HC Deb 09 May 1922 vol 153 cc2143-54

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move "That the Bill now be read a Second time."

This is a very short and simple Measure which is probably more interesting and important than Members of the House at first sight may be disposed to think. I think it will command the assent and support of every Member who represents a fishing community. The Bill confers upon the Secretary for Scotland, on application made to him and after such inquiry as he thinks proper, the power, without compensation, to cancel or suspend any licence held under the Whale Fisheries (Scotland) Act, 1907, if he is satisfied that the prosecution of the whaling industry under such licence is prejudicial to herring fishing or any other sea fishing. Whaling stations were established in Scotland in the year 1903. They were established in two places—in Shetland and on the west coast in the Hebrides—and the industry has hitherto been regulated by the Act passed in 1907 called the Whale Fisheries (Scotland) Act. This Act prohibits whaling operations in any part of Scotland, except under licence which is granted by the Fisheries Board. Under the provisions of the Act, the powers of the Fisheries Board to cancel or suspend, without the consent of the holders and without compensation, licences which have been issued, are limited to cases in which the holders have infringed the conditions of the licences or have been convicted of an offence under the Act to which I refer. In Shetland, which this Bill particularly affects, there was a good deal of opposition to the continuance of whaling operations, even before the War, and such operations were suspended during the War by Orders which were made by the Naval authorities and which extended over the period from 1914 to 1920. In 1919, under my authority and in view of representations which had been made against the prosecution of whale fishing because of its alleged deleterious effect upon herring fishing, the Fishery Board appointed a Committee of their members to report upon the whole matter. The Committee in their Report found that on the west, north and north-east coasts of Shetland, there had been a great decline in the herring fishing in the year before the War. They further found that this decline was coincident with the development of the whaling industry in Shetland It is true the Committee did not, in point of fact, hold that it was proved that the two events were related to one another as cause and effect, but they found—and this is very important—that the belief was general in the fishing industry that the two events were so related, and the Committee regarded that belief as, in itself, a sufficiently deterrent influence to prevent the revival of the herring fishing industry on the coast, and in the waters referred to.

The Committee recommended that on this ground whaling operations from stations in Shetland should be prohibited by legislation. That was the unanimous recommendation of a responsible and well-informed Committee of the Fishery Board. The Bill which I am presenting to the House for Second Reading to-night does not go so far as the recommendation of that Committee. The object of the Bill, as I say, is merely to enable the Secretary for Scotland, after investigation made, and if satisfied that the whaling industry is prejudicial to the herring fishing industry, to cancel or to suspend existing licences. Before going even so far as that, I made it my business—if the House will forgive me for a personal note—to convene a conference between those interested in the whale fishing industry in Scotland, and the inhabitants of Shetland, with the public bodies of that island, who are all of the same mind in the matter, to see whether we could find some modus vivendi. I hoped that could be done, but I found it was quite impossible. On the one hand, I had those interested in the whaling industry contending that the status quo should be maintained, that nothing should be done, and, on the other hand, I found those who represented the public bodies of Shetland and those who represented the herring fishing industry con- tending that, on the lines of the Report of the Committee, whaling should be absolutely prohibited, I was disappointed with the result of that conference, and I felt bound to legislate, but the legislation which is proposed is, as the House will see, a compromise between those two extreme positions.

On the one hand, one is not proposing that the industry should be prohibited; on the other hand, one is not proposing that the status quo should be maintained. I merely propose, under the circumstances which I have mentioned, that the Secretary for Scotland, whoever he may be, should have power, if it is proved to his satisfaction that the whaling industry, which after all affects a very small part of the community, is prejudicial to the herring fishing industry, which affects a very large part of the community, to cancel a licence. The powers in the Bill which I present are not limited to Shetland. While it is not alleged that in the Hebrides any deleterious results from the whale fishing have followed, nevertheless I think it is desirable that one should take general powers, for use if necessity should arise. The Act of 1907, to which I have referred, did not contemplate that the prohibition of whaling would be necessary, and under its provisions a licence, once issued, could only be terminated at the instance of the Fishery Board in the event of the infringement of the conditions upon which the licence, was granted, or on conviction of the holder, but on the footing that whaling may be proved to be prejudicial to the herring fishing industry, that Act, I think, is defective, inasmuch as it does not provide for the contingency to which I have referred. The present Bill proposes to remedy that defect in the manner which I have mentioned.

As regards compensation, the Bill provides for cancellation or suspension of a licence, in the event mentioned, without compensation. The justification for that is very obvious. It is that, the licence holders are not entitled to expect compensation for the discontinuance of their operations if it is proved to the satisfaction of the Secretary for Scotland for the time being that their operations are injurious to so great a branch of the fishing industry as the herring fishing industry. I am advised by the Law Officers that in law not a single penny of compensation is due in respect to the proposals which are made. I am anxious to get the Second Reading of this Bill, and also of the following Bill, the Fishery Board (Tenure of Office of Chairman) (Scotland) Bill, to-night, and I therefore contract the observations which I had intended to make, and content myself by saying that this is a Measure which is urgently desired by the herring fishing industry, and I hope that, without any difficulty at all, the House will be good enough to give me the Second Reading.


In deference to the views of the Secretary for Scotland, my remarks this evening will be very brief, because I know a large number of Members are anxious to take part in the Debate. I have received representations from firms near my constituency whose interests, they consider, will be adversely affected if this Bill passes into law. That is my reason for bringing to the attention of the Secretary for Scotland a few points in connection with this Bill. May I say that I voice my own views entirely in this matter, and do not speak for any of my colleagues with whom I am generally associated? The Secretary for Scotland, in the closing passage of his speech, stated that he had been advised by legal authority that licence holders who are carrying on this trade are not entitled by law to any compensation. The point to which the industries affected under this Bill take exception is that the Secretary for Scotland, whoever he may be for the time being, will have power to prohibit whaling entirely, and not only whaling, but the allied interests that are directly affected. The Secretary for Scotland was very careful in his observations this evening not to commit himself to the principle that whaling was injurious to the herring industry, and the Report of the Committee to which he referred, very clearly brings out that the members of that Committee did not consider that the herring industry was adversely affected by the whaling industry. The point I am anxious to put to the Secretary for Scotland is that this Committee, which heard evidence from various parts of the North of Scotland, and investigated the matter very carefully, did not express their own belief that the whaling industry adversely affected the herring industry.


I think it would be fair to point out that the fifth finding of the Committee was that this general and unquestioned belief (that is, that one industry did adversely affect the other) was in itself a deterrent influence on the herring fishing.


I had intended, if time permitted, to draw attention to that paragraph, but my point is that this Committee did not commit themselves to the opinion that the herring industry was adversely affected by the whaling industry. If the present Secretary for Scotland were going to administer this Bill year by year in the future, I for one would have complete confidence that he would not prohibit whaling unless the case were proved, but have we any assurance that the present occupant of the office will continue in power, say, for the next 3, 5 or 10 years? Undoubtedly this Bill will become an Act of Parliament. I have no desire to stop this Bill becoming law if the Secretary for Scotland will give me one simple assurance that on the Committee stage, instead of the powers being administered by the Secretary for Scotland, a Committee shall be appointed composed of the Secretary for Scotland, the Lord President of the Court of Session, and the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates of Scotland. I hope that, perhaps, before the Debate terminates this evening we may have some assurance from the Secretary for Scotland that on the Committee stage of the Bill he will keep an open mind on the subject. Although to-night I was extremely desirous to represent at some length the case of those adversely affected by this Bill—there is British capital and there are British workmen who are concerned—in deference to the fact that other hon. Members are anxious to take part in the Debate, I will not bring the facts and figures which have been supplied to me to the attention of the House. It has been argued that in Norway whaling has been prohibited by Act of Parliament. It is rather a striking fact that legislation in that country was only passed by one vote, which seems to suggest the diversity of opinion as to the causes of the migration of the herrings from one portion of the ocean to another. Although I have put an Amendment down to this Bill, I am not anxious to move it if I can have some assurance from my right hon. Friend opposite that the point to which I have called his attention will receive some favourable consideration in Grand Committee.


As the question before the House is one which vitally affects the constituency which I have the honour to represent perhaps I may be allowed to say a few words upon it. It may not be known to the House that whale fishing has been carried on off Norway by modern methods for quite a considerable number of years. As whale fishing, however, progressed in Norway so shore fisheries gradually declined. The change of fisheries was attributed by fishermen to the fact that on the same grounds on which they were carrying on their cod fishing, whale fishing was also being prosecuted. The fishermen of Norway appealed to their Government to introduce provisions dealing with whale fishing. In 1896 the Norwegian Legislature introduced a Measure prohibiting whale fishing for certain months of the year, and made certain restrictions in regard to the industry. These provisions were not satisfactory. They did not give the fishermen that protection they thought they required, and consequently as the fishermen in the cod fisheries saw their trade going down year by year, they became exasperated and took the law into their own hands.

They destroyed the whale fishing stations. Then the Legislature of Norway, seeing that matters were assuming a very serious aspect, passed a Measure prohibiting whale fishing on the North-West coast of Norway for 10 years. The whale fishermen of Norway, when they saw that trouble was brewing looked around for happy hunting grounds elsewhere, and they subsequently settled on the West coast of the Shetlands, where at that time there was a very successful herring fishery. There was not very much information given as to the reason why these men came over. I dare say if it had been known that they had been expelled from Norway, and the conditions made public in which they left their own country there might have been considerable opposition to their settlement. The facts were very well known to our Government. The British Consul-General in Christiania conveyed to the Foreign Office in London at that time full information as to what was going on, as to the riots in Norway in connection with these fisheries, and the effect upon the cod fishing, but despite that fact the Norwegians were allowed to settle in Shetland. In 1903 two companies started operations. In 1904 two more companies started as the first operations had been successful on the West coast of the Shetlands. I should like to mention the effect on the cod fisheries in Norway. For the 10 years ending 1895 the fishing on one important section of this coast of Norway averaged 26,500,000 cod. For the 10 years ending 1905, about the time the whale fishing was prohibited, the total fell to an average of 14,500,000.

The herring fishing on the west side of Shetland when whaling commenced employed 1,500 boats and 8,000 to 10,000 fishermen, besides a large number of shore workers. These people belonged not only to the Shetlands, but also to the mainland and some to Ireland. The herring fishing was very successful on the west coast of the Shetlands, and the quality superior to the fish landed on the other parts of the coast. It was conducted when fishing was not in operation at other ports, in the months of May and June. Then the fishermen and outers went to the east side of the Shetlands and carried on their operations there, and so on all round the coast. The effect of whale fishing upon herring fishing in the Shetlands was disastrous.

I have not time to give the figures in detail, but in the year 1902, in one Section alone, the number of crans of herrings amounted to 27,776. In 1906 it had fallen to 1,400 crans, and in 1910 it had disappeared altogether. While the whale fishing was confined to the West side, the herring fishing on the North went on successfully, but when the whales began to get scarce on the west side, the whale fishers in 1906 proceeded to the northern waters in search of whales. Then herring fishing at the northern stations diminished also. Take the station of Baltasound. In 1905, the catch of herrings was 243,000 crans. In the following year it was 136,000 crans, and in 1907, 61,000 crans. There is a great deal more to be said on this subject. It may be asked in what respect does whale fishing affect herring fishing or cod fishing. That is probably a subject for scientists, but they have given us no assistance in the matter. One eminent scientist says: The herring is a very sensitive and intelligent fish. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] That information is provided by Sir James Crichton Browne. It is keen of sight and of smell. It is highly responsive to changes in temperature mid to any physical disturbance, and deeply imbued with sound sanitary principles. It always avoids dirty or polluted water. Long ago the Dutch prohibited the gutting of fish at sea, for they found that the throwing away of the offal into the sea drove away the herrings from the herring grounds. If that is the evidence of an eminent scientist with regard to this fish, upon which the welfare of the community so much depends, what effect may the hunting of whales have upon it in the same region? The whalers are hunting whales there now with harpoon guns, and they are towing whales, after they have been caught, two, three and four at a time, over the ground where the herring is caught. All the whales that are shot are not caught. It is reckoned that at least 5 per cent, of the whales shot are lost to the whalers, and the carcases of these may afterwards drift about in the ocean and pollute the herring fishing-grounds. One can imagine the effect of that upon the fish. I wish to bring before the House the importance to my constituency of the herring fishing as compared with the whale fishing. The value of the herring fishing in these waters averaged prior to introduction of whaling something like £200,000 to £300,000 per annum, whereas the value of the whale fishing landed in Shetland in the year 1913 was not more than £35,000.


What about the mainland?


I am not discussing that now. These islands have suffered very severely by this. The population has gone down during the last decade to a very serious extent. No doubt, a considerable number of the men lost their lives in the War, because that small community sent no fewer than 4,000 men to the colours, besides a large number who served in the Mercantile Marine, and over 600 made the supreme sacrifice. That may account, to some extent, for the diminution in the population, but unless we can maintain local industries the population will go down more rapidly. It has been the aim of the Government to do its utmost to keep the people on the land, and I hold that anything that damages an industry such as this, on which the community depends, ought not to be countenanced. Therefore, I hope the House will see its way to passing this Measure.


I must apologise for intervening in a Scottish Debate, but while I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir M. Smith) that the disturbance to the herring, and its distaste for polluted water is to some extent the cause of this Bill, I think a greater blame is fastened on the whales than is really attributable to them. I think it will be known to the House that it was not until the 15th century that the herring bred in the North Sea at all, the reason being that he would not come out from the Sound into the North Sea, because the whales came down quite low towards Denmark and chased him back into the Sound. But when the Dutch fishers came and exterminated the whales that came South, the herring ventured out into the North Sea and bred there. What was the reason that we have had no good herrings this year? I think the reason is other than the whales. In the first place, the blowing up of wrecks has had a great deal to do with frightening this timid fish. Then the oil and petrol from the wrecks that had been blown up disgusted the fish, which will not go near polluted water. Moreover, the drift nets have got entangled in the wrecks, and the herrings, having been caught in these nets, have perished there, as the uncaptured wounded whales have perished, and polluted the water and driven the other herring away. The hot summer of last year had another effect. Herring will not breed in water that is above 55 degrees Fahr., and, on account of the warmth of the water in the regions where they were accustomed to breed, they have gone further north into the territory of the whales, and have been harried by the whales.

What he said about cutting up whales on the neighbouring coasts is quite right. I think that action should be taken by the Fishery Board for Scotland to prevent the cutting up of whales and the throwing overboard of offal into the waters of the Highlands. As hon. Members know, the Dutch in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries stopped the practice because it would frighten away shoals. The noise of blowing-up wrecks has a much greater effect on herrings than do whales. I have been at sea and have seen a shoal scared out of sight almost by the snap of a finger. So far as this Bill is concerned, I am in favour of it if it is going to help the herring fishery, but I think that, instead of taking the line of preventing whales being caught, the Secretary for Scotland should have the matter looked into as to the extent to which waters are polluted by the cutting up of these fish, and as to what extent the blowing up of wrecks has had a similar effect. Although scientists have not told us much about what the cause of the trouble is, the herring fishery has to be defended, we should not run into panic legislation of this kind as though the withholding of licences from whale fishers would solve the whole difficulty.

My remedy is to pass this Bill if you wish, but to take some steps to examine to what extent the blowing up of wrecks, the losing of nets containing dead fish, the cutting up of whales on coasts near herring fisheries, and the throwing over of offal have had an effect on the catching of our herrings. More especially the Secretary for Scotland should secure some scientific examination about the temperature of the water. I am perfectly convinced that a hot summer drives the herrings further north from their breeding grounds and takes them into territories where whales harry them. I suggest, therefore, that this Bill will not do what we require, but that the question is one that ought to be dealt with by scientists rather than by a Measure of this kind.


By leave of the House, may I make an appeal that hon. Members will give me the Second Reading of the Measure to-night? The Second Reading will be taken on the distinct assurance that all questions of detail on the Bill, including those referred to in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Sir G. Collins), shall be most carefully and fully explored in the Committee stage.


As representing the two great Scottish fishing ports of Peterhead and Fraserburgh, I think I am entitled to say a word. The hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. A. M. Samuel) no doubt is a great authority on herrings, from the point of view of the consumer, but I venture to think that those Members of this House who represent the herring fishing constituencies know more about the herring fishing industry than he can possibly do. It is perfectly true that the hon. Member has written a book on the herring. I think it refers particularly to the cooking of the herring, and not to the catching. I should like to say that on this subject the herring fishers of Peterhead and Fraserburgh take entirely the same view as my hon. Friend who represents Orkney and Shetland (Sir M. Smith). The Secretary for Scotland has referred to the alleged deleterious effect of the whale fishing on the herring fishing. I think that there can be no doubt about this deleterious effect. The fact that the prohibition of whale fishing is urgently desired by the herring fishing industry ought to be sufficient evidence that that industry is suffering from the effects of the whale fishing industry. That industry is conducted by Norwegians who have been expelled from their own country, and prohibited from carrying on their industry there, and they are not entitled to come to Scotland in face of the reasoned opposition of the whole herring fishing industry and to carry on whale fishing in Scotland to the detriment of the industry. That industry is of the most vital importance to the whole of the North-Eastern Coast of Scotland.

I should have liked to have gone into this question at much greater length and to have emphasised the point which the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir M. Smith) has made and to deal with the matter from the point of view of my own constituency and from the standpoint of the herring fishing industry in the whole of Scotland. Further, I regard this Measure as by no means effective and sufficient. It is, as the Secretary for Scotland has said, as a compromise and a Bill merely to enable him and his successors to control the whale-fishing industry if they are satisfied that it is detrimental to the herring-fishing industry. Although I regard it as inadequate, still, in view of the facts, I propose to give other hon. Members an opportunity to take part in the discussion.


I wish to say how much I regret that this Bill has come on to-night in the last half-hour, and that we are unable to consider it reasonably. It; raises a most important principle which ought to be threshed out on the Floor of the House. With all respect to my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland, to give him the power to prevent whale fishing is a very serious departure from our accepted tradition in matters of legislation. I think it is a question which ought to have far more consideration than we can possibly give it. The whaling industry has been and conceivably may be again, a most important one. This sort of Measure is not the right way to deal with it. I regret very much that we have so little time to consider it, and that Scottish Members have always been dealt with in this manner.


I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. Sturrock) in protesting against the way in which Scottish Bills are brought forward in this House. At 10.30 to-night the Secretary for Scotland rose to tell us that he wanted this and another Bill to-night. Under those circumstances we could not discuss them adequately. The Second Reading is the only occasion on which we are allowed to go into every possible detail, to bring forward facts and figures. We are not allowed to do so in Committee, where the scope of the discussion is limited. This is the manner in which the Government and the Secretary for Scotland deal with Scottish affairs. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I withdraw with regard to the Secretary for Scotland. Perhaps it is McConnachie who is behind him in the Government; at any rate, I protest against it.

It being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed To-morrow.