§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Lord Gray of Contin
My Lords, I beg to move that the Salmon Bill be read a second time.
It gives me great pleasure to introduce the debate on this Bill. As your Lordships will know, much of the law relating to the administration of salmon fisheries in 991 Scotland dates back over 100 years. The principal Acts under which we currently operate are the Salmon Fisheries (Scotland) Acts of 1862 to 1868. There has been pressure for change in that legislation virtually from the time of its enactment, and there have been numerous formal and informal reviews of the Scottish salmon law in the intervening period. In 1882 the then Inspector of Salmon Fisheries sought the views of District Salmon Fishery Boards, proprietors and tenants on the operation of the 1862 to 1868 Acts and reported that there was a wide diversity of opinion about the duration and starting and closing dates of the annual close times; the duration and method of enforcing the weekly close time; the constitution of district boards, and so on.
The most recent review, and certainly the most comprehensive, was that undertaken by a committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Hunter, which reported in August 1965. That review covered freshwater fisheries as well as salmon, and the committee recommended radical changes which would have required the repeal of all previous salmon legislation and a very much larger Bill than that now before your Lordships' House.
I would have been very happy to have been in a position to have proceeded in that way, though, as noble Lords will know, the Hunter proposals were not universally popular and there are many of their recommendations that we would not have chosen to implement. I should also say that, though it has its critics, the existing legislation has, by and large, stood the test of time in many respects, and despite the effects of such activities as high seas fishing and large-scale poaching it is surprising that our salmon stocks have survived as well as they have. That is due in no small measure to the activities of the members of the district boards and to proprietors in general, and I readily pay tribute to them.
In these circumstances, and bearing in mind the fact that parliamentary time is a very scarce commodity, we decided to retain those elements of existing legislation which still serve a useful purpose and to amend and add to these provisions. As a consequence, the Bill now before the House may not be as comprehensive as some noble Lords and some salmon interests would have liked, but I believe that it is an extremely useful measure which should lead to a significant improvement in the current situation. We have, for example, been able to repeal seven existing Acts as part of the modernisation process.
In the course of the debate last year on the Bill sponsored by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, I undertook to take account of the views expressed by noble Lords who participated and who have vast experience of this subject, and I have tried to do so in a way which, I hope, will be acceptable to your Lordships. Over the years my department has undertaken consultations with a wide range of salmon interests, and I have, of course, also taken account of their views in this Bill.
The Bill has three main objectives. First, it seeks to modernise and improve the administrative arrangements. At present, the management of salmon stocks is the responsibility of district boards, which are comprised of an equal number of upper (that is, rod) 992 proprietors and lower (or netting) proprietors, with the person owning the fishery with the highest rateable value as chairman. There is provision in the statutes for 108 salmon fishery districts but boards are currently in existence in only about half of them, including all of the main rivers. We are proposing to modernise, and in a sense democratise, the arrangements for administration by providing for the chairman to be elected and for the co-option of representatives of anglers and tenant netsmen, who have a significant interest in the proper management of the fisheries. Because of their substantial financial investment, we felt it necessary to provide for a constitution which gives proprietors a majority of the votes and in some matters sole voting rights. The existing arrangements for the election of proprietors by weighted voting have been retained and updated. The Bill also provides for the amalgamation of districts, where the proprietors consider this necessary to create a more viable management unit.
Second, we have sought to introduce a greater degree of flexibility into the arrangements for the regulation of salmon fishing. It is proposed that certain changes which at present require primary legislation may in future be effected by statutory instrument, subject to parliamentary approval where appropriate. This will allow proprietors and the Secretary of State to react more quickly to changing circumstances.
Third, we have included further measures to combat poaching. As your Lordships know, there has been much discussion over the past year about the possibility of introducing a salmon tagging scheme similar to the one in operation in New Brunswick in Canada. For the reasons given to the House on 7th November by my noble friend Lord Swinton, we concluded that, while tagging had certain attractions, it presented too many difficulties for it to be introduced in this country. However, we also considered further the possibility of having a system of dealer licensing and decided that this would be worthwhile in Scotland, even though the circumstances in England and Wales make it inappropriate there. We have therefore made provision for the possibility of a dealer licensing scheme being introduced in Scotland by an order under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982.
There is another anti-poaching measure to which I would draw your Lordships' attention: that is the provision which makes it an offence to be in possession of salmon, believing or having reasonable grounds for suspecting that it has been taken illegally. Your Lordships will have noted that, though the Bill is designed essentially to deal with Scottish salmon matters, a similar anti-poaching measure is included for England and Wales. These measures are intended to fill gaps in the legislation both north and south of the Border, and we felt it necessary to take the opportunity of this Bill to rectify the position through-out Great Britain.
I need hardly tell your Lordships that poaching is no longer simply a "one for the pot" activity. It is carried out on a large and commercial scale and, unfortunately, there is a ready market for fish taken in this way. The provisions in this Bill will allow us to take action against those who provide the outlet for 993 poached salmon and will, I am sure, have a significant effect on the level of poaching by making it more difficult to dispose of illegally-caught fish.
I think it would assist the House if I were to deal briefly with the specific provisions of this Bill, which is in four Parts and has five schedules. Clause 1 redefines a district for the purpose of salmon legislation and rectifies an anomaly by providing that a district shall include not only the major rivers flowing into the sea between the existing coastal limits of the district but also all other rivers that do so. Regulatory provisions are applied to minor rivers as they presently apply to the major river in any district. This clause provides for the replacement of existing districts, but in such a way as to avoid upheaval or confusion, in that the existing coastal limits and existing names are retained. Power is taken in subsection (2), when read with Clause 2, to amalgamate districts in the interests of efficient management. In subsection (4) there is a similar procedure for making minor adjustments to district boundaries.
Clause 2 provides for the making of a "designation order" to abolish salmon fishery districts and create new districts. This power may be used, for instance, where the extent of existing districts is considered inconvenient, or, as I have said, to enable districts to amalgamate. The procedure to be followed prior to the making of a designation order is set out in Schedule 1; and the provisions for consultation, publication and the receipt of objections are in terms which will be familiar to your Lordships.
Clauses 3 to 9 deal with matters affecting the regulation of salmon fishing. There is provision in Clause 3(2), which deals with technical matters such as the construction and use of cruives and dams and the mesh of nets, and in Clause 3(3), which concerns the duration of the weekly close time, for changes to be made by regulation subject to amendment by resolution of either House, whereas at present any such changes would require primary legislation. This introduces a welcome element of flexibility.
Your Lordships will wish to note that, whereas the annual close time for all districts except the Tweed is currently a fixed period of 168 days, though it may commence on different dates in different districts, Clause 6 of this Bill provides for an annual close time of "a continuous period of not less than 168 days". As at present, provision is made for angling to take place after the start and before the end of the annual close time. But a district may in future, as a consequence of a designation order under Clause 2, embrace more than one major river, and we thought it prudent to provide that in these circumstances there might be different close times for different rivers within a district. It will be noted that a change in an annual close time may be made only on the application of a district salmon fishery board, or on the application of any two proprietors within a district where no board is in existence, and the procedure as set out in Schedule 1 contains safeguards with regard to publication, notification, etc. Alterations to districts or to estuary limits would likewise depend on an initiative at district board or proprietorial level.
Your Lordships will no doubt give careful attention to Clause 9, which provides that regulations made 994 under Clause 3 will, in general, apply to the Tweed, and retains the present annual close time of 153 days for that river but, as in the case of other rivers, as a minimum period in future.
Clauses 10 to 12 deal with the position of salmon fishery proprietors and their qualifications to vote for and be elected to a district salmon fishery board. The present distinction between upper and lower proprietors is retained, as is the power of a qualified proprietor to appoint a mandatory to act for him. Provision has been made in Clause 11 to meet the unusual position of there being only one proprietor of a salmon fishery in a district and in particular where, following enactment, a sole proprietor ceases to be so because of the inclusion in the district of other rivers and proprietors.
Clauses 13 to 17 deal with the constitution, membership, powers and duties of district salmon fishery boards. I should like to deal briefly with the main points in these clauses. Clause 13, as read with Schedule 2, provides for elections to and the constitution of a district salmon fishery board. Those Members of the House who are familiar with the concept of district boards as presently constituted may wonder why it is necessary for proprietors to form "an association" and elect a committee which will then be the district salmon fishery board. I can assure your Lordships that there is nothing sinister about this. I am advised that this is a sound way to constitute boards with the composition and powers that we seek, and I hope that I shall be able to persuade noble Lords of the need for that provision in this form at later stages in the proceedings.
I would also draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that we propose that, as at present, boards should be voluntary organisations so that they will be created only at the wish of proprietors. The procedure for the calling of meetings of proprietors for the purpose of elections to district boards is set out in Schedule 2. As I indicated earlier, we have retained the existing procedure for weighted voting but have updated the valuation figures which determine whether a proprietor is entitled to multiple votes. Provision is made in the schedule for the co-option of representa-tives of anglers and tenant netsmen equal to the number of elected proprietors. As the chairman, who is to be separately elected, will always be a proprietor, the proprietorial interests will be in the majority. It will be noted that, in Clause 16(3)(c), co-opted members will not be allowed to vote on matters relating to the co-option or removal of members, or on the levying of fishery assessments.
I have already referred to the intention to provide for a salmon dealer licensing scheme. This is covered in Clause 19. It is intended that district and islands councils should be the licensing authorities for this provision. At an earlier stage in our consultations the idea of a dealer licensing scheme was welcomed in principle by CoSLA and the Association of Chief Constables. My officials expect to enter into further consultation at an early date with these and other bodies.
Clauses 20 to 27 deal with offences and introduce new penalties. I have already mentioned the new offence of being in possession of salmon, believing or having reasonable grounds for suspecting that it has 995 been unlawfully taken, killed or landed. Clause 20 provides the Scottish offence and Clause 26 the offence as it will apply in England and Wales. Although worded slightly differently in places, the effect of the clauses will be essentially the same, and provision is made so that prosecution may take place regardless of which side of the border the original offence took place. It will be a defence to show that no relevant offence had been committed in the taking, catching or killing of the salmon in question.
Clause 21 is a useful provision which will enable a court to find an accused guilty of any one of the specified alternative offences if satisfied that the accused did not commit the offence charged but committed the alternative offence.
Clause 22 is an important new provision which provides exemption from certain offences where a person has the permission of the Secretary of State. It will be noted that the Secretary of State may give his consent only where all affected proprietors in a salmon fishery district have also consented. The provision will, for instance, allow otherwise illegal methods of fishing to be used in individual cases and could in appropriate circumstances benefit projects for commercial harvesting of salmon or other developments in salmon fishing.
Clause 23 extends the scope of available exemptions for acts done for scientific purposes or for the purpose of protecting or improving salmon stocks.
In the course of my remarks I have dealt with Schedules 1 and 2. I should also refer briefly to Schedules 3 and 4. Schedule 3 is a necessary provision to allow existing district boards to continue in operation in their present form for a period of up to three years if the proprietors so wish. Boards can of course reconstitute themselves in terms of the provisions of the Bill within this period if they so wish. Paragraph 6 of Schedule 4 will remove some of the restrictions which currently apply to the publication of salmon statistics.
I am conscious that I have spoken for some time and in a fair amount of detail. I hope, however, that what I have said has been useful in describing the philosophy behind the Bill and the translation of this into a legal framework. I am aware of the keen interest in the Bill in this House and elsewhere, and I look forward to a well-informed debate this afternoon.
I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Gray of Contin.)
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, as I am sure the whole House will be, for introducing the Bill and explaining some of its clauses and their effect. We have a long list of speakers, and I hope that I shall not delay the House too long. I wish to deal with only one or two points, and no doubt we shall be dealing with them in much greater detail if at the end of the evening the Bill is given a Second Reading and goes into Committee.
The Bill contains some useful provisions. It will modernise the law and it will become possible for the 996 Secretary of State to legislate by order instead of having to resort to primary legislation which takes a great deal of time. Nevertheless, the Bill is fundamentally a defence and entrenchment of the right of proprietors and therefore largely of private interests, with little to say about meaningful, long-term conservation. The Minister will probably maintain that conservation measures will automatically follow from the possibilities that the Bill offers for good river management through the new district boards. But, as is pointed out by many people in newspaper correspondence and in other submissions, there are no provisions, such as quotas on the take of salmon, to ensure proper survival of wild salmon.
Compared with other European countries, Britain is fortunate, and Scotland doubly fortunate, as we have healthier salmon rivers. I do not know whether that has to do with our husbandry or with our geography and lack of pollution—pollution which other European countries claim that we may be responsible for. But though we have that advantage, we are much less concerned than the Americans and Canadians with conserving salmon stocks. I gather from the reading that I have done recently that the Americans and Canadians, because of the good work they are doing, feel better able to ask the Greenland and Faroes fishermen to control their fishing.
The Minister may be able to tell us about the progress being made following the statement by the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in the other place on 7th November. He explained the problems of north-east net fishing and said that there would be discussions with the Northumberland and Yorkshire water authorities on the curtailment of net fishing. Reading the last debate on salmon in this House, this seemed to be one of the main points that was worrying most people. I should like to know—the Minister may be able to tell us—whether firm agreement has been reached with those water authorities and with the net fishermen as to numbers and whether deputies will be allowed to fish without the presence of the licence holder himself.
I should like briefly to deal with the question of tagging. The Minister and his department must be aware of the dissatisfaction among many people over the fact that there is no tagging scheme involved in the Bill. I read very carefully the statement made by the Minister of State in another place. His argument seemed reasonable to me, but I fear, from what I have read and from the correspondence I have received, that there is no great confidence among those connected with the salmon industry as to dealer licensing that is to be introduced in Scotland. There is a great deal of unease—specifically because it is not going to be introduced in England—over whether it can be successful.
It is, I am sure, true, as we are told, that poaching has gone way beyond the matter of "one for the pot". There is a sort of benign notion nowadays about "one for the pot" that never existed previously. As the Minister, coming from that area, will know, it was always severely punished. But now that a much more menacing style of poaching takes place, we speak lightly of the past as if those were the good old days—the time when the local poacher was simply 997 getting one for the pot. I am told that well-organised groups from the big cities of Scotland and the north of England descend on Scottish rivers and that they use various methods of mass fishing, some of them very cruel and some of them very dangerous. Sometimes, I am told, these gangs can be violent, and they cause problems and a great deal of fear in the countryside. If the Bill can do anything to prevent this happening, it would obviously be a great advantage.
We should, I believe, be examining the Canadian experience, although I am aware that it is considerably different. There, particularly in New Brunswick, a tagging scheme is operated. I understand too that in British Columbia a large proportion of the population is involved. The federal government have spent a great deal of money on it. This is a point that I should like the Minister to explain. The Bill contains no financial resolution. It is, however, stated in the explanatory and financial memorandum that there will be no notable expense either to local authorities or to central government. What puzzles me, reading the previous debate, is that both the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, and my noble friend Lord Ross of Marnock made the point that in the last Bill there was no financial provision. And while parliamentary time was an important reason for the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, not getting his Bill, the fact that there was no financial provision also affected his chances of getting the Bill through.
One has to consider that the noble Viscount's Bill was much less complicated than the Bill now before the House. Yet the point was raised that it would need some financial provision as costs would be involved. I am puzzled therefore that there is no cost—or very minimal cost—involved in the present Bill. In America and Canada, the governments took the matter very seriously. In British Columbia it is obviously of vital importance. But, there, large numbers of people have become active in the whole conservancy programme.
Of course, conditions are not similar. However, it seems to me that if there is a will, a way could be found to create a better system than that offered in the Bill for encouraging the conservation of salmon. The least that we should accept is some sort of control in England, such as dealer licensing, as we have in Scotland. Again, the conditions are different. But, as pointed out endlessly, there is game licensing in England. Why it cannot be extended to salmon licensing is beyond me. Well-organised, illegal groups, with good transport, within a few hours of leaving a Scottish river bank, can be in the Midlands or even further south. It is therefore clear that something a little stronger will be needed if the Bill, as it purports to do, is to stop that.
I was interested to hear the Minister suggest that the Bill includes a system of democratisation of the new district fishery boards. The boards will include a chairman, who will be one of the proprietors, and three proprietors from the upper reaches and three proprietors from the lower reaches, who may have more than one vote each. There may be quite a number of votes involved. The other people, the users of the river, will be co-opted. They will, however, be co-opted only from a very narrow group and only on the basis of the decision of the district fisheries board. 998 The Bill specifically states that should there be need for replacement of a co-opted member, the other co-opted members will have no say in whether they should be involved in the election. They will not be involved in the election of even the selection of new co-opted members. I find this difficult to equate with any democratic control of the river.
One solution, it has been suggested, is that other people with an interest in the salmon of Scotland—anglers, tenants, netsmen, tourists and the hotel interests—should be able to nominate to the Secretary of State names from which he could choose representatives to sit on the district fisheries hoard much in the same way as he does at present in respect of river conservation boards. This would certainly widen the scope of interest and make the public that much more aware of the fact that salmon is a vitally important fish to the Scottish economy.
Lastly, I should like to ask the Minister about the role of the water bailiffs in Scotland. I notice that the Bill continues to provide under subsection (1) (f) of Clause 19 that water baliffs shall have very extensive powers, equivalent to those of a police constable, to enter premises in looking for illicitly obtained or illicitly caught salmon. The Minister, who comes from the Highlands of Scotland, will be better able than I am to say whether he really believes that there is general acceptance of these great powers given to the water bailiffs. It is a matter which has been raised specificially by a number of people with me. When one considers that the water bailiffs have the same powers of entry without warrant as the police have one has also to consider that a police constable not only undergoes a long training but also has a supporting structure around him to make him aware of the importance of what he is likely to be doing if he enters premises without a warrant or imposes himself without due consideration upon people. This makes one realise that water bailiffs should have much greater training than they normally have. I am sure that most of them will be thorough countrymen who will know their way and will be very responsible people.
With powers such as these which are based on the Act of 1951—which is 35 years ago; a long time now—can the Minister tell us what qualifications are required to become a water bailiff? I have been told that if the state merely submits a name to the clerk of the river authority, in most cases with practically no questioning at all the bailiff will get the appointment. Will the Minister tell me whether any approval from the Secretary of State is required for such an appointment? Must the Secretary of State approve the appointment? If so, has he ever refused such an appointment?
I have perhaps spoken longer than I intended, but I hope that while we are debating the Bill I shall gain a great deal more knowledge than I was able to obtain even in the last two or three weeks of reading up on background information. I am sure that the House will be interested in the response of the Minister tonight to what I am certain will be a well-informed debate; and that many points which will be raised tonight will be able to be followed through at Committee stage. I believe that the Committee stage is in a fortnight's time. I hope that at Committee stage we shall be able 999 to improve the Bill, which is not quite so good as the Minister tried to suggest when he introduced it.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Viscount Thurso
My Lords, I took the opportunity of an early bite at the cherry in this matter by raising the subject in the debate on the gracious Speech from the Throne. I shall therefore try to be as short and as quick as possible tonight and try not to go over old ground. In this connection I shall not go through my various interests in salmon. I am sure that your Lordships are well aware of them. However, I welcome this Bill; but, as I forwarned the noble Lord the Minister when I took my early bite, he will not get through without some criticism from me. I welcome its three principles: the principle of modernisation, the principle of flexibility and the principle of conservation or protection.
Let us take the last of those first, because it is in many ways the easiest one to deal with. I personally welcome the new move towards dealer licensing. I have never been an advocate of tagging. I have always been one of those who entertain considerable doubt as to whether tagging would be a workable and effective means of doing away with poaching. My own feeling is that it is at the point of dealing that the real control could and should be exercised. This has been found to be the case with other forms of wild game, in particular with feathered game and with deer. In this connection I welcome the creation of the new offences: the possession of illegally taken fish and, in England and Wales, the kindred offence of handling salmon in suspicious circumstances—a phrase which has a lovely ring to it.
I wonder why the question of selling fish to smokers has not been looked at more closely. Will they be dealers, or will they not be counted as dealers? I am not sure what the Government's attitude is on this. But my real criticism in this section of the Bill is: why no licensed dealers in England and Wales? If one is going to allow this Bill to go into England and Wales and create new offences I can see no reason on earth why it should not also go into England and Wales and create the means of preventing those offences from taking place.
When it comes to the question of venison dealer licensing, the law in England—which follows that of Scotland—is much fiercer. The Deer Act 1980 includes much fiercer provisions for the licensing of dealers in venison in England than do the similar provisions in the Deer (Scotland) Acts. I am quite certain that as this debate goes on in your Lordships' House this evening you will hear from all corners of the House noble Lords asking for dealer licensing to take place in England. I am quite certain that one will hear this from English Lords. I am quite certain that your Lordships would get wide support from all people connected with salmon angling on both sides of the Border if you were to go for some form of dealer licensing in England as well as in Scotland. I therefore hope that the noble Lord the Minister will be able to think about this in greater depth between now and later stages of the Bill and may be able to give some satisfaction to those of us who, I am sure, will be asking for an extension of dealer licensing.
1000 I welcome the powers which are being given to the Secretary of State to regulate the meshes, materials and dimensions of nets. I know what we all think this will mean, but unfortunately there is nothing that guarantees that meaning. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, will take an opportunity at the end of this debate to lift the curtain slightly to give us an idea of how the Secretary of State plans to use these powers. For example, will monofilament leaders be banned? Will the setting of a net from the shore be banned, as well as from a boat, as it now is, and so on? I think that we should all be very grateful for some information on how he is looking at the use of these powers which he is seeking in the Bill.
It is a pity not to take this opportunity positively to describe the permitted fishing method. During the course of my ill-fated little Bill some very interesting amendments came forward from the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, who suggested a description of exactly how nets should be fished. I think that it would be an opportunity to consider whether a precise description of how nets should be fished might not be a more positive way of dealing with the matter of netting than merely banning the abuses of nets as these abuses crop up from time to time.
Of course, in the context of uses of nets and banning of different forms of materials and meshes, the biggest problem of all has been left out completely; that is the English drift net fishery. I shall not say too much about this myself because I know that almost every other noble Lord present in your Lordships' House will refer to this. Why can we not have the courage to say in this Bill that this will ultimately be done away with? Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Gray, will explain this. Whether or not that is to our satisfaction remains to be seen.
I welcome the attempt to modernise the structure of the industry but I feel that this is rather a half-hearted attempt. To me, what the noble Lord has done is to set up a chemical process and leave out the catalyst. Where has the noble Lord shown us the incentive to restructure district boards? Where is, perhaps, the pressure to reconstruct district boards? From where is the money to make it work going to come?
I remind the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, that in the 1971 White Paper on this subject, published by the then Conservative Government a commitment was made to provide finance for the reorganisation of district boards. The White Paper said:The Government consider that the objective should be to make the Area Boards self-supporting".However, it went on to say:Exchequer grants will be made available to the Boards to help them to become established. It is proposed that the total amount of the grants should be £100,000 in each of the first two years of their existence and £75,000 in the third year".Therefore the total amount being set aside for the setting up of new boards was £275,000 at that time. If we apply the normal figures of calculation, it means that in real terms today it would amount to a sum of about £1,300,000. To be more precise, it would be £1,280,000 or £1,290,000.
Why is nothing available today? Has not the Secretary of State considered the possibility of EC money being available? It is apparently available for 1001 establishing infrastructure in other fishery connections. I do not know whether the noble Lord noticed in Saturday's edition of the Scotsman a reference to 20 Scottish projects which were to receive EC cash. More than £8 million has been awarded to British projects under the so-called European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund. The aim of the EAGGF is to help improve farm and fishing efficiency and infrastructure. Some of the projects which are being helped under the scheme are fish processing facilities which are to be modernised. At Aberdeen there are three projects; at Peterhead there are three projects. There are also projects at Mintlaw and Boddam, which are both near Peterhead; Fraserburgh, Kirkwall, Mid Yell, Buckie, Bridekirk and Bellshill. Fish chilling and freezing facilities are to be provided at Kirkcudbright. Those things can be done for other parts of the fishing industry. After all, the salmon industry provides not only sport but also considerable quantities of fish for human consumption. We ought to consider whether the EC could not contribute to the process. I should like the noble Lord, Lord Gray, to take that point back and to think about it.
I welcome the enabling powers to amalgamate and to alter district fishery board boundaries. However, in what circumstances is that likely to take place without some form of catalyst to make it worthwhile? Those district boards which are working quite happily at the moment may not be willing to take on their neighbouring lame ducks. There is nothing to make them or to encourage them to do so. That is a considerable weakness in the approach which the Bill takes to the problem.
I welcome the introduction of the elective principle for deciding the chairmanship. However, would it not be better to do this after the representatives of the qualified proprietors have been chosen? Why start off by choosing the chairman? Surely it would be better for the upper proprietors to meet and to appoint their representatives; for the lower proprietors to meet and to appoint their representatives; and then for the board as such—or the committee or whatever it is to be called—to meet and to look around the table and then choose the chairman. It seems to me that that would be better than choosing the chairman to start with and then going on to elect the other members. That is what is normally done. It would not create a vacancy. The chairman would merely have a casting vote.
It is also wrong that the angling and tenant netting representatives should be co-opted. I believe that it would be possible for them to be elected. I do not know whether there will be sufficient flexibility in the provisions which the Bill enacts, but if there were I would be prepared to run an experiment on the Thurso whereby the actual election of the anglers could take place and demonstrate to the Secretary of State that this is a method which is feasible to use. However, I certainly hope to have an opportunity to talk to the noble Lord, Lord Gray, about the matter and to talk also to some of his advisers, because in my view it is a pity not to add the elective principle to the selection of the angling and tenant netting representatives.
There are a number of specific points about the Bill which I should like to raise with the Minister. Some of 1002 them are quite small but equally well they are important. In Part I, Clause 1, what type of miles will be used to describe the limit of the fishery? Will they be statute miles, nautical miles or the international nautical mile of 1,852 metres? Perhaps the noble Lord would like to tell us at the end of the debate.
In Clause 3 the Secretary of State is enjoined to consult:such persons as he considers appropriate".I should prefer to see district boards written into the Bill, and the Act as it will be, as persons to be consulted in any case. Under Clause 3 the passage of salmon is to be ensured. However, what about the downward passage of smolts? The upward passage has been allowed for whenever dams are being constructed or altered. However, what about the smolts running down and going into mill lades? It is a fact, I think, that unscrupulous persons are syphoning off wild-reared smolts when they go into mill lades and are using them for commercial purposes. That is clearly wrong. There ought to be some type of provision in the Bill to safeguard the progress of smolts to the sea, because the smolts are the future generation; they are the one thing which we really can conserve. Once a smolt has gone to the sea there is not a great deal that one can do about it. However, it is important to get the maximum number of smolts down the river and out to sea. I should like to see protection for the smolts built into the Bill.
Also in Clause 3, no role appears to have been given to district boards in relation to gravel removal, water abstraction or land development. I am sure that that is wrong. I am sure that the boards ought to have a role in those connections. A very important omission which I have noticed in the Bill is that there is nothing to control the introduction of fish into rivers by anybody. Let alone the district boards, any proprietor or any crank who wished to do so could put fish into the river without let or hindrance, so far as I can see. No doubt the noble Lord will remember that it was at one time found necessary to pass a Bill preventing fish being imported and introduced into Scottish waters. However, it would be perfectly possible to take undesirable fish such as, for example, pike, and to move them from Scottish waters to Scottish waters. There is no power that I can see that has been given to district boards to prevent that happening.
I should also like to see some powers to regulate the types of lure which may be used. This is done voluntarily by a number of rivers and is an effective kind of conservation measure. If we are going to control the way in which fish are fished for in the sea and by net, we ought to also be willing to control the way they are fished for by legal lure and so forth.
There is an important point which relates to who is, or who is not, a proprietor. Can the noble Lord tell us what will be the status of time-share owners? Will they be proprietors? They will consider themselves to be proprietors, and it seems to me that one might conceivably have some 40 proprietors on one stretch of fishery. Should the fishery itself be the point at which the proprietor is defined, or is it going to be whether the person pays the rates? How is the timeshare owner going to be defined? It is a point which ought at this stage to be clarified, because time-share is 1003 very much an up and coming method of obtaining your fishing.
I have one final, small point. Why should an official of an angling association be debarred from co-option as an angling representative? For somebody to be chosen to be an official of an angling association, he must have shown himself to be a worthy and knowledgeable angler; and who better to be co-opted to represent angling interests? I do not see why he should be debarred from election to a board if he is thought to be the most representative person available.
To sum up, I give a general but guarded welcome to this Bill. It has many flaws, but I hope that the Minister will come to the Committee stage with an open mind and realise that those of us who are criticising the Bill, and will be criticising the Bill this evening, will be doing so in an attempt to see the Bill passed and to see the Bill improved by such criticism as we shall make. I beg him, when it comes to later debate on this measure, to retain an open mind and take a real sense of what people are trying to do to improve the measure, which we are glad to see before your Lordships' House.
I shall certainly do everything that I can to help improve the Bill and to help it get through. It may be a somewhat disappointing measure to me as representing a quarter of a century of hard work by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries in Scotland, but I am always one to be grateful for small mercies, and the small mercy for which I am grateful tonight is that the Bill is here before us at all.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Lord Biddulph
My Lords, several noble Lords and good friends of mine have accused me of remaining silent for too long. Over the years I have listened to the great knowledge that your Lordships have on the vast and varied range of matters debated in this House, and to the eloquence with which your Lordships deliver your speeches.
Because the future welfare of the Atlantic salmon has been of great concern to me in recent years, I have decided to break my silence today. It is a great privilege to be a Member of your Lordships' House, and I beg your Lordships' indulgence and trust that you will not consider anything that I say as being too controversial. A speech is rather like a baby. It is very easy to conceive, but extremely difficult to deliver.
As a salmon angler I have been most fortunate. Over the years I have fished most of the major salmon rivers of the United Kingdom, and some rivers in Ireland and Iceland as well. Through my personal involvement in the management of the River Tweed as a Tweed Commissioner, and the River Grimersta on the Isle of Lewis as a syndicate member, I have become fully aware of the many problems that can arise.
Many representations have been made to the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries by each and every body whose interests are the management of our rivers, and the enhancement of our salmon stocks, since the noble Lord, Lord Hunter, published the final findings and recommendations of 1004 his committee in 1965. Through my membership of the Salmon and Trout Association and their Scottish committee at that time, I gave evidence before the noble Lord's committee. It is gratifying to see so many of the recommendations of this report contained in this Bill.
I welcome this Bill. In the main the population dynamics of Atlantic salmon and the powerhouse in the United Kingdom is Scotland. It is generally accepted that English and Welsh salmon resources are satellites to those north of the Border, and unless the health of our Scottish salmon fisheries is maintained all British salmon fishing will become doomed and there is a good chance that salmon will be put into jeopardy everywhere. That is why it is so gratifying to see Scotland taking the lead in putting its own house in order.
Since 1967 there has been a dramatic decline in world catches of Atlantic salmon. In 1967 the world catch was some 10,400 metric tonnes and in 1984 5,600 metric tonnes. This decline has been due to a number of causes. I will mention a few of them. Increased effort and more efficient methods employed by netsmen, including the North-East of England drift-net fisheries. The interception of one nation's salmon by another nation in the sea during the migration of salmon to their home rivers; illegal and legal drift netting; water abstraction and pollution; the erosion of spawning redds caused mainly by upland forestry and drainage; increased poaching by organised gangs of poachers who will stop at nothing, including violence and intimidation, to achieve their ill-gotten gains; and an increase in predation by seals, mergansers, goosanders, etc., on salmon and salmonids in our estuaries and rivers.
It is also of paramount importance that we continue to negotiate further reductions in the Greenland and Faroese commercial fisheries. With respect to these two fisheries our efforts nationally and internationally have achieved much success. For example, the 1973 Greenland quota was 1,191 tonnes and 1985 852 tonnes. Because of this Bill our efforts to conserve salmon on an international basis will be made that much easier.
Article 9 of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation Treaty provides, in part, if I may quote:A commission shall take into account the efforts of states of origin to implement and enforce measures for the conservation, restoration and enhancement and rational management of salmon stocks in their rivers and areas of fisheries jurisdiction".The provision in this Bill to update and reorganise the Scottish District Salmon Fisheries Boards will go a long way to meeting the objectives of Article 9 of this Treaty. The Atlantic salmon is an extremely valuable natural resource to the national and local economies of the United Kingdom, and we owe it to future generations of anglers and netsmen to maintain the good quality of our salmon rivers and the stocks of salmon therein. We will not be lightly forgiven if we fail in this objective.
A word concerning the provisions in the Bill which relate to Clause 6, the "Annual close time". As I understand it, the significance is in the words "not less than". This could be beneficial for example if the Minister were to use it to increase the close times, 1005 particularly for nets. An omission—and it may not be from this clause, but the Bill generally—is that it does not seem that there is any provision for imposing close times other than on an annual basis. I can think of a number of occasions, periods of drought being the most obvious, when it would be desirable to impose limitations particularly on netting effort. However, the provisions in Clause 6 are significant and welcome.
Salmon have always been vulnerable to small-scale poaching, but today the threat imposed by illegal netting is of a totally different magnitude and must be curbed. One of the main weapons in the poacher's armoury is the monofilament gill net. I trust that it will not be presumptuous of me if I make a request that under Clause 3 of this Bill, which gives the Minister power to make regulations, he will finally outlaw the use of these nets as a method of taking salmon.
The provisions in Clause 19 are most welcome. The licensing of dealers in salmon has been the subject of much controversy over the years and, coupled with the provisions in Clause 20 relating to the possession of salmon, should go a long way to preventing the taking and sale of illegally caught salmon. Would it be too much to hope that one day a system of tagging might be introduced which would be complementary to both these clauses? Referring briefly to the Tweed, may I suggest that the licensing of dealers should extend to the whole of the region including those parts that lie in England including, of course, Berwick-upon-Tweed, and that one day a dealer licensing system might be introduced on a national basis as a whole.
In fair weather and in foul I have waded the salmon rivers of Scotland in search of this the most magnificent of all fish. In 1843 a certain gentleman by the name of William Scrope wrote a book, entitled Days and Nights of Salmon Fishing, in which he gives advice to anglers as follows:As you are likely not to take a just estimate of the cold in the excitement of the sport, and should you be of a delicate temperament and be wading in the month of February when it may chance to freeze very hard, pull down your stockings and examine your legs, should they be black or even purple it might perhaps be as well to get onto dry land, but if they be only rubicund you may continue to enjoy the water if it so pleases you".My Lords, due to the advent of thermal underwear there are a great many more anglers about today enjoying the rigours of fishing for salmon. We must look after the interests of these anglers, but above all we must make sure that we provide salmon for them to catch.
Anglers and conservationists, nationally and internationally, and those responsible for the management of our rivers and the enhancement of our salmon stocks will welcome this Bill as a great step forward. The noble Lord the Minister requests that noble Lords should support this Bill. On behalf of myself and my fellow anglers and Salmo salar, the Atlantic salmon, I agree with this sentiment and I trust that this Bill will soon become law, either as it stands or after suitable amendment.
§ 6.4 p.m.
Lord Home of the Hirsel
My Lords, it is a particular pleasure for me to follow my noble friend Lord Biddulph. We are neighbours on the same river, the Tweed. Luckily for me, I am downstream of him, 1006 because he is a most skilful fisherman. It will be apparent to your Lordships today that he has made a considerable study of the habits of the Atlantic salmon. His advice to us in the Committee stage of this Bill will obviously be very acceptable and we hope that on this subject and on many others he will talk to this House many times in future.
For a long time those of us who know Scotland's rivers in particular have been worried by the decline in the numbers of Atlantic salmon returning to those rivers to breed. It is a reduction which in my observation has been particularly marked in the run of spring fish. Should that trend continue, serious harm would result to Scotland's rural economy because salmon fishing, and particularly the spring salmon fishing, brings in a substantial income to the people of the countryside all over Scotland, not only because the people who rent fishing bring trade and, incidentally, bring dollars, but because of the rateable value of the Scottish salmon fishing, which is of great importance to the local authorities.
Much of the decline has rightly been attributed to the heavy netting of salmon in the feeding grounds off the shores of Greenland and the Faroe Islands. There, very late in the day (but better late than never) it has been possible to arrange ceilings for the net catches. I would add only one statistic to those given by my noble friend. Perhaps the measure of the decline in the numbers of salmon all over is reflected in the fact that although the ceilings allotted to the Greenlanders are comparatively modest they have not been able to reach them in the past two years: so there is a big inroad into the stocks of salmon as we once knew them.
Here in the United Kingdom, it has never been possible until now to persuade the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that action was necessary and urgent in two respects. The first is to reduce the impact of poaching in the rivers, which a number of noble Lords have already mentioned. It has reached the scale of a menace. It is true, as the noble Lord. Lord Carmichael, suggested, that now poaching is by gangs. They come to make a massive kill, they make a quick getaway and they are extremely difficult to catch. The measures in this Bill are welcome in that respect.
Secondly, we must modify, with a view ultimately to abolishing, the drift netting off the north-east coast of England which takes far too high a toll of the salmon making for the Scottish rivers. Last year it was calculated that the admitted catches in the drift nets off the English coast totalled 77,000. I think one can safely double that, and anything between 150,000 and 200,000 fish a year is too many by far.
This Bill, plus the regulations and the by-laws which are promised on drift netting, should have a significant—the word used by the Minister was "useful"—effect. It is clearly not in order to discuss in detail in this debate the regulations on drift netting which are to come. But as their content is bound to affect our judgment on the Bill perhaps my noble friend can confirm that it is still the intention to use powers—this point, again, was made by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael—to reduce the hours of night fishing, to establish strict close times and to insist that when a boat goes to fish the owner must be on hoard that boat. If those conditions are to be included in the 1007 by-laws to come on drift netting then this Bill plus those regulations will be well worthwhile.
On poaching, we are no longer dealing, as has been said, with the individual who takes a salmon for the pot, but the gangs that now come to the Scottish rivers with every kind of device for catching fish are very often violent. This must be brought to an end. The clauses which deal with the licensing of dealers and the new rights of search for water bailiffs and, in particular, the onus placed on individuals in possession of a salmon, in the words of the clause, to show that no relevant offence has been involved in acquiring it, are all valuable provisions of the Bill. Like the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, I myself cannot see why the licensing of dealers should not be applied in England. I hope that my noble friend will pay attention to that point of view which has been expressed by the noble Viscount and I guess will be expressed by quite a number of your Lordships from now on. It seems to me to be a loophole in the Bill, but I think all the provisions in the Bill will help.
I return for one moment to the importance attached to river and district boards. Good and efficient administration can contribute a lot in many ways to the productivity of a river. My noble friend and I who live on the Tweed can witness to that, because I think that the Tweed commissioners have been over the years a very efficient body and have made a great difference in a number of ways to the numbers of fish in the river. There is one key requisite to success for any river board; that is, that the nets and the rods must reach agreement that to maximise the number of fish running up the river is to their mutual advantage. Unless the rods and the nets come to that conclusion, nothing else will succeed. Too often that has been ignored. I hope that the provisions of this Bill and the help which the boards will be able to get from the Secretary of State will mean improved management of rivers.
I come to another point raised by the noble Viscount. I too think that the European Community ought to be approached for help in this respect, particularly with finance, which some of the river boards will find it difficult to raise. Some Committee points no doubt will arise on this Bill. I hope that there will not be too many, because I want to see this Bill go through if possible in time to have it and the regulations affecting drift netting in operation for the 1986 breeding season. Meanwhile, I would like to say that I think we would not have made even this progress if it had not been for my noble friend Lord Gray of Contin's persistence in arguing, in particular inside his Ministry, the urgent case for protecting Scottish salmon rivers. I am very grateful to him.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Lord Tryon
My Lords, I too, should like to give a cautious welcome to this Bill. After clamouring for some time for salmon legislation, and particularly drawing attention to the poaching menace the last time that salmon were discussed in this House, it would be churlish not to say a warm word of thanks to the Government and to the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, for now bringing these measures forward. But I have to say that, after asking for a loaf of bread. I 1008 think we have got about half of one. I have in the past sometimes complained of only getting crumbs. I think we have done somewhat better than that this time. There is at least half a loaf.
Most of what I have to say tonight will concern the missing half rather than any criticism of what we have in the Bill before us, most of which I regard as admirable. I think I have to declare a small interest. I own a fishery in the South of England where there are one or two salmon but of no great consequence. I have to confess that when I have the opportunity of a holiday I know of no better recreation than salmon fishing; and it is through that that my knowledge of this subject arises.
As has been said by several other noble Lords and was admitted, I think, by the Minister at the beginning, to some extent this Bill with its 31 clauses and five schedules appears to be rather more important at least in its size than it is. Quite a bit of it is re-wording and consolidation of earlier Bills, all of which is to be welcomed and, as we have heard, Schedule 5 repeals five complete Acts and brings back many of their provisions.
I believe as a general criticism that it is a pity that it seems to miss the opportunity of bringing in a national salmon policy. I am sure there are endless good reasons—and we certainly do not want to go into them tonight—for separate legislation for England and Scotland on all sorts of subjects; but I think that salmon requires a rather more national approach than we are getting in this Bill where there are only two clauses applying to England and, as I shall come on to in a moment, not quite enough thought about what goes on over the Border.
I think that to be really effective we are going to have to give more thought to the English end of it. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has arrived in time to hear that and I understand that that will be his part of the Bill. I shall leave comments on the proposed organisation of Scottish district fishery boards to those of your Lordships who have a great fund of first-hand experience of them. We have already heard some remarks; there will be many more to come.
I should like to concentrate for just a minute on some of the other issues which come up from time to time and which crop up as a regular feature of the many submissions on this Bill which I have had from all sorts of organisations. As I have hinted already, I do not believe that the Bill goes far enough to tackle the illegal exploitation of salmon in England and Wales whether caught in Scotland or in England or Wales. Even assuming that the licensed dealers' scheme works in Scotland—and one must hope that it does and wish it well—with an open Border, and even London only a few hours away from Scotland, it is really very hard to say how there is going to be any disincentive for the poachers of Scotland against bringing their fish south; or, to be fair to the Scotsmen (for it is not always the Scots who do the poaching), against the poachers of England going up there and bringing fish back south. I really think—and this has been mentioned by almost all noble Lords—that we must think again about dealer licensing for England.
I remember about three years ago—and I wish that I had kept the cutting—seeing a report in, I think, the 1009 London Evening Standard of a man being arrested for salmon poaching or the illegal possession of salmon in Trafalgar Square. He had made the mistake of stopping to ask a policeman the way to Billingsgate Market and the policeman, noticing that the car was right down on its springs, had asked him to open the boot. Finding it full of a huge number of salmon, and the man hard put to explain how he came by them, he was duly arrested and convicted. These salmon had come from Wales. Indeed, a recent report from the Welsh Water Authority gave their estimate that at least half the fish caught in Wales were caught illegally. So if there is this problem of Welsh salmon finding their way to Billingsgate, I am sure they will come straight from Scotland as well.
On the question of tagging I am somewhat neutral because, I have a great sympathy with the Government in the implementation of this, particularly in respect to the huge numbers of fish that are brought in from Canada and elsewhere. I wish I believed it would work, but I have a nasty suspicion that it is administratively too difficult and would lead to other abuses such as a probable black market in tags. But on the licensing of dealers in England I would ask the Government to think again. If it works for game dealers, why not for salmon as well?
There is a further small point which was raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso. It is becoming quite common for people in Scotland to take fish direct to salmon smokers. There are many of them, excellent ones, all over the country and no doubt the poachers will find their way there too. These people run a wonderful service, sending the fish down to England if one so wishes, and this matter does seem to have been left out of the Bill. Should not the salmon smokers be looked at, because they are not only big buyers but big smokers and transporters of the salmon?
Another small point on the interests of good management in the river systems of Scotland: I have always thought that powers ought to exist—and I am therefore sorry that they have not yet been given to the district fishery boards—to curtail all fishing, whether by rod or net, when extreme conditions of low water occur. It is not something which happens all that often but when it does, as all those who fish know, large quantities of salmon congregate in the estuaries. They are unable to move upstream and a disproportionate toll of them can be taken. Perhaps that point could be looked at.
Like other noble Lords, I fear that there are a great many enabling measures for the Secretary of State. This must be a good thing in that primary legislation on this subject arrives fairly seldom. Again, I too would be interested to know whether, for example, monofilament nets lead us to bag nets and are the kind of thing the Minister of State will move to ban.
Finally, I come to the vexed question of drift netting. I know we are not here tonight to discuss the changes to the licensing which the noble Lord, Lord Home, has just mentioned, but I am afraid I am rather more hawkish than he is. The last news we had on the subject, I think, was the Written Answer given by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, on 7th November, which spoke about tagging at some length and continued: 1010The Government have also completed the review of future arrangements for the English North East Coast salmon drift net fishery … We have concluded that there is no case for terminating the fishery".The Answer then goes on to deal with rules being tightened, and so on. It finishes by saying this:We shall review the effects of the new arrangements after they have been in operation for three years".Someone cynically suggested that the noble Earl might have added, "when there may be no salmon left to worry about". That may be going too far, but really we have had no reasoned argument on this question of drift netting off the North-East coast of England and I really cannot understand why it is such a sacred cow.
I have been trying hard to get somebody to tell me why it should be allowed to continue and why it seems to enjoy the protection that it does. Various reasons are produced: that it is traditional and well controlled, that it forms an important part of the fisherman's livelihood and some revenue for the Northumbrian and Yorkshire river boards. I have answers to all those arguments but I do not want to go into enormous detail tonight. On the "traditional" point, at any rate, there is nothing traditional about the use of monofilament nylon, which was only invented in the 1950s.
Between 1950 and 1959 this drift net fishery off Northumbria and Yorkshire caught only 2,000 fish. Those must have been accidental catches by fishermen fishing for something else and it would be churlish to begrudge them that. But it grew, like Topsy, following the discovery of monofilament nylon and now is the serious threat to Scottish rivers that we have heard about. It seems to involve a remarkably small number of people. The noble Minister may have the figure, but it is just a few hundred fishermen who obtain probably not more than 25 per cent. of their income, if that, from salmon.
It has always been my belief that a salmon caught where it belongs, in the estuary or the river from which it came, is worth a great deal more than a salmon intercepted in this way. Drift netting was urgently banned off Scotland and I expect that we shall hear something more about it from the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, who had a hand in doing so at the time. I really cannot see why it should not stop off England. It is all very well running it down but the fish that are being caught would be far more valuable if allowed to go where they belong. You cannot manage a fishery properly while this interceptory fishery continues. I do not see how the Government can hold up their heads in arguments with the Faroese islanders, Greenlanders, and others, when they are effectively doing the same sort of reaping where they have not sown. I do not blame the Government for doing that themselves but I blame them for allowing the fishermen to do so.
Drift nets are horribly wasteful. Seals take quite a large proportion of the catch and a lot of nets are lost in storms with all the fish in them. They are quite cheap and so the fishermen do not mind that too much, but they damage a great many fish which escape and then can be seen in the rivers with great gashes and cuts on them. Also, a number of seabirds get killed accidentally through becoming entangled in them. Apart from the livelihood of a few people, who I 1011 believe would be replaced by many more if a greater number of fish were allowed to get to where they are supposed to be going, I can think of no reason at all for keeping them. However, I hope the Minister will have some good, strong arguments to counter that for once, because we do seem to be short of the other side of the argument here.
My Lords, let us give this Bill a fair wind but let us also press for answers on the points that have been raised, and, if necessary, let us take this rare opportunity to make improvements to the Bill as we go through the Committee stage. It may be some years before we get another chance to legislate on salmon and, if we do not get it right this time, next time could be too late.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Lord Margadale
My Lords, I should like first humbly to add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Biddulph on his maiden speech. I remember when I made mine it was a most alarming affair, but he did not seem to be the least bit alarmed, and I thank him very much for it.
I am going to be very brief and say just one or two things. I should like first to thank Her Majesty's Government for having brought forward this Bill. I think it has involved a great deal of effort in its working out and I wish it well. At the same time, there are some things that I think might be improved without hurting anybody or anything during the course of the Committee stage. I hope that may possibly be the case.
In this House not so very long ago there was a general debate on fishing, and tagging was one of the questions that were discussed. I took the line that I thought tagging was a very good and desirable thing but I should like to say that I have been into it further. I think that a lot of snags and a lot of problems could arise from it and I have now changed my mind. I wanted to put that right. It is not covered in the Bill.
There is no doubt that net fishing in the sea, particularly on the East coast—not that I know it personally—is one of the major sources of worry and trouble for salmon stocks. They come down from the Arctic regions into the north part of the North Sea—roughly in the middle—and then close in and go up the coast again—from Hull, as I understand it, to the Tweed and other rivers. These points have already been emphasised. I hope that further steps can be taken about the East coast sea nets.
I should like to point out that, out of 31 clauses in the Bill, only two relate to England. I do not know whether or not that is a good thing. It might be thought to be a little hard on England that some other clauses do not affect both countries. I have nothing further to say except that when we get to the Committee stage, when most of the points at the back of my mind will come forward, I feel sure that the noble Lord who is in charge of the Bill will consider them and some of them will be swallowed by the Government.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Lord Kimball
My Lords, I must first declare an interest. I am chairman of a district fishery board and I am also the managing partner of a sweep net 1012 operation, so I have a foot in both camps on the question of salmon fishing. I should also say that over the past two years I have run—I am not certain whether or not it is illegal but it has not presented any problems—a voluntary amalgamation of fishery boards along the north coast of Scotland. We have had no problems about raising the money because provided we do the job efficiently the other proprietors seem to like it and pay a levy which meets the costs of running the whole operation. We have had complete co-operation form the department of the noble Lord, Lord Gray, which has kindly licensed our bailiffs, under the terms of the original Act, to go and work in areas which are contiguous to our watershed. We are lucky in the shape of the watershed. It is somewhat fanlike and gives us a wide area in which we can use our existing bailiffs and resources.
The only thing that really matters in the whole of this problem is the actual number of fish that are on the spawning grounds and on the redds to reproduce themselves. Many of your Lordships realise that you do not nab too many fish on the redds or you will get over-redding and the late running fish digging up the spawn of the early running fish and hence the problem of so many of our rivers getting later and later. I certainly always felt from my experiences on the north coast of Scotland that the demand for legislation was perhaps being overplayed. After all, if one looks at the total statistics published by the department for net-caught fish and rod-and-line caught fish in Scotland itself, one sees that the position is still very healthy. But in November 1984 when we came to do our spawning count there were only one-third of the fish there should have been on the reds. That is the start of a very serious situation. Therefore I welcome the Bill and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Gray for bringing it forward.
There are many points which will be made at the Committee stage but I should like to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Biddulph, for what he said in his excellent maiden speech and to take up one very important point that he did not have time to develop. One of the few matters lacking in the Bill is the giving of any power to the district fishery boards to deal with increased afforestation in the watershed. This is one of the most harmful things happening to our salmon rivers today. The greatest damage is being done by the increase in afforestation in the upland areas. What happens? The Forestry Commission or Fountain Forestry or one of those organisations comes in and starts to plough up the watershed. They plough out the sponge and all the lovely boggy areas that hold the water for the dry times. They plough it up in order to plant their trees but for every yard they plough they expose three yards of sour, acid peat which gets down into the river and depresses the fish, fills the river with muck, makes the fishing impossible and destroys the sponge. Worse still, they put great drains into the burns, and the flash spates not only wash out those burns but, far more dangerous and far more damaging, they wash out the very few really good redds that are in those burns. After all what you need for salmon to reproduce themselves is a nice backwater with some fine gravel and some sand. That is what gets washed out when all these forestry drains suddenly flush down the rivers. It is worth remembering that the run-off of 1013 an inch of rain falling on an acre of heather and bracken is some 88 per cent. The run-off of an inch of rain falling on an acre of 20-year-old coniferous trees which have canopied is only 30 per cent. That is where a lot of the water that is needed for the rivers is going.
I turn to the problem of illegal fishing at sea. We have put our bailiffs to sea. We patrol the coast from beyond Loch Diboll to the Caithness boundary. What is the problem we have found there? It is not salmon being taken by trawlers intercepting the run back to this country. It is the local fisher folk who know perfectly well the particular points around the coast where there are good substantial burns falling into the sea over high cliffs so the fish cannot run up. When the fish are coming round the coast, as they do in concentric circles, trying to find the rivers to which they wish to return, they meet this mixture of fresh water and salt water and they come to the surface thinking that this is somewhere where they can go up. Those are the points about which the local fishermen know and that is where they set their drift nets a half hour before high tide. They set a mile of drift net which is very damaging. Having done that, how do they get rid of their catch? They turn their illegally taken catch into a legal catch by passing it through another member of the fishing community who has managed to get a lease on a stake net station. I can take noble Lords to stake net stations around the coast with great cages. These are not properly set up in the sea, so they do not have a hope of catching a salmon. The leaders are certainly not properly fixed. They may even be fishing their leaders as drift nets. But the point about the stake net station is that it has a boat. It can go out on Monday nights when the fishing fleets are coming around the north coast, can meet them and pick up the drift net-caught fish. It has a boat which can go out on Thursday night and pick up the drift net-caught fish. I can take you to stake net stations that sold more than 4,000 salmon last year when the stake net was not even properly set.
Noble Lords should realise the quantity of hung fish that is now appearing in Billingsgate Market. I went to Billingsgate Market after a late night Sitting in another place because I had been told that there had been a fairly large consignment of fish in the market that morning. Noble Lords will know that there are only about 38 salmon factors in the market. They were very generous. There was only one who would not let me see his boxes open. Two-thirds of the fish in Billingsgate Market on 23rd July three years ago were hung fish. That is the extent of the problem. Those fish were being legally turned into cash.
From the point of view of the sea patrol and the work we certainly do at sea, I should like to pay a special tribute to what has been done by the Department of Agriculture Fishery Protection Squadron. They have done a magnificent job of getting to know the fishery managers and getting to know those of us who are now working to control the illegal netting around the coast. We have had tremendous co-operation from the helicopter and we have had tremendous co-operation from the Royal Navy. I should like also to thank my noble friend Lord Gray for what he had done with the chief officers of police and for the seminars which have been held all around 1014 the North and all around the coast to teach the police officers on the spot exactly what they should look for. One has to be extremely skilled to know that something is not being properly done. It is quite a skilled operation to go and inspect a stake net station on Saturday morning to see whether the leaders have been taken in or not. A great deal of education has been done.
I was sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, felt so strongly that there was still some merit in tagging. I was very pleased to note that the President of the British Field Sports Society, the noble Lord, Lord Margadale, has now changed his mind. I have always thought that tagging was a total waste of time. Every fisherman is an optimist. When fishermen take their fishing, they look at the highest number of catches in a fortnight. They take the largest number of tags. They then catch no fish and leave the tags in their hotel bedrooms. Then the chambermaid, who may be the girlfriend of the local poacher, may put the tags into circulation and, sadly, the scheme could be no good in a very short time. So let us not waste any more time with tagging.
What is encouraging is the mention of dealer licensing. Only this week in Scotland, I was very impressed to be approached by a co-operative of local hoteliers that is being formed to buy salmon legally from the netting stations rather than at the back door. The actual threat of dealer licensing is already making people think seriously about it. I believe that dealer licensing in Scotland will work much better than most people give it credit for.
One of the most disturbing developments in the world of fishing at the moment is the remarks made by the Prime Warden of the Fishmongers Company, who is some relation of the President of the British Field Sports Society, when he started talking about fishing being controlled by quotas. This point was also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael. Let us be absolutely clear about quotas. It is no use getting into an American system of saying to people, "You can catch only five fish in a day". What will happen on the one occasion that we all dream about, when one catches a large number of fish on a single occasion? There is only one kind of quota one can use to control fishing, whether it be by net or by rod and line. It is what is called the effort quota, whereby one limits the amount of effort that is put into fishing at any one point. One can limit the amount of effort that is put into commercial fishing by restricting—as we know my noble friend Lord Gray intends to do—the type of nets that are used.
One can limit also the amount of effort that is put into sportsmen's fishing, by stating quite clearly "You can fish with fly only. Only in high spates can you use spinning". One can also limit the effort by the action that I wish many hoards would take, of taking a very firm line about the depressing problem of gentlemen anglers—sportsmen—actually ripping fish. There is in my opinion a very good case for saying that a very large number of falls should not he fished at all. They cannot be fished properly and people should not be allowed to fish in them. The number of fish that are taken in that way is a very black mark against the sporting community.
1015 I should hate to end on a controversial note but I must say something about the problem of seals. When the salmon fishing in Scotland was good the total grey seal population around the United Kingdom was 24,000. Today it is 84,000, and that is on a count by the Sea Mammal Research Unit from a helicopter. I do not think that is a very impressive way of counting seals. In my own fishery board area, a count of 832 breeding cows done by the bailiffs on foot does not compare very well with a count of just over 300 from a helicopter by the Sea Mammal Research Unit. The seals hear the helicopter coming and dive into the sea or disappear into the caves.
I am not in the business of advocating that we should club baby seals but I am in the business of asking my noble friend to introduce a licence shortly to kill some of the breeding cows before they pup when new breeding colonies are being established and when they are not wanted.
I am confident that this Bill will help us to look after the remaining stock of salmon in this country. It may allow us also to curtail illegal fishing around our shores and ensure the progress of the salmon, once they enter the river. After all, it is a long progression from a small parr to a smolt, to the Arctic and then back again. The last obstacle that is placed before the fish before it reproduces itself is the angler. The anglers are the people who really ought to be looking after the salmon.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
My Lords, as the proprietor of netting rights and of a short stretch of trout river that has hardly any fish in it, and as the wife of a proprietor on the Upper Dee, I, too, must declare interests. The noble Lord. Lord Biddulph, in his excellent and most entertaining maiden speech, has given the House a list of the main threats to salmon fishing in Scotland. The poaching of fish in rivers, particularly by gangs of professional poachers who are skilled at taking salmon by net and poison, and who are often violent, is almost impossible to stop under the present legislation. It really is the only one of the threats that this Bill will deal with at all.
The Bill is well intentioned and is not a bad Bill as far as it goes, but it does not scratch even at the surface of the other threats to Scotland's rapidly diminishing national asset. The threat from the drift net fisheries off the north-east coast of England must be dealt with by the Government. I understand from a Written Answer that the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, gave to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, on 7th November last that they are arranging to do so through the Northumbrian and Yorkshire water authorities. I only hope that the restrictions proposed will be adequate. I am afraid that I doubt it, because drift net fishing will, as I understand it, still be allowed, albeit on a somewhat reduced scale.
Clauses 26 and 27 of this Bill will help, too, but I have reservations about the task of proving what the accused believed or had "reasonable grounds for suspecting." Like the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, and other noble Lords, I cannot understand what circumstances make it inappropriate to have licensing of dealers in England, as we have licensing of game dealers. If we do not, it will be very difficult to make 1016 charges stick south of the Border, and it will be all too easy for illegally-caught fish to cross the Border—and cross it they will.
To return north of the Border, I warmly welcome Clauses 19 and 20 but I should like to see penalties under those clauses extended to include the loss of a catering or trading licence. The main buyers of poached salmon are hoteliers and fishmongers, who buy it cheap and so make bigger profits. A fishing proprietor told me that he has known of large deliveries of poached fish to hotels but has been powerless to act for lack of proof that the fish were poached. Those clauses, particularly with the added threat of the loss of their licence, would place hoteliers and fishmongers in a much more vulnerable position.
Clauses 7, 16 and 17 are very important. In the past, netting interests have had control of river boards and therefore had a power of veto when the subject of estuarial netting has arisen, with disastrous results—or, perhaps I should say, with no results whatsoever.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Tryon, and other noble Lords, I should also like to see in the Bill a power for the district fishery boards to reduce or stop estuarial netting when the water falls below a level at which fish would normally run the river. Under those conditions the fish go in and out on successive tides, and far too many get caught in the nets. Clause 15(1)(a) may be held to cover this point, but I should like to see it put beyond all doubt. With those criticisms, some of which I hope are constructive, I welcome this Bill, which might be quite good with a bit of amending here and there—particularly along the lines suggested by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Viscount Trenchard
My Lords, this is the first time that I have spoken on this subject in this House. For a long while I have tried to maintain the image of being a very full-time industrialist or minister with no time for any recreation. In fact, I have over 50 years fished more than 50 rivers throughout the United Kingdom. Whenever I have been able to get a spare moment, be it at a weekend or during my annual holidays, I have used nearly all of it as a fisherman. I suppose that constitutes an interest. Certainly I am a member of various fishing syndicates that own stretches of water.
Most of my experience has been spent on the smaller rivers. I have fished the great salmon rivers of Scotland but most of my time has been spent on smaller rivers both in the north and east of Scotland and in England—the south-west of England in particular. Perhaps if one fishes small rivers one relies rather more on observation to look at the size of the stock in the rivers which one has fished over 30 or 40 years. I was attributed, while still at school, with having poachers' eyes and the ability to see fish under water.
I want to start my contribution in this Second Reading debate by saying that I believe the stock position of salmon is very much worse than the figures summarised in total by the noble Lord, Lord Biddulph, in an excellent maiden speech. These and many of these statistics on catches in Scotland and in England tend to suggest that if there were a straight correlation with catch figures for either nets or rods 1017 then on average, we might be down to half, which is bad enough, but not much lower. However, I personally believe that in a number of rivers which I know the stock is a bare 10 per cent. of what it was 30 years ago. How can this be? Why do I suggest that there is little correlation, in the long term over 30 years, particularly, between catches by rod and net and the stock of fish? For all the reasons that have been popping their heads up in this debate: namely, that there is really no comparison in the methods of fishing, legal or illegal, today with what they were 30 years ago. The materials and the fishing intensity as far as rods are concerned have changed out of all recognition.
Let me go through some of these points. I can remember 30 years ago watching nets being cast across the Tamar estuary which were made of cord as thick as the cord in tennis nets. In a swollen river or a fast-running tide it was a major physical effort for a boat to cast that net and get it back to the shore before the men were exhausted. Today—and I am not talking about monofilament, which is not used there and not allowed in that context—the thin light braided material can he taken across the river and a sweep can take an hour or an hour-and-a-half gently paddling against the tide. I have watched this happen. The thinness of the netting in what is a coloured estuary, because it is a dirty estuary, makes the net invisible to the fish and far, far more deadly.
If we take the rod fishing situation, I know of rivers where the fishing intensity is many times greater than it was 30 years ago. Again, materials have changed completely. The coming of carbon and of scientific lines—of nylon monofilament when used as spinning lines—of light animated deceptive baits which can be thrown with this modern tackle with the greatest of ease, all add to the deadliness as well as the intensity of rod fishing.
Let me for a moment approach this from the fishes' angle. When there are 50 salmon lying in a pool—and I have counted 50 salmon when wearing my polaroid specs from high banks and against dark backgrounds and when conditions are fairly good—I have seen three or so fish caught out of that pool. As in all of nature, animals learn very fast whether domestic or wild (if wild, even faster) and it becomes quite difficult, until there is a new run of fish and the fish move upstream, to catch more than those three fish. I have seen five fish in the same pool and I have seen three extracted before the others learn. Any stock trout fishery manager will confirm that a week after stocking when, say, one-quarter of the fish that have been put in have been caught, the others become well nigh impossible to catch until he puts in a fresh stock. Very few of them will be caught.
I therefore say to those new and valued scientists who are now making a contribution to salmon conservation in many areas that they really must not assume there is any correlation whatever over the past 30 years with the catch statistics by net and by rod and with the stock of fish which I believe has declined by a far, far greater amount. I believe that the point made by my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel that, in fact, the quotas of the high seas netting interests have not been able to be caught in the past few years is clear proof that this is so. Of course, these new methods 1018 which have changed over 30 years have enabled the high seas netting to start taking a big toll.
These new methods and new materials have enormously increased the danger of poaching. They are all available to illegal netters and cyanide gangs can also operate. With everyone having a car today, which was not the situation 30 years ago, the poacher is in a far stronger position also to take a much larger amount of stock. Last year, on the Tamar estuary, a bailiff of a syndicate in which I am interested, with some help from an undermanned local South-West Water Authority, discovered 13 illegal nets in 17 days on that estuary. An associate of mine asked the local netsmen why they did not do more to prevent this degree of illegal netting. The answer came out which my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel would have expected. It was because violence has now entered the situation and they were afraid. They were afraid particularly that their gear and their boats—I am referring to the legal netsmen—would be destroyed and damaged beyond repair. Therefore, they were not keen to stick out their necks in this area.
This is a deplorable situation and it leads me straight on to ask: what should we do? I welcome the Bill and say to my noble friend that I am pleased with the measures I see in it. But what more do we need in this Bill to deal with the situation? I shall not go over the ground of tagging, which has been dealt with: and I am half persuaded along the lines raised by the noble Lord, Lord Margadale, that, regrettably, that may have insurmountable problems. However, I ask the Minister to consider this. It would be so much better for the Government to table their own amendments than for us to table defective amendments. I ask the Government to let us know, if not tonight in time for the Committee stage, whether they will be tabling amendments to allow the licensing to apply in England and Wales, not only because of the obvious border anomalies and the speed with which fish can be transferred across the Border, but because the excuses for not applying it in England in my view do not hold water.
The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, has already said that game and deer are licensed. Indeed, they are. In the 1831 Game Act, and onwards, pheasants and other game have been sold only by licensed dealers. We certainly need to look at who those licensed dealers should be, and we should include the smokers in it.
Please may we have from the Minister some indication of whether he accepts the near universal opinion on the application of licensing to England? May I ask him—and perhaps it is my inefficient reading of this Bill and the background Bills to which one has to refer—whether the terms which he mentioned of the new crime of "purchasing salmon with reasonable ground for believing that they had been illegally obtained" go as far as we reasonably can go. With individuals of many kinds having the legal right to catch fish, can we not make quite sure that the onus is on the purchaser of the fish to inquire where they have been obtained and to be able to show where they have been obtained, and from whom, to any authorised person, bailiff or policeman, who asks, rather than accepting "A nice gentleman came in and sold them to me"? I do not believe that the present wording of the Bill goes quite that far, and I ask my 1019 noble friend whether we could go just a little further in that respect.
I should like to see more time and more of the budgets of water authorities in England and the district boards in Scotland spent on practical measures to police the new anti-poaching powers which we shall have after this Bill, and to police the pollution which occurs to water quality at the present time and which can be prevented under the present laws of the country. We need more emphasis on practical men and practical measures, with scientists in support, to conserve the salmon adequately with the laws that we either have now or will have when this Bill is passed.
I support those who have suggested that there must be discretionary powers for the Secretary of State or for local boards (which is probably the place where these powers should be) to restrict netting in extreme low water periods. As a sportsman in another context I accept fully, as do all sportsmen, the regulations which come in at short notice to prevent us shooting too many wild ducks, woodcock, snipe and other wild creatures which depend crucially on the environment. I can see no reason why there should not be powers in the appropriate place to make sure that, when salmon are at the total mercy particularly of the netsmen in the estuary, they are not exploited when the water is very low. I should be prepared to see some curtailment of methods of rod fishing at that time, whether it is a ban on worm fishing or spinning of various kinds.
I have taken up too much of your Lordships' time in this debate, which has had many speakers, and I apologise. I end by supporting fully the plea of my noble friend Lord Kimball that we also look intelligently at the vermin situation; that we look at the actual statistics which show not only the quantity of fish that seals can eat but also the numbers of small salmon parr, fry and smolts that cormorants can eat; and that we are a little more lenient in the granting of licences to control these predators at a time when our salmon stocks are very seriously depleted—much more seriously than the statistics of catches over the last 30 years show.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Lord Gibson-Watt
My Lords, I do not think that any of us would agree with my noble friend Lord Trenchard when he apologised for taking too long. Having removed his fishery figleaf which he has been wearing for so long, it is quite clear not only that he has done a great deal of fishing but that he also knows a great deal about fishery matters. That, of course, applies to all the speakers whom we have heard today. I do not think anybody would dare to stand up in this debate and talk about salmon unless they knew a little bit about the subject.
I congratulate the Government on bringing in a Bill at all. Someone said that it was "half a loaf of bread". Well, it is, but it is better than nothing and it appears to me that our Scottish colleagues have gone further than those of us south of the Border have gone. I rather regret that. I wish that the Minister of Agriculture for England and Wales had produced more within this Bill. I am sure that the Bill is a good one. No doubt it will be altered a little before it goes to another place but certainly I shall support it because it concerns the 1020 survival of the salmon species, the greatest sporting fish in fresh water.
The powers of boards and districts in Scotland have been discussed, but of course there has been no reference to the powers of the river authorities in England and Wales. I think that that is one of the problems—and I confess straightaway that I have an interest as I come from the upper part of the Wye, which was once one of the greatest rivers in the country and which is now sadly depleted for various reasons; indeed, I believe that my noble friend Lord Biddulph, who made such a good speech, was born and bred in that area and learned there how to fish before he went to Scotland. It is a difficult problem for river authorities to give full support to the fishery interests among all their other interests, unless they can get enough money for it.
In a declining fishery where catches are small, proprietors, as you call them in Scotland—we call them riparian owners in Wales—though they catch very few fish are still paying very heavy rates. The river authority will say that this is not enough money to sustain a sufficient number of bailiffs, and of course it is a fact that to start with the Welsh river authority had no fishery committee per se. My understanding of the facts is that the committee which deals with fisheries also deals with conservation. But the WRA is doing much more for fisheries nowadays. On the Wye we have a riparian owners association, a fishery owners association, which makes represenations to the river authority, and indeed the river authority listens to us; but I think it is possible to say that in England and Wales, and particularly in Wales where there is no specific fishery committee, the situation is that the riparian owners, people who have a direct interest in the conservation of salmon, do not have such a great voice.
Reference has quite rightly been made to the problem of the north-east coast of England. I would remind your Lordships that there is also the problem of the Irish Channel, over which we do not have so much control. Without twisting the Minister's arm too much, I hope that now and again when he meets his Irish ministerial friends he refers to the fact that we do depend on the Irishmen not taking all the fish as they come down the Irish Channel.
Were we able to increase the number of salmon going up our rivers, it would have a tremendous effect upon the hotel and holiday industry. This is a point which was touched upon by one or two other noble Lords. The number of people, not only those who are employed as ghillies and to look after the rivers but also people who would be employed in hotels, is quite considerable, and the number of tourists who would come not only from this country but from overseas would be far greater. That this applies to areas where there is little employment and little profit from industry is something that we must consider.
Reference has been made by many noble Lords to the problem of gang poaching on the rivers. These are difficult people to catch and I am far too old myself to catch them. But when magistrates dish out severe penalties, it is a little galling if on appeal the case goes to the Crown Court and the judge cuts the penalty by half. I do not know whether there are any judges in 1021 your Lordships' House today, but if there are I hope that they will pass that on. We think absolutely nothing of that way of going on, particularly when, locally, magistrates have to put up with a great deal of criticism. Perhaps that will be read in the Temple tomorrow!
As I said, the tourist potential is of the greatest possible importance. I finish by saying this. It is greatly to the credit of the Government that they have listened to organisations such as the Salmon and Trout Association, of which I was once a member, and the Atlantic Salmon Trust, which does such good work, and there is now a sense that they are on our side and are trying to do something. Like many other noble Lords who have spoken far better than I have, I very much welcome the Bill.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, may I first thank the Government for bringing forward a Salmon Bill and for addressing themselves to the problem of illegal fishing. We should all be grateful to Ministers and officials for the time and effort that they have devoted to the problems of salmon. In particular, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, for all that he has done and is doing.
I welcome the Bill—up to a point. I do not live in Scotland, nor do I have an interest in a Scottish river. I am not, therefore, competent to discuss those provisions of the Bill relating to Scottish district salmon fishery boards. From the outside I would say only that the boards ought surely to be given, as they apparently are not in the Bill at present, power to take prompt and effective action to conserve stocks in the light of local circumstances.
But my main concern, as a fisherman living in Wales and, like the noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt, owning a stretch on the upper Wye, and as a member of the management committee of the Atlantic Salmon Trust, is with the provisions of the Bill affecting the whole of Great Britain. In that wider context I am disappointed at the limited scope and provisions of the Bill. I do not think that there can be any doubting the gravity of the problem or the need for urgent action. The ICES figures quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Biddulph, in his excellent maiden speech show that the world catch has been reduced by 50 per cent. in just 17 years. That is a catastrophic rate of decline, and the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, has suggested that the real rate of decline is much greater. If it continues at anything like that rate there will before long be no Atlantic salmon for us to discuss or to legislate about.
What then should be our objectives? They were admirably defined by the Government in the consultation paper, The Review of Inland and Coastal Fisheries in England and Wales, issued by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Welsh Office in 1981. That document said that we should aim—and I quote in part:
1022 But we still appear to be doing nothing to fulfil the first of those objectives—that is, to establish a salmon management system. I should like to ask the Government why that is not in the Bill, or whether they propose to deal with that objective separately. I share the view of my noble friend Lord Tryon that what we urgently need is a national salmon management policy, applicable throughout Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but there is no sign of it yet. Can the Minister tell us when we may expect such a policy to be introduced? It is long overdue.
- "(i) to establish a salmon management system which maximises the numbers of exploitable salmon available … and which fully safeguards the needs for spawning salmon;
- (ii) to provide, so far as is possible, for a reasonable distribution of the exploitable resource between sport and commercial interests;
- (iii) to maximise the effectiveness of measures to prevent the illegal taking of salmon at sea, in the estuaries and in the rivers".
May I also ask why there is no mention of Northern Ireland in the Bill? Is there no problem of illegal fishing there? If there is, how do the Government propose to tackle it?
Four-and-a-half years ago, the Government's consultation paper talked ofthe threat imposed by illegal nettingand said that it "must be curbed". Now at last, in Clause 26 of this Bill, there is a proposal. The problem is serious. Mention has been made of the Welsh Water Authority's recent admirable and comprehensive report on Welsh salmon and trout fisheries, produced by a working group under the chairmanship of that notable Welshman, Mr. Gareth Edwards. That report said that:illegal fishing is possibly the most important single factor now affecting Welsh fisheries … and merits the strongest possible action".It added:there has been a dramatic increase in illegal fishing activity in recent years",and judged that:the illegal catch now exceeds the total legal catch by both licensed rods and nets in many rivers".It urged that:the present, uncontained, epidemic of illegal fishing … be remedied … by the introduction of new legislation".It is not as if nothing was being done to try to deal with the problem. In Wales, for example, the Welsh Water Authority has been making very great efforts, and it is given valuable support by the police forces in Wales. Of the £1.4 million that the authority spends on fisheries, some £700,000 to £800,000 a year goes on enforcement. But it is still not getting on top of the problem. Indeed, the authority is the first to admit that in some areas—the Wye, the Usk estuary and the Dee estuary—the problem is pretty well out of hand. In just one section of the Wye last year the authority's bailiffs found and took out of the river 150 fixed nets stretched right across the river. What we must do, as I think that the Government recognise, is to strengthen the hand of the enforcement agencies which are dealing with a large and growing crime problem.
I am glad that the Minister recognised in his speech that the problem today is not that of the occasional local man but of ruthless and sometimes violent gangs. They are not above dropping breeze-blocks onto the bailiffs or stretching piano wire across the river at night at head level to try to catch the bailiffs coming down in a boat. They remove fish wholesale, and sometimes they use cyanide.
In 1983 the salmon sales group of the National Water Council proposed as an answer a national 1023 tagging scheme, similar to that which I saw in operation in New Brunswick and Quebec, which appears to work there effectively and which has the incidental advantage of providing far more accurate information about salmon catches than we have now. Doubts have been expressed this evening about the value of tagging, and the Government have for the present rejected that option. That is, I think, a pity. I do not think that the problems of fish farmers or importers, or complications with GATT, can be so very difficult to overcome, but I recognise that there might be problems with the control of a very large number of tags. But if the Government reject this approach, which is put forward by a solid weight of expert opinion, they need, I think, to provide a really effective alternative.
Clause 26 is what they have proposed, but it is not immediately obvious what it means. I know that some of the water authorities (which are those that will need to enforce the law) fear that this clause, as at present drafted, will do little to strengthen their hands. That is because it still appears to them to leave the onus on them to prove that those found with salmon in suspicious circumstances have come by them illegally.
I have said that the wording of the clause is obscure. Some of your Lordships may have had, as I have had today, a letter from the Association of Scottish District Fishery Boards, which welcomes the clause because it says that it puts:the onus of proof of the legal catching of salmon throughout Great Britain … on the possessor of the salmon".That is not my understanding. It seems clear that the clause has created some confusion, and I hope that the Minister can clear it up and tell us exactly what it means in terms of where the onus lies. If the clause is to play a part in securing the Government's third 1981 objective, it needs to make it much less difficult than it is now to prosecute successfully those who are found with salmon which everyone knows have been taken illegally.
The present wording seems to be taken from Section 22 of the Theft Act 1968, which deals with the handling of stolen goods. If that is right, may I inquire from the Minister why the words "or realisation" which appear after "disposal" in the Theft Act have been omitted in this clause and what is the significance of this omission? I strongly urge the Government to clarify and amend the clause or agree to its amendment to make clear to everyone what it means and to make it more effective. I suggest that this should be done in such a way as to put the onus of proof of innocence clearly and beyond doubt on the possessor of suspect fish.
There are good precedents in Section 9(2) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and Section 1(1) of the Wildlife and Countryside (Amendment) Act 1985. These precedents take account of the particular evidential difficulties faced by enforcement officers, by the police and by the prosecuting authorities in such cases. And the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975 already contains in Section 22(4) a clear and unambiguous statement that the burden of proving that a salmon possessed between 31st August and 1st February has not been obtain illegally shall lie on the possessor. What we should have is an equally clear and 1024 unambiguous clause covering salmon possessed or offered for sale in suspicious circumstances at other times of the year.
A related matter is the licensing of dealers in salmon. Some of the water authorities are, I believe, sceptical about the effectiveness of this. But we already license dealers in game, and if the Government are convinced that it would be helpful in combating illegal fishing then by all means let us have it. But, as other noble Lords have noted, it seems to me manifestly absurd to introduce it in Scotland but not in England and Wales. To do that would be an invitation to illegal fishing gangs to bring salmon south of the Border to dispose of it. I find it hard enough to explain to others—for example, American officials concerned with salmon conservation—why we ban drift netting off Scotland but permit it off English coasts. I would find it impossible to explain why we should license a dealer in Dumfries or Melrose but not one in Berwick or Carlisle. Furthermore, the licensing of dealers in England and Wales might help to secure convictions under a strengthened Clause 26, especially if a sentence was to be added to Clause 26 saying that it would be material to a decision on guilt or innocence whether a possessor of salmon were taking it to, or from, a licensed dealer.
Another problem that does not appear to be covered in this Bill and that, in my view, ought to be, is what is described in the Government's 1981 consultative paper as:the split in the regulating responsibilities between bodies concerned with salmon and freshwater fish on the one hand and with sea fish on the other".It is a problem, as that paper recognised, found especially in the estuaries. That problem is still very serious. The Welsh Water Authority report talks about:the major loophole which enables illegal fishing for salmon and sea trout in tidal waters to be practised throughout the entire year under the pretext of fishing for sea fish".This loophole exists because sea fishing is controlled by sea fisheries Acts that cannot apparently be used to protect salmon and sea trout while the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975 cannot apparently be used to regulate sea fisheries, a situation described by the Welsh Water Authority in its report as "seemingly ludicrous". It adds that:many estuaries in Wales do not contain commercially exploitable stocks of sea fish and there is no doubt whatsoever that the extensive 'sea fishing' that now occurs in such areas takes place largely, if not solely, for the illegal capture of salmon and sea trout".The Government have themselves identified the problem and I ask the Minister if it is not possible for the Government to introduce a clause at Committee stage that would close this very damaging loophole.
May I end by saying a word about the international aspects? An international organisation, the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation, or NASCO, has now been established in Edinburgh. Other countries represented on that body, as the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, pointed out, are taking far-reaching steps to conserve stocks and help build them up again. The Americans, who have Atlantic salmon only in a few rivers in New England, have banned all commercial fishing and in the last 10 years have spent no less than 160 million dollars on building up stocks. 1025 I have mentioned before in your Lordships' House what the Canadian Government have done. They have restricted netting, made rod fishermen put, for the present, all salmon, except grilse, back, and they allow no rod-caught fish to be sold. These are the sort of measures that we should be taking.
Great damage has been done, and is being done, to stocks, especially to multi-sea-winter fish which make up our spring runs by netting off Greenland and long-lining off the Faroes. These fisheries take some quarter of a million salmon a year, about one-sixth of the entire European home waters catch. Fisheries scientists have concluded that most of the 120,000 or so fish taken by the Faroes fishery are two or three-sea-winter fish, the potential big spring fish. In Greenland, nearly all the fish taken are multi-sea-winter fish and three-quarters of them are females. This last year, the Greenland fishery took the whole of its large unilateral quota in the first few weeks of the season. This was the season that came after the two very poor seasons mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Home.
There is nevertheless pressure, I believe, to increase the quotas. International salmon authorities look to us to use our full influence in and outside the Community to help restrict these damaging intercepting fisheries. But our position, as I see it, is hopelessly compromised so long as we allow drift netting off north-east England to continue. The Greenlanders and Faroese can simply say to us, "You do it; why shouldn't we?". If our voice is to carry weight internationally, we have to put our own house in order. It seems to me essential therefore that the north-east England drift net fishery should be phased out and the relatively small number of fishermen there compensated by the Government.
I read with some disbelief the statement of the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, on 7th November, at col. 130,there is no case for terminating the fishery".On the contrary, it seems to me that there is a strong, indeed overwhelming, case. If we do not take urgent steps to throw our weight behind effective international action, there is a real risk that NASCO may founder. That would be a disaster. I therefore beg the Government to tackle this whole problem seriously. We all want to arrest the decline of Atlantic salmon, to ensure that stocks are preserved and enabled to increase and, as the Government themselves put it, to manage the resource in a waywhich fully safeguards the needs for spawning salmon".This Bill is a small beginning. I hope that, at least, we can seek to make it an effective one.
§ 7.27 p.m.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Biddulph on his maiden speech. He is my close neighbour and my distant cousin. I am sure that his knowledge and experience of fishing matters has contributed to this debate. Thank goodness that in the autumn he is otherwise engaged in dealing with his shoot, so that the fish have some chance of getting past him and up to my water! I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Gray of Contin on the way he has prepared this Bill.
Perhaps I may declare an interest as a riparian owner on the Tweed. As a member of the Tweed 1026 Commission, I should like to say a few words as to how the Bill affects us on the Tweed. We believe that the new powers under the Bill to combat poaching, so far as they go, are sound. The new powers of search and entry for bailiffs and the clause whereby anyone in possession of a fish has to prove his right to that fish are particularly welcome. As my noble friend Lord Biddulph said, the new licensed dealer scheme is no help to the Tweed since most of the dealing of Tweed fish is done in Berwick.
In addition to these new powers I should like to suggest several others, some of which have already been mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso. These would perhaps be helpful. The law should define the methods of operation of net and coble fisheries and of fixed engines. The river authorities should have powers over the construction of fish passes and of lade screens leading to fish farms, and powers over water abstraction and over the removal of gravel, as well as over all land and forestry developments that affect the river. River boards should also have the right to sell forfeited fish.
The proposed legislation to control net sizes, materials and meshes would unfortunately not include netting stations on the Tweed since they are all in England. I would hope that these laws could be extended at least to include the Tweed Box. This is particularly important because without controls operators of stake and bag nets would be able to use monofilament leaders which do not "lead" the fish into the trap but hang them up in the same way as a drift net works.
May I ask that the legislation in the 1951 Act concerning confiscations be improved and included in the Bill. The word "indictment" should be removed to give sheriffs the power to confiscate boats and vehicles used by poachers rather than confine the right of confiscation to courts where there is a jury.
With regard to drift netting, I believe that this has been the major cause of depletion of salmon stocks in the Tweed, and it is a pity that the Government have not tackled this problem. I believe that the hope that district authorities south of the Border will curtail their licences is not good enough. The present situation whereby large quantities of our fish, at the rate of over 70,000 a year, are caught on the way back to the spawning rivers is unfair to the river authorities, to the netting stations and to the rod fishermen, all of whom are paying the cost of fish husbandry and are suffering depleted stocks.
Above all, it is bad for conservation at a time, as has been mentioned by other noble Lords, when we are trying to get Norway, Greenland and the Faroes to cut down their catches. Since the introduction and banning of drift netting in Scotland there has been excellent work done by our bailiffs in their speedboats, and, thanks to co-operation from the Air Force and from the Navy, many of our local fishermen have found it too difficult and too dangerous to use drift nets. In many cases their boats have been laid up. There were very few cases of drift netting last season, and the run of spring and summer salmon increased as a result.
On a different matter I would ask my noble friend the Minister whether he would add a new clause to the 1027 Bill to give river bailiffs the same protection as the police when it comes to assault. Confrontation with poachers can be dangerous while bailiffs are engaged in the execution of their duties.
Finally, I should like to say how much I support my noble friend Lord Home in his appreciation of the Tweed Commission. Like him, I should like to see it continue in its present form, in which its members are composed of representatives of different parties with river interests—riparian owners, netting stations, district councils and trout angling associations—who all co-operate and work together in an efficient way. Thanks to their happy relationship which has evolved over the years, the necessary finance is raised and administered, many jobs are provided for and many estates, some of them with expensive historic houses to maintain are helped to survive.
It would be tragic if the salmon industry was allowed to decline even further because of the lack of good legislation. I therefore welcome this Bill. It is an important step forward. However, I hope that my noble friend the Minister, having heard our arguments, will encourage us to think that a larger step may be taken at Committee stage. With that hope I give my support to the Second Reading of this Bill this evening.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Viscount Ridley
My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken, I too congratulate the Government in bringing forward this legislation on this very important matter. I also declare an interest as a person who enjoys fishing for salmon and has a small stretch of river in Scotland.
All legislation should be looked at for what it omits as well as what it contains. In this respect I do not seem to be alone in finding this Bill a little disappointing. I am also very well aware of the resistance that my noble friend on the Front Bench is bound to produce at any attempt to widen the scope of this Bill. We shall be told at the same time that it will be many years before we have another opportunity of parliamentary time to legislate. This is a debate in which one has an opportunity to say what needs to be done even if hopes are not very high.
The first thing I want to say is that I think there is a serious need for a top level scientific inquiry into what is happening in the world of salmon. It needs something almost like a Royal Commission, except that they take so long. But I believe that the whole question is so important that we need to know precisely where we are going and what is happening. This has to be led by the Government's own research station at Pitlochry in Scotland or Lowestoft in England. I should like to ask my noble friend if he is satisfied that he is already receiving adequate and full serious advice from all the Government's own sources, anyway, about what is happening. Without such scientific research I think that a lot of us are working in the dark.
It may well be that this research which I think is necessary is best carried out by each of the fisheries boards in Scotland because each river, or group of rivers, seems to have its own problem and its own very 1028 separate salmon population which behave quite differently from one another. For example, the Tweed seems to be unique in having an enormous run of very late fish which come in about now, or have just finished coming in. The other reason why the Tweed is unique is that an enormous number of your Lordships live on its banks and fish it—and the expertise here is more than most.
The important thing in assessing these trends is adequate statistics, obviously. For very few rivers is this possible. I believe that the River Spey Research Trust, which has just been set up, is an example of how this should be attempted—an example to all boards in England, Wales and Scotland. I hope very much that the fishery boards which we are debating in this Bill, when established and revised, will have adequate incentives and resources to find out all that can be found out about what is going on in their different rivers; and that the research organisations to which I have referred will be able to advise and direct research wherever possible.
The Spey board has also set a very shining example to the rest of the country by publishing the statistics of fish caught in its system, and how they are caught, whether by rod or net and so forth, in considerable detail. I believe that this is not only highly desirable but in due course should be compulsory throughout the country. It is very nice to know that the board of the River Tay—the second largest, or perhaps the largest river in Scotland—has followed suit and will be publishing the statistics this year. Its noble chairman follows me in this debate and I have no doubt that your Lordships are looking forward to hearing his speech shortly. Only when such figures are truly available can policy be formed. We must not forget to get proper statistics if at all possible for salmon which are caught in the sea as well as the rivers and the estuaries.
Catch statistics may be unreliable but they are all that we have to go on unless one has counting stations in various rivers, and in very few cases has this happened. One major drawback to obtaining these statistics is that the returns made by anglers and netsmen are connected closely with the assessment for rating in Scotland. To a very large extent the dreaded assessors base their valuations on the catch for the previous five years. Even before the revaluation of 1985 there was a temptation to render a false return to reduce the already heavy cost of rates on riparian owners. My noble friend will be fully aware that 1985 did not do anything to improve that situation. Until we have a reform of the rating system which is fair and acceptable—and we have waited for that long enough—these figures must be suspect. It is quite outside the scope of this Bill to talk about rating, but I believe that to be of any use we have to have a system whereby we know what is being caught which is unconnected with the rating in the future.
I am not saying that salmon fishing should escape any contribution to local rates—far from it. What I believe is a real and serious injustice at this time in Scotland is that while rod fishermen bear not only the full weight of the local authority rates, and on top of that a levy of some 30 per cent. of that figure towards the cost of the fishery boards, the commercial netting operations in Scotland escape all local rates and only 1029 pay the board levy. This is because netting is deemed to be an agricultural operation and so was derated under the Scottish derating Act of 1929. It was put very clearly on the BBC Radio Scotland programme last week that of the total sum contributed in one way or another by salmon fishing interests in Scotland in taxation, 80 per cent. was paid by the rod fishermen who caught only 20 per cent. of the catch. I do not know whether those figures are true; but if they are wrong, let us have the true figures.
Taxation has to be fair and the burden shared equally, or the alternative is that the representation of the major contributors should reflect the tax paid. Nor can salmon netting be described as agricultural by any possible stretch of the imagination. If it is agricultural to catch a fish with a net in a river, surely it is equally agricultural to catch it on a worm?
In one respect the Bill deserves real praise in that Schedule 2 and subsequent related clauses introduce new rules for the composition of boards. So far as I can make out, the built-in majority of netting interests is no longer so likely to happen as it did under the 1862 Act. The chairman can be either an upper or a lower proprietor. As many other noble Lords have said, I am sure that this is a very real step forward, because the boards must be seen to be acting in the interests of the whole river and not only of a minority of its users.
The dispute which has gone on for years between the commercial interests and the sporting interests is one which has frustrated all our legislation for far too long. The argument that it is the rich man's sport set against the fisherman's livelihood is now out of date if ever it made sense. It is tragic to see how this has stopped all attempts to provide a serious policy towards conserving salmon so that all concerned—net and rod fishermen—can have an increasing share of the enormous wealth which this fish can produce.
Other noble Lords have mentioned the type of situation which the Bill should produce. I would have made the point at length about the necessity to vary the close seasons and to stop netting fishing in periods of drought. As your Lordships have already been informed, a precedent exists in legislation for the stopping of the shooting of certain wildfowl and other birds in hard frost. The point is that that has now been accepted and is acceptable to the shooting interests and has had a great effect on the stocks of birds. It is a thoroughly successful experiment and there seems to be no reason why it should not be repeated to help salmon. It has to be done in the interests not only of the rod fishermen—and one must accept that they may have to be restricted too—but of the salmon itself. However, to be effective, all those rules must be acceptable and this is where the boards are vital and important in producing and publishing the facts and figures and having the power and authority to do what is necessary. Their powers need to vary no doubt considerably from river to river.
Everyone is delighted at the attempt to do something about the serious problem of illegal fishing. I remember being deeply shocked on reading a newspaper article on a banquet in Scotland attended by numerous Lord Provosts, members of the Royal Family, so on and so forth. The article said that the main course was poached Scottish salmon in white 1030 wine sauce! I hope that that will be a thing of the past in the future and that it does not happen too often. The point is that no amount of legislation to control illegal fishing will succeed unless resources are adequate to enforce it, and that needs the full support and co-operation of everybody.
The Bill is almost entirely Scottish, but I do not apologise for intervening in the debate as an Englishman because probably the only matter we entirely agree about is that anything to do with salmon is an international matter. So many noble Lords have said that it is a serious defect that the Bill discriminates between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom in the matter of legal and illegal fishing. There are many horrendous stories of how fish caught illegally in Scottish waters can be sold legally in England. All I would say is that if the Bill goes through as it is, I shall set up as an unlicensed dealer in Berwick-upon-Tweed and I shall probably make a fortune.
I do not go as far as some people who say that the salmon is an endangered species. Its powers of reproduction and survival are fantastic. However, we have seen a sudden and serious decline in some rivers in some parts of the country. There could be a huge increase in catches for all if we legislate for a policy of conservation and educate all those who exploit the salmon to realise that there has to be such a policy. If the Bill fails to put our own house in order, we can hardly expect other countries to curtail their own exploitation.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ The Marquess of Lansdowne
My Lords, I hope that I shall not be accused by the noble Lord, Lord Ross, of being a "thrawn gabbit" if I criticise quite a lot of the Bill. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Gray, upon introducing a Bill at all. However, in my opinion it is a very "wee, timorous beastie". When we last discussed salmon, I had the impression all the way through the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Gray, of, "Wait for it. Wait for it. I'm going to do something rather big!" What have we got?—a little mouse.
There are elements in the Bill which I welcome. I am glad that we have the Bill at all. However, the noble Lord, Lord Gray, talked about addressing himself to the major problems and presenting before Parliament a complete Bill. He begged the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso—who courageously battled on with his Bill—to restrain himself and to wait in patience. We have waited. As a matter of fact, we have not waited nearly so long as some of us expected to wait. However, here we are with the Bill. I have the feeling that the noble Lord, Lord Gray, may have had a great deal of trouble in preparing it. One of the matters to which he drew our attention—and he was perfectly right—was the lack of finance for district river boards. There is not one single suggestion in the Bill that anything will be done about that lack of finance. What possible encouragement is there in the Bill to form new district boards?
I must remind the noble Lord, Lord Gray, of what he said: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 1031 finance that so many of our river systems are without boards".—[Official Report, 19/2/85; col. 546.]I have reminded your Lordships of what he said. What on earth has he done about it?—nothing at all. The noble Lord, Lord Kimball, said that fortunately for him on his river—it is a wonderful little river, which I know well—the question of finance was not difficult. No, it is not difficult there, but it is difficult in a great many parts of Scotland. It is not particularly difficult in my own area—the River Tay. I am proud to be the chairman of the district river board. We have adequate finance, but my goodness me it is very expensive to do our job properly. We are up against professionals who have a great deal of money and we have to pit our wits against them and we have to have the necessary mechanical aids.
The Bill starts off by boasting and by saying that it will not cost anything. I suppose that that is one of the ways in which the noble Lord, Lord Gray, managed to persuade his colleagues to get it through. One matter is quite certain: nobody could ever refer to the Bill as a kenspeckle Bill, and the noble Lord, Lord Gray, knows what I mean by "kenspeckle". It is a weak Bill, but it has certain elements which are of value. In my view, one of the most important—and I hope to goodness that it holds up—is the reverse onus of proof. That seems to me to be very important and I only pray that there will not be some legal complication that will make it ineffective. The reverse onus of proof would make a huge difference to the prosecution of poachers.
Perhaps I may just mention another extraordinary matter. I think it was Sir Winston Churchill who said: "I have frequently had to eat my own words, but have never found them anything but a wholesome diet". I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Gray, will find the eating of his words an entirely wholesome diet. When we discussed the question of tagging and dealer licensing, the noble Lord, Lord Gray, said on 19th February at col. 550: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".That is what the noble Lord, Lord Gray, said on 19th February. I wonder whether he still holds that opinion? I must apologise for speaking up rather bluntly. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Ross, who said that we all make polite speeches to each other, and I am afraid that I must introduce a thrawn note. I cannot help it.
I should like to refer to one or two of the observations made where perhaps my personal experience may be of some small use. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, who spoke about the qualifications of bailiffs. It might be helpful and of interest to him if I told him that in our district we vet the bailiffs very carefully indeed. We try to train them to the best of our ability in the complexities of the law, though, as your Lordships know, thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Gray, a number of the complexities are going to be removed. We take a great deal of trouble in the selection of bailiffs, and I think that the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, can rest assured that the men employed by, anyway, our board are men who are reliable and men we can trust. Therefore, I do not think that he should be too nervous about the idea of them being allowed immediate entry.
1032 At the moment, as I think the noble Lord is well aware, what happens is that if you are suspicious you can go quickly to the police and get a search warrant. Obviously there is a period of delay and the bird may have flown, and all the stuff with him. Therefore, I very much welcome the possibility of the bailiffs having the right of entry. That is an important point.
With reference to the composition of river boards, as I told your Lordships, I am chairman of one of them. I do not think that the way I became a chairman is the best way. The right way is by election. That is the best plan, and I am quite happy with the suggestion that the noble Lord, Lord Gray, makes in his Bill.
I am not happy—and this needs thinking over carefully before Committee stage—about the way that the anglers and the tenant netsmen are to come on to the boards. I am strongly in favour of them coming on to the boards, but I am not satisfied that the way this Bill suggests for them to come on is the best way. This requires quite a bit of consideration.
Once they are on the board I cannot see why they should not have the same rights as every other member of the board; in other words, full voting powers. I know that there is an argument that he who pays the piper should call the tune. I quite see that. The riparian owners, or proprietors, or whatever you like to call them, in fact pay the piper, but I feel quite certain that it would not be impossible to encourage contributions from the angling community.
The noble Lord, Lord Ross, knows much more about this than I do, but we have friendly relations with our angling community—the non-riparian owners, the clubs and their associates, and so on. If they felt that they were going to get some value for money out of the district river boards, I think that they would be prepared to contribute. I should like that to be thought about. I should like to see everybody on the board with the same voting rights. I do not like the idea of second-class members of a board. I do not think that that will do.
As to the bias in boards, I can tell your Lordships from my experience that what will happen on the present arrangement is that the bias will probably be towards the anglers. We are going to have three upper proprietors; three lower proprietors (and among the lower proprietors there are apt to be net proprietors); then there will be three angling community people, and then there will be an elected chairman. You will find that probably in most cases the elected chairman will be particularly interested in the angling side. One of the great criticisms that there has been in the past is that so often the netsmen—and I am one; I am a director of a netting company—have too great an influence. But we have now reached the point where we have all realised that we are all in the same difficulty, and that we have to pull together.
The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, was kind enough to refer to our board. It was not all that difficult to persuade people to give their figures. We are now going to get the figures, and we are going to get them and release them in a way which will not be indiscreet, which will not be painful to the individual owners. They are going to be divided up into areas. One can quite see that if a particular beat caught four fish in the 1033 whole season it is going to be an awful job to let it. Everything goes down. Rates go down and everything goes down. Therefore, we shall group it. However, it is important to have some idea of what is going on in each river. It is far from foolproof, but it gives an indication of what is going on. I think that that is worth while. I should like the noble Lord who is going to reply to the debate to consider saying that the district river board should have the power to ask for figures and to get them. They are the same figures that go to the regional assessor. They are easily obtainable.
I know that the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, said that some people may fiddle the figures. I do not know whether they do or not. It is possible, but I rather doubt whether many people do that. But it would be helpful to river boards if they had a clear picture of what is being caught by the rods and what is being caught by the nets. For one thing it would stop a lot of rather wild rumours. On one day in Perth I remember I was looking very gloomy, and somebody said, "I suppose you are doing all right". I said, "Well, we caught four fish last week." From the expression on the face of the person to whom I was talking, it was quite obvious he thought I was a liar, but I was in fact telling exactly the truth.
That brings me to a quite important point, which has been mentioned several times, about the emergency closures, which is the phrase I should like to use; that boards should be empowered to insist on a closure at a particular time in particular circumstances. Several of your Lordships have referred to low water conditions. I know from experience, and it is rather strange, that in low water conditions the nets are not always anything like as effective as one might imagine. What we need is a good, steady flow. What the angler, of course, prays for is a spate, which makes it difficult to work the nets.
While on the subject of nets, the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, mentioned some amendments that I had tabled on the last occasion that we spoke. I would very much like to see some definitions put into this Bill. It would be much better if the whole process of netting was much more tightly and clearly defined. For instance, do your Lordships all know what a coble is? Do you all know exactly how a sweep should be manoeuvred? All these matters are important.
Some years ago the inboard engine was popped into our cobles. Nobody said a word. Just think for a second about the effect of that. It means that my company is able to carry out the sweep far more easily than in the old days when the only way to propel a boat was with sweeps—with oars. It made the whole business of netting more effective. The reason we are compelled to net in the way we do is because it is a very inefficient way of catching fish. The object of the exercise is to have the maximum escape routes related to a reasonable commercial return. I think what we have to think about is the rate at which boats can come in and follow one another. It is all rather technical, but a river could be blocked up virtually and you could still be within the law by following one sweep very quickly with another. This is the business of whether one can afford to pay the boatmen to do it.
1034 The noble Lord, Lord Gray, has tried hard in his Bill. He has put in the question of the material and so on used, but I should like the Minister to consider this further and perhaps to have one or two other schemes pinpointing what we may and what we may not do.
New methods were mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard. Of course there are new methods. There are new methods all the time. In the rivers it is possible to ban certain lures at certain times of the year. This is done on the Tweed, as the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, knows. It would be a good thing if this were done on other rivers as well. Not all the damage is done by netsmen. There probably has to be restraint by both the netsmen and the anglers. The rivers are far more intensively fished than they ever have been before and they are less intensively netted than they were before. It is not too difficult to work out why, because the returns from putting lots of boats on have been reduced. They have been reduced because slowly and surely we have been reducing our stocks so that the number of fish reaching our rivers is steadily declining.
This Bill is a United Kingdom Bill, which puts the whole thing in a different perspective. We could not ask the noble Lord, Lord Gray, very much about the drift netting if it is not within his bailiwick. I entirely support the noble Lord, Lord Tryon. What is so sacred about this drift netting? Why cannot we have a proper answer as to why drift netting cannot be stopped? We are told, "No, you can't possibly do that", and, "You can't touch that". I do not believe it. But, if the Government find it quite impossible to do anything about it, what about paying them out at their published figures? That might be a solution. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Gray, would consider that.
The noble Lord, Lord Home, referred to spring fish and their disappearance from a very great many rivers. It is not easy to give the reasons for this, but I feel that what we need is what was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Tryon, and other speakers. We need a national policy for a frightfully important asset. The asset is the salmon: a renewable asset. We shall run out of oil in time, but if we conserve the salmon it will go on and on for ever. But it will not go on if it is caught before it can reach its river. It is an anadromous fish; it must reach its river. So we must take the necessary steps. The first step seems to be what we did very successfully round Scotland. Nobody made a fuss about that. It must be done now for England. It is to ban the drift nets. I should like to be absolutely certain that what we have been told about phasing out is watertight. I am not too sure. Are these drift nets to be limited in time? Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Gray, would give us a categorical assurance. Are they to be allowed to fish eight hours less in darkness? Is that to happen? Is the captain of the licensee going to have to be on board? All these points are very important. Unless that is the case the nettle has to be grasped on this drift netting.
I should like to say one thing more about river bailiffs. They have a difficult job. Everybody in your Lordships' House knows that. They deserve exactly the same protection as is afforded to the police. I sincerely hope that the Minister will give serious consideration to this. It is important. To get a first-class man to do quite a difficult job the least one 1035 can do is to afford him reasonable protection, because for much of his time he is working against thugs. When I say thugs I mean thugs; people who will stop at nothing. The bailiffs deserve protection.
I am sorry at the end of a long debate to have introduced rather a sharp, biting note. If I had not done so I should have gone home feeling that I had been dishonest. I feel that we have a great asset. It is not an asset just for rich men to catch. It is an important part of the economic life of Scotland and could be a more important part of the economic life of England. Several noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord Moran, in particular—referred to what is happening in Canada and the United States of America. It may be said that that is not comparable, but it is. The stocks of the Atlantic salmon in New Brunswick and the north-east of Canada were becoming very seriously depleted and the governments had the courage to introduce very stringent measures which were pretty disagreeable to many people but were thought to be worthwhile. The same thing occurred on the other side with the Pacific salmon. There are five different varieties and millions and millions of dollars are being spent to try to conserve this great national asset. I beg the Government to think further. I look upon this Bill as a cosmetic measure which is quite helpful in its little way, but it has not really faced up to the major problem to which the noble Lord, Lord Gray, referred in his speech last year.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Lord Burton
My Lords, may I also hasten to add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Biddulph on his maiden speech. I find great difficulty in speaking to this Bill. Indeed, I was finding it a good deal more difficult until my noble friend Lord Lansdowne rose to speak. He really is an expert on this, and knows about this law. I found that as he went on I agreed more and more with him. He stole all my thunder and said what I wanted to say.
To say the least, this Bill is extremely complex. The law on fishing in Scotland is already complicated. Regrettably, this Bill only adds to the confusion. I agreed almost entirely with what Lord Gray of Contin said as he went through his speech. Unfortunately, I fear that this Bill will not implement what he seems to desire. There is very little in the Bill which will improve the existing state of affairs. There is a great deal of non-controversial matter which should have been put in and which is not there. A lawyer in Edinburgh who is a very keen fisherman and has had considerable experience of the law on fishing told me last week that it took him five hours of concentrated effort to try to understand this Bill, and even after that he was not sure that he had it right. If, therefore, any of us has any misunderstanding of the Bill today it is not surprising.
I suspect the trouble was that the Government waited until the Bill of the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, was out of the way before they put their experts on to drafting this Bill. The result was that these experts were given an extremely complicated task to complete in far too short a time. Certainly there has been little or no consultation. After the excellent debate in your Lordships' House on the Second 1036 Reading of the Bill introduced by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, it was hoped that the Government might have learned some lessons, but, alas, what has emerged is an inadequate and intricate piece of legislation.
Times have changed, and clearly the law needs updating. Many of your Lordships have today told us of new devices for catching fish, and of the changes which have brought about this need. Your Lordships will know that there has been pressure for this change for some time. The Government have always complained that there has been no consensus of opinion, but it seems to me that the various debates in your Lordships' House have shown remarkable unanimity. This afternoon I even agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, and at one stage I said, "Hear, hear!", which caused a little surprise when it came from this side of the House. I was delighted to hear his speech, and I think I agreed almost entirely with it—which shows what unanimity there must be on this subject.
Every river system is liable to have its own peculiarities, and those with a knowledge of that system are inclined to base their thoughts for legislation on something that will suit that particular river system. Perhaps I should once more declare an interest. For many years I have been a board member of the Ness District Fishery Board. This is an extremely difficult catchment area to operate, as it is scattered over such long distances, which means a great deal of travelling for the staff of the board.
I find board meetings extremely frustrating, for whenever we want to do something we seem to find that our hands are tied. The law is antiquated and ineffective. I know that various fishery boards have come under pressure from the rod fishing interests, who feel that the boards are not doing all that they could. In most cases the lack of activity has not been the fault of the boards: it has been the law as they have had to implement it.
There are three fundamental essentials for any good fishing law in Scotland, and these are all missing from the Bill. Lord Hunter produced some remarkably sound proposals which have stood up remarkably well even after the length of time that has elapsed since he reported. I have no doubt that many of us have various points of detail on which we do not agree with him, but at least he grasped the nettle, which the Government have failed to do, in that he specified that the whole of Scotland must be covered with fishery boards. How many or what areas they cover may be controversial, but the thing is that Scotland must have boards covering the whole area. These cannot be built up on the old system; the more wealthy areas will merely impose on the poorer ones. As a result, the board areas must be established by Parliament, or at least by the Secretary of State, and the existing set-up scrapped altogether.
The second point which is vital to any system is the question of finance. Many of your Lordships, including my noble friend Lord Lansdowne, have referred to this, as did the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso. How absolutely vital this is! Any boards or districts must be big enough to support a manager of sufficient expertise and calibre. This itself would not be cheap in the light of the present wage rates. On top of 1037 this there will be other employees (and employees of a high calibre, as my noble friend has just told us) in the shape of the water bailiffs, and there will be needed transport for all of these men and their various equipment. If one takes the Ness Board as an example, the assessments are of course based on the district valuer's opinion of what the rental for the various fisheries should be. If he gets his sums right then one must inevitably incur a loss if one lets one's fishings, because for a start one has to pay about 50 per cent. in rates to the region and the district council, and the board assessment is then £1 in the £1. It is obviously a hopeless state of affairs that if one lets one's fishing one automatically incurs a loss.
What further disturbs me is that we have been promised a review of the rating system in Scotland. Is this fishery legislation to become obsolete in a year or two, or are the rates to remain as they are at the present time? I feel that we really must know this. We must have a means of financing the conservation of this vast natural resource. After all, other birds and beasts receive an increasing amount of money for conservation, and I cannot see why this should not apply to salmon.
The third vital point in any management is that anyone trying to manage salmon in a catchment area must have control over all the operations concerning fish in that area. For instance, it is pointless trying to restock an area if it is a good trout fishery with big trout eating the fry as quickly as they hatch. We have even had a case where the Inverness-shire Garry has been stocked with pike, and it appears that there is no law to stop this. Further, anyone fishing a piece of water will automatically deny that they are fishing for salmon and, even if they have a salmon lying on the bank beside them, they can deny that they were responsible for catching it, that it is their fish. They can maintain that they were fishing for coarse fish or trout. Indeed, trawlers going through Loch Ness have been setting their trawls; and I am not certain that there is any law to stop this. The tail of the Wellington bomber recently raised from the loch had large parts of a trawl draped over it. The loch has two sorts of arctic char in its waters, and it would appear there is nothing to stop them fishing for these.
There has been a proliferation of fish farms, and the boards have no control over these. It only remains for one farm to bring in disease and the catchment area could be very seriously damaged, and possibly even the whole salmon fishing industry in the country, as happened with UDN in Ireland. It should be compulsory for the fish farms to take out an insurance policy. There are numerous other reasons why it is vital in the present day and age for fishery control to encompass all types of fish within their waters.
Having been critical, I should like to point out that there are three points in the Bill which I am sure will meet with general approval. One is that the chairman should be elected; and a number of your Lordships, including myself, asked for this on the Bill which the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, introduced. Another is that the districts will have a right to trade. At the present time the boards are not allowed even to run a hatchery on a commercial basis. I think that one or two of them do so, but it is against the law. We cannot even sell eels or pike if we catch them, which seems to 1038 me to be a complete nonsense. I am pleased to say that this Bill should dispose of that.
Several noble Lords have welcomed the question of the onus of proof, but this is already in Section 7 of the Salmon and Fresh Water Fisheries (Protection) (Scotland) Act 1951 and has been interpreted by the courts on appeal. However, I may say that there is some room for improvement, and this is in some way done in this Bill. There is still a need, however, for further clarification of "unlawful possession".
There are a certain number of other matters which have been included apparently to seduce the angler into thinking that he will benefit. I believe that there are some who feel that adding tenants to the boards will be beneficial. I feel that this is very doubtful, and in some cases it will definitely be deleterious. The composition of the boards has stood up to the test of time remarkably well, and although in some instances there has been friction between upper and lower proprietors I think that in most cases the boards have worked for the good of the rivers. As my noble friend also said just now, I think they realise that they must pull together.
If tenants are to be co-opted, then clearly for every netsman there must be a rod fisherman, and instead of it being compulsory to co-opt these people it should surely be left to the discretion of the boards. I think by all means give them discretion. Many rod tenants see little of the rivers except for a few weeks in the year, and really have little idea of what goes on for the rest of the time. As far as the netsmen are concerned, I know that a number of boards spend a great deal of their time ensuring that these are not fishing illegally. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Kimball quoted, I think, examples around the north coast of Wales where the nets are having to be watched. To have such people on the board itself could surely create a very dangerous situation. However, as my noble friend Lord Lansdowne said at the Committee stage of Lord Thurso's Bill, those who really are involved with rivers have a vested interest in their health and it is desirable that such persons should be eligible for appointment to a board.
I think it has been forgotten that the proposal should be that those with larger assessments should have more votes. As the more valuable fishings are usually the nets, the balance of power on some rivers could well go to the netsmen. It should not be forgotten that netting for salmon under the present law may well become totally uneconomic in the future in spite of the premium which at the present time falls on the price of wild salmon. The proliferation of fish farms is depressing the price of salmon—not surprisingly, as much of the farmed fish tastes very nasty and has not the same keeping qualities. Wages are increasing, as is the price of gear, and without an increase in the price of the product it would appear likely that many netting stations will become quite unworkable.
On the face of things, the licensing of salmon dealing may appear attractive, as it did in the case of the Deer Act, but in fact for deer it has proved singularly ineffective so far, although I suppose it could be said to be better than nothing. However, as this part of the Bill is not to apply to England and Wales it largely obviates the licensing system anyway, unless the Government accept a change in Committee.
1039 The Act of 1862 designated potential fishery board areas, but that Act is to be repealed by this Bill. Furthermore, this Bill refers in a number of instances to the 1862 Act and, indeed, to other Acts which are to be repealed. If they are to be repealed they are presumably no longer valid, and therefore this Bill refers to Acts which are no longer valid. I am sure there must be some sound answer to this, but it certainly does not make for the simplification of our fishery legislation.
Various other points have been mentioned. For instance, who is a proprietor of a salmon fishery? There is the question of time-sharing, and also the question of the sub-division of fishing in large lochs. For example, if you have a boat on Loch Ness you can sub-divide the fishing any number of times, it appears, so long as the boats can be moored somewhere in your area. There is also the question of interest on overdue fishery board assessments. At the moment a person need not pay up even for years. He may eventually be taken to court and still not have to pay any interest on his overdue assessment.
Various other points have been mentioned already, as, for instance, the definitions of "net and coble" and of "fixed engines". Fishery boards will require the right to examine dealers' books, as has the RDC. I do not see why fishery boards should not have the same powers. There is also the question: how does one avoid the excuse of a poacher who has his nets set in the sea and says that he is fishing for white fish? That is a very common practice, and I feel that we really must have something done to deal with this situation.
Our salmon fishing industry is an extremely important financial asset for Scotland, and in particular for tourism. It is therefore important that we get the legislation right. With the best will in the world, I cannot see how we can do so by any attempt to amend this Bill. I say with great regret that at least Part I of the Bill would be extremely difficult to amend, and that is, after all, one of the most important sections of the Bill. That opinion was borne out earlier this week by an eminent QC in Edinburgh who is himself a very keen fisherman. He was very concerned that this Bill, as drafted, would be largely inoperable. Perhaps the Government could wait until they have heard what has transpired in Committee, when no doubt there will be a spate of amendments. Perhaps they should then withdraw the Bill, give the officials ample time to draft a much simpler and better Bill, allow consultation as to requirements, and then bring back a Bill early in the next Session. I am concerned that the existing Bill will do more harm than good.
I should just like to say to my noble friend Lord Gray of Contin that he may think this legislation is a prickly subject, but he should grasp the nettle firmly. If he does so it will not sting him, for it is not a Scottish thistle let alone an English briar. He will have goodwill from many, and especially from Members of this House, who with remarkable unanimity have almost all spoken in favour of getting some good legislation. How nice it would be if in the future one could say, "Look how good our fishings are, thanks to the Bill that Lord Gray introduced in 1986!"
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Lord Clinton
My Lords, I, like other Members of 1040 your Lordships' House, welcome this Salmon Bill and I declare my interests as a riparian owner in the West Country. I think that perhaps I am one of the few who have spoken this evening who own an English fishery. I hope that some of the many suggestions that have been made will become part of this Bill. However, any legislation towards stopping poaching and the illegal sale of fish has no bearing on the Torridge, in my view—that is the river I am concerned with—as there are no fish to poach. There has been a decreasing stock in the river and the run of fish has become less and less every year. Not only have there been droughts, but there have been droughts of fish.
Your Lordships will probably remember that many books have been written and many words spoken on fishing: in fact one could fill a library with them. Perhaps Henry Williamson in 1935, when he wrote Salar the Salmon, published one of the nicest concerning the life of a salmon on the river Torridge. His other work, Tarka the Otter, was probably better known. The book describes how a river and its life should be—days, I am afraid, that have long gone by.
What concerns me is that, unless we look after our rivers and keep them free from pollution in its widest sense, there is no real hope for the salmon. The Torridge is an example which I certainly would not like others to follow and which I should like to describe to your Lordships, as I believe it could very easily happen elsewhere. The reason for its decline is a manifold one: a combination of drought, water extraction, pollution and (not so much today) poaching.
The Torridge was once classified as a 1(A) river and now, for 30 per cent. of its 40-mile length, has been reclassified as "stressful to salmon". At the same time half the river is Class 3, which we are told is unfit for fish. I see the river often and cannot help but agree. Eight of the last 10 years have been semi-drought years and these, coupled with water extraction needed for the towns and for the many summer visitors who come to the West Country, have reduced the flows while at the same time increasing the concentration of pollutants in the river. The river has now become a spate river and it rises and falls very quickly due to better land drainage. At the same time in summer water is extracted, leaving less time for the running fish and more exposure to the low-water conditions they have to get through, which makes it stressful to the salmon, with consequential losses to its population.
Farm pollution has been investigated and many farmers have put their houses in order by making sure that silage and other effluents do not get into the small streams which supply the main river. However, there are still many who have not bothered and these are known to the South-West Water Authority. But, due partly to lack of staff and the will to prosecute them, little has been done. That makes it very unfair for those who have taken the trouble to put their house in order, sometimes at great expense. What is required are tougher penalties, more effort and more time, together with more financial resources. This point has obviously been brought out many times in your Lordships' House this evening.
Grants are available but I should particularly like more publicity to be given to the need for environ- 1041 mental grants as I am sure they could be used for this purpose. When one realises the amount of finance made available to clean up the River Thames for the benefit of a few salmon which once, so many years ago, ran up our great river, it seems to me that it surely would be possible to spare a dime or two for a river which used to be one of the best salmon rivers in the West Country—not all for the benefit of the sporting angler, because one must realise that employment is given in support of the visiting angler in accommodation and everything else that goes with it. Even the netsmen, of whom we have heard a lot in connection with the Scottish rivers this evening, have been affected on this estuary. Their numbers have been reduced by the authority and, at the same time, their catches. It is the economy of the whole river that is at stake and it is an asset that is depreciating nearly to the point of no return.
One further nail in the coffin of the River Torridge appears to be that the fish that do survive in the common estuary it has with the Taw—they both run into the same bay—run up the Taw and not up the Torridge. One of the reasons may be that the town of Bideford, which is beside the River Torridge, lets out raw sewage which is also pumped straight into the estuary. A proposed fine screening plant, the subject of a recent public inquiry, might improve the appearance of the pollutants in the river but it will not get rid of the actual trouble that is caused. Anglers and others were hoping that the inspector, when he comes to decide, will decide on a full treatment plant, but I suspect that the cost will be prohibitive and I fear compromise will follow, giving us only the fine screening as a stage one development which in my opinion will not be anywhere near adequate.
I could go on describing the decline of this river but the point I am trying to make is that it could happen elsewhere and probably is happening elsewhere. This Bill if enacted may help some of the other rivers, particularly the Scottish rivers, but I am afraid it will have little bearing on the River Torridge at this time.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords, I must apologise for appearing so late on the list, but I am really not the villain you think I am. I put my name down but through some oversight—I am sure not of the Whips' Office—I was put on the wrong list for a completely different debate. Therefore I have scrapped my speech and will not detain the House very long.
I welcome the Bill to a quite great extent. I particularly welcome it regarding fishery boards. As the noble Lord, Lord Burton, said, the whole of Scotland, certainly where there is a salmon to be seen, should be covered by fishery boards. What the Bill does not say is how these would be financed. The tourist industry and the hundreds if not thousands of hotels in Scotland, particularly fishing hotels, do very well out of fishing. They will not do so well if the fishing is bad. Surely the Highland Development Board should give a little help to the financial problems of the district fishery boards. I throw that out as a feeler.
I may be very stupid, but what I cannot understand is why in Scotland, under Clause 19, you cannot deal 1042 in salmon unless you are a licensed salmon dealer. Why cannot we have this provision in England and Wales, under Clause 26? I understand that the Welsh Water Authority said last year that the amount of salmon caught illegally in Wales was greater on average than the amount of salmon caught legally by rod and line and nets in Welsh waters. It would surely be a great help if Clause 26 fell into line with the Scottish clause. It would surely make this far more difficult for poachers. What I am frightened of is that if you do not have in England and Wales people licensed to deal in salmon you are going to have a traffic in illegal salmon from the north to the south. It is bound to happen. I cannot see anything to prevent that.
I agree that it would be great fun for lawyers. The defence will obviously make all sorts of excuses regarding the offence of having a salmon in one's possession or the giving of a salmon to a friend. People would obviously make a great number of excuses. They would say that they did not know it was a salmon. You would get very innocent people. How would they tell whether it was a wily Welshman, with respect to any noble Lords opposite who are Welshmen; I know there are quite a few. The hotelier or the tourist cannot possibly tell: I hope that the Government will bring into England and Wales the same law that applies to Scotland.
I do not have a prepared speech and so I must not speak for long. The other thing that rather disturbs me about the Bill is that there is nothing in it to do with the sea. The salmon spends more than half its life in the sea. Although the Bill is a help regarding fresh water and the estuaries in this country, the sea appears to have been completely neglected. I understand that the British Isles—I include Ireland—provide about 40 per cent. of the Atlantic salmon from Europe which go to Greenland to winter. It is a tremendous industry, and with the greatest respect I do not think the Government understand the seriousness of it.
Let us take the part of Scotland where I have salmon and sea trout fishing. I am afraid to confess to my noble friend Lord Burton, who I think has gone, that, although it is not strictly mine, I am the landlord of a very large salmon farm. We put smolts into the rivers from that farm and I have a slight interest in it. In this very wild area of the west of Scotland where I have an estate there are hundreds of miles of coastline where salmon come in to spawn. There is hardly any protection at all for them, and I think this is a very serious matter. I have a fishing keeper who came from the Outer Hebrides. He was on the Grimster. His previous employers were told by the police that they had to get rid of John Lindsay because the police could not be responsible for his life. That is how serious the matter is. This man caught so many poachers that they were going to get him.
I must sit down, but before I do so I should like to say that the monofilament net must be banned. I rely on the great powers which under enabling legislation in the Bill the Secretary of State will have. I beg him to ban this net.
Regarding drift nets, I have always understood that one cannot possibly tie a drift net to the shore and that drift netting can only be done by boat. One can use a splash net from the shore, just in and out, if one has the 1043 right to do so. But I never thought that one could tie a drift net to the shore. I hope that that never happens. As to the north-east drift nets on the Northumberland coast that do such a lot of damage to the east coast rivers in Scotland, which are nothing to do with me, I was under the impression that when the tenants of those boats died new permits would not be issued. So presumably that form of fishing will eventually die out. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Lansdowne would much prefer it if the tenants did not have to die before their permits were withdrawn.
I believe also that some hoteliers ought to be elected to district boards. The salmon industry and the tourist industry, especially in Scotland, are greatly intertwined. I remember speaking to Mr. Curran, chairman of the Highlands and Islands Development Board. I asked him what he considered to be the value to the Scottish tourist industry of salmon caught on rod and line. He replied that it was around £1,000 per fish. The commercial value of salmon is around £2 per pound but the value of that fish to the tourist office is £1,000. I therefore hope that the Government will do all they can to preserve the Atlantic salmon.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
My Lords, I do not know whether I am right in my feeling that this debate started rather sweetly but towards the end, with the contributions by the noble Lord, Lord Burton, and the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, it became a wee bit sour in respect of the welcome that was being given to this particular Bill. I am perfectly sure that many people are thinking that when it comes to sour notes, there is none better than Ross to deliver them. But it will not be quite so bad as that.
Quite honestly, the Government must be disappointed. Even in the distinguished maiden speech that we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Biddulph, there were one or two criticisms, even though the noble Lord hoped that he was not being too controversial. But his was an informed speech and I hope that we shall hear him again during the Committee stage, because the noble Lord obviously has a lot to contribute in this respect.
I consulted my notes on the speeches and saw that there was no wholehearted support for the Bill from anybody. It was half a loaf, according to the noble Lord, Lord Tryon. It obviously merits half an attendance. Then the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, was not very pleased either. I felt that she was damning the Bill with faint praise. She had some very considerable things to say about the only two English clauses. Incidentally, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Tryon, whom I mentioned just before he entered the Chamber; he is completing his second session with us.
I would not say that the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, entirely welcomed the Bill. He was very well informed about the position about which we are seeking to so something. He did not think that the Government had quite got onto it. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, who usually makes a speech on these occasions, welcomed the Bill. Still, there was always an element of "but" in all those speeches.
I want to try to bring all those reservations together. The first part of the Bill concerns the modernization 1044 plan, covered by Clauses 1 to 19. That is where all the complexities about which the noble Lord, Lord Burton, spoke brought furrows to the brows of all the distinguished Writers to the Signet and to the brows of a QC as well. I can assure the House that those complexities brought furrows to my brow. As a Scotsman, I object to spending Hogmanay and the first days of the New Year considering a Salmon Bill. There were only a few days to consider it before the Recess, and now on our return we have started on it right away. It is obvious from the correspondence I have received from a number of interested organisations that they have not had the time to understand the Bill properly, but they promise to give us help and information at the Committee stage. I want to congratulate those Members who have spoken, and spoken so well, because obviously we have all had other preoccupations—certainly I have—in the early days of the New Year. Here we are, already into Burns' supper time. That takes away from our efforts in respect of this Bill, but we shall give it a good keel-hauling when we reach Committee stage.
Having heard all the speeches, my feeling is that it would have been far better for the Government to produce a White Paper instead of this Bill. No one is entirely satisfied with the Bill. The suggestion has been made that some parts of the Bill cannot adequately be amended. There is goodwill in respect of the problems. I remember that the Government demanded action from me just like that when the Hunter Report came out, but they had the whole period 1970 to 1974 in which to act, and then from 1979. Now they have produced this mouse of a Bill—I believe that it was the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, who used that phrase, and I do not call him "thrawn or crabbit". He was just being realistic in respect of this Bill and we should thank him for that.
If the Government had instead produced a White Paper and taken advice and made use of the experience that is available here, they would then have produced a far better Bill. It is all very well to say that we are getting rid of seven Bills from the 1862 to 1868 period, and so on. We should not have any consideration of those Bills. We are dealing with an entirely different situation so far as the importance of salmon fishing is concerned. Again, if I may quote the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, salmon fishing is an important part of the economic life of Scotland. It is an important part of the employment aspect and of tourism. That point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt.
Right from the start, for more than 100 years, there has been a tug of war between the lower interests of the netsmen and the upper interests of the rod and line men. Fish farming has scarcely been mentioned today, and yet the amount of fish produced from that source and on sale is about six times that produced by the netsmen. So we are hammering away at problems and at a management structure that is out of date. I hope that we shall take another look at that aspect.
There is a certain amount of flexibility in respect of what the Secretary of State will take power to do by regulation. However, I want to echo the statement made that we need far more definition as to how the Secretary of State will use his powers.
1045 Scarcely a speaker has not mentioned the need for action to be taken during drought conditions and low water. With the powers that the Secretary of State has in this respect, is he seized of this and is he going to do something about it? I do not go all the way with, I think, the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, who said that we are overestimating the dangers in respect of low water. I can tell him that certainly in the west of Scotland, from what I have heard from the Doune Angling Improvement Trust, at the back end of July and August—that later part of the season when we had more than enough rain—the anglers never had a better time. More fish got up. Admittedly, that is only a part of the problem, but it is one part.
Therefore, first of all there is the change in relation to the importance of the various aspects of the salmon fishery industry. Secondly, there is the change in relation to the stock position. We were all delighted when we obtained some action in respect of quotas from the North Atlantic conservation organisation. This point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Home. Of course we are now concerned because of the decline in stocks. It is not enough for us to just try to sort out how we will divide the catch. We have to ensure that conservation is such that the stocks do not continue to decline as a result of our own efforts or failure adequately to deal with the problem. It is not good enough for, I think it was, the noble Lord (I nearly said Marquess) Lord Kimball, to laugh at quotas. I do not. We have been able to apply them and we have experience within the Scottish Office in repect of the organisation of quotas. I laugh at them when we consider them from the European Community aspect because I doubt very much its ability properly to organise quotas. I know that we will do so, because we tend to stick to the rules; and we can do so equally with salmon as we do with herring or anything else.
Unless we face up to the fact that more fish have to get up and, as the noble Lord, Lord Home, said, more fish have to get down, we are making no adequate contribution to conservation and to the ultimate building up of stocks. If other people play the game and we are told that they cannot even reach their quotas, it shows how desperate are the straits we are in as regards stocks. I do not go so far as some people have done in saying that the salmon is almost an endangered species. I believe that the Daily Telegraph said that in one of its leaders, and it has been implied today. But stocks have declined and are declining and we must do something practical about it.
I do not want to speak for too long because I will probably speak long enough when we come to the Committee stage—and often.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
Who said "long", my Lords? We have had only two speakers from this side of the House. All the rest have been from the other side. That is why I say that in Scottish debates I am entitled to five times as long as anyone else just to make up and give the due weight and balance that we are looking for in our approach to the salmon rivers.
I was delighted with what we were told about cooperation in the far north. I wish we had that 1046 everywhere, but we do not. That is why I think that a proper modern look at the whole business of the election of the district fishery boards is worthwhile. I take the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso. He has done a fair bit of pioneering in this regard. He must wonder at what has happened to all the ideas he has poured into this and at the attitude taken by the Government. I do not know whether the noble Viscount had trampled on the corns of the noble Lord, Lord Gray. He was determined and he produced the point which was repeated today by my noble friend Lord Carmichael.
One of the points he raised (and I think I was the first to raise it) is that there is no money resolution. The Minister objected, because the Government might have to put up some money. There is the weakness. If there is to be a management structure with duties and responsibilities given to a fisheries hoard, how on earth can they be carried out? It may well be possible in the area of the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, and, from what he said, in the area of the noble Lord, Lord Kimball; they may have the power and the finances. However, I can tell them that many other parts of Scotland do not have a fisheries board or, if they have, do not have the resources.
My noble friend talks about the experience and training in respect of bailiffs. I know areas where this is done entirely on a voluntary basis. People go out themselves. What they are up against is that if things have changed, as I say, in respect of the balance of importance of the various aspects of fishing, they have changed in respect of the control of the river. On some of the rivers there are more people acting illegally than there are people who are acting legally. These people who are acting illegally watch the bailiffs. They know where their cars or their vans are. It is not unusual for bailiffs to get back from taking some action to find their tyres have been slashed and that they are immobile. The poachers, however, are very mobile.
This leads me to the point about penalties. I should like to know what are the penalties. Are we to have an uprating of the penalties? The point has been made more than once that the penalties must be much more adequate than they are.
I refer now to the protection aspect mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Gray—that is, the dealer. I shall not mention tagging, as we shall come to that later. I am concerned as to whether dealer licences will work and how they will work. Who is to get these licences? How many are there to be in a particular area? Are the netsmen themselves to be licensed? Are those who have an industrial connection, such as salmon smoking, to be licensed? How is it to be done? Has everyone who catches a fish by rod and line to take it to a licensed dealer? Is there to be a register as to who has sold a fish and where it was caught? Unless there is this kind of follow-through, there will be absolute chaos. I heard one noble Lord talking about the present ingenuity of the poachers. I can assure him that the ingenuity of the poachers will certainly get round having licensed dealers, particularly if there is no licensing of dealers in England.
How far away is the Tweed from Carlisle and from the hotels in the Lake District? Poachers are mobile and are organised. In one night's poaching they can 1047 easily make £1,000 to £1,500. That is the value of the salmon they can get and the value of salmon that is lost to the economy of, perhaps, an area in the south of Scotland. Poachers can move equally quickly from the north. We did not build the motorways purely for tourists. The poachers are allowed to use them too. All they have is the usual kind of licence which anyone else gets.
Practically every speech made this point. I will list them if your Lordships wish. The noble Lord, Lord Home, said license England too. The same point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Biddulph; he wanted to license dealers on a national basis. The noble Lord, Lord Tryon, made the same point, and I think it came also from the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun. The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, wanted English and Welsh licensing; he brought in Wales. So it went on in all the speeches that were made. That is a point I trust the Government will take up.
This is not a Scottish Bill. It will not be dealt with in the Scottish Grand Committee. I cannot see the Speaker saying that this is purely a Scots matter when there are two English clauses; and if there are two English clauses dealing with the new offence and the follow-up to that, why is there nothing about drift netting in the North-East? That was the other point raised by practically every speaker. We have to deal with it and to grasp the nettle. It will not sting, as one noble Lord said, if it is taken firmly and the question of drift netting in the North-East is dealt with.
It is a different situation altogether from that in Scotland. One noble Lord said earlier that we would speak about this matter because I had done something about it in Scotland. I stopped it in Scotland, and I stopped it just after it started. The trouble was that I stopped it just after a general election and I was not very popular, especially in certain constituencies. But in the North-East of England it is more traditional. It has been going on for a long time, so it is not quite so easy; but it does not get any easier if one waits another 25 years before tackling it.
As I understand it, what is being suggested is that the number of licences will be reduced by seven, but in place of that there will be seven additional fixed nets. So there is not an entire saving, or possibility of saving, in that particular way. I also understand that there will be the insistence that the owner of the licence has to be there when his boat comes in and actually lands fish. I do not think that that will do very much good in relation to the number of fish that should have gone into Scottish waters compared with the number that actually arrive. I think it is reckoned that about 93 per cent. of those drift-netted fish which are caught in the North-East would have gone into eastern Scottish waters. But the point then arises that most of those which do arrive in Scottish waters will never get near their own spawning grounds. So you have to deal with that situation from a Scottish point of view. It is also an English problem as well. This really comes down to co-ordination between the various aspects. I think it was the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, who mentioned the new methods of fishing and also the intensity of the fishing, which applies to netsmen and also to rod and line men.
Lord Home of the Hirsel
My Lords, the noble Lord is trying to be most scrupulously fair but has he mentioned the fact that the netting at night will be reduced by eight hours a night?
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
My Lords, it is not bad, but let us hope that it is confirmed—and not only confirmed but that we get some result. Does the noble Lord not agree with me that something of this sort should actually be in the Bill? We should be very much happier with that, rather than that there should be some administrative arrangement between a Minister and a water board. In fact, will there be an English Bill? We should like to know, because I think a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton, was that many of the problems which we are facing are problems faced in the West Country as well. So, will there be an English Bill or not?
On the whole, the Bill does good things in the wrong way and it does not go nearly far enough in respect of the main concern, which is the decline in stocks and an ability to prove to other countries, with which we are seeking international quotas to allow the fish to get here, that once they reach here we will not so arrange it that we ignore the whole question of conservation.
I think that the points which were made by the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, on the whole question of resources were made in one of the finest speeches I have heard on this problem for a long time, and I feel that if he thought that he was being hard on the Government then he really was facing up to what everyone accepts as a problem—a decline in stocks and the question of a complete change of attitude in relation to those with interests in them. Everyone has to appreciate that changed importance from the point of view of the economy, from the point of view of justice, and above all from the point of view of the conservation of salmon itself.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I mention my experience for just one moment and say that I have a small river and sluice-gates to make artificial spates. We found that no matter how low the river may be, if the gates are opened and the barometer is high no fish will come in. One can only open them if the barometer is low, because apparently the salmon say to themselves "There is something phoney about this" and they will not come in.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
My Lords, I should love to expatiate on that subject, but it is only fair to the rest of the House, and to the Minister who has been waiting for a long time to wind up and have his go at the rest of us, if I just leave it at that.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Lord Gray of Contin
My Lords, I think we have had an excellent debate. I am most encouraged by the number of those of your Lordships' House who have 1049 seen fit to participate, and I am particularly encouraged by the welcome—despite what the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, has said—from the vast majority of those who have participated. I was doing a little counting as well as the noble Lord, Lord Ross, and, with the exception of my noble friend Lord Burton, everybody at some point in his speech welcomed the Bill. My noble friend Lord Lansdowne was critical, and I shall return to him, in good humour, my suggestion that perhaps if we all wait until the Committee stage and he puts down some of his amendments then we can have a more detailed discussion on them and perhaps he may be able to persuade me. I offer that suggestion without any commitment whatever.
Nevertheless, it is encouraging to hear criticism coming from one's own side of the House. One expects if from the other side of the House. That is the duty of the Opposition and they would be failing miserably if they did not criticise our efforts. But it is encouraging to hear constructive criticism coming from our own side and I am most appreciative of the suggestions which have been made by my noble friends.
Let me briefly take up one point that the noble Lord, Lord Ross, made. He was saying that we should not have bothered with a Bill; we should have been much better with a White Paper. I have been told many times since I came to your Lordships' House that action was needed on salmon fishing, not words and certainly not a White Paper. I realise, as I am sure my noble friends will, that even if we had a White Paper, then further vast consultations and then produced a Bill, it certainly would not meet with the approval of everybody. On a subject that causes as much interest and enthusiasm as the salmon industry, I am not a bit surprised that this evening I have not been able to satisfy the demands of everybody. I hope that we may come a little closer to that later in the Bill.
A number of points have been raised during the course of the debate, and I appreciate that some at least may appear in the form of amendments when we come to the Committee stage. However, it may be helpful if at this stage I comment on what has been said. A number of noble Lords have regretted the absence of provision for a salmon tagging scheme. As I said earlier, after extensive consideration and consultation with interested parties, we concluded that, however attractive in principle, tagging presented too many difficulties to be introduced in this country.
The noble Lord, Lord Moran, said how successful the tagging system had been in Canada. Last year I visited Canada, and I had talks with its fishery department and heard details of the operation of that scheme. But the problems there are totally different. It would be impossible to overcome the difficulties of such a scheme in this country. The main problem areas identified were the control of imports, control over the issue of tags and the handling of our domestic farmed salmon. The great majority of trade in salmon in Great Britain consists of imports and farm production.
It was common ground from the outset that a tagging scheme could be effective only if it covered all Atlantic salmon. It emerged, however, that to ensure 1050 that all imported and farmed salmon were tagged would present substantial practical difficulties with considerable financial implications, which, even if they could be overcome, without doubt would result in onerous administrative and other burdens on both fish farmers and traders. Your Lordships will not be surprised that, having considered all those matters and discussed them with those most directly involved, I came to the same conclusion as my noble friend Lord Margadale, who favoured the scheme at the outset but had been persuaded by the arguments against it.
My noble friends Lord Trenchard and Lord Haig asked me to say whether the Government would table an amendment to extend dealer licensing to England and Wales. Several other noble Lords made the same point. As I have already pointed out, conditions are not the same on both sides of the Border. The great burden of work would fall on water authorities in areas remote from the salmon fishing areas. We also have no reason to believe that the absence of dealer licensing south of the Border will necessarily encourage cross-Border trade in illegally caught salmon. Probably much of the salmon caught illegally in Scotland comes south anyway. The important point is that the new offence of handling illegally caught salmon created by Clauses 20 and 26 will apply in the same way on both sides of the Border.
A number of noble Lords raised the question of provision in the Bill to cover conditions of drought or low water levels. I can quite see how at first sight that may appear an attractive proposition, but, having looked at it in some depth, I should say that there are a number of difficulties associated with it. The first and most basic is that there is, as far as I am aware, no generally accepted standard for defining drought. Without such a standard one could envisage time spent in discussion with salmon interests on whether the country as a whole, or parts of it, were suffering at a particular time.
It is perhaps more likely that low water levels felt to affect salmon fishing would exist in parts of the country rather than over Scotland as a whole. As there are no standards for defining drought, I find it difficult to see how we could produce practicable and enforceable restrictions for certain areas only, particularly given the extent of consultation which I think we should feel obliged to undertake. In such consultation the question of the extent of restrictions would also arise. Giving district boards this power to impose restrictions does, of course, run into the difficulty that there are not boards for the whole of the country. I hope your Lordships will appreciate that, having looked at this problem as I have, I simply do not find that I am filled with enthusiasm for such a proposal.
My noble friends Lord Home of the Hirsel and Lord Ridley, both with great experience in these matters and whose views I respect, put to me a number of problems which are probably among the most difficult to deal with. They asked, for example, whether the Government will phase out the North-East drift net fishery and whether the Government will confirm the measures announced on 7th December.
§ Viscount Ridley
My Lords, I did not mention the North-East drift net. I am probably the only Member of the House not to have done so.
§ Lord Gray of Contin
My Lords, I apologise to my noble friend. Equally, I apologise to all the others among your Lordships whose names I have not mentioned and who did raise the subject. My noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel certainly raised it. It was a point, too, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael. In doing so, he asked me whether there was agreement with the Northumbrian and Yorkshire water authorities on the measures to restrict the North-East fishery announced by my right honourable friend on 7th November. The answer is, "Yes". We are working with the authorities to bring in these measures as soon as possible. We hope that some will apply to the coming season if the statutory procedures can be completed in time. I would confirm, in response to questions from several noble Lords, and particularly my noble friend Lord Home, that it is intended to ensure that the licensee is present when the net is fished. The licensee will have to be present. That will be a requirement of the licence. Secondly, night fishing by drift nets will be banned. Thirdly, it is intended to standardise weekly closed times on the longest time.
A number of other measures are being taken. But those that I have mentioned are the three principal measures and the ones to which my noble friend referred. As the Government have made clear, we have not seen evidence to justify the complete banning of this fishery. Certainly, we believe that the measures that we have in hand at the present time, along with the other measures being taken in this Bill, should do a great deal to help control the problem.
The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, also raised points on the proposed arrangements for co-option to district boards. This is a somewhat detailed matter. All I would say at this stage is that I am not attracted at all to the idea of the Secretary of State for Scotland making such appointments to boards. It is one thing for the Secretary of State to have power to make regulations affecting the managment of salmon fisheries in the country; it would be quite another matter for him to have the huge administrative task of finding up to six people for over 50 boards on a three-yearly basis. I am firmly of the view that this is a matter to be dealt with at local level.
The noble Lord, like some other noble Lords, was somewhat critical of the fact that the Bill does not provide for any assistance from public funds to district salmon boards and that there is therefore little or any incentive in the Bill for boards to be set up. This was also, I believe, one of the criticisms of my noble friend Lord Lansdowne. The Bill does, I believe, provide incentives for the setting-up of boards—for example, by allowing the amalgamation of districts to form larger and more viable management units. I should make it clear that as a Government we take the view that if proprietors of salmon fisheries judge it to be in their interest to take advantage of legislation to come together to form boards for the improvement of their private fishing interests, that is very much a matter for them. It would not be appropriate for public funds to be diverted in support of this.
Having said that, it has to be remembered that district boards and salmon interests generally have, and we expect will retain, the benefit of public resources in relation to enforcement and prosecution facilities not only through the police but also through 1052 the fishery protection services, which apply considerable efforts to salmon. In addition, there will now be the benefits of the increased pressure on poachers from the new possession offence and the dealer licensing scheme in Scotland.
In what I thought was an excellent and informative speech by my noble friend Lord Kimball, I was interested in his experience as far as finance is concerned. I think it is encouraging for everybody to hear that in his case finance has been generated locally, and it may be possible that this could be extended elsewhere.
I am particularly sorry that there was some mix-up over the contribution of my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard, and the time at which he would make it. I am very glad indeed that he came back and gave us the benefit of his experience, still on the subject of finance. Indeed, the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, again raised this point and made reference to a consultation document of some years ago. What was said there I think referred to the creation of larger area boards. As noble Lords will realise, we have not, as a matter of policy, gone down that route.
As to the possibility of EC funds being available for district salmon boards—I think that both the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, and my noble friend mentioned that also—I am not aware that such funds could be available under existing grant provisions but I shall look into this point because it is certainly of great interest to your Lordships. I shall have that checked.
The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, spoke about the democratic control of fisheries. The fact is that salmon fishing rights are private rights, and there must be a limit to the extent with which we can interfere with private rights. We think that we have it just about right by allowing for the co-option of representatives of anglers and tenant netsmen. We do not think that we can go further. There were a number of interesting points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, on this point, and again by my noble friend Lord Lansdowne. It may be that we shall have a futher opportunity to discuss the question of the representatives of anglers and tenant netsmen when we reach the next stage of the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, and my noble friend Lord Kimball also raised the question of financial provisions. We have gone into the financial aspects very carefully, and I am satisfied that any extra costs for local and central Government will be negligible.
The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, and my noble friend Lord Burton both raised the point about timeshare. That was a very interesting area of their researches. References in the Bill are, I think, to proprietors of "a fishing" or to "fishery" as entered in the valuation roll, or similar. To that extent the effect of time-share ownership would depend on whether the fishery itself, as opposed to its ownership, is fragmented. However, this is a rather detailed point and I shall look more closely into it before the next stage of the Bill.
The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, and several other noble Lords, also raised the question about there being 1053 no provision for boards to have a role in such matters as removal of gravel, water abstraction or control of the introduction of fish. I am not convinced that boards should have a role in such matters, but no doubt we shall have a chance to discuss this later. I should perhaps say that it would, for example, be difficult to make it a criminal offence for anyone to introduce fish into a river system for which there is a district board but not in a river system for which there is not a district board. However, as I have indicated, that is a matter which we can explore further during the Committee stage.
The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, also asked me about the statute versus the nautical mile. I am advised that the miles referred to in the Bill and in the 1951 Act are statute miles and not nautical miles.
The noble Lord, Lord Tryon, spoke about a national salmon policy. The Government consider salmon conservation questions on a national basis. There are close working links between the fisheries departments. However, to move to uniform arrangements for salmon throughout Great Britain would be a highly complex process with wide implications because of the great differences in the legal systems of, and the legal rights to fish for salmon in, Scotland and England and Wales. We would not wish to override those rights and local traditions without good reasons and, of course, clear benefits.
As regards the noble Lord, Lord Biddulph, I would suggest that he has been silent for too long, and I would join with others who congratulated him on his excellent speech. The noble Lord asked me about the regulation of meshes and the dimensions of nets. The regulatory power being taken for the Secretary of State would enable such action to be taken. That can, however, already be done under the Inshore Fishing (Scotland) Act 1984. Indeed, I shall be laying orders soon to ban the carriage of monofilament nets in British fishing boats while in Scottish waters, and the use of gill nets to fish for salmon.
The noble Lord, Lord Moran, and also my noble friend Lord Gibson-Watt asked me why there was no mention of Northern Ireland. The answer is quite simple. Northern Ireland has its own legislation for salmon and it would not have been appropriate to extend the scope of the Bill to Northern Ireland.
My noble friend Lord Trenchard and the noble Lord, Lord Moran, raised the question of the wording of the new offence. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, in a speech in which she touched on many of the issues which I have already dealt with and which were raised by others, also referred to Clause 26 and asked for some explanation of it. The words of the new offence in Clauses 20(1) and 26(1) require the prosecution to show that a person has reasonable grounds for suspecting that salmon in his possession was unlawfully taken. How difficult or easy that will be depends on the circumstances of each case. But what is clear is that a person who obtains possession of salmon in suspicious circumstances—for example, at a very low price, or at a very late hour, or at a backdoor at a very late hour—will be more easily convicted. It will be a defence for him to show that no offence took place, but that may be no easy matter. Indeed, I would 1054 take issue in the most friendly way with my noble friend Lord Lansdowne when he referred to the Bill in one breath as a mouse and in the second breath said that the reverse onus of proof was a very important factor and one that he felt would have far-reaching effects. I would merely say to my noble friend that he cannot have it both ways, but I am prepared to take it the second way.
The noble Lord, Lord Moran, spoke about the licensing of salmon smokers. That matter was also raised by the noble Viscount and by a number of other noble Lords during the debate. I must tell the noble Lord that Clause 19 is in very general terms and we have not yet worked out the details of what we would include in a dealer licensing scheme. The clause would certainly enable it to be provided that if a smoker did not buy his salmon from a licensed dealer, he would have to be licensed himself. But these points of the scheme will all be worked out in due course. There is no desperate hurry for them, because this is an enabling power taken in the Bill and therefore the final details of the dealer licensing scheme are still being processed.
The noble Lord, Lord Moran, and the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, also raised the question of realisation of salmon left out of Clause 26. I understand that realisation is included in the Theft Act 1968, in Section 22(1), which has similarities to the drafting of Clause 26(1), because the Theft Act covers intangible property such as copyright as well as property with a physical existence. The offence in Clause 26(1) includes the disposal of illegally caught salmon and arranging to do so. Thus the sense of realisation is included in the Bill, and it would be difficult not to add a reference to realisation as well.
The noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, also raised the question of statistics. The noble Marquess suggested that district boards should have power to require proprietors to submit records of salmon catches to them. It seems to me that the present situation where proprietors are required to submit statistics to my right honourable friend is right, because there are not boards for the whole of Scotland. The noble Marquess will have noted paragraph 6 of Schedule 4, which will remove restrictions on my right honourable friend's ability to publish statistics.
My noble friend Lord Burton asked what happens if the rating system is reformed. I am particularly sorry that my noble friend is so despondent about the Bill, and I hope that during the Committee stage and later stages I shall be able to persuade him that it has much more merit in it than he has found so far. He pointed to the fact that the financing of boards is based upon the rating system, and asked me what would happen if that system was reformed. Salmon fishing is not the only activity which will be affected by rating reform. I am sure that we should have taken this opportunity to have a Salmon Bill based on existing arrangements rather than wait for the developments on rating reform.
I think that that answer would be appropriate also in a number of other instances where people suggested that perhaps we should have waited and not proceeded. I found that we were able to get a small slot in the legislative system, and while I am the first to 1055 admit that in this Bill we are not doing everything that we should dearly like to have done, I thought that it was much better to proceed, and proceed on those issues on which we could have agreement, rather than wait and delay any further.
My noble friend Lord Clinton spoke about the decline of the salmon stock on the Torridge. He described to us the problems on that river. This is a matter for the South-West Water Authority, which is well aware of the problem and is actively considering steps required to improve the state of that river. I am sorry that I cannot give my noble friend a better answer than that to his query, but I am grateful to him for participating in this Second Reading, and I hope that we shall hear more from him during the Committee stage of the Bill.
I am conscious of the late hour, and I have no wish to prolong this debate further. In conclusion, I should like to reiterate my earlier thanks to all those who have stayed this evening to take part in what has been an interesting and I am sure for all of us an instructive occasion. I hope that the same spirit of goodwill will prevail during our Committee and Report stages.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, can he comment on my suggestion that penalties under Clauses 19 and 20 should include the possible loss of a culprit's licence, whether it be a trading or a catering one?
§ Lord Gray of Contin
My Lords, I have no doubt that the noble Lady's suggestion would find a good deal of favour in the House. I suggest to her that she might consider tabling an amendment to that effect at Committee stage, when we could have a fuller discussion on the matter.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
House adjourned at twenty-four minutes before ten o'clock.