§ 2.56 p.m.
§ Lord Moran asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ Whether the Welsh Office has written to the technical consultants to Newport Borough Council's River Usk regeneration project giving what the council claims to be preliminary approval to a design for a fish pass for the proposed Usk barrage and saying that "the proposed design for the fish pass should enable an effective fish passage situation to be achieved".
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, in response to an approach from Newport Borough Council's consultants, the Welsh Office indicated by letter on 21st March that the design proposals for a fish pass to be incorporated in 982 to the proposed River Usk barrage should enable an effective fish pass to be achieved. The letter went on to state that that was a preliminary view which did not amount to an approval under the terms of the relevant legislation and was offered without prejudice to formal consideration of any future application to the Secretary of State for provisional approval under the terms of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful Answer. Does he think that it was sensible for the Welsh Office to write such a letter which created such widespread confusion since, as he made clear, it was not giving provisional approval to the fish pass? The result of its letter was that Newport Borough Council issued a press release headed:Usk Barrage fish pass receives approval from Agriculture and Fisheries Welsh Office".That in turn resulted in a number of press reports in Welsh newspapers indicating that the fish pass had been approved. Was it not also strange that the Welsh Office concluded that the fish pass would resolve the difficult and possibly insoluble problem of fish passage, given the fact that the NRA regarded that fish pass design as unsatisfactory; the discussions were going on, not on that design but on a different design; and that the fish pass did not deal with the problems of a shortened estuary and the impoundment of water above the barrage? In those circumstances, was it not a mistake to write that letter?
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, we consider it reasonable to comment upon preliminary drawings which fish pass promoters may provide in advance of a formal submission for the Secretary of State's approval. That is a practice which saves time and possible abortive work and expenditure for the promoter and other parties involved. The action in this case was entirely in line with previous practice. In the past, the NRA and its water authority predecessors in England and Wales have made use of that informal assistance when they were the promoters of fish pass proposals.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, quite apart from the fish problem, is the noble Lord aware that there is widespread worry about the broader environmental consequences of the barrage? Specifically, do the Government accept the demands of the National Rivers Authority for a full environmental survey before this scheme commences?
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, the National Rivers Authority has been closely involved in discussions with the promoters. Of course we shall consult them at the appropriate stage. The Government's position is that we are waiting for an economic appraisal and an environmental assessment of the barrage proposals before expressing any further views.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, I preface my supplementary question by reminding the House that I sponsored the River Usk Barrage Bill on its Second Reading. Does the Minister agree that it is incumbent upon the promoters of the Bill to discuss with the Welsh Office first the fish pass and then the barrage itself? It is also incumbent on them to discuss water 983 quality and fisheries and, we hope, to reach agreement with the National Rivers Authority. Does the Minister agree that the promoters had every right—indeed, a duty—to o seek the view of the Welsh Office and that the Welsh Office was perfectly correct in giving that view? Does he further agree that the promoters are doing everything they possibly can to discuss with all authorities in a proper manner what we hope should be considered before the Bill goes into Committee in this House?
§ Baroness Phillips
My Lords, can the Minister explain to a mere townee whether it is the fish that receive the pass or the fishermen?
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
My Lords, perhaps I may press the Minister slightly on one matter on which he has already spoken. Whatever the advice tendered by the Welsh Office officials, can he confirm that it should be agreed with the National Rivers Authority?
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, can the noble Lord clarify that? Is he saying that the National Rivers Authority may carry out a survey of the environment and in the meantime the scheme will not go ahead?
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, does the Minister recall that the last words spoken in this House by the late noble and gallant Viscount, Lord De Lisle, were to ask whether the Government would support the National Rivers Authority on this problem? Will the noble Lord assure the House that in future the Welsh Office and the National Rivers Authority will co-operate in considering all aspects of the problem, especially the fish pass?