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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for explaining the difficult circumstances which obtain. He has already answered some of the questions that I had intended to ask. The situation is disastrous, as he indicated. An area of no less than 810 square miles is subject to a prohibition order for an indefinite period.
One tends to forget the effect that the disaster has had on west Wales. The order extends the prohibition from St. David's in the west to the Gower Peninsula at Port Eynon Point. The loss affects not only sea fishermen--because the Minister mentioned consequential prohibitions on salmon and sewin fishing. For instance, the coracle fishermen in Carmarthen have had to stop. I endorse his comment that the fishermen have behaved with extraordinary fortitude and generosity of heart. However, I am bound to say that many of them believe that the Government might have reciprocated with a full public inquiry along the lines of that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, into the "Braer" disaster. It appears that the consequences of this catastrophe will be greater than those of the "Braer".
I was pleased to hear the Minister say that, with the assistance of his persuasive powers, the insurers have behaved in a more flexible way than many insurers behave. It is most heartening to hear that seven of the nine claims have already been paid. However, that is limited to fishermen. There will be a colossal knock-on effect on the tourist industry. Will those claims also be paid by the insurers? Has any
Of course, the order, or something like it, is necessary and there will be no objection from us. However, alas, one hears the clang of the stable door banging shut long after the horse has galloped away over the horizon.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am grateful for what thanks were contained in the noble Lord's remarks. I share the tributes that he paid to all those involved locally who have helped so much in making the best of a very unfortunate incident, to put it mildly. I can confirm that the compensation fund is open to those other than fishermen. Indeed, I believe that the first person to claim ran a windsurfing school. However, the immediate fund of £2 million is restricted to the hardship which people suffer rather than to the extent of their economic loss. As yet we have no current estimate of the eventual economic loss. We have yet to see the opening of the tourist season. It is confidently predicted that the beaches will be clear by Easter, but the effect of the scare on tourism has yet to be seen.
We hope that fishing will return to normal reasonably rapidly but, drawing analogies from the "Braer" disaster, the shellfish fisheries may be affected for many years. Shellfish do not metabolise hydrocarbons--they do not expel them from their bodies--and one must wait until the shellfish which have ingested them die.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I am grateful for the assistance that he has given and I recognise that there are limits. However, he said that it was hoped that the beaches would be clear by Easter, which is only a couple of weeks away. I should declare a limited interest, having attempted to catch fish on the River Towy for some years. Is there any indication of when the river fishing might return to normal, including coracle fishing?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, in order to establish that the sewin and the salmon are not polluted we must first catch some. We are trying to do so through the use of established nets near the river mouths. As yet, none has been caught because the fish do not appear to have returned. It will be a matter of, it is to be
The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 12th February be approved [13th Report from the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee].
As your Lordships might recall, the Deregulation (Building Societies) Order 1995 was debated in this House last November. The draft orders presently before the House continue the theme of promoting economic growth, widening competition and enhancing the future of mutual institutions by removing rules and regulations which place unnecessary burdens on them.
Under the Deregulation (Friendly Societies Act 1992) Order, friendly societies will benefit, in particular, from more flexible regulatory and accounting requirements. Other changes include extending the activities of branches of incorporated societies; removing the need for societies to draw up a statement of life assurance business every five years if they carry out an annual valuation; and making it easier and quicker for societies to apply for confirmation of amalgamation, transfer or conversion.
The Deregulation (Credit Unions) Order will provide a new opportunity for growth in the movement by extending the possible scope of their activities and introducing a new qualification for membership. The maximum shareholding is also increased. It will allow those credit unions which can demonstrate satisfactory management and systems greater flexibility in the use of their funds by increasing the limits on loans to members and the maximum allowable repayment periods.
The credit unions themselves have asked for the changes that this order will give them. They find that they are operating under far too many restrictions at the moment and this order goes a long way to freeing them from bureaucracy while keeping in place the necessary protection for members. I commend the order to the House.
We therefore welcome the measures contained in both orders. They will enable friendly societies and credit unions to widen and improve their services to their policy holders and other customers and to strengthen their competitive position vis-o-vis limited companies while still maintaining the paramount protection of consumer interests. I believe that the proposals have those objectives and I commend them to your Lordships' House.
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