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Column 1318Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Townend, John (Bridlington)
Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Twinn, Dr Ian
Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Column 1318Watts, John
Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Tellers for the Noes: Mr. David Lightbrown and Mr. Sydney Chapman
Column 1318Question accordingly negatived.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business),
That, at this day's sitting, the Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill [Lords] and the Drug Trafficking Bill [Lords] may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.-- [Mr. Willetts.]
Question agreed to.
Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I understand that you might consider accepting a brief intervention from me. This happens to be the last time that Sir Clifford Boulton will be sitting in the seat that he now occupies. There was a time earlier when plaudits were poured over his head, with every justification. However, one item was left out--the incomparable help that he gave to the appeal by your predecessor, Madam Speaker, for the rejuvenation and refurbishment of St. Margaret's. It would be a great mistake if he left that chair without that being put on the record.
Madam Speaker: The hon. Gentleman's point of order falls into the category of the most bogus points of order that have ever been raised with me. But as it is the last night on which Sir Clifford will be sitting at the Table and because I am really a big softie at heart, that point of order is most welcome in this House.
Order for Third Reading read .-- [Queen's consent, on behalf of the Crown, and Prince of Wales's consent, on behalf of the Duchy of Cornwall, signified.]
I want to give credit to the Law Commission, their lordships in the other place and the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) for fast-tracking the Bill to the statute book.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with an amendment.
Order for Second Reading read.
This is a pure consolidation measure.
Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes): I am aware that the motion that I tabled was not in order, but I hope that it drew the attention of the House to something that I believe could have been incorporated in this consolidation measure. I am referring to allowing funds that are confiscated to be used and applied to the Government's efforts to tackle the horrible problems of drug misuse.
The issue has been raised before. The last time that I did so was during the passage of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, but unfortunately the Government missed that opportunity for incorporation. Even though I realise that the Bill that we are discussing is a consolidation measure, I am sorry that, again, the opportunity for incorporation has not been taken.
Moneys that are seized by other Governments with the help of our marvellous officers, especially drugs liaison officers, are applied to the Government's efforts to tackle the problems of drugs misuse. Indeed, sometimes the moneys will not be paid to this country unless they are so applied. The tragedy is that they are relatively small sums--£3 million or £4 million a year--while the sums that are confiscated are 10 times or more that amount. If those sums were applied not instead of, but in addition to, the moneys spent and the efforts made by the Government to control
Column 1320drug trafficking, drug misuse and, in particular, reducing demand, everyone would gain. The drug takers, the families and the communities in which they live would gain.
I hope that the Government will apply themselves to that point and incorporate my proposal. If it is not possible to do so in this consolidation measure, it should be done in other legislation as soon as possible.
Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South): This is a consolidation measure, and a necessary and welcome one. We too feel some regret that the Government have not taken this opportunity to strengthen and, indeed, consolidate a national strategy against drug trafficking. [ Interruption. ] It is a pity that, when the House is addressing an issue this important, albeit relatively late at night, one particular Conservative Member should feel it necessary to interject from a sedentary position, saying, "Churlish." It is not churlish to ask the House to spend a little time considering an issue of real concern to our constituents, which threatens the health of the nation, is breaking up communities and families throughout the country, and requires a national strategy.
Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton): I did not say "Churlish." I do not know what the hon. Gentleman heard, but it was not that from me. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right--that, unfortunately, this is just a consolidation measure, and it does not allow us to take up the whole issue. I wish that it did, but there will be other opportunities and the hon. Gentleman will find that the House will give him its support.
Mr. Boateng: I welcome that comment, but we have an opportunity to consider what we are consolidating. The Opposition will take every opportunity to raise on the Floor of the House the evil of drug trafficking, because we do not believe that parliamentary time applied solely to the issue of consolidating a drug trafficking measure, which this is, should pass without taking the opportunity to emphasise that much more needs to be done--particularly locally--if this consolidation is to have the impact on the drug trade that it is designed to have.
That is why we feel it necessary to draw attention to the fact that when the House considered the Criminal Justice Bill and the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill, matters consolidated in this legislation were raised on the Floor of the House. We gave the Government an opportunity to give local authorities--in co-operation with the police, probation service and other appropriate agencies--a statutory responsibility to combat drug abuse and to educate young people as part and parcel of a national drug prevention strategy. Such a strategy, in conjunction with the measures in this consolidation Bill, would effectively bring into play the powers of the House and the responsibilities of the Home Office, the Attorney-General and the Lord Chancellor's Department, together with the police and local authorities on the ground, to end this evil trade.
We give the measure a welcome, but feel able to raise only two cheers for the Government, because there remains much more to be done.
Column 1321Bill or left as it is, in a number of different statutes. I did not hear the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) suggest that, but if he were to have his way and not approve the consolidation, we would be left with the Criminal Justice Act 1988, Criminal Justice Act 1993, Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Act 1990 and Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill that is shortly to reach the statute book--all of which cover different provisions that are brought together in the Drug Trafficking Bill.
I am always grateful for any suggestions from my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), especially on this subject. However, if my hon. Friend were to get his way, we would not have the opportunity to make this consolidation and my hon. Friend would have been deprived of his opportunity to make the comments that he did. The hon. Member for Brent, South has not been paying attention to the national drug strategy that the Government have pursued for a considerable time, which was recently extended and to which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred in a speech only a fortnight ago.
Mr. Boateng: We have been paying particular attention tothe national drug prevention strategy. Our concern is its inadequacy. Let me give the Solicitor-General an example, if I may, since he chooses--
Mr. Boateng: I wonder whether I could draw to the attention of the hon. and learned Gentleman-- [Interruption.] Well, I am asked to put my comments in the form of a question. I will do so. Is the Minister aware of the concerns of local authorities, throughout the country, including police authorities, about the failure of the Government to put their money where their mouths are in terms of the national drug prevention strategy? Without such money, such a strategy is worthless.
The Solicitor-General: I am aware of the contrary position in my constituency of Brighton, Pavilion, where there is a very active drug prevention unit. In other parts of the country, where they are necessary, there are similar units.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.-- [Mr. Bates.] Bill immediately considered in Committee; reported without amendment; considered; read the Third time, and passed, without amendment.
That Mr. Oliver Heald be discharged from the Employment Committee and Mr. Tim Yeo be added to the Committee.-- [Sir Fergus Montgomery, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.]
That Mr. Patrick McLoughlin be added to the National Heritage Committee.-- [Sir Fergus Montgomery on behalf of the Committee of Selection.]
That Mr. John Watts be discharged from the Treasury and Civil Service Committee and Mr. Matthew Carrington be added to the Committee.-- [Sir Fergus Montgomery on behalf of the Committee of Selection.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn-- [Mr. Bates.]
Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli): The object of this short Adjournment debate is to impress on the Secretary of State for Wales--I am glad to see the Under-Secretary of State in his place--and the Government the need to give serious consideration to bringing an order before the House, which can be done under the sea fisheries legislation, to designate an area that encompasses the estuaries of the Gwendraeth, Towy and the Taff rivers, and the Under-Secretary will know the area well, as a regulated and licensed cockle fishery. The estuary of the Gwendraeth river, which comprises the Gwendraeth Fawr and the Gwendraeth Fach, runs into the sea at Kidwelly in my constituency. The estuary of the Towy river runs into the sea between Ferryside and Llansteffan, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams); the estuary of the Taff runs into the sea around Laugharne, which is also in my hon. Friend's constituency. To the east of the three rivers lies the Burry estuary, which extends west of the Gower peninsula and almost towards Kidwelly and the estuary of the Gwendraeth. Most of that area is covered by my constituency.
The Burry estuary is a licensed and regulated cockle fishery. That means that the south Wales sea fisheries committee is empowered by legislation to grant licences to individuals to gather cockles in the area. The committee can ensure that such licences are granted to those who have a substantial interest in the industry, and that the number of licences granted to gatherers can be controlled according to the stocks that are deemed to be available. The quantity of cockles gathered by licensees can also be controlled for purposes of stock preservation.
Unfortunately--this is where the problem arises--there is no licensing in respect of the estuaries of the three rivers west of the Burry estuary, extending right around Carmarthen bay and down to Laugharne. The South Wales sea fisheries committee tries to control that area by making byelaws; the trouble with byelaws is that, at least in this regard, they are a very blunt and cumbersome method of control. They do not apply to the individual: all that they can really do is close a fishery for a period, should the sea fisheries committee deem it wise. Then the fishery is opened again, and when it is opened large numbers of what have been described as vagrant gatherers descend on the area--not only local people, but people from other parts of Wales--to extract as many cockles as they can before the committee closes the cockle bed again for a few weeks or months. There were real problems in the summer of 1993, especially at Ferryside. There was considerable violence as local groups fought with groups from outside to extract the cockles; the police had great difficulty in controlling and ending the violence, and there was a danger that deaths would occur.
We are not talking about small sums. The cockles find markets not only locally or in the United Kingdom, but abroad. Many are sent to Spain, presumably to be
Column 1324put into Spanish dishes such as paella; I understand that the Dutch--who are well-known pirates and predators--are now moving around the coast and may well be acting as middlemen, taking the cockles all the way to Spain.
Without licensing and control, there is a danger of violence and intimidation. A good deal of intimidation is occurring locally between different groups wishing to gain the greatest possible advantage. Moreover, experts in the industry tell me that, unless something is done, few cockles will be left, and the community may lose a small but important economic asset for ever.
I have written a number of letters to the south Wales sea fisheries committee. It is a splendid committee. It produces marvellous reports which are extremely interesting to read, and it is diligent in its work. However, when it comes to the question of agreeing to licence or to draft an order for the purposes of licensing the area, the committee seems to have a blind spot. It has failed to come up with any constructive reaction whatever to the letters which I have written.
It may be that the committee does not have the resources to operate a licensing system. It may be that it is concerned about the way to make a licensing system fair in the new environment. Indeed, there are instances on the east coast of England where licensing systems for fisheries have been announced by order. I do not think that the problem is an insoluble one. Whatever the reason, it seems that the South Wales sea fisheries committee does not want to do anything. Letters to the Welsh Office on the subject usually elicit the Pontius Pilate reaction that it is nothing to do with that office; it is all to do with the south Wales sea fisheries committee. However, that is not the case. As I understand it, the Welsh Office--if it is not the Welsh Office, it is the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food--has the power under sea fisheries legislation to bring forward, after consultation with the sea fisheries committee, an order to establish a licensed and regulated fishery in that area. That is what I want.
In conclusion, I simply ask that the area west of the Gower peninsula encompassing the Burry estuary, which is already licensed, and extending round the Gwendraeth from the Towy and Taff estuaries, be a proper licensed and regulated cockle fishery, so that, first, we can ensure as far as possible that public order is not breached in the free-for-all for the cockles; secondly, an economic asset is maintained and is not lost in a few years; and, thirdly, the balance between economic exploitation and the need to conserve stocks is maintained. I suggest that that can be done only by having a proper licensing system.
I hope that the Under-Secretary will not read out one of those tired briefs that has been written for him by the South Wales sea fisheries committee.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Rod Richards) indicated dissent .
Mr. Davies: I am pleased about that. The Under-Secretary knows the area well. I hope that we will get a positive response from him, and that he will tell me that before long we will have an order properly to regulate the fishery.
Column 132510.37 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Rod Richards): I welcome the opportunity to debate the cockle- gatheringindustry in west Wales. Cockle gathering holds a unique position in the life and history of west Wales. As the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) said, I have first-hand experience of that part of the world. I was born and brought up there. I swam and walked in the Burry estuary. It is a dangerous place to be when the tidy is out, but I survived that part of the world.
My recollection of that part of the world is as a youngster and, indeed, as a student. Some of my happiest days were spent in that part of the world. I can remember as a young man spending the afternoon in Stradey park watching the Scarlets play and then having a pint of the local brew a little later. Sometimes it was Buckleys, sometimes it was Felinfoel. Inevitably, I would also have a jar of cockles. I understand the feeling locally for having a pint of beer and a jar of cockles, as the right hon. Gentleman well knows. Many hon. Members will be familiar with the evocative images of weather- beaten men and women with their horses and carts returning from a day's cockle gathering on the west Wales sands, sometimes from the southern part of the Loughor estuary and sometimes from the northern part of the Loughor estuary. Perhaps Penclawdd has received more notice than the northern side- -I do not know.
Few, however, will be aware of the vibrant industry which lies behind the imagery, an industry which for many generations has offered important employment opportunities in the area and one which has contributed greatly to the economy of the local communities on which the fisheries are based.
Responsibility for managing the west Wales cockle fisheries, including the licensing of cockle pickers, rests not with the Government but, as the right hon. Gentleman said, with the South Wales sea fisheries committee. Sea fisheries committees, of which there are two in Wales, are responsible for the management and conservation of coastal fisheries, including shell fisheries, in England and Wales out to six nautical miles. They are statutory bodies of local government set up under the Sea Fisheries Regulation Act 1966.
They manage the coastal fisheries by means of local byelaws which they are empowered to make--subject, of course, to ministerial confirmation. Their powers include regulating the method of fishing, restricting the taking of fish from specific areas or at specific times of the year, and setting minimum landing sizes and protecting breeding shellfish. Sea fisheries committees are responsible for enforcing their own byelaws.
The South Wales sea fisheries committee has 20 members: 10 councillors appointed by the constituent county councils of South, West and Mid Glamorgan and Dyfed, one appointed by the National Rivers Authority and nine appointed by the Secretary of State. Ministerial appointees are chosen from a list of nominees provided by industry representative groups. The Act requires that ministerial appointees shall be
"acquainted with the needs and opinions of the fishing interests of that district."