HC Deb 02 March 1976 vol 906 cc1223-9
Mr. Hugh D. Brown

I beg to move Amendment No. 19, in page 3, line 22, after 'above', insert 'or a constable'.

This amendment is consequential on the excision in Committee of subsection (3), which excuses police from having a duty to enforce a protection order. We accept the decision of the Committee, and the amendment follows from that.

Sir John Gilmour

We thank the hon. Gentleman for the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

I beg to move Amendment No. 20, in page 3, line 23, leave out paragraphs (a), (b) and (c).

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this amendment we may consider Amendment No. 21, in page 3, line 24, after 'boat', insert container, tent, caravan, or vehicle', and Government Amendments Nos. 22, 23 and 24.

Mr. Brown

Amendments Nos. 20 and 22 remove the powers of search given to a warden under subsection (2)(a) and (b) and restrict his powers of seizure to cases when he has reason to suspect an offence under the Bill. They are designed to meet the complaints about wardens being given powers to search in connection with such a trivial offence as trout poaching. It has been argued that it was excessive to give wardens all the powers that we were suggesting.

In Amendments Nos. 23 and 24 we are clearing up what is meant by "land" or in the vicinity of any waters. They are linked with the criticisms made about the powers of wardens. They are reasonable amendments which I hope will be accepted.

Mr. Monro

These are the most objectionable amendments of the lot and I hope that, if necessary, we can have a separate Division on Amendment No. 21.

In Committee, the Opposition and the Liberal Member on the Committee, the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel), argued strongly for increased powers for wardens. We said that the duties of a warden should be nearer to those of a water bailiff as laid down in a number of Acts. But I do not propose to go into detail about them now. The Secretary of State will be appointing wardens, no doubt to be looked after by a local committee, but giving them virtually no powers under Clause 2 or Clause 3.

We feel strongly that if the Bill is to have any practical impact over trout fishing the Government must say that they wish firm action to be taken against poachers and others who, although they think that they have a right to fish, have no right to do so. It is wrong to take away these powers at such a late stage. There has been no consultation and there was no indication in Committee that the Government would remove paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) without further discussion other than what may have taken place at the celebrated meeting in Stirling.

What power is now to be left with a warden? He can make inquiries and ask the fisherman whether he has written permission—bearing in mind that the warden does not know, according to the Under-Secretary, as there is no register, whether he is entitled in the first place to be inquiring on this beat of the water as to who owns it. He has that limited power, and he will have certain other powers as proposed in Amendment No. 22 to look around the river bank for any instrument or article used or calculated to be of use in such contravention. A warden is not, apparently, allowed to look in any building, and is certainly not allowed to look in a car boot, which is the first place where most people would look for fish taken by a poacher. Certainly, if the Minister has his way and our amendment is not accepted, or if it is defeated in a Division, the warden will not be allowed to look in any form of container, which might include a creel, a caravan or even a tent.

The warden, who is supposed to be protecting the water, will have so little power that he will very nearly be left out of court by most people who are prepared to risk fishing illegally. It is very serious that the Government have taken powers away from the warden instead of giving him powers broadly equivalent to those of a water bailiff. I know that the Hunter Commission originally suggested that water bailiffs should be termed "inter-fishery wardens", but here we have a fishery warden who has so little powers that poachers will take no interest at all in his presence.

This is a crucial failure in a Bill in which the Government have set out to help to provide protection for trout fishing. The official who is supposed to enforce the protection has been given no power to do so. This is one of the most serious changes in the Bill and one which we strongly oppose.

There is a fundamental difference between us. The Minister thinks that stealing a brown trout is of far less consequence than stealing a salmon. As I said in Committee, the financial value is very significantly different but the moral issue of theft is just the same, and I do not see why the Minister should let off lightly those who steal trout as opposed to those who steal a sea trout, a herling or even a salmon.

The Minister has much more explanation to give before we can come to a decision on these new amendments. I know that he is probably under enormous pressure from his Whips to get the Bill through at all costs and at all speed.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It might be helpful if I mention that, if it should so happen that Amendment No. 20 is carried, Amendment No. 21 will fall.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. Buchan

In the unlikely event of that not happening, it might be appropriate for me to make a short contribution.

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on what he is doing here. Perhaps I might recover some ground of friendship after the disagreement that we had an hour or so ago. There are weaknesses in the access protection aspect. Therefore, we should not have over-tough methods regarding search.

What my hon. Friend has done is in line with trends towards more flexibility in the application of that which might impede civil liberties. If he needs further support, he can find it by looking at Amendment No. 21, where the Opposition wish to extend the area of search to container, tent, caravan or vehicle". It would be ludicrous to have wardens, water bailiffs or whatever name they are given in areas where people go for leisure and recreation with no thought of fishing but whose tents, caravans and so on would be subject to search. It simply is not on. When I think of my early days with the Craigdhu Club and others, I can imagine what would have happened if their tents had been searched.

The Opposition should think again. I thank my hon. Friend for putting forward his amendments.

Mr. Monro

Why was the hon. Gentleman, when Under-Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, happy to give bailiffs power to do just that?

Mr. Buchan

We are trying to extend leisure activities and to give protection and access in return. The Bill has not fundamentally succeeded in doing what it should do. I am sure that in a few years we shall have to bring in another Bill to do it. That is another reason why we should not strengthen the protection, prevention and search aspect. That is why I would oppose the Tory amendment. I was not notorious for being a hard-liner as an Under-Secretary of State in the old days, nor am I now.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

My hon. Friends and I are delighted with Amendment No. 20, which proposes to leave out paragraphs (a), (b) and (c). We felt that that procedure was extraordinarily tough. The police have some training in discretion as to where they search and they would not lightly undertake that task without some thought. The original proposal was drastic. I congratulate the Minister on withdrawing it and assure him that if the matter is forced to a Division we will support the amendment.

Mr. David Steel

I should like more information about removing the reference to the lack of duties of constables regarding the amendment which was carried in Committee. As I read it—I may be wrong—there will still be a general obligation on the police to enforce the legislation. I share the view of the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) that this is a sudden development, but the Under-Secretary of State may be right to delete these powers for the wardens.

The hon. Member for Dumfries was wrong when he said that he solicited my support. If he looks at the foot of column 178 of the report of proceedings in Committee, he will see that I did not support him in seeking extra powers for wardens. On balance, I think that the Government are right to remove these paragraphs. However, perhaps the Under-Secretary will say something about the amendment which we moved in Committee regarding constables.

Mr. Russell Fairgrieve (Aberdeenshire, West)

T wish to make a brief intervention in support of my hon. Friends the Members for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) and Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour). In my constituency, apart from the well known River Dee and the River Don, there are many tributaries. It is our object not in any way to restrict fishing opportunities. However, to make them good one must have wardens. It is no good having wardens unless they have reasonable and proper powers. I hope that when the Minister replies he will comment upon this matter.

Sir John Gilmour

I am not certain whether Amendment No. 21 is not simply an invitation for someone who goes fishing to take a tent so that he can hide his poached spoils. Perhaps I should not have tabled the amendment.

I should like the Minister to comment on Amendment No. 24, which applies to Clause 3. It makes it impossible for a warden to do what he is asked to do under Clause 2(d). I hope that I am making myself clear. Amendment No. 24 removes paragraph (b) of Clause 3(1), which refers back to paragraph (d) of Clause 2(2). That means that it is not possible for the warden to make enquiry as to the legal right or written permission of any person to fish". How will a warden operate unless he asks a person to show him his permit? In my view, we are taking away from the warden the right to challenge a person. I do not believe that any Opposition Members think in punitive terms of a warden. We had terrible pictures painted in Committee about what would happen to a warden if he met some Dundee fishermen. It seemed more likely that the warden would come off worse.

I feel that we are expecting a great deal of someone whom we ask to be a warden, because we are not giving him the right to say to a person fishing on a loch or a river "Show me your permit". In my view, we are making a nonsense of the warden's position.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

I do not think that the position is as bad as the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) suggests. I point out to the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) that I stand by the fact that theft is theft and it docs not matter what is involved. However, there is a difference between a salmon and a trout even under the law.

I am convinced that if we want to create an enlightened angling population it is wrong to push things at such a pace that we merely convince anglers that we are doing something that is not in their interests. We have a long way to go to get even the concept of a warden accepted by trout fishermen.

I repeat that the duty of a warden in the first place is to ask whether an angler has permission to fish. We are not taking this duty from the warden. In these circumstances, he still has the power to seize tackle. That is not an unreasonable kind of discipline or authority for a warden to possess. Therefore, that covers the main point without moving on to include the right of search and all the emotive arguments that seem to arise over that.

Amendment No. 24 confines a warden's powers of entry on land to all places on land in the vicinity of water or in the area of the protection order. I appreciate that Opposition Members are not happy about some of these amendments. In my view, the lack of knowledge and understanding that seems to exist about our proposals has made it reasonable for me to consider some kind of change in the powers of wardens. Having a warden at all is a new concept. If a protection order was sought and granted, out of that experience would grow a gradual acceptance by anglers of the role that wardens have to play. However, that is something for the future.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 22, in page 3, line 42, at end insert— (b) if he has reasonable cause to suspect that a contravention of a prohibition contained in a protection Order has taken place, within the prescribed area seize any instrument or article used or calculated to be of use in such contravention."—[Mr. Dunn.]

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