§ MR. EUGENE WASON (Clackmannan and Kinross)
rose to move a Resolution expressing the opinion that drift net fishing should not be prohibited in the Forth and other rivers in Scotland where fishing by net and coble was not possible or practicable. He said the river Forth was one of the most important in the whole of Scotland. Rising north of Ben Lomond, it continued its course 120 miles east to the German Ocean. The portion of the Forth to which he would refer was that between Alloa, the principal town of Clackmannan, and the Royal Burgh of Culross, which was represented by the Prime Minister in this House. Twenty years ago, when he first had the honour of being a Member of the House, it would have been unnecessary to move this Resolution, because at that time drift netting was legal not only on the rivers Tay and Forth, but on many other rivers in Scotland. On May 28th, 1900, the House of Lords, in a case which was brought before them, unanimously reversed a decision of the Court of Session, which had unanimously decided that fishing by drift net was legal. The House of Lords declared this method of fishing to be an obstruction or an "engine" which prevented the free access of fish up the river. He might say that the policy of the law had always been that there should be as far as possible a free run of salmon from the sea up the rivers, and in order to give the upper proprietors a chance of getting some salmon netting in either sea or river was not allowed from six o'clock on Saturday night to six o'clock on Monday morning—a clear space of thirty-six hours for the fish to run up. No one was entitled to put an obstruction in a river which would prevent the salmon from getting free access to the upper waters. He quite agreed with that policy, but his contention was that a drift net was not in the nature of a fixed engine. Up to May, 1900, drift-net fishing was the recognised mode of fishing. When he 1364 stated that at Alloa at low water there was a tide of fifteen feet, and that the spring tide went up to twenty-two feet, it would be admitted that the Forth there could hardly be called a, river at all. It was, in fact, the estuary of the Forth, and he should like to ask the Secretary for Scotland where the estuary began, because, as a matter of fact, drift netting was perfectly legal in the open sea. The decision of the House of Lords in regard to a case on the Tay was to the effect that drift-net fishing, which was only carried on for something like three or four hours out of the twenty-four hours per day, was in the nature of a fixed engine. It was declared to be an illegal mode of fishing. The Forth Fisheries Board did not, after the decision in the House of Lords, at once stop fishing by means of drift nets in the estuary of the Forth, but lately they had been putting the law in force. He was not here to say that they were wrong, the law being what it was, but he asked the House to say that drift-net fishing ought not to be illegal where no other means of fishing could possibly be carried on. He understood that the Royal Burgh of Stirling did not want any alteration in the law at all. That burgh wished drift-net fishing still to be prohibited. On the other hand, the Royal Burgh of Culross and Kincardine on Forth strongly supported the Motion he had now the honour to submit to the House. He was sorry that he had not been able to get very accurate information as to the loss which the fishermen had sustained since the prohibition of fishing by drift net. At Alloa thirty boats carried on this method of fishing up to the time the Forth Fisheries Board put the law into force, and at present there were only seven. Each boat employed a couple of men, and he was told that the average earnings were something like.£50 while the drift-net fishing was going on. Since then the average value of the fish taken by the seven boats was only £25 per boat. That meant that forty-six men had been thrown out of employment, and that the loss in the shape of fish was something like £1,200. While Stirling and Culross held different views on this matter, there was in the places on the opposite side of the river in Stirlingshire and Linlithgowshire a strong feeling on the part of the fishermen that it was unfair that they should be deprived of the one 1365 means by which they got their livelihood. They thought that the right of drift net fishing should be restored to them. The Forth from Alloa downwards to the Forth Bridge varied in width from 400 yards to something over three miles. It was a public, tidal, navigable river, and he should like to ask how it could be that a drift net 120 yards in length, when put into such a river, could be called a fixed engine. Of course, the net had to be lifted when steamers were passing. Sometimes the nets drifted from Alloa to Kincardine-on-Forth, a distance of three miles. They went with the wind and tide, and although they extended 120 yards across the river originally, in the course of an hour, or an hour and a half, very often they did not extend to half their width. His contention was that this was the only practicable mode of fishing in the river Forth. He had referred in the Resolution to fishing by net and coble. It was carried on by sweeping the net, and was a much more effective way of catching salmon than the drift net, but on the Forth, which was of great width, it was not possible, owing to the muddy nature of the banks, to fish with a sweep net. There was practically no other mode of fishing for salmon from Alloa to the Forth Bridge, a distance of fifteen miles, except by the drift net. The fishermen on the Forth were not parties to the action which was decided by the House of Lords, but, of course, they were bound by the law as it had been laid down. He had tried to ascertain from the Scottish Fisheries Board how the order in regard to the Forth had come to be promulgated, and the chairman of the Board had informed him that so far as the salmon fisheries were concerned the Scottish Fisheries Board had nothing to do with them. The chairman referred him to the Office of Woods and Forests, and that office referred him to Mr. Walsh. On asking information as to the number of fish caught, Mr. Walsh wrote that there were no statistics, and that he could give him no sort of information as to the quantity of fish taken in the Forth before the prohibition of drift-net fishing, or after it had ceased to exist. But Mr. Walsh sent out a memorandum to every Scottish Member except himself against the Resolution which he had the honour of moving. He thought Mr. Walsh would have been better advised if he had 1366 done him the honour of sending him a copy of the memorandum, so that he might have known what he had to answer. The fishermen at Bo'ness and Grange-mouth were unanimous in saying that the only way in which they could catch salmon in the estuary of the Forth was by the drift not. He brought this question before the House, because he felt deeply that these men had a great hardship, had been deprived of considerable sums of money, and of employment for many months in the year. He was quite willing that the fishing with the sweep net should be continued wherever possible, but the prohibition of the use of the drift net deprived the public of a large portion of the salmon which would otherwise be caught. It might be said that the House of Lords had unanimously reversed the decision of the Court of Session. Only two years ago the House of Lords by a majority reversed the unanimous decision of the Court of Session in reference to the union of the Presbyterian Churches, and last year the Churches Disputes Act was passed, which had in some sense done away with the bitterness caused in Scotland by the decision of the House of Lords; and if the Resolution which he now moved, and which he hoped would be adopted by the House, was passed it would have a good effect on the Scottish people, who did not like to see the decisions of their own Courts overturned by the House of Lords. He begged to move.
§ MR. SMEATON (Stirlingshire)
said that he very cordially supported the Resolution, which was fully justified by the evidence received from the constituencies affected and by his own knowledge of the subject. He thought that perhaps too much had been made of the plea ad misericordiam by his hon. friend, if he might say so with all respect. He believed that there was a clear claim of right to use the drift net. He had had some experience of fishing methods, not only in this country, but in other parts of the world. He had had among other multifarious duties to administer the fisheries in the estuaries of the Irrawaddy, and he found exactly the same kind of quarrel between the fishermen of the upper and the lower reaches. The fishermen in the upper reaches invariably tried to find some fault with the methods of fishing in the 1367 lower reaches, especially if they had to pay high rents. But if he had said in determining a dispute between the lower and the upper fishermen that the drift-net fishing was improper, he would have been scoffed at. It was just the same old story on the Forth. The upper fishermen were paying high rents to the landlords, and they said that if the drift-net below could only be abolished the whole river would be open to them— a monopoly—and they could then pay the high rents the landlords demanded. Fishermen and landlords were thus united in the desire to abolish the drift net on the lower tidal reaches. The case for the drift-net fishing was threefold. First, the drift net was in no sense a fixed engine or obstruction; secondly, drift-net fishing for the last thirty or forty years had been tacitly admitted in Scottish estuaries until the decision of the House of Lords in 1900; thirdly, in the lower reaches of the Forth it was absolutely impracticable to employ the sweep-net method of fishing. With the sweep net one end of the net was taken out in the boat and the other end was held by a man on the shore and the net was swept round in a curve, the man on shore marching forward till he met the boat. But if that method were attempted on the Forth, where the banks were soft and slimy, the man on shore would soon be up to his nock in mud, so that that method of fishing was impossible. The only way to catch the fish in these reaches of the Forth was by the drift net, which was a hundred or a hundred and fifty yards in length, and twelve to fifteen feet deep, with a thick rope to keep the net perpendicular when in motion in the water. In fact it was a method of actually catching the fish, where as the essence of a fixed engine was that the fish were driven into a trap or bag net, or on to hooks, and lay there until the fishermen came to take them off. At the town of Grangemouth the river was two miles broad and at a low tide there were thirty feet of water. A drift net occupied at most only 150 yards out of 3,500 yards, and left below it a depth of water of twenty feet, and the mesh was ten inches and thus only caught large fish. How could that possibly be described as an obstruction? Drift-net fishing according to Lord Westbury was very similar to cast-net fishing. Now he defied anyone to say that the cast-net 1368 fishing was an obstruction. In his constituency there were 400 or 500 men dependent on these fishings during the summer months, and the decision of the House of Lords had inflicted great hardship upon them. If the House affirmed the Resolution the effect would be to relieve several hundreds of unemployed men without a single penny of expenditure from the Exchequer. It would be a great boon if the British Government, like the Government in India, assumed the position; of plenary proprietor of all fisheries, and nationalised all fisheries in this country and administered them as trustee for the nation.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House, while recognising that no fixed net or engine should be placed in the River Forth or other rivers of Scotland, expresses its opinion that drift-net fishing should not be prohibited where fishing by not and coble is not possible or practicable."—(Mr. Eugene Wason.)
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE ERESBY (Lincolnshire, Horncastle)
said he had listened with some interest to the speeches of both the proposer and seconder of this Resolution in order to find out on what grounds they justified the alteration of the law in order to abolish the limitations in regard to drift-net fishing. It appeared to him that they used two arguments in favour of allowing this form of fishing. First of all they said that in their constituencies there were a certain number of people who were thrown out of employment through its prohibition and because the law stood as it did at the present moment. Their second argument was that salmon, being an important part of the food of the people, it was important that the fish should be caught in order to provide the people with food. In reference to the first contention, he would, in the first instance, like to have some information. The two hon. Members were no doubt perfectly right to express the views of their constituents who objected to a state of things under which a certain number of them could not work these drift nets as in the past. He thought the hon. Member who moved the Resolution said that, in consequence of the present state of the law, thirty nets could not be worked.
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE ERESBY
said he did not understand that the figure only applied to one place, and was glad to be corrected. The hon. Member who seconded said that some 200 or 300 people were thrown out of employment, but he was a little doubtful whether that was of such importance as hon. Members might be led to believe, and indeed he was a little doubtful upon the whole subject of the number of men who were thrown out of employment through not being allowed to use drift nets.
§ MR. SMEATON
said he knew as a fact that there were between 400 or 500 men dependent in the summer upon this drift net fishing.
§ MR. EUGENE WASON
said that the Provost of Alloa, who was politically of the same way of thinking as the noble Lord, said that some 400 men were thrown out of employment.
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE ERESBY
said he was willing to accept the statement that there were in each of these places 400 men thrown out of employment. It was the fact, however, that the men employed in drift-net fishing were so employed at a period of the year when other employment was most easily obtainable. From what he had hoard it appeared that these drift nets were used in the River Forth and other rivers almost invariably between the middle of July and the end of August, so that the drift-net fishing only lasted for a month or six weeks. Therefore it would be seen that in upholding the law they were not depriving men of regular and permanent employment. With all due respect to the hon. Members who had moved and seconded this Resolution, he would point out that these men were thrown out of employment just at the time of the hay and the corn harvests in Scotland, and could probably find work as good as the employment at the drift nets. The hon. Members had omitted to mention the point that there was a responsible board which looked after the fishing in the River Forth in the best possible manner with a view to seeing 1370 that the number of salmon should not be decreased and protecting the interests of a large number of men employed in the fishing industry. This body was the Forth District Fishery Board, and from communications which he had had from them he gathered that they were absolutely opposed to any alteration of the law which would allow the use of drift nets in the Estuary of the River Forth.
§ MR. EUGENE WASON
inquired who were the members of the Forth Fishery Board. Could the noble Lord give their names to the House?
LORD WILLOUGHBY DB ERESBY
said he could not give their names, but they were elected by the upper and lower proprietors on the banks of the river, and these people were naturally anxious to preserve the river in the best possible condition for salmon, so that it should be as prolific and profitable as possible.
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE ERESBY
said it might be for themselves, but they paid rates and taxes and they preserved the river in a state which gave work to fishermen. What he, however, was concerned to point out was that the Forth Fishery Board, who were largely interested in the river, were in favour of maintaining the law as it stood at present under which fishing by means of these drift nets was illegal. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion had made a considerable point in regard to the regulation of fisheries in the East and had quoted cases. He was afraid he could not go into these matters as he was not acquainted with fishing in India and other places in the world, although he had had a little experience of fishing in these islands. The crux of the whole question was, as the hon. Member had pointed out, whether drift-net fishing was an illegal thing under the law of Scotland as it was understood. The law of Scotland said that there were two ways of taking salmon. One was by rod and line and the other was by net and coble, and the whole question was whether taking fish by means of a drift net came within the definition of taking them by net and coble. He knew that there had been decisions on this point and that cases had 1371 been tried before the court of session, who had held that this kind of fishing was illegal. The decision of the House of Lords was that this fishing by net and coble was fishing by means of a fixed engine, and if hon. Members quarrelled with that and said that it was not a fixed engine, he would point out that, as he understood the law with regard to net fishing in Scotland, it was that the fish should be taken by the act of the fisherman, and that the fish should be pulled up by the fisherman working the net, but that the net should not be so placed as to get the fish to entangle themselves and so to speak catch themselves. When he had been fishing with rod and line he had found it very difficult if not impossible to get the fish to catch themselves. Of course he had known gentlemen who said that when they were pulling a hook out of the water, they had caught a fish which had just jumped out of the water, but luck of that kind had not come his way, and if it had he should as a sportsman under the circumstances have felt inclined to return the fish to the water. In the case of drift net fishing the fish was caught by getting entangled in the net, and when the corks at the top of the net began to bob the fisherman proceeded to carry out the capture by means of the gaff or some other means. That had been held by the House of Lords to be an illegal method of killing fish, but they left aside the question of whether a drift net was an illegal method of fishing. He knew that hon. Members opposite looked upon the drift net as a perfectly legal appliance and not a fixed engine, and they pointed out that it was impossible for the drift net to prevent fish from going up the river. He, however, took a different view of that question. He believed that where drift nets were employed upon a river they prevented hundreds of thousands of fish from ascending that river. He had not the actual figures with him as to how drift net fishing had affected different rivers, but he was sure that with regard to the river Tay the statistics would show that after the licences in regard to drift net fishing were withdrawn more fish ascended the river and more fish had been caught. He was willing to admit that the Resolution of the hon. Member for Clackmannan and Kinross was, to a certain extent, drawn in reasonable terms, but if once they allowed drift net fishing he feared 1372 they would open the door to the use of drift nets to a very large extent. He was sorry for the constituents of the hon. Members who could not fish for six weeks in the year, but it was not a question of one drift net but of dozens, and if that were allowed the whole of the river would be choked and no live fish would be able to come up or down. The whole thing came down to this, that although a small proportion of the inhabitants of the United Kingdom might be thrown out of employment which they could get elsewhere, an industry valuable to the landowners and also to the ratepayers and taxpayers was being preserved. He was perfectly certain that if drift nets were allowed in our rivers there would be an enormous decrease in the number of fish. Since it had been abolished he thought it would be found that the "takes" in rivers, notably the Tay, had enormously increased. The fact that a certain number of men were deprived of employment should not he thought operate on the minds of hon. Members in order to induce them to alter a beneficial law, in view of the importance of preserving the fish in our rivers and the supply of salmon for the use of the people of this country. On these grounds he begged to move to amend the Resolution by leaving out all the words after "House" in order to insert "is of opinion that no alteration of the law as to drift net fishing is desirable."
§ MR. SPEAKER
pointed out that the Amendment was really a negative of the Motion and therefore need not be put.
§ MR. GULLAND (Dumfries, Burghs)
said that the unfortunate, thing about the decision which had been arrived at in this matter was that it would affect all the rivers in Scotland. He had no knowledge about the Forth or the Tay, but he had some knowledge of the Solway, with regard to which the judgment had been made to run. The Solway was half English and half Scotch and the fisheries in it were regulated by many Acts of Parliament. It was of interest to recall that under the Statute Law Revision Act these Acts in regard to the salmon fisheries of Scotland and the Solway fisheries had been imposed and continued during the last four or five centuries. If the Acts of Parliament and the cases in reference to them were collected they would 1373 make a very largo volume. In the Solway the net which was used was called a whammel, and those who used it were called whammellers, and the process they used whammelling. No one who know how the tide ran in the Solway would even dream of saying that the drift not there was a fixed engine. In regard to the Solway, Reports had boon presented to Parliament of a most interesting character and some quotations were made in them from the works of Sir Walter Scott in regard to fishing rights. A Royal Commission made a recommendation which had never been carried out that there should be created a Solway District Board of Conservators containing representatives of the existing Fishery Board, representatives of the county council, of the holders of licences which had been granted by that Board, and of those interested in private rights in salmon fishing. Another suggestion was that this Board should be allowed to borrow money from the Public Works Commissioners, he thought £40,000 was the sum suggested; but these suggestions, like many others, were not carried out, in consequence of the failure of the Treasury to find the money. The Commission recommended that the Board should give licences to fishermen to whammel in a certain urea, and should have power to deal with the size of the net. There was a general feeling that that solution was a fair one, and people in that part of the world had been waiting for the Government to carry out these recommendations. Then there came along the judgment of the House of Lords to frighten those who had interests on the Solway, because it might apply to that river. The result of it was that no licences for whammelling had been issued during the last six years, and the fishermen of Annan had been deprived of their living. In the port of Annan alone there were no fewer than 600 persons dependent upon this industry, and 384 people carrying it on. Licences had, however, been granted in Scottish rivers other than the Forth, the Tay, and the Solway. The House of Lords in Scotland was not a very popular body at present. That did not arise only over the Church case, but in other respects, and though the people of Scotland felt that the judgments of the House of Lords might be good law, still they preferred the low as enunciated by their own 1374 judges. The decision of the House of Lords in this matter had not operated justly, and he should prefer the decision of the present Lord Chancellor whom he had the honour to succeed in the representation of Dumfries to that of his predecessor. the present Lord Chancellor was indeed the chief authority on this question of drift net fishing, and was the chief witness before the Royal Commission in favour of the whammellers. He denied that the supply of salmon had diminished during the years that whammelling was carried on in the Solway. On the contrary, since it had been stopped by the refusal of licences, the supply of salmon had fallen off, so that the decrease of salmon was not duo to drift not fishing. If drift net fishing was to be stopped why should not these men be paid compensation? Why was it that only the rich men obtained compensation? These men had been carrying on this business for thirty-five years under the law; they had bought boats and tackle and spent thousands of pounds, and if they were deprived of their livelihood they ought to be compensated. They did not, however, want to be compensated, but to be permitted to earn their living. He was present at a conference called together by the Board of Crown Fisheries, and the Chairman of that Board stated that it was the view of the Government of the day that some consideration should be given to the whammellers in regard to the fisheries, and that a solution should be sought for. If there were to be restrictions they should not be in the private interest of the landlord or owner of fixed nets, but in the public interest. He appealed to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland to carry out the recommendations of the Commission. There was no need for any further investigations. The matter had been thoroughly thrashed out, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would soon introduce legislation and do an act of justice to brave, industrious and God-fearing men.
§ MR. MITCHELL-THOMSON (Lanarkshire, N.W.)
said he represented no particular interest in this matter. In his constituency he did not believe there was a single fisherman, because he did not think there was a single fish. He desired 1375 to say a word in the interest of the salmon, I and from the point of view of fish preservation. This was a Motion to call attention to the prohibition of drift-net fishing. That prohibition was not due to any action of the authorities. Drift-net fishing was prohibited because of the action of private proprietors on the banks of the rivers. The Fisheries Board of Scotland had no power to institute prosecutions. Drift net fishing was not an offence against the statute law, but against the common law of the land. The law of Scotland was perfectly clear upon the subject. It recognised that in the rivers and estuaries there were, roughly speaking, three ways by which salmon might be taken. Salmon might, under certain special charters from the Crown, be taken by creel. The other ways were rod and line and netting from cobles. The latter system had been endeavoured to be extended as widely as possible by those who had the opportunity of extending it. It consisted of men going out from the shore and dropping a sort of trawl net and returning to the spot from whence they started. The net formed a sort of bag and was drawn in short and the fish landed. From the point of view of the salmon the advantage of this method of fishing was that, in the first place, it offered only a limited obstruction to the passage of the fish up the river, and, in the second place, all fish were brought to the bank alive; and the undersized fish, smelt, and other unclean fish could be put back. Then there was the drift net, which hung, a wall of net, across the river. It was set at low water and on the average remained in position an hour. It was all very well to say that it did not constitute a permanent barrier and was only there for a few hours a day, but the hon. Member when he said that forgot to add that it was exactly at slack water that the greatest number of fish run. It was exactly at that time that the net was put into position, and it was exactly then that the damage was done, because if a fish coming up was caught by the gills and hung there it was gradually drowned. The drift net caught every fish that happened to be coming up the river at that height, and inasmuch as all the fish came up about fifteen feet under water it caught them all, and once a fish was caught it was impossible to extricate it from the net sufficiently soon to return it to the water alive. It was worth observing 1376 that this method of fishing came into being in 1879. The first case decided was not decided on evidence but upon what was called a stated case. Each side put in its statement, and the judge, having compared them, gave his decision. That decision was always regarded with suspicion by many lawyers in Scotland. Other eases followed in which the judges decided that they were ruled by that decision. In the case of 1897 the judges again ruled that they were governed by that decision, but in that case the evidence was reviewed by the House of Lords, who decided that drift nets were illegal, not merely because they were fixed engines, but because they created an obstruction to the run of fish up river. That ruling was carried into effect on the River Tay, but not at once on the Forth. Warnings were given to the fishermen on the Forth. They were told what the effect would be if they continued the practice, and eventually after two years, when they declined to abandon the system, the prohibition was put into force. He did not think anyone could say that there had been any hasty action to coerce the fishermen. When they came to the question whether or not this kind of fishing should be declared illegal, they were face to face with very much the same consideration. But they had to consider why it was declared illegal. It was declared illegal because it was an obstruction to the passage of the fish up the river to spawn, in obedience to natural laws. If they obstructed the free passage of the fish in this way, they were bound in the long run to injure the supply. If hon. Members who were interested in the subject would read the expert evidence, they would at once realise that this was not an opinion which he was putting forward on his own authority; it represented the balance of expert evidence given before the Royal Commission on salmon fishing in 1962. It seemed to him somewhat extraordinary that hon. Members who had spoken upon this question had not devoted any portion of their speeches to tin analysis of the Report of that Commission, which declared that in order to safeguard the fair distribution of the fish, and secure an adequate stock, it was absolutely necessary that the fish should have a free passage up the river to spawn. 1377 That Report went even further, and recommended that drift-net fishing should be made a statutory offence. In the Salmon Fisheries (Scotland) Bill, introduced in 1905—
§ MR. EUGENE WASON
I have also made inquiries in another place, and I find that no such Bill was introduced there.
§ MR. MITCHELL-THOMSON
said it must have been on the stocks, but the point was not really of much importance. He wished to say a word or two in regard to the special pleading which had been brought forward on this occasion. He fully appreciated the tone in which hon. Members had made their remarks, but they had founded their case upon the argument of proscription, which in effect meant that a certain course had been pursued for a long time, and that consequently it was not advisable to change it. It was certain that prescription could not sanction an illegal method of fishing, and the argument that it was a hardship to cut down the livelihood of certain men who practised this method must give way to the general interests of the community. He earnestly hoped the Resolution would not be accepted by the House.
§ MR. SUMMERBELL (Sunderland)
said the law seemed to be exercised in favour of the man who fished for pleasure and sport and against the man who fished to earn his livelihood. A fisherman was prevented from catching salmon at the mouth of a river after the end of August, but further up the river a man was allowed to ply his rod till the end of October. In the town he represented a fisherman had to pay £5 for his licence and buy a full equipment of nets, which might be destroyed by a passing steamer the first night they were put into the water. No compensation would be paid, and he contended that as these men were poor they had a right to receive more consideration than they got under the present law. If the law could give 1378 these men greater facilities for pursuing their calling it would do no harm to anyone, because everyone know that a drift net was not a fixed engine. The argument of the hon. Member for the Horncastle Division and others who opposed this Motion seemed to be that so long as plenty of fish were left in the river for them to enjoy some sport at their leisure it did not matter what obstacles were placed in the way of these poor men earning their livelihood. His hon. friend's objections as to the cruelty of this method and its illegality were too finely drawn altogether, and were brought forward in order to secure a plentiful supply of fish at a certain time of the year for sport and pleasure.
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE ERESBY
said the whole point of his argument was that if they permitted drift not fishing in the estuaries of the river, the fish could not get up the river to spawn.
§ MR. SUMMERBELL
said if it was only a question of permitting the fish to spawn, why did the noble Lord not ask for a change which would apply equally to the man who fished with a rod and line and the fisherman who used nets?
§ THE SECRETARY FOR SCOTLAND (Mr. SINCLAIR, Forfarshire)
said this interesting debate had travelled over a somewhat extensive field. He was very glad that his hon. friend had had an opportunity of bringing this matter before the House, but he was sorry that they had not had an opportunity of considering in a more complete fashion what could hardly be considered in so fragmentary a way. He found himself in the unusual position of not entirely agreeing with his hon. friend in the definite proposition which he had made for the acceptance of the House, in the sense that he could not endorse the Motion or accept it on behalf of the Government. The subject was one of considerable importance, and the hon. Members who had spoken had stated the case with moderation and accuracy. He could well understand his hon. friend's desire to call the attention of the House to the question. No one would desire to minimise the hardship caused by the loss of employment which the cessation of this mode of fishing had caused in various parts of the country. It seemed 1379 to him that there was also some hardship in the fact that the period during which drift-net fishing had been allowed might be described as an interlude. Drift net fishing was not permitted till about 1870, when it was introduced with success and profit to those engaged in it. It was in some sense a decision of the Court of Session which, if it did not encourage it, led to its development. This had been stopped by a judgment of the House of Lords, which had been acquiesced in by the authorities in the river Tay and elsewhere. The authorities of the river Forth had been properly deliberate in enforcing the law, but were now taking steps to enforce it. He would put aside for the purposes of the debate the question as it affected the Solway, not because of any want of sympathy, but because the Solway case was not on the same level as the others and was more complicated. He was not going to argue the point whether drift-net fishing was or was not a destructive or profitable method of fishing, but he thought that those who argued that it was not a destructive method destroyed their case, because if it were not destructive and profitable, he did not suppose that they should now be engaged in this debate. The matter went much further than the case of the fishermen who were out of employment. the statute book had a great deal of legislation upon it in regard to the salmon fisheries. Much of that legislation arose—in fact all of it—through conflicting interests. He did not conceive that they were here in any except the public interest. Though incidentally the protection afforded to salmon brought profit and rent to this or that man, or to this or the other class, the theory of the law was that the sea was the place to kill salmon, talking broadly, and that while in a river the fish ought to be protected in the public interest. It would be out of place to complicate the discussion by raising such points, but he only mentioned this point to emphasise the fact that what the Motion really asked the Government to do was to alter the present policy in regard to salmon fishing in Scotland. The views of the late Government on the subject were to be found in the Bill they introduced in the House of Lords last session, but did not pass, in which drift-net fishing was included among the offences under the Bill. He should like to say on behalf of the present 1380 Government that they were in no way fettered by the proposals of the late Government, and that they approached the question with an entirely open mind. A Commission presided over by the present Secretary for the Colonies had gone into the whole question of salmon fishing in Scotland, and he would ask his hon. friend and the House to suspend their judgment on it. The Government regarded as an inheritance the consideration of the work, and the Report of that Commission. As soon as time permitted they would take it into consideration, and he could promise his hon. friend that, whatever form any Bill brought forward dealing with the salmon fisheries of Scotland might take, there would be ample opportunity for deliberating upon and discussing the question. He thought that was the wisest course for them to take on the present occasion. He would not elaborate the reasons for it; he thought they were on the surface, and must be apparent to everyone. The important question discussed to-night was only part of a still larger question, and it would obviously be impossible for the Government to legislate on so small a portion, important though it might be. When the Government arrived at a decision on the subject they would take the earliest opportunity of laying it before the House.
§ MR. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)
said the debate had been confined to the Forth and the Solway. The latter reminded him that one of his ancestors, Margaret Wilson, was tied to a stake and thus drowned by the rising tide for her religous convictions. He could point out many famous salmon rivers in the Highlands. The laws as to fishing had been made purely in the interest of a class to enable the landlords to get higher rents. So-called sportsmen had been the curse of Highlands. Where they came in the population decreased, and those who remained were afflicted with poverty and want. In the town of Alloa, it was said, there were 400 fishermen out of employment. That represented 2,000 persons, allowing five to a family, all on account of the decision of the House of Lords. It was impossible to say how many unemployed there were in Culross and Kinkardine. He thanked the right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary for Scotland, for the statement he had 1381 made. He believed the right hon. Gentleman desired to do what was right.
§ MR. MORTON (Sutherland)
said he quite agreed with his hon. friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty, that on a question of this sort the people of the Highlands should be considered. The Highlands had undoubtedly been ruined in the attempt to use them for sporting purposes only. [Ironical laughter.] It was all very well for hon. Gentlemen to laugh, but he maintained that the best use to which a country could be put was to support its native population, and not to sporting purposes. If people were driven out of the counties bordering the estuary of the Forth by this decision of the House of Lords, the unemployed question would become more acute than it was at, present. What he wanted to know was on what side of the fence the Secretary for Scotland was going to sit. Was he going to sit with the proprietors or with the public? They were entitled to know the position taken up by this democratic Government. It was true that they could not pass a Bill that night, but they could express an opinion which might be embodied in a Bill next year. The Resolution was an exceedingly moderate one. [An HON. MEMBER: Too moderate] It only asked that the use of the drift not might be allowed when fishing by net and coble was impracticable. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would allow them to pass this moderate Resolution which was in the interests of the people. After all, what were salmon for, if they were not to be caught? Nobody objected to their being caught except the hon. Gentleman for Lanarkshire, who said they ought to be protected. But the hon. Gentleman ought to know enough of fishing to know that if too many fish were allowed to go up river they got diseased. It was necessary, therefore, in the interests of the fish themselves that many of them should be caught. There were thousands of men employed in this dangerous occupation, and the House ought to consider their interests. Besides which we wanted the fish as food for the people. He hoped his hon. friend would go to a division on the matter, in which case they would have done something, for they would have instructed this democratic Government at least as to one clause which they 1382 should put into their Fisheries Dill next year.
§ MR. EUGENE WASON
regretted that he could not oblige the hon. Member, but after the conciliatory speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland he begged leave to withdraw his Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.