I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill is an effort to remove a longstanding hardship which has hurt the livelihood and discouraged the efforts of thousands of inshore fishermen around the coasts of Scotland and damaged their property. For many years this problem has been acute and as far back as 1923 Lord Mackenzie's impartial committee recommended drastic provisions to stop illegal trawling. That committee reported that the certificates of the skippers who engaged in illegal trawling should be suspended or cancelled and that the certificate of registry of the trawler should also be suspended or cancelled. Since 1923 the problem has continued and last autumn, responsible authorities in all parts of Scotland pressed for immediate action in view of the continued hardship caused to the inshore fishermen around our coasts. Illegal trawling depletes the inshore fishing grounds and thereby reduces the catches of the inshore fishermen. The gear of some of these men has also been destroyed by illegal trawling and as compensation is difficult to obtain their enterprise has been discouraged. On both social and economic grounds I feel sure that all Members of the House desire the prosperity of the inshore fisherman.
The inshore fishing industry to-day has no real chance of development until confidence which is the basis of all enterprise has been restored. The Sea Fishing Industry Act passed last year ought to be of some benefit to these men. If they can get better prices for their catches of white fish, that will help to compensate for the poor results in the herring fishing industry during the last three years. But this very desirable development of inshore fisheries will be hindered if illegal trawling prevents the men from getting satisfactory catches. That is the situation which I ask the House of Commons this afternoon to consider. No one desires to increase the penalty in this or any other calling in life, but I can do no other. The existing penalties have proved insufficient to stop illegalities by a small but very persistent section of the trawlers. In the last three years, there have been 44 convictions for illegal trawling, and 27 convictions for concealing identification marks and other similar offences. These figures represent only the numbers caught and convicted. The poaching trawler is often successful, especially at night, in avoiding detection and the actual amount of illegal trawling to-day-is considerable.
The Bill makes the owner liable to a fine if his vessel is used for illegal trawling, but only if the skipper is a person previously convicted of illegal trawling within a given period. The maximum fines on the owner for the first, second and third convictions are £150, £250 and £500, respectively. A list of persons convicted of illegal trawling after the passing of this Bill will be available for inspection at the mercantile marine offices around our coasts. Let me mention that in this revision of the law opportunity has been taken to omit the existing forfeiture of the net and gear in the case of the first conviction of the skipper so long as he is not also the owner. It is proposed also to exclude the warps from the forfeiture in the case of a second or, subsequent conviction. Warps may be useful or necessary for anchoring or the navigation of the vessel.
At the present moment the maximum penalty on the skipper is the same for a second or subsequent offence as for a first offence, namely, a fine of £100 or imprisonment for 60 days' failing payment. The Bill does not increase the maximum fine of £100 in the case of a first conviction, but it gives the court a discretion to impose imprisonment for not exceeding three months without the option of a, fine. For a second conviction the maximum fine will be £200 while the court has discretion to impose imprisonment for not exceeding six months without the option of a fine. In the case of a third or subsequent conviction the court is empowered to impose both fine and imprisonment not exceeding £200 and six months, respectively.
Yes. These penalties are designed to provide an additional deterrent against the first offences and also against repeated offences such as have become notorious. I believe that the great majority of skippers and owners respect the law and will rejoice if the offences of the small minority cease altogether. Clauses 2 and 3 strengthen the existing penalties for offences which are frequently associated with illegal trawling. Let me relate a recent case to show the necessity for these provisions. A trawler was detected illegally trawling at night off the coast of Lewis. The trawler steamed away and when challenged refused to stop. The cruiser gave chase through the night and the following day. At dawn it was seen that the skipper and crew had masked their faces with mufflers and that the trawler's name, letters and numbers were concealed. Efforts made by the captain of the fishery cruiser to get alongside the trawler were rendered extremely dangerous as both sets of trawl boards had been swung outside the ship. When attempts were made to steer the cruiser alongside, the trawler was navigated in an erratic, dangerous manner, and the cruiser itself had difficulty in averting a collision. The chase continued, but the trawler's clever manoeuvres fortunately failed. The cruiser's officers carefully noted the main features of the trawler for purposes of identification and also took several snapshots. Later in the day, through the action of the elements, part of the letters and numbers became visible. Officers of the cruiser then went to a certain port and identified the trawler. Subsequently, the skipper was convicted of illegal trawling and three associated offences and was fined £186. He had previously been convicted twice for illegal trawling and twice for breach of the Collision Regulations. I give that simple statement to show some of the present difficulties which our fishery cruisers have to experience in their arduous and difficult duties in stopping this unfortunate practice.
Clause 4 requires the trawl boards and net to be inboard and the warps to be detached from the boards while the vessel is in waters where trawling is prohibited. The object of that provision is to make it more difficult for the vessel to commit an offence quickly by using her trawl in the prohibited waters. We are thus tackling the problem of illegal trawling both by tightening the law against the practices and by fresh policing methods. The House is aware of the success of our recent experiments in the policing of certain parts of the west coast of Scotland. In addition, the Government have decided to strengthen the existing fleet by replacing old boats by three modern vessels. That is our contribution to the problem which has been acute for many years.
May I say to those who think we are going too far that the seas are wide and if skippers will avoid trawling in the prohibited areas they run no risk whatever through the operation of this Bill. No one, least of all myself, would wish to hurt the trawling fleet. Their courage in war and the hard life which they lead in our northern seas have always found and will always continue to find a sympathetic response in this House. I consider, however, that the proposals of the Bill are necessary for the reason which I have explained, and, although an Amendment is to be moved to reject the Bill, I trust that the House for the reasons I have given will give a unanimous consent to the Second Reading.
I am certain that in a large number of fishing ports in Scotland both the speech of the right hon. Gentleman and the Bill itself will be welcomed by those living there who depend upon fishing for their livelihood. For some time past, and more particularly during recent years, illegal trawling has become more and more of a menace to the livelihood of those people, and it is an undoubted fact that some of the vessels in use by the Fishery Board of Scotland have been unable to cope with those who were engaged in illegal trawling, and therefore I welcome the fact that three new vessels are to be built to replace some of the old ones presently in use. I put a question to the right hon. Gentleman regarding the age of several of the ships which were sailing as fishery cruisers, and I was informed that one had been in use by the Fishery Board for 33 years. Subsequent investigation revealed that the vessel was close upon 50 years of age at that time; it is now over 50 years. I refer to the "Vigilant." In view of the repeated demands for the introduction of modern methods, surely the Fishery Board should have been the first to set an example by replacing the "Vigilant" by a more modern type of vessel. Another of the Fishery Board vessels, according to information I received from the right hon. Gentleman, broke down so often that she was practically useless during the whole of one year, and, so far as I can gather, no other vessel took her place.
With regard to the Bill itself, it is a very good plan to place more restrictive penalties upon those who repeatedly offend against the law. If penalties are very small captains of vessels run very little risk by illegal trawling. They can run within the three miles limit, make a very good catch of fish, realise a decent profit upon it and still afford to pay the very small fine such as has been imposed upon them hitherto if caught. Now progressive fines are proposed, and in addition the skipper is to be liable to imprisonment as well if he is found guilty of more than one offence. I think that will be a deterrent to skippers who indulge in what has become rather the practice than the opposite in the Scottish seas. There is one point in the Bill to which I feel I must take exception. The Secretary of State told us that where the skipper of a vessel was found guilty of illegal trawling the fines to be imposed on the owner of the vessel were also to be of a progressive character. He would be fined a certain sum for the first offence, an increased amount for the second offence, and on the third occasion fined, I think, £500. When the skipper is found guilty of his second offence he is to be liable to six months' imprisonment or a fine, but for his third offence he will be liable to a fine and a period of imprisonment.
There is to be no period of imprisonment for the owner, however, although it will have been within the knowledge of the owner that a skipper employed by him had been previously convicted of illegal trawling. The owner has employed the skipper in the full knowledge that he is a man who has indulged in illegal trawling, and unless he can prove that he has given definite instructions to the skipper that such practice is not to be continued he ought to be penalised, where his offence is a cumulative one, at least by the threat that he may be subjected to imprisonment for the third offence, if the sheriff considers the case sufficiently serious. The Bill also lays it down that the Board of Trade must keep a register of the names of all skippers convicted of illegal trawling, so that when an owner has a vacancy for a skipper and goes through the list of applicants he can, on applying to the Board of Trade or whoever keeps this register, find out whether any of the skippers who have made application have been guilty of illegal trawling. Therefore, an owner who employs a skipper who has made a practice of illegal trawling does so with his eyes open, and if he cares to employ a skipper who has been convicted not only once or twice but thrice or oftener, he can be set down as an owner who is quite indifferent as to how his skipper is going to operate the ship. I hope in Committee to put down an Amendment providing that where a trawler skipper is found guilty of illegal trawling for the third time the owner shall be liable to a period of imprisonment as well as the skipper.
In that case it may very well be that the secretary of the company is the individual who will be held to be responsible, or the chairman of the company, because it is through him that all the operations of the company will be done. Consequently, some definitely responsible person is always to be found in a company who must suffer if the company is guilty of contravening the law.
There are always trustees for little girls in such cases, and if the trustees are conducting the property so carelessly as to involve a breach of the law, then the trustees must suffer as the real owners. You cannot have excuses in that way; otherwise you will have children of the real owners becoming the registered owners, and the owners appearing as trustees. In that case, according to my hon. Friend, you would not be able to punish the real owner, because the owner happened to be a little child.
Well, the little girls could not be managing the property, and therefore there would be a guardian. If my hon. Friend becomes a guardian of any of these little girls and they engage in illegal trawling, I trust that he will be able to face the punishment. There can be no excuse. There is always an attempt to ride off when you come to the question of illegal trawling, because of invested capital. Smash-and-grab raiders have invested a little capital in the purchase of a motor car and the tools they use, but that does not free them from the effects of their crime. If a man invests capital in a trawler and commits an offence against the law of the land, the fact that he has invested capital in that vessel is no justification for his escaping the same punishment as is inflicted on the captain he employs to be the direct breaker of the law.
I have in my hand a circular signed by Sir Andrew Lewis, Chairman of the British Trawlers' Federation, and this gentleman, speaking, I suspect, on behalf of the British Trawlers' Association, wants the three-mile limit abolished round certain waters in Scotland so that the trawlers can go in and trawl the waters inside that limit, because they say that those waters are not at the present time sufficiently fished by the ordinary fishermen. Why should the three-mile limit be abolished in any part of the world to suit the convenience or the profit of any body of trawl-owners? Why should fishing in Scotland within the three-mile limit, upon which so many thousands of Scottish fishermen depend for their livelihood, be smashed entirely because Sir Andrew Lewis comes along with a memorandum which is sent to Members of Parliament inviting them to assist in breaking up the three-mile limit? I hope that whoever is going to move that the Bill be read a Second time this day six months is not going to put forward any of the arguments advanced by Sir Andrew Lewis. If those reasons for delaying the Bill six months went out to the country, I am afraid that there would be an outcry in all the fishing villages, and it would probably arouse such a conflict of opinion between the trawler fishermen and the ordinary fishermen as to be almost a civil war in some parts where these two sets of fishermen usually meet. I hope that that is not going to be done this afternoon.
I intended to put this point to the Secretary of State for Scotland. He met my point in a way by intimating that he was going to have three new cruisers put down, but that number, I submit, is not sufficient. I have been, as he knows, and as the Under-Secretary knows, bombarding them with questions about the capacity of the vessels, the time they have been withdrawn from patrolling and laid up in port, the breakdowns which had occurred to various vessels, the speeds and age of them, and all the rest of it, and I got from them, I must say, a great deal of information which was given very willingly and also very fully. The provisions of the Bill and the penalties it is going to impose are all very good, providing that, as in the cooking of the hare, you must first catch your hare, you are able to catch your trawler in order to impose your penalties upon him, but you are not going to catch your trawler unless you have faster cruisers under the supervision of the Fishery Board of Scotland than the trawlers that it has got now.
The Secretary for Scotland was good enough to tell us of a certain incident, which amounted almost to buccaneering, on the part of a trawler in attempting to resist arrest, but he did not tell the other story of the trawler which was able to elude His Majesty's ship "Doon," and they could only find her by going to Fleet-wood, where she was registered, and arresting her in that port. [An HOST. MEMBER: "It was the same trawler."] The Secretary for Scotland says it was not the same. I did not see the name of the vessel which did the buccaneering trick on His Majesty's cruiser, but, as far as the trawler at Fleetwood was concerned, the skipper was taken into court. I tried to find out from the Secretary for Scotland, but was brushed aside in the effort, the speed of the "Doon" and of the trawler she was chasing, and I have the answer sent by the Ministry informing me that it was not in the public interest that the speed of the "Doon" should be made known. I think that the Under-Secretary will remember that reply. It may not have been in the public interest, but it was certainly in the interest of the fishermen to know if the speed was a little faster than that of the trawler which managed to elude her. Consequently, I hope that when these vessels are built, speed is to be one of the main considerations as well as sturdiness to stand up to any speed they have to make in chasing any trawlers which they see, or suspect of being, engaged in illegal trawling.
Therefore, for that purpose the Labour party are prepared to give a Second Reading to this Bill, recognising that it will, in the main, convey some hope to the fishermen who have been incensed during past years at the depredations which have been made in the areas in which they have been accustomed to fish by vessels engaged in illegal trawling, which is continuing to such an extent that in many of these places I am certain—and Members who come from fishing districts in Scotland will bear me out—that the fishermen have come to believe that the Government do not care anything about their conditions, and are beginning to lose hope of anything being done for them through Government assistance. We will support the Second Reading and assist the Government, as far as we can, in carrying it through this stage, even though those who seek to delay the Bill try to force their Amendment to a Division. But we reserve the right, in Committee, to put down Amendments along the lines I have indicated, as well as in regard to one point I had almost omitted where trawlers have been guilty of illegal trawling and have sailed inside the three-mile limit and destroyed nets. We wish something included in the Bill to give compensation. It will not be sufficient merely to inflict a fine in the case of the trawler, and to leave the fishermen with nothing whatever to replace their nets which have been destroyed. Where a trawler sails in and destroys the nets of fishermen within the three-mile limit, in addition to the fine, the owner of the trawler should be liable to compensate the fishermen for their nets or other fishing apparatus destroyed. We will try to amend the Bill in Committee, but I hope that the House will give it a Second Reading without a Division.
I rise to support this Bill, the Second Reading of which was moved so lucidly and so cogently by the Secretary of State for Scotland. I support it because I have some little experience or knowledge of what has happened under the existing system, and I am fully aware of its deplorable results, especially in that part of the seaboard of the western side of Scotland which, perhaps, more than any other part, has been detrimentally affected by illegal trawling. It is for this reason that, for a moment or two, I ask the House to allow me to say a few words in support of the Bill. When the original decision to prohibit trawling in territorial waters was brought before the House in the past, the penalties for contravention were expected to be sufficient to deter potential law breakers. Unfortunately, this was not only not the case, but the persistence of illegal trawling was so great, and, in particular, prevention was so difficult, that inshore fishing, at one time the main livelihood of a very great number of people, was rendered unremunerative, and gradually they gave up its prosecution, until to-day only a very small percentage of the very large fleet of fishing boats engaged in inshore fishing goes to sea. That has reduced, unfortunately, right to the poverty line, a great number of our fellow countrymen, and has undoubtedly been a contributory cause of the great reduction of population which has occurred in certain areas. Among the more important matters facing the country is a redistribution of population, and, in so far as this Bill, if it be passed, will be effective, it will undoubtedly be an aid towards the reduction of unemployment. It will restore to people, who have been illegally deprived of their means of livelihood by trawling, a means of subsistence.
Many years ago, I believe it was in this House, Mr. John Bright said that even the rumour of war had a very serious effect on national life. The report that the Secretary of State for Scotland was considering this matter and the subsequent intimation in the King's Speech that a Bill was to be brought in to amend the law have already had a wonderful effect. I was told by a distinguished naturalist, who lives on the western seaboard of my constituency, that day and night within sight of his house he could see the trawlers fishing close inshore, and that, since the circulation of the rumour that this Bill was to come before the House, he has not seen one trawler near his house within the three-mile limit. A well-known proprietor on the western seaboard informed the county council of Inverness-shire the other day that, for the first time since the War, he was able to get white fish, caught locally, and sold in his own neighbourhood.
On the western seaboard, the population of Scotland are not so divided up in their occupation as is the case in the North-East and East coasts. They have to eke out a livelihood as a rule by crofting and fishing. Each crofter is usually a shareholder in a communal sheep stock, and individually has a right to whatever share may come from the annual sale of the produce of the stock. They themselves spend very little time in looking after the sheep stock, as they depute one of their number to look after the sheep, and they devote the remainder of their time to their small croftings and to the subsidiary occupation of fishing. When prices of sheep were high a number of years ago, those people were just able to make both ends meet, but now, when sheep stock prices are extremely low, and when the auxiliary occupation of fishing has been rendered unremunerative by illegal trawling, they are in a very parlous condition.
It was, therefore, right and fit that the Secretary of State for Scotland, after his visit to the western seaboard in particular, should bring in this Bill to "restore" the fishing of which those people have been illegally deprived. Many years of neglect of fishing have brought about alterations in the conditions, and even a total abolition of illegal trawling, if it were certain from this moment could not wholly replace the former condition. Fishing boats which were in existence for inshore fishing 15 or 20 years ago have either disappeared or have rotted away beyond repair. Nets have been lost or destroyed—if they have not been destroyed by trawlers—and all such gear will in most cases have to be replaced. It is to be hoped that the Secretary of State for Scotland will take this point fully into view, seeing that the gear was destroyed as a result of the want of policing and by the inadequacy of the penalty for illegal trawling. It is this lack of power with which this Bill is seeking to deal.
I am confident that in due time there will be a full revival of inshore fishing, and that the small seaboard villages will once again become populous and prosperous. If for any reason this House should reject the Bill, the former condition of affairs, and not those subsequent to the rumour of the introduction of this Bill, would be resumed, and illegal trawling would again become common. The law would once again be flouted as much as it has been in the past. As everyone knows, the Government's preventive measures have been wholly inadequate, and the intimation by the Secretary of State for Scotland in his Estimates for the coming year of an increased service of cruisers, has undoubtedly been a great step forward. Some trawl owners do not like the Bill. The hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) referred to a circular sent out by Sir Andrew Lewis. There is one extraordinary paragraph in that circular, and it is this:
On the west coast of Scotland, there are innumerable islands, including St. Kilda and the Flannens, both splendid fishing grounds, which are entirely unfished by the natives, but, by virtue of the three-mile limit, are closed to trawlers. Surely, if west coast men are unable or unwilling to fish those waters, it is only sound common sense that these grounds be thrown open to trawl fishermen who are not only willing to fish them but anxious to do so.
That clause points out that there are innumerable islands, but it does not add that the reason for there being no fishing to-day round those innumerable islands is the illegal work which trawlers have been doing in the past. What that clause says in effect is, "We have pursued illegal practices in the past, and we have prevented local fishermen from fishing. We have ruined their fishing as a remunerative undertaking. We have destroyed their nets, and now for years they have not fished there. Therefore, let us do so." That is a most extraordinary argument.
In common fairness I would like to add that if there were areas like St. Kilda from which the Secretary of State for Scotland had removed the people, and where to-day there were no people living, it might be possible upon application to the Secretary of State to arrange for trawlers to fish within that limit or indeed within any other similar limit. Trawlers are prevented from fishing inside the Moray Firth and other parts of the country which are outside the three-mile limit. They might well, rather than by illegalities break down the law altogether, go to the Secretary of State and say, "Nobody fishes in these particular areas," and it might be arranged, either by Order of the Secretary of State under his own fiat, if that were possible, or through Parliament by a Bill, to allow them to fish in waters where nobody fishes. That would be perfectly reasonable. There are other islands along the west coast of Scotland where in practically every case people from the adjacent islands go to fish, but in respect of which a request might be made, similar to that in the clause which I have just read from the circular, that, because fishing has been abandoned owing to the action of the trawlers themselves, the trawlers should now be allowed to continue. That is an argument to which I am sure the House would never agree.
It was not only in making fishing un-remunerative by the actual non-securing of fish that those illegal practices were destructive, but even more vitally because the trawlers in innumerable cases destroyed the nets of the fishermen, thus making it impossible for the men to resume their occupation even if they had wished to do so. The fishermen, living in the circumstances they do, are quite unable financially to bring actions against the great companies and the comparatively wealthy people who own trawlers. Fortunately—I would like to draw the attention of the hon. Member for Govan to this point—to their great credit, Lord Craigie Aitchison, then Lord Advocate, ably assisted by the present Lord Advocate, refused to subscribe to the doctrine that such claims as fishermen might make for lost nets were only a matter for civil action between the parties. They made clear what was not generally known, and not known, I believe, to the Scottish Office—it seemed evident also that the hon. Member for Govan thought that this was not the case—that a sheriff trying a case of illegal trawling could also settle a claim for damage by loss of nets. There was a very blatant case which is evidence of that. It was a case in which a trawler had been convicted, I think, for the ninth time, of illegal trawling. On the last occasion it happened to be proved that the trawler had caused a loss of nets as well. The case was settled by a payment arranged between the parties, but only after the Crown had intimated to the sheriff at Portree that a prosecution would follow unless the case was heard to decide the value of the damage, and had asked him to assess it. Only after that intimation was an agreement actually come to between the parties. That makes it quite clear that to-day claimants who allege that a trawler has destroyed their nets can, when the trawler has been prosecuted, also ask the court to settle what damage is due for the nets which have been destroyed.
The Bill will not put a stop to a man who has been convicted for the ninth time. Obviously, he has regarded the penalties as no deterrent, and he finds that the profits upon illegal trawling justify the payment of a fine upon an occasional conviction. Strengthening of the punishment and making the owner responsible, as contained in the Clauses of the Bill, are undoubtedly steps in the right direction. An owner hitherto has not been responsible, presumably because the captain convicted in any particular case was fishing in an area in which the owner had not authorised him to go. An owner could hire a captain who had been convicted again and again of illegal trawling and with him could reap the proceeds of the delinquency, but that is to be put right in the Bill. Such a step will be the most serious of all deterrents. All the Clauses of the Bill, however, and all the Sections of former Acts will not stop illegal trawling unless there is adequate supervision and policing in order to see that the law is kept.
The hon. Member for Govan referred to a recent case where a trawler disobeyed the repeated orders of a fishing cruiser to return so that he could be prosecuted. That shows how trawlers regard the law. Prosecution of that particular trawler broke down because of a technical error. But that did not prevent His Majesty's judges in the case before them from castigating very severely the conduct of the trawler in running away and not obeying the order of His Majesty's cruiser. It does appear that the trawler was able to travel at a faster speed than the fishery cruiser. A fellow countryman of mine, a fisherman and a crofter, comparing the speed of a fishery cruiser within those northern waters with that of an ordinary trawler, described its progress off a near-by headland as comparable with that of a crab at a lobster's funeral. It is therefore very pleasant that, contemporaneously with this Bill, additional steps are being taken to provide better and faster boats and more efficient policing. I am fully aware of the fact that the fishery cruisers hitherto engaged in protecting the coast against illegal trawling have done their utmost. Their failure has nothing to do with the captains and the crews, but is due to the means at their disposal, which have been inadequate. I congratulate the Secretary of State for Scotland and the National Government who are supporting him in bringing this Bill forward, and I hope that the Bill will have a speedy passage into law.
The main principle of the Bill, that the best way of preventing illegal trawling is to deter the people who may be tempted to commit the offence by the prospect of heavy penalties, is one which will be always associated with the name of Sir Duncan Millar, who sat so long in this House and, with persistence and energy, Session after Session, with the support of a great many hon. Members on both sides of the House, brought forward a Measure of this character. I gladly associate myself with my hon. Friends in congratulating the Secretary of State for Scotland on introducing the Bill, and I also express my gratitude to him for the very lucid explanation which he gave of its terms.
I should also like to associate myself with what the Secretary of State said about the importance of the trawling industry. There is no one who supports this Measure who does not realise the importance of the immense quantities of cheap fish which is the food of large masses of people in our great towns and cities. The trawlers are the main source of supply of that cheap fish but, as the right hon. Gentleman said, the wide spaces of the seas and oceans are available for them and are, indeed, more than enough for them. On the recommendation of the Scott Committee this House committed itself to a £250,000 programme for the exploration of the sea and it was found later that there was far more sea available than the trawling industry re- quired, therefore last year the Government introduced a Bill one of the main provisions of which was to prevent the trawlers from going into those areas on the exploration of which this House had already spent considerable sums of money.
If there is one part of the sea which the trawlers might be asked to give up in the first place, it is that narrow band of three miles around our coasts on which the great mass of the fishermen of Scotland depend for their livelihood. Out of 23,622 fishermen in Scotland only the odd 3,000 and a few hundreds belong to the trawling industry. The other 20,000 are fishermen of other kinds. They are the mainstay of the fishing industry. They are the main recruiting grounds not only of our Navy, which is very important, but of our mercantile marine. Many an experienced sailor has told me that the finest seamen who go into the mercantile marine are those who have been brought up as boys about the little piers and inlets around the coast of Scotland. If this House is, as I know it is, deeply concerned to maintain the balance between rural and urban life there is nothing more important than to give a fair chance of survival to those important fishing communities which are dotted around our coasts.
The effect of trawling within the three-mile limit is, first of all, to damage those vitally important nurseries of fish which are found in the shallow waters around the coast, important for the inshore fishermen and important for the whole fishing industry, including the trawling industry, because it is from these shallow waters in which the fish grow to a good size that they go out into the wider seas and are caught as fine fish by the trawlers. If the trawlers come inshore to catch them as they do now in vast quantities in an immature state they are depriving the industry of what in future years would be a fruitful source of fish. Then there is the question to which the Secretary of State referred, the fouling and destruction of the nets of inshore fishermen. That is another great source of damage which the inshore fishermen suffers from the depredations of the trawlers. I agree with the hon. Member for Inverness (Sir M. Macdonald) that, in fact, compensation can be claimed by those fishermen with regard to their nets. The difficulty is not, as the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) indicated, the present position of the law. I think the present position of the Jaw is clear and that the fishermen are entitled to compensation. The difficulty is the getting of evidence against the particular trawler that has done the damage. That is the great problem and it is one which it is very difficult to overcome by means of a Clause or an Amendment of the Bill.
That the depredations of the trawlers have had an immense effect on the fishing industry of Scotland is clear from recent experience, because it is a fact that after the War fish were found in abundance, even as abundantly as they used to be found before trawling started. The hon. Member for Inverness claimed that his constituents in the west had suffered more than fishermen in any other part of Scotland, but I do not think that they have suffered more than those on the north coast, for whom I speak, and the north-east coast. I have been told by old fishermen of Wick that, while now it is a good fishing if there is only a line of cod round the quays of Wick, in the old days, in the lifetime of fishermen now living, the fish were ranged in piles the whole way round the quays of the harbour. We have travelled a long way from those times. The crofter fisherman is disappearing in many parts of the country. Around the north-east and the north coast there are crofter settlements and they used to rely upon the fishing to pay the rent of their holdings, but gradually that source of income has diminished, they have thrown up their holdings, or their holdings have been amalgamated one with another, and the sad fact is that in many parts of the country the crofter fisherman is disappearing.
We in the Highland counties are deeply concerned, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Boss and Cromarty (Sir I. Macpherson) will agree, about the problem of depopulation There are many agencies of depopulation—sheep farming, deer stalking, the use of machinery on the farms, and another very important one is the growth of trawling and the depredation of trawlers within the three-mile limit. That is not the least important of the factors of depopulation which I have mentioned. To preserve these communities the least that can be done is to uphold the three-mile limit. It was the trawling industry itself which demanded restrictions upon the area of fishing last year and acclaimed the Government's Bill. Therefore, for the sake of the communities concerned, these little fishing communities around our coasts, providing 20,000 out of the 23,000 Scottish fishermen, for the sake of the stock of fish in the seas around our coasts, there is no more important area of the sea that we should protect than that little band of three miles around our coasts.
Illegal trawling is a growing evil, but I was very glad to hear from the statements, which are later than those in my possession, which were given by the hon. Member for Inverness, that already as a result of this Bill there is a falling off in these depredations. My figures relate to the last few years before this Bill was introduced and they show that in 1927 there were 17 detections; in 1930, 27 detections, and in 1932 35 detections of illegal trawling. But those are only a small proportion of the complaints. For example, in 1930 there were 27 detections out of 85 complaints. Further than that, the complaints are only a tiny proportion of the number of cases of illegal trawling, because any hon. Member who knows the North of Scotland, who knows these fishing communities and has been among the fishermen and asked them about the amount of illegal trawling, will have been told of scores of case; of the night after night appearance of trawlers. These fishermen say: "What is the good of going perhaps five miles to a telegraph office and sending a wire to Edinburgh and getting a fishery cruiser sent, when long before that procedure has been gone through the trawler is miles away?" Therefore, the growth in the number of detections is only an indication of the enormous growth there has been in recent years in the amount of illegal trawling.
Is the right hon. Gentleman including in those figures illegal seining as well as illegal trawling, because his figures differ from those that I have received from the Scottish Fishery Board?
Yes, they include illegal seining, but there is no need to draw a distinction. We are dealing with the three-mile limit. I see what is in the hon. Member's mind and I am obliged to him for his interruption, because it enables me to answer the point that he has in mind. The present provision is adequate to deal with the seine net people because they are very small people with small capital to whom a fine of £50 is a tremendous thing, but it is very different when you are dealing with large trawling companies. For them a fine of £50 or £100 is very small. Moreover, the capacity of their trawlers is far greater than the capacity of the seine net boat. I am willing to answer the hon. Member's point but it does not affect my point. It is not the number of convictions, whether they are seining or trawling, but the growth in the number, a fact which is within the knowledge of every hon. Member who knows these parts of the Highland counties. It is confirmed by the official figures. The representatives of the trawling industry which appeared before Lord Mackenzie's Committee on illegal trawling expressed strong disapproval of this practice, and I should have thought that they ought to be supporting this Bill which is intended to put an end to practices of which the trawling industry through their representatives expressed their disapproval. But Lord Mackenzie's Committee found there was a minority—and this is in their findings—who were less scrupulous than the majority, and they said there was no other explanation of the employment of skippers after repeated convictions than that this minority were conniving at their depredations. These are their very words, and it was a very weighty Committee presided over by a well-known judge of the Court of Session. The hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Burnett) shakes his head, but I am speaking, not from my own knowledge but from what Lord Mackenzie with two eminent colleagues reported as his opinion after hearing a whole mass of evidence, including evidence from the trawling companies. There is one practice in the trawling industry which provides an incentive, the practice in many oases of remunerating the skippers with a percentage of the price of the catch, which naturally tempts a man to obtain a catch by any means in his power.
I would like to put to the House the conclusion of Lord Mackenzie's Committee on this point, because it is a very important Committee and produced a report on this question which I am sure every hon. Member who is interested in
the subject has considered. After hearing a great deal of evidence, it reported:
It is much to be regretted that the gravity of the offence"—
That is illegal trawling—
and its disastrous effect on a struggling and deserving section of the community are not more fully realised by the trawling industry. To bring home to all trawler owners and skippers a due sense of their responsibility in this matter, effective legislative action is necessary. It is abundantly clear that the existing penalties have proved inadequate for the purpose.
It is because this Bill will, I believe, bring home this responsibility to skippers and owners that I support it. Penalties are larger in other countries. In Iceland, for example, there was a case the other day where a British trawler owner was fined £1,600, and another case where there was a fine of £1,000. In Iceland, Norway and Russia penalties are far higher than here.
I understand that objection is taken by those who are particularly interested in the trawling industry to the liability being placed on the owner because of an offence committed by the skipper, but that principle is already in the existing Acts of Parliament dealing with illegal trawling. The seizure of fish, forfeiture of gear, and the retention of the ships are all laid down in the existing Acts. Therefore, the principle that an owner must be held responsible is recognised in our law. The necessity is proved by such instances as the hon. Member for Inverness quoted of a man who had been convicted nine times. I have not heard of such a bad case though I have heard of four, six, seven and eight convictions. That shows they must have support, or at any rate that the owners do not care that these men have defied the law when they have been masters of their ships. We know of cases in which men, when detected, have scoffed at the inshore fishermen, and said: "We can pay the fine in a single night's fishing." The sheriff of Stornoway recently said, after trying four cases, that it was proved that in the present state of the law it was worth while for the master to run the risk. Because this Bill will, I believe, make it not worth while, I think the House will be well advised to pass it.
There is one difference between this Bill and the recommendations of Lord Mackenzie's Committee, a difference to which the Secretary of State referred in his speech though he did not explain it.
There is no provision in this Bill for the cancellation of the master's certificate. The recommendations of the committee were very specific on that point. They said the worst types of offence committed by trawlers consisted in the falsification of letters and numbers and being without the prescribed lights when engaged in trawling in prohibited areas. That is a very frequent offence, and dangerous to every other form of navigation. The committee consider that in first cases, in addition to the existing penalties, there should be a suspension or cancellation of the certificate of the master and of the certificate of registry of the offending vessel. They recommend that for second and subsequent offences, the master and owners should be liable in addition to the existing penalties to further penalties prescribed in the case of these offences to which I have referred, and they conclude by saying:
In the opinion of the Committee an action such as is suggested would prove more efficacious than an increase in the money penalty, the burden of which may be escaped by pooling or insurance.
I hope the Secretary of State or the Under-Secretary will explain to the House why these recommendations of Lord Mackenzie's Committee have not been accepted. I agree with all that has been said by the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) and previous speakers about the importance of fast vessels. The hon. Member for Govan has made a special study of the question, but I think that even if you have fast vessels all round the coast and you do not have penalties which will exercise a real deterrent on the masters of the ships, you will have people who will nip in and run the risk on a dark night and get the fish. This seems to me to be even more important than fast ships. It is necessary to compel respect for the law which has been set at defiance by a number—a minority—of masters and owners and also in order to secure the livelihood of the inshore fishermen.
Illegal trawling spells disaster to the inshore fishermen, and they are asking for our protection. I hope all Scottish Members will rally to their support and Vote for the Second Reading of this Bill. But there is one feature of it which calls for criticism. It is not con- cerned with the proposed increase in the penalties. The Secretary of State has told us that the existing ones have proved wholly insufficient, and for my pant, if there is any fault to be found with the penalties in the Bill, I think it is that they are not severe enough. I would have welcomed penal servitude. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not burn them?"]
There is one feature of the Bill which is entirely indefensible. It invokes the expedient of vicarious responsibility. By all means let us punish the offender with the utmost rigour of the law, but do not let us punish the innocent for offences committed by somebody else. In cases of civil liability vicarious liability is a well-established and wholesome provision of the law of Scotland—Respondeat superior. The owner of a motor car is rightly responsible for the illegal acts of his servant, and if a driver runs somebody down the injured party can bring an action against the owner. But this Bill is not dealing with civil liability; it is a penal measure; it deals with crime, and vicarious liability is clean contrary to the common law of Scotland, the common law of crime. By the common law of Scotland, no crime can be committed unless there is a felonious intention, and that is not only common law but common sense. This Bill is permeated with this doctrine of vicarious liability. I should be sorry to see a little lassie accosted on the way home from school, and told to appear in a criminal court.
I do not want to say anything more about that, because I do not want to quarrel with my friend the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean), whom I hope to meet, still friendly, in the "Aye" Lobby, but will he accompany me to Clause 4 of the Bill? It provides that when a trawler is within a prohibited area the hoards of the trawl and net must be inboard, and, if the trawl and net are left outboard, an offence has been committed. The Bill creates a new statutory offence. No harm in that; it seems to be a perfectly useful and reasonable provision. But what follows is not reasonable. The second Sub-section goes on to provide that if an offence has been committed the skipper shall be deemed to be guilty. It says:
In the event of a contravention of the foregoing provisions of this Section, the skipper shall be guilty of an offence and
liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding twenty pounds.
I want to make this very plain. These words can only mean, and were intended to mean, that in all circumstances, however innocent the skipper may be, he is guilty of an offence. You may say: "Could not the skipper explain all this to the sheriff and convince him that he is not guilty?" That is just what he cannot do; that is what the language of the Bill, chosen with deliberation, provides that he shall not be able to do. He cannot offer any defence whatever. I quite agree that in nine cases out of ten, or 19 out of 20, the skipper is guilty, but not always. He may have gone ashore in the execution of his duty. He may be below decks, lying in a comatose condition with double pneumonia, wholly unconscious of his surroundings, and when he recovers consciousness he learns for the first time that an offence has been committed and that by Act of Parliament he is a criminal. I put it to the Secretary of State, or the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, that this is what the Bill sets out to do.
That is the intention of the Bill. This second Sub-section is in itself an offence against justice and fair play. Why is it necessary to invoke this expedient? All that is required—the matter can be remedied in Committee—is a statutory enactment that the skipper in those circumstances shall be presumed to be guilty. Shift the onus, place the onus on the skipper. It will then be necessary for him if he seeks to exculpate himself, to satisfy the sheriff of his innocence. He will have an opportunity of propounding a defence, and in a case of guilt he will not be able to succeed. I shall be told that vicarious responsibility is no novelty in the law of Scotland. Had I been making this speech at the time when I first began to study law—that is not a very remote date—I should have asseverated with truth that vicarious responsibility had no place whatever in the criminal law of Scotland.
I have no knowledge as to that. I spoke of the common law of Scotland. At the time when I first began to study law I should have said that vicarious responsibility had no place in the criminal law of Scotland. I am sorry that I have to disclose my antiquity, but I began to study the law before 1911. Since then from time to time the Legislature has begun to insinuate into our criminal code the expedient of vicarious responsibility. The practice goes on; precedent is added to precedent. It is not merely this Government that is the offender; its predecessors have offended also. Whenever a Government is in difficulty it seeks this easy way of escape. Vicarious responsibility still lingers in the case of some of our schools. When a schoolmaster cannot detect an offender he punishes the class. But we expect something better from a National Government. Is it necessary that the Government should take that way of escape, the last refuge of the incompetent schoolmaster? Illegal trawling must be suppressed. Let us punish the offenders; let us smite them hip and thigh; but do not let us victimise a class. Give the skippers a fair chance.
I am sure that the House has listened with very great pleasure to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Milne). I personally agree with his speech. I have always been of the opinion that the old doctrine of respondeat superior was a sound one. I am quite certain the House will agree that some more severe penalty should be put upon the proper person, namely, the owner of the trawler, rather than the skipper, who may not be entirely responsible. The Government ought to consider my hon. Friend's second point, namely, that the skipper should be allowed to put forward a defence if he has a defence. I would be prepared to support my hon. Friend in any action he may take in Committee to provide that where a trawler is captured, if the skipper has a defence, he should be allowed to put that defence forward. Those Members from Scotland who have been in the House for a long time have become accustomed to Debates on illegal trawling. I was glad to hear mention made of my late hon. and learned Friend, Sir Duncan Millar, with whom I was associated for many years. I think I backed every Bill which he brought forward. The real origin of this Bill is Lord Mackenzie's Report. It is due to my constituency to say that that report originated there, and I personally had the honour of pressing in the House for that Commission to be appointed.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on producing this Bill. It is a matter of great credit to the National Government that it should have brought forward the Bill. We have had a great deal of talk about penalties for trawlers, and a great deal of lip-service for many years past. It is a great pleasure to those who have worked hard to secure this legislation to find not only that the Bill is before the House but that it is backed by the Government. That is a new stage in the matter and is a cause for congratulation. But there is one caveat which I would like to enter, and that is that, although we are fortunate indeed in having this Bill presented to us, it should not be the end of the matter so far as the fishing industry is concerned. The Secretary of State would do well to remember that this is only part of the problem. It is the negative side of the problem, but the fishing industry in Scotland has a positive side. While we are all prepared to welcome this Bill as a step in the right direction, we should be false to the situation unless we also reminded the Government that we are determined so far as we can to press for a real constructive effort on behalf of this great industry.
It is true that illegal trawling is a very great menace to the fishing industry. But there is also the menace of the seine net. Particularly in the Moray Firth it is just as dangerous to the industry as ordinary illegal trawling. I am delighted that during the last few months the Government have shown themselves alive to the problem. What we have been told about new vessels for policing purposes is very satisfactory. It is clear that it is no good having a Bill of this kind unless we have also first-class policing. By first-class I mean cruisers which are able to overcome any trawler off any part of the coast of Scotland. I am certain that the House would give every support to the Secretary of State if he pressed upon the Government the desirability of displacing the old fishery cruisers and providing a really good fleet of vessels able to undertake this work. It is a very difficult matter to police the entire coast of a country. I often feel the greatest sympathy with the fishery cruisers. They are very few in number. They have done their best on all occasions, but they were up against a problem which it was almost impossible for them adequately to solve. There was a sort of system of telegraphy existing between trawlers and various ports around the coast. If a cruiser was seen at Oban someone was told at Stornoway. The result was that there was the greatest difficulty in making any capture at all. Recently, however, there have been many captures, which redound to the credit of the policing forces under the Fishery Board.
The case for the Bill has not been put more adequately than by two friends of mine, the clerk of the Ross-shire County Council, and the convener of the county. I think all Members of the House have a printed copy of that case before them. It has been used several times in the Debate so far, and I do not intend therefore to use it myself. I do not see what grievance the Trawling Association could have against a Bill of this kind. There is a law in the land and all of us have to respect that law. A man walking down Bond Street may think he has a grievance if he sees very fine jewellery displayed in a shop window, but he does not deviate from his path in order to steal that jewellery. The law has the same method of application in the case of trawlers. There are certain clearly defined areas in which it is illegal for a trawler to go. If a trawler goes inside those areas it is committing a crime; there is no other word for it. The trawling community as a whole are honest, respectable, law-abiding citizens, but the evidence shows that during many years illegalities and crime have been committed by trawlers. Those illegalities and crimes have destroyed the legal fishing ground of the inshore fishermen. We are here telling those owners of trawlers that if they have any scallywags in their midst we are determined that they shall be penalised for breaking the law of the land. If a man does an illegal act in London he is promptly punished. The same thing applies to the sea. The law is as distinct with regard to the three-mile limit as it is with regard to taking property which is not your own. It behoves the Trawling Association, instead of making complaints against this Bill, to set its own house in order, and to see that within its ranks there are men who refuse to be partners to the breaking of the law.
That is the situation in a nutshell. If there are scallywags who will break the law I am prepared to go the length of Lord Mackenzie and his committee. The proper thing to do in a case of that kind is to cancel a skipper's certificate after due warning. That is commonly done by the Board of Trade for much less offences, sometimes for bad navigation. But this is a criminal offence. It is a form of modern piracy which should be recognised as such. Where a skipper knowingly breaks the law after he has been given fair warning, on the second occasion he should be declared unfit to hold a master's certificate. I think that this Bill will bring a great deal of encouragement to the fishermen on the coasts of Scotland. They have had an exceedingly hard time, and have long been awaiting a Measure of this kind. I am certain that the House will be doing a wise and right thing if it gives, not a half-hearted, but a unanimous vote for a Bill of this kind, which is only going to penalise those who deserve to be penalised, while, on the other hand, it will do justice to these people who have been struggling against adversity in very hard times.
I think there is a good deal of misapprehension as to the attitude of the trawler owners towards this Bill. British trawler owners strongly deprecate any deliberate breach of the Scottish fishery laws. I should have thought that that was obvious, and that hon. Members from Scotland understood it. The men who break those laws certainly have not the support of the owners. What amazes me, as an Englishman, is the savage, penal enforcement that is proposed in this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) advocated, apparently, the stringent methods of the Soviet Union. How is it that against Englishmen the Scotsman takes, as regards fishing, an attitude so different from that which he takes towards those on his own shores?
The hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) referred to the Road Traffic Act. I think it is well known to hon. Members that you can kill a man in Scotland and get away with it; you can maim his wife and children; but you must not take away his employment. Under this Measure, apparently, if you go anywhere near his fishing ground there will be very little chance of pleading successfully against the Scottish laws. I think that that is grossly unfair, and I hope very much that we shall hear from the Secretary of State for Scotland that there will be some amelioration of it. Take the law of trespass—I use the English term. If you go trespassing in Scotland you are fined a few shillings; and even if you go on to a farm and steal some—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]. I am using the English word. At any rate, you are not, in Scotland, fined £200 for what we in England call trespassing. If, however, you go on to the fishing grounds, even though you do not fish, but are perhaps driven there by stress of weather, you are liable to be fined £200. From the point of view of equity and justice, that is a monstrous imposition.
I think that that, if I may say so, is an entire misapprehension of the case. The hon. Member for Govan mentioned the Coal Mines Act, and asked whether under that Measure the owners were mot penalised; but the owners have complete control, so far as that is possible, over their employés, because they are on the spot. The owner of a trawler certainly has not complete control over the skipper, and it is not right that he should have it. The English trawler owners, like English people generally, encourage their skippers to be independent and to go where they think the fish are best to be found.
I should like to urge upon the Secretary of State for Scotland certain Amendments which I hope he will be prepared to accept. In the first place, I think a safeguarding Clause should be inserted to meet the case of a vessel which inadvertently contravenes the law, as distinguished from the deliberate commission of an offence. I think it is obvious that yachts, which certain hon. Members from Scotland can afford to keep even in these days, are liable to be driven within the three-mile limit without necessarily knowing where they are; but under this Measure, unless certain definite regulations are complied with, not only the skipper but also the owner will be liable to a fine. I suggest that hon. Members from Scotland should meet us on this point. As regards Sub-section (3) and other Subsections of Clause 1, I think it is obvious that, if a skipper is fined more than once, or say more than twice, he will lose his job, because the owner cannot afford the risk of bringing fines upon himself; whereas, apparently, if he changes his skipper, he will not, as I read the Bill, be liable under these provisions. Is it fair so to penalise the livelihood of the skippers of these vessels? I suggest that Sub-section (3) is unnecessarily harsh and vindictive. Sub-sections (4), (5) and (6) will disappear if Sub-section (3) is done away with.
Again, I would ask the attention of the Secretary of State to Sub-section (1) of Clause 4. I suggest that this should be amended to provide that the net only shall be inboard, on the ground that a vessel which is legally fishing may by stress of circumstances, such as bad weather, sickness, injury to the crew, or some accident to the vessel, be compelled to seek shelter at a time when there is no opportunity to stow the whole of its gear. I think it will be within the knowledge of hon. Members that that is one of the objections that we have to many of the foreign laws dealing with fishing—that vessels which have to come within the three-mile limit suddenly, through unforeseen circumstances, cannot stow their gear in accordance with the law, and gross unfairness results. I hope very much that it will be possible for the Secretary of State, or whoever is responsible, to make some declaration that during the Committee stage the objections which are felt very strongly by English Members will be met.
I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will pay no attention to what has fallen from the lips of the hon. and gallant Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage). When the hon. and gallant Member compares what is happening around our shores with what happens to anyone who happens to be trespassing in Scotland, he says that we are not fair, because when anyone trespasses in Scotland we only fine him a few shillings. The fact of the matter is that there is no such thing as a law of trespass in Scotland. Sir William Harcourt, in 1877, passed an Act which did away with trespass as far as Scotland is concerned. This is a more serious matter than simple trespassing. If you could fancy a body of men entering on a farm, tearing up everything that the farmer had sown on his fields, and destroying all his cattle, that would be a comparison with what the trawler does on the fishing grounds around, particularly, the west coast of Scotland.
For 12 years I have been urging every Secretary of State for Scotland in every Government in the House of Commons to do something, and I hope that the House will not lessen the power that is given in Sub-section (3) of Clause 1 of this Bill, because even that does not meet what the present Secretary of State for Scotland promised me the last time I took up this question with him in the House, when the House had before it the question of the trawler who defied the law and who happened to have a speedier trawler than this down-and-out, obsolete cruiser, which ought to have been scrapped long ago. The skipper of the trawler went away and boasted about the wonderful skippers that they have around Hull and Grimsby, who can do this and that with the British Navy. That was the thanks they got for letting him get away.
I would like the House to understand that with the men whom we have been trying to defend—the inshore fishermen of Scotland—no other section of the community can compare. The hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) may smile that sarcastic smile of his, which irritated the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) the other day, as long as he likes, but he is doing a disservice to this country in encouraging those trawler skippers who outrage the law of this country by their manner of procedure in tearing up everything that is in the sea—not only trawling the fish, but tearing away the spawn and everything else in a manner that is simply a scandal, and has ruined the fishing industry as far as the inshore fishermen around our Isles are concerned. I have told the House before of the service that these men rendered during the War, and how every Secretary of State for Scot- land, including a Liberal Secretary of State, has promised me what should be done for these seamen. When they came back from the War these men discovered that all their gear, their ships and everything else, had gone to rack and ruin, and they got nothing to compensate them. One Secretary of State for Scotland, in his wisdom and generosity, gave them power to get grants of money at 5 per cent., but they could have got that anywhere, without going to a Secretary of State for Scotland. He was always going to do wonderful things. He had as much sympathy as any man in the House; he was always running over with sympathy. We have something here, although it does not meet the demands that we have made on behalf of these fishermen, and will not give them the protection for which we have asked.
It is no use the defenders of this Government standing up in the House one after another and saying what the Bill is going to do in defence of the fishermen. It is not going to protect them, and their words will be used against them one of these days, because, as we have pointed out time and again, they can afford to pay these fines—even the £200 fine. Just think of the audacity of one of these skippers defying a British cruiser. If he had been a member of the working-class he would not have done it. He would have been made to pay the price. Those who commit these depredations around the west coast of Scotland have no right to the protection that they get. They ought to be treated as malefactors, because that is what they are. They have stolen the bread out of the mouths not only of the women and men but of the little children in order that they may turn out profits to those who hire them in Hull and Grimsby. I told the Secretary of State for Scotland that they would pay fines of £250 and £300. I suggested that they should do the same as the London authorities and place the power in the hands of the police. You do not find an omnibus or taxidriver defying a policeman in the streets of London, because it is sudden death to him. He loses his licence. It is not as in Glasgow, where we bring him before the baillie and he is fined 15s. or £l. I suggested another method of procedure, that in the event of the authorities catching a trawler it should be taken into port and kept there and neither the captain nor the men given any money for a month. You can take it from me that no fisherman on any trawler would then obey his skipper when he knew they were inside the three-mile limit. Self-preservation is the first law of nature here, too.
I should like to ask about the speed of the three vessels that are going to be built. I know something about speeding up a ship. I know something about padlocking the safety valve on the boiler. I know something of what they do on a trawler. They send a man up to sit on the safety valve, which no one on a cruiser or any of the Fishery Board's vessels would ever dream of doing, in order to get up steam far beyond what is allowed by Lloyd's inspectors in testing the boilers. They take every risk simply because of what it means to them, that they are getting away with their catch of fish, which may be of the value of £1,000 or £1,500. I suggested years ago that, instead of a vessel, the Fishery Board ought to have seaplanes. It would be very difficult to gauge the speed of the speediest trawler, because they are capable of speeding them up to limits that they would not care to try on the vessels that the Secretary of State has in mind. The fishermen on this side of the Butt of Lewis have taken me there. The bay used to be alive with fish. Now they can get none. There is not a finer type of man—sincere, religious and God-fearing. They told me that they have gone out at night, because they have seen the little light, to try to find out the name of the vessel, and they threw great big stones at them to try to sink their small boat and drive them away. The Germans could not have done worse. I told the House about it years ago. I advised them to get a gun and put a hole into the trawler below the water-line. I would do it. I would teach them a lesson if they came up to Scotland and stole the bread from the women and children.
These men have no other means to get the necessaries of life for their families, and these trawlers come up and deliberately take it away from them. It is because I see here some safeguard for these fishermen that I will most heartily support the Bill. The Secretary of State has attempted, at any rate, to approach the problem. I readily admit that it has its difficulties. We have been told time and again that this was such a serious affair that it would involve us with foreign countries. The three-mile limit takes us back to the time of Nelson and the battle of Trafalgar, back to the time when they had not a cannon which would fire a ball three miles. That is why you have the three-mile limit. It has nothing to do with fishing, but it has worked out, like so many old ideas, for the protection of fishermen around our shores. It is not the whole of the trawlers that we are atacking, but only certain individuals who have no right to be protected because they deliberately break the law. The Home Secretary, when he was Secretary of State for Scotland, told us that it was impossible to maintain the population on these Islands and that they could not grow potatoes and other necessaries. You may be able to prove by statistics that the Outer Hebrides cannot produce this and cannot produce that, but there is no denying that they can produce beautiful men and women, the finest in the world. I hope the House will vote unanimously in favour of the Bill.
I beg to move, to leave out "now" and at the end of the Question to add, "upon this day six months."
I should like to dissociate myself completely from any idea of sympathy with or defence of deliberate poachers. I do not want to say a word which could be construed as support of law breakers. We may all disapprove of sheep stealers, but we may not be prepared to go back to the time when we hanged a man for stealing sheep just because a few more sheep happened to be stolen. I have figures which do not bear out the contention on which this Bill is based, that is the prevalent increase of illegal trawling. I oppose the Bill because I think the penalties at present are adequate and because I consider that the penalties that it is proposed to put on are excessive. Also, I think the Bill makes no allowance for honest error, which may easily arise. I have figures for the last 10 years. They differ from the figures given by the right hon. Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) but I understand that he included illegal seining. The Bill deals with illegal trawling only. In these figures I find, taking the total convictions in Scotland for the last three years, they are only a little over 1 per cent. more than the average for the 10 years.
But it is chiefly with East Coast illegal trawling that I wish to deal, because that is a matter of which I can speak with more authority as the representative of a big east coast port which deals with trawling. In Aberdeen, during the last three years, there were slightly over 38,000 sailings, each sailing being for 4.8 days on the average. If we take the number of convictions for illegal trawling as compared with the number of sailings, we find that on the three years it worked out at about one conviction for every 2,710 sailings. I also averaged it over the 10 years, and found that it worked out at one in every 2,740 sailings. I think that that proves that the number of skippers who indulge in illegal trawling is small. It was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland that the number of convictions does not at all represent the number of offences, and the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), who was speaking the other day—I am sorry that he is not in his place—maintained that the convictions represent 1 per cent. of the total number of offences. I ask the House whether, supposing you were in a court of law and a man was found guilty, and one previous conviction was proved against him, and if, to that was then added that that previous conviction only represented 1 per cent. of the offences he had really committed, and in consequence his sentence was increased for these imaginary offences, would that be British justice? That is exactly what we are proposing to do in connection with these trawl skippers.
The hon. Member for East Aberdeen, when speaking the other day, gave a graphic picture of trawlers sweeping the fishing grounds in the north right down the coast from Rattray Head to Aberdeen Bay cleared that coast of fish. If they had done that, as part of that coast is rocky at the bottom, their nets would very soon have been destroyed. I admit that in stormy weather our trawlers have to come near the coast in order to get shelter, otherwise they would be wrecked. I have no doubt that some of these inshore fishermen of which he speaks see lights of a number of these trawlers out there sheltering in stormy weather and that they believe they are illegally fishing. It would be very easy to prove, because, after all, we have a Fisheries Officer at the fish market examining the fish which arrive, and he could and would be able to distinguish from the catches coming the fish caught in territorial waters. He would report the matter to the Fishery Board, who would promptly send out a cruiser to stop those trawlers from sweeping down the coast as they are said to do.
An expert could tell. I have it on the authority of the fish trade that it is easy to tell by their appearance the fish which are illegally trawled.
It is not Aberdeen, as was stated, which is the centre of the illegal trawling on the east coast. The centre of the illegal trawling lies in those villages in the constituency of my hon. Friend who was speaking the other day. It lies in the small villages along the Moray Firth where seining goes on. I asked a question a few days ago as to the number of offences of illegal trawling and seining respectively on the east coast, and the reply I received was very significant. It said that the number of convictions for trawling in the last three years was 7, 3, 0, and the number of convictions for illegal seining was 9, 9, 17. The totals for trawling were 10 in three years, and for seining they were 35, three and a half times as many. It has been maintained, and it was stated by one of the speakers this afternoon, that the seine net vessel is very much smaller, and consequently that it is not a fair comparison. Trawlers vary from 90 to 145 feet in length, and a small trawler is very little bigger than a big seiner. The trawling industry brings in 75.8 per cent. of the white fish which are landed in Scotland and the seining industry brings in 5 per cent. In other words, the trawlers do 15 times as much in the way of bringing in fish, and yet the seiner convictions are three and a-half times as many as the convictions of trawlers. Why, then, does this Bill not apply to seiners instead of to trawlers? That I cannot understand. Is it because illegal trawling is an offence for which people are to have penal servitude or to be shot as the case may be, whereas illegal seining is a trivial offence, or is it because the illegal seiner is simply a poor man and the illegal trawl skipper a millionaire?
I should like to give instances, because they have a bearing on this matter. One is the case of three skippers of seine boats who were spotted by hydroplane in the Moray Firth. They pleaded guilty to illegal seining, and also to fishing without lights. Their reason for committing the offence was one of sheer desperation, as all three were poor men trying to get something to enable them to give themselves and their families some of the necessities of life. The sheriff said that he knew perfectly well what a splendid lot of men they were, and the respect in which they were held in every way. He imposed a modified fine of £3, did not order the forfeiture of the gear, and admonished them for fishing without lights. I want to compare the case of an Aberdeen fisherman who pleaded guilty to illegal trawling and on whose behalf it was stated that so hard was the accused finding it to live that he had been selling some of his furniture in order to keep his family going. The sheriff had no option but to fine this man £40 and to order his gear to be forfeited.
I was anxious, because I thought it had a bearing on this question, to find out what was the fate of that man ultimately, and whether the existing law was a deterrent or not. I received a report on the point. It was dated 17th February:—
The facts in connection with this matter are deeply distressing. He was fined £40 and given a time limit in which to pay. This time limit was extended to 2nd March. There appeared to be small chance of his being able to meet the fine on the due date. He borrowed £20 towards paying the fine as he was averse to going to prison, and he was unable to owing to unemployment to raise the balance of the money. He had to sell the furniture in his house, including a piano, a chest of drawers, and all the tables and chairs in the sitting room to keep his family in food. His little son died last week and he had had to borrow the money to pay for burial expenses. I am trying to get him a billet, but I fear there is little possibility of any trawler owner employing him in view of the provisions of the new Bill.
Why are the seine net men who do illegal fishing called splendid men, and why has the trawler skipper to suffer as this man has done? I am not in any way condoning the offence in what I say, but in this Bill the whole burden falls not so much on the trawler owner as on the skipper himself. The trawler owner can avoid all the penalties under the Act simply by not employing the man. If the man has been convicted within the last five or three years, as the case may be, it simply means that he will not be employed for another term of years and during that time he will have lost his skill. Consequently it is upon the skipper that the punishment falls. I agree with what has been said as to the owner, that it is unfair to punish him vicariously because, after all, the owner could not be responsible, in Aberdeen at any rate. I speak for Aberdeen. I have been informed, and I have tried to verify it and have found nothing to the contrary, that the owner has never paid the fine. I found two cases only of fines of over £40 where the men have paid the fine. All the rest of the men have gone to prison, and therefore I take it that as a general rule a fine of over £40 is absolutely a deterrent.
I have spoken of the man who was guilty, but I should like to go on to the still harder case of the man who is in honest error, which cases, I believe, very often occur. A considerable proportion of the cases which arise along the East coast are due to honest error. In one case which was reported to me, a man was coming from the fishing grounds in the North. There was foggy weather, and he was fishing when passing near the Moray Firth, when suddenly he saw a motor fishing boat from Macduff. He presumed that he must have come in towards the coast and steamed eastward out to sea, but did not haul up his gear as he should have done. The motor boat which was about 28 miles from the home port dropped a buoy and took the number of his vessel. He was prosecuted, and fined £40. That man, I am certain, had no intention at all of committing an offence such as has been imputed to trawl skippers by previous speakers; it was a case of honest error. I have had particulars of another case sent to me by a man who was on the
watch at the time. I should like to read it, but part of it is in unparliamentary language. The case in which he happens to have been a witness occurred four years ago. The vessel had been working a whole night in a position within 3½ miles off land
with a mark buoy which I swear was never passed. I knew that the fishery cruiser was cruising there as we saw her lights all night.
I am trying to put it in his own language. He knew that the cruiser was there and had no intention of illegally fishing. He goes on:
The next morning we were arrested for illegal fishing. I was in charge of the watch at the time, and had we any doubt of our position we could easily have been in a different position before the cruiser approached us. As we had steamed out the evening before we thought we were absolutely safe. The officer of the fishing cruiser swore that we were in a position inside the buoy and had watched us towing off land for 20 minutes, which was untrue as I am ready to swear with my last breath.
That man honestly believed that he was not doing illegal fishing, and I am certain that a number of cases are like that. These men will be among those who will be penalised by not being employed anywhere for three years after the date of the offence.
Yes. The sheriff said that the witnesses must be present and he adjourned the case for six weeks, and then imposed a modified penalty of £45 and ordered the restoration of the fishing gear. If the sheriff had taken land miles into consideration he admitted that the ship would have been outside the limit, but in taking nautical miles it was just inside. The man, obviously, had no intention of illegal fishing. These cases may arise and I think that provision should be made in the Bill to ensure that people who fall into honest error will not be black-listed and deprived of future employment.
The Bill only relates to the trawling industry on which the country depends largely for the supply of fish it gets. In my opinion it would be a great mistake to do anything to reflect upon the trawling industry and injure their prospects of catching fish. There is one point in connection with
Clause 4 that I desire to raise. It is a provision which says that in going through territorial waters—
the boards of the trawl and the net shall be inboard and the warps shall be detached from the boards.
This will involve a certain amount of hardship. Smaller vessels fishing about five miles out wait until the last possible moment if a storm is threatened and then rush at once for port. The shackle pins in the shackle are apt to get jammed or bent and have to be cut out and in some cases this may take more than an hour. If a storm comes and seas are washing over the vessel it is dangerous work, and a good deal of time may be lost if the ship has to wait to get out these pins. That is a provision which ought to be amended. I hope the House will consider the Bill carefully because it imposes penalties which are fantastic, which skippers cannot pay, and it is on them that the burden will fall.
I beg to second the Amendment.
It is evident, in spite of the persuasive speech just delivered by my hon. Friend, from the course of the Debate that the Bill commands a widespread measure of acceptance in the House. That, of course, is the only reason for the Bill. We are given this Bill, not so much because it is likely to be a good or useful Measure, as that it will be popular, at least at first. There has been in Scotland a great demand for some measure of this kind, but I believe that demand to be entirely false, and even when it is met the position of the inshore fishermen in Scotland will not be at all benefited. It is a very drastic Bill. In some of its aspects it is cruel and vindictive; but more than anything else I think it is a perfectly futile Bill for it will not achieve the object which the Government have in view. The genesis of the Bill reminds me of some of the stories, with which I expect hon. Members are familiar, told by George A. Birmingham about Ireland. In these stories the Chief Secretary or the Lord Lieutenant was accustomed in the summer recess to visit the scattered fishing villages on the coasts of Ireland, where the people said to him, "Are you going to give us a pier or a lighthouse, it will be a great benefit?" When the Chief Secretary returned to Whitehall he would make a grant; the pier or the lighthouse would not be built, but the people in the Irish villages would be happy for a little time. In the same way the right hon. Gentleman made a tour of ports in the west of Scotland, and this Bill is the result of his tour. When it is found to be ineffective it may be that he will have to make another tour, and then there will have to be piers and harbours just as there were in the stories of George Birmingham.
It is claimed that the terrible conditions, and they are terrible indeed, into which the fishing population on the coasts of Scotland have fallen is the result of the unlawful depredations of the trawler. I cannot believe that any strong case has been (made out for that contention. The seiner is responsible for far more damage than the trawler, and if there is scientific evidence to show that the trawl, being dragged along the bottom of the sea, destroys life, there is just as much evidence to show that the trawl by ploughing up the bottom of the sea fertilises it and renders it fruitful, just in the same way as a plough on land. There is sound evidence on that point. If the trawler is responsible for the condition of the inshore fishermen in Scotland to-day it is not the result of any illegal action on the part of trawlers but the result of their very existence, because the undoubted fact is that the trawler as an instrument of production is far more efficient, economical and effective, than the inshore fisherman, with his small vessel, can ever hope to be. The fact is that the trawler with all its advantages in production has very much destroyed the market of the inshore fisherman. So far as the trawler is guilty at all, that is the real reason for the decay of inshore fishing in Scotland. It is unfortunate, but there is certainly nothing whatever illegal about it.
It has been urged by the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Sir I. Macpherson) that if you have a law you must at least enforce it. That is perfectly true up to a point, but in this case of illegal trawling in Scotland it is not so much the fault of a weakness in the law as a weakness in the policeman. If you have patrol vessels pursuing trawlers for a night and a day, that is not the fault of any weakness in the law; it is the fault of the inefficiency of the patrol boat. That, apparently, is to be remedied; and I should have thought that it was going far enough without introducing this Bill. But, apart from that, it seems to me that before you enforce a law more strictly than you have in the past you should inquire whether or not it is a good law. I think that this three-mile limit, as applied to the whole of the Scottish coast and to the trawlers, is an excessive and vexatious restriction, because there are wide stretches of waters within the three-mile limit which are never fished at all, unless by chance some trawler comes along and fishes them. The inshore fishermen do not fish them at all. The hon. Member for Inverness (Sir M. Macdonald) said that the reason was that the trawlers had driven the inshore fishermen off and that if you prohibited the trawlers they would return. There is no logical support for that view. The inshore fishermen left them because it no longer paid them to fish these waters and they will not return until it pays them to fish them again. It will not make these waters any more profitable to forbid an occasional trawler to go into these limits.
The Bill is really an attempt to put the clock back. It is a Bill which, perforce, prohibits illegal trawling, but it is much more ambitious than that. It is a Bill which is trying to prohibit the twentieth century. It is trying to protect the handworker, the small fisherman, in Scotland against the pressure of economic forces and against the tremendous mechanical development which the trawler section of the industry has witnessed in the last generation. I do not for a moment say that the fishing population of the coast of Scotland is not entitled to protection; but may I say that I am surprised to find the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) supporting this Measure which is essentially one to protect an inefficient industry. I have no objection to protecting a big industry which is of the greatest importance to the social life of the country, but I think that the Scottish fishing industry could be better protected by some other method than by the vindictive and punitive restrictions proposed to be imposed on the trawling industry by this Bill. It would have been better for the Secretary of State to have tried to divert some of the fishing population into the trawling section and give them assistance to buy trawlers of their own, or perhaps equip themselves with seines in the same way as do the Danes, who have a similar kind of coast line to that of Scotland.
I am afraid that, strongly as I feel on this Bill, we are not going to get a very great deal of support in the House for our proposal, and we must resign ourselves to that fact. But I hope that we shall be able to persuade the Government and the Secretary of State to modify some of the asperities which the Bill contains. It really is difficult to exaggerate the degree of apprehension and indignation with which these penalties are regarded by the trawling industry as a whole, not merely or mainly by trawl owners. I was astonished to hear the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) say that these penalties were not bloodthirsty enough, and even more astonished when he compared them with the penalties under the Birds Protection Act, the implication being that people under this Bill were better off. It is a fact that a man who kills another in a motor car accident would not suffer such severe penalties as the man who inadvertently strays over the three-mile limit on some deserted loch in Scotland.
If there is one provision in the Bill which is resented by all sections of the trawling industry, it is Sub-section (3) of Clause 1 under which an owner becomes liable for the offence of a skipper. That is a brutal and vindictive provision, not because it penalises the owner who is quite able to look after himself, but because it penalises the skipper. If a man commits one offence, which may be a grave one or may be only technical, he is thrown out of employment for three years. He has not chance of getting work as a skipper and probably very little chance of getting any other kind of work. It is as though his master's certificate had been taken away from him. Usually a master is only deprived of his certificate in cases of gross negligence or gross irresponsibility, and it seems monstrous that a master should be liable to lose his ticket for what may be a purely technical offence. I, no more than my hon. Friend the Member for North Aber- deen (Mr. Burnett), would defend the case of the skipper who puts out his lights, blacks out his number-plate and steals into a Scottish loch under cover of night. That is indefensible, but the penalty is certainly adequate even for that offence.
There are, however, other cases. A trawler may be fishing near the limit, and there is no reason why we should prohibit trawlers from doing so, if that is where the best fish are to be found. Possibly owing to the movement of the vessel at sea the skipper may get an imperfect sight and stray over the three-mile limit inadvertently. He may be caught and convicted of poaching. I speak without a knowledge of Scottish law which I understand differs from Admiralty law. If such a case occurred in English waters the Admiralty court would allow for the man's error of judgment, but I understand that in Scotland no such allowance is made. The man would have to be convicted, and a fine would have to be imposed even if it were only nominal. That conviction would stand, and that man would never get a job again even though his offence was admittedly technical.
There is also the question of evidence. I am not clear how it is to be decided whether or not a skipper has run over the three-mile limit. If it is to be left to a qualified fishery officer, and if the evidence of such an officer is to convict a man, well and good. But if the uncorroborated and unsustained evidence of an inshore fisherman, who is in an even smaller boat than the trawler, with little facilities for fixing his position, is to be taken as sufficient to convict a man of poaching under this Bill, then it seems to be extremely drastic and unnecessarily harsh. I hope the Government at a later stage will be able to consider some of the points which have been raised by the other two hon. Members and myself who have been the only critics of the Bill so far. I believe that under the Bill, as it is drafted, the trawling industry, not the trawl owners but the industry as a whole, including the men who go to sea, have a legitimate grievance. I believe that the Government could attain the objects of this Bill such as they are without subjecting the industry to those grievances.
I am glad that the House has had the case against this Bill put with moderation and very temperately. Hon. Members are now aware of the chief objections raised by the trawling industry to it. I would like to remind the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Burnett) that some of the cases which he quoted may have been hard cases, but that hard eases make bad law, and we have to consider the enforcement of the law as it is. This is not a Bill to alter the law, but a Bill to enforce the existing law. I think the hon. Member for South-West Hull (Mr. Law) was himself unnecessarily harsh in describing the Bill as vindictive, cruel and futile. I hope to be able to show that, so far from being vindictive, it is not nearly so drastic in some respects as the recommendations of the Mackenzie Committee or the proposals in the private Member's Bill which was brought before this House. It is certainly far less drastic than some of the laws in force in foreign countries.
I should like at once to take the opportunity of congratulating the Government on having brought in this Bill. Some of the newer Members of this House may be inclined to forget or are perhaps not aware of the long history which is behind this question. It dates back to a period before the War, when the first efforts were made to meet the complaints put forward by the inshore fishermen. The hon. Member for South-West Hull rightly said that it is much better, in matters of this kind, to prevent an offence than to put on heavy penalties for the offence. There I agree with him and we are all glad to recognise the action taken recently by the Scottish Office to improve the fishery patrols. We were particularly glad to-day to hear of the three new cruisers which have been put on this service. In that connection I would ask the Secretary of State whether special attention will be given to the valuable services rendered by the small fast boat "Vaila" which is stationed at the Shetlands. That boat works in connection with the Fishery Board and the fishery cruisers and can be very effective in patrol work owing to her high speed and her low free-board. Although she cannot keep at sea she can crawl out under the shelter of the shore without being seen and she has effected some useful captures. There is only one of those boats in the service at the present time, and it would be useful if another one could be put on the West side of the islands also, at such a place as the Orkneys.
I approach this question with considerable feeling. I have been in this House for over 12 years representing the same constituency and month after month, year in and year out, this complaint about illegal trawling has been in my ears. When I go among the islands I am shown the places where trawlers come in, where the people on shore can see them, with their numbers covered, inside the limit. At night, without lights, they crawl in close to the shore and in places from which the inshore fishermen and the crofters used to draw their fish, they cannot now get any fish. Splendid fishing grounds like the North Sound in the Orkneys have been spoiled for them. That used to be one of the best sounds of all, but now, as a man told me recently, it is not worth while letting a line down into it. Unfortunately, in the centre of that sound there is an area which is just outside the three-mile limit, so that it is possible for trawlers to come into the centre of the sound and it is then easy for them to cross the border-line. Speaking of the border-line, I would point out to the hon. Member for South-West Hull and the hon. Member for North Aberdeen, that it is the duty of the trawler to keep away from it. If the trawler gets over the border-line the trawler is at fault, and as my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) pointed out, there is a wide sea and plenty of room outside.
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that the trawler stops trawling because the weather turns bad? I have had some practical experience of trawling in my younger days, and I have never known a trawler to stop because the weather was bad, unless it was excessively bad.
I agree that a trawler does not often stop trawling because of bad weather, and that there are occasions when a trawler has to come inshore. But if she comes within the limit she ought to take the steps which are provided for, to show that she is not at work within the limit. It is open to every trawler to come in if the necessary steps are taken to show that she is not working within the three-mile limit. I wish to emphasise the point already made that this Bill is not directed against the trawlers. We all recognise the great work which the trawlers do and the enormous amount of fish which they bring ashore for our population. We are only concerned in this Bill with the people who break the law. I am astonished at the amount of objection which has been raised outside to this Bill. The document which has been circulated to Members of the House signed by the president of the British Trawlers' Federation is astounding, and moist have been written very largely in ignorance of what the Bill contains. It starts by describing the Bill as—
the most unfair and one-sided Measure that has ever been submitted to Parliament.
An "unfair and one-sided Measure," because it has been found that the penalties for illegal trawling have not been sufficient, and it is proposed to increase them. Then it is stated that the Bill is based solely on the evidence of inshore fishermen. I would remind the gentleman who wrote that document that the Bill is based on the findings of the Mackenzie Committee, the most authoritative committee that ever went into the subject. If anyone is still in doubt as to whether steps should be taken to enforce the law, I recommend him strongly to read that report. It is the report of a body of men who, with the greatest care and over a considerable period, took evidence from everybody concerned and came to definite conclusions on the matter. Their conclusions are to a very large extent embodied in the Bill.
The Title and the scope of the Bill might be referred to. Hon. Members will see that it is a Bill to amend the law with regard to the enforcement of enactments prohibiting the use of certain methods. It is not to amend the law as regards the three-mile limit or anything of that sort; it is only to amend the law in order to enforce the enactments which already prohibit trawling within these limits. That is the whole object of the law, and when hon. Gentlemen opposite ask why trawlers are singled out and nothing is said about seineing, the answer is that this is a law dealing with illegal trawling and not with illegal seineing, which is a different matter altogether. It is possible that something may have to be done to deal with illegal seineing, but at the moment we are dealing with illegal trawling. I am glad that the efforts of the late Member for East Fife, Sir Duncan Millar, have been referred to, because for a number of years he endeavoured to get a private Member's Bill through—a Bill which I and others backed. Over and over again we had the ill-fortune of not drawing a good place in the Ballot. On one occasion we got the Bill through Committee and reported, but it never reached beyond that stage. It is evident that a Bill of this importance is one that really ought to be taken up by the Government. Now that the Government have taken it up, we may hope to see it very soon on the Statute Book.
The hon. Member for North Aberdeen referred to the small number of convictions, and used that as an argument to show it was unnecessary to make any alterations in the law to increase the penalties. He must realise perfectly well how difficult it is to get a conviction. How are you to get a conviction in the case of a trawler with its number covered; and suppose you are able to find out the number of the trawler which has committed an offence, how are you to collect sufficient evidence on a lonely part of the coast to satisfy the court that the trawler was within the three-mile limit? I should like to point out to the hon. Member for South-West Hull, when he queried the evidence on which a skipper might be convicted, that all the evidence is taken in a court before highly trained lawyers. They have to weigh and value the evidence, and his suggestion that on the evidence of a line fisherman a trawler captain might lose his livelihood is, I can assure him, not possible. The sheriff before whom these cases are taken insists on very strict evidence before he will allow a conviction.
To show how much less drastic this Bill is than what takes place in foreign countries, I should like to refer to the position in Iceland. That country depends almost entirely for its revenues on its fishing, and it knows how vital it is to protect the inshore waters. In Iceland the offence of trawling within territorial waters is punishable by a fine of from 10,000 to 20,000 croner, and, in addition to these penalties, a skipper who is guilty of a repeated offence can be sentenced to not less than two months' imprisonment. Criticisms have been made with regard to making the owners responsible, but in Iceland the ship may be seized and sold to cover fines and expenses. So that there is not only the very heavy penalty on the skipper, but the ship may be seized and sold. In Norway the maximum fine for illegal trawling is 5,000 croner, and, in addition, the ship with the catch and the gear can be confiscated irrespective of whether the owners are implicated in the offence or not. When you come to Russia, you really get something serious. There, illegal trawling is punishable by imprisonment or forced labour for a period not exceeding one year, again with confiscation of the fishing appliances and of the fish caught illegally, and a fine not exceeding 500 gold roubles.
Hon. Members can see, therefore, how very strictly other countries protect their inshore waters, and how very much more severe are the penalties that they impose than the penalties which are suggested in this Bill. As regards the point raised by the hon. Member for North Aberdeen as to whether the skipper pays the fine, I can tell from my own experience of cases where a fine of £100 has been put on the skipper. In one case—I do not say he came from North Aberdeen—he wired to the owner and the £100 came back, and the skipper said, "I will be at the same place to-morrow night." That is an indication of what has been happening under the law as it exists, and it is a strong argument for making the owner of the ship liable if he employs a skipper whom he knows is guilty of such practices as have been committed. It is a more satisfactory way than dealing with the certificate of the master of the ship, and the device in the Bill for putting a responsibility and a liability on the owner of the vessel if he employs a convicted skipper is far the best way of get-
ting over what is an undoubted difficulty. As regards the liability of the owner, if an offence is committed on his ship by the skipper, I should again like to refer hon. Members to the report of the Mackenzie Committee, where it is definitely stated:
The principle of attaching liability to the owner of an offending vessel, as distinct from the master, is recognised, under existing legislation, by the forfeiture of the gear, the seizure of the fish (Acts of 1892 and 1909), the recovery of fines, and the detention of boats (Section 20 (2) of the Sea Fisheries Act, 1883, and Section 1 (3) of the Steam Trawling (Ireland) Act, 1889).
So that it is not a new idea which is brought into this Bill. The novelty is the application of it in the case of offences by trawlers. It will be within the knowledge of hon. Members that vessels which are occupied in smuggling, where the offence of smuggling is proved, are liable to seizure, and a boat that is used for poaching salmon is liable to seizure. The fact that the trawling owner is to be made liable in future for the offences of his skipper if he knows that he has been convicted of illegal trawling in the past will have a most excellent deterrent effect. Seeing that this Measure is long overdue, I hope, having regard particularly to recent most unfortunate happenings, which have been referred to in the Debate, that it will be very soon on the Statute Book, and that in connection with the improvements in the patrol services which the Scottish Office have introduced, the offences which have been so numerous in the past will become far less numerous in future and that very few people, either skippers or owners, will come within the province of the Bill.
The ground has been so admirably covered by previous speakers that I propose to detain the House for only a few minutes. The Mover and Seconder of the Amendment did not seme to realise the enormity of the offence of illegal trawling. It not only takes away the fishing of the inshore fishermen, but it destroys the fishing industry for the other trawlers. It limits the number of fish because the fish are smaller inshore, and as they grow they spread out to the open sea. It destroys the chances of people catching them, and it is a selfish act because it disregards the other trawlers. It is no use saying that it is only an occasional offence. I do not think that there is much Scottish poaching, and I do not think that the Aberdeen trawler owners, some of whom I know, are the men to encourage their skippers to do anything irregular. It is a different thing when you come to Grimsby and Hull.
There have been convictions of Hull and Grimsby skippers. The owners must know of the irregularities committed by their skippers, for they are getting the benefit. It is like a barman selling after hours; he does it for the benefit of his employers, for it increases the trade and makes more profit for the licence holder. It is no use the licence holder saying, "I do not approve of this, and I told him not to do it," for he gets the benefit of it; and in the case of the boats, the owner gets the profits. The skipper may even have a share in it, and that makes it all the worse. I do not think the Bill will hit the Aberdeen people, because I do not think Scotsmen do these things, but in passing the Bill the English people may feel they are getting back something for Bannockburn. In the time of Charles II no English fishing boat was allowed within 28 miles of the Scottish coast. That shows what an enlightened monarch he was. There is no use talking about the number of convictions; that has nothing to do with it. It is the number of offences that count, and I never go to any of the islands where I do not find men wringing their hands because of trawlers coming off their coast within pistol shot and destroying their fishing. Nothing can be done by them and, in despair, they have given up making complaints, for it is very difficult to get hold of the offenders.
There is a loch called Lochindaal in Islay where they used to get the finest plaice or flounders, as large as small halibut and they were beautiful fish. The trawlers came and ruined that fishing. During the War, when the trawlers were mine sweeping, the fish returned, and at the end of the War Lochindaal was full of fish, and the villagers there used it as part of their food. Shortly after the War up came one, two or three trawlers—I do not know the number, but there was more than one—and they spent about 48 hours there and swept the whole place out. Their numbers were covered up and they came back some time afterwards, again with their numbers covered up. The people could do nothing to stop them because they knew the men aboard were desperate fellows. The same thing happened in Portnahaven, a little village not far away from Lochindaal. There is a fine sweep of sea there and there used to be 30 inshore fishing boats manned by fine sturdy fishermen who sent their catches very largely to Northern Ireland. The trawlers destroyed that fishing. Talk about coming within the three-mile limit! They came so close to the shore that they ran aground on one occasion, and some of the men were drowned.
It is the same all over Scotland. The fishery cruisers are not able to catch the trawlers. It is said that seaplanes are wanted, but when a seaplane did go up and get alongside them the trawlers would not allow the airmen on board, but threw lumps of coal at them and drove them off. I think the penalties in this Measure are very moderate. The whole question is, Can these same evil-doers, poachers or pirates, make illegal trawling as worth while when the penalty is £200 as when it was only £100? We have had them coming into Campbeltown, paying the £100 and telling the fishermen that they would go back to the same place and get it back in a night; and they have gone off blowing their whistles in defiance as they cleared the loch, just to show how little they cared about the penalty. I question very much whether the £200 will be a deterrent. I think that instead of saying the fine is to be one "not exceeding £100," it should be "not less than £100," leaving it to the discretion of the sheriff to fix the amount if he finds himself confronting some truculent, defiant fellow. On a third conviction the offender may both be fined and get a term of imprisonment not exceeding six months. Prison may be some deterrent, but I do not know that it will be, because I am inclined to think that the fellow who is cruel enough, and heartless enough, to go in and poach on the territory of the inshore fishermen, knowing the effect the action will have on the fishing ground, is already such a hardened case that a few weeks in durance vile will not have much effect upon him.
Of course, there will be cases where a man breaks the law through inadvertence, going so near the line so as inadvertently to get over it. I have known people trying to compose a letter to slang somebody else and wishing to go as far as ever they dare without being slanderous. People who write letters of that description very often find themselves before a jury and cast in damages. If in these cases a fellow is sailing so very near the line that a slight error of judgment puts him over it, he really ought to take the consequences. Of course, if his story can be accepted, his offence is not so serious, and I have no doubt the Sheriff Substitute will take that into consideration in fixing the penalty.
I think it is a pity that we cannot do a little more to the owners of trawlers engaged in illegal fishing, although the owner should, of course, have an opportunity of clearing himself; but where they have guilty knowledge I should like to get at them both. I am satisfied that in many cases where men proceed again and again to break the law it is because they have got a nod—which is "as good as a wink to a blind horse"—"You get the fish and I will not inquire too carefully how you got it." I have no doubt that they will pay up readily enough—at any rate the English owners will. An Aberdeen owner would, no doubt, have some contempt for an Aberdeen skipper who is caught, feeling that he is not as smart as he ought to be. The Englishman will pay, because he is more likely to have given direct encouragement to the skipper, and may fear that the latter will give him away. I would like something put into the Bill to bring in the owner in every case, unless he could show that the skipper had acted maliciously, with the object of involving him in a transgression of the law. I have known licensing cases where a licence holder was "run in" for some act committed by his barman, and has shown that the barman was under notice and had threatened to get him into trouble, and in that case the licence holder has escaped conviction. We need some provision of that kind, but if we could get at the owner as well as the skipper it would very largely meet the situation.
The point has been put forward that a skipper should lose his certificate. If there is one body of men for whom one has great pity it is those who go down to the sea in ships. Numbers of merchant ships have certificated officers as crew, owing to the tremendous falling off in the number of ships at sea. If a skipper has been convicted a number of times and is deprived of his certificate for five years, at any rate he can go on board a trawler as one of the ordinary hands. It will do him good and give him experience. If he has been a hard master himself it will do him good to get a dose of his own medicine. On the whole I welcome this Measure, which is long overdue. It seems years since this action was recommended, after long and careful investigation. In the meantime, great damage has been wrought round the coast of Scotland, though, admittedly, by a comparatively small number of trawlers. A small minority is quite enough to wreck inshore fishing. I hope that this Measure will have the support of all the best opinion in the trawling industry, and that they will assist in seeing that it is properly administered and in getting evidence against their brethren who sin against the light by engaging in this nefarious practice.
I would like to say how much pleasure it gives me, and how much it will give to my constituents in East Fife, to note the congratulatory references to my predecessor in the representation of that constituency. The hon. Member for South-West Hull (Mr. Law) was not, I think, as sound and as unassailable in his arguments to-night as is usually the case. He used a great many adjectives to describe this Measure, calling it cruel, vindictive and futile, and I am not sure that he justified the use of any one of them. One could only describe this Measure as futile if one could prove that it will have no effect, and the hon. Member did not attempt to do that, at any rate to my satisfaction; and I am not sure that it is possible for any one to prove such a proposition at this stage. Then, one could only say the Measure is vindictive if the present law does prevent illegal trawling, but every eyewitness who has spoken this afternoon has shown that this illegal trawling continues to exist and, in fact, is increasing. I can add my humble meed to that testimony as re- gards the Firth of Forth. Every night there one can see these illegal trawlers. Again, one can only say that the Measure is vindictive if its provisions do not correspond with the possible gain that comes to an offender. It is obvious from the evidence that there is great gain by illegal trawling—much greater than the fines represent.
I confess that I was somewhat amazed to hear the speech of the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Burnett). I have heard that among the industries of that great city there is one concerned with the making of tall stories, and I came to the conclusion that the hon. Member must really be a director of that industry, because a taller story than that which he told to the House cannot be imagined. The most remarkable feature about it was that, as in the case of my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hull, he presented his case with the most solemn expression, with no sign of a joke. It is a pity that the hon. Member for North Aberdeen did not rehearse his speech in Aberdeen before coming here. He ought to have tried it on his constituents first. If he had done so he would have found out that the Aberdeen County Council, in a resolution passed some little time ago, called upon the Government to increase the fines for illegal trawling and indeed, called upon the Government to produce this Bill.
I can only suggest that the hon. Member should have listened to as well as spoken to his friends. But that is not all. In the city of Aberdeen, for which my hon. Friend claims to speak, is a body of fishermen representing the Central Council of Scottish Fishermen, the Scottish Herring Producers' Association. That body passed a resolution in December supporting this Bill. Therefore, of what good is it for the hon. Member to come here talking to us as if he represented the considered, firm and and convinced opinion of the city of Aberdeen?
The hon. Gentleman is being obstreperous, I think, because he knows that the Herring Producers' Association deal not only with herring matters but all matters affecting fishing round the coast of Scotland. For example, they have passed resolutions, of which, I think, the hon. Member has probably had a copy, dealing with the new Unemployment Bill, with share fishing and other matters of that kind, and that council would not have passed such a resolution if they had not considered themselves fit and proper persons to do so. In any case, that is a fact. I propose to say only this other word. It is held that there is a case against these additional penalties. The present system is not satisfactory if you are going to maintain the crofter population in the North of Scotland. No reasonable man would deny that, except apparently, my hon. Friend. It is difficult to understand why the hon. Member for North Aberdeen is against this increase of penalties: an increase of penalties for what? Not for doing something that is lawful but an increase of penalties for doing something which is illegal, against the best interests of the country and against the written law.
He says it is an unfair attack on the trawling industry. I ask him, Why? How is it an unfair attack on that industry if, as he says and as I believe, the great mass of the men in the trawling industry are law-abiding citizens? How can it be an attack on men whom the law is not going to touch at any stage? He says there are only two or three dozen cases of conviction in the last 20 years. If out of 20,000 inshore fishermen 19,999 are not affected by this Bill, why arouse all this indignation in connection with it? Why object to a Bill which is not going to touch them at all? The hon. Member must, in fact, choose his ground before offering his views to the House. Either he speaks for the majority of the trawling industry and says they are a body of poachers—a suggestion I do not support for one moment, but which alone would justify his case this afternoon—or he speaks for the minority threatened by this Bill; and in that case one can only conclude that the hon. Member for North Aberdeen has joined the ranks of the lawless. I must say I am surprised to find a Conservative of the standing of the hon. Member for North Aberdeen a strong supporter of the Constitution, coming here and voicing the complaint of common poachers; because that is, in effect, what he is doing. One reads of cat burglars. The hon. Member has apparently become the leader of the cod burglars in the North of Scotland. This Measure is brought forward, because there is a need for greater penalties, for the present penalties are not effective in preventing poaching. This Bill, supported as it will be by more active police patrols will bring, we believe and hope, to the crofter fishermen in the North of Scotland and to the inshore fishermen in the Firth of Forth and elsewhere, a measure of protection which they demand and have the right to demand. For that reason, I support it.
The Bill we are discussing to-night has been received with a chorus of approval. As far as I can see, most of the ground has been covered. I do not want, therefore, to detain the House very long. I, also, support the Measure, but I am bound to say that I do not receive it with the great enthusiasm that it has been received with in some quarters of the House. I have a long acquaintance with the controversy between the line fishermen and the trawlermen in Scotland, and I think that there can never have been an occasion when a Bill to deal with illegal trawling has been considered in the House so calmly as the present Bill is being considered. In the past any attempt to deal with illegal trawling has created storms of bad feeling, and it is pleasant to see this Bill, which increases the penalties so considerably, treated so calmly and coolly as it is being considered to-night.
I hope I shall not be misconstrued if I say that I rather regret the necessity for this Bill; and I can say so even though my name has been on the back of a number of Bills of the same kind introduced in the House in recent years. I regret the necessity for the Bill, because I realise that the penalties that are being proposed are almost vicious. They are very, very severe indeed, and I should have liked very much if it had been possible to deal with the question of illegal trawling without having recourse to these severe penalties. I think that the Government in the past—not merely this Government but all Governments—must accept some responsibility for the fact that a Bill of this kind is necessary today. After all, what we have to remember in the enforcement of the law is this, that it is not so much the severity of the punishment that deters law-breakers as the certainty of punishment; and I do believe that if in the past Governments had seen to it that they took more drastic steps than they did to enforce the law, it would not have been necessary to increase the penalties. In every Debate we have had on this question, Member after Member has told us stories of the reports which fishermen make as to trawlers going into the inshore grounds and trawling without let or hindrance. If the Government Bad taken proper steps to detect these trawlers, I am quite certain that they would have gone a long way to put down illegal trawling by this time.
It is admitted by the Government that their policing in the past has been inefficient, and I suggest that if illegal trawling is going to be put down it will be put down, not so much by the severe penalties that are proposed in this Bill, as by the effectiveness of the policing arrangements which the Government are going to put into force. For these reasons, I am, in some respects, more interested in the proposals which the Government are to make to provide faster cruisers, so that trawlers that really break the law will be caught and brought to judgment; and I hope that the Government will be successful in bringing them to justice and in thus doing much to stamp out this grievance from which fishermen, in the North of Scotland particularly, have suffered for so long. But I should like to say this, that I think the trawlers have to some extent a grievance in the fact that the policing arrangements have not been as effective in the past as they might have been. I have no doubt that when they see that the policing is going to be effective, they will keep away from grounds where they would involve themselves in trouble.
A great deal too much can be made of what is going to happen to inshore fishermen as a result of this Bill. I sympathise very much with inshore fishermen who have lost their gear by the depredations of trawlers, and particularly I sym pathise with those poorer fishermen who live in the outer islands. But I hope that the House and the public will not run away with the idea that merely stopping illegal trawling will of itself bring prosperity to these fishermen. There is no doubt illegal trawling has been a contributory cause of the depression among fishermen in that quarter, but it is only one cause, and in my opinion not the main cause; and, if the Government are satisfied merely to deal with illegal trawling and leave the other causes untouched, I regret to say that the condition of these fishermen will not be very much changed.
This question of trawling has a different aspect in one part of the country from that which it has in another. Not only that, but the attitude of the fishermen towards trawling is continually changing. Within my own experience there has been a very great change indeed in public opinion with regard to trawling generally, and there is not, if I may say so, the same hostility, say, on the shores of the Moray Firth to the Aberdeen trawler owners and trawl fishermen that there used to be when I was a boy living on the shore of the Moray Firth. And that change of view with regard to trawling generally is, partly, at any rate, connected with the fact that seine-netting is now so common throughout Scotland. It seems to me that any Government which is taking upon itself to lay down a policy with regard to trawling and does not at the same time deal with seine-netting is really dealing with only one aspect, and one part, of a very great subject.
I should have liked the right hon. Gentleman when he was introducing this Bill to make some reference to this great change that has taken place among inshore fishermen in Scotland in the last few years, because I think no policy dealing with trawling can be effective which does not take notice of the great change that has taken place within the last few years. I hope that even yet we may have something from the Under-Secretary, if he is going to wind up the Debate, with regard to this question. I realise that the question of seine-netting and the restrictions upon it is a very difficult and thorny question indeed, but at the present time it is being dealt with in a most illogical fashion. In one part of Scotland fishermen are allowed to fish with the seine-net right up to the edge of the sea; in other parts they are not allowed to go within three miles. As far as I can see, there is no logical reason for the restrictions which are placed upon it in one part of the country and not in another.
There is another question which has not hitherto been dealt with in this Debate, but to which, I think, a few brief references might be permitted. No one has mentioned the thorny question of the Moray Firth. I am not going to dilate upon it here, but I would have liked the right hon. Gentleman, who introduced the Bill, to make some passing reference to that most vexed question, and to give some idea as to whether he will ever be able to deal with it, whether he is trying to deal with it, or has given up all hope of being able to deal with it in a satisfactory manner. I am satisfied that the question of trawling in the Moray Firth, like a number of other difficult questions in regard to fishing at the present time, can only be dealt with by international regulation.
I hoped some time ago, when the Netherlands Government invited us to attend another conference to revise the North Sea Convention, that that was an opportunity by which we would be able to deal with those questions. After waiting for a long time, the Government replied that they must decline the invitation, and the opportunity of dealing with those questions by international regulations went entirely, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will soon be able to lay down some sort of large-scale policy which will show the fishing industry that he knows exactly where he is going, so that they may have some idea how fishing is to develop in the future. The questions with which I have dealt are outside the details of the Bill, but they are not irrelevant, and I trust that the Government may be able to give us some light upon them in the near future.
In the early part of his remarks, the hon. Member for Banffshire (Sir M. Wood) expressed the view that the problem of catching offenders was a more important one than that of imposing penalties, and with that I most cordially agree. I say that with the appropriate amount of regret and from practical knowledge, having myself carried on some of those operations. I should add that it was not within several thousand miles of the jurisdiction of my right hon. Friend, so that I feel fairly safe about that. My right hon. Friend announced that he was going to build three new cruisers. Had he not done so, I had intended to make a suggestion to him for the Amendment of Section 11 of the Act of 1883 by which fishery officers are appointed.
It had occurred to me that he might, if necessary, in order to ensure that, so far as possible such offences were not committed without being reported, enlist the services of the inshore fishermen in the guise of fishery officers, for the purpose of reporting such offences as occur. For every offence which is seen and dealt with by one of the fishery cruisers, there is a very large number which are seen but not reported by the fishermen who happen to be there at the time. It would not be possible to give such sea fishery officers as I have suggested the full powers which are given under the Act of 1883. That power includes the power of arrest, and so on. The right hon. Gentleman clearly takes the view that this matter can best be dealt with by Government vessels, and I do not wish therefore to take up the time of the House in elaborating what might, in other circumstances, have been a necessary alternative.
I will confine my remarks very briefly to the observations made by the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Burnett) and the hon. Member for South-West Hull (Mr. R. Law) when they moved and seconded the rejection of the Bill. The hon. Member for North Aberdeen sought to draw a parallel between trawling and seine netting. He quoted figures of the number of convictions of the different types of fishing. It is well known that the convicitions of trawlers bear no true relation to the number of offences committed. When comparing the proportion of convictions for trawling and seine netting, we must remember that the ground on which the seine net boats can work is very restricted, and is very much less than the ground over which the trawlers can pass. In addition to that, the seine net boats are practically stationary throughout the whole of their operations. There can be no comparison between the difficulty of catching a seine net boat within the three-mile limit and the difficulty of catching a trawler within that limit.
The hon. Member went on to refer to Clause 4, which makes it necessary for a trawler to unshackle her gear, and heave it inboard when she comes into territorial waters. He said that that was a hardship, because in the case of a stiff shackle it might take an hour before the boat could get it stowed away. I do not wish to be cynical, but I suggest to the hon. Member that the best cure for a stiff (shackle is frequent use, and if those boats would unshackle their gear every time they came into territorial waters they would have no difficulty in future. The hon. Member for South-West Hull described the Bill as futile, and he went so far as to say that he considered the three-mile limit to be vexatious. I am quite unable to follow him in that. If any hon. Member doubts the damage done to stocks of fish by trawlers within the three-mile limit, I would invite them to study what happened in the much wider spaces of the North Sea after the War. It is all set out in the reports of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. There are charts showing where, for one hour of fishing, you could catch one, two, or three cwts of fish.
If you look at those charts for the period immediately after the War you will find that the areas in which you could get a hundredweight of fish for one hour's trawling are very widespread; but that area in the North Sea has been steadily narrowed, and has narrowed very much indeed south of the Dogger Bank. If that can happen in the North Sea it is clear that on the coast of Scotland which are suitable for trawling the effect will be very great. I do not think there will be any dispute about the fact that the trawling carried on in those comparatively restricted areas must be destructive in the long run. Obviously, the trawlers select the best ground and the most prolific area.
Hon. Members who oppose this Bill have raised the question of the skipper who inadvertently enters the three-mile limit, and they have sought to say that there might be hard cases in those circumstances. One great advantage of the three-mile limit is that, as a rule, it is quite easy to fix your position within three miles of the coast. If the limit is extended to 10 miles, there would be a very practical and serious difficulty. I might offer a suggestion to the two hon. Members, and to the skippers of those trawlers who feel that they might inadvertently pass within the limit; it is that they should treat the three-mile limit in the same way as they would treat an unlighted coast on a foggy night.
I would not have intervened in this Debate at this late hour but for some of the rather unusual arguments that have been put forward by the opposition to the Bill. I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage) has left his place, because I wanted to chide him somewhat upon having broken the ancient and honourable tradition of the House in regard to keeping a Scottish Debate to Scottish Members. We generally assume that the role of an English Member during a Scots Debate is to come in and be taught, or to come in and learn, and to display a becoming sense of humility while he listens to the oratory of such hon. Members as the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) and others who have spoken to-day. That is by the way. One of the statements that the hon. and gallant Member for Louth made as representing the trawlers was that they did not want to infringe the laws of Scotland. If that is so, why is there any opposition? This Bill is for the purpose of preventing any infringement of the law of Scotland.
Let me come to the two objections raised by the hon. Member for South-West Hull (Mr. Law) and the hon. Member for Banffshire (Sir M. Wood) in which they pointed to the penalties. Why is a penalty provided? It is provided as a deterrent. If you do not make the penalty big enough, you will not effect your purpose, and that is one of the reasons why the Bill should be strongly supported. It definitely makes the penalty so heavy that once a trawler has been caught for infringing the law, that will probably be the last occasion on which it will do so. An hon. Member said that there was only one conviction in something like 2,700 sailings, and because of that infinitesimal percentage it was not worth while bringing in the Bill, but he does not realise that that one conviction would probably mean the loss of three or four months' livelihood to several hundred fishermen.
I have listened to the case being consistently misrepresented by the Opposition. I congratulate my right hon. Friend and his hon. Friends upon having brought in this Bill. It has been wanted for months. It was wanted in the days when the late Sir Duncan Millar introduced it, and I am glad that it has been left to the National Government to introduce it in the interests of the country as a whole, and to show that those interests are safe in its care. It is a good thing to have the support of the official Opposition to the Bill, although it always makes one a little suspicious when the Opposition supports a Bill promoted from the Government side of the House, In this case, however, we are all out for the good of the inshore fishermen. I will not say again what these fishermen did in the War. They provided us with a background consisting of the finest men of our mercantile marine, and they deserved the consideration which my right hon. Friend is now giving them. They have no insurance scheme whereby to safeguard their welfare and well-being. Most other trades have an insurance scheme to fall back upon, but when their trade is bad and their catch is low, the fishermen have no such scheme. That is one of the reasons why this Bill should receive unanimous support, and I ask hon. Members to withdraw their opposition so that the Bill may get the unanimous support of the House.
I would also support the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean) that an Amendment should be accepted to give some compensation for nets destroyed by trawlers within the three-mile limit. That is one of the things about which, I know, fishermen, especially in my constituency, feel very keenly. It is so difficult for them to replace their gear. The percentage interest charged is high—5 per cent.—and any compensation which can be given to them for damage to their gear by trawlers should be very carefully considered by the Government.
The hon. and gallant Member said that there was a tradition in the House that English Members did not take part in Scottish Debates, and he attacked the hon. and gallant Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage) because he had spoken. I think I have been a Member of the House longer than my hon. and gallant Friend, and I have never heard of that tradition. I have always heard that an Englishman was not so overwhelmed with pride that he wanted to butt into everything, but I have always been told that even a Scottish Debate can be brightened up a bit.
My reason for intervening is because of the speech made by the hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten). I have listened to many of the speeches during the Debate and I have noticed that they were mostly interesting and highly accurate speeches. None of them fell into the great mistake into which the hon. and learned Member fell. I should like to make it perfectly clear that I think the three-mile limit should be kept very clearly, that it should be well defined and well known and that every possible support should be given by the Government to the enforcement of the three-mile limit. That is a fair position to take up, but my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Argyll kept on saying that the Englishmen were poachers. Englishmen do not poach. It is admitted that there are certain people who break the law with regard to poaching. We have experience of that in my part of the country. Almost invariably the people who do it are foreigners and the real trouble is to catch the foreigners. If we could have in the West country the support in that matter that is being given under this Bill it would be very much appreciated.
The whole matter boils down to the very simple fact that there is a row going on, a purely local row in this case in Scotland, between the seine net fishermen and the trawlers. Would it not be wiser for the Government to tackle the whole question? It would save a great deal of trouble if they would make up their minds in regard to the seine question and the trawling question in regard to what is going to preserve the largest possible amount of fish on our coasts. I should like to see the three-mile limit extended if possible for our people. This question goes beyond Scotland, but I will be brief, if the hon. Member for Bridge-ton (Mr. Maxton) does not mind.
I am sorry, and I am sure the House will be sorry, because there is nothing that lightens up a Debate more than the intervention of the hon. Member. It has been admitted by every Scottish Member who has spoken with weight to-day that there is no question of any English trawler poaching in Scotland, but there may be wild men about. The intricacy of Scottish law is very difficult for Englishmen to understand, but I do say that Englishmen will keep the three mile limit every time. I shall be glad if the Secretary of State for Scotland would insert in the Bill a new Clause to the effect that absolutely nothing in this Act shall in any way apply to English fishing vessels that may be up in Scotland. I hope the Home Secretary will help me to get an Amendment to that effect. If he did so the Bill would have an easy passage and the whole House would approve the position which I have taken and would support the Bill in every way.
Those hon. Members who have listened to the Debate must feel that there is a very large measure of unanimity as regards the provisions and principles of the Bill and I, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, thank those who have spoken for the clearness with which they have stressed the necessity of dealing with this problem as far as Scotland is concerned. I do not propose to go separately through the observations made by hon. Members. The House will recognise that a great many of the observations were Committee points. On the one side we were urged to increase the penalties and on the other side to make them lighter. Nearly all such topics are more suitable for a discussion in Committee, and promises have been made by those who have expressed these various views that they will put down Amendments in Committee. That will be the time and place to discuss them.
In the speeches of the two hon. Members who opposed the Bill there were certain general propositions and it is only right that I should deal with them. I should like to address myself to some observations made by the hon. Member for South West Hull (Mr. Law). During his speech I found myself for almost the only time during the Debate at some variance with the tone of the remarks made. I must say quite frankly that I disagreed with the observation that this Bill was the result of a hurried visit by the Secretary of State for Scotland to the west coast. That remark did not show the temper and outlook that we are accustomed to from my hon. Friend, but seemed to be the crude breathing of some brief that he had got from elsewhere. It is well known to anyone and to none better than my hon. Friend that so long ago as 1923 a most powerful and representative Committee investigated the whole of this question and pointed out very clearly how very dangerous and injurious was the effect upon the life of large numbers of our fellow countrymen engaged in fishing of this practice, then prevalent and now still more prevalent, of illegal trawling. There can be in these circumstances to anyone who knows Scotland, certainly anyone who knows the Scottish coast, particularly the west coast, absolutely no excuse for any suggestion, however remote or indirect, that the motive or characteristic of this Bill is political. It is a social and economic Bill and it is only those whose acquaintance with Scotland must be very sudden and transitory who can regard it as otherwise.
In that connection may I say a few words on a matter which was touched upon by the right hon. and learned Member for Ross and Cromarty (Sir I. Macpherson). He expressed the hope that this Bill was not going to be the whole of the Government's policy in regard to the inshore fishing industry. I can assure him and the House that that is not the case. In the first place, as my right hon. Friend told the House, we are already renewing the patrol fleet and renewing it by finding designs of ships that will combine the qualities of Q ships with the necessary speed. According to the naval architect it is going to be an interesting problem, but I am assured that there are very good hopes of the problem being satisfactorily solved and that ships indistinguishable from trawlers or drifters as the case may be will yet be built, with a turn of speed which will greatly surprise those who are being patrolled. But that is not the end, although it is an objective of our policy in regard to the inshore fishermen of Scotland.
We are trying to do something—much has already been accomplished and we hope to do still more—towards the improvement of freights between the islands, the highlands and the mainland in order that the transport of fish may be cheaper.
We are also doing what we can to improve the transport facilities by trying to see in what way the shipping routes and the shipping time tables can be improved, for it is already clear that under the new situation, with the experience which we have already had of the more effective policing, there are opportunities for the inshore fishermen which are sound from the economic point of view, and of which from the social point of view it is impossible to overrate the importance. The House may rest assured that this Bill is not an isolated piece of legislation but it takes its place as the foundation of a constructive effort of statesmanship, the object of which is to improve the condition of our inshore fishing people and in particular to bring back to those western islands and lochs to which, from the poverty of their soil and the doubtfulness of their climate, fishing must be of immense economic importance, the full advantage of secure fishing in the future.
I should like to deal with a most important point, and that is that already this winter in districts where our drifters have been on patrol there has been a very marked disappearance of the trawlers. And secondly there has been a very marked increase of the fish inshore. The experience of one winter is obviously inconclusive, and it may not be more than chance, but whereas this year you have had, round the coast of Skye for instance, large shoals of herring coming in, the absence of the trawler has meant that instead of these shoals being swept up as soon as the news went round, they have remained within comparatively narrow limits, affording the inshore fisherman an opportunity of catching them. There is the further fact of which we have had evidence, though I speak with every qualification here, that there do seem to be signs already of a slight return of confidence to the inshore fishermen. I am told, though I confess I have not yet very full information, that there are signs of more inshore fishing around Skye as was indicated by the hon. Member for Inverness (Sir M. Macdonald).
I said a moment ago that this Bill is not to be regarded as a thing by itself. It is the foundation of a piece of constructive work. Why foundation? For this reason, that unless you get confidence into the minds of the inshore fishermen they will not undertake the work of getting fitted again with gear, nets and in some cases even with boats, and it is obvious that they are right in their caution. It would be extremely foolish of them to fit themselves out again if the first dark night, as has so often been the case, their gear might be swept away. So confidence is the foundation of this policy. I am not at this stage making any large promises to the House as to its success, but I do say it is utterly unfounded and a gross error and misrepresentation of the facts to represent this Bill as a political Bill brought in by the Government to get a Vote here or there or to save a Vote in this island and not lose it in another part. We know, not by the experience only of official reports, but some of us from years of experience, that there has been an immense amount of illegal trawling. It must stop, and nothing that is required to bring about a cessation will be left undone.
We think this Bill is well designed to bring that about. For the first time, the trawler owners are brought into the Bill, and they will, after the passage of this Bill, have no excuse for employing skippers who have been convicted. I think the argument against bringing the owner under penalty until his skipper has once been convicted is very strong, because if the skipper is a man against whose character there is no bad mark, how can you in the first instance make the owner liable? But when the skipper has been convicted and the owner knows it, the clear duty of the owner is to avoid the risk that the man may again break the laws. The best way to teach people to do their duty is to punish them if they do not do it, and that is the foundation of this Bill. I will not make any promises, but we are satisfied that there is to-day an opportunity for the inshore fishermen which there has not been in the past.
We departed from the recommendation of the Mackenzie Committee in this respect, because there were difficulties in suspension or the taking away of a master's certificate for this class of reason, and we felt that exactly the same or sufficiently similar results could be obtained by the method which we have adopted. As I understand it, the suspension or taking away of a master's certificate is a thing which is done only for very special causes, and there was good reason, I think, for not extending the causes if we could find any other machinery which might have the same result. If not, we might have been driven once again to consider the actual provisions of the Mackenzie Report, but my hon. Friend, when he considers the provisions of the Bill, will find, I think, precisely the same result obtained by the alternative method.
Before we leave that, what is your reply to the suggestion that the ship should be laid up for a month? That penalises everybody connected with it. When it is laid up it is not earning anything, and they are all penalised.
We did not adopt that suggestion because, if you detain a trawler in port for a month, you detain with her the whole crew, and there is no question that, under the discipline of a ship, it is not the crew who are responsible. Therefore, it would have been unjustifiable to have separated the crew from their livelihood for a month simply on account of the misdeeds of the owner or the skipper. That is the reason why we have confined the detention of the ship to port to cases where the owner refuses or neglects to pay a fine. If my hon. Friend considers again, I think he will see that there is force in the contention that we should not penalise the crew for action for which they are not responsible.
There we get on to extremely difficult and technical ground. I do not think the crew of any vessel, whether a trawler or an Atlantic liner, can be expected to disobey orders, whatever the consequences of obedience might be. I am afraid the suggestion of my hon. Friend might lead to mutiny on the high sea on a large scale, and that is why I cannot fall in with his suggestion, although I sympathise with his object. I do not think I need deal further with the question of the detention of the ship. The suspension of the certificate of a ship also raises extremely technical questions, and, we found, on examination at the Board of Trade, that it would not have been as effective as the Mackenzie Committee thought it would be. It would not, if I remember rightly, have prevented the ship from fishing, but would have restricted the control of the State over her. I say that with qualifications, because, although I had to go into it fully at the time, all that is in my mind now is that the suggestion, though admirable in design, was technically unsound.
I have said that at this stage we would not make rash promises to the House, but I can imagine nothing more desirable than that this Bill should be, as I hope it will be, successful. It is of the highest importance that we should not further decrease the population of our coastline and our rural districts, particularly the population that lives by the sea and, unless a whole area of Scotland is to go partially derelict, it is of the utmost importance to the West and the Islands—[An HON. MEMBER: "And the North!"]—to all the further parts of Scotland, that every effort should be made to bring it about that fishing shall be one of the economic foundations of their lives.
It is not the case, as the hon. Member for Hull has suggested, that we are trying to put back the hands of the clock. Quite the reverse. There is ample evidence that the line fishermen, congregated for instance round the coast of Skye, can make a good profit out of line fishing where the transport facilities are good. It may be added that the fish the line fishermen carry, when it gets to market, is of a far higher quality than the fish from the trawlers, and there is no foundation for the proposition that, if you give the linesmen and inshore fishermen generally a better chance of getting a catch, it will be abused. I say, again, there is room in the sea for the seine-net fishermen and the liner. We are as much against illegal seine-net fishing as illegal trawling, and one of the three ships before the House in the new Estimates will be a smaller ship especially designed to deal with illegal seine-net fishing. There is no foundation for the statement that we are the friends of illegal seine-net fishing. These are the suggestions with which some hon. Members have sought to bolster up a completely hopeless case.
There can be no case for illegality and for the trawler coming inside the three-mile limit. Nobody would suggest that the economics of trawling depends upon illegal trawling. I asked a deputation of trawlers whom I saw if it was their position that they must go inside the three-mile limit and without hesitation they replied "No." It is a known fact that it is unnecessary for trawlers to go inside the three-mile limit. Let them go outside the limit and bring back their fish. Let them not attempt to destroy the livelihood of inshore fishermen, who in Scotland outnumber them by many thousands. Inshore fishermen are an important element in our social structure, and in my judgment they will get only the barest degree of safety and security when this Bill is passed. Confidence is what they desire, confidence is what we shall do our best to give them. I believe that if our policy succeeds, whether in two years or five or 10—it cannot be fully successful in a very short time—before we have passed away we shall find that we have restored to a position of sound economic strength the inshore fishermen of Scotland, and there will then be no one more ready than the trawl owners, who are men of the sea themselves to thank us for what we have done.
That is a Committee point and it is far better that nothing should be said about it until the Secretary of State and myself have had an opportunity of studying quietly the various suggestions which have been made.