HC Deb 01 May 1962 vol 658 cc899-928
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Gilmour Leburn)

I beg to move, in page 9, line 37, to leave out "those limits" and insert: the limits of those territorial waters". It might be convenient to discuss also the Amendment in page 10, line 36, leave out "those limits" and insert: the limits of those territorial waters". These Amendments are intended to remove the possibility—and I do not think that it is any more—of some doubt arising about the precise meaning of Clause 10 (1, b) and the corresponding paragraph of Clause 11, in which case subsection (1, a) refers to … fishing for salmon or migratory trout, whether within or outside the limits of the territorial waters adjacent to Great Britain … Paragraph (b) goes on to refer to … fishing for any other sea-fish within those limits". What is intended is that paragraph (b) in both cases should cover fishing for sea fish other than salmon and trout inside the limit of territorial waters.

It was suggested in Standing Committee by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) that because of the effect of paragraph (a) there might be doubt as to what the limit was intended in paragraph (b). I am not sure that there is doubt about this, but it is better to make the position clear. The Amendment does this by revising the words to make it quite impossible for anyone to misunderstand their meaning.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Leburn

I beg to move, in page 10, line 3, after "(1)". to insert: except an order which—

  1. (a) has effect in relation to salmon or migratory trout (whether it has effect in relation to any other description of fish or not), and
  2. (b) is not made for the sole purpose of giving effect to such a convention or agreement as is mentioned in that subsection"
Perhaps it would be convenient if we were also to discuss the Amendment, in line 5, leave out from "time" to "may" in line 6 and insert: (3) Any prohibition imposed by an order under the said subsection (1). The purpose is to place some limitations on the power contained in Clause 10 to make for indefinite periods Orders prohibiting fishing. When this provision was discussed in Committee it was explained that power to make Orders for an indefinite period had been included so as to enable us to make Orders which would remain in force for any period of an international agreement. Those agreements are clearly made for an indefinite period and it would obviously be awkward if we had no powers to make Orders which would fit in with international agreements to which we were a party.

Some hon. Members were concerned in case the power to make Orders for an indefinite period should be used for other cases and particularly Orders relating to salmon and trout. As was explained, we have no intention of making an Order dealing with salmon and trout for anything other than a specified period. In view of the concern on this matter which was expressed in Committee, we have tabled the Amendment to make it clear that we cannot do so. The Amendment provides that the power to make an Order for an unspecified period does not apply to an order dealing with salmon and migratory trout unless that Order is made in pursuance of an international agreement.

Hon. Members will note from the terms of the Amendment that even if an Order applies to other fish as well as salmon and trout it will not be possible to make it for an indefinite period. Therefore, any Order containing any provision about salmon and trout will have to be for a specified period.

Therefore, I hope that the House will regard the Amendment as a useful one and will accept it.

Mr. Peart

This is a complicated matter which was raised in Committee, and I am glad that the Minister has considered whether Orders made for indefinite periods should be restricted to matters connected with international fishery agreements. As the Minister has said, an Amendment has been tabled to provide that orders under this Clause relating to salmon or migratory trout should not be made for indefinite periods unless they are in pursuance of international agreements. We are glad that the Minister has looked into this. As I said, it is a complicated matter. I accept the assurance which has been given.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 10, line 5, leave out from "time" to "may" in line 6 and insert: (3) Any prohibition imposed by an order under the said subsection (1).—[Mr. Leburn.]

Mr. Peart

I beg to move, in page 10. line 23, to leave out subsection (5).

We put down this Amendment so that we may explore this matter. We have done this purely to get information from the Minister, and I hope that it will be forthcoming.

Mr. Speaker

Perhaps it will be for the convenience of the House to discuss at the same time the Amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart), to Clause 11, in page 11, line 38, leave out subsection (7) and in line 43, leave out subsection (8). I do not want to go too fast but those Amendments may be discussed together if the House wishes.

Mr. Peart

I am perfectly willing for that to be done, Mr. Speaker, if it is convenient to the House. We have tabled these Amendments to obtain information from the Government on a matter which we raised on a previous occasion.

Mr. Leburn

I am sorry to have to inform the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) that I cannot accept his three Amendments, but I will try to explain to him, because the Amendment has been tabled for exploratory purposes, why the provisions of Clause 10 (5) and Clause 11 (8), which two of his Amendments seek to delete, give sea fishery officers powers to seize fish which have been caught in contravention of a prohibition or licensing order.

The hon. Member's other Amendment seeks to delete Clause 11 (7), which deals with a slightly different point. It provides that a court should have power to order forfeiture of any fish in respect of which an offence against a licensing order has been committed.

We had a fairly full discussion in the Standing Committee on identical Amendments. I assure the hon. Member Chat we have carefully considered the points which were then made. I think it will be easier if I deal first with the Amendment which would remove the court's power to order forfeiture of fish for an offence under a licensing order. We are satisfied that if we accepted that Amendment we should be creating an anomaly in the treatment of the offences with which this Bill deals. All the provision does is to bring the penalty for offences against a licensing order into line with the penalty for offences against a prohibition order. These are already provided for in the Sea Fish Industry Act, 1959, and include a power to order forfeiture of fish. I think that the House will agree that there is every reason for having the same penalties for the two offences.

The other Amendments, on which we spent some time in Committee, would take away the powers of sea fishery officers to seize fish in respect of which an offence against a prohibition order or a licensing order had been committed. I explained to the Committee that these powers are required because the fish themselves axe very often the best evidence of an offence having been committed. For example, fish caught by drift net bear distinctive marks which enable them to be identified. If the enforcing officers had no powers to seize fish, this evidence would then not be available.

7.45 p.m.

I know that in Standing Committee some hon. Members were concerned that innocent persons might suffer loss if the fish which had been seized were allowed to deteriorate and eventually returned in a less valuable condition. I promised the Committee that we would go into this again very carefully to see whether there was any way in which this difficulty could possibly be overcome. I should remind hon. Members in the first place that if any innocent person suffers loss as a result of the action of a sea fishery officer in seizing fish, he may seek redress by civil action. At the same time, I appreciate perfectly well that this is not altogether satisfactory and that most normal people would hesitate to take this action.

In order to try to ensure that loss will not be suffered by innocent persons, we propose—I am giving the House a firm assurance on this—to advise all enforcing officers to take steps to ensure that any fish seized are stored in the best possible conditions. I think hon. Members will agree that with the facilities which we have at our disposal in these modem times it should be possible to ensure that deterioration does not occur or, at least, that any deterioration is kept to the minimum. I hope that with that assurance the hon. Member will be satisfied and will withdraw his Amendment.

Mr. Peart

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman has carefully looked into this matter. We are concerned that an innocent person might suffer, and the Minister undertook to look at the matter again to see Whether the Clause could be amended as we wished to reduce the possibility of any injustice being done to a person whose fish might be seized by an enforcing officer. Such a person might later, of course, be acquitted of any offence. We were anxious that adequate safeguards about the fish should be provided, and I am very glad to have the Minister's assurance that enforcing officers will be advised to make use of proper facilities to ensure that the fish are stored in such a manner that there will be no deterioration and that an innocent person will not suffer financially.

Having been given that assurance, I beg to ask leave to Withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Leburn

I beg to move, in page 10, line 31, at the end to insert: (6) Where any order under subsection (1) of the said section seven is not made for the sole purpose of giving effect to such a convention or agreement as is mentioned in that subsection, the order shall contain a statement to that effect. The Amendment is designed to deal with a point raised by hon. Members in Standing Committee, namely, that where a prohibition Order was not made in pursuance of an international agreement, the Order itself should contain a statement to that effect. Indeed, hon. Members opposite themselves put down an Amendment designed to secure this, but we were unable to accept it in its precise form. In addition, I explained that it seemed to me that the proposal marked a departure from more recent practice, and that we therefore had to consider carefully Whether a proviso of this kind would be appropriate. I promised the Committee that we would look at the Amendment again, and hon. Members will be glad to know that, following further examination, we have come to the conclusion that although this procedure is rather unusual there is no real legal objection to it.

This Amendment, therefore, provides that any Order, under Section 7 (1) of the Sea Fish Industry Act, 1959, prohibiting fishing shall, if it is not made in pursuance of an international agreement, contain a statement to that effect.

Mr. Peart

I raised this matter in Standing Committee and I am glad that the Minister has responded and that now there is no difficulty about bringing in an Amendment for this purpose. It means that the necessary explanation can be given to any Order made under the Sea Fish Industry Act, 1959. We argued in Standing Committee that an Order restricting fishing should include a statement, either in the Order itself or in the Explanatory Statement attached to it, indicating whether or not it had been made to give effect to an international agreement.

Obviously, in fishing legislation, the impact of an international convention or agreement could be considerable. It is as well that we should know whether the Government are acting because of an international convention or agreement or because they have some specific domestic reason. I am glad that the Minister has considered this point and that our view has been accepted. We are, naturally, pleased that there has been a concession.

Amendment agreed to.

Sir D. Robertson

I beg to move, in page 10, line 31, at the end to insert: (6) As soon as this Act is passed the Ministers shall make orders to prohibit the fishing for salmon in the sea by drift-netting in Scottish waters from either the fifteenth day of May next or the date of the passing of this Act, whichever is the earlier. I learned with dismay that in Standing Committee the Government announced that the Bill would not operate until 15th September of this year. That is the last day for the legal netting of salmon in Scotland. It must then end. Most of the netting finishes earlier—in August—but on the Tweed it goes on until 15th September. If the Government's decision is maintained, it means that the drift netters—whose methods of fishing for salmon will become illegal—will still have the whole of the catching year of 1962 left to them. The best months for salmon fishing are June, July and August. Heavy fishing is usual in the last week of August and the first week of September, and July can be a bonanza.

I telephoned on Friday to Mr. William Malloch, Managing Director of the Tay Salmon Fisheries Company, for information about the catch. I received a telegram from him yesterday, which read as follows: Official estimate 35,000 to 38,000 salmon landed by drift net fishermen this spring. I believe that in July alone twice that number of fish could be caught and that by the end of this year irreparable damage will have been done to all the salmon fisheries in Scotland.

The whole history of the fishing industry in my lifetime has been one of overfishing. As I said on Second Reading, the god-fearing net fishermen—as most of them are—have taken to netting salmon because they have over-fished their own areas and are finding it difficult to get a living from the grounds to which they have gone year after year, without giving the species the chance to reproduce itself.

That situation brought drift netting about, and it will also bring about not only the end of drift netting but the total destruction of the salmon fisheries. The salmon may never come back to these rivers, and the chances are that there will be a repetition of what happened to some extent on the west coast of Ireland. Drift netting has always been possible on the west coast of Ireland. On Saturday, I telephoned Mr. Arthur Noble, a member of the board of Associated Fisheries, and asked him what had happened to the great mass of drift nets which his company used to operate off the west coast of Ireland, where there were miles of drift nets. He told me that it had become unprofitable.

I could have told him that. That is the effect of all over-fishing. But overfishing stops only when it becomes unprofitable. A rich harvest is reaped for a year or two by massacring salmon, giving them no chance to go back to the place of their birth. Yet now the Government propose to give the drift netters another six months in which to complete their fell work.

My object is to induce the Government—with, I hope, the full co-operation of the Opposition and of another place—when we get rid of this Bill tonight to expedite its passage through another place with all speed. I feel hopeful that Members of another place will agree to that, and if the usual channels agreed it would prevent the distress which I fear so much.

Drift netting for salmon will become illegal on the 16th September, and every year thereafter, according to the Government's present proposals. Why not make it illegal at the earliest possible moment? The reasons for making it illegal in September are the same as for making it illegal today. I was in the war-time Coalition Parliament when we passed through Bills in hours, not days—when that had to be done and when Parliament surrendered its powers to the Executive. I appeal to the Government and to the Opposition to support this Amendment.

All the history of over-fishing has happened since 1893. Although the North Sea and the adjacent seas had been there for millions of years, the fish had lived and died normally. In a short period of time, we got to the point when it did not pay any more to build large trawlers for the North Sea but, instead, for waters off Iceland, the North Cape and Norway. Now we have been driven out of those grounds by overfishing. Today's Scotsman carries a sad report of the plight of the Aberdeen trawler industry because the Danes are pushing it out of the grounds off the Faroe Islands, where at least one-third of its catch has come from.

That is the history which has taken place in my lifetime. It is one of destruction. It has been one of the elimination of wild life. I beg hon. Members to bring it to an end. The salmon is not a sea creature. It is a river fish. It goes back to the river of its birth to spawn. Its young must go to the sea between eighteen months and two years. Their greatest growth occurs in the sea, but to reproduce the salmon must come back to the river of its birth. It has this tremendous instinct, similar to that of the homing pigeon, to go back not only to the river of its birth, but, if possible, to the actual place or birth.

The salmon is beset by other creatures as well as by man. I have seen seals in the River Tay, a few miles east of Perth Bridge, waiting for drift netters to drag in their nets. Any fish that escapes is grabbed by the seals in the fresh water. There are also the otters and the masqueraders who pass as anglers, but who use foul methods of netting fish and catching salmon which congregate in the pools and cannot get up over the waterfalls because there is not a big enough flow of water.

8.0 p.m.

The salmon is the king of all fish, and I feel that it is the paramount duty of this House and of those of us who have been sent here to represent the people to bring to an end this vandalism, because that is what it is. What can escape a nylon net 1,000 yards long, operated on a flood tide and drifting into the river mouth? Surely we should not stand by and allow this to happen. We are told that it will be all right on 16th September, when there can be no netting anyway, because a close season is imposed and it will not be open until the following year.

Why not bring it in now? I have suggested 15th May, but maybe there is not enough time to fix that date. I am myself quite certain that if this House supports this Amendment there will not be much difficulty in getting it through another place quickly. I earnestly hope that the House, and particularly the Opposition, who, I know, have taken a different view on this, which many hon. Members have expressed honestly and fairly, will agree that if it is right on 16th September, then let us make it right on 20th May, or the soonest possible date on which we can do it.

Sir Colin Thornton-Kemsley (North Angus and Mearns)

I certainly support the plea which has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) that drift-net fishing for salmon should be stopped at the earliest possible moment.

As the House knows, this is a new departure from the traditional method of fishing for salmon in Scotland. It started in 1960, with about twelve boats fishing off the estuary of the Tweed. Now, there are 150 boats, many of them, I regret to say, operating from ports in my own constituency, going out nightly fishing by drift net for salmon. As my hon. Friend has said, they started by using nets 1,000 yards long, and all this has been made possible by the new man-made fibre, the light nylon fibre, which enables these enormously long nets to be supported and to cover great distances of the sea. Now, I am told, they have evolved a method of operating in teams of eleven boats with perhaps not more than 150 yards of net between, but covering a mile of sea. What chance is there, with this mile-long wall of netting across the run of the salmon, which can be ascertained before, of any fish escaping into the river?

It would not be so bad if these men fished only in the close season and observed the weekly close times, but this year they started two to three weeks before the legal commencement of the stake-netting season. They have not, I am sorry to say, always observed the weekly close times. In my own county town of Stonehaven, on the morning of Monday, 12th March, over 1,000 salmon were landed and sold before 9 o'clock—all caught within the week-end close time. Let me say in passing that during that one week 3,650 salmon were landed in the first four days, having been caught by drift nets during that period.

The Government's announcement during the Committee stage that the time-table would not permit them, as I understood it, to introduce the necessary orders to take effect before 15th September this year triggered off the most extraordinary activity in this drift netting. Everyone who could put to sea in whatever kind of boat put to sea and went after this golden harvest. By mid-April, the figures which I have been receiving weekly indicated that at least 33,000 salmon had been caught, but I am quite prepared to believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland is much nearer the mark when he quotes the general manager of the Tay Fisheries Board as saying, as I understood him to say, that it is more like 38,000 salmon up to date.

At any rate, these figures—whether they are the 33,000 to the middle of April or the 38,000 up to the present time, have to be compared with 28,000 for last year—that is, for the whole of 1961. On my conservative figures, to the middle of April, this must represent a payment direct to the inshore fishermen for salmon of £150,000. One merchant paid fishermen in my constituency and in that of my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) £23,000 in one week, and taking a low price of 7s. per lb., that represents payment for 6,500 salmon caught by drift netting. The price in Billingsgate would be very much higher still.

All this cannot fail to have the most disastrous effect on the number of fish going up the rivers to spawn. In fact, in the North Esk in my constituency, to the end of March, taking the figures of salmon caught by traditional river netting last year and in the present year, as compared with exactly similar periods in 1959, I find that the catch in the North Esk fell by 34 per cent. in 1961 and by 73 per cent. this year, and that kind of pattern is being repeated all over Scotland.

I represent large numbers of inshore fishermen—men from ports like Gourdon, Johnshaven, Ferryden, Montrose and Stonehaven—who are getting legitimately at the present moment large sums of money as a result of these activities. I hate opposing their activities, as I have done all through, in Standing Committee as I am doing now; I get no joy from it at all. These men are gallant men, many of them having served as naval reservists, and I rejoice to see young men coming straight out of the Navy, buying shares in boats operating in my constituency and taking up this traditional way of life and doing it with enthusiasm. I am desperately sorry to have to oppose them, but I am quite sure that it is wrong that they should carry on this activity. It is wrong partly in their own interests, because they are jeopardising their own livelihood in stopping the flow of prime, freshly caught white fish, because they are not landing the quality of white fish which justifies the merchants going down to the pierhead to buy their catches when they come in.

I also represent another type of fisherman—the sea fishermen who are employed in the traditional coastal netting by bag and stake net, which represent the traditional Scottish way of the commercial catching of salmon. These men along with others, representing the traditional net fishermen in Scotland from the Borders to the Pentland Firth, met in Aberdeen on 28th March this year. They passed this resolution which has a great bearing on the Amendment and which says: That the men engaged in traditional salmon fishing around the coasts and estuaries of Scotland, whose only means of livelihood and earnings are endangered by the recent introduction and subsequent growth of drift net fishing for salmon, urge that speedy and effective measures be taken by the Government to ban drift net fishing for salmon and the landing of drift net caught salmon which are causing the wholesale destruction of salmon stocks and which, if allowed to continue, will lead to the economic collapse of the traditional salmon fishing industry which gives direct employment to approximately 1,700 men in Scotland and indirect employment to many others. There can be no question about the very serious threat to stocks, and that is the point I am making. It will take five years to repair the damage done to stocks in two years of drift-net fishing. The sooner we can stop it the better.

Mr. Forbes Hendry (Aberdeenshire, West)

I should like to speak as strongly as I can in support of the Amendment, not from prejudice, because I am not a fisher, but because of my own experience in and near my constituency during the Easter Recess and for some months before.

I have the honour to represent a constituency containing three of the major salmon fishing rivers in Scotland. The effect on parts of my constituency of the drift netting which has been going on for the last two years is little short of disastrous. My hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) has given figures of the fish which have been caught by the drift netting method, but I should like to give the corresponding figures not of the fish which have been caught, but of the few fish which have got up the rivers for the legitimate and traditional methods of fishing and for breeding and maintaining the salmon stocks.

The Aberdeen Harbour Board gave me facilities to see its fishermen in operation using the traditional method of the sweep nets at the river mouth. For four hours during one day, on the morning tide from eleven o'clock in the morning until three o'clock in the afternoon, seven men with valuable equipment and boats caught only one fish. Before drift netting got under way, the catch would have been not one but up to 40 fish in one sweep. There used to be fourteen men in that fishing station and those Who remain are in mortal terror for their livelihood.

That sort of thing has happened all round the Scottish coast. In my own constituency we have it in the mouth of the Dee and the Don and the Deveron. I have gone carefully into the figures for catches by traditional methods in the Dee, in my constituency. Over the past ten years the average catch by traditional methods in the first three months of the year, in the spring run, has been 2,703 fish. This year, as a result of the drift netting, the number of fish caught by traditional netting methods during the spring run has been only 582, or 21.5 per cent. of the number caught in previous years.

Mr. Hoy

So many figures are being bandied about. What proof is there that this fall was entirely due to drift netting?

Mr. Hendry

These figures have been given by the General Manager of the Aberdeen Harbour Board, whose word I am quite prepared to take. These are figures of fish caught and recorded. I will give the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) the details of the figures for each of the ten years from 1952 to 1962 if he wishes, but he can take it that my arithmetic has been checked and that the average number is 2,703.

Mr. Hoy

I am not disputing the hon. Member's arithmetic. I am questioning his logic. His figures are probably all right, but what proof does he have that the fall is entirely due to drift netting?

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Hendry

I had better give the hon. Member the benefit of the figures for each of the ten years, although I had not wanted to waste time with that. They range from 4,918 in 1954, the highest, to 1,419 in 1957, the lowest. The figure for this year is 582. If the hon. Member has any doubt about the cause of the drop, I invite him to come to Aberdeen on any night he likes and to watch the number of boats off Girdle Ness forming a curtain of nylon to prevent the fish from getting into the river. That is happening not only every day, but every night, including Sundays. No attention is being paid to the weekly close time, so far as one can see from the landings, and the result is that approximately only one fish in five is being caught by traditional methods.

I turn from traditional methods of netting fish in tidal waters to the numbers of fish caught by traditional angling methods in the upper rivers. These upper rivers are vital in my constituency because of the importance of the tourist industry. During the Easter Recess I made particular inquiries about the fishing in the Dee, the river I know best. In the three months constituting the spring run, in a stretch which is not a laird stretch but a hotel stretch, with eight miles of bank, giving fishing to many visitors to my constituency and employment to many people, 129 fish were caught in 1961, but only 28 in 1962. My arithmetic is open to correction, but I make that approximately the same percentage of fish caught in the upper river by traditional angling methods as by traditional netting methods lower down—21.5 per cent. up the river and 21.8 per cent. down, as near as makes no difference.

This is extremely serious for the hundreds of men who are employed directly and indirectly in the salmon fishing industry in the north of Scotland and right round the coast of Scotland. It is not only the men in the estuaries but the ghillies and others engaged in the industry up the river who are extremely despondent and who are leaving their jobs in despondency.

In the hotel stretch I have mentioned there was only one fisherman last week who had taken up his reservation. Half way through the week he had not caught a fish. He was completely disgusted and he told the ghillie to carry on with the fishing and to try to catch a fish during the rest of the week. The ghillie was an expert fisherman but in that eight-mile stretch he caught only one fish.

This sort of situation is extremely serious for a constituency like mine, where so much depends on the salmon rivers and has a serious effect on the population of this part of Scotland.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland said, the effect is likely to be more serious in the long run. The effect will be felt not so much now, but in five years, when there will be literally no fish coming up these rivers unless something is done quickly this year to make sure that the breeding stocks get up the river. If they do not, we will have a completely blank year in another five years and we will lose that tremendously valuable heritage that we have in Scotland.

The drift netters are literally killing the fish that lay the golden eggs. They are depriving us in Scotland of one of our most valuable heritages. Unless something is done this month, or at the latest in the middle of next month, there will be no fish in the rivers. I impress on the House the urgency of this, and in the interests of the Scottish salmon fishing industry I plead with the Minister to accept the Amendment.

Mr. John Mackie (Enfield, East)

I intervene in this discussion because I think that the picture has been put one-sidedly by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry). Like everybody else, I do not wish to see the rivers depleted of fish, but I think that the case should be put fairly.

The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley) gave figures for fish caught by the drift netters, but he gave only percentages of what was caught by the stake netters. This is not a fair way of putting the case. If the numbers are the same, then surely the drift netters who have discovered a new way of catching salmon have as much right to continue to catch them? Therefore, unless hon. Gentlemen produce figures to show that more salmon are being caught by drift netters than by traditional stake nets and drag nets, they have not a case.

When stake and drag netters operate, they do everything they can—other than at weekends and during the close period—to see that not one fish goes up river. As a boy I spent many hours watching these fishermen, and anyone who has watched them at work will have seen that they do not allow even one fish to go up river if they can help it, but of course fish can go up at the weekends and during the close period.

Rod fishing has been bad this year, but I too went home at Easter and consulted fishermen in the area. They say that fishing has been just as bad in previous years, and that the cold spring has been bad for rod fishing. Because rod fishing is bad it is not proof that fish are not getting up the river.

There is no doubt that some control is necessary, but the fact that these fishermen have discovered a modern way to catch salmon is no reason for imposing this restriction. I am amazed at the attitude of the stake netters and drag netters and others who ask why the drift netters do not take fish like everyone else and pay rent for doing so. The drift netters' reply, and a good one, is, "Why don't you buy a boat and a seine net?"

This principle of modernising a method of doing something applies to almost everything. I am a farmer, and I would have no ground for complaint if, by using modern methods, somebody grew more potatoes than I did. It is stupid to object to the introduction of modern methods and I think that before any action is taken it must be proved that more fish are being caught by this new method. If this is the case, then of course some control will be necessary but I think that it would be a bad thing if the Government took this step without giving it ample consideration. I know that the Government have appointed a Committee, but the Government propose to apply this law before the Committee reports, and I think that this is most unfair.

Sir John Gilmour (Fife, East)

I am opposed to the Amendment, and I start by declaring an interest because I am the owner of salmon fishing rights in the River Forth. My constituency has the Tay on the one side, and the Forth on the other.

Like the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie), I do not think that we have had a very fair assessment of how the matter stands at the moment. I agree that there must be control on fishing, but, as the matter stands now, it seems apparent from what has been happening this year, that the low temperature of the water has had an effect on river fishing and that a great deal of drift netting has been done further out. This is common knowledge. They have been getting good fish eight to ten miles out. They have had good catches off Girdle Ness, 4½ miles out.

I cannot see the justice of prohibiting our men from fishing and then handing it over to foreigners to do it instead. I feel that some different method of approach should have been made. I underline this question of fishing outside the three-mile limit because in St. Andrews Bay we have a Polish fishing fleet sitting off the mouth of the Tay for weeks and months on end throughout the summer and no one seems to know what fish they are catching, although they are just outside the three-mile limit.

I think that we will get more information from the Committee that has been appointed, but is it likely that all the fish that are being caught by drift netters are spawning fish? On the other hand, we know that all fish caught by river nets are fish going up to spawn. There is no doubt that drift netting is, to a certain extent, a method of control, because the boat must come back to refuel. It cannot be at sea the whole time. River nets, apart from the weekend and the close time, are, in a more elaborate way than any drift netting could possibly be, a stop to fish coming into the river mouth.

For those reasons I feel that the case against the drift netters has been overstated. In my constituency earnings over ten weeks averaged between £17 and £18 per man on drift netting, and I do not consider this to be an exorbitant figure. I am in favour of a method of control in due course, but I cannot support a measure which would encourage foreigners to take fish which our men would be prohibited from taking.

Mr. Willis

I think that from the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) and my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) we have had a rather more balanced approach to this problem than we had at the beginning of this discussion. Both bon. Members tried to put the point of view that we tried to put in Committee, namely, that the Government ought to find out much more about this matter and give rather more thought to the solution of the problem than they had done up to the time when the Committee was considering the Bill.

Last summer, in another place, the Government said, through their spokesman, that that was What they would do. They were not satisfied that the evidence was sufficiently strong to take the action which was being demanded by noble Lords in another place, who said, only ten months ago, that there was no reliable evidence to show whether the level of drift netting which had taken place so far was likely to have a damaging effect on stocks. They went on to say that Government research scientists were also looking into other factors. We pleaded for this in Committee.

There is no difference between us as to the necessity for preserving Scottish salmon stocks, but this sudden objection to somebody's taking the salmon in large numbers in not new. I pointed out in Committee that the first Report of the Scottish Fisheries contained the whole history of the long controversy that took place almost a century ago between the landed proprietors, on the one hand, and the stake net fishermen, on the other. The landed proprietors in those days were saying exactly the same about the people who were fishing at the river mouths as the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) said today about the drift-net fishermen.

In other words, emotions tend to run rather high on this matter, and views become rather exaggerated. During the last century the Government made certain inquiries in the matter. Salmon stocks were being depleted at a high rate, and legislation was passed placing certain prohibitions upon catching salmon at river mouths. A balance was struck. The Government did not tell those people who were fishing at the river mouths that they must not take any salmon. They struck a balance between the two conflicting interests, and the Under-Secretary will probably agree that that balance worked fairly well until a year or two ago.

8.30 p.m.

Now we have the advent of the drift-net fishermen, with their nylon nets—I do not know whether they are made in my constituency, but I have a shrewd idea that they are—and we should approach this problem in a similar way. I am not certain what the Tory philosophy is on this matter, but I should have thought that there was no justification for saying to one set of men, "You must not earn anything from this", while telling another set of men that they can do all the earning—in other words, giving a monopoly to a certain group of fishermen. That seems to be what the clamour is for at the moment.

I am not sure whether that is the right answer. It may be, but I should have thought that it would be much better if measures of control were instituted to enable both sides in the argument to make a living out of this occupation—although I realise that the inshore fishermen also have another sort of income. We should try to do something along those lines. We might try to reduce the close period each week for those fishing at the river mouths, at the same time limiting the amount of fishing done by drift-net fishermen. The Government ought to obtain full information on this matter, so that they can reach a balanced view between the conflicting interests, with a view to doing justice to all those concerned, at the same time conserving Scottish salmon stocks.

I recognise the importance of the problem, but it would be wrong to rush in hurriedly and make the drift netters cease operations immediately. The Government are acting fairly quickly in the matter. They are making full inquiries, and that procedure ought to continue.

Mr. Patrick Wolrige-Gordon (Aberdeenshire, Bast)

I endorse what has been said by the last three hon. Members. If there were to be a Division on the Bill I should have to abstain, in order to demonstrate my concern at what seems to me to be hurried and unjust legislation by Her Majesty's Government in respect of the drift-netting problem.

The Clauses affecting drift netting seem to have been introduced quite arbitrarily in a Bill which should have concentrated upon the reorganisation of the fishing industry, consequent upon the Fleck Report. In fact, these Clauses are based on prejudice and not on fact. The Hunter Committee, which has now been set up to examine the facts of the situation, has only just begun to hear evidence. The drift netters have had to face the kind of case which was put out, and of which we have had an example, in the speeches by my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley), my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) and my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson).

Mr. Hendry

Has my hon. Friend looked at the figures which have been given to him, supplied by the Aberdeen Harbour Board?

Mr. Wolrige-Gordon

I am not seeking to dispute those figures nor do I seek to dispute the sincerity with which they have been presented, but I certainly seek to dispute the conclusions that are drawn from them without any consideration of the other factors. I put it to the House that it is difficult to get a balanced view of the problem and its solution when those figures are presented in that way.

No one can deny that considerable damage—possibly even total damage—can be done by a thousand yards of drift net spread across a river mouth and floating in with the tide. No one would seek to deny it. None of us, either, who look for a more balanced approach would deny that we must have some control of this problem; but to legislate without the facts and simply on this kind of argument seems to me unjust to the fishermen.

One thing to which I object very much is the way the drift netters are presented to the country by people who are opposed to their activities as regards salmon. These men have been faced with a bias from the start. They saw a profitable line of activity and they sought to pursue it. They realised that the whole force of the Government was being directed to stop them and they naturally took action to try to make as much as they could while they could. But they are reasonable men. They know as well as any of us that one should not kill the goose that lays the golden egg. They are the kind of men who, if consulted, would have been prepared to engage in any measures necessary to preserve stocks and to see that an adequate living was obtained by all concerned.

That brings me to my final point in which I should like to join with my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) who was the first to speak from this side of the House against the Amendment. It is intolerable for the local fisherman to be prohibited from drift netting outside the three-mile limit. It is as intolerable for him to see a foreigner able to prosecute that livelihood as it is for the man in my part of the world to see a foreign trawler trawling in the Moray Firth; sweeping up shoals of young fish, damaging his living and thus forcing him to seek alternative means of livelihood, such as drift-netting for salmon.

Mr. Hoy

The amount of emotion which is aroused when we discuss salmon fishing is amazing. It was exemplified by the speech of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry), who failed even to stop to think about what was being asked of him. When he was questioned about the figures which he supplied, he did not appreciate that no one was casting any doubts on them. Apparently, the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Wolrige-Gordon) was able to follow the matter and was questioning the deductions drawn from his figures by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West.

From the figures supplied by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West one might doubt whether drift netting was having the effect which was stated, because in the comparative seasons quoted by the hon. Member, before drift netting was heard of, the catch, according to his figures which had been more than 4,000 fell to 1,400. Using the hon. Member's own comparison one can infer from the figures that the position was worse before drift netting took place.

Mr. Hendry

I have not now the figures before me, but I think that the hon. Member is doing me an injustice in saying that the figure fell from 4,000 to 1,400 in consecutive seasons. Speaking from memory, the figures I gave related to 1952 and 1957.

Mr. Hoy

In any case, the figures used and the comparison made showed a wide fluctuation before drift netting took place. I will put it no higher than that. The drift netters could not be accused of causing this reduction.

Hon. Members on this side of the House would join with the Government, or anyone else, in taking action if we felt that this type of fishing, or any other, would seriously deplete the stock of fish in our waters. No one more than myself has stressed the need for the Government to take steps to conserve the fish in our fishing grounds, whether salmon or white fish. But when we begin to discuss the matter the figures which are quoted get bigger and bigger. They are like the stories told by fishermen about the fish which they have caught. The fish gets bigger every time the story is told.

The net referred to by the lion. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley) gets larger and larger. Tonight, the hon. Member referred to one which would be large enough the stretch the whole length of Princes Street in Edinburgh—from Waverley Station to the Caledonian Station, exactly a mile long. It is a good job that we shall not be having another debate, or I might find a street into which to fit the net.

Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley

I said that the latest development is that boats are fishing in teams of eleven each with 150 yards of net, so that, with the space occupied by each boat, there is a solid wall about a mile long. I did not mean that the net was a mile long.

Mr. Hoy

I am not misinterpreting what the hon. Member said. He said that this joining together of ten or eleven boats fitted one continuous net a mile long. It has doubled in size since we were in Standing Committee.

8.45 p.m.

Mr. Willis

The fishermen are not having a sort of guerrilla battle.

Mr. Hoy

The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns does not do his case any good by the sort of argument he has employed. When we were in Standing Committee he wanted to call out the troops to deal with this problem.

Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley

The hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy) must not—I repeat, not—put words in my mouth which I did not use here or in Committee. What I said was that range-finding implements were being used from the cliff top to ascertain whether these boats were fishing in the three-mile limit. I did not want to call out the troops, but I said that this was happening.

Mr. Hoy

I was not exaggerating. When one is dealing with guerrilla warfare and searchlight batteries are brought into operation, surely it is a kind of warfare. The hon. Member does not do his case any good when he exaggerates in this way.

I am surprised at the facility with which hon. Members provide figures about catches. It is about time that they found employment in the Scottish Office, because the Statistical Department of the Scottish Office cannot produce figures with the alacrity and efficiency with which those hon. Members can. The Scottish Office cannot do it in regard to legalised fishing. That is why we have some doubt about the figures which have been used in support of the case made by some hon. Members.

The drift-net fisherman is a reasonable fisherman. I remind the House that the drift-net fishermen went to the Scottish Office and said that they did not want any more fish than were necessary to be taken out of the rivers or the sea. They made this offer to the Scottish Office at a meeting with the Under-Secretary, which he cannot deny. They said, "We would like to come to some agreement on this. We would like to have a close season for salmon fishing." They also said, "We would like to close all the fishing grounds every week-end, even during the season." They said, "If necessary, we are quite prepared to play our part in helping to make payments for restocking and maintaining rivers."

They offered all this to the Scottish Office. The Under-Secretary cannot deny it. These were the proposals put to him when the drift-net fishermen met the hon. Gentleman at St. Andrews House on 10th July last year. Let it be clearly understood that the drift-net fishermen were not being unreasonable. They made their proposals in what I thought a very sensible way.

It is no use the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns saying that because salmon could be caught everyone would rush down to collect a boat—these were his words—and rush off to the salmon fishing grounds. That is complete nonsense, because it costs hundreds of pounds to provide these nets. It costs about £600 for a set of nets. When the Under-Secretary met the drift-net fishermen last year, it was said that the total catch was about 5,600 salmon over a period of eight or nine weeks. Mr. Collin said at the meeting that it was estimated that the catch by the Berwick Salmon Fisheries Company was five or six times more than that. If there is a depletion of the stock perhaps the Government had better look into the way in which these private companies are catching salmon.

We are also well aware of the employment that this gives to the men engaged in salmon fishing in the old sense. The number is about 1,700. I do not want to minimise the contribution made to our economy, but it ought to be dearly said that that does not represent employment for 1,700 men for twelve months in the year. Surely the Under-Secretary does not claim that, in fact, it provides employment for them for, maybe, four or five months in a year.

Mr. Leburn indicated assent.

Mr. Hoy

The Under-Secretary agrees with me. Let us get this into proper proportion. It may be true to say that full-time employment is given to a fifth of that number and when the salmon season is over these men have to find other employment. In view of the appalling employment situation in Scotland today, anything which makes a contribution to employment is valuable, but let us keep this matter in proper perspective. Let us realise that if we have to write off that number of men there are hundreds of men earning a living drift-netting for salmon, so we are seeking to deny one group at the expense of another.

I say to the Under-Secretary that the man responsible for this trouble at the moment is the Secretary of State for Scotland because these Clauses should never be in the Bill.

I repeat what I said upstairs. The Secretary of State promised us a Bill to deal with this problem. He said in the House that he would introduce a Bill the main provisions of which would deal with salmon fishing. Instead, he inserted four Clauses into this Bill, which deals with the sea fish industry. Having done that and hoping to pass the Bill into an Act of Parliament he then said that he would have an inquiry into the whole question- That is not the way to do the business of the House.

I agree with the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) that we must give justice as far as is humanly possible to the people whom we represent. We cannot do it, however, by first hanging the man, as used to be done at Jedburgh, and then having a trial to find whether he should have been hanged. In the same way, the Secretary of State should not impose these prohibitions by Act of Parliament and then say that he will have an inquiry to find whether they are justified. That is the wrong way of going about it.

The Under-Secretary will get all the co-operation that is required from every Member of the House if it is found necessary to take steps for conserving the salmon fisheries. The wider fishing grounds of the North Sea and elsewhere have been over-fished due to lack of agreements between the countries concerned. There could have been an opportunity for Europe to show a little cooperation. The same thing might well happen to the salmon fisheries, but nobody in the House would want it to happen. Therefore, we would be delighted to help the Government in taking steps to conserve the salmon fisheries and to give a fair deal not only to those in traditional fishing for salmon, but to the drift-net fishermen, also.

I had hoped that the Government would not rush this legislation forward at the last minute, because these men have invested considerable sums of money in their work. The extraordinary thing is that nobody has suggested how they should be compensated for the capital which they have invested in the industry. Until such time as the Government can find out, they should delay taking these steps. Whatever happens, by September the Bill will be in force. Let the Secretary of State urge upon the committee which he has appointed the necessity of speeding up that part of the report which affects this industry. If it is found necessary as a result of inquiry to take measures to conserve the salmon fisheries in the interests of all concerned, I can guarantee to the Under-Secretary the support of those who occupy the benches on this side of the House.

Mr. Leburn

Having listened to the debate, Mr. Speaker, you will agree that we are dealing with a difficult and complex problem. No unanimous view is held on either side of the House or by any individuals in it. That is one of the troubles that has worried my right hon. Friend and myself throughout the whole period. The only comments to which I take exception in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Wolrige-Gordon) were when he said that a bias was shown against the drift-net fishermen. It simply is not true. My right hon. Friend and I have given hours, weeks and months of thought to the subject to try to get the right answer—not an answer which meets with the general approval of hon. Members opposite, or, for that matter, of my hon. Friends, but to try to get the right answer at least.

We have been faced with two particular problems. One has been the interests of the established fisheries. The much more important one has been the need for conservation of our stocks of salmon, which are a great national asset. We all agree about that. The one thing on which we are on common ground on both sides of the House tonight, as we were on common ground in Committee, is the need for conservation and taking such steps as are necessary to ensure that permanent damage is not done.

As I have tried to explain to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) before, one of our troubles has been that if we left this matter too long we might have woken up one morning to find that we had done irreparable damage. Therefore, it may be that we cannot wait until we have the findings of the Hunter Committee. I do not want to cover all this ground again, because here we have the three Clauses giving the Government power to introduce Orders either to prohibit or to license landing. That is not what we are discussing in the Amendment. What we are discussing in the Amendment is whether or not we should implement these powers in Clause 10 either on 15th May or whenever the Bill is passed.

Hon. Members will agree that many of the remarks which have been made tonight would have been more appropriately made when the time comes for the Government to lay an Order under any of these Clauses.

What we are discussing is whether, as my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) suggests in the Amendment, the minute we have the Bill we should take powers to prohibit drift netting. I realise that my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland and my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley) are very concerned lest the fishing for salmon by drift netting which is now taking place, should do serious damage. Therefore, they want my right hon. Friend to bring in an Order at the very earliest possible moment.

When we discussed this Clause in Committee I explained that my right hon. Friend proposed, and for that matter still proposes, that when the powers are available to him to make an Order prohibiting drift netting for salmon off Scotland and off the Tweed it would take place from 15th September this year. The issue between us on dates is fairly narrow. We must be realistic. We do not know exactly when we shall get the Bill. We do not know when it will receive the Royal Assent. It will certainly take some weeks yet. It has to go to another place. It has to be discussed there. It has to go through the various stages in that House. It then has to receive the Royal Assent.

Mr. John M. Temple (City of Chester)

Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that my right hon. Friend the Minister will enter into consultations with the various interested bodies before the Bill becomes an Act so that the Orders can be brought forward reasonably quickly? The Minister has given an assurance about consultation, but consultation will take time.

Mr. Leburn

It is true that my right hon. Friend has given an undertaking that he will have consultations before he brings forward an Order. I should like to consider whether it is wise to hold consultations before or after the Royal Assent.

9.0 p.m.

Then we have to lay the two necessary Orders and, if a later Amendment is accepted tonight, one of those Orders will require an affirmative Resolution. If we are realistic, we must appreciate that it will be towards the end of June or the beginning of July before we get those Orders. That means that what is between my hon. Friend and myself is a period of about six or eight weeks.

I know that my hon. Friend describes this form of fishing as vandalism. We can all have our own opinion as to what is the best description, but we must also bear in mind that this practice has in no way been illegal, and these fishermen have a public right of fishing. All Governments have to consider very carefully, and have to give reasonable notice, before taking away a public right. We are here considering—and, I think, with certain justification—taking away that public right, and I do not think that it would be right just to rush it through. That is why I made it known in Committee that it was at that time—and, for that matter, still is—my right hon. Friend's intention that the prohibition should be as from 15th September.

In fairness to my hon. Friend, however, I must also remind the House that when I made that comment I said that if the Committee that had recently been appointed to consider salmon and trout fisheries indicated that it would soon be able to give an interim report on the regulation of fishing—and my right hon. Friend has asked it to do that—my right hon. Friend would take that into account. Therefore, if the Committee's report were to be available in time, my right hon. Friend would consider the matter; if not, he still has the intention to place before the House Orders to be effective as from 15th September.

Having said that I think that there may be more appropriate times to discuss whether or not an Order should be brought before the House, I must say to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) that a number of figures have been bandied about in this debate. The figure that I accept, and can confirm as being approximately right, is that so far the total catch this year is about 33,500 fish. On the other hand, I hope that my hon. Friend will remember when he quotes such figures as he did that it cannot necessarily in a specific case be attributed to drift netting; we have had a cold spring, it may well be that there is no water in the rivers, and so on. What is indisputable is that, so far, about 33,500 fish have been caught by drift net.

I appreciate that my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland is concerned lest the continuation of drift-net fishing for salmon should have an adverse effect on the established fisheries and on our stocks. I can assure him that the Government share his concern about the possible damage which prolonged continuation or a further ex- pansion of this fishing might bring about, but as we are here talking about taking away a public right, and as in Committee I indicated the date which my right hon. Friend had in mind, and as there is only a matter of six or eight weeks between us, I ask my hon. Friend not to press his Amendment.

Amendment negatived.