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Concerning the common fisheries policy, everyone understands the wish to protect fish stocks in our waters and ensure that the benefit of them goes to the UK. However, what the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said was absolutely right; fish do not respect national boundaries and our fishing interests extend well beyond the 200-mile limit. We need to have a policy based on the shared interests of countries that exploit the stocks in European waters. For better or worse—

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I—

Lord Bach: If I may carry on; the noble Lord has had his say, so perhaps he would sit still for a moment.

The common fisheries policy provides the mechanisms for doing that, so our case is that even if there were no such policy, we would have to invent something like it. We have to co-operate with those countries that share the fish stocks with us, and as a member of the EU we can, and do, negotiate improvements to the policy. Where there are problems with the common fisheries policy, the answer is to negotiate improvements to it, as we did in the common fisheries policy reform of December 2002, and as we continue to do.

The noble Duke asked which processes will decide the arrangements up to six miles and on six to 12-mile limits, and whether the UK derogation would stay. We will be consulting on common fisheries policy reform, which will be dealt with by ordinary legislative procedure.

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Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I merely wanted to repeat; does the Minister accept that when we joined the common fisheries policy in 1972, somewhat secretively, our fish resources were then enormous? Our national resources, all the year round, amounted to some 70 per cent of the fish that swam in European waters. Why, then, did we need to bring anyone else in to share them? Why could we not manage them ourselves for the benefit of our own fishermen, then lease out any surplus fish to foreigners?

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: On the same point, the Minister just said that we will have to make arrangements with other countries that had fishing interests. That is fair enough, as we have always had to do that, but now we have to make arrangements with people who have no fishing waters. They are in the majority in the EU, which is one of the problems.

Lord Bach: I think that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, gave the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, because we have to deal with European countries that are also involved in this problem. That would be so whether we were in inside or outside Europe, and whether there were a common fisheries policy by name or a rose that would smell as sweet. We would have to negotiate, talk and work with other European countries. I want to put one thing to rest. It is not right to say that some of our fish will be allocated to countries with no coastline; I am advised that that is completely untrue.

The Duke of Montrose: I wanted to come back on the point that the Minister was making before he had to give way. I understood that the derogation we had, giving us those rights within the six-mile limit, was given by the Commission. Under the new regulation, where it would be done under the treaty, would that be by co-decision or by the Council of Ministers?

Lord Bach: My response is that, as I understand it, it will be done by ordinary legislative procedure—that is, QMV by the Council—and co-decision.

Unilateral withdrawal from the CFP, which some have suggested, would do a number of things. First, it would leave the UK in breach of its treaty obligations. Infraction proceedings could then be commenced against the UK at the European Court of Justice and, if that Court were to find against us, we would incur a fine on a daily basis while the breach continued. Even more importantly, perhaps, withdrawal would not solve the fundamental problem of low fish stocks and the tough conservation measures required to restore them to healthy levels.

We have been in the lead—not alone, but in the lead—in pointing out that the common fisheries policy has not met its aims, but our answer is to improve the CFP, not to pull out of it. That is what we have been doing, first, by getting the instruments of the CFP improved in the 2002 review, and by working to secure better decisions since then under the improved mechanisms. The industry and others with an interest in fish stocks need to work together with scientists, government and our partners in

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Europe. I am delighted that the noble Duke was fair and reasonable, as he always is, about the operation of regional advisory councils, where the kind of co-operation I am talking about has begun. Those regional bodies represent a wide range of stakeholders, who provide advice to the Commission on the common fisheries policy and its implementation.

On which marine biological resources are not covered by the common fisheries policy; the policy is one tool with which to manage marine resources. There are others, which can afford protection to the marine environment, including the habitats and species directive and the marine strategy directive. The CFP does not cover issues unrelated to marine biological resources, such as oil exploration.

On discards, withdrawal from the CFP would not address the issue of discarding fish. Everyone agrees that that is a real waste of a valuable resource and no one wants to see it. Because of the mixed nature of a wide variety of UK fisheries, with large and small fish and various species of different sizes all swimming together, discarding would be an inevitable consequence of any limitation on fishing activity designed to protect particular stocks, whether under a CFP management regime or otherwise.

For that reason, we believe the focus of attention should be on working within the established mechanisms of the common fisheries policy to make fishing activity more selective, so that unwanted fish are not caught in the first place. The worst management measures that would lead to discarding would be no measures at all. The key indicator is fishing mortality, or the proportion of the stock removed by fishing—for cod in the North Sea that is, thankfully, now at its lowest since 1969.

There will be no one-size-fits-all solution to this problem, and we are seeking targeted solutions. We have worked with the industry on ways to avoid North Sea cod but still allow fishermen to continue to fish stocks that are sustainable, such as North Sea haddock. We are currently operating a system that provides additional fishing days, which are otherwise restricted, to fishermen who adhere to closures to avoid spawning or young cod and are willing to change to gear that catches fewer young fish—and such gear does exist—or to introduce fishing plans that commit to significant reductions in cod discards. We are also funding a range of further work to assess the value of other options.

Lord Willoughby de Broke: I apologise for interrupting, but the noble Lord said that since the Fisheries Council of 2002, the Government have worked for improvements, but the figures that the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, produced are still truly shocking. Will the Minister not admit that to have 60 to 70 per cent of the catch still thrown overboard as discards cannot conceivably be called an improvement since 2002? That is six years ago. Has nothing happened since those alleged efforts by the British Government to improve stocks? We are still discarding the vast majority of the fish that are caught; that cannot be an improvement.

Lord Bach: What I was saying is that the CFP itself had improved in certain ways since the 2002 reform. I have already said that it is unacceptable; whatever the

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real figure is, the discard amount is too high. That is why we are doing our best to make sure that the figure comes down, but we have to do that in the right way. The mechanism has to be right. No one has put forward a realistic alternative to some sort of common fisheries policy, whatever you call it.

I have completed what I have to say. The Committee ought to move on and the noble Duke should decide what he wants to do with his amendment.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: Before the noble Duke does that, the Minister has not answered the question of how the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Norway, to name but a few, manage their own fish stocks for the benefit of their own people. The Minister has not answered the question I put to him, which is very important: why can that policy not be changed? What is the position between the Commission and the Council of Ministers? How is it possible that a group of 27 nations cannot get together and agree unanimously to change that policy?

I also cannot let the Minister off with his statement that we would still need to collaborate with our European neighbours on some form of common fisheries policy. We would not. We would simply tell them to leave our waters while our fish stocks recovered and work for the benefit, in the first instance, of our fishing industry, which would recover. We would address discards in that way; like other countries, we would simply ban them. With our growing fishing industry, we would land all the fish that we catch. We would eat those that we want for human consumption; we could use some for animal consumption; and we could use the rest for fertiliser. We would not have to throw 30,000 articulated lorries-worth of dead fish back into the sea every year if we were managing our own fish.

The Duke of Montrose: I will bring this to a conclusion. It has certainly been an interesting discussion around the Chamber. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, for emphasising the efforts that have been made on behalf of Scottish fishermen over the years; we are all very concerned with that. I point out to him that I suggested solutions other than withdrawal—although withdrawal was within my remarks. No doubt my colleagues at the other end will look at what he said, but I do not know what value they will put on it.

I was very interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, say how well he understands the difference between marine biological resources and the common fisheries policy. I suppose that one could say that until the point when a fish is caught, it is part of the marine biological resources, but the minute that it is in the net it becomes part of the common fisheries policy, but someone will have to work out how those two elements could go together. His remarks about the question of individual national management were a bit sweeping. Certainly some very successful countries control all their continental shelf. Norway does not have sole rights to the whole of its continental shelf, but that does not mean to say that some countries cannot do quite well managing a larger share of their inshore fisheries. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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[Amendments Nos. 31 and 32 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendments Nos. 32A and 33 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 34 to 37 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendments Nos. 38 and 39 not moved.]

Baroness Crawley: I beg to move that the House be resumed. In moving this Motion, I suggest that the Committee stage begin again not before 8.24 pm.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Electoral Administration Act 2006 (Regulation of Loans etc., Northern Ireland) Order 2008

7.24 pm

Lord Rooker rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 11 March be approved.

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the order is to introduce provisions for the regulation of loans to political parties in Northern Ireland. The order mirrors measures currently in place to regulate donations to political parties in Northern Ireland, and noble Lords may find it helpful if I set out the background to the legislation that we are considering this evening.

Noble Lords may recall that the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 created a regime for the regulation of donations to UK political parties. However, the scheme did not extend to Northern Ireland at that time because special arrangements needed to be made in relation to donations to Northern Ireland political parties.

For that reason, the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006 amended the provisions of the 2000 Act to allow for Irish citizens and prescribed Irish bodies to make donations to Northern Ireland political parties. It also contained arrangements for the Electoral Commission to hold reports on donations confidentially until 2010. That Act contained the broad outline of the special arrangements that were needed in Northern Ireland.

However, the detail of the scheme was set out in secondary legislation: the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (Northern Ireland Political Parties) Order 2007. That order set out the conditions that Irish citizens and bodies must meet to donate to Northern Ireland political parties. It also set out the steps taken by the Electoral Commission to verify that reports on donations are accurate during the confidential reporting period.

Noble Lords may also recall that the Electoral Administration Act 2006 created a new regulatory regime for the making of loans to political parties across the UK. As with donations, further legislation will be required to ensure that the loans regime operates effectively in Northern Ireland. That is precisely why we are here this evening. As with the donations regime, the Northern Ireland loans legislation must be introduced in two stages. The order before us this evening is made

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under Section 63 of the Electoral Administration Act 2006 and will set out in broad terms the special arrangements that will apply in Northern Ireland. The detail of how the regime will operate will be set out in a second order that we would lay subject to the House approving the order this evening.

Noble Lords may—as everyone else associated with this does—understandably ask why two orders are required. We have consulted the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments on the matter, and have concluded that two orders must be made in sequence. That is because the power to make the second order is contained in the order before us. It is not possible for the material in the second order to be made directly under the original statute.

The order before us will allow Irish citizens and prescribed Irish bodies to make loans to Northern Ireland political parties. We intend to set out the conditions that an Irish citizen or body must meet to make a loan to a Northern Ireland political party in the second order—which, of course, will be debated in your Lordships' House. Those arrangements will acknowledge the special place that the island of Ireland and the Republic of Ireland occupy in the political life of Northern Ireland.

The order also addresses potential concerns relating to the possible intimidation of persons and businesses that wish to make loans to Northern Ireland political parties. Northern Ireland has rejected the path of violence and embraced a peaceful and democratic future. However, a small minority still uses violence and intimidation to attempt to achieve its ends. These individuals must not be allowed to undermine the people of Northern Ireland’s right to participate in the democratic process.

For this reason—as with the regulation of donations— the order provides for legitimate loans to the Northern Ireland political parties to be reported to the Electoral Commission in confidence. The confidentiality period is temporary and will end in 2010. The period may be extended by order with Parliament’s approval, but we hope that that will not be necessary.

During the confidentiality period, the Electoral Commission will verify reported transactions and will release information contained in a report if,

The steps that the commission must take to verify information contained in reports on loans will be set out in the second order.

This order represents a step forward from the current unregulated state of affairs regarding loans to the Northern Ireland political parties towards a level of accountability that the rest of the UK now enjoys. It also acknowledges the important relationship between the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland and protects those who would wish to contribute to political parties in Northern Ireland from the potential threat of intimidation and violence.

For those reasons I hope that the order will be supported this evening. As I said, much of the detail of how it will work will be covered in the second order which we will lay as soon as we can. Discussions are

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on going and drafting technicalities are being dealt with. However, there will be no undue delay on our part in laying the order before the House so that it can be fully debated. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 11 March be approved. 14th report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Lord Rooker.)

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the Minister for presenting this order. For Hansard’s clarification, and with all due respect to the Minister, could he just clarify something that he stumbled over in relation to the island of Ireland? I think he meant to say that this is in recognition of the special place that Ireland occupies in the political life of Northern Ireland. I hope he will forgive me for that small correction.

Lord Rooker: I am more than happy to do that, my Lords. I still cannot get used to the fact that we do not refer to the Republic of Ireland. I stumbled over that part of my brief because I saw “Ireland”. Yes, I did mean the special role that Ireland plays in the political life of Northern Ireland.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the Minister. Apart from that, I have in the past had some concerns over how this was going to work. I was much more concerned in some ways that this could not leak from Ireland and Northern Ireland into the United Kingdom. However, having had some conversations with officials and others, I am quite satisfied that this statutory instrument is as watertight as it can be and I hope will be. I support it.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, we on these Benches also welcome the order, which we believe improves transparency. We also welcome the involvement of the Electoral Commission, which will verify the information given to it in the transaction reports. That is very important.

The steps that the commission must take are to be prescribed by order, as the Minister said. Was that what the Minister was describing, the order that will come before us? When might such an order come before the House? I gather that it is for the future. As the prescribed period begins in July, one hopes that Parliament will be given adequate time to scrutinise such an order before then. I hope the Minister can give that assurance. Otherwise we support the order.

Lord Laird: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the Minister for outlining this order. I do not wish to make heavy weather out of it, because there is no heavy weather to be made out of it. The Minister said that the order is necessary in the improving state of affairs in Northern Ireland. We look forward to a day when it will not be totally necessary, which may be after 2012.

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