HC Deb 28 April 1972 vol 835 cc1927-65

Considered in Committee.

[Sir ROBERT GRANT-FERRIS in the Chair]

11.5 a.m.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North) rose

The Chairman

I understand that the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise a number of points. If he could indicate the numbers of the Clauses it would help me to put the rest of them quickly.

Mr. McNamara

Thank you, Sir Robert. Is it your intention to take the Third Reading today, as there is an effective blocking Motion to Third Reading?

The Chairman

That will depend on the wish of the hon. Member in charge of the Bill.

Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby (Dorset, West)

Yes, I shall certainly move the Third Reading today.

Mr. McNamara

In that case, I think most of the points can be more easily and conveniently made to the House on the Third Reading.

The Chairman

Very well.

Clauses 1 to 16 ordered to stand part of the Bill

Schedules 1 to 3 agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

11.6 a.m.

Mr. Wingfield Digby

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I am extremely grateful to the House for giving me the Clauses so easily. This is a somewhat complicated Bill and many small points arise. I should like to explain, as we did not have a Second Reading debate, that it is essentially a modernisation and consolidation Measure. The Bledisloe Committee, which reported 10 years ago, went carefully into the position of freshwater fisheries and made no fewer than 151 recommendations. Five of these recommendations have already been implemented. This modest Bill seeks only to implement another 30. It has been my purpose to leave out anything of controversy.

The Bill has been discussed with all the interests over a term of years since the Bledisloe Committee reported. There has been a surprising degree of unanimity between the interests concerned. First there are the anglers, of whom the so-called coarse fishermen are by far the greater number. They have been estimated at about two million—it has been recognised as the greatest participation sport in this country—and they are in agreement with the terms of the Bill. The game fishermen are also favourable. It is noticeable that many of the fishing clubs tend to combine coarse fishing with a certain amount of trout fishing, which I hope will be extended.

I should stress that this is only a small beginning in what is needed for the fishermen, particularly regarding the suppression of pollution. Far more rivers and waterways could be made available to fishermen if only pollution could be tackled successfully. A feature of the Bill is that it increases the penalties for the pollution of rivers.

However, the Bill is only a start in that direction and in helping the angler. I therefore hope that it will be followed by other measures, some of them perhaps more controversial, which will provide a new charter for the fishermen, who are so numerous and of all ages. The Bill provides that old-age pensioners and boys can be excused from the need to hold licences or that they need have them only at a reduced rate. It also provides that full licences need not be exacted by the river authority in the case of matches or visits by parties of angling clubs; a blanket licence can cover the situation. Fishing licences are fairly expensive, and it is not reasonable that anglers, when going to different waters to fish for one day, which I hope will happen increasingly, should be obliged to pay the full rate.

Not only anglers but commercial nets-men are affected by the Bill, and I have endeavoured to meet their wishes as fully as possible. Only yesterday I received a letter from the National Netsmen's Association, which I hope I have satisfied in every respect, saying that there were two points on which it was not entirely satisfied. I am prepared to look at them and to advise accordingly whoever takes over the Bill in another place. I think that the association's fears are groundless, but I should like to carry it with me completely. It is unhappy about the word "material" in Clause 5, but I am advised that it does not alter the present position. It is also a little worried about the proposed abolition of maxima at a later stage of the Bill. The object of the Bill is to give river authorities very much wider powers without the need for so much reference to the Minister.

The river authorities will be succeeded quite soon by very much larger regional water boards on which, I am assured, the fishing interests will have every consideration. The Bill will apply to them in the same way as it applies to the river authorities in the first instance. The river authorities are the third class of people who are much affected by the Bill. It was only after extensive consultation with them that the Bill was framed. I cannot pretend that there were not one or two points which they would have liked to see included in the Bill, but the reason for their not being excluded is merely to keep controversy out of the Bill.

Perhaps one of the more controversial matters about which it has been difficult to reach complete agreement concerns the close season. There is no controversy about the close season for game fish, and the variation from one part of the country to another will remain. There is, however, a bit of a conundrum about rainbow trout because, as far as is known, they hardly ever breed in this country. Consequently they have not been sub- jected to a close season because no one knew when to fix it. Power over rainbow trout will be delegated to the river authorities. There are two schools of thought about whether there should be a close season for coarse fishing. Opinion is evenly divided, with the majority thinking that there should not be a close season, for the obvious reason that coarse fish, when caught, are kept in a net and then returned to the river.

I know that those in areas which wish to continue with a close season are anxious that they may not be allowed to do so, but I do not think they need have any fear because it will be a fairly difficult procedure for any river authority to do away with the close season altogether. First, authorities have to make a draft order. Secondly, that order will be subject to a local inquiry. Thirdly, the matter will go to the Minister for his approval. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, who takes great interest in the Bill, will ensure at that stage that if there are objections authority will not be given to do away with the close season.

One of my hon. Friends who is not present has had some anxiety about the question of possible disturbance to wildfowl nesting if the close season is done away with. There would be more people on the river bank between March and June. But game fishermen are already present on the river bank at that time. Therefore, the point can be exaggerated.

There are many other things which could be said about the Bill, and I expect that hon. Members will wish to raise a few points of detail. I have voluminous notes about the somewhat intricate provisions of the Bill, including the legal provisions. I believe the Bill to be fair, It has been very carefully considered. But I stress again that I regard it only as the first step in a charter for fishermen in England and Wales. The Scottish fishermen will be looked after as a result of the implementation of the Hunter Report, which we expect to see next year. That fact has been borne in mind in framing the Bill.

I hope that the Bill will be the first step in bringing the law up to date. We have been waiting since 1923 for modernisation and consolidation of the law. It should now be possible to move forward to make further provision to help anglers of all kinds in England and Wales.

11.17 a.m.

Mr. McNamara

The House is indebted to the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) for introducing the Bill, which has been needed for many years. It is regrettable that so few hon. Members are present to discuss it because, apart from its important provisions for commercial fishermen, it goes towards establishing a charter for amateur sportsmen and anglers. Many people indulge in this sport; in fact, as the hon. Gentleman says, it is the most active participant sport in the country. I was, therefore, glad when the blocking Motion was tabled to enable us to discuss the Bill because it is of major importance, and it would have been a discourtesy to many of our constituents had we allowed such an important Measure to go through on the nod.

It was the Labour Government which recognised the importance of angling as a national sport when in 1966 they formed the National Angling Council, which is under the umbrella of the Sports Council of Great Britain. The House will be aware that the National Angling Council delegated to the National Association of Anglers and the Salmon and Trout Association the task of examining the Bill. While, obviously, there will be disagreements on minor points of detail, the Bill has the support of both sporting associations.

An Amendment was tabled earlier pointing to some of the difficulties and confusions under the Bill; though it was not proceeded with. This demonstrates more than anything else a lack of knowledge in this country about fish, their environment and their breeding habits. The hon. Member for Dorset, West said that rainbow trout did not breed in this country. However, the Bledisloe Committee reported that there were several areas in which it did breed.

This question is open to further investigation and it brings me to the first major point I wish to make, which is that we do not know sufficient about this report. It was estimated in 1970 that there were 2,800,000 active anglers in Britain and that by 1980 there would be 3,250,000. It is believed that they spend about £160 million a year on their sport, albeit mostly on travelling, which means that a lot goes in petrol tax. In view of the numbers and the amount they spend, more research should be conducted into this sport and into, for example, the habits of fish.

May we have an indication of the Government's intention about research in this sphere? For example, will the project of the National Environmental Research Council at last get off the ground. The council has the plans for the project ready, and I understand that it will cost about £500,000 to initiate and carry through some important research.

The second important point I wish to make is that, apart from the traditional fight between the fly and coarse fishermen, this sport crosses all class boundaries in the community and is particularly popular in working class areas in the Midlands and the north of England. Because of this and the nature of our legislation, river authorities and the new regional water boards need to explain, consult and in every way discuss with small angling associations and clubs—in other words, take the followers of this sport into their confidence—before issuing draft plans. Only by this means will anglers know what is going on and have time to make representations.

I have been asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) and those hon. Members whom I might affectionately describe as the "Derbyshire Twins"—my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)—to mention the type of confusion that can arise. My hon. Friends have asked me to apologise to the House for their absence, and in the case of the first two I mentioned their absence is due to serious personal matters

They have asked me to raise a problem which arose for their constituents over the use of maggots as bait. In the area covered by the Trent River Authority, in which my hon. Friends' constituents fish, there was a lot of land-locked water into which the local association introduced trout. It thought that because it was land-locked it would be able to fish with maggots throughout the year and that a close season would not apply.

The anglers in the area were happy to allow the fly fishermen to have the rivers, the tributories and the close season to themselves, thinking that because their water was land-locked and because they had themselves introduced the trout into it, they would be exempted from these provisions.

Confusion was confounded when they found that they were not exempted. Apparently, they were unable to fish in these waters, even though they were themselves responsible for introducing the trout. This is a matter which the Minister should examine, and, while he may be unable to deal with this particular problem today, I would be grateful if he would comment on the general problem which it raises and the need to discuss with clubs and associations what without any stretch of the imagination is detailed and complex legislation. It contains many exceptions and provisos, with discretion for local river authorities to act in certain ways. Anglers are finding themselves in an extremely difficult position over these complicated issues.

My third point is about access to rivers and the amount of water now available for fishing. A welcome development in Britain since the war has been the increase in water sports, including waiter ski-ing and boating generally. Many more rivers have been opened up to the general public for water sports.

Although a welcome development, this has resulted in a reduction in the amount of what one might call "calm waters" for fishermen, and as anglers tend to operate in small associations and are, generally speaking, members of society who are not particularly vocal—this is in many ways a solitary sport—the areas available for fishing are gradually being reduced because of these other proper and legitimate sporting interests.

This is another reason why it is extremely important to know what plans the Government have in mind for the treating of pollution, an important omission from the Bill, and the proportion of money which the Department of the Environment will designate to clear up the environment in general and rivers in particular. In other words, how much of the £1,300 million will be spent not only to give anglers better opportunity to fish but to make up for the areas they have lost?

This brings me to my fourth point, on which many anglers feel deeply. It is the question of private individuals and small syndicates buying up stretches of prime fishing rivers, using them rarely and depriving legitimate small associations and individual fishermen of access to these rivers, which these wealthy people maintain purely as status symbols for themselves and a few of their rich friends.

While under this Bill river authorities have the right to grant exclusive fishing licences, this problem must be examined carefully. We should do our best to reduce these exclusive fishing rights and open up our rivers to legitimate fishermen who, being licensed, are obviously responsible people who are concerned with the problem of conservation and over fishing. These areas must be opened up, and we must get away from the idea that angling, or particular types of it, such as fly fishing, is a rich man's sport. It should be available to all anglers.

We welcome the Bill and the hon. Gentleman's persistence in getting the Department to get it out of the pigeon-hole and allow him to bring it forward. We congratulate him on his handling of it. It is only a start for fishermen. We established the National Angling Council and gave fishermen a central forum at which to raise their problems. We have now dealt with the problem of licensing and the need to bring the 1923 and 1925 Acts up to date. We now want more money to be spent on research, better access to waters and action to clean up all our rivers quickly so that what is the greatest participant sport in Britain can continue to flourish.

Speaking as the representative of a North Country constituency, I am sure I echo the view of all anglers and others interested in the environment when I say that if rivers like the Mersey, Ouse, and parts of the Trent, which are now too thick to swim and too thin to plough, could become viable for fishing, we would find them lined with anglers, just as we see great numbers of people fishing by the sides of Continental rivers, and one need only think of the picture postcards of the banks of the Seine. The Opposition welcome this Bill and I trust it will be given its Third Reading.

11.29 a.m.

Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)

Icongratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) on selecting this Bill for his personal attention this year, and on his wisdom in leaving out of it any matter of controversy. As the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) has just said, the Bill has been needed for many years, and, having regard to the limited time available for Private Members' legislation, my hon. Friend was wise to decide on a non-controversial Bill so that at least a start could be made on improving the law relating to salmon and freshwater fisheries.

This legislation has had a lengthy gestation period. It is just over 11 years since the Bledisloe Committee reported. I do not think that the members of that Committee were ahead of their time in their consideration of the problem and in their conclusions and recommendations. I fear that we have had to wait so long for the legislation just because Parliament in such matters tends to fall behind at times.

Legislation on both salmon and freshwater fisheries is nothing new for Parliament. It was amusing, turning once again to the Bledisloe Report, to be reminded that there is a clause in Magna Carta which refers to salmon, and the first Act dealing specifically with these fish appears to have been passed in 1285 in the reign of Edward I. From time to time after that date further legislation was passed: most of it seems to have re-enacted earlier legislation, and it was only in the Salmon Act of 1865 that so many of the existing threads were drawn together.

Because of pollution problems we have in recent years had to accept the fact that in at least some of our rivers and some of our waters salmon have become less important because the water has become less fresh, but I believe that as pollution is brought increasingly under control it will present less of a problem in our rivers but more of a problem in the sea. This will affect salmon in particular. If by international co-operation we are able to control sea pollution I hope that we shall be able to look forward to the time when more of our rivers will again have salmon swimming in them, to the benefit of those who enjoy the sport of salmon fishing as much as to the benefit of those who enjoy eating the fish. I have no doubt that when that time comes not only salmon but coarse fish will exist in greater profusion in those rivers.

It is interesting to note the comments made by the Bledisloe Committee when it considered the need for review. Back in 1961 the Committee noted: The present fishery code is 38 years old and is largely a re-enactment of earlier salmon fishery legislation. It noted, too: …many economic and social changes which have taken place in this country since 1923 have had important repercussions on fisheries. It stated: The breaking-up of well-keep red estates into a number of smaller ownerships has increased the difficulties of effectively policing the rivers and enforcing the conservation provisions of the Fisheries Acts. The Committee also noted: Increased industrialisation and urbanisation of the country has been alleged"— perhaps that is an under-statement— to have depreciated the fisheries by pollution, by water abstraction and by increased rate of run-off of surface water. It noted, too: The licensing provisions of the Acts also need reviewing in the light of present-day requirements". If those arguments, and others, had validity in 1957, when the Bledisloe Committee was established, they have infinitely more strength today because the rate of economic and social change has speeded up. There has been much more industrialisation and urbanisation. We have become much more concerned about problems of pollution and water abstraction. I therefore think that the arguments in favour of many of the recommended changes in the law have increased in strength and urgency.

In addition, we are now living in an age of increasing leisure and recreation. There is, therefore, bound to be an increase in the demand for leisure-time activities of all sorts. The demand for new opportunities is steadily multiplying The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, North referred to this point. He also noted, and rightly, because it is very relevant to our consideration, that fishing is no longer a monoply sport as it used to be on so much of the available water space. There is an increasing variety of activities which are carried out in and upon water, and in consequence the pressure upon the open space available is steadily growing. That means that there must be a good deal of give and take not only between the different sports and recreations carried out on water but also amongst fishermen themselves.

I have a good deal of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman said about the small number, and it is only a very small number, of organisations, and even individual people, who tend to make inadequate use of the water available to them. Apart from anything else, this is unwise, because very often nowadays it is possible to obtain a little income from the water if it is properly exploited. I therefore hope that we shall see less of the monopolistic approach which in some cases—I emphasise again, in only a very few instances—still exists.

In the light of all these points, it is very important that the law should be brought up to date both to meet the needs and rights of inviduals and to ensure that salmon and freshwater fisheries can be properly conserved and sensibly exploited. In short, the Bill is concerned with good husbandry of salmon and freshwater fisheries.

Clause 1 is obviously sensible, but I have to admit that when I got to line 16, which prohibits the use of a gaff, a shudder of rather ancient guilt went through me. I can remember many years ago leaning over a river bank waiting for an unthinking salmon to come swimming over the gaff, as indeed it did later the same evening to my delight. I do not think I was even aware that there was a law. Since then I have been made aware that there is a law, and, most recently, that we are reviewing and revising it. These prohibitions are sensible, and it is right that they should be restated.

It is right in Clause 3 to give the river authorities more power to fix close seasons to suit local conditions, subject to minimum periods. Climate, season, temperature and conditions vary around the country. In the light of this, some local discretion is sensible. I commend Clause 3(5), which will in future enable a man to sell a fish which he has caught legally, subject to the other provisions of the Bill.

There is some disappointment that the Bill does not include a provision to require the registration of dealers in salmon. Such a requirement was favoured by the Fishmongers Company, the Association of River Authorities and the National Council of Salmon Netsmen. There was opposition from other interested parties. The Government will have to keep a close watch on this. The fact that there has not been and will not be, at least under the Bill, registration may mean that there will continue to be a possible loophole in the law which will make it more difficult to uphold the provisions of the Bill when enacted.

On Clause 4, we take note of what my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North said. As the rainbow trout is rather like the Loch Ness monster—subject to a good deal of myth and uncertainty—there is an argument in favour of more research upon this very interesting and effective fish.

I take the point that some of my hon. Friends have made in private conversation about the need to ensure that nesting birds are not disturbed, although I do not agree with them, for the same reasons as my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West gave, that we need worry too much about this point. Those of us who fish, for whatever sort of fish it might be, have experience on river, lake and loch bank of birds nesting right beside the spot where we are fishing without the birds apparently expressing any concern at our presence. There are some birds, particularly partridges and pheasants, which are most adept at nesting as near as possible to footpaths, I suspect because they realise, consciously or subconsciously, that where man tends to go some of the predatory birds and animals will tend not to go and, therefore, they may find man a reassurance rather than a hindrance in the nesting season.

Clauses 6 to 9, which concern licences and licensing, are sensible and are a reasonable modernisation of previous provisions. I believe that they will work sensibly.

I therefore give the Bill a very warm welcome. I end by echoing the hope expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West that this is only a beginning in the legislation on fishing, because pressure and demand will build up for both fishing and other border activities, and, in consequence, Parliament will have to keep a very close watch to maintain a balance between the needs and demands of all people interested in water sport and to ensure that the laws of good husbandry and conservation with regard to fish are upheld.

11.46 a.m.

Mr. Piers Dixon (Truro)

I am delighted to join other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) on the Bill. My hon. Friend described it as a new charter for fishermen. I see it also as a new charter for fish. The two go together. I admit to not being a fisherman.

In Cornwall, part of which I have the good fortune to represent, there are virtually no salmon in the twentieth century. I shall follow my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Charles Morrison) into a discursion into the past. In Cornwall in the Middle Ages there were more salmon than in any part of Britain. To Crécy the counties of England sent men in large numbers to support the Black Prince on the field of battle. Cornwall sent salmon. I want to stick to the terms of the Bill, but I should like my friends in Devon to remember that after the battle of Crécy the Black Prince wrote a letter to his friends in Cornwall thanking them for having sent this large quantity of salmon to sustain his forces on the day of crisis and referring to the fact that the salmon had been caught in your river, the Tamar". In the sixteenth century the apprentices of Lostwithiel ate salmon throughout the week. They ate so much salmon that they petitioned their masters to allow them to eat less of it. The corporation of Lostwithiel specifically enacted a byelaw saying that the masters were not to feed salmon to the apprentices of Lostwithiel more than two days a week.

Now, alas, in Cornwall there are virtually no salmon. I take this to be an example of the environmental problems in which we live and which this legislation underlies. As other hon. Members have said, I see this legislation as being not only the first of further legislation on this subject but typical of the sort of legislation which will have to be passed by the House in view of the increasing industrial activity and increasing population over the years. With the population explosion increasing rapidly in this small island we shall inevitably have examples of further pollution and of over-fishing and, indeed, an excessive form of human activity of every sort. When the population was smaller we could do more or less what we wished. We lived in a world of laissez faire, with which I think hon Members on both sides of the House would have agreed 100 years ago.

Mr. McNamara

Not I.

Mr. Dixon

The hon. Member would not have been here—nor, indeed, would I—to express on opinion.

I believe it is with this type of legislation that we shall increasingly be confronted in the House in the future. For those reasons, I add my support and congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West.

11.50 a.m.

Colonel Sir Tufton Beamish (Lewes)

My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) was over-modest in what he said in moving the Third Reading of the Bill. This is a good and very important Bill which is long overdue.

We were reminded from the Opposition Front Bench that fishing is not a rich man's sport. It certainly is not. Well over 2 million people enjoy fishing, and we are told by the Sports Council and other experts that the number will grow to 3 million by the end of the decade. This is a very large number of people, and they get a great deal of pleasure from fishing, whether salmon, trout or coarse fish.

It was as long ago as 1961 that the Bledisloe Report was published, and it is a sad commentary on successive Governments that it has taken so long to incorporate into law some of the important recommendations in that report. Even now there are many outstanding recommendations—as many as 50—in that report which still need careful consideration.

Since 1961 there have been two modest Measures, in 1964 and 1965, arising from the Bledisloe recommendations. The 1965 Measure was my own Bill, although it was blocked in this House not because it was controversial but because it was low in the queue. It was introduced into another place by Lord Egremont, and when it came here the Labour Government were extremely helpful in providing Government time for the Third Reading because it was so lown down in the queue.

In that Measure I dealt only with the use of poisons and electrical devices, and no less import to breaking down of dams. That Measure greatly increased the penalties for this scientific type of poaching done on a gang basis with great profit—a very different form of poaching from that which my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Charles Morrison) mentioned when he hooked a salmon with a gaff, which was very naughty of him.

I wish to say a few words about some of the Clauses which interest me most. Clause 1 is very important in extending the list of prohibited instruments and applying this list to all fish. The prohibitions on these instruments apply to all fish, which has not been the case up till now. The Clause also extends the current prohibition on the throwing of stones and missiles to all freshwater fish, which up till now has not been the case. This is a sensible and desirable provision.

Coming to Clause 2, it is very important that the Minister should have the right to approve a fish pass. Obviously, he would not do this unless the pass were working properly. The Bill is a step forward in that it provides for the Minister's approval to be provisional until he is satisfied that the fish pass is working satisfactorily. Many of our famous rivers have been seriously damaged by the construction of inadequate fish passes, and I welcome this provision.

At present, as the House knows, authorities have only very limited byelaw powers to vary the national statutory close seasons for various groups of instrument—rod and line, nets and so on—and they have no power to vary the season for putts and putchers unless a special order is sought. By Clause 3 the only national restriction in future will be a statement of a minimum period in terms of days for certain types of fish. This is excellent. There are very good reasons why we should have a more flexible approach to this question. I am not absolutely convinced that there is a need in all cases for such long minimum periods of close season. Different areas obviously require different treatment, and that is a very good reason for this flexible approach.

Furthermore the habits of fish change in a remarkable way, in the same way as our habits change. During the Easter Recess I was lucky to have a day on the Tweed when I killed a salmon in water which looked rather like brown Windsor soup. I am usually an unlucky fisherman, but on this occasion I was fortunate. The salmon, incidentally, had a touch of disease on its head.

The Tweed is interesting in this respect, that it was widely regarded as a spring river till not long ago. Now spring fish are coming up at 8, 9 and 10 lbs. The bigger fish are unusual. All the bigger fish are coming up in the autumn. This has happened in the most extraordinary way. This can and does happen in many rivers.

All kinds of different approaches have been made to this question of close seasons. In New Zealand, for example, where one probably finds the most famous trout lake in the world, Lake Taupo, there is no close season at all. This may seem very strange, but the reason is that the fish in Lake Taupo are a special breed of rainbow trout. They used to be very large indeed, running up to 16 and 18 lbs.—enormous fighting fish. It is unusual now to get a fish weighing more than 10 lbs. and, indeed, the bigger fish are commonly only 6 or 7 lbs. The New Zealand Government decided sensibly not to have a close season because there were too many fish in that landlocked lake and they were easily caught.

In New Zealand, in order to prevent the type of poaching which we are seeking to prohibit, one is not allowed to sell salmon. One may eat salmon or give it away, but not sell it—a provision which I applied to wild geese in my Wild Birds Protection Bill which I got through this House.

Both these points, which are slightly wide of the Bill, nevertheless emphasise the need for Clause 3 and for a more flexible approach in giving far greater powers of decision to local people.

There is another interesting point arising from Clause 3 on the subject of the regulation of the sale of fish in the close season. The control of sales is tied closely to the close season for netting. It is encouraging to know that the Fishmongers Company does not consider that the relaxation of statutory controls to allow variation according to local conditions will make policing unduly difficult. Some anxiety on this score was expressed at earlier stages of the drafting of the Bill, but I think that we can set that anxiety aside. The burden of proof that a sale does not contravene the embargo will lie on the buyer or seller of the fish.

I made a rather careful study of this matter as a member of the law and netting committee of the Salmon and Trout Association—I have been on the council of that body for a good many years—and the Fishmongers Company itself, of course, is extremely expert in all these matters, and its advice on the question is well worth heeding.

On Clause 5, I welcome the provision that river authorities are empowered to insist on having returns from all anglers, including nil returns. There will be plenty of those, I am sure, for fishermen do not stick to fishing unless they are prepared to have a lot of blank days. But nil returns are important. At present there is a loophole in the powers of river authorities in that anglers could till now plead that they did not send in a return because they did not catch any fish. River authorities need full returns of catches of salmon and trout in order to consider what measures are necessary for the conservation of stocks in any particular area.

I am glad, also, that under Clause 5 the powers are capable of being applied to freshwater fish, should that be necessary. However, I am not sufficiently expert on that subject to comment on it.

On Clause 10, I greatly welcome that river authorities will be able to ensure that undesirable species of fish are not introduced into rivers in their areas. The Clause makes it an offence to introduce any fish into an inland water, or to have in one's possession any fish with intent to introduce them, without first obtaining the written consent of the river authority concerned.

We all know how magnificent fisheries of the highest quality can be destroyed by the introduction of, for instance, pike or perch or, for that matter, even a non-predatory fish such as the roach, which breeds at an extraordinary rate. I have two small ponds at home, neither of them any bigger than this Chamber. I stocked one of them with rainbow trout and the other with brown trout. Apart from the problem that a heron with a special taste for trout has been enjoying itself during the last year or two, it is not possible for me to keep trout in either of those ponds because roach have somehow been introduced, perhaps unintentionally by the heron itself. There are now so many roach that there is too little food, and it would not be worth my while to reintroduce trout into either of those ponds.

I give that as a small example of the way in which the introduction of undesirable types of fish in waters where people enjoy fishing can completely destroy that fishing.

Finally, a word about Clause 12. I am particularly glad that the punishment will now fit the crime. At present, with the sole exception of offences under Section 9—this arose directly out of my Bill in 1965—dealing with the use of explosives and poisons, the penalty for an offence is a fine of £50, plus £5 a day for an offence continued after conviction, and on the third or subsequent conviction there is the alternative of three months in prison. Under Section 9 the penalties are £50 or three months imprisonment for the first offence, or for a second or subsequent offence £100 and/or three months' imprisonment, with provision also in the section for conviction on indictment carrying a penalty of an unlimited fine and/or two years' imprisonment.

It was a fairly controversial matter on my own modest Bill in 1965 that the penalties were so steeply increased, but one must frankly say that the penalties then were derisory—so derisory that it was hardly worth prosecuting, in view of the fat profits which scientific poachers were able to make. For example, simply by filling a nylon stocking with Cymag, normally used for killing rats and other vermin, and hanging it in a pool full of fish, it was possible, by taking the oxygen out of the water, to force every fish to come to the surface, enabling one then to net them below the pool and, perhaps, make a profit of £600 or £800 by an hour's work at night. This was being done on a large scale by gangs providing fish for ships at Liverpool, and so on.

I am glad that the application of Scots law, which I copied in 1965 for England and Wales, seems to have had the desired effect. What I did, incidentally, led to threats on my life. I did not mention that at the time, but it is certainly no news now. There are some pretty rough people involved in this business, and I had to be given police protection for a short time because the threats were taken seriously.

I very much welcome, therefore, my hon. Friend's introduction of sensible penalties taking full account of the fall in the value of money, and taking full account, also, of the seriousness of the crime, both on summary conviction and on indictment. I congratulate him on what he has done there.

I warmly welcome the Bill. Our legislation covering these matters is in a pretty untidy state still. Some of the provisions of the 1923 Act are quite outdated and difficult to apply. I do not go so far as to say that they are completely unworkable, but they are certainly out of date. There is need to look broadly at the whole question again as soon as time can be found in order to consider whether some of the other slightly more controversial recommendations in the Bledisloe Report can be incorporated into our law, and whether the law itself can be tidied up and brought out of its present rather complicated and confused state, which is the inevitable result of the constant introduction of amending legislation.

The Bill is good not only because the recommendations themselves were sound but because it is based on extensive consultation. Great credit is due to my hon. Friend for the immense amount of work he has done to ensure that the Salmon and Trout Association, the Anglers Co-operative Association, the river authorities, the Fishmongers Company and all the other bodies concerned with fishing were extensively consulted so that he could prepare and introduce a Bill of this importance comparatively easily.

Our fishing is threatened in a variety of ways. It is threatened by pollution. Several Private Members' Bills, including that introduced by my hon. Friend for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple), have been very valuable in this respect, although I should like to see them enforced more energetically. Pollution both in tidal waters and above tidal waters remains serious. A good many people do not realise just how bad it is.

How many people know, for example, that in the first 30 or 40 years of the last century the Thames was a famous salmon river? During a sitting of the House we could have gone down to the Terrace and thrown a fly into the river, perhaps taking a 35-lb. salmon—and we could have handed our rod to a policeman when we went back for a Division, and then returned to land the fish.

Unhappily, there are now no salmon able to pass through the pollution and go above tidal waters, although they are certainly trying to do so. At the time when this Bill was before the House, I offered a £100 cheque to the first person who took a salmon with rod and line above tidal waters on the Thames. Nothing would give me more pleasure than the signing of that cheque.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

I do not want to worry my hon. and gallant Friend, but I should tell him that his offer may well be taken up. Only yesterday I read of a trout, not a salmon, being found far below what has come to be regarded as the usual level. I think that this improvement is very much due to his efforts in the past and to his Bill.

Sir T. Beamish

I am absolutely delighted, but it must be a freshwater fish and not a tin of Japanese salmon or anything like that. It is possible that the Thames could again become a great salmon river, and that would be splendid.

Salmon fishing is particularly threatened by the activities of the Danish trawlers, and it is a great pleasure to know that the Government and the previous Government have made great efforts to get the Danes to see sense over this matter. Salmon and trout fishing are also threatened by disease, and it has been almost impossible to do anything about this, although it seems to be gradually clearing itself up. The fourth way in which fishing has been damaged has been by the use of illegal methods and the lack of proper conservation. It is to meet these points that my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West is introducing this excellent Bill, and I congratulate him most warmly on his initiative.

12.16 p.m.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

I am sure it will not have escaped your notice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we are discussing this fishy business on a Friday. It is a very appropriate day. It has occurred to me that there may be some dismay outside the House that the Chamber——

Mr. McNamara

The hon. Member's comment is on longer appropriate. And I say that with a constituency interest because we sell fish

Mr. Crouch

I am a rather old world character and some innovations do not always penetrate my appreciation, but I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying.

I was about to say that there may be some dismay outside the House that the Chamber is not very full for this important piece of legislation. I do not think the public should be dismayed, however, because there is a proper interest in the subject today. We have heard a number of speeches, particularly the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) who introduced the Measure, supported by so many of his hon. Friends and by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), who have made a valuable contribution to the debate.

It is not inappropriate either that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North should speak from the Opposition benches because while his interests per haps do not penetrate too far inland, where fishing is concerned he represents one of our major ports with both inshore and offshore fishing and he has often reminded the House of his concern for them. We have a Prime Minister today who is primarily a yachtsman. He was preceded by a Prime Minister who sported himself on the golf course. His predecessor was associated principally with the grouse moor——

Mr. Charles Morrison

And with salmon.

Mr. Crouch

That is splendid. I have not seen many photographs of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on his own rivers.

The Bill is confined to England and Wales, although it touches the Border river. I remember when I was a boy seeing pictures from more leisurely days when Prime Ministers had more time to go fishing. Fishing is a sport that requires time, leisure and peace. We used to see Prime Ministers up to their knees in water, wearing long rubber boots, fishing our waters in great peace. My wife says that this is an ideal sport for a politician. We lead a hectic life, night and day, and if we could ever find a moment to take up the sport it would concentrate our minds wonderfully on something other than our most immediate concern, our constituents.

I am prompted to speak not as a fisherman but as a Member representing what is partly a rural constituency with a water problem, a fishing problem and a pollution problem. I was recently approached by a large number of my constituents who were concerned about the lack of water in some of our rivers and streams in Kent and the damage that this was causing to our wild life and to the fish that should be inhabiting the streams. Not many years ago Kent was an area where it was common to fish for salmon. This is no longer the case, although it is still possible to fish for trout in some streams in Kent.

The Bill brings up to date the provisions of the 1923 Act and previous Acts and, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish) said, it is a tidying-up Measure. It is important that we should have the legislation affecting our freshwater fisheries tidied up. But the Bill would be of no value, it would not be worth the paper it is printed on or the time we are taking to discuss it if our water dried up or became so polluted that the fish were no longer there to be caught. I do not wish to stray too far from the Bill, but the way we abstract water from some of our streams and rivers is very worrying. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is concerned at this problem and is seeking to regulate and improve the whole administration of our water resources. If, however, we proceed to abstract water from our streams in the way it is done at present, we will cause them to dry up. This has already been happening over a number of years. Kent is very largely on chalk and it therefore produces streams of very pure water which is excellent for fish breeding. The risks of polluting it are self-evident.

Pollution can come from fertilisers washed off the topsoil into the rivers, from sewage pollution and from accidental and casual pollution by careless persons. Normally, if there is a good water flow, that pollution can be dealt with by the natural effects of the water flowing over its chalky base. But the expediency of the water boards today of abstracting water upstream can only have the effect of reducing the flow of water. Modern industrial and domestic society uses a great deal more water than it did, and there are now a great deal more boreholes than there were. The cheapest way of finding water is to——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

Order. The hon. Member should go with his rod to another pool because there are no fish in this one. He must talk about fish.

Mr. Crouch

I accept that, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I realised that I might stray out of order on Third Reading, but I was seeking only to stress that the paper on which the Bill is printed could be wasted and we could be wasting our time if we did not remember that fish have to have water in which to live.

I would like to turn to the Bill itself and make some comments on Clause 1 on the prohibited instruments. This is a very good piece of tidying up. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Charles Morrison) mentioned that he now knows what a gaff is for but he did not always observe that in the past, and this is a proper understanding. The Bill says that a gaff can be carried and used as an auxiliary to fishing but that it would be an offence to use it as a means of knocking the fish out. The Bill refers to people throwing stones at fish and I must say I had not realised that this was a practice adopted by some fishermen. Presumably it is or the Bill would not have drawn our attention to it, and pre- sumably there are some who can throw stones with great accuracy.

The Bill recognises a change in our society in the way poachers and other illegal fishermen now work. It prohibits the use of the barrel gun which is used by skin divers to shoot fish under water. River authorities have run up against difficulties in trying to bring prosecutions against those using such a weapon. Underwater fishermen may not always use a barrel gun and might instead use that new underwater fishing device adapted from an older instrument, the crossbow. The Bill prohibits the use of the crossbow in these circumstances.

I have a number of queries particularly about the fish farmer. I am not sure whether the fish farmer is excluded from the provisions in respect of prohibited instruments. I am sure that no farmer would use such instruments, but is my hon. Friend the Minister satisfied that the Clause is clear enough? I may be told that such a farmer whose main work was the artificial propagation of salmon and trout would not need to use these methods. I should like to know whether the Bill goes far enough in giving these people protection.

The Bill takes account of the need for satisfactory fish passes and acknowledges the fact that what is satisfactory in one part of the country is not necessarily satisfactory in another. I am glad that there is this requirement because such passes are essential for the free passage of migratory fish. River authorities and the Minister will have power to see whether such passes are installed satisfactorily and the power to require, if they are not satisfactory, that they should be suitably modified.

I turn to Clause 3 and the question of the close season for salmon and brown or migratory trout. I am not clear on some points. The Clause gives the river authorities more power to fix their own close seasons and times to suit local conditions, which is sensible. The Bledisloe Committee made a different recommendation when it recommended that river authorities should have complete discretion to determine the length and frequency of close times by byelaw and to fix the annual close season for rod and line and commercial fishing by byelaw, without statutory limitation on duration or dates. The Bill requires this statutory national restriction to be limited to certain periods of time. Why is there to be this difference in approach?

I was interested in a point made about putts and putchers. I have not come across these but I gather that they are used essentially on the River Severn where there is a strong flow of water. They are wide at one end and narrow at the other and the fish are virtually pushed into them by the turbidity of the water.

I come to the question of the sale of fish in the close season. The Bledisloe Committee recommended that what a man caught legally he should be able to sell legally. The Bill allows the sale of salmon and trout if legally caught by rod and line. What is the position with rainbow trout farmers? I understand that there is no such limitation because there is no close season for that fish. Is it impossible for brown trout or salmon to be sold outside the close season? It is the position of fish farms that confuses me. I understand that they are exempt from the provision about taking salmon or trout in the close season because it is said that they are taking them for artificial propagation and restocking. Are fish farms to be allowed freedom to sell these fish in the close season? My reading of the Bill is that they are not.

I raise this point because there is no close season for rainbow trout and I understand that the same situation may one day apply to salmon. Experiments in the artificial propagation of salmon are being conducted in Scotland and it would be interesting if the House could hear some news about this. It would be nice to be able to get salmon for the table all the year round.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister does not think I am asking too many questions but he will appreciate that we had a rapid Committee stage. What is the situation with coarse fish in the close season? According to my understanding there is no scientific ground for there being a close season for these fish largely because they have a higher reproductive ability than salmon or trout.

I believe that the balance of opinion in coarse fishing is against a close season, although some say that there should be one, arguing that it is necessary to have rules to protect the fish against what one can only describe as an unsporting approach by certain coarse fishermen who would take out of the water an unclean fish—a fish in spawn. Why is the Ministry's view of legislation slightly different from what the scientific evidence would seem to suggest.

You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have already asked me to confine myself to fish and not to include water. My hon. Friend the Minister of State has given me two looks indicating his hope that I would not raise too many more fishing questions. The short answer is that I have nothing more to say except that I am looking forward to the reply. I hope and am sure that my hon. Friend will welcome the introduction of this important tidying-up and modernising Measure, which will be valuable to all anglers, all fishermen, whether they fish for salmon or trout or are coarse fishermen. I hope it will ensure that we produce not only more anglers but more fish and will encourage the Department of the Environment to pursue still more energetically and determinedly the question of preserving our waters for our fish

12.32 p.m.

The Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Anthony Stodart)

I echo the well merited congratulations of my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) on his success in the ballot and his decision to introduce the Bill, to which he has given great thought, care and attention. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. Dixon) I do not fish. I believe that it is something that I must miss a great deal because it is a sport beloved by millions of our people. It is reputed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) said, to allow one to be able to relax and ponder and reflect, certainly more than one is able to do where I take my sporting activities, on the golf course.

Salmon and freshwater fisheries are an aspect of the subject of fishing which the House rarely debates. Although there have been minor changes, the substantive legislation amended by the Bill is nearly 50 years old. Many of its provisions date from nearly a century ago. The Act still works remarkably well but, of course, practices and the administrative structure for salmon and freshwater fisheries are totally different today. For example, one has now to deal with offences committed with the help of motor cars and explosives and by gangs, which no one had thought of when the legislation was drafted 50 years ago. Because of this the Act needs refurbishing and the Bill, which sets out to improve in a number of ways the protection and conservation arrangements for salmon and freshwater fish in England and Wales, goes a long way to modernising the legislation.

The Bill seeks to implement a number of recommendations made by the Bledisloe Committee, which about 10 years ago reviewed in detail the operation of the Fisheries Acts. Its conclusions met with general approval from the fisheries interests and the Government. It is clear, from consultations with all shades of fisheries opinion, that the proposals in the Bill command widespread support from those interests and that within its modest compass it provides something to assist every fishery interest—the game and the coarse fishing angler, the match fisherman, the pensioner, the bona fide commercial fisherman, the conservationists and the river authorities.

I thank the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) for his welcome to the Bill, and I welcome him to the Opposition Front Bench for a fisheries debate. He asked me about the National Environment Research Council. It spent a total of just under £500,000 on freshwater research in 1970–71. The council supports all research into inland waters, which falls broadly into two categories—the development of the science of hydrology and the comprehensive research in biology, ecology and the productivity of inland water systems. Full details of these are given in the council's report for April, 1970, to March, 1971, which was laid before Parliament.

In addition to that research, my Department has its own freshwater fisheries laboratory, costing £250,000 a year. We have recently opened a new disease research laboratory at Weymouth, which is the most modern of its kind in Europe, and in addition the river authorities and many other fisheries bodies also undertake research. Although I agree that much needs to be done—and as in every other subject one wishes one could do more—I think that the subject of research is being taken care of and Ministers will continue to be interested.

The hon. Gentleman asked about consultation on byelaws. I agree that it is essential. The general procedure is that fishery byelaws are made by river authorities and not by the Ministry. The river authorities have among their membership people who are carefully selected by the Minister on the nomination of local angling and fishing bodies to represent fisheries in their areas. Most authorities have in addition consultative committees comprised of local fishermen and invariably they consult widely before determining of any byelaw. The byelaw itself has to be advertised in a number of local newspapers and a month has to be allowed for objections before the Minister's consent can be sought. The Minister considers all objections and if they are substantial he invariably holds a public inquiry before making his decision. Therefore we can claim to go to a considerable length to ensure that views are considered.

If the hon. Gentleman will let me have the details of the particular point he raised, I will look into it. I assume that he was referring to brown trout, since there is no provision at present generally requiring a close season for rainbow trout. The close season for brown trout has existed since 1923 and it is necessary in order to give such fish time to breed unhindered. I advise the hon. Gentleman's anglers to discuss their problems with the river authority, and if they cannot get a satisfactory answer I will willingly look at the position if he or they care to write to me.

Mr. McNamara

On behalf of my hon. Friends I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that kind offer. The point I was seeking to illustrate was not that the statutory procedures were not available, or that they were not used properly, but that because of the very nature of this complicated legislation there was a need for greater dissemination and more simplification so that more people could know exactly what was provided. Members of anglers' clubs are not lawyers, and club secretaries often have full-time jobs and do not always appreciate the significance of what is placed before them in legal jargon.

Mr. Stodart

I take note of that. The one great thing about this Measure is that, for legislation, it is remarkably lucid, and I hope that that will help, but I will take note of what the hon. Gentleman says.

The hon. Gentleman asked about pollution. He referred to £1,300 million, and I assume that he was referring to the statement of my right hon. Friend when Volume I of the River Pollution Survey was published. I understand that £1,300 million will be spent on water and sewerage sources in England alone and this includes materially more than £800 million of expenditure on sewerage and sewage disposal, excluding expenditure by industry, at March, 1971, prices.

The hon. Gentleman asked about inland waters. We ran into a drafting difficulty. The example he gave was that of the Derbyshire anglers. The close season extends to any inland water and in theory that brings in ornamental ponds and fish ponds as well as gravel pits and reservoirs. I make no bones about saying that parliamentary counsel found great difficulty in devising a satisfactory form of words to embrace the latter, as we wanted, while excluding the former. But it is not expected that in practice any difficulties will arise over what private owners put into ponds for their own pleasure, although river authorities might have to take note if an owner let out fishing rights and there was a danger of the transfer of fish to other fishing waters.

The hon. Member and my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Charles Morrison) entered into some speculation about the habits of the rainbow trout. Rainbow trout are not indigenous to this country and generally they will not breed here. However, there are a few streams in which it is claimed that they have bred, and therefore Clause 4 provides that whereas, unlike coarse fish, there will not be a definite close season, in future a river authority will be able by byelaw to establish a close season of not less than 93 days for rainbow trout if it so wishes. That is the effect of Clause 4(1).

I will now go through the Clauses and answer the questions put to me. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes was worried about the way in which he had used a gaff and was rightly reassured by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury, because there will continue to be an exemption for use or possession. Under subsection (2) it will not be an offence to possess a gaff, which is otherwise a prohibited instrument, when it is intended to be used as an auxiliary to angling with a rod and line.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish) and my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury expressed their approval of the way in which the extension of the various prohibited instruments appeared in the Bill. It is true that we now have to cope with the use of the underwater gun by skin divers who may try to take salmon and freshwater fish. It will now be an offence to use or possess a firearm for taking or killing fish and, with the wide definition of the Firearms Act, 1968, this will include the underwater barrelled gun. But since the offence is tied to the use of or possession with intent to use named instruments for the purpose of taking or killing fish, it does not involve a ban on the normal use of other underwater equipment, nor of carrying a gun for other purposes. If an underwater barrelled gun is used by skin divers for this purpose, it will be subject to forfeiture, as will other illegal instruments.

The use of the words: throwing any stone into any water in the 1923 Act is broadened. It would require remarkably skilful throwing, but this Bill would effectively outlaw the throwing or discharging of missiles at leaping fish. Presumably such a thing has been done, and this provision is the means of preventing it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury asked about the application of Clause 1 to fish farms. The Bledisloe Committee reported that the current application of the Fisheries Acts to fish farms was a matter of doubt and recommended that fish farms should be expressly excluded from provisions relating, among other things, to methods of fishing. Although provision is made in Section 5 of the 1923 Act for the exemption from penalty of certain acts with the general purpose, among others, of the artificial propagation of salmon, trout or freshwater fish, this does not exclude the use or possession of prohibited instruments, but it is difficult to believe that fish farmers would ever want to use any of the methods prohibited by Clause 1.

Certainly my Department has not had any complaint from fish farmers that their activities are in any way frustrated by their not being allowed to use these methods. In so far as a fish farm is a private fishery, the method used could be said to be conductive to preserving or developing a fishery, and if the permission of the river authority had been obtained the fish farmer could claim exemption under Section 1(2) of the 1923 Act.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes referred to a fish pass. The Bledisloe Committee recommended that approval should be provisional until the pass was functioning satisfactorily, and that is the effect of Clause 2. Fish passes are the sort of things that might appear to work well to start with but it is thoroughly wise, in view of the things that can go wrong, that approval should be provisional until a wholly satisfactory conclusion is reached.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes spoke about the licensing of dealers. The Bledisloe Committee considered that a restriction on sales was an essential means of controlling illegal catches and further recommended that fresh salmon and trout should be dealt with only by registered dealers. Needless to say, this was a controversial matter. Quite apart from that, one has to realise that if it were to work with complete efficiency it ought to be on a Great Britain basis. A licensing system for dealing in salmon and trout operates in Northern Ireland. It would be a fair innovation to introduce such a system here, but it would involve the use of inspectors to check records.

A similar recommendation was made by the Hunter Committee which reported on Scottish fishing law four years after the Bledisloe Committee. The proposals for implementing its report so far exclude this system. Therefore, this Bill does not provide for implementation of that recommendation.

On the determination of the close season by byelaw, again in Clause 3, the Bledisloe Committee recommended that river authorities should have complete discretion to determine the length and frequency of close times by byelaws and to fix the annual close season for rod and line and commercial fishing by bye-law without statutory limitation on duration or dates.

These recommendations have been adopted except that, as urged by various other interests, a national minimum length of close season for rod and line and for commercial fishing will continue to operate, the lengths being the same as those now prescribed. In future river authorities will be able not only to adjust for early and late runs of fish but, if they wish, to have different close seasons and periods in different parts of their areas.

The maintenance of a minimum period was carefully considered. Rightly or wrongly, this was a recommendation which many people felt it would be unwise to take further.

Two of my hon. Friends referred to what I believe is called the putcher. I do not think I could be expected to give a detailed description. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury seemed to know all about it. The putcher is largely confined to the Severn. It is apparently an effective way of catching salmon in that the salmon swimming with the current in the turbid water jams itself head first into the putcher, becomes trapped and is removed at low tide. The putt, which is a bigger and more closely woven article, is in three parts called the kype, the fore wheel and butt. The butt is closed with a bung. It is not as efficient as the putcher but it takes shrimps and eels, so it remains in use.

Concerning the sales of fish in the close season, as my hon. Friend quoted, the Bledisloe Committee recommended that what a man can legally catch he should legally be able to sell. Therefore, Clause 3(5) gives effect to this by removing the current ban in the close season on salmon or trout if legally caught by rod and line.

Although sales in the close season are generally banned, sales of salmon and trout, other than rainbow trout, by fish farmers for artificial propagation, or in the case of trout, for restocking are allowed by virtue of the fact that the ban on sales does not apply to fish whose capture or taking was lawful at the time and place of capture.

The position of rainbow trout is, in contrast, quite clear. The provisions against taking trout in the close season do not apply to rainbow trout. Similarly the provisions against selling do not apply by virtue of Section 32 of the 1923 Act. In so far as fish farmers in England and Wales sell for the table market, their produce is rainbow trout.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes raised on Clause 4 the protection of wild life. I am wholeheartedly sympathetic with this matter. I am on record as saying that I like all birds. I am very fond of them. Indeed, not long ago I demonstrated my particular affection for them.

Among the arguments advanced in support of retaining a statutory close season for coarse fish, is one that it allows time for repairs to the footpaths and banks and the cutting of weeds. It also allows a period of peace for wild life in and around rivers. However, I must point out the close season does not apply to other water pursuits on rivers or other leisure activities in the country. This is a matter which I hope the authorities will consider when they are thinking about this matter.

Mr. Crouch

There is the factor that the owner of the water and the land has within his power the ability to shut off his land if he wishes to observe his own close season.

Mr. Stodart

My hon. Friend is correct.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes welcomed the fact that returns would have to be made, including nil returns. It is true that the statistics of rod-caught fish are extremely poor in many river authority areas. For example, in Lancashire only 3 per cent. of salmon and trout anglers bother to make returns of their catches. Statistics like that are useless for conservation work. Returns made by nets men are more accurate. If we are to do conservation work properly we must have better returns.

The next point made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes was on Clause 10. The new provision implements the Bledisloe Committee's recommendation to make the river authorities' written permission a prerequisite to the introduction of fish in rivers or any waters communicating with rivers. Indeed, that provision goes further by extending the power to cover enclosed waters. Legal advice is that river authorities probably have power to make a byelaw to this effect under Section 59(1) of the 1923 Act for the better protection, preservation and improvement of fisheries. This specific provision in Clause 10 puts the matter beyond doubt.

I turn now to Clause 12, which I regard as being of great importance in the light of what I said earlier about the new methods which are used for poaching and taking fish. Clause 12 with Schedule 2 which it introduces and interprets, set out the new penalties for offences and deal with the power of the courts to order forfeiture and to disqualify a person convicted of a second offence from holding a fishing or general licence. At present, with the sole exception of offences against Section 9 of the Act—the use of explosives, poisons and so on—the penalty for an offence is a fine of £50 plus £5 a day for an offence continued after conviction. On third or subsequent conviction there is an alternative of three months' imprisonment. Under Section 9 the penalties are £50 or three months or, for a second or subsequent offence, £100 and/or three months. There is also provision in that Section for conviction on indictment carrying a penalty of an unlimited fine and/or two years' imprisonment.

The primary purpose of the amendments is to provide a range of penalties according to the seriousness of the offence and, for the generality of cases not specifically designated in Schedule 2, for a higher penalty on second or subsequent offence in place of the liability to imprisonment on third or subsequent offence. Provision for imprisonment on summary conviction disappears entirely, as does the fine for continuing offences except for pollution offences under Section 8 of the 1923 Act.

The nature of the offences not now to be subject to the general penalty in Clause 12(4) are dealt with in detail in the notes on Schedule 2 but, briefly, there are to be three more levels of fine on summary conviction. The first is £100 for a first offence and £200 for a second or subsequent offence for fishing in the close season or close time and for using eel baskets and similar devices in water frequented by salmon and migratory trout. Secondly, there is a fine of £200 for a first offence and £400 for a second or subsequent offence for the use of explosives and poisons; and, thirdly, £400 plus £40 a day for pollution.

The current provision for indictment for using explosives or poisons is retained with the same penalty. Provision for indictment has additionally been introduced for pollution offences. A higher penalty with provision for indictment is also introduced when two or more people act together to use an illegal method or an unlicensed instrument. This concerns the question of gang offences. The example is already set in Scottish legislation.

"Acting together" is a new concept in the 1923 Act but is by no means unusual in legislation. It is aimed at organised gang activities using methods which can result in considerable damage to stocks. An exception is made for the use of an unlicensed rod and line since it would not be appropriate to apply the heavier penalty in the case of anglers fishing together who had not obtained or renewed a licence. That remedies a possible injustice.

Clause 12(6) provides that the provisions relating to forfeiture in Schedule 7 of the Customs and Excise Act, 1952, will apply with certain consequentially necessary amendments in the case of the vessel or vehicle liable to forfeiture under Clause 12(5). The primary purpose of adopting this procedure is to safeguard the innocent owner of a vessel or vehicle used in the commission of an offence—for example, a hired car. It is specifically laid down that if an owner can satisfy a court that the offence was committed without his knowledge and that he could not have reasonably foreseen that the vessel or vehicle would be used in that way, it will not be subject to forfeiture. There are also safeguards in the case of hire purchase transactions.

We have had a most interesting debate and many points and questions have been raised on a Bill which has the Government's wholehearted support. I confirm that my right hon. Friend and myself will take an interest in any of the objections to the byelaws which may be made. I hope that the House will give the Bill a Third Reading.

1.5 p.m.

Mr. Wingfield Digby

With leave, I should like to say a few more words. First, I thank my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the interest he has taken in and the support he has given to the Bill. I wish to take this opportunity of thanking all those who have done so much work on it. The Association of River Authorities, the Salmon and Trout Association, the National Federation of Anglers and many others have put a great deal of work into the Bill. Last but not least, I thank the officials at the Ministry of Agriculture who have conducted the negotiations. It is very nice to find that people with divergent interests can reach unanimity. I thank my hon. Friends who have been so kind to me in connection with the Bill.

About 1½ years ago I asked a Question about the implementation of the Bledisloe Report, little thinking that it would fall to me to do something about it. I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). It is appropriate that, representing part of a great fishing port, he should have spoken for the Opposition. This is a grim reminder that problems of pollution are no longer confined to fresh water. When we read that even seas like the Mediterranean are being menaced by the pollution of man, it is reminder that we must consider what is happening to the seas as well as to our fresh waters. The hon. Gentleman did well to tell us that many people will be affected by the Bill. He estimated that 2,800,000 anglers spend £160 million a year on fishing. That is an indication of the wide interest which the Bill will command.

I was glad to hear mention of the question of research and my hon. Friend the Minister of State stated that £500,000 a year in Government money is being spent on research and freshwater fisheries. I hope that the Government will be able to spend a little more, because they are becoming increasingly generous in connection with other forms of sport and perhaps fishing is not getting its full share. There has been reference to the danger in the past of a conflict between coarse fishermen and game fishermen, but that is much reduced. As I said earlier, an increasing number of fishing clubs have trout water as well as coarse fishing water which enables them to fish the year round in regardless of close seasons.

I can see advantage in the extension of visits by clubs not only in England and Wales, which are covered by the Bill, but in Scotland. I agree that anglers should be consulted more by the river authorities. There is room for much more consultation. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North spoke of the question of access and making more water available. It is up to all those who own water to make it available to fishermen to ensure that it is properly used and fished. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said on the question of pollution, because only last week, in my capacity as president of a local fishing club, I received urgent representations about impending pollution of the River Yeo because a housing estate is to be built without adequate provision for sewerage. Therefore, an important fisheries will be in danger. That is a matter for the Department of the Environment, and we shall have to keep up our pressure on it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Charles Morrison) started with a kind of confessional, and I did not know where he would finish. I thought he would talk about otters, but he referred to a gaff, which is comparatively harmless, although tailers should be used much more because they are more humane.

Under the Bill, tickling trout is to be considered a minor offence in future. I hope that anyone here who has tried that method will have found the process rather more rewarding than I have, and I must add that anyone who can catch a trout in that way certainly does not deserve very severe punishment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. Dixon) spoke of the Bill as a new charter for fish, which I thought a very good way of putting it. But I was surprised to learn from him that the contribution of Cornwall to the battle of Crécy consisted of salmon no doubt accounting for increased demand for salmon in France these days.

I pay tribute to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish), whose 1965 Act has done so much in this direction already. I am grateful for his support today. I am glad that he mentioned the provision for preventing undesirable species of fish being introduced. As we have seen in forestry with the grey squirrel, a great deal of harm can be done by one or two thoughtless people. There are at least two species of fish which, if introduced, could do a great deal of damage, to the detriment of all fishermen.

My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) raised the very important subject of fish farming, an activity already fairly prevalent, the purpose being chiefly the provision of rainbow trout for the table. I have received letters from further a field, mainly from Scotland, about the possible development of fish farming by enclosing stretches of salt water and rearing salmon to maturity in such artificial areas. It would be premature, I believe, to try in the Bill to anticipate that development, although amending legislation may be necessary later. Such fish farming on a very large scale is still in its very early stages, and is done at present more in Scotland than in England and Wales.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for giving the Government's support to the Bill today and for dealing at such length with the various points. He even went into the rather curious question of the putchers, of which there is a very good illustration in the Bledisloe Report. I am also glad that he spoke about close season sales, something not previously dealt with. He reaffirmed, and I am delighted that he did so, his liking for all birds, although I could not help thinking that some anglers would prefer that they should not always be present on the river bank.

In referring to the provisions of Clause 12, my hon. Friend dealt particularly with the provision relating to "acting together". This is an important matter in these days when gangs can give a good deal of trouble to fisheries and damage the fish, the young fish and stocks generally.

I repeat my view that, although the Bill may be of some help, it does not go nearly as far as it might, and that a lot of the remedies lie in the hands of the Department of the Environment. I hope that the House can look to that Department for very urgent action on pollution, without which all fishery legislation can be of little value. Meanwhile, we shall await with particular interest the implementation of the recommendations of the Hunter Report on Scottish fishing law I hope it will be found that the Bill is in no way out of step with anything the Government may decide to propose.

I very much hope that the Bill will not be "the one that got away", and that the House will give it the Third Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.