HL Deb 29 April 1907 vol 173 cc472-9


Order of the day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill I may say that we have been most anxious in the drafting of it to please everybody. We have taken every precaution to consult the leading authorities and persons connected with fisheries, and it may be that we have succeeded in bringing forward a Bill which is very much wanted and which will not receive much opposition. The object of the Bill is to give to local fishery boards powers for raising funds for the improvement and protection of fisheries. Netting in narrow waters will, under the Bill, be somewhat more restricted than is possible under existing arrangements, and provision is made for authorising local fishery boards, under proper restrictions, to set up fisheries along the sea-coasts by methods which, under the present law, would be illegal. It appeared to the Board that to endeavour to legislate on the same lines for all cases and all rivers would be very difficult, and, therefore, it has been thought preferable—and I hope your Lordships will agree that we were right in that—to proceed to regulate each river and group of rivers by means of a separate Provisional Order framed by the Board after all the parties have had an opportunity of stating their views at a local inquiry. The Provisional Order, will, of course, require to be confirmed by Parliament, and the parties will, therefore, have further protection in the right to petition against the Order and to appear before the Committee. The Bill has been considered by the Salmon and Trout Association of Great Britain, and is believed to receive their cordial support. The Bill does not apply to Ireland or Scotland, nor to the Tweed; but it does apply to the Esk River. Since I came to the House I have been asked whether the Bill interferes in any way with private rights. I can confidently assert that private rights under the Bill will in no way be interfered with. All private fisheries will remain as protected and as much the property of their owners as at the present moment. I hope the Bill will meet with the general approval of your Lordships, and I beg to move that it be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— (Earl Carrington.)


Is there any special reason why the Bill should not extend to Ireland? The water in the Irish rivers is not very dissimilar from that in the English rivers.


I am unable to say why the Bill does not apply to Ireland. I can only repeat that it does not so apply.


Perhaps the noble Earl will inform himself in the matter before the next stage.


Ireland has a special fishery board of its own.


Of course, there must be special arangements for carrying on the Irish fisheries, but have the authorities in Ireland been asked whether they would like this Bill extended to that country?


My Lords, with the main provisions of this Bill I have no fault to find, and it is not until we come to Clause 6 that I venture to suggest an alteration. Clause 6 inflicts upon the local fishery board making application under the Bill the whole of the pecuniary burden of the application. These fishery boards are many of them very small bodies with small resources, and the fact that they would have to bear the expense of making application to the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries under the Act would deter many of them from making application; and unless they are relieved at least of some part of that liability, Clauses 2 and 4 of the Bill will be practically inoperative so far as many of the smaller boards are concerned. The Bill was very fully considered at a recent meeting of the Yorkshire Fishery Board, of which I have the honour to be chairman, and this was the only fault found with it. I can assure my noble friend that my only object in calling attention to this matter is to enable the Bill to be rendered more beneficial. It has been said that this is a matter for the Treasury. I can hardly think that that objection will hold good, and I should be glad to receive some assurance from my noble friend that when the Bill gets into Committee he will bring forward some modification, so as not to inflict the whole of the pecuniary burden of these applications on the local bodies.


My Lords. as a member of the committee of the Salmon and Trout Association, which has taken an active part in the preparation of this proposed legislation and in inducing the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries to push it forward with all possible speed, I should like to say that this Bill has met with cordial support from those who have taken an interest in its preparation, and we must earnestly hope that it may be possible to pass it into law this session. There can be no doubt that improved fishery legislation is urgently wanted in this country. We are very much behindhand in this matter. Indeed, we are not nearly so advanced scientifically as America, Germany, and, I believe, Japan The noble Earl, in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, said he had endeavoured to please everybody. I trust he has succeeded in doing so, because we are aware how conflicting are the interests affected in fishery legislation. I sincerely hope that the Bill may prove to be uncontroversial and that it may pass without opposition.

There is one matter to which I should like to draw my noble friend's attention—the fish-breeding industry. My noble friend has kindly consented to receive a deputation of fish breeders, which I shall have the honour of introducing, and I have only mentioned the matter to-day because I shall very likely put down Amendments in Committee with the view of meeting the grievances which we who take an interest in fish-breeding feel. Fish-breeding has increased very rapidly in this country in recent years, but in this Bill no notice whatever is taken of it. All we ask is that the industry—it is rapidly becoming a commercial industry—shall be recognised, that the legislation shall be suited to it, and that we may not feel that we are absolutely ignored and that legislation which is passed for the rivers is unwittingly allowed to do harm to fish breeders. There are many waters in this country which could be advantageously turned to profit for the purpose of fish breeding, and people are increasingly beginning to realise this fact. It is no longer a rich man's hobby. Many thousands of pounds are being invested in the industry, and all we ask of Parliament is that it should recognise the industry in future legislation.


My Lords, in spite of the assurance which has been given by the noble Earl that this Bill is designed for the purpose of pleasing everybody, I confess I feel some doubt as to whether it is so absolutely innocuous as has been described. If this Bill is such an admirable and desirable measure, why are Scotland and Ireland deprived of its benefits? I observed what I thought to be a slight inconsistency in the statement of the noble Earl. He said there was no intention whatever of interfering with the rights of private proprietors. I should like to point out that the mere fact of creating a water board is a very serious interference with the rights of private proprietors. It seems to me that under Clause 3 of the Bill it will be in the power of a person possessing a very insignificant portion of water to cause a considerable amount of expense and trouble, and the result may be that proprietors who have spent a great deal of money and devoted much attention to the improvement of their fisheries may find their fisheries taken from their control and handed over to the Board. In these circumstances, and as the Bill is of a somewhat more complicated nature than might be supposed from the statement of the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, I trust that ample time will be given for the consider a of the Bill before the Committee stage.


My Lords, the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries stated that he had consulted everybody interested before bringing forward this Bill, but I should like to point out that the fishery board of which I have the honour to be chairman knew nothing of this proposed legislation until I brought it to their notice a few days ago. The noble Earl knows better than I do how many of these boards there are in England, and I should like to ask him whether my board was singular in not having been consulted. The fact that these bodies exist throughout the length and breadth of the country makes me wonder why it was necessary to upset the existing boards and put new boards in their place. I confess that I have not been able to ascertain the reason for this.

The noble Earl informed us that he proposes to give additional powers and facilities to the new boards. I should have thought that these new powers and facilities could have been equally well conferred upon the existing boards, and thus have avoided the expense to which my noble friend Lord Harewood alluded. The principal feature of the Bill, in my opinion, is that it proposes to reintroduce stake nets—what are known to the law as "fixed engines." The only member of my board who has ventured to express an opinion in regard to the Bill, and who has been a member of the board since its inception thirty or forty years ago, stated that, in his opinion, this was a most retrograde step. I think before such a proposal is agreed to this House and the country at large are entitled to have some further information as to why a method of fishing which has been abolished for a great many years is to be re-introduced. I hope the noble Earl will not hurry on the Committee stage, but will give the various fishery boards an opportunity of considering the Bill.


In regard to the question brought forward by the Earl of Harewood, I do not think the expenses will be so very heavy as the noble Lord considers. If the inquiry is held by local people it is supposed generally that the expenses would certainly be under £20, though of course if the inquiry were extended it would run into a great deal more money. I believe Provisional Orders in all cases are paid for by the persons who are interested in them, and therefore I cannot hold out any great hopes that we shall be able to meet the wishes of the noble Earl. The question of fish culture, to which Lord Denbigh referred, will be most carefully considered, and we shall be pleased to take any proposals of his on that subject, on which he is so great an expert, into careful consideration. There is no wish to hurry the progress of the Bill, and, if the noble Earl desires it, we might leave the next stage till after Whitsuntide. In reply to Lord Barnard, I regret that the board with which the noble Lord is concerned did not have timely notice of the Bill, but I think the question of stake nets is one of the details which might be relegated to the Committee stage.


There was one point raised by my noble friend behind me which the noble Earl has not dealt with. Lord Barnard pointed out that, under the Bill, certain existing boards of conservators may be abolished, and he asked the noble Earl why the provisions of this Bill could not be carried out by the present boards. That seems to me to go to the very root of the Bill, and requires an explanation before we take the Second Reading.


It seems to most persons intimately connected with the fisheries that what is proposed in the Bill is a reasonable and proper way to get out of the difficulty that at present exists. If any better proposal can be brought forward from the other side of the House we shall be only too pleased to consider it.


The noble Earl has given no reason for the abolition of the existing boards. That question is a very important one, and it really goes to the principle of the Bill. If the noble Earl is not in a position to give us an answer to that question to-day I would suggest that the debate should be adjourned, and that on some future occasion he should inform us why he desires to take these powers. Existing boards of conservators, I imagine, view with some apprehension this power to abolish them, and they would like to know why such power is sought. If my Motion is agreed to I would suggest that in the meantime the Bill should be circulated to all the boards concerned.

Moved, That the debate be adjourned—(The Earl of Camperdown).


I am quite prepared to accept that Motion.


The whole of this question is settled by Clause 3. Under that clause the machinery of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries cannot be put in motion except on the application of the conservators themselves, or of the county council, or of the persons who are the owners of one-tenth at least in value of the private fisheries proposed to be regulated. Therefore, the machinery could not be put in motion unless the initiative came from those concerned. The Board of Agriculture and Fisheries has no power of initiating proceedings.


I would suggestthat, as this Bill bristles with technical and difficult points, it might be desirable to circulate a Memorandum dealing with some of them for the information of the House. That course is frequently adopted, and it seems to me that in this case it might have good results.


I do not know whether, having been in touch with those who prepared this Bill, I should be in order if I explained that the reason for transferring the powers of conservators under this Bill is that in many cases the boards of conservators have no riparian interests. It is solely with the view of improving the boards and securing the appointment of people better calculated to look after the interests of the fisheries, that this proposal has been brought forward.


I would point out that the change cannot be made except by Provisional Order, and, under the Bill, no Provisional Order can have any operation until it has been confirmed by Parliament. Therefore, no existing board could be abolished except with the consent of Parliament.


Will the noble Earl circulate the Bill to the various boards concerned?



On Question, debate adjourned.