish supplies. That was the justification for the money spent by this country in scientific investigation and for the work of the International Commission for the research of the North Sea, to which this country was a party. This very depletion of the sources of supply was originally one of the reasons for the passing of Acts of Parliament which gave power to the Fishery Board to pass bye-laws for the closure of the Moray Firth, which bye-laws were subsequently passed. That being the case the House would readily perceive that the Government in their policy of endeavouring to secure agreement between the various Powers in the North Sea for the closure of this important area was in line with all that this Government and previous Governments had done in the matter. One word in defence of his own action. In March this year he announced the decision of the Government to endeavour to arrive at the point when they could approach foreign Powers. No time had been lost. Such an invitation to foreign Powers must be founded upon a scheme of scientific investigation, and such a scheme must take some time to prepare. The proposals must go from all departments of the Government. No time would be lost. Scottish Members might rest assured that the Scottish case had been presented and strongly urged, and would be strongly urged in the future. One or two questions of high policy had interested the House very much that evening, and, after discussing them, it was difficult to come down to the humdrum routine of fishery administration. He would only make one observation in reply to the hon. Member for the Inverness Burghs, who had complained of the supineness of the Government in regard to enforcement of the regulations. It was the policy of the Government to 1782 enforce the regulations, and if the hon. Member would look at the record of convictions, he would find that the regulations had been faithfully and vigorously carried out by the Fishery Board. He must adhere to what he said on another occasion, that the Scottish Office and the Fishery Board, if they were to represent the fishing interests of Scotland as a whole, must not be assumed to be concerned solely with one class of fisheries. It was their duty to see that the interests of all were protected by such means as they had in their power, and it was only in that way that they could do their duty to the fisheries of Scotland as a whole. He trusted that the assurances which had been given by his right hon. friend and himself would tend to allay the charges of want of energy and activity on the part of the Scottish Office in this matter.
And, it being Eleven of the Clock, the CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
Resolutions to be reported to-morrow; Committee also report progress; to sit again to-morrow.