HC Deb 01 May 1962 vol 658 cc932-5
Mr. Peart

I beg to move, in page 19, line 33, after "identification", to insert: in the presence of the person or persons concerned". This Amendment deals with a point similar to the last one, which I raised in Committee. As penalties may be imposed on individuals who may contravene this part of our legislation, identification becomes a matter of importance when dealing with samples. The Minister promised to look at this matter again.

We propose the insertion of these words because we believe that if identification is to take place it must be done before the people who are affected. In other words, we seek to restrict the power of the State through its officials. I should have thought that we should have had a sympathetic response from hon. Members opposite, but that has been singularly lacking on the Bill. I am surprised at hon. Members opposite, who care so much for the rights of the individual and who have preached so often the doctrine, "We must restrict State liberty."

On this major fishing Bill they remain silent. Even at this late hour I should have thought that some hon. Members opposite would have shown us a measure of sympathy when we seek to protect the rights of the individual, but I know that sympathy is not forthcoming.

Mr. Vane

I am a little surprised by the last few sentences of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart), because when we were discussing this Amendment and others in Standing Committee I thought that both sides were trying to find words which they thought most appropriate to the Bill, and that all appreciated the argument that we should not allow anything to be done that could make undue difficulty for a person who had contravened a prohibition order if he had to appear in court.

I said that I would look at this matter again. I said then, and I repeat, that we are not mainly interested in prosecuting people. We are concerned in maintaining healthy shellfish. The hon. Gentleman referred in Standing Committee to the National Agricultural Advisory Service and said how helpful it had been to farmers. He hoped that the fishery inspectors would fulfil the same kind of rôle towards these people. That is the sort of spirit in which we discussed this matter upstairs, and it is a pity that we should start slipping back now.

I have done what I promised. I have considered this again to see if it was possible to protect the individual so that he would not be taken to court by anyone who had a bit of a grudge against him because a diseased shellfish had got into a bottle with a label on it, and because he should have known better, etc. It is difficult for us to put in the Bill words which will really achieve that aim, because the inspector's job, particularly in taking samples, is not mainly concerned with prosecuting people, but with the combatting of disease.

It will normally be the case that an inspector who wants to build up a bond of confidence between himself and those interested in fishing for shellfish will always tell them what he is about. There may be occasions when he wants to take a sample in order, perhaps, to save making a special journey, but when it might be inconvenient for the person concerned to be present. It would be a pity to put in words making it impossible for an inspector to take a sample.

I can go some way to help the hon. Gentleman. The Amendment, as worded, would mean that an inspector could never take a sample unless the owner or any other person concerned was present. Yet it might be highly inconvenient for these persons to be present on a particular occasion, and thus the inspector might have to make a special journey. On the other hand, a person might be awkward and arrange never to be present during any visit of the inspector. If the Amendment were accepted, the Bill would allow an awkward man to prevent an inspector ever taking samples. We are more concerned here with healthy shellfish stocks than with the convenience or inconvenience of any particular person.

Again, it might be necessary for an inspector to take action quickly in some case, and it would be a serious disadvantage if he came up against somebody who was awkward. There are rare cases where a man might think that a prosecution was likely to follow something which he had done, and the words suggested by the hon. Gentleman might make it impossible ever to bring a prosecution because that person could make it impossible for any sample ever to be taken. Such cases will be rare, but are not too far fetched.

We do see the force of the argument that we should give the maximum help to the men responsible for the shellfish beds. If it helps the House, my right hon. Friend, to safeguard owners in the way hon. Gentlemen would like, says that he will issue instructions to the inspectors that, whenever samples are taken, the owners, grantees, or their representatives must be given, wherever possible, a reasonable opportunity of being present and seeing them labelled.

I believe that by doing that administratively we would meet the hon. Member's view and, at the same time, save us perhaps from having the whole purpose of this Clause defeated by the awkward person—and we cannot guarantee that we will never come up against somebody of that sort. In view of that explanation and assurance, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will see that we have more than sympathy with the points and arguments put to us in Committee.

Mr. Peart

With the leave of the House, I only wish to say that I am glad that the Minister has accepted, to use his own words, the "force of the argument", and that administrative arrangements will now be made to meet our point, even though legislative arrangements cannot be made by including our Amendment in the Clause.

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should use the argument of the National Agricultural Advisory Service. We are here dealing with officers who are to take certain actions which may lead to individuals being placed in a position in which they may be prosecuted. We are here dealing with a Clause concerned with offences and fines, and it is not fair to compare what would happen under this Clause with the actions of our national advisory officers in the field of agricultural services.

I hope that fishery officers will be more like the members of the N.A.A.S., but here we are dealing with penalties. This Clause means that the owners or the brokers or the persons named, if they contravene this legislation, may be prosecuted, and can be placed at a considerable disadvantage. The position of these people is quite different from that of a farmer who has been given advice by the members of the N.A.A.S., and I am rather surprised that the Minister should use that rather false analogy.

Mr. Vane

It was not an exact analogy. It was the hon. Gentleman who raised that particular point.

Mr. Peart

I do not think the hon. Gentleman can say that I raised it in that way. I have argued that fishery officers should act in a similar way to the officers of the N.A.A.S., but in no way is their job the same as it would be under Clause 21. We were merely trying to protect the individual. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman has accepted our point. I hope he will concede our argument generously, although he will not accept our reasons for wanting to include the Amendment in the Bill. He admits that administrative action will be taken, so that at least we have an admission of the Government to do something.

We have had the concession that the Minister will give instructions to his fishery officers that owners and other representatives will have a reasonable opportunity to be there when the sample is taken, and we are grateful for it. We are merely saying that we have prodded the Government so far.

Amendment negatived.