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Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus): I do not want to oppose the amendments, but I should like to congratulate the Minister on his efficient and, as ever, competent dispatch of business.

It is appropriate that consideration of the Bill is ending with amendments relating to the River Sark and the River Tweed. This whole saga started in 1974--that long saga is coming to an end as far as the House is concerned, but for Scotland a new story is beginning.

7 pm

Mr. McLeish: I shall be brief, and I think that I can satisfy all the points that hon. Members have raised.

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The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) referred to the Tweed and the Esk. Clearly, these will be matters for both Parliaments, so I cannot predict when decisions will be made. There will be no change to the status quo in the interim, and it will be up to the Parliament, along with Westminster, to define its priorities and what changes will be put in place.

In providing for fisheries to be devolved, the Government have always recognised that special arrangements would be required in respect of the two border river systems which straddle the boundary between England and Scotland. It is universally accepted that fisheries management needs to be approached on a whole-river basis. In doing so, however, anyone responsible for fisheries management for a river system which lies in England and Scotland would have to operate under the law of both England and Scotland. It is necessary, therefore, that the laws for regulating fisheries should be same on both sides of the border.

Our task in respect of the Bill, therefore, is to enable both Parliaments to approve such laws, but in a way that ensures that they both approve the same laws. The Government amendments to clause 100 are intended to allow much the same approach to be taken for the two border rivers between Scotland and England. In effect, we are providing for the legal framework for each of those rivers to be established by Orders in Council--which would be prepared by the Fisheries Departments in both countries in co-operation--and for such Orders in Council to be capable of addressing the wide range of tasks involved in fisheries management.

Such Orders in Council should also be flexible enough to offer a wide range of legal mechanisms for fisheries management, much as would be open for each Parliament if it were acting independently. We have to get it right on both sides of the river, and we have established in the Bill a framework for making sure that that is the case.

On sea fisheries, Government amendments Nos. 29, 192, 195, 209 and 252 relate to the devolution of functions in respect of the regulation of sea fishing. In the White Paper "Scotland's Parliament", the Government made clear their intention to devolve functions relating to sea fisheries, subject to suitable co-ordination arrangements to ensure effective discharge of United Kingdom obligations. The devolution of functions exercised at sea has raised for the Bill particular questions which have required careful thought, and the amendments are the product of that further thought. They are intended to ensure effective devolution.

As hon Members will understand, the exercise of ministerial and other functions in relation to the regulation of sea fishing will often mean that functions are being exercised outside Scotland. I should remind the House that, for the purposes of the Bill, Scotland includes the 12-mile territorial seas around Scotland, as provided in clause 112.

When such regulatory functions are exercised outside Scotland, there will need to be clear connections to Scotland to justify action being taken by the Scottish Ministers, and for Scottish courts to recognise jurisdiction in trying offences under Scots law. At sea, however, it is possible to envisage various possible connections to Scotland that might be thought to satisfy the condition "as regards Scotland".

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I am conscious that the requirement to implement devolution for sea fisheries has raised a number of problems for legal advisers and, indeed, for United Kingdom Fisheries Ministers, who remain determined to ensure that United Kingdom obligations to manage fisheries under the common fisheries policy are implemented effectively.

Scottish Ministers will be responsible for managing fisheries within the Scottish zone, and for managing Scottish boats. Ministry of Agriculture Ministers will be responsible for managing fisheries within the waters adjacent to England and for managing English boats. The responsibilities of the Welsh and Northern Ireland Ministers and Assemblies will be a matter for their own legislation.

That overlapping set of responsibilities, which arise because of the need to regulate in respect of sea area and fishing boats which may operate in various areas, opens up a possibility that United Kingdom fishing boats may have to operate under the authority of separate licences issued by the fisheries administration. That is not on the horizon at present. The question of the zone is being considered and discussed, and that consideration will be published when that point is reached. Again, decisions on that will be taken by the new Parliament.

Mr. Beith: Do I understand the Minister to have expressed concern at the confusion that could arise if two boats fishing in the same part of English waters happened to be registered one in Scotland and one in England--even though they were both operating out of the same English port--and that the discussions have some time to go to find a satisfactory resolution?

Mr. McLeish: I can confirm that that is the case. This is an area of regulation that we want to get right, and it will be dealt with.

I hope that this is the last time that the Bill is considered by the House. I should respond to the point made by the hon. Member for Woodspring, which showed the spirit in which the Bill has been considered--it has been a highly technical discussion. He referred to the definition of freshwater fisheries management in the Solway firth.

Under the current legal definition of the Esk, the estuarial limit is drawn to include all the inner Solway firth. There are significant salmon fisheries in that part of the firth, and there are distinctive practices and regulations governing those salmon fisheries in England and Scotland. The relevant management bodies have drawn to our attention the fact that significant difficulties arise for enforcement of salmon fisheries regulations as a result of the fluid nature of the boundary between England and Scotland in the Solway firth. That is at the heart of the point that has been made.

The boundary in the Solway firth has, for many purposes, been taken to be the medium filum of the Esk, and then the combined Esk and Eden rivers at low tide. Things are not getting much simpler as we move through the Bill. The topography of the inner Solway firth is such that that channel can move considerably, and it is difficult to demonstrate to the satisfaction of a court where the channel may have been at any point in time. That has been a frustration for enforcement agencies in that area--not for many years, but for many generations.

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The good news is that the Government are considering that issue to come up with some final legal resolution to that on-going conundrum.

Dr. Fox: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As this may be the final time that we discuss the Bill, may I, on behalf of the Opposition, thank you, the other Deputy Speakers and, through you, Madam Speaker, for the way in which procedures have been conducted, especially the long stages in the middle of our consideration?

May I also, through the Minister, thank his civil servants for the information with which we were supplied during consideration of the Bill? Without that, it would have been impossible to come forward with constructive opposition. The Bill is much improved, although, as the Minister noted, we have finished with a debate which has been as clear as mud.

Mr. Wallace: Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I associate the Liberal Democrats with the remarks of the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox)? We thank you, your fellow Deputy Speakers and Madam Speaker, as well as Ministers and officials.

If the Minister and his colleagues show flexibility on the one matter that we have referred back to the other place, this may indeed be the last time that we have to debate the Bill on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): There is no need for me to comment on those kind points of order.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 154 to 214, 221 to 236, and 279 to 285 agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 286 and Government amendment (a) thereto agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 287 to 297, and 298 to 302 agreed to.

Committee appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to certain of their amendments: Mr. Desmond Browne, Mr. Stephen Day, Mr. Oliver Letwin, Mrs. Anne McGuire and Mr. Henry McLeish; Mr. Henry McLeish to be the Chairman of the Committee; Three to be the quorum of the Committee.--[Mrs. McGuire.]

To withdraw immediately.

Reasons for disagreeing to certain Lords amendments reported, and agreed to; to be communicated to the Lords.

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7.9 pm

The Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning (Mr. Richard Caborn): I beg to move,

I shall say a few words by way of explanation of the resolution standing in the name of the Financial Secretary. The Bill returned from the other place includes a new clause before clause 38 on corporation tax. The clause is designed to achieve tax neutrality, in that transfers under the Bill should not trigger a charge to tax. The need for ways and means cover arises because the effect of that may, in principle, involve a change in the incidence of tax as between the transferor and the transferee.

Question agreed to.

Question put and agreed to.

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