HC Deb 12 April 1921 vol 140 cc905-7
27. Mr. C. BARRIE

asked the Secretary for Scotland if he is aware that trawlers of either Dutch or German origin constantly visit the Moray Firth, doing great damage to the cod fishing as well as taking away all nets and ropes belonging to the fishermen; and if he can do anything to put a stop to this unlawful practice?


asked the Secretary for Scotland whether his attention has been drawn to the invasion of the Moray Firth by foreign trawlers, and to the damage and heavy loss of nets belonging to the local fishermen caused by these trawlers; and whether he will take steps to secure evidence and institute legal proceedings against them?

33. Major KELLEY

asked the Minister of Agriculture if he is aware that British trawlers are not allowed to fish in the Moray Firth but foreign trawlers, of which quite a large number, German with Dutch and Belgian boats, are allowed to trawl in the Moray Firth; that these foreign trawlers are continually poaching inside the three-mile limit, which is against international law; that the one or two Government control boats in the Firth are unable to cope with the largely increasing number that are poaching there; that these foreign trawlers are damaging their drift nets and long lines, and some of them are suffering such heavy loss that they are almost ruined; and that these local fishermen are mostly the men who manned mine-sweepers and trawlers during the War; and will he give instructions to have the matter looked into and at once reported on?


It is the case that a number of foreign trawlers, the majority of which are Dutch vessels, have recently been trawling in the Moray Firth. I understand, however, that they have not been encroaching on the three-mile limit. The patrol service is considered sufficient to protect the waters within that limit. It is true that damage to the nets and other gear of local fishermen engaged in cod net fishing has been caused by these foreign trawlers. Where there is evidence as to the identity of trawlers causing damage, the question of instituting legal proceedings for the recovery of compensation will be considered, but such proceedings can only be instituted in the country of the offender. I am bound to add that I consider the present position profoundly unsatisfactory, and I am taking steps to have it reviewed.


In view of the fact that this fishing question is very unsatisfactory, will the right hon. Gentleman look into the whole question of the three-mile limit, seeing that it is the pivot on which the question hinges, owing to the fact that the reason upon which the three-mile limit is based is utterly obsolete?


I do not think one can review the position with regard to this question without considering the three-mile limit. As the hon. Member says, it is the pivot of the whole question.


Is it not the case that the law is clear as to the illegality of trawling within the Moray Firth, and, if so, why does not the right hon. Gentleman put the law in force? Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that a number of these men have been prevented from going to sea by the destruction of their nets, and are now breaking stones by the roadside?


Before the right hon. Gentleman answers that question, may I ask if the Government are taking any steps now to secure that the Moray Firth and other similar areas shall be protected by international agreement, instead of by laws made by one country, which cannot be enforced against any fishermen of any other country?


Those are just the questions which fall under review. With regard to what my right hon. Friend (Sir A. Williamson) has said, he knows the law in Scotland as well as I do. The law was settled in Scotland years ago, and was not put into operation because of the complication with other Powers. With regard to the other part of the question, I have no details.


Will the right hon. Gentleman not throw the Moray Firth open to Scottish and English fishermen until the matter is adjusted, in order that all parties shall be put on an equal footing?


I am afraid I have no power to do that.

Viscount CURZON

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the speed and so on of the fishery protection vessels supplied by the Admiralty are really adequate to catch the trawlers; and, furthermore, how is it possible for these unfortunate fishermen to identify the trawlers which do the damage, which is often done at night by drifters?


I think the means which are taken to overtake these depredators are just as efficient as those taken on land to overtake motor cars.

Viscount CURZON

May I ask if that is worthy of a Minister?

Major M. WOOD

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the advisability of calling in the aid of the League of Nations to consider this matter?