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House of Lords

Wednesday, 25th March 1998.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne--Took the Oath.

Lone Fathers: Support Services

Lord Northbourne asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether a personal adviser and the other advantages to be offered to help lone mothers off benefit and into work (as announced by the Secretary of State for Social Security and Minister for Women on 4th July 1997 (H.C. Deb. col. 519)) will also be available to fathers who have made the commitment to support their children.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): My Lords, lone fathers, who comprise some 7 per cent. of all lone parents, will have the same support and services as lone mothers in moving from benefit into work.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. Will she confirm that that applies to the fathers of children who also have a lone mother? Does the Minister agree that a father and mother both in work and both committed, through the Child Support Agency or otherwise, to support their children are much less likely to need support from the taxpayer? Does she agree further that a father who is in regular employment is a much more attractive proposition as a husband or partner? Therefore, to get the fathers back into work may well reduce the total number of single parents.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I agree entirely with both points made by the noble Lord. The non-resident father--that is the father of children living with the lone parent--is entitled to the new deals for the young unemployed under-25s, the long-term unemployed and if they are disabled.

I am sure that the noble Lord is entirely right. It is certainly the case that those areas where there are the highest numbers of lone parents are also the areas with the highest male unemployment, particularly in inner cities; for example, Manchester, Glasgow or Liverpool. I am sure the noble Lord is right to say that if we can encourage young men into work and at the same time strengthen their relationships with their children, that will be in the interests of everyone.

Baroness Young: My Lords, does the noble Baroness not agree, following upon the very important Question

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of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that there is a much greater benefit in encouraging young people to marry to look after their children rather than do so as cohabiting couples?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, what matters for all children is that they are brought up in strong, stable family relationships. I believe personally that that is best ensured within marriage. But it is also the case and can be equally true of strong relationships within cohabiting families. What matters is that children are brought up with the love and support of two caring parents. It surely does not matter whether the children are in married or cohabiting families as long as they thrive. However, the problems arise for children being brought up in fractured families where the parents are lone; where the children are in poverty; and where the father is absent. That is why, in terms of our policies, we are developing new deals and seeking to reform the Child Support Agency.

Fishing Quotas: Qualifying Vessels

2.39 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have received from the European Commission a reply to, or comments on, their paper, submitted in February, on the need for fishing vessels participating in the United Kingdom's quotas for catches to have economic links with the United Kingdom.

Lord Carter: My Lords, the Commission has made some preliminary comments on the paper referred to by the noble Lord and we are now engaged in discussions with the Commission prior to its taking a formal view. As my noble friend Lord Donoughue has told the House previously, once the Commission's views are known, an announcement will be made on the way forward.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reply. Is he aware that fishermen's leaders are waiting anxiously to hear whether progress is being made because the impression was given that quota hoppers would be soon reduced after the exchange of letters between the Prime Minister and the Commission's president? That was 10 months ago.

Lord Carter: My Lords, this is an extremely complex area. The Commission has asked for clarification on some points of detail which are the subject of ongoing discussion. Once those issues are resolved, we are confident that the Commission will confirm that our proposed measures are compatible with Community law and the jurisprudence of the European Court. It involves the interpretation of various provisions in the treaties and the jurisprudence of the European Court. We are not the only member state currently seeking to introduce measures concerning economic links. The Commission must ensure that a

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consistent approach is adopted by all. In the circumstances, perhaps it is not surprising that the Commission does not wish to respond too hastily.

Lord Mason of Barnsley: My Lords, will the Minister explain to the House what kind of economic links he wishes to see established? Is it not true that a number of those foreigners have bought United Kingdom licences from our own trawler owners? It is obvious that they have economic links in any event. Secondly, on the general question of deep sea fishing, what steps are now being taken to curb illegal landings?

Lord Carter: My Lords, as regards the demonstration of the economic link, we intend that all vessels will be required to comply with one of a number of criteria along the lines set out in the exchange of letters between the Prime Minister and the president of the Commission last year. Those could include having to land 50 per cent. of the catch of quota species into the UK; employing crew, 50 per cent. of whom are resident in coastal areas; incurring a certain level of operating expenditure in UK coastal areas; or any other measure providing sufficient economic benefit to populations in the UK who are dependent on fishing.

At the Fisheries Council only yesterday the European Commission reported on enforcement. To use the European jargon, there was an orientation debate in which we supported the introduction of new measures to achieve more effective and consistent fisheries enforcement. The conclusion was that there was general support for improved enforcement and the Council welcomed the Commission's intention to come forward with concrete proposals.

Baroness Ludford: My Lords, have the Government considered the idea of a regional management regime for fisheries? That would mean that the fleets based in ports on the coast of a particular region--say, for example, the Irish Sea or the Bay of Biscay--could participate in its success as stakeholders. Indeed, they would have a vested interest, especially as regards conservation. Moreover, that would help stop the practice of vessels like UK-flagged quota hoppers fishing in the Irish Sea and landing their catches far away, because they would not be entitled to participate in such a regional management system.

Lord Carter: My Lords, those ideas were presented by the National Federation of Fishermen's Associations and there were some pilot regional meetings to discuss them last year. Again, only yesterday at the Council--which was an extremely successful one so far as concerns the UK--there was agreement that the initiative should be developed and extended in 1998. Those regional meetings will contribute to the UK's objective of increasing the involvement of fishermen in discussions on the future of the common fisheries policy and developing the regional dimension of that policy.

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Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister satisfied in his own mind that the Spanish fish inspectorate has left Madrid and has actually reached Spanish ports?

Lord Carter: Yes, my Lords; so far as I am aware, that is so. However, they are extremely slow travellers.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I have listened with great attention to everything that the Minister has said. However, will he accept that it is a little difficult to appreciate what sort of actual progress has been made since 1st May last year?

Lord Carter: My Lords, as I said earlier, it is a complex issue. This is the first time that the Commission has actually stated how it describes the economic link and how it should work. We are waiting for a detailed response, but I believe that we have made much more progress during the past nine months than the previous government made in 17 years.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister recall the previous government attempting to protect the positions and the livelihoods of British fishermen through the Merchant Shipping Act 1988, which was overturned by the judgment of the European Court of Justice through the Factortame ruling? Can my noble friend say whether the present situation and the present talks take account of that? Can we also be assured that the judgment will not apply in this case, or that it can be overruled?

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