Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £49,807, 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, 1932, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Fishery Board for Scotland including Expenses of Marine Superintendence, and Grant-in-Aid of Piers or Quays; also for Loans to Herring Fishermen."—[NOTE: £31,700 has been voted on account.]
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. William Adamson)
This is an important Vote, because the Fishery Board are assisting to foster and develop one of Scotland's most vital industries—the sea fishing industry. The industry is rather like the element from which it draws its produce—it is subject to tides and to alternating periods of storm and calm. A year ago it seemed to be on a rising tide with a prospect of fair weather, but since then both the principal branches have experienced ebb tides and storms, due very largely to the world-wide depression in industry. The trawling section, which depends mainly on the home market, has been adversely affected by the diminished purchasing power of this country. The herring industry also has passed through a difficult period. The summer herring catch in Scottish waters was below the normal. The fishing in East Anglian waters—in which the Scottish herring fleet and curers play a major part—was very productive and yielded good results to the fishermen, but there has been serious difficulty in disposing of the cured article, and in consequence very heavy losses have been sustained by the curers. This is largely due to the depression in continental countries, where prices have fallen very low, and where alternative 204 foodstuffs have cheapened so as to compete seriously with cured herrings.
The markets for this particular article of food are not elastic, and any overproduction, or any production of a poor quality, has a serious effect on demand and on price. Certain measures have been taken in recent years by the industry in an effort to secure the regulation of production in accordance with the probable demand. For the future, I understand, a meeting of members of the herring industry, held yesterday at Aberdeen, recommended statutory measures of regulation by the machinery of a control board. I need scarcely say that any resolution which I may receive as a result of that meeting will have my full and careful attention.
Although the herring fishermen came fairly well out of last year's operations, they are still faced with the problem of replacing the steam drifter fleet with more economical vessels. Further experience of the motor drifters with Diesel engines tends to confirm the view that a satisfactory substitute for the steam drifter is being evolved. These matters, with the associated questions of improvements in organisation, are engaging the attention of the Committee presided over by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, and I hope that the deliberations of that Committee, who, I understand, are now considering their report, will have the result of indicating the lines of development to be followed so as to place the industry on a firm foundation for the future.
When I visited the Scottish fishery harbours in 1929, I was much impressed by the serious state of affairs. I found that many of these harbours, as the result of War and post-War conditions, were heavily burdened with debts and were not in a position to execute necessary works of improvement, or even to carry out ordinary maintenance and dredging, and that the operations of the fishermen were very much hampered by defective accommodation. The Government, therefore, concentrated on the problem of ways and means to remedy the situation, and, since the Scottish Fishery Estimates were last discussed in this House, considerable progress has been made with the schemes for the improvement and development 205 of the fishery harbours, initiated with the financial assistance afforded by the Government. During last year, advances amounting in all to £187,000, of which £139,000 represented free grants, were offered in aid of schemes estimated to cost £264,000.
I have been talking about the case of the principal fishing harbours, and these, naturally, were the Government's first concern. It was necessary, however, to deal also with those smaller harbours and piers which abound on the West, the North, and the North-East coasts of Scotland, and are, in one aspect or another, essential to the economic welfare and well-being of our people at these outposts of our country. At many of these places there is a small but thriving local fishery; others are the service centres for remote settlements; and others again have a considerable productive and distributive importance. Careful surveys have been made of the circumstances with regard to pier and harbour activities at these places, and I myself have made a number of visits to the localities for the purpose of personal investigation. Between 1929 and 1931 assistance amounting to £10,596 has been given for these smaller piers and harbours. Since this Government came into office, the total assistance, made available for harbours and piers, in the way of grants, dredging, loans for new works, or remissions of debt, amounts to the very substantial sum of £496,000. This is in addition to the £10,596 provided under a different Estimate from the one which we are discussing this afternoon. In addition to this, the loans advanced to fishermen who sustained losses of fishing gear in the storm off the East Anglian coast in November, 1929, amounted to £18,000. This makes, with the sum of £496,000 which I have already mentioned, a total of £514,000. That is the measure of assistance rendered for these purposes to the fishing industry during the term of office of the present Government, and I venture to suggest that it is a record of which the Government have every reason to be proud.
The majority of the schemes of harbour improvement are in progress; some have been completed, and others are approaching completion. The two dredgers belonging to the Fishery Board 206 have been actively engaged at various harbours, and other ports will be dealt with when the work at present in hand is finished. I cannot claim that the schemes of improvement for which Government assistance has been sanctioned represent all that needs to be done to put the fishery harbours into a proper condition to serve the needs of the industry, and I am taking such opportunities as time permits for further personal investigation into their requirements, but I suggest quite frankly that this is a contribution of which, as I have already said, the Government have no need to be ashamed.
During the past few months the question of fishing in the Moray Firth has received a considerable amount of prominence, owing to the serious damage sustained by the local cod-net fishermen through the operations of foreign trawlers. The circumstances of the case render any detailed discussion of this matter undesirable at the moment, but it is receiving the earnest consideration of the Government. It bristles with difficulties, national and international, but I will leave no stone unturned in the endeavour to find a solution of the difficulties with which these fishermen are faced. I am very much impressed with the importance to the herring fishermen of having subsidiary methods of fishing to fill in the gap between the herring-fishing seasons. Herring fishing no longer provides a full time occupation, and the men require to resort to other supplementary measures, such as line fishing, cod-net fishing and seining. This is a matter that I have discussed with the men themselves during some of my visits to the herring-fishing districts. I am determined, as far as in me lies, with the able assistance of the Fishery Board, to do everything possible to restore the prosperity of this important industry, and I am ready to listen to constructive proposals towards that end.
Our fishermen and their womenfolk are a hardy and independent race. They want to carry their own burden, and they will willingly do so unless the circumstances of the hour prove too strong for them. We are passing through times when practical assistance such as the Government are rendering is needed to help this very worthy section of the community through their difficulties. What 207 is being done by the Government represents a very substantial contribution to the welfare of the fishermen and the fishing community and is evidence of the practical good will of the Government and their determination to do all they possibly can in order to carry this important industry through to more prosperous times.
§ Major McKENZIE WOOD
Before dealing with the right hon. Gentleman's speech, it might be fitting to make a brief reference to recent changes in the constitution of the Scottish Fishery Board. For the last 10 years the chairman of the board, strange to say, has been a Welshman, and all those who knew Mr. Jones learned with the greatest regret of his sudden and untimely end. It is fitting on this occasion that we should pay a tribute to the great service that he rendered to the Scottish fishing industry during the long time he had been associated with it, first as a junior clerk and later as chairman of the board. A new board has just been constituted. We are glad to acknowledge the efforts of the Secretary of State in trying to make it representative of all the different sections and interests in the industry, and we can gladly say that the chairman of the new board and his colleagues start upon their duties with the confidence and the good wishes of all.
Turning to the right hon. Gentleman's speech, I realise his great interest in the welfare of the fishing community. He has gone out of his way to get into close contact with their life and work, and he knows many of their problems to-day a good deal better than he did two years ago. But I am sorry that he did not descend to greater particularity on some of the matters affecting the industry. He has told us nothing very new, and there are certain questions on which we are very anxious indeed to get information. We have had many Debates on the general questions that are before the Fishery Board at present, and we have always been held up, very often by the right hon. Gentleman, by being told that he was awaiting the report of the committee that is inquiring into this question. We have been waiting far too long for the committee's report, and it is difficult indeed to do anything on the general questions that are before the Fishery Board until that committee has reported.
208 I want to devote my attention to a very special question which has loomed very largely in Scotland and in the discussions among the fishermen and their friends within the last few months. It is the question of trawling in the Moray Firth. The right hon. Gentleman told us it was a difficult question, and gave us to understand that it would be rather rash for anyone to touch it. We shall never get any advance on this question until we grapple with it a great deal more energetically than the Secretary of State appears likely to do. This is not a local question. It is an old question. It has often been before the House, but it comes before us now with certain new features, and it is right that the House of Commons should realise what the matter is. It has caused the greatest resentment, not only among fishermen but throughout the whole of Scotland, and indeed the situation is so fantastic as to be almost incredible to those who have not been brought in contact with it.
British trawlers are prohibited from trawling in the Moray Firth, and, if they do so, their skippers are subject to great penalties, fines and imprisonment, whereas foreign trawlers may trawl there freely without any interference at all. That is bad enough in all conscience, but when these privileged foreigners come into the Firth and wantonly destroy the gear of the innocent fishermen who are peace ably carrying on their work, every reasonable person will agree that the situation is intolerable, and no Government can possibly stand aside and not attempt to do something to meet the situation. It may be asked how this absurd situation has arisen, and some Members who are not so familiar with it as we are in the North-East of Scotland, may be glad to be told how it has come about. The basis of the fishing policy with regard to trawling is that trawling in inshore and shallow waters is apt to be destructive of immature fish, and therefore injurious to fisheries at large. It has been found advisable to prohibit trawling in inshore waters. An Act of 1889 gave the Fishery Board power to close the whole of the Moray Firth, if it thought fit, to trawling, and by a by-law it did so, and ever since British trawlers at any rate have been prevented from fishing there.
The Act was meant to be applicable also to foreigners, but the foreigners 209 have objected on the ground that any part of the Moray Firth which is beyond what they say is territorial water is not subject to the municipal law of our country and that therefore they are not subject to this law at all. An attempt has been made to enforce this law against foreigners and many prosecutions have taken place. One leading case—the case of Mortensen v. Peters—was appealed against and came before the High Court of Judiciary in Edinburgh, with a full court of 13 Judges, which decided that Mortensen, the Danish skipper of a Norwegian trawler, was properly convicted. But the Foreign Office then intervened. This happened in 1906. Afterwards diplomatic representations were made by Norway, and, as a result of the intervention of the Foreign Office, the fine against Skipper Mortensen was remitted. Since then foreigners have had a free run of the Moray Firth while our own trawlers have been prevented from fishing there.
The hardship to British trawlers is also a hardship to British fishermen generally, because they are not able freely to fish there either. It is especially hard upon our fishermen in the Spring of every year, when cod-net fishing is very lucrative; and, as the Secretary of State for Scotland has said, it has become more and more important, because herring fishing has gone down in importance and it is highly desirable that there should be some other method of fishing to which they can turn. Unlike the herring fishing, which is carried on by means of drift-nets which usually drift upon the surface of the water, cod-nets are fixed at the bottom of the sea. These nets may have a run of something like two miles along the bottom of the sea to which they are anchored. There have been rules laid down for the marking of these nets when they have been set, and many of the foreign trawlers have objected and asserted that the damage has been done because of insufficient or improper marking of the nets. I have talked over this question with many fishermen and I have gone into it very closely, and I am satisfied that they are right in saying that the system of marking is impracticable and ineffective, and that is all I want to say about it at the present time. A solution of the 210 difficulty, I am sure, cannot be obtained by a system of marking the nets.
Year after year great loss has been occasioned to the fishermen by the damage to these cod-nets. Last year there was a great deal of damage done. I raised the matter in this House, and attempts were made at the end of last year to do something to minimise the damage this year. I am sorry to say that those efforts have been unsuccessful and that this year the damage has probably been greater than ever before. Sometimes you have boats losing in one night £40 or £50 worth of gear, a loss which no fishermen or any other person can stand. I am sorry to say, too, that there is some evidence that the damage is done recklessly and wantonly. I have here three statements which I could read to the Committee, but, as they are long, I will not trouble to do so. These statements show that in many cases trawlers have deliberately—I say it advisedly—trawled over the nets of the fishermen after having been warned that if they continued to pursue such a course they were bound to go over the nets and cause a great deal of damage. In some cases, the drifters have steamed after the trawlers and tried to head them off, sometimes with a little success, but very often with no success at all.
The right hon. Gentleman, when he went up to interview the fishermen a few months ago, suggested that when they left the nets they ought to leave behind one of their boats as a sort of "watchman." They tried that suggestion. On one occasion five drifters went out together and set their nets and then left one of their number to look after the nets of the whole of the five. What happened? A number of foreign trawlers came along, and the watching boat blew its syren, and later on put out flares and did everything possible to warn the drifters of the danger into which they were going, but it was all to no purpose. The trawlers trawled right through the nets and did enormous damage to the gear. Public opinion on this matter, I need hardly say, is entirely with the fishermen. Even the churches in Scotland have deemed it to be their duty to take the matter up and pass resolutions. Only last week the General Assembly of the Church of 211 Scotland passed an overture expressing sympathy with the fishermen and calling upon the Government to take up the matter and get some sort of solution.
I raised this matter last year, and I raised it this year immediately after the damage was done, but I have not mentioned it in this House for a month or two. I have deliberately refrained from mentioning it in order to give the right hon. Gentleman an opportunity of considering carefully a matter with which, I agree, it is very difficult to deal. But after three months I think that we are entitled to say that the right hon. Gentleman ought to be in a position to give us some information, first of all, as to what he has done, and, secondly, as to what he proposes to do in the future. There are two questions to be considered. There is, first of all, the reparation for the damage that has been done. What does the right hon. Gentleman propose to do and what has he done to enable the fishermen to get compensation for damage which they can prove and bring home to individual trawlers? I hope that we shall be able to get some enlightenment from the right hon. Gentleman on that point, but that is not the most important or the most difficult question.
The position has to some extent changed since 1906, the time of the Mortensen judgment. At that time the trawlers at fault were not really foreigners. They were Grimsby and Hull trawlers, masquerading as foreigners. Very often they had a British crew with a Danish or Norwegian skipper, but they belonged to English companies. To-day, the trawlers chiefly responsible for the damage are Dutch and Belgian. The position has changed in other respects. We are entitled to ask the Government whether there is any sufficient reason why we should not boldly intimate to foreign countries that we propose to enforce the municipal law of this country against foreign trawlers. That is the only satisfactory and effective solution. We are not asking for any privilege for our fishermen and we are not proposing to put any restriction upon foreign fishermen that we are not prepared to impose upon our own fishermen. 212 We are not asking for any privilege of any kind.
It is high time that we had something in the nature of an international conference to decide what is and what is not territorial water. But the issue is not merely the question whether the whole of the Moray Firth should be considered as territorial water. The fisheries in the North Sea at the present time are largely governed by the North Sea Fisheries Convention of 1882, which gave to individual nations signatory to the convention considerable powers over the nationals of other countries. There is one article in particular to which I would draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention, which lays it down definitely that trawlers should not trawl in the vicinity of drift nets and long line fishing. It is obvious from that article that cod nets would have been mentioned had such a method of fishing been in use when the convention was signed. It might be argued that cod-net fishing comes under that particular article, but if not it only shows the advisability of the whole convention being revised. I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should consider proposing in the proper quarter that the signatories to that convention should be assembled to consider the whole matter and bring it up to date, in the light of modern knowledge and practice. I hope that His Majesty's Government will take the initiative in that direction.
Action in that way, although it may be very helpful, takes time. The difficulty is that if something is not done very quickly it will mean that by next spring when the cod fishing comes on the position will be exactly the same as before. It is interesting to remember that when the trouble with Norway took place, 25 years ago, Norway agreed, I think I am right in saying, provisionally to instruct her trawlers to keep out of the Moray Firth until a permanent agreement had been arrived at. Why could not the right hon. Gentleman invite the foreign countries involved in this matter to instruct their trawlers, without prejudice to their rights, to keep out of the Moray Firth until a permanent solution of the difficulty has been reached and until the whole question has been considered in a judicial spirit? I think that is a very fair suggestion to make and I hope that the Government will consider it.
213 I hope that I have not unduly taken up the time of the Committee in dealing with the matter. It is of vital importance to my constituents, indeed, more important to them than to any other constituency, and I was bound to do what I could to bring it before the Committee at the earliest convenient moment. I believe that I have waited long enough and that now I am entitled to press the right hon. Gentleman for an answer. I know perfectly well that he realises the gravity of the whole problem, and I hope that he will take the opportunity of saying something to reassure the fishermen of Scotland and public opinion generally in Scotland.
§ Sir FREDERICK THOMSON
I should like to associate myself and those who sit on this side, including the former Secretary of State for Scotland, with what has been said in regard to the late Mr. Jones, and to endorse what has been said as to the most distinguished services that he rendered to the fishing industry in Scotland, and to express our great regret at his death. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Banff (Major Wood) in regard to the difficulty in which we am placed in discussing the fishery question by the continued delay in the publication of the report which has been promised by the Government for a long time. I asked a question on the subject on the 2nd February, when I was told that the draft report was then under consideration. I do not know how long they will continue considering the draft report, but it is time that it saw the light of day. I hope that no further delay will be experienced. The Secretary of State took credit to himself for the work that he has done in connection with the harbours. In that connection I would remind him that in the Budget of 1929 the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced the provision of a sum of between £20,000 and £30,000 for the reduction of harbour dues, and provision was also made for the remission of harbour debts. Therefore, in what the right hon. Gentleman has done, he has been merely carrying out the work initiated by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). Unfortunately, the Conservative Government went out of office a few weeks afterwards, but the proposal was definitely 214 made and the money was provided. As regards fishery research, I 4.0 p.m. wish to put some questions to the right hon. Gentleman. I see in the Estimates that- there is a sum of £5,378 for fishery research, and under that heading there are a number of officials employed in scientific investigation. There is also a research steamer, the "Explorer." Under sub-head D, there are items for maintenance of laboratories, apparatus, etc.; maintenance of research steamer; maintenance of motor boat; and salmon fishery. I notice that there is a grant from the Development Fund towards salmon fishery research. This question of fishery research is a most important part of the Estimates.
The right hon. Gentleman will remember that there was a Debate on fisheries in this House at the end of 1929, when the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries dealt with this question. He said that during 1930 a new plan was to be worked out for the exploration of new fishing grounds. I should like to find out from the right hon. Gentleman what has been done in carrying out that plan. The Scottish Fishery Board is one of the authorities that has been engaged in carrying it out, and I should like to know what work has been achieved, as the provision of new grounds is of the very highest importance to the fisheries. I might point out that this work of searching for new fishing grounds was started by the late Government, and the right hon. Gentleman knows what was done. I want to know what has been achieved with regard to banks where cod and haddock are found. I should also like to know if any work has been carried out by the steamer in exploring ground south of St. Kilda, and the important grounds which are believed to exist between Shetland and Norway. It is generally believed that there are very valuable fishing banks north-east of Greenland, north of Iceland, stretching to Spitzbergen. Nothing can be of greater importance to the fishing industry of the country than that exploration should be undertaken with a view to discovering and charting those banks. There are great possibilities for our fishermen, and I make no apology for stressing the importance of this work.
215 With regard to scientific investigation under the control of the Board, who have, I know, very distinguished and capable officials helping in this matter, I should like to ask whether further progress has been made in connection with new methods for the preservation of fish, whereby fish can be kept in a fit state for consumption for a longer period, and also as to new treatment with regard to ice and artificial refrigeration. Has progress been made during the year in those very important matters? I would also ask whether the scientific people working for the Board have been able to make progress with regard to new schemes for the utilisation of by-products? There is an illimitable field for the use of byproducts of fish, and it is in work of this sort that an advance can be made of great importance to the fishing industry, and, indeed, to the whole country. Lastly, I wish to ask about salmon. I see that for salmon fishery research there is a sum of £1,600, and a special grant from the Development Fund for research. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what work has been done in this connection and whether any valuable results have been achieved? One knows that the habits of the salmon are rather obscure, and I should be glad to know whether, by means of this investigation, knowledge is being obtained that will be of value in the future.
These were the matters which I wished to bring before the right hon. Gentleman on these Estimates. I realise, from the bottom of my heart, the great importance of the line fisheries, but, after all, the trawlers land in Scottish ports the great bulk of the fish. I think that something like 72 per cent. of the fish last year were landed from trawlers, and I believe that, if you take England, the proportion is greater. Therefore, I make no apology for these inquiries on behalf of the trawling industry. It is of the utmost importance that every effort should be made to find these new banks, which we well know exist, but which have to be charted and made available for fishing. Therefore, I should be very interested if the right hon. Gentleman could give me a full account of the activities of those who have been engaged on research work, and what the research steamer has been doing during 216 the past year, because these matters are of the highest importance to the future of the fishing industry.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I should like, first of all, to associate myself with the expressions of sympathy and regret which have come from all quarters of the Committee in connection with the death of the late chairman of the Fishery Board. Those of us who came in contact with him found him not only amiable, but able, and, indeed, brilliant, and everybody connected with the fishing industry in Scotland will feel the great loss which that industry has sustained in his death.
I am very glad that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Banff (Major Wood) has taken the leading part in this discussion to-day, because there is no Scottish Member who has taken a deeper interest in this matter than my hon. and gallant Friend, and I think that the Committee as a whole is indebted to him for the admirable survey that he has made and presented to the Committee of all the difficult problems which are affecting the fishing industry in Scotland at this moment. I was rather sorry that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State led off this afternoon. It is true that my right hon. Friend has that privilege. In the course of his speech, he said that he would be very glad to listen to any constructive proposals which those of us who are interested in this subject would like to put forward, but he makes it extremely difficult for those who follow him to put forward those proposals, and, at the same time, to have an assurance that we shall have from him any reply in Committee. I must say that he has taken very great interest in this problem, and has gone to no end of personal trouble to find out for himself the difficulties connected with it. He has made a great many pilgrimages all round the coast of Scotland, has come into contact with fishermen of all classes and has attempted to understand the problem.
After all is said and done, however, no one who listened to his speech could have come to any other conclusion than that the position to-day is as bad as, or worse than, it ever was. That is the impression made on my mind, and I would like to ask my right hon. Friend what it is he has in his mind. He told us that the present Government have spent a great deal of money. All I can say is 217 that there is very little to show for it, and that the complaints which I and my colleagues are getting from Scotland at this moment are as bitter and as persistent as they were during any regime of any Government which has existed in this country. My right hon. Friend knows perfectly well that there is very grave discontent at the present time in Scotland in connection with this industry, and the reason for that is obvious. I see my right hon. Friend the High Commissioner for the Churches in Scotland, the representative of the King, sitting behind the Secretary of State for Scotland. He has come fresh from occupying that very dignified and honourable position, which we are all delighted to see him occupy. He has come back with the knowledge that people from every corner in Scotland, congregated in Edinburgh during Assembly time, have given expression to their views on this question. They have come to the conclusion that this industry cannot be allowed to die out, and, believe me, it is not a question nowadays of the development of this industry: it is a question of its preservation, which is an entirely different proposition.
It is all very well to stand at the Treasury Box to-day and pay a passing tribute to the fine stock which the Scottish fishing industry has produced in the past, and has still, in a very much smaller degree, alas, to-day. Anyone who knows anything about the War conditions, knows that the British Navy could never have gone to any part of the world, that no British troops could ever have been taken to any part of the world, had it not been for the magnificent gallantry, the patience and wonderful strength and manhood of this stock, who came straight from the fishing vessels on the east and west coasts of Scotland. Yet the Government are standing by and not attempting in any way, as far as I can sec, to preserve that stock, far less to develop the industry, and make it better for the maintenance of that stock in the land of its birth. What is happening now? If you look at statistics from every village on the east coast of Scotland, and particularly round the Moray Firth, and on the west coast, the young men are not following the industry of their fathers. They have the spirit of the Vikings, of 218 the bravest and most gallant men in the whole world, and yet, by the ineptitude of Government after Government, and by the apathy of Government after Government, you are driving those men away to other occupations.
I have at the present moment on my table at home, applications from 17 young fishermen in my own constituency who say that no longer can they follow the occupation of their fathers, and that they desire to get something to do in the outside world. It is false economy to attempt to economise in, an industry of that kind. [Interruption.] The hon. Member opposite knows nothing about these things. They do not want to get away; that is the whole point. They want to be granted reasonable and better conditions of life, and, if they get them, they will fight not only the sea and the storm, but the bitter battle of life. What happens? The Secretary of State pays no attention to the real crux of the question so powerfully put by my hon. and gallant Friend; that is, the conditions which exist in the Moray Firth owing to the depredations of foreign trawlers. The whole situation is an affront and an insult to the Scottish nation. What are the facts? I am not going to develop this very far, but I have sent memorials to the Secretary of State asking him to approach the Government to do what is possible to give British line fishermen a fair chance in their own home seas. What happens? In 1018, when the War was over and when peace was declared, a German trawler could leave Kiel Harbour and go into the Moray Firth——
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I am putting a hypothetical case. If the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) is so meticulous let me say that if a German trawler on 12th November, 1918, desired to leave Kiel Harbour and cause depredations in the Moray Firth it was perfectly at liberty to do so, but, if a trawler from Leith wanted to go there, it was not allowed to do so. That is the condition obtaining there to-day, and not a single thing is being done by the Government to deal with a situation which in my judgment is intolerable. It is high time something was done. My hon. and gallant Friend made a reference to the actual facts. There was a case in the Scottish 219 courts in 1906. It was not an appeal to one judge but to the whole Court of Session, of 13 Judges, which in the old days we used to call the Crown Court Reserve Cases. All the judges came to the conclusion that Scottish law is quite clear and definite with regard to the Moray Firth, and its power to legislate with regard to trawling in that part of the country, and they laid it down as Scottish law, from which there could be no appeal to the House of Lords, that no trawler had the right to go there and create damage within the three-mile limit. What happened? The Government of the day took the law into their own hands, over-riding the law of Scotland—[An HON. MEMBER: "A Liberal Government!"] It does not matter in the least what Government it was, I am not exculpating that Government. I say that if you have a Government which is a United Kingdom Government you may have results like that, and it is quite obvious that it is necessary in matters of this kind to have a Government purely Scottish in origin and in power. If things like that are allowed to exist, that is what it is coming to, and I hope we shall have in reply something more than a purely passing reference to a matter which is an insult to the country to which we belong and an insult to Scottish law and practice.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
The hon. Member is always interrupting and is generally irrelevant. Let me come to a smaller problem subsidiary to the larger one. It is not only that foreign trawlers are allowed to come into the Moray Firth and do irreparable damage to the property of innocent fishermen; it is not only that they destroy nets; it is not only that the foreign trawler is allowed almost without let or hindrance to destroy the property of innocent fishermen who live and work around the coast. They destroy nets which cannot be restored because the capital of these fishermen has been exhausted; and may I say that there are many people who are very anxious indeed to know what the Government are going to do in regard to these matters? The times are bad and they are no longer able to restore nets which are lost 220 through no fault of their own. They are pursuing an innocent occupation under the law of the land, and are entitled to carry on their work in storm and sunshine; and they see their property being destroyed and not a single hand lifted by the Government to protect them.
But not only is their property-destroyed in the Moray Firth, but in those waters which are shallow, like parts of the Minch, where the fish come through to spawn, the spawning beds are also destroyed. Obviously, they are the source of the fishermen's wealth, they are sacred to them, and when the trawler, whether he owns an otter or a seine net, destroys these spawning beds the result is that not only does the fisherman find his property destroyed but the source of all his wealth destroyed as well. And not a single thing is done by this Government, or has been done by any other Government, to put a stop to it. In the Moray Firth another practice is going on. It is not only the herring which are being destroyed, but the white fish beds and the sprat beds in the Beauly Firth. I have made an appeal to the Secretary of State to approach the Admiralty with regard to this matter, and I have a petition from 270 people engaged in the fishing industry in this part of the coast protesting against the Navy practising gun firing in that particular part. All the experts have come to the conclusion that the intensive naval gun practice is destroying what was once a flourishing industry. My right hon. Friend has promised to give sympathetic consideration to the matter, but I am tired of getting that reply. I want something more active on the part of the Scottish Office when an industry like this is being destroyed. My right hon. Friend should approach the Admiralty at once and make it plain that, if the facts are as I have stated, the practice should be stopped at once.
The Secretary of State has visited many harbours on the West coast and on the East coast, and I understand that he is going to visit a great many more. I should like to know whether we are going to have a report from the inter-Departmental Piers Committee. It is about time we had that report. I have in mind piers and harbours like Port-mahomack, where had it not been for that harbour there would have been great 221 danger to the fishing fleet in case of a storm. It requires improvement in the matter of dredging. The same thing applies to Balintore and Cromarty and Avoch. These are specific cases where, if this fine race of men is to be preserved on the land, something must be done. When I hear that £500,000 has been expended, I want to see some effect as a result of that expenditure. My people say that they see no signs of it, and I should be greatly delighted if the Secretary of State will tell us what he proposes to do. May I ask the Secretary of State or the Under-Secretary of State to tell us what action they propose to take with regard to the depredations of foreign trawlers in the Moray Firth? May I ask if my right hon. Friend, as a Scotsman, thinks it right that while our trawlers are not allowed to go within 13 miles of the Russian coast or our ships within 13 miles of the American coast, all these foreign trawlers are allowed to come within the three-mile limit in the Moray Firth?
It is time that this question was tackled seriously. I am glad to see the Lord Advocate on the Government Bench. There is no one who has a more acute mind or a more profound knowledge of Scottish law. Is he content to sit by, or to stand by, and see the Government do nothing when the finest industry in this country is being destroyed by principles which are alien to the law of Scotland? If he is going to reply, may I ask what he proposes as an alternative to the law in this direction? Scotland will no longer tolerate the condition of affairs which exists at present, and there is not a single man in the House of Commons, or in the other place, who is not prepared to protest against them. I hope, therefore, that the protest I have made to-day will not fall on deaf ears; that we shall have something from the Government which will ease the mind of so many people engaged in this great industry, and that they will be comforted by the thought that at last the Government are going to tackle this question and to raise Scottish nationalism and Scottish law to the place it deserves to occupy.
§ The LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. Craigie Aitchison)
I desire to intervene for a few minutes in order to say a word or two on the question of the Moray Firth. I do not think any Member of the Committee 222 will complain because the hon. and gallant Member for Banff (Major Wood) has raised the question this afternoon. We are all agreed that it is a question of importance, I would go further and say that I think it is a question of urgency. It is a little unfortunate that the urgency of the question was not recognised by our predecessors in office. I am not referring to our immediate predecessors only, because this question has been important, and, indeed, urgent, since 1907. I do not think that any difficulty at all arises upon the law. The legal position of the Moray Firth is not really obscure. In 1906, in a case to which the hon. and gallant Member for Banff referred, Mortensen against Peters, a full bench of the High Court of Justiciary decided that a by-law which had been framed and passed by the Fishery Board of Scotland was valid and enforceable not only against the British trawler but against the foreign trawler as well. That decision of the High Court of Justiciary, which is the supreme criminal court in Scotland, was arrived at as a matter of construction upon the terms of the by-law and the terms of the Herring Fishery (Scotland) Act, 1899, under which the by-law was made. The view of the Court was that it was not concerned in any way with the policy of the Legislature, that its duty was to construe the by-law and Act according to their terms, and, treating the matter as a matter of construction, they held that the by-law was valid and enforceable against the foreign trawler as well as the British trawler.
It is right that the Committee should know that, while the Court in 1906 treated the matter as a matter of construction, two at any rate of the Judges indicated a larger view, and that larger view was that the waters of the Moray Firth, to use a technical term, being intra fauces terrae, that is, within the jaws of the land, were within the territorial sovereignty of this country. It was not necessary for the purpose of that decision for the Court to decide that question, but there were very clear indications to that effect from Lord Kyllachy, who was a Judge of great eminence, and Lord Dunedin, who is now a Lord of Appeal and was then Lord Justice General, than whom there is no more distinguished authority. I think it may quite properly be said, therefore, although it might be 223 disputed by foreign countries, that the Moray Firth is within the territorial jurisdiction of this country. But the real difficulty, and indeed the whole difficulty, arises from considerations of policy. The hon. and gallant Member for Banff said that the problem was not a local problem. That is exactly the difficulty. If the problem were a local problem I have no doubt that it would admit of a local solution. But the problem is a general problem, and the solution of it must depend upon weighing up and balancing a great variety of considerations affecting our fishing interests generally. If the Moray Firth were the only territorial inlet in the world there would be no difficulty; but there are other territorial inlets, and British fishermen fish every day in the territorial inlets of other countries. I believe the technical term for territorial inlet is historic bay. It is not a very happy term. Every day British fishermen fish within the historic bays of other countries.
The problem that we have to consider is whether if you enforced a by-law prohibiting the foreign trawler in your territorial inlet, you may not invite a repercussion against the British trawler which is now permitted to trawl in the territorial inlets of foreign countries. I ask the Committee to accept the view that that is a very real difficulty. I do not know what were the reasons which induced Sir Edward Grey, the Foreign Secretary in 1907, to advise the exercise of the prerogative with the result that the penalty which the Courts held had been rightly imposed upon a foreign trawler was not enforced. I believe the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) was a Member of that Administration and he may be able to indicate to the Committee what the considerations of policy were. But I have no doubt whatever that they were valid considerations of policy, and I am bound to say that the anxiety which the present Government feels is whether the considerations of policy which were held to be valid in 1907 are not equally valid to-day. If the considerations were purely strategic considerations depending upon views of naval policy, it may very well be that the considerations have altered since 1907, but, on the other hand, for all I know the considerations may have had nothing 224 to do with naval policy at all but may have been considerations dependent upon the fishing interests of this country, to which I have already referred.
We are all agreed that it is desirable that something should be done, if it can be done without repercussions upon other British interests, for the protection of the fishermen of the Moray Firth. I agree with what has been said by the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson). I think it is hard that there should be a discrimination as between the foreign and the British trawler in the administration of the law. The question is, what is the appropriate remedy? No doubt the law might be enforced. The law is clear and it is capable of being enforced. One possible view is that it might be enforced with the risk of repercussion; in other words that we should "chance it." That may be a very bold policy. I am not at all convinced that it is a wise policy, because I think that in this matter, important as the interests of the Moray Firth are, His Majesty's Government has to take all fishing interests into consideration. Another view is that we should try to obtain international recognition of the Moray Firth as British territorial waters. That is the method of agreement and there is a great deal to be said for it. On the other hand the Committee will recognise that if we are to obtain any international recognition of the Moray Firth as territorial waters we would probably require to make some concession in the way of recognising the territorial inlets of foreign countries as territorial waters within the territorial sovereignty of those countries.
A third possible line of approach is by means of some form of fishery treaty or convention. The practical result of that might be the same, although theoretically it would be different. The result of a fishery convention such as I have in mind would be that the Moray Firth would be recognised as within the territorial jurisdiction of this country for fishing purposes only. It would not raise the larger question of whether it was within the territorial jurisdiction for all purposes. Another form of fishery convention or treaty which has been suggested is a convention that would recognise a close time for the Moray Firth or for part of the Moray Firth.
§ The CHAIRMAN
It appears to me that some of these suggestions would require legislation. It is quite right that the Lord Advocate should state how the difficulty can be remedied, but it would not be in order to develop arguments along those lines in reply. What properly are matters for the Foreign Office cannot be discussed at length on this Vote.
§ The LORD ADVOCATE
I was about to point out that one aspect of the matter has been considered by the Scientific Committee of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. I wish finally to refer to a suggestion which was made by the hon. and gallant Member for Banff. He pointed out that the North Sea Convention of 1882 applied to drift nets and long lines. We take the view that the Convention of 1882 does not apply to anchored cod nets, the disturbance of which is the immediate cause of the difficulties which have arisen, but I think that the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member that there might be an amendment in the form of an extension of the North Sea Convention of 1882 is a very valuable suggestion, and it is one which the Government will certainly keep in view.
I wish to assure the Committee that the Government have been by no means supine in this matter. It is true that three months have elapsed since my right hon. Friend informed the hon. and gallant Member for Banffshire that the matter was under consideration, but on the other hand one cannot leave out of account that 23 years or nearly 24 years have elapsed since the course of the law was interfered with by the Foreign Secretary of the day in 1907. The problem is an extremely difficult one. I am in a position to inform the Committee, however, that the problem has been explored very fully within the last six weeks, and it has been explored, not merely as a problem affecting the Scottish Office, but as a problem affecting other Departments of Government. It has been treated as an inter-depart-mental matter upon which consultation has taken place, and I hope that as a result of the consultations which have now been proceeding for some time it may be possible within some reasonable period in the future to arrive at a 226 solution of a difficulty which I think all parties in the Committee wish to see solved if it is at all possible to reach agreement.
§ Sir HERBERT SAMUEL
I fully recognise that it is an act of great daring on the part of an English Member to intervene on a Scottish day and yet this subject of the Moray Firth transcends even the interests of Scotland. It really is and ought to be recognised as a national question. Indeed it raises international as well as national issues. And it is not a matter which should be subject to any party controversy. It is true that all Governments for the last 30 years have to bear responsibility in this matter. Even over a period of 40 years this question of the Moray Firth has been under consideration and has been a matter of controversy. It is also true, as the Lord Advocate said, that the issue reached a critical phase in the year 1907. A Government was then in power of which I had the honour to be a Member, but, at that time I was merely Under-Secretary at the Home Office, and I am afraid that this matter did not come under my direct cognisance and that I am unable to interpret to the Committee to-day the frame of mind of the Foreign Secretary of 24 years ago.
The facts of the matter are not in any way in dispute. Here is this great arm of the sea which is 73 miles across at the mouth. Three-quarters of it are not territorial waters as ordinarily understood. There are, or there were not very long ago, on the shores of the Moray Firth about 70 towns and villages—I do not know whether there are so many today—depending for their livelihood mainly on the fishing. The water, over a great part of it, is shallow, and it is one of the best-known spawning grounds in the North Sea and the adjacent waters. At certain periods of the year it is full of immature fish. As long ago as 1889 Parliament gave power to the Scottish Office to enact that no person should use beam or otter trawls in these waters, and the Scottish Office made regulations accordingly in 1892 and 1896. They allowed net fishing and line fishing, but trawling was forbidden.
Then the question arose as to whether this prohibition applied equally to foreign trawlers. A case was tried in the courts, as has been mentioned to-day, and a full
Scottish court of 12 or 13 judges decided unanimously that Parliament must have intended it to apply to all persons whether British or foreign, because it used the words "any person," and "any person" was not identical with "any person of British nationality," and therefore must be interpreted according to the normal meaning of the words. The court so ordained, but the Government of the day held that, according to international law, any such decision was really ultra vires and that there was no power to apply this domestic law to foreigners outside British territorial waters as ordinarily understood. On this question Lora Salvesen, a very distinguished Scottish Judge, and a member of the court which gave the decision to which I have referred, has recently written to the Press:
In arguing in favour of the conviction being sustained the Law Officers of the Crown at that time said it was unthinkable that Parliament should have legislated on the footing of giving an exclusive privilege to foreigners in the area in question, and denying it to the fishermen of the district.
§ Unthinkable that Parliament should have legislated to exclude British fishermen and allow foreign fishermen to trawl in these waters I But the very thing which is declared unthinkable is precisely what did occur. According to the decisions of the Law Officers of that time, not challenged, I understand, by the Lord Advocate to-day, that is just what Parliament then did, and the responsibility rests here. That is why I am urging on the Committee that we, as a Parliament, without regard to any question of what Government happens to be in power at any particular time, should take cognisance of this matter and insist that a remedy should be found for a very obvious abuse.
§ The facts have already been stated by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Banffshire (Major McKenzie Wood)—who has rendered a service by raising this question to-day in a speech of great force and clarity—and by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Boss and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson). Great damage is done to Scottish fishermen when the trawlers come sweeping in with their trawls, indifferent to nets or lines. It is recorded that on one occasion in 1929 18 boats lost 70 nets, and 35 more 228 nets were destroyed. An able article appeared in the "New Statesman and Nation" of 28th March giving details of cases which have happened this year. It is recorded that the steam drifter "Exuberant" of Buckie left her nets to tow home a disabled comrade. Soon afterwards a foreign trawler steamed in from the sea, and 16 out of the "Exuberant's" 46 nets were lost. On the following day, which was a Sunday, it is stated that several foreigners took advantage of the quiet reigning on the cod-grounds to trawl through the floating marks of the fishing fleet, and that one boat lost 14 nets and another 25. Not only that, but the Scottish fishermen have to sit still and look on—and also the fishermen from Grimsby and elsewhere—excluded from this trawling ground, while foreign fishermen can come in, and, in conformity with British law, carry on their trade there.
§ When a committee was appointed a few years ago by the Scottish Office in connection with this matter, they reported that witnesses had told them that when Scottish fishermen sometimes ran the risk of infringing the law, and of being detected, and let down their trawls in this area, a foreign trawling boat would come along, hail the skipper of the local boat, and inform him that if he did not cease trawling they would report him to the Fishery Board. The foreigners were perfectly free all the time to carry on their industry as they chose. That is an intolerable position, which Parliament cannot allow to continue indefinitely. The Committee may have some reason to suspect that I am not a Protectionist. From observations which I have let fall from time to time they may have inferred that that is not a policy which I favour. But this is a most strange form of inverted Protection which no one could possibly defend—that we should have a law permitting foreigners to trawl within the seas of the British Isles and excluding Britishers from doing the same thing.
Near the mouth of the Moray Firth is the town of Lossiemouth where the British Prime Minister, himself a Scotsman, as we know has a home. I can imagine on a clear day the Prime Minister looking through glasses at the boats coming into the Moray Firth—some of them Dutchmen or Germans, others
Scotsmen or boats from Grimsby. I can imagine the right hon. Gentleman watching them as they carry on their business. Possibly some of them may be tempted to indulge in trawling. Along comes a cruiser belonging to the Fishery Board of Scotland, and the British Prime Minister may have the pleasure of seeing through his glasses a British vessel, belonging to the State, stopping these Scottish and Grimsby trawlers carrying on their business and taking steps to arrest and secure the punishment of their skippers and crews, while the German or Dutch trawlers are allowed to proceed, unhampered by that cruiser, and to carry on, with the permission of the British State, an industry which our own nationals are forbidden to pursue. If events like that took place in the estuary of the Thames or in the estuary of the Severn, or in the Humber, the House of Commons would ring with it. If there were a Parliament at Edinburgh, as there ought to be, this would not be tolerated for a week. We know that the emblem of Scotland is the thistle and that her motto is:
Nemo me impune lacessit.
But the thistle seems to have dropped its prickles, and any foreign trawler can, with complete impunity, harass Scotland in this respect.
§ What are the possible courses which can be taken? One is to repeal the law, or for the Scottish Office to rescind its regulations, and to throw open trawling to everyone. Against that course there are very grave objections. I have already mentioned a committee which was appointed by the Scottish Office a few years ago—in 1923—on Scottish sea fisheries. That was a very authoritative committee. It was small but it consisted of men of note and weight in this matter. They reviewed the whole question of whether or not trawling should be freely allowed, and they came to the definite and unanimous conclusion that it should not be allowed. When we have an expert committee, taking evidence from all quarters and coming to a clear and unanimous conclusion, we ought naturally to be guided by that decision. I believe that some of my hon. Friends who served on a special committee which inquired into the matter and took evidence, have reported that the opinion of the great majority of the fishermen of Scotland is that trawling 230 should not be freely permitted, but that the immature fish and the spawning ground should be protected in the future as in the past. Indeed, it is even more necessary now that they should be so protected, because of the greater power and efficacy of the trawlers and the greater damage which they might do, and it is less necessary, from the trawling point of view, that they should be allowed to fish there, because they can go much further afield in these days than they were able to do a generation ago. That is one possible course which would probably be rejected 5.0 p.m. by almost unanimous consent. Another course that might be presented to the House is that the Government should say, "The position cannot be altered. We are bound by international law, and we cannot prevent the foreign trawlers coming in. It is not worth while to pursue the matter by way of negotiation, because of possible reprisals elsewhere, and we must tolerate in perpetuity the inequality that now prevails." I understand that that is not the case presented by the Government to-day. If it is to be presented, it ought to be clearly stated and the reasons given definitely as to the danger of reprisals. The places where those reprisals are likely to take place should be told either to the House or to a committee of the House, and then we could make up our minds and either accept or reject that proposition, that nothing can be done, but that the present situation must be endured in perpetuity.
The third course is that the Government should take vigorous action by way of international negotiation, for it is in the general interest, not only of this country but of all the countries interested in the North Sea fisheries, that these spawning grounds should be protected; and, as has already been mentioned in this Debate, when the question arose some years ago the Norwegian Government declared that it would very readily agree to special measures of protection. This is the course that was recommended by the committee to which I have referred—the Committee of which Lord Mackenzie was the chairman—and I would venture to read to this Committee one paragraph from their report:
The present position with regard to the admission of foreign trawlers into the Moray Firth appears to us to be very regrettable
from every British point of view and to demand immediate rectification. We earnestly hope that energetic measures will be taken to secure the international recognition of the closure of the Firth conjointly with the closure of the area in the southern North Sea in which the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea has recommended that trawling should be restricted. It is much to be desired that all sections of the British industry should unite in lending their support to such measures and assist in removing an anomaly which has too long been allowed to remain a source of difficulty and friction.
That was seven years ago, and, so far as the House has been informed, no steps whatever have been taken until this day in the direction recommended so unanimously by that authoritative body. I have read the Debate in the House of Lords that took place as long ago as 1907, when the question, as has been mentioned, was in an acute stage, and when it was raised by Lord Balfour of Burleigh, who had been Secretary for Scotland, and he mentioned that the subject had been agitated and discussed for 15 or 16 years. That was prior to 1907, so that for 40 years this question now has been under Debate.
§ The fourth course is to do nothing at all, to let the matter drift, to say, as the Secretary of State said to-day, "This is a very difficult matter. There is a conflict between our municipal and the international law. It will cause great difficulties, even if it is discussed in the House of Commons. It is true that we have done nothing, but our predecessors did nothing either"; to ride off on the ground that if other Governments have failed, they should not be expected to succeed, and finally to use the magic words and to say, "The matter is under consideration." That is the defence also of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate. I believe that if some Parliamentary statistician were to go through the volumes of the OFFICIAL REPORT of this Parliament and were to make a calculation as to how many times the Secretary of State for Scotland, in answer to questions and in the course of Debates, has said that this matter or the other was under consideration, he would come to a total certainly of hundreds and possibly even of thousands of cases. While we all rejoice to hear the speeches of the Secretary of State for Scotland, 232 the only time in which he shows real spirit, zeal, and even enthusiasm is when he endeavours to convince the House of Commons that something ought to remain under consideration before any further step is taken.
§ I mentioned just now the emblems and the motto of Scotland. If ever the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland were to go to the House of Lords, in order to reinforce the strength of the Government in that Chamber, he would need, I presume, a coat-of-arms, and, although I am not an expert in heraldry, I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman this coat-of-arms: I would suggest that the shield should show three herrings gules rampant on a sea azure, that his crest should be a tortoise couchant somnolent proper, that his supporters should naturally be two officials of the Scottish Office passant regardant, and that his motto should be "Under consideration." He told us to-day that in this matter he was leaving no stone unturned. Has he turned a single one? What stone has he turned? Will he tell us any action of any kind that has been taken in this matter of the Moray Firth? The impression left by his speech on some of us who heard it was that in this matter the right hon. Gentleman has done nothing, is doing nothing, and will do nothing. I would beg him not to urge that, because right hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway or Liberal Governments in days past did not handle this matter effectively, he is not to blame if he does nothing either. If each Government in turn gives as an excuse for inactivity that its predecessors have been inactive, we shall reach the year 2,000, and the Moray Firth position will still be the same as it is to-day.
§ If the right hon. Gentleman cannot take any vigorous and effective measures at once in the way of international negotiations, if he cannot, through Geneva or through any other international channel, bring this question to a head, then I would suggest that the House of Commons will be obliged to appoint a Select Committee, not as an excuse for further delay, but in order to get before it the Ministers and their officials, not of this one Department but of other Departments as well, take its own evidence, and make up its own mind as to 233 what course should be pursued. I feel convinced, and I hope I have succeeded in convincing even the Secretary of State for Scotland, that the Government must either act in this matter or else give definite, specific reasons why action is not possible. For the House of Commons, for its own credit's sake, ought not to allow this clearly established grievance of a body of subjects of the Crown to remain indefinitely without effective attention and without redress.
§ Mr. JAMES BROWN
I should not have intervened in this Debate except that I want the Committee to know that there is a little more water around Scotland than the Moray Firth. The right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) has given a very humorous description of the coat-of-arms of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland when he goes to another place. I would suggest that he might have two other supporters, and that two cod would be his proper supporters. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that blaming other Governments will not help us in this matter. We want something done. It is perfectly true that Governments in this matter have been very supine and have been afraid to act, and I am afraid that, although the formula may have been different in the mouths of other Secretaries of State for Scotland, the result has always been the same. So far as I am concerned, I would act on the motto of Scotland. Nobody would insult me with impunity, especially in a matter of this kind. But we Scotsmen are cribbed, cabined and confined by the Sassenach, and it is they who prevent the thistle from "jagging" as keenly as it used to do. I am expecting that the hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten) will assist me, because he is interested in the same arm of the sea, but I suggest that the Firth of Clyde should conform to the definition given by the learned Lord Advocate.
The Moray Firth deserves all the consideration which it can get, but I want to call the attention of the Committee to something else. There are depredations made besides those of the foreign trawlers in our fishing grounds. The right hon. and learned Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) mentioned a place called Balintore. I can tell him 234 about a place called Ballantrae, one of the most active and famous fishing banks that this country has had. I have been very interested during this Debate in watching the features of the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley). There has been a perpetual grin on his countenance. He seems to have been finding great amusement in the fact that many of our fishers have been suffering from the loss of nets. I do not know what his smile meant, but that is how I interpreted it at this distance.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
This is a personal matter. When I was smiling, I was smiling at the argument used by the right hon. and learned Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) when he talked about herrings spawning on the bed. He forgot that the herring is a pelagic.
§ Mr. BROWN
I can sympathise with the hon. Member for Grimsby, because I happen, on one side of me, to be of fishing stock myself, and I know some little about it. I do not profess to be an expert on spawning questions, but I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty knows perfectly well that the herring spawn is not lying in beds, as is suggested. I want to speak about the western side of Scotland. I do not disparage any arguments used about the north-east of Scotland, but it is also true that the livelihood of a great many of those men who were eulogised by the right hon. and learned Member for Ross and Cromarty come from the west as well as from the east of Scotland, and I want the protection of the Government. Whatever Government gives protection, I will say that that Government deserves well of the country. The Government may not have been as active as they might have been; nor was the Unionist Government; and I would suggest that, if any blame attaches to the Labour Government, they are so young that they ought to get off under the Young Offenders Act. The Government will deserve well of Scotland if they tackle this thorny question and see that, whatever the result, no foreigner gets any advantage over the native-born fishermen. If they take such action, they will get the 235 support of the Whole House, and I think that even the English and Welsh Members will support them. I know of a little fishing village called the Maidens where line fishing has been pursued for many generations. That was destroyed, not by foreigners, but by trawlers from Grimsby and other places.
§ Mr. BROWN
They do not come now, because there is nothing to come for, but they did come when there was something to come for. The line fishing there is almost extinct, and the men with expert knowledge of the waters found their livelihood gone when they came back from the War, not because of the depredations of foreigners, but because of the depredations of our near neighbours over the Tweed. It is worse to be dispossessed by our own brothers than it is to be dispossessed by foreigners, and I have urged over and over again that action should be taken. The matter does not require consideration at all; it requires action. We want something to be done immediately if this great asset to Scotland is to be preserved for Scotsmen.
I will not tell the story of what has happened in the last few years in Scotland, how the fishing has deteriorated, and how men have been dispossessed, but I would urge upon the Government to take up the work that has been neglected by former Governments. I will not recall the past of the right hon. and learned Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) in former Governments now that he has joined forces with us. If we are to be comrades in arms, let the past dead bury its dead, and let us all go forward to make Scottish fishing what it ought to be, something of which we shall all be proud, and which will ensure a livelihood to men who deserve well at the hands of this or any other Government. I want to remind the Committee, as I am sure the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire will do, that we require protection from all round, and that we are going to demand protection. I am glad that this Debate has elicited from an English Member the fact that he thinks that 236 Scotland should have Home Rule. I do urge upon the Government to give us any assistance they can, to come to our rescue to remedy a long growing evil, and to get something done so that our fishermen can get the protection that they so justly deserve.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) has left the Committee. It is a great compliment to our Scottish Members that he should have intervened in the Debate. For we know how much better he can state the case than any of us barbarous Scots. When he told us that this grievance had been going on for 40 years, I remembered that it took that time for the children of Israel to reach the Promised Land, and I thought perhaps that he was going to be the Moses who would lead the children of Scotland into a safe harbour from the depredation of the trawlers. His speech was very similar to the speeches of the two other Liberal Members who preceded him, although perhaps it was more vigorously made. They all said very much the same thing. I am glad to hear that the Liberal party have repented of the crime of 1907 when they set aside the legal decision of 13 Scottish Judges. It required three of them to say the same thing, and it is as well, when you are dealing with the Liberal party, that you should have three witnesses to vouch almost identical statements.
I do not see any particular difficulty in this question. We are told by the Lord Advocate that there are other enclosed lands in other countries whose jaws open out and that our trawlers get leave to go into them. Why should the Grimsby trawlers be allowed to pirate our fishing grounds any more than they can those of other countries? At the back of the Fishery Board there is undoubtedly a bias in favour of the trawlers against the shore fishermen. They represent a bigger financial interest, and have more power and weight. The line fisherman is an isolated individualist and does not get fair play.
Why do not we take a leaf out of the book of Denmark or Iceland? If any of our trawlers from Grimsby or Hull, the two pirate ports, choose to go to those places, what happens? They are not taken 237 in and fined and cheerfully pay £100, and then show defiance by blowing their whistles as they do when leaving our courts, because they have caught £1,000 worth of fish. In Iceland and Denmark they seize the boat for 12 months and put the captain into gaol and fine him £2,000. [Interruption.] Then the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) asks questions in the House about it. These countries know how to deal with those people who steal the daily bread of the fishermen and the crofter fishermen. I represent a lot of crofter fishermen who used to live a comfortable existence, much more comfortable than the town worker. They had their little bit of land and fishing boats, and between the two and the selling of a couple of beasts a year, they could make a comfortable living. But some time ago the fishermen from the two pirate ports in England swept away the livelihood of these crofter fishermen. In Portnahaven in Islay there used to be 30 boats, each with four or five men who were fine specimens of mankind. Along came the trawlers from Grimsby and Hull and other English ports, which went so close into the shore that they sometimes ran on the rocks and were wrecked. There was no obeying the three-mile limit there.
That kind of thing has gone on right through the western islands, and that has caused one of the main difficulties in the land question, because the small man cannot help to get his daily bread now by fishing. There is no need for the trawlers to do this, because they can go far out to sea. If they fit their boat with a Diesel engine, it costs them practically nothing for fuel, and they can go to the deep waters. There is no need for them to trawl in the shallow waters anywhere, or to go into the enclosed waters damaging the shore fishermen. Yet they persist in doing it. I would urge the Secretary of State and the Lord Advocate to tell the Foreign Office to take a leaf out of the book of the old Stuart kings of whom we in the Highlands still think so much. In Charles II's time, when we had control of our own destinies—though his grandfather had left Scotland, which was the start of much evil to Scotland—no English or foreign boat could fish within 28 miles of the Scottish coast. We had a Scottish Navy which chased them out. Why cannot 238 the Government take a lesson from their dearly beloved friends in Russia? They have a 12-mile limit, and they enforce it seriously. They do not ask questions of the League of Nations or anyone else. They fend for themselves. There is also a 12-mile limit in the United States on the question of bootleg whiskey. It is said to be done in the interest of enforcing the law, but those who know the inner history of the movement know that it is done to guard the interests of certain bootleggers in order that they may keep the monopoly of the trade themselves.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
If they can get a 12-mile limit in other countries, why cannot we? It is because the Liberal party, the anti-national party, in 1907 sold the pass, as they always did when there was an opportunity of helping the foreigner. They were always ready to take the foreign interest to their bosom if they could injure their fellow countrymen and what was done in 1907 was a typical act of Liberalism.
§ The CHAIRMAN
Again, I must ask the hon. and learned Member to get back to the subject. He puts a good deal of ornamentation into his speech.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I always understood that in public speaking, if you are to interest your audience, you must have a certain amount of ornament. I will, however, speak in the plantigrade fashion of which many other Members are more capable than I am, and I will try and make myself as dull as possible. The Secretary of State for Scotland said herring were becoming more difficult to dispose of, and there is no doubt that that is so. We have gone away from the simple days when the herring was recognised as one of the best of human foods, as it still is. One of the reasons for that is that though it comes to the beach as the cheapest of all food, by the time the transport charges have been paid and it has borne all the expenses of marketing, and the rates, rents and taxes the shopkeeper has to pay, it is not so cheap as it ought to be. That is what is wrong. The fishermen get very little for it. Producers in this country get very little for anything, because the tax collector and 239 the rate collector come first. One form of herring which was very popular in this country was the kipper. There is no finer food than a really well smoked kipper—smoked with oak chips, as it ought to be. It was a splendid fish and in great demand. Suddenly, with the usual sophistication that is seen in relation to all our foodstuffs, some bright gentleman south of the border, who had noted the rich brown tint of the kipper, thought that if he could smoke the kippers a little and then dye them to the required tint they would look like genuine bona fide kippers, and he would save a great deal of money on oak chips. He could take any old sawdust or anything of that sort, for the purpose of smoking them.
A large industry on those lines sprang up over the border. I cannot exactly locate it, but I am not prepared, without proof to the contrary, to exclude the constituencies of the hon. Member for Grimsby and the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy). Those dyed kippers are all over the market. We produce splendid kippers in Scotland. In Carradale there was a kipperer who was immortalised in one of the works of Stephen Leacock on account of the quality of his brand. There were no kippers like them, because the man was such an artist at the task of preparing them. Every man ought to be an artist at his job, no matter how humble it be. If you wrote to that man to ask him to send you some kippers, it was possible that you might get in return a polite letter saying that he was not fully satisfied with the quality of the herrings which were available at that time, and therefore he would not kipper them.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
My constituents prepare kippers, and I cannot allow the statement to go out to the country unchallenged that all kippers now are prepared with sawdust and dye.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I was speaking of kippers prepared south of the border. I know that the Aberdeen kipper—the Aberdeen haddock—is one of the finest to be had. It is splendid. I have been talking about a practice that has sprung up south of the border, the result of which is that an Englishman who buys a kipper gets one of these dyed kippers, 240 which have a musty flavour, and he says, "Do not order kippers again." The genuine oak-smoked kipper suffers in consequence, and is being driven out of the market. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Scotland for whisky?"] If the hon. Member will come to Islay I will introduce him to some whisky which he would find very satisfactory.
On the subject of harbours I would remind the Committee that there are two Government dredgers. I hope the Ardrishaig harbour has been dredged by one of them. For a long time it was not, the reason given being that there is an inner basin belonging to the Government, and the consequence of not dredging the harbour was that the fishermen were forced to go into the basin and to pay dues. It has not been dredged for 60 years. If it were dredged the boats could make use of it. There is another splendid harbour that would suit the fishermen of Tarbert and Campbeltown. It is Loch-ranger harbour. That harbour has been silted up by hill streams in the last 100 years. If it were dredged it would be of great service to all the fishermen in the Kilbrannan Sound. Instead of having to hire chars-a-banc and go home from Tarbert about 37 miles they could catch the steamer. The Duke of Montrose very generously offered the harbour for nothing to the Fihsery Board, and undertook to look after it. The predecessor of the present Secretary of State had some estimates prepared, but the Duke does not agree with his figures as to the cost of dredging. The value to the fishermen would be enormous, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will look into this matter and send one of the dredgers there to clear out the harbour.
I am glad to hear that the Diesel engine is being put into fishing boats. It will prove the salvation of the small fishermen. Recently I was in one of the magnificent steamers plying off the West Highland coast driven by a Diesel engine. I had a discussion with the engineer, who told me that the cost for fuel oil was only about one-sixth of what the cost would be for heating boilers with oil fuel. There is an enormous economy. On land one can drive a great lorry for one halfpenny a mile on heavy oil, whereas the cost would be 3d, or 4d. with petrol. The Diesel engine, with heavy fuel oil, is going to be the solution of all our transport difficulties, and I hope 241 the Government will give the fishermen every encouragement to instal the Diesel engines in their fishing boats, because that would do a great deal to lighten the burden of the cost of transport which is at present on the shoulders of the fishermen.
§ Sir ROBERT HAMILTON
I do not propose to weary the Committee by restating the case of the Moray Firth, which has been so ably put forward, but there is one aspect of it which I would like to present. Opinion has changed with regard to the protection of the young of fish generally. Before the War, it was the general opinion of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea that the best line of procedure was to prevent the capture of immature fish. Now, it is generally agreed that the proper line to take is the protection of the spawning grounds. That is an important point, because the Moray Firth is only one part of the North Sea, it has more than a mere relationship to our shores, and I think it would be easier now to arrange a convention with other Powers who are interested in fishing in the North Sea than would have been the case 20 or 30 years ago. Therefore, it is most desirable that the suggestion made by the Lord Advocate should be followed up, because I believe it is the only practicable way out of the difficulty—that is, to get the various countries interested to agree that certain areas in the North Sea, not necessarily the Moray Firth only, should be closed to certain forms of fishing. If we proceed on those lines I think that something may be effected.
As to the necessity of taking action speedily, I would quote some important figures from the report of the Fishery Board for 1929. It is a report on the observation of foreign trawlers in the Moray Firth over a series of years. I will not name the nationalities of the trawlers, but quote only the number of occasions on which foreign trawlers were observed in that area, and the Committee will notice how considerably the numbers have increased during the last two years. Between the years 1922–23 and 1928–29 the number of occasions in each year on which foreign trawlers were observed was as follows: 18, 43, 66, 55, 99, 107. Those figures show that foreign trawlers are coming into the Firth in largely increasing numbers, and it is a matter of astonishment 242 that some of the local fishermen have not taken the law into their own hands. I would respectfully draw the attention of the Government to the danger that is implied in these figures. We cannot expect that the local people will stand quietly by year after year and see the numbers of these trawlers increasing while nothing is done.
I put that forward as a very strong argument why the Government should get out of their present attitude of consideration and pass to action. The Lord Advocate has suggested the difficulties in the matter, and we all realise that there are great difficulties. No doubt it was on account of those difficulties that previous Governments did not tackle the matter, but it is one which needs to be dealt with now more than ever, and I trust it will be definitely taken up, and that the Government will endeavour to get together all the countries interested in fishing in the North Sea to see whether an agreement cannot be come to by which certain areas, including the disputed area in the Moray Firth, shall be set aside and kept free from trawlers, because it is an important spawning and breeding ground for the North Sea.
I pass to another important matter, the state of the drifter fleet in Scotland. The Secretary of State said he was taking a great interest in the matter, and we all know that he does show great interest in the fishing industry; but we have been waiting a long time to know the result of his deliberations. He had the advantage when he came into office of a report prepared at the instance of the Liberal party by a number of experts in the industry. They laid special stress on the importance of the renewal of the herring fishing fleet, which, they said, was rapidly getting into a desperate condition. I am not aware that anything has yet been done. We are waiting for the result of the work of the committee which has been inquiring into the matter. Incidentally, I would bring to the notice of this Committee a resolution passed on 7th April by the Convention of Royal Burghs in Scotland referring to the vital necessity of doing something to help the fishermen to replace their fleet, which is rapidly getting obsolete. The resolution read:That the Convention, for the fourth time, draws the attention of His Majesty's Government to the parlous condition of the herring fishing fleet. The fishing vessels are 243 old and outworn, and the fishermen, through exhaustion of capital, are unable to replace these vessels. The Convention therefore requests the Government to give assistance to the fishermen in the acquisition of new vessels, and that the matter be remitted to the annual committee with conventional powers.The Convention of Royal Burghs are a Very important body in Scotland. This is a matter which they have had before them year after year for four years, and as each year goes by it becomes more urgent. Many of us believe that great assistance can be given to the industry by the devising of a cheaper vessel and one to be run more cheaply than the old steam drifter; but even if such a vessel were designed, the share fishermen of the present day have not sufficient credit of their own to enable them to purchase such vessels. The inquiry to which I have referred came to the conclusion that it would be necessary, if the fishing fleet were to be replaced by better vessels, more suited to their work and less costly to run, for some assistance, in the way of loan, perhaps, to be given to fishermen to enable them to purchase them. They would be in a position in the course of time to repay the loan which was made to them. Without assistance of some sort I am afraid it will be impossible for the share fishermen of Scotland to replace their obsolete vessels.
I pass from that to another point, which is rather more local and affects my own constituency. Within the last few weeks the fishermen in the Shetland area have been placed in an extremely difficult position, as the Secretary of State for Scotland well knows, by a resolution passed by the British Herring Fishing Association in the following terms:Exporters agree not to buy or take on consignment, and shipbrokers similarly agree not to handle during the whole Scottish season any herrings cured by members or non-members of the association who have infringed the starting dates. Further curers bind themselves not to sell or consign herrings to any exporter or Continental importer who has purchased or taken on consignment herrings from curers who have infringed the starting dates.It will be observed that anyone who does not fall within the terms of that resolution is completely boycotted. The association fix the starting date for the East Coast of Scotland for 16th June, for Stornoway 2nd June, and Shetland 16th June, whereas it is thoroughly well 244 known that the herring on the west side of the Shetlands mature much earlier and are ready for catching on 2nd June. It may be said that this is a matter which has been dealt with entirely by an association for which the Government are not responsible, but I would like to recall the fact that that resolution was passed at a meeting at which the chairman was a member of the Fishery Board. I have no doubt that he was acting in his private capacity as one interested in the fishing industry and not as a member of the Fishery Board, but it certainly gave rise to comment, and the passing of the resolution was very detrimental to the interests of a certain portion of the industry. We have not a large proportion of curers in Shetland, and many of them are not members of the association. The resolution to which I have referred was passed by an entirely outside body. We are now in the position of being unable to export our early herrings to the markets abroad, with the result that the curers, who are interested in Autumn fishing in Yarmouth, have got too many herrings and have found difficulty in disposing of them, so that we have been deprived of the natural advantage of early fishing in Shetland.
I know the Under-Secretary will say that it is too late to do anything this year, but I ask the Fishery Board to have this matter thoroughly gone into in the course of the next few months, so that steps may be taken to see that in any resolution or agreement that may be come to with regard to the starting dates of herring fishing next year shall be fair to Shetland. We ask that the local fishermen should be given the opportunity of reaping the advantages which have been given to other fishermen, and that their interests should not be sacrificed to the interests of the fishing industry outside Shetland. I do not think that I am asking too much when I ask the Fishery Board and the Scottish Office to take an interest in this matter, because it is their duty to see that the interests of fishermen all over Scotland are protected, and I certainly feel that during the last two or three years we have not been protected by what has been done in this respect. I understand that the Fishery Board take the view that it is in the interests of the industry as a whole that the starting date should 245 be kept back to the date which has been fixed for the rest of the east coast of Scotland. That might be the case if no steps could be taken to prevent southern boats coming north and flooding the market with immature fish from the East side, but I contend that that can be prevented, and I ask the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland to see that this matter is thoroughly gone into, so that when next year's fishing season comes round Shetland will feel that she has been fairly dealt with and protected by the Fishery Board.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
I agree with the remarks which have just fallen from the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton) that the question of the starting of the fishing season ought to be investigated, and I think the fishery trade would be well advised to go carefully into the whole matter. I would, however, like the Secretary of State for Scotland to bear in mind that there is another side to this question, which is even more important than the local point of view, which has very properly been put before the Committee by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to bear in mind the enormous value of rationalisation which has only recently taken place in the fishing industry. What has taken place is a genuine attempt to co-operate, to collaborate, and to control production. During the last two or three years the fish curers have been left with large quantities of herrings which have proved to be absolutely unsaleable, and I think the association which represents them has taken the right course in asking for a postponement of the opening of the fishing season. Surely it is better to postpone the catch, instead of catching fish when they are immature. If the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland carries on his inquiries through the Fishery Board I think he will find that the Herring Association has acted wisely and in the best interests of the industry as a whole.
§ Sir R. HAMILTON
My contention is that the herrings on the West side are not immature at the time I am asking for fishing to start.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
The answer which would be given to that argument by the 246 Herring Association is that there is a likelihood of too many herrings being caught, and that to remedy this difficulty it is much better to slow down at the beginning than the end of the season. On that point I think the association is right. I was rather astonished at the intervention of the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) in this Debate, because he is not a Scottish Member, and there is no reason to suppose that he has any particular knowledge of the Scottish fishing industry. I know that the right hon. Gentleman was a Member of the Government which was responsible for drawing up the arrangements which have caused the present trouble in the Moray Firth, and when the right hon. Gentleman rose to take part in this Debate I thought that he was going to explain to the Committee the reasons which governed the policy of the Government of which he was a Member in reaching what appears to us to be a most extraordinary decision. Apparently, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen had no knowledge of the reasons which actuated the Government of which he was a Member; he did not impart any information on that crucial point to the Committee, but contented himself by pointing out to the Committee what an extremely bad thing it was for the fisherman in the Moray Firth that foreign trawlers should be allowed to come in and drag their nets fishing for cod when British trawlers were not allowed to do so. I suggest that every Member of this Committee was well aware of this fact, and of every other fact which the right hon. Gentleman thought fit to put forward, most of which had been stated quite clearly two or three times in this Debate. In view of these facts, I do not see why the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen intervened in the Debate.
The speech of the Lord Advocate would have been a little more hopeful if we had not such dire previous experience of the present administration, but I think the right hon. Gentleman put forward three or four useful points in regard to the way in which the Moray Firth question could be dealt with. I was very glad indeed that the Lord Advocate directed particular attention to the judgments of Lord Dunedin and Lord Kyllachy in the case of Mortensen v. 247 Peters, which was argued before the Supreme Court of Justiciary in 1906. I ask the Secretary of State for Scotland, in dealing with this question, and when he is putting the case before the Cabinet, to pay particular attention to the two judgments I have mentioned, because they deal with this question from the widest and most general point of view. In regard to the question of the Moray Firth, we cannot get away from the fact that a decision of the Supreme Court of Scotland was in fact quashed by the English Attorney-General against the advice of the Scottish Law Officers of the Crown. The purpose of the Act of 1889 was to create a breeding ground in the Moray Firth, but that has now been effectively destroyed, and the result of the action taken by the Liberal administration of 1906 has been to allow foreign trawlers to come into the Moray Firth and monopolise British fishing grounds in a way that is quite intolerable.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen truly said that a Scottish trawler had very bad luck when it came to fish in the Moray Firth. A German trawler approached the Scottish trawler and threatened to report it for infringing the law, and the Scottish trawler had to come away. I am sure that the Secretary of State for Scotland, and every hon. Member representing a Scottish constituency, will agree that this is an intolerable position for Scotland to be placed in at the present time. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Boss and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) stated that a previous Government was very remiss on this question, but surely that is no reason why the present Government should be remiss. I agree that Governments have been remiss on this question for many years past, but I think it is true to state that no Government has ever been so remiss on this question as the present Government during the last few years, and the depredations of foreign trawlers have never been so bad as they have been during the last 12 months. Therefore, we must hope and pray that on this question something will happen, and that action on the part of the Government will take the place of consideration.
I am very glad that we have had such a good Debate upon the Scottish fishing 248 industry this afternoon, because we do not often get an opportunity of dealing with it, and the fishing industry means more to Scotland in proportion 6.0 p.m. to the population than the fishing industry of any-other country in the world except Iceland and Norway. That is frequently forgotten by the people of this country, and particularly by the people of England. The fishing industry is vital from the point of view of national defence, and it is obviously the duty of any Government to do everything in its power to foster and encourage it in every possible way. I do not propose to go in detail into the problems of the white fishing industry, except to ask the Under-Secretary if he can, when he replies, give us any information with regard to experiments—not only research work into where the grounds may be, but also whether any experiments are being carried out on various methods of preserving the fish, particularly on board trawlers; and, if experiments of that character are not being carried out, whether he does not think it would be worth the while of the research department of the Fishery Board to conduct some experiments on that matter? There are, as the hon. Gentleman probably well knows, new methods coming out almost every day for preserving fish actually in the trawlers and some of those methods may prove to be extremely valuable to the industry.
Coming to the herring fishing industry the Secretary of State has been making a point, both in the House and in Scotland, about the question of finance. The Secretary of State went to Peterhead the other day and made a speech, in which he said:I have got more than any Secretary of State in modern times has been able to squeeze out of the Treasury. (Applause.) Between grants and loans, I have managed to get over £500,000 in one and three-quarter years. (Loud Applause.) If I happen to be as successful in the future as I have been between 1929 and now "—I like the downright modesty of the right hon. Gentleman—I am certain that neither you nor I will be ill pleased. (Cheers.)That is what the right hon. Gentleman said at Peterhead, and I myself make 249 no complaint; I am glad that he is so pleased with himself and with life in general.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
They are not very pleased with the situation; it has never been worse in the whole history of the fishing industry. What are the real facts about the question of harbour finance? These harbour debts were incurred during the War, and largely as a result of the War, and they are chiefly owing to the Public Works Loan Board. The Public Works Loan Board is an independent body, not operating under the direct control of the Government. It is a statutory body operating within limits under the Statute, but not subject to direct control or interference from the Government of the day. After the War, no interest was charged upon most of these loans. In the case of Fraserburgh, for instance, no interest was charged by successive Governments.
It was perfectly clear, however, that sooner or later a large amount of the dead weight of debt which had been incurred by these harbours would have to be written off; and in the late autumn of 1928, before the last administration left office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, set up an inquiry into each of these harbour debt positions. He announced in his Budget statement of 1929 that that inquiry had been set up, and that as a result the case of each harbour would be considered afresh upon its merits, with a view to suspensions or remissions of debts in certain cases. The General Election followed almost immediately, and the present Government came into office. Presumably the inquiry which was set up by my right hon. Friend reported, and, as the result of that report, the Development Commission remitted loans up to a total of £131,000, and the Public Works Loan Board up to £110,000. Most of that remission by the Public Works Loan Board was made to the Fraserburgh Harbour Authority.
The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, however, and everyone else knows perfectly well, that the writing off of these debts is a purely paper transaction, which means nothing from an immediate practical point of view either 250 to Fraserburgh, to Peterhead, or to the fishing industry as a whole. Everyone knew that sooner or later those debts would have to be written off, and everyone knows what the practice of any Government is with regard to these more or less subsidiary financial matters. Their practice is to be guided by the advice they receive from the officials at the Treasury, from the Public Works Loan Board, and from the officials of the Development Commission. The advice tendered to the present Government by the officials of the Public Works Loan Board was that this was a bad debt and they could get nothing out of it; and the right hon. Gentleman comes down to the House and goes to Fraserburgh and preens himself on having made a tremendous financial contribution to the herring fishery industry. Does he believe that any Government could ever get that debt from Fraserburgh harbour? Not this side of time could it ever have been done.
The right hon. Gentleman proceeded, in his speeches in the North-East of Scotland, to draw striking comparisons between the amount of money that he had managed to squeeze out of the Treasury for the benefit of the herring fishing industry, and the amount that ray right hon. Friend the Member for Pollok (Sir J. Gilmour) managed to squeeze out, and the comparisons were very unfavourable to my right hon. Friend; but, if the right hon. Gentleman is going to make a comparison, he ought at least to be fair as between the expenditure on the fishing industry by the two Governments. He never referred in any of his speeches to the financial benefits which have accrued to the harbours, and to the towns behind the harbours, as a result of the de-rating scheme which was put into operation, and which applied specially, as the right hon. Gentleman will remember, to harbours; nor did he make any reference to the sum of £20,000 per annum which was allocated specially by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer to the herring fishing industry for the purpose of reducing harbour dues, representing a capital value of no less than £500,000. I think that the right hon. Gentleman, if he was going to make these comparisons, might at least have made fair comparisons.
251 So far, however, as the Development Commission is concerned, and its activities at the present moment, I do think that the right hon. Gentleman is to be sincerely congratulated upon the expansion he has managed to induce that somewhat slow and recalcitrant body to make during the last few months. I think he has done well in inducing them to get a move on with harbour schemes right round the coast, and I hope he will continue that work and that it will be increased and become more successful; because it is productive work as opposed to unproductive work, and that is the kind of expenditure that we want at the present time. I have in mind at the moment particularly the considerable scheme for deepening of Port Henry dock and the construction of a new slipway at Peterhead. These schemes will not merely reduce the unemployment figures, but will ultimately result in a money return to the industry, to the benefit of the industry as a whole.
There is another point to which I would like to direct the special attention of the right hon. Gentleman. It is a purely local point, and I think he knows about it already. There are three towns about five or six miles south of Fraserburgh, namely, Cairnbulg, Inverallochy and St. Combs, which have no harbours worth speaking about at the present time, but which, if they were provided with harbours, could conduct a very successful line-fishing along a particularly lucrative stretch of sea near the coast. Unless they are provided with harbours, I am very apprehensive about the future of these villages—they can hardly be called towns—and I think that their population, which is a sturdy population, will probably drift into Fraserburgh and the villages will become desolate. That is not desirable from any point of view, and I think that a harbour should at any rate be constructed at once at Cairnbulg, which would make it possible to fish from that port. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to give special consideration to this matter.
When he went to speak to the herring fishermen in the North-east of Scotland the other day, he told them at the conclusion of his speech that rationalisation and reorganisation is a thing upon which 252 they ought to concentrate, and I quite agree with him. It is probably the most important thing for every industry in this country at the present time. But, as I said in my opening remarks, it has been carried out to a very great extent in the herring fishing industry; and, though Ear greater co-operaton should be possible between the fishermen, the salesmen and the curers than has been achieved at present, there is a great deal more now than there was two or three years ago; and I think the right hon. Gentleman may be fairly happy about that aspect of the problem as regards the herring fishing industry, because things are going very well.
The real fundamental difficulty at the present time is, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the difficulty of markets. There is not an adequate market at the present moment for the herrings that are caught, and that is the root cause of the financial difficulties and the distress which is so severe at the present time in the herring fishing industry. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman what is he doing, and what are the Government proposing to do, to help the industry to regain markets which have been lost and to obtain new markets? I do not see any hope for the future prosperity or expansion of the herring fishing industry, which is a vital industry for Scotland, unless those markets can be obtained.
The right hon. Gentleman knows that the principal export market before the War was that of Russia, and I want to ask him whether he is taking any administrative action in his Department to extend that market. Is he taking any action, for example, to try and bring the leaders of the herring fishing industry and the leaders of the Russian Trade Delegation into immediate touch? There is a vast field for administrative action here, and I believe that only administrative action is necessary in the early stages so far as the Russian market is concerned. I want the right hon. Gentleman to consider what the figures are at the present moment—the general trade figures between this country and Russia—because they are really of vital importance to the industry. Since 1924, the trade surpluses of the Soviet Government as against this country have amounted to £138,000,000, or 253 an annual average trade surplus of nearly £20,000,000. Taking the figures for 1930 alone, the imports which we took from Russia amounted to £34,250,000, while the exports which we sent to Russia amounted to £6,750,000, or, with re-exports, to £9,250,000. Therefore, last year alone, the Russians had a visible balance of trade in their favour and against this country of £25,000,000. I say it is an outrage that none of that surplus, or virtually none of it, should be spent in the direct purchase of herrings from this country. We take goods from them; why should not they take goods from us, and particularly goods of which they themselves stand in urgent need at the present time?
The right hon. Gentleman knows that under their five-year plan they have a great economic scale of imports and exports planned out for the next two or three years. Their fundamental objective is to make themselves self-supporting. They want to increase their exports by 165 per cent., and their imports by only 80 per cent. The proposal of the Soviet Government at the present moment is to export goods to the value of 7,000,000,000 roubles, and to import goods to the value of 6,180,000,000 roubles, by 1933, which will give them a favourable balance, they calculate, of 800,000,000 roubles, or £16,000,000 per years. That is a very menacing and serious proposal. We shall have to deal with these plans of the Soviet Government in this country sooner or later. If the right hon. Gentleman remains in his present position, I am afraid it will be later rather than sooner; but I think he might impress upon the Cabinet and the Government the necessity of considering this problem of how to deal with the enormous discrepancy between the amount that we send to Russia and the amount that they send to us, and how to deal with the general question of Russian trade. I do not see how it can be done except by direct Government action.
§ The CHAIRMAN
This argument might be applied to any industry. The hon. Member must keep to the question of the Fishery Board.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
I agree that it is rather general. I will come back to the particular aspect of it. There is no 254 commodity produced in the country which, the Russians desire more than herrings if some means can be arranged whereby they can be enabled or made to purchase them, and there is certainly no commodity that we produce for which the Russian market is more necessary. I am convinced that, if the Government would take drastic administrative action in the matter—that is all that would be required in the initial stages—the sale of herrings to Russia could be enormously increased. The industry itself is not strong enough to deal with the situation. You cannot ask a comparatively small industry to negotiate direct with a vast institution like the Soviet Government without the backing of the Government of the country, even if it is only a moral backing. The industry has received no direct help or support from the Administration in its efforts to dispose of herrings in the Russian market. It is not merely a question of the Russian market. At the last election, Labour candidates throughout the North-East of Scotland went about promising the fishermen that, if only a Labour Government were returned, prosperity would return to the herring fishing industry, because the whole European market would be so enormously increased. In view of that, we are entitled to ask what efforts, if any, the Government are making to extend the market for cured herrings in this country; in Europe; where it is capable of immense extension; in Russia; or in the British Empire, particularly Canada; and whether the attention of the Empire Marketing Board, for example, and the Imperial Economic Committee, and the various other bodies in London, has been called specifically to the herring industry, which might be so greatly assisted by administrative action of that kind.
I should like to say a word or two on the subject of research work generally. We have waited far too long for the report of the committee that has been inquiring into the herring industry. I agree absolutely with the hon. Baronet the Member for Orkney and Shetland that one of the most urgent necessities for the fishing industry during the next 10 years will be some form of financial assistance in order to replace craft. I do not think much can be done in the way of insuring or providing financial assistance for the purchase of gear, but some 255 scheme will have to be devised to help share fishermen to replace craft as they become obsolete. It is important that the Government and the Fishery Board should take a hand in carrying out experiments with new types of craft and, above all, with the Diesel engine. Can we be given any information as to experiments which have been carried out with regard to new types of craft, and is there any hope of a scheme to provide fishermen with financial facilities in order to replace the fleet as it becomes obsolete? I know it is the fashion for hon. Members opposite to deprecate the value of Government action in any direction. They do not think the State ought to interfere in the slightest with industry or trade in any possible way. They were Socialists before they got into office but they are now the greatest individualists who ever attempted to govern any country in the history of the world. They shudder with fright when the word "industry" or "trade" is mentioned. The one thing they have avoided is taking any sort of action to interfere with or to assist industry in any way. I have infinitely more Socialism in me than any Member of the present administration. I would urge upon them with all the force I can command the necessity of more vigorous action on the part of the State to assist industry, and to help the country to get back on to its feet. Unless you do something to assist industry to control markets, to control production and, above all, to control imports, which is the most important of the lot, not only the fishing industry but many other industries will be let down. Yon cannot afford to let down the fishing industry, even if you can afford to let down some of our manufacturing industries, because if you do let it down, you will destroy a class of men which it will he quite impossible to replace.
§ Mr. DUNCAN MILLAR
I should like to emphasise the opportunity which has been afforded to the right hon. Gentleman to give effect to the undertaking he gave that he was prepared to listen to any constructive proposal that might be put before him. He has had a number of exceedingly useful and practical proposals put before him in the course of the Debate, and we not only expect him to listen to them but to give effect to some of them. We have felt very much 256 restricted by the fact that the committee which is considering the whole question of fisheries has not yet reported. The situation is developing in rather a serious way. Instead of being a help to the industry, unless it reports soon, it will be holding up a good many useful reforms which ought to have been carried out before this stage. The Debate on the Moray Firth has been exceedingly useful in bringing out what seems to be the most important point of all. We are dealing here, not merely with a purely national interest as far as Scotland is concerned, but with the interests of the fisheries in the North Sea as a whole. The view that we maintain is not only calculated to advantage Scottish fishermen, but is going to be to the advantage of all those who take part in the fisheries in the North Sea. We are dealing with a problem which has been limited to the prevention of a mode of fishing which has been found to be destructive to one of the finest spawning grounds along our coast. The real solution of the problem is to get some understanding among those who are interested in the North Sea fisheries for the preservation of a particular spawning ground, a nursery of the fish, which is calculated to be seriously injured under present conditions. It is not quite fair to suggest that the Government which was responsible at the time for the action that was taken following the Mortensen v. Peters judgment did nothing. As a matter of fact, it prevented the landing of all fish caught within prohibited areas, which had a very material effect on trawling by foreigners, but subsequent investigation has shown that the difficulty has arisen afresh. I hope it will be considered from the standpoint of the necessity on scientific grounds of delimiting not only the Moray Firth but other portions of the North Sea which are known to be spawning beds or frequented by immature fish.
Reference has been made to the need for the re-equipment of our drifter fleet. I regret very much that the right hon. Gentleman treated the thing in such a general fashion. He said there was no doubt that there was a new type of drifter being evolved which was applicable to the needs of the moment. We should like to see the Government giving active assistance in developing the type. 257 The right hon. Gentleman has been examining some of them, and we should have expected him to give us his opinion, and to give us some assistance in getting the type to replace our rapidly deteriorating drifter fleet. This is the problem of the moment. We have a drifter fleet which, according to the 1930 report of the Fishery Board, overages 20½ years in age. Of the existing drifters, 42 per cent. may be said to be on their last sea legs. They are far too expensive for the ordinary fisherman to replace at the present cost. We have had one or two excellent types of new drifters built with crude oil engines which have been found very efficient within the limits within which they have worked. A steel drifter to-day costs £6,000, a figure which is far beyond the means of most fishermen. Wooden drifters can be obtained at considerably less cost, with increased comfort to those on board, increased stowage accommodation and excellent seaworthy qualities. I should like to make a special plea to the right hon. Gentleman that, having considered the advantage of this new type, and having seen the stage that we have reached, he would lend his whole encouragement to the building of these new drifters, which could be produced in our small seaports. It would be an advantage to boat builders all over Scotland. I have a note of the actual cost in fuel and the return to the fishermen from one of the new wooden drifters at Anstruther. The saving in fuel works out at a very high figure. Taking the current price of coal and oil at Fraserburgh, a steel drifter would have had a fuel bill of £27 13s. a week, whereas one of these wooden drifters, with crude oil engines of 160 h.p., would cost only £8 10s. a week. The owners of this type of drifter, by reason of the decreased cost and other advantages, would secure twice the return that they would have got from a steam drifter. It is very important to make it clear to the industry that we are able to construct a new type of drifter which will substantially meet requirements at a greatly decreased cost.
We have had within recent years a great deal of trouble in connection with the invasion of the Firth of Forth by trawlers and also in connection with seine net fishing. It is the general 258 belief of the line fishermen that there has been a very considerable destruction of immature fish by such trawling. I urge upon the Secretary of State for Scotland to consider very carefully, in connection with the question of trawling, the provision of additional assistance. I am aware that the recommendations of the Mackenzie Committee have been carried out to a limited extent with regard to cruisers, and that in the Estimate we are to have an additional hydroplane provided. But there is further need for policing our seas in order to secure sufficient protection against trawlers. In connection with seine net fishing, there is a very distinct and well-founded belief on the part of the line fishermen that substantial damage is being done to the immature fish. I think it is well worth considering, in dealing with those areas where seine netting has been permitted, whether after careful observation with regard to what takes place, steps should be taken with a view to restricting or closing those areas, where undoubtedly there may be evidence to show that fish have been depleted. I also note that there have been a number of convictions on the part of seine net fishermen, which shows that the practice must be more carefully watched on account of the injury which is being done to other parts of the Firth.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance upon the operation of the clauses of the Washington Convention relating to the hours of employment of workers in the cured herring trade? I do not propose to go into this question, but as this matter comes within the cognisance of the Fishery Board, I should like to ask whether he is prepared to give any indication that the provisions of the Convention will be carefully considered in their relation to the employment of herring gutters and workers, so that during the intensive curing season, when they have to cure fish which otherwise would deteriorate, provision should be made to enable the work to be carried out during continuous periods in the interests of the workers as well as in the interests of all engaged in the trade. I hope that he will be able to indicate that something will be done, and that following this Debate we shall be in a position in Scotland to feel that the efforts which we have 259 made, and which my right hon. Friend will desire to see crowned with success, will, in the days immediately following, show some direct progress. I am sure that the public and all the fishermen of Scotland expect something from a Debate of this character, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not disappoint them.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. Westwood)
I feel sure that the Committee will agree with me that the Debate initiated by the hon. and gallant Member for Banff (Major Wood), after the production of the Vote by my right hon. Friend, has been of a high standard throughout. I feel, therefore, that the result of the Debate will have some benefit and some good effect as far as the fishing industry in Scotland is concerned. I have been asked many questions, and if I do not reply to every one, it will not be because I do not wish to do so, but because it is really impossible to reply in a single speech, and in the time at my disposal, to all questions put by Members who have taken part in the Debate. [An HON. MEMBER: "You have plenty of time!"] I have another Vote yet. I will try to deal with as many of the important points as possible, but, before doing so, I would remind the Committee that from two parts of the Committee special reference has been made to the fact that the late Chancellor of the Exchequer promised £20,000 to £30,000. Promise and performance are entirely different things. He promised to provide £20,000 or £30,000 but I want to emphasise the fact that we not only provided that sum of money but—and I say this in reply to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson), who wanted to know what we had been doing, and in fact challenged us with having done nothing—we provided approximately £500,000. Since we came into office harbours have been dredged which could not provide accommodation for boats in Scotland, and it is now possible for boats to get into harbour that could not do so before. There are annual debt charges which have been wiped out as far as the fishing communities are concerned, and that means that they can get ahead with their industry in a far better way than 260 was possible prior to the Labour Government coming into office.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I wish to know whether the right hon. Gentleman is going on with the work on the East Coast of Ross-shire.
§ Mr. WESTWOOD
I am dealing now with the general question, and meeting the charge that we had nothing to show for our work. I have now the admission of the right hon. and learned Member for Ross and Cromarty that we have a good deal to show for the work in which we have been engaged during the last year. Therefore, I think it will be admitted that the statement that we have nothing to show was incorrect. I would remind the right hon. and learned Member for Ross and Cromarty that he could have taken a great interest in the fishing question from 1914 to 1922, as he was a Member, I think, of every Government from 1914 to 1922.
§ Mr. WESTWOOD
There were few results to show for the interest of the right hon. and learned Member as compared with the results which we can show for our work. Both the hon. and learned Member for South Aberdeen (Sir F. Thomson) and the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) asked what scientific investigations were being carried out by the Board and what was the nature of the work upon which they were engaged at the present time? The investigations of the Board continue to be directed mainly to the haddock and the herring, the two most important commercial species in Scottish waters. The investigations concerning the haddock cover the whole life cycle of the fish, and in carrying through those investigations we have been collecting samples at various stages, from the egg onwards, and it is now possible to determine the comparative productivity of the various types or kinds of haddock, the rate of growth, and when each year's group will become of importance to the commercial fisheries. A few years ago there was considerable alarm because of the decline in the haddock fisheries. As a result of investigations it was possible to determine fairly accurately when the fishing beds would again be filled with the fish necessary for the fishermen who 261 gather the harvest of the sea. It was possible to show that in the year 1926, in particular areas, there would be an adequate supply of haddock, and the prophecy turned out to be accurate. Investigations have been carried out on the same lines as previous years, and data have been collected, which will materially help the fishing industry in carrying on their very arduous calling.
§ Another question asked was, What are we doing in connection with investigations for the preservation of fish? That matter is not dealt with by the Fishery Board, but by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, whose work is being carried on at the present time at the station at Aberdeen where they are collecting valuable information which will be of very material benefit to the fishing industry. They are concentrating at the moment mainly upon the way and the manner in which they can convey fish in the respective vessels with a view to being able to get fish to market in the best marketable condition possible. Those experiments and that work will be carried on during the coming year with a view to collecting valuable information in order to help materially in a direction in which hon. Members in all sections of the Committee desire to see improvements, namely, to get fish to market in the best possible condition. A question was asked as to whether we have been carrying through any work in connection with exploration. That, again, comes under the English Vote. [Interruption.] As far as the provision of a new vessel is concerned, the vessel is now ready to carry through its work, and we hope that it will be successful in finding new fishing grounds and will be able to report to the Fishery Board for Scotland and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in England with a view to enabling our fishing population to know whether there are new fishing grounds to which they can go.
§ Sir F. THOMSON
The Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries stated last year that a plan of exploration in respect of the herring was going to be pursued in 1930 by the Scottish Fishery Board along with the Admiralty and the British Federation of Trawler Owners. Can the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland give the Committee any information with regard to that proposal?
§ Mr. WESTWOOD
At the moment I cannot give any information, but the hon. and learned Gentleman may rest assured that I will have the necessary inquiry made in order that the information may be supplied to him. The investigations in connection with the salmon fisheries comprise an inquiry into the causes and the possibility of preventing disease. Inquiries by marking and scale reading into the life history and habits of the salmon and sea trout are being carried through at the present time, and we await the result of those inquiries in the hope that they will also materially help the salmon fishing as far as Scotland is concerned. I believe that the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) raised the question of dredging, and I will point out as briefly as possible what we have been doing in connection with dredging since last year. As I have already pointed out there was great neglect of the harbours during the War because of the War, and one of the results was that our harbours fell into disrepair, and, in many instances, required a vast amount of dredging. The programme for the past year was framed with a view to meeting the most urgent requirements of the different harbours, so that improvements could be effected at as many harbours as possible in the course of the year. In all 61,215 cubic yards of material were removed from the harbours of Eyemouth, Port Seton, Buckhaven, Pittemweem, Anstruther, Crail, Fraserburgh, Macduff, Buckie, Tarbert (Loch Fyne) and Girvan. In so far as the harbour authorities were unable to bear the cost of the necessary dredging the work was undertaken by the Board free of charge to the authority and the amount of such work undertaken during the year is valued at approximately £7,054
The question raised by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Hamilton) has been engaging my personal attention during the past week. I have twice met deputations so far as the problem affects the Shetland fishermen, but, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen, this is a fishing problem applicable to the whole of Scotland. We have to realise that while the fishermen did fairly well as far as East Anglian fishing was concerned last year, the curers have been unable to dispose of the fieh which they cured last year, 263 and, consequently, there is a glut on the market at the present time. For many years there has been an earnest, honest and sincere endeavour on the part of many individuals in the fishing industry to organise the industry and attempt to get not only markets for their fish but to avoid glutting the market, as repeatedly happens unless there is organisation.
While there is no antagonism on the part of the Board or on the part of my right hon. Friend and myself, as far as the Shetland people are concerned, there is a belief that it is in the best interests of the whole fishing trade of Scotland that there should be effective organisation for the purpose, first, of keeping out of the market immature fish. Here I have to face the fact that as regards the Shetland curing position, we have to deal with a lighter cured herring and a smaller type of herring, and, apparently, it is claimed that it would not be in real competition with the Yarmouth herring. While we are not antagonistic to the Shetland people in any shape or form, we do want the Shetland curers to get into the Herring Association. They are not now members of the association. I met their representatives twice last week, and we have suggested to them that the best place to state their case is inside the organisation itself, where the pros and cons for a fifty-fifty basis next year can be considered. The hon. Member himself pointed out that it is impossible to do anything this year. The negotiations can take place inside the association, inside the industry, where the matter can be thrashed out and a decision can be come to which will be not merely in the best interests of Shetland but in the interests of the herring fishing throughout Scotland.
I do not want to touch on the very thorny problem which was dealt with so ably by the Lord Advocate. The problem of the Moray Firth has been fully discussed this evening, but I would remind the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) that if there had been a little more consideration in the year 1906–7, when he was a member of a Liberal Administration, there might have been less need to-day for very serious consideration of the problem. I do not 264 know that it is a crime to "give due consideration" to this matter. The right hon. Member for Darwen counted up the times that the Scottish Office had "given due consideration" to this question. I would prefer to be charged with having given due consideration 2,000 times to the different subjects that come up than do something rashly which might land us into the trouble in which we find ourselves to-day, not as the result of the action of the Labour Government, but as the result of the action of the Foreign Secretary of a Liberal Administration in the year 1906. I have dealt, I will not say exhaustively, with the points that have been raised, and I have tried to answer the main questions that have been put. Seeing that we have another Vote to get, I hope that it will be possible now, without cutting out anyone from this Debate, to pass the Vote and let us get on to the Agricultural Vote.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I will not detain the Committee long, because there is an understanding that another Vote is to be taken immediately this Vote has been dealt with. I have, however, sufficient-excuse for intervening in a Scottish Debate. In the first place, the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), an English Member, has intervened and, secondly, the constituency which I have the honour to represent has been mentioned so often in the Debate, and the men from that particular area have been described as all sorts of people, that I think I have a right to put in a few words in their defence. The hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) described the men of Grimsby and Hull as pirates. I repudiate that statement absolutely, and I shall certainly have something to say to my hon. and learned Friend in another place later this evening. It is sufficient for me to say—because if I went into the question I might be ruled out of order—that I repudiate his statement entirely. I offer my congratulations to the Secretary of State for Scotland on the fact that he has followed the excellent example set by his predecessor of doing something to assist the fishermen of Scotland. I also congratulate the hon. Member for South Aberdeen (Sir F. Thomson) on the excellent points which he put forward, which have been so ably answered by the Under-Secretary of State. He elicited 265 from the Under-Secretary much valuable information that will be useful to all fishermen.
My main object in addressing the Committee is to deal with the question of the Moray Firth. I am sorry that the Under-Secretary did not refer to it at greater length. He said that the Lord Advocate had given the legal position, but there is something far beyond the legal position, and the Committee ought to know the real facts. We always hear a lot about the Moray Firth question just before a General Election. The raising of the question to-day is a sure sign that we are on the eve of a General Election. If hon. Members will look at the OFFICIAL REPORT for years past they will find that certain hon. Members for Scottish constituencies always raise this question just before a General Election comes along. It is merely propaganda, and nothing else.
When the Act was brought into being which excluded British fishermen from the Moray Firth, it was nothing but a bit of political jobbery. It may be said that it was a Conservative Government that did it, but that makes no difference to me. That is what it was—a bit of political jobbery. It was done to placate a certain section. It is impossible in international law to take a sheet of water 70 miles across and 40 miles deep and to declare it territorial water. You may have 50 Scottish judges sitting on the question, let alone 13, but you cannot alter international law in the matter. When the enactment was put into force the British fishermen resented it very much, and when foreign governments established the right for their nationals to fish there some of our people changed their vessels over to foreign flags, took a foreign skipper aboard and went into the Moray Firth to fish. It is not a question of preferential treatment between the Britisher and the foreigner. The question at issue is international law, and on behalf of the great trawling industry I tell the Secretary of State for Scotland that in dealing with this matter we shall look to him to defend the rights of English and Scottish trawler men throughout the whole of the fishing waters. If, simply to placate the Scottish fishermen, he agrees to anything that will mean that we shall not be able to preserve our right to fish up to within 266 three miles of the coast of Iceland, Norway or Russia, we shall regard it as a gross injustice to the trawlers. Over 85 per cent. of the white fish that is landed in this country is landed from the trawlers.
I hope that the Government are not going to destroy or to injure very severely an important industry simply to placate a few people who feel that they have a grievance as regards this particular water. In dealing with the question of the infringement of territorial water limits, I am not going to defend either my own people or the fishermen from any other port. They must respect the law of the country in regard to this matter. Hon. Members will never hear me either in this House or outside it defending the man who deliberately poaches, but when it comes to a question of fishing in a stretch of water 70 miles wide and 40 miles deep, I maintain that you cannot talk about that as being territorial water. [HON. MEMBERS: "Forty miles wide!"] Call it 40 miles wide if you like, but it is the same thing in regard to this question.
The hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire referred to the question of dyed kippers. As these little things have a habit of getting into the newspapers, because they are a little sensational, the country may be led to believe that the dyed kippers which are sent out are unfit for human consumption. The inventor of the process was a Scotsman and he started operations in Scotland. My hon. and learned Friend tried to tell the Committee that it was only South of the Tweed where this operation was carried on. Let me reassure the people that the dye that is used is a vegetable dye, and is harmless. It does not injure in any way the digestion of the people who eat the kippers. I do not suggest that the quality of that kind of kipper is anything to compare with the kipper that has been smoked in oak dust, but I do say that you can get the very best quality kippers from Grimsby. If you want the dyed kippers to which the hon. and learned Member has referred, you will have to go to Scotland.
I would urge upon the Secretary of State for Scotland the necessity of consulting the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries before he makes any move in regard to this matter. I am satisfied that he knows sufficient about the question of international territorial waters 267 to realise that once you start trying to gain an advantage for one side you are going to give a good deal away on the other. I can assure my right hon. Friend that if any attempt is to be made on his part to do anything in regard to a particular area, it will have to be done in such a way that our interests are not prejudiced so far as concerns other countries which are connected with the Fisheries Convention. We ask—and it is all that we ask—that we shall maintain the three-mile limit which has been the international law for many years, and which, I hope, will remain so for many years to come.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.