HL Deb 11 November 1908 vol 196 cc213-44

rose to move to resolve, "That in the opinion of this House a British vessels should not be prohibited from trawling in waters outside the territorial limits of Scotland where foreign vessels are able to come in and use the fishing ground; and that any bye-laws now prohibiting British vessels from fishing in such waters should be withdrawn, and the open sea restored to the mutual condition in which it formerly existed under International law and the provisions of the North Sea Convention of 1882."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Motion which stands in my name has been placed on the Paper at the unanimous request of the whole fishing industry of Great Britian represented in the National Sea Fisheries Association. There was no division of opinion amongst them whatever, either politically or otherwise. The Resolution to which they agreed, on which this Motion is founded, was proposed by one of the delegates from Aberdeen, and was supported by four other delegates from Scotland and by representatives from Grimsby, Fleetwood, Hull, Milford Haven, and other great fishing ports. I do not desire to waste your Lordships' time by repeating what has been said before on this question, but I would ask you to allow me to recall the history of the bye-laws to which I refer.

In 1888 the Royal Commission on Trawling reported that— the beam trawl is not destructive to cod or haddock spawn, and there is no proof of injury to the spawn of herrings or other edible fish.', They, however, recommended that the fishery authorities in England and Scotland should have powers to enable them to make bye-laws for the regulation and supervision of beam trawling or other modes of fishing "within territorial waters." The last three words are really the subject of this debate. The Report was fully discussed by the fishery trade at a very representative conference held at Fishmongers' Hall on March 22, 1888, and attended by nearly 200 persons connected with the trade, amongst whom were a large number of Members of both Houses of Parliament. At that conference a resolution was unanimously passed in favour of the recommendation of the Royal Commission to give fishing authorities power to regulate and suspend trawling within territorial waters.

Then in 1889 the Secretary for Scotland introduced the Herring Fishery Bill, and I will quote his own words on the Second Reading. Lord Lothian said— I have referred this question to the Fishery Board for their advice and opinion as to the propriety of closing the whole of the territorial waters against trawling, and after inquiry they recommended that that course should be taken; it is with that object that the present Bill was introduced into the House of Commons and now comes before your Lordships, and I trust that your Lordships will pass it practically without Amendment, —that was, for territorial waters only. So that your Lordships will see that the Royal Commission, the fishing industry, and the Scottish Fishery Board up to that time had never intended for a single moment that rules should be made applicable to anything but territorial waters. It stands to common sense that it should be so, because no single Power has the slightest right to attempt to regulate the waters of the open sea.

Now, what are the territorial waters? They are commonly known as the three-mile limit; and the noble Lord the Chancellor of the Duchy (Lord Fitzmaurice) in answering a Question put to him eighteen months ago by Lord Balfour of Burleigh, stated that the Imperial Departments which had most to do with sea fisheries were all agreed on the question of the three-mile limit and knew exactly what it was. But in regard to the North Sea we have a Convention as well as International Law. In the North Sea Convention of 1882, embodied in the first schedule of the Sea Fisheries Act of 1883, it is clearly laid down, in Article II., that— As regards bays the distance of three miles shall be measured from a straight line drawn across the bay in the part nearest the entrance at the first point where the width does not exceed ten miles; and in Article IV. the limits of the North Sea are definitely fixed, and the boundaries of the Scottish territorial waters clearly set out in subsections (3) and (7). Therefore there can be no mistake whatever about the territorial waters in the North Sea.

The question of any claim to regulate the open sea is a matter which appears to me more for the Foreign Office than for the Scottish Office. It is one which will have to be dealt with in regard to the other signatories to the North Sea Convention; and we were told the other night in very strong terms by the Prime Minister that no International contract between Powers could be revoked by one of them at their own pleasure without the consent of the other parties to the treaty. This convention was a treaty in every sense of the word. There is another article in that treaty in which it is stated that no single signatory Power shall withdraw from the convention without one year's notice. But what happened in 1902? Nothing was done with regard to extra territorial waters up to 1902, and then without any notice of withdrawal from the convention, the Scottish Fishery Board enclosed large stretches of the open sea in Moray Firth and other bays round the coast against the trawlers of all nations in direct violation of their treaty rights in the North Sea.

The Scottish Office asserted that they could exclude all trawlers. I think they have found out by this time that they cannot. They also stated that they desired to close the Moray Firth in order to enable them to carry out scientific research. I may mention that no attempt has been made, or is now being made, to carry out scientific experiments. As Professor Machintosh said at the Sea Fishery Conference at Aberdeen— They might keep British trawlers out, but could not keep fish in the Moray Firth; that is a question of currents. The Scottish Office also assorted that they wished to preserve the rights of fishing to the poor line fishermen. Some fifteen years ago the fishermen of Moray Firth owned about seventy cranky old sailing boats; they never ventured far out, and the great value of these fishermen was that they were always at home on election days. Now there are very few of these fishermen and these old boats remaining. Their place has been taken by a large capitalist fleet of 503 steam vessels for line fishing, worth £400,000, and when not fishing in the Moray Firth they go right away and bring back profitable catches of halibut and cod. But they are engaged chiefly in herring fishing, and it is for the benefit of the capitalists who own these vessels that you are oreserving the Moray Firth.

I do not ask your Lordships to accept my statement uncorrobated. I will quote from the evidence of the Chief Clerk to the Scottish Fishery Board, who, in cross-examination before the Committee on Fishery Investigations in December last, said, in answer to a question by Lord Nunburnholme, that— Line fishing is not now prosecuted to the same extent in the Moray Firth that it was at that time [before the Moray Firth was closed] because the fishermen find that the herring fishing pays them very much better; it does not entail so much labour as the line fishing; the result is that the best fishermen we have in the Moray Firth now devote almost all their time to the herring fishing, leaving only the older men and the younger men to prosecute line fishing, etc. The great majority of those who go to the English fishing are the Moray Firth boats. So that not only is the Moray Firth preserved for Moray Firth fishing boats, but they are allowed to go and fish in the extra territorial waters of England, while English boats are not permitted to go to the extra territorial waters of. Scotland. That does not strike me as fair play.

But if the Moray Firth line steamers do not care about spending too much of their time in the Moray Firth, what is the case with foreign vessels? Fifteen or sixteen foreign trawlers—French, German, Dutch, Norwegian, and Danish—regularly fish the bay for six or seven months in the year; on the west coast of Scotland some twenty foreign vessels are regularly fishing in the prohibited waters, and amongst those working the Clyde and other prohibited waters, and steaming out of Fleetwood, are nine German trawlers owned by four different firms, and two Dutch trawlers with vessels of other nationalities. I should like again to impress upon your Lordships that the days of "single fleeting" are gone by, and that the fishing vessels of the present time, whether trawlers or line steamers, are owned by large companies. Their shareholders, debenture holders, and mortgagees are scattered over the length and breadth of the country; the companies are managed by directors, the same as railway and other companies, and they have their own recognised fish salesmen in the various ports to which they take their fish.

I have dealt with the facts of the case from the point of view of the fishing industry; but I must ask your Lordships to allow me very briefly to deal with the International and treaty side of the question. In 1901 the local authorities of Iceland passed very similar laws for enclosing extra territorial waters. They claimed to have jurisdiction over waters outside the limits as prescribed by the North Sea Convention and International law, but the National Sea Fisheries Association remonstrated and brought the matter before the Foreign Office. The noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, who was then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, intervened, and I am glad to say that the Danish Government acknowledged the justice of his intervention against a violation of the North Sea Convention and International Law, and refused to ratify these local laws. In 1906 Mr. Sinclair, emboldened by the decisions of the High Court, prosecuted foreign vessels and obtained convictions; but Sir Edward Grey said that they must be released as the convictions— under the Act of Parliament as interpreted by the High Court of Justiciary were in conflict with International law, and, I would add, in conflict with the spirit and the intention of the Act of 1889, as declared by Lord Lothian on the Second Reading.

I will not detain your Lordships with any further remarks of my own on this question, but I should like to read two letters from the Foreign Office. On 12th February last year I wrote to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs protesting against the prosecution of Norwegian vessels, and I received the following reply, dated February 16th— I am directed by Secretary Sir E. Grey to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 12th instant, respecting the cases of the Norwegian and Swedish fishermen who have I recently been convicted by the Courts in Scotland for trawling in the Moray Firth. I am to state, for your Lordship's information, that the men imprisoned have now been released, and that Sir E. Grey is in communication with Mr. Secretary Sinclair with a view to all further prosecutions being stopped pending a consideration of the whole question by His Majesty's Government. What I want to know now is, what is the result of such consideration by the united Cabinet? I do not wish to have the opinion of the Scottish Office, but the opinion of the Cabinet. In March, 1907, the National Sea Fisheries Association passed unanimously the following resolution— That this association urges upon His Majesty's Government the great importance to the fishing industry of maintaining the three-mile International territorial limits as now defined; and that the Minister for Foreign Affairs be asked to receive a deputation after Easter. I would call your Lordships' particular attention to Sir Edward Grey's reply, dated March 20th— I am directed by Secretary Sir E. Grey to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 14th inst., transmitting a copy of a resolution passed at a meeting of the general committee of your association respecting 'the great importance to the fishing industry of maintaining the three-mile International territorial limits as now defined.' I am to state that Sir E. Grey is not aware that His Majesty's Government have on any occasion failed to recognise the validity of the existing International law respecting the limits of territorial waters, and that there is, therefore, no occasion for him to receive a deputation on this point. Is that the opinion of the Government, or only the opinion of the Foreign Office? We know that the Foreign Office is not a political office, and that as a rule there is continuity of policy. I should like to know whether we who have to manage the affairs of the sea fisheries are to find the answers to the questions we ask in the replies of the Scottish Office or in those of the Foreign Office.

I will not refer now to the serious loss of employment to British fishermen; but I would ask your Lordships to consider what would be the effect if the other Powers in the North Sea followed the example of the Scottish Office. The effect would be to close waters equal to one-fifth of the whole of the North Sea. And what would the closing of one-fifth of the North Sea mean to the fishing industry of this country? It would mean total and absolute ruin. In proof of the fact that this retaliation is no idle dream, I would refer your Lordships to what took place at the New York Fishery Congress last month. Great Britain was not officially represented there, I believe—my noble friend will correct me if I am wrong—but Mr. Fryer, the chief inspector of the Fishery Department, was present, and therefore no doubt the Fishery Department have received a correct Report of what took place. It was pointed out there that the action of England in the Moray Firth was— inconsistent with England's position at the Seal Fisheries Arbitration relating to the Behring Sea, as in the Moray Firth England claims jurisdiction over vessels under a foreign flag at a distance of seventy or eighty miles from the coast. It was further pointed out that the present claim of England was at direct variance with the principles laid down by the International Court of Arbitration at Paris; and it was further suggested that if England persisted in her present position it might result in similar claims being set out by other nations and a complete change in the now recognised reading of International law on the question of territorial jurisdiction at sea. This would be a most serious matter for England.

In conclusion, I assert that the bye-laws of the Scottish Fishery Board are inconsistent with International law; that they constitute a violation of the North Sea Convention as regards the open waters of the North Sea; that they are directly opposed to the spirit and intention of the Act of 1889, and contrary to the Sea Fisheries Regulation Act, 1895, as amended by Lord Salisbury; that no attempt has been made to conduct scientific research in the Moray Firth, and that the right of all nations to fish in the prohibited waters outside the territorial limits is now fully admitted by the Scottish Office. Therefore the pledge given by Lord Tweedmouth should now be redeemed. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, "That in the opinion of this House British vessels should not be prohibited from trawling in waters outside the territorial limits of Scotland where foreign vessels are able to come in and use the fishing ground; and that any bye-laws now prohibiting British vessels from fishing in such waters should be withdrawn, and the open sea restored to the mutual condition in which it formerly existed under International law and the provisions of the North Sea Convention of 1882."—(Lord Heneage.)


My Lords, I rise to second the Motion of my noble, friend opposite. My noble friend has dealt so fully with the whole case that it will not be necessary for me to trouble your Lordships at any length; but there is one point to which my noble friend did not refer, but which I think it may be well to bring to the notice of your Lordships. I allude to the action which your Lordships' House took in 1895 upon the Sea Fisheries Act of that year, when, at the instance of the late Lord Salisbury, the House affirmed the principle of equal treatment of British and foreign trawlers and fishermen on the open sea in a manner which, I think, is exactly applicable to the case now before us.

I may remind your Lordships that up till the year 1895 nobody ever dreamt that foreign trawlers would come to English waters. There had never been such a case, and nobody expected that it would occur. I believe I am right in saying that the late Lord Salisbury was the first who ever suggested the possibility or the probability of foreign trawlers coming to fish in our waters. The Sea Fisheries Bill of that year as it came from the other House contained a provision under which the Scottish Fishery Board were empowered to extend the prohibition of trawling up to a limit of thirteen miles. Lord Salisbury pointed out that that clause would be absolutely invalid as against foreign trawlers. He said that by International law it was absolutely certain that foreign trawlers had the right of fishing up to the three-mile limit and that no municipal law of this country could deprive them of that right. He added that if the clause passed in its then shape the extraordinary result might follow that foreign trawlers might fish freely within the prohibited zone, whereas British trawlers would be forbidden to do so. Lord Salisbury spoke of this in very strong language. He said— As the Bill stood there was nothing to prevent a stretch of the sea being declared in which foreigners might trawl and Englishmen might not. He could not conceive that such a state of things could be endured. Would it be reasonable, if a trawler were sighted some eight miles from land and a Queen's ship were sent to atop him, that while the vessel was being brought in a French trawler was able to take fish exactly on the same ground with impunity? He felt sure there would be an outburst of extreme indignation if such a scandal were permitted. The late Duke of Argyle used language of almost equal strength. He pointed out that it would be a perfect scandal if foreign trawlers were allowed to fish in waters where British trawlers were prohibited. The only answer made by the Government in 1895 was that it was extremely unlikely that foreign trawlers would ever come and fish within the thirteen-mile limit. I think it is worth while quoting what was said by the late Lord Kimberley on the point. He said— I may mention that the whole of the Moray Firth is now subject to this prohibition. I regret that there is not in that case an option given to the Secretary of State to suspend the prohibition should it be found that foreign trawlers fish there. It will be seen, therefore, that Lord Kimberley considered that it was not possible to prevent foreign trawlers from fishing in the Moray Firth, and, further, he expressed the opinion that if thereafter foreign trawlers should be found fishing there it would be impossible to maintain the bye-law of the Scottish Fishery Board against British trawlers.

That is the case now before us, and which seems to have been exactly predicted by Lord Salisbury and Lord Kimberley. In consequence of Lord Salisbury's statement an Amendment was inserted in the clause, at his instance, providing that this prohibition of trawling within the thirteen mile limit should only take effect when all the signatories to the North Sea Fisheries Convention of 1883 should have given their consent to it, so that their fishermen might be bound; and as that consent has never been given the clause has been a nullity, and has never been acted upon. But since then, as I have said, the predictions of Lord Salisbury have been fulfilled, and foreign trawlers in increasing numbers have, during the last three or four years, fished in the Moray Firth and the Firth of Clyde. I believe I am right in saying that in the first instance these were, in tact, British vessels, although sailing under the Norwegian flag; but in later years other vessels of a much more bona, fide foreign character have fished there, and I am told that during last summer no fewer than fourteen foreign steam trawlers, Danish, German, Dutch, French, and Norwegian, habitually fished in the Moray Firth, and some twenty in the Firth of Clyde. In point of fact, as many foreign trawlers have been fishing in these two firths as used to be the case with British trawlers before the prohibition to which I have referred.

The Scottish Fishery Board met this proceeding in the first instance by prosecuting the masters of the foreign trawlers. At the beginning of 1907 they prosecuted six masters of Norwegian trawlers. The Scottish Law Courts sustained the conviction, and confirmed the principle, so far as they could, that the Moray Firth was an arm of the sea to which the municipal law of Scotland applied, and which was not under the rule of International law. This led to remonstrance and to diplomatic action on the part of the Norwegian Government, and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Sir Edward Grey, felt himself compelled to yield to the remonstrance and to direct that the fishermen who had been imprisoned in consequence of the infraction of this law should be released; and I think I am right in saying that he indicated that no more prosecutions of that kind should take place against foreign trawlers. There have been, more lately, prosecutions in respect of seamen who have been found on board foreign trawlers; but I believe that since the decision of the Foreign Office there have been practically no prosecutions of foreigners for trawling in the Moray Firth or in any of the prohibited areas of Scotland.

The result is that there is the state of things which was anticipated by Lord Salisbury, and which is really quite indefensible—namely, that in the Moray Firth, over 2,000 square miles, and in the Firth of Clyde foreign trawlers can fish without interference, while British fishermen in the same areas are liable to fine or imprisonment with confiscation of their fishing tackle. For my part, I consider that no more unequal treatment could possibly be conceived, and I cannot for a moment imagine that such a state of things can be allowed to continue. It seems to mc that the only course now open is for the Government to follow the line of the clause in the Act of 1895 and suspend the bye-laws of the Scottish Fishery Board pending agreement among the signatories of the North Sea Convention.

I do not propose to go at length into the question whether these bye-laws were originally justified. They, in fact, are not valid now as against foreign seamen, and it is therefore impossible that they can be maintained against British seamen. If it were necessary to enter into the question of the expediency of prohibiting trawling in such a branch of the sea as the Moray Firth, I should express my confident belief that there was no justification for the complaints against trawlers which led to the passing of these bye-laws—the complaints that they destroyed the spawn of fish in such areas and that they caught an undue quantity of immature fish. I was a member, together with the late Professor Huxley and the late Sir James Caird, of a Royal Commission which many years ago inquired into the subject, and we came to the conclusion that there was no justification whatever for any of these complaints. There is no scientific basis for the assertion that the great bulk of fish lay their spawn in such arms of the sea as the Moray Firth or the bays of Scotland. The only fish that spawns at the bottom of the sea in such waters is the herring. All the other more valuable fish spawn in the deep sea at various depths, and it is utterly impossible that the trawlers can do any mischief to them.

I would also venture to point out, if it were necessary, that during the years when the bye laws of the Scottish Fishery Board prevailed and there was no fishing on the part of foreign trawlers, there was no increase of fish and no good resulted to anybody. On the whole, therefore, it seems to me that the case against these bye-laws is absolutely complete. The question whether the fish in the North Sea are injured by over-trawling is being considered, and whatever action will be taken eventually will, no doubt, apply equally to the fishermen of all countries. That is a principle of the utmost importance. It is the principle which was affirmed in the strongest manner by Lord Salisbury in in the year 1895, and it seems to me that it is equally applicable at the present moment. I venture, therefore, to hope that the Government will act upon that principle, and will suspend the operation of the bye-laws of the Scottish Fishery Board as against British trawlers, at all events as long as there is no agreement on the part of other countries to apply them to their own trawlers.


My Lords, I am obliged to leave the House rather earlier than usual, and I therefore ask permission to say a few words on my noble friend's Motion before Lord Balfour of Burleigh proceeds to move his Amendment. I should think no Member of the House will be found ready to take exception to what I understand to be the main position taken up by my noble friend Lord Heneage, when he protests strongly against the idea that we could accept, as a permanent settlement of this question, an arrangement under which British trawlers would be excluded from waters to which foreign trawlers are allowed free access. But, while that is a simple and, I think, an intelligible proposition, there are various other considerations, of which I think we should not lose sight.

This question is a particularly difficult and delicate one. The interests of the fishing industry are, to some extent, divergent; there are evidently two very distinct schools of thought—the school of the trawlers of Grimsby and Aberbeen, of which my noble friend is an able and energetic champion, and the school of the line fishermen. I do not think I am wrong in saying that the exasperation which is undoubtedly felt by the trawling industry is due, not so much to the value to them of the waters of the Moray Firth, as to the fact that their foreign competitors are allowed to visit those waters while they are excluded from them. The line fishermen, I think, must also have their champions, for I heard a very unmistakable cheer from the back benches when their interests were referred to by Lord Heneage in his opening speech. Not only are the problems that arise in connection with the fishing interests difficult, but questions of International law of the utmost delicacy and difficulty are also involved. My noble friend talked rather airily about the three-mile limit, and he proposes, in his Resolution, that "the open sea" should be restored to the condition in which it formerly existed.


Those are the words of Lord Tweedmouth.


From whatever authority they proceed, I am bound to point out that it is not always very easy to determine where the open sea ends and territorial waters begin; and anyone who has had anything to do with these questions knows that there have been interminable negotiations upon the subject of the right of fishing within bays in different parts of the world, and that if you open the question as between this country and foreign countries in regard to a particular bay in which we are interested, they will desire to have it opened in regard to other bays and enclosed waters in other parts of the world. The Moray Firth is certainly not within territorial waters as we usually understand the term; it is not an enclosed bay. I do not know how many miles it covers from Duncansby Head to Rattray Head.


Nearly eighty miles.


The distance is, I am told, nearly eighty miles. Therefore we can hardly assume, as a matter of course, that other people will admit that it falls within our territorial waters. On the other hand, I am bound to say that a great deal would be gained, owing to the peculiar characteristics of the Moray Firth, if we could succeed in keeping all trawlers out of it and retaining it, partly as a sanctuary for breeding fish and partly in the interest of line fishermen. My noble friend Lord Heneage spoke of a small number of obsolete line fishing boats; but I have received a paper which purports to be written with authority, and which states that— Around the shores of the Moray Firth there are located about 10,000 fishermen who fish with net and line; and in the winter months over 2,000 of these fisherman are engaged exclusively in white fishing in the Moray Firth. Therefore we can hardly regard their interests as altogether negligible.

I understand that the policy of His Majesty's Government, and, I may say, to some extent the policy of Governments which have preceded them, has been that of endeavouring, in the first instance, to begin by excluding British trawlers from the Moray Firth in the hope that by so doing they would be able to bring about the exclusion of foreign trawlers also. That is, to my mind, a proper and intelligible policy; and so long as these local bye-laws are in force, there can be no doubt that it is the duty of British fishermen to conform to the law of their own country. Nor can we for a moment question the propriety of their conviction by Courts of law when they have been detected in the act of traversing the bye-laws. And I may add that, whatever my sympathy with the trawling fishermen may be, I certainly sympathise very little with those British fishermen who travesty themselves as foreigners, and invade these waters, from which legitimate British fishermen are excluded.

But, my Lords, I think my noble friend is perfectly right in arguing that, while such a state of things might be accepted as leading to something better, we cannot possibly look forward to its being indefinitely prolonged; and what I should like to know—and I hope we shall hear it before this debate concludes—is whether there is any prospect of His Majesty's Government taking up the matter, and endeavouring to come to an understanding with other Powers under which their vessels, as well as ours, would be denied access to the waters of the Firth. If that does not come to pass, then we shall be confronted with the position foreseen by Lord Salisbury in 1895, which he described in words that have been quoted by my noble friend at the Table (Lord Eversley), and which appear to me entirely appropriate to the case.

There is another point, of which, I think, we must not lose sight. I understand the attitude of His Majesty's Government to be this—they do not deny the grievance of British trawlers, but they hope to be able to effect the object of keeping foreign trawlers out by means of a Bill which has already been introduced into the House of Commons, and which may, or may not, in time come before your Lordships. I should, of course, be out of order if I were to canvass the merits of that Bill, but it is a matter of notoriety that it seeks, by indirect means, to drive foreign trawlers from the Moray Firth, by making their fish unsaleable in a British port. I will not attempt to examine the propriety of that proposal, or to discuss whether or not a measure of that kind is likely to be successful. But we must, I think, take into consideration the fact that that is the declared policy of His Majesty's Government, and that we shall, no doubt, at some future time have an opportunity of considering it as a whole. If that is so, shall we be altogether wise in passing the Resolution of my noble friend Lord Heneage?

The Resolution involves two propositions, and, if my noble friend does not mind, I will take the second proposition first. He desires that any bye-laws now prohibiting vessels from fishing in the Moray Firth should be withdrawn. If I am right in supposing that there is likely to be a question of arriving at an understanding with foreign Powers on this matter, I can understand that His Majesty's Government should desire that in the meanwhile the bye-laws should remain in force, so that when their negotiations begin they will be able say, "We, at any rate, are in earnest; we are keeping our trawlers out of the Moray Firth, and we invite you to do the same." For that reason I should be reluctant peremptorily to call upon His Majesty's Government, in the words of the latter part of the Resolution, to annul or suspend the bye-laws. But the earlier portion of my noble friend's Resolution appears to me to be in principle perfectly defensible. He merely affirms the doctine of which, I think, we all approve, that British fishermen should not be excluded from waters to which foreign fishermen have free access. I can see no objection to that part of the Resolution, if my noble friend really thinks it worth while to divide the House upon it; but I am bound to say that such a Resolution seems to me somewhat of the character of a brutum fulmen. I do not know that it will greatly advance matters; and if he obtains, as I hope he will, a sympathetic reply from His Majesty's Government, if they are able to tell him that they cannot tolerate this inequality being indefinitely perpetuated and that they are determined to find means to put it to an end, then I would, with great respect, suggest to my noble friend that it might be a pity to divide the House, and thereby leave on the public mind the impression that there is amongst us a difference of opinion which I really believe does not exist.


rose to move "The previous question." The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am sure no one will complain of the intervention of the noble Marquess who leads this side of the House. He has explained his reason for intervening early in the debate, and I am certain that, having regard to his great position in foreign affairs and his wide knowledge of the whole subject, his intervention was welcome to the House. I frankly associate myself with the main proposition put forward by the noble Marquess at the commencement of his speech. I certainly do not want to maintain anything in the nature of a real preference for foreigners. As a matter of fact, I have got into trouble at times because I am not convinced of the wisdom and practicability of a preference to people who cannot be described as foreigners. Under these circumstances I shall certainly not put myself forward as one who, either in principle or in practice, desires to maintain in any real sense a preference in British markets for those who are not British subjects.

I also associate myself very closely with what the noble Marquess said as regards the inexpediency of bringing forward this Motion at this particular time. I think it is quite contrary to the usual comity between the two Houses that when a Government Bill on a particular subject is before one House the other House should pass declamatory Resolutions on the subject. Supposing a month or six weeks ago some Member of your Lordships House had proposed an abstract Resolution on the subject of licensing. Surely it would have been almost unanimously condemned from both sides of this House, and it is because I desire to keep the matter open at any rate for the present, because I do not wish to meet the noble Lord's Motion with a direct negative for fear that I should be thought to be prejudging the case upon the other side, that I have taken what I think is the fairest and most proper course of putting down what is known in Parliamentary practice as an Amendment for the previous question. The noble Lord who seconded the Motion made great play with certain declarations which were made on the occasion of the Bill of 1885.




It was in 1885, on the occasion of the Bill which allowed the closing of territorial waters, that Lord Salisbury made the remarks which the noble Lord quoted.


I referred to what Lord Salisbury said in 1895, when the Scottish Sea Fisheries Bill of that year came before your Lordships' House.


The noble Lord is quite right. It was 1895.


I have not the reference here, but I am certain that one of the quotations made by the noble Lord was in the sense of a speech made by Lord Salisbury in 1885.


I distinctly quoted the speech made in 1895.


Will the noble Lord read again the words which he quoted from Lord Salisbury's speech in 1895?


Certainly. Speaking of the Sea Fisheries Bill of 1895, Lord Salisbury said— As the Bill stood, there was nothing to prevent a stretch of the sea being declared in which the foreigner might trawl and the Englishman might not. He could not conceive that that state of things could be endured. Would it be reasonable, if a trawler were sighted some eight miles from land and a Queen's ship were sent to stop him, that while the vessel was being brought in a French trawler should be allowed to come and take fish exactly on the tame ground with impunity? He felt sure here would be an outburst of extreme indignation if such a scandal were permitted.


Lord Salisbury made those remarks with regard to a proposal in the Bill of 1895 to extend the territorial limits all round the coast to thirteen miles, but that provision was altered in your Lordships' House. 1885 was the year in which the Act was passed closing the territorial waters. In that year the same sort of discussion took place as to closing waters which were beyond the territorial limit, and Lord Salisbury then used language which certainly gave the impression at the time that he was not in favour of that course or anything like it. But acts are stronger testimony than words, and it was Lord Salisbury's Government who in the year 1889 passed the Herring Fishery Act which gave permission to close the Moray Firth, the Firth of Clyde, and other waters of a similar kind. It was in 1890 that part of the Moray Firth was closed by Lord Salisbury's Government, and in 1892 the whole of the Firth was closed by the succeeding Government.

Matters were in that position when I came into office in 1895, the bye-law having been passed and the Moray Firth having been wholly closed. Both Governments, therefore, before the time I succeeded to office, were engaged in closing waters which were beyond the territorial limits. I had to administer the Act for eight years. I am in it, too, to a certain extent, for when on a purely technical point the Court of Session upset the bye-law I had it re-enacted in such a form as to avoid the technical difficulty which was then raised. One of the main points made by the mover and seconder of the Motion was this apparent hostility to foreign trawlers. They were perfectly fair in admitting that at the time when these bye-laws were made it was not supposed that foreigners would take much advantage of their supposed privileges, and I think before I have done I shall show your Lordships that even now the extent to which these much-dreaded foreigners are taking advantage of their supposed privileges has been greatly exaggerated.

I wish to say distinctly that those who were in favour of closing the area were mainly actuated by a desire to protect the stock of fish. The noble Lord who seconded the Motion referred to the inquiry in which he took part a good many years ago. I have no doubt that the decision at which they arrived at that time was justified by the evidence placed before them. But circumstances have largely changed. The efficiency of trawling machinery has now so much increased that it would be nothing short of a calamity if all legislation were to be undone, and trawlers given full scope in the narrowest waters. I will read to your Lordships, on that point, a passage from the evidence of Mr. Fulton before the Committee on Fishery Investigations which recently sat. Mr. Fulton said— I know the Aberdeen men feel it as a grievance that the Moray Firth is closed, but I think that if it were effectively closed to every trawler they would not feel any grievance at all. I know positively, however, that some of them say that if they were admitted into the Moray Firth they could clear out the whole ground in six weeks. That is the opinion of the immense majority of the fishing community who are acquainted with this ground. The testimony of all those who have knowledge of the subject amounts to this, that if trawling were wholly unrestricted, damage would be done to fishing grounds that would take years to repair.

Lord Heneage made great play with the apparent unanimity of the fishing community. At any rate, when action was taken in 1890 that community were not so unanimous as the noble Lord seems to think they are at the present time; and I am not quite sure that they are really as unanimous now as he would make out. A certain Mr. Barrett, of Grimsby, said at Aberdeen in 1905— He did not believe the North Sea if left to itself would last for ever. He was one of those who thought it could not last very long. Another gentleman from Grimsby, Mr. G. Alward, said on the same occasion— His impression was that if they protected the young fish, and refrained from fishing for certain months in the year, he was sure, in his time, that the North Sea would become what it was twenty or thirty years ago—a splendid fishing ground—and that it would yield an enormous supply of food for the inhabitants of the country. Another Grimsby gentleman, Mr. C. Jeffs, speaking at a Conference of the National Sea Fisheries Protection Association in London in 1902, said— One is puzzled how it is that any gentleman can make such statements and hold such opinions that there is as much fish in the sea as there ever was. The National Sea Fisheries Association asked the Fishery Board of Scotland in 1890 to inquire as to the wisdom of closing a large part of the Moray Firth, so that it may actually be said that it was partly on the initiative of the very association which is now most severe on the Fishery Board of Scotland that the action of 1892 was taken.

The noble Lord made light of the interests of the fishing community around the Moray Firth. I am really opposed to protection, in the sense in which the word is generally used, for anybody, but we hear a great deal now about the necessity of getting people back to the land. It is beyond all doubt that this quasi-protection has been largely instrumental in keeping people upon the sea coast around the Moray Firth, on the Clyde, and elsewhere. The tendency among those who live by fishing is to have larger and larger boats, and, as you have larger boats, you must go to larger harbours, which are only to be found in more or less crowded communities. And it seems to me a perfectly wise and reasonable bit of public policy to keep the territorial waters for those fishermen who have not the capital or the ability to go outside to the deep sea fishing. I do not believe that the closing of these waters does any material injury to the trawlers. I believe their demand to be largely due to selfishness on their part, and that upon the whole it is wise to preserve these districts for the class of fishermen to whom I have referred.

They are still a class of some magnitude. The noble Lord made light of them, but in a circular letter which reached me about three days ago, from the office of the Central Secretary of the Moray Firth Fisheries Association I find this statement— The Fishery Board look into account the fact that around the shores of the Moray Firth there are located about 10,000 fishermen who fish with net and line, in the winter months over 2,000 of these fishermen are engaged exclusively in the white fishing in the Moray Firth. It seems to me of great importance that there should be near their homes this area in which they can carry on their livelihood uninterrupted by the damage to their tackle which trawling in narrow waters undoubtedly does.

Now I come to another part of the subject. Is it really the case that a large number of foreign trawlers take advantage of the present state of things? There have been some, and there are some at the present time, but in quantity they are negligible. The great majority of those trawlers which are breaking the law are only colourably foreign. Mr. Fulton, in his evidence before the Committee on Fishery Investigations, 1908, was asked by Mr. Green [Question 2895]— I want to know how the companies owning these boats which are registered in Norway are registered in England? Mr. Fulton replied— I am not acquainted with the details, but I heard a leading representative—Sir George Doughty, I think it was—say at Aberdeen that all the capital invested in these vessels, except a few pounds, was English. If we are to go back on the policy of the last sixteen years with regard to the Moray Firth, let us know the facts. Let us have an inquiry to ascertain exactly how many bona fide foreigners are trawling in those enclosed waters. I believe it will be found that they are very few in number. And, in my opinion, it is beyond all doubt that those who come are invited by the trawling interest for the purpose of casting discredit upon this bye-law.

I can give your Lordships some facts. I was at the Scottish Office in 1895–6 when this controversy began. The first foreign vessel to trawl in the Firth was the Dania," of Esbjerg, and the first report of her appearance was received from the Secretary of the Bon Accord Steam Trawlowners' Association in Aberdeen. We were told by this association, which was hostile to the bye-law, a good many hours before this foreign vessel appoared that she was coming to do what she did. It was what is commonly called a "try on," and I think it requires some explanation how this intelligent anticipation of events about to occur really happened. If we are going into this matter thoroughly, let us know exactly who the people are who are trawling in the Moray Firth at the present time, how many of them are really foreigners and how many sham foreigners, how many of them are actually working with English money, and how many of them are really the Grimsby people who, under different names, are sending trawlers all over the North Sea. I believe that if we could get at the truth we would find that the bona fide foreigner was a negligible quantity compared with the others.

When a great country like this decides to try an experiment for the sake of putting to a practical test the question whether this system of fishing deteriorates stock, I say it is very hard—I say more, it is unpatriotic—that we should be constantly thwarted by the selfishness of those who have their own interests to serve. The experiment has never yet been fairly tried, because from first to last the trawl-owners have set themselves to thwart it. Lot us have a full examination into all the facts. Let us try the experiment, and if we are wrong let us go back upon our policy. But do not let us go back upon insufficient evidence. Lot us be quite sure that we are right before we make the change. I think there is gross exaggeration with regard to numbers, and that the appearance of bona fide foreign trawlers is only occasional.

I would venture to say one word in conclusion upon the terms of the Motion on the Paper. The noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, seemed to think that it would do no harm, or practically little harm, to place the first half of it upon the Journals of the House. But lot me call attention to the phraseology. The first part of the Resolution reads— That in the opinion of this House British vessels should not be prohibited from trawling in waters outside the territorial limits of Scotland where foreign vessels are able to come in and use the fishing ground. Now, if it were proved that foreign vessels in the strict sense of the term do come in and use the fishing ground, I should be prepared to modify a good deal of my opposition. But my noble friend does not ask the House to commit itself to stating that they do come in, but only that they are able to come in.


I am quite willing to alter the words if the noble Lord wishes, but I preferred to use Lord Salisbury's words.


I can understand the desire of the noble Lord to shelter himself under Lord Salisbury's great authority, but it is not said in the Resolution that they are Lord Salisbury's words, and if it should appear in the Journals of the House there will not be a marginal note to the effect that the noble Lord borrowed the words from Lord Salisbury. They will be taken in their natural sense, and I say it is ludicrous to ask this House to pass a Resolution when all that is proposed to be said is that a certain class of vessels are able to come in. Prove to us that bona fide foreigners do come in in such numbers as to make our regulation bad, and I will modify my opposition. There was a good deal in the noble Lord's speech about the Scottish Office and its character with which I prefer not to deal. I suppose that what he said will pass for wit at Grimsby, or, perhaps, at Billingsgate, but it was no serious argument in regard to the matter before the House, and therefore I think I shall be best consulting my own interests and the interests of the House if I now move the Amendment which stands in my name.

Amendment moved, "That the previous Question be put whether the said Question shall benowput."—(Lord Balfour of Burleigh.)


My Lords, I had occasion about a year ago to address your Lordships, I am afraid at rather too great length, on the very intricate questions which have arisen in connection with the North Sea Fisheries and their bearing on foreigners and foreign vessels. It was necessary then that I should place upon record, once and for all, in regard to this question, that there was no occasion whatever to doubt that the Foreign Office were committed, and irrevocably committed, on grounds of public policy which I stated to the House, and that they stood in regard to territorial waters upon the doctrine of the three-mile limit as what I may call the great underlying principle of international law.

That question has again been incidentally touched upon this evening, and I understand that one of the objects of the noble Lord the mover of this Motion is to obtain an assertion from the representative of the Foreign Office in your Lordships' House that there is no change of attitude in respect of this matter. That assurance I have no difficulty whatever in giving my noble friend. Nor do I really think that it was necessary to ask for it, because nothing has occurred since last year, so far as I know, to lead anyone to think for a single moment that there is any derogation from that principle. There is, of course, a slight qualification which one always has to make in regard to the three-mile limit, which was alluded to by my noble friend Lord Lansdowne. As Lord Salisbury's name has been so frequently invoked, I cannot do better than quote his words in the debate of 6th May, 1895, in regard to the three-mile limit and to those particular places where what may be called the facts of nature have made difficulties in applying that hard and fast principle and caused some slight modification in practice. Lord Salisbury said— As long as the coast is open there is no doubt that three miles is the limit of territorial waters, but when the coast is folded and doubled, as it is in that part of Scotland, there comes in a different set of conditions which belong to diplomatic law; and I may say it is an unsettled question in international law how far those territorial waters extend in such cases. … Where the coast is not straight but makes an angle, there the limit of the territorial waters is not so fixed. It is precisely because many of the waters on the coast of Scotland are folded in that many of these difficulties arise.

There has always been a natural tendency on the part of different countries, by treaty if they can, by legislation if diplomacy fails, to obtain a certain amount of special control outside the narrow limits imposed by the three-mile rule. It is a rash thing to intrude into the minutiæ of a Scottish debate unless one is conversant with the actual places oneself. It is not, therefore, for me to try and give any accurate description from the point of view of the geographer. But we know that just as the limits of the North Sea have, for certain purposes, been defined by the North Sea Convention and by other, and, perhaps, more recent documents, so also by British legislation for domestic purposes a certain area has been defined to represent the Moray Firth. That area extends from Rattray Head to Duncansby Head, a distance of very nearly 80 miles; and this area is very different from the narrow waters which make up the Firth of Clyde and other areas on the coast of Scotland where the waters are far more folded in. The Moray Firth, as now defined, gradually opens out and extends, and the large definition which has been made by the bye-law issued by the Scottish Office is no doubt one of the causes, perhaps the primary cause, of the irritation which has been created, amongst the allies of my noble friend at Grimsby and elsewhere.

But I think your Lordships will agree that in this affair we must, above all things, be practical. We are in the clutches of previous legislation, and we cannot go back upon the decision of Parliament, for which both parties are responsible, by passing abstract resolutions. No one disputes that there are difficulties in the existing state of things. There I am on common ground with my noble friend. It is common knowledge that a Bill has been brought in in another place, and this fact may be accepted as a statement on behalf of His Majesty's Government that we realise the difficulties of the situation. The real difficulty has been so often stated in the course of this debate that it is not necessary to labour it. Briefly stated it is this, that British fishermen and foreigners are not on terms of equality in certain extraterritorial waters; and the question which is really before your Lordships to-night is, What is to be the rule and practice in regard to extra-territorial waters on the coast of Scotland and England? The Bill which has been brought in by the Scottish Office in another place, and which may reach your Lordships in the course of the present session, is a measure which affects the coasts, harbours, and ports of England in respect mainly of the sale of fish caught in the extra-territorial waters, bringing them under practically the same rule and practice which now applies under Scottish legislation to the ports, harbours, and markets of Scotland. It is that to which my noble friend objects.

The question is, what course could the Government adopt? We start by admitting that there is an inequality at the present time, that in certain extraterritorial waters British fishermen are placed at a disadvantage compared with foreign fishermen because they come within the scope of British and Scottish legislation, which applies to them and does not apply to the foreign trawler. My noble friend is, of course, cognisant that if the legislation now proposed by the Government were to come into effect, certain disabilities which now affect only the fishermen who bring their catches into Scottish ports would be extended to those fishermen if they brought them into British ports. At the same time, I must remind my noble friend that the disability which would in that case be extended to the British fisherman is one which, in the particular matter of sale—as is now the case in Scottish ports—would also affect the foreigner. The moment a fisherman is in British harbours and markets he is either within the territorial waters or is actually on shore; and, therefore, the Bill so far places the foreigner and the Scottish or English fisherman, as the case may be, upon an equality. I am perfectly willing to grant that that, however, is only a step in the direction which my noble friend desires to go, and is not precisely the step which he does desire. What he desires is not to penalise the foreign fisherman and the British fisherman equally in Scottish or English ports. He desires to sweep away the bye-law which affects extraterritorial waters, and thereby to place the British and Scottish fisherman on an equality in those waters with the foreigner as he was before the legislation of 1885, 1889, and 1895.

I have been pressed by my noble friend and also by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition to state to your Lordships whether there is, or is not, in the opinion of the Foreign Office, any chance, or whether there is any intention on their part, of curing the difficulty which we admit to exist by ultimately obtaining some remedy more akin to the views of my noble friend than are the proposals in the Government Bill now before Parliament. I desire to be perfectly frank in this matter. I am not able to make any statement to your Lordships that there is an immediate probability of our being able to persuade foreign Governments collectively, because collective action in this matter is almost necessary, or even to persuade the more important among them to come into an agreement with us in the matter, such as was undoubtedly comtemplated by the late Lord Salisbury when he moved and carried the Amendment in 1895 to which allusion has been made in the course of this debate. My noble friend, Lord Tweedmouth, whose absence we all regret, pointed out at that time that the carrying of Lord Salisbury's Amendment would, in his opinion, make the Act of 1895 entirely inoperative. What Lord Tweedmouth then said has been perfectly justified by the result, because whatever attempts have been made in the twelve years that have elapsed to obtain an agreement amongst the Powers they have never proceeded to any length or been successful.

We have always been confronted with the difficulty, that as there were so many waters elsewhere to which English fishermen now go and from which they would be likely to be excluded, it would be an exceedingly doubtful benefit to the English fishing industry if we were successful in the negotiations contemplated, and therefore the matter is one to be dealt with with the most extreme care and circumspection. On the coasts of Norway and Iceland are waters in connection with which there are ancient controversies, and if we were to press our own views too much in regard to, let us say, the Moray Firth, the result might much astonish the very persons who are pressing the Foreign Office to move in the direction referred to. It is for that reason that the Government have so far thought it wiser to proceed on the lines of existing legislation, and to try to place the foreigner and the English and Scottish trawling industry upon a footing of equality by placing them equally under such disabilities as they can enforce in their own ports, harbours and territorial waters, rather than to trust to long, and, perhaps, futile negotiations in regard to extra - territorial waters, which would affect, in the long run, not only the extra-territorial waters near our shores, but those in the neighbourhood of other countries where the British fishing industry has large interests.

Whatever risks there may be in the future, it certainly would appear that, so far, the number of genuine foreign fishermen who have come into the Moray Firth and pursued their industry there is not very considerable, and the Government think it better to trust to the class of remedy which exists in the Scottish Acts and to propose their extension to certain of our English ports. This is a complicated matter; the facts are complicated because they are disputed, and the law is also complicated. I can only hope that your Lordships will at least be persuaded, by what I have placed before you this evening, that the Foreign Office and the Government generally are fully cognisant of the general interests involved in the question, and that my noble friend in particular will accept my assurance that the interests of British fishermen are near and dear to the Office which is more particularly responsible for them, and that, so far as the Foreign Office is concerned, there is no intention whatever of departing from those great principles of international law which I had the honour to lay before your Lordships last year.


My Lords, I do not propose to detain your Lordships for more than a few moments, but I should like to point out that there is no doubt that trawling has very greatly depleted the North Sear This has been practically admitted by a great number of gentlemen interested in trawling. Lord Balfour has already quoted the opinions of two or three of them and I will not, therefore, trouble your Lordships on that point. But I should like to refer your Lordships to the fishery statistics of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries in proof of the assertion that trawling is doing a great deal of harm to the shallow waters of the North Sea. For instance, there were one million cwts. less fish trawled in the North Sea in 1905 than in 1903. The waters of the Moray Firth are shallower still, and contain very valuable breeding ground which will be very soon destroyed if trawlers are allowed to go there. Mr. Sutherland, the Member for Elgin Burghs, stated in the House of Commons, on July 8th last, that the present trawling fleet are equal to over 12,000 of the old fishing smacks. The hon. Member proceeded to quote an article from a Scottish newspaper, in which the writer said it was calculated that the spread of nets or the width of sea bottom covered extended at least to twenty-five miles, and that with a net towed at a speed of three miles per hour for twenty working hours per day the area daily swept by them amounted to 1,500 square miles. He added— The whole of the Moray Firth would thus be swept from shore to shore in a day and a half. I live on the shores of Moray Firth, and believe that the few so-called foreign trawlers which come there are really owned by Englishmen, the capital being found by Englishmen, and that they fly a foreign flag in order to evade the law of this country, with the ultimate object of securing bigger dividends. Mr. Sutherland, in the speech to which I have referred, declared that the attempt on the part of Grimsby trawl owners to defeat the law was a— cold-blooded, merciless, squalid conspiracy a conspiracy intended not for purposes [...] patriotism, but in order to secure bigger dividends. I confess that I do not think that language too strong. A conference was held in Aberdeen in 1905, and the Commissioner of the Norwegian Fisheries attended with the intention of stating that his Government were anxious to co-operate with His Majesty's Government in stopping the registration of Grimsby trawlers under the Norwegian flag. For some reason or other, he was not able to make this statement, but he wrote a letter to that effect to the fishing wade journal, which shows that the Norwegian Government, at all events, are anxious to co-operate, if possible, with His Majesty's Government. Personally, I think the way out of the difficulty is to reopen the conference of 1882, and to try to come to an arrangement with the other Powers for the closing of the Moray Firth to all countries. If for some reason unknown to us laymen the Foreign Office are unable to do this, then I ask your Lordships to accept the Amendment moved by Lord Balfour of Burleigh and leave the Moray Firth as it is at present.


My Lords, I should like to say one word in support of what has been said as to the damage done to line-fishing by trawlers. It is within my knowledge that in the past the line fishermen have suffered great hardship at the hands of trawlers. The latter represent the capitalists, and have behind them all the strength and influence which money can give; whereas the line fisher men are poor men, and unless they are protected from what I must call unfair competition, they will soon find their livelihood entirely gone. There is no doubt room for both line fishermen and trawlers to work in the North Sea, but it is impossible for thorn to work in the same areas. I would point out to your Lordships that there are 33,000 line fishermen in Scotland, and only 2,900 trawlers. I object to regarding trawlers as martyrs, simply because they are not allowed by the regulations to enter certain prescribed areas and curtail the supply of fish to the community by destroying the spawning beds and catching large quantities of immature fish. I know many villages on the coast of Aberdeenshire which were once inhabited by prosperous communities, and which are now half-empty simply because fishing inshore has been destroyed by trawlers. I have three of these villages on my own property, and I know how exceptionally hard this has pressed upon the old people in those villages. I have often seen, from my own windows on the Aberdeen coast, these trawlers lying at dusk just outside the three-mile limit, and the line fishermen tell me that the moment it gets dark the trawlers come in and sweep all the beds clean. I therefore think it most necessary that stringent regulations should be imposed. The reasons which influenced the Fishery Board to include the Moray Firth were, first, that there were important spawning beds requiring protection; and, secondly, that the Moray Firth had been proved to be a very valuable nursery for young fish. I quite admit that trawling is a legitimate trade, but it should not be carried on at the expense of the community, In the Report of the Fishery Board it is stated that to those engaged in the industry the growing increase in the quantity of small haddocks landed is a matter of concern, and that the small mesh nets now used by the majority of trawlers are responsible for this. These small fish, we are told, are frequently sold for manure. I think that nobody can contend that these trawlers do no harm to the fish supply. The trawlers have no right to kill the goose that lays the golden egg, and, for these reasons, if the noble Lord, Lord Heneage, goes to a division, I shall certainly vote against him.


My Lords I do not intend to trouble your Lord ships with any observations upon this matter. There appears to be a general consensus of opinion that British fishermen ought not to be placed in a position of disability as compared with foreign fishermen. That is a general proposition, and as far as the terms of the present law are concerned they do not appear to be entirely consistent with that proposition; but, in matters of this great delicacy, it is evident that a general proposition of that kind can only be applied with due regard to the magnitude of the evil or mischief which it is intended to concern. I gather that nearly every speaker has agreed that the number of foreign trawlers who take advantage of their position to use the Moray Firth is exceedingly small. My noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh most frankly confessed that if there were a large number he might take a different view; and the noble Lord the Chancellor of the Duchy founded a good deal of his argument upon the fact that the number of foreign trawlers was very small. My noble friend, Lord Saltoun, speaking from personal knowledge of the actual locality, also gave the same testimony. In these circumstances, I only rise for the purpose of suggesting to my noble friend, Lord Heneage, that the words which fell from my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, indicate the proper line on the present occasion, and that it is not worth while to assert a general proposition which nobody desires to contest. I therefore hope my noble friend will not press his Motion; and, if he takes that view, no doubt my noble friend, Lord Balfour, will withdraw his Amendment and thus open the way for the withdrawal of the Motion.


My Lords, the course which was suggested by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition appears to me to be the better one. I shall, therefore, adopt it. At the same time, I desire to say that I adhere to everything I have said with regard to the bona fides of the foreign vessels that are at present fishing in these waters; and, although I have not had time to verify it, I have received information from Fleetwood that five more bona fide German vessels have come to Fleetwood to fish from there. I am quite willing, if Lord Balfour of Burleigh will withdraw his Amendment, to withdraw my Motion and content myself with the discussion which has taken place.


My Lords, in order to make way for my noble friend to withdraw his Motion I am quite willing to withdraw my Amendment. But while I am not going to be provoked into making another speech in reply to what the noble Lord has just said, I wish to say that in agreeing to the withdrawal of the Amendment, I do not agree with the speech which the noble Lord has made in conveying his request.

Amendment for putting the previous Question (by leave of the House) withdrawn; then the original Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.