HL Deb 23 January 1980 vol 404 cc493-524

5.31 p.m.

The DUKE of ATHOLL rose to call attention to the existing state of legislation relating to freshwater fisheries in Scotland; and to move for Papers. The noble Duke said: My Lords, we now turn to the more limited subject of freshwater fishing in Scotland. Although I have worded my Motion to draw attention to existing legislation, I strongly suspect that many noble Lords will draw attention to what they feel is lacking in the present legislation, and I may even be guilty of that myself. This should ensure a wide debate, which I welcome as much as I am sure my noble kinsman the Minister of State does.

My Lords, perhaps I may deal with a few preliminaries. I must declare an interest, as I am the owner of some very modest salmon fishings—rod and line only, no netting—and some quite good trout lochs and potentially good trout fishing in the Rivers Tummel and Garry. I hardly ever fish myself; I think it is a sport which does not quite suit my somewhat impulsive temperament. So most of my fishing is let: the salmon usually by the week to the normal sort of tenants, the trout fishing by the season—in the case of two of the lochs to individuals, and the rest to the Pitlochry Angling Club, who I might say welcome both day visitors and weekly visitors, as well as seasonal members, who of course live locally. This therefore enables tourists to obtain some trout fishing when they visit our part of Scotland. I should also like to say how pleased I am that my noble friend Lord Seafield has descended from his northern fastness to make his maiden speech on this Motion. I regard this as a great honour. I am sure we shall all benefit from listening to him; his experience of this subject is far greater than mine.

My Lords, I propose to deal mainly with trout fishing—I know other noble Lords are going to cover salmon—but before embarking on the former I should like to make one observation on the latter. The Scottish salmon is threatened by English drift-netting. While drift-netting is banned off Scotland, it is still allowed, under licence, off the North-East of England. Few of the fish caught (or, even worse, damaged) off Northumberland are heading for English rivers; they are making for the Tweed, the Tay, the North Esk, the South Esk or the Scottish Dee. This is a waste of potential, of much more valuable rod-caught fish, and it causes great resentment among Scottish fishermen, who are not permitted to drift-net—a law which I am afraid is not always obeyed. They cannot understand why it is permissible to drift-net out of Alnmouth but not out of Eyemouth. I hope my noble kinsman will be able to tell us that Northumberland drift-netting will be phased out over a few years. Incidentally, this would make our position much easier internationally. I have one further point on salmon. I hope the Government will revise the scale of fines urgently. With inflation, they have become much too low.

Now may I return to trout fishing. The last Conservative Administration, in 1971, produced a White Paper on freshwater fishing, off which I hope my noble kinsman will blow the dust. This was in many ways an excellent paper. It was better than the report of the committee chaired by Lord Hunter, in that it was much more practical. It was also infinitely better than the last Government's rather limited 1976 Act, which has proved almost impossible to operate. When it was first introduced into another place it had much to recommend it, but it was severely mutilated during its passage there and emerged in a form which made it extremely difficult for any river to obtain a protection order, due, first, to the cost of getting such an order; secondly, to the machinations of the Secretary of State's consultative committee—a Quango which we can surely do without—and, thirdly, to the impossibility of giving greater access when a river is already being fished almost to the limit of its capacity. The Act is aimed at increasing access without any reference to the importance of improving fishing. In addition, this Act does nothing for the reorganisation of fishing—something which has remained unaltered for over 110 years.

Incidentally, the 1971 White Paper is, I believe, unobtainable and out of print, and I would very much hope that the Government might consider republishing it with minor alterations, if that is the right word, because it was a very interesting White Paper and I think must be the basis for any future legislation on trout fishing in Scotland. The 1971 White Paper suggested that area boards should be set up to run freshwater fishing in Scotland. These area boards, which would be, according to the White Paper, about 14 in number, would be responsible for all aspects of freshwater fishing, particularly the development of trout and freshwater fisheries. The only aspect of river use for which they would not be responsible (other than purification and that sort of thing, for which they would not be responsible) was, I think, fish farming, because obviously the Ministry of Agriculture must be concerned with fish farming; and, while area boards should have the right to say yea or nay to whether a place is suitable for a fish farm, I do not think we could ever hold them responsible for controlling things like disease in fish farms.

Personally, I think 14 rather too few area boards. I feel 20 would have been a more suitable number, because some of the areas were going to be extremely large. For instance, I think that members of the area board who came from the far west of Argyll would have very little idea about fishing conditions on the Ness. Also, the cost of getting such boards together is obviously considerably greater when people have very long distances to come. So I would hope that in the revised version of this White Paper there might be rather more area boards. The composition of these boards I think should cover fishing interests, both rod and net, fortified (if that is the right word) by several nominees of the Secretary of State. I do not think local authorities should be represented on these boards unless those authorities are also riparian owners, which of course in many cases they are.

As to the financing of these boards, in the White Paper it was suggested that initially the Government might make available some money to cover them, or partially to cover them, for the first two or three years, but that after that they woud have to be self-supporting. The money suggested in 1971 was, I think, a quarter of a million pounds, and obviously, considerably more would now be needed. But they would eventually be financed partly by a licence fee—and perhaps I could go into that later—partly by the local authority rates levied on fishing, and partly by a fishing assessment, which most salmon fisheries, although not trout fisheries, already pay. It is interesting to consider the sums needed to make these boards work satisfactorily. The only figure I have been able to obtain is that, if the whole of the Highland region came under one board, as I believe has been suggested, it would cost something like half a million pounds per annum at present-day prices to run that board; and this, of course, is a formidable amount of money to raise in the Highland region.

The protection for trout and freshwater fishing as proposed in the 1971 White Paper seemed to me to be very adequate, except that, personally, I feel that blanket protection over the whole of Scotland is desirable. It is obviously going to be much more difficult to enforce protection where you have little bits of rivers here and there which are protected and other rivers nearby which are not. Therefore, I think that blanket protection would be highly desirable and that some system must be instituted so that area boards can force people who do not want to give great access to their water to do so. I fully recognise that, in a country where the right to fish for trout has been almost immortalised for anyone who wishes to do so, it would be difficult to deprive them of that right and not to offer an alternative. However, I think that the area board must have the power to insist that riparian owners give sufficient access to people, on suitable payment, to fish for trout.

Another power that I suggest for area boards—and it is much the most controversial one—is the possibility of changing annual closed seasons and weekly times. At the moment, you are not allowed to fish for salmon or sea trout on Sundays in Scotland although I believe you are allowed to do so in England and Wales. As a result, the brown trout fishermen descend in enormous numbers and throw everything into the river on a Sunday. If they capture a salmon, naturally, they do not throw it back and you cannot blame them. But it means that the river is more or less totally unprotected on Sundays. There are no two ways about it, the best people to look after a river are those who have an interest in it—and this means the other fishermen. Therefore, I would hope that in this legislation the Government would permit salmon fishing and sea trout fishing on Sundays.

The changing of the annual close seasons is also important. At the moment, to get a close season changed, you must apply it to the whole river system. This means that you cannot have different dates for various tributaries. The only exception to this—and I do not know how this arose—is that the Earn is different from the Tay. In many cases you can go on fishing much later in some rivers than in others, but at the moment all rivers in one particular area of one particular system have to have similar opening and closing times.

Area boards would also, I hope, have the right to remove obstructions by compulsion if necessary. Many waters could be improved if obstructions could be removed. Obstructions also frequently cause salmon to congregate below and this makes it easy for the poachers. The boards should also have the right to restrict, or prohibit by by-law, fishing at or near obstructions. They should have available the power to agree to traps, as suggested in the Hunter Report—although I am glad that the Government did not adopt this in the 1971 White Paper for I think that the cost would be absolutely astronomical. I am told that it would be difficult to make traps on many East coast rivers, but where, particularly in the West, an owner wished to put in a trap, the area board should be able to agree to this. At the moment, there is no way that you could put a trap in a river, however good your intentions.

The boards should have the right to introduce fish or eggs into their river systems and should have the right artificially to strip salmon and sea-trout. They should be consulted on water abstraction and should have right of access to statistics of the numbers of fish caught by various owners in their area. At the moment, these are sent to the Secretary of State where they appear to get buried and can only be published, anyway, for a whole river. This means that it is hard to run a river efficiently because you do not have all the facts. Obviously, there would have to be special measures in relation to the Tweed, which is on the borders of England, the Solway for the same reason and, probably, for Orkney and Shetland. I should like to see these area boards thought about again. They have a great part to play. The organisation of freshwater fisheries in Scotland has not been revised since 1868. It is obviously time it was revised and I hope that the Government will find time to do this.

My Lords, I said that one way of financing this would be by fishing licences. It is a moot point whether these should be national for the whole of Scotland or whether you should have a different licence for each area board area that you fish in. I should be prepared to accept either. I think also that it is a moot point whether they should be cheap so that there will be no incentive for people not to buy them or expensive so as to produce revenue. These licences would not entitle you to fish anywhere. All that they would do would be to entitle you to be in possession of fishing equipment, in the same way as a game licence entitles you to shoot game provided you have asked the owner of the shooting rights over the land on which you do it.

I should have liked to mention the international control of salmon fishing in the North Atlantic. This is very important. I hope very much that the Government will support the draft United States International Atlantic Salmon Convention and also Article 66 of the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference. I have tried to cover the ground as I see it. I am sure that many other noble Lords who are going to speak in this debate will make much more interesting points, but I should like to emphasise to the Government that if we want Scotland's salmon and trout fishing to remain the great assets that they are something must be done quickly to preserve them. I beg to move for Papers.

5.47 p.m.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl, for introducing this subject into the House. I am always glad to talk about salmon and it is always a fascinating subject. As the noble Duke rightly pointed out, it is time that we returned to this subject and returned with an intention to legislate. It is also good to see that this short debate tonight has produced, or will produce, at least one maiden speech—to which I shall listen with great interest. I ought to start by declaring a number of interests. I am the chairman and principal shareholder of a company which owns a salmon river from source to sea, which operates the hatchery and sea net; and I own and let for various purposes, tourist and local, trout fisheries. I am chairman of the Thurso and District River Fisheries Board and the District Salmon Fisheries Board and I am president of the Association of Scottish District Salmon Fishery Boards, so I have a lot of interest in this subject in all senses of the word. I hope that I shall be able to keep my remarks suitably short for a short debate.

Probably the principal reason why the law relating to salmon and freshwater fisheries in Scotland has remained almost totally unchanged for over a century is that it has worked extremely well. Over a period of 100 years the rises and falls of catches in Scotland's major salmon rivers have been attributable more to natural causes such as weather cycles and disease cycles than to any cause arising out of defects or omissions in the law. Certainly I can show that the average annual catches to rod and line on the Thurso over the last half century have risen rather than fallen and that, in fact, annual catches in the last 25 years have averaged almost twice what they did in the previous 25-year period on the Thurso. This is not to say that the existing law relating to salmon and freshwater fisheries is perfect—far from it—but it does demonstrate the difficulty which legislators and their advisers have come up against in seeking to up-date this law: that of finding "a better 'ole to go to", to put it in the words of Old Bill.

We should ask ourselves, therefore, why and in what respects the law needs to be changed if it is working reasonably well. To say merely that changes are overdue is to talk rubbish. Need for change has to be clearly demonstrated and the changes proposed properly justified.

Let us set out therefore the requirements to be met by the laws governing freshwater fisheries in Scotland. First, they must safeguard the natural assets which exist in our rivers and lochs and in our coastal waters in the shape of populations of native freshwater and anadromous fish. Secondly, they must allow a proper exploitation of these assets, both as a food supply and as a source of recreation, alike for Scotsmen and for tourists. In doing so, they must reconcile the competing claims of commercial fishermen, local anglers and the tourist industry. Thirdly, they must not only allow but encourage the development of freshwater fisheries, for both food and recreation—both in natural waters and in the more artificial farming waters. These developments must be reconciled, of course, with the primary objective of conservation of the natural asset. In the fourth place, the laws must provide for the introduction of new methods and techniques of fishery management. Finally, the law must safeguard people's rights, property and jobs—not necessarily in that order, or any order.

If we accept these objectives, and examine the existing law in the light of them, what has happened in recent times—or even over the past century—to make alterations to the law desirable in order to achieve them? What are the dangers with which our fish stocks are threatened and which might make legislation to guard against them vital? What new discoveries make new forms of fishery management desirable but require new legislation to allow them to be put into effect? Let us look first at existing fish stocks. Here the threat, if one exists, is always greater when it is aimed at the breeding and rearing ground of the fish stock. The old law has dealt with this by imposing close seasons, and close times on coastal nets, by banning obstructions and phasing out cruives. No longer can one leister a fish on the redds to pickle for winter use. No longer can one block the salmon pool on the Thurso river and, in the presence of some astonished baillies, net out 2,000 or more salmon at a draught, as was once legally done. However, it still needs vigilance to keep the rivers clean enough for the breeding stocks to be able to reproduce, and river purification boards still have their work cut out to keep our waters fit for fish to live and grow in. However, the threat now to our fish stocks lies in the sea.

The use of monofilament hang nets or drift nets poses the new danger. Over-fishing on a massive scale by fishermen or fishing fleets that have killed off their traditional shoals of herring, haddock and cod, is a very real danger. It is happening now. It must be stopped and conservation of salmon stocks at sea must be sought by international agreement. Drift net and hang net fishing should be permanently banned off Scottish coasts. We should seek to phase it out of all fisheries in the United Kingdom and ultimately it should be outlawed throughout the whole Atlantic.

If the survival of Salmo Salar is to be assured, before we pass any laws or alter any legislation relating to salmon in this country, we must seek international agreement about the protection of salmon in the North Atlantic. Before we think about how to manage our salmon stocks, we must establish that they are our salmon stocks. In other words, we must reaffirm Article 66 of the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference which recognises, that the state in whose rivers an anadromous stock of fish originates has the primary interest in, and responsibility for, such stock". If then we get our returning stock safely back from the sea we must be prepared to accept our responsibilities and manage it properly. To do this we must look at the administrative structure which will regulate our fisheries; in other words, our river board structure.

On the larger and medium sized rivers district fishery boards have, on the whole, worked well. But on many small rivers they do not have the "muscle" to function properly or they simply do not exist at all. Although in my evidence to the Hunter Committee I advised against amalgamating district fishery boards, I must confess that I now see that it is necessary for the sake of the smaller boards to amalgamate groups of rivers into area boards. Nevertheless, I should be much against an unnecessary and bureaucratic enlargement of such boards to unwieldy proportions. It should be possible for the principal officers of a board to travel from their headquarters to any part of a board's area, investigate a problem and then return home within a day. Board areas so big that this could not be done would be too unwieldy to be efficient. Therefore, even areas as big as the 14 in the appendix of the 1971 White Paper are too big in my view—and I was glad to hear the noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl, make this point and I support him strongly—especially if they are to take on the responsibility for brown trout and other kinds of freshwater fishes as well as salmon and sea trout. Sixteen boards would be a better number. But to cut the number of boards, as has been suggested in some quarters, to seven, would be a bureaucratic disaster. Do we never learn? Have we not had the pinch already with some of our local government reorganisations?

The way in which boards are to be composed will be most important. At the moment boards are elected by owners of either rod or net fishings. I accept that membership for area boards will have to be widened, especially if trout interests are also to be represented; but I regard it as important that the democratic principle should be maintained. Members of area boards should be elected and not appointed. The people who will pay for the boards should elect them. This means the people who will pay the licence fees and the rates should elect the members. Then one can fairly ask the boards to become independent of financial support from Government sources. If one appoints the members of the boards, one will be bringing to birth a whole new shoal of local Quangos. I am sure that the present Government would not wish to be seen as Quango breeders, and I therefore suggest to them that the principle of the triennial election should be kept—adding to the number of qualified electors those who pay rates, licence fees for trout fishing or for fish farming.

This brings me to the question of trout. The Freshwater and Salmon Fisheries (Scotland) Act 1976 was, in my opinion, an ill-thought-out mess from the start. What no one seems to have recognised is that where a protection order is made, trout fishings change their legal status, in that catchment area, into that of being heritable property, and the mind boggles at the complications which would arise if a protection order needed to be revoked in order to enforce conditions on someone. What should be done about trout fishings is that they should be given the same status as salmon fishings enjoy—that of heritable property. They could then be rated for the benefit of area boards, and responsibility for trout fishings should then be shouldered by the boards exactly as they will be expected to shoulder the responsibility for salmon fishings.

Your Lordships may ask me how boards could tackle the question of access for trout fishing, and I hope you will allow me to take a little time to explain my thinking on this question, bearing in mind that this is a short debate. Access to any water for any form of fishing has to be limited—limited, that is, to what the fishing can bear. The exercise of judgment on this matter is part of fishery management and may well become one of the tasks of area boards. In cases where one fishery is shared by several proprietors or used by several different users it may be necessary to lay down limits to each one's use in order to protect the fishing for the use of all.

A technical judgment on such a matter could probably best be made by an area board. An area board therefore should be in a position to define the optimum use which could or should be made of any piece of water. This would allow water to be rated as though it was being offered for public use at the full optimum intensity. The only way that a proprietor would then be able to seek reduction of his rates would be by demonstrating that his water was freely on offer for the full optimum amount of fishing but that the public were not availing themselves of the offer. I could develop this theme in greater detail and would be glad to do so to Her Majesty's Government or their advisers, but I think I have said enough to illustrate my point within the scope of a short debate.

In accepting area boards as the unit of administration of all freshwater fisheries in an area, I assume that they will be given responsibility and powers over all matters affecting fisheries excepting only those powers already being exercised by the river purification boards. It is essential that they be given power over and responsibility for fish farms within their area. In this sphere I disagree with the noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl. It think it is vital that area boards should have control over the disease problems within their catchment. It is something they would regard as one of their first and most important duties, to keep their catchment healthy and free of disease; and the operation of a fish farm within an area board's area could be a considerable embarrassment if that area board had no powers whatever over operations. The fish farms could be licensed in order to ensure standards of fishery hygiene and could contribute to area boards by paying rates to them rather than to local authorities. I am sure that if they have to pay rates at all they would rather the money went to a fishery board than to anyone else.

One of the main reasons why the Hunter Report was not immediately followed by legislation was that it took a gigantic leap into the future—a leap so vast and unexpected that it left legislators and fishery administrators alike gasping. The caution which legislators showed in not following the Hunter Committee has, I believe, been shown by the passage of time to be correct. The fact is that techniques and equipment, even today, are not yet sufficiently well developed to make the single trap fishery, which was the basis of the Hunter Report, feasible. Nevertheless, it is now desirable to legalise trap fishing if the new techniques of salmon ranching at sea are to be developed. Once again, in a short debate, I do not have time to develop the theme of salmon ranching, but suffice it to say that it appears to offer a means of supplying the public's demand for salmon for the table without increasing the pressure on the stocks of fish which run up our rivers.

There is a need for protection of our fisheries. There is also scope for their further development, and to carry out both of these tasks requires further legislation. This legislation should not seek to turn everything upside down, however. Rather it should build on the structures which we already have, keeping those parts which have worked well and discarding only the outdated or archaic. Let me therefore suggest priorities and summarise what should be done to build upon the successful work performed for over a century by Scottish district fishery boards.

First, Her Majesty's Government must commit themselves to full support of the United States initiative in seeking to set up an international Atlantic salmon convention. At home they must give a lead by placing a permanent ban on hang and drift-net fishing. This will require legislation. Next, at home, area boards should be set up taking over from district boards and taking under their aegis brown trout and coarse fisheries and fish farming. Boards should have powers over methods of fishing, intensity of fishing effort, introduction or removal of fish or their eggs and the granting of rod, net and fish farming licences. They should be self-financing from rates and licence fees. They should have powers to alter annual close seasons or weekly close times. Boards should be democratically elected by those who pay the licence fees and those who pay the rates. Though the Secretary of State might be given overriding powers over some of the functions of boards, he should not have the power to appoint members to a board. Area boards should not be combined with the river purification organisation and there should preferably be 16 of them to cover Scotland.

Eventually I envisage that it would be desirable to place brown trout and coarse fishings on the same legal footing as salmon fishing, but in the meantime we shall have to work away with the 1976 Act. Once a protection order has been made under this Act, however, area boards should be empowered to administer, enforce or even vary the terms on which an order has been made. The trout fishings covered by such an order should become rateable and the rates should go to the area board concerned.

Finally, my Lords, let us not forget that the Scottish district fishery board story is a success story. It has given to Scotland the best salmon fishery management in the world—with only the possible exception of Iceland. District fishery boards are still doing a serviceable job after a century of existence. So let us learn from them; let us build on them; let us use their experience to go forward into a new century of fishery management.

6.5 p.m.

The Earl of SEAFIELD

My Lords, I should like first to thank my noble friend the Duke of Atholl for his kind introduction, which is most appreciated. I should like also to declare my interest as being the owner of coastal nets, in the first instance; a member of the Spey District Fishery Board, in the second; and their representative to the Association of Scottish Salmon Fishery Boards, in the third.

My purpose in speaking this afternoon is not to argue for specific laws to be changed—or to be made, for that matter—but to stress the need to improve the existing legislation by looking at the economic aspects, and the tourist aspects for that matter, of freshwater fishery and everything that goes with it. Many of these facts I am sure many of your Lordships will be fully aware of. As a member of the Spey District Fishery Board, I have to treat the Spey as an example. There are no doubt parallels which can be drawn with other rivers, and I sincerely hope these will become apparent.

In 1963 the Hunter Committee issued an invitation to the Spey District Fishery Board to come and give evidence when they were looking into the whole question of drift netting. We went with one intention, which was—and I quote: to look at the economy of the Spey Valley in relation to salmon and sea trout fishing, with special reference to hotels and associations". This meant that we were going to give evidence to show what income came into the Spey Valley and we included rates, direct employment, the drawings of hotels, garages, filling stations and tackle-makers. In 1963 we came out with a figure of £252,777. We also found that there were six associations and some 4,500 people enjoyed the salmon fishings, either through leasing them or throughfishing associations. In fact, the figure for people who enjoyed those benefits through fishing associations was 3,174.

There are no doubt certain aspects of the income coming into the Spey Valley area which we omitted to mention, so of late I have trial to up-date these figures by approaching the people who had been approached before, and also approaching some of the newer operators. Having done that, I have tried to use a common multiplier to reach some acceptable figure. I accept there are some discrepancies here, but in 1979 I found out that possibly there could be a figure in excess of 2 million coming into the Spey Valley on the same basis as before, and some 14,000 people enjoyed fishing there, with over 12,500 enjoying the facilities afforded by fishing associations. This probably shows that the Spey, anyway, has had a vast increase in the membership of associations, and instead of there being six associations, as there were in 1963, there were 12 in 1979.

I have tried to calculate the figure for Scotland as a whole, and I used the method of assessment that is applied to all the district salmon fishery boards by the Association of Scottish Salmon District Fishery Boards. Using that proportion, which is based on rates, I came up with £37 million which might be applicable to the whole of Scotland for salmon in rivers. I am told by many people that this figure is very low, but for the time being I cannot do any better than that with the method which I used.

Therefore, one must stress the importance of effective legislation to protect these assets which contribute so much to the rural economies in which they are present. There are controversial issues, such as seals, drift-netting and canoeing, and I hope that the economic importance and compatibilities of these will be looked at in relation to the economic importance of fresh waters and fisheries. I also hope that changes are not made for change's sake. If it works, leave it. Lastly, I trust that international agreement in legislative form is achieved in order to protect over-fishing on the high seas. This is one of the aspects which cause us all great alarm.

6.13 p.m.


My Lords, it falls to me to have the privilege of thanking the noble Earl, Lord Seafield, for his maiden speech, of congratulating him on its execution and of paying tribute to the deep knowledge—which I know from experience he has—which he has given to your Lordships' House on the subject of the debate this evening. I sincerely hope that we shall hear him in the future, not only on fishing but on many other subjects. I should also like to thank the noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl, for giving us the opportunity of debating this fascinating subject of salmon. But I do not intend to detain your Lordships for more than a very few minutes, because I wish to deal with only one aspect of this problem, which was touched on by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso.

The debate is on means to protect Scottish salmon—a great national asset. But beyond the much needed legislative measures to restrict damage and the depletion of our salmon stocks, there is a great international menace. The North Atlantic salmon stocks of Scotland and other countries remain wide open to international depletion on the high seas. So long as the EEC ignores the dangers of steady and swift depletion, so long will this state of affairs continue. So long as the EEC chooses to ignore the menace from Members who produce no salmon and have no rivers of their own, but continue to extract salmon for commercial reasons, so long will that menace continue.

In a very few sentences, I should like to summarise how the present open position of great danger to salmon has arisen. There have been attempts at international control of the North Atlantic, but these have come to nothing except words. The United States prepared a draft Convention, which included what became Article 66 of the United Nations Law of the Sea and which was quoted by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso. In case any of your Lordships did not hear what that article said, I must remind your Lordships that it stated: that the state in whose rivers a stock of fish originates has the primary interest in, and responsibility for, such stock". The EEC totally disregards Article 66. It is not interested. There are only three Members of the EEC who have rivers which produce salmon—Great Britain, including Scotland, Ireland and France. Therefore, the remaining Members are interested not in conservation in the long-term, but in stock commercial exploitation for short-term gain. In every debate on the common fishing policy, in Brussels and elsewhere, there has not been a mention of salmon stock preservation: herrings, yes; cod, yes; but salmon, no.

Then there was the Conference on Fishing in European Waters, which was recently held in London. There was not a mention of salmon. I cannot help wondering what the United Kingdom Members of the Commission are doing: why so silent on the United Kingdom's particular interest? I have a fear, which I hope the Minister will be able to remove from my mind. Is it possible that the EEC foresee trouble if they accept the principles of national responsibility in Article 66 for stock originations in national rivers? Do they expect trouble from the provisions of the Treaty of Rome covering accessibility and no discrimination?

Dr. Booss of the EEC recently gave a terrifying definition at the Fishing in European Waters Conference, when he said: Legal situation clear. Free access up to the beaches, no discrimination, 6–12 miles only, temporary derogations, which might be extended after 19732". I wonder whether those fears bring the EEC into possible conflict with the provisions of the Treaty of Rome. I do not know, hut I hope that we shall hear something from the Government.

Finally, I appeal to the United Kingdom Members of the Assembly—and, after all, if they had the courage to upset a budget they will no doubt have the courage to do this—to use their influence to bring forward this issue and have it discussed and clarified in the EEC.

6.20 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl, for introducing this most interesting subject, and to add my congratulations to the noble Earl on his most interesting maiden speech. It is clearly a subject about which he knows a great deal and, indeed, he has done very thorough and interesting homework, particularly in his attempts to cost the value of salmon to Scotland.

I make no apology for stepping in among so many kilted noble Lords. Possibly the only exception in this debate is the noble Lord, Lord Peart. For once, I have no particular interest to own up to other than that of being a keen fisher of salmon and other fish in Scotland, whenever I get the chance. The whole subject of salmon is one in which I am most keenly interested. It transcends national boundaries. I shall deal with this point in a minute. In recent years, plenty of interest has been shown by Scottish Peers in English subjects of a similar nature. Indeed, most of those who have spoken in tonight's debate have joined in debates on English game matters. I remember in particular that the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, joined in the debate on the Deer Bill, a Bill which we tried several times to get passed in the last Parliament.

I am going to concentrate on salmon and I shall be brief, since the subject has been covered very fully. Indeed, to a large extent my thunder has been stolen by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye. I, too, was going to concentrate on Article 66 and the North Atlantic. However, may I stress that the management of salmon, which is so important to Scotland, completely transcends national boundaries.

During its time in the sea the salmon may pass through the territorial waters of several different nations as well as through completely international waters. The catching of salmon, other than in the estuaries and river systems in which it spawns, makes a complete mockery of any attempts at proper management. It is no use the authorities in any country—the river board or those responsible for any individual river system—carefully working out an acceptable harvest of fish in order to leave an adequate spawning stock, and then finding that half the fish fail to appear because they have fallen prey to a trawler or drift net hundreds or, maybe, thousands of miles away. This is a vitally important point. I am therefore looking forward very much to hearing from the Minister that the Government are taking every possible step to monitor the stocks and catches of salmon and to press for proper international agreements under Article 66.

Turning to the subject of monitoring, I agree with what was said by the noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl, about the difficulty of obtaining statistics. I hope that they are available to the Government; it is very hard for lesser mortals who try to follow this subject to come by them. When they do appear they are invariably two or three years out of date. If a serious decline in salmon stocks were to begin, I think that people ought to know about it sooner than they do now.

There is one other small matter which I should like to raise. I appeal to the Government to make a plea to riparian owners to exercise restraint. I have the impression that beats are being split into smaller lengths and that more rods are being put on. On top of the other threats about which we have heard so much tonight, there is quite serious pressure now from rod fishermen. Again may I thank the noble Duke for giving us this chance to debate the subject.

6.25 p.m.


My Lords, I intervene in the debate as an Englishman because I know that this is a matter which is dear to the heart of Scotland; it is so important to Scotland. I have always taken an interest in fisheries. I thought that I would look up Criminal Law of Scotland, Gordon, second edition, which reminds me in one paragraph about fishing in the Tweed, the Solway and the Esk. It says: These waters, being partly in England and partly in Scotland, are regulated to some extent by their own private Acts. The Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Protection) (Scotland) Act 1951 applies to the whole Tweed, as do the Freshwater Fish (Scotland) Act 1902 …". So in the past there has been a great deal of legislation. English fishermen were also affected. Fishermen in Cumbria were certainly affected, and also the fishermen who fish in the Solway. So we have an interest in the problem, although I recognise that basically it is of major interest to Scotland.

I should like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Seafield, upon his very informative speech. He dealt with the Hunter Committee and cogently argued the point of view which he put forward. He has had long experience as a member of a board. He suggested that there should be 12 associations. I think that the noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl, had in mind a similar figure. I hope that we shall hear the noble Earl speak again in our debates.

I was interested in what the noble Earl had to say about seals. When I was Minister of Agriculture and went to the North, particularly to the North-East, I was often lobbied about the culling of seals. I got into more trouble over seals with the people who wanted to protect them than I did with the farmers. I believe, however, that there has to be culling of seals.

The noble Earl also argued that there should be international action. Indeed, most of the speakers on this subject, including the noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl, argued strongly in favour of international action and conservation. The noble Duke argued that the law is not always obeyed. He mentioned many incidents and said that the Acts have been defied. The noble Duke asked that there should be 14 area boards, but he also mentioned the figure of 40. I am not, therefore, sure how many area boards the noble Duke wants.


My Lords, if I may correct the noble Lord, the 1971 White Paper suggested that there should be 14 area boards. I believe that the present Government are thinking of reducing that number to seven. I—and I think the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, agrees with me—believe that it would be undesirable to reduce the number below 14. I believe the noble Viscount suggested that there should be 16 area boards. I personally opted for about 20, without being absolutely wedded to that figure.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Duke for clearing up that point, because it is a very important matter. So far as the administrative structure which will monitor the industry and the activities affecting sport as well as food is concerned, it is important to have the right number and not a bureaucratic organisation. I think this was stressed by the noble Lord, Lord Tryon. I do not think that there is this bureaucracy. I read carefully the debates in this house on the Bills which became Acts, and the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, steered this legislation through this Chamber with great skill and I think they got it right. On the other hand, there are still problems, and these have been mentioned in the debate today.

The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, spoke about the Atlantic Salmon Convention and he said that we should ban drift-netting. This is a matter for the Government and I hope there will be a reply. He also said that the board should be democratically elected and the Secretary of State should have overriding powers. I think he mentioned 16 boards, but that does not matter. The noble Viscount also said that we must work away at the 1976 Act. I think that is right; it is too early to bring in any major legislation. Certainly it should be looked at most carefully, and naturally people who have interests in this matter will prod Ministers from time to time. That is right.

Other interests were also mentioned. The noble Lord argued about catches and he mentioned a remarkable figure, that today our annual catches are twice what they used to be many years ago. He said how important it was that we should safeguard our national assets, not only for food but for recreational interests and tourism. He said that it was essential to have commercial fishing. After all, fish farming is now with us. He also took the view that we should look at our fish stocks and should recognise that there are many abuses.

There is one example in the South of England, concerning the fishing of mackerel. Fishermen would fish mackerel and then go over to a Russian industrial trawler which was virtually a factory ship. I believe that to be a terrible thing to do in the present circumstances. I know that it has been raised with Ministers in another place from time to time. I always thought that it was wrong of us to do that within our own territorial waters, because if we did that, how could we criticise others in Europe?

I agree with the noble Lord about Europe, and I must confess that we really did not do enough when I was Minister, except when I attended with the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock. I remember that he always took a great interest in the fishing side, and I believe he felt that we should have done more in that direction in connection with negotiations. I am not afraid to say that we ought to have done more. I was very busy on one section, and I know that although he took an interest in agriculture he also had a very deep interest in fishing, which is so important to Scotland. So I think what the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, said is perfectly right. I agree with him and I hope there will be a reply on that from the Government. We need international control; but he must know also that discussions are still going on with regard to the international law of the sea. I accept that there have been long delays. I took part in some of those discussions, but there has been no real progress, and from the point of view of the conservation of our own fisheries, little has happened.

As an Englishman I do not want to make a long speech. I believe that the noble Duke who raised this matter has done a great service. There will be a lot of Press coverage in Scotland about this debate and I hope that pressure will be put on the Government and they will recognise that they still have to look carefully at one of our most important industries, which not only gives food but gives pleasure to thousands of our citizens.

6.35 p.m.

The MINISTER of STATE, SCOTTISH OFFICE (The Earl of Mansfield)

My Lords, first I must thank my noble kinsman the Duke of Atholl for giving the House the opportunity for discussion of this subject, but before I go any further I think it right that I should declare an interest. I own a somewhat undistinguished tributary of the Tay so far as fishing is concerned, and with my noble kinsman—and I think he forgot this—we are both trustees for my son, who owns a substantial interest in the Tay.

Having got that out of the way, my second very pleasant duty is to congratulate my noble friend Lord Seafield on his maiden speech. How nice it is to welcome one more expert to your Lordships' House! We look forward to having his contributions to our deliberations in the future. I was pleased, too, that the noble Lord, Lord Peart, acknowledged the vital importance of fishing to Scotland. I am referring to all fishing, but particularly, within the terms of this debate, to salmon and freshwater fisheries. When my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye asked a question on the first day back after Christmas a noble Lord sitting behind the noble Lord, Lord Peart, whom I shall not name, asked whether it was suitable for the House of Lords to discuss such matters and we did not deign to answer. It is very important, as my noble friend Lord Seafield has said.


My Lords, I hope the noble Earl was not referring to me. I hope he did not mean the noble Lord sitting behind the noble Lord, Lord Peart, now.


No, my Lords, I said "a noble Lord sitting behind the noble Lord, Lord Peart". The noble Lord was in the same geographical position as the noble Earl, but it was not in fact the noble Earl.

I asked my department, because I wanted to know for my own information, whether they could get out any statistics for me on the commercial values of fishing in Scotland. They did their best, in a rather different way from my noble friend. Perhaps I may illustrate it in this way. So far as net fishings are concerned, the recorded commercial catch of salmon, grilse and sea trout in Scotland in 1978—which is the latest available date for figures—amounted to a total of 1,050 tonnes and the gross value of that catch at first sale was estimated, at 1979 prices, at about £5 million. One can add extra value by the various sectors of processors, distributors, retailers and so on who lie between the netter and the final consumer, and it would be safe to say that the extra value would amount to at least another £5 million. Persons employed in commercial catching are believed to number about 1,250, but of course there are no estimates available of salmon-related employment in processing, and so on.

That is netting. But if one then goes on to sporting fisheries, a proper estimate of their value would have to take account, for instance, of the rents paid to the proprietors of fishings, the value added by hotel, tourist and transport sectors in so far as these relate to salmon. No comprehensive data are available, but in 1978 a departmental estimate was made to the effect that sporting fisheries for salmon had a current economic value of some £10 million to £15 million. So that is a guess and no more at the commercial value to Scotland of fishing, so far as salmon are concerned. It is quite impossible to put a value on trout fisheries but there is no doubt that they are of considerable actual and potential value.

The point that I want to make is that the economic benefits from salmon and freshwater fisheries are not evenly spread over Scotland but are of particular importance in rural areas. Where some small communities depend to a significant extent on the benefits derived directly and indirectly from the existence of the fisheries one can see the important place of fisheries in general.

I think the time is ripe for a discussion on this whole subject, partly because of the way in which the 1976 Act dealing with the protection of trout fishing has been operating, and also because I think it is time that the existing law relating to salmon and freshwater fisheries—much of which, as has been pointed out, relates to the last century—was reviewed. We have had the Hunter Committee which reported in 1965, but no substantial changes took place thereafter. In 1971 the previous Conservative Government published proposals for comprehensive legislation, as we have also heard, and a series of consultations subsequently took place but no progress was made because of pressure on parliamentary time.

Noble Lords will be aware from the reply that I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, on 22nd November last year that the Government have decided to review the existing administration of and legislation relating to salmon and freshwater fisheries in Scotland, and to that end a consultation paper was issued and circulated at the end of last year. A lot of the suggestions made this evening, I am glad to say, are on the lines of that consultation paper.

There is room for difference, quite obviously, on the number of area boards that there should be. I was, and at the moment am, attracted to the view that the number might follow the number of river pollution boards, but I think that much room for discussion and deliberation exists over this. What I think we are agreed about is that to a very large extent the area boards could take over the functions of the district salmon boards, and some others, including possibly fish farming. I think that requires very considerable thought. What I think they could not take over is the control of disease, because that, under the Diseases of Fish Act 1937, which relates to notifiable diseases, is the responsibility of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, and I feel it would probably be inappropriate and certainly expensive if these responsibilities were delegated to area boards. But again, like everything else, this is something which is very much open for discussion.

I am sure your Lordships will appreciate that it would not be appropriate nor indeed proper for me to prejudge the outcome of this review which we are undertaking, which will take into account the principal issues raised in the 1971 White Paper and the various points which have been discussed since. What I would do is to urge all noble Lords, who have an interest in the subject in whatever way and whether or not they have taken part in this debate, to see to it that vigorous representations are made. In this way the Government will be confronted with the maximum number of views and they can be taken into account, and hopefully legislation will come forward which will be as satisfactory as possible in the circumstances.

I am going to say a few words about some of the individual contributions of noble Lords, but there are one or two matters which perhaps I could raise which were raised by several noble Lords. The first related to drift netting of salmon, which, as your Lordships will know, is banned in Scotland but is permitted within the six-mile limit off England and Wales, where it is licensed and supposed to be strictly regulated. As my noble kinsman said, and said quite rightly, a very large proportion of the harvest, if that is the word, of the main English drift nets fishery is in fact Scottish salmon homing back to Scottish rivers, and this has been a major source of contention over the years.

Enforcement of the present controls over salmon fishing off the North-East coast has been under review with the aim of closer co-ordination on both sides of the border. So far as the ban on any fishing on the Scottish side of the border is concerned, only last week I visited the headquarters of the Royal Navy Fishery Protection Squadron to have discussions on these and other matters, so it is being actively reviewed by the Government. So far as the English interests are concerned, what I can say is that at the moment inter-departmental discussions are going on between my department and the Ministry of Agriculture, and one hopes—and I can say no more than that at this stage—that they will eventually lead to new legislation.

A number of noble Lords took up the point of the Atlantic Salmon Convention, and it is, of course, extremely important. I do not believe that the situation is quite so bad, if I may use that word, as my noble friend Lord Balfour thought. Perhaps I can very briefly relate the history of the matter and then go on to say what is happening. Early in 1979 the United States Government proposed to the European Community and other parties an international convention on salmon in the North Atlantic Ocean, and your Lordships are well aware what the United States proposals were. The immediate reaction of this country, of course, is to favour any sound proposals which are aimed at conservation of salmon stocks and regulation of fishing for salmon at sea. Our policy is to adhere to the principles agreed in the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference, and particularly that the States of origin shall have the primary interest and responsibility for such stocks.

Being a member of the European Community, we have to negotiate through the Commission, so to speak, and in response to the American initiative the Commission have produced proposals for a negotiating mandate with the USA and the other countries involved. These proposals, which eventually will be presented for agreement in the Council of Ministers, are now the subject of discussion among the Member States of the European Community. The reason why they are not getting more publicity—and perhaps it seems that either the matter is not being attended to or is being allowed to slip—is that at the moment at any rate they are at official level, and will continue, I think at a higher level, next month. The reason for this is that so far as this country is concerned—and, as noble Lords have said, we are one of the three countries with salmon stocks—we were not satisfied and remain unsatisfied with the emphasis which the Commission wished to lay upon their negotiating stance so far as these negotiations are concerned. We look for substantial improvements in the mandate in the course of discussions, and finally to the fact that it will no doubt be agreed and be passed, as it were, by the Council of Ministers; and it is hoped then that substantive discussions will take place with the United States and other countries.

The United States, it is fair to say, is keen to make progress on the agreement of a convention during this year, 1980. In the meantime, it is reassuring to note that agreement has recently been reached between the European Community and the Canadian Government for the continuation into this year, 1980, of the previous agreement for the restriction of salmon catches in Greenland waters at the previous annual level of 1,190 tonnes.

I wish to turn now in a general sense to freshwater fisheries proper, and that of course really concerns trout. My noble kinsman himself raised the question of protection for trout fisheries. The 1976 Act—and as the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, is in his place, I must be careful what I say—provides for the Secretary of State to make a protection order for freshwater fisheries in a river system or part of a river system where he is satisfied that proposals by holders or occupiers of fishing rights to give public access to the fishings are adequate to meet public demand. Fishings for salmon and sea trout in fresh water already enjoy statutory protection and are not affected by the Act.

The first case considered under the Act, which was an application for a protection order from the proprietors of angling clubs on the Rivers Tweed and Eye, has been taken to a public inquiry in view of the large number of objections received. We are indebted to the Reporter for the careful and reasonable manner in which he examined the situation and for the positive attitude which he took in his report for developing our fishing resources in the interests of all concerned. Following the inquiry, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has decided that a protection order should be made for an initial period of three years. That will provide a trial period in which to see whether his recommendations can be fruitfully implemented. I hope that a liaison committee will shortly be set up to monitor the operation of protection so that hopefully the order will come into effect in time for this season.

It is right to say that the Act has been heavily criticised by what I may term as "unattached" anglers mainly on the grounds that it provided "blanket" protection without comprehensive public access and the fact that the only sanction against breaches of the terms of the proposals in respect of which a protection order may have been made, is the revoking of the whole order. Whether or not those criticisms may be overstated, we must consider them in the consultations which are to take place.

I am bound to say—and particularly as the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, is in his place—that when this Act, as it is now, went through your Lordships' House I was among the first and most vociferous to criticise it. However, I think that in the time that we have lived with it—and it is, in fact, all too short—the experience of the Tweed Inquiry has been valuable. I can say that if persons or organisations on other rivers are minded to make a similar application, but may be dissuaded from doing so by the thought that the Government may be going to introduce comprehensive legislation so that they could go to a whole lot of trouble and expense for nothing, my reply is, "Do not worry; continue with your application". I would envisage—and I hope that I am not going beyond what I should do in this regard—that if there is further legislation it would, as it were, embrace the 1976 provisions. Therefore, any application which takes place in the interim period would also be embraced by any new legislation which comes about.

Various noble Lords have made suggestions as to how future legislation could affect trout. As I have said, my noble kinsman, I think, with the exception of what he said as regards the number of area boards—and other noble Lords, especially the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, agreed with him—very much suggested something along the lines of the consultative document. Of course, it will be for the area boards to make provision for such matters as night fishing, Sunday fishing and the type of fishing which may be indulged in. One must remember that very many folk have different ideas and attitudes on the subject and that what be denigrated as a totally unsporting method of fishing by one section of the populace is regarded as being fair and enjoyable by another which has equal rights to state its view. It is a very difficult matter.

Similarly, I am not sure that I am in total agreement as to how the members of the area boards should find themselves in their positions. I am quite sure that a form of election will have to be the major way in which they find themselves there. I think that one must pay attention to the very large numbers of unattached anglers and, whether or not they become attached in some way, the public interest must recognise that they have, or should have, some say in what happens. Otherwise there will be a recipe for continual trouble because they will say that they are not represented and they do not see why they should not indulge in the free fishing which they have, in effect, enjoyed since time immemorial. That is a matter that we must face.

The noble Lord, Lord Tryon, referred to the decline of salmon stocks. I can tell him that that was a matter which I also tried to inquire into. It is extremely difficult and complicated partly because statistics are kept, if they are kept at all, in different ways; and partly because in the last few years the results on different rivers have been varying all too much. However, the inadequacy of the arrangements for obtaining data on changes in the Scottish salmon catch was recognized by many of the various committees and commissions that have reported on Scottish salmon fisheries since 1836. Provision for the collection and publication of comprehensive catch statistics on a district basis was eventually included in the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Protection) (Scotland) Act 1951. Such statistics have been collected by my department since 1952, but there has been no regular publication of those statistics except for the annual total Scottish catch of salmon, grilse and sea trout made by each of three main fishing methods. Therefore, we now have no less than 26 years of comprehensive data on salmon catches on file in my department and it is now proposed to publish a detailed summary for those years and to make detailed catch statistics available on a regular basis. So I hope that a position which is admittedly now not very satisfactory will become rather more so in the future.

I hope that your Lordships will appreciate from what I have said that the Government are anxious to review the law and legislation on salmon and freshwater fisheries in Scotland and, at the same time, to ensure that our international arrangements are so conducted as to ensure that the stocks of salmon are maintained in as healthy a state as possible.

However, on domestic matters, I should like to say that, following the present round of consultations, we propose to frame new proposals for legislation which it is hoped to bring to Parliament as soon as the legislative timetable permits—and that, I know, is a time worn phrase. But, in view of the long delay in tackling the issues dealt with by the Hunter Committee, I hope that we shall be able to make progress and to help create a new framework for conserving our stocks, and not least for improving the facilities for the increasing number of people who enjoy the sport of angling, and also for developing the undoubted potential of our fisheries as a significant part of the rural economy.

6.59 p.m.


My Lords, I do not propose to make a long reply because I feel that that would be out of place in a short debate. But I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Seafield on his excellent and almost non-controversial maiden speech. I thought that his figures were most interesting and I only wish that we could have the same sort of figures for other parts of Scotland, because I think that we would find that the further North and West we go the more dependent the economies of those very rural areas are on fishing in general and salmon and trout fishing in particular. I thought that his statistics were most interesting and I very much hope that my noble kinsman will be able, sometime in the future, to produce some figures for other parts of Scotland based on the same premises. I should like to thank noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I found it a very interesting debate, largely because I agreed with almost everything that was said, which has not always been the case.

There are just one or two points with which I did not entirely agree. The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, said that the exist- ing law has worked. It has worked so far as salmon and sea trout are concerned, but I think it is beginning to creak even with them, and I do not think it has worked at all as regards ordinary brown trout. When the noble Viscount made that statement he may have forgotten about brown trout. I would also point out to him that I suspect that if either the Test or the lichen were in Scotland, they would not be the good trout rivers that they are, being in Hampshire. I noted he thought that fish farms should be controlled by area boards, and my noble kinsman dealt with that. Personally, I agree with him that control of disease must be carried out by the Secretary of State. Whereas area boards should be allowed to express an opinion and possibly even license fish farms in their area, I am convinced that the control of disease should come directly under the Secretary of State.

Both my noble friends Lord Balfour of Inchrye and Lord Tryon went into the international aspects in most interesting speeches, which I greatly enjoyed. I think I agreed with everything they both said. I can assure my noble friend Lord Tryon and the noble Lord, Lord Peart, that I was delighted, even though they are English, that they made a contribution to this debate. They added an extra dimension to the debate which was most welcome. I should like to thank them and all other speakers very much for taking part in the debate.

Before withdrawing my Motion, I greatly welcome the news—at least it was to me—that interdepartmental discussions are taking place between the department of my noble kinsman and the Ministry of Agriculture about the drift-netting off the North-East coast of England. That is very good news and has been one of the most cheering things to come out of this debate, as indeed was the fact that statistics will be published more regularly. The ones at present are totally inadequate, as I think my noble kinsman admitted. With those few remarks, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.