HC Deb 04 August 1965 vol 717 cc1835-8

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [2nd July]. That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Question again proposed.

10.33 p.m.

Colonel Sir Tufton Beamish (Lewes)

I am glad to have this opportunity to make a few remarks about the Bill. I would, at the outset, like to say how greatly I appreciate the assistance I have had from the Government during the passage of the Measure. I am glad to see the Joint Parliamentary Secretary in his place and I hope that he will comment on the Measure before we give it its Third Reading, as I am sure we will.

The Bill started life as a Private Member's Measure in this House. I drew a low place in the Ballot and the Bill ran into some minor difficulties. As a result, it was transferred to another place, where it was skilfully handled by the noble Lord, Lord Egremont, helped on by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in another place. It was owing to a misunderstanding that the Bill did not get its Third Reading in this House. Now that the difficulty has been cleared away, we are having what I think will be a short Third Reading debate.

I will briefly describe what the Bill sets out to achieve. It is an all-party Measure and has had the support of the three parties in the House throughout its journey. It has also had the backing of the River Authorities' Association and widespread backing in the country. There has been no opposition at all and, as I have indicated, it has throughout had the blessing of the Government, for which I am grateful.

The Bill is based on Chapter 14 of the Bledisloe Committee's Report, in which the Committee recommended very strongly indeed that the penalties for persons killing fish by illegal methods—by which I mean the use of explosives, electrical devices or poisons—should be substantially increased. There is a common factor in these three methods; their indiscriminate character. There is nothing selective about killing fish by any of these methods. Those who have indulged in these indiscriminate methods have had rich hauls and have made fat profits, and have caused very severe damage to many rivers in England and Wales, as they had previously in Scotland. If these methods were to be allowed to continue with impunity for two or three years more, some of the finest salmon and trout rivers in England and Wales could be destroyed for a long time to come.

The most serious method used by these poachers is the use of poisons, particularly a poison called Cymag—well known to many right hon. and hon. Members as one which is legally and properly used for the destruction of pests, particularly rabbits and rats. There is clear evidence that, in one night, gangs of poachers using this poison can make as much as £300, £400 or £500. I have amassed evidence from Cumberland, Westmorland, Lancashire, the West Country and Wales, but these methods could be used anywhere that the poachers chose.

The main object of the Bill is to make the punishment fit the crime, and it is my hope and expectation that if and when it becomes law it will nearly eliminate the scientific gang poaching that has been going on for a number of years in England and Wales. The Bill is modelled on the Scottish Act of 1951, which was wisely passed by a Labour Government and has been very effective in Scotland.

The Bill would become operative within three months of its enactment. It repeals and re-enacts with amendments Section 9 of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act, 1923—which, after all, is now more than 40 years old. At the same time, it somewhat widens the scope of that Section in order to improve the chances of conviction. It also sets out to strengthen the enforcement powers held by river authorities.

Penalties are the nub of the Measure. The penalties in Section 9 of the 1923 Act are today derisory—so much so that they have ceased to deter at all. Very few prosecutions are now brought under the Section, and a great deal of poaching has been able to continue with impunity. The Bill's object is to provide penalties that will ensure that there is a real deterrent.

Under the 1923 Act, the maximum fine for poaching of this scientific and rather wicked character is £50, which I believe is the maximum fine one can incur for unintentionally parking one's car without sidelights. The Bill provides a penalty on summary conviction of imprisonment of up to three months or a fine of up to £50; or, on a second offence, for a fine of up to £100, or, in either case, both imprisonment and fine. It provides, on indictment, for imprisonment for up to two years or for a fine for which no maximum is laid down, or for both. In its penalties on summary conviction and on indictment the Bill follows lines similar to those already incorporated in the Scottish Act of 1951.

The Measure also provides, as I think is important, for certain forfeitures. On summary conviction, it provides for the forfeiture of fish and instruments, and on indictment it provides also for forfeiture of vessels and vehicles. Here, again, the Bill follows broadly the valuable precedent set in the Scottish Acts, which have been thoroughly effective.

These are the objects and effects of the Bill, which naturally, includes consequential amendments to other Acts. It is not just a rich man's salmon fishing charter. It may come as a surprise to some people to know that last year river boards issued more than 50,000 licences for salmon and trout fishing. It may come as even more of a surprise that in England and Wales last year more than 400,000 licences were issued for people who wished to fish for non-migratory fish, which include trout. Salmon and trout fishing is enjoyed by a very large number of people of all sections who get an enormous pleasure from it, and it also provides a great tourist attraction. England and Wales are justly famous for some of the best salmon and trout fishing in the world. It is a national asset to us.

I repeat my thanks to the Government for facilitating the Bill to its Third Reading and I hope that it will be really effective in ending the wicked and selfish behaviour of a very small number of people who, if that behaviour went unchecked, would destroy this national asset.

10.42 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Mackie)

As the hon.

and gallant Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish) said, this is a Private Member's Bill which he introduced in this House. I am sorry that it was blocked here, but I am glad that in another place we were able to see it go through without opposition. It is an all-party Bill which is backed by the river authorities.

I thank the hon. and gallant Member for his kind remarks about the Government giving assistance to and supporting the Bill. The Bill extends the provisions of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1923, against the more obnoxious forms of fishing by means of explosives, poisons and electric shock. The hon. and gallant Member did not mention paragraph (c) of Section 9 of that Act, which makes liable any person who unlawfully or maliciously cuts through, breaks down or otherwise destroys any dam, floodgate or sluice with intent thereby to take or destroy fish. Little did I think in my youth that I would stand at this Box to help through Parliament a Bill dealing with actions in which I took part. I did not do it for huge profits but for the pot, when I shut a dam or put down a sluice. I welcome the Bill and hope that it will get its Third Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed without Amendment.