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I beg to move,
That the draft Fisheries (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1983, which was laid before this House on 15th November, be approved.
This matter of inland fisheries administration in Northern Ireland has been the subject of much debate for some considerable time, including discussion in the Northern Ireland Committee of this House. Although it has also been a controversial issue, I hope that the House will accept a relatively brief explanation of the development of the draft order.
When the present Fisheries Act was introduced in 1966 it provided for the establishment of the fisheries conservancy board. This board was to have, as its prime responsibility, the conservation and protection of salmon and inland fisheries in Northern Ireland, except for an area administered by the Foyle fisheries commission. The 1966 Act also provided that the Department of Agriculture should have overall responsibility for the development and management of inland fisheries.
The passage of time and experience of working arrangements of the Act highlighted the desirability of certain amendments, and in 1977 the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason), set up a committee of inquiry chaired by Professor R. D. C. Black of Queen's University Belfast. Its purpose was to examine the administration of inland fisheries provisions in the Act, and to recommend any changes that might seem desirable. Although the future of angling was given special prominence in the committee's remit, it was clearly instructed to cover all relevant issues and to try to resolve the acknowledged conflicting interests.
In its report the Black committee recommended that a unified structure for inland fisheries administration would be desirable. However, the committee was divided on how this should be achieved. A majority recommended that all functions — conservation, protection, development and management—should be brought together under a new inland fisheries board, but a minority took an entirely contrary view and recommended that all functions should be co-ordinated under the Department of Agriculture. This fundamental disagreement among members of the committee reflected a similar lack of consensus among interested parties throughout the Province and for this reason the main recommendation of the report to set up an independent fisheries board proved unacceptable to Ministers. During the two years following the Black report the Government — I took an active part — undertook further discussions with all interest groups in an attempt to resolve conflicting views and find a satisfactory solution. In April 1983 an alternative strategy in the form of a proposal for a draft order was published. By this time the Agriculture Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly had undertaken an examination of the issues. Following a series of hearings at which evidence was taken from various interests, the Committee — to its great credit — achieved a wide measure of consensus and produced a report that was subsequently endorsed by the full Assembly. Finally, the matter was debated in the Northern Ireland Committee, at which I indicated that the Government were strongly inclined to accept most of the Assembly's recommendations. Indeed, since then, my noble Friend has incorporated significant amendments in the draft which is before the House.
The first two articles contain no provisions of substance. I shall deal with articles 3 and 4 in reverse order as this will make it easier to explain their purpose.
Article 4 and its related schedule provides for the fisheries conservancy board to be retained but to be increased in size from 15 to a maximum of 24 members and for an executive committee to be established. The increase in size is to permit previously unrepresented interests to have their say in fisheries matters. For the first time, three farming representatives will sit on the board, and industry, sport and local government will have one representative each. Also, in future two of the six angling representatives on the board will be independent anglers, anglers who do not belong to clubs that are affiliated to the Northern Ireland angling advisory council. The remaining four angling delegates will continue to be representative of other club anglers. Also, the deputy chairman, instead of being the representative of the Department of Agriculture as at present, will be an independent member nominatee by the head of the Department—in effect, by the Minister. Numerical representation for commerical fishing companies, commercial fishermen and tourism will be unchanged. Finally, there is a provision for the board to nominate a further two members to represent any significant interest groups that they consider have not already been adequately catered for.
The board will be too large to concern itself with day-to-day management matters, and so the legislation also provides for an executive committee of from three to six members. The committee will comprise the chairman and/ or deputy chairman of the main board and others chosen by the board from among its members. This committee will have specific responsibility for financial matters and for directing the permanent staff of the board. This arrangement should maximise efficiency in the control of illegal fishing and the investigation of pollution incidents.
Article 3 deals with the functions of the new board and provides that these should include not only conservation and protection but the provision of advice to Government on matters relating to salmon and inland fisheries. Originally the Government intended to set up a new body —the inland fisheries advisory committee—to provide advice, but as the proposed new FCB is to be widely representative it will now be able to fulfil this function instead. That is done by the present board, albeit from a less representative standpoint. The Minister will be required to consult the board on all major matters. The article also provides that the board should retain responsibility for the protection of salmon at sea unless directed otherwise by the head of the Department. This provision, while it does not change the present arrangements, allows for a rationalisation in this area should that become desirable. The only other substantive provision in this article is that contained in the new section 25(2). At present, the board's functions include the improvement of fisheries. Article 3 contains a wider provision, which would allow not only improvement work to be undertaken but any other inland fisheries function which the head of the Department might specify.
Article 5 would enable the Government to introduce a supplementary levy on fishing licences by means of an appointed day order. There are no plans at present to introduce such a levy, and before doing so the fisheries conservancy board would be consulted on the level of any proposed fees. There will be no supplement on licences in the immediate future and I hope that Members will be reassured on this issue by my noble Friend's recent announcement that, pending a review of the financing of inland fisheries, permit charges are to be held at 1983 levels for the coming angling season. It would of course be counter-productive if an increase in licence fees invoked the law of diminishing returns, but on the other hand it is reasonable to look to those who benefit from the sport to make a proper contribution to the funding of it.
Article 6 has no provisions of substance and merely provides for the removal from the 1966 Act of certain obsolete provisions.
I hope that it will have been noted from this review of the provisions of the draft order that most of the changes sought by the Assembly and the Northern Ireland Committee have been accommodated. There are two areas where change has been sought and where the Government, while maintaining their basic position, have been disposed to alter their policy to some extent. The first of these—the provision for a supplementary levy on fishing licences —I have already dealt with. The second is the question of public water management.
As a subsidiary but relevant point, I would like to first say something about the role of angling clubs in the development of angling facilities. At present grant-aid is available to clubs to carry out improvement and development work on their waters, provided that they have security of tenure and provided that there is a measure of access for the public, for example on a daily permit basis. Both in evidence to the Assembly and in the Northern Ireland Committee debate, I acknowledged the valuable role that clubs have to play in the promotion of angling. I have encouraged them to take greater advantage of the assistance available to them. Some clubs may want to extend their waters if so, although their is no specific reference in the order to enable the role of clubs to be extended, the Government would be prepared to consider entering into agreement with clubs, whereby, for example, some under-utilised public waters could be leased to the clubs under certain circumstances. The primary requirement for such an agreement would, of course, be that access for the general public to such facilities would be safeguarded. I believe that the clubs have a responsibility in that area. They have a particular expertise, and because of the voluntary labour that they can use, they tend to be able to do the job cost-effectively. I hope that they will take advantage of the opportunities available to them in the legislation, to which I referred a few moments ago.
Among the recommendations that emanated from the Assembly on the management of public waters was a proposal that the Department and the board should consider how the Department's public water management function might be transferred to the board, on an agency basis, without leading to any overall increase in staff or public expenditure. My noble Friend—as I did before him— has given a great deal of consideration to this issue. As with any proposal, there are arguments for and against it. Staffing and public expenditure considerations point to a maintenance of the status quo on public water management, as do several other considerations.
I shall say more about those considerations shortly, but I want to make it clear that the Government are satisfied that the arguments against a transfer of the management function at present must be regarded as conclusive. Nevertheless, my noble Friend does not rule out the possibility of a reassessment of the position in the future should circumstances warrant it. I have already explained how article 3 of the order would allow the board to he given agency responsibilities. I should now like to say something about the circumstances in which use might be made of this provision with regard to public water management.
The FCB is first and foremost a conservancy body. It receives agency payments from the Department of Agriculture and from the Department of the Environment, but its basic source of finance is licence revenue. That revenue is contributed by all fishermen—commercial as well as angling— and those fishermen are entitled to expect the board to deliver the goods in terms of conserving and protecting the Province's fisheries. The new board will therefore first have to prove itself ir this area by tackling effectively the problems of illegal fishing and of pollution of watercourses.
In its wider role as the Government's adviser on inland fisheries affairs, the board will have to show that its members can work together as a team and can come up with sound, agreed advice on a wide variety of issues. When it has demonstrated its credentials in those areas, then, provided that there is agreement among the interests represented that it would be appropriate for the board to take on this further responsibility, the Government will certainly be prepared to look again at the public water management issue. The financial implications of any increase in the board's responsibilities could be considered in the circumstances then prevailing.
I hope that from what I have said it will be generally recognised that the Government have done their best to listen and to accommodate their proposals to the various points of view that have been put forward. It has not been an easy matter. Despite the efforts that have been made to achieve a high level of success, there is still some disagreement among those various interested parties-- we are not just talking about the anglers—about ihe best way to manage fishery affairs in the future.
This order re-establishes these matters on a sound footing and enable the matters that have been pressed for, and upon which the Government have not been able to give way fully, to be brought about in the future in the way that I have described.
In the meantime a new spirit of co-operation is needed. My noble Friend will be establishing procedures to facilitate regular and effective consultation with the board. and high on the list of issues to be considered in that context will be the many detailed recommendations in the Black report. The Government will be looking to the anglers and other interests to play their part in what we hope will be a more constructive era in the inland fisheries affairs of Northern Ireland.
In that spirit, I commend this draft order to the House.
The Minister has come forward with a revised draft fisheries order containing amendments, some of which were recommended by the Northern Ireland Assembly. I gather that the Assembly's role was important and that a considerable degree of agreement was reached, which is encouraging. In a number of ways I think the Minister is in a minority in his comments. He has decided to leave control in the hands of the Department of Agriculture and he seems still to take the view that there is too much dissent, whether among the minority that signed the Black report or among some of the angling groups, on the issue of where the control should lie. I note the expanded representation from 15 to 24, but there is no concomitant increase in powers or finances. Accordingly a very great deal is open to doubt on the effectiveness of the order.
I was struck by the Minister's constant reference throughout his speech to the way in which the Government are to consult the fisheries conservation board on matters of concern. Unfortunately, a number of us have learnt that consultation with the Government is rather like having one's fortune told: they tell one what is in store, and one crosses their palm with silver. For many of us that is not the idea of effective consultation.
I want to know what plans, if any, the Government have to develop publicly controlled waters. The Black report suggested that 1·4 per cent. of the publicly controlled waters of Northern Ireland were used effectively whereas the comparable figure in the south of Ireland was 5 per cent. and in Great Britain it was 6 per cent. There is, therefore, real opportunity for expansion. anyone with any knowledge of Northern Ireland knows that there is potential in terms of tourism and leisure facilities.
The fishery conservation board could develop and promote public fisheries. It already has bailiff responsibility and I gather would welcome a more instructive role. There seems little doubt in my mind, although I would not claim to be an expert on this, that it could increase its role and activities in conservation and, indeed, expand, if it were given the power to do so, in leisure activities, thus creating jobs. Given that the Government underspent on last year's industrial development money, there is no reason why that money should not be made available to a fisheries conservation board.
The tenor of the Minister's approach to this seems to be that he does not want to give the fisheries conservation board real control. I cannot help feeling that underlying this is a desperate attempt to keep down public expenditure. I imagine that we would all feel a little happier if the record of the Government were not so bad in this respect. Government expenditure, as we all know, has not significantly dropped in relation to gross national product, but local authority expenditure has been cut severely. It is a classic case of, "Do not do as we do, but as we tell you." The money that could have been spent on industrial development last year could be made available to a greatly expanded fisheries conservation board, its powers could be increased and that would be a real benefit to the industry in Northern Ireland.
Another area about which I am concerned is the control of pollution. The Ulster Farmers Union issued an interesting press release recently arguing the case for concern about pollution by farmers and industry generally. It gave one example of a county Tyrone fish farmer losing approximately £80,000 worth of rainbow trout as a result of pollution. I wonder how much more effective an inland fisheries authority could have been if the Minister had chosen to give it sufficient power and authority to act.
All the evidence from this country and elsewhere tells us that one needs power to insist that the polluter should take steps to improve the standards of control of effluent and other noxious substances that industry, farming or other organisations release. The Minister seems to have given this matter insufficient thought. It is a relevant power for a fisheries conservation board to have, and yet no real power, financial or otherwise, exists. The Department of the Environment prosecutes, but there seems to be a case for enhanced power to be given to the fisheries conservation board.
I am not sure what the Government meant by their recent announcement of an examination of the finances of inland fisheries. The Minister said tonight that the Government had made up their mind not to pass control to the new body, but then said that he would be willing to reconsider the matter in future. The Government are resolutely irresolute, and are willing to change their mind again. What did he mean by saying that the Government will re-examine those finances? Will it simply be an examination of permits and permit prices, or will the Minister go further, as one suspects, and say that the Government will reconsider the matter and perhaps find other ways of financing the new body or of increasing its financial powers? If so, the House would wish to hear about it soon.
In his letter to my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), the Minister of State, the Earl of Mansfield, suggested in the Committee debate of 20 July that we should not stick too closely to the dated Black report. In the light of events then, it seems that the Black report is more up to date than was suggested, with massive changes in the Government's thinking taking them back in its direction.
Nevertheless, three outstanding problems must be resolved quickly: the management of public waters, the composition of the board, and the financing of the new fisheries body. There have been many hiccups along the way. I gather from those involved in the negotiations that, after the Assembly debate, a meeting was requested between the entire board and the Minister. On 3 August the Minister met the chief executive of the board. That was followed by another meeting between departmental officials and members of the board on 11 August.
At the second meeting, the board was told that the officials had no power to negotiate, that the Government did not contemplate any changes, and that there would be no full reassessment of the Government's position. It would have been wise for the Minister to meet the full board so that detailed discussions could have taken place, and a satisfactory conclusion thrashed out. Instead, it must be thrashed out tonight and in succeeding months and years.
In the general to-ing and fro-ing, we seem to have lost sight of the important matter of the financing of the board. The Black report suggested that the Government should provide £200,000 so that the organisation could run satisfactorily. That suggestion has disappeared, and, although the board has received some Government money, it was in payment for what the board had done. There was not much profit in, for example, payments made for pollution control. It was not really Government money coming into angling. The board must now try to raise the money that it needs to improve fisheries from the present low standard, especially in migratory fish, to former glories, if that is possible. I do not understand how the new board is expected to raise the money that is obviously needed, especially with the reduction in licences sold.
The Minister mentioned the levy that the Government may or may not decide to impose. That levy worries the angling public, and the Government will be aware of the many rumours of a £60 fishing licence in Northern Ireland.
I was pleased to hear the Minister say that the Government would go into the whole question of the provision of the necessary cash for the fishery board in the near future. Like the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), I should like to know how detailed that inquiry will be because the question of finance is crucial to the success or otherwise of the new body. I do not want to hear a Minister, of whatever party, say in a few years that the board had been a failure, when the real reason was lack of money to keep it working satisfactorily. The financial arrangements must be spelt out clearly in the early stages so that the board knows exactly what it will get and can cut its suit from the available cloth.
I am concerned over the cost of licences. According to the documentation available to us, if there must be an increase, it will not be more than 60 per cent. in real terms spread over three years. If there is inflation, the licence will be more than £60. As I pointed out in the debate on 20 July, if one buys all the licences to fish in Northern Ireland, the present cost is £38·05. If there is a 60 per cent. rise in real terms, plus a little inflation, it will cost about £70, which is a considerable sum for those who fish in Northern Ireland.
Let us consider the angling public. Fishing is not like other recreations or sports. Anglers are often very young. I started to fish shortly after my sixth birthday. I sometimes think that I have been doing it for far too long for the number of fish that I have caught. I have long since become convinced that it is the costliest way to get a fish for supper. We fish because we enjoy it, not for the pot; and those who go fishing for the pot are often sadly disappointed. Anglers may be very young or very old. The result is that large numbers of children fish, and they have licence concessions, and many pensioners, who have more time than most in which to fish, and it is a pleasant recreation for them.
Most other sports are indulged in by those of wage-earning capacity who are in a better financial position to follow their recreation compared with those who fish. That point should be taken seriously into account because we in Northern Ireland have a tradition of cheap and relatively good angling. Although the number of public waterways —those owned and run by the Department—is low, there is no bar to any angler who wants to fish. The amount of water available to the general public in Northern Ireland is enormous, and that is available to people once they have their licence, and some is available at no further cost. It would be wrong to compare the position in Northern Ireland, or Ireland generally, with the cost and availability of waters in this country.
That did not deal with the availability of water. Much of the water not utilised is available. It is not developed or looked after. Frequently, therefore, one is dealing with the problems of bailiffing, illegal fishing and the slaughter of the fish by illegal methods. The existing laws must be enforced, thereby maintaining sufficient fish, so that the waters can be utilised by anglers. That is a different kettle of fish from fishing in Great Britain generally, although there is much more cheap fishing available in Great Britain than is generally realised.
Fishing is a localised recreation. One has to go to the local area and find out where the fishing is good. I can assure the House that if an angler finds a good spot he does not broadcast the fact around but keeps it to himself. We are, at the end of the day, a fairly selfish bunch.
Questions have been raised by the Department and echoed by the Minister about the ability of the board to control waters. It is an interesting reflection of the views taken by the Department of Agriculture. When we judge the ability of the Government Department concerned to protect and defend the fisheries, we must look throughout Northern Ireland. I shall refer to a few instances that have come to my attention. Although I live in the Fob le area, I am talking about the Department's ability to protect and defend fisheries throughout Northern Ireland, and not just the area covered by the conservancy board.
As I told the Committee on 20 July, an enormous sum of money has been paid to farmers in the past to enable them to build silage pits and collection points for silage effluent. Far too often that effluent finds its way into the water course with the most dreadful effects, not least during the past summer.
We must consider not simply the problem of pollution but the question of enforcement in building the tanks to contain the stuff. I believe that if matters had been dealt with properly and that the regulations laid down by the Department of Agriculture were properly enforced when the pits were put up, we would not have had half the trouble we have had.
Who is the principal offender when it comes to dealing with sewage? The Department of the Environment has caused horrendous problems. During the industrial action in Britain last year involving the water workers, sewage was discharged into several streams and many rivers in various parts of Northern Ireland. The Government may try to get off the hook by saying that they were dealing with a strike and industrial action. I was told on 14 March by the then Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office that he regretted what had happened. If an industrial undertaking was guilty of pollution because its workers were on strike, would the Government bodies responsible for the purity of water stand back and say "Yes, we accept your excuse"? The Government must examine that problem seriously. If necessary, means must be devised to prevent sewage and other pollutants from getting into the streams during periods of industrial action. I do not think we can allow that to happen again. A strike may occur at any time and lead to serious consequences for fisheries. If the owners of the fisheries were to decide to sue the Department, I am sure that the Government would find themselves in a difficult position.
In England, water authorities are in charge of prosecuting pollution offences, and they are also the sewerage authorities. What is the position in Northern Ireland? English Members would be interested to know that.
The position is very much the same. When the matter was discussed in the House some years ago, many questions were raised. The Government were anxious to tell us that they would keep their house in order. The truth is that often they do not keep their house in order. As one Government Department is unlikely to take another Government Department to court, excuses are made and the Department is treated more lightly than private firms or individuals would be treated.
I come to the second reason why matters went wrong. I raised the point on 20 July, when I pointed out that the Clough river in county Antrim was poisoned by a chemical put into the storage plant at a water treatment plant. Someone forgot to turn off the outlet valve, and the chemical ran into the river and, among other things, poisoned a fish farm. I understand that that cost the Department of the Environment between £150,000 and £200,000 in compensation.
That was bad enough, but in September last year my local stream, the Roe, was poisoned by exactly the same chemical. The restocking of that stream has cost about £30,000. We are grateful to the Government for correcting the problem, but it does not say much for the ability of the Department of the Environment to protect the purity of the water.
The Roe is in the Foyle area, but it comes under the general control of the Department of the Environment and the Department of Agriculture. Let us further consider what has happened to that river. I have a great interest in the matter as I fish in that river and it runs through my lands. Following the pollution, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Environment went out of their way to try to correct the problem, but they met difficulties. A number of requests were made by local anglers, and agreed to by the Departments. One was that a notch should be cut in the O'Cathans Rock weir to allow the free passage of salmon and migratory fish upstream. During the middle of the longest drought for many years, two men came to cut the notch. It was recommended that the notch should be 18 in wide by 6 in deep. The anglers, who take a keen interest in the matter, said that either the weir had to be breached so as not to cause any interference to running fish, or a suitable pass should be constructed. The notch cut was only 14 in wide and 3 in deep. The man who cut it said that a flood was needed to prove his contention that the notch was sufficient.
Of course, I know that this is all very interesting to hon. Members, but the reaction of the Angling Association is quite interesting. The former secretary of that association told me, in a letter dated 12 December 1983, that there was a meeting on 31 May of the Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Environment and the Foyle Fisheries Commission. However, my informant told me that the Angling Association was not represented. To the best of his knowledge, the present secretary did not receive any notification of the meeting. He wrote:
The notch which has been put on the weir is useless. It is in the wrong place for all water levels and for all water flows. Again if the local anglers had been consulted they could have advised the Department of Agriculture as to where the salmon run the weir. Wishing you a happy Christmas".
It does not seem that the secretary will have one.
The trouble is that the river is running high now, and the opportunity of correcting the problem will not recur for goodness knows how long. The matter does not end there. The river is in a country park, and many other people have a toe in the door. Despite the guarantees and understandings reached by the anglers in the early stages, they seem to have been overtaken by the Department's officials in the intervening months. New fish stock was to be brought in to restock the river. The local angling association said that it wanted a few large fish from the river Finn, which is a tributary of the Foyle system. It is the only spring river in that system.
In 1982, the river Finn ran high all year. Incidentally, it is in Donegal. We are told that it ran so high that it was impossible to get fish. However, I have seen fish being caught by electro fishing methods in very difficult water conditions. This year, everything was perfect. But when the day came, and when all the nets, boats and men were ready to catch the fish, the Department of Agriculture informed the Foyle Fisheries Commission that due to the Diseases of Fish Act, which was placed on the statute book earlier this year, it could not allow the fish to be taken other than under the most stringent conditions. The end result was that no fish were taken.
Even after a year in which to plan the operation the conditions were that the potential parent fish were to be removed to Ballyshannon in county Donegal for stripping. The eggs were to be hatched there and again removed to the Cushendall isolation hatchery. During the passage of the Fish Diseases Bill, I read into the record the conditions that applied to the importation of fish stock into the Republic of Ireland. They are very stringent. If the Minister is not aware of them, he will no doubt be prepared to look them up.
The great problem for the anglers is that as far as I am aware the Diseases of Fish Act does not yet apply in Northern Ireland. Therefore, the excuses made by the Department's officials about the taking of fish from the river Finn are not valid. I see an hon. Member looking puzzled, but that Act opened the door for the importation of salmonoids to Great Britain from Northern Ireland, but under very strict conditions. The intention was that Northern Ireland could trade in such fish, but only when the avenues had been opened by certain orders. I believe that those orders have not yet been passed by the House.
I am sorry to speak for so long, but the saga is interesting and all sorts of things crop up. I shall cover only a few of them, but there are plenty more if hon. Members want to go digging. The river Bush experiment has now been running for 10 years. It has been described as a luxury that we can no longer afford and that is no longer needed. It is run by the Department of Agriculture, and 10 or 12 scientific papers have been published about it, and it is of great interest to those in salmon fishing and management throughout the world.
The Bush was originally a spring river and I am told that the historical catch was between 4,000 and 6,000 fish. According to the Government the catch was 2,614 in 1973, 3,591 in 1974 and 3,442 in 1975. Can the Minister tell us whether that was after the appearance of salmon disease? If it was, as I believe is the case, the figures are false in the sense that they are not the true historical figure. Perhaps the Minister can also say what the catch is now and what the chances are of catching any salmon on a visit to that river. It is no wonder that the salmon fishermen are displeased and most unhappy about the situation. The experiment is indeed a luxury that we can no longer afford.
In stocking a river one tries to get fish from the same genetic pool. That is why we tried to get salmon from the Finn in the Foyle area. There have been so many restockings from so many places, however, that there are very few pure stocks left anywhere in the British Isles, and that is no more so in Northern Ireland than anywhere else. Research carried out by Queen's university suggests that in lough Melvin the so-called brown trout comprises four or five different subspecies breeding in different parts of the river, some going down the outlet rivers to spawn while others go up into the headwaters. Experts are concerned that bringing in stock from outside may disturb the ecology of the river, but for a century or more every farmer in the country has been trying to improve his stock by cross-breeding. Fish farmers do the same, so why can it not be done in the wild? Why do the experts not apply the same commonsense farming attitudes to restocking schemes to improve the size and quality of fish?
There are many conflicting interests in Government Departments, but I hope that I have made it clear that the disquiet felt by managers of Northern Ireland waters about the activities of the Department of Agriculture has at least some foundation. The concern is deep-rooted and widespread. No Minister can claim that the Department is always right and that its views should be heeded to the exclusion of all others. Certainly, most people do not share that view.
I drew attention to the community aspect of the angling clubs in the July debate. At that time the Minister did not seem to understand what I was getting at, but his remarks today suggest that he has learnt a good deal in the intervening period. He has now expressed the Government's willingness to help anglers and angling clubs.
As soon as an angling club gets going and sets up a fishery it becomes liable for rates, thus undermining its ability to carry out the improvements that it wishes to achieve. If the Minister really wishes to help the clubs perhaps he will take a long, hard look at that financial imposition as it is a definite bar to the extension of clubs and the willingness of groups of anglers to form clubs to improve fishing. As soon as they do so they have to find money. Many therefore prefer to reap the sparser benefits of continuing without a club.
I read the schedule with the greatest of interest. Paragraph 2 says:
The House will appreciate, therefore, that the members of the board will be nominated or appointed or chosen. It is the anglers who come out of the equation worst. I suspect that the Angling Federation is the body that will be put forward as representing a substantial number of anglers. It has to produce not less than six names of which the Minister will choose four. That is simply a means of the Department ignoring, or getting rid of, people who have been a thorn in its flesh.
I see no reason why the Angling Federation cannot submit four names and have them accepted. Other people are able to do just that. The proposal that the Department should select from the six names must be changed as there is no way in which anglers—I speak as an angler—can accept someone else selecting who shall speak for us. We have a right to determine who shall speak for us.
The two people who are selected as representatives of anglers who are not represented by a body or bodies will be independent-minded individuals. The interesting thing about such people is that they stand on their own feet. There are thousands of worthy people who would be perfectly good representatives. How will the Minister or the Department select just two? As we say in Ulster, the Minister might as well go out and play glam in the dark —he does not know what he will get. Does he hope that he will get someone who is acceptable to the Department? We should know how such people will be chosen. For whom will they speak? Surely it will be for themselves.
I shall give the hon. Gentleman just a moment's rest. I assume for the moment that the hon. Gentleman would wish independent anglers to be represented on the board. If I can take that assumption for granted, perhaps he will say how he would choose them.
I was not so daft as to write that prov:ision into the order. If I were confronted with the problem I would say to independent anglers, "Get down to your club and elect your representatives." That is the only way in which the matter can be dealt with.
I say that because there is no way in which the mass of independent anglers can have any say in who is to represent them. If they are to be represented, there should be some form of elective process. That is not to be found in the order. Such an omission is not acceptable to anyone who believes in the elective process, especially a Member of Parliament.
If a board representing all these bodies is to be set up, let us have it set up in the same way. Let the commercial fishermen nominate their own people, as the farmers union can, let the anglers nominate their own people, and let the Department accept them. That will be far more acceptable to the anglers in Northern Ireland.
There have been large changes from the original order, and the Government have gone a long way to meet objections, fears and worries of the anglers. These are three issues of great importance to the future of the new board. The Government have at least unlocked the door on the control of public waters. They should go the whole way and should now start giving the control of those waters over to the board, let it run those waters, stand on its own feet and be composed of members that are nominated by their own body. Then they can defend their actions to those bodies and to the anglers.
If the Minister wishes, there is no reason why he should not do what the anglers and the board have recommended —start with a partnership between the Department and the board, but let us start down that road now. When we do, we shall have a good order, but up to now, the order does not meet the real needs of the Ulster angling population.
Our Province tonight is shadowed and stained with the butchery and blood of terrorism, and that should never be forgotten when we are debating anything here that is relevant to Northern Ireland. Our society labours under intense and terrible difficulties, and that cannot be forgotten by hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland. I hope that they will not forget it.
We have an opportunity to discuss a matter that has caused a great deal of concern, and generated a great deal of interest and antagonism, in Northern Ireland. As Chairman of the Assembly's Agriculture Committee, along with my colleagues on the Committee I have had long conversations and fact-finding meetings on the matters that concern us. The Agriculture Committee has carefully studied this matter and has industriously considered the whole problem of angling administration in Northern Ireland. We have discussed this matter for the major part of the year, and I am pleased to be able to say that our efforts have not been in vain. They have been amply, although not fully, rewarded, as I shall explain.
The Minister spoke of some of the history leading to the draft order. Angling matters in Northern Ireland are covered by the Fisheries Act (Northern Ireland) 1966, passed by the Stormont Parliament. The administration of the Act is carried out by the fisheries conservancy board, which was set up under the Act, and it performs agency functions, such baliffing and pollution control policing, but the Department reserves to itself the acquisition of angling waters, their development and management and fisheries research matters.
When the 1966 Act was passed by the Stormont Parliament, the arrangements and division of responsibilities were needed to provide the necessary impetus for the development of public angling facilities in the Province. It was necessary for the Department of Agriculture to assume the major responsibility for the right and proper development of angling waters. I pay tribute to the Department. It did a good job. Our anglers were able to fish in publicly controlled waters all over the Province. The availability of facilities was also of great benefit to the tourist industry.
Times change. We now have all the publicly owned waters that we need. The Department has developed them and the only real, on-going functions left relate to the prevention of pollution and illegal fishing, fisheries research and the management of existing waters. The question now is whether the existing division of responsibilities between the Department and the Fisheries Conservancy Board should remain, or whether the balance should be altered to meet the new circumstances.
The question is not new. The Black report's majority view was that a change of emphasis was required. That emphasis should be to encourage the increased use of fishing and its improved quality in these waters. That is the crux. How can that be achieved?
The Black report made a number of recommendations with the majority view favouring the establishment of a new body—an inland fisheries board—charged with handling all aspects of angling management — the development of angling waters, promotion of the sport and the policing and bailiffing of poaching and pollution.
Black recommended that the research aspects should remain with the Department. The report's minority view was that the best way forward was to move backwards. It recommended not only that the Department should continue its existing functions but that it should swallow up the duties of the fisheries conservancy board. At the same time, a widely representative, non-executive committee was proposed—a toothless talking shop—to advise the Department on all aspects of angling and other uses of our lakes and rivers.
The report, with its two opposing views, came as a great disappointment to the angling fraternity in Northern Ireland and it rejected it outright. We had moved not one step further towards solving the problem.
As a result of the deadlock, the Minister who has spoken tonight and who was responsible for agriculture in Northern Ireland, issued press statements in August and November 1982 in which he said that as it had not been possible to obtain consensus among angling interests about the future administration of fishing in Northern Ireland he proposed to table a new set of ideas for discussion. Those proposals would have resulted in the demotion of the fisheries conservancy board to nothing more than a police force dealing with pollution and bailiffing. He proposed the setting up of a new body to be called the inland fisheries advisory committee with advisory and consultative roles only and with the Department running the whole show.
There was no democracy in those proposals, in the opinion of the people who have an interest in the matter in Northern Ireland. It is no wonder that there was a bitter reaction among the anglers in Northern Ireland — a community which has been denied any democratic control for many years. It is small wonder that the aggrieved parties turned for help to the Northern Ireland Assembly and to its Agriculture Committee. The Committee responded by examining the whole position in detail in advance of the publication of the Minister's proposal.
The Minister contended that consensus could not be obtained. On 28 February the Agriculture Committee of the Assembly took evidence throughout the day from the Minister himself, from all interested parties: the fisheries conservancy board for Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland angling advisory council, the Ulster Farmers Union—our farmers have an important role to play—the North Coast Salmon Drifters (Open Sea) Northern Ireland Association, and the Lough Erne fishermen's association. From the evidence we heard and in conjunction with all the written submissions from the parties involved, we concluded—we were proved correct—that a consensus was possible, that a solution could be worked out that could satisfy, perhaps not entirely but certainly to a substantial degree, the wishes, aims and aspirations of all the interests involved.
We prepared our report overnight on the findings, agreed the text the following day and presented our recommendations to the Assembly, where the report was debated and fully endorsed on 3 March 1983.
In the debate on the subject in the Northern Ireland Committee of the House in July, I paid tribute to the interest and endeavour of the Agriculture Committee in this matter and to the efficiency of the staff of the Assembly in making it possible. I make no apology for repeating that message in the House tonight. That it was possible bears great testimony to the dedication of the democratically elected members of that place who, for more than a year now, have striven to represent the interests of the people of Ulster and to bring their views to bear upon the Government in a democratic manner.
The main thrust of our recommendations was that the fisheries conservancy board should not be contracted, as the Minister was suggesting, but rather that it should be expanded to include representatives from the farming community and other interests and that such a restyled board should not only retain its existing functions but should be given the duty of managing public angling waters—a job presently done by the Department.
I say to the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) that the Northern Ireland angling advisory council agreed that two members from independent angling interests should be represented on the board. It agreed that there was a difficulty in choosing, but it still said that it wanted that representation made. Our Committee had representations from the independent anglers. There are people who want to say that the Northern Ireland angling advisory council wants everything. I wish to refute that. We found it prepared to meet and discuss matters reasonably.
Only in this way would it be possible to give all those directly involved in angling matters a meaningful democratic role, in the administration of angling matters. It would not be a talking shop; it would not be a purely advisory or consultative body; rather it would produce a body with real executive powers exercised by anglers and others for the benefit of all parties concerned.
Our recommendations gained widespread acceptance and we asked the Minister to think again about his proposals in the light of the consensus we had achieved. He responded by accepting a substantial part of our report but was completely opposed to the devolution of management powers from the Department of Agriculture to the fisheries conservancy board. He said that he would be publishing his proposals as originally intended but that he would make it clear in the accompanying explanatory memorandum that he was minded to make adjustments to the draft order later, in line with the wishes expressed in the Assembly report.
The main issue remained, which was that of management function. The angling interests were agreed that that fundamental issue should be within the function of an expanded fisheries conservancy board. The Minister published his proposals and we were afforded a second bite of the cherry.
Once again, we consulted the various bodies involved in angling and those representing the farming communities. We found the prevailing opinion to be that angling matters should be democratically controlled by those intimately involved. We achieved a consensus, which so remarkably had eluded the Government and the Department.
In rejecting the transfer of functions, the Minister considered that the main objections to such a move were, first, the lack of consensus—this view seems to have been based largely, if not entirely, on correspondence from a handful of non-club anglers in Northern Ireland —and secondly, the implications for public expenditure because the Fisheries Conservancy Board would require a small number of extra staff to cope with the added duties. It was argued that it would be difficult if not impossible to make some parallel staff savings in the Department.
The Agriculture Committee of the Assembly took the latter aspect fully into account. Indeed, specific recommendations on this very issue were made in the report on the draft order. It was the second report on the subject. It was published in June and it was laid in this place for all hon. Members to scrutinise. Both the department and the fisheries conservancy board were recommended to review and reassess their staffing requirements because we, too, would not wish to see any adverse effect on public expenditure even though the sums involved are tiny compared with the total amount of money allocated in public expenditure in Northern Ireland.
The Minister still rejected our proposals on the management functions. We hoped to have further discussions with him, but the general election intervened and a new Minister, the Earl of Mansfield, was appointed to cover agriculture in Northern Ireland.
The proposed order was submitted to the Northern Ireland Committee in July and I was heartened by the support that was given to the proposals that had been forwarded by the Assembly and by those who spoke in the debate. But it seemed that even the views expressed in that debate fell on deaf ears. It was not until I met the Earl of Mansfield on 2 November that reason prevailed.
What the Minister told me then was most encouraging, and I am pleased to note that he reaffirmed his position in his speech in introducing the draft order in another place last Wednesday. The noble Lord has stated clearly and candidly that he is prepared to hand over management functions to our angling community and other interested bodies. He is prepared to devolve powers to an enlarged fisheries conservancy board, provided that the members of the board can show that they can act together responsibly and to the benefit of all concerned. This is something that the angling community is prepared to demonstrate. I have had talks with it and it is ready to prove its mettle. I have every confidence that it will do so. I am confident that it is willing and able to demonstrate its unity of purpose with a single-mindedness which will cut across all the barriers which one normally associates with our society in Northern Ireland. I believe that it will be able to pull together and reel in the bait of the management of these public waters.
I welcome the promise of developed democratic control in future. I welcome also the Minister's statement that he will establish procedures to ensure that the board has a regular and effective advisory input to Government. That is an important assurance, for which the anglers asked. It will help pave the way for the full devolution of management powers. I hope that we can progress quickly to that position.
Finally, I wish to record the value and significance of the contribution made by the Northern Ireland Assembly, especially its Agriculture Committee, in reaching the point at which we have now arrived.
It is clear that, without the Assembly's scrutiny of the proposals originally set out by the Government, the legislation presented to the House tonight and later appearing on the statute book would have failed to meet the needs, wishes and aspirations of those involved in salmon and inland fisheries in Northern Ireland, or of the democratically elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland. As it is, the Government have been forced to reconsider their position and to review their proposals in the light of the overwhelming consensus and the cross-community support of those closely involved in angling matters. They have had to table the draft order now before us, which takes account of the recommendations of the Assembly. That is democracy in action, and I hail it as such.
I have about 10 minutes in which to reply to many points. The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) knows his fishing very well. He made some detailed points which I shall not have time to answer from the Dispatch Box. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) spoke with his usual authority, augmented by the fact that he spoke as the Chairman of the Agriculture Committee in the Assembly.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) made a joke about the way in which the Government consult. It was not a terribly good joke. I do not believe that it is true in other areas, and it is certainly not true in this case. It would have been almost impossible to have held wider consultations. The hon. Member for Antrim, North recognised that fact. He recounted the history of the arrangements, and welcomed the fact that there will be regular consultative arrangements between the Department and the new fisheries conservancy board. He might have reminded the House that there will be a new requirement on the Minister to consult.
The hon. Gentleman also reminded the House of the contribution of the Assembly. It was indeed a good contribution, but it was not the only contribution. It is no good the hon. Gentleman saying that the Government were found to have got everything wrong. There were almost as many points of view on this subject as there are fingers on my two hands. I believe that we have the right answer, and the enabling provisions to which I have referred will allow progress to be made, if it can be.
Quite rightly, a certain amount of stress was laid on the question of finance. The hon. Member for Hammersmith asked me what I meant by a review of the financing of inland fisheries. What I meant was a very thorough review. Those who look at the finances of the present fisheries conservancy board will find that a deficit of nearly £200,000 runs from year to year. That state of affairs should not be allowed to continue. My noble Friend the Minister of State, the Earl of Mansfield, intends to have the review carried out and to form his conclusions accordingly.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East tried to run the old hare about the £65 licence. In order to get out of his difficulty, he pointed out that if one wanted to fish throughout the Province on public as well as club waters one might have to pay a great deal more than the single licence fee. However, the scaremongering was in regard to the licence fee. This year a season's licence for game anglers is still only £9-50. By no stretch of the imagination could inflation bring that £9·50, plus 60 per cent., to £65 over three years—or certainly not under a Conservative Government. In fact, the hon. Gentleman reminded the House that anglers are prepared to pay quite a lot to take advantage of the wide choice which exists in the Province.
The question of finance is very serious, and will be addressed by my noble Friend.
Her Majesty's Government make large subventions to angling in the Province.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East spoke from his knowledge about pollution and reminded us of some serious occurrences. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will read what he said, be reminded of it and ensure that some of the types of accidents that have taken place in the past do not happen again. I share the hon. Gentleman's deep concern about that. By drawing attention to the problems and pointing not just to the Department of the Environment but to the farming community and many others, the hon. Gentleman stressed the vital significance of pollution control. That has to be one of the two prime responsibilities of the new FCB.
I have to take the hon. Gentleman to task about the membership of the board. Calling it "a fix" is unnecessary. He dislikes the provision requiring six names of club anglers to be put forward from which four should be drawn. It is fairly standard procedure, and I have not heard him criticise the Fisheries Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 which required six rod anglers to be chosen by the Minister from a list of not fewer than 10. There are precedents for the provision and he has no right to suggest that there would be picking and choosing to avoid the right people. We want to ensure that out of those who are finally selected for the board there is a sensible geographic and other spread.
The hon. Gentleman said that he would have no independent anglers on the board. The hon. Member for Antrim, North said that there was no conflict, but here we have conflict. The hon. Member for Londonderry, East would deny the independent anglers the right to sit on the board. The hon. Member for Antrim, North said that the Northern Ireland Advisory Angling Council recommended exactly right.
If one can devise a satisfactory method there will need to be some form of election. It should be possible in a place as small as the Province to have a few meetings which those who are interested can attend. The hon. Gentleman denies that right to the independent anglers, yet he wants to have the control of public waters put into the hands of the new FCB. Who are the people who principally use the public waters but the independent fishermen? He talks to me about democracy and yet he wishes the public waters to be controlled by a body on which there is no independent fishermen representation. That is why they have been so anxious about the possibility of the public waters coming under the board's management. They have been anxious that club anglers would achieve too much control. He has fortified that anxiety in their minds and my feeling that we are right to proceed as we are with the control of public waters.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North said—I may not quote him exactly—that my noble Friend was prepared to devolve the management of the public waters to the new board if certain conditions were fulfilled. I must correct the hon. Member. In recent letters my noble Friend set out, and I repeated it tonight, the circumstances in which the Government would be prepared to consider such a transfer to the board. Although the hon. Member did not intend to mislead, I believe that he was mistaken in what he said. I believe that I have quoted him correctly, but he gave the wrong impression.
I do not believe that I can sensibly add to what I said in my opening remarks, and what is clearly written in my noble Friend's letter to the hon. Gentleman in his position as Chairman of the Assembly Committee. It is writ large. My noble Friend was going no further than I had in putting forward this new provision in the draft order which would provide for the board, on an agency basis, to take on a number of different functions, which might include the management of public waters. We are concerned, and have to be concerned, that angling is organised and operated to the best advantage in the Province, to the benefit of those who live there and to the benefit of tourists tourists.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith asked me whether the board would be able to promote tourism. If he reads the order, he will see exactly what the board may do in that respect.
We believe that we need to have waters that are available to independent anglers and that are termed "the public waters". There is generally an excess of public waters in the west of the Province. In the east there is a scramble for those waters, they are limited and they are difficult to acquire. We have waters under the control of the clubs, which I said had a special responsibility to maximise the opportunities available to them. If they wish to extend their authority in angling, the opportunity is provided in the order, as we have made clear. Given the responsibilities as they will rest for the time being with the Department, and given the responsibilities that are available to the clubs, angling will benefit, provided that the fisheries conservancy board carries out its primary functions. Its primary functions on which all are agreed —the stopping of illegal fishing and pollution control—must be carried out as effectively as possible. It is those two jobs that the new reinforced larger board, with its more streamlined organisation through its executive committee, has responsibilities to fulfil.
|Division No. 114]||[12.42 am|
|Alexander, Richard||Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)|
|Amess, David||Baldry, Anthony|
|Ancram, Michael||Bellingham, Henry|
|Ashby, David||Berry, Sir Anthony|
|Atkinson, David (8'm'th E)||Best, Keith|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Miller, Hal (B'grove)|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)||Mills, lain (Meriden)|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Mitchell, David (NW Hants)|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Moynihan, Hon C.|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Murphy, Christopher|
|Brinton, Tim||Newton, Tony|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Norris, Steven|
|Bruinvels, Peter||Osborn, Sir John|
|Burt, Alistair||Ottaway, Richard|
|Butler, Hon Adam||Page, Richard (Herts SW)|
|Butterfill, John||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Powley, John|
|Carttiss, Michael||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Chope, Christopher||Raffan, Keith|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Clarke Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Conway, Derek||Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)|
|Coombs, Simon||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Cope. John||Rowe, Andrew|
|Couchman, James||Ryder, Richard|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Sackville, Hon Thomas|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Dover, Denshore||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Evennett, David||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Eyre, Reginald||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Fallon, Michael||Speed, Keith|
|Farr, John||Spencer, D.|
|Favell, Anthony||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Forth, Eric||Stern, Michael|
|Fox, Marcus||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Stevens, Martin (Fulham)|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Stewart, Allan (Eastwaod)|
|Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds)||Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)|
|Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)||Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Harris, David||Terlezki, Stefan|
|Hawkins, C. (High Peak)||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Hayes, J.||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Hayward, Robert||Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Thurnham, Peter|
|Holt, Richard||Tracey, Richard|
|Howard, Michael||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)||van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Hunt, David (Wirral)||Viggers, Peter|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Waddington, David|
|Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Knowles, Michael||Walden, George|
|Lang, Ian||Waller, Gary|
|Lester, Jim||Watts, John|
|Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)||Wheeler, John|
|Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)||Wolfson, Mark|
|McCurley, Mrs Anna||Wood, Timothy|
|MacGregor, John||Woodcock, Michael|
|Maclean, David John.||Yeo, Tim|
|McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Mather, Carol||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Mayhew, Sir Patrick||Mr. John Major and|
|Merchant, Piers||Mr. Michael Neubert.|
|Beggs, Roy||Taylor, Rt Hon John David|
|Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)||Walker, Cecil (Belfast N)|
|Molyneaux, Rt Hon James|
|Nicholson, J.||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Parry, Robert||Mr. Harold McCusker and|
|Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)||Rev. Martin Smyth.|
|Ross, Wm. (Londonderry)|