HC Deb 07 February 1967 vol 740 cc1524-58
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

Mr. Secretary Ross.

Mr. Ernest Armstrong (Durham, North-West)

Now, Sir.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Mr. Lawson.

Mr. Armstrong

Now, Sir.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The Question is, That Mr. Arthur Palmer be discharged from the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries; and that Mr. Edward Rowlands be added.

Those in favour, say Aye; to the contrary, No. The Ayes have it. Order, order.

Mr. Anthony Stodart (Edinburgh, West)


Mr. Deputy Speaker

I called Mr. Secretary Ross.

Mr. Armstrong

I said, "Now, Sir."

Mr. Stodart


Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am sorry—

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

On a point of order. May we get this clear? Has this Order been moved, and are we entitled to debate it?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The Question is, That the Salmon and Migratory Trout (Prohibition of Drift-net Fishing) (Extension) Order, 1966, a copy of which was laid before this House on 15th December, be approved.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Norman Buchan)

Before we pass the Order, I think it would be as well if I said a few words in moving this Order. The House will be aware that this is the third occasion in successive years on which we have put forward Orders of this kind and therefore, I do not want to take up the time of the House in explaining in detail the purpose of the Order. Its purpose is to extend for two years the operation of the present ban on drift-net fishing for salmon off the coast of Scotland after the present Order expires on 15th February. Its effect would therefore be to maintain the status quo.

The House will recall that the prohibition was first introduced for a period of three years in 1962. It gave rise to a good deal of dissatisfaction on the part of the fishermen affected by it, and we on this side were critical of its introduction. Nevertheless, since taking office, the present Government have felt obliged on two occasions to extend the operation of the ban, on each occasion for a year at a time. I should like, therefore, to recall why this was done, and why, on this occasion, we felt it desirable to extend the ban for two years.

The reason is simply this. The question of drift net fishing was one of the matters dealt with by the Hunter Committee on Scottish Salmon and Trout Fisheries. The Committee recommended that the ban should be made permanent, but we think it would be unwise, and indeed impossible, for the Government to reach final decisions on this issue in isolation from, and in advance of, the other recommendations of the Committee, and without being fully satisfied that this was the correct proposal.

This is not the occasion to discuss the general questions raised by the Report, but it is fair to say that the Committee's recommendation for the permanent prohibition of drift-net fishing—and, indeed, the additional proposal for the prohibition of all fishing for salmon in the sea—was an integral part of the fishing regime which the Committee proposed. It is, therefore, very much bound up with the other main aspects of the Report, which are wide ranging and far-reaching and involve radical changes in the present fishing methods and administration and various aspects of the law on this matter.

On the last occasion, a year ago, when an extension Order was brought before the House, we said that its purpose was to provide time for a comprehensive study of all the implications of the Hunter Committee's recommendations. Last year at this time we were still receiving written observations on the recommendations from a large number of associations and other organisations which had an interest in the subject and we had begun the process of exploring the practical and financial implications of the Committee's proposals, some of which the Committee was, for obvious reasons, not itself able to develop in detail.

Both my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I had hoped that we would by now have been much further forward with this process, and I have no doubt that many hon. Members share that view. We have, however, followed the advice which has been pressed upon us from many quarters in the House to take our time over this issue. We have certainly not wasted time on it. On the contrary, the more we have studied the comments which have been submitted on the Report and the more we have examined it in detail, the more obvious it has become that many of the features of the new arrangements which were proposed were acutely controversial and that over a large area there is far from general agreement among the various bodies and individuals most closely concerned.

We have, therefore, come to the conclusion, I think correctly, that much more time is needed for the further consultation and consideration which this complex, important and, in some ways, technical subject demands. My right hon. Friend has decided in particular that there would be every advantage in a greater measure of consultation with the interested bodies than has been possible by correspondence. We are grateful for the amount of correspondence which has come in and for the useful submissions which we have received, but more is necessary. We need to supplement what we already have. We have, therefore, begun a programme of meetings with the main organisations, of which there are a large number, at which it will be possible to sound their views and have the benefit of their expert knowledge and advice on many aspects of the Report. Only yesterday, a meeting with one association lasted seven hours, at the end of which the meeting still had not reached a conclusion.

Talks have, therefore, been held with these organisations and others are to follow, but this is a large commitment and it is only reasonable and realistic to recognise that the process will take time Indeed, time will also be needed to assimilate and reach conclusions on the information and views which have been put to us, many of which are conflicting, and thereafter to decide upon and to frame the content of any legislation. That is why we now propose an extension of the present sitation for a further two years.

My right hon. Friend and I have decided, both separately and together, on this two years' extension, first, because we regard it as realistic. It would be wrong for us, in examining all the evidence which has come forward and all the views which we have had and some of which frequently conflict, to raise any expectation among hon. Members of earlier legislation than can be done within the proposed two years. Secondly, it would be equally wrong for us to raise any false hopes, either on the part of the drift-net fishermen or among the river interests, that an earlier decision might be made. A delay is a delay, but the period of two years at least has the benefit of reducing the annual uncertainty which has occurred.

I recognise that the need for further consideration will cause disappointment in many quarters. Above all, it will cause disappointment among the fishermen whom I know best, those who fish because they must and not simply for sport and who would like to engage again in drift-netting for salmon, an activity which they pursued briefly but increasingly between 1960 and 1962 but which has now been denied them for over four years. I have explained why it would be wrong to allow a resumption of drift-netting before we were clear what action would be taken on other aspects of the Hunter Report.

Equally, as long as the ban is only temporary and for a stated period, the fishermen at least have the consolation of knowing that the Government's mind is still open on the question. I assure the House that this is the case.

I know, too, that other people are eager to know what shape the management and the administration of the salmon fisheries will take—various angling associations and clubs and river proprietors. They will all be affected in one way or another, and I would assure them that we shall be as quick as we can. Bearing in mind that legislation over salmon has lasted a hundred years, indeed, goes back much further, to David 1 and James 1, with their attempts to bring some kind of control over salmon fishing by "Satter-daie's slops" and so on, clearly it would be worth while for everyone now that we take a little time in order to be sure that when we do formulate legislation we get the right answers.

I hope, therefore, that the House will support this Order.

11.40 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Stodart (Edinburgh, West)

I feel that first I should perhaps ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether or not the Order which the Under-Secretary has moved is in fact in the category of being an event at all, in view of the fact that other business on the Order Paper was taken before the Order was moved. Perhaps we could have your guidance on that?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

When I called this Order one of the Government Whips said "Now". Then subsequently—I think it was the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page): I am not sure: it may have been the hon. Member—I was asked whether this Order would be moved, and therefore I proposed the Question, and then the Under-Secretary of State said that before I collected the voices he would like to make some observations about it. He has now made some observations about it.

Mr. J. Bruce-Gardyne (South Angus)

On a point of order. Surely it is within the recollection of the House that you had called other business, Mr. Deputy Speaker, before the Under-Secretary moved the Order, and has it not been overtaken by the fact that you had already called other business before?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

No. I do not think so. The position is this. It is not necessary for anyone to make a speech in moving the Order.

Mr. Geoffrey Rippon (Hexham)

Is the effect of your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that there can be a change in the order of business?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

No. That is not the effect of my Ruling.

Mr. F. V. Corfield (Gloucestershire, South)

Surely in this case, although the Whip may have moved that the Order should be taken now, we then, as I understand it, moved on to other business. Therefore, I cannot quite follow the rule of order by which it is possible to go back to this Order and allow the Minister to make a speech about it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That was taken up by the hon. Member—for Crosby, I think it was, if I recollect aright.

Mr. Rippon

With all respect to him, can he change the rules of debate?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

No one has changed the rules of debate. This Order was, as I understand it, moved without the Minister making a speech.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James H. Hoy)

That is right.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I then put the Question, and the Minister then said he wanted to make some observations about it, before I collected the voices, and for the last 10 or 15 minutes we have proceeded on that footing.

Mr. Rippon

Further to the point of order. Do I understand that the position was that you understood, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it had been moved but did not know that it had been moved? Does not the point arise, therefore, whether in fact the voices were ever collected? I am told that they were not.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is precisely because the voices were not collected that we are having a debate, and I cannot collect the voices on this Order till the debate has been concluded.

Mr. Corfield

Surely, if the voices were collected and we passed on to other business, the business which we are now purported to be discussing must have fallen? I cannot understand by what rule of order it is possible to go back and allow the Minister to make a speech and collect the voices afterwards.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I hope the House will not misunderstand the position.

An hon. Member

We do.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

First of all I called Mr. Secretary Ross to move this Order. As I understand it, as Mr. Secretary Ross was not here, a Whip said "Now". I was then going to proceed to put another Question, but my attention was drawn to the fact that this Order had been moved. Therefore, I put this Question, and I was about to collect the voices when the Minister said that, before I collected the voices, he wanted to make a speech about it. That course was taken at the suggestion made, I think quite rightly, by the hon. Member for Crosby. The position now is that we are debating this Order, and we have not moved on to the last item on the Order Paper.

Mr. Stodart

I wish merely to establish the facts, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My impression was that you did call Mr. Secretary Ross, and neither he nor any other Scottish Minister was present on the Front Bench to move this Order—[Interruption.] With great respect, I think that he was not on the bench at the time. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in fact went on to call the next business and did call it. If I am incorrect, I will withdraw, but that certainly was my impression.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is partly correct and partly incorrect. He is correct in saying that, when I first called the Order, there was not a Scottish Minister on the bench. But there was a Whip, who said "Now", quite correctly. That had the effect of moving the Order. If no speech had been made about it, I would, then and there, have collected the voices. However, I was interrupted by the hon. Member for Crosby, and subsequently by the Minister, who said that he wanted to make a speech about it.

I am prepared to put the Question again now, if that would suit hon. Members.

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

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wish to support my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) that you did move on to the next bit of business.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I was proposing, if necessary, to move on to the next business, but had not moved on to it when my attention to this particular Order was drawn by the hon. Member for Crosby.

Mr. Stodart

Of course, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if that is what you say, I am perfectly ready to admit that I misheard and misunderstood what happened.

What I would say, therefore, is that it is the failure of a Minister to be upon the bench which has caused us to be put into this slight difficulty. I had thought, charitably, that the Under-Secretary of State, whom I am very glad to welcome to the Government Front Bench for his first speech, was handling this Order in the guise of a distinctly reluctant debutante, in view of its history, and so reluctant was he that he was not here to do it.

There was urgency expressed last year and the year before on this Order by the Scottish Office spokesman, and I am certain that it would have been extremely embarrassing for any of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues to have to handle the Order tonight.

It is a remarkably good thing that the Prime Minister does not know about the history of this affair—at least, I am sure that he does not—because he would be more determined than ever, as a result of the ineptitude which has been shown in this matter, to go on excluding the Secretary of State for Scotland from discussing any matters of moment that come up in the Cabinet or in Cabinet Committees. We all know to what that refers.

There is nothing purposeful, brisk or dynamic about the way in which this Order has been handled in the last two years. There is about as much urgency shown on it as I imagine Cleopatra's efforts were urgent to avoid Mark Antony. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman must be, like Joan of Arc, hearing voices when he proposes this extension. It may be the voice of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy), who in 1961 described the proposal to make the Order as a concession to certain selfish private landed interests in Scotland.

On 1st February last year the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) said: This is one promise I can make again this year. It"— that is the examination— will be full and urgent…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. During that debate the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East asked the rhetorical question—why not an Order for two years? He answered it by saying: 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…This is treating the House fairly."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 1st February, 1966; Vol. 723, cc. 1034–36.] If it was fair to treat the House that way last year, with that logic with which the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East made his mark in this House, it is thoroughly unfair to have a 2-year extension this year.

But let us get down to brass tacks about this question of not wasting time. We were told last year that the views of those interested were asked for by November, 1965. An extension was given to February, 1966, and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East told us a year ago that most of the remaining submissions were expected within the next few weeks. That was on 1st February of last year. Were all those submissions in by last spring? We were told that the examination was to be full and urgent. How many consultations have there been, who has been consulted, and what is holding things up?

During the debates last year and the year before hon. Members on both sides of the House had divided views on whether action should be taken speedily, or whether time should be taken to consider the matter, and I remember that a year ago I came down on the side of the latter. I said that I thought that if it was only a question of a few more weeks, time should be taken to consider it, and during the months that lay ahead a decision could be arrived at. Unless we are given the most compelling reasons by the Minister tonight, I do not think that I could repeat that opinion.

I think that this is a clear example of vacillation on the part of the Scottish Office. I think that we must press the hon. Gentleman to give us a firm assurance that some positive action will be taken on this matter which is of considerable interest to many of those who are engaged in this industry.

11.54 p.m.

Mr. John P. Mackintosh (Berwick and East Lothian)

I welcome my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary on the occasion of his first speech from the Dispatch Box. I sympathise with his attitude to this question, because, having gone through this Hunter Report, as hon. Members on both sides of the House have done, I regard it as an extremely difficult document to implement, containing as it does a number of extreme suggestions as a solution to the problem, a series of proposals which should not be proceeded with until there has been considerable time to study them. I think that the Report should be either partly buried or totally altered before there is any suggestion that these details should be implemented.

I appreciate my hon. Friend's position, and I shall be interested to hear whether hon. Gentlemen opposite want the Report implemented. I should like the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) to tell us whether a Conservative Government would apply this Report. If so, this would be a very interesting and far-reaching suggestion. I know of few people who would regard it as a complete solution to the problem.

If my hon. Friend is now prolonging the banning of drift netting for salmon for a further period he should take one or two interim steps, in the interests of justice for those people who have bought drift nets and have now had this type of salmon fishing stopped abruptly while other types are allowed to continue. I see no moral advantage in dragging fish out of a river over drift netting in the sea. If it is argued that the Hunter Committee made this recommendation, and that the Conservative Government put it forward as a justification for banning drift netting at the time, because the carrying on of this type of operation on the scale at which it was developing between 1960 and 1962, could seriously have depleted stocks, I would accept that argument.

But now, could not the Government, in the interim, devise a method of sharing the existing quantity of salmon caught more equitably between the different groups of salmon fishers? I do not suggest that they should allow a resumption of drift netting on the scale of 1960–1962, but there is a peculiar aspect of this problem in my constituency, because fishermen who fish on the Northumberland side of the Tweed are allowed to drift net by licence, while those on the Scottish side can only watch because they are banned from doing the same. I hope that the Scottish Office will consider giving an equal number—a limited and carefully regulated number—of licences for drift netting for salmon, if necessary reducing the number of licences issued for salmon fishing in rivers.

The shell fishermen receive no subsidy from the Government. They are not covered by the White Fish Regulations or the Inshore Fishing Regulations. The price of shellfish has not improved substantially in recent years, and in some areas shellfishers are in difficult straits. It would be a reasonable solution if some licences were issued in respect of boats under 35 ft. in length, concentrated among this small group of fishermen, so that they would receive an extra bonus by sharing in this more profitable type of fishing. I hope that my hon. Friend will look into this question and that the Scottish Office will consider the problem of producing equity for the people who have been stopped from salmon fishing in the interim period. If the Government decide to bury or largely forget the Hunter Report I shall not be sorry.

11.58 p.m.

Mr. W. H. K. Baker (Banff)

I start by referring to the point made by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) about limited fishing by boats under 35 ft. in length. That may be applicable in his area, but it is not necessarily applicable to the rest of Scotland. In my constituency there are no boats of that size. Therefore, other methods should be thought of, although I agree with the hon. Gentleman's general thesis that a strictly limited amount of drift netting for salmon should be licensed.

We have heard the speech of the Joint Under-Secretary two or three times, but there was a significant difference this time, in that the Statutory Instrument asks for two years more, whereas in the past we have had only a one-year extension. The hon. Member tried to justify this additional two years, but he failed lamentably to convince me of its necessity. In paragraph 162 the Hunter Report rightly points out that unregulated drift-net fishing could quickly deplete salmon stocks in some rivers. The inference from that is, of course, that there would be no future in the long run for anglers, for the salmon netters nor for the drift netters themselves if it continued in an unregulated manner—and of course "unregulated" is the key word.

On 4th February, 1965, the then Minister of State had this to say in moving the Statutory Instrument of that year: We hope that this will give us time to consider the recommendations made in the final Report of the Hunter Committee… At that stage the Government had not received the final report of the Hunter Committee. Now, two years later, we still have no pronouncement from the Government, and the hon. Gentleman has not convinced me—and I am sure other hon. Members on both sides of the House—that this extra two years is necessary.

The then Minister of State said further, referring to the speech of an hon. Member in the House, that the hon. Member …wanted the matter to be treated as one of urgency. I agree with him. This is a problem in Scotland which calls for action. We are saying that tonight. We have been saying it for three solid years. Again, the then Minister of State said When we receive the Hunter Report we shall waste no time in considering it and seeing what ought to be done."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 4th February, 1965; Vol. 705, c. 1367–79.] After stating in the same debate that the Secretary of State had asked for representations from associations and individuals to be in his hands by November, 1965—and my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) has already mentioned this—the then Minister of State said on 1st February, 1966: …most of them have done so and we expect to receive most of the remaining submissions within the next few weeks."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st February, 1966; Vol. 723, c. 1018.] If we are to be charitable to the Government, I would say that the "next few weeks" went possibly to 1st March, which therefore means that the Government have had 11 months to consider the representations which have been made to them. Yet now we are asked for a further ban for two years.

I am bound to repeat the question—why this inordinate extension? The banning of drift netting is but one of the many recommendations of the Hunter Committee, and everyone agrees that the Hunter Committee both in its first and in final Report said that uncontrolled drift netting for salmon would be disastrous. Nevertheless, the Hunter Committee quotes examples, figures, for the whole of the catch for salmon, grilse and sea trout for 1963, and goes on to say that no less than 81 per cent. of this catch was caught by so-called fixed engine or sea nets, estuarial nets.

That is opposed to 19 per cent. caught by rod and line. By no stretch of the imagination could drift netting, even on the basis of the 1960–1962 catches, be said to catch 300,000 fish in one season, although it is conceivable, of course, that they could do that and more if there were more boats involved in drift netting. Therefore, drift netting is not the only despoiler of salmon and sea trout stocks.

The Hunter Committee said, in relation to drift netting, that three courses were open to the Government. First, uncontrolled drift netting; second, a total ban on drift netting ; and third, regulated drift netting by licensing, landing quotas, etc. The Report said in this connection that the Committee considered annual and weekly close times, restrictions on the length and mesh of nets, the licensing of boats, catch quotas, length of boats, licensing of nets, and they rejected the lot. I do not think it is beyond the wit of man—and this follows from what the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian said—to devise a licensing system for a very limited number of seine netters, or similar types of boats.

Consider the position in England. We were told by the former Minister of State in the previous debate on this subject that drift netting is the traditional method in England and Wales for catching salmon and that it is not applicable to Scotland. The position in England and Wales is, briefly, that licensing is of two types; it is by river boards in their areas, under the Salmon —

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Alternative methods of fishing were ruled out of order on the last occasion when this matter was debated. This Order is confined to extending the present ban for a period of time and, therefore, the scope of this debate is somewhat limited.

Mr. Baker

Perhaps it is pertinent to say that it is possible in England and Wales to drift net for salmon under licence.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is not relevant to this Order, which seeks to extend the present ban in Scotland for a period of time.

Mr. Baker

Everybody in Scotland is concerned about the conservation of salmon stocks, which are a natural asset and tourist attraction. I repeat that if unrestricted drift netting is allowed to go on, Scotland will suffer disastrously. It is, therefore, pertinent to ask the Under-Secretary a number of questions further afield. What have been the results so far of the salmon tagging experiments being conducted off Greenland? Since Greenland is probably the largest area in the North Atlantic for the feeding and growing of salmon, we should be given information about these experiments. If a great number of salmon are being caught as they have been in the past, that is doing damage to Scotland's fishing. What progress does the hon. Gentleman have to report about an international agreement in regard to restricting salmon fishing off Greenland?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot pursue that matter. It is not right to ask the Minister such questions and it would not be right for him to answer them

Mr. Baker

I urge the Government to take urgent action and I seek an assurance that if a decision is taken within these two years and if some sort of licensing system for drift-net fishing is possible, the ban will be taken off before the statutory time.

I press the Minister to consider the question of compensation for drift netters. This matter has been raised many times in these debates. I suggest that if a final decision is taken to prevent drift netting for all time, it will then be necessary to take action to pay compensation to those fishermen who bought nets and other equipment but who have been unable to utilise them and who have so far received no compensation.

12.10 a.m.

Mr. Donald Dewar (Aberdeen, South)

I add my congratulations to those which have been offered to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box. I hope that in future he will not always be faced with such complex issues as the future of the commercial salmon fishing industry of Scotland and that he will not be afflicted with the kind of ungracious procedural wrangles which were inflicted on the House at the beginning of this debate.

This is indeed a complex matter and well rehearsed in that it has certain similarities with last year's debate on this subject. I suppose that it was inevitable that my hon. Friend would have accusations of procrastination hurled at him. Hon. Gentlemen opposite were, I suppose, bound to say that the Government had been unable to make up their mind about the provisions of the Hunter Report. As I expected, they also used as ammunition some of the remarks of the then Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis), with which to pelt the Under-Secretary on his debut at the Dispatch Box. This seems to me—and it was done by the hon. Member for Edinburgh. West (Mr. Stodart) with dreary persistence—to be extremely irrelevant.

We are faced with a request by the Government to extend a necessary holding operation. I stress that it is a holding operation and I hope that the Government do not look upon this as something which will graduate or fade into the status quo, as something which will inevitably be incorporated into a final solution of the problems which are dealt with in the Hunter Report. I am well aware that the case for the total abolition of drift-net fishing for salmon has been strongly stated in the Hunter Report. I use the word "stated", because it was my impression on reading that Report that the argument presented in that section of the Report was stronger on assertion than on evidence. Although it speaks eloquently about decimation of stock and puts forward a neat argument on the protection and future management of resources, I hope the Government have the open mind, to which my hon. Friend referred in his opening remarks.

Looking at the figures for 1960–62 relating to the general trend, it is true that there was a mounting poundage of fish being caught by drift-net processes. But this in itself does not seem to be entirely conclusive. I am sure that we would all agree that the results of this so-called depredation, if depredation it be, cannot be assessed for a good number of years, and probably cannot be properly assessed until the results of the season 1968-69 are to hand. We have not got the evidence. As has often been said in the House, what complicates the matter is that if the evidence which does emerge in 1968–69 is inconclusive, it will be impossible to confirm it in future years because if drift-net fishing is stopped, no future evidence will be forthcoming.

Anybody who looks at the figures that the Hunter Report provides for the total catch in 1960–63 will see how inconclusive the evidence is. In 1960 we had a heavy year; 1961 was very poor; 1962 was exceptionally heavy. The same pattern might well be reflected in the late 1960s. Therefore, it would be extremely difficult to draw any firm conclusions. Even if one were bold enough to do so, no doubt some ingenious gentleman could argue that it was something to do with the Greenland fishing grounds or some other devious factors.

I hope that the Under-Secretary is right in saying that at the moment this is only an interim measure on which he keeps an open mind. I have a definite sympathy with the points made about the differentiation which has crept in between those in England who are drift netting and those in Scotland. There is some suggestion in the Hunter Report that concessions might be made for some of the drift netters in the Southern part of Scotland. I hope the Under-Secretary will be prepared to look at that. It was said that it is necessary to look upon this as an interim measure. But it is also necessary to recognise that the final total implementation of the Hunter Report is something with which this is inextricably enmeshed. It may well be necessary to consider not just this aspect, but the whole field, and this must be done in the future, though not in the too far distant future.

I do not accept the remarks in the Report on the need to fade out coastal netting. This is something that I regard with suspicion. Even if that were accepted, I would still argue about the kind of control of trapping and the profits sharing system which might be brought in. Enough has been seen of the clashing views and thinly-veiled vested interests which abound in this industry to substantiate the claim of the Government that more time is necessary. But we must not have unlimited time. The matter must not be allowed to drift on unnecessarily. But, as was stressed by the then Minister of State almost a year ago, it would be most unprofitable to try to reach hasty and ill-considered decisions on this issue. I certainly accept that. I am willing to give the Government their two years although with the obvious proviso that a decision, however prickly and unpleasant, must be taken sometime.

12.18 a.m.

Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)

I am the first to associate myself with the congratulations to the Under-Secretary on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box.

I will be as brief as the Government have been tardy in this matter. We are asked to extend this Order for a further two years. It has already been said by several hon. Members that there was every indication that this further extension would not be required. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) to say that this is a very difficult matter and that the Hunter Report is highly controversial, and so on. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Dewar) to say that it is irrelevant for hon. Members on this side to accuse the Government of procrastination. I think that it is relevant. The Government have procrastinated. The hon. Member says that he hopes that the Minister will keep an open mind on the matter. I hope that the Minister will not keep an open mind for an indefinite period as he looks like doing.

Mr. Dewar

My criticism is mainly of those hon. Members who have made speeches this evening in which they made that point only and no constructive proposals on what should be done. I trust that the hon. Member will not make the same mistake.

Mr. Johnston

The first constructive suggestion I make is one which the Under-Secretary cannot put directly into operation. He could bring to the notice of the Leader of the House, who wandered in just now and wandered out again, that it is time we had a full debate on the Hunter Report in this House, or in the Scottish Grand Committee. This would be a valuable step forward. It would allow hon. Members to ventilate their views and it would consolidate opinion about what is to be done on the Hunter Report. It is controversial and there are parts of it with which I disagree, but a decision has got to be made and we cannot extend this much further.

My second point is that the Order continues the uncertainty for drift-net fishermen. They have already purchased gear and they have not been compensated for the fact that they have been unable to use it and might not be able to use it in the future either. The Government have a clear responsibility to these people, a responsibility they ought quickly to honour.

12.21 a.m.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

Perhaps it came as no great surpise that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) concentrated on the Government's delay in com- ing to a decision about the future of the salmon industry in Scotland and rather less on the merits of the Order. One might have expected that. But it comes as no surprise because any settlement of the affairs of the salmon industry, if it were to be rushed through, as is apparently suggested, would be bound to be based on the Report of the Hunter Committee, which is a completely unacceptable document in many respects. I agree with the strictures of my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Macintosh).

The question we are entitled to ask tonight is: why are the Government seeking a two years' extension of this Order when last year one year was thought to be sufficient. It becomes abundantly clear, the longer one studies this document and the more evidence is taken on the subject, how fundamentally mistaken are some of the recommendations of the Hunter Committee. When the document first came forward there was an expectation that a document so lengthy and so considered would produce all the answers. This is far from being so. I agree entirely with the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Dewar) that the evidence put forward by the Hunter Committee on this very question of drift-net fishing is tenuous in the extreme and is full of assertions and very little substance.

I take issue with those hon. Members who have suggested that a principle issue involved in this extension of the ban is the question of compensation for expenditure on nets and other equipment bought before the Order was introduced. This is an important question, but it is one which can be dealt with when the final decision is taken as to the future of drift netting.

Mr. Russell Johnston

Why is it all right to delay two or three years? These people were dependent for their living on the gear they had bought.

Mr. Maclennan

I think that the hon. Gentleman exaggerates. I have the greatest sympathy for those who have been prevented from fishing in this way, as the hon. Gentleman will realise when I am allowed to continue. But I am on the question of compensation at the moment, and I was saying that I do not regard it as of prime importance. The vital issue is whether the underlying reasons for the Hunter Committee's recommendation of the ban are justified. The main underlying reason put forward by the Hunter Committee was that it was in the interests of the proper management of fisheries. One is entitled to ask—management for whom? The fishermen who have been drift netting for years are among the most interested people, and, if they are to be debarred from access to this important local resource, who is to be left with the resource?

It is most unsatisfactory if the banning of drift-net fishing will benefit only or principally the absentee sporting proprietors who fish these rivers, let them out at exorbitant rents and then carry out the netting operations themselves. In so far as the Hunter Committee's proposals envisage a continuance of the right of the absentee sporting proprietor, they are quite unacceptable. In my estimation, the Committee fell down not so much in its scientific judgment—although there is some question as to whether the evidence was very convincing—but in its apparent failure to grasp that the interests of the absentee sporting proprietors and local commercial operators could not be reconciled as the Committee suggested.

It is all very well to talk as the Committee did of proprietors and operators on one river co-operating in a single fishery. In many Scottish rivers, it is the proprietors themselves who are the operators who not only let the fishing at the rents I have described but then despoil their hapless tenants by engaging in the wholesale commercial netting of the rivers.

There is only one way to ensure that this important asset is fairly utilised, and that is to take the salmon fishing of Scotland into public ownership. Only when the fishing belongs to the people of Scotland will it be accessible for proper—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We cannot go into that now.

Mr. Maclennan

I do not propose to go into that question now, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My views on the subject are well known. But, with this underlying view, I find myself reluctant to support the Order tonight because it extends for two years an apparent discrimination against local fishermen who have in the past derived a useful supplement to their income from it. I do not go so far as the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston) in saying that they have derived their livelihood from it. I think that for only few fishermen has it been more than a supplement. But if this grace period of two years is to be accepted, I hope that it will be used by the Government to work out a system whereunder the salmon resources of our Scottish rivers are made available to genuinely local operators, on licence from the State, opening up these great and attractive facilities to anglers both local and tourist. Then the apparent inequity of extending the Order will be wiped out.

12.25 a.m.

Mr. Patrick Wolrige-Gordon (Aberdeenshire, East)

Not one of the hon. Members opposite who have spoken has succeeded in giving a satisfactory reason for the Government's action in extending the Order for two years. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) gave it up altogether and said that he opposed the Order.

Mr. Maclennan

The hon. Gentleman has misquoted me. I said that I was reluctant to support it unless the Government used the time they had been given.

Mr. Wolrige-Gordon

I think that the reason why the Government have introduced the Order, extending the original Order by two years, is that debates such as this have been in the nature of an annual operation. The Government have been getting the worst of it each time, and are trying to put it off for two years.

It is a sorry story. I think that it was two years ago that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis), who used to speak for the Government in this matter, first introduced the word "urgency". How relieved he must be that he does not have to speak for the Government tonight. Two years later there is still no hint of any decision. What has happened to the urgency? I think that the Government feel that urgency in a problem disappears if one disregards the problem. Two years have already elapsed, and if the Order goes through it will be four years.

Meanwhile, what of the fishermen to whom the Order applies? They are left becalmed by a windless, mindless Government. There is no thought of their needs and wishes and—above all, and what is most galling—their rights. I am sure that what the Government are really trying to do by this manoeuvre is to damp down controversy still further, and finally work their will undisturbed.

What they fail to understand is that they are compounding injustice. Drift-net fishermen were stopped from using their gear on 15th September, 1962, and no compensation was offered. The Hunter Committee then made its Report and said that although the ban should continue the case against drift netting could not be proved, but it was considering the matter in the light of all the other methods of fishing for salmon. Then it reported again and said that all those other methods should be discontinued. But nothing has been done. All salmon fishing flourishes except drift-net fishing. Every year that that continues adds to the injustice inflicted on our fishermen by a Labour Government.

Mr. Hoy

The principal Order was made in 1962.

Mr. Wolrige-Gordon

This is a decision that has been taken by the Labour Government. The Hunter Committee reported since the Labour Government came to power. The Hunter Committee said that there should be abolition of all methods of salmon fishing, but the other methods continue while the drift-net fishermen are stopped. On the face of it, that is extremely unfair, unless there is some sort of compensation.

Mr. Dewar

I am not very clear whether the hon. Member's solution is to let drift-netting continue uncontrolled or quickly abolish all other methods of salmon fishing.

Mr. Wolrige-Gordon

What the Government should do is to present an answer to the problem as quickly as possible. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but the Under-Secretary of State told us that meetings with interested and expert bodies, lasting over seven hours, had failed to produce an answer. I doubt if those meetings could be expected to provide a final answer, but the Government should. They are there to govern and they are faced with a situation where the drift-net fishermen have been discriminated against in the prosecution of salmon fishing. It is up to them not only to stop the introduction of this Order but to come to a fair solution of this problem as quickly as possible.

12.30 p.m.

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

I want to follow what the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. MacLennan) said, although I do not want to enter into the controversy about the relative merits of salmon fishing for sport and commercially. Fishing for salmon for sport is a relatively small part of the salmon industry. If one looks at the 1965 figures in the report on the fisheries of Scotland it will be seen that while 219,000 salmon were caught, out of that total only 64,000 were caught by rod and line. In the case of grilse, 213,000 were caught and only 8,000 by rod and line, and while 288,000 sea trout were caught, only 68,000 were caught by rod and line.

In drawing a distinction between sporting and commercial interests, it has to be recognised that the industry gives employment to 1,600 people in areas of Scotland, where alternative forms of employment are limited. One thing about which I feel strongly is that as long as we have this ban—and it has been described by everyone as an interim measure—the important thing is to see that it is applied fairly and equitably until a final decision is reached.

What evidence does the Under-Secretary have that drift-netting for salmon by foreign boats still continues off our coasts? There is a suggestion that this still happens, but it is very difficult to check. I was drift-netting a week or two before the ban came in, in 1962, and there was a feeling then, which persists, that foreign boats, particularly Polish boats, are still drift netting for salmon.

I do not want to take as an excuse the reason that salmon are not found five, six or more miles from the Scottish shore, because our own boats, in the short time that they were drift netting, discovered that they were able to catch salmon at that distance. The Under-Secretary has said that he will answer our questions tonight. These are matters of equity, because restrictions are placed upon our fishermen while others are unrestricted.

I can appreciate how complex and difficult are the consultations between the Secretary of State and the salmon fishing industry. One firm in my constituency presented a substantial memorandum to the Secretary of State which makes meaty reading. Obviously we must accept that the consultations will be prolonged. We should like to know what limit will be put on the consultations.

One thing which is central in the Hunter Report and in its proposals is the question whether a trap is a practicable way of fishing for salmon, because the Hunter Report stands or falls on this point. If we are to do away with fishing with net and coble in the rivers and the fixed engines on the beaches and headland, everything hinges on the question whether the trap is a practicable proposition. Salmon interests in my constituency have gone as far as Canada. In particular, they have spent a lot of time in Eire studying rivers where the trap has been used to see whether it can be used in rivers in Scotland. This firm had a feasibility study carried out by a firm of consulting engineers which has been made available to the Secretary of State. In that the question of its practicability is still very much in doubt, and the question of capital costs is very much glossed over in the Hunter Report.

Has the Secretary of State considered in this interim period carrying out an experiment with a trap in the rivers in Scotland to see whether it is practicable and what the difficulties and costs are? This would short-circuit a lot of consultations and establish whether its use was feasible. The length of time which an experiment would take obviously has close relation to the length of time that we should have to continue the ban on drift netting. It would help the industry if the Under-Secretary of State would say a few words on this point.

12.39 a.m.

Sir John Gilmour (Fife, East)

When we debated this matter last year, I made clear my views on the possibilities of paying compensation to those who had been engaging in drift netting. My opinions are still the same, and I shall not weary the House by repeating them.

It is five years since the Hunter Committee was appointed and two years approximately since it reported. A good deal of the information was probably gathered three or more years ago. If there is to be an extension of the ban on drift net fishing for the next two years, we want some assurance from the Government that they are continuing to experiment and looking into the possibilities of change in the salmon fishing industry. Unless this is done, we shall be making a decision in a year or two based on information which is very much out of date. We had the occurrence last year of the columnaris salmon disease coming from Ireland to at least one estuary on the coast of Scotland.

This is a valuable industry which employs many people in the rural districts. We are not spending enough time, energy or money on the investigations on which we should base the legislation which will have to be introduced either next year or the year after. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will give an assurance that the Government are not just arguing with the vested interests, but are doing something to put forward practical suggestions when the time comes to make the decisions.

12.40 a.m.

Mr. J. Bruce-Gardyne (South Angus)

I should like to join with those who have congratulated the Joint Under-Secretary on his somewhat belated appearance on the Front Bench. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart), I quite understand why his appearance was somewhat reticent tonight. As some of my hon. Friends have pointed out, we have had promise after promise on this matter from this Government, from the hon. Gentleman's predecessors.

I shall not quote the previous debates on this matter, but I feel bound to draw the attention of the Under-Secretary to what was said on 4th February, 1965, by the former Minister of State at the Scottish Office: I assure the House that when the Hunter Committee's Report is received, we will examine this matter again very fully and urgently ".—[OFFictia, REPORT. 4th February, 1965; Vol. 705, c. 1368.] and last year, on 1st February, the previous Minister of State again said: 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 ".—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 1st February, 1966; Vol. 723, c. 1034.] While, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Wolrige-Gordon) said just now, I suspect that the real reason the Government have changed their mind and asked for the two-year extension on this occasion is because they want to span the promises out, to have to promise urgency every other year and not every year. I do not think that that is any excuse. I think that the proposal—if I can have the Under-Secretary's attention for a moment—to extend the Order for two years is utterly inexcusable and unjustifiable and I am quite satisfied that nothing the Under-Secretary said in introducing the Order tonight justifies an extension to two years. We should certainly, as the previous Minister of State acknowledged last year, have an opportunity to look at this extension, at the maximum, in 12 months' time. This Order is seen by a number of fishermen in Scotland, whether rightly or wrongly, as a gross injustice practised on them. I am bound to remind the Under-Secretary that this feeling has been increased by the publication of the Second Report of the Hunter Committee, because in that it was argued that all fishing for salmon in the sea should be forbidden. The situation it is now proposed to extend for two years is that one type of fishing for salmon in the sea should be forbidden, while another type should continue in operation, and this is bound to increase the feeling of resentment and injustice that these Orders have always provoked.

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) regaled us with his ideas about nationalisation and he used a phrase about "hapless tenants". As has been pointed out, many of those people whom I suppose the hon. Member opposite is embracing in the term "hapless tenants" are employees of commercial fisheries, and, of course, their interests have to be taken into account. That is the interest we have to consider. That is the over-riding interest, and not that of the riparian owner, at whom he aimed a few powerful jabs.

We have to consider the interests of commercial fisheries. Like some hon. Members opposite and some of my hon. Friends, I have never been entirely convinced of the arguments the Hunter Committee put forward about the impracticability of any form of control of drift netting. I believe that the catch quota system could be made to work. Of course, it would have to be integrated in the general system of controls over salmon fishing so that the overall catch is not increased and thereby the future of fishing for salmon in Scotland as a whole is affected.

I suggest to the Under-Secretary that in the Government's consideration of the Hunter Committee's proposals concerning drift netting, for which they are now demanding another two years of consultation and consideration, they should look into the incidence of columnaris, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) referred, and see what effect this could have on the desirability or otherwise of the present level of catching of salmon in Scotland overall.

When we debated last year's Order, I said that I had an ugly suspicion that the Government would sit on the Hunter Committee's Report. It is now clear that it is no longer an ugly suspicion: it is a stark, blinding certainty. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) accused some of my hon. Friends of wishing to rush consideration of the Hunter Report. I do not know his definition of "rush". Nobody can accuse the Government of rushing their consideration of this Measure. It seems that they are poring and pondering over it indefinitely.

That was the indication given by the Under-Secretary in introducing the Order tonight. The only excuse that I heard him give for seeking to extend the Order for a further two years was that it would reduce uncertainty. The hon. Member does not understand the meaning of words if he believes that by extending the uncertainty for a further two years, he will reduce it. That is an absolute contradiction in terms.

I appreciate that the Hunter Report is in many ways a highly contentious document and that it has raised some fundamental problems, but I am quite unsatisfied that the Government have made a case tonight for extending the Order for a further two years without any further submission to the House of Commons during that time. I would like the Under-Secretary to reconsider the matter and produce a more effective explanation for the extension than he has done so far.

12.48 a.m.

Mr. Buchan

During the debate, the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston) said that it might be invaluable if we could have a debate on the Hunter Report. We seem to have come very close to it tonight, although the Order which we are discussing is of more limited scope.

A number of points have been covered, some of them fairly inaccurately. If the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) had listened as carefully as he asked me to do to him, he would have heard me speak about reducing the annual uncertainty.

The points which have been put forward have fallen into half a dozen different categories, if we except the pyrotechnics of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart), at the beginning of the debate, taking us through the ancestral voices from Antony and Cleopatra to Joan of Arc, and very correctly ending up with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy). My hon. Friend's argument at the time was against the Tories, and it seems to have been forgotten throughout the debate that it was the Tories who introduced the first ban. They did so before they had the Report on which the ban was to be based. We are at least basing the two years' ban on a Report. The Tories did not.

My hon. Friend's argument was precisely the need for logicality. Now, we are in a different position. The ban exists. The question was whether we should lift the ban. We decided, I think correctly, that the argument is not sufficiently proved in terms of drift-net fishing, but there are arguments which suggest that it would be very dangerous to allow the practice to continue. One of my hon. Friends quoted some of the figures. The increase from 1960 has been as follows: in 1960, 9,000 fish were caught, all off the Tweed; in 1961, 28,000, of which half were caught off the Tweed ; but in 1962—and this is a point to be remembered—the period when we knew the ban was coming, in that 13 months—115,000 fish were caught, and that was equivalent to about one-quarter of the total catch in 1962. It seems to be fairly clear that action had to be taken. I think the Conservative Government were correct to take action, however they did it, and however ungracious they were in not considering compensation, for it was at that point that compensation should have been considered. Nevertheless, they were correct on the statistics; we had to introduce a ban.

Now the question of delay has come up. This is probably the most complex Report which we have had to face for a very long time. The Hunter Report is an excellent Report, in some ways a brilliant Report; but one of the difficulties is this, that by the very excellence of the Report it raises problems which few of us had seen before. It had therefore, inevitably to produce generalised answers which are proving enormously difficult and complex to put into practical terms, financial terms and legal terms; that is the difficulty, and it is, therefore, correct for us to take time. After all, salmon is almost a symbol in the Highlands—sometimes almost, as one of my hon. Friends said, a symbol of vested interest—but it is certainly not to be taken lightly, and we do not intend to take it lightly. We make no apology for continuing the ban for two years because we prefer to come up with the correct answers in two years, rather than rush this through to satisfy some of the points of some hon. Members opposite. So there is no need to doubt that we are taking this question seriously; we have been taking it very seriously, and we recognise the need for time.

Somebody asked me how many discussions we have been having. We have been having a great many. I was also asked whether the submissions we talked about last year had come in time. Yes, they had come in by February, as we said in the debate last year. One result of these written submissions is that new aspects have arisen, financial, legal and practical considerations.

The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) raised one of the practical points, the question to what extent research was done on the use of the trap. This is one of the questions one has to look at and there is therefore, no case for talking about delay.

The question was asked, with whom we have had discussions. The bodies are: the Crown Estate Commissioners, the Highlands and Islands Development Board, the Association of Scottish Salmon District Fishery Boards, the Salmon Net Fishing Association of Scotland, the Scottish Anglers' Association, the Scottish National Angling Clubs Association, the Salmon and Trout Association, and the Fishmongers Company.

I have already briefly dealt with the question of compensation, but the first point which should be made is this: that a possible point at which compensation should have been considered was when the scheme was introduced, but unfortunately it was introduced under the Tories and they ignored it. That was the point at which it was possible to see which gear was being used for fishing, but nowadays it would be extremely difficult. The hon. Member for South Angus might bring up the new net he bought yesterday and ask for compensation—[Interruption.] No. But it is a nice thought. It is a very difficult problem.

As to whether the ban should be permanent or not, I must stress that that question has not been decided.

For all these reasons the question of compensation, regrettably, is not decided. It is regrettable to me personally. I was brought up with these fishermen. So often when we talk of fishermen we think of the fisherman with his elegant rod and line and his little picnic basket beside him, his estate car in the background. What I think of is the fishermen—I know these men—who fish because they must, and it is with very little joy that we have to keep this ban for another two years—because we must.

Another point was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) and the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Baker). They asked about the possibility of a limited form of licensing, and a comparison was made with England. We are in a little difficulty here, because, when the hon. Gentleman was ruled out of order in raising England, he promptly went over to Greenland. There is a distinct difference between the English and the Scottish positions. The salmon does not play such an important part in the English fishing economy, and the strict form of licensing which they use relates to the traditional form of fishing. Therefore, drifting netting was not a new development which might have had serious effects on stocks.

Everyone has looked at the possibility of licensing, from the Hunter Committee up. That Committee came to the conclusion that it would not be possible to introduce an easy form of licensing. There are all sorts of problems involved, and it is difficult to come up with the right answer.

The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns asked what evidence we have of fishing by foreign boats. I think that he has in mind particularly fishing by foreign boats between the six- and the twelve-mile limits. Beyond that point, there is not much difficulty. We have looked into this, and we have found very little evidence. There are plenty of tales, but little evidence. If the fishermen had the evidence, they would be only too ready to let the enforcement cruisers know of their suspicions, but no reports have been substantiated on investigation.

In any case, the argument behind this is false. If there were foreign boats fishing, we should have no control. It seems a poor argument to say that we should not exert control where we can, because there are other aspects which are outwith our control.

I think that I have covered most of the points raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I should love to have explored the Greenland problem further. The question of tagging and research on the Greenland problem arose, and in 1965 we had a joint programme carried out at Greenland between Scottish and Danish scientists. Hon. Members may be interested to know that 223 fish were tagged, one of which was recaptured off the coast of Newfoundland in 1966. This shows that we are still working very much in the dark as regards salmon. A further exercise was carried out at Greenland last year, and in Scotland we tagged 23.000 smolts. We hope that we shall get results when they begin to return to their home waters, as salmon always do.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Can the hon. Gentleman say something about the problem of columnaris which was raised by one of my hon. Friends?

Mr. Buchan

I should be very much out of order if I did. We are aware of the problem. As hon. Members know, there was evidence of it last year in the Solway and the Border Esk. There is nothing which I can usefully add at this stage, except to say that people are working very hard, despite the accusations of lack of diligence from hon. Members opposite.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Would the hon. Gentleman deal with two points which I raised and which he has not mentioned? I ask him about evidence of foreign boats drift-net fishing—

Mr. Buchan

If the hon. Gentleman paid a little attention to what I was saying, he might have heard me deal with that.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I also asked him whether the experiment of a trap was going ahead.

Mr. Buchan

This is becoming a bit much. I have already answered the hon. Gentleman's question about foreign boats. I also said that we were looking into the possibility of a trap. The difficulty has been to get co-operation on the right kind of river to do it. But we shall do our best to try to carry out that kind of experiment. I agree with the hon. Gentleman's implication that we still do not know enough about it, but we have had the experience of the Shannon. Though it is not entirely comparable, it is of some help.

As I say, I have already dealt with his question about foreign boats, and I have no intention of doing so again.

I made a personal reference to my own concept of a fisherman. This does not give me any particular joy. Some of my relatives have been involved in drift-net fishing, and I know the problems that they face. I hope that they will understand the reason why we have needed to extend this. It has given us little joy. We have done this because we have had to do it. We have done it, not because we are lacking in urgency, but because investigations into the Hunter Committee Report, excellent though it is, show the ramifications and complexities of even one simple decisive action on the basis of the Report. We do not think that we can isolate these things. They have to be brought together, and the right kind of thinking should be done.

I think that a salmon is a little like a woman. It is mysterious, inscrutable, damnably expensive, and has a strong homing instinct. It is in order to preserve this homing instinct and ensure that we continue to refurbish Scottish waters that we ask the House to pass this Order.

Mr. Stodart

Before the hon. Gentleman finally sits down—I do not know whether I caught him half-way—would he give us some indication of how he foresees the immediate future with regard to consultations and discussions? Are these going on all the time? Are meetings taking place, let us say every month, every week, and so on? What does he consider is the likely timetable for the outcome of all this?

Mr. Buchan

The meetings take place as often as they are necessary, on dates mutually agreeable to the people involved. Secondly, by stretching it to two years, we hope, though I make no promises—the hon. Gentleman is too long in the tooth to accept promises anyway—to bring in legislation in that time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Before I put the Question, I hope that the House will allow me to refer to the points of order which were raised at an earlier stage by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) and the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) with regard to the circumstances in which this Order was first moved.

The question which was raised was whether, at the time of moving this Order, the subsequent Order had in fact been moved. At that stage of the discussions my impression was that it had not been put and the voices had not been collected. There seems to have been a misunderstanding in this respect. When this Order was first called, as no Scottish Minister was present, one of the Government Whips said "Now", which had the effect of moving the Order. I was at that time under the mistaken impression that the Government Whip was in fact moving the subsequent Order on the Order Paper relating to nationalised industries, which I am now informed it was not intended to move. I therefore was in error in putting that Question with regard to the nationalised industries, and that ought to be treated as a nullity.

The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) then inquired whether this Order on Sea Fisheries was to be debated. The Minister then said that he wanted to make some observations about it, and I allowed the debate to proceed. It has proceeded until now, and I think that it is now my duty to put the Question to the House.

The Question is—

Mr. Stodart

Mr. Deputy Speaker, may we be quite clear about this? Do I understand that a certain item on the Order Paper after this business was in fact put, though in error? Nobody would suggest that it was not put in error. All I am asking is whether it was put and whether, therefore, the order of the timetable has been disarranged, and whether the debate that we have had has been in order?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am explaining to the House that I was under a misapprehension in putting the Question in respect of the Order in the name of the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson). I in fact put it, but I was in error in doing so because it had not been moved, or at any rate the hon. Member had not intended to move it. What he had intended to move was the earlier Order on Sea Fisheries, for which I had called Mr. Secretary Ross, who had not replied. The position is that the debate we have just had has been a regular debate, and if I was at fault in putting the subsequent Order which was not intended to be moved I must apologise to the House and ask it to treat that as a nullity.

Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

If you thought that you were calling the debate on nationalised industries, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when in fact you were calling the debate of sea fisheries, with the greatest respect, although you may say that you apologise to the House and you may have been legitimately under a misapprehension, I honestly do not see how the House can purport to debate something which it was not debating, or to think that you had called the debate on nationalised industries and to go back on your Ruling at the time. It is not sufficient to apologise. If the House thought that it was dealing with another subject the House was dealing with that subject.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Member was not here at the time. The House did not think it was dealing with nationalised industries. In fact, it was the hon. Member for Crosby who drew my attention to the fact that we were dealing with sea fisheries. I think the position is quite clear.

Mr. Stodart

Naturally we accept your explanation, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and your regret for your misapprehension. We accept it fully and completely, provided that you can assure us that the debate has been in order. If you can do that I would advise my hon. Friends to let the matter pass.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have no hesitation in advising the House that the debate we have just had has been in order. I was anxious for the record to be clear, and I think that with the explanation I have given it will be quite clear.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Salmon and Migratory Trout (Prohibition of Drift-net Fishing) (Extension) Order 1966, a copy of which was laid before this House on 15th December, be approved.

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