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Foyle and Carlingford Fisheries (Northern Ireland) Order 2007

Volume 690: debated on Thursday 15 March 2007

rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Foyle and Carlingford Fisheries (Northern Ireland) Order 2007.

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the draft order is to give effect to the implementation bodies order by providing the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission with powers to exercise the aquaculture licensing and inland fisheries development functions conferred upon it under the agreement.

It may be helpful if I comment briefly on the order and then say a few words about the detailed provisions. The Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission is a north/south implementation body with responsibility for aquaculture and marine matters. It exercises its functions in the Foyle and Carlingford areas through the Loughs Agency.

The draft order proposes to introduce a new aquaculture regulatory system within the Foyle and Carlingford areas under the control of the Loughs Agency, and will bring the existing unregulated aquaculture activity in Lough Foyle within the regulatory system. The draft order also proposes to update certain existing provisions of the Northern Ireland (Foyle Fisheries) Act 1952 in relation to the conservation and protection of inland fisheries to bring them into line with other Northern Ireland and GB fisheries legislation.

I will now explain briefly the main provisions of the draft order. Article 3 establishes a new aquaculture licensing system in the Foyle and Carlingford areas under the control of the Loughs Agency. It also sets out the procedures for applications for aquaculture licences and the determination of applications and provides for aquaculture licences to be granted subject to conditions. It also creates new aquaculture offences including engaging in aquaculture without a licence or otherwise than in accordance with the conditions of a licence. Article 3 also sets out provisions for the variation, revocation, transfer and surrender of aquaculture licences.

The draft order also provides for the establishment of a Foyle and Carlingford aquaculture licensing appeals board to which aggrieved persons can appeal against decisions by the Loughs Agency and sets out the procedures for the making of appeals.

Article 4 extends the definition of fish used in the Northern Ireland (Foyle Fisheries) Act 1952 to cover the regulation of wild oysters, mussels, sea bass and tope within the Foyle and Carlingford areas.

Article 6 will enable the Loughs Agency to regulate or prohibit the sale of rod-caught fish as a conservation measure. This provision will therefore assist the Loughs Agency in its efforts to protect salmon stocks under threat from poaching. Similar provision is also made in respect of the rest of Northern Ireland. Article 8 provides the Loughs Agency with the powers to deliver its England fisheries development function by enabling it to acquire fisheries with the agreement of the owner for the purposes of improving and developing facilities for angling. The provision should therefore enable the agency to improve the quality of the angling product in the Foyle and Carlingford areas for both local anglers and tourists.

The remaining articles deal mainly with the updating of the Foyle Fisheries (Northern Ireland) Act 1952. The existing provisions that are updated relate to the conservation and protection of inland fisheries in the Foyle and Carlingford areas. That brings them into line with other fisheries legislation in Northern Ireland and Great Britain. The draft order is an important piece of legislation that will enable the Loughs Agency to fulfil its range of functions under the Implementation Bodies agreement. By doing so, it will help to ensure that both agriculture and the wild fisheries in the Foyle and Carlingford areas are managed and developed in a sustainable manner. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Foyle and Carlingford Fisheries (Northern Ireland) Order 2007.—(Lord Rooker.)

I thank the Minister for making his Bill team available to me this morning. I had a useful discussion with them. In principle, I support the order. It is a necessary step forward. Foyle and Carlingford are important inland waterways—well, they are not really inland waterways, but sheltered waterways. Fishing, fish farms and so on should be protected. The legislation for that urgently needed updating, and by and large this order does the job pretty well. My concern would be the definition; where the lines are drawn on the map, or on the charts, for British waters as opposed to Irish waters. I understand that this is the responsibility of a cross-border body, but we need assurance that the Republic is legislating in line with us and will be as active in policing the new legislation because, unless both sides of the border are going to work together, it is a waste of time one going it alone. I would like some real assurance that the Republic is as enthusiastic about this as we are, is passing similar legislation and will police it strongly and diligently. Otherwise, I support the order.

I too thank the Minister for introducing the order. Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough have been designated as special protection areas under the EU birds directive. Both sites support inter-tidal areas but are of particular importance for wintering water birds, while Carlingford Lough is also important for breeding terns. Although the open-water areas of the loughs have yet to be designated, many of the qualifying species are reliant on open-water areas. We believe that the development of mariculture in the sea loughs should be especially sensitive to these birds and their habitats.

There is a need for assessment of applications for licences under the Conservation (Nature Habitats, etc.) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1995. We support the licensing and regulating of mariculture as that ensures more environmentally sustainable management of marine resources. We are supportive of the proposal to introduce a licensing scheme for Lough Foyle and improvements to licensing at Carlingford Lough. We would like to see the introduction of comprehensive marine legislation in Northern Ireland to secure the protection of our marine environment. In particular, we wish to see the development of a UK marine Bill enabling a Northern Ireland Government to introduce subordinate legislation that ensures the delivery of marine environmental objectives in Northern Ireland.

The development of mariculture in sea loughs, as well as that of other uses of the marine resource, needs to be co-ordinated and planned to minimise impacts on the marine environment. We believe that new legislation should include the introduction of marine spatial planning—MSP—the legislation underpinning the process and focusing delivery at the regional seas scale. Within sea loughs sub-regional MSPs should be developed that nest in the regional MSP. It is vital that plans for mariculture development must be developed with due consideration of future plans to develop MSP within Northern Ireland, and any powers offered to the FCILC must be integrated fully into future MSP.

Can the Minister reassure us that mariculture activity in Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough will be co-ordinated and planned to minimise the impacts on the rich marine environment in these sea loughs? Secondly, in its response to the consultation we noticed that the board of the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission raised the issue of appeals. Can the Minister clarify why an appeals mechanism is not necessary in this order? Having said that and asked those two questions, we support the order.

I will be very brief. I am basically in favour of the legislation, as we were in favour of creating the agency in the first place. My question is very simple. The Explanatory Memorandum states that the primary consultation on this order took place in 2000. To have an interval of seven, or six and a half years, between the consultation and bringing forth the order is unusual, even for the Northern Ireland Office. Can the Minister explain why the delay took place? I rather suspect that in this case it may have been due to the difficulty in getting our partners south of the border into line. Perhaps the Minister could elucidate.

I feel rather guilty, in so far as I had intended to pay considerably more attention to the order when it came forward. Unfortunately, other matters prevented me. However, I am particularly concerned that to facilitate the southern Government, almost as though it was a dictation, the final consultation period was curtailed from the normal 12 weeks to eight weeks. It may be that everything was settled and in order, but I do not have the same confidence as those who drafted the order appear to have in the Administration of the Irish Republic.

The Minister will be aware that for some considerable time, amounting to years, I campaigned to encourage the authorities in the south to come into line with other North Atlantic nations in respect of banning drift netting for salmon. The Minister at that time, Pat the Cope Gallagher, resisted all persuasion, because, bluntly, he adopted a parochial approach, a Donegal approach, to the problem. I would like to be reassured that in respect of the preservation of fishing stocks in the sheltered waterways of Carlingford and Foyle, we will not be impeded by any reluctance on the part of the southern Government to play their full part. We all know the extent to which North Atlantic salmon stocks have diminished and also that Irish drift netting was increasing its catch when other northern European countries were endeavouring to reduce the damage being done. In that respect I hope that we shall have a categoric assurance from the Minister on the co-operation that we are likely to receive from the Irish Republic’s Government.

In closing, I hope that the cross-border body that is being given responsibility will not be packed with what I shall crudely call “yes” men and women, but that its membership will comprise people who have a genuine knowledge of, and interest in, the conservation of fishing stocks.

I shall speak on a similar note to the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis. First, I declare an interest as a member of a fishing club on a tributary that runs into the Foyle. Can the Minister assure the Committee that the new order will be sufficiently robust to deal with these issues, some of which the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, touched on, in particular the illegal netting of salmon? That has caused a lot of consternation down the years. Indeed, we had hoped that effective action would have been taken long ago to ensure that this illegal practice was stamped out. Can the Minister assure the Committee that this new legislation will be sufficiently robust to deal with that difficult issue, which has concerned many anglers down the years?

I am most grateful for the contributions. I say in passing to the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, that I have not found that people in Northern Ireland or those I have met in the Republic are “yes” people, so I do not expect the body to be packed with such people. I can guarantee that it will not be packed with whingers. I have every confidence that we shall get full co-operation from the Government in the south. I realise the sensitivity—

Indeed, but, if I might suggest, the Minister has made a rather desperate start. I would much prefer that he stick to the issue we are debating. He seems to feel that he will rouse me—and he has now succeeded—if I raise a question about the way in which the Administration works, and he defines it as whingeing. I am tired of the Minister. It seems to be the only word he has in his dictionary to insult. Let me tell the Minister—the previous time he did this I went to his office and I cautioned him. I know a lot more insulting words than “whingeing”, Minister. I am not prepared to have a lack of knowledge or a lack of understanding of what has to be presented here covered by this ridiculous nonsense. He knows that I cautioned him that I would do this. I hope that he will catch himself on and answer us in terms in which we would like to be answered. Tell us what is happening.

I do not want to have to send for a doctor. All I am asking is for the noble Lord to listen to what I say. I did not call anybody a whinger. I just answered the questions. It is not my job to answer questions in a way that people will like. My job is to answer the questions in as factual a way as I can. The answers may not be liked—that is tough. I gave an assurance that we were fully confident of the co-operation of the Government of the south.

I was about to say that I am well aware of the sensitivity of both fisheries and both loughs, simply because of the border issues, which are historic and still unsolved, as it were. Nevertheless, we are here trying to deal with protection of the environment and of fishing. It is my job to answer the questions; whether anyone likes the answers is another matter.

On conservation of the salmon stocks, the responsibility lies with the Loughs Agency. I realise that there have been difficulties concerning salmon, but the agency is subject to the direction to protect salmon stocks. That is important. There are some technical issues relating to the consultation period. As the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, said, this issue has been around for a considerable period. I make no excuses or apologies for that. As I said initially, the draft order gives effect to the implementation bodies order and it is required to be brought forward in parallel with legislation in the Republic. It is a question of matching drafts of the legislation in this place and in the Parliament of the Republic. That is why the consultation period was limited to just over eight weeks. Notwithstanding that, there was extensive consultation in 2000, including public meetings.

I am also pleased to announce that it is hoped that this will be one of the last six items of legislation—forgive me if I answer a question that was not asked. I was asked: why are we doing this now; why do we not leave it to the Assembly? There are good reasons for that: it is about time. We certainly do not want delay. I understand that this is one of the last six items to be dealt with by Orders in Council that we expect to go through this place. We are down-counting, as it were and are well into single figures.

This is a complex policy issue; there is no question about that. It has taken a good deal of discussion with the Republic to get this right and ensure that the legislation is the same. It is not just a question of getting an agreement, we have to get the same legislation. We expect the area to be policed and looked after equally on both sides. The implementation body and the powers need to be the same under the legislation in both jurisdictions. We had to develop a plan for introducing a new regulatory system that would work well in both jurisdictions.

An appeal mechanism is provided for in respect of applications for aquacultural licences. That is implicit in the order. If someone is turned down, there is a right of appeal.

As the noble Baroness suggested, the matter touches on much wider issues. The order is quite narrow but it touches on much wider issues. The Marine Bill White Paper was published today. It includes Northern Ireland; it is not as if Northern Ireland is being left out. That followed the response to the consultation. We were faced with a choice about 18 months ago. If we kept waiting for a Bill to come along for Northern Ireland, with or without devolution, we might have to wait for years. For the Marine Bill, we decided to include it in the GB legislation, so that Northern Ireland does not fall behind. It is important to protect the situation there.

On the obligation to consult, the agency is required to comply with European Union environmental legislation, including the habitats directive. There is no get-out from that: I think that the noble Baroness asked about that. The draft order confers powers on the Loughs Agency to regulate within the Foyle and Carlingford areas, which covers jurisdictions on both sides of the border. I fully accept that given the way that the border is, especially in Lough Foyle, there are some difficulties. The parallel legislation takes account of that so that we have a workable solution. That is what has taken the time: getting a workable solution in the interests of conserving the fish and improving the situation for angling and tourists—something I imagine that people on both sides of the border want.

Regarding whether the board members of the Loughs Agency have an interest in the preservation of fish stocks, we believe the agency has shown so far a real interest in conserving fish stocks. The agency also has an advisory forum, which includes representatives of all stakeholders. Having gone through the background notes, I am not aware of anyone thinking this is not practical and will not work; it is just that it has been a long time coming. Finally, there is an appeals mechanism in the order, which was the issue I had not dealt with.

I have answered some questions I was not asked, for which I apologise—whether people like the answers I do not know, but they are factual and can be subject to examination.

On Question, Motion agreed to.