§ THE DUKE OF MONTROSE rose to call attention to the by-law issued by the Fishery Board for Scotland on January 14, under which it is proposed to throw open the Clyde waters to fishing by beam and otter trawl; and to move for Papers. The noble Duke said: My Lords, in rising to move the Motion which stands in my name on the Paper I feel that I am speaking on behalf of many thousands of herring fishermen operating in the Clyde waters. The herring fishermen are undoubtedly a very deserving, a very weather-beaten and a very loyal set of men, and I feel confident that when your Lordships recall the great services they rendered to this country as members of the Naval Reserve during the War, I shall enlist your sympathy in regard to anything which can be held to affect their livelihood and their welfare.
§ The point I want to bring to your Lordships' notice is that on January 14, the Fishery Board of Scotland, by means of advertisements in the daily Press, announced that they were approaching the Secretary of State for Scotland to confirm a by-law by which the Clyde waters were to be thrown open to trawlers and other vessels using the beam and the otter trawl. There may be one or two small restrictions in the by-law as regards the area or as regards the date or the time of fishing, but they are insignificant. The long and short of it is that by this by-law the whole waters of the Clyde will be thrown open to the operations of trawlers, after over forty years. There is a very strong feeling among the herring fishermen that if trawling is allowed in the Clyde waters the herring fishing and therefore their livelihood will be utterly ruined.
§ What we want to know is who asked for these by-laws. On what grounds are they asked for? Who was consulted about these by-laws? Were the fishermen of the Clyde area ever consulted? If so, how, when and where? So far as I know the fishermen in the Clyde have never been consulted. What I understand has happened is that the Fishery Board for Scotland were approached by various English fishing interests, such as the Fleetwood trawling industry, and that the officials of the Fishery Board, considering themselves little Habibullahs, have issued 916 an edict off their own bat without considering the immense amount of damage and distress which it will bring upon one of the greatest industries in the West of Scotland. I can speak with some little experience of the herring industry because for twenty years I have lived on an island in the centre of the fishing area, and during the four and a-half years of war my duties were very largely with fishermen, sometimes embarking on sailing smacks, sometimes embarking on motor drifters, sometimes embarking on trawlers. So I can speak with some knowledge of the minds of fishermen and I can say to your Lordships that their opinion is that if you throw open the Clyde waters to trawling, to modern trawlers, fitted with modern appliances, they will sweep the whole bed of the river clean in a few weeks.
§ There is a regular cycle of movement of herrings in the waters of the Clyde. Just about this time—about the end of February or the beginning of March—the herrings go to the spawning banks and deposit their eggs, in about thirty days these eggs are hatched, and then vast masses of embryo fish, or eyes or siles, as they are called, begin to go northwards, sometimes into the lochs adjoining the Clyde, into Loch Fyne, into the Kyles of Bute and so on, and it does not take very much imagination to realise that if you let loose a fleet of modern trawlers who will break up these floating masses of embryo fish and disperse them you will ruin the whole of the fishing in the Clyde and kill off the parent fish wholesale. The otter or the beam trawl is not merely a net. It is like a great mat and as it sweeps the bottom of the river it kills everything in its pathway. I have seen a trawler sweep a bay two miles wide and one mile deep quite clear, and although the trawler came there again several times, it hardly got a fish for the rest of the year. The only proper way to fish in the narrow waters of the Clyde, where the water is shallow and the spawning banks narrow is with the seine or ring net with a regulated mesh by which you will catch mature fish only and will not ruin the spawning beds.
§ In speaking as I have spoken I am representing not merely the herring fishermen in their thousands: I am speaking also on behalf of all those deserving men who make their living by the operations of the herring fleet. There 917 are seamen, there are the men employed in fish curing, there are the men employed in and about the harbours used by the fishing fleets, there are the fish salesmen, there are the hundreds of railwaymen employed in handling the fish boxes, there are the builders of the fishing smacks, the makers of the fishing engines, the sail makers and there are the ship chandlers. There are thousands of people whose livelihood depends on the operations of the herring fleet. What I beg of your Lordships is that you will support me in moving this Motion and in asking that the hands of the Secretary of State for Scotland shall be withheld from confirming this by-law until a full and proper Inquiry has been held, at which the fishermen shall be allowed to state their case. I beg to move.
§ VISCOUNT NOVAR
My Lords, I cannot speak with the intimate acquaintance of the noble Duke with the inshore waters of the Clyde, but this is a matter which has been violently agitated during the last forty years or more in Scotland with respect to narrow waters. I represented fishermen on the east coast and I had to be quite familiar at one time with the trawling question. What was true forty years ago is no less true to-day—that if trawling is permitted in these inshore waters the waters become absolutely cleaned out of fish. It has happened in the Dornoch Firth, in the Cromarty Firth, in the Moray Firth and in the Firth of Forth. What is true there is equally true in the waters to which the noble Duke has referred, and of which he can speak with as much authority as any member of your Lordships' House. I certainly think it is surprising that we should have heard so little of this proposal to admit the trawlers back into the Clyde. I never heard of it until the subject was raised by the noble Duke, and I think that not only the fishermen should have been informed of this proposal, assuming it to be as stated by the noble Duke, which I have no doubt is the case. It certainly would require considerable explanation and defence on the part of the Government before I should withhold my support from the noble Duke in the Motion which he has made.
THE EARL OF AIRLIE
My Lords, when I rise to reply to the noble Duke who put this Motion on the Paper it is with all due deference because we know 918 what a great expert on fishing matters he is held to be. Perhaps it would be better if I quite shortly point out to your Lordships, or to those of you who are unacquainted with the powers of the Fishery Board for Scotland, exactly what are the powers of that Board and how that body is composed. The Fishery Board for Scotland is composed of gentlemen representing the fishing interests. Those interests on that Board are the primary consideration. Under the Fisheries Acts of 1885 and 1889 the Fishery Board have powers to make bylaws regulating methods of fishing in Scottish waters. By Statute, however, it is provided that no by-law shall have validity until it has been confirmed by the Secretary of State for Scotland. If I may be allowed to do so I would point out that the noble Duke has already spoken or written on this subject and I think he has described the date as a little earlier than actually is the case. The procedure in regard to the matter is that the by-law is submitted by the Fishery Board to the Secretary of State for Scotland, and then it has to be published in order to give an opportunity to those who object to it to state their objections. I think in this way all the objections can be thoroughly considered by the Secretary of State for Scotland.
In the exercise of their statutory powers the Fishery Board have made, and well advertised their intention of applying to the Secretary of State for Scotland for confirmation of, a by-law permitting trawling in a part of the outer waters of the Firth of Clyde during the summer months. The statutory period during which notice of objection to the proposed by-law may be lodged with the Board has not yet expired and, therefore, the Secretary of State, not having heard all the objections, has not come to a decision and will not do so until all the objections are brought forward and thoroughly considered. Noble Lords may rest assured that the Secretary of State for Scotland will give full consideration to any objections lodged against the proposal as well as to reasons adduced in its favour.
In the meantime it might perhaps be explained that the proposal is to open to trawling the waters inside the lines. Sanda-Pladda-Ailsa-Corsewall Point, during the period from May 1 to September 30 in each year. It is understood that the main occupation of Clyde 919 fishermen is herring fishing and that line fishing receives very little attention particularly during the summer months. Further, the Firth of Clyde is not a spawning ground of any importance for white fish and the purpose of the by-law is to enable British trawlers to take advantage of the presence of large migratory shoals of hake, which are not at present caught by local fishermen and seem to be practically reserved for foreigners, who cannot be excluded from these waters. I would like to point out that it is impossible that we can exclude our own fishing people from waters from which we cannot also exclude foreigners. We cannot exclude foreign people from waters other than territorial. It would naturally lead to complication if we were to exclude our own fishermen and admit foreign fishermen. The opinion of the Fishery Board is that the provisions of the by-law will not be inimical to the local fishermen, but, as I have tried to explain, I hope successfully, the local objections will receive the fullest consideration from the Secretary of State.
THE DUKE OF MONTROSE
My Lords, I understand that the time for lodging objections ends to-morrow. Fishermen are not an organised body with unions and so forth, and they require more time in which to lodge objections and to state what they feel about the matter. It is all very well to talk of lodging an objection with the Secretary of State for Scotland, but, after all, he does not get his authority from any Executive in Scotland but from another place, in which the vast majority of the members are English. Not that there is any blame to be attached to them for that reason, but their interests are not in Scotland, and the fishermen in Scotland feel that they would like to have this question examined on the spot so that they could submit authoritative evidence before the Secretary of State himself.
THE EARL OF AIRLIE
I understand that the 19th is the latest date for lodging objections—a month from the date of the last advertisement.
THE EARL OF AIRLIE
One month more from to-morrow? I am not prepared to say at the moment whether this can be done, but I will certainly ask my right hon. friend in another place whether it can possibly be done.
THE DUKE OF MONTROSE
If the date can be extended for one month more I will withdraw the Motion; otherwise I must take some steps to press it.
THE EARL OF AIRLIE
I cannot say, without first consulting my right hon. friend in another place, whether he is prepared to do that. All I can do is to ask him whether he will consider the suggestion, but I am afraid I cannot now give an assurance on the point of extending the time for one month.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.