HL Deb 04 August 1904 vol 139 cc844-8

Order of the day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, though your Lordships are, of course, anxious to reach the Committee stage of the Licensing Bill at as early an hour as possible, yet I think it will be the wish of the House that I should offer quite a short explanation of how the legislation proposed in this Bill comes to be laid before Parliament. I can make such a statement in a few words, and your Lordships will then be able to pass from the discussion of matters affecting water which is merely salt to the consideration of questions affecting the consumption of other and possibly more deleterious fluids.

In the spring of last year whaling stations or factories were established in the mainland island of the Shetlands from whence to fish the whaling area lying between thirty and eighty miles to the North and North-West of it. This year two more stations have been established in the Shetlands and two in the Hebrides, one of which is in Lewis and the other in Harris, and all these stations, with the possible exception of one only, are owned by companies with a foreign register, and worked under the Norwegian or Danish flag. It is found that under our existing law there are practically no restrictions or regulations applicable to the conduct of a whaling industry. Last year the number of stations was two and the steamers two. This year the numbers are six and nine, or more. Next year may see a further increase, and your Lordships will, I am sure, agree in thinking this state of things to be unsatisfactory.

The whales hunted are the large finner whale. They are hunted by small fast steamers fitted with a bow gun firing harpoons with an explosive shell, and the whale, when killed, is towed into the factory, either by the ship itself or by tow boats specially built for the purpose. Then, and under no restrictions whatever, the fun begins, which last year very promptly caused complaints, and energetic complaints at that, to be addressed to the authorities. Thereupon the Secretary for Scotland appointed a Departmental Committee to visit the localities and to investigate and report. The complaints into which Mr. Donald Crawford, K.C., Sheriff of Aberdeen, Kincardine and Banff (Chairman), Mr. Robert Camperdown Haldane, of North Voe and Lochend, Shetland, and Mr. William Hutchison Leask, Provost of Peterhead, were appointed a Committee to inquire, ranged themselves under two heads—(1) that the treatment of the whale carcases had been the cause of nuisance and danger to public health and even to navigation; and (2) that whaling injured the herring fishing. One short quotation from their Report will show your Lordships the conditions on which these complaints were founded, and will give the Committee's opinion thereon— When the two Ronas Voe stations began fishing last year they were without appliances or the disposal of the carcases. They took the lubber and left the carcases lying about in and out of the water uncleaned, with the stomachs and intestines. … As we walke I towards those stations, with the wind blowing from them, the smell was perceived and was offensive at a distance of a mile an I a half … Down the Voe there are no less than eleven herring-curing stations occupied for perhaps four to six weeks in the summer by a population of about 1,200 or 1,300. Last year the festering carcases were an intolerable nuisance. When complaint was made to the sanitary authorities the whalers were, unfortunately, directed to tow them out to sea. Portions of the putrid carcases got loose and went ashore; when towed out some of them came back, and others remained as a danger to small boats. The water of the Voe was so polluted with oil and offal that the curers could not wash their barrels with it, and the mussel scalps in the upper portion of the Voe were injured and partially destroyed. The Committee stated that if the object of these companies, registered under a foreign flag, with steamers manned by foreign crews, and employing for the most part foreign labour at the stations, bringing all their own stores, and not seeking to purchase any commodities on the spot had been to raise hostile feeling against their undertaking, no means of accomplishing that purpose was overlooked. And the Committee go on to say, and I am sure your Lordships will agree with them, that— If the condition of the stations which existed last year, or anything like it, were to continue, our opinion would be that they should be put down. The problem is a clear one: whether every portion of the carcase can be treated within a strictly limited time and no portion whatsoever returned to the sea or left unused on the shore. If that is done there will be no nuisance except the smell. We are satisfied that it can be done … We carefully examined the Alexandra station before it began to work. So far as we could judge, it started with appliances which will, so long as it does not bring any more whales than can be timeously treated, obviate the danger of any nuisance.' The Committee added— On the whole we arc satisfied that under proper regulations and inspection the industry is not open to objection on the ground of nuisance or danger to public health. But, my Lords, while we are considering the conditions of a foreign industry established on or near oar shores, we are not likely to forget an infinitely more important industry of our own, yearly carried on in the same neighbourhoods, and the House may be sure that the complaint spoken to by a considerable number of witnesses, that whaling injures the herring fishing, received ample consideration from the Committee. The belief that such is the case is very commonly held, but the point on which witnesses were agreed as establishing its accuracy, was that a whale spouting frequently indicates the presence of a shoal of herring. Yes, my Lords, but herrings are constantly found where no whale is in sight, and, equally, herring fishing is constantly, regularly, and successfully carried on in water where no whales exist. Further, it is known that it is not the finner, but the herring hog, a smaller species of whale, which, as a rule, shows the presence of herring. On these objections the Committee report as follows— Our opinion of the objections as a whole is that they may be accepted as showing that unrestricted whaling might be a possible danger to the herring fishing, but they are not valid reasons for the total prohibition of whaling. Total prohibition would, we think, have consequences more dangerous to the herring industry than regulated and limited whaling. The expulsion of the companies from Shetlard would certainly lead to the establishment of floating factories, one of which is aheady at work in more northern latitudes. There ate large steamers which flench the whales on board and turn the carcases adrift. Further, the ground now fished by the Shetland whalers could be fished from the Faroë Islands without restrictions, and beyond British control, and no doubt would be. It the whales are valuable to the fishermen, they would in this way be destroyed in larger numbers, and if there is a risk of disturbance of the ground it would be greatly increased. … We believe that the new industry may prove to be beneficial and valuable, as it has done in Canada and Newfoundland, and that it should not be crushed without a trial. … In very poor districts such as those where the stations have been introduced, the opportunity of regular employment in a new industry is a matter of importance. Already a certain number of inhabitants are employed. The managers are anxious to increase the number even on grounds of economy. We should hope that commercial relations would also greatly increase. The Norwegian whalers are a kindly and peaceable race and mingle without friction with the Shetlanders, to whom they arc near in blood. If licence duties are paid to the county council, the benefit in a poor district will be appreciable. Whaling, however, though it should not be suppressed, ought to be regulated and limited. Unrestricted whaling would be an evil on other grounds than its possible danger to the herring industry. It could not last long. The Basque and the Greenland whaling industries came to an end by the practical extermination of the species pursued with the means of destruction now brought to deadly perfection. The same fate would overtake the finners off our coasts in a very short time. That would be an evil in itself, and while a few companies might go out of the business with a large profit, the local industry would be brought into being only to perish in a few years, and leave the inhabitants worse off than ever. On the whole matter the Committee are of opinion that— The new whaling industry ought to be permitted to continue, but only under limitations and regulations, and they go on to make certain recommendations. My Lords, all their important recommendations are embodied in this Bill. The Bill enacts that no persons shall kill whales without a licence from the Fishery Board, under a very severe penalty; the licensee must be a British subject; a licence duty of £100 per annum during the three years currency of the licence is to be payable, which duties are to go to the county council, on whom the duty of fishing inspection will fall. No licence is to be granted for more than one steamer, and tow-boats are prohibited. The capture of the herring hog whale is prohibited, and so is the capture of whales accompanied by a calf, but no licence is required for the capture of the small bottlenosed whale. No whaling is permitted within the three mile limit; all whaling is prohibited from 1st November to 31st March, and it is to be within the power of the Fishery Board to prohibit whaling during the summer herring fishing within forty miles, for any period not exceeding five weeks.

My Lords, we believe that under these restrictions and regulations whaling can be profitably carried on without danger to the public health and without detriment to the herring fishery; that, so carried on, it will bring employment to an increasing number of our own people, and will bring to more than one poor district appreciable benefit. It is with that hope, and in that belief, that I ask the House to give a Second Reading to this Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House to-morrow.