HL Deb 22 June 1961 vol 232 cc777-805

6.15 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, in addressing your Lordships' House for the first time, I ask that you will show me the indulgence and consideration which you usually do, and I only hope that in spite of my deficiencies as a speaker I shall be able to make some useful contribution to what I believe to be a very vital issue. Although my interest in this subject is mainly concerned with Scotland, and in particular the South-East of Scotland, it is, as the terms of the Motion state, one which affects the whole of the United Kingdom. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, in introducing this Motion has earned the thanks not only of those who have any direct connection with salmon fishing but also of those who realise, as he has already pointed out, that the salmon is a national asset. For it is a national asset. In recognition of that fact, there has been for hundreds of years protection given to the salmon —protection, that is to say, in the methods by which it is caught and the times at which it is caught. That protection is given by various forms of legislation which have been built up over the years.

The aspect of salmon fishing which we are considering now is entirely concerned with netting, and it is important that we should all have a clear idea of what types of net fishing are at present in existence, and also certain legal aspects which affect them. In Scotland there are two types of nets—the fixed net and the sweep net. The fixed net is, as its name implies, a static net in which fish is trapped in a netting chamber. It is fished offshore up to half a mile from low-water mark and requires to be made inoperative, as the law demands. The sweep net is fished in rivers and estuaries and is operated from a boat, being swept in a circle from one point on the bank. In England, however, the practice is somewhat different. There, fixed nets are illegal, and the nets operated in England are drift-nets and sweep-nets. This drift-net to which I am referring is in certain respects slightly different from the drift-net which is the subject of this debate, in that it is a net which is made of cotton or hemp and it being fished just below the surface. It does not trap the fish like the fixed net, but the fish entangles itself in the meshes of the net and so gets caught. The sweep-net, of course, is the same, and worked on the same principle, as that in Scotland.

On the legal aspects, we had an answer from the Minister a few days ago which gave the legal aspects in so far as the bounds of permissible net fishing are concerned. But nothing was said then regarding this matter of the close time, and this is the legal aspect which I consider has a very important bearing on this subject we are discussing. There are two close times. In Scotland there is a weekly close time, and there is an annual close time. The weekly close time is 42 hours over the weekend, and it operates from mid-day on Saturday to 6 a.m. on the following Monday morning. By legislation introduced in 1951 this close time was increased by six hours, the reason being to conserve the stocks of fish. During this close time all fixed and sweep nets are inoperative and it is illegal to use them. In addition to the weekly close time, there is the annual close time of 168 days. That operates over the winter months; and during that time, again, no nets are allowed to be operated. This period is chosen because it coincides with the breeding season of the fish.

As your Lordships have been told, we now have this new factor of drift-netting to contend with. This is a form of fishing over which our protective measures have little or no control whatsoever. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inch-rye, rather emphasised the point that this drift-netting was, in the main, taking place outside territorial waters. I am afraid that I cannot agree with him on that, because there is good evidence that it is taking place within territorial waters between the two-mile and three-mile limit over which we have statutory control, and also outside and inside the one-mile limit (that is, the one-mile limit from the low water mark) over which there is statutory control. Furthermore, this fishing—and I want to emphasise this because I think it is a point that has not been emphasised enough before—is carried out in the close season, and those taking part and reaping the rewards of it are making no contribution to the maintenance and improvement of our rivers, the source of all our future stocks of salmon.

On this legal aspect, I am quite sure that one of the troubles is that a large number of the fishermen who are now carrying out this practice of drift-netting are not sufficiently aware of what is the existing law in relation to these fishing bounds. I would strongly recommend that a clear and precise directive be issued to fisheries officers and notification given in the Press to explain to these men exactly what is the position regarding the prosecution by fisheries boards and the interdiction through private proprietors. I am quite sure that if that were done it would help the position. But, equally, I know that there are a number of fisher men who are perfectly aware of what are the fishing bounds, but are continuing to fish within these limits in complete defiance of the statutory controls.

The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has said something about the number of boats that are so employed. He spoke of the boats which are operating now, and have been since 1960, off the Northumbrian coast area and off the Tweed. I think, as he said, this must amount to some 30 boats. He rather emphasised the fact that the fishing was confined mainly to the Tweed area. But I would humbly submit that that is not so, and that in fact this type of fishing has spread northwards and is now as bad, in fact I think worse, on the East coast of Scotland. There are now some 30 boats operating from ports off the coast of Angus, from Fraserburgh and from the Moray Firth ports; and I have it on excellent authority that there are a further 12 boats being fitted out in the Caithness ports of Lybster, Scrabster and Ulbster.

As to the numbers of salmon being caught, your Lordships have heard already figures. There has been a suggestion that the numbers are falling off. Again, I feel certain that this is not so; and I should like to quote the figures for the deliveries of drift-not salmon at Billingsgate Market last week, in one week. They were, from the Northumbrian coast district, 27 boxes, and from the Angus coast district, 91 boxes. The 27 boxes were small boxes containing approximately 8 fish per box, which gives a total of some 216 fish from that area. The fish from the Angus coast area were in larger boxes containing 14 fish; that gives a figure of 1,300 fish from that area. I assure your Lordships that those figures are accurate; and they prove, I think, how greatly the danger is now spreading up the coast of Scotland. In fact the figures for the Angus coast are now six times as great as the figure for the Tweed coast. I should not like to give an inaccurate estimate of the numbers of fish that are being caught this year in all areas, but I am pretty certain that it cannot be less than 23,000.

Needless to say, the effect of all these practices on their own livelihood has not been lost on the net fishermen of the coast; there is a growing feeling of frustration and anger among them, and they are rightly demanding to know what is being done about it. Equal concern is felt by the White Fish Association, because their fishermen are now realising what profits they can make out of salmon and are going for the catching of salmon in preference to the white fish; and as a result there is already a tremendous loss of trade in white fish. There is one further point on that aspect. These factors have resulted in the building up of a great and dangerous tension among these fisherfolk on the East coast. I think that this is an aspect of the matter which requires urgent consideration, because unless something is done to change the situation there is every likelihood—I do not think I exaggerate when I say this—of a breakdown in law and order in those areas. The feeling is running very high indeed.

Although I cannot quote it word for word, an Answer to a Question was given in another place a few days ago in which it was said that these practices could, or should, be combated by the district boards. There is one district board, that of the Northesk, which, in order to try to combat these drift-netters and to preserve the fishing within its own waters, has acquired the use of a fast motor launch. This motor launch is now operating at nights in the Montrose area in an attempt to obtain evidence on which proceedings against these offenders can he taken. I submit, my Lords, that this is not the job of the fishery boards. To acquire a fast launch is a very costly matter. It is a very worthy effort, and I think it is done partly to show that net-fishers are making some attempt to do something in this matter. I think that the proportions that this problem has now reached render it impossible for fishery boards to deal with it themselves and they must go further than that with some form of legislation. A form of exploitation as profitable as this is bound to increase unless some measures are taken to stop it.

I consider that the figures I have given your Lordships show how this increase is taking place and what the final results must inevitably be. These results, as has already been pointed out, will have very far-reaching effects. These salmon which are being caught are not only the source of our future stock of fish; they are a source of revenue (and I think that it is possibly not appreciated that the Crown is one of the biggest owners of salmon fishing in Scotland) and a source of trade in which netsmen, tackle-makers, boat-builders, fish dealers, box-makers, gillies and water bailiffs are all employed. Moreover, as has already been pointed out to your Lordships, this sport provides a great source of relaxation, and plays a very big part in the tourist industry of Scotland.

A great deal of publicity has been given to this matter in the Press, certainly in Scotland, and I think that the public, or the great majority of them, have at least some knowledge of the facts. Furthermore, the seriousness of the situation has on many occasions been represented both to the Secretary of State for Scotland and to the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. The Association of Scottish District Salmon Fishery Boards, the Scottish Salmon Angling Federation, the Salmon Net Fishing Association of Scotland and the Scottish Landowners' Federation are all united on this issue. However, my Lords, in spite of these representations I do not think it appears that the seriousness and urgency of the situation has been fully appreciated. Certainly in 1960 the official view appeared to be that drift-netting had not developed sufficiently for an accurate assessment of its results to be made or to justify any legislation. It appeared to me to be a most remarkable thing that in the Report on the Fisheries of Scotland for 1960, issued by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, which included a report from the Inspector of Salmon Fisheries, the word "drift-netting" was not once mentioned.

The form that legislation should take is not for me to say. I would, however, suggest that whatever measures are taken must cover both the catching of salmon and the subsequent landing of the fish. It has been officially suggested that any measures to prohibit the landing of salmon would not deal effectively with the problem, and that any measures to deal with the catching of the salmon would be too difficult to enforce. I do not think these views can be accepted. I consider that all legislation is made on the assumption that the average citizen is a law-abiding person, and any measure to make drift-netting illegal would seem to me to be no different from other Acts which make other practices illegal. British fishing boats have to conform to certain fishing regulations, but I do not think it has ever been suggested that every trawler that goes to sea should have to have a patrol boat going with it. I think that legislation dealing only with the catching of salmon or only with the landing afterwards would not in itself be enough. But I feel that legislation which combined both of these aspects would have some very great effect. Above all, I would suggest that such legislation should be a United Kingdom measure and not only a Scottish measure, because it is a matter which, as we have already heard, affects the whole of the United Kingdom.

My Lords, I hope that in what I have said I have in some measure convinced your Lordships of the urgency of this matter; and I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, how warmly I support him in this Motion.

6.37 p.m.


My Lords, I ask the indulgence of the House for a personal explanation. As I entered the House only an hour ago the noble Earl the Chief Whip advised me that he had been told that a few days ago, when I asked a Question in this House about a newspaper business of which I am a director, I did not declare an interest. That is true. It was an error on my part. I deeply regret it, and I take this, the first opportunity which presents itself, of offering my apology to noble Lords.

My Lords, we have listened to a maiden speech which I am sure Members in all parts of the House will feel was a most valuable contribution to our debate from a new voice, which we much hope we shall hear again. I think that the noble Earl is to be congratulated upon his marvellous name. I can think of only one or two other Scottish names which could possibly compete with "The Earl of Caithness"; it conjures up such vistas of beauty and charm. His voice and manner in presenting his case to us for the first time were of the highest order, with clarity, certainty and marshalling of facts, which is of great value to us. I much hope that we shall have the pleasure of having him frequently speaking in our debates.

Izaac Walton in The Compleat Angler said—and I quote: God never did make a more calm, quiet and innocent recreation than angling. I call attention to this aspect of the matter because I rather want to stress the importance of angling, though I shall, before I sit down, return to emphasise some of the points so well made by the noble Lord who opened this debate. May I say that I think all of us who are interested in rivers and the way of life which surrounds rivers and angling are much indebted to the noble Viscount, Lord Stuart of Findhorn, and to the noble Viscount who asked a similar question the other day, Lord Elibank, and to my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye for having raised this matter.

There are nets and rods to be considered. Now if a new way of netting has been found which is more effective than the old way of netting, then we may be sorry for the persons who own the rights in the old way of netting, but I do not think we can be any more sorry for them than for anyone else who owns a method of doing anything which is superseded by a more effective method. It is just a case of science and new materials and new discoveries causing a change in method which puts one man out of business and another man into business. I do not think that, as a country or as a Parliament, we can be very much concerned about that. But if the whole way of life as it is, viewed from the point of view of the rivers and valleys in which salmon are to be found, is threatened with change and possibly with extinction, then, indeed, Parliament should take a hand in the matter. That is why I have stressed the importance of angling.

The noble Earl who answered for the Government told us that in England drift-netting is used to a small extent. But, my Lords, it is subject to the close season. It is not permitted for the winter months, and it is not permitted for 42 or 48 hours in each week; so that the salmon has a chance of getting up the river in England, even though drift-netting is used. But in the situation described by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, the fish has no chance of getting up the river. He may be caught any day, any night, any time, in and out of the close season. I am bound to say that if the Government are unwilling to say at this stage that they will ban drift-net fishing, they might have gone as far as to say that they would study the question of bringing drift-net fishing everywhere under rule and under control, so that, wherever it does take place, there is the close season. Because it is this close season which preserves these rivers from destruction.

Are your Lordships aware how rare this salmon is? This fish is found only in the Atlantic. In no other ocean in the world is it found. The so-called salmon you find in the Pacific, which you eat out of a can, is not the same fish and is not even the same species—and everyone will know that it is not to be compared. There may be just a few fish in one river in New Zealand which came from the Atlantic, and there may now be just a few in the Falkland Islands. I took a hand in that myself, because. I helped to export some salmon ova from a river in Lancashire to the Falkland Islands, and I learn from Sir Edwin Arrowsmith, the Governor there, who is a friend of mine, that the fish have taken for the first time. It is worth noting that this is an export trade, and who knows but that it may not grow? But the point I am making now is that this is an extremely rare fish, and that is why it is so valuable. It is very hard to find a salmon and it is very hard to kill one, but these chaps seem to have found a way of intercepting them on their way into their breeding ground, and to take them in very large numbers.

Now how important is this industry? It is very hard to judge it in material terms, but I have been told by the Scottish Tourist Office that they estimate it is worth some £20 million a year to Scotland. I cannot measure what it is worth to England or to the whole Islands, but that is a figure to give you at least some idea of its importance and its magnitude. I am told that last year—or, rather, in the year 1959, which is the last year for which figures are available—the salmon taken by net, rod and line were worth £1⅓ million. Of that, it is said that those taken by rod and line were about one-seventh, or some 1200,000 worth. It is my belief that the numbers taken by rod and line must have been much greater, because all salmon taken by nets, of course, are sold, and front there comes the figure, but not all salmon taken by rod and line are sold. Last year I had the great satisfaction, with a friend and two rods, of killing 28 salmon in a beauti- ful Scottish river, but not one of them was sold and not one of them, therefore, would have been counted in these figures. There must probably be very many more than £200,000 worth of salmon taken in Scottish rivers, and many more still in rivers throughout the United Kingdom and in the Islands as a whole. But these figures give us some idea of the measure.

Those most expert and most knowledgeable tell us that if you do not allow the stocks of salmon to be kept up, the river will be ruined in five years, and it will take fifteen years for it to recover. I do not think these are fantastic figures at all. I think they are very real figures, and they will be within the knowledge of some who have had experience of rivers that have been over-netted and have got down beyond the point of fecundity, beyond the point of reproduction. It is therefore a threat to an asset; a matter of pride, and a matter of calm contemplation for many people. It is also a matter that threatens the employment of very many people. There are 250 hotels in Scotland alone where rooms are let with fishing: not all salmon and sea trout, but in a great many of them there is the attraction that sometimes a salmon is to be taken. Any of your Lordships who are fishermen will know that it is not the salmon you take but the salmon you think you are going to take that draws you to the river.

I therefore say to Her Majesty's Government that there are two aspects of the reply given by the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, that I am bound to regard as somewhat unsatisfactory. The first is the impression he gave me that, "Well, until a cast-iron case supported by statistics is available, the Government Departments cannot possibly deal with this matter." By that time it will be too late. The other thing was that while he told us about the method of drift-netting in England, he gave no indication that the very strict control of drift-netting in England might be applied in Scotland. I ask Her Majesty's Government to try to bring in a Bill In the autumn; or, if not, to be sure to bring one in early next year, or to put one in the Queen's Speech, to bring satisfaction to all these people who live on or by these rivers, and who enjoy them. I cannot believe that it is satisfactory to let the matter rest with such a usual reply as we have been given. I think we are much indebted to the noble Lords who have brought this matter to notice, and I would say only that I urge Her Majesty's Government to do something about this before it is too late.

6.48 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join with other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, for introducing this very important Motion. Secondly, I should like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, on what, if I may say so, was a most remarkable and well-informed maiden speech. I am quite certain that there are few noble Lords who know more about salmon fishing than the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. I only hope that we shall be able to persuade him to leave his beautiful banks of the Dee and come and address us in this House more often.

I am quite certain that from time to time I have incurred your Lordships' wrath and indignation when speaking in your Lordships' House, but I hope that I have never committed the crime of speaking for too long. This time, I have to declare an interest—a small financial one, but a large one in other respects. Because of this, perhaps your Lordships will permit me to speak for longer, but I am going to stick to my rule and use the fewest possible words.

I know only too well what pains the Scottish Office have been to so as to create conditions for more employment in Scotland. I am sure the Scottish Office would be the first to admit that Scotland's great natural resources, such as her rivers and her fish, have been used to help create these conditions. The salmon which come up the river, alas very often owing to heavy pollution, now in smaller numbers, not only give direct employment but also give indirect employment, for they draw not only the tourists from abroad but also the Sassenachs from South of the Border. The salmon does not discriminate between nations or between riches or poverty. It is one of the few who can turn up its nose just as easily to the dollar as to the pound.

I thought my noble friend Lord Waldegrave batted quite magnificently for the Government. He kept his eye on his brief, he stonewalled and he gave away no chances. In the interests of brighter cricket, I hope my noble friend from the Scottish Office will "have a go"! I realise that we in Scotland are not renowned for wielding the willow with quite so much skill as those further South, so I think we may excuse the noble Lord who is to reply if he uses his mashie or "No. 2" so as to get him out of his difficulties. That is, we may excuse him if he gets out of his difficulties to our satisfaction.

It is indeed difficult to offer advice. Taking the long-term view, I think that we should know more about not only salmon, but also the herring and white fish. A more dynamic Government-sponsored research project into the life of the Atlantic salmon, the herring and the white fish would, I believe, be most useful. As to what should be done immediately, this is undoubtedly an extremely complex problem, and I would offer my noble friends in Her Majesty's Government my deepest sympathy over this task. My noble friend Lord Craigton must, I feel, be feeling rather like a "fish out of water"; but I am glad to see that he does not look like those poor fish in St. James's Park, where so many have given up the unequal contest. He obviously filled his lungs with good Scottish oxygen before coming to Whitehall.

I shall end by advising Her Majesty's Government what not to do. In my view, Her Majesty's Government must not say that they do not know enough about this matter; that they will watch the situation, and make further investigations. It cannot be stressed too strongly that if, in five years' time, there is a great decline in the numbers of salmon in the rivers, then it will be too late to take action, because there will be insufficient breeding stock left to influence the situation. If we want salmon in our rivers in five to seven years' time we must preserve to-day's breeding stocks. If we are to continue to derive employment and benefit from the fish in our rivers and from the seas, salmon, as well as herring and white fish, must be preserved in their correct breeding numbers, as part of our national heritage which has been handed down to us in trust from our forefathers.

6.55 p.m.


My Lords, I would add my voice to those who have congratulated the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, on his admirable and thoughtful maiden speech. I hope that we shall hear more from him. I should also like to congratulate my noble friend who is sitting beside me, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, on raising this topic and for dealing with it so admirably in his speech this evening. Indeed, he dealt with many more points altogether than I had thought of for the whole of my speech, so your Lordships will have the benefit of hearing a somewhat curtailed address from me, which will not disappoint you, no doubt.

I am rather disappointed with the attitude of my noble and learned friend, the Leader of the House. I know he is not here at present, and I do not in the least blame him for that, because, he is a very busy Minister. I am also rather disappointed at my noble friend the Minister of State, Scottish Office, although he is an old friend who did a lot of work for me in the past, and I hope he will do better in the future. Only as recently as last Monday, the Leader of the House, of whom I am very fond and admire, got up and more or less ruled some of us out of order by quoting what is called the "rule against anticipation", when he said [col. 387 of the OFFICIAL REPORT] that it should be invoked last Monday in view of the fact that this debate was going to take place here to-day. Well, I am not unused to Parliamentary methods of that sort for stilling debate, and I certainly do not blame him at all. I got up only to ask the very brief question, in view of the Leader of the House's statement about what we hoped was going to happen here this evening, whether we could really in fact hope for a constructive statement from the Government to-day.

At this point my noble friend from the Scottish Office took over, and he disappointed me by saying that he could not do more than say he would do his best. Of course, we still have to hear from him, so there is still hope, although I must say the hope begins to fade as the hours and days go by. My real complaint against the Leader of the House, not that I expected much, was that something might be said on Thursday; and this merely reminded me —although I did not bother to do it at the time—of the fact that it is the same old story: "Jam any other day, but never jam on Thursdays": Now we have Thursday, and there has been no jam to date. It is disappointing. I hope that the Government realise this is a matter which is not only serious but urgent.

My noble friend who has just sat down, Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, said that if we could not get something done this year it should be done early next year. I must part company with him on that. The truth of the matter is that, if it is done, it should definitely be done before January, 1962. The matter is certainly urgent. I should also like to know whether there was any false impression conveyed about the present effects on the stocks of salmon, either by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye or by my noble friend Lord Waldegrave. I think there is definite proof that stocks are being seriously affected now.

It is also the truth, as has been already stated, that we must take action before it is too late. My noble friend Lord Waldegrave said that there was not proof as yet, or was not sufficient proof, that stocks were being affected. But, as has been said, in four or five years' time it will be too late to restore the depleted, if not annihilated, stocks of salmon in our rivers. It is the fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, sitting behind me, would agree—for example, taking the Moray Firth from Burg-head eastwards past the mouth of the Spey, the Nairn, the Findhorn ("Findhorn" comes before the Nairn; I ought to know that), to the Ness, Beauly, and so on (and my noble friend will correct me if I am wrong)—salmon net stations along the coast are being actually closed down because of the shortage of stocks going up towards the mouths of these rivers. Something must be done before it is too late. I am not hidebound about the solution. What I want is the Government to state what they are prepared to do and prove to us that it will be an effective method. Previous to listening to the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, I had been an advocate of the extension of the limit to twelve miles, but I see his point there: that that may not be the right answer at all. I am prepared to agree.

Then, what about total prohibition? I should like my noble friend, the Minister of State, Scottish Office, to tell us, if he can, what are the reasons why the Government cannot put that into operation and whether they will seriously consider it, if they have not already considered it. I hope he will be able to say something on that subject, so as to give us a little jam on Thursday. I have not much more to say. I hope I have impressed on this House and on my noble friend the urgency and importance of this matter. I do not want to repeat what has been so well said by other noble Lords. I think my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye covered the case fully in his speech. Therefore I will conclude by quoting the words of a certain gentleman, of whose name your Lordships may have heard, when he said in the House of Commons that the Government contemplated early action and some honourable Member naturally got up and asked him what he meant by "early". Then my right honourable friend Sir Winston Churchill replied that, as it was a matter which brooked no delay, "There may be an interval of time: but there will be no delay".

7.2 p.m.


My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships very long. I had fully intended to take part in this debate, but refrained from putting my name on the list because I expected to be still engaged on the work of a Committee, which fortunately was able to finish its work yesterday, though too late, I thought, for me to put my name forward. However, that would not have been a reason sufficient for me to intervene, if it had not been that all the speeches have been from the other side of the House. I should not wish it to be thought that this is a matter which concerns only one side of the House and in which only noble Lords on the Benches opposite are interested.

Looking around me, I am tempted to remark that once, when I was in the very far North of Scotland, the part I was in struck me as being the most desolate and lonely place I had ever been in. But, as so many of us often are, I have been proved wrong just by living a little longer, because on that occasion I was accompanied by my wife. To-night I am alone. Fortunately, however, I can say that I am not alone in the views that I am going to express. My noble friend Lord Alexander of Hillsborough had hoped to be able to take part in this debate also and stayed as long as he could; but a previous engagement has compelled him to leave.

I do not think that there is a great deal I can add to what has been stated so well by so many noble Lords. Like other noble Lords, I should like to express my compliments to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, for the most effective way in which he made his maiden speech. He was able to do something which I was not able to do a short time ago. He was able to pick a subject on which he is an expert. I do not know that there is any subject on which I am an expert, so it was more difficult for me.

In the main, I agree with what has been said and would commend to the Minister in his reply the weighty advice from two former Scottish Ministers—the former Minister of State, the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, who advised him most effectively on the things which he ought not to say, and the former Secretary of State, who has just left us, the noble Viscount, Lord Stuart of Findhorn, and who gave him positive advice about what he might say. I do not know whether he will be able to pay much attention to either of them, but I hope that he will find it possible to do so.

One thing which the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said—I do not think that any other noble Lord referred to it and I am strongly in agreement with it—was about the white fishing industry. My home is not far from the Angus coast areas to which he made reference, and a good deal of publicity has been given in our local Press to what has been taking, place off the Angus coast. The wholesale fish merchants of Arbroath have been directing attention to the fact—with what accuracy I would not venture to express an opinion—that these fishermen who are abandoning their normal activity of seeking white fish for this lucrative, and perhaps activity in salmon fishing are not paying attention to their own best interests; because after they have completely destroyed this temporary market, they may find that the market they have thought they had given up temporarily has abandoned them in perpetuity. That is something which I think they ought to bear in mind.

Finally, I wish to emphasise to your Lordships that this is a case where, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, said, a policy of "wait and see" is no good. These fishermen have embarked on a policy of living on the nation's capital and we shall be embarking on it if we permit it to continue. One noble Lord has said that it would be fifteen years before the damage could be remedied. Others outside this House have expressed the opinion that the damage which will be done may never be remedied, because, while the fish may be back in present strength in fifteen years, there is no guarantee that the tourist trade which we should lose would be back again in fifteen years. And that is something which is very important to Scotland.

I know full well that this is not a problem the solution of which is easy to find, but it is so important for Scotland that the Minister must address his attention to it, and accept one of the solutions which has been suggested by noble Lords to-day. I am certain that not all of them are impossible. The danger to a great national asset is so grave that some risk in seeking to find a solution is preferable to waiting for the perfect solution which can be applied only when the problem no longer exists.

7.10 p.m.


My Lords, I am not going, to make a speech. I am only going briefly to pick one or two holes in the remarks of previous speakers. We are all deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, for inaugurating this extremely important debate. There was one remark in his speech Which I should like to correct and I think that he would agree that he did not mean it exactly the way he put it. That was when he acted as a kind of advocate of the Government, said that the Government ought not to be "sticky" about altering legislation to meet this great problem of the salmon population of this country, but argued that the proportion of fish (I think he said) caught on the coast and by rod fisher men in rivers was the same. In other words, if 100 fish came up the river you caught only 40, and if 10 came up the river you caught only 4, or some argument to that effect.

My Lords, that would be true if the fish came up; but, like the last speaker, I know that the fish are not coming up. I speak with considerable knowledge of the Moray Firth area, which is possibly the most vulnerable in the whole of the East coast of Scotland, in that the shape of the Firth is triangular, with the wide base of the triangle on the east side, and the fish run into a bottleneck. On that coast, which consists of the Spey, the Findhorn, the Nairn, the Ness, the Beauly, the Conan and the Blackwater, we are no longer catching so many fish; and some of the fish that are being caught have the marks of nylon nets upon their bodies. It is quite evident that salmon are, in fact, reaching the point of no return. It is not only this new threat from deep-water fishing, but the scarcity of the water in the country, which is an ever-constant need—the hydro-electric, development, and a dozen other things that I will not mention. But we are coming to the point of no return. It is no good the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, saying that we must wait and see. There are records in every Highland village where apprentice boys refused to be given salmon five time a week; and that is not long ago. Salmon are getting scarcer and scarcer.

There is one thing which the Government can certainly do—and it is not for us to snow them under with recommendations, some good and some bad: they can close the netting in the sea at the same time that we have to close the netting on the estuaries and the rivers for 48 hours a week. I will not touch on the problem of rating and employment and the vast tourist industry connected with the sport of salmon fishing; but I feel that something must be done at once, and I congratulate Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, my illustrious clansman, for making the point that we cannot wait a minute longer.

7.13 p.m.


My Lords, my name is not on the list of speakers, and therefore I propose to be quite short. I must say that I am a member of a salmon fishing board and a proprietor of estuary fishings in the Forth. I, too, like my noble friend Lord Caithness, who made so great a contribution to this debate in his maiden speech, was amazed that no reference was made in the Report on Salmon Fisheries to the drift-netting outside the limits of the estuaries. I would support my noble friend Lord Lovat (I see he has now left) in his list of rivers as having been affected by this drift-net fishing. I should add the Forth to that list. My noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye mentioned various rivers, and, as I say, I would add the Forth, because I have positive evidence that salmon which have come up the Forth have been marked with the inevitable marks of nylon nets.

I think that one noble Lord made the remark to the effect that rivers were possibly being over-netted, or had been over-netted in the past, by the fishermen in the estuaries, and it is primarily on behalf of them that I am speaking now. That is not the case. I think that with a system such as net and coble fishing, which we have in Scotland, on, I believe, all Scottish rivers, and certainly on the forth, that method ensures that the river is not over-fished by net fishing; whereas drift-netting, with nets anything up to a mile long, means just nothing in that respect.

I believe that a great deal of progress has been made on various rivers to combat this problem of pollution, and I feel that the fishermen realise that this is happening. Pollution has been the bugbear of the Forth for many years, and we see that something is being done. The fishermen are delighted. But now, to cap everything, this drift-netting has started and the fishermen again see their hopes diminishing. I do ask the Government, quite sincerely, to take quick and effective action to bolster up the morale of the fishermen in these rivers, which have been for so long polluted and which are now once more in danger of losing their fish stock.


My Lords, like the noble Earl who has just spoken, my name is not on the list and I know that I risk unpopularity in speaking at all. I do not propose to make a speech, but as one hitherto satisfied with the pursuit of the humbler trout, like every right-thinking Scot, I am deeply interested in the whole problem which has been raised by the Motion of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye. I have four questions to ask the Government, and they strike me as being points that have not been made in the debate, to which I have listened throughout. First of all, when my noble friend comes to reply could he indicate whether similar experience has been suffered off the Norwegian rivers; and if so, what steps they are taking about it? Secondly, are there any signs of foreign poaching in the waters around our coasts? Thirdly (and I may be corrected if I am wrong here), I have not heard any indication that drift-netting may not be successful out-with the three-mile limit. Is it? And, fourthly, if this is the case, is it not the moment to reconsider increasing the limit to twelve miles?


My Lords, I did not put my name down on the list of speakers, but I have only one point that I should like my noble friend, if possible, to cover in his reply. I cannot see why limited drift-net fishing off the English coast within the three-mile limit, which has not been complained about, has anything to do with the problem of which complaint is made, calling for any future action of the Government.

7.18 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, on his maiden speech. After a distinguished career in the Gordon Highlanders, he is now in the midst of looking after Her Majesty's interests at Balmoral. We are glad that at last he has found time to come and give us the benefit of his wisdom and experience. I can confirm to him that the figures of catchings he gave are substantially according to our information. I, too, hope that he will not stay away so long before he speaks again.

This debate falls roughly under three heads. It has been a most helpful and constructive debate; and I will do my best to answer as many as possible of the points that have been raised. There are three headings: the legal position; some factual points; and then, finally, I should like to deal with some of the many constructive suggestions that have been made. On the legal position my noble friend Lord Waldegrave has been most seriously maligned in various quarters because he dared to interpret the Scottish law, and he has been told he was talking nonsense. That is not the case: everything my noble friend has said in this House is correct. But for this reason,, and because I promised the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, to reply to his question on Monday, I should like to deal briefly, first of all, with Scottish territorial limits.

There are two separate points here. The noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, in his supplementary question to me on Monday, referred to legal decisions in the Court of Session based on the old Scottish territorial limits. I was most interested in what he said. But on making inquiry, I have so far been unable to trace the cases to which he referred. I therefore got in touch with the noble Lord—who is unfortunately not able to be here to-day—and he has undertaken to let me have further particulars which I shall, of course, examine. Noble Lords will, I am sure, appreciate that the points made raise difficult questions of the interpretation of Scots law; and these are, of course, essentially matters for the courts, and not for Her Majesty's Government. I must say, however, that whatever view the courts might take of this matter. the North Sea Convention of 1882, to which the United Kingdom is a party, and which was given statutory force in the Sea Fisheries Act, 1883, provides for the exclusive fishery limit of three miles; and as long as these treaty obligations exist we should be in reach of them if we attempted to enforce a wider fishery jurisdiction against the nationals of other signatory countries without their agreement.

The second point refers to the powers in the Sea Fisheries Regulation (Scotland) Act, 1895; and this is the question which the noble Viscount opposite would have asked, had he been here. He gave me notice that he would have asked this question. Some people think that this Act extends the Scottish limit to thirteen miles. This Act contains no definition of Scottish territorial waters. All the Act did, in fact, was to give the then Fishery Board for Scotland (now the Secretary of State) power to make by-laws prohibiting beam and otter trawling within thirteen miles of the Scottish coast. But it does not apply to other forms of fishing. It deals with sea fish, which excludes salmon; and, further, the powers could in any case be used only if they had been accepted by all the States signatory to the North Sea Convention of 1882 as binding on their own subjects. But in fact no by-laws have been made under this power. Noble Lords will understand, therefore, that this Act has no relevance whatsoever to this immediate problem of drift-netting for salmon.


My Lords, if I may interrupt for a moment, I am sorry to hear the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, say that, because I had been looking forward to his issuing the machinery for ratification and having the pleasure of inviting Iceland, the Faroes, Norway, and so on, to be the first to support us, as they might well have wanted to do.


It was because the noble Lord and others had thoughts like that, and because it has been the subject of a great deal of talk outside and inside this House, that I have made the remarks I have.

The noble Earl in his maiden speech asked for legal guidance, and he asked about the powers of the district boards. I gave your Lordships a summary of the legal position on Monday in reply to the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank. The law is complex, and much of it has not so far been decided in the courts; and so any interpretation I might give cannot be taken necessarily as positive. But as this question has been asked by the noble Viscount, and as there is considerable misunderstanding in Scotland, I hope that your Lordships will be interested in the best information I can give.

In terms of Section 1 of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Protection) (Scotland) Act, 1951, it is an offence for any person to fish for salmon by any method within one mile of low water mark, without the written consent of the person having the fishing rights. It is also an offence for any person, whether having fishing rights or not, to fish by drift-net within the estuarial limits of a river. The district fishery boards, which were set up under the Acts of 1862 and 1868, have powers to enforce the law within their districts and three miles out to sea. They may appoint water bailiffs, who have considerable powers, and police constables may assist the water bailiffs in exercising those powers. The Tweed, as your Lordships know, has special powers of its own.

The powers of the district fishery boards apply in their own districts, and so far as offences under the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Protection) (Scotland) Act, 1951, are concerned, they extend for three miles seaward beyond low water mark. This means that the board have power to deal with criminal offences up to three miles. However, the act of merely fishing for salmon without permission between one and three miles from the shore is not a criminal offence, although it may be a case for civil action by the proprietors concerned, who can take interdict action.

A point was raised about weekly close time. The legal position, as I am advised is this. Section 13 of the 1951 Act makes it a criminal offence for any person to fish for or take salmon by net between 12 noon on Saturday and 6 a.m. on Monday. The Act does not specifically state the area to which this prohibition extends, and so far as we know the question has not been tested in the courts. It seems probable, however, that fishing for salmon by net within the three-mile limit in the weekly close time is a statutory criminal offence, and that the district boards accordingly have power to deal with this.

Now I come to the second part of what I was going to say, and to deal with some factual points. The noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, said that salmon taken by rod and line in Scotland were worth £1⅓ million in 1959. In fact, the value of the total salmon catch was £1.3 million. The rod and line catch was less than a fifth of that total.


I think that is what I said.


I am grateful, and I apologise.


My Lords, may I point out that an angler frequently pays £1,000 for a stretch of river and he might catch only ten salmon, so therefore his salmon would cost him £100. You can quite see—


I know what the noble Viscount means, and I confirm the accuracy of his calculation. The noble Earls, Lord Caithness and Lord Mar and Kellie, made disparaging reference to the fact that drift-net fishing was not in the Scottish Fisheries Report for 1960. I must tell both noble Earls that in 1960, so far as we know, drift-net fishing was confined to the Tweed, and was carried out by English fishermen. The landings were all made in England. That is why there was no reference in the Report.

The maiden speech of the noble Earl also referred to the importance of salmon to Scotland; and the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, also referred to that point. As the positions in England and Scotland are so different, and although my noble friend explained much of it, I think it would be helpful if I gave a little more background information. First, as to the value of the catch. The salmon industry is relatively of considerably greater importance to the Scottish economy than it is to that of England and Wales. The value of the Scottish salmon catch, including grilse and sea trout, in 1960 was £1,200,000. The value of the catch in England and Wales, given in the Report of the Bledisloe Committee, is £200,000. I think the Report indicates that this may be rather a low estimate.

My noble friend Lord Forbes, who told me he had to leave, referred to the employment situation. The number of men directly employed in commercial salmon fishing in Scotland in 1960 was 1,644, and this figure does not take into account the considerable number of men employed as gillies or water bailiffs. So we estimate that the total number of men employed in the salmon industry in Scotland is around 2,500. In England and Wales approximately 1,900 men are employed in the commercial net fisheries, of whom about 400 have licences from river boards to fish by drift-net within territorial waters. Having regard to the population of the two countries it will be clear from these figures that the salmon industry is relatively of much greater importance to Scotland than to England and Wales. The same can be said—and the noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, and the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, referred to this—of the interdependence between salmon and tourism. The hope of catching salmon in a Scottish river has for generations brought sportsmen to Scotland not only from South of the Border but from all over the world, This is a heritage and an asset that the Government realise must be closely guarded.

Now may I deal with some of the constructive suggestions made. I hope your Lordships will take it that I am not dealing with either of the pros or the cons, but picking up the suggestions, so that we can all evaluate the problem which faces us. First of all, my noble friend Lord Stuart of Findhorn, who asked me to do the best I could (as I am doing), asked about extension of the fishery limits. This question was referred to by my noble friend Lord Waldegrave in his speech, and as he has already explained, such an extension would not by itself solve the problem of drift-net fishing for salmon by British fishermen. Indeed, the noble Lord appreciated that.

There is very little more that I can add. Noble Lords will recall that the second Geneva Conference on the Law of the Sea in 1960 narrowly failed to reach any agreement on territorial or fishery limits. The three-mile limit has therefore, in the view of Her Majesty's Government, remained the only generally accepted rule. Where other countries have extended their limits, Her Majesty's Government have entered into bilateral agreements to preserve as far as possible traditional British fishing rights. We have such agreements with Norway, Russia, Iceland and, for the Faroes, with Denmark. But this whole question raises much wider issues than those we are discussing to-day, and it is a question into which the Government are looking very carefully in the light of all the relevant factors.

The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, and my noble friend Lord Stuart of Findhorn, made suggestions that there might be a complete ban on drift-net fishing both inside and outside territorial waters. I can say no more than to give your Lordships the position now of the ban on trawling outside territorial waters. The general position is that Section 6 of the Herring Fishery (Scotland) Act, 1889, provides that beam and otter trawling is not to take place in the waters within three miles of low water mark on any part of the Scottish coast, or in the bays scheduled to that Act. These bays include the Firth of Clyde, In addition the whole of the Moray Firth inside a line drawn from Duncansby Head, in Caithness, to Rattray Head, in Aberdeenshire, has been closed to trawling by a by-law under the Act, There is thus a considerable area outside territorial waters in the Clyde and the Moray Firth in which trawling is prohibited. It is not, however, possible to apply this prohibition to foreign vessels, though they are prevented from landing their catch in this country.

I was asked about foreigners, and the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, spoke of reports of foreigners fishing off Findhorn. The only report this year of salmon fishing by foreign boats off the Scottish coast came from the South side of the Moray Firth. The report was of a few Danish vessels seen fishing with great lines. This was investigated by the local fishery officer and by the Department's fishery cruiser operating in that area, and nothing was found to substantiate the report.

The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, referred to the use of Asdic. I agree that fishermen might try to use Asdic in this type of fishing, but I should be rather surprised—and I have taken the best advice I can get—if it helped them very much, because I should expect salmon to be fairly near the surface; and that would probably make the instruments, which I believe so far have been developed for ground or dense shoal fishing, rather ineffective.


I did say that they are not really using it. They are using "chuck and chance" at the moment.


I agree with the noble Lord. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye and others made some detailed suggestions upon which I think comment might be helpful. It was suggested there should be a ban on the landing of salmon caught by drift-net. This would appear to be a simple remedy, but it is doubtful whether it would be fully effective, mainly because drift-netting is already an established method of fishing within territorial limits in England and Wales; and if there were a ban on landings it would affect this established fishery. If landings in these areas were exempt from the ban a loophole would be left which would seem likely to defeat the purpose of the ban. It would appear, therefore, that a simple ban on landings would not in itself be a practical remedy. Though one prohibition may not be effective, a series of prohibitions taken together might be more effective; whether they would be a complete solution is the point we have to face.

Another point made was that drift-netting should be prohibited during the annual close time.


And the weekly.


Yes; and the weekly. It is true that a certain amount of drift-netting took place off the Tweed in the annual close time at the beginning of this year, but the proportion of the total catch taken during the close time was not so great as to suggest that prohibition in the annual close time only would be a fully effective remedy. The weekly close time is now from 12 noon on Saturday until 6 a.m. on Monday. Salmon caught in this or any other weekly close time might be landed some time later out with the close time. Furthermore, prohibition of fishing at sea in the close time would be very difficult to enforce. With regard to regulations about the type of nets, as noble Lords said, there is evidence that drift-netting is being done mainly by a certain type of synthetic net. To define a certain type of net, or a certain sin of mesh or length, as prohibited would help, but could not be wholly effective.

As I have said, this has been an interesting and constructive debate and I, like every other speaker, must say how grateful I am to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, for giving us the opportunity to discuss the matter. I do not minimise the difficulties. As the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said, a solution is not easy to find. Here we are faced with a new set of circumstances. Whatever we do, or do not do, I am conscious that long-established or recently established interests must be affected. Your Lordships will be aware, as I and my colleagues are aware, that there is no simple solution. I am sorry that, as my noble friend said, the Government are not yet in a position to make any firm proposals. We are pressing on most urgently with our examination of the whole question, but I hope that from what my noble friend and I have said to-day your Lordships, and indeed all concerned, will appreciate that the Government are fully aware of every aspect of this intricate problem, and that the one thing we are not doing, is what has caused all the trouble—that is, "letting it drift".

7.40 p.m.


My Lords, it only remains for me to thank noble Lords in all parts of the House who have taken part in this debate. I am indeed conscious of many points so well made by noble Lords, those which I tried to make and others which have been well developed. Particularly should I like to add my congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, on his maiden speech, in which quite rightly he stressed the extent of drift-net fishing beyond the Tweed estuary, whereas I quite admit that I took in the main the Tweed estuary for my case. I agree, of course, that it is extended to other areas, and if I omitted that particular point and other points it was only in order that I should not detain your Lordships too long in my initial remarks.

As regards the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, I should like to thank him for what he said and for the somewhat disappointing, dubious understatement of his experts that as a result of drift-net fishing the toll of salmon could in the long run be damaged. My Lords, it is already being damaged now. It is no good the experts saying that in the long run it could be damaged. You cannot take somewhere between 14,000 and 20,000 fish off one river without doing damage to the stock. I was glad the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, explained a point which I may have put clumsily, in that if you have 1,000 fish coming into a river and the rods and nets catch 100 it is the other 900 which are the breeding stock, and if the 1,000 goes down to 100 coming up the river and 10 are caught by the rods and nets, it is 90 that are the breeding stock. It is the case that breeding stock is going down all the time.

I am grateful, too, to the noble Lord, the Minister of State for Scotland, for his speech, in which quite rightly he deployed the difficulties with which the Government are faced; but in spite of those difficulties I am sure we shall support him in his final words, which seemed to me to convey that the Government were very much alive to this problem and are determined to bring forward a practical solution to it. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.