HC Deb 23 July 1958 vol 592 cc453-72

Lords Amendment: In page 5, line 32, at end insert: (2) For the year beginning on the sixteenth day of May, nineteen hundred and fifty-nine, and subsequent years the rights of salmon fishing to which this subsection applies shall, subject to the following provisions of this section, be deemed for the purpose of making up any valuation roll to be agricultural lands and heritages: Provided that nothing in this section shall affect any right of a district fishery board to require the assessor to value and enter such rights of salmon fishing in the valuation roll for the purposes of fishery assessments only. (3) The last foregoing subsection—

  1. (a) applies to rights of salmon fishing which are exercised by net or cruive and are so exercised regularly throughout the periods during which that method of fishing is allowed by law, and in respect of which no revenue is derived by the owner or occupier thereof from any other method of fishing during any part of those periods; and
  2. (b) does not apply to any dwelling-houses, bothies, net stores, drying greens or other corporeal lands and heritages, whether occupied or used in connection with rights of salmon fishing to which the last foregoing subsection applies or not.
(4) Any dwelling-houses, bothies, net stores, drying greens or other corporeal lands and heritages occupied or used in connection with rights of salmon fishing to which subsection (2) of this section applies shall, for the purpose of making up the valuation roll for the year beginning on the sixteenth day of May, nineteen hundred and fifty-nine and any subsequent year, be treated as lands and heritages which are neither industrial nor agricultural.

Mr. Maclay

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

It will probably be for the convenience of the House if we also take the Amendments in lines 39, 40 and 41 and in page 6, line 4.

The effect of these Amendments is to treat salmon net fishings as agricultural land and heritages for rating purposes, but to treat bothies, drying greens and other physical properties connected with such fishing as neither agricultural nor industrial, so that they will be rated at their full value, at any rate until 1961–62.

It will be recalled that an Amendment dealing with the same subject was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley) in the Scottish Standing Committee and was withdrawn on an undertaking given by my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary to consider the arguments put forward. My hon. Friend's Amendment differed from that now before us chiefly in not making provision for the separate valuation of bothies and drying greens and so on, which are occupied in connection with salmon fishing.

Its effect appeared to be, as my hon. Friend said, to derate salmon fishing entirely when the new provisions for the valuation of agricultural land and heritages, contained in the Valuation and Rating (Scotland) Act, 1956, came into force in 1961–62. The present Amendment, on the contrary, provides for those properties which now receive the benefit of industrial derating in some areas to be rated at their full value, and it therefore meets the argument for giving salmon fishing some relief from rates without freeing it from rating liability altogether.

The history of the rating of salmon net fishing shows that it has been arguable whether it should be treated as industry or agriculture, and the question for decision is which is the right description in the altered circumstances caused by re-rating. Both salmon net fishing and agriculture provide an important source of employment in the Highlands and other sparsely populated areas and employ very much the same men at different times of the year. It has also been represented to us that the number of netting stations in operation has declined and that more will have to close down, with a consequent increase in unemployment, if an increased rate burden is imposed.

It has been calculated that the rate burden of salmon net fishing is already proportionately greater than that carried by industry as a whole. The estimates available show that in 1957 salmon net fishings paid in rates about 6½ per cent. of the value of their catch, which is their gross output, which is substantially more than the average for industry as a whole.

Mr. Rankin

Did the right hon. Gentleman have those figures available when this matter was discussed in Committee?

Mr. Maclay

Some of them were available but not as fully understood by myself and others as they should have been. I accept that.

As the Bill was introduced, this burden would have been doubled with the partial rerating of industry in May, 1959. We undertook to study this matter very carefully—and it required a good deal of study to see what was the wise thing to do.

Mr. James H. Hoy (Edinburgh, Leith)

I remember this matter being discussed in Committee. It was also discussed in another place and was also resisted by the Government on that occasion.

Mr. Maclay

We continued to examine this matter after the Bill had gone to another place. I forget the exact timetable of what happened in another place, but it is correct that we were not satisfied that a better method would not be found for doing this at a later stage. If one finds on reconsideration that something is practical and fair, it should be done. After examination of all the considerations, we came to the conclusion that we would be justified in treating salmon fishings as agriculture.

As hon. Members may know, there is one other point to make clear. The Association of County Councils in Scotland circulated a letter when this Amendment was before the other place representing against it, chiefly because of the loss of rateable value which would result. The Association has now asked the Minister of State for an assurance that the general grant will be increased to take account of the loss of rateable value. The argument behind this representation is that paragraph 18 of the White Paper on Local Government Finance in Scotland indicated that the general grant and the equalisation grant together would not be abated by more than two-thirds of the proceeds of rerating less the total of abolished grants. As the proceeds of rerating would be reduced by derating salmon fishings, on the basis of the Amendment, the Association suggested that this should be taken into account in making the calculation of general grant, and I am glad to say that, after studying this carefully, the Government are able to accept the suggestion.

However, it will be appreciated that one of the reasons why the Government advise the House to accept the Amendments is that the additional rate burden which would be imposed by continuing to treat the net fishings as industry and, therefore, subject to rating at 50 per cent. of their net annual value would result in the closing down of some net fishing stations. Consequently, there would have been a loss of rateable value to rating authorities. The calculation of the loss of rateable value resulting from the Amendments will be one of some complexity, but we will make the best calculation we can and make allowances for it in determining the general grant over the necessary period.

To sum up: The Amendment meets a representation made in Committee and subsequently and one with which we had some sympathy. It removes a difficulty in that the original proposal would have entirely relieved salmon fishings of rates. As I have said, we are prepared to make adjustments of the general grant in respect of the loss of rateable value which would otherwise fall on certain county councils. In those circumstances, I have no hesitation in commending the Amendment to the House.

Mr. Willis

Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that the total block grant will be increased to allow for the loss?

Mr. Maclay

Yes, that is what it means.

Mr. T. Fraser

I do not think the Secretary of State will have convinced himself that he made out a case for this concession to the salmon net fishing industry. He has not made out the case, although he may have a case to make. We are not sure why the concession is being made. It was first urged on Scottish Members by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) when he put down an Amendment to Clause 7 in Committee. He urged the case on that occasion on the ground that great hardship would be caused to the people who were carrying out these operations if a concession were not made, and he also argued that fishing could be better compared with agriculture than with industry.

At that time, no hon. Member seemed to have taken into account the fact that this was a concession which would not mean anything to the Chancellor of the Exchequer but was a concession which the Government were being asked to make by Statute to the salmon net fishing industry at the expense of other ratepayers in the area.

Several things have happened since the hon. Member for North Angus (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley) moved a Clause in Committee. The idea was canvassed again on Second Reading and during the Committee stages in another place, and an Amendment was made on Report in another place. I have listened to many of the discussions which have taken place on the matter and have very carefully read reports of those to which I have not been able to listen. I am bound to say that those who have canvassed this concession have had to scrape the barrel to find some justification for it.

5.0 p.m.

At one time, the concession was advanced on the basis that the industry was more comparable with agriculture than with other industries; on another occasion, the argument was that it provided employment for people in areas where there was unemployment, and on yet another occasion it was pointed out that there were only a few people in the industry and that it would be a great hardship to them if they were to be asked to pay even higher rates. The Amendment now provides that they will pay even lower rates than at present.

I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman would argue that it is a combination of all these reasons which has influenced him in accepting the change proposed in another place. So far as I can see, this industry is comparable neither with agriculture nor with industry generally. It is an industry in which a good deal of money changes hands considering the small number of people employed in it. The County Councils Association was alerted by some of the things hon. Members on this side of the House had the temerity to say in Committee, and it has now made its representations, and the Secretary of State has given it an assurance that by taking the general grant and the equalisation grant together local authorities will have made good to them that which they will lose under the terms of the Amendment.

I shall take an awful lot of convincing that the right hon. Gentleman can do that. He is not free to dole out the Exchequer equalisation grant or general grant as he thinks fit. Provision is made by statute for his administration of those grants. An existing Act of Parliament deals with the Exchequer equalisation grant, and the right hon. Gentleman cannot decide to make good what local authorities lose in this way by raising the amount of grant that they will get just as he cares. As for the general grant, is he telling us that he can fiddle about with the formula in the Bill as he thinks fit? I thought that he was free, together with the Chancellor, to determine the aggregate amount of general grant, but that after he had done so he had to disburse it in accordance with the formula in the Bill. If that is correct, how comes it that a local authority will be able to get more money by way of general grant because it is losing something on salmon net fishings?

We must not be misled by a bland assertion that the other ratepayers in the affected areas will not have an increased burden put upon them.

Mr. Maclay

I will try to clear up this point. The County Councils Association suggested that this element should be taken into account in making the initial calculation of general grant, and we are accepting that suggestion.

Mr. Fraser

Is this a concession? How much money is paid in rates by the salmon net fishing industry in the whole of Scotland? If this is to be taken into account in making the initial calculation, it will merely mean an increase in the aggregate amount of grant, and the authorities who will get most out of it will be the large ones, like the City of Glasgow and the City of Edinburgh, which have not lost anything in this respect. It is the poverty-stricken local authorities in the sparsely populated areas in the North of Scotland which will lose the income. Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that they will be well satisfied to know that what they have lost has been gained by Edinburgh and Glasgow? This proposition will not be acceptable to those local authorities who are affected.

In any case, if the right hon. Gentleman believes that the industry is unable to pay the present rates levied upon it, why does he not take the power to give local authorities discretion in the granting of rate relief on the ground of inability to pay? I can give the answer to that question at once. When my constituents, who are ordinary working people, ask for relief of rates they have to put their cards on the table face up and prove to the local authority that they are unable to pay. The right hon Gentleman would not be anxious that a local authority which was asked by a salmon net fishing company to grant it relief of rates should say to that company, "Let us have your cards on the table face up. Let us see whether you are unable to pay".

I put it to the House that the concession ought not to be granted on the ground of inability to pay. If a case is to be made on that ground, the applicant for relief ought to be required to prove to the local authority concerned that he is unable to pay. Is there any reason why the Secretary of State should not have made an Amendment to provide for the exercise of his discretion by the local authorities concerned? I read very carefully not only what was said in Committee in this House but also what was said in another place. I understand that the Beauly fishings have a rent of £8,300 a year.

Sir Colin Thornton-Kemsley (North Angus and Mearns)

In spite of that, the company lost money last year.

Mr. Fraser

The hon. Member has anticipated what I was going to say. The company paid a rent of £8,300 last year and, according to what was said in another place, it also paid £25,000 in wages—and it lost money at the end of the year. I want to know who got the £8,300. Was it the Crown? If the Crown took £8,300 from the salmon net fishing industry in that part of the country, what had the Crown to do to earn that rent? Did it incur any expenditure? How was that rent arrived at? Was it arrived at by competitive tender, or was this the highest offer? Of course, it was the highest offer. The salmon net fishing industry determines its own rateable value by fixing too high rents. That is what happens in river estuaries all over the country. It is nonsense to say that if a company goes out of business in a certain area there will no longer be any salmon fishing there. Somebody else will get the job at a lower rent. It is the companies themselves who determine the scandalously high valuation upon which they pay their rates, because it is they who determine the rents.

We have this ludicrous position in which a company of two or three men offer several thousands pounds for the right to fish in a river estuary and off a little bit of the coastline. The person from whom they rent the fishing does not have to put up any buildings or expend any money to lure the salmon into the river. He has no outgoings. He merely owns the fishing. Very often it is the Crown which owns it. Then these companies come along and compete with each other for the right to engage in fishing. They determine the rateable value upon which they have to pay their rates, and then they plead that their income is not sufficient to pay the rates on their rents.

I should have thought that if these people are to be protected and their outgoings reduced it would be far better for their rents to be reduced. In Committee, the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland said that the local authority provided virtually no services for these people. The owner of the fishings provide no services for them either, but there is no suggestion that the rents should be reduced. The only suggestion is that the rates should be reduced. There is no suggestion that the Crown should take less; there is only a suggestion that the local authorities should take less.

The salmon net fishing companies have the remedy in their own hands. I have been told that they do not quite have the remedy because they may have taken a long lease—but they can get out of it. I am fairly certain that those who engage in this industry make a lot of money. I am fairly certain that those people who run this salmon net fishing industry around the coast of Scotland, especially in the north, have incomes substantially in excess of the incomes of the other ratepayers who will be penalised by this concession. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to make it clear that these people pay their rates on the valuation and that the valuation is determined by them through the rents—and those rents are incredibly high. In many cases they are drawn by the Crown, although not in all cases. I leave it to the Secretary of State to make this position quite clear.

I also want the Secretary of State to describe our rating system. Does he say that it is a payment for services rendered, or that it is a system of local taxation? This is nothing to laugh at, because it goes to the root of the proposition. If the system of rating is to be described as a payment for services rendered, we ought to agree to the Amendment—but in that case there are many other Amendments that would require to be made in the Bill. If, on the other hand, it is a system of local taxation, we ought not to make this concession. The right hon. Gentleman said that if the Amendment represented something which was practicable and fair we ought to accept it, and I entirely agree. But a case has not been made out that it is practicable and fair.

I am often accused of having prejudices, and I think it is better that I should announce them myself. When I see another place being loaded with noble Lords who come here only infrequently in the course of the year in order to argue for Amendments of this kind, I am not readily convinced that they are arguing for the poor crofters in the North of Scotland. One after another of them would tell us that they have a financial interest in the business.

They are not losing money on salmon. We have just been discussing the case of one who received a large sum of money for a little injury that might be caused to the salmon pools in the North of Scotland—the sum of £100,000. Yet he is making a loss on some of these fishings and he wants a concession at the expense of the other ratepayers in the area. I do not think we should accept it. I invite the House to reject the advice of the Secretary of State and this Amendment from another place.

5.15 p.m.

Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley

I am grateful to the Government for having brought forward this Amendment and to those in another place who have made it possible. I am sure it is right that it should be written into the Bill. I do not know how far I shall be in order in following up the last few remarks of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser), who contrived to suggest that those noble Lords who spoke in favour of this Amendment had an interest in salmon fishings of one kind or another and seldom came to London to take part in the debates in another place.

If the hon. Gentleman will refresh his memory by looking at the OFFICIAL REPORT—I am glad that he has a copy before him—he will find—I say again that I do not know whether I shall be out or order in saying this—that the noble Lord who moved the Amendment, who is a constituent of mine, is a young peer who takes a great part in the affairs of another place. Certainly he has no interest in salmon fisheries.

There was another noble Lord who took part, another young man from the County of Aberdeen who, so far as I know, has no interest in salmon net fisheries. The noble Lord, Lord Dundee, who is well known in this House, who has no such interest, also took part in the debate. The only one who has an interest is a noble Lord with an interest in river fishings. So it is wrong for the hon. Member for Hamilton to suggest that noble Lords who spoke to this Amendment have a pecuniary interest in salmon fishing, and certainly all those who spoke come frequently to another place to take part in the debates there.

I am concerned with the principle of the thing. I do not intend to follow the hon. Member who expressed doubts about how local authorities would be recouped by means of the block grant. That is not part of the argument which I wish to put forward. I doubt whether as a result of this there will be much, if any, loss of rates by local authorities. I can speak with some knowledge of two local authorities where there are salmon net fishings. I say that as I know from experience that salmon net fishings are being given up because they are not proving profitable. If they are given up, it means that there will be no rateability at all and local authorities will lose such rates as are paid at present. So in actual fact, the loss of rates will not be great.

The hon. Member for Hamilton said he was not sure on what grounds this Amendment had been put forward. He advanced various reasons which had been adduced, and all of them were good. There are others which the hon. Gentleman did not mention. This is, in fact, an export industry. Scottish salmon is an export in these days—

Mr. Rankin

So is whisky.

Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley

Now with the developments in deep freezing and in the smoking of salmon, Scottish salmon is exported to such places as Kuwait, Australia, South Africa, South America, the United States, the West Indies, Nairobi, Bulawayo and Salisbury.

Mr. Rankin

And the industry is still making a loss.

Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley

It is exported—

Mr. Ross

At a loss.

Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley

—and it is a highly competitive business.

Mr. Ross

At a loss.

Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley

Scottish salmon has to compete in Billingsgate Market with great quantities of salmon from Ireland. It is the Irish salmon that, to a large extent, determines the prices at Billingsgate Market.

Mr. Rankin


Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley

The hon. Member asks, "Why?" The reason is that it comes in in larger quantities.

I took the trouble to get out some figures for the last ten years which show that deliveries into Billingsgate Market between 1946 and 1956 included 18,300 boxes of salmon, of which 6,350 came from Scotland and 7,300 boxes came from Ireland. So that it is the Irish salmon which, to a large extent, controls the prices at Billingsgate. This morning the figures of deliveries of salmon to Billingsgate Market show that out of 500 to 600 boxes most of them were Irish grilse.

The other and the more potent reason why I welcome this Amendment is that although I admit and agree with the hon. Member for Hamilton that there are big firms in the business which, taking one year with another, are making big money, at the other end of the scale there are a number of very small men. There are a number of share fishermen, small individuals carrying out this salmon net fishing on their own account. It is these businesses, operated on small margins, which have been making losses and are going out of business, and that is a serious thing.

I have been furnished with figures—I did not ask for them—showing how the fishing round the Scottish coasts is held. In the Tweed area, whether the total rateability on net fishing is about £4,500, there are two substantial firms. One pays a rental of over £3,000 a year and the other £700. All the other fishermen are small men, some of them working on a share basis.

Mr. T. Fraser

Are these fishermen covered by this Amendment? I have been to see these people, and I was under the impression that they were mostly on the English side of the Border.

Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley

On the Tweed, that is perfectly true. Quite a large proportion of the fishing into the mouth of the Tweed is done on the English side of the Border.

Going farther north into the Kingdom of Fife, one finds a rather sad story. Prior to 1924, there were as many as 90 salmon fishing stations of one kind and another. Most were fairly small. In 1924, one of the big firms took over most of these stations, and at that time it operated about 12 fisheries and employed about 51 men. I was wrong. It is not 90 stations, it is 90 men that were employed in fisheries up and down the coast of the Kingdom of Fife, and they were mostly small men. Then the big firm came in. It operated 12 fisheries and employed more than 50 men. But the business dwindled until only 26 men were employed, and finally the firm gave up these fishings altogether in 1942.

We get the same sort of story round the coast of Scotland. These fishings are not proving profitable and, one after another, they are being given up. That is a serious thing for the employment of men in the small villages from which most of these men come. In North Angus and in my own County, the Mearns, in Kincardineshire, particularly South Kincardineshire, the salmon fishings draw most of their men from Montrose, from St. Cyrus, from Johnshaven and from Gourdon. It happens that in that area the unemployment figure for males is double the national average. It is a pocket of unemployment and, naturally, we are fighting desperately to keep every man we can in employment. If any of these fishings are given up it means that half-a-dozen men here and nine or ten there are out of a job. That may not be a big figure to hon. Members who represent urban constituencies in the West of Scotland. But it is important to the small coastal villages, and naturally we want to do all we can to see that these men are kept in business.

In another place, a noble Lord told about one of these small fishings in Kincardineshire where twelve men were employed. The rental was between £450 and £500 a year. The rates were £96 and wages amounted to £3,500. Sales amounted to about £6,000 last year. That small fishery lost £1,500 last year in loss of nets, which is a hazard net fishermen have continually to face. As hon. Members know, these nets are fixed in the sea by stakes, and when there is a gale the nets are swept away. There are also awful depredations by grey seals. There are far too many of these grey seals. More of them should be knocked on the head in the Farne Islands so as to reduce the seal population. That could be done without any cruelty. However, that is another point.

This small fishery in Kincardineshire made a net profit last year of only £179. That kind of margin is far too small. The hon. Member for Hamilton mentioned a fishery in the Moray Firth which last year showed a loss. What really happens when rates are increased? It means not only doubling the rates but that these fisheries will be asked for about three times the pre-1956 rates. It is not just a question of doubling the figure; it means that many of these small fisheries are going out of business. It is in order that they may be kept in business that I welcome the Amendment which we are now asked to agree to.

Mr. Rankin

One point about this matter puzzles me. I have not figures with which to oppose those quoted by the hon. Member for North Angus (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley), and, of course, I do not dispute his. But surely every figure and every circumstance which he has detailed about this industry was known to the Government. I say that because of what the Secretary of State said in reply to an intervention of mine earlier in the debate.

The right hon. Gentleman said during the Committee stage discussions that the Government would inquire into all the circumstances that affected this industry. He said that in response to an Amendment which had been moved. To the best of my recollection, that Amendment was moved early in May. At least the Bill passed from our consideration before Whitsun, and I think I am right in saying that that promise was made by the Secretary of State early in May.

Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley

On 29th April.

Mr. Rankin

All right. We are back in April, which adds to the strength of my case.

Therefore, the Secretary of State and his officers had the whole of May and June to go into all the matters which the hon. Gentleman has now put before us. As a result of the inquiry which the Secretary of State conducted, when the Bill was brought to another place, the Government, despite all that we have been told, still opposed the concession. They opposed it on 1st July when they must have had all the information that we have now been given. Why did they oppose it? What was the case against it? We have heard the case for it. What were the grounds on which the Government said that they were not going to give this concession despite all that was discovered? I do not know. I am entitled to know.

5.30 p.m.

If the case which has just been made was as strong as the hon. Member for North Angus has put forward, then surely it ought to have influenced his own Government. It did not. They still opposed it. But something else happened on 1st July. There was so strong a vote in another place by the Government's own supporters there that the Government could not carry that part of their own Bill. In other words, the vested interests which the hon. Member for North Angus denies were out in force and were so strong that they almost carried the Amendment against their own Government. There was a tie.

Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley

Why does the hon. Gentleman keep saying "vested interests"? I ask him to believe that there was only one person who spoke in that debate in another place who had a vested interest, and he admitted it. It is not fair to go on talking about vested interests in another place.

Mr. Rankin

Am I to take it that the hon. Gentleman is saying that there are no vested interests in this business, no landlords who claim the right to own salmon, whether it is Irish or not? I do not know how they distinguish between an Irish and a Scots salmon, unless it is the accent or the place of birth. However, that matter is beside the point at the moment. The point is that the hon. Gentleman opposite does not deny that vested interests are concerned in the matter.

My recollection is that there were two noble Lords who declared their interest in another place. I think that only about six noble Lords spoke altogether. Two out of six is a fair representation. The important thing is the number which voted, and that number was sufficiently strong to cause the Secretary of State to carry out an even more intensive search into the circumstances of this industry. In July his inquiry was speeded up. During the last fortnight his Department has worked night and day in order to establish a case which the Government failed to accept in the previous two months. It shows how they can work when they want to.

Mr. Ross

They had nothing else to worry about during the past week or so.

Mr. Rankin

My hon. Friend may think so; I do not know. For part of the time the Secretary of State was in Scotland. He must have been carrying his homework up to Edinburgh.

A very strange circumstance in the whole of this business is that, after two months of inquiry which the Secretary of State said that he would promote, and which a few months ago in the House he said was intensive, he came to a conclusion which caused him to oppose the case put forward by the hon. Member for North Angus. Then on 1st July a vote takes place. Off come the jackets and the vests, and in they dig. They come to another conclusion, that the case put forward by the hon. Gentleman opposite is a very solid one which they must support. They have been prodded from the rear, and the prodding has been done by those who primarily have a vested interest in the industry.

I should like to hear the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns or any other hon. Member deny the facts that I have stated. They stink. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] Of course they do. The word "stink" is not out of order, I hope. I can hear mutterings from the right hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. J. Stuart), and no doubt he will tell us something about salmon, too. If any case has been clearly established this afternoon it is that the Secretary of State came to a decision on the facts which emerged as a result of his intensive inquiry, that those facts did not please the vested interests that support him in another place, and that, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman has come to the House with a different conclusion for which he is asking our support.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland (Mr. William Grant) rose

Mr. Rankin

The Solicitor-General must not be so impatient. Hon. Members opposite are a very impatient bunch. I will sit down in a minute or two, but if the hon. and learned Gentleman is going to bob up and—

The Solicitor-General for Scotlandrose

Mr. Rankin

Wait a minute. I said that I would sit down in a minute or two. If the hon. and learned Gentleman keeps bobbing up and down like that he will prevent my sitting down.

All I am saying is that vested interests which support the Secretary of State have caused the change and that the right hon. Gentleman is asking us to agree to that change. Quite frankly, that is something I cannot do.

Sir David Robertson (Caithness and Sutherland)

The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) referred to me in the course of his speech to the effect that I introduced an Amendment in the Scottish Standing Committee which was the first step in opposition to this Clause. The hon. Gentleman gave various reasons for his objections, as he did during the Committee stage.

I would remind the hon. Gentleman and the House that my Amendment was beaten by only four votes and that if the votes had followed the voices on the hon. Gentleman's side of the Committee it would have been carried. That is a statement of fact. The Scottish Standing Committee carried that vote, and if I had been quick enough off the mark, as the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. A. Woodburn) knows, I could have called upon the Chairman to declare the Amendment carried. The hon. Member for Westlothian (Mr. J. Taylor), who was the Labour Whip in charge, well knows the circumstances.

Someone from the Government Front Bench, presumably the junior Minister who is sitting here today, reminded hon. Members, after the vote had been called by the Chairman but before it had been taken, that if the hon. Members opposite voted for my Amendment they would be voting against the basic objection of their party to the Bill, which was that it meant less money for local authorities. These are the facts, and I am stating them now because the position today rather surprised me. At the time, hon. Members opposite seemed, in the main, to be in favour of my Amendment. I want to make that point entirely clear.

The statement made about the—

Mr. Ross

That is not true.

Sir D. Robertson

—big companies applies to a very small proportion of the industry.

Mr. Ross

The hon. Member has said that in Committee the majority of hon. Members on this side of the House were in favour of his Amendment. That is just not true.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

The question whether it is true or not does not arise now.

Sir D. Robertson

The issue was raised by hon. Members opposite who wondered why this change had taken place. I was trying to make out—

Mr. Rankinrose

Sir D. Robertson

I will give way in a moment. I was trying to set out the circumstances which took place in Committee, but I have nothing further to say on that subject.

Mr. Rankin

The point I was seeking to establish is that the change has taken place in the attitude of the Secretary of State who is now contradicting what he formerly said.

Sir D. Robertson

That is a fact. That is not in dispute.

From a sitting position, the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) made some reference to the fact that what I said was not true. I ask him to consult his right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) and his own Whip, and he will very quickly get confirmation of what I have said.

Mr. Ross

I do not think that we need consult anything but the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Committee. There was a Division, and if what the hon. Member said were true, the Government would have been defeated, and they were not.

Sir D. Robertson

I gave the reason. Had the votes followed the voices, they would have been.

Mr. T. Fraser

I think that the hon. Member is unwittingly misleading the Committee. When this vote was taken the Guillotine fell at ten minutes to one when the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. John Macleod) was speaking, and as he was not allowed to proceed with his speech the Question was put from the Chair. There were some hon. Friends of mine who did not want the debate to come to and end and who said "No."

Sir D. Robertson

I think that the hon. Member is right in what he says about the Guillotine. I remember that, but I do not quite follow his point.

I was making the point that the suggestion that the big companies controlled this industry is not true. In Standing Committee I referred to the very large number of fishing stations around the coast owned by small crews of men. They are the farmers of the salmon fishing industry, who rent the fishing from the proprietors. Of course, the Crown is the overwhelming proprietor. This is the only legal supply of salmon open to the public. It is mainly caught in stake nets anchored offshore, and these are not operated mainly by large companies; very much the reverse.

I submitted to the Joint Under-Secretary of State, who was conducting the Committee, factual evidence which was collected from my own constituency in North-West Scotland and also from that part of Scotland represented by the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty. These men are hard hit. It is a fact, as was stated by my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley), that year after year fewer salmon fisheries remain. The march of industry, the pollution of the rivers, the tarring of roads, and all kinds of other causes bring about unprofitable salmon fishing, and there are quite a number, not only in Fife but elsewhere, which, when put up for tender by the Crown, no one wants.

Mr. Willis

This is rather a different proposition from the one which we have just heard, namely, that these fisheries are losing money because of the burden of rates.

Sir D. Robertson

It is a fact that the rate burden is quite a heavy one on fisheries, but the bigger companies on the Tay and Tweed are better able to bear it. It is, however, a fact that the fisheries are becoming less and less, and many fisheries year after year are not let. I can confirm what was said by my hon. friend the Member for North Angus in regard to Fife. I have known twenty-four fishing stations. Johnsons of Montrose stepped in and took them because they were to let. Many had become vacant. There are now only twelve. I am stating something that I know to be true, that there has been this tendency for less and less fisheries to be carried on.

I should like to say one final word in regard to what was said by the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Rankin). He referred at length to what took place in another place. His party had an opportunity of opposing in the other place. It did not do so. Why did it not do it? I submit that the strength of the case for the salmon fishermen was so strong that that is the reason why it did not do it. That is why some hon. Members opposite supported my Amendment, some of them by their votes as well as by their voices.

Mr. Lawson

I think that some explanation is called for by myself because I am one of the two hon. Members on this side of the House who gave his vote in support of the hon Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson). There were only two hon. Members who did so from this side, and that can be verified in the records. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland put his case very persuasively on that occasion. My hon. Friends had, as it were, this matter thrown at them. They had not very much time to think about it. Some of them were, perhaps, more than half persuaded, as I was, that the point put forward by the hon. Member was a sound one, namely, that if agriculture is to be treated in a certain way, fishing, which is not very different from agriculture, should be treated similarly. It was because of the hon. Member's own persuasive way of presenting his case that I and one of my hon. Friends voted with him.

Just as the Government can change their mind, I would suggest that hon. Members, having listened more fully to the argument—

Forward to