HL Deb 14 May 1981 vol 420 cc626-33

3.31 p.m.

Report received.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Mansfield) moved Amendment No. 1: Page 5, line 19, after ("owned") insert ("by").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this amendment simply corrects a grammatical error in the drafting of the clause, and I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Mansfield moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 26, leave out lines 32 to 44 and insert— ("(1) The following provisions apply in relation to enforceable Community restrictions relating to sea fishing except where, or to the extent that, other provision is made by an order under subsection (3) below—

  1. (a) if any fishing boat fishes within British fishery limits in contravention of any such restriction, the master, the owner and the charterer (if any) are each guilty of an offence;
  2. (b) sections 11, 12, 14 and 15(2) of the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967 (penalties, jurisdiction and powers of seizure) apply to such offences as they apply to offences under section 5(1) of that Act; and
  3. (c) section 8 of the Sea Fisheries Act 1968 (general powers of British sea fishery officers) has effect in relation to such restrictions as it has effect in relation to the provisions mentioned in subsection (1) of that section.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, for the convenience of the House I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 together. According to the present wording of subsection (1) of Clause 30, all Community restrictions relating to sea fishing automatically attract a single level of maximum fine appropriate to prohibitions of fishing under Section 5(1) of the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967: that is to say, £50,000 on summary conviction. However, not all offences which would be covered by this subsection will necessarily warrant a maximum fine at that level. The Government have therefore decided that a degree of flexibility should be built into the subsection to enable Ministers, when necessary, to make an order applying penalties and so on on the same basis as for other obligations under subsection (3). Such orders could only apply lower maximum penalties than those provided for in Section 5 of the 1967 Act; in other words, an order could only be made to lessen the severity of the criminal law. I beg to move.

Lord Peart

My Lords, I am grateful for what the noble Earl has done. I think he is right to be flexible about this. It is an important matter and affects the Community as well. I welcome it, and I hope I am expressing the views of the Opposition too.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Mansfield moved Amendment No. 3: Page 27, line 3, after ("Community") insert ("restriction or other").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Mansfield moved Amendment No. 4: Page 27, line 3, leave out from ("fishing") to ("and") in line 5.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Mansfield moved Amendment No. 5: Page 27, leave out line 33 and insert ("reorganising, developing or promoting fish farming in Great Britain.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 together. I should report to the House that the Government are ready to accept the decision of the Committee that this clause should give general enabling powers for the provision of grant aid to fish farmers. We took careful note of the statement of the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, that at this stage he sought only enabling powers, and not a commitment to use the full range of those powers. I would be misleading the House if I were to lead your Lordships to believe that we have plans to use the wide powers provided by this clause. There is no provision in existing public expenditure programmes for such a scheme and in the present economic circumstances we can make no commitment to introduce such a scheme.

The Government were invited to examine the drafting of the amendment approval by the Committee, and certain small amendments seem appropriate to ensure that the working reflects the intentions expressed during the debate in Committee. Two points are worthy of a comment from me. First, we advise that the power should extend only to Great Britain. I am assured that parallel powers already exist for Northern Ireland and your Lordships will appreciate that it is undesirable to duplicate such powers. Secondly, it is advisable to be certain that the clause as amended will allow us to introduce the scheme of back-up national grants to provide eligibility for any grants which the European Community may provide. The second of the amendments therefore provides for this power explicitly. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Mansfield moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 27, line 36, at end insert— ("( ) A scheme under this section may be confined to the making of such grants as appear to the Ministers to be requisite for enabling persons to benefit from any Community instrument which provides for the making of grants by a Community institution where such grants are also provided by a member state.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Mansfield moved Amendment No. 7: Leave out Clause 33 and insert the following new clause:

("Exclusion of offences under conservation legislation

33.—(1) A person shall not be guilty of an offence mentioned in Part I of Schedule 4 to this Act by reason of anything done or omitted by him in the course of fish farming if it is done or omitted under the authority of an exemption conferred by the Minister and in accordance with any conditions attached to the exemption.

(2) The Minister may be regulations confer general exemptions for the purposes of subsection (1) above, and such regulations may—

  1. (a) make different provision for different methods of fish farming and for other different circumstances; and
  2. (b) specify conditions to which the exemptions are subject.

(3) Regulations under subsection (2) above shall be made by statutory instrument which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

(4) In the application of subsections (1) and (2) above to offences under the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975, "the Minister" means, in relation to the area of the Welsh Water Authority, the Secretary of State and, in relation to other areas to which the Act applies, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; and in the application of those subsections to offences under enactments relating to sea fishing, "the Minister" means, in relation to England, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and, in relation to Wales or Scotland, the Secretary of State concerned with fisheries in that country.

(5) It shall be a defence for a person charged with an offence mentioned in Part II of Schedule 4 to this Act to show that he believed on reasonable grounds that the fish with respect to which the offence is alleged to have been committed were produced by fish farming.

(6) In this section "fish farming" means the breeding, rearing or cultivating of fish (including shellfish) whether or not for the purpose of producing food for human consumption; but the reference in subsection (5) above to fish produced by fish farming does not include fish bred, reared or cultivated in captivity which have later been released to the wild.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, for the convenience of the House, I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 7, 9, 13 and 14 together. As I explained to the Committee during the consideration of the Bill the Government concluded that the complexities of drafting exemptions for fish farming from freshwater fisheries conservation legislation were so considerable that it would be appropriate to deal with the detailed exemptions by subordinate procedures. The new texts of Clause 33 and Schedule 4 on the Marshalled List of amendments fulfil an assurance that appropriate new texts would be provided at Report stage.

The amendments introduce no change of principle to the provisions. Clause 33 provides powers to exempt fish farmers from specified offences which, while necessary for the conservation of wild fish, are unnecessary and restrictive in respect of farmed fish. Where the Ministers make general exemptions these will be by Statutory Instrument subject to negative resolution. Subsection (5) provides a statutory defence for people involved in buying or selling farmed fish who are charged with offences listed in Part II of Schedule 4. These offences, too, should only apply in respect of wild fish.

I explained in Committee that the exemptions being provided were in respect of legislation applying to England and Wales. There are already exemptions in parallel Scottish legislation. However, on consideration the Government consider that in the interests of parity North and South of the Border the statutory defence available for buyers and sellers of farmed fish in England and Wales should be extended to certain provisions of Scottish legislation, and therefore the list in Part II of Schedule 4 has been extended to include some Scottish provisions.

Finally, I should say a word about the amendment to Clause 38, of which the extension to the Long Title is a consequential. This provides exemptions for fish farmers from freshwater fisheries legislation which applies to the English section of the River Tweed. This area is governed by Scottish legislation, for reasons connected with the efficient management of the fish stocks in the river, but the exemptions from the legislation which already apply for fish farmers in Scotland have not so far been extended to the English section of the Tweed. This is a minor anomaly that the Bill should cover, and I beg to move.

Lord Peart

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for what he has said. It is a minor anomaly and I am sure our Scottish friends will agree that there is a point in making this apply in the same way as they have for a period.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 35 [Regulation of whaling]:

3.40 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby moved Amendment No. 8: Page 30, leave out lines 3 to 26.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I was going to raise this matter on clause stand part at the Committee stage, but I came into the Chamber about 30 seconds too late. So I put down this amendment for this stage of the Bill, to try to clear up a certain perplexity about the Government's intentions on their provisions in Clause 35. The Minister of State will be familiar with this point, because it was raised in the Standing Committee in another place by Mr. Peter Hardy on 19th February this year, subsequent to which a letter was sent by Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith, on behalf of the Government, to Mr. Peter Hardy, trying to clear up any misunderstandings that remained in his mind.

The point is that Clause 35 seeks to extend the protection afforded to whales by the Whaling Industry (Regulation) Act 1934 to all cetaceans, and this is to be welcomed. The central point is that the Government are committed to supporting a ban on all commercial whaling. This was made very clear indeed on behalf of the Government, with a very welcome and firm statement on 21st July 1980, on the occasion of the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission at Brighton. I quote for the moment from a press statement issued on that day, reporting that Mr. Jerry Wiggin, MP, Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, had said: Last year, the United Kingdom decided to support a ban on all commercial whaling and we stand firm in that policy". He went on to say: This year, discussion in your meeting is again likely to be dominated by a proposal to ban all commercial whaling. We believe this measure to be necessary for proper conservation and we will support it".

The question is whether Clause 35 is as clear and as emphatic as the declaration of policy by the Government. It seems odd that in the Bill before the House at the present moment we should be retaining provisions which relate to what is surely by now almost obsolete legislation. The lines that I propose to delete relate to the regulation of whaling in British waters, which we are surely not going to have any more. The explanation given on behalf of the Government by the Minister to Mr. Peter Hardy was: "If we are going to repeal the whole of the 1934 Act, we shall have to put something in its place. That means a new Bill and, in view of the lack of parliamentary time, this is undesirable in present circumstances, if we can achieve the same purpose by an alternative, if not quite so complete, way".

This may be the only explanation which the noble Earl the Minister can offer, and it may be that we shall have to accept it. But it would help if what passed in correspondence between the Minister of State and Mr. Peter Hardy were on the record of the proceedings of this House. Then I think we should know where we are, and the Government's explanation and their assurances, which really are most important, will be open for all to see and for all to rely upon. That is the point.

There is no difference in principle here, but the friends who advise me—and the RSPCA are among them—said that it is perplexing to find repeated in the Bill which is before the House provisions which relate to something which seems no longer appropriate to the British position on whaling. I do not think I can offer any better explanation of my purpose than that. I hope that it is fully comprehended by the Minister, even if I have left some noble Lords in doubt over what it is all about. My Lords, I beg to move.

Lord Peart

My Lords, I hope that the noble Earl will be sympathetic to my noble friend's plea. What he has said is correct. It is right that it should be on the record that the Government accept, basically, what my noble friend wants. So I hope that the Minister will reply in a positive way.

The Earl of Mansfield

My Lords, I hope that I can clear up what is, perhaps, a misunderstanding. Of course I appreciate the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and many others on this difficult question of conservation. Clause 35 is intended to extend to all cetaceans the protection which our law currently gives to sperm and baleen whales. So it will ban the killing of such creatures as porpoises, dolphins and killer whales.

The 1934 Act which, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, implied, is somewhat elderly, applies to vessels registered in or licensed under the laws of United Kingdom dependent territories or associated states. What we propose in the subsections which are the subject of this amendment is that the provisions of the clause should not be applied to such vessels directly, but by Order-in-Council. The reason for this is that it will enable the Government to make any exceptions or modifications which may be necessary to meet local circumstances.

The Government share the wish that the prohibition in the Bill on the taking of cetaceans should extend as widely as possible, and that it should apply to vessels registered in dependent territories. Unfortunately, fishing for tuna, which occurs mostly in tropical waters, may involve the incidental killing of a few small cetaceans, such as dolphins or porpoises, because they accompany shoals of tuna. For instance, although in Bermuda, which would be one of the territories under consideration, vessels fish for tuna by setting their nets around floating logs where the fish tend to congregate, in some tuna fisheries the nets are also set around porpoises which prey on the tuna, and some incidental deaths of cetaceans may therefore occur. It may therefore be necessary to make limited exceptions to take account of this. In other words, putting it in more fishery language, we may have to allow a small by-catch.

The possibility for fishing vessels based in these territories to participate in international fisheries should not be foreclosed without consulting the Governments of those territories whose economic interests are in issue. So we intend, immediately after the enactment of the Bill, to approach the Governments of the territories on this question. It is hoped that most of them will rapidly agree to the extension of the Act—unmodified—to their territories and to vessels registered there. But we may, as I have tried to illustrate, have to consider limited exceptions to allow the continuation or development of tuna fisheries, which play an important part in the economy of some of the communities and which may involve an incidental by-catch.

It would be quite inappropriate to make changes in the law which affect territories without taking into account the wishes of the Governments concerned and other local circumstances. There are a dozen or so territories which are affected, but only two where this might be a problem; Bermuda and Cayman Islands. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hughhton, and others who take an interest in these matters will be reassured that the Government are in no way reneging on their commitment and that we want to take into account local Governments and local circumstances before the necessary Orders-in-Council are made.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Minister for his full explanation and I admit that I now understand the system better than when moving my amendment; indeed that is the reward for having moved it in the first place. We now know clearly what the issues are and I cannot quarrel with the line the Government are taking in regard to these exceptions, although we shall of course regret the Government's need to make them if representations strongly suggest that they should. Nevertheless, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Minister and I hope that we can now examine the position in the light of the fuller information and be more reassured than we were. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 38 [Fisheries offences on River Tweed]:

The Earl of Mansfield moved Amendment No. 9:

Page 32, line 17, at end insert— ("( ) At the end of section 7 of the said Act of 1976 (fish farmers not to be guilty of contravention of certain enactments) there shall be inserted the following subsection— (5) This section, so far as it relates to the enactments specified in paragraphs 2, 3, 4, 5(d), 6, 8 and 10 of Schedule 3 to this Act, shall apply to so much of the River Tweed as is situated outwith Scotland as if it were situated in Scotland.".").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have already spoken to this amendment and I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 1 [The Sea Fish Industry Authority]:

The Earl of Mansfield moved Amendment No. 10: Page 37, line 34, leave out paragraph 19.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this is a technical amendment to remove from the Bill a paragraph that used to be a standard form in legislation for establishing statutory corporations but which is rendered unnecessary by the Corporate Bodies Contracts Act 1960. The effect of the paragraph is that the Sea Fish Industry Authority would not be required to execute its contracts under seal as corporations were formerly required to do by the common law of England. The common law rule was abolished by the Corporate Bodies Contracts Act 1960 and so the provision is not required in the Bill. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 3 [White Fish Authority and Herring Industry Board: consequential provisions]:

The Earl of Mansfield moved Amendment No. 11: Page 39, line 30, leave out ("and").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I should also like to speak to Amendment No. 12. Paragraph 5 of Schedule 3 is intended to enable the new Sea Fish Industry Authority to continue to collect a levy on the industry under powers currently enjoyed by the two present bodies—the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board—until the new authority has an opportunity to make its own levy regulations. Unfortunately, by an oversight the provisions in paragraph 5 would not allow the new authority to take over all the White Fish Authority's powers to collect levy on fish meal, which provides a significant sum of income to the authority. The amendment remedies this oversight and, my Lords, I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Mansfield moved Amendment No. 12:

Page 39, line 33, at end insert— ("; and (c) so much of any direction then in force under section 55 of that Act as relates to the treatment for levy purposes of any substance or article capable of being produced wholly or partly from either white fish or herring or both,").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 4 [Exemptions for Fish Farming]:

The Earl of Mansfield moved Amendment No. 13: Leave out Schedule 4 and insert the following new schedule—

Forward to