HC Deb 22 April 1983 vol 41 cc517-21 9.37 am
The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith)

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 2, line 37, at end insert 'This subsection does not apply to Scotland. (3A) In Scotland any person who—

  1. (a) is the occupier of any inland waters;
  2. (b) carries on the business of fish farming in any marine waters;
  3. (c) has a right to fish for salmon in any marine waters; or
  4. (d) has a right of fishing in any private non-navigable marine waters,
which are in a designated area, shall be entitled, on application, to be supplied by the Secretary of State free of charge with a report of the evidence on which the order was made.'. This is a straightforward amendment, the effect of which is to disapply paragraph (3) of new subsection (2) in Scotland, and to provide specifically for the persons in Scotland whose fisheries or fish farming businesses are, in any designated area, to be entitled to receive as of right copies of reports of the evidence on which designation orders are made. Its purpose is to provide that holders of rights of salmon fisheries in marine waters in Scotland, or holders of any private rights of fisheries in non-navigable marine waters, shall be entitled to receive such reports.

The amendment is intended to provide for the appropriate distribution in Scotland of the reports of the evidence on which any order is made by the Secretary of State designating an area as infected or likely to become infected. It goes further than the provision for England and Wales, hence its need. It is necessary to recognise the privately held rights of salmon fisheries in Scotland and other privately held rights of fisheries which may subsist in non-navigable marine waters. The holders of such rights are in no different position from the holders of such rights in inland waters who are occupiers of inland waters by virtue of the definition in section 10(1) of the 1937 Act and as such are entitled to receive reports.

Accordingly, particularly given the scope of the proposed power to designate areas which extend beyond any one fish farm or cage used for fish farming in marine waters, it is right that reports of evidence should be made available to the fishing interests that are affected by such an order.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I do not envisage that restrictions on legitimate fisheries in such waters could or would be imposed under the power to prohibit movements of live fish and other things. The amendment arises from the different situation in Scotland that I have described and seeks to protect the legitimate rights and interests of those concerned.

Mr. Mark Hughes (Durham)

Will the right hon. Gentleman make clear the position of the river Tweed which is subject to separate legislation as a boundary river between England and Scotland? If he cannot do that today, will he make sure that the matter is considered in another place?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the river Tweed occupies a special place in fisheries legislation. The interest now extends beyond the Tweed because there is another river on the estuary on the west which is not so clearly defined and which has given me some cause for anxiety. It would obviously be stupid to apply two different sets of legislation if it were possible to avoid it simply because of the geographic position of that river and the difference in the law on either side of the border.

I have checked the position of the river Tweed and, without going into detail, I understand that no difficulties should arise. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to mention his concern about this and I shall take another look at the position before the remaining stages of the Bill are taken. If there are any causes for doubt or worry, I shall inform the hon. Gentleman and consider how they may be appropriately dealt with. However, it should not cause any difficulties or problems.

With those few remarks, I commend the amendment to the House and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie), with his ordinary fishing interests as well as his fish farming interests, will regard this as a sensible amendment and will be able to support me in recommending my hon. Friends to accept it.

Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Aberdeenshire, East)

How will the amendment affect the individual rod angler on the river?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The amendment should not particularly affect them. As my hon. Friend will know from his knowledge of fisheries on the north-east coast of Scotland, the amendment arose because the salmon netsmen who will be most affected by the legislation made representations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. They were worried that there might have been an element of discrimination against them in the Bill. I hope that there would not have been, but they made a legitimate point and my right hon. Friend thought the amendment right. Therefore, the amendment is intended to protect the interests of many of my hon. Friend's constituents. If he finds, when he returns to his constituency later today, as I know that he will, that that is not the case, my right hon. Friend will be prepared to reconsider the matter.

9.45 am
Mr. John Corrie (Bute and North Ayrshire)

The amendment deals with infected waters and the power to designate such areas. I rather feel that I will spend my time this morning saying that I am delighted to accept the amendments put forward by my right hon. Friend the Minister. I certainly shall be delighted to accept this one.

It might be worth while to say a word about the amendment for clarification. The new section 2(1) provides: If, at any time, the Minister has reasonable grounds for suspecting that any inland or marine waters are or may become infected waters, he may by order designate the waters and such land adjacent to them as he considers appropriate in the circumstances. It appears that the amendment applies specifically to Scotland and that the Bill covers England and Wales.

I was interested to hear the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) about rod fishermen. We have certain peculiarities in Scottish estuaries which apparently do not exist in England. For example, because hydro boards took over stretches of rivers and put dams across them the riparian owners who lost their salmon fishing rights on those stretches were then given netting rights on the estuaries and allowed to net for salmon. I assume that the amendment will apply to anybody who had such a netting right on an estuary.

What is the position of rod fishermen in estuaries with a mixture of salt and fresh water where species such as trout will survive in a reasonable degree of salinity? Some organisations may have fishing rights in stretches of such rivers—for example, the Tay. Would such people be covered by the amendment?

Having said that, I am more than happy to accept the amendment. Perhaps my right hon. Friend would like to reply to the few points that I have made.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie) for welcoming the amendment. I am happy to provide him with the assurances for which he asked. He asked about those who are affected by works on a river. The category to which my hon. Friend referred will be covered by this amendment and will not be affected in any way.

In my response to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie), I referred to netsmen because representations have been made from that source to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. That interesting problem arises in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East where there are several important salmon rivers. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire that not only netsmen but the holders of the rights of salmon fisheries in marine waters or holders of any private rights of fisheries in non-navigable waters will be entitled to receive the reports. That does not apply just to one category of fishermen but specifically refers to the holders of the rights and to the way in which they may be exercised. However, for the technical purposes of the amendment, that is secondary. The amendment seeks to cover the position referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 2, line 42, after 'person', insert 'intentionally'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 4, 5, 9, 14, 47 and 48.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The amendments are relatively sraightforward. Any contraventions of certain provisions in the Bill and the Diseases of Fish Act 1937 must be shown to be intentional on the part of the person involved. The amendment does not relate simply to fisheries or fish disease legislation, but is in accordance with Government policy and that of the Home Office, in particular. Without the amendments, it would be an offence for someone to take foodstuffs out of a fish farm that was subject to a movement restriction order, even if that person did not know that the vehicle that he was driving carried or contained foodstuffs for fish. The amendment will rectify the position.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie), who has promoted the Bill, did not intend that people should find themselves unintentionally committing a technical offence. The amendments fairly meet the purposes of the Bill and are in line with Government policy generally. I commend them to the House.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

The House intends, as did the Committee on which I was lucky enough to serve, that a person who accidently breaches the provisions of the legislation should not have the entire force and majesty of the law brought down on their shoulders. Has my right hon. Friend the Minister any evidence that those involved have made efforts to transport fish in the manner in which the Bill is designed to prevent? The spread of disease in that way can be costly, not only to the individual concerned and the entire fishing industry, but to the tourist attractions of the area. If my right hon. Friend knows of any intention to deceive in that way, will he inform the House?

Mr. Corrie

I am more than happy to accept the amendments. Clearly, people are innocent until they are proved guilty. It would be easy for people to make a mistake and break the law without the word "intentionally" appearing. I can think of many instances where people remove fish or eggs from a Dish farm or take foodstuff into a fish farm when delivering to several units in one area and do not realise that an order prohibits such action. I should hate to think that the Government would put anyone in the position of unintentionally breaking the law and finding themselves in serious trouble.

The amendments are useful and important to those supplying fish food and other requirements to fish farms. I wish to ensure that if somebody inadvertently delivers to a fish farm, neither he nor his company will be prosecuted. The same point applies to travellers attending farms to sell equipment and chemicals used in fish farming. I must have an assurance that if such people inadvertently break the law by entering a fish farm subject to an order, they will not be penalised. I welcome the introduction of the word "intentionally", and I trust that the House will accept the amendments.

Mr. Mark Hughes

Although I welcome most of the amendments, will the Minister tell the House —:l am specifically speaking to amendments Nos. 47 and 48—how an act of obstruction can be other than intentional, and why it is necessary to add "intentionally" to the present wording?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I appreciate the welcome given to this group of amendments, especially by my hon. Friends the Members for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie) and Harborough (Mr. Farr). As to the question of the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes), it is possible to obstruct unintentionally as well as intentionally. Technically it is possible to do so. I have heard the hon. Gentleman argue on many occasions for clear legislation. Alas, I cannot lay claim to be a lawyer or to have any legal training, but if the legislation is clear, ordinary mortals will be able to understand its intention. That intention is that nobody should be guilty of an offence if they have done something unintentionally. I hope that the hon. Member for Durham will agree that it is better for ordinary laymen to know precisely where they stand. The hon. Gentleman may be right, technically and legally, in what he says, but even so it helps if legislation is as clear as possible. To that extent, it is only sensible to include this provision.

10 am

My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough asked whether I had any evidence to show that people might attempt to deceive, and pointed out that unless such deception could be proved, they might be protected by the amendment. I have no evidence of that, and I do not think that my hon. Friend's fears are founded. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire would agree that if people tried to gain protection from this provision and to deceive in any way, it would become apparent quite soon. As has rightly been said, it is not just a question of a straightforward offence. People's livelihoods are involved if there is any spread of disease. I admit that people have done things that they should not do. Indeed, I have heard of instances involving animal diseases. However, the evidence for it tends to come to light. If anyone were sufficiently ill-advised as to adopt such a course, it would, I hope, quickly become apparent and be dealt with in the appropriate way.

The cases that my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire mentioned are very similar to the example that I gave of a lorry driver carrying foodstuffs and acting unintentionally, without any knowledge of the situation. The same would apply to a traveller or representative of a firm, who would be covered in the same way if he had clearly acted unintentionally. The industry has its own forms of protection. It is a small and fairly closely knit industry, although there is fierce commercial competition. Everyone realises that the prevention of disease is to the advantage of all. Those who serve the industry including, for example, lorry drivers who supply goods and services, and the representatives of commercial firms, have a general awareness of the risk of spreading disease and the consequent effect on livelihoods. I know from my experience of agriculture that those with any interest in the industry, or who are connected with it in any way, are ultra careful when any disease is apparent, and alter their routine and so on to ensure that the risks are reduced and removed.

Therefore, I am happy that we have not relaxed, but protected the rights of the individual in the knowledge that all those connected with the industry will behave responsibly and are unlikely to commit an offence, even inadvertently. I hope that what I have said will meet the assurances sought and that the amendment will be accepted.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 4, in page 3, line 36, after `person', insert 'intentionally'.

No. 5, in page 4, line 33, after 'he', insert `intentionally'.—[Mr. Buchanan-Smith.]

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