HC Deb 23 October 1986 vol 102 cc1355-88

  1. (1) The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and Secretaries of State acting jointly shall within three months of this Act coming into force, establish an advisory committee to consider such matters relating to the conservation of salmon as the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretaries of State or any of them shall from time to time refer to it.
  2. (2) The Committee shall present its first report to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretaries of State no later than twelve months after the coming into force of this Act and thereafter annually on the anniversary of the first report.
  3. (3) Without prejudice to the provisions of subsections (1) and (2) above, it shall be the duty of the advisory committee to consider in the aforementioned first report whether the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and Secretaries of State or any of them should be conferred with powers which would enable a scheme or schemes to he introduced for the better regulation of salmon fisheries including the more effective collection of catch statistics.
  4. (4) The advisory committee may appoint sub committees for England, Wales and Scotland to report upon such matters and at such times as it considers appropriate.'. — [Mr. Randall.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Randall

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

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take the following: New clause 5 — Measures for conservation of salmon'(1) The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretaries of State or any of them may, for the better regulation of salmon fisheries in accordance with the provisions of subsection (3) of Section (Advisory Committee on Salmon Conservation) by order made by statutory instrument make such provision in relation to the conservation of salmon as they consider appropriate, including a provision for prohibiting persons in such cases as may be specified in the order, from being in possession of salmon to which a tag authorised and issued by a responsible authority has not been affixed. (2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) above any order under that subsection prohibiting persons from being in possession of any salmon to which an authorised tag has not been affixed;

  1. (i) May make provision for the following matters:—
  2. 1356
    1. (a)the type of material to be used in the manufacture of the tag, its method of construction and the manner of attachment to the salmon,
    2. (b) the individual numbering of tags and for tags of different descriptions to be issued to different persons for different purposes;
    3. (c) the specification of the duration of the validity of tags and make provision for the return of unused tags to the issuing responsible authorities;
    4. (d) the creation of criminal offences consisting in the contravention of or failure to comply with provisions made under this section; and
    5. (e) the enforcement of any provision made under this section.
  3. (ii) Shall be such as to secure that the following persons shall not be guilty of offence:—
    1. (a) any person licensed as a dealer in salmon in accordance with the provisions of an order made under section 28 of this Act, by virtue of his being in bona fide possession of an untagged fish prior to disposal; and
    2. (b) any person who imports a salmon into any area which is subject to an order made under this section, other than for the purpose of dealing in salmon or otherwise gaining from its disposal.
(3) Without prejudice to the provisions of paragraph (b) of subsection (2)(i) above, an order under this section may—
  1. (i) make different provision for different cases; and
  2. (ii) contain such incidental, supplemental and transitional provision as appears to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretaries of State, or any of them, to be necessary or expedient.
(4) No order shall be made under the section unless a draft of the order has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of each house of parliament. (5) In this section "responsible authority" means, in relation to England and Wales, the relevant water authority and, in relation to Scotland, the relevant district salmon fishery board.'.

New clause 6—Measures for the better regulation of salmon fisheries'(1) The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretaries of State or any of them, may, for the better regulation of salmon fisheries in accordance with the provisions of subsection (3) of section (Advisory committee on salmon conservation), by order made by statutory instrument make provision for a scheme or schemes which will facilitate the more effective collection of catch statistics by providing for the tagging of all salmon lawfully taken within England and Wales or Scotland. (2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) above, an order under this section may make provision for the following matters.

  1. (a) the type of material to he used in the manufacture of the tag, its method of construction and the manner of attachment to the salmon;
  2. (b) the individual numbering of tags and for tags of different descriptions to be issued to different persons for different purposes;
  3. (c) the specification of the duration of the validity of tags and the return of unused tags to the issuing responsible authorities;
  4. (d) the creation of criminal offences consisting in the contravention of or failure to comply with provisions made under this section; and
  5. (e) the enforcement of any provision made under this section.
(3) Without prejudice to the provisions of paragraph (b) of subsection (2) above, an order under this section may—
  1. (i) make different provision for different cases; and
  2. (ii) contain such incidental, supplemental and transitional provision as appears to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretaries of State, or any of them, to be necessary or expedient.
(4) A statutory instrument containing an order under this section shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.'. Amendment (a) to new clause 6, leave out subsection (4), and insert— `(4) No order shall be made under this section unless a draft of the order has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.'.

New clause 9—Moratorium on net fishing in River Tay

  1. (1) The Secretary of State for Scotland shall lay before Parliament, before 31st December 1986, an order for a moratorium on all net fishing for salmon in the River Tay and its tributaries.
  2. (2) The order for a moratorium and any order to amend or end the moratorium shall require the approval of the House of Commons by affirmative resolution.'.

Mr. Randall

New clause 4 deals with the establishment of a statutory advisory committee on conservation, new clause 5 provides enabling powers for the Minister to introduce conservation regulations and new clause 6 deals with the more effective collection of catch statistics.

In June we were delighted when the Minister of State came to the Standing Committee and announced as a concession to the Opposition that he intended to establish an advisory committee.

Mr. Onslow

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Randall

I shall not give way immediately, because I have only just begun.

The purpose of the advisory committee is to collect more accurate information and to establish effective fishery management regimes. I was pleased when the Minister made that announcement, and I have read Hansard carefully to see what he said.

Some hon. Members were genuinely concerned about the slant of the Bill. We had been working on it for some weeks and we did not seem to be addressing fully—at least certainly not to my satisfaction or to that of hon. Members on both sides—the issue of conservation. We were spending most of our time debating who would be represented oil the boards and the fight between netsmen and rod-and-line men— I see Conservative Members nodding—and we were greatly worried. I was delighted when the Minister attended the Committee—because he obviously recognised that the Bill was in trouble—and announced the establishment of the advisory committee. Essentially, we have bolted on to the Bill the advisory committee, which will deal with conservation, among other matters.

Mr. Gummer

I have checked this matter carefully, and I want the House to be fully aware of the discussions in Committee. I announced the proposal for an advisory committee in response to the cogent arguments put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) and other right hon. and hon. Friends. I want to make that point because it would be churlish of the hon. Gentleman to claim parentage for this committee. Obviously he wishes to extend its arrangements, but to claim parentage when it lies with my hon. Friend would be a pity.

7.45 pm
Mr. Randall

To judge from the representations that I received, I thought that the Minister had been listening to people with fishing interests. I have talked to some of them and I thought that it was that pressure, as well as other pressure, that had led to the committee. However, I do not wish to suggest that the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) did not play a significant role. The Opposition take the committee extremely seriously. We certainly do not regard it as an expedient which got the Minister off the hook when the Bill was in such a mess.

It is interesting to see on the Amendment Paper the number of Welsh Members, as well as English and Scottish Members, who support the new clause. It shows the seriousness with which Welsh Members take the question of fishing in Wales, which is good. I would go so far as to say that the Welsh economy relies heavily on fishing. Indeed, it is so important that the Minister's credibility is at stake over the operation of his new advisory committee. We expect him to deliver on this.

Because of the importance of salmon fishing in Wales, I have received representations about the duration of the advisory committee. It has since been suggested to me that the Minister said that it would last for three years. I have read Hansard, and I cannot find that. Will the Minister tell us whether that will be the case? I would prefer him to be open minded about the matter, and if the committee serves a useful function to consider that, rather than have a fixed time scale for it.

New clause 5 refers to tagging for regulation purposes. In a transaction, salmon would have to have to be tagged or labelled. There would be exceptions, but that would be the general thrust. The major short-term interest for Wales is to develop a more effective system for creating catch statistics. Scottish fishing is in such poor shape that it is crucial to proceed with effective conservation action as soon as possible. Is the Minister sympathetic to using tagging techniques purely for developing statistics.' Will he encourage the advisory committee to give fair and clue consideration to that matter? Tagging is important both for statistics and as a useful pilot scheme, so that if at a later date the committee so decides we can use tagging for licensing and regulation schemes.

Mr. Onslow

I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman is saying. He seems to be making a case for statistics. What is wrong with the present method of collecting statistics in Wales?

Mr. Randall

I can answer that simply. In Committee, as many hon. Members mentioned, we received information that people were generating statistics and cases to serve their own ends and interests. The Minister spoke at length about that, and I agreed with what he said. We need an unbiased source of information about migration patterns, what fish are where, and so on. In Committee I could not feel confident abou.t the information that we were receiving or whether we were making the right judgments. Will the Minister keep an open mind about the use of tagging for catch statistics as a pilot scheme?

In Committee various hon. Members said that tagging was not popular in Scotland. I have received information that the main reason why many Scottish fishermen are worried about tagging is that they are afraid that the cost will be added to the licence fee. I do not know whether the Minister has also picked up that information.

From the beginning, the advisory committee should have been the core of our measures to improve conservation. It is the most important matter that we shall discuss tonight. I want the committee to be durable. I do not want the Minister to disband it for various reasons. I certainly want it to be effective. Will the Minister tell the House whether he feels that he has all the necessary powers to implement all the possible future recommendations of the committee? If that is not so, it could constrain the committee. For those two reasons — durability and effectiveness — I should like this to be a statutory advisory committee. My hon. Friends and I feel so strongly about this that, unless the Minister gives some concessions tonight, we shall seek to divide the House.

Concern has been expressed about the representations on the committee. I hope that the Minister takes this as seriously as we do. We hope that the chairman will be truly independent, and that the committee will represent a broad and appropriate range of interests, especially relating to Wales. I hope that the representation from Wales will comprise people with experience of fishery management, and not just fishermen. My hon. Friends and I will be most interested to hear the Minister's views on overall representation on the committee.

New clause 6 is a fallback clause for the better regulation of salmon fisheries by using tagging to produce better catch statistics. The reason for tagging is simply to conserve fish. Fishermen in Wales believe that tagging can, and will, work if given the chance. It is important that the Minister has an open mind on this, and I shall be interested to hear what he has to say in response to the various issues that I have raised.

Sir Hector Monro

I welcome the comments by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) about the advisory committee. This concept was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow).

I agree that the new clause concentrates on conservation. The Government have taken two steps in this direction—first, by setting up the standing advisory committee. I hope that it will begin work soon, report continuously and not keep the House waiting. There is also the Government review which will report within three years on east coast drift netting. Both are important steps. However, the Bill has insufficient provisions for conservation and the future of salmon.

I am sure that the Minister knows that today the International Atlantic Salmon Symposium has been meeting in Biarritz. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister has a representative there who will be taking a note of what is said. I understand from the director of the Atlantic Salmon Trust that an important conservation resolution was passed today. I must admit that neither my shorthand nor the telephone line were particularly good, but it stated: In view of the greater increase in and potential of salmon angling, and its appreciable smaller harvest, each national Government of salmon-producing countries is urged to declare a salmon policy which will institute conservation measures within its area of jurisdiction, a management programme to reduce commercial harvesting of salmon with a view to increasing stocks, and improving recreational salmon catches. I hope that the Government will take some action to implement this resolution at the earliest opportunity. I would be grateful for the Minister's views on this, and on the International Salmon Symposium.

Dr. Godman

I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman apologised for his shorthand. May I ask him if the resolution contained a last paragraph relating to payment of compensation to those in the commercial salmon fisheries who would lose their livelihoods if Governments were to adopt the resolution?

Sir Hector Monro

No, there was no such paragraph. The resolution ended with the remarks about improving recreational salmon catching. It is still early days; let us get the principles right, and then we can deal with the details.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)

Surely my hon. Friend would not object to compensation in principle.

Sir Hector Monro

My hon. Friend knows that we dealt with such proposals on an amendment in Committee when I expressed the wish to phase out—I emphasise that it must be phasing out — drift netting on the north-east coast. Of course, compensation would have to be paid because we would be removing their livelihoods from a substantial number of people who fish in those waters.

Conservation is at the heart of the Bill and in this we have been supported throughout by the chairman of the Salmon and Trout Association, the Scottish Landowners Federation and the district boards. We all want to see more fish in the rivers so that we can increase the stocks. I have been disappointed that the Bill does not go very far, especially in relation to drift netting off the north-east coast. We do, of course, appreciate that there would be an impact on jobs, but Scotland faced that problem some years ago and survived the difficulties.

New regulations will reduce the pressure on drift netting off the north-east coast. People are beginning to understand the balance between the numbers who fish off the north-east coast as compared with those people in the United Kingdom as a whole who benefit in one way or another from salmon fishing. As the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) has said, the tourist industry, the hotel industry and the many people who support salmon fishing would all be affected.

We must consider one statistic especially. Between 1950 and 1959 catches of salmon and grilse off the north-east coast averaged 2,000 per year; from 1970 to 1979 that figure was 48,140; between 1980 and 1984 it was 60,330; and in 1985 it was 77,000. The rivers cannot stand this dramatic increase, which is why our stocks and catches are falling. I warmly support the article in The Times yesterday by Lord Moran, who has done much in another place to increase the conservation provisions in the Bill.

Mr. Tinn

The hon. Gentleman seems to be quoting selectively from statistics. Figures supplied to me by the Northumbrian water authority show that during these periods there have been normal cyclical variations in catches. For instance, in 1976 the salmon catch was only 4,500, the year before it was 21,000 and a year later it was 14,000. In other words, it is an up and down story. It was meaningless of the hon. Gentleman to talk about averages.

Sir Hector Monro

I disagree. I was dealing with averages over a period of 10 years which I think allows for ups and downs in the cyclical life of the salmon. Anyone involved in fishing knows that. It is important to realise the dramatic increases that have occurred in salmon catches, probably as a result of the modernisation of gear and of monofilament nets, none of which existed in the early days of the fisheries.

Whatever action the Government have taken already, they will have to go a great deal further before we shall be able to see an enhancement of stock in the rivers of the United Kingdom. If we do not set our own house in order, how on earth can we expect those interested in fisheries in the Fames, in Greenland or even off the coast of Ireland to take any action? We must take some action because at present we are falling very flat on our faces. The advisory committee must take the strongest possible measures in recommending to the Government the appropriate course of action.

I hope that when my right hon. Friend the Minister replies to the debate he will give us an emphatic assurance that he will listen to what the advisory committee says and then take action. We do not want a ghost-like committee making reports that are shelved and nothing happening. We have not got anywhere near solving the issue of conserving a remarkably important resource. If we do not take much stronger steps than we have taken so far, the future of rod salmon fishing in Scotland in particular, and, indeed, the fixed nets around our coasts, will be seriously curtailed. The time for action is not too soon.

8 pm

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)

As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) said, many Welsh Members have signed the new clauses, some of whom, like my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies), will not speak, although I think that I can speak for him and certainly for a number of others. I also speak as the president of the Welsh Anglers Council, a body which covers coarse, game and sea fishing. It is remarkable that it should have got all those anglers together to work in one direction, but it has been doing so and they are unanimous on the principles and ideas behind the three new clauses.

The Welsh scene is the only one that I can really speak about. It is worth reiterating, at least to make sure that the public conception of these matters is right, that large-scale illegal fishing in Welsh rivers is no longer the story of the romantic poacher catching one for the pot; it is big business and highly commercialised. It involves refrigerated vans near the bank and considerable battles on the banks between our bailiffs and those unscrupulous people who will take violent action to ensure that they get their illegal catch.

Another feature of the Welsh scene, different from the Scottish scene, is that Welsh angling is extremely popular. It is not exclusive. The sport is run primarily by responsible angling clubs and the charges and fees are not expensive. The petition that I presented to the House last night contained 18,600 signatures of people supporting the principles of these three new clauses and was promoted and brought by popular angling clubs such as Llandysul, Tawe and Tributaries and Tregaron — all genuinely representative of the communities and the people who enjoy the sport of fishing.

That is why in the three new clauses we seek, first, to inject a sense of urgency into the process. As the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) said, time is not on the side of the salmon or on the side of conservation. The decline is serious, and we have not been able to chart it effectively. The Welsh water authority, a strong supporter of these proposals, was surprised and shocked by the decline shown by the 1982 inquiry which it could not anticipate. It realises that a severe decline has taken place and that it has not been properly discovered and charted.

In new clause 4 we say that the establishment of the advisory committee cannot be a genteel leisurely affair. Therefore, as we say, we hope that it will be set up within three months, if not sooner. Obviously one issue will be the personnel. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West, and he is reflecting the views of the Welsh angling fraternity, that we do not want fishermen to give and support the professional advice that we think will be necessary.

The Minister should take powers to introduce a scheme for tagging. That has caused division within the Committee and even among friends who, on a cross-party basis, have worked hard to implement conservation measures. In new clause 5 we are asking only that the Minister takes the power. Obviously, we would like him to implement a tagging scheme, but new clause .5 only requires the Minister to take power now so that if the advisory committee finds and convinces him that a tagging scheme is an essential part of the conservation of salmon stock it can be introduced without the need to come to the House for a full-scale new Bill.

Let us be realistic. We have vast experience of such legislation. I have had 20 years and other hon. Members have had even longer. We know that to get a Bill into the annual timetable and to bring a measure before the House through the Cabinet sub-committees and so on is not an easy task. Therefore, even with an early realisation that tagging was an integral and intrinsic part of conservation, we fear that two, three or four years would slip by before legislation could be enacted to give the Minister power to introduce such a scheme. All that we are asking for in new clause 5 is that the Minister should take the necessary power.

Within the Principality there is unanimity. The Welsh are not notorious for unanimity. Indeed, the reverse is the case. We can usually divide happily and easily amongst ourselves. But there is a consensus bordering on unanimity among all the interested parties and groups that tagging could be introduced, at least in the Principality. With the popular support that there is for such a scheme, we could run a pilot scheme within the Principality.

The hon. Member for Dumfries mentioned the important conclusions and considerations of the symposium at Biarritz. Another major announcement that has come out of that symposium is an announcement by the French representative that the French intend to introduce a full-scale nationwide tagging system next year. I have the details of the outline here. Tagging has now been seen as a national solution to the problem of conservation by the French, not just the Welsh or a small group of interested and fanatical fishermen. Mr. Claude Batault, special adviser to the Minister at the conference, has announced that the French will introduce a nationwide tagging system to cover both rod and line, commercial fishing, commercial fishing at sea and imports. The French do not think, as I think the Minister argued in Committee, that that contradicts GATT. The reasons given at the symposium for the French introducing tagging were conservation and better catch statistics. That double purpose is contained in new clause 5 and in our fallback position in new clause 6.

Mr. Onslow

It is fair to remind the House that there are fewer salmon in French rivers than in Welsh rivers and that the French proposal to limit any one rod angler for salmon to a total catch of four in a year might be inadequate in Wales.

Mr. Rowlands

The details of the introduction of a nationwide scheme would be for the advisory committee to advise on. That is the purpose of new clause 4. It seeks to make sure that the advisory committee makes salmon tagging an urgent priority and considers the proper means of implementing it. But here is one nation which, fearing the threat to its salmon stock, is to introduce a nationwide scheme. Therefore, it is not just a sectional interest of fanatical Welsh anglers which is promoting this concept; there is a great deal of support for it.

The Principality supports the principle of tagging. Tagging will complement the licence dealing system, not duplicate or contradict it. They go together. Together they could be an effective system of conserving and collecting statistics which we in Wales feel are woefully inadequate. I hope that the Minister will not turn his back on the petition signed by more than 18,500 anglers and supporters of angling right across the country who support the proposals in the three new clauses that we have brought to the House tonight.

Mr. John Townend (Bridlington)

We all support the cause of conservation, but the new clauses are deficient because no mention is made of the damage done to salmon stocks by seals. Salmon stocks will not be adequately protected until we grasp the nettle and deal with the sensitive question of the need for a much greater culling of seals. They are destroying North sea fish stocks, including salmon, at a frightening rate.

According to a recent estimate, there are 84,000 seals in the North sea, taking approximately 50,000 tonnes of fish a year. I have been told by fixed-net salmon fishermen who fish off the beach at Bridlington that often up to one in four of the salmon that they catch are not saleable because they are dead or because they are maimed after being bitten by seals. Unfortunately those animals, which look so attractive and receive so much sympathy when they are culled, are very much like foxes. They do not just attack a salmon and eat it but are like a fox which kills all the chickens in a hen house rather than killing one and eating it. The seals take indiscriminate bites out of salmon, often leaving them alive and maimed, thus making them unsaleable.

I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister to this problem, and express the hope that when he considers conservation measures he will support the demands of the Bridlington fishermen for a greater culling of seals.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

If the hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) has made the strongest arguments he can against the new clauses, they must commend themselves strongly to the House. I associate myself with the comments that have been made by hon. Members on both sides of the House. They are particularly relevant to the Welsh salmon fishing problem. As the hon Member for Methyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) said, angling in Wales is a popular sport. It is the ordinary person's pastime and interest, and probably the greatest participatory sport in Wales.

I have had 200 letters about the Bill from anglers in my constituency. They were worried that it concentrated on the problems of Scotland. We appreciate that that is necessary, but the Bill does not address itself to the problems of fishing in Wales, and especially the conservation of salmon stocks in Wales.

Whatever the problems caused by the seals taking a part of the migration salmon stocks — obviously they take some—it is difficult to believe that they are taking any more than they took in centuries gone by. Yet historically in Wales salmon fishing has been a popular sport. Salmon have been available in Welsh rivers for centuries. Now, suddenly, in the past decade or two salmon have become scarce.

Mr. Townend

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is not aware that the seal population in the North sea has quadrupled during the past 20 years. Naturally, if there are four times as many seals they are likely to take four times as many salmon.

Mr. Wigley

I was interested to hear of the seal tagging exercise that gave the hon. Gentleman such detailed information on the number of seals. I am taking a longer view. I am looking back over the centuries. There is no doubt that during the past couple of decades there has been a massive drop of salmon numbers in Welsh rivers which is not due just, or mainly, to seals. Obviously they play a part in the reduced salmon stocks, but it is not a major part.

Hon. Members who know the angling scene in Wales know what is happening. We know, as the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney said, that it is not the traditional poacher taking the odd salmon here and there. We have all lived with that as part of the social scene. Now there are large-scale operations. Poachers come with gelignite and blow up rivers. Other poachers come with poison, God help us. The rivers are poisoned and made barren for years.

8.15 pm

We know from court cases that people have come from Manchester and raided rivers such as the Dyfi and then received a sentence of a few months when they should have received a much severer sentence. The cumulative effect of their actions has been massive.

Representations have been made, especially to hon. Members who represent Welsh constituencies, by the Welsh Salmon and Trout Angling Association. In a letter, it said: The Welsh Salmon and Trout Angling Association wish to bring to the Government's notice that the angling community of Wales is deeply concerned that the conservation provisions contained within the existing Salmon Bill are totally inadequate as far as Wales is concerned. Since 1976 the Welsh Salmon and Trout Angling Association have campaigned vociferously for measures to be introduced to save the Welsh Salmon stocks. We as the governing body are concerned that in terms of conservation the present Bill does nothing to safeguard the run of migratory fish to their spawning beds and consequently to increase the spawning potential. I know that many hon. Members on both sides of the House fish on our excellent rivers, such as the Conwy, the Dyfi and the others mentioned by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney.

I am glad to see the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding), as I know of her husband's great interest in this matter. I know his patience in that he could spend 10 or 11 hours in debate in the House or in Committee. He needs that patience to fish for salmon in rivers such as the Dyfi now. Ten or 20 years ago it would not have been surprising to talk of catching half a dozen or a dozen salmon. Now it is a matter of special interest and a topic of conversation if somebody has caught a salmon. People say, "Oh—you have actually caught a salmon.- That is the change that has occurred. The Government must take this problem to heart.

There are two main requirements. We want to give the advisory committee teeth and to include on it people who fish in Wales. I mention Wales especially, because I know the problems there. The committee's job is ongoing and it must be given teeth to do it. There is also a need for tagging. Information is needed about the salmon if there is to be a scientific base on which to found further action to conserve the salmon stocks.

Such proposals are supported by anglers and those involved with the water authorities. The bailiffs often face a difficult task in trying to enforce regulations. All sections of the community in Wales support these proposals. It would be sad if the Government missed this opportunity. Indeed, if they miss this opportunity to rectify the situation, I am sure that the problem will be raised again in private Members' Bills.

This matter is very important to my constituents, and that is why I am here tonight rather than at my party's annual conference. I hope that the Government will seriously consider the new clauses and either accept them as they are, or give a firm commitment that they will move in their general direction.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)

All of us have taken a close and active interest in the proceedings on the Bill. I welcome the Welsh voice which is in such strong and full throat tonight, and many of the comments that have been made. Indeed, I share the concern of the Welsh Members. The problem does not just concern Wales, although perhaps, judging by what we have heard tonight, the problem is even more serious there than in some Scottish rivers.

Having examined the culling system, I am not convinced that tagging in the United Kingdom would fulfil the objectives that have been ascribed to it as successfully as some of the hon. Members think. After all, the alternatives proposed by the Government go a long way towards meeting the fears of right hon. and hon. Members.

I refer, for example, to the dealer licensing system. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), who introduced those Welsh anxieties, will bear in mind that when the Bill was introduced there was no question of a nationwide licensing system. It was limited purely to Scotland, and this was one of the big changes the Government made in their thinking. Those two measures are most helpful.

In Committee, Conservative and Opposition Members expressed concern about the need for further action. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland have taken a keen and assiduous interest in the Bill, and will be aware that it has its critics both in the House and outside. The Bill represents a great opportunity. As we all know, such opportunities do not come easily, and in the foreseeable future this is probably the last chance to legislate for salmon. That is why we have all stressed the need for more action than that proposed in the Bill. Perhaps that is the main reason why Opposition Members want a statutory advisory committee.

As we all know, if the British can fumble and fudge anything, they will do so by setting up a committee. The fear is that, if we set up a committee that is not statutory, that is just what will happen. The arguments that we adduce in favour of stronger action will be whittled away and drowned in the mumbling away of a committee that has no powers. Accordingly, if my right hon. Friend the Minister decides to go against those who want a statutory advisory committee, I hope that he will at least give us a strong assurance that this Bill will not he the end of the matter. There are strong grounds for believing that further action is needed, and we would expect that committee to be able to report with authority, and in a way that would morally bind the next Government to take action.

The new clauses mention statistics. It has been extraordinarily difficult to get hold of statistics to prove to doubters that we are facing a serious situation. Consequently, we are all very much indebted to the Salmon and Trout Association, which has taken up the cudgels on our behalf. In Committee the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland gave figures that have enabled analysts to relate netting jobs to specific rivers and areas of Scotland. The association asks us to recognise that its calculations are only approximate, and not accurate to the last decimal point. As a result, it believes that the number of netsmen involved is small, and at times as few as 520. At peak periods, the number rises to 1,177. Using the 1984 catch figures, and assuming a landed value of £2 per pound, the average earnings per man amount to just over £1,000 for net and coble fishermen. The figure is higher for fixed engine fishermen. The association points out that earnings fluctuate wildly between districts, and rise to more than £6,000 in the far north.

The association believes that in the north of Scotland some 70 netsmen take around 86 per cent. of the salmon catch, amounting to 46,000 fish. It argues that we should be much tougher in our attitude to those who fish by net in estuaries or who fish at sea using drift nets. I agree with that, and that is why the Bill falls short. We should increase the weekly close time for Scottish nets to 60 hours. However, that has been rejected by the Government.

The committee set up by the Government should look at the figures carefully and take action accordingly. The figures all suggest that salmon and sea trout have much more economic value as a sporting resource to the economies of Wales, England and Scotland than as a food. Moreover, some of us believe that we are approaching the point of no return in the damage being done to a great natural resource. The factor uniting fishermen and others is that we want to conserve the salmon. With those thoughts in mind, I shall listen with interest to what my right hon. Friend the Minister has to say.

Mr. Tinn

I should like to correct an impression that I may have given the House on Second Reading. I then mentioned Dr. Derek Mills of the department of forestry and natural resources at Edinburgh university, and, without having sufficiently checked my facts, I rather loosely referred to him as having changed his mind. I said that he had been a critic of the drift net fishermen of northeast England but that he had now exonerated them.

More in sorrow than in anger, Dr. Mills kindly wrote to me pointing out my error. It was wrong to say that he had exonerated them, although he and other fishery scientists had shown that the current low in salmon catches in Scotland and other salmon-producing nations was cyclical, occurring about every 25 years in the past 100 years. They believe that that can be attributed to oceanic conditions. However, Dr. Mills fairly said that that did not automatically mean that the north-east England drift net fishermen are exonerated. Perhaps I made that rather welcome assumption too easily. However, I have already apologised to Dr. Mills, and I am happy to correct the impression that I gave.

The drift net fishermen of the north-east of England are rather like Banquo's ghost, in that, although they are not mentioned in the Bill, they keep popping up, just as they did in Committee. The drift net fishing industry in the north-east of England is essentially small scale. It uses the traditional north-eastern coble, which is rather less than 30 ft. Only 182 vessels are involved. Far from being a free-for-all, it is the most tightly controlled fishery in Europe.

I have a few suggestions for the advisory council. For example, it should consider the policy pursued by the Northumbrian water authority. That authority and the drift net fishermen could already give some useful tips. For many years they have had a strict limit on licence numbers. The authority has formed conservation areas for salmon in areas and rivers where salmon tend to collect. In the north of the water authority's area, the length of drift nets at sea is restricted to 600 yd and to 400 yd in the Yorkshire area. The working week and the season are also limited. Moreover, the licensee can employ only those crew named on the licence.

The protection of stocks has been a central theme, and, in contrast to elsewhere, there has been a marked recovery in salmon stocks in Northumbrian rivers. It seems a little odd that the poor Scottish salmon cannot get up to the Tay, yet they are getting to the Tyne and the Tweed in increasing numbers. I assure hon. Members that our fishermen are not asking the nationality of the salmon and throwing them back if they are English.

I am sure that the advisory committee will be happy to look at the practices of the Northumbrian water authority, and the north-east coast fishermen will be happy to cooperate with the authority and in any conservation measures. However, conservation measures to save salmon must not mean the extinction of the drift net fishermen of the north-east coast.

8.30 pm
Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)

In the light of what the hon. Member for Redcar (Mr. Tinn) said, the House should recall that it has been clearly established that 94 per cent. of the salmon and grilse taken in the North sea fishery are bound for Scottish rivers. No matter what statistics the hon. Gentleman provides about the nets, we must take account of that important aspect.

I agree strongly with my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) and others that the Bill does not do enough for conservation. However, I regard the Bill as no more than the end of the beginning of the creation of a better climate for conservation. It is no more than a start and, as time goes by, it will become clear that more measures will have to be taken.

One of the best indirect forms of conservation is that provided by the creation of, and the increase in, salmon farming. In the 12 months up to September this year, 11,000 boxes of Scottish wild salmon were sold at Billingsgate market, but during the same period 43,000 boxes of Scottish farmed salmon and 51,000 boxes of Norwegian farmed salmon were sold at the market. For some reason that I do not understand, boxes of wild salmon are slightly heavier than boxes of farmed salmon.

The comparison is remarkable and it emphasises a point made implicitly by my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) who said that salmon should be considered a sport resource. Because of the development of salmon farming, we no longer live in an age when wild salmon need to be regarded as a food source.

The need for an advisory committee is self-evident. It is clearly essential. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of State on taking the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow)—

Mr. Randall

And others.

Mr. Morrison

My hon. Friend the Member for Woking, who tonight probably became the first chairman of the 1922 Committee to be described as the Opposition, was the originator of the proposal. He and, of course, others deserve credit for persuading the Minister to accept the idea. I believe that the advisory committee will play an increasingly important role and will perform not only the functions set out in new clause 4, but many others as well.

I am convinced that, as soon as the announcement of the establishment of the committee was made, it automatically became durable. Politically, no Minister would dare to abolish it; that would be a political impossibility. Therefore, I am not convinced that we should make the committee a statutory body. Indeed, if it is not a statutory committee it may retain more flexibility and perhaps could stray into areas that need looking at, but which it might not be able to examine if it were a statutory body.

I understand the desire of Opposition Members who wish to have a statutory committee, but it seems to me much more important that the committee should be established quickly and should act quickly. Even if the Minister cannot give us the names of the members who are to be appointed soon, I hope that he will tell us when the committee will start to operate. That would be a great reassurance to the House and, more important, to all those involved in salmon fishing.

Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnor)

I wish to speak about Welsh interests. As a lifelong angler who belongs to a Welsh angling club, I support new clauses 4, 5 and 6 because they are vital for the conservation of salmon stocks.

We are at the 11th hour. Salmon are a disappearing asset and many fishermen do not catch even the four salmon per season to whch reference was made earlier. I challenge the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) who said that the collection of statistics would not be improved by the tagging of salmon. The Welsh water authority is collecting statistics and supports the tagging of salmon. Indeed, it has on the stocks a programme for salmon tagging, because it believes that better statistics could be provided under such a scheme. That is a potent argument.

It is important that we do not make the advisory committee just another quango. Members must include people with knowledge and interest and members of local organisations who know what they are talking about and, in particular, know a lot about the management of fisheries.

It is important that a tagging scheme is introduced at the earliest moment after the establishment of the advisory committee. We have not a minute to waste in the conservation of Atlantic salmon.

I wish to put on record the input to the new clauses from the Welsh Salmon and Trout Angling Association, the Welsh water authority and many Welsh angling clubs. Mention has already been made of the 18,000 signatures on petitions in favour of tagging. It is important that any tagging scheme should include imported fish and farmed fish, though I recognise that that would create difficulties. However, I am closely associated with agriculture, where all stock is tagged as a matter of routine, and I do not believe that it should be too difficult to tag salmon, whether they are farmed or taken in the wild.

We are in the stone age in our recording of salmon. We know very little about the true catch. Tagging will enable us to know how many salmon are caught, and that will enable us to improve our fisheries.

Dr. Godman

The hon. Gentleman should not minimise the problems for fish farmers of tagging stocks. Many of the fish farms in Scotland and Shetland and in the islands are small businesses and tagging, however admirable a practice, would present formidable problems for such small businesses.

Mr. Livsey

I note the remarks by the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman). I accept that there are some problems but they can be overcome. It should be possible to tag farm fish in the same way as it is possible to tag farm animals. Salmon have to be boxed before they are marketed and they can be tagged when they are being prepared for the market. I see nothing difficult in that. In response to my speech on Second Reading the Minister said that he would consider the possibility of a Welsh tagging scheme. I hope that he will accept that the views on this side of the House are strong. They are the views of Welsh fishing interests and of those who are actively engaged in angling in Wales. They consider this to be essential for the future of salmon fishing in Wales.

Mr. Onslow

You have been generous, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in allowing us to have what is virtually a Third Reading debate on these new clauses. That will save a lot of time and enable some Scottish Members to catch their trains. I shall make no apology if I keep one or two Scottish Members a little late. Indeed, some of the things that I propose to say may be of assistance to them.

The Minister told us that he would introduce an advisory committee. I think it really is rather impertinent for the Opposition Front Bench to try to claim parentage for that committee. They have no title to it. The committee is probably the most important thing to come out of our Standing Committee deliberations. I hope that the Minister will tell us a number of things that will give encouragement to those hon. Members who have taken a close interest in these matters for a long time. That does not include the Opposition Front Bench.

The need to make progress is perceived all the more when one considers that we have had to take this Bill in the spillover session. We might have started to deal with a number of matters at the end of the summer if we had been able to complete consideration of the Bill then, and it is a mat ter of regret to many people that we were not able to do that. However, such things happen. I hope that the eagerness of the Scottish Minister responsible for these matters will not be frustrated by our delays. I hope that the period of thought that my right hon. Friend the Minister enjoyed during the long recess will have enabled him to formulate some fairly clear ideas about what the committee will do and that he will tell the House about them tonight. He may not be able to tell us the precise membership, but I hope that he will be able to tell us the names of the people whom he has invited to serve and the names of those who have agreed. He would do the House a service by telling us what he foresees as the composition of this committee.

Although most of the debate has been about Wales, it must be admitted that there are far more salmon in Scottish rivers than there are in English and Welsh rivers, more is the pity. It would therefore be wrong to deny the Scots a proportionate share of representation on the committee. Of course we do not want on the committee people who are landed proprietors and who take no interest in their fisheries—[Interruption.]— such as the hon. Gentleman who has just made a loud noise from a sedentary position.

Mr. Gummer

I give my hon. Friend the assurance that the Government will not ask the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) to play a part in this committee because, as my hon. Friend says, he has not yet taken the same interest in his own fisheries.

8.45 pm
Mr. Onslow

I am sure that the House will be relieved to hear that.

Apart from the membership of the committee and the balance of its composition, I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us about staffing. Perhaps he will also tell us where it will be located. I do not even mind if the Committee is preponderantly Scottish provided that its headquarters are in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food rather than in Scotland. In many ways it is easier to get at MAFF and to twist people's arms and it is MAFF that probably needs its arm twisted most in these matters. That is purely a personal opinion. A more important point is whether the Minister can tell us more about the activities, duties and responsibilities with which he will charge this committee. In Committee we were much encouraged to hear that seal predation was high on its list of tasks. I share the anxiety about the effect of the enormously increased numbers of seals on the north-east coast that prey on salmon stocks.

The matters aired under new clauses 5 and 6 puzzle me. Perhaps I could look first at new clause 6. It is extremely difficult to understand how it can be said that salmon tagging will be an aid to more accurate catch statistics. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) has his Welsh water authority licence in his pocket, but if he has—presuming that he has such a licence—he should look at it some time. He will see that he is required to make a fairly exhaustive return of any fish that he is fortunate enough to catch. I do not see how a requirement on him to tag fish when he takes them out of the water will have the slightest effect on the accuracy of his statistics or will be of assistance to the Welsh water authority.

If someone were quick enough to find a stretch of water in Wales between now and Saturday in which he could fish for salmon and caught a hen fish and, if he were a sensible chap and returned it to the water, what would he do about that? Would he put a tag on it and bless it before returning it to the water? If the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor thinks this through he will understand that salmon are not like cattle. One cannot have fish swimming around in a river with tags in their gills in the way that cattle walk around the market with tags in their ears. First, one has to catch the salmon. What possible benefit to statistics is contained in new clause 6?

Mr. Wigley

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is not aware that Mr. W. J. Ayton, the principal scientific officer of the Welsh water authority, has written to Welsh Members pressing for such a tagging scheme to be introduced. His reason is that the officers need this information in order to undertake their work. They are the experts and surely we ought to listen to them.

Mr. Onslow

We might listen to the scientist in the Welsh water authority if he could show why this clause should also be applied to England and Scotland. There has been no argument to show why it should be so applied. It may be and probably is a Welsh idea, but that does not automatically mean that it is a good idea to apply to the whole of the United Kingdom. Even the Welsh nationalists may understand that point of view.

The genesis of the salmon tagging scheme for the Welsh water authority area is embodied in new clause 5. That is not a conservation or statistical measure. It is designed to make it possible to catch poachers. I am extraordinarily surprised that we have not heard more about that purpose, because this scheme is designed to prevent the sale of illegally caught salmon.

Let us go back to the beginning. The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) takes an occasional interest in these matters and he probably remembers the amount of work that was done by the water authorities to control the sale of salmon. He probably has a copy of the exhaustive report produced by Dr. Gordon Bielbey and his team in which the salmon tagging scheme was recommended. If the hon. Gentleman looks closely at it he will see that it was in order to prevent the sale of illegally caught fish and not for conservation, although poaching is a major threat to salmon stocks.

The hon. Gentleman does the House and the Department a discourtesy if he supposes that everybody who takes an interest in these matters did not look closely at the practicability of this scheme. I know that Ministers looked closely at it. I discovered from conversations with them that they were not convinced that it was practicable to introduce such a scheme. I was disappointed to learn that, but ultimately I was convinced that they were right. If one looks at the implementation of the salmon tagging scheme, its weaknesses become quite clear quite soon. It depends upon the issue of a great number of tags and their application to fish that have been legally caught. A man with tags can apply them to fish that he has caught illegally. That is a major flaw in the scheme.

In respect of Wales, the major flaw is that its rivers are so close to England, if they do not actually form the boundary. If there were not a salmon tagging scheme in England that made it an offence to possess a salmon without a tag, that would be an open invitation to every poacher in Wales to take his illegally caught fish across the border as quickly as possible. Indeed, that already happens because modern poachers are so mobile. Poachers from Monmouth and Hereford poach in the Conwy with dinghies and gill nets. Recently two men from Monmouth were caught with more than 50 salmon valued at £1,000, representing a loss of 13 per cent. of the average rod catch in a year.

Mr. Livsey

I wish to clarify one point. The proposed tagging system does not mean tagging fish and then releasing them back into the water, but only tagging those fish that stay out of the water and are sold. The hon. Gentleman's remark about the men apprehended in Monmouth emphasises my point. If they were apprehended with salmon that were not tagged, it would be the end of the story. They would, quite rightly, be prosecuted. We all know that industrial poaching in Wales is severe.

Mr. Onslow

The hon. Gentleman is wrong because the men from Monmouth were prosecuted under current law and their car and tackle were seized. Therefore, there was no need for a tagging scheme to deal with those poachers. The three men from Hereford were using a dinghy and gill nets to poach the Conwy. If they had succeeded in returning to Hereford before being caught, they would have had no difficulty in disposing of the fish. We must catch the poacher on the spot. Whatever longstop scheme is being considered, the important safeguard is enforcement on the river and prevention of an illegal catch on the spot.

The Welsh water authority says that on the river Dee 150 boats are standing by ready to poach salmon. All this talk about salmon tagging would not come from Wales to anything like the same extent if it were able to field the necessary number of water bailiffs on the spot. If the rivers were actively protected, that would be the most beneficial defence. I hope that we do not lose sight of that.

The proposed dealer licensing scheme will also need to be monitored by the committee. We have yet to be told how it will work. If the scheme does not stop the illegal catching and sale of salmon, we will have to consider what further step is necessary. Again, I think that the best defence will be the water bailiffs. An elaborate bureaucracy built around the movement of metal tags will not be anything like as efficient as a man and a dog on the river bank.

Mr. Rowlands

I acknowledge the great deal of work done by the hon. Gentleman on behalf of those with trout and salmon interests. However, all those to whom I have spoken in Wales, including those in the front line, believe that a tagging scheme will be an important and integral part of their work of identifying what is legally or illegally caught fish. The hon. Gentleman questioned why the scheme should apply in England when it is a Welsh provision. I point out that both new clauses state that the provisions can be introduced in different cases if so desired. There is flexibility in our proposal.

Mr. Onslow

I should be more ready to accept the hon. Gentleman's argument if the proposed committee were already in existence and had reported on that matter. I hope that he will understand that a water bailiff who is trying to prevent poaching of salmon from his stretch of water is keen and skilled in the detection and prevention of illegal fishing. Whether or not illegal fishermen have tags in their pockets or satchels is neither here nor there. If the tagging scheme is to be of value, it must apply to salmon offered for sale. Dealer licensing exists to control the sale of salmon. I have heard no argument that shows that tagging is likely to be more effective than dealer licensing or why it is necessary to run the two schemes as complementary to each other.

Mr. Rowlands

I apologise for intervening again. Our point is that we believe that the two schemes are complementary—they are not alternatives. How, under the dealer licensing system, will anyone but the dealer know whether the fish was legitimately caught? At least if a fish is presented with a tag, the dealer will know that it was legally caught. If the fish does not have a tag, the dealer can question the bona fide character of the person offering it for sale.

Mr. Onslow

Perhaps, like me, the hon. Gentleman would be better to suspend judgment on that matter until we are told how the dealer licensing system will work and be enforced. It is premature to insist upon the introduction of tagging for salmon offered for sale. The provisions of new clauses 5 and 6 go much further than was originally suggested.

I am not anxious to detain the House any longer than necessary. I end as I began by saying that the Minister, in what he will say to the committee at the end of our debates, has an opportunity to show people both within and without the House that he is serious in his wish to promote the conservation of salmon in British rivers. I hope that he will give evidence of that by witnessing—especially in his MA FT' responsibility — the fact that water abstraction, water pollution, the land drainage schemes and the afforestation schemes that affect the character of so many rivers—especially in Wales—and which have done such damage to Welsh rivers by turning them into gutters that simply carry away the run-off are matters as serious for the conservation of salmon stocks as anything that we have been discussing. I hope that the advisory committee will be encouraged to turn its attention to these matters as well as the other matters that have been discussed.

Dr. Godman

I promise to be brief. I regret that I was not a member of the Standing Committee, because I was assigned — or condemned—to the Social Security Bill Committee.

I wish to make one point about the exchanges tonight. When listening to some of the contributions from Conservative Members, I was reminded of the charges levelled by Louis Macneice against Oxford dons, when he said that they had charm without warmth, and knowledge without understanding.

What is needed is an advisory committee. That is why I support new clause 4. However, I have some reservations about the system of tagging, especially, as I said earlier, for fish farmers. Many of the companies are very small, and some employ no more than two or three people. They are frequently situated in exposed areas and work under difficult circumstances. I know that farmers also work under difficult circumstances, especially hill farmers, but I have reservations about tagging because of the problems faced by the very small enterprises in the islands off the coast of Scotland.

I should like to hear a few words from the Minister on the membership of the committee. I should like to know something about the chairman, although that will not be possible at this moment. I have no doubt that the Minister and his officials will choose the chairman with considerable care. I have no idea whether he will be a radical in terms of the approach to modern methods of conservation. However, I hope that such a committee will examine the commercial salmon fisheries on both sides of the border with equal care, because not all the damage inflicted upon rod fishermen in Scotland is inflicted by English drift net fishermen. I do not know much about the damage inflicted by the seals in Bridlington bay. The seal expert is present. I do not claim to be an expert on the eating habits of the seal.

9 pm

I want to comment on what was said by the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro). He voiced his concern for the Scottish salmon fishery. A salmon beat owner said in the Glasgow Herald recently: Angling in the upper and middle Tay in June, July, and thus far in August has been like playing golf at Gleneagles with no holes on the greens. There is a serious problem.

That owner's concern over the activities of English drift net fishermen was shared by the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs in its report on fisheries protection. One of the recommendations in the report was: There should be a ban on monofflament nets in all UK coastal waters, and the northern English drift net salmon fishery should reduce its catch to traditional levels, leading ultimately to its being phased out, with financial compensation. That is, understandably, a somewhat biased recommendation, since there is no mention of the activities of commercial salmon fishermen in Scotland.

Mr. Beith

Did the hon. Gentleman not think it reprehensible that when making that report the Select Committee did not take any evidence from any representative of the North-East Salmon Fishery or any of the bodies involved in regulating that fishery?

Dr. Godman

As a member of that Committee, I am willing to accept that that is a fair criticism, delivered strongly by the hon. Gentleman.

Damage is inflicted by commercial interests in Scotland. The same copy of the Glasgow Herald stated: The biggest of the Tay netters, the Tay Salmon Fisheries Company … reportedly sent more than 600 boxes of salmon and grilse to London during July, while the netsmen of Insch … and Barony fishings despatched more than 500 boxes in the same period. That does not take account of the salmon sold to local hotels and fishmongers, sold on Edinburgh arid Glasgow fish markets or on the major north of England fish markets or to the Scottish smoked salmon industry. If we are to criticise commercial salmon fishermen, we have to be fair-minded. Such fair-mindedness, perhaps understandably, was completely missing from the intervention of the hon. Member for Dumfries. The hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) offered a much more reasonable criticism and suggested that the weekly hours given over to net fishing should be reduced, and that makes a great deal of sense.

The committee should be in a position to commission research and monitor the commercial fishing activities on both sides of the border. If it examines the English drift net fishery, it must also analyse, in an equally rigorous way, the commercial activities north of the border. Such a committee must reflect the differences in the importance of the salmon fisheries in the countries that make up the United Kingdom.

Mr. Canavan

I strongly support reasonable conservation measures, which is why I have tabled new clause 9, calling for a moratorium on net fishing on the River Tay and its tributaries. In Committee we had many debates in which hon. Members on both sides called for a proper balance between the interests of rod and net fishing. Emphasis was put on the number of jobs involved in net fishing as well as the number of jobs involved in the spinoff tourist industries connected with rod fishing.

I do not want to interfere in the patch of other hon. Members who represent the interests of their area. My amendment refers to the River Tay and its tributaries only. It may be that the River Tay is sui generis. Some evidence was published in the Glasgow Herald on Monday 21 August, in an excellent article by James Freeman — it has already been quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) —referring to reports that Tay salmon netting interests have caught an estimated 20,000 fish during low water in the month of July … Ian Mitchell, managing director of Tay Salmon Fisheries and himself a keen angler, said yesterday that it was possible that the 20,000 figure was correct … Mr. Michael C. Smith, an elected member of the Tay District Fishery Board … said: `These netsmen are doing more damage to our Scottish stock than all the Greenlanders, Faroese, and Northumbrian fishermen and the poachers and the seals put together.' This is a serious case of overfishing with nets on the lower reaches of the river, and the people on the upper reaches whose jobs are involved in the sport of angling are suffering the consequences.

By coincidence, on the day that that article appeared in the Glasgow Herald, I went fishing on the River Earn, a tributary of the River Tay, with a friend of mine. I spent the whole day there and caught nothing. That is not unusual with me, because I am not a good fisherman. I go fishing simply to get a bit of fresh air and recreation and to look at the countryside, and if I catch any fish, that is a bonus. However, my friend is an expert fisherman, and he also caught nothing. That is no wonder when one looks at the evidence of the overfishing that is going on in the estuary of the River Tay.

There are about 25 netting stations in operation on the lower reaches of the River Tay and one company, the Tay Salmon Fisheries Company, owns more than 100 netting stations. Granted it does not operate them all at the one time, but that shows the capability of one company to overfish those reaches of the river. The Government must take radical action to stop that. Ironically, the only action which the Government are proposing with regard to the River Tay is a protection order governing the upper reaches of the river, which will inhibit the opportunities of rod anglers. The Government ought to be attacking the net anglers in the lower reaches of the Tay, not the rod anglers in the upper reaches.

Of course there is concern about jobs. However many jobs there are in net fishing on the River Tay, there are more than 30,000 jobs in the Highlands dependent upon rod fishing. I submit that that figure is far in excess of any estimate which the Government can produce about the number of jobs in net fishing on the lower reaches.

Following the Committee stage of the Bill I half expected some letters of protest, because not everyone agrees with everything I say. I cannot understand that sometimes. After my contributions in Committee I expected a host of letters from trade union interests representing the netsmen on the River Tay, from the netsmen themselves, or from the Tay Salmon Fisheries Company telling me how important the netsmen are for employment prospects in the Perth area. However, I received not a whimper of protest. I wonder whether any other hon. Members of the Standing Committee received any whimpers of protest about employment prospects.

Mr. Home Robertson

I assure my hon. Friend that I am not going to whimper. In fact, I agree with everything that he has said. I should like to draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that the Minister was kind enough to send us a list of the number of people employed in the net fisheries on the various rivers. The list shows that about 162 people obtain employment, often of a seasonal nature, on the River Tay. I acknowledge that my hon. Friend's point is a serious one and that there is probably a need to review the fishing effort, but I believe that he is going a little far in seeking to write off those jobs straight away. Perhaps he should adopt a more softly, softly approach.

Mr. Canavan

I have experienced working at the net fishing on the River Tay. When I was a student more than 20 years ago, I had a job working on the River Tay during my holidays from university. At that time — and I suspect that the position has not changed much — the Tay Salmon Fisheries Company mostly employed and exploited students and temporary cheap labour. There was no trade union and we were paid 5s. an hour. We were not asked whether we could swim, and we were sent out in a boat into the middle of that fast flowing river, and beyond, to lay the net.

Because of the low level of pay and the danger involved, I do not believe that these jobs are worth defending. I shall not stand on the Floor of this House or anywhere else and defend them. The Minister may defend those jobs, but there are of course vested interests in the Tory party in that respect. It is not just the Duke of Argyll who is apparently illegally net fishing on Loch Fyne. Lord Mansfield, a former Minister, with a specific responsibility for the pre-legislative stage of the Bill, has a vested financial interest in the Tay Salmon Fisheries Company. I suspect that the muted attitude of Ministers and the Government Front Bench on that matter speaks for itself.

It is time that we took firm action against the people who exploit workers and the rivers, who are acting to the detriment of those who love salmon fishing as a sport, and who are also acting to the detriment of the employment prospects of those in the Pitlochry area and other areas further up the River Tay. I shall never defend such organisations as the Tay Salmon Fisheries Company, many of them the same inherited landlords to whom I have referred previously, whose motto seems to be, "I shall not sow, I shall not grow, but by heavens I shall reap."

9.15 pm

It is about time that justice was restored. All that I am proposing is a moratorium for a trial period. I have not even said for how long. If, after several months or years, it is found that a complete moratorium is too strict, it will be up to the Secretary of State to come forward with alternative proposals. We would then have the opportunity of debating them. That surely would be a far more democratic way of deciding the matter.

Dr. Godman

I remind my hon. Friend and the House that the Scottish fisheries Minister recently banned commercial fishing on Loch Ryan. Therefore, there is a precedent.

Mr. Canavan

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning that precedent. What I am proposing is not unreasonable or unprecedented, and I ask the House to accept it.

Mr. Beith

I welcome the setting up of the advisory committee. The new clause is about trying to firm up the details of the creation of the advisory committee, and perhaps the Minister will say something more about it.

I hope that the committee's membership will be sufficiently widely drawn to enable it to draw on the wide expertise that is available on salmon matters and to reflect the range of interests involved. It should not be a committee of interests, but it should contain people who understand the different fisheries and economic interests involved. It should not be seen to be biased in any particular direction.

As for the tagging proposal, I moved the new clause in Committee that would have enabled the Welsh water authority to have its wish to carry out a tagging experiment within Wales. We pressed the Minister extremely hard, but in the end he resisted. Subsequently, in his absence on important duties elsewhere, it fell to his hon. Friend to resist. I felt that, had the Minister been able to listen to the full and persuasive argument advanced in all parts of the Committee, and had he been present with his full authority, he would have been able to give a little more ground than did the Scottish Minister.

It is a perfectly reasonable request that this experiment should he carried out. It is an experiment upon which scorn has been characteristically poured by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), who can rarely speak for very long without sounding either scornful, patronising or both. I hope that some day he will give that up.

Many people in the Welsh water authority who have a great deal of experience genuinely feel that this would be useful. It would make prosecutions easier and would ensure that the provenance of salmon held or transported anywhere in Wales had to be demonstrated. That is a perfectly sensible proposal. Wales is not an area in which there has been a great expansion in fish farming. The main expansion has been in Scotland, and the problems that can be dealt with there do not arise so acutely in Wales as in other parts of the United Kingdom.

The Welsh water authority should have been given its opportunity to carry out this experiment. There is now a fear that, were the salmon advisory committee to become persuaded that it would be a good thing, the powers do not exist to carry it out because they are not on the statute book. Ministers would thus have to come back to the House, with all the pressures of the legislative timetable, and seek an opportunity to bring forward another Bill. That is not very satisfactory.

I tabled a small amendment to the new clause designed to ensure that the House would have the opportunity to vote on the implementation of the tagging scheme rather than be confined to the extremely unsatisfactory negative procedure. I well know that that would be quite satisfactory to the movers of the new clause and to the Welsh water authority. I am disappointed that the Government have not moved further on that point. What would they do if the salmon advisory committee decided that such a scheme was desirable?

That brings me to the comments of the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), echoed briefly by others, on the north-east salmon drift net fishery. No fishery has been subject to more detailed restriction and control than that one. In conjunction with passing the Bill, many new controls and restrictions have been placed upon the northeast salmon drift net fishery. It now has far longer close time than any in the Bill or advocated for other fisheries. The weekly close time for the north-east salmon drift net fishery is 84 hours as opposed to 42 hours in Scotland, although there has been an argument for a slight increase in that Scottish 42-hour close time.

The hon. Member for Dumfries amazes me by his apparent conviction that the rivers on the west coast of Scotland are suffering great deprivation because of what takes place in the north-east salmon drift net fishery off the north-east coast of England. It simply cannot be the case that the west coast rivers of Scotland are so drastically affected by what goes on off the north-east coast of England. The effects of the north-east salmon drift net fishery—scientific evidence has shown it affects less than 7 per cent. of the Scottish catch—must be concentrated on the English rivers along the Northumberland coast, which have generally improving salmon catches, the River Tweed, which flows through England and Scotland, and a number of east coast rivers in the south-east of Scotland.

The north-east fishery cannot be held responsible for salmon catches around the entire Scottish coast. The vast majority of fish are caught by commercial netsmen in Scottish rivers. I agree with the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) that the only convincing case for a reduction in the salmon catch in Scotland is to reduce the commercial netting catch in Scotland. If the north-east fishery was banned tomorow the impact on Scottish rivers would be limited. A great many people would lose their livelihood for little gain, but it would be absurd if nothing was done about Scottish commercial net fishing.

All the decisions should be taken on the basis of conservation and a reasonable balance between those who have traditionally obtained their livelihood from salmon fishing and the need for conservation. That idea appears to have permeated the Government departments involved and it is present in the Bill. I welcome the fact that Ministers have realised that the livelihoods of different groups of people are involved. One cannot simply wipe away people's livelihood, especially if the effects would be as limited as the evidence suggests.

It is interesting to note that the condition of some of the rivers in the north-east is not as deeply depressing as the condition of rivers in other areas, especially Wales. Anyone who has studied the Tweed recently will notice that there are large numbers of fish in it. That has given rise to a good deal of poaching and the Tweed commissioners have had to take on a number of extra bailiffs.

A week ago I went to Norham in my constituency arid saw for myself a river full of salmon. There was an extraordinary sight of an angler playing a salmon on his hook while other fish popped up around his boat, sticking their heads out of the water. A marvellous photograph of that event appeared in the local newspaper—taken no doubt not far from the stately dining room window of the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) as he gazed down upon the scene. The photo shows the angler with the salmon on his line and another popping its head out of the water only yards away.

Such a situation has arisen partly because of the low level of water in the River Tweed, and many fish were unable to get further up the river. It is not true that salmon in the river Tweed represent a collapsing resource and that sooner or later there will be none in the river. It is a resource that has to be carefully conserved and the best scientific advice must be obtained to ensure that that conservation takes place. All the interested parties must be given fair treatment.

These are the principles which we sought to keep in the Bill and which the Minister sought to enshrine in the Bill. Some of the restrictions placed on the Northumberland fishery will bear hard upon it but those fishermen recognise that they and others have to take their fair share of conservation measures. It is in their interests as well as everyone's that there should be salmon for everyone to fish in the future.

Mr. Gummer

I am pleased that we have had a long, important debate on the new clauses. It is perhaps the most important series of issues that will be raised on Report.

I accept very much the view of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall), that we should take the advisory committee very seriously, which he does. When the Bill was already prepared in large measure, I thought it worth while, as I came to it afresh, to look closely at the most contentious issues. I started with the clear view that salmon tagging was the right way to solve the major problem of the poacher and make a major contribution to conservation, for this is a conservation Bill.

We cannot distinguish between the stopping of poaching and the conservation measures because there is no doubt that very large numbers of fish are taken from rivers by poachers, which has a serious effect on conservation, not just because of the numbers but because of the methods used by poachers, which were so dramatically presented by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands). He rightly reminded us that the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) was very much out of date in the way in which he described poachers, who were family, furry individuals who fitted into every natural group and were merely taking the odd fish for the pot. That is not the person we are talking about, although I do not want to make the distinction that suggests that poaching in any cirumstances is acceptable. However, there is a type of poaching that is so unacceptable that anybody who has any interest in conservation must realise that it should be stopped. Connected with the poaching of salmon and the effect on conservation are violence and the use of methods that destroy rivers, which none of us could support.

Therefore, when I approached the matter, the idea of the tag attracted me considerably. Even had I been listening to every word on that day when the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) put forward with such enthusiasm the case of the Welsh water authority, I would still have had to say to him that I did not believe that I was right to think that tagging would solve the problem. Indeed, I take a stronger view than that. I believe that tagging has within it such inherent difficulties that it would make the problem worse because it would make people rely on the tags and, by relying on the tags, have a false sense of security. I want to express the argument carefully, and I want the House to be aware that I have taken seriously the arguments about tagging.

I have also sought to think about the arguments on an advisory committee. No such committee was envisaged when the Bill was first proposed. I responded to the pressure of my hon. Friends, not to have a simple way of getting off the hook, if we may use that phrase, but because I believe that an advisory committee is necessary for the Bill to have its full impact.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) that the argument about the statutory nature of the committee, based upon the fear that such a committee might be abolished by the whim of a future Minister, is unreal. It is not a political possibility for a Minister, having set up such a committee, to take such a short cut with it without a reason that could be seen by all.

There are also other examples of advisory committees, at least in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which are serious and important but which are not statutory. Their advice is taken seriously by the Ministry. The Farm Animal Welfare Council is an example. Therefore, the seriousness of the committee should not be determined by whether it is statutory. I prefer non-statutory committees because there is a flexibility about them that makes them worth while. This committee's seriousness must be judged by the House on the basis of what it does and of its membership.

In seeking to establish this committee we wanted to demonstrate that, above all, we are concerned with conservation. During the Committee stage I said that I did not believe that salmon should be treated as a food resource. I am pleased that that view has been taken up again this evening. Salmon are not primarily a food resource. If one looks at the figures, one sees that only 11 per cent. of the salmon eaten in this country are wild salmon. The rest are either farmed or imported salmon. Therefore, one cannot think of the 11 per cent. of British salmon that were caught last year as a food resource. One has to regard salmon as being very much more important to the leisure and tourist industries and to employment. Salmon as a food resource comes very low down the list.

9.30 pm

To ensure that that attitude prevails, we thought, first, that we ought to choose as chairman of the committee somebody who has a proven interest in conservation matters. Secondly, we thought that it was necessary that this person should clearly be seen to have had connections with the industry but that he should not be parti pris. That was difficult. I spent a great deal of time looking at very many names. Most of them turned out quite clearly to be on one side or another of the many arguments. Thirdly, we thought that it was necessary to have someone who would be able to deal scientifically with some of the fundamental issues relating to fisheries management that have been raised this evening. I am strongly of the view that one factor that has bedevilled a rational discussion of the issue has been the constant series of statistics that have been produced, all of which appear to contradict each other. There seems to be no way in which one can say that a particular list has to be accepted because it contains the most credible statistics.

Therefore, I am pleased to be able to tell the House that the regius professor of natural history at the university of Aberdeen, Professor Dunnet, who has the kind of experience that we need, has said that he is willing to become the chairman of this committee. I think that the House will be very grateful to Professor Dunnet. He has the additional advantage of being a Scotsman who lives in Scotland, who works in a Scottish university and who has a very close association with salmon research in Scotland. That. we feel, will give confidence to those who wish 80 per cent. of the salmon to be in Scottish waters.

As for the membership of the committee, I should have liked to present to the House this evening a list of those whom we had approached so that the House would know exactly who they were. However, I am unable to do so. It is important that the chairman of the committee should play some part in the discussions on the representation of a whole range of interests. The committee will advise those Ministers who have responsibility for fisheries. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will agree that such a committee will be able to work better together if all its members feel that it is a representative body. I take the point that, on a per capita basis, it is not representative. However, we want a spread of representation right across the board. I have now completed my primary look at the range of people and organisations who feel that they ought to he properly represented. As my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) suggested, it is probable that a majority of those on the committee will represent Scottish interests because most salmon are caught in Scotland. It is vital that the committee should be seen as a committee of Great Britain and not as one that merely covers Scotland.

One of the criticisms in Committee was that we do not have a national salmon policy. If the advisory committee is to make such a policy a continuing one, it must represent the whole of Great Britain. For that reason, the secretariat will have a London focus, as the membership is bound to have a Scottish focus. The secretary will be a MAFF appointee. His deputy will come from DAFFS. There will also be an input from the Welsh. I have not forgotten that, and I hope to show why it is of great importance. I hope that it will be a committee whose structure, balance and spread will allow it to be taken extremely seriously.

I have already discussed with Professor Dunnet one or two issues which the committee will consider. The committee will meet before the opening of the new season, whatever happens. I hope that the Opposition will accept that, to all intents and purposes, that means the immediate setting up of the committee. The committee will deal early on with statistics. It will consider the collection of statistics and their reliability.

I shall draw to the committee's attention the points that have been made in the debate about the possibility of using tagging as a means of collecting statistics. I believe that there are real problems in that respect, and I do not underestimate them. The suggestion that tagging a fish makes the statistics drawn from that tagging more reliable presents some difficulty. I shall certainly draw to the committee's attention the discussion that has taken place. It will obviously be within its remit. I think that it would be absolutely natural for the committee to discuss that issue at an early date.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) will be pleased that I have already agreed that the question of predators is one that the committee should discuss closely. I hope that the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) will not be upset about that. However, there is indisputable evidence that, because there is no culling of seals, there are more of them, which suggests that there is considerable predation by seals on salmon. Even if that is not true, it is important to establish the truth. Much of the heat that has been generated by differing interests in the salmon world is generated because no one can be sure about that fact, because we have been unable to provide the authoritative evidence we should like to have.

That is why I put the predators issue high on the list. Everywhere I went people said, "I do not know why you are bothering about the poachers until you do something about the seals," or, "I do not know why you are bothering about the north-east fisheries until you do something about the seals." Those people may be entirely wrong, but we must discover that. Therefore, we have asked the advisory committee to take up the matter quickly.

Mr. Wigley

The right hon. Gentleman would have heard the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) say earlier that circumstances were different regarding the salmon in his river—I think, the Tweed. The pattern in that river is quite different from that in Wales. Is that not indicative that there are factors other than the seals, which presumably would not discriminate between the Dyfi, the Tweed and the Beauly, which affect stocks? Perhaps we have extenuating -circumstances in Wales which need attention in that context. Can the Minister assure us that the Welsh Office will also be involved and that the focus will not just be on Scotland and MAFF in London?

Mr. Gummer

I give absolute assurance of that. Throughout the Bill we have been closely concerned with the Welsh Office. It has given its agreement to the terms of the advisory committee and there will be a clear Welsh input into the committee secretariat. There is no question about that. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I do not say that it is all down to seals. I do not know whether it is down to seals. The trouble with most of these debates is that people have grown increasingly cross with each other when it is the facts and figures that they are disputing. That is true of the north-east drift net fisheries. I shall return to Welsh tagging because I should like to deal with it directly in a wider context.

The advisory committee will not deal with the northeast drift net fisheries because we said that a specific report would be laid before both Houses of Parliament three years from the passing of the Bill on netting in the northeast of England and off the east coast of Scotland in the rivers that we mentioned in our debates. It would be entirely improper to suggest draconian measures, such as closing down the north-east drift net fishery off the coast of England, when 60 per cent. of the fish that are netted are netted in the rivers of Scotland. That is precisely the reason put forward by hon. Members on both sides of the House. That would be wholly unacceptable. It is also wholly unacceptable to deal with the public right of working fishermen in that way without any reference to the private rights of others in another part of the United Kingdom. That is not the business of fair Government legislation.

For that reason, we set out to achieve two objectives. First, we would restrict still further the north-east drift net fishermen. Many of my hon. Friends have asked how quickly that would be done and I can tell the House that all the measures that we promised to put in place will be in place before the opening of the new season. Secondly, the measure to prevent the use of licensed nets by endorsees in the absence of a licensee is being introduced by clause 35 of the Bill.

Both the Yorkshire and Northumbrian water authorities have made bylaws banning drift netting at night and standardising the weekend close time. We expect to be able to confirm them shortly. There are statutory limits to how quickly we can do that, but we shall confirm them shortly. This week I confirmed the Yorkshire water authority's order that will phase out seven drift net licences as the present licensees give up, and replace them with fixed net licences.

The two remaining measures are orders under section 28 of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975 to allow the use of fixed nets throughout the Yorkshire and Northumbrian water authority areas respectively. We do not anticipate any difficulties with the Yorkshire water authority area, but the Northumbrian water authority order has met considerable opposition from anglers. We must ensure that it meets the requirements without in any way diminishing the effect.

I can assure the House that all measures will be in place before the next season. In those circumstances it seems perfectly right that in three years' time we should study the effect of all types of netting on the supply of salmon into all kinds of rivers. Then we might again have some figures and facts on which to make decisions, instead of one man constantly saying that it affects 7 per cent. of salmon and another constantly saying that it affects every salmon, including those that are a long way from the north-east drift net fishery. Facts will help considerably.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) will accept that we should proceed in this way. If he is right and it is recommended that we take considerable, tough measures, the Government must be prepared to take them. I have always said that. If it is true that there is a major danger, we must put conservation first. We started our discussion in those terms and I should like to end now by saying, in exactly those terms, that conservation must come first. I give that undertaking. If, between now and the end of the three years, the Government have evidence which shows that we must take further steps, we shall have to do so. We have the powers to do so. We do not have to rely on new powers. We could take those steps, and I give my assurance that we would so do.

9.45 pm

Let me deal now with Welsh tagging. I intended, if it were possible, to tag, because I thought that tagging was right, but now I am convinced that it is not. The reason for that is that in every other country with the sort of problem that we have tagging does not seem to provide the answer. Our problem is that we would have to tag a large number of fish in a large number of places of disparate situation.

We cannot pray in aid the French. If we take every salmon that the French intend to tag, that is fewer than in one Scottish river. The French have fished all their salmon out. It is easy to have a tagging system if there are no salmon to tag. The idea that we should follow the French in conservation measures is difficult to accept, but to follow them in conserving something that they have already fished out is not sensible.

I have news fresh from Biarritz where they have been considering this issue carefully. There, they have presented a policy which, in almost every particular, the Bill is already applying. In other words, what we are trying to do and what we shall be doing with the powers provided by the Bill will, I hope, be able to provide exactly the sort of national salmon policy which the discussions in Biarritz lead us to want.

I know that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney is a great devotee of the French and a great francophile, but what the French intend to do will not wash. They are not, at the moment, going to tag fish caught at sea, farmed salmon or imported salmon. They think that they might in the future. But consider the danger of tagging only some salmon. That gives the poacher the most wonderful thing that he has ever had. All he has to do is to get hold of a few tags and he legitimises his own illegitimate catch.

Let me explain why I think that the Welsh water authority is mistaken in its proposal. I wish it were not so, but if it is wrong to tag nationally because it cannot be done without creating opportunities for fraud so much greater than any advantage one might have, it becomes even more wrong to tag regionally or even in the Principality alone. Any salmon poacher who poaches salmon on rivers, particularly those which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Woking suggested, are close to the border of the Principality, has only to skip over the border and there is no need for tagging to take place at all. It does not make sense as an anti-poaching device. Indeed, it does something much more dangerous. Once again, it enables people to legitimise that which they would find it difficult to get away with without a tagging scheme.

That does not mean that I have closed my mind to tagging for ever. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney must accept that if, after going over a matter again and again to try to find a way of accepting it, one still cannot be convinced, it is not unreasonable to share one's pretty good certainties with the House.

Mr. Rowlands

I do not find it very convincing that the Minister has not closed his mind to the issue of tagging. Therefore, let me put a different proposition to him. If the Welsh water authority, a responsible authority, in conjunction with the Welsh Salmon and Trout Association, brings a detailed project for the conservation of salmon in Wales to the advisory committee, when will the committee be able to receive an urgent submission of that kind and advise on it which, if the Committee supported it, might then reopen the Minister's mind? Will he give me an assurance that such a detailed submission will be within the remit of the advisory committee?

Mr. Gummer

I have already given the assurance that, as soon as possible after the Bill's enactment, the advisory committee will seek to assess how effective its anti-poaching measures are. We shall not necessarily wait for the water authority, but may tell it that if, in the circumstances then obtaining, it wishes its proposals for salmon tagging to be considered, the advisory committee will look at the matter. I have already given that undertaking, and I believe it to be right. I understand that the water authority might say that its tagging scheme can run with, and improve, the dealer licensing scheme, but I hope that we can agree that when the committee has considered whether the dealer licensing scheme is operating satisfactorily, it can look at the Welsh water authority's tagging proposals if it then has any. I hope that the Welsh water authority will take to heart the point that it could considerably help its case if it considered the number of water bailiffs and others available. No one can say that it is sensible to have a partial salmon scheme.

I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Redcar (Mr. 'Finn) about the cyclical pattern. One must be careful with the salmon figures, but that is why the committee has the matter as one of its first remits. I was unhappy about some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith), but he too is not convinced about tagging and that is only right. I hope that the proposals that we have put forward for the committee, the seriousness with which we view the matter, and the fact that it will be as representative as possible will make him happy to support us.

The experience of the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) as a student has given him a miserable view of anyone in the netting industry. I wish that he was not as biased against Scottish netsmen as some Scots appear to be against English netsmen. We should not be biased against rodsmen or netsmen. The aim is to try to conserve salmon. The hon. Gentleman's constant attacks on my noble Friends are a disgrace. They have a long history of supporting conservation measures and their probity is unquestioned, other than by the hon. Gentleman. If we hear again about how he was sent out in a boat as a student, we shall have to ask why he did not set up a union instead of complaining that there was not one for him to join.

Mr. Home Robertson

I am not complaining that the Minister has said a great deal about Scotland— that is fair enough in the context of his reply—but I invite him to clarify one important point concerning who the advisory committee will report to. The Minister said that the sponsoring Minister for the advisory committee on salmon conservation will be his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

It is well known, and the Minister has acknowledged, that 70 per cent. of the salmon in British rivers are found in Scotland. A significant number of the recommendations made by the advisory committee would have to be implemented, or at least considered, by the Secretary of State for Scotland. Will the Minister say a little more about the relationship between the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in relation to that important advisory committee?

Mr. Gummer

I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman has not followed what I have been saying, but I thought that I made it clear throughout our debates in Committee that the committee is an advisory committee to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales. I have tried to show how we have attempted to meet the interests of all those concerned.

It is not acceptable for the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) to suggest that tagging fish is the same as tagging sheep. The two methods would not be the same. The problems are quite different, and it does not help to try to draw comparisons.

My hon. Friend the Member for Woking rightly said that we would come later to dealer licensing. I believe that that is the way to counter the argument on tagging. Indeed, that is why I have agreed to extend dealer licensing. It should cover the whole of the United Kingdom and not just Scotland. However, I assure my hon. Friend that I shall seek the advice of the committee on a whole range of matters, which will not exclude the dangers that he mentioned.

We have presented the House with a mix of a dealer licensing system, an advisory committee and a chairman who will clearly have the support of all salmon interests, and we have thus changed the way in which the salmon industry is viewed. I hope that the House will accept that the new clauses are unnecessary and that a fair wind should be given to our major proposals.

Mr. Randall

I shall be brief. The Minister has expressed doubts and uncertainty about tagging, but in Wales there is unanimity that it is essential to an effective system of conservation. There are successful tagging schemes in other parts of the world, such as Canada, and I believe that we too should gain some practical experience.

The new clauses would allow us to take powers, and we could then see what the advisory committee has to say about the technicalities of tagging. That is the best way forward, and it will ensure that we have a good system of conservation.

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

The House divided: Ayes 32, Noes 128.

Division No 294] [10 pm
Berth, A. J. McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Bruce, Malcolm McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Canavan, Dennis Maclennan, Robert
Clwyd, Mrs Ann McWilliam, John
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli) Meadowcroft, Michael
Dewar, Donald Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Pike, Peter
Foster, Derek Randall, Stuart
George, Bruce Ross, Stephen (Isle or Wight)
Godman, Dr Norman Rowlands, Ted
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Shields, Mrs Elizabeth
Home Robertson, John Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Howells, Geraint Wigley, Dafydd
Johnston, Sir Russell Wilson, Gordon
Kennedy, Charles
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Tellers for the Ayes:
Kirkwood, Archy Dr. Roger Thomas and
Livsey, Richard Mrs. Llin Golding.
Amess, David Clegg, Sir Walter
Ancram, Michael Coombs, Simon
Ashby, David Cope, John
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Cormack, Patrick
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Couchman, James
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Cranborne, Viscount
Baldry, Tony Currie, Mrs Edwina
Batiste, Spencer Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Dover, Den
Blackburn, John Dykes, Hugh
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Evennett, David
Boscawen, Hon Robert Eyre, Sir Reginald
Bottomley, Peter Fallon, Michael
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Favell, Anthony
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Bright, Graham Garel-Jones, Tristan
Brinton, Tim Gummer, Rt Hon John S
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Burt, Alistair Hamilton, Neil (Tattoo)
Butterfill, John Hargreaves, Kenneth
Carttiss, Michael Harris, David
Cash, William Hayes, J.
Chope, Christopher Heddle, John
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Hunter, Andrew Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Jessel, Toby Monro, Sir Hector
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Jones, Robert (Herts W) Moynihan, Hon C.
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Neale, Gerrard
King, Rt Hon Tom Nicholls, Patrick
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Onslow, Cranley
Lang, Ian Osborn, Sir John
Lawrence, Ivan Page, Sir John (Harrow W)
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Pollock, Alexander
Lester, Jim Portillo, Michael
Lightbown, David Powell, William (Corby)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Powley, John
Lord, Michael Proctor, K. Harvey
McCurley, Mrs Anna Raffan, Keith
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute) Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Maclean, David John Roe, Mrs Marion
Major, John Rowe, Andrew
Mates, Michael Ryder, Richard
Maude, Hon Francis Sackville, Hon Thomas
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Mayhew, Sir Patrick Sayeed, Jonathan
Merchant, Piers Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Meyer, Sir Anthony Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Sims, Roger Twinn, Dr Ian
Speed, Keith van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Speller, Tony Waddington, David
Spencer, Derek Walden, George
Stanbrook, Ivor Waller, Gary
Stern, Michael Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton) Watts, John
Stradling Thomas, Sir John Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Thomas, Rt Hon Peter Wilkinson, John
Thompson, Donald (Calder V) Wolfson, Mark
Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N) Yeo, Tim
Thome, Neil (Ilford S)
Thurnham, Peter Tellers for the Noes:
Townend, John (Bridlington) Mr. Michael Neubert and
Tracey, Richard Mr. Tony Durant.

Question accordingly negatived.

It being after Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.