HL Deb 02 May 1934 vol 91 cc978-88

asked the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies for information respecting the proposed application of the funds provided for the "Discovery" Expedition Committee, and as to the future programme of that Committee. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I wish to ask the noble Earl the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies for some information respecting the proposed utilisation of the funds provided for the "Discovery" Expedition Committee and as to the future of that Committee. I have given the noble Earl private notice of some matters connected with the history of this Committee. The "Discovery" Expedition Committee is a body of very highly expert scientific men, including members of the Royal Society, and the Committee was set up in 1918 or 1919, immediately after the War, with a view to finding out what could be done to prevent the extinction of whales. During the War there was an immense run on whales for the purpose of providing animal fats, and right whales and other oil-producing whales came near extermination. Very little was known with regard to the habits of whales or as to what could be done as an economic measure to preserve and maintain them. This Committee was accordingly set up for the purpose of organising a research expedition on the lines of the famous Challenger expedition in those areas frequented by whales.

In order to defray the expenses of the Committee licence duties were placed upon whaling ships doing business in British and British Colonial waters, charges were made for licences for concessions for whaling stations, and duties were levied upon oil exported from the places where it was manufactured. These imposts of course could only be levied upon persons doing business in British waters or on British territory and those persons were not all British subjects. Many of them were Norwegians. Some of the principal people engaged in this industry are, and always have been, Norwegians. No objection was made to the levying of these imposts, and in correspondence the purpose for which they were levied was made clear, as is shown by an assurance given in a letter which I have here, addressed to Messrs. Chr. Salvesen & Co., the Southern Whaling Co., Messrs. Brandt's Sons & Co., and the Association of Norwegian Whaling Companies.

That letter, which was sent from the Colonial Office, called attention to the Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Research and Development in the Dependencies of the Falkland Islands and to the recommendation in paragraph 154 of the Report that increased revenue should be obtained from the whaling and sealing industries in the Dependencies to meet the cost of the proposed investigations, which are primarily concerned with the preservation of the whaling industry. The letter went on to say that the additional revenue derived from the increase in the export duty on whale and seal oil in October, 1919, is being placed to the credit of a special Fund for research and development in the Dependencies. A further increase in the duties was proposed as from October, 1920, and the letter concluded by saying: The extra revenue derived from this further increase in the duty will also be credited to the special Fund for research oral development. It was promised, therefore, that the proceeds of these duties should be preserved for the purpose of research and for the development of this industry.

It was in these circumstances that the ship "Discovery" was equipped and very valuable investigations were made, reports of which have been published. I need not trouble your Lordships with details of the reports, but I may say that they have increased scientific knowledge of the habits of whales and the manner in which they can best be preserved. The reports have been a valuable contribution to the industrial knowledge of the world. I may say that the enterprise was set on foot largely as the result of the energy of Mr. Darnley, of the Colonial Office, who was the first Chairman of the Committee and who was in charge during the War of the organisation of efforts to obtain whale blubber. In 1933 this Fund, notwithstanding the expenditure which had been incurred, had increased to a sum of no less than£350,000. That sum, I am told, was in hand. Earlier in that year the Secretary of State had informed the Committee that it was the intention to suspend the operations of the Committee. The Committee, composed, as I have said, of very distinguished scientific men, were rather startled. They wanted to know why, when this Fund had been accumulated for special scientific purposes which they considered had not been thoroughly explored, the work should be suddenly interrupted. They organised a strong deputation to the Secretary of State to the Colonies.

That deputation so far prevailed upon the Secretary of State—the noble Earl opposite will correct me if I make any misstatement—that he consented to the equipment of another "Discovery" expedition and that was organised towards the close of 1933. The Committee, however, were left in entire ignorance as to what might be the intentions of the Secretary of State with regard to the further application of the Fund, except in so far as they were informed that it might be thought desirable to apply it to other scientific purposes for the benefit of the Colonial Empire. If it were a Fund produced entirely by taxation of our own subjects, that might be a very reasonable conversion, but I cannot help thinking that it is rather a difficult thing to take a Fund raised largely, one may say, internationally and for an international purpose, raised partly from representatives and traders of foreign nations, and to apply it to a solely Imperial purpose. Therefore I want to have a very definite statement from the noble Earl as to what are now the intentions of the Secretary of State with regard to the further use of that very large accumulated balance of the Fund which, even after it has been reduced by the expenses of the present "Discovery" expedition, will amount, I am informed, to about £300,000.

One slight result which may possibly be said to arise out of the labours of this Committee is the International Convention for the regulation of whaling which was passed in Geneva in September, 1931, but which was presented to Parliament only two or three weeks ago, two and a half years after it had been framed. That Whaling Convention is a very mild document, aiming at the protection, and to some extent the regulation, of the whaling industry. In the first place it protects our old friend the right whale—what I may call the Greenland whale—and says that he may not be destroyed at all, neither he nor his young. It also regulates the killing of other sorts of whales, which are specified, if they are undersized or under-aged, and the killing of females in certain circumstances. That is to say, it goes a very little way towards an attempt at preserving the whale whenever that whale may be within waters over which a signatory Government has jurisdiction, which, of course, are a very small fraction indeed of the whole area over which whales disport themselves. Within those territorial limits whalers can operate only by licence, and the Governments concerned can, if they ratify the Convention and if they intend to follow out the terms of it, take disciplinary action against any one of their own nationals who kills a right whale or an undersized whale protected by the Convention.

But I think it must be admitted that the document is not a very comforting document for whales who may have apprehensions while in the enormous area of the high seas where no one has any control; nor have whales any protection when outside the jurisdiction of any Government, for no one has any duty whatever to interfere with the operations of whalers on the high seas. We were able to interfere with those operations when the whalers had to come to land to try out their blubber, but now they try out their blubber on the high seas. There are two consequences of that: one is that we do riot get any more revenue from them, and the other is that we have no control whatever over their operations. So that, although I am glad to see in an International Convention any sign of recognition of the expediency of internationally protecting our vanishing wild animals, I am afraid that that does not go very far. Still, it is a beginning and a stepping stone.

Further, I have to say that the original Chairman of this Committee, the man who did most to promote its coming into being and who has conducted its operations, I think I may say, with great ability and credit, received last autumn a sudden notice of dismissal. I do not know why and I want to know why. The letter reads as follows: I am directed by Secretary Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister to inform you that in the light of his decision that the 'Discovery II' should be recommissioned for a further cruise, he has taken into consideration the question of the future arrangements in connection with the Chairmanship of the 'Discovery' Committee. The previous cruises had been very successfully conducted under the direction of the Committee, with Mr. Darnley as Chairman. While he is sensible of the services which you have rendered as Chairman of the Committee both before and since your retirement from the Colonial Office, Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister has decided that in all the circumstances it will be desirable to make other arrangements for the Chairmanship of the Committee with effect from the 1st of January, 1934. In consideration, however, of your services as Chairman between your retirement and that date, he is prepared to authorise the grant to you from the Falkland Islands Dependencies Research and Development Fund of an honorarium …; and arrangements will be made in due course for the payment of this sum to you. The honorarium named in this matter is neither here nor there, but here is a gentleman who has done very efficient work in the public service, as I think is admitted, and who is quite capable of carrying it on, and who, nevertheless, is suddenly dismissed, with no reason either given or even suggested. Here is a man perfectly well capable of carrying on his work, who has an immense interest in his work, and who, as I think will be admitted by his colleagues, has done a great deal to help them to perform their work; and I really want to know what are the reasons for Mr. Darnley's supersession. I admit that he was treated with liberality in regard to the granting of an honorarium, but for a man who has retired from the Colonial Office on account of the abolition of his office and who is still capable of doing work, it seems to be a rather hard measure, and one requiring some justification, that he should be suddenly deprived of that useful activity without any reason given. I should like to know what were the considerations which appeared to the Secretary of State to justify that step.

He was further informed that: The Secretary of State proposes also to make other arrangements as from the 1st of January, 1934, for the representation of the Colonial Office on the Polar Committee. In the meantime he thinks it desirable, in view of the questions now under consideration, that some serving member of the Pacific and Mediterranean Department of the Colonial Office should be in close touch with the work of the Polar Committee. That is the official reason, and that may be a good reason with regard to the Polar Committee. I am not particularly interested in the Polar Committee. I am interested in this large Fund which was raised under the Chairmanship of Mr. Darnley for discovery and scientific purposes, and I am interested in asking the noble Earl to give us a clear idea as to how His Majesty's Government propose to dispose of this very large nest-egg for the purposes on behalf of which it has been levied on the taxpayers of this and other nations. I also wish to know if he can give any explanation or justification of what seems to me to be very hard measure meted out to a man perfectly capable of doing more work at a time when there seems to have been no particular reason for interrupting it.


My Lords, the noble Lord has raised a certain number of questions in connection with the "Discovery" Committee, and he has made specific inquiries concerning the position relating to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling concluded at Geneva in 1931, and perhaps it might be convenient if I said a word upon that subject now. The position so far as that is concerned is this: Great Britain could not give effect to the Convention without Parliamentary legislation, and it was accordingly impossible for us to ratify until the necessary legislation had been passed. An inter-Departmental Committee was appointed to consider the precise form of the legislation that would be required. This Committee had now reported, and a draft Bill has been prepared which is engaging the active consideration of the Government.


For three years!


It was a complicated subject. But that is the position at the moment. I think the noble Lord is aware of what that Convention contains, and it is therefore unnecessary for me to go into it in detail. Turning to the "Discovery" Committee, that Committee has been in existence in its present form for some ten years, and it is recognised, as the noble Lord has said, to have done during that period much very valuable work. The investigations upon which that Committee are primarily engaged are in connection with whaling and sealing, and they were initiated with the object of obtaining information upon which to base a scientific regulation of whaling and sealing operations. Perhaps I might briefly inform your Lordships what are the chief branches of research pursued by that Committee. In the first place there is the study of the age, rate of reproduction, growth and movements of whales. Then the study of the biological conditions determining the distribution and movements of whales; the study of the physical factors affecting whales, either directly or by affecting the distribution of whale food; hydrographic observations of uncharted or imperfectly charted coasts and waters in the Falkland Islands sector which are frequented by whalers; the study of the natural history of the seal species of chief economic importance; inquiry into the possibilities of developing fishing in the waters of the Dependencies of the Falkland Islands; and the distribution for study by specialists of meteorological observations, including ice records, and of biological material of no immediate economic importance.

The noble Lord has referred to the position of Mr. Darnley, and I am glad to take this opportunity of acknowledging the services rendered by Mr. Darnley while at the Colonial Office, as Chairman of the "Discovery" Committee. As the noble Lord knows, he held this position for a long period, in addition to performing his departmental duties. The noble Lord has asked me what were the reasons for Mr. Darnley's dismissal from the position of Chairman of the "Discovery" Committee. If I may be allowed to say so, I think the term "dismissal" is not a correct one in this respect. The explanation is really a very simple one. As he knows, Mr. Darnley retired from the Government service about a year ago. He remained as Chairman of the "Discovery" Committee for some months, but it was considered of the highest importance that the Chairman of that Committee should be directly connected with the Colonial Office, and the Secretary of State for the Colonies consequently appointed Me to that position in the place of Mr. Darnley. I think I ought to make it clear that the Committee is appointed by the Secretary of State, and is directly responsible to him, and it was because of the need for close connection between the Committee, in the person of its Chairman, and the Colonial Office, that these steps were taken.

With regard to the financial side of this question, as your Lordships know, and as the noble Lord has told the House, the "Discovery" investigations are financed from the Falkland Islands Dependencies Research and Development Fund, which has been built up from revenue obtained from the Falkland Islands Dependencies, mainly from an export duty on whale oil. The Fund was created in 1924, by the transfer of sums standing to the credit of an earlier Dependencies Research Fund and the Dependencies General Account, that is, the then Reserve Fund of the Dependencies. Up till 1932 the cost of administering the Dependencies was more than balanced by the current revenue, and the surplus in each year was carried to the Fund. The position has since changed materially. Local revenue has fallen seriously short, owing in the main to the diminution of receipts from the export duty on whale products, consequent upon the adoption by many of the whaling companies of what is known as the pelagic method of whaling, which virtually eliminates the use of shore stations.

There is recurrent administrative expenditure amounting to about £18,000 per annum, which is additional to the expenditure incurred by the "Discovery" Committee and cannot, in present circumstances, be wholly met from current revenue. I should explain that the sum of £18,000 which I have mentioned as representing the amount of recurrent expenditure in the Dependencies includes a contribution of £9,000 made by the Dependencies towards the cost of the central administration in the Falkland islands, as well as expenditure on local staff and communications. I hope I have made it clear that the charges on the Fund are now appreciably exceeding its income. On January 1, 1932, and reckoning the investments at cost, the Fund had a balance of £418,420. During that year the excess of expenditure over receipts was approximately £27,000, and during 1933 there was another excess of some 131,000. It is not easy to give exact figures of the total reduction in the Fund, since fluctuations in the values of investments have to be taken into account, but in any case it is clear that the diminution of the Fund is such as to make it prudent to review the situation generally, and especially the question of retaining a part of the Fund as a reserve for the general purposes of the Dependencies. It is obviously necessary that some provision be made to safeguard the Dependencies against future deficiencies.


Do I understand that they will be deficiencies in the general revenue?


Of the Dependencies of the Falkland Islands. My Lords, I want, if I may, to be allowed to make it quite clear that the programme of the "Discovery" Committee has not been materially interrupted, although owing to the financial outlook some small economies have necessarily had to be put into operation. In August last authority was given for the recommissioning of the Royal research ship "Discovery II" for another cruise of approximately twenty months, and this cruise will occupy the period until June, 1935, after which the Committee will necessarily require a further period to work up the results of the material then collected. In this connection I would like to say that it has already been decided that the engagements of the scientific officers employed by the Committee shall be extended for three years as from July 1 next.


May I ask are those the scientific officers stationed in South Georgia?


No. they are scientific officers most of whom are here at home, and some who are actually now with the "Discovery II" on her voyage. I ought further to explain that the Falkland Islands Dependencies Research and Development Fund is not regarded as exclusively reserved for the "Discovery" investigations. Your Lordships will have seen that recently a grant of £10,000 has been made from the Fund towards the expenses of the British Expedition to Graham's Land', which is being organised under the leadership of Mr. Rymill, and I think your Lordships will agree that that project is well worthy of support. Important exploration work is to be undertaken by this expedition, from which valuable results may be expected, and it may well be that there will be other expeditions of a similar character, which will be equally worthy of any support that we can give them. I do not think there is anything that I can usefully add to what I have said. I would only conclude by saying that it is considered too early now to come to a final decision as to the detailed disposal of any balance of the Fund which may be left over after provision has been made for the objects to which I have referred.


My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Olivier, will probably be glad to have heard the statement just made, because it does show that the Secretary of State has definitely decided that the investigations are to go on, and to go on along the lines originally laid down. I think there was one point in the noble Earl's speech which requires rather careful consideration, and that was the point as to the extent to which any amount from the Fund should be devoted to the general revenue account of the Falkland Islands. I understand from what he said that a certain amount has already been taken out of general revenue to make up certain deficits on the annual expenditure on behalf of the investigations, and to that extent it seems to me quite fair that the general revenue should he refunded; but I have no doubt that the Secretary of State will take that into very careful consideration.

With regard to the question of Mr. Darnley, which was raised by Lord Olivier and which has been referred to by the noble Earl, I was very glad to hear the noble Earl say that Mr. Darnley was not dismissed from the Chairmanship. I am sure we all welcome the noble Earl in the position as Chairman of that Committee, because we know the way in which he attends to matters which come under his administration. At the same time I would ask the noble Earl whether he would represent to the Secretary of State for the Colonies in reference to Mr. Darnley—who was, after all, the originator of the whole idea of the "Discovery" Committee and of the "Discovery" expedition itself, who has a very special knowledge of all matters concerned with the investigations, and who has been in close touch with all the principal authorities in Norway and other countries which are concerned in the whaling industry—that perhaps it might be possible to re-attach Mr. Darnley to that Committee in some capacity which might fit the case, subject, of course, to Mr. Darnley being willing to serve in an inferior position to that which he has been holding. I do feel that we ought not at this period, when we still have in front of us several years of investigation, to lose the expert services which Mr. Darnley might be able to render to the Committee during that period.