HL Deb 01 July 1862 vol 167 cc1285-91

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


, in moving the second reading of this Bill, said, the subject was well worthy of legislation, and the measure was founded upon the unanimous Report of a Select Committee of their Lordships, including several of the largest proprietors of salmon fisheries in Scotland. The fourth clause constituted every river in Scotland flowing into the sea a district for the purposes of this Act, which was to be placed under the control of three Commissioners. The annual close-time was to continue for 180 days in every year, but the commencement and close of this period was to be fixed by the Commissioners in reference to each district: the weekly close-time was to extend from six p.m. on Saturday to six a.m. on Monday. No fishing was legalized which was not already legal, and the possession of salmon roe was forbidden. A penalty was also inflicted for allowing poisonous substances to flow into rivers. The Bill also provided for the election of district Boards, and for district assessments to defray the expenses to be incurred under the Act. The law as to fixed engines would not be altered They were clearly illegal in rivers and ii estuaries, and the Bill would enable the boundaries of all the estuaries in Scotland to be ascertained, so that the question as to where the estuary ended would be settled The Tweed and Tay, being governed by special Acts, were to a certain extent excepted, and provisions were inserted making the regulations now applicable to the south of the Solway, under the English Salmon Fisheries Act, applicable also to those shores of the Firth situated in Scotland. The principle of the Bill ad been frequently affirmed. It was en-rely in conformity with the opinions of be Select Committee, and did not differ materially from the Bill of last year.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.


, in rising to move that the Bill be read a second time hat day six months, said, he could not agree with the noble Baron that it was entirely in conformity with the recommendations of the Select Committee of their Lordships' House. Numerous Salmon fisheries Bills had been before Parliament luring the last few years, but, for some cause or other, none of them had passed; and with the exception of the Tweed and he Tay, the Act of 1828 was the general aw of Scotland with regard to fisheries. Last year the Lord Advocate introduced a Bill which proceeded at once to sweep away all fixed engines of every kind, and to regulate generally the manner in which people should fish in Scotland; but notwithstanding that it was referred to a Select Committee and greatly amended; here, it was found impossible to pass it, a consequence of the great variety of interests at stake. The Lord Advocate had given his attention to the subject during the recess, and the result was this Bill. His first objection to it was, that it gave most extraordinary powers to three Commissioners, who were entirely irresponsible, to make regulations [which ought to be fixed by Act of Parliament, and which noble Lords and hon. Gentlemen in another place ought to have an opportunity of discussing before they were made final. The Commissioners might be most respectable gentlemen—he had no doubt they would be—but they might hold the wildest possible theories on the subject: yet they wore empowered to make regulations which would affect the property of every man in Scotland who had a salmon river; and there was not a single clause in the Bill which would enable the proprietors to have anything whatever to say to any of the by-laws until they came before the Secretary of State. There was scarcely any subject on which there was more of theory and less of practical knowledge than the breeding of salmon; and as the pay of the Commissioners was not to exceed £3 for every day they were called upon to net, considering the large sums which engineers and others in similar employment received for a single day's work, there was no security that they would be men of the highest practical experience. The Commissioners, among other things, were to fix the meshes of the nets, and they were generally directed to carry out the Act as much as might be in accordance with the English law; but the English Act fixed the meshes of the net at two inches. The effect of such a regulation as regarded the river Spey, the fisheries in which he owned, would be, that whereas there was an average annual take of 10,000 trout, by the operation of this Bill he should be deprived of 9,000 of them. Now, if it would improve the breed of salmon to leave trout in the river, it might be some reason for the clause; but it was well-known that no fish was more destructive to salmon spawn than trout. With regard to the appeal to the Home Secretary, which might be made by any person who felt aggrieved by the by-laws, no such appeal could be a satisfactory one; for the Secretary of State could only refer the matter back to the Commissioners, who would naturally say that there was no ground of complaint. He objected to the enormous powers which it was proposed to give to the Commissioners; and, with regard to the district Boards, he thought it would have been wise to follow the example of the Tweed Act of 1857, and make votes bear some proportion to property. In respect of the weekly close-time proposed, it would press hardly upon persons who had tidal fishings and upon the lower proprietors; and if the Bill should reach the stage of Committee, he should move as an Amendment that the hours be from 9 o'clock on Saturday night to 3 o'clock on Monday morning. He felt that the Bill was an unjust measure, and that it did not carry out what it proposed to do. It in reality diminished the provisions against bag-fishing and poaching, which were the two great causes why the breed of salmon had decreased. He thought that it would be far better if the noble Lord would bring in a Bill to put down those practices, and also to prevent objectionable substances from being thrown into the rivers. There was already a clause intended to effect that object, but he was satisfied that it would prove inoperative. For example, nothing would more prevent fish from entering the tributaries of a river to spawn than sawdust, yet that could not be held by any ingenuity to be a poisonous or deleterious substance. He should not detain their Lordships further, but would simply move that the Bill be read a second time that clay three months.

Amendment moved, to leave out "now," and insert "this day six months."


said, he had long admired the unanimity with which Scotch questions were dealt with, but he also knew that whenever a Salmon Bill was mentioned that unanimity ceased. The arguments of the noble Duke appeared to him to he directed more against the details than against the principle of the Bill. There was another party to be considered besides the proprietors — the public—and their interests clearly demanded that some legislation should take place upon this subject. For many years there had been a war raging between the upper and lower proprietors in regard to the salmon of their rivers. While the one party had been striving to prevent the fish from going up the stream, and the other seizing it when out of season, the stock of salmon had been gradually diminishing, and the public became, consequently, the sufferers. He thought it was high time that some independent body should be armed with power to interfere in this matter. The object of the Bill was to give such power to a Board of Commissioners. So far he thought the principle of the Bill was good, because these gentlemen were likely to exercise an independent judgment; and if they did not, there would be no lack of persons ready to bring their complaints before the House. There was one extraordinary clause in the Bill (the 31st), to which he entertained great objections. By that clause the River Tay— the greatest salmon river in Scotland— was exempted from the operation of the Bill. The Bill, as originally introduced, did not contain that exemption, and he had been surprised to hear it said that the proprietors were unanimous in asking for that exemption. He did not believe there was any such unanimity; and, indeed, doubted whether more than five or six of the whole number of proprietors were favourable to the exemption. A Salmon Fishing Bill which omitted the River Tay from its operations seemed to him very like the play of Hamlet with the part of Hamlet omitted. The Bill might be improved in Committee, and he hoped their Lordships would consent now to read it a second time.


said, he was convinced that the real cause why the salmon had decreased in all the rivers of this country was the cupidity of the lower proprietors, who would not let any fish that they could catch go up the stream to spawn. In fact, were it not for the great floods, no individual fish could ever escape them. While such a system existed, it was hopeless to expect any improvement; for the upper proprietors would never take any trouble in the matter, incur any expense, or run the risk of drawing down on themselves the ill-will of their neighbours, unless they felt they had some interest in the preservation of the fish. The Bill was no doubt susceptible of improvement, and might be made a valuable measure. He should move in Committee that the weekly close-time should be extended from twelve on Saturday noon until six on Monday morning, an alteration which he believed would be eminently useful.


said, that as an angler he should advocate the rights of anglers as distinct from those of the proprietors on the upper and lower waters: and, indeed, he thought the interests of anglers had been fully considered in preparing this Bill. He thought, however, that their Lordships as legislators should look deeper than this; and in this spirit he complained that the Bill was unconstitutional, inasmuch as the same power was given to Commissioners in reference to one part of the kingdom which was exercised only by Parliament in reference to the other part. In the English Bill the enactments were clearly defined, but here a very large discretion was left to the Commissioners. With all its faults, he should advise the noble Duke, if he thought the majority of his countrymen were in favour of the Bill, to allow of the second reading, and endeavour to amend it in Committee; but still, if he thought fit to divide, he (the Earl of Malmesbury) must vote with him, because he was strongly opposed to conferring such despotic power upon the Commissioners.


said, he did not sec why the Solway should be included within the operation of the Act. The noble Lord who moved the second reading said it was because the English law prevailed on the south side. By parity of reasoning, they might as well say that the Scotch law should prevail in Northumberland or Durham. He thought, however, that some legislation was required on this subject, though he objected to many of the details of this measure.


objected to the arbitrary power given to the Commissioners under the Bill, though he thought the general principle embodied in it was a good one. He suggested that the Bill should be sent to a Select Committee.


said, the great majority of the objections which had been taken were objections of detail. He was entirely disinterested in this question, as he was neither an upper nor a lower proprietor; any small fisheries that he possessed were in small streams which were entirely his own property. He could therefore approach the question without any bias. At the same time, he thought the noble Duke who had moved the rejection of the Bill (the Duke of Richmond) was entitled to speak as possessing the largest salmon property in the kingdom. It seemed to him that the only objection that had really been brought against the Bill, was against the arbitrary powers given to the Commissioners. Every year for the last twenty-five years there had been an attempt made to amend the law relating to salmon fisheries. When he first took his seat in their Lordships' House, be had been induced himself to take charge of one of these measures; whereon the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Derby) told him that he must be very young to suppose that he could alter and amend the salmon laws of Scotland. All of these measures had, accordingly, been unsuccessful; and they failed because they adopted a principle which was avoided in this Bill, and that was the fixing one annual close-time for the whole of Scotland. The truth was, that the annual season for the different rivers was entirely different, and they never could get the different proprietors in the different counties in Scotland to agree on any one fixed period for the whole of Scotland. In order to effect this, therefore, it was necessary to have recourse to Commissioners, who should have the power of fixing the period according to the requirement of each several district. He did not think that the powers given to the Commissioners were too extensive. There was a distinct clause in the Bill that nothing contained in the Bill should effect in one way or other the existing law of Scotland with regard to the mode of fishing. If stake nets were legal, this Bill did not make them illegal, and the Commissioners could do nothing which would make that illegal which was lawful under the existing statutes.


said, that after the discussion which had taken place, inasmuch as all the objections taken were objections to details, he should advise his noble Friend (the Duke of Richmond) to withdraw his Amendment.


concurred in the recommendation of the noble and learned Lord.


said, he would adopt the advice of his noble Friends, and withdraw his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave of the House, withdrawn.

Then the Original Motion agreed to.

Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.