HL Deb 20 July 1922 vol 51 cc638-41

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. It has already passed through another place, and its provisions have been carefully scrutinised by Members of Parliament who are interested in it, and who are qualified to discuss it. No Amendments were made in Committee in another place, and of the two Amendments made on Report one was a grammatical one, and the other a provision that any Order made under this Bill shall lie on the Table of both Houses of Parliament for thirty days before it takes effect. I feel, therefore, that there is nothing in the Bill which should prevent your Lordships passing it as it stands, and without discussion. For these reasons my remarks will be very brief.

There is already in existence an Act dealing with whale fishing, the essential part of which is that licences must be obtained before whale fishing is indulged in. These permits, however, can only be cancelled (and then without compensation) if there is any infringement of the regulations, and however much damage whale fishing may be doing to the far greater industry of herring fishing, there is no power on the part of the Secretary for Scotland to interdict its continuance. For your Lordships' information, I may say that there are two whaling stations in Scotland, one in Shetland and the other in the Hebrides. These were established in 1903, and might almost be called experimental. In Shetland there was a good deal of opposition to the continuance of these whaling operations before the war, on the plea that the herring fishings were being ruined by the whale fishings.

It is a fact that the fishing in these parts deteriorated before the war, and whether this (as was alleged) was caused by the whale fishing or not, I am not prepared to say, nor is it of necessity proved, but so strongly is the opinion held in Shetland that whale fishing is harmful to the revival of the herring fishing industry in the waters in question since the war that a determined effort is being made by the herring fishers to prevent the resumption of whale fishing. A Departmental Committee of the Board of Fisheries in Scotland strongly supports the attitude taken up by the herring fishers. In the Hebrides, however, there is no complaint, but this does not necessarily mean that whale fishing does not damage herring fishing because there is no appreciable damage in the Hebrides, for different conditions may well prevail off the coast in question. Those interested in the whale fishing in the Shetlands are naturally all out for the continuance of the whale fishing without any power of interference on the part of the authorities, while on the other hand, the herring fishers are bitterly opposed to the continuance of the whale fishing.

It has been found by the Secretary for Scotland impossible, to come to any modus vivendi between them, and, while it is suspected, but not actually proved, that the whale fishing does damage to the herring fishing, it is a fact that in Norway, owing to supposed damage to other fishing, the Legislature of that country prohibited whale fishing on the north coast of Norway for ten years, with the result that the Norwegian fishers came across and introduced the industry into the Shetlands. The Secretary for Scotland in his desire to hold the balance between the two parties, which, I think, is the only thing he could do, is not desirous of taking extreme steps, unless it is proved to his satisfaction that real damage is being done to the herring fishing. He therefore proposes by an amendment in this Bill to add to the provisions of the old Bill a clause empowering him to cancel the licence of any one carrying on whale fishing if it is proved to his satisfaction that the great industry of herring fishing is being spoilt. He only asks to have this power to use if he thinks the herring fishery is being spoilt.

This would appear to be fair to both parties, and the most sensible thing that could be done in the circumstances. As an additional safeguard the proviso is made that before the Secretary for Scotland makes any cancellation of a licence, or suspends it for a specific period, his proposals must lie on the Table of both Houses for thirty days before they become operative.

The clause providing that no compensation be given is, of course, continued in these new amending clauses, and although some people may at first sight be inclined to query this point (as I myself was), I am assured that it is a matter of common law that if any industry or other business is carried on by an individual, whether under licence or otherwise, and is found to be deleterious to the business of his neighbours—more especially in the case of a new business in relation to an old one—such a business can be stopped by the authorities, or otherwise, and no compensation in such a case is payable. So there is really nothing new in the clause, which only points out that the common law of the land applies in the case of this measure. I feel that if whale fishing is bad for the herring fishing, which undoubtedly is a far greater industry and constitutes the wealth of Shetland, the Secretary for Scotland will be bound to interfere, but if the whale fishing is not doing harm, and is likely to become a great and useful industry, then it would be impossible, may I say, as the whale found when it swallowed Jonah, to keep a good thing down. I therefore hope that your Lordships will be good enough to give the Bill a Second Reading, and that Lord Wemyss, who has given Notice of a Motion for rejection, will not be a Jonah on this my trial trip with a Bill in your Lordships' house; but if he is, I must ask your Lordships to cast him forth into the waters, and leave my Bill secure. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Duke of Atholl.)

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