HL Deb 30 October 1985 vol 467 cc1571-81

11.35 a.m.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Young) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 17th July be approved. [30th Report from the Joint Committee.],

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move that the European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation) Order 1985 be approved. With the leave of the House, I shall at the same time speak also to the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1985.

Fisheries conservation is a subject on which many of your Lordships have firm views. It was in order to conserve stocks of salmon in the North Atlantic Ocean that the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation—known as NASCO—was established by convention which was opened for signature at Reykjavik on the 2nd March 1982. NASCO aims to contribute to the conservation, restoration and rational management of salmon stocks in the North Atlantic, with the aid of the best available scientific information.

The Government welcomed the establishment of the organisation as a significant development in the management of salmon stocks in the high seas, thus having a beneficial effect on salmon stocks in our rivers. We have a strong interest in restricting as far as possible catches of salmon originating from our rivers, but caught in the waters of the Faroe Islands and Greenland where they feed—that is to say, the so-called intercepting fisheries. We hope therefore that the convention, through NASCO, will enable these fisheries to be carefully managed and preserved.

The headquarters of the organisation is in Edinburgh. Its location there was welcomed by the Government: not only for the benefit to the local economy from holding meetings there, but also as a recognition of the importance to the United Kingdom as a whole of salmon fishing as a commercial and recreational resource, particularly in remote areas like the Scottish highlands where it is so important to the tourist industry. We believe, therefore, that it is highly appropriate that the headquarters is located in Scotland. It is in fact the first inter-governmental organisation to be based in Scotland.

The NASCO Convention entered into force on the 1st October 1983. The EC is a party to the convention and a member of the organisation, together with Canada. Denmark (in respect of Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the United States. The headquarters agreement with the organisation, which implements Article 3 of the convention, was signed on the 26th April at their new offices in Rutland Square, Edinburgh. It will enter into force when the necessary legislation is in place; in other words, once the two draft orders now under consideration have been made.

The convention is a Community treaty for the purposes of the European Communities Act 1972, because the EC is a party to it. We propose that the draft order before your Lordships relating to the definition of treaties—should be made under Section 1(3) of the 1972 Act specifying the headquarters agreement as a Community treaty. This order provides the basis for the second order—that relating to NASCO's immunities and privileges as provided by the headquarters agreement. The second order will be made under Section 2(2) of the European Communities Act.

The NASCO Headquarters Agreement implements Article 3 of the convention by specifying the privileges and immunities the organisation is to enjoy in the United Kingdom. We do of course have headquarters agreements with other international organisations in the United Kingdom. For example, the International Tin Council, the International Lead and Zinc Study Group and the Commonwealth Foundation. The principal privileges and immunities to be conferred are, first, for NASCO itself: legal capacity; inviolability of archives; exemption from taxes on income and capital gains; the same rating relief as is accorded to a diplomatic mission; relief from car tax and VAT; exemption from import duties.

Secondly, for the representatives of parties, the principal privileges and immunities will be: immunity from suit and legal process in respect of their official acts; inviolability for official papers and documents. Thirdly, for staff members of NASCO, the principal privileges and immunities will be: immunity from suit and legal process in respect of their official acts; exemption from income tax; "first arrival" Customs privileges; exemption from social security legislation. These are conferred on the strict basis of functional necessity. Your Lordships will note that nobody is given the full immunity from jurisdiction of a diplomatic agent. I point out that NASCO currently employs only two staff members and both are permanently resident in the United Kingdom.

I believe that NASCO will protect a valuable and vulnerable resource. Many of your Lordships will no doubt agree that the disappearance of the salmon from our rivers would represent an irreparable loss; not only in terms of wildlife conservation, important though that is; but also for the incalculable effect it would have on commercial salmon fisheries and on tourism in the remotest parts of the land where the local people rely ever more heavily on incomes earned during the tourist season. Remove the fish from the rivers and you remove the fishermen and the seasonal incomes they generate. I therefore hope that your Lordships will support the draft orders. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation) Order 1985, laid before the House on 17th July, be approved. [30th Report from the Joint Committee.]—(Baroness Young.)

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, I am deeply honoured to follow the noble Baroness. The moment that the Whips see the word "fish", or the word "salmon" on the Order Paper, they simply attach my name to the business. When I pointed out to my noble friend Lord Cledwyn that this was really a Foreign Office matter, he said that he felt sure that I was perfectly capable of dealing with it and he gave me yet another honour—the honour of taking his place. Indeed, my noble friend apologises for not being here.

As the noble Baroness has said, these orders are about diplomatic immunity for an EC body situated in this country. The Minister who introduced the orders in another place described himself as a "simple Foreign Office Minister". He admired the expertise of his fellow Members in the other House for turning a couple of simple orders into a wide-ranging two-and- a-half hour debate on salmon fishing and salmon fishing policy.

Salmon fishing is a very important subject to many areas of this country. I do not know whether or not noble Lords want to follow the example of the other place, especially as we have almost reached the end of the Session and are about to start a week's recess. However, as the noble Baroness has said, there is no doubt that the number of salmon in our rivers is decreasing to a tremendous extent. Many figures have been quoted over the past few years about the decrease which has affected an enormous number of people. There is no question that something should be done about it. Many things have been blamed for it. For example—as the noble Baroness said—the overfishing of the stocks in Greenland and the Faeroe Islands. However, there has been an arrangement made with Greenland to reduce their fishing. There is some feeling on the Borders: the Northumberland net fishermen are being blamed for keeping the fish from going up into the Scottish rivers. There is also the question of illegal fishing with different nets, and so on. It is a very complicated subject and I am not surprised that the "simple Foreign Office Minister" who spoke in the debate in the other place was rather confused or, as he put it, out of his depth.

All I hope is that this apparently new body will help to correct the situation. Salmon fishing is no longer for the few; everybody in Scotland has a "go" at salmon fishing. It has a tremendous effect upon the tourist trade, hotels and restaurants. There is no question that this organisation will be welcomed in Edinburgh. Indeed, it is a good start to place it there, although I gather that the staff will number two and so I do not think that they will make a large difference to the economic situation in Edinburgh. Nevertheless, I hope that we shall give it a fair start.

11.45 a.m.

I turn to the provisions of the orders. I suppose that there must be the same diplomatic immunities as are enjoyed by other bodies. However, the second order refers to all the various immunities which are necessary for "official activities". There is a great deal of feeling throughout the country about the immunities which diplomats enjoy, particularly car parking, and so on. I wonder whether duty-free whisky and duty-free wine are necessary for their "official activities". If that is the case, then I wonder whether noble Lords feel that it would help our official activities if we had duty-free whisky. In my view immunity must, at some time, be reviewed. Nevertheless, we shall agree to these orders and give them our blessing with the strictures to which I have referred.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I rise to follow my noble kinsman. I should like to hear the comments of the noble Baroness on the internal divisions in the salmon fishing industry. It is a fact that in Scotland at any rate the rod fishermen blame the netters as much as they blame the Danes. Certainly an enormous number of netting stations on, for example, the River Tay, have been recently re-activated. I do not think that every one can have a "go" at the wild salmon in our rivers without regulation. The regulation is left to the river boards. I wonder whether NASCO will take an interest in the actual conduct of both types of fishing on our rivers because certainly there is a great deal of ill-feeling among the rod fishermen about the netters. I am sorry to talk like this when my noble friend Lord Thurso is not here because he has an interest in both and would know more about the situation. However, this is a vital question in Scotland and I wonder whether or not NASCO will take an interest in this aspect of salmon conservation.

Lord Home of the Hirsel

My Lords, as a simple ex-Foreign Minister perhaps I may be allowed to add my welcome to this order if only for the reason that, as NASCO is to be located in Edinburgh, it will be a constant reminder to us of the value of the Atlantic salmon to the Scottish rural economy. It will also be a reminder that unless we can arrest the marked decline in the number of salmon coming into the Scottish rivers to breed, we shall lose a very valuable asset.

I shall not try to anticipate anything that may be in the Queen's Speech in relation to poaching, drift netting or anything of that nature, because I do not know its contents at all. However, this is an order in the conservation context and we should note that quotas have been applied to and accepted by both Greenland and the Faeroes and therefore there really is an obligation on us to do something in the context of the conservation of the Atlantic salmon. We ought to take some comparable action. The order certainly has my support.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, I also rise to support the order. Those of your Lordships who have spoken so far have referred to Edinburgh. May I presume to tell your Lordships that as Kilgerran, with which I am associated, is situated alongside one of the finest salmon rivers in the United Kingdom, I felt it proper that I should make some observations, irrelevant though they may be. I do not propose to extend the debate in any way. The noble Baroness the Minister referred to the preservation of natural resources. I know very well that the history of several centuries has involved coracles in the River Teifi. I wonder whether the natural resources of the river will be able to assist the coracle workers of the River Teifi at some time or other. Of course I do not want an answer from the Minister immediately, but I hope that those natural resources will be preserved in Wales as well as in Scotland, and also in Ireland.

Lord Balfour of Inchrye

My Lords, in welcoming this order I must say that I am amazed at the extent of the privilege and perquisites which those who administer this order are going to obtain. Nevertheless, one welcomes the order, but I would suggest that for a moment we spare a thought for the fish, which after all are going to be affected more than anything else by this order.

I think the Minister will not disagree with the fact that salmon stocks throughout the world are diminishing, that we see ahead the road to scarcity unless we take steps, and that this is a fine step we are taking this morning. I hope that the order's authority will lead to some action parallel to this by Her Majesty's Government on the seas we control. We can learn a lesson on conservation from the new African countries. What they do is ensure that rare species are continued.

Some years ago there used to be many people crossing the Atlantic with two large rifles in a case. They arrived at some point in Kenya, obtained white hunters and went off to shoot elephant, lion, or whatever game they wanted. Today those people cannot do that any longer. They go armed with a camera, and really they get just as much fun with the camera as those who used to use the bullet and kill. We might well learn something about conservation from those countries.

The species in those countries were threatened all the time, just as salmon are threatened here, and no longer are the precious species made victims of the hunter. Today they are guarded, just as we ought to guard the salmon in the high seas and the salmon in our national waters. In this country we have no strict conservation parallel with what they have in these new countries. It is true that we conserve to some degree, but legislation is required not only for the high seas, as in this order, but also for our domestic requirements.

It is a great reflection on Her Majesty's Governments—this one and preceding Governments—that we have had no comprehensive legislation in our country to try to put our salmon and freshwater fish laws in order. Everybody has always pressed for this. The only answer has been, "We haven't got time". Of course there is no time, but we have to make time for comprehensive legislation. I sincerely hope that one result of this order will be to encourage Her Majesty's Government to do the same for our home waters.

The Government always say, "We have no time", but the reason they say that is that there are no votes in it. Salmon cannot vote, and there is little interest in an urban population in the preservation of our sea life. It is a pity, but it is a fact, and a fact that has to be accepted; but I sincerely trust that we shall alter that in the future and copy what is being done in this order.

If salmon could speak—and unfortunately they cannot—they would speak with one voice. They would say, "Spare us. Do not murder us. Keep us alive. Encourage us". They would adopt what Mr. Churchill said in the notes we used to get from him in the war: "Action this day". I hope that the salmon are saying it now as they listen to this debate.

Viscount Eccles

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him whether he wants to photograph the salmon in Scottish rivers or catch them and eat them?

Lord Balfour of Inchrye

Catch them, my Lords!

Lord Moran

My Lords, I welcome the establishment of NASCO in Edinburgh. I can claim to have played a small part in bringing this about by helping to persuade the Canadian Government to support its establishment in Edinburgh. Their first thought had been to put it in, of all places, Copenhagen. I support the two Motions we are discussing. I am only sorry that the United Kingdom is not separately represented in NASCO and that we only have a voice equal with countries like Denmark or Greece in the Community, which produces no salmon at all. Nonetheless, it is going to play an important part.

Its principal task is going to be to try to control and limit the intercepting fisheries in Greenland and the Faeroe Islands, of which the Minister of State spoke. But one of the problems at the moment is that in pressing for a reduction in the take of these intercepting fisheries our own position is compromised so long as we permit unrestricted fishing by monofilament drift nets off north-east England, and naturally the Greenlanders will say—indeed have already said—that until we put our own house in order it is unreasonable to expect them to do more.

Drift netting is banned in Scotland, and it is unreasonable that it should be allowed to take such an enormous and increasing take of the salmon returning to principally Scottish waters. Indeed, it is now taking over 77,000 salmon a year, which is a quarter of all the salmon taken in Scotland in 1984. It is important that it should be controlled, and I therefore warmly welcome the statement by the Minister of State's colleague in another place two days ago that the Government accept the need for careful constraint on net fishing for salmon, and that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for Scotland hope to make an announcement on this matter shortly. That is important.

I wonder incidentally whether, when she replies to this debate, the Minister of State will tell us why the report, which I understand was drawn up by the Ministry's scientists, has not been published. I realise that some parts of it may have been commercially in confidence but I do not understand why the rest of it has not been published.

The fact that it has been, so to speak, suppressed gives rise to suspicion that it in fact recommends strongly that the drift netting off north-east England is doing immense damage and should be brought to an end. I hope very much that it can be phased out. Of course we have to consider the livelihood of those engaged in it, but if some way could be found of bringing it first under control and then phasing it out altogether, as has been done in Scotland, this would be important.

I hope that when this announcement is made by Ministers they will be able to announce comprehensive measures for salmon conservation, covering not only netting at sea but the poaching which has become such a feature on so many rivers; perhaps the control of seals, which was mentioned in another place two days ago, and perhaps some restrictions on rod fishing as well may be considered.

I welcome this Motion and I think this new organisation will play a very important part in preserving salmon, which is what we all want.

12 noon

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, we should certainly approve this order. Scotsmen fairly widely have been pressing for this for a long time and hoping that we could get this North Atlantic conservation going. However it will not solve all our problems. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour, was right when he said that the main problems are with ourselves. Think of what the poor salmon has to go through. He leaves the other side of the Atlantic, goes past Greenland, Iceland and the Faeroes. If he comes to the north of England he has less chance than ever. The number of salmon which reach their spawning grounds is very few.

As well as having this possibility for better conservation, perhaps by quota or other ideas in relation to the salmon while it is in the Atlantic, we have to consider salmon while they are getting to our rivers and travelling to their own spawning grounds. It is not easy. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour, says that it is purely a matter of finding time. It is not only finding time. We have to sort out all the conflicting interests such as those on the estuarial fishing grounds, the commercial grounds, the rod anglers and the other geographical areas such as Solway with special problems. Noble Lords will appreciate that it is not easy. There is the problem of separate legislation for England and Scotland.

I had the privilege—though it was not much of a privilege at the time—of stopping the drift-netting off the Scottish east coast. It was done just before an election so I was thinking more of fish than votes at that time and found that I was very unpopular, but it had to be done. If we are to preserve the salmon both for commercial interests and for the growing tourist industry—we are concerned not just with fishing but with the gear and so on that is part of a new industry and is important with salmon—we have to approve and develop from this measure and then consider our own problems. If the English would do this in relation to their own problems in the North-East I should be very pleased indeed.

Lord Tryon

My Lords, the day before yesterday I was showing an American friend round Salisbury Cathedral and I paused to look at a copy of Magna Carta that they have there. There was a great catalogue of far-sighted improvements to human rights and to my delight among all this I discovered what was probably the first salmon conservation order. There in the great charter is a provision for the removal of fish weirs on the rivers Thames and Medway and, as an afterthought, "all other rivers in England". Clearly at that time they were worried about migratory fish. Only migratory fish are caught in a fish weir and of those there are only three of any importance; the salmon, the sea trout and eels, which go in the opposite direction. There has never been any problem with eel stocks so they must have been worrying about salmon. It could be that the weirs on the lower parts of rivers were catching all the fish so that those farther up were not having a fair go, but I like to think that, even then in 1215, they were worried about sufficient numbers of salmon reaching the spawning grounds at the heads of rivers. They seem to me to have been even more farsighted in 1215 than governments in recent years, because again we have a salmon conservation problem.

I welcome these orders. They are thoroughly to be commended. I welcome NASCO to Edinburgh, but there is more to be done than this and I should like to say something about the North-East England drift net fishery. As was clear from the Hunter report of 1965—and when one stops to think about it it is pure common sense—it is only by harvesting salmon close to the rivers in which they spawn that any kind of proper control can be exercised. In the debate in the other place on Monday (and it has been repeated here by the Minister today) the Government wished to restrict interception fishing in the Faeroe Islands and Greenland. I believe they do not consider that the North-East England drift net fishery is an intercepting fishery in the terms of the NASCO convention. If it is not an interception fishery, I do not know what it is, because the fishing is well away from those rivers to which the fish are going.

As has been mentioned, I do not know how we can continue to lean on the Greenlanders, the Faeroe Islanders and others while we permit this to continue here. The drift net fishery is a classic example of people reaping what they do not sow in a relatively uncontrolled way. I expect we shall be told that they are licensed and we shall be told, too, that some employment is involved. We have heard already about the courageous steps which were taken in Scotland to deal with this. I do not see why the nettle should not be grasped in England as well.

It is also quite clear from the Hunter Report and the experience of all of us who have gone fishing for salmon in Scotland that the value of a salmon caught on a rod and line to the local economy in Scotland can be anything up to ten times or beyond (depending on the success of the fisherman) its value on the fishmonger's slab. That has certainly been my experience on my last two fishing holidays in Scotland. I should hate to give the figures of my input into the local economy per fish caught, but it is infinitely more than a fish merely scooped out of the sea somewhere, finding its way to the fishmonger's slab.

The noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, seems to have wind of some improvements that might come in the future but I hope the Minister can give us some encouragement that the drift net fishery and the level of poaching in Scotland are things that the Government are considering seriously and will be doing something about shortly.

Lord Margadale

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to say a brief word in support of the proposals made by Her Majesty's Government. I should like to thank them and I hope that something concrete will arrive at the end of it. I am also grateful for the opportunity of speaking after the noble Lord, Lord Tryon, who I know is an expert with rod and line. I hope that will not mean that too many fish will be removed. We all have to remember, be we rod fishermen, net fishermen, freshwater or salt water, that salmon can only breed in fresh water, usually at the top of our rivers. We must not take out too many to prevent them getting there.

There have been various outbreaks of salmon disease (as we briefly call it in these islands) which have taken a severe toll. In Norway, where I sometimes go, there is a new disease, which is propagated by a parasite and which may kill all the smelts and all the parr before they reach the river bottoms. When they reach the bottom, salt water disinfects them and they are all right. This shows the increasing dangers there are to the salmon stock, and we must not let it become too low.

Earl Haig

My Lords, first, I declare an interest in that I derive a benefit from salmon nets on the Tweed; and, secondly, I speak as a member of the River Tweed Commission. I should like to add my welcome to this order to help salmon conservation. Although in terms of the NASCO Convention the new organisation is responsible for areas outside the 12-mile limit, its work in regard to the United Kingdom is very much linked with salmon along the shores and in our rivers. The banning of Northumbrian drift netting with monofilament nets is a priority need for east of Scotland rivers (where a ban already exists) which are affected by netting off the coast of Northumberland. Police work at the mouth of the Tweed is increasingly successful, and as a result catches are improving.

Legislation is urgently needed to deal with this problem off Northumberland, if necessary with compensation to sea fishermen. There is no justification for sea fishermen to continue to reap a large share of the catch which is generated thanks to river management paid for by the river nets and rod fishermen. It is rather like a beekeeper having his bees returning to hives at night scooped up with nets by a hiveless neighbour. This menace, which is more serious than river poaching and more serious than damage by seals, should be dealt with quickly, otherwise the river nets will go out of business and the whole economy of the river will suffer. No money will be available to pay for river bailiffs.

Perhaps I should also refer to pollution. The river is clean but it suffers from algae, probably because of the increasing amount of fertiliser. Algae prevents fly life which feeds the salmon parr and smolt, which are becoming scarce. These two causes, drift netting and algae, are major hazards to the future of salmon on the Tweed.

Baroness Young

My Lords, in preparation for introducing these two orders to your Lordships' House, I of course read the proceedings in another place. I was interested to see that they went on for two-and-a-half hours, and I must say that I felt a measure of apprehension that in your Lordships' House this might have meant a five-hour debate. I am glad that I am not disappointed, in that we have had 10 speakers in this debate. There is only one correction that I should make about what was said in another place. I really think I must correct my honourable friend Mr. Rifkind for describing himself as "a simple Foreign Office Minister". I think that is a mistake!

I am very grateful for the welcome that has been given to these two orders. I think every noble Lord who has spoken has welcomed them and is glad that they are to come into effect. It may be helpful if I say this right at the beginning, because a number of noble Lords have referred to what I believe are called monofilament nets. I feel, if I may put it in these terms, that it is not a subject in which I wish to become entangled, but nevertheless it is one to which my honourable friend Mr. Rifkind referred in another place when he indicated, as the noble Lord, Lord Moran, told your Lordships (although one cannot anticipate proposals for the future) that:

"the examination that has been taking place includes a possible tagging scheme as well as other proposals for dealing with the problem of illegal salmon fishing".

He went on to say: the Government accept the need for careful constraint on net fishing for salmon. Although this fishery is already strictly regulated by the Northumbrian and Yorkshire water authorities, the Government have been reviewing the arrangements to see whether they should be further tightened. My right honourable friends the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for Scotland hope to make an announcement on this matter.—[Official Report, Commons, 28/10/85; col. 778.]

The noble Lord, Lord Moran, asked me whether or not this report was to be published. I understand that it is a report drawn up by MAFF and scientists, that it was in the form of advice to Ministers and not in a form that is suitable for publication.

Other quite specific questions were asked of me. The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, asked me whether NASCO would take an interest in the conduct of Scottish fisheries. I am afraid I have to tell him that NASCO does not have powers in relation to fisheries in the home waters of the originating states, and that includes the various River Tay fisheries, which are a domestic issue.

I am very glad to be able to tell the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, that coracle fishing on the River Teifi is regulated by the Welsh Water Authority, which I understand is conducting a thorough review of its salmon fisheries. The noble Lord, Lord Tryon, asked me about licences in the north east fisheries. I can tell him that these are very strictly controlled by the Northumbrian and Yorkshire water authorities. The number of licences issued has in fact declined from 328 in 1971 to 150 this year.

I think that covers the principal points that have been raised today. If I have not referred to all your Lordships by name it is because I believe everyone has given a welcome to these two orders. I am glad to indicate, so far as I can, these future proposals, which no doubt will come before your Lordships' House.

I say once again how glad I am of the welcome that the orders have received. I beg to move that they be now approved.

On Question, Motion agreed to.