I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. This Bill contains a series of amendments of the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act, 1959, and also some new provisions.
To assist Deputies in considering the variety of miscellaneous matters dealt with, a memorandum has been circulated with the Bill explaining briefly the purpose of the provisions section by section. Perhaps I should add that the sections which amend the 1959 Act are arranged in the sequence of the corresponding sections in that Act. For instance, the group of sections numbered 18 to 22 are concerned with sea fisheries and will enable existing provisions to be more effectively enforced. An example of a new provision is Section 34 which is to provide such additional powers as may be necesary for the implementation of recommendations that may be agreed internationally for the conservation of fish stocks and the rational exploitation of fisheries. Those recommendations would be made under the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Convention of 1959 which is to supersede a somewhat less satisfactory Convention of 1946.
On the inland fisheries side, there are so many points noted for attention that I found it necessary to be selective so as to avoid delaying the Bill. I think it better to leave over some further reforms for detailed discussion and more mature consideration. To the bodies who have been pressing for such further measures, I would say that the present Bill tackles those aspects of the law in the greatest need of reform and that the desirability of additional amendments should be seen more clearly when the effect of the present provisions can be judged in the light of experience.
Several of the provisions in the Bill strengthen the law relating to fishery offences. Section 31 provides for a general correlation and upward revision of penalties.
I have referred on many occasions to the pernicious practices of using poison or explosives for the capture or destruction of fish. This subject is dealt with in Section 16 for the purposes of which Section 2 provides a wider definition of "deleterious matter" than has heretofore been employed. The convicted poisoner or dynamiter of a fishing river will henceforth face the following increased maximum penalties, namely, £100 or six months imprisonment, or both fine and imprisonment if convicted summarily or £500, or two years imprisonment or both fine and imprisonment if convicted on indictment. In either case, there will be no power to apply the Probation of Offenders Act.
Section 23 lays down similar penalties for the newly created offence of using a boat or vehicle as an aid to the commission of a fishery offence and also enables the boat or vehicle to be forfeited. While some of these penalties may at first sight appear rather drastic, it is essential that poaching activities be curbed if we are to preserve our hitherto unspoilt fisheries, of which a fair number still remain, and also to reap the full fruits of the programme of fishery development on which public money is being expended. Other provisions are also aimed at making things more difficult for poachers: Sections 9, 10, 17, and 26 would help to prevent them from catching fish and Sections 14, 15, 24 and 27 would tighten up control over the disposal of any salmon or trout illegally caught.
In referring to Section 16 and allied provisions I have been speaking of what I may call the professional poacher or destroyer of fish. The fisheries code deals somewhat less stringently with the incidental destroyer of fish—who, whether he be manufacturer or farmer is on occasion, responsible for grave injury to fisheries by discharging harmful effluents. It is right to give warning that the wider definition of "deleterious matter" appearing in Section 2 of this Bill will also apply in Sections 171 and 172 of the Principal Act and that the penalties for offences under those sections have been revised in the Table which forms part of Section 31.
Sections 3, 13 and 32 of the Bill are concerned with the power to make fishery bye-laws, which fulfil an important role in supplying ad hoc conservancy measures to meet the particular circumstances of different river systems. The procedure for making bye-laws involving the holding of public inquiries and the giving of lengthy statutory notices, although it has much merit, does not lend itself to taking speedy action; this is something which I feel should be remedied. In case of emergency, where, for instance, due to prolonged drought, fish in a particular river system are being exposed to undue exploitation, it should be possible to apply restrictions by bye-law without all the formalities which now attend the making of such an instrument.
There is also at present a technical difficulty which prevents the alteration of the weekly close time. It is therefore proposed to make it possible to impose restrictions of an emergency character, including the extension of the weekly close time, on a short-term basis and without the present formalities. Should experience show that restrictions so imposed would need to be continued for an extended term, then an enquiry could be ordered giving due notice so that parties concerned would have an opportunity of voicing their objections.
Sections 2 (2), 5, 6 and 7 relate to membership of boards of conservators. I have been urged to make a variety of changes in this system. I agree that the machinery for election of boards of conservators is in need of overhaul. There is a feeling that the present system of voting is open to abuse. There is pretty general agreement that voting should be by secret ballot after formal nomination of candidates but opinions are divided as to whether personal voting should be retained or whether it should give way to postal voting. I have come to the conclusion that in reforming this machinery it would be well to proceed by easy stages. In Section 6 I propose to take fairly wide powers to make regulations governing the procedure for elections. Included in these powers would be the power to repeal or amend any of the provisions of Section 27 of the 1959 Act which might be in conflict with the general purpose of the regulations.
Specific mention is made in this enabling section of power to provide for nomination of candidates for election and for postal voting at elections of conservators if it should be deemed desirable to prescribe that method of voting. I may say that in drawing up these regulations I propose to have further consultations with the various groups interested. The other provisions relating to boards of conservators would extend the term for which they are to be elected in future from three to five years in the interests of better continuity of administration; add to the present requirement for the office of conservator, namely, that the candidate should reside or possess real property in the fishery district, the additional qualification that he should be either a licence holder or a rated occupier of a fishery in that district, and prevent the co-option of members disqualified for non-attendance.
Section 8 provides for contributions towards the expenses of the Council of Boards of Fishery Conservators which can play a useful role in studying the common problems of the various boards and providing a forum for expression of their views. Provisions for eel fishing, which is steadily developing, are contained in Sections 11, 12 and 13.
I should like to draw particular attention to Section 28 which proposes to give power to control salmon fishing at sea. Deputies are no doubt aware of the situation that has arisen elsewhere with the development of large scale drift netting for salmon. I want to make it quite clear that, should there be any similar development here after the enactment of this Bill, I will not hesitate to impose such controls as are necessary in the interests of preservation of our valuable salmon fisheries. It is not my intention—I wish to emphasise this—to interfere with drift netting for salmon as carried on traditionally in certain areas.
In recommending this Bill to the House, I should like to express my appreciation of the assistance and advice afforded by the various bodies interested in fishery development and conservation throughout the country. If there are any points arising out of the Bill on which Deputies desire further information or clarification, I shall be glad to help in any way I can. I look forward to constructive suggestions in the course of the debate.