HC Deb 22 March 1861 vol 162 cc212-4

said, he rose to call the attention of the House to the Report of the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the Salmon Fisheries of England and Wales, and to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the intention of Government on the subject? The Commission had been appointed in consequence of a Resolution which had been come to by the House last Session with a view of increasing the supply of a valuable article of food. The Commissioners had visited the different salmon-producing districts of the country, and come to a Report which was now before the House. Having studied that Report, he believed its principles to be sound and correct. The Report dealt, first, with the past and present productive powers of the salmon rivers; secondly, on the causes of the depreciation of those powers; and, thirdly, on the means of providing a remedy for that depreciation. It appeared clearly that whereas the rivers of this country had formerly produced a large amount of valuable and nutritious food—so large that it frequently formed an essential element in the food of the people, so great had been the decrease that salmon was now confined to the opulent classes. This was a great evil, and any suggestion for its removal ought to meet with the attention of Parliament. The causes of this decrease were various. One was the obsolete nature of the laws on the subject. They were not only obsolete but contradictory, and so unintelligible that any attempt to enforce them was unavailing. The Report recommended that immediate legislation should take place, by which all these old laws should be repealed, and a simple and uniform law passed on the subject. It recommended, also, the establishment of local boards in the different salmon producing districts, and of a central board to control and direct the different local authorities. This plan had been tried in Ireland with the most satisfactory result. The salmon rivers there had become very much depreciated, and legislation had taken place; local boards were established, and a central board sitting in Dublin. The result had been a continuous increase in the production of salmon. Last year between £400,000 and £500,000 worth of this valuable and nutritious article of food had been produced. He had been told that these boards ought not to be established at the public expense because the salmon fisheries were not public but private interests. But he did not concur in that view. The Commission had been issued on the supposition that it was a matter of public interest, and from the earliest times it had been so considered in this country. In Magna Charta itself there were provisions regarding the salmon fishery. From that time to the present the various Acts of Parliament showed that it was a matter of public interest, and certainly it was so viewed in the Report of the Commissioners. The salmonidœ inhabited the sea as well as the rivers, and, by the common law of the land, every person had a right to fish in the sea and in the tidal and navigable waters; therefore, so much of the fishery as had reference to the tidal and navigable waters was clearly a matter of public interest, and public interest alone. There was a precedent for the application of public money to this purpose in Scotland, where £12,000 was annually voted for fishery purposes; as also in Ireland, where a Fishery Board was paid out of the public revenue of this country for the purposes of the salmon fishery. He begged, therefore, to ask the Home Secretary whether it was the intention of the Government to deal with the question during this present Session?