HL Deb 23 July 1861 vol 164 cc1343-7

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


in moving the second reading of the Bill, the object of which was to preserve the breed and growth of salmon, said, that a Commission which was appointed last year examined witnesses as to the state of the rivers in England, and ascertained the undoubted fact that salmon which formerly existed in them in great abundance had diminished in some, and in others had almost ceased to exist. The causes were the establishment of fixed engines, the pollution of the waters, the complication of the law, the non-observance of a closing season, and illegal modes of fishing. The Commission made a Report, and this Bill was founded upon its recommendations. From the time of Magna Charta down to the 11 & 12 Vict., Parliament had constantly recognized the duty of protecting the salmon. At present all kinds of obstacles were interposed in the way of the salmon when they attempted to ascend the rivers for the purpose of spawning, and every possible effort was made to capture them by means of fixed engines, fixed nets, and other contrivances. It had been the uniform object of the Legislature to give the salmon a constant and ready access to the upper waters, and with this view it was now proposed to prohibit the continuance of any fixed engines except where a fishery of this kind existed by ancient charter or grant of the Crown. It was also proposed that in the case of dams and weirs a constant and ready access should be provided for the salmon to the upper waters by means of a gap or "free pass," and it provided a weekly close time from eight p. m. on Friday till six a. m. on Monday. Spearing and "burning the water" would be prohibited, and a penalty would be inflicted on any person who permitted deleterious matter to flow into a river so as to kill or poison fish, subject, however, to exemption from the penalty if he proved to the satisfaction of the Court that he had used the best practicable means, within a reasonable cost, to render such matter harmless. He believed that as the law now stood an action might be maintained against any person who thus poisoned the fish, but this was a costly process, and the Bill provided for the infliction of a penalty if the offence were proved to the satisfaction of two magistrates. The Bill inflicted penalties for the capture of unclean fish, for taking the young of salmon, and for disturbing the fish when spawning. It was proposed to declare a close time between the 1st of September and the 1st of February, and to make it illegal to sell or offer to sell any salmon during that time. There might be objection to some of the provisions of the Bill, but he hoped their Lordships would assent to the second reading. It was naturally of interest to all sportsmen, but it had also a wider interest, since it was calculated to insure a valuable supply of fish, which was now almost destroyed. This country possessed some excellent rivers for fishing, but the quantity of fish there seemed to be gradually becoming smaller. He did not expect ever to see salmon sold for a penny a pound, or to find a clause again inserted in the indentures of apprentices providing that they should not be made to eat salmon oftener than three times a week. But he did expect through the operation of this Bill that salmon would become more plentiful and cheaper than it was at present.

Moved, that the Bill be now read 2a


said, he had not proved a true prophet when he warned their Lordships that a rather extraordinary and somewhat amusing Bill would come before them on this subject. The House of Commons were entirely of his opinion, for in the Select Committee they had deprived the Bill of its singular and objectionable features, and this was now a practical measure, which, with some alterations, might be very fairly passed into a law. There would, however, be some difficulties in carrying out the Bill. He thought that their Lordships, however well versed they might be in natural history, would be very much puzzled if they should ever have to apply the definition of a salmon as given in the Bill. For example, it seemed that a magistrate before whom an offender under this measure was brought would be expected to know the difference between "a salmon, cock or kipper, kelt, laurel, girling, grilse, botcher, blue cock, blue pole, fork tail, mort, peal, herring peal, May peal, pugg peal, harvest cock, sea trout, white trout, sewin, buntling, guiniad, tubs, yellow fin, sprod, herling, whiting, bull trout, whitling, scurf, burn tail, fry, samlet, smoult, smelt, skirling or scarling, parr, spawn, pink, last spring, hepper, last brood, gravelling, shed, scad, blue fin, black tip, fingerling, brandling, or brondling." Now, he thought that most of the magistrates of this country would be rather puzzled when a delinquent was brought before them to know to which of these fish the offence applied. This must be simplified in Committee. He hoped, too, before going into Committee that his noble Friend would look at some points which rather seriously affected property. He entirely agreed that all fixed engines and obstacles to the passage of the fish up the river should be removed. There were, however, two clauses in the Bill which he thought were highly objectionable — namely, that which prohibited fishing with nets within fifty yards of a mill dam or fishing weir, and that which provided that the fishing should be closed from eight o'clock on Friday evening till six o'clock on Monday morning. As long as dams or weirs were obstructions to the passage of the salmon there might be reasons for prohibiting fishing in their neighbourhood; but as it was intended by this Bill to provide that a free passage should be allowed for the fish over such structures, it would be absurd and unjust to prevent proprietors from fishing as near such dams or weirs as they pleased. In some rivers in the south of England, as, for instance, in that at Christchurch, the enforcement of such a provision as that contained in the Bill would entirely destroy the fishing, because the pools near the dams and weirs were the only places in which fish could be caught. As to the weekly close time, it would, in his opinion, be quite sufficient to forbid fishing between six o'clock on Saturday night and six o'clock on Monday morning; and he hoped their Lordships would not overlook the circumstance that upon persons who had taken fishings as a means of obtaining a livelihood the deprivation of one day's fishing a week would operate as a great hardship. He hoped that the noble Lord would not insist upon retaining in the Bill the provisions to which he had referred.


said, he did not intend to oppose the Bill, but he thought that some alteration would be requisite in the wording of some of the provisions before it was allowed to become law.


considered that it would be politic to make some concessions to those who were interested in the upper waters, who were, or ought to be, the great salmon preservers.


said, that this was a subject in which all persons were interested, and he believed that they would willingly give their assistance in carrying out the law. At the same time he had no objection to some slight alterations being made to meet the views of the noble Earl who had raised the objection.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and Committed of a Committee of the whole House on Thursday next.