§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
I beg to move amendment No. 78, in page 139, line 1, leave out `advisory'.
Madam Deputy Speaker
With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 79, in page 139, line 1, leave out'who appear to it to be'.No. 80, in page 139, line 5, at end insert—`and to delegate to them such powers and duties as it may from time to time think fit'.No. 153, in page 139, line 5, at end insert—'(2) The chairmen of the regional committees shall be appointed by the Minister in consultation with the Authority.'No. 81, in page 139, line 6, leave out 'advisory'.
No. 82, in page 139, line 9, leave out 'advisory'
No. 83, in page 139, line 13, leave out 'advisory'.
No. 85, in page 139, line 15, at end, insert—'(2A) There shall be appointed by the Authority for each area, a Chairman who has an interest in the fisheries within the area and members nominated by riparian owners and anglers representative of rivers and still waters within the area. The number of members appointed shall not exceed twenty and will vary according to the extent of the fisheries within the area'.No. 84, in page 139, line 17, leave out 'an advisory' and insert 'a'.
§ Mr. Onslow
I do not want to delay the House, so I shall be brief as possible. I should first declare an interest. I am a riparian owner, in a small way. I have been a keen fisherman for many years, I have fished in many parts of the British Isles and I sit on a number of bodies that represent anglers collectively such as the Anglers Co-operative Association, the Salmon and Trout Association and the British Field Sports Society. The points that I want to make are not mine alone, but are shared by many anglers. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure them.
The most important amendment of the group is No. 80. I shall concentrate mainly on that, with a few words about amendments Nos. 153 and 85. The others are purely consequential.
I hope that the House will agree that amendment No. 80 has three things to commend it: it would improve the representation of anglers in fishery matters; it would improve the management of fisheries, and it could, I think, be accepted without damaging a principle that the Government hold dear, which is that the National Rivers Authority should not be undercut by having its powers limited by decision of Parliament. The powers of the NRA will derive from the House, and some hon. Members may feel that it should have more, but my argument will relate to the NRA's use of powers that we know it will have, one of which is the power to levy charges on anglers and owners and occupiers of fisheries through licences or other means.
I invite the Minister to anticipate Government amendment No. 5, which we may or may not get a chance to debate in the later stages of the Bill. He will at least agree that that sets out clearly that the NRA will have considerable powers to levy charges. It does not say how the money is to be spent or who is to spend it, but I am nevertheless attracted by the proposition that those who 1204 contribute should have some say in deciding how the money is to be spent. I hope that the Minister will agree that that proposition is basically a democratic one and accept its corollary, which is that they can have such powers only if they are delegated to the regional fisheries committee, on which we hope and believe anglers will be powerfully represented. It is hard to envisage what checks there will be on the NRA's fisheries activities if that does not happen.
While I have no quarrel with the choice of Lord Crickhowell as chairman-designate of the NRA and I am glad to discover that Lord Mason is to be at his elbow —and I know both of them to be keen and experienced anglers—we cannot look forward with confidence to keen and experienced anglers always occupying those positions. We must anticipate circumstances in which it might, more than ever, be necessary for anglers to have more say in the management of their fisheries.
A number of anglers are not as confident as one would wish them to be that all will be well under the proposed NRA structure. Broadly speaking, the anglers support the Bill, for very good reasons. They have always been in the forefront of the fight against pollution, and they regard the separation of the powers of the water authority as managers and the NRA as inspectors as an important step forward. It would be wrong, however, for Ministers to suppose that all anglers take an entirely rosy view of the future. In that context, I can do no better than to quote from a letter sent by a keen and experienced angler who has considerable reservations about the circumstances that will prevail once the NRA is established:The Regional Organisation at present envisaged is simply a carbon copy of the existing W.A.'s perpetuating most of their faults and even introducing new onesHe adds:it is absolutely certain that the legal obligation of the present W.A.'s and the future N.R.A. to maintain, improve, and develop fisheries has no chance whatever of being fulfilled without River Catchment Fishery Committees with executive powers.The justification for this categorical statement is simply that the Fishery Organisation of the present W.A.'s has not always proved satisfactory because the Fishery Function was far too small and often considered unimportant in far too large an organisation for anyone of importance to take any interest in it. Officers, at least in some W.A.'s, have therefore been able to ignore Advisory Committees and to take decisions—or fail to take decisions—in situations that they really did not understand. Experts are dangerous unless they are responsible to an informed and confident lay committee. They need to be questioned and forced to justify their case".Of course, in the House we spend our time questioning and seeking Ministers' justification for their cases. I hope that Ministers would not object to that pressure. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will not think that this is too much to ask of the NRA.
The letter goes on:Fisheries may be very small compared with most of the other proposed functions of the NRA, but from the point of view of recreation, conservation and the environment they are most important.I do not believe that any hon. Member would challenge that view. I hope, too, that there is general agreement with the proposition that anglers are entitled to a real opportunity to make constructive contributions and to participate in the management of the fisheries that they value and enjoy.
I said earlier that I realised that the Government were anxious not to devalue the NRA by shackling it. If that is what they fear the amendment will do, I hope that they will 1205 think again. I certainly hope that the amendment will be used, but it will be for the NRA to use it. I hope that it would willingly and freely delegate powers. I do not believe that it will be jealous and will want to keep the power to itself. I hope that there are not bureaucrats in water authorities' fishery management who will consider that they will have some cosy billet that they can look forward to enjoying, without anyone having any real control over what they do or how the money is spent. I can see no objection to the proposition that the NRA should be empowered to delegate some of its functions to executive regional fishery committees.
Amendment No. 153 is self-explanatory. I am sure that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would like a say in the appointment of officers in the NRA, if only so that he can remain accountable to Parliament.
Amendment No. 85 is simply probing, because I hope that the Minister can indicate how many people and what sort of people he expects will comprise the fishery committees. They should be committees that will be capable of exercising power, even if we do not necessarily feel that they must change their name. Whether we are talking about shooting or matters connected with fishing, we should make it clear that we expect the committees to be noticed. I am afraid that there is some reason to suppose that, when they are given an advisory label—as often happens—they will not be noticed at all.
§ Mr. Livsey
Being an angler, I welcome the amendments. Anglers have a great interest in the environment and the purity of water, especially of rivers. I believe that after the Committee stage anglers felt that they were under-represented on the NRA. That was the principle of no taxation without representation. Anglers, after all, who are paying considerable sums of money to enjoy their sport, should be recognised. Indeed, in any delegation of powers to regional authorities anglers should have a proper say in fisheries. The feeling is that they have been shut out in the cold. That is unfortunate, because, if anglers were given the opportunity of executive powers to help develop fisheries, that would have great significance. I believe that that is one of the aims of the amendments.
To be effective fisheries management must be proactive, and actions such as stocking the rivers with migratory fish such as salmon, sea trout and the like are vital. There is no doubt that our fishing resource is undeveloped and that what exists has substantially deteriorated over the years. There is great work to be done to revive the fisheries in many of our rivers. The expertise that our anglers could provide in that respect could be significant not only in creating a better resource for sport, but in developing tourism and employment opportunities in rural areas.
Not long ago we spent some time discussing the Salmon Bill and we thought that we had improved matters. However, unless the advisory committees to the NRA have executive powers, angling interests will suffer a considerable setback.
We all know that angling is the most popular recreation in the United Kingdom, with about 3 million participants. The Bill provides a great opportunity to develop that resource. After all, angling is a pleasant, quiet occupation which is in tune with the environment. Advisory 1206 committees which represented angling interests and had executive powers would bring benefit to the rural areas and the waters that flow through them.
§ Sir Charles Morrison (Devizes)
Nothing that I say should be taken as a criticism, direct or by implication, of Lord Crickhowell, the chairman-elect, if that is the right description, of the NRA. There is only one weakness in Lord Crickhowell and that is that he is not immortal. That is why I am concerned about the Bill as presently drafted.
In common with my right hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) I declare an interest—not as a riparian owner, but as an angler, particularly as I happen to be president of the National Anglers Council. That council claims to represent the millions of anglers of the United Kingdom and their families, who are extremely concerned. The fundamental reason for that concern is that they believe, as I do, that advisory committees have a limited useful life. What will ensure that the NRA will pay any attention to an advisory committee? All too often, advisory committees become a facade to which less and less attention is paid or, in this instance, needs to be paid.
There is nothing in the Bill to suggest that the NRA must pay any attention to the advisory committees. All the Bill says is that those committees must be consulted. To start with, I suspect that will mean something, but as time goes by, it will mean nothing.
Clause 136(1)(a) imposes a duty on the NRA tomaintain, improve and develop salmon fisheries, trout fisheries, freshwater fisheries and eel fisheriesWhat does that mean, precisely? It may mean a great deal to the chairman-elect, Lord Crickhowell, but to his successor that duty may mean little or nothing, or no more than a statement to demonstrate that he is living up to his duty. If the committees established by clause 136 are to mean anything permanent, it is essential to make them more important and give them greater executive power.
This is emphasised by the fact that much of the funding for fisheries will come from the anglers and riparian owners. They should therefore be represented in a more executive role than is envisaged, and the committees should be strengthened in the Bill. Those committees should not be composed of people whom the NRA considers to be interested in the issues involved. They should have a definite interest in those issues, as is made clear in the amendment. The committee chairmen should be appointed by the Minister with responsibility for fisheries, and not by the NRA, which may have a vested interest in having a weak person, or even a placeman, at the helm.
After all, these committees amount to quangos and could be a nice way of pensioning off some good party hack who seems to have done his bit over the years. The chairmen of these committees should be appointed by the responsible Minister, and that would ensure that the chairmen and committee members would not act entirely in accord with, and comfortably alongside, the NRA.
Each committee should be a consistent and continuing gadfly in the side of the NRA, and for that to happen, the NRA should not be responsible for appointing the membership and the chairmen and for consulting them, which, as I say, could mean something or nothing. I hope that the Minister will give this issue further thought, if he cannot accept the amendment.
§ Mr. Allen McKay
In debating an earlier amendment I mentioned my constituent Mr. Crofts, who is chairman of the South Yorkshire anglers association. I quoted from a letter he sent me, but I omitted a part of it that is relevant to the issue we are now discussing.
I hope that the Minister has noted that, despite the lateness of the hour, we have a coalition of Back Benchers in favour of the amendment. I agreed with everything that the right hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) said about anglers and, not being an angler, I can stand back and take a dispassionate look at what the angling associations do.
My local authority has approached anglers on many occasions to seek their views about the quality of the rivers and similar matters. We have always found them extremely helpful, and their services are given free. The amendment would not cost anything to implement, so the Government cannot accuse us of demanding large sums of money, an accusation that they have made during our consideration of the Bill.
My constituent Mr. Crofts refers in his letter to the whole stretch of the River Don down to below Sheffield. Using his own time and money and by his own efforts, he uses information from the water authority sampling stations to keep a check on that stretch of river. He does that because, as an angler, he is interested in the conservation of the countryside and, in particular, of our waterways. He writes about the wildlife that he comes across and the plant life at the side of the river. He gives a report to Yorkshire Water, exactly as suggested in the amendments. We can give such people a place as of right under the Bill. That is all the amendments are asking for.
Another of my constituents who has written to me has always been a conservationist. He is a farmer and a landowner. He is a lawyer and also a member of the Labour party. He is a very commendable person. He is also an educationist. He is an environmentalist, as are both his sons, who are interested in angling. Someone wants a piece of his land to set up a piggery, so he could make a substantial amount of money by selling the land. He will not sell it, because he does not wish the river to be polluted by the discharge from a piggery; also, he does not think that a piggery would be a good thing environmentally. Although he could make a lot of money, for the sake of angling and river quality, he has decided that the land is better left as it is.
British Coal has a lease on part of his land for the next 99 years. Although the board has finished with the land, he refuses to release it, because within the lease it has to keep the river clear and clean. Water has to be pumped from the old workings so that it does not pollute the river.
Those constituents have adopted a commendable attitude. They would be an asset to Yorkshire Water and to the environment if the amendments were accepted. I accept the arguments that have been put from all sides of the House. The Minister should take note of these constructive amendments that would strengthen the National Rivers Authority. Unless it is well funded, it will not have teeth. The amendments would strengthen it, without extra funding, and would make it more acceptable to the great body of conservationists who look after the environment and enjoy their fishing at the same time.
§ Mr. Boateng
I was concerned at the rather unseemly outbreak of consensus among the parties, but when I saw the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) making his entry I knew that any hope of consensus had gone out of the window. I expect numerous interventions from the hon. Gentleman in his usual, firmly sedentary position, but he may yet surprise us and manage to contain himself. We shall have to see.
I do not want anything that I say to break the consensus that has emerged. I do not have an interest to declare. I am not a riparian owner. My little plot is some half a mile away from the river in Brent. In a borough where much changes, the river seems to be firmly established and is not likely to come my way.
I am very fond of fish, not just for their culinary attributes but because they play an enormously important environmental role. They are environmental barometers. When the fish start to go a little green about the gills or, worst of all, upturn altogether, it is obvious that something is wrong with the water.
My fondness for fish extends to fishermen and all who are connected with angling, of whom there are large numbers in my constituency, which falls within the boundaries of the Mid Thames Fisheries Consultative Council. It is the particular concerns of that council that I am anxious to share with the House this morning.
§ Mr. Boateng
It is evening now—it will be morning shortly. I do not wish to anticipate how long I shall take to share with the House the concerns of the Mid Thames Fisheries Consultative Council.
Needless to say, within the boundaries of the council there falls the middle section of the River Thames, from Cleeve lock to Mosley lock, including the main tributaries —the Rivers Kennet, Lauden, Pang and Wey, and the rivers running into them, the Whitewater, the Blackwater, the Lambourn, and so on. Amongst those, I might add, is the river Brent. It s possible that some 80,000 to 100,000 anglers use those waters in the course of a year. The Mid Thames Fisheries Consultative Council does a splendid job and is represented on the regional fisheries advisory committee at Thames Water. It is precisely because of the job that that body does—the service and benefit that it provides to anglers—that I wholeheartedly support the amendment.
There are a number of issues that the Mid Thames Fisheries Consultative Council is anxious that we should have at the forefront of our minds in considering the merits of these amendments. Its concern about water obstruction is very real. It is anxious that there should be a review of water obstruction licences and that, wherever possible, they should be withdrawn. If feels, with cause, that within the Thames Water region there are sufficient licences to take out more water than is available. Fortunately, the CEGB does not demand its full capacity, but obstructions are having an adverse effect on the streams. Some have been lost, and rivers have been downgraded in terms of water flow.
It is on precisely this sort of issue that anglers and fisheries interests are well able to bring their particular expertise and concern to bear. As has been said by hon. Members in all parts of the House, one does not want a situation in which those people are relegated to a merely advisory and consultative role. There is a part for them to 1209 play in monitoring the environmental quality of our rivers, and they should be encouraged and assisted, as these amendments seek to encourage and assist them, to that end. River quality objectives are also a matter of concern to my angling constituents and their council. They are concerned that, at present, the quality of our rivers is determined against a set of criteria which include both chemical and biological components.
It is believed that, if fisheries are to flourish, with properly structured ecosystems, those criteria ought not to be downgraded. In particular, there is concern about the biological element and about the importance of ensuring that, because the chemical criteria can be met in water conditions incompatible with fish, the biological criteria must be taken on board. Those people want to see the river quality objectives protected and, wherever possible, enhanced. If the amendments are accepted, as I hope that they will be—I hope that the Minister will at least take some steps in that direction—interested bodies would be in a position to ensure that the river quality objectives are protected.
§ Mr. Nicholas Baker
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept an invitation to come down to Dorset with me, with or without his five children. I will show him the River Allen, which has exactly the problems of over-abstraction that he has described. I was therefore interested to hear what he had to say.
§ Mr. Boateng
I shall be delighted to come down to Dorset, with my five children whom the hon. Gentleman was kind enough to mention—[Interruption.] From a sedentary position, the Minister of State expresses concern that they might be disciplined in a car park. I assure him that that occurs but rarely, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker) would not take us anywhere near any car parks. Moreover, I am confident that we shall be able to regulate the children's behaviour in the ordinary way, which does not involve disciplining in car parks—it involves a hard stare, with the promise of discipline to come if they do not respond to the stare. That is how one deals with children. I am sure that that view strikes a chord with a number of Conservative Members —[HON. MEMBERS: "In the Whips Office."] I do not wish to be sidetracked, least of all down the avenue of the Whips Office.
It is important that we should recognise exactly what is happening in some parts of the River Thames, especially the mid-Thames which affects my constituents in Brent. I will give the House just one example which has been drawn to my attention by the Mid Thames Fisheries Consultative Council. The native cray fish has virtually been destroyed by the disease brought in by the single cray fish——
§ Mr. Onslow
If the hon. Gentleman would read the brief properly, he would realise that it is the signal cray fish. May we please have an end to this and a reply from the Minister?
§ Mr. Boateng
I resent that intervention as the Mid Thames Fisheries Consultative Council has done its best to provide me with a proper and accurate briefing. A simple typographical error is no cause for the hon. Gentleman to sneer. He should not imagine that anglers come only from 1210 the country interests that he so stoutly represents. There are many urban anglers and I am determined that their voice should be heard today. Urban anglers are extremely concerned about the cray fish and about the spring viraemia of carp which has forced the closure of a local fishery. A ban exists at the moment——
§ Mr. Morley
I wish to reinforce my hon. Friend's remarks about the way in which anglers are spread across a wide spectrum of society and regions. I received letters from the Appleby and Froddingham angling club, which was formed at the old steelworks and which has one of the largest memberships of any angling club in my region. Its members are all steelworkers and they have expressed many of the concerns that my hon. Friend has put so eloquently about water quality standards and the influence of the fisheries advisory committees. They feel that at present the fisheries advisory committees are not given the influence that they deserve.
§ Mr. Boateng
I am obliged to my hon. Friend, who has a wealth of experience in these matters which he brought to bear over many hours in Committee. We are grateful to him. He is right that this issue goes right across the board.
In conclusion, one wants a strong voice to be given to angling interests and to see them have proper representation, with means and resources to make their voice heard and to make it count, so that they can deliver the goods not only to anglers and fishermen, whether urban or rural, but to all of us who benefit from a safe, clean environment.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Richard Ryder)
As my hon. and learned Friends the Minister for Water and Planning and the Solicitor-General know, I have for a long time been an eager proponent of reform of our legal system. If I harboured any doubts about my desires for reform, they were dispelled by listening to the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) who is—as my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) acknowledges—a solicitor.
§ Mr. Ryder
As a solicitor he deserves a wider audience. He is a powerful advocate and, if the Lord Chancellor's recommendations in the Green Paper ever come into law, the hon. Gentleman will do very well out of them.
Many important points have been raised during our brief debate, and related issues have also been brought to the fore by the amendments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) and my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Sir C. Morrison). The debate will be followed by not only anglers but others who have interests in fisheries. In the remaining time available to me I shall try to answer some of those points.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Woking was concerned that, in the past, fisheries had had too small a voice in the water authorities. I take issue with him on that matter and I should certainly have to deny that that would be the case in the new National Rivers Authority. In addition to the regional fisheries committees, my right hon. Friend the Minister is to appoint a fisheries member to the main NRA board, and fisheries will be represented on the new regional rivers advisory committees.
Fisheries will, and must, in recognition of their importance, have a powerful voice. The Government have 1211 no doubts about the importance of fisheries. That is why they want to ensure, through the Bill, that my right hon. Friend the Minister retains one appointment to the NRA board.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Woking was also concerned about the competence of the committees and the NRA to administer fisheries. I have heard that view expressed before, although not particularly widely. It was my impression that the water authorities, with the aid of their regional fisheries advisory committees, had exercised their fisheries function admirably in the past, and I have every reason to believe that the NRA—as an important national body—will have an even greater opportunity to co-ordinate and develop fisheries policies, building on the sound foundation laid down by the water authorities.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Woking and my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes tabled a number of amendments. I shall deal with each in turn. Amendment No. 153 aims to give my right hon. Friend the Minister more powers than envisaged under present legislation. Despite the fact that my right hon. Friend the Member for Woking and my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes intend, through the amendment, to give the Minister more powers, I cannot accept the amendment.
As I have said, the NRA will be an important and—I stress the word—autonomous national body, charged, among other things, with maintaining, improving and developing the salmon, trout, eel and freshwater fisheries in England and Wales. That will be the responsibility of the national corporate body. Of course, the NRA will discharge that responsibility through a strong, regional organisation—that is essential given the great diversity of our fisheries.
However, it will be for the NRA to decide the membership of its regional advisory committees, including their chairmen. I stress to my right hon. Friend the Member for Woking that Ministers will appoint members to the NRA main board. I have already referred to the one person to be appointed by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. He will co-ordinate the authority's regional fisheries advisory activity and will oversee the way in which the NRA's fisheries responsibilities are being discharged in each of its regions.
Amendments Nos. 79 and 85 would limit the membership of the regional fisheries advisory committes to people who are directly interested in fisheries in a particular area. I have to tell the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) that the environmentalist to whom he referred would be excluded if the amendment were accepted. If we divided on it, he would have to vote against it.
Only anglers' representatives and riparian owners could be appointed. There would be no place for representatives of netsmen or fish farmers. It would not be possible, as has been the general practice, for the chairmen of the regional flood defence committees to sit on the committees. Nor would it be open to the NRA under amendment No. 85 to include environmental, scientific or any other interests on the committees. I believe that it is essential that the NRA should be allowed the maximum flexibility in establishing these committees to appoint relevant interests on a local basis, according to local needs and circumstances.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Woking argued that the powers to delegate fisheries to the regional 1212 fisheries advisory committees would be entirely permissive. However, I would have considerable difficulty about accepting the principle that functions should be delegated to the committees, now or at a later date. The RFACs have always been advisory in nature. There has been no suggestion that this advisory nature has been ineffective in the protection of fisheries' interests in the water authorities. Indeed, I believe that the RFACs are widely regarded as having made a highly significant contribution to the conservation and management of fisheries by the water authorities.
The question to be addressed is this: how would things change for the better by delegating to the committees some of the NRA's functions? I am afraid that the case for that is still to be made. I am still unclear about what kinds of responsibility might be delegated and how the committees would effectively discharge those responsibilities.
Moreover, I fear that this may result in an undermining of the NRA at both regional and national levels as a new, cohesive and effective national autonomous body. It seems to me that fisheries' interests might not be best served by encouraging the degree of separation implied by specific and executive powers. The great thing about fisheries' interests in the water authorities—this will be much more so in the NRA—is the central role they have occupied in recreational and environmental matters. Fisheries cannot be divorced from water chemistry and quality, or land drainage and flood protection—or matters of access and river basin usage. My worry is that the amendments could tend to diminish that role and the freedom of fisheries' interests at all levels to act as an influence for the good of their own cause. We want the NRA to pull together a coherent national strategy for the maintenance, improvement and development of salmon, trout, eel and freshwater fisheries.
I hope that I have answered many of the points that have been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes. If my right hon. Friend the Member for Woking wishes, I will respond again.
§ Mr. Onslow
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. I am sorry that I have not been able to persuade him. In the certain knowledge that these matters can and will be raised again in another place, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment made: No. 10, in page 139, line 15, at end insert—
`and it shall be the duty of the Authority in determining the regions for which regional advisory committees are established and maintained to ensure that one of those regions consists (apart from territorial waters) wholly or mainly of or of most of Wales.'.—[Mr. Ryder.]