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Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 18 June 2001


Personal Statement

Social Security Fraud Bill: First Stage

Game Preservation (Amendment) Bill: Second Stage

Department for Learning and Employment Bill: Consideration Stage

Product Liability (Amendment) Bill: Consideration Stage

Trustee Bill: Further Consideration Stage

Social Security Fraud Bill: Accelerated Passage

Oral Answers to Questions

Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment

Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment

Department for Social Development

Supply Resolution for 2001 - 02: Main Estimates


The Assembly met at noon (Mr Speaker in the Chair).

Members observed two minutes’ silence.

Personal Statement


Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

On Tuesday 29 May Mr Dallat made a number of charges against me. I wish to respond by way of a personal statement.

Mr Dallat falsely claimed that at great inconvenience to him I had departed the Agriculture Committee on Friday 25 May to electioneer in Portadown.

That comment bears no resemblance to the truth. The Committee minutes show that I left the meeting at 11.27 and that, as arranged, my Deputy Chairperson continued in the Chair. I was involved in other business. The arrangements for the meeting had previously been discussed and agreed with members. The Committee rose at 2.54 that afternoon.

I did canvass in Upper Bann that afternoon but — importantly — the Agriculture Committee had risen for the day before I arrived.

Members who wish to study the minutes of the Agriculture Committee meeting on Friday 25 May will see that the Member who made the allegations against me joined and left the Committee on no fewer than seven occasions, causing disruption to business and at one point making the meeting inquorate.

My Committee has met consistently throughout the agriculture crisis, showing leadership and giving support to the industry and to those involved in the fight for its survival. I resent an attack which questions in any way my efforts as Chairperson in that battle.

I point out to the Member that he will face legal action if he repeats the allegations outside the privilege of the House. This is not the first time that the Member has made such allegations here.

I had to miss two other meetings of my Committee during the foot-and-mouth disease crisis — to attend a funeral service and to attend a memorial service for the late Joey Dunlop, who was one of my constituents. On each occasion I made appropriate arrangements with the Deputy Chairperson, and the Committee was kept fully informed and given notice of the arrangements. I have every confidence in the Deputy Chairperson’s ability to do his work.

I take my work as a parliamentarian seriously. It is to be regretted that a Member who was not appointed to the Committee from the beginning chooses to make political capital from this sequence of events. Members will note from the minutes of the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development that my record for chairing its meetings — and taking into account the long hours that are involved — is second to none. However, the Deputy Chairperson also has a job to do and should be given the opportunity to do it.

Mr Speaker, I wanted to put that on the record.

Mr Speaker:

As is customary, the Member referred to may say whether he wishes to accept the statement.

Mr Dallat:

I am pleased that Dr Paisley felt the need to offer an explanation to the Assembly, given that we were in the middle of the foot-and-mouth disease crisis. Now that the elections are over, I have no doubt that there will be no need to raise the issue again.


Social Security Fraud Bill: First Stage

The Minister for Social Development (Mr Morrow):

I beg leave to lay before the Assembly a Bill [NIA 16/00] to make provision, for the purposes of the law relating to social security, about the obtaining and disclosure of information; and to make provision for restricting the payment of social security benefits in the case of persons convicted of offences relating to such benefits and about the institution of proceedings for such offences; and for connected purposes.

Bill passed First Stage and ordered to be printed.

Mr Speaker:

The Bill will be put on the list of pending business until a date for its Second Stage has been determined.

Mr B Hutchinson:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked the Clerk to put my name down to speak. My understanding was that we would hear from the Minister for Social Development about the Bill before any decision was made.

Mr Speaker:

Perhaps I need to clarify the matter for the Member. This was the formal First Stage of the Bill. The Member is referring to another motion on the Order Paper on the matter of accelerated passage. We will come to that later in the normal fashion, and Members who wish to speak will be called then.


Game Preservation (Amendment) Bill: Second Stage

The Minister of the Environment (Mr Foster):

I beg to move

That the Second Stage of the Game Preservation (Amendment) Bill [NIA 15/00] be agreed.

The purpose of the Bill is to amend the Game Preservation Act (Northern Ireland) 1928 to extend the partridge shooting season by one month so that it commences on 1 September each year. That will bring the season here in line with that in the rest of the United Kingdom.

The amendment is in response to representations made by local enterprises to extend the partridge shooting season for commercial reasons. It is also supported by organisations that represent shooting interests in Northern Ireland. While the main areas of commercial interest are Rathlin Island and the Copeland Islands, I am also advised that several shoots would be prepared to release partridges if the season were extended.

In 1999 some 73 shoots released partridges in Northern Ireland. The majority are not run as businesses, but many sell a day’s shooting to supplement the shoot income and defray costs for syndicate members.

I have been told that a further consequence of the Bill might be that some local sportsmen who currently travel elsewhere in September might stay in Northern Ireland. It is not possible to estimate the economic impact of the changes accurately, but the British Association for Shooting and Conservation argues that it would contribute to the local economy and help to maintain the rural community.

My Department carried out a full public consultation. In addition to the Environment Committee, 370 organisations were consulted. These included the Department’s statutory advisory body on nature conservation, the Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside, the relevant environmental bodies, district councils, organisations representing farmers and land owners, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and local shooting clubs.

Sixty-six responses were received — the great majority favoured the amendment of the 1928 Act. Four objections were received. The first was to blood sports in principle; the second was to the maturity of the birds as quarry in September; the third was to the premature disturbance of other quarry species, such as pheasant, for which the season is later; and the fourth was based on the need to protect the native grey partridge.

A few respondents, although they supported the Bill, also raised the issue of a possible threat of disturbance to other native wildlife. The Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside and the environmental bodies outside Government did not object to the proposal. The Environment Committee had no objection to the proposal but asked for more detail on the extra revenue that might be generated and the additional economic and other benefits that might arise through increased tourism.

The Department’s research indicates considerable potential benefits for the commercial shoot organisers. They will attract overseas visitors and their families, and local providers of services such as accommodation, hospitality and transport will receive spin-off benefits. In the case of Rathlin Island, there is the potential for a syndicated revenue of up to £70,000 for the month. Additional benefits of up to £200 a head by way of costs incurred by shooters for travel, bed and breakfast and entertainment might also accrue. Most of this would benefit the local economy. In the case of the Copeland Islands syndicate, the estimates are for four extra shoots at £3,500 a day during September. These are likely to be taken up completely by visitors from the USA who would stay locally.

In bringing this legislation forward, I took full account of the concerns raised in the consultation. First, the question of blood sports falls outside the scope of the Bill. Secondly, with regard to the maturity of the birds, I have been advised that the eggs are usually laid in April or May to allow the birds time to mature and adapt to the wild. The birds would normally be mature in September. However, as all the birds are artificially reared, it would be the responsibility of the game managers and shoot organisers to ensure that they release only fully-grown birds and that these birds are released into conditions that are conducive to good sporting practices. It is not in their interests to release immature birds, which make easy prey and will bring the sport into disrepute.

The third issue of concern is that the changes would create a premature disturbance to other quarry birds. This matter cannot be addressed directly by my Department. It is the responsibility of game managers to ensure that, under the terms of the code of good shooting practice,

"shooting should not commence until all birds are mature and fully adapted to the wild".

However, I am advised that the possible upset to other quarry is minimal.

The last point concerns the native partridge. I have been advised that it is now accepted that there are no native grey partridges in the wild, and it is highly unlikely that they will be re-established in the foreseeable future. Sufficient suitable habitat no longer exists for them, and current farming practices militate against creating such habitats. I understand that there are only a few native partridges left in the island of Ireland as a whole and that those that are left can be found only in the Republic of Ireland. The remaining population is not expected to survive.

With regard to the possible threat to native wildlife, several protective measures exist under wildlife legislation. In particular, some Members have raised concerns about the level of protection that is afforded to the Irish hare. I announced a species action plan for the Irish hare, to be implemented by a number of Departments including my own, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, and the Ulster Wildlife Trust. The plan includes a repeat survey of hares, which will be commissioned once the current foot-and-mouth disease restrictions have been lifted. Upon completion of the survey I will consider what further steps, if any, need to be taken.

This proposal could bring economic benefits without harmful conservation side effects.

12.15 pm

The Chairperson of the Environment Committee (Rev Dr William McCrea):

I thank the Minister for introducing the Bill. Members are looking forward to the discussions that will follow at Committee Stage.

Last September the Committee considered a consultation document issued by the Department of the Environment on extending the partridge shooting season. While we generally welcomed that proposal we did have some questions on the extent of the financial benefits arising from it. We still await the Department’s response to those questions.

The Committee has already received detailed representations on the Bill from the Countryside Alliance in Northern Ireland and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation. Both organisations expressed disappointment at the proposed changes to the shooting of rabbits and concern at the proposed legislative process by which the Minister may make future changes to the closed season. The Committee takes the concerns that have been expressed seriously and will take the necessary step to permit appropriate consultations with it.

Apart from these issues, the Committee wants to know why the original consultation document seen by the Committee made reference only to extending the partridge shooting season and yet the Bill proposes several other amendments to the 1928 Act. The Committee will be interested to learn what consultations there have been on these proposals. The Minister gave the number of consultations to the House today, but consultation with my Committee extended only to the partridge shooting season and not to the other measures which now appear in the Bill. The Minister can be assured, however, that the Committee will look diligently at the details in the Bill and will come back with any necessary amendments at Consideration Stage.

The Deputy Chairperson of the Environment Committee (Ms Hanna):

As Deputy Chairperson of the Environment Committee and on behalf of the SDLP, I welcome the Minister’s statement and concur with some of the points raised by Dr McCrea. I am concerned by the change effected by clause 1(3), which will allow the Minister to vary the closed season for all types of hare, grouse and other birds by ministerial Order rather than by legislation before the Assembly.

Clause 2 of the Bill deals with the shooting of rabbits on agricultural land. Many people regard rabbits as pests, and I have noted submissions from various lobbying groups that welcome the more permissive proposals that allow an extended time for shooting rabbits. However, I want to sound a note of caution: rabbits are pests to many people, but they are also part of God’s creation. I have reservations about any measure that could bring about the extinction of a species and have an adverse effect on ecology, biodiversity and variety of fauna. Are we clear that the extinction of rabbits is not an issue?

On the grounds of maximum possible accountability, I am concerned about clause 3’s making orders under the Act subject to negative resolution — perhaps the Minister will elaborate on that.

I will end on a light historical note. In the 51-year history of the Stormont parliament, the Unionist Government accepted only one amendment to a Bill from the Opposition, in the 1930s. It was an amendment proposed by a Nationalist MP to a measure for protecting wild birds, and it was unexpectedly accepted by the Unionist Minister. That caused some consternation at the time.

Mr Ford:

I am not sure what I should say in response to the point that Ms Hanna has just made. Perhaps if Dr McCrea, Ms Hanna and I can all agree, the Minister will find it easier to accept any views that may come from the Committee.

I also welcome the Bill, but I concur with many of the concerns that my Colleagues from the Committee have just raised.

In particular, I find it somewhat unhelpful when the memorandum relating to a Bill says that departmental research foresees economic benefits, but gives absolutely no quantification whatsoever as to what those benefits might be. It is not acceptable for a memorandum accompanying a Bill to make such a general statement and give no specific reference to what the perceived benefits are. If we are going to have a memorandum, we really ought to ask all Departments — and it just happens to be the Department of the Environment on this occasion — to ensure that the memorandum spells out what they are talking about. Unfortunately, this one has come along with a lot of other loose, woolly phrases that the Committee has seen and which were included in the consultation. It really is time that these issues were tightened up rather better.

I welcome the fact that the Minister actually noted the hare as one of the game species. The fact that he is now recognising that may mean that the concerns that people such as Mr Poots, Mr Wells and I have over hare coursing may gradually start to be addressed in this Assembly. It is clear that this remains a problem. I disagree with Ms Hanna in that I believe that the rabbit is a pest — several rabbits are definitely pests and several hundred rabbits are huge pests. We need to regard the hare, which is a native animal, in a different light. The rabbit, however, is an import from the adjacent island, and I would therefore have assumed that the SDLP would not have wanted it.

On clause 2 and the reference to shooting rabbits, is the Minister entirely happy that he now has adequate definitions of words such as "agricultural land" and "occupier"? Given the difficulties experienced at Westminster, particularly under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, where there are huge problems in defining "agricultural land", is he satisfied that the Department of the Environment here is rather better than the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was over there? Similarly, given the differences in land tenure — conacre and so on — is he absolutely satisfied with what the term "occupier", in relation to land, means?

These are some of the issues that we will need to look at in detail in the Committee. We can welcome the Bill in principle, but in practice, the Committee has a great deal to do on it.

Mr Leslie:

I am glad to see that amendments to shooting seasons are something that we can contemplate in legislation. It is a long time since they were changed. While I have reservations about this particular change, I think it is important that this matter be always kept under review and that we be alert to it.

My particular interest in this is that I rear, shoot and eat partridges — the last of those activities is the most pleasant, but I enjoy all three. On the subject of these rather elusive economic benefits, in sympathy to the Minister they are very elusive indeed, and they are not relevant to the argument or the issue. I can assure you that there is no economic benefit to me in rearing partridges — quite the opposite.

I cast back to the 1928 debate here, and more particularly the debate down the Corridor when this Bill was introduced, to see what rationales were advanced at that time. It is interesting to note that then, too, there was concern about the decline in the numbers of the native grey partridge, which even then was a consequence of declining habitat. Despite considerable efforts by the shooting fraternity, this decline was probably complete by the end of the 1960s. Sadly, there do not seem to be any left here now. A few years ago the Department of Agriculture introduced a scheme to encourage and provide some assistance for people to reintroduce grey partridges, but this has proved to be exceedingly hard work. However, I hope that initiatives to do that will continue. This Bill, by giving some cognisance to the interests of people rearing partridges, may provide some further encouragement.

I also believe that the countryside management scheme that has been introduced by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development will make a major contribution towards improving habitat. The debate about the future of the rural economy and farming is growing louder all the time. In that context, I trust that a move to more environmentally-friendly farming policies, along with the reclaiming for nature of a great deal of land that has been claimed for agriculture, will contribute to the kind of habitat in which it will be possible — if one takes a reasonably long-term view — to get partridges successfully breeding again in the wild.

However, if we continue to protect all predators, particularly raptors, it will prove to be as difficult for the partridge population as it is for the grouse population.

I hesitate in regard to the lengthening of the partridge season because while partridges in Hampshire may be fully grown by 1 September, it is much more difficult to achieve that in Northern Ireland, particularly during a wet year. I understand from people involved in rearing partridges in large numbers that eggs need to be imported from the continent in order that the birds can hatch and be fully grown by 1 September. However, the shooting fraternity self-regulates exceedingly well; therefore I hope that we can trust its judgement from year to year, depending on the rearing season. I welcome the Minister’s comments about that.

The season for shooting pheasants starts on 1 October. Few pheasants are shot in Northern Ireland before the last week of October. The people involved in that activity know that they need a few more weeks here before pheasants are fully reared, though they might be shot in the early part of October in the south of England. I trust that the self-regulatory disciplines of the shooting community will work in that respect.

The Bill does not distinguish between native grey partridges and imported red partridges, though it is appropriate to have the undefined term. Along with other Members, I am concerned that in clause 1(3) the Minister reserves the right to amend shooting seasons by Order. Although it has not been the case in the past, it might be an excessive burden if legislation were passed frequently. Widespread consultation is important, and the House should be given the opportunity to deliberate fully on any future changes.

I concur with other Members that the definition of "agricultural land" in clause 2 is wrong — we need a broader term. The other rules that regulate where one can shoot will provide the necessary protection to persons and property. All of the matters that I have raised can be addressed satisfactorily in Committee. I hope that there is some degree of consensus among Members, and I look forward to dealing with those matters during the Consideration Stage.

Mr Shannon:

I welcome the Minister’s statement and thank him for his time and effort. Approximately four years ago, many of the shooting organisations and conservation bodies approached elected representatives to push for a change in the legislation to bring forward the season for partridge shooting. I agree that there are benefits, though some Members may not. In my constituency, partridge shooting is a pastime, and these birds are used, together with pheasants, to try to increase the potential for many of the shoots. We should welcome that.

Strangford, the constituency I represent, enjoys sporting, tourism and economic benefits as a direct result of partridge shooting. The Copeland Islands, just outside my constituency, are used purely for partridge shooting, and this attracts tourists. Shoots on these islands are oversubscribed, and it is hoped that the existing potential for developing tourism can be increased. If permission were granted for an additional four days’ shooting in September, it would be possible, as the Minister has stated, to make around £3,000 on each of those days.

12.30 pm

Rathlin Island, in Dr Paisley’s constituency, is another area where partridge shooting could be promoted to enhance the area’s potential for a growth in tourism. The shoot in Rathlin Island was recently featured in ‘Shooting Times and Country Magazine’, which is distributed throughout the UK and further afield. An advertisement listing the shooting dates for Rathlin Island which are available for booking was published in tandem with the feature.

A partridge shoot also takes place in Portaferry, in my constituency. If it were to begin in September the area would receive direct economic and tourism benefits. Partridge and pheasant shoots also take place in Rosemount in Greyabbey, and the extension of the shooting season by one month would provide extra potential. Dunleath estate in Ballywalter is a third example of such activity in my constituency. Ards Borough Council, of which I am a member, supported the legislation relating to this type of shooting.

Direct benefits are gained from visitors’ staying overnight in the locality, with the result that bed-and- breakfast accommodation, hotels, restaurants and country sport shops all profit. Tangible gains are made as a result of this activity. Shooting can and does create benefits. The countryside needs the creation of this tourism potential and economic benefit more than ever, therefore we should support this Bill. I am glad that there seems to be a consensus on this matter.

The maturity of the birds was mentioned. There is no reason why appropriate management cannot ensure that birds mature on 1 September so that partridge shooting can take place. Sportsmen understand the issues involved, and if the birds had not matured to a suitable standard, they would not shoot at that time. I think that they will be mature, and management is in place to ensure that this is the case. There will be clear benefits for everyone by 1 September.

The Minister is probably already aware of section 7(a) of the Game Preservation Act (Northern Ireland) 1928, about which myself and other Members are concerned. The Minister will agree that all legislation must be clear and reasonable. This paragraph is neither entirely clear nor completely reasonable. It relates to the shooting of rabbits on agricultural land, and uses the wording

"Provided that this section shall not render unlawful the shooting of rabbits on any agricultural land".

There seems to be a grey area, because some landowners in Northern Ireland do not own the shooting rights to their land and are not, therefore, in a position to authorise third parties. I am sure that the Minister would agree with this. The position in Northern Ireland is slightly different: while an occupier may have permission to harvest a crop off a piece of land, he may not have the authority to let people on to his land to shoot rabbits and control vermin. The wording of section 7(a) of the Game Preservation Act (Northern Ireland ) 1928 should be changed to,

"Provided that this section shall not render unlawful the shooting of rabbits at any time by authorised persons".

Such wording would ensure that the legislation is clear, reasonable and of benefit to landowners and those with the shooting rights of the land.

I welcome the legislation and the efforts that have been made to create it. We have waited four years for this, therefore it is good to know that on 1 September partridge shooting on Rathlin Island, Copeland Islands, Rosemount, Ballywalter, Portaferry and other estates can be taken advantage of and that tourism potential and economic benefit can be created in all the boroughs and constituencies involved.

Mrs Carson:

I welcome the opportunity that the Game Preservation (Amendment) Bill gives us to redress parts of the Game Preservation Act (Northern Ireland) 1928. The amendment in clause 1(2) will extend the shooting season for partridges to commence on 1 September annually, and this will bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom, as partridge shoots commence in England, Scotland and Wales on that date.

Evidence so far suggests that with appropriate management, partridges can be fully mature on 1 September. As everyone knows, wild grey partridges are extinct here, so there should be no basis for any objections for sustainable conservation on that score.

The change to the close season will also create a positive incentive for conservation by encouraging more landowners to rear and release partridges in the wild, which enhances the commercial sustainability of shoots, making a much-needed contribution to our rural economy.

This legislation should end the confusion about the legal position on shooting rabbits at night-time and on Sundays, but it contains some unclear references. The reference to "agricultural land" that has been mentioned several times already should be removed. Land types are difficult to define in law, and, as we all know, rabbits do not confine themselves to just that. Any reference to a specific land type only compounds the lack of clarity the Bill is attempting to redress.

Present firearms legislation is strict and clearly governs where shooting may take place. The terminology used to describe people permitted to shoot rabbits should be "any authorised persons". Many people have pointed out that some land occupiers do not own the shooting rights to the land, and they would not be in a position to give authority for third persons to shoot over it.

Clause 1(3) gives powers to the Minister to vary the close season in relation to any kind of game, and that causes me concern. I urge that a clause be included in the legislation to ensure that there is consultation with relevant bodies and organisations before any variation to a close season takes place. That would allow a wide range of expertise to contribute to discussions on any change to the close season so that the most sensible option is chosen.

I am also concerned about Orders made by the Minister being subject to negative resolution. That would curtail any debate in the Assembly. Negative resolution must be changed to affirmative resolution to ensure what we all want — open and transparent Government.

I hope that the Minister will consider these points when wording the final Bill.

Mr M Murphy:

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. While supporting the Bill, I would like the Chairperson of the Environment Committee to reserve the matter until it reaches its Final Stage. I have difficulty with some of the terminology used.

Not all landowners own the shooting rights to their land and not all, therefore, are in a position to authorise a third party to shoot. There are particular means of letting land to a conacre, where the occupier has permission to take a crop, but in many instances he is not able to authorise just anyone to shoot on his land. The current wildlife legislation uses the term "authorised persons" to describe a broad spectrum of people who may shoot on certain lands. That is clearly defined in the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. I strongly recommend that similar terminology be used in the Game Preservation (Amendment) Bill. I will wait until the Final Stage to say anything more. Go raibh maith agat.

Mr Foster:

I thank Members for their comments, which have been very useful and have teased out many issues that we will look at. This is not a complex piece of legislation, and it has widespread support, particularly from people with an interest in game sport. We expect that it will bring some financial benefit locally, and it is widely accepted that it poses no threat to nature conservation. It also brings the partridge season here into line with the rest of the UK, and it should be seen as the Assembly’s responding positively to modest representations for a change that reaps some benefit to the rural economy.

Rural economy issues are important at all times, but particularly so at present with the crisis in farming and tourism. Providing a sustainable basis for the rural economy is vitally important. Some very interesting points have been made, and I will try to address some of the questions raised by Members.

With regard to the Minister’s being able to make future amendments to the close season for all types of game by Order, there was a view that the provisions of the Game Preservation (Northern Ireland) Act 1928 allowed for any changes to the close seasons to be affected by subordinate legislation, although this was not absolutely clear. Therefore, in order to clear up any such confusion, the proposed amendment to section 7(3) of the 1928 Act will allow me to make future amendments to the close season for all types of game by Order. The use of subordinate legislation procedures of course carries the requirement to consult publicly, and that includes the Environment Committee, which was Mrs Carson’s point.

The benefit of this proposal is that I will be able to make minor changes such as the present extension proposal without recourse to the lengthy and costly primary legislation procedure, which is designed for more major and complicated issues. This was seen as a technical amendment and was not included in the consultation. I apologise if Members thought that this was inappropriate, and I will note it for the future.

Reference was made to the threat to the rabbit population. I have been advised that there is no perceived threat to rabbits, and, in fact, their numbers are possibly increasing slightly. If there were ever any evidence of rabbit extinction, I would take appropriate steps to protect them.

On the change to the description of persons who can lawfully shoot rabbits on agricultural land, the 1928 Act restricts the lawful shooting of rabbits on any agricultural land to the occupier or any person resident with or employed by him. This reflects the nature and culture of landowning at the time.

The proposed change is now to allow the shooting of rabbits by a person so authorised by the occupier or owner. This change brings the legislation into line with the current practice where landowners or occupiers may give permission, or may ask a person who is expert in this field, to shoot pest rabbits. Since the change is of a minor and uncontentious nature, it was not included in the consultation process. I recognise the points that have been made about the definition of "agricultural land" and will take this issue on board.

Reference was also made to the financial aspects. The syndicate which has the shooting rights on Rathlin Island, in support of the argument in the change of the legislation, stated that it could mean up to an extra £70,000 as well as some spin-off for the local economy by way of travel, accommodation, meals and entertainment. As a result of subsequent enquiries, my officials estimated the possible potential revenue for Rathlin Island as being 10 days for 10 people at £350 a day per person, giving a figure of £35,000. There would also be additional revenue by way of accommodation, meals and entertainment and, while it is difficult to put a precise figure on it, this was estimated to be in the region of £150 to £200 per person, which would represent an additional £15,000 to £20,000.

In the case of the Copeland Islands syndicate, the market clients are largely from the USA and are normally accompanied by their families. This syndicate was planning an additional four days of shooting at £3,500 per party per day. There would be associated revenue by way of accommodation, meals, and so on, which could be broadly similar to that for Rathlin Island. Therefore there are additional benefits as far as those groups are concerned.

Some people referred to the immaturity of birds. The advice given to me, and to Members, is that no responsible manager would release birds if they were immature. My officials advise me that normally the birds are mature in September. The eggs are usually laid in April and May, which allows time for maturity and adaptation to the wild. The Bill has not been opposed by the Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside, by my Department’s statutory adviser on nature conservation matters or by the majority of other people consulted. In addition, the Bill has the support locally of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and other shooting interests.

I am aware of some concerns in different places, and I am glad that those issues have been teased out. The Department of the Environment will take them into consideration. I hope that I have addressed some of the questions raised by Members. I am sorry if any questions or points have been overlooked, but departmental officials will scrutinise Hansard, and I will write to anyone whose question has not been fully answered.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Second Stage of the Game Preservation (Amendment) Bill (NIA Bill 15/00) be agreed.

12.45 pm


Department for Learning and Employment Bill: Consideration Stage

Mr Speaker:

Members should have a copy of the Marshalled List of Amendments detailing the order for consideration. The four amendments to clause one and the amendment to the long title — since they are all on the same subject — have been grouped together in the provisional grouping of amendments selected list. Therefore, when I call the Minister to propose the first amendment, I ask that he and other Members who wish to speak to any of the amendments speak then in any debate that may follow, and I will subsequently put the amendments in the usual way.

Clause 1 (Renaming of Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment)

The Minister of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment (Dr Farren):

I beg to move amendment 1. In page 1, line 4 leave out "Learning and Employment" and insert

"Employment and Learning".

The following amendments stood on the Marshalled List:

No 2 (clause 1): In page 1, line 9, leave out "Learning and Employment" and insert

"Employment and Learning".

No 3 (clause 1): In page 1, line 13, leave out "Learning and Employment" and insert

"Employment and Learning".

No 4 (clause 1): In page 1, line 15, leave out "Learning and Employment" and insert

"Employment and Learning".

No 5 (long title): In the long title, leave out "Learning and Employment" and insert

"Employment and Learning".

The Bill and the amendments to it propose a change in the name of the "Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment". Members may recall that during the Second Stage of the Bill, in April, I set out reasons for changing the name. Its undue length causes practical problems and its acronym, DHFETE, is unfortunate.

After much deliberation I decided that the title ought to be "the Department for Learning and Employment". Having discussed the title with the Committee for Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment I have agreed that an alternative formulation would be more acceptable. Therefore I have tabled five amendments which alter the order of the words "Learning" and "Employment". The amendments change the proposed new title to "the Department for Employment and Learning".

I trust that Members will agree that the shorter title is easier to say and, more importantly, reflects the Department’s responsibilities for lifelong learning and preparing people for employment. The resulting acronym, DEL, is acceptable and more positive than DHFETE.


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