HC Deb 01 February 1966 vol 723 cc1017-38

10.0 p.m.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Mr. George Willis)

I beg to move, That the Salmon and Migratory Trout (Prohibition of Drift-net Fishing) (Extension) Order 1965, dated 26th November, 1965, a copy of which was laid before this House on 2nd December, be approved. The purpose of the Order is to extend the period of operation of the existing prohibition on drift-net fishing for salmon off the coast of Scotland for a further year after the present Order expires on 15th February. We propose this extension for much the same reason as we extended the original Order a year ago.

When the prohibition on drift-net fishing was first introduced, in 1962, the Government of the day made it clear that they took this step as a precautionary measure. They admitted that they did not know what the effect of drift-net fishing might be and before the ban was actually imposed they appointed the Hunter Committee with a remit to review the whole law relating to salmon and trout fisheries, but to give priority to the question of drift-net fishing.

The Committee produced an interim Report in the summer of 1963 in which it made clear its view that unregulated drift-net fishing might so deplete the stocks of salmon that the result would be no secure future either for the traditional salmon netsman, for anglers or for those who might engage in drift-net fishing for salmon. The Committee further explained that it had examined the practicability of some form of regulation to overcome the difficulties of uncontrolled fishing. This was suggested by many of the organisations which made representations at that time.

The Committee considered various possibilities such as weekly and annual close times, licensing of nets or boats, catch quotas and various other methods of trying to regulate the fisheries. It came eventually to the conclusion, however, that none of those methods, either alone or in combination, could be an efficient means of control. In short, the Committee reported that it had not found any system of control which it thought would be workable under the existing law. That was the position in February last year.

Since then, the Hunter Committee has submitted its final Report. This was published on 5th August last year. As hon. Members know, the Report endorses the conclusion reached by the Committee in its interim Report and makes numerous recommendations on other aspects of salmon and trout fisheries, some of which involve radical changes in the present regime.

My right hon. Friend is anxious that all bodies or individuals who may be affected by the Committee's recommendations should have adequate opportunity to comment on its proposals and to study their views before coming to conclusions on the Report. He therefore invited those who are known to be interested to submit their views, if possible, by mid-November. As is not unusual in these matters, the organisations had not all submitted them by that date, and we extended the date to this month. Some of them have not yet been able to furnish their fully considered views, but most of them have done so and we expect to receive most of the remaining submissions within the next few weeks.

Hon. Members who have read the Report will understand that full and careful examination of the complex issues which are involved in the recommendations of the Committee is bound to take time. We think that it would be most unprofitable to try to reach hasty and ill-considered decisions on these issues. I know that those associations representing the sea fishermen who were engaged in drift-netting three or four summers ago are disappointed that the Hunter Committee has reiterated the views that it expressed in its interim Report. They have already made it clear to my right hon. Friend and have suggested that the recommendations on drift-net fishing should not be accepted.

We appreciate their feelings in the matter, but that is only one of a number of recommendations and it is closely bound up with the Committee's other proposals, in particular, the recommendation that all fishing for salmon in the sea should be brought to an end and not merely fishing by drift-net. What we are doing now is considering the drift-net issue as part of the wider question in the light of the Committee's Report and of all the representations made about it.

I hope, therefore, that hon. Members will agree that it would be wrong to come to any final conclusion on the drift-netting issue until full consideration has been given to all the recommendations and all the comments from the interested organisations have been received. That clearly cannot be done before the present Order lapses on 15th February, and, therefore, we have laid the new Order to maintain the status quo for a further year until 15th February, 1967, to provide time for a comprehensive study of all the implications of the Hunter Committee's recommendations.

I hope that the House will support my right hon. Friend in the Measure.

Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

Before my hon. Friend sits down, could he give any information as to whether the fears of the fishermen about foreign trawlers coming and doing drift-netting just outside the range have been fulfilled, or whether those fears were an illusion?

Mr. Willis

When those fears were first expressed at the time that the Hunter Committee was set up the fishing limit was three miles. That has now been extended to 12, and it is doubtful whether one could catch salmon outside the 12-mile limit.

10.7 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Wolrige-Gordon (Aberdeenshire, East)

In his customary vivid style, the Minister has made a speech very similar to the one that he made last year. At least, he must have got the story right by now. However, there is an important difference between this year and last year, and it is that the Hunter Committee has produced its Report.

The Minister's argument last year was to continue the prohibition of drift-net fishing for salmon for a time until he had seen and considered the Hunter Committee's Report. He said, moreover, that by making the Order he was not committing himself to retaining the prohibition any longer than he thought necessary. I was waiting with interest to hear his argument for extending the prohibition for yet another year, especi- ally having heard him give his pledge last year to examine the problem urgently.

The urgency seems now to have died and, whatever his case, once again we are faced with an extension of the limit for yet another year, and the Minister has said nothing which meets all the arguments against such action. It is still unjust, and regulation of the fishing is still as possible as it is today in England and as it always has been in Scotland.

The Minister said that the Hunter Committee, in its second Report, added nothing new to its first Report. Of course, it was not able to do so, because any evidence which it could have collected had been stopped at the source when drift-netting was stopped at the source, so there was nothing new that it could have said.

In its first Report it explained how, on the evidence submitted, it could not conclusively be demonstrated that Scottish salmon stocks had so far been harmed by drift-net fishermen, and paragraph 71 of its full Report confirmed this. This is the first injustice which has been done, and which will persist, namely, taking action of this kind against drift-net fishermen without first establishing the facts of the case against them.

There is, however, another injustice to which these men have been subjected. As I understood it, the Hunter Committee was expected to produce a pearl, but it produced an elephant, and naturally we want to know what the Government propose to do about the sweeping re-organisations which have been suggested. The Hunter Committee said that all salmon fishing in the sea, including coastal netting, should be discontinued in the interests of good fishing management, and that this would entail the running down of all coastal netting and its replacement by new methods of fishing.

The rub, from the fishermen's point of view, was that the ban on drift netting was sudden, complete, and absolute. For fishermen who had bought the gear they needed, 15th September, 1962, was a costly day, because from that moment their investment became obsolete. By comparison, the parties affected by the Committee's second Report not only had the benefit of consultation, but were able to carry on their trade, and they will be able to make more representations. Moreover, does anyone think that changes as sweeping as those which have been suggested should be introduced without substantial compensation for those affected?

Mr. William Baxter (West Stirling-shire)

On a point of order. Mr. Deputy Speaker, are we discussing the Hunter Committee's Report, or are we discussing an extension of this Order?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Samuel Storey)

We are discussing the extension of the Order, but in so far as the Hunter Committee's Report is relevant to the question at issue, it is in order to discuss it.

Mr. Wolrige-Gordon

The Minister spoke of the extreme care which was being taken by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to ensure that all the parties affected could make representations to him. I think that he even said that he was putting the time limit back to this month to give them a chance to do so. That was not done in respect of the drift-netters, and now this ban is to be extended for another year, but still there is no question of paying them compensation. Why not? I hope that the Government will tell us how they propose to deal with this, and to rectify the sense of injustice felt by those concerned with this issue.

10.13 p.m.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

I am sure that the House was greatly amused at the mixed metaphor used by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Wolrige-Gordon). Hunters have hunted many things, and produced many things, but his mixed metaphor about what the Hunter Committee produced is rather irrelevant to the issue which we are considering.

I object to the extension of this Order because there has been too great a delay in the implementation of the Hunter Report. Notwithstanding the gibe of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East, this is a valuable Report and it should be implemented. But we are not discussing the implementation of that Report. We are considering the extension of the Salmon and Migratory Trout (Prohibition of Drift-net Fishing) (Extension) Order, 1965. We have heard from the Minister that this little Order, with its elaborate Title, has been extended from year to year.

I have had communications from my constituents indicating that they regard this extension as prejudicial to their interests. Some of them fish for pleasure, and others are poor fishermen who fish for profit. They are prejudiced by the repeated extensions of the Order. I have risen merely to say that on their behalf I object to its extension.

10.15 p.m.

M. George Y. Mackie (Caithness and Sutherland)

If the Minister is asking for an extension of the Order so that he can consider the Hunter Report fully, he is very wise. Some recommendations of the Hunter Report, especially those concerning the preservation of brown trout and the control of the fishing thereof, are very controversial. They are dynamite. The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) has said that he wants to see brown trout fishing controlled by the State for the benefit of owners of property.

Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)

That is not the reason why I believe that the suggestion contained in the Hunter Report should be explored with the idea of debating its recommendations. I do so so that brown trout fishing may become available to the masses throughout Scotland—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We cannot discuss brown trout fishing on this Order.

Mr. Mackie

I had no intention of raising the subject, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I hope that the Secretary of State will consider the question of the single avenue for the catching of salmon running up a river. Everybody knows that it is possible to make a gate and run fish through it, and to say, "One to breed, one for the angler, and one for the pot." That is delightful in theory, but in many estuaries there is no spate, and the fish lie off the estuary until they can run up the river later. If they are unable to be caught when they are running we shall have a glut at one time, and if the fish lie in the estuary for too long they can go bad and come to great harm.

The Secretary of State must consider other forms of fishing. One of the features so objectionable to people who have fishing interests in their constituency is the complete lack of compensation to fishermen who have bought drift nets for this type of fishing. It was legal one day, and was suddenly stopped the next. The prohibition has been continued year after year, and it is high time that the Secretary of State came to a final decision on the matter.

If he is going on year after year, he might at least consider compensating those people who were fishing quite legally up to the time when the original order was made. I am prepared to support an extension of the Order, however, if it means a consideration of the recommendations contained in the Hunter Report.

10.19 p.m.

Mr. John M. Temple (City of Chester)

It might need a little explanation to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to hon. Members, why an English Member should intervene in what seems to be a Scottish affair.

I spoke at considerable length, and listened to the Minister speaking, on the principal legislation, namely, the Sea Fish Industry Act, 1962, when the Minister—then in opposition—took a view contrary to that which he has taken tonight. I also spoke on the principal order introduced in 1962. It seems to me that the Minister has changed sides. On the last occasion, when he introduced the Order to perpetuate this prohibition for one year, he admitted that he had strong objections to the original Order.

The Minister of State seems to have forgotten about those strong exceptions tonight. Speaking with a keen interest in salmon fishing and as a vice-president of the Salmon and Trout Association, I must say that the action taken by the Conservative Government in 1962 has been entirely vindicated by the Report of the Hunter Committee. There is no doubt that the Order is entirely sensible. Without an Order of this nature, the stocks of salmon in Scottish rivers would have been decimated by now.

In answer to the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. George Mackie), who spoke about compensation for people who had invested in drift-netting equipment, I would say that if drift netting had been permitted to con- tinue up to now, and then the Report had been published and implemented, those people would have complained still more than they are now because they would have bought more and more expensive equipment which would then nave been of no use to them. The action of the Conservative Government, vindicated as it has now been by the Report, was entirely wise at the time it was taken. I am very glad that the Minister of State has taken this so extraordinarily well and commended the Order tonight.

I should like to ask him two questions, the first with regard to the length of extension of the Order. Under th2, principal legislation, this Order could have been extended for longer than one year—two years, three years, in fact an indefinite period. I hope that, by extending the Order for one year, he is hoping to implement the recommendations of the Hunter Committee within one year. It seems unnecessary, if that is not the Minister of State's intention, to bring in the Order for one year. One can only deduce that, as it is being introduced for one year, we can expect permanent legislation within that year.

On behalf of the fishing interests which I represent, I may say that we should be very glad to see the Committee's recommendations implemented relatively quickly, as they are comprehensive, farreaching—as the Minister said—and I think that they would be for the benefit of the fishery interests in Scotland.

One of the important things about the fishing industry in Scotland, which the Order seeks to protect, is the value to the tourist industry. The tourist industry in Scotland flourishes in the summer, but in the winter or in the early months of the year, Scottish hotels—certainly in the remoter parts—are very dependent on the fishermen who stay there. The Order, which is to protect the stocks of fish throughout Scotland, will do much to encourage the tourist industry, if it protects those stocks of fish. Then, indeed, the fishermen will be encouraged to go to those hotels—

Mr. Manuel

Anglers, not fishermen.

Mr. Temple

The anglers, rather, will be encouraged to go to those hotels, which give such a tremendous amount of employment in the difficult times in the early months of the year in the Highlands.

I have asked those two questions of the Minister of State, but I should like to add one other about the policing of the Order. I realise that, in the last year or so, the fishery base-lines have been extended for foreign fishermen. To what extent are the fishery protection squadrons called upon to police the waters around the Scottish coast so as to see that the Order is not contravened? I imagine that protection squadrons are up to this job, but the difficulties of fishery protection is a matter on which I spoke when we dealt with the principal legislation. I hope that the Minister of State will be able to say how much of the time of the fishery protection squadrons is taken up in checking the illegal fishing which might take place.

I give a very definite welcome to the Order. My only reservation is that I wished it had been extended for two years rather than one.

Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)

I thought that the hon. Gentleman advanced a most extraordinary argument in saying that the drift-net fishers should virtually be grateful that legislation was introduced to abolish drift netting because this meant that their outflow of expenditure was reduced and that they should be pleased that they bought one net instead of two. Should the hon. Gentleman not support his hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Wolrige-Gordon) in asking the Minister to reconsider the question of compensation?

Mr. Temple

That question could rightly be addressed to the Government and not to me.

10.26 p.m.

Sir John Gilmour (Fife, East)

Since the original Order was laid in 1962 much more information has come to hand about what is going on in the salmon fisheries off Greenland. It is well set out on page 69 of the Hunter Report and it is a pity that the Minister of State did not mention it, since it is something which has brought a completely new influence to our ideas of the conservation of salmon stocks. One can see in the Report how something not far short of half a million salmon have been caught off Greenland, an amount about equal to the entire catch of salmon and grilse in Scottish waters in net or other means.

Until such time as we overcome, and, one hopes, by international agreement regulate, this fishing off Greenland, it is obvious that one cannot possibly restart drift netting for salmon because this would cause too great a risk of over-fishing the salmon. For this reason, although we are seeking here only to extend the Order for one year, this reinforces the need to consider now the giving of compensation to those who hold nets or who bought them in good faith and who, at the stroke of the pen, were cut off from their fishing.

The Hunter Report, if implemented—which, in many respects, I doubt will take place—is at least designed to bring forward information about what is going to happen. In this case the law suddenly said, "No more fishing". I would be grateful if the Minister would receive particulars from hon. Members who, like myself, have details from fishermen who bought nets in good faith and who now are, I believe, entitled to some compensation for an act which has taken that fishing away.

Mr. W. Baxter

Why did not the previous Government compensate these people?

Sir J. Gilmour

The hon. Gentleman has completely missed the point of my argument. Until the final Report of the Hunter Committee came out it was in doubt as to whether drift netting would or would not be permitted again.

Mr. Baxter

Surely we are not considering the Hunter Report but an extension of an Order which the hon. Gentleman's Government introduced in 1962. Why were not the fishermen about whom he is speaking compensated at that time?

Sir J. Gilmour

It is obvious that' the hon. Gentleman has not read the Hunter Report. If he reads it he will find that evidence to confirm the action taken in banning drift netting is supplied. One must, therefore, consider the Hunter Report in making up one's mind on these issues. Only now can we arrive at the position of saying that obviously drift netting will not be reintroduced in the near future and that, therefore, a case for giving compensation to these fishermen for their nets arises.

Although I support the continuation of the Order, I hope that this matter will be looked at most seriously.

10.29 p.m.

Mr. J. Bruce-Gardyne (South Angus)

I hope that I shall not follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) in mixing my fish on this occasion.

I am prepared to accept the Government's proposal for an extension for one year to ensure that the consideration of the second Report of the Hunter Committee is not, in the Minister's words, too hasty and ill-considered, I am, nevertheless, bound to remind the Government that when we had a similar debate last year—and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Wolrige-Gordon) said, we seem to have heard some of these speeches before—the Minister of State said that it was hoped that the extension on that occasion would give the Government time to consider the recommendations in the final Hunter Report and then decide what action should be taken. That was the extension that has just been completed. The Government are now asking for another extension.

I do not want to make a point of this, because I agree that consideration of the second Report should not be rushed, but I suggest that publication of the Report will, if anything, increase the feeling of resentment amongst those who were practising drift netting, because it suggests that all netting in the sea for salmon should be forbidden. Until the Government come to a decision on the Report, those who were practising drift netting will continue to feel that they are being discriminated against when those others are able to continue to practise netting for salmon in the sea.

I hope that the Government, without rushing its consideration, will not try to shirk the issues involved. I realise that there are a good many controversial matters in the second Report, and I have an ugly suspicion that the Government will sit on it. It will just not be good enough for them to do that and then come back in a year's time with a request for another extension. The position has to be cleared up and cleaned up in the relatively near future.

As on this occasion it has been accepted that we can refer to the Hunter Report, I would refer to paragraph 70, where it is argued that any system of licensing of drift netting in addition to existing methods of fishing for salmon would lead to a serious danger of over-fishing. The argument is not about whether there should be licensing of drift netting over and above existing methods, but whether it could be incorporated into the existing methods without leading to any increase in the total catch. I do not feel that the second Report has answered that point.

When we discussed this subject last year, the Minister of State said that these were the sort of points that the Hunter Committee would no doubt be commenting on, but I do not think that the second Report does so—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is getting far from the Order we are discussing.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

I shall not pursue the point further, in that case. I think that I have made my point.

I ask the Government to give serious consideration to the second Report as expeditiously as they can, so as to eliminate the feeling of injustice that still exists amongst those who were previously practising this form of drift netting for salmon.

10.33 p.m.

Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (North Angus and Mearns)

I want to reinforce the argument on compensation advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour). His argument is quite plain. The proper time to decide on compensation is when the ban becomes permanent, if that proves to be the case. As long as the ban is of a temporary nature, continued from year to year, and there is still the possibility, albeit remote, of drift-netting continuing in the future, that is not the correct time to take a decision on compensation.

For that reason, we would not expect the Minister of State to give a full and complete answer on the subject now, but he might indicate whether compensation will be reviewed when the final decision on the Hunter Report is made, and final proposals for drift netting put forward. My second point is in relation to the practice of having an Order such as this from year to year. The Minister of State owes it to us to let us know when the position will be finalised, because working on a temporary basis leads to a great deal of concern among fishing interests to know what the final regulations under which they will have to operate will be. The fact that he has merely extended it for one year—

Mr. W. Baxter

I want to follow the question about compensation. The hon. Member appears to agree with his hon. Friends 'hat compensation should be paid. I am not arguing for or against that, but I want to know the attitude of the former Government when they introduced this Measure. Were they in favour of paying compensation? If so, why did they not write that into the Sea Fish Industry Bill? If hon. Members opposite should ever have the opportunity, do I understand them to be giving a promise that they will compensate for the omission from the original Order?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I had already moved further on, but I had said that the correct time to consider compensation is when the ban or otherwise is made permanent. At present, it is on a year-to-year basis. No definite decision has been taken on whether the ban on drift netting is to be permanent. It would obviously be foolish to consider the question of compensation unless and until the ban were on a permanent basis.

Mr. Baxter rose

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I have dealt fully with that point and I should like to get on to my other argument.

I had moved to the second point on the question of when the final decision will be taken in relation to the salmon industry as covered by the Hunter Committee Report. There was concern among all sections of the industry, not only drift netters, but among the coast and river netters and anglers as well. This turns on the way in which the Government view representations made in the Report. I have read the Report and discussed it with all sections of the salmon industry and I appreciate the many problems which are posed. I ask the Government to take a very considered rather than a hurried view before reaching any final decision.

One point which is particularly pertinent and which will govern the timetable the Government follow in reaching a final decision is that the Report turns on the physical practicability of the use of the river trap. As the Minister of State knows, since the publication of the Report much doubt has been cast on the use of this trap. Some of the evidence which the Committee produced on the use of traps in Canada and Eire has been questioned. That affects the Government's time table for a decision. Will the Minister of State tell us what steps the Government are taking to find out about the working and cost of these traps and how efficient they are in other countries and an extension of the rather less deep work done by the Hunter Committee? That would affect the question whether the ban will be continued.

My final point is an enlargement of one made by the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) at the end of the Minister's opening remarks. It is in relation to the catching of salmon out of the sea by foreign boats. Among those who were engaged in drift netting there was a certain amount of concern that they were being denied something which is being done by foreign boats off the north coast of Scotland.

The Minister of State dismissed this rather cursorily and apparently did not think there was much concern about it. He owes it to the House to enlarge on that and let us know whether there is any definite evidence that this fishing by foreign vessels is or is not taking place. Among the fishing communities on the East Coast—I have met it and so have some of my hon. Friends—there is a feeling that they are being denied something which is still open to foreign vessels.

I hope that the Minister will give us concrete evidence to support the rather cursory way in which he dismissed the intervention in his first speech.

10.40 p.m.

Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)

I congratulate the Government on bringing forward an extension of the Order. Anyone who has taken an interest in all sorts of fishing and angling throughout Scotland and the immense possibilities which still exist recognises that there is a connection between the Hunter Report and the extension now proposed.

The contributions of hon. Members opposite have been, generally, along the line that we should hasten into legislation based on the Hunter Report, but I, as one who has a great interest in these questions, urge that we be very cautious and do not rush in too quickly. There are literally hundreds of strong organisations throughout Scotland—in my own county we have the Ayrshire Angling Association and there is the Scottish Angling Association, too—and the Secretary of State is appealing to all these bodies to make representations on the basis of the recommendations in the Hunter Report. Great interest is being taken, and many angling clubs are fearful that legislation will be brought in too soon. The demand for the Report exceeded supply, and there had to be a reprint because of the intense interest.

Undoubtedly, drift-net salmon fishing and other kinds of salmon fishing must be brought into consideration. I am rather sceptical about the sincerity—perhaps that is putting it too strongly—of hon. Members opposite who plead for compensation now for drift netters. When the original Order was made in 1962, their own Government was in office, and, if their political beliefs were as strong then as they are today, that Government would have given some sort of promise that compensation should be paid for an accumulating loss. But they did not. Therefore, I do not take the point as strongly as hon. Members opposite do.

Liberal Members are in on this too, saying that there should be compensation and urging adoption of the Hunter Report. I wish that they would return to the belief of their forebears in the Liberal Party that the land should belong to the people, despite their vote yesterday. In Parliamentary legislation, of course, land includes water. [Interruption.] Lloyd George included water when he was talking about land. I thought that that would silence them. They do not seem to believe in the great things which their party used to do.

I commend the extension of the Order, but I urge my hon. Friend and the Secretary of State not to be over-hasty in bringing in legislation after the Hunter Report. I am all in favour of most of its main recommendations, but I want to ensure that the great questions of the rate of fishing, access to water and so on are covered fully and we are not fobbed off with something which is an imitation of the Hunter Report and not the real thing.

10.45 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Stodart (Edinburgh, West)

The Minister of State has asked for a further extension of the prohibition on drift-net fishing. He has had a fairly thin time of it, although I imagine that he will survive. I was particularly distressed for him when he was attacked with, I thought, considerable brutality from behind by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) who, having struck the blow, has now disappeared altogether.

As some of my hon. Friends have said, a similar request was made a year ago and the grounds then were that the Hunter Report had not been published. In moving that Order, the hon. Gentleman admitted that he and his colleagues did not like the situation, but he felt that it was wise to continue along this path until the Hunter Report came out. We on this side of the House agreed with that and I am certain that the step which the hon. Gentleman took then was the right step.

On publication, the Hunter Report has shown how wise the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Lord Muirshiel as he now is, was to set up the Hunter Committee, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman now agrees with his right hon. Friend the present Minister of Agriculture who, on Second Reading of the 1962 Act, accepted the need for action if there was evidence of danger of damage, although both the hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends did not altogether share that view.

However, the Government are now considering the Hunter Report and what action they should take on it and consistency clearly demands that reasonable time should be given to them to give the matter due consideration. Last year, the hon. Gentleman said that once the Report came out, the examination would be full and urgent. Those were his words. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Wolrige-Gordon), my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) and the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. George Y. Mackie) all urged that as little time as possible should be wasted. There is clearly a difference of opinion on this, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) rather sides with the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) in saying that we should not hurry unduly on this matter.

Personally, I come down on the side of doing this with as much speed as possible. I hope that the examination will be conducted urgently and, if I may give the hon. Gentleman a yardstick, that it will not take as long as it has taken to review the Hospital Plan, or to produce a minimum price scheme for the White Fish Authority. I hope that we shall have greater urgency than that.

However, as I have said, the hon. Gentleman has borne his burden fairly nobly tonight. He has said that the views to be submitted were to have been submitted in mid-November, but have been a little delayed and, I think, that the last of them are now coming in. I hope that he will assure the House that this is the last time that he will require to ask for an extension of this kind. It is a most unsatisfactory procedure going on year by year. I hope that he will be able to give us an assurance that before he come to us again legislation will be introduced as a result of his deliberations upon the Hunter Report.

Mr. W. Baxter

Can the hon. Gentleman assure us that if the Conservatives should ever return to power they will pay compensation for any loss suffered by the drift-net fishermen?

10.50 p.m.

Mr. Willis

Perhaps I might put the hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) wise concerning a point he raised. The Hunter Committee was set up as a result of the pressure from this side of the House, then the Opposition. It demanded, before the prohibition was introduced, that there should be a committee set up to inquire into the effects of drift-net fishing.

The Committee was set up because of the pressure exerted over quite a period of time. We finally got the promise of a committee, but the prohibition was brought into force before we had the interim Report of the Hunter Committee. I am reminded that it was announced before the Committee was appointed—I was being rather more generous. The hon. Gentleman also asked that the examination should be full and urgent. This is one promise I can make again this year. It will be full and urgent. I do not think that we have wasted a great deal of time.

We received the report in August and we sent out asking for the views of a large number of organisations. They were asked to send them in by November, but some were not able to get them in by this time, for quite good reasons. We have very little control over that, but we are expecting to have the views of practically all of the organisations by about the middle of February. We will give this matter urgent attention. We appreciate that the industry would like to know what is the Government's intention. The exact time when it might be possible to introduce legislation, however, is rather more difficult to forecast, as the hon. Gentleman knows. But at least the industry should be given a clear indication of the Government's intentions on the Hunter Committee's Report, and we shall see that it gets it. That will enable the industry to plan ahead.

Mr. Temple

Does the Minister mean that there will be a White Paper published on this subject? If so, can he give an indication when that White Paper will be published?

Mr. Willis

I am not quite certain about the manner in which we shall indicate this, but it is our intention to make our objectives concerning the industry clear. The hon. Gentleman knows the procedure of this House—I was going to say as well as I do, I am not quite so certain about that—but he certainly knows them fairly well. He knows that there are many ways in which statements can be made, either in answer to a Question or by means of a statement by a minister, or by some other method, without necessarily publishing a White Paper. My concern is not so much how it is to be done, but that the industry should know the Government's intentions on the recommendations of the Hunter Committee Report.

These are important recommendations. The changes which are suggested are fairly big and radical changes in the industry and, clearly, the industry would want to know as early as possible what the Government intend to do about them. Certainly, we shall give the industry that information as early as possible.

A number of hon. Members have commented upon the Hunter Report. It is neither my job nor my intention tonight to enter into discussion of the recommendations made by that Report. All I will say is that what has been said about some of the recommendations has been noted, and certainly we will bear in mind the points made by various hon. Members when we consider the Report—urgently.

The hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) also asked about fishery protection and what difficulties we had had about this. The fishery protection fleet operated by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland is available to enforce the prohibition in the course of its patrols of Scottish coastal waters. Only one instance of illegal drift-net fishing has been reported since the ban has been in operation and little demand has been made upon the time of the fishery protection squadron for enforcing the Order.

The fishermen have generally accepted the ban and they are to be commended for the way in which they accepted it because, as we know, feelings ran high. One of my cheerier memories was when, in Committee on, I think, the Sea Fish Industry Bill, the former hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns entertained us for a considerable time with vivid descriptions of the battles that were taking place off the coast of his constituency, indicating the deep feelings which were aroused on all sides and in all quarters. As I have said, however, the position is most satisfactory.

Mr. Temple

In case it has slipped the hon. Gentleman's memory, I asked why the Order had not been brought in for longer than a year, as would have been permissible.

Mr. Willis

One or two hon. Members have asked why the Order has been introduced for only one year. This is a point about which one can take various views. [Laughter.] I am trying to suggest that there are arguments on both sides. Some hon. Members opposite have suggested that we should have introduced an Order which would carry us on until it was possible to pass legislation in this matter. The other view is that when one is enforcing a prohibition of this kind, it is not a bad thing to enable the House to debate it every year. There are merits in both methods.

We, in my view correctly, decided that it was right that the House should have the opportunity to debate the matter again if legislation has not been introduced by next February to deal with it. This is treating the House fairly. That was why we took this course. I seem to have afforded a good deal of amusement, but all I did was to admit that there were arguments on the other side. That was a reasonable thing to do. I am amazed that Liberals, in particular, should find it astonishing to admit that there are sometimes arguments on the other side. I think that I have now answered the hon. Member for Chester.

A number of hon. Members have raised the question of compensation. This was referred to in the interim report of the Hunter Committee, which concluded that The case for compensation does not seem strong. They point out that the drift-net fishermen were given over a year's notice that the ban was to be introduced. This at least prevented them from buying nets between August 1961 and September 1962, or it should have done. Those who bought them before then did get a season they did not expect, because legislation took rather a long time to get through the House. They got a season very few of us expected because certain members of the Committee were rather long-winded in dealing with these matters. The fishermen were rather grateful for the long-windedness.

Mr. Stodart

Has the hon. Member gone to the trouble of ascertaining who was the most long-winded of all on that Committee?

Mr. Willis

I have a very vivid recollection of the people who were the most long-winded on that Committee, but this did enable the fishermen at that time to get an extra season salmon fishing. They had just over a year's notice that the Order was to be introduced, which prevented large numbers of them from purchasing nets.

I recognise the problem here, because I have fishermen in my constituency who take part in drift-net fishing and they are not backward in keeping me informed of their problems of which the problem of compensation is one.

Mr. George Y. Mackie

Surely the hon. Member is aware of many examples of promised legislation even in this Parliament which have taken a great deal of time to come forward and may never come forward. Surely it is no case for depriving people of their means of livelihood and making their gear useless to say that they were warned beforehand. It may reduce the need for compensation, but it does not remove it.

Mr. Willis

If the hon. Member had been in the House at the time, he would have appreciated that it was made very clear that it was intended to introduce legislation giving powers to prohibit this practice. There was no dubiety about it at all. Legislation was introduced, I think at the beginning of the 1961-62 Session, with the intention of it being through by the New Year, but it took rather longer which is one reason why the prohibition did not come into effect for some time.

The hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) raised the question of Greenland salmon fisheries. I do not want to say much about that at the moment, but I think his point was that this was also having an effect on salmon stocks. The latest figures are not quite as bad as the figures twelve months ago, but if the hon. Gentleman cares to see me afterwards, I think it will save taking up time on this point now.

The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Wolrige-Gordon) said that I had come along this year with the same story, and that the position was still unjust. I must remind the hon. Gentleman, when he talks about my giving the same story as last year, that he was one of the first Members of the House to be seized of the urgency to do something about drift-net fishing for salmon. He was one of the Members engaged in the original stampede to the Secretary of State, urging upon the Secretary of State the necessity to do something to stop it.

Mr. George Y. Mackie


Mr. Willis

The hon. Gentleman now takes rather a different view. But I would ask him to bear in mind that, in making the speech that he did, he turned a pretty good somersault from the stand that he took in about 1960 when he pattered along the lobbies feverishly to see the Secretary of State in order to get something done.

However, we are getting on with the job, as I told the hon. Gentleman last year and as I have already said tonight. We hope that we shall be able to get the matter considered. We shall announce what our intentions are upon the Hunter Report as soon as possible, and we hope meanwhile that the House will give us the Order.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Salmon and Migratory Trout (Prohibition of Drift-net Fishing) (Extension) Order, 1965, dated 26th November, 1965, a copy of which was laid before this House on 2nd December, be approved.