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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Foyle and Carlingford Fisheries (Northern Ireland) Order 2007



The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Frank Cook
Battle, John (Leeds, West) (Lab)
Cairns, David (Parliamentary Unde r-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland )
Clapham, Mr. Michael (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab)
Davidson, Mr. Ian (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op)
Flello, Mr. Robert (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab)
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester) (Lab)
Kawczynski, Daniel (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con)
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie (Bromsgrove) (Con)
Knight, Mr. Greg (East Yorkshire) (Con)
Lancaster, Mr. Mark (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con)
Lidington, Mr. David (Aylesbury) (Con)
McCrea, Dr. William (South Antrim) (DUP)
McGrady, Mr. Eddie (South Down) (SDLP)
Mactaggart, Fiona (Slough) (Lab)
Morley, Mr. Elliot (Scunthorpe) (Lab)
Moss, Mr. Malcolm (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con)
Norris, Dan (Wansdyke) (Lab)
Owen, Albert (Ynys Môn) (Lab)
Raynsford, Mr. Nick (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab)
Reid, Mr. Alan (Argyll and Bute) (LD)
Glenn McKee, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Fourth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Tuesday 13 March 2007

[Frank Cook in the Chair]

Draft Foyle and Carlingford Fisheries (Northern Ireland) Order 2007

10.30 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (David Cairns): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Foyle and Carlingford Fisheries (Northern Ireland) Order 2007.
A draft of the order was laid before the House on19 February 2007. I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Cook, for what will, I hope, be a relatively uncontroversial and straightforward sitting. The draft order gives the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission power to exercise the aquaculture licensing and inland fisheries development functions conferred upon it by the North/South Co-operation (Implementation Bodies) (Northern Ireland) Order 1999. The commission is a north-south implementation body that exercises its functions through the Loughs Agency. This draft order updates certain inland fisheries provisions from the Foyle Fisheries Act (Northern Ireland) 1952 to bring them into line with other fisheries legislation, and makes minor amendments to the Fisheries Act (Northern Ireland) 1966.
Rather than go through the whole draft order, I shall highlight some of the key provisions before answering any questions. Article 3 provides for the establishment of a new aquaculture licensing system in the Foyle and Carlingford areas and sets out the procedure for the licensing process. Licences will be granted subject to certain conditions and it will be an offence to engage in aquaculture without, or contrary to the conditions of, a licence. For the first time, aquaculture in Lough Foyle will be regulated. Licence holders will have legal protection in the event of interference with stocks on licensed sites.
The order establishes the Foyle and Carlingford Aquaculture Licensing Appeals Board, to which aggrieved persons can appeal against decisions made by the Loughs Agency.
Article 4 extends the definition of fish as employed in the Foyle Fisheries Act (Northern Ireland) 1952 to cover species of sea fish, namely oysters, mussels, sea bass and tope. That will enable the Loughs Agency to regulate such fisheries effectively, and to overcome the current difficulties in enforcing national legislation in Lough Foyle.
Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): Onarticle 4(3), what is the Minister’s response to the fact that, during the consultation, the board of the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission submitted that
“the exclusion of sea fish and specifically wild oysters and mussels from the Order is untenable if the Agency is to fulfil its responsibilities”?
David Cairns: The original draft did not make provision for sea fish. People engaged in aquaculture in the area, particularly those harvesting mussels and oysters, were concerned that unless they were included by an extended definition, the measure would be incomplete. As a result of the consultation, we put the measure in the order.
Article 6 enables the Loughs Agency to regulate or prohibit the sale of rod caught fish as a conservation measure. A prohibition on the sale of rod caught salmon has been introduced in the Republic of Ireland, and the draft order makes similar provision for the Foyle and Carlingford areas as well as the rest of Northern Ireland.
Article 8 provides the Loughs Agency with the power to acquire fisheries with the agreement of the owner for the purpose of improving and developing facilities for angling in the Foyle and Carlingford areas for both local anglers and tourists. Article 20 updates the existing procedures for appointing private river watchers and limits the duration of their appointment to five years. Article 28 removes the statutory forfeiture of equipment incurred by a person convicted of an offence under the 1952 Act. The court will now determine forfeiture. That amendment was necessary to ensure compliance with the European convention on human rights.
The order provides the Loughs Agency with the powers necessary to fulfil the full range of functions conferred upon it by the North/South Co-operation (Implementation Bodies) (Northern Ireland) Order 1999, and it should ensure the future sustainability of fisheries resources in the Foyle and Carlingford areas. I am confident that the introduction of an effective aquaculture regulatory system in Lough Foyle will benefit those engaged in fisheries activities and will help to deliver improved economic and environmental management benefits in Foyle and Carlingford.
Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Minister give way?
David Cairns: I am happy to give way to my hon. Friend—he takes a great interest in fisheries matters.
Mr. Davidson: Indeed I do. It is obviously important for the Minister to specify what he means by the Foyle and Carlingford areas. Will he tell us which tributaries of both rivers are covered by the order?
David Cairns: I am sorry to have to let the Committee into a moment of private humiliation on my part, but during consideration of a previous order, I failed to recall the 200-plus tributaries of the River Tweed. When I was challenged by my hon. Friend to name them, I completely failed to do so and had to write to him with a telephone-book full of the names of the tributaries of the River Tweed.
I have just received inspiration saying that the definitions are set out in the 1952 Act and the implementation bodies order. However, I have no doubt that that will not satisfy my hon. Friend, so I assure him that I shall write to him, as I did regarding the River Tweed, with the full list of tributaries. I hope that that will satisfy him—or not.
Mr. Davidson: May I say how disappointed I am that the Minister has not learned from his previous experience when he was shamed in front of the Committee by not knowing the tributaries. I would have thought that he could have recited them this time. In particular, is the Articlave river counted as being in the Foyle and Carlingford area?
David Cairns: I would like to caveat my answer by saying that readers of Hansard are not able to appreciate irony. Obviously, my comment about being shamed and disgraced was meant ironically. I cannot provide my hon. Friend with the reassurance that he seeks. I shall detail the tributaries when I write to him, which I shall do posthaste, rather than detain the Committee for too long.
Mr. Davidson: Will the Minister give way?
David Cairns: I have been very generous in giving way, but I shall do so one last time, and then make some progress on my peroration.
Mr. Davidson: My point is particularly significant because the Articlave river is not a tributary of either the Foyle or the Carlingford, but is just round the coast from the mouth of one of them. It is not entirely clear, therefore, what is meant by the Foyle and Carlingford areas and whether the provision applies to tributaries, or to small rivers flowing into the sea besides the mouths of either. If the latter is the case, how far along the coast will the order apply? I bet that the Minister had not thought of that.
David Cairns: Indeed, I had thought of that. The order applies to bodies of water through which the border runs, which includes Lough Foyle and Carlingford lough—the border runs through the middle of both—and for bodies of water that flow into them. The order does not apply to completely separate rivers with no cross-border implications. If I have got particular rivers wrong, to which specific circumstances apply, I shall correct my remarks.
The order is being progressed at the same time as parallel legislation in Dublin. It makes no sense to have different licensing regimes on either side of bodies of water that straddle the border, because fish swim—that is one thing that I do know about fish. It is important, therefore, to have a consistent regulatory regime in both loughs. For rivers with no cross-border implications, many of those issues will not apply, except on specific matters applying to all waterways in Northern Ireland such as the rod caught salmon issue that I mentioned earlier.
I am aware that although the substance of the legislation is not controversial, the Order in Council procedure is. Hon. Members might ask why we are using that procedure given that we are, hopefully, less than two weeks away from the restoration of devolution. However, the order gives effect to decisions taken some years ago. There has been extensive consultation and the order has been welcomed across the sector with the alterations that we made to address legitimate concerns. Local parties in Northern Ireland have not raised any objections and we have been working to a timetable to keep us in step with the Republic, as I said in reply to an intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South-West.
Given the unique circumstances of the order, I hope that the Committee will bear in mind the assurances that we have given. If devolution is not restored in two weeks, we will revisit the process. I commend the order to the Committee.
10.40 am
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): May I join the Minister in welcoming you to the Chair, Mr. Cook? I also welcome the Minister’s final reassurance that the Government will come forward with their promised proposals for changes to the Order in Council system in the event that devolution is not restored; hon. Members on both sides of the Committee hope that it will be restored.
It will come as some reassurance to the Minister that I do not intend to make an overlong speech or, unless an unexpected problem emerges, to press for a Division. I have a number of questions to put to him, but I first wish to express my regret that the length of the consultation period for the order was shortened from the standard 12 to eight weeks, which included the Christmas and new year holiday. The Northern Ireland Office’s explanation was that shortening the consultation period was necessary because of the requirement to introduce legislation concurrently with the Republic of Ireland. However, that explanation is inadequate. Frankly, if there was going to be a problem with concurrence, the Department ought to have got its act together by opening the consultation a few weeks earlier so that interested individuals and organisations had the normal 12 weeks in which to collect their thoughts and to present the Government with a considered reply. Presumably, the Government set their standard of 12 weeks’ consultation for a purpose and it is a disappointment when, for whatever reason, the standard is not met.
A number of interest groups made representations to the Minister following the publication of the draft order. Both Londonderry and Warrenpoint ports expressed concern that their commercial interests were in danger of being overlooked. The Warrenpoint harbour authority was concerned that there is no provision in the order to prevent future licensed sites being placed close to the shipping channel and anchorage areas of the harbour. The authority said that it believed that some current licences in the Republic’s sector of the lough were already too close to, and were adversely affecting, the harbour’s operations.
I went to Warrenpoint to talk to the port operators. They hope to increase the capacity of the port, particularly because of the prosperity of Newry. Clearly, the balance of the interests of ports, aquaculture and environmental protection is difficult to strike, and I fully understand that it is matter of judgment. I hope that the Minister will give some reassurance that the proper commercial interests of the ports, and the jobs that depend on those, have been considered by the Government, and that they will be adequately taken into account when detailed decisions come to be made.
There is a question about the level of environmental impact assessment required. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, in its representations, stated that both loughs qualify as special protection areas under the European Union birds directive and that, therefore, they are so sensitive that they qualify for a strategic environmental impact assessment, and not just the local environmental impact assessment that any licence applicant has to carry out. Again, I hope that the Minister will say whether it is the Government’s intention that a strategic environmental impact assessment will be carried out on each of the loughs covered by the order.
There is a question also about fees. Clearly, decisions about the level of fees will be taken by the relevant authority in due course, but the Aquaculture Initiative, in its comments on the draft order, noted the vast differences between rates applicable to foreshore licences and leasing arrangements on the two sides of the border. It said that the introduction of an application fee and subsistence charges for producers based on the northern side of Carlingford lough would lead to a significant additional financial burden on producers already subject to large Crown estate fees, which by definition are not payable by their counterparts and competitors on the Republic’s side of the international boundary.
Although we all hope for a growth in aquaculture in those loughs and in employment as a result, clearly, it is important that the British Government ensure that producers in Northern Ireland can compete on a level playing field with producers in the Republic so that they are not put at a competitive disadvantage. I hope that the Minister can respond to those detailed questions.
10.47 am
Mr. Reid: May I, too, welcome you to the Chair this morning, Mr. Cook? I am broadly supportive of the order and certainly of the licensing and regulation of aquaculture as a way in which to ensure more environmental and sustainable management of marine resources. I strongly support, therefore, the proposal for a licensing scheme for Lough Foyle and improvements to licensing at Carlingford lough.
I would like comprehensive marine legislation to be introduced in Northern Ireland in order to protect the marine environment. I understand that that would require the proposed UK marine Bill to be developed to allow the Northern Ireland Executive to introduce subordinate legislation for the protection of the marine environment in Northern Ireland. When the Minister sums up, perhaps he could advise us on the Government’s intentions. The development of aquaculture in sea loughs and the use of other marine resources needs to be co-ordinated and planned to minimise impacts on the marine environment. New legislation should include the introduction of marine spatial planning and underpin the process by focusing on delivery in the seas throughout the region. Will he explain the Government’s long-term intentions?
As the hon. Member for Aylesbury said, Lough Foyle and Carlingford lough have been designated as special protection areas under the EU birds directive. Both loughs support areas of particular importance for wintering water birds. Carlingford lough is important also for breeding terns. In view of that importance, I believe that the appropriate assessment of licence applications is necessary under the Conservation (Natural Habitat, etc.) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1995. Will the Minister expand on that?
Without the marine spatial planning being in place, can the Minister reassure us that agricultural activityin Lough Foyle and Carlingford lough will be co-ordinated and planned to minimise the impact on the rich marine environment?
Finally, in its response to the consultation, the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission noted:
“The Agency has been previously advised by the Department, that as a prosecutor the right of appeal in Northern Ireland already exists in other legislation for the Agency and therefore provision is not required to be made in the order. The Agency...has requested clarification on this point.”
I hope that the Minister will respond to that request for clarification, and I look forward to his reply. I support the proposal.
10.50 am
David Cairns: I am grateful for the welcome that has been given to the order. I also welcome hon. Members’ understanding of the fact that the proposal is being done through the Order in Council process, in what I hope will be one of the last batches.
I hope that I can reassure hon. Members who raised specific points. The hon. Member for Aylesbury mentioned that we had shortened the consultation, which is not unusual, and we set out the reasons for doing so. It is important to remember that it was a consultation on the order; we had a full consultation on the policy a couple of years ago. As I said in answer to an intervention by the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute, even during the shortened period of consultation we were able to respond to points made in relation to sea fish and to alter the policy at that stage. Although the period was shortened from 12 to eight weeks, people still managed to make a significant contribution, which resulted in a change of policy.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury asked about the implications of the order for the development of the ports. Wearing a different ministerial hat, I have responsibility for the Northern Ireland response to the UK ports review. I have met representatives from the ports in Northern Ireland, including Jim Stewart from Warrenpoint and Garvin O’Doherty from Derry. Garvin raised legitimate concerns about this order in respect of dredging. I hope that I have reassured the hon. Gentleman that as a Minister of the Department for Regional Development I do not want to do anything that restricts the important economic contribution that the ports make to Northern Ireland, and we encourage them to make an even greater contribution. We can have a licensing regime that is sensitive to the requirements of the ports in Warrenpoint and Derry, and also brings into place a proper licensing arrangement for activity that is taking place on an unlicensed basis. It is not beyond our wit to do both.
There will be a memorandum of understanding between the ports and the agency and a consultation protocol, which means that there should not be any surprises. The agency will let the ports know what it is doing and why it is doing it, and the ports will have the opportunity to respond. I hope that I have addressed hon. Members’ legitimate concerns about Warrenpoint and Derry.
The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute asked me about the environmental impact assessment. Essentially, it is governed by European Union legislation; whoever operates here, be it the Department or the agency, has to comply with EU directives, including the habitats directive, in any case. As the hon. Member for Aylesbury knows, we are moving towards what I suspect, wearing my third ministerial hat as Minister in the Department of Environment, will be the creation of an environmental protection agency in Northern Ireland. We will get clearer views on environmental compliance in Northern Ireland and more compliance, not less. We have to get more compliance because the threat of infraction proceedings is ever present in these matters. I can assure hon. Members that the agency will be obliged to comply with environmental legislation and to undertake environmental impact assessments as and when appropriate.
The final point that the hon. Member for Aylesbury made was on fees. As he correctly points out, the order does not set out a fees regime. It will be for the agency to submit its fees regime to the North/South Ministerial Council and if that is approved it will take effect. The Ministers representing the north part of the North/South Ministerial Council will have to ensure that producers in the north are not hard done by or disadvantaged. I am sure that they will not be.
The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute asked about the marine Bill. Its publication is expected soon, and we hope that it will set out some of the important marine spatial planning issues that he mentioned. I met the coastal zone management forum recently, and it seems that there is an understanding that we need a completely joined-up approach to spatial planning around the coast; it seems to be an idea whose time has come. It is in the interests of all parties—the fishing industry, tourism, the oil and gas sectors off the coast of Scotland—for us to have a unified approach to marine management and marine spatial planning. While I recognise that there are perfectly legitimate devolution issues—in two weeks’ time, under devolution, Ministers in Northern Ireland will have the same important powers as Ministers in Wales and Scotland—it is a challenge to get a unified approach round the islands. The issues will be covered in the forthcoming marine Bill.
I have already mentioned the matters that the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute raised in relation to the habitats directive and the fact that the coastal forum is up and running; indeed, it models itself on the coastal forums with which he will be familiar in his constituency in Scotland. What we are doing here will bring together the various strands in a strong, unified approach to planning around the coast.
Question put and agreed to.
Resolved,
That the Committee has considered the draftFoyle and Carlingford Fisheries (Northern Ireland) Order 2007.
Committee rose at three minutes to Eleven o ’clock.
 
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