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Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply. Is he aware that leaders of a minority of fishermen's organisations are calling for the extreme course of unilateral withdrawal from the common fisheries policy and from the European Union, if that is a necessary consequence? But leaders representing most British fishermen are seeking reform of the CFP, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will have recognised last weekend in Aberdeen from the reasonable attitude of representatives of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation whom he met there. What are the prospects of progress at those meetings about which my noble friend told us?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, we are very keen to make progress and we have had some good conversations with the European commissioner. As the noble Lord says, we agree with many fishermen's organisations that the right way forward is through reform rather than a hurried and expensive exit.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, however lacking in influence we have been in relation to fisheries and beef, will the Minister tell his noble friend and the House what influence we should have if we were not members of the European Union?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, a great deal less than we have now.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, will my noble friend explain to the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, that we

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would not be affected by the common fisheries policy if we left the Union? Will he further confirm that the fishermen are in a far worse plight than those with the interests referred to in the last Question because unanimity is required in the Council to change the common fisheries policy?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I do not think that the noble Lord should fear unanimity. After all, that is what he seems to wish to keep in many instances, whereas others wish to see more majority voting. The noble Lord should not think that we would escape from the common fisheries policy by leaving it. The rest of the Community waters would still be controlled by the common fisheries policy, and it is with that organisation that we should have to negotiate our share of those waters.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that Norway, which is not a member of the European Union, does very well in its fishing waters because it is not controlled by anyone? Indeed, because it is not a member of the European Union not only does it have influence but it also has a thriving economy.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, there are many good things to be said about Norway. I do not think that being outside the European Union is one of them.

Viscount Caldecote: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is likely to take a long time to reach international agreement? In view of the importance of sand eels in the food chain, will the Government take quicker action to control the fishing of sand eels in the North Sea before they are extinct?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am not aware that sand eels are in imminent danger of extinction. However, we have pressed for more controls and more science in the area. Moreover, to some extent, consumers seem to be ahead of us because they are persuading the major users of the oil that comes from sand eels to give up doing so, and that will have a natural effect on fisheries.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the Minister aware that France and Germany at their usual and regular pre-Council of Ministers meetings have already agreed among themselves and with the Commission that there will be no change in the policy? What does the noble Lord propose to do about that?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I always work on the assumption that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, knows more than I do. I have no access to the intimate discussions between France and Germany. I am glad that the noble Lord has, but I hope that he is wrong in what he says.

Lord Carter: My Lords, is the Minister aware--I am sure he is because I have raised the point before--that the fisheries commissioner, Mrs. Emma Bonino, has said several times that it is perfectly possible to deal with the problem of quota hopping within the existing rules of the common fisheries policy if the Government

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are so minded? Do the Government agree? If so, can the noble Lord inform the House as to the action that they intend to take?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, since Mrs. Bonino first said that, we have been talking with her and her officials quite intensively. I believe that she would now say what she said in a very quiet voice, because she is beginning to agree with us that there is probably nothing to be done without a treaty change.

Lord Gisborough: My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that the issue of sand eels is extremely important because they are being sucked up by mass fishing? Surely that is one of the keys to the whole question.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am beginning to believe that the whole question of the common fisheries policy has been well trawled; indeed, there are very few new questions to answer.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that there is a new question? With such great demands for fish nowadays, more and more people will be looking towards fish farming and that will shortly produce a completely different situation.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, at first sight that seems to be the case. But, unfortunately, one has to feed farmed fish on something and they prefer to eat other fish. Therefore, one has to catch the fish to feed the farmed fish and, from thence, one has further problems.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister confirm that before Britain joined the CFP we had 80 per cent. of the volume of the fish and 85 per cent. of the value and that we now only have 30 per cent. of the volume and 8 per cent. of the value? Surely if we left the common fisheries policy we would be very much better off than we are at present.

Lord Lucas: No, my Lords; I do not agree with anything just said by my noble friend. Indeed, I believe that sometimes he does not appreciate the European Union in the way that he ought to. When he stands on Rannoch Moor or in the black wood of Rannoch, I am sure that he is really grateful that they are to become Natura 2000 sites.

Water Supplies: Prepayment Devices

2.53 p.m.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied that the practice of installing prepayment water devices does not breach the Water Industry Act 1991.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, it is a matter for the courts to interpret the law on the basis of the facts in any particular case which may come before them. I note,

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however, that in his press release of 22nd April, the Director-General of Water Services said that he had been,

    "advised that use of these units with the agreement of customers is consistent with the Water Industry Act and with the companies' terms of appointment".

Baroness Fisher of Rednal: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. However, is the noble Lord aware that legal proceedings have already started? Is he further aware that many local authorities, including Birmingham, are very concerned that such prepayment devices really serve as a means to cut off the water supply? They are not water meters; they are calibrated on a different system altogether. Therefore, when the water company decides that there is not enough money in the prepayment meter, the water is cut off. Does the Minister agree that that is contrary to the Water Industry Act so far as concerns local authorities? Surely they should be notified if water is cut off from any property.

Lord Lucas: No, my Lords; I do not agree with the noble Baroness. Such devices are installed entirely at the request of a customer. Indeed, they can be taken out whenever a customer so requests. They are purely devices to enable those who have difficulty meeting the payments for water to do so in a way which suits them. This is an interesting insight into the new Labour Party's ideas for a stakeholder society; namely, that the Labour Party cannot even trust consumers to pay water bills in the way desired and that they require such decisions to be taken by local authorities.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, the Minister said that customers have the recourse of going to court if they are dissatisfied. However, would it not be far better if the regulator had reserve powers to intervene beforehand if requested to do so by the customer, who may well have his water supply cut off very quickly? Indeed, would that not only save on court costs but also on costs in general? After all, are not water companies supposed to treat customers, not themselves, as their first priority?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I believe the noble Lord, Lord Dean, is somewhat confused on the matter. Such devices can be removed whenever requested by the individual customer. If customers do not want the facility, then they can have it removed. So far as concerns taking the water industry to court, of course I am aware that local authorities are doing so. However, the water industry regulator is not doing so because he believes that local authorities are barking up the wrong tree.

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