The House being met, the Clerk at the Table informed the House of the unavoidable absence of Madam Speaker,-- pursuant to leave given yesterday.
Whereupon, Mr. Michael Morris, The Chairman of Ways and Means--, proceeded to the Table and, after Prayers, took the Chair as Deputy Speaker--, pursuant to the Standing Order.
Mr. Jeff Rooker, supported by Mr. Neil Kinnock, Mr. Austin Mitchell, Dr. Tony Wright, Ms Glenda Jackson, Mrs. Anne Campbell, Mr. John Garrett, Mr. Frank Field, Mr. Keith Hill, Mr. Mike Watson, Mr. Giles Radice and Mr. Hugh Bayley, presented a Bill to amend the law relating to elections and political parties : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 15 July, and to be printed. [Bill 117.]
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will be aware of the feeling among right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House that we would prefer not to be here this morning but somewhere else. Although we should prefer to be in Edinburgh if this business were not before the House, we are here because there is an opportunity to push on with and to further the rights of disabled people, as there is a Bill before the House this morning that concerns them.
We are most concerned that, in the hallowed area of private Members' time, a large number of amendments have yet again been put down to Bills that were previously thought to be non-controversial. In a week in which we are supposed to have some kind of dignity in the House and an end to hostility just for one week, it looks as though the Government have used a particularly underhand method to block a very important private Member's Bill.
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Both you and Madam Speaker have been consistently kind and helpful to right hon. and hon. Members who have raised in recent days procedural and other queries about the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill whose resumed Report stage is timed for later today and whose fate is of the deepest concern to 6.5 million disabled people.
Clearly there is time for the first four Bills on the Order Paper to complete their stages in this House today if hon. Members make brief speeches. May I urge you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to give that guidance--if only, as my hon.
Column 1034Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) said in tribute to the memory of our late colleague, John Smith, whose support for the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill was so widely admired.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : The Chair cannot possibly give such guidance, but recognises that the sooner that we get on with the business, the more likely we are to meet the right hon. Gentleman's aspirations.
Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If the House should proceed this morning in anything like the fashion that it did on the previous two Fridays in respect of private Members' Bills, hon. Members would bring the House into serious disrepute.
With regard to a point of order that I raised at the beginning of last Friday's sitting, I have written to my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, asking whether it will review our procedures on private Members' Bills. I believe that that should be done as a matter of urgency. Meanwhile, I urge you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to use any influence that you may have, even if you have no formal powers, to encourage hon. Members to debate all four Bills for which Madam Speaker has selected amendments in a reasonable fashion and not at disproportionate length so that we may complete our proceedings on them.
If, unfortunately, the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill does not receive a Third Reading today, will you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, convey to the Leader of the House the fact that we look forward to his making a statement as a matter of urgency on the Government's plans to fulfil the resolution of the House of 29 April to provide sufficient time to complete the proceedings on that Bill ?
Mr. Deputy Speaker : I understand that the hon. Gentleman's submission to the Procedure Committee has been taken up by that Committee, and I am sure that the House is grateful to him for taking that matter forward. It is entirely for the hon. Gentleman himself to raise such matters with the Leader of the House.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will recall that, a week yesterday, when tributes were paid to the late leader of the Labour party, John Smith, at the end of my remarks I called on the House to pass the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill in tribute to his memory, and said that that would be in keeping with the spirit of the House, because, as you know, a motion was passed two or three Fridays ago which called on the Government to give additional time.
As the House is to rise a day early next week, when most people thought that it would sit to 27 May, is it not possible for you to use what influence you have--I know that it is limited, but it is an important Bill, as most of us become disabled at some point in our lives, and it concerns 6.5 million people--to see whether that additional day could be used for us to debate the Bill ?
May I finally ask you to invoke the 10-minute rule for speeches today ? I know that that is not written into the Standing Orders, but it would be a considerable gesture.
Column 1035how we get on today. The Chair, of course, will ensure that Members stay in order, and therefore we can make some progress.
Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As the Member in charge of the third Bill on the Order Paper today--the Sale of Goods (Amendment) Bill--may I clarify a point ? Neither I nor my hon. Friend the Minister is responsible for any amendments. It is our earnest hope that the Bill will be discussed briefly and concisely so that we can pass on to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) : Further to the points of order on the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance on a procedural matter for the smooth running of that Bill. I tabled an amendment which was not selected for debate and was not debated the last time that the Bill came before the House. It does not appear on the Order Paper for debate today, and so I understood, therefore, that it would not be debated, but hon. Members with more experience of the House than I apparently believe that it may play some future part in the Bill and may be debated today. Can you confirm that my amendment will play no part in the debate today ?
Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is right to bear in mind that, despite the valid comments about the Civil Persons (Disabled Persons) Bill, there are three other Bills on the Order Paper before it, one of which covers an important natural resource ; the others cover important matters of consumer protection. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry), speaking on the radio this morning, to describe them as Mickey Mouse Bills ? I should not have thought that that was the kind of language that one would expect from a Member of the House. I wonder whether you are in a position to rebuke the hon. Gentleman.
Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.
No. 6, in clause 3, page 3, line 29, at end insert
(5B) Where an officer has seized any vehicle or equipment under subsection (5A) above, the owner or charterer of the boat or the owner of the vehicle or equipment, as the case may be, if he is not the person on board the boat or in charge of or in or on the vehicle or equipment, shall be notified of the seizure as soon as practicable and informed of how the matter will be proceeded with.'.
Mr. Luff : The intention of the amendment is to enable the House to consider whether an owner of a vehicle or piece of equipment should automatically be guilty of an offence even though he or she may have no knowledge that such an offence has been committed. I believe that rather different issues apply to the owners of fishing vessels, as I shall seek to explain later, but the automatic extension of that offence to deal with the particular problems with which the Bill is concerned needs to be considered carefully.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way at this early point in his speech, but he made some remarks publicly on the radio yesterday about his amendments, and referred to the importance, which we all appreciate, of the natural environment, and in particular the activities and advice of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Will he tell us whether any of the amendments that he is about to move, or any others, had the support of that society ? Will he tell us why he thinks membership of that society is incompatible with public office ? I declare an interest as a member of that society.
Mr. Luff : I do not for a minute believe that membership is incompatible with public office. Sadly, the pressures on one's time in the House mean that one must make choices about what one does with one's time. I found that there just was not time to read Birds magazine. That is a great sadness for me. I concentrate--I make no secret of it--in my spare time on my interest in railways rather than birds. But that does not mean that I have lost my interest in birds. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. In fact, I was about to set my amendments in precisely the context that he sought to do in his intervention.
Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North) : Before my hon. Friend moves on, I should like him to clarify something. During the Committee proceedings on the Bill, is it or is it not correct that it was the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) who raised the issue with which my hon. Friend's amendments deal, and that, in trying to
Column 1037tackle this difficult issue, my hon. Friend is protecting not only the interests of the environment, but the interests of Hertz and Avis car rental companies, on behalf of whom the hon. Gentleman spoke ? 9.45 am
Mr. Luff : My hon. Friend anticipates some remarks that I wish to make later when I talk about amendment No. 2, to which the remarks in Committee of the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) are relevant.
The Bill was drawn to my attention as a direct result of the publicity surrounding the campaign of the RSPB and its concerns for the protection of marine life generally. I believe that the Bill and the amendments that we are discussing provide a very rare opportunity to debate the protection of marine life and, specifically, bird life. My study of the Bill, as a result of that publicity, revealed other concerns, to which the amendments--and those that were not selected for debate--are relevant. That study revealed that, although the primary reason for the Bill was an environmental concern, it also affected the livelihood of farmers and contained some rather worrying aspects of enforcement provisions.
Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne) : I wish to clarify one point that applies to amendments Nos. 1 and 2. According to the Inshore Fishing (Scotland) Act 1984--perhaps matters have been updated since--quite significant sentences are available for breaches of the provisions : fines of up £5,000 on summary conviction, and without limit on conviction and indictment ; and in some cases confiscation of equipment, boats and the like. Does not that underline my hon. Friend's point that one must be very careful about people unwittingly breaching the proposed law ?
Mr. Luff : Again, my hon. Friend anticipates remarks that I intend to make later. I have concerns, and will express them to my hon. Friend the Minister on Third Reading, about the levels of fines. They might not be high enough for some of the greater breaches of the regulations. They are certainly too high for those who are caught by accident under the provisions of the Bill and the Act to which it refers. My hon. Friend is right to make those comments and I hope that he will make them at greater length later.
The main purpose of the Bill, and it is important to understand this to understand the amendment, was adequately summarised in the Scottish Wildlife and Countryside Link magazine in April 1993. It said :
"Attempts to regulate the Solway cockle fishery highlight another drawback of the existing system. Using tractors to harvest molluscan shellfish at low water also takes place in the Solway Firth. It has an impact on shellfish stocks and can also disturb resident bird populations. The regulation of these fishing activities does not, at present, come under the control of the Inshore Fisheries (Scotland) Act. For effective regulation of the Solway fishery to occur, Local Authority by-laws to control tractor- dredging must be introduced to complement the Scottish Office Agriculture and Fisheries Department controls on dredging from boats. However, these controls can only be introduced to control nuisance rather than to protect the ecosystem or fishery, although the Secretary of State has indicated that they will change the Act in the near future."
It is my understanding that the Bill, which is a private Member's Bill, but which was, I believe, drafted with the assistance of the Government, seeks to meet precisely that commitment from the Secretary of State.
I must emphasise that neither these amendments, nor any others that were not selected for debate, form part of
Column 1038any attempt to wreck the progress on this Bill or any other Bill on today's Order Paper. I have to say in all honesty that, if that had been my aim, I could have tabled many more amendments to the Bill. I have some concerns, about which I have not tabled amendments, that I shall raise with my hon. Friend on Third Reading to seek assurances on a number of important points.
Mr. Roger Berry (Kingswood) : It is not the number of amendments that matter, but the length of time spent debating other matters on the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill that is the cause of concern for many disabled people.
Mr. Luff : I can understand that, but, as I said, this is a very rare opportunity for the House to discuss these issues, and it is one which we should not pass up lightly. The RSPB is taking a very close interest in our proceedings and welcomes the interest that the House is taking in this important measure. It is certainty not a Mickey Mouse measure in any sense.
Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham) : Many rural jobs and much income are tied up with the activity. If the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) dismisses the subject because he has an interest in another Bill, that is unfair.
Mr. James Paice (Cambridgeshire, South-East) : Will my hon. Friend comment on the fact that the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) has just said that the number of amendments did not matter and that what mattered was the length of speeches. I have tabled a few amendments on the Sale and Supply of Goods Bill about which I feel strongly and which I hope we shall reach. Will my hon. Friend comment on the complete contradiction between the words of the hon. Member for Kingswood and those of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), who referred to an onslaught of amendments that had been tabled.
Mr. Luff : I think that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would rightly take me to task if I speculated on amendments to other Bills. It may help the House and the hon. Member for Kingswood to know that it is not my intention to remain beyond the completion of proceedings on the first Bill, which is the only one that concerns me today. I take note of what my hon. Friend said and I think that the House will find much in what he says with which to agree.
The amendments seek to eliminate unfairnesses in the Bill and to improve it. The Bill is small but vital and must complete its passage today. If I am advised by my hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch) or my hon. Friend the Minister that the effect of the amendments will be to destroy any of the Bill's purposes, I will not to proceed with them, but I hope that that will not prove to be the case. I do not intend, during the debate on the amendments, to steal the thunder of my hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch)--I know that he wishes to explain to the House in greater detail the importance of the measure. It is important that amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 6--and the Bill on Third Reading --should be properly scrutinised. The Bill has had precious little scrutiny in either House. Unfortunately, it received a brief Second Reading in another place and an equally brief Committee stage.
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) : Did the hon. Gentleman amend the Bill in Committee ? Did he apply to be a member of the Standing Committee ? I know that he has diverse interests. When I look at the Register of Members' Interests, I see that he is associated with Tim Bell, Visa and Avis-- [Interruption.] Well, let me say that the hon. Gentleman has a large number of interests. I should have thought that if those interests were so high a priority with him he would have applied to be a member of the Committee and would have amended the Bill in Committee, which he knows that he can do even if he is not a member of the Committee.
Mr. Luff : The hon. Gentleman cannot have been listening to what I said earlier. The Bill received only a formal Second Reading in the House before it was referred to a Standing Committee--a Scottish one to be precise. I was unaware of the Bill's passage through the House and became aware of it only--as the hon. Gentleman would have known had he been listening--when the campaign of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds on marine life
Mr. Luff : I am grateful for your help, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not think that the remarks of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) were entirely relevant to the amendments. In view of the vindictive campaign being waged by some Opposition Members against individual hon. Members, I shall answer one question posed by the hon. Member for Huddersfield that is relevant to the amendments and shows why I am interested in the Bill.
The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) mentioned my membership of the RSPB. I have spent time in the Solway firth, watched the bird life there and derived great pleasure from doing so. He will know that I regularly speak on marine issues in the House. He may not know--this is relevant to the enforcement proceedings that we are about to discuss--that my family is now, and has been, involved in fisheries protection, and my brother-in-law served on a fishing vessel that was taken up from trade used in the Falklands war. Therefore, fishing issues are of great interest to me. I have absolutely no commercial interest in the Bill. My motives are entirely concerned with the Bill's enforcement provisions and the protection of marine life.
Today's debate on the amendments is timely. The amendments relate to the use of tractor dredgers on the foreshore to take cockles--an activity not covered by the 1984 Act. We need to regulate shore fishing to conserve the stocks. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) said, cockles provide a source of income for the fishing industry, food for shops and restaurants and essential food for birds. It is important that the regulations exist and are effectively enforced.
The new-style tractor dredgers--the equipment referred to in clause 2--can collect an average of 1.5 tonnes of cockles per hour. It is significant equipment. In the process, the ecology of the foreshore is destroyed. It is important that the Bill and the clause should ensure that the provisions are enforced. The consequences for bird life are serious as the ecology of the foreshore is wrecked--the marine organisms dry out and there is not enough time for them to be rewatered by the incoming tide.
Column 1040The Bill's draftsmen have not recognised the fact that the clause not only deals with problems caused by cockle fishing, but goes wider. The Bill catches in its net--if I may use a fishing metaphor--all fishing activities because it refers to boats at sea as well as activities on the foreshore. It is important to take this opportunity to consider the wider significance of the amendment and the clause.
Amendment No. 1
Mr. Luff : Amendment No. 1 extends the guilt of an owner in relation to fishing boats in section 4 (1) of the 1984 Act to vehicles and equipment owners. It is more likely that the owner of a fishing vessel will be party to illegal fishing. It is difficult to see how such an owner could let a boat go to sea without knowing what it was going to do. There are strong logical reasons for the provision to cover sea fishing. It is much more likely that vehicles and equipment--to use the phrase in the Bill--could be involved without the owners' knowledge and consent. That is precisely my worry. We all know that farmers share tractors. If the clause is unamended, we could encounter problems in relation to tractors in shared ownership. An owner could lend a tractor believing it to be for one purpose and find that the person borrowing the tractor intends to engage in an activity that, as a result of the Bill, is illegal. The owner of a tractor could use the claim that he thought that the tractor was being used for another purpose as a defence against prosecution, which would make the law unworkable.
The same is true of other equipment, but probably not the dredging equipment, which is highly specialised. The absence of any definition of equipment is a problem in the Bill. Section 9 of the Act could have usefully been amended to include a definition of equipment. The fact that there is no such definition makes it more difficult to discuss the clause meaningfully. If my intention were to destroy the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, I could have done so. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister or my hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside will give a specific assurance on the subject of definition.
I am seeking to remove
Mr. Luff : The hon. Gentleman makes comments from a sedentary position that I have already answered in response to interventions from hon. Members on both sides of the House. I do not want to repeat those responses as that would incur the wrath of the Chair and the House. I am seeking to be courteous and not to waste the time of the House and it would he helpful if the hon. Gentleman desisted from making sedentary observations.
Clause 2 is well intentioned but goes too far. It makes someone guilty of an offence that he or she could not have known was to be committed. Amendment No. 2 relates to similar issues. It would effectively delete line 8 on page 2 of the Bill relating to the vehicle or equipment subject to hire and the hirer. Concern was expressed in the Standing Committee that new section 4(1A)(c) of the Inshore Fishing (Scotland) Act 1984, inserted by clause 2 of the Bill, may make a person guilty of an offence if she or he hires a vehicle and it is used without his or her knowledge
Column 1041to commit an offence. The purpose of the amendment, which deletes the reference to such hirings, is to enable an exploration of the issue.
As has already been mentioned, on 9 March the hon. Member for Dumbarton referred to the problems of companies such as Hertz and Avis. He asked :
"Would the offence relate solely to the person renting the car or could it relate to Hertz or Avis ? Despite legal opinion, I was asked to raised the matter in our debate on the clause. My understanding is that the provision relates only to the person who rents the car and that the hirer would not be affected. Will the hon. Gentleman comment on that for the sake of those who may be affected ?"
In response, my hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside said :
"I shall certainly get back to the hon. Gentleman . . . but I understand that the provision would not cover a car parked alongside the dredger ; it would cover the equipment that is doing the damage."
My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) then said : "Following the comments made by the hon. Member for Dumbarton, it may be more appropriate to refer to a tractor than to a car. A tractor and a dredging unit could be hired from separate sources. The hirer of the tractor may have no connection with the hirer of the dredger."--[ Official Report, Second Scottish Standing Committee , 9 March 1994 ; c. 6.]
My hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside provided limited reassurances in response to that matter, but the essential point is that he promised to get back to the hon. Member for Dumbarton. He will know that, since the Pepper v . Hart judgment, what is said during our proceedings can be taken into account by a court of law, but, to the best of my knowledge, this aspect of the Bill has not been put on record in the House. We would appreciate it if my hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside could give further reassurances on this point. That would be a great comfort. 10 am
Amendment No. 6 is the most substantial in terms of text and it is also of great importance in the context of cockle fishing, the specific issue covered by the Bill. Although my principal concern relates to the owners of vehicles or equipment, I am also concerned about the owners of boats who are currently covered by the Bill. Amendment No. 1 would remove owners from automatic prosecution and amendment No. 6 would give them some rights over their property especially if--for whatever reason--they were not aware that their boat, vehicle or piece of equipment was being used to commit an offence. It would impose a simple duty on fishery officers to let an owner know what was likely to happen to his property as a result of their action.
It is essential that the House protects the property rights of innocent parties. There is a risk of the abuse of such rights under the 1984 Act unless amendment No. 6 is accepted, although there is less risk of boats being used without their owners' permission. I fully accept the importance of fishery officers being able to seize fishing vessels or equipment. If the Bill is to protect marine life effectively, the officers must have such power.
If a skipper is apprehended by fishery officers, he can anticipate a heavy fine, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) said. He can also anticipate confiscation of his catch and, more important, the confiscation of his gear which means that he has to return to his home port to replace it. That is a major inconvenience, especially for foreign vessels. Confiscation of equipment is an extremely effective deterrent against sea
Column 1042fishing abuse, but, unless amendment No. 6 is accepted, the Bill will widen the definition of what can be confiscated. It is therefore important that we consider the amendment carefully.
The most obvious vehicle that could be detained under the Bill would be a tractor ; but to whom might a tractor belong ? What if it has been stolen or borrowed without authorisation ? What if it has been taken without the owner's knowledge due to a simple misunderstanding by the person who has committed an offence ? It is essential that we protect the property rights of innocent parties to an offence. I accept that confiscation is a powerful deterrent and I am seeking not to remove that power but to temper it by letting the owner know what is happening. He can at least then plan for his needs even if he cannot get his equipment back.
Amendment No. 6 is reasonable. I ask only that fishery officers notify an owner of the seizure of his vehicle or equipment as soon as is practicable. I am not seeking to place an onerous duty on their shoulders. The amendment underlines my other concern, to which I shall return on Third Reading, which is to ensure that all powers provided under the Act are used properly and fairly.
Mr. Peter Atkinson : When my hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch) or the Minister responds to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff), I hope that they will consider the use of, for example, minibuses by cockle fishermen. Those who have seen the cockle harvest in Wales will know that it sometimes resembles the Klondike. Hundreds of people appear on the foreshore having travelled to the scene by minibus. As I understand it, under the Inshore Fishing (Scotland) Act 1984 the Scottish inshore waters over which the fishery officers have jurisdiction stretch only from six miles out to the mean high water mark. A gang of people who come to the foreshore in a hired minibus often park, not unreasonably, on the road which is, of course, above the mean high water mark. In England and Scotland, if one is caught poaching with the use of a vehicle, the magistrates or sheriffs can confiscate it, but, in this case, the fishery officer would have no power to confiscate the vehicle because it would not be within his jurisdiction--it would be in the jurisdiction of the police or the byelaw enforcement officer.
It appears that there could be a lacuna in the law and I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside could explain clearly what would happen in such circumstance.
Mr. Paice : I shall not detain the House very long, but I am concerned about the very points to which the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff) relate. He rightly mentioned the need to protect the innocent owner, but the technical issue of who the owner of a vehicle is also needs to dealt with. In today's world, it is highly likely that the owner may be a financial institution that has retained the property rights of the tractor or whatever vehicle may be used. We must recognise that the ownership and use of various types of equipment and vehicles can be quite separate. Many years ago, I was prosecuted for owning a vehicle with defective tyres although I had had nothing to do with the use of that vehicle. Fewer people now own outright the
Column 1043equipment that they use and that fact must be reflected in the law. That is why I was pleased that my hon. Friend tabled the amendments. Like my hon. Friend, I fully support the motives of the Bill. I am a firm and active supporter of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and welcome its initiatives to encourage the Government's proposals introduced in the Bill. I in no way want to delay or detract from the Bill, but I am anxious to ensure that innocent parties who unwittingly find that equipment in which they have a proprietorial interest has been used to commit an offence should not suffer and incur the penalties to which my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) has already drawn our attention. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch) or the Minister will be able to deal with that issue.
Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) : I disagree with some of the points made by my colleagues. My interest in the Bill arises from the time that I have spent on the Solway firth, not least one or two liquid new years at Drummore. The attraction of that part of the country is its traditional environment. It is an example of a delicately balanced ecosystem. If the Bill is to be effective it must firmly regulate the dredging in such parts of the country, but I believe that the amendments would weaken the proposed enforcement.
In another place, Lord Campbell set out clearly the background to the Bill. For years, traditional cockle picking has been part of the local way of life and has been carried out in balance with nature. The mudflats support large numbers of birds, and I spoke to representatives of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds this morning. Increased prices will inevitably mean more dredging by tractors--that is a simple fact. The Inshore Fishing (Scotland) Act 1984 is not sufficient in scope to stop it, but can we introduce sufficiently restrictive measures ?
The reservations expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff) are entirely understandable. To put the matter in context, we must realise what sort of community we are talking about. Unless we give the police specific powers to stop and search and to confiscate, it is difficult in a small community for a local policeman, who knows everyone in the area, to say, "I have a reasonable suspicion that you are doing this." It is much easier for the police if they have a more clearly defined power in law. Amendments Nos. 5 and 3, although attractive in terms of introducing the idea of reasonableness, might make it more difficult to enforce the legislation on the ground.
There is a more general point about the amendments. If we introduce environmentally protective legislation, it must be meaningful. If we water it down, as proposed in the amendments, we are in danger of making the legislation relatively meaningless. If we are to protect ecosystems, we must make the powers rigorous. To introduce, as the amendments do, the idea of doing things that are reasonably necessary to facilitate a search simply waters down
Mr. Sheerman : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would not it help progress if, when the Whips organised a filibuster like this, they briefed their hon. Friends a little better than they have done ?
Mr. Peter Atkinson : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Bill is of considerable concern to people in Scotland and to people who are interested in the environment. That is true of people in my constituency, which is situated near the Solway firth. During the progress of the Bill, we have been subjected to endless heckling from sedentary positions about filibusters. Some of us are concerned about the provisions of the Bill.
Dr. Fox : I was referring to amendment No. 6. It might seem reasonable that we should make clear who owned what equipment at what time. However, in small rural communities, it will be extremely difficult to enforce the legislation. We would not want people outside the House to feel that, in trying to be reasonable in the amendments, we were giving less environmental protection than was initially intended.
The surveys carried out by the marine laboratory of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland have shown a massive diminution in the biomass of cockles in the Solway firth. We must give as much protection as we can. Although the amendments are well intentioned, they would not achieve that because they would make the enforcement of a rigorous Bill more difficult. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester will address that point when he replies and that my hon. Friend the Minister will take those points on board.