HC Deb 09 December 1992 vol 215 cc941-70

Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 1, line 9, after ("conditions)") insert— ("(a) after the words "sea fishing" there shall be inserted the words "(including conditions which do not relate directly to fishing.)", and (b)")

Read a Second time.

10.17 pm
Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

I beg to move, as an amendment to the Lords amendment, amendment (a), in line 3, after 'conditions', insert 'agreed upon by all member countries of the European Community, and'. I make no apology for detaining the House. The Minister is looking slightly weary, if not punch drunk, following our good and important debate on fisheries policy. We will now deal with the equally pertinent and apposite final stages of the Bill before us.

The purpose of the amendment is fairly clear. The House owes a debt to the House of Lords, where there were full, detailed and well-informed debates on this important Bill. The other place certainly recognises, even if the Government do not, that the circumstances facing the industry have changed significantly since the Bill was unveiled earlier this year. The industry does not believe that those circumstances have changed for the better.

It is not easy to draft an amendment to a Lords amendment that is in order. I had a number of different attempts. I am sure other hon. Members have found the same difficulty. The amendment is not in the form in which I would have drafted it had it been left to a layman's common sense. However, I hope that the Minister accepts that is purpose is to achieve a level playing field—to use that horrible phrase—for the fishing industry throughout the Community.

My own experience was reinforced about a fortnight ago at a well-organised meeting called by the Scottish Fishermen's Federation in Eyemouth in my constituency. That meeting drove home to me, if I ever needed reminding, the fact that the industry is angry at the way that it has been treated. Fishermen feel that, to stay in business, they are obliged to break the rules, take short cuts and find ways out of complying with the schemes and regulations that govern the industry.

The meeting, which was both forthright and deeply heated, made it clear that the position that faces the industry need not have arisen and would not have done if the Government had paid a great deal more attention to the advice that the industry gave the Government at an early stage in the game. I have much time for the industry's pressure groups, especially the Scottish Fishermen's Federation. They are finding it increasingly difficult to restrain the more extreme voices that are now being raised in the industry and to make sensible representations in a moderate way, because the Government are ignoring everything they say.

People are at risk of going bankrupt and crewmen are being paid off, and the siren voices of those who are less responsible are becoming ever louder and threaten to drown out the representations of the established fishing organisations. That is a serious problem. If the extremists hold sway, the devil will take the hindmost. I believe that hon. Members on both sides of the House believe that the Government must start moving with the grain of the industry to achieve some of the improvements that are necessary.

Rather than amend the Lords amendment, I should prefer to seek to persuade the Government to withdraw the Bill and start again. The Bill does not pay enough attention to the importance of the fishing industry to the coastal communities around the shores of the United Kingdom. The hinterlands of fishing ports rely for their continuing prosperity on the wealth that is generated by the industry. The Government are not paying enough attention to that point.

In the past four or five years, a hotchpotch of piecemeal measures has been introduced, usually with insufficient notice, which has made it difficult for the industry to operate. There has been no sign of a long-term strategy.

I shall deal now with the amendment, because, although this is an important measure, there is little advantage in drawing out the debate. I hope that the Minister will understand that.

The fishing industry, as the Minister knows from doing the rounds of the ports, is intensely independent and competitive. What really riles fishermen about the Bill is that it is unjust. They are being asked to compete with other parts of the European Community with one hand tied unilaterally behind their back. They cannot understand the justification for that. The Bill has no positive conservation measures, but it introduces unfairness and discriminates against our home-based industry.

It also affects some fundamental civil rights. It interferes with and constrains people's right to earn a living. That liberty to earn a living should be removed only in special circumstances, and we do not think that the Government can justify such a move.

I try to keep up with social security laws as they affect our fishing communities. In view of the fishing industry's unusual circumstances—the fact that its earning capacity is being constrained at law on a statutory basis—I believe that the social security system should be amended so that crew who are laid off and denied an opportunity to make a living should be supported to a greater extent during their periods of enforced idleness.

We have just concluded a debate on the mid-term common fisheries policy review, but we must establish some fairly clear principles. The policy must be even-handed. Now that the Government have established the precedent of being prepared to discriminate against our own industry in important respects, the Minister must say what such unilateral action will mean in the remaining 10 years of the common fisheries policy.

I accept that the amendment may be technically deficient, but I hope that the Minister will understand the constraints under which Opposition parties operate. It would ensure equality of treatment within the industries of the European Community—nothing more, nothing less. As we see it, it is an incontrovertible principle that there should be fairness among the fishing industries. We face compulsory tie-up schemes, net regimes and single net rules, all of which are being imposed unilaterally at short notice. That is unfair, and discriminates against our industry.

I hope that I shall be supported by Conservative Members. If the Conservative party stands for anything, it should stand for fair competition. The Bill, even as amended, cannot ensure that under any circumstances. Even Conservative Members who do not have direct constituency interests in fishing should pay careful attention to what I have to say before they cast their votes tonight.

I look forward with great interest to hearing how the Minister justifies the Bill and how he tackles the amendment.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

I congratulate the Government on the improvements that have been made to the Bill since Second Reading, but I am also in favour of the amendment, which goes to the heart of the difficulties —in fact, I would say the crisis—facing the fishing industry. I do not think that anyone would deny that there was a crisis; nor do I think that any fishermen—certainly not those in my constituency—would deny the need for conservation measures. Even professional fishermen accept the need for technical conservation measures, whether the details involve a different net regime, a change of tackle or compulsory tie-up.

However, fishermen are concerned that the measures should be uniformly accepted and enforced across the Community. The difficulty with the Bill, despite its laudable aim of trying to preserve fish stocks, is that it disadvantages our professional fishermen. If it were to be adopted throughout the Community, and if our fishermen could believe that there would be fishery inspectors throughout the Community to enforce it with the same enthusiasm and rigour as on the quays of our fishing ports, they would be prepared to discuss and accept much of it. The difficulty is that the Bill does not affect our competitors in the Community; it will simply disadvantage our fishermen. That seems a curious situation.

10.30 pm

I readily accept the idea of round table talks. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister has been assiduous in talking to the industry in the past—but although the industry is willing to discuss technical measures and effort control, it is united in its view that it has now become the victim of unfair competition.

When the issue of the single market is raised, I invariably use three criteria to judge whether it is working. First, I would hope that a Devon business man would be able to drive his car to France and use his cellular telephone there. The reality is that he cannot, because none of the European countries is willing to accept the allocation of radio frequencies across Europe.

My second criterion would be whether a Devon business man could catch a British Airways plane in Madrid and fly to Rome. The truth is that there is no single market, because British Airways cannot pick up passengers in second countries and take them to third countries.

The third criterion that I use to judge whether we have a free Community is whether Devon fishermen can fish in French waters. The truth is that, in this country, fishing regulations are enforced with a single-minded enthusiasm not matched by our competitors anywhere else in Europe. We have heard all the apocryphal stories on the theme that we have 180 fishery inspectors in this country whereas there are only 18 in Spain—and they are all based in Madrid. The fact remains that our fishermen are severely disadvantaged.

The intention behind the Bill is laudable. It is clear that it will go through tonight, and the Minister is well aware of the depth of feeling in our ports, and the concerns about the future expressed by our fishermen. In all honesty, they do not have a future at the moment. So long as the French and the Spanish continue to quota-hop, our fishermen's future is bleak indeed. They uniformly oppose the Bill, not because they oppose conservation but because they oppose Europe. I failed to catch your eye during our earlier debate, Madam Deputy Speaker, but several hon. Members talked about the fact that foreign fishermen can fish in our waters. Nothing has been done about that, and there is nothing in the Bill to deal with the problem.

I welcome the conservation effort that the Bill will make, but I wish that it could be applied throughout Europe. I should like an assurance from the Minister that he will ensure that our European partners are willing to enforce the same kinds of effort control and tie-up regulations as will be achieved through the Bill. If he can give me that assurance, he will certainly receive my support.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

I have been involved in the proceedings on the Bill since they began. It started off as a bad Bill; it has not finished up as a much better one. Now that it has reached the limit of its consideration in the Commons, it is almost certain to be passed—by the brute votes of Conservative Members and because Conservative Members representing fishing ports have effectively betrayed their fishing constituents by voting to deprive them of the right to go to sea and to impose a closure on them.

I am sympathetic to what I assume to be the intention of the amendment—I say "assume", because the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) told us nothing about what the amendment would achieve or how it would achieve it. Presumably, he is trying to ensure that the days-at-sea limitation will not be introduced unless similar limitations are operated in respect of other European Community member states. I agree that it is utterly wrong that our fishermen should be limited in the amount of time that they can go to sea but that similar limits should not be imposed on other fishermen—who will come in and clean up the grounds while our fishermen are compulsorily tied up under the Government's proposals.

The principle of the amendment is exactly right, but the way in which the hon. Gentleman has gone about drafting it is incomprehensible to me. The Bill amends the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967, which allows the imposition of conditions on licences. The Lords amendment to those conditions on licences says that they can include conditions which do not relate directly to fishing". The amendment would insert after "conditions" the words agreed upon by all member countries of the European Community and so would not exactly achieve what the hon. Gentleman tells us it would achieve. It is the product of a noble aspiration, but the hon. Member and his party have gone about things in an incomprehensible fashion, and I do not see that it would achieve what it sets out to achieve.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Let me speak in support of the amendment. The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) has already admitted that it is technically imperfect but it nevertheless drives at the very important principle of equivalence. It is all very well the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) noting that the amendment is technically imperfect. He will see from the amendment paper that the amendments tabled by the Labour party are starred because they were not tabled in time. Far be it from me to have to defend the Liberal Democrats, but I felt it right to make that point. I repeat that, although the amendment is imperfect, it drives at an important principle.

A few minutes ago, the Minister was saying what a great consultation process he had engaged in with the fishing industry. He gave us a long list of meetings that he had held recently, as if that proved that he was a Minister who consulted the industry. But that of itself is not consultation. Consultation involves not just having meetings but listening at those meetings and then taking the appropriate action. I presume that it is no coincidence that the Minister's next meeting is to take place simultaneously with the huge fishing demonstration that is to be held in Edinburgh on Friday.

The Minister says that he is engaged in a process of consultation. The challenge for him this evening is to show us that the process is meaningful. All of us from fishing communities and constituencies remember the Committee stage of the Bill, during which the Minister finessed Conservative Back Benchers' concern by apparently making commitments in connection with the question whether restrictions would be imposed on fishermen in the United Kingdom without similar restrictions being imposed on fishermen thoughout the European Community.

Some Opposition Members may argue that it is not all that difficult to fool those on the Conservative Back Benches, particularly when they are of a mind to allow themselves to be gulled. Even so, there is no question but that what the Minister has done does not provide for the sort of undertaking that was sought when amendments were being debated in Committee.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) withdrew his amendment on that occasion, and allowed himself to be taken in by the Minister's apparent assurances. There is no doubt, however, that the intention behind the amendment was to ensure that the principle of equivalence applied and that restrictions were not unilaterally and discriminatorily imposed on fishermen in this country.

May I turn the Minister's attention in particular to the letter that he has been sent by the chief executives of both the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations? That letter, dated 17 November, deals directly with the point at issue in this debate. The two federations are quite reasonably asking why the assurances that were apparently given have not been translated into the Bill and what guarantee there is that "effective steps"—the words that the Minister used on that occasion—will be taken in other countries.

What guarantee or objective criteria can the Minister cite to show that effective steps are being taken in other Community countries? The Minister can gainsay me if I am wrong, but I understand that the letter of 17 November has not yet received a reply. In line with the process of consultation, when will those two chief executives receive a reply to that letter? Will that reply be anything more than "taking note", "having meetings" and, apparently, "listening", with still no effective action being taken to redeem the apparent promises that the Minister was prepared to make from the Government Front Bench when he thought he was in trouble when the Bill was debated some months ago?

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

I had not intended to speak in this debate, but I do so in response to the point that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) has just made. I am one of those Conservative Back Benchers who, on Report and Third Reading of this Bill, was involved in a series of consultations and possibly negotiations with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

What the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan has just said is true to the extent that I was told that, before the Government acted on tying up, the Minister would have to convince the House that equivalent measures were being taken by other member states. As the hon. Gentleman said, when my hon. Friend the Minister of State replied to the debate on the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter), the phrase was changed to "effective measures" being taken by other member states. I do not view that with great suspicion. Perhaps the significance had not dawned on my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of the difference between the words "equivalent" and "effective". I believe that there is a difference.

The amendment moved by the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) puts me in some difficulty, because I fully support the sentiments behind it. However, the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I say that, like a lot of things about the Liberal party, the intentions are good, but it will not be very good in practice. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman rightly admitted that the amendment is very defective.

However, I will vote for the amendment tonight. Despite all the imperfections in the amendment, it is important for the industry to be convinced that somehow or other it will not have imposed on it tying-up measures that are not going to be imposed—to a degree at least—on other member states. I will support the amendment, although I do not think that it will be carried.

As I said in our earlier debate, the really important vote will not be taken tonight on any of the amendments. The really important vote will be taken some time in the new year, when the order is to be laid before this House and another place to introduce tying up—if the Government go ahead with it. As I have already said, I will vote against that order.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

I welcome the fact that the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) wants to tie up the Minister of State, because he is guilty of a lot.

The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) referred to representations that he has received from fishermen in Eyemouth. He will be aware that a number of fishermen from my constituency work out of the harbour at Eyemouth; that was why I attended a public meeting in that town two weeks ago. I listened very carefully to what the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire had to say on that occasion and I am sure that we both listened very carefully to the strong feelings expressed by fishermen, their families and others from the community who depend heavily on the fishing industry.

The anger of those people was clear. I got the impression that they would like the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire to vote against the Government perhaps even more consistently than he does. The anger of those people and their families was clear. They certainly do not want the Bill to give any more powers to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or the Scottish Office to impose arbitrary restrictions on the industry. They do not trust the Minister and his Government. Understandably, they are apprehensive about the possible effects of such legislation. They do not want more draconian powers to be imposed under the Bill.

10.45 pm

I am profoundly concerned about what is happening to the fishing industry. Of course we must have conservation, but it must be seen to be fair and rational. Frankly, the way in which it is imposed is neither fair nor rational. When fishermen are required to reduce their fishing effort as a consequence of conservation measures, they should be entitled to at least the same level of transitional support which farmers receive. I am worried about the problems which processors and consumers face.

I was shocked by a letter I received from a constituent the other day. He had been told by the fishmonger who regularly goes around the doors in the village by van that he would not be coming until next year because fish supplies had dried up. He wrote to ask whether the Tory Government had introduced food rationing on top of all the other deprivations that we have at present.

We need a fair approach to the fishing industry throughout the European Community. If the amendment can help to achieve that objective, it is worth supporting.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

I endorse the comments that have been made, not only by my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) in moving the amendment but by the hon. Members for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) and for St. Ives (Mr. Harris). The essence of the amendment, albeit perhaps not with technical perfection, is to emphasise that our British fishermen resent the fact that they—to use the words that my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) used yesterday to describe the position in Lochinver in his constituency—have been put into the brutal straitjacket of limited fishing days at sea. The same restriction does not apply to their continental competitors. It is frustrating for them to be tied up and not allowed to prosecute a fishery when some of their competitors from other EC countries are allowed to do so.

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan referred to a letter which has been sent by the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations to the Minister in which they give some colouring and substance to the undertaking which the Minister gave during the debate on the amendment of the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter). The Scottish Fishermen's Federation and the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations suggested an amendment to the noble Lords in another place. When their Lordships sought to move that amendment, they were told by Earl Howe that it was a wrecking amendment, although they were trying to give substance to what the Minister had said.

In an earlier debate this evening, the Minister said that there were Lords amendments which honoured his commitment. We will be interested to know what those amendments are. The Minister said that we would need his lawyer's briefing to explain them to us.

In moving the Third Reading of the Bill in another place, Earl Howe referred to two important developments that had taken place in the Bill while it was being debated elsewhere. The first development was that there would be parliamentary scrutiny. Such scrutiny must be welcomed. The second was that there would be greater powers to enforce the provisions of the Bill. At no time did Earl Howe refer to any amendment which was significant and would bring continental fishermen in line with the British fishing industry.

I believe that the undertaking that was given has not been honoured, certainly in the spirit, and I am doubtful whether it has been honoured in the letter. For that reason, my hon. Friends and I wish to press the matter tonight. Both sides of the House agree that it is important that stringent rules should be applied fairly to fishermen throughout the Community.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

I promise that I shall be brief, Madam Deputy Speaker. I support amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 1. The Lords amendment is a fine amendment because it relates to conditions other than those specifically defined as fishing. I support amendment (a) even though I am not happy with the way in which it was presented. I am not happy that fishermen were described as extremists. The fishermen whom I have met in discussions have been angry men. That does not make them extremists. They were angry, but they should never be seen as extremists. They are fine, decent and honourable men who have been pushed to the limit by a rotten Bill.

If restrictive regulations are to be imposed in the framework of what we must now call a European Community fleet, those restrictions should not be applied against the United Kingdom segment of that fleet. I said earlier that I hoped that, if the Bill became an Act of Parliament, it would be challengeable in the European Court of Justice. It places an unequal and unfair burden on the fishermen of the United Kingdom vis-a-vis other EC fishermen, who fish—dare I say it these days?—in our waters. Perhaps that is too chauvinistic for some of the fervid Europeans on the Conservative Benches, and one or two on the Opposition Benches.

If restrictive regulations are to be imposed on fishermen, they should be European Community—

Mr. Austin Mitchell


Dr. Godman

I thank my hon. Friend. The regulations should certainly be EC-wide. They must be seen to be fair and reasonable if they are to be obeyed. For a law to work effectively, it must in the last analysis engender the acceptance of those whose behaviour will be restricted by it. The Bill is rotten for our fishermen. The amendment improves it slightly. That is why I support it, with the regret that the label "extremists" was used against our fishermen.

Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

I concur with the point made about the Minister's assurances. It was said that they were not fulfilled in the spirit in which they were given. It is a matter of regret that some hon. Members took those assurances and did not take the chance to table amendments on Report, when we had a better chance of being successful than now, when we must seek to amend amendments, with all the restrictions that that brings.

For the record and so that there is no misunderstanding, will the Minister make clear what he means by the phrase do not relate directly to fishing"? Fishing interests need to be clear about what that phrase means.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

My hon. Friends the Members for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) and for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) well deployed the arguments in support of the amendment. But as my fishermen in the port of Lochinver demonstrated yesterday in a manner which was understood throughout the United Kingdom to be a demonstration against the policy of the Government and not against the actions of French fishermen, it is incumbent on me to speak in support of amendment (a). I must also make it plain that we seek equity of treatment between our fishermen and those of other EC countries.

A common fisheries policy with the purpose of conserving stocks around the littoral of Europe cannot be implemented if we repatriate to this country the power to treat our fishermen less well than do the other member countries of the EC.

I have heard it suggested that the drafting of the amendment is defective. It seems to me to be quite well drafted and its purpose is clear. The issue behind the amendment goes to the heart of the debate in this country.

I hope that the spirit of support evinced by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) will be broadly based on the Conservative Benches. His speech should have moved a number of others to follow the cross-party lead. One of the best aspects of a debate of this kind is that it tends to draw in those hon. Members who know a little about what they are debating, which is not always true at this time of night. It is a pity that more Conservative Members are not present to reflect the strength of feeling, but there certainly are some rare birds on the Conservative Benches.

When the Minister of State replies to the debate, I hope that he will not—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. I am seeking to follow the hon. Member, but there seems to be an underlying buzz of conversation.

Mr. Maclennan

I hope that the Minister will not rely on defective drafting as a reason for attacking or for refusing to support the amendment. He must deal with the principle behind it, which is one that all hon. Members concerned with the future of the fishing industry are attached to.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. David Curry)

I shall certainly not take refuge in drafting, however defective it may be. Amendment (a) would require Ministers to seek the agreement of all other member states to all the licence conditions attaching to United Kingdom fishing licences. Our present licensing system is used to implement certain European Community requirements, but its management rests entirely with the British Government. It would be wrong for other member states to have a say in matters of national Government. The amendment shoots away the national management of our fisheries policy, and we have spent a whole debate being told that the House does not want that, and that we must not pass control to management committees, as we want it all in the hands of Ministers.

Mr. Salmond

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Harris


Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro)


Mr. Curry

No, I shall not give way; I shall answer the questions. The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) asked me—

Several hon. Members


Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I think that hon. Members know the rule well. If a Minister or any other Member does not give way, Members must resume their seats.

Mr. Curry

I cannot commend amendment (a) to the House. I commend Lords amendment No. I, which the House will have to consider in response to what has been said, and I shall take the opportunity to explain it.

The Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967 empowers Ministers to regulate sea fishing through a licensing system. When fishermen receive a fishing licence, they are required to observe all the conditions and rules contained in it. That is primarily to enable fisheries departments to administer and to enforce compliance with the fishing restrictions set out in the licence and to cover fishing and non-fishing activities. For example, it is a condition of the licence that skippers always carry it and its variations on board.

Recently, the sheriff at Banff decided that a licence condition, which requires fishermen to radio in when they cross the 4 degrees west line, to the north of Scotland—this is all part of the mackerel flexibility question—was ultra vires under the enabling legislation, as the Minister has no power to impose a licensing condition other than when the vessel is fishing. We believe that under section 4(6) the powers go wider than that, but if the sheriff's decision were sustained on appeal it could have serious implications for the administration and enforcement of other licensing conditions which do not relate explicitly to fishing, such as visiting conditions for quota hopper vessels.

Because of those potential implications, the Bill has been amended to put the matter beyond doubt. Under Lords amendment No. 1, section 4(6) of the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act will be amended to include an explicit reference to the fact that licence conditions may cover non-fishing activities, provided that they are for the purpose of regulating sea fishing. I commend that amendment to the House, and I do not commend that tabled by the Liberal Democrats.

Mr. Matthew Taylor

I had not intended to intervene at this time, but the Minister's attitude is extraordinary and unacceptable. I have never been so angry about the way in which the Minister has responded to any other amendment.

The amendment directly affects the livelihoods of many men. In the past couple of weeks in Cornwall men have drowned, arguably because they felt forced to go out to fish in all weathers to make a living. If that was not a factor in those two recent cases, it may be in the future as a result of measures adopted by the Government.

11 pm

I have spoken to friends of those who lost their lives and, understandably and rightly, they feel deeply upset. They associate those deaths with Government policies. I find it extraordinary that the Minister should refuse to give way to any intervention from his hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris), from my hon. Friends and from the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), who represents the Scottish National party. The only possible conclusion is that the Minister feels that he has no proper response to the arguments made.

Mr. Salmond

We have heard from the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) how the wording "equivalent measures" was changed to "effective measures" after assurances had been given in the House. Does the hon. Gentleman judge that the Minister refused to give way because of the way in which the Government managed to get round the concerns of their own Back Benchers who represent fishing communities? They managed to get themselves off the hook by using parliamentary chicanery.

Mr. Taylor

I agree. I believe that the Minister has misled hon. Members; we did not place such an interpretation on his earlier comments. The hon. Member for St. Ives has already said that he believes that there is a crucial difference between the two sets of wording. I do not know whether he feels that that difference was directly misleading.

Mr. Harris

I do not want any misunderstanding about this point. The word "equivalent" was used to me, but I do not in any way impugn the reputation of my hon. Friend the Minister as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), in typical fashion, has tried to do. I do not believe for one moment that chicanery was involved. There is a considerable difference in the wording but, on the part of Ministers, it is an honest one. I do not believe for one minute that we have been deliberately misled.

Mr. Taylor

I accept that the hon. Gentleman may hold that view, but it is not shared by hon. Members on the Opposition Benches. If things had been put differently, votes might have been cast in a different way. The Government do not have a great majority and the outcome might have been different.

The hon. Member for St. Ives tried to get the Minister to give way. I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees with me that it is not acceptable for the Minister to treat the House as he has, especially on an issue of such sensitivity which affects the livelihoods of people in so many constituencies. By any stretch of the imagination, those people do not have an easy livelihood to make at the best of times.

Given the time of night, the number of hon. Members in the Chamber is large and reflects the degree of concern felt by Members who represent fishermen whose livelihoods are at risk. All those on the Opposition Benches who heard the Minister's appalling response will be keen to vote on the amendment. I hope that Conservative Members in the Chamber will feel the same and will express their opinion of the way in which the Minister has sought to respond to the amendment.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

I wish to intervene briefly because I am shocked at how the Minister, who is usually fair-minded, has responded to this debate. He has made no substantive response to the points made by Opposition or Conservative Back Benchers.

Last week I spent several hours in Padstow, a small fishing community in my constituency where five men have lost their lives at sea in the past two weeks. I do not necessarily suggest that economic conditions have driven people to take risks that they should not have taken, but how can I return to that community and say that the Minister has failed to deal with the vital issue of equivalence between our fishing fleets and those of the other member states of the European Community?

The Minister was given an opportunity to explain fully and clearly why the equivalence promise that he gave to the House will not now be fulfilled. He should have explained how he would guarantee that our fishing fleets would not have to operate with one hand behind their backs, but he failed to deal with the issue. Indeed, he did not even begin to deal with it but indulged in the pettifogging that one expects from other members of the Government but not from him. In the past he has been a good friend of the fishing industry. Will he now try to meet the requirements, not only of hon. Members who represent fishing communities but of the nation at large, which feels that the fishing industry has been badly let down and looks as though it will be let down still further in future?

It is not simply a matter of legalistics—the difference between "equivalence" and "equal effectiveness". The industry and the general public are asking for a cast-iron guarantee that the Minister will not put in place measures which cause our industry to work at a disadvantage to other member states and competitor industries.

Question put, That the amendment to the Lords amendment be made—

The House divided: Ayes 154, Noes 216.

Division No. 100] [11.6 pm
Adams, Mrs Irene Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Ainger, Nick Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'I)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Denham, John
Alton, David Dixon, Don
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Dowd, Jim
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Eagle, Ms Angela
Barnes, Harry Eastham, Ken
Battle, John Etherington, Bill
Bayley, Hugh Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Beggs, Roy Flynn, Paul
Beith, Rt Hon A. J. Foster, Derek (B'p Auckland)
Bennett, Andrew F. Foster, Don (Bath)
Benton, Joe Foulkes, George
Bermingham, Gerald Fyfe, Maria
Betts, Clive Gapes, Mike
Boateng, Paul Gerrard, Neil
Boyce, Jimmy Godman, Dr Norman A.
Bradley, Keith Golding, Mrs Llin
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Graham, Thomas
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Hall, Mike
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Hanson, David
Cann, Jamie Hardy, Peter
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry) Harris, David
Chisholm, Malcolm Heppell, John
Clapham, Michael Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Clelland, David Hinchliffe, David
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Home Robertson, John
Coe, Sebastian Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Coffey, Ann Hoyle, Doug
Connarty, Michael Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Hutton, John
Cousins, Jim Illsley, Eric
Cryer, Bob Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Jamieson, David
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Johnston, Sir Russell
Darling, Alistair Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Davidson, Ian Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW) Pope, Greg
Jowell, Tessa Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S) Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)
Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Khabra, Piara S. Primarolo, Dawn
Kilfoyle, Peter Quin, Ms Joyce
Leighton, Ron Raynsford, Nick
Llwyd, Elfyn Roche, Mrs. Barbara
Loyden, Eddie Rooney, Terry
Lynne, Ms Liz Salmond, Alex
McAllion, John Short, Clare
McAvoy, Thomas Skinner, Dennis
McCartney, Ian Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
McCrea, Rev William Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Macdonald, Calum Spellar, John
McFall, John Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
McGrady, Eddie Steinberg, Gerry
Maclennan, Robert Stevenson, George
McMaster, Gordon Strang, Dr. Gavin
McNamara, Kevin Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Mahon, Alice Taylor, Rt Hon John D.(Strgfd)
Mandelson, Peter Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Martin, Michael J.(Springburn) Trimble, David
Martlew, Eric Turner, Dennis
Meale, Alan Tyler, Paul
Michael, Alun Wallace, James
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute) Wareing, Robert N
Milburn, Alan Watson, Mike
Miller, Andrew Wicks, Malcolm
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby) Wilson, Brian
Morgan, Rhodri Wise, Audrey
Morley, Elliot Worthington, Tony
Mullin, Chris Wright, Dr Tony
O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Olner, William
Paisley, Rev Ian Tellers for the Ayes:
Pickthall, Colin Mr. Archy Kirkwood and Mr. Nigel Jones.
Pike, Peter L.
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Clappison, James
Alexander, Richard Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Colvin, Michael
Amess, David Congdon, David
Arbuthnot, James Conway, Derek
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Aspinwall, Jack Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Couchman, James
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Cran, James
Baldry, Tony Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Bates, Michael Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Batiste, Spencer Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Bellingham, Henry Davis, David (Boothferry)
Beresford, Sir Paul Day, Stephen
Biffen, Rt Hon John Deva, Nirj Joseph
Booth, Hartley Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Dover, Den
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Duncan, Alan
Bowden, Andrew Duncan-Smith, Iain
Bowis, John Durant, Sir Anthony
Brandreth, Gyles Eggar, Tim
Brazier, Julian Elletson, Harold
Bright, Graham Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Browning, Mrs. Angela Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Burns, Simon Evennett, David
Burt, Alistair Faber, David
Butterfill, John Fabricant, Michael
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Fenner, Dame Peggy
Carrington, Matthew Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Carttiss, Michael Fishburn, Dudley
Cash, William Forman, Nigel
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Chaplin, Mrs Judith Forth, Eric
Chapman, Sydney Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Freeman, Roger Norris, Steve
French, Douglas Oppenheim, Phillip
Gale, Roger Paice, James
Gallie, Phil Patnick, Irvine
Gardiner, Sir George Pickles, Eric
Garnier, Edward Porter, David (Waveney)
Gillan, Cheryl Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Rathbone, Tim
Gorst, John Redwood, John
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Richards, Rod
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Riddick, Graham
Hague, William Robathan, Andrew
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Hampson, Dr Keith Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Hargreaves, Andrew Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Hawkins, Nick Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Hawksley, Warren Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Hayes, Jerry Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Heald, Oliver Sackville, Tom
Hendry, Charles Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Horam, John Shaw, David (Dover)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A) Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Hughes Robert G.(Harrow W) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Shersby, Michael
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Sims, Roger
Hunter, Andrew Skeet, Sir Trevor
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Jack, Michael Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Jenkin, Bernard Soames, Nicholas
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Speed, Sir Keith
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Spencer, Sir Derek
Jones, Robert B.(W Hertfdshr) Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Key, Robert Spink, Dr Robert
Kilfedder, Sir James Spring, Richard
Kirkhope, Timothy Sproat, Iain
Knapman, Roger Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Stephen, Michael
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Stern, Michael
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Streeter, Gary
Knox, David Sweeney, Walter
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Sykes, John
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Tapsell, Sir Peter
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Legg, Barry Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Leigh, Edward Thomason, Roy
Lidington, David Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Lightbown, David Thurnham, Peter
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Lord, Michael Trend, Michael
Luff, Peter Twinn, Dr Ian
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Maclean, David Waller, Gary
McLoughlin, Patrick Ward, John
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Waterson, Nigel
Madel, David Watts, John
Maitland, Lady Olga Wells, Bowen
Malone, Gerald Whitney, Ray
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Whittingdale, John
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Widdecombe, Ann
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Wilkinson, John
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Willetts, David
Merchant, Piers Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Milligan, Stephen Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Mills, Iain Wolfson, Mark
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Wood, Timothy
Moate, Roger Yeo, Tim
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Young, Sir George (Acton)
Moss, Malcolm
Nelson, Anthony Tellers for the Noes:
Nicholls, Patrick Mr. Tim Boswell and Mr. Andrew MacKay.
Nicholson, David (Taunton)

Amendment to the Lords amendment accordingly negatived.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords Amendment: No. 2, in page 1, line 16, at end insert— ("(6C) The Ministers shall by order make provision as to the principles on which the time which vessels may spend at sea is to be arrived at for the purposes of any condition included in a licence by virtue of subsection (6)(c) above.")

Read a Second time.

Mr. Kirkwood

I beg to move, as an amendment to the Lords amendment, amendment (a), in line 2, after 'provision' insert 'implementing any European Community agreement'.

Madam Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendments (d), (b) and (c) to the Lords amendment, and Lords amendments Nos. 5, 6, 12 and 16.

Mr. Kirkwood

In our previous debate, we dealt with equivalence. Amendments (a) and (b) were designed to support our earlier arguments, and there is no purpose in rehearsing them. I detect that the Minister is slightly punch drunk, as I suggested earlier. He has been sitting on the Front Bench for a good many hours without food, water or respite of any kind. If he can find it in his largesse to take up the question of equivalence, I shall be grateful. It is an extremely important issue.

As the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) said during our debate on the first amendment, it is important that, when orders are laid that flow as a consequence of the Bill's enactment, the House should treat them extremely seriously. There is usually a one-and-a-half-hour debate in circumstances, such as tonight, when right hon. and hon. Members want to get home to their beds, which is understandable. We should have a guarantee, however, that the procedure will be affirmative rather than negative. The Minister may say that amendment (c) will not achieve that objective, but it is my best stab at requiring the Government to bring before the House orders that flow from the Bill to be considered under the affirmative procedure.

It must be borne in mind that the Bill will give unfettered powers to the Government for 1993 and for all time. These draconian powers should be exercised only if orders are brought before the House, when changes are sought to be made, under the affirmative procedure. I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment on that basis. I hope also that he will say a wee bit more about the substance of it than he did when dealing with the previous group.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

It would be wrong to let these matters pass so that we might the earlier return home to bed. It is a bad Bill, and the principle that is set out in the amendment is a good and important one. The amendment is far better than amendment No. 1. I think that we should divide the House also on amendment No. 2. It is more sensible than amendment No. 1 and it goes straight to the point.

It is impossible and wrong to impose on the British fishing industry restrictions on its ability to go to sea when those restrictions are not equally imposed on competing fishing industries—competing for the same stocks in the same grounds in the North sea—with which it has to deal. There should be a limitation on days at sea only when the industries of other European countries face a similar limitation.

The Minister proposes to go ahead because of his failure to implement a decommissioning scheme early enough to reduce the British effort to the levels dictated by the multi-annual guidance programme. That is his fault and responsibility. It would be far better if he admitted that and said that the measure would be introduced, if necessary, in the interest of conservation ony if a similar restriction were to be placed on other European countries. The bitterness and antagonism of British fishermen when tied up and seeing grounds still fished by competitors unrestrained and unrestricted would be unacceptable.

Amendment (d) sets out one of the best arguments that we deployed in Committee, which is that the Bill is not a conservation measure. Instead, it will encourage vessels to put to sea to catch as much fish as they can during the time that they are allowed to be at sea. It would be far better to encourage the use of better gear, larger meshes and square mesh panels—to insist on gear options—as an alternative to preventing vessels from going to sea. We must encourage vessels to catch bigger and more marketable fish rather than catching massive quantities of small fish. That would be best achieved by a gear option.

The Minister could make better use of his sanction on days at sea by insisting that vessels employ better gear and then giving exemptions from the days-at-sea limitation to those that comply. That is the sensible way to deal with the problem; it is the carrot-and-stick technique. However, that can be achieved only if the amendment is accepted.

I hope that the Minister will clarify what is promising to be a most interesting argument about exactly what assurances were given to Conservative Members of Parliament to get them to support the Bill the last time that it was before the House. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) said that he was assured that the Bill would not be implemented until equivalent measures were introduced in the other member states—as the amendment would achieve.

On Third Reading, the Minister said We should not introduce such a resolution unless we are satisfied that member states which share our fishery stocks are taking effective steps".—[Official Report, 14 July 1992; Vol. 211, c. 1027.] He also gave the private assurance to Conservative Members that he would not take action until he was convinced that our European partners were taking steps as stringent as Britain's to ensure that they abided by the quotas.

Those are three different matters. It is clear that Conservative Members wanted to be persuaded, encouraged or tricked into voting for the Bill. It is also clear that there is a strange ambivalence that will leave a curious smell about the Bill unless we are told exactly what was said and why that assurance has not been incorporated in the Bill.

Mr. Salmond

When I suggested during our previous debate parliamentary chicanery, it was obvious from the Minister's demeanour that he was not too pleased. As the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) said, the House is entitled to know how the word "equivalent" came to be translated into the word "effective". They mean two different things, as we now know.

The Minister could defend himself by making the point that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby made very well—that people can be fooled only if they want to be fooled. Those of us who did not want to be fooled and who wanted an assurance that equivalent steps would have to be taken in every other member state are entitled to know what assurances were given by whom to whom. In other words, what did they know, and when did they know it?

I sincerely hope that the Minister will answer that question rather than try to sweep it aside and without discussing what every hon. Member from every fishing constituency is entitled to know.

Mr. Maclennan

The Lords amendments, which amendments (a), (b) and (c) would amend, are a move in the right direction. However, they could provide an opportunity for the Government to make proposals for decommissioning without actually implementing them. In the absence of any action on decommissioning, the Government could simply make orders that would affect time at sea. The two matters have to be linked, because it is the linkage that has bought off some of the opposition.

Amendment (a) on equivalence relates to the previous debate, so we do not need to linger long on it. It goes to the heart of the dispute between the fishing industry and the Government, which led to the demonstration in Lochinver. It is of immense concern to the fishermen in my constituency that, if the Bill is not amended, the Government could introduce a restriction on days at sea and require consecutive days to be spent in port, at the Government's behest.

Similar provisions do not apply to boats from other EC countries. At least a third of the Scottish fleet could be destroyed, and it would be unconscionable if measures comparable to those in force were perpetuated beyond this calendar year without the House having a direct say on what is being done.

Amendment (c) would provide that a debate takes place, so that the House could consider whether the Government had discharged their obligations to give due consideration to a scheme of decommissioning and whether, in the circumstances of the stocks available, it made sense to introduce a scheme to limit effort. Without amendments (a) and (c), the fishing industry will be left in a parlous predicament, unprotected and unprotectable by the House.

11.30 pm
Mr. Nick Ainger (Pembroke)

I support the amendments tabled by Liberal Democrat Members but wish to speak to amendment (d), which stands in the names of my hon. Friends.

In our earlier debate, it was revealed that the Irish capacity to fish, and therefore presumably their total allowable catch, will increase. My constituents who fish out of Milford Haven will experience a significant reduction. The Minister will tell us that next year they will face the problem of tying up while still trying to earn a living with a reduced TAC.

There are only 60 miles between my constituency and the coast of Ireland. What do I tell my constituents whose boats will have to be tied up when their Irish colleagues are fishing waters that my constituents have fished for decades?

It is unacceptable that, despite having had the presidency of the Fisheries Committee for six months, the Minister cannot give an assurance that our partners in Europe have at least agreed in principle to discuss the days-at-sea limits. He has not been able to offer that assurance, because they know that from a conservation point of view the proposal is a load of rubbish. It is only a sop to enable the Government to introduce a limited decommissioning scheme. If it could be such a wonderful success, why are our partners not adopting it, and why has it not been proposed before?

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

I want to deal with a problem that arises from the days-at-sea idea. Before doing so, I must say that the whole idea is viewed by fishermen in my constituency as quite absurd and as ineffective a conservation measure as set-aside, but without the compensation. It has all the disadvantages of encouraging people to make the maximum productive use of the time—or, by analogy, the land available to them—while affording no compensation to those who are affected. It is not a sensible conservation measure, so I support the continued pursuit of the gear option, to which the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) referred and to which I sought to refer in the earlier debate. It is ludicrous that we should devote so much time, legislative attention and civil service activity to unselective so-called conservation measures that do not have the right effect and do not ensure that the fishing effort concentrates on mature fish and avoids harming future stocks.

The Minister is well aware of the effects of the proposals on people who will in future be denied their traditional right to fish for salmon and who, under present plans, will not be allowed to have their days-at-sea for salmon fishery counted towards a white fishery in the future even though they are precluded from continuing their salmon fishery. That applies especially to the sons of existing fishermen who, thus far, have had every reason to expect that, under the law, they would be granted licences to continue their salmon fishery. They now see that salmon fishery being phased out. They will be driven to another fishery, not through choice but because of the effects of a Government decision with which I and they disagree profoundly.

The Minister of State recently listened to my representations on that subject at a meeting in the presence of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Both Ministers led me into believing that they were making strenuous efforts to devise a scheme under which the problems of the salmon fishermen could be recognised. It is the Minister's jobs to ensure that the officials in their Ministry work out a scheme. Whatever bureaucratic obstacles are placed on the Minister's desks, it is their job to say what must be done in the interests of common justice. If people have been deprived of a fishery because of a decision that the fishery would be better managed if it were conducted without their participation, and those people then have to turn to the white fishery, they are in effect tied up because they do not have an entitlement of days from the base year of 1991. I do not know whether the Minister can deal with that issue tonight, but I want an assurance that he will find a solution.

Mr. Morley

I want to speak to the amendment tabled by my hon. Friends which refers specifically to the gear option. On Report, the Minister gave assurances that the conservation measures in the Bill would be equivalent to European measures. If that is so, why is a gear option available in European Community proposals on effort controls, which might involve days in port, whereas no such option is available in the Bill?

Mr. Curry

I am certainly not punch drunk, but nor am I quite as fresh as I was this morning. Some of my colleagues have been with me all day since we started in a Committee which was scrutinising bananas, which is more attractive even than the problem of Scottish haddock.

What did I promise? During the passage of the Bill, I made it absolutely clear that the criteria were effective measures to meet MAGP targets. I did not whisper that or scratch it on a piece of paper behind the Box. Everyone who subsequently voted heard those words clearly. The only criteria by which we can judge are the MAGP targets. We have agreed the targets and a mechanism to achieve them. The Commission has undertaken to produce annual reports on the implemention of the targets.

There will, of course, be an order to implement the initial freeze, as my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) clearly stated. In line with all the rules in the Bill, the negative resolution will be employed. [Interruption.] We have accepted the case for an affirmative resolution with respect to any subsequent reduction to days-at-sea or extension of the under-10 m fleet. That is entirely in line with the promises that I gave. In other respects, they are in the mainstream of fisheries legislation.

In response to the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), the difference between the gear option and that included in the Bill is that the Commission's measure would affect 700 or 800 vessels. We do not intend to accept it, but that is what it would do. One can control that to some extent, although the hon. Gentleman must admit that there have been difficulties with previous gear options. The measure will affect 4,000 vessels; clearly, to try to monitor and sustain a gear option over so many vessels is a different matter. However, technical conservation is an important element in our fisheries policy. That is precisely why I shall hold a forum on it with the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations in the new year.

I acknowledge the question asked by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) about the salmon fishery. We are working hard and we shall try to find a solution, because that matter is close to my heart.

Mr. Salmond

The Minister cites theOfficial Report, and we can all read that—but we would like to know what assurances were given elsewhere, by whom, to whom. All hon. Members are entitled to know whether assurances were given about equivalent measures in any other place by any other Minister, and to whom.

Mr. Curry

The pledge that was given was given from the Dispatch Box, on the record, with all hon. Members present to listen to it, all fully aware of what the promise would be. That is what I promised, and that is what has been put into the Bill.

I commend to the House the amendment passed in another place, but not the amendments tabled to it.

Question put and negatived.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 3, in page 1, line 16, at end insert— ("(6D) Before considering what action to take under subsection (6C) above, the Ministers shall first give due consideration to a scheme of decommissioning in order to achieve a significant reduction in the capacity of the fishing fleet."")

Read a Second time.

Mr. Wallace

I beg to move, as an amendment to the Lords amendment, amendment (a), in line 3, leave out 'first give due consideration to' and insert 'implement'.

Madam Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendments (b) and (c) to the Lords amendment.

Mr. Wallace

It will be obvious that there is a world of difference between merely giving consideration to something and implementing it—in this case, a decommissioning scheme. In many respects, my amendment goes to the heart of the issue underlying the Bill. I do not wish to rehearse all the arguments again. We have heard them on Second Reading, in Committee, on Report and on Third Reading. We have also had a fair debate on the issue earlier today.

We should not allow the amendment to be passed without again putting on the record the outrage that many fishermen feel at the compulsory tie-ups that the Bill will impose upon them. In our earlier debate, the Minister took exception when I contrasted what is happening to fishermen with what is happening to shop owners. Often, people engaged in the fishing industry have laid out considerable capital to buy their boats and equipment. If the Bill is enacted as it stands, they will not be allowed to earn a return on that capital for a given number of days in the year. That is a serious restriction to place on anyone's business. That is why the suggestion has caused such outrage and attracted such opposition.

Many of us have argued over the years that if the Government are serious about reducing capacity so that the capacity of our fleet is more in line with the fishing opportunities available, the best way of achieving that is by implementing a decommissioning scheme. That case has often been argued in the House, and the House of Lords Select Committee found that the scheme that the Government suggested in February was too little too late.

I believe that it is thanks to Lord Radnor that their Lordships accepted the amendment, so that the Government's mind would be concentrated on decommissioning and they would be obliged to consider that idea first before imposing days-at-sea restrictions. We are grateful to the noble Lord for that, and to their Lordships for supporting him.

However, when on Third Reading in another place the Government said that they would not oppose the amendment, many of us were immediately suspicious that they did so because the Minister could simply say, "I have given due consideration to the idea, but I shall not do much about it. I shall go ahead and introduce the order to impose days-at-sea". The Minister's smile is a giveaway. Clearly, that was the Government's intention. No doubt, if we could find proof that they had never given the matter any consideration, the Minister would be liable to answer a case for judicial review, but finding proof would he well-nigh impossible. That is why we believe that the provision should be tightened. We must implement a scheme of decommissioning.

Let me express considerable sympathy with and support for the other amendments in the group, tabled by the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), which would provide for an effective decommissioning scheme involving consultation with fishermen's associations. The hon. Gentleman shied away when asked how much decommissioning would cost, however. The House of Lords Select Committee report suggests that it would cost four or five times the amount that the Government have placed on the table. During the general election campaign, the Liberal Democrats cited a figure of £100 million. It is a matter for regret that the new designer Labour party always seems afraid to put figures on its proposals. No doubt the electorate judges it accordingly.

11.45 pm
Mr. Morley

Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that, at this stage and given the flux in the fishing industry, it is not up to us to put a figure on the scheme? I can assure him that, when the time comes for the electorate to make its choice democratically, we will give it a properly detailed and costed fishing policy for the fishing ports.

Mr. Wallace

I heard what the hon. Gentleman said. I shall be happy to give way to him again if he will tell the House how much the Labour party suggested a decommissioning policy would cost at the last general election, when the electorate had precisely that choice. I do not recall any figure ever having come from the Labour party. The hon. Gentleman is under an obligation to give a ball-park figure. It is not a question of our waiting for the next election for an effective decommissioning scheme to be brought into being; we are trying to influence the Government today. Is the hon. Gentleman really suggesting that there is to be no decommissioning of any value or size until a Labour Government are returned to power? Heaven help the fishing industry if it has to wait that long. We are all under an obligation to try to persuade the Minister to cite a realistic figure for decommissioning. We believe that the £25 million, welcome though it is, is nowhere near enough to have the necessary effect.

Similarly, the Minister is under an obligation to tell the House how much of that £25 million will come from the European Community. Ministers have never told us how much would be returned to the Government through taxation of the sums paid to fishermen in decommissioning payments. We need that information if we are to get a proper measure of what the net effect would be. The Government have readily called into aid the amount that we would have to contribute under the Fontainebleau agreement, but they have never said how much they would recover in taxation.

The arguments for decommissioning have been advanced on many occasions and do not need to be laboured. In reply to the debate on the previous group of amendments, the Minister admitted that the purpose of the Bill was not conservation—as has been said in the past, and as Earl Howe said in the other place last week—but a way of reaching Britain's MAGP targets. We have already gone into that this evening.

We do not believe that an unreasonable limitation on people's ability to prosecute their livelihood is the proper way forward. A far better and more effective way forward is to reduce fishing capacity through a decommissioning scheme. This important amendment would oblige the Government to do that, rather than saying that they will do some decommissioning with the effort limitation string attached. We should be approaching the problem the other way round and putting decommissioning first.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

The amendment goes to the nub of the argument. If we had had a proper decommissioning scheme three, four or five years ago, we would not now be having to pass the Bill. No other country in Europe has the limitation on days at sea that the Government seek to impose. Other countries are all much closer to their MAGP targets than we are. They are in that position because they have had decommissioning schemes that have been so effective in some cases—in the French case, for example—that they have been able to start building new vessels to improve the efficiency of their fleets.

If we had a decommissioning scheme, we would not need the Bill. Instead of enforcing on the industry the consequences of their folly after their slowness in introducing a scheme, the Government should introduce something much more substantial than the proposed £25 million scheme.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) made great play about the Labour party's proposal without telling us what the Liberal party was proposing in terms of a decommissioning scheme. I am sure that he would not want us to outbid the radical, daring nature of the House of Lords which said that the scheme should be four times bigger than the proposal and described it as too little too late.

The decommissioning scheme needs to be at least four times as big as the present scheme. If the Government hope to achieve the rundown in effort estimated in their latest press release, they will be sadly disappointed with a scheme as mean as this. The scheme will have to be substantially increased. We will then need less of a limitation on the number of days that vessels can put to sea.

Mr. Salmond

I make no apologies for detaining the House on these matters. Indeed, I believe that the House should be detained on matters of such importance.

I fully endorse the comments of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). The amendment is not just right in principle; it is right technically. It hits the nail right on the head in respect of decommissioning.

I do not need to rehearse the arguments that have already been made about decommissioning, but there are some points of considerable note. First, after some agonising, the Government decided last week to accept the amendment made in the other place that due consideration would have to be given to a decommissioning scheme. Presumably when the other place passed the amendment which the Government opposed there, their Lordships must have thought that something important was at stake. There was an argument, the Government opposed it, and the amendment was carried. It must have been felt that something significant was being debated and that something important was at stake in respect of the amendment.

When I was interviewed about the Government's decision not to oppose the Lords amendment, I naturally assumed that that could constitute a victory in the legislation, but the Ministry immediately issued a briefing to the effect that nothing had really changed. Due consideration could be given to decommissioning, but that would not matter because after it had been duly considered, everthing would be just as before.

One reason why the fishing industry has been so antagonised by the Minister's performance that even Conservative members of Grampian regional council are calling for his dismissal is the attitude that it does not matter what arguments are deployed or what principles are carried, everything can sail on regardless.

There is a view in the fishing industry at the moment that the Minister is making such a cod of fishing policy because he wants everything to collapse in ruins so that his pet scheme of individual transferable quotas can take sway and rescue the industry. The Minister must explain why the Lords amendment is not being treated seriously. Is it really the case, as the Ministry briefing stated, that due consideration will be given and then the whole idea will be dismissed?

The principle of subsidiarity is contained in the review of the common fisheries policy and the Government are anxious to endorse that principle at the Edinburgh summit later this week. We must consider how that principle applies to decommissioning. It is well known, and was officially admitted in Standing Committee a few weeks ago, that for several years there was a serious difference of opinion between the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland was in favour of a decommissioning scheme on its own merits to reduce capacity so as to meet the problem of over-capacity in the industry. That argument was blocked by the Minister of State and his superior at the Ministry. There was a collision and, after wasted years when the money for restructuring went to every other Community fleet in Europe, we have this inadequate scheme which is contingent on the passage of an unacceptable piece of legislation. Will the Government examine the principle of subsidiarity, relative to a decommissioning scheme, and allow the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland to introduce what I understand it has wanted to introduce for a number of years—a proper and adequately funded decommissioning scheme to be considered on its merits, not made contingent as part of an unacceptable Bill?

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

I wish to speak to amendments (b) and (c) tabled by my hon. Friends about the implementation of an effective decommissioning scheme. We consider those amendments to be extremely important.

When the matter was discussed in another place on 24 November, many points were made by noble Lords and by Earl Howe. Since then, it has been said that the Government's interpretation of the matter has been nothing but cynical. I have read the debate which took place on 24 November. Earl Howe said: The nub of the matter is that noble Lords want a larger decommissioning scheme, paid for by the taxpayer. We simply do not have the funds for a larger scheme and there is no prospect whatever of our getting them…The £25 million that was set aside for a decommissioning scheme has been safeguarded".—[Official Report, House of Lords,24 November 1992; Vol. 540, c. 930.] In this House on 23 November, the Secretary of State for National Heritage said that he was committed to providing £60 million for Windsor Castle. The Friday before, the Government had no idea what would happen, but three days later they came up with £60 million. Is it not the case that the many thousands of jobs in the fishing communities which are threatened could be treated with the same equality by the Government? By not proposing any action, the Government are simply reinforcing the cynical interpretation that people have put on the matter.

There is a strength of feeling on the matter of decommissioning, not only among noble Lords in another place. That feeling is shown by the marches and the rallies by fishermen which have taken place in Scotland, whether in Aberdeen or in Edinburgh this Friday. Undoubtedly, there will be a strong rally by the fishermen. As hon. Members have made clear today, there is a depth of feeling and antagonism in the fishing community against the Government.

Today, we still have the siege at Lochinver, where 20 Scottish fishing boats have maintained a blockade against a French trawler. The French agent in Lochinver said that he has sympathy with the Scottish fishermen because what is happening now to many of his friends could happen to him and his colleagues next year. The matter is a political comment and a strategy is required to do something about it.

Mention has been made of the Lords debate. On 24 November, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy made the point that in the context of the problem which the amendment seeks to address the £25 million was inadequate. The problem is that the £25 milliion is not enough. She said: A scheme so minuscule that it will reduce the capacity of the fishing fleet only by up to 5 per cent. will, as I see it, be nothing but a waste of money. Therefore, it really is imperative that, if £25 million-worth of taxpayers' money is not to be wasted, a rather more extensive scheme is introduced."—[Official Report, House of Lords,24 November 1992; Vol. 540, c. 923.] Lord Gallacher said: It is the inadequacy of that sum of money in the context of the problem which the amendment seeks to address. He said that it was the nub of the problem.

We have said that the Government should consult with the various fishing bodies and representatives. We have received many letters from people in the fishing communities about the matter. Fishing representatives are seething at the Government's lack of action. The Government should liaise with the different fishing bodies so that some common sense can get through. The depth of feeling and the magnitude of the problem which the bodies face comes home to them. I received a letter even today just before the debate from a fishing family in Eyemouth.It said: The Government are taking away a fisherman's basic right to go to sea and earn an honest living. It is also a unilateral Bill which will unfairly discriminate against UK fishermen. It said that the Bill was fundamentally flawed and had the potential to devastate the industry and fishing families.

12 midnight

A leader in The Scotsmantoday said: All that the Government are doing is paving the road to hell. It said that the fishermen and the fish processors should get together with the Government, as our amendment suggests, to work out some plan. The fishermen and fish processors have a responsibility. In our discussions they have said that they will accept a scheme. They realise that there are problems ahead, but the Government should listen and talk to them. If the Government are not cynical in their approach, they should take the words of Earl Howe on 24 November seriously into consideration. They make interesting reading. He said in response to Lord Gallagher that he could not accept the amendment. He realised that it was an innocuous form of words. He continued: The form of words may be innocuous, but the import of the amendment, as we have debated it, is not. I would not wish it to be said that the Government had accepted an amendment other than in good faith."—[Official Report, House of Lords,24 November 1992; Vol. 540, c. 931–32.] If Earl Howe could say that he did not want to accept an amendment other than in good faith, is it not incumbent on the Government to show that they have good faith and therefore to accept the import of the amendment and do something about the problem in the fishing industry, namely, the need for a more imaginative and more expansive decommissioning scheme?

Mr. Curry

I am flattered to be accused of so many conspiracies simultaneously. That was the reason why I was smiling at the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland. Let us put the matter right. The amendment which Lord Radnor moved in the Lords, to which Earl Howe objected, would have obliged us to consider decommissioning every time an individual licence was issued or any change was made to a licence. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That is precisely what the amendment did. We therefore consulted Lord Radnor. We gave him some assistance and he tabled an amendment on Third Reading which effectively restored the amendment to what he had originally wanted. That is the amendment which the Government were subsequently able to accept. That explains the chain of events.

The amendments tabled by the Opposition seek to divorce decommissioning and effort control. As I have said to the House repeatedly, they are linked and they must remain linked. Also, the Opposition seek to make us spend a great deal more money on decommissioning. The £25 million was negotiated not without some difficulty. I see one of the Treasury team on the Front Bench and I have no doubt that he will nod in agreement when I say that I cannot promise to come back with more money for decommissioning schemes. I am not prepared to promise from the Dispatch Box what I cannot deliver.

We are consulting the industry on decommissioning. It was part of the consultation document. There are important decisions to be made, which we wish to take with industry. The MAGP targets are not invented out of thin air or for amusement. They are conservation targets. They are set to address the problems of effort and capacity in the European Community fleet. Therefore, I am unable to accept the amendments and I commend the Lords amendment.

Question put:That the amendment to the Lords amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 79, Noes 168.

Division No. 101] [12.3 am
Adams, Mrs Irene Cunliffe, Lawrence
Ainger, Nick Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Alton, David Davidson, Ian
Barnes, Harry Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Beggs, Roy Dixon, Don
Berth, Rt Hon A. J. Etherington, Bill
Benton, Joe Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Bermingham, Gerald Foster, Derek (B'p Auckland)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Foster, Don (Bath)
Campbell, Menzies (File NE) Foulkes, George
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Fyfe, Maria
Cann, Jamie Godman, Dr Norman A.
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry) Godsiff, Roger
Clelland, David Graham, Thomas
Connarty, Michael Hall, Mike
Cryer, Bob Hanson, David
Heppell, John Miller, Andrew
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Morley, Elliot
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Paisley, Rev Ian
Johnston, Sir Russell Pickthall, Colin
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW) Pike, Peter L.
Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S) Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn) Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)
Kilfoyle, Peter Raynsford, Nick
Llwyd, Elfyn Rooney, Terry
Loyden, Eddie Salmond, Alex
Lynne, Ms Liz Skinner, Dennis
McAvoy, Thomas Strang, Dr. Gavin
McCrea, Rev William Taylor, Rt Hon John D. (Strgfd)
Macdonald, Calum Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
McFall, John Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
McGrady, Eddie Trimble, David
Maclennan, Robert Turner, Dennis
McMaster, Gordon Tyler, Paul
McNamara, Kevin Wallace, James
McWilliam, John Wise, Audrey
Mahon, Alice
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Tellers for the Ayes:
Meale, Alan Mr. Archy Kirkwood and Mr. Nigel Jones.
Michael, Alun
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Fishburn, Dudley
Alexander, Richard Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Freeman, Roger
Amess, David French, Douglas
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Gale, Roger
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Gallie, Phil
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Gardiner, Sir George
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Gillan, Cheryl
Baldry, Tony Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Bates, Michael Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Batiste, Spencer Hague, William
Bellingham, Henry Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Beresford, Sir Paul Hampson, Dr Keith
Biffen, Rt Hon John Hargreaves, Andrew
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Hawkins, Nick
Bowden, Andrew Hawksley, Warren
Brandreth, Gyles Hayes, Jerry
Brazier, Julian Heald, Oliver
Bright, Graham Hendry, Charles
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Horam, John
Browning, Mrs. Angela Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Burns, Simon Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)
Burt, Alistair Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Carrington, Matthew Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Carttiss, Michael Hunter, Andrew
Cash, William Jack, Michael
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Jenkin, Bernard
Chaplin, Mrs Judith Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Chapman, Sydney Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)
Clappison, James Key, Robert
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif) Kirkhope, Timothy
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Knapman, Roger
Colvin, Michael Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Congdon, David Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Knox, David
Cran, James Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Davies, Quentin (Stamford) Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Davis, David (Boothferry) Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Day, Stephen Legg, Barry
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Leigh, Edward
Dover, Den Lidington, David
Duncan, Alan Lightbown, David
Duncan-Smith, Iain Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Elletson, Harold MacKay, Andrew
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Maclean, David
Evans, Roger (Monmouth) Maitland, Lady Olga
Faber, David Malone, Gerald
Fabricant, Michael Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Fenner, Dame Peggy Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Merchant, Piers Spring, Richard
Mills, Iain Sproat, Iain
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Stanley. Rt Hon Sir John
Moate, Roger Steen, Anthony
Moss, Malcolm Stephen, Michael
Nelson, Anthony Streeter, Gary
Nicholls, Patrick Sweeney, Walter
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Sykes, John
Norris, Steve Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Paice, James Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Patnick, Irvine Thomason, Roy
Porter, David (Waveney) Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Thurnham, Peter
Rathbone, Tim Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Redwood, John Trend, Michael
Richards, Rod Twinn, Dr Ian
Riddick, Graham Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Robathan, Andrew Waller, Gary
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn Waterson, Nigel
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S) Wells, Bowen
Robinson, Mark (Somerton) Whittingdale, John
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent) Widdecombe, Ann
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard Wilkinson, John
Sackville, Tom Willetts, David
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Shaw, David (Dover) Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Sims, Roger Wolfson, Mark
Skeet, Sir Trevor Wood, Timothy
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Yeo, Tim
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Soames, Nicholas
Speed, Sir Keith Tellers for the Noes:
Spencer, Sir Derek Mr. Tim Boswell and Mr. James Arbuthnot.
Spink, Dr Robert

Question accordingly negatived.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 4, in page 1, line 20, leave out subsection (5).

Motion made, and Question proposed,That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 9 to 11.

12.15 am
Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

It would be unfortunate if Lords amendment No. 10, which forms part of this group, did not detain the House for a moment or two because it represents a substantial trenching on the law of evidence in Scotland.

I am gratified to see that the Minister responsible for legal affairs in Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), has now joined others of the Government Front-Bench team. I hope that he can answer several questions that arise from the terms of the amendment. Hon. Members are not happy that the issue should be raised at this time but, as we are frequently told, this is a unitary Parliament and it is a necessary consequence of a unitary Parliament that, even at this late hour, matters with substantial consequences for the Scottish law of evidence should detain the House for a moment. I hope that the Minister's departure is not the consequence of a constitutional crisis, but we shall doubtless hear of that later in the debate.

In Lords amendment No. 10, subclause (2) refers to proceedings in Scotland for an offence under section 4 or 4A and provides for evidence to the effect that any document that fulfils the conditions set out in the provisions shall be received in evidence without being produced or sworn to by any witness". That means that when a person acting with authority takes possession of anything that constitutes a document, that object may be introduced in evidence in criminal proceedings without the person who took it having to go to court and explain the circumstances in which it was taken. That may be a significant alteration in the ordinary provisions of the Scottish legal system, but the matter goes a little further. Having been taken possession of in that way, the fact that the document is put in evidence entitles it to be regarded as being sufficient evidence of the matters stated therein or appearing therefrom". Thus the document as defined is taken into the possession of a person with authority to do so. It is handed to the procurator fiscal and, as soon as the proceedings are commenced—doubtless in the sheriff court—the document becomes sufficient evidence of the matters contained in it.

Those statutory provisions take no account of the possibility that the document may have passed through a series of hands before it reaches the sheriff court and the criminal proceedings, nor do they take account of the fact that it may be subject to alteration during that course of events. The statutory proceedings give no apparent opportunity to challenge either the accuracy of the document or whether the search during which it was taken was legal. Moreover, there is no opportunity to challenge the document's authenticity.

That means that, under the statutory provisions, a substantial innovation is being made in the law of evidence in Scottish law. It seems that something as radical and far-reaching as that—as far as I am aware it is not replicated in any other statute applying to the law in Scotland—should be explained to the House.

The law of Scotland may not be the most pressing political consideration for hon. Members, but for those who represent Scottish constituencies—and fishermen who may be subject to criminal proceedings under the Bill—it is only right and proper that the Government should explain to the House why they feel it necessary to take to themselves powers which are justifiably described as draconian and which march uneasily with the tradition of the Scottish criminal law, particularly that part of it that requires corroboration in criminal offences. On the face of them, the provisions constitute a substantial attack on the principle of corroboration. If that is the Government's intention, surely the House should be told what reasons justify them doing so.

Mr. Salmond

I shall follow the excellent speech of the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell). There is a suggestion that the Government are starting to play fast and loose with Scots law in relation to the implementation of fisheries policy. What notice have the Minister and his Ministry taken of the recent judgements in Banff sheriff court, which affect the implementation of fisheries policy? Perhaps he will reply to that specific question.

Mr. Curry

The answer to the latter part of the question raised is that the amendment dealt precisely with the Banff sheriff court case.

I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) will accept that I am not a lawyer, still less a Scottish advocate. I shall do my best and arrange for the reply to be supplemented.

The skippers are already under a legal obligation to complete the documents accurately. The provision does not prevent a challenge to the documents, but in the absence of any such challenge, the documents provides sufficient evidence of the information that they contain. Under the Bill, either the defence or the Crown can challenge any document. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will have heard the hon. and learned Gentleman and will be perfectly willing to supplement my answer with more detailed expert legal information.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

The Treasury team might have anticipated that such a fundamental issue was likely to be raised in the debate. I accept that the Minister is not a Scottish advocate, as he properly said—no doubt we could make arrangements to receive him into that august freemasonry of men and women—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—or even fraternity. I have not been entirely satisfied with his reply. However, my purpose has been served by airing the matter in the House. I look forward with eager anticipation to the more detailed response to my questions which the Minister is to send me in the next few days.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.

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