HL Deb 13 February 1984 vol 448 cc70-89

7.23 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 (General power to prohibit sea fishing in specified areas]:

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 1. Page 1, line 5, after ("State") insert ("after consultation with representatives of the fishing industry.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, after the many discussions we had on the tourism Bill, and on the importance of consultations, will be only too glad to accept this safeguard in an almost minor amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, himself said at the Committee stage of this Bill on 17th January (col. 966): I continue to see a place for local participation, and particularly for local advice to be provided". Later in the same column, the noble Lord stated: We believe that what we have in mind is a better solution than local management, hut we shall certainly listen to advice from within on how we proceed". First, we should be happy to know what the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, has in mind when he said that he has a better solution in mind than local management. Until he tells, us, we feel it is important that there should be a statutory requirement that the fishing interests in an area be consulted and that the Secretary of State consults them. We are not saying that he must take their advice but that he must at least consult them.

I am sure that the noble Lord has probably met the various fishing authorities. He will remember that the Clyde Fishermen's Association asked first for local management and regional preference. Then they were content to seek an advisory committee on the question of inshore fishing. All that has been either refused or side-stepped. Certainly it has not been granted. We are only asking now that the Secretary of State should consult interests, and the amendment clearly states this.

One of the other very important fishing organisations, to which the Clyde Fishermen's Association is affiliated, is the Scottish Fishermen's Federation. They are quite convinced that the only way in which the conditions in the Bill can be operated without having, as they put it, in one of their memorandums, "fisherman against fisherman", is for there to be a great deal of consultation and delegation by the Secretary of State. We believe that after such consultation the Secretary of State will almost certainly give a great deal of local autonomy and that within his overall powers he will allow local people, once he has consulted with them, to make a great many decisions themselves.

What really concerns us is that such an important measure for the fishing industry in Scotland should not be introduced and operated without there being consultation with local fishing interests. The noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, may well tell me that there is no thought of doing anything other than consulting local people. That may be very much the case; that no Secretary of State would not want to do so. But in that case, there should be no objection by the Government to inserting an almost innocuous phrase such as that proposed in the amendment.

Considering all that has been said during the previous Bill which has just passed through your Lordships' House, merely asking for consultation with representatives of the fishing industry should surely be incorporated in this Bill. It is not asking for too much. With great hope, I beg to move.

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, the effect of this amendment will be to place a statutory duty on my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to consult representatives of the fishing industry before he may make any order under Clause 1 of the Bill. Your Lordships will be aware from my previous statements on the Bill that I am not averse to the idea of consulting the fishing industry over the new regulatory regime to be established when the Bill is enacted. Indeed, the whole history of this particular piece of legislation demonstrates the Government's willingness to consult the fishing industry whenever possible.

The 1981 consultation document on which the Bill is based was circulated widely, and the views of those organisations who commented on it were carefully considered. We have circulated for comment also our initial proposals for static gear reserves and fish nursery areas. Comments on these are now being received and will be taken into account before any final decisions are made on the extent and location of the reserves and nursery areas.

I would expect similar consultation to occur in the future on any significant changes to the new regime. All this has been done in the absence of any statutory obligation on the Government, and I would question the need for such an obligation to be imposed. One of the key principles underlying the Bill is that it should enable the Secretary of State to respond flexibly and quickly to changing circumstances within the fishing industry. Including a requirement to consult the industry could, in my view, reduce the Secretary of State's ability to respond. I can conceive of circumstances where a fishery perhaps has to be closed virtually immediately. This might be for conservation reasons or, worse still, because of an escalating level of confrontation between fishermen in the area. In such a case rapid action by the Secretary of State might be essential, and the delay caused by a requirement to consult the fishing industry might effectively render him powerless in such circumstances.

This leads me on to a further difficulty I have with this amendment. It is not clear to me from reading it what form the consultations should take, nor who should be consulted. I know that the amendment refers to "representatives of the fishing industry", but that is a very general phrase which covers a large number of different organisations and people. Clearly one would expect to consult representatives of the fishermen most affected by a particular order, whether that be at a local or national level or both. There would still remain those fishermen not in any association, and other parts of the industry also, such as fish processors and salesmen, who might also have an interest.

Obviously this is a recurring problem in consultations between the Government and the fishing industry. In each case where it arises a decision has to be made on how widely a particular proposal should be circulated. These consultations are not, however, in response to any statutory obligation. My concern is that any order made under Clause I will be dogged by an element of uncertainty based on the possibility that it might be challenged on the grounds that the Secretary of State had not consulted everyone with an interest and thus failed to fulfil a statutory requirement. The alternative, to consult all and sundry, would greatly reduce the flexibility in the Bill for little gain.

For all these reasons, I am opposed to this amendment. I do not believe it is necessary. It will reduce the flexibility being introduced in the Bill and it will introduce an element of uncertainty into the new regulatory regime which would be better avoided. If I might add, there has already been a very considerable amount of consultation as far as this Bill is concerned; and contrary to what has been suggested by some of your Lordships there has been more than criticism; there has been criticism, I accept, but there has been significant indication of approval from other sources within the fishing industry. I believe that to accept the amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, has outlined would not be in the best interests of the Bill, and I hope that noble Lords will feel able to withdraw it.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, I would find the Minister of State convincing if I had not listened to his arguments on the previous Bill, when he insisted that the Secretary of State must consult the British Tourist Authority despite the fact that, as he himself said, it was self-evident that he would. He insisted on having it in the Bill. It is all right for the Secretary of State to consult a body down south; but evidently there is all the objection in the world when insisting that the Secretary of State should consult the people who actually do the fishing and whose whole livelihood is concerned with the orders that he is going to make. This Bill does not suggest any single action that the Secretary of State is going to take. It gives him powers under (a), (b) and (c) to do all sorts of things in specified areas, and this House does not know; and this House will not see them again, because these orders are not going to be orders that can be prayed against; they are just going to be issued very quickly, or very slowly, by statutory instrument. Am I right in that? I am glad to have the approval of the Minister of State that I am telling the truth about that.

The Minister says there has been lots of consultation. Of course there has been lots of consultation; this started in 1970; there was the regulation of Scottish inshore fisheries, the Cameron Report of December 1970. Strangely enough, according to the front of it, that was sent to me although by that time I was no longer Secretary of State. The noble Lord knows quite well that you cannot have a review and a report of this size without consultation. In fact you have a list of all the people consulted. There was the paper that was sent out by the Government themselves—that was consultation—in 1980. There has been very considerable agitation about the result of that consultation and the extent to which the Government paid absolutely no attention to it to judge by the Bill as it was eventually produced.

It is very disappointing to get this change of attitude from one Bill to the next one. I do not accept what the Minister of State says, that consultation could hold things up in circumstances that were very urgent, in an emergency. One of the departments for which I have the highest regard in the Scottish Office is the fisheries department. They are very good; or they were very good—I do not know what has happened to them under the noble Lord, Lord Gray. It may be they are worried about the Telecommunications Bill. In an emergency all you have to do is lift a telephone. I found no difficulty in contacting the organisations. So let us not have that one. Bearing in mind the importance of many of these regulations that may be produced affecting the livelihood of people—it may be in one area or it may be in quite a number of areas throughout Scotland—I would have thought that the Government would have jumped at the chance to put right an omission in the Bill.

The noble Lord says that it will lead to doubts and difficulties. I accept that. I remember we had a Bill about education way back in 1946 which said that we had to consult the teachers. Then a noble Lord construed that in the Court of Session as consulting every single teacher. So you have to be careful. But I am perfectly sure that the Scottish Office can find the words: "In the opinion of the Secretary of State a representative of the interest affected". That is quite easy to do. Certainly the noble Lord, Lord Gray, has not been so long at the Scottish Office; but there are one or two people still there who know how to draft a difficult matter like this. If they fail, I will gladly do it myself.

So the noble Lord's arguments about the lack of flexibility and reducing the ability of the Secretary of State to respond quickly are all nonsense. What is important is that before you proceed to these orders you should be consulting the people most intimately concerned. I am sorry about the attitude that the Government have taken up on this. I hope one of these days the Minister of State will realise he is the Minister of State and he will accept an amendment, especially an amendment which is helpful. That is all we are trying to do. The noble Lord sent me a copy of their initial proposals. That was no sooner published than there was someone on the telephone to me to ask why he had not been consulted about the details of what was proposed in the order.

Surely it is far better to do it at that stage and produce an order rather than the way it has been done, causing the maximum of concern to the fishermen. That is a long way round to go about it. If the Minister was going to do that, it would have been far better to produce draft orders so that we could all see them. It is disappointing that a department that is efficient should go about it in this particular way. I hope the Minister will see the light before we reach Third Reading and think again about consultation.

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall respond to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock. Perhaps I may take his last point first. As regards the proposals which we have put forward regarding the nursery areas and static gear reserves, we have invited comments and, indeed, we are receiving comments all the time from fishing associations, groupings and from individual fishermen. We are very pleased to have them.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, that is not consultation.

Lord Gray of Contin

Indeed, my Lords, we had consultation at the very outset, before the proposals were published, when we were looking at areas in which we would be creating nursery reserves and static gear reserves. To give one example, as a result of representations from fishing organisations in the Western Isles to officials of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland we had a closer look at some of the areas which we were considering, and they were modified or extended according to the wishes of the local people. That has actually received favourable press comment in the area. We are more than willing to discuss with local fishing groupings—or individuals, for that matter, although it would be difficult to meet and talk with all individuals; but certainly with organised fishing bodies. However, any individual is at liberty to write in to the department with comments on what we propose, and we are very happy to receive them.

I take up an earlier point made by the noble Lord because I cannot let him get away with this one. His noble friend made the same point in his remarks. They asked why the Government were so keen on consultation in the Tourism (Overseas Promotion) (Scotland) Bill, but not in this Bill. That is quite a different situation. It was quite a different situation also for the Opposition. The Opposition were equally keen on not having consultation. In fact, the Government's record on consulting and on discussing problems with the fishing industry is second to none, particularly where there is no statutory obligation to do so. The common fisheries policy settlement, for example, is a prime example, where, throughout all the negotiations, the closest possible co-operation and discussion took place with the fishing industry. The representatives of the major Scottish fishing concerns were in Brussels when these talks were taking place, and frequent discussions were held throughout those meetings.

The recent discussions over the quotas is another example of where the same sort of thing occurred. There were discussions with the industry all the time. I believe that this is a very healthy situation, where discussions take place between Government officials, Ministers and representatives of the industry without any statutory requirement to do so. These consultations take place and they work very well indeed. We believe that they will continue to take place as far as this legislation is concerned.

There are difficulties and snags, and I am grateful to the noble Lord for acknowledging that there could be a difficulty in part of what his amendment suggests, but I believe that what we intend will work very satisfactorily. With respect to the noble Lord, it would be a mistake to try to write his proposal into the Bill.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister realises that his reply has been rather disappointing, and I only hope that there are second thoughts between now and the Bill going to another place. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.47 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 2: Page 1, line 10, after ("may") insert ("(i)")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a preparatory amendment to a further amendment, Amendment No. 4. With permission, I will discuss the two amendments together.

Amendment No. 4: Page 1, line 19, at end insert— ("(ii) in respect of any specified area delegate his power of regulating fishing given under subsection (1) above to a local area committee representative of local and other fishing interests, and approved by him:")

The proposal is that in respect of any specified area the Secretary of State may delegate his power of regulating fishing, given under subsection (1), to a local area committee which is representative of local and other fishing interests, and approved by him. So the full power is with the Secretary of State as to how much of his power he wishes to delegate and to whom he wishes to delegate it. He has full approval, so he is not letting anything out of his own grasp.

The intention is, of course, to bring back again the idea that in local areas there should be a local committee, approved by the Secretary of State, which can do the work of the Secretary of State. In many places that actually works. The Minister may say, "Yes, but it is not statutory". However, it is statutory in other countries where this has been done. I will concede that the Cameron Committee turned down this proposal, but the Minister has turned down the Cameron Committee on some other matters that we shall come to, so he should not be too powerful on that one.

I believe that many aspects of inshore fishing are local matters. Anyone who has had anything to do with this will appreciate the jealousies that exist in respect of fishing and people coming in, even though from another part of Scotland that is not all that far away, will appreciate the possiblity of conflict. Where it can be done best is with the agreement of the local people and those others coming in. It works, and it works well without conflict if it is done in this way. This does not tie the Secretary of State to setting up local committees in every area, but in "any specified area" in which he considers it would work. He does not need to use the power at all: he may or may not do so. However, I think that it would be a useful power for the Secretary of State to have.

It may be that the drafting does not suit the noble Lord. If that is all, we can put the drafting right with the help of his own experts. I think this is one of the best ways to proceed—with the agreement of all the local people who know all the local circumstances. They are probably by far the best people to do it, rather than have it done centrally. There is nothing worse than centralisation of powers in this respect, where every port and area varies. The traditions are different, but the people who know these traditions are the people who do the fishing and whose livelihood depends upon it. If the Government are prepared to take this power—I do not suggest they need to use it wholesale—they could use it in certain places where they are satisfied it will work. They do not need to use the powers in other places, but it would be a very useful power to have and it is the way I should like to see the Government proceeding. I beg to move.

Lord Grimond

I support this amendment. Surely it would be much better, where it was possible, to proceed by agreement on the matters with which this Bill deals, and where there are local area committees which have satisfactorily come to an arrangement between the different interests of fishing then it would seem sensible to allow them to proceed with it. Secondly, as has been pointed out, this is not mandatory; it merely gives the Secretary of State an additional power which may be useful but which he may not want to use in other cases where there is no local agreement. Thirdly, I hark back to a point which I have made on previous stages of this Bill. There is a demand in some places round the coast of Scotland for proper local management schemes. If this provision is written into the Bill and at some future time the Government have a change of heart on this matter, it will enable them to delegate to these management schemes powers under the Bill. To my mind that will be extremely useful and therefore I cannot see that the Government would lose anything by writing this power into the Bill. I can imagine circumstances in which it would be extremely useful.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

I find myself in some sympathy with this amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, said, there are some animosities in the Western Highlands. I have known islanders referring to men on another island, perhaps only 40 miles away, as foreigners. I do not think the Government would lose anything by accepting this amendment. No doubt my noble friend on the Front Bench will trot out something of which I have not thought. As I am sure he knows, fishing is a very local activity. I want to say that unless my noble friend on the Front Bench can trot out something reasonably proper, I rather like this amendment.

Lord Gray of Contin

I shall try to satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, and also my noble friend. That may be a difficult task but I shall embark upon it and hope that I may be successful.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State and I are well aware of the importance of a regional dimension in the management of the fisheries in Scottish waters. We are perfectly willing to pay heed to the particular needs of local areas in formulating our management policies. That is one of the reasons why we have introduced in this Bill a system of regulation which is flexible enough to enable us to respond quickly to changing circumstances at local level. We have a duty, however, to manage the fisheries in the best interests of all the fishing industry in Scotland. That simply means that we are not able to go as far along the road towards local preference as some parts of the country would like. We must strike a balance between the sometimes conflicting interests of the different sectors of the fleet, between local and nomadic boats, between large and small boats, between one method and another. I believe this balance can best be achieved if control remains with the Secretary of State.

Your Lordships will not be surprised to learn therefore that I am unable to accept this amendment, which would fetter the Secretary of State in his efforts to resolve the conflicts which can occur between fishermen using mobile fishing gear such as trawls and those employing static gear methods such as pots and creels. As I have explained on previous occasions, the Government gave very careful consideration to this problem before deciding on the strategy of establishing static gear reserves. The arguments in favour of this approach were set out in the consultative document issued by my department in 1981.

At that time it was recognised that there was a need to provide some measure of protection for the static gear sector of the industry, which was growing in importance, particularly in certain outlying areas. The proposal to close off large areas of inshore waters to mobile gear fishermen by retaining the prohibition on bottom trawling within three miles, and extending it to include pelagic fishing gear, was not considered to be a realistic or desirable solution. Instead it was felt that a total prohibition on mobile gear in specified areas would be more effective and more readily enforceable. These static gear reserves, it was believed, would provide a secure base for the smaller fishermen when other major fisheries made other grounds less safe.

Much has been made of the unanimity of the fishing industry in its opposition to static gear reserves. This is not a wholly true picture, since our proposals have been welcomed in the Western Isles, as I mentioned on an earlier amendment, and parts of the North-West. Little mention has been made of the lack of unanimity as to what should be put in place of our proposals. The various sectors of the industry do not seem able to agree on an alternative approach. Some advocate area management, including local control of the fisheries and local licensing. I have already explained why the Government do not feel this is appropriate. Others favour voluntary local agreements between fishermen. While I would certainly welcome the formulation of such agreements, particularly in those areas where there are no proposals to establish reserves, experience suggests that they are not the whole answer. Problems still arise, often as a result of the activities of vessels who are not party to the agreement. Nevertheless, I have said to the Scottish Fishermen's Federation that if they can come up with voluntary agreements which commend themselves to all the fishermen in particular areas, I shall reconsider the need for static gear reserves in those areas. But I must say frankly that I continue to believe that the concept of static gear reserves remains the better solution.

I have already emphasised the Government's intention to be flexible in their use of the powers in the Bill. A flexible approach is necessary if we are to achieve the proper balance of interests among the various sectors of the fishing industry, which is our aim. We have no desire to be partisan in our approach, or favour one sector to the exclusion of the others. Circumstances may arise, however, when one sector of the industry requires to be assisted in some way. To hamper the Secretary of State in his efforts to achieve the correct balance, both now and in the future, as this amendment would do, is in my view not in the best interests of the fishing industry in Scotland. I hope that on reflection noble Lords will feel able to withdraw their amendment.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I thought for a minute we were going to get halfway there, but the noble Lord stuck to his brief and went on to deny altogether the validity of what we suggest. I think he is quite wrong. I am not going to discuss static gear reserves because there is a later amendment concerning them. I hope we will not hear the same speech again from the noble Lord. We are dealing here not with something that is mandatory but a power that the Secretary of State can use if in any particular part of the country, any particular port, any fishing area, he thinks he can usefully do so. It does not tie the Secretary of State to anything. It is not an inflexible power. He can exercise it or not, and if he exercises it and finds it is not right he can take away that delegation of powers.

I do not know what the Minister of State is afraid of in this amendment. I believe that he is reading all sorts of things into it. We are trying to be helpful to the Secretary of State. I am, very glad to say that I have had some support from the opposition—from what I consider my opposition—and who more? When the noble Lord got up and supported me I thought. "That's it finished"; it's the kiss of death". Certainly I was grateful for what little life support he was prepared to give me. I was also glad to have the support of the noble Lord, Lord Grimond. No one knows more than he does about the feelings of fishermen in this matter.

Surely we are not going to get a third speech from the Minister. He can wait until we discuss static gear reserves later. Quite seriously, I think that the Government have misread the amendment. We are proposing a power that is not mandatory. It would be at the discretion of the Secretary of State, in respect of whatever area he chooses. It need not be all the powers, but only a particular power which the Secretary of State can delegate to a local committee; and he must approve of the committee as well. From my discussions with the fishermen it appears that they are prepared to have representatives of the traditional fishermen, as well as the nomadic fishermen in particular areas.

I am sorry about the attitude on the part of the Government that every Bill they bring forward in the Lords is absolutely perfect. There is nothing that we can persuade them to do. I am most lenient with the Government. I am not in the habit of proposing amendments unnecessarily, and I do not want to do so tonight; but if the Government are going to adopt this kind of obduracy and turn down such reasonable amendments as this one, we shall need to think again. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.1 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 3: Page 1, line 16, after ("method") insert ("or from any vessel")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a very important amendment. The Minister may perhaps be able to assure the House that the term "any method" would include any vessel, but I think it would be better if that were spelled out in full. I have had a number of representations from various fishing bodies, and they all seem to be very concerned about this particular question. One point that has been made to me is that in the Minister's earlier speeches and in the Bill generally there seems to be an overall-assumption that there are only two fleets in Scotland, the nomadic fleet and the static fleet, whereas, as has been pointed out, in the middle there is a very large group consisting of people who by and large return to their own ports after a day's or night's fishing. They require some kind of protection from the much more powerful nomadic fleets which go all around the coasts and which come from not only Scotland and England, but abroad as well. Therefore there is a strong feeling that there should be some restriction on the size of vessel used.

In the Firth of Clyde, for instance, the upper limit would be a 70-ft. bottom trawling vessel, though I must admit that in my discussions I have become slightly confused on the question of size and I wonder whether the Minister's experts can advise on it. Does the size of the vessel relate to the overall length, or would a combination of the horsepower of the vessel and its size be more appropriate than merely to specify length only? I understand that on the Clyde most of the vessels are 40-ft. long, and there are, I believe, only two which exceed 70 feet. Therefore, an appropriate limit would be understandable and perfectly acceptable in the Clyde and other estuaries. If there were no restriction, the vessels of limited size and horsepower would be subject to competition from vessels of unlimited size and horsepower, which would take most of the fish from the area. Competition would be quite unfair, and if there were not some kind of protection perhaps the local communities would die.

I hope that the Minister will see the amendment as a means of trying to give some protection to locally based boats. The question concerns not only the boats, but also the communities which depend on them. I have been asked to emphasise to the Minister the point that the boats with which we are concerned are not part of the nomadic fleet nor the static fleet, but are in between, and form a large group. Unless the Minister can assure us that the phrase "any method" would embrace both the type and the size of the vessel, I hope that he will accept some form of words incorporating a restriction on the size and/or power of the vessels involved in inshore fishing. My Lords, I beg to move.

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, if this amendment is intended to enable the Secretary of State to prohibit certain classes of vessels—for example, by groups according to size—from fishing in a particular area, it is unnecessary. The power to do so already exists in the Bill. The Secretary of State could prohibit vessels over, say, 70 feet from fishing in a particular area by making an order prohibiting fishing by all vessels except those under, say, 70 feet: that is to say, he would use the exception provision in the last line of Clause 1(2).

I can understand the motivation behind the amendment in that at present there exist certain by-laws which apply size restrictions to certain fisheries, in particular in the Firth of Clyde area, and those currently enjoying the benefits of such by-laws will wish to see their effect retained. I have explained how the effect can be retained if it is desired, though the Cameron Committee was not persuaded that the segregation of vessels by size was justified. Nevertheless, we shall give the matter every consideration before making any orders altering the present position.

In any event, the wording of the amendment would make it difficult to operate, since "any vessel" would have to be specified in the order; that is to say, all vessels in a prohibited class would have to be identified, presumably by name and registration number. The listing of individual vessels would be time-consuming and prone to error, so that orders would be brought into disrepute and possibly would be subject to legal challenge. Having outlined to the noble Lord my reasons for not being able to accept his amendment, I wonder whether he will consider withdrawing it.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I think the Minister has gone a fair way towards showing that the Secretary of State has powers, which is the point that we were trying to elicit from him by means of the amendment. I take note of his undertaking to look again at the wording. We have raised this question with the Minister because of the representations that we have received. In the light of the Minister's good faith in coming a little way towards meeting us, and bearing in mind his explanation, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 4 not moved.]

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 1, line 19, at end insert— ("Provided that the Secretary of State shall not use the powers given in subsection (1) above to create reserve areas for the exclusive use of static gear fishermen.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, now we come to the second major speech from the Minister of State on the subject of static gear, because this is the amendment which really gets to the nub of the static gear problem. One of the problems is that there is no mention at all in the Bill of static gear, even though the matter has been considerably highlighted by the fishermen, certainly in their letters to me. The Minister says that the Government have in mind that one of the powers they will exercise is to create static reserves. Despite what he says and the fact that he seems to have found some support somewhere, the overwhelming correspondence I have received and the discussions I have had with fishermen's associations point to the opposite view. For instance, the Scottish Fishermen's Federation is unanimous—that is seldom the case—in its opposition to the idea of creating reserves for the exclusive use of static gear fishermen. The federation thinks that this will heighten the tension and conflict between the different sectors of the fishing industry in particular areas. The Scottish pelagic fishermen say exactly the same. They maintain that large areas will be denied to pelagic and demersal fisheries. Effective conservation is all right but arrangements are needed between the sectors. They can see no result except conflict and interference, especially with the traditional fishing patterns of pelagic fishermen.

The West Coast fisheries leaders say that a system of reserving areas for static gear fishing would be most unsatisfactory for all sections of the industry. A more flexible system based on local control would be preferable. That is their view. They told the noble Lord, Lord Gray, this when they met him and when they responded to his paper. Mr. Nicholson, for the Stornoway Fishermen's Co-op, says that all arguments lead hack to the need for local management. To ban trawling within whole areas at all times would create resentment. There have been satisfactory local agreements over where different kinds of fishing should take precedence. This has worked successfully. Centralised control would be entirely the wrong way to proceed.

The Highlands and Islands Fishermen's Association takes exactly the same view. It is against static gear reserves, and has told the Government so. Control should return to the fishermen and area committees should be established. Mr. Colin Thorn, for the Mallaig and North-West fishermen, says that if static gear reserves were created, it is feared that the reaction of the trawlermen would be, "Don't step out of there or we'll tow your gear away".

That is what we want to avoid. The suggestion is that local arrangements, local concern and local agreement would be a far better way to proceed and that, if the static gear was properly marked and properly lit, there would not be the difficulties that some people imagine. There is not a great deal of difficulty at present. The Minister will say that fishing with creels and pots has grown over the years. That is why he pays no attention to what was said by Lord Cameron in what I think was paragraph 140 of his report. Lord Cameron knew that it was increasing and becoming more productive and more beneficial for the fishermen in this sector. You can go back to the Fleck Report, which draws attention to the increasing benefits from fishing with creels and pots and the importance of it.

We have to get down to what local fishermen say. The overwhelming body of fishermen, large and small, the individual area groups and the federation itself are unanimous that this is not the way to get rid of conflict, tension and difficulties and that to do this would mean that, instead of minimising it, you would maximise it. The whole policing aspect is quite terrifying. Once we get away from agreement and enter into the question of centralised policing, we face considerable difficulty. I hope that the Government will think again. I presume that we are going to listen to the same speech into which the Minister wandered when we discussed the previous amendment. I beg to move.

8.15 p.m.

Lord Gray of Contin

The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, is not going to hear exactly the same speech again. He is going to hear a variation on a common theme. If the purpose of the amendment is to prevent the Secretary of State establishing the static gear reserves which the Government have proposed, then I am afraid that it would not achieve that aim. It is intended that the areas in question shall be closed only to mobile fishing gear. They will remain open not only to fishermen using static gear such as pots or creels but also to passive methods of fishing such as drift nets. To that extent, they will not be areas for the exclusive use of static gear fishermen and will not therefore be caught by this proviso.

The noble Lord, in moving the amendment, mentioned that local agreements were working successfully. I do not deny this. There are some local agreements which are probably working successfully. But many local agreements are not. The Highlands and Islands Fishermen's Association was mentioned by the noble Lord. The association was the very first to complain when trawlers damaged static gear last autumn in contravention of a local agreement which was being held up as a model. There are other cases into which I could go but I shall not weary the House at this stage by doing so. It is simply not right to assume that all agreements work satisfactorily. So far as the creation of the static gear reserves and the nursery reserves which we propose are concerned, it is our view that those will have a very much better chance of success than if everything was left to local area management.

I would emphasise to noble Lords that this certainly does not rule out local area participation in an advisory sense. The Government are most anxious that there shall be local area advisory committees. There is nothing in the Bill that prevents this. Indeed, we would welcome this, so that the department would have the benefit all the time of local advisory committees to assess whether the static gear and nursery gear reserves are working satisfactorily or whether changes should be made. Once the order is made, that does not mean that it cannot at some future time be changed. If the pattern of fishing changes, then it is reasonable that static gear areas might require to be changed. For that reason, I believe that this amendment would not be satisfactory. I must hopefully request noble Lords to withdraw it.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I was interested to hear what the noble Lord said about local advisory committees. If I understand him correctly, he says that there is nothing in the Bill regarding local advisory committees and his next words were, "We would welcome it". If, therefore, I put down an amendment to have statutory local advisory committees, the Government would welcome it. If that is the case I shall gladly withdraw my amendment and put down one that meets the words used by the noble Lord. Silence, of course, means consent. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 [Use of mobile gear near fixed salmon nets]:

8.20 p.m.

Lord Craigton moved Amendment No. 6: Page 2, line 11, at end insert ("or boundary of a designated marine nature reserve").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment seeks to clarify one point. If a marine nature reserve is not in a nursery or a static gear area, can a trawler which is fishing in the six-mile area not covered by the Bill, be prevented from fishing over a marine nature reserve by a Nature Conservancy Council by-law, without there being a specific prohibition in the Bill? I beg to move.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, before the Minister replies, I should like to make one point in reference to this amendment and possibly the next one. I fully take the noble Lord's point. We are all nature conservationists to some extent today, and no-one wants to see the essential areas of the sea-bottom destroyed by trawling. But I daresay that the noble Lord would agree that the nature conservationists are in some danger of overplaying their hand. There is now considerable resistance from people who are very keen on nature conservation—and I speak with some knowledge of my own constitutency—if the matter is pushed too far. I am not accusing the noble Lord of doing that in this particular instance, but it must be borne in mind when considering this type of matter that already there are very large areas of sea which are denied to fishermen. For example, they are denied by oil installations. There is very limited fishing around those installations in some parts of my constituency, and there are considerable areas of sea which are fouled either by debris from the oil industry or by other causes. There is great anxiety in the industry in case for one reason or another their fishing grounds are further and further curtailed.

Therefore, while I do not attack at all the spirit of the amendment, there must be instances when one can trawl over a sea-bottom which possibly has some peculiar or valuable shrimp in it, without destroying that mollusc, or whatever it may be. I do not know what the Government will say to this amendment; but I hope in dealing with these questions of conservation, from the nature point of view—which, when they are reasonable, I again reiterate we are all in favour of—the Government will bear in mind that the industry has lost very considerable areas of sea, and that there is a danger of actually stirring up opposition to the nature reserves among people who up until now have been very favourably disposed towards them.

Lord Craigton

My Lords, I am not sure whether the noble Lord realises that this amendment refers only to marine nature reserves made under the 1981 Act.

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, I shall try to help my noble friend in explaining the answer to the question which he posed to me. But before I do so, I should like to say that I know that it would not have been the wish of the noble Lord, Lord Ross, to lead me down a path which it had not been my intention to travel. Therefore, before I deal with this amendment, I must say to the noble Lord that we are examining the role of local advisory committees very carefully indeed in the context of quota management and the restructuring of the industry. The final format of these committees has not yet been decided. I would not however—and I repeat, "I would not"—see them as statutory bodies, but rather as local groupings of fishermen giving advice to the Government. I emphasised the question of the advisory committees; I am sure that they have a very useful role to play but I certainly do not see them as statutory bodies.

Perhaps I may now deal with the question which my noble friend put to me. I understand that my noble friend's intention is to bring to your Lordship's attention the general question of marine nature reserves. Strictly, this is not a matter for me or for the Bill that we are discussing today. However, I understand that the responsibility rests with the Nature Conservancy Council to assess what areas are of sufficient importance in conservation terms to justify the creation of reserves; and, after a full informal consultation process with fishery and other interests likely to be affected by such reserves, to put proposals to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.

If my right honourable friend is satisfied that the proposals should be taken further, then the further process would be one of advertising and the consideration of formal objections, including a public local inquiry, if necessary. Only after the completion of these due processes would the Secretary of State decide whether or not to designate the marine nature reserve and to confirm any by-laws proposed for its protection. No proposals have yet been made by the Nature Conservancy Council in respect of reserves in Scotland, but the council is no doubt actively engaged in the preliminary processes. My right honourable friend will consider very carefully any proposals which are put to him.

The noble Lord, Lord Grimond, commented on this amendment as well. I have to remind my noble friend that the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, pointed out to us that there is not any degree of unanimity in this matter, and that there are arguments always to be considered on both sides. This obviously must be part of the process which the Secretary of State carries out in considering these applications. But I hope that what I have said has clarified the situation for my noble friend. I know that he has stood at this Dispatch Box, but whether he has had occasion to deal with fishing problems I do not know. However, I hope that the answer which I have given him has reassured him for the moment.

Lord Craigton

My Lords, I find myself in a difficulty in which I never found myself when I stood where my noble friend is standing now, in that he has replied—and given me a most satisfactory answer—to the wrong amendment! So what I shall have to do is to make out, in about three minutes, the case that I was going to put forward, and he can then confirm to me that what he has just said is the answer to that case. He can then perhaps answer by saying, "No", or "Yes, it will apply" regarding my first amendment. I have moved the first amendment and the noble Lord has replied to the second.

I was going to make the very important point—and this applies also to the first amendment—that over 60 countries in the world already have statutory marine reserves. Britain has the power to create marine reserves in this country under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The Nature Conservancy Council have already identified seven sites. They did that in 1982. We are now in 1984 and there is not a single marine reserve. Why is that?

The stumbling block is the 1981 Act itself where, in relation to a marine reserve area, Section 36(6) of that Act gives precedence to by-laws affecting that area, whether existing or made later, over the by-laws required for the marine nature reserve. So without adequate powers the Nature Conservancy Council are experiencing extreme difficulty, as they have to arrange everything by persuading the by-law authorities—that is, the sitting tenants—to agree.

This amendment, to which the noble Lord has replied, puts the by-law powers of the marine nature reserve on an equal footing with the order made under Clause 1 which regulates fishing in the area. And, in practice, where the same area requires protection for both nursery and nature reserve purposes, there will be much common ground. So this amendment would not in any way frustrate the purpose of the Bill, as both parties have a broadly similar aim and can negotiate for the first time as equals. But the very fact of this amendment and the very fact of my noble friend's reply, will in effect—and this is the reason why I am here—give notice to all concerned including the Minister himself and all other sitting tenants, that Britain intends to have marine nature reserves and should be no longer content to lag behind 60 other nations.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, it might be for the convenience of the House were he to withdraw his Amendment No. 6 and formally to move his Amendment No. 7.

Lord Craigton

My Lords, yes, I shall withdraw my Amendment No. 6. The answer to this amendment is that what I wanted to add is not necessary. Then I shall formally move Amendment No. 7. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, I should like to say a few words on this amendment. I spoke at long length on the Wildlife and Countryside Bill on the marine conservation reserves and I shall not bore your Lordships again. My noble friend Lord Craigton has already spoken to the main points.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, is my noble friend speaking to Amendment No. 6, which has been withdrawn, or to Amendment No. 7, which has not yet been moved? Either way, he is probably out of order.

Lord Craigton moved Amendment No. 7: After Clause 2, insert the following new clause

("Marine nature reserve.

. Nothing in this Act shall vest in any person any new rights which would, pursuant to section 36(6) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, limit the powers of the Secretary of State under section 36 of that Act to designate any area as a marine nature reserve or restrict the powers of the Nature Conservancy Council to make bye-laws under section 37 of that Act.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 7.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, I apologise to the House for my inadvertent eagerness to speak so briefly which probably makes things longer in the long run. We have agreed to marine conservation reserves in principle and, as my noble friend has said, we seem to be somewhat lagging behind the rest of the world over the provision of coastal fishery galleries. This seems to be a shame. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, should be alarmed, because these areas will only be designated after due consultation, but the principle is established.

My noble friend the Minister has already indicated that he does not mind the principle, because the areas would not be brought into effect without consultation. But let us give due credit to this idea and let us hope that sooner or later—and sooner, please—there will be some conservation areas which will not upset the fishing industry and from which in the long run the fishing industry as well as the country will indirectly gain.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Hayter)

My Lords, for clarification, let me make it clear that we are dealing with Amendment No. 7, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, inserting the new clause as shown on the Marshalled List.

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, I shall endeavour not to complicate matters any further. Inadvertently I have already answered on the last amendment most of the points which my noble friend raised with me, and I take note of what my noble friend added to the debate. I shall certainly read the record very carefully to make sure that the various contributions relate to the appropriate amendments and that my replies are similarly blessed.

Lord Craigton

My Lords, in view of what my noble friend has said—

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, what has he said?

Lord Craigton

My Lords, he has said that he will properly consider any application by the Nature Conservancy Council for a marine nature reserve in Scotland. That is what we really wanted to hear. That is what the Nature Conservancy Council wants to hear and that is what the Underwater Conservation Society wants to hear. I am very grateful to the Minister. I am sure that matters will now go ahead for the first time in British history. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 [Powers of sea-fishery officers]:

8.35 p.m.

Lord Grimond moved Amendment No. 8: Page 2, line 37, after ("limits") insert ("in relation to which he has reason to suspect that an offence under this Act has been committed").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I hope it is in order if I move Amendment No. 8. I intend to do so extremely briefly because I have made the point in earlier proceedings. Perhaps your Lordships would be kind enough to look at the fourth clause of this Bill, where you will see that extremely wide and rather savage powers are given to fishery officers charged with the duty of enforcing the legislation contained in the Bill. In fact, they have been given powers far wider than those possessed at the moment by any policeman investigating murder.

It seems to me that the fishery officer should assure himself that there is some evidence that an offence has been committed. Your Lordships will see from looking at the clause that the fishery officer can exercise his powers under the first four subsections of the clause whether or not he thinks that an offence has been committed. For instance, he can go on board any boat; he can require the boat to stop; he can do anything which will facilitate him boarding the boat, which incidentally I take to mean that he could order the boat to go to port. He can require the attendence of the master; he can make examinations and do anything: which appears to him to be necessary for the purpose of enforcing the aforesaid provisions. He can examine fish and he can require any person on board any such boat to produce any documents which are in his custody, et cetra.

I must thank the Minister very much indeed for writing to me about this. With his usual lucidity, the Minister wrote me a most long and full letter and, as so often happens, he failed to convince me. He does not think that these powers should only be exercisable where the officer has reason to believe that an offence has been committed because, the Minister says, they are analogous to routine inspections which constantly take place on fishing boats. But they are not. Under this particular clause, the powers are related directly to this Bill. The fishery inspector is given powers to enforce the provisions of the Bill and to ensure that people do not fish in areas in which orders have been made forbidding them to do so.

Therefore, there is no question of routine inspections; no doubt the inspector sees a boat fishing or it is reported to him that there has been fishing in an illegal area. I really do not think that this is analogous to routine inspections. Nor do I think that the fishery officers would be deprived of any vital means of carrying out their task. However, I should have thought that a Government who were anxious and concerned about liberty would at least have thought that these officers should have reason to suppose that an offence had been committed.

I do not think that Clause 5 of the Bill is much help. I am simply saying that the fishery officers should have some reason to suppose that an offence has been committed, not only when they have to order a boat into port but as soon as they order documents to be produced and as soon as measures are taken to enable a fishery officer to go on board, and so forth. As I said, no policeman would be allowed to exercise similar powers for much more serious offences.

I shall not weary your Lordships any more. However, in spite of the great care which the Minister has taken in his letter to answer me I still believe that it would be an improvement to the Bill if the provision which is written into the fifth subsection were to be placed at the beginning of the clause, and thus controlled the activities of the fishery officers in all the powers which are given to them. I beg to move.

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, I realise that this amendment reflects some of the concern which the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, expressed during the Committee stage of the Bill. I am sorry if I have not been able to convince him by letter that some of his worries are unfounded. Nevertheless, I shall have another go this evening to see whether I cannot persuade him that this is so.

I said previously that the powers in Clause 4 of the Bill reflect powers already available to fishery officers in relation to other fisheries legislation. In my view, the clause as presently drafted is necessary if fishery officers are to enforce the provisions of the Bill. After all, it is a normal part of the duties of fishery officers to board fishing boats to carry out routine inspections so as to ensure that the boat is complying with all the relevant fisheries legislation. Such boardings do not imply that a boat is under suspicion, although where that is the case the fishery officer will obviously make a particular effort to board. This practice is adopted because of the practical difficulties of detecting fishery offences at a distance at sea. Cases have often arisen where an offence has not been detected until after the fishery officer has boarded and inspected the fishing vessel. There is also a valuable deterrent effect in dissuading fishermen from breaking the rules in the hope that, being out at sea, their misdemeanour will go unnoticed.

The noble Lord's first amendment would, I believe, unduly restrict fishery officers in carrying out their duties as it would require them to have grounds for suspicion before they could even board a fishing boat. While this might not pose insuperable difficulties for detecting boats fishing in a prohibited area, such as a static gear reserve, it would cause serious problems in enforcing orders prohibiting fishing for a specified species of fish, or for fishing by a particular method. Such orders can of course be made under Clause 1 and may prove desirable in the future.

In my view the Bill at present strikes a fair balance between the need for adequate enforcement and the rights of individual fishermen. Fishery officers are allowed to board and inspect fishing boats as a matter of routine, but they cannot use those powers which are likely to prove most disruptive to a fishermen; namely, seizing fish, nets or papers, or ordering the boat to return to port without some reason for suspecting that an offence has been committed.

I shall not comment in any detail on the noble Lord's second amendment, which is consequential on the first. In the circumstances I hope that the noble Lord can accept my explanation this time and will see his way to withdrawing his amendment.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, I am deply indebted to the Minister for one more explanation. May I finish by quoting a saying often heard around the coasts of Scotland: "It is no good arguing with Ailsa Craig". Therefore, I shall drop the attempt, and, meaning no offence, thank the noble Lord once again, and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 9 not moved.]