Clause 3 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 10th December 1974.
The Deputy Chairman:
We come now to Amendment No. 35, to be moved by the Minister of State. We will discuss at the same time Amendments No. 138, in page 3, line 35, after 'State', insert:
'having consulted the fishermen likely to be affected,'.
No. 37, in page 3, line 43, at end insert:
'(2) Where a designated sea area includes any part of the area of a harbour authority the Secretary of State before making a sea designation order under this section, shall consult with that authority'.
No. 41, in Clause 4, page 4, line 9, at end insert:
'(2) Where it appears that, as a result of the granting of such a licence, public or private rights of navigation or fishery or other public or private rights on the sea or sea bed in the designated sea area to which the licence relates may be prejudiced, the Secretary of State shall, before granting such licence, consult with those, or with appropriate organisa-
tions of those, whose rights may be so prejudiced '.
No. 45, in Clause 4, page 4, line 26, at end insert:
'and with such local authorities as appear to him to be concerned'.
No. 147, in Clause 4, page 4, line 26, at end insert:
'and the relevant Authority and River Purification Board'.
No. 46, in Clause 4, page 4, line 29, leave out from 'shall' to 'consult' in line 30.
On a point of order. I think that my amendment is first on the Notice Paper.
Further to that point of order. The selection does not make it clear whether Amendment No. 138 is simply being taken for discussion with No. 35. I should be happy to move No. 35, but No. 138 relates to a slightly earlier point in the Bill and I thought that the list was slightly defective. Obviously, however, we will bow to your wishes, Sir Myer.
The Deputy Chairman:
The selection by the Chairman of Ways and Means has been in hon. Members' hands for a good few hours and I cannot depart from it. As the Minister said, Amendment No. 138 is taken for discussion purposes with No. 35—similarly to what has happened earlier.
The Deputy Chairman:
Evidently, it seems that we will already have passed Amendment No. 138 after we have discussed No. 35. Therefore, all that it will be open to hon. Members to do is to discuss No. 138 with No. 35. There cannot be a separate Division on it.
On a point of order. We are getting into a slight difficulty. When amendments are grouped they are normally taken in the order in which they appear on the Paper and the order in which they would amend the Bill. It is unusual for an amendment to be selected when it is not first in order as the Bill is drafted. I wonder whether some simple error has been made and whether it would not be better to start the discussion on Amendment No. 138, which would enable the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) to have a Division on his amendment, which is on the general point but rather more specific. We could then divide, or otherwise, on the later amendments. It seems unfair to deny us the opportunity of dividing on the earlier amendment if that should be the wish of the Committee.
The Deputy Chairman:
i am afraid that I cannot help hon. Members. The selection has been made and I am afraid that it must stand. All we can do with Amendment No. 138 is discuss it, and because we will have passed it by the time we have decided on No. 35 there cannot be a Division on it. I am very sorry, but I cannot help any further than that.
The Deputy Chairman:
Yes, when we reach Amendment No. 41 a Division will be possible, once it has been formally moved.
Further to that point of order. Of course I do not dispute your ruling, Sir Myer, but would you investigate this situation? It is wholly unusual that the amendment which comes first in order on the Bill is not put at the head of the group. I have never heard of it happening before. Would you raise this matter to see whether there has not been a mistake?
The Deputy Chairman:
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am advised that it has been done before, that it is not a new practice or a precedent which is being established tonight. One may sympathise with the point of view which has been expressed, but the selection has been made and one has to adhere to it. Nevertheless as I have said, a Division will be possible on Amendment No. 41.
I beg to move Amendment No. 35, in page 3, line 40, after 'may', insert:
',after consulting such local authorities as appear to him to be concerned,'.
We are dealing here with the making of a sea designation order. At present, the Bill does not provide for consultation with local authorities. Representations have been made to us by at least two local authorities, including Shetland. It is a point that had in any case occurred to me—that there should be something written in about consultation. Without going into the fishing question at the moment—perhaps I can return to that later—there is a general difficulty about consultation before an order is made.
There are, in the schedule about the making of an order, provisions which give certain rights of representation and the rest, but there is a difficulty about writing in provisions about prior consultation. I take the view that the most important thing is that the local authorities concerned should have a statutory right to consultation. As well as representing their own interests, they can represent those of members of their local communities.
When I discussed this matter with the Shetland authority it took the view that, if consultation with the local authority were included in the Bill, it would see that the interests of fishermen were covered in any representations that it made to the Government. I think that that covers the right hon. Gentleman's point, if not directly at least indirectly. I would rest on that at the moment, and deal with other points about consultation which may be raised on the other amendments that we are discussing.
We have used the formula, "any local authority appearing to the Secretary of State to be concerned". Our intention is that we will consult planning authorities whose areas include or adjoin the proposed designated sea area and any other authorities likely to experience significant effects as a result of operations in that area. For example, it might be a district authority that has a harbour which is likely to be used by service boats operating in the designated area, or a district authority within the Highland Region, and so on. We are not confining it to one particular authority but will try, by a process of local authority consultation, similarly to take account of local interests, which we would ask the local authority to take on board before talking to us about the proposed order.
I am grateful to the Minister for his amendment. It is certainly a step forward that he intends to consult the local authorities. The Shetland authority will indeed be grateful to him for taking note of its representations. I think that all other local authorities will also welcome this.
But I am not entirely satisfied. To begin with, there is already grave anxiety among the fishing communities about the effect of oil. It is a further source of all sorts of obstructions in the North Sea on valuable fishing grounds. It is all too likely to result in pollution. It may well interfere with normal fishing. For instance, the appearance of large tankers and so on, let alone the oil rigs which will be about in the area, is an entirely new and hazardous development. Already, therefore, fishermen are worried and, to some extent, handicapped by oil.
I find, in addition, that the Bill has aroused considerable concern among fishermen because, like many other people, they do not know how it will be operated. They fear the result of this designation of sea areas. They are frightened that their fishing will be curtailed. From a chart of the North Sea one can appreciate the large areas which are already unfit for fishing because the bottom is unsuitable, because there are wrecks and obstructions of all sorts or because certain areas are excluded by the Admiralty. One can see that the fishable areas of the North Sea adjacent to Shetland and other parts of the coast of Scotland are not nearly as big as people think.
We are talking about inshore fishermen who have no opportunity of sailing far out to sea in search of new grounds. These designation areas have caused a great deal of anxiety. No doubt local authorities will be able, up to a point, to represent the fishermen's point of view. But, after all, the fishermen have their own associations. I can see no reason why, on a matter as important as this— it is an extremely new and important departure—the Secretary of State should not consult the fishing associations through the accredited representatives of the fishermen.
It is not only the Shetland local authority which will be concerned. In Orkney, too, the same situation arises, as it does in other parts of the North of Scotland. There are the general fishing associations, and most of them have local branches which are particularly well-informed about the detailed situation as it affects them. It is this aspect which is very often important.
Bearing in mind the anxiety in the fishing communities and the dangers which they think they will suffer from oil in general under this new procedure, and the handicaps which have been imposed on them by oil to some extent, the Minister should at least say that he will consult the fishing representatives as well as local authorities before he designates an area.
I am grateful to the Minister for his amendment and the assurances that he will consult local authorities. I should like to advise him that the fishing industry certainly in my constituency, would not consider it adequate to have its views put by the local authorities, however excellent and well-meaning those local authorities are. The fishermen want to put their own viewpoint. I agree with the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) about that. This is something that affects the livelihood of fishermen so much that it would be quite wrong not to afford them this opportunity. There is certainly time for doing that.
I get a slight impression from the Minister that he has underestimated the importance of the possible effects of the Bill, and particularly this clause, on the fishing industry. Certainly he has misjudged the feelings of deep unease and doubt which the Bill and the clause have aroused, and particularly the feelings which the whole oil-related industry perpetually arouses in the minds of fishermen.
Fishermen are very quick to be suspicious. Even where their fears are groundless, they are certainly strongly held. No doubt other hon. Members will comment in the way in which the Bill affects other interests and authorities— harbour authorities, and so on, but I want to put on record the shock—indeed, almost disbelief—that has been expressed to me by the Scottish Trawlers' Federation at not having been consulted about the clause at any time, by any Government Department, prior to the publication of the Bill.
It may be that some of the federation's fears—certainly not all of them—would prove to be groundless, but it was certainly an extraordinary omission not to have consulted the industry at all about the clause, which so closely affects fishermen's livelihoods. The effect of the clause as it stands, and even with the amendment, could be to remove the rights of fishing in certain areas from those who have traditionally held those rights and who depend for their livelihood upon the exercise of those rights.
At present, the fishing industry is under the impression that the designation of a sea area can be made—gravely damaging their interest—without their being afforded an adequate opportunity to comment on a matter which affects them so closely. This must be wrong, and it must be changed. I suggest that Amendment No. 41, in the names of some of my hon. Friends, would remedy these problems.
As regards the effect of the clause's proposed powers on the inshore fleet, its representatives must be consulted before the sea areas affecting them are designated. It is likely that not only the inshore fishermen will be involved; it must be remembered that although the present limit of territorial waters of the United Kingdom is set at three miles there is every indication that this limit will be extended to 12 miles following next year's Law of the Sea Conference. If that happened there would still be a very real objection on the part of the trawling fleet, as well as the others already mentioned by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), to the possibility of being denied the right to fish in many of the valuable areas lying between three miles and 12 miles from the Scottish mainland and islands.
The Scottish fishermen's experience of consultation with the previous Conservative Government, the present Government and individual oil companies, has not been entirely happy. The new general consultation arrangements are an improvement, but I do not regard the Bill as affording the industry the protection it needs to preserve its vital interests in areas which the Secretary of State may wish to designate. Members of the fishing industry agree with me. It is vital that provisions should be incorporated in the Bill requiring the appropriate Government Department to consult fishing interests and other authorities affected and to require the Secretary of State to take proper public and accountable regard to the views which the representatives of those interests and authorities submit.
If the Minister of State does not accept the Opposition amendment, we warn him that we shall press it to a Division.
We welcome the Government's move in regard to Amendment No. 35.
The major sea area in which these installations are likely to be constructed lies off the coast of Argyll. Many planning applications are already being considered. One planning application in respect of the Loch Fyne area has been rejected by the county council. This is an important point when we consider this part of the Bill.
We have sought also to amend Clause 4, which relates to the granting of licences. We feel, as does the Argyll County Council, that if the harbour authorities are to be consulted when licences are granted, there is no reason why local authorities should not also be consulted. In certain important respects, especially as regards the landlocked coastal areas, local authorities have more sway than the harbour authorities. I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to the amendment.
The Government amendment provides that the local authorities shall be consulted. I should like to reinforce what has been said about consulting fishing interests. My recollection of the Shetland County Council Bill is that the county council agreed it was necessary to have consultations with the fishing industry, and it put that provision into its Bill.
I should like the Minister to tell me whether it is possible that the county council might draw considerable revenue out of a designated sea area in which tankers could moor. That might happen in the Shetland Islands, where tankers waiting to go into Sullom Voe may have to moor in some of the other bays and inlets of the islands. It would be possible for the county council to charge considerable fees. There seems to be some doubt as to exactly what the rights are in that respect.
I know that considerable interest has been expressed by persons living in the Firth of Forth, where, normally, three or four large tankers are anchored in Largo Bay waiting to proceed to Rotterdam, and where, recently, oil has been transferred from one tanker to another at sea, with all the attendant risks of pollution.
There might easily be a confusion of interests between the county council— which might be drawing money from dues levied on tankers moored in the bay—and the local fishing communities which would normally be fishing in that area.
I hope that the Minister can give some reassurances on these matters.
I must add my voice to those which have been raised in support of the rights of the fishing industry. On several occasions in past months I have been in touch with Ministers at the Department of Energy about the difficulties encountered by fishermen as a result of oil operations which result in large bits of rubbish being dumped in the sea by the oil people and by developers, causing fishermen to be subjected to additional hazards, when the job that they do is difficult enough as it is.
No fisherman in my constituency will regard consultation with the local authority as any substitute for consultation with the oil industry, and the Minister should be sensitive to this requirement on the part of fishermen. They are a special community and they have their own attitudes and views—especially the inshore fishermen. They would feel that their interests were being neglected if the Minister could not find some way of having separate consultations with them.
When fishermen read, for example, that the Secretary of State may declare a part of the sea to be a designated area, the inference which they draw is that they are to be driven out of more and more areas of the sea and that the Government are handing over everything to the oil developers and neglecting the fishing community. I do not accuse the Minister of that, but he must reassure the Committee and the fishing community that a proper way will be found to consult fishermen to discover their views, just as much as he proposes to consult local authorities.
I, too, wish to add my voice to the worries expressed about the amendment. There is no doubt that it is very important for the North-East of Scotland, both in the short term and in the years ahead longer-term that both the fishing industry and the oil industry are allowed to live, and to live together. That factor makes it very important, in a Bill of this kind, to deal with harbours shared by both industries and to ensure that every precaution is taken so that nothing of irremediable damage is done to either industry.
I hope that the Minister will be able to give the assurance asked for from the Opposition side of the Committee.
This may be a small clause, but it is of immense importance to the fishing industry. All fishermen will find it inexplicable that the Government appear so inflexible on what is an extremely important matter. They will not understand why the Minister cannot accept a very reasonable request for consultation—[Interruption.] Ministers are champing away on the Treasury Bench. I hope that they will allow me to develop my argument.
The Minister of State has moved an amendment, which of course we will accept. We are glad that he has made this tiny step forward. But he must have realised from what was said on Second Reading, and from amendments which have been on the Notice Paper for several days now, that those interested in fishing in Scotland will not regard his attitude as reasonable. With the intuition expected of any Minister in the Scottish Office, he must know that he is not going anything like far enough to make the position acceptable to the Committee and that he will have to move much further forward if he is to avoid a Division on the amendment.
In moving his amendment, the Minister said that there were safeguards in the schedule. I agree with my hon. Friends that they are inadequate. It is essential to write into the Bill some provision for consultations with the fishing associations. I go as far as the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), because I believe that there should also be consultations with local branches of fishing associations.
There is never too much information to be gained from consultations. The more we have, the better. Consultations may take time, but it must not be forgotten that we are dealing with people's livelihoods for generations to come. I hope that the Minister will agree that there should be consultations with all the associations, especially the Scottish Trawlers' Federation, the Fishermen's Federation and the Inshore White Fish Producers. He really must appreciate that they are concerned not only about breeding grounds, inshore fishing, lobsters, shellfish, and so on, but about the question of navigation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) has mentioned the possibility of a change in territorial waters which all of us would welcome, but the hon. Gentleman must accept that fishermen are worried about obstructions on the sea and perhaps under the sea if these designation orders are made. Not only are fishermen, whom we are talking about tonight, interested; many others are interested in sea angling, and they have a right to be heard as well. It will be interesting to see whether the Minister, in replying, will give some indication of the position regarding compensation if these sea designation orders come into operation.
There is a further aspect of these orders in relation to sport and recreation. This may be covered, but I do not think it is adequately covered by the amendment which the hon. Gentleman has moved and which, of course, we shall accept. It may be that he will interrupt important waters that are used by yachting, cruising and canoe clubs and many other forms of recreation, all of which are valuable. All of these interests should be heard, whether the Minister likes to go to the overall voice of the Scottish Sports Council or the Scottish Tourist Board. Certainly such a voice should be heard before a sea designation order is made.
What has been said by hon. Members of all three parties on the Opposition side of the Committee shows that there is very grave concern about this. Perhaps the Minister of State will play a trump card, saying that there is no need for us to worry. We have heard that before. We want something written into the Bill covering all the issues that have been raised tonight. The Minister may have an answer. If so, let us hear it now; then we shall raise the question later if we do not like it.
The reason I am treating what the hon. Gentleman has said with a certain amount of amusement is that he is accusing me of being inflexible on all these matters when I have not said anything about them and have simply moved my amendment providing for consultation with local authorities—which all have said they very much welcome— before these orders are actually to be introduced. I have very considerable sympathy with the points that are being made. There is a genuine difficulty here, but it is not one that can be overcome just by writing in the kind of words that hon. Gentlemen have been pressing on me in these amendments.
I remind the Committee that the basic purpose of a sea designation order is to facilitate or control the execution of relevant operations. The fact is that without such an order many of these operations can take place at the present time, under no control whatsoever: so that by introducing the order we are not simply facilitating the offshore contractors' operations. In certain circumstances we shall be doing so, but we are also controlling them. So the basic purpose of a sea designation order is to afford protection as well as allowing operators to do what they have to do. Without a sea designation order and without the Bill many such activities could go on quite unchallenged.
Therefore I hope those who represent fishery as well as other interests will take care to tell the interests concerned that this is not directed in any way to reducing their rights or interests. The provision is designed to help control these operations and to help protect fishery and other interests.
Secondly, many of the points made by hon. Members are nothing to do with sea designation orders as such, but with the general impact which the oil industry has had on the North Sea, including the impact on trawler operations and the rest. There is no simple way of providing for that, either in international law or in any other way. There are a number of provisions about dumping at sea which are also designed to help protect the fishery as well as other interests.
The Government have been very anxious to have provided a general forum in which the fishery interests on the one hand and the oil operators on the other could meet and discuss their common problems in a constructive attempt to overcome them, accepting that the oil operations in the North Sea, whether we like it or not, are bound to involve disturbance to fishermen. That cannot be completely avoided, but we have tried to avoid that which is avoidable and to provide a way in which the industries can talk to one another so that their difficulties can be kept to the minimum.
During the summer we set up the Fishing and Offshore Oil Consultative Committee, which includes representatives of the oil industry, the Trawlers' Federation, the inshore fishermen and Government Departments. A civil servant from the Scottish Office chairs its meetings. It has met twice and is meeting again in January to discuss, for example, subjects affecting navigation, the possible loss of fishing grounds, and the problems of oil gear being disposed of on the sea bed, thus affecting trawling. We have, therefore, provided the forum, and it has been welcomed by the fishing industry.
The hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) thinks that I have been neglecting the fishing industry. He should know that I have met representatives of the industry to talk about these problems. I did so a considerable time ago. The industry is represented on the Oil Development Council as well, and I see its representatives there periodically. I do not want the impression to be given that we are not mindful of the needs of the fishing industry. The Government amendment providing for local authority consultation will in many circumstances allow the fishing interests to make their view clear before anything is published about a sea designation order at all.
The provisions in Schedule 3 provide for representations on the orders themselves, so that, again, it will be possible for points of view to be put to the Secretary of State before an order is introduced. So there are certain protection provisions at present, but I am willing to look at the matter again. It may be that some of these things should be the subject of discussion, for example, by the consultative committee, although there is a difficulty there in that at present it is representative of the offshore industry rather than the onshore industry, which may be affected in orders.
I hope that the Opposition amendment will not be pressed in view of my assurance that I will look at the matter again to see whether we can put down an amendment on Report. There are three aspects within the terms of the Bill itself —the sea designation order, the licences under the order, and the regulations. Government Amendment No. 155 deals with the regulations in Clause 6, and one of the matters which will be covered by regulation is the protection of fishing in any sea designation order.
I hope that that will give the assurance that we have a genuine interest in meeting these problems. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the Government are mindful of the problems and are at least making some improvement in the Bill to meet them. If the amendments are withdrawn I shall consider whether we should put anything else in the Bill or make general provision through the consultative committee. If what we propose is not acceptable, or if we find that something further specifically written into the Bill is not desirable, hon. Members will be free, with permission, to return to the matter on Report. I hope that that will be acceptable.
After the mild hilarity from the Government Front Bench before the Minister spoke I expected a great deal more to come by way of a trump card to reduce our concern. What the Minister has said in no way allays our fears about what could happen through a sea designation order.
The Minister has talked about consultations with the fishing industry. If he reads the correspondence from the federation representing Scottish trawling about the lack of consultation between his Government and the federation he will realise that matters do not bode well for the future. It may be that he has set up a consultative committee, but that has not in any way encouraged the fishing industry to feel that it is being looked after. The Minister has said that he is mindful of the situation and that he is prepared to give it further consideration. That is not a firm enough proposition for me to accept.
I expect that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) will want to have the last word. In normal circumstances his amendment would have been called first. Unless the Minister is prepared to say tonight that he will definitely on Report table an amendment that will make it necessary to consult those involved in fishing I have no intention of abandoning our amendment. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland will support us as we would have supported him had his amendment been called first.
That is our position. If the Minister likes to give a firm assurance now and to make the matter crystal clear I shall have pleasure in not pressing our amendment, but I shall do so unless he comes forward with a positive assurance.
I teg to move Amendment No. 38, in page 4, line 1, leave out subsection (2) and insert—
'(2) No order under subsection 1 above shall be made unless a draft of the order has been approved by resolution of each House of Parliament'.
The Deputy Chairman:
With it, it will be convenient to take the following amendments:
No. 139, in Clause 3, page 4, line 1, leave out subsection (2) and insert:
'No order shall take effect until approved by affirmative resolutions by each House of Parliament.'
No. 39, in Clause 3, page 4, line 2, leave out from ' be' to end of line 3 and insert:
'laid in draft in each House of Parliament and not take effect until such draft shall have been approved by resolution of each House of Parliament'.
Our discussion on this amendment will be almost a repetition of our earlier debate except that this time the Government have not seen fit to table their own amendment to bring in the affirmative resolution procedure. Unless the amendment is carried, only the negative resolution procedure will be available, and considerable feeling has been voiced on that score in our earlier debates.
I should like to hear from the Minister why the Government have not tabled an amendment in similar terms to their earlier amendment before I decide whether to press my amendment.
I do not want to delay the Minister from informing the Committee why he has not provided for the affirmative resolution procedure in this case. The main arguments in favour of that procedure have already been given. There is a feeling that the fishing industry is the poor relation. It is difficult to understand why the affirmative resolution procedure should be applied to the land and not to the sea. The industry would draw confidence from having the affirmative resolution procedure in this case. It would give associations and individuals a much better chance of making their representations, and, therefore, I hope that the Minister will be able to meet us on this point as he did earlier.
The debate about the fishing interests on the last amendment showed what a very serious business it will be to make a sea designation order. We hope, therefore, that the Government will assure the Committee that they take the matter very seriously. It is important for the Government to act positively in these decisions, particularly since the Bill will give the Secretary of State the power to declare a part of the sea to be a designated area if it appears to him desirable under the relevant provisions of the Bill.
These are wide-ranging powers and they should be subject to restrictive scrutiny by both Houses of Parliament. Will the Minister explain in what circumstances these powers may be introduced, and precisely how the Government justify the Secretary of State's being able to designate a part of the sea in this way?
I take the point that there is a parallel between this case and Clause 1, where we were dealing with the expedited acquisition order. We felt that perhaps an expedited acquisition raised points of principle to which the Committee would attach more importance than those which would be raised in a designation order. I do not mean by that that the sea designation order is not a most important procedure, but I think that hon. Members feel that compulsory purchase touches on the principles behind private rights and that it raises special issues which make the affirmative resolution procedure relevant to that case.
If the sea designation order were transferred to the affirmative resolution procedure it would incur the same disabilities in the House of Lords as will be incurred by the expedited acquisition. Any delay would not basically inconvenience the offshore oil operators, but it would prevent the Government imposing necessary control of the area under the licensing provisions, the conditions attached to the licences, and so on, which would follow from the sea designation order being proceeded with. The delay could be detrimental to the interests of the local community and to the fishing interests.
Therefore, if we introduce an affirmative procedure we should again wish to disapply the standing orders of the other place. I may as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb. I shall be unpopular with the House of Lords anyway for what we intend to do under the other amendment.
I do not want to give a commitment now, because I should like to consider the matter also in relation to the previous debate about the fishing interests. It may well be that to provide an affirmative order would be to put in another bit of procedure which would allow the fishery case to be deployed in the debate here and in the other place on the order. It may be that one of the solutions to the fisheries point will be to have the affirmative procedure but with the disapplication provision.
I make it clear that, as on the previous amendment, I do not want to give a precise commitment, and I do not want to inhibit hon. Members from returning to the matter on report. But on the basis I have outlined I invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.