HL Deb 14 July 1976 vol 373 cc307-9

2.41 p.m.


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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what consideration has been given to licensing all dealers in England and Wales who buy salmon or sea trout for sale; whether the Water Authorities in England broadly agree with the views of the Welsh National Water Development Authority published in February 1976 in this regard; and whether it is now appreciated that this restriction would do much to prevent widespread abuses of the relevant Fisheries Acts and by-laws.


My Lords, the suggestion that dealers in salmon and sea trout should be licensed has been discussed over a number of years. It is doubtful whether such a step would be effective in preventing abuses of the relevant Fisheries Acts, particularly if confined to England and Wales. The licensing of dealers would require further legislation and would entail rights of entry being granted to inspectors to undertake examination of records in large numbers of establishments. We believe that existing legislation is sufficient to deal with the problem, which is essentially one of enforcement.


My Lords, would it be unfair to summarise the Government's position as being that they recognise that a great deal of illegal fishing takes place and presents a serious problem, but that they do not have any suggestions for dealing with it? If that is the case, on what grounds do the Government disagree with the unanimous view expressed in March 1974 in the publication Taking Stock, the view of the Association of River Authorities, that the registration of dealers in salmon and sea trout warrants urgent action? May I ask this second very short supplementary? Since the registration of salmon dealers in the Irish Republic and in Northern Ireland has been extremely successful, as is widely acknowledged, what reason is there to suppose that it would not be equally successful here?


My Lords, to take the first question first, we believe that any widespread abuses and large scale poaching are best dealt with by existing legislation, which, of course, is the responsibility of the regional water authorities. The noble Lord also referred to a paper produced by the Welsh National Water Development Authority. This, of course, was an internal paper, but I have seen it. Among a number of suggestions, it made the suggestion that there should be licensing, but it did not explore the proposal in any way. We have no evidence that any other water authorities support the suggestion to license traders. With regard to Northern Ireland, it is a much smaller problem, but there again the licensing of dealers has not stopped poaching.


My Lords, as game dealers are licensed in this country and the police authorities have access to their records, why would it be so difficult to have the same process for salmon and sea trout? Further, may I ask the noble Lord whether he is aware that the price of salmon now is £2.50 a lb., and that that is a great temptation to people to take salmon illegally?


Yes, my Lords, I absolutely agree with the noble Viscount. It is a great temptation, and I agree it is vexatious to fishermen operating within the law. But I must say that there is no danger to the overall stocks, because the number of salmon taken illicitly is a very small proportion of the number of those taken legally. With regard to the question of licensing game dealers, this is a much smaller area and involves a much smaller number of retail outlets. I wonder whether the noble Viscount has considered that the licensing of dealers would mean not only the 8,000 wet fish shops in England and Wales—this Question is only about England and Wales—but also licensing most restaurants and hotels, and would, of course, require an enormous number of inspectors.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many of us are pleased that he has rejected this Tory suggestion for putting a further number of our decent citizens in bureaucratic handcuffs?


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend.


My Lords, while accepting what the Minister says about the difficulties of any scheme, can we have an assurance that, as circumstances change and as fish become rarer and rarer in our rivers of the United Kingdom, the Government have not closed their mind entirely to periodically reviewing this matter?


No, my Lords; of course we keep an open mind on this, and it is constantly under review.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say what evidence he has that the number of salmon taken illicitly are a very small proportion? How does he get the statistics?


My Lords, naturally, we have not got exact figures. I think this is an area where one cannot do a proper market survey in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, knows so well. But we believe that they number only a few thousand, and the number of salmon and sea trout taken legally number a quarter of a million.