HL Deb 17 August 1882 vol 273 cc1968-75

House in Committee (according to order).

Bill reported without Amendment.


moved to insert in the 2nd sub-section of the 5th clause the words "or private rights," the effect of which was to secure that the Board in their administration of salmon fisheries in Scotland should have regard not only to district boards, as provided in the Bill, but also to "private rights." In the Bill, as introduced in the other House of Parliament, the 1st sub-section, which related to the white herring and deep-sea fishing, was amended by the insertion of the following words:—"Without interfering with any public authority or private rights." With regard to the 2nd sub-section, which related to salmon fishing, the following words were added:—"Without reference to or interference with the rights of district boards;" but the words "or private rights" were omitted, and he proposed that these words should be added. It was perfectly obvious—it must be obvious to their Lordships—that private rights, as regarded deep-sea fishing, were few indeed, if any; but whatever they were, it was thought desirable, in the House of Commons, that they should be protected. It was perfectly well known, with regard to salmon fisheries, that private rights were of a very extended character indeed. Why, then, were not these words he proposed in the Bill? Why were not the same words to relate to salmon fisheries which applied to deep-sea fisheries? It appeared to him that it would be a most unjust proceeding if these words were not added to the Bill. The Bill would be of a very dangerous character if these words were not accepted. This Bill did away with the Salmon Fisheries (Scotland) Act, 25 & 26 Vict. In that Act there were these words inserted with reference to salmon fisheries— Provided such regulations shall not interfere with any rights held at the time of the passing of this Act under Royal grant or charter, or possessed from time immemorial. This preserved private rights under the Act. Why was not the same protection given in this Act? The Bill was brought up to their Lordships at a time when really the general opinion of the people in Scotland was that it would no longer be proceeded with this Session, and the Government acted upon that understanding to a great degree, and gave encouragement to that belief by including the Act which was about to die out in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, which was brought in and passed through the House of Commons before the second reading of this Bill was taken in the House of Commons. The Expiring Laws Bill came to their Lordships' House, and this Bill was brought up from the House of Commons on the same day, and the Fisheries Bill was read a first and second time without the printed Bill being on the Table, or anybody knowing anything at all about it; and this was the way their Lordships' House was treated with regard to the power of dealing with legislation and the amendment of Public Bills. He confessed that he thought the question was one of very great importance to the Privileges of this House. This House had a great responsibility upon it with regard to legislation, and it ought to have every opportunity to amend measures brought before it in a manner which would be satisfactory. The noble Earl (the Earl of Rosebery), who had charge of the Bill in this House, called attention yesterday to the manner in which the Hypothec Bill was passed in 1880. He (the Earl of Redesdale) objected at that time, because the Bill was brought in at a period of the Session when he thought there was not a proper opportunity given to enable a measure of that importance to be fairly and sufficiently considered. In regard to that Bill, he would just refer to the final proceedings which took place in order to show how little comparison could be drawn between the two cases. The Hypothec Bill was brought from the House of Commons on the 11th March; it was read a second time on the 13th; it was committed on the 15th; and Notice was given to suspend the Standing Orders. It was reported on the 16th, and the usual grace of suspending the Standing Orders was not complied with, the Order to do so being discharged, and the Bill was read the third time on the 19th, three days after it was reported, and further Amendments were made on that occasion. It was sent to the House of Commons, and received the Royal Assent on the 24th. All through the stages of that Bill there was time to enable parties to make the necessary Amendments. Peers who desired to propose Amendments on such a Bill had to consult with parties in Scotland who were acquainted with all the details necessary to be dealt with. That Bill was hurried through improperly, and he took objection to it on that ground. Still he did not think it necessary to enter a protest against that proceeding, because there was a certain time allowed to the House to make Amendments. The present Bill was brought to the House shortly before the adjournment yesterday morning. Now it was through Committee, and they had got to Report, and had Notice of the suspension of the Standing Orders. If his Amendment were adopted, the Bill could go down to the House of Commons, where the Motion could at once be made to agree to the Amendment. He had taken his present course because he thought it was necessary, in justice to their Lordships' House, and because the adjournment, which was to take place to-morrow, was supposed to be the same thing as Prorogation with regard to the Business of the House.

Amendment moved, in Clause 5, page 2, at end of Sub-section 2, add ("or private rights.")—(The Earl of Redgesdale.)


said, he thought he should be able to show to the satisfaction of their Lordships and the noble Earl why this Amendment should not be accepted. In the first place, it was absolutely unnecessary. The noble Earl and their Lordships heard yesterday from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, the highest authority on English law, in the most distinct and conclusive manner, that under this clause no private rights whatever could be affected. In the second place, the highest authority on Scotch law not on the Bench—the Lord Advocate—was also of opinion that there could be no interference with private rights under that clause. But, thirdly, the noble Earl himself quoted the clause saving private rights in the Salmon Fisheries Act under which these Commissioners had their power, and which remained a part of the law. Under these circumstances, there was absolutely no utility whatever in accepting these words. The noble Earl said that they might immediately adopt the words and send the Bill to the other House, and that there would be ample time for that House to accept the Amendment. The Government were not willing to take the risk of that proceeding. The intimation he had received from the House of Commons—because he had made inquiry—did not lead him to concur in the view of the noble Earl; and he (the Earl of Rosebery), for one, would strenuously resist any attempt to risk the Bill by inserting unnecessary words at the last moment. If the noble Earl had allowed the Bill to go into Committee yesterday, as was proposed, there might have been time to do what he desired. He thought that was sufficient for practical purposes with regard to the noble Earl's Amendment; but, with regard to the general question, there was another word to be said. It was quite true that he alluded yesterday to the course adopted by the late Government with regard to the Abolition of Hypothec Bill; but he disclaimed altogether the intention of fixing any responsibility for that course on the noble Earl, who always took an independent view with regard to the Privileges of this House, whatever Party might be in power. He did not mean that that Bill should be taken as a precedent on the present occasion. He should be very sorry that it should form a precedent for any action he should take on this or any other Bill; but he did hope it would be an argument why noble Lords on the opposite side of the House should not take a stringent view of the action of the Government on this occasion. There was a broad distinction between the two Bills. The Hypothec Bill was one of a most important and most sweeping character. It made changes in the agriculture of Scotland; it made changes in the private rights of landlords in Scotland, which were of a kind which it would not be easy for a Liberal Government to introduce and pass through Parliament in cold blood, if he might use the expression. What was the nature of this Bill, and their justification for proceeding with it at this time of the Session? Their justification was this—that it effected no alteration in the law whatever; that it provided for the formation of a new and a more competent Board instead of a Board which the Government did not think had been altogether successful; and, in the second place, that it recognized the principle that any Scotch Fishery Board should have cognizance of all fisheries, whether deep-sea, or salmon, or otherwise. He really could not see that there was anything in the nature of the Bill of a sort which ought to prevent their passing it this Session. Another argument of the noble Earl was that the Government practically gave this Bill up, because the former Act was included in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, and that Bill had passed the House of Commons before the present Bill had come to a second reading. Could there be a more conclusive argument against the noble Earl? The Government could not be certain of passing the Fisheries Bill, because, although it had received the assent of every Scotch Member of the House of Commons, it was blocked by an English County Member, and, therefore, the former Act was put in the Continuance Bill. Arguments of that sort, when brought to support a charge against the Government, hardly sustained the accusation. This Bill had been more than a month not only before Parliament, but before the country; it had been a matter for consideration by public bodies in Scotland. The Lord Advocate and he had had frequent conferences with Scotch Members on the subject. It had received the virtual approval, he thought, of every Scotch Member, and there was no shadow of pretext to assert that this Bill had been smuggled through Parliament. It had been before the country in its broadest and most universal sense. It had been discussed by every newspaper in Scotland. And yet the noble Earl turned round and compared it to the hurried passage of an Act of universal application like the Hypothec Bill, and said that it had not received full discussion in Scotland. That was an assertion which he could not allow to pass unchallenged; and, both on the ground of expediency and general policy, he hoped their Lordships would not pass the Amendment—the more so as the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill had been passed without the Salmon Fisheries Act, and Scotland would be left without a Fishery Board.


said, it was rather hard that the noble Earl (the Earl of Rosebery) should attribute the analogy between this measure and the Hypothec Bill to the Chairman of Committees, seeing it was entirely the analogy of the noble Earl himself. If the Amendment was really so harmless as the noble Earl had stated it to be, he could not see why a strong objection was taken to its insertion. The argument of the Chairman of Committees with regard to these words being already in the Bill with reference to deep-sea fisheries, and not in this part of the clause, was unanswerable. It was difficult to see what private rights could be injured with regard to deep-sea fisheries; but it was quite evident that there were such rights as regards riparian proprietors.


I beg the noble Earl's pardon. I answered that argument yesterday.


said, that were it not for the great and unfeigned respect which he, in common with their Lordships, entertained for the Chairman of Committees, he should venture to express some surprise at the course taken by him in regard to this particular Bill, which was not applied to any other Bills brought up from the House of Commons, and dealt with recently, in exactly the same manner, and on which an objection of this sort might more reasonably have been taken. He would only express his sense of the error into which his noble Friend had fallen by using a homely expression which he hoped would not give offence, and saying that the noble Earl had found a "mare's nest." There was no sort of ground whatever for the smallest apprehension that this Bill could by any possibility affect any private rights. Since it came before their Lordships yesterday he had looked into the different Acts referred to, in order to see whether there could be anything in them which might have an unforeseen effect. He had found nothing. The noble Earl said—"It may be that this particular clause—the 5th clause—does not affect private rights; but then there are other clauses in the Bill which might do so." What were the other clauses in the Bill? The first was the title, the second was the Definition Clause, the third dissolved the existing Board, the fourth established the new Board, and gave it a Secretary with a salary, and said where its office was to be, which certainly could affect no private rights; the 5th clause partly dealt with herring fisheries and the Sea Fisheries Acts, which did not affect this matter at all; and the only part of it which was material was that as to which his noble Friend (the Earl of Rosebery) had already assured their Lordships most accurately that it could not by any possibility affect any private rights. The 6th clause enabled an Inspector to be appointed, who should act under the directions of the Board. In fact, there was nothing whatever, excepting the 2nd sub-section of Clause 5, which could by any possibility affect any salmon fishery; and what was that 2nd sub-section? It provided that the Fishery Board should have the general superintendence of the salmon fisheries of Scotland. He did not need to tell their Lordships that these general words could confer no possible or conceivable title to interfere with any private right. The Board was to have the powers and to perform the duties of Commissioners under the Salmon Fisheries Acts without interfering with district boards. The Chairman of Committees himself had saved the House the trouble of referring to these powers, because he read from the principal Act the clause which exempted there from expressly private rights under certain charters. Therefore, the transfer of these powers transferred them as they were defined by the Acts existing, and not otherwise; and if this Bill had come up six weeks ago, and the noble Earl had moved this Amendment, he should have objected to it as being not only unnecessary, but as founded on a complete misunderstanding.


said, that he was perfectly satisfied with the Bill as introduced by his noble Friend (the Earl of Rosebery), and he could assure the Chairman of Committees that there was an almost universal desire in Scotland to see the Bill become law. It was a Bill which would be of very great benefit. The Bill had been examined by various Boards in Scotland, and they almost unanimously desired to see it become law. It had long been desired that there should be some authoritative Assembly from whom grievances should receive attention. All the people connected with the rivers with which he had anything to do were in favour of the Bill, and he hoped the third reading would be taken.

Amendment negatived.

Then Standing Order No. XXXV. considered (according to order), and dispensed with; Bill read 3a, and passed.