HL Deb 10 November 1992 vol 540 cc115-66

4.42 p.m.

House again in Committee on Clause 1.

[Amendment No. 3A not moved.]

Earl Howe moved Amendment No. 4:

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." ").

The noble Earl said: In moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 18, 20, 36 and 41. In tabling this group of amendments today I am fulfilling a commitment made in another place by my honourable friend the Minister of State at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food which I reiterated on Second Reading. I also referred to it in our previous debate on Amendment No. 3. My honourable friend undertook that: Ministers should be obliged to seek an affirmative resolution in both Houses of Parliament before they use their powers to reduce effort below the level set for 1993".

He also undertook that: We should not introduce such a resolution"—

that is, to reduce days at sea— unless we are satisfied that member states which share our fishery stocks are taking effective steps to meet their multi-annual guidance programme targets".—[Official Report, Commons, 14/7/92; col. 1027.]

The wording of the amendments, I am well aware, is opaque and somewhat confusing and I shall try to explain precisely how they achieve the desired result. This group of amendments provides for two things: first, for the principles governing the time which licensed vessels may spend at sea, that is to say the general principles upon which days at sea calculations are to be made, to be laid down in negative resolution orders; and secondly, for principles involving a reduction in time at sea allocations for all vessels, that is to say specific rules for specific vessels or for groups of vessels, to be laid down in an affirmative resolution order.

In this way, the Government will be required not only to set down in regulations the basic principles on which time at sea allocations will be based but also to make an affirmative resolution order on each occasion on which they wish to make a reduction in allocations for all vessels or for any specified group of vessels. By requiring an affirmative resolution order each time the Government wish to make overall reductions, Parliament will be given an opportunity to debate the size and nature of those reductions.

The amendment to Clause 1 inserts a requirement for Ministers to make orders specifying the principles on which time at sea allocations will be based. There are, as I say, the general rules governing the way in which calculations are to be made. This requirement was formerly in the clause dealing with the tribunal (Clause 2). These orders will be subject to the negative resolution parliamentary procedure.

The amendment to Clause 2 removes the enabling power in respect of principles from that clause.

The new clause amends Section 20 of the 1967 Act, which is the section concerning orders made under the Act. The new clause makes a distinction between two types of orders which can contain principles on which days at sea will be based. The first type of order will contain the basic principles. The second type of order will contain principles which involve a reduction in the time all vessels or specified groups of vessels may be spent at sea. New subsection (5A) makes the distinction by providing that any principles involving overall reductions in time at sea must be excluded from orders containing basic principles and must be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. The new subsection (5B) describes the reduction principles in general terms—that is, principles containing reductions in time at sea allocations in comparison with previous allocations applying to all vessels or specified groups of vessels.

Finally, the amendment to Clause 7 provides for the order-making powers in Clause 1 to come into force on Royal Assent.

Turning to the actions of other member states and whether they are taking effective action to meet their capacity targets, I recognise that this is a matter which reflects deep concern, as expressed by noble Lords in this Committee and by honourable Members in another place. As I said on Second Reading and in Committee earlier, the Government will stand by the commitment made by my honourable friend in another place on this matter. We will deal with the issue when we debate the affirmative resolution orders which are the subject of this amendment. It will be for the House—for both Houses—to decide at that time whether effective action has, indeed, been taken by other member states and it will be for the Government to present the relevant information on which Parliament can make a judgment. I beg to move.

Lord Campbell of Croy

These amendments carry out the undertaking that was given by the Government in another place when the Bill was passing through that other place. They were repeated by my noble friend in his Second Reading speech. In my speech on that occasion I welcomed what he said. I believe that this will be an important addition to the Bill (if the Committee approves it) because it provides the assurance that both Houses of Parliament can consider—I hope quickly—any changes which could be painful or injurious to the British fishing industry. I hope therefore that the Committee will accept these amendments.

Lord Gallacher

We are grateful to the Minister for the amendments that he has tabled in fulfilment of the promise made on Second Reading. He began his moving of them by saying that they were somewhat "opaque", but they were considerably less opaque by the time he sat down than they were when I attempted to decide their import myself in relation to the Bill. We welcome the affirmative procedure where it is to be used. We shall look again at what the Minister said in relation to those areas where the negative procedure will continue to apply. But, in general, I think that the industry and those of us who have been concerned about the Bill will be gratified that the Government have had second thoughts about this aspect since the Bill left another place. We therefore support the amendment.

The Earl of Kinnoull

Although one supports my noble friend in bringing forward these amendments and carrying out his undertaking, there is a weakness in that, although the order is brought before both Houses, it cannot be amended. It has to be accepted or thrown out. Therefore I hope that my noble friend can reply now and say that, in view of that, there will be the fullest co-operation and consultation with the industry in drawing up these very important principles. I hope that my noble friend can confirm that. I have tabled an amendment which will put such a requirement on the face of the Bill.

Earl Howe

Perhaps I may reply to my noble friend on that point. We shall be coming to it later on, as he rightly said, but I believe I shall be able to give him reassuring answers at that time about the question of consultation.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

I too had some difficulty in deciphering exactly what the Government's amendments mean. My noble friend said that this would always happen when the number of days at sea was being decreased. What will happen if the number is being increased? The industry may be interested to know whether that will be discussed by Parliament because many conservationists may object to that. Will it apply only when the number of days is decreased?

Earl Howe

It will apply when there is any change to the days at sea that have been allocated.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Kinnoull moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 1, line 16, at end insert: ("() Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (6B), any day or part of a day during which a vessel sails from port for a purpose other than fishing shall not count as time at sea." ").

The noble Earl said: It is my honour and duty to move this probing amendment. Its purpose is simple and I am sure that my noble friends will give it their support. As a member of the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen, one knows very well how generous fishermen are in supporting charities at weekends and in the summer to raise money for distressed fishermen. There are many occasions when boats go out to sea for trawler races, sea festivals and so on. They go out for rescue work as well and even to perform guard duties around our oil installations. Those are non-fishing activities. I hope that in the principles that are to be announced my noble friend will make it very clear that those fishermen will not be subject to penalties in carrying out those duties. I beg to move.

The Earl of Radnor

I hope that included in the idea of not penalising vessels when they go out of harbour for non-fishing purposes is the possibility of allowing them to take out parties of sport fishermen, who after all do not catch that many fish. They can hardly be considered to be engaged in commercial fishing. If Members of the Committee want another example, perhaps I may refer to the fishermen of Folkestone harbour, who spend quite a lot of time in the summer escorting Channel swimmers from Cap Gris Nez to St. Margaret's Bay and back again. Perhaps that too can be taken into consideration.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

They also take out parties of tourists in the summer. That is important and useful.

Lord Stodart of Leaston

I wonder whether this covers the kind of episode which was mentioned in another place on one occasion. Let us say that a boat's home port is at Buckie but it unloads fish at Macduff and then goes home for the weekend to berth at Buckie. There have been occasions when the trip from Macduff to Buckie was counted as a fishing day at sea. I gather that there was some indignation—un-derstandable indignation—about that. In addition, even when a boat had to go elsewhere to get an engine repaired, it was counted as being at sea. Will relief be given in future on that kind of episode?

Earl Howe

I understand the concern of fishermen who may believe that days at sea restrictions will prevent them from carrying out other legitimate economic activities at sea. However, I can reassure them now that that is not the case. When fisheries departments come to issue days at sea allocations to individual vessel owners they will make an allowance within that allocation for such non-fishing activities. For example, where a vessel is known regularly to collect white weed, this could be included in the vessel owner's allocations. I have every reason to think that the other activities mentioned by noble Lords—trawler races, charity events and tourist trips—will be included in the definition of non-fishing activities. Departments may also consider other mechanisms such as licence suspensions for dealing with vessels which will be carrying out non-fishing activities over longer blocks of time. If individuals are not satisfied with their allocation in respect of non-fishing, they can of course appeal to the Sea Fish Licence Tribunal.

The reason we are treating non-fishing activity in this way is that it would simply not be possible to enforce the days at sea regime if non-fishing activity was not included in the allocation. Fisheries inspectors would never know for what purpose a vessel had set to sea and whether therefore the time was counting towards his allocation. The whole system would be wide open to abuse. So I can assure Members of the Committee that we do not intend to prevent fishermen carrying out non-fishing activities but we must include those activities at the outset within their days at sea allocation to ensure proper enforcement. On the basis of what I have said, I hope that the noble Earl will be able to withdraw his amendment.

The Earl of Kinnoull

I am grateful for that reassurance. I hope that the allowance when granted will be generous because there are many activities—not only the ones mentioned but others as well—which will cause problems if the allowance is not generous. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Mackie of Benshie moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 1, line 16, at end insert: ("() Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (6B), any day or part of a day which a vessel spends in port while the fishing gear pertaining to that vessel is laid at sea for the purpose of fishing shall count as time at sea." ").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is designed to find out whether the Government have considered all the points at issue. A trawlerman going out to sea takes his trawl. He cannot fish without it. A day at sea is therefore more easily recognised. But there are fishing methods whereby nets are set, creels are laid and so on. How will this be assessed? If the weather has been bad and the fishermen cannot get back to his nets, will those days be counted as days at sea? How will this be done? It is an illustration of the difficulties faced when trying to regulate a very complicated and complex industry. I shall be interested to hear what the Government have to say because it is a very fair point. I beg to move.

Earl Howe

I readily acknowledge that this amendment identifies a potential problem area for fishermen using static gear; days at sea restrictions are not a perfect mechanism for controlling their activities. Our scientists do nevertheless advise that even in this sector days at sea controls have some effect in restricting fishing effort.

This is a problem which we intend to address but we do not believe that we can do it by altering the days at sea regime. It would, quite simply, be impossible to enforce. The amendment would require us to check not only on fishing vessels' activities and where they were but also on where their fishing nets and pots were as well. I hope the Committee will acknowledge that this could lead to chaos.

The noble Lord may be aware that the European Commission is also considering the problem and intends to produce a report with recommendations on this subject. We do not wish to pre-empt any ideas that the Commission may have. I hope the noble Lord will agree with me that it is a matter which requires a good deal more thought. On that basis, I hope he will be content to withdraw the amendment at this stage.

5 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I certainly agree with the noble Earl that the matter requires more thought. But, what is to happen in the meantime? How does he propose to deal with those boats? Will they not come within the restriction? If that is so, for their sakes I should be happy to hear about it. However, it raises questions in the minds of the trawler fishermen.

Earl Howe

I can only point out to the noble Lord that there are various options which we can adopt, such as limits on the number of pots, on the length and the depth of nets and on the frequency of visits to such gear. All such restrictions would pose major enforcement problems and would undoubtedly run us into further criticism. I do not want to labour the point. I take the noble Lord's argument very seriously. We are thinking about the matter and we hope to be able to consider the Commission's proposals very soon.

If I am in order, I should like to make a small correction regarding something that I said earlier to my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour. I said that the affirmative resolution orders which applied to principles will be made whenever there is a change. I was wrong. They will be made only when there are reductions in time at sea and not when there are increases in time at sea. I apologise for misleading the Committee.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

On the basis, as I understand it, that the boats will not be under restriction at present, and that thought has been given to the matter, we shall also reconsider the amendment and perhaps return to the matter on Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Amherst of Hackney moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 1, line 16, at end insert: ("() Gale force conditions shall be excluded from any restrictions on permitted time at sea for fishing vessels whose voyage duration is in excess of 24 hours and who are at sea in such conditions. () The existence of gale force conditions (mean wind speeds in excess of 34 knots) shall be proven by the submission of weather facsimiles depicting gale conditions for the relevant area and time issued by the Meteorological Office, Bracknell." ").

The noble Lord said: I believe that noble Lords will have received numerous letters from fishermen's wives expressing their concerns that the provisions of the Bill could place the lives of their husbands seriously at risk by necessitating their engaging in fishing operations in dangerous conditions with tired crews and equipment pared to the minimum. While the restriction on sea time will result in burdening all the fishermen with great financial hardship, inshore fishermen will at least be able to decide from the latest weather information available whether or not to utilise a precious day of permitted sea time. On the other hand, offshore fishermen will be unable to take any view on the weather they are likely to encounter over an extended period at sea. Their precious sea time will be ticking away so long as they are at sea, regardless of conditions. The financial pressures are likely to be even greater due to the greater size of the investment.

The weather is no respecter of averages as we have seen in the recent record drought; neither does it distribute its disfavours equitably. Our fishermen and their lives should surely be protected from its vagaries. The fact that it is so simple and foolproof to establish from weather facsimiles, issued and recorded by the Meteorological Office, whether gale conditions did or did not exist in a specific sea area on a particular day surely makes it impossible to justify the blanket inclusion of gale force conditions in permitted time at sea for offshore fishermen, and the consequential risk to life and limb that will inevitably ensue. I beg to move.

Lord Grimond

The amendment before the Committee is most important, as was mentioned on Second Reading. My first point is that it should extend to all fishermen. It is quite true that it will primarily affect offshore fishermen, but inshore fishermen are also liable to be caught in gales and should be encouraged to return to port rather than attempt to continue in dangerous conditions. Further, this and previous amendments once again raise in my mind the whole method of the Bill. At its best, it is a very draconian measure. It takes away people's livelihood in a way which is very seldom, if ever, done in this country. It then appears to hand over to officials all sorts of decisions as to what is to count as time at sea; for example, whether gale force conditions will be excused, and so on. Again, that seems to me to be undesirable.

If Parliament is able—I do not know whether it can; personally I think that it is a pretty unworkable Bill—it should ensure that the Bill states exactly what is to count as time at sea, what the hours are and what conditions are to be taken into account. If that cannot be done, I hope that the Minister will be able to explain in greater detail how such decisions will be made and, if gales do arise (as they do very quickly and, unfortunately, very violently, certainly in the north of Scotland) who is to decide whether or not the time at sea is to be wiped out. If it is not to be wiped out, how can we expect vessels—fairly small vessels at that—to continue at sea in conditions which may well be dangerous?

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

On the face of it, there is a great deal to be said for the amendment. I say that because, if a fishing vessel is caught in stormy conditions and is unable to fish, it seems unfair that it should all the same be using up its permitted time and that that should be treated as time at sea. I shall be most interested to hear what my noble friend the Minister has to say on the matter.

Earl Howe

The noble Lord, Lord Amherst, very clearly explained the purpose behind the amendment. I should like to say, first, that I fully understand that fishermen may feel worried that if they are prevented from fishing by gale force winds they will not have sufficient days at sea left in which to catch their full fish entitlement for any year. Nevertheless, I believe that their fears are groundless. I shall explain why.

Each vessel's track record will be based on its activities in the base year; that is to say, 1991. It is safe to assume that trips undertaken in that year—taken together and analysed—will be no different from trips undertaken next year: on some occasions in 1991 fishermen will have been prevented from fishing during a trip of more than 24 hours by gale force winds. In other words, the vessel's track record for 1991 will already have included within it time when that vessel was at sea but was prevented from fishing by bad weather. Skippers are professional men: they know the weather and they must make a judgment as to when it is safe to go to sea or to stay at sea. One thing we should not forget is that 1991 was itself a year when many vessels were subject to a compulsory tie-up scheme under EC rules—a scheme which was in many ways more restrictive than the one which the Government are now proposing. There is no evidence to suggest that during that year the judgment of skippers (as to whether or not to go to sea or stay at sea) was applied in anything but a sensible and professional way. We believe that that will continue.

I put it to the noble Lord, therefore, that there is no need for the amendment. An allowance for abortive trips will already have been taken account of in the time at sea allocation and does not need a special provision. I hope that the noble Lord will feel sufficiently reassured to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

I hope that my noble friend can go a little further. It is all very well to say that skippers are experienced seamen and will, therefore, be able to foresee the weather. It suggests that they are apparently rather better at the task than the Meteorological Office has recently shown itself to be. When a boat is going out fishing for some days I wonder whether it is really fair to say that time should continue to run against it if at that time it runs into a wholly unforeseeable gale and is unable to fish. I do not think that my noble friend's answer was very satisfactory.

Earl Howe

I was not saying that skippers could foresee the weather; I was saying that, if they go out to sea and then they find a storm descending upon them, they are sufficiently professional not to let their judgment as to whether to stay at sea be compromised by the storm. Their allocation of days at sea will already have taken account of such incidents which will have occurred in the base year of 1991.

Lord Mottistone

Does that mean that my noble friend is saying that the gales in 1991 were typical of gales always? From my experience of many years at sea there are particular years during which there are many gales and other years when there are not so many. Last winter I believe that we had fewer gales in the waters around the United Kingdom than has been the case this year and in many others. One can only rely on an average of five or six years for gales. My noble friend should reconsider how this problem should be dealt with and make the allowances that I have suggested.

Lord Stodart of Leaston

I echo that plea. My noble friend serves the interests not just of fishing but of farming. I am surprised to hear my noble friend rely on what he called the "track record". Farming is not nearly as precarious as fishing, but no farmer dares rely upon the track record of one harvest which was good five years previously to say that it will therefore be good five years hence. One goes up and down and in and out. One knows how precarious it is. I beg my noble friend to reconsider this matter. Trying to turn dangers at sea into bureaucratic terms is not the right thing to do.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

I may be mistaken, but I thought I understood the Minister to suggest that, if a skipper found himself caught at sea in a storm, he should run for his home port or the nearest port. There are occasions when it is unsafe to run to port and one has to ride out the storm at sea. Will the Minister clarify that point because it is something that needs to be taken into consideration?

Earl Howe

Perhaps I may answer the noble Lady's point first. I was not suggesting that a skipper should head for port in all circumstances. I say that it is up to his judgment whether to do so. Over the year as a whole—we are looking at 1991—there will be occasions when the skipper will have made a dash for port and others when he will have stayed at sea.

As to whether 1991 was a good or bad year for storms, I shall study that point because it is something of which we should be aware. My noble friend Lord Stodart was a little cheeky in comparing these circumstances with those of a farmer. Farmers have to harvest at definite times of the year. I was seeking to say earlier that over the year as a whole there will be statistically an average number of days when the weather is less than clement. Those days will be built into the allocation that vessel owners will receive.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

It is an ingenious argument to say that in 1991 so many days were lost. That might be so. This legislation contemplates a further cut in time at sea into which the same number of storm-damage days will eat much more deeply.

Earl Howe

I take the noble Lord's point, but I do not believe that the days at sea limitation will prove to be the limiting factor for fishermen. It is not days at sea but quotas which will prove to be the limiting factor. As the noble Lord is aware, this year there are vessels tied up in port two months before the year end because their quotas have been exhausted. I do not see this as being a problem.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

That is the whole point of the Bill.

Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal

Would it not be more rational to accept the approach suggested in the amendment and remove the gale days from the 1991 experience? Then one would merely act on what had happened in the year about which one is talking.

Earl Howe

Then there will be grave enforcement problems when it comes to monitoring days at sea when the regime is introduced.

Lord Blease

The discussion has taken place based upon days at sea and days upon which gales occur. Gales do not occur to a regular pattern all over the United Kingdom. The Irish Sea may be different from Scottish waters or the North Sea. Will an appeal system be included in relation to the monitoring of days at sea?

Earl Howe

As the noble Lord is aware, the Bill provides for the Sea Fish Licence Tribunal. It will be able to hear appeals when a vessel owner feels that storms or other factors have not been taken sufficiently into account in the allocation. The allocations will be made vessel by vessel. Each vessel operates in a different area of our waters. The allocation will be based upon the track record of individual vessels. The noble Lord is right to point out that some areas will have a different history of storms or inclement weather from other areas. Those factors will be taken into account when the allocations are made.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Amherst of Hackney

I thank the Minister for his helpful comments. As I understood it, this summer brought about the termination of the driest period since records began. I mentioned that earlier. What is to stop the winter of 1994–95 being the most violent winter since records began?

We are not talking about the type of fishing boat that can turn back to seek a port of refuge. I was referring more to the 40-metre trawler which would be four or five days from its home port and would not have shelter available. Even if it did have shelter available, it would not be in its home port. It would be seeking refuge off some coastline and so it would still be deemed to be using up sea time.

The wives are worried that the skippers, urged on by the whole crew, could be persuaded or feel themselves pushed into fishing in conditions which were downright dangerous merely because they were becoming short of permitted sea days perhaps because they had already lost a substantial number due to bad weather. It is dangerous to put skippers and their crews into a position where they could feel forced, for financial reasons, to take decisions which should be governed entirely by seamanship.

Earl Howe

I take the noble Lord's points. I have tried to answer them as best I can. There is a whole range of factors which could compromise a skipper's judgment. The fact that he has a high overdraft at the bank could lead him to go to sea when it might be safer not to, but, as I said, skippers do not act in that way. They are not the type of people who endanger the lives of their crews. While there is a serious point underlying the amendment, I do not believe that it will prove to be a problem in practice.

Lord Amherst of Hackney

I again thank the Minister. I am referring to circumstances in which the skipper would have no possible advantage from deciding to go to sea in storm conditions. There may be a three or four-day passage to a fishing ground. I am sure that the meteorological service has let your Lordships down a number of times with a 24-hour forecast, let alone a three or four-day forecast. After three or four days it would be hoped that the boat would have arrived at the ground and started to fish. Will the Minister give us some assurance that that is a factor that will be studied and that some further wording may be considered.

Earl Howe

I cannot do that, but what I can say is that the scenario the noble Lord has just painted is exactly the kind of situation a skipper would have faced in 1991 if he had not changed his fishing practice in the interim. I repeat that his allocation will reflect exactly that situation; so he should have no cause for worry.

Lord Amherst of Hackney

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Gallacher moved Amendment No. 8:

Page 1, line 16, at end insert: ("(6D) A licence condition or variation of a licence condition, imposed under subsection (6) (c) shall not be valid for any year or part of a year unless notification thereof is given to the master, charterer or owner of the vessel named in the licence before 1st October in the preceding year." ").

The noble Lord said: This amendment follows on, in some senses, from what we were discussing in Amendment No. 7. Its purpose is to establish in the Bill a period of time which owners must be given in order to deal with the condition or variation of a licence imposed under subsection (6) (c). It goes so far as to say that in order for such variation or condition to be valid for any year or part of a year, notice of the variation must be, given to the master, charterer or owner of the vessel named in the licence before 1st October in the preceding year".

Having regard to the fact that fishing conditions in 1993 will be different from those which applied in 1991—even though the number of gales may be similar—and are likely to be still more different in subsequent years, it is important that fishermen should receive as much notice as possible of the restriction to which they are subject to enable them, for example, to raise and have decided any appeal they may wish to make; to plan their fishing year or even to plan in as orderly a fashion as possible the disposal of their business, including applying for decommissioning.

We believe that in such circumstances three months is surely the minimum requirement in any of these situations. Those Members of the Committee who have had experience of contraction of a business will know that in many ways it is much more difficult than expanding a business. It is a sensitive time for all concerned and in fishing particularly so, having regard to peculiar circumstances such as the share fishing system which applies widely. In this context, if decommissioning is being contemplated, the wives and families of the fishermen come into the matter as well.

The purpose of the amendment is to acquaint the Minister with the nature of the problem and to ask him for a response on the basis of the human side of this aspect of the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I have some sympathy with the amendment for the simple reason that, as the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, pointed out, things have to be done in a relatively short space of time. I am quite concerned, however, because the whole question of days at sea is tied up with total allowable catches. Scientific evidence seems to come later and later in the year and we get nearer and nearer Christmas before a Council of Ministers decides what the total allowable catches are.

Will my noble friend the Minister consider at any stage that the start of the fishing year might be looked at in relation to a sensible and orderly way of dealing with the matter? I feel that the fishermen—skippers in particular—have a real point when trying to plan their year. They cannot do so because they do not know what the situation will be until the last moment.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

This problem also applies in farming. Decisions are made late or not at all and farmers are faced with an inability to plan forward because they do not know what will be the price or the restrictions. In this case it must be much the same. I have now said my piece!

The Earl of Kinnoull

While my noble friend is gathering his papers for his reply, perhaps I may say that the amendment deals with notice of the licence. I do not believe there are any amendments down for the Committee stage on how long the licence will last, whether it is for a year, two years or three years. Further, we have no indication, if the recipient of the licence does not like the conditions and appeals, as to whether he is allowed to fish during that period. Of course, the appeal may take from three to six months to materialise. I hope that my noble friend will be able to expand on these issues either now or at a later stage.

Earl Howe

I understand the concerns which have led to the tabling of this amendment, but I hope that in the light of what I am about to say, the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, will think it right to withdraw it. I say this, not because the thought behind the amendment is not a reasonable one, for the reasons that he stated—indeed, on the face of it, it is perfectly reasonable—but because there are very real practical difficulties with it. If it is carried, far from assisting fishermen, as noble Lords intend, I have to say that it could have the very opposite effect.

So far as the initial days at sea allocation is concerned, fishermen already know that the Government's intention is to freeze it at 1991 levels. I take it from the noble Lord's remarks that his concerns relate to what happens after the initial allocation.

In subsequent years I can say that fisheries departments will be able to give a general indication of likely changes some time in advance. However, before they can decide on any specific reductions in days at sea allocations, they will need to bring together scientific data on the up-to-date state of stocks and to link this with the effectiveness of other measures in the conservation package. These data will not, of their very nature, be available until late in the year and decisions on possible reductions in days at sea therefore cannot be made until late November at the earliest.

For that reason, it would simply not be possible to give fishermen an accurate picture by 1st October of the likely size of any reduction. To try to do so would be no more than guesswork and could be highly misleading. Furthermore, the consequence would be that in the absence of any firm data at that stage of the year, departments would necessarily have to err on the side of caution and the resulting reductions might, as a result, be higher than they would be if they were set later in the year. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that this would be highly undesirable.

However, as I said—and I intend this to be of some reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher—fishermen will receive an indication of the scale of any proposed reductions as and when the Government table their affirmative resolution order. In practice, this will give them between four and six weeks' notice of the Government's intentions. I believe that most fishermen will find that adequate and I hope that the noble Lord will see that in practical terms it is the only sensible course to adopt. In the light of what I have said, I hope that he will be content to withdraw the amendment.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

The noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, made a very interesting suggestion about changing the date of the fishing year. Would the noble Earl care to comment on that? It seems to me that it might possibly be the solution.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

There is a further point. I see no reason why the scientists and politicians should not get together earlier. There is no reason at all for them to wait until November before they make a decision. That is surely more logical than the poor fishermen, who go to sea in a difficult and dangerous occupation, not having the information. Let us assemble the scientists and politicians earlier. Would that not be possible?

Earl Howe

I am grateful to the noble Lord for that suggestion. The politicians and scientists, I may say, are talking all the year round. It is simply that we wish to make an accurate assessment of the state of the stocks as late in the year as we can so that any reductions that we have to make to the days at sea allocation can be justified.

The question was raised about the start of the fishing year. Under Community rules, TACs and quotas are managed in terms of calendar years and the issue of licences (which, incidentally, are renewable annually) is linked to that. So I cannot see much scope for changing the fishing year as proposed.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

Perhaps the European Community could be persuaded to change the fishing year.

5.30 p.m.

Earl Howe

That is an interesting suggestion. I shall bear it in mind and take it away with me.

The Earl of Kinnoull

I suspect that many fishermen will rely on the tribunals to come up with some kind of support. I asked my noble friend whether he could give any indication of how long these hearings may take and whether, after year one, a fisherman may continue to fish on the existing lease even if it has been reduced, subject to appeal.

Earl Howe

I do not think I can give my noble friend a straightforward answer to that point at the moment. I shall consult on that matter and write to my noble friend.

Lord Gallacher

I am grateful to the noble Earl for the reply he gave us. I think we are beginning to get the first indication that any date and year, however chosen, is likely with the passage of time to be flawed. I have yet to experience in any walk of life a situation where that does not apply. Nevertheless there has to be a starting point and 1991, so far as this Bill is concerned, is it. The noble Earl said that he hoped a general indication would be given about prospects in advance. We are grateful for that. But he went on to say that scientific data will usually be available late. Of course the later that is available the better it is in the sense of the validity of the advice the scientists are giving. Of course, if scientists were compelled to give an earlier forecast, they would err on the side of caution and in consequence the reductions might be higher than they otherwise would be if they had been allowed more time.

Nevertheless in the supporting speeches, for which I am grateful, a number of avenues have been opened up—notably the question of the date from which the Community fishing year was to run. I am well aware that at the moment it is a calendar year and I know from the days when I had something to do with this matter as a member of Sub-Committee D that the late announcement of TACs was always of great concern to fishermen. It may be that the prospect of inviting the Community to look, in the overall review of the CFP which is now about to take place, at what the fishing year should be is one avenue that should be explored. I am grateful to the Minister for saying that he will do that. Taking account of all that has been said and acknowledging the difficulties inherent in this matter, although I believe the problem still remains, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Radnor moved Amendment No. 9:

Page 1, line 16, at end insert: ("() In considering what action to take under subsection (6) (c) above, the Ministers shall first give due consideration to a scheme of decommissioning." ").

The noble Earl said: This is a very mildly worded amendment but it goes right to the centre of my disagreement, and indeed that of fishermen, as regards this Bill. The amendment states that the Government should keep in their sights the whole time, every time they review this situation, the whole matter of decommissioning. If I had worded the amendment a little more carefully, I would have added the words "properly funded decommissioning", because the present scheme's provision of £25 million stretched over a certain period is most certainly inadequate, since it is expected only to take out 5 per cent. of fishing effort, whereas the need is to take out probably 25 or 30 per cent.

Without making a Second Reading speech, I believe it is fair to consider the slightly broader difficulties which attach to the tying-up process and to consider the fears that the fishermen themselves have. There are two main fears, or perhaps three. Some fishermen think, probably quite rightly, that they will be placed in a dangerous position and that they will be forced to tie up for such a period that when they go to sea they will have to fish for longer hours, possibly with smaller crews. I am sure that other Members of the Committee have, like myself, received many letters on this matter.

Further, there is a burning resentment that fishermen feel that this tying-up procedure is a decommissioning scheme by the back door. There is no compensation such as farmers receive for their set-aside land. On the other hand, a scheme of decommissioning may cost some money but it would be far easier to police. The argument which my noble friend has used before—I shall mention it before he does—that such a scheme would not work because those who remain will merely fish harder with more efficient equipment must be completely false from a mathematical point of view because one can obviously decommission down to such a point that that cannot possibly happen.

I also believe it is completely wrong to have an enormous amount of high technology, expensive fishing machinery tied up. In any business where one has to buy expensive machinery one tries to use that machinery effectively for as long as possible. Fundamentally the economics of the situation are wrong too. Finally, I believe that a proper decommissioning scheme with owners paid off, combined, as we now know, with the licensing of vessels under 10 metres, will at the end of the day constitute a far better provision for fishing com-munities than what is now on the face of this Bill. I hope that one day soon the Government will realise that they must enter—as other countries have done long ago—a proper decommissioning scheme. If they must pursue the idea of tying-up, I hope they will treat it as a temporary measure leading them towards that end. I beg to move.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

I entirely agree with the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, that a properly worked out decommissioning scheme would result in a sizeable reduction in the capacity of the fishing fleet. I understand that that has happened in other countries. I was certainly under the impression that one of the Government's reasons for refusing to accept the spirit of Amendment No. 3 was that decommissioning schemes were proving so successful in other countries that it was possibly not necessary for them to have tie-up days.

On the other hand Ministers argue against the schemes. I have heard many arguments made against decommissioning schemes in the past. I have heard Ministers say they do not believe the schemes represent value for money because they would not necessarily secure the withdrawal of the right vessels. If that is the case, I cannot understand why the Government are prepared to waste—for if that argument is valid, waste it must be—£25 million on the decommissioning scheme they propose. Surely it would be better to use the money to compensate fishermen for tie-up days? Ironically of course they are right to argue against such schemes because the decommissioning scheme they are proposing is useless and will be a waste of taxpayers' money. It will reduce the capacity of the fishing fleet by approximately 5 per cent. only. That scarcely seems to be worth doing.

In September before last the Scottish Fishermen's Federation proposed to government Ministers an alternative decommissioning scheme. I have read the federation's proposals and to me they seem eminently sensible and workable. They are to be found on pages 36 to 39 of the evidence in the report of Sub-Committee D of the European Communities Committee, published last June. I understand that the European Commission would be prepared to pay grants towards the cost of the scheme. Can the noble Earl say whether the Ministry has considered the scheme in depth? If not, will it please do so? Either decommissioning will help or it will not, but what is quite certain is that the scheme which the Government propose will not because it will not take nearly enough capacity out of the fishing fleet.

It is also quite certain that the Scottish Fishermen's Federation scheme would cost more than £25 million. However, I ask the Government to set against that the financial advantages of a healthy, profitable industry manned by taxpayers who spend money in the high street. That would be preferable to an industry in the doldrums with large numbers unemployed or going bankrupt and the consequent increase in social security benefits which would have to be paid.

Lord Stodart of Leaston

The noble Lady and my noble friend will not be surprised, after what I said at Second Reading, that I wholly support the amendment. In the report of Sub-Committee D we stated firmly that, while there was a place for tying-up, we regarded that as essentially secondary to a decommissioning scheme.

That is a view which is not shared by the Government for reasons which I have never found clear. My noble friend on the Front Bench has an excellent opportunity to explain with all the lucidity of which he is capable, not only to me but to the fishing industry, which will read his words avidly, the Government's objection to decommissioning.

The fishermen want it. That is not the best of reasons. My noble friend accused me this afternoon of being cheeky. I venture to say that I thought that Mr. Curry's comment that anybody would want a decommissioning scheme if the taxpayer was going to pay for it was a slightly cheeky remark to an industry which takes the matter extremely seriously.

Practically every other country, with the exception of Ireland, has opted for decommissioning. At Second Reading, echoing reasons which were given previously, my noble friend said that decommissioning would not reduce effort. I should like to put this simple proposition in place of the admitted complications, the bookkeeping and the monitoring involved in a tying-up scheme. I shall use hypothetical figures. Suppose that the total catch is 100,000 tonnes and at the moment that is being caught by 1,000 boats. The quotas and TACs would be maintained and boats would be licensed, but instead of having 1,000 boats the total could be reduced to 800. Unless the quotas were altered the catch would be divided among a smaller number of boats, which would thus become more profitable. What is the objection to that?

5.45 p.m.

The Earl of Selborne

I should like to add to what my noble friend Lord Radnor said. I hope that the Government will look at decommissioning positively. I recognise that, while the report of Sub-Committee D was on the whole received favourably by the Government, they felt that on the decommissioning issue we were wrong. They told us time and time again—and it must be recognised—that last time decommissioning did not work well. That is quite true. The reason it did not work well was that there was no licensing to identify those who broke the rules. That problem has now been taken care of under the Bill. There would not be the absurd situation which occurred last time round in which someone was paid a considerable sum of money to decommission his ship and was then able to buy a smaller but very much more effective ship with new technology which could produce an increased effort. That was clearly an inefficient way of operating a decommissioning scheme. However, that problem has been dealt with.

The second issue of which the Government have, quite correctly, reminded us time and time again is that the first thing that happens when one operates a decommissioning scheme is that people come forward with ships which will go out of commission anyway whether or not the owners are paid. The owners are delighted. They collect their money thinking that Christmas has come early. That is true, but it is not an argument for abandoning decommissioning; it is a reason to avoid a small scheme. Such a scheme cannot be operated on a small sum of money, and I fear that in this context £25 million is a small sum of money. One either has to have confidence in the objective of reducing capacity or one might as well not bother. I fear that the Government are falling into a trap and that lack of commitment to the principle of decommissioning and a sorry experience in the past have allowed this country to fall behind our competitors in Europe.

The reason I support the Government's efforts to limit days at sea is that I recognise, as many of us do, that we really cannot say to those countries which have made a serious attempt at and succeeded in reducing their capacity that they now have to operate on the same number of days at sea as us because we have not reduced our capacity and we do not want them to derive any benefit from the actions they have taken in the past. That is an untenable situation.

I recognise that decommissioning will be more expensive than the Treasury would wish. I recognise that any scheme which will cost the taxpayer large sums of money will be unwelcome to any government. However, bearing in mind the sorry state of fishery stocks and the inevitability of capacity having to match the available stocks, I believe that the only long-term solution is through a decommissioning scheme. I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will give us some assurance that in the long term the Government will consider that as the ultimate solution.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I shall not repeat the excellent arguments that have already been put. However, I hope that the Government are not looking for a decommissioning scheme through bankruptcy. It is quite obvious from the figures mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Stodart, that if capacity is reduced by 80 per cent. some boats will go bankrupt. In order to give fishermen confidence, quite apart from all the other arguments, I believe that the Government should give an indication that they will seriously consider a decommissioning scheme.

The Earl of Kinnoull

I also support my noble friend. It is obvious from the excellent Select Committee report that conservation of our fish stocks for the future involves a combination of a host of different measures. This is the first conservation Bill that we have had for 25 years and the British Government appear to be trying to give a lead to our fellow members of the Community. Yet all we have is a short enabling Bill. It is a great shame that the Government do not grasp some of the other issues at the same time. Industrial fishing and black fish are key issues. I believe that something on those issues could be written into the Bill, and also on decommissioning.

Whatever the Government say, there must be a suspicion that behind the Government is the Treasury, which is keen not to increase the budget which has already been extracted for 1993.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Following on from what my noble friend said, if the problem lay with the Treasury that would be understandable. It has already been stated in the debate that any decommissioning scheme would have to be a substantial one if it were to have any effect on conservation.

Did my noble friend on the Front Bench notice the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Selborne—which I believe was his personal suggestion and was not mentioned in the Select Committee report—in the Second Reading debate that if a charge was made for licences it would be possible not only to pay for the licence scheme, which would in itself be expensive, but the licence fee would contribute to the cost of decommissioning? If the industry can contribute some of its earnings to decommissioning it may make that possible. In view of the difficult times facing public expenditure the industry may see the point of it. Perhaps my noble friend could respond to that?

Earl Howe

I hope that I can reassure my noble friend about his concerns. The days at sea restriction proposed under the Bill should not be looked at in isolation but seen as an integral part of the package of conservation measures announced by the Government earlier in the year. That package included technical measures, such as minimum net size for certain fisheries; proposals to enable vessel owners to transfer or aggregate licences more freely; capacity penalties to apply to such transfers or aggregations; and the announcement of a cash-limited decommissioning scheme to the value of £25 million to assist that process of rationalisation. The extent to which we shall need to tighten effort control will depend on the degree to which other measures in the conservation package are having the desired effect on our fleet capacity and stocks. As my noble friend is proposing in the amendment we shall have regard to our scheme of decommissioning before we further restrict days at sea.

My noble friend would like us to consider a larger decommissioning scheme. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, referred to the schemes of other member states. It is true that other member states may have spent more but there is no evidence that this has achieved the desired result in helping to conserve fish stocks. On the contrary. We have a duty to maximise value for money. I remind my noble friend that a previous United Kingdom decommissioning scheme was criticised by the Public Accounts Committee for being poor value for money. More money does not necessarily mean better value; it could mean quite the opposite.

My noble friend Lord Stodart asked a number of questions. Decommissioning is one part of the Government's package. The fishing industry pressed us strongly for a decommissioning scheme and we have responded to those requests. The Government do not take the view that a decommissioning scheme is completely ineffective; I dissent from the tenor of the remarks of my noble friend Lord Selborne. We believe that it cannot he guaranteed to have the effect of reducing total pressure on fish stocks without restrictions on fishing effort. A scheme to pay fishermen to tie up temporarily, to which the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, referred, seems certain to have less effect than the form of decommissioning and payment for permanent withdrawal of boats which the Government are proposing to introduce. The noble Lady also said that she regarded the Government's decommissioning scheme as a waste of money. I would agree with her if there was ever a decommissioning scheme which was not also accompanied by effort control. My noble friend Lord Stodart asked why our decommissioning scheme could not be increased. I have already explained some of the reasons for that. It cannot be for the taxpayer to shoulder the entire burden of rationalising the capacity of our fleet. Fishermen must address that imperative and play their part.

My noble friend Lady Carnegy asked about the possibility of charging for licences to pay for more decommissioning. That is a very interesting suggestion which on the face of it would not go down well with the industry. However, if the industry has some proposals it would like to put to the Government on those lines we would be very pleased to look at them.

Lord Stodart of Leaston

Perhaps I may say with regret and sorrow that my noble friend has not answered as I thought he would the proposition I put to him, namely, that a decommissioning scheme would reduce the number of vessels and share out the existing catch—keeping the quota and everything else—among a smaller number of vessels which, other than those that might go bankrupt, would be more profitable. What is the objection? Is it basically cost?

Earl Howe

I will not disguise from my noble friend that there is no prospect of increasing the value of the decommissioning package beyond the levels already announced. I am sure I have no need to tell him that public expenditure constraints are very severe. I would ask him to look at the package of measures that the Government are proposing. There are market mechanisms (if I may refer to them in that way) that will assist in the process of rationalising the fleet. I referred to the ability of vessel owners to transfer and aggregate licences more freely. That will enable the more efficient fishing vessel owners to address any reductions in days at sea imposed upon them. The fleet should contract in a natural way through mechanisms of that kind. Decommissioning certainly has a part to play as the Government have recognised. We estimate that the scheme proposed should account for approximately 5 per cent., and the other market mechanisms the order of 2 or 3 per cent., of the fleet, leaving effort control to take account of the remainder of the reduction that we seek to achieve under whatever MAGP targets the Commission sets us.

Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal

Does not the Minister think he is getting himself into a certain amount of difficulty on procedural grounds? What is wrong with the words he is asked to accept? He says he has some interest in a decommissioning scheme and that he already has one, though not a brilliant one. All my noble friend is asking him to do is to give due consideration to a scheme. I am surprised he has not said that he is against putting extra words into the Bill. I cannot see what harm it would do him to accept the amendment.

Earlier, we discussed the question of a level playing field. There is the danger, I believe, of the Minister coming back to the House saying that other countries have gone into decommissioning schemes that have proved successful in reducing their effort and seeking to persuade us that that works fine for them but not for us. I do not know by what criteria he intends to judge the reduction in effort by other countries. If he has no idea of those criteria I suggest that he will be in great difficulty when he comes to get his Order in Council, unless the Government resort to putting it on at 2 o'clock in the morning at the end of a heavy debate on some other issue, which is not totally unknown.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona, must be taken into account by the Minister. As I understand it, the only other country with restrictions on going to sea is Holland. What he is saying is that all the other schemes within the common fisheries policy area are ineffective. That appears to me to be a grave reflection on the idea of a level playing field. If he is looking at that he should also look at the licensing fee. The industry proposed a licensing fee some years ago.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

Perhaps my noble friend the Minister ought to have another look at the particular amendment about "due consideration". Various facts have arisen in this debate and there is some controversy as to whether or not the industry would subscribe to some scheme. I believe that that needs to be looked into. I suggest to my noble friend the Minister that he takes the amendment away, has another look at it and gives us some assurance that it is not completely out of court to give due consideration to a scheme of decommissioning in this way.

6 p.m.

Lord Gray of Contin

I apologise to the Minister for not having been present during all of the debate but I had to leave the Committee for a little while. The proceedings are at an early stage and I hope that he will agree to look again at this point. It has been reasonably argued by all Members whom I have heard speak and I hope that he will reconsider it.

There is no doubt that there is a tremendous amount of feeling for the fishing industry. In recent weeks we have experienced the sort of sympathy that exists for the mining industry. I can assure my noble friend that those of us who come from areas with a lot of fishermen, whom we frequently meet, know that there is equal sympathy for that industry.

I heard suggested earlier this afternoon that the fishing industry must be prepared to look after itself. I can assure my noble friend that there is no industry which is more self-reliant than the fishing industry. From skippers down to the crew, they have all made personal investments in the industry. They put their money where their mouths are. They are now seeing their very livelihood eroded. I hope that, in view of what has been said tonight, my noble friend will consider looking again at this issue. All we ask him to do is to consider it. We hope that by Report stage he may be a little more sympathetic.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

I intervene to give my noble friend a few more minutes to think about the matter. This is not a difficult amendment. My noble friend refuses to accept its very moderate intention. Fishermen and Members of the Committee may perhaps feel that he is being somewhat intransigent. I hope he will think carefully and perhaps give my noble friend Lord Radnor some assurance.

Earl Howe

I have tried to be as reassuring as I can in my remarks. I said that the 1981 Fisheries Act clearly provides that we can run a decommissioning scheme. What I cannot do is to accept the point behind the amendment; namely, that the Government should look again at a decommissioning scheme larger than the one that we have already proposed. There is no prospect of our doing that.

However, I can assure the Committee that we shall have regard to our scheme of decommissioning before we restrict days at sea below the 1991 level. That is as far as I can go. I have tried to be helpful and I hope that my noble friend will be content to withdraw the amendment in the knowledge that all the comments made in this debate will be studied very carefully.

The Earl of Radnor

It is no good pretending that I am not very disappointed with many of the answers that have been forthcoming. They have been those we have always heard before: that it has to be a mixed bag to deal with the shortage of fish and, although we know the trouble that the fishing community is in, the effort has to be cut. It is as though decommissioning were not a cut in effort. Of course it is and it is also the most effective one.

I shall not repeat any of the arguments that I have put forward before. I started off by saying that the amendment was a mild one. In my opinion it is too mild. The last remark made by my noble friend on the Front Bench, to the effect that he could not hold out any hope of a much larger decommissioning scheme (if I understood him rightly), is more than a little disappointing. I intimated that I hoped that the other measures would lead on to decommissioning as the main prop to the whole business of sea fish conservation and therefore conservation of fishing communities.

I shall not press the amendment now, though I am tempted to do so. The reason is that I shall bring back the amendment on Report, probably with the wording that I produced at the start of my remarks. I feel that the Government would get away with murder if they accepted this amendment, which merely allows them to look at the issue. I shall compose the next amendment with considerably more care. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry moved Amendments Nos. 10 to 14:

Page 1, line 22, after ("of") insert ("section 1(5) of").

Page 1, line 24, after ("kept") insert ("or purported to be kept").

Page 1, line 27, after ("made") insert ("or purported to be made").

Page 2, line 1, leave out ("required") and insert ("provided or purported").

Page 2, line 5, after ("(ii)") insert ("a requirement under").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 10 can conveniently be considered with Amendment No. 31. They both apply to Scotland only. Both are purely technical and simply correct an omission in the original wording. They now make clear that the evidential provisions of the Bill will have effect one month after Royal Assent rather than having immediate effect.

With the Committee's permission, I shall deal also with Amendments Nos. 11 to 14, which deal with these evidential provisions. They fall to be considered along with Amendments Nos. 32 to 34. Again they introduce minor technical amendments to Clause 1(3); the later amendments refer to Clause 3(3) of the Bill.

The subsections provide that documents and information which vessel masters and their agents are legally obliged to produce—such things as log sheets and landing declarations—can be used as evidence in Scottish courts without being sworn to by any witness. In other words, the documents will provide sufficient evidence of the information they contain unless—and this is important—the contrary is proved. Effective enforcement is essential if we are to operate an effective conservation policy. I say that not just in relation to the proposed days at sea provision but also and more widely across the whole range of quota management arrangements. An essential feature of effective enforcement is the ability to bring cases efficiently before the courts.

The documents referred to in the clauses are fundamental to the regulation of our fisheries. They are often the only sources of information on, for example, where a vessel has been fishing and what species and quantities of fish have been taken. Vessel skippers and their agents are already under a legal obligation to complete the documents and complete them accurately.

I turn to the specific amendments before the Committee. I have already explained that the original provisions are designed to improve the efficiency of prosecutions by ensuring that the court can consider that information, which is statutorily required. These further amendments will ensure that the Crown does not have to bring witnesses to court to give purely formal evidence that the log books and landing declarations bearing the name of a particular skipper or vessel in fact relate to that vessel.

The Committee will know that the original provision and the amendment before us merely mean that the Scottish courts can consider these classes of evidence. Inaccuracies in the records can still be corrected through the defence or, as the case may be, the Crown leading evidence to the opposite effect. The only change will be that the information contained in the documents will be taken as accurate unless the contrary is proved by either the defence or the Crown.

With that explanation, and with the permission of the Committee, I beg to move Amendments Nos. 10 to 14 en bloc.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

On Question, Whether Clause 1, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Gallacher

I wish to oppose the proposal that Clause 1 stand part of the Bill. I do so for a simple reason. The Bill is defective in a major way. It makes no provision for the licensing of fish buyers. However, when I attempted to draft an amendment the best possible advice I received was that such an amendment would not be acceptable and that if I were to press it the Committee would be advised that it was not in order. At the same time I was told that if I chose the procedure which I now follow, it would be possible to raise the matter on the Question of whether the clause shall stand part. That is what I now do.

The objection stems from the fact that the parent Act refers in licensing terms exclusively to fishing boats. Consequently fishing buyers are outwith the scope of the Bill, as we would say in Scotland. There is now growing evidence in the media and elsewhere that the selling of black market fish is on the increase. I do not wish to particularise as to which place or which section of the media I refer to. But the interest in the subject is such that I have already received a few telephone calls from people who would like to know more about black fish and the part played by fish buyers in sustaining the black fish market.

If the Government's package of measures, about which the noble Earl has quite rightly said much today, is to take effect, then one must consider the matter fairly broadly. To do so without considering the subject of fish buyers narrows the scope of the Bill and may leave open a channel which will undermine the conservation objectives of the Bill.

Since the Select Committee on European Communities supported me in the matter, I should be the first to quote chapter and verse of its recommendations. However, in paragraphs 1.08 and 1.09 of its report it took the view that fish buyers should not be licensed. With respect, I believe that that view was wrong and if the committee were now to re-examine the question it might reach a different conclusion. The media have much to say on the subject. One must take note of the growing concern about black fish.

Market trends in the fishing industry are difficult to ascertain. When we pressed the Minister in bygone years about reductions in the total catch, we were often told that that was compensated for by increases in the value of the catch. That seems to be an example of the operation of the law of supply and demand. However, through the good offices of the Scottish Office I receive information which is circulated in Scotland on fish and farming matters. Advice dated 4th November states that: The value of fish landed into Scotland by UK vessels during the period January to September 1992 was £189.8 million, 6 per cent. less than in 1991. Average prices were eight per cent. down on the same period last year. Haddock prices were down by 33 per cent. and those for saithe, whiting and cod fell by 15, 13 and two per cent. respectively". That appears to contradict the laws of supply and demand, although I recognise that the fishing industry does not necessarily follow the normal rules on prices and availability.

In time the clause will impose much larger fines on fishermen. In some ways they are penal fines, from £5,000 to £50,000. It introduces restrictions on days at sea. Those combined factors place a heavy responsibility on the Government to ensure effective enforcement. As the trend towards heavier penalties and the necessity for better enforcement grows, the incentive to break the law will become that much greater. If indeed the law is currently being broken, as I believe it is, the deterrents in the Bill will not be sufficient to eliminate the problem of black fish. The sale of black fish is only possible through the availability of black fish buyers.

I have no particular suggestion to make about the timescale of a licensing scheme. However, if such a licensing scheme were devised, the penalty on the fish buyers of losing a licence as well as fines on the submission of evidence of illegal dealings, would contribute in a major way towards the elimination of the problem.

For those reasons, and in order to have a reaction from the noble Earl to the proposition of licensing of fish buyers, I beg to oppose the Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Grimond

First, I warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, on introducing the subject of fish farms into the Bill. It shows ingenuity worthy of the fishing industry at its best. Were he not such a distinguished lawyer, I would not have believed that it could have been done.

I have only this to say on fish farms. When dealing with them I hope that the noble Lord will remember the immemorial udal rights of the Orkneys and Shetlanders which have caused problems before with these farms.

I agree that there is need for control. Possibly the way to control the farms is through local planning. However, at present the fish farms are in a dicky position, so it may not be quite so necessary.

However, I rise on a rather different matter, which links up with what the noble Lord said about black fish, and that is discards. We are all agreed that discards are one of the most shameful uses to which fish are put. Does the Minister hold out any hope that the Bill will decrease the number of discards? It may increase the total number of fish caught, but is any proposal expressly aimed at the problem of fish discards?

Secondly, I ask a simple question—it is so simple that no doubt I ought to have known the answer long ago. I am still vague as to how the Bill will operate. Let us say that in 1993 it becomes apparent that there is a grave shortage of haddock; and there is overfishing of haddock. As I understand what the Minister says, the base date will be 1991—that is, two years earlier. Have I interpreted that correctly? I understand that he would then ask for a return of haddock quotas. If the shortage is in the North Sea, he would exclude from his consideration any boats fishing for haddock in the Channel, the Bristol Channel and off Northern Ireland. He would consider only the track record of boats fishing in the North Sea. I am deeply suspicious of drawing any inference from the track record of fishing boats. But still I understand that that is what the Minister will do. Presumably he would pick out those boats which landed a great many haddock in 1991, leaving aside discards, whiting, cod and other fish. He would then limit the days at sea of those boats.

I can hardly believe that I have this right. I do not believe that it is possible to do that. But let us assume that I am right. The fishermen will then say, "This year we are not fishing for haddock. We know about the shortage of haddock so we have transferred our fishing effort to other species". I agree that they cannot do that entirely; they will still have discards and so on. But they can do it to some purpose. Many fishing boats have certainly changed their type of fishing.

I must emphasise that fishing is a hunting operation. It is not like farming. The fishermen do not control the crop. It is like fox-hunting—although that is not approved of in England. Fishing is not an agricultural occupation.

We now say to those people who were fishing for haddock but are now fishing for whiting, cod or other fish, "You must tie up". We shall come later to compensation. I do not wish to repeat what has been said about the difficulties of tying up fishing boats. Of course expenses continue. Of course people will want to use the capital that they have acquired. A boat is expensive to keep. People do not wish to see it tied up in port. As regards share fishermen, the income of the crew is knocked on the head if they cannot go to sea. They are paid only from the profits on the catches.

I cannot believe that my exposition of what will happen is right. I do not always hold in high regard the actions of governments but I cannot believe that this Government are as stupid as they appear. How will they decide the matter? Let us suppose that there is a shortage of a particular fish in 1993. How will they decide which boats to tie up? Will many boats be tied up each for a short time or will one or two boats be told to tie up for a long time? Is the decision to be left to local inspectors or will it be made in Whitehall or St. Andrew's House?

I ask those questions because, after all, we are supposed to be passing legislation which ordinary people can understand in their ordinary lives, without lawyers and without reading debates. The fishermen are entitled to be told exactly how the scheme will work because if in 1993 there is a shortage of fish the Government may turn to this instrument in order to restore the balance.

The Earl of Selborne

I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, was right about decommissioning but, sadly, he has entirely wrong the idea about licensing all links in the food or fish chain. The measure would be one of appalling bureaucratic complication. That is not to say that there is not a real problem about black fish. There is a clear problem which must be addressed in some way. However, the idea of licensing each buyer and transporter of fish, and everyone in the processing link, all of whom must show that the fish are the opposite of black fish (which I hasten to say are not white fish) would be a bureaucratic nightmare.

There will be a cost to the industry and I realise that those who supervise will be a charge on the taxpayer. However, the operation of such a bureaucracy would be a cost to the industry and to the taxpayer. If we are to spend such amounts of money I should prefer them to be spent on decommissioning schemes. I believe that a moment's thought about a proposal such as this would persuade the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, that Sub-committee D is unlikely to change its mind. Nothing could be calculated to cause greater consternation and discrimination against the fishing industry than his suggestion.

Lord Gray of Contin

I take a different view from that held by the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, because I support the inclusion of Clause 1 in the Bill. We must be pragmatic. We must realise that the Bill will go through Parliament and that the Government will get their legislation. To try to remove Clause 1 in Committee would unquestionably wreck the Bill. I wish to keep Clause 1 because I am hopeful that as time passes the Minister will be persuaded towards some of the suggestions which have been put to him tonight.

The debates on the amendments to Clause 1 highlighted the fact that the main fear of our fishing industry is that it will be treated less favourably than those of certain of our European partners. The industry feels most strongly about that matter. As I said previously, the fishermen have made a huge investment in their industry. I accept that there has been substantial government aid in grants of one kind or another. However, one must not forget that the investment which the fishermen have made in their industry has been enormous and all of it must be repaid. Loans have been subject to high interest rates, which has been a source of great embarrassment to many people in the fishing industry. They have just about managed to weather that difficulty but now, as a result of the tie-up proposals, they see their future in great danger.

I fully accept that negotiations with the Treasury must be far from easy. I realise that that is largely responsible for the disinclination on the part of the Government to offer an improvement on the decommissioning scheme. It would be difficult to argue about that point because there are priorities within Government and one does not know where in the batting order the fishing industry lies. However, we know that those who earn their livelihoods from fishing in our seas are most worried about their future.

I do not wish to say more at this moment but merely tell the Minister that I support him. I hope that Clause 1 will remain part of the Bill, that he will be sympathetic to the suggestions that we put to him and that we shall see the benefit of his sympathy at the Report stage.

Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal

I thank my noble friend Lord Selborne. I am a warden of the Fishmongers Company, which controls Billingsgate Market. That is not a happy place at present because it has problems in dealing with the EC. I wish merely to say to the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, that what was said by my noble friend Lord Selborne was manifestly right. It would be a major undertaking to license all the fish buyers and all the merchants.

Earl Howe

The noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, has indicated why he believes that the clause is inadequate as it stands. I hope that he does not intend to divide the Committee. If he succeeded in removing Clause 1 he would cause immense damage to the Bill, risk the conservation of our fish stocks and in turn the future of our fishing industry. I am grateful for the supportive remarks of my noble friend Lord Gray.

When debating an earlier amendment we explained why the Government believe that effort control is an absolutely essential adjunct to the other conservation measures announced earlier this year. Decommissioning and technical measures will be insufficient to stop over-fishing, especially the discarding and the black fishing so rightly mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Grimond. It contributes seriously to the depletion of our important fishing stocks. Not only is effort control an essential adjunct, it is an indissoluble one in the context of the package that the Government are proposing. If the Committee is persuaded to remove the clause from the Bill it will deprive the industry of its decommissioning scheme. I cannot believe that that is what Members of the Committee or the industry want.

The clause does more than introduce effort control; it empowers Ministers to require licence holders to provide the information that we need to administer and enforce the licence system, not least for the so-called quota hoppers. The clause covers evidential provisions for criminal proceedings in Scotland. The prosecution of offenders will form an essential part of the process of ensuring compliance with fish conservation measures. Certain documents, such as EC log books which vessel skippers are under a legal obligation to complete, provide vital evidence for such prosecutions. They contain information about the days spent at sea and the catches taken. The clause also covers the extension of Ministerial powers to revoke or to suspend the licences of fishermen who have breached licence conditions. The industry itself has requested that provision. It will enable us to take action in the case of persistent offenders who, by blatantly disregarding the law, are putting fish stocks and the livelihoods of law-abiding fishermen at stake.

The noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, asked whether the Government had considered the licensing of fish buyers. I share his anxiety about black fish and we are considering various solutions to the problem. The licensing of buyers could well be helpful but we believe that it could also be bureaucratic and inflexible. That is why we have preferred to focus on fishing vessels.

The noble Lord questioned why prices should have gone down in the fish market and made certain remarks about the possible increase of black fishing, which I cannot positively confirm. However, I put it to him that those two matters may well be linked. The noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, also made some supportive remarks about the need for better enforcement. I welcome that. This clause tackles extremely important aspects of enforcement.

The noble Lord, Lord Grimond, asked how the Bill will deal with black fishing and discarding. The easiest way to answer that is to say that the effort controls which the Bill will introduce will oblige fishermen to concentrate their effort on fishing for legitimate quotas. He asked also how the provisions of the Bill will work. We do not intend that the provisions should affect the ability of fishermen to take their full quota entitlement. The TAC and quota regime should be looked at quite separately from the Bill's provisions. Vessel owners will be quite free to manage and utilise their days at sea allocation with maximum flexibility.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, that discards are a serious problem. That was a point highlighted by the committee chaired so ably by my noble friend Lord Selborne. Ministers have highlight-ed that too in the Community discussions which we have had. We are waiting for the Commission to produce proposals to reduce at Community level the present extent of discards. Meanwhile, I hope that restrictions on days at sea based on this Bill will reduce overfishing, black fishing and the taking and discarding of fish at sea. I hope that it will bring actual catches more closely into line with fishermen's quotas.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, will think better of his opposition to the clause.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

The noble Earl said that black fishing may have had an adverse effect on the price of fish; it may have lowered the price. Does he not agree that the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, on fish farming may well have a great deal to do with the fall in fish prices? There has been an enormous increase in Norwegian farmed salmon which, in many cases, has reduced the price of salmon in the shops to below that of haddock. In fact, it may be quite relevant to license fish farming.

Earl Howe

I agree that there is an underlying truth here. Certainly as regards salmon we have seen an effect on prices as a result of fish farming. I should like to consider the point made by the noble Lord on fish farms and I shall write to him about it.

Lord Gallacher

I am grateful to the Minister, particularly for the fact that I judge from his remarks that his mind is not closed as regards the possibility of licensing fish buyers. I should have made it clear that I was thinking of wholesale buyers of fish rather than retailers. Members of the Committee may not have understood me on that. I did not raise the question of fish farms and that is no part of my submission this evening. I have no intention of further opposing the Motion that the clause shall stand part of the Bill.

On Question, Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy moved Amendment No. 15: After Clause 1, insert the following new clause:


  1. .—(1) The Ministers shall pay to the master, owner or charterer of a vessel named in a licence containing a condition imposed under section 4(6) (c) of the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967, a sum in compensation for any restriction upon time spent at sea by that vessel, calculated in accordance with regulations to be made by Ministers after consultation with appropriate industry bodies.
  2. (2) Any master, owner or charterer who is dissatisfied by the award of compensation under subsection (1) above may make application for a review of said award to the Sea Fish Licence Tribunal which Tribunal shall have the power to vary or revoke the award.").

The noble Lady said: By the introduction of a decommissioning scheme, albeit modest, to put it mildly, Ministers have recognised that there is a right to compensation for vessels being taken out of fishing. A right to compensation, where an arbitrary restriction on the right to make money is imposed, should be accepted also by the Government.

That is recognised by Her Majesty's Government in that agricultural producers whose effort is restricted are compensated under the set-aside scheme. Is it not equitable that compensation should be made available to those in the fishing industry who are affected by effort restrictions? While admittedly it is not as large as the agricultural industry, the fishing industry is not negligible. An industry which directly employs over 19,000 people in this country, and on which many times that number depend for employment in ancillary industries, is scarcely negligible even if it does not command quite as many votes as agriculture.

That claim is reinforced by the fact that the principle of compensation for periods of lay-off is established under Community structures policy, which was put in place during the last United Kingdom presidency of the Council in 1986. No details of a compensation scheme have been proposed in this amendment as the basis of calculation would be complicated. However, were the Government prepared to accept the amendment, I understand that the industry would be willing to co-operate fully in order to arrive at a mutually acceptable formula.

Subsection (2) gives the right of appeal to the Sea Fish Licence Tribunal to anyone aggrieved by the proposed award of compensation. I beg to move.

Lord Elton

Simply for the ease of the Committee later on, do I understand that the noble Lady is speaking also to Amendment No. 35?

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

Yes, because Amendment No. 35 is consequential on Amendment No. 15.

The Earl of Kinnoull

I support the noble Lady. This is an extremely important principle to be introduced into the Bill and is a matter of almost natural justice. Large companies which have invested great amounts may find that their businesses have been badly affected. They should have some comfort from knowing that they can appeal to a tribunal for compensation.

One wonders why the Government do not believe that to be just. After all, the Ministry of Agriculture has long experience of compensation to farmers, particularly under the set-aside scheme where an identical situation has come about; that is, where capacity has to be reduced through no fault of the farmer. Reduction in fishing may not necessarily be the fault of the fisherman, but may be in the interests of the conservation of the fish stocks of the world.

There is a strong case for the principle of compensation to be included in the Bill. This may not be the right amendment but I am convinced in my own mind that there is a case for it, having regard in particular to large investors. As my noble friend Lord Gray said, they may now be faced with considerable mortgage interest to pay and may suddenly find that they cannot meet those commitments because of the restrictions. Therefore, there must be a case for compensation.

The Earl of Selborne

We all recognise that the common agricultural policy is full of strange anomalies and sets an appalling precedent for any system of support for any industry. We are in desperate trouble if we are now praying in aid payment aid and set-aside as a compensation for the fishing industry.

Let us think what we are trying to do. We are trying to recognise that there are fewer fish in the sea than there are fishermen who wish to catch them. We are saying that there are national quotas and unless we reduce our capacity we shall find that discarding and black fishing will increase. The quotas will not increase because they are limited by total allowable catches, and are quite irrelevant. The total allowable catches will determine how much fishermen can take and therefore, the return on the investment of those large ships in which, as my noble friend Lord Kinnoull reminds us, there has been considerable investment.

Does the Committee think it sensible, having agreed that there is overcapacity, to say, "As there are no fish in the sea, we shall pay you for not fishing them". I believe that the taxpayers' money should be spent on decommissioning and removing, once and for all, that surplus capacity. By paying people not to fish, we shall merely keep that overcapacity in existence. I believe that all Members of the Committee will agree that that is the last thing that we should do.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

Of course the noble Earl is absolutely right. However, this amendment shows quite clearly the need for a proper decommissioning scheme. The Government have rejected extremely reasonable amendments from the noble Earl, Lord Radnor. The evidence is piling up and they should now think again.

Earl Howe

In responding to this amendment, I think I ought to make two points quite clear. The first is that unless fishermen are prepared to accept and shoulder some of the responsibility for the over-fishing of stocks, conservation will become simply an empty word. The fish in the sea do not belong, as land does, to anyone in particular. I do not accept the analogy with set-aside, which is a scheme to compensate landowners for keeping their own land out of production and in good heart. Fish in the sea are a common resource, to be respected or exploited by the fishermen who fish. If there are too many fishermen fishing that resource, as my noble friend has just said, the industry must recognise that it is they, collectively, who are causing the problem. Fishermen must, as a consequence, share the burden of reducing fishing effort and fishing capacity.

The Government accept that they should assist this process and the decommissioning scheme we have announced is an important part of the package of measures. But the taxpayer cannot be expected to foot the entire bill for the excesses for which the industry itself is to blame. That is a point of principle I do not accept. Conservation is in the fishermen's interests and it is therefore in their interests to be prepared to show restraint in order to safeguard their own long-term future.

Initially, as I have already said, fishing effort will be frozen at last year's levels. This should not affect a fisherman's ability to take up his full entitlement of fish and to meet his full earning potential within the quota system. Any reductions in days at sea which follow are likely, as I have said, to be of modest proportions year by year. There will be nothing in the regulations to prevent any fisherman from continuing to catch his full quota entitlement. Effort control is targeted at reducing discards and black fishing, not legitimate income.

Secondly, as a purely practical point, if we are to spend public money, and a finite pot of public money, it must be better to spend it on taking vessels permanently out of the fleet: that is, on decommission-ing—and I agree with the comment made by my noble friend—rather than to spend it on compensation. To spend it on compensation might actually be used to increase fishing effort; for example, if a fisherman uses that money to upgrade or re-engine his vessel. I do not believe that noble Lords would want to see that happen. It would be an extremely irresponsible use of public funds, even if public funds were unlimited.

Therefore, I repeat that effort control is in the fishermen's long-term interests and they must share the financial burden of conserving fish stocks. They must also choose between compensation and decommissioning: they cannot have both. I stress that if this amendment is pressed and, unfortunately, carried there can be no decommissioning scheme because the two are inextricably linked. I therefore strongly urge the noble Lady to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

I am fascinated by my noble friend's argument. He is saying that he would much prefer decommissioning to this amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Selborne and I agree with him. Why then did not my noble friend look more sympathetically on the amendment on decommissioning put forward by my noble friend Lord Radnor?

Earl Howe

I am simply saying that there is a finite pot of public money—namely, £25 million—which the Government have earmarked for the decommissioning scheme. I am also pointing out that if we are looking for value for money then we shall achieve it more effectively by means of the decommissioning scheme rather than frittering it away on compensation, which may be used for purposes other than those preferred by, I am sure, all noble Lords.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

Is the noble Earl saying that the Government have earmarked £25 million in addition to the money which will come from the EC?

6.45 p.m.

Earl Howe

The proportion of the £25 million that has been earmarked, which is accounted for by the Exchequer—I believe I am right in saying this, although I am subject to correction—is approximately 80 per cent. The remainder comes from EC funds.

The Earl of Kinnoull

My noble friend made an important statement in saying that there would be only modest reductions over the foreseeable future in the amounts that would be put into licensing. I wonder whether he can give the Committee a little more comfort, because his department must have worked out those reductions. Can he say whether it might be 5 per cent. a year as a maximum? That would be of some comfort to those planning for the future.

Earl Howe

Yes, perhaps I may address that concern in a little more detail. I cannot anticipate the final outcome, but all the indications are that for those vessels affected by the highest rate of effort restriction days at sea will have to be reduced by about 5 per cent. a year over three years. In other words, a vessel spending 200 days at sea in 1991 would still be able to spend approximately 170 days at sea in 1996. I recognise that even this restriction will be unwelcome, but it is a far cry—this is a good opportunity for me to put this on the record—from the 30 per cent. which has been mentioned at various times. It is surely worth having such a measure to safeguard our stocks.

For other vessels the reductions will be even less than that. In some cases there will be a freeze at the 1991 level: that is, 200 days in this example. That may well be sufficient. I hope that is helpful.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Am I right in thinking that the financial worry for fishermen is whether they are going to have enough fishing days to catch their quota? If they can catch their quota and sell it, they have done all they can do anyway, so that to suggest that they should get financial compensation for fishing days lost, which might be lost when the quota has been caught and they would not be fishing anyway, would not be justified. Is that correct, or have I got it wrong?

Earl Howe

As I said earlier, I do not expect days at sea to be the limiting factor for vessel owners. The limiting factor will be their quotas. I think that point was made earlier and I hope it answers my noble friend.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

Of course I entirely agree with all noble Lords and the noble Earl who have said that decommissioning is infinitely preferable to compensation. It was only because the Government refused to accept the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, that I gave this one a whirl. If the Government could produce a properly-funded decommissioning scheme which would take a great deal more than 5 per cent. out of the fleet, or possibly if they would consider putting in £25 million every year until a sizeable reduction was effected, then of course that would be very much better. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 [Restrictions on time spent at sea—appeals]:

Lord Mackie of Benshie moved Amendment No. 16:

Page 2, line 28, at end insert: ("(2A) If—

  1. (a) a licence under section 4 of this Act contains a condition restricting the time which a vessel may spend at sea, and
  2. (b) a licence containing such a condition has previously been granted in respect of that vessel,
the person to whom the licence is granted may make an application to the tribunal requesting it to review the time which, according to the condition, the vessel may spend at sea, provided that the application relates solely to the refusal of Ministers to add to the number of days which a vessel is entitled to spend at sea in any year the whole or part of the number of days on which the vessel was entitled, in terms of this Act, to proceed to sea but was unable to do so.").

The noble Lord said: Again, this amendment is a simple attempt to perhaps remove some of the anomalies which would be caused to various skippers and vessel owners by the scheme. What we are really trying to point out is that in normal circumstances when something goes wrong with a boat —if it has the misfortune to have a collision, breaks down, needs a new engine, or if the owner is ill—the owner will of course make up his time as best he can by fishing more at a later date and trying to make up his quota. Of course, when he is severely restricted he cannot do that, so we are suggesting that it would be reasonably easy to appeal to the tribunal for more days, giving the circumstances which had knocked off the days he should have been fishing. Although the noble Earl keeps saying that it is the quota that is to apply, this Bill is about days at sea. We therefore think that, in these circumstances, the amendment is reasonable and will ensure that we shall not penalise individual fishermen and restrict them exploiting their legitimate fishing opportunities.

Days lost for reasons beyond the fisherman's control could well be considered by the tribunal on an appeal. I should like to hear what the Minister has to say about this very reasonable amendment, which seeks to remove an injustice from many fishermen who are extremely hard pressed because of, as your Lordships know, the price of the boats, of interest and everything else. I think that it is a reasonable thing to ask for. I beg to move.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

There is another reason why I should very much like to support the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, in this amendment. If fishermen can carry over unused days from the previous year to the following one, I believe that there will be very much less pressure on them to go out in very bad conditions in order to make sure of catching their whole quota. I think, therefore, that this amendment is very much in the interests of the safety not only of the fishermen, but also of those who might have to risk their lives going out to rescue them if they do get into difficulties. For that reason alone, I should like to support the amendment.

Earl Howe

From the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, I believe that this amendment may be based on a misunderstanding of how days-at-sea allocations will be made each year. It may help if I explain a little further.

Fishermen will be issued with their days-at-sea allocations annually as part of their fishing licences. The first allocation will be based on the 1991 track record of each vessel, subject to any determination by the tribunal after an appeal. Thereafter it is this figure which will be used as the basis for any changes that are made. Changes will only be made to reflect the needs of fish conservation and the need to meet MAGP targets. They will not take into account whether or not fishermen use up their allocations in any one year. It would clearly not make sense—and I am a little surprised that noble Lords think that it should—for fishermen to be allowed to carry over unused allocation from one year to the next. Each year's entitlement reflects the need to conserve fish stocks, and this must not be distorted by carry-over from the previous year.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, raised a further point. He asked whether the days at sea were likely to be sufficient to enable fishermen to catch their quotas. If effort control prevented important quotas from being taken across sections of the fleet—an unlikely event, as I stressed to my noble friend a moment ago—we could discuss corrective action with the industry and with the Commission. That action might well include relaxing the days-at-sea restrictions if that proved necessary. I hope that those remarks have been of some help and that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Hylton

I am sorry that the Minister has not said anything in his reply about the safety factor. I should have thought that that was a very important element in the whole question raised by the amendment. If he is going to say anything more, can he also say how the quotas are to be broken down between one species of fish and another? Are we going to have the same restriction on days for the whole of the United Kingdom? The situation in Cornwall may well be totally different from that in the Orkney Islands, Northern Ireland or somewhere else. I feel that a good deal more explanation is needed.

Earl Howe

We debated the safety factor at some length earlier this afternoon and I feel that that subject has had a very good airing. The noble Lord has just asked me how the Bill will address quotas as between the various species. With very great respect, this has nothing to do with the amendment that we are discussing.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

As I understood the Minister, he said that, where the quota had not been fulfilled, the Government would be prepared to discuss the question of extra days at sea. The quota applies to individual vessels because it is split by the fishing organisations down to individual vessels. Would the Minister be prepared to consider that provision applying to an individual vessel which had suffered some great disaster either to the skipper or to the boat and thereby lost a great deal of time at sea?

Earl Howe

I do not think that we could look at it vessel by vessel. It would be much too cumbersome. I was seeking to say that, if across substantial sections of the fleet this was proving to be a problem and important quota stocks were not being taken by virtue of the days-at-sea regime, clearly we would have to look at that very carefully and approach the Commission with whatever proposals we thought appropriate.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

That is a more satisfactory reply than some that we have had from the Minister. For the present, although I shall withdraw my amendment, I shall look at what the Minister has said and hold further consultations. In view of the importance of this to individuals, I might bring it back on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 17 not moved.]

Earl Howe moved Amendment No. 18:

Page 2, line 33, leave out from ("made") to end of line 35.

The noble Earl said: I spoke to this amendment when I moved Amendment No. 4. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 19 not moved.]

Earl Howe moved Amendment No. 20:

Page 2, line 40, leave out from ("principles") to ("may") in line 41 and insert ("set out in any order made under section 4(6C) of this Act").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Gallacher moved Amendment No. 21:

Page 2, line 45, at end insert: ("() In determining any application made by any person to whom the licence is granted who is the master, owner or charterer of a vessel being either a vessel—

  1. (a) acquired by the master, owner or charterer thereof between 1 January 1991 and the coming into force of this Act, or
  2. (b) registered by the owner thereof as first registration thereof in terms of Part II of the Merchant Shipping Act 1988,
then the tribunal shall be entitled to take into account the average time spent at sea by other vessels of a similar type engaged in similar fishing operations.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment tries to deal with the situation in which either ownership changes or new vessels come along. It relates specifically to the award of days-at-sea entitlement in respect of someone who has acquired a vessel during the reference period and has brought a vessel on to the United Kingdom fishing register after the Act comes into force. I am told that there are a substantial number of cases known where vessels have been acquired from a completely different fishery from that into which they have been introduced. Quite often, such a vessel was employing, in its previous ownership, a very different fishing method, requiring a different number of days at sea. The present owner of the vessel will be unable to appeal to the tribunal on that basis alone. We think, therefore, that it is essential that the tribunal should have the power to examine the days expended by vessels among which such a vessel is currently fishing in order to establish a reasonable number of days for that vessel in the new fishery.

The other category is in respect of a vessel brought on to the register which does not have any days-at-sea record whatsoever. I noted from a Written Answer in the other place a day or two ago that there are awaiting registration some 14 vessels which I presume would fall into this category. These are vessels which are British registered, but not British owned, for example. As I understand it, the industry has been advised by Ministers that in such cases Ministers will make an award of days. Ministers have the power to do that under Clause 1(3). However, if the owner is dissatisfied with the award, he has no basis for an appeal, having no previous track record on which to form a basis for appeal. We believe that it is essential in such circumstances that the tribunal can hear evidence as to the average time spent by vessels of similar type in a similar fishery.

I suppose that one could describe this as a probing amendment which is intended either to give the Government an opportunity to clear up the problem or to give us an indication that these problems are not likely to arise because they have already been taken care of. I beg to move.

7 p.m.

Earl Howe

The amendment puts forward what I would define—and what the Bill would define—as a principle on which days at sea should be based. In this case it is suggested that where vessels do not have full track records for 1991 the tribunal should use average figures for similar types of vessel engaged in similar types of fishing. While I accept that this is a matter which should be considered when the principles are drawn up—we shall certainly consider it—I must say that the proper place for such a principle is the order which the Bill requires Ministers to make laying down how the time which vessels may spend at sea is to be arrived at. It should not appear on the face of the Bill itself.

There is already provision in the Bill for principles to be drawn up. It would, I think, be inappropriate to give undue weight to one of those principles by singling it out on the face of the Bill. I shall take the noble Lord's suggestions back with me. I hope I have been reassuring in what I have said and that, on that basis, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Gallacher

I am grateful to the noble Earl for what he has said in respect of Amendment No. 21. He has pointed me where I suppose I ought to have looked in the first instance and he has said that the order is the proper place to deal with this. He has also, as I understand it, given me the added bonus that he will look at what I have had to say. On the basis of that mutual compatibility and agreement, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Gallacher moved Amendment No. 22:

Page 2, line 45, at end insert: ("() In considering an application under subsection (2) above the tribunal shall have regard to the economic effects of restricting the time which the vessel may spend at sea.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment seeks to give the tribunal an additional power. As we are in the land of the Treaty of Rome, the common fisheries policy and the jargon of Brussels, I suppose the amendment is concerned with socio-economic issues. Provided no one asks me to define what "socio-economic issues" are, I shall be happy to say that those are what the amendment is about.

The amendment would allow the tribunal, in considering an application under subsection (2), to have regard, to the economic effects of restricting the time which the vessel may spend at sea".

That would in effect allow the tribunal to look rather further that it has powers to do at the moment where a case is advanced that restrictions are of such a character that they would seriously depress the standard of living of the fishermen in question. It would allow the tribunal in those circumstances to deal with the matter in that way rather than simply to concern itself with a strict factual argument as to the number of days at sea which would be allocated. This would give the tribunal an element of flexibility to deal with issues which go beyond those already in the Bill.

The need for this power may arise. I should not like to tempt case histories in anticipation or anything of that kind, but we believe that such a power would be useful to the tribunal. I should like to hear what the Minister feels about it in the light of the obvious desire of the industry for a concession of this kind. I beg to move.

Earl Howe

The noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, has put forward an amendment which on reflection I hope he will think better of. He is suggesting that, in considering an appeal on a days-at-sea allocation, the tribunal should take into account the economic effect on a fisherman of imposing a restriction on his fishing effort. The tribunal's role will be to consider appeals on the basis of the facts: how many days a vessel spent at sea in 1991; and how many days it was prevented from doing so by force of circumstance. A fisherman, for example, could appeal against his allocation on the basis that he had been sick during much of 1991. In that event he would need to produce a doctor's certificate to support his claim.

But the noble Lord is suggesting that the tribunal should also take into account a range of considerations which are not only somewhat ill-defined but could also require judgments which are a great deal more subjective. What kind of economic effects are we talking about? If I may be somewhat flippant, we might be talking about the economic effects on the UK Exchequer of policing the days at sea regime. We might be talking about the economic effect on the fisherman himself, as I am sure the noble Lord intends. But this could lead to gross anomalies: a fisherman with a large family or a large mortgage might be given more days at sea than a fisherman with a small family or a small mortgage.

We should not lose sight of an important point. It is not our intention that time-at-sea restrictions should prevent a fisherman from catching his quota. The economic effects of restricting time at sea in terms of loss of profit to the law-abiding fisherman will be minimal: the people on whom it will bite will be those who are breaking the law, the people who are black fishing. For those people, a days-at-sea restriction will concentrate fishing effort where it should be concentrated; namely, on catching legitimate quota entitlements.

I hope the noble Lord will agree that, carried to its logical conclusion, the amendment does not make much sense. I trust that he will feel able to withdraw it.

Lord Gallacher

I had a feeling that, after our delightful experience with Amendment No. 21, rigidity would be in the air over Amendment No. 22; and so it has proved. I tried to suggest that the jargon of "socio-economic" was not unknown in the Treaty of Rome or in the institutions of the Community. I spent some five or six years on the economic and social committee, where it was used almost every hour on the hour, like a meteorological observation. In all those years I never discovered what it really means. I was hoping that by throwing myself at the mercy of the Minister he might define it for me.

I was also hoping that, if the power existed in the Bill for the tribunal to take this view of certain cases, the Ministry itself, being aware of the power, might in turn be influenced by such a consideration. That is not, however, the case. If the Committee stage had been taken nearer Christmas the Minister might have been in a more sympathetic mood. He is not. I accept the line he has taken. I shall study what he has said. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Mackie of Benshie moved Amendment No. 23:

Page 2, line 45, at end insert:

  1. ("(4A) Subject to subsection (4B) below the tribunal shall publish a written statement of the reasons for its decision on an application.
  2. (4B) The statement may be refused or the specification of its reasons may be restricted on grounds of national security; and the tribunal may refuse to furnish a statement to a person not primarily concerned with the decision if the tribunal is of the opinion that to furnish it would be contrary to the interest of any person primarily concerned.
  3. (4C) If any party to proceedings before the tribunal is dissatisfied on a point of law with the decision of the tribunal he may either appeal to the High Court (with the leave of the court) or require the tribunal to state a case for the opinion of the High Court (and in Scotland of the Court of Session) with the right of appeal from the High Court in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and in the case of Scotland from the Court of Session, with the leave of the court, to the House of Lords.
  4. (4D) An applicant to a tribunal shall be entitled, if he so requires, to legal representation by either a barrister, advocate or solicitor.").

The noble Lord said: The amendment seeks to give simple natural justice to an applicant who considers himself badly used by the tribunal. It is only right that he should receive a statement as to the reasons for the decision. Tribunals will have to take decisions based on law, fact, or a mixture of these. If the decision includes a decision on a point of law, it goes without saying that, as the result will have a bearing on the ability of the applicant to earn a livelihood, an appeal should lie to the appropriate appellate court. Legal representation, it is assumed, will be allowed but the Government might well confirm that.

Having read out my little brief, I do believe I shall get a sympathetic reply from the Minister in this case because it is purely a question of natural justice. I beg to move.

Earl Howe

To my great satisfaction, I believe that I can reassure the noble Lord on all his points of concern. By virtue of Clause 6 of the Bill, the tribunal is under a duty to give a written statement, and the reasons for its decision, if requested to do so. Further, that statement may be refused or the specification of the reasons for the decision restricted on grounds of national security. The tribunal can refuse to furnish a statement of reasons to a person not primarily concerned with the decision where publication would, in the tribunal's opinion, be contrary to the interests of persons primarily concerned with the decision. As all those matters already apply to the Sea Fish Licence Tribunal by virtue of Clause 6 to the Bill, I hope that I have said enough to satisfy the noble Lord.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

To tell the truth, I am not sure whether the noble Earl has said enough to satisfy me.

Earl Howe

I am sorry. I apologise to Members of the Committee. I believe that I should go further. I think that appeals from the tribunal to the High Court on a point of law are addressed by the amendment. The amendment that I shall move later this evening (which will amend Section 11 of the Tribunals and Inquiries Act 1992) has precisely the effect of the noble Lord's amendment in subsection (4C). I hope that the noble Lord will agree that that part of his amendment can be withdrawn.

Finally, the amendment seeks provision for applicants to the tribunal to have legal representation. We have no objection to applicants having legal representation. I believe, however, that that is a matter which is best dealt with in the rules of procedure of the tribunal and not on the face of the Bill. I hope that the noble Lord will be content with an assurance that we shall include the provision in the procedural rules of the tribunal when they are drawn up. On the basis of what I have said, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I thank the Minister for that response. I shall withdraw the amendment, but I reserve the right to study his reply and take further advice upon it. Accordingly, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Earl Howe moved Amendment No. 24:

Page 3, line 1, leave out from ("if) to first ("the") in line 2 and insert ("a determination that the licence should be varied is made by, or on appeal from, the tribunal,").

The noble Earl said: In moving the amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 39. The duties and conditions attached to membership of certain non-departmental public bodies are often such as to create potential conflicts of interest for those who are also MPs or Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly. It is therefore necessary when creating new public appointments to consider whether such conflicts might arise and to do so in accordance with a standard set of Cabinet Office guidelines.

We have considered whether members of the Sea Fish Licence Tribunal should be disqualified from membership of the House of Commons or the Northern Ireland Assembly and have concluded that they should be for the following reasons. The office is an office of profit and individual members could attract salaries above the current de minimis limit. The tribunal is also likely to be working very intensively during the autumn of 1993 at coastal locations throughout the United Kingdom. We have concluded that that would prevent members from fulfilling parliamentary duties satisfactorily.

Therefore, the amendment disqualifies all members of the Sea Fish Licence Tribunal from membership of the House of Commons or the Northern Ireland Assembly. It does so by inserting the tribunal into Part II of Schedule 1 to the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 and into Part II of Schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Assembly Disqualification Act 1975. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 25:

Page 3, line 8, at end insert: ("() In making appointments to the tribunal, the Ministers shall invite such organisations as seem to them to be representative of producer organisations to submit names of persons for consideration for appointment.").

The noble Lord said: I have been asked to move the amendment to which my name is attached. The fact that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, has made comments about the composition of the tribunal and the exclusion of certain people makes it easier for me to make some suggestions. The amendment proposes that there should be representatives of "producer organisations". By that, I mean actual fishermen's organisations. I have already expressed the view—although I am not sure that the Minister was present when we previously discussed the matter—that I believe the Government have lost at least the first round in the battle concerning the argument on fishing and tying up. They require a fair amount of goodwill from the fishing community, from all those who are interested in the fishing community and, perhaps, even from the public in general.

It seems to me that if the Government wish to help to build bridges—from all the representations that I and colleagues receive, such bridges are badly needed—it would be a good idea if they asked representatives of the fishermen's and producer organisations to submit names from which the Government would be able to pick their people.

On the other hand, if it happens that the Government make a selection of the great and the good, we shall be back to where we started. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona, with whom I had many interesting anti-government battles on other Bills, I do not mean members of the Fishmongers Company. I do not think that that would go down all that well in Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Buckie. I am sure that the Minister has got the drift of my remarks. There should be some real fishermen on the tribunal. I hope that he will give the matter some consideration, even if it is only a change of words. I beg to move.

Lord Stodart of Leaston

There is nothing in Clause 2 about the composition, the size, the quorum, or the procedure of the tribunal. It is possible that that is governed by the reference in Clause 6 to the Tribunals and Inquiries Act. For all I know—and perhaps my noble friend will tell me—that dictates the size, the composition, and so on, of an appeals tribunal. I certainly support the noble Lord in the suggestion he made that there should be a representative, or representatives, of the industry at some level.

My mind went back to what seems to me an analogous case. I refer to the time when milk quotas were introduced for farmers. There was a set-up of appeals by farmers who thought either that they had not received enough or, very rarely, had been awarded too much. Panels were set up for the purpose. In at least two cases they were presided over by a farmer. Therefore, one might say that the panel was presided over by a very interested party. I am not suggesting that that should necessarily follow. But if that was to be used as a comparison, then I think that the case for having a representative of the industry on the tribunal would be very hard to resist.

Earl Howe

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food made it clear during the passage of the Bill in another place that individual tribunals which will be sitting as part of the Sea Fish Licence Tribunal will comprise three members: a chairman, who must be a qualified lawyer; a lay person; and, a person with expert knowledge of fisheries. So, we have made clear our intention to ensure that the interests of the fishery sector are represented on the tribunal. We shall be happy to seek the industry's views on potential members with knowledge of fisheries. I hope that that is some reassurance to the noble Lord. However, I am advised that the tribunal's independence could be put into question if the Bill were to provide that one of the constituent parts of the tribunal should have a specific influence over the membership. That would also be a most unusual provision in legislation. As we intend to have someone on each tribunal with a knowledge of fisheries, and as we are prepared to discuss potential candidates for those posts within the industry, I hope that the noble Lord will be reassured enough to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I am grateful to the Minister. We all understand the problem of representation and the difficulty that might arise if someone appointed to a tribunal is not independent. I hope the Minister realises that I was genuinely trying to be helpful. The impression is that the Government's attitude—it might also be the attitude of a Labour Government—might not be as helpful as it should be and, therefore, as I said earlier, the greater rapport we achieve the better. The Minister's reply was good and we shall wait with great expectation to see the lists to discover who has won the Minister's approval. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Kinnoull moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 3, line 14, at end insert ("and the applicant").

The noble Earl said: I am sure that the Committee will agree that my noble friend has dealt with the proceedings today with great skill and courtesy. I hope that when he replies to the amendment he will show a wee drop of generosity. The amendment does not seek much. It relates to the Minister making provision for the remuneration of members of the tribunal, its staff and accommodation costs. It then provides: and any expenses reasonably incurred by the tribunal".

The amendment seeks to add, "and the applicant".

I am seeking only a modest contribution. It may be, for instance, subsistence or travel, but it should be something. When the industry is faced with a new cost such as a tribunal hearing, it would be a small, modest but welcome addition if my noble friend were to say that he accepts the amendment. I beg to move.

Earl Howe

Much as I would like to display a wee drop of generosity, I fear that I cannot accept the amendment. The expenses of those appealing to a tribunal are not normally reimbursed, and, moreover, to do so in this case would be unwarranted. Fisheries departments will be going out of their way to minimise the cost to fishermen of going to the tribunal. They will be making arrangements for tribunal hearings to take place in all the major coastal ports. They will also use flexibility in arranging the timing of hearings so that wherever possible fishermen can attend on a day when they would not have planned to be at sea.

There is no reason, therefore, why the fishermen's costs should be reimbursed. If fishermen make applications to the tribunal, then in accordance with the general rule they must bear the cost of so doing. If the Government were to pay such expenses it would also mean that the money available for decommissioning would be that much less. I do not believe that that is something which the fishermen's organisations would welcome. I hope that my noble friend will understand the point that I have made and will be content, if somewhat reluctantly, to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

Before the Minister sits down, is he suggesting that the tribunal might behave like the Scottish Land Court and travel to the port where the fisherman resides rather than make him travel elsewhere?

Earl Howe

We shall be at pains to minimise expenses. We estimate that 80 per cent. of fishermen will have to travel less than 40 miles for their hearing. I hope that that answers the noble Lord.

The Earl of Kinnoull

It is of course a disappointing answer, but if between now and the next stage of the Bill I find an example I should like to bring back the amendment for my noble friend's attention. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Gallacher moved Amendment No. 27:

Page 3, line 15, at end insert: ("() The tribunal shall report annually on its work to both Houses of Parliament.").

The noble Lord said: The amendment merely places upon the tribunal the obligation to report annually on its work to both Houses of Parliament. The justification for that lies in the tribunal's novelty. As we are aware, it made its appearance at a fairly late stage in the Bill's progress in another place. It is an important body for the fishing industry. It is also an important body for both Houses of Parliament. In the circumstances, it would not be imposing too onerous a duty upon the tribunal or tribunals—I am not sure whether it should be singular or plural; the Bill refers to the body in the singular—that it should report to Parliament, thus giving us an opportunity to look at its work and some indication of the manner in which it is functioning. In that way, we shall all be better informed about what the tribunal has been doing and is capable of doing in respect of conservation. I beg to move.

Earl Howe

The noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, has made a persuasive case here. In the light of what he has said, I should like him to know that we accept the principle that the Sea Fish Licence Tribunal should be required to report on its work annually to both Houses of Parliament. What I propose to him is that I should bring forward an amendment at a later stage of the Bill to achieve that end, as I am advised that the drafting of the amendment is deficient. On that basis, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Gallacher

On that basis I readily withdraw the amendment. I am grateful to the Minister for that concession. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Grantchester)

The words to which Amendment No. 29 relates, and without which Amendment No. 29 would not make sense, will be left out if Amendment No. 28 is passed. Amendments Nos. 28 and 29 are interdependent.

Lord Gallacher moved Amendment No. 28: Page 3, line 17, leave out from ("to") to end of line 19 and insert ("the affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament."").

The noble Lord said: I move Amendment No. 28 with my fingers crossed. I am also down to move Amendment No. 29, but let us proceed with Amendment No. 28 and assume that I am speaking also to Amendment No. 29. When the Minister replies and tells me what he thinks about Amendment No. 28, perhaps I can then decide what to do in the light of what we have just heard from the Chair.

The amendment relates to the old question of orders and whether they should be subject to the affirmative or negative procedure. With Amendment No. 28, we believe that the orders relate to matters of sufficient importance to warrant using the affirmative rather than the negative procedure. Again, I plead that we are in new territory in the Bill. In the light of that, rather than put both Houses of Parliament to the chore—if it can be so described—of praying against orders under the negative procedure, it would be better to go for the affirmative procedure, and that is the object of the amendment.

The risks inherent in the affirmative procedure in this Chamber are minimal, as the Minister will realise, because there is a long-standing tradition that, although we may say things, at the end of the day we cheerfully accept what is before us. With that half assurance, and the plea that I have made, I beg to move.

Earl Howe

I have some difficulty with the amendment. If, as the noble Lord indicated, the purpose of the amendment is to provide an affirmative resolution procedure for the order which will set out the principles on which days at sea will be based, that order-making power has now been moved to Clause 1, which we debated earlier. We referred earlier to the negative resolution procedure for those principles. To the extent that it applies to principles for reducing time at sea, the amendment is unnecessary because the Bill, as amended, already provides for the affirmative resolution procedure in that instance.

I am advised that it would be most unusual for the parliamentary procedure for orders setting out, for example, rules of procedure for the tribunal to be other than the negative resolution procedure. I do not think that it would be wise for us to employ parliamentary time in rehearsing broad matters of principle which have already been the subject of extensive debate during the passage of the Bill.

I hope that the noble Lord will understand why we have come to that conclusion, despite the arguments that he has put forward, and that he will be content to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Gallacher

I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 28.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Gallacher moved Amendment No. 29: Page 3, line 19, at end insert ("except regulations made under subsection (3) which shall be subject to the affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament").

The noble Lord said: I am down to move this amendment and do so formally in order to listen to the Minister's reply.

Earl Howe

We could have a very interesting debate on Amendment No. 29 but the substance has already been addressed in our debate on Amendment No. 28. I hope that the noble Lord will be content to withdraw this amendment as well.

Lord Gallacher

In the light of what the noble Earl has had to say to me, I shall note carefully his remarks and reserve my right to come back on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 30 not moved.]

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 3 [Licensing of vessels receiving trans-shipped fish]:

Earl Howe moved Amendments Nos. 31 to 34:

Page 3, line 28, after ("of") insert ("section 3 of").

Page 3, line 30, after ("made") insert ("or purported to be made").

Page 3, line 33, leave out ("required") and insert ("provided or purported").

Page 3, line 36, after ("(ii)") insert ("a requirement under").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 4 [Supplementary regulations]:

Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal moved Amendment No. 34A:

Page 4, line 3, after ("may") insert (", after full consultation with bodies representing the industry,").

The noble Lord said: My noble friend Lord Kinnoull asked me to move this amendment on his behalf in his absence. It is completely self-explanatory. I feel sure that as the Minister has talked on many occasions about the extensive consultations he intends to undertake, he will be happy to see what is proposed written on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.

Earl Howe

As I am sure my noble friend will be aware, none of the other powers to make orders or regulations in the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967 requires Ministers to consult before exercising those powers. Acceptance of my noble friend's amendment would therefore involve departure from the legislative norm. However, I am sure that he will be pleased to know that it is normal practice for the Government to consult the industry before they exercise the powers in the Act to make regulations where they would involve a change of policy. It is, therefore, the Government's intention to consult the industry before exercising the powers in Clause 4. In the light of that assurance, I hope that my noble friend will be able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal

It is clear that the Government have wholly virtuous intentions, and we shall have to see that the noble Earl lives up to them. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 35 not moved.]

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Earl Howe moved Amendment No. 36:

After Clause 5, insert the following new clause:


  1. (" .—(1) Section 20 of the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967 (orders) shall be amended as follows.
  2. (2) In subsection (5) for the words "subsection (6)" there shall be substituted the words "subsection (5A) or (6)".
  3. (3) After subsection (5) there shall be inserted—

The noble Earl said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 4. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Earl Howe moved Amendment No. 37: After Clause 5, insert the following new clause:

Parliamentary disqualification

(" .—(1) In Part II of Schedule 1 to the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 (bodies of which all members are disqualified), the following entry shall be inserted at the appropriate place— The Sea Fish Licence Tribunal".

(2) The same entry shall be inserted at the appropriate place in Part II of Schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Assembly Disqualification Act 1975.").

The noble Earl said: I am in some difficulty with this amendment, even though it is a government amendment. I have an apology to make to the Committee. Owing to an inexcusable muddle on my part and perhaps more than usually opaque wording that the parliamentary draftsman has devised for us, when I spoke to Amendment No. 24 and directed my remarks towards the exclusion of the members of non-departmental public bodies from membership of the House of Commons and the Northern Ireland Assembly, I should have reserved those remarks for Amendment No. 37. They did not relate to Amendment No. 24.

I now find myself in some difficulty as I have not spoken properly to Amendment No. 24. I should like to take the guidance of the Committee on what I should do about putting on the record the Government's remarks about it. With the leave of the House, I shall go ahead, if I may, and address the substance of Amendment No. 24, the points relating to Amendment No. 37 being already on the record.

Amendment No. 24, to which I should have spoken properly, rectifies a minor omission in the provisions of the Bill dealing with the tribunal which I feel sure the Committee will welcome. The Sea Fish Licence Tribunal is added to the tribunals listed in Section 11(1) of the Tribunals and Inquiries Act 1992. A right of appeal is provided from that tribunal to the High Court on a point of law and a further appeal, with leave, to the Court of Appeal. In relation to proceedings in Scotland, appeals will go from the tribunal to the Court of Session.

The provisions also amend Clause 2(5) of the Bill so that Ministers will be required to vary licences, not only as a result of decisions of the Sea Fish Licence Tribunal but also as a result of decisions taken on appeal to the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Court of Session. That means that applicants to the Sea Fish Licence Tribunal will have recourse to appeal to the courts on a point of law if they are dissatisfied with a decision of the tribunal.

I stress again that those remarks relate to government Amendment No. 24. The remarks that I made earlier on that amendment should have been made now. I trust that the Committee will be content to accept the line of argument that I put forward earlier. I beg to move Amendment No. 37.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Mackie of Benshie moved Amendment No. 38:

After Clause 5, insert the following new clause:

("Annual report on renewals

In section 20 of the Sea Fish Conservation Act 1967, after subsection (2), there shall be inserted—

"(2A) Section 4(6) (c) of this Act shall cease to have effect at the end of each period of twelve months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed unless before the end of that period—

  1. (a) the Ministers have laid before each House of Parliament a report on—
    1. (i) the exercise of the power conferred by section 4(6) (c) and its effect on the fishing industry;
    2. (ii) the measures and the effect thereof, taken by other Member States to meet their Multi-Annual Guidance Programme Targets; and
  2. (b) that report has been approved by resolution of each House of Parliament".").

The noble Lord said: This amendment seeks an annual report on the workings of the Act and seeks that the report should be approved by each House of Parliament. In view of the complexity of the measure and the restrictions applied, I think this amendment is only reasonable. Ministers have undertaken that they will not introduce greater restrictions than those applying in 1993 without coming before the House and seeking approval of those restrictions by affirmative resolution. So that Parliament has the information necessary to consider such an application, and also to consider whether that which Parliament has approved is having the effect pleaded by Ministers, it is right that Parliament should consider annually what effect effort restriction is having on the capacity of the fleet and also the other benefit claimed that effort control is essential if the fundamental problem of fishing mortality is to he tackled.

It is quite clear that an annual report is necessary because the fishing industry is under severe restriction. The Minister has already made doubtful statements on the effect of decommissioning in other countries. Therefore, I think it is only right that Ministers report to Parliament the effect of the measures taken by other member states and the effect of the Bill on our own fishing industry over the previous year. I am sure the Minister will find the amendment reasonable. I beg to move.

Earl Howe

I take note of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, but I hope that on reflection he will feel that this amendment has been rendered unnecessary by Amendment No. 4, which I tabled and which was accepted earlier today. That amendment provides both Houses of Parliament with an opportunity to consider any overall reduction that the Government propose to make in days at sea allocations below the freeze based on 1991 levels of activity.

When I tabled that amendment I made clear that the Government, in presenting the case for any reductions during the debate, will perforce need to give an oral account of why the reductions are necessary and on the actions that other member states are taking to meet their MAGP targets. That surely is the essence of this amendment and I hope the Committee will feel that we have already covered the point of principle satisfactorily in our earlier debate. I do not believe that there is any need to go further and I hope the noble Lord will agree with me.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

The Minister is getting better and better. I will consider his reassurance, but in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 [Tribunals and Inquiries Act 1992]:

Earl Howe moved Amendment No. 39:

Page 4, line 37, leave out from beginning to ("(tribunals") and insert:

  1. (" .—(1) The Tribunals and Inquiries Act 1992 shall be amended as follows.
  2. (2) In section 11(1) (appeals from certain tribunals) after "37" there shall be inserted ", 40A".
  3. (3) In Schedule 1").

The noble Earl said: I spoke to this amendment earlier. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 6, as amended, agreed to.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Gallacher had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 40:

After Clause 6, insert the following new clause:

("Right of appeal against decisions of Tribunal

Notwithstanding the provisions for the general supervision of the tribunal established by section 6 above, there shall be a right of appeal by licence holders to the European Court of Justice when it is contended that a decision of the Sea Fish Licence Tribunal is in conflict with or fails to conform to decisions by the European Community regarding the Common Fisheries Policy.").

The noble Lord said: Not being a legal person I am in something of a dilemma, as regards Amendment No. 40, which was created for me by the effect of Amendment No. 24. That gives, as I understand it, rights of appeal to High Courts in England and in Scotland. I shall not move this amendment this evening. In the meantime, perhaps the noble Earl will be kind enough to let me know whether, in the light of Amendment No. 24, such a provision as is proposed in Amendment No. 40 is still necessary or whether it would be available in any case. In those circumstances and in anticipation of hearing from the noble Earl I shall not move the amendment.

[Amendment No. 40 not moved.]

Clause 7 [Commencement]:

[Amendment No. 40A not moved.]

Earl Howe moved Amendment No. 41:

Page 4, line 42, after ("1,") insert ("(2) and (4) to (6),").

The noble Earl said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 4. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Beloff moved Amendment No. 42:

Page 5, line 2, leave out from ("less") to the end of line 7.

The noble Lord said: I find myself under considerable difficulty. I had hoped to have the support of the noble Lord, Lord Hardinge of Penshurst, but he is unfortunately stricken with laryngitis and unable to be present. There is no one here that I am aware of who shares the concern which I expressed on Second Reading about the fate of that limited but locally important class of fishermen who use small boats off the beaches of south-east England, east Sussex and Kent, and who feel that subjection to this kind of scheme of limiting days at sea, while perhaps understandable in relation to large commercial vessels with high intensive capital content, is not reasonably applicable to them. They feel that their livelihood risks being destroyed, as they see it—I reflect their own anxieties—because of something said earlier today in our debates; that is, the feeling that while the British no doubt will, as usual, observe the letter of every regulation that is made on behalf of our own Government, or on behalf of the administration in Brussels, they themselves will be penalised because foreign fishermen will not necessarily be regulated to the same extent.

The noble Earl, Lord Radnor, said that it was impossible to have a conservation scheme unless boats of every size were included. I did not find that argument convincing. The fishing grounds concerned are not those frequented by the major trawlers that we have been discussing off the Scottish, Northern Ireland or Cornish coasts. The fishery I am discussing is essentially a local fishery. I feel sympathy for those fishermen in that local fishery and I feel obliged to advocate to the Committee, even with my minuscule knowledge of the subject, the case for their exemption.

There must have been some worry on the part of the Government about this particular issue; otherwise why were those fishermen not included in the Bill from the beginning? Why should it be necessary to have a Ministerial order? Whenever a Ministerial order appears, even if as is sometimes the case we are allowed to consider it on affirmative resolution, we know that it is, in fact, law making. As I say, I feel obliged to move the amendment which has the effect of omitting boats of less than 10 metres length unless and until there is primary legislation affecting them. I beg to move.

The Earl of Selborne

I hope that the Committee will reject the amendment of my noble friend Lord Beloff. It would simply drive a coach and four through any hope of operating a decommissioning scheme in this country. Earlier in the day while discussing previous clauses we acknowledged that the earlier decommissioning scheme failed because people who were rewarded for taking their ships out of commission simply spent their money on new and extremely efficient but smaller boats of under 10 metres—the rule breakers.

I am afraid that, much as we all sympathise with the local fishing industry around the coasts of Sussex and Kent, it simply is not the case that those ships are used exclusively in that area. They are now widespread in all fisheries. It was a common factor in the evidence to Sub-Committee D from all the fishery organisations that while that lacuna existed in our national legislation capacity could not be reduced.

I fear that if my noble friend Lord Beloff wishes to give preferential treatment to the fishing industry of Sussex and Kent this is not the way to do it.

Earl Howe

I have the greatest possible respect for my noble friend Lord Beloff and I appreciate the anxieties which he has expressed. However, I put it to him that the amendment is unwise. It is unwise because it seeks permanently to exclude vessels of 10 metres or less from days at sea restrictions.

Vessels of 10 metres or less make up a sizeable sector of our fishing fleet and have a significant effect on some fishing stocks. Days at sea restrictions are being introduced to conserve fish stocks. I really cannot see why all vessels which can have an impact on those stocks should not eventually share the burden of conserving them. I have no need to tell my noble friend that, if we make an exception for smaller boats we shall simply encourage the growth of a class of vessel—known as the "metre beaters" —whose dimensions are designed specifically to evade the restrictions applying to larger vessels. That would directly undermine our fish conservation measures. We must allow ourselves the scope in this Bill to ring fence fishing effort across the entire fleet. I wonder whether my noble friend realises that the industry itself is calling for greater controls in certain sectors, notably for shellfish, and that those are typically the smaller boats about which he is concerned.

Perhaps I can convey this reassurance to my noble friend. The restrictions that we impose as regards days at sea are likely to be different for different classes of boat. As a rule the type of vessel about which he is worried is likely to be at the less severely restricted end of the spectrum. Both Houses will of course have an opportunity to consider the policy of extending days at sea restrictions to some or all of those vessels if and when an affirmative resolution order specifying the commencement date of such restrictions is tabled.

On that basis I hope that my noble friend has received some reassurance and will be content to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Beloff

In the absence of anyone who shares my anxieties to the extent of supporting me in the debate, I have no option but to withdraw the amendment and to record the assurances which the Minister has given. I hope that they will give some comfort to those men who are fearful for the loss of their livelihood.

If it were possible to devise an amendment which was locally exclusive rather than, as has been pointed out, raised problems elsewhere I would gladly support it. In the absence of any counsel at this stage there is nothing I can do but beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 8 agreed to.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy moved Amendment No. 43:

After Clause 8, insert the following new clause:

("Expiry of Act This Act shall cease to have effect on 31st December 1996.").

The noble Lady said: Although in their confusion the Government have proposed two major reasons for the introduction of this Bill, the first being the reduction in fleet capacity and the second an attack on excessive fish mortality, a more important reason appears to be that proposed by both Ministers in the Second Reading debate in this House, namely that it is a necessary complement to a decommissioning scheme aimed at reducing capacity to meet multi-annual guidance programme targets.

The requirement to meet the target expires on 31st December 1996. For that reason alone there can be no validity in any argument that the Act should have any effect after that date. I beg to move.

Earl Howe

I do not believe that there can be anyone in this Chamber this evening who does not realise that the need to conserve fish stocks is continuous. It is not driven by the arbitrary deadlines which the Community sets for its structural policies. It is driven by the over-arching imperative that fishing effort and fleet capacity should be in safe proportion to the stocks available. It would therefore be quite wrong to link the powers in the Bill to Community deadlines.

If the powers of the Bill were terminated at the end of 1996, which may be the end of the next multi-annual guidance programme, further legislation would be necessary of exactly the same type as we have in this Bill. That would be an unnecessary waste of parliamentary time. In fact the Committee will also wish to note that the end date for the multi-annual guidance programme is not yet fixed. New objectives are likely to be set with a target date of 31st December 1998.

We cannot, therefore, assume that the end of 1996 will mark either the end of our MAGP targets or, more importantly, an end to the need to conserve fish stocks. The amendment, if it were pressed and carried, would not only terminate Ministers' powers to restrict time at sea at the end of 1996; it would bring to an end all the provisions of the Bill, including those which the fishermen's organisations have been pressing us to introduce and which are desirable in their own right: namely, licence suspension or revocation for breach of licence rules; increased maximum fines; the Scottish evidential provisions, and so on. At the very least I should have thought that the noble Lady would wish to reflect further on whether this is really what she wants. I hope that this evening she will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

I am most grateful to the noble Earl for that very clear explanation. In the light of what he said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Remaining clause agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.