§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Viscount Thurso
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
I think I should start by declaring to your Lordships my interest in this Bill. I am chairman of a Scottish district salmon fishery board—the Thurso board. I am chairman also of the company which owns the fishing on the Thurso River—Thurso Fisheries—and which operates the hatchery, the rod fishing and the spawning net on it. I also have the honour to be the president of the Association of Scottish District Salmon Fishery Boards. Having said that to your Lordships, I should like to point out that this is in no way a Bill sponsored by any of these bodies, or any other body. It is, in essence, one man's view of what might be done to put right what needs to be put right for the salmon industry of Scotland.
Before saying what might be done or what needs to be done, I should like to take a moment—a very short moment—to run over the history of the administration of Scottish salmon fisheries. Really the law in regard to salmon fishing in Scotland dates back to three main Acts which were passed in the second half of the last century: the 1862, the 1864 and the 1868 Acts, which provided for the establishment of district fishery boards to cover the administration of river systems and to administer the control of fishing both in those river systems and along the coasts which those river systems fed with salmon.
These Acts provided for control not only of the methods of catching fish within rivers, but also of the methods of catching fish in the sea. They provided the basis for the administration of Scottish salmon fisheries from the end of the 19th century right through into the beginning of the 20th century. After they had been in existence for some 90 years, in 1951 further legislation was introduced and passed, strengthening the powers to deal with salmon poaching, and in particular to deal with what was then considered to be a great threat—night poaching by gangs of people. This legislation was introduced in 1951, and thereafter no further legislation was introduced until the time when it was decided that it was necessary to look at the very grave damage that was being done to salmon stocks by the new drift net fisheries which were being set up in the sea off the coasts of Scotland and being operated beyond the limits of the district fishery boards' areas.
First, in order to look into that situation the Government which were then in power—a Conservative Government—set up the Hunter Committee which was enjoined to report quickly and urgently on drift net fishing and upon whether there was a need to ban, and to continue to ban, drift net fisheries. The same committee was also enjoined to take a rather longer time looking at the desirability of updating the law relating to Scottish salmon fisheries and providing greater protection for the species both within the rivers and the sea.
518 The first part of the report came fairly quickly and it provided the basis upon which drift net fishing was banned in the sea and reported conclusively that drift net fishing should be banned. The second part of the report came rather more slowly. Indeed, the committee reported to a different Government; it reported to the then Secretary of State, who I am delighted to see will be taking part in our debate. I am referring, of course, to the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock. It is a great privilege to have the noble Lord, with his wide knowledge of the subject, taking part in this debate. The Hunter Committee reported to him in 1965.
I remember giving evidence to the Hunter Committee in 1963 and being carefully grilled by that committee on all the problems (as I then saw them) which affected salmon and the administration of salmon fisheries within Scotland. I remember that we spent a considerable amount of time discussing the question of district fishery boards. Clearly, what was in the mind of the Hunter Committee was the importance of the structure to the industry as a whole. They clearly concluded that, whatever recommendations they made, they would be effective only so long as there was a proper structure to administer those recommendations, which might or might not be adopted by any Government receiving their report.
Since then we have had the Hunter Report. One of the problems which faced the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, as Secretary of State for Scotland at the time, and which has since faced every Secretary of State for Scotland up until the present time, is the problem that the Hunter Report was in fact too far-reaching, it was too compendious, and it relied too much on what might be described as a "leap into the dark". It relied upon certain scientific suggestions which were not totally proved in experiment. As a result, since that time we have had no large-scale legislation. Although some 20 or so years have passed since the committee reported, there has been no large-scale legislation to modernise the salmon industry of the rivers and coasts of Scotland.
The problems have been with us all the time; they have not gone away. I am sure that during this debate we shall hear from many noble Lords who will tell us that the problems are not only urgent and pressing, but are also daily and yearly becoming more urgent and more pressing. We know that the problems which face the Scottish salmon rivers face the rivers of every country which breeds a stock of salmon. We have heard, for instance, that scientists in Norway looked at their problems in that country and decided that all fishing for salmon in the sea should be banned. We have heard of different countries suggesting different methods of dealing with over-fishing or with poaching, or of trying to improve stocks or of trying to get more salmon to run out of rivers and so on. But I submit that unless the legislation is based upon a structure which can administer it, the legislation will not do very much for the salmon industry of Scotland.
Therefore, I personally looked at the problem and felt that perhaps governments were being put off by the immensity of the task. This Bill is designed to show them—if it can—that there is no need to deal with the whole problem as one, but that there is some merit in 519 dealing with the most important parts of the problem first, and in particular in making a proper structure upon which to base any new powers, any new measures, which it may be felt desirable or necessary to enact in order to preserve our stocks of salmon.
I looked at the structure which is charged with the administration of the protection and development of salmon rivers. Clearly, the structure as it stands is antiquated; it has not been greatly changed since the 1862 to 1868 Acts, and it is based upon certain things which were totally acceptable at the end of the 19th century, but which are totally unacceptable in the 20th century and—looking to the future—will be totally unacceptable in the 21st century.
So it seemed to me that one of the things that one would have to do to solve the whole problem was to modernise the structure, particularly the franchise upon which district boards were to be based. As well as modernising the franchise, it became undoubtedly clear that it would be necessary to make sure that the individual district boards were financially and administratively viable. One of the great problems at the moment is that half of Scotland has no district boards, most of the West Coast of Scotland has never had a district board for each river or, if it did, those district boards have now lapsed. The reason that the district boards have very often lapsed is that nowadays they cannot afford to provide the personnel and services for a small river, in view of the small value and the small area which they represent. That problem was clearly seen by the Hunter Committee and I am sure that it is clearly evident both to the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries in Scotland and to anybody connected with the administration of salmon fisheries.
It is important, therefore, that any measure which is introduced to modernise the structure should take into account the necessity of making individual boards financially strong enough to provide the type of service which they ought to be performing. The Hunter Committee suggested that area boards should be set up—13 in number—covering the whole of Scotland. That suggestion was resisted strongly by other people, particularly by the association of which I have the honour to be president—the Association of Scottish District Salmon Fishery Boards—which felt that 13 was too small. I have no doubt that nowadays if anyone were to alter the size of district boards, it would be to a greater number, with smaller areas and more close association with rivers than the Hunter Committee recommended. However, in order to create the new areas I think one has to start where the structure already exists. We already have perfectly good district fishery boards in some areas. We already have perfectly good legislation for setting up district fishery boards.
I believe that the first move in trying to establish a proper structure throughout Scotland should be to allow the voluntary getting together of existing boards if they so wish. We should start by seeing which boards can naturally agree and can naturally wish to merge. That is why, in the Bill before your Lordships, I begin by suggesting that boards should be formed where none exists; that they should then be reconstituted where they have lapsed; and that there should then be a process of amalgamation. I believe that we should 520 seek to explore the voluntary before imposing the statutory from above.
I am quite sure that this could be done because we already have evidence that boards co-operate. However, the difficulty is that this co-operation can have no long-term basis in law. The difficulty is that boards may co-operate for any purpose, but that every three years they have to be re-elected and therefore any co-operative structure which is set up between two boards has to be re-examined after the re-election of the new boards at triennial elections. Therefore, I am suggesting that such co-operation as is now permitted in statute should be confirmed on a long-term basis.
I know that we have a glittering list of speakers, and I am delighted to see that there is so much interest in this problem. I hope that it will demonstrate to the Government the real interest that there is in this problem in Scotland and the need that there is to address this problem. Therefore, at this stage I do not propose to go into every clause of the Bill in total detail, because I have no doubt that many noble Lords will want to comment on particular facets of it. However, I sincerely believe that the Long Title of the Bill has wide acceptance throughout Scotland. I believe that people in Scotland who are interested in salmon fisheries want an Act,to promote the establishment of district salmon fishery boards in areas of Scotland where none presently exist".I believe that they want,to enable the amalgamation of district salmon fishery boards";and I believe that they want,to extend the franchise for, and membership of, district salmon fishery boardsby allowing a proper representation of anglers and tenant netsmen on these boards.
Therefore, it is because I believe that there is general support for the measures suggested by the Long Title of the Bill, that I have the temerity to put the Bill before your Lordships' House. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Viscount Thurso.)
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ The Marquess of Lansdowne
My Lords, it is so long since I last had the honour of speaking in your Lordships' House that I have been unable to overcome extreme nervousness. It is not through lack of respect or interest in the proceedings of your Lordships' House that I craved leave of absence, but through circumstances beyond my control. As a repentant backwoodsman, I have no right to ask for the indulgence that your Lordships customarily show to a maiden speaker. However, I hope that your Lordships will make allowances if my delivery and the presentation of the remarks to which I am most anxious to draw your Lordships' attention fall below the high standard to which your Lordships are accustomed.
First, I wish to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, for introducing the Bill, with the principles of which I am in wholehearted agreement. As I remember it to be the practice of your Lordships' House, I must at once declare my interest. I am a director of the Tay Salmon Fisheries Company, 521 chairman of the Tay District Salmon Fishery Board, a riparian owner on the Rivers Tay and Isla, a past Prime Warden of the Fishmongers' Company, whose representative in Scotland exercises judicial powers and whose inspector and fish meters supervise Billingsgate Market. I am also the owner of a small fishing hotel.
As the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, has reminded us, fishery boards were brought into being under the 1862 and 1868 Acts, and it is basically under the provisions of these two Acts that they function today. At the time of the introduction of the Fresh Water and Salmon Fisheries (Scotland) Act 1976 I remember trying to obtain a copy of those two Acts, first in Edinburgh and then through the Printed Paper Office here, only to be told that they were out of print. To this day the superintendent of the Tay Board uses this valuable and antique document to guide him through the labyrinth of fisheries legislation. To be fair, I must tell your Lordships that in 1978 revised versions of the 1862 and 1868 Acts once again became available in print.
However, the trouble is that, admirable though these Acts were at the time of their introduction, and despite amending legislation in 1951 and 1976, not to mention a number of valuable statutory instruments, existing legislation dealing with Scottish fresh water salmon fisheries is badly in need of overhaul and, in my opinion, consolidation. The Bill of the noble Viscount seeks to update district fishery board legislation and to make it consonant with present-day requirements. It seeks to establish boards where at present none exists and to reconstitute those that have lapsed. It also seeks to extend the franchise for membership of these fishery boards.
The members of the Tay Board are in agreement with these aims and, at a council meeting of the Association of Scottish District Salmon Fishery Boards, unanimous support was given to the principle of updating district fishery board legislation. I feel sure that all who have the interest of Scottish salmon fisheries at heart will welcome this initiative by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, who has already done so much to promote the good management of our Scottish salmon fishing industry.
In the foreword to a little booklet produced by the Association of Scottish District Salmon Fishery Boards, of which the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, is president, in 1977 he wrote:Scottish salmon fisheries employ many hundreds of people directly and an even greater number indirectly, often in rural areas where work is hard to find. They provide food; they offer recreation; they give employment and they earn substantial sums of foreign currency. This considerable contribution to Scotland's economy is being made at a time when the salmon fisheries of other countries have been in decline and yet the fisheries of Scotland have increased both their catches and their value. In an age of increasing pollution and growing demands on water supplies, this feat must be regarded as an outstanding conservation success story".He went on to warn us not to be complacent and always to be vigilant and to be prepared to adjust to changes in a changing world. This Bill seeks to make adjustments to meet some of the changes in a changing world.
Alas, the state of Scottish salmon fisheries is far less healthy now than it was seven years ago when the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, wrote those words. But 522 all is not gloom and doom in the United Kingdom salmon fishery world. Thanks to the enlightened perseverance of the Thames Conservancy and water boards salmon are once again beginning to run up the River Thames, to spawn in its headwaters and tributaries. I thought it was refreshing to contemplate the prospects of a Prime Minister of the future—no doubt the right honourable Lady the Member for Finchley—cracking jokes with the Leader of the Opposition while casting for salmon from the Terrace of the Palace of Westminster.
I am convinced that if the salmon fisheries of Scotland are to be efficiently managed, and a further decrease in our salmon stocks arrested, legislation to establish district fishery boards to cover the whole of Scotland is essential. At the same time an extension to the franchise is most desirable. I would certainly favour the membership of representatives of local government bodies, provided that those bodies made a financial contribution to the costs of the boards.
I would also favour membership of representatives of angling organisations. The balance of membership of the boards, I think, should be a matter for negotiation. At present, as your Lordships probably know, the membership of district river boards is limited to riparian owners or their mandatories. It seems to me that the funding of boards could be assisted by direct contributions from tenant anglers and netsmen. At present the whole cost of the management of district boards falls upon the proprietors of salmon fisheries through assessments levied by the board. These dues are based on the rateable value of the fishing, and if the proprietor succeed in persuading the assessor that their rates should be reduced because they are catching no fish and therefore not obtaining good rents, a declining spiral must of course follow. Naturally, those who pay for the district boards expect to get their money's worth.
Your Lordships may not be aware of the extent of the activities of district salmon fishery boards. I can speak about only the board of which I am chairman. The catchment area for which the Tay Board is responsible covers about 3,000 square miles and includes six big tributaries. The Tay itself is 116 miles long. We are also responsible for the coast from a place called Budden Ness to Abertay Sands, which is a distance of about 35 miles.
The whole of this area is policed by our superintendent and our staff of six bailiffs. We possess the necessary transport, a motor launch, and some quite sophisticated equipment to assist us in apprehending poachers. Our bailiffs are of course also actively engaged in the collection and planting of ova. It has been our practice to appoint honorary bailiffs, to whom non-transferable cards are issued for one year. These honorary bailiffs have to be vouched for by proprietors or angling clubs and approved by the board. They exercise similar powers to our regular staff, but are not asked to operate outside their own area.
Over the past 10 years there have been 478 prosecutions instituted by the Tay Board. The penalties have ranged from £10 to £500; the average penalty has been about £80. When I remind your Lordships that the price of salmon per pound over the past 10 years has averaged between £ 1 and £3 and the 523 average weight of a Tay fish has been about 10 pounds, you will see that the penalties have not been excessive. The penalties for offences are detailed in Schedule 2 to the Freshwater and Salmon Fisheries (Scotland) Act 1976. I submit that these penalties are unrealistic and do not act as a sufficient deterrent to the determined and resourceful poacher.
The scale of inland poaching has steadily increased and more efficient methods have become available. Gone are the days of "burning the water" and spearing fish with a liester, as was described by Sir Walter Scott. It is, however, difficult not to have a certain sympathy with the John McNab type of poacher, out to take "one for the pot", but one must always try to catch him!
Today we are dealing with commercial poaching where there is big money to be made. Recently, on the River Ericht, our superintendent and bailiffs were called out at 2 a.m. on a July morning to find a great quantity of poisoned fish flapping about on the surface before dying, strangled by cymag. Over 300 dead fish were collected, the poachers had vanished, and we shall never know with how many fish.
In December 1976, 280 fish were seized by our superintendent in a cold store in Perth. Among those fish were kelts and there were snigger marks on many of them, and some even had marks of having been gnawed by rats and pecked by gulls. All these fish were taken out of season. These fish had been bought by a hotel proprietor, who claimed that he had paid £800 for them in good faith. He was charged under Sections 20 and 21 of the 1868 Act, the fish were confiscated, and he was fined £45 on each charge. The poachers themselves got away with it. Our bailiffs are a considerable deterrent to poachers. They would be greatly helped in their work if the penalties meted out to offenders were more realistic.
There are certain weaknesses, which we have spotted from experience, in the existing legislation which I hope the Government may amend. There is, for instance, at present no legal definition of "net and cobble"; nor is it clear what is a legal method of fishing with rod and line. For instance, can an angler sit in a boat with three lines or more dangling over the side—a sport some people describe as "harling"? I question whether in fact it is legal. These are the kind of anomalies which exist in fishing legislation.
Now that netsmen have the benefit of mechanical winches and inboard motors—and remember, my Lords, I am a netsman—can they make as many shots as they like, one behind the other, to intercept a shoal of salmon? The law is silent on this point. In 1862 there were no inboard motors and there were no mechnically-operated winches. As the law stands at present, as laid down in the Salmon and Freshwater Fishery Act 1951, a person found in possession of salmon or trout illegally taken in the open season is virtually impossible to charge. In the close season the onus of proof that the fish have been legally taken rests with the person under suspicion. In the open season the person under suspicion is not obliged to provide proof of legality. I feel sure that a simple amendment to the 1951 Act could correct this anomaly. The district fishery boards, however constituted and with 524 whatever additional powers may be given to them to enable them to carry out their work more effectively, can do so only if salmon are allowed to return to their rivers of origin to spawn because salmon are anadromous.
In northern France, our nearest neighbour, the rivers held an abundance of fish right up to the end of the 18th century. Now there are very few indeed and this country could easily follow. The hydro-electric development in Scotland dealt a serious blow to our salmon stocks. In my own district alone 729 square miles of our catchment area became inaccessible to salmon. Miles and miles of our finest spawning beds were lost. The productivity of a salmon river must be judged by the number of smolts that reach the sea. The district boards have a prime role in facilitating this migration. But in the sea the returning grilse and salmon can only be protected by Governmental action.
Drift netting and long-lining on the high seas is the most serious threat. I have no doubt at all that the principal factor over which Her Majesty's Government have control, which is seriously reducing our salmon stocks, is the north-east of England drift fishing off the Northumbrian and Yorkshire coasts. From Berwick-upon-Tweed to north of the Wash from 1st April next the drift netters will be out. Their methods are steadily improving and so are their catches. It is estimated that over 95 per cent, of their catch is of salmon returning to the eastern rivers of Scotland where they were bred. This strange anomaly in British salmon fishing legislation is all the more ironical when one remembers that drift netting off the whole Scottish coast was banned under the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967, as the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, told us. I find it very disappointing that the MAFF and the DAFS scientists' report on this fishery is apparently not to be published: I wonder why
I believe that serious though it is, the inshore and river poaching by all the modern means available is of secondary importance to the massive catches made in the high seas. I most earnestly urge Her Majesty's Government to pursue the project of compulsory tagging of all salmon taken or offered for sale in the United Kingdom, whether imported, farmed or wild. I believe that this would be the greatest deterrent to the illegal taking of salmon, whether offshore or inshore. All fish would be tagged at source before the fish reached the market. In the case of my company, we would tag our netted fish at the time of packing and we would only accept for sale from anglers fish already tagged. This would apply to all hotels, restaurants or private persons who buy from anglers.
Smokers, accepting untagged fish, would be committing an offence. Each year the tags would be changed and anyone anywhere in the United Kingdom found in possession of an untagged fish would be committing an offence. I do not believe that the difficulties of introducing such a regulation are insuperable. I only hope that Her Majesty's Government have the political will to overcome them.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, the noble Viscount and the noble Marquess have spoken on this subject with a great authority which I cannot begin to match. I 525 cannot claim their special knowledge of this Scottish question, nor can I declare a range of interests in anyway comparable with theirs, although I must say—it may be only marginally relevant—that my family owns a short stretch of salmon fishing on the Wye in Wales. In Scotland I am only an occasional visiting angler. I am deeply concerned with the future of Atlantic salmon. I hope that on this occasion that an outside Sassenach voice may be permitted to say a brief word about this Scottish question. I hope, too, that what I say will be relevant as fishery boards are of little use if there are no fish.
The Bill introduced by the noble Viscount seems to me sensible. It is a small but useful step on common sense lines. I found the arguments of the noble Viscount persuasive and I hope that your Lordships will be prepared to give his Bill a Second Reading. The Bill will widen the membership of Scottish Fishery Boards and that is all to the good. On some rivers in Scotland perhaps in the past they have been too much dominated by netting interests, but it is valuable that visiting anglers will be given a voice under this Bill.
One of the things that has struck me as a little surprising is that catches by nets and by rods on most Scottish rivers are shrouded in secrecy and not published. On my river in Wales, the Wye, full details of the legal catch by both rods and nets are published every year so that everyone can see what the catches have been and what the trends are: I think that is valuable. I saw the excellent report produced recently by the Spey Board which seemed to be useful and gave comparable figures. But I believe that on most other rivers in Scotland no figures are available.
Fishery Boards in Scotland have suffered from lack of flexibility. They are not allowed at the moment to alter the length of the season without the authority of the Secretary of State. It is a pity that if they have a crisis on their particular river they cannot take steps to shorten the season.
Before taking part this evening I read two of the previous debates that there have been in your Lordships' House: those of 23rd January 1980 and 28th October 1981. I was struck by the unanimity and the deep knowledge displayed by many of your Lordships in those debates, but I was struck also by the fact that after both those debates nothing happened. It seemed to me that practically everything that was said then by your Lordships could be said now and that the Government at that time seemed reluctant to take the problem seriously or to regard it as of much importance. I hope things have changed now and that when he comes to wind up the noble Lord who will reply for the Government will not only support the general thrust of the Bill, but will also show a recognition of the urgency of the problem of preserving the stocks of Atlantic salmon and will be able to tell us that the Government are now giving it a higher priority.
Your Lordships will be familiar with the pressures on salmon: first and foremost, the high seas fisheries of Greenland and the Faroes mentioned by the noble Marquess where scientists believe that the majority of fish are multi-sea winter fish and, in the case of Greenland, mostly females. The effect of those two fisheries has been to reduce drastically the spring runs 526 in many rivers in this country. There is also drift netting off Ireland, drift netting off North East England, which the noble Marquess mentioned, illegal fishing, which has greatly increased, pollution and acid rain affecting some of the spawning tributaries.
I think that there is an urgent need for an effective national salmon management policy which does not exist at the moment, when we have four Ministers concerned with fisheries problems in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland and, as a result, we have an unco-ordinated policy; for example, drift netting banned in Scotland but permitted in England where I believe the great majority of fish taken are headed for Scottish rivers on the east coast and I think that numbers of something like 70,000 salmon or more are taken in a year.
One would expect that on a question like this the United Kingdom would be among the leaders of the countries concerned in the world, but sadly it is not so. We are dealing with one common stock of Atlantic salmon, but when we look at the record of other countries they appear to be taking the problem much more seriously than we are. As your Lordships know, I was until not very long ago in Canada. So impressed are the Canadians with the dangers to Atlantic salmon stocks, that they introduced last year some very tough measures indeed which demanded sacrifices, both from commercial net fishermen and from rod fishermen, of a very substantial order in order to save the stocks for the future. For example, a substantial period was lopped off the netting season in Newfoundland which, in some cases, reduced the income of Newfoundland fishermen by some 50 per cent., and rod fishermen are allowed only to hook two salmon a day and only to take out grilse and not to take out any full salmon at all.
In Iceland, salmon fishing in the sea is prohibited throughout their territorial waters which, as your Lordships know, now extends to 200 miles off Iceland all around. In Norway, as the noble Marquess has said, there has been a proposal by the scientists and by the body responsible for sporting matters that all drift netting should be banned from 1988. That proposal is now being seriously considered. We ourselves have taken only one step in recent years, which is the banning of drift netting in Scotland. So long as we permit the continued drift netting off Northumberland and Yorkshire, with no restriction at all on the number of fish that they can take, our voice is very much weakened in international councils. Our voice is weak enough as it is because, as your Lordships know, in the body dealing with this question, the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation in Edinburgh, despite our very important salmon fishing interests, we are not able to take part ourselves or be directly represented on that body. The Community is alone represented and in the Community there are only two major salmon producing countries, Ireland and ourselves, and there are also countries like Denmark which produce no salmon but have taken part enthusiastically in the exploitation of salmon and have a fairly deplorable record in this field.
What we need to do is to put our own house in order. It will be interesting to hear from the noble Lord who is winding up for the Government what the scientists at Pitlochry say, whether they agree that the 527 Atlantic salmon is under threat and, if so, what is going to be done about it; or, if not, why it is that other countries like Canada have felt it necessary to take drastic steps. I believe that we have to bring our ideas about salmon fishing in this country up to date. It is no longer, as perhaps it once was, simply the sport of a few rich people. It is of substantial benefit to thinly populated areas in Wales and in Scotland. It is now a widely based and popular sport, and also it brings in substantial income to those areas and provides substantial employment. Studies have been made in Canada and in Ireland which show that there is perhaps four times as much employment, or more, created by rod fishings as by net fishings and also that the amount of money brought in by rod fishings to those areas is greatly in excess of that produced by commercial fishing areas.
My Lords, what I should like to hear this evening, and what I am sure all anglers up and down the land would like to hear is not only a statement by the Minister that the Government will facilitate the noble Viscount's Bill, but a declaration that the Government are alive to the desperately urgent problem of rebuilding Atlantic salmon stocks, are now proposing to give it much higher priority in England, in Scotland and in Wales and to take effective but fair action to reduce the pressure and ensure that this splendid fish will continue to run in our rivers in the days of our children and our grandchildren.
§ 6.29 p.m.
§ Lord Margadale
My Lords, the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, said that he was nervous when he started to speak. Having listened to three such excllent speeches, which I found very interesting indeed, I can only say that I am much more nervous than he or anybody else. I welcome this opportunity of saying a few words, since I enjoy salmon fishing very much. I must declare an interest for although I do not own a river or an hotel now, my family do so, which helps towards salmon. I welcome this Bill particularly because, whatever happens today, I hope that it will be the start of real discussion and of the Government of the day doing something concrete to help preserve our salmon. There is no doubt that the salmon stocks all over the world, and certainly in this part of it, have decreased very considerably and, unless something is done, in a few years' time neither the rod fishermen nor the netsmen will be able to get many salmon.
Greenland has been mentioned. I think that I am right in saying that, so far as Greenland is concerned, in the last two years they have not been able to get their quota simply because they have fished so much out. The Faroes have also been mentioned and the Faro fishermen catch a very great deal more salmon than they used to.
I should like to say one word about Norway. I am lucky enough to be asked by an old friend to go to Norway most years and to have some fishing in one of the bigger rivers: and great fun it is too. They are getting deeply worried about the lack of salmon coming into the rivers. They are being caught by the sea nets mostly, and only a very limited number are caught by the rod fishermen in the rivers. If I may, I 528 should like to read a letter, which reached me only the day before yesterday from my friend who asks me to go to Norway, from the head fisherman in the river which my friend has a share in.
The letter reads as follows:As regards the salmon, there is good news for the future. Our Directorate for Freshwaterfishes has now proposed that the drift netting for salmon must be stopped after the 1985 season, or, latest, after the 1987 season. No nets of monofilament must be used in the sea and the number of bag nets must be reduced. This has, of course, caused lots of cries from the sea fishermen, but hopefully the politicians will understand that this must be done. The decision will most likely be made in a couple of months' time.In my opinion, the fact is that neither nets nor fishermen will get salmon unless something is done, and that is why I have ventured to speak. There is more poaching than there used to be and a lot more fish are taken out of the estuaries. Tagging has been mentioned and I would think it is well worth trying. I know that some people do not think it will do all that amount of good, but I think it is well worth trying.
Also we have pollution. Nothing has been said about acid rain. I am not a scientist in any way but I discovered the other day, having always believed that acid rain came from the chimney pots of big towns and factories, that acid rain can come from the forests. They are experimenting in Wales to see the effect of this. Apparently, carpets of pine needles can produce acid rain of some sort, though I would not like to say how. Then, the abstraction of water is very important. Quite a lot more water is taken out of rivers, which means that at the sources and the tops of rivers there are not so many spawning beds. This needs looking at.
Lastly, there is the increase of predators, in the air and in the sea. It is not possible legally to destroy any of the divers, who eat an immense amount of small fish. I think that ought to be borne in mind, however much one likes the divers. As for the sea itself, we all like the seals but they have increased quite enormously in number. They have increased, as has been mentioned, on the east coast; and on the west coast, which I know, they have increased a very great deal and they are hardly ever touched. But unless they are touched, they will eat more fish.
It is now recognised that seals, as a whole, round our shores eat 300,000 tonnes of fish a year. Some of them no doubt are salmon. It is worth remembering also—this came to my notice last autumn—that the herring are at last coming back, thanks to the White Fish Authority having imposed close seasons, more close time. I was able to buy some kippers and some herring at Loch Fyne last September because they had allowed the fishing to go on for an extra month, when normally it would have been shut. If that can be done with white fish, I think something on those lines could be done in the sea for the salmon.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, I have no personal experience of the workings of the present system of the district salmon fishery boards. I have caught only two salmon in my life and I have no financial interest, except inasmuch as every Scot has a financial interest in this subject. I do know, however, that informed opinion among those closely involved is that the present system is badly out of date; that 529 something better, whether on the lines of this Bill or on other lines, is very much needed; and that best of all would be for the Government to bring forward legislation of their own, as was the intention of the previous Conservative Government in the 1970s, as we have been reminded.
If there was a need for legislation then, it must be clear from the speeches that your Lordships have already heard that the need is even more urgent now. Across the length and breadth of Scotland, as I think we all know, there is growing anxiety that unless concerted action is taken soon the most splendid and famous of all our native fish will no longer be found in Scottish waters. Awareness of this and anxiety about it exist in many quarters. There are the anglers—those who themselves fish for salmon—and many can do so now at very modest cost. There are also the hundreds of thousands of others who fish for trout and sea trout for whom the glimpse of a salmon adds even more to the thrill of an expedition.
As has been said, there are many people whose jobs are linked to salmon fishing; in tourism and leisure, in the salmon trade itself, at hatcheries with firms of netsmen and linesmen, with wholesalers and retailers, exporters and those who smoke the salmon. And there are those who simply enjoy watching salmon and who enjoy a week-end walk along a river bank and a visit to a fish-ladder and the like. There are the local authorities, too, who have responsibility for planning for tourism and a strong rural economy, for planning for attractive country and national parks: they too have an interest in rivers full of salmon.
The downward spiral in the number and health of salmon which is the source of all this widespread anxiety, has many reasons. There is the pollution and the over-fishing that we have heard spoken about. There is also lack of co-operation in, and resources for, conservation and restocking; and there is the increase, which I believe is now completely out of hand, in the seal population. To bring together all the interests to confront these problems before it is too late, we badly need a slim-line network of some sort of boards, in the longer term financed by the interests themselves. I believe that now there is a group on the Tweed which works in this way, and works well.
A couple of examples of what Scottish salmon interests, working together in concerted action through properly established boards might do, have been mentioned by your Lordships. There is an urgent need to negotiate with interests outside Scotland to stop the interception, of which your Lordships have been talking, of our stocks while at sea, the illegal netting off our own coasts and off Greenland and the Faroes, and also to take action over drift netting, which has been mentioned and which is, I understand, legal off the north-east of England. It is licensed by English water authorities but subsidised out of public funds. Properly constituted boards, representing all the interests in the whole of Scotland, are needed to negotiate about this kind of problem.
Likewise it seems to me that there needs to be a good deal of public education and negotiation on the problem of the seals. At present in the public mind, seal culling means cruel clubbing of enchanting, helpless pups, such as we have seen on television in other parts of the world. But the culling of seals by 530 skilled rifle marksmen is as humane and as essential to the balance of nature as the culling of deer or the control of rabbits. Public understanding and the necessary negotiation can only be undertaken by boards known to be representative and with the full facts at their disposal.
These are only examples of what such boards could do. The need for a proper structure is manifest. I am grateful to the noble Viscount for highlighting this need, and I would ask my noble friend on the Front Bench to take this matter very seriously indeed, because I believe that there are a very large number of ordinary people right across Scotland who are waiting to hear what is said this evening.
§ 6.41 p.m.
My Lords, I think that I, too, must declare an interest, being the wife of a riparian owner as well as being an owner myself of a short stretch of trout river with very few fish in it. Everyone who has an interest in salmon fishing in Scotland, even if only in eating it, must be grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, for the time and effort that he has put into drafting this Bill, which has the merit, among others, of being brief and comprehensible. Perhaps it is too brief, for its proposals, although eminently sensible so far as they go, do not go nearly far enough. Yes, we desperately need a system of tagging as a means of curbing illegal fishing. For the operation of such a scheme, a new structure of district boards covering the whole of Scotland is essential and those boards must have teeth, which means money and authority.
It is now 20 years since the second report of the Hunter Committee, Scottish Salmon and Trout Fisheries, was published and 14 years since the Government White Paper, Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries in Scotland, was published and still nothing has happened, so I hope that your Lordships will give this Bill a Second Reading. But unless immediate steps are taken to save the spring salmon from extinction, there will soon be no salmon rivers left to need district boards or even to be poached.
With the leave of the House, I should like to read an extract from a letter that I received today from the proprietor of a beat on the lower Dee. He said:The decline in the run of spring salmon into Scottish rivers can be traced precisely to the time of the discovery of salmon off Greenland in the mid-1960s, and the start of netting of these fish in large numbers soon afterwards. At the end of 1968 fishing season my father, Lt. Col. Alastair Campbell, wrote:— 'The drift net fishing off the coast of Greenland has killed over 1,000 tons of salmon during the last four years, so reducing the stock of Atlantic salmon in the world below an economic breeding limit. If this goes on the Atlantic salmon will become extinct in about 15 years'. He was of course referring to the famous Dee spring salmon which comprised 98 per cent. of the fish caught on most beats of the Dee. His prophecy has not been far off the mark.For the beat in question he says:The 9 year average before drift netting off Greenland started in earnest, i.e. 1959–1967, was 223 salmon for this beat. Since drift netting started in earnest, i.e. since 1968, the average is 90 salmon. The average for the last five years has been only 54 fish. These averages reflect the decline in the spring run and this decline is I am confident a standard percentage decline in all the lower beats of the great salmon rivers of Scotland.He went on:This season shows every sign of being even worse than the last two which simply confirms all I have said to you.531 On 12th February, which was the start of the sea and estuary netting in the area at the mouths of the Dee and the Don, only one salmon was sold in the market on the day after netting started. He touches on the pressure on fish stocks having been greatly increased by netting off Iceland, the Faroes and Ireland, on the quotas being too high and on the drift netting off the north-east of England. I shall not read your Lordships what he says about that, because it has already been touched on by several other noble Lords.
As the noble Lord, Lord Moran, said, rod fishing is not, as some people suppose, the prerogative of the wealthy. Many beats are let or owned by local angling clubs and even by local authorities whose members or tenants are far from rich. Indicative of this is the fact that fishing rods can be bought in Woolworth's in my local town and I wonder how many wealthy anglers buy their tackle at Woolworth's. The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, and the noble Lord, Lord Moran, have touched on the importance of fishing as regards jobs and I should like very much to endorse what they have said on that subject. All in all, I implore the Government to act, and to act quickly, before it is too late and, meanwhile, faute de mieux, to support this Bill.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Lord Dulverton
My Lords, I shall try to take up only a few minutes of your Lordships' time, particularly because so many of the points which I felt needed to be made have already been so ably made by a number of noble Lords and Ladies this evening. I rise to declare an interest, which I suppose I must do, having riparian interests in two rivers in Scotland, and a good many years ago I was at one time chairman of the River Lochy district fishery board. I also have a foot well south of the border, as my name implies, and I shall detain your Lordships just for a moment with this thought.
Even more years ago—I suppose, getting on for 40—I was apprenticed to Sir Egbert Cadbury, who was a great Bristolian figure, because it was suggested that I should ultimately become a member of the Society of Merchant Adventurers down in that part of the world, which was formed in the reign of Elizabeth I. I had to say that I would be a good apprentice to Sir Egbert, but he had to say that he would be a good master to me. One of the things that he had to vouchsafe was that he would not feed me on salmon more than three times a week. That is just an indication of how plentiful salmon stocks were in the Severn back in the time of Elizabeth I.
I need hardly remind your Lordships that pollution actually wiped out all the salmon population in the Severn River at one time. It was only in the late 'twenties and 'thirties that a wise chairman of their river board managed to get the pollution checked and there are now salmon running up the Severn again. But we can easily destroy the plentiful supply of salmon in our Scottish rivers. That is the point.
I, like so many of your Lordships, welcome the noble Viscount's initiative in bringing forward this 532 much needed review of the rather sorry and feeble state of the fishery boards in Scotland. My noble friend Lord Lansdowne obviously has a very effective and, dare I say, well off river board serving his great Tay River system. But many of the river boards are so feeble and penniless that they have no teeth with which to govern the affairs that are meant to be within their control. They will need Government help, or local government help, or both.
Noble Lords have made so well many of the points which I proposed to put that I do not intend to go over them again. I should just like to remind your Lordships of the various threats to our salmon stocks in Scotland. They have been mentioned by one or more noble Lords. I reckon that there are five distinct threats to our salmon population in Britain—and that of course includes Scotland.
The first is the ocean netting, to which many speakers have referred. Then there is the offshore netting, and particularly offshore netting on the east coast of England. This has already been described as having a most serious effect on the salmon coming back to Scottish rivers. It is rather strange that salmon coming back from the Atlantic should linger off the coast of England before getting to the Scottish rivers, but it has been definitely proved that they do.
Thirdly, there is the threat of commercial poaching. It is a commerce, and it is a very rough commerce. It is very efficient. The poaching gangs are very clever, and they will very often offer violence if detected by the bailiffs. This really is a factor to be reckoned with—commercial poaching both offshore and in the rivers. Our bailiffs picked up 24 nets this season, either in the River Lochy or just at its mouth. They never caught the poachers, but they seized their nets. That just illustrates the scale on which illegal poaching is going on.
The fourth threat to the salmon is hydroelectric schemes and other harnessing of river waters, often denying the salmon easy access to their spawning grounds. That has undoubtedly had a bad effect, despite the provision of salmon ladders in some of the rivers; still the salmon do not seem to penetrate the rivers to the extent that they did before the hydroelectric dams were constructed.
Another aspect which I have noticed myself is much more serious than many people understand. Every now and again the turbines of a hydroelectric system have to be turned off suddenly or quickly—perhaps because the demand for electricity from the grid has dropped or because of a mechanical fault. When that happens I have seen hundreds and hundreds of tiny salmon fry—and your Lordships will know that salmon start off as tiny objects, measuring only one inch or one-and-a-half inches long—stranded in the shallows where they have been swimming. If the water level drops quickly, one can find hundreds of salmon fry stranded within the space of a few yards—and dead, of course. Goodness only knows the number that must be killed all the way up and down the river banks. I am speaking of only one occasion, but I am afraid that it happens quite enough to deplete the salmon stock very seriously indeed.
The fifth threat has also been mentioned by other noble Lords; it is that of acid rain. It was mentioned by 533 my noble friend Lord Margadale. I do not think it is entirely the effect of conifer forests, though they have been blamed for exacerbating the effects. It is simply the effect of the acid rain which pours down on us, and many of us do not realise how serious it has become in Britain.
I remember speaking to Professor Last, who is chairman of the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, and suggesting that we on the west coast of Scotland must be all right, because the atmosphere just north of Fort William was very pure and surely did not suffer from acid rain. He replied, "Don't you believe it. These fumes are all round the atmosphere and because you have 90 to 100 inches of rain, our measurements show that you get more acid rain there than in almost any other part of Britain". The effect of that on the little fry in the streams where they are born is very serious and has been measured by ITE scientists as being very serious in Scotland.
I cite those five threats. I am very glad to see my noble friend Lord Gray on the Front Bench looking at me, because I want to impress upon him particularly how serious is this problem. I have a considerable association with organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund and the Atlantic Salmon Trust. Curiously enough, that trust has not been mentioned in this debate. Both organisations believe that the Atlantic salmon are seriously under threat, and possibly under threat of extinction.
That is a quite shocking statement to make. We have heard how they have dwindled, but some experts believe that the Atlantic salmon are threatened with extinction. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will take this matter very seriously. I believe that it was the noble Lord, Lord Moran, who mentioned how seriously other countries are taking this matter, including Canada. He described what is being done in Canada, and I can confirm that what he said is the case. Her Majesty's Government have not done much about this problem. The noble Viscount's measure is but one first step that very much needs to be taken. I, for one, am extremely grateful to him for introducing this measure. I hope that it will be only the first of several measures to protect our salmon stocks.
§ 6.57 p.m.
The Earl of Dundee
My Lords, I should like to join with other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, on introducing this Bill today. Before commenting briefly on one or two points connected with the Bill, I should declare an interest in some salmon netting rights on the River Tay estuary in North Fife.
In considering the decline in the number of salmon caught in Scottish waters, this question should be asked; if the decline continues, exactly who and what will suffer most? Sometimes it is alleged that since rich men enjoy some of the finest Scottish salmon rod fishing, they will suffer most from a further depletion of Scottish rivers. But if salmon numbers fall further, rich men will still be prepared to pay high prices for slightly less good rod fishing. And if the numbers of Scottish salmon came to fall dramatically, the same people can afford to fish abroad in places such as Norway or Iceland. I happened to notice last week, 534 from the favourable report on Iceland, that anyone at all might as well have gone to Reykjavik—not necessarily to fish, but simply to keep warmer than in London.
On the other hand, if salmon numbers continue to fall, then, as the noble Lord, Lord Moran, has already pointed out, it is Scottish jobs connected with fishing and opportunities related to Scottish tourism that stand to suffer most. And, as far as the sport is concerned, a great many Scottish angling clubs and Scottish anglers who now enjoy salmon fishing at moderate prices will be disadvantaged.
Turning to the causes of the decline in salmon numbers, it should be asked how far the remedies which are desirable can be best achieved through legislation and Government intervention. It is generally agreed that there are three main causes of depleted Scottish stocks, to which noble Lords have already referred. First, there is the over-fishing that has occurred in the seas off Greenland and the Faroes. Secondly, there are the increased catches by drift net off the north-east coast of England. Thirdly, there is the illegal netting and poaching off our own coasts and in Scottish rivers. My noble friends Lord Margadale and Lord Dulverton have referred to some other causes which are also very important. These include the pollution of rivers by acidity, chlorine and aluminium, an increase in predators, and water abstraction, which has reduced spawning grounds and impeded salmon runs.
In regard to English drift netting, current average annual catches are said to be about 55,000. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Moran, said that they might be as high as 70,000. Over 94 per cent, of that figure is reckoned to be of Scottish origin. In contrast, the comparable annual average in the 1950s was only just over 2,000. In view of this, when he comes to reply, can my noble friend the Minister say what plans the Government may have already, following their inquiry last year, to reduce the high number of salmon caught by English drift nets? The traditional fishing businesses of the north-east English coast should certainly be preserved and encouraged, but their present equipment and nylon monofilament nets responsible for such very large catches hardly constitute traditional fishing methods. Would my noble friend therefore agree that the Government should curtail the use of these devices?
With regard to over-fishing off Greenland and the Faroes, the present problem is probably less than it was during the 1970s. There is now the North Atlantic salmon conservation organisation, based in Edinburgh, to which the noble Lord, Lord Moran, referred. However, can my noble friend the Minister say what guarantees exist and what powers can be exercised through that organisation to ensure that the over-fishing of the 1970s does not recur? In the event of a future conflict of fishing interests between the United Kingdom, on the one hand, and Greenland and the Faroes, on the other, what effective powers of intervention and negotiation will the Government use directly, or through the salmon conservation organisation, to resolve such a conflict?
Then there is the question of the organisation of salmon fishing in Scottish waters. The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, has already given us some very good 535 reasons for having a proper structure of boards. The proposals contained in the noble Viscount's Bill will, if implemented, provide a more efficient structure than that at present in the district salmon fishery boards. The boards will be enlarged to cover all Scottish waters. They will have wider powers for conservation and a wider representation of their committees to include tenants as well as owners.
But, to carry out the proposals, additional finance will be needed. Since local government already receives rates and other benefits from salmon fishing, does my noble friend the Minister agree that it would be appropriate that local government funds should now contribute towards the costs of the district salmon fishery boards? Would he also further agree that some finance should be introduced from central Government?
In summary, my Lords, to arrest the decline in Scottish salmon numbers three separate expedients appear to be principally relevant: legislation to curtail the present drift net fishing methods and encourage the reintroduction of more traditional methods; the control of salmon quotas off Greenland and the Faroes, exercised through the North Atlantic conservation organisation or by Government intervention where negotiation is required; and, thirdly, the reorganisation of Scottish salmon fishery boards, as proposed today. Of these three, it is fitting that the measure to improve our own Scottish organisation should be the one to be considered first. It is, therefore, very much to be hoped that the Bill will receive a Second Reading and that, thereby, a first step is taken to restore the quality and variety of salmon fishing in Scotland and protect the jobs and tourist opportunities that it brings to the rural Scottish economy.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Lord Balfour of Inchrye
My Lords, like other noble Lords I welcome the Bill, and I regard it as a paving measure for future legislation, which is urgently required in many directions for the preservation of our salmon. I regret very much that we lost the opportunity some 30 years ago of having comprehensive salmon legislation, just after the Hunter Commission report. I still hope that we shall have it. But there are two ways of having legislation: either with a comprehensive, big Bill that covers all the major points or, as in this case, with a series of comparatively smaller Bills which will start improving the infrastructure and then going on to possible remedies which we have been discussing today to curb illegal fishing, poaching, and many other weaknesses on the high seas and on the rivers which we ought to tackle.
It may be that the small step which we are taking tonight is a wiser way of doing it: I do not know. But I do see that there are two ways of dealing with this great problem. Now is the right time to try to deal with it because public interest has been enlightened in recent years as regards salmon fishing. Its economic value to Scotland is widely recognised today. The sport is not necessarily a rich man's—thank goodness! Thanks to clubs, and other measures, ordinary chaps can enjoy salmon fishing and trout fishing, which is a 536 change from the position 60 or 70 years ago. It is all to the good. Thanks to the increasing purity of rivers our salmon waters have been extended. We read about salmon in the Thames and we read about salmon in the Tyne—to mention but two of our great rivers. These are great steps forward, all of which are contributing to this climate, which is a favourable climate, for Government action. I hope that the Government will encourage the extension of this climate to which I refer.
We must not forget that other countries are taking urgent steps. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, who unfortunately is not here at the moment, referred to Canada. I have been to Canada for many years and in the rivers where I used to be allowed to take 30 fish in a week it is now only one a day, and no more. In some rivers in New Brunswick not one salmon can be taken, only a grilse. Curiously, it has not affected the rents. Rentals remain the same. I do not suggest it, but if ever we had a law in this country, and in Scotland, that no salmon caught on rod and line is allowed to be sold, I do not believe it would affect the demand for fishing or the rents received; but that is a possibility for the future.
I have nothing more to say, except that this is a good measure, and, I repeat, it is a paving stone for future legislation which is most urgently required.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Viscount Ridley
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I should like to declare an interest, not as a member of a board but in the ownership of a stretch of Scottish river which has suffered a drastic decline in the past 10 years. I am not, of course, blaming the board for that catastrophe, but I hope that this Bill, in encouraging further boards, may go some way towards an understanding of the situation which is now in existence in Scotland.
Your Lordships' House, and indeed the Government, can be left in no doubt as a result of this debate of the widespread disquiet and worries of all those who are concerned with Scottish salmon. Famous rivers are now empty of fish for at least part of the season, and illegal fishing is alleged to be common. It is the opinion of many experts that over-exploitation is now serious. We have heard a great deal about that this evening and I shall not repeat it. But against that unhappy picture, such statistics as we have can easily be used to show that the total catch in terms of numbers of salmon and grilse in the whole of Scotland may not have declined all that much over the past 30 years; but there are of course cyclical variations in the time of year when the fish run, and there would seem to be a steady reduction in the average size of salmon caught.
I therefore intervene in this debate, nervously as an Englishman, to ask your Lordships to consider most carefully how to use the opportunity which this Bill presents to increase our knowledge as far as possible into what is actually happening in the Scottish salmon rivers. The fishery boards are subject to the provisions of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Protection) (Scotland) Act 1951, among the other Acts to which reference has been made. In Section 15(1)(c) the Secretary of State has powers to publish statistics, but there is an important proviso which reads: 537such statistics shall not be published in such form as to disclose the actual numbers of salmon caught in any one fishery within the period of ten years preceding such publication".That effectively means that they cannot—indeed, they do not—publish the statistics of catches in their areas until 10 years later, but the figures have to be returned by law by both rod and net fishermen annually.
There is no doubt some possibility here of cheating and giving misleading information, which could be widespread. It would be only too tempting to withhold information on catches if, for example, someone knew that he was likely to be assessed for very heavy rate bills, never mind fishery board dues, which are based on the average catch. The wonder really is that anyone returns anything at all. But it is the only source of comparatively accurate statistics which we have; and I think that on the whole they are fairly accurate.
All that I am asking is that these figures should be available in some form or other for every river in Scotland for each year and that the necessary figures can be published annually so that we get a true and accurate picture of what is actually going on; and from that picture it can be determined whether we need to introduce further conservation measures, further restrictions on netting, different close seasons, and so on and so forth; or whether, what I suspect is most important of all, we need a more determined effort to enforce the existing laws, by-laws and regulations.
I therefore hope that the Government will look favourably on amendments which will go only so far, and no further, as to give the Secretary of State for Scotland power to instruct the district boards to obtain and publish figures of catches of salmon and grilse in such form as he may determine. Hopefully, that should be split into rod and line and netting figures, but not of course quoting individual owners or beats.
It may be argued that such publication might lead to even more inaccurate returns, but that does not appear to be the view of the Spey Fishery Board, which has published all the relevant statistics in a full and most useful report for 1983–84. That was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Moran. If the Spey board—I was going to say that the Spey is the most important Scottish river, but in the presence of the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, I would call it the second most important river in Scotland—thinks that that is valuable and useful, surely all the other boards could do so, too. For example, in addition, the Spey board has published accurate and detailed figures about restocking programmes, as well as catches, and all the other things that are going on in the story of that river. Why can that not be done for the whole of Scotland?
This report is so excellent and instructive that I hope that all Members of the House who are interested in the subject will see for themselves what it looks like. Certainly we should need more boards. I am not competent to speak about that. We may need to look critically at their composition. Is it, for example, really right in this day and age that the netting interests should enjoy the majority conferred on them in some boards by the 1860 legislation? But, above all, I think that we need a conservation policy so that all concerned can work towards saving and increasing this magnificent, prolific and valuable resource. I believe that we can indeed increase considerably the crop taken if we have a will to do so, but that policy can 538 succeed only if it is based on accurate facts and supported by all the varying fishing interests.
In asking for further disclosure of facts and information, I hope that I shall not be thought of by your Lordships as a sort of piscatorial Ponting, demanding too much at the wrong moment, but I do not believe that we can ask other countries like Greenland to limit their catch if we have no up-to-date policy ourselves, and such a policy must be based on all possible available accurate and up-to-date information.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Burton
My Lords, I, too, must start by declaring an interest. For many years I have been a member of the Ness District Fishery Board and I am also a director of a salmon netting company. Then let me hasten to thank and congratulate the noble Viscount on having introduced this Bill. There are clearly some items in it about which some of us are not too happy, but there must be agreement that it is high time—indeed, well past time—that the Scottish salmon fishing laws were updated. The noble Viscount has astutely taken action to get something done. It is to be hoped therefore that your Lordships will this evening give a Second Reading to this Bill.
In any effective district board set-up in Scotland there must be a number of guiding principles. First, the boards must be established so that they are as geographically viable for administration as is feasible; and that is where we meet our first difficulty, as the area which is most suitable for one board may put its neighbours in difficulties. It is thus necessary for the new board boundaries to be drawn by someone outwith any of the existing boards.
The next principle is that board areas are big enough to employ high-powered and efficient management. Elected members can only lay down the policies; they cannot execute the day-to-day management. Thirdly, to employ efficient management there must be sufficient finance, and here we must depend upon the Government to lay down how that is to be arrived at. The present set-up is clearly inadequate.
Fourthly, the existing ruling that the highest rated proprietor is automatically the chairman must be changed so that the most suitable member of a board can be elected to the chair—not that some of our existing chairmen are not already the most suitable members. Another desirable principle for new boards is that they should be allowed to trade. They should be allowed to buy or sell spawn, fry, parr, eels, pike or any other suitable commodity. There are of course a number of other minor changes which would be desirable for the new boards.
Over 20 years ago Lord Hunter made a fine effort in producing his report, even if many of us found points with which we did not agree. It was a very far-sighted report, but no one could have foreseen the remarkable growth of fish farms which has so depressed the price of salmon; nor could it have been seen in what dire peril our wild salmon stocks were to be placed in 1985. Unless there is urgent action, the chances of the wild Atlantic salmon surviving for much longer are very slim.
As long as our own fishery laws are in such disarray, as other noble Lords have said tonight, we can hardly 539 criticise others—Greenland, the Faroes; and now a new and most sinister threat. I am told that the Irish have found where to catch the grilse off the West Coast of Ireland. Rumour has it that last year they caught 300,000 fish. I believe that the Irish fisheries department knows something about that, though, as the catching is done outwith their territorial waters, and most of the fish are changing hands at sea, they also may not have too much information. However, it is clearly something requiring investigation, and could account for the serious dearth of fish, particularly in the west of Scotland last year.
On top of these human marine predators, we had devastating commercial poaching last year in the low waters which prevailed inland. The method used was for one man to be dropped from a car, after dark, in a frogman outfit together with a rubber dinghy and a monofilament net. He was picked up again before dawn. Your Lordships will understand how difficult this was to detect. But when two of them were eventually caught with all the gear and a salmon—and in previous nights we know that they had had many more salmon—the small penalty the court imposed was heartbreaking. I strongly support my noble friend Lord Lansdowne in what he has said this evening about poaching.
Then we had the devastating UDN disease. I think no one so far has mentioned it tonight, but it was not so very long ago that this really hit our salmon stocks. Now we have huge, increasing numbers of seals—particularly grey seals—devouring our precious resource and it seems the Government will do nothing about them. In the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981, cormorants, mergansers and goosanders were protected. The latter two species have increased in numbers by leaps and bounds and they can be seen gorging themselves on salmon fry. Not only that, but they are an important link in the chain of one of the fish worms, though I am not qualified to know which one.
I am told that salmon anglers generate £140 million for Scotland's tourist industry every year and as much again for the United Kingdom. Salmon give direct support for 30,000 jobs in Scotland and help to double the length of the tourist season. Surely we cannot afford to see the demise of the Atlantic salmon. Though there has been agreement from speaker after speaker this evening, I know that there will be no unanimity over the action taken to put this matter right. I know it will be controversial. But the Government must be resolute and take action now.
§ 7.23 p.m.
The Duke of Atholl
My Lords, I should like to rise to ask the noble Viscount, whose Bill this is, two questions. First, may I say that I am very much in favour of this Bill in principle, and secondly that I have an interest to declare in that I own some very moderate salmon fishing and I am also trustee for some rather better salmon fishing. The two questions which I should like to ask the noble Viscount are these. In Clause 3 of his Bill he quite rightly gives anglers the right to vote for the amalgamated boards but not the right to vote for boards that do not amalgamate, so far 540 as I can make out from reading his Bill. I was wondering why he had done this.
My second question is somewhat related. That is that in Clause 4 he gives the Secretary of State power to order amalgamated boards to do various things and he does not give it to existing boards. I do not anticipate that the Tay Board will amalgamate with any other board. I think probably in most people's opinion it is already large enough. It would be somewhat disappointing if the amalgamated boards had this power but the old boards did not. I was wondering whether this was intentional on the noble Viscount's part, or whether he had overlooked the point.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
My Lords, we have had a fascinating debate. I think the noble Viscount must be congratulated for raising the subject once again. I say that because yesterday I took the trouble to read the last debates that we had on this subject. That was when the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona, courageously sought to improve matters, on the step by step approach, with a private Bill on the same subject. I read the noble Viscount's speech and, lo! and behold it was all about district boards; the need for reorganisation and the need for powers. Therefore, he certainly has not let me down.
I was interested, too, that he told me that he was the chairman of the Association of Scottish District Salmon Fishery Boards. I wish he had told me how impoverished they were. He is chairman and he will know it. I have received a letter. Probably we all received one but I always like to look and see where letters come from. This one says, "If undelivered, please return to the SLF", that is the Scottish Landowners' Federation. The address is 18 Abercromby Place, Edinburgh, and I notice that the address of the Association of Scottish District Salmon Fishery Boards is 18 Abercromby Place, Edinburgh. They also share the same telephone number, so that at least there has been some coming together. But let us be fair to the Scottish Landowners' Federation: they say that they think the matter should be discussed; they do not say that they agree with everything that is in the noble Viscount's Bill. However, it was an interesting point.
I have nothing to declare in the way of ownership of beats or stretches of river, either as a riparian owner or as a lessee of a stretch, be it upper, be it lower, be it netting or be it rod and line. I am not even an angler. But I am, and have been for a long time, the honorary vice-president of the Kilmarnock and Irvine Angling Club. Believe it or not, they have not even written to me about this Bill—they probably do not know about it. I was interested to hear someone who suggested that Scottish opinion is alerted to the need for the Bill. I wish that were true but I am afraid it is not. It may be that this debate will help. It may well be that there is nothing exciting going on in another place. "Today in Parliament", or tomorrow morning's "Yesterday in Parliament", might seek to improve that position.
There is no doubt that salmon stocks have been severely and alarmingly reduced. All reports that I have heard over a time suggest that. I heard someone, 541 I think it was Viscount Ridley, suggest that that might not be so. He stands alone in respect of that. I think it was somewhere about two years ago that I heard it suggested that the total fish stock coming in was about 300,000 to 400,000. But then it was said that the figures for 1978 were 2,300!
Allowing for the customary seasonable conditions—the effect of the water or the lack of water and the rest of it—there has in fact been an alarming decline. There is no doubt about it. I have heard it suggested that if the decline goes on as it is at the moment then we shall have no salmon stocks to worry about in the year 2000.
I do not for a minute think that this Bill will deal with a position because it deals only with the structure. It deals with the structure in respect of the 1962 to 1968 legacy of the feeble structure, as I think it was rightly called by the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton. When you look at the actual powers that the boards have, they are very, very limited indeed. Where we are asking the Secretary of State to give up some of his powers, I wonder whether the noble Lord the Minister will tell us what powers he has. When there are powers, we then have to think of what comes after that.
One of the things that struck me in the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona's Bill—and I think it nearly met it—was that he said that to deal with the subject, it should be simple, it should be understandable or intelligible and it should be enforceable. I have heard noble Lords today talking about illegal fishing, or poaching and dealing with it in the estuarine area and in the open sea in respect of the drift netting in the North East. Is there anything that gives us any comfort that this Bill and the powers that the new boards will take—if they get them from the Secretary of State, although I do not see them in the Bill—will be enforceable? They can only be enforceable if they have the manpower to enforce it, and that depends upon resources.
At least, when the Hunter Committee addressed itself to this, it openly suggested that before they were able to live on the money they were to receive—certain suggestions were made about rod and line that are not complete here and about other resources—the Government should come forward with a considerable pump-priming operation. I cannot get away from my upbringing in another place. The one chance of a Bill getting through on a private Bill basis is that it should not require a money resolution. If it requires a money resolution, this can be provided only by the Government. So the first thing that the noble Viscount should have done was to invite the Minister to get up and say that the Government were prepared to move a money resolution to provide the resources to make the Bill work.
In any discussion on a private Bill the Government should put their view not necessarily right away, following the speech of the Bill's proposer, but certainly following one or two speeches in order to explain their opinion. It may well be the case that this would change the type of speech to be made in the debate. It might mean more pressure being brought to bear on the Government, but certainly we would not be talking blind. Believe it or not, my Lords, this Bill will have no chance of success unless it receives 542 Government support and has a money resolution behind it. Without that, all we shall be doing is airing a seemingly desirable piece of legislation to no purpose.
There are three aspects—open sea fishing, estuarial fishing and coastal fishing, and the upper stream fishing. With all due respect to the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, there is nothing that we can do about open sea fishing. We depend now on what we receive as a result of the international agreements that have been reached. We were delighted when agreement of some kind was reached in respect of the North Atlantic; but we were very disappointed about the quotas. I was glad to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Moran, said, in a good speech, about the fact that quotas had not been reached. We thought that the quotas in some cases were far too high. It is important that, within our own country, we are able to take action where a new structure is required, as well as ask people in Greenland, the Faroes and Norway to help deal with the international problem of the dangerous decrease in fish stocks. There is only a limited amount that we can do.
There has been reference to what has been happening in the North-East of England. I have felt quite flattered because in 1951 I was PPS to the Secretary of State Hector McNeil when he took action in respect of a new type of poaching that was occurring in Scotland. Then, following the first Hunter report, I quickly took action to stop the drift netting in Scotland. That was a new type of fishing in Scotland. However, in England drift netting was traditional. It may well be traditional fishing. We can argue the technicalities to the effect that the whole business has improved to an extent that it has become a much more serious proposition, even to us in Scotland. However, it is not the Secretary of State for Scotland whom the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, will need to contact about that; it is someone down south. I do not see the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in England moving readily on the matter. There is a limit to what we can do.
In respect of the international problem, we got all the fishermen together. There was co-operation in the pressure for something to be done. To a certain extent it has been successful. I hope that as a result of the pressure to which the noble Lord, Lord Moran referred, it will continue to be successful. Can we obtain the co-operation within our own country of the estuarial and coastal fisheries, the commercial netting people, the upstream proprietors, the tenants and the rod and line men?
The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, was right in saying that we need statistics—how many fish come in, where do they go, who takes them, and so on? It has been suggested—I have seen no figures to disprove this—that of the fish that reach our coast between 70 per cent, and 95 per cent. never get upstream to their spawning beds. They are taken by the commercial netsmen—some of them are taken illegally, though not by the bona fide netsmen—on the lower reaches. The part of the sport that has been expanding—this has pleased those responsible for tourism in Scotland as well as the riparian owners who let out beats on the upper reaches of rivers—is the rod and line. It is the angling that brings many people to Inverness-shire and 543 Speyside and other areas. This has to be sorted out. It may require quotas. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, referred to what people were prepared to accept in Canada. It may be the case that for proper fishery management of our salmon stocks we accept the same kind of thing here. With all due respect, it is not in the Bill. It may not be meant to be there. Yet we have salmon tagging pushed in. Will salmon tagging be enough? One matter about which I still hear talk is licensing of dealers. That would make salmon tagging work. You cannot stick on one issue. There is need for additional powers.
On the whole question of rod and line licensing, I see that you only pay a levy. It is one of the interesting points upon which my legislative eye fixes. According to the Bill, the Secretary of State may by order,empower an amalgamated board to impose a levy on netsmen and anglers who qualify for a vote".But they do not get a vote unless they are registered for a vote. So they could qualify for a vote. How they are to be traced, I do not know. To qualify for a vote as an angler you need to have,fished legally on a river within the amalgamated districts for a period of not less than one week".That is the qualification. It is a nice Committee point. I leave it for the noble Viscount to examine. We shall all give him help so far as we can. But it is not simple. It is not always intelligible.
It was suggested that when you resurrect or re-create district boards the electoral pattern is that of the old Bill, It is only when you amalgamate them that you widen the electoral college and bring in the anglers, possibly the older anglers, and the netsmen who qualify. We need to sort that out. It is not entirely intelligible. If the Government intend to pour as much cold water on the Bill as I have been doing, what will the Government do? It was the Government who produced a White Paper in 1971 saying that something should be done. It has not been done. I have here a copy of the White Paper. In 1979 the Government produced what they called, A Review of the Present Law and Administration of Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries. Nothing has been done.
The Government will be telling us that that review is still going on. We got this from the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, and from the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield; we got it in the other place from the Secretary of State. Do not tell me that is all we are going to get tonight from the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin. When he entered these portals and we saw him taking the Oath we said, "At last we've got a Minister who's going to deal with the salmon and freshwater fishery problems of Scotland. Here's a man who knows; he comes from up there". There are many expectant noble Lords sitting behind him, waiting to hear what he is going to say. I shall not delay that watchful and waiting audience.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Gray of Contin)
My Lords, first of all, may I join with all your Lordships in extending to the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, congratulations on his having given us the opportunity of having a most fruitful discussion on salmon fishing. In your Lordships' House the question 544 of fishing always attracts great interest. That is not only because of the genuine concern for the future of salmon fisheries but principally because of the very high quality of speeches which your Lordships produce on such an occasion. I must say that, listening to the participants this afternoon, I felt, not being a fisherman myself, quite inadequate to the task of dealing with the very intricate points which they raised. Nevertheless, I shall try to deal with the points which were raised and I shall try to give an overview of the Government's position in regard to fishing.
First of all, I must follow the point correctly raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, regarding the Government's position on this Bill. He is absolutely right in saying that unless a Private Member's Bill, which requires a Money Resolution, has Government support there is no possible chance of its making progress. Some weeks ago I and my officials had a very useful meeting with the noble Viscount. We discussed this Bill in detail. At that time I made it absolutely clear, for reasons which I shall set out this evening for the House, that the Government were not able to give this Bill their support and that I hoped that, on reflection, and on the assumption that we would have a very useful debate in this House, the noble Viscount, at the end of the debate, might be prepared to withdraw his Bill. I see that the noble Viscount shakes his head. Of course he has every right to press the Bill further if he so desires; but I am afraid it will be in the knowledge that it will not have Government support.
In his opening remarks, the noble Viscount spoke of the frustration and impatience he feels because of the time it is taking to modernise salmon legislation, much of which dates from the middle of the last century. I have experienced some of that frustration, because the discussions that have taken place with the various salmon organisations in Scotland since the publication in 1979 of a consultation paper, to which the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, referred, have failed to produce agreement on the way ahead on the main issues.
That is the real stumbling block. We are dealing with a subject on which very strong views are held. Indeed, the noble Viscount himself has come up against this very problem with the Association of District Salmon Fishery Boards, which, while it accepts in principle what the noble Viscount seeks to do, does not give the Bill unqualified support and indeed made it abundantly clear to my department that it was not sponsoring this legislation nor did it wish to be associated with it. That is an example of just how difficult it is to get all parties concerned in this wonderful sport, this wonderful industry, to take a common view on any one particular subject.
Perhaps that is not surprising. In the Fishery Board for Scotland reports for 1882 and 1883 the then inspector of salmon fisheries, who had conducted a review of the 1862 to 1868 Acts, commented that his discussions had revealed that there were questions of great importance to salmon fisheries on which there existed a great diversity of opinion; so this is nothing new. The questions to which he referred are those that are still exercising us today and on which there is still disagreement: namely, the duration and starting and closing dates of the close times; the duration of the 545 weekly close time; and control over net fishing. The two issues with which the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, has sought to deal in his Bill—that is, the constitution of district boards and the case for amalgamating district boards—are also unresolved.
There have been numerous reviews of the salmon laws in Scotland since the 1860s. The noble Viscount gave us an account of them in his opening remarks. The most comprehensive in recent times was that undertaken by a committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Hunter, which reported in August 1965 and which gave rise to the 1971 White Paper recommending major changes in the law and administration. That report has been referred to by a number of your Lordships. The noble Lord, Lord Burton, and several other noble Lords have made reference to these documents. I believe that the proposals in that White Paper would have led to the creation of a framework within which significant improvements in the management of salmon stocks could have been achieved. It has to be recognised, however, that these proposals were not universally popular. Moreover, they would have required a major Bill, needing much parliamentary time—a commodity which, as your Lordships will be fully aware, is always in short supply.
Given that background, it is perhaps understandable that the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, should feel that there is some attraction in making a start on what he considers to be a key issue and should favour tackling the problem stage by stage. The dangers of such an approach are obvious. There has been comparatively little salmon legislation over the past 120 years. There has always been—and I fear always will be—pressure on parliamentary time. I believe therefore that we must follow the middle course between a Bill as narrowly drawn as this one and a Bill as complex as the one that would have been needed to implement the 1971 White Paper; and that has been my objective in the discussions that I have had with salmon organisations.
I should like now to deal with specific provisions of the Bill which is before your Lordships' House and to explain why the Government cannot support it. The purpose of the Bill, as the noble Viscount has explained, is to provide for the establishment of district salmon fishery boards throughout Scotland, to enable amalgamations of district boards to take place, and to extend the membership of district boards in certain circumstances. I should be the last person to deny the advantages of greater coverage of Scotland by district boards. As has been pointed out tonight, about half of the river systems in Scotland are currently without boards. But the position overall is no worse than it has ever been, and it is a fact that we have boards covering virtually all the major Scottish rivers. Despite the shortcomings of the present arrangements, the system generally has been effective in protecting Scotland's salmon stocks from many hazards which, in other countries, have resulted in the near extinction of their native stocks.
The noble Lord, Lord Moran, asked me whether the scientists at Pitlochry were worried about the state of the salmon stocks and asked why we were not looking into this matter and taking action similar to that taken 546 in certain other countries. I can assure the noble Lord that neither we nor our scientists are at all complacent about the situation. I do believe, however, that the situation in the Canadian rivers with regard to spawning escapement and juvenile recruitment seems to be very much more serious than it is here. But I agree that we have to be vigilant, and in due course I shall say something more about what action we have taken to protect stocks and about the further measures that we are considering.
In these circumstances I think that we have to be sure that any changes which we make will bring about an improvement and, most importantly, will command the full support of those who will be responsible for the administration and of the proprietors whose interests will be vitally affected. I believe also that it is imperative that we determine the functions and responsibilities of the local administrative bodies before we determine their constitution. The Bill does not meet these requirements; nor do I believe that it addresses itself to the main issues facing salmon interests at the present time.
Some of your Lordships will know from personal experience that the real problem with regard to administration is that, largely through lack of finance, many of the existing boards find it difficult to undertake as effectively as they would wish the limited functions which they have at present; and it is precisely because of lack of finance that so many of our river systems are without boards.
The proposals in the noble Viscount's Bill might produce a little more money for amalgamated boards, but the Bill goes nowhere near to solving that problem, and I do not see it leading to the establishment of many new boards. In so far as amalgamations may be necessary, I would point out that there is already provision in Section 22 of the 1862 Act for boards to combine for the purposes of the 1862 and 1868 Acts and to maintain a common staff for the protection and preservation of the fisheries of more than one district; and there are already examples in Scotland of boards combining in this manner.
I recognise the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, that such arrangements would have to be renewed at three-year intervals. But I do not believe that that need be a great handicap. Understandably, several noble Lords have asked what are the Government's intentions with regard to salmon legislation. As I have said that I do not consider that this Bill deals with the main issues, it is only fair that I should say what I consider to be the real problems and should indicate what the Government have been doing and intend to do in this matter. I hope, in this way, to answer some of the specific questions that have been asked.
More talking and discussions are inevitable, but I can assure your Lordships that in the short period of time in which I have been Minister of State for Scotland I have been engaged in a series of meetings with my opposite number, the Minister of State at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and the Minister of State for Wales. We have discussed in great detail the problems which exists. Reference has been made today to ways of combating the eternal menace of poaching. Tagging has been suggested. The noble 547 Lord, Lord Ross, referred to dearer licensing. We have been looking at both those issues and I can assure your Lordships that the matter is not an easy one to resolve.
There are elements who are vigorously opposed to salmon tagging and there are others who are equally in support of it. Perhaps I may give just one example. The fish farming industry represented to us through the fish farming committee of the National Farmers' Union of Scotland that they are vigorously opposed to any question of tagging. There is also the question of whether or not there may be certain exemptions. There is the question of whether any future legislation should be Scottish legislation, or whether it should be United Kingdom legislation. These matters all present problems which must be resolved. As I said earlier, whatever we introduce must be something that is generally acceptable to those who are most directly involved, and it must be something that will work. Whatever we eventually decide upon, we must make it work. So there is no question of the Government not being fully aware of the problems which your Lordships have raised this evening. We are looking at these matters and we are looking at them seriously. But we do not believe that the way forward is to proceed in a piecemeal fashion. We believe that it is better to wait until we have a Bill to present to Parliament which deals with the major issues. All the questions which I have already raised about parliamentary time come into the argument as well.
I think it can be claimed that successive Governments through legislation specifically related to salmon—and covering such aspects as close seasons and close times and methods of fishing—and legislation not specifically related to salmon but having direct benefits for salmon interests (and here I am thinking of control of pollution and water abstraction) have ensured, in general, that sufficient fish manage to reach the spawning grounds and that productivity has been maintained.
The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, referred to the lack of spring fish and she quoted from correspondence which she had received from a proprietor on Deeside. The suggestion was that fishing in the high seas fishery off Scotland was the principal cause of the shortage of fish. I do not rule that out, but I think it is significant that it probably was merely a contributory factor. Of course we are at present seeking further cuts in the "take" by that fishery. This all really relates to the question which the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, raised about off-shore fishing. However, it is a matter of which we are very much aware and it is a matter which has given us very great concern. I know that there is great concern about the lack of spring fish, but this has happened before, and the indications are that it may be partly due to biological and environmental factors which are outwith our control.
The real problem, as I see it, is that too few fish are getting back to our river systems to be available to those persons who are legally entitled to catch them. I believe that if we could significantly improve that situation, we would reduce the conflict between nets and rods, to which reference has been made in this debate, and we might make it easier for boards to obtain increased revenue through the existing system.
548 We have taken and are continuing to take steps to try to bring that about. First, we have imposed a permanent ban on drift-netting by nets set from a boat in Scottish waters. Secondly, through the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation we have obtained a reduction in the quotas of salmon to be taken on the high seas off Greenland and the Faroes. Thirdly, we have intensified our efforts to control drift-netting through the use of the fast launches of my department's Fishery Protection Service, with good co-operation from district boards, and with considerable success last year. Fourthly, in the Inshore Fishing (Scotland) Act, which your Lordships approved last year, we have taken powers to prohibit the setting of gill nets from the shore and to ban the carriage of specific types of net which are used extensively for illegal fishing.
My noble friends Lord Margadale and Lord Dulverton both referred to measures to control poaching. I can assure my noble friends that we are particularly concerned about these measures and are constantly monitoring the situation as regards the protection service. In regard to drift net fishing off the North-East coast of England, which has been strongly criticised today, along with my honourable friend the Minister of State at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I am considering an internal report which inter alia deals with the effect of that fishing on Scottish salmon stocks. We are not yet in a position to make an announcement on our deliberations, but I hope that we shall be able to do so very soon.
We are discussing with the salmon organisations throughout Great Britain the possibility of introducing some form of sales control, and reference has been made to a tagging system, to which I referred a little earlier. While such an arrangement is attractive, we have encountered a number of problems in considering how the system which operates in New Brunswick might be introduced here. The difficulties are very real indeed.
I should not wish to give the impression that I believe that all is well and that there is no need for new legislation. That most certainly is not my view. However, having discussed the Bill with the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, and having given it careful consideration, I have reached the conclusion that it is simply not the correct way in which to proceed. As I said earlier, I do not think that it addresses the main issues. In my opinion, it would be unlikely to lead to the creation of many additional boards and I sincerely suggest to the noble Viscount that he does not pursue it further at this time. It is premature, in that I believe we have to reach agreement with the salmon organisations on the functions to be given to the local administrative bodies before we decide on their constitution. If we proceed with this Bill, we may have to do the job all over again when we are ready to legislate on other issues.
As I indicated, the Bill has only qualified support from the Association of District Salmon Fishery Boards, but it is opposed by other organisations, notably the Salmon Net Fishing Association of Scotland, and also by individuals who have written to me at the department. I believe that we must seek a 549 consensus on this issue. As I have already pointed out to the noble Viscount, the Bill is defective in a number of important respects and the best advice available to me is that it would be unlikely to gain in substance from amendment.
I regret that I am not in a position tonight to say when we shall be ready to come forward with Government legislation or what form it will take. However, I can assure your Lordships that we shall press ahead with our discussions with the salmon organisations with a view to introducing a Bill to deal with these main issues and including the question of the form of local organisation at the earliest possible opportunity. I shall certainly take account of the views which have been expressed tonight.
One or two other points were raised which, out of courtesy, I should like quickly to answer. My noble friend Lord Ridley made a plea for more up-to-date statistics. In response to an undertaking given in your Lordships' House a few years ago, we publish statistics in such a way as to provide what we consider to be all the information needed for management purposes while staying within the terms of the 1951 Act. These recent publications have been greatly welcomed by salmon interests.
My noble friend Lord Dundee asked what powers Ministers have to influence decisions regarding fishing on the high seas. The noble Lord, Lord Ross, partially answered that question for me by saying that they are very limited indeed. The United Kingdom is of course represented by the European Community in the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation, but I can assure my noble friend that we make a regular input into their discussions.
My noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour asked about seals and district boards. I am well aware that this is a highly emotive issue and that conflicting views are held by a small variety of people, including environmentalists, salmon and other fishing interests. There is no easy answer to this matter. The Natural Environment Research Council and the various reactions to it cause us problems from time to time, but this is a matter which the Secretary of State is considering. As my noble friend will be aware, there was no cull last year and we are considering the matter at the present time.
My noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, who has advised me that regrettably he would not be able to stay for the wind-up speech, made the very good point by asking whether this really was the right way in which to proceed; he asked whether we should deal with the matter in a piecemeal manner or whether we should try to do a little more.
In conclusion, I hope that in the light of my explanation as to why we cannot give Government support to this Bill and in view of the assurance that I have given—and again I express my sorrow that I cannot support the Bill, because if there was anyone for whom I should like to give Government support it is my near neighbour the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso—the noble Viscount might feel able to withdraw his Bill at this stage.
§ Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, I should like to 550 remind him that in the debate on 17th February 1982 on the Bill which I introduced, and to which the noble Lord, Lord Ross, was kind enough to refer, his predecessor, my noble friend Lord Mansfield, at the end of the Second Reading debate at col. 639 said:But this Bill should not be regarded as in any sense pre-empting or in substitution for a more widely based Bill of the kind that we are considering.That was four years ago. That is a jolly long consideration and my noble friend is now telling us that he is continuing to consider the matter. How long do we have to go on considering? Everyone in this House is saying that it is high time something was done.
§ Lord Gray of Contin
My Lords, I would not attempt to argue with my noble friend. Of course he is right. Of course it is high time that something was done; but as I explained to him earlier, to try to get a general view which is acceptable to all those who would be affected by such legislation is difficult. I believe that it is perhaps better to wait a little longer and get something which is acceptable rather than to proceed in a piecemeal fashion, hoping for bits and pieces of parliamentary time, which is unlikely suddenly to become available. For that reason I hope that the noble Viscount will feel able to withdraw the Bill.
§ Lord Burton
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down perhaps I may ask him another question. Canada and Norway have both imposed legislation which clearly was not agreeable to all the parties. Why cannot that be done for Scotland? Clearly, whatever legislation is introduced will not be agreeable to all the parties, so why try to reach a consensus?
§ Lord Gray of Contin
My Lords, we could go on about this for a very long time. Perhaps I could try to answer my noble friend Lord Burton. The problems in those countries are quite different. For example, the Canadians do not have the problem of imported fish to the extent that we do. They have introduced dealer licensing and they have also introduced tagging. If we were able to reach a consensus on both tagging and dealer licensing, I believe that we could make progress, but I think that that would be very difficult indeed.
My noble friend mentioned Scotland. It would be equally pointless to introduce a tagging system or a dealer licensing system in Scotland if it was not also introduced at the same time in England and Wales. The fish would merely go over the Border and there would be no offence. Therefore, it is not an easy problem. I have the greatest sympathy with the noble Viscount and with your Lordships, but I have tried to explain just how difficult the problem is.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Viscount Thurso
My Lords, before I go on to try to sum up this debate that we have had on the Second Reading of the Bill, I ought to answer the questions asked by the noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl. I have to confess that the Bill is not perfect. I do not believe that it would have been perfect, even if it had been drafted by the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, and all his henchmen, but I had to do it with such help as 551 I could get, I accept readily that it has flaws in it, particularly drafting flaws.
The purpose of this Bill is to try to provide a gradual approach to a new structure. I take the point that it has not allowed for the boards which would remain unchanged. Clearly at a Committee stage this Bill would require to be amended to deal with the question of boards which could be given new status, a new constitution, new powers, and everything, while remaining unchanged because there would be no advantage in changing them. That is really the answer to the question about Clause 3.
There was a question relating to Clause 4. There is more or less the same answer here. These would have to be given the powers which other amalgamated boards would have because there is no intention eventually to make fish of one board and flesh of another board, but there is an intention to move towards a new structure within the Bill.
We have been a long time talking about this subject. At the end of it I have the feeling that the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, finds himself in the magnificent position of having a total majority of one. Everybody who has spoken on this Bill has given support. The noble Lord has tried to shake the support which I have had and he has given the name of one organisation which apparently does not support the Bill.
I have not given your Lordships lists of the organisations which have written to me supporting the Bill, but I have them. I just do not want to play this sort of game at this stage. I am putting this Bill before your Lordships' House to see what your Lordships think of it. What is clear is that there is no action offered. We have not been offered a Bill in exchange for this Bill. That is clear.
No action has taken place on these particular problems for over 20 years. The noble Lord, Lord Gray, asks us to contain ourselves in patience while he thinks some more. I, like the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona, have joined in many debates in your Lordships' House on this question. I am afraid that sometimes they have tended to range far and wide because there are so many things to be upset about in relation to the way in which salmon have been neglected over this period of 20-odd years, a period when it was totally known that legislative action was needed. This Bill, as much as anything, seeks to shift one log in the logjam.
What I have put to your Lordships tonight is—whether you in fact agree with the noble Lord, Lord Gray, or whether you agree with me—that functions should come before constitutions. If you go ahead and produce a whole lot of new functions and then give them to boards which do not exist to administer them, what sort of functions are you giving to anybody? We should at least discuss the structure which is going to receive these new functions.
This is something we can do at this stage without incurring expenditure. As we have been reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, we are not allowed to move money Bills in your Lordships' House, but at least we can discuss proper structures, 552 and at least we can look at this Bill from the point of view that it might be helpful to discuss constitutions.
The other thing which has been said by those who seek to excuse themselves for no action is that you must get unanimity and this is very difficult. I have not managed a salmon river for over 20 years without knowing that it is exceedingly difficult to get unanimity from anglers. But I do know that anglers appreciate straight dealing, and they appreciate being talked to. They appreciate people trying to do something for them.
I think that the angling community, the angling fraternity who use the salmon rivers of Scotland, would like to see your Lordships' House discussing how it would be possible to take one small step forward. We ought to discuss this question. It is not until different people see what might be the effects of taking different steps that we shall be able to get any improvement in unanimity and in the approach towards a new structure.
The least we should do is to discuss this at least one more time. We have had lots of set-piece debates about salmon in your Lordships' House in my time, and before that too. But if we stop discussing this Bill at this stage all we shall have set up is yet another set-piece debate going over the same old ground, exposing the same difficulties. What we want to do at least is to go on and discuss structures, so that, even if at that stage we are eventually persuaded by the Government that we ought not to take the Bill any further, we shall have shown what can be done, we shall have demonstrated publicly to the fishing world what could be proposed, what advantages they could get from the new structures and what these new structures might be able to do. It would be totally wrong of me to withdraw the Bill at this stage without any promise of anything. Therefore I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.