Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, can the noble Lord deal with possible disagreements between London and Scotland on revenues from the Continental Shelf?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, no. That is a matter for the United Kingdom, not Scotland.

I am just looking for my note on the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. Things being as they are, I marked it carefully and then put it on one side. The note says "Very important. Must be replied to". I have just written that on the note. The current estimate of the Inland Revenue is that an increase of 3p. in the basic rate of income tax for Scotland will raise £450 million. That has already been said several times. If there were future changes to the UK income tax structure which eroded the Scottish parliament's ability to vary tax by this amount, steps would be taken to preserve the £450 million. Those steps would impact only on income tax, not on any other form of tax, and would be the object of and subject to discussion between the Scottish parliament and the United Kingdom Parliament.

A number of other questions were put. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, asked whether members would be paid differently if they were additional or first-past-the-post. The answer is that they would not.

The noble Lord, Lord Gray, asked about independents. They can stand as first-past-the-post candidates in the usual way, as they can here. As to his specific point relating to the additional member list, there is no reason why independents cannot form their own list if they so wish. That is a matter for them and for their own internal political arrangements. There is no reason why people should not be flexible if they want to make things work; if they do not they can do nothing at all, sit at home on their hands and get nowhere at all.

The subject of abortion was raised. We have proposed to reserve abortion and certain other health issues that are presently dealt with in a common UK framework.

In particular, a number of noble Lords raised a question as to the role of the Lord Advocate. I shall not specify them because my time is running out. I join with the approach that has been put. We want to give very full consideration to that matter. I agree that it is not simply a political question. It is, as I think the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser, said, much more subtle than that. It is bound into the constitutional and judicial fabric of Scotland, not just the historical fabric. I join them all in hoping that we can debate these matters fully, and, if

30 Jul 1997 : Column 277

it is more appropriate, consult fully on those matters. That may be more fruitful as a way ahead in the weeks and months to come.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, asked a related question about the Judicial Committee. It will not always necessarily be possible for one or both of the Scottish Law Lords to sit on the committee. One hopes that that would be the practical experience. It will not be provided for in the statute because we believe such an arrangement is best left to the good judgment of the senior presiding judge at the time.

There was a question about how much MSPs would be paid. I did not answer that question before two noble Lords cheerfully offered themselves to serve in that capacity. Paragraph 9.3 of the White Paper says that the Senior Salaries Review Body will produce recommendations on that. That is probably best done in that arm's length way.

The number of Ministers will be for the first Minister to decide, subject to parliament voting the necessary funds. Minister's salaries will be determined by the Scottish parliament, as was proposed in the 1978 Act.

There was a question about parliamentary privilege, again, I believe, from the noble Lord, Lord Monson. It is intended that parliamentary privilege in the usual way--that is, in the defamation context--would be available to members of the Scottish parliament and the Welsh assembly.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, asked about telephone tapping orders. They will be reserved matters because they fall within the ambit of national security. I imagine that your Lordships would think that to be a prudent course.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. Will he give an answer to my question about capital punishment: whether that could be dealt with separately in Scotland?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, that was the question I was hoping to side step. On my present reading of matters, subject, of course, as lawyers always say, to correction, even when they are not paid for their advice, the answer is yes. If I am mistaken I shall write to the noble Lord to correct that.

The noble Lord, Lord Sempill, asked when the independent committee on Scottish local government would be formed. We intend to consult shortly on the remit of the independent committee which will study ways of building effective relationships. There was a question about the difference in value between the Scottish White Paper and the Welsh White Paper. I think that I had better leave that one alone. You get two for the price of one in Wales, of course. I am afraid that I did rather tease the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, by offering him the Welsh version and not owning up to him that the English version was at the back of the Welsh version. I think that I had better leave that alone.

30 Jul 1997 : Column 278

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, asked a serious question about the position of civil servants. I am being urged by my Chief Whip to sit down. Being obedient, I shall, and this may be the last question with which I can deal. The proposal is to maintain a unified home Civil Service. Opportunities for interchange between government departments will continue. Terms and conditions will be protected. The expectation is that staff will transfer to the Scottish executive since that is where the opportunities in their particular present areas of expertise will remain. I have done my best in the limited time--

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I did give notice of my question.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I can answer immediately with an apology. The noble Baroness, as always, was courteous enough to ask a specific question which related to the Dearing proposals. I meant to deal with it, because she asked me or my colleague and noble friend Lord Sewel to do so. The question was, and I think that I paraphrase fairly: assuming that the Westminster Government came to the conclusion that the contribution per student should be £1,000 a head, could the Scottish parliament come to a different conclusion; that it should be £500 a head? The answer is yes. The shortfall would have to be made up by Scottish parliamentary funds. I apologise once more, especially as the noble Baroness was good enough to be so courteous as to forewarn me.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I know that we all want to go home, but I asked who would make up the funds for the English universities. The Scottish universities have great anxiety about that. If the Minister could clarify that now or by letter I should be grateful.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I shall do that, and I am obliged.

On Question, Motion agreed to.


9.40 p.m.

Lord Nickson rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their response to the report of the Scottish Salmon Strategy Task Force; and what action they intend to take following the report.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we have had a long day and your Lordships may feel that the Minister, after a five-day Test Match, is moving to a limited overs game in darkness. I am grateful to him and to the Government for allowing me to ask this Unstarred Question in order to draw attention to the Scottish Salmon Strategy Task Force. During the past half hour I noticed the Benches begin to fill with Members coming to debate this important subject and I thank them.

I begin by declaring my interests, such as they are. I am president of the Association of Scottish District Salmon Fishery Boards. In that capacity, I was

30 Jul 1997 : Column 279

enormously honoured and privileged to succeed the late Lord Thurso. I am extremely pleased to see his son, the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, present today. I am a former chairman of the Atlantic Salmon Trust and the North Atlantic Salmon Fund and chairman of the River Conon District Fishery Board, on which river I have a part share in salmon fishing.

The subject is dear to the hearts of many people. The opportunity for such a task force has occurred only twice in the past century. There was the Elgin Commission in 1902 and the Hunter Report in 1963 and 1965. It is a unique opportunity to review this valuable Scottish asset. It has come shortly after the task force which investigated the situation in England and Wales on behalf of what was the NRA. I am equally glad to see my noble friend Lord Mills, who was responsible for that task force and the debate in this House on 1st May last year. There was also an Irish task force.

Those three task forces were not set up by coincidence but to address a very serious problem: the continued decline of this wonderful species throughout its range in the North Atlantic. The solutions and recommendations of the three task forces are to meet different circumstances and they are remarkably different, but I draw your Lordships' attention to them.

I wish to thank everyone involved for the contributions that were made during the consultation period. The task force received volumes of paper and read them all. We thought very hard about all the representations made to us. Furthermore, we had the opportunity to have in the membership of the task force a range of people with wide experience. We had scientists, professional managers and people who had administered Scottish fishing for a long time. I am enormously grateful to all members of the task force for the huge contribution that they made, not least to officials in the Scottish Office who were so assiduous in helping and guiding us and the scientists from the marine laboratory and the freshwater fisheries laboratory.

Since the task force report was published we have been most encouraged by the wide support for the strategy generally; not necessarily for all our specific recommendations but for the broad strategy itself. It is fair to say that we have had support, and the representations that have been made to the Scottish Office have broadly been supported by all the angling and conservation bodies concerned with salmon in Scotland.

I have been waiting for this moment for a long time. When the last censure debate of a government took place in this House it was St. Andrew's Day 1993. I was not a Member of your Lordships' House at that time but I happened to be sitting below the Bar because I had come to see my noble friend Lord Sanderson on another matter. The very first remarks that I heard were from the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. He noted the vast attendance on the Benches opposite because of the censure debate and said that such attendance was normal only when a social subject like salmon was being discussed. I thought how wonderful it would be if one day I had the opportunity to talk about that very important subject.

30 Jul 1997 : Column 280

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to it as a social subject; and it is. But it is of huge economic importance to Scotland. Your Lordships will have read that we have attempted to summarise that in our report. I say only that it is worth some £400 million in terms of economic value and it reflects some £70 million per year in spend.

The second point that I must make is about the very serious and real decline--something like 50 per cent. in the past 10 years--in the catch throughout the range. In Scotland, the catch of salmon by all methods has decreased from some 0.5 million fish in the peak in the 1960s and early 1970s to fewer than 200,000. Salmon fishing is important to the Scottish economy and is important recreationally. It is important also as regards jobs. Some 3,400 jobs, or the full-time equivalent, depend upon it. It is a very serious situation.

Our strategy is threefold. It is to protect the freshwater habitat to ensure the largest possible production and to look at all the practices which impact on salmon in fresh water; to give the salmon fisheries' administration more say and to have more consultation in order to reduce exploitation in the sea so that salmon can be managed locally and not exploited indiscriminately; and, thirdly, to ensure that we have a professional, properly funded, well managed salmon administration throughout Scotland. Our 64 recommendations analyse and follow that through.

In the time available I wish to touch on only one or two recommendations which are particularly important. I very much hope that the Government will look at them. The first is recommendation 19 which recommends the consolidation of legislation. That should be non-controversial. The Salmon Acts go back very nearly 200 years and are extremely complex. I give your Lordships one example. The recent fish pass regulations were made under the 1986 Act but a breach of those regulations is an offence only under the 1868 Act; the penalties are in the 1976 Act; and the powers of enforcement are in the 1951 Act. That is a very simple example. The more complicated examples defy description. I hope that the Government will look at that because consolidation has been sought for a very long time.

The next major issue is fish farming. We recommend the establishment of a new national authority because of the real threats which salmon farming poses to the wild species. In some cases, there are threats which are common to both. The Crown Estates have been the regulatory authority until now and I quote from its report published this week. It states:

    "Commissioners have long been aware of the perception that the regulatory role would best be segregated from our responsibilities as owners of the seabed, and we recognise that the time is right to identify another body or bodies to undertake this task. We hope that early progress can be made in this direction".

I hope that the Government will look at that. Whether they choose our recommendation or that of SEPA or the local authorities, I know that they will look at that very carefully. It is urgent. The stocks on the west coast are near collapse and it is absolutely vital to have a regime for controlling salmon farming. Although that industry is extremely important throughout the west and north of

30 Jul 1997 : Column 281

Scotland, it has a fairly major effect environmentally. It needs much greater control in terms of planning and expansion than it has had hitherto.

Recommendations 33 to 36 deal with high seas fishing. Again, that will be familiar to everyone and I am sure that other noble Lords will wish to talk about it. I shall only say that I have led deputations personally, or been part of them, to the last six Ministers for agriculture so far as concerns the north east drift nets. Now that we have a Minister for agriculture who is a salmon fisherman and who, on my invitation, became a member of the council of the Atlantic Salmon Trust, I very much hope that he will take a different view from his predecessors.

Finally, as regards estuarial nets in Scotland, I did not expect that the Government would necessarily support our recommendations. However, I should make one point. We have not suggested in any way that the heritable rights of netsmen should be taken away or that this traditional industry should be stopped, we have merely said that they still take more than twice the catch of the anglers and that they contribute a very tiny percentage of the £2.5 million that is spent on salmon conservation by the private sector. All we are suggesting is that the netting effort should be limited and that the way to do this is by licensing.

I very much hope that the Government will see fit to implement what they can prior to legislation and that they will instruct their officials to start preparing a Bill for the Scottish parliament to carry those measures through at a later date.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page