HL Deb 19 June 1961 vol 232 cc385-7

2.35 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are of opinion that the serious threat to salmon stocks in the Tweed, Forth, Aberdeenshire Dee, and other areas by uncontrolled drift, netting can be met by measures other than by legislation; and, it' so, whether they can define the nature of those measures; and, if not, whether they will introduce legislation at an early date to put an end to the aforesaid drift-netting operations.]


My Lords, drift-net fishing for salmon within estuarial limits is illegal and enforcement is a matter for the district fishery boards. In the case of the Tweed estuary, this prohibition applies to five miles from the shore, and enforcement here is for the River Tweed Commissioners. Within one mile of low water mark, it is a statutory criminal offence for any person to fish for salmon off the coast of Scotland, unless he has a legal right to do so, or written permission from a person having such a right. Enforcement is a matter for the district fishery boards concerned. Up to this one-mile limit the police also have certain powers. Beyond one mile from the shore, but within the three-mile limit, I understand (though it is, of course, for the courts to interpret this question of civil law) that the rights of fishing belong to the proprietors of the fishings who may take steps to protect these rights against infringements. Finally, outside the three-mile limit of territorial waters (five miles off the Tweed) there is at present a public right of fishing for salmon and there are no powers to control drift-net fishing.

The situation which has arisen from the extension of drift-net fishing off the Tweed and other parts of the Scottish coast is now being very urgently examined, and the Government are considering carefully what measures may be practicable and desirable. I regret that I cannot say more to-day.


My Lords, I beg to thank the noble Lord for his Answer, but I await with eagerness some satisfactory reply to my Question. Is the noble Lord aware (of course he is, but I have to put it in that way) that the Tweed Fishery Acts were passed for the specific purpose of preserving and increasing the breed of salmon—those are the words of the Act. As it is now quite clear that drift-net fishing for salmon is deliberately thwarting the purpose of those Acts, is that not an incontestable reason, apart from others, why the Government should take early steps to put a stop to it at an early date?


My Lords, I am fully aware of what the noble Lord says, but there is a Motion on the Order Paper for debate on Thursday and I do not think I should anticipate to too great an extent what will be raised then.


My Lords, may ask one further question? Is the noble Lord aware that there have been legal decisions in the Court of Session based on the old Scottish territorial limit, which is very much greater, and will he consider what has been the effect of the extent to which the old Scottish territorial limits have been overlaid or done away with by recent Statutes?


Yes, I am aware of the point, but I am advised that the Question I was asked is correctly answered.


My Lords, on that point, is the noble Lord aware that what the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, was referring to is the Scottish Fisheries Act, 1895, under which the Scottish fishery limit is 13 miles. What is there, therefore, to prevent the Government from taking action against drift-net fishing for salmon in Scottish waters and off the County of Berwick-on-Tweed—which is a separate subject—up to a 13-miles limit, especially now the Icelandic dispute has been settled by an agreement which does that very thing.


My Lords, I think we really should be unwise to anticipate the Motion standing in the name of my noble friend. That is exactly the kind of queston which the House will wish to probe on Thursday, and the rule against anticipation, I should have thought, should be invoked here.


My Lords, I do not want to go further into this matter to-day, but as my noble friend who answered on behalf of the Scottish Office referred to the debate on Thursday, and told us he was afraid he could not say more to-clay, I would ask: can the Government give us an undertaking that they will be able to say more on Thursday?


My Lords, I am afraid that the only undertaking I can give my noble friend is that I will do my very best.

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