§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.20 p.m.
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. McNeil)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I am not sure how far it is appropriate that I should use this opportunity to congratulate the hon. Member for Blackburn, East (Mrs. Castle), upon the Bill which she has just presented. I am sorry that I cannot emulate her eloquence and much less emulate the brevity which she brought to the discharge of her duties.
The House will not be surprised if I say that I consider the opportunity of moving the Second Reading of this Bill a considerable pleasure. Such an operation is not always so agreeable, but in this case the genesis of this legislative infant is thoroughly respectable, and if the period of gestation has been prolonged, it has been, at any rate, without complication. I am certain that, although appropriate objections may be offered here and there, and while, no doubt, we shall all have the benefit of expert advice, there is a fair company of benevolent godfathers ready to receive this legislative infant. I do not anticipate that we shall be substantially divided, because I think that it has already been conceded that this Bill is essentially designed to preserve and improve an asset which is not only valuable to Scotland, but is an asset which is, in many ways, typically Scottish.
The Scottish salmon fisheries are an extremely valuable economic asset. It is estimated that last year they produced some 1,800 tons of fish valued at just over £1 million. [An HON. MEMBER: "Private enterprise."] My hon. Friend says "private enterprise," and some of it is very distinctly private in its enterprise, but I make no allowance for that in my calculations. We have here an extremely valuable asset and a supply of high quality food. Perhaps even more than that, apart from the value of the fish caught, salmon and trout angling is ancillary to our tourist, hotel and catering industry in Scotland. Therefore, I 1180 argue—and I do not anticipate any opposition upon this point—that we must properly exert ourselves to safeguard a very considerable source of employment, direct and indirect.
The value of this asset is much wider than the legal ownership and the rights of angling. There is little doubt that the savage and extensive commercial poaching with which the industry has been afflicted in recent years places these assets and this industry in jeopardy. I need not strain the patience of the House with details of how systematic and damaging the practices of these commercial poachers have been. Gangs of men, using indefensible methods, have done great harm to our stocks of fish, and if these stocks had continued to be ravaged in the fashion with which we are now familiar, eventually the tourist industry, basic at least to all our northern counties, would have been sadly impaired.
In 1948, my distinguished right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn), to whom I am most grateful for assistance in preparing various stages of this Bill, set up a committee under Sheriff R. H. Maconochie. It is from this report of that committee that this Bill proceeds, and although, as will have been noted, we have varied here and there from their report, I know that I would be expressing the feelings of all sides of this House if I recorded our indebtedness to the committee and to its chairman, Sheriff Maconochie.
The committee said:From the evidence we have obtained it is abundantly clear that poaching and illegal fishing operations carried out by gangs from a great distance are now conducted in many parts of the country with almost complete disregard of the law and on such a scale as to menace the stocks of fish.In detail, as I have already said, the provisions of the Bill vary in some respects from the specific proposals made by the committee, but there is only one aspect in which the Bill substantially differs. The committee recommended the licensing of all people dealing in salmon and trout and the keeping by dealers, catering establishments and cold storage plants of detailed records of all their transactions. I must confess to the House—and I expect that this was a general experience—that this recommendation attracted me considerably. It was quite plain that if we could cut out 1181 the black market for illegally obtained salmon our task would be greatly facilitated, and I must also say that it is my opinion that the buyer of black market salmon is no less guilty of conduct indefensible and harmful to Scotland than the commercial poacher.
However, our laborious examination showed that to adopt these proposals would place upon shopkeepers, hotel keepers, restaurant proprietors, the operators of canteens and of cold storage plant, as well as upon the licensing authorities, a burden of administration and record keeping disproportionate to the benefits which we could hope to gain from such a procedure. We have therefore, following the main lines of the committee's recommendations, concentrated on making the other machinery for the enforcement of the law as efficient and as extensive as possible. I believe that the stiff penalties which the courts may impose and the additional powers conferred upon the police and upon other authorised officers will be sufficient to deter the gangster poacher.
I imagine that it will be convenient first to deal with the general scheme of the Bill before I go on to examine the Clauses or main parts of the Clauses in some detail. The first four Clauses should of course, be taken as the kernel of the Bill. They set out the four main categories into which it is proposed illegal fishing for salmon or for trout should fall. Clause 1 deals with people who fish illegally by familiar and, let me say, defensible means. I mean by that the traditional poacher, if I may so describe him. I shall deal with him in a moment.
I agree, the decent poacher. Perhaps we would not describe ourselves as honest poachers, but we might say we were traditional and decent poachers when we engaged in the entertainment alluded to in Clause 1.
Clause 2 deals with people who fish for salmon in inland waters otherwise than by rod or line or by net and coble, and with the person who fishes for trout otherwise—but only otherwise—than by rod and line. Then Clause 3 addresses itself to those who poach in gangs. Finally, the use of explosives, poisons, 1182 electrical devices are dealt with in Clause 4. The remaining provisions of Part I are, pretty broadly, consequential or ancillary.
Then Part II of the Bill is concerned with the machinery of enforcement, and it will be found that Clause 10 defines the powers of water bailiffs while Clauses 11 and 12 deal with the powers of search and of arrest.
Part III of the Bill I hope the House will find interesting. Part of it—Clause 13—does not arise from the Maconochie Report, and indeed I should confess—if "confess" is the appropriate word—that I am, personally, mainly responsible for that part. It provides for the extension of the weekly close time for the taking of salmon, by other methods than by rod and line. I want to stress that, because, surprisingly, I have seen letters in the Press suggesting that we are being asked to extend that close time, and to cut out fishing by rod and line. That is not so. That is not dealt with at all. It is a 12-hour extension against the taking of salmon by methods other than by rod and line.
Part III also provides that parcels of salmon or trout, sent by rail, post or carrier, must be clearly marked. Part IV is concerned with penalties; and finally, Part V includes the brief miscellaneous and formal Clauses which are usual in a Bill of this kind.
Now let me look at the Clauses in a little more detail. The House will see that Clause 1 makes it an offence to fish for salmon without legal right or without written permission from the person possessing such a right. I did not think it appropriate, and my legal colleagues agreed with me, to make it an offence to fish illegally for trout. I am prepared to agree, if anyone presses me, that the division in logic is not perceptible. I would urge, on the other hand, that there has been in our fine country, a traditional reluctance to make fishing for trout without permission an offence, and that we design to continue; but, of course, it will remain as at present a breach of the civil law, which can be dealt with by interdict if and when the proprietor thinks this necessary or appropriate.
I am very tempted here to digress and to commend the various excellent angling associations which, up and down the country, have made it possible for us to 1183 have good fishing. These associations are as interested as we are in the protection and improvement of legal fishing, but whatever hopes I might entertain of at some time coming back to the House, or of someone else coming back to the House, to deal with and to improve upon that matter, are, I suppose, scarcely relevant to this Bill. The maximum fine which can be imposed for fishing without legal right is increased from £5 to £10.
My hon. Friend says "Shame." I would be prepared to listen to argument upon that subject. I must confess that I felt that I had some obligation to look closely upon the advice offered by the Maconochie Committee, but if any hon. Member thinks that this is a point upon which they would quarrel, they will not find us too obstinate on the Committee stage. However, in fairness to my legal colleagues, I should point out that this is in no sense a mandatory fine. It is subject to defining the limits within which courts should function.
I hope I may be permitted to say that, if we seem to demonstrate a tenderness toward the ordinary poacher—I might almost say the traditional poacher—I hope that hon. and right hon. Members may respect our tenderness. On the other hand, it will be seen that we have attempted to deal with the substantial menace of the commercial poacher by very heavy penalties indeed.
§ Mr. Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)
Before my right hon. Friend leaves Clause 1, would he make one thing perfectly clear? It refers to the individual who fishes for or takes salmon. Are we to understand that "salmon" there refers specifically to salmon, or does it include sea trout? I put the point because the sea trout is generally regarded as being in the salmon class.
If my hon. Friend will turn to the definition on page 10 he will find, as one might expect, that sea trout have to be included in the category visualised by the word "salmon." Without tying myself to scientific terms, the exclusion here refers to the common trout, the brown trout, as against those other fish which fulfil their normal cycle by 1184 moving to and from the sea waters. I hope I have met my hon. Friend's point. I have dealt with Clause 1 of the Bill.
Clause 2 is concerned with people who fish for salmon in any inland water. The first subsection of the Clause makes it an offence to fish for salmon in inland waters except by rod and line subject to the proviso that it preserves existing rights. Then the second subsection in this Clause makes it an offence to fish for trout except by rod and line, subject to the limited existing rights of proprietors to net only where they are agreed in a pond or loch.
The penalties for offences under this Clause will be found in Clause 16. The maximum penalty is £20 for a first offence and £50 or three months for second or subsequent offences. There is, however, a further stage, namely, conviction on indictment. It will be for the Lord Advocate to decide whether or not to proceed on indictment. This will enable the court to impose a fine of £100 or two years imprisonment or both. That is a very substantial proposed change in the law upon this subject.
Further, under Clause 17, fish and implements may be forfeited, and again subject to conviction on indictment, there may also be—the House will remember the advice offered to us by the committee on this subject—a forfeiture of any vehicle or boat used in the commission of the offence. I think it will probably prove to be the case that this deterrent is a very strong one indeed. We all have known of cases where we suspect a lorry or car was being used, and that the offence could not have been committed without the use of some such vehicle. I need not say that I hope the powers will be vigorously enforced, because the public conscience in our country has been quite substantially disturbed by the scale of these offences. The House knows that one of the wretched practices that has grown up has been the use of explosives to catch fish.
I think my hon. Friend is pulling my leg, but anxious as I am to retain his respect I should say that a Mills bomb was a dreadful weapon to use for this action.
§ Mr. Jack Jones
I can assure my right hon. Friend that I am not pulling his leg. 1185 I said, "A Mills bomb, for instance," and I know, as a matter of fact, that they have been responsible for killing more fish in places which I know, than they have been of killing the enemy.
We are all aware of that, and the explanation of my hon. Friend makes it plain that he, like the rest of us, deplores the use of a bomb or any other explosive for this purpose.
We have thought it essential under Clause 6 to make it an offence for an unauthorised person to take dead salmon or trout from any waters. The method is that the explosive is thrown into the water, the people who placed it there go off and hide, the explosive goes off, they come back and take away the dead fish. Further, we have made it an offence to be found in possession of fish instruments, explosives or poisons in circumstances which give reasonable ground for concluding that an offence under Clauses 1 to 4 has been committed. That is provided for under Clause 7. It will be seen in subsection (3) that we have taken the unusual course of making it lawful to convict the person charged under this section on the evidence of one witness.
I can quite understand my hon. Friend's worry on this subject. I hope the House will note that none of us has committed himself to this device without a great deal of heart searching. Also, we can look upon this departure from common practice as some kind of sympathy for our dilemma. It will be understood that in such isolated parts of the country as those in which we have seen these large scale offences committed, it is not easy to ensure that a constable or water bailiff is accompanied. Indeed, it is scarcely practicable. The House will also bear in mind that though we have made this provision, it still remains the scrupulous duty of the courts, which I have no doubt they will discharge, to make sure that the evidence, direct or circumstantial, is firm enough and adequate enough to justify a conviction.
It might be convenient here to look at the powers of search with which we have endowed the water bailiffs and the constables, and about which I know the House will zealously concern itself. We 1186 propose in Clause 10 to re-enact the existing powers of water bailiffs relating to their own districts and to districts adjacent to their own. A constable, bailiff or anyone authorised by the Secretary of State is empowered to exercise similar powers, but without this territorial restriction. If the law is to be enforced, it is plainly necessary that authorised officers should have adequate powers to collect the relevant evidence. The powers which we proposed in Clause 11 of the Bill are more restricted than those recommended by the Maconochie Report. I almost apologise for that in some ways, but we felt it our duty that we could not go the whole distance with the Maconochie Report upon these points, because we felt we had an obligation to protect the rights of the ordinary citizen as well as an obligation to make enforcement and conviction a practicality.
It will be seen that at Clause 11 we have provided the, normal method by which an authorised officer can obtain from a sheriff or a justice of the peace, on reasonable submission, a warrant to search. However, it will be easily understood that there may perhaps even frequently be such situations that there would not be time to apply for a warrant and so at subsections (3) and (4) of this Clause we have provided that a constable or a water bailiff may stop and search a vehicle provided that there is reasonable ground to believe that an offence has been committed and that evidence of the serious offence is to be found in the vehicle.
There are certain restrictions which I hope the House will note, particularly relating to the power of the water bailiff. We have restricted his power in three ways. First, he cannot search a person. Secondly, the vehicle which he has power to search must not be on a highway but on private land. Thirdly, the search can only take place within these limitations upon his own district or upon an adjacent district. Again, I plead for consideration from the House upon this slight departure and I submit that if, on the Committee stage, objection is offered to this point it will not be offered without some practicable and effective alternative being put forward. Without effective powers in relation to the collection of evidence I must tell the House that I greatly fear that the proposed Act will not be enforceable.
§ Sir W. Darling
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves this point may I ask him whether the water bailiff may be a honorary officer? I take it that a water bailiff may be either male or female.
On the first question, I would only say offhand that since the bailiff is appointed by the district board his relationship to the board is a matter for the board. Secondly, the appointment certainly could be either male or female. The hon. Gentleman will have noted that in another Clause, in relation to search of women, we have laid it down that the search can only take place by a female officer.
If I may set aside the first Clause of Part III for a second or two—I will come back to it—let me try to discuss the remainder of the Bill briefly. Clause 14 provides that salmon or trout consigned by post, rail or carrier, must be clearly marked as "salmon" or "trout." The remaining provision of the Bill, except Clauses 16 and 17 with which I have already dealt, are minor and procedural in character. Clause 15 removes the limit of the assessment which can be imposed by district boards. Clause 18 provides for the disposal of fish which have been seized. Clauses 19 and 20 deal with the position of the Esk and the Tweed in relation to the Bill, and Clauses 21 to 24 and the Schedules are completely formal in character.
I have no doubt, turning to the remaining and undealt-with Clauses, that I shall have some opposition to Clause 13. I am certain I shall from some of my hon. Friends as well as from some hon. Gentlemen opposite. The Clause provides that the close time for the taking of salmon, except by rod and line, which presently stands at 36 hours per week, shall be extended to 48 hours per week. I should say in passing that this is not at all a revolutionary conception. I would tell hon. Gentlemen who represent Scottish seats and who are very jealous for, as well as very familiar with, the procedure in relation to salmon, that this proposal has been the general law in England since 1923.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not think I have been 1188 unfair. It is true that exception can be made by district boards. I repeat that this has been the general practice in England since 1923.
I am attracted by the proposed extension because I do not doubt that we have not yet appreciated to the full the effects of the ravages which have been made upon our fishing, and particularly upon our salmon fishing. As the House knows, there is, roughly speaking, about a five-year period in the cycle of the salmon's life. Therefore, there will be a five years' period to wait under this Bill, and it will be some two or three years before we can see what the actual reduction in our fish population is, due to these methods. I therefore seek for authorisation to extend the close time by 12 more hours weekly, to permit a few more fish to get up our rivers each week. When the fish are really running it should make a considerable difference to the eventual fish population of our rivers and lochs.
I would now say, although I fear I am straining the patience of the House already, that every scientific interest which I have consulted upon this subject, as well as the Scottish Tourist Board, have agreed with this proposal. There is not one scientific objection to it. I fully concede that there are a limited number of people—I am not saying an insignificant number—engaged in the commercial fishing of salmon, for whom this provision will mean immediately some degree of hardship, but I shall try to show why it is only an immediate hardship. I want to argue that when we have, after some five years, seen the benefits of this additional closing time, not only angling but even these commercial operations, will benefit from some of the provisions.
I would greatly like to have given to the House a more comprehensive Bill for the conservation and improvement of our Scottish fishing stock. I should like to have been able to make provision for the co-ordination and extension of research in relation to our fishing stock.
I am coming back to it. Perhaps I may be permitted this digression. While I am not in a position to do what I have spoken of, although the need 1189 exists, I do not want the House to believe for a second that a fair amount of research has not been undertaken in relation with this matter. The House is aware by report of the work which has been done by the Brown Trout Research Laboratory at Pitlochry. I look forward with some relish to Mr. Tom Johnston and his colleagues being able to dispose eventually of substantial fishing in the great lochs and dams of the Hydro-Electric Board. Here is a man who, for public purposes, has developed a great public undertaking. I want to say this trivial and purely minor thing. Mr. Tom Johnston has addressed himself to the use by a responsible public of angling in these lochs and dams.
I should also like to have spoken a little about the research in relation to salmon which is being conducted by private proprietors and also inside the Scottish Office by the Home Department. There are among anglers great disputes about the habits of salmon. Almost all Scotsmen, including myself, think that we know the last word upon this mystery, but, unfortunately, the facts are not too well substantiated. We have made attempts and are making attempts to throw more light on the subject.
In 1939 we started on the River Forss in Caithness to tag outgoing and incoming salmon so that we might know more about their habits of return, a little more about their feeding habits and a great deal more about their spawning habits. For two years that went on fairly successfully, but, unfortunately, there was an outbreak of disease among the fish and the proprietors concluded—wrongly, I think—that it was due to the handling and tagging of the fish. I see that an hon. Member opposite who is an expert in this matter, is permitting himself a slightly knowing smile, but I do not believe that the disease was attributable to that process.
My hon. Friend may not think that this is important, but he must believe me that it is important to the most humble angler in our country, including some of the very fine chaps who no doubt come from his own constituency.
§ Mr. McGovern
I said that my right hon. Friend is getting very touchy if an hon. Member cannot even smile without an attack being made upon him.
That was not my intention. I apologise. What I meant was that an hon. Gentleman opposite was permitting himself the kind of smile which seems to say that my theory was wrong. Experts about salmon, trout and flies form a very exclusive but a very extensive club.
I hope that we may be able to go back to that kind of research. We are now looking for a river suitable for this kind of work. What I really wanted to underline was that one piece of research of a less speculative kind has been undertaken by certain associations of private owners. None is more remarkable than that by the association on the River Dee in Aberdeenshire. They did not permit themselves the more speculative methods of importing foreign salmon ova or of developing hatcheries. They concentrated their energy and money upon the simple method of buying off nets on the upper river. There was great resentment and opposition to that initially, but these people have been proved right. Now the operations of the commercial organisations are giving a bigger total of fish than all the nets previously taken.
I hope that my hon. Friends who are afraid of the Clause will be patient and will accept an undertaking that this can be reviewed at a later date because on the evidence available we are entitled to conclude that the extension of 12 hours per week will eventually benefit everyone concerned, the tourist industry, the angler and in quite a short period—a little more than five years, perhaps—the commercial salmon fisher himself. I hope that it will be agreed that the Bill, substantially as it stands, should benefit an important industry and afford increased pleasure to a great number of people.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
Can the right hon. Gentleman say if he will be ready to meet the associations, who feel most anxious about Clause 13 and from whom the chief opposition may come? Perhaps he might be able to persuade them.
My recollection is that I have already undertaken to meet some groups of these associations, but I must insist that while I shall do my utmost in 1191 that direction I shall depend upon the co-operation of public spirited people in this matter.
§ Lord Malcolm Douglas - Hamilton (Inverness)
Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down I should like to put one point to him. He mentioned the interesting figure of £1 million as the value of the salmon extracted from the Scottish rivers and coastal waters in a year. Can he say how much of that represents commercial fisheries and what that represents in employment?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
Many of these questions are really Committee points. We ought to proceed.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Mr. James Stuart (Moray and Nairn) rose
§ Mr. Stuart
I think that the Secretary of State for Scotland would agree with me that we have heard enough from the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) already.
§ Mr. McGovern
I was only giving the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Stuart) a welcome.
§ Mr. Stuart
The Secretary of State has dealt very fairly with us in introducing the Bill. He has given a very fair statement of the case for it. I was very glad that he dealt with Clause 13 at some length and in a very full and fair manner. I will come to that again later. I want first to say that we on this side of the House are grateful to the Government for introducing the Bill and we wish it a successful passage. There will, no doubt, be points which must be dealt with in Committee, but I hope that the Government will be fortunate enough to obtain an unopposed Second Reading for the Bill today.
I would add to what the Secretary of State has said by expressing the thanks of this side of the House to Sheriff Maconochie and his Committee for the very valuable and useful Report which they have brought forward and upon which a large portion of the Bill is based. The Report enabled the Government to seize this bull by the horns and to handle this problem in an effectual manner. I was about to say that most parliamentary 1192 bulls have more than two horns, which makes them awkward animals to deal with, but perhaps I should have referred to the antlers of stags, because they have more than two points. However, we are grateful to Sheriff Maconochie and his Committee. They have done a good job of work.
The Secretary of State referred to the omission of a Clause dealing with the licensing of dealers. That is dealt with in paragraph 70 of the Report. The Report gave great weight to this, saying:We recommend the introduction of licences … as we regard these to be essential if the trade in poached fish is to be kept in check.I will not go further into that at this stage. No doubt some hon. Members will wish to refer to it during the Committee stage. It will be easy to deal with, because the Report sets out the terms of the suggested Clause. In view of the remarks of the Secretary of State about this omission, I will not pursue it further now.
Part I of the Bill seems to be more or less satisfactory and will receive the support of most of us, but I am not so happy about the powers of seizure and of detention and of the right to prosecute. I can think of no one more suitable to clear up any doubts in our mind than the Lord Advocate, and I hope he will be able to tell us that this Bill will not whittle down the powers of river boards and proprietors and others under the old 1868 Act. Since that date there has been no Scottish Act affecting salmon, but there has been the English Act of 1923, the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act. Section 34 of that Act deals with the powers of fishery board officers and enumerates the people who have powers under the Act as follows:
At this stage I ought to declare a personal interest in the Fishmongers Company. I am a member of the Court and at this moment I have the honour to be Prime Warden of the Company. I shall 1193 not weary the House with a long story of this Company, going back for approximately 700 years, as it might take up a certain amount of time to do so. I shall deal only with the one point of prosecutions in connection with poaching.
- "(a) any officer of a fishery board acting within the fishery district;
- (b) any officer of a market authority acting within the area of the jurisdiction of that authority;
- (c) any officer appointed for the purpose by the Minister;
- (d) any officer appointed in writing by the Fishmongers company;
- (e) any officer of police."
For the last 50 years the Company has been working at this job and, where there are not fishery boards, trying to see that the law is carried out. In the last 20 to 25 years the Company has carried through some 200 prosecutions, in only five of which has it failed to secure convictions. That is a valuable help to the Secretary of State in carrying out what he wants to do. So I hope he does not want to whittle down these powers. If there is any doubt, it would be simple to incorporate in this Bill a Section from the 1923 Act. I am sure the fishery boards would welcome that, and I hope the Secretary of State will consider this point.
The Fishmongers Company does this work entirely at its own expense. We hope that the fines which will be collected after successful convictions will not go entirely to the Treasury, because fishery boards require the products of those fines just as much as other people appointed by the Secretary of State, in order to carry through the prosecutions. My sole object in advocating this is that the best possible job should be made of the work, and that prosecutions should be carried out efficiently. In scattered parts of the country the constable has a lot of other things to do, in addition to seeing that the provisions of this Measure are carried out efficiently, and to procurators-fiscal it is surely just another case among many cases which they have to handle in their ordinary work.
On the question of prosecutions, I am advised from a so-called expert source that this Bill, by not providing that any person may bring an offender to justice, prevents people such as river boards and the Fishmongers Company from bringing proceedings under it. In addition it provides that no person other than a water bailiff, constable or officer appointed by the Secretary of State shall exercise the powers of seizure or detention. While I know that everybody cannot be given powers of seizure and detention, nevertheless, I hope responsible persons will be empowered under this Bill to carry out the work which they have, been doing in the past.
1194 Clause 13 has received a certain amount of attention from the Secretary of State. Taking the long view, five years or so, there is no doubt that this longer weekly close time will assist the net fishermen and the commercial undertakings. It is, I admit, taking a longish view but, after all, that is not unheard of in our affairs. The only cases I can think of where it would not be welcomed are where leases are short, with only five or six years to run, and where some loss to those operating the nets will be feared. However, I have no doubt that the Secretary of State will be prepared to consider such cases if they exist.
The Secretary of State did not refer to the hours which he has put into the Bill. I agree that it follows the 1923 Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act, that is.the period between the hour of six on Saturday morning and the hour of six on the following Monday morning.In this connection may I quote briefly a letter I have received from the Moray Firth Salmon Fisheries Company, Ltd.:Further, it is impossible, anyhow in the early part of the season, to have the nets in the sea (as distinct from those in the estuary) 'slapped' by midnight when it is dark. It takes from two to six hours to 'slap' the nets on a sea station and it would be quite impossible to do this in the dark without grave risk to the fishermen. Water bailiffs on one river have already protested that they would feel unwilling to try to enforce such a 'slap,' as it would mean forcing the men to risk their lives.… It would therefore be necessary to 'slap' before dusk on the Friday night, in order to keep the new law.The answer to that, which is worthy of consideration, is that an alteration in the hour might be considered, because in February and March at six in the morning they would be working in the dark.
§ Mr. Stuart
I am glad that the Secretary of State has indicated that he will be prepared to consider such an alteration.
I think I have covered the main points with which I wished to deal. I do not want to take up a lot of time because others will wish to speak, but the Government, I must say in fairness, are to be congratulated on introducing the Bill. I hope that on the Committee stage we shall manage to deal without undue controversy with any outstanding points, and I hope that the Bill will pass through its various stages without undue delay.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I have to disclose a double interest in the Bill, since I had the responsibility of parent of the Committee under Sheriff Maconochie which was set up to examine the problem of the illegal taking or killing of salmon and trout. I should like to pay my tribute to the way in which that Committee worked and to the manner in which they presented their Report. My other interest is that my constituency happens to bridge one of the finest salmon rivers in the country. For that reason, therefore, my constituents have a considerable personal interest, about which I hope to say something later.
The Bill might be said to have originated not in the Government or by any wish of the Government; the real originators of the Bill were those who have used violent and dangerous methods to destroy the fish in our rivers. The unanimity with which the House is evidently going to accept the purpose of the Bill shows quite clearly that those who have resorted to violent means have raised in the public mind such a resentment at the destruction of the fish in our rivers that the Bill will be universally welcomed.
This is only one of many Bills which the Government have introduced to safeguard food resources. Salmon is an important and desirable food. It is assumed by some to be a food only of the rich. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] That applause of hon. Members only shows how little some of them know of the Highlands. The people in the Highlands know the taste of salmon. Indeed, in the old days, they used to stipulate when they were accepting service that they would be fed with salmon on so many days of the week. Therefore, whether the fishing of salmon is legal or illegal, the Highlanders know its taste extremely well.
The getting of food is mostly the result of arduous toil. Fishing has the advantage that it provides food by pleasurable sport as well as by work. Fishing has remained one of our primitive sports, and we should not resent the fact that people are still able to derive pleasure from it. But the very existence of the whole of this river fishing industry has been threatened by dangerous and violent 1196 methods of poaching—by the use of explosives, poisons and other mechanical devices, causing wholesale destruction of fish, many of which are wasted.
It was felt by the Committee which was set up to deal with this menace that prompt action should be taken to deal with it, but I and some of my constituents were rather surprised, on reading their Report, to find that in some way or other the Forth Estuary had been dragged in by the hair of its head, as it were in the Report of the Committee, which was set up to deal with aserious menace to the food stocks of Scotland.By no stretch of the imagination could it be said that this practice, which has been going on for 60 or 70 years, is a serious menace to the fish stocks of the Forth in the sense of the original complaint.
The general impression of these fishermen who have been pursuing their normal occupation of fishing for salmon in the Forth is that advantage is being taken of this Bill to deal with the gang fishermen, to deal also with a dispute which has existed on the Forth for 70 years and has not been settled despite a decision of the House of Lords regarding the illegality of that fishing. That decision overturned a decision in the Scottish Court of Session. Their Scottish Lordships went very carefully into the facts of how this fishing was conducted. In describing the mode of fishing in this part of the Forth, Lord Mure, for example, said:The facts are simple and the parties have had the good sense to adjust a minute in which the whole of the material facts are admitted.The area extends for about four miles above and below Kincardine pier. My information is that the area above Kincardine pier does not matter as much as the four miles below Kincardine bridge.
It was agreed by the parties that this was an imporant matter because, it was said in the courts, if this mode of fishing was declared to be illegal, the right of salmon fishing in this part of the river would be of little value.It is also made a matter of distinct agreement that the portion of the river is not suitable for being fished 'by means of net and coble fishing pursued in the usual manner'.1197 That is a quotation from the case which was admitted by all the parties in the dispute. The case at that time rested solely on the question that the net, being a fixed engine, was illegal. Curiously enough, the Scottish judges, many of whom must have been familiar with the area and conditions of the estuary, took took the view that the fishing conducted on this part of the Forth was but a variation of net and coble. In the judgment in the Hay v. Perth Magistrates case, the judge said that the casedistinctly negatives the contention that net and coble fishing can only be practised in one way.I should like to put on record Lord Deas' observations on the position. He regarded the procedure on this part of the Forth asa modification of fishing by net and coble,and went on to say thatthe modification is rendered necessary by the state of the locality in which the fishing is practised. It is admitted that no fish can be caught in this part of the river by sweeping it with a net in the ordinary manner. They are caught by using an engine of the kind described in this case I think that the fact that fish could not be otherwise caught in this part of the river is very important, because it is not the policy of the Legislature, in these various restraining laws to permit the fish to escape—and apparently if this mode of fishing were not adopted in this part of the river, the fish would not be caught there at all.I must in fairness point out that Lord Shand took the view that while he agreed with the general decision of his colleagues, he did not think that the question whether it was a convenient or useful method of fishing affected its legality. I think that we would probably agree with him.
Lord Mure further said:This mode of fishing, therefore, is plainly carried on by a net and a coble.He pointed out that it was not maintained by the complainers that the fishing was done by a fixed engine, but that it violated the rules in the original House of Lords decision. Far from being a fixed engine, the net may actually be moved down for a distance of three miles during the time of fishing. Lord Shand said:The net used is not fixed, stented, settled or made permanent in the river and, as has been already observed, the fact that it is attached to the boat is of no consequence, because the hand of man could be substituted at once.1198 In the House of Lords, in the original case on which this decision depended, Lord Chancellor Westbury was equally clear in repudiating the idea that the net and coble was a stereotyped mode of fishing, incapable of alteration or improvement. I would like hon. Members to note these of his remarks:The direct effect of the judgment in Hay's case was to allow a variation in the ordinary method of working the net adapted to the peculiarities of certain channels in the Tay.As I have said, the House of Lords differed from the Scottish court. Their view of the law as it stands has declared the Forth practice to be illegal.
If the judge's appreciation of the case is that it is impossible to catch fish in that part of the river otherwise than by the method which is being used, then for 50 years on that stretch of the Forth fishermen have been compelled either to fish illegally, or to go out of business. These fishermen have been fishing all that time but the State has not taken any serious steps to put a stop to fishing which is presumed might be illegal. This Bill is now renewing the law and reviewing the law and, although the House of Lords said that was the law as it stood then, it is for this House to take into consideration whether the law, as previously stated by the Lords, is to be the law in the future.
These fishermen felt that the Committee had included the Forth in their Report without a full examination of the circumstances. I know that the learned sheriff who was the chairman of the Committee lives on the shore of the Forth itself and is probably well acquainted with it. I have no doubt he knows a great deal about the position there, but the point is that these fishermen, like most of us—like myself who set up the Committee—thought the Committee was examining into violent and dangerous methods of fishing.
We had no idea, and these fishermen had no idea, that their fishing on the Forth was to be brought into this category, or that they would be brought into the Report. The Committee, I am informed, invited evidence and no evidence was given by any of those who had practised fishing in that part of the Forth evidently because they thought it did not concern them. This recommendation has been made, they feel, without them having 1199 been heard to make clear the case which 50 years ago was so complicated that the Scottish courts took one view and the House of Lords another.
I submit that what we have to do as a law-making assembly is to give the people for whom we are making the laws a feeling that they are being treated fairly. These people are decent fishermen; they are not gangsters at all. They are as decent as the fishermen in Newhaven and the Morayshire ports. They have earned their living as their fathers did before them and they feel something is being done to them without their having had an opportunity of even saying the word in favour of their own case. Therefore, I did feel very strongly, when they came to me, that they ought to have an opportunity at least of being heard and having the circumstances investigated.
One other difficulty arose. I recognised these men had a vested interest in their fishing and therefore I could not altogether take their ex-parte view as necessarily being unbiased. I have therefore spent a good deal of time examining the case and, as I have shown from the quotations I have made, the Lords of the Court of Session and the House of Lords had great difficulty themselves in deciding what was legal and what was not legal in this particular fishing method on that part of the Forth.
One can understand that if their Lordships found it difficult to decide when the mode of fishing was legal and when it was not legal it will be very difficult for these men when they go on the Forth to be sure they are not doing something for which they might be charged and convicted as a crime, but which they did not know they had committed. These fishermen have no intention or desire of damaging the fishing stocks. They support the Bill in its purpose to preserve the fishing stocks of this country. But as a subject of this country surely a fisherman must have a feeling that he gets a fair hearing and that the facts he puts before a committee or the House of Commons are properly investigated and that he should not be faced with a law he cannot be sure to observe.
One other difficulty which I naturally realise is that the law, once made, is inflexible in the minds of people mainly 1200 concerned with the law. We are concerned with making policy in this House of Commons, and very often we have to vary what the House of Lords have decided was the law in the past. We have an opportunity in this Bill of reviewing this question, which has disturbed this part of the country for 70 years, and of putting it right by dealing with it fairly and giving people a hearing for their case. Whatever the judgment is, these people will have to accept it.
They support the Bill in its main purpose, the prevention of the deterioration or destruction of the fishing grounds, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is correct when he says that these men's existence depends on not destroying the source of their livelihood. They have a vested interest in supporting the main purpose of the Bill. If they find that the fishing they have carried on for generations is suddenly transformed to a crime for which they can be liable to a fine and imprisonment they are put into a state of apprehension and fear and it is wrong that citizens should not know what the law is.
It is true that because the Lords overruled the opinion of the Scottish Court of Session their practice may be illegal, but it has never, they claim, been investigated on the spot in recent times, and in 50 years no previous Government have regarded it as so likely to cause damage to fish stocks that they took any really serious steps to put a stop to it. In spite of the fact that it was accepted by the Court of Session that normally net and Coble fishing was impracticable on that part of the Forth, fishing has been winked at by use and wont. It might be argued that their fishing at present is illegal, but by this Bill we can decide what will be legal in future.
§ Mr. Snadden (Kinross and West Perthshire)
Is it not a fact that one can only take proceedings by interdict and therefore no one would go to the expense of doing so? At the same time, drift netting has been regarded as illegal?
§ Mr. Woodburn
The hon. Member's area is in the region of the Tay and, as 1201 he knows very well, the decision gives the Tay fishermen a certain amount of latitude in the variation of the net and coble method which fits the peculiar circumstances of the Tay. All I am suggesting is that these men on the Forth feel that the usual strict net and coble method for other reasons is incapable of being used in this part of the Forth, and that there should be a variation to suit their case as well. I cannot think that the first result of a Bill to restrain fishing gangs will be to stop the mass destruction of the fish going up the river in the constituency of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson), but I fear its first effects will be on these relatively harmless fishermen who ply their trade on the Forth.
While I agree that it is convenient to have the law in good black and white divisions so that it is all clear to people who administer the law, nevertheless it may do injustice. Nature is not uniform as the law likes to be. I was thinking of an analogy today. There are two methods of bombing in warfare. The British method is that of pin-pointing the military objective and hitting it, but the other method is of scattering bombs all over the place on the chance that one may hit the objective, but it also usually hits a lot of people who are not the objective. My view is that this Bill is taking the latter form and scattering "bombs" which will hit people who were not involved in the original complaint at all. That is something neither the Government, myself, nor anyone would like.
I therefore ask the Secretary of State to see whether there is not some way of ensuring the protection of the fishing grounds without endangering the livelihood of the fisherman whose savings are sunk in these fishings. Merely saying that it has been technically declared illegal by the House of Lords makes no difference to the human and moral side of the question. If these men are not preventing the fish going up the river, and not doing anything detrimental to the stock of fish, they are not doing anything more than the rod and line men further up the river. There is no reason why the State should appear to take sides in favour of the rod and line men of the Forth as against the fishermen who are earning their livelihood in the way I have described. The purpose of the State in the Bill is to preserve the stocks, and in that aim I am entirely with 1202 them, and I would not support the fishermen by advocating anything that would be contrary to that aim.
I realise the danger of what I am suggesting. If we open the meshes of the net of this Bill not only the fishermen of the Forth will get through, but some criminals as well, but I should like to see a little consideration given to the aspect about which I am speaking. On good authority, and by that I mean modern authority, not authority of 70 years ago—authority independent of all the interested parties because I recognise the difficulty of accepting ex parte statements—I am quite sure that the estuary of the Forth in this region is quite exceptional among all the rivers of Scotland. There is about four miles of it, with the mud going out to about 400 yards—some parts at times above water. All sorts of objects have come down the river and are projecting from the mud, old trees, old boats; I am told that there is even an aeroplane there.
Any suggestion that fishermen could trail nets would be ridiculous. Moreover, there is no place where the fishermen can walk, nor is there a suitable bank. The only question is whether they can work their boats there in such a way as to be within the law. I suggest that in respect of that particular part of the Forth the law should make itself as adaptable as is the special case on the Tay. Surely these men can look to Parliament to make the law sufficiently flexible so that its incidence and effect on citizens can be accepted as reasonable and fair?
It is not easy for a back bench Member to draft an Amendment to achieve that and at the same time safeguard the main purpose of the Government. The Lord Advocate, who I understand is to reply to the debate, combines a very warm heart with a very cool brain. I want to see both linked in some way. I know what his legal argument would be in his capacity as a lawyer, but I know that as a human being he would not wish to do an injustice to anyone. His difficulty in this matter is that I might be asking him to be a bad lawyer and a good human being. It takes great courage to appear a bad lawyer if one is a good lawyer; and I have to depend on the warm sympathy of the Lord Advocate and of the Secretary of State to persuade them to look on this case which I am making from a more human point of view than that of strict legality.
1203 I have a great respect for the House of Lords—perhaps not so great as has the Lord Advocate—as a legal assembly. In this case, however, I am prepared to take the opinion of the Scottish Court of Session even against that of the House of Lords. There is the chance that the Scottish Court of Session may sometimes be right and that the House of Lords may be wrong. At all events, I am prepared to accept the view of the Court of Session in this case. I appeal to the Lord Advocate to appreciate first of all the human side of the case I am putting, and I am quite sure that his cool brain will then easily devise the means of meeting this peculiar difficulty.
The purpose of this Bill is to safeguard fish stocks and the prevention of violent destruction is only one aspect of the problem. The House should realise in connection with the extra close time which is proposed that while that will contribute to the improvement of the fish stocks a close time would not be necessary if we tackled the pollution of rivers. I am glad to see that there is a committee on this matter of dealing with pollution now sitting, and I hope it will report soon.
§ Mr. Woodburn
Pollution is destroying the fish life in some of our great rivers, and is at the same time robbing our soil of the very valuable natural fertiliser. The Forth—and this is what makes the fishermen exasperated, and I sympathise with them—which is one of the finest salmon rivers in Scotland is, according to the magazine of the British Field Sports Society, being ruined not by these few fishermen butalmost entirely due to the foully polluted state of its estuary.Factories, breweries and collieries pour in refuse. Stirling empties all its sewage into the river untreated. I am told by the scientists that sewage removes the oxygen from the water, and that no life is possible in a river when there is no oxygen.
The Forth is saved only by its spates and tides. It is only when there are spates and tides that the fish can get through. At one period during last summer fish were dying in the water for lack of oxygen. Once the wind came 1204 those that survived were able to surge up the river. The Secretary of State has mentioned that we get about 1,800 tons of salmon per year from the Scottish rivers. If we could get rid of pollution and carry through the measures he suggested, we could double the salmon catch—up to 2,000 tons a year—and in that way add to the income of the population in many parts of Scotland, providing ourselves at the same time with a considerable amount of food.
I remember seeing some years ago a film of the Canadian experiment in breeding salmon. It was marvellous. One saw the salmon being hatched out and being put into the rivers when they reached a certain degree of maturity. Then one was shown the salmon five, six or seven years later, surging up the river in their thousands, and being caught and sent to the canneries. Scotland has a great number of rivers which are denuded of life today. If pollution could be prevented that state of affairs would be ended and the fish would be safeguarded, which is the primary purpose of the Bill.
While we are carrying out that aim, I suggest that we should also at least see that the case of people who have not been doing any great harm to the fish, and who are quite prepared to observe any rules which the Secretary of State may prescribe, is looked into between now and the Committee stage to see whether some arrangement cannot be reached by which the Forth District Board might be allowed to take charge of this part of the Forth, which is a quite exceptional part of the river.
It is nothing like the beautiful river which flows into the constituency of the right hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. J. Stuart), a river which changes its mouth every two or three years and where one can see the men sweeping in the salmon in beautiful clear water. That is not a river with an estuary four miles wide, such as the Forth has opposite Grangemouth. It is a matter of opinion as to whether the estuary should finish at Rosyth or Grangemouth. It used to finish at Grangemouth but it is now deemed to finish at Rosyth. I hope that some consideration will be given to the case of these men for whom I have been pleading. However, I welcome the general purpose of this Bill, and shall give it every support.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Boles (Wells)
I do not wish to follow the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) on the legal side of the question, but I wish for a moment to call the attention of the House to the terrible difficulties which the salmon have in existing at all. We are all interested in keeping the salmon alive, including those who, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, wish to continue catching salmon provided they are within the law. To enable them to do that, we have to ensure that the stock of fish still exists, and I am certain that it is in danger of being considerably reduced.
I should say that I have an interest in a certain part of a river in Scotland, and I am, therefore, interested in the survival of the salmon. I wish for a moment to paint a picture of the situation in the river—not in the estuary, because it is in the river that I think a dangerous situation is arising. There we are suffering from the gangster-poachers, against whom Clause 3 is directed. There is regular organised poaching up and down the rivers in the north of Scotland. This does terrible damage to the stock of fish. The state is almost one of war. Short of firearms, everything has been done to prevent these people from breaking the law.
We had an example only last season of a young ex-commando officer whom the poachers tried to drown, because he swam out to try to pull in one of their nets. Unfortunately, he got one of his buttons entangled in the net, and directly the poachers saw that he was in trouble they dragged on the net to try to pull him under water. He had to struggle out of his trousers in order to swim free of the net. The story goes that when he landed he was "run in" for not being properly dressed while bathing—but that is not part of this story. There was another occasion when a bailiff was seized by poachers and thrown into the river because he objected to their poaching. He was doing his job, and he ought to have had from the law a certain amount of protection.
My own man has had stones thrown at him when he shouted at these fellows to tell them that they were breaking the law. I have arranged a system of rockets. When sent up, they give warning to the police. The nearest policeman is stationed 18 1206 miles away. When the rockets go up, certain steps are taken. There is only one road which runs by the river and we hope that both ends of that road will be closed and that the poacher will be discouraged in future by certain sanctions which the magistrates may put on him.
There is a great necessity for this Bill. The salmon is pursued from cradle to grave by a host of enemies, and man is by no means the most important of them. The poor little beggar has trouble before he is hatched out of the egg. While he is still in the shingle bank where he is put by his mother, he is pursued by every sort of insect, gull and wading bird. He stays in the egg for roughly 90 to 114 days. During that time the level of the water in the river varies tremendously. At one time a flood may come along and wash away down the stream the little shingle bank in which he is. At another time there may be dry weather when the level of the water sinks considerably, until the shingle bank is only just under the water. Then he is at the mercy of the wading birds and the various crawling insects which come out in the sun. The mortality rate at that stage is very high.
Having got out of the egg, he is then attacked by a thing called a big water beetle, who is, for some reason, a gentleman who has acquired an inordinate taste for salmon fry and who will eat them on every possible occasion. The salmon fry are not mobile at this stage and they are easy prey. There again, there is a tremendous mortality rate. And so it goes on. Those which survive live in the river from a year to a year and a half, and at the end of that time they assume a silver coat and make their way towards the sea. With that silver coat they are tremendously conspicuous and can be seen by everybody while they are still in the river. They are pursued by flocks of gulls and various diving and other birds all the way down the river. Again, the mortality rate is high.
But perhaps at this stage the biggest marauder of the lot is the spawned salmon—what we call the kelt—who is trying to feed up and regain that strength and health which it had before spawning. That fish will eat an enormous number of these silver-coated salmon. From the litter, the nest or whatever it may be called, of one fish, the number that get 1207 down to the sea is extremely small. Fortunately there have been a lot of fish spawning and, hence a lot of fish laying eggs, so that the stock survives.
The young salmon spends from one to three years in the sea. For a great part of that time he is subject to depredations from otters, dolphins and all sorts of sea-fish of the larger type. When he survives that, he turns round and gets back to the mouth of his river. In some way or other, in nine cases out of ten he is brought back to the same river from which he went. How that happens we do not know. After coming near shore, if he survives the attacks of seals, otters and other fish, he comes into contact for the second time with the river water and, for the first time, with nets. This is his first battle with the nets.
First, there is a watchman on the shore who watches out to see when a shoal of salmon approaches. As soon as he sees them, he gives warning, and out goes the sweep-net which goes round the estuary to sweep in as many of that shoal of salmon as possible. That happens not only in the spring but later in the summer. The year before last we had a dry summer and I do not believe that there was one single grilse—that is, a fish coming back to spawn for the first time…which got up the river in which I am interested. That is the fish which one really wants above all others. There was no water in the river when they came into the estuary. The sweep-nets were brought out and practically every fish was swept up. There was no record of any grilse being caught in the river in June that year. That is fatal for the stock of fish with which that river keeps up its annual supply.
We must pay a great deal of attention to the various forms of danger to which the salmon is liable in the river. Those that get past the nets at the mouth of the river are fished for by fishermen, and they do not take a heavy toll. The number caught by fishermen is unimportant, provided that the fish are not pursued by the net. The Minister mentioned that on the Dee the whole of the up-river netting had been taken away. That means that, within a few years, there will be an enormous difference in the stock of fish in the river. He was right when he said that all the authorities and scientific people who study this question agree that the extension of 1208 the week-end by 12 hours, to allow 48 hours free of nets, would make all the difference in the world to the stock of salmon in the rivers. We know that is true because each Monday or Tuesday we see the number of fish which come through after the nets are taken off. If the period could be extended, the number would be considerably increased.
One of the methods which we have to tackle the gangster poachers is by watching for their vehicles. They cannot get anywhere without vehicles. Nobody worries about the individual who goes down and hooks a fish for his Sunday lunch. It is the organised gangs of poachers who are doing the damage to the rivers, and these people must have a vehicle for the job. If we can, by means of this Bill, control the vehicle, it will make all the difference in the world.
I want to draw the Minister's attention to the definition of vehicle in Clause 22, and to suggest that it should contain the word "tractor." We have experience of the farm tractor being used with the trailer, taking the place of the motor car, in order to get the gear to the required spot. At present, I think the Clause refers only to a vehicle, and a tractor does not come within that definition. It is worth while asking the Minister to take note of this matter, although it is perhaps a Committee point. It is essential that we should be able to have some control over these vehicles, because that is one of the chief sanctions which this Bill proposes.
There is another point concerning which care will have to be exercised in regard to the definition Clause, and that is the actual definition of salmon. It should be so designed as to include salmon of all ages, because it is just as important to preserve the younger fish as it is to preserve the full-grown salmon.
I think this is where we touch on the question of the poisoning of salmon, which is such a dastardly method of destroying the fish, because it not only destroys the full-grown salmon but two other generations as well—the six-months' old fish and the 12–18 months' old fish. It also destroys all the insect life on which the trout feed. This method does an unlimited amount of damage, and it is most important that it should be stopped. One of the factors which makes it so easy to catch fish by this method is the fact that this poison 1209 can be bought from the local ironmonger by anybody who has a rat or mole on his farm and without having to sign for poison or anything of that kind. It is therefore very largely used, and if the Minister could find some means by which its use could be prevented—and no doubt the Minister of Agriculture would have to be brought in on this—it would greatly improve the Bill.
After all, the salmon suffers from many enemies. It is the job of the riparian owners to deal with the vermin, and, as for the netting at the mouth of the river, that is admirably done now, and the fish are netted very sensibly. I have been talking to a netting owner recently, and he told me that he was entirely in favour of the extension of 12 hours at the weekend. He said that he was quite convinced that in the long run he will get more fish that way than he is doing at present. I know that there are two points of view on that question, but I think that some of the net fishermen will also support the Minister, as I am sure we do. The rod-and-line people take little toll in numbers, and are not affected very much, but this superimposition of poaching by gangs of people with nets, poison or bombs really is the limit and will finish the stock of salmon in our rivers.
Therefore, I beg the Minister to be quite firm about the conditions laid down in the Bill. It is a good Bill, which I feel will do a great deal to help to solve this problem and preserve this fish, which, after all, is the king of river fish, on a level with the monarch of the glen and the golden eagle, in that all are part of the life of the Highlands and must be maintained.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Macdonald (Roxburgh and Selkirk)
I am sure the House will agree with me when I say that we have listened to a fascinating speech from the hon. and gallant Member for Wells (Lieut.-Colonel Boles). I feel that there can be very few people in this country who know as much about the salmon and its ways as the hon. and gallant Member, and therefore I must feel very ill-informed, as an enthusiastic but very unsuccessful novice at this sport, in following such a knowledgeable Member.
I have in my constituency on the Tweed a large number of very keen 1210 anglers, both lawful and unlawful. [An HON. MEMBER: "Is the hon. Member speaking for both?"] Yes, for both. For the unlawful ones I have a certain sympathy, because my own forebears are reputed to have been poachers and cattle thieves. I think they did the job fairly well, and I therefore feel that I can understand the poacher who goes out and gets an odd fish now and then. Most of these men are hard-working chaps during the week, working in mills, offices and elsewhere, and I feel that they do no harm, or very little harm, to the river and the fishing by reason of the odd fish they take, and that they do very little damage to the river frontages.
We must, however, have a penalty for poaching, and I hope that the Secretary of State will reconsider that Clause of the Bill and not increase the penalty which we now inflict upon these individual poachers. I do not wish to encourage them, but I hope nevertheless that the penalty will not be increased. I welcome the Clause of the Bill dealing with the penalties to be inflicted upon organised poachers. I feel that they are a horrible menace to our rivers and to a sport which every section of the community can enjoy. I hope the maximum penalty will be inflicted upon these people every time they are caught, until this menace is stamped out.
I welcome also the 48-hour closing for net and coble fishers, for I want to see as many fish coming up our rivers as possible. River fishing does great good to the community as a whole. The net fishers say that the rivers will become overcrowded and that disease will kill a good many fish if there is a close period of 48-hours per week for net and coble fishing. I am not, like the last speaker, an expert on this matter, but I would say let us take the risk, because I would like to see our rivers fully stocked. The salmon and trout are very good dollar earners for this country, and I want to see them coming up the rivers and earning these dollars, as well as enabling working men to enjoy their sport, which will be reduced the more organised and intensive becomes the net and coble fishing at the mouth of the rivers.
This Bill bears the title "Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Protection Bill," but it is not a protection Bill for the salmon and freshwater fishing. It cannot be a 1211 protection Bill until such time as the Secretary of State has the courage to include in a Bill of this kind definite means for getting rid of pollution in our rivers. This pollution is an even greater menace than the organised poaching.
As this is the second reference to this point, may I be permitted to say that I am in complete agreement, because I think I have indicated that, as fast as is reasonable, we will present the report from the Committee which has just reported on pollution in Scottish rivers. I am in complete agreement with what was said by my right hon. Friend and also by the hon. Gentleman opposite on this subject.
§ Mr. Macdonald
I assume from what the right hon. Gentleman says that we may look forward to this present Bill being only a part of the protection that we are going to give to our river fish, because many of the angling associations feel, quite rightly, that this Bill does nothing towards dealing with this bigger menace.
I wish to say a word on behalf of the angling associations. I think that most hon. Members will agree that they are doing a wonderful job, and I want to see them strengthened as much as possible. I should like to feel that the bulk of the members of a river board were representative of the recognised angling associations in its particular area. I do not feel that the associations will be sufficiently strong until we give them representation of that kind.
Before I finish, I wish to turn to one other point not connected with my constituency at all, but which is connected with the appeal made by the right hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) on behalf of some of the net fishermen in a section of the River Forth near Kincardine Bridge. I ask the Secretary of State for Scotland to give special consideration to allowing, with whatever restrictions he considers necessary, these net fishermen to continue their work. For the most part, they are men who have paid very large sums for the sections of the river from which they fish. They are honest, hard working, decent fishermen who will be ruined if the Bill goes through in its present form. I ask that they be given some further consideration between now and the Committee stage to see whether 1212 an exception cannot be made in their specific case.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Mr. J. J. Robertson (Berwick and East Lothian)
I intervene in this debate for the purpose of making one short point with regard to Clause 20, which deals with the Tweed fisheries. For some considerable time, an anomalous situation has existed with regard to the 1868 Act. That Act contains a by-law extending the mouth of the Tweed along the northern seaboard right up the Berwickshire coast as far as the East Lothian coastline. This is a ridiculous situation. The Commissioners of the River Tweed have power and authority over the whole of the Berwickshire coastline. It is a matter which has created considerable dissatisfaction among the people of Berwickshire, and I am, rather disappointed that the opportunity was not taken in this Bill to amend that Act or to make this new Bill more in keeping with what would be a much better situation than at present exists.
I think that the Bill as a whole is a good Bill if it can avoid those excursions which emanate from the large towns into the countryside, and which deprive the rivers of Scotland, by inhuman and unlawful means, of the fish which swim up and down them. If the morality of the country people had been applied to the fishing of the rivers of Scotland, this Bill would not have been necessary. I understand that my right hon. Friend is as anxious as we are to protect the rivers of Scotland against desperadoes who make excursions into the countryside from the larger towns, and, so far as the Bill aims at achieving that, it will. I think, be welcomed on all sides.
But there are one or two points in it at which we shall have to look very closely in seeking to achieve that worthy aim of protecting the rivers and fish of Scotland against organised gangs. We must see that we do not impose hardship on the people who earn their living by salmon fishing. To that extent, we shall have to look very closely at the Bill during the Committee stage, and perhaps we shall have some proposals to offer for its amendment. I should, however, like my right hon. Friend to look at the position regarding the extension of the mouth 1213 of the River Tweed north of the Berwickshire coastline. That is a considerable hardship, and an anomaly which I think ought to be got rid of by some action taken under this Bill.
§ Lord Dunglass (Lanark)
The hon. Gentleman realises, of course, that the salmon come down the coast at that point. Who, therefore, suffers the hardship which he mentions?
§ Mr. Robertson
The proposal contained in this Bill relating to the River Tweed will obviously apply to the whole coastline, because the mouth of the river is regarded as an estuary extending right north to the seaboard of Berwickshire. I think that is an anomaly which ought to be put right.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Brigadier Thorp (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
I do not normally intervene in a Scottish debate, but today "the blue bonnets are over the Border." This Bill proposes to take powers affecting our English policemen up to 20 or 30 miles south of the Border. It is also going to have an effect on the English net fisheries on the River Tweed, which is the major point. The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. J. J. Robertson) represents, I believe, about six nettings on the River Tweed, and I represent between 20 and 25. As I say, this is a Scottish Bill which is going to take action on English ground and English water. [An HON. MEMBER: "The Scottish Sea."] It used to be called the "German Ocean," but never the "Scottish Sea."
However, the real point is that I agree most sincerely with the general principle of the Bill regarding poaching in the rivers. I think it is perhaps a little weak-kneed for anyone to get up and speak about "honest poachers" and "decent men who break the law." While we all realise that men like that are not doing any great harm to the salmon, they are, nevertheless, breaking the law, and they must be dealt with as poachers.
Clause 13, which is the main part of the Bill, strikes me as a bit of sharp practice, for, as far as I know—and the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—there has been no prior consultation at all with any of the net fishers. I believe that to be perfectly true. Those who argue in favour 1214 of closing down net fishing for 12 hours longer at the weekend put forward the point that in five or six years' time the number of salmon will be greatly increased. I am an Englishman and I understand from the Secretary of State that Scottish people know everything about salmon.
§ Brigadier Thorp
Be that as it may, I am not prepared to agree that we know everything about salmon. We have no proof that that will be the case in five or six years' time, though I do not say there will not be an increase in the number of salmon going up the river. If there is, the cause may be better spawning and less poaching and not the fact that netting has been closed earlier. At the mouth of the Tweed, where the autumn run has declined tremendously since before the war, we believe that a lot more fish would go up the river but for the fact that it gets so dirty in its lower reaches that they cannot run up.
The reason for that has been not only the increasing pollution higher up the river, but also the drainage on the hills. That drainage is causing the heavy rain water to go down the river quickly in floods, with the result that for periods in June and July the river is absolutely stinking because there is not the water there to clear it. We believe that greatly affects the autumn run of fish. Whether we believe it right or wrong, it is only fair that when we consider a Clause like Clause 13, extending the weekly close time for the fishing, we should consider in detail how it is going to affect certain people.
I maintain that, certainly in tidal water, the present 36 hours closing often means that the river is closed for 42 hours because of the tides. Therefore, if the close period is increased by 12 hours, it may mean that the river may be closed for up to 54 or 56 hours. It has also to be remembered that there will be a loss in the takings of small salmon companies on the Tweed of something like 15 per cent. if the river is closed to net fishing for 12 hours longer at the weekends. That can mean the difference between a profit and a loss in the accounts of these small companies. At the same time, between 180 and 200 fishermen engaged in English 1215 netting on the Tweed are affected and their weekly wages may be reduced by up to 5s.
I understand that in other parts of Scotland certain fishermen are paid by the week, but we on the Tweed have a basic wage and also fishing time money. If the fishing time is cut down, it not only cuts down the number of fish taken but cuts the wages. It seems very hard that in these days of high cost of living these fishermen should have their wages cut by up to 5s. a week and that small shareholders in fishing companies may receive no dividends at all. We are told to take the long view and that five or six years hence things will be better. But there are a great number of these fishermen who, perhaps selfishly, will say, "We are not so young as we were and if we wait five or six years for this great improvement that is supposed to come, we shall be too old to handle the nets."
There is another important point. The Secretary of State will remember that before the war we used to import a great quantity of deep frozen Canadian salmon into this country. Its price was something like 2s. a lb. Do we consider that in five years' time conditions in this country with regard to dollars will be such that we cannot import that salmon again? If we do not agree that that will be so, we must agree that the salmon will come in from Canada at perhaps something like 3s. 6d. a pound and that will mean that the price of our salmon in the Tweed and in Scottish rivers will drop tremendously from its present price. The men are therefore going to give up a large sum of money for five or six years in respect of the period in which they will not be able to take salmon, whereas in the future they may have to accept a much lower price.
Lastly, I should like to draw attention to the tremendous anomaly which exists in the case of English net-fishing on the River Tweed. I am afraid that it cannot be made the subject of an Amendment to this Bill, but the point should be considered. It is that when net-fishing in Scotland was derated in 1928, at the same time as land was derated, net-fishing in England was not derated. Therefore, we have the position at present that where a net comes out on to the bank of the Tweed in Berwickshire in the constituency of the hon. Member for Berwick and East 1216 Lothian over exactly the same water as a net which is landed on my side of the Tweed, his men pay no rates at all and my men pay full rates. If Clause 13 of the Bill is approved, that will be a great hardship. I hope that the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries will support me if I bring in a Private Members Bill to remove that anomaly.
I support this Bill, but until something is done about Clause 13, I shall have to go on arguing, even though I cannot get into the Scottish Grand Committee to speak on the Committee stage.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Pryde (Midlothian and Peebles)
I listened very carefully to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. [HON. MEMBERS: "Speak up."] I am sorry, but my throat is bad and I cannot speak any louder. I paid particular attention to what the Secretary of State said in endeavouring to make his case for this Bill. I noticed that he stressed the northern counties. I have every sympathy with them, and if they require assistance we in South Scotland will always be willing to extend our help.
I advise the Minister not to place too much credence upon the Maconochie Report because that committee exceeded its terms of reference. I regretted hearing my right hon. Friend condone black marketing. But when he invited a certain amount of sympathy, I must tell him at once that we in Peebles and Midlothian will extend that sympathy to him if he will take the Tweed from Tweedsmuir to Thornilee out of this Bill. Only two rivers are specified in the Bill, the Esk and the Tweed. The River Esk is exempted from the Bill and, as we are in the same district, we claim that the same conditions should apply to us as apply in the case of the River Esk.
§ Lord Dunglass
When the hon. Gentleman says "we," I take it that he is not talking in any other capacity than as a representative of Peebles? He does not means the river board?
§ Mr. Pryde
I think I made it perfectly clear that I was speaking for Midlothian and Peebles, which is not an inconsiderable part of Scotland. We believe that the same provisions do not apply to Midlothian and Peebles as apply to the north of Scotland. During the debate on the Gracious Speech, I was indebted to an 1217 Opposition Member for a certain reference he made to the legislation which is now before us, or what passes for legislation. I call it a conspiracy against the freedom of the individual. In the OFFICIAL REPORT of 31st October this year, we find these words:I think it merits the prize for being the most reactionary legislation possible in the interest of the most reactionary elements in Scotland."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st October, 1950; Vol. 480, c. 100.]
I hope I am not misunderstanding my hon. Friend. I do not like interrupting him, but since the intention of the Bill is to proceed against people who have been evading the law by poaching and gangster methods, am I to understand that, as my hon. Friend objects to the Bill, he is defending the methods of these people?
§ Mr. Pryde
No. If my right hon. Friend will be patient, I shall deal with the question of poaching. I want to deal with poaching, because it has not been dealt with so far, and I shall require some time in which to do it. Had this Bill been promoted in more peaceful times, I think I can say without the slightest fear of contradiction, that there would have been more said about it up and down the country. The reason why it is slipping through so quietly is that the country is today faced with an external crisis. This Bill is very dangerous. I am indebted to the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) for the sentiments which I have just quoted.
On 31st October, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling), said:I control one and a half miles of the River Tweed and I have not a fishing rod of my own. I never fish because the river is so thoroughly poached by private enterprisers, most of whom are constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian and Peebles (Mr. Pryde)."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st October, 1950; Vol. 480. c. 79.]Both statements, like the rumour of Mark Twain's death, were grossly exaggerated. In the first instance, no one controls the banks of the River Tweed. Only three years ago when the Tweed burst its banks, I had to appeal to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn), who was then Secretary of State for Scotland, to come to our assistance. To his everlasting credit, he rushed the full power and weight of the Department of Agriculture into the Tweed Valley and saved the situation when the Tweed was 1218 meandering over the whole of south Scotland.
§ Sir W. Darling
Is it not the case that a public subscription was raised in order to compensate those unfortunate persons who suffered from that occurrence?
§ Mr. Pryde
Afterwards, but at the time no one could control the banks of the Tweed, and the Member for Midlothian and Peebles had to do the necessary work. The then Secretary of State for Scotland, like a true representative of the Labour Government, looked after the interests of the people.
In the second instance I think that the statement of the hon. Member for Galloway was quite correct—that this would be legislation in the interests of the most reactionary elements in Scotland. What I find in this Bill is simply a conspiracy to endeavour to usurp the inalienable right of the native Peeblean to take a fish from the river as the state of his larder so dictates, just as his forefathers have done before him for over 2,000 years. Mr. Chambers, in his gazetteer for Scotland, said that the people of the Tweed Valley have a closer kinship with the ancient Pictish tribes than anyone else in Scotland, because invaders could come and invaders could go, invasion could ebb and invasion could flow, but the native Peeblean always returned to his enchanted valley.
Today we find that the people of Peebles-shire are to be subjected to this nefarious piece of legislation. In Clause 1 we find that we have to get written permission to do something which we have always done simply by saying to the laird, "Can I have a day's fishing?" to which the answer was invariably "Certainly, go and fish." Then it mentions the rod and line. I will deal with the rod and line as I will deal with Clause 7, because herein lies the key to the whole Bill. The only people who are going to remain undisturbed under this Bill are the landed proprietors, the most reactionary elements in the community. Some of them have no fishing rods, and I do not know how they are going to get salmon unless they do it in the good old-fashioned way by stripping off and going into the river with a naked light and leister.
In Clause 3 two or more persons acting together can be indicted under this 1219 Measure. In Scotland today we have a great interest in the number of people who go caravaning and motoring. If they arrive at the salmon stream at half-past six on a Saturday night and they desire something for tea, they will be penalized if they fish. And such penalties!—on indictment, £500. What will a labourer in one of the Peebles mills think if he has to pay a fine of £500, and discovers that it is to be deducted out of his first week's pay? It will be a case for my friend Mr. George Buchanan, the Chairman of the National Assistance Board.
Clause 4 deals with explosives, poison and electrical devices. There never was more "hooey" talked in all this world than there is about these things so far as they apply to the south of Scotland. I am not alluding to the north of Scotland; I am referring to the Tweed. If two cartridges of gelignite were placed in a pool in Peebleshire, immediately the noise would vibrate up and down the valley and in 15 minutes the inspector in Peebles would have mustered his men and no one would escape except by helicopter. Cyanide also comes within this category. If someone used cyanide in a pool in Peebles, who would be able to go into the Tweed at all. After using explosive, is anyone going into a pool where we can hide a double-decker bus to collect salmon? As far as electrical devices are concerned, they do not apply to Peebles because we have not got the current there. Therefore, electrical devices are ruled out. There does not seem to me much ground for including the Tweed within this Measure.
As for gangs, I think the appointment of a horde of water bailiffs will be an insult to our well-organised, able and competent police force. I say without the slightest fear of contradiction that the police force of the Lothians and Peebles will be able to handle any gang that ever comes out of the cities. Clause 6 deals with penalties for the removal of dead fish. I do not know who framed this Bill, but whoever did so, must know absolutely nothing about fishing or angling. Wherever there are fungoid fish, it is the duty of any person to remove them, for otherwise they will pollute the rest of the fish in the river. I think they have been thinking about fish 1220 which are dead by reason of explosives or cyanide, but there are cases in which disease attacks salmon and yet, in such a case, if a man removes a fungoid fish he will be subject to these savage, feudalistic penalties.
§ Mr. Pryde
That must be cleared up. Clause 7 introduces the word "instrument." Clause 22 does not interpret the word "instrument." Yet, if it is suspected that any person has something on him which can be interpreted or construed to be an instrument—suspected by some form of clairvoyance on the water bailiff's part—that person can be apprehended, searched and, on the evidence of one witness, convicted. Where in all broad Scotland or in Britain, in any other phase of legal life, is a man convicted on the evidence of one witness?
When we turn to fishing by rod and line, we see the looseness and vagueness of the Bill. You would fish a long time on the banks of the River Tweed with rod and line alone before you caught anything but a cold. You have to have something attached to the line. Will a single baited hook be legal? If we fish with two baited hooks, will that be legal? If we fish with a cast of flies, will that be legal? If we fish with the natural minnow, which often carries more than one hook, will that be legal?
§ Mr. Pryde
I have read it. If we fish with artificial minnow, will that be legal?. If we fish with the otter by rod and line, will that be legal? If we fish with the witch by rod and line will that be legal? [HON. MEMBERS: "What is that?"] I shall not tell my right hon. Friend what a witch is. He is an impressionable young man and I do not think the Home Secretary would be generous enough to pardon him if he were caught. These things will have to be cleared up. I must press for clarity on those points because the rod and line is the most scientific method of legal fishing in all angling circles.
I think Clause 7 merits the prize, in the words of the hon. Member for Galloway, for it says:It shall be lawful to convict a person charged under this section on the evidence of one witness.1221 I do not believe the House will agree to any such legislation. In view of the power which is to be invested in water bailiffs under this Bill, I think that is scandalous.
I do not know what is the opinion of water bailiffs in the minds of some hon. Members, but let me repeat an incident which happened in a certain Sheriff's Court when an old lady was asked what she saw from her room window the previous night. She said, "I saw a young man and a young woman and a water bailiff." Apparently he was not of the genus homo according to the old lady. "What was he doing?" she was asked. "I never knew a water bailiff who was up to any good," was the reply. But he is given power to search anywhere and to search anyone, and he can come from the Tweed to the Lothians, which is adjacent, or can come down into Lanarkshire to the Clyde, which is adjacent, because they rise on the same hillside. These bailiffs are to be invested with powers greater than those of our police. In this Bill the Government are simply demonstrating that the police force in Scotland is not adequately manned.
Clause 13 prevents the industrial worker from indulging in his favourite sport. Every hon. Member knows perfectly well that all sections of industrial workers will in future be working every hour that God gave them. Surely it is not right that we should ask these workers to sacrifice the little sport which they have at the weekend. In my constituency I have some of the finest angling clubs, mostly trout fishermen, to be found in Scotland today.
I tried to deal with this point. There is no extension of the close time against the honest angler whom, I know, my hon. Friend represents so well and with whom I have the greatest sympathy. There is no interference with his normal weekend recreation in any way.
§ Mr. Pryde
If that is made clear, I am free from any apprehension in regard to the angler, but I hope that will be made plain to the water bailiff and that his powers will also be watched. Clause 14 permits packages to be seized and un- 1222 packed, but it makes no provision for the responsibility of repacking them. Further, there is no provision for compensation to the innocent person.
It is true to say that there are fewer salmon in the Tweed today than there were, say, 50 years ago, and boy and man I have fished the river and its tributaries for that space of time; but that is not due to the depredations of organised gangs. In my opinion—and I am only giving an opinion, although it is based on observations—it is due in the main to pollution. Let us hear what Andrew Lang, one of Scotland's greatest sons, said long long ago:De'il take the dirty trading loon,Wad gar the water ca' his wheel,And drift his dyes and poisons doon,By fair Tweedside at Ashestiel.When the question of pollution on the Tweedside is tackled, with the removal of the nets at the mouth of the Tweed, then the Tweed will be restored again to its position as the greatest salmon river in Scotland. I appeal to my right hon. Friend to take the Tweed out of the Bill, from Tweedsmuir to Thornielee.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
After listening to that illuminating speech by the hon. Member for Midlothian and Peebles (Mr. Pryde) on the motives and methods of the men of Peeblesshire, I can only say that it is a very good thing that we have this Bill before the House today. For all that, the hon. Member made a gallant defence of the traditional system of Scotland, where a man went down in the calm of the evening, when his day's work was done, to catch a salmon, and I hope that that will continue for many generations to come.
I like the Bill so much that I feel almost obliged to declare my interest, because angling is my favourite recreation. I am an enthusiastic angler and anything which is designed to improve the quality and quantity of the fish in the Scottish rivers and burns has my support. The right hon. Gentleman therefore deserves congratulations, by and large, on what he has done; but, clearly, there are certain points in the Bill which want examination.
My right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) has raised the question of the net fishermen on the Forth. My constituency also is bordered by the Forth, and there are net fishermen 1223 off the coast of East Fife, and I should be interested to know what happens to them. I am not yet briefed on the matter. We have not been given just as much time as we desired to consider the Bill. Nevertheless, there will be time before the Committee stage. It is a pity that the right hon. Gentleman did not consult with the industry concerned before introducing the Bill, because I am not yet decided on the matter.
I do not necessarily accept all that I am told by the Tay salmon fishers, who are my constituents. I am open to persuasion. There can be no doubt, however, that strong interests are involved, long-established interests, perfectly honourable interests. They feel that something harmful is being done to them, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take any opportunity open to him to enable those interests to put their case before him, so that he can apprise himself of it and consider whether it is possible at all to meet it. With the principle he has enunciated tonight, I cannot disagree, but it may well be he can amend it a little to meet the case which these men are putting.
That is all I have to say, because many want to speak. The right hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated; but he is also to be warned that, on the Committee stage, all of us who are anglers almost by birth, and who have been anglers for many years, will want to question him most carefully on the Bill.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)
I dare to intervene in the debate concerning Scottish salmon fishing, not as a Scotsman, but as an ordinary humble angler who, like the hon. Member for Fife, East (Mr. Stewart), is anxious to preserve the right of all people to fish, anxious to ensure that there are more fish than there have been in recent years, and to help more people to fish. I am persuaded by an old poacher to think that this Bill is a good Bill. When the Maconochie Report was described to him he said it informed him of a way of catching salmon he had not hitherto known about, and he gave the Report his blessing.
I am all for dealing in no uncertain terms and no uncertain manner with the depredations of the gangs now assembling 1224 not only in Scotland but in all parts of the country, who hope, by their operations, to make profits quickly at the expense of the happy pleasure of ordinary fishermen at the week-ends and during their holidays.
I think that hon. Gentlemen opposite who, in the main, are the owners of the fishing rights, which they gained and have maintained by having deeper purses than the majority of the people who would like to use their preserves, have really a warm corner in their hearts for the ordinary village poacher. I have heard him described as being part of the English and Scottish way of life.
I thought the Secretary of State made rather heavy weather with the Bill tonight, in describing its use for the purposes of earning dollars from Americans coming here. If I know the average American as well as I think I know him he would prefer to pay 10 guineas to one good salmon poacher and watch him do his fishing than pay 10 guineas for the right to fish and waste hours not catching a single one. That is my experience of my American friends. They always blame their failure on other things. The water is too clear or is not fresh enough, or the salmon are not rising, or the gulls and wading birds and poachers are destroying the fish, so that no fish is to be seen let alone caught.
The Bill is a good Bill in essence because it seeks to create and to preserve a greater supply of fish for the needs of the nation in the years ahead. It is what I would call a long-term Bill. It will not do over-night what it seeks to do. I was very interested in the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Wells (Lieut.-Colonel Boles) who gave us the history of the salmon parr and reminded me of "Salar the Salmon" and other books on these questions. I know, as a fisherman, that what he said is absolutely correct, and that no fish suffers more hazardous experiences than does his majesty the salmon. The Bill seeks to increase the number of salmon and if it preserves more salmon in our rivers it will have done a wonderful job for posterity.
Fishing gives great pleasure to people, but it does more than that: it gives a man peace of soul and mind that no other recreation can. A man who—as I have done numerous times—spends a day at the week-end on the banks of a river or 1225 the side of a pool fishing, returns to his work in a better and happier frame of mind, and in better physical condition, to get on with his ordinary work.
I believe that the intention of the Bill is good, but there is one point to which, I think, attention should be given, and that is the rather savage penalty of a £10 fine for catching a salmon with rod and line for the first time. I am prepared to give a man who, with rod and line, catches a salmon on his first day's attempt a bounty of £10, because I think that his success would be almost miraculous. I give the Bill my blessing, as one south of the Border and as an angler, because it seeks to do what I think will be an advantage to the country at large and not only to anglers and fishermen in particular.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)
I have been reminded of a piece of advice given to me when I was a very young Member of this House, namely, "Always try to know something of the subject being discussed." I remembered that as I listened to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wells (Lieut.-Colonel Boles). I realised that here indeed was a master of the subject. His was a fascinating discourse which taught me more of natural history than I have ever learned from any of the school books that I used to treat with respect. I remember that not long ago, when we were debating the subject of fox-hunting, my hon. and gallant Friend gave us a delightful discourse then, full of knowledge of that subject and of the countryside. I felt I ought to pay this tribute to him, because I have learned so much from him and it is not often that one of my age can learn anything.
It is high time that this Bill was introduced. We have had the same penalties for salmon poaching practically since 1868. We tried in 1938 to bring in a Private Member's Bill to rectify some existing anomalies, but, unfortunately—or, perhaps, fortunately now—the war stopped it. Now we have got a much more comprehensive Bill, which deals with far more facets of the problem than the Bill in 1938 attempted to do.
I think that the principle of the Bill is absolutely sound, and I do not think there is any criticism of its details that cannot be met in Committee; and, therefore, any 1226 points that I make are rather in criticism of the principle, and are designed to give help to the right hon. Gentleman in his further consideration of the Bill between now and the Committee stage.
In this otherwise admirable Measure there is rather too little discrimination between two types of poacher. On the one hand there is the man who goes out fishing with his rod and line and pits his skill against a wholesome, healthy, strong fish, and has the joy of victory with the added joy of a good meal for himself and his family at dinner time. I think the Secretary of State will agree with me when I say that I cannot believe that such a man should be fined a maximum penalty of £10, especially in view of the fact that he does practically no damage to the river—at any rate, no damage compared with that done by the "spiv" who is working for gain for a gang, using the most inhumane and revolting methods to achieve his purpose, and on whom I would impose any penalty that could be devised. Apart altogether from the destruction of food, to use poison and electrical devices on the salmon, the most beautiful of fish, is a sin which should receive the utmost punishment.
The other day I was talking to a poaching friend of mine—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Yes, I have many of them, as we all have. Every little angling club has its share of decent, honest poachers, who get great fun out of the sport. Perhaps the word "honest" is a little extravagant in the circumstances. This friend of mine made a very novel suggestion which I should like to pass on to the right hon. Gentleman and which, if adopted, would really make this Bill quite unnecessary. My friend suggested licensing the poachers. He said, "Make a choice of the poachers and give them licences. Then you will see the river cleared of any poacher who has not a licence. Your salmon will be preserved intact, and your unpaid 'policemen' will see that the river is cleared of the real criminals, the people who damage the river and the fish." I ask the Secretary of State to think that over; I admit that it is novel, but there is a certain amount of sense behind it.
My next suggestion has already been dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman and rejected. It was, of course, recommended by Sheriff Maconochie, who sug- 1227 gested licensing the salmon sellers. A friend of mine, who is a far better angler than I am wrote to me saying, "Suppose a car full of fish blown out of the river at two o'clock in the morning is driven to Glasgow and sold, and then served up for luncheon at a hotel during the day. Unless the seller of the salmon is licensed, how will you ever trace where those fish were poached—fish which might have been blown out of the river with dynamite, for all you know?" The case against granting a licence to the salmon seller is very weak. After all, a grocer is given an off-licence to sell whisky. Why, therefore, all the difficulty about licensing fishmongers to sell fish?
I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman is over-simplifying the matter. It is relatively easy to trace where the grocer with an off-licence gets his whisky, but it is not nearly so easy to check where a man gets salmon if he is not asked to register the transaction.
§ Sir T. Moore
I do not see any great difficulty about that. Let it be registered. The same principle applies to thousands of traders all over the country. If this problem is to be tackled in a big way, so that the job is done properly, the whole conception of what we are attempting to achieve will collapse unless a system of licensing the sellers of salmon is introduced.
Again, why not adopt a different method of prosecution for these offences? I am referring now to the "spiv" and gangster type. Why not adopt the present gaming law methods? As the law stands, and as it will stand under the Bill, the only method of dealing with these people is by a civil action of interdict in the sheriff's court. If the interdict is granted and the offence is repeated criminal proceedings can then be taken. But that is cumbersome and expensive, and it takes a long time. The Secretary of State need not look so perturbed, because I have this information on the advice of a solicitor who handles many poaching cases in my constituency, so the right hon. Gentleman had better consult his legal advisers to see whether or not I am right.
I was not dissenting. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman is persuaded, on advice, that under the Bill 1228 only by a civil action by interdict can there be a prosecution, I should be indebted to him if he will explain how that happens, because it is certainly not the intention of the Bill.
§ Sir T. Moore
I shall not take up time explaining how a prosecution can take place. I am only quoting what was given to me as good and honourable advice. If the gaming law system were adopted, a prosecution could be taken straight away, thus saving the time taken up by this long cumbersome machinery which, apparently, is not rectified by the Bill. I will send the right hon. Gentleman all the information at my disposal, which he will perhaps consider.
I now turn to what has already been mentioned—the many decent angling clubs which are the centre of the sporting community in almost every village and town in Scotland. They do not consider that they are poaching; they do not think they are breaking the law by going out with a rod and line. Very often there is a gentlemen's agreement between the owner of the water and the angler, under which the owner says, "You can fish on Saturday afternoon," or whatever is the man's day off. I return, therefore, to my original plea that either the penalty should not be increased for the rod and line poacher, or else directions should be given to the courts that the maximum penalty should not be used. I welcome the Bill. I think it is a good Bill. I believe that it will work, and that it will be for the best interests of the salmon and of fishing in Scotland.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I am sure the House was much amused by the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore). It was very amusing to hear a Member of this Honourable House telling us that he based his speech upon what he called the good and honourable advice given to him by his poaching friends.
§ Sir T. Moore
I said it was given by a lawyer, a member of the hon. and learned Gentleman's own profession.
§ Mr. Hughes
I think I am right in saying that before that, the hon. and gallant Gentleman based his general argument upon advice and experience as related to him by his poaching friends. He was not ashamed of that, and I do not think 1229 he has any reason to be ashamed of it, because the kind of poacher he referred to is very often a good and honourable man; for many of them we in this House have a great deal of sympathy.
Like the hon. and gallant Gentleman, I also welcome this Bill, which will serve a good and useful purpose, and will help to bring order in a sphere in which order is very badly needed. I thought it was futile of the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) to say that the Secretary of State made heavy weather of this Bill. I do not think he did at all. Though this is a small Bill, it is an important Bill, and I think that my right hon. Friend introduced it with great clarity and persuasiveness, if he will allow me to say so.
There are two matters to which I wish to refer. One is the distinction the Bill makes between two classes of fishermen. On the one hand, there is the decent fisherman, the good citizen who goes out for a day's relaxation, and very often does a little poaching in the course of it. He belongs to the class of people described today by a former Secretary of State for Scotland as legitimate poachers. I will say a word about that class later. The distinction to which I am drawing attention is between that type of fisherman, on the one hand, and, on the other, the gangs who go poaching and marauding for gain; who carry on this nefarious traffic for profit. They are the enemies of the community, of the food supply of the people, of the decent angler and of the fish stocks of the country.
I am glad to see that this Bill imposes upon them penalties of a heavier and different character from those which are imposed upon what I call the decent fishermen, or what the former Secretary of State called the legitimate poacher. I am glad to see that for a first offence these gangsters will suffer a fine not exceeding £50 or imprisonment not exceeding three months and for a second and subsequent offences a fine not exceeding £100 or imprisonment not exceeding six months. In my submission, those are not sufficient penalties for a class who are undoubtedly enemies of good order and of the community at large. That is the first matter to which I wish to refer. The second arises under Clause 13—the extension of the weekly close time.
1230 As to the distinction between the two classes of fisherman, I am glad to see that the good citizen is not classed as a gangster, but it is obvious that Clause 9 of the Bill will make him a scientist for reasons which I shall give. If such a decent fisherman is a rich man, no doubt he will be able to lease a fishing, but if he is a poor man, what is he to do? Such a fisherman, indeed, I may say, all fishermen are natural philosophers. He seeks health and recreation and to indulge his pastime, but he cannot afford to lease a fishing. What is he to do? Is he to allow himself to be singled out in future as a poacher? No under this Bill he will do nothing of the kind; he will become a scientist because, under Clause 9, all he has to do is to tell the Secretary of State that he is fishing for science or fishing to improve the stocks of fish, and he can get from the Secretary of State a certificate which will enable him to fish, and therefore he will no longer be a poacher. Clause 9 says:A person shall not be guilty of any contravention of this Part of this Act in respect of any act if he does the act for some scientific purpose, or for the purpose of improving or developing stocks of fish and has obtained the previous permission in writing of the Secretary of State….If one looks at the definition Clause—Clause 22—one will see that Clause defines many words and phrases. It defines the simple word "boat," the simpler word "dam," the not so simple word "district," and the commonplace word "package," but it does not define the phrase which we find in Clause 9Some scientific purposeor the phraseImproving or developing stocks of fish.That is a matter which I hope will not be attended to on the Committee stage or any other stage of the Bill, so that it will, when the Bill ultimately passes this House, leave that loophole for the honest and decent fisherman to go off on his day's relaxation without being classed as a gangster or any other type of poacher.
Now, the second matter I want to say a word about is Clause 13. The Secretary of State said that before he introduced the Bill he had consulted all the interests concerned, scientific and otherwise. I wonder whether he consulted the fishermen upon whom Clause 13 will impose a greater hardship.
I think that the hon. and learned Member is unwittingly doing me an injustice. I said "of all the scientific interests I have consulted"—not one.
§ Mr. Hughes
I thank the Secretary of State for that. He consulted with the scientific interests involved but apparently he did not consult the fishermen upon whom this Clause, in my submission, will inflict a serious hardship. It proposes the extension of a weekly close time, and I hope that this Clause will be reconsidered at a later stage because I submit, first, that it is impracticable, particularly in the early part of the fishing season during the dark early mornings; secondly, that it is dangerous to the fishermen, and thirdly, that it imposes undue strain on inspectors of district fishing boards.
My objection to Clause 13 is supported by a letter which I have received from an authoritative source, and which I venture to quote to the House:Clause 13 has appeared in the Bill all of a sudden, and no one seems to know who is the author of it.… It is proposed that the weekly close time should be extended to six o'clock on Saturday morning, that is to say, that nets must be slapped and leaders removed by that hour. This is completely impracticable, particularly in the early part of the fishing season when it is quite dark at six o'clock in the morning, and when it is obviously impossible to ask men to risk their lives in going to sea before six a.m. in order to carry out this work. A fishing station takes on the average two to three hours to slap entirely even by daylight, which would mean that if six a.m. were the commencement of the weekly close time the crews would have to turn out some hours before that in complete darkness or alternatively slap their nets on Friday afternoon during the hours of daylight. Apart from this, it is the duty of the inspectors of district fishery boards to see that nets are slapped and leaders removed, and as stress of weather has always been held to be a reasonable excuse for not slapping or removing by the appointed hour, it would be quite impracticable for inspectors to check up in the hours of darkness whether the work has been properly carried out or even attempted. It is obvious that whatever period, if any, of extended close time is decided on, it cannot start from six o'clock in the morning.
When that circular letter was first quoted, I indicated that there was a point there which I would be glad to consider in Committee.
§ Mr. Hughes
Thank you. A convenient way of dealing with this would 1232 be to make the time even longer and bring it to the night before—the Friday night. That may not be all the solution of it, but, at any rate, there is an anomaly there and a problem to be dealt with, and I recommend it for further consideration when this Bill is dealt with at a later stage. It may be suggested that these two are Committee points, but they seem to me to be important points—one, the distinction between the two types of fishermen, and, the other, the extension of the weekly close time—which are matters of principle. They might be fairly considered at a later stage in order to make what is undoubtedly a very good Bill an even better Bill before it passes this House.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley (Angus, North and Mearns)
Let me get straight to the point—because I know that many other hon. Members want to speak—that was raised by the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes). He raised the question of further extension of the close time, under Clause 13, to Friday night. In fact, that is what may have to happen. At present the close time, because of variation of the tides, and so on, is something like 40 to 42 hours a week and the proposed extension to 48 hours a week will mean, in practice, an average close time of 50 to 52 hours every week. It is a proposal which the hon. and learned Gentleman threw out in a light-hearted way.
I have no doubt that many Members know something about the practice of commercial salmon fishing and have spent some part of the Summer Recess on the coast, where they have seen the long nets, strongly staked, going out to sea at right angles to the coast, being almost totally submerged at low water. The salmon swim up the coast in search of the river mouths. They come up against these nets or leaders, which divert them into wing nets, and then into the pouches from which they are collected on the falling tide by men who put to sea in small boats when the daylight comes and the tide is right.
The operators of these commercial salmon fishings operate on long leases, in many cases held from the Crown, leases of nine to 10 years. They employ a great many men in this very ancient 1233 calling. I have more than one commercial firm operating in this way in my constituency, and I will refer to one to show the size of these undertakings. It pays a rental in excess of £12,000 a year, and it employs between 140 and 150 men. It is a firm that is over 100 years old, and many of the people they employ are seasonal workers who work on farms in the autumn and winter. The firm employs between 30 and 40 men throughout the year.
Concerns of this kind have a very real long-term interest in the development and improvement of salmon fishing. They are not people who are here today and gone tomorrow. It is in their interest that the salmon stock should be improved. I recognise that the interests of the commercial net salmon fishing concerns is not identical with the interests of angling proprietors. It has not been proved by any means, as we have already been reminded by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Brigadier Thorp), that too few fish enter the river mouth. This certainly should be proved before Clause 13 is accepted in its present form. Nevertheless, there is a prima facie conflict of interest between angling proprietors and these commercial firms.
In spite of this divergence, the various interests got together before the war and agreed upon terms that were embodied in the Salmon Fisheries (Scotland) Bill, that which was presented as a Private Members' Bill in 1938. By the exercise of tact and good will on the part of all concerned, agreement was reached on such highly controversial subjects as liability for the construction and repair of fish passes, the closing of sluices and lades, the annual and weekly close times and the licensing of the sale of salmon. This Bill, unfortunately, was not proceeded with. The laws governing the erection of weirs and fish passes, and so on, is laid down in the 1868 Act. Schedule 9 of the Act preserves the status quo of 1865.
I know of one district fishery board which engaged in litigation, as the Lord Advocate will recall, costing no less than £2,500, in an attempt to remove an obstruction that was protected by the terms of that Act and permit salmon to pass up river, and then lost the case on appeal. The whole process of opening up the rivers and allowing the ascent of salmon 1234 to the spawning ground, the earlier end of angling to avoid the killing off of salmon that are almost ready to spawn and the increased escape of salmon from the sea is complementary, and it ought to be dealt with by agreement in one Measure.
I hope that the Government will introduce legislation on the lines proposed by the Private Members' Bill in 1938. I am quite certain that if they introduced such a Measure, it would have wide support from all parts of the House. Until the Government do this, it would appear to be wrong to deal with one aspect of this long-term problem of reforming the out-of-date legislation of 1868 and leave the other aspects untouched. I do not object, in principle, to the lengthening of the weekly close time, but I object to its inclusion in an emergency Bill of this kind.
The Secretary of State has told us that he consulted scientific interests before inserting this Clause. I regret that he did not consult any of the responsible organisations connected with salmon fishing before it was inserted, as it were, by a sidewind. It is unlikely that he has consulted the men concerned, because it is most objectionable to the men in its present form. These men, with the possible exception of those employed on the Tay fishings, get fish money. They have a substantial interest in the number of fish caught. They have the strongest possible objection to starting at 6 a.m. in the morning, which means, as we have already been told, that they must leave their homes at 3 a.m. in order to launch their boats, clear the pouches and slap the leaders in time.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
Let us see what that means. If the men are to start on Friday night, it means the weekly close time will be extended to about 60 hours a week in the early months of the season. It means leaving the whole economy of the business dependent on some 108 fishing hours during the week. A slash of this order, for an industry which provides the market with the bulk of its supplies, will lead inevitably to a reduction of employment, wages and rents.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
It will inevitably mean a reduction in wages and hours, and a reduction in bonuses.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
I have made the most careful inquiries, and I find that there is no shortage of fish entering the river. What is happening is that they are being poisoned by pollution and are not reaching the spawning grounds because of abstraction of water and man-made obstructions. There are other points which I should like to raise, but other hon. Members wish to speak. In conclusion, may I say that I welcome the Bill? It can be greatly improved in Committee, but it would be improved still more if Clause 13 were deleted.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Carmichael (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
Like many of my hon. Friends on this side of the House, I am always chary of legislation to restrict freedom. I know that the argument submitted tonight is that this legislation is necessary to restrict the gangster, and the salmon poacher. Neither in the Report nor in any of the evidence submitted to the Committee can we get to grips with this problem of the gangster or organised poacher. All we have to work on are the Press reports from parts of the country.
The Government, I know, would not introduce a Measure of this kind unless there were some justification for it. Obviously, if there is some justification, particularly in the north of Scotland, for the introduction of a Measure of this kind, we have to be very careful, because when we introduce legislation to curb certain extravagances or illegal operations, we tend to over-state the position and include people whom we never intended to touch at all. There is a very great danger in this particular case. I agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian and Peebles (Mr. Pryde) that the Bill goes beyond what was recommended. Even the Maconochie Committee went beyond the terms of reference which were,To enquire into the prevalence of the illegal taking or killing of salmon and trout in Scotland by methods which may cause serious damage to fish stocks ,…All of us recognise that there are methods associated with salmon and trout fishing which may be regarded as illegal, but nobody ever paid great attention to them. When the hon. Member for 1236 Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson), who originally raised the matter in the House, drew attention to it, he did so because of this organised, commercialised method. I do not think anyone will dispute the Government's right to approach that problem and attempt to deal with it. However, when we come to the Bill, we find that not only will an effort be made to stop this organised gangster work, but that the ordinary person will be dealt with also. Clause 1 reads:If any person without legal right, or without written permission from a person having such right, fishes for or takes salmon in any waters including any part of the sea within one mile of low water mark, he shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding ten pounds, and to the forfeiture of any fish illegally taken by him or in his possession at the time of the offenceThat means that anyone, in any part of the country, can be dealt with, apart altogether from the gangsters; and not only that, but it gives the courts the power to increase the fines to the extent of £10. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland never intended the Bill to go to that length.
What are we doing? My candid opinion is that not only are we making an attack on this organised, commercial trade, but we are defending landlords, which is quite unjustified. I know that some hon. Members will argue that these rivers are their rivers, but it is rather far-fetched for a Labour Government to begin to protect the owners of rivers after some of the things about which we have preached in the past. If we are to have some organised way of fishing, particularly for the people using line and rod, it should be done with more cooperation from the people who regard this as their special sport.
The boards should keep in the closest possible touch with the angling associations. I am no authority on fishing, but I have discussed it with people who are interested anglers. If I am any judge, every angling association in the country is disturbed about this Bill. We should ease their minds by making it possible for people who enjoy that sport to have absolute freedom to enjoy it by cooperation or understanding between the angling associations and the boards concerned. Although it is not in the Bill, I think something should be done to 1237 make it obligatory on people who have the power to let a river or part of a river for angling, to let that river, so that the greatest good to the greatest number of anglers is assured. Members of angling associations should be allowed on the boards. In the past we have arranged that those directly concerned with the industry which is to be brought under control should have some association with the people running it, and the same principle should apply here, so that those who are connected with the sport should have some part in the scheme promoted by this Bill.
There has been talk about the "decent poacher." I do not know how anyone could argue that someone is a decent poacher. If he is a poacher, he is committing an offence. If he has committed an offence, there is no way of getting away from it, and he must be punished. If there were a way of making the charges for the sport reasonable—it can be done by the associations in common agreement with the Boards—then the so-called decent poacher whom some hon. Members are anxious to safeguard, and who has been doing this for many years, could be brought into the angling associations and his position be safeguarded. I hope that on the Committee stage we shall take the opportunity to effect such safeguards.
Every person found with a fish that is regarded as having been caught illegally can be punished. It is equally true, as the Secretary of State said, that licences cannot be issued either to the hotels or to the commercial people to cover fish purchases. It would be a very difficult thing to administer. But surely it is possible to introduce something into the Bill under which such commercial undertakings or hotels purchasing the fish illegally would be equally punished. There is nothing in the Bill to indicate that they can be punished. There should be. I hope that that point will be looked into. I agree with the Bill in getting down to the organised people, but it should do something to protect the ordinary angler in a better way than is done at the present moment.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Spence (Aberdeenshire, West)
I join with my hon. Friend on this side of the House in supporting the Bill. The Secretary of State has brought in a Measure to deal with a very objectionable 1238 practice that has grown up in post-war years. I should like to direct my remarks to Clause 13. Apart from minor Amendments, the Bill is going to be welcomed, with the exception of Clause 13, which creates in the minds of those who are interested in fishing the impression that it has been put into the Bill without the consultations that would normally precede such a proposal.
I agree that, as the Clause stands, it is impracticable. I call the attention of the Lord Advocate to the provisions of the Act of 1868, in Section 9 of which powers were given to the Secretary of State upon a petition from a local river board to vary the incidence of the closing and opening times at the weekend provided that the total number of closed hours were observed. Closing time and re-starting time could then be varied in different ways in different districts or even in parts of districts. That arrangement seems a possible avenue of approach as a remedy for the objections that have been made to the present proposal. Suppose the closing hours are to be 42 or 48; they could start at a time to suit local conditions so that no danger was created to the men themselves.
Clause 13 also puts the whole of the burden of any sacrifice in re-stocking the rivers on to the net fishermen. Why should there not, between now and the Committee stage, be consultations with the parties concerned? Could we not devise a compromise by which a contribution is made by the rod fishermen, too? I would refer to the fact which is well-known, that towards the end of the season fishing is unsatisfactory, mainly by reason of the quality of the fish, because most of the fish are spawning. It may well be that the rod interests would be willing to close down a fortnight sooner at the end of the season, if the net fishermen would give way. In that manner the burdens might be shared and harmony might again be brought to the industry, which has been somewhat disrupted. If what I have said can be examined it might be found to provide some contribution from each side to the re-stocking of the rivers.
Another point to which I wish to refer concerns the penalties. These are clearly divided into fines imposed upon summary conviction and fines upon indictment. The river board have hitherto had the duty 1239 of prosecution to discharge but if we are agreed that in future the costs and fines resulting from prosecutions shall go to the Crown, some of the grievances of the river boards might be removed. Perhaps we might get a reply on that point. Clause 2 refers to rod and line. Here, again, I will go back to the Act of 1868. In Section 17 the gaff was proscribed as illegal, although there was a saving sentence at the end of the Section which permitted the gaff to be used as an auxiliary to the rod and line. It is true that in the Bill the inclusion of the gaff as an illegal weapon has been removed by the withdrawal of Section 17 of that Act, yet the gaff is by itself an illegal weapon. I suggest that something might go into the Bill to legalise the gaff as an auxiliary to the rod and line.
We hope that the Bill will get a speedy passage and that it may come into effect in time for the next season. I trust that all hon. Members will do their best to help it.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
I hope to keep my remarks fairly brief. First of all I want to say that I am in full agreement with the purposes of the Bill. I think all of us on this side of the House at any rate know, through contacts with fishing and angling interests, how important are the twin problems of poaching and pollution. The Bill is intended to deal with the first of those problems. I am certain that it will do a great deal of good in the production of more fish and the betterment of conditions generally, but there are some points which we shall have to raise in Committee.
Most of the remarks of the Secretary of State in introducing the Bill were directed to fishing and angling for salmon. I want to direct attention to trout. In Ayrshire, in particular, there are many angling clubs. There is the difference between a fishing club and an angling club, I have six angling clubs in my constituency, at Dalry, Kilwinning, Irvine, Dreghorn, Beith and Stewarton. The one at Dalry is among the oldest in Scotland.
I also have close connection with the Ayrshire Angling Association which embraces all those clubs, to the extent of 40 or 50. I am privileged in being one 1240 of their honorary presidents. This angling association has taken a very keen and vivid interest in the problem of poaching as well as in the problem of pollution. I am certain that the Lord Advocate, as well as the Secretary of State, will know the value of the representations that have been coming to them from the Ayrshire Angling Association, which is considered one of the foremost associations in the country. I know the people who are associated with it and I am certain that the representations they have made on poaching and pollution will be well worth noting.
The clubs belonging to the Ayrshire Association support the main objective of the Bill, which is the prevention of poaching. Most of the clubs are concerned with angling for trout and not for salmon, though some of them do mixed fishing, and they go to great pains to stock up the lochs, burns and sections of the river under their care and spend a great deal of money so far as their membership and subscriptions permit in bringing fry from the Bridge of Weir and other places. Some of them spend £60 to £80 per year in keeping their waters well stocked and they disapprove very strongly of people coming along and illegally extracting the trout.
The Bill does not deal only with landlord interests. Many thousands of anglers in the Scottish industrial belt are very keenly interested in this matter, and they are fully in accord with the idea of protecting the trout which they put into the rivers every year. Their re-stocking efforts would be very successful if poaching were stopped.
I was rather astonished when the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) told us he was so friendly with the people committing this offence. I was astonished to think that he was an angler at all. I have heard him speak on many occasions but I have never heard him talk about angling. I know that he has used lures at election time and attracted a great many votes by doing so. At election times he has fished in deep and muddy waters but in 1945 there was a spate which swept away his lures and nearly returned instead my hon. Friend now representing Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) who reduced the hon. and gallant Gentleman's majority from 1,300 to 700. The hon. and gallant Gentleman was 1241 rather misguided in giving support to the poachers in the way he did. All the same I think the proposed fine of £10 for a first rod and line offence is rather severe, and we must oppose it very resolutely. Even if the fine were halved it would still be rather a savage infliction on a first offender.
Attention ought to be paid to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian and Peebles (Mr. Pryde) about convictions on the evidence of one witness under Clause 7 (3). Most of us who have experience of the work of lay magistrates would be dubious about accepting the evidence even of well tried and trusted members of our own police forces by itself as sufficient evidence for conviction. I do not believe that there will be the difficulty to which my right hon. Friend pointed. I do not think it will be impossible for witnesses to be procured even in isolated districts because they are obtained for most other offences. I have never been keen on convictions recorded upon the evidence of single witnesses.
§ Mr. J. Stuart
To revert to the hon. Member's last point, it does not mean that the fine must be £10; £10 is the maximum. Most of the fines have been in the neighbourhood of £1, £2 or £3.
§ Mr. Manuel
That may be so, but neither my right hon. Friend nor the Lord Advocate can control what may be imposed as a first fine and obviously it can be as much as £10. We should make certain that people will not be fined £10 for a first offence.
The proposal to extend by 12 hours the period when nets shall not be used will bring enormous benefit to rod and line fishing. Representations have been made by angling associations and clubs, boards and others interested in river fishing to extend the period when nets shall not be used in the estuaries and the lower reaches of rivers in order to allow more fish up the rivers. Together with the prevention of pollution, this can do much to improve the stocking of our rivers which are at present not producing the salmon yield to rod and line in the upper reaches which they should because many fish are secured in nets at the mouth of the river.
Because the Government have taken such a keen interest in hill and in sheep farming, in particular, and there have been 1242 fairly good Government grants for drainage schemes, there is a quicker draining off of water from the hill farms when there is rain, and this creates problems of flooding and the washing away of good spawning beds, which means a prospect of fewer fish in the rivers in future. While the Government are taking that interest in the hill farms they ought also to give some thought to conditions in the lower reaches of the rivers and to measures which will allow fish life and fish sustenance to remain in the rivers so that the fish may increase. I give my full support to the Bill. I have raised one or two small points to which I hope that the Lord Advocate and the Secretary of State will give some thought.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Sir David Robertson (Caithness and Sutherland)
I am glad to hear from the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) that the angling clubs in Ayrshire are restocking, because this is an industry from which we cannot take out all the time. We have to put something back. I was closely associated for 20 years with the salmon industry in this country and overseas, and I learned that lesson.
Listening to the debate tonight I realise that this is one more effort by our democratic way of life to resist the encroachment of mankind, mainly for reasons of cash, on wild life. The history of the civilised world shows that the wild things of value are gradually being wiped out. In the United States of America, on the east coast, salmon is now frequently referred to as Penobscott salmon. It was the greatest salmon river on the east coast of the United States. It became a "free for all" and now it is only a memory as a salmon producing river.
I am glad of the opportunity of saying that in this House because many hon. Members opposite, who, in their youth, walked the Highlands, said that the wild things in the sea and in the air and on the land, put there by the Creator, were there for the benefit of the people. That may be true, but it is only partly true. Unless mankind cares for them, preserves them and spends effort and money on them, they will be wiped out. That is the fear which was overshadowing this industry and prompted this Bill, which I warmly support with the exception of Clause 13.
1243 My constituency was probably the greatest sufferer from the gangsters who have been referred to today. They will be dealt with under this Bill, provided it is enforced. That gives me some anxiety, for which I feel I must give reasons. The law was not enforced in my constituency, although it was there to be enforced. A disgraceful state of affairs prevailed for several months, and responsibility for the lack of enforcement of the law starts with the Scottish Office and goes right down to the local police force.
§ Sir D. Robertson
I see the right hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) shaking his head, but I would remind him that a substantial part of the white fishing industry in Helmsdale last spring abandoned their legal calling and illegally netted that river, which provides a considerable amount of employment, and contributes six times more in rates than the village of Helmsdale. That fishing was done with hung nets, which are illegal. They were there for everybody to see by day and also night, for there is practically no darkness in Caithness and Sutherland at that time of the year. Authority looked on and did nothing—
§ Mr. Woodburn
I think the hon. Member will realise that until this Bill is passed into law, what he calls "authority," in the sense of the Scottish Office and the police could not interfere because it was not their duty. The duty lay elsewhere—on the district boards, on the bailiffs and others, not on the police.
§ Sir D. Robertson
Much as I would like to agree with the right hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a great regard, I cannot accept that because I saw this situation. The Lord Lieutenant of Sutherland wrote to me. He had tried to get action taken—he was one of the river proprietors—and could not, either by the police or by whoever was responsible for enforcing the law. The water bailiff, one elderly ex-soldier, was not much of a match for at least 50 fishermen. He might have tackled them if he had been a gallant soul, but he did not try. These ratepayers and citizens had the right to demand that these illegal nets should be pulled in. It was a disgraceful eight. Hon. Members who know the 1244 Helmsdale River know that it is narrow and runs right into the sea. There were 20 fixed nets blockading it; nothing could get in or out. When the Scottish Office did nothing, I saw them myself—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
I do not understand how this is connected with the Bill.
§ Sir D. Robertson
I am trying to make the important point that it does not matter what the House writes into the Bill, now or in the Committee stage. If the law is not enforced, we are wasting our time and are failing to give the industry and the people the protection to which they are entitled. With great respect, I say that is material to this Bill, and I am giving concrete cases which I raised in the House and which had some part in the preparation of the Bill.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
That is very likely; as far as I understand, we pass the legislation but it is not our responsibility to put it into effect.
§ Sir D. Robertson
But, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, who is to prosecute? Who is to enforce? Surely that is a perfectly good point to make on the Bill. That is the point I am making and I maintain, with the greatest respect, that I am wholly in order.
§ Sir D. Robertson
If you have taken legal advice on the matter, Sir, then that must be so, and I defer to the Table.
§ Mr. Woodburn
On a point of order. I think the hon. Gentleman must not defer, Sir, to the Table when a Ruling is made from the Chair. That is a reflection on the Chair. He ought to withdraw that statement.
§ Sir D. Robertson
That only reveals my innocence, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for I have made the same mistake again in good faith. This question of enforcement must be left until the Committee stage when, 1245 may be, it will be in order. I submit, however, that it is a great problem.
The other matter about which I wish to speak is licensing, which was recommended by the Maconochie Committee but has been left out of the Bill. It is insufficient to take the man who is guilty of catching the salmon illegally and to leave the receiver untouched. I regard him as at least as big a villain, if not the greater villain. He provides the market. In the Helmsdale case the racketeer at Birmingham was completely untouched, so, even though it may be a little troublesome, licensing should be considered seriously. In the other case of which the Under-Secretary and the Lord Advocate are aware, the cyanide poisoning case in the river Cassley in my constituency, where £1,000 was paid for one night's foul work, once again the receiver, who was really the instigator of that—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
This seems to be the same line which I said was out of order a little while ago. It has nothing to do with the Bill.
§ Sir D. Robertson
Licensing is referred to in the Maconochie Report, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. There is at least a page on it. The Secretary of State said that he was not able to introduce licensing. I should have thought that in a Second Reading debate I was fully entitled to mention that subject. This is a question of licensing the dealer in salmon. I was pointing out that the receiver of salmon in both the notorious cases I have mentioned, which probably were the worst that have occurred in Scotland, should be affected by the Bill. In the cyanide case the three men who threw the cans into the water were fined £5 each, but the firm who got the salmon, and who paid £953 for it to their agent for dispersal among the three poachers, got away scot free. That is not good enough.
It is absolutely essential that the Bill should be strengthened by a provision for the introduction of licences. That would not only kill the lucrative southern market—in the Helmsdale case the market was Birmingham, and in the other case the market was a cold storage firm outside Inverness—but it would bring an end to this very large back door trade with hotels. I do not blame the hoteliers in the Highlands for wanting to supply their customers with salmon. The tourist 1246 trade is of great importance to the whole of the Highland area, particularly to my two counties. People who go there naturally want to eat salmon.
There is a point here which should be seriously considered. I suggest that it should be made possible for hotels to buy salmon legally. If that were done, the black market would disappear almost overnight. I cannot imagine that the hoteliers would want to deal in a black market if they could get salmon at a fair price from a legal source. It is a fact that when the fishmongers in my constituency have attempted to buy salmon they have been told, "No, it has all to go to London." They have been told that the salmon fishery people were merely producers. That was true, but it would be desirable for them to stretch a point and to permit the local hotels and restaurants to buy salmon at the market price of the day. If that was done the black market would, to a large extent, disappear. That is the view of the hoteliers with whom I have discussed the matter.
I wish to discuss Clause 13. There may be something in what was said by the Secretary of State, that this may be for the ultimate good of the industry. I know most of the rivers in Eastern and Western Canada, Labrador, Newfoundland, Ireland, England and Wales. It is true that if more fish are allowed to escape, then more will ultimately reach the spawning grounds. If the spawning grounds are available and are in a fit state to permit spawning—because often they are not—we will get an increased supply of salmon.
But is this not the wrong way to do it? This is the only legal supply of salmon for the people, and the Minister is interfering with it. This will be done at the expense of the people who buy the salmon which does not find its way to the black market but which goes to the big markets at Billingsgate, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, Liverpool, and so on. The Minister should be very chary before he interferes with that supply, which provides a valuable source of part-time or seasonal employment to crofters and other people.
As the Under-Secretary of State knows, this subject is of vital importance to the Government and to everyone who has 1247 the honour to represent a Highland constituency. This work is a godsend to the Hebrides. Many of the men come from Stornoway and the islands in that neighbourhood. At the end of the season they take back home a sum of money which helps to make their crofts provide a livelihood.
There is another aspect of this matter, and it is that these very fine and old-established people who are in this salmon netting industry are, in the main, tenants of the Crown. The Crown is the landlord and takes a rent of £18,000 a year for the fishing done at sea, close to the mouths of the rivers. These men are actuated with good will, and they realise that what is good in a long-term view for the well-being of the industry must be good for them. Why sweep them up into a poaching Bill at a time when the Government must know that it was about 1860 that the last Salmon Act was passed, when it is so hopelessly out of date and when there are so many other things to be done?
One of the other things requiring to be done is the stopping of under-fishing, which is a danger second only to over-fishing, and we have that problem in Sutherland. I have raised the matter in the House, because crofters have come to me wanting to rent a sea fishery which had been open year after year, but the river proprietors have come along and closed down that fishery. I am talking of the River Naver. There is not a single coastal letting anywhere near, or anywhere near the River Laxford, and these are two of the best rivers in Scotland. I am told that a rod right on the Naver was sold recently for as much as £40,000. That was a high cost, paid for by the migration of Sutherland men and women, bringing misery and unhappiness and unemployment. No bona fide enterprise should be stopped.
I think that, before the Minister begins to tamper with the salmon netting industry, which provides the people's food and is honourably conducted, with no smear of the black market attaching to it, he should consider under-fishing, underemployment, deficiencies in food supplies and all the other things that need taking care of now. There has not been enough money spent on the preparation of the spawning beds in the rivers and tributaries, or in removing the obstructions 1248 from the spawning beds. These things want doing. There are falls which no gallant fish should be expected to surmount. They should be dynamited and levelled off, but, because the upper part belongs to one owner and the lower part to another, nothing has been done about them.
The people in the salmon netting industry are led by Mr. Malloch, their chairman, and a member of a family which did so much to revive the Tay, of which we have heard a great deal today. When the Tay Company was formed, three public-spirited men concerned in it were held up as Tory reactionaries, and the predecessors of hon. Gentlemen opposite made speeches saying that Tory reactionaries were taking away the poor man's salmon. In those days, some farm servants objected to getting salmon more than twice a week. Every farmer had a right to fish, with a total disregard of tomorrow.
The Tay Company came along and got them all in its powerful grip. The first thing the company did was to close two-thirds of the netting stations, and they can be seen today between Perth and Newburgh or Dundee—the little beaches where they used to work, standing as a monument to over-fishing days. The value of the Tay has gone up, and the value of the catch has gone up, and there is a graph in the company's office at Perth which shows it going up at an angle of 45 degrees, with occasional recessions due to bad seasons and the like. That was wise fishing, because they maintained adequate netting, adequate angling and adequate stock, and the river was maintained just as any well-conducted river can be maintained.
This Bill is just a panic Measure; it is acting simply on the advice of scientists, who were probably asked the question, "If we eliminate 12 hours' fishing, would it increase the stock?" Of course, the answer would be bound to be yes. Therefore, I appeal to the Secretary of State for Scotland and to his colleague on the Front Bench to give very serious consideration to this problem. I appeal to them to eliminate Clause 13 from the Bill, and to get busy immediately preparing a much bigger and better Bill which will deal with all the anomalies and all the things that should be done, and to carry this fine body of men with them, men who have no right 1249 to be condemned, injured, and pre-judged without a hearing.
When I listened to the Secretary of State this afternoon, I had the feeling that he had a "hunch" about this matter. I wonder whether he has read the book written by Mr. Menzies, a retired salmon fishery inspector? The object of the Bill is to stop gangsters carrying out the destructive practices about which we all know, but the suppliers of the people's salmon, who provide wages for many crofters should not be victimised, even if it is for their own good, during the few months that would have to elapse before a new Bill can be brought in which would deal with pollution, and so on, along the lines about which the Secretary of State spoke.
In conclusion, I should like to add my thanks to the Maconochie Committee for the work they did in preparing the Bill, and to give my support to the Government, but I earnestly hope that the points I have made in regard to enforcement, in regard to Clause 13, and in regard to licensing will be seriously considered before the Committee stage.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
If the Secretary of State for Scotland hoped that the Bill would be received with overwhelming enthusiasm, I think he will be a little wiser after listening to the speech of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson). I must confess that my feelings are rather mixed on this matter, and I hope to touch upon some of the points that have been mentioned.
This Bill arose out of something new in the salmon and trout fishing of Scotland—the depredations of the salmon gangster. In so far as the Bill deals with that problem—although I do not think it goes sufficiently far in that direction—I certainly support it. I do not think that anyone can have any sympathy at all for the salmon "spivs" who take advantage of a black market and of high prices. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael), I think it was, wondered whether there was really a case for the Bill at all. When people can make £100 or so in a couple of hours, or, as in a case reported quite recently, can get a cheque for £953 by killing a couple of hundred salmon, we realise why the Government were compelled to set up 1250 the Maconochie Committee. In so far as it deals with that problem, I am prepared to support the Bill.
No one can have any sympathy for the salmon gangsters. For the 200 salmon which they take from the rivers, there are probably hundreds more left dead, and the effect on stocks is really very serious indeed. But the Bill fails to take action against the people who are the source of these acts. These gangsters would not go a couple of hundred miles and risk what risks are involved, even today, if there were not the market for the fish. I do not think it is good enough for the Secretary of State for Scotland to come down here and talk about the "disproportionate administrative burden" involved in establishing a licensing system. I think we are in order in dealing with licences, because the Bill is based on the Maconochie Report and the Report insists upon the advisability of using a licensing system. The Committee stated:The object of large-scale poaching operations is, of course, to dispose of the catch for cash. In order to confine the traffic in salmon and trout as far as possible to legitimate channels, therefore, it is obviously desirable that a system of licences to deal in these fish should be introduced …I do not think the Secretary of State has done justice to the Committee in dismissing that by talking of administrative difficulties. This licensing system is in operation in the case of game and other things. It could be applied here, and it is only in that way that we can deal with the real criminal who is the source of the trouble. In that sense the Bill is weak. We deal with the gangster poacher; we even deal with the vehicle, and have gone out of our way to ensure that his vehicle will come under the Clause for confiscation of engines, etc.; but we fail to deal with the black marketeer, the unscrupulous dealer and the unscrupulous caterer. Like the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland, I think it is an important point, and the Government must pay attention to it.
As I listened today, I heard speeches, starting with the Secretary of State for Scotland and followed by hon. Member after hon. Member, referring to the traditional poacher. When one recollects fairly modern literature and some of the lighter drama of Scotland as well as the speeches in this House, the traditional poacher becomes a very laudable 1251 character. I began to wonder why this Bill was introduced, when its first Clause actually doubles the fine on this laudable character. I should have thought from the speeches today that it would have been the general wish of the House that this fine should be removed altogether.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. J. Stuart), suggested that we should not worry about this and that actually the fines imposed were only from about £1 to £2 and would not go up to £10. If the fines would only be £1 or £2, why raise the limit to £10? Surely that is an indication to the judiciary that they have not been hard enough and an invitation to them to be more severe on the traditional poacher.
This provision in the Bill is causing concern in some parts of Scotland, and I do not mind saying that it is causing me concern. Although I am a Lowlander born, my people came from the Highlands of Scotland, and I think the attitude of the Highlander to poaching is that he does not consider it illegal. There is no historical reason why he should do so, when one remembers the history of the clans and of common ownership. He just does not recognise private ownership of fishing.
§ Mr. Ross
This Bill introduced to deal with the gangster "spiv" type of poacher is overlapping and encroaching upon the traditional poacher. In going outside the original scope, the Secretary of State has not done a wise thing at all. The Maconochie Committee themselves recognised, by implication at least, that there was a fine type of poacher in Scotland, because in their recommendations they speak of "a contemptible class of poachers." If one class is contemptible, the other class must be quite respectable. I feel that that is a weakness in the Bill which cannot be supported.
In dealing with the actual problem, the Bill is good, so far as it goes, but in so far as it oversteps the scope of the original investigations, it is not worthy of support. On this question of poachers, I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) has left the Chamber because he was under a considerable misapprehension about what a 1252 poacher is. He seemed to think that an angling club was the equivalent of a poaching club. I do not think he will endear himself to the anglers of Ayrshire who have one of the strongest associations in Scotland; about 5,000 anglers are affiliated to that association.
§ Sir D. Robertson
Is it not the case that when my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) made that statement, he was referring to members of an angling club who were legally entitled to fish for trout but were taking salmon? That was my understanding.
§ Mr. Ross
I do not think so. There are about 40 of these clubs in Ayrshire, and I know of one in Kilmarnock, which fish both for salmon and for trout. I should like to refer to an honorary vice-president of that club for confirmation of my remarks, but I do not think that I shall bother to do so. The hon. and gallant Member seemed to imply that poachers were in the same category as angling associations, but he was wrong. Actually the angling association of Ayrshire has been conducting prosecutions against poachers in the past year.
While I am on this point I should like to assure the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland that my hon. Friend the Member for Ayrshire, Central (Mr. Manuel), was not drawing a long bow and praising his own county on slight evidence when he referred to what was being done about re-stocking in Ayrshire. They have been re-stocking for the past 10 years. They have introduced six hatcheries, 135,000 fry, 50,000 yearlings and 5,000 two year old trout.
§ Sir D. Robertson
I hope that nothing I have said has given the hon. Member the impression which appears to be in his mind. I have had a long association with Ayrshire. I am a past-president of the London Ayrshire Society, and I am proud of the county's efforts to improve angling.
§ Mr. Ross
So far as the Bill meets the main problem, I support it, but so far as it fails to deal adequately with that problem and operates harshly against the traditional poacher, I think it is weak. The Second Reading of this Bill is worthy of support, for the people against whom it is aimed deserve no sympathy from anyone who is interested in fishing, but I hope that ways and means will be found to make it a better Bill.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Williams (Tonbridge)
I was interested in what the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) said, because I think a great deal too much has been said today about these poachers. It has been overdone. I know that all of us have sympathy with the man who goes out to get a day's sport, but when it comes to Members of Parliament saying that poachers are good chaps—in other words, supporting illegal poachers—I think we are doing the wrong thing. I suppose that if we accept that it is all right to take a salmon, we shall advocate next that it is all right to take a sheep, as long as it is a Scotch sheep. There is a very good reason for increasing the maximum fine for this poaching, and I will explain why in a moment.
I want first to apologise, as an Englishman, for intervening in the debate. I have enjoyed many good days' fishing in Scotland, however, although I found the fish very red and sulky sometimes when I was up there in August; and I have fished on the river which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson), where £950 worth of fish was taken out in one night.
Why is this Bill about Scotland only? The evil exists in England as well. It does not exist perhaps quite to such an extent as in Scotland, but we also have rivers, we have too few bailiffs, we have bits of isolated country, there are plenty of business men with an eye to quick profits, we have the motor cars and the explosives and the gases, and there are plenty of willing buyers who are ready to pay high prices. One of my hon. Friends reminds me that we have not the Bill, and I hope we have not to wait for another Report like the Maconochie Report before steps are taken to deal with the English rivers, because these salmon 1254 fishing rivers are valuable assets to any country. We have seen the fishing industry in Ireland almost spoiled by poaching, although they have now pulled it together and the position is looking brighter. We do not want to see the same thing happen in Scotland, and if it extends to England it will be worse still.
Some hon. Members have spoken of the evil which is done by these poachers in that they kill riot only the young fish but also the salmon going towards the burns to spawn. I want hon. Members to realise that there is another side to it. I know it is killing a great amount of fish and spoiling the rivers for the future, but there is a humane side to the problem as well. As a result of using explosives, a great deal of pain is caused to these fish. Indeed, fish have been known to float to the surface as long as five days after the explosion. Thus, this action causes a great deal of pain and suffering to what we might call harmless animals and, from the humanitarian point of view, I welcome anything which can be done to prevent explosives from being used in the rivers. As we know only too well, they have been used recently.
I am also glad that under the Bill bailiffs will have power to search. If they can do that, they will be useful people and it will encourage the employment of more bailiffs. It is not worth while paying the wages of these men, who are expensive to maintain, unless they are to perform some useful function. If they can perform a useful function, we shall be encouraging the employment of more river watchers, because the private owner will realise that it is worth paying a man to watch his rivers if it will be of some value. I wonder whether it will be an offence under the Bill to warn of the approach of a bailiff. I know that it will be an offence to obstruct a bailiff, but, equally will it be obstructing, if anyone warns of the approach of one of these bailiffs?
The other point I want to raise is about vehicles. They can be forfeited, as we have heard, but only after conviction on indictment. Could this not be done on summary conviction as well? I think I am right in saying that if a man is caught poaching rabbits, his gun can be taken away on his summary conviction. I know that these vehicles are 1255 much bigger things than a small shotgun, but could not the forfeiture be applied in this instance, too, on summary conviction?
Like many other people, I have some sympathy with the over-keen fisherman who does a bit of poaching, but I think there is very good reason for raising the fine to a maximum of £10. Many of these gangsters go out on reconnaissance first. One will do a bit of line and rod fishing, and if somebody comes along and questions him, he says, "I am very sorry. I have mistaken the water. I was only keen for a bit of sport." But just as burglars go round houses on reconnaissance a few days before the burglary is attempted, so these gangsters have reconnaissance, too; so that if a man who is poaching, not for a bit of sport and for the sake of his larder, but in preparation for operations by a gang, is caught, and if the court can fine him more heavily, it will be a useful deterrent. I think it is a useful course to put up the maximum fine.
I firmly believe that the extension of the close time for netting in this Bill is of great benefit. Anybody who has a grouse moor in Scotland does not overshoot the moor, but leaves stock for next year. People shooting at the end of the season shoot only pheasant cocks in order to be sure of keeping a plentiful supply of hens to keep up the stock. I am utterly convinced that this Clause 13 is a good one, and that it will be of enormous advantage in the long run. I am extremely dismayed, however, to hear that the Government have not even had the courtesy to ask the netting interests what they think of it, and although I think the Clause is good, I hope that the Government will have the courtesy to ask people who make their money out of net fishing what they think of it before the next stage of the Bill.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
I felt a lot of sympathy with the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) when he deplored the sad history of the exploitation and depopulation of the county he now has more than the honour to represent, but I do say that instead of implying—even implying—a criticism of the present Government or of St. Andrew's House or of the 1256 police of the county, he should have given the real reasons for that depopulation, and the despoliation of that once rich and well populated county by the Tory predecessors of the present hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland. The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) is making agricultural noises. I do not know whether he is approaching the matter from a different angle from the rest of us; but I would remind him that we are no longer discussing hill farming.
I must say, in all honesty, that this is in many senses a luxury Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael) went so far as to say it was not altogether necessary. It is not, in one way. I believe myself that, in some ways, he is correct. It deals with a luxury commodity. If we regard salmon simply as food it is hotel food. It is an expensive food even in hotels. It is a luxury food wherever it is bought. It is expensive in the shops. It is true to say that the mass of the ordinary people have very little interest in the protection of an expensive commodity held as the exclusive property of private landowners.
I am sorry to have to say it; but, really, what the ordinary person thinks about it is that the Bill amounts to protecting, by legislation, one set of "spivs" against another. [Laughter.] I should be sorry if I gave too much offence to hon. Gentlemen opposite, or to the "spivs" represented so ably by hon. Members opposite tonight. But that is how many of the ordinary people see it; and the Bill at first sight does seem strongly tainted and tinctured with the intention of encouraging entrenched landlordism still more in the Scottish countryside. Perhaps I might be allowed to agree, at this great intellectual distance, with Shakespeare, when he said:there be land-rats and water-rats, land-thieves and water-thieves.That is what I believe we are doing—protecting the land thieves from a few water thieves and the landlords from other "spivs." Therefore, in that sense, I do not like the Bill. I would rather have a Bill for nationalisation or bringing these fisheries under some form of public or national ownership, so that they would be properly developed and properly stewarded, stocked and maintained so as to give pleasure to many thousands of people throughout the country who are now debarred.
1257 In supporting the Bill in its main provisions, as I do, I do not want to be associated with the idea of supporting or condoning the present system of ownership of the salmon waters. I look at this matter from the point of view of the national interest, and not the purely personal vested interest from which hon. Members opposite see it. I shall cite Tom Johnston later and, first Carlyle who, in one vivid sentence, said:It is noteworthy that the nobles of Scotland have maintained a quite despicable behaviour, from the days of Wallace downwards—a selfish, ferocious, famishing, unprincipled set of hyenas, from whom at no time and in no way has the country derived any benefit whatsoever.That is perfectly true, and nowhere more true than in the Highlands.
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland is a living witness, except in political sense, to the fact that his county has suffered from 100 years of despoliation by landlord "spivs," organised and unorganised. We must protect the fisheries and the salmon as a potential—and, I hope at a not far distant future, an actual—national asset, in the sense that the nation will, as a nation, own them and develop a general public interest in protecting, as well as enjoying, them. Every real fisherman—I do not mean the owners of these waters; I do not mean syndicates, or the remote London stockbroker who goes up to the Highlands to his estate and comes between the Highlander and the hill and stream, between a man and his native rights—I mean the real fisherman, who is a fisherman at heart—has as his idea of the Statue of Liberty a statue of the "Compleat Angler" with his rod and line at one hand and in the other the scales of freedom or justice weighing, before it got away, an immense salmon, living, radiant, irresistible, poached or unpoached.
I shall, now, be more conservative as a Highlander, than even the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland. I recognise no change, in the Highlands since well before the Forty-Five, so far as the natural right to fish is concerned. I hope that is conservative enough for the hon. Gentleman. That period of clan organisation is a century or two behind even his present level of political enlightenment and progress. I am quite willing to accept and sustain the old Highland clan system of common ownership and common 1258 stewardship for the community. I believe that it is every man's right to take a salmon, subject to responsible safeguards under public control and in the general interest.
§ Mr. N. Macpherson
Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that under old Scots law, no one could take a salmon unless he had a plough of 100 acres of land?
§ Mr. MacMillan
The old days of wicked controls under the Tories and Whigs do not concern me at the moment. I am talking of the Highlands and the clan system of common ownership. In the Highlands we did not recognise Scots law as applied to the Lowlands. The hon. Gentleman should realise that we only recognised Scots law when we were apprehended and brought before the courts of Scotland and had to recognise it. The Highlanders were largely a law unto themselves. They obeyed the law of nature. They followed the laws laid down in the Old Testament:Moreover, the produce of the earth is for all.
§ Mr. Nabarro (Kidderminster)
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the Englishman does not obey the laws of nature?
§ Mr. MacMillan
The hon. Member obviously rises on the impulse of nature. We sometimes enjoy the interruptions, but we do not often benefit very much.
We recognise, then, the fine principle in the Old Testament which says that the produce of the earth is for all, which means under proper stewardship, management and safeguards. That is what I propose should be done in the Bill. I hope to make this strictly relevant by moving certain Amendments in due course. We must, I agree, protect what should be made, as soon as possible, a really national asset in the national ownership sense. We must, meantime, protect the salmon fisheries and other fisheries from organised gangs of "spivs" with poisons, explosives and all the other forms of illegal and brutal taking of fish. I agree with the hon. Member for Ton-bridge (Mr. G. Williams) that it is important that we should try to avoid the destruction and damage done to so much fish, which, very often, is never removed at all, but incidentally mutilated.
I want to put in a plea for the gentleman who has been called the poacher 1259 tonight. A £10 fine, as now proposed, is quite ridiculous. The price of clothing has gone up considerably and the general cost of living; and the price of poachers' gear has gone up, apart from any facetious point, what is the sense of increasing the fine from £5 to £10 when the sheriffs think that £1 to £3 is quite sufficient in most cases? I am sure that the Secretary of State will consider Amendments on this point. Is it policy to bring all the solemn dignity and consequence of the British Legislature to bear on a small depredation of a country working man who has failed to resist the temptation of a salmon for his own table to the extent of fining him £10? There is a great deal to be said for the rights of the small man who takes a small fish or even a large fish, once in a while, in his native streams.
There is an important legend on one of our burgh coats of arms, at Stornoway in the Hebrides, which says, "God's produce is our inheritance." It would be too much like looking a gift horse in the face not to exercise the right to take fish as part of our inheritance, subject to certain safeguards from abuse. In that area, we are largely a classless society and we do not look on a person who takes a fish as a sinner. He may be an offender, or even a criminal, but never does he come up to the high level of a sinner.
It is slightly surprising, if we have legislative time for a Bill of this kind, that we could not have brought in a Bill to deal with illegal sea trawling on a big scale among the trawlers and ships owned by great syndicates in the country who are illegally depriving, every day, hundreds of small fishermen of a livelihood in our local bays and territorial waters. We do not have time to investigate their victims' needs and to introduce any proposal to increase the penalties on them, to forfeit the vessels or really heavily punish them; and yet we have time, in this Bill, to increase the penalties on small poachers and others. I wish that we were able to deal in some comprehensive way with that bigger matter.
Mention has been made of the pollution of our rivers. That has done more harm, in the aggregate, than all the explosives and poisons of the gangs to the salmon population. So far very little has been done, except by certain local authorities taking local action. It is time 1260 that we made a real attack on river pollution. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) and with the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland that we want to get to the source of this problem, and that we want to get at the person who tempts the other people who go out and do, at least, take some risks. These receivers and such people will not be punished. They are not compelled to license themselves. But I am also personally alarmed that the right to search is so extensive under the Bill. Incidentally, a woman poacher can only be searched by a woman officer, but I notice that a similar protection is not given to a male poacher.
§ Mr. MacMillan
We are not getting at the buyer, the thug in the background. We are not getting at the man in the hotel, in the shop and the market, the big fellow who is at the receiving end. He is the one who makes most of the profits.
Again, I am greatly alarmed by the fact that two persons constitute a gang. When a man and woman go out together, perhaps a man and wife, they will be treated as forming a group of piscatorial Lollards, and they will be liable to the heaviest consequences of the new law. I take it that they will get off if they happen to be working 100 yards apart. A great extension is being made in the powers of search, which must be watched most carefully.
The proposition was made from the other side that we should extend the right to institute private prosecutions in the case of certain boards, so that they could make sure they would cover their costs from the fines they obtained. I cannot imagine a more astonishing proposition. It would be a vicious thing that any extension in that direction should be permitted. The fact is that a lot of the trouble has arisen from the failure of private landlords to keep their rivers clean, and to appoint sufficient bailiffs and staff, which it is their legal and moral duty to do.
The Bill does not create any more bailiffs, police or other people to deal with the increasing number of offences, which are the justification for it. All it does is to increase the fines, and I doubt 1261 whether it will be effective. What is the alternative? We could have a new Bill. In this connection, I will quote what an ex-member of the National Liberal Party, a very respected member, had to say about salmon fisheries.
Sir Murdoch MacDonald told the House, in 1936:There are hundreds of Highland lochs, and I would like to see those taken over from the proprietors and made public under, say, the county councils. We live in a democratic country, and we shall continue to use democratic methods so long as we possibly can in developing the resources of our country. Fishing in the Highlands could he made to give pleasure to vast numbers of people who today, when on holiday, are debarred from fishing, because in every place the sporting tenant has the sole"—in this case, "sole" means salmon—fishing rights.Tom Johnston, who has been referred to in glowing terms by the present Secretary of State, also in the House, on the same occasion, in December, 1936, said:It is common knowledge that lands have been closed, that roads have been closed and that everything possible has been done to turn vast tracts of the Highlands of Scotland into a wilderness, a sportsman's paradise.He then quoted a notice which he saw in Skye, where people were told to get away from the pleasures of fishing. This is what the notice said:Warning to trespassers and visitors. The soft-nose bullet carries far and inflicts a nasty wound. Visitors are warned to keep away.Is that the way to improve and develop the tourist industry? Sir Murdoch MacDonald, was supported then, by Mr. Johnston, who said:… the Forestry Commissioners, the Crown Land Commissioners and every other public and semi-public board which is owning or controlling land in the North of Scotland—should get a public utility body formed at once to take over all the fishing rights for the State. If that were done the poor man could be given a chance to enjoy the sport of angling, and it would be possible to attract thousands and thousands of people to the Highlands of Scotland every year, certainly during the holiday months. Something on a big scale should he done quickly for the tourist traffic.… What are we doing that we allow a mere handful of people—many of them aliens at that—a mere handful of people for whom the nation should have no concern whatever, to put up notices:'The soft-nosed bullet carries far and inflicts a nasty wound.'Why should we he hunted off the land of our forebears? Why should the North of 1262 Scotland be a sportsman's paradise for a few?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1936; Vol. 318, c. 2549–2574.]I commend this to the Secretary of State and also to Mr. Tom Johnston in his capacity not only as Chairman of the Hydro-Electric Board, but also of the Scottish Tourist Board, and also to the Department of Agriculture, the Forestry Commission and all public bodies in Scotland. In particular I commend this as the real and lasting solution to the Secretary of State for Scotland—to create a participating public interest in the enjoyment and, therefore, the protection of what thus would become a truer national asset.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Gage (Belfast, South)
I make no apology for intervening in a Scottish debate, though I confess I have only realised the terrors since hearing the speech of the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan). I should say that I have some knowledge of the subject. First, I must confess that I am one of those people who have occasionally taken a fish without first taking fully into my confidence the owners of the banks of the rivers. In that, at least, I will be commended by the hon. Member for the Western Isles. I am glad to hear the tributes paid to my friend the poacher. I will see that they are brought to their attention, and will tell them that the Scots, with an hypocrisy which we had hitherto attributed to the English, shed sympathetic tears, while at the same time increasing the fines in respect of their poaching.
It is rather a pity that rod line poaching fines have been put up. Generally speaking, the rod and line poachers are sportsmen and fish in that way only because they are not rich enough to be able to rent stretches of the river. I have always felt that people who live in a particular river valley should have rights in regard to taking fish out of a river. In any event, I do not think they do much harm with rod and line.
The evil at which the Bill is chiefly aimed is organised gangsters who come from the towns and take fish out of the rivers. We have had experience of this in Northern Ireland, and we have dealt with it by two Acts of Parliament, the Game Preservation Act and the Wildfowl Protection Act. I want to emphasise to 1263 the Secretary of State for Scotland and to the Lord Advocate what our experience has been. It is that if we want to stop this practice, we have to attack, not the fellow who is taking the fish out of the river, but the market in which he sells it. It has been said again and again that if there were no receivers there would be no thieves. The real fault lies with the big hotels and restaurants which provide a ready market for poached fish. We found that it was best to get at them right at the very beginning, because that is where the real offence is committed. In the North of Ireland we have had no difficulty in making these people keep a register. I ask the Lord Advocate to look at Section 3 (1) of our Game Preservation Act, and he will see that they have to keep a register of all the sales that are made.
From the experience we have had in Northern Ireland in dealing with this matter, I would respectfully suggest that the way to stop salmon poaching is to say that everyone fishing for salmon ought to have a licence. One has to have it for shooting game. It could be quite a cheap one, costing perhaps only 5s. It would have to be registered at the Post Office with a number. When a sale of fish was made by the licence holder, it would be the duty of the purchaser to take the name and the number of the licence and to enter the particulars in his register. The police would have a right to examine the register. It would be a perfectly simple thing. The police would go at any time into a shop when game was exposed for sale. They would look at the register and notice the number of the licence, and then they could trace the fish to the person who originally took the salmon from the water.
If fictitious names or numbers were put into the register, we could always attack the people selling the game and make it an offence for them to have in their possession fish which had been illegally obtained. If we saw on the register again and again entries which were quite fictitious, we would have a prima facie case against them, just as we have against a receiver of stolen goods who says that he bought them from a man whose name he does not know at a place he has forgotten, and that he has no receipt.
1264 These are the people to attack, and not the fellow who is poaching. We can try to get the poachers, but really we never can put an end to it in that way. It is quite feasible to have licences and registers. We have had experience of them in Northern Ireland and we have found that the system is quite successful and works quite well. In the main, I agree with the Bill. My intervention has been only brief in order to offer such assistance from Northern Ireland as we can, to our friends across the water.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Lord Dunglass (Lanark)
I am sure that the Secretary of State will examine with interest the practical proposals which have just been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Gage) as a result of the experience in Northern Ireland.
The debate has been a happy Parliamentary occasion, because most of us have found it a relief after the press of international affairs to indulge in debate on a matter which has many pleasant associations. The debate has been notable if only because it has been one of the rare occasions on which my right hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. J. Stuart) has allowed himself to be heard. If he did so more often, the affairs of the House might be more interesting, and possibly a great deal shorter.
Something has been said about bouquets. If any more are to be thrown, we might expect one to the Opposition from the Lord Advocate. He will remember that for a good many months at Question Time we pressed for the introduction of a Bill of this kind. The excuse was always made that the legislative programme was too congested. In so far as the Opposition have succeeded in stemming the tide of the Lord President's more theoretical legislation and allowed him to get down to a Bill which is objective, practical and worth while, he should be grateful. I have looked all through the Bill, and I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman and say that, in the political sense at any rate, I can find nothing in it which is "fishy."
The Bill is, of course, designed to deal with the gangster poacher, and hon. Members on all sides of the House are satisfied that the facts have been established. These excursions by gangsters are within 1265 the experience of a good many hon. Members. The facts were established by the Maconochie Committee, and some of them have already been the subject of action in the courts. The Tweed is a very big river and it is very difficult to poach, but in the last four years we have had 250 convictions. Gangs have been working towards the upper reaches of the Tweed with which the bailiffs and the police together have been quite unable to deal, and on one occasion lately 200 spawning fish were taken out of the river and sold in a matter of a few weeks.
As far as I have been able to interpret the debate, there is no sympathy on any side of the House for the people who, by explosives and poison, not only destroy the spawning fish but also damage the young stock on which the future depends. There is no sympathy for any of the people who operate in what is properly called a black market.
I take it, too, that there is general agreement that the only way in which to deal with the problem is to make the penalty fit the crime. In regard to the gangster poacher, I believe that the fines can hardly be too high. If the fine had stood alone, there would almost have been a case for raising it higher still, but it does not stand alone, and in indictable cases there are not only heavy fines but there can be confiscation of gear, including the motor vehicle, and a prison sentence and we believe that the cumulative effect of the penalties should be an effective deterrent. Probably rightly, the Secretary of State said that he will look again at the £10 fine for the first offender. Of course, that is a maximum, but I do not believe that anybody feels very strongly about it, and I hope that he will not take too hasty a decision to lower it.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn drew attention to the importance which the Maconochie Committee attached to licensing. The Committee had not, of course, seen the Bill when they made the recommendation. It is true that where there is the right to search vehicles and premises, and where it is necessary for anybody who is sending fish by rail or road to label the packages, there are considerable additional safeguards, but even so it would seem a valid criticism of the Bill to say that, whereas the penalties come down very heavily on the poacher, the man who tempts, aids 1266 and abets and profits, is to a large extent immune.
The reason the Secretary of State gave for rejecting the proposal to introduce licences did not seem to me to be entirely convincing. I think his words were that it would cause a disproportionate administrative burden. But is that so? My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South, has suggested how, with comparative simplicity, it is carried out in Northern Ireland. I would not have thought it would be difficult to use this Bill to amend the Act dealing with the sale of game, putting salmon and trout on the same basis as pheasants and partridges and other game for the purposes of sale. As we attach a good deal of importance to this, I ask the Minister to consider it before the Committee stage.
As I read the Bill, the omission of a positive instruction will debar a river authority or the Fishmongers Company or a private individual from instituting and carrying through a prosecution. Therefore, all cases in Scotland will be brought to the courts at the instance of the Lord Advocate or the Procurator-Fiscal. I wonder why the Secretary of State and the Lord Advocate want to upset the present procedure which is working efficiently? My right hon. Friend gave examples of the way in which the Fishmongers Company have conducted their prosecutions. On the Tweed we operate in seven sheriff courts and three police courts in England. All the cases are co-ordinated by our superintendent, and we have conducted these affairs efficiently and smoothly. I cannot see that there is any good reason for upsetting this practice.
If the Bill passes, it will raise extraordinary anomalies for the Tweed. We shall be able to prosecute some offenders under our own Tweed Act. As regards the part of the river which is in England, we shall be able to bring cases before the appropriate courts in England, but for these new offences we shall have no status. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that before the Committee stage he should give general consideration to this as it affects the whole country and, in particular, as it affects the Tweed. We shall reserve the right to move Amendments so as to explore, and possibly improve, this position before the Committee stage is finished.
1267 What about the destiny of the fines? As the right hon. Gentleman knows, at present the fines collected by the river boards go to swell their revenues and help them to police the rivers. The right hon. Gentleman now fills an office where he is in fairly close contact with the Treasury. I do not think he can have failed, efficient as he is, to recognise this old cannibal which has appeared on the scene and is obviously bent on swallowing these increased funds.
May I say that this is one of the very few subjects upon which I have had no strictures directed from the Treasury?
§ Lord Dunglass
If it is the right hon. Gentleman's own idea, then I have some hope he will modify it, because he is a reasonable person. May I point out that every river board is finding it more and more expensive to pay its bailiffs and to do the work it should do in protecting the stocks of fish in its rivers. At present the boards use the fines they collect for this purpose and it would seem to be reasonable that they should be allowed to retain a percentage of these fines. I would not insist on it in the indictible cases, but I ask that a river board should be allowed to prosecute in an indictable case. I ask that a percentage of the funds should go to the river boards. As an illustration of the difficulty which we face in Scotland in the proper policing of the rivers in the winter, I would point out that on the Tweed before the war we had 30 bailiffs, and we considered ourselves understaffed, but at present we are able to employ only 14.
Perhaps the biggest and certainly the most controversial question which has emerged from this debate has been that of whether or not the close time for net fishing should be extended. The point has been made by several hon. Members that this is a penal Bill and that Clause 13 is one which we would not expect to find in a penal Bill dealing with poaching. Nevertheless, the right hon. Gentleman was wise to take this opportunity. No one can tell when we may have another opportunity to improve salmon fishing. It is not always easy for anybody to recognise what is good for himself. In these days it is not easy for industry of any 1268 kind to take a long view. Almost inevitably people take the short view, and when the future is obscure all of us tend to make hay while the sun shines, if that is the right metaphor.
Two facts are beyond dispute. First, the fortune of the nets and the rods depends absolutely on ample stocks of fish running up the Scottish rivers. Secondly—and I do not think this has been sufficiently appreciated during the debate up till now—the stocks of fish in the rivers in Scotland, without exception, I should say, are far below what is normal, what they have been or what we should desire them to be. The proportion of fish caught by the nets to those caught by rods is seven or eight to one. That is a fairly conservative estimate. If this provision of extra close time has the effect of increasing stocks, then the nets will benefit in the same ratio when improvement takes place.
From our observations on the Tweed, we have found that not only are our spawning stocks of fish far below what they were at the beginning of the century, but they are only 25 per cent. of what they were just before the war. We must deal with that situation, and the Secretary of State is perfectly right in dealing with it now. Certain of my hon. Friends, and others, have suggested that it is not only the nets which are causing the shortage of fish, but that it is due to other causes, and I agree.
The right hon. Gentleman would do a much better thing if he could introduce a Bill dealing with pollution. It should not be like the English Bill; let him improve on that. Do not let any hon. Member think that pollution is the only cause, or even the main cause, of the diminution in the number of fish in the rivers. Pollution in the Tweed is less than it was 20 years ago, and yet our stocks are decreasing. In the Dee, the autumn run of fish has completely disappeared, and yet there is no pollution whatever. In the Beauly, for which there are full records right up to the present, it will be found that there has been a continuing decline over the last 30 or 40 years, yet there is no pollution worth mentioning. Therefore, we must be careful before we lay the blame for this present condition mainly on pollution, although it is an important matter which must be dealt with.
1269 Several hon. Members have said that there is no evidence of insufficient fish in our rivers to produce a really satisfactory stock, but there is an extraordinary fall in the Tweed, which is one of the most important rivers in the British Isles from the salmon fishing point of view, and I think I have shown that there is room for real anxiety.
Any of us who serve on river authorities want to see harmony with the nets. Several hon. Members have mentioned this question of netting, and have shown considerable anxiety about it. Do not let us make any mistake; so far as the upkeep of the rivers is concerned, the main burden is borne by the riparian owners. On the Tweed, for instance, for every £11 paid by the riparian owners, the nets pay £6. In equity, I do not know whether they have any claim or whether there is any need for the rod to offer a quid pro quo.
We want to be friendly and live in harmony, and I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he might consider whether all the rivers in Scotland could not afford to close down a week or 10 days earlier than they do at present in the autumn, when the fish are in bad condition, or—and I believe this would be acceptable to the nets—that he should make fishing by bait in the summer months illegal, and particularly by trawl. I see that the right hon. Gentleman holds up his hands in horror, but let him consider it. Great depredations have been done by people who fish a river and take a great many fish out of it.
The great virtue in this proposal for an earlier close time for the nets is that it would give a spread-over of fish running up to the spawning beds, and a higher percentage of fish running each week would get into the upper reaches of the rivers. Therefore, I hope that during the Committee stage the right hon. Gentleman will not consider amendments to the principle of the Bill, that he will not abandon the principle, but that he will consider any Amendment which is designed to aid convenience in administration by those people who have to operate the Bill.
The Lord Advocate will be anxious to deal with the many points that have arisen in the debate, so I will conclude by saying that it has been an unusual 1270 experience for a politician or a fisherman—and the right hon. and learned Gentleman is both—in that practically all the conditions today have been favourable, so that his fish, I am bound to say, appears to be fairly well hooked, and we all hope that he will be able to bring it through all its stages to the land. He may not be able to do so, because we on this side of the House may antedate the Government. If not, he will have the satisfaction of knowing that there are many people in full sympathy with his ideas, and, at any rate, once more I say how glad we are on this side that this Bill has been brought in at this time.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ The Lord Advocate (Mr. John Wheatley)
I am sure that the House would agree that we have had an interesting and varied debate. The noble Lord the Member for Lanark (Lord Dunglass), who has just sat down, said it was a pleasant relief from the atmosphere of international affairs. I did not get that impression from the course of the debate, having regard to the number of English hon. Members who intervened, but I think that, with the possible exceptions of my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian and Peebles (Mr. Pryde), and my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan), there is general agreement and acceptance of the Bill. Certainly, the purposes of the Bill seemed to commend themselves to the majority of the speakers who entered into the debate.
Not unnaturally, there were conflicting views as to how these purposes should be achieved, and, bearing in mind the many conflicting interests, not only of hon. Members in the House who disclosed their interests, but the many conflicting interests within their own constituencies, which they had to try to reconcile, it was not surprising that so many conflicting views were aired. But I think that in approaching these matters and in arriving at the ultimate solution we must remember the main purpose of the Bill. If we keep our eyes fixed on its main purpose it may enable us to reconcile a number of conflicting views. The main purpose of the Bill is to protect, preserve, and, if possible, improve the stock of fish in our rivers.
1271 This has been referred to as a penal Bill, but its penal aspect is only the method of executing the primary purpose, and if any benefit accrues to or detriments are suffered by any persons in the course of the pursuance of that purpose, then that is merely coincidental because we are not, by this Measure, trying to sort out the respective rights of different parties fishing in our rivers.
A plea was made by my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles in relation to the transfer of ownership of the fishing rights. I think that would be a very interesting, and, I am sure, a very argumentative, subject, but we are not trying to solve that particular difficulty within the ambit of this Bill. I trust that we can approach this problem by trying to solve the problems which confront us at present and by finding a solution that will be just and equitable, irrespective of who happens to be the owner of the fishing rights at any particular time. While the genesis of the Bill was an attempt to cope with the abuses created by the organised poacher, we have tried to take advantage of the situation to tidy up the law on this subject in certain respects. We tried to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate fishing, and, if I may use the phrase so commonly used throughout the debate, we even tried to distinguish between the legitimate and illegitimate poacher.
I, also, would like to add my word of thanks to the Maconochie Committee, on whose report this Bill substantially proceeds. We have framed the Bill largely on their recommendations, and where there has been a departure from those recommendations we think that that departure has been made for good and sufficient reasons. In doing so, we cast no reflection on the committee because I am afraid it is the lot of all committees that they seldom have all their recommendations adopted in full when legislation ensues.
Various hon. Members have disclosed their interest in the Bill. I think I should disclose my one and only interest. It is a purely professional one; it is that, as Lord Advocate, I shall be responsible, and my successors in office will be responsible, for the enforcement of its provisions. Unlike most of the other speakers in the debate, I am not a fisherman. I 1272 am afraid that my fishing experience was confined to a jelly jar and minnows in a local burn. Whether that would constitute an offence under this Bill or not, I hope I shall not be pressed to express an opinion.
There is, perhaps, a certain degree of exaggeration liable to creep into any subject of debate dealing with fishing because it is characteristic and notable that exaggeration is the hall-mark of a good fisherman. In fact, it brings to mind the perfectly true incident which occurred in the Court of Session during a litigation which had as its basis the alleged interference with fish in a particular river as the result of the introduction of noxious materials. It was many years ago, and in substantiation of the case evidence was being led as to the size and quality of the fish before the introduction of the noxious materials and their size and quality after the introduction. A great deal turned on the evidence of the ghillies and other local people, and as one ghillie came out of the witness box he was heard to say, if I may use the ipsissima verba, "It is a damned sin being put on oath in a fishing case."
There were many points raised in the course of the debate, some of which, perhaps, are more appropriate to the Committee stage. I hope I shall not be accused of lack of courtesy if I do not manage to deal with all of them in the time at my disposal. I propose to go quickly through the Bill, dealing with the Clauses on which comments were made and afterwards, if time permits, dealing with criticism in respect of matters not dealt with in the Bill.
A certain amount of criticism was levelled at Clause 1, because of the increase in the penalty from £5 to £10. I fear a great deal of that is entirely misguided. In the first instance, I should make it clear that all the summary prosecutions under this Bill will be taken in the sheriff court. There will be no prosecution in any of the inferior courts of summary jurisdiction. Some of my hon. Friends prayed in aid the recommendations of the Maconochie Committee when it suited them, and repudiated them when they equally did not suit them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), in dealing with this matter, thought it was a pity that 1273 we had not taken cognisance of the recommendations of the Committee in this respect. But the Committee suggested that the penalty for this particular offence should be £50. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has indicated, we have not a fixed mind on this subject but the original figure of £5 was fixed as far back as 1844 and when we re-enacted the law we thought it was not disproportionate to make the maximum fine of £5 in 1844 into a maximum fine of £10 in 1950.
I would only repeat what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. J. Stuart) said…and we welcome him again in leading for the Opposition on this Bill—when he pointed out to one of my hon. Friends that this figure is the maximum and it will be for the sheriffs in summary cases, having regard to the facts and circumstances of each particular case, to determine what fines will be appropriate within those limits. For instance, it might be that in the case of the poaching of a single fish, a lenient view would be taken. It might be that a man was found poaching fish where it could not be proved by legal evidence that he had contravened any of the other provisions of this measure but had landed a considerable catch. In such a case a fine of £10 might not be disproportionate but might even be disproportionate in the wrong direction.
A principal critic of Clause 2 was my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn). I do not want to go into the matter he raised in any great detail, because it is probably a matter for the Committee stage and not the Second Reading. I think he will appreciate that, despite his excursions into decisions of the Court of Session and the House of Lords, the eventual decision of the highest court in this country on the methods employed in the Forth, to which he referred, was that they were illegal methods. And it is asking a great deal of us to countenance illegal methods in the Forth without countenancing them in other parts of Scotland and in that part of the Tweed that is in England.
It would be very difficult indeed not to make it an offence in relation to the River Forth when the same process, by virtue of the decision of the House of Lords, would be a ground for an action 1274 of interdict at the instance of the proprietors against the fishermen; and when there would be the right to proceed in the civil courts for interdict but the fishermen could not be prosecuted in the Forth in respect of this fishing, whereas they could be prosecuted in respect of this method of fishing in the other rivers in Scotland.
That is the difficulty, and I am quite sure that if we do not depart from the Bill as it stands, whereby net and coble, as well as rod and line, are regarded as the only legal method of catching fish, it will not be outwith the wit of the constituents of my right hon. Friend to devise ways and means of fishing by net and coble in a manner which would satisfy the requirements of the law. I am sure my right hon. Friend will appreciate that if they had the wit and intelligence to return him as Member of Parliament, they will have the wit and intelligence to get out of this difficulty.
Clauses 3 and 4 are primarily designed to get the gangs who have made this commercialised venture and against which we wish to direct all our energy and operations. The suggestion was that since we have made the definition for the purpose of Clause 3 "two or more persons acting together," we would be interfering with the rights of people who could not be properly called members of a gang. Eventually we have got to come to a definition. In the 1862 Act three or more persons engaged in night poaching in combination were specially treated—and when they referred to night poaching in combination, they were referring to the method and not to the sartorial equipment. But there we had a definition of "three or more persons engaged."
We have come to the opinion that it is necessary to reduce that to two, and to extend it beyond night poaching, because the difficulty is that these depredations take place in remote parts of the country and can take place by day as well as by night. Two people could carry out the nefarious work, and we feel that if we do not extend this definition to cover gangs operating even only in two's, we might be letting loose some of the worst offenders in these circumstances. But, of course, if it transpired that two people were engaging together in innocuous poaching—in what has been called the traditional poaching—that 1275 is a factor which the court can take into account.
The court will know quite well why we have enacted Clause 3. They will know quite well that the increased penalties which Clause 3 enacts were not designed to meet the legitimate poacher, whether he was acting singly or as one of a pair, but were designed to meet the gangs who were carrying on a commercial enterprise. I do not think we need have any great concern about the fact that we have included "two or more persons" in this Clause.
I do not think there was any real dissent to Clause 4 because that method of obtaining fish is obnoxious to all decent minded people.
On Clause 7, I found that while there was no objection at all to the creation of this offence, there was a certain amount of objection to the subsection which provides that the court may convict on the evidence of one witness. May I say here and now that it was necessary to introduce this Clause, because without it all the rights of search recommended by the Committee and provided for in this Bill would have gone for naught, since experience showed that if people were caught in possession of fish or of gear indicating this nefarious type of poaching at a point away from the locus, under the existing law no action could be taken against them.
Attention was directed to that fact before the Committee by the Chief Constables' Association. If it was impossible to get into the net people who were discovered one mile or 20 miles or 50 miles away from the point where the offence was committed, the right of search was worthless. It was no use having the right to search a vehicle at Aberdeen if the fish had been taken out of the Dee, somewhere up the Dee, and we could not charge the people who were in possession of the fish at Aberdeen. We introduced this new offence of illegal possession particularly to strike at the organised poachers operating on a commercial basis.
Why did we introduce the provision about one witness? We gave this matter very grave consideration because the common law of Scotland provides that no person shall be convicted except on the evidence of two witnesses, or one 1276 witness corroborated by facts and circumstances. But, of course, it is quite wrong to suggest, as my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian and Peebles (Mr. Pryde), suggested, that this is something entirely unprecedented. In point of fact, there is a very close analogy in poaching for game under the Poaching Prevention Act of 1862, which, incidentally, attracts the provisions of the Day Trespass Act of 1832. A person can be convicted on the evidence of one witness for the very analogous offence of poaching for game, and I have here a catalogue of other Statutes under which the evidence of one witness is sufficient, if believed, to obtain a conviction.
The court must be satisfied, of course, as to the evidence of that witness, and I am sure that not only does precedent justify this step but expediency justifies it, too, because, as I have said before, many of these offences take place in the more remote parts of the country, and often the person discovering the offence, be he a constable or a water bailiff or someone else, is unaccompanied. If we are making a proper and determined attack on these gangs, we must take rather drastic measures. Thus, knowing that we are departing from a principle from which we do not lightly depart, I think the facts and circumstances fully justify the departure.
I should like to pass to the question of the rights of water bailiffs in relation to search and to arrest, because they follow naturally from what I have said. Incidentally, the powers of water bailiffs, as contained in Clause 10, are largely a re-enactment of Sections 25 and 28 of the Act of 1868, so that we are not giving any additional powers to water bailiffs under Clause 10. Of course, we restrict these powers to their own districts or to adjoining districts.
When we turn to the power of search, about which a great deal has been said, I should like to point out that, under the Act of 1868, both the constable and the water bailiff have the right and the power to search, provided they have obtained a warrant from a justice of the peace or the sheriff. Where we depart in this Bill from the previous law is that we are giving certain rights to the constable and the water bailiff and to the person appointed by the Secretary of State under certain circumstances to make a search without a warrant.
1277 Where the warrant is granted by a justice of the peace or the sheriff we are, of course, dealing with the law as it stands, and that enables the constable or the bailiff or the person appointed by the Secretary of State not only to search the premises but to search persons in or entering or leaving the premises. When we come to the right to search without a warrant, such right is confined to cases of urgency and it will be for the court to determine whether or not the case was urgent. If a person abuses this power, he will be liable to action for civil damages and it will then be a question for the courts in a civil action to determine whether the urgency justified the use of the power.
We have made a very important reservation. If a search is being made without a warrant, a water bailiff has no right to search persons in a house or persons entering or leaving a house. That right is confined solely to the police constable. So far as the apprehension of offenders is concerned, we have restricted the existing law in this respect. Under the Act of 1868 there was a right of any person to apprehend an offender; not just the constable, not just the water bailiff, but any person had the right of apprehending an offender under the 1868 Act. But we have decided to restrict that to the three categories to whom I have already referred, the constable, the water bailiff and the person appointed by the Secretary of State, for the simple reason that we feel that to continue this process of vesting an ordinary citizen with the power of arrest may lead to a great deal of trouble. It is one thing for an official to go forward, be he constable or water bailiff, to effect an arrest; it is a different matter if John Smith goes forward and says, "I am going to arrest you"; there is likely to be a breach of the peace, and probably a great deal of dissatisfaction.
Clause 13 has proved, I think, perhaps the most controversial Clause in this debate. I think the undertaking given by the Secretary of State not only to consult but to canvass the views of any interested bodies really finishes the matter so far as this debate is concerned; and it can be carried on when we come to the Committee stage. I do trust, however, that hon. Members will take the long-term view. There are many interests involved here, but even those whose immediate 1278 interest may be damnified to a certain extent must be asked to take the longterm view in the interest of the salmon and, incidentally, in their own interest. I am quite sure that no one can gainsay that proposals of this nature—to extend the period during which the fish will have a free run up river, however effected, whether by any of the various alternative suggestions, or by sticking to the original proposals, or by adapting them to meet some of the suggestions put forward—which will increase the time for a free run of the fish up river are good for the fish, good for the industry, and good for all concerned.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley rose
§ The Lord Advocate
The hon. Gentleman must excuse me for not giving way. The point will come up on the Committee stage. I just wanted to say that I thought we should get more support from both sides of the House on this issue—that we should get approval from my hon. Friends on this side of the five day week for the fish, and support from the other side of the House for the proposal to set the fish free.
We come to Clause 14. I think that there is not very much criticism at all there, because the marking of packages is one way of securing that the black market does not take place. When, however, we come to Clause 16, dealing with the penalties, we are dealing with the matter which, perhaps, primarily concerns me, and on which questions were raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Moray and Nairn. Quite clearly, categorically, and with as much emphasis as I can command, I say that I am all in favour of making offences under this Bill or under any other Statute public prosecutions, because I think the whole tendency in Scotland is towards eliminating private prosecutions, and vesting the responsibility, right and duty of prosecution with the Public Prosecutor, and removing the right of the private individual to prosecute his fellow citizens in his own interests.
We have recognised, as distinct from England, where private prosecutions do take place, that we have law, institutions and customs which recognise the right of the Public Prosecutor to prosecute, and in recent times we have seen the removal bit by bit of the right of private interests 1279 to prosecute. I could not accede to the suggestion of the noble Lord who wound up for the Opposition that some rights in some cases should be given to private individuals. [An HON. MEMBER: "The river boards."] Or the river boards. This is a question of principle. I think that the proper person to prosecute is the Public Prosecutor. All these cases will be in the sheriff courts or the High Court of Justiciary and under the jurisdiction of the Lord Advocate.
It is perfectly true that some people think that they should still be allowed to prosecute. The principle is that people who have a vested interest should not determine whether or not a person is brought into the criminal courts. That should be the objective decision of a person who has no interest, namely, the Public Prosecutor. While I am not suggesting that prosecutions were ever taken for the purpose of swelling the funds of the concern which happened to bring the prosecution, the fact is that any fine recovered went to that body and not to the public funds.
In this respect, I should like to quote the views of a person well known in this House, whose views would have a great deal of weight with hon. Members, and perhaps particularly with hon. Gentlemen opposite, because, although he is now the Lord Justice General of Scotland, he was formerly Lord Advocate in a Conservative Government. Lord Cooper, in a recent case in which the private prosecutor was the Fishmongers Company, referred to by the right hon. Gentleman, said:There remains the matter around which the debate centred, namely, the admissibility of the vital evidence relating to the discovery of the salmon in the cold store. The respondents, the Fishmongers' Company, are private prosecutors, who appear to have assumed, both in Scotland and England, the responsibility of enforcing the Act, and it is certainly a little odd that a matter which has latterly acquired so pronounced an element of public interest should not yet have been confided to the Public Prosecutor alone.Well, we intend to do that in this Bill, and thus endorse the views of the Lord Justice General.
I am afraid that I must leave the other matters raised in the debate until the Committee stage. I should just like to 1280 say that we have given a great deal of concern to the question whether or not we should introduce the licensing system, and I only make this observation in passing in answer to the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Gage). It is one thing to do this in the narrow confines of Northern Ireland, but to do it in this Bill would have meant extending it, not just throughout Scotland, but throughout the whole of England, to make it effective. Every catering establishment, hotel, boarding house and cold store throughout the country which might have an isolated transaction in salmon would require to keep records. That was far too great an imposition for the results which might have been achieved—by results I mean convictions as a result of inspections disclosing offences which had been committed. We can develop that in Committee, but I am rather surprised to find so many hon. Members opposite wanting more controls and more inspectors.
§ The Lord Advocate
When we say that hon. Members opposite disagree.
In conclusion, I should like to thank hon. Members on both sides for the great interest they have shown and the helpful suggestions they have made. I trust that in Committee we shall be able to fashion this Bill so as to produce something which will get rid of many of the evils which unfortunately have grown up in Scotland at the present time.
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House."—[Mr. Hannan.]
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
Might I ask whether it is proposed to take the Committee stage of the Bill at an early date?
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House for Tomorrow.