HL Deb 12 June 1883 vol 280 cc319-24

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said: The object of this Bill, which is of importance, is to give effect—so far as statutory enactment is necessary—to the provisions of an International Convention, which has been agreed upon between this country, Belgium, Denmark, France, North Germany, and the Netherlands, for the proper regulation of the Police of the Fisheries in the North Sea, outside the territorial waters. The great increase during the last 20 years of the sea-fishing industry in this and other countries—especially as regards the method of fishing known as trawling—has caused fishermen to pursue their operations more and more at a distance from the shores of their respective countries. In consequence, the fishermen of countries bordering on the North Sea have been meeting one another with increasing frequency on the favourite fishing grounds in the seas between England, and Belgium, and Holland, and off the Dogger Bank. The constant encounter of fishermen belonging to various nationalities—who often could not understand each others' language, and who carried on their fishery in different ways, and with different implements—gave rise to misunderstandings, disputes, and the infliction of injuries by one class of fishermen upon those of another. This was especially the case where drift-net fishing and trawling were carried on upon the same grounds. A long trail of drift-nets—extending, perhaps, for a length of two miles or more, and floating near the surface of the water—may be easily damaged, and, to a great extent, detroyed, by a trawler sailing or steaming into them. On the other hand, the trawlers' operations will be arrested if his gear becomes entangled in the drifters' nets. This state of things was aggravated by the use, by some trawlers, of an instrument commonly called the "devil," which is an instrument with a shank and sharpened flukes, hung over-beard, and intended for the sole use of cutting fishing nets which the beat comes across at sea, and which impedes its progress. Of late years, it was represented by the British drifters that the treatment which they met with at the hands of foreign trawlers had become intolerable, and it transpired that the misunderstandings between foreign fishermen and our own were giving rise to conflicts, in which the stones, carried by the beats as ballast, were used as missiles, and firearms were, on occasions, resorted to. In the year 1880 Her Majesty's Government appointed a Special Commissioner to inquire into the matter, and an investigation was made at several of the fishing ports into the outrages committed by foreign and British fishermen. In the following year, the Report of this inquiry was published, which left no room for doubt that a number of illegal acts had been committed during recent years, to the prejudice of British fishermen. Complaints as to the lawlessness of British fishermen bad also been made from time to time, to Her Majesty's Government by the Governments of other countries. This Report was communicated by the Foreign Office to the foreign Governments concerned, with an invitation to co-operate, by means of a Conference or otherwise, with a view of devising remedial measures. In consequence of this invitation an International Conference, to which all the Powers whose coasts bordered on the North Sea sent Representatives, assembled at the Hague during October, 1881, with the object of bringing about an International agreement. The deliberations of that Conference resulted in a unanimous recommendation of a draft Convention for regulating the police of the fisheries in the North Sea. This draft was, with slight modifications, accepted by all the countries concerned, except Norway and Sweden; and the Convention was signed at the Hague in May of last year by the Plenipotentiaries of Great Britain, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, and the Netherlands. The Convention in question is scheduled to the present Bill. It provides simple and intelligible rules as regards the marking fishing vessels, with a view to easy identification, and as regards the measures to be observed by fishermen in order to avoid doing injury to each other, and it absolutely prohibits the use of any such instrument as the so-called "devil." It further contemplates the imposition of penalties for infractions of these rules, and provides for the superintendence of the fisheries by cruisers of the countries parties to the arrangement. By Article 35 of the Convention the high contracting parties agreed to propose to their respective Legislatures the measures necessary for insuring the execution of the Convention by imposing penalties and otherwise, and it is in fulfilment of this engagement that the Bill is now introduced by Her Majesty's Government. The Bill, if passed, would take effect from a day to be fixed for the purpose after the ratifications of the Convention have been exchanged. The provisions of the Convention are so far obviously for the benefit of the fishing industry at large that it seems unnecessary to offer any detailed observations upon them; but it may be mentioned that the rules are, in many respects, similar to rules which, for many years past, have been adopted in pursuance of Treaty arrangements between this country and France with regard chiefly to fisheries in the English Channel. The provisions of the present Bill are, in the main, similar to those provisions of the Sea Fisheries Act, 1868, by which it was sought to give effect to the French Fisheries Convention of 1867. There exists another source of complaint, which it was hoped would have been dealt with under the Convention—namely, the regulation of the floating grog-shops. These beats were described by the Commissioners, in 1880, as being "Coopers," "bumboats," or "floating grog-shops," of the worst possible description, uncontrolled and unregulated by any superior power or force whatsoever, and fruitful sources of evil, including theft, gross breaches of trust, assault, and occasionally even violent deaths. Unfortunately, it was found that the fiscal laws and regulations of the various countries prevented the matter being embodied in the Convention. A Protocol was, however, entered into by all the Delegates for the purpose of preparing another Convention for this object; and it is hoped that an International understanding may be arrived at for preventing these abuses, as well as the barter of fish, nets, &., which result from them. There is every reason to hope that the firm and judicious enforcement of the North Sea Convention will insure the peaceful conduct of fishery operations, and favourably affect the development of the fisheries in that sea.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a." —(The Lord Sudeley.)


said, he did not rise to offer any opposition to the second reading of the Bill, although he thought it had been pressed forward with undue haste. It was a Bill of great importance; it dealt with property; it imposed penalties of a stringent character, some of them being as high as £50; and infractions of its provisions were even to be visited with imprisonment, with or without hard labour. The Bill was presented on the 8th instant, and it was only delivered that morning, so that those who were interested in the subject had had no time to see what the Bill proposed to do. The 9th clause said that— There shall not be manufactured or sold or exposed for sale at any place within the British Islands, any unlawful instrument within the meaning of this Act; but he could not find any definition of an unlawful instrument in the Bill. There were other provisions of a stringent character. One of them was that the use of any instrument for destroying nets was forbidden. It might, however, be desirable to have such an instrument exposed for sale. He did not propose to oppose the second reading; but he protested against a measure of this sort being delivered to noble Lords in the morning and read a second time on the same day. It would have been more in accordance with the usual practice if a longer period had been allowed to elapse before the second reading was taken. He wished to press on the Government the desirability of not taking the Committee stage for some time, so that those who were interested in the subject might look into the Bill and see how it affected the various interests in this country.


said, that many great evils had been found to exist in connection with sea fisheries, for which a remedy was sought to be found in an International agreement. Of course, it was in the power of Parliament not to sanction that agreement; but the object of the Bill was one to which no possible objection could be raised. He hoped, therefore, that the second reading would be agreed to. He thought, however, it was quite fair that they should not go into Committee until the noble Duke and other Peers had had an opportunity of considering the details of the measure.


said, that it was important that they should know the limits of the water covered by this Bill, and that it was advisable that the second reading should be postponed for a few days.


said, he had not asked that the second reading might be postponed, but the Committee.


pointed out that the Bill was founded upon a Convention which had been before the House for some considerable time. That was the reason for proposing the second reading without very long Notice. The question whether a particular piece of rock near Jersey was or was not the exclusive possession of one Power, Alas not to be determined by any Fishing Bill which laid down the conditions of fishing in those waters, which were acknowledged to be exclusively British.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday the 25th instant.