§ 3.49 p.m.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR SCOTLAND (LORD HUGHES)
My Lords, I beg to move that the Salmon and Migratory Trout (Prohibition of Drift-Net Fishing) (Extension) Order 1966, a copy of which was laid before your Lordships' House on December 15, be approved. The Order is a simple one. It extends for a further two years, to February 15, 1969, the prohibition on fishing for salmon and migratory trout by drift-net in an area of sea off the coast of Scotland. Noble Lords will wish to know why on this occasion we have extended it for two years, rather than for one year as on previous occasions. The answer is bound up with the Report of the Hunter Committee on Salmon and Trout Fisheries. As I have told your Lordships before, we are not convinced that it would be right to take final decisions on the drift-netting problem separately and in advance of decisions on the many other recommendations in the Hunter Report. Once we have reached conclusions about the action to be taken in regard to these recommendations, we shall be able to decide on this aspect of the salmon fisheries within that wider context.
The more study that is given to the implications of the Hunter Committee's proposals, with the wide diversification of opinion on them revealed in the written comments lodged by the large number of organisations which have interests in the fisheries, the more clear has become the need for further careful consultation and exploration. Accordingly, it has been decided that we ought to put in train a series of discussions with the main organisations which are interested and knowledgeable in this field, in order to bring out more clearly than is possible in correspondence the views which they hold and the advice which they can give on the practical application and implications of the Committee's recommendations.
This is, in fact, in progress. My Department has had talks with some bodies and dates for meetings with others have been 911 fixed, and yet others will be arranged as the programme develops. We think it would be unrealistic to expect to reach and implement final conclusions on this difficult and important subject by this time next year, and therefore we seek to continue the ban on drift-netting for two years, to give time for the careful consideration that is needed. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Salmon and Migratory Trout (Prohibition of Drift-Net Fishing) (Extension) Order 1966 be approved.—(Lord Hughes.)
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for his explanation of the purpose of this Order, and may I assure him immediately that my advice to the House would be that we should assent to it. However, when I was preparing to say a word on this I did wonder whether the noble Lord would repeat the speech that he made to your Lordships a year ago, When he told the House that there would be no unnecessary delay in arriving at decisions on the Hunter Report. The noble Lord has now told us that it will take another couple of years before these decisions can take place. I am bound to say that his words leave the impression that this past year has been one of rather gentle inactivity in his Department on these important matters.
I am the first to recognise that the Hunter Report was wide-ranging and complex; that it takes time to study all these matters in detail and, of course, that it would be a complete mistake to take a final decision on drift-net fishing in isolation, but that the whole matter should be decided together. However, I hope noble Lords opposite will use the next two years for which this Order runs to complete these consultations and to prepare the legislation Which will deal with the whole picture.
In the very interesting Hunter Report, for which I should like personally to express my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Hunter, and his colleagues, there is a strong note of warning of which I am sure the House will be conscious—that is, that a comprehensive and reliable system of administration and control over these 912 fisheries is urgently needed. Paragraph 44 is a condensation of that, and paragraph 40 warns us of greater hazards in the future. There is undoubtedly a danger, particularly to our salmon fisheries, and although the Order on drift-net fishing is a valuable stop-gap measure, the whole burden of the Report is that something more is needed.
In particular, the Report recommends that the salt water system of fishing should end in due course and that modern systems of catching by nets men should be introduced, in order that the numbers of fish entering a river can be accurately recorded, and the number allowed to be taken by netsmen and rodmen can be scientifically controlled at a level which ensures that the escapement for breeding is sufficient without being excessive. In view of this authoritative advice, it is desirable that the Government should lose no time in proceeding to implement these cogent recommendations.
I should like to ask the noble Lord three questions. First, will he tell the House what is happening in regard to research into the best design of river traps for salmon and salmon trout, for regulation and checking? Is research proceeding on this? Has a satisfactory design been settled? I imagine this is no easy matter and that it will need a great deal of careful thought, both to design the right structure and the right organisation to operate the structure. My second question is with regard to the enforcement of the drift-net Regulations. I think the House would be interested to hear what infringements there have been, and what prosecutions there have been in the past year. Finally, have Her Majesty's Government taken a view as to whether there should be any compensation for the drift-netsmen who were put out of operation by the original Order in 1962?
Apart from these three questions I am only too glad to agree to the continuation of the prohibition on the use of drift-nets. I am sure the prohibition is right, but I feel that the House is entitled to ask the noble Lord for a firm assurance that the next two years will be used for completing these consultations which, I understand, have really not yet started physically; they are only on paper. Also, I think the Government should resolve their minds on the Hunter Report, and 913 prepare and bring before this House the necessary legislation to implement the Report. With those few words, I have much pleasure in supporting the Order.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, for the welcome and the support which he has given to the Order. I am conscious of the fact that if my remarks a year ago had been one word shorter I might have been in difficulties. I was quoted as saying that there would be no "unnecessary delay". If I had left out the word "unnecessary" things might not have been so easy. I do not think that what has taken place during the past year, and what may take place in the time that lies ahead, can possibly be regarded as unnecessary delay, because while I concede that urgency in this matter is important, the arrival at correct decisions is vital. This is a case where time spent in consultation with people who, in their own particular fields, are authoritative, is more likely to produce better decisions than otherwise.
On the points raised by the noble Lord, dealing first with the question of design of river traps, it is difficult to put what has been done under the heading of research. Rather would I say that there has been considerable inquiry into the possible alternative methods. One of the difficulties of implementing this is that there are a variety of traps, not one of which is necessarily suitable for the conditions that exist on different rivers. This is one of the matters which caused the greatest amount of consultation.
So far as the question of infringements and prosecutions is concerned, I am very glad to say that the answer, in both cases is, None. On the subject of compensation to those who were debarred from taking part, I would remind your Lordships that the original Order was brought into operation in 1962, and I have no doubt that the then Government gave serious consideration to a matter which obviously was more pertinent in 1962 than it is in 1967. In their defence—although far be it from me to defend my predecessors—they gave some 13 months' notice of the intention of doing so, so that it could at least be argued that those who were practising drift-netting at that time had 914 a fair run on the equipment which was in their possession at that time, and if anyone acquired that equipment after notice was given that drift-netting was coming to an end, that was entirely his responsibility. I think it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to go into any question of compensation now, at this comparatively late date. The noble Lord raised a question on the report recommending that the salt-water system of fishing should give way to trapping or netting, to allow for scientific control. I have dealt with that in answer to the question on traps.
I should like to associate myself with what the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, said with regard to our gratitude to Lord Hunter's Committee for the excellent Report which they made. It is because of the completely comprehensive nature of that Report, and the very widespread changes in practice which have grown up over many years that the Government are required to go very warily in these matters. We want to be certain that at the end of the day we arrive at conclusions which, though I am afraid they will not necessarily command unanimous support, will be fair to the greatest number of people concerned.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.