HC Deb 26 March 1986 vol 94 cc943-5
43. Mr. Canavan

asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland what communications the Crown Office has had with procurators fiscal or chief constables about prosecution policy for alleged offences connected with freshwater fishing.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland (Mr. Peter Fraser)

Circulars are issued to the procurator fiscal service from time to time. There is, however, no special policy, since the criteria applied to these cases are applied in all criminal prosecutions.

Mr. Canavan

Will the Solicitor-General send out to all procurators fiscal and chief constables a copy of the excellent letter of 8 April 1981 that was sent to me by the previous Lord Advocate, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, in which he stated that the common law position in Scotland with regard to both salmon and trout is that they are the property of nobody until they are caught and that, therefore, brown trout, for example, in an open and unprotected burn, river or loch become the property of the person who catches them and lands them, irrespective of whether that person has obtained permission to fish, and irrespective of whether that person is the owner of the fishing rights? Would not such advice be timely, in view of the fact that the fishing season has restarted in earnest and that ordinary, peaceful, working-class anglers are once again in danger of being bullied by water bailiffs, landlords and policemen?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

For once I am in complete agreement with the hon. Gentleman. It is indeed an excellent letter from the previous Lord Advocate, and I should be very happy if the contents of that letter became widely known. However, the hon. Gentleman should appreciate that in addition to the position at common law, which the former Lord Advocate set out, there are now specific provisions relating to protection orders, which are very important. Similarly, he should not understate the position with regard to civil interdict if some of his constituents decide to go on to other people's land and fish where they should not do so.

Sir Hector Monro

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that many of the fines for poaching, including killing fish with cyanide and explosives, are pathetic? What is the point of introducing such heavier fines in the Salmon Bill [Lords] if sheriffs and judges will not implement the present maximum fine?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I do not know to which cases my hon. Friend is referring, but he will appreciate that it is not for me to mention particular sentences. However, I am surprised that he said that, because I am aware that in Tayside the sheriffs have taken a very stern view of those who adopt these particularly appalling approaches to poaching, which cause the death not only of the fish that they catch but of absolutely everything that is living in the river.

Mr. Donald Stewart

What consideration has the hon. and learned Gentleman given to the provision in the Salmon Bill that convictions may lie on the basis of the evidence of one witness? How does he think that will improve the position of procurators fiscal and chief constables, and what steps has he taken to change that?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I am not sure that it is appropriate for me to comment upon legislation that is still to come before the House. However, I remind the right hon. Gentleman that under existing salmon and freshwater fishing legislation provision is already made for there to be action on the basis of one witness.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware of the bizarre practices in Stirling, and I dare say, in other areas, whereby illegal nets which have been confiscated from poachers are later auctioned off by the courts so that they can be bought at a discount by other people who can use them? Will he put an end to this practice and give guidelines to the sheriffs on this issue?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

It is a profitable activity, to which I am surprised my hon. Friend takes exception. He will appreciate that that is not, strictly speaking, a matter for me. There are provisions relating to the seizure of nets and catches. In those circumstances, additional fines can be imposed, not just a single fine.