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Viscount Thurso: I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, for raising the question of the fish industry. It is one of the interests he and I share in common. It is a great industry and he is far more knowledgeable than I on this subject. I should declare an interest, which is that as Chairman of Scrabster Harbour Trust I am responsible for a fish market, and I am in the process of trying to get a fish processing factory built.

I therefore very much support the overall sentiment he has put forward, which is that care must be taken in dealing with fish and the fishing industry, and its general importance. I am glad that he divided his attack in two because, like him, I think it would be difficult to justify having a member of the agency specifically from one industry, as many other industries would then have a right to claim that their industry should be represented.

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I am less certain how I feel with regard to the advisory side and I hope we will have an opportunity to debate that at a later stage, or even at this moment. It seems to me that there are genuine interests which certain industries might wish to put forward. The structure of the advisory committees is clearly one way through which this could be done. Wearing another of my hats, having come from the restaurant industry I might wonder how issues particular to restaurants will be taken into account.

In setting up the agency it is important that we do not create a policeman who is fought by all of the industries over whom he holds sway. It is important that the agency does its job of protection and possibly even promotion, but does it in co-operation with industry. Therefore, this amendment is not only important as regards the narrow issue of the fish industry--which is definitely important--but it is also extremely important in raising the wider issue of how the agency will interlink with the various industries with which it has to work.

The Earl of Radnor: I support the noble Lord as regards an advisory committee. Fish have a raw deal indeed while yet they last in the seas around these islands. I am a little worried that the balance of the noble Lord's mind veers so much towards trawlers and so on. It is perhaps worth remembering that most of the fish now eaten in the British Isles comprises farmed salmon. The price of cod has gone through the roof because it is so rare. This matter is extremely important and is a difficult issue to tackle. No one is likely to go out on a trawler to see what happens on board, whereas in a fish farm people watch you the whole time to see how you fillet and gut and so on. As I say, this is an important issue but it is difficult to have a member specifically from one industry. If you have a member from the fish industry I do not see why you should not have one from the meat industry and one with experience of salads and so on, instead of this heavy emphasis not on the product but on the areas of our three countries.

[The Sitting was suspended for a Division in the House from 4.38 to 4.59 p.m.]

Baroness Wilcox: I support both the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. It is probably known that I am connected with fishing as this House was gracious enough to pass the lobster and ranching legislation that I put through. Therefore I have a vested interest in this matter and support these two amendments, particularly Amendment No. 18 which states that,


    “The Agency shall establish an advisory committee for the purposes of giving advice or information about fish".

We tend to talk about the fishing industry as though it were already dead, which is not the case. It is certainly in a state of great change and hunting, as we know it, will probably become a sports issue; people will hunt fish for sport. New methods of growing and ranching fish and scientific advancements mean that we will need to be extremely careful about the sort of labelling that we put on fish. The assumption is that

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fish is easy: we just put it in a pan and fry it. I remember to my cost, however, what pelagic fish can do if moved around at the wrong temperature--those dreadful words “scombo toxins"--and I know that there will be other questions asked later about nutrition. Nutrition labelling for fish is absolutely essential.

Fish, as has already been said, is generally very good for us, so this is an area where we will be labelling in the affirmative. With the advances that we are going to see in the coming years, however, it will be vital to have a committee not only with consumer representation (as I would wish) but also with scientific representation so that we can pass information to the general public sufficiently early for them to start to understand what is happening within the industry.

I support the two amendments.

The Countess of Mar: I too wish to support the amendments. I take issue in a small way with the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, about the safety of fish. If he went to Japan he would find that the incidence of food poisoning caused by fish is much higher than that caused by meat. That is due of course to the way in which the fish is cooked and the diet. In view of what the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, said, it is quite possible that the hazards associated with fish will be far greater with farming because of its intensity than they are at present when fish are caught from the wild. There is a need for a member with a specialist interest, not only in the nutritional value of fish, but also in the special microflora attached to fish and the toxins that they can produce.

Lord Montague of Oxford: Perhaps I may apologise for not having attended at Second Reading. I am a little hesitant about supporting the idea that someone principally represents fish. We are attempting to set up quite a small board. It would be valuable of course to have experts in everything--for instance, in frozen foods and in wine; there are many areas where expert knowledge would be extremely valuable. However, we have here only eight members, a chairman and a deputy chairman.

It has been decided that there will be representation in the form indicated in the Bill. If we try to place people on the board who have specific areas of knowledge, important though they are, I shall counsel against it. When it comes to fish, I am second to none in my support of sashimi and I quite understand why in Japan there may well be a higher incidence of poisoning from fish in view of the amount that is consumed, but all that does not make the case for these important areas being represented on the board.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, is always eloquent and never more so than when protecting, if not promoting, the interests of the fish industry. Indeed, it recalls happy days during the passing of the Scotland Act when we debated the Tweed and Esk fisheries I am only disappointed that he was unable to refer to that today.

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The substantive point is to acknowledge that he is right in emphasising the importance of the fish industry and the distinctive features of that industry, and also the benefits which fish bring to our diets. I do not disagree with that at all. However, I question whether the approach that he is suggesting, both in terms of the actual membership of the agency and also whether it would be right to set into primary legislation the nature of the advisory committee to be set up, is really the right way to go about ensuring that issues in relation to fish are considered appropriately by the agency.

It may be helpful to the Committee if I say a little about our general intent with regard to appointment of members of the agency, and then perhaps come back to one or two distinctive points about the issue of fish.

Like many other public bodies, the Government are committed to appointing members to the agency on the basis of individual qualities and not as representatives of particular sectors or other interests. That was proposed in the White Paper and remains our policy. We are looking for an overall balanced membership with a good spread of expertise and experience, but acting collectively in the public interest rather than a board representing particular sectors.

I accept that it is important for the agency to have members with some practical experience of the industry. It needs to be able to take sound and workable decisions which command the confidence of the industry, and the adverts and information we sent out to members of the public who asked for information about the appointments, which was published in June, made that absolutely clear.

I appreciate the intention behind the amendment to ensure that the agency has access to relevant high quality advice, but I believe it is too rigid. The noble Lord is as eloquent in putting forward his arguments as he is in anticipating the response that will be made to them, and I am afraid that I am making the response that he forecast. It is wrong to create the impression that some sectors have a right to representation denied to others. As my noble friend Lord Montague suggested, it would lead to calls from other sectors which would say that they, too, wished to be represented in such a way or they, too, wished to have an advisory committee covering their particular interests. Anyone could see that that would soon lead to a very unwieldy body.

To refer again to the point made by my noble friend Lord Montague, my own experience in the health service when we set up area health authorities in 1974 with an average of 30 members representing a whole host of interests is that not only does it lead to a body which is unwieldy in terms of numbers; it also makes it very difficult to get strong leadership and effective decisions because there are too many interests to balance in that kind of set-up.

Having said that, it does not mean to say that the fishing sector and other sectors will not be consulted and involved. Indeed, Clause 22 of the Bill obliges the

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agency to consult widely, and that must include establishing a good relationship with the fisheries sector.

There is a similar problem with the proposed requirement to establish an advisory committee dealing with fish. Again, the agency will need to maintain a constructive dialogue with all sectors of the food industry on safety and standard issues and will need to take advice from a number of sources to complement its own expertise. It will also be able to assess the need for setting up further advisory committees, once it is established. It is, however, important that the agency itself should be in a position to make those decisions when it is established and when it has resolved the direction in which it wishes to go and weighed up the relative importance of the different issues to be considered.

The Government will certainly encourage the advisory committees to take a special interest in fishery matters where there is a need to do so. It may be worth me making the point that there will be a committee for Scotland, and given the importance of the fisheries industry to Scotland, I would be very surprised if that committee did not take a close interest in those matters. But again, it must be for that committee to decide.

In conclusion, I agree that fish is an important and healthy food. It will be essential for the agency to have a good understanding of the issues involved. The suggestion in the amendment tabled by the noble Lord is not the right way to take that forward. On that basis, I hope he will consider withdrawing the amendment.


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