HC Deb 26 November 1986 vol 106 cc261-3
35. Mr. Canavan

asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland what action has been taken by the Crown Office following the complaint of illegal fishing by the Duke of Argyll or his associates.

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

No proceedings have been instructed, but the trustees of the tenth Duke of Argyll have been advised that Crown counsel consider the method of fishing used on Loch Shira is illegal. I understand they are now seeking legal advice.

Mr. Canavan

In view of the complaint submitted last month by Jimmy Reid, is it not a glaring case of double standards for the Tory Government to introduce Draconian legislation in the House of Lords to penalise working-class poachers when a member of the other place is allowed to indulge in illegal net fishing on Loch Fyne near Inverary castle? Is it not another glaring example of double standards for the procurator fiscal at Dunoon to tell the Glasgow Herald that he submits cases involving the hierarchy to the Crown Office in Edinburgh? Is there one law for the dukes and another for the rest of us? The whole thing looks distinctly fishy to me.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

The hon. Gentleman's pun was certainly predictable. As I said, Crown counsel have said that in their view the method of fishing used on Loch Shira, part of Loch Fyne, is illegal. That method of fishing has been used at that location throughout the century without challenge and there has been nothing surreptitious about it. Thousands of tourists have seen it happening. There is no salmon fishing going on at the moment. There should not be anywhere in Scotland because of the regional restrictions, but it has been made clear to us that if, following a consideration of the particular legal situation in Loch Shira, that method of fishing is found to be illegal, it is not intended to resume it.

Mr. Soames

Has my hon. and learned Friend received any complaints about illegal fishing by the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) and his associates?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

No, Mr. Speaker. I have received none at all.

Mr. Buchan

The Solicitor-General said that now that the Duke of Argyll has been found to have behaved illegally he has promised not to do it again if the case is dropped. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman apply that to the full range of criminal actions?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

The hon. Gentleman should listen. I said that the Duke of Argyll has been advised that Crown counsel take the view that the particular form of fishing there is illegal. As the hon. Gentleman might appreciate if he knew anything about fishing in Scotland, a variety of techniques are used and various——

Mr. Buchan

May I go out and break a window?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

If the hon. Gentleman really wants an answer I shall give it to him.

Specialties apply to fishing in various parts of Scotland. The trustees' legal advisers have said that they will look at the matter and in the meantime they have said that there will be no resumption of the fishing there.

Mr. Fairbairn

May I ask the Solicitor-General this matter? Since the last time a Duke of Argyll was beheaded it was on the orders of the English, by a machine called "The Maiden", without evidence, would it not at least be reasonable for the Scots not to attempt to prosecute another one when there is no evidence either?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I can only repeat to my hon. and learned Friend that, following the information that was given to us, we have looked at the matter. There is nothing surreptitious about what is being done. If the hon. Gentleman had ever been to Lock Fyne he would appreciate that thousands of tourists have stood and watched this activity in the past. Nothing has been concealed from anyone. If, technically speaking, the manner that is being deployed is illegal, that will not be resumed.

Mr. Home Robertson

Since the procurator fiscal at Dunoon evidently understood that it was his duty to refer the case to his superiors in Edinburgh on the grounds that the Duke of Argyll was a member of the hierarchy, will the Solicitor-General give clear instructions to procurators fiscal throughout Scotland to deal with all alleged offenders equally?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

As the hon. Gentleman ought to appreciate, where there are cases involving any difficulty, particularly those relating to ancient fishing rights and those in which particular specialties may be involved, it is only sensible that they should be referred to the Crown Office. I seem to recall that on previous occasions the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends took exception to the fact that such difficult matters were not reported to the Crown Office. In particular, in relation to the miners' strike I was enjoined to make sure that exactly that happened.