HL Deb 08 March 1878 vol 238 cc951-3

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee, read.


said, that before the House resolved itself into Committee, he wished to call attention to a misapprehension which appeared to exist in Germany in regard to the purport and intent of the Bill. Their Lordships might have noticed certain articles in The North German Gazette, which were reproduced in The Times of March 2, and The Morning Post of March 7, the writer of which assumed— That the English Government intends to claim jurisdiction over foreign vessels merely passing along the coast of England, and consequently over all those using that international waterway of commerce, the Straits of Dover. He certainly understood from the observations which fell from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, and also from the terms of the Bill itself, that it was not contemplated to advance or enforce any new claim in respect of the territorial waters washing the coasts of Her Majesty's Dominions. The object of the Bill, as he understood, was to remove the difficulties entertained by a majority of the Judges in regard to the manner in which jurisdiction might be exercised over the open seas adjacent to the coasts of Her Majesty's Dominions. The learned Judges, as he understood, did not express any doubt as to the existence of rightful jurisdiction on the part of Her Majesty within that distance of the coast of Her Majesty's Dominions—namely, three miles—which had always been accepted and recognized by the jurists of all countries as being within the territorial domain of the Sovereign of the adjacent coast—but merely doubted the Court and form of procedure by which such jurisdiction could be enforced. It might not be matter of surprise that the intricacies and technicalities of British law and procedure should not be correctly apprehended in foreign countries; but, as it would seem desirable that any misapprehension in this respect should be authoritatively removed, he ventured to submit to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, and perhaps even to other noble and learned Lords in the House, whether it might not be expedient, by some explicit statement as to the intent and purport of the Bill, to dispel the doubt which would seem to be entertained abroad with respect to them.


My Lords, I am not myself aware of any doubt of importance being entertained as to the scope and object of the Bill. The noble Lord correctly understands what is its real object. It does not in any way go beyond what is the clear and well-established rule of law on the subject—a rule of law supported by the authority of the international writers and recognized by the maritime nations. When presenting the Bill I took the liberty of alluding to a recent judgment of one of our Courts, with the view of showing what that rule is; and the noble Lord is entirely right in thinking that the object of the Bill is to cure a defect discovered to exist in our own law. The Bill is not one which proposes to alter the international law, but one which makes provision for applying the machinery of our own municipal law so as to make it work in harmony with the international law. The noble Lord has referred to remarks on the subject made in a German paper. Now, my Lords, there can be no doubt as to what is the view of Germany, for I hold in my hand a copy of the German instructions issued to the commander of a gunboat stationed in the North Sea for the protection of the fisheries. This, my Lords, is an extract from those instructions— That tract of the sea which extends to a distance of three sea miles from the extremest limit which the ebb leaves dry of the German North Sea coast, of the German islands or flats lying before it, as well as those bays and incurvations of the coast which are ten sea miles or less in breadth, reckoned from the extremest points of the land and the flats, must be considered as under the territorial sovereignty of the North German Confederation. So far as this territorial sovereignty extends, in accordance herewith, fishing is allowed exclusively to fishermen of German nationality, and to fishing boats be- longing to North German subjects. Fishing within the aforesaid range is, therefore, forbidden to foreign fishing boats under any circumstances, neither must they resort there at all, unless it be that the wind, the current, seafaring wants, or some other cause entirely independent of the commander's will, should lead to the transgression of the limits, or that the boat is on its direct way to a port where its cargo is to be sold. Again, my Lords, those instructions state— Foreign fishing boats which pass within the limits of territorial sovereignty described in No. 1 of their own free will, and not being on their direct way to a port for the sale of fish, are to be turned back. If the fishermen therein resist, or if they fish within the aforesaid territorial limits, they may be arrested and delivered over for judgment to the nearest local authority that is competent. My Lords, I do not think I need go further with the view of showing that the Bill does not go beyond a limit recognized by the German Government.

House in Committee accordingly.

Amendment made: The Report thereof to be received on Tuesday next; and Bill to he printed as amended. (No. 38.)