§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (THE EARL OF ANCASTEK)
My Lords, before I say anything on the Second Reading of the Bill I should like to ask noble Lords who are present if there is any objection to taking the Second Reading to-day. The Bill was read a first time last Tuesday, and if any noble Lords wish that the Second Reading should be put off I shall be perfectly pleased to defer it until next Tuesday. Even if the Bill is now given a Second Reading it is not my intention to take the Committee stage before Whitsuntide. I think it would be a good thing to get the Second Reading before Whitsuntide, however, because it will give a chance during the Recess for those interested to look into the Bill and to consider Amendments, and at the same time enable us to proceed with the Bill at a fairly early date in the Session. That is of some importance, because if the Bill passes into law the Act will come into operation on January 1, 1924, and considerable time will be necessary to get the different fishery boards into existence and working order.
If no objection is taken to the Second Reading, I will proceed briefly to recapitulate those points in which this Bill differs from the Bill which was introduced into your Lordships' House about a year ago. The Bill was then read a second time and it went to a Consolidation Committee, where it was very carefully examined. It was subsequently given a Third Reading and sent to another place. Had it not been for the General Election it probably would have been law now. The Bill that I am introducing on this occasion is almost a similar Bill, but there are a few alterations to which I think it right to call your Lordships' attention.
In the first place, Clause 33 of the Bill of last year, which dealt with the question of registration of sellers of salmon or trout, was the subject of considerable objection. It has, therefore, been withdrawn, and no longer appears in the Bill. Clause 35 of the Bill now before your Lordships' House has been 94 completely re-drafted, to meet the representations of various associations of anglers, but the substance of the clause remains unaltered. I understand that some persons thought the clause, as originally drafted, was not very intelligible. Clause 47 of the Bill, which deals with the representation of net fishermen on the fishery boards, has been altered so that the number of representatives of net fishermen upon such boards has been limited to one half the total number of members of the board in the preceding year. Clause 48 is new, but is taken in part from Clause 47 of the Bill as it left your Lordships' House last year. The representation of coarse fish anglers has been limited to one-third of the total representation on the Board and the clause is made applicable to existing fishery boards. This applies only to fishery boards of salmon rivers.
I feel that your Lordships would like me to mention the two additions to Clause 55, which deals with the power to prevent the pollution of waters. Subsections (3) and (4) of this clause are new. They have been inserted at the request of the Association of Municipal Corporations, who fear that without some such protection as these two subsections afford, certain local authorities around the coast might be involved in heavy expenditure in connection with the abolition of the discharge of crude sewage into the estuaries of rivers. An additional protection has also been inserted into this clause, so that proceedings taken by a fishery board in respect of pollution cannot be instituted without the consent of the Minister of Health, who is the person responsible for the administration of the Rivers Pollution Prevention Acts, under which such proceedings would have to be taken.
With regard to Clause 61, which deals with the granting of licences to fish for salmon and trout, paragraphs (g) and (h) have been made applicable to associations of persons, which will enable an angling association to obtain a general licence instead of each member of such associations being required to take out a separate individual licence. In Clause 62 a new provision has been added, to meet the misgivings of the net fishermen in certain rivers, who felt that the protection afforded by the Bill, to ensure their not being robbed of their means of livelihood by the limitation of licences, was not 95 altogether adequate. I now come to a point which was raised by Lord Bledisloe when the Bill was last before your Lordships' House. Having regard to the views he expressed, that the lave net fishermen on the river Severn were not adequately protected, subsection (4) has been added to the clause, which has the effect of excluding from the ambit of the clause the lave net fishermen of the river Severn.
There is one other very important clause, which deals with the Solway fisheries. As your Lordships are aware, the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, last year interested himself in this subject, and I hope I was enabled to meet him in one or two respects as regards the size of the mesh and other matters that he mentioned; but the new clause, which is a rather lengthy one, goes a great deal further. It is not obligatory upon anybody, but we claim that by this clause, if it be allowed to pass, we are giving machinery by which all the separate interests on the Solway can come together. We hope that those difficulties which Lord Ullswater described as having existed for so many years, and as having been the cause of great riots and disturbances, may be swept away. If the parties can come together, and wish for a separate fishery board to be set up for the Solway, this clause gives the machinery to enable such a board to be set up. We sincerely hope that, by providing machinery such as this, in a very few years we may see the end of these unfortunate divisions of opinion, which have existed for so long, among the different fishing interests of the Solway Firth.
On the general principle of the Bill I think I may be allowed to state that the Bill is pressed for by everybody interested in salmon and freshwater fisheries. The present state of the law is intolerable. There are no less than nineteen Acts dealing with freshwater fisheries in this country and on many subjects the present law is an insoluble problem. The objects of this Bill are:—(1), to consolidate such part of the existing law as it is desirable to retain; (2), to repeal such provisions as are obsolete or inconsistent; and (3), to enact new provisions which have been found necessary in view of modern developments. Briefly, the new provisions are these: The Bill, in the first place, 96 reconstitutes fishery authorities to meet modern requirements; secondly, it aims at the reduction of the pollution of rivers to a minimum, having in view the respective interests of the manufacturing industries and of fisheries; thirdly, it aims at the prevention of over-fishing by regulating netting and modification of the close time, as experience has shown necessary; and, fourthly, it gives better protection of fish other than salmon and trout.
It is always rash to say that any Bill is an unopposed and agreed measure, as very frequently, when one gets into Committee, serious differences of opinion arise, but the old saying Tot homines, quot sententiœ applies to fishing more than to anything else in the world. At the present time we have been successful in reaching so far as possible agreement among all the various interests concerned, and I hope your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Beading because I honestly believe that it will go a long way to improve the fishing in this country; that it will not infringe the rights and interests of any person; and. incidentally, it may do something to improve the amenities of our country districts.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Ancaster.)
§ VISCOUNT ULLSWATER
My Lords, I took an interest in this Bill last year in one or two particulars only. I then supported the general principle of the Bill, and I still support it. I am obliged to the noble Earl who has introduced it for the statement he has made that he does not propose to press on the Committee stage before Whitsuntide. This Bill was circulated to your Lordships only this morning. There has hardly been time since nine o'clock this morning to make a thorough study of its provisions, far less to get into communication with those in the localities interested in them. At the end of last week a new provision was introduced to which the noble Earl has referred—namely, some suggestion for setting up machinery by which a board in the Solway could be established, which would bring to an end the differences which have existed between the Scottish and the English fishermen in those waters. But I really have not had time to examine the Bill thoroughly. I should like an 97 opportunity of consulting with those who are more particularly interested in the industry. So far as I am concerned, however, I am content that the Second Beading of the Bill should be taken now. That would give us, as the noble Earl says, an opportunity, between now and the resumption of the Session after Whitsuntide, of considering any Amendments which may be necessary or desirable.
VISCOUNT LONGO OF WRAXALL
My Lords, I do not desire to offer any opposition to this Bill; quite the contrary; but I would ask the Government very respectfully whether it is desirable to read a second time a Bill which has only been circulated this morning, and which many of your Lordships have not seen. I have not seen it at all. Although I share the view expressed by Lord Ullswater that it is most desirable that this Bill should pass, I do not think it is right, when one is in general agreement with the principle of a Bill, to assent to its passage in circumstances which would cause one to object ii one had reason to criticise the Bill. There is all the difference in the world between Second Beading and Committee. It is true that the Second Beading affirms the general principle, and, so far as I know, the general principle is one that might well be affirmed after the statement of the noble Earl, Lord Ancaster. But, at the same time, it is the intention of Parliament, both here and in another place, that Bills should not be read a second time until Members of the House who are interested in them have had an opportunity to master their contents. That opportunity we have not had on this occasion. I do not want to impede the progress of the Bill and it does not seem to me that if the Second Beading were postponed, say, for a week, it would in any way embarrass the Government. As an old Member of the House of Commons I have always had the strongest objection to either House being asked to affirm the principle of a Bill which has only been circulated the same day and the contents of which are unknown to nine-tenths of the Members.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNOIL (THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY)
My Lords, I do not know whether my noble friend was present when the Minister in charge of the Bill began his observations, but he said he did not 98 propose to take even the Second Beading to-day, except by the leave of the House. I can only say that this Bill differs from the Bill which passed through your Lordships' House last year only in Committee points—in points which can and ought to be dealt with in Committee. But it is quite sufficient for the Government if any noble Lord raises the least objection I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
My Lords, the noble Viscount who has just spoken (Lord Long) has been so good in giving me his support lately when I ventured to protest against undue haste that it is only with the greatest reluctance that I should differ from him on the present occasion. The noble Marquess, however, suggested that your Lordships should postpone the decision on the Second Beading of this particular Bill. I confess that if your Lordships were never invited by His Majesty's Government to do anything worse than that which they have been asked to do this afternoon I should be, comparatively speaking, content with the procedure in this House. It is true that this Bill was only circulated this morning. On the other hand, the principle of the Bill is not one to which any member of your Lordships' House is likely to object.
The Bill is rather a measure for discussion in Committee. It contains no less than ninety-five clauses and deals with a great number of very important questions. Those of your Lordships who have only scanned the Bill in the short time at our disposal to-day will have observed the number of different interests concerned—the county councils, the owners of land and the various angling societies. I confess that it is not merely the various interests nor the number of questions which are dealt with which weigh with me in looking at a Bill. A Bill which contains ninety-four clauses evidently is one which demands a great deal of consideration. I suspect Bills which are short and which on Second Beading do not, on the statements made in their support, necessarily convey to your Lordships' House the full meaning of their contents. Those Bills seem to me to deserve further consideration and a more suspicious attitude than a Bill which obviously is important. But, in 99 the first part of this Bill, where it deals with nets and with the poisoning of rivers and streams, the use of dynamite and many of the Amendments of the Malicious Damages Act, it is evident that it is one which in the Committee stage will deserve very serious consideration from your Lordships.
I should have been willing to support the Second Reading, seeing that this is not a question of principle, but of detail, but in view of the fact that the noble Marquess has moved the adjournment of the debate I am quite willing naturally to agree that it should be read a second time one day next week when, I imagine, there will be very little discussion. If I might venture to make one more suggestion, it would be that the Bill should not be taken in Committee on the first day after the Recess so that members of your Lordships' House may have an opportunity of placing Amendments on the Paper.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, on behalf of the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, I might say that my noble friend will consult the noble Earl opposite as to the day on which the Bill should be put down after Whitsuntide. If your Lordships are willing to accept my Motion I should propose to put the Second Reading down again for Tuesday next.
THE DUKE OF BUCCLEUCH
My Lords, I am sorry that there is any suggestion for postponing the Second Reading of this Bill. Your Lordships will recollect that it went through all its stages last year. It also went before the Consolidation Committee, and I think it would be unfortunate if it were postponed. My noble friend, Lord Long, said that nine-tenths of the House had no knowledge of the Bill. I think he must have said that inadvertently because it is obvious that all those of your Lordships who take an interest in the matter know quite well what is in the Bill. The only part that is really new was alluded to by my noble friend in charge of the Bill and also by the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater. It relates to the provisions in regard to the Solway. There is no opposition to them at the present time although there may be in Committee. It is unfortunate that England and Wales have failed to see eye to eye and to work together on this occasion. The Ministry 100 of Agriculture and Fisheries has been exceedingly good in meeting the representatives of Scottish boards and explaining the whole thing to them. There are certain matters that might have to be considered later, but the boards offer no objection to a Second Reading being given. I think my noble friend opposite might withdraw his objection and let the Bill go through to-day. That will give plenty of time before the Committee stage is taken.
§ VISCOUNT LONG OF WRAXALL
My Lords, the noble Duke is entirely mistaken. I did not suggest that your Lordships did not understand and did not know this Bill. I was referring to the question of principle and not to any particular Bill. In regard to this Bill, if it was thought desirable that the House should give it a Second Reading, I did not offer any objection, and I am quite willing that the noble Marquess should withdraw his Motion.
§ LORD MUIR MACKENZIE
My Lords, your Lordships are all aware that this Bill was considered last Session with, I might almost say, peculiar care. The really important thing now is to know whether any substantial alteration has been made in it since its examination by this House. I should be very sorry to think that the Bill would be referred again to the same Committee, because its consideration really was a very laborious and troublesome affair. On the other hand, I think it is very important that a Bill should not be introduced and run through hastily in a second Session even though it has been dealt with and examined in a former Session as this Bill was. What is now required, if I might make a suggestion, is that the noble Earl should state very clearly on the Committee stage what alterations have been made in the Bill which was so fully and carefully settled in this House. If those alterations are very important, I can conceive that the members of the Committee might have something to say upon them. But subject to that, I hope that the Bill will go through now as rapidly as is consistent with the decent observation of the proper manner of dealing with Bills in this House, in respect of which the noble Marquess opposite was so very careful during the last three or four years and did so much to help the House.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I need not say that I am entirely in the hands of your Lordships. If noble Lords wish that the Bill should now be read a second time I should be only too delighted to withdraw my Motion. I should like to say in withdrawing it, that I entirely share the view of the noble Viscount, Lord Long of Wraxall, that it is most improper that Bills should be hurried through without proper consideration. The only defence for doing so on this occasion is that this Bill has, in fact, already received a Second Beading on more than one occasion. There was really no abandonment of the rights of your Lordships in taking the Second Heading to-night, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion to adjourn the debate, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.