HL Deb 29 November 1983 vol 445 cc561-73

3.6 p.m.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Gray of Contin)

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The regulation of inshore fisheries in Scotland has a long history. Scottish sea fisheries are governed by provisions scattered through an extensive body of legislation ranging from the Fisheries Act 1705 to the Fisheries Act 1981. Deriving from the parent Acts are a large number of orders and by-laws. In this way the Secretary of State has available to him a great number of powers relating to inshore fishing.

This extensive body of law has taken shape in response to differing circumstances and for differing, though related, purposes. It is time to stop grafting new shoots on to what is now a very venerable trunk and to start afresh with a completely new plant. This Bill provides for the repeal of the existing outdated legislation governing inshore fishing and its replacement by a readily comprehensible and enforceable regime, suited to modern conditions in the fishing industry.

The conclusion that a fresh start was needed was first reached some years ago now. In 1967 the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, set up a committee under the chairmanship of Lord Cameron to review the regulation of Scottish inshore fisheries. That committee reported in 1970 and concluded that the legislation was difficult to understand, obsolete in certain respects and irrelevant to modern conditions. Lord Cameron recommended many changes. While the Government were considering this report we joined the EEC and that in turn created radical changes not only in the law but also in fishing patterns. It became clear that a comprehensive revision could not take place until we knew the final shape of the common fisheries policy. That policy was concluded only earlier this year and so it is with, I think, commendable speed that the Government have reacted by bringing before your Lordships our proposals.

Apart from the decisions on the common fisheries policy, there was one other development in the last four years which has had a part in shaping the scene. For nearly 80 years it was generally believed that there was a prohibition on trawling within three miles of the shore. In 1979 however the Sheriff at Dingwall decided that the ban applied only to bottom trawling and that midwater trawling for pelagic species was permissible. This has meant that, particularly on the west coast, pelagic trawlers have been able to come right up to the shore to take fish, a development which has increased the number of incidents occurring between static and mobile gear fishermen.

Following the Dingwall judgment and by way of preparation for the situation, once the common fisheries policy had been decided, my noble predecessor as Minister of State asked a committee of officials to reconsider the findings of the Cameron Report in the light of the many changes and developments since 1970. That committee issued a report in 1981 as a departmental consultation paper on which the views of the industry and other interested persons were sought.

It will be no surprise to the House to learn that a wide variety of views and reactions were submitted. We have given very careful consideration to the representations received, and it is on the basis of all this preparatory work that we have brought this Bill before the House.

Having sketched in very briefly the background, I should like to turn to the Bill itself and to outline some of its main aspects. This Bill is designed primarily to achieve two main objectives: these are the protection and conservation of fish stocks, particularly immature and breeding stocks, and the minimisation of conflict between static and mobile gear fishermen. It is the habit of fish to breed and to grow in the waters close inshore and, if I may borrow a term from another important primary source of food, it is these stocks which are the seed corn of the fishing industry. As such they are especially vulnerable to unregulated exploitation.

At the same time, and often in the same areas, we are seeing increasing conflict because of the incompatibility of pursuing static and mobile gear fishing. The Government recognise that both types of fishing have important roles to play and that fishermen in both sectors have a perfect right to earn a decent livelihood. Because that right can be threatened in the current circumstances we are aiming to create conditions which will provide fairness and equity in our inshore waters.

The Bill is very short because it is, in a sense, a neutral measure. It does not make any proposals for regulation but simply creates the context and framework within which the Secretary of State may make orders for regulating the fisheries. The choice of structure is deliberate because we want to avoid becoming locked into regulations which, although they may be appropriate for today's fishing patterns, might not be appropriate in future years. We want to create a system which can respond flexibly, quickly and sympathetically to the changing demands of the fishing industry.

The heart of the Bill is in Clause 1, which enables the Secretary of State to make orders regulating fishing in the waters around the coast of Scotland out to a distance of six miles from the baseline. We have chosen this distance because it is within six miles from baselines that almost all the static gear fishing is carried out. This is also the area within which only British fishermen may operate. While it is true that for the major part of the Scottish coast United Kingdom fishermen have exclusive rights out to 12 miles, there are areas where other EEC fishermen have specific rights in the 6-to-12 mile belt. There are, of course, already existing United Kingdom and Community laws for regulation of the more complex position where United Kingdom and other EEC nationals have rights. The clause provides for the prohibition of fishing for all fish, or for some kinds of fish, or fishing by specified methods. These prohibitions may be applied at specific times of the year and there is also scope for exceptions to the prohibitions.

In fact, it is the Secretary of State's intention to create what have been called static gear reserves and fish nursery areas. That is to say, he proposes to designate certain areas of the sea within which it will be illegal to fish by trawl, seine and other mobile gears. For the convenience of the House, I intend to place in the Library between now and Committee stage a copy of my right honourable friend's initial proposals for these static gear and young fish nursery areas. It is also our intention that the views of fishing organisations both at local and at national level be sought in this connection.

We shall also repeal the existing provisions. In particular, we intend to dispense with the restrictions on the use of certain types of trawl gear within three miles of the coast. Scotland has a large coastline and there are many parts of it where static gear fishermen do not fish or where there are no concentrations of immature fish. It is, therefore, unreasonable to prevent the mobile gear fishermen from having access to these waters. It is also a wasteful use of our enforcement resources to have to police a three-mile limit around the whole of the coast.

In deciding upon a strategy of static gear reserves and young fish nursery areas, we are conscious that other schemes had been put forward by some of the interests involved. In particular, there have been calls for some kind of local or area management of the fisheries. We gave this proposal very serious consideration, but decided in the end that it would be wrong for the Secretary of State to devolve his powers in this respect and, even if he did, that the creation of these local committees might well give rise to more problems than they would solve. There could be problems of demarcation since the fish stocks might well not correspond as neatly to the committee areas as we would wish. There would also be difficulties if a committee in one area adopted a more restrictive or a more relaxed line on particular issues than a committee in another area. Indeed, we took the view that such a measure would create as many problems as it would solve.

The Scottish fleet has historically been a nomadic fleet and we have no wish to compartmentalise its operations. Nor would we wish to run the risk of certain areas of the country being discriminated against by other areas of the country. It therefore is appropriate that these matters should continue to be decided centrally.

Turning now to Clause 2, I would point out that with the removal of the ban on trawling within three miles of the coast it will be necessary to extend the protection for fixed salmon nets, which currently applies to certain areas of the waters around Scotland. Clause 2 makes a general prohibition on the use of mobile gear within half a mile of any fixed salmon net and ensures that the existing legal protection is not lost with the repeal of the old legislation.

Clause 3 of the Bill describes the offences created by failing to comply with orders made under Clause 1 and makes provision for the penalties to be imposed. Clauses 4 and 5 describe the powers of British sea fishery officers to enforce the legislation. These provisions correspond to provisions already enacted in other fisheries legislation, as does Clause 6, which relates to offences by corporate bodies and the recovery of fines. Clause 7 defines the terms used in the Bill. Clause 8makes provision for repeals and consequential amendments including the repeal of obsolete and spent legislation as detailed in the schedules. Clause 9 provides for the coming into force of the Bill on a date to be appointed by the Secretary of State. This will also allow for the current legal regime to remain in force until the new provisions can be effected.

Finally, I turn to the Schedules. Schedule 1 specifies certain minor and consequential amendments and Schedule 2 the repeals, in whole or in part, of those redundant pieces of legislation which are replaced by the Bill.

My Lords, I have attempted to set out concisely our aims in bringing this Bill before the House. I have no doubt that noble Lords have studied the Bill carefully and will have points to make both today and later in Committee. This is an important measure both for those in isolated coastal communities who depend for their living on static gear fishing and for those who prosecute fisheries in the larger vessels, away from their home bases. It should not be forgotten that these latter fishermen are equally dependent on fishing. The essence of the problem is therefore not only to strike a balance between these competing interests but to maintain that balance through future years. I believe that in this Bill we have the necessary tool with which to do that job. I therefore commend this Bill to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Gray of Contin.)

3.20 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, I think we are grateful to the noble Lord the Minister of State for his explanation of the Bill. He said that his explanation was concise. He is quite right about that. But I think he should have read his words more closely when he said we now have a readily comprehensible new regime. Might I ask him this, first of all? Where is it? I defy any noble Lord to read this Bill and tell us what the new regime is. It just is not there. This is purely and simply an enabling Bill—enabling the Secretary of State to do what he likes.

I agree with the noble Lord that it is time something was done. As a matter of fact, I agreed to this somewhere around 1967, when I set up the Cameron Inquiry into fishing regulations. I now find my past catching up with me all the time in this place. I may say that the committee reported in December 1970 and the report was addressed to me, but by that time I was no longer Secretary of State, as the noble Lord on the other side will recollect.

To suggest that he is now carrying out with speed the wishes of the Cameron Committee report of 1970 is stretching it a bit much. These things could have been done, and in fact I am sure many of them have been waiting in the pigeonholes of St. Andrew's House to be done, over a long time. I agree that they have to be done. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Cameron, happily, is still with us despite the fact that it is 13 years since he put his name to this report. He is still a judge in the Scottish courts, and more power to his elbow because his work for Scotland, not just judicially but in many other realms of public service, has been quite amazing for a man of his age. He is a man of considerable stature. I do not know what he will think of this Bill.

The noble and learned Lord was faced with about 24 Acts of Parliament stretching, I think, from George II in 1755 right up to 1968. We have added a few since then. Stemming from them were by-laws, mainly from the 1885 Act. There were about 84 bylaws, and that is not counting the other three that were purely by-laws repealing former by-laws. So there was a growth that required to be modernised; but to say that it was just lopping off and starting with a new trunk is wrong. By the way, you do not start with a new trunk; you usually plant something. What we are doing—at least, I hope so—is saving what is worthwhile and planting something new that is worthwhile.

But we have to appreciate the need for the regulation in the first instance. In the early eighteenth century there was considerable concern—and this is a theme which runs through all the regulations in respect of inshore fishing—about the new coming in and the old being worried and concerned as to what was going to happen to their existing livelihoods. It affected established communities; and I think that it was in 1862 that a Royal Commission was set up which condemned Acts of Parliament which had previously just been published. It is interesting to see what was said then, because the Government are in danger of having the same said now. They said: The Acts of 1860 and 1861 arose out of and conflicts engendered among rival sets of fishermen, by the influence brought to bear on Parliament by the large body of drift net fishermen, fish curers and other vested interests. They introduced regulations bringing in the circle net, which was an early form of seine net. This has gone on all over the years.

But we look at this Bill, and what does it do? It gives power to the Secretary of State by order. We will never see this again: not even an affirmative resolution or a negative resolution, but purely by way of a statutory instrument he can make these changes contain something that has been entirely opposed for a long time. The Secretary of State, if he likes, can continue it, affecting the livelihoods of communities up and down the coasts of Scotland. Do your Lordships think it is right and fair for the Government to come along and say, "Here we have a comprehensible, new regime"? It is nothing of the kind. I should like to quote to your Lordships what some of the fishermen themselves have to say about it. By the way, the only speed the Government are to be commended on is the speed with which they introduced this Bill. This is the 29th. I should know that, because it is the day before St. Andrew's Day. They would not have dared to bring this along on St. Andrew's Day; but the Government got as near as they could to keep the Scots busy.

The Bill was printed only on the 17th of this month, and this is the 29th. The 17th was a Friday, by the way, which means that most Scottish Members of both Houses would probably have seen it after that weekend. The Minister of State thinks that we have all read it and studied it and have had a chance to discuss it with fishermen, and so on. I have barely had time to write a letter or telephone people and get a reply back. I have complained about this before. If this House wants itself to be taken seriously so far as Scottish affairs are concerned, then they should not push us around like this and expect us merely to be rubber stamps in respect of anything that the Government do. Please let it not happen again. Here we have two Bills on the one day, and we have seen them for only about a week. It is not good enough. I do not blame the Minister; he is new to it. But he should have known from his short experience of the Scottish Office. It is probably not their fault, either, but the fault of the people who run this place.

What have the Scottish fishermen to say about this? What we have now is a situation in which interested parties will seek to gain an advantage over others by attempting to persuade the Secretary of State to enact legislation favourable to them". So here we are, in the same situation as that which people were complaining about in the year 1862. That was the Scottish Fishermen's Organisation; and the same point is made by the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and by the Clyde Fishermen's Association. All agree that there should be modernisation; all agree that there should be a new Act; but nobody agrees that this is the kind of Act we should have. The consultations with the fishermen should have gone down to the points of detail, and the nursery bays and the restrictions to be introduced should have been in a schedule to the Bill. That was one of the recommendations of the Cameron Report. The report suggested what should be in the Bill. That was 13 years ago. There have been 13 years to think about it, and the Secretary of State has been working on it closely for three years and not just since the completion of the EEC negotiations.

I wish to say that many of the Scottish fishermen are not looking to the House of Lords today: they are wondering what is happening in Bergen, wondering about the quota they are going to get in negotiation and what we are going to give away to the Norwegians in respect of our fish stocks here, to enable us to fish. It is, of course, important for us to fish in Norwegian waters for cod, haddock and other fish.

This is exactly what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Cameron, said in his conclusion. He said that the new legislation should also, Schedule and define all major plaice nursery areas and provide for this, that and the next thing. There is nothing of that in here.

There was one other important thing that was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Cameron, at, I think, paragraph 143—because much has been said by the Minister of State about the protection of static gear. What did the noble and learned Lord, Lord Cameron, say about that? They considered the matter, the pros and the cons, and said: Consideration must however be given to the fact that selective restrictions would create many anomalous and inequitable situations because it would be virtually impossible, without recreating the total coastal reservation, to provide reserved areas for all creel, line and ground net fishermen. They pointed to the practical difficulties of it, and in paragraph 146 said: On balance therefore we have come to the conclusion that the case for protecting the special interests of the static gear fishermen is not such as to warrant the imposition of restrictions on other methods of fishing". They made a reservation in respect of the newer developments of fish farming and I think nobody would disagree with that. So the Government are not even carrying out one of the main recommendations of the Cameron Committee.

The Bill itself is non-controversial; but what the Government are going to do after it comes into force is very controversial indeed. For example, the Clyde Coast fishermen point out that they see no need for any static gear reserves in their area—that is, from Ardnamurchan Point to the Mull of Galloway. They say: Static gear fishermen and mobile fishermen have reached an understanding which allows for a constant exchange of information which reduces conflict". They agree with the conservation aspects; but this important point about static gear is one of the most controversial that the Government have embarked upon. There is nothing in the Bill about it. You could not read Clause 1 and say that the Government are going to do that. This is what has come out of the Government's discussions following the 1981 consultations. The same is true about the Scottish Fishermen's Federation who say: We are totally opposed to the concept of static gear reserves", and they represent over 1,000 fishermen in Scotland. They go on: The present restrictions on the use of mobile gear within three miles are outdated and should be removed". The Government are going to do that, but we have not been able to tell what conditions, if any, there will be. There are some laid down by the Cameron Report.

What we have now is a situation which nobody wants. We have been through all this before. The fishermen's organisations used to be very divided indeed. I think that it took the efforts of the EEC to bring them all together for their own protection. I plead with the Government to change their minds about this. Why not introduce that schedule into the Bill right at the start? We shall then see it. It might take the Bill a little longer to go through this House and another place, but I can assure the noble Lord that there will be very considerable bitterness; and the reactions of the Clyde Coast fishermen, the Fishermen's Federation and the Pelagic Fishermen's Association are all the same.

May I quote from the Western Isles Free Press, which the noble Lord has probably seen. That says: John Nicholson, General Manager of the Stornoway Fishermen's Co-operative, said that all the arguments lead back to the need for local management. It was quite unnecessary to ban trawling within all areas at all times. They went on to say: We have been working quite happily here on the basis of local agreement about where and when different kinds of fishing should have precedence". But that will be thrown on its head by the central control of the Secretary of State.

The Secretary of the Highlands and Islands Fishermen's Association says that they are against static gear reserves and they have told the noble Lord, Lord Gray, so. It is not getting round to the problem of conservation and improving stocks. They are concerned about the lack of local consideration. The Secretary of the Mallaig and North-West Fishermen's Association said that the idea of area management would be much preferable. If static gear reserves were created, he feared that the reaction of trawlermen would be, Don't step out of there or we'll tow your creels away. This is creating the very conditions that we hoped to get away from.

We have heard plenty about EEC fishermen coming into what, in modern terms, would be called "our waters". There is much bitterness within our own coastal fishing areas about what the Minister of State calls "nomadic fleets". You are foreign if you come from just a few miles away. What we have achieved is a friendly exchange and, with the recommendations of the Cameron Report being so opposed to the privilege given to static fishermen, the Government should not have embarked on this Bill. So I hope that the Minister's mind is not closed to that. We will try, somehow or other, to deal with this when we come to Committee.

It is a very important industry. It is an industry that has come through very hard times, but they are the kind of people who survive hard times and struggle on. It should be appreciated just how much of the white fish that we eat here in London is produced and landed by Scottish fishermen. With all the difficulties that they have, they should not have more put upon them by a Bill which claims to be modernising and simplifying, but which throws us, once again, completely into confusion. Of course, we shall support the Bill, but in Committee we shall need to go very much further in trying to get the Government to change their minds in relation to the structure of the Bill.

3.35 p.m.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, it is a very great pleasure, on this my first speech in your Lordships' Chamber, to follow two such familiar and doughty warriors as the noble Lords, Lord Gray and Lord Ross. I understand that one of the most valuable functions of this House is to scrutinise and revise legislation, but I take it that we are also prepared to ask from time to time whether particular Bills are necessary at all. One of the most telling arguments in favour of the Bill before us is that it repeals a great deal of previous legislation, but it has positive aspects of its own. It is extremely widely drawn, and under it regulations could be made about practically anything. It also gives extremely wide powers, though they may have appeared in previous Bills.

In an interesting debate last week initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, several speakers mentioned the handicap placed upon productive activities in this country not only by the great number of regulations, but by their constant change. Indeed, I think everybody now admits that the mass of regulations can be a very serious matter for those who are trying to make wealth. I have some sympathy for Lord Palmerston, who was once heard to remark rather testily: Surely, we cannot go on legislating forever". Of course, he was wrong for as conditions change new legislation is needed. But it has become a mounting flood, together with the regulations made under it.

A short time ago I measured the thickness of the statutes passed in the year when I was first elected into Parliament and I then measured the thickness of the statutes passed in a more recent year. The latter year was two-and-a-half-times as thick. I may say that the first year was under a Labour Government and the second one was under a Conservative one. Some of your Lordships may be thinking, in your cynical way, that the only reason why the Liberals have not contributed to this flood is that nobody has asked them; and, if you are thinking that, I must confess that I think you are right.

The fact is that legislating and regulating have become a national disease throughout the country. Yet the strange thing is that a great deal of it is clearly trivial and much of it harmful, while very important matters go untouched. For example, we await sensible proposals about local government finance, and your Lordships are now well aware that the reform of this Chamber has brooked no delay since 1910. Therefore, I think we are entitled to ask whether the positive aspects of this Bill are essential.

My first question to the Minister, which of course he dealt with in his lucid way to some extent, is whether the Government do not have adequate powers now to limit fishing. It is only a week or two ago since I understood that they limited sprat fishing in the Forth, in accordance with EEC regulations. But the noble Lord indicated that he felt that the Government's powers were either insufficient or too complicated. I ask him to say a little more about that at some stage of the Bill.

As he said, the Bill principally does two things. It virtually abolishes the three-mile limit and it gives Ministers power to forbid certain types of fishing in specified areas by sea-going fishing boats, where static fishing is carried on. As regards the three-mile limit, I do not believe that anybody will weep many tears over its abolition. The only question is whether it is worth doing. The three-mile limit is so widely disregarded that nobody will notice whether it is abolished.

As to the protection of static fishermen, this is needed in some places, in particular where static fishermen suffer from the depredations of trawlers, but I understood the Minister to say that this Bill is intended to apply only to certain areas of the coast and not to the whole of Scotland. Secondly, the lobster, crab, mussel and oyster fishers, and so on, who are meant to be the beneficiaries of the Bill, have expressed very grave doubts about it. They are in grave doubt. as I believe the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, said, as to whether legislation is the right way to tackle the matter. Many of them would prefer to go on trying to make agreements with the mobile seagoing fishermen. They fear that if these fishermen are kept out of certain areas it will be more difficult still to come to any sensible agreement over the areas which are still open.

I come next to an important question, which again was touched on by the Minister: the possibility of area agreements. I understood the Minister to say that he did not believe that at the moment such agreements could meet the case with which the Bill purports to deal. The Minister will be aware that in Orkney and Shetland there is a great deal of pressure for a management scheme. It is thought in Orkney and Shetland that it would protect stocks and the livelihood of the fishing communities and would also deal with one of the main problems with which the Bill is concerned. In the last Parliament the Secretary of State for Scotland assured me that he would carefully consider any local management scheme that was put to him. Does that undertaking still stand? Are the Government prepared to consider such schemes? They are, I know, acceptable to the EEC and I hope that they might be acceptable to the Government. Are conversations proceeding about such schemes, or are the Government waiting for the local fishermen's associations to make the first move? I should be very grateful for some information. It is highly relevant to the Bill, as the Minister himself indicated.

Many of your Lordships are very familiar with these fishing areas. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, has put down his name to speak. He is still widely respected throughout the Scottish fishing communities. On one occasion he said that Orkney and Shetland were too conservative to vote anything but Liberal, but that slight error has been forgiven him and I am very glad that he is still taking a deep interest in the industry.

All those who know the fishing communities recognise that the fishing villages have valuable characteristics which, if destroyed, can never be replaced. For many of them there is no possibility of any other employment. The Islands of Skerries, off Shetland, are merely clusters of rocks in the North Sea but their population, unlike most of Shetland, has remained almost unchanged for 150 years. The people are hardworking and comparatively happy. The reason for that is fishing; fishing has certain characteristics which make a human appeal that is not always recognised. First, it is to some extent in the nature of a gamble; it is more exciting than agriculture. Secondly, it gets the men out of the house; this is very important, particularly in wet climates. Therefore we should proceed very carefully over all fishing matters. If you destroy the livelihood of the three Skerries boats you will have to evacuate the islands; there is nothing else, conceivably, that the population can do. The situation in many of the other islands—in Whalsay and in Burra—is much the same. The Bill will undoubtedly create some difficulties for fishing, in particular for mackerel fishing. Like the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, I beg the Government to keep in the closest touch with the fishermen and make sure that the Bill meets the admitted needs with which it purports to deal.

Since I have for a very short time been a Member of your Lordships' Chamber I have been particularly heartened by many remarks, but by none more than hearing a certain noble Baroness proclaim at a quarter past six in the evening that as the hour was getting late she would curtail her remarks. This is a sentiment seldom expressed in the other place, even at a quarter past six in the morning. It is an example I hope to follow.

3.45 p.m.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, your Lordships may imagine my surprise and delight upon entering the House to see that I was to speak after the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, who has just made his maiden speech. I feel sure that somebody far more eloquent and important than I ought to have been the first to congratulate the noble Lord. We all know that the noble Lord has been a very distinguished Leader of the Liberal Party for many years and that for about 30 years he was the Member of Parliament for Orkney and Shetland. Your Lordships' House will derive great benefit from such a distinguished Member. The noble Lord may derive some comfort from being congratulated by a Tory when I tell him that my grandfather—my mother's father—was for some time a Liberal Member of Parliament. If he were alive today, whether he would be a Liberal Member of Parliament I do not know. I hope that the noble Lord will play a great part in this House; his knowledge will be of great value to this Chamber.

Turning to the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, gave it a rather cold reception. He called it an enabling Bill, which in a sense it is. The noble Lord objects to the Secretary of State having such all-embracing powers. However, this is essential in the case of fishing in the Western Highlands, especially in the Inner Hebrides, of which I have some experience. I had a lobster fishery there a long time ago. The various fishery associations will obviously lobby the Secretary of State and make suggestions to him. I am perfectly sure that the Secretary of State, whoever he may be in the future but certainly the present one, will listen very attentively and carry out many of their wishes, so I cannot see what the noble Lord is objecting to.

I have been warning this House for some time about the scarcity of fish in the Western Highlands: in the Inner and Outer Hebrides. I was extremely worried at the time that the herring disappeared. I warned the Government of the day that the herring would disappear. I do not like repeating what I said in this House a few years ago, but the two lochs which jut into my estate were nursery lochs for herring. The Government of the day allowed three factory ships to go there. and they loaded all the herring fry which had been caught by local boats. But it was a policy of madness, and in a short time there were no herring. We have the herring back now, though not in the plentiful numbers I remember. But they have come back, owing to the various regulations which the Government have imposed.

When it comes to boats—and I am now talking about inshore fishing. which is the subject of this Bill—it is true enough that there are not the number of boats that there used to be in the 1930s, but the modern boat, which, with all is gear, one might also call electronic, is so efficient and fast that it can catch far more fish than a boat of the 1930s: in fact, a modern boat can probably catch 20 times as much fish. As I recall, the local boats that I remember worked chiefly as sailing boats. They had some standing lugsails, and there were many more of them, but they certainly could not reap the harvest which the modern boats do. The Highlands Development Board—meaning well—have supplied on grants many boats for inshore fishing, but perhaps they have rather overdone that.

There is one question I should like to ask regarding "static" fishing. It does not strictly come into this field so perhaps I should not ask it, but in my area—that is, around the Isle of Mull—we are rather plagued by skin divers. I know this aspect does not come into the Bill and I apologise to my noble friend for mentioning it. But I have often wondered whether skin divers who are diving commercially should not be registered, as fishing boats are. Skin divers can completely clear the scallops, lobsters and all the other shellfish out of an area. As regards the two lochs that I have mentioned, divers have told me—because I myself do not skin dive—that they are now just like a harrowed wheat field which has not been sown. They are completely bare of everything because they have been over-trawled by boats and over-fished by skin divers. Perhaps in the future, the Government might try to regulate that aspect.

A matter that really worries me and which is my chief interest is the question of salmon and sea trout. Poaching of salmon now in the sea lochs around the West Coast is really appalling. This year especially, when we had a drought, the salmon could not get up the rivers and they were mercilessly poached from boats chiefly at night. It is difficult to prevent that happening. One certainly cannot prevent it as an individual and the police cannot prevent it because they do not have boats. We can stop people poaching at the mouth of the rivers or we try to—and we seize quite a few nets. But, when poachers operate a little further out, it is quite impossible for estate staff to stop them.

I understand that the fisheries service of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is now employing helicopters in conjunction with fishery cruisers to find out anyone who is poaching in the daytime. That is all right during the day, but one cannot do much at night with a helicopter.

With regard to penalties, I am all for those, as your Lordships might expect—but we do find on the West Coast that the sheriffs (especially one in Oban) often impose extremely small fines although the maximum fines are very big. I hope that in future the judiciary will impose not the minimum fine but will try to frighten those who carry out big poaching with bigger fines. I was told of one young man who obtained a new boat and bought a new car completely from poaching salmon.

The situation is especially hard on rod fishermen, who had a very bad year in 1982 and again this year. They bring in a lot of income to the country. If salmon poaching cannot be stopped, this country will lose a great deal of income, especially from foreign rod fishermen.

I have spoken long enough, but I wish to welcome the Bill. I only wish it had been possible to have brought it in even earlier. The Government have been extremely quick in producing this Bill, which is really surprising—that is, it is not surprising of the Government but it is surprising that they have managed to get the Civil Service to really get going on this. I am sure the Bill will do a great deal to preserve the fishing around the Western Highlands.

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