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Lord Carter: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether the New Zealand flatworm, or Artiposthia triangulata as we call it in Wiltshire, is a garden pest or a farm pest? Is it correct that funding for research into flatworm control in Scotland provided from the agricultural budget of the Scottish Office has ended because the flatworm is not regarded as an agricultural pest although, according to a recent report, they go round in gangs and jump on earthworms?
Earl Howe: My Lords, the difficulty is that the scope for assessing the implications of New Zealand flatworm infestation for agriculture has been limited by a lack of established populations on agricultural land, especially in England and Scotland. When the distribution of the flatworm in Scotland was surveyed by the Scottish Crop Research Institute between July 1991 and February 1993 its impact on earthworm populations on agricultural land was found to be minimal. There was a suggestion that in drier, more intensively farmed areas of eastern Scotland flatworm and earthworm populations may co-exist. As I said, research is continuing; we await the results with interest.
Earl Howe: My Lords, I have no wish to impugn either our friends in New Zealand or those anywhere else in the Commonwealth. I understand that the incidence of the flatworm in New Zealand is not much of a problem, at least for agriculture. The open fields there tend to be too hot and dry for the worm's survival. It is when the worm is in a wetter, cooler climate that the problems begin.
The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): My Lords, we are discussing the proposed changes in income support mortgage interest with the Council of Mortgage Lenders. We believe that those measures will result in better protection for all home owners, not just those who are currently able to claim income support mortgage interest. Currently 150,000 unemployed home owners receive no help from income support mortgage interest. They would be helped by comprehensive good quality insurance.
Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. However, he must be aware that, despite the improvements and the falling numbers of families whose homes are being repossessed, almost 1,000 families a week are having their homes repossessed by building societies. As the Minister will be aware, that figure was reducing slowly. That is welcome, but is he also aware that in its report the Council of Mortgage Lenders issued a warning? It believes that the figure will bottom out and start to swing upwards again, with the adverse effect that that will have on housing and the building industry too.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the Council of Mortgage Lenders has prophesied that government measures will produce between 12,000 and 24,000 further repossessions, with the cost and misery that will result. Do the Government accept responsibility for that?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the Government do not accept responsibility. Indeed, we do not agree with the Council of Mortgage Lenders on that. We believe that, as those insurance policies come into play with new borrowers, those who are unemployed, or who in any other way find that they are unable to repay the mortgage covered by insurance, will have the insurance company to help them.
Lord Desai: My Lords, are the Government satisfied that user friendly insurance products exist, or do they simply hope that the market will take care of the matter? Is it not time that the Government encouraged the creation of suitable insurance products with appropriate subsidies?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, by the policy of removing mortgage interest help for the first nine months on income support, we are concentrating the minds of both borrowers and lenders on the need to take out insurance. Indeed the Abbey National tells us now that 40 per cent. of new borrowers already take out insurance. There is little doubt that, since we made the announcement, more and more insurance companies, including most recently General Accident, have come to the market with policies.
Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, the Minister sought to answer a difficult Question fully. However, at the end of the argument the people in the greatest danger of immediate repossession are those who do not have the funding to insure. Those are the people at peril of being made homeless. Could not something be done about that as a matter of urgency?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the policy regarding the first nine months without income support triggering in refers to new borrowers. The provision in relation to the first nine months will not affect people who are currently borrowers. All persons who take out a mortgage after that policy comes into force will have to ask themselves whether or not they should take out a policy of the kind which is increasingly available in the market place in order to cover themselves not just for unemployment but for sickness and the like.
Earl Howe: My Lords, the Royal Navy's Fishery Protection Squadron currently comprises nine vessels. It mainly operates within British fishery limits, patrolling the waters adjacent to England and Wales and the east of Scotland. Waters off the west coast of Scotland and around Northern Ireland are patrolled by vessels belonging to the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland.
From 1st January 1996, the United Kingdom will be responsible for monitoring the activities of Spanish vessels in those parts of the Irish Box which fall within British fishery limits and where they will be permitted to fish. We already monitor the activities of other vessels currently permitted to fish in those areas.
Viscount Caldecote: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that encouraging reply. First, does it mean that there will always be at least two vessels within the Irish Box area? Secondly, will the Royal Navy be able to carry out whatever activities it deems necessary unconstrained by any directives from the European Commission?
Earl Howe: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. The Government already spend £26 million a year on fisheries enforcement, of which £14 million is spent on surface surveillance and enforcement at sea. The need for further resources to maintain effective enforcement at sea is currently being assessed. Enforcement is a key issue in making the new arrangements work. We have undertaken to do our part and to ensure even closer co-operation with the Irish. That is what we are setting about doing.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, in addition to the spectacle of a British Government paying £28 million a year to destroy British fishermen's jobs in order that Spanish fishermen can have jobs, shall we now have the spectacle of the British Navy protecting the Spanish invading armada to the detriment of British fishermen? Would not Elizabeth I and Sir Francis Drake turn in their graves?
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