HC Deb 02 March 1976 vol 906 cc1161-87

"The Secretary of State for Scotland shall within the next two years introduce a measure to set up Area Boards based on the recommendations of Command Paper No. 2691 of August 1965".—[Mr. David Steel.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker

With New Clause 1 it will be convenient to discuss New Clause 3 (Area Fishing Boards), Amendment No. 5, in Clause 1, page 1, line 20, at end insert— (b) he has the consent of a duly recognised Area Fishing Board to such proposals or any modification made in terms of subsection (3) below; and Amendment No. 18, in Clause 2, page 3, line 18, after "him", insert: an Area Fishing Board having by virtue of such protection order a right of control over or fishing for freshwater fish or".

Mr. Steel

I must say at the outset that I am very sorry that the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) is not a genuine supporter of the clause and that his name appears only because of a clerical error, because I had hoped for his strong support, considering that he was the Minister responsible for these matters at the time of the White Paper to which my new clause refers.

Throughout the passage of the Bill I have been in some slight difficulty because my attitude to it is certainly that it is worthy of support, because it is a step in the right direction in that it is one step out of the chaos into some kind of order as regards trout fishing in Scotland. Therefore, if faced with a choice between the Bill and the present state of the law, it is better to support the Bill but it is very much second best as a piece of legislation.

The purpose of my new clause is very simply to place an obligation on the Secretary of State to give this matter further consideration over the next two years and to come forward with more comprehensive and radical proposals to lay before Parliament in due course. A fundamental flaw in the state of chaos which will exist once the Bill becomes law is that there will, sadly, be two entirely separate systems of administration on the rivers of Scotland for trout and salmon. Not only will there be separate systems of administration but, as we discussed at some length in Committee, in some areas there will be two separate systems of policing as well, with bailiffs looking after the interest of salmon and wardens looking after the interest of trout, though they may be one and the same person. Nevertheless, if one were writing the law of Scotland from scratch one would not, with the best will in the world, as I am sure the Under-Secretary would agree, set about it in this way and write a law relating to salmon and trout separately as we have it now.

I accept that the Government are faced with legacies from the past through the way in which legislation has been built up over the years. But this does not seeem to me an adequate answer to why they have not shown a little more courage and produced a more fundamental piece of legislation. Shortage of time cannot be an excuse, because my new clause refers specifically to the Command Paper of 1965, popularly known as the Hunter Report.

Lord Hunter's Committee was appointed to consider the whole question of the law and administration of river fishing in Scotland in March 1962. The Committee deliberated for three and a half years and produced a very weighty Report in August 1965. I remember that these matters were of some topical interest in 1965 during a by-election I contested in which I put forward my views very firmly to people in the Borders who have a great interest in these matters. It seems to me extraordinary that here we are, more than 10 years, later with that White Paper virtually ignored.

This is where the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West comes in, whether he likes it or not. One of the extraordinary features of the politics of fishing is that, as each Government have come in, spokesmen have got up—I could quote from the Official Report but I shall not weary the House—on the Opposition Front Bench demanding to know when action was to be taken on the Hunter Report; and as Governments have changed, lo and behold, the ex-Ministers have got up and asked when action was to be taken of those who were themselves asking earlier when action was to be taken. And so the see-saw goes on with changes of Government. We end, rather disappointingly, with this advanced but nevertheless limited measure pertaining only to trout fishing.

I do not want to quote chunks of the Hunter Report, but it seems to me that the weakness of the present legislative position is well summed up in paragraphs 138 and 139 of that Report: We are convinced that separate administrations would be wasteful and would most probably make the worst of possible conflicts of interest and we therefore recommend that local bodies should be responsible for both salmon and trout fisheries. In areas where it is practised, coarse fishing should also come under the local body. 6.45 p.m.

Paragraph 139 of the Report says: We reach the conclusion, then, that the local administrative authority should:

  1. (1) be capable of looking objectively at fisheries for different species and at different fishing methods, and of assessing the measures required for their development and control;
  2. (2) be sufficiently broadly based in its composition to command public confidence in its decisions, and in its representation of the fisheries interest in the face of competition from other users of water;
  3. (3) be able through its officers to protect the fisheries in its area by enforcing the regulations, both statutory and administrative;
  4. (4) be able to employ the technical staff needed to enable it to identify, test and apply scientific and technical advances;
  5. (5) have some voice in the availability of waters to visitors; and
  6. (6) have sufficient resources to undertake the foregoing functions."
I do not happen to agree with every detailed conclusion or precise recommendation of the Hunter Committee, but the basic principle is surely correct that there should be one unified administrative structure in each river area of Scotland. That is a conclusion I would like to see enshrined in legislation. If we have to accept the Bill as a second best, we shall have to do so, but it would be a very good thing if this House were to add the new clause to the Bill at this stage so that it concentrated the minds of the Scottish Office and the Secretary of State and required them to think further on this issue and to come forward within two years with more comprehensive proposals.

Mr. Buchan

There were some exchanges earlier in relation to the association of my name with this clause on the Notice Paper. Although I am in favour of the clause, it is inadequate in that it does not really set up what it would be able to do. It seems to me that in arguing the case for the establishment of such boards we should be outlining also the kind of work they will be able to carry out, because otherwise there is no case for them.

If these area boards are established, as I hope they will be, it will be valuable if two things are recognised. The first is that the proposals of the composition of the board as outlined in the Hunter Report will no longer suffice. In many ways the Report was a reactionary document. These area boards, far from being representative of the owners' interest, should be the instruments of national policy which would carry out a laid-down set of guidelines whose main purpose should be to maximise access for the fishermen of moderate means, and, therefore, do so at moderate cost. Secondly, the boards should have the duty of taking these waters into public ownership so that they can be opened up and properly controlled. Therefore, it would be useful if these powers were administered by some kind of central body.

I think that it should be a co-operative body of anglers, possibly called the Scottish Anglers' Trust, which could do the administration—in other words, national involvement in such a trust along with a representative body of anglers, and with membership of the Scottish Anglers' Trust being open to anyone on the payment of such subscription as the trust might decide. It would be useful for the area boards to have the trust carry out the work of compiling and maintaining a register of all freshwater fisheries in Scotland.

It would be useful if all the owners of freshwater fishing rights were invited to register their rights in the trust register. In order to do this, they would first have to give conclusive proof that they had the rights of ownership. Then, it would be valuable to introduce a new concept, because one of our problems is that we are not always aware of who owns what in Scotland. We know this in connection with the land. It is also true in relation to the waters.

Therefore, we should give the owners 12 months in which to prove their case that they owned the waters for which they sought registration. If they failed to do so, the waters should pass into the hands of the community, no doubt administered by the area boards and ultimately by the Scottish Anglers' Trust. The area boards would then have the task of administering the fishing rights.

The trust and the area boards should have further powers to extend the public ownership of the waters. They would have to prove that any such acquisition was in the public interest, and they would have to decide in consultation with the Secretary of State what compensation, if any, should be given to the previous owners. In other words, there would be guidelines and not simply holus-bolus public ownership, although I hope that that would be the direction in which the boards would move.

I think that the Secretary of State should be under compulsion to consult both the anglers' trust and the boards themselves to determine the circumstances in which fishing was made available in any protected waters in respect of certain matters. Those would cover, for example, the amount of the charges to be made. They would include the power to lay down the permitted methods of fishing or the tackle to be used, the maximum number of fish which could be caught, the permitted maximum number of roads in any area and, if there had to be a close season or closures of one kind or another, the permitted times of fishing. The boards should also decide the permitted minimum size of fish which could be taken. They should decide on the limits of the waters in which the proposed protection order would operate and, finally, any other conditions under the proposed protection order.

We would have been able to discuss all these matters more fully if New Clause 2 had been selected. Notwithstanding that the clause was not selected, it is important to put these matters on the record.

One of our problems is that, like most other Government decisions, we face what a friend of mine used to call "the Dunfermline decision". That, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is when you meet a man and ask him to tell you the way to Dunfermline and he replies "First right, second left, over the bridge—look, if I was going to Dunfermline I wouldn't start from here." That is one of the problems in so many Government decisions.

Above all, it is a tremendous problem in regard to fisheries. It is a nonsensical concept of ownership which we allow. No sane Government starting from scratch would have allowed the present position to come about. It would have been a legislative nonsense to have introduced it into Parliament in this form. The laws relating to fisheries in Scotland go back further than the sixteenth century because of the importance of salmon.

Ideally we should ask ourselves what we are aiming towards, and the answer must be that the lochs and rivers of Scotland should belong to the people of Scotland. It is a nonsense in relation to salmon, for example, to say that there should be a thing which no one can touch and which no one can see passed from generation to generation—the so-called heritable right in relation to salmon ownership. The man does not own the river. He does not even own the banks of the river. However, on a certain stretch there is some kind of mysticism whereby the waters and the air around the waters say that this stretch belongs to Lord Lovat and any fish caught there carries a little flag bearing his heraldic crest. It is a nonsense that this heritable right should be transmitted from generation to generation at a time when we are having a difficult job to get security for tenant farmers in some parts of the country.

It is right that this should belong to the community and that the community should be able to control access and conservation. I notice that we have a landlord from the Highlands area sitting on the Opposition Benches. We welcome him to the debate. I am sure that he is here to argue for the public ownership of all the land in the Highlands of Scotland. That will be the day.

But the people who have acquired these vast estates by having power over salmon in this way enjoy another element which comes into it, and that is the high cost of salmon fishing. The right to salmon fishing is an extremely exclusive and desirable right to possess. We know the money which is paid for salmon fishing. I have in mind the place where I was brought up, near the River Helmsdale. By having that exclusiveness, people have other powers. They have powers over development and practically everything else in the area.

If we got rid of King Salmon as the symbol of the Highlands, we would crack the power of some of the great landowners in the Highlands area. Crofters in the area of the River Helmsdale with fences and dykes about 10 ft. from the side of the bank are not permitted to fish off the land which they farm. This is the nonsense in the Highlands, and die hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) knows it. This is the kind of power that we have to deal with. Hence the need for the area boards, which will reflect not the powers of the owners but the national policy, which is to extend to the taking over of these waters into the public's hands.

When it comes to trout, an even more curious situation exists. Because of past rights of fishermen in Scotland, it was not an offence to fish for brown trout. It is for that reason that we have to bring in protection. I am in favour of making it a statutory offence. In the interests of the ordinary angler, there has to be an element of conservation.

The members of a working-class club who pay their "bob" a week must know that they can have access, that they should contribute towards that access, and that they should get protection too. There is a case for that. But there is no case for giving protection in the sense of making it an offence to fish for brown trout unless at the same time we have control of it. This should not be left merely to a faint form of access in return for protection. It should be organised and planned.

We have all seen the burns which are left alone, which could be stocked but are not. All these should be brought under proper planning. The opening up of access and conservation measures are not inhibitions of personal freedom. The idea is to crack some of the powers both of riparian owners in respect of brown trout and of this curious salmon ownership for the exclusive few in order to enhance the freedoms and liberties of the many.

7.0 p.m.

I do not accept the suggested compensation figure of £250 million. I accept that when I was Minister I said that I was urgently looking at the question, but what can one man do among so many? One might have brought forward modest measures then, but I think that the same problems exist today. I do not accept that it would cost so much in compensation. Lord Lovat or Lord X, Y or Z has done little to ensure that salmon swims in any particular stretch of water. Having the right to fish is different from running a business. A family might have laboured for years to build up a business, but the fish are there naturally and yet for that reason alone the landowner receives £500 a week.

I should like to see salmon included in the Bill. The word "salmon" appears in the Short Title. We should tell those with fishing rights that if they want to fish for salmon they can do so. We should tell them that they can use perhaps three rods for the rest of their lives for nothing but that they will not decide who is going to be permitted to use the others. That will be decided by the community. It would be a fair compensation. Whole stretches of the Highlands, my country, have been sold off and taken into private ownership. We should allow those people to continue to fish, but they should not expect others to pay them £500 a week for the same privilege.

It might be suggested that compensattion should be based on 20 years' capitalisation, as happened when industries were taken into public ownership, but that was based on skill and labour. We could reduce it to two years' capitalisation, based on the average value of the salmon caught in the previous 10 years.

In supporting New Clause 1, we want to see the creation of area boards under a national policy. We want to see local democratic control so that miners and car workers can have their share of access.

Scientists would say that the best way to ensure the proper protection and planning of river stocks is by control of the entire river system. That can happen only if we establish area boards to administer and plan and if the people themselves own the waters. The new clause is a modest proposal towards the public ownership of inland waters, and the Minister should recognise that that is our aim.

The Scottish National Party, in its New Clause 3, ignores any extension of the powers of the ordinary people. That new clause deals with many organisational matters but it has nothing to say about the real power involved. We do not want vague generalisations about constitutional change. We want real power in the hands of the ordinary people. That is why I would reject New Clause 3 as being totally inadequate. It fails the people of Scotland. I support the introduction of area boards because that is a start towards the advance that I want to see.

Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) described New Clause 3 in the way that he did. If the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) does not press New Clause 1, I hope to have the opportunity of pressing New Clause 3. If he presses New Clause 1 my hon. Friends and I, to save time, will accept that as a vote on the principle of setting up area boards.

The Bill is intended to secure increased access to waters for members of the public, but in the Committee there were fears that the Bill will not do that. Angling clubs, and workers in my area who enjoy angling, fear that their rights of access will be restrained or limited by the Bill. If the rights of access are not limited it is feared that costs will rise, eventually become prohibitive and that anglers will be excluded eventually from the waters in which they are accustomed to fish. New Clause 3 provides for local control. It attempts to allay the fears expressed by anglers and to open up waters for development and for use by the public.

The area boards are the first priority in the new clause. It is significant that the concept of area boards has been accepted. There is a good reason for that because the proposal provides for the decentralisation of the administration, development, control and use of freshwater fisheries in Scotland. It means that those who know local conditions will have the right to deal with protection orders, to consider their effect and, if they feel the rights of local people are not being properly considered, to veto protection orders suggested to the Secretary of State. The significance of the proposed structure is that the area fishing boards will have a majority of local anglers amongst their membership. That will give the angling public control over the sport which they enjoy. I am not surprised that the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West takes exception to the terms in the clause.

I had intended to pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) because his formula for the membership of the boards seemed commendable. He isolated the various forms of representation on the boards. He said that angling clubs should be represented. Although angling is an individual sport many people who are members of angling clubs travel together on buses to save transport costs. The sport is often organised on a group basis, particularly in areas close to industrial centres.

The hon. Member also suggested that local authorities should be members of the boards. That is fair. There was a debate on that in Committee, and it seems sensible that local authorities with leisure and recreation functions should be involved in matters concerning fishing areas.

Mr. David Steel

There is a fundamental difference between the hon. Member's new clause and my new clause. His new clause does not deal with salmon. That was one of the criticisms made in the Hunter Report. Could the hon. Gentleman touch on that?

Mr. Wilson

Only to the extent that it was decided, when considering this—and in consultation with angling interests—that it would be better to get the area boards set up for a start with power to take care of the freshwater fisheries, excluding salmon. Then, no doubt, at a later date their operations could extend into the salmon fishing, but it was felt that salmon formed such a special area of concern that the area boards would have sufficient on their hands to deal with the trout fishing, which is the main interest of the anglers. I know that the hon. Gentleman has an exceptionally good salmon river flowing through his constituency, but, nevertheless, for most of the country, the fishing which is most enjoyed is trout fishing. It is for those reasons that I have concentrated on that type of fishing.

I was saying that it seemed to me perfectly reasonable that local authorities should be involved in these boards, and that it may be in order, to save costs, for some of them to offer services in arranging for the hire of halls for the quarterly meetings, which would be the way in which the representation side of a board's work would be carried out, although, obviously, the committees elected from the board might have specialist functions. There is the calling of meetings and there are certain other functions, which might be partly connected with tourism or recreation, which could also be handled by them. This would enable the boards to get off the ground in an easier manner than would otherwise be the case if they were forced to take over tremendous responsibilities right from the start.

Looking at the proposals in Clause 1 we see that it is intended anyway that the fishing provision will be changed gradually as and when protection orders are made and as and when the existing law is altered.

One of the changes I have suggested in the representation relates to the position of the Scottish Sports Council, a body incorporated by Royal Charter, and whose duty is to encourage and sponsor sport in Scotland. It seemed to me that, since angling is a very important recreation in our country, the Scottish Sports Council should be responsible for the recognition of angling clubs and should also be represented on the area fishing boards, so that there would be a degree of co-ordination and co-operation through the medium of that body. I think the machinery set up under the Scottish Sports Council would enable this to be done in an easier way than would perhaps be the case if one wanted to go through, say, a Scottish anglers' trust which would have to be established.

If it were felt, after the experience of area fishing boards, that there could be a case for a central angling association which would have a greater rôle or a specialist rôle in development or improvement of freshwater fisheries in Scotland, I might not be against it, but it would be necessary to make out a case in favour of it, but where the Scottish Sports Council exists I think that is the best way in which one could make a start.

The last category of membership which struck me at the time as being most generous—knowing the views of the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire—is the representation of riparian owners on the boards, but having read some of the proceedings of the Committee, I take it that they are there for the purpose of having an interest in the control of land access as well as their interests in the fishing rights. They will have an interest in the way in which sheep or cattle might be affected by access which anglers may have to their properties, and, indeed, an interest in protecting certain crops which might be growing very close to the rivers.

Indeed, if we carry it further and study another Bill which we are due to consider later this evening, it may well be that ultimately crofters may be owner-occupiers with established rights to fishing as well. Even if they do not establish rights to fishing, may be riparian owners in a certain sense could find that their own ground could be invaded by anglers, and thus a case is quite clearly made for the representation of riparian owners on the boards.

7.15 p.m.

As to what the boards can do, I have specified in New Clause 3 that the purpose of the boards will be to secure the opening up of freshwater fisheries to public use". I should have thought that might well have taken care of the point raised by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West concerning the development and improvement of fisheries.

Here I come to a very important part which is not incorporated in the new clause moved by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles. That is the consideration of proposals for protection orders made under an earlier clause of the Bill.

Mr. Buchan

I do not see why it should take care of the point I raised. People have public use, if they are prepared to pay for it, in some of the best salmon rivers in the Highlands. It is like the freedom to go to the Ritz for one's dinner every day. It does not mean much unless one has another form of control on opening up access.

Mr. Wilson

I do not really take the hon. Gentleman's point. If freshwater fisheries are developed for use, it will be one of the purposes of the area fishing boards to make sure that there is reasonable access at reasonable cost to freshwater fisheries.

My point, before the hon. Gentleman's intervention, was that a prime purpose of New Clause 3, and also of Amendment 5, which is associated with it, is to give to the area boards which I have envisaged the power to object to the protection orders which may have come from the landlords or the owners of the streams in question. If the board members find that the protection orders which have emerged from the landed interests do not meet with the interests of the local fishing community they will have the opportunity of saying "No" to such orders, with the effect that these orders would then presumably be taken back, and the landed interests might have to come back with amended conditions, which, again, could be subject to review by the fishing board.

I think that is a very real protection which, as far as I am aware from my own angling community, would be welcomed by them, because one of the fears they have under the present scheme, even allowing for the Government amendments which will be dealt with later, is that they do not have a proper protection against the protection orders which could be sponsored.

Since the boards would be operating at local area level, they would have a very good knowledge of local conditions and of the qualities of the various waters which might be affected by protection orders. It is certainly right that there should be this control because, as said earlier, freshwater fishermen believe, and are right to believe, that the fishing resources of Scotland belong to them.

The law or practice concerning trout has been rather strange in the past. Although the right of access to waters has always been in doubt, and the fish themselves have been what lawyers term res nullius—belonging to no one—because they are wild creatures, nevertheless, because of the nature of the legal process, there was very little that the landed proprietors could do to get fishermen out. We have reached a stage where it is agreed that, provided there axe suitable supports and protections given to local fishing interests, much more emphasis should be placed upon conservation and development of waters to improve the level of fishing. My local fishermen do not think this Bill will do that.

If New Clause 3 is accepted by the House I think that the angling community will be much happier with the situation than would be the case otherwise, even if the Government amendments go forward, because there are very real fears indeed that the rights of the public will be trimmed away and that the rights of access to the freshwater fisheries of Scotland will be reduced. New Clause 3 would give to angling clubs, because they would form the majority on the board, the right to decide whether the waters in the area should be let under the existing law or practice or go forward with the protected status envisaged in the Bill. I ask the House to accept New Clause 3.

Mr. Canavan

In principle, I agree with the idea of area fishing boards. I note that the new clauses and amendments under discussion refer to area boards of one type or another. Unfortunately, they are all diluted versions of the area boards which I proposed in Committee and have again proposed on Report in a new clause which has not been called.

The Scottish National Party intrigues me. Its main contribution to the Bill so far consists of complaining about not being represented on the Standing Committee which dealt with the Bill. The SNP has created a great public hue and cry, saying how unfairly it was treated by the rules of the House, and so on. I understand that the rules were applied, and unfortunately the SNP was not represented in Committee.

I should have thought that, after all the moaning and groaning about non-representation on the Committee, the SNP, now that the Bill is on the Floor of the House on Report, would have taken full advantage of the opportunity to table some good, strong new clauses and amendments. Looking at the new clauses and amendments tabled by the SNP, I suggest that they would make very little, if any, difference to this very bad Bill.

For example, new Clause 3 provides: Each Area Board shall within its prescribed area have as its object the opening up of freshwater fisheries to public use". That is a laudable aim which most, if not all, hon. Members would like to see achieved. But how can we open up something to public use unless we have some control over it? How can we have control unless there is some element of ownership? The SNP's aim in tabling the new clause may be honourable and praiseworthy, but I cannot for the life of me see how the wording, in the unlikely event of the new clause being accepted, would radically change the Bill to increase the amount of public access. The new clause, as it stands, is quite impotent. It is a cosmetic proposal. We cannot have public control over anything—fishing rights or anything else—without some form of community ownership.

I know that members of various Opposition parties take a dogmatic and bigoted stance against any form of community ownership. I should be the first to admit that some forms of community ownership in the past have left a lot to be desired in industry and elsewhere. We are still searching for the best means of community ownership in various spheres. But to take a simple subject like fishing and to say that some form of common ownership would present or create administrative and management difficulties is to misunderstand the situation. Frankly, I do not see how we can have any national co-ordinated policy on the administration of freshwater fishing rights without some form of public ownership.

The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson), taking a phrase from Scots law, said that fish were res nullius—nobody's fish. I should like to coin a new phrase. I suggest that fish are res populi—they belong to the people. The reason why Labour candidates were elected at the General Election was to try to restore the rights of the people, not to stick up for the rights of private fisheries and small exclusive angling fraternities, syndicates, and so on.

The only convincing argument against my proposal in Committee was that £250 million—I do not know whether that figure was plucked out of the air or came from a civil servant—would be required to compensate all the landowners and others who owned fishing rights in Scotland. I disputed that figure at the time. I asked for its source. I was not told where the figure came from. Afterwards I took the trouble to table some Questions. The answers were, to say the least, non-informative. I was told that the Secretary of State could not estimate the market or any other value for fishing rights within Scotland. The scare figure of £250 million was put forward in Committee to persuade hon. Members not to vote for my proposal. That was an unfair tactic. I hope that hon. Members will bear that point in mind.

Mr. David Steel

As the hon. Gentleman has researched the matter carefully, will he tell us what the real figure is?

Mr. Canavan

I have tried my best to find out what the real figure is. Neither the Secretary of State, St. Andrews House, the Scottish Landowners' Federation, nor anybody else appears to be willing to tell me. They certainly do not seem to know.

In Committee I said that we should not be speaking in terms of the market value of fishing rights for the purposes of compensation. I do not think that people should be compensated for some right, imaginary or otherwise, which was passed on to them by their ancestors. I believe that people who have spent money on the conservation and stocking of fish should be fairly compensated. However, I do not see why people who have inherited fishing rights through family lineage should be compensated. Perhaps we should give them a few free rods for themselves and their families in lieu of monetary compensation. If the principle of public ownership were accepted, it would be possible in time to work out some gradual extension rather than to think in terms of a huge, overestimated sum of £250 million of public expenditure at this time.

I should now like to refer to membership of the boards. The Liberal Party's proposal in New Clause 1 is for area boards based on the Hunter recommendations. The Hunter Report, in paragraph 143, states: The composition of the Area Board is a matter of importance, because a well-balanced, well-informed and responsible body will be needed to provide fair and efficient administration. Representatives of salmon and trout fisheries should between them have a majority, but additional members should be appointed to ensure that other interests concerned in the affairs of the rivers and lochs of the Area will not be overlooked and that independent views are expressed. When I first read that paragraph, I wondered who was meant by Representatives of salmon and trout fisheries. It is clear from subsequent paragraphs that salmon fisheries representatives are meant to be representatives of the salmon fisheries proprietors. It is only when we come to the trout fisheries that we find any mention of trout fishermen or anglers being represented.

Frankly, I do not find that part of the Hunter Report acceptable. If we are to get a fair deal for Scottish anglers, the anglers themselves must be in a majority on the area boards or the Scottish Anglers' Trust which I previously suggested. I dismiss the Liberal proposal with that criticism.

The SNP's New Clause 3 refers to a majority—— provided that angling club representatives are elected by the angling clubs and form a majority of members of each Board. That is fair enough. To that extent it is preferable to the Liberal Party's proposal.

7.30 p.m.

However, I am not sure why they have brought in the Scottish Sports Council. I am not at all sure that the Scottish Sports Council would be the best type of body to deal in any way with the administration of angling. Indeed, we can look at its record in other areas. I have in my possession an article from the Daily Record of 16th February. It is by John Calder who said: I see that the Scottish Sports Council is generously offering capital grants totalling more than £100,000 to 26 sports clubs in various parts of the country. He went on: Thornhill Golf Club in Dumfriesshire, a private club founded in 1892, present membership 170, has been awarded £12,450 to extend the course from nine to 18 holes on land to be leased from the Buccleuch Estates". He added: The Lochmaben Club, also in Dumfriesshire membership 248, is to get £10,250 to buy the land on which its 9-hole course is laid. Lest we think that the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) is getting some special treatment for his constituency through his contact with the Scottish Sports Council the article goes on: Turriff Golf Club, in the Grampian Region, collects £2,553 to provide a water supply to all 18 holes. It has some 175 members. And the Orkney Golf Club in Kirkwall, 18 holes and more than 100 members, will gracefully acknowledge £650 to convert a store into additional locker accommodation. That makes nearly £26,000—more than a quarter of the total hand outs—to be disbursed among four private golf clubs. If they really looked hard enough I'm sure the Scottish Sports Council could find more deserving beneficiaries of the taxpayers' money in some of the under-privileged areas of Glasgow and Edinburgh. I tend to agree with Mr. Calder. If that is the way the Sports Council is giving out the money it has at present, I wonder what it would do if it had any say in the administration of these area fishing boards.

The last thing we want is public money being used to develop exclusive clubs for golf, angling, or any other sporting activities or, indeed, any activity at all. I am sure that even my hon. Friend the Minister will agree that the aim of the Bill—whether it is achieved is another matter—is to extend public access and to make Scotland's fishing available as much as possible to as many people as possible. We want it made available not only to people who happen to live in an area of Scotland which is naturally well endowed with good fishing, but to people who are not in that fortunate position—for example, people who work very hard in the industrial central belt of Scotland and who like to go to other areas and do a bit of fishing at weekends.

My own constituency is reasonably well endowed with good fishing. It embraces part of Loch Lomond, Loch Coulter, Loch Carron and various reservoirs and even part of the Trossachs. Certainly fishing is within easy travelling distance. However, many of my constituents like to go fishing in other areas such as the Borders and the Highlands. They go on week-end expeditions which the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) does not like very much. Nevertheless as Socialists my hon. Friends and I are anxious that the good things in Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles should be extended to all Scottish people and visitors and not only to the locals.

Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)

I am afraid that I must rise to this rather wet fly. I ask the hon. Gentleman to bear in mind that all the golf courses he mentioned in Dumfriesshire are open to the general public on payment for a daily ticket. There is no problem of access. Moreover, to be fair to the Sports Council the hon. Gentleman might have men- tioned the large sum of money it gives to the Nithsdale Angling Club to purchase a stretch of the river Nith.

Mr. Canavan

I was quoting from an article in the Daily Record which referred to the private golf clubs. I doubt that if I went to play a game of golf tomorrow at the Thornhill Golf Club or to the Lochmaben Club I should be welcomed with open arms and asked to pay exactly the same price as the local members.

Mr. Monro

If the hon. Gentleman comes to my constituency, he will be welcomed.

Mr. Canavan

I may take up the hon. Gentleman's invitation to visit his constituency.

There is a real problem when it comes to fishing and this is where the area boards are not enough. Anglers want to travel from one area to another. The danger of having just area boards is that they may become too parochially minded, that they may want to be exclusive and cater more for the people within the area rather than thinking of Scottish people from other areas or of tourists from other parts of the United Kingdom and abroad.

I believe that the failure of both proposals is that neither has suggested a national co-ordinating body, whether it be called a Scottish Anglers' Trust or whatever, which would lead to far greater co-ordination between the different areas, whether the areas are based on the local authority regions or on, for example, the areas in the Hunter Report. No doubt at times there would be a clash of interests between the people in the various areas.

I suspect that people from the industrial areas would be at a disadvantage because they might not have as many good fisheries to bargain with compared with the people in the Borders and the Highlands. Therefore, the fairest way would be to have a national co-ordinating body, such as a Scottish Anglers' Trust, operating through some form of devolution or through the area boards. I believe that this would ensure a far greater degree of access and a far better deal for all Scotland's anglers, people from elsewhere in the United Kingdom and visiting tourists.

Sir John Gilmour (Fife, East)

I have some sympathy with what the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) said about the need to coordinate salmon and trout fishing. However, having taken part in the debate on Second Reading and in the Standing Committee, I believe that our proposals in New Clause 4 might be more acceptable in present circumstances.

Although I appreciate that the White Paper, which was published in, I think, 1971, by the former Conservative Government, mentions the area boards, I do not believe that it will be practicable to set them up. Therefore, I hope that the House will be more concerned to look at our New Clause 4 than at New Clause 1.

Mr. David Steel

New Clause 4, which stands in the hon. Gentleman's name, refers to such time as Area Fishery Boards are set up", so surely he must support the principle.

Sir J. Gilmour

We must face the practicalities of what will be made legislation. If we want protection orders let us do whatever is practicable to get on with them in the shortest possible time.

I do not think that it is practical to take New Clause 3, which has been moved by the Scottish National Party. I am certain that if they study the Hunter Report hon. Members will find that it is essential that the fishing board areas be linked with the estuaries of rivers rather than allocated on a local authority basis. I am sure that we must co-ordinate salmon and trout fishing because if one tried to operate them too separately, one would damage the interests of both. For that reason I do not think it a practical proposition to support either of these proposals, although the basic idea behind New Clause 1 may in the long run be a proposition that we shall come to adopt.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Hugh D. Brown)

We have had an interesting and general debate on New Clauses 1, 2, 3 and 4, the discussion on two of them being official. The thing which impressed me most was that, despite what people outside say about this House being remote from public opinion and out of touch with the grass roots, the contributions from all sides of the House have reflected the various opinions of anglers to such an extent that we are all completely divided. No one Member agrees entirely or in detail with any other, yet we are all not that far apart.

My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) took a great interest in this matter and was involved in it. I have come to the conclusion that the only thing more dangerous than a poacher turned gamekeeper is a gamekeeper who goes back to poaching. My hon. Friend at least recognised when he was dealing with these matters not only the complexity of the law and the arguments about the cost of acquisition, particularly of salmon, but the great difficulty over the differences of opinion among anglers themselves. That factor has certainly been impressed upon me over the last few weeks. I believe that we now have it about right, and I therefore suggest to the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) that he might be willing not to press his new clause.

Perhaps I may remind the hon. Gentleman of what I said when I announced our intention of putting forward proposals for trout. I said in September 1974: Ultimately there must be, as recommended by the Committee, a system of area boards covering all Scotland's rivers representing all those concerned with the development and enjoyment of those resources, with powers and sufficient financial backing to achieve their aim". Everyone recognises that in the long term there is much to be said for that conception, and when we get down to doing it through legislation there will not be much between us. I hope that my sympathetic attitude, which does not involve giving a specific commitment, will encourage the hon. Member not to press his new clause.

I understood that in one way or another the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) intends to press New Clause 3 and, if necessary, to divide the House if the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles withdraws his new clause. This is a reasonable time to create a democratic structure in the interests of all anglers, and the hon. Member is not entitled to force a Division on the basis of his proposals. The main objections coming from outside have been that we are doing something about protection. In his new clause the hon. Member admits that in certain circumstances, and provided that there is administrative machinery on a democratic basis, there should be protection. I guess that, if the hon. Member went to explain to anglers who are criticising the Government's proposals that he was in favour of making fishing for trout an offence where a protection order had been granted, he would not get much of a welcome.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

I know the club which the Minister has in mind, and I sympathise with him, but there is a demand for democratic control and the worry is that the protection orders which will be sought will be to the detriment of the angling community. There are different threads of opinion on that. Will the Minister indicate the Government's thinking on the time scale for introducing area boards?

7.45 p.m.

Mr. Brown

I can give no specific commitment about the timing. I say only that almost everybody is committed to the general principle when time is available to implement it.

Perhaps I should stress to the hon. Member that I am talking not about one club but about a general volume of representations made to me, particularly from the Dundee area, that there is no merit in protection. I am happy to have the assurance from the SNP that it is in favour of protection in certain circumstances and provided that the machinery is democratic. I am happy that it favours the basic concept of protection and of making poaching an offence, because that is the main burden of the hon. Member's new clause. There seems to be general support for the idea of a democratic body which is mainly representative of anglers. There is, therefore, so little dividing us that I hope that the two hon. Members will be willing not to press their new clauses.

Mr. David Steel

This has been an interesting debate, and we have had an interesting view from the official Opposition. I was brought up to draw a clear distinction between a Conservative and a progressive Conservative. The hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) is a progressive Conservative. The strict definition of a Conservative is someone who believes that nothing should be changed for the better. A progressive Conservative believes that it should be changed, but not now. The hon. Member for Fife, East well fitted into that description in the short intervention that he made.

My new clause has many advantages. It does not commit the Government to the precise composition of area boards suggested in the Hunter Report. What I seek in the clause is the acceptance of the principle of area boards as specified in the Hunter Report to administer trout and salmon fishing. It is for the Secretary of State to bring forward proposals for the House to consider when we get down to considering the detailed composition of the boards.

Mr. Canavan

The hon. Member's clause clearly says that the proposed area boards would be based on the recommendations of Command Paper No. 2691 of August 1965

Mr. Steel

It may be that we are dealing with semantics here. There is, I believe, a difference between asking someone to produce proposals based on recommendations and actually translating the recommendations into law. I say only that the principle should be established and that the details should be worked out by the Secretary of State. The hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) seemed to say that I and my constituents objected to people coming into the area to fish. Not at all. If they are coming in and paying their subscriptions, be they daily or annual, they will be welcome. The only objections that we have are to people exercising their freedom, as they do due to the lack of any law at present, to fish without making any contribution to the local clubs.

The majority of the members of an angling club in my constituency, of which I am a member although I shall not name it because I am not absolutely certain, are people outwith the Borders area. Those with a genuine interest in the fishing industry, from whatever part of Scotland they come, participate in a democratic way by promoting the interest of fishing.

The hon. Member for West Stirlingshire must recognise that his constituency has many advantages over mine. In the Borders we do not enjoy many of the social facilities that the more urban areas of Scotland enjoy. One of our assets is the valuable and excellent trout and salmon fishing. By and large, if area boards are established it is natural that they should reflect that local interest. There is nothing unfair or selfish about that.

I am concerned with the principle of area boards to govern both salmon and trout fishing. Even the Under-Secretary of State appears to become a progressive Conservative under my definition, because he says that in time this must come about. In looking at the history of the matter one is entitled to be slightly cynical. It a Committee has sat for three and a halt years and comes up with this recommendation, and then 10 years pass under successive Governments and still no area boards are set up, it is a little difficult

for the Minister to appeal to us to accept good will and the assurance that at some time in the future it may come about. If we do not write something into the Bill now, the Bill will be passed—it is a step in the right direction—and we shall hear no more about the matter. It will be an end of the matter for a good many years to come.

It is for that reason that I shall press my new clause, which has had the support of many hon. Members, and give the House a chance to place an obligation on the Secretary of State to produce more radical proposals within the reasonably near future.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 18, Noes 135.

Divison No. 76.] AYES [7.53 p.m.
Bain, Mrs Margaret Penhaligon, David Watt, Hamish
Beith, A. J. Raid, George Welsh, Andrew
Crawford, Douglas Robertson, John (Paisley) Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) Sillars, James
Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray) Stewart, Donald (Western Isles) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Freud, Clement Thompson, George Mr. David Steel and
Lambie, David Wainwright, Richard (Coins V) Mr. Douglas Henderson.
MacCormick, Iain
Armstrong, Ernest Gould, Bryan Maynerd, Miss Joan
Atkinson, Norman Graham, Ted Millan, Bruce
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Grocott, Bruce Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Bidwell, Sydney Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Moyle, Roland
Boardman, H. Hardy, Peter Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Harper, Joseph Newens, Stanley
Bray, Dr Jeremy Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Park, George
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Hart, Rt Hon Judith Parry, Robert
Buchan, Norman Heffer, Eric S. Pavitt, Laurie
Buchanan, Richard Hooley, Frank Phipps, Dr Colin
Campbell, Ian Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Canavan, Dennis Hughes, Rt Hon C (Anglesey) Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Cant, R. B. Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Rooker, J. W.
Carmichael, Neil Hughes, Roy (Newport) Rose, Paul B.
Cartwright, John Hunter, Adam Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Irving, Rt Hon S. (Darttord) Rowlands, Ted
Cohen, Stanley Jackson, Colin (Brighouse) Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)
Coleman, Donald Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Short, Mrs Renee (Wolv NE)
Conlan, Bernard Jeger, Mrs Lena Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Johnson, James (Hull West) Silverman, Julius
Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill) Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Skinner, Dennis
Crawshaw, Richard Jones, Barry (East Flint) Small, William
Cryer, Bob Judd, Frank Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Kaufman, Gerald Spearing, Nigel
Dalyell, Tam Kerr, Russell Spriggs, Leslie
Davidson, Arthur Lamond, James Stallard, A. W.
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Lee, John Stoddart, David
Deakins, Eric Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton and Slough) Stott, Roger
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Strang, Gavin
Dell, Rt Hon Edmund Mabon, Dr J. Dickson Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Dempsey, James McCartney, Hugh Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Duffy, A. E. P. McElhone, Frank Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Dunn, James A. McGuire, Michael (Ince) Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) Mackenzie, Gregor Tinn, James
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Mackintosh, John P. Urwin, T. W.
English, Michael Maclennan, Robert Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Madden, Max Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Flannery, Martin Magee, Bryan Watkins, David
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Marks, Kenneth Weetch, Ken
Forrester, John Marquand, David Wellbeloved, James
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) White, James (Pollock)
Gilbert, Dr John Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Whitlock, William
Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch) Woodall, Alec TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton) Wool, Robert Mr. James Hamilton and
Wise, Mrs Audrey Young, David (Bolton E) Mr. J. D. Dormand.

Question accordingly negatived.

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