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Written Answers

Volume 86: debated on Thursday 7 November 1985

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Written Answers To Questions

Thursday 7 November 1985



asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what salmon legislation he proposes to bring forward in this Session of Parliament; and if he will make a statement.

The main element of the Bill will be the improvement of the present salmon management arrangements in Scotland providing for changes in the structure and composition of district salmon fishery boards, and revision of the powers relating to the regulation of salmon fisheries in Scotland; updating and strengthening of anti-poaching measures.It has been clear for some time that Scottish salmon legislation is in need of updating not only as an incentive to increase the number of district boards in Scotland but to make the boards more democratic, in relation for example to membership. The Bill will deal with this and will also modernise procedures, particularly as they affect the powers of the Secretary of State and district boards for the regulation of salmon fisheries, to introduce greater flexibility to meet changing circumstances and needs, for example in relation to conservation of stocks.Account will also be taken of the concern about the current extent of salmon poaching throughout Great Britain by introducing further provisions in relation to the possession of illegally taken salmon. The Bill will also provide for the introduction of a salmon dealer licensing scheme in Scotland, but will not include provisions relating to a salmon tagging scheme, for the reasons set out in my right hon. Friend's reply today to my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow).

Home Department

Road Traffic Offences (Fixed Penalties)

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he proposes to implement part III of the Transport Act 1982 for extended fixed penalties for road traffic offences.

I intend to implement part III of the Act on 1 October 1986. This date will allow a reasonable period for police training and other preparations after the implementation of the major provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act on 1 January 1986.I propose meanwhile to make an order increasing the existing fixed penalty of £10 to £12 early in the new year to take account of inflation since it was last fixed in 1982. I also propose that the higher level of fixed penalty, which will only operate under the new system, should be £24.

Education And Science

Burnham Committee

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he has completed his review of the teachers' panel of the Burnham primary and secondary committee; and if he will make a statement.

Yes. I have decided that the National Union of Teachers should be represented by 13 instead of 16 members and that the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education should cease to be represented on the committee. The new composition of the committee will be as follows:

Management Panel
Association of County Councils13
Association of Metropolitan Authorities10
Welsh Joint Education Committee2
Department of Education and Science2
Teachers' Panel
Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association4
National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers7
National Union of Teachers13
Professional Association of Teachers1
National Association of Head Teachers2
Secondary Heads Association1
I have suggested to the committee that, in order to preserve the working relationship between the Primary and Secondary and Further Education committees, it should use its rules of procedure to grant NATFHE non-voting observer status.In order to comply with the requirements of the Remuneration of Teachers Act 1965, two variations to the determination of 19 January 1981 have been prepared to give effect to the changes. The variation determination to give effect to the change in NUT representation was made on 1 November and came into operation on 5 November. A copy has been placed in the Library. The variation order to give effect to the proposal to remove the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education from the committee was made by statutory instrument on 1 November, will be laid before Parliament on 11 November to come into operation on 2 December.

Civil Service

Civil Servants (Immunity)

asked the Minister for the Civil Service if he will make a statement on his policy regarding civil servants' immunity from prosecution for small scale theft or fraud at work.

I welcome the opportunity to correct the false impression which may have been given recently that civil servants are to enjoy a special immunity front prosecution for criminal offences.The new draft disciplinary guidelines which have been drawn up pay particular regard to the Public Accounts Committee's criticisms in 1984 of the Property Services Agency's handling of fraud cases, as requested by Ministers. These guidelines are still at the consultative stage. They are emphaticallly not seeking to confer any special immunity on civil servants. Rather their aim is to speed up the handling of disciplinary cases by Departments and bring Civil Service procedures more into line with those in the private sector. To this end there is provision for Departments, where appropriate, to handle very minor cases of theft or deception without involving the police. As in the private sector, it may in some circumstances be better for Departments to deal with the matter expeditiously themselves rather than institute lengthy criminal proceedings at high cost to the taxpayer. This would also allow Departments if necessary to change systems promptly to prevent a recurrence.

National Finance

Building Society Legislation

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he will make a further statement about the proposed building society legislation referred to in the Gracious Speech.

I announced the main proposals at Eastbourne in June. Decisions have now been reached on the main outstanding matters.The Government have decided to create a new Building Societies Commission which will have responsibility for the prudential supervision of the societies. The present Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies will be chairman of the new commission. The names of the other commissioners will be announced in due course.Like the Registry of Friendly Societies at present, the registry and commission will together constitute one of my right hon. Friend's departments.The Bill will introduce new provisions governing mergers between building societies. One society will be able to apply for access to the register of another's members for the sole purpose of circulating merger proposals. But new regulations will be introduced governing bonus payments to members and compensation to outgoing directors on mergers; and a new requirement will be introduced in mergers between societies of very different sizes to the effect that at least 20 per cent. of members of the smaller society eligible to vote on the special resolution in question should vote in favour. The Government will be publishing at the same time as the Bill a consultative document about the procedures under which building societies could be converted into companies with the approval of their membership.Further proposals include the introduction of a statutory investor protection scheme along the lines of that under the Banking Act, 1979; a procedure for independent appeal against supervisory decisions of the commission, again broadly reflecting that under the Banking Act; limits on loans to directors and connected persons as for recognised banks under the Companies Act; new requirements on directors to disclose interests along the lines of those applying to company directors, with additional requirements for directors with interests in firms with which borrowers from the society may be doing business as part of the transaction; there will be a new requirement for each society to have a memorandum which will be the basic source of its adopted powers, alongside the rules which govern its internal management; new procedures under which the commission will be able to determine whether an activity is within the powers of a society; and restriction of the present exemption from the Consumer Credit Act of building society mortgage lending to loans made on first mortgage only for the purchase, improvement of repair of property.Details of these further proposals are contained in my speech made at Little Wymondley on 1 November, a copy of which has been placed in the Library.

Cable And Wireless

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a further statement on the sale of the Government's shareholding in Cable and Wireless.

Cable and Wireless plc announced earlier today that it intends to raise additional equity capital at the same time as the Government sell their remaining ordinary shares in the company. Subject to market conditions, it is expected that the joint offer will take place in December. the Government have confirmed to the company that they will not be taking up that portion of the company's new shares to which they would have been entitled to subscribe.The Government will be retaining the special rights preference share in the company. This requires the consent of Her Majesty's Government, as holder of the special share, to certain events such as the voluntary winding-up of the company, material disposal of assets, the creation or issue of shares with voting rights different from those of the ordinary shares, and to changes in certain articles of the company, including those which limit the shareholdings of any one person together with those of his associates to not more than 15 per cent. of the issued ordinary share capital. The Government have agreed that they should no longer be exempt from the 15 per cent. limit on individual shareholdings following the sale of its shares.The Government also have the right under the company's articles to appoint two non-executive directors and they have agreed that it will no longer be appropriate for them to have this right once they cease to be an ordinary shareholder.

The Arts

Cash Limits

asked the Minister for the Arts if it is intended to change any of the cash limits for which he is responsible.

Subject to parliamentary approval of the necessary Winter Supplementary Estimates, I propose to increase the 1985–86 cash limit on Class V, Vote 8 (Victoria and Albert Museum) by £100,000 from £10,598,000 to £10,698,000. The net increase is required to assist with the cost of setting up the Theatre Museum, thus enabling it to open in 1986–87, as previously announced. The expenditure will be met by an equivalent saving on Class V, Vote 10 (Arts, the Arts Council and other institutions, the National Heritage and the Government Art Collection) reducing the cash limit from £129,777,000 to £129,677,000. There will, therefore, be no net increase in the total of public expenditure.

Agriculture, Fisheries And Food


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he has completed his examination of the implications of establishing a salmon tagging scheme and his review of the arrangements for controlling the north-east drift net salmon fishery; and if he will make a statement.

The Government share the widely expressed concern about the illegal taking of salmon in our rivers and coastal waters. We therefore, as my predecessor announced on 29 February 1984 in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), instructed officials of the Fisheries Departments to examine methods of combating this illegal taking and in particular to discuss with the various interests concerned the proposals for a salmon tagging scheme set out in the report "Salmon Conservation—A New Approach" prepared by the salmon sales group of the former National Water Council.Unfortunately, the tagging scheme, despite its attractions, presented major difficulties. The main problem areas were, as my predecessor said in reply to the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) on 6 March 1985, the control of imports, the handling of our own farmed salmon and control over the issue of tags. The great majority of our trade in salmon consists of imports and farm production and no tagging scheme could be effective which excluded these fish. To ensure that all imported and farmed salmon were tagged would present substantial practical difficulties which, even if they could be overcome, would result in onerous burdens on fish farmers and traders. The control over the issue and use of perhaps 2–3 million tags a year also presents considerable difficulties. If control was not clearly established and a black market in unused tags developed, this would undermine the whole purpose of the scheme.After an extensive examination of the possibilities we consider that, on the evidence before us, a tagging scheme would not be viable in Great Britain. We have therefore examined other possible methods of controlling salmon sales. We have concluded, first, that it is not acceptable for trade in illegally taken salmon to continue as a legal activity, which it is at present. We therefore propose to bring forward measures to make it illegal. In so doing we expect to remove the main outlets for illegally taken salmon and so make a major contribution to deterring illegal fishing.Secondly, we have examined the possibility of licensing dealers in salmon as a measure to assist in controlling sales. We have concluded that in England and Wales the additional administrative structure required would not be justified in terms of the additional deterrent to illegal fishing, taking account of the complex trading conditions, including the large volume of trade in places remote from the salmon fishing areas. In Scotland, where the administrative structure and pattern of trade are different, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State proposes to bring forward a measure to permit the introduction of dealer licensing. This, together with the measures to counter trade in illegal salmon, will be contained in the draft Bill, the main elements of which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Scottish Office has described in his reply today to my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Hirst).The Government have also completed the review of future arrangements for the English north east coast salmon drift net fishery which my predecessor announced on 29 February 1984. We have concluded that there is no case for terminating the fishery, but that the rules under which it operates should be further tightened in a number of respects. The Northumbrian and Yorkshire water authorities, who are responsible for regulating the fishery, have agreed with us that the following changes should be made, subject where appropriate to parliamentary approval.The present system under which licensed fishermen may enter on their licences the names of duly authorised servants or agents (popularly known as endorsees), who may then use the licensed net to fish, will be modified to provide that the licensed fisherman must be present whenever his net is being fished, except when the licensee is suffering from genuine illness or injury. To restrict the fishing effort further, the fishery should be closed for a period of eight hours at night. The weekend closed periods, which at present vary between the areas of the fishery, will be standardised on the longest period now in force—that is 6 pm Friday to 6 am Monday. These measures will have a significant effect on the amount of effort devoted to the fishery and will assist the water authorities in their enforcement duties.In addition, it is proposed to take measures to change the balance of fishing effort between drift nets and the fixed nets which are known as T or J nets. The Northumbrian water authority has sought an order permitting the use by licensees of T nets in its southern area, where they are currently banned, and its request has been accepted. The authority is to study the structure of its licence duties with a view to offering a financial inducement to fishermen who may be prepared to use only these fixed nets. The Yorkshire water authority, which operates a different licensing system, proposes to reduce the number of drift nets operated in its area from 29 to 22 and correspondingly increase the number of fixed nets from 32 to 39. This adjustment will not deprive existing licence holders of their rights to a drift net; the change will occur as existing licensees give up their licences.It is our intention to take the necessary steps to introduce these measures as soon as possible. We consider that they will permit even tighter control over what is already a generally well-regulated fishery and we believe they will provide a sound basis for its future, while recognising that some of the measures will reduce incomes in an area which has already seen its fishing activity cut back. We shall review the effects of the new arrangements after they have been in operation for three years.

Agriculture Industry (Government Provision)

asked the Minister of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food if he is now able to announce the results of his discussions with the agriculture industry about the scope for raising revenue for services provided to it by Government as a contribution to the planned public expenditure cuts, indicating, in particular, the extent to which his proposals will be implemented in the legislation foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech.

On 24 May at column 582 I outlined my approach to industry funding of advisory and statutory work and research and development. Consultations have confirmed that, as far as the funding of relevant research and development is concerned, a system of sectoral contributions is the right way forward, and provisions to assist this are included in the Agriculture Bill presented today. My further statement of 23 July at column 448 initiated discussions with the industry about the overall scope for raising revenue for advisory and statutory work as a contribution to reducing the net cost of such work by about £16½ million in the financial year 1987–88. I indicated that I would be looking for contributions from three sources—income from charging for advisory work, income from charging for statutory work and economies in the operation of ADAS.In the light of those discussions, I and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales have now concluded that, in 1987–88, we can look for a contribution of at least £5 million from charging for ADAS advisory and promotional work. Under the power proposed in clause 1 of the Agriculture Bill, presented today, we plan to make charges for advisory services hitherto provided free of charge to individuals and organisations and to groups of farmers acting in association. Some new charges, notably for the kind of work presently carried out under the agricultural services scheme, will be introduced shortly after the passage of the Bill; other charging schemes will be initiated during the second half of 1986–87. Meanwhile discussions will continue with interested parties on systems and levels of charging. ADAS will also be using existing opportunities, including the agricultual services scheme, to assess market responses to the introduction of new services and to modest price adjustments. It is hoped to make further announcements on this shortly. We do not however have any plans to introduce charges for the kind of advice now provided to farmers free of charge on conservation, rural diversification or animal welfare.Turning to charges for other services, a range of possibilities was considered in discussions with interested organisations over the summer. In the light of the views expressed, we have decided against introducing charges for tuberculosis and brucellosis testing work and for enforcement of horticultural marketing standards. So far as plant health is concerned, charges will be introduced only in respect of export and import licensing and certification. We shall also be introducing, or increasing, charges to recover the cost of the following services provided by our Departments: inspections under the milk and dairy regulations, the new approval system for pesticides, licences and approvals for artificial insemination, the licensing of swill feeders, the poultry health scheme, the pig health scheme, the enzootic bovine leucosis attested herd scheme, the maedi-visna accredited flock scheme and the enforcement of seed regulations. We also intend to increase charges for plant breeders' rights and the national listing of varieties. In most cases the new charges will take effect in April 1987. We expect them to yield about £6 million net in 1987–88. In most cases, no new statutory powers to introduce charges are needed; but the new plant health and increased seed certification charges require new statutory powers which are sought in clauses 2 and 3 of the Agriculture Bill. There will be further discussions with interested parties on the arrangements for implementing the new charges and on our intention to introduce charges for the non-statutory advice given to local authorities in respect of agricultural development cases.These measures will have an impact on the work and organisation of ADAS, as envisaged in the report prepared for me by its Director General which was published in November 1984. We believe that there is likely to be a strong, continuing demand once charges have been introduced for the expert independent advice provided by ADAS. The future of the service is not in doubt and we intend that it should be adequately staffed to earn the revenue that it is capable of bringing in. At the same time, there is scope for economies and improvements in efficiency, and these must be made if ADAS is to fulfil its changing role. ADAS currently has some 4,800 staff. Initial work on activities other than R & D, where savings were announced on 11 October, has shown there is scope for economies and, given follow up work to identify savings in other areas, we expect by the spring of 1987 to be able to reduce the size of ADAS by about 380 more posts along with appropriate savings in non-ADAS support staff. The final figure will in part depend on a closer assessment of the likely effect on uptake of charging for certain demand elastic schemes. Further details will be announced as soon as possible.In financial terms, staff and related overhead savings of the order indicated above should, along with the expected additional revenue for charging, reduce the net cost of ADAS in the financial year 1987–88 by £16½ million.

Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

Cash Limits

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether any changes have occurred in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office cash limits for 1985–86.

The cash limit for Class 11 Vote 1 (Overseas Representation, Diplomatic, Consular and other Foreign and Commonwealth Services) will be increased by £751,000 to £384,277,000. This represents an increase of £1,751,000 in respect of the end of year flexibility scheme on the overseas estate, offset by a reduction of £1 million on the provision for capital expenditure for relay stations.The cash limit for Class 11 Vote 3 (BBC External Services) will be correspondingly increased by £1 million to £90,018,000. The extra money on Vote 3 will be used to enable the BBC to maintain the planned level of progress on its audibility programme. The changes are subject to parliamentary approval of the necessary Supplementary Estimates.