HC Deb 28 March 1871 vol 205 cc801-5

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that the subject of the salmon fisheries had been a subject of legislation from Magna Charta downwards, and in late years numerous Commissions had been appointed, and many Acts passed, yet the results were still unsatisfactory. In 1860 a Royal Commission was appointed to investigate the whole subject of our salmon fisheries, and the recommendations of that Commission formed the subject of legislation in 1861. The Act of that year, while repealing the old laws on the subject, nevertheless did not embody all the recommendations of the Commissioners, and although attended with a success that could hardly have been anticipated, it became speedily apparent that some further legislation was necessary. Accordingly, in 1865, another Salmon Fisheries Bill was introduced. It provided for the appointment of Boards of Conservancy of an improved constitution; for license duties on engines for the capture of salmon; and for the appointment of special Commissioners for English fisheries, with powers to inquire into, and adjudicate upon, fixed engines and other rights connected with the salmon fisheries. Neither did that measure, though it made a considerable step in the right direction, prove fully satisfactory; and in 1869 two new Bills were introduced: one by the Tyne Fishery Board at their own expense, and the other by the Government. The latter contained many useful provisions; but the Fishery Commissioners, having met to consider the subject, adopted a Resolution to the effect that a more comprehensive measure was required; and consequently the Bill was withdrawn, and a Select Committee, of which he (Mr. Dodds) had the honour to be chairman, was appointed to further investigate the subject. The Committee was re-appointed last year, and after collecting a mass of valuable evidence, presented a Report, the recommendations of which were embodied in the present Bill. In consequence of the pressure of other business, the Government had been unable to take up the question themselves; but, having promised their support to any private Member, he (Mr. Dodds) had undertaken to bring this Bill before the House. The provisions of the present Bill were substantially those which had been recommended by the Select Committee, and he should be able to explain any slight variations which had been made. The Bill was of a comprehensive character, and he would only allude to its main provisions. By the 5th clause, the Secretary of State was to nominate the first Board of Conservators for any new district; but by the 6th and following clauses the subsequent Boards were made elective, instead of being, as hitherto, nominated by the various Courts of Quarter Sessions of the counties abutting upon the rivers of the district, He had been reluctant to make this alteration; but the evidence given before the Committee had left him no alternative. The Boards of Conservators in future to be elected were—unless otherwise specially determined—to consist of 12 members. The qualification for a member of the Board was that he must either be the owner of a several fishery within the district, or have paid licence duty during the previous fishing season. The qualification of electors was to have paid licence duty and fishery improvement rate within the district for the previous fishing season; a voter might have a plurality of votes not exceeding four, according to the scale of his payments. In order to consult the interests of the upper proprietors, as distinguished from those of the tidal and estuary fisheries, the electors would be formed into two "wards"—the upper and lower. The voting would be by means of voting papers, to be forwarded to each elector by the Chairman of the Board of Conservators. The Bill provided an increased scale of licence duties; but the Board of Conservators were empowered, with the consent and approval of the Home Office, to vary the licence duties payable in their district. They were also empowered, in addition to the licence duties, to levy a fishery improvement rate not exceeding 25 per cent on the licence duties. They were also to make by - laws for the better protection, preservation, and improvement of the fishing within their district; to vary the annual and weekly close time; to regulate the size of nets, and other purposes. But these laws were not to come into operation until they had been confirmed by a Judge of the superior Courts. The Secretary of the Board was required to make an annual return to the Secretary of State of the amount of income and expenditure of the Board, and of the actual and estimated produce of the fishery of the district, and other valuable statistical information. The measure also contained provisions with reference to the removal of artificial obstructions to the passage of salmon from the spawning beds to the sea, and vice versâ—a matter which lay at the root of all improvement in their salmon fisheries, and the neglect of which caused the destruction of a vast amount of valuable food, and at one time threatened the utter extinction of that breed of fish in certain of our rivers at no distant date. The 31st clause was of great importance. It gave to the Boards of Conservators compulsory powers of acquiring any weir or obstruction for the purpose of removal only; they must present a petition to the Secretary of State, setting forth the various particulars, and the grounds of their opinion, and the Secretary might thereon make a provisional order, which again must be confirmed by Parliament. Since the voluntary removal from the Tyne by the hon. Member for South Northumberland (Mr. Beaumont) of a dam which offered a formidable impediment to the passage of the fish, that river had literally swarmed with salmon. It was not till the Act of 1865 was passed that anything was done towards the removal of those pernicious barriers. Since that period the Special Commissioners had decided no fewer than 526 cases, in 40 only of which had their decisions been challenged and notices of appeal given. In 25 of these cases the notices had been withdrawn, in eight cases the judgment of the Commissioners had been affirmed, in two only had they been reversed, and the remaining five cases were still pending. In three-fourths of the whole 526 cases thus adjudicated upon, the claims of the parties were found to be illegal, and in the great majority of cases the cost had been very inconsiderable. Additional powers were conferred on the Boards of Conservators in respect of matters which had proved deficient in preceding Acts. They or their servants had power to enter on land, after seven days' notice, to repair all fishways, &c., paying of course compensation for any damage done; they might erect hecks and gratings to prevent salmon being led astray into mill-races or artificial channels; they and their bailiffs had power to traverse the banks of salmon rivers at all times; their bailiffs or any constable might secure persons found in the highway suspected of having salmon unlawfully obtained; and penalties were imposed upon persons obstructing them in the performance of their duties. The 32nd section was of some interest, for it gave to the Fishery Commissioners power to try the legality of engines, &c., belonging to the Crown. Some of the later clauses provided regulations in regard to fishing. There was to be no fishing within 50 yards above, or 100 yards below, a weir or mill-race, except with rod and line; all hecks, &c, were to be open during the weekly close time, and removed altogether during the annual close season; no eel baskets were to be fixed in weirs between the 1st January and the 1st July, nor during the day at anytime. No draft net was to be shot within 30 yards of another until the latter was landed. Except in lakes no netting was allowed in the night time in the upper parts of rivers; and the same protection was extended to trout and char as to salmon—they were not to be caught or sold during the close season of salmon for rod and line. In conclusion, he said that the importance of this subject was generally admitted, and there was a general opinion that there should be some amendment of the law in the direction pointed out by this Bill. He was far from thinking that it was at present in the most perfect shape possible, and he hoped that considerable improvement would be made in it in Committee, so that they might be able to meet the requirements of the country without doing injustice to any class or interest whatever.

Motion made, and Question proposes, "That the bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Dodds.)


complimented the hon. Member upon the great pains which he had taken with this measure. He could not agree with all the provisions of it; but it accorded with the recommendations of the Select Committee, and also to a considerable extent with the Bill prepared by the Government, and therefore he had no objection to the second reading.


said, he would not oppose the second reading, it being understood that important alterations would be made in Committee.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Tuesday, 25th April.