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Flood Action Plan

Baroness Crawley asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Donoughue: The Chairman of the Environment Agency has provided a report of progress to date, copies of which are being placed in the House Libraries.

In line with the priorities we set out last October, the agency has completed the checking of flood warning dissemination plans for errors and omissions. It has also been elaborating, in conjunction with other operating authorities and the Ministry, its current general supervisory responsibilities for flood defence matters.

In addition, the agency has reported substantial progress with work scheduled for completion later in the year, including the development of a flood warning strategy and review of telemetry requirements. With financial support from the Ministry, the agency has taken forward work on flood plain mapping, public awareness of flood warning arrangements and auditing the content of its current flood warning dissemination plans. The latter work is intended to lead to development of more standardised and effective plans.

We are pleased to be able to report such positive progress and will ensure that the House is updated on future developments.

Bovine TB

Baroness Crawley asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Donoughue: Following the Krebs report it is clear that TB in cattle is a complex problem with a multiplicity of causes. A wildlife reservoir is a significant factor, but we need to be clear why it is that some farms suffer TB incidents while others in the same vicinity do not.

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In order to focus our efforts on understanding these processes, and to illuminate the detailed differences between farms, we are now launching the epidemiological investigation which was piloted on a small number of farms last November.

A new database will be compiled from information collected from all farms which have suffered TB incidents, and from a number of other farms. The pilot study has proved invaluable in enabling us to streamline the collection of this information. The public consultation held at the same time has produced a number of extremely helpful suggestions which we have also been able to take on board. Copies of the new questionnaire (form TB99) have been placed in the Library.

As soon as there are enough entries in the database we shall start to analyse the information to try to identify those factors which, either individually or in combination, are associated with TB incidents. Information on cattle movements, husbandry and farm management practices, wildlife on farms and the local environment will be analysed alongside other data, for example on local weather conditions and patterns of badger activity. The results will be used to develop new control strategies and will feed through into improved guidance for farmers.

Inshore Fishing Fleet: Management

Baroness Crawley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they propose to issue a consultation paper on the management of the under 10 metre fishing fleet.[HL1864]

Lord Donoughue: A consultation paper on steps to improve the management of the under 10 metre fleet is being published today and copies have been placed in the Library of the House. The paper is being sent to inshore fishermen and other interests for comment by 30 June this year.

The paper confirms that the Fisheries Departments are looking at ways in which the management of quota allocations for this part of the inshore fleet can be developed with the objective of avoiding early or mid-year closures of fisheries. At the same time it seeks views from fishermen and other interests on the steps that might be taken to constrain fishing effort. Action is also planned to deter unlicensed fishing activity, to prohibit the transshipment of fish between under and over 10 metre vessels, and to deal with vessels which have been shortened, re-registered and relicensed as under 10 metre vessels, and subsequently re-lengthened to fish as over 10 metre vessels without the necessary consequential adjustments to their registration and licence status.

The under 10 metre fleet is an important and integral part of the UK fishing industry. Its members hold wide ranging and diverse opinions, often reflecting local needs and conditions. The consultation process, that is

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now under way, will help to draw together these views so that informed decisions on the way forward can be taken later in the year in partnership with the newly devolved administrations. It is expected that any change in the present quota management and licensing arrangements will take effect during the year 2000.

Fishing Vessel Licensing

Baroness Crawley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they received the report of the working group announced by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in December 1997 to review the operation of the current fishing vessel licensing arrangements, and what action they are taking to implement its recommendations.[HL1865]

Lord Donoughue: We have now received the report of the working group, a copy of which has been placed in the Library of the House. We are most grateful for the valuable contribution made by industry representatives in the preparation of this report. They have had a difficult task to perform, balancing the complexities of the existing licensing arrangements against the wide ranging interests of fishermen throughout the UK.

We are also pleased to note that the primary recommendation of the working group is that the overall structure of the present licensing regime should be retained. However, having weighed the arguments carefully, we have concluded that there are grounds for two small changes to the current structure, to upgrade moratorium licences and those Category B licences to which are attached individual species licences to full Category A status. These changes will take effect from 1 May 1999.

Industry members of the working group have made a further 10 recommendations relating to various aspects of the licensing regime. These will be followed up by Fisheries Departments with one exception. The group has recommended that there should be no further linkage between fishing licences and vessel safety certificates. This is a sensitive issue, and one which is the subject of ongoing talks between Fisheries Departments and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions following the publication last autumn of the MAIB report into the sinking of the "Pescado". We attach great importance to the safety of fishing vessels, and believe that it is essential that all ways of improving vessel safety are fully explored.

As a result of recommendations from the group, three further changes to the present licensing rules will take effect from 1 April 1999. First, we are amending the provision whereby the capacity penalty may be waived where a vessel being replaced has been destroyed or permanently disabled as a result of fire, sinking or other accidental cause, so that it is no longer necessary for

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the age difference between the replaced and replacement vessel to be no more than seven years. The requirement for the capacity of the replacement vessel to be no greater than that of the replaced vessel (measured in VCUs) will remain.

Second, with regard to licence entitlements, the deadline for submitting a valid licence application to Fisheries Departments is extended from two years to three years from the date that the entitlement first arose. This will apply to all existing licence entitlements as well as to entitlements created after 1 April 1999.

Third, a new licence will be made available to owners of vessels fishing exclusively in external waters who have taken advantage of the arrangements announced on 31 March 1998 to replace the vessel with a vessel of larger capacity, without acquiring additional domestic water licences to cover the increase in capacity. This licence will allow them to continue to fish for non-TAC stocks in those parts of ICES Sub Areas VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XII and XIV which lie outside Community waters. All other conditions relating to the licensing of the replacement vessel remain in force.

Finally, we have noted the group's offer to give further consideration to measures to improve the present capacity penalty arrangements, and to act as a forum for the discussion of licensing issues in the future. We welcome this recognition of the value of constructive engagement of the industry in developing policy and envisage that this forum will be used in future. We shall be reconvening the group later this year to look at the scope for improving the capacity penalty arrangements.

General Pinochet: Leak of Law Lords' Opinion

Lord Lamont of Lerwick asked the Lord Chancellor:

    Whether he will mount an enquiry into whether the conclusions of the Law Lords' Opinions on General Pinochet were leaked to The Times, and, if so, how.[HL1781]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): At the request of the Senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, the Clerk of the Parliaments has instituted a leak inquiry into this matter in order to determine, first, whether there was any improper disclosure of the Law Lords' Opinions and, second, if improper disclosure is found, its origin.

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