HC Deb 24 July 1934 vol 292 cc1738-44

Amendments made: In page 3, line 42. leave out "so."

In line 43, after "taken," insert "and in such manner."—[Mr. Elliot.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

7.43 p.m.


There are two questions I desire to raise on this Clause. The first one deals with Sub-section (1) which says: There shall be attached to every licence under this Act authorising the use of a ship for taking whales a condition that the remuneration of the gunners and crew of the ship must, so far as it is calculated by reference to the results of their work, be so calculated by reference to the size, species, oil-yield and value of the whales taken as to exclude remuneration in respect of any whale which is of less than such length as may be prescribed for the purposes of this section, or the taking of which is prohibited by this Act. I want to ask what sort of protection there is for crews who are compelled to work under circumstances of payment of this sort and who may make some mistake in calculating whether a whale is 60 feet in length or 59 feet 11 inches. It is rather difficult to judge the length of a whale when it is swimming in the water, but when they have done their work, and it is ascertained to be 59 feet 11 inches in length, it thereupon becomes illegal to pay them any money in respect of that whale. What protection is there for a crew under such circumstances? I understand the object of the Clause, that it is undesirable to encourage gunners to kill whales which are too small, but there must be many cases where they have to obey the orders of the officers in charge and may quite un- wittingly kill a whale which is just of the wrong size. A fine no doubt is then imposed on the master of the ship for killing that whale, but that does not seem to be a good reason for taking away the entire wages of the entire crew of the ship so far as that particular kill is concerned. I suggest that some protection should be put into the Bill, that if they do so contrary to instructions or without the knowledge of the master, or something of that sort. Primarily the responsibility for whales which are killed is not upon the crew, it may to some extent fall upon the gunner but it cannot be the responsibility of the crew, and I suggest that these regulations are extremely hard on the crew and may mean that in certain circumstances they might be done out of their wages without any justification at all. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to look into that matter and see if some words cannot be inserted to give some protection to the crew.

The second point arises in Sub-section (4) which says: There may be attached to any licence under this Act such conditions (if any), in addition to the conditions required by the foregoing provisions of this section, as appear to the licensing authority to be necessary or expedient for the purpose of preventing, so far as practicable,—

  1. (a) any wastage of whales or whale products; or
  2. (b) the taking of whales during certain seasons; "
I understand that one of the main reasons for this convention is the slaughter of immature whales in the Antarctic and the wastage of large portions of these whales which are thrown overboard and allowed to rot in the sea. There has been a voluntary restriction amongst some whale catchers not to operate in the areas around. the Falkland Islands before the 1st December, but certain firms have not come into this voluntary restriction. As a result there is a tremendous wastage going on. Apparently, it is between the middle of October and the middle of December that the whale puts on the greatest amount of fat, feeding on the shrimps in the Antarctic waters, that between these months on an average a whale puts on four tons of oil. That oil will increase progressively up to March. A number of the firms concerned with catching whales, particularly the Norwegians, have con- sidered the matter, and the Norwegians have passed. legislation to prohibit the taking of whales in these waters before 1st December. There is a good deal of anxiety in the industry as to whether the Government intend, under this Clause, to make that prohibition effective this year, so that there shall not be that tremendous wastage which is going on now, with very considerable danger of killing off altogether the whales in the Antarctic.

As regards the wastage of whales and whale products, a certain number of people, I understand, are riot making any use at all of the whale meat. They are throwing it overboard, while the more up-to-date factories turn it into pig and cattle food. I want to know whether the right hon. Gentleman is going to make it compulsory, in connection with these licences, that this whale meat should be utilised, again in order to avoid the great wastage which is taking place. Seeing that the Norwegians have acted in both these matters by legislation which will be operative this year, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether he proposes also to operate it by attaching conditions to his licences this year, immediately the licences are issued, so that the regulations can become effective at the same time as the Norwegian regulations, and so bring all the fishers into line on these two matters?

7.47 p.m.


As regards the hon. and learned Member's first point, on the question of remuneration, he will agree that my difficulty in inserting any words is that the words in the Bill are the words of the Convention. It is a little difficult to vary a Convention which has been drawn up on behalf of so many States. The wording of the Clause has the additional advantage that in practice it has been found by Norway actually to work. This wording has been decided upon as the most convenient way of dealing with what we all desire to see, namely, that everyone on the boat should feel that he has a responsibility for seeing that immature whales are not killed. I can well understand my hon. and learned Friend's contention that it must be very difficult, when a great whale is swimming in the sea, to determine whether it is 59 feet 6 inches or 60 feet long. All one can say is that no doubt those who are administering these matters will administer them reasonably. I think we must trust to their common sense not to demand that some one should go out with a tape measure to measure a rorqual or right whale before proceeding to harpoon it. This might bring great hardship on the crew, because the crew might be deprived of all their remuneration. I am advised that in every case, except that of the gunner who has a direct responsibility here, there is a basic wage paid apart from the payment that is based on the catch. For these three reasons I do not think it will be possible now to insert further words. This is, of course, admittedly experimental in character, and no doubt further legislation can be brought forward and will have to be brought forward. We are trying this out for the first time. If it works unsatisfactorily I shall be ready to consider the point that has been brought forward. The Convention has been a long time in the pigeon-holes of the Government here, and I would much prefer to put it into force as it was drafted by the various nations.


Will the right hon. Gentleman say that he will watch this matter, particularly from the point of view of the men, and see how it operates?


I will very readily give that undertaking. The next point of the hon. and learned Member was one of great substance. He asked, "When is this Act to operate?" It is true that there are discussions going on at the present time between the various companies which operate from Great Britain, and that several of these companies are perfectly willing that the Act should be brought into full force by a date this autumn, the date of 1st December. I am unwilling to give an undertaking now as to what regulations will finally be made. Conversations have gone on for some time and a long discussion went on to-day with a deputation, when the hon. Member for Middleton (Sir N. Sandeman) was present. Although that discussion ended in a seeming deadlock, I am hopeful that the deadlock may not be so complete as it would appear, and that a modus vivendi may be found. I attach great importance to bringing the Act into operation at an early date, but I should not like it to operate unfairly or harshly if a genuine grievance is shown to exist.

7.52 p.m.


This subject does not interest my constituents in the very least, and if I did not know something about the whaling industry I would not intervene in the Debate. What the Minister says is perfectly true. We had a long discussion at the Board of Fisheries this morning, and I think I am safe in saying that all the British companies, with the exception of perhaps one, and another which is sailing from South Africa, were in entire agreement and were ready to fix the dates either from 1st December to the end of March, or from 15th November to the middle of March. The South African company was not prepared to bind itself; the one company which we know not to be the most economical of the whale-oil producers held out, and I understand that their reason is that they have entered into contracts with tankers, with seamen and with stores. But, as was pointed out by someone who has been often on these expeditions to the Antarctic, so far as the seamen are concerned their wages begin when the sailing starts, and if the sailing is put off for a fortnight they do not get wages. So far as the stores are concerned I am informed that any decent company which is doing a large trade with store suppliers can always get some sort of arrangement by which stores are cancelled and taken on next year; and that the only vital point seemed to be the tanker, which was not really of very great importance—it amounted to several hundred pounds probably, perhaps £1,000, but I do not believe it was any more than that. That, of course, is a mere fleabite, so far as the expenses of a whaling expedition are concerned.

All the companies assembled there agreed that regulations must be brought in to curtail the time of the whaling season. What will happen if we do not make the regulations this year will be that a great many of these immature whales will be killed in October and the first half of November. I am informed that there is a difference of 30 to 40 per cent. in the number of barrels taken out of a whale at the beginning of October com- pared with the middle of November and the end of November, and in January the figure goes up. We must preserve the lives of these whales if we are to keep the industry going at all. By killing the whales a little later we shall get the same amount of oil from considerably fewer whales. I am also afraid that if we do not agree to put on these restrictions the Norwegians will take off the restrictions curtailing the whaling. In that case, of course, there will be a wholesale slaughter of whales again. I am certain that if the Minister will only put his mind to it there need be no possible doubt. It may be a little hardship to one firm. In past years that one firm gained great advantages by getting a great many whales and getting the best part of the whales to boil down. I have no pity for it if in one year it may suffer a little.

The argument is raised that this matter is being sprung on us suddenly. We know how the Chancellor of the Exchequer often says that he cannot tell what is going to happen in his next Budget. But this subject has been discussed for several years and it is not sprung on us at a moment's notice. We have known that this legislation was to be brought in. It was agreed three years ago, at the League of Nations, that this Convention would be brought in. It is of paramount importance to the whaling industry and the conserving of the whales that the Minister should now issue orders that these regulations are to begin, so that there will be some sort of chance that the whales will not be slaughtered too quickly. In the past few years the Norwegians and most British ships by agreement have had a quota. One firm which is now hanging up everything has gone out to whale and would not come to any agreement. We could not help that. But now one of the Norwegian firms is also going out to whale without restrictions and that is the reason why the Norwegians have brought in this regulation. Of course, if we are not going to agree we are all going out to whale.

7.58 p.m.


I do not think the Minister has dealt very satisfactorily with this question. Surely he is not going to allow a single firm to hold up the operation of this international agreement? The Norwegians have acted. I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Middleton (Sir N. Stewart Sandeman) is quite accurate in what he has said, that the bulk of the English firms are prepared to operate on exactly the same terms as the Norwegians. Apparently, there is one recalcitrant firm which is standing out, I suppose for its own purposes. I do not know its name, but I hope that the Minister is not going to allow that firm to spoil the operation of this Convention and agreement. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us, when the Report stage comes. that he is prepared definitely to see that the dates are fixed this year, whether at the middle of November or the beginning of December, and that the English fishers must conform to those dates.

8.0 p.m.


I am not surprised that my hon. and learned Friend should desire to see that no single firm holds up the operation of the Act and, secondly. that we should keep faith with the Norwegian Government. I think the conversations are proceeding not unsatisfactorily but, of course, this legislation does not apply to every country as yet, and it would be possible, if we declared arbitrarily that such-and-such a date was to be enforced without persuasion being tried, for a firm to transfer its flag to the Dominion of New Zealand, and we should have no further control over it. In this matter, as in other matters, I think that argument, persuasion and discussion will bring us more quickly to our goal. I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman will not press me more on this occasion, and that it will be possible to proceed with the other stages to-night, because at this point of the Session it is important to get the Bill, without which there would be no power to impose any regulations at all.