HL Deb 17 February 1982 vol 427 cc626-39

7.57 p.m.

Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This is a modest Bill, confined only to Scotland. I hope that it is a non-contentious Bill which will commend itself to all sides of the House. The draftsmen of the Bill have been to some pains to keep it as short and as simple as possible, which I am sure will be a great relief to all Members of this House.

I should make it very plain that I am no expert in this matter. The number of salmon that I have caught in my lifetime could be counted on the fingers of one hand—and not all of them have been in Scotland. I have the privilege of being on the Court of the Fishmongers Company. Unlike some companies, it still exercises some of its ancient privileges and responsibilities in regulating the marketing of fish in this country. Whether it should be a declared interest, I do not know.

It is generally agreed that in recent years certain abuses have grown up which are calling for legislative action. The promoters of this Bill have consulted very widely with a large number of bodies—a dozen or so—which seem to be relevant, and nobody has expressed any dissent with the Bill in its present form. Lying behind that is a feeling that there is in the long run a need for an all-embracing and comprehensive review of the legislation concerning salmon fishing in Scotland. I would not want to take shelter behind that need because I think it is generally agreed that it will take some time for comprehensive legislation of that sort to be brought forward and it would essentially need to be a Government initiative; so I believe this is a case where the best could be the enemy of the good.

What we are trying to do in this Bill is to nibble away at the problem; and it is a constantly shifting target. Indeed, my interpretation of the situation relating to salmon fishing activities is that, on a tiny scale, it is a little bit like the running battle between the drafters of revenue legislation and the accountants who are constantly trying to find ways around it. We are dealing here with a continuous process of revision of the law against an expanding horizon of technical possibility and the ever-increasing sophistication of what I might call the "wide boys" of the business who are intent upon cashing in on the high price of salmon in the markets. The experience of the last two or three years has emphasised the need to close some of the loopholes in the law which are being exploited by people of this sort.

In drafting this legislation it has been recognised that it needs not only to be simple but also intelligible, legally binding and enforceable. These objectives, I believe, have been achieved in this Bill. Essentially what the Bill does is to ban the use of gill nets for catching salmon in Scotland; and I will mention later the definition of gill nets. There are several reasons why this is desirable. First, the quality of fish caught by a gill net is diminished because the fish is damaged while it struggles and dies from drowning, and hence you get an inferior quality product in the market. Secondly, there is a fear that the effectiveness of the gill net could lead to the danger of over-fishing. That, set alongside a number of other dangers which have been mentioned in this House and the depredations which have been made upon the species of salmon, would make for an undesirable situation.

In banning the use of the gill net, the Bill removes an escape clause which has been used by those who are trying to get round the law. They have been saying: "This net was not set from a boat"—which is currently precluded under the law—" but it was set from the shore". Indeed, these people will sometimes claim that it has been set from a buoy, and it is a nice question as to who set the buoy in the first place. And I have been told of people who have climbed out of a boat to set such a net—I presume they would be wise enough to wear a wet suit—and have claimed that they have actually set the net not from a boat but from the water. Certainly there have been cases of hardy individuals such as we breed North of the Border who have been known to swim out and set nets in this way, which is not caught by existing legislation.

There is yet another defence which they can deploy. Those who use the legitimate devices for catching fish from the shore which are rather charmingly described as "engines" in the traditional legislation, are legitimately allowed to market their fish. I am told that the amount of fish some of these engines catch is quite surprising, and indeed out of all proportion to what might be expected. The suggestion is that some fish not caught legitimately is being sold through the mechanism of those who are operating legitimate engines.

The Bill further precludes the use of a gill net as a leader. Indeed it seems to me, as a layman in these matters, that to use a gill net as a leader is somewhat of a contradiction in terms as, by definition, the concept of a leader is that it should guide the fish into the bag-net at the end, whereas the gill net is designed to catch them and strangle them on the way in.

This raises the question of the actual description of a leader net, where it is pointed out that the definition of a leader net is that it should be seen so that it guides the fish rather than catching them on the way in. That brings in the word "monofilament"—the point being that modern nets can be made strong enough and yet fine enough to be virtually invisible. I did a little checking to discover whether there was a parliamentary definition of "monofilament" and I have to tell the House that this was attempted in Irish legislation by a gentleman called Murphy in 1976. So I dare say that we should treat it with reserve since "Murphy's law" is perhaps not one of the more reliable ones for us to call into account.

The definition in Clause 1—"(howsoever that term may be defined)"—is not a nice piece of draftsman's gobbledygook. It is used in order to catch up the definitions which have been used in previous legislation so that we do not invalidate previous legislation in bringing in this legislation. Clause 2 of the Bill contains what might be called a secondary objective it gives the Secretary of State power to vary the sizes of the nets which he might specify for different parts of the country. I understand this is a power which the Department of Agriculture feels would be useful to them.

Clause 3, which may look somewhat draconian unless one is familiar with it, sweeps in all accessories as being jointly responsible, and I understand this is a clause which has been lifted from previous legislation—the 1951 Act. Clause 4 is a piece of what I might call legal tidying up; and Clause 5 exempts the fish farmers, who clearly have to be free to use nets if they find it necessary. Then we get on to the definition clause, Clause 6. A good deal of trouble has been taken over the definition of the gill net, and I have already referred to one previous attempt to define nets of that kind.

Clauses 8 and 9 are the geographical clauses, which I understand to be the normal form of legislation of this kind, and which, again, have been lifted from previous Acts. I have not attempted to explain in detail the phraseology of the Bill. I hope I have established that a Bill is desirable and that it is desirable now, rather than waiting for more comprehensive legislation. I believe that the Bill will be effective in achieving desirable ends, and I commend it to the House. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.— (Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal.)

8.1 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, the House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona, for the way in which he has introduced his Bill. He did not disguise from the House the fact that it is a limited Bill, the purpose of which is to help deal in part with a problem that has been with us for some time. It might well be suggested that the abuses are not exactly abuses of recent years. For instance, attempts were made in 1951 to deal with poaching. I remember that very clearly, because a Bill was introduced under a Labour Government, by the Secretary of State—not myself—Hector McNeil. I was his Parliamentary Private Secretary, so I have some appreciation of what went on at that time.

To generalise, salmon fishing then was something not for ordinary people. It was a matter of concern to those who owned the fishings. It was a case of doing something to help the landed proprietor, the riparian owner. I can remember the feeling in some sections of the Labour Party at that time, that that should not be done: Why should we, in 1951, with a majority of little or nothing, deal with a Bill of this kind?

I nearly said that, at that time, poaching was of a very explosive character. The kind of fish that were being taken, and the state of the rivers after the poachers had finished, was incredible to see. As the noble Lord said, the poachers have now become much more sophisticated. They even have their intercommunication, one with the other, and they are probably much more concerned about where the various bailiffs are. Furthermore, the cost of salmon at the present time means that there is a very ready market for it. So that the noble Lord was probably quite right in asking whether we should wait for all-embracing legislation.

We had a very interesting debate four months ago, prompted, I think, by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, and someone asked when we might be able to get legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Lyell, told us that his right honourable friend the Secretary of State was hoping shortly to conclude the review which he had put in hand for changes in legislation and in the administration of salmon and freshwater fisheries. That review was started in December 1979 and anyone who knew what had happened realised that it was, more or less, a rehash of what a different Government of the same party had said in 1971 should be done about the Hunter Report. So there we were with that reissue in 1979, and here we are in 1982, still waiting.

It was just the other day, on 8th February, that a Question for Written Answer was asked in another place. It is not often that a Conservative Government Whip in another place asks a Question, and when we get the Answer we should look at it closely. The Secretary of State replied: The Government are at present carrying out a wide-ranging review of the administration of and legislation on salmon and freshwater fisheries in Scotland. This review is not yet complete". (Official Report, Commons, 8/2/82; col. 240.) There were complaints about the time that the Hunter Committee took in dealing with many of the abuses which the noble Lord raised tonight. That committee began its task in 1962 and reported in 1965. Yet here are the Government, with all that background and with all that time going back 20 years, saying that the review is not yet complete.

This Bill is not a Government measure. I had my doubts about the Deer Bill which we had last week. I was convinced that it was a Government measure and I have not yet been unconvinced. But only one reading of the noble Lord's Bill shows that it is not a Government measure. It may well be that the Government will tell us that it is too early to deal with anything like that. But in a restricted way it is worth while, especially as explained by the noble Lord. I am not sure about the drafting or about the powers, and I want to ask a question of the noble Earl the Minister who will speak later. I have a feeling that the Government should speak early on a private Member's Bill and should say how they feel about it. It is the usual thing in another place that the Government, before the end of the debate and not at the end of the debate, say how they feel about a Bill, so as to put Members in the picture right away.

While the Government will bless and damn this small measure at the same time, I want to ask the noble Earl whether the Government are prepared to use this measure, because there is nothing to prevent them from introducing into it other aspects that have been considered important, which the Government themselves say are important and which, in their consultation paper, they more or less decided about. What about the question of salmon dealers? That is the only way, eventually of, restricting the activities of the poachers. I know it is difficult, but we should know exactly where the Government stand. What about the question of licensing? Everyone seems to be quite happy about licensing the rod anglers; but what about licensing those who use nets? That is another aspect which the Government could take up and put in here, as a limited approach to the problem.

I made the mistake of speaking in the last debate on this subject, and I remember someone saying that the reason why we had no legislation was that the salmon had no votes. I pointed out that the anglers had votes. Since that time, everywhere I go I meet anglers. I went to the CBI in Ayr last week, along with the Secretary of State. Whom did I meet, but the leading angler in the whole of Ayrshire and he was prepared to tell me what he is doing. I went to a Burns Supper in Alloway, and every second person I met there seemed to be a member of the River Doon Angling Improvement Association. They are in no doubt about what they want, and one of the things they want is in this Bill— but only one. I do not think they will be satisfied. One of the difficulties about trying to do something is not doing enough. Then there was delivered to my door a great brief, also from the River Doon Angling Improvement Association. I discovered that a near neighbour of mine is more interested in the River Doon and what should be done there than in anything else. This will not meet all of his demands, but if we can meet some of them by including them in the Bill, it will be worth while.

Nobody talks about the poor salmon except, probably, the noble Earl. I read the other day about the signing of a North Atlantic salmon conservation agreement. An organisation has been set up, the headquarters of which are to be in Edinburgh. This should be relatively good news to most people. But the agreement has to be ratified by all the people involved. The people involved at this meeting in Iceland were Iceland, Canada, Denmark (with their interest in the Faroes), Norway, Sweden and the United States. The suggestion is that the agreement should be ratified in the latter part of 1983 and that it should deal with management, conservation and maritime fishing quotas, something which we have been asking for and hoping to get for a long time. Could the Government tell us how far this agreement will overcome some of the drift net fishing problems? We do not have drift net fishing in Scotland, but it takes place off the Yorkshire and Northumbrian coasts and also in Greenland and the Faroes. It may well be that there is some hope.

However, once the salmon gets over this hurdle, there is the problem of coastal and estuarial netting. I want to find out how the Bill will affect coastal and estuarial netting. Will there be some improvement? At the moment I believe that 80 per cent. (and in some cases an even higher percentage) of the fish removed from the sea are removed at this stage.

It is no wonder that fishing proprietors, angling clubs and rod anglers, feel that nobody has been speaking for them. They are of growing importance in Scotland from both the tourist and the recreational point of view. It is not just a question of those with the rod and line. It is a question of families staying in hotels and of people buying very expensive gear in shops. This matter is very important from the point of view of the shops in these areas. Let us not underestimate the importance of this matter. Let us give it a properly balanced place when we are looking at all the interests involved in the taking of salmon. There is a feeling that those who have got the most say and who dominate the fishery boards are the netting people rather than those adopting a properly balanced point of view.

Another aspect of the matter is administration. We have long been waiting for an improvement in the administration. I think it was the noble Earl who pointed out that, certainly on the West Coast of Scotland and beyond, where no fishery hoards are active, there is a complete lack of even the kind of protection which we may put into a Bill like this. Therefore I should like the Government to indicate whether there will he legislation soon. If legislation is a long way away, may I ask the Government to use this Bill, expand the one good thing that is in it and get on with it?

To turn to the Bill, with due respect I do not agree with the drafting. I do not think it is good enough to insert "gill net (howsoever that term may be defined)" and then to proceed to define it in another clause. One has to insert "as defined in Clause 6". I agree entirely with what the noble Lord has said about the gill net and the damage which it can cause, and that it is not really leading; it is catching. Indeed, it is catching far too many fish, to the detriment of those whose interests lie up the river and, indeed, to the detriment of the salmon. It was said a year or so ago by somebody that drift netting would drift salmon to the point of extinction. We could do the same thing on the coasts and in the estuaries. There has to be an escape route to enable salmon to get up the river, otherwise there will be no salmon.

May I next ask when this is to come into force? We are told that the provisions of Clauses 1, 3, 4, 5, 8 and 9 will come into force on such day as the Secretary of State decides. But what about Clause 2? Clause 2(1) is a very important power. It states: The Secretary of State may by order, either generally or with respect to particular areas of Scotland, specify the mesh sizes, materials and dimensions of nets which may lawfully be used in the course of fishing for salmon". Will that power come into force right away? That ought to be made clear in the Bill. The customary formula is one month after the passing of the Bill.

Clause 4, which deals with enforcement, is important. Let us not deceive ourselves about how easy it is to improve enforcement, taking into account the nature of what is involved and the industry of many of the people concerned.

Section 10 of the 1951 Act deals with the powers of water bailiffs. They will carry out the enforcement, with the help of the police. Clause 4 says that Section 10 shall apply and have effect, except paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of subsection (1). What are paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of subsection (1)? Paragraph (a) of subsection (1) is the power to examine any dam, fixed engine or obstruction, or any lade, and for the purpose to enter on any land—some of the very things which the noble Earl said that he wanted to deal with. Paragraph (b), which is also excluded from the Bill, relates to the power to stop and search any boat which is used in fishing, or any boat which there is reasonable cause to suspect of containing salmon or trout. I should have thought that this was an essential power if one was effectively to deter in this way. Paragraph (c) relates to the power to search and examine nets or other instruments used in fishing, or any basket, pocket or other receptacle capable of carrying fish which there is reasonable cause to suspect of containing salmon or trout illegally taken. And they would be illegally taken as soon as Clause 1 came into force. I suggest that the noble Earl is weakening considerably the force of what he wants to achieve by this exception in Clause 4 of paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) in subsection (1) of Section 10 of the 1951 Act.

The Bill is well-intentioned but it lacks the wider improvements which we seek and ask for. It is too far weakened because of the way in which it has been drafted and by the exceptions which have been introduced. Apart from that, if there is any comfort for the noble Earl in my saying so, I shall certainly not oppose the Bill.

8.29 p.m.

Viscount Thurso

My Lords, I am sure I have bored your Lordships on more than one occasion with a recitation of my interest in salmon and salmon fisheries and I will, if noble Lords permit me, spare them further recitation of these. I welcome this modest measure, because modest measure it is. It does not seek to put right the whole law of salmon fishing in the sea, or otherwise. It seeks solely to deal with one abuse which has crept in in recent years, due to modern technology. I welcome this approach because I feel that the reason we have not been able to have legislation, and why it has been so difficult to have legislation to deal with the problems of salmon fishing in the sea and rivers, is that we have always had to face the extraordinary shibboleth posed by Hunter before we could do anything else. The fact is that the all-embracing nature of the Hunter Committee's report has been the greatest single factor in putting back legislation on things to do with salmon over the past 20 years. The work done by the Hunter Committee was tremendous. It was voluminous and covered every aspect of salmon fishing, but the report itself was too compendious. The only way around this problem is to deal with matters not just piecemeal but certainly section by section, because it would be awfully difficult to get together a Bill big enough to bring the whole of salmon fishing up to date from the middle of the 19th century to today in one fell swoop. Therefore, I welcome the fact that this Bill is a modest measure.

I am not sure how successful the Bill will be. Certainly I do not believe that it would be totally successful if passed exactly as drafted, and I look forward with interest to see what improvements in drafting may be brought forward at Committee stage. However, the Bill does have in it one or two very ingenious elements. The element which appeals to me most is Clause 2, concerning the regulation of nets and the fact that the Secretary of State may by order specify net sizes, materials and so forth. This could have far-reaching effects. It is perfectly possible that, as time goes by, people will invent new, destructive and undesirable kinds of nets and methods of setting them. This clause will give power to any future Secretary of State to deal with situations as they arise and bring things back to a state that is acceptable in general to the salmon fishing industry.

The whole problem here is that this has nothing to do with owners; the problem is caused by the falling price of salmon and not the rising price of salmon. It is caused by the fact that people are trying to catch more salmon and trying to get an advantage over the next netsman. This is a matter relating solely to commercial netting interests—the people who put the salmon on your table and who supply the salmon smoking industry. These are the sort of people who are being dealt with in this Bill. I believe this Bill is trying to deal with the fears that people have that netsmen are trying to gain an advantage over each other, or over other users of salmon, by using more modern and destructive methods of fishing which do not allow the proper escape of stock into the rivers and the proper escape of fish for the anglers to run up the river.

Whether this Bill will achieve this object all sublime we shall have to discuss in greater detail at Committee stage. Whether the description of a gill net is good enough or not I am sure will be a matter for debate at Committee stage. The fact is that at the moment, it is illegal to enmesh a fish. It is illegal to take a fish that has been enmeshed even by accident in the bag of a bag net. But that is extraordinarily difficult to enforce. It is necessary to sit in pairs on the braehead and watch the chap actually doing it; you have to be absolutely certain that you have seen him extricate this fish and then put it into his boat for taking home. This is the only way one can take a case.

What we are trying to do here is to simplify the way in which the law is being broken at present by making it clear that the net must be set in that way to start with. People will tell you that they have set a monofilament leader; that it is set as a leader; that it will lead fish; that it is the only way in which an old man can handle the weight of net required to lead the fish into his bag, and so forth. They will claim that the fish see the monofilament because they can see the weed on it and that it is all perfectly visible. At the moment the only thing one can do to stop people using this net, if one thinks it is doing damage, is to catch the person actually removing enmeshed fish from the net and taking them.

This Bill seeks to make clear that, if the person is using an engine that is properly designed and properly set, he is within the law; and that, if he is using an engine that is not properly designed and is not properly set, he is outwith the law. In that sense, I welcome the Bill and what it hopes to do. Certainly I will be doing my best during the Committee stage and other stages of the Bill to help tidy up any of the drafting which may need tidying up. I hope that will be the aim of the Government also, who I am sure ought to be welcoming this Bill as a contribution to salmon legislation—a contribution that will be useful and will save the Government bringing in legislation at a later stage to cover this specific aspect of salmon fishing.

This Bill will be no better than the present legislation if the position of the people who have to enforce the law is not strengthened. As the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, has pointed out, the whole west coast of Scotland is without district fishery boards and without the necessary district inspectors and bailiffs to police this kind of regulation. It is a very important thing, which I hope the Government will soon be able to tackle, to bring the legislation on Scottish salmon fisheries far enough up to date to allow district fishery boards to become viable throughout areas where they have fallen into abeyance because they have been unable to raise the funds and where lack of finance has driven them out completely.

It is a very expensive thing, to enforce the law. I know for instance that the fisheries inspector on the Thurso drives literally thousands of miles every year simply inspecting the nets to ensure they are slack during the close times and inspecting the coast to see that no illegal nets are being set. He sails scores of miles along the coast to check up on this. I am sure that that is true of many district fishery boards and I am sure it should be much more widely done up and down the coasts of Scotland to ensure that the law is being upheld and enforced. I do urge upon the Government the need for legislation quite soon to help the re-establishment of fishery boards on all the rivers which do not have them and, possibly at some later stage, enabling legislation to allow these district fishery boards to amalgamate into viable units which can finance themselves and carry out the work which we want them to do.

In the meantime, I feel that we should welcome this genuine attempt by the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, to bring one aspect of Scottish fishery law up to date. I am sure that anglers will welcome this Bill; honest netsmen will welcome this Bill; and fishery managers will welcome this Bill. Our job should be to help the noble Lord to get his drafting right and help the Bill on its way to another place where, let us hope, they will look at it in the same light.

8.41 p.m.

Lord Balfour of Inchrye

My Lords, I shall detain your Lordships only a very few moments, but I cannot resist giving a welcome to this Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal. As other noble Lords have said, this Bill is a modest measure but nevertheless it must be a welcome one to those who are striving to preserve the Atlantic salmon species. I think it will be particularly welcome to the poor salmon themselves, who, after all, cannot speak, cannot bark, cannot squeak, but must look to we humans for safeguarding their lives. It is indeed a modest measure, but the noble Lord, Lord Ross, stressed the fact that salmon legislation of a comprehensive nature was well overdue, a matter which is not confined to one side of the House at all. In fact, I can remember the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, answering me in a debate on this particular subject and saying, "Well, a large study is being made"; but beyond that nothing has ever been promised, and I am very fearful about when we are ever going to see actual legislation brought forward.

Nevertheless, this is a good, small measure. With, I regret, no comprehensive salmon legislation in prospect, I am reminded of how the late Lord Chandos, Mr. Oliver Lyttelton, in another place, defended a very small measure, comparable to this one, in relation to a large problem. His answer to the House was this: There are two ways to empty a small pond. One is to bring in all the machinery, the piping, the paraphernalia of water engineering; and the other is, whenever you pass the small pond to throw in a rock, and if everybody does that long enough the pond will be emptied". My Lords, this is one rock towards what I hope will be the emptying of a pond of danger to the Atlantic salmon.

8.44 p.m.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Mansfield)

My Lords, I must first congratulate my noble friend, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, both on his initiative in introducing this Bill and also on his speech which so clearly explained the background to it and its purposes.

As your Lordships have heard in effect on more than one occasion, the Scottish law on salmon fisheries is not in its first flush of youth, and a number of interests wish to see it amended. But I have to say that it is a matter of some personal regret that, as my noble friend Lord Lyell explained in answer to a debate initiated a few months ago by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, the Government's initiative in putting in hand a review of the existing law and the administration of salmon and freshwater fisheries in Scotland should have had such a disappointing response. I do not want to go over the ground again, but the strength of the opposition, particularly from the freshwater interests, to proposals which were based on a principle enunciated as long ago as 1965 was very striking. Indeed, the range of views even among those who accepted the need for change was wide, and some might fear unbridgeable. I am quite sure if the noble Lord, Lord Ross, has really been talking to a number of anglers he will have found a great many diverging views.

However, our review is not finished. Representative salmon fishery interests already wonder whether the idea of boards with responsibility for trout and salmon is a runner at all, at least for the moment. They have, therefore, put to me, at my suggestion, proposals for changes they would like to see which are designed to modernise the present legislation on district salmon fishery boards, to provide where appropriate for their amalgamation and enlargement, to broaden their base of representation, to strengthen their powers and to provide an additional source of income such as some form of salmon rod licensing to help boards with particular financial difficulties. Their proposals would not rule out an involvement of freshwater fishery interests on the boards by voluntary agreement with such interests and subject to some satisfactory financial agreement. I gather that such a package would have broad support from the salmon interests and anglers, and I will certainly look at it, and in particular how rod licensing could work. But I am bound to say that I cannot at this stage say when a legislative opportunity might present itself.

While I think some of your Lordships have been mildly critical in this debate of the Government for the delay in bringing forward their own legislation with much more comprehensive measures, my main purpose in mentioning these difficulties today is to underline that this Bill introduced by my noble friend Lord Strathcona is concerned with only one of the many matters raised in the discussion document which I issued at the end of 1979. I think that the answer to Lord Ross's point—why should we not have other desirable features tacked on to this Bill?—is that the Bill would become contentious and much less likely to succeed if other details and possibly reforms, desirable reforms, were put into it.

My noble friend's Bill seeks to change the law in Scotland in relation to gill netting for salmon. Of course, his Bill is narrow in its objective. That is not to say that the question of drift netting, which is another term which implies that the fish are enmeshed rather than trapped, is without its controversial aspects. Successive Secretaries of State have for some 20 years banned the fishing for salmon in Scottish waters by drift nets set from a boat. The noble Lord, Lord Ross, in the last debate in October last claimed, quite rightly, credit for his involvement in such measures.

This method of fishing is not, as your Lordships know, banned in waters south of the Border, and the licensed drift net fisheries there, particularly that off the North-East coast of England, come in for a good deal of criticism from Scottish salmon interests as a result, as well as attracting support from those engaged in the netting. All I need say on this score is that my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture is looking closely at the arrangements for these fisheries including possible ways of tightening control of them. I know that Scottish salmon interests will take full advantage of the opportunity my right honourable friend has made available for putting their own point of view.

The present Bill is not concerned with these drift net fisheries. Instead it proposes two changes in the law applying in Scottish waters. The first is to ban the taking of or fishing for salmon by means of a gill net. That is to say, in order to prove an offence there would no longer be a need to establish that the net in question was set from a boat. Indeed, there are those who regard the fact that the orders made under the Sea Fish Conservation Act 1967 are concerned only with fishing from boats as unfortunate. Secondly, the Bill would ban the use of the gill net as a leader net; that is to say, it is intended that a leader net set in relation to a fixed engine should indeed lead the fish into the trap represented by the fixed engine rather than enmesh them. I do not myself know of any firm evidence of the extent to which these two methods of gill netting occur, nor what their share of the salmon catch might be. However, I think it is generally accepted that fishing by these techniques does take place and that these practices may well be increasing.

It would be possible, therefore, to argue that the Bill's broad purpose is to maintain the traditional limit on the efficiency of methods of catching salmon. This is an integral part of the Scottish regulatory regime and permits essential spawning escapement to provide natural regeneration of the rivers, while at the same time sustaining the sport of salmon angling. This, indeed, is the kind of consideration which led us in the 1979 discussion document to propose a ban in Scottish waters on all gill netting for salmon, however set. So the Government can, therefore, offer broad support for the principles underlying Clause 1 of the Bill. We may, however, want to invite my noble friend to look again at the level of fine which he proposes for the offences it creates.

Clause 2 of the Bill would give the Secretary of State an order-making power to specify the mesh sizes, materials and dimension of nets, with provision for different specifications for different parts of the country in order no doubt to cope with differing local practices. I recognise, of course, the wish of some to see an opportunity for some statutory definition of nets which may lawfully be used, and I am not unhappy with the principle of the clause. I am bound to say, however, that behind this apparently simple provision may well lurk difficulties in identifying the particular controls to be imposed, and in their policing. The implementation of this power may therefore have to be considered with some care.

The principle of the remaining provisions of the Bill do not cause me any serious difficulty. I should perhaps say to my noble friend at this stage that while I understand that the Bill was prepared by his advisers in the light of some informal discussions which they had with officials of my department, it is of course his Bill. But I hope he will forgive me if I say that, on the basis of a preliminary scrutiny of the Bill, I think that we may want to suggest to him what might be described as some minor or drafting amendments with the object of tidying up the Bill in a technical sense. So I hope that we shall be able to help my noble friend in this matter and, of course, I shall be in touch with him about these points with a view to seeing that any necessary amendments are put down in good time.

The noble Lord, Lord Ross, asked me a number of questions. The first matter he raised was estuarial netting. This Bill is quite silent on that subject. If it requires clarification, that is a matter for the proposers. But I would assume that the intention is that the Bill will extend to territorial waters. Under existing law there is no lawful netting above estuarial limits because that is banned by Section 2 of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Protection) (Scotland) Act 1951. So the Bill is silent on that point. Of course, it does not extend to England and, therefore, English drift netting off the coast of Northumberland will not be affected.

The noble Lord then asked me a question which may be slightly wide of the Bill. Nevertheless, he asked me about it and I shall attempt to answer it. The noble Lord asked really two questions. The first concerned international intercepting fisheries, which is a very important matter. Secondly, he asked about the recent North Atlantic Salmon Convention.

Perhaps I should mention the Government's approach to the question of controlling those fisheries which intercept salmon in maritime waters on their migratory routes to and from Scotland. The two main interception areas relevant to the United Kingdom salmon, as the noble Lord quite rightly said, are off Greenland and in the waters of the Faroe Islands. In respect of both these fisheries we and our partners in the European Community have participated in talks designed through bilateral negotiations to achieve restrictions in these salmon fisheries. The Greenland Fishery will be subject to the quotas in the European Community Canada Agreement—that is to say, 1,190 to 1,270 tonnes depending on the opening dates of the fishery. Agreement has also now been reached with the Faroes on reciprocal fisheries matters for 1982, and associated with that agreement is an exchange of letters which binds the Faroes to limiting their salmon catches to 750 tonnes for the season ending 31st May 1982, and 625 tonnes for the season 1st October 1982 to 31st May 1983. These figures may prove to be higher than some Scottish salmon interests would have liked. Nevertheless, they represent in my view a significant achievement, particularly in the case of the Faroes Fishery, where the increase in their salmon catch had risen dramatically and was expected to continue to do so.

In the longer term the recent agreement on the text of a North Atlantic Salmon Convention represents a major step forward in providing for the regulation of intercepting fisheries. I—and I am sure the Scottish salmon interests—welcome the decision that the headquarters of this convention will be in Edinburgh.

The noble Lord also asked about the powers which are in Section 10 of the 1951 Act. That, I believe, might be a drafting matter which I do not consider to be very suitable for a Second Reading debate. Suffice it to say that the noble Lord's eagle eye on these matters is, I think, slightly off target for once. My Lords, I can conclude by saying that I must reiterate that the Government see a good deal of merit in my noble friend's Bill and what he is seeking to do. But this Bill should not be regarded as in any sense pre-empting or in substitution for a more widely based Bill of the kind that we are considering. But, as I hope I have made clear, this does not mean that we will not want to facilitate further detailed consideration of the Bill. However, as I said in response to a Private Member's Bill last week, its progress beyond this House depends on a number of indeterminable factors.

8.57 p.m.

Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal

My Lords, I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Mansfield for the welcome he has given on behalf of the Government to this Bill, and even more grateful for the additional help which he has proffered to us in tidying up any improvements which are needed to the drafting. Of course the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, was quite right: this is not a Government Bill, but as my noble friend Lord Mansfield said, we have done our best to make sure that the general objectives of the Bill are likely to be acceptable to the Government, and I am very glad to have that confirmed.

The noble Lord, Lord Ross, not, if I may say so, totally unpredictably, raised a number of expert points on the Bill and I was very glad that my noble friend the Minister was able to give him a good many answers which I can assure him I would have had grave difficulty with myself. I shall attempt to answer a number of the other points he made at a suitable time. I feel that it is rather late for us to go into the matter now. When I said that I was not surprised that the noble Lord is such an expert, that was because I found his signature at the bottom of an order which was made in 1965 which, among other things, did in fact give a definition of a gill net. So I take note that in later stages of the Bill I shall have to be very careful about anything that say to the noble Lord, who clearly is not only well briefed, but also has a good memory.

I must apologise to my noble friend, however, if, in introducing this Bill I have given the noble Lord, Lord Ross, a stick with which to berate the Government for their lethargy, as he sees it, in not getting on with the major job that needs to be done. I can assure the Government that that was not our intention. I have also to say to the noble Lord, Lord Ross, that I am a little nervous about attempting to turn what seems to me to be a fairly modest bicycle into something in the nature of an omnibus, for reasons that have been explained by my noble friend Lord Mansfield.

It remains for me only to thank the noble Viscount and the other noble Lord—both acknowledged experts —for their support, which is greatly appreciated. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, that I hope this small stone will generate some benevolent ripples during the course of its passage, and I assure him that later on I shall do my best not to drop any bricks.

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