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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, it is usual practice to allow a three month period for such consultations, and legislative processes are not generally rapid. As I indicated in my earlier statement, we hope that the consultation will not add, as a result of the legislative processes, to the timescale involved, and we would aim to make amendment regulations in the first half of next year.

Baroness Nicol: My Lords, I find that encouraging but, nevertheless, I ask your Lordships to give the Bill a Second Reading so that we may all study what has been said and perhaps return to it later.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

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Sea Fisheries (Shellfish) (Amendment) Bill [H.L.]

7.46 p.m.

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This is a very short Bill which seeks to amend the Sea Fisheries (Shellfish) Act 1967.

The Bill will enable Ministers to authorise on a case by case basis, the use of non-damaging types of fishing gear, such as creels, in several fishery order areas by fishermen as well as by the grantee of the order.

Currently, the 1967 Act is inflexible in this respect. This Bill promises a win-win situation and, therefore, comes before the House with the full support of all interested parties.

In addition, this proposal has enjoyed support from both sectors of the fish industry since a public meeting in Inverness in May 1993. That meeting was chaired by my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish who was then chairman of the Sea Fish Industry Authority. The meeting unanimously identified the introduction of flexibility as the key to removing the adversarial element of the current situation.

In addition, this Bill will contribute to sustainable development. It will help enterprises in some of our most remote and rural costal communities. It also promises conservation benefits through making several orders less objectionable. Research shows that several orders enhance recruitment to the natural fisheries.

This Bill is the result of extended and extensive consultation and has attracted wide approval. I beg to move.

Moved, that the Bill be now read a second time.--(The Earl of Lindsay.)

7.48 p.m.

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I rise to congratulate my noble friend Lord Lindsay on introducing this Bill to amend the Sea Fisheries (Shellfish) Act 1967 in respect of several fisheries.

I know that the Scottish fishermen have been opposed to several orders as they saw them curbing their rights to creel in those areas where several orders would apply. As we have heard from the noble Earl, this Bill enables the orders that introduce a several fishery to exclude certain types of fishing only, allowing creeling to continue.

I am from the west country fishery where circumstances are somewhat different, but there several orders have worked very well indeed for many years. I support this Bill because I can see a new flexibility resulting that will be useful all around our coastline. As we have heard from my noble friend, Lord Lindsay, my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, who was chairman of the Sea Fish Industry Authority, would have been supportive tonight if he could have been here. Unfortunately, he has another engagement so I speak for him.

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The Sea Fish Industry Authority carried out a great deal of work on scallops. Using several orders to lay down young scallops will be better than the lantern cages currently used. Not only will we have marketable scallops, but the laid down ones will go through at least one breeding cycle and in that way reseed in the world much to the benefit of all the fishermen.

It is most important to keep vigilant and up to date in all our fishing regulations as technology advances and monitoring our maritime environment shows an ever-changing picture as we approach 2002 and prorogation. I can see nothing to stop this short and sweet Bill receiving a fair wind in its passage through both Houses to Royal Assent. Our British fishermen need all the help and support they can get. This Bill will allay the fears of many in Scotland. I am happy to support it and I wish my noble friend Lord Lindsay every success.

7.50 p.m.

Viscount Thurso: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, for his compelling and succinct explanation of this short but important Bill. I am delighted to confirm that we on these Benches welcome it and will give it as fair a wind as possible. We do so not least because my honourable friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland will be sponsoring it in another place but also because it is a clear and sensible piece of legislation. As chairman of Scrabster Harbour Trust--if that is an interest I declare it--I am well aware of the importance of the Bill to shellfish growers and fishermen alike. I therefore welcome it personally.

I will not detain your Lordships for long, but I wish to make three brief points. First, the Bill is simple and deserves to succeed for that reason if for no other. Secondly, the powers it grants are clearly needed and desirable. Thirdly, the consultation has been extensive, even exhaustive, and it is clear that the whole industry supports the Bill. I hope that the shellfish growers and fishermen, for whom the oyster is their world, once the Bill is passed will be able to say that the world is their oyster!

7.52 p.m.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, for introducing the Bill. I hope he will be pleased to hear that we share his enthusiasm for several fishery orders and I am delighted to be able to say that the Government welcome this amendment Bill and can support it.

With that in mind, I shall be brief and confine my remarks to the importance which the Government attach to several orders and to achieving a better balance between the interests of the applicant and the shellfish farming sector on the one hand and the inshore fishermen on the other.

As already alluded to, several orders are designed to encourage the establishment of, or indeed enhance, shellfisheries and provide protection for stock within the designated areas. There are currently 21 several orders in operation; 16 around the coastline of England and Wales but only five in Scotland.

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The Government are disappointed that greater use of several orders in Scotland has thus far not been possible. They make sound economic sense; they offer employment opportunities for those living and working in rural and remote areas; and they can provide the basis for a sustainable shellfishery and a means whereby production can be increased to meet consumer demand for top quality shellfish.

As matters stand, once a several order has been granted the 1967 Act then provides protection for the shellfish stocks and the owner's rights within the designated area. As the noble Earl explained, all other fishing activities are prohibited except where pelagic trawl nets or hook and line are used. Therein lies the problem. The 1967 Act places too great a restriction on fishing within several order sites. On this there is no dispute between shellfish interests and the fishermen. Both are agreed greater flexibility is needed.

The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, has played her part in extending the Act. I was pleased to learn, and I am sure she was pleased to know, that some use is being made of the powers provided by her 1997 amendment Act.

The noble Earl's amendment will provide flexibility by removing the current prohibition and giving Ministers discretion, on a case by case basis, over the types of fishing which may be permitted within a several order area. I can assure your Lordships that such decisions would be exercised with great care, after full consultation with applicants and interested parties, and founded, I hope, on consensus.

I am grateful to the noble Earl for bringing forward the Bill. I am confident that the amendment, if enacted, will help to resolve some of the difficulties surrounding the granting of several orders in Scotland and should, as a result of greater uptake, stimulate shellfish farming production. I commend the Bill to the House.

7.55 p.m.

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I am grateful for the support of all those who have spoken. I am grateful for the support expressed by the Minister on behalf of the Government. She helpfully explained several aspects of the Bill which in my efforts to be brief I had edited.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Wilcox. Her description of the Bill as being short and sweet is accurate. My gratitude goes to the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, not only for his support and that of his party but for managing to work some humour into a Bill. I had thought that impossible.

My noble friend Lady Wilcox mentioned that my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish would have supported the Bill had he been able to be here tonight. He regrets being unable to be present but has had a long interest and involvement in several fishery orders. As long ago as 1993 he attempted to deliver just this solution.

The proposal represents a much needed answer to an inflexible element of the 1967 Act. It meets the modern requirements for all concerned and will contribute to the sustainable development of marine resources and our coastal communities. I hope that the sectoral support

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across coastal and fishing interests outside the House and the cross-party support inside the House bodes well for the Bill's remaining stages. I commend it to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

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