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Recently, Mr Huw Irranca-Davies has been appointed to be the new United Kingdom Fisheries Minister, and we wish him well. He has said that he is going to work for the whole of the United Kingdom. That means working closely with the Scottish Government Fisheries Minister, Richard Lochhead. The Scottish Government are very keen to abolish discarding and are also anxious to have their own quota system. This, unsurprisingly, has not found favour with Defra, and has been put down to party political manoeuvring by the SNP; but I do not think it is. I think that there is a genuine demand for this from the Scottish fishermen, and for good reasons. What I am going to say concerns Mr Irranca-Davies, and I ask the Minister to pass on to him what I am going to say.

This is the time of year when the annual battle with the EU about the total allowable catch of cod and other species takes place, and it is rough on a new Fisheries Minister to be appointed at the back end of the year. Last night, the EU increased the total allowable catch of North Sea cod by 30 per cent, which must be good news if only because it should help reduce the cod discards; but at the same time the total allowable catches for haddock and whiting have been reduced by 11 per cent and 15 per cent respectively.

I am sure that it is quite obvious to your Lordships that the practice of throwing overboard to die—that is, discarding—fish caught in excess of a quota is not only doing nothing at all to conserve fish stocks but, in a world where millions of people are starving, can only be described as wicked, wicked waste. Fishermen, particularly in Scotland and Cornwall, are very conscious of this and have the strongest objection to having to do it; indeed some have refused to do so. But as long as the system of total allowable catches is in force, the practice of discarding will continue, because white fish do not live in neat blocks of just one species. In a mixed fishery, you may be fishing primarily for, say, haddock, but you cannot avoid fish of other species

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coming into your nets. You are almost bound to catch some cod, and if you are not allowed to land them because you have already caught your quota, what can you do but throw them away?

The Norwegians do not allow discarding. All fish must be landed, and a small price is paid even for undersized fish. I cannot understand why we cannot do that, too. I am told that it is much more difficult in a mixed fishery, but I cannot see why, and I think it is basically because the EU does not want to do anything about it. Last night's talks between Norway and the EU about various aspects of fishing included discards, and the EU has imposed a ban on discarding joint stocks over the minimum landing size. Surely a ban on discards under minimum landing size is what we really need.

What does more damage than anything else to cod stocks, or fish stocks of any kind, is the catching of undersized fish; that is to say mainly young fish which have yet to breed and for which there is no market. Preliminary trials have recently taken place, on the Orkney fishing vessel of Mr Tam Harcus, of a type of trawl he has invented, which will reduce the number of small cod caught, while retaining the larger marketable fish and the valuable monkfish and megrim. He used nets made from 160 millimetre mesh, instead of 120 millimetre mesh, with an area of 300 millimetre mesh net at the entrance to the trawl, which allowed many of the smaller fish to escape. This works with that particular mixed fishery, as the ugly great monkfish is in part wide like a flatfish, and the megrim resembles a lemon sole in shape, so that only the smallest can escape through the larger mesh. It does not work, of course, when you are fishing for roundfish such as haddock and whiting, which are smaller than cod.

I hope the Norwegians will stand firm about discards, in spite of being accused of righteousness by Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation. I ask Mr Irranca-Davies to give the Norwegians all the support he can in future talks, however much the boys in Brussels dislike the idea. Otherwise the only way to reduce catches is by reducing effort, in the shape of days at sea or number of boats, by closing fishing grounds, or by modifications to fishing gear, which is a slightly hit-and-miss method, but has made quite a difference.

The fact is that the common fisheries policy does not work for this country and has been a disaster for us. I have twice introduced a Bill to take us out of the common fisheries policy, but in vain. I think Alex Salmond did, too, also in vain. So I hope that Mr Irranca-Davies will try to work with Richard Lochhead to get a better deal from the EU, if it is possible to get anything good from them, and at least try to put an end to the practice of discarding—not just reduce it, but put a real end to it—because it is doing nobody any good.

7.53 pm

Lord Watson of Richmond: My Lords, the gracious Speech contains the assurance of,

Today we focus on a wide range of topics in the gracious Speech, including transport and the environment. The Government are poised to make a decision on the

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former that may imperil or indeed make a nonsense of their commitments on the latter. The announcement has been postponed, but if, as expected, the Government declare for a third runway at Heathrow, increasing flights to more than 700,000 a year, or for mixed-mode alternation, increasing flights to 540,000 a year, the result will be a grotesque breach of their environmental commitments.

I declare an interest. I am Lord Watson of Richmond and I have been a resident of that beautiful part of London, often described as Arcadia, for more than 50 years. Its environment is such that it delivers, I am glad to say, on the promise of a century ago by London’s expanded District and Circle line, that it is where the country comes to town—or today, rather more, where the town can still come to the country to savour views of the Vale of Thames that constitute one of this country’s greatest scenic assets.

I also declare an interest in protecting this asset, both as chairman of Arcadia, working with Sir David Attenborough to enhance this very special environment from Hampton Court to Kew Gardens, and as a former president of HACAN, a London-wide alliance against the remorseless expansion of Heathrow.

I must explain one matter very clearly and frankly. It relates to democracy as well as to the environment. Indeed, I believe it strikes at the essence of trust in government. When I was president of HACAN, a debate was held in Richmond Theatre between Sir John Egan, then chairman of BAA, and me. The debate was chaired by David Dimbleby. Coachloads of Heathrow employees had been bussed in to demonstrate the economic necessity of the planned fifth terminal. Sir John, who I believe believed it at the time, said that this fifth terminal was essential if we were to compete with Frankfurt, Paris and Schiphol. Have you noticed how other airports get added? The latest to be added to the list are Milan and Dubai. Then he went on to say, “If we get the fifth terminal, we will never ask for a third runway”. Well, here we are; a third runway, a sixth terminal and/or alternation, and in due course—why not?—a seventh terminal and a fourth runway.

I sat in the Gallery in the other place on 11 November this year and heard the Minister, Geoff Hoon, pledge:

“We do not intend to compromise on our European air quality obligations”.

I then read in the London Evening Standard on the fifth of this month his explanation of his delay in making an announcement. It was, “I’m going that extra mile for the extra runway”. I felt not the outrage of nimbyism, but a real democratic sense of betrayal. The truth is that so many promises have been breached that it is simply not possible to believe the promises or to accept the assurances because of what has happened over the decades.

Why has the opposition to what is planned grown so formidably? It is not just because the recession has eroded the economic case for expansion, although that is clearly so. It is not only because the environmental case against expansion has become so much more powerful since the 2003 report. It is because the Government are simply not trusted on the issue. Originally, 12 boroughs representing 2 million people were opposed

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to the expansion at Heathrow. Today, 21 boroughs representing 4.5 million people are opposed. A Government who value trust should be very careful.

Of course the Government’s position is not easy. They find themselves stranded between growth, perhaps at any cost in a recession, and the commitment to the environment that they declare inviolate. Everyone knows that to cut emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 is entirely incompatible with the continued expansion of Heathrow. Aviation already accounts for no less than 13 per cent of the UK’s total climate change impact. We can expand as planned and retain our 2050 commitment only if we end almost all other emissions in the United Kingdom. Faced with this conundrum, the Government remind me somewhat of Mark Twain’s comment about heaven and hell; namely, that he had good friends in both.

The Government have to decide where their loyalties lie. In this, they may be helped by an immediate environmental challenge. In the other place, Mr Hoon pledges not to,

These relate specifically to nitrogen dioxide limits. In Brussels, the EU environment Commissioner states:

“Technical reports underpinning the Heathrow expansion suggest that nitrogen limit values ... will be significantly exceeded in 2010”.

Now, of course the Government may apply for a derogation to 2015, when these limits become mandatory. If we add 250,000 flights, we will certainly break the law by 2015. We will also surrender all possible claim to environmental leadership in Europe—pariah, not exemplar.

Finally, the Government may seek one Houdini-like escape from the cage of their own contradictions. How about mixed mode—the end of runway alternation? That could add 60,000 flights without permission and would mean a different way for planes to land at Heathrow. They would have to come in much lower over a longer approach, and they would do at 90-second intervals—I repeat: 90-second intervals—without a break throughout all the hours when flights are permitted. It would be a really cynical betrayal of trust and a betrayal of the environment.

The Government have explained the delay in their announcement to next year by the need to be seen to listen. They may have been so advised by their lawyers—I suspect that that is the case. However, we need not the appearance of listening but the evidence of new thought. There is still time for a troubled Government to change their mind, and they need to—for their own sake and ours.

8.02 pm

Baroness Billingham: My Lords, I welcome the Government’s determination to give greater powers to local government and local communities in relation to the part of the Bill that deals with economic development and construction. Earlier, the Minister laid out very clearly for us the thinking and justification for this approach to the vital areas of our lives. It is particularly to be welcomed by those of us steeped in local council politics who have long railed against the stifling effect

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of centralised management, which often appears insensitive to, or even unaware of, local needs for local people.

However, of course, we, the same local council lobby, are equally aware that, if progress is to be made, the case for change has to be put powerfully and a consensus has to be reached. The Bill rightly focuses on the need for better delivery in economic development, and in the current climate that will be crucial, Equally, the determination to streamline construction contracts to provide real help for the construction industry in tough times is more than timely—and times, indeed, are unlikely to get any tougher than they are today.

All that is in the future and we must await with interest the details which will emerge in the weeks to come. But let us not ignore what has worked in the past. In fact, I urge the Government to review some significant successes, which could be used as blueprints within the new legislation. So, in the spirit of “local development past”, I ask the Ministers to cast their minds back. As part of my Christmas quiz, I ask them to identify the town that I am talking about. Here are the clues.

It was identified as one of the poorest towns in Britain in 2000, and it had 30 per cent unemployment less than 20 years ago. It had the most unfortunate label of being the largest town in Europe without a passenger railway station. It had a demoralised history of previously failed projects, one of which was a scheme to build something called “Wonderland”, which over time became known as “Wonderwhen”. It had fractured local government due to internal fighting within the ruling party, which at one memorable point, which I well remember, offered separate candidates in local elections.

The recriminations were so bitter that, at one stage, it was seriously thought that the only way forward was to change the very name of the town, so demoralised had it become. Nearly all the schools were failing, the civic centre was at the point of collapse and the swimming pool leaked more water through the roof than was available to those trying to swim below. The town centre was dreadful: there were more boarded-up shops than charity shops, and those certainly outnumbered recognisable high-street shops.

I know that noble Lords are all thinking hard, and I have heard whispers that one or two have already identified it. Of course, your Lordships will know that it is Corby. So, 10 years on, could it possibly be the same town that only last week was referred to in the FT, no less, as the town that has been rated the least likely in Britain to feel the credit crunch pain? What is more, the article continued that it was a town that launched an expensive marketing campaign, began work on a sparkling new railway station and embarked on an aggressive housebuilding programme aimed at City workers priced out of the capital. Oxford Economics identified as the secret of its success the proliferation of small and varied industries, manufacturing and distribution without undue reliance on financial services.

The town has built not only a new town centre but two new schools, with a recently opened city academy. Our academic achievements have been transformed, and developers are working hard to provide 22,000

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new homes. Furthermore, a new railway station will soon be opened. I have not mentioned the splendid new 50-metre swimming pool—no leaks there of course—or the outstanding sporting facilities that are under construction.

So I ask the Ministers whether I can fairly say that Corby has achieved a remarkable transformation, all based on consensus, with local councils, local people, English Partnerships, regional development agencies and government putting in a huge investment of time and energy. The roll call includes John Prescott and my noble friends Lord Rooker and Lady Andrews. They are there with distinction, as is our former chief executive, Bob Lane, and our outstanding MP, Phil Hope.

So my request for this new legislation is that we draw on success, evaluate the formula and use the experience of one town which was written off in the 1980s but is now, phoenix-like, what I promised it would be in 2002. I promised that we would make Corby a town which would be a good place in which to work, play and bring up a family.

8.09 pm

Baroness Byford: My Lords, before making my contribution to this debate, I wish to compliment the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, on his achievements in his ministerial duties at Defra. He was to the Rural Payments Agency what Harry Redknapp is to Tottenham Hotspur football team; namely, a hard-working leader, who used his knowledge and drive to enable team members to function more effectively. His intervention made a difference for many farmers, but it is a pity that the RPA got into such a mess in the first place.

I remind the House of my family’s farming interests. This year’s gracious Speech is notable for its brevity, sombre tone and lack of reference to farming, agriculture or even obliquely to food—the staff of life. I have no doubt that the normal flood of statutory instruments will cover everything from nitrate-vulnerable zones to the abolition of certain pesticides, which we so direly need to produce good yields. All of these will make it much harder for farmers to produce the food that we need and will add to imports that are produced less stringently by farmers who are less regulated than they are in this country. My noble friend Lady Shephard spoke clearly on the agriculture scene as she sees it.

Farmers are of particular concern to me. Not only do abnormal weather patterns often stop them working, but they face the might of attempts by Brussels to deprive them of the right to use established farming products and techniques. Their elected Government are too disinterested to help, and climate change is causing additional problems for them in the migration of insects and organisms that threaten livestock. Will the Minister confirm the NFU’s plea for the suspension of livestock imports from countries affected by bluetongue, and whether it is being heeded?

In this country two groups in particular face ruin, which could greatly affect us all: dairy farmers produce our fresh milk; hill farmers are largely responsible for maintaining the landscapes that attract large numbers of tourists and lift the spirits of so many hard-working families from our towns and cities. The Government

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have been aware for years of the pressures placed on dairy farmers by supermarkets, which have used fresh milk as a pawn in the game of attracting customers to their malls. The graph of farm-gate milk prices over the past 10 years has been totally unstable. Dairy farmers have been heavily reliant on the banks to even out the troughs, and now their borrowing facilities are being refused precisely because their returns are so erratic.

On 6 November this year the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee slashed interest rates by a massive 1.5 per cent to stimulate the UK economy. That came in the wake of borrowing that the farmers have had to take on, which has risen to some £11 billion. That is a huge figure, which puts particular pressure on the tenanted sector.

Hill farmers, to whom the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, referred, face a different set of problems. They used to receive state funding linking the number of sheep and cattle they produced to the money they received. But the reform of the CAP has decoupled that support and has not substituted sufficient environmental payments to maintain their incomes. It is true that they are not as exposed to the banks as some lowland businesses but levels of income after expenses, which are already low, have been hit by steep increases in the price of animal feed, vets bills and slaughter costs. Some of the worst hit areas are likely to be those operating in the more remote wildernesses of the south-west, the Lake District and those above the moorland line. Their demise will lead very quickly to a takeover of gorse and bracken, and there will be resultant difficulties of access for the public. The dangers of dry weather wildfire will increase, with serious implications for CO2 levels and wildlife mortality.

The current banking crisis is affecting both cereal and livestock farmers who have hitherto used the overdraft for financing seed and stock until they are paid some months later. I fear that this spring may reveal large numbers of farmers, particularly tenant farmers, who will struggle.

I turn to two things that the Minister said. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, reminded us that everybody should have fair and equal access. I was grateful to the Minister for his announcement of the U-turn on the Post Office card accounts. That will help many post offices in both rural and urban areas. I bring to the House another equally difficult problem, which is the future of GPs, particularly those who work from home. In rural areas money will be saved by revoking the power given to GPs to supply medicines to patients attending surgery from homes of more than one mile distant. That concession has been a boon to young mums and their sick children who rely on buses or neighbours with cars to take them to the doctor and to older citizens with difficulties in walking who cannot go the extra distance easily. The White Paper proposes changing the distance requirements for the establishment of dispensing practices. Currently the distance is from the patient’s house to the surgery, whereas I gather that in future it will be from the nearest surgery to the nearest community pharmacy. I

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should be grateful if the Minister would clarify that, as clearly it could make a great difference to some GP practices.

I have two other pleas for the Minister. The first is on livestock diseases, the top one being TB. We have little control over some of the diseases coming in but bovine TB is rife. By the end of August we had already killed 25,677 cattle, and it is likely that that figure will rise to 40,000 at the end of this year. This has gone on for years but it is sadly getting way out of control. Will the Minister look at that issue?

Secondly, the Government need to enable skills, research and development in all aspects of business but particularly in agriculture. The research budget was heavily cut—45 per cent from 1986 to 1998—when 17 research establishments were closed, of which only two remain. My final plea is particularly with reference to the soil and soil science. If we are to produce the food that we all agree we need, the future success relies on good science. We very much look forward to the marine Bill, which will have its Second Reading next Monday.

8.18 pm

Viscount Simon: My Lords, having listened to noble Lords’ speeches, I think that on reflection I could have spoken yesterday; none the less there are some matters of concern that I should be raising, so I shall do so today.

On 20 November a consultation paper was published on improving compliance with road safety laws. Despite the fall in the number of road deaths in statistics most recently published, we cannot be complacent because further reductions are possible and, indeed, preferable. Most people acknowledge that inappropriate speed, not wearing seat belts and drinking and driving continue to contribute to the number of deaths and injuries. It is interesting to note that 700 deaths involved speed, 565 were not wearing seat belts and 460 involved driving while under the influence of alcohol. All the available evidence concludes that a blood alcohol level in excess of 50mg per 100ml adversely affects the ability to drive safely. I very much hope that the Government will, at long last, take appropriate steps to reduce the limit from 70mg.

However, I am delighted to note that road blocks are being considered to catch and deter drink drivers. They would also enable the police to arrest drivers committing other offences that may not even be connected with driving or a motor vehicle. Random breath testing has been widely adopted in Australia and has helped reduce drink driving. I very much hope that road blocks will be set up frequently and will be operated at all times of the day, as the effects of alcohol on driving can be apparent for a long time into the following day. If the Government were to legislate for the immediate confiscation of the driving licence of people who fail an evidential breath test or who are high-risk offenders, it could well reduce the likelihood of such people driving before coming to court. Drivers should be required, as in many other countries, to have their driving licence with them at all times.


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