Whale Fisheries (Scotland) (Amendment) Bill

– in the House of Commons on 10th May 1922.

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Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [9th May], "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

Question again proposed.

Dr. MURRAY:

I have no desire to oppose this Bill. I believe that it should be passed to meet the wishes of the Shetland people. In my constituency there are no people who want the embargo which the Shetland people, owing to the conditions existing there, desire, and as the Bill provides that it is not to be put into force except when the people want it I have no objection to offer.

Photo of Major Murdoch Wood Major Murdoch Wood , Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire Central

I am not opposed to this Bill, but I should have been opposed to it if it had been, as some people wished it to be, a Bill imposing an absolute prohibition on whaling in these waters. It is because it is permissive and gives discretion to the Secretary of Scotland that I support it. Though I think that there is some evidence to show that whaling off the West Coast of Shetland has something to do with the disappearance of the herring in these waters, yet I do not think that it is proved fully, because we can give examples of many other fishing stations in the North of Scotland where there has been at one time a- large herring fishery which has suddenly disappeared without any good apparent reason. That being so, I think that it would be a mistake to suppose that because herring have disappeared in these water therefore it must be the result of the whaling that has been going on for the last 20 years or so. That is why I think that discretion should be given to the Secretary for Scotland, so that he can watch what will happen within the next few years and prohibit whaling only if he thinks that the case against it is fully proved. There is another reason. An attempt was made by bringing the two parties together to make an arrangement whereby both herring fishing and whaling could be carried on in these waters. It is possible that if whaling were confined to a certain time of the year, when herring fishing was not being followed, the herring fishing could be carried on at other periods of the year, and if the Secretary for Scotland has this discretion he may be armed with some negotiating power which might enable him to get such an arrangement adopted.

It is advisable that some attempt should be made even now to see whether both these industries cannot be retained for Shetland. There is some danger that even if you do prevent whaling stations in Shetland, whaling will still go on in the same waters, and that the result of your prohibition will simply be that the station on land may be removed to some other place, say the Faroe Islands, and that the whaling may go on in the same waters as at present. If that were so the Bill would not achieve its object. That is why I think that it would be a mistake if the Secretary for Scotland bowed to pressure put on him to ask the House to prohibit whaling altogether. I hope that this question will be watched carefully by the Fishery Board, and an attempt made to get a little more information than we have at present about the habits of the herring. Ignorance of the habits of the herring is the cause of all the trouble. I know from my own experience in the North of Scotland that many old ideas as to the habits of the herring have now been rejected. Not very long ago it was believed that herrings appeared in the late spring or early summer in the Outer Hebrides and that they had a procession around these islands finishing up about Lowestoft or Yarmouth in the late autumn or winter. That was knocked on the head by the fact that suddenly in winter-time herrings were found up in the Minch, and now I believe that the winter fishing of herring at Stornaway is the most important of the year. Other theories have come and gone, and the only thing of which we can be certain now is our gross ignorance of the habits of the herring. I hope, therefore, that some better attempt will be made to get at the facts in reference to this difficult question.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Penry Williams Lieut-Colonel Penry Williams , Middlesbrough East

I would ask the Lord Advocate to give us some information on the question of whaling and the people whose livelihood may be taken away by its prohibition. I understand that there is one big firm of whalers who have been established in Shetland for over 40 years. It is proposed now, because of some idea that their activities are detrimental to herring fishing, to take away without any com- pensation licences which have been granted periodically to them. That would be a very hard proceeding. If you deprive this firm of its means of livelihood you should pay fair compensation not only to the firm, but also to the people whom they employ. It is conceivable that you may throw out of employment some 2,000 people in these islands who are engaged either directly or indirectly in this whaling, and these people may be displaced without any chance of getting compensation. That is a proceeding which is foreign to this House. When this House interferes with rights that have existed for many years it has always recognised the principle of compensation for disturbance. I have not heard any reason advanced now why this practice should be abandoned and I will ask the Lord Advocate to tell us why the Government think it necessary to suspend these licences and take away without any compensation the means of livelihood of this firm.

8.0 P.M.

Photo of Mr Charles Murray Mr Charles Murray , Edinburgh South

I have no wish to add anything to what my right hon. Friend has said with regard to the provisions of this Bill, but I would like to say one word in reply to what has been said. I am sure that my right hon. Friend (Mr. Munro) will take into consideration the suggestion thrown out by the hon. Member for Central Aberdeen (Major M. Wood). On the question of compensation, some criticism has been directed on the ground that it is proposed in the Bill to give power to suspend or cancel licences without compensation in limited cases. My hon. Friend must be under some misapprehension, as my information is that the industry in the North of Scotland is of comparatively recent growth, and indeed, that it was instituted only in 1903. The reason why it is not proposed to offer compensation is as follows: while the principle is generally accepted that interference in the public interest with private property—where a license is renewable every year, it is not private property—calls for compensation, quite different considerations apply if the conditions are such as are contemplated in the Bill, because, as my hon. Friend knows, it is a fundamental of law that private right much yield to the public interest, and that if the carrying on of a man's business is prejudicial to the interests of his neighbours, his right must yield. In respect of that, the provisions of the Bill are explicitly limited to the case in which the Secretary for Scotland is satisfied, upon inquiry, that there is detriment to the general herring industry. It is for that reason alone, I take it, that the provision is proposed that in such cases the general principle of law must prevail and private interests must yield.