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Clause 9—(Amenity Committee And Fisheries Committee)

Volume 389: debated on Thursday 6 May 1943

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I beg to move, in page 6, line 41, to leave out from the first "of," to "and," and to insert:

"not less than five persons and including, in the case of the Fisheries Committee, two or more persons appointed after consultation with organisations representative of the owners and occupiers of fishings in the North of Scotland District."
It is satisfactory to see in the Bill that the Board is to be recommended to avoid as far as possible interfering with fisheries in any way, but those interested in fishing in the North of Scotland feel that further protection, if possible, should be provided for their industry. They feel that the best way to achieve that is by strengthening the Fisheries Committee. The Bill makes very indefinite reference to this Committee. Things are left almost entirely within the discretion of the Secretary of State for Scotland. Our Amendment seeks to ensure that the Committee shall be composed of not less than five members, two of them chosen after consultation with the representatives of the fishing industry in the North of Scotland. That is a very reasonable suggestion, and I hope it will commend itself to the Secretary of State for Scotland. He has a great deal of discretionary power under the Bill, and I daresay he will use it discreetly, but he may not always occupy that position and the fishing industry feel they would like a further safeguard inserted in the Bill, so that whoever may be Secretary of State they can he sure that there shall be a strong and efficient Committee composed of people who understand, particularly, the salmon fishing industry. We do not want Civil servants but men who understand the industry. I feel certain that in the first instance these appointments will be of a satisfactory nature, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will accept the suggestion that the Committee should consist of five or more members. The salmon fishing industry is a very important one, important from a food-producing point of view, important as regards the amount of labour it employs and also important as embracing valuable rate-producing properties. It is one of the natural assets of Scotland which the Secretary of State would, I am sure, wish to preserve. I trust, therefore, he will accept the Amendment.

In spite of the warning issued yesterday by the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), I venture to support this Amendment. I am taking part in the discussion not as a Member for an English constituency but as a resident in Sutherland, where I have a home.

Why should the hon. and gallant Member apologise for speaking as a Member for an English division?

I have a particular interest in one of the counties largely affected by this Bill, and I was explaining why I ventured to support the Amendment. In peace-time the salmon and sea-trout fishing industry is a very important one. It may be said that the net fisheries employ over 2,000 people directly, and indirectly quite a number more in the production of nets, boats and so on. The rod-fishing industry employs at least as many. Further, salmon and sea-trout fishing is a very popular sport among many thousands.

Lastly, I think this sport probably brings to the Highlands a greater number of visitors than any other. The catering for those visitors, the provision of hotel accommodation and of taxis to take visitors to the fishing, as well as the provision of boats and ghillies, provide in sum total a great deal of seasonal employment. It is fair to say that this industry, although small, is important, and its interests and preservation are very important. I hope that the Secretary of State will observe the lesson to be learned from the Shannon scheme in the South of Ireland. There a large hydro-electric scheme was completed, and, with the completion of the scheme, the fishing industry was finished. I visited the Shannon shortly before the war. In the villages below the darn, men who had been previously employed in the fishing industry were out of work, not only those who were the actual fishermen but those who made the nets or the boats, and even those who were employed in making wooden boxes in which the fish were shipped away.

I hope that the Secretary of State will realise that the suggestion of the membership of the Fisheries Committee being required to have at least two representatives of those interests who know something about the industry is intended to prevent exactly what happened under the Shannon scheme. If the Fisheries Committee giving advice to the Secretary of State is to be of any real value, it must, I suggest, have among its members individuals who really know from firsthand experience something about the conditions. What is really vital is the provision of some form of fish ladder or pass to enable the fish to go up to the spawning grounds, and the provision of some safety device for the young fish in their second year when as smolts they are returning to the sea. Unless they are safeguarded, what happens is that they are swept into the turbines of the hydroelectric scheme and are killed in their thousands. I suggest it would be advisable that members of the Fisheries Committee should have practical experience, both from the point of view of safeguarding access to the spawning grounds and access back to the sea. There is one last reason. Very often in a hydro-electric scheme for some reason the natural course of the stream changes, and then the fish ladder, which previously was perfectly serviceable, is found to be of no use at all. The Fisheries Committee should have the power and the knowledge to be able to recommend that suitable alterations should be made. For all those reasons I suggest that there should be persons with knowledge and experience of the fishery industry upon the Fisheries Committee.

The hon. and gallant Member who seconded the Amendment has indeed no cause to apologise for his interest in this matter. He comes from Sutherland and has very considerable personal knowledge of these matters. We would be delighted to take advice from knowledgeable persons, and certainly no Fisheries Committee will be set up without a most careful examination of the capacity of the personnel. If a Secretary of State ever sets up a Committee which is not of great capacity and knowledge, he would rightly be liable to be shot at in this House. Both hon. and gallant Gentlemen are aware that I had a long and very friendly interview with representatives of the fishing industry in the North of Scotland, and I thought I had convinced them that it was inadvisable to specify the precise number or qualifications of the personnel of the Fisheries Committee. It might be that there would be persons from Dumfriesshire or Ayrshire who had a considerable knowledge of hydro-electric schemes and fisheries. They would be highly desirable members of this Committee and highly acceptable to the interests concerned. I suggested it would be better to leave the thing as it is rather than to tie our hands in advance in such a way as to limit us to choosing a less competent and efficient body than we otherwise would. I entirely agree as to the importance of this industry. I think I am right in saying that there are about 2,000 employees depending upon this industry for their livelihood and that the local authorities are considerably intererested in it. I hope to see the day when the great angling industry will be much more widely open to the general public than it has been in the past.

Not entirely. I will put it that at any rate we hope it will be much more widely open. We can see great changes in that direction. At any rate, we are convinced of the importance of the industry and the absolute necessity to preserve it. Unfortunately there might be occasions when in the national interest it would be necessary to act in some other way, but we must see that most adequate compensation and a square deal are given to the employees as well as to the employers in the industry. I would like the hon. and gallant Gentlemen to accept our assurances that we shall do everything we can to preserve this industry, and I ask them not to tie our hands in the way that the Amendment proposes.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman was entitled to apologise, not for speaking, but for speaking in such an unworthy cause. Nobody need have the slightest fear that the wealthy owners of the fisheries will not be consulted. I had the experience when I was a lad which all the lads of our class had had. We went out to do a bit of fishing with a tin and a string, and the employees who are being talked about just now chased us off the land. I remember how we ran bare foot along the road with all our clothes under our arms, with those employees coming after us for all they were worth. These people will be consulted, and there will be too many of them on the Committee.

We are resisting the Amendment because it may be highly desirable that no interested parties should be on the Committee.

I know it is being resisted, but they will be consulted, and the representatives on the Committee will be too many. They will be the representatives of notorious robbers and stealers of land. Let the Secretary of State for Scotland distribute a copy of his book to show how these people got their land and got their fishing rights, by murder, robbery, and corruption.

Does not the hon. Member realise that the workers of Glasgow come out in their thousands to fish in the waters of Argyllshire, both seawater and freshwater fishing?

I have had many holidays in the Highlands, and I have seen an occasional Glasgow worker coming along with a rod to do a bit of fishing. What the hon. and gallant Member has just said reminds me of what a fellow said OD one occasion when he and I had been speaking at a meeting. He said there had been thousands at the meeting. A sceptical lad asked, "Thousands?" "Well, hundreds." The sceptical lad then asked, "Hundreds?" "Well," was the final estimate "there were 50 or 60 there, anyway." That is something like the sort of exaggeration used by the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll. It is not true that thousands of Glasgow workers go out to the rivers in Argyllshire for fishing.

If the hon. Member will accept my invitation and come to stay with me—if we live till peace-time—he will see on the road going past my house thousands of people from Glasgow on bicycles, each one with a fishing rod tied to the bars of his bicycle.

I will go with the hon. and gallant Member at any time on a holiday in Argyllshire, and I will show him more boys fishing with a string than workers from Glasgow. It is almost incredible that hon. Members should try to put such a suggestion in the form of an Act of Parliament so that the owners should be allowed to put their representatives on to such a Committee.

I welcome English Members taking an interest in Scottish affairs. One of the curses of Scottish Debates is that we come here as a little group rather out of touch with the wider world outside. I often wish we could discuss Scottish housing in a way that would appeal to the people not only in this country but all over the world and let them know how we live in Scotland. We should get some interest in it then. This fishing industry is not merely angling but is in the region of being a commercial business. One company promoted the last Bill on the subject that this House rejected. They had a very heavy financial interest in the salmon fishing. When they took over the land they had to buy the salmon rights as well. The result was, being a first-class business concern, whatever else they might be, they ran the salmon fishing with first-class business ability. On the evidence we heard I was impressed by their manager and his knowledge of the salmon fishing trade.

Regarding this Amendment, I sympathise with the view of the Secretary of State. It is not uncommon in this House, and from our side, to insist that the Trades Union Congress or someone else should be consulted on various matters. I must confess that that kind of thing never quite appeals to me. I think the Secretary of State has taken the right line. I say to him that some of us still believe in politics. I think this House is coming to believe less and less in politics, the way we compliment each other now. That is all boloney and nonsense. I do not sympathise with the view of those who say that the Secretary of State for Scotland is all right but that the next one may be all wrong. That is all nonsense. When the next fellow comes along they will say, "If you had been there, you would have done it much better." I do not take that view about the next Secretary of State at all. I hope that whoever occupies the post, whether the right hon. Gentleman or anybody else, will see to it that somebody with knowledge will be obtained, that they will be men who know something about it. When I heard the evidence I was certainly impressed with the need for knowledge on this particular subject. It is quite true to say that if a hydro-electric scheme has gone through without that knowledge being available, it means an end of salmon fishing. I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will take the view that knowledge of the salmon industry, not a knowledge of landlordism or anything else of that kind, but a real business knowledge of its everyday life, is required in whoever is chosen. I do not want the Secretary of State to narrow it down to this little group or that. If the Secretary of State is narrowed by an Act of Parliament like that, very frequently his choice may be limited. I say he should choose the best man, but it frequently happens that the best man for the job may be in conflict with interests. In other words, if it is said that certain people have to be consulted, frequently those interests may not allow the best man to get on because he has quarrelled with those interests, just because he is the best man.

That argument would appear to be based on the assumption that we were asking that there should he no other representation on the Committee. What the Amendment seeks is to have two representatives, so that the Committee shall have the benefit of people with first-class knowledge.

Often the best men succeed in quarrelling with people, because they are the best men, and it may be that for reasons other than that he is the best man interests may say that they do not want him. I think that the Secretary of State for Scotland should be perfectly free to make his choice. I trust that whoever is in command of this Measure will pay respect to a knowledge of the industry and see that whoever is appointed should have first-class knowledge of the industry and should be able to use his capacity in guiding the Committee's decisions on salmon fishing in a proper direction.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move, in page 6, line 45, at the end, to insert:

"(3) The Board before submitting any scheme (whether the development scheme or a constructional scheme or a distribution scheme) to the Electricity Commissioners for approval shall send copies of the draft scheme to the Amenity Committee and the Fisheries Committee and shall take into consideration all recommendations made by either of those Committees on the draft scheme within one month from the receipt thereof by the Committees."
This is intended merely as a strengthening Clause to make it perfectly certain that before any scheme is prepared the Amenity Committee and the Fisheries Committee shall be consulted. Personally, I confess to have very much snore interest in the Amenity Committee than in the Fisheries Committee. A great many years ago all the fish in Scotland decided to boycott any worm or fly with which I had anything whatever to do, and I accordingly accepted the decision and have never fished or wanted to fish for a great many years. But in the amenities of Scotland I am very deeply interested, and this Amendment is for the purpose of making it perfectly certain that the Amenity Committee and the Fisheries Committee shall not merely be consulted but shall be given information of what is proposed before any scheme is actually drafted so as to make it more certain that their advice will be thoroughly con- sidered and taken. I do not think it is necessary to elaborate the point.

The purpose of the hon. Gentleman in moving his Amendment is, I take it, to ensure that before any development scheme is confirmed or before any constructional scheme is begun to be operated the appropriate Amenity and Fisheries Committees will be consulted. That is, in effect, what he wants. If he will be good enough to look at the Amendment on the Order Paper following his own he will see that we very largely follow his views in that regard. We propose to move the next Amendment, which will make the Sub-section read:

"The Board shall, before and during the preparation of a constructional scheme, and may at any other time, consult the Amenity Committee and the Fisheries Committee …"

I should like to thank the right hon. Gentleman for his assurance and to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment, which I certainly should not move in competition with a Government Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: In page 7, line 1, leave out "in preparing," and insert "before and during the preparation of."—( Mr. Johnston.)

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Before we leave this Clause I should, if I might, say just one word to ask my right hon. Friend for some slight assurance, that is, that in recent construction carried out by another hydro-electric scheme the Amenity Committee does not seem to have had the necessary power to prevent a certain, what might be called, blot on the countryside which might have been prevented. I refer to the pylons which have been erected over Rannoch Moor from Loch Rannoch to Bridge of Orchy. From Bridge of Orchy westwards wooden poles have been used, and we feel that a great deal of unsightly spoiling of the view might have beat avoided had similar poles been used the whole way across Rannoch Moor. In my part of the Highlands we feel that either the Amenity Committee was not consulted or was overridden. I hope that the Amenity Committee under this new Bill will be sufficiently strong to prevent anything of that sort.

If the hon. and gallant Member wants an assurance that we intend to appoint the strongest possible Amenity Committee and to give every assurance to that Amenity Committee that every reasonable recommendation that they make will be strongly enforced and backed by the Scottish Office, I can cheerfully give him that assurance.

Before we leave this Clause there are two points on which I should like a little guidance, either from the Secretary of State or from the Solicitor-General. The first is purely a drafting one. In my copy of the Bill, Sub-section (7) of this Clause reads:

"Nothing in the provisions of Schedule 6 to the Salmon Fisheries (Scotland) Act, 1868 shall apply …"
Should not that be Schedule G? I shall be very grateful if that can be looked at.

The other point is that under Sub-section (4) there is considerable obscurity, in my mind, on the precise meaning of the words in brackets from lines 15 to 18:

"(Not being a recommendation involving the execution by the Board of any works authorised by a confirmed scheme otherwise than in the manner set forth in the scheme.)"
I take it that those words show what action can be taken by the Secretary of State if the Fisheries Committee, for example, makes a recommendation, and the Board refuses to accept that recommendation. It seems to me that there are three cases in which one of these Committees, either the Fisheries Committee or an Amenity Committee, may be consulted under the terms of this Bill. They may be consulted in the first instance when the Board is preparing a constructional scheme, or, secondly, after the scheme has been made while the Secretary of State is considering it, and, thirdly, according to the words in the Clause, "at any other time." Suppose one of the Committees makes a recommendation under the third heading. These words might possibly prevent the Secretary of State from giving effect to that recommendation. If, for example, after a scheme had been completed and a dam built, it was found that that dam absolutely obstructed the passage of any fish, the Fisheries Committee might make a recommendation that the dam should be removed. That would be a ridiculous situation and quite unreasonable, and these words in Sub-section (4) would in such a case very rightly allow the Secretary of State to refuse to take any action. But suppose the recommendation of the Fisheries Committee was not for the removal of the dam but merely for some slight alteration in the fish pass or ladder which was included in the original scheme but was only a very subsidiary part of the original scheme, more or less tacked on as an afterthought, it is just possible that the same words would prevent the Secretary of State giving effect to a perfectly reasonable recommendation by the Fisheries Committee. I would be very grateful if the Solicitor-General would look into that and see whether those words cannot be redrafted so that a perfectly reasonable change which was recommended would not be rendered inoperative.

I think that is a point to be looked into. It would not do to have an alteration of something which had been approved by this House, but the ordinary case, I think, will be where some modifications are called for by the Amenity or Fisheries Committee and there is no obstacle at all to carrying out those works. I see the point that a slight modification of approved work might be somewhat difficult to reconcile with these words, and I will certainly look at those words.

Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.