§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made and Question proposed. "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ Major ARCHER-SHEE
I think we ought to have more information from the Government as to what this Bill is about, and what safeguards are being considered with reference to the position of British subjects. The Bill is to carry out a Convention which was entered into between this country and the United States of America, Japan and Russia. It is to increase the area of the sea which is prohibited for pelagic sealing. Under the Convention of which this takes the place the area of the pelagic seal fishing was defined as north of latitude 42°. By this Convention another 12° latitude is added. As the area is increased by the whole width of the Pacific Ocean—5,000 miles—we have a total area of 3,500,000 square miles of sea over which pelagic sealing is absolutely forbidden by these four great Powers. It will be interesting to know where this scheduling of great ocean areas is going to stop. If four great Powers of the world are allowed to schedule certain areas for pelagic sealing, there seems to be no 1993 reason why the whole of the North Atlantic ocean should not be scheduled for other fisheries such as herring or mackerel, which spawn off our coasts and may be caught in the Atlantic Ocean.
The seals which inhabit Pribilof Island for eight months in the year, during the winter months come south, and are found as far south as the latitude laid down in this Convention. Under the Arbitration which took place in 1893 The Hague Court decided that the United States were wrong and we were right in our contention. By this Convention we are practically giving back to the United States everything for which they argued in 1893. In that year the United States argued that they had a right of property in the seals from Pribilof Island, and that no other nation had territorial or sea rights within the Behring Sea. They also claimed that it was necessary from the point of view of humanity to protect the seals and to prevent the destruction of the species. That, of course, is common ground to everybody. But on the first two points the Arbitration went against the United States, and they had to pay this country an indemnity of 473,000 dollars or thereabouts for the damage they had inflicted upon our ships.
In 1890 the Government of this country had been prepared to go to the extent of war with the United States to assert the fight of British citizens to fish in the oceans of the world. By this Convention we are giving up the right to other nations, and we are agreeing with the Governments of the United States, Japan and Russia to prevent the ships of these Powers fishing in the North Pacific. There is nothing in this Convention to prevent a sealer fitted out in the republics of South America or in the West Indies, or anywhere other than in the dominion of these four contracting Powers, fishing in these areas. We want an assurance from the Government, first, that the penalties imposed by this Bill upon our own ships, namely, seizure and confiscation, will also be imposed upon the ships of Japan, Russia, and the United States. I do not see why ships belonging to one nationality should be subjected to the disadvantage which other nations are not subjected to, and it would be interesting to know if the Government can give us any information as to the legislation which is to be promoted in the United States, Russia and Japan for the purpose of enforcing the same penalties that we are enforcing in this country. In Article 3 of this Convention the ships 1994 which are guilty of any offence may be seized and detained by any of the ships of the contracting parties.
No mention is made of Article 1 of the Convention itself, which does give that power to the ships of Japan, Russia and the United States to seize our ships, take them into port, and deliver them over to be tried by our own authorities. I do not understand how these other nations have been granted the right to seize our ships when sealers may be fitted out by many other nations of the world and they are not subject to any penalty. It seems to me that under this Convention we are giving away nearly everything we gained by the Arbitration of 1893, and although it maybe very necessary to restrict the killing of seals in order to prevent the destruction of the species altogether, it would seem better that an International Convention should be arrived at. Under these circumstances I ask the Government to give us some more information as to the necessity for this Convention, and, secondly, to tell us whether this Bill does carry out the Convention in the same way as other nations are carrying out its provisions.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
I would like to ask for more information of the Foreign Office as to the origin of the extension of this close sealing. We have closed the area from the 13th to the 41st parallel. In future pelagic sealing is to be made illegal in that area. How far does the prohibition of seal killing extend in the territorial waters of the Sea of Azov and the Sea of Kamchatka? It is all very well to stop pelagic sealing, but if you are going to allow Russia and Japan to continue to kill seals on shore, you are not going to do much to preserve the seal, and to retain for the people who use them in this country cheap sealskin coats. Again the Convention only extends to four countries. What is there to prevent this Sealing Convention being another Sugar Convention? A third point: we all know that the Russian Government's methods with prisoners are not over-humane. Have the Government taken any steps to safeguard the interest of those people who are on board the sealers that are seized in closed Russian waters?
Further than that, what guarantee have we that the case of the "Oklama" will not be repeated when the next sailing vessel is seized? We have not had the best arrangements between our shipowners and the Russian Government and I think it would be worth while if the 1995 House was told of every illegal seizure and illegal deprivation of British vessels when taken in these waters. One further point, and that is with regard to the power taken by the Secretary of State under Clause 3 to seize vessels. Apparently if the Secretary of State is satisfied that there is reasonable ground for believing that a ship is being equipped for such purposes as are prohibited under the Bill he may issue an order confiscating that ship. That is not a power which this House ought to put into the hands of a Secretary of State: It is a revival of the Old Star Chamber, and before such powers are granted I think the House ought to be given very good reason to show they are necessary. I hope the Under-Secretary when he comes to reply will be able to convince us as to the security of British property if seized by the Russian Government and also as to the security of the sailors on board these ships.
§ Mr. HEWINS
This Bill raises a most important question which, I am sure, the Foreign Secretary will be pleased to answer. It is much to be regretted in the interests of the Empire that at a time when the great dominions of the Empire are being invited to share in determining the policy of this country, that a very important measure of this kind should come before the House without any adequate opportunity for discussion This Bill raises one of the most important constitutional questions that ever has been raised in the history of our country. The object of this Bill is to carry into effect the Convention entered into between this country, the United States, Japan and Russia, and I believe for the first time in the history of such instruments it is signed by an Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs, and I should like to know if there is any precedent for the use of the phrase in connection with the signatories. I turn to the Bill itself and I find it contains phrases regarding the States of the Dominions and Colonies upon which it is most important in the present state of our Imperial development we should have a precise explanation. Clause 5 says:—His Majesty may by Order in Council extend the provisions of the last two foregoing sections to any part of His Majesty's dominions outside the United Kingdom … Provided that those provisions shall not be so extended to a self-governing dominion except with 1996 the consent of the Governor-General in Council or Governor in Council of the dominion.Perhaps the Foreign Secretary will correct me if I am wrong, but I do not believe that the very important phrase, "with the consent of the Government in Council," has ever appeared in a Bill before. Although since 1880 we have given self-governing dominions the power to accede or not to accede to treaties and conventions into which we entered, I do not think that ever before that power of accession or not acceding has been expressed in this particular phraseology. I would like the Foreign Secretary to explain in the most precise terms what is the exact significance, in regard to the statutes of self-governing dominions, of the use of that phrase. Although we have hitherto, since 1880, given the self-governing dominions the power of acceding or not acceding to treaties, dependencies and protectorates being under the system of government practised by the English Government had a similar power conceded, but Crown colonies are exempted and accede or do not accede. I do not know whether in singling out particular self-governing dominions and omitting others there is any distinction to be drawn between the dominions and Crown colonies. This is the first Bill which has attempted to define a self-governing dominion. I do not raise these points in any party spirit, but as this is a matter of the greatest constitutional importance to this country I trust the Foreign Secretary will explain.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Acland)
In reply to the last point raised I may mention, as an example, the Copyright Act of last year which does, in so many words, define the term "self-governing dominion," and in so many words provides for the application of the Act to the self-governing dominions in practically the same way as in this Act.
§ Mr. ACLAND
The procedure is the same although the terms are not the same. The application of a Statute to the dominions by the consent of those dominions is not a new thing and has been done frequently before. I think I had better first explain what this Bill is actually intended to do and why we are bringing it in, and then I will refer to the particular questions which have been raised. We are asking the House to 1997 legislate in this matter on behalf of the Dominion of Canada. I do not know that any subjects in these islands are directly interested in the pelagic sealing industry. This has been a matter of great importance to this country, and the question of fishing for seals has been a most difficult one for many years past, and it is only after a great deal of controversy that it has been found possible to arrive at an agreement between the four countries interested, namely, Japan, Russia, the United States of America, and the Dominion of Canada. It is because the seal herds were being threatened with extinction that it has been possible to arrive at a Convention, and this is why it has become necessary for us to legislate. Pelagic sealing has led to the absolute extinction of the herds, because most of the seals killed in the high seas are young ones and it is a very wasteful method of obtaining seals, because a very large proportion of those shot are not recovered at all.
After a great deal of negotiation this Convention was arrived at. It deals chiefly with four matters. In the first place, there is the extension of the areas in which pelagic sealing is prohibited. It provides for controlling the waters used by the seal herds; it closes harbours to boats which illegally fish for seals on the high seas and forbids the sale of skins in countries to which they are sent; and the main matter which made the Convention possible, it provides for compensation to those who used to be engaged in catching seals on the high seas at the expense of the countries to which the islands which the seal herds frequent belong. The Dominion of Canada, as I have said, is a consenting, and, more than that, a willing party to this Convention, and is only anxious that we should give the lead to other countries in passing the legislation which is necessary for the Convention to obtain the force of law. With regard to the questions which were raised, the first was whether this Convention applied to other countries besides the four that have been mentioned and whether we are going to take steps to see it shall so apply. As far as we know at present, no other countries except the four have any interest or take any part in this particular trade. If they were to do so, measures would have to be taken, but at present we do not think it necessary to take those steps, simply because the trade is confined to those countries whose territories really border on the waters that are affected.
1998 The second question raised was, Are we sure the several countries who are bound to legislate will legislate if we legislate? Yes, we are certain, and we believe all the countries will have fulfilled the obligations under which the Convention places them within a comparatively short space of time. The third question was whether the countries that possessed islands used by the seal herds were under any obligation to limit their killing of seals. Under the Convention, they are bound to give money compensation in certain percentages to the other countries who have given up their rights of killing the seals on the high seas, and they are not very likely to kill any very large numbers because of the compensation they have to give to other countries. The nations to which the islands belong are also the very nations chiefly interested in maintaining the seal herds, and, of course, they would not go into any policy which would rob them of the seal herds, which are a source of profit to them. Therefore, it is clear they themselves will not kill any larger proportion of seals than would allow of the herds being properly kept up. The only other matter raised by my hon. Friend was that this power of seizing and detaining vessels was too serious a power to be given to the Government. How can you prevent a ship sailing unless you seize the ship? We are bound by treaty to prevent vessels from sailing that we have good cause to think are going to take part in an illegal trade.
§ Mr. ACLAND
They will only patrol the waters round their islands. Where you are closing a large portion of the Pacific to this trade as is necessary if the trade is not to be extinguished, you can much more effectively prevent the illegal killing of seals by preventing the vessel sailing than by any amount of patrolling, and the only way of preventing the vessel sailing is to seize it. That is the ordinary and recognised way between nations. We are bound to use the power here, simply because that is the only way in which we can be sure of carrying out the obligations under which we stand.
§ Major ARCHER-SHEE
Is it the fact that ships which sail from Chinese or Mexican ports, or from those of the Republic of Panama, cannot be seized?
§ Mr. ACLAND
If they begin doing that measures will have to be taken. At present it is believed by the four Powers who have agreed to this Convention that that will be quite sufficient to prevent the carrying on of the trade altogether; that their agreement is all that is necessary. No doubt if sealing vessels were fitted out by Chinese companies or the Chinese Government fresh measures would have to be devised, but there is no sign of that at present.
§ Mr. WATSON RUTHERFORD
We ought to be grateful to the hon. Gentleman who has just explained the position of matters. The House will agree it is very desirable that seals should be protected from extermination and that something of this kind should be done. At the same time some of us who have taken an interest in this subject for years look with alarm upon the fact that such a very considerable area of the Pacific Ocean is now about to be included in what I may call the prohibited area. When four countries lay their heads together and make a very large section of the Pacific Ocean a prohibited area it is a rather high-handed proceeding, because it has always been thought up till now that beyond a certain distance from the shores of any country no country and therefore no company of countries have any right to legislate or to make any particular regulations at all. But my difficulty in connection with this matter is this. When I come to look at the Bill I find that the United Kingdom is to enter into an arrangement with the United States, Russia and Japan. Of course it is not the United Kingdom that is interested. It is Canada. We do not fit out any ships in England for the purpose of sealing in the North Pacific. These ships must necessarily sail from some reasonably contiguous port, and they would obviously sail from some port in Canada so far as we are concerned. But there is nothing in the Bill to show that Canada has assented to it, or that we are legislating on behalf of Canada. We have only the words of the hon. Member the Under-Secretary for that. In fact rather the contrary appears to be the case.
§ Mr. ACLAND
The Treaty will have to be signed by a gentleman appointed to act on behalf of the Canadian Government.
§ Mr. RUTHERFORD
The provision is that His Majesty may, by Order in Council, extend the provisions not of this Bill to Canada but of two of its sections. That is a rather curious thing. His Majesty may ask Canada to approve of the principle of the Bill, and that will have to be done by Act of Parliament, and then two of its sections may be made applicable to Canada by Order in Council. These two sections are—if I read the Bill rightly—Section 3 and Section 4. The first section has reference to the using of ports and the other makes illegal the sale of the skins. But why should not Section 1 and Section 2 be made equally applicable to Canada. Why should only two sections be picked out and the rest of the Bill by implication at all events be excluded? The mere fact that somebody on behalf of Canada signed the Treaty is not evidence that the Parliament of Canada will ultimately approve of the Bill, any more than the fact that this Convention has already been signed on behalf of this country commits this House, whether it likes it or not, to approving the Bill tonight. There might be some important point raised which might influence this House to say that it would not pass the Bill in this shape. The same thing might apply to the Parliament of Canada. The matter is not only of importance as regards the seals, which we all want to see protected, but it is particularly important with regard to the rights and privileges of the Dominion of Canada. I should like to know whether the Bill in this shape, and in these limitations in its Clauses, has been approved by the Canadian Government?
§ Mr. WATSON RUTHERFORD
We have a verbal assurance to that effect, but there is nothing whatever in the Bill to that effect to satisfy us. These facts warrant us in protesting against the Bill being rushed through the House at an hour like this. There are many of us who would like to carefully study the provisions of the Bill. We ought to have more attention paid to an important subject of this kind, bearing as it does upon our connection with the great self-governing Dominion of Canada.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for to-morrow.—[Mr. Gulland.]