§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 2, in page 4, line 2, after 'appropriate' insert:'and after taking into account the interests of any persons whose livelihood would be affected'.
§ Mr. Beith
These two amendments relate to provisions in the Bill by which the Secretary of State can make severe restrictions on the manner in which fisheries are managed. These restrictions may be contemplated for the best of reasons but they could have the effect of depriving certain categories of fishermen of their livelihoods.
If the Minister were to set a mesh size which was such that few salmon could be caught it would effectively destroy a particular fishery. If the Minister forbade a whole category of implements he would rule out an entire fishery. There are a series of provisions in the Bill which would enable the Minister to remove the livelihoods of groups of fishermen.
In Committee I sought to argue that a Minister should not have such powers without adequate parliamentary opportunity to consider the matter. I argued that the affirmative order procedure was the only reasonable way of doing so. At the moment the Minister can bring in an order prohibiting a category of fishing and the only thing that hon. Members could do would be to pray against the order. They would seek a debate — probably without success—on the Floor of the House. With luck it could be debated in Committee, but hon. Members would have no guarantee of a meaningful debate on the order. They would have no opportunity effectively to represent their constituents.
My argument for the affirmative order did not prevail as Conservative Members felt that this—in my opinion inadequate—procedure was all that was needed in such circumstances. I disagree.
Tonight, I have taken an alternative approach. I believe that the Minister should satisfy two conditions before he may embark on some of the actions that are open to him in the Bill. If the Minister seeks to exercise the powers in clause 3(2) he should do so only when he considers it necessary to conserve salmon stocks more effectively. I am sure that that is the Minister's intention, but it is just possible that a Minister may be persuaded, by argument, that one category of fishing should be abolished to improve the opportunities for another category. That is not a reasonable basis for exercising the powers available. The basis should be conservation.
If the Minister should decide that a specific net is bad, such a decision should be based on the conservation needs and with due consideration for the effect of such a ban on the livelihood of fishermen. Such considerations have not always featured in Government departmental practice. I have argued about this with the Minister on previous occasions in respect of other matters, including the ban on the carriage of monofilament nets. However hard the Minister tried, he left some fishermen with the feeling that they had not been properly consulted.
There should be a clear obligation to take into account the interests of those whose livelihoods may be affected by Government decisions. I hope that the Minister will say that that is his intention and that I have given an accurate interpretation of it. That would set a future pattern and give guidance to departmental officials. I would prefer such considerations to be contained in the Bill. The Minister must remember that conservation is the objective but that people's livelihoods are also involved.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
Amendment No. 1 shows that the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) is even more suspicious than I am about the Government's motives. The amendment would require the Secretary of State to make regulations on close times, mesh sizes and so on onlyWhen he considers it necessary to do so in order to conserve salmon stocks.I confess that it had not occurred to me that any Minister, even this Minister, would introduce such regulations just for the hell of it or simply out of spite. However, I suppose that there is a case for guarding against such eventualities. Nevertheless, after the Minister's disgraceful response to the earlier debate I feel that he cannot be trusted to exercise his discretion fairly over this kind of issue. Therefore, I support in principle amendment No. 1.
Amendment No. 2 would ensure that before regulations are made account is taken of the interests of those whose livelihoods would be affected. I think that the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed is right. It became very clear in Committee that there are people who would not hesitate to take action to close down legitimate netting operations, regardless of the interests of those who had worked the fisheries for generations, according to traditional and properly regulated practices. The House should recognise the importance of those jobs, however few, seasonal, or part-time they may be, in small and remote communities. The economy of a rural area can be very fragile, and the loss of even part-time jobs can have far-reaching effects.
Right hon. and hon. Members recognise that it may be necessary further to restrict the netting effort, but any such measures must take proper account of those whose livelihoods will be affected. Therefore, I support in principle both of the amendments.
§ Mr. John MacKay
I admit that the inclusion of the words contained in the first amendment is superficially attractive, but their inclusion would involve danger. The suggestion of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) would add a restriction. The Secretary of State may want to use his powers for purposes that are not strictly conservationist. They may, however, have an identifiable effect on, for example, the better management of a fishery. I do not deny that the existing regulations and any that will be made under clause 3(2) are essentially conservationist, in the widest sense of the word. However, to seek to qualify the Secretary of State's power by the amendment would be unsatisfactory, in view of the kind of questions and doubts that might be raised about the Secretary of State's power to act in the interests of the good management of salmon stocks. That is part and parcel of the conservation problems that the House has discussed.
As for the second amendment, in Committee I was far from convinced that anything other than a generalised requirement for the Secretary of State to consult such persons as he considers appropriate was necessary. I am still of the same mind. I hope that it can be taken as read that any Secretary of State, of whatever political persuasion, will have regard to salmon conservation, and also to other relevant matters, when he considers such questions and that he will consult all those who have an interest in and whose livelihood depends upon the fishery concerned. Obviously he will have to consider the views of 1397 interested parties, whether or not their livelihoods are directly affected, and he will have to weigh all these factors before deciding whether to make a regulation.
I see no advantage in picking out one particular group. I had hoped that in Committee I had given the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed sufficient assurances to allay his fears. I have tried again to give those assurances. I hope that I have said enough to convince the hon. Member that his fears are groundless and that he will withdraw his amendment.
§ Amendment negatived.