§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Sir Robert Sanders)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
In the first, place, this Bill is a consolidation Bill. There are 19 old Acts of Parliament which are consolidated. It was brought forward last year in the House of Lords and was then referred to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills, which Committee recommended that the Bill be allowed to proceed. The larger part of the Bill is consolidation, which accounts for it being such a lengthy Measure. I am afraid that it is possible that many hon. Members have not had time to read the whole of the Bill during the Easter holidays, but it repays study, and there are certain passages in it which I am sure hon. Members would like to read. For instance, the subtlety with which, throughout the Bill, a careful distinction is made between "to take or kill" and "to attempt to take or kill" fish will, I am sure, appeal to every fisherman, and there is a passage on page 8 of the Bill, where one of the offences under the Bill is thatThere must not be attached to any such box or crib any spur or tail wall, leader, or outrigger of a greater length than twenty feet from the upper or lower side of the box or crib.I am sure such a passage as that would give any Member who studied it something to think about during his holidays. As I have said, a great part of the Bill is purely consolidation but it also makes certain changes in the law. In the first place, it improves the machinery for the constitution and reconstitution of fishery boards, and I believe that that is not a contentious provision. There are 52 fishery boards at present in existence. Of those, 38 are constituted under existing Fishery Acts, and for them the only alteration is to limit the number of county council representatives. Fourteen are 909 constituted by Provisional Order, and here the only difference is to have representatives of the anglers for what are described here as freshwater fish. The Bill also deals with a matter that has been decidedly contentious, but upon which I hope a settlement has now been reached, and that is pollution. It makes no difference to the old powers of sanitary authorities under the Rivers Pollution Act, and it makes no difference to the rights which private people have under the common law, but it does amend the Salmon Fisheries Act of 1861. That Act made it an offence to pollute waters containing salmon to such an extent as to poison or kill fish, but the polluter, if I may coin such a word, can plead under the existing law that he has a legal right to do so and that he has done his best to render the polluting matter harmless. Practically there was no preventing him from continuing the pollution if he could prove that it cost him more than £100 to render it harmless. This Bill makes several changes. It applies to all rivers containing fish—not the salmon rivers alone. The defendant may clear himself, if he is using the best practical means within a reasonable cost, but the £100 limit is abolished. The Bill also provides for a notice to the fishery board or to the Minister of any new effluents, but, to stop frivolous prosecutions, only the fishery boards or a man with a certificate from the Minister that he is interested can prosecute. I am afraid these details are complicated and intricate, but they are the result of a compromise. They do not give fishermen all that they ask, but they improve their present position, and they are the result of an agreement arrived at with the Federation of British Industries and also by the fishery boards.
So much for saving fish from poison. The next alteration in the law that this Bill makes is one to save them from another danger, namely, over-fishing. Clause 59 of the Bill gives the board power to extend the weekly rest for salmon to 72 hours. Clause 62 gives the board power to limit the number of licences for netting. That is a provision about which I know there is a certain amount of contention. At present a board mast issue a licence to anyone who asks for it and pays. Now the board does a great deal to improve the river by the various methods which this Bill enables it to apply, and it is not fair that any 910 newcomer or any unlimited number of newcomers should be able to come and get a licence or licences. Besides that, where netting is overdone, everyone connected with the fishing is damaged, including the net fishermen themselves, and that is the reason why this power to impose restriction as to numbers is put in. After all, I do not think the net fishermen have any real cause for alarm. The Clause is merely permissive. The net fishermen are represented on every fishery board, and it is obviously not to the interest of the board to put on such restriction unless it is absolutely necessary, because all these licences bring in revenue, and a fishery board, like everyone else, wants to get all the revenue it can. Then there are great restrictions put upon the enforcement of this limit in these cases. Any order that has to be made has I o be confirmed by the Minister, and under certain circumstances he must hold a public inquiry about it. I do not, therefore, think the net fishermen really have anything tangible to be afraid of.
One more difference this Bill makes in the law. It is a step in the direction of democracy among fish. Formerly, the law gave precedence to aristocratic fish like the salmon and the trout. Now, it also takes care of the bourgeois carp or the plebeian roach or any other humble citizen of the river, even a member of the criminal classes like the pike, and it does not insult them by calling them "coarse fish," a name by which they are often known; it speaks of them here as "other freshwater fish," and for the first time their rights are recognised. They get some of the protection that was formerly lavished only on their smart and fashionable compatriots. Also for the first time those who fish for them get represented on the boards, and that is a provision that is ardently desired by the many anglers' associations throughout the country, mainly from our great towns. Those anglers' associations form no mean body, their membership numbering some 600,000, and they share with the peer, the millionaire, or the bishop all the anxieties and all the excitements of the gentle art of fishing. After all, fishing means to hundreds of thousands an escape from the drab surroundings of their work and from the toil and care of daily life. It takes them into pleasant, healthy scenes and gives them wholesome air and whole_ some exercise. I confess that I am one 911 of those who always think better of a man if I know he is a sportsman. What is the difference between a sportsman and a mere player of games of skill? I think the difference is that, in the constitution of a sportsman there must be a touch of the naturalist, and' there is no sport of which that is more true than it is of fishing. After all, the man who spends an afternoon by the river studying the habits of the fish gets an extra pleasure and an extra interest in life. He is a better man for it when he returns to his daily work, and it is for such as these that I commend this Bill to the sympathetic consideration of the House.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Before the right hon. Gentleman resumes his scat, could he explain to me what these words in Clause 91 mean, namely:The expression 'rod and line' means single rod and line"?What else could it mean?
§ Mr. TREVELYAN
I have not much to say in criticism of this Bill. I very much agree with the last remarks that we have heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, and, in pursuance of that theme of wholesome air and exercise and the interests of the sportsmen, is there not one thing he could acid to the Bill? Is there any real objection to trout fishing on Sunday? After all, trout fishing is becoming more and more a popular pursuit for great masses of people. It seems rather hard that people who go out to get the fresh air and all the advantages of fishing, say, at Whitsuntide should be able to fish on Saturday and on Monday, but should have to kick their heels and be merely naturalists on Sunday. I think it is in one of Barrie's novels where a Scotch minister in a moment of aberration, while speaking about curling, talks of Sunday as a day lost. Sunday is a day lost to a great many fishermen who do not have many opportunities of fishing. For these reasons I think we might allow the harmless pursuit of trout fishing on Sunday.
The point to which I rose to draw the Minister's attention was in connection 912 with the question of pollution. The right hon. Gentleman said he thought that a settlement had been arrived at, and with regard to a part of the question it may be true. There is, however, one Clause in connection with pollution to which he did not allude in his remarks, and that is Clause 55. There is considerable alarm among a good many important local authorities with regard to this Clause. A local authority is now required to render sewage harmless which flows into any stream, but the definition of stream does not now apply either to the sea or tidal waters. This Clause, in the first place, would enable the fishery authority to initiate prosecutions against a local authority, which is now the duty of the sanitary authority, and it would also, after a particular form of inquiry, bring the estuaries and the sea, and the mouth of rivers, under the definition of "stream."
There are a certain number of authorities in this country who are very much alarmed at this proposal, and one of them is Newcastle, which is typical, no doubt, of others. What they fear is that they may be put to enormous new and unexpected expense if there happens to be a tyrannous Fishery Board, which takes a very severe view of its duties. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman can make any other form of concession in order to satisfy some of these great public authorities. What is proposed is that two persons appointed by himself and the Minister of Health shall hold an inquiry, and if the inquiry decides in favour of putting the estuary under the Fishery Board that Board will at once have conferred upon it these severe powers against important local authorities.
I do not know what concessions the right hon. Gentleman could make in order to satisfy these great authorities. No doubt it is a very serious thing for some of these authorities who are now discharging sewage into the sea, and if these new Regulations come into operation they may have to enter into very great expense in order to dispose of their sewage otherwise. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman could agree to have these new orders laid before the House, or whether some greater check than what is proposed in the Bill could be introduced before any such powers are put into operation. I would say to the 913 right hon. Gentleman that probably the passage of this Bill would be much easier if he could manage to satisfy these great authorities who do not regard the Bill, as present drawn, as a settlement of the pollution question, and if he wants this Measure to pass easily perhaps he will undertake to consider some modification of that Clause.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
I am aware that this is a Consolidation Bill, and, as the Minister of Agriculture has already pointed out, we have had about 19 Statutes dealing with this subject since 1861. Consequently the effect, of introducing this Bill now is that this is about the only opportunity we shall have of making any changes with regard to the laws regulating fishing because probably no other Bill will be introduced for many years. We are told that there are about 600,000 anglers interested in this question, and when this Bill was before us last year they protested against Clause 35 which is known as the contracting-out Clause. They stated that such Clauses are much the same as were contained in Mr. Mundella's Bill in 1878 and they were the ruin of that Bill because they enabled so much contracting out that it rendered nugatory the idea of a close season for fresh water fish.
I am not a fisherman myself, but it has been represented to me by a gentleman who has been a fisherman all his life that if tie sport of angling is to remain sportsmanlike, there must be some regulation as to the number of hooks to a bait. He declars that it is quite unnecessary to have more than one kook. I am told that the effect of having more than one hook is that the, fish get wounded and scratched and contract disease, and contaminate the waters as well as other fish. It does seem to me that sonic Clause might be introduced in that direction providing that there shall be only one hook to each lure or bait. There is in Clause 59, Subsection (1) paragraph (q) a provision which enables the Fishery Board:to regulate the use in connection with fishing with rod and line of any lure or bait specified in the bye-law.We do not want the Fishery Boards acting in different ways, and it seems to me to be desirable that there should be introduced a special regulation which might 914 be agreed to by anglers who are sportsmanlike providing that there shall only-be one hook to each lure or bait.
§ Mr. ERNEST EVANS
I certainly join most heartily with those who have spoken in support of the principle of this Bill, although I believe that, if conservancy be too strictly enforced, it may do more harm than good. Experience in North Wales bears out that statement. I wish particularly to refer to a special class known as the net fishermen, and this applies in particular to two rivers of which I have pretty close knowledge and with which I am directly concerned, namely, the River Teifi and the River Towy. On these two rivers there is an old-established industry by net fishermen, and I think this is the only place in the country where the fishermen operate from old-fashioned coracles. This particular industry has existed for several hundred years, and, curiously enough, the same families continue to be engaged in it. The result is that the people of these districts take great pride in this industry.
Under Clause 62, as the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out, power is given to the Fishery Board to limit the number of net licences. In so far as it can be shown that the existing number of licences, and the existing practice in regard to this particular industry damages these rivers, I think it is only right that this power should be taken to protect the rivers, but my information is that in regard to these two particular rivers the question of any such damage does not arise from this kind of fishing. I am also told that these two particular rivers are very well stocked; in fact, they are now stocked better than they have ever been before. This power is to be given to the Fishery Board, and the men engaged in this industry on these two rivers are very much exercised in their minds that this power may be used in such a way as to deprive them of their livelihood. There are on the River Teifi about 140 people either directly engaged in the industry or dependent upon it, and they naturally feel considerable alarm at this provision. Power to limit the number of licences is given to the Fishery Board.
I am aware that in future the Fishery Board will contain representatives of the net fishermen, but the Bill says that the number shall not exceed one-third of the 915 total number of the members of the Fishery Board. It is therefore clear that if an occasion should arise when this question of limiting the number of net licences is considered, although the net fishermen representatives will be one-third of the Board, they may not he able to make their view prevail on the Board. I do not know how it is that somehow or other fishermen have the reputation of indulging in exaggeration, and I want to avoid that. I must, however, press the Minister, and I hope that before we close this Debate he will undertake to give this question his first consideration. I admit that the members of his Department have been most courteous to my hon. Friend and myself, who have taken this matter up, and we have from time to time tried to arrive at some agreement to meet the apprehensions felt by these men.
These are not the only two rivers which were originally affected. I understand that the Severn fishermen were also very much concerned in regard to the operation of this Bill, but those apprehensions have been met. I believe they were met by the fact that the Minister of Agriculture sent a representative down to see them, and discuss the matter with them. I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it might be worth his while to repeat that with regard to the fishermen on these two rivers, because unless some further provision is made I am afraid that some of us will be put to the necessity of moving Amendments in Committee, and it would be much more satisfactory if the Minister of Agriculture would take this matter into his consideration in order to remove these apprehensions. The net fishermen are limited to seven miles from the estuary, whereas fishing goes on over a distance of 40 miles, and they are only allowed to carry on this kind of fishing for a small proportion of the week. Therefore I do not think it can be established that this particular industry is doing any permanent or serious damage to these rivers. If that is so, then I think the right hon. Gentleman is asking the House to give the Ministry and the Fishery Board very wide powers when he asks us to give them powers which may deprive these fishermen of their means of livelihood.
Mr. J. RAMSAY MacDONALD
I only rise to intervene for a very few minutes 916 in order to ask the Minister of Agriculture to consider the effect of the drafting of Clause 55, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle (Mr. Treyelyan) has already drawn the attention of the House. We know what the Minister and his Department have in mind. The right hon. Gentleman quite clearly wishes to so purify the waters of certain rivers and the sea shore that fish may flourish in them.
At the present moment at certain points it is stated that, although the sewage put into rivers and into the sea is perfectly innocuous from the point of view of public health, yet from the point of view of the encouragement of fishing it is poisonous. But there is inserted Clause 55, and if that. Clause becomes the law of the land, these local authorities will not only have to treat their sewage so that from the point of view of public health it is innocuous, but they will have to treat it further so that when it is mixed with the river, the estuary, or the sea, it will not diminish the supply of fish. That is a very important change. It is very small on paper, but if hon. Members will look at it from the point of view of public authorities, they will see that this Clause puts them, at any rate, in a very doubtful position. I intervene at the present moment because I have been led to do so by two authorities in my own constituency, both of whom may be affected by Clause 55. In any event, until the Minister assures them that they are not affected, they will be in a state of considerable trepidation. My right hon. Friend knows perfectly well that, whether this sewage is to be treated before it is put into the river or whether the outfall is to be changed, the expense is enormous. The capital expenditure of changing an outfall and adding, perhaps, three or four miles to a sewer is very large. If, on the other hand, works are put up for treatment of sewage, then not only is the capital expenditure large, but the annual expenditure is substantial. That is oppressive, especially for the smaller boroughs.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newcastle - under - Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) referred to Newcastle, but I refer to two boroughs very much smaller than Newcastle—boroughs which will find the greatest difficulty in increasing their 917 debt or levying further taxation to meet the requirements of this Bill, supposing the local inquiry should decide that their sewage is detrimental to the stocking with fish of the river in the first place and the seaboard in the second place. I should be the very last person to rise in this House and suggest anything that would be detrimental to sport. I agree entirely with what the right hon. Gentleman has sail, namely, that the more sport of this kind we have in the country the better it will be for all of us, the better for our bodies, our minds, and our souls. Therefore, so far as the endeavours he is making in this Bill to increase the facilities for sport and encourage the real, good, genuine sportsmen are concerned, I will back him through thick and thin and all the time. I hope he will be able to give us some assurance that Clause 55 will be considered for the purpose of protecting not only the interests, but the point of view of these boroughs which see in it a possible threat which, if carried out in relation to themselves, would present them with an almost impossible task. So far as the rest of the Bill is concerned, speaking generally, any support we can give will be given to it. The detail I have mentioned seems to me very important, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider his position in regard to it before he comes to a decision.
§ Mr. PETO
I rise to express my great satisfaction that this Bill, which has been talked about for a very long while, is at last in a fair way to become law. I am quite sure it has a welcome from every quarter of the House, which is a good augury and a good thing in itself. It does show that there is a general recognition of an identity of interest between the net and the rod fishermen, that you cannot have a satisfactory supply of fish for rod anglers without increasing the takes of the net fisherman, and that really their interests are identical. It is a great thing to see, instead of the protection of only one or two fish, that we are now having representatives on the board, are recognising a close season for coarse fish, and that all freshwater fish should be encouraged to increase so far as they can be reasonably made to harmonise the one with the other so as to encourage opportunities for sport for all classes and not only for one. That is a great advantage. On the question of 918 pollution, I have been somewhat sorry to hear the two speeches from the front Opposition bench, although I quite appreciate the point of these urban authorities. The question of the esturial waters that may be contaminated by sewage is quite a different one from the pollution of the higher reaches of a river by manufactories and works of that sort. At the present time, we have not in this Bill anything like as strong and water-tight a Clause in regard to pollution as the fisheries boards and angling associations would like. It has been a question of compromise, and there is common agreement now arrived at between the manufacturing and fishing interests. I should like to read a portion of a paragraph from a memorandum issued by the National Association of Fisheries Boards on this question, which is as follows:
No unprejudiced person can deny that a fair compromise has been effected between fishery interests and manufacturing interest on which matter the prosperity of the country so largely depends. Further, the Pollution Committee recently appointed by the Minister came to the conclusion, after careful consideration, that much more would be effected by co-operation than by fighting for drastic legislation, and they have already experienced the benefits of co-operation.
§ Therefore, the manufacturing interests, although some of us think that Clause 8 goes a very long way towards recognising the vested interests in pollution which we do not like, have come to an agreement with the fishery interests, and I hope that under Clause 55 a similar satisfactory agreement will he made to deal with the cases of the urban authorities, which I recognise might in extreme instances be put to gigantic and even unjustifiable, expense. I do not suppose for a moment such a thing is contemplated, but I hope there will be an amicable adjustment between the fishery interests and the general interests of the community.
§ In Committee I shall ask the Minister to insert one small Amendment in Clause 59, which gives the power to the fisheries boards to make bye-laws. In a fisheries board of which I am a member we have found by practical experience that it is absolutely necessary, if we have a close time for salmon fishing with the net, that there should be power to the boards to prohibit the carrying in boats or vessels in the close season of nets for catching salmon. It is no use attempting to stop 919 the gap unless you do it properly. It only leads to a great deal of friction, and possibly to unnecessary expense for watching, and if we give fishery boards throughout the country with powers of that sort I think it would be a good thing. I hope not only that the Bill will secure a Second Beading, but that it will have an easy passage in Committee. I congratulate the Minister on the first Bill he has introduced, and express my hope that he will get it through as satisfactorily and successfully as appears likely to be the case. I am quite sure that, whatever may be the feeling of agriculture, the feeling of the fisheries and those interested in it will be that my right hon. Friend has made a very good beginning in protecting the fisheries with net and rod throughout the country.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
We had this Bill in very nearly the same form before us last year, and this Measure is really a heritage of the Minister of Agriculture when he assumed his present high office. I should like to ask for a little enlightenment as to the exact meaning of Clause 61, which deals with licences. Hon. Members will see that this requires that a licence shall be granted to all instruments which may be lawfully used for the purpose of taking fish. Does that mean that every trout rod is to have a licence, and that every schoolboy with a trout rod must be licensed? Has this Board power to charge anything they like, because, if so, it will be extremely undemocratic? You are not going to stop the real poacher injuring the fisheries, by compelling the honest angler to license his instrument for sport, and if I read the Clause aright I think this is a piece of bureaucratic legislation that is a blot on an otherwise pretty fair Bill. Furthermore, it will give the power to prevent what certain Boards may think another form of fishing. One hon. Member referred to over-fishing by net. I thought he was referring to over-fishing by rod and line. Every angler is apt to think that the water to which he goes is over-fished if anyone else can use it at all, and if this power to give licences is to be used to restrict the number of anglers on public waters it is very undemocratic and wrong. Further, if the licences are so expensive that poor people are just pre- 920 vented from indulging in this sport by having to purchase the licence, that is very wrong indeed. I hope the matter will be fully explored in Committee, and that, if possible, the right hon. Gentleman will reassure me when he comes to reply.
The hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) made the proposal to prohibit the use of more than one hook in fishing, and was careful to say that he himself was not a fisherman, but that he had been told of this by a life-long angler. All I can say is that this life-long angler was either a crank or he was pulling the leg of the hon. and gallant Gentleman very badly. If we had any such nonsensical proposal in this Bill, all fishing by minnows or artificial baits, which in many waters is the only practical way in which salmon can be taken, would be prevented. As a matter of fact it would prevent double-hook flies being used. The less of this sort of interference we have in this Bill the better, and I hope the Minister will not listen to the proposal. I think anglers are very resourceful, and they can be trusted to use lures, baits and apparati generally in a perfectly sportsmanlike manner. In the last Bill grave exception was taken by a very important section of the community, namely, the retail-dealers in fish, and I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether their objections have now been met. I have not had the opportunity of comparing this Bill with the Bill of last year, to which I put down a Motion of rejection on this very ground, but, reading through the Bill, it seems to me that the offending Clause has been very greatly altered, if not taken out. Last year the objection of the retail fish trade—fishmongers, poulterers and others —was that the whole onus was put upon them, and that very old established business men who had been engaged in retailing this fish, without any complaint at all, could be pounced upon by the police, and accused of having fish illegally for sale, when they were not at all to blame, and the whole onus of proving their innocence was put upon them. That was, as I think, quite rightly objected to, and I rather think that their objection has been met, but I would like an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman on that point.
I suppose the most controversial part of this Bill will be that which was dealt 921 with by my hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and the hon. Gentleman who has just been speaking, namely, Clause 55. It is going, of course, to be a very difficult question. It refers particularly, I believe, to the tidal waters, or, I think, its application will be particularly to the case of tidal waters, which is absolutely necessary. There is, after all, some discretion given. Proceedings will have to be instituted. If it be a case of revolutionising the whole sewage machinery of a small local authority, and putting it to an enormous expense, naturally, I should think, the case against them would fail; but do not let us still further cut down the powers to prevent this horrible pollution of rivers. This is not only a case of protecting the rights of fishermen. I think it, perfectly horrible that a fresh, clear, running stream of water should be polluted by sewage. It may kill the fish. If it kills the fish, what is to be the effect on children bathing? One of the finest gifts of nature to-day is a clear, running stream of water. Pure limpid water is celebrated by some of the finest poets in our language, especially those of England, Scotland and Wales, and we should be very careful in this Bill not to listen to panic outbursts of local authorities, perhaps with guilty consciences, who think that this Bill is going to be unfairly used against them. It is quite true, as has been said, that in all parts of the House there is general sympathy with the angler's point of view, and this Bill is long overdue. I think the general opinion of the angling world with regard to the pollution question is that it does not go far enough, but if that all-powerful body, the Federation of British Industries, has been satisfied, then I hope nobody is going to be agitated into whittling down this Clause by any panic-stricken local authority.
There is one other matter to which I must refer. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Newcastle (Mr. Trevelyan) introduced a very controversial question, that of Sunday fishing. On paper, a very good case, of course, can be made out for Sunday angling. If you permit golf on Sunday, why not fishing?
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
It is prohibited by a great many local authorities. This is not really dealt with 922 in the Bill, but I think it is quite in order on Second Reading. The Bill does not deal with Sunday fishing by rod and line. I am not dealing with the question of close-time for nets. If you are to prevent fishing, why should you not prohibit shooting on Sunday? In Ireland people do shoot on Sundays. They pursue game. In Scotland, I believe, never; in England, I believe, occasionally. In England, I believe, the practice of Sunday shooting by syndicates in the large cities is growing. I think it a most objectionable practice, and I would much rather see public opinion absolutely prohibit shooting on Sundays
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman know that shooting is prohibited on Sunday? No one can fire a gun on Sunday. It is an offence in England.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
That may be a fact, but the right hon. Baronet may not know that a good deal of shooting does go on by syndicates of shooting men in this country on Sundays. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I know actual cases. I hope it has been stopped, but there were cases fairly recently.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
The right hon. Baronet is a magistrate, and I take his word that the law is not infringed anywhere about his part, but in other parts of the country it does go on. At any rate, if you are not to permit Sunday fishing, can you in logic permit Sunday shooting? And if you permit shooting, you must allow horse-racing and so on on Sunday, and one of our most cherished possessions, the British Sunday, would be still further whittled away. I must say that this movement for brightening up the English Sunday will meet, at any rate, with my strong opposition. I do not want our Sunday to be spent as it is in Spain, Italy and other countries. [An HON. MEMBER: "Russia."] Or in Russia, where they have race meetings on Sunday. This question of fishing on Sunday is most controversial. It may sound very democratic to say that a working man can only get Sunday on which to fish, but I do not believe the majority of anglers are pressing for it at all. They have many other days—the holidays and Saturday. I have great sympathy with the poor angler 923 who cannot get away on the ordinary day, but it opens a very wide door, and we have to be very careful in these days about cutting away our distinctive British traits of character. This Bill is long overdue. It ought to have gone through before, and I had something to do with holding it up in the last Parliament, because of the very grave objection which an important section of the community took to it. But here it is, and I hope any alterations in this Bill will be still further in the direction of strengthening it from the point of view of that very admirable and worthy citizen, the rod-and-line angler. I think this Bill helps him, and I hope it may be still further made to help him.
§ Major MOLLOY
The question of the evils of using one hook for each bait or lure has been fully dealt with by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy). The other question is this. Is any provision being made in this Bill for dealing with the pollution of rivers by tars used by road authorities in dealing with road services? I hope this matter will be looked into, and that it will be possible to penalise any local authority which uses tar in any way that interferes with fishing in a district.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
I rise to call attention to Clause 62. In doing so, I should like to associate myself with the remarks which fell from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cardigan (Mr. E. Evans), who referred to the case of the River Teifi fishermen which has been brought to my own notice also. I think I may say with respect, that the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill passed over somewhat lightly the implications of this Clause, and I feel sure that, having heard the case put on behalf of these people by others as well as myself, he will be perfectly prepared to consider some ways and means of providing for their opposition to this Clause. I think the hon. and gallant Member for Cardigan was unduly modest in his historical reference to the antiquity of this trade. As a matter of fact, I think it is true to say that the fishing industry on the River Teifi was mentioned in very ancient writings—in that of Decimus Magnus, who lived in the years 300 to 380: and, furthermore, the very distinguished Gerald the 924 Welshman mentioned this very industry in the year 1138.
Therefore, I think it is fair for us to assume that an industry such as this, with such great antiquity, is obviously one which should appeal, at least, to Members on the opposite side of the House. May I also point out that, in the year 1314, the Earl of Pembroke petitioned Edward II to be allowed to reconstruct a salmon weir at Cilgerran, and the King was advised to permit this, hut, as the fishing on this spot would lessen the value of the King's fishing at Cenarth, he had to pay a fine to the King. This shows that fishing took place in this area at an early time. Records show that the fishermen paid rent to the King for fishing, and this continued right up to the time of James I. That shows very conclusively that the men, who feel they are injured by this particular Clause, have a very genuine case when they say they ought to secure complete exemption from the operation of this Clause. In an old topographical history there is a reference made to this particular industry in thiswise:The inhabitants derive a considerable profit from the drying of salmon, of which great quantities are taken in the river. There was formerly a weir "—at a certain place, with the name of which I shall not trouble the House—but it was found obnoxious by the people of the surrounding districts as it prevented the salmon from ascending the river…In the widespread Rebecca Riots of 1843 the weir was demolished by a determined party of 400 men provided with crowbars and pickaxes, and now numbers of fine salmon ascend the river…That brings us to 1861 and to 1865, the dates of the first Fishery Acts, and it is from that point, when Parliament began, unfortunately, to interfere, that the trouble began. The fishermen refused to pay the licence duty of 5s. imposed upon them. It is true they were persuaded ultimately into paying for the licences, but they did so only under protest. It is also true that from time to time these people, out of a spirit of camaraderie, did agree to certain other restrictions, such as the extension of their annual close time and the extended weekly close time, to give up net fishing and to assent to a reduction in the size of the mesh. But these men hold—and very strongly—that they must reserve the right which has been theirs, as they hold, from time immemorial.
925 I should like to draw the attention of the House to an incident which illustrates the, strong opposition which the men of this district put up against this Clause. I have before me a quotation from an interview which a local newspaper correspondent had with one of the oldest of these fishermen. The latter was asked to express his opinion, not of this Clause, but of a similar Clause which appeared in the Bill of last year. This was his opinion:Just 50 years ago they sent a posse of water bailiff's here to keep us off the river which our forefathers had fished in since the dawn of history. We had a fine brass band hero then, and the fishermen just surrounded the officers and marched them out of the district headed by the band. Only a few yeas ago the local riparian owners tried to buy us out, but we were not sellers, although sonic of us were offered £100 if we agreed to part with our rights.I appeal to the House to note this particular passage:We told them that birthrights were not for sale, that the right to net salmon in the Towy had been handed down to us by our ancestors, and we must pass it on intact to the next generation.What these people feel is that the controversy, which is an old one, is a controversy between those people who fish for pleasure and those who fish for a living. It appears that on the higher reaches of this river hotels are being built from time to time, and these hotels are being visited by gentlemen in the week-ends in search of pleasure. [An HON. MEMBER: "Put the point! "] I am putting the point. These gentlemen in search of pleasure have for a long time sought, sometimes by persuasion and sometimes in other ways, by attempts to buy these fishermen out, and so on, to get the ancient interests of these men removed, and thereby secure for themselves a much more unlimited degree of fishing opportunities. These men for whom I am speaking object to this Clause, and, as they think, rightly. It is perfectly true that the Memorandum circulated with this Bill says that the Clause is permissive, it is not obligatory on the Fishery Board to put it into effect. But from the, point of these coracle men it should be said they have only been able to secure something like three representatives upon the Fishery Board, and whenever any case is put forward on their behalf, they have invariably been 926 voted down by superior numbers. Consequently it is hopeless to ask them to accept a relegation of their case to a Fishery Board upon which they are inadequately represented. They therefore feel that their livelihood is endangered by this Clause. There is very grave reason to doubt as to whether they would have any chance whatever if this Clause were put into operation. As a matter of fact, a very highly-placed gentleman in the neighbourhood where these people live committed himself to a statement such as this:I shall not be satisfied until every coracle is swept from the Towy.Last September, anticipating that the present Bill would soon become law, he said:Then we shall be all right.Fishing may be a very excellent form of sport. I do not for a moment doubt it, though I am not familiar with it; but it is not, sportsmanship, in the pursuit of mere pleasure, to deprive men of their livelihood in this way who have a right from time immemorial. It is the very antithesis of sportsmanship. Therefore, with the greatest possible emphasis, I desire to support my hon. and gallant Friend so that these men of the Teifi and Towy rivers shall have more adequate protection provided for them than is involved in this Clause of the Bill.
§ Mr. SUTCLIFFE
In rising to address the House for the first time, may I say I do not wish to oppose the Bill. In addressing the House I do not pose as a fisherman or a sportsman, or anything of the sort, but my aim is this: to speak from a purely utilitarian point, of view and to show, as perhaps typical, how this Bill affects my constituency. That effect is embodied in Clause 55, which deals with the pollution of waters of estuaries. The way in which we get rid of our sewage is by means of pumping into the estuary of the Humber, and in the event of Clause 55 going through unamended, it will put the local authorities to the expenditure of an enormous amount of money in order to get rid of that sewage. The hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition referred to the case of his constituency in which be, said the sewage might have to be carried three miles. I should like him and this House to bear well in mind that in my constituency, in order to get rid of the sewage, if the Bill passed in its 927 present state, we would have to carry it not three miles but 10 miles right out into the North Sea. This, I think hon. Members will agree, will be a very very grievous charge. In the event of it being possible to make an Amendment in Committee to this very trenchant Clause 55, I shall have very great satisfaction in supporting the Bill.
§ Lieut.-Colonel SPENDER-CLAY
The House has listened with pleasure to the speech just delivered by the hon Member for Grimsby (Mr. Sutcliffe). At the same time, I do not know that I find myself in full agreement with him as regards the question of pollution in the estuaries. We know it is a difficult subject, but no hon. Member, I am sure, desires to see conditions upon towns imposed which means that they would have to carry sewage a long way. Undoubtedly, however, I think it would be tragic if this Bill does not materialise in some real form. I shall not follow the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) far in the direction he has gone except to say that I understand that certain people in South Wales are greater adepts at poaching, and by that I mean the taking of fish by illegal methods, than those in any other part of the United Kingdom. [An HON. MEMBER "What do you know about South Wales? "] But the trouble is insufficient fish to ascend the higher waters of the river in order to spawn, and if present methods are pursued and, unless protection is afforded, salmon trout will, before long, be non-existent. I sympathise with the desire to protect the coracle fishermen, but I should like to draw attention to what has been proved in other parts of the country to have happened following the removal of obstructions in the waters. It has meant that there has been an increase in the number of fish for fishing and also of the landing of fish to be put. on the market as food. Both have increased enormously.
I would not have intervened in this debate if I had not had some knowledge of the subject, and had not desired to put the House in possession of some of the facts. In reference to a certain river which I know it was netted in the ordinary way without any extraordinary methods, or poaching, but netted in the ordinary legal manner for some 10 miles from the estuary. The rights were bought out and 928 arrangements made in various ways so that at the present moment there is only a mile and a half of river netted. The result has been perfectly extraordinary. Not only is the result of the fishing better now than in the 10 miles, but the rod fishing in that river has gone up ten-fold as a result of the removal of the nets. Under this Act, if the rights of the coracle fishermen are reserved, but measures such as I have indicated are taken it is, I think, quite likely that the catches will be bigger than they are at the present time, and the fishing will be better and more extensive. May I ask the Minister for Agriculture a question in connection with Clause 56 which deals with power to mortgage revenue or property? I presume it will be possible for Fishery Boards to raise the money required by mortgage for the purpose of buying up the vested interests in the shape of such cases in South Wales as have been referred to to give compensation to those who have had rights from time immemorial for not taking fish, and also for the removal of obstructions like clams and so on. Then I think there will be an enormous increase in the fish ascending the river for the purpose of spawning, and the result will be, it seems to me, generally beneficial.
§ Dr. CHAPPLE
This Bill does not apply to Scotland, but anything that applies to any part of the Solway Firth cannot he ignored by Scotland. The methods and the law applying to the two shores of the Solway Firth are quite different. In the first place, salmon fishings are privately owned in Scotland, and are publicly owned in England. That is an essential difference between the north shore of the Solway Firth and the south shore. The other difference is that fixed engines for the capture of salmon are legal on the north shore of the Solway Firth and illegal on the south shore. This difference is reminiscent. of the days when the English tried to get a footing in Scotland, with what success we know. The Scottish Legislature were not anxious to preserve the fishing for the English who were occasionally in possession of the Solway Firth, and so did not allow this prohibition of fixed engines for the capture of salmon to apply to the Solway Firth; and that position has obtained ever since, if some remedy be not found for this discrepancy, the Bill will not be acceptable to those who have interests in 929 the north shore of the Solway Firth. Those in the constituency which I have the honour to represent who have taken an interest in this matter are opposed to a Solway Board that does not carry out the recommendations of -the Stafford Howard Report. The Stafford Howard Commission, which was set up in 1896, suggested that the conditions with regard to the Solway Firth should be made uniform, and they strongly recommended that a Solway- Board dealing with the fisheries in the Solway Firth, simild, first of all,be empowered and required to buy up—subject, of course, to existing leases—all the private rights of salmon fishing within the district, the price to be fixed by agreement, or, failing agreement, by arbitration, and to be based upon the average net profits received by the respective proprietors in the five years preceding, say, the 1st of January, 1896.The Report was made in 1896, and that accounts for the date mentioned. There were several other recommendations, of which an important one, in addition to the one I have just recited, was that the Board shouldbe empowered with the sanction of the Board of Trade to borrow money from the Public Loan Commissioners or others for carrying out purpose (a) supra"—that is the one to which I have just referred—on the security of the licence duties and the rents or income of the stake-nets.Unless some provision is made for uniformity of method and uniformity of rights on both the north shore and the south shore, difficulties will continually arise, and the Bill, as it stands, will not he acceptable to those who have interests on the north shore. I have strongly appealed to the Government to reconsider Clause 84, which is the only one in which reference is made to the Solway Firth, with regard to mesh nets and the making of some provision for dealing with the whole of the Solway Firth by a Board having jurisdiction over both shores, and for buying out the rights on the north shore and carrying out such other recommendations of the Stafford Howard "Report as will make the whole of the fisheries uniform on both sides. If that is done, I am sure that no opposition will come, from any Scottish Member with regard to this Bill. In fact, I have heard it highly approved by people interested in fishing in Scotland, and some have wished 930 that the Bill, in many of its provisions at any rate, should be made to apply to Scotland. I think that if it passes without including Scotland, the time will soon come when a demand will be made for a somewhat similar Measure applying to Scotland.
Mr. HOPE SIMPSON
With regard to the Solway Firth, I think that the hon. Member for Dumfries (Dr. Chapple) has minimised the disadvantages under which the English shore rests. The Clause as it stands is, I believe, an agreed Clause produced in another place after an Amendment moved by Lord Ullswater. It was pointed out in the other place that, whereas on the Scottish shore they are allowed to have stake-nets and fixed engines, these are not allowed at all on the English shore, and the damage that has been done to the Solway Firth, as shown by the decrease in out-turn, is due to the fixed stake-nets on the Scottish shore.
We are rather liable to look upon this Bill as a sportsman's Bill, and it is a matter for congratulation to all sportsmen that a Bill like this is going to be passed into law but, at the same time, it would not be right that this House should lose sight of the very large fishing industry which maintains a considerable number of fishermen round the coasts and in the estuaries. T believe that in England we actually catch more salmon than are caught in Norway, and I have seen an estimate of 6,000 tons as the catch of salmon in the nets round our coasts. That is no mean industry, and anything that tends to improve an industry of that sort is of value to the country, and to be welcomed. It is for this reason that I, personally, most welcome this Bill.
It has been proved over and over again that the interests of the net-fisher and the interests of the angler are one and the same—that by improving the angling you at the same time, as has already been pointed out, improve the net-fishing. The net-fishers, however, feel that, after all, this is their livelihood while it is our sport, and it is for this reason, I have no doubt, that from sundry quarters objections have been raised to the Bill. I would ask the Minister to consider whether those objections could not be met by an increase in the proportion of members on the fishery hoards who represent the net-fishers. 931 According to the Bill as at present drafted, the probabilities are that the fishery boards will consist, as to one-third, of members nominated by county or borough councils, as to one-third of anglers, and as to one-third of representatives of the net-fishermen; but the nominated members will doubtless be nominated on account of their interest in fishing, so that the chances are that the fishery boards will consist of a majority of anglers and a minority of net-fishermen who live by their fishing. I would suggest that it might be advisable that this difficulty should be met by increasing the proportion of net-fishermen on the fishery boards, where necessary, above one-third.
The Erskine Amendment to Clause 8 is an Amendment which I think we should accept with very great regret. It was agreed to on the ground of the pressure put upon the Government by the Federation of British Industries. The Federation of British Industries had received a shock from the decision in the case of Halley against the Silverspring Bleaching and Dyeing Company, Mr. Justice Eve, in his judgment in that case, having laid it down as the law that there could be no prescriptive right to pollute a river. When that principle was established by that decision, the Federation of British Industries at once brought pressure to bear, and the result was that we have Clause 8 as it now stands. I do not know whether it is inevitable that that Clause should go through as it is now drafted, but I am quite sure that, in the interests both of net-fishing and of angling, a strengthening of the Clause is desirable. Subsection (1, a) provides thatA person shall not be so liable to any penalty for any act done in the exercise of any right to which he is by law entitled "—that, of course, is quite right, but it goes onor in continuation of any method in use in connection with the same premises prior to the passing of this Act;that is to say, he gets a prescriptive right of pollution. Of course, that is denied, and it is stated that it is not a prescriptive right of pollution, but the words of the Bill seem to be quite clear, and it would be exceedingly difficult, in any case in which pollution already exists, to obtain a conviction under this Bill.
932 There have been a great many speeches on the Bill, and I think it has been generally welcomed in all quarters of the House, but we must not forget that fishing is to many men a livelihood and that the Bill should be framed in the first instance to their advantage. For that reason, I trust that the Minister will be able to accept a proposal that the number of net-fishermen on fishery hoards should be increased.
§ Colonel H. GUEST
I welcome a Bill of this nature, co-ordinating so many of the laws relating to fishing and the fishing industry, but I agree with the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Sutcliffe) with regard to Clause 55, which, I think, may cause great hardship, if inadvisably interpreted, to towns and cities with large populations, such as that which I have the honour to represent. There is a possibility of great hardship being inflicted on the city of Bristol in regard to the disposal of its sewage, and I think there should be some limiting Clause whereby the case of a big city, with a large population, which requires to dispose of its sewage in a cheap and efficient manner, should be dealt with separately and specially in this Bill. I am sure that in Committee that will be investigated.
§ 6.0 P. M.
Lieut.-Colonel A. MURRAY
I desire to say a few words on this Bill, with particular reference to the Clause which was alluded to a few moments ago by the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Hope Simpson). What, in brief, is the history of this Bill l It can be told in a very few words. It is a consolidation Bill, as we are led to understand, into which it was proposed to put a little new matter relating to pollution, netting, regulating, and so on, and a small Committee was set up to assist the Ministry in drafting the Bill. On that Committee were two gentlemen who represented the Wye, and representatives of an angling society in the Midlands, and of on small pollution prevention society in Nottingham, and they assisted the Ministry in drafting the Bill. It has been said that the particular Amendment of Clause 8, which is commonly known as the Erskine Amendment, was put in at the instance of the Federation of British Industries, but, whether that be so or not, I desire to press upon the right hon. Gentleman to-day that he should not allow to stand in the Bill the last few lines of Sub- 933 section (1, a) of Clause 8, because I suggest to the Government that it is not right, in what is pre-eminently a consolidation Bill, to introduce large changes in the existing law of this country. Sub-section (1, a) of Clause 8, if carried, would to all intents and purposes legalise for all time all existing pollution. That would be the effect of the Clause as it stands. [HON. MEMBERS: "No "] Well, that is the Minister's view, though it is not the view held by other gentlemen who have given the subject the consideration it deserves. However desirable it may be to consolidate the law on any particular subject, if the consolidating Bill proposes at the same time to alter the law in such a way as to render the commission of some offence easier than it was before, that should not be supported by those who consider that offence, as some of us consider it, one of vital importance.
This Clause, to which some of us take exception, is opposed not alone in the interest of sport It is not only sport that is affected by what in some respects is a very interesting Bill. Let us assume an extreme case in which pollution takes effect to such an extent that every salmon or trout in a particular river ceases to exist. What then happens to the livelihood of the men engaged in catching salmon in the estuaries and along the coast? If the salmon when they run up the river to spawn are all killed before they get there owing to pollution, what happens to the salmon supply and to the livelihood of the men engaged in fishing along the coast? The Government are proposing by this legislation, and particularly by Clause 8 (1, a), in effect to legalise all existing pollutions of waters containing fish so far as such pollutions would be poisonous to these fish or to their spawn. Under the Bill as it stands with the Erskine Amendment in it the polluter would merely have to prove that he had used the best practical means within a reasonable cost to prevent such matter doing injury to the fish. It has been found under the old laws that this proof could all too easily be provided. It is merely a matter of expert witnesses, and that being so it is in effect legalising for all time existing pollutions which have taken place. A judgment was given by Mr. Justice Lawrence on 23rd March in an action by Lord. Granby, eldest son 934 of the Duke of Rutland, for an injunction to restrain the Bakewell Urban District Council from discharging or permitting to be discharged from the Bake-well Gas Works into the River Wye any gas, tar, or other noxious or injurious liquid. The plaintiff claimed £500 damages for injury done. His Lordship found for the plaintiff, and assessed the damages at £150—£100 for the occasion in May and £50 for the occasion in October. If this Bill had been on the Statute Book with the objectionable Subsection to which I have alluded the judgment might have been a different one altogether.
§ Sir R. SANDERS
That is in no way affected by the Bill. The law with regard to the remedy of a private person for damage caused by pollution is absolutely unaffected by the Bill. It only deals with an action brought by a Fishery Board.
Where does the poor wretched person then come in whose water is polluted? Is he unable to bring an action at all?
§ Sir R. SANDERS
The existing common law right remains. The Bill makes no difference whatever in his common law right. He has just the same right to bring an action for damages. All the Bill does is to enable a Fishery Board to bring a criminal prosecution.
That may be very well so far as it goes, but the water that is polluted extends some distance, and although the Fishery Board may bring an action, what happens if the water is being taken over by the Fishery Board and certain rights are reserved by the proprietor? Where does the proprietor come in then?
It is a legal point on which I should like the opinion I of the Law Officers whether or not in that 935 case an action would lie at the instance of the Fishery Board or the proprietor. It depends entirely on the terms of the lease under which the fishery is taken over. Let us pass from that and come to the Fishery Board. Let us assume that the Fishery Board brings an action. If the law had been altered and the action had been brought not by Lord Granby but by a Fishery Board, the judgment would have been a very different one. A verdict would not have been obtained and even the Fishery Board would not have obtained its just dues. It is no good the right hon. Gentleman riding off on the plea that the proprietor would not have been heard. I am not sure whether that is the case. I most earnestly ask the right hon. Gentleman to give this matter further serious consideration. If passed as it now stands the Bill will make legal all pollution that now exists and it will be a very simple thing in future under this Erskine Amendment for the pollutor to prove that he has used the best practical means within a reasonable cost to prevent such matter from doing an injury to fish or to the spawning ground. That will be a simple thing for expert witnesses to prove to the satisfaction of the Court. If the Bill is allowed to remain as it stands the Government will be doing an injurious thing not only to the sporting interests of the country, but to the men who make their livelihood round our estuaries and our coasts and generally to those of our population who are interested in maintaining at its highest the food supply of the country.
§ Sir JAMES BRUTON
I wish to call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to Clause 55 and to ask him how it will affect the City of Gloucester. In 1911 the Local Government Board held an inquiry at Gloucester in consequence of which the sewer outfall was removed from above to below the Weir. It was taken under the Severn across a large meadow and it cost the ratepayers a very considerable expense. Since the alteration has been made no complaints have been made and so far as we know—and we have made every inquiry—no injury has been done to the fishery industry. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give us an assurance that no hardship will be inflicted on the ratepayers by having a large additional expense put upon them. The work was 936 done in accordance with the instructions of the Local Government Board and they hope they may be relieved from any further expenditure in the matter.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite said this was a consolidating Bill which ought not to include Amendments of the law. The Title however, is a consolidating and amending Bill, and it is, therefore, perfectly legitimate to put in Clauses which amend the law. I think, however, the hon. and gallant Gentleman has raised rather an important point. His contention is that where a person has been in the habit of polluting a stream he will be allowed to continue to pollute it under this Bill provided he shows he has used the best practical means within a reasonable cost to prevent such matter from doing injury to fish. Of course anyone will he able without much difficulty to prove that he has used such practical means within a reasonable cost—I do not know what a reasonable cost will be held to be—as will prevent the matter damaging the fish and consequently nothing can be done against him. My right hon. Friend says that would not apply to a private person because the Bill deals only with Fishery Boards. Is that so? It is rather an important point.
§ Sir R. SANDERS
It would not affect the common law right of a private person bringing an action for damages. This Bill only affects criminal prosecutions. A private person might bring an action in a Civil Court for damages, and this Bill does not affect that in any way whatever.
§ Mr. PETO
Arising out of that statement, that a private person may bring an action, surely that would also cover any corporate body or anyone who w as entitled to bring an action at common law. If a Fishery Board did happen to own a fishery, which it does not now, it would have the same right which exists now under the common law.
§ Sir F, BANBURY
I am not a lawyer, and it seems to me that this is a matter which requires some elucidation. The Minister of Agriculture says that this Bill only applies to criminal matters. That may be so, but it does not appear in the Bill. The Bill says that "no person" shall do certain things. That is in Clause 1. There is nothing what 937 ever about the Fishery Board. I find nothing there about criminal acts or Fishery Boards. Clause 8 saysNo person shall cause or knowingly permit to flow, etc.Then there is the proviso that such person shall not be liable to any penalty if he takes reasonable precautions. This raises a very important point, because this Bill is a consolidating Bill, and it will override the existing Acts. This is the Bill upon which cases will be founded, and it says that if a person causes or permits certain poisons injurious to fish to go into a stream he may do so provided that he has done certain things, that is, provided that he has taken precautions. Where is the question of a criminal act there?
§ Sir R. SANDERS
The criminal act is described in Sub-section (1) of Clause 8, in the words,he shall he guilty of an offence against this Act,
§ Sir F. BANBURY
We have the right hon. and learned Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Rawlinson) and the hon. and learned Member for York (Sir J. Butcher) here. It is a pity they are not sitting on the Government Bench, so that we might know where we stand. If this Bill becomes law, it will mean that a person will not be guilty of an offence, against this Act if he takes reasonable precautions. How on earth can you bring an action for damages, provided the person against whom you are bringing the action says that under this Bill he is allowed to do certain things. I hope I am wrong.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I often am, but I think we ought to have some legal explanation of this very important point. May I ask my right hon. Friend whether it would be possible in this Clause, or in some other Clause, to put in something dealing with the escape of tar from roads into rivers. There is no doubt that a great deal of that kind of pollution goes on, and, so far as I can see, there is nothing in this Clause which would deal with it.
§ Mr. HARBORD
My objection is to Clause 55, and other Clauses giving powers to the Fishery Boards. These powers may gravely affect the town which 938 I have the honour to represent. If these proposals are adopted in their fullness, I should view with very grave alarm the giving of these powers, because it seems to me that there ought to be some higher tribunal that could be appealed to by public authorities whose interests may be gravely imperilled, and who may be put to great expense. A new drainage scheme for my town would cost anything from £300,000 to £500,000. Proposals of that sort would very prejudicially affect the interests of the ratepayers of my town. A small and rather unimportant body might over-ride a larger body, and put them to very heavy expense. I want to assist in expediting the passage of this Measure, but in the interests of those who sent me here I want to get some governing Clause that will protect them.
§ Mr. C. H. WILSON
Whilst the rivers of Sheffield and South Yorkshire are not now fishable, there are a very large number of persons who find a great deal of week-end recreation in fishing in Lincolnshire, and I hope that when this Bill gets into Committee we shall not overlook the position of these anglers. I am not aware of the membership of the clubs in South Yorkshire, but they comprise a very large membership. So far as Sheffield is concerned, there are 20,000 club anglers, many of whom take the cheap tickets which the railway companies offer at, the week-ends, and who spend their weekends in Lincolnshire fishing. Many of them also spend their holidays down there, and there are numerous fishing matches promoted. Anything in this Bill which would in any way tend to discourage the healthful recreation which these people enjoy is to be deprecated. Not only does this matter affect the 20,000 club anglers in Sheffield, but I would point out that they are a source of very considerable revenue to the people in Lincolnshire where they go for the purpose of spending their holidays. I hope that it will be borne in mind that these men are almost entirely working men, and that they incur considerable expense in connection with their tickets. I hope that anything that will tend to keep them from going into the country for healthful recreation will be avoided.
§ Sir R. SANDERS
I should like to say a few words in regard to the points raised by several hon. Members in connection with Clause 55. If hon. Members will 939 look at that Clause they will see that paragraph (a) of Sub-section (1) provides that for the purpose of instituting proceedings a Fishery Board shall be subject to the same restrictions as a sanitary authority. The restrictions on a sanitary authority are laid down in the Pollution of Rivers Act of 1876. It is there provided that:… proceedings shall not be taken against any person under this part of this Act save by a sanitary authority, nor shall any such proceedings be taken without the consent of the Local Government Board…. The said Board in giving or withholding their consent shall have regard to the industrial interests involved in the case and to the circumstances and requirements of the locality.The said Board shall not give their consent to proceedings by the sanitary authority of any district which is the seat of any manufacturing industry, unless they are satisfied, after due inquiry, that means for rendering harmless the poisonous, noxious, or polluting liquids proceeding from the processes of such manufactures are reasonably practicable and available under all the circumstances of the case, and that no material injury will be inflicted by such proceedings on the interests of such industry.That is a pretty strong precaution, and I do not think that there is any fear that the Ministry of Health, which has succeeded the Local Government Board, will be likely to authorise a prosecution by a Fishery Board unless there is some very extreme case. I do not think that Newcastle, Grimsby, Gloucester or other towns mentioned need be afraid of anything of the sort happening. The only other important point, except Committee points, was raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Kincardine (Lieut.-Colonel A. Murray) and the right hon. Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) in regard to Clause 8. If the right hon. Gentleman has listened to the words which I have read from the Pollution of Rivers Act of 1876, he will see that there is very little difference between Clause 8 and the Act of 1876. In regard to prosecution, this Bill makes very little difference in the law. My right hon. Friend and my right hon. and gallant Friend confuse prosecutions under the old law and under this Bill, with a civil action for damages. They are two entirely distinct things. If a private individual or a corporation or a company is injured by pollution, they have two courses open to them. One course is to 940 proceed under the criminal law. That can be done under this Bill, but in order to do that, unless it is clone by a fishery board, the private individual would have to get the consent of the Minister of Health before he could proceed with the prosecution.
§ Sir R. SANDERS
Yes, with the consent of the Minister, but under this Bill it has to be with the consent of the Minister. That is to a small extent affected by the provisions of this Bill, because they are altogether the same as under the Act of 1876, but the common law right is not affected in the least, and any private person whose fish are poisoned has just the same right to bring an action for damages or for an injunction as if his dog were poisoned, and his right is not affected by this Bill. In reference to the point raised as to Sunday fishing, Sunday fishing is allowed at the present time, and I have heard of no instance in which a fishing authority has stopped it. I believe that the only thing to stop Sunday fishing is that there is a certain amount of public opinion against it, but it is not usual. As to the Solway fisheries, of which we have heard the history, I cannot add anything to what C said before. I think that these fishermen are amply protected under the provisions of this Bill. I cannot conceive, that they could have any stronger protection, short of allowing everyone to do exactly as he likes, than that which the Bill affords him.
§ Sir R. SANDERS
That is purely consolidation, and makes no difference in the law as regards licensing. The licensing system is 87 years old.
§ Sir R. SANDERS
It does not apply to Scotland. With regard to retail fishmongers, the Clause in the Bill of last Session has been withdrawn. After thin explanation perhaps the House will now give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
The right hon. Gentleman has minimised the change which is made by Sub-section (1), paragraph (a) 941 of Clause 8. There was a certain amount of truth in his contention that this change in no way affects existing common law rights of proprietors who desire to use their civil remedy against a person guilty of polluting waters in which they are interested, but it was precisely because of the weakness of the civil remedy open to a proprietor to prevent pollution that the Rivers Pollution Act was passed. The remedies available to proprietors were twofold. There was first an injunction which is an expensive thing and may not be very effective. Then if, in addition, a claim for damages were made it was necessary for the owner to establish that fish had in fact been killed. In the action to which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kincardine (Lieut.-Colonel A. Murray) referred the Plaintiff was able to establish that fish were killed, and the Court awarded damages, but this is a remedy which is very rarely available. It may be that the passing of this Section will make no difference to the rights of proprietors, but it is a serious thing that the powers available to prevent pollution, under the Divers Pollution Act, will be limited under this Bill. Before 1876 the penal provisions were found to be quite inadequate. Now we are going back. We allow under this Bill a defence which was not available in 1876. The effect is that anybody who started polluting since 1876, and has not been challenged, either by a common informer or a Fishery Board, and who can establish that he has acted in continuance of a method in use prior to the passing of 'this Act, has a defence to a prosecution. To give this defence is seriously to weaken the law on this important subject. I think that the House should not readily assent to any weakening of the law in relation to this matter.
It has been asserted in debate that this particular Amendment has been introduced at the instance of the Federation of British Industries and that that body has expressed its benevolent intentions in regard to this Amendment, and that therefore we should let it go. I think that a statutory provision is much better than a benevolent intention, and that in no circumstances should the Reuse give its assent merely on an assurance of that kind to any weakening of the law enabling the rivers of this country to be further polluted. I am sorry that when a question of such complexity was under discussion no law officer was pre 942 sent. The House has been in the habit of obtaining the assistance of law officers. Even in the case of Scotland there is some lip service paid to the principle of having a law officer in this House, because for the remainder of this Session we are to have the advantage of the services of a, gentleman who is a member of the Faculty of Advocates, even though he may never have practised, but in England we have always had two practising barristers, and there are at present two practising barristers available to the Government, and in a complicated Measure of this kind, which is both a Consolidation Act and an Amending Act, it is essential that there should be, somebody to give a legal opinion when a point of this kind is raised. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will see that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be a member of the Committee which will deal with the Committee' stage of this Bill, and that then this matter may be cleared up. The first duty of the Law Officers is to assist the Government and the House of Commons. Otherwise there is no point in having law officers Members of the House of Commons at all. With regard to local authorities I have some doubt as to whether the Government are not right in insisting on the provision in Clause 55. If it is true that some local authorities are at present polluting by means of sewage discharged into estuaries some effort should be made to see that they do not continue that practice in future, but the real question is this change, in the law which is effected by paragraph a of Sub-section (1) of Clause 8. I hope that between now and the Committee stage the right hon. Gentleman will take it further into consideration and will see that the public interest in no way suffers by this Amendment.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.
§ The Clerk at the Table informed the House of the unavoidable absence of Mr. SPEAKER from the remainder of this day's Sitting.
§ Whereupon Mr. JAMES HOPE, the Chairman of Ways and Means, took the Chair as Deputy-Speaker, pursuant to the Standing Order.