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Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, if the Minister does not recognise cynicism among rail users, has he read Christian Wolmer's column in the Independent on Sunday about mad events on the railways since the institution of the current arrangements?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, there is an old saw that you should not believe everything you read in the newspapers.

Lord Harding of Petherton: My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Baroness is a rail user. As a rail user on both of the privatised lines to the south west from Taunton to Paddington and from Sherborne to

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Waterloo, I find that the service has improved immeasurably in the run-up to privatisation. Indeed, the punctuality has improved--

Lord Avebury: Question!

Lord Harding of Petherton: My Lords, do I have the right to finish?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, my noble friend has made some powerful points.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Viscount Goschen: Well, my Lords; those in the party opposite obviously do not care one jot what the travelling public actually think about the railways. They much prefer to rely on party dogma whereas we believe that we must look at the benefits to passengers. My noble friend is a passenger on one of the newly-privatised lines. He has seen the benefits. I travel on that line. I have also seen the benefits.

Deregulation (Salmon Fisheries (Scotland) Act 1868) Order 1996

3.39 p.m.

The Earl of Courtown rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 19th February be approved [13th Report from the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee].

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the present prohibition on the possession and sale of salmon roe was established in legislation over 100 years ago. Like much of the salmon legislation of the day, it was forward looking and was designed as a conservation measure to protect wild salmon stocks. Thus under the terms of Section 18 of the Salmon Fisheries (Scotland) Act 1868 it is a criminal offence in Scotland to buy, sell, expose for sale or have in one's possession salmon roe whatever the source of that roe.

What our predecessors, far-sighted as they were, did not foresee was the development of the farmed salmon industry. That industry now has a first sale value of between £200 million and £250 million per annum. It is a major employer in the remoter areas of the country, is a large exporter and produces a product of high quality. Unfortunately, the all-embracing ban on the possession of salmon roe for sale is preventing the salmon farming industry developing a quite lucrative market for roe, estimated at £12 million per annum initially.

This deregulation measure will allow the farmed salmon sector to sell surplus roe and to compete in the world market with supplies from Norway, for example. What the measure will not do, the Government are confident, is to undermine the protection of the wild salmon. It will be an offence to possess wild roe for

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sale. The proposed amendment in the deregulation order has been drafted carefully to ensure that that is the case. With these assurances that wild salmon roe will continue to be protected, may I recommend to the House that this deregulation order should be adopted to allow roe of farmed origin to be sold. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 19th February be approved [13th Report from the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee.]--(The Earl of Courtown.)

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, in respect of this order I feel rather like a midwife who has assisted at the birth of a baby. About 18 months ago I discovered that salmon farms in Scotland were prohibited from selling their roe under Section 18 of the 1868 Salmon Fisheries (Scotland) Act. As a result, as the noble Earl has just said, they were losing a lucrative export market, mainly in the Far East. As a result of this discovery a nice short Private Member's Bill was drafted and I was all set to introduce it in this House when I was told that the Lord President of the Council had said that no time could be found for it in another place and that the same result could be achieved more simply by an order under the deregulation Act. Of course I accepted that.

I believe that the safeguards against the sale of wild salmon roe are adequate. I am persuaded that placing the onus of proof of provenance on the possessor will prove satisfactory.

I am glad that the baby, small as it is, has at last been born. I look forward to being able to buy home grown salmon roe--which makes delicious pate--in Scotland instead of having to buy imported salmon roe in London and drag it home. I strongly recommend it to any of your Lordships who have not yet tasted it.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I have one simple question for the Minister. How will anyone determine the difference between wild salmon roe and farmed salmon roe?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, first I shall deal with the good question put by the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell. Basically the burden of proof will be on the person who is holding the salmon roe to show the origin of the salmon roe. As one can probably imagine, it is somewhat difficult to show the difference between salmon roe from farmed salmon and salmon roe from wild salmon. However, we shall of course monitor the situation to see how the order affects the industry. I thank the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, for her contribution. I hope that she enjoys purchasing salmon roe in Scotland, and enjoys it at home. I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Bill [H.L.]

3.45 p.m.

Report received.

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 1:

Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause--

Purposes of this Part

(". The purposes of this Part are to enable a local housing authority to ensure the review, improvement and renewal as appropriate of the private sector housing in its area in such a way that in can--
(a) set priorities for action under this Part;
(b) bring about an improvement in the condition of private housing in the area; and
(c) encourage the promotion and facilitation of sound maintenance of private sector housing by private interests including lenders, insurers and builders.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the House will be aware that Part I deals with renovation grants for private housing. The House will also be aware that there were extensive discussions in Committee about the difference between a mandatory scheme for renovation grants and a discretionary scheme which is now proposed under the Bill before your Lordships. Without wishing to repeat what has been said at Second Reading and in Committee, I would just point out that public intervention as regards the condition of private housing for those who are unable to maintain their own houses with their own means has been undertaken since the time of Queen Victoria, but public investment in renovation grants has fallen to around a third of the levels in the early 1980s.

Furthermore, as I said on Second Reading, there is a deepening and frequently underestimated crisis of disrepair in private housing. One in 12 homes--that is 1.5 million homes--are officially unfit for human habitation. Furthermore, public intervention at current levels is failing to keep pace with the rate of deterioration in private housing. Economic and demographic factors have exacerbated the problems facing private house renewal and the current house renovation grant system introduced by the Government in the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 is, in our view, in a state of crisis.

The Government's response to this crisis has been dominated by the need to dismantle the mandatory grant which they set up in their own Act in 1989 rather than to address the underlying problems of disrepair. If implemented in its current form without the amendment that I am proposing, the Bill will remove the current right to a grant to ensure that a home is fit to live in. The Bill provides no national framework within which local authorities may address the current disrepair in private housing. The Bill will officially sanction housing which is unfit for human occupation by legalising the deferral of action on those properties. The Bill will do nothing to bring in any extra resources needed to halt the deterioration--which is before our eyes--in the condition of private housing.

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Having said that--this is part of what we discussed in Committee--I should like to speak particularly to the amendment that I put before your Lordships this afternoon. The proposed "purpose" clause--in Committee we discussed the nature of purpose clauses, and I do not accept the argument that a purpose clause overrides all that is in the Bill subsequently--which I set before your Lordships is designed to clarify the intention behind the Bill by setting a framework for the operation of local authority discretion. Local authorities should, in our view, be enabled to set priorities for action to tackle private house disrepair. I cannot imagine that your Lordships will consider that to be contentious. Indeed it is precisely the purpose to which the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, referred at Second Reading when he said,

    "It will give local authorities the freedom to decide their own priorities for tackling unfitness and disrepair in private housing".--[Official Report, 20/2/96; col. 976.]
My amendment will provide what we believe to be a useful curb upon the discretion the measure gives both to local authorities and to the Secretary of State. If local authorities do not use their discretion in the way required by this amendment they will be contravening the Bill's essential purpose.

Equally, if the implementation of the Bill and the wealth of accompanying secondary legislation that we predict as a result of the Bill gaining Royal Assent prevent local authorities from establishing priorities in the way envisaged, we believe that the Bill's purpose will be frustrated.

The purpose of public intervention in private house renewal should be to bring about an improvement in private house conditions. That is set out in paragraph (b) of the amendment. I do not believe that this is a matter of dispute. Given the discretionary nature of the Bill's provisions, the widespread impression, which I accept, that the Government are abandoning responsibility to make proper arrangements for the maintenance of private housing, and the suspicion that the end of mandatory grant will be followed by a reduction in public expenditure on private house renewal, this part of the amendment may not be self evident. It is designed to establish a principle.

If the grant system is to operate successfully, it must encourage the sound maintenance of private housing in co-operation with private interests. We recognise that private interests will be involved. It is right that they should be involved in all aspects of private housing. It is odd that the Government, who are so committed to the advancement of the private sector, have not paid more attention to the role of the private sector in private house renewal. We believe that paragraph (c) of the amendment puts down a marker for private and public sector co-operation in private house renewal.

I am aware of the arguments put forward in Committee about purpose clauses. However, because the Bill marks a major change from a mandatory grant to a discretionary system for 1.5 million private houses in disrepair, I believe that a purpose clause for Part I is the right way to go forward. I beg to move.

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