HC Deb 13 February 1951 vol 484 cc322-30

(1) All angling leases, privileges and riparian rights shall expire on the first day of January, nineteen hundred and fifty-five, and full responsibility for care and maintenance of river banks, restocking of species and regulation of angling in rivers and lochs in Scotland shall be vested from that date in a Board of six persons who shall be appointed by the Secretary of State for Scotland.

(2) Legal title to fish for salmon, trout and other freshwater fish in Scotland will only be secured by possession of a licence (not transferable to other parties), to be issued by any Crown Post Office at a fee fixed by the aforesaid Board.

(3) The aforesaid Board shall clearly define the terms "legal" and "illegal" methods of fishing.—[Mr. Pryde.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Pryde

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

All through the Bill I have indicated that the constituency which I have the great honour to represent has had a grievance in past years in connection with the angling on the great River Tweed. From my earliest days I have heard anglers say that the rivers of Scotland are national assets and should be utilised in the national interest. From the evidence I have already adduced tonight there is no question but that the control of angling on the River Tweed, which is the main unit in our discussions—

Mr. Boothby

That is not true. The hon. Gentleman should not say that it is the main unit; there are many other units of equal importance.

Mr. Pryde

They have been conspicuous by their absence during all the discussions on the Bill. I have shown that there is a desire on the part of the people of Scotland to have a change in the ownership of the rivers and lochs of Scotland. Today, there is a tendency on the part of the riparian owners to regard themselves as salmon proprietors; in fact, they have been so described by the chairman of the Tweed Commissioners in the columns of the great national daily newspaper, "The Scotsman." The people of Scotland deny that.

The right hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. J. Stuart) quoted a letter from the chairman of the Tweed Commissioners in which he said that the poached salmon in question had come from the Tweed area. I should like to know how that salmon was identified and what difference there was between that salmon and salmon from the Dee, Don, Tay and Spey, or any of the other rivers in the North of Scotland. Did they wear green and white jerseys or something like that? Members of the angling associations in the River Tweed are not getting a fair and square deal. Hem I would quote from an angler in the town of Peebles—an angler who is not a poacher, because he has not been caught. He says: There exist charters which grant us rights undreamed of by most people here in Peebles. Such documents have been hidden away and conveniently forgotten. I contend that my proposed Clause will remove all the anomalies and troubles with regard to angling in Scotland. This new Clause makes it the obligation of the Government to see to it that the avers of Scotland are controlled and organised for the benefit of the economy of the country. Subsection (2) says: Legal title to fish for salmon, trout and other freshwater fish in Scotland will only be secured by possession of a licence (not transferable to other parties), to be issued by any Crown Post Office at a fee fixed by the aforesaid Board. Subsection (3) says that: The aforesaid Board shall clearly define the terms of 'legal' and 'illegal ' methods of fishing. During all the discussions on the Bill this has never been defined.

I was rather interested in the sight of staid old gentlemen on the other side of the Committee displaying a knowledge of "sniggling," the Scots term for which is "sneggling." I hope that we can get angling in Scotland based on what I term a reasonable method, such as exists in the other Commonwealth countries, where there is no private ownership of the rivers. Why should the old Mother Country be dragging behind? I ask hon. Members to take their courage in their hands and go into the Lobby to ensure that this Clause is incorporated in the Bill.

I recall a fine Saturday morning when some of us from the mining areas of Midlothian went up the Tweed. Because the gentleman in question is still alive I will not give his name, but we will call him "Tommy." Tommy saw two water bailiffs coming up and he hastily changed his lure. The water bailiffs asked Tommy to show his lure, and he showed them a nice small round new potato. What do you expect to get with that?" the water bailiffs asked? "Come away" said one to the other, "He's soft."

That night the two water bailiffs were on the platform at Peebles station, and as the train was coming round the bend the water bailiffs espied Tommy and said to him, "How did you get on?" Tommy said, "I got a basketful." "Let's see them" said the water bailiffs, and he showed them the basketful. "What did you get these with?" asked the water bailiffs. "With the tattie" said Tommy, and as he jumped into the carriage he looked at them and said, "but of course, I'm soft." The rest of us had none in our baskets, but Tommy had a basketful.

The salmon roe lure is one of the deadliest lures of all, and he was using a salmon roe lure. There are some districts where spinning is not allowed because it has drag hooks which mutilate the fish. There are other places where even the dry fly is not allowed, and the witch and the otter are only conglomerations of dry flies or wet flies, as the case may be, and positively illegal. We should face the problem of defining legal and illegal lures, and I am sure it is not beyond the capacity of this Committee to do so.

9.45 p.m.

Mr. Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)

I have great pleasure in supporting the Clause which had been so admirably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian and Peebles (Mr. Pryde). I am quite sure, in view of the sentiments which have been expressed in the Committee, that the purpose of this Clause will be warmly approved, because it will remove from the Bill the stigma which has been attached to it by some of my hon. Friends on this side of the House.

I am anxious, Major Milner, not to get out of order, and I trust that you will keep me in order. The Bill has been stigmatised on this side of the Committee as a landlord's charter. We want to show that to be entirely wrong, and one method by which we can prove that this is not just a landlord's charter is to incorporate into the Bill this new Clause—I do not know how many people are addressing the Chair at present, but I hope that the committee meetings which are proceeding may be continued in some other part of the building. I am suggesting that to save this Measure from the stigma—perhaps the hon. Gentleman for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling) will give me his attention—that it is a landlord's charter, we should add this Clause to the Bill.

My hon. Friend dealt with three aspects of the new Clause. It is founded on very substantial evidence, and I want to give examples which have already become historical in the life of our country. I want to recall to the memory of the Committee evidence, which has never been disproved, that certain claims to land which were made in the past were based on force in some cases, on fraud in others, and merely by actual possession in a great many more. During the time the Coal Commission was sitting it was shown that much of the land of this country—

The Chairman (Major Milner)

The hon. Gentleman is going very wide of the new Clause.

Mr. Rankin

I am simply using this as an example, Major Milner, to prove the case that the rights under which some people claim ownership were in many cases non-existent, and that the land which they possess had been granted to them by people who, in later life, were confined as lunatics, and who, in some cases, never passed beyond the mental age of childhood. Yet because of possession, they were able to grant these rights. It was shown when the Coal Commission was sitting—

The Chairman

I do not think that the question of present ownership arises. The new Clause makes proposals for the future. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will confine himself to that.

Mr. Rankin

I am trying to show that if the prescriptive rights that are now claimed for the possession of rivers and river banks were examined, they would not be on any better basis than some of those which have already been examined. That makes the new Clause one that is based on real substance, and because of that fact I am very glad indeed that my hon. Friend has seen fit to propose it. I hope the Secretary of State will see his way to accept it, because it will redeem the Bill and make it one which we on this side of the Committee can fully and completely support.

Mr. McNeil

I am sure the Committee is indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian and Peebles (Mr. Pryde), who has made his case with great directness, because it very much appeals to a Scotsman. It all depends under which conditions one is fishing, what time one is fishing at, who has been there before, and who one suspects will come after. I have every sympathy with the very good story which my hon. Friend told about Tommy and the potato. The truth, of course, was that Tommy did not catch the trout with the potato but he caught two water bailiffs. That is fair game any time.

To come down from that delightful occupation to this new Clause is rather a big jump indeed. If we were discussing a Bill under which we proposed to close all greengrocers at five p.m. instead of six p.m., and my hon. Friend suddenly introduced a new Clause providing for the national ownership of these greengrocers, it would be analogous to what we have before us tonight. If I set aside the principle and discuss the details of the Clause, my hon. Friend and I would find a good deal about which we should differ. On reflection, I think that my hon. Friend would agree that not every one capable of paying a small fee should be permitted to fish anywhere just by that simple act. We all know the skilful angler which my hon. Friend is, and we all know what would be the state of the banks of the Tweed if that were the case. I would indeed be disappointed if he were not the first to raise his voice.

Moreover, I should not like to think that, however unsatisfactory the present system is, I were giving such wide powers to some board even if it comprised six people of the same character, ability, geniality and eloquence as my hon. Friend. If we accepted the principle we should have to find a more precise, and more workable formula than this. However, I cannot accept the principle because this is rather a large tail to fit to a comparatively small Bill. No one knows that more precisely than my hon. Friend. He has made a good speech in making his point of view, and he will, I am sure, understand the importance of the point of view of the Committee.

Mr. Gage

I have a great deal of sympathy for the proposed new Clause. In my province of Ulster, all trout fishing is free. Any sincere sportsman and angler, as he wanders beside a river, would hate to think that anyone should be debarred from joining him in fishing. Sport should be shared by all types of people. I was taught my own fishing by a very humble soul who was one of the best sportsmen that I ever knew. It was on a very good piece of water in which anyone could fish. I know the practical difficulties, and it is true, as the Secretary of State for Scotland has said, that waters like that get over-fished and that, in the end, it often happens that instead of there being fishing for some there is no fishing for anyone.

Another thing is that there must be a certain amount of preservation done, but we get nobody interested in it or doing it, and in that way the water soon gets worked out. There is no purpose in joining an angling club if one can have as much fishing as one likes. On the whole the present system in Scotland works very well. Take Central Ayrshire. The admirable angling clubs there can exercise control of the waters and see that they are not over-fished. They have looked after the waters in that way.

Subsection (2) proposes something that I have always thought should be done. People who fish, whether for salmon or trout, ought to take out a small licence, as they have to do with regard to game. I can see no harm in that proposal at all. Apart from whether fishing is free or not, that is a system I would advocate. If such a licensing system were introduced, it would do a tremendous lot to stop poaching. I do not want it to be thought that no one on this side of the Committee has a great sympathy with the Clause. All sportsmen like to see their sport enjoyed by others.

Mr. M. MacMillan

There is a very great sympathy on this side with the proposed new Clause, and most Members would like to see taken under national ownership and control what is throughout the Bill regarded and protected as a national asset. We do not give our support to the Bill because of the privileges of private ownership of salmon. We give our support in the interest of safeguarding the stocks of what we believe to be a national asset. My hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian and Peebles (Mr. Pryde) expressed what we feel, even in supporting the Bill in its present limited form. The new Clause proposes to provide for the future by doing away with many of the evils of the past and remedying many of the evils of the present.

10.0 p.m.

I recognise that the principle of the new Clause would not be contained within the principle of the Bill as it was accepted on Second Reading, because it proposes that we should set up a board for the purposes set out in the proposed Clause. I do not think it would be possible or feasible to contain this provision within a Bill of such a limited character as this one, the general principle of which we accepted on Second Reading. But I do not see that there could be any objection to a small fee being payable by everybody—with safeguards. That would create a participating interest among the general public in the protection of this national asset. The more people who become active fishermen, under safeguards, at the same time contributing revenue for the conservation of stocks, the more we create a public spirit interested in putting down the poachers.

The more we extend general interest and participation, the more likely we are to get enthusiastic protection of this important national asset. There appears to be considerable sympathy with this point of view in a new Clause proposed by the Liberal Party, which will probably get a great deal of support from this side of the Committee. I should not like to say anything in condemnation of anything contained in my hon. Friend's Clause. My only difficulty is to fit it into the already accepted principle of the Bill. We committed ourselves on Second Reading to acceptance of the Bill and its purpose, but I have every sympathy with the proposed Clause.

Mr. Ross

Judging by the silence on the Opposition Benches while this Clause has been considered, it may well be that hon. Gentlemen opposite wish to get through the Bill, but I can assure them that the people of Ayrshire, and of Scotland in general, are very interested in the Clause. I have had letters from strange and various parts of Scotland from people not of my political complexion who think this is an excellent idea. If hon. Gentlemen opposite, with the interests which they have been supporting so strongly today, would even take note of the genesis of this support for the Clause, we might benefit because it has arisen very largely from the frustration of anglers in Scotland. This is not just anglers in certain areas. We can speak for our fine angling societies and clubs in Ayrshire, but there are extensive parts of Scotland in which no angling club can thrive—

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

No river?

Mr. Ross

It is not a case of there being no river. I wish that the hon. Gentleman who sits for one of the English parts of Scotland would have a look at the coastline on the map of Scotland again and see exactly how many rivers there are. I do not want to have to resume my former occupation and tell him the number but he is in considerable need of enlightenment. Angling clubs can only exist if they have access to rivers, and there are great stretches of river to which angling clubs are refused access.

Major Hicks-Beach (Cheltenham)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ross

I am afraid that I cannot.

Hon. Members


Mr. Ross

Hon. Gentlemen opposite have been telling us that we should hurry up because they want to get through the Bill. It will delay matters if I give way.

Major Hicks-Beach

I should be extremely brief.

Mr. Ross

The abuses which necessitate the Bill—they relate largely to ordinary poaching—arise because of difficulties in certain parts of Scotland in joining angling clubs and in the clubs getting decent stretches of water for fishing. There was evidence comparatively recently of considerable enthusiasm in Scotland among certain members of the nobility for the restoration of property long since taken away and now, we rather think, returned to Scotland. If they followed this up by handing back to the people of Scotland the stretches of river which they now consider their private property, it would not be at all a bad idea.

I confess frankly that the arguments put forward by the Secretary of State regarding the major change this would make in the Bill are justified. Although the people who today own these stretches of rivers guard them so carefully that they will not let to local people, somehow or other these local people have the idea that they have a certain right to fish in those rivers. Perhaps it is strange that we should have that feeling about our local rivers. As a matter of fact, if one looks into the charter of the River Ayr, there was a time when they owned all the land and all the fishing rights between the Rivers Ayr and Doon. Where are they now? If those owners would appreciate the feeling of frustration amongst Scottish anglers at being debarred from fishing in their own rivers, and would make some gesture as has been made, for instance, about Macduff recently it would go a long way to meet the objections of our people at the present time.

Major Hicks-Beach

Does that mean that the hon. Member agrees with the confiscation of private rights?

Question put, and negatived.