HC Deb 23 October 1986 vol 102 cc1349-55

  1. `(1) There shall be established a co-operative of anglers to be called The Scottish Anglers' Trust to administer and improve those angling waters under their control and to develop the sport of angling in Scotland.
  2. (2) Membership of the Trust shall be open to all on payment of a subscription.
  3. (3) Waters admininstered by the Trust may include those of public bodies leased at nominal rents to the Trust and those of proprietors willing to admit the public on condition that they are relieved of responsibility of organisation.
  4. (4) The Trust shall be entitled to representation on District Salmon Fishery Boards in those areas in which angling waters are administered by the Trust.
  5. (5) The Trust shall have the power to apply to the Secretary of State for an Access Order under the terms of subsection (5) below.
  6. (6) The Secretary of State may, if satisfied that there is a demand for salmon angling in an area which cannot be met other than by the use of compulsory powers, make an Access Order. The Order shall specify: (a) the waters to which it applies, (b) the number of persons to be admitted at any one time, (c) the payment to be made to the proprietor, (d) the method of administration, (e) the season, (f) methods of fishing and (g) the routes and means of approach to be used.'. —[Mr. Home Robertson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

7.15 pm
Mr. Home Robertson

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

The new clause would provide for the establishment of a national anglers' co-operative trust in Scotland, with power to acquire, administer and improve salmon and trout fisheries for the benefit of all its members. Membership would be open to everybody on the payment of a subscription. The new clause also provides for powers to establish public access to salmon and trout fisheries where it is the only satisfactory way of providing fishing rights for the public.

A new clause such as this is necessary because in many areas of Scotland salmon fishing is virtually exclusively retained for the benefit of those who own fisheries or can afford to pay high prices for a day's fishing. The Bill goes to enormous lengths to protect and extend the rights and privileges of proprietors of salmon fisheries. That has been our main criticism, as my right hon. Friend the Minister well knows. The new clause seeks to achieve at least some balance by establishing a body to promote public access to fishing and to represent wider interests on the district salmon fishery boards.

I stress that we acknowledge and recognise the excellent work done by local angling clubs and associations in many parts of Scotland. However, it has to be said that salmon fishing remains an exclusive and expensive preserve for very rich people in many areas not covered by such an angling association. That is why we believe that it is necessary to take action to establish a Scottish anglers' trust.

It is not only the Labour party that is concerned about this aspect of salmon fishing, because back in 1962 the then Conservative Secretary of State for Scotland, John Maclay, who might be remembered by some hon. Members present, set up a committee to report on Scottish salmon and trout fisheries. The committee was chaired by my eminent constituent Lord Hunter. Its second report, published in May 1965, made several recommendations. I shall not go into detail, but I commend to the House and the Government paragraphs 108 to 126. The report specifically recommended the establishment of a Scottish anglers' trust and a system of access orders to provide public access to fisheries.

The Bill could have been a golden opportunity to combine better protection and conservation of salmon stocks with fairer administration of fishing rights and better public access to enjoy that part of Scotland's natural heritage, but inevitably the Government and their backwoodsmen in the other place have chosen instead to reinforce proprietorial privileges and to do little else. That is one of the reasons why we fear that the Bill will fail to conserve salmon. It discriminates blatantly in favour of certain vested interests. It has to be said that inherently contemptible laws tend to be treated with contempt.

New clause 3 would go some way towards restoring the balance and promoting public interest in conservation and angling. I commend it to the House.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

I understand the thrust of the new clause and have considerable sympathy with it. If the Bill and the consequences that flow from it ensure that there are more fish in Scottish rivers, we should then take measures to ensure that there are more fishermen to take advantage of the fishing. In view of my constituency interests and the wider interests of angling in Scotland, I feel that what we should be looking for in the long run is an expansion of leisure fishing in Scottish rivers, with the increased numbers involved, because the economic benefits that would flow from that would be fairly substantial and widely spread.

The benefits that accrue to my constituency from salmon fishing stem from the number of people who come there when the fishing is good, and who spend money in the local economy, in the hotels and pubs and on the services in the area. I should like to see more people doing that. To the extent that a measure such as the new clause would achieve that, I would support it. However, I believe that if the Labour party had really wanted to press the matter and table a new clause that could carry widespread support, it would not have gone as far as it has with the powers that it proposes to establish.

The Government will not accept the new clause under any circumstances. If such a clause had been passed by a Labour Government, a Conservative Secretary of State would seek not to implement any of the powers in it. It would be preferable to establish a trust which was likely to work outside the ambit of day-to-day party politics, and which went hand in hand with a policy of ensuring the maximum number of fish in Scottish rivers and giving the maximum number of people the opportunity to catch those fish, thus increasing the activities of the salmon fishing industry in Scotland.

That ought to be the spirit behind the Bill and our desire that it should be passed. Regrettably, however, as the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) said, the Bill is deficient in a number of ways, but that is not the point to highlight. I am not convinced that the Bill will achieve effective conservation.

I have considerable sympathy with the new clause. I support the establishment of a Scottish anglers' trust. However, the powers that the Labour party seeks would result in a move too quickly and too far in the other direction. Therefore, I am unable to support the clause as it stands. The establishment of such a trust is, however, desirable.

Sir Hactor Monro

The only good point about the new clause is that the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) moved it briefly. He did not have the courage to say that it would result in the nationalisation of Scottish rivers, nor did he bother to say where all the money would come from to buy out Scottish riparian owners. He did not bother, either, to give sufficient credit to the very large number of angling associations and private owners who let fishing rights at very moderate rates throughout Scotland. The hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) knows that when he came to fish in Dumfriesshire he was able to fish for salmon for £5 a day. That is a modest fee.

Although all hon. Members want as many anglers as possible to be able to fish, what is needed is more conservation so that more fish become available for fishing. I should prefer that, rather than the purchase of privately owned water to be made available for public use. Opportunities are provided for those who want to fish. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will resist the new clause. It is unnecessary.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

One would have hoped, although I admit that it was a forlorn hope, that when the Government decided to introduce the Salmon Bill it would have led to the conservation of salmon and to more public access. Unfortunately, the main thrust of the Bill is to set proprietorial rights in concrete instead of increasing public access.

Fishing rights in Scotland are confined to a very small minority. I challenge the basis of the salmon fishing legislation. It is wrong that rivers which have been in existence for countless thousands of years, and the fish in those rivers, should be the property, by virtue of legislation, of a tiny minority of wealthy people. I support the clause unreservedly. It would be a start if the public were able to have more access to angling waters. Then they would develop an interest in the conservation of salmon stocks.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

I too, support the new clause unreservedly. I am fairly certain that those who support it do not envisage that anglers will be standing shoulder to shoulder along the river banks of Scotland. However, access must be widened. I am certain that the angling clubs in my constituency would welcome wider access.

In some instances the return of the salmon has been very largely due to the fine work of public bodies. I mention as an example the River Clyde Purification Board. Salmon are again to be seen in the Clyde. The heart of this clause is access to this very fine sport. It should not be confined to a small group of very rich people, as is the case in many instances.

Mr. Canavan

I support the new clause wholeheartedly. I tried to introduce a similar clause in Committee. Unfortunately, on account of its lack of wisdom, the Committee did not accept it. This is a very moderate clause.

At least twice I have tried to introduce a private Member's Bill on the Floor of the House. Its purpose was to establish a democratically constituted Scottish anglers' trust. I point out to the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) that the opposition to my Bill at First Reading was led not by the Tories, from whom one would expect opposition, but by the leader of the once great Liberal party, because of his vested constituency interest. Therefore, we saw what at one time was national Liberalism being reduced to narrow-minded parochialism.

Therefore it is hard to swallow what the hon. Member for Gordon said about his party having considerable sympathy for this new clause. It may be that in his heart of hearts the hon. Member for Gordon has considerable sympathy for the new clause, but on this issue he has been nobbled by his party leader, in the same way as other members of his party have been nobbled on defence by their leader. However, I shall not dwell on that matter. I know that they are very embarrassed about it and I do not like to see people being embarrassed.

I should like a far more radical measure to be introduced that would extend the ownership of fishing rights in Scotland. The new clause would help towards that end, but it is no secret that I should prefer there to be complete public ownership of all the freshwater fishing rights in Scotland. It is unfair for the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) to claim that this new clause would bring that about. My private Member's Bill would have achieved that aim, although it would have resulted in a decentralised form of public ownership rather than in nationalisation.

The ownership of fishing rights in Scotland is very much connected with the history of land tenure in Scotland. The owner of fishing rights is frequently the riparian landowner. That applies in particular to very lucrative fishing rights. We should try to democratise Scotland's most popular sport. The Scottish Sports Council says that over 500,000 people participate in freshwater fishing. Football is thought to be tremendously popular. Last night there were about 50,000 people at Parkhead for the European cup tie, but over 500,000 people participate in freshwater fishing. Because it is such a tremendously popular sport there is understandable concern among the participants, particularly among those on low incomes, that they do not enjoy a reasonable degree of access. The new clause would improve access and bring about a gradual widening of ownership.

The hon. Member for Dumfries referred to compensation. If a genuine request for compensation were made by those who had invested in fisheries and in restocking and conservation, I believe that clubs would be more interested in preferential terms of access rather than in financial compensation. I am sure that a measure such as this could be introduced for next to nothing in terms of financial compensation. If a group of people in an angling club put a great deal of work and investment into a particular stretch of water, surely a deal could be struck between the Scottish anglers' trust and the local angling club whereby the club received a certain number of rods per year on the river. Presumably, there would be an overall limit on the number of rods. With the Scottish anglers' trust, there would be an opportunity for democratic participation in the rules for the distribution of rods, access, permitted tackle, permitted times, prices, and so on.

7.30 pm

There is no doubt that, in many cases, people who claim compensation have no moral title to do so. Whatever legal title they have, they certainly have no moral title to compensation. Their title to fishing rights is very much tied up with their land ownership rights. That is based on the hereditary principle. When I first introduced my Bill to establish a Scottish anglers' trust, I read out the names of those who were involved in applying for a special protection order in the Tweed catchment area. It read almost like a House of Lords Division list. Almost all were hereditary peers.

The names included the Marquis of Lothian, whose boy is in the Scottish Office; the Duke of Roxburghe; the Duke of Sutherland; and Lord Home of the Hirsel, who I believe before he died in a previous incarnation was called the 14th Earl of Flume. He got his land and fishing rights from the 13th Earl of Hume. The 13th Earl of Hume got them from the 12th Earl. The 12th Earl got them from the Ilth Earl, and so on. The first Earl of Hume stole them from the people. Hon. Members who do not accept my version of history in terms of stealing land and fishing rights from the people might say that the land was gallantly fought for.

I remember the story of a man who was caught by the local landlord allegedly for poaching. The landlord said, "Get off my land". The poacher replied, "Who said that it's your land?" The landlord said, "I'll tell you this, my boy, my ancestors fought for this land. That is how it is my land." The poacher replied, "Get your bloody jacket off now and I'll fight you for it." That is the morality of land tenure in Scotland. Hon. Members laugh, but it goes back to the battle of Bannockburn. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) laughs because it is true, and he appreciates my saying it. Going back to the battle of Bannockburn, the land was fought for. Some people changed sides at half time because they found they were in danger of being on the losing side. They changed their jerseys at half time just to ensure that they were on the winning side to get the land, fishing rights, and so on.

It is about time that the balance was restored, and that we returned land and fishing rights to the people. I do not expect all hon. Members to agree with my radical ideas. The new clause does fall short of my ideas, but it is a good measure. It is interesting to note that even people such as Lord Hunter, who is not a great friend of mine, have come out with similar proposals. I hope that the Minister and the House will sympathetically consider accepting the new clause.

Mr. John MacKay

We have had this debate on a number of occasions. During the first half of the speech by the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) I thought that he had lost the tape of his usual speech. However, during the second half he was back on stream. I wondered when the list of the people who came forward with the Tweed order would come before the House. The hon. Gentleman is well known for his devotion to a Scottish anglers' trust. As he rightly told us, he sought leave of the House to introduce a Bill in 1979 with the intention that the trust would be eligible for Government funding. Leave was refused on that occasion. He tried again in 1984, and he was no more successful.

On both occasions, as he said, he was opposed by the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel). A few moments ago, the hon. Member for Falkirk, West rebuked the right hon. Gentleman for looking after the interests of his constituents. I did not know that looking after constituents' interests was a vested interest. My constituents, like those in the borders constituency, did not want the anglers' trust that the hon. Gentleman was seeking. He wanted it because some of his constituents want to fish on the highways and byways of Scotland. They want to go where they like and fish by whatever method they like. That has caused great problems in the Tweed valley, the Tay valley and in many other parts of Scotland, including my own.

On both occasions the trust would have been concerned with freshwater fish — brown trout, grayling, and the like, but not salmon. The trust which he proposed in Committee would have had power over salmon in fresh water but not in salt water. It would have had no power over brown trout and other freshwater fish. The trust as proposed in the new clause would have power over salmon angling in Scotland in fresh or in salt water.

The principal argument is always that people cannot get salmon fishing, yet the hon. Gentleman told us that over half a million people fish in Scotland. I know that some people fish only for brown trout. However, many fish for both. Of course, there are some extremely expensive beats. I recall that a sporting event took place in Mexico at the time of the Committee stage. I pointed out to the hon. Gentleman then, and I do so again, that £1,000 a week for more than one rod, perhaps eight or 10 rods, to fish on some of the expensive beats does not compare unfavourably with the £1,000 it would have cost a person to follow Scotland to Mexico to see the World Cup matches. One pays at the top range for one's sport if one wants to play at that level. If a person wants to pay a rather more modest price, as most of us do, he can find places all over Scotland where he can pay a modest price to get at some fairly good salmon fishing aside from members of angling clubs who can have access to some good water through that angling club.

In Committee, I said—Opposition Members will not be surprised to hear it again—that the Government could not accept what is essentially a doctrinaire proposition. It infringes unfairly on the rights of those who own salmon fishing rights in Scotland. Nothing that I have heard tonight makes me wish to change my mind. I do not want to go through the clauses in detail. However, new clause 3(5) states: The Trust shall have the power to apply to the Secretary of State for an Access Order". That is not a democratic arrangement. There is no provision for appeals or for public and local inquiries. There is no consideration of the proprietor's position. Effectively, the Secretary of State is asked to exercise compulsory powers over land for the benefit of the anglers' trust or its members without any of the normal safeguards of individual rights.

I shall not continue. I do not suppose that the House is surprised by the line I take. Apart from a few people who wish to fish where and when they like, and by what means they like, I do not believe that there is any great demand in Scotland, outside the doctrinaire ranks of some parts of the Labour party, for such a body, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his new clause. If he does not do so, I am quite sure that most hon. Members will agree with me.

Question put and negatived.

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