HC Deb 24 October 1967 vol 751 cc1516-9

Order for Second Reading read.

4.15 p.m.

The Solicitor General (Sir Arthur Irvine)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Perhaps, in passing, I may be allowed to thank the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) and the hon. and learned Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) for their kindly references to me, which I assure the House I greatly appreciate.

This Bill does not possess the pioneer features which I earlier indicated attached to the Sea Fisheries (Shellfish) Bill. It is however, an important consolidation Bill which was referred to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills under the provisions of the Consolidation of Enactments (Procedure) Act, 1949. It deals with such matters as restrictions on the commercial use of under-size sea fish and regulating the fishing of sea fish and their landing. It deals, among other matters, with the powers of British sea fishery officers for enforcement, and makes one or two minor corrections to anomalies which appeared in the Acts which fall to be consolidated.

These matters have received the careful consideration of the Joint Committee, as I have already indicated, and I trust that the House will give this useful Bill a Second Reading.

4.17 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

As the Solicitor-General has said, this is a straightforward consolidation Bill except that it comes under the 1949 Act procedure in that it has corrections and minor amendments to the law.

I should like to know why this has been treated as a subject for a separate consolidation Bill. Could we not have included it in consolidating the law on shellfish? Could we not have consolidated it when we were consolidating the sea fisheries regulations which became the Act of 1966? It seems to me that we are having a number of bites at the—perhaps I ought not to say "cherry"—lobster, white fish or other fish. Why not have it all in one consolidation Bill?

If we really are to consolidate, why keep so many statutes outside the consolidation? The Bill itself refers to a number of statutes which it keeps alive. Clause 5(7) mentions the Acts of 1885 and 1895, Clause 15 to the 1883 Act and the 1962 Act, and Clause 18 to the 1923 Act and the 1963 Act. Why cannot we have all the provisions relating the sea fish conservation included within this consolidation Bill?

I cannot, of course, discuss, and I do not intend to discuss, the corrections and minor amendments which were made on the recommendation of the Lord Chancellor, because this House is bound to accept this as existing law, but I can query and I do query whether this is the right moment to consolidate this law.

I noticed in the evidence given before the Joint Select Committee that Parliamentary counsel who was responsible for the drafting of this Bill made a very important comment which appears at page 8 of the Minutes of Evidence. It was Mrs. Eadie who was Parliamentary counsel and she told the Committee: Two international conventions have just recently been concluded dealing with the policing of fishing and regulation of nets and fishing gear and I understand that the Minister, as a result of those conventions, will find it necessary to examine the Act of 1883 in detail and may well have to ask Parliament to amend that Act. When Parliamentary counsel gave that evidence the Committee was dealing with Clause 15, the powers of sea fishery officers, which are very important, because they may very seriously infringe the liberties of the subject—quite properly, perhaps; but sea fishery officers do have very great powers of entry and of seizure and of questioning and so on. The Joint Select Committee did substantially amend the draft Bill before them in dealing with these powers, and it was in the course of discussing those amendments that this evidence came forward from the Parliamentary counsel.

I would ask the hon. and learned Gentleman, is this so? Are the Government contemplating an amending Act very soon? If so, would it not have been better to have referred this Sea Fish (Conservation) Bill to the Law Commission in the same way as the previous Bill we were debating was referred? It might have come forward to this House with those amendments and the House could perhaps have avoided a further Bill. This, as I understand it, is further consolidation. We shall be taking three or four bites at this cherry before we are finished, if it is in fact the intention of the Government to bring forward legislation to comply with the Conventions. I would ask that further information be given to the House on this, so that the House can decide whether it is the right moment to consolidate such powers.

4.24 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James H. Hoy)

I will try to reply briefly to the two points which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) has raised. First of all, it is true to say we could have tried to have had them together in one go, but, as he knows, these are various Measures which refer to different countries; one applies to England and Wales only, one applies to England and Scotland, and so on. Inasmuch as we are making progress in consolidation I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have been grateful for that much.

Then secondly, he is surely aware that there is with regard to boarding at sea an international Policing Convention under which very substantial changes have been proposed and which has already been agreed to by some countries. This would allow the boarding of a ship by nationals of other countries if the vessel were suspected of fishing illegally. If this were to happen it would mean legislation would have to be introduced to meet it; so we obviously have to be free to act if agreement is reached.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Ioan L. Evans.]

Committee Tomorrow.