HL Deb 23 February 1972 vol 328 cc516-35

3.8 p.m.

LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE rose to move, That this House takes note of Command Paper 4821, Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries in Scotland. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in rising to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper, I do so with a very close eye upon the clock, because this is the first experiment in mini-debates in your Lordships' House, although this is, I think, a subject of maxi-importance to Scotland from the aspect of Scotland's wellbeing, covering employment, tourism, environment, recreation and sport. I have here two volumes of the Hunter Report, one White Paper and seven representations from various bodies interested in the preservation of salmon and trout in Scotland. Therefore your Lordships will sympathise with me in the difficulty of trying to condense a technical and complex subject within the limits of a simple and, I trust, brief speech. I propose to concentrate upon only three main points in regard to Government proposals, and I must do this of necessity in broad terms.

First, I should like to give a welcome to the White Paper and the spirit in which it is introduced, being one of co-operation rather than compulsion. The White Paper, I believe, applies more widely than just to Scotland. It shows that we are trying to put our own house in order in this field, and inevitably this must strengthen our position in international negotiations for the limitation of the depredations on the high seas of the Atlantic salmon. It is upon these international negotiations that the future supply of salmon must depend. I believe that without success in this field of international negotiation the Hunter Report will be of little use. First I want to seek information upon the legislative intentions of the Government. There will be, presumably, a new Bill introduced in due course, and I am sure that it is the wish of your Lordships on all sides of the House that such a Bill should be, so far as possible, an agreed measure between the many interests affected. I have records of meetings between departmental officials and representative bodies and it is clear to me that many important issues still remain open and subject to discussion and, at present, to difference.

I have heard a report from one of those meetings that Her Majesty's Government intend, as it were, to drop the portcullis upon further discussions on February 29, so as to be able to introduce a Bill into Parliament at a fairly early stage. I welcome speed and the avoidance of delay, but there is still much to discuss and, I hope, to agree upon. It is worth noting that this is the first measure which amends the Act of 1868. The Hunter Report, let us remember, is seven years old; so I think we can wait a few more weeks to get a satisfactory settlement of the issues outstanding. We may be settling legislation in Scotland for the next hundred years, so do not let us try to decide it in a hundred days. My hope is for an agreed measure—and I would emphasise that—so I earnestly ask Her Majesty's Government not to jeopardise future prospects by cutting short consideration and discussion. It is important that they should bring forward in due course a Bill the provisions of which invite little resistance in your Lordships' House or another place.

My second point concerns proposals for public access to fishing, in return for giving what has never been given before; that is, statutory protection for brown trout owners in Scotland. Under the White Paper proposals the owner is compelled to give access to the public to part of his fishings as a price for registration and the enjoyment of the statutory protection of his waters. I see a danger here. The owner may be forced to give access to his waters at the cost of risk to the environment, to valuable timber, natural wild life and the future also of salmon, sea trout and possibly brown trout. Access to many nursery streams and feeding areas could endanger the conservation of salmon, sea trout and brown trout in those waters. In Scotland there are many valuable salmon fishings where there are virtually no brown trout. One may, as those of your Lordships who are fishermen may know, catch fifty finnocks or sea trout to one brown trout. On the other hand, there are some East coast rivers in Scotland where there is considerable scope for brown trout fishing, without any harm to salmon. I suggest that the area boards ought to have power to register, not because there are brown trout but because there are no brown trout to speak of and because of the need for the protection of those waters for salmon and sea trout conservation. These waters are held by proprietors who could not give access without endangering the economic viability of the revenues which they require to maintain their fishings; and that is not clear in the White Paper. I am quite sure that any legislation which is introduced must contain provisions for appeal to the Secretary of State on this question of a refusal to grant or accept recognition.

This brings me to the composition of the area boards. In the White Paper the Government's proposal is that the Secretary of State for Scotland should appoint the chairmen and all the members of the area boards. The Association of River Boards of Scotland—a very authoritative body, as I am sure the Minister would agree—and other representative bodies, have made to me a powerful case for the chairmen to be appointed by the boards rather than nominated by the Secretary of State. It was pointed out that there are large sums of money invested in salmon fishing. To-day the capital value of a salmon is £350 to £400: that is to say, if any of your Lordships were fortunate enough to own a stretch of salmon fishing which yielded one hundred fish per year, the capital value of such an investment would be somewhere between £35,000 and £40,000. There are sums of £150,000 and more invested in salmon fishings which owners may carefully tend and improve, and in some cases they are forced to live on the revenues. Let me assure your Lordships that there is no fortune to be had in owning salmon fishing. I know several such owners and they all inform me that by the time they have paid their rates and upkeep and remunerated their fishermen, they are very lucky if they ever make 1 per cent. interest upon their capital. So do not let anyone in your Lordships' House run away with the idea that there is a pot of gold to be won by owning salmon fishing.

If the Secretary of State appoints the chairmen, surely it is making an unrealistic and inequitable position, because under the proposals the owner of the fishing would virtually have no say in the administration of his own possessions. That is thoroughly indefensible. Why not, I would ask Her Majesty's Government, continue the proven system of triennial elections of the lower and upper proprietories in a river in equal numbers, but on the basis of the new areas proposed in the White Paper? I know that the Secretary of State's view is that it would be rather wicked if any sectional interests were represented. I cannot accept that. I think that if a man has a very large investment which he is doing his best to look after, it is not unreasonable that he should have a final voice on its administration. On these area boards, the numbers of salmon, trout, and brown trout appointees should vary according to the weight of interest, area by area. Also the powers proposed for area boards must be examined closely. I believe that in some instances the powers are too great and in others they are insufficient.

Now I come to my third and last point: the proposed size of these area boards, which gives grounds for concern. Her Majesty's Government are introducing this area board system in order to correct a weakness which existed in the old district boards system. The district boards had not the means to properly patrol and police fisheries. The Government's aim is now to make large and viable area boards, but I question whether these proposals will fulfil their objective. The police cannot patrol fishings: they have not the manpower. Therefore you have to look to the guardians employed by the area boards. Take, for example, an area that I happen to know well, the North of Scotland. There we have three different coastlines; we have 20 rivers and literally thousands of acres covered by lochs. From the revenue aspect you will be saddling such an area with a lot of "lame ducks" which have to be guarded but cannot really yield any revenue to the area boards. So I ask that a Secretary of State should have power to alter the size and boundaries of the areas. I do not see that in the proposals in the White Paper.

I give general support for the rod-licensing scheme, though I think that it will be an exercise in public relations for the authorities to convince the ordinary Scotsman that he has to pay a pound for a licence for what he has been accustomed to enjoy for many years entirely free. I do not like the rod-licence fee pooling proposals in the various areas. You will get a position where the far greater revenue from salmon will go to subsidise the trout interests. Her Majesty's Government have proposed that the area financing should be in the form of retaining so much for the area and allotting so much to the central organisation. Within the area itself there ought to be an allocation, let us say, of 75 per cent. to salmon interests and of 25 per cent. to the general area fund. That would depend upon the weight in each area of salmon, sea trout and brown trout interests. I should like to see a percentage fixed in each area which would be allocated to salmon and to trout interests.

There are many points that I do not have time to speak on and I will mention only some of them. The Scottish Anglers' Trust scheme is a good one but the £1 licence is likely to be resisted. It is not my problem; it is the Scottish Anglers' Trust's problem. They will find some difficulty in collecting their revenues. I am glad that the young are to be catered for; I should like to see the old-aged catered for as well. I do not think the Anglers' Trust is going to buy many fishings on the revenues it obtains and the small grants from Her Majesty's Government. I welcome the permanent ban on drift-net fishing and I very much hope that Her Majesty's Government will look to the North East Northumberland coast problem in connection with this. Fourthly, the appeals machinery of the area boards must be made clear in the Bill. It is inequitable that rod fishing should be rated when net fishings are about to be de-rated. Sixthly, I do not think the penalties for poisoning rivers—a monstrous crime—are sufficient. Seventhly, the use of mono-filament nets should be restricted in some way in the Bill which we have. I mention all these matters as being important for the time when we come to consider the Bill in Committee—if we ever do so, as I hope will be the case.

From what I have said I hope that the House will see that both major and minor issues are still open and undecided. So I finish by my first plea: this is a good step by Her Majesty's Government; I want time for further consultation on the contents and prospects of the Bill in order that it may have a smooth passage. It is the wish of all those interested in this subject to see on the Statute Book a measure much needed in the great interests of Scotland. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of Command Paper 4821 Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries in Scotland.—(Lord Balfour of Inchrye.)

3.25 p.m.


My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, I feel the pressure of the clock upon us in our first mini-debate in your Lordships' House. I feel the pressure even more acutely because this is a subject in which I have an interest in every sense of the word and which I should like to debate at great length. If the effect of the moving hand on the clock is to make my words a little blunt, I hope the noble Baroness on the other side of the House will understand that that is the only reason for the bluntness.

The Command Paper on Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries in Scotland will be welcomed by all as an indication that at last there is to be some, however limited, action to try to bring up to date the laws governing trout fishing in Scotland and some, albeit extremely limited, action to start the process of modernising the law relating to salmon fishing in Scotland. The Paper will also be welcomed by fishery managers, coastal netsmen and rod fishing interests—although not perhaps by certain sea fishing interests—tor confirming the Hunter Committee's recommendation permanently to ban drift netting for salmon off the Scottish coast.

Here, my Lords, so far as I am concerned the bouquets stop and a critical examination begins. One of the worst features of the White Paper is that it offers us Hunter without the socialism. As I see it the Hunter Report depended on socialism to make sense. To take its recommendations, excise its main proposals and then put the rest of it forward in an emasculated form as the basis of a brave new code of law for Scottish trout fishing is as likely to be productive as starting a breeding herd with a bullock. If you do not like the stock bull you inherit you must sell it and buy a new one—surgery will not improve it in any way. I never liked the Hunter Report. I admired it as a marvellous collection of evidence but I did not like the conclusions which it reached on the evidence which it amassed. It always struck me as being a great leap into the dark on insufficient scientific grounds. This Government clearly do not like Hunter either, at least to the extent of declaring the single trap fishery unworkable and the Scottish Anglers' Trust optional. Why it then bothers to defer to the Hunter Report at all I do not understand.

Although this White Paper is mainly about trout, it suggests altering four important aspects of the law controlling the management and use of salmon fisheries. First, it reluctantly confirms the coastal netsman as the main legal catcher of commercial salmon at the same time imposing control on him by licence and making more flexible the close time controls. These are not earth-shaking changes, but while they are taking place why not take powers, periodically if necessary, to adjust the annual close times river by river or area by area? This might be a much more important conservation tool than power to alter weekly close times. Secondly, the White Paper suggests confirming a total and permanent ban on drift netting off the Scottish coast. With this I agree; but I also agree wholeheartedly with the Scottish fishermen who criticise allowing drift netting off the coast of England. It seems to me ludicrous to allow the undesirable merely because it is traditional.

Thirdly, the White Paper suggests doing away with district fishery boards, substituting area boards and making them take on the administration of the new trout fishing legislation. I think one has to accept these proposals while making a mental note that nothing must be done to deteriorate the management of the great salmon rivers of Scotland. I shall say something about the size of the areas later. Lastly on salmon, the White Paper suggests that rod anglers should be licensed. This is a ridiculous piece of out-and-out bureaucracy. Salmon anglers already contribute more than half the money used in the management, development and improvement of fisheries, both direct and through district board rates. If more money is needed, it would be both fairer and more sensible to relieve the angler of paying local authority rates as well and channel the money which at present he contributes to education, housing, et cetera, into development of the fisheries. Rod licences will cost more to issue and police than they will bring in in revenue. May I illustrate this with figures for the Thurso river? In the last rating year rods and nets contributed £1,530 to the management of the river through district board rates. Rods con- tributed roughly £2 for every £1 contributed by the nets. At the same time, the rod fishery alone paid £1,834 in county and burgh rates—nets, of course, are derated. My best estimate of what licence fees would bring in is £400, which would not pay for the extra costs in printing, issuing and policing the licences. Clearly the best way of giving more money to boards is either to put up the district board rates or to divert to boards money at present paid to local authorities, or both.

The Thurso, of course, costs a lot more than £1,530 to manage. Stocking the upper waters, keeping down predators, making and maintaining salmon pools, repairing accesses, stiles and luncheon huts, operating and maintaining a dam to control water level, river watching, and so on, all costs thousands of pounds annually, and this money is contributed by anglers through their rents. Four hundred pounds-worth of licence fees is merely going to be an added unproductive burden on the angler's purse.

I turn now from salmon to trout. It has been agreed by two Committees and three White Papers that statutory protection is a prerequisite for improving the quantity and quality of brown trout fishing in Scotland. Nobody who has studied the problem in any depth disagrees. The question is, though, upon what terms should statutory protection be granted? A Socialist Administration no doubt would have liked to nationalise first and protect statutorily afterwards. However, it would cost too much to be practicable, and I strongly suspect that that is the reason why the last Government never legislated after Hunter reported. Now a Conservative Government seem to lack the courage of their convictions and suggest statutory protection with strings attached, and on an optional basis. This really seems to me to be falling between two stools.

If statutory protection is necessary to develop trout fishing, let us have it, and do not let us have a lot of irrelevant and unworkable conditions attached. Some of the situations which may arise if legislation is based on the suggestion in the White Paper to make protection conditional upon access make the mind boggle. My Lords, visualise if you will an hypothetical stretch of Scottish salmon river where each bank is differently owned and a third party owns the right to fish for salmon from both banks. Let us further assume that the owner of the salmon fishing wants to impose a "fly only" rule, while one of the riparian owners wants to seek statutory protection, open his bank to the public within limits and allow spinning; the other riparian owner, perhaps, lets his bank to a club. It would take Solomon himself to pronounce judgment on the disputes which would arise in such a case, and some of the resultant situations would be worthy of the talents of Mr. Brian Rix.

My hypothetical situation highlights one very real problem which requires much thought and some further consultation before legislation is proposed. That is, what happens on water where both trout and salmon are present? One or other of the two fishes must be declared to take precedence. How is this to be decided? What compensations, if necessary, are to be offered? The White Paper does not appear to realise that this problem exists. One could argue for ever against the idea of a quid pro quo for statutory protection; but this is a "mini debate" and my eyes are on the clock, and I will therefore quickly suggest to your Lordships the alternative. It is simply the rating system which already exists. Statutory protection gives value and makes improvement worth while. Improvement gives even greater value. Value can be rated and improved value even more heavily rated. The power to assess and levy rates on trout fishings exists, and this should be the main tool of persuasion if one baulks at nationalisation or compulsion. Once the rates go on the trout fisheries owners will be only too happy to invite the public either to share the cost or to prove the fishery worth little. Rating is what will really open up Scottish trout fishings.

Rating also provides the best means of financing the new area boards. Rates should be levied on trout fishings but passed on to the boards and not to the local authorities. The same arguments as those against salmon rod licences hold good for trout fishing, only perhaps with even greater force. You will never police them. They will be more honoured in the breach than in the observance. It is also not clear whether one will require a licence to fish on non-statutory-protected water, either as riparian owner or as a fisherman who "helps himself" in the old manner.

My last criticism of the White Paper is of the design, shape and size of the area boards. If you give up the idea of the quid pro quo for statutory protection, you will instantly free the area boards from a vast bureaucratic burden—possibly the biggest single task which the White Paper envisaged for them. This would free very large sums of money which it is intended to screw out of the reluctant angler for the much more desirable purpose of improving the quality and the quantity of Scotland's trout fishing. It is not necessary for area boards to have large technical staffs. It would be better to expand the central scientific and technical advisory service based on Pitlochry so that it can service a greater number of more active boards, than to set up "mini-Pitlochries" in each board area. One would then allocate to area boards the largely administrative and day-to-day functions. This would allow one to create more and smaller boards, which would in the end make for greater efficiency. Area 9, for instance, already referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, is much too big to administer properly. It should at least be halved, and preferably divided into three. Relieved of the task of issuing licences and registrations for stautory protection, and granted the rates which at present go to the local authorities, two boards covering the area at present proposed as Area 9 would be viable, at once, and without Government subsidy.

To sum up, my Lords, I say to Her Majesty's Government that there is no Eldorado in licences; there is only bureaucracy. Let Scotland remain unique in not having them and raise your money by the more certain method of rating. Relieve fishings of local authority rates but direct the same amounts to area boards. Make your area boards smaller and more in number. Provide the technical and scientific know-how to area boards, as is done now, from a central advisory service, which should be expanded to meet the needs of boards. Drop your idea of a complicated and unworkable quid pro quo for statutory protection and clarify the position where trout and salmon interests overlap. In short, simplify your approach to this problem if you wish to succeed in the aim of all of us, which is to improve the quality and quantity of game fishing in Scotland and its availability to the angling public at large.

3.39 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye on two specific points. The first is to appeal to my noble friend on the Front Bench not to hurry this legislation but to make quite sure that we get the right answers before it comes to Parliament. Secondly, I feel it is vital that the area chairmen are elected by those responsible, and not appointed by the Secretary of State. Indeed, it would be right to support my noble friend in saying that all the fishery representatives should be elected by the fishery interests concerned. I know there is some difficulty at the moment between upper and lower proprietors on certain rivers, particularly on the Tay, where the netting interests have had control over the angling interests; but it should be possible to rectify this by altering the boundaries between the lower and the upper proprietors and so making it possible for all fishery interests to elect their own representatives. If this is not done I feel that it will lay the fisheries interests open to political jiggery-pokery, depending on which Party may be in power and allowing the Secretary of State to appoint the representatives. Some representatives might say that more fishing should be thrown open to the public, some less, and I feel it is highly undesirable that politics should enter into the best interests of Scottish fishing.

One of the biggest problems is that of the boundaries of the various area boards. I feel they leave very much to be desired and I can find no one with interest in the proposed Area 7, covering most of Inverness-shire and Argyll; Area 8, which is composed mainly of Ross-shire; Area 9, the most northern area on the mainland which has already been condemned by the noble Viscount. Lord Thurso, and Area 10, the Western Isles and Skye, which have no real affinity with each other and which indeed will eventually be in different local authority areas. I am told that the reason why these four northern areas are so large and cover East and West is that the East coast rivers are supposed to subsidise the West coast rivers; but, my Lords, the Awe is South of the Tay and the Tay has its own board. Why should not the Tay subsidise the Argyllshire rivers. If the Ness is to subsidise West coast rivers, why should not the Tay? The Tweed has its own board; why should not the Tweed subsidise the Dumfries-shire or the Ayrshire rivers? Why should the Ness be in almost a category of its own? Areas 4, 5 and 6 are rich, compact groups of rivers, all running into the East coast; they do not subsidise any West coast rivers. Why should the Ness or the Beauly or the Conon, or any of the other East coast rivers further North?

If the recommendations of the Hunter Committee were to be complied with, one of the criteria would be that so far as possible the board areas should follow local authority areas. The report of the Hunter Committee came up so long ago that there was then no proposal to have regional local government, but the White Paper has not altered the position and I feel that it ought to fall in line so far as possible with the new proposed regional local government boundaries. Many rivers are not covered at all by existing fishery boards, particularly the smaller rivers in the North; and to ensure that we get the best possible areas I feel that the Government should call a meeting, probably by advertisement, of all proprietors, and possibly even some lessees in the Highland Local Government Region, to try to get the maximum agreement on what should be the best area boards and the regions for them. It seems difficult otherwise to get together all the local people who have an interest in fishing, and I think it would be unfair to ask any one board or individual to call such a meeting. Unfortunately there is bureaucratic thinking in the attempts to impose on these areas the view that they should be self-supporting financially. Fishing is a national asset and the basic principle in formulating the boundaries should be the efficiency of management. Ultimately the efficiency of the board areas is likely to be the criteria governing the economics of those areas. If a board official has to travel miles from one part of his area to another, not only is his time being wasted but his travelling costs as well, and the cost of these represent an overall loss to our national asset, the fisheries.

I believe there have been objections to having area board licences and I should like to add my voice to those objections. I feel that the licence should be entirely a national licence. For a start, this would make the collecting of the licence fees much easier. Then the licence fees would be used for the improvement of the national fishings in the country, and in particular for an equalisation grant to the various area boards which were not likely ever to be economic. For instance, the Western Isles could never have really efficient fishery protection. Probably the only way to do it would be to employ a fishery cruiser, but it will always need outside subsidisation. One of the biggest objections to having all the national licences going into a central fund is that the Treasury would "pinch" the money in the same way as they have done with the Road Fund licences. I suggest that there should be an association of area boards who would take the money and administer it so that it never got into the hands of the Government at all. They should allocate it not only to the areas that require it but also to the Anglers' Trust. I think also that when the area boards were considered very little thought was given to the administration of the seaward side of these boards. Indeed, on the map in the White Paper we are not even shown the seaward boundaries and there is no doubt that, particularly on the West Coast, a great deal of the poaching is done from the sea.

If I may now move on to rod fishing, I should like to touch on the question of the differentiation between salmon and trout fishing. I wonder what may happen in difficult places such as Loch Ness, where there is a considerable multiplicity of people with the right to fish among whom it would be difficult to secure unanimity to any proposals. Are such waters as these to become a free-for-all probably resulting in nothing for anyone? The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, has already mentioned this problem; there is much concern about it and I hope that when the noble Baroness replies she will elaborate on this point beyond what is contained in the White Paper. How is one to differentiate between the type of fish a person is fishing for? One could well fish with a light rod and a small fly and land a salmon whereas one has only a trout licence. In that circumstance I think one would be submitted to a severe temptation not to put the salmon back, and I feel that this type of situation should be avoided.

I should now like to say a brief word in regard to netting. The White Paper makes it clear that sweep nets operated by net and cable contribute: significantly more to the commercial catch than the fixed coastal nets", and though there is nothing in the White Paper on the probable cost of netting licences there are unpleasant rumours that the fixed nets are to get the rough end of the stick at the expense of the sweep nets. When it comes to the question of weekly close time, here again the fixed nets are at disadvantage as compared with the sweep nets. Coastal nets have to depend on the tide and it may be some time before the sweep nets can start fishing, or they may have to slap their nets very much earlier before the close time; and it may well be that with the further closure of the weekly close time the stake nets will have to pack up altogether. May I make one suggestion with regard to stake nets, because there is concern on the part of some people that some nets, on the excuse of bad weather, will go on fishing into the weekly close time. I believe quite a number of salmon are coming on to the market on a Monday, and I consider that if the fishermen cannot slap on the Friday or Saturday the time during which they have operated ought to be deducted from the following week's fishing time. My Lords, time is running out, and so I will make my other points to the noble Baroness in writing.

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, in rising to support the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, on his very important Motion, I shall speak only in a disjointed way on various aspects of the case. Before dealing with the proposals in the White Paper, seeing that there are so many of your Lordships here to-day who are keen fishermen, whether salmon or sea trout or brown trout, perhaps we should for a moment turn our minds to consider the situation as regards the fish themselves.

I will first refer to salmon. I am in the fortunate position, like the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, of having the best part of a river in family possession, and, like Lord Thurso, I have done my best to develop that river, with fairly satisfactory results, over a period of years. It might interest your Lordships to know that at the time my father went to the South African War, by overnetting the River Beauly the catch on that river had been reduced to some 250 rod caught salmon in a season; and 15,000 fish had been taken out of the river by netting during the previous 20 years, in my grandfather's time. When my father returned from South Africa he did something which was considered ill-advised at that point in time; namely, to introduce salmon hatcheries on the River Beauly. He bought up all the coastal nets between Beauly and Inverness, which is a distance of 11 miles, on both sides of the Firth, the Black Isle in the North and the Inverness coast line on the South side of the county boundary. The effect within five years was quite remarkable; and without trying to "blow up" the importance of a very small salmon river, in catches on rod and line and in the private netting the river within 10 years more or less got back to its previous high reputation and became a well stocked river.

I mention that only because we have kept records on the Beauly for 150 years, and we can draw certain conclusions from that period of trial and error. With all respect to Her Majesty's Government, I think that some of the recommendations made here are in a general sense, not in the more important sense of studying each individual river on its own merits; there are no two salmon rivers alike; we all agree about that—every river has its different problems.

Passing from that matter for a moment, let me consider the Atlantic salmon. Your Lordships are well aware that this very precious fish is reaching the point of no return; there is no question about that. The best part of the White Paper refers to cutting down on sea nets and nylon nets and the damage which is done on the North-Eastern Coast off the North of England, where salmon are caught in vast quantities. Make no mistake about that. They are finding their way back to the East Coast rivers of Scotland. We talk a lot about the damage done off the Denmark Straits and Iceland, but there are almost as many fish being destroyed along the Cumberland coast. This is a very serious matter, and if we can stop it the result will be very much more important than the White Paper. We all want more people to have access to our salmon and sea trout and brown trout, but it is a well known axiom in any fishing circles that if you want to catch more you have got to fish less. That is my message to your Lordships' House to-day.

Whether we are going to cut down on th sea nets and the coast nets is for your Lordships to decide, but salmon are at a very dangerous point in regard to survival of the species. It is not only a matter of the coast nets and the sea nets, but of ulcerative dermal necrosis. Salmon disease, we cheerfully say, is only going to last for a year or two; but the last outbreak of salmon disease in the Tweed, which was in the nineties, went on for 10 years. We are only in our fourth year at the present time, and I can foresee another six years of very severe losses to salmon fishing. On the basis of this assumption (and I am sure I am correct in this) we have got to protect our fish in some way or other. We have got to decide whether it is right to permit the various engines of destruction which are facing the salmon running up the rivers, to continue.

During the time that I have been interested in fishing, quite apart from U.D.N. and hydroelectric schemes and nylon nets and all the rest, salmon have to some extent changed their habits. We now know that in every river the spring fish are no longer returning; they have been killed out. This is a very serious state of affairs. Those fish are the ones that make the big money on the fishmonger's slab or to the tenant who wants to rent a beat on a good salmon river in April, May and June. And in the East Coast rivers in the North of Scotland we are finding ourselves more and more dependent on the grilse trout which does not come into the rivers before the end of June, very often later than that. Grilse breed grilse. This has become an accepted fact which certainly was not known when I was a boy. The grilse are coming later every year. More and more fish are coming into the Northern rivers now that are never fished for at all.

The noble Baroness must think very seriously whether it is advisable, in the interests of salmon fishing rather than the individual person, to restrict spring fishing, whether on the rivers with a rod or in the coastal nets with fixed engines of destruction. I would personally immediately recommend that spring netting should cease along the coast, but this destroys the livelihood of a great many very splendid people. I speak with an interest in coast nets, so I am perhaps speaking with a forked tongue on this occasion. But I should like to see a much shorter season for salmon fishing at both ends to stop the spring fish, the spawners which go right up our rivers, being killed. They are the important ones. I would like to see salmon fishing in each individual river judged on its merits, and stopped very much earlier in the autumn, because red fish, which are only a kipper in another form are easy to catch; there is no merit attached to it, and the hen fish are full of ova, which are of paramount importance to retain the existence of the species. Perhaps the noble Baroness might well think in terms of limiting the season to provide more fish to the anglers, which I think this White Paper basically has been produced to encourage, and give greater access and scope to our fisheries.

The noble Lord, Lord Burton, made the point, and I fully agree with him, that the Inspector of Salmon Fisheries for Scotland certainly winks at his post, because there is no doubt at all that during the 42 hours slapping period on the coast when salmon are supposed to get up their parent rivers there are a great many salmon caught out of hours at the week-end. I have been in Aberdeen fish market on many a Monday morning and have seen fish coming in that have been caught in the close period for fishing. This is very regrettable in relation to the productivity of the salmon population and the chance of survival. Whether or not the noble Baroness agrees with having a shorter season, I hope that she will at least bear this matter in mind.

The noble Viscount has more than covered the subject, but I agree entirely with every speaker on the constitution of river boards. With all respect to the Secretary of State, a man I very greatly admire, I think it is very difficult for him to decide which 10 people should be appointed to represent an area. It should not be a political appointment. It ought to be people with at least full knowledge of the potential and the importance and the desirability of opening up or reducing the fishing on any one particular stretch of water, whether it be for salmon or trout. It is very easy for some inspector to go round an area like, say, Loch Leven with a flat shore, with easy access to the road, and to check whether or not people have fishing licences. But how on earth can two or three people in an area that stretches from coast to coast in the Highlands really find their way round the hill lochs, fishing at altitudes of up to 3,000 feet, little hill lochs which may take a day to walk up to and the best part of a night to get back from. This is patently absurd.

I should like co tell your Lordships a very simple story of something that happened to me in the war when we were training troops on the West Coast for commando operations. The River Morar is a very small spate river on the West coast of Inverness-shire, and we landed 3,000 men at Morar Bay at night. The local watcher's Gallic name was "Johnny deaf ears", and presumably he was slightly deaf. The troops thundered ashore—they were meant to walk very quietly—and they landed on the Morar River that summer evening. I was an umpire, and after the last fellows got up the beach I asked the watcher whether there was any interference on the river or whether he had seen anybody. His reply was, "No, it has been a very quiet evening". He had been asleep or smoking his pipe under the railway bridge.

This is exactly what will happen on the West Coast river with watchers appointed by this all-important triumvirate. They could not begin to control the areas, as the noble Lord, Lord Burton, has said. Nobody on the East Coast knows what the problems are on the West Coast, so it is a farcical situation. Really it is bureaucracy for bureaucracy's sake. If we are going to levy a great deal of money, surely it is not to maintain the board but to maintain the fish in which we are interested. If one spent money on hatcheries or buying off coastal nets this White Paper would be doing a splendid job, but I see no point at all in having 10-men committees which are going to multiply and breed red tape.

House adjourned during pleasure and resumed by the Lord Chancellor.