HL Deb 27 April 1965 vol 265 cc589-94

7.0 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time, and I do not think it will take as long as the previous business. In your Lordships' House on March 30 this year, my noble friend Lord Amory asked Her Majesty's Government what consideration had been given to the Report of the Committee on Salmon and Fresh Water Fisheries presided over by my noble friend Lord Bledisloe, which reported in 1961. In the debate which ensued on March 30, and in which I participated, it turned out that I and the noble Lord, Lord Champion, had a mutual interest, not only in The Compleat Angler but also in the object of strengthening the law against poaching by people who use noxious substances for the destruction of fish, and who generally for that purpose tend to "bash" rivers about.

Sir Tufton Beamish introduced this Bill in another place. He is the father of this Bill and genuine anglers everywhere will be very grateful to him for that fact. We salute him. But, for reasons which are no concern of ours, this Bill made no progress in another place. Therefore I am handling it now all the more happily, because the noble Lord, Lord Champion, assured me in the debate on March 30 that it has the support of Her Majesty's Government and that they were very much hoping that this Bill would somehow find its way on to the Statute Book during the present Session of Parliament. The noble Lord, Lord Champion, was good enough to add that he hoped that we should use our ingenuity in this House if others failed to ge it through another place, because he agreed with me on this matter of the poisoning of waters. He said that I had used strong words but he thought they were justified.

It is with such encouragement, and I hope ingenuity, that I am speaking to-day, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Champion, for this encouragement, as I am sure thousands of anglers everywhere will be. This Bill should be non-controversial except among thieves. It has all-Party support, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have been most helpful in their advice about the Bill. I am sure that in an atmosphere of mutual co-operation we can achieve the proper protection which is the due of good fishermen.

This Bill is designed to fulfil an urgent need so far as anglers in England are concerned: that is, to protect fisheries from poaching on a great and piratical scale. There is, for example, a poison called cymag which I believe is officially approved by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for killing rabbits. It is very convenient stuff for a blackguard to put into a river, where it kills every fish within reach, and it does so silently. Not only does it kill all types of fish; it also destroys all forms of insect life upon which fish depend. So it kills the fish who are coming after. Now we are getting "cymag-ing" of English rivers, particularly in Cumberland and other Northern counties. Cymag is a mixture of sodium cyanide and magnesium sulphate. It can poison large numbers of fish, but it does not poison the people who eat the fish.

The River Boards Association are on record as being firmly convinced that the passage into law of a Bill of this kind would be of great benefit, particularly in providing a remedy against the increased use of cymag. I am not surprised. It is clearly in the interests of all decent fishermen that a Bill of this sort should become law for the protection of anglers in all walks of life. For example, the National Federation of Anglers has 400,000 members and the Anglers' Cooperative Association has 10,000 members. Both of these associations support this Bill and so does the Fresh Water Biological Association. All these people, and the chief constables of the counties mainly concerned, much wish that legislation along these lines should be passed through Parliament.

This kind of poaching business is big business. Quite a number of people have a sneaking regard for the odd poacher who snatches the odd salmon. But those who to-day use cymag or dynamite are really criminals who need dealing with accordingly. This Bill is no rich man's charter, but the law as it stands at present is really a charter to make criminals rich. Six hundred salmon and sea trout were poisoned in the River Ehen in Cumberland last year. Blackguards can make large sums by peddling such ill-gotten gains. They sometimes get ten shillings or even fifteen shillings a pound, and some salmon can weigh 20 lb. The river boards issue about 50,000 licences for salmon and migratory trout fishing to decent rod fishermen, and 416,000 licencesare issued in England and Wales for fishing non-migratory fish including trout. All these licence holders would enjoy angling more were it not for cymag and dynamite gangs. In Cumberland alone there are about 20,000 holders of salmon and trout licences.

The Minister of Agriculture, who represents a Cumberland constituency, has only to ask his own constituents in all walks of life what they think about the wrecking of rivers which this Bill is designed to stop, and he will get plenty of sound advice in support of my cause. The last Labour Government passed through an Act to prevent this sort of thing, in Scotland. It became an Act in 1951 and it was highly effective in Scotland. But Scotland's gain was the loss of England and Wales. The cymag and dynamite gangsters transferred their attention to England and Wales, and that is what this Bill is designed to stop.

The Bill is a simple one. Its main object is to prevent blackguards from using dynamite or noxious substances for the destruction of fish. It is proposed that Section 9 of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act, 1923, should be repealed and replaced by a section which would make it much more inconvenient for people who may use any explosive substance or poisons or other noxious substances or electrical devices with intent to take or destroy fish, or who take these things into their possession. But there is also provision against unlawfully or maliciously cutting through, breaking down or otherwise destroying any dam, floodgate or sluice with intent thereby to take or destroy fish.

There is provision for, on summary conviction, a fine not exceeding £50 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months; and, in the case of a second or subsequent conviction, a fine not exceeding £100 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, or both such fine and imprisonment. On conviction on indictment there is provision for a fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or both a fine and such imprisonment. There is a provision for the forfeiture of any fish illegally taken, and of any instrument or article by which the offence is committed. There is also provision, on a conviction on indictment, for the forfeiture of any vehicle or boat used to assist in the commission of the offence, and any vehicle or boat so forfeited shall be disposed of as the court may direct. Finally, there is provision in the Bill to protect—shall I say?—persons who are acting for some scientific purpose, or for the purpose of improving or developing stocks of fish, and who have obtained previous permission in writing of the river authority.

My noble friend Lord Bledisloe has told me that he attaches much importance to this attempt on our part to close a gap to which he drew attention in his Report. I commend this Bill very strongly to all, for I am sure that its enactment will give pleasure to anglers everywhere.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Egremont.)

7.12 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Egremont, for the way in which he has introduced this Bill. I was delighted to hear him say that this was no rich man's charter. Had it been such, I doubt whether I should have been welcoming it in quite the same terms as I shall be to-day, in my short speech on this Bill.

Last month, when replying to a Question by the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, on the Bledisloe Report, I said that the Government supported the Bill which Sir Tuft on Beamish had introduced in another place to stop poisoning of fishing waters and similar offences. In view of the circumstances which have arisen, that was virtually an invitation to the noble Lord, Lord Egremont, to introduce such a Bill, and I must now respond in welcoming terms to the Bill that he has now presented. On this second occasion, therefore, I am glad to say again that the Government support this Bill. We think it may require certain modifications, but we should certainly like to see it passed.

The noble Lord has spoken about the effects of cymag poisoning in rivers, and of its dangers. The qualities of cymag are, of course, well known. It is classified as a poison, and is widely used by farmers and others for pest-destruction purposes. As applied illegally in fishing rivers, it kills fish of every size and age without discrimination, and is therefore a wholly destructive method—and, of course, the very negation of any measures taken to conserve fish. The noble Lord has mentioned specific instances of offences in Cumberland. Similar instances have been reported in Lancashire in the recent past, as well as in Wales. I would agree that, when this type of offence exists and shows signs of continuing, there is a prima facie ground for strengthening the present law if there are grounds for thinking that it is proving ineffective. The Cumberland River Board did, in fact, not long ago, make representations to the Ministry to this effect; and, naturally, the Government would wish to pay close regard to the approach of that River Board.

I should like to make only some very general observations on the Bill at this stage. The purpose of the Bill, of course, is to improve the present law by making it more effective to deal with these offences. As the noble Lord, Lord Egremont, has made clear, the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act, 1923, as it stands, contains powers to act against poisoning of rivers. Section 9 of the Act makes it an offence to put poison in any water with intent to take or destroy fish, and it also covers the other illegal methods dealt with in this Bill, with the exception of the use of electrical devices, which have not been provided for up to date. The Act also provides penalties for these offences, as well as the means to stop and search vehicles. The Scottish Act of 1951, as has been pointed out, provides much stronger penalties. It includes, too, powers of seizure and of forfeiture which do not exist in the English Act. It must clearly be right that when an Act creates offences and provides powers to stop them, those powers must be effective; otherwise, the confidence of the enforcing authorities must be undermined. I would agree that the powers in the present English Act are deficient, and that this establishes the case for bringing forward the present Bill.

My Lords, the Department have given some consideration to the provisions of the Bill, and, as I have said, certain modification may be necessary, but this is not the time to deal with these detailed matters. I would conclude, therefore, by saying simply that these modifications will, I think, be in general line with the present provisions of the Bill, which we support.


My Lords, I am much obliged for what the noble Lord, Lord Champion, has just said, with his usual courtesy, consideration, sense and charm—anyhow until we disagree. But we are at one on this. I accept that I am but the foster-father of this Bill, but I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Champion, as its fairy godfather. When we—the noble Lord, Lord Champion, and I—have finished with it on the Committee stage, it should be a real beauty; and when, after that, we in this House despatch it to the other place, I hope that Her Majesty's Government—and this I should like to emphasise—will adopt the child as their own.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.