HL Deb 29 November 1983 vol 445 cc577-83

4.11 p.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.

Lord Boothby

My Lords, I revert to the rather more congenial subject of inshore fishing. I should like to start my very brief remarks by saying what a privilege I regard it for those of us here to have been present and, still better, to have heard the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Grimond. It was brilliant and, more than that, it was better than most of us expected—which is saying a good deal. It was a taste of the many delicious things which we all hope are to come. We thank him, and I thank him personally and deeply, for the privilege of being present when he made his speech. It was the most remarkable maiden speech that I have heard in this place or, indeed, in the other place.

I have been addressing one or other of the Houses of Parliament on the subject of the inshore fishing industry for exactly 60 unbroken years, so it is with some emotion that I rise to make my last speech about it. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock. I regard this as a necessary Bill for Scotland. I do not agree with the arguments he advanced against it, but I do agree with him up to this point: it is essentially a precautionary Bill, a Bill of last resort. I hope that it will never have to be used. It is a necessary precaution for Scotland and of that I am satisfied, having lived for many years with the inshore fishing industry of Scotland and, indeed, of Orkney and Shetland. I am quite satisfied that the protection for the inshore fishing fleet provided by the Navy and the Air Force is more than adequate. We have the power, if necessary, to enforce this legislation and that in itself will ensure that it is never necessary to use it.

The whole future of the fishing industry in this country depends on, and revolves around, one word—"conservation". Nothing else matters. When I first became Member of Parliament for Aberdeenshire, East, we were exporting one million barrels of cured herring to Russia and the Baltic states every year. At the same time we were throwing thousands of herring into the sea because they could not be used. Then the Norwegians, the Danes and the Dutch came in. They reduced the mesh sizes and started catching immature herring wholesale to be used for industrial purposes—chiefly the manufacture of fishmeal. That was the warning signal, and it was the beginning of the end because the shoals began to diminish.

The person who first brought my attention to this was a practical fisherman himself of great skill; the late Provost Robert Forman, of Peterhead. He said, "Look here, if this goes on the herring fishing industry is in for a sharp decline. We must build a dual-purpose fleet so that we can have sea-fishing boats which can change overnight from driftnet fishing to seine net fishing for white fish". He enlisted my support; and over a period of three or four years we built up a very big fleet of what were called dual-purpose craft. When the final crash came in the herring industry, they saved the inshore fishing industry of Scotland.

I look back with nostalgia to the days when there was great spring fishing out of Lerwick, summer fishing out of Peterhead and Fraserburgh, and autumn fishing out of Yarmouth and Lowestoft. I used to go to all three, and it was a very exciting experience. Nothing like that exists today. Herring were cheap, popular and the main diet of a large part of the population of Eastern Europe—herrings and potatoes.

All that gradually went. All the worst of our fears were realised. I thought at one time that the inshore fishing industry would collapse altogether, and that it was doomed to failure. Then came the end of the deep-sea long-distance fishing industry out of Grimsby, Hull and Fleetwood to Iceland and Newfoundland. That will never come back. It has gone. The trawlers have gone—there are only two or three left. There is nothing left but the inshore fishing industry which must be bolstered at all costs.

When Mr. Heath took us into the Common Market he obliged us to sign the Treaty of Rome which we had no part in framing. We refused to take part in the negotiations at Messina, when it was drafted. In that treaty we gave the right to all the continental countries of Europe to fish up to our beaches with trawlers. That would have been the end of the inshore fishing industry. It was saved, if I may say so, by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, to whom the fishing industry owes an irreparable debt. He was Secretary of State for Scotland at the time. He insisted on, and succeeded in getting, a 12-mile limit round the coasts of this country which saved the inshore fishing industry from total destruction.

Then began a most promising international move within the EEC which was brought to a brilliant conclusion by Mr. Peter Walker, whose final negotiations were skilful in the extreme and gave this country and the other countries of Europe a very good bargain. They began to see the point that if they went on overfishing as they were doing they would kill the fishing industry altogether. We should never forget the service which Mr. Peter Walker gave. He was the best Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food I have known during the whole of my parliamentary career.

Now things are getting steadily but slowly better. This season has been a good season for the fishermen. They do not say so—and one would dare to say so to them only at the risk of one's life—but they are making a lot of money. You do not say that, to an Aberdonian, anyway. You learn to keep quiet on that subject. But a lot of them do make a lot of money. There is oil, too: but you do not talk about money in Aberdeen; you just keep it very carefully. But the fishermen are doing well at the moment, and they are going to do better, I hope.

At one moment about six months ago I was frightened of the Norwegians. They were difficult. They would not enter into the agreement which had been negotiated in Strasbourg. They started fishing rather wildly, especially for herring in the North Sea, and for small herring at that. But now they are having a change of mind and heart. Their attitude is quite different. I feel much more hopeful that they will join the club. They may not join the EC. I do not blame them altogether for that, because the finances are not very satisfactory. But I think they will join the fishing club.

If we get all Europe working together, why, then, I am sure we have a bright future for the inshore fishing industry, with all that it stands for in the way of a wonderful life and the wonderful people that take part in it. If we do, I shall feel that I have not spent all my life in vain. I think that is just about all I want to say. I feel optimistic. I think that deep in his heart the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, does not feel as savagely pessimistic as he sometimes makes out in his public speeches.

4.24 p.m.

Lord Kirkhill

My Lords, I must apologise to the House for my failure to be in my place at the start of this Second Reading debate, but I plead, at least in partial mitigation, that some disconnected travel arrangements did not quite match the needs of the hour. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, that no discourtesy was intended him. To speak shortly after the most distinguished maiden speech of Lord Grimond is indeed a privilege. It is an experience which I am sure that other noble Lords will share during the occasions which lie ahead.

Clause 1 of this Bill flows directly from the discussion document produced by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland in October 1981. The precursor to all that was the Cameron Committee deliberations of more than a decade ago, as the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, properly pointed out. Incidentally, the DAFS document followed a comprehensive review of all fisheries legislation applicable to Scottish inshore waters. As the clause confirms, the two principal recommendations which emerged from the consultative document were, first, that the Secretary of State for Scotland should be given new powers to designate certain areas around the coast of Scotland as static gear reserves which would become the sole province of the creel fishermen; and, secondly, that the present prohibition on the use of mobile gear within three miles of the coastline should be abolished.

The reaction to all this from some 1,000 Scottish fishing vessels of all sizes, and covering eight fishermen's associations, is one of some astonishment, not least of course because traditionally those who earn their living at sea, dependent upon each other as they often ultimately are for survival, would consider that in the event of conflict between static and mobile gear fishermen voluntary agreement between the parties operating in the locality is much to be preferred to the resolution of dispute by statutory regulation. Indeed, if there has to be legislation, what is required is a proper system of management which would give to all a fair share of the catch. I think that the Minister, despite his contrary argument earlier, should take this point on board. Surely, if continuity of supply is to be maintained, rather than the creation of these reserves, fisheries should be sustained on an area basis.

The Government should pay heed to the voice of criticism which has been raised on an almost all-industry basis against the principal provision contained in the Bill. Although at Second Reading Governments seldom have second thoughts, they must surely recognise the industry's additional but most genuine worry; namely, the powers contained in the Bill enabling the Secretary of State of the day to introduce static gear reserves without further consultation, should he decide so to do. I suggest to your Lordships that, in the best tradition of this House, come the Committee stage of this Bill such an arrogant assumption of power by the Secretary of State should be denied him.

4.28 p.m.

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, we have had a very useful debate on this Second Reading. I am grateful to noble Lords who decided to take part in the debate for the contributions they made. I should particularly like to associate myself with those who have already congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, on his maiden speech. Apart from anything else, I welcome being joined by a near neighbour from the other place. We represented seats not too far apart and shared many concerns for the area. It was also a great privilege for me to take part in a debate to which the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, contributed. He was one of my boyhood heroes and one of my heroes in my early days in politics. It is a great distinction for me to participate in a debate with him.

The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, who spoke at the beginning of the debate, asked me a number of questions, and I shall do my best to try to answer them. Whether I shall be able to satisfy the noble Lord is an entirely different matter, but I shall certainly do my best. He asked me why no regime was actually specified in the Bill. A general enabling measure is needed in the first instance in order to give the necessary flexibility and adaptability to the future regimes, and we believe that it is right to proceed in this way by enabling legislation, to be followed by specific subordinate measures. As I have promised, I shall be placing proposals before the House prior to our consideration of the Bill in Committee.

The noble Lord also asked me about static gear reserves and nursery areas, and he suggested that these might have been spelled out in a schedule to the Bill. In our view such a proposal would be too inflexible, and it would be difficult to change areas once established. There are always changing circumstances within the industry, and we believe that flexibility is very important. The Government's proposals were included in the consultation paper issued to the industry, and revised proposals will be put to the House and the industry before the Committee stage.

The noble Lord also asked about orders under the Bill, and suggested that they would not be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. This is essentially a re-enactment of the present position, whereby by-laws made under the existing legislation do not require parliamentary approval. The orders are likely to be very technical, but they will of course be subject to the scrutiny of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. Such an arrangement has the virtue of simplicity, and can allow action to be taken quickly, if necessary. It is also very flexible.

The noble Lord referred to the Cameron Committee, and also mentioned static gear reserves. Static gear fishing has greatly increased since Lord Cameron reported in 1970. It now has considerable economic importance for certain isolated areas, and some measure of protection is required.

Finally, the noble Lord suggested to me that the industry does not like the Bill. It appears that the noble Lord disagrees with what I am saying, but he gave a number of examples of sections of the industry which do not like parts of the Bill. I shall give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, the complaint is not about the Bill, but about what the Government are going to do with it. The Government can do anything they like, good or bad. There are one or two things which the Government have said that they are going to do which the industry does not like.

Lord Gray of Contin

Yes, my Lords, I would not try to deny that, but at the same time I am sure that the noble Lord would agree with me that it would be extremely difficult—indeed it would be highly unlikely—to be able to devise a Bill which would receive general acclaim from the whole of the fishing industry. The complaints about various parts of the Bill from sections of the industry arise frequently for different reasons. Some of the static gear fishermen are not too keen on the idea of static gear reserves, because they feel that they would lead to an inhibition regarding fishing elsewhere, while the trawlermen do not like static gear reserves for the simple reason that they are areas in which they would not be able to fish. So I think that there would be difficulties. However, I believe that we have been able to achieve a fair compromise, and I am sure that after the Bill has had the advantage of its Committee stage, in which we can consider it in more depth, we shall produce legislation which will be to the benefit of the industry.

The noble Lord, Lord Grimond, asked, why not use the existing powers, and he wanted to know why was it necessary to legislate at all. The situation here is that the present body of law, being venerable, was enacted in the face of circumstances different from those of today, and some tidying up and rationalisation is almost inevitable. The new powers will allow greater flexibility and greater simplicity, which will ensure a lessening of the burdens upon the industry; and I am quite sure that the noble Lord would welcome that.

The noble Lord also asked me about the Secretary of State's promise on local management. I do not believe that the Secretary of State should necessarily surrender to local communities his functions in controlling the fisheries. However, since we issued a paper on the future structure and management of the industry earlier this year, we have been discussing quota management with the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and with others, too, in the industry. There will certainly be a place for local advisory committees in the context of future quota management; and I can assure the noble Lord on that point.

The noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, asked me about control of skin divers diving for lobsters and scallops. The advice that we receive from scientists is that to have controls on the minimum sizes of these fish is the best way to achieve conservation. I am well aware that in the industry there are voices calling for the licensing of lobster fishermen so as to control the activities of part-timers, and we are looking at this very difficult issue in the context of the future structure and management of the industry.

The noble Viscount also raised the question of salmon poaching. We are aware of the increase in poaching, and we have provided additional patrols, by ships and aircraft, in order to try to control it. Some success has been achieved, but I have to admit that it has not been nearly as great as we should have wished.

The noble Viscount also raised with me the question of penalties for fishing offences. Inevitably this must be a matter for the courts. It is for Parliament to decide what punishment is available for the courts to impose, but it must always be for the courts themselves, in the light of particular circumstances, to judge how to treat a particular offence.

The noble Lord, Lord Boothby, gave us a most interesting talk on his experience in the fishing industry. It is true to say that in this House there are few people who have his experience and wealth of knowledge on the subject. We all listened with interest to what the noble Lord said, and I am sure that we also look forward to reading the report of his speech, since he raised so many significant points which doubtless we shall all want to digest in our own time.

The noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, also put to me some suggestions, which I assure him I shall consider very carefully. Of course, I fully appreciate the problems that he has had with some of his travelling arrangements, which accounted for his not being able to be present from the beginning of the debate.

We have had a very useful Second Reading debate. We have aired the problems which exist within the industry, as well as the various aspects of the industry. Again, I thank your Lordships for participating, and I have pleasure in concluding the debate and commending the Second Reading of the Bill.

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