asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is aware that salmon are being captured illegally in Helmsdale by gill nets which blockade the river, where Boyd Brothers, fish merchants, are buying the stolen fish and consigning it to David King, Birmingham, as white fish, so that British Railways are transporting the fish for account of the Ministry of Food at the taxpayers' expense, particulars of which have been sent to him by the hon. Member for Streatham; and whether he will take action to prosecute those concerned and to ensure the enforcement of the law in future.
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask for your guidance with regard to this Question? Is it in Order to impute criminal acts to named persons, as this Question does, who have not been convicted, or even charged, without giving those persons an opportunity of defending themselves; and alternatively is the doing so, as is done in this Question, a breach of the traditions of this House?
No, not if an hon. Member thinks that some misdemeanour has been committed. He is entitled to bring it to the notice of the Minister concerned. An hon. Member is always responsible for the particulars which he puts in a Question. I have ascertained, in regard to this Question, that in matters of this kind there is some responsibility on the Secretary of State for Scotland, and therefore the Question is in Order.
Further to that point of Order. Where there are other ways and means whereby the alleged offence could be brought to the notice of the Lord Advocate in regard to Scotland or the Attorney-General in regard to England, would not that course be the better course to adopt, instead of making, as is here made, clear criminal charges of consigning salmon as white fish?
Oh, no; I remember in days past that any number of hon. Members raised Questions of this kind and asked the Government to prosecute. They are entitled to do so. They are responsible for statements in the Questions, but that is all. They are entitled to put the Questions.
Further to that point of Order, and by way of explanation, may I say that I brought the facts of this case to the notice of the Secretary of State for Scotland a month ago. I waited for him to act; he did not do so; I went to Helmsdale myself, I saw the illegal nets blocking the river, and I was able to catch the receivers—
The reply to the Question is that I am aware that poaching of salmon is reported at Helmsdale. Inquiries are proceeding into the matters referred to in the Question, and I regret that I cannot at this stage make any further statement.
Is not that a most amazing answer? Why did the right hon. Gentleman discount the statement made by the Lord Lieutenant of Sutherland which I passed to him a month ago? Why did he mislead this House on 21st June by stating that these complaints were exaggerated? Is he aware that I caught this stolen consignment in boxes in the guard's van at Inverness?
First of all, the hon. Member raised allegations concerning practically the whole of the county, and did not specify Helmsdale as a single item in the last Question—
So far as the whole county was concerned, the allegations, it was reported to me, were exaggerated. I do not deny that such things can take place in the Highlands; it has been known in the past. The matter had to be considered. The hon. Gentleman has now reported a specific case and that must be investigated by the legal authorities. I think he will agree that once the case comes into the hands of the legal authorities, it would be improper for me to comment further.
May I ask whether this House would not have been saved a great deal of trouble if the questioner had made clear that it was the landlords who "pinched" the salmon rights first?
Whilst safeguarding the rights of legitimate poachers in this area, will the right hon. Gentleman take the most severe measures to ensure that political poachers do not come up to Caithness from Streatham?