HL Deb 15 June 1950 vol 167 cc771-95

6.55 p.m.

LORD STRABOLGI rose to draw attention to the report of the Committee on Poaching and Illegal Fishing of Salmon and Trout in Scotland (Cmd. 7917); to ask His Majesty's Government whether it is intended to take action with regard to the safeguarding of the Rivers of England and Wales; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, Parliament is always unpredictable, and I think that especially applies to your Lordships' House. I had expected that we could bring on this Motion of mine a little earlier. I should have been persuaded to postpone it but for the fact that one or two of your Lordships have travelled down from Scotland in order to support me. I am sure that those who have the interests of Britain and her rivers at heart will be grateful to them for their support. Salmon fishing teaches one to be patient. The fish also is always unpredictable.

This subject is well-known to many of your Lordships, particularly since the issue recently of the Report of the Committee appointed by my right honourable friend Mr. Woodburn, when he was Secretary of State for Scotland, on August 25, 1948, and which sat under the distinguished chairmanship of a leading Scottish lawyer, Mr. Maconochie. This Report (CMD. 7917) was published a few weeks ago. It only marshals and presents to us facts which everyone in close touch with these matters has known for a long time. It discloses a most disgraceful and harmful state of affairs. At the outset, in pressing the Government to introduce early legislation to give effect to some of the recommendations of the Maconochie Committee and to deal with this growing evil, I want to make it perfectly clear that this is not a conflict between poor men poaching for the larder, or poor sportsmen who cannot resist illicit sport of this kind, and wealthy land owners and proprietors. It is nothing of the kind. I have a certain sympathy for what I may call the legitimate poacher. An old Irish friend of mine, who was a notorious poacher, would not deny it. He used to say: "If I throw a legitimate line and fly into anyone's water, that is not poaching."

We have to deal with an evil which is a commercial racket, which is highly organised by well-to-do people with low morals and which is carried out by gangs of unscrupulous men acting from the big cities, using motor cars and devastating whole stretches of salmon and trout water. In so doing they deprive a great many poor men of their sport. When I have dealt previously in this House with the question of river pollution, I have pointed out that damage to rivers affects the poor angler first. The rich angler can go to Canada or Norway or to other remote parts and can fish in well-preserved waters. But the more open waters are the natural recreation of the poor men, and they are the first to be injured. Furthermore, if this state of affairs continues, permanent harm will be done to some of our most valuable rivers and a most useful source of food will diminish accordingly.

The whole situation has altered for many reasons, including the use of the motor car. The principal Acts, dating back in Scotland to 1828, 1844, 1862 and 1868, are out of date under modern conditions. I should like to show the ridiculous state of affairs which exists to-day. I hold in my hand a letter from my noble friend the Duke of Montrose, who apologises for not being here to support this Motion. He says in his letter: We have just had a case in the Highlands where poachers took salmon and sold them for £100 for one night's work. They were fined the maximum fine of £10, which fine was paid from the proceeds of two fish. What is happening is that these gangs of poachers, highly organised, with fast motor cars and all the apparatus of the modern poacher, including poisons—and I understand this includes a special electrical apparatus for killing fish—just laugh at these fines, and under the law they are usually given time in which to pay. That also is a weakness. In many cases they go off on a new poaching expedition to raise the money for the fine.

What is to he done in this state of affairs? I would reinforce what I have said, if your Lordships will permit me, by quoting two or three sentences from the introduction to the Report of the Committee I am quoting from paragraphs 4 and 5 of Command Paper 7917. Paragraph 4 says: …the more serious aspect of the problem is presented by the operations of highly organised gangs of poachers who carry out raids on waters which are frequently far remote from the towns in which they have their headquarters. The underlying reasons for the present position are not far to seek; among these are:

  1. (a) the high prices which are realised for the fish;
  2. (b) the inadequacy of the penalties to which offenders are liable, due to the vastly different scales of values, both of money and of fish, as between the time when the Acts were passed and the present day;
  3. (c) the readiness of many catering establishments and of the public, to purchase salmon it inflated prices from anyone offering supplies;
  4. 774
  5. (d) the use of comparatively new and wry deadly methods of poaching by means of explosives and the introduction of noxious substances into the water;
  6. (e) the isolated nature of many of the waters frequented by the fish;
  7. (f) the high, and generally prohibitive, cost of providing adequate watching staffs."
One or two other reasons are given, but for the sake of brevity I will omit them. The introduction goes on, in paragraph 5: From the evidence we have obtained it is abundantly clear that poaching and illegal fishing operations, often by gangs from a great distance, are now conducted in many parts of the country with an almost complete disregard for the law and on such a scale as to menace the stocks of fish, and so on. That is supported by evidence which was submitted from all quarters, from the Solway to Sutherland and from the Tweed to Caithness.

Your Lordships will notice that I have extended my Motion to include not only Scotland but also England and Wales. I have done that partly at the request of noble Lords in this House, who say that the evil is also rabid in parts of England, and on the principle that what is good for Scotland is in many cases also good for England; and if this evil is also carried on in England and in Wales which I believe to be the fact, then I think all-embracing legislation is called for, and I hope it will be introduced by His Majesty's Government at the earliest possible moment. The present maximum penalty, a fine of £10 is no deterrent at all to gangs of poachers who can get 5s. 0d. to 10s. 0d. a pound for salmon in the black market. But with regard to the use of explosives, poisons and electrical apparatus, the evil there, as we all are aware, is not only that mature fish are stunned or killed and taken, but the small fry and the life in the water is destroyed as well, and lasting damage can be done by the use of these diabolical methods.

The legislation required is recommended in the Maconochie Report. This list will quote is not exhaustive, but I think it will be agreed by everybody who has studied the subject that the legislation should deal with the following points. There should be power to confiscate the motor vehicles as well as the instruments used in poaching. The present law allows nets or other engines to be confiscated as part of the penalty; but the motor car is also part of the equipment and should be taken as well, at the discretion, of course, of the Bench. A steep increase in the penalties is required. There should be a power, which does not exist at present, to search all persons and vehicles by properly authorised persons—I refer here to the police, and bailiffs authorised by the police to search. Then it should be made an offence to give warning of the approach of police or bailiffs, which I understand is not at present the case.

Just as for many years now we have licensed game dealers, it is very important that at this stage dealers in salmon and trout should also be licensed. They should be compelled to keep records of their dealings in salmon and trout, and these should be open for inspection by the police at any time. It is also suggested—and I must say I think it is a very good point—that catering establishments, cold storage plants and the like, should be required to keep records of their dealings. There is no hardship there. Every reputable trader keeps a record of his dealings. They should also be licensed if they are dealing in salmon and trout, and their records should be open to inspection. Those are some of the recommendations of the Committee, and everyone who knows the facts will. I think, agree that they are the very minimum required to deal with this most serious matter.

Since my Motion appeared on the Order Paper I have had many letters and messages from people all over the country, and I can assure my noble friend who speaks for the Scottish Office that if he can promise early legislation covering the whole country, he will earn the gratitude of everyone who knows the facts, including the thanks of about one million anglers in this country, for the coarse fishermen are affected nearly as much as the trout fishermen. I beg to move for Papers.

7.7 p.m.


My Lords, like the noble Lord who moved this Motion I am sorry that the fortunes of Parliamentary procedure have been such that this debate has come on rather late in the evening. This is a Motion which is not subject to any Party view, and we are united to-night in discussing the preservation of the present and future of a national asset, the freshwater fisheries of Britain. As the noble Lord, to whom we extend thanks for giving us this opportunity of discussing the Maconochie Report, has said, the brotherhood of anglers is a large and solid body, consolidated in outlook and in comradeship in the common pursuit of sport, and they are anxious to hear what action the Government intend to take in what is a growing menace,

As the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, said, the situation to-day is that the present law is quite inadequate to cope with the existing situation—indeed, it was never intended to cope with the situation which has arisen. Obviously, the maximum penalty of a fine of £5 or £10 is inadequate to deter the men who carry on this work. We all know the average poacher; he has to be turned off when he is found, but we all admire him for his skill in trying to get a fish for himself and his family. I do not think anybody disputes the fine of £5 in his case. But we are now up against a new situation. We are faced with a new technique which is nothing less than a commando raid upon the rivers of this country.

The first move is the early reconnaissance in the morning. I was in Scotland recently, and I was asked whether everyone fishing the particular water I was fishing would carry a chit to show that he had authority. The early morning technique is for a man to go and start fishing legitimately with a rod, and to wait until he is turned off, saying: "I am very sorry, I made a mistake," or. "I am sorry. I am just an honest fisherman who is rather over-keen." His real intention, however, is to make a reconnaissance of the pool for the night's raid, when men come, financed from the cities, out of the cities, well-equipped with fast vehicles, sometimes pretty desperate in their determination to achieve their purpose, carrying explosives and chemicals, and in fact all the modern commando weapons and equipment. They have enormous gains for the risks they run, which are very small. That great Statesman whom some of my noble friends knew and respected so much in another place, the former Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. Tom Johnston, contributed a very good article to the Sunday Times a short while ago. In the course of it he cited a particular case that was heard at the Dornoch Sheriff Court. He stated that it was alleged that one evening's work by three poachers had brought them £953 worth of fish—that was the amount for which they sold the fish. The three men were fined the maximum penalty permitted: £5 each, a total of £15. This means that they had to pay 1/64th of their night's takings.

One could go on speaking of the inadequacy of the existing law in relation to this new situation, but I should like to emphasise what was said by the noble Lord who moved this Motion. The loss in this instance to which I have referred was not only a loss of £953 worth of good salmon. It is an infinitely greater loss when one remembers what it means to our rivers five years hence, in view of all the small fish life which is destroyed in such a raid. It takes approximately five years for a full-grown salmon to develop. Five years from now we shall know the full degree of suffering and damage which has been caused.

In passing, I think we ought to express our thanks to Sheriff Maconochie and the members of his Committee for their work. They made certain proposals which, broadly, are for heavier penalties, power to confiscate equipment, and power to deal with the men who are what I call watchers on behalf of the poachers. They also made proposals for safeguards, with a view to keeping off the market fish obtained by illegal means. This last point presents a much more complicated and difficult issue for the Government to deal with than questions in connection with the other recommendations—those for heavier penalties, powers of confiscation and powers to deal with the men who act as accessories. I should like to put this to the Government. Would they look with favour on the first three proposals—the proposals for heavier penalties, power of confiscation and power to deal with watchers?


And power of search also.


Power of search, certainly. Would the Government be prepared to take some action to provide these, even if they are not prepared without further consideration to take action on the other matter which I admit raises very large issues of liberty at a time when we are trying to reduce the number of restrictions?

I want to ask the Government five questions which I think summarise the points upon which I and some of my noble friends on this side of the House would like to have their views. First, do the Government recognise that this is a new evil; secondly, do they agree that it is an evil that must be dealt with by fresh legislation; thirdly, would the Government agree to introduce legislation if, through the usual channels, such legislation, being of a non-Party nature, were assured of an easy and safe passage? The fourth question is this: Will the Government act on those first three points in the Maconochie Report independently of the fourth? What I do not want to see happen is that the Government should hold up action on the first, second and third points because they are hesitant about the fourth. My fifth question is: Will they act now for Scotland, apart front England? I admit that the evil does exist in England, but there is opportunity for the Government to do what Governments are sometimes glad to do in order to avoid taking positive action on an urgent matter. They could say: "This Report dealt with Scotland; now we must set up a Committee to give us a Report dealing with England. When we have the two Reports we shall then be able to deal with the matter fully."

This matter is so important—and Scotland is the major sufferer—that I think action should not be delayed. My last question to the Government is this. Will the Government take action for Scotland now, irrespective of what action, if any, they would take to deal with the menace so far as it exists in England and Wales? Those are five questions to which I hope the Minister will be able to give us answers to-night. If the answers are satisfactory I for my part feel sure that we shall go away after this debate knowing that action which is urgently required will be taken to deal with a national menace in our midst.


Will the noble Lord be good enough to give me a copy of the questions?


There they are—I trust the noble Lord will be able to read my writing.

7.16 p.m.


My Lords, I am neither a proud proprietor nor a poacher, so possibly it may be proper for me to call myself, in a debate of this character, rather "a fish out of water." Like most of your Lordships, I want to see our British rivers abundantly stocked with fish. The rivers were made for the fish or the fish were made for the rivers—I am not sure which. But, the rivers should be abundantly stocked. I have read the Maconochie Report with great interest. It is certainly most illuminating. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has done a great service in bringing this matter before your Lordships' House. "An alarming state of affairs" is what the Report terms it. What with polluted rivers and poached rivers, the life of the salmon to-day is indeed a precarious one. We all know what a noble fish the salmon is—if you can apply the adjective "noble" to any fish, surely you can apply it to the salmon. There is no living creature in the world, certainly no living creature in the water with the exception of the eel, that faces such amazing adventures as does the salmon during its journey from the sea up the rivers to spawn. And remember—this is a point which Lord Balfour of Inchrye has stressed—it does take a long time for a salmon to grow to maturity through all the stages from the ova to the avelin, from the avelin to the fry, from the fry to the parr, from the parr to the smolt (I believe I have stated the cycle correctly), until you get your full-grown salmon. The fish must be three years in the river and two years in the sea it takes five or six years to produce a full-grown salmon. Now what does that mean? It means that one heavy poaching raid on a river may destroy a whole cycle of fish-life which will take five or six years to build up. It is in the future that we are going to feel the result of what is going on now.

Can an effective remedy be found for this grave state of affairs without resorting to fresh legislation? The Report does suggest that something might be done, but fresh legislation takes time and the matter is urgent. The Report makes one or two suggestions. One is that more river boards should be formed. It is rather lamentable to learn that out of 104 districts which have been defined as suitable for the formation of river boards, in only 43 of them have boards been formed. Until boards are constituted there is no authority to appoint watchers with the necessary powers of apprehension. It is further suggested in the Report that the smaller river authorities might economise by amalgamating to save money. The great thing, however, is to get all the fisheries covered by boards if we can, though, as the Report goes on to say, this touches only the fringe of the problem.

As this state of affairs is alarming, then a drastic cure must be applied. Salmon poaching must be made so unattractive that it is not worth the candle. As the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has pointed out, there seems no doubt that the penalties are far too light. My noble friend, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has told us of the gigantic raid on the River Cassley, when over 900 lb. were secured in one night's haul. I do not think he mentioned the sequel, which was that over 400 lb. of dead salmon were also found in the river—I am sorry to cap a good fishing story, but I never knew a good fishing story that was not capped. Fines in themselves may not be enough of a deterrent, and power to confiscate the vehicles used, or at least of de-registering them for a time, would enable us to stop the depredations of a gang for a long while, because without vehicles they cannot operate. I believe that this is truly the only effective cure for salmon poaching on this scale. This would also be the cure of the ghastly cruelty going on in the poaching of red deer in the Highlands of Scotland. I only wish that the terms of this Motion did not preclude me from speaking further on the poaching of red deer by the same gangster methods employed in the taking of salmon. As your Lordships may know, at the present time the power of confiscation applies only to the Tweed. Under the Tweed Fishery Acts vehicles can be confiscated if they are found to hold salmon, but then only in the close season. The Report recommends that this power should be extended over the whole year and throughout Scotland.

I have an interest in the River Tweed because I live near it, and I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to that river. It is mentioned specifically in the Report. There are several anomalies which may be corrected if the Government propose to bring in fresh legislation. The Tweed was once the most famous salmon river in Britain. It holds the record of producing the largest fish ever caught by rod and line in Britain and it still holds the record for the greatest number of fish caught in one day and for the greatest number caught in one week. But, alas, the Tweed is only a shadow of its former self. It is only fair to say that this is due just as much to pollution—possibly more—as to poaching. Ogilvie wrote many years ago of the Silver Tweed bound seaward in its pride. I would parody that by saying, Silver Tweed, invariably dyed. I should like to emphasise three points in regard to the Tweed. My noble friend, Earl Haig, is following me. He is a Tweed Commissioner and can speak with more authority on the Tweed than I can. My first point is that the Scottish Trout Acts apply only to the Scottish waters of the Tweed and the English fishing Acts exclude the English waters of the Tweed. Consequently, there is a kind of "no man's land" over the English tributaries. No laws govern them and there is no close season for trout on them. That is a very curious fact and the Report recommends that in any new legislation the Scottish law should be made applicable in the English waters of the Tweed.

My second point concerns the amount of assessment which can be levied on proprietors to meet the cost of river watching. By special Statute, the Tweed Commissioners ale restricted to a rate not exceeding 20 per cent. of the annual valuation of the fishing. I believe that in no other district is there any rate imposed. This means that the Tweed Commissioners have not sufficient income to police the river efficiently. I was told by the superintendent of the Tweed Commissioners that they have only half the number of water bailiffs they had on the Tweed before the war. My final point is that it is of the utmost importance that gratings should be installed in mill lades. The Tweed and its tributaries run through a district where there are many tweed mills, and if the salmon are allowed into the lades they become an easy prey for poachers. Will a big run of fish they come up the lades in hundreds. A provision of the Salmon Fishery (Scotland) Act, makes compulsory the erection of gratings on mill lades, but that is not applicable to the Tweed. That should be corrected in any future legislation, and that is a further recommendation of the Report. These three points are essential to the recovery of the Tweed and to the conservation of its salmon stock, although unless attention is given to the problem of pollution as well, a great deal of this work may be in vain. I apologise for wearying your Lordships for a longer time than I had intended. I conclude by asking the Government to give serious consideration to the need for new legislation as quickly as possible on the lines of this Report. I assure your Lordships it is sorely needed.

7.28 p.m.


My Lords, I find it hard to follow my noble friend the Earl of Haddington, who has just spoken so eloquently and sincerely in support of this Motion, but I have been asked by tie Tweed Commissioners to say a few words in support of the Motion by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. I do so with great readiness because all of us on the Tweed are gravely concerned about the serious lack of salmon. This lack not only affects the members of the angling fraternity but also affects very seriously an important industry producing foodstuffs. I should like to say a few words about the changing habits of the fish during the last decades. In the last century it was considered an honourable and quite legal practice to "burn the water." Sir Water Scott was frequently seen to go out in a boat and plunge a gaff into the back of a salmon. At that time the main run of fish came into the river in the autumn. They went straight up the river and avoided the summer months which are now so dangerous to the fish. To-day, the fish run up in the spring, and by midsummer they find themselves in shallow water, the water in the upper reaches of the tributaries. The head of the run is a long way above the main protective zone. Further, the improvement of drainage in our area has considerably reduced the normal height of the river. When rain comes, the run-off is much faster, and the spates are bigger, and are followed by a lower height of water. We then find the rocks in the middle of the river sticking out high above the water, and in those circumstances it is a much easier job for a poacher to catch salmon. In addition, we have lately allotted an extra amount of water to the water supply, which has further decreased the height of the river.

In general, I feel that there is a considerable increase in the forces hostile to the salmon, including the improved system of netting and methods of angling. On a normal day, you see on the Tweed a long string of boats all the way down the river, and fishermen with every form of modern device, far different from the last century angler who went into the river in his breeches, and whose fishing was more detrimental to himself than to the fish. The pollution in our river is also a factor which should be considered. The large amount of sewage which is poured into the waters from the mill towns acts as a barrage through which salmon have to push their way as rapidly as possible. I believe that that is a factor which makes salmon push up to the upper reaches so quickly, and it is in those upper reaches where they come within the attacking range of the poachers.

As my noble friend Lord Haddington said, the lack of bailiffs in our area makes it difficult to catch poachers. Owing to low wages and the shortage of houses it is difficult to find bailiffs. I hope that we may be able to organise some scheme by which owners of fishing, and all people in the countryside—rabbit catchers, gillies and the men working on the nets —will co-operate in some sort of defence against the poacher. We could have a large force of active men who would be able to operate perhaps by night, with motor cars fitted with wireless intercommunication, who would be able to manoeuvre quietly and rapidly round a gang of poachers and arrest them. But that, of course, is difficult to organise. I feel that we shall have to try and bring certain members of the netting community to adopt a more responsible attitude towards poaching. I believe it is a fact that during the close season some of the men on the nets go out to get what they call "beer money". I feel that that could be stopped to a certain extent by recruiting them to the side opposing poachers.

Noble Lords who have spoken before me have already stressed the importance of increasing fines, and being able to confiscate vehicles, not only during the fish- ing season but also in the close season. They have further stressed the importance of making fish dealers have licences, and that any unlawful dealing in fish should be severely punished. Reference has also been made to mill-lades, and I should like to emphasise that. In conclusion, I would say that it is most difficult to catch poachers, but if we take steps to punish them severely we may do something to save the stocks in our rivers.

7.35 p.m.


My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for raising this subject. The case has been fully stated this evening, but I do not think it has been over-stated, by one iota. I have an interest to declare in this matter, as I have a lease of a reach of salmon fishing on a Highland river. I am glad the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, changed the wording of his Motion, because I found the first version slightly mysterious. He has now included England, Scotland and Wales together. The situation in Scotland, with which this Report deals, is a great deal more serious. The English law was amended in 1923, but in Scotland we have had no legislation on this subject for eighty-two years. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, referred to the wild life of this country as a national asset. It is, indeed, a most precious national asset. In a small crowded country such as ours one must always fight to keep an equipoise between the numerous inhabitants and our limited natural resources. There is not the same difficulty in countries like Canada, New Zealand and others, but here there is that difficulty and we have to guard our natural assets.

Lord Strabolgi said that the matter of salmon and trout was not the concern merely of a handful of rich men. Indeed it is not. In fact, if the river on which I live (the upper reaches of the Dee) were ever completely denuded of fish a large part of the population would have their livelihood directly affected, and practically the whole of the rest would be affected indirectly. I always feel there is only one fundamental law of nature—namely, that what is destroyed must either be replaced or allowed to replace itself by natural regeneration. On the question of fish, if you get over-fishing in so many rivers, even though by legal means—as you have as a result of the spread of the ownership of the motor car—if you get pollution which changes the river into an element in which fish cannot live; or if you get poaching on the scale as we see it, you have reached a stage where that fundamental law of nature is broken, and it is something which nature will not stand. As all noble Lords lime said, this organised poaching by gangs is on the increase. Five men were convicted in 1946 for poaching in the Dee, and twenty-three last year. On the Don, nine men were convicted in 1946 and fifty-two last year. Those figures, of course, are going to mount unless the law is drastically changed. The evil result of this mass destruction of fish is not apparent the year after—it is about five years after. The destruction of fish in the 'forties will not be felt until the 'fifties. The fish which were destroyed in 1946 will result in a pretty thin season in 1951. That is the life cycle of the salmon.

Quite apart from that, in many cases there is a considerable reluctance to press home even the present inadequate penalties of the law by those who administer it. In the Loch Lomond drainage area the average penalty inflicted since the War has been 62s. Everyone who has spoken has referred, to greater or lesser extent, to that part of the Report which sets out the reasons for this state of affairs, and I will not labour it again, but they include high prices, inadequate penalties, more and more easily obtained means of destruction of fish, the extra mobility of the motor car, the shrinking number of bailiffs, the limited powers of search and others. Amazing examples have been given. My noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye quoted one example. As a result of one night's work, £953 worth of salmon were destroyed, and under the present state of the law the capture and sale of one large-sized salmon would have paid the fine.

As the poaching has increased, so the number of bailiffs has regrettably decreased. As my noble friend Lord Haddington said, on the Tweed before the war we had twenty-eight bailiffs. In the winter now we have only twelve, to patrol two thousand square miles of country. Their wages have been actually increased, and consequently, as the funds of the different district boards have not increased commensurately, they have been forced to employ fewer bailiffs. I mention this purely as a matter of record. I think no one earns his wages more hardly than the river bailiff. He has to be a man in the prime of life. He has a trying, exacting and even dangerous career. I should like to add a tribute to them, as I number many of them among my acquaintances. I should also like to pay a tribute to the hard work done by the district boards and angling associations in very trying circumstances. It is a pretty trying business to enforce a law which you know is no deterrent to the law breaker. Had we been discussing this matter ten years ago the word "poaching" and the word "poacher" would have had an entirely different connotation. As the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, said, we almost regret the passing of the old-time poacher. One can always admire to a certain extent a man who is skilful, daring and very colourful. He poached for the pot and not for the market. He may have been a nuisance, but never a criminal. He used methods of skill and not methods of mass destruction. He would have scorned to destroy fish with poison or explosives. He has been replaced by the gangster, but the law remains the same as it was when it was framed in simpler, sturdier days eighty-two years ago. That is the problem.

The Report makes valuable recommendations with which every noble Lord who has spoken ha; agreed. They include stepping up penalties for ordinary offences, for night poaching, for using poisons, explosives, or other infernal machines. As a result, the poacher will become more desperate, and more dependent upon accomplices. Therefore, the Report goes on to recommend penalties for those who give warning of the approach of bailiffs; the confiscation or de-registration of vehicles, and the extending of the power of search. But it makes one rather notable omission, and that is with regard to when a poacher is stopped by a policeman. I think I am right in saying that he is fined £5 if he does not stop. As lie cannot be fined more than £5 now if he is caught with a fish, he can either stop and he caught, or go on and be fined. That may seem a small point, but it would have to be considered. There are other recommendations in this Report but I will not go into them. In particular, they deal with the position of the River Tweed, a river in which I have more than a merely nominal interest. The noble Earl, Lord Haddington, spoke about it from his experience, and my noble friend Lord Haig, who is a Tweed Commissioner, gave us a most interesting dissertation.

In bringing my remarks to an end, may I say that my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye asked the Government five careful questions of which the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, took due note Before you have new legislation you must have a clear case for it. I think we are all agreed that there is a clear case for what this Report calls in paragraph 6 "drastic action," and certainly the Committee's recommendations are as drastic as they could be. The mass destruction of salmon and trout, by an ever-increasing number of organised gangs of poachers, is theft, with deplorable consequences to the community. Unless theft is to be condoned, and unless the spectacle of thieves growing rich at the expense of the community is to continue, we need new legislation along the lines of this Report. We intend to go on with this matter and we hope to hear from the Government that they intend to take early steps to deal with it. My noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye has asked five questions which I will not repeat, and could not better, and we shall all listen with great interest to hear what rejoinder His Majesty's Government have to make.

7.47 p.m.


My Lords, may I enter the debate for one moment, to put in a word for the humble trout? On the River Clyde where I live the stream does not carry salmon, which have been unable to come through the port of Glasgow or climb the Falls. But it is a good trout stream. There is free fishing over a wide range of the Clyde, and it gives great recreation to many anglers in Lanarkshire—steel workers, miners, and railway men, as well as other people—a facility which is greatly enjoyed. But illicit and unsporting methods have crept in there, too, and I believe that this Report, suggesting as it does that certain powers should be given to watchers, and that in general the recommendations regarding salmon should apply to trout, is on sound lines.

The proposals in this Report would do a great deal to preserve that fine trout stream for the people who enjoy it, and therefore I hope very much that when the noble Lord replies he will bear in mind the humble trout as well as the salmon. I was in the Scottish Office when a Private Bill was brought forward in 1938 to deal with salmon fisheries. My remembrance of it was that it received very favourable consideration, but the war came and it could not be proceeded with. To-day the question is even more urgent because these new and harmful methods we have heard about have crept in. I think the former Secretary of State, Mr. Woodburn, is to be congratulated on appointing this Committee to examine the matter and Sheriff Maconochie deserves great credit for his Report. I hope we shall have an encouraging reply from the Minister when he rises to speak.

7.50 p.m.


My Lords, I think this has been the most interesting debate that I have attended in your Lordships' House. It is very unfortunate that we were not able to get a whole day for this debate, because many noble Lords wanted to take part in it, who have a very extensive knowledge of the subject—as have those who have taken part in it. I think it would have been of great interest, as I am sure it is of great importance. I agree that the Report which we have been discussing is an excellent and useful Report. I should like to say that the noble Lord, Lord Roche, wanted to take part in the debate, but owing to the lateness of the hour he was unable to do so and we regret his absence.

The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has rendered a very real service in raising this matter. As noble Lords who have taken part in the debate have pointed out, the Committee were appointed to inquire into the prevalence of illegal taking or killing of salmon and trout in Scotland. The occasion for their appointment, as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has said, was the development in that country of poaching on a commercial scale by highly organised gangs, with a consequent threat to the maintenance of the stocks. In their Report the Committee regard it as a fair statement of the position that there had been a very substantial increase of salmon poaching during recent years, and that it had now grown to such dimensions that it threatened the destruction of the salmon fishing industry in Scotland and of a valuable source of food to the nation. In the Committee's view the problem calls for drastic action, and they recommend a number of amendments of the law.

Noble Lords who have read the Report will be familiar with the recommendations, and I need not now take up your Lordships' Lime with details. Broadly they cover, first, proposals for the increase of penalties which, owing to the high prices now fetched by salmon, are quite inadequate to deter organised poaching; secondly, proposals for stopping up gaps in the law which at present enable many poaching activities to go unchecked; and, thirdly, proposals for making it more difficult for poachers to dispose profitably of fish illegally obtained. Obviously, not only from the Report but from the discussions we have had this evening, some of the recommendations will require careful consideration. For example, the greatly increased maximum penalties which the Committee proposed would apply to a very wide variety of offences for which different actual penalties may be appropriate.

The noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir has just referred to a case in which a lorry was stopped by a policeman; what is even worse in such a case is that unless the policeman has actual evidence as to where the salmon found in the lorry were obtained, he cannot take any action. Similarly, if I am not mistaken, the law of Scotland as it is to-day (and it is very sad for me to have to stand up at this desk and admit that the law of Scotland is so sadly behind the law of England in this matter; usually we are leading the way, hut here we are dragging a long way behind) lays down a penalty of £5 or three months' imprisonment for taking live salmon. There is no reference at all to the taking of dead salmon—and the new procedure is to take dead salmon and not live salmon out of the water. There are also proposals for wide powers for the search of persons who are suspected of illegal fishing and of having in their possession salmon or trout illegally obtained, and for the introduction of a system of licensing dealers in salmon and trout. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye was not sure about this recommendation, and I am not going to express any opinion; but I certainly think the proposals require consideration, particularly in view of the trends on other matters at the present time. There are also proposals for the keeping of records of transactions in salmon and trout by dealers and owners of catering establishments and cold storage plants.

As regards the existing laws, while the Committee consider that the existing penalties in general are quite inadequate, it may be worth mention that imprisonment is competent under the existing Scottish law for two offences—night poaching and use of explosives. With regard to night poaching, where three or more persons acting in concert are convicted of poaching salmon at night they are liable to a fine not exceeding £5 or three months' imprisonment. The penalty for illegally using explosives for the capture of fish is a fine not exceeding £20, or two months' imprisonment. So that, for taking salmon at night, the penalty is £5 or three months' imprisonment, and for using explosives the penalty is £20 or two months. It does not make sense. There is no special penalty for the use of poison for the special purpose of killing fish, though there are fairly substantial monetary penalties on account of pollution.

If effect were given to the recommendations of the Committee the following would be new offences in Scotland:—

(1) The use of electrical deices for taking salmon or trout; (2) Giving warning of approach of constables or water bailiffs; (3) Dealing in salmon or trout without a licence; (4) Failing to keep records of transactions in salmon and trout; (5) Consigning salmon or trout in unmarked packages; (6) The use within estuary limits for the taking of salmon of (a) fixed engines (at present illegal but their use is not a statutory offence) or (b) set lines; (7) Taking of dead salmon or trout from a river; (8) Angling for trout by single rod and line without legal right. The following would be new powers:

(1) Power to search persons suspected of illegal fishing and of having in their possession salmon or trout illegally obtained or fishing tackle; (2) Power to sell fish seized and liable to forfeiture.

Now to turn to the position in England and Wales. Notwithstanding the particular cases referred to by noble Lords, poaching does not appear to be so prevalent in England and Wales as in Scotland, and in recent years, I am informed, it has in most fishery districts tended to decline. The total number of prosecutions reported by fishery boards in 1949 totalled 198, of which 64 were for fishing with illegal instruments and 60 for fishing with unlicensed instruments. There have been no reports of large-scale poaching, nor of the use of cyanide or electrical methods in England. In Scotland, on the other hand, in the period from 1946 to 1949 inclusive the numbers of prosecutions for offences against the Salmon and Trout Acts reported by the police were 181, 218, 299, and 369, respectively. For the period from January to April, 1950 (that is, since the Report of the Committee was submitted), the returns for the areas from which figures have been received indicate that the upward trend has been maintained.

Direct evidence of organised poaching comes to light only in cases where the offenders are caught in the act by police and river watchers. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour and another noble Lord have referred to one case which has come before the court in Scotland since the publication of the Committee's Report, when evidence was given that three poachers had received £953 for the proceeds of one night's activities with cymag. There was another case as recently as June Sand this was before the court yesterday —when nine men from as far away as Dumbartonshire were arrested on the River Lochy, Inverness-shire. Six of these men arrived with a motor car and motor cycles on the Saturday night, and on the Sunday morning a lorry containing three more men arrived—presumably to bring back the spoils. Five of the men were fined the maximum amount, and also received three months' imprisonment, which is the maximum. Another man received two months' imprisonment; and the case of the three men who arrived on Sunday morning has still to be tried.

The divergence between the two countries may be partly at least due to the fact that in England and Wales fishery legislation is much more up to date than in Scotland. The noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, has pointed out that a revision of English Fishery Acts was undertaken as recently as 1923. In Scotland the law has been virtually unchanged since 1868. Several of the Committee's recommendations are, in effect, reproductions or elaborations of provisions which are already in the English Act of 1923.

A summary of this situation is that, while this kind of (what shall I call it?) modern poaching has not yet taken any firm hold in England, it is well established by gangs in Scotland. Scotland is in a less favourable position to take action in regard to it because of her out-of-date legislation and because of the sparseness of the population in many of the areas. It is much easier for them to "get away with it," if I may use that expression. Because of that, these people have had a good run up to now. In fact, most of the provisions which are novel in Scotland are already covered by English legislation, either directly or by the powers conferred on fishery boards or river boards to make by-laws. The principal recommendations not covered are those relating to the licensing of dealers and the keeping of records of transactions in salmon and trout. These are questions which affect a variety of interests and will therefore require careful consideration.

In reply to the noble Earl, Lord Haig, and the noble Earl, Lord Haddington, I want to say here that, because of the lateness of the hour, perhaps your Lordships would allow me to skip any reference to the River Tweed because, as has been said, there are anomalies in connection with it. The point is that in any legislation which may be produced, obviously the peculiar and anomalous position of the River Tweed will have to be dealt with. If legislation is introduced in Scotland, then it would seem desirable that similar action should be taken in England and Wales in order to prevent illegally caught fish being sent over the Border. It is also not an offence at present under English law to give warning of the approach of a water bailiff. The maximum penalties which can be imposed in England and Wales for infringements of the general provisions of the Salmon Fisheries Acts are substantial —a fine of £50 with an additional £5 for every day an offence is continued after conviction, with the alternative of three months' imprisonment for a third or sub- sequent conviction. As regards watching, the river boards which are now being set up under the River Boards Act, 1948, will shortly cover the whole of England and Wales, other than the Lea and Thames areas, and will be in a position to make arrangements for an adequate staff of watchers. The River Boards Act does not extend to Scotland, where watching presents a special problem.

In conclusion, it is evident that a Report such as that presented by the Committee must be given serious consideration by any Government. And it is being given serious and urgent consideration. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, asked five questions. The first was: Do the Government recognise that this is a new evil? The answer is most certainly in the affirmative. They do recognise a very serious evil indeed. The next question was: Do the Government agree that it must be dealt with? The answer to that, without any hesitation, is also in the affirmative; it is an urgent matter of very considerable importance and must he dealt with. The third question was: Will the Government introduce legislation if assured of a safe passage? I know what the noble Lord means: that it will not be fought on Party grounds but that, so far as possible, there will be an endeavour to reach agreement. That question I am not able to answer.


Will the noble Lord consider it?


Yes, but I am not in a position to announce any decision on the part of the Government. It is hoped, however, that a statement will be possible at a very early date. The noble Lord's next question was: Will the Government act on points one and two in the Maconochie Report and perhaps leave until later action on the rest of the proposals? In regard to that, I can only say that I have not heard that suggestion before, but I thank the noble Lord for putting it forward. I will see that that suggestion, that a kind of interim Bill should be passed, clearing up the position so far as points one and two are concerned, particularly with regard to stronger penalties that are needed, is considered. I will submit that suggestion to the Government.

The next question was: Will the Government act for Scotland apart from England? As I have said, Scotland has three disadvantages that England has not. First of all, they have much more open space, with sparse population. Secondly, they have very out-of-date legislation dealing with the mater. Thirdly, as a result of fairly recent legislation England at present has substantial penalties which can be imposed. Therefore, Scotland has some way to go in order even to come abreast of England in this matter. I will put forward that suggestion, but I come back to the point that I made about rivers such as the Tweed, which I think is partly in England. They have to be dealt with. Dealing with the question of salmon that is caught by those people (if you can call it being "caught"; I would rather call it being killed) some of it will find its way into England. Therefore, if it is decided to introduce measures for the protection of salmon and trout in Scotland which are substantially different from those in English Acts my right honourable friend the 'Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries assures me that he will consult with the National Association of Fishery Boards and other interests concerned to determine whether such measures, or any part of them, should be extended to England and Wales.

In conclusion, I can say that I am sure that the Government will give close consideration to this important debate and to the statements that have been made from all quarters of the House. I will certainly represent to the Government the urgency of the matter.

8.9 p.m.


My Lords, I am much obliged to my noble friends for their very adequate support. I need hardly say how grateful I am to those noble Lords who have waited till this late hour. I observe that they are practically all either of Scottish descent or of Scottish title. I am grateful to them for taking part in this debate. I do riot propose to press my Motion but I should like to say just this: that I can see another danger if we legislate for Scotland only and not for England as well. That is the danger that these gangsters may be driven over the Border to act on English rivers. In fact, the situation in some of the northern parts of England is not so very different from that in Scotland. Nevertheless, I think there is a case for quick action in regard to Scotland.

I think that the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, made a most valuable suggestion, and I hope it will receive earnest consideration. So far, we have got this: "serious and urgent consideration." That may mean either much or very little. With this Government, of course, it means a great deal. I shall look forward with confidence to my noble friend's using his great influence to see that something is done quickly. The spawning season is practically upon us, and I do not see why we should not do something before the Recess, as has already been suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, who was speaking for his Party. My noble friend spoke about a very early date; I hope he really means what he said. I would make only one proviso or reservation. I would ask my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, who is bound to take some part in this matter, to look again at the question of licensing dealers in salmon and trout. After all, it is no hardship to have them licensed, and I think the point is well worth while looking at. I am most grateful to the House for permitting this matter to be taken at so late an hour. It is important, and I hope that to-night we have done good. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.