HL Deb 17 May 1962 vol 240 cc761-98

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, I speak with some trepidation, but with the knowledge that your Lordships always view with leniency the shortcomings of those who make their first speech in this House. I rise to support the Bill for which a Second Reading has been asked, and, in particular, to support its clauses which are designed to give to the Minister enabling powers in relation to the capture of salmon by drift-netting in the open sea. It is, of course, common knowledge that the salmon spawns, and can spawn only, in fresh water. If, therefore, they are to be caught in large quantities and if too heavy a toll is to be taken of them as they make their way from the sea into the rivers to reach their spawning grounds, then within a reasonable period of time the salmon would become extinct. With the extinction of the salmon the traditional salmon fishing industry would cease to exist. My Lords, it is the fear that just this may happen which justifies the inclusion in this Bill of the enabling clauses which it contains,

The traditional methods of netting in the estuaries and stake-netting between high and low water have been in operation for a very long time. They are methods which are already subject to control. The nets must be lifted for a specified period during each week. The period of the season during which fishing can take place is limited, and those who engage in the industry must pay for a licence, which can be used for, among other things, the protection of salmon spawning in the rivers. Experience over the years has shown that this form of fishing, controlled as it is, has not endangered the existence of the industry. If I declare an interest, it is that upon occasion I catch a salmon with a rod and line; but I neither own nor lease a river, and have no financial interest of any kind in the traditional salmon fishing industry. But I have an interest, which I think must be common to all in this House, to see that the industry continues both for its economic value to the country and because of the employment which it provides for those who engage in it, and it is for this reason that I support this Bill.

My Lords, it has been said in another place that the enabling provisions which the Bill contains are premature; that the enabling provisions should be held over pending the final decision of the Hunter Committee which the Minister has set up; and that the evidence on which the enabling provisions are supported is inconclusive. I cannot accept that the introduction of these proposals is premature. I accept that the evidence on which they are supported may be regarded from a strictly legal point of view as less than conclusive. But nevertheless, if such facts as are known are looked at dispassionately and objectively, there can, I think, be no reasonable doubt that serious damage to the salmon fishing industry would ensue if drift-net fishing were to continue in its present form; and it is reasonable to assume that such clauses as have been proposed are necessary for the protection of the industry.

Drift-netting for salmon in the open sea is a practice which has only recently been introduced, as your Lordships have heard. It commenced with a few boats off the Tweed as recently as 1959. In 1961 the numbers of salmon caught in this way rose, as stated by the Minister in another place, to 28,000; and to-day your Lordships have heard while this Bill was being introduced that the present numbers are something over 35,000; I think that was the figure the Minister gave. It can hardly be claimed, therefore, that drift-netters are not operating successfully; and if further support for that contention were wanted, it is surely evidenced by the fact that some 150 boats are engaged off the East and North-East coasts of Scotland in drift-netting for salmon this year. The equipment that they require is not inexpensive, and drift-netters would surely not be prepared to operate at a loss. In those circumstances, it is reasonable to assume that the number of salmon landed from 150 boats must indeed be heavy.

Such restrictions as have been put upon the traditional industry were imposed as being necessary to ensure the salmon's continued existence, and that they have done. Drift-netting for salmon, on the other hand, is not at present subject to any control at all. When the numbers of salmon taken by the 150 boats is added to those taken by the traditional industry, with its controlled methods, the apprehension felt for the continued existence of the salmon fishing industry must surely be regarded as amply justified. In light of the circumstances, it would, in my view, be wrong to gamble with the future of the industry and the livelihood of those persons who are engaged in it, many of whom are living in areas where other forms of work could not easily be found.

No one can foretell when the Committee which has been set up will complete its inquiries. Inquiries, as I myself have very good reason to know, sometimes take a very long time. Indeed, in introducing this Bill in another place the Minister himself said that the work of the Committee would be formidable and might take a long time. Drift-netting, in the meantime, is progressively increasing, and if it is inflicting such damage as may be reasonably apprehended, the damage will be progressively increasing too. To delay imposing the restrictions proposed in this Bill until the Hunter report is issued would seem, so to speak, like locking the stable door after the horse has gone.

I hope the Government will impose these conditions at once. If the Hunter Committee should find that the fears entertained for the traditional industry are groundless, the salmon would still be there for the drift-netters to catch, and any conditions meanwhile imposed could at once be lifted. I, for my part, support wholeheartedly the provisions of this Bill.

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, it is a pleasure and a great honour for me to congratulate the noble Lord upon his maiden speech. It was clear, it was comprehensive, it was brief: those are splendid attributes for any speech. If he will allow me to say so, it was first-class. And the fact that I disagree with every word he said only increases my admiration for it. I look forward to the day when we find ourselves on the same side of an argument, when I shall regard him as an extremely valuable ally. It is always an ordeal to make a maiden speech anywhere, and he has come triumphantly through it.

I feel I ought to apologise to your Lordships for intervening in two successive debates, but when fish are under discussion I have never been able to keep out of it. For me it is pretty well compulsory speaking. I should like to say one thing to the Minister, if I may, at the outset, and that is to welcome his reference to the White Fish and Herring Industry Boards. I have long thought that, on the whole, the Fleck Committee were right in recommending an amalgamation of these two boards. What the noble Earl said about the future cooperation and co-ordination between the two that he is now arranging has largely relieved my anxiety; and I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating him on securing the services of Sir John Carmichael for the Herring Industry Board. Sir John was my Assessor on the Court of the University of St. Andrews for three years, and I can assure the noble Earl that he is about the best co-ordinator I have ever come across in all my life. I think that he will be a great asset both to the herring industry and to the white fish industry.

I am, of course, opposed to this Bill, and if there had been a Division, which I gather there will not be, I should have voted against it. But whereas yesterday I spoke in anger to-day I speak only in sorrow. On salmon, what I should like to say to the Ministers is this. I genuinely do not believe that they have enough data to justify this legislation at the moment. I quote from the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, on June 22, 1961, to which he referred in his own speech to-day; and in the light of what he is now asking us to do, it is a little astonishing. I should have liked to quote from it at some length, but I have promised some of my noble friends who also want to take part in this debate to be as brief as possible, and content myself by quoting his conclusions. He said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 232, col. 774]: For these reasons, and bearing in mind that factors which affect present spawning stocks will not reveal themselves finally for several years, there is at present no reliable evidence to show whether the level of drift-netting which has taken place so far is likely to have a damaging effect on stocks. Research is being undertaken by our scientists on the various factors which may affect stocks, including the environmental change in the rivers, but it is bound to be some considerable time before any definite conclusions can be drawn. I think I should say, however, that our scientists have expressed the tentative view, on such evidence as is available, that it is unlikely that the scale of drift-net fishing so far practised would have any damaging effect on the stocks, even in the Tweed. That is a pretty definite statement and there seems to have been a somewhat sharp subsequent reversal of Government policy.

It has been stated by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in another place that 28,000 salmon were caught by drift-nets last year, and the noble Earl has told us to-day that over 30,000 have already been caught this year by the same method. But we have it on the authority of Sir William Duthie, who knows a great deal about the fishing industry, that the number caught otherwise must be at least 300,000, and probably a great deal more. I want to ask the Ministers quite seriously—because, of course, this Bill will go through—to have a good look at the river-mouth fishing in this country, because I think it is very important, much more important than the drift-net fishing, in its effects on the salmon stocks, and on the number of salmon that can go up the rivers to spawn. In the Moray Firth, for example, where the total catch by drift net was less than 1,000 fish last year, the ratio of fish caught at sea to those caught in the estuaries must be about one to ten.

I should now like to quote from a letter I had from a fisherman—it is a very moving letter from a man who described himself simply as "a fisherman". I sent a copy of it to the noble Lord, Lord Craigton. He lives at Ferryden, a village close by Montrose, and he wrote: … from where I live I can see the whole length of Montrose Bay. The Bay is approximately five miles long, with the North and South Esks flowing into it. In that five miles, approximately 100 salmon traps are placed. If the fish manage to clear those traps, something more deadly is waiting in the rivers. Artificial dykes or walls are built across the rivers to prevent the fish getting up. At the lower side of each dyke a coble with a net manned by four or five men go out each day and drag the salmon out by the hundred. This is the work of these men who are agitating for legislation to protect salmon stocks. I found that a rather moving letter. The noble Lord, Lord Craigton, wrote me a very nice reply; and I think he also thought that it was an interesting letter.

By all means let us have an inquiry into the conservation of salmon stocks. I think that it is overdue; we ought to have had it long ago. But if we do, let us be fair to all concerned. I would beg the Ministers to take a good look at the present "ringing" of the rivers, and also at river pollution. The Deveron, for example, was in such a state two or three years ago that salmon simply would not go up it. That was largely due to sewage from the town of Huntly. All these things ought to be seriously considered by the Government. Find out precisely how many fish are dragged out of the mouths of our rivers by what amount to machines, operating nets, coble, and fixed engines. We have the figures of the catches by drift-nets. We should have these others, too. They are kept pretty quiet, but I think they are formidable.

If it is then considered necessary to impose close seasons and times for salmon fishing, let it apply to all those concerned, by whatever method they fish, and not only to the drift-net men. If the Government take action against drift-net fishermen alone before carrying out at least a tentative inquiry into the conservation of salmon stocks—and I do not believe that an inquiry will take two or three years—I will tell your Lordships what will happen. Foreigners will be off our coasts the following day, catching the salmon which we are going to prevent our own drift-net fishermen from catching.

I come to my last point, and this extends far beyond the salmon fishing: it is the treatment of the inshore fishing industry by successive Governments for the past half century. Loans and grants for the limited construction of boats are all right. I entirely agree with the noble Earl about that. But, in the long run, subsidies are not a good way of running an industry which is not a national service. I am sure the noble Earl will agree with me that what our inshore fishermen really need is protection; and that they have never had. This has been a long and fruitless, helpless and hopeless, battle which I have been fighting for the last forty years, to get protection for our inshore fishermen. I have seen the North Sea grossly over-fished twice in my lifetime. I have seen our spawning grounds ravaged by foreign trawlers. I have watched our herring drifter fleet run down to a point which can now only be regarded as tragic. Very little has been done except by way of subsidies, which the Government have been compelled to grant in order to prevent starvation in our fishing villages, especially in the North of Scotland.

The Herring Fishery (Scotland) Act, 1889, prohibited beam or otter trawling in most of the Scottish Firths including, in particular, the Firth of Clyde and the Moray Firth. In 1906, in the case of Mortensen v. Peters, a full Bench of the High Court Justiciary in Edinburgh held that this Act applied to foreign vessels. In his judgment the Lord Justice General said, inter alia: It is obvious that the remedy to the mischief sought to be obtained by the prohibition would be either defeated or rendered less effective if all persons whatsoever were not effected by this enactment … Whatever may be the views of anyone as to the propriety or expediency of stopping trawling the enactment shows on the face of it that it contemplates such stopping and it would be most clearly ineffective to debar trawling by the British subject while the subjects of other nations were so allowed to fish. Despite this, the Act has never been enforced against foreign vessels—and that judgment was given in the year 1906. Our own trawlers have been kept out, but foreign trawlers have been allowed right into the Moray Firth, up to the three-mile limit, to fish as they chose and, as I have said, to destroy the stocks of fish and the spawning beds.

Now we have a new situation. Both Norway and Iceland have successfully claimed twelve-mile limits, and now Denmark is seeking to keep British trawlers a clear twelve miles off the shores of the Faroe Islands. Greenland is bound to follow suit. I think myself that they are right. I think it is a great protection of the spawning grounds, because we all know that the North Sea has been rigorously overfished for many years; and was in fact saved only by two world-wars. But the time has come, and is in my opinion long overdue, for comparable action by Her Majesty's Government. The provisions of the Herring Fishery (Scotland) Act, 1889, endorsed by the High Court of Justice in Scotland, should now be enforced; and the territorial jurisdiction over all waters outside our coasts should be extended.

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, should like to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Forster of Harraby, on his extremely interesting, well-informed and quite excellent maiden speech. I should declare an interest, because I am a director of a fishing company with netting rights, and I also own a stretch of the River Don. A salmon, lying on the fishmonger's slab, was once heard to remark: "If I had not opened my mouth I should not be here". That was a salmon caught with a rod. If I had not opened my mouth last June, urging Her Majesty's Government to take action over drift-netting which was about to ruin one of Scotland's assets, I probably should not be here to-day.

I have come to your Lordships' Chamber because I want to thank Her Majesty's Government, and in particular my right honourable friends the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of State for Scotland, for the clauses in this Bill dealing with drift-netting. Last year the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, and many other noble Lords, including myself, impressed on Her Majesty's Government that a "wait-and-see" policy, such as the policy the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, is now advocating, was a policy which was no good at all. The reason for this is that the damage which would be done during the period of investigation would, I am afraid, be tragically final. I say, "tragically final", because to reduce the present breeding stocks of salmon at this time would lead to a dearth of salmon in the rivers in about five years' time. I congratulate Her Majesty's Government on the bold step which they have taken, as it will enable a ban to be put on drift-netting.


My Lords, I think I must make it plain that what I suggested to the Government was that they should not take action against the drift-net men alone until they had a little more data, and I specifically said that it would not take them long to get that if they set about it.


My Lords, I appreciate what the noble Lord has said, but in this case we cannot wait even a few months for this to come in. It is a question of taking action now, as I hope I shall convince the noble Lord later on.

I am convinced that the conception in this Bill is fully justified, and that a complete ban is the only form of workable control, so far as drift-netting is concerned. The urgency of bringing in this Bill and steering it through its stages is fully justified by the facts, which should by now, be common knowledge. Last autumn there were far more boats being equipped for drift-netting than there were the autumn before. The noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, has just told us that this year no fewer than 35,000 fish have been caught by drift-netting. If that does not confirm the need for urgency, I do not know what does. Perhaps I may quote to the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, an example of what is going on in some of the rivers in Scotland. From my own part of the River Don we had, in 1957, up until the end of May, 167 salmon; in 1958, 95; in 1959, 98; in 1960, 122; in 1961, 22; and in 1962, until yesterday, 16.

Already for some time pollution has been keeping salmon out of our rivers, and the increasing number of seals have been taking their toll. I see from a report in an issue of the Scotsman to-day that the Marine Laboratory at Aberdeen estimates that the seals around the British Isles eat something like 80,000 tons of fish a year, or the equivalent of 20 to 25 per cent. of the total catch. From that, I think it is evident that a more vigorous control over seals is necessary. However, in spite of these losses to seals, until 1960 the prudent management of river boards and riparian owners, aided by legislation, had produced a delicate balance which seemed to be maintaining the stocks of salmon. This, I think, is borne out by the fact that the total weight of salmon caught between the years 1952 to 1960 varied only a little. The smallest tonnage in one year was 1,457, and the largest tonnage was 1,734. From this it can be seen that the overall picture was one of stability. This state of affairs remained until drift-netting came on the scene and upset the balance between the number of fish caught and the number getting up into the rivers to spawn.

My Lords, Scotland, luckily, has a diversity of natural assets, not the least being the assets of room to move and an abundance of beautiful scenery studded with fast-flowing rivers, many of which have salmon. The salmon not only provide employment but also pleasure and relaxation to those who wear themselves out in the cities or in the service of the country. I am sure that river fishing has staved off many a thrombosis, and the rivers are a delight to many people not only from these islands but also from abroad.

Most river fishermen are renowned for their patience, but even the patience of the most ardent fishermen can wane when there are no fish to be caught or to be seen. Part of this Bill is designed to ensure, through the continuity of proper management, that the delicate balance required to maintain our stocks of salmon is preserved. For that reason, my Lords, I support the Second Reading of this Bill.

4.21 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, should like to say how much I enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Forster of Harraby; but, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, I agreed with virtually every word of it. I thought he put the position very well and I think it will save me from making quite a lot of my own speech, for which also I am extremely grateful. It is probably no surprise to your Lordships that I intend to concentrate almost entirely on Clauses 10 to 16. The rest of the Bill is, I am sure, extremely important but it is completely outside my knowledge and I would much rather leave it to others who know about such things. All I should like to say is that, having read it, I am not quite sure whether it will increase or decrease the number of special orders which we always have about sea fishing. I hope the latter, but I rather suspect the former.

Since your Lordships' House is so interest-conscious, I feel that I must declare some interest in salmon fishing in that I own a stretch of the River Garry in Perthshire and of the River Tilt, and I am the Vice-Chairman of an organisation designed to protect the interests of the rod fishermen on the Tay and its tributaries. I think we have been told very thoroughly the extent of the problem of drift-netting. For the first four months of this year more than 50 per cent. of the salmon caught in and around Scottish coasts were caught by the drift-netting method. As you have just heard, the known number caught by drift-netters totalled 35,000. This is far greater than the numbers caught by all other means up to now. All the East coast rivers from the Helmsdale in the north to the Tweed in the south are now affected by this method of fishing. The noble Lord, Lord Boothby, appeared to make out that the case was not proved and the amount caught by drift nets was negligible compared with what the estuary nets caught. Figures published for the Tweed, which are far better than those for any other river, showed in regard to the spring run last year that the average number caught by the estuary nets for the years 1950 to 1960 was 15,300 salmon. The drift netters operating around the Tweed, mostly from Sea-houses, admitted to catching 11,000 salmon during the same period last year. What they in fact caught is anyone's guess, but they admitted to catching 11,000 fish, which were sold at Billingsgate and therefore can be checked. The Superintendent of the Tweed Fisheries (and he is a very experienced man and has been there many years) estimated that last year spring fish spawning—and they spawn during the last week in October and early November in the main spawning places of the Tweed and its tributaries—numbered 60 per cent. of the usual number to spawn in those particular places; and this was in spite of the fact that last October and November the weather was ideal from the spawning point of view. I think that that is one river which is unaffected by other things, but it is, admittedly, probably the most affected river so far as drift netting is concerned.

Secondly, does it matter if we catch this vast number of salmon by what is virtually a new means? I think the answer to that must be, "Yes". As my noble friend Lord Forbes has said, through the years a balance has been achieved on the majority of rivers so that the stock of salmon in those rivers has not increased or decreased very noticeably. This, I think, applies to many of the large rivers in Scotland. It certainly does not apply to the Tay, where, even before drift netting started, the stocks had been going down. For instance, in the years 1951–52 well over 5,000 fish were counted going through the ladder at Pitlochry Dam. By 1958–59 barely 3,000 fish were going through that ladder. Of course the Tay has special considerations because it has had many hydro-electric schemes promoted on it, and also because it is very extensively netted in its estuary. If it, too, had to compete with drift netting outside the mile limit, which really means that one can drift net all the way from Dundee, I think that in ten or fifteen years' time there would be hardly any salmon at all; which, of course, would be one way of solving the drift-net problem, because if there were virtually no salmon people would not bother to do it. But I think it would be disastrous for Scotland if it were solved in that way.

My Lords, while I do not defend estuary nets—I think they take far too many fish—they are, at least, controlled. They have a close season for five months and in the winter the estuary nets may not operate. They have a week-end slap of 42 hours when they may not operate, which gives salmon some chance of getting through. I think that, on the whole, they catch all the fish which get into the net. But drift netting not only catches a great many fish tout also damages a lot of others. Many fish last year were caught in the Tweed, the Tay and the Dee which had the marks of the nylon drift nets on them. This is very dangerous because they can easily become diseased and cause a lot of disease in other fish that happen to be in the same pools as they are, which happens particularly if there is a long period of dry weather and the water falls very low. Also the rod and line fishermen contribute very large sums of money to their district boards for the benefit and the protection of the fish in the rivers. The drift netters contribute absolutely nothing for the future of salmon, nor have they ever suggested that they might do so.

There are of course other considerations. Estuary netting is traditional in Scotland. It has been going on now for many years, and 100 years ago was considered far superior to the rod and line fishing, and most of the earlier legislation—in fact, the Acts which still rule, the Salmon Fishing (Scotland) Acts, 1862 and 1868—obviously regarded the estuary nets as being the more important part of fishing, which indeed for the number of fish caught they are.

Lastly, the estuary nets and the rod-and-line fishermen provide employment in places where there would otherwise be a great shortage of work. For instance, on the Tweed over 270 men are directly employed on fishing; and on the Tay over 200. These figures include bailiffs and fishing gillies, and so on. Many people, too, are indirectly employed by the fishermen who come up and stay at the hotels, or who take houses, so creating a great deal of employment and bringing a lot of very useful money to districts which otherwise would not have much. It seems to me that the inshore fishermen have always overfished their particular grounds. Having virtually cleared the sea of all the types of fish they were previously wont to catch, they are now turning their attention to the salmon and sea trout. Had the Government not brought in this Bill, I think the inshore fisherman would hve done exactly the same with the salmon and the sea trout—and very quickly—as they did with the inshore fishing.

It was suggested that a large number of foreign boats will benefit when this Bill becomes law. I do not think this is the case, as experienced fish dealers consider that if they are not allowed to land their fish in this country it will not be worth their while. It is quite a long haul back from, say, the mouth of the Tweed to anywhere where they could land their fish on the Continent, and they will not catch the number of salmon to make it worth their while. If they did, I have no doubt that Her Majesty's Government would increase the fishing limits to twelve miles. I was very interested to see, according to my newspaper this morning, that they were going to do this anyway, and I should be interested to know whether that is really the case or whether it was a nice piece of invention by my newspaper to cheer me up at breakfast.

My Lords, what of the future? We shall have had two years, counting this year, of uncontrolled drift-netting. I think, therefore, we must expect some very bad years from 1966 onwards, because it takes about five years for the effect of a decrease in salmon stocks to be shown. By 1966 we shall presumably have had the Report of the Committee which has been set up under the Chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Hunter, and no doubt he will make recommendations to undo the damage that is being done by these two years of drift-netting. Perhaps he will suggest that both estuary netting and rod-and-line fishing should either stop earlier or have a longer mid-week slap or something like that. But I am sure we must consider what we are going to do in the future, in order to make good the loss of stocks that we have had during 1961 and this year. I therefore support this Bill. I regard Clauses 10 to 16 as the minimum possible. I hope that the Government will take their powers as soon as the Bill becomes law, so that some of this year's grilse run and late autumn run may be saved. I hope that when the Hunter Committee report the Government will act speedily and not do nothing, as happened with the Elgin Committee, which reported on exactly the same subject in, I think, 1902, since when nothing has happened—that is, 60 years ago.

I should like to ask my noble friend Lord Craigton one question before finishing, and that is how this Bill applies to Northern Ireland. This seems to be covered by subsections (3) and (4) of Clause 35. Do those two subsections completely ban the landing of fish in Northern Ireland (obviously we cannot do so in Eire) or does the Northern Ireland Parliament have to take powers in order to ban the landing of fish in Northern Ireland? I fully realise that the drift-netting problem on the West Coast of Scotland is not of great urgency at the moment, but I think that it might easily become so if there were this loophole and ships registered in Eire could land their fish in Northern Ireland. Also at line 40 of subsection (4) my copy of the Bill says: … as relates to matters in respect of which the Parliament or Northern Ireland … I feel that this must be a misprint, and that it means, "the Parliament of Northern Ireland".I should like that to be confirmed. I give my wholehearted support to the Second Reading of this Bill. I hope that it has a speedy passage through your Lordships' House and becomes law very soon.

4.37 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank Her Majesty's Government for having included in this Bill some powers which will enable the authorities to give help to my friends, the inshore fishermen in Morecambe Bay, and in particular the shrimp fishermen who are so famous. They were once, and still are, friends of mine, and if at any time any help can be given to them I am glad that now, for the first time, the powers will be available. I would make the comment that help may be required for them if the Ministry of Health pursues too far its attempts—I think quite unnecessary attempts—to hamper an old-fashioned but splendid, clean, wholesome industry by ridiculous regulations. I hope that the OFFICIAL REPORT of to-day's debate may reach the eyes of the Minister—indeed I shall see that it does—in this connection.

May I thank the Government also for so swiftly acceding to requests made under a Motion of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye and others of us last year, in that they have included in this Bill clauses which will enable control or regulation of drift-net fishing to be brought into effect. I agree almost entirely with my noble friend Lord Boothby, save for one thing; and that is that he ignores the difference between established practices and what are, in this context, new inventions which have not yet established interests and vested interests. I agree with him that an inquiry should be made as to the situation generally with regard to our salmon stocks and the stocks in our rivers, to see whether there is over-fishing by the netters at river mouths or further up the estuaries. There may well be. But that has been going on for a very long time; there is tradition and custom behind that, and much care would always be taken by Parliament to deal with such long-established customs and traditions.

We have here, however, in this context, something entirely new. I do not mean that drift fishing is new, or even drift fishing for salmon: I am speaking of drift fishing of this particular kind, with new inventions, new kinds of nets and one thing and another. The noble Lord, Lord Boothby, relies for part of his argument on the fact that the Minister said last year that there was not much data yet to show that this had grown into a substantial threat. But it has grown materially since the Minister then spoke. The noble Lord, Lord Boothby, must know that. If we cannot deal with a whole subject without considerable inquiry, we can at least stop this new method of further threatening our salmon stocks before it develops, instead of waiting until afterwards. It seems to me that that is the essence of the whole matter. I am told by some that if we prevent landing and sale in this country and in Northern Ireland, there may not be the market at the higher price which salmon fetch here. There might not be such a rich market in Europe, and there might not be the incentive for this fishing to multiply among foreign vessels.

For these reasons, my Lords, I urge that we pass this Bill as it is convenient to this House; but that the moment it is passed, and even now, while it is in process, the Ministers get busy with their regulations, so that they can implement them even before this season is finished, and before irreparable harm is done. It would be a pity to be too late. No one will be gravely hurt by doing something at once. Many folk in Scotland may be gravely hurt if we do not do something at once. Finally, I should like to say that I do not own a river, or even a mile of a river—only a fishing rod and fly.

4.41 p.m.


My Lords, I almost hesitate to intervene again in a debate on this subject, because I asked a Question last year and then spoke on the debate which my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye initiated. I may say that he wishes to take part in this debate, which to some degree accounts for the fact that I am intervening at this moment. I hope that your Lordships will bear with me briefly.

I, too, represented a fishing constituency in the North for over 35 years and, like Lord Boothby, I think I have some knowledge of this subject. I support the Government in general in this Bill. I am sure they are right to implement generally the recommendations of the Fleck Committee as regards the White Fish and Herring industries, and shellfish and so on. I do not think there is any disagreement on that aspect or part of the Bill. I would therefore just pass on briefly to Clause 10 and the following clauses, dealing with this difficult problem of drift-netting for salmon. I feel that perhaps my only excuse for speaking at all is that I am supported by the late Lewis Carroll, when he said: And when I say a thing three times, it is true. This is my third intervention on the same subject.

I agree with practically everything that earlier speakers have said to-day. But again, like my noble friend Lord Fraser of Lonsdale behind me, I join issue with Lord Boothby on this subject of getting the data which will prove conclusively the damage that is being done to our salmon stocks, because I am afraid that by the time the data are conclusive the salmon stocks will be well-nigh ruined. We really have no conclusive data as to the date upon which Lord Boothby will leave this world. By the time we have conclusive data he will be dead; so there is nothing much achieved. At any rate, I support this Bill. I feel strongly about this matter, because there is no doubt that drift-netting for salmon is achieving enormous catches. I agree with the noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl, that considerable damage—as one can see at any market—is done by these nylon nets to the fish. Admittedly they get away, but they are all marked. I believe that this is liable to produce a foul disease called furunculosis, which is highly contagious and affects other fish in the rivers to which the salmon may go, having escaped from the nets.

Then it is said by some that foreigners will be able to continue to prosecute this drift-netting for salmon. That is true, except that, as has been stated, they have an extensive haul to get the salmon back to their home ports. In view of the action which is being taken by certain other countries, I myself see no reason why we should not extend our present three-mile limit to one of twelve miles. After the First World War I went to read law at Edinburgh University. Admittedly, I did not get far, but I did read Public International Law and I have a certificate to say so. That does not say that I passed anything.

I studied under a gentleman called Sir Ludovic Grant—Lord Boothby's uncle, I believe—and a very nice and admirable lecturer he was. When he came to the case of Rex v. Smith he turned to the blackboard and wrote "REX" in capitals so that we knew how to spell that, and then he wrote "v", which we followed, and then he spelt "Smith". I had to give up my studies in law, because I did not seem to be progressing adequately. But what the lectures taught me was that a gentleman called Grotius (as he pronounced it, "Groshuss") was the father of international law. I learned that in those days—however many hundred years ago, I forget; I think the 16th century: anyway let us say the 16th century—they instituted the three-miles limit because they (that is, this Grotius) could not conceive of any implement of war which would be capable of throwing a shell, a bullet or anything else more than three miles. Therefore, it was impossible to control anything beyond the three miles, which became the limit of territorial waters. I believe that to-day it is possible to hurl missiles of destruction more than three miles. So what possible reason could there be against going so far as twelve miles, as other nations have done?

I have little else to say, my Lords, except that the noble Earl, Lord Walde-grave, in his admirable speech in introducing this Bill, with which I entirely agreed, said that he was going to leave it to his noble friend the Minister of State for the Scottish Office to deal in more detail with the clauses to which I have been referring. All I want to ask my noble friend from the Scottish Office to do—once upon a time he more or less had to do what I told him, but I am afraid he is now displaying a certain degree of independence—is to assure this House that there will be no delay whatsoever to this Bill. Sir Winston Churchill, in answering questions, once made an admirable answer, I thought, when he was pressed to speed up the Government's action. It was the usual Question Time in another place, and he was asked, "What do the Government mean by 'taking action soon '?". The ex-Prime Minister rose to his feet and said, "I can assure the House that, while there may be an interval of time, there will be no delay." I want my noble friend from the Scottish Office to forget about that interval of time, and to proceed without delay.

4.49 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to apologise to your Lordships for having heard only the first speech from the Minister and that of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Barnburgh. I had another engagement, so unfortunately I was unable to be here. I do not intend to detain your Lordships for many moments. I wish to speak only upon Clauses 10 to 13, having been privileged to initiate the debate on drift-net fishing last June. The expressions made in your Lordships' House in support of prohibition have, I trust, had some effect on Her Majesty's Government, who have now come forward with the proposals contained in the Bill under discussion. I should like to congratulate Her Majesty's Government on the Bill as being the first part only of the task of conserving salmon.

Since the June debate the position has become far more serious. There have been ravages on an unparalleled scale on the salmon off the East Coast of Scotland. The Minister in his opening speech quoted the figure of some 35,000 fish which he thought had been caught by the drift nets this spring. I fear that the figure is very much higher than 35,000. I have a letter from the Aberdeen Harbour Authority that shows that some 25,000 fish have been caught in eleven weeks in that harbour alone. Off the mouth of the Tweed probably some 25,000 salmon have been taken; and on the Tay thousands more. It is going to take several years to make good the damage that has already been done.

It is an interesting fact that two adult spawning salmon finally account for seven further adults. This is a scientific calculation which has been made by those who have studied this matter—seven further adults, allowing for all the wastage of the young fry. Of that seven you must reserve two for breeding, leaving five. One you can take as a casualty, leaving four. Therefore, if your nets or your rods catch more than four out of the seven, you are going to deplete your stock. If you catch all seven, you will have no stock at all for breeding. If you catch half the pair, you are cutting your breeding stock by 50 per cent. If that is allowed to go on as it is going on at present, in a period of time, depending upon the rate at which you destroy your breeding stock, the salmon will become as rare as the bison is in the North American Continent.


My Lords, may I ask just this question? Would the noble Lord not agree that the drag net fisheries in the estuaries ought also to be looked into?


Certainly, I would agree. That is one of the things that the Hunter Commission is going to do. The Hunter Commission is going to look into that and all the other aspects. But While the Hunter Commission is reporting, do let us stop the ravages which are at present going on.

There is no need for me to repeat the answers to the arguments that these particular provisions in the Bill are in support of a sectional interest, or that it is unfair to commercial sea fishers—who contribute nothing, who have no close season and who have largely fished out their own areas and are now coming further in. I hope; Her Majesty's Government are not going to wait for any Interim Report. Indeed, I hope they will not press the Hunter Commission to make any Interim Report on this subject too swiftly, because it might be that if they were so pressed they might say things which, during the course of full investigation over two or three years, they might find were not a fact and regret having said them in any interim document. I hope we shall see clear, positive and wide Orders prohibiting drift-net fishing, and issued, if not before September, at any rate to take effect by September 15, so as positively to stop this ravage of our stocks until we can think again when the Hunter Commission has reported.

I said that the Bill is the first part of this matter; the second part is the Orders for conserving our stock. The third part is something which is not within this Bill but which is very important, and that is that we should introduce a state of affairs around our coasts that will prevent foreign ships from being able to do what we are now prohibiting the Britisher from doing. I think it is right that we should prohibit the Britisher from doing it now, but it is only part of the story. We roust in due course prevent the foreigner from being able to ravage our salmon. In the June debate I said I had not been able to find any positive instances of foreign ships coming off our shores and drift-netting. I can now give your Lordships chapter and verse of a really distressing state of affairs. I have in my hands a report from the Flag Officer, Scotland, to the commander of Her Majesty's Coastguards, Wick, which says that the Polish factory ship "Kazubi" was anchored off Gills Bay from June 1, 1961, to mid-July. That is an authoritative statement, and means that the Polish drift-net fishermen have been able to come here and catch our salmon just outside the three-mile limit, and take them to the factory ship, where they are either put in cold storage or processed. What it means is that when we have passed this Bill we have not completed the task so long as conditions are such that our Scottish salmon can go behind the Iron Curtain after being caught by drift nets.

I hope that the Minister, when he comes to reply, will say that he realises that, welcome as these measures are today, they are only partial measures, and that the task of Her Majesty's Government is not completed until we have increased our territorial limits to at least twelve miles and so stopped the anomalous position that exists to-day. In conclusion, I thank Her Majesty's Government for the action they have taken in this matter. I have hopes that the next step will be firm, clear and wide Orders—as the second part of their task—followed by the third task which I have outlined to your Lordships in my remarks this afternoon.

4.59 p.m.


My Lords, at the outset of what I have to say I must offer an apology on behalf of my noble friend, Lord Williams of Barnburgh, who has had to leave your Lordships' House—the Minister has been informed of this—owing to the fact that he has an early train to catch home where his good lady is indisposed and ill. Secondly, I should like from this side of the House to offer sincere congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Forster of Harraby, on his maiden speech. It has already been referred to in very flattering and interesting terms, but I should like to add my own comments in regard to it. It was a quiet speech, knowledgeable, full of interest, and certainly much to the point and helpful to our deliberations this afternoon. We all have particular interests and experiences, and it is beneficial to this House, I think, that they should be referred to in your Lordships' House. I understand that the noble Lord has had other interests outside the rod and line, and at a later date I hope he will give us the benefit of those experiences.

My Lords, this Bill received the fullest consideration in another place. It had very lengthy Committee and other stages, and therefore I think the ground has been very well covered, both in the other House and here. I want to congratulate the Minister on the manner in which he introduced the Bill this afternoon. He set a very good example by being precise and brief—comparatively so—and that brevity has been followed, I am glad to say, by noble Lords later on; it will, I hope, be followed by me. Also, my noble friend who opened from this side of the House covered several points, but he left me one point which I hope to deal with later on.

The Bill itself, taking the initial clauses, Clauses 1 to 9, in black and white looks fairly formidable. Clause by clause, increases in grants, loans and subsidies are envisaged. Basic rates, special rates, aggregate amounts of grants, Exchequer advances to authorities and boards, and limits of amounts outstanding, seem to crop up in all sorts of places in the first three clauses. To me, and possibly to other noble Lords, these are very bewildering, but when we read the explanations which were given by the Minister who opened this debate I think we shall be clearer about what is really envisaged.

The Bill is expected to be in operation for ten years. Much may happen in that time, but, from our point of view, we do not object to long-term planning. There is one point, however, in regard to this period of ten years, and that is the cost of the operation. Millions of pounds in some directions, and hundreds of thousands in other directions, are mentioned in the first few clauses of the Bill. I am wondering whether the noble Lord who replies, or the Government, can give the House the estimated annual cost of these increases in grants, loans and subsidies, or indicate how much would be expended over ten years. I expect that this information has been worked out in some form or another, and as the Bill will have to be paid for by the taxpayers I think it would be as well for some information to be submitted here this afternoon, if that is possible.

If the purpose of the Bill—and I think this is its purpose—is to safeguard home fishing interests and prosperity, supplying our fishing folk with reasonable remuneration and our fishing markets with adequate supplies, then I expect that we must be well satisfied that the cost is not extortionate. It is obvious that we are better served by our markets and processors being supplied with our own fish than by having to rely upon imported catches. Imports already surpass our home catches, and we should seek to curtail national liabilities such as these. It seems to me nothing more nor less than economic sanity to do so. I had intended to make reference to the controls and restrictions in the Bill, but I think at this stage of the afternoon, and as we have had such a happy time, I will not deal with that particular aspect. That can be served up later on.

This week we have discussed several matters—racial discrimination, conditions in Africa, meagre university grants and Common Market negotiations, and now I come to the fears of more humble folk. These are no less important. I want to turn your Lordships' attention for a few moments to the shellfish side of the industry. Drift nets, salmon fishing and the rest have all received full attention. I have pleaded on several occasions the cause of small shell-fishermen, and do so again with, I hope, the prospect of more success than I have hitherto obtained. Discussions have taken place over a period of years, during which various Bills and Orders affecting the equipping and operation of our fishing fleets have come before us; but whatever advantage may have accrued, the shell-fishermen have always been partly or entirely left out.

On looking at the Bill, I see that various Acts of Parliament relating to the shell-fishermen go back as far as 1866 and 1868, and apparently are still in operation. Recognition has not yet been acquired in this direction by the shell-fishermen, and, so far as I can see, it may be denied for a further ten years. The Minister himself, in another place, in answer to proposals that shell-fishing should be included in subsidies, was inconclusive. He said it would be possible to introduce at a later date a small amending Bill. That suggestion, in my view, was an unfortunate one, because I cannot for one moment see what chance there would he for such a Bill ever to receive consideration; and who can foresee the future?

It was said that shell-fishing could not come into the scheme because there were no records of profits or losses made or suffered by the fishermen. I am dealing now, in one or two instances, with the replies which were received from the Minister. That suggestion does not hold water, as the accounts of the owners of other fishing fleets have not been examined or checked. Subsidies are paid without financial investigation. The wealthy and the struggling poor are treated the same. Why is there differentiation to the detriment of the shell-fishermen? The Fleck Report is quoted in aid, but the recommendations therein in regard to shellfish were not entirely conclusive; and how often, if at all, have the Government swallowed in full the whole of the recommendations of a Government Commission?

The Minister in another place gave some figures showing increases in the average value of crabs caught between 1955 and 1959, compared with 1961. The rise stated by him was from £280,000 to £292,000 in 1961. But these figures do not prove prosperity, as costs have probably risen at a greater rate than incomes, and the ordinary natural rise in selling prices would account for the comparatively small increase of 4 per cent, over the period. The Minister has agreed in regard to the figures that shellfish, such as shrimps, whelks, cockles and others, are not so good and that the figures in regard to herrings over the period I have mentioned have shown an alarming drop. Here we have no sign of an abounding prosperity, but rather of a declining industry and of impoverished fishing villages around our coasts. The noble Lord, Lord Boothby, in an interjection, agreed that this was already taking place. It seems farcical that a shellfisherman plying his proper occupation can by chance land small catches of white fish, or even sprats, among his recognised shellfish, and receive a subsidy on the sprats but not on his own particular brand of shellfish. How can any Minister or anyone else justify such a state of affairs?

Admittedly there are in the Bill certain clauses beneficial to shellfishermen, as, apart from 'the question of keeping Shellfish areas free from disease, and certain other restrictions, there is at least one clause in the Bill which seeks to render financial assistance in regard to mussels and cockles. It may be thought by noble Lords that I have been refer-ing to small matters, but the fisherman whose occupation it is to go fishing for shellfish would not agree that these matters are small. I have a double interest in trying to obtain satisfaction from the Minister in this matter. I live within reach of the fishing villages around the East Coast, and almost invariably on trains on which I travel I find bags of mussels, cockles and the rest in small quantities—not much, possibly, for a night's operation.

Other interests take me very frequently into Cornwall, where conditions similar to those on the East Coast, those of an uncertain livelihood, prevail. There does not seem to me to be any sensible or just reason why shellfishing should not be treated as favourably as other branches of seafishing. Those engaged in it live the same hard lives, with the same difficulties, privations and struggles. They are our brethren, and as such are entitled to reap equal rewards for equal services in the interests of the nation and of our national welfare.

My noble friend Lord Williams of Barnburgh referred to the question of a possible Amendment. I ask the Minister to take heed, as he did, of the strong opinions expressed on both sides in another place, regarding this particular error of judgment, as I consider it, on the part of the Minister; and even as the Bill passes through your Lordships' House, I ask the Minister to amend it, or agree to do so, in such a way that justice may be done to the shellfishermen. My noble friend also said that we shall not unduly delay the passage of this Bill. That passage would be expedited if the Government wore to see fit to arrange that an agreed Amendment might be put down in regard to shellfishermen.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, I must first join with other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lord Forster of Harraby on an impressive maiden speech. I have a feeling he knows a lot more about salmon than I do. I am grateful to him for his welcome to the Bill, especially the four salmon clauses. In fact, I am grateful to all noble Lords but one for their approval of the four salmon clauses; so I will deal only shortly with the other 33 clauses and 4 Schedules—though they are very important, too. I suspect there was not much discussion on these clauses because Parliament and the Government have done their job so well. But my noble friend the Duke of Atholl certainly read the Bill, and he raised one vitally important point with which I must deal rightaway: in line 40, on page 30, "or" should read "of".

The noble Lord, Lord Wise, asked the price of this Bill. It is: subsidies, about £4½ million in the first year, and this cost will reduce annually; grants £2 million over the next three years and then, perhaps, £750,000 per year. His noble friend Lord Williams of Barnburgh, who explained to me that he could not stay, gave a really unqualified welcome to the Bill. In fact, except for some doubts about shellfish, I have never heard a more unqualified welcome from the Opposition Benches during my period in public life, and I am very grateful to him. I am grateful to him, too, for his underlining of Lord Fleck's point about Government grants and loans: that they cannot achieve their purpose unless all those in the industry also do everything possible to help themselves.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Barnburgh, and his noble friend Lord Wise, suggested that a subsidy might be paid on shellfish. I must tell him that the Government have examined this, but they do not feel that the payment of a shellfish subsidy is justified. Your Lordships will remember that the Fleck Committee considered this question and recommended against the introduction of a subsidy; and the Government are satisfied that there really is no justification for such a subsidy. More than half the inshore vessels in the United Kingdom do not catch any shellfish at all, and many of the remainder rely on white fish or herring for most of their income. While there are quite a number of specialist shellfishermen who do not benefit from the white fish and herring subsidies, the fact is that the shellfish industry is generally prosperous. I am advised that the total landings of shellfish have increased from about 430,000 cwt. to over 550,000 cwt. over the last ten years.

Moreover—and I think the noble Lord, Lord Wise, appreciates this point—shellfishermen get other forms of Government help. They are eligible for loans and grants for new vessels and new engines under existing provisions, and we are proposing to extend these in the Bill. They will be able to obtain assistance for second-hand vessels in suitable cases; and, of course, the tariff protection is higher than for white fish. I would ask your Lordships to remember that the general purpose of this Bill is to secure the gradual reduction of subsidies to the fishing industry, and in the case of the trawler fleet, of course, the elimination of subsidies over a period of ten years.


My Lords, may I just ask whether the noble Lord would make it quite clear that, although the shellfishermen can receive grants, they are not exceptional to that particular branch of the industry but are common to all fishermen?


Yes, I can confirm entirely what the noble Lord says; but I hope he agrees that, in view of what I have said, it would be wrong, when we are cutting down subsidies, to introduce at this stage a completely new subsidy for such a prosperous section of the industry.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Barnburgh, said that the cost of a shellfish subsidy would be only about £50,000. I am advised that it would be more like £100,000 to £150,000. He also suggested that the White Fish Authority should be directed to pay attention to the provision of welfare facilities in the industry. I can assure your Lordships that the Government realise how important this is, and as an earnest of this I can tell your Lordships that a small team which is investigating conditions in the major fishing ports of England is paying special attention to this point. The team has already visited Grimsby and Fleetwood, and they are now considering their preliminary findings. The Scottish Committee of the White Fish Authority, in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland, are reviewing the position in Scottish ports, and they will consider welfare facilities in that review. I can assure your Lordships that the facilities at Aberdeen are generally good.

The noble Lord, Lord Boothby, referred to our trawlers being prevented from fishing in the Moray Firth, and I think I should briefly deal with that. As he said, by the Herring Fishery (Scotland) Act, 1889, the Fishery Board for Scotland were given powers to prohibit the method of fishing known as "beam or otter trawling".

A by-law to this effect was made in 1892, and the prohibition has since been enforced on British vessels. The ban has not been applied to foreigners. Although in 1960 in the case of Mortensen v. Peters the High Court held that the prohibition applied to foreign vessels, the Foreign Office at that time held (as they still hold) that interference with foreign vessels on the high seas outside the three-mile limit was contrary to international law; and the ban on trawling has not therefore been enforced on foreign vessels since 1906.

In that context, the noble Lord then raised the question whether the inshore industry might not be helped by an extension of this country's own fishing limits. That is a very important question, and it is one which we should keep under review. I hate using that phrase; we must think of a better one. But it is being kept under review in the light of changing circumstances. As noble Lords know, it is not a matter on which policy can be hastily or rashly determined. It is not only the interests of our own inshore fishermen which have to be considered; we must remember that there are larger vessels from this country which fish the deep sea, and they are still able to fish up to a three-mile limit in some areas which are important to them, and perhaps increasingly so because so many of their traditional grounds are no longer available. The Government also consider that this country's interests as a maritime nation are great in preserving the general freedom of the seas. I appreciate the strength of feeling on this question, and I can assure your Lordships that the matter will continue to be given careful attention as circumstances change.


For another 50 years.


If I may, with your Lordships' approval, I should like to leave that point there and return to it later on when it comes, again appropriately, in the context of salmon fishing by drift-netting.

With regard to one point raised at Question Time to-day, my noble friend Lord Mersey asked in a supplementary question whether French and Spanish trawlers were fishing off the coast of Ireland. Undoubtedly the French and Spanish do fish off Ireland, but my information is that it is whiting, hake, and shell fish in which they are interested, and the trawling gear which they use would not be suitable for catching salmon.

I will now deal with the question of salmon which has been interesting your Lordships all this afternoon. My noble friend has given your Lordships the figures showing the alarming increase since 1960 in the catch of salmon by drift net. My noble friends Lord Forster of Harraby, the Duke of Atholl, and Lord Balfour of Inchrye in a very constructive speech, all gave additional information. I will do no more than say that the case is proved. Many of your Lordships have recalled that when we considered this on June 22 last year I then assured your Lordships that the Government were pressing on most urgently with the examination of this question; and this time this phrase really did mean something, because six weeks later my right honourable friend in another place announced that a Bill was being prepared which would deal with this problem; and, of course, Clauses 10 to 14 are the visible result of this assurance.

I think that for the record I should deal very briefly, but a little more fully than did my noble friend, with how the powers in this Bill may be applied. Clauses 10 to 12 give Ministers certain powers additional to those they have at present to regulate and control every sort of fishing in the sea. The next two clauses deal with supplementary provisions on penalties and enforcement. As your Lordships may know, under the present law Ministers have powers to prohibit fishing by British boats, but only as part of an international agreement. They also have powers to apply a licensing system to British boats, but again, only if other countries are taking similar action; and they have a limited power to ban landings.

The Bill widens these powers in various ways. Clause 10 empowers Ministers by order to prohibit any form of fishing for salmon or trout by British boats in the sea, both inside and outside territorial waters, without prior international agreement. Such a prohibition may be applied—and this is very important—either all the year round or for intermittent periods, and can be made for any specified period of time. Clause 11 enables Ministers to make an order introducing a licensing system under which salmon and trout fishing would be prohibited except by licensed boats. Clause 12 enables Ministers to make an order banning the landing of salmon and trout which have been caught in any waters by any particular method of fishing. This power to ban landings would normally be used in support of a prohibition or a licensing order, and the clause contains the provision that exceptions may be made to a landings ban, so that, for example, boats licensed to fish under a licensing system could land their catch. Any orders made under any of these provisions may be varied or revoked if changed circumstances make this desirable. What we have tried to do, in fact, is to take in this Bill powers which are sufficiently broad, and at the same time sufficiently flexible, so that they can be used to meet different situations which may develop from time to time. Our previous powers were certainly too blunt.

As your Lordships will know from what has already been said in another place, we intend, when the powers in this Bill become available to us, to lay an order prohibiting drift-net fishing for salmon and trout off the coast of Scotland and the Tweed as from September 15, of this year. This order will be supported by an order banning landings at any port in Great Britain of salmon and trout caught in areas where fishing is prohibited. That is what we propose to do.

Before I go a little further into that I should like to deal with two or three points which have been raised about the effect on stocks. The noble Lord. Lord Boothby, suggested that there was not sufficient data to enable us to be sure that drift-netting for salmon is damaging stocks, and that therefore there was no justification for prohibiting this form of fishing. My noble friend Lord Forster of Harraby, however, had different views. So many of my noble friends answered Lord Boothby that I think I should turn over my page without repeating those answers all over again. But in fairness to my noble friend Lord Waldegrave, since the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, quoted certain passages, I should point out that my noble friend went on to say that it was clear that if this form of fishing developed extensively, it might be necessary to take steps to prevent the development of a situation which it would be difficult or impossible to remedy.


Yes, my Lords, but it has only gone up by 10,000 fish.


My Lords, the fault in the noble Lord's thinking is "only 10,000". As my noble friend Lord Fraser of Lonsdale pointed out, developments last June and July, after the debate and during that year, made it clear that such an extension of this method of fishing is, in fact, taking place.

The noble Lord, Lord Boothby, referred to the effect on stocks of river pollution. I think I should point out to him that the situation is not so bad, because in the past two years the Government have passed two measures—the Clean Rivers (Estuaries and Tidal Waters) Act, 1960, and the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Act, 1961. These control effluent, the former in relation to estuaries and tidal waters, the latter in relation to rivers. So, in fact, we are paying great attention to the important point my noble friend raised.

My noble friend Lord Forbes, who has gone, raised a point about damage to salmon by seals. I can tell him that we are treating that very carefully. My noble friends Lord Balfour of Inchrye and Lord Stuart of Findhorn demanded action from the Government. It would be helpful here to your Lordships if I were to give the sequence of events after this Bill leaves your Lordships' House, which I understand will be about June 28. My right honourable friend has undertaken to have consultation with those interests which he considers are concerned about the Orders he proposes to lay. This will, of necessity, take time. We shall have to wait until after the Royal Assent before laying the appropriate Orders. The prohibition Order can be discussed by either House and must be passed by them. He also proposes to make an Order banning landings, which has also to be laid before both Houses and can be prayed against. All these operations must be completed by the time the House rises at the end of July; so the matter is urgent in a Parliamentary sense as well as in the national interest.

I will not go into detail on the reasons why the Government consider this Bill so urgent. My noble friend Lord Forster of Harraby referred to them—the employment of some 1,700 men employed in traditional net fishing is in jeopardy, as are the jobs of a large number employed on the rivers in connection with angling and the preservation of stocks, and our tourist trade, so far as it is affected by salmon fishing, could be seriously affected, as could the rateable value of our salmon fishings. But most important of all is the possible danger to our stocks of salmon.

There is another point of view to which we have had to pay proper regard. All the dangers that I have briefly enumerated are caused by action which is now quite legal, in so far as it happens on the high seas. We are creating here a now offence and we must have proper regard for the rights of the individual. It was this regard that led us to announce our intention to do what we are now doing so soon fallowing the debate last year in your Lordships' House. We realise the great expense involved in the purchase of nets and gear which were legal then and are in fact still legal, and felt it right to give the longest possible notice of our intention, subject to Parliamentary approval, to ban this method of fishing.

Considered in the light of these opposing interests, I hope that your Lordships will agree that, while we must indeed get power to issue the Orders before the Recess, we should be doing no more than is fair to everybody to enact the ban on September 15, at the beginning of the close season. Last year, there was little or no drift-netting after the first week in August, no doubt because by that time catches were tending to fall considerably. Therefore we have to weigh two things one against the other. On the one hand, if we proposed to advance the date of the operation of the ban to a date earlier than September 15—and the earliest possible date would be about the first week in August—we should be in breach of our intention as already announced to those fishermen who would be affected by the ban on September 15. On the other hand, we have to consider the extent of damage that would be caused by a few weeks' fishing—three weeks in August and a fortnight in September.

As I have said, if last year's pattern is repeated, this is not likely to be extensive, and even if activity were on a rather greater scale this year than last, it does not seem likely that the five weeks' additional fishing could cause irreparable damage. I hope that your Lordships will take that view.

But this Bill and the action taken under it, as my noble friend Lord Boothby said, may not be the end of the story. First of all, we still have to take into account the considerations of the Hunter Committee. The laws about salmon in Scotland are some hundreds of years old and badly need revision. The laws about trout are conspicuous by their absence; and this, too, is something to which the nation should turn her attention. So, even if it had not been for the drift-netting problem, my right honourable friend would have been setting up a Committee to look at these things.

The effect of the drift-netting has been, as your Lordships know, that a Committee has been set up under Lord Hunter, with wide terms of reference, which will include a look at the fishing in river mouths, as my noble friend Lord Boothby wishes and as my noble friend Lord Fraser of Lonsdale welcomed. It could not be expected that the Hunter Committee would be able to report on such a complicated subject in a short time, and the drift-netting problem is too urgent to await their full Report. But my right honourable friend has asked the Hunter Committee, if they can do so, to give us an Interim Report on the one question of the regulation of salmon fishing, including drift-netting. But, unless the Committee can give us, before the House is asked to pass orders, a clear indication that they would be able to make such an Interim Report within the next few months, there will be no alternative but to proceed with the September 15 date.

Finally, my Lords, I must deal with the problems that may arise if other countries start drift-net fishing for salmon on their way to our rivers. First, as the noble Duke said, the ban on landings must be a powerful deterrent. It will apply to direct landings of foreign vessels and also, of course, to fish, if there are any, caught in prohibited waters, landed at some foreign port and then reimported to this country. Nor is it so easy for a Britisher to sail under a foreign flag. Many countries will not register unless at least half the ship is owned by one of their nationals; and in some countries, such as France, the ship must be built in the country concerned.

There are special considerations in Ireland, about which I was asked. There are reciprocal arrangements between the United Kingdom and the Republic. British citizens can register their ships in the Republic on the same terms as citizens of the Republic, without change of ownership, so that a British vessel could sail under the Irish flag and we could not enforce the provisions of the Bill against such a boat outside our territorial waters. But drift-net fishing in the high seas, so far as we know, has not spread to the West Coast and the ban on landings, of course, will apply all round the coast of Great Britain. As I said earlier to-day, neither our nationals nor the nationals of the Republic of Ireland have yet started this sort of fishing. If they do, we are prepared to negotiate immediately.

So far as Northern Ireland is concerned, about which my noble friend the Duke of Atholl asked, this Bill applies to any drift-net fishing by Ulstermen in the high seas. Drift-netting for salmon within the three-mile limit is traditional in Northern Ireland, in very small boats, under licence, just as it is on parts of the coast of England. The only possible loophole is that the landings ban does not apply to Northern Ireland. This is a matter appropriate to the Northern Ireland Government, but in any case the ban applies to any re-exported fish, if they are caught by Northern Irish or British fishermen outside the three-mile limit and landed in Northern Ireland. Furthermore, I can assure your Lordships that if there were signs of landings in Northern Ireland defeating our purpose of control, we should certainly take steps to have discussions with that Government, who we have every reason to believe would be co-operative.

To sum up, therefore, the position of non-British vessels, so far as Ireland is concerned, the situation is reasonably under control or could be brought under control, we hope, by discussions with the Governments concerned; but there is no such fishing now. So far as foreign vessels are concerned, there is no such fishing now. I know that there have been reports of such vessels fishing, but except for one, some years ago, checks on these reports have proved them inaccurate.

On the point raised by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, I am advised at short notice that all reports were investigated, and the evidence is that the Polish vessel was drift-netting for herring, not salmon.


My Lords, I understand it was not a drift-net ship. My report, through the coastguards, is that it was in fact a factory ship to which the drift-netters were taking their salmon for storage or processing. I know it is part of the bigger question, but would the Minister consider asking his noble friend the Foreign Secretary to make representations to the Polish Government with regard to this practice, if the facts as I have given them are found to be as related to me?


I am grateful to the noble Lord. I will certainly take note of what he has said and investigate it. I will let him know what action is taken. As I was saying, so far there is no fishing by foreign vessels that we know of. The noble Lord has raised the point, and I may be wrong. The point is that if this does happen, a new set of circumstances will arise. As your Lordships know, there has been pressure to extend our fishery limits to prevent foreigners drift-netting in an area six to twelve miles off our costs.


And trawling.


The Government are keeping this question under careful review, and it raises far wider issues. But I assure your Lordships that if there is any development in relation to salmon fishing by foreign trawlers, the Government would consider this most seriously. As I have said, it is not happening now, and an extension of fishery limits would not assist at all in dealing with the problem with which we are now faced, and which this Bill will, we hope, solve.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at seventeen minutes before six o'clock.