HC Deb 07 April 1938 vol 334 cc649-53

9.10 p.m.

Mr. W. S. Morrison

I beg to move, in page 40, line to, at the end, to insert: (2) If the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Secretary of State for Scotland by order so direct, no person shall, in Great Britain, land, sell, expose or offer for sale, or have in his possession for the purpose of sale, any lobster which is carrying any spawn attached to the tail or some other exterior part of the lobster, or which is in such a condition as to show that, at the time when it was taken, it was carrying spawn so attached. This is a matter on which I ought to say a few words. The intention of the Amendment is to enable the Minister to take measures to protect the stock of lobsters by preventing the destruction of spawn. The protection of the lobster fishing industry is particularly important from the point of view of the inshore fishermen. While we do not propose to use this power unless there is a depletion of stocks in certain areas, we think it ought to be possessed by the Minister. Curiously enough, a similar power already exists in relation to crabs under Section 8 of the Fisheries (Oysters, Crabs and Lobsters) Act, 1877, but we think that what is good for crabs is also good for lobsters, and that this power should be possessed by the Minister.

9.12 p.m.

Mr. Petherick

I should be obliged if you would inform me, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether I may discuss the Amendment to the Amendment on the Paper in my name in connection with the Minister's Amendment.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Captain Bourne)

Mr. Speaker has not selected the Amendment to the Amendment. I think the hon. Member might be in order in asking a question on the Minister's Amendment.

Mr. Petherick

When I first saw the Amendment, I had certain objections to it for a technical reason to which I will refer later in my remarks. The Amendment came to my notice only two days ago, and as I was rather doubtful about it, I took the precaution of consulting local representatives of the fishing industry in Cornwall about it. I got a cri de Coeur from them in relation to the Amendment. They informed me that the Cornwall Sea Fishery Committee some time ago sent a report to my right hon. Friend objecting very strongly to any proposal, such as is contained in this Amendment, for prohibiting the taking of what are called in Cornwall berried lobsters, that is to say, lobsters with eggs spawn attached to them. The local fishermen—and I believe fishermen in other parts of the country—very much object to any provision such as this one being introduced into the Bill unless some form of compensation is given. Frankly, I do not see how it is possible to compensate fishermen for lobsters which are thrown back into the sea and not landed; but I would point out to my right hon. Friend that at many small ports round the coast, some of the fishermen live almost exclusively on crabbing and catching lobsters.

I quite see that there is some force in the. Minister's contention that the stock would be conserved by so doing, but in Cornwall, if the lobsters which had eggs attached to them were thrown back into the sea, it would merely mean making a present to the French crabbers. There are about 100 French ships which fish for crabs and lobsters off the coast of Cornwall for a good part of the year. It would be of no use the Cornish fishermen being obliged to throw the berried lobsters back into the sea if the French then caught them, for obviously the stock would not then be conserved. As a matter of fact, on the North coast of Cornwall particularly, there is already a certain close season. There is no legal close season, but there is one in practice because during the winter months when the weather is too bad for them to go out for crabs or lobsters the fishermen are engaged in catching herring and pilchards. As a result, the rocks where the lobsters abound are left alone and the lobsters have a chance to breed.

In the small coves during most of the winter months the fishermen go out after bass and mullet but in the very small ports a good many of the men for ten months of the year live almost entirely by the catching of crabs and lobsters. It would be hard on these men if they were forced to throw these berried lobsters back into the sea. It would practically mean starvation for some of them. The French tried to impose a similar condition some years ago but were obliged to abandon it. My right hon. Friend may say that it has been tried successfully in Northumberland where it resulted in an increase in the catch and that is true, but off the Northumberland coast there are no French crabbers. It is too far for them to go.

The Amendment itself, apart from its object, seems to be rather peculiar. I can understand that it has a rugged grandeur of its own, but from the point of view of drafting it is by no means perfect. My right hon. Friend has a reputation as a wit, and I think he may have set at defiance his more staid advisers and drafted this Amendment himself, because the grammar seems somewhat odd. It says: If the Minister so directs, no person shall in Great Britain, land, sell, offer for sale, or have in his possession for the purpose of sale, any lobster which is carrying any spawn attached to the tail or some other exterior part of the lobster, or which is in such a condition as to show that, at the time when it was taken, it was carrying spawn so attached. Hon. Members will notice the repetition of the word "lobster" in order that there shall be no possible misconception about the fact that it is the tail of the lobster to which reference is made and not the tail of the fisherman. It seems to be an example of that unconscious humour which creeps into Acts of Parliament from time to time. It is not even accurate because it reads like this: any lobster which is carrying any spawn attached to the tail or some other exterior part of the lobster. When I was a small boy I read a peculiarly nauseous book called "Eyes and No Eyes." It concerned two little boys one of whom was very observant, while the other was not. I always had an uncomfortable suspicion that I was like the unobservant one, but when I saw this Amendment I thought there was something wrong about it, because, having been brought up by the sea, I had noticed that the spawn of lobsters are not attached to the tail but to the actual body of the lobster. I know that "tail" is the ordinary table expression for that part of the lobster other than the claws which one eats, but I took the trouble to look up authorities in order to find out where the eggs are attached to the lobster and this is what I find: Those (the eggs) of the Decapoda when extruded are coated with a viscous secretion which thickens into threads, and causes the eggs to adhere to each other and to the fine hairs with which the swimmerets of the abdomen of the lobster and the female crab are fringed. Here they are retained securely until the period of hatching has arrived, when the brood in most cases is dispersed. Although my right hon. Friend with his entertaining humour and his advisers are wrong scientifically, I am glad at any rate that they have referred to it as the "tail" of the lobster which is a fairly common though erroneous expression and that they did not leave the definition to that other department of the Ministry which deals with the rustic and bucolic side of its work, in which case it would doubtless have been referred to as the "brush." Irrespective of the principle of this Amendment which I contend is bad as far as the coastal fishermen are concerned, I submit that its grammar is faulty, its intention inaccurately expressed and its result ridiculous. Each of the 615 Members of this House is responsible in some small way for the condition in which a Bill leaves this House and goes to another place. I, for one, absolve myself of any responsibility for the almost irreparable breach which this Clause, as amended, may make in the decorum of their Lordships in another place. I hope my right hon. Friend will send along with the Bill, a chit of apology and explanation to their Lordships for any damage that it may cause in that respect.

9.22 p.m.

Mr. W. S. Morrison

On the substance of the Amendment, I would say that I am aware that on the coast of Cornwall matters are arranged as my hon. Friend has described and that there is a close season which operates beneficially, as far as the stock of lobsters is concerned. But that is not true of the whole country. The Amendment does not seek to apply this prohibition now, but merely to arm the Minister with this power so that if, in any district, it should be found to be in the interests of the fishermen to do so, the prohibition could be enforced. It will be enforced only if circumstances arise in which the slaying of these particular lobsters causes a decline in a stock which is such an important element in the lives of the fishermen. I was interested in what my hon. Friend said about a French effort in this direction in the past. Under this Amendment, even if the French crabbers did take these lobsters, they could not land them here, and with this power at hand it might be possible to come to some mutual arrangement with the French if the stock became dangerously low.

In regard to the language of the Amendment, I assure my hon. Friend that these words are not the result of any whimsical ebullience on my part. They have been borrowed from that grand old Statute to which I have already referred, namely, the Fisheries (Oysters, Crabs and Lobsters) Act of 1877. That takes us back to the spacious days when Parliament had more opportunity of making itself acquainted with the domestic habits of the common lobster than it is our fortune to enjoy to-day. These words are taken straight out of that Act. They are sanctified by usage. They have a venerable air of antiquity. They have been used with success in relation to crabs in the past, and I have no doubt that the wisdom of our ancestors has devised a formula in this respect which is equally applicable to lobsters.

The point about the exterior part and the tail, to which my hon. Friend drew attention, is that, whatever might be the scientific view of the exact locus on the carapace of the lobster to which the spawn actually adheres, it will he caught by the words, "or in some other exterior part," and the phrase is sufficiently wide for that purpose. The point about it is the exterior part, because the spawn can exist inside as well as outside the lobster. It would be wrong for a man who had no idea that a lobster contained spawn, and it was found that spawn was adhering to the inside, to be held to be committing an offence. For that reason I again commend the words of the Amendment. I assure my hon. Friend that they are sanctified by use and they will be found appropriate to the purpose.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 40, line 11, leave out "the preceding Subsection" and insert "either of the two preceding Sub-sections."—[Mr. W. S. Morrison.]