HC Deb 01 June 1911 vol 26 cc1293-340

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £17,529, 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, 1912, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Fishery Board for Scotland and for Grants-in-Aid of Piers or Quays." [NOTE.—£7,000 has been voted on account.]

8.0 P.M.


I have to apologise to the Committee for entering once again upon what, I am sure, is somewhat familiar ground; but, as one of my hon. Friends said just now, the Fishery Board Vote was not very fully discussed last year. I do not know that I need apologise to His Majesty's Government or to the right hon. Gentleman who is in charge, because, after all, if they would do what we ask and meet the not extravagant demands of the small body of Members who speak as representing certain important industries on the east coast of Scotland, we should not run the risk, year after year, of transgressing the Standing Order against tedious repetition. I have to endeavour to put once again the case of the line fisherman, and to emphasise once more that reconsideration of certain hazy dogmas of international law is long overdue. I am bound to begin by saying a few words upon the doctrine of the Three Mile Limit, because that is really the kernel of all the trouble affecting fishing. It has been pointed out on numerous occasions that there is a varying practice on that point among all the nations of the world. I will not go over all the cases, but there is one quite recent instance which I came across the other day, and which perhaps is new to some of my hon. Friends. Argentina, in 1907, claimed as much as ten-and-a-quarter instead of three nautical miles, and also claimed all the great bays up to as much as one hundred miles across. Norway, Sweden, Spain, and Portugal also differ in their practice in varying degrees. So far as international law depends upon anything, I suppose this doctrine depends upon gun fire and upon the maxim, terœ dominium finitur ubi finitum armorum vis. The modern validity of that doctrine seems to be due very largely to the great names of Washington and Stowell, a kind of Anglo-American entente. I want to emphasise now, as I did last year, that many of the old writers, and I think nearly all the modern text writers, argue very strongly against the continued validity of that doctrine. I have made some researches with the help of a very admirable volume called "The Sovereignty of the Sea," written by Professor Wemyss Fulton, one of the professors of the Aberdeen University, which I desire to recommend to all my friends taking interest in this subject. Calvo considered the range too small; Bluntschli and Phillimore said the same thing; De Martens is particularly strong, advocating ten miles; and, when you get down to the more modern writers, Hall, and the most modern writer, Oppenheim, they are stronger still. The International Law Association and the Institut de Droit International have arrived at similar conclusions. They regard three miles as ludicrously insufficient, and they recommend six miles as an irreducible minimum.

What is that recommended for? I know I am entering into the region of controversy, but it is recommended in order to combat and to control what it is contended is an effective but destructive method of fishing. What, after all, is trawling? The popular idea, which I have often heard argued in this House, is that it is a cheap Means of supply of food to our population—that, broadly speaking, it is comparable with scientific agriculture. The line fisherman is being continually compared with the old hand-loom weavers. I contend that precisely the opposite is the case; that you can exhaust the sea just as without the ordinary principles of agricultural decency you can exhaust the soil. You can do that with impunity in new countries where land is plentiful, and I suppose that some think that by analogy you can mess about the bottom of the sea where fish are theoretically inexhaustible, that you can drag a great bag of netting along the depths, catching huge quantities of immature as well as of marketable fish. With the introduction in 1895 of the otter trawl, instead of the old unwieldy beam trawl, that method certainly became cruelly effective, fishing was carried on 200 fathoms deep and enormous hauls of half-formed fish were cast back or sold as manure. The point emerged at last that the supply was not inexhaustible. It is strange to note how opinion has ripened on this subject.

In 1863 there was the first Royal Commission on the subject, which contained my Noble Friend Lord Eversley. I shall have to repudiate his authority on naval matters, because the Commission reported that the method of trawling was not wasteful, and that if you exhausted one ground you can go elsewhere. The Commission of 1878 said practically the same thing, but at the same time it reported there was a decrease in soles, plaice and flounders. It is an interesting point in view of modern developments that it was the trawlers themselves who made the complaint as to the impoverishment of the inshore fishing ground. So far back as 1878—the year I was born in—they asked for a nine-mile limit around the shores of the North Sea. In 1883 there was another Committee, and the trawlers' complaints grew still stronger, and they asked for a ten-mile limit. In 1888 there were repeated complaints and calls for international action. In 1890 the trawlers got tired of making continual appeals to His Majesty's Government, and they took the law into their own hands. They took action themselves and enforced as against themselves a kind of self-denying ordinance against fishing off the Danish and German coast. There was a meeting of representatives of the trawlers of Hull, Grimsby, Yarmouth, and most of the East Coast trawlers, which reported that it was "highly necessary for the future for the well-being of the trade and for the preservation of an important food supply, that Parliament should be asked to impose restrictions on the sale and purchase of immature fish." I repeat that all this has been going on for a very long time, the generosity of Governments in appointing Royal Commissions is simply inexhaustible. In 1893, thirty years after the appointment of the first Royal Commission, we had a fresh Select Commttee which definitely laid down the fact in their report that the three-mile limit was totally insufficient, and which actually recommended international action. I do not think it is necessary to argue at greater length the contention as to the depletion of the fishing banks, because it is admitted by the fact that the trawlers themselves are going further and further afield, in spite of the existence of the North Sea Convention. They began to go to Iceland in 1891, to Morocco in 1902, and to Russia and the White Sea in 1905. Certainly the greatest credit possible is due to them for their energy and enterprise.

I am only discussing the effects of this particular fishing in my part of the country. Their action in going further and further afield, naturally led to a great deal of outcry by the native fishermen in those regions. There was a great amount of protest in Spain and Portugal, culminating in the recent action which took place the day before the discussion of the Scottish Estimates last year of the Russian Government in declaring their intention to close the White Sea and asserting a twelve-mile limit. I remember the protest of the Foreign Office that took place in the early part of this Session, and it seemed obvious to me, from the first announcement in the newspapers of that protest, that by protesting against this the British Government would be estopped from protecting our own fishery grounds, and that so far from regarding that protest against the action of the Russian Government as a National case, the British line fishermen would frankly sympathise with the Russian view. That was my view at the time, and I put a question down on the spur of the moment to the Foreign Office on this subject, and I have since been glad to find that my hasty inspiration has been borne out by the language used by the important Moray Firth deputation, which came from Buckie, Caithness, and elsewhere, and waited on the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and put with great force some of the points which I am now discussing. I desire in connection with the contention of the Russian Government and the attitude which we have taken up in protest against it to direct attention once again to what I shall call the declared policy of the British Government with regard to the thirteen-mile limit. I contend it used to be exactly the same policy as is pursued by the Russian Government now. An hon. Member pointed out last year that in 1895 it was proposed to do for the East Coast of Scotland, south of Aberdeenshire, what by-laws under the Act of 1899 had already done for the Moray Firth between Duncansby Head and Rattray Point, A Bill was introduced by the Liberal Cabinet into the House of Lords, which proposed to draw a line from Rattray Point at the easternmost corner of the Moray Firth southwards to the Fame Islands, in Northumberland. Here there was no question of headland to headland. It is not necessary to argue the question of bays, as you had in the case of the Moray Firth. I am the son of an international lawyer, and have been at the Foreign Office, and should be prepared to argue anything within reason in the interests of my Constituents, but I admit it would be a little difficult, looking at the configuration of that coast, to describe as a bay that very obtuse angle. We have very often discussed bays on this question, but on this particular point the question of bays does not arise. This is the description which is given in the book to which I have alluded, the "Sovereignty of the Sea":— The line at first chosen was a very long one, running along the open coast from Rattray Head to Farne Islands, a distance of 120 miles, passing a little over thirty miles east of Fifeness. There is no question of having to argue that there is necessarily a bay. A line like that is a great deal more than I think my Constituents have really ever asked. We do feel that the Foreign Secretary is being a little unfair nowadays to the continuity of Liberal policy, dating back to 1895, when he himself was Under-Secretary, by insisting, as I think the Foreign Office official answers do, upon the unchallengeable validity of these very narrow bounds for exclusive fishery, and when he treats the whole controversy as a chose jugée, and returns a blank non possumus to a claim based upon modern developments, such as the increased range of gun fire and the destructive methods of fishing, which, in the opinion of nearly all modern writers, furnish a primâ facie case for international discussion in the interests both of national sovereignty and of general food supply. If I go back to the year 1895, of course, that proposal did not permanently hold the field, the wide area was reduced to eighteen, and then to thirteen, miles from the coast; but, speaking after a consultation with the line fishermen in my Constituency—and I think I know every man personally, I have represented them a long time, and have been out with them in their boats—I think I know what they want. They would be amply content if the paper declaration of policy was made operative by obtaining the acquiescence of the other signatory powers to the thirteen-mile limit. That is what they want, or at any rate some considerable extension of the three-mile limit.

I suggest to-day as an alternative, would it not be possible to put into operation a Clause of the Act of 1895 for a thirteen mile limit, simply and solely as an assertion of our own municipal jurisdiction, and pursue the same policy as in the case of the Moray Firth. Broadly speaking, the decisions in the well-known Mortensen case were that the North Sea Convention did not necessarily limit the powers of Great Britain with regard to its own territorial waters, whatever those territorial waters might be. It was suggested in the judgment that exclusive fishing was one thing and that the power of the State over its own territorial limits is another, although those are two things frequently confounded. In the case of the foreign trawlers in the Moray Firth there was the question of what is and what is not a bay; whether or not a wide area far exceeding a ten-mile line from the mainland to a headland was or was not inter fauces. As I say, we should not argue the question of hays in connection with the coast south of Aberdeenshire; but I submit to the Lord Advocate that you can argue the question of territorial waters, and if you put in a statute, as you did in 1895, the declaration that, your limit is or ought to be thirteen miles, I ask him why it is not possible to enforce it?

I am happily relieved from detaining the Committee on the subject of the Bell Rock. I argued the case of the Bell Rock last year with regard to territorial sovereignty, and I received a satisfactory reply, at any rate, as to the international position. What is the position? Broadly speaking, islands, of course, are included in the North Sea Convention as being an ordinary part of State territory. Floating banks, such as the Goodwin Sands, are not, owing to their fluctuating nature and the difficulty of fishermen knowing where they are. They are not included as State territory, but rocks were last year a little uncertain—they were a cross between the firm dry land and floating banks, and there was also a question of their being partially submerged. There are three of these rocks—Sevenstones, Scilly Islands, seven miles from Land's End; Eddystone, fourteen miles southwest of Plymouth; and the Bell Rock, which is ten miles east-south-east of Arbroath. There, again, complaints have been made by Cornwall and Devonshire Fishery Committees. They attacked foreign trawlers who came in, and they wanted some penalty imposed, but the British Government were not for some reason prepared to support them.

The language of my right hon. Friend last year was that we had rights, that the Bell Rock was British territory, but he said he was not prepared, as in the case of Eddystone, to stand by the summit of our rights. That admits that we have rights. He says we have such in the case of Eddystone, and I should like to argue a fortiori that if we have rights in the case of the Eddystone, we have even greater rights in regard to the Bell Rock, because the Bell Rock is inside the area covered by the North Sea Convention, whereas the two others are on the west coast. I should like to repeat my question to the right hon. Gentleman now, and no answer is of any use to me which is not a public one. I am bound to ask him what is the diplomatic reason which prevents him doing what a large body of his fellow-countrymen want him to do. Why cannot we do what we did in the other case, and what diplomatic morass shall we get into if we exercise rights which belong to us. I will only make the briefest reference to another point which keenly interests the line fishermen, and that is the question of the development of motor engines which are required by them in conducting line fishing. I believe, after spending a night at sea in a forty-ton boat, what I am told by a number of experts on the question that when a few more experiments have been made, and fishermen get accustomed to the new development, we ought to get with certainty and dispatch a motive power which men can use who are not skilled engineers. An exhibition was held by private enterprise of these motor-engines last year at Yarmouth with rather insufficient, indeed with no patronage at all from the English Board of Agriculture, though I cannot discuss their shortcomings on this Vote. I am glad to say that the Scottish Fishery Board sent a representative who wrote a report, and there were representatives from foreign Powers.

I ask why cannot you assist this development through the Development Act which we passed, as many of us thought, for this very purpose. Why cannot we do something to assist the individual to become self-supporting; why cannot something be done by these credit banks of which we have heard so much and of which we have seen so little? As many of my hon. Friends have pointed out, by means of expenditure a good deal is being done by the Irish Board, and a great deal is certainly being done by many foreign countries, while Scotland and England lag behind. I will make no apology to the Committee for making the briefest reference to what is being done abroad which may serve as a very excellent sample to this very backward country. In Norway the so-called Old Sea Fishing Fund has been established which advances a certain proportion of the valuation towards the acquisition of vessels both with and without motors, and for motors alone for vessels already acquired. Security is given by a mortgage on the vessel, and on the motor, and on the insurance, or as against the guarantees from the municipal district authorities, and that is treated not as charity and not as a free grant, but as a business proposition, which is all we ask. If the sum is not repaid within a reasonable period it is collected by a forced sale of the vessel; but if a municipal guarantee has been given for the loan the loan is collected from the municipality. Before a loan is given the municipal board must give a statement as to the general position of the applicant, and the most rigid inquiry is made. Up to date as many as 731 fishing vessels and motor-boats have been dealt with in Norway.

In Denmark loans are granted to single persons and societies, carrying interest at 3 per cent. or 3½ per cent., first mortgage being given on the boats and gear as security Again it, is a, business proposition. The fishermen receiving these loans must prove that at least two-fifths of their incomes is gained by salt-water fishing, and the number of fishing grants in Denmark has risen from 152 in 1903 to 1,104 in 1910–1,104 motor-boats in Denmark, as against 147 in Scotland. In Sweden the Government advances to the Royal Agricultural societies or local assemblies sums of money, and they, in turn, advance instalment loans to fishermen, and last year the Swedish Government gave 161 loans for fishing-boats with motors, fifty-six loans for motors for fishing-boats, and seventy loans for fishing-boats without motors. Now as I have referred to the official report of the Scottish Fishery Board, which is available, and which is published in the ordinary manner by Captain M'Ewan, the marine superintendent, I will mention that he says that if it were not for the lack of sufficient funds he should say that quite a number of Scottish fishermen who visited the show would have decided to adopt auxiliary motor-power for their boats. They referred in enthusiastic terms to the prospects of this new development, and he says:— The advantages of auxiliary power in harbour were particularly well displayed at Yarmouth in the ability of the motor-boats to make for a berth at the fish-market. without depending on the services of harbour tugs with consequent delay and expense. He criticises some of the crews of the vessels for not taking sufficient care of their engines, but says:— On the other hand in quite a number of boats, some young fisher lad had entire charge of the engine, and evidently took a pride in keeping it in a spick and span condition, and very often I found this lad having quite a natural inclination for mechanical engineering. Needless to say in such boats, everyone had praise for the motor. He makes a very interesting suggestion, which may have been noted by the Education Department:— I think that there is a good opening for fisher boys just leaving school who may have a mechanical turn of mind getting employment from engine manufacturers for a time in preparation for going in charge of a motor engine in it fishing boat. … I would like to add that, in my opinion, motor engines as auxiliaries would prove of immense benefit not only to the large first class boats following the herring fishery, but also to all classes of smaller fishing boats still left around our coasts. The recent development of the motor in the haddock fishing from Barra Island and Scalloway in Shetland is an instance, and the better earnings by the Clyde boats equipped with a motor is another. I am not a prophet, and I do not wish to anticipate the speech which we shall hear to-morrow from the hon. Member (Mr. Donald Maclean), to whom Scottish Members owe a great deal for the use he is making of this day. But we shall probably hear, indeed we have heard to-day from the Census figures, of the depopulation which is breaking the hearts of men who love their country. We shall be able to compare the old bogey of the capital in cash, which is being driven from our shores, with the ascertained and lamentable fact that human capital is being forced across the seas and denied remunerative employment at home. The land question is great, but it is not all. We are an island people. Do not let us forget the needs of those who go down to the sea in ships. The thousandth part of the money poured out on the multiplication of "Dreadnoughts" and destroyers and naval bases—a few thousand pounds by grant or loan, coupled with the firm administration of Acts already passed and policy already declared, would save a brave industrious body of men and women from despair and destitution.


I am glad to find myself in full accord with all that the last speaker said on the fishing question. There is no doubt that unless the three-mile limit is extended we shall find from year to year a large and growing diminution in the fish supply of these shores. The trouble is not entirely that the fish are captured and sold. The real trouble is that the spawning beds and the fish nurseries are being harried, disturbed, and spoilt. Unless the Government realises that fact there is certain to be a serious diminution. The only cure for that that I can see is to extend the three-mile limit. No one who knows anything about seafaring matters or fishing will object to trawling in itself. The trawlers have just as much right to ply their trade as anyone else has, but not at the expense of the line fishermen. Trawlers can go out to sea, get their catches there, and bring them home, and motor-boats will help them to do that. They will not be faced with the terror of not being able to bring their catches home. If they are supplied with motor-boats they will be able to bring their catches from a far distance, and that will go far to remedy the trouble we complain of. The Moray Firth ought to be open to all or closed to all. It is an absolute farce to prosecute our own British fishermen, fine them, confiscate their nets, and put them in prison when you have to wink at foreign boats plying their trade nearer the shore even than the British ships. It has given rise to the most objectionable practice of British boats sailing under a foreign flag. The temptation, I suppose, is great, but I would rather see British boats face the music under their own flag than come thieving into the three-mile limit under a foreign flag. The sooner we can stop that temptation the better. With regard to motor-boats there is no doubt they have come to stay, and I think if the Government could give some encouragement to our fishermen in Scotland to invest in these motors it would be a very good thing. Foreign countries advance money to their fishermen. They, of course, take a lien on their boats and gear, but it evidently pays, or it would not continue. If our Government would do the same they would find that their money would be safe. Our people would not cheat the Government. There is no honester or finer race, I believe, than the fishermen of our Scotch coast. If you trust them they will trust you, and you may be quite sure if the Government will devote some part of the Development Grant to helping them with their motor-boats a great advance will be seen in fishery matters.

Another thing I think might be done by the Development Grant is to give a little more help to our harbours. Some of our harbours with a comparatively small expenditure can be opened up to larger boats, and all the trend now is to have larger boats, and unless you have harbours to accommodate them the fishermen must go to seaport towns like Leith or Aberdeen, and leave the smaller harbours and ports, and they will become gradually depopulated. We hear a great deal about putting people back on the land, and I have every sympathy with that object. But I should like to hear a little more about keeping our people on the sea and on the coast. If that is lost sight of we shall have cause to rue it. Consider what would happen if we were at war and food was short. We should have to depend to a great deal on our fishing, and the more fishermen we have along our shores the safer we shall be during the bad time that possibly may come supposing England was ever at a great crisis with another country. They are a grand race of men that these fishing villages breed. They face danger, they are strong, and they breed children of fine physique, and it is most important to do everything we can to encourage and to safeguard them. We have heard a good deal about the Fishery Board, and some of the remarks were not not altogether complimentary. One hon. Member said it was a great deal better now than it had been, but I do not see that there is very much difference, except that they have a few more Radicals in it than they had before. I think the Fishery Board throughout has behaved generously, honestly, and well, and done its best for our people. I have had, during the four years when I was in Parliament before, a great deal to do with the Fishery Board. They never turned a deaf ear to my requests. They were always accommodating and always just, and if they could do it they would do it. And if it could not be done, they said No. That is all I ask of anyone, and it is unfair to blame the Fishery Board unless you know all the details. They are very much cramped for want of money. They get, besides the Herring Dues, which are very small, only £2,000 a year. That is far too small a sum, and if the Government could make it larger they would find that a great deal better work would be done. Of course, the policing of our waters is a matter that we must have regard to. I do not think at present we have enough fishery cruisers. I should like to see them doubled myself, and I hope that as time goes on it will be found possible to do more in that respect.

With regard to the three-mile limit it must be remembered that Lord Salisbury when he was discussing the question said very distinctly that he did not confine himself to three miles. I believe it is a fact that our limit is not circumscribed by any number of miles. No one knows what the limit is. There is no limit in fact, and that being so, I cannot see why the Government should not take its courage in both hands and make our limit really sufficient for the purpose for which it was devised. Unless you can do that it is idle to talk. We shall be faced with the same difficulties year after year, and the result will be disaster and distress to our people. I think the Government might follow the example of Russia and make a twelve-mile limit. Nobody seems to object to that, and Russia in any case is going to do it. I should like to see a little more courage on the part of the British Government. If they have a good case, which they think is right, let them put their foot down and stick to their policy.


Representing as I do a constituency which includes a very large number of line fishermen, I desire to say a few words with regard to several topics of immediate concern to them which I think arise on the discussion of this particular Vote. The first topic to which I shall allude has been referred to already, namely, the question of policing the sea round the coasts of Scotland, and in particular the policing of the Moray Firth. So far as this question is concerned, it is not a new one, but I do not think its seriousness is less because it is old. I think its seriousness is greater because it is old, for this reason. It has been so often discussed. Complaints about it have so often been made, and so little has been done to remedy the position of affairs, that the question has really become one of great gravity and importance. I do not altogether blame the Fishery Board in the matter. I quite agree with the hon. Member opposite (Major Anstruther-Gray) in the view he expressed that they have not under their control a sufficient number of cruisers to deal with this mischief. According to the information I have, there is only one cruiser told off to police the whole of the coast between Rattray Point, in Aberdeenshire, and Cape Wrath. It is not surprising in the circumstances that I should be told by one of my Constituents that within the three-mile limit on that part of the coast there were seventeen trawlers seen at work, and not a single police boat in sight. We have often been told that it is difficult to get a constable on land when he is wanted, but it seems to be very much more difficult to get a police boat at sea when it is wanted.

The Fishery Board is not to blame in the matter. Really what is wanted is more money, and it seems to me that the answer which is sometimes given that there are no funds is unconvincing and irrelevant in the circumstances. Here you have a Statute setting up certain restrictions. It is the duty of the Government to find the money from some source in order efficiently and effectively to administer the Statute which is in force. Merely to ask where the money is to come from is not a complete answer in the dilemma. There is one source from which the money might come. For many years there have been heavy penalties imposed upon trawlers—not too heavy, in my opinion. I think the fines imposed on the trawlers might in a certain extent be applied to meet the requirements of the Fishery Board. I have reason to believe, although that fund goes to the Exchequer in the first instance, it does not stay there, but goes to the Fishery Board. I venture to think that a portion of it might be applied to the purpose to which I have referred. That line of action would be acceptable to the line fishermen along the coast.

I wish to refer to another question which has been fully and ably dealt with by the hon. Member for the Montrose Burghs (Mr. R. Harcourt), namely, the question of territorial limits. This, of course, is no party question. I think both parties in the State have committed themselves to the view through distinguished speakers on their behalf that the territorial limit ought to be extended. Several recent incidents have driven home that impression. There was a recent Conference at Edinburgh representing about 10,000 fishermen, at which a resolution was unanimously passed that something must be done to extend the three-mile limit if their industry was to be saved from ruin. Then we have the action of Russia in closing the White Sea and claiming a thirteen-mile territorial limit. It has been urged before now, and I again respectfully urge it upon the Government, that a Conference of the North Sea Powers should be convened for the purpose of revising the North Sea Convention in this matter. To that invitation one has reason to believe the other Powers would be quite ready to accede. It is a pressing matter, and it has been urged by fishermen from all quarters. I would suggest that the appeal they make should be heard and dealt with.

The next question I desire to touch upon is that of the Moray Firth, and in particular the judgment of the High Court of Justiciary, which has been referred to by several Members in the course of the Debate to-night. I have a particular personal interest in that judgment, because, in point of fact, I prosecuted the foreign trawlers at Dernoch, and obtained a conviction against them. If I mistake not, the Lord Advocate supported that conviction in the High Court of Justiciary, at which there were twelve judges. A full-dress Debate took place before that unusually large Court, with the result that the conviction was sustained. It does seem unfortunate that, from that time forward, the law declared by the highest Court in Scotland has not been put in active operation. There may or may not be good reasons for not doing it. There probably are good reasons, but I would like to hear what they are. If it is good law, it is difficult to see—at least, personally, I have not been able to see—why there should not be an attempt made to enforce it, or to explain the reasons clearly and fully why it has not been enforced. [An HON. MEMBER "Is it a final Court?"] It is a final Court. There is no appeal to the House of Lords. The question is constantly coming up in the constituencies, and I am sure that a statement upon it from the Lord Advocate to-night will be welcomed.

I wish to refer also to the question of the provision of motor engines and steam drifters. These particular appliances have come to stay, and the fishermen in many quarters find themselves quite unable to provide the necessary finance. Accordingly, a proposal has been made, and it has been referred to in questions in this House, for providing them with loans to enable them to deal properly with that matter. Only two replies have been made to the suggestion that these loans should be granted. The first reply was that private enterprise might be sufficient to enable the fishermen to do what is necessary in the matter. In the Northern parts of Scotland that was not so. Private enterprise on the part of the fishermen is quite unable to cope with the difficulty. It is said also that previous experience in the matter of making loans has not been very successful. I suppose that refers to loans under the Crofters Act of 1886. That is a very different experiment from advancing money at a low rate of interest with ample security to men who have made it their sole business to go to sea, and that I venture also to urge on the Government as a suitable proposal which should he taken in connection with the fishermen of our country.

It is not very much to ask when one turns to other countries, some of which have been alluded to to-night already, and when one sees what has been done there. I do not desire to travel over the ground which has been so well covered by the hon. Member for the Montrose Burghs, but I do refer to Ireland, not for a moment to be envious of Ireland's good fortune, but rather to deplore the ill-fortune which Scotland has had in comparison. In Ireland the Government, so far as I can discover from answers to questions in this House, have within the last twenty years advanced a sum of £171,000 as loans to fishermen, or an average some thing like £9,000 a year, and next year I see that Ireland is to receive for the same purpose some £20,000. Surely it is not asking very much when Scotch fishermen come to the Government and say that they desire not a sum of these dimensions, but a sum which would enable them to cope with the modern conditions under which they are obliged to work, to give them small advances on ample security for the purpose of providing facilities which they are otherwise unable to provide. The last question I desire to refer to is the question of the constitution of the Fishery Board. Something has been said to the effect that it is better than it, was. I do not really complain of the Fishery Board or of its very efficient chairman, if I may say so, but I do say that it is unfortunate, from the point of view at least of my Constituents in the north, that we have not a single representative upon that Board as reconstituted. The Board as reconstituted does not include a single representative from Buckie to Lerwick in the north, and from Stornaway on the west coast there is only one, I think, and they are certainly limited in number to one representative drawn from the district between Buckie and Leith. That has caused a great deal of comment in the North of Scotland, where there are so many loyal fishermen, many of them loyal Liberal fishermen. I do think that in these circumstances the wishes to which we have given expression in this and other matters should receive the attention of the Government. I am quite sure that the Lord Advocate is in sympathy with all the very legitimate demands that this class of man makes, and as I think that none of the demands which I have ventured respectfully to put forward in their name are other than legitimate, I hope that they will receive some attention from the Government.


I am sure that the Members of the Committee who had the good fortune to be present during the last hour will agree with me when I say that we have listened to most admirable speeches, closely reasoned, and full of information, and of a tone and temper with which no one could find fault. Indeed, I am in a position to say to my hon. Friends that I am in agreement with practically every word which they have uttered. I agree with them that it would be wise and prudent to consider the three-mile limit, and to consider the question carefully. Foreign nations, so far as my knowledge goes, hold the same views as our own people do with regard to the limit within which trawling can be prohibited, but at all events that is a question which it lies neither with me nor with the Scottish Secretary to decide. We can make representations to the Government, and we shall certainly do so. All my colleagues here know very well that this is a question of State policy, and a question for the Cabinet to consider. I am afraid it is not a very satisfactory answer to give to my hon. Friend the Member for Montrose Burghs that diplomatic reasons have prevented us from enforcing the judgment of the High Court, to which the hon. Member for Wick Burghs (Mr. R. Munro) has referred. It is perfectly true, as he said, that a court of exceptional weight and strength, both in the number and the ability of the judges who composed it, decided that we could enforce these regulations made by the Fishery Board all over the area of the Moray Firth. Personally, as my hon. Friend the Member for the Wick Burghs knows, I hold the view that the whole area of the Moray Firth is within the territory of Scotland, that the whole area is within the limit of territorial water, and some of my hon. Friends on this Committee know that by Statute Law, passed, I think, at the end of the 18th century, the jurisdiction of local courts on both sides of the Moray Firth extends over the whole area. If offences are committed aboard ship anywhere within the area of the Moray Firth they are cognisable by our local courts. There is no nation in the world that I am aware of that would not assert its territorial rights over such an area of water as the Moray Firth.

The last hon. Member alluded to the fact that Russia proposes to extend her limits, and I am certain that Norway desires to extend hers. Norway as I understand holds the view that her territorial waters extend far beyond any claim that has ever been made, by this or any other country. For that reason she stood clear of the North Sea Convention. It seems to me that a strong case has been made for a revision, and note will be taken of the views so admirably expressed by my colleagues on this Committee, and representations will be made to the Government to see if anything can be done. The diplomatic reasons which my hon. Friend knows, of course, have prevented us from taking action are considerations with regard to the interests of British people in other parts of the world. If we were to enforce that judgment, as we are entitled to do, it is believed that it would be detrimental to British fishing interests and British fishermen in other parts. In other words, foreign countries would resent it. That is a question which I am not prepared to deal with. It is a question which the Foreign Office is eminently well qualified to deal with. It is for that reason, and that reason only, that the judgment of the High Court has not been enforced. To come to a much more practical question, all the hon. Members who have spoken representing fishing constituencies have urged strongly the claims of the fishermen to advances of money from the State to enable them either to equip existing boats with steam or motor apparatus, or to buy or build motor boats to carry on the industry in place of the old boats. I need scarcely say that generally speaking I am in sympathy with that view. But consider the situation for a moment. In the first place we have no statutory power at present to make advances of that kind, except to fishing constituencies within the crofting area. That statutory power is contained in the Crofters Act, 1886. It empowers the Treasury to hand over to the Fishery Board certain sums for the purpose among other purposes of making loans to fishermen. It is quite true, as my hon. Friend for the Wick Burghs has told us, that the experience of the Fishery Board was not very happy in administering that part of the Act. I read the other day a series of reports from inspectors in all parts of Scotland. All of them were hostile to advances of this kind being given. They said—and it commended itself to one's judgment—that the enterprising, active and sensible fisherman provided boats from their own resources. Where competition is keen—and it is very keen in some of the fishing districts—those enterprising men were able from their own funds and resources to furnish themselves with better equipped boats and gear, and they said it would be an unfair advantage that would be enjoyed by those who obtained loans from the State, to enable them to procure boats and gear and to come into competition with their neighbours who, by their own enterprise and at their own expense, had equipped their own boats. There is a good deal in that.

9.0 P.M.

When I looked over the reports showing the remarkable progress made by the fishing industry in many parts of Scotland and the remarkable change that has taken place in the past ten years, when I read that during the past ten years the tonnage had increased, I think, by sixteen times, the value about twenty times, and the value of gear something like thirty-seven times, I was impressed by the vigour, enterprise, and energy of my fellow-countrymen in Scotland in having without outside aid so admirably equipped themselves at their own expense and from their own resources. When I found, further, that they were enabled to procure loans that they required from the banks at a reasonable rate of interest, and when I found also that the expenditure is very great in building and equipping one of these modern trawlers, it appears to me that a much larger question was raised than at first sight appears. It would involve the making of loans to a fabulous extent right and left all round the coast. It is a striking fact that there have been no representations from the fishermen themselves asking for loans of this character. Where the most complaints have been made and the most demands have come from are the districts where the fishing is poor and unsuitable altogether. From the information I gathered it seems to me that the energy and enterprise of my countrymen were sufficient to cope with the difficulty, and enabled them to equip for themselves modern boats, with modern gear, as well as their neighbours and fellow-countrymen. Let the Committee remember that if we were to embark on a policy of making loans it would require to be done under a new statute, and in view of the present discussion I have satisfied myself that there is no clause of the Development Act of 1909 which would enable loans of this kind to be given, and it would require an Act specially passed for the purpose.


I quite appreciate the fact that under the Development Act loans cannot be granted to individuals working for profit, but could the right hon. Gentleman say anything on the point of credit banks. I had a conversation with one of the Development Commissioners, who indicated a plan to me—this is no breach of pledge—that credit banks might be the proper means of dealing with this matter. Can the right hon. Gentleman, on behalf of the Government, express any view in regard to credit banks?


I have no view that I can at present state with regard to credit banks. My investigation has shown that fishermen have no difficulty in obtaining loans on remarkably reasonable terms from the banks. If I remember aright I think that they got loans at 6 per cent.


They should get them at 3 per cent.


In regard to the complaints of insufficient policing of the Moray Firth, it is really a question of ways and means. You have got to consider, on the one hand, the advantage to be gained by having a large fleet of vessels, and, on the other hand, you have to consider the enormous expense involved in employing a large fleet of vessels. Do not let the Committee forget that the trawling of the Moray Firth is really not conducted by the regular respectable trawlers of this country. It is only what I call the riffraff who appear there and spurious foreigners—men from Grimsby flying Norwegian or Danish flags. There is no intelligent trawler but knows that if the Moray Firth was open to everybody and everybody went there, soon there would be no fish to be had. The thing would come to an end. I myself have conferred with trawlers in the constituencies which are represented by my hon. Friends the Members for North Aberdeen and South Aberdeen. These fishermen have told me in fact that they knew quite well that if trawling in the forbidden waters of the Moray Firth became common there would be an end to the fishing. It would be just as injurious to them as to line fishermen. Accordingly it is only, so far as my information goes, what I may call the riff-raff of the trawlers who go there, and those boats of which I have nothing good to say.

Some say close it to everybody, or open it to everybody, and that there is no middle course. Seriously, do hon. Members who represent line fishermen say that it will be better if we cannot close it to everybody that we should open it to everybody. Is it not certain that our legislation has resulted in confining the trawling within the Moray Firth practically to the outcasts of the trawling industry and not to the regular trawler at all? I think it is certain that we have done a great deal by the Act which we passed a couple of years ago to rid the Moray Firth of those pests. I know that the hon. Member for North Aberdeen thinks that the Act has been entirely ineffective. I think it has done good, and, at all events, let us give it a fair chance. We have not had experience enough yet to draw any certain or wise inferences. Let us give it another year's trial and let us see what the effect will be. So far as my information goes, and I have been looking at the figures recently, it has been effective. Down to July last it was more effective than I believe it has been since. In July last from the information given by the Fishery Board and the figures supplied to me I was well founded in my statement that practically we had brought these Norwegian and other pests to stay away from the Moray Firth. I regret to say that there has been a change to some extent since then and that more of them have appeared, and that a great many of them, and I do not dispute this for a moment, have been seen in the Moray Firth, and have not landed their fish at Grimsby, and therefore do not come within the scope of the Act. Of course, my hon. Friend the Member for North Aberdeen draws the inference that it is only the few who land their fish at Grimsby who are touched by the recent Act, and that the large number of those seen fishing in the Moray Firth are, people who carry the fish away and sell it in foreign waters. I do not think that that is a safe and certain inference, but it is an inference my hon. Friend is at liberty to draw. Meantime I would counsel the hon. Member to give this Act a fair trial.


Would it not be possible to trace those other trawlers that are taking the fish elsewhere?


All things are possible, but it would require an enormous fleet of cruisers to trace all those various foreigners—Belgians, Germans, and the rest, into their quarters, find out where they landed their fish, and whether they were caught in the Moray Firth. Of course we should be told that they were not caught in the Moray Firth, and we should have no means of checking erroneous statements. I do not think it would be practically possible to employ a large fleet of cruisers and incur expense far beyond the resources of the Department. I would appeal to hon. Members to let the Act have fair play and give it another year's trial. The people who are mostly concerned are quite satisfied. I do not remember any complaint from the line fishermen. I think the Act has rid the Moray Firth of the regular trawler, and I would hope as time goes on that we shall get it more and more free from those. I apologise for having risen a little sooner than perhaps I ought to have risen, but I shall endeavour to answer any point's my hon. Friends raise subsequently.


The right hon. Gentleman commenced his speech by telling us that he was in entire agreement with everything which had been said by the three previous speakers. I think as the speech developed it became evident that the agreement, though entire in regard to one matter—the question of the limits of territorial waters, was not quite so complete in regard to certain other matters as the Lord Advocate perhaps thought. That was particularly so in regard to the matter of the proposed loans to fishermen. I confess that I heard the Lord Advocate with a good deal of surprise declaring that no representation had been received from fishermen desiring that those loans should be granted to them to acquire steam drifters and to fit motors into existing crafts. Only within the last two or three weeks, and certainly within the last month, I myself handed to the Secretary for Scotland, whose absence from this House, although I understand it is out of order to mention it, I still deplore, I handed to him a widely signed petition from the fishermen on the entire Aberdeenshire coast, expressly asking that those loans should be granted, and presenting a strong case, or at any rate their case, in support of that demand. The Secretary for Scotland received that petition sympathetically, and promised that it should have careful consideration. He has since assured me that he has referred it to persons in a position to give him useful information and advice. I gather from what the Lord Advocate has told us as to the information being hostile that the reports which have been received from the inspectors throughout Scotland have been received in connection with that petition and the inquiries to which it has led. Naturally I am disappointed to hear that the inspectors should be hostile. Officially they seem to be, so one must believe, but personally and privately I have some reason to believe that the inspectors are not all hostile, and that, some of them believe the scheme to be practicable and desirable.

I was astonished to hear that the inspectors should report to the Scottish Office that they find that the more well-to-do and more prosperous fishermen resent the idea of their poorer and less fortunate brethren being assisted by loan. I think, to say the least of it, that that is not a generous attitude, and it is not the usual attitude adopted by prosperous tradesmen towards their less fortunate numbers. I should be sorry to think that that really corresponded to the actual facts of the case. I think that the fishermen who are so independent that they do not need loans themselves do not require very much to be considered in this connection. They are men who have got capital and who are able to obtain capital upon easy terms. Some months ago I asked a question in this House as to whether the Government would entertain the idea of making advances to fishermen for this purpose, and the Lord Advocate informed me that he considered the matter was one to be dealt with by private enterprise, and now he tells us it is dealt with by private enterprise, that it is done satisfactorily, and that money can be obtained from private capitalists for this purpose at 6 per cent. He seemed to consider that a very reasonable rate. As the Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. R. Harcourt) interjected at that point, the State might advance at something like 3 per cent., and it seems to he possible that in the difference between the 3 per cent. of the State and the 6 per cent. of private enterprise there would be a distinct margin with which to provide a Sinking Fund so as to enable the capital to be paid off during the lifetime of the party. I submit that the scheme is a practical scheme, and not only practicable, but absolutely necessary if we are to save the fishing industry of the North-East of Scotland from extinction.

You find one Aberdeenshire village after another, as you go along the coast, sinking into decay. We find in many of these villages very few young men; most of the inhabitants are old. We find that these men have not capital to enable them to adapt their industry to the changing conditions. We find that men who were able to purchase fishing boats some years ago are not now able to purchase the much more expensive craft required to carry on the industry on competitive lines. A steam drifter costs from £2,500 to £3,400, and there are very few fishermen, even if some of them join together, who have that amount of money to invest. The hon. Member for St. Andrews Burghs (Major Anstruther-Gray) has justly referred from the other side of the House to the fact that Scottish fishermen are among the most enterprising, solid, honest class of men in the United Kingdom. They are men whose word is their bond. They are in a position to give ample security either in their enterprise or character or their boats, and in many cases other security might be offered. It is not fair to compare what has been done under the Crofters Act of 1886 with what is proposed to be done in the measures we invite the Government to take. I think this whole question is surrounded by unnecessary complication and a cloud of misapprehension and exaggerations. For example, the Lord Advocate has told us that the fishing industry in Scotland is prosperous, and he proves that prosperity by showing that the total of fish caught has increased. I do not wish to dispute the figures for one moment, but they are not revelant to this controversy. For if the catch has increased it is because the trawlers have increased. It is not on behalf of the trawler owners or the would-be owners of trawlers that we make this demand. They are well able to take care of themselves; but we speak on behalf of the line fishermen, the men who see their living being taken away from them, and who cannot compete with the trawlers unless they are able to acquire motor-boats equipped with modern petrol engines, or steam drifters. Whilst the trawling industry may be and is a means of prosperity to people of large capital, the line fisherman is in a very precarious position. I have visited these villages not only once but many times, and I know very many of the men engaged in it, and the extreme difficulty they have in making a living at all out of the sea, from which in past years they used to reap so abundant a harvest.

The House really ought to consider how important it is to the nation, not merely from the commercial point of view but for national safety, that everything should be done to maintain this hardy population around our coasts. If only as recruiting-grounds for the Imperial Navy I think these people have a very strong claim upon us. It is impossible to dismiss a scheme of this sort airily as socialistic in its tendencies. Many of us are opposed to the tenets held by those who call themselves Socialists, but we all want legislation and administration which comes perilously near to what may be described as socialistic. I do not think anyone of either party will fear to associate themselves with a scheme to benefit a great and important class in the community because of a misrepresentation of that kind. I think there is a fund from which money could be drawn, without the special legislation such as the Lord Advocate sug- gested, and which I should be glad to see coming from him. Money could be drawn to make a reasonable beginning of a scheme by which these people could be encouraged to obtain steam drifters on reasonable terms and obtain capital at a rate which was not unremunerative. I think the Development Fund may be tapped for this purpose. I think it exists for purposes of this sort. One thing which is closely connected with the interests of my fishing Constituents might be usefully served by a grant from the Development Fund.

All the fishing villages around the coast of Aberdeenshire, with two exceptions, have decreased alarmingly in population between the date of the last Census and the previous one. These two are the villages of Inverallochy and St. Combs, and it is owing to the Fraserburgh Light Railway. That railway was established by the Great North of Scotland Co. with a grant from the State. At the other side of Fraserburgh there was a scheme which was elaborately laid before the Treasury for some considerable time, and the Treasury have gone so far as to give a grant of £17,000 towards the construction of that line. It would restore prosperity and save what were formerly thriving villages along the Aberdeenshire coast. It is only a reasonable and proper thing, and if the £17,000 is found to be inadequate for the purpose intended, the Treasury should ask the Development Fund to come in and make an additional grant for this purpose. I have other subjects to which I desire to call attention in addition to that of the Scotch line fishermen, but the ground has been covered by other speakers, and I have confined myself to that claim alone, and I hope that something will be done to provide these loans from the State, either by the special legislation suggested by the Lord Advocate, or by obtaining some additional funds from the Development Fund. I do not care very much where the money comes from, but I do say that if it has been found to be wise, proper, and patriotic to make Grants to fishermen in Ireland there is no reason which I know or can think of or imagine why my own countrymen in Scotland should not be considered in the matters I have placed before the Committee.


The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has made a very eloquent appeal on behalf of the line fishermen in Scotland. I venture to think that that appeal is a very much- needed one, as the situation which has arisen to-day in Scotland is a very serious one indeed in many parts, owing to the decay of line-fishing. We have, as the Census results have shown, many districts where the population has decreased because the people have been hemmed in, shall I say by laws which at present prevent them settling on the land. In other respects they are also hemmed in by a system which prevails upon the sea, and which for many years past has led to the destruction of many of the best spawning beds and fishing grounds along the shores of Scotland. Many different aspects of the trawling question have been touched on in the course of Debate, but there is one to which I would like to draw the attention of the Committee. It has not been dealt with very fully. I think it is one of very great importance. It is in regard to the administration of the law as it at present stands against illegal trawling. Hon. Members who have spoken think that it is a very desirable thing that we ought to have our limits extended, but this is a matter which requires very serious consideration, and I am glad to think that the right hon. Gentleman has taken a very sympathetic view of this question. I hope he will press his views strongly upon the Government. Until, however, that question has been settled we have got to deal with the situation as it is to-day.

We have got at the present time quite a series of laws in existence which have for their purpose the prevention of illegal trawling along the coast of Scotland. I know the Fishery Board are very anxious to secure the efficient administration of the law. I think we are very fortunate in having at the head of the Fishery Board such a very capable Chairman and such a very capable Secretary as the Board possesses. All I should like to say is that the experience of the last two years has proved that the law will require to be very much more strictly administered if you are to put an end to the practice which prevails all along our coasts of trawlers fishing inshore and taking immature fish from the fishing and spawning ground, thus damaging very much indeed the whole of the fisheries off the coast of Scotland. I drew the attention of the Lord Advocate last year to figures showing the number of convictions which were obtained during 1909 for illegal trawling. I regret that I have not got figures to deal with the matter as fully as one would have liked for 1910. We have not yet got the report of the Fishery Board. I think it is very much to be regretted that some attempt was not made to accelerate the publication of the report for the purpose of this Debate. I pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman that there had been a very large increase in the number of prosecutions and convictions for illegal trawling. I would like to quote the passage in the report of the Fishery Board for 1909, which deals with the subject, namely:— If the number of prosecutions undertaken be any criterion, illegal trawling was carried on to a much larger extent than usual during the year under review, sixty-three cases having been tried as compared with thirty in 1908, a yearly average of twenty-eight since 1886. It is quite true that during the past year the figures are not quite so high. I understand that for 1910 there were thirty convictions, but during the present year again there is a tendency for the number of convictions to increase. What I point out is that you have at the present time under existing laws which have for their object the prevention of these illegal practices, these practices continuing and increasing and causing immense damage to the spawning ground. There is one particular feature in regard to these convictions which I think also ought to be kept in view, and that is that while fines are imposed—I do not think they are nearly heavy enough, I think they ought to be doubled—they are very seldom paid. Take 1909 for example. There was imposed in fines £4,738. Of that amount only £1,026, or a little less than a quarter, was paid. For 1910 fines amounting to £2,005 were imposed, and only £544 paid. In these cases where the fines were not paid the parties convicted, that is the masters of the vessels, were sent to prison. They were sent to prison under an arrangement, in some cases, I believe, with the owners of the trawler, who preferred to keep their officers—who were the victims in these instances—in prison and keep their families while the father was in prison—


May I ask the hon. Gentleman what evidence he makes that statement on?


I have received evidence on different occasions in regard to such practices. I want to be perfectly clear. I am not charging the owners of all trawlers with such a practice, but I believe it is a practice which does exist. I have had evidence of it on different occasions. The point which I make is this that while these fines, amounting to a very considerable sum are imposed, they are very seldom paid. Unless you can enforce payment of these fines in such a way to make the penalty really a severe one on the responsible party you will have a continuation of this existing practice. I do think the figures are eloquent. Since 1886, when the law was first enforced, up to the present day there have been 643 convictions, and £30,910 imposed in fines. Of this sum only some £13,000 has been paid. What is the remedy for it? If you are going to enforce the existing law—and I agree that those hon. Members who are interested in trawling and who represent constituencies where there are trawlers are as anxious as any other Member to see that the law is enforced—we must all agree that the penalties shall be such as will really bring home the offence to the offenders. The Sea Fisheries Regulation (Scotland) Act of 1895, which, in Section 10, deals with the question of the thirteen-mile limit, by Sub-section (6) of that Section provides— That failing payment by a certain date named in the conviction of the fine imposed upon the person or persons convicted, decree may be pronounced against the owner or owners of the offending vessels … I am quite satisfied that a provision to that effect, which has already found its way on the Statute Book in connection with the very much smaller offence in regard to the thirteen-mile limit, although that Section is at present a dead letter, could be, and I hope may be provided in the case of the offence of going within the three-mile limit, or the closed areas, of the Moray Firth, the Firth of Forth, and all the closed areas around our coast. I see no reason why such a provision should not be carried into effect by the Government, and I certainly hope that the Fishery Board in considering this question will keep in view the necessity of securing more stringent penalties and legislation. One other point which I wish to deal with is the assistance given by the Government to the development of fisheries. I think the fishermen of Scotland ought to recognise and keep in view the great advantages they will derive through the action of the Government in passing the Development Act, and the Scotch Fishery Board ought to take a considerable share in carrying into effect the provisions of the Act. I understand that various committees have been appointed to report to the Development Commissioners as to the state of the harbours along our coasts. That is a very important question.

It has been suggested in certain quarters that there has been considerable delay in visiting the different parts of the northeast coast. I have reason to believe that the Fishery Board acted very wisely when they sought to carry out their inquiry not only in one portion, but through the whole of the area of Scotland in order that they might be in a position to consider the needs of all without discriminating, and that one district should not be favoured more than another. I think their policy is wise, and it seems to me that they have taken up their duties in connection with this question at the earliest possible moment, and that no time has been lost in getting the matter dealt with, and I sincerely hope the Commissioners visiting the coast of Scotland may secure grants for harbours to the localities upon conditions not too severe, because in many districts it is difficult for small communities to raise large sums of their own in order to develop their harbours and to meet the conditions of the Development Commissioners.

The Committee listened with great interest to the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman on the matter of the extension of the three-mile limit. We urge upon him at an early date to take the opportunity of urging the Government to re-summon the North Sea Convention, so that all interested in the fisheries in the North Sea may be agreed upon the question of the protection of the interests not only of one section, but of all sections of the community interested in fishing. Those interested in trawling have every bit as much at stake as the line fishermen, and if the supply of fish in the North Sea is to be continued and not to be seriously injured as in past years all I hose engaged in fishing in the North Sea ought to arrange amongst themselves to secure the protection of the spawning beds and fishing grounds.

There ought to be no real difficulty in regard to the international question, if those nations principally concerned in the North Sea Convention were brought together to discuss the whole question at the present time. I think the question of the wider limits might to a certain extent be narrowed to the North Sea, itself in the first instance, and that the question of further extending the territorial limits might be for consideration at a later stage. I am glad to think so many Members are supporting the claims of the line fishermen. Although I no longer represent a fishing constituency, I still continue to have a very great interest in that most industrious and deserving class, and while the Government is at the present moment engaged in dealing with matters of such great interest to large industrial constituencies such as I represent in North-East Lanark, both in regard to the Mines Bill and in regard to the National Insurance Bill, I am glad to take this opportunity of giving expression to my views with regard to the other class.


I should like to say a word or two in reference to the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down. He referred to the fact that during the last few years some thousands of pounds in fines imposed upon trawlers only a comparatively small sum was paid. But I think it should be pointed out to the Committee that the persons accused of these offences and found guilty had the alternative of paying a fine or going to prison. I refuse to believe that any man who had the money to put down in court would prefer to go to prison for sixty days in order to avoid paying the fine. I am not at all satisfied that the hon. Member was justified in stating that the owners of these fishing vessels are directly responsible for the malpractices carried on by the skippers. I represent a very large number of trawlers, and they have given me an assurance that on no occasions do they encourage their men to fish in prohibited areas. For myself I have always maintained that it was not in the public interest that trawlers should be permitted in certain areas, and it is my desire, and it is the desire of others who represent trawlers, that the law should be observed and no one permitted to fish in prohibited areas.

The hon. Member said he had evidence that satisfied himself that encouragement was given to those men to refuse to pay the fines and to go to prison. I invite him to produce that evidence. Why does he not produce it to the Committee? I do not think that is the case. He said that additional penalties should be imposed, and he referred to an obsolete Act in which power was given to the judge to impose a fine upon the owner in the event of default by the accused person. I think that is a monstrous proposal. The owner is not cited; he gets no opportunity of putting in his defence, and yet my hon. Friend says although the owner has not committed the offence a fine should be imposed upon him without giving him an opportunity of defence. I understand my hon. Friend is a lawyer, but I think it is contrary to all accepted principles of British justice that a man should have a fine imposed upon him for an offence he has not committed and of which he is not accused, and in reference to which he gets no opportunity of putting in his defence.

With regard to this question of loans to fishermen, personally I do not think there is, up to the present time, any very great demand for loans. There has been some move in the matter recently. I am inclined to agree with the Lord Advocate when he stated that private enterprise and the credit of the fishermen themselves had been sufficient up to the present time to meet the case. I think there are very few instances in which fishermen have found any difficulty in purchasing steam drifters and other vessels of a similar character. The industry which I have the honour to represent must be considered as well as the line-fishing industry. Why should the line fishermen get State loans while those in the trawling industry are not to have State loans on easy terms as well? [An HON. MEMBER: "They are rich men."] I do not think the hon. Member knows so much about the trawlers' banking accounts as I do. As a matter of fact, they are not rich men, and these trawlers are owned by a very large number of persons who put down comparatively small sums of money as part-owners of the vessel. They have developed this industry very much.

I do not think it is desirable that those hon. Members who represent fishing communities should be continually decrying the trawling industry. It is a most valuable industry, and but for its existence large quantities of the best food obtainable would not have been forthcoming. I think we ought to be able to reconcile these differences without condemning the trawling industry as if it was responsible for all the depopulation to which the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Cowan) has referred. I do not think the trawling industry has very much to do with that question at all, and the real reason for the depopulation is the lack of proper harbour accommodation. The boats have increased in size, and it is no longer possible to draw them into the little creeks, as was the case when they were much smaller. It is not the existence of the trawling industry that has damaged the line industry; on the contrary, I believe it has benefited very considerably, because it has created a great market for fish which did not previously exist. I think we ought to find some way of reconciling our differences and encourage the whole industry of fishing in every possible way.


Speaking from my own recollection of the administration of the law, when I was in an official position, I cannot help thinking that we are conducting our legislation and administration on entirely wrong lines. If trawling is as bad as it is said to be it could easily be stopped. I do not believe in the present system of having a law which it is sought to enforce by penalties which do not in the least enforce it. I think we ought to endeavour to arrive at some final conclusion upon this subject. At the present time we are trying to ride two horses at once, or perhaps I ought to say we are riding one horse one way and the other horse the opposite way. If it is found that trawling is good then it ought not to be put down. We should make up our minds within what limits trawling should be permitted. We ought to decide whether foreign trawlers should be excluded, and whether the three-mile limit should be extended. We are allowing this very important question to drift, drift, drift. We have had commission after commission appointed, and we are not the least bit nearer a solution. It is idle having cases brought up in Parliament, or cases in the ordinary Sheriff's Court where the unfortunate skipper or the cook is put forward, and where the trawler owner or the master pays. That is not approaching the question in a business-like way. The first thing we ought to decide is whether trawling really does damage the spawning beds; whether it does the mischief alleged to the line fishermen, whether they are being injured, and if so, whether the corresponding benefits secured by procuring an enormous fish supply is not worth the comparatively little injury which is alleged. All these questions we are continually talking about, but we do not arrive any nearer a solution. If trawling does damage the line fishing industry, is this industry not more than compensated for by giving us a large supply of cheap food. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is not cheap."] Yes, it is cheap food, for I have seen in York on a Saturday afternoon pounds of cheap fish sold for a few coppers because they were plentiful.


But supposing it decreases the?


That is exactly the point I want us to address ourselves to. We have had more than one commission upon this subject, and we have never yet reached a sensible or a wise conclusion on the subject. It is quite out of the question to ask that we should proceed to legislate on this matter until we have great deal better grounds for saying that trawling does injure the fish supply. As far as my knowledge goes we have not any definite evidence that will enable us to arrive at a sound conclusion at all. This continual wrangling between those who represent line-fishermen and trawlers does not advance the question one bit. We are spending a great deal of eloquence and Parliamentary time upon this matter, and we are not advancing towards a solution. Before we can arrive at anything practical we must make up our minds one way or the other. It seems to me perfectly plain that before we can arrive at any conclusion upon the conflicting claims of the line fishermen and the trawlers we ought to make up our minds whether we are going to have the three-mile limit extended, and whether the foreigners are going to be treated differently to ourselves. If trawling is found to be a bad thing it ought to cease. The present condition of things is very unsatisfactory. I do not believe the House of Commons is at this moment in a position to give an intelligent vote upon the question whether trawling is good, bad, or indifferent; whether it ought to be supported or condemned; and whether the claims of the line fishermen, as against trawlers, should be supported. It seems to me the only way in which we could reach a conclusion, unsatisfactory though that way may be, is by the appointment of somebody to inquire into this question and try to arrive at some satisfactory result. As far as I can see, I do not think the Government can be blamed in this matter, because I do not think there is information at present available to enable any Government to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion.


I did not agree altogether with my hon. Friend the Member for South Aberdeen (Mr. Esslemont) when he said we who represent line fishermen want only to decry trawlers. We do nothing of the kind. We do say, those of us who know, that the present Fishery Board is somewhat over-represented in the trawling interest. It may or may not have been possible to have avoided that, but I submit it is the fact. My right hon. Friend the Member for the Leith Burghs (Mr. Munro - Ferguson) stated in his opinion practical fishermen ought to be members of the Fishery Board. That raises a very difficult question. It would be very difficult indeed for fishermen on our coast to attend meetings of the Fishery Board. I think what the right hon. Gentleman said about an advisory committee has been very largely got over. Lord Pentland last year met a very large deputation of those engaged in the fishing industry. That conference did a great deal of good, and it has been agreed such conferences shall be held in future. If that is the case, many of the obstacles the industry formerly had to encounter will be surmounted. I, for one, am of opinion this Fishery Board for Scotland is a distinct improvement on any Fishery Board we have had. We have two or three practical men there. Some of us indeed would have liked to see some other men there. I myself presented two petitions signed by thousands of fishermen and fish curers in favour of one man, but, for reasons into which I need not enter, he was not appointed. I should like the Fishery Board for Scotland, now it has a new membership, to go in for more up-to-date methods. We get little or no information from the Fishery Board as to what is done on the Continent. That has to be picked up by Members engaged in the industry. I do not know what the late Lord Advocate wants. What is it he wants us to prove? He was in office for a considerable time, and, as far as I can recollect, he took certain steps, or proposed to take certain steps, against trawling. Why did he do so? Was he not convinced trawling was not the most beneficent method of fishing?


I was only convinced of this: I had to administer the law at that time. I thought it was very unsatisfactory.


I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman took no steps to find out the truth. I myself have lived for a large portion of my life on the shores of the Moray Firth, and if he comes there I will prove to demonstration, that, if he allows them to open the Moray Firth to trawlers, our line fishermen may emigrate as soon as they like. I believe this Act has done some good, and I believe, if more time were given, we should see what are the facts; but that is no reason why something more should not be done. Indeed, something more must be done. The Foreign Secretary, two years ago, stated the whole question was under consideration and investigation, and a conclusion must be come to soon. I should like to know how soon—within a year or within two years? This method of going on is a bit antiquated. It is absurd we should only have a three-mile limit merely because, years ago, it was believed the distance of a gun-shot was three miles.

In 1878, when this question came up in the House of Lords, both Lord Halsbury and Lord Salisbury would not commit themselves to this limit. Lord Salisbury said great care had been taken not to name three miles as the limit, and in 1895 the Fishery Board was empowered to make regulations for a thirteen-mile limit. We are willing to give time to see how the present Act operates, but if it is not satisfactory, then something of a more drastic nature must be done. My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire referred to the question of loans for fishermen. That is a matter on which, on the face of it much may be said, but before such a method can, in my opinion, he entered into, a Committee representing the various interests of the industry will have to be appointed. At present the industry is not in a very healthy state. Are loans to be given to individual fishermen? Does the hon. Member think the fishing fleet is capable of indefinite expansion without reference to market limitations? If you over capitalise, and if you over produce, you will not only harm the fishermen you want to support but you will destroy the whole industry. In Banffshire, where most of the steam drifters are, I am told they have been financed largely by banks which charge them the same rate of interest as they do other enterprises. Private lenders are not very quick in calling up capital, but as soon as this industry is financed by the State both interest and capital will be called up very stringently. I admit this is a question of great importance, and I hope, if it is to be taken up, the Secretary for Scotland will consider the advisability of appointing a Committee.

We in the North-East of Scotland are more concerned as to the question of harbours. Lord Pentland was good enough last year to go along the coast and examine the state of harbours for himself, and in that respect he did good work. He knows what is wanted. Now we are to get grants from the Development Commissioners. That is a body that seems to be surrounded with a great deal of mystery. They have got a local habitation and a name, but where they meet, how they meet, and what is the nature of the argument to be produced to them passes my comprehension. I would say to them—Scotland has a right to say—"Give us the portion of goods that falleth to us," and as soon as that is done we will expend that money in the way that we know Scotland requires. We require more money for our harbours. We require generous treatment.

I am told with good authority that the Development Commission is to give Ireland something like £54,000 for fishery purposes. If that is the case, Scotland has a fishing industry four times the value of that of Ireland, and has four or five times the number of harbours, and therefore Scotland ought to get four or five times the amount of money. I have no objection to Uganda getting a railway and £250,000 for it, but I venture to say that the Government should "begin at Jerusalem." I do not see why the Government should not help us as well as the natives of Uganda. What we need most at the present time is money for all our harbours, and there will be no rest until the harbours are put into a condition to take the larger vessels. Attempts are being made to send these vessels to central harbours. If you do that, you will destroy the character and prestige of our fishermen in these villages and you will crowd them into large centres. At the present moment the fishermen living in our coast villages occupy a place not only of prominence but of pre-eminence. They take a leading part in the fishing industry, but so soon as you put them into these central harbours, you degrade them into a third-rate position as labourers; not merely into a lower class, but into a class apart. You will depopulate these villages and throw the men into the towns and the whole of their property will stand idle. You will deplete schools and churches and will have to build churches and schools in those places where you send them. In fact you are encouraging the emigration of the best part of your population. These villages lying along our coast have thriven because they have engaged solely in one industry, the fishing industry, night and day. Therefore, we have the right to press the Lord Advocate on this question. First, he must understand that we do not come here to swear at large. We have come here to concentrate attention on the fact that we must have more money. Hon. Members have raised the question about the Scottish Office being responsible for getting more money from the Treasury. Every one of us believes it is the duty of the Scottish Office to get more money for our harbours. We want a distinct pledge that the Lord Advocate will not allow our claims to be anticipated by England or Ireland. There is an Advisory Fishery Committee to the Development Commissioners. Two of the number are Scotchmen; the great proportion are Englishmen. Why should that be so? I do not know what the value of the fishing of England is compared with that of Scotland. The Board of Agriculture and Fisheries in England is so engaged in thwarting the policy of the Board for Scotland that they have given us no report or returns of fisheries in England since the year 1908. Surely the Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Ainsworth) will not seek to fasten upon us a Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. I appeal to the Lord Advocate to tell us whether, on behalf of the Scottish Office, he will see to it that Scotland will get its fair share of money to build and extend necessary harbours, and that we do not lose anything by a delay which seems to me unaccountable.


I desire to call attention to a fishery problem in the south of Scotland, namely, the case of the Solway fishermen. This question affects some of my Constituents, and I think it merits the most careful investigation of the Fishery Board. The facts are these: For many years these fishermen have been in the habit of using paidle nets to take white fish. These nets are from four and a half feet to five feet in height, with leaders from sixty to eighty yards in length. I am bound to admit that not only do they catch white fish, such as codlins, flounders, and plaice, but occasionally they catch salmon, grilse, and trout. These nets are used all along the Solway, and on the coasts of Dumfriesshire and the Stewartry. I have a letter here which was received by a fisherman in the Caerlaverock district. It reads as follows:—

"Annan Fishery District.

"Sir,—I am informed that you have erected paidle nets with covers in Brewin Scour, ex-adverso of the lands of Nethertown in the district, which nets are so constructed and situated as to be capable of taking fish of the salmon kind to the detriment of the rights of the proprietors of salmon fisheries in the district. You will doubtless be aware that by the recent decision of the Court of Session, in Buccleugh v. Smith and others, following upon a series of decisions on similar have, such nets have been declared illegal. If you lines not already done so, I have, therefore, to request you to have the nets complained of forthwith removed, or so altered, or so constructed as to render them incapable of capturing salmon, or fish of the salmon kind.

"I am,

"Your obedient servant,


"Clerk to Annan District Fishery Board."

That was a letter written to a fisherman in the district of Dumfriesshire. Some of my Constituents in Stewartry who are fishermen are anxious about this, because they use the same nets and anticipate that some day they may get the same letter. I want to say a word on their behalf. I make no criticism whatever of the decision of the Court of Session. I should like to see the rights of proprietors of salmon fishing protected, but it is also only right that the fishermen should be protected also. Their livelihood depends on their being able effectively to take these whitefish. I want to enlist the sympathy of the Fishery Board on their behalf, and I hope they will be able to find some way out of the difficulty after investigating the subject. Surely it would be a great calamity if, owing to the fact that occasionally a salmon or a grilse found its way into the nets of existing fishermen they should be deprived of the effective means of pursuing their useful and lawful vocation.


I approach this subject with great trepidation, because I do not represent the line-fisherman or the trawler, and am only an outsider, but sometimes the outsider sees a little that the protagonists of these various kinds of fishermen do not. The hon. Member for the Elgin Burghs was right when he said that the Scottish banks provide these fishermen with loans on sufficiently favourable terms and at a sufficiently low rate of interest to enable them to obtain boats, and there is no necessity, in my opinion, for any credit banks. It struck me that my right hon. Friend spoke the truth when he said that he has never been able to arrive at any exact position with regard to this fishing. We do not know whether the spawning beds are going to leave England or not; we do not know where the herrings come from or where they go. We had an inquiry as to why they went away from Shetland and Orkney, and some said it was because the whales were killed, and others said it was because the whales did not come to be killed because the herrings did not come, and the fact is we do not know what the truth is. As the Lord Advocate said, it is very difficult to know whether this trawling would do so very much harm. Of one thing I am certain. If Great Britain required to close the Solway Firth and it required the consent of foreign countries to do it I do not think they would find very much difficulty in getting Russia to agree. The Solway Firth is 120 miles broad, and if we closed it Russia would claim the right to close the Baltic, and Italy the right to close the Adriatic. If we claimed to shut up 120 miles from the foreigners they might do that. [An HON. MEMBER: "But we own both sides."] They would find some excuse for doing that, and is it desirable to raise this question internationally, because if our Fleet is to be supreme it must have access to every sea, supposing it does not go within the three-mile limit. As far as this trawling is concerned, is it a good thing or a bad? Can anybody doubt that it is a good thing? Trawling has made Aberdeen, with its enormous population. There can be no doubt about it. Into that town every day between 200 and 400 tons of fish are brought. Line fishermen never could supply that quantity, and see what the effect of the change would be upon the commerce of the country.


It is not the trawling that we object to, but the poaching within the three-mile limit. No one objects to trawling.


The trawlers came to that town and established themselves in great quantities. I have never heard that there was any other great cause for the increase of population from 100,000 to 150,000. The great thing that the line fishermen want is better harbours. To carry on successful fishing you must have larger vessels, and some of these harbours are not big enough to hold them. It is a very extraordinary thing that Buckie and Cullan, which are in Banffshire, are two of the few places which have increased in population at the last census, and they are both line-fishing villages, so that trawling is not having a very bad effect on them. I approach this from an outside point of view, but I think there is a great deal too much agitation about this trawling one way and another. It ought to be settled, and we ought to find out whether it is good or bad. My own belief is that it is very good. So long as it is, I think this agitation aganst it should be stopped, because I do not think you are doing much good to the line fishermen. They are always hoping for something to be done which really it would be very difficult and almost impossible to do.


Hon. Members who have addressed the Committee have confined themselves to the question as it affects the Moray Firth and the North-Eastern parts of Scotland. I want to say a word about the interests of the fisheries of the Firth of Clyde. What we want is more accurate observation and information as to the way trawling, especially upon the spawning banks, is so mischievous that it ought at least to be prohibited during some parts of the year. Up to last December an order was enforced by which trawling was prohibited during the spring and early summer on the spawning beds in the Firth of Clyde. That order left it open to the trammel net, which does not scratch the bank and drive away the spawn. There was an agitation for some time even against that. I believe my friends, instigated from Glasgow, thought it ought to be a close time altogether, but instead of decreeing a close time altogether last December, the Fishery Board repealed the order, which closed the banks during the spawning season. They were advised in the matter, no doubt, by a very eminent gentleman, but the long experience of the previous years conveyed to me the impression that the conclusions were rather hastily come to. I represent net fishermen, whose interests are opposed to those of the trawlers, but I would rather have seen an absolutely close time during the spawning season than see what is seriously apprehended in my Constituency—the fishing there and in Loch Fyne materially injured in this way. I know, as the Lord Advocate has stated, that when you come to deal with the questions relating to the prospects of fisheries, and to measure the reasons which will produce a good season or a bad one there are a number of different opinions. It is very difficult indeed to come to a logical conclusion. I would ask the Fishery Board to consider whether they may not be acting hastily in accepting the result of a short period of scientific observation as the foundation of their decision, and whether they should not watch carefully in the broader parts of the Firth of Clyde and Loch Fyne. Have they the slightest reason to suspect that the prohibitive order will operate to destroy the livelihood of a large number of men in the fishing villages on the coasts both of Ayrshire and other side of the Firth of Clyde?


I would like to draw the attention of the Lord Advocate and the Committee to another fish which has not been so much mentioned to-day, and to other waters which have not been so much referred to, but which are of great importance to the people of Scotland. I should say that perhaps the salmon is more peculiarly a Scotsman than any of those wanderers that, like the wind, comes from no one knows where and go wherever they list. The salmon has the merit of being peculiarly attached to the dwellers round the Scottish coasts, and particularly to those near the town of Berwick-on-Tweed, which is near enough to Scotland to be well within the purview of my observations to-night. I do not think that enough attention has been given to the preservation of the salmon fisheries, and to the increase of that particular class of inhabitants of the streams, the lochs, and the seas. We have to consider that the salmon is peculiarly a Scotsman. They come time after time to the place where they were born, and where they have spent the happiest years of their lives. Only the other day I was talking to an ex-provost of a Scottish Burgh, and he told me that one morning the whole of the big caul that stretches over the River Tweed, not far below the house where Sir Walter Scott lived at Abbotsford, was covered by salmon which had come in large numbers. The people were wondering how these thousands of salmon should have come to visit the Tweed at that time. The belief was that they had returned from a visit to their other friends in the sea, I want now to call particular attention to the difficulties which attend the proper management of the great fishing interests of the inland districts of Scotland, along the estuaries and the places where they go into the sea. There are complaints that the cauls are too high for the salmon easily to leap up them when they want to spawn. It is complained with regard to salmon fisheries that control should be taken away from proprietors who have no charters on which to base their rights, and there is certainly a demand that there should be some means of bringing proprietors under some tribunal where they could be required to produce evidence to show that they have exclusive rights on particular stretches of river to exclude all other people from taking fish there. Much of what I wished to say applies also to another fish that is held in repute in all the south of Scotland. I refer to the trout. Many people in the county of Roxburgh complain to me that there are fewer trout than there used to be when the fishery laws were far less strict and the people were empowered to take the fish.


On a point of Order. May I ask whether the hon. Member is in order in discussing the question of inland waters and whether they come within the jurisdiction of the Scotch Fishery Board?


I notice that there is an inspector of salmon fisheries on the Board.


Not to contravene your ruling nor to raise any possible objection, nor to interfere with any suggestion of exact propriety, might I say that what I was going to say about the trout will apply equally to the preservation of the salmon? I would apply the grievances of my Constituents who want to catch salmon. What they say is that when there were no Fishery Acts which did apply to salmon there were more fish in the river, because the people looked upon the rivers and the fish as being under their own particular protection. They got lots of benefit from them and many a pleasant meal they had. They say now that if we could revert to that system, that if the management of the rivers and streams were put under more popular control, for instance, if the county council of the various counties through which such a river as the Tweed runs, and the burghs along the stream, had the right of having members representing the people of the district, there would be a more generous feeling that all these fisheries ought to be under protection, much as people say that if you let your private garden be open for the public to come into, they would soon appreciate the benefit they were getting from your generosity, and would take care not only to re- frain from injuring any plant or flower themselves, but actively to pursue and prosecute any other person whom they caught doing any mischief there. Therefore, if the Fishery Board would take this matter into its consideration there would be more salmon not only in the sea but in the River Tweed and in all those tributaries up to the smallest stream which are now under the jurisdiction of those statute laws. This matter has been occupying the attention of the people for a great many years, and so general is the feeling that even the Tweed Fishery Commissioners have expressed the opinion that something is needed, and some of them have even gone so far as to say that it would be a very good thing if the existing laws were repealed. In that way these fisheries would be very greatly benefited.


I think the hon. Gentleman is now going too far up stream. Perhaps the Lord Advocate will be able to tell us how far the inspection of salmon fisheries goes. The hon. Member was referring to some fisheries now controlled by legislation, and not by the Fishery Board.


I believe if what I have advocated were done there would be far less of that poaching with nets which is one of the greatest grievances and nuisances in the county of Roxburgh.


A good deal remains to be done in regard to the regulations about trout fishing, and, without going up stream at all, but simply taking a look at our coast, it is obvious from the manner in which salmon are now caught by proprietors, that the different proprietors are simply cutting one another's throats and affecting the fishery. The only way in which there can be effective fishing is in large areas under one man. The right hon. Gentleman has addressed us with severe logic upon the question of trawling, and referred to the abolition of trawling. I do not think that extreme form of treatment is one that will help us very much towards that rational solution at which he himself is aiming. What have we discovered? We know that in the narrow waters trawling would empty those waters of fish, and therefore trawling is prohibited in those waters. In regard to the extension of territorial waters, I think the limit of ten or eleven miles has been proposed. But what would that additional strip of inshore water be compared with the whole of the vast ocean waters left free for trawling? I would like to know whether the Lord Advocate has any information as to when the International Commission of Investigation is likely to report. We have received large volumes, and we have been receiving them for a long time. I wonder when the end of that investigation will come, because we at any rate want information on a material point, in order to judge how far it is possible to fish the North Sea in sections, as I think was proposed by some speakers tonight. It is said that some of us attack trawling, but we recognise the value of that form of fishing in providing a food supply. But what we desire is to see the law enforced. My right hon. Friend opposite, when he was in office, I understand, enforced the law, though much against his will. At any rate, whether in good will or ill will, he will not dispute the fact that the law should be enforced. The law at present is not adequately enforced. The fines may be heavy, the imprisonment may be severe, but from all I can learn these regulations are constantly broken.


I agree, but that is because of the policy behind the law.


Surely our policy is sufficient to protect those in territorial waters and in some cases areas which are extra-territorial; and the utmost limit that has been proposed is within the extended territorial waters. Therefore it cannot be said that the policy or such great issues are raised by those who demand reasonable protection for the fishermen and inshore fishers against trawlers, or that the demands are so exaggerated as to require such a drastic definition of policy as that which my right hon. Friend demands. The question of the extension of the territorial waters is, of course, a matter for international agreement. I am sorry that the Under-Secretary for the Foreign Office is not here, as he received a very important deputation the other day, and, after all, anything that we have got out of the Government of late years has been from the Foreign Office. It was owing to the good fortune of the Secretary of State being in the House when we were discussing the landing of fish caught in the Moray Firth at English ports which led to the prohibition being applied to English people in English ports. We should have liked to have heard from the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs as to whether the Foreign Office is really taking action in this matter. The Foreign Office is an extremely busy Department, and unless those responsible to the interests of Scottish fisheries apply due pressure to the Foreign Office we cannot expect that the Foreign Office will press this question forward as we hope it may be pressed. There are one or two smaller matters which I think might be taken up by our Fishery Board. There is a question like that of the development of the shell fishing, and I can give my right hon. Friend the Lord Advocate one example in an agricultural co-operative society to which I belong. We have inter alia facilitated the marketing of shell fish in Caithness and elsewhere, with the result that almost a double profit has been made by the fishermen. I think, whether in the marketing, of fish or whether in the revival of the ancient oyster industry of Scotland and the shell fishing industry, that by technical training in order to make that industry flourish with us, as in France, and by effort in that direction much might be done to improve the returns from what might be called the smaller profits of the great fishing industry.


I want just to add a word or two to what was said by my hon. Friend on behalf of the fishermen of the West Coast of Scotland. I think the Debate has been extremely interesting and important, and I am sure it will show the Scottish Office and the Fishery Board how much it is possible for the Board to carry out in its reorganised form. I was pleased to hear that it is proposed that the Members shall go around the country and see the different parts where the industry is carried on. I was also pleased to hear of the intended expenditure on harbours. We have a small harbour which is an extremely valuable harbour, between Tarbert and Campbelltown. I hope the Fishery Board will do all they can to increase the facilities given by these small harbours which are resorted to by the fishermen, and if they were properly adapted to receive them they might be the means of saving them from loss and danger. There are just two points I hope the Fishery Board will take into serious consideration. The first is the question of a close time for herrings. It has been much debated, but we have not yet arrived at unanimity. I feel sure that if the Board were to take the matter into their charge and travel into the different parts, and consult with the fishermen, we should be able to arrive at a decision upon that subject, which would be most valuable in improving the breeding grounds in the South. The other point is whether the fish should be sold in boxes, but I will not go into that as the hour is late.


I can speak from the point of view of a constituency where there is no sea-coast line, and neither line-fishing nor trawl-fishing, and I think I may be able to take a more impartial view of the questions that have been discussed. I know that there is a great amount of food imported by the trawlers. If we were to give any extreme preference, by money or otherwise, to the line fishermen we would have as much right to give it to the trawlers. I quite sympathise with the Foreign Office in the position it has taken up in this matter. I am quite positive that if the Foreign Office reopened the Northern Fisheries Convention, and imposed restrictions upon trawling along our coasts, foreign countries would seek to impose similar restrictions upon our fishermen, and we would lose in that way. We own many times more trawlers in this country than all the countries of Europe put together. If we were to impose those restrictions upon our coasts they would certainly have a right to impose restrictions upon us. We find the coasts of France, Portugal, and right down to the coast of Morocco full of trawlers from Great Britain. If we reopened this question, and allowed these countries to have a say in the matter and close their coasts to us, the loss would be more to this country than to any other. If it is considered well from charitable motives to help these line fishermen, who cannot, apparently, keep pace with other fishermen and improve their machinery, I at any rate would have no objection, but as a business proposition I say that the trawlers are the more effective instrument for getting fish, they have shown more progress, and they are likely to be more successful in getting fish. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Leith Burghs called attention to the infinitesimal part, or shred of ocean which we and our line fishermen wish to protect from our country. But I would call his attention to the fact that it is upon this shred or infinitesimal portion of the ocean that the fish are to be caught. There are millions upon millions of square miles of ocean, but there are no fish in them. The fish are to be got within the three or four- mile limit—sometimes, as we hope, within the thirteen-mile limit. Therefore if we in this country decide to reopen this Convention and decide to extend the limit to thirteen miles our trawling industry, our people, and our food supply would be the sufferers.


To the calm and moderate statements of hon. Gentlemen I have listened with great sympathy. As to the case of the Solway fishermen it is a hard one. They prosecute an industry to which they are entitled. After careful consideration the Court came to the conclusion that the particular mode of fishing that the men concerned adopted was calculated to ensure the taking habitually and not occasionally of the capture of salmon or grilse. The arguments put before the learned judges suggested that if they decided adversely to the fishermen that they would virtually extinguish a great industry, for it is a great industry on the Solway Firth. To that they replied that there was plenty of evidence to show that it was quite possible for the men to prosecute the white fishing so as not to infringe the regulations. The learned judges went out of their way to suggest—and I think it was a very valuable suggestion and well worthy of attention—that an amicable arrangement might be come to between the fishermen and the proprietors, so that, whilst the law should be observed, at the same time the industry could be prosecuted. I am sure the proprietors would be ready to meet these poor men. Many investigations have been made into this question and many reports have been issued, and I deprecate further investigation and report. I am sure, looking into the decision of the learned judges, which I did with very great care, it would be quite possible to arrange and to fix upon a mode of fishing by which the rights of the proprietors on the one hand would be preserved and by which this industry prosecuted by so many respectable and deserving people, on the other hand would be allowed to go on. In reply to the matters brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Argyllshire, I will certainly communicate the suggestion he made to the proper quarter. I had interviews with numbers of fishermen in his constituency and heard their views expressed with great interest and sincerity. I admit there was difference of opinion, and it seems to me to be a case for an impartial, well-informed Board to investigate, and I will undertake to convey the views the hon. Member brought forward to the newly-constituted Board. We have infused fresh blood into it, and I fervently hope we shall have excellent results from the work they have commenced in a spirit which promises well for the fishing industry of Scotland.

11.0 P.M.


Great interest has been shown from all parts of Scotland in the Debate this evening. This makes it all the more lamentable that we are compelled to carry on the Debate without having in our possession the annual report of the Fishery Board of Scotland. It is really extraordinary that on the only occasion when we Scottish Members have an opportunity of discussing these matters the annual report of the Board should not be in our hands. I had hoped the Lord Advocate, in his speech, would at least have dealt with the statement brought before the Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire. The Lord Advocate's statement and the statement of my hon. Friend were directly at variance. The Lord Advocate said that no representations had been made this year. The hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire gave us definite information that the Secretary for Scotland had had representations from hundreds of fishermen. That is a striking example of the disadvantage we labour under in this House through having a mouthpiece here to interpret the views of the Scotch Office, instead of having the head of that Office here to answer questions himself.

And, it being Eleven of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his report to the House.

Resolution to be reported upon Tuesday, 13th June; Committee also report Progress; to sit again upon Tuesday, 13th June.