HC Deb 04 March 1986 vol 93 cc246-84

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Mr. Mason

There is no mention in the Yorkshire water authority's last report of salmon poaching on the River Esk, yet there is no doubt that that highly organised criminal practice has been responsible for the poor rod catches and, therefore, the introduction of the 30,000 smolts. but the writing has been on the wall for years.

The 1982 report of the water authority said: Salmon catches on the river are still well below the longterm average and the trend is a steady decline. Even in 1981 the water authority said: It is sad to relate, salmon catches on the river"— and so on. The wording is the same. In 1980 it said: During 1979 there was a dramatic decline in the number of salmon and migratory trout caught by rod and line in the River Esk". Why? One reason is the undoubted take of salmon by drift netting at sea, but the other main reason is poaching.

In 1977, 40 illegal fishing nets were discovered on the River Esk alone; in 1978, 80; in 1979, 100; in 1980, 157, and in 1981, 180. Five persons caught in possession of an illegal net were fined—two of them £25, one £50 and two £100. None received the maximum penalty of £500, and none were gaoled. That was disgraceful leniency by magistrates. They imposed no deterrent measures, yet they had the weapons in their hands. Magistrates should realise that poaching our salmon rivers in Scotland, Yorkshire and south-west and Wales has become a national scourge and that it is incumbent upon them to help to wipe it out.

In 1982, in spite of the many criminal gangs operating on the River Esk, nine salmon poachers brought before the petty sessional division of Whitby Strand were found guilty and fined an average of £59. What an indictment of the Bench! As recently as last year 153 illegal nets were found, yet there were only 18 convictions. That is on one river—the salmon River Esk in Yorkshire.

I quote from a letter that I received from a member of the Yorkshire water authority. He said:

It is now necessary for the bailiffs to work in teams of four when patrolling the river, and the problem can only be contained by maintaining this level of manning together with the full backup facilities of radio and other surveillance technology and the co-operation of the local police force … Moreover, it is often very disappointing to have put considerable effort into obtaining a prosecution for poaching and then find that when the case cames to court, the fines are ridiculously low. The expense to the Authority of each case can be very high indeed, but the costs awarded by the courts rarely even partially cover the expenditure. Poaching is now big business. Poachers operate in gangs, creating intimidation on the rivers and using violence against bailiffs. They wreck the legal fishermen's boats and nets and put them out of business. They use high quality nets and even cyanide. In a letter, a bailiff in the south-west told me: The water bailiffs around Barnstaple have received physical violence from poachers—one bailiff had paint remover thrown over his car and there have been numerous cases of tyre-slashing … It has been suggested that a lot of revenue earned by these poacher crooks goes back into drugs and other serious crimes, i.e. smuggling of drugs into England, and most poachers seem to have criminal records in other fields.

Mr. Buchan

In view of the terrible situation, is it not curious that my right hon. Friend is content to leave matters in the hands of private security, in the form of river boards and water bailiffs, instead of having proper social prevention?

Mr. Mason

I have not dealt with that yet, but that was what my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) said when talking about providing better facilities and improving the water boards in Scotland. The water authorities want more facilities and more money, and it is incumbent upon the Government to assist them in this respect.

There have been many complaints of water authorities not being able to provide the requisite number of bailiffs because of the squeeze on cash. The bailiff from whom I received the letter was astounded by the information that I received from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which showed that 283 illegal nets were recovered from Devon and Cornwall—the highest total for any region—followed by 180 on the River Esk in Yorkshire, 126 from Anglia and 88 from Wales.

This is a widespread national criminal racket, and that is why I welcome the national licensing system. On Tuesday 4 May 1982 I questioned the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, on whether he would introduce legislation to control the sale of salmon through licence holders only. That is now in the Bill, so at least some progress has been made.

I hope that one of the penalties to be considered will be the loss of a trading culprit's licence. Once we have embarked on the course of prosecuting those who have obtained salmon in suspicious circumstances — as the Minister said at a very low price, received at a late hour, or by a backdoor transaction — and they are found guilty, their licence to trade should be in jeopardy. That is the sort of deterrent that is required. The receiver should be as guilty as the stealer. These poacher crooks must be stopped, and if we cut out the outlets and have the right sanctions for those outlet dealers who are found guilty, we have a chance of doing so.

The ban on nylon monofilament gill nets must also be considered. I am pleased that the Government are considering banning the carriage of monofilament nets in British fishing boats while Scottish waters, and also the use of gill nets to fish the salmon. That is another encouraging advance.

I shall not intrude into the massive, detailed management problems of the Scottish salmon fishery districts and boards. For me, suffice to say, the Bill has advanced from a timorous measure to more useful legislation. It may be better still when it is returned to another place. I support it, for the reasons that I have advanced, and although I know full well that it could be better, I shall not oppose it tonight.

10.7 pm

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

I am glad to follow the right hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason). He has always taken a firm line on the conservation of salmon and all fish stocks and he is known as a highly competent angler.

The right hon. Member's speech shows the paradoxical position of his hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) on the Front Bench, who is prepared to divide the House on the Bill. That seems quite astonishing. The hon. Gentleman is out of touch and quite wrong to criticise the district salmon fishery boards which after all represent the netting authorities and local authorities as well as the riparian owners. If those volunteers did not look after most of the rivers in Scotland nobody elsewould. The hon. Gentleman has set a poor example by his speech tonight for making any improvements in fishing in Scotland.

Bearing in mind the constraints of time and the breadth of legislation, I have to say I am a little disappointed that the Bill does not go as far as I would have liked. It is, to a degree, a missed opportunity. It is not often that we get the opportunity to discuss salmon fishing, and even less often that there is any legislation on it. I am glad that the Bill made good progress in the other place and had some valuable amendments to it that were either introduced by the Government, or accepted by them after detailed discussion.

I hope that we shall have a little more time before Committee, because we have to carry out detailed consultations with a large number of fishing interests, and consider amendments. I hope that we shall have at least a fortnight before the Committee begins. By then, too, the House will have had the advantage of the report of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs that deals with fishery protection, which will give valuable information.

Sadly, I have no interest to declare, having no fishing rights. However, I have a constituency with a number of good salmon rivers and a major salmon smokery, which provides much employment. There is also employment for those involved in netting on the Solway Estuary.

I am pleased that the Government are making changes in the district salmon fishery boards. Their structure had become somewhat antiquated and greater flexibility will be an advantage, although I see difficulties without some form of financial incentive or pump-priming for new boards to be set up where there are none now.

As my hon. Friend the Minister knows, I am keen, as are my hon. Friends on both sides of the Solway, to have a joint Solway board. I hope that we shall be able to introduce an enabling clause that will allow the district boards in Scotland to discuss with the North-West water authority the future of the Solway without having to come back to the House for primary legislation. This may be of tremendous advantage to salmon fishing in the Solway area.

My noble Friend Lord Gray said that we would close the river Esk loophole. I say no more than that, because it has been a difficult problem, but I would like assurances again from my hon. Friend the Minister that this will take place in Committee. I also hope that the North-West water authority will soon bring in a limitation order so that it can restrict the number of haaf net licences that is issued on the English side of the Solway.

I have studied all the detailed proceedings in the other place and I was disappointed that the Government could not see their way to support an amendment to restrict netting and other methods of fishing in exceptionally low water conditions caused by drought. The noble Lords who tabled the amendment won all the arguments but withdrew it. I hope that this will be considered because there is a tremendous weight of evidence in favour of it, although the Government kept coming back with the reply that they had no evidence to support the amendment.

One of the main objectives of the Bill is to deal with poaching. Parliamentary questions have highlighted the number of prosecutions. I noted reports in one newspaper today that there were no fewer than 2,300 nets confiscated on the River Tweed, and 240 prosecutions in that area. For one river, albeit a major one, that is an incredible number of poachers. It is right that the Government should take as tough a line as possible to stamp out something that has become intolerable. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, either in Committee later or when replying tonight, will spell out with the greatest clarity where we stand under the new provisions. The new provisions are particularly complicated and I have read contradictory views from the Lord Denning, and the Lord Advocate. I would like to know exactly what a bailiff, the police and the courts can do when dealing with the issue of poaching.

I would also like clarification about the position of the receiver, who is now likely to be prosecuted under the "suspicion clause". I am wholly in favour of the toughest possible line but I would like to have clarified exactly what that line is.

I am glad that the other place and the Government have brought in dealer licensing throughout England and Wales as well as in Scotland. As I have a constituency on the Border, I can see tremendous problems ahead if that provision remained for Scotland alone.

I believe that the heart of the Bill is conservation, although I believe that the Government are perhaps not taking a tough enough line on this issue. If we do not ensure that sufficient salmon come up to spawn, there will not be many salmon left in a few years' time. I am sure that the Government are well aware that there has been a drop in salmon stocks of nearly 50 per cent. over the past 25 years. If my hon. Friend the Minister of State examines any of the books of statistics on the subject, he will see that over the past 10 years in particular there has been a very considerable drop in the salmon catch. If there were no farm salmon, there would be a great scarcity of smoked salmon and other salmon products that are providing so many jobs in the United Kingdom for a saleable product.

It is vital that we get conservation right. We must examine conservation not only from the domestic aspect but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Corrie) said, from the international aspect. We have heard reports from the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation and we know from the last conference that Denmark will not do anything about Greenland or the Faroes and America will not do anything about Canada or vice versa until we set our house in order and show a greater interest in genuine conservation.

We must take a serious look at conservation. That will certainly mean—and I know that this will not be widely accepted in some parts of the House—that we must over a period of years, with compensation, phase out drift netting around the English coast. We have done that in Scotland although I accept that we still have fixed nets and stake nets and other forms of netting in Scotland. In terms of proportion, my hon. Friend the Minister of State said that 35 per cent. of the nets were drift nets, but the percentage of catch from that 35 per cent. is very high indeed. I hope that we will examine drift netting in greater depth when we deal with the Bill in Committee.

Many of the other aspects raised by hon. Members this evening, the large number of anglers in the United Kingdom, the attraction of income into the country, the large number of jobs in the fishing and haulage industries, tourism and hotels and the rural economy, all depend to an extent on salmon coming up the rivers of Scotland.

We must re-examine the close time for nets and drift netting. I welcome the Bill as a step forward but if three years elapse after the Bill is enacted it will be 1990 and then perhaps there will be two more years for arguments and discussions on statistics. It will be 1994 or 1995 before any further significant step is taken other than the important action which my right hon. Friend the Minister of State took in November when he announced further restrictions. We must shorten the three-year period and take action quickly. I hope that we shall take into the account the whole coast line, not just that from Yorkshire to Peterhead, as the Bill does at present. I want to consider the west coast as well as the east coast of England and Scotland.

We must not let this opportunity slip further. We must do all we can to combat poaching and phase out drift netting, with compensation in the near future. We can do an immense amount in Committee, but tonight I am glad that we are taking a step forward, and I wish the Bill well.

10.20 pm
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

I have no interest to declare, but I represent people who are involved in every category of salmon fishing that has been mentioned tonight. Drift netting at sea, netting in the rivers and angling are all relevant to my constituency's economy. I feel as passionately about conservation as the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), but that does not lead me to conclude that I should put any one of those groups of people out of business. We should find a way to conserve salmon while all those categories of people continue to derive a living from those activities and, in the case of angling, a pleasure.

This is not primarily a party political matter. Indeed, it requires considerable effort to work up a party political argument about any of these matters which cut across almost all party issues and party lines. If any area evokes old party controversies, it is the composition of district boards.

I welcome the Bill. It contains a useful collection of provisions to deal with salmon conservation problems. It disproves the theory that a rolling stone gathers no moss, because it has gathered a considerable amount in its extremely lengthy proceedings in another place. An hon. Member suggested that the Bill had gone through the other place expeditiously, but, far from it, their Lordships devoted far more time to this legislation than to almost any other legislation before them. There was a significant parade of interests ownership across the Benches. Obviously, it was a well-informed debate at every stage, although certain interests may have been more numerously represented than others.

A weakness in the Bill has been demonstrated in one of its Scottish aspects, the district boards. The Government's management proposals for Scottish rivers other than the Tweed, which already has its own management structure, cannot be described as a great advance in democracy. The proposals retain heavily weighted voting according to ownership and price, and involve the co-option of angler and tenant netsman representatives, rather than achieveing representation which can be respected by the people involved.

My noble Friend Lord Thurso sought hard to find alternatives based on matching the interests of owners, tenant netsmen and anglers and selecting a chairman without any one group dominating the process. Under existing law, he would be chairman of the Thurso district board in perpetuity, so it is all the better that he put forward better suggestions than those which the Government have so far put forward. That should receive more attention in Committee because it seems that the Government are continuing to give a great deal of support to the landowning interests of the upper proprietors, and to show insufficient concern for the desires of tenant netsmen and anglers to be directly represented.

I welcome the provisions to tackle poaching in various ways. The problem is massive. Hon. Members who represent the Tweed know how serious the problem is there. An hon. Gentleman suggested that salmon enjoy an uninterrupted course along the Scottish coast until they are suddenly slaughtered in the English nets. There is a curious use of words in which a fish caught by the right hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason) with a rod is not killed—mysteriously its life is supposed to be enhanced by its being caught by him—whereas a fish that finds its way into an English net is slaughtered. That is a strange difference in the use of language.

I was digressing, because the point made by the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Corrie) underestimated the serious extent of poaching along some sections of the Scottish coasts and which some of the provisions are intended to deal with. I welcome the attention that the Government have given to that. The provisions will require detailed examination because they represent some curtailment of civil liberty. I have to concede, as a Liberal Member who is extremely concerned about civil liberties, that existing provisions on the Scottish and English side of the border do not appear adequate to secure conviction. It is possible for somebody who, by any layman's assessment, must have been poaching to get off again and again. Clearly, the provisions need to be looked at in some detail.

I particularly welcome the decision of the Ministers, after the debates in another place, to extend the dealer licensing system to England and Wales. It would have been absurd to have dealer licensing only one side of the border. As a noble Lord said in the other place, his first act would have been to set up in Berwick, in my constituency, as an unlicensed salmon dealer with none of the restrictions that would then apply on the other side of the border. Clearly, it is essential to extend that provision to England and Wales.

I am worried about the way in which it is set out in the Bill. I hope that Ministers will look at the provisions of the Bill to see whether they can go a little further. I appreciate that the procedures will be a little slower than in Scotland because of the need to get agreement on how it will be done but I have two grievances about the way it is done in the Bill at present. The Bill gives the powers to the Minister to make orders dealing with absolutely fundamental things. It gives him the power, by order, "to create criminal offences". It also gives him the power to

make provision, … for the purpose of facilitating the enforcement of any provision made under this section. Maximum offences, maximum fines and maximum prison sentences are all set out in the relevant Scottish clause. I think that the Minister must look at what I think is the impropriety of including in the Bill the power to make orders specifying what is or is not a criminal offence and what is or is not a maximum fine or prison sentence. They are fundamental things which should be on the face of the legislation.

I understand that the Minister has brought the clause into the Bill in its present form following discussions in another place, but he should have time, and if there is not time he should give himself time, to see if we can get more of the basic powers on the face of the Bill. We should leave to order some of the mechanics, administration the decisions about which bodies are involved and the time of introducing it, which I hope will be as quickly as possible because I would not want to see a gap open between the Scottish provisions and English provisions. It cannot be right if we create criminal offences by statutory instrument. That is not the way the House proceeds and we should not do so in this case.

My second doubt about the way of introducing the licensing dealer system is my worry about the privatisation of the water authorities. If the authorities are privatised it does not seem right that they should become the body which decides whether somebody should be a salmon dealer. I do not propose to enter into the issue of whether they should be privatised—we all have views on that—but it does not seem appropriate for a private water undertaking, of the kind I have experienced, to make that decision. In my constituency, the water supply is already privatised but the water authority is not. The regulatory body is publicly accountable and that must surely make sense for the dealer licensing system. In fact, I do not see that it makes sense for the functions concerned with the licensing of drift netting to be carried out by private enterprise. I cannot believe that Conservative Members who are concerned about the drift net fishery can believe that it would be right, in the long term, for those powers to proceed to a private body when it concerns the decision as to whether someone may or may not earn his living by having a salmon licence.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

Some Conservative Members have anxieties which go further. They are not wholly happy about the prospects of angling interests being preserved if privatisation takes place.

Mr. Beith

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern. It would then be difficult to restrain the amount that would be charged to anglers for their right to fish. Currently, there is a considerable amount of subsidy from the water rate income of the water authorities towards fisheries management and fisheries conservation. My own water authority—the Northumbrian water authority—puts a great deal of money into fishery management and conservation. Indeed, it has been estimated that it puts more money into that than all the Scottish district boards put together. The present system avoids the anglers' licence fees going up to as high a level as they might. Therefore, there are a number of fundamental issues here which I believe are and should remain public regulatory functions. That will have to be considered in Committee.

Although I welcome the dealer licensing scheme, I still think that we could have made a more serious attempt to consider the salmon tagging option as a way of tackling the problem. That view is shared by many people in the fishing industry. I have in my hand a salmon tag which is the essence of the regulatory scheme operated in New Brunswick in Canada. That device could have been tried here. Fishermen in the Northumbrian area have made representations to me about it. Welsh anglers have said that they would welcome it if Wales were used as a pilot area.

Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnor)

We in Wales would certainly support salmon tagging. We are concerned that we shall not be able to trace poached salmon. I believe that the Bill should be called the salmon conservation Bill. We believe that measures should be undertaken to tag salmon in this way.

Mr. Beith

Obviously, I agree with my hon. Friend and with those hon. Members who at different times have pressed for a tagging experiment.

The Bill now contains, following its progress through the other place, provisions for a three-year review of all net fisheries up the east coast, including the Northumberland sea drift net fishery and all the river net fisheries up the east coast of Scotland. Some of the fishermen in my constituency have been worried about this. They have said, "We had the November measures which the Minister brought forward. We thought that we were then entering a settled period." They feel a sense of insecurity because, after three years, the issue will be brought up again. My argument to them is that I believe that the licensed drift net fishery has nothing to fear from a proper scientific examination of the basis on which net fishing is conducted along the coasts and rivers. That is one of the measures for which we have been crying out for a long time.

All sections of the salmon industry could then be told by the scientists, with some authority, "This is the position. These are the dangers. This is the amount by which the catch needs to be reduced or increased. This is the level at which you can continue to catch. We must now calculate how this can be shared." If we have the scientific basis on which to do that, I think that we can regulate the fisheries properly.

I therefore say to fishermen in my constituency that, worrying as it is always to have new dates and threats hanging over us, I see an alternative prospect. A three-year review could fully vindicate the drift net fishery and prove to be a powerful counter argument to people such as the hon. Member for Dumfries and the right hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason) who want to phase it out completely. If we talk about phasing out the drift net fishery, we are talking about phasing out the livelihood of large numbers of people. In my part of the world, Northumbria, we are talking about employment for more then 500 people in the fisheries. We are talking about an essential part of the year-round fishery. The fishermen who go out on the small Northumbrian coble have a balance of activity over the year, fishing for salmon, lobsters and crabs which, between them, provide their fishing livelihood. We cannot ask those men to go back to the hemp nets of past years any more than we can ask the anglers to go back to some of the methods they were using in earlier years. Using hemp nets depended on night work, which the Minister has now, understandably, restricted with his new measures. I do not think that it would be reasonable to expect the type of arduous cleaning operations that went with all the old nets to be part of the present life of a fisherman, which is hazardous enough anyway.

I am convinced that tackling the problem of illegal fishing on the Tweed in Scotland and in England is likely to produce a much more significant improvement in salmon conservation than any restriction imposed on the drift net fishery. Naturally, the drift net fishery must be properly regulated. That has been happening for a number of years. If overall reductions have to be made, the drift net fishery has to take its share in them.

Mr. John MacKay

I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman with interest. He is making some valid points. I have been listening in particular to his remarks about Northumberland drift net fishing. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman must know, if he has ever gone to the Tweed valley to fish, as I have done, that the feeling there, to put it mildly—

Mr. Home Robertson

I hope that the Under-Secretary of State was not fishing in my water.

Mr. MacKay

That sedentary intervention from the hon. Gentleman shows the miserable man he really is, because he has never asked me! When I go to the Tweed valley to fish, I come across people with strong feelings about the interceptory fishery in the constituency of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). I wonder, as a gentle chide, what the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) and my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) who represent the fishermen who fish on the Tweed, think about his fishing.

Mr. Beith

My right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) and my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) represent effectively the interests of their constituents. Indeed, we have all found it possible to recognise our common interest in salmon conservation and to appreciate that regulation should apply to all fisheries. There is no more emotive an issue in my part of the world than the salmon fisheries, and broadly speaking, all those who fish for salmon think that all other categories of people who fish for salmon should not be doing so. We must achieve a balance that will ensure that salmon are available for all those who earn their living from the salmon fisheries.

Dr. David Clark (South Shields)

Did the hon. Gentleman note in yesterday's annual report the statement that most of the 2,300 confiscated nets were taken from the mouth of the Tweed? The report went on to refer to illegal drift net fishing off the Berwickshire coast. Let us not put all the blame on the Northumberland fishermen.

Mr. Beith

I agree. There is a large box around the Tweed which no Northumberland drift net fisher may enter to fish, and in that area we have the most serious poaching problems. A feature of the Northumberland drift net fishery is that it is, to a degree, self-regulatory in that those licensed to engage in it do not want illegal fishing to take place in the area. The report showed that many successful prosecutions had arisen from information obtained from the legal fishery. The drift net fisherman has an interest in ensuring that his fishery is properly conducted.

The Minister has visited the fishery, as did his predecessor, and has seen for himself the way in which it is regulated. The measures that he has introduced will have the effect of decreasing the take from the fishery. The fishermen have themselves asked for some of those measures to be taken. For example, the restriction that the licence-holder must be in the boat—unless he is taken ill—when fishing is taking place was suggested by the representatives of the industry on many occasions.

Some of the Bill's other provisions will cause difficulties for that fishery. For example, the night restrictions will be a problem because of variable tide times. If a boat cannot get to sea over a four or five hour span because of tide conditions, an apparently simple night restriction may extend far into the day as well. Fishermen recognise that they must accept some of these limitations if they are to have a degree of security for their future livelihood.

I remain worried over some of the Minister's powers, not because I believe that Ministers should ignore such things as new provisions affecting fishing methods in Scottish rivers and the Tweed but because the parliamentary negative procedure is an unsatisfactory instrument.

In Clause 3, for example, Ministers are given powers to make changes overnight in what is a permitted fishery. When such powers are used, hon. Members can only pray against the relevant order. The matter will doubtless be debated in Committee upstairs, not on the Floor of the House, and in such a Committee there is no real vote. At the end of the day, one can only vote saying that the Committee has considered the instrument; and if one votes to the contrary, that has no effect and, anyway, even that action is not reported to the House. If Ministers get it wrong, hon. Members will not be able properly to represent the interests of their constituents. I shall, accordingly, table amendments at a later stage to have the affirmative procedure adopted for some matters.

I hope that the Minister recognises our concern in this matter. If not, I trust that he will recognise it by lunchtime tomorrow, by which time we shall have considered in Committee upstairs the problems that have arisen over the Scottish monofilament net ban. That will reveal how frustrated hon. Members and interested parties can feel if they cannot get across their point of view.

The most important objective of the Bill ought to be to exstablish a new impetus for the management and conservation of salmon. We ought to be able to pool our commitment in order to achieve that aim. It will involve a certain amount of expenditure—that is a weakness of the Scottish provisions of the Bill—if we are properly to look after our rivers. The north-east fisheries have demonstrated that expenditure and care can increase river catches. Some of the rivers in Northumberland, like the Coquet, have shown extremely good results. These rivers are within the area affected by drift net fishing, but good management has produced good results. Good management could do a great deal for salmon conservation. I hope that this Bill will help us to achieve that aim.

10.40 pm
Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)

Having listened to every speech, and having initially assumed that the Committee stage would be short, I now realise that I was completely wrong. The Committee stage will be very long; there will be a great deal to talk about.

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) in expressing the hope that the Committee stage will not be too rushed. The Bill received its Second Reading in the other place only on 14 January. It is right and proper that legislation should be debated at a measured pace to allow those outside Parliament to express their views on improvements to the Bill.

I agree with the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) that drift net fishing should be properly regulated and that fishermen must accept some limitations upon their activities. It is fairly clear that drift net fishing is not properly regulated and that limitations are not accepted. Lord Home of the Hirsel reminded the other place that the admitted catch in drift nets off the north-east coast of England totals about 77,000 but that it is believed that the actual catch is more than double that figure. There must therefore be scope for proper regulation of drift net fishing.

Mr. Tinn

I am interested in the noble Lord's assertion, but can the hon. Gentleman tell me what evidence the noble Lord or anybody else was able to produce to support the assertion?

Mr. Morrison

No, I cannot, but I suspect that the noble Lord based those figures on certain information. Even if he did not, he reinforced the argument of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed that it is essential that we should be fully informed and that there should be a proper scientific basis for the review that is provided for in clause 33.

I am surprised that on a Bill that deals with salmon management reference should he made to an increase in democracy. I am not sure that that will help the salmon. It is much more important that we should get on with dealing with salmon management.

Salmon are good to eat and exciting to catch. Thus they are born into a dangerous and unfriendly world. Modern technology is now available to man. Therefore, we must exercise control over our ability to catch salmon, if they are not to go the same way as the dodo or, at best, reach the dangerous state that was once reached by the American buffalo and that now faces the Arabian oryx.

A laissez-faire policy is no option if we are to retain salmon. In fact, such a policy is no option in any sphere. Fortunately, that has been realised for a long time, even though vested interest has often vied with vested interest about how and when man-made laws should intervene to protect what has been called the king of fish. Of course, it is not with man alone that the salmon has to cope. At every stage of its development in the river it is subject to predation from different types of bird and from other fish. The salmon has naturally learnt to cope with all of that. It is only when it has been in the sea for some time that the odds become stacked against it. There it runs into the first triumph or disaster of modern detection and technology.

I have a book entitled "The Salmon", published as recently as 1959, whose chapter on the salmon in the sea starts with the words: Once the smolts leave our rivers, we see little or nothing of them: we do not know where they go to; there is no evidence to show that they stay near our coasts. The author of that book was described as one of the world's greatest experts on the salmon. That was in 1959. Would that his words were still so, but they are not. Maturing salmon have been discovered in the north Atlantic where 30 years ago no salmon were netted. In 1985 the Greenlanders had a quota of 852 tonnes—a quota which I believe they did not achieve—and the Faroese fishery yields an estimated 120,000 fish. Small wonder, therefore, that between 1967 and 1984 world catches of Atlantic salmon have declined from 10,400 tonnes to 5,600 tonnes.

The first and possibly the most important consequence of the Bill, when enacted, will be that by demonstrating our concern and action at home we will ensure that the British voice will carry more weight in international councils concerned with the conservation of salmon. Those fish which escape the high seas fisheries must face the offshore nets and, above all, for many salmon the north-east coast fishery. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Minister of State has announced a weekly 60–hour close time for the north-east drift net fishery and also that the other place has already much improved the Bill by introducing in clause 33 a three-year review of the fishery and the insistence in clause 32 that only a licensee and not his agent may fish or net.

I should like three or possibly four additions to this part of the Bill. I say "possibly four" after considering again clause 33. This is why I was trying to interrupt my hon. Friend when he was introducing the Bill. In the context of the review, the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland have to take account of the need to ensure that sufficient salmon return to the river to spawn and that fishing for salmon by means of nets is properly managed.

There is no reference in that clause to rod fishermen. I should have thought that they should be included because, as I understand it, it is not necessary for a huge number of salmon to return to a river to provide as many smolts as the river can carry. So it is not only for spawning purposes that we wish salmon to return to rivers, we also want enough salmon to return to meet the needs of rod fishermen. That point should. be taken into account in the three-year review. If I am correct, clause 33 is deficient. But that apart, I should like there to be a phased abolition and prohibition of nylon monofilament nets. I agree with the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed that such nets are much more efficient than their predecessors. However, they do untold damage to untold numbers of salmon, many of which will undoubtedly die in the sea. Although the fishery itself may be traditional, there is nothing traditional about nylon monofilament nets.

I should like to see the extension of all weekend close periods for netting in line with what has been done already with the 60–hour provision. I should like there to be powers in the Bill to control netting when rivers are low, a point which has been made strongly already. There is no doubt that many salmon bide their time in the sea or the estuary when the river is low. The evidence is that the proportion of net-caught salmon to rod-caught increases dramatically in drought years. I do not know why the Government have not yet been prepared to accept the evidence which has been produced by some water authorities and which is now beginning to become available from others.

Before following the salmon out of the sea and, once again, up its river of origin, I wish to refer to another of its predators, the seal. I know that the seal is an emotive animal, but allegedly the United Kingdom grey seal population has increased to about 84,000 from the 24,000 at the time of the heyday of Scottish salmon fishing. Apparently, one seal consumes about 2 tonnes of fish per annum. That fact emerged during debates on the Conservation of Seals Bill of 1970. Obviously not all of that fish is salmon, but the increase in the seal population is bound seriously to affect the stock of salmon. This issue cannot be shirked and seals must be sensibly culled.

I have no doubt that the proposals to deter poaching and the licensing of dealers throughout Great Britain will be beneficial offshore and up river. I think that the other place did a good job by including England and Wales in dealer licensing. Likewise, I believe that the reorganisation of the system and the constitution of district salmon fishery boards are welcome measures, but they would perhaps be more effective if they were grant aided, as the previous Conservative Government suggested in their White Paper of as long ago as 1971.

Salmon fishing is of enormous benefit to the economy of Scotland, and surely that is justification enough for some grant aid. The amount of extra money which salmon fishing can bring into the Scottish economy is enormous and some of that is creamed off in taxation. I should have thought it a reasonable quid pro quo for the Government to provide grant aid for the district salmon fishery boards.

This is a useful and helpful Bill. It was described originally as a "wee…tim'rous beastie", but it has been much improved by another place. I hope that the House will improve it a little more. Even then, the Government cannot rest on their laurels. All credit to the Government for introducing the Bill, but the salmon is a resource of such infinite importance for food and sport that constant surveillance of the salmon stock, especially in home waters and in the Atlantic, must continue and action must be taken whenever necessary.

10.54 pm
Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

In the Gracious Speech at the beginning of the Session, about the only reference to Scotland was a commitment by the Government to introduce a Bill to protect salmon. In the light of the problems facing the people of Scotland, that tells us something about the Government's priorities

In the debates on the Bill in another place, the majority of the participants declared their interest. Many of them are involved in salmon fisheries as owners of rivers or estates. The Bill does not deal with the underlying fundamental issue of the feudal system which allows these landowners to claim ownership of wild fish.

It would not be in order for me to develop this point now, but I submit that there ought to be community involvement in the fisheries, which would protect fish and allow more reasonable access for the public.

I have sympathy with people who are stocking their rivers and are facing depredation from poachers. I have no sympathy with poachers who place explosives or poisons in rivers. They deserve everything that is coming to them.

That type of poaching is unknown in the salmon rivers of the Western Isles and the north. The references that I have heard have all related to the lowlands.

There have been references to the old "one for the pot" poachers, but nobody known to me can recall such a tolerant attitude on the part of owners. As the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) said, it is an absolute figment of the imagination that landowners give a benevolent wink when they see a man coming along with a salmon to feed his family.

The Minister said in his opening remarks that this legislation is aimed at those who are getting away with the wholesale poaching of salmon. Perhaps very few of us would take exception to that, but this Bill is aimed at one man and one fish just as much as it is aimed at those who are going in for wholesale salmon poaching.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

I trust that the right hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that poaching is not rife in Scottish salmon fisheries. Certainly on the Tay, which is largely in my constituency, poaching is a great problem.

Mr. Stewart

It would be ridiculous of me to deny that salmon poaching occurs. Of course there is some poaching on the Tay, and probably on every other salmon river in Scotland. I do not deny that for a moment.

The Salmon Conservancy—I do not know what body that is, but presumably with a name like that it has some interest in salmon—says: There are no effective, long-term conservation measures such as increased weekly and annual close times for the nets, restrictions on all types of salmon fishing in times of crisis such as drought". Of course not. This Bill is not about conservation. It is to protect — if that is the right word — the rights of landowners. That is what it is all about.

Netting is one of the obsessions of the landlords, although they do not mind netting their waters when they want a fast buck. I have seen them at it. They have induced the Government to introduce a prohibition on monofilament gill nets, although many Scottish fishermen are using such nets for legitimate fishing of flatfish and crayfish. That is the problem with which the Government will be faced. Despite what the Minister said earlier, fishermen's organisations in Scotland complain that they were not consulted before the ban on monofilament nets was introduced.

The clauses dealing with the district salmon boards are totally unsatisfactory. To quote the Salmon Conservancy again: The balance of influence on the boards still remains in the hands of the major proprietorial interests whose eligibility for election to the board is determined by the value of the fishery. Co-opted anglers and tenant netsmen have restricted powers only. In no circumstances can the co-opted members outnumber the proprietors.

There are clauses in the Bill that would be repugnant to natural justice and subversive of the long-standing legal axiom that one is innocent until proved guilty. In another place the noble Lord Grimond warned against departing any further than necessary from what he referred to as established principles of "British law."

I know about Scottish and English law, although I do not know of British law. However, I know what point he was trying to make. Clause 21(3) provides: It shall be lawful to convict a person…on the evidence of one witness. I submit that that is a change in Scottish law. Clause 22 says that if: the court is not satisfied that the accused is guilty of the offence charged but is satisfied that he is guilty of another of these offences, it may acquit him of the offence charged but find him guilty of the other offence and he shall then be liable to the same punishment as for that other offence. I should like to hear the Secretary of State's view on that as a lawyer. No wonder Lord Gray of Contin said that it was "a useful provision". The Salmon Conservancy says: the reversal of the onus of proof in the new regulations relating to possession has implications which go considerably beyond the salmon world". The House should bear that in mind.

There is nothing in the Bill about the new powers for water bailiffs. Clause 19(1 )(f) refers to powers of entry and search. There are grave concerns about those powers. I warn the Government that if water bailiffs are to have more powers than the police, who are trained in adherence to legal measures and at least have been approved of as respectable before entering the force, the Government are concocting a recipe for real trouble. Some of the estates have been far from particular in their recruitment of water bailiffs. Clause 19(1)(f) provides that an order may provide as to the exercise of powers of entry and search by water bailiffs and persons appointed by the Secretary of State under section 10(5) of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Protection) (Scotland) Act 1951. It seems to me that we are being sold a pig in a poke. Although the Minister said that there would be no change, the Secretary of State will give water bailiffs draconian powers.

This Bill is tailored for a sectional interest. The owners of the estates have real power. No marches or demonstrations for them — they intercede with the Government to defend their interests, and a Bill is provided for them. The Bill has nothing to do with conservation. It is offensive to natural justice. It is a landlords' charter with oppressive and despotic connotations.

11.1 pm

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

I shall be brief, as much of what I wanted to say has been said. I, too, welcome the Bill, and especially the improvements made in another place.

It would be unfair to ignore the contribution made by the briefing and discussion organised by bodies representative of anglers rather than proprietors, such as the Salmon and Trout Association and the British Field Sports Society. It would be quite wrong to suppose that the Bill is a landlords' charter. It sets out to protect, and does protect, the interests of ordinary anglers as well as riparian proprietors.

I am grateful to the Government Front Bench in another place for the concessions that it made, although I hope that the Front Bench here will not think me churlish if I say that there is still room for improvement. There is no evident need to rush the Bill into Committee. It is clear that some of the insertions made with the Government's agreement lack the polish which a Committee would expect. If the Government's business managers feel no compelling need to take the Bill into Committee for one month, I do not think that any hon. Member would complain.

There is room for improvement in the extent to which the Bill contributes to conservation. I hope that we shall be able to establish that it is—for it is—a major contribution in the war against poaching north and south of the border. That is good, but the Bill does not yet carry the seal of approval of those who want Britain to make a positive and conscious contribution to conserving the north Atlantic salmon. I hope that Ministers can remedy that deficiency at later stages of the Bill. Difficult as it may be to apply quotas to a mixed fishery such as we have in the United Kingdom, we must go a good deal further if we are to convince our partners in the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation. The Bill must deal with poaching in England and Wales as well as in Scotland.

In Committee it must be shown to be a workable Bill, and clause 28 will need some fairly close attention, because it is merely sketched out at present. We do not know what machinery there is to be to operate a dealer licensing system in England and Wales, especially in those areas where the water authorities are not used to running game fisheries and where there is the additional complication of the ultimate prospect of privatisation, which raises in dealer licensing and in the operation of an effective bailiffing system all sorts of problems, about which we shall need to ask Ministers some fairly searching questions, and on which I must say we shall expect Wine fairly convincing answers.

Although it may be true that the Welsh water authority, for instance, would like to run a tagging scheme, which most of us would regard as impractical in any other part of the country, if it feels that it needs powers to operate that scheme, I hope that it will not hesitate to come to some member of the Committee with an amendment that can be tested in debate. A tagging scheme elsewhere in the United Kingdom will never be practical, for reasons that are fairly well established. Therefore, we must have a workable dealer licensing scheme. We must also have a system which ensures that magistrates courts understand the consequences of changing the onus of proof and will apply it fairly and effectively.

Other parts of the Bill need improvement with regard to England and Wales. The restriction on the use of nets by endorsees is something that might be usefully extended to the coastal areas of Wales, around the Towy, Usk and Dee. The Dee is one big fish trap nowadays. I am sure that the Welsh water authority would like to be able to do something about it. It needs powers to enable it to act. It could be given power to restrict the use of licensed nets. That is something that we can discuss in Committee.

Not surprisingly, the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) said very little in his speech on the amendment. It is all very well to complain that a salmon Bill is not an appropriate measure for dealing with the problems of the sea bass. I am glad that he has a grasp of that fact, but when he talks about adequate provision for anglers or for the wider public interest, I think he should tell the House what he means by referring to the urgent need to conserve salmon and other fish species. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the Bill is insufficient, he should say what more he wants done. In particular, when he talks about protecting the environment of rivers and estuaries for the benefit of the whole nation's sporting, recreation and environmental interests, he should say whether those words mean anything or whether they are just waffle and padding.

Having listened to the hon. Gentleman, I acquit him of knowing anything about angling. His words merely raise the spectre of the professional recreation propagandist. They bring to mind the study which the Middlesex polytechnic did for the Welsh water authority, where 49 per cent. of those interviewed were canoeists, who are by no means friends of the angler or likely to be interested in conserving salmon. That sort of waffle and the meaningless verbiage of the Opposition amendment would be best not pressed to a Division, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends will not do so.

I would rather see the right hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason), who understands these matters and would make a useful contribution to the debate, serving on the Committee and making a constructive and nonpolitical approach to the problem, which is what I can promise will happen from these Benches, than have an ignorant absentee landlord on the Committee.

11.9 pm

Mr. James Tinn (Redcar)

One thing that should and I hope does unite us all is concern for the conservation of salmon. I know that that concern is shared by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), with whom I have discussed my contribution this evening, and I am glad to see him with us. It is particularly shared by the north-east drift net fishermen, with whom I have discussed these matters and who have been so much maligned, perhaps not this evening but certainly in the other place.

In the course of a speech which was otherwise moderate and unexceptionable, my eyebrows rose more than slightly when the noble Lord Gray, on moving the Second Reading in another place, spoke about falling stocks, poaching and so on. He defended the Government against accusations of not doing sufficient in the Bill and pointed out that existing legislation had largely been ineffective. He said that it had stood the test of time. despite the effects of such activities as high seas fishing and large-scale poaching".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 January 1986; Vol. 469, c. 991.] To lump together those two activities, one entirely illegal and the other a historical and legal pastime, as though they were equally worthy of condemnation caused my eyebrows, and perhaps my blood pressure, to rise.

No one is more aware of the need for restrictions on poaching than the sea fishermen of the north-east coast. They brought home to me the point that simply banning night fishing would do nothing other than assist the poachers. Legitimate fishing can be stopped, but, without spending a great deal more on policing and protection, sea poachers will not be stopped.

Concern for the fishermen of the north-east emerged even more clearly from the speech—the first of many that touched on this—of the noble Lord Home of the Hirsel. He said—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. Only Ministers in the House of Lords can be quoted here.

Mr. Tinn

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the other place the point was explicitly made that northeast drift net fishing should be modified and phased out. Indeed, we heard that from the Labour Benches tonight. That justifies the concern that has been expressed to me.

The fishermen of the north-east coast accept the need for restrictions. They observe them and carry them out, but they want them to be effective and fair. Above all, they do not want them to be based on some assumption that salmon have a nationality and carry passports, that because they happen to be born in a river north of the border they are Scottish, although they may then leave, swim halfway across the world seas and spend most of their life off Greenland or wherever before they come back. It must not be thought that if some English fisherman then dares to catch them he should look at their passport and pass them on with the best of good wishes to the Tweed, or wherever.

Accusations about the harmful effects on the North sea fisheries on the Scottish stocks do not seem to be based on any evidence. Dr. Derek Mills of the fishing and forestry department of Edinburgh university was until recently a critic of English fishermen, holding them responsible for declining stocks. Now he exonerates them and attributes declining stocks to a natural change in the fishing cycle. The fishermen south of the border accept the need for restrictions and will go along with them if they are equitable and fairly based. They should not be biased against those whose living and the living of their families over generations have depended on the fish and in favour of those who may have bought only time-sharing rights to Scottish rivers. The fishermen south of the border would not regard that as equitable.

I suggest to my Scottish colleagues, in all frankness and kindness, that, while they are entitled to look for ways of conserving the stocks, further action needs to be taken north of the border. They need to spend more than £400,000—I believe that that is a niggardly sum—on policing and protecting their own fish. A shoestring budget of £400,000 is totally inadequate to prevent the widespread netting of fish at night.

The towing of nets along the river is illegal, but two years ago when evidence in the form of a television video film was presented to a previous Minister, no action was taken. Something should be done about that sort of practice. I understand that the Scottish licence fee varies with the catch. This should be studied because, without wishing to be cynical, it encourages people to understate the size of their catch.

I draw the House's attention to the fact that the stock of salmon in English rivers is increasing and that of Scottish rivers is declining. Perhaps the fault lies with malpractice on Scottish rivers, and perhaps something more could be done—as we do at Kilder hatchery—to restock the rivers, which benefits all rivers.

It seems to me that the accusations against the northeast fishermen, where they are not based on pure self-interest, are due to the fact that the fishermen are too effective. They are effective, and that is what they are in the business for. The same accusation could be levelled against the West Indians, Australians or New Zealanders, yet nobody has proposed that we should phase them out of cricket because they are too effective.

Conservation should be the responsibility of us all. It should be continuing practice running from Greenland, the breeding place, and back to the birth place, the Scottish rivers and the English rivers in which many salmon are born. This is the problem, and it should be tackled. I am afraid that, if the views of many noble Lords in another place were given effect to, it would be the north-east fishermen who would be the endangered species and not the salmon.

11.20 pm
Mr. Neville Trotter (Tynemouth)

I shall also concentrate on commercial fishing on the north-east coast.

I remind the House that this is a long-established industry that goes back for at least a century. It is legitimate, wellregulated and one of the best controlled of all fisheries. It makes an important contribution to the livelihood of the coastal areas in the north east, represented by the hon. Member for Redcar (Mr. Tinn), myself and other hon. Members who may wish to take part in the debate. In North Shields and Cullercoats in my constituency employment in this industry is important. It is not just salmon fishing but fishing in general with which we are concerned, because the former cannot be taken out of context with the rest of the industry. It is a seasonal activity, and it would be ruinous for the other stocks in the area if the fishermen could not fish for salmon at that time of the year.

Ours is a much maligned industry that is unjustly blamed for anything that seems to go wrong in the rivers, especially in Scotland. It was blamed by Scottish speaker after speaker in the other place who was seeking to cut down on our fishing for the benefit of their anglers. I cannot see, if I were a salmon, why it would be any better to be caught by a hook than by the net. A salmon caught is a salmon out of the stock.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

is not the difference that in Scotland the rivers are being restocked in the hope that the salmon will come back, but someone else is ensuring that they do not come hack, and there is constant restocking without contribution from the north east?

Mr. Trotter

I am glad that my hon. Friend raised that point. I intended to mention the question of stocking on Northumbrian rivers and will now do so. In 1980, 252,000 new fish were put into the Northumbrian rivers, in 1981, 400,000, in 1982, 250,000, in 1983, 290,000, and in 1984, 286,500, which is a total of some one a half million over that four-year period. A large amount of new stock was put into the rivers in the north-east of England.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

Is not the difference between catching fish by net and catching them by rod that there must be a way to tell where they have come from? If fish are caught in a river, it makes the management of stocks in that river easier. Therefore, the conservation of the species is more possible.

Mr. Trotter

My point is that, in looking at the future of the salmon fishing stocks, we should look at all aspects of it, and that includes the numbers that are caught and killed on the rivers by line and rod fishermen. One noble lord said in debate that after 50 years' experience of fishing in over 50 rivers, he had noticed that the deadliness of the line and rod was a great deal more than it used to be. He referred to much more clever baits, and from what he said monofilament is as deadly when used by rod fishermen as it is when used by net fishermen.

We already have considerable restrictions on commercial fishing on the north-east coast. The number of licences has fallen from 200 in 1970 to 120. We have already heard that restrictions are to be placed on who can operate the boats—no longer will the endorsee of a licence be able to go out on his own without the licensee. There has long been a closed season, and now the restrictions on weekend fishing are to be tightened up and there is to be a significant eight-hour ban at night. A great deal is being asked of the north-east coast fishermen, and I believe that they will accept the restrictions—reluctantly, but as something with which they will have to put up. Enough is enough, and we should not further penalise those carrying on a legitimate and important commercial activity.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said that the poaching in the Tweed may be due to the fact that no legalised fishing is taking place there, and there are no legalised fishermen to report poachers. On the rest of the north-east coast the licences certainly act as very effective policemen in the prevention of illegal fishing. Nobody knows how many fish are caught illegally off the Scottish coast, but it is clear that poaching there is very great. Indeed, it has been said that the poaching in Scotland is on a systematic, continuous and massive scale. It is estimated that the illegal catch in Scottish waters is twice as great as the whole of the licensed catch in the north-east. That certainly needs further inquiry, investigation and action.

I find it hard to understand how it was that in the lengthy debate in the other place there was no reference to the number of fish being caught by the commercial fishermen in Scotland. When I look at the figures for the relative catches, as an accountant, that seems to me to be an astonishing omission. There has been a tremendous amount of comment about the amount of salmon caught off the north-east coast of England, but we hear nothing about the far greater amount caught off the north-east coast of Scotland. They do not catch the fish in the same way there, as they do not go out in boats like our English fishermen. They catch the salmon in nets set out from the shore, but the effect is just the same for the salmon. Indeed, it is a great deal worse for the salmon, as many of these nets are set not in the sea but across the mouths of the rivers and the estuaries; and the fish have far less chance of escaping from that form of netting than they do in the North sea.

The figures for this shore-based commercial fishing on the east coast of Scotland make very interesting reading. The rod and line fishermen in Scotland caught 65,000 salmon in 1982 and in that year the north-east commercial fishermen caught 50,000 salmon. The interesting point is that the Scottish commercial fishermen caught no fewer than 271,000 salmon. We heard nothing about this huge catch from the Scotsmen in the other place, who were so keen to attack the English fishermen, yet it is clearly by far the biggest problem facing the river fishermen in Scotland. How can they overlook that activity in their own area when they complain all the time about ours?

I welcome an inquiry into the salmon industry's future and it is sensible that the proposal in clause 33 to prepare such a report includes the activity off the north-east coast of Scotland. I will in due course read the conclusions of that report with a great deal of interest.

Reference has been made to the effect that seals have on salmon fishing. Of course, it is difficult to estimate how much fish is poached, and it is even more difficult to estimate how much salmon is eaten by the seals. One can estimate what an average seal eats in total fish in a year, but it must be hard to analyse its diet between the different types of fish that it eats. It must, however, be true that many salmon end their days as a meal, not as a tasty dish on a table, but inside a seal. The seal population is very large. There is an estimate that the seal population off the Fame Islands off the Northumbrian coast is some 8,010. That seems to be a remarkably precise estimate. Perhaps we might settle for an estimate of 8,000. It has been estimated that those 8,000 seals eat 15,930 tons of fish in a year—again surprisingly accurate—let us say 16,000 tons is consumed. That figure ties up with the estimate made by the hon. Member for Redcar of two tons of fish a year per seal. That is a very large amount of fish, when we bear in mind that the total salmon catch in a year in Scotland, by all means, is about 1,000 tons. We should not overlook the effect that the large number of seals has on the salmon fishing and the Government must give attention to this problem.

I have referred to the annual stocking of the rivers in the north-east of England with large numbers of fish. Hundreds of thousands of fish have been added to those rivers each year and many have been the contributions made by the north-east fishermen.

In conclusion, I should like to refer to comments made to me in correspondence by my right hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor) when he was the Minister responsible for fisheries in England and Wales. Last year my right hon. Friend said in a letter to me that a report prepared for his Department showed that— the total effect on Scottish East Coast catches in 1977 was only about 6.4 per cent. … the effect on total spawning stocks in these Scottish waters would probably be even less than this figure. In another letter sent to me at about the same time, my right hon. Friend said he had seen nothing to support the statement that the North East drift net fishery is putting at risk the survival of the Scottish East-coast salmon industry or of the salmon themselves. In my judgment, there is a real threat facing the commercial salmon fisherman as a result of the dramatic explosion in the production of salmon by fish farming. Obviously, if the price of salmon at the counter goes down that will effect the livelihood of the commercial fishermen and the huge increases in production are only likely to reduce the price. In 1985, 7,000 tonnes of salmon were produced by fish farming, whereas in Scotland the whole catch that year was about 1,000 tonnes. In other words, seven times as much was produced from fish farming, and that was twice as much as was produced the previous year. Estimates made by one of my noble Friends in his ministerial capacity show that that figure could double again in the next two years to 14,000 tonnes. That will pose a considerable problem for the Northumbrian commercial salmon fishermen, who do not need in addition to be unfairly treated as a result of pressure from Scotland.

There is a great tradition of commercial salmon fishing on the north-east coast, and the hardy fishermen there earn their living by their hard work often in atrocious conditions. These hardworking men deserve to be allowed to continue in that tradition.

11.30 pm
Mr. Martin J. O'Neill (Clackmannan)

The debate has been busier and longer tha most hon. Members expected. I have spent several days recently sitting through debates about the defence of the realm, but it seems that more interest is generated in the defence of the salmon and salmon fishing interests than in our national defence. Certainly the time that the debates took in the other place suggests that it is a major preoccupation there.

The Minister said that the Bill had three aims: the modernisation and improvement of administrative arrangements, the introduction of greater flexibility into salmon fishing regulations, and the inclusion of further measures to combat poaching. I have had representations from the Forth district board in Scotland, and I know that they have been made on an all-party basis to the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), who has the upper reaches of the river in his constituency.

The board's fundamental misgiving is the glaring omission from the Bill of adequate financial provision to secure its objectives. Certainly the imposition on all management boards of new responsibilities without adequate funding will place further burdens on ratepayers who must meet the cost of the boards. In this case the ratepayers are the licensees—the people who own the fishing rights. Some of them are not landlords but merely tenants and people of modest means who find it increasingly difficult to meet the demands, especially after the revaluation botch-up which has created considerable difficulties for some of my constituents who are working fishermen, not landed aristocrats.

Some misgivings have been expressed about the lack of definition of the right to participate in the boards. There is no qualification for those with previous convictions. They are not debarred from participating in the fishing management boards. There is no scrutiny. Providing an individual owns the land or is a tenant, he can, by one of the means identified by the Minister, achieve membership of a board. I hope that that matter will be examined in Committee. I doubt whether I can participate in the Committee debates, and I wish to make it clear, in case any Labour Whips are around, that I am not interested in attending that stage of the proceedings. I take the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) that once the Whips are on the move it is difficult to get them off one's back.

I do not propose to offer the Whips the flexibility which the Bill hopes to achieve on the issue of the seasons. It has been put to me by fishermen in my constituency that the opportunity to fish for salmon in February 1986 has been rather empty because of the inclemency of the weather. It may be that on the basis of experience this year we shall be able to move the dates from February to March and from August to September. I do not know how that would meet the demands of conservation, but some of the fisherman of my area feel that it would certainly be of assistance for fishing on the Forth.

Much has been made of the matter of poaching. The quotation from The Guardian today has been amply used concerning the tremendous level of poaching on the Tweed and the evidence that the poaching is organised crime with large sums involved. As I have said, it seems that the attention of the authorities has been directed towards the large poacher and is moving away from the small poacher. If that is the case, we shall have to wait and see. However, many of us feel that the enthusiasm and tenacity of the bailiffs in pursuing all poachers has been such that any small-time poacher who thinks that he will have an easy ride in the future is probably kidding himself and will have an unhappy awakening, no matter how sentimentally or affectionately we may view them.

We have had a discussion on nets, and a point which may be for the consideration of the Committee is the sale of nets. Much is made of the type of net, but I should have thought that a closer examination could be made of the people who seek to purchase nets. The display of a licence or the exposure of some form of bona fides should be made to the seller or manufacturer of nets. That would go some way towards preventing nets from getting into the hands of poachers.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because it will save me making a contribution. Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that there have been instances in the Stirling area of nets which have been confiscated by the sheriff court from poachers being resold by the sheriff clerk at a discount price although they were illegal drift nets?

Mr. O'Neill

There is a case in that instance for the destruction of the nets. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm for the defrayal of any tax imposition, but we must welcome small conversions, whatever form they take and on whatever occasions they arise. We must be grateful for the small mercy that we have seen a change in the hon. Gentleman's attitude at least on this form of privatisation. There ought to be closer scrutiny of the sale and destruction of confiscated nets. It would be helpful if that matter was explored in Committee.

Anxieties have been expressed on both sides of the House about many of the powers which have been vested not only in the Secretary of State but in the bailiffs. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) developed that helpfully for all concerned. It is important that, if we are to increase the rights and responsibilities of bailiffs, we should make provision for better training for them. If they are to appear in court and their testimony is to be afforded greater weight than in the past, those individuals should be adequately equipped and trained to state their case. If their evidence is based on what can only be regarded in Scottish terms as minimal corroboration, even greater responsibility must rest on them. The authority with which they speak can only be enhanced if they have adequate training. A policeman who goes into the witness box to give evidence is better trained and equipped for his responsibilities than many of the bailiffs in Scotland. [n some areas, bailiffs have been appointed simply because no one else would do the job. Their payment is not adequate. All in all, it is a very casual arrangement.

The Bill is viewed by the Opposition with some suspicion. We recognise the need for it, but we are always suspicious when the vested interests which the Government nakedly and openly represent greet legislation with the enthusiasm that this legislation received in the other place. We should remind ourselves that the main purpose of the Bill is to arrest the decline in stock and to ensure that we can prove to other countries where we are seeking quotas that we can allow the fish to swim to our waters and then can apply effective conservation methods. If we can ensure that this legislation achieves those aims, we shall have gone some way towards helping those people such as my constituents who eke out a modest income by catching fish in rivers such as the Forth.

Many of us still have some misgivings about the nature of the organisation, the unrepresentative arrangements for the fishing boards and the possible threats posed to civil liberties if the full powers afforded by the Bill are exercised in other than a sparing and sensitive way.

It is 21 years since Hunter was asked to examine this matter. A considerable time has elapsed before the legislation reached this stage. Even if we have to wait another 100 years, I extend my good will to Committee members. I hope that they ensure that the improvements I have suggested are embodied in the form which I think everyone wants.

11.42 pm
Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)

I am glad that the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) has given a cautious welcome to the Bill. I assume that the Labour Front Bench will now drop its opposition. [Horn. MEMBERS: "No."] I am sorry that the reason that persuaded the hon. Member for Clackmannan has not yet affected his colleagues on the Labour Front Bench. What a shame.

In contrast, I should like to congratulate my colleagues on the Front Bench on the way in which they have presented the Bill. I congratulate the Government on the fact that they have agreed to a number of amendments in another place which have strengthened the Bill. However, I should like to emphasise strongly that there is a great deal of hostility to the idea that the Bill should be considered in Committee before the many people outside the House and hon. Members have time to consider the amendments made by the other place.

As many of us have said, this is possibly the last occasion on which we shall be able to consider a Bill of this kind. It would be a shame to dissipate the good will which my hon. Friends have acquired merely to suit the convenience of the party managers. I suspect that, if any people are pressing for early consideration of the legislation, it is them.

I particularly welcome the Government's decision to review the effects of north-east coast drift netting and netting in Scottish and estuarial waters. The more I listen to the debate the more I realise how wise the Government are to take those two controversial issues together and so, I hope, avoid a clash between north and south of the border.

I also hope that the evidence that we shall amass will make us realise that there must be give in the north-east and in the estuarial waters. We cannot go on in the way we have been, in the light of the figures that have been given. It is clear that action must be taken, but it must be taken on a fair basis, and I welcome, for example, the extension of dealer licensing to England and Wales. Whale it may be said that the Bill does not go far enough, what has been done is based on common sense principles.

I was concerned when the Minister referred—such references have been made in the past—to what he believed to be facts which, in his judgment, did not support the view expressed by hon. Members on both sides that a serious problem existed with Atlantic salmon.

The Minister argued that compared with statistics of 30 years ago, there were probably no fewer salmon in our waters today. He said that we were merely in a cyclical situation. One can play with the figures, and one must examine closely what proportion is salmon and what proportion is grilse. No ghillie I have met would subscribe to the view that things have not changed. Most believe that the situation has deteriorated.

Mr. Bill Walker

More people are fishing.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith

My hon. Friend is right, but world catches of Atlantic salmon, as the Salmon and Trout Association reports, have declined—from 10,400 tonnes in 1967 to 5,400 tonnes in 1984—and Scottish catches have dropped by 50 per cent. in the last 25 years. That, according to the salmon conservancy experts, clearly shows a crisis of stock decline.

We are not the sole judges of the situation. There is worldwide concern. Hence the setting up of NASCO, the North Atlantic Salmon Conservancy Organisation, and the attitude of the Americans and Canadians to what they believe to be a serious situation. Little wonder that the Atlantic Salmon Trust, which is not prone to exaggeration, said: It is not at all clear that Whitehall fully understands the new dimensions of the world salmon situation yet … through the EEC being a signatory … the United Kingdom has a clear responsibility. The Canadian publication of 1984, "Atlantic Salmon Management Plan: Major Elements", stated: The Department of Fisheries and Oceans will continue to seek a reduction in the quota for the West Greenland salmon fishery … Canada will not reduce its interception of salmon bound for United States waters unless of course Greenland reduces the amount of salmon reaching Canadian waters. The Danes have said that they will not reduce Greenland fishing quotas, which have already been reduced, until the United Kingdom reduces its drift netting in England and Wales and its activities in the estuarial waters of Scotland.

For those reasons, the Minister's remark that we should not exaggerate these matters was not convincing. Even if we found it convincing, no other country would. We are all very concerned. It is little wonder, therefore, that people ask the Government to make more radical proposals.

I shall make a few suggestions which ought to convince the British people and the people of other countries that we are serious about salmon conservation. If there is to be a review of north-east drift netting and Scottish estuarial netting, why cannot it be extended to a review of the whole of British waters? It is not just a north-east or a Scottish estuarial matter. If one of the hon. Members with a Welsh constituency catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he will probably emphasise that point.

If we cannot persuade the Government to extend the review, I hope that the wording of the clause which provides for a limited review will be extended to take into account the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison): that we are not just concerned with reviewing whether a sufficient number of salmon return to spawn in rivers, although that is fundamental to the Bill, but that note should be taken of the suggestion that was made in another place that "sufficient" is too vague a word and that we must be much more concerned about ensuring that the optimum number of salmon return to the rivers to spawn.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food announced, much to our pleasure, on 7 November 1985 the standardisation of a weekly close for nets of 60 hours in the north-east drift net fishery. That standardisation ought to be extended throughout Great Britain. The Scottish close time is now from midday on Saturday to 6 am on Monday, a total of only 42 hours. Many hon. Members wish that period to be further extended. The Salmon Conservation Group argues that the weekly close time for nets must be increased to 72 hours and that the annual close time for nets must be increased to 212 days. I think that a total of 168 days is provided for in the Bill. The group makes the point that reduced netting would leave more salmon in the rivers. That is true, but it is no part of my case to try to put rods men against nets men. If we are to have a national salmon conservation policy, we must extend the closed periods and make them applicable throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom.

There is also the question of netting at low water or in periods of drought. I hope that the Government will take powers to allow the restriction of netting in periods of drought. I have spoken to people who have personal experience of it and I saw the effects of netting last year in very poor drought conditions. It puts the salmon at tremendous risk.

The Government say that the water authorities have provided no evidence and that they have not yet approached the Government. That may be so, but that is not the same as saying that the evidence does not exist. We know that estuarial conditions vary, as do the conditions in one river compared with another. The Spey, for example, has no estuary. There is a hole in the shingle; that is where the fish go. When the water is low, the fish are not vulnerable to netting.

I hope that the Government will ask the water authorities to co-operate and tell us what is the effect of low water in their estuaries. The Salmon and Trout Association informs us that at least one water authority has been able to show a relationship between catches by rod and nets over a 30–year period. It informs us that in normal times it is of the order of one rod-caught salmon to three net-caught salmon. In drought years the ratio went up to between six and 11 net-caught salmon for each salmon caught by rod. I am glad to note that the association will be seeking further data. If it is proved, as I believe it will be, that persistent drought conditions have a serious effect on salmon stocks, the Government should have ready in hand in the legislation power to lay before Parliament measures which will permit water authorities or district salmon fishing boards to introduce restrictions on salmon netting operations in periods of low water flow in rivers and estuaries.

I could make other points, but those are the ones that particularly concern me. If the Government give enough time to collect the voices before going into Committee and pay heed to some of the points that have been made on both sides of the House, we can expect the Bill to be substantially improved.

11.55 pm
Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)

The desire to speak diminishes as the hour approaches midnight, so I shall be brief. I virtually took a degree on the Hunter report. I came into office about a year and half after it had been published. Nothing had been done about it, and my first task was to spend a long time on it. I produced two solutions, one of which did not get past my immediate lord and master; the other was thrown out by a Cabinet Sub-Committee. I might have rescued it had we not lost the election in 1970, but that is by the way.

My solutions had very little connection with what is propounded in the Bill. Furthermore, there is very little in the Bill that will be of lasting benefit to the salmon fisheries. There is little in it about an analysis of and a response to the problems which the salmon fishing industry faces on the netting side or on the angling side. There is no sense of a scientific approach on conservation or anything like that.

The Bill will give further powers to water bailiffs. As the right hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) said, it is a Bill to give fresh reasons for sending people to Botany Bay. The proposals are a major backward step. I am delighted that my party has put forward a reasoned amendment. I regret that we did not simply oppose the Bill.

The legal implications of the Bill are curious. It is not guilt, or suspicion of guilt, that leads to an offence, but it is the fact of suspicion that is of itself the offence. That has been referred to by Lord Denning among others. In another place Lord Mishcon described what might happen to a commercial traveller who in good faith bought three salmon on a quayside at Lochinver. He said that the salmon might have gill marks which would not be recognised by the commercial traveller, who would not know whether they had been taken illegally. All that he could do would be to go into the witness box to show that the circumstances did not give rise to suspicion. It will be a new offence.

I am told that in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 there is a similar offence in relation to badgers, but that is different. In that case, at least one has to be seen in the act of digging. In this Bill, one does not have to be seen in the act of fishing. New section 7A in clause 21 says: (1) A person who—

  1. (a) is in possession of salmon and believes; or
  2. (b) is in possession of salmon in circumstances in which it would be reasonable for him to suspect,
that a relevant offence has at any time been committed in relation to the salmon shall be guilty of an offence If someone felt that circumstances in which he procured the salmon involved an offence, that in itself would be the guilt. It is an extraordinary proposition, especially in Scotland, where the basic security of corroboration that we have had under Scottish law is being thrown out of the window. Without corroboration, and in the light of suspicious circumstances, a man is ipso facto found guilty. It is extraordinary that such a provision should be passing through the House at the witching hour of 11.59 pm. As if that were not bad enough in Scotland, the provision has been extended to England. Clause 29 applies to England and it reads: a person shall be guilty of an offence"— it reads like the address of a 17th century Scottish preacher— if, at a time when he believes or it would be reasonable for him to suspect"— not that he suspects, for it is deemed that he should have been reasonable enough to have suspected— that a relevant offence has at any time been committed"— no particular offence is specified; there is no objectivity and no precision. There is no specificity about the charge— in relation to any salmon, he receives the salmon he is guilty.

There is the lovely provision in subsection (3), which reads: It shall be immaterial for the purposes of subsection (1) that a person's belief or the grounds for suspicion relate neither specifically to a particular offence that has been committed nor exclusively to a relevant offence or to relevant offences". There is nothing that is particular. However,

it shall be a defence in proceedings for an offence under this section to show that no relevant offence had in fact been committed in relation to the salmon in question. What kind of law is it that provides that if a man is proved to be innocent he shall be deemed to be innocent? We are faced with an incredible proposition, and yet it has been placed solemnly before us.

We know what the salmon means in Scotland, and especially in the highlands. The salmon means privilege. It has meant privilege, and it has been maintained for the purpose of privilege, and the purpose of the Bill is to maintain that privilege. That is what it is all about in the highlands, where King Salmon still rules. There is more power applied to, more prosecution of and more time spent on the odd fellow who picks the odd salmon out of a local river than there is in trying to create jobs for our people in the highlands.

It is a bad Bill and if we cannot see our way to voting against it, at least we shall vote for the reasoned amendment. I was born on the banks of the Helmsdale river, one of the best salmon rivers in Scotland. I was born alongside crofters who had been pushed down the glen in the clearances. They were not allowed to fish the river. If they had done so, we know what would have happened to them.

We know about the problems that arise from the existence of new gangs, which have been described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason). We know that they possess dynamite and cyanide, and my right hon. Friend suggested that they are involved in drug abuse. If that is so, these matters should not be left to a private security force. We have a police force to deal with that sort of crime. The community interest has not featured on one page of the Bill. Instead, the Bill has been designed to meet private interests. I believe that it will fail. The right solution is to take the waters under community control and community direction, in the interests of the community. That is the answer.

Mr. Bill Walker

What about poaching?

Mr. Buchan

We shall prevent poaching by community action. Legislation of this sort almost turns a national pastime into a national duty. There is a difference between that and the sort of poaching that should be prevented by community control. I wish that the Bill were being opposed, but at least we shall have the opportunity of voting for the reasoned amendment.

12.4 am

Sir Michael Shaw (Scarborough)

I am chairing a Committee and I had not expected to be able to participate in the debate. I am rather surprised but grateful to have the opportunity to do so. My local fishermen, with whom I spoke over the weekend, asked me to voice their views. They feel that they are being oppressed and that the drift netters, along with others in the north-east, are being gradually squeezed out. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, an English Minister—I trust that an English shadow Minister will reply to the debate from the Opposition Front Bench, as English matters are involved —gave an assurance that that is not so.

The Minister has visited Scarborough and Whitby in the past 10 days. I know that his visit was much appreciated. He will have learned from my drift netters their deep concern about the legislation.

I want to deal with just two points. I shall deal first of all with the drift netters, and then with poaching.

The right hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason) talked much about the river Esk, which is virtually all in my constituency. He was very inaccurate in one respect. I am sorry that he is not here, but he has taken part in the debate so I feel justified in saying this. He claims that the drift netters as well as poachers off the mouth of the river Esk, have caused the great scarcity of salmon in that river.

I spoke of this matter in some detail in the debate on 28 October last. I shall not go over it all again, save to say this. The Yorkshire river Esk is a real example of what I believe is happening in the rest of the rivers, especially in Scottish rivers.

The management of the river Esk, the riparian owners, the harbour authorities and the drift netters themselves are organised to keep the salmon stocks high. They are all making a contribution. There is no rivalry. The riparian owners accept the fact that salmon caught by the drift netters are not going into the river Esk.

What does this mean? It means that the salmon are not reaching the higher reaches of the river Esk. They are disappearing lower down towards the mouth, for the very reason mentioned by the right hon. Member for Barnsley, Central. They are being poached commercially by professional gangs. Large numbers are being taken. That is the source of the problem. I am convinced that the same circumstances apply to the Scottish rivers.

It is said that there will be a review in three years' time. If that review takes place I hope that all the facts will be brought out, but I fear that the main fact will not be brought out. How many fish have been poached at the source of the rivers? That is the key question. I do not know how my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will get this information, but those figures are vital so that we may make a meaningful comparison.

I believe that my own drift netters are justified in their fears. They need to have those fears allayed. Poaching is done in rivers, estuaries and seas. Often, the netters pay large sums in licence fees. They go fishing, and alongside them are people who have not paid anything. The netters go off to other fishing areas because their time is up. There, they see illegal fishing. Apparently, nothing is being done. I believe that if we are not careful we shall see the demise of drift netting and then the continuing rundown of salmon stocks. We must tackle the real problem of poaching.

I believe that if, in order to home in on the poachers, we have first quite unnecessarily to get rid of the licensed net fishers, that would be a tragedy and a gross injustice to those small fishermen who have been fishing for generations.

It would be tragic if a drift netter were not allowed to pass on his rights to the crew man whom he had brought up almost as his own child. I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to consider the matter carefully, to go for the poaching and to uphold the rights of licensed drift net fishermen.

12.10 am
Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnor)

I wish to speak briefly and mainly about Welsh interests.

I was brought up on a tributary of the River Wye which has been a playground of the privileged. It has been extremely difficult for people who live in the area to get access to the river. One of the problems that we are grappling with tonight is that many fishermen would like to fish our rivers, but cannot get access to them. If they could gain access, I believe that there would be far less poaching. We cannot achieve absolute access for everyone as that would defeat conservation measures, but there should be more access for ordinary people in the area. I have had the privilege to fish the Wye only twice, although I was brought up in the area and am a keen fisherman.

I declare an interest as a member of Aberystwyth angling association, which owns 12 miles of river. Many people gain access to the river, which is run in the best interest of the fishery. There is quite effective poacher control by members of the association. That is the way forward. Access has not been discussed adequately today.

Conservation of salmon stocks is extremely important. More resources must be devoted to increasing fish stocks by water authorities, even if they are privatised. The problem of poaching varies between different parts of the country. There is fairly innocent poaching in some parts of the country, but in others, such as my part of Wales, there is organised poaching on what I would describe as an industrial scale. It is almost impossible for water bailiffs to tackle the gangs involved. We must, however, protect our fisheries from this assault which depletes our salmon stocks.

I should have liked to have discussed many other matters such as control of netting, especially around Greenland, on an international scale. I do not want to prolong the debate, but there are insufficient conservation measures in the Bill and access is not dealt with properly. Control of the disposal of salmon has, however, been improved in England and Wales.

We in Wales regard salmon tagging as extremely important and I hope that we can show a lead to the rest of Britain in that respect.

12.14 am
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

That I am last to speak in the debate I suppose is to be expected because the largest and longest river for salmon fishing in Scotland is in my constituency. Indeed, it is probably one of the most important rivers in the world for salmon fishing.

It is not the fact that salmon does not come up the river but what happens if the salmon does not come up the river that is important. I was interested in what was said by the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) and the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson). They seemed to suggest that salmon fishing was the sport of the gentry, the well-off and the privileged. That is nonsense. If they come to the river Tay, to any of the fishing fleets on the Tay or to any of the hotels in which fishermen are to be found, they will find miners and people from all walks of life because fishing is one of the most popular sports. That is what makes it important to Scotland —the fact that it is popular and that it is worth between £150 million and £200 million to the Scottish economy.

More importantly, directly and indirectly it employs about 30,000 people. If we were debating a matter to do with an industry where 30,000 jobs were at risk, we would quite happily be prepared to sit until 12.15 in the morning. That is what we should be doing this evening. That is what the debate is about—what is happening to the rural economy in Scotland.

To find out why the salmon are not coming up the rivers in the numbers that they previously did, we have to bear in mind that there are many more people now fishing for salmon in all areas—drift netting, estuarial netting and the rod fishermen. There are many more rod fishermen fishing Scotland's rivers today. That is certainly true of the Tay, although many of the best rod fishing fleets on the Tay are unlet for the spring season thus far. I find that very worrying. Many jobs in my constituency are at risk. Tourism is the largest employer in north Tayside. If, indeed, there is another season when the fishing is not successful, there will be many fewer jobs in north Tayside. We have to find the answers.

I welcome the Bill. I believe that it does not go far enough, but that will not surprise my hon. Friends on the Front Bench. For any hon. Member who is interested, may I say that I have never fished for salmon in my life. I know nothing about it other than what I have been told by those in my constituency who are concerned about the impact on jobs. I am surprised to observe that Opposition Members find it fascinating and funny that I have not fished. They have a habit of thinking that if one represents a Conservative constituency one is part of an elite which enjoys all these different activities. Unlike the hon. Member for East Lothian, I was not born into that privilege. I won the privilege in an election—indeed, in two elections. I have not yet taken the opportunity to indulge in fishing for salmon.

My concern is that in the north-east of England it is not a question of fishermen fishing by the traditional methods; they are not. If they were, the probability is that their catches would be the same as they were by the old traditional methods.

We have banned monofilament nets, properly, in my view. I should like this ban to be extended to England. This is equally true in the case of estuarial netting. [Interruption.] Again, Opposition Front Bench Members find that funny. Thirty thousands jobs are not funny. I think that this is one of the most important debates we have had this year on the subject of jobs. It is more important than many of our other debates because these are real jobs that could go on for ever if we look after the resource that provide them—the salmon.

The debate is about looking after, caring for and protecting that resource to make sure that it continues. Nature has provided it; man is destroying it. We must consider how to deal with it.

It is also important that we should examine estuarial netting as carefully as we intend to examine north-east coast netting. I welcome the provisions in the Bill that take care of that. However, the period that we are looking at is a bit too long. I should like to see that shortened so that some decisions could be made earlier.

I welcome the Bill and the fact that rod fishing should be incorporated into any estimate of the river resources and just how many salmon are being caught legitimately.

I also welcome the measures to deal in some respects —it is only in some respects—with poaching. Poaching is a real problem. I was surprised to hear the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) say that poaching did not occur in his constituency. I have heard it spoken about there, so I can only presume that either those who speak about it do not know what they are talking about or that the right hon. Gentleman does not know what he is talking about. I shall leave it to the House to decide who is right about that.

The Bill is long overdue. We in Scotland welcome it. Those of us who are concerned with jobs in Scotland hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will accept some more reasoned amendments, just as they have done in the other place, because the Bill could be improved substantially so that when it becomes an Act it will make a positive contribution to the continuation of the salmon in Scottish rivers.

12.22 am
Mr. Home Robertson

With the leave of the House, I should like to reply briefly to the debate. It is a bit rich for the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) to go on about employment in Scotland so soon after his extraordinary antics on the subject of employment in the steel industry in Scotland.

I want to stress to those hon. Members who have suggested that it is the Opposition's intention to vote against the Bill on Second Reading that that is not so, because we do not want to obstruct the genuine conservation elements within the Bill. Nevertheless, it is our intention to seek to divide the House on our reasoned amendment and I have explained the reason for that. We have serious misgivings about the constitution of the district salmon boards in Scotland and about the manner of appointment of water bailiffs in Scotland. The fundamental flaw in the Bill is that it is a landlords' Bill. That is why it will fail, and that is why we intend to press our amendment to a Division.

Many interesting, detailed points have been raised, many of which involve complicated issues. The Standing Committee which considers the Bill could perhaps do with some specialist advice on the detailed points that have been referred to, and I wonder what the Minister of State's reaction would be to the suggestion that the Special Standing Committee procedure should be applied to the Bill.

12.23 am
Mr. Gummer

The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) is fond of the expression "It is a bit rich". It is a bit rich that a Bill which deals with a great deal of interest in the north-east of England should have been treated by the Opposition to a monopoly by Scottish shadow Ministers. We have heard tonight an attitude towards the Bill which is frivolous and peculiar. It is peculiar that twice we have heard a representative of a particular group in Scotland attack a Bill as if it were concerned only to entrench present rights. The purpose of the Bill is to extend and improve the conservation measures with which we all ought to be concerned.

It was odd that the hon. Member for East Lothian managed to turn something which ought to have had all-party support into a party political debate. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) did this, too, although it was quite difficult to do so. The speech of the hon. Member for East Lothian was typical of him, and he again raised all the old arguments about landlordism. We know why he did it—it is his annual speech of re-selection. Every year the hon. Member has to come up with something to show the selectors that he is not what he seems to be, and he chose today to do his Militant rain dance.

The hon. Member for East Lothian moved what he delicately refers to as a reasoned amendment. If it is a reasoned amendment, his explanation of logic leaves most of us cold. He has put forward views about the Bill but has not dealt with the central part. The central part of the Bill is to make it possible so to regulate the taking of salmon as to enable us to protect the species for the benefit of all who have a right to them. Dealing with poachers is central to the whole issue. As has been said by many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, unless one can control the poaching of salmon one is not able to have a conservation policy. We have shown that it is impossible, under the present structure of the law, to control poachers. For that reason, we have changed the basis upon which prosecutions may be brought.

I listened carefully to the comments of the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan), who suggested that people would be arrested on suspicion. There is no question of being arrested on suspicion. It is rather a question of being brought into court in such circumstances that any reasonable person would realise that the salmon which had been taken was likely to have been poached. The hon. Member's example gave his case away. Of course it is true that a man who has no knowledge of the effect of a gill net would not be brought into court because he would not be able, reasonably, to have suspected that a particular salmon had been taken in that way. If the man was regularly dealing in salmon and therefore knew a great deal about salmon, it might be reasonable to suggest that he ought to know that salmon bearing particular marks had been taken in that way and would have been taken illegally. In that case he ought to be taken to court.

If Opposition Members do not like that, perhaps they can find an alternative way of dealing with the problem. Some of them cast aside poaching as if it were unimportant when they know that it is now a major industry and a professional activity carried out by people who are not averse to using extreme forms of violence. These people are constantly destroying a resource which ought to be available to a range of people, both netsmen and rodsmen. The Opposition do their case no good by pretending that one can merely cast poaching aside.

I agreed heartily with my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) when he pointed out the importance of the employment issues. It is not for Opposition Members to suggest that we should not be spending this time on a matter which affects the livelihood of many people. I must say to my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) that to suggest that it affects people employed in Scotland is not a proper answer. He said that the Bill was bad for the Scottish people, but there are many other people in this industry and many of them are in the north-east of England and elsewhere. The Bill ought to meet the needs of everyone. That is why we are seeking to ensure that the measures that we take are fair to all the legitimate interests.

We have been tough on the north-east drift fisheries. From now on, those who have a licence will have to be present in the boat while the fishing is taking place. The longest period of weekend closing—longer than is the case in estuarial netting—will now take place. There will not be drift net fishing at night, and all ways of further controlling what is an already controlled fishery will be insisted on. All this will be brought into play, and we shall be able to see at the end of three years whether it has had an effect.

However, all this is not possible if we look only at part of the pattern—say, 35 per cent. We must look at the whole of the netting pattern, and it would be wrong to avoid doing so. That is why we are reviewing the whole lot. Thereafter, we can make reasonable decisions about what to do.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed kindly gave way to me when he was speaking about the Government's intentions. As I pointed out then, it would be preposterous to say in advance of the review that we would phase out the north-east fishery, just as it would be if we said that we wanted to phase out the estuarial netsmen or the rodsmen. It would be improper to do so, because the purpose of the review is to assess how best to protect this resource for all those who have a historic and reasonable right of access to a legitimate employment, or connection with it.

We shall not prejudge what will happen in the review. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed was fair to say that the review will suggest that some of the more extreme attacks on the north-east will probably be shown to be without foundation. However, we must take this matter seriously, which is possible only if we are able to deal with the problem of poaching at the same time. I agree with many of my right hon. and hon. Friends who represent Scottish constituencies that there is a problem in being able to check the amount of fish that are taken, because if so much is taken by poaching the figures will not tie up. Goods arrive in Billingsgate that do not fit in with the figures of what is produced legally. Therefore, the control of the poacher is crucial to the success of what we are trying to do.

It is not good enough for Labour Members to have a so-called reasoned amendment and not face the issue. We cannot deal with this matter unless we are prepared to deal with poaching. We cannot deal with poaching unless we change the nature of the evidence. I hope that some of the right hon. and hon. Friends of the right hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason) will remind him that he has a responsibility to the jobs of the people of the north-east as well as to those whose case he put forward. I am impressed by the way that Members who represent Scottish interests are prepared to watch the work and to take the evidence of the review.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) suggested that we should include rodsmen in the review, but he will, I think, agree that we are asking for a major investigation of the netting in both Scotland and England. That is a sufficiently large task to do effectively, and I wonder whether it would be sensible to extend it, although we could look at this matter.

Like others, my hon. Friend spoke about seals, which is now a matter at which it is almost impossible to look objectively because of the pressure outside. We cannot ignore it, but I hope that the investigation being carried out by my Department and the Scottish Office will soon produce an outcome.

I must take issue with the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) on his endorsement of poaching. His view of the structure of Scotland is somewhat out of date. The right hon. Member spoke about an attitude to Scotland which might have been acceptable in a barn-storming meeting 50 years ago. The right hon. Gentleman's comments about poaching, as if it was a vague thing committed by a nice chap who did not take more than one salmon from time to time, were part of the fairy tales which are so much a part of Scottish nationalism. My hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) rightly suggested that we must look at the situation most carefully. He related the problems of the machinery and the way that the water authorities will deal with the problem if those bodies take over that responsibility.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Woking would expect me to say a few words about dealer licensing. Dealer licensing in England and Wales is more difficult than it is in Scotland because we do not have the means that exist in Scotland under the Scottish form of local government. We are discussing with the water authorities whether they would be the right means of enforcement and licensing. They would obviously be the most sensible bodies to carry out such duties and they have said that they are willing to consider it.

We would envisage the licensing scheme in England and Wales as being extensive and it would deal with the vast majority of transactions. That would mean that many people who are now used to buying their salmon perfectly legally—perhaps at the back door of a hotel—will in future have to buy from a licensed dealer. That is necessary if we are to deal with poaching. We cannot have a half-baked scheme, and one of the reasons why we took some time to agree to have a scheme at all is that it looked initially as if we could not have a scheme that was honest. There is no point in having a cosmetic scheme, one which we merely put over to show that there is the same position south of the border as there is north of the border.

We now have the making of a scheme, but my hon. Friend the Member for Woking is correct to say that the matter will have to be examined very carefully in Committee. We will not have the full details, but we will have to address ourselves precisely to the way that it will be implemented.

I must tell my hon. Friends the Members for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) and for Scarborough (Sir M. Shaw) that their views of the north-east fisheries are exactly as I witnessed them when I visited the area and what my predecessor saw when he visited the area before he prepared that part of the Bill. I believe that fishermen in the north-east understand that these new regulations must work if they are to be able to stand up honestly and say that they must have the same acceptance and respect that any other users of this resource have. The proposal must work and we must enforce it.

That is why I have refused to accept the pressures that suggested that there ought to be other reasons why the licensee ought not be in the boat for reasons other than illness or accident. We cannot extend that because, if we do, it will become the excuse for others to point the finger at the north-east fishery. We must make sure that the proposal works and that the three-year investigation takes place on what is known to be a properly regulated fishery. Then if it seems that the fishery needs further restriction or if there were real reasons for it, we would know that they existed, and we would not have the kind of dispute that we have had this evening and in the past.

I should like to say a few words about the comments of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey). I must accuse the hon. Gentleman of having a fairyland view of poaching. He spoke about fairly innocent poaching. That is an interesting phrase to use. Can there be fairly innocent theft? Can there be fairly innocent murder and fairly innocent shoplifting? I wonder whether we are using scrumping language—that is, using words to pretend that one has a middle lane position? I noticed that the hon. Gentleman was working very hard to produce a position between this side of the House and his own side of the House. He was working again towards the traditional alliance position. On the one hand, they are against serious poaching but, on the other, they do not want to condemn fairly innocent poaching. Obviously the odd poacher or two votes in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. There may be the odd voter in Brecon and Radnor whom the hon. Gentleman does not want to put off at the general election.

Salmon tagging is not a possible answer because of the vast number of imported salmon. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to propose a special scheme in Wales which might offer some advantage, I would be happy to look at it and would not dream of casting it aside out of hand. All the investigations that I have seen show that tagging cannot work in a society such as ours where the access of salmon, especially frozen salmon, gives rise to a genuine problem of control over the tags. Once one does not control the tags, the scheme is tailor-made for an extension, rather than a restriction, of poaching.

The Bill is a major step in the control of poaching, the conservation of salmon, and the protection of the proper demands and rights of those who live from and enjoy catching fish, whether by net or rod. I am sad that what could have been a debate in which all sides of the House could have found a joint answer has been destroyed by the petty, old-fashioned, narrow-minded, landlord-bashing of the landlord himself. The hon. Member for East Lothian has committed the closest to trahison des clercs that I know. The landlord attacks a perfectly reasonable conservation measure on the basis that it is landlordism. I hope that will not have the success that the hon. Gentleman seeks during his reselection process.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 43, Noes 125.

Division No. 92] [12.41 am
Bermingham, Gerald Loyden, Edward
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Buchan, Norman McWilliam, John
Canavan, Dennis Marek, Dr John
Clay, Robert Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) Maxton, John
Corbyn, Jeremy Michie, William
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) O'Neill, Martin
Dewar, Donald Parry, Robert
Dubs, Alfred Patchett, Terry
Eadie, Alex Pike, Peter
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Fatchett, Derek Richardson, Ms Jo
Foster, Derek Rowlands, Ted
Foulkes, George Skinner, Dennis
Godman, Dr Norman Strang, Gavin
Hamilton, James (M'well N) Tinn, James
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Wigley, Dafydd
Home Robertson, John
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Tellers for the Ayes:
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Mr. Don Dixon and
Lamont, Norman Mr. Frank Haynes.
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Alexander, Richard Beith, A. J.
Alton, David Bevan, David Gilroy
Ancram, Michael Blackburn, John
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Boscawen, Hon Robert
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Lord, Michael
Bruinvels, Peter Lyell, Nicholas
Carlisle, John (Luton N) MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)
Carttiss, Michael MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)
Cash, William Maclean, David John
Colvin, Michael Major, John
Cope, John Malone, Gerald
Corrie, John Marland, Paul
Couchman, James Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Dorrell, Stephen Mather, Carol
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Durant, Tony Mellor, David
Dykes, Hugh Merchant, Piers
Emery, Sir Peter Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Forth, Eric Mitchell, David (Hants NW)
Fraser, Peter (Angus East) Monro, Sir Hector
Galley, Roy Morris, M. (N'hampton S)
Garel-Jones, Tristan Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Gregory, Conal Moynihan, Hon C.
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Newton, Tony
Gummer, Rt Hon John S Normanton, Tom
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) Onslow, Cranley
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Oppenheim, Phillip
Hargreaves, Kenneth Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Harris, David Proctor, K. Harvey
Haselhurst, Alan Raffan, Keith
Hayes, J. Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Heathcoat-Amory, David Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Heddle, John Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Hicks, Robert Rowe, Andrew
Holt, Richard Sayeed, Jonathan
Howard, Michael Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Jones, Robert (Herts W) Soames, Hon Nicholas
Key, Robert Speed, Keith
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Spencer, Derek
Kirkwood, Archy Stanbrook, Ivor
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Steel, Rt Hon David
Knowles, Michael Stern, Michael
Lamont, Norman Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Lang, Ian Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Latham, Michael Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Sumberg, David
Lester, Jim Taylor, John (Solihull)
Lilley, Peter Terlezki, Stefan
Livsey, Richard Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Thompson, Donald (Calder V) Whitney, Raymond
Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Thurnham, Peter Wolfson, Mark
Trotter, Neville Wood, Timothy
Walker, Bill (T'side N) Yeo, Tim
Waller, Gary
Wardle, C. (Bexhill) Tellers for the Noes:
Watts, John Mr. Michael Neubert and
Wheeler, John Mr. Tim Sainsbury.
Whitfield, John

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 41 (Amendment on Second or Third Reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 42 (Committal of Bills).