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The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her explanation of this order. In a number of areas she has allayed any concerns that I felt prior to hearing her speak. I was particularly glad to learn that the rules as regards children under the age of 14 years have not been relaxed. There is one point on which I would like further clarification. Can she tell me whether during consultation there were any responses from alcohol misuse organisations expressing concern? From what the noble Baroness said, I understood that there were not. If she can confirm that I shall be most grateful. I support the order.
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I welcome the noble Earl's support for this order. Out of the 43 responses received to the consultation paper, eight supported full repeal of the 1937 Act; 28 favoured partial repeal of that Act, which is being done; and seven respondents were opposed to any change. Of those seven respondents I believe that there was one from an alcohol misuse committee.
Those respondents who were opposed to change were unable to present any evidence to suggest that removing the present restrictions would result in a return to what, as I indicated in opening, was a uniquely Scottish problem of the 1920s and 1930s. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that lifting the restrictions would result in a recurrence of the problem. Drinking crude spirits was a problem at a time when other forms of alcohol were comparatively expensive. That is no longer the case. Sadly, the problems of alcohol abuse are still with us, but they are not caused by the consumption of crude spirits. I commend the order to the House.
The order seeks your Lordships' approval for an emergency order made on behalf of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to ban fishing for certain types of shellfish in waters around the
The order was made as a result of a build-up of the naturally occurring paralytic shellfish poisoning toxin, or PSP as it is known. The toxins accumulate in tissues of animals which feed on plankton. PSP has traditionally been associated with naturally occurring plankton blooms in late spring and summer. These algae bloom in the seas around the United Kingdom and are ingested by shellfish.
PSP toxin is a potential health hazard and can cause death if taken in sufficient quantities. PSP in humans develops approximately 30 minutes after ingestion of the toxin. It is characterised by tingling, numbness and dizziness. Paralysis may follow. Gastro-intestinal symptoms may also occur, with diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting. Ingestion of large amounts of toxin can cause respiratory paralysis and death within two to 12 hours. It is due to the serious effects of the PSP toxin that emergency action has to be taken to ensure that public health is adequately protected, hence the need for an emergency closure order.
Research is currently being funded by the Scottish Office Agriculture, Environment and Fisheries Department into various aspects of toxic marine algae and related topics. Recent work has included the development of new methods of detecting algal toxins in shellfish and this work is now almost completed. A final report on this work is expected in late 1999. Other research work has included a study of the occurrence of potentially toxic algae in ballast water discharged at Scottish ports. This work has now been completed and fully reported.
In addition, a study of potentially toxic algae in sediments around the Scottish coast in areas where blooms are most frequent has also been undertaken. Further research in this area is being undertaken and will look at the role of bacteria in toxin production. A study of the metabolism of toxins in shellfish has also been commissioned. The Scottish Office has spent approximately £230,000 on research in 1997-98.
Under the Shellfish Hygiene Directive, member states are required to have monitoring programmes in place in relation to algal toxins. These must cover the commercial production areas. This requirement is met in the UK by monitoring the water for potentially toxic algal species and by testing samples of shellfish flesh for the presence of toxins such as PSP and diarrhetic shellfish poisoning (DSP). Following changes to the European Union directives, monitoring and testing for amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP) is now included within the routine monitoring programme. The cost of the whole monitoring programme was around £250,000 for 1997-98.
The routine PSP monitoring system carried out by the Marine Laboratory, Aberdeen, is based upon testing at 45 fixed sites around the Scottish coast. It is supplemented by additional test locations when rising levels of toxin require more data to establish the extent of a problem.
The decision to make this emergency order was based on test results from the monitoring programme. PSP toxins were first detected in shellfish taken from around the Orkney Islands at the end of April, although below the agreed safe level. By 25th May, PSP toxins were detected in samples of shellfish taken from waters around the Orkney Islands at levels which exceeded the internationally agreed safety limit of 80 microgrammes of toxin per 100 grammes of flesh.
The order was made on 29th May as a result of tests showing elevated levels of PSP toxin in a variety of species of shellfish, including a level of 787 microgrammes of toxin per 100 grammes in mussels taken from within the prohibited area. This is over nine times the agreed safety level. The species affected by the order are mussels, scallops, cockles and razor clams. In Scapa Flow we were able to use data from shore-based sites and from vessels fishing in open water.
Over such a large area we could not be sure if the toxin was spread evenly or, perhaps more likely, occurring at random hot spots which were unpredictable. The scale of the results was too high to ignore. It would have made no real sense to close small areas around the highly affected locations that had been detected because algal blooms are not static. A piecemeal approach would have been inadequate in safeguarding public safety. Accordingly, the area prohibited by this order extends over a considerable stretch of water around the Orkney Isles which takes in the whole of Scapa Flow.
Of course, the closed areas must be monitored. As soon as the order was made, the local authorities, fishermen's and trade organisations and Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency were alerted. The Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency monitors compliance with the ban through marine surveillance operations and at ports of landing. Environmental health officers of the local authority ensure the effect of the order is understood locally and that warning notices are posted in affected areas advising the public not to gather or eat shellfish.
When areas of open sea are closed to fishing the Scottish Office must authorise vessels to go out to take samples from the prohibited species within the banned areas for testing. Results to date still show high levels of the paralytic shellfish poisoning toxins in shellfish in this area. Samples from the closed area continue to be monitored so that we know as soon as it is safe to re-open the fisheries, which I trust will not be too far distant. It must be remembered that the toxin does not kill the shellfish which remain available for fishing when the order is lifted.
Closures should come as no surprise to shellfish fishermen in Orkney since they have been an annual occurrence since 1990. The shellfish industry is kept informed of developments through the respective trade associations and via the Scottish Office telephone hotline. This was introduced in 1995-96 to give fishermen information on PSP and is updated each week throughout the summer period. There is always disappointment among the trade when a closure around the waters of Orkney has been made, but early action
The extent of the ban always includes the area where it is known there are high levels of PSP and includes a margin of safety. Whenever a potential closure is considered, great care is taken to try to minimise the effect on the trade in setting the boundaries of the area providing this is compatible with safeguarding public health. Results received to date still show high levels of PSP toxins in shellfish around the Orkney Isles.
I must emphasise that our aim in taking this action is to ensure effective protection of the public from PSP toxin. The order will be revoked as soon as the results of continued sampling and medical and scientific advice indicate that it is safe to do so. I commend the order to the House.
The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her clear explanation of this order to deal with an all too frequent occurrence. She made no mention of compensation. Will any compensation be available to fishermen whose livelihoods have been restricted by this order? I was glad to hear that the industry was kept informed of the changing levels of toxins in the areas concerned. Can one take it that the industry is also kept informed when levels reduce so that it can make preparations to resume fishing?
My other query relates to the trend for the making of such orders. Are they on the increase or at a fairly static level? With that, I again thank the noble Baroness and support the order.
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