All 14 contributions to the Fisheries Act 2020

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Wed 29th Jan 2020
Fisheries Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

1st reading & 1st reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 1st reading (Hansard) & 1st reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 11th Feb 2020
Fisheries Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Mon 2nd Mar 2020
Fisheries Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard)
Mon 2nd Mar 2020
Fisheries Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard - continued) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard - continued): House of Lords & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard - continued)
Wed 4th Mar 2020
Fisheries Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard)
Wed 4th Mar 2020
Fisheries Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard - continued) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard - continued): House of Lords & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard - continued)
Mon 9th Mar 2020
Fisheries Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard)
Mon 9th Mar 2020
Fisheries Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard - continued) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard - continued): House of Lords & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard - continued)
Mon 22nd Jun 2020
Fisheries Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report: 1st sitting & Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords & Report stage
Wed 1st Jul 2020
Fisheries Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 3rd reading
Tue 1st Sep 2020
Fisheries Bill [Lords]
Commons Chamber

Ways and Means resolution & 2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & Money resolution & Money resolution: House of Commons & Programme motion & Programme motion: House of Commons & Ways and Means resolution & Ways and Means resolution: House of Commons & 2nd reading & Programme motion & Money resolution
Tue 13th Oct 2020
Fisheries Bill [Lords]
Commons Chamber

Report stage & 3rd reading & 3rd reading & 3rd reading: House of Commons & Report stage & Report stage: House of Commons
Thu 12th Nov 2020
Fisheries Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments & Ping Pong (Hansard) & Ping Pong (Hansard): House of Lords & Ping Pong (Minutes of Proceedings): House of Lords
Mon 23rd Nov 2020
Royal Assent
Lords Chamber

Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent (Hansard) & Royal Assent: Royal Assent (Hansard) & Royal Assent (Hansard) & Royal Assent: Royal Assent (Hansard)

Fisheries Bill [HL]

1st reading & 1st reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 1st reading (Hansard)
Wednesday 29th January 2020

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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First Reading
15:37
A Bill to make provision in relation to fisheries, fishing, aquaculture and marine conservation; to make provision about the functions of the Marine Management Organisation; and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Gardiner of Kimble, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Fisheries Bill [HL]

2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading
Tuesday 11th February 2020

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Second Reading
16:04
Moved by
Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Gardiner of Kimble) (Con)
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My Lords, as we are an island nation, our seas are integral to our history, economy and culture, so it is a great privilege to open this debate. A rich diversity of fish and shellfish provides us with nutritious, valuable food and employment. I recognise at the outset the dangers of this harvest: seven lives were lost in 2019, and I pay tribute to the bravery of those at sea and their families.

Together with the Agriculture Bill and the Environment Bill, this Bill creates a strong and legally binding framework to deliver this Government’s ambition to leave the natural environment in a better state than we inherited it. It is crucial that we are successful. The Government’s vision is to build a sustainable fishing industry, with healthy seas and a fair deal for UK fishing interests. This Bill is a key step towards delivering that vision.

Fisheries management is complex and requires responsive, science-based policy-making. Data on fish stocks must be gathered and analysed. The safe levels of exploitation of those stocks must be considered, as well as the allocation of those resources and the granting of rights to use them. On top of this are technical rules on matters ranging from the use of types of fishing gear to minimum landing sizes of species—all required to allow the harvest of our fish while avoiding damage to stocks and the environment.

The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 ensures that the existing legislative framework to manage our fisheries remains in place after the transition period. Along with earlier pieces of fisheries legislation, this Bill gives us the powers needed to manage our fisheries more effectively in future, ensuring that we can meet our international obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea—UNCLOS—and the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement—UNFSA—and become a global leader in fisheries management as befits our island nation.

The Bill’s objectives for sustainable fisheries management ensure a UK-wide framework to manage the fish that live in UK waters. We have worked closely with the devolved Administrations in developing this framework to ensure that our approach fully respects the devolution settlements, while recognising that we have a shared responsibility to protect our marine environment and to support a thriving industry across the UK. The Bill provides the powers to manage and support the recreational sea fishing community too, as well as the commercial sector.

First and foremost, this Bill confirms in law our commitment to environmentally, economically and socially sustainable fishing. Healthy fish stocks are the basis of a thriving and profitable fishing industry. We must therefore ensure that we apply science-based management approaches both to the benefit of the environment but also, crucially, to the long-term profitability of our fishing industry.

This Bill takes and reforms the EU’s sustainable fishing objectives and commits to a new, ambitious set of UK objectives, which are in the Bill. These include a climate change objective, to ensure that the impacts of the fishing industry on climate change are minimised while ensuring that fisheries management adapts to a changing climate; objectives to further the collection of scientific evidence across the Administrations and to take the precautionary approach to fisheries management in the absence of such evidence; and the national benefit objective, which seeks to ensure that a benefit to the UK is felt as a result of UK boats fishing stocks from UK waters—the first time such a requirement has been included in our legislation.

The Bill requires the Government and devolved Administrations to set out in a joint fisheries statement how we will together contribute to the achievement of the objectives. Our intention is for all policies that achieve the objectives to be included in the joint fisheries statement. There is, however, a provision in the Bill to allow the Secretary of State to set out reserved or non-devolved policy in a Secretary of State fisheries statement.

The Bill includes the requirement to produce fisheries management plans, alongside the devolved Administrations where appropriate, delivering on our manifesto commitment. These plans will set out on a stock-by-stock or fisheries basis our plans for achieving the sustainability of those stocks. The plans go further than we have gone before in relation to stocks, for which assessing sustainability is much harder. Many of these are valuable shellfish stocks. The plans commit us, in those circumstances where we do not have the scientific data to assess their health, to develop the scientific evidence base on which we will then be able to do so. The fisheries statements and the fisheries management plans will be legally binding.

The Bill also extends the powers of the Marine Management Organisation and the devolved Administrations to protect the marine environment, strengthening them so that they can be used to restore and enhance, as well as conserve, the marine environment.

Secondly, the Bill creates the powers that the UK needs to operate as an independent coastal state and fulfil our international obligations. From 2021, the UK will be an independent coastal state, able to control who can fish in our waters. We will be responsible for setting annual total allowable catches of fish species within our waters. For stocks that are shared with other coastal states such as the EU and Norway, we will negotiate to agree fishing quotas. Currently, the EU distributes quotas between its member states using a principle called relative stability, which provides a fixed percentage of quota based on fishing patterns from the 1970s. This gives an unfair share of quota to UK fishers, not reflective of what is found in UK waters, and so we will negotiate to move towards a fairer, more scientific method for the allocation of shared stocks.

The Bill will put in place the powers we need to operate as an independent coastal state by allowing us to set fishing opportunities and to determine which vessels may enter our waters. Any decisions about giving vessels from the EU and any other coastal states access to our waters will be a matter for negotiation. This Bill provides the framework to enable us to implement whatever is agreed internationally. For example, it ensures that should we negotiate access to our waters, vessels from other coastal states will have to hold a licence. This is equitable and ensures a level playing field between UK and foreign boats.

Enforcement in UK waters is a devolved matter, and each fisheries administration is responsible for control and enforcement in their waters. In England, the Marine Management Organisation has assessed, and continues to assess, the levels of enforcement capacity required for fisheries protection and the options for best delivering this. It is undertaking a significant increase in the number of personnel and surveillance assets relating to fisheries protection, with a sizeable increase in support, much of which is already in place. We are committed to continuing to work closely with our neighbours to ensure the sustainable management of shared fish stocks.

Thirdly, the Bill introduces powers to make reforms to our fishing industries across the Administrations, while respecting the devolution settlements. Many of the regulations that form the common fisheries policy will be retained as part of UK law, providing legal certainty to fishers at the end of the transition period. It is right that while the Bill gives us the powers to move away from this law, we make evidence-based changes.

The management of fisheries is devolved and this Bill respects that. Officials from the devolved Administrations have been closely involved in the development of the provisions in the Bill. I am pleased to say that the Bill reflects this joint working by legislating on behalf of the devolved Administrations in some areas, at their request. In most cases, the powers provided are equivalent to those provided for the Secretary of State in the Bill, within the devolved Administrations’ competence.

The dynamic nature of our fisheries, and the importance of keeping pace with scientific developments, mean that both the Government and the devolved Administrations, at their requests, need powers to amend the highly technical regulations governing rules such as the size of fishing nets or the grading of fish, and to amend measures so that we can control aquatic animal disease.

Beyond this, the Bill creates new schemes to help fishing fleets thrive across the UK. These include broadening grant-making powers, creating powers for England and Wales to tender some of the additional quota received after we become an independent coastal state, and establishing a new scheme to help the fishing industry comply with the landing obligation in England.

The Bill also makes a technical correction to the Welsh devolution settlement by extending the competence of the National Assembly for Wales in relation to fisheries in the Welsh offshore zone, from 12 nautical miles to 30 nautical miles at its greatest extent. The Welsh Government previously devolved Executive responsibilities in this area.

These new powers for the four fisheries administrations ensure that the fishing industry across the UK can be supported appropriately. However, in some areas, it makes sense to continue having a common approach. The Bill creates common approaches where the Government and the devolved Administrations have agreed this is necessary—for example, a joint approach to managing the access of foreign vessels through licences given by the single issuing authority.

I am pleased to say that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee published an exceptional and highly positive report relating to the powers contained in the previous Bill. We await its report into this Bill with considerable interest. It should be noted that there are no additional delegated powers contained in this Bill, beyond the extension of some powers to the devolved Administrations, at their request. It is important that we are clear to your Lordships and the other place on precisely what these powers are about, why some of them are extremely technical and why it is important that we take advantage of them as we have more technological advances. Where we have legislated within devolved competence, we have sought legislative consent from the devolved legislatures. Our objective is to ensure that the fishing industry across the UK is supported and can thrive under the governance of the relevant fisheries administration.

The Bill puts sustainability at the front and centre of our future fisheries management policy. It sets us on a path to building a sustainable and profitable fishing industry, with healthy seas and a fair deal for UK fishing interests. Importantly, it respects and enhances the devolution settlements, giving the devolved legislatures more powers and responsibilities than they have ever had. It will allow us to control access to our waters by foreign fishing boats, and, for the first time in 45 years, to place equitable rules on them while they are in our waters.

A sustainable harvest of our waters is our objective. The objectives in the Bill make the direction of our future policy abundantly clear. The future of our fishing fleet is intrinsically bound up with the vitality of the marine ecosystem. There are noble Lords here who have considerable experiences of fisheries, some as former Fisheries Ministers. Seafaring and fishing the seas have a very long history, and many in the fishing fleets feel that they have not been cared for. This is an opportunity for us all to ensure prosperity for this important British industry. I emphasise that this will be possible only if we are, above all, wise custodians.

I beg to move.

16:19
Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to this important and strategic Bill.

In the region of 470 days has passed since the Government published the first version of their Fisheries Bill, back in October 2018. The then Secretary of State, Michael Gove, spoke of how the Government was finally putting our hard-working fishers and hard-up coastal communities first after years of them being ignored and undermined by the workings of the common fisheries policy of the EU. However, as the Conservative Party found itself in trouble and its numbers in the Commons began to fall, this Bill was mysteriously stalled before Report. It never made it to your Lordships’ House—meaning that we are now looking at implementing an entirely new fisheries regime on an accelerated timetable. That hardly provides the due consideration to bring the clarity that UK fishers urgently require.

I am sure we will hear some of the same rhetoric from the Minister today, but we are all serious about improving the prospects of the UK’s fishing industry and coastal communities. The Minister shares this commitment—he has demonstrated that in his correspondence and briefing to Peers, for which we are most grateful—but Labour needs to be sure that this Bill does all that it needs to do to have confidence in the Government’s proposals.

I certainly welcome the more collaborative approach that has been adopted with the devolved Administrations. We have not always seen such a productive approach in relation to Brexit legislation. The priority now is to instil the further confidence that devolved Ministers will be able to play their role in shaping the delivery of the new regime, with the inclusion of their priorities.

As was the case with the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill—and as we will see with the Agriculture Bill and Environment Bill when they reach this House—the Government have chosen to amend the legislation following the recent election. Following some of the criticisms of the original Bill, many of these changes are welcome. However, some need to be enhanced further. For example, we recognise and appreciate the clarity provided by the new Clause 1. This replicates and adds to the number of principles and objectives which underpin the common fisheries policy that has governed access to British waters in previous decades. However, the clause does not include the necessary objective to land fish from British waters at British ports if it is to bring prosperity back to coastal communities.

Several other aspects of the Bill do not quite meet Labour’s hopes and expectations. The Minister will tell us that the Bill has sustainability at its heart, and I agree. However, there is a worrying lack of detail over the Government’s plans regarding maximum sustainable yield. The common fisheries policy has disappointed in relation to the protection of fish stocks, but we will need more detail from the Minister to be confident that the new regime will present a genuine step forward. As part of that, we will explore mechanisms for the Government to provide periodic reports to Parliament on the impacts of their new fisheries regime.

We also see in the Bill that the Government have inserted new commitments on climate change. This is great news. However, there is no mention of how fishers will be assisted in cutting down on the use of harmful plastics or adopting the use of greener technologies, both at sea and during processing. Nor is there any statutory commitment for the sector to meet net-zero emissions. The challenge is that the Bill needs to bring across aspects of the commitment of public goods in other Defra Bills into this framework. There are areas where we would like to see real progress over the course of the next decade, and I certainly do not want us to look back on this Bill as a missed opportunity.

We are not alone with such concerns. While they acknowledge the progress made since publication of the first Bill, groups including the Marine Conservation Society and Greener UK have called for the toughening and tightening up of the Bill’s measures on climate change and ecosystem sustainability. We stand ready to work with those organisations and others to facilitate those debates. It is encouraging to see that your Lordships’ sub-committee report on discards has been well receive and that the Government have included new mechanisms in the Bill to tackle this. Amendments will be tabled in Committee to examine how this will work. We certainly welcome the increased responsibilities of the Marine Management Organisation.

Having promised to cut the much-derided red tape of Brussels, the Government have produced a second iteration of the Bill that has somehow become more cumbersome. The fishing industry needs the Government to understand that many regulations must be much clearer, more viable and realistic, in tune with the evidence from those who have to abide by them. After all, that was the promise made so frequently and forcibly during the campaigns.

Despite 40 pages having been added since the first Bill, the document omits other important topics. While we accept the need for a new licensing regime and a new power to set annual fishing quota opportunities, there is very little information on the interplay between the two. Will a boat need a licence to secure quota, or will having quota be a precondition of receiving a licence? How will the quota regime operate? What will happen with regard to the UK’s share of UK quotas on 1 January 2021? With Britain now an independent coastal state, will the Government unilaterally take back 100% of the quota on day one, before redistribution, or will they adopt a phased approach? Will Ministers seek continued access to non-British distant waters where some of the UK fleet has such an interest?

While the Bill introduces offences for illegal fishing, we do not yet know what enforcement will look like on the ground—or, rather, on the open seas. Recent media reports suggest that the Government are bolstering the number of both boats and personnel, but I know of colleagues, including my noble friend Lord West of Spithead, who want more detail; indeed, he has put down a Question on the Order Paper for tomorrow.

The Bill lacks detail on how fishers will be protected and conflict avoided. This will need to be tested long before the joint fisheries statement and the Secretary of State’s fisheries statement. In Committee, we will be probing the Government’s plans to ensure that a fair quota is allocated to small boats, facilitating the creation of new jobs at sea, in ports and in the food supply chain. There will be amendments to ensure that a majority of catch in UK waters is landed at UK ports, that UK-registered boats have the first option to take up further quota, that the Government retain a strategic reserve of quota to assist with achieving maximum sustainable yield and that foreign vessels cannot undercut UK boats on safety or employment standards. The Minister referred in his opening remarks to the dangers faced by those at sea. Recognising this, we call for the raising of standards and not an undercutting of UK livelihoods.

I very much hope that the Minister and his colleagues in the Commons are willing to work collaboratively on this legislation. It can be improved and, whatever the changed circumstances in the other place, it is clearly in the interests of our fishers that the Government approach this process with a commitment to work with your Lordships’ House. We will be tabling a number of amendments, some of which we have already suggested to the Minister and his departmental officials. I very much hope that the responses to those amendments throughout Committee stage will be constructive and that, whether through government or opposition amendments, we will ultimately send a much-improved Bill to our colleagues in the House of Commons.

16:28
Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his informative introduction to this important Bill and for his time and that of the Minister of State for fisheries. I also thank those organisations who have sent me information, and in particular the House of Lords Library for its briefing, which was comprehensive and excellent.

It would be completely dishonest of me to pretend that I am an expert on fishery matters but, luckily, we do have an expert on our Benches in my noble friend Lord Teverson, so I will leave all technical matters to him and deal with those matters which I am able to comprehend—I have warned him of this.

I welcome this Bill, which is a definite step in the right direction of returning control of our fishing waters to the UK. Sustainability is everything. I believe this Bill moves us in the right direction of helping to preserve fish stocks and build up those in danger of being depleted. But I have grave concerns about the way in which sustainability is enshrined in the legal process of the Bill.

As we have heard, there are eight objectives at the beginning, which at first glance look sensible but on more careful examination appear, in some cases, to contradict each other. Clause 1(2)(a)(i) clarifies the first of those—the sustainability objective—as meaning that activities must be

“environmentally sustainable in the long term”.

But in paragraph (a)(ii) there is a commitment to

“achieve economic, social and employment benefits and contribute to the availability of food supplies”.

I believe that is at odds with the preceding statement in sub-paragraph (i). Sustainability and economic benefits are not easy bedfellows, and the Government will have their work cut out to ensure that the Bill produces both. I am sure we will return to this subject in Committee.

The Bill sets out the need to produce both a joint fisheries statement and fisheries management plans. As with everything, planning ahead is essential both to secure economic investment in equipment and to preserve stocks. But under the procedure rules, we read that the fisheries policy authorities may, at any time, prepare and publish a replacement joint fisheries statement or amendments to a joint fisheries statement. I am sure there will be good reasons for this, but I fear that it will not lead to security for our fishermen. It is also unlikely that chopping and changing the JFS will lead to sustainability.

There is no timeframe in the Bill for the preparation and implementation of fisheries management plans. I ask the Minister whether there is an anticipated timetable when all species will be covered by individual FMPs. It is essential to sustainable fishing that these plans should be in place as quickly as possible.

The joint fisheries statement must be reviewed every six years from the day on which it is first published. So far, so good. But the reports on fisheries statements and fisheries management plans must be published every three years, for each subsequent three-year period. There will, of course, be only one overarching joint fisheries statement, but there will be a fisheries management plan for each species of fish to be caught in our waters. Those two are inextricably linked, so I am curious as to why different timeframes have been specified. Perhaps the Minister would care to comment.

I am also concerned that a fisheries management plan will refer, among other criteria, to a “geographical area”. Fish are not like cows or pigs in being able to be corralled into a specific area; they are completely free creatures. Of course they will have their preferred spawning grounds, but we are beginning to see that the pattern of fish movements is changing. Cod are moving further north, as climate change begins to warm the waters further south. Mackerel are being caught by the pelagic fleets and are no longer making their way down to Cornwall in what was the traditional mackerel-fishing season. I am, therefore, intrigued as to how fisheries management plans will specify geographical areas for some species of fish. Perhaps the Minister could clarify this point in his summing up.

I am somewhat addicted to television documentaries that deal with real people in real situations. “Helicopter ER” and “Saving Lives at Sea” are among my favourites. I have, therefore, been watching the six-week series about fishing around the coast of Cornwall. This is fascinating, dealing for the most part with the lives of those who own or work on vessels under 10 metres. Each weekly programme begins with a series of clips of fishermen around Cornwall, generally fishing for different species. But the message is the same: young men with families are struggling to make a living from their traditional career—and it is a career. We see young men following in their fathers’ footsteps, learning the trade from them, working alongside them, borrowing from them, and saving to buy their own boats and start out on their own. But this is a rough and hard trade.

For me, one of the most poignant scenes was the harbour front at Mousehole one evening in the middle of winter: there was not a light from a house to be seen. All were either holiday lets or second homes. The fishermen were housed up on the hill outside the town in social housing, which was all they could afford. The average wage was £15,000; the average house price £300,000. The fishermen’s cottages on the quayside, which they would previously have occupied, were now well out of their price range, snapped up by those who visit for their annual holidays or the odd week. This cannot be right. We are a nation of coastal waters. Up and down the country, we see local people engaged in essential work that is not highly paid being priced out of their villages by second-home owners and holiday lets. While the tourist trade is an important part of many rural and coastal economies, it really is time the Government grasped this nettle and did something about a tourist tax and second-home owners. Sorry, that is the end of the rant.

There is a vast difference between the pelagic fishing fleets and the smaller vessels under 10 metres that operate inshore and off the coasts of our country. I have seen some very interesting adaptations to boats that have had the end cut off in order to bring them under the 10 metre rule. Those fishermen operating on such vessels represent 79% of the fleet but hold only 2% of the quota. Some 20% of the vessels are the large pelagic fleet, which receive the vast majority of the quota. There is a desperate need for fishing quotas to be redistributed to bring a much fairer share to the smaller fishers who are struggling to make a living. The UK’s fishing quota is owned or controlled by just five families. I ask the Minister to give assurances that these inequalities will be effectively dealt with in the Bill.

There is concern that a legal maximum sustainable yield for each stock, which was a commitment in the Conservative manifesto, will not be achieved if scientific evidence is not used to determine what an individual stock’s MSY should be. Since there is currently no fail-safe mechanism for ensuring that the total allowance catch is not exceeded, just how will the MSY be arrived at and how will it be monitored and policed?

When it comes to the Marine Management Organisation granting licences to foreign fishing boats to fish within British fishery limits, I fear that, for me at least, the Bill causes confusion. The MMO will grant licences but only for use outside of the devolved Administrations’ waters, but boats licensed by the Scottish Minister will be valid throughout all UK waters. Can Minister explain just how this will work in practice?

I welcome the licensing of foreign vessels. This is essential to ensure that the total allowable catch is not exceeded and our own fishing fleets are able to prosper, but it is also important that TACs are set at a level that is supported by ICES scientific advice, not set higher due to pressure from the large pelagic fleet owners.

There is a great deal of technical detail and some loopholes in the Bill, which we will return to in Committee. I shall finish by raising Clause 23(6), which allows the Secretary of State to set a catch or effort quota of zero, or to replace a quota already set, provided that this is done before the end of the relevant calendar year. What will happen if the Secretary of State adjusts a quota down to below the amount of fish already taken in that year, thus making the catch over quota? What will happen to the unlucky culprit who has fished according to his or her quota but then suddenly finds himself in breach of the legal limit? I look forward to the Minister’s response.

16:38
Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)
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My Lords, I suggest that the Fisheries Bill to which we are giving a Second Reading today is no more than a picture frame without a picture. What that picture will be—the detailed shape of Britain’s new post-Brexit fisheries policies—remains as shrouded in mystery as ever. I note that I am the first person speaking in this debate who has even recognised that quite a lot of this will have to be thrashed out in negotiation with the European Union and Norway and cannot just be decided unilaterally by us—although we will of course have a much bigger say than we had before we left the EU. Moreover, as with other aspects of post-Brexit legislation, the detailed implementation and filling-out of that picture is very much conferred in wide-ranging powers for the Executive, with only a pretty vestigial role for Parliaments and Assemblies.

Thirdly, while I note what the Minister said about fisheries being a devolved subject, and due account of that having been taken, there is not a lot about how the devolved Administrations in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast are to be brought into policy-making for a sector of great importance to their economies and electorates—of proportionally greater importance, incidentally, than it is to the English economy.

That is quite a long list of gaps that I hope the Minister will fill when he replies to this debate. With regard to filling in the details of that picture, I have not the slightest intention of asking the Government to divulge their negotiating position in the talks, which will probably get under way in March—even if they knew what it was, which I rather doubt. I will be neither surprised nor particularly disappointed if the Minister says that at this stage he will not go into that detail. But it is important to go into those negotiations, which will inevitably be tough and difficult, with a set of realistic and realisable objectives, not just a collection of slogans and mantras—which is all that has been unveiled in the past three and a half years. We should also be prepared to reach compromises along the way, since an all-or-nothing approach would be all too likely to inflict damage well beyond the fisheries sector itself.

It is not rocket science to suggest that any decent deal will have to cover three crucial elements. The first, and most sensitive, will be access by other parties to fishing grounds lying within our exclusive economic zone and territorial waters. Secondly, there will need to be shared arrangements for fish stocks in those waters, particularly the North and Irish Seas and the English Channel. The third crucial item will be the tariff and phytosanitary control arrangements applying to both our exports and imports. If we gave total priority to one of those three, or excluded one of them from consideration, the results would not be as we wished.

Access to waters is a hugely sensitive issue. It is not a new one, nor did it first arise in the context of our membership of the European Union or the common fisheries policy. In 1964, when the Government of the day decided to extend Britain’s territorial waters from six to 12 miles, we negotiated the London Convention, which gave what were called historic rights to continue to fish in our waters to a number of European countries. At that time, it is important to remember, we were not a member of the EU, and the common fisheries policy did not exist. That has to be borne in mind, because that history will be on the table when we come to negotiate. It will not decide how we handle it, but it needs to be taken into account. That is not just a legal issue—I am not making a legal point here at all—but a political issue: what is pragmatic and practical. I believe that an all-or-nothing approach to that issue will work to our disadvantage.

There is then the hugely important issue of shared management and conservation of stocks. That must be a shared responsibility with the EU and with Norway, given the inconvenient tendency of fish not to know when they are crossing a boundary. In the earlier years of the common fisheries policy, that issue was badly mishandled and stocks were grievously damaged, with decisions taken that rode roughshod over scientific advice. That must not happen again, and I recognise that it is one of the aims of the Government in this legislation, which I welcome. We must not slip back into that period where the politics of allocating shared stocks gained over the science. Neither, again, should we take an all-or-nothing approach.

The third element is the trade in fish and fish products. Over the 47 years that we have been in the EU, we have benefited, of course, from zero tariffs, zero quotas and common phytosanitary rules. They have covered our exports and our imports of fish and fish products, both wild and farmed. Those exports have grown exponentially during that period. They are pretty substantial now, as they were not when all this started. That gives the possible outcome on access to fisheries markets great importance, and we should not delude ourselves that, if we acted in a way that led to the loss of those continental markets, we would be able to replace them quite easily, because that is not the nature of this highly perishable product.

On devolution, I will merely say that every aspect of our new fisheries policy will directly or indirectly involve the devolved Administrations, so it will be important to build them from the outset into the negotiating and implementing process—all the more so as fisheries are such an important subject for them. The alternative, to have a kind of running battle between the devolved Administrations and the UK Government, will only feed the fissiparous tendencies already undermining the unity of the United Kingdom.

So it is a complex picture, but I see no reason why our fishing industry should not emerge quite a lot better placed than it is now, so long as we do not insist on negotiating overreach and do not play about with fancy ideas of linkages with other sectors, of the sort that were put forward recently by the Taoiseach when he suggested some kind of linkage with financial services. That would make a balanced fisheries deal on the three crucial decisions that I have suggested far more difficult to reach, and it would be a mistake if we went down that road.

16:49
Baroness Byford Portrait Baroness Byford (Con)
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My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. Perhaps I should be more upbeat than he was, but he has wide experience and knowledge which I certainly recognise.

This is an important, positive Bill; it has many challenges and, as the noble Lord said, it is a complex picture, so there are no easy solutions. But I welcome the Bill and the changes made to the original Bill debated in the Commons over a year ago. At the end of December this year, the UK will no longer be constrained by the common fisheries policy, which I believe has failed to protect fish stocks, the seabed or its marine life.

As others have said, the Bill gives the UK powers to establish a sustainable approach to the way in which fishing will be allowed in future years. But successful changes can be achieved only by the devolved Administrations working closely together. The Bill creates a common approach, preserving the right of UK vessels and any licensed foreign vessels to fish across our four zones in United Kingdom waters. The Bill sets out detailed objectives, and I am pleased, like others, to see a climate change objective in there as well. It requires joint fisheries statements, fisheries management plans and reports to be laid and reviewed.

I will turn directly to the practice of discarding. Only two weeks ago we had a debate on the EU Select Committee’s reports on the EU fisheries landing obligation, in which the Minister acknowledged that the landing of undersized fish had increased, but not by the amount that was anticipated. The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations is pleased to see in the Government’s proposals a discard prevention charge scheme, recognising the importance of reducing discards. It will give a truer picture and truer data of the fish stocks that are collected and whether they are landed in a proper way rather than just thrown over the side. We need to know about the fish stocks’ long-term ability to reproduce.

I take this opportunity to put on record the valuable work done by the then Fisheries Minister, Richard Benyon, when he introduced the fisheries landing scheme. Further improvements have been made in this Bill. Last year Mr Benyon was asked to review the highly protected marine areas, which I think will add substance once we come to debate this in Committee.

In becoming an independent coastal state, the United Kingdom will have the power to set catch limits for all vessels. Foreign boats wishing to fish in UK waters will have to follow UK rules, abide by catch limits set and, I hope, be required to have remote electronic monitoring equipment on those vessels. I would be grateful if the Minister would clarify this when he responds.

Clause 44 creates new measures to help the Marine Management Organisation to protect marine ecosystems. Back in 2008, a POSTnote commented that, at that stage, no UK body had the responsibility of creating new marine conservation zones; nor were targets set for the area to be covered at that time. In this Bill, amendments to the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 confer powers to make by-laws and orders relating to the exploitation of sea fisheries resources. I ask the Minister: will that include the awful practice that has gone on for many years of bottom-trawling, which has devastated parts of the seabed? I also ask the Minister: if data is available for all areas around our coasts, are those shores fully mapped? If so, how far out to sea does such mapping information go? In looking at the 12-mile limit, have the Government considered, with regard to the seabed and marine conservation, whether it should be regarded in a similar way to the way we have planning on land? It is all too easy to forget what is under the sea because we do not see it, whereas we see it on land.

The Bill is of great importance. Those involved in catching fish work in rough seas and in some of the most demanding circumstances. Indeed, my noble friend said that, tragically, seven of them lost their lives last year. The fish caught and returned to UK shores bring additional jobs to local communities and provide us with good nutritious food. While, as has been said, most of the fish caught by UK fishermen is actually exported to the European Union and other areas and the proportion consumed in the UK is very low, I look to the Bill to enable us, through extra quotas, to eat more of the fish that we catch in this country than has been possible in the past, and that the fish landed will be sold and consumed directly through UK markets. Fishermen will be looking to the Bill to bring certainty for their future. Catches taken must be decided on the best scientific data available, stocks protected and fishing licences granted on actual known stocks, rather than on historic agreements.

ln our desire to see healthy seas around our shores and more widely, we must not forget the continuing need to tackle plastic waste. Whether we are fishermen, individual recreational fishers or simply people who care about our oceans, the Bill is surely a step in the right direction. There will be much to do but I welcome and support it.

16:55
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
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My Lords, this is a really historic Bill. For the first time in 50 years, we can design our own fisheries policy; it will be one of the few silver linings of Brexit, if we get it right. It will be a real test of the Government’s approach to the UK-EU negotiation. There will be lots of pushing and shoving between now and December, and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, rightly pointed out that there are big shares of quota at stake for other EU states and a big share of markets for us. We need to watch that the needs of sustainable fisheries do not get traded away for other trade-deal requirements

The Bill is an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate that, in totally rethinking how we manage our fisheries, we can ensure a sustainable future for the marine environment, the fishing industry and coastal communities, as the Minister said. Current fisheries policy, of course, is in no way sustainable. Government assessments have shown that we are not on track to meet the commitment to reach good environmental status and healthy seas by 2020. That is particularly so for fish stocks, shellfish, birds and benthic habitats. Last year, only 59% of UK fish stocks were fished at or below sustainable levels, down a whole 10% on the previous year. North Sea cod stocks have declined to critical levels, due to lax setting of quotas and failure to manage effectively. North Sea cod has lost its Marine Stewardship Council certification, with an impact on valuable market share. This is bad not only for the fish and the environment but for fishers and fishing communities.

The UK Government are currently challenging the global community to increase protection of the world’s oceans to 30% by 2030. If we are to do that without being laughed at, we need to demonstrate world-leading fisheries management and to measure this by recovery of nature and recovery of stocks. The Bill is a welcome improvement on the Bill in the previous 2017-19 Session, but it is very much a framework Bill, whose implementation raises many questions. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, called it a picture frame without a picture and I very much appreciate that analogy. I hope the Minister can give us some assurances about painting in the picture frame at the end of this debate, and I shall raise some of the issues on which I think further answers are needed.

I welcome the new climate-change objective in the Bill. We must ensure that it is about not just low-carbon fishing technology but the importance of recovering fish populations and restoring marine habitats, such as kelp forests, deep sediments and coastal seagrass meadows, as effective natural solutions to tackling the twin emergencies of climate change and biodiversity together.

My second anxiety concerns future trade deals with the EU and other states, where the Government are saying that fisheries negotiation will be a separate annual bilateral agreement. I thoroughly endorse that approach: we must avoid the overall UK-EU negotiation sliding into a link between access to UK waters for the EU states and other states and access to EU markets for us.

The Bill is very much a framework Bill, leaving a lot to the devolved Administrations and secondary legislation. I urge the Minister to let us see the secondary legislation in draft before it is laid or, even better, produce co-management arrangements involving all key stakeholders to ensure that the painting in of the picture that secondary legislation will represent suits all stakeholders.

Many of the objectives listed at the beginning of the Bill are to be applauded: the sustainability objective, the precautionary principle, an approach that involves ecosystems, the climate change objective and the importance of science and evidence-based decisions. However, somewhere in the mix we need a legal duty on relevant public authorities to achieve these objectives and be accountable by publishing specific regular reports on their achievement of the objectives, not just on their activities.

The Conservative manifesto promised

“a legal commitment to fish sustainably”,

but in the Bill there are no legally binding targets or timeframes for bringing unsustainable fisheries stocks to sustainable levels. I am sure the Minister will say that there will be fisheries management plans, but there is nothing in the Bill to say when these plans will be made, what they will cover and when the actions outlined in them will be achieved. I will talk about that in a moment.

There needs to be a legal commitment in the Bill not to fish above independent, scientifically recommended, sustainable levels. Even the rotten old common fisheries policy set catch limits in article 2 to be within maximum sustainable yield by 2020. In the Bill we simply have an aspirational objective to achieve a healthy biomass of stocks, a rather woolly objective that is neither legally enforceable nor subject to any deadline, to be taken forward by way of a policy statement that the Bill says can be disregarded in a wide variety of circumstances. All that represents a potential regression in environmental standards.

There is also no firm commitment to ensure that the stocks we share with other countries are managed sustainably. The Bill needs to set an objective for the Secretary of State in his or her negotiations with the EU and other countries to be directed by clear sustainability criteria, including a commitment to agree catch limits in line with scientific advice. We need to learn from past situations such as the interminable disputes over mackerel between the European Union, Norway, Iceland and the Faroes, which resulted in 35% overfishing and loss of MSC status for that catch. We share over 100 stocks with the European Union, so an effective, evidence-based process is important.

We used to call those the mackerel wars. I turn now to other potential wars. I regret that the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, is not in his place—I am sure he would have relished this. We need to think about monitoring and enforcement of our new approach, which the Minister touched on in his introduction. I hope the cod wars will not return; the circumstances are different now that territorial waters have been delineated, but can the Minister say exactly what resources—by way of ships, technological kit and monitoring offices—the Government envisage either to have been recently provided or to be provided in future?

In his response to the committee report of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on the landing obligation six months on, the Minister of State cited some interesting figures on Marine Management Organisation inspections annually since 2016. Inspections of onshore vessels and premises have greatly increased, but the number of inspections at sea, which are vital, has stayed completely flat. Can the Minister tell us the exact scale of additional resources for monitoring and enforcing under the new arrangements, at least in England, if he cannot speak for the devolved Administrations?

The major feature of the Bill is that it is a high-level framework—the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, about it being a picture frame with no picture is rather good. There are lots of stages that will follow the Bill and many a slip between cup and lip. The devolved Administrations will be in the driving seat in many cases and we need to see what proposals they will bring forward to paint this picture. The negotiation of a joint fisheries statement will, I suspect, be fraught and there is no guarantee that the joint fisheries policy statement will achieve the objectives outlined in the Bill or by when.

The national authorities have a “get out of jail free” card. The Bill specifies that they can disregard the policy statement where evidence changes. That might be regarded as admirable flexibility but it risks meaning that the fisheries objective will take priority, especially where the interests of the UK fishing industry are at stake. It can shout at the expense of fish stocks and biodiversity, which of course cannot shout.

Fisheries management plans will be important and much will hang on them, but they are optional. The only requirement on authorities in the legislation is to issue a statement explaining how they intend to use fisheries management plans. I suspect they will not come out with a statement saying that they do not think they will use fisheries management plans much. However, they could, given the way the Bill is framed. There must be a legal requirement for authorities to introduce fisheries management plans where stocks are currently fished above sustainable levels or for data-deficient stocks. There are no timescales for laying out or achieving the plans. We need statutory timescales. National authorities have a similar “get out of jail free” card on fisheries management plans, which could mean caving into socioeconomic pressures at the expense of environmental protection.

I started off thinking that this was rather a good Bill but, having thought about it for some time, the fact that it leaves so much unanswered is worrying. It needs to be a tougher framework and I hope the Minister can assure us that the Government’s manifesto commitment to sustainable fishing can truly be guaranteed through the mechanisms outlined in the Bill, especially where the devolved Administrations are concerned. We need that to work for the benefit of fish ecosystems, the fishing industry and coastal and fishing communities.

17:06
Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB)
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My Lords, I support the Bill for many of the reasons already given and will not repeat them. However, there is one point for which I thank the Minister: the evident hard work undertaken by his department in seeking co-operation with the devolved Governments in the drafting and framework of the Bill.

There are three matters, however, on which I should like briefly to touch. First, as reflected in the debates on the withdrawal agreement Act, it is essential that the devolved Administrations are involved in a meaningful and systematic way in the negotiations. I am sure, in the light of the assurances given by Ministers then, that this will happen. However, it will be important to check from time to time that it is happening. It would not be good for the future of the union if we went into negotiations when there was not the greatest possible degree of consensus between the devolved nations, given their responsibilities proposed under the Bill.

Secondly, it is important that every attempt is made to reach a consensus on the position that the United Kingdom Government will take on their negotiations with the European Union and any other states or organisations. It would be a serious matter if the Secretary of State was put in a position where he had to exercise the powers under Clause 23 to force the devolved Administrations to alter their policies, unless every possible attempt had been made to reach a common negotiating position.

Thirdly—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and the noble Baroness Lady Young, whom it is a privilege to follow—the Bill is lacking much detail, particularly regarding how the policies are to be agreed between the various Governments and legislatures. It would be far better, sooner rather than later, to spell out the mechanisms that are intended to be deployed to try to reach consensus, to say what is to happen if there is not consensus, and to do everything possible to reach common policies. Furthermore, it may well be that the fisheries sector and the way it emerges from the frameworks will have an effect on the internal market. Therefore, I suggest that it is important that we address the issue now and see what the picture is, rather than leave it until months or years later.

No doubt many of these issues will require discussion in Committee but it is important that they are grappled with now, because they go to the maintenance and strength of the union.

17:10
Lord Selkirk of Douglas Portrait Lord Selkirk of Douglas (Con)
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My Lords, it is refreshing and a great pleasure to follow a distinguished former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, who has a reputation for justice and fairness. I hope that the Minister will consider his wise words with care.

There is no doubt that the negotiations between the Government and the European Union to secure the future of the United Kingdom’s fishing industry after we leave the common fisheries policy are one of the trickiest and most challenging aspects of the trade talks now beginning. They will require cool heads all round and, on the Government’s part, a steely commitment not to let down our fishing communities. Hopes and aspirations in this iconic industry are high, from Peterhead to Cornwall, and what a blow it would be if they were dashed by some financial trade-off. That is not to mention the political gift such a perception would be to some, who would seek to ruthlessly exploit it to further damage the union, as their eventual aim is to destroy it altogether.

In stark economic terms, the UK fishing industry may be responsible only for around 1% of GDP but it has an emotional hold on the hearts of this island nation. In this respect, I hope that during the forthcoming talks with the EU, Ministers will keep in mind that famous definition of a cynic in one of Oscar Wilde’s plays:

“A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”


It is indeed the case that the intrinsic value to the United Kingdom of these small but indomitable communities can never be assessed simply on a spreadsheet.

The Bill we are debating today sets out a new framework for managing our fisheries in a sustainable way as the UK emerges as an independent coastal state after over 40 years of being inside the EU’s common fisheries policy. It also details welcome plans for how the UK will take into account the impact of climate change on the health of the ocean and indeed our entire planet. The Scottish Government are unlikely to show a great deal of appreciation, but it must be drawn to their attention that the Bill also gives important new powers to the devolved Administrations to help conserve and enhance the marine environment, and conservation is of course enormously important.

When I first spoke on this subject some three years ago, I acknowledged that some compromises might have to be made in the interests of the fishing industry’s sizeable export trade—70% of the catch goes to European markets. However, it is unfortunate that some EU countries seem to want the UK to concede that their access to our fishing grounds should remain very much as it is at present. Setting out their template for talks, their negotiator, Michel Barnier, has said that he wants to uphold EU fishing activities and that any agreement should

“build on existing reciprocal access conditions.”

This clearly cannot be the case, as the Bill removes the EU’s automatic right to fish in our waters. It is to be hoped that the Government will stick to their commitment for annual negotiations to be held, resulting in improved quotas for our boats and the licensing of access for foreign fishing vessels to the United Kingdom. These would be based not on historic quotas but on scientific data about sustainable catch levels. It is a system strongly supporting conservation, which has already been put into practice by Norway, Iceland and the Faroes. At the same time, the Government have to bear in mind, during the talks, that any barriers and tariffs erected because of UK divergence from EU regulations and standards would be bad news for those who need to get their fish and other seafood produce swiftly to the available markets.

There is also the problem that the EU is insisting that negotiations should be inextricably linked to the wider trade talks. The Government are adamant that this will not be the case, and rightly, in my view. We are dealing with a situation on which an expression has been made by no less a person than Barrie Deas. He issued a statement of powerful wording, which he sent to me this morning. He said:

“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to secure a better deal for the UK fishing industry and revive coastal communities across the country. The Government must not backdown on their promises to UK fishermen. If it does, many of the objectives that the Fisheries Bill is aiming to achieve will be impossible”.


He is chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations.

Speaking previously, I stressed the totemic nature of the United Kingdom’s fishing industry and spoke of the sheer spirit and bravery shown over the years by those who work at sea, as well as the dangers faced. As an example, at Eyemouth, down the coast from where I live, a starkly poignant granite memorial depicting a broken mast commemorates that Black Friday when, on 14 October 1881, a terrible storm took the lives of 189 men from the port and left 267 children without their fathers.

Last week, the Prime Minister chose to set out the Government’s vision of its post-Brexit future economic relationship with the EU amid the splendour of the Painted Hall of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. He spoke of the United Kingdom being “on the slipway”, recalled our “seafaring ancestors” and claimed we are now embarking “on a great voyage”. We must hope that all those who ply their trade in our historic fishing communities around the United Kingdom will still share that same spirit of optimism and of new beginnings once the trade talks with our European neighbours have concluded.

17:17
Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Portrait Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, and my contribution will do so from a Northern Ireland perspective. I live in County Down, and three principal ports associated with the sea fish sector are in County Down: Portavogie, Ardglass and Kilkeel. Two of those, Ardglass and Kilkeel, are among the top UK ports. In a Northern Ireland Assembly report of 2015, which is the last known record, the value to the local economy of the fish landed was £20.8 million.

Yesterday evening, I had an opportunity to talk to the Minister about issues that appertain to the sea fishing sector in Northern Ireland. I am reminded by our fishermen and their representatives of a phrase that has been used throughout this process, which neatly sums up the position that the fishing industry finds itself in today. That is: nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Like noble Lords who spoke earlier, I agree that this Bill is a framework and that much has to be coloured in with what the devolved Administrations come up with, and with what happens in the negotiations between the UK Government and the European Union. So, with the UK’s formal departure from the EU, the Fisheries Bill we are discussing today is an important stepping stone in the process.

As we have been reminded by Boris Johnson, his predecessor and others, the UK will be an independent coastal state and as such we should be able to unleash the potential of the fishing industry. For 47 years it was subjected to the management of the common fisheries policy, which some within the fishing industry believe was mismanagement. We are told that the Bill will deliver a legal guarantee that the UK will leave the common fisheries policy at the end of the transition period in December 2020. Nevertheless, the reality is that, before the potential referred to by the Government can be realised, the UK and the EU have to use their “best endeavours” to agree a new fisheries relationship by the middle of this year. This agreement will be critical to the future continued regeneration of the ports I have referred to, but our fishing industry remains some way off a final agreement in terms of resolving the imbalances in fishing quota allocations, most notably from an Irish Sea perspective.

We also want to see the ending of the annual reallocation of quota from UK fishermen, especially those from Northern Ireland, in favour of their colleagues in the south of Ireland under the so-called Hague Preference. Yesterday evening I had an opportunity to talk to the Minister and I mentioned the voisinage agreement that was originally a gentlemen’s agreement between the old Northern Ireland Parliament and the Government in Dublin. It enabled fishermen from County Down to fish in Dundalk Bay but, because of a Supreme Court judgment in Dublin in 2016, it had to be suspended. The Irish Government have since put the voisinage agreement into legislation. I say this to the Minister: we do not want that agreement dismantled in any way, because good relations have now been resumed and fishermen are continuing to ply the Irish Sea in pursuit of their best endeavours. Now, with a future Irish Government who it is hoped should be in place in the next couple of weeks, I hope that the good relationship with the previous Minister will continue with the noble Lord the Minister.

We should recall that securing a new fisheries agreement between the UK and EU is not about inventing the wheel. Other independent European coastal states, most notably Norway, have fisheries agreements with the EU. Last week, we heard about the EU’s ambition for the new fisheries agreement with the UK. It includes an aspiration for a more detailed agreement than the Norway-EU agreement. Given the huge implications that the UK-EU fisheries agreement will have for the success of this Bill, it would be useful to learn what the UK has in mind.

Reference has already been made to the previous incarnation of the Fisheries Bill, which was addressed in late 2018 in the other place, and to a House of Lords EU Committee report that provided the basis for this legislation. One of the biggest changes is that it delivers on the Government’s manifesto aim to manage our fisheries at their maximum sustainable yield levels under a wider ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management. This is obviously very important, and the application of MSY levels to fisheries management has been the subject of extensive debate since they were adopted by the EU at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002. For some, MSY is a conceptual theory that has little applicability to an ocean environment that is subject to constant change—change that has been accelerated by climatic change. So it is important that the Bill is shaped in a way that allows it to evolve and does not provide for unachievably hard MSY targets.

Another feature that local fishermen have raised with me is a fairer share of fishing opportunities. They suggest that they would like to see, as part of the management framework outlined in the Bill, a quota allocation system that is appropriate for Northern Ireland. What is suggested for England might not necessarily work in Northern Ireland. Fishermen in Northern Ireland should not be penalised, because they have taken all the—let us say—outstanding resilience measures over the last number of years and have been able to deal with discards, by-catches and the landing obligation. They introduced and got patented some areas of gear changes, which it would be useful for the Minister to have a look at.

While the fishing industry welcomes Prime Minister Johnson’s commitment that there will be no checks on the trade of seafood and other products from GB to Northern Ireland, it looks forward to hearing how the Government will deliver on that commitment—in particular with seafood brought to Northern Ireland for primary processing before being returned in its entirety to GB.

Last night I raised with the Minister the issue of allowing non-EEA fishermen to continue to work on County Down boats. In fact, they work on other boats throughout the fishing industry in the UK. So far, in spite of our best endeavours, the Home Office has not come forward with a legal formula to enable them to continue to do this work. In many instances, our local fishing industry could face tie-up without the expertise of these people. The Northern Ireland fishing industry faces a compromised position, because back in 2016 the Irish Government provided a legal framework to enable these non-EEA crew to fish in Irish waters. They can move from one Irish-registered vessel to another, so our local fishing industry in County Down, which relies largely on fishing in the Irish Sea, feels compromised.

I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments in response to the issues I have raised and to participating in Committee on the Floor of the House. I hope that the Bill will lead to the continued regeneration of coastal communities. Other noble Lords have mentioned the issues raised by environmental organisations about the need for greater sustainability and reflection of climate change. While that is referred to in the Bill, they want to see consideration given to binding commitments not to fish above independent, scientifically recommended sustainable levels. To allow an industry such as fishing to grow, develop and nurture, we have to adopt a balanced approach to all this.

In conclusion, I look forward to working with the Minister and noble Lords across the House to develop an enhanced Bill that will bring benefit to fishermen, particularly those I know in County Down fishing villages.

17:28
Lord Mackay of Clashfern Portrait Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Con)
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My Lords, I begin by associating myself with what the Minister said about the dangers encountered by those who go to sea, especially those who go fishing. In my connection with Trinity House, I come across some of these from time to time.

My first connection with the common fisheries policy was shortly after I became Lord Advocate in 1979, when a number of cases were brought by the Commission against the decisions of the previous Government. In accordance with the proper practice, the new Government found themselves defending these decisions. The decisions had been referred to one of the leading silks of the day, Tom Bingham, who ultimately became Lord Chief Justice, a senior Law Lord and a very distinguished judge. I did not know it at the time, but he had advised the Attorney-General that none of these would succeed; in other words, that in every case, the defence would fail. In pursuance of his policies in relation to the appointment of the judiciary, shortly after that the Lord Chancellor appointed Tom Bingham as a judge, and therefore he was no longer available to defend the cases. I was appointed to defend these cases and, sure enough, Lord Bingham’s prophecy was fulfilled to the letter. I was glad afterwards to know that he had advised that before I had begun at all.

One of the last of the cases was an extraordinary case about the common fisheries policy’s application to the waters around the Isle of Man. It showed me that the provisions of the common fisheries policy did not come naturally to the Government of the United Kingdom as something to be observed in every detail. As time has gone on under that policy, that hesitation has been demonstrated as growing. Anyhow, we are to come out of the common fisheries policy soon and the question is: what will replace it? As has been said, that is really what makes the picture in this Bill. Until we know that, it is very difficult to know exactly what will happen. Of course, it is right to be prepared for what will happen, whatever it be, and we need a structure to replace the common fisheries policy.

I agree with a good deal of what has been said already about the law, and I will not repeat it. I want to say one thing on what the noble Baroness said about legal enforcement of the policy statements mentioned at the beginning. I rather think it is implied that the policies to be adopted are to be in accordance with these objectives. Precise legal provisions may not be needed to require that, but I certainly think it is implied at present.

Clause 12 appears to require that fishing in the territory of the United Kingdom should require a licence. It is a very reasonable requirement for every fishing boat to have a licence. But the clause specifies that not only will fishing boats be required to hold a licence but that they must be in accordance with international law and international agreements to which the UK is a party. I can see the force of that, but I do not see how that kind of thing would be decided in a discussion on the high seas. Take the territorial waters of the North Sea: the enforcing boat might come along and the skipper of the fishing boat could say, “I’m here for a purpose recognised by international law.” Can you imagine how that would be resolved? Alternatively, they might say, “I’m here by virtue of an agreement or arrangement to which the United Kingdom is a party.” I do not know how well equipped the fisheries protection vessels will be, but I imagine that they may be hard put to test that kind of thing. I would have thought it might be wiser to require that, if a boat is coming on that account, it gets a licence before it comes. I am sure it would be much easier for the enforcing authority to look at a licence than to try to find out what international law was defending the incoming fishing boat.

Although not dealt with in this Bill, the arrangements for selling the products of the sea to Europe are extremely important. That is certainly true in some parts of Scotland, particularly the north-west, where I happen to know the ports of Kinlochbervie and Lochinver, which lie on each side of the distinction between my title and that of my noble friend, the chief of my clan. Lochinver and Kinlochbervie are both quite small, but they attract a great deal of seafood, which is sent by road to many parts of Europe. These small communities very much depend upon that. Therefore, the last thing I would like to see is that kind of arrangement being damaged in the result. I mention that not as part of the Bill, but as part of the negotiations, which will be, without any doubt, difficult to conclude satisfactorily. One can see the desire of the European nations to get what they can out of it, and we must be careful about that.

I strongly support what was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, about the involvement of the devolved Administrations. Without getting into too much detail, I have to say that that could be pretty difficult if the fundamental policy of the devolved Administration is not in accordance with the present situation. One can see the difficulty of that, and I hope that what my noble friend said in opening will be true: that the co-operation of the devolved Administrations in working out the detail of this will be forthcoming and helpful.

17:37
Earl of Devon Portrait Earl of Devon (CB)
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My Lords, I am not a fisheries expert; other than sporting a beard worthy of Captain Haddock and managing medieval manorial interests on the foreshore of the River Exe, I am a novice. I am thus grateful to the Minister for his introduction and to many other noble Lords for their expertise.

My law firm represents clients with commercial sea fishing interests and I know a number of local inshore fishermen in and around the Exe. I have been able to discuss this legislation with them. While happy to be free of the common fisheries policy, and the havoc it wreaked upon our fishing industry and our marine environment, their consensus is apprehension that their remaining livelihoods and coastal way of life may be sold down the river in forthcoming trade negotiations. The industry is also nervous that departure from the CFP will result in new systems that will cause uncertainty and delays. It seeks assurances that investments made in equipment and quota will not be undermined by administrative delays. Banks are currently reluctant to lend to fishing enterprises, and continued uncertainty will only make this worse.

As a Devonian, I am aware of the importance of the fishing industry to the local, regional and national economy. Devon is proud to host a large proportion of England’s fishing fleet, and in Brixham it has England’s largest fish market by value—approximately £40 million per annum.

Fishing has been core to the county’s economy for centuries. My home was built by an admiral of the Western Fleet during the Hundred Years’ War. Much of his time was spent defending English waters from marauding vessels from Brittany and Iberia. I hope that this will not be a task for the Earl of Devon in future, and that we can settle peacefully the fair allocation of our maritime resources towards the long-term health of our fisheries and the communities that depend on them. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, noted, fisheries monitoring and enforcement will still be key to the exercise of our sovereign control and to achieving the bold ambitions set out in this legislation. What additional investment do the Government intend to make?

As many of your Lordships will be aware—because I have mentioned it—2020 marks the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the “Mayflower” from Plymouth, a commemoration of which I am a patron. This momentous voyage set sail from Devon because of the sophistication of local fishermen who ventured for months, from small ports such as Teignmouth and Kenton, over the vast north Atlantic, to catch and salt cod in enormous quantities. It was much due to the efforts of these modest West Country folk, who established seasonal encampments on the east coast of North America, that we achieved the early English settlement of those distant shores. The trading relationships they operated were complex and cross-border, combining fishermen from Devon, fish from the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, salt from the Bay of Biscay, wine from Bordeaux and consumers on the coasts of the Mediterranean. As the Government head into trade negotiations with Europe and the United States, I hope that they will take lessons from this history, not least the need to work closely with our neighbours and to care for our fish stocks.

With respect to these negotiations, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, noted, the political declaration committed the UK and the EU to use their best endeavours not only to conclude but to ratify a new fisheries agreement by 1 July 2020. This seems a little ambitious. Can the Minister describe the progress of those negotiations?

As to the new fisheries objectives, the bycatch objective is laudable. Minimising wastage is essential to the sustainability of our fisheries. In pursuing this objective, we must take account of the peculiarly mixed nature of certain UK fish stocks, which makes for a higher rate of bycatch compared with others. We must be cautious about burdening UK vessels with well-intentioned objectives that render them uncompetitive. We must also ensure that the fisheries management plans not only become compulsory but are localised in their requirements. What may be good for the North Sea fleet may not be good for the south-west, where conditions are so different. How will the Government ensure, post CFP, that quota is allocated more smartly, providing benefit to the fish and the fishers?

I note that the recent debate on the EU fisheries landing obligation concluded that compliance with the discard ban has been impossible to evaluate, through a lack of data. The consensus in favour of remote electronic monitoring in UK waters is shared by fishermen, but they are concerned that this must apply to all vessels fishing in UK waters, not just those landing in UK ports. A level playing field is essential.

The UK is a champion in the area of fisheries technology. At the universities of Plymouth, Falmouth and Exeter, the south-west boasts world leaders in marine and environmental engineering and sciences. How will the Government harness that expertise to ensure that we accelerate productivity, increase sustainability and build the competitive advantage of our fishing fleet? Also, what plans do the Government have to develop skills in fishing and in the onshore processing of fish for the food industry?

The climate change objective is an important addition. Given our location at the end of the Gulf Stream, UK fisheries will be impacted more than most by rising sea temperatures. Does the Minister have data on the carbon footprint of the UK’s fishing fleet, and do the Government have specific targets to address it? Is the Minister aware that offshore fishing vessels from Brixham are currently forced to steam all the way up the channel to Holland for all but the most basic maintenance, because there is no facility in the entire south-west peninsula with the capacity for such work? It surprises me that after more than 500 years of offshore fishing, we have lost the ability to repair our own fleet. The Minister will be aware of recent progress towards reopening the shipyard at Appledore. Are the Government able to support that endeavour and reverse this terrible decline in local shipyard services?

Finally, can the Minister acknowledge the importance of the continental market for UK-caught fish? The vast majority of the fish landed in Devon are sold across the channel. The Brixham market uses state-of-the-art online auction technology to ensure the fastest and most efficient sale of the daily catch. Given the inherent perishability of fish, any delay in transportation will impact sales dramatically, and any increase in border checks will destroy this important regional industry. I realise that Mr Gove thinks a degree of cross-border friction is a price worth paying. However, there is no point in securing the right to fish our own waters only to destroy our ability to sell the fish that we catch; otherwise, it will be fish fingers for tea, for everyone, every day.

17:45
Viscount Hanworth Portrait Viscount Hanworth (Lab)
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My Lords, the Fisheries Bill has huge potential to cause trouble among the nations of the United Kingdom and with our European neighbours. What is written on the face of the Bill is, in the main, unexceptional. Indeed, the environmental precepts are laudable. In the words of a letter from the Minister, the Bill will be a major step forward in the Government’s vision

“to build a sustainable fishing industry with healthy seas”.

We will be moving away from a common European fishing policy that has been vitiated by the competitive bidding among the European fishing nations for quotas that determine their allowable catches. The quotas have invariably exceeded the levels recommended by scientists; the common understanding is that they have been consistently breached and widely ignored. Even when the quotas have been observed, the practice of discarding fish that are undersized or in excess of species-specific limits has subverted policies aimed at conserving stocks.

The competitive animosity of the nations bidding for quotas has been fuelled by the grievances that the British brought to the negotiations. The British fishermen were still smarting from their exclusion from Icelandic waters when, on joining the EEC in 1973, free access to our surrounding waters was granted to the other European nations. The situation was worsened by the severe contemporaneous decline in fish stocks on account of the overfishing. Now, in the words of our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, Britain will “take back control” and have full jurisdiction over its “spectacular marine wealth”. He has asserted that:

“We will make sure we don’t trade away Britain’s fishing rights as they were traded away… in the early 1970s.”


The Prime Minister has given voice to a common sentiment that has been expressed enthusiastically by fishermen and their representatives. When it becomes independent of the European Union at the end of the transition period, Britain will be surrounded by an exclusive economic zone—an EEZ—over which it intends to assert its fishing rights. The zone will extend as far as 200 miles from our coastline, when it is not constrained by the proximity of an adjacent coastal nation. In that case, a median line will separate the British zone from that of the neighbouring nation.

The concept of an exclusive economic zone, which was established to protect the fishing rights of Iceland, now redounds to Britain’s advantage. It is enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Geography has endowed Britain with an exorbitantly large zone in comparison to the zones of other European fishing nations such as France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark, whose EEZs are limited by the median lines.

The outrage at Britain’s pre-emption of fishing areas to which other nations have traditionally had access is now palpable. It threatens to have a detrimental effect on the forthcoming trade negotiations. Already, the granting of a European passport to our financial services sector has become conditional upon our granting fishing rights to other European nations. However, any concessions to those nations are liable to enrage British fishermen, who are looking forward to greatly increased fishing quotas.

There is also a potential for conflict among the nations of Britain over the control of fishing rights. The Fisheries Bill declares that the management of fisheries is a matter that is devolved to the regions of the United Kingdom. Hitherto, a consistent UK-wide approach to fisheries has been maintained because all the fisheries administrations have been required to comply with European law, which has imposed the common fisheries policy. In consequence of our leaving the European Union, that constraint will no longer apply.

Clause 18 of the Fisheries Bill of Session 2017-19, which has become Clause 23 of the current Bill, gives the Secretary of State the power to determine the quantity of fish that may be caught by British boats. Although the Secretary of State must consult with the devolved Administrations in determining this quantity, the UK Government views the determination of fishing opportunities as a reserved function. However, both the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government have disagreed strongly with this. Given the spirit of disagreement and grievance against Westminster that prevails among Members of the Scottish Parliament, one can imagine that this will become a major point of contention. Scottish parliamentarians will be backed by a powerful fishermen’s lobby, which will point to the fact that over 60% of the UK catch is landed by the Scottish fishing fleet.

More must now be said about the attitudes of fishermen and their organisations. It is clear that the fishermen expect there to be large increases in the allowable catch. In a briefing from the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, we are told that it expects to see an immediate and significant uplift in the quantity of fish available to its fleets. It expects, moreover, that this will be followed by further year-on-year gains. Although the fishermen and their representatives tend nowadays to pay lip-service to the nostrums of conservation, their words and deeds show that in practice they are likely to resist any resulting restrictions on their activities. In particular, they bridle at the injunction that fishing opportunities should be limited by the maximum sustainable yield, the MSY, of fish stocks. The MSY is the maximum rate at which the fish can replace themselves under conditions of human predation or harvesting. If the harvest exceeds the MSY for any length of time then the fish will be destined for extinction.

The objective of fishing at the MSY was incorporated into the rules of the European common fisheries policy. However, certain exceptions have been allowed. One of the principal documents states that, if fishing at the MSY would imply very large annual reductions of fishing opportunities that seriously jeopardise the social and economic sustainability of the fleets involved, then a delay in reaching that objective would be acceptable. This is profoundly illogical. Any such allowance can have arisen only as a consequence of fraught negotiations. Fishing above the MSY will jeopardise the survival of the fish and of the industry. Attempting to fish at the MSY is also dangerous because of the likelihood of exceeding that level inadvertently.

Nevertheless, a recent briefing from the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations has militated against the imposition of any constraint based on the MSY. It seeks the allowances that are recorded by the European common fisheries policy. It is clear that, if they are to achieve some of the more reasonable objectives of the Fisheries Bill, the Government will have to stand firm against the onslaughts of numerous parties.

17:52
Lord Dunlop Portrait Lord Dunlop (Con)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Viscount and to support the Bill, which enables the UK to be, in the Prime Minister’s words,

“an independent coastal state from the end of this year, controlling our own waters”.

While the Bill is not directly about the negotiations to come with the EU, it provides the legal framework for the future of fisheries management and is therefore inextricably linked.

I want to focus my remarks on the importance of the Bill to Scotland, which has already been mentioned on several occasions. After seeing their interests subordinated in the 1970s to other priorities in the UK’s negotiations to enter the Common Market, it is understandable that fishing communities are nervous of the same thing happening again as we exit. That is why the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations welcomed the Prime Minister’s speech on 3 February, in which he reiterated his commitment that:

“There would be annual negotiations with the EU, using the latest scientific data, ensuring British fishing grounds are first and foremost for British boats.”


This is a promise that must be kept—a promise that has particular significance for Scotland.

Scottish boats in 2018 were responsible for 64% by volume and 58% by value of all UK landings. While fishing makes a relatively small contribution to our overall GDP, it is disproportionately important for often fragile coastal communities. For example, fishing is a significant part of the local economies of the Western Isles and Shetland. According to the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, more fish are landed in Shetland alone than in the whole of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Also, Scottish towns such as Peterhead—which invested £45 million to create one of the largest and most modern fish markets in Europe—are heavily reliant on fishing.

Let us not forget the political significance of fishing for the union. A majority of Scots need convincing about the benefits of leaving the EU, and fishing is an area where the potential benefits are perhaps most immediately apparent and where the UK Government can demonstrate they are delivering for Scotland.

The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has described the move to independent coastal status as offering a “sea of opportunity”, and it is hard to disagree. As a member of the EU, the UK was allocated around 40% of total allowable catch in UK waters. For the purposes of comparison, the equivalent figure for Norway is around 85% and for Iceland 95%. Moreover, EU quotas are based on historical fishing patterns established nearly 30 years ago. They take no account, for example, of the impact of climate change, which has seen stocks of fish such as cod, hake and tuna moving further north.

It is sobering to consider the combined impact of the CFP on a place such as the Western Isles since the UK joined the EU: the number of vessels has reduced by one-fifth; the number of fishermen has fallen by nearly one-third. So, Western Isles fishermen are already looking to secure fresh opportunities. To take one small example, seasonal bluefin tuna are found increasingly in UK waters—and it is a valuable fish. So, the Western Isles see an opportunity to develop its own rod and line fishery, strengthening its tourist offering and increasing local economic resilience.

Currently there is no UK quota for tuna and the UK, as an EU member, has not had its own seat at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. The prize in prospect is clear: to increase the quota opportunities and to ensure that they are spread more widely and fairly, playing a part in coastal community regeneration. I hope the licensing regime encourages new entrants and avoids additional fishing opportunities becoming overly concentrated in a few hands. I hope the Minister will address this issue when he winds up.

It is of course self-defeating to create new fishing opportunities for British boats without access to markets. The EU proposes that provisions for fisheries should

“build on existing reciprocal access conditions, quota shares and the traditional activity of the European Union fleet.”

However, access to waters is not the same as access to markets. The UK is party to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and, according to the excellent House of Lords briefing:

“Coastal states have exclusive rights to the natural resources, including fish, in their exclusive economic zone.”


The UK should therefore have the opportunity to negotiate annually reciprocal water access with Norway, the Faroe Islands, the EU and others. After all, this is how Norway, a member of the European Economic Area, negotiates with the EU and how the EU negotiates with every other third country. We should move on from quotas based on historical patterns to zonal attachment, calculating shares using best science of where fish are today, not where they were 30 to 40 years ago.

None of this means that EU vessels should or will be denied access to our waters, but relative opportunities need to be more balanced and managed over time—not least to allow the EU fleet a period of adjustment to avoid dislocation and to give our fishing industry time to expand its onshore infrastructure to cope with new opportunities.

When it comes to market access, trade in fishing products is not a zero-sum game. The EU exports as much fish to the UK as it imports from the UK: over £1 billion of trade in each direction. It must surely be in the interests of both parties to avoid restrictions on trade or the introduction of tariffs.

My final point concerns devolution, which is an important aspect of the Bill. Our withdrawal from the EU has often strained relations between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. However, the discussions among the Administrations about fishing are an example of best practice. As the Law Society of Scotland’s Bill briefing says:

“We welcome the recognition given by Defra of the importance of engaging with the devolved administrations and legislatures and the collaborative approach taken by the Bill.”


This is reflected in the arrangements in the Bill for a joint fisheries statement and for individual fisheries management plans. The provisions in Clauses 14 and 16 that require UK Ministers to secure the consent of devolved Ministers in exercising their licence regulation-making powers are also examples of a collaborative approach.

Clause 23, which has been mentioned, gives the Secretary of State a power to set

“the maximum quantity of sea fish that may be caught by British fishing boats”

and

“the maximum number of days that British fishing boats may spend at sea.”

When making a determination under Clause 23, the Secretary of State is under an obligation via Clause 24 to consult the devolved Administrations, but their consent is not required. This seems to strike the right balance. International relations are a reserved matter and the UK has responsibility to establish quotas for the purpose of complying with an international obligation of the UK to determine fishing opportunities. How quota is then allocated within the UK is governed by a well-established concordat agreed in 2012 between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. This appears to work well.

In conclusion, I welcome the Bill. It paves the way for new economic opportunities. It will improve fisheries management, making it more sustainable and environmentally friendly. In the negotiations to come, the UK Government must stand firm and the United Kingdom’s status as a normal independent coastal state should be non-negotiable.

18:02
Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, as the Minister so clearly set out in his introduction, sustainability is at the heart of this Bill. The Defra briefing Sustainable Fisheries for Future Generations tells us:

“Underpinning everything will be our commitment to sustainability—supporting future generations of fishermen and allowing our marine environment to thrive.”


Clause 1 of the Bill, as we have heard, sets out the fisheries objectives, the first of which is sustainability. If this is what the Bill really delivers, in a world where scientists estimate that in the order of two-thirds of the world’s fish stocks are overfished and in which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, mentioned, only 59% of UK stocks were fished at or below sustainable levels last year, who could object? However, I will argue that the Bill may not be all it seems.

When you look at the Bill in more detail, you begin to question whether or not it will deliver on this sustainability promise—but first I must digress. “Sustainability” is, unfortunately, one of those words used by too many people to mean too many different things and therefore runs the danger of becoming almost meaningless, unless we define our terms. It was not always like this. The term was coined with a very specific purpose by the German forester and land- owner Hans Carl von Carlowitz, whose treatise on Nachhaltigkeit, the German word for sustainability, appeared a year or so before his death in 1714. Von Carlowitz was concerned about the rapid deforestation of western Europe to provide wood for buildings, ships and fuel. He set out the principles by which forests should be managed for their long-term viability for future generations. Nowadays, however, the term is used for a much wider range of objectives. For example, the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals, descended from the 1987 Brundtland report, range from ending poverty and hunger to securing economic growth, justice and gender equality.

So, what does the Bill mean when it talks about sustainability? Does it really mean securing the long-term health of fish stocks and marine ecosystems or does it mean something vaguer and more general? I am sorry to say that, as it stands, the Bill does not guarantee the long-term health of either our fish stocks or our marine environment. Why do I say this? The clue, as has been said, lies in Clause 1(1). This clause lists eight objectives of the Bill, but contains a fundamental category error by listing sustainability as merely one of the eight. If the Government really meant sustainability in the von Carlowitz sense, there would be just one objective: sustainability; the other seven would be subordinate to this as a means of achieving sustainability.

Noble Lords may think that I am making a rather technical—even academic, as suits my background—and abstruse point. However, when we move to Clause 1(2), the alarm bells start to ring loud and clear. This is where the Bill declares its hand. I refer to a point touched on by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, my noble friend Lord Hannay and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell. In this clause, the sustainability objective is defined not merely as ensuring that fish stocks are sustainable in the long term, but also as ensuring economic, social and employment benefits.

This is precisely why, under the common fisheries policy, so many stocks have been overexploited. The argument for going beyond the scientifically recommended quotas is that, by adhering to these quotas, the livelihoods of fishermen and communities are put at risk. In other words, in the trade-off between the different elements of sustainability, short-term gain has taken precedence over longer-term pain. By fishing more now, fishermen have good livelihoods today, but their descendants will not have this tomorrow. I therefore ask the Minister, in his reply, to explain to us how the trade-off between these elements of sustainability in the Bill will be calculated, and to assure us that short-term interests will not be placed ahead of the longer-term objective of ensuring that fish stocks are there for future generations. In short, can the Minister commit to a legally binding obligation not to exceed the scientifically recommended levels of quota?

However, the problems do not end there; the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, has already referred to this. The fisheries management plans covered in Clauses 7 to 11 of the Bill are designed, as Defra’s briefing on the Bill says, to

“achieve maximum sustainable yield for all stocks.”

One of the standard textbooks of ecology that I have used for teaching undergraduates at Oxford says that

“a fixed quota strategy at the MSY level might be desirable and reasonable in a wholly predictable world about which we have perfect knowledge. But in the real world of fluctuating environments and imperfect data sets, these fixed quotas are open invitations to disaster.”

The Peruvian anchovy stock was the world’s largest single fishery from 1960 to 1972; it was managed by MSY quotas and collapsed in 1972, taking 20 years to recover. Does the Minister have a view on whether MSY is indeed the measure through which to manage quota? There are alternatives that are well known in the fisheries science literature.

I wish to raise a couple of final points, one of which has already been mentioned—namely, the importance of data. The only way to get real data on what is being taken out of the sea, as other noble Lords have said, is to have remote electronic monitoring or CCTV cameras on board all fishing vessels. Why is that not part of the deal?

My very final point is something that has not been mentioned before: fishing vessels are continually increasing in efficiency. One estimate in the literature is that the introduction of GPS and sonar on fishing vessels has resulted in an increase in efficiency—catch per unit effort—of between 300% and 400% in recent decades. It seems an ineluctable consequence that, if we are to fish at sustainable levels, the fishing industry will in the future have to shrink. There will have to be fewer fishermen, each operating a more efficient vessel. Do the Government acknowledge that one element of sustainability in the future will be a smaller fishing industry?

18:09
Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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My Lords, I do not want to embarrass the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, but I thought that was an excellent speech. It reminded me of an important point about the drafting of legislation. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, may recall, when one asks any administration to adhere to a series of duties or objectives, the more one adds in, the greater is the difficulty in the administration thereof. And, indeed, the Bill before us is different from the Bill as introduced in the other place, and has further objectives. Until the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, drew our attention to it, I had not noticed that even the sustainability objective has more than one objective within it. There is a heaping up of objectives, which is why either we would have to put into the Bill some kind of hierarchy of objectives—as noble Lords will recall, that has been done in relation to other regulators—or the Government and the fisheries administrations would have to proceed to a joint fisheries statement that provided clarity to all concerned about their balancing of the several objectives at an early stage. The noble Lord helped us greatly by what he said about that.

I share with the noble Earl, Lord Devon, the fact that I am no fisheries expert, but I do have to declare an interest: my wife’s company in Brussels is a partner to an agency that has UK Fisheries as one of its clients. I would not want anyone not to recognise that I have that interest to declare—although I have received no briefing particular to me in that respect, and what I say is not derived from that.

I share with many of my noble friends a feeling, expressed admirably by my noble friend Lord Dunlop, that expectations about our establishment as an independent coastal state from the beginning of next year are, justifiably, high. They ought to be high. If leaving the European Union is intended to deliver significant economic benefits to the United Kingdom, they should be visible—hopefully, dramatically visible—in relation to the fishing sector, perhaps before any other.

How is that to be achieved? I shall focus on two points. One is about how the Bill takes account of the interests of the fishing industry and secures them. The second comes back to what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, referred to earlier—something in which I am interested by virtue of our previous discussions on the Trade Bill and other legislation—and that is the question: how shall we here go about scrutinising and contributing to the exercise by the Government of their prerogative powers to make treaties?

On the first point, it is not clear how the Government will consult, beyond consulting the other fisheries administrations. Devolution is a central factor here, but all those administrations must understand how to balance a range of interests. We need to see in the Bill how those interests can be taken on board. For example, what Schedule 1 says about consultation on joint fisheries statements is, essentially, that the Government can consult pretty much anybody they regard as an interested person simply by publishing the document to the general public. Nothing more is required. In our discussions on the Bill, we must require more. We must require the Government to take specific account not only of the scientific evidence but of the views of those who can bring that evidence to bear. They should also take on board the views of the various fishing sectors—not only those of people who, rightly, expect more quota and a greater share of the allocation of catch in coastal zones and in our own territorial waters, but also the interests of the distant waters fleet. Last year, I had the privilege of being on the “Kirkella”, a trawler out of Hull, with two crews overwhelmingly based in Hull and Humberside, that sails great distances. As the Minister rightly said, the resilience of the fishing fleet is much to be admired. They travel a great distance to bring back fish—in their case, generally cod—for us to consume here. Their interests, as well as those of the coastal fishers, must be taken into account.

That brings me to my second point, about treaties and agreements. We are proceeding on the basis that, in an ideal world, in July we will arrive at a fisheries agreement that will, presumably, give us a greater share of the catch and quotas in UK territorial waters, our exclusive economic zone, and the European Union will just say, “Fair enough—that’s not how it’s been in the past, but clearly that’s how it’s going to be in the future, and we’ll leave it at that”. However, there is no evidence that the EU will leave it at that. My noble friend quoted the draft negotiating mandate presented by the European Commission, which, I remind noble Lords, proposed that fisheries should

“build on existing reciprocal access conditions, quota shares and the traditional activity of the Union fleet”.

The Commission has moved from that draft in the past few days and, significantly, replaced the words “build on” with the word “uphold”. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, will know more about that than I do, but it is a hardening of the Commission’s position, not a softening.

We are trying to separate market access from access to waters. They are different things. In an ideal world, access to waters would be subject to one agreement and market access would be as liberalised as we could possibly make it, with zero tariffs and zero quotas. That, doubtless, is our ambition. But let us imagine that we were in a bilateral agreement—with Norway, for example—whereby the Norwegians had access to our markets but we did not have access to their waters. Would we say, “Fair enough—those are entirely separate things and we won’t regard them as even remotely interconnected”? But they are interconnected, and they will be interconnected in the minds of European Union negotiators. It would be unrealistic for us to imagine otherwise.

In terms of treaties, Clauses 23 to 25 are pretty critical. There is a legal structure governing everything else, which is terrifically important, but it could all be overruled by the nature of the agreements that the Government enter into with the European Union, and other bilateral agreements. Clearly, we shall not issue a negotiating mandate for the negotiations, and I do not seek one. None the less, we have a legitimate expectation that those treaty negotiations with the EU, and bilaterally with other coastal states, will be based on a joint fisheries statement that we have examined and considered, and that the Government will give Parliament, along with other interests, a substantial opportunity to comment on the Government’s understanding of what their objectives should be—in the same way as I hope we shall, in due course, be able to do in relation to other treaty negotiations. The Government should at least tell us what their objectives are, so that we can contribute, and hope to hold them to account for their achievement, or otherwise, of those objectives.

That said, expectations are high. The Government have brought forward a Bill that, as I think the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, said, looks pretty good on the face of it; when I went through it, much of the structure seemed entirely logical. It is just that, when it comes to the actual substance beyond the structure, we need to put much more into it to make it work.

18:19
Earl of Caithness Portrait The Earl of Caithness (Con)
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My Lords, I join the Minister and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay in paying tribute to our fishermen, who carry out an amazing job in extraordinary weather. Those who have been tossed around in a force 8 gale and run for shelter when the fishermen are working hard in that same gale know the sort of conditions that they have to work in. Safety at sea has of course considerably improved, and I am delighted by that. When I was Fisheries Minister, I was very involved with safety because of some very sad accidents. I particularly remember Albert McQuarrie bringing in the Safety at Sea Act, which all the fishermen wanted except when it came to actually implementing it on their boats and it took up space. The reward that my friend Albert McQuarrie got for all his hard work was that he lost his seat at the next election.

This is undoubtedly a hugely critical area for relationships between the UK and the EU, and for the Government. As my noble friend Lord Lansley has just said, we start from totally different poles. The Government quite rightly, as our own state, want to go in one direction, but the EU will resist tooth and nail moving away from any benefit that the common fisheries policy has. We were misled to some extent when we joined the EEC; the rules regarding fisheries were changed before we joined. That is the lesson for how careful we are going to have to be in our negotiations with the EU. However, there are opportunities, as my noble friend Lord Dunlop said. He mentioned the Western Isles, and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay mentioned Kinlochbervie and Lochinver. I will of course mention Thurso as being a critical landing port, and a critical point from which the EU gets a lot of its fish. There is a stream of traffic and, when you know that that stream of traffic is going to come, you get ahead of it on the A9 coming south; otherwise, you are going to get stuck behind it all the way to Inverness before you have a chance of overtaking the fish lorries.

Enforcement is critical for the Bill. I join the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in asking the Minister to be a bit more forthcoming about what the UK fishery administrations are planning for in the way of enforcement at sea. We are going to have a new line between us and the EU. If the EU is aggrieved by the deal that will be done with it later this year, a lot of those boats are going to test our resolve and our enforcement at sea to the highest level that they can. If my noble friend could be more forthcoming, that would be helpful.

On the proposed fisheries agreement with the EU, I agree with my noble friend Lord Lansley that this is something that Parliament ought to look at. It intersects with the Bill in a number of areas. He mentioned Clause 23, but I am also thinking of Clauses 7 and 12. In a number of areas, what is going to be agreed in July and in the trade deals cuts right across the Bill and could undermine a huge amount of what it is trying to do. I am not trying to tell the Minister how to negotiate or what his negotiating brief should be, but when we get to a certain point before this becomes a statutory instrument, Parliament really ought to be in a position to debate it and look at its relevance to the Bill.

Talking of enforcement, I would also like more information about how we are going to monitor by-catch. I listened with interest to the debate that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, had the other day, and what I did not listen to I read. Clearly, this is another area where we need much more information in order to be accurate on the data. As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has just said, it is about getting that data. And it is not just about our data; it is about making sure that the EU is doing the same thing. We find far too often that people are working on different bases and do not have the right scientific information.

I turn to the devolved Administrations. I am delighted by the close working relationship that seems to have been developed on fisheries, but there are a couple of aspects that worry me. Under Clause 17, Scotland is able to license a foreign boat, but Clause 17(2)(a) says that boat is not allowed to fish in waters outside Scotland. What happens if the Scottish authority licences a foreign boat and it strays into English waters? Whose responsibility is that? Would it not be better for all the fishing authorities to work together on licences so that there is a common pool of the foreign boats that are licensed as well as the UK boats?

On Clause 33, I am concerned that the power for devolved authorities to help fisheries might lead to an intra-UK state war. I hope this can be avoided, and I hope that by working with the devolved authorities we will all do roughly the same thing, but it would be sad if one devolved Administration used state aid in a way that was detrimental to the rest of the UK. Given the problems that we could have among the devolved Administrations, and between the devolved Administrations and the fishermen who will be seeking to get the maximum catch that they can, is there not an argument that there ought to be some sort of mediation or arbitration service to help in that respect?

I end on a point that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, mentioned. He called them “historic rights” and I remember that, when I was Minister for fishing, we called them “grandfather rights”, but either way they are long-established rights. I am thinking particularly of the fishing boats designation orders in 1965 for France, Belgium and Ireland, which give certain boats from those countries the right to fish in our waters, particularly when they are going to the Isle of Man’s territorial waters, where they have a separate arrangement. I do not think that in the Bill those rights have been extinguished. Could the Minister confirm whether those grandfather rights have been extinguished? What discussions has he had with the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands to make certain that no grandfather rights will continue forward under the present legislation? While we are on grandfather rights, can the Minister be absolutely certain that he is not inadvertently creating new grandfather rights should there be a break-up of the United Kingdom—which I certainly would not like to see—that would cause us problems in future?

The Bill is absolutely going in the right direction and my noble friend has my support, but I hope he will be able to fill in some of the details of the picture that badly need to be painted.

18:28
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. I know that he cares very deeply about the natural world.

I would like to put the Bill in a political context. We have to remember that “taking back control of our fisheries” was one of the rallying cries of the Brexit campaign. The promise that by leaving the European Union we would develop more sustainable food, fishing and farming systems was what convinced many people like me that Brexit would open up a brighter, greener future. The Conservatives recognised this in their manifesto, which made big promises on the environment and getting Brexit done. The challenge is now to meet those promises in the legislation before your Lordships’ House.

We Brits have a natural affinity with the seas around us and the creatures that inhabit them. Many people are shocked to learn of the impacts that the industrialised fishing industry has had: destroying marine ecosystems, depleting fishing stocks and killing some of the sweetest and most intelligent life forms on the planet. In UK waters thousands of marine animals, including harbour porpoises, dolphins, whales, seals and seabirds, die every year as a result of incidental capture and drowning in fishing gear. Recent estimates of the annual UK fisheries death toll include over 1,500 dolphins and porpoises, 400 to 600 seals, and a concerning and increasing level of entanglements of humpback and minke whales. These problems can be solved in this Bill, but at the moment the words do not match the ambition in the Conservative Party manifesto.

I do not want to pick a fight across the Chamber—although I probably will—particularly with such charming Peers as the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, but there is, for example, no UK quota on bluefin tuna, because it is a threatened species and we are waiting for stocks to recover from past overfishing. Illegal fishing of bluefin tuna is quite a problem: there is a lack of enforcement, and that is something we have seen in the Bill.

“Uncompetitive?” Well, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said, perhaps we need a smaller fishing industry. We cannot exploit the seas for short-term gain if that means a poorer quality of life in future for more than just fish. I note that the mottos of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, are, “What is true is safe”—to which I subscribe completely—and “Where I have fallen, what have I done?”, which I am afraid I will have to have explained to me.

Proper monitoring and enforcement of the fishing industry are necessary and should begin with modern electronic systems such as CCTV cameras on fishing vessels and sea-to-plate traceability. That would help people who eat fish products to be confident about conditions and the minimisation of environmental impact. Retailers, too, could be sure that no dolphins were harmed in their products.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, mentioned, the Bill falls short of the commitment to fish sustainably. There is no legal commitment in it. The sum of the parts of the Bill do not amount to a legal commitment of any kind. Many of the ingredients are present, but the Bill reads as though someone started with a lot of ambition and promise and then someone else went through it with a red pen, which sadly has enfeebled it.

I offer to work with noble Lords across the House, including the Minister, to turn the wishy-washy parts of the Bill into something strong, with legal mechanisms, to make good on those promises on Brexit and in the Conservative manifesto. If, however, the Government resist important amendments, your Lordships’ House might be well justified in insisting that the amendments are written into the Bill. A legal commitment to fish sustainably is now, unquestionably, the will of the people.

18:33
Duke of Montrose Portrait The Duke of Montrose (Con)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, particularly when she is encouraging the Government to carry out their manifesto. I welcome the chance to examine this legislation so early in the parliamentary Session, as it will be a prime illustration of the Government’s approach to relationships with the devolved Administrations. Many of the powers that will now come back to the UK involve devolution.

On the repatriation of fishing, in October 2017 the Joint Ministerial Council reached an agreement that there would be a need for a legislative framework for regulation as we leave the EU’s common fisheries policy. Here we begin to see what that would mean. Can the Minister say when the final meeting of the Joint Ministerial Council that addressed the Bill took place, and how much agreement was achieved?

The tone of the Bill strikes me as incredibly optimistic in comparison with the norms of most of our legislation, but perhaps it is impossible for it to work otherwise. Many clauses call for consultation, and there is to be an appeal or dispute resolution process for the charges on discards—but, interestingly, not on the allocation of licences or on many other issues. As my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay emphasised, the presumption has to be that everyone will remain co-operative and ready to agree. If, however, they do not, we are in unknown territory.

From briefings that we have received from the industry, it appears that the new mechanism for regulating catches is much more acceptable than the old common fisheries policy concept of “relative stability”. This is a hopeful sign. However, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, pointed out where the criteria that we are adopting fall short of what might be required for true sustainability.

The fact that in Clause 1(6) there is to be a requirement to record all catches, including bycatch, should—as was mentioned by my noble friend Lady Byford—give a far more comprehensive and acceptable record on which to base policies. Furthermore, it is supported by fishermen. I believe that we all recognise that in the fishing industry, when an edict comes down from on high—as currently happens—it is usually not something with which fishermen will meekly comply. The challenge for the new policy is whether it will trigger a change in the culture of some of the more belligerent elements in the industry, and whether there will be a sufficient number of responsible fishermen to set a new tone that will encourage others to comply.

My noble friend Lord Selkirk of Douglas reconfirmed the general idea proposed in regulation to reflect the pattern that has been developed in the Norwegian fishery over the last 20 years, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, mentioned that we should look for an improvement in what has been developed there. However, until we have a little more detail on implementation and monitoring, it is hard for us here to know how successful it will be in protecting vulnerable species.

One area where devolved rights seem to be a very contentious issue is quotas. A number of noble Lords who have spoken find, as I do, that the different elements in the Bill paint a very confusing picture. In Clause 2, the Bill very properly says that all must agree on policy in a joint fisheries statement. However, when we get to Clause 23 we see that it will be up to the Secretary of State to set out the quantity of fish that may be taken or the number of days that boats can be at sea. Having spent many days—like many earlier speakers—in your Lordships’ Energy and Environment Committee debating the uptake of the EU’s new discard policy, it would be interesting for me to get some indication from the Minister about what criteria the Government are thinking of using in this judgment.

In Clause 25 it is the national fisheries authorities who appear to be responsible for distributing fishing opportunities to fishing boats. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Dunlop for explaining what will govern the distribution of quotas among the four Administrations. Does the Minister not think that it would be helpful for some reference to this mechanism to be mentioned in the Bill? Otherwise, we are left with very little indication.

How different national fisheries authorities should conduct their own distribution is, quite appropriately, not addressed in the Bill, but an exception is made when it states that the Secretary of State should have power of regulation over any sale of English catch quota. Can my noble friend the Minister indicate whether in England, or even in other authorities, sales to foreign vessels will be in the hands of the fisheries authorities, or will it be merely an opportunity for individual fishermen to dispose of the catch as they wish?

It is welcome that one of the objectives of the Bill is to bring social and economic benefits to any part of the United Kingdom, but I think we can all agree that the real issue for our fishermen will be the deals that the Government make to secure a reasonable level of income for their industry.

18:40
Lord Mountevans Portrait Lord Mountevans (CB)
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My Lords, I note my maritime interests recorded in the register, particularly as a council member of Maritime UK, which brings together the UK’s major maritime trade associations, and as a trustee of Seafarers UK, the leading national maritime charity. Both organisations are concerned for the economic and social welfare of the UK’s coastal communities, not least fishing communities.

I shall not rehearse again the numerous positive features of the Bill, which your Lordships have heard about already, other than to say that I support it. It is an enabling Bill, and I am sure that many in the House will look forward to working with the Minister to achieve its desirable goals and others that have been suggested.

The Bill and what will follow offer a unique opportunity to address the severe challenges facing the under 10 metre fleet. This once-vibrant sector of our fleet used to supply fresh fish, employment—often in areas where few, if any, alternatives were present—and a sense of worth. There is a historical disparity in allocation of quota, in the form of fixed-quota allocations, which has seriously disadvantaged the smaller sector, which, despite making up 80% of the UK fleet by number, has access to less than 2% of our national allocation. I welcome the aims of Clause 25, which seeks to utilise social, economic and environmental criteria when allocating quota rather than continue to rely only on the highly controversial historical rights as a basis for allocation. I agree with the Fisheries Minister, George Eustice, who made clear in evidence to a parliamentary committee recently:

“As we depart from relative stability and have new fishing opportunities coming in, I do not think it makes any sense at all to compound the injustice of the FQA system.”


If I might make one suggestion to the Minister, an easy win for the under 10 metre sector would be for him to intercede to ensure that delays in granting the Coastal Producer Organisation the same rights and privileges as other producer organisations in the country are dealt with by the Marine Management Organisation. The under 10 metre fleet could then benefit from tailored quota management in the same way as the over 10 metre fleet currently enjoys. This could be profoundly beneficial to the fortunes of the small-boat sector.

Staying with quotas, it is clear that, in real terms, its effective privatisation has led to increased consolidation to the detriment of the small-scale fleet, which simply does not have the resources to compete with far better-resourced corporate bodies. There are some alarming figures out there: a recent investigation found that the five largest quota-holders control more than a third of UK fishing quota. Around half of England’s quota is ultimately owned by Dutch, Icelandic or Spanish interests. I have found, as I am sure have others, that the deeper one goes into this, the more complex the whole subject is.

On the basis of the above, I am concerned to see that Clause 27 promotes an annual auction of fishing rights. If the Government are looking at this approach as a method of generating revenue, surely a more equitable method would be simply to increase the levy currently attributed to the Sea Fish Industry Authority rather than effectively sell off a chunk of quota annually to the detriment of the great majority of the fleet, not least those who do not have the financial reserves to enter into an auction race and those new entrants where it has been recognised that a major impediment to their ability to enter the catching sector is the cost of quota. Such an auction would without doubt serve only to benefit already wealthy operators at the expense of other fishermen. and would ostensibly be open to resale or lease under the proposed rules, further underpinning the current imbalance in allocations.

In addition, Clause 27(3)(n) states that the regulations may include provision for

“the payment of compensation to a person who holds but does not use rights sold in accordance with the regulations.”

In much the same way as UK fishermen are regularly disenfranchised by the quota held by slipper skippers—those who have been awarded quota but lease it out rather than fish themselves—and quota traders, anyone other than genuinely working fishermen holding quota should arguably do so only on a “use it or lose it” basis.

On access to our waters by EU fishing vessels from January 2021, it is of paramount importance to the fishing community that, whatever arrangements the Government finally come to with the EU, the absolute red line for the UK’s inshore fleet is that the 12-mile fisheries limit is made sacrosanct. This move, together with the increasingly urgent need to develop, in the words of Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, world-leading fisheries management linked to a fairer and more equitable allocation of quota, would do much to begin to rejuvenate many of our coastal communities and the small-scale fishermen and women who support them.

The Bill and the welcome accompanying debate around the UK fishing industry afford a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for government and society to address some of the challenges that I and other noble Lords have noted. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, noted the dangers of this calling. In the past 10 years, 94 fishermen have died off the UK, 529 have suffered serious injury and 210 fishing vessels have been lost.

As noted by the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester and Lord Lansley, we must not overlook the importance and value of our distant-waters fishermen who fish the north Atlantic waters of the Barents Sea, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. In the context of the negotiations with the EU, it is vital that the UK retains access to these waters. At the same time, these countries will want continued access to the UK market for their fish exports. But as far as I can see, their interests are not addressed in the Bill. This may be appropriate, as the Bill seeks to address the opportunities of an independent state. Can the Minister say that their interests—essentially, continued access to the waters of Arctic Norway, Greenland and the Faroe Islands—will be assured? Their major concerns can be summarised as follows: a statutory requirement to consult industry, including the distant fishing fleet, in agreeing fisheries statements or in respect of bilateral or multilateral fisheries agreements; including in the Bill reference to the objectives and processes for UK participation in the future management of fisheries in the so-called northern external waters, and ensuring that the competent authority secures continued UK access to fisheries in respect of those non-EU coastal states with which the UK enters bilateral trade agreements.

I draw the attention of the Minister and the House to a forthcoming report from Liverpool John Moores University to be published by Seafarers UK. This follows the study, Fishing for a Future, which Seafarers published in 2018. That wide-ranging study covered multiple aspects of the industry and helped raise awareness of the safety, welfare and social issues affecting many of the UK’s small-scale coastal fishers and their communities among government and other policymakers. I commend the report, the final draft of which I hope I have seen.

Since I have the attention of a well-informed and very engaged Minister, I want to conclude with mention of some of the study’s recommendations. On the need for access to affordable credit, a proposal is made for a national credit union offer. A second proposal is for financial education for those employed in the “share fish” community; here, as with those employed in the gig economy, government clearly has a key role. Regarding PAYE, tax and national insurance, we recommend that charities, third-sector organisations and government departments initiate interventions to support fishermen where support and guidance with form-filling, assessments et cetera is required. To modernise share fishing, it is recommended that the larger-scale fleet more widely introduce employment status in its sector and that, within the smaller-scale fleet, a debate is had on the value of moving from a share fishing model to one based on co-operative principles. Finally, a national plan for the development and sustainability of small-scale fishing is proposed. This would need specific action to support the financial resilience and business success of small-scale coastal fishers.

18:50
Baroness Worthington Portrait Baroness Worthington (CB)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak in this debate and to follow so many learned noble Lords and the excellent points they have made in relation to this Bill. I agree with many who have said that this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to introduce new framework legislation to address the management of our fisheries.

Fisheries management is the ultimate tragedy of the commons. We have a collective resource, yet it is in everyone’s individual interests to exploit it to maximum economic yield in the short term to the detriment of the long term; a number of noble Lords have pointed out that this is true fisheries. Add to that that in the marine environment it is almost impossible to carry out effective MRV—monitoring, reporting and verification —and you get a really wicked problem. Therefore, the chance in the UK to write new framework legislation is hugely exciting. In the tragedy of the commons, the normal way to try and resolve the issue might be to form multilateral approaches. We are here doing the opposite; we are going to use unilateral policy, and there are challenges in that.

Of course, we have talked about the negotiations that we had with the European Union, but the best way we can go forward, I think, is to take more time to create exemplary policy in this area. If we are to be unilateral about it, let us write gold-standard, world-class legislation and hope that that then promulgates itself into other parts of the world where it is much needed, and that includes within the European Union because—let us be honest—the CFP is failing, for two important reasons. The first is that maximum scientific yield is disregarded. The scientists spend lots of time poring over data and trying to estimate in this horribly changing world what a safe yield might be for fisheries stocks. Then a political horse trading takes place on top of that, in which case the maximum scientific yield values are then disregarded and a new maximum quota is set which takes into account socioeconomic factors—meaning jobs in the near term in countries, places and regions of countries where politicians care about the jobs. We already see that the CFP is failing on that basic test of whether it can successfully manage the tragedy of the commons. It has resulted in overfishing. In the UK now, 40% of our stocks are deemed to be overfished. That is up from 30% just a year ago, so something clearly is not working; and this is after successive rounds of reform of the CFP. We have a chance now to get it right. Another fundamental failure, apart from the MSY-plus-plus model that was adopted, is the relative stability, the model by which we grant access to quota. That has been done on the basis of a historic catch, which now no longer has any bearing on the modern fishing fleet or indeed the actual availability of fish in our waters, so being able to move away from that and to develop a much better system is a real prize.

EO Wilson, a famous conservationist, once said that the problem with humanity is that we have Palaeolithic brains, medieval institutions and godlike technology; I think this definitely applies in the fishing sector. The godlike technology, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and others have mentioned, has basically made us capable of extracting resource from the marine environment in ever more efficient ways. We are literally hoovering masses and tons of biomass out of our oceans and into commodity supply chains. The bucolic vision of a small fishing fleet leaving a harbour, getting a lovely fresh catch and bringing it back to shore, which we all then enjoy and eat, is not the reality of the industry today. It is hugely industrialised, hugely concentrated in its power and hugely influential in its lobbying. There is a tragedy of the incumbents that is writ throughout the sector, and they will put pressure on all the people involved in this new system to ask for a greater quota and more access to immediate cash in the short term. I am sure that in those negotiations the €500 million being taken by overseas vessels out of UK waters will be front and centre in their minds about how this should be managed.

As a society, we must really think about what we are doing in granting a quota. We are giving a right to a common asset that belongs not just to us but to future generations. There is an intrinsic value in what we are doing. We are taking something of great worth and giving it to the private sector to exploit. We should ask for far higher standards in that transaction. Think about what we are asking now in the common agricultural policy—there is another Bill in another place going through the same process, trying to reinvent a framework piece of legislation that can show the world how we do this sustainable management of our commons correctly. There, we will establish a principle that no public money should be spent without public good coming back in return. By granting quota and giving grants—I note that the Bill enables the continuation of grants—we have to apply strict criteria that this public money is being spent for the public good. I see no reason why we should not treat the fishing industry the same way as we treat the agriculture industry, in moving us forward into a much more sustainable management system.

The other thing, which many noble Lords have mentioned, is the use of MRV in technology. The godlike technology cuts both ways. It obviously enables us to catch and find fish far more effectively, but it also enables us to keep an eye on what we are doing in this tragedy of the commons. There has to be much more in this Bill that signals to the fleet that we will use MRV to oversee this management process, to ensure that we see fish come back into our oceans and a return to the time when our oceans were abundant with life. That is what we need to get back to, both for the short term and for the longer term. How will we use MRV to ensure not just that we are policing what is happening in our waters but, if we sell off quota to overseas fisheries, that we know what they have caught if it is not landed in the UK? What will be the reciprocal reporting arrangements so that we can make sure that our quota is genuinely sustainable and not continuing this pattern of business-as-usual overfishing and all the problems that brings?

Finally, another thing that we ought to think about strongly is the fact that our oceans, in terms of climate change, are a natural sink of carbon. They can help us in meeting our carbon budgets in the sense that they store carbon and lock up carbon in our waters. I might table a probing set of amendments in relation to this Bill, but I see no reason why we cannot think now about some of the methodologies we could introduce that would encourage fishermen, the fishers and stewards of our coastal communities, to be rewarded for doing the right thing in terms of climate change. That might mean a return to much more coastal fisheries, a low-impact aquaculture—returning to bivalves as a key source of protein, which locks up carbon; seagrass plantations; and the preservation of seaweed beds. We must think carefully about the effect of bottom trawling on our deep sink of carbon on the floor of the oceans. It is a much less studied issue, but our seas store more carbon than the rainforests, and by allowing fishing to carry on unrestrained we are losing carbon sinks and adding to a possibly unmonitored and unreported source of climate damage. This sector has huge potential to help us in both restoring carbon and drawing it down, while providing good, fresh protein sources for our people. Locally caught fish are some of the best forms of protein that we could possibly imagine. They have a very low carbon footprint, and we are much better eating local fish than importing meat from overseas.

We have a possibility here of bringing life back to our oceans, stimulating our local communities, helping with climate change and stopping the fishing industry from making it any worse. That can all be achieved with the right framework legislation. I have been involved in another form of framework legislation on climate change, from which I learned that to make a Bill successful and to make the legislation truly framework, you need clear targets in legislation, a clear timetable that holds the Government to account, and independent advice. This Bill does not contain any of those things, I am afraid, so it misses that important opportunity to learn from what we know has worked in other sectors. This Bill is that famous empty picture frame. We need to fill it with a wonderful picture and a vision that will bring money and life back to our oceans and will help show that there is some benefit to us becoming unilateral, in a time in the world when I think we need much more multilateralism. But that is another discussion.

18:58
Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, we are at a historic moment where the UK is in transit to leaving the European Union, and we need to negotiate new arrangements in that process. We are leaving the common fisheries policy and there will be major changes, with, I hope, not unexpectedly high expectations, as other noble Lords have referred to. This is a framework Bill, and much of the detail, by necessity, will be set out in subsequent regulations.

It is generally understood that fish stocks are a shared resource. After all, they do not swim around with union jacks on their fins. An extra complicating factor is the warming of the waters, and the fact that fish stocks are moving further north out of UK waters.

The Bill is based on the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone agreed under UNCLOS—the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea—which allows us to exploit resources from the water and the seabed. The 200 nautical mile limit is modified by median lines drawn between inhabited areas, occupied islands and mainlands. For the UK, the median lines define the limits in all areas to the south, which is France; to the east, the North Sea countries; and to the north, Norway to the north-east and the Faroes to the north-west. Yet in fact in only two places do we reach 200 nautical miles.

I was very taken by the accounts of the court cases shared with us by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. I do not know if he remembers one in 1983, with the arrest of the Danish skipper and Member of the European Parliament, Kent Kirk, who was fishing in the 12-mile limit and was eventually referred, after his arrest in South Shields, to the European Court of Justice.

My interest in fisheries derives from my student days learning the international law of the sea from the legendary Pat Birnie, who was also the legal adviser to the Government at the time, from my time in Maryport as a parliamentary candidate, through to representing the Essex coast as a Member of the European Parliament and then, for a time, being MP for Filey. There is an issue I have come across in all those scenarios, which I thought the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, put very eloquently, which is the plight of the inshore fishermen. That is not something that has ever been a problem under the common fisheries policy: it could easily be resolved by our Government and I hope the Minister and the Government will now take the opportunity to resolve this issue. I am also interested in the issue of bycatch, particularly the issue of salmon as bycatch to the main catch of shellfish, and I hope that that can be resolved. I was not entirely satisfied by the responses in the briefing we received prior to the Bill being published.

The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, referred to sustainability. He would like to see Clause 1 relate entirely to sustainability, but I believe it is very important—indeed, crucial—that sustainability must be based on research. That is why I welcome the scientific evidence objective. I also welcome the fact that the Government are committed to continuing the work of ICES—the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea—which is based in Copenhagen but relies heavily on research input from the UK. The Government have said they will continue to fund this, but my understanding is that it is currently funded up to 50%, in our case, by the European Union. How will that research continue to be funded?

I believe that where we have gone wrong in the past, which has led to overfishing, is that we have not relied enough on the research that has been handed to Fisheries Ministers. There is a very real concern, which my noble friend the Duke of Montrose referred to, that conservation is being left entirely to the fishing industry to uphold. I hope my noble friend the Minister will reassure us on this point. I am mindful of the history; notably what was referred to as the black fish scam, in which, over a three-year period between January 2002 and March 2005, 17 fishermen were brought to court and found to have illegally landed mackerel and herring at a Shetland factory in Lerwick. This was a £63 million scam, leading to a fine of almost £1 million, so I hope we will not see the likes of that again.

I welcome the Second Reading of the Bill. During its passage I would like to explore a number of issues. The first goes to the heart of fisheries policy post Brexit: how will the UK access fish stocks and how will our erstwhile EU partners have access to those stocks in our waters? The Government oversimplify things by saying that claiming our waters is their priority, because that is only part of the issue. Is it not the case that the UK will potentially lose some useful areas outside UK waters where we currently fish, but potentially gain exclusive access to less useful areas? While almost all the economically significant stocks are in the UK exclusive economic zone, there are others that we fish in the waters of other EU member states.

UNCLOS requires the UK to participate in a management based on the straddling fish stocks agreement, which means that we need to negotiate almost everything. I would welcome greater emphasis on the fact that the Government do indeed intend to meet their international obligations under UNCLOS. How will the UK access the market, given that we currently sell 50% of the UK quota to the EU? Given the high price that fresh fish raises, which a number of noble Lords alluded to, and the fact that fresh fish can be taken rapidly by lorry—typically to French markets aimed at the restaurant trade there—it is very important that we keep this flexible, quick trade open. If it is interrupted, we must recognise that the value of landings may drop. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that seeking agreement with the EU in all things in fisheries, including markets and access, is important, however complex the negotiations might be?

I am mindful of the fact that the implications of breaches of any such agreement can be serious. We should learn from past experience. When the Faroes, which are not in the EU, broke a quota agreement on mackerel, the EU blocked all fisheries imports from the Faroes. What happens to that part of the UK’s current quota that is owned by EU fishermen in the Netherlands and other EU countries, notably herring, plaice and sole quotas? These species are often caught under the UK quota, using UK-flagged vessels, and landed directly into the Netherlands. Who should have rights of quota ownership in the new situation under the Bill? Will the UK reallocate all quota which is owned—in other words, already bought—by UK-based but foreign-owned fishing companies? What will the solution be to each of these issues, which are, after all, linked?

One fact I have not heard raised this evening is that most Danish fisheries, and certainly most Danish fishing companies, are owned by the Norwegians, which is how they manage to get into the single market and the customs union. That is often overlooked.

There are number of omissions in the Bill that I will pursue in Committee. In particular, why were discards dropped as an objective in Clause 1, and why is there no mention in Clause 1(4) of endangered species? Sharks and ray reproduce more slowly than most commercial fish and are therefore deemed to be vulnerable and perhaps worthy of protection. There is lots to explore in Committee, but I give the Second Reading a warm welcome.

19:07
Earl Cathcart Portrait Earl Cathcart (Con)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lady McIntosh. When I was about nine or 10, my father took me from our home on the River Dart in Devon to Brixham harbour to watch the fishing fleet leaving port on the tide. There were dozens and dozens—it seemed like hundreds to me—of trawlers fanning out to sea to their favourite fishing spots. It is a sight that I have never forgotten. Of course, we will never see the like of that again, because since joining the Common Market, the size of our fishing fleet has reduced to only a fraction of what it was. Indeed, in the last 20 years 750 vessels—about half—have gone out of business. This has had a devastating effect on the way of life and jobs throughout UK harbours.

The common fisheries policy has been called the EU’s most unpopular and discredited policy, leaving the UK with only about 40% of the fish caught in its own waters. The Bill is about recovering the responsibility for the management of our fishing waters, which was lost to Brussels when we joined the Common Market. I support the Bill, which is also supported broadly by all the fishing organisations. Under international law, from 1 January 2021, the UK will become an independent coastal state and, as far as the EU is concerned, a separate country. As such, the UK will determine who may fish in UK waters and under what conditions, just as the EU will determine if UK trawlers may fish in EU waters and under what conditions. It will work both ways.

It is interesting that in money terms EU catches from UK waters are worth about five times as much as what our fleet catches in EU waters. One can understand why the EU wants a 25-year settlement based on the current quota system—in order, it says, to avoid economic dislocation for its continental fishermen and their communities. What a pity that Brussels was not just as concerned to avoid economic dislocation for our fishermen and their communities when we joined the common market.

I have no doubt that the negotiations will be difficult, but what if no agreement can be reached by January 2021? Under international law, the UK and EU fleets will be able to fish only in their own zones until an agreement is reached. This happens from time to time when there is an impasse in the annual negotiations between the EU and Norway—both fleets are restricted to their respective zones until agreement is reached.

As my noble friend Lord Dunlop said, last week the Prime Minister said that any agreement on fisheries

“must reflect the fact that the UK will be an independent coastal state from the end of this year, controlling our own waters.”

Interestingly, he has proposed annual negotiations, like those between the EU and Norway, to ensure that

“British fishing grounds are first and foremost for British boats.”

That is a good starting point. This Bill is about taking back control of our fishing waters. Quite what will be given away is anyone’s guess, and I am sure that the negotiations will be tricky. Already the EU is trying to link fishing with finance. But there are high expectations, as has been said, from the fishing communities that a deal will be reached which will ensure a reinvigorated and vibrant fishing industry with a sustainable future. By that I mean fish stocks, but I will have to read the excellent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, again. I just trust that the fishing communities will not be too disappointed.

19:12
Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson (LD)
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My Lords, one thing that I have come to learn about fisheries is that, the more you learn about it, the more you do not understand it. It is absolutely true; if there is one sector where the more you know, the more you do not know, this is it. Following on from that, it is very easy for us, quite rightly, to criticise the common fisheries policy—I have been one of its fundamental critics in the past—but no fisheries policy is perfect. Nowhere in the world can you find a perfect fisheries regime.

The closest I have ever got to seeing one was in New Zealand, which is seen as having one of the most successful systems that works well for producers as well as conservation. It has complete control of its continental shelf, which helps, but strangely enough its industry is totally concentrated. In fact, we would find it completely unacceptable in this country because there are no fishing coves with small boats; it is dominated by large vessels with tradeable quotas that everybody bids for annually or triennially—I cannot remember which. Because of that, those few boats can be controlled very strongly by the authorities, and it is in the interests of the three or four producers not to keep an eye on each other—and the problem, actually, is recreational fisheries, which I am pleased to say come under this Bill.

That model is absolutely inappropriate for the United Kingdom, but we should not forget that we have a very disparate industry here. Some in the industry make a shedload of money in this country. We all think of these sectors—which I know in Cornwall and others will know on the west coast of Scotland, the east coast of England and, I suspect, Northern Ireland—where fisheries are a really hard living. However, the big companies make a lot of money, so we should not think too sentimentally about a large proportion of this industry in terms of money and volume. Good luck to them; I am not against that, but there are certain things which come from that. We think of fisheries in terms of the products we eat for our supper or have with chips, but the shellfish industry is also incredibly important to the UK—going out with pots and all those other things are important as well. It is a very varied industry.

Scotland is very different from England as well. I was slightly surprised by the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, who I think said that the Shetlands lands more fish than the whole of England. I may be wrong, but I think Peterhead is the largest fishing port in the UK by far, followed by Fraserburgh, then Lerwick and Scrabster. However, Newlyn and Brixham are not far behind, certainly compared to Lerwick, but they are very different industries looking at different things.

We on these Benches are looking for four principles in this Bill. The key one is sustainability. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has said that that must be defined better, and I accept that entirely. The amendments I have been thinking about do not do so sufficiently, so I look forward to his intervention.

The second principle is looking at how the inshore fleet—particularly the fleets with boats under 10 metres—are dealt with. Exactly as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said, ironically it was completely in our power to give that sector as much of our total quota as we wanted. To give George Eustice, the Fisheries Minister, his due, he started to reallocate some of that quota to the under 10 metre or inland fleet over the last couple of years. That is an important area.

Another important issue for these Benches, which I do not think has been mentioned, is transparency. This is a national resource, yet there is little transparency about how quota is divided up and who owns what among the producer organisations. We talk about statistics of foreign-owned British flag vessels, but no one has an exact percentage of what quota they have. Much of this area is not easily understood, and we would like to see a dose of transparency about the industry—this is not to threaten commercial confidences in any way, but we need to understand how a lot of these mechanisms work. There is an incumbency at the moment; it is not necessarily just for the future.

The final principle for us, coming back to what the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, said, is that we should never forget that this is a national resource. We are talking about the UK taking back control; this should be a resource that is nationally ours as citizens. We should take care over how it is distributed and looked after.

I will go through a couple of things in the Bill. To come back to something said very well by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, the objectives at the beginning of this Bill are seriously muddled. There is the sustainability objective, yet most of that is about a socioeconomic objective. I would not be averse to maybe having a separate socioeconomic objective. The sustainability objective must be the prime objective among all the others. We have confusion with eight, potentially nine, objectives, and that is almost impossible. Organisations such as Ofgem in the energy area have a number of objectives that can become confused. We need to indicate which objectives are the most important and which are not. The sustainability objective needs to stand by itself and the rest should be shifted elsewhere.

The socioeconomic aspect is important, but there are other ways to solve that issue other than going for short-term non-sustainability. We can fund fleets—the EU does that—and there are ways in which we can finance people not to fish, if necessary, to protect our national resource. It would not be perfect, but it is a way in which to do it. There have been decommissioning schemes in the past, and one of the main reasons why all fleets have reduced in size is nothing to do with the common fisheries policy specifically but because we are much more efficient in how we operate our fishing vessels. Of course we are. They innovate with larger vessels, larger nets, bigger engines and all the technology that allows them to fish more intelligently. Therefore, fleet sizes are going to come down. The biggest example of that was when sail was replaced by steam. The whole of the south-west fishing fleet halved in a matter of years. It is around technology.

The objective on equal access also concerns me. It sounds reasonable and means effectively that wherever vessels are registered—in Scotland, Wales, England or at a particular port—they can fish where they want. That is my understanding. My concern is because the industry is highly concentrated and wants to concentrate more. It has large returns and big financial resources. The Bill proposes a method by which quotas can be auctioned, tendered or used, but what is to stop additional concentration and for those vessels to come to other parts of the UK and start to take away other stocks that are relied on by other regions? I can imagine a situation whereby there was an auction for a quota in the south-west and Scottish vessel owners said, “Yes, we will try to buy that up”, but the Government said, “No, we want that for the south-west”. Given the current objective, I would say that that situation would be a matter for judicial review and the Government would lose. I am concerned that having a stated objective would be a potential threat to other regions that the mobility is no good for. However, I am not trying to stop that mobility because, in Plymouth, Scottish vessels are important for a lot of the fish processing. I am just concerned about having equal access as an objective.

Another issue in the Bill is the stock management plans, which, as proposed, are a fiction. As we know, some 80% of our precious stocks swim outside our EEZ, and quite a few of the spawning grounds for those stocks are also outside it. It is therefore impossible to have a credible fisheries plan—the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, mentioned this—just for one’s own territorial waters. That does not work around the United Kingdom. I should be interested to hear from the Minister what will happen to what has been the relatively successful regional management of the common fisheries policy, with agreements on regimes for the North Sea and the western waters. Will we try to continue those? We must try to make them work first before we go down the route of national plans, which need to be produced as a result of the overall plans in those fishery areas. Otherwise, the national plans cannot work and I do not see that sequence provided for in the Bill.

Another issue is data, which has been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. There must be more transparency within producer organisations. They effectively run the business and sort out quota, which has huge value, but they are pretty opaque organisations. There should be a public duty to have much more transparency in their actions, allocations and how they are run. A lot of that is there to some degree already, but it would be a lot healthier for what is a national resource if there was more transparency.

I am delighted that the landing obligation remains in the Bill and that the Government still see it as important. However, as has been said in previous debates and mentioned by a number of Members, if the landing obligation is to remain, we must have remote electronic monitoring. One cannot have non-discarding regimes that work without it. That obviously needs to apply also to foreign vessels that come into our waters. As has been stated by, I think, the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, there also must be a way in which we can access the data from foreign vessels that land abroad in order to have joint management.

The Bill is necessary. The marine environment is under pressure. Fisheries must become sustainable, not just in the long term but in the short term—and that is possible. The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, who is a valuable member of the committee that looked at this area, was right to say that maximum sustainable yield may not be the right measure and is something that must be looked at. That area gets complicated.

The Bill is needed, but we must put that painting that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, talked about into the picture frame before the legislation leaves this House. Understandably, a lot of downstream regulation in terms of technical measures and so on has to be done by secondary legislation. However, we have to get the Bill right. I am not sure about banning foreign landings by UK vessels. I have talked to the industry about that and it takes away part of their commercial ability. Now that we will have the friction of phytosanitary controls on land borders—although they will still be in operation at ports—such a ban would make it even more difficult to keep our markets open in the European Union. It is an interesting concept, however.

The Bill is important. We agree on a number of areas, particularly on the landing obligations and on getting the objectives right, and we very much look forward to Committee.

19:28
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for setting out the purpose of the Bill so clearly, and for organising some helpful briefings with officials beforehand. As many noble Lords have also admitted, I have been—and am still—on a steep learning curve, but we battle on. As my noble friend Lord Grantchester made clear, although the Bill has been a long time coming, we welcome its intent and many of the modifications made since the original version was published. We all want to see a more sustainable fishing regime, with scope for our declining fishing stock to be replenished, and we all want to see a better deal for UK fishers to have access to our own territorial waters. As with many of the Bills we will deal with in the coming months, our divergence from the Government is on the detail rather than the principle, but before I get into the detail I shall make a more general point about consistency.

We will shortly consider the Agriculture Bill and the Environment Bill in quick succession. These three Bills together make up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform our environmental footprint and clean up our air, water and land to create a green—and blue—renaissance. Delivering on our Paris agreement obligations and our new ambitions for COP 26 will be key, as will robust targets and measurable outcomes. In this respect, it is welcome that tackling climate change has been added to the Bill’s objectives. But we need something more than an aspiration to minimise the adverse impacts of fishing. We need to agree the current carbon footprint of the UK fleet, and we need a statutory commitment to deliver net zero emissions within a defined timescale. It is vital that these three Bills are consistent in their aspirations, targets and timescales. I therefore hope that when the Minister winds up, he will be able to confirm that a process of cross-referencing between the Bills is taking place to ensure that policy priorities do not slip through the cracks or suffer from conflicting narratives between the Bills.

As many noble Lords said, much of the detailed future for UK fishers will be dealt with elsewhere, in trade negotiations, rather than in the detail of the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said—he has been quoted several times—it is a picture frame without a picture. It is therefore a real concern that our sustainability objective could be traded away for other priorities or subsumed under more pressing economic interests. We will need to address and bottom out that issue as the debate goes on, and we will need to understand quite how much influence we can have, not over the detail of the trade negotiations but over the essential priorities that we have all outlined today. Meanwhile, there are a number of details in the Bill where we would like to see some improvement, some of which I will set out.

First, a number of noble Lords raised concerns about the loose commitment on maximum sustainable yields in the Bill, although that looser wording seems nevertheless to have the support of the fishers’ organisations. However, we know from our experience with the common fisheries policy that warm words without distinct obligations are all too easily circumvented. We would therefore like to see that wording tightened up, although I am rather chastened by the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, who said that “maximum sustainable yield” might not be the best terminology in the first place. I am sure we can debate that as we go forward. We agree that there is a case for quotas to be set below maximum sustainable yield to allow a period of stock and marine habitat regeneration, and this coming period would be the ideal time to do this as new fishing opportunities come online. However, at the very least, we would expect to see a binding legal commitment running through the Bill not to fish above scientifically agreed sustainable levels, applicable to all the players responsible for oversight of the fishing allocations. As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said, we expect to see delivery of real investment and support for our scientists. If ours are to be the most sustainable fisheries in the world, we need the best and most trusted science in the world.

However, as my noble friend Lord Grantchester made clear, our scientific data is of use only if it is backed up by proper enforcement. As we discovered with the rollout of the discard ban and our wonderful debate on the Lords committee report on it, there is far too little real evidence of whether it is working. That is why, along with several noble Lords this evening, we support the use of compulsory surveillance technology on board boats, and an increase in inspection and enforcement vessels. We welcome the Government’s proposal in the Bill for charging those who land over-quota or unauthorised fish, and we think that will help to address this matter. It will also help to address the complexities of mixed fisheries, but we can explore that further in Committee. We will want to explore these things in more detail as the Bill progresses.

Secondly, we would like to see the majority of the new fishing quotas that will come on stream being allocated to the smaller boats and fleets. As several noble Lords said, the current fixed-quota system has not been updated since the 1990s and is outdated and unfair, with quotas increasingly consolidated in the hands of a few rich families. We therefore believe that the smaller fleets should now be given preference, particularly as they tend to use less damaging gear and create significantly more jobs per tonne of fish landed than the larger-scale sector. We are particularly concerned that a tendering process for new fishing opportunities, as envisaged in the Bill, will preclude those small operators unless quota is set aside for them. A number of noble Lords talked about the olden days and how they remember them, and I suspect that most of the great British public, when they thought we were getting our fishing waters back, expected that advantage to be given to smaller fishing fleets rather than the larger, more industrial fishing boats. It is what we want and I think it is what the public would want. We will also want to ensure that where foreign vessels are licensed to fish in our waters, they have to abide by the same safety and surveillance standards as we demand of our domestic vessels.

Thirdly, we expect to see specific measures to help regenerate our struggling coastal communities. My noble friend Lord Bassam’s committee last year produced an excellent report showing that seaside towns are some of the most deprived in the country. They have the highest rates of unemployment and lower wages, and many suffer large outflows of younger workers. They urgently need new and sustainable businesses in their locality to give them hope. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, that affordable housing has to be in that mix as well. The Bill could provide an impetus for regeneration, providing new jobs in commercial and recreational fishing at sea, and support services on shore. However, it will happen only if the socioeconomic concerns identified in the Bill are turned into something positive. I was rather taken by the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that those socioeconomic concerns should perhaps be set out somewhere else in the Bill. We can certainly explore that in more detail. That is why we will propose amendments to require the majority of the catch caught in UK waters to be landed in UK ports. We may have a difference on that, but we can talk about it in more detail. That could provide the crucial sea change that makes our ports and harbours live again and turns around the fortunes of many of those communities.

Finally, as the Minister pointed out, this is a framework Bill, and it leaves many of the questions about the future of the UK fleet unanswered. As such, it will provide little comfort for the fishers, who have to await the outcome of the trade talks still to take place. However, it seems ironic that the Bill seems to describe a process for allocating quotas just as complicated as the much-derided common fisheries policy. Again, I agree that a little more transparency would not go amiss where that is concerned. The Bill also gives the Secretary of State considerable powers to vary the terms of the fisheries management plans and the licence allocations. Therefore, while several noble Lords welcomed the collaboration with the devolved nations which led up to the framework Bill before us, it is also vital that there is a degree of ongoing generosity and diplomacy in ensuring that the particular interests of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland continue to be properly reflected. Several noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, described the disproportionate impact on fragile, localised communities, so it is not just a case of the four devolved nations; more specific and delicate negotiations will need to take place. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, described very well the particular dexterity needed to balance those different needs, particularly when they are so disparate. We want to ensure that there is proper consultation and parliamentary scrutiny of the powers given to the Secretary of State. I was very taken by the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, that the joint fisheries statement could provide something more proactive in taking negotiations forward. I like the idea that it ought to happen now, rather than later. Maybe we can explore that further.

Finally, we want more information about the proposed transition to these new arrangements, including, for example, on points that noble Lords have raised about the status of existing quotas, which have historically been purchased by foreign vessels. Will they still apply on 1 January next year? I am conscious that I have not done justice to all the points made, but I look forward to working with noble Lords on their many good suggestions as the Bill moves through the House. This is a vital Bill for the future livelihoods of UK fishers and the future health of our marine environment. It is important that we all play our part in getting it right, and I look forward to the debate.

19:40
Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to the debate. I say from the outset that so many points have been made that it would be impossible to answer them all, even if I persuaded the Chief Whip to give me an hour. I have taken all the points on board, but I cannot answer every one during my reply. I regret that, but that is where we are.

There are around 12,000 people employed in the UK fishing fleet and the UK seafood sector employs 33,000 people in total. The Bill provides the powers to continue to support this important sector, which is intrinsically bound to our island heritage. One of our experts in this House, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, quite rightly said that it is such a varied industry. I was pleased that the noble Lord raised shellfish. The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, mentioned a national resource. Absolutely it is. A number of your Lordships mentioned that we have some of the best scientists in the world on this matter, and we should be proud of that.

I return to my noble friend Lord Cathcart speaking of his early memories of fishing fleets at Brixham. Indeed, some of your Lordships have spoken of what has happened in the intervening period. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, referred to a number of Defra Bills. In conjunction with the Environment Bill and the retained EU law that will be in place from 2021, this Fisheries Bill is key to ensuring that we manage our fisheries in a sustainable and coherent way, respecting the devolution settlements and, as has been mentioned before, supporting our coastal communities. In the interconnection, the proposed office for environmental protection will have a role in scrutinising all environmental law, including that which relates to fisheries and marine conservation.

A number of your Lordships raised this, but we have worked extremely closely with the devolved Administrations to establish fisheries objectives for the whole United Kingdom, for which we will set policies in the joint fisheries statement. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, raised this. These policies will focus on key areas of fisheries management, both to protect the environment and to enable a thriving fisheries industry. It is important, in the Government’s view, that each of the objectives is applied in a proportionate and balanced manner, when formulating policies and proposals. We have therefore committed to the joint fisheries statement explaining how the objectives have been interpreted and proportionately applied. This provides an additional guarantee that we will not implement policies that promote one objective at the expense of delivering others.

On the devolved Administrations, I was very pleased by what was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and my noble friends Lord Selkirk and Lord Dunlop. Defra considers its relationship with the devolved Administrations to be vital. The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, gave what I thought was a rather too pessimistic analysis of how we have been conducting business with the devolved Administrations. We have worked extremely closely with colleagues in the Administrations on a range of marine fisheries matters, including during the annual negotiations. This Bill has been much improved as a result of the input of each of the Administrations.

I had the privilege of representing the United Kingdom in the 2018 fisheries negotiations, and I can attest to the closeness with which we worked with the devolved Administrations—through the night, I have to say. This work was an example of that. I was pleased that my noble friend Lord Dunlop raised Scotland, but I would say this also for Wales or Northern Ireland. Our work has been very close. It is why, for elements that need resolutions that are more difficult to manage, the Government are developing a memorandum of understanding with the devolved Administrations. This was a matter my noble friend Lord Caithness particularly raised. It will enshrine co-operative ways of working, and a mechanism for escalating and resolving disputes, should they arise.

Consultation with the devolved Administrations was raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and my noble friend Lord Dunlop. International fisheries arrangements are a reserved matter under the devolution settlement. On that basis, the Secretary of State has the responsibility for setting the quota but, again, the devolved Administrations are always consulted. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, asked whether the joint fisheries statements would be legally binding. The joint fisheries statement is legally binding for the four fisheries administrations, which again is clear.

I think I heard the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, say that no speaker before him had raised the issue of negotiations. I made it clear in my opening remarks that access to our waters will be a matter of negotiation. As all noble Lords have referred to, this Bill is the framework to enable us to implement whatever is agreed internationally. I say also to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and my noble friend Lord Selkirk that the UK has always said that it is seeking to put in place new arrangements for annual negotiations on access to waters, with the sharing of fishing opportunities based on fairer and more scientific methods. The UK and EU commit to use best endeavours to have a fisheries agreement in place by 1 July 2020. This will allow us to negotiate as an independent coastal state for access and fisheries opportunities. I know we all need a reality check, but some of your Lordships have suggested that they almost will these negotiations not to be successful. It is our job always to ensure success in these negotiations.

The noble Earl, Lord Devon, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, noted that discussions with the EU on the structure and frequency of negotiations have begun. We expect negotiations to begin in the first week of March, once the EU’s mandate process is complete. We expect them to be conducted between sovereign equals on the basis of mutual respect.

As was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and the noble Lords, Lord Mountevans and Lord Hannay, meetings have been held with Norway and the Faroe Islands. Initial discussions focused on future fishing partnerships. Informal talks have also taken place with Iceland and Greenland. This emphasises the bona fides of the United Kingdom Government, as well as a recognition in all parts that these are shared stocks, so we have to work collaboratively.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, referred to the regional fisheries management organisations. The UK will join those organisations after the transition period and will continue to collaborate with other coastal states where there are shared interests in fisheries. There will be no gap in membership, which is very important. I should also say that through these bodies and our membership of ICES, the international body which advises on the status of fish stocks, we will continue to contribute our own scientific data to help set catch limits. UK data is and will continue to be collected by the world-leading Cefas.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, asked about scrutiny. Powers contained in the Bill require public consultation before they can be used. In addition, 11 of the 15 powers require the affirmative procedure. The fisheries White Paper sets out our commitment to working in greater partnership with industry and stakeholders, and we have already started to deliver on that by working with industry and the Sea Fish Industry Authority to develop improved management for shellfish and to consider the reform of inshore fisheries.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Young, asked about timetables. The timetables for producing fisheries management plans will be set out in the joint fisheries statement and will go out to public consultation as a part of that process. The joint fisheries statement must be adopted at least 18 months after the Bill receives Royal Assent.

The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, talked about quota. After 1 January next year, quota will be a matter for negotiation as an independent coastal state. We have been clear that any additional quota we negotiate may be distributed in England through a new method and we are working with the industry on this.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, talked about transparency. The Bill will provide greater transparency on how we manage and allocate quota in the United Kingdom through the Secretary of State’s determination of UK fisheries opportunities, which will be laid before Parliament. Furthermore, we will continue to work with the other fisheries administrations and the industry to revise the UK quota management rules. We have already published details on how we receive quota in the UK through the FQA register and we will continue to do so.

A number of noble Lords raised the issue of the under 10-metre fleet. The Government recognise the importance of the fleet and the actions we have already taken helped it land 36,000 tonnes of fish in 2018. We should also not forget that some under 10-metre vessels have sold their quota, while other fishermen have sold their quota for larger boats and have bought boats of under 10 metres.

On quota allocation, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, we do not need new powers in the Bill except for where we may tender for quota. Perhaps I may write to him in further detail about this because the subject is quite complex and I really ought to try to make progress. I was asked by my noble friend the Duke of Montrose whether there will be a guarantee that additional quota will not be sold to foreign vessels. In England, we will consider how best to use any additional quota in a way that maximises support for coastal communities. We will consult on the proposed approach enabling the industry, coastal communities and the wider public to have their say. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, asked about the determination of quota at a lower level than has been fished, which is covered in Clause 23. If necessary and appropriate, the Secretary of State can replace a determination during the calendar year, as is the case now, but if fisheries exceed their quota limits, they may be subject to sanction.

The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, asked whether maximum sustainable yield is the best measure. MSY is the standard internationally recognised measure in, for instance, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. However, in our view, MSY used is isolation is not sufficient to ensure the true sustainability of our fisheries. That is why we have proposed the development of fisheries management plans, which will allow us to take a wider-ecosystem approach. A number of noble Lords, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, also spoke about MSY. Due to the international nature of fishing and fish stocks, which span national boundaries, MSY for many stocks can be achieved only through international negotiations and relies on the good will and shared ambition of other parties. That is why the EU as a whole has not met the 2020 target. It is also why achieving MSY by 2020 was a target for the EU as a whole and did not apply to individual member states—precisely because many stocks cover broad geographical areas. This demonstrates how critical it is to seek to achieve MSY through negotiations with other coastal states, and we will use our negotiating power as an independent coastal state to seek to achieve sustainable fishing at the international level.

I agree with my noble friend Lady Byford and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, that we must cut down on the use of plastic. We are committed to protecting the marine environment, and tackling marine litter is a matter that we need to address both domestically and internationally.

On climate change, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, there are new grant-making powers for environmental conservation which cover climate change further. Emissions from fishing vessels count towards national emissions and are part of the national plans to address them over the longer term as part of the Climate Change Act.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked why we have removed the discards objective. While of course we are committed to ending wasteful discards, discarding is a symptom of bycatch, and this objective aims also to address the root causes of the issue. That is why it is now called the bycatch objective. My noble friend Lord Caithness asked about bycatch monitoring. Clause 1 on bycatch will require fisheries administrations to introduce policies that will deliver an improvement in the accuracy of the data available on catches.

My noble friend Lord Caithness asked about the licensing of foreign vessels in Scotland. The fisheries administrations have agreed that the MMO will act as a single issuing authority and issue licences to foreign boats on behalf of the four fishing administrations. As regards the plans on targets, these will set out the steps that the UK fisheries administration will take to achieve the objectives of the Bill. However, many of our fish stocks are shared with other coastal states, which means that we cannot unilaterally commit to time-bound targets for their restoration. This may well come up in Committee, but the Government are clear that this is an issue that we need to deal with on an international basis and we must not prejudice our own fishing interests on the back of it; we need to work collaboratively.

My noble friend Lord Lansley raised fishing data, as did other noble Lords. We are a strong advocate of collecting data to support the sustainable management of fisheries. Grandfather rights will be extinguished automatically, but the Crown dependencies will license foreign vessels in their waters. We are in discussions with the Isle of Man and the Crown dependencies.

My noble friend Lady Byford talked about the seabed. Some 25% of the UK seabed is currently protected by marine protection zones and the UK marine strategy includes a framework for assessing its health. I should also say to the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, that we have included new powers in the Bill to enable the Marine Management Organisation and Welsh and Scottish Ministers to protect and conserve the marine environment.

Again on the issue of discards, in England the discard prevention charging system is intended to work to help in this, and I am most grateful to my noble friend Lady Byford for mentioning Richard Benyon in that regard.

The Bill provides the powers to introduce the remote electronic monitoring—REM—of fishing vessels at sea. We continue to explore the potential use of REM, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and my noble friend Lady Byford, alongside other monitoring and enforcement tools, as a cost-effective and efficient way of monitoring fishing activity. In future we will be able to specify the requirement that foreign vessels wishing to fish in our waters have to comply with the conditions of access.

My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern spoke about Clause 12. This replaces a similar provision in the Fishery Limits Act 1976. Its aim is to recognise that boats may enter UK waters for purposes such as navigation or in cases of force majeure recognised by the UN convention.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, raised the voisinage agreement. The UK Government remain committed to the voisinage arrangement and to protecting continuing co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Methods for the allocation of the Northern Irish quota will be for the Northern Ireland Executive to consider and manage. The Prime Minister has been clear that beyond the limited changes introduced by the protocol, there will be no changes to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland remains part of the UK customs territory.

The noble Earl, Lord Devon, and a number of other noble Lords raised the issue of trade. Of course, we absolutely wish to trade. The political declaration sets out as an aim a zero-tariff and zero-quota FTA, and we are working to ensure that.

The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, asked about grant-making powers that will allow us to support the reorganisation, development and promotion of commercial aquaculture and commercial fishing activities. There were all sorts of other questions on the further support that we will have in the Bill. I am afraid that many other points were raised—I have gone through at the briskest gallop I could—but at this stage I look forward very much to a collaborative endeavour with your Lordships on the further stages of the Bill. For today, I commend this Bill to your Lordships.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Fisheries Bill [HL]

Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee stage
Monday 2nd March 2020

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) Page Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 71-II Second marshalled list for Committee - (2 Mar 2020)
Committee (1st Day)
15:19
Relevant document: 6th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
Amendment 1
Moved by
1: Before Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Fisheries principles
(1) Marine stocks within the UK Exclusive Economic Zone are a resource that belongs to the nation as a whole.(2) Any quotas or other rights to harvest marine stocks whether allocated to vessels, public bodies, or persons natural or corporate remain the property of the nation.(3) No vessel, public body, or person natural or corporate shall have a permanent claim over quota or other rights granted to them by a public authority or authorities.”Member’s explanatory statement
The amendment makes clear that UK fish stocks belong to the nation and not to private organisations.
Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson (LD)
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My Lords, it seems that whenever we start a fisheries discussion there is rather a lack of sustainability among our Members. One of the useful things between Second Reading and Committee is that we can reflect on the arguments and the Bill until we get into the discussion of amendments. One thing that struck me very strongly after Second Reading, on looking through the Bill again, is that it has hardly any ambition whatever. The withdrawal Act effectively makes us an independent coastal state, which we will be after the transition period, but, apart from that, all the Bill does is provide an administrative framework to keep the status quo.

I do not think that the status quo is good enough for the fishing industry. For instance, there is no provision for new entrants into the industry, which is important. There is no improvement in sustainability methods for fisheries. In fact, the Bill fudges sustainability even more than when we were in the common fisheries policy. There is no particular help for the small under-10 fleet. Because of that, there is no specific help for coastal communities either.

That is why I tabled this amendment, which goes to the fundamental matter of who fish stocks belong to, because the Bill does nothing to change that. At the moment, we have a situation where half of English stocks are owned by companies that are effectively owned by Iceland, Holland or Spain. In Scotland, a vast majority of the industry is owned by a very small number of people. It is a very efficient operation and I certainly have nothing against that, but we have an industry that has become quite fossilised and significantly foreign owned, with no apparent appetite to change that.

We will come on to a number of those issues as we go through the Bill and the amendments, but we are trying to state the completely obvious: if fish stocks belong to anyone while they are in the UK EEZ, they should belong to the nation. That is simply what the amendment says: they are not the everlasting property of a vessel, an individual, a company or even a public body such as the one we have in Cornwall that buys up quota for the local fishing industry. They do not belong to them for eternity; they belong to the nation.

I do not understand how anybody could argue against this concept, but it is really important, since it is fully in line with the ideals of Brexit, becoming an independent coastal state, and Parliament and the nation having control, that we notice and mark that these fish stocks belong to the nation. That does not mean that there should not be, through the Secretary of State or the devolved authorities, a way that those fish stocks—

Lord Grocott Portrait Lord Grocott (Lab)
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I wholeheartedly agree with the noble Lord about the fish stocks in the zone belonging to the nation. Presumably that could never have occurred had we remained a member of the European Union. Will he confirm that?

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
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Absolutely. I agree with that. That is what I am saying. Given the new opportunity that we have, we should take advantage of being an independent coastal state. The Bill does nothing to change the status quo in any way. This is one thing we can do—lay down a marker on the ownership of those stocks. As to how those stocks are distributed, the amendment does not prevent them being leased for a period, rented or allocated without charge. We are trying to make the point that, at the end of the day, these stocks belong to the nation and not to any individual.

Coming back to the point made by the noble Lord, 17 million people voted for Brexit and for taking control of our own resources. They did not vote for—in relation to fishing—a profitable industry keeping all the advantages that it has at the moment. They were thinking more of the smaller fleets and the fact that those fishing stocks should belong to us rather than to individuals and perhaps, if you would like to call them that, to the elite of the fishing industry at the moment. I beg to move.

Lord Cameron of Dillington Portrait Lord Cameron of Dillington (CB)
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My Lords, I support the amendment. At the beginning of last year, in Committee in the Commons on the earlier incarnation of the Bill, the Minister—who is now Secretary of State—George Eustice MP, said:

“I do not believe we need a statement that fisheries resources are a national asset or public property, because that is self-evidently the case and our common law has always held as much.”—[Official Report, Commons, Fisheries Bill Committee, 13/12/18; col. 285.]


At the time I took that as gospel. I admire his legal confidence—I say that in a “Yes Minister” context—because I am not certain that the legal confidence is supported by all involved in the industry. There is a famous case where Justice Cranston suggested that there was a type of property right attributed to a fixed quota allocation and that owners would probably need to be given in the region of seven years’ notice of the intention to move away from those FQA units as a type of property right. Such a legal hitch—this is important—might hamper the Government’s intention to move away from relative stability to zonal allocation.

The point I am making is that if the Government believe that quota and marine stocks belong to the nation as a whole, it cannot possibly do any harm to make that clear in the Bill right at the start, so there is absolutely no doubt throughout the industry; and, more importantly, that in any future court case, trying to prove the opposite will founder on the rock of this legislation, set out in 2020, at the start of a new fishing era by the express will of Parliament.

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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My Lords, I declare an interest at this stage as a director of a company that is in a partnership with another agency among whose clients is UK Fisheries. I put that on record. I will not repeat it every time I intervene in Committee, but I hope noble Lords will be aware of that interest.

This amendment is not grouped with anything else, because if we were to include it in the Bill it would not change any other part of it; it would simply be a statement at the outset. As the noble Lord suggested, it is a statement of the obvious and of fact. In my view it is not the purpose of legislation to state pre-existing facts. It is not necessary in legislation always to state the obvious for the facts to be true. Were this amendment to be included in the Bill, people would say that it had to be included in the Bill, otherwise it would not be true. I am trying to work out in what sense it could not be true that would give rise to it being included in the Bill, which would then give a court a reason to try to interpret it.

I then got into trouble because I am looking at it saying, “the nation”. If the amendment were to be included in the Bill in the form in which it exists, it would drive a coach and horses through the devolution settlement. The Bill very carefully establishes the rights of, for example, the Scottish Fisheries Administration to determine the allocation of quota in relation to Scotland. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, spoke about moving away from relative stability. Indeed, we could, if we wished to, under this legislation change the fixed quota allocations, although it is not the Government’s present intention to do so, as I understand it. To that extent, it is evident that the Government could change the allocation of and access to fish stocks. They can do so because they effectively own the fish stocks. The Bill has, as we will discover, a sophisticated mechanism for planning how this will be done, how it will be consulted on and how it will be managed between the devolved Administrations. This amendment, in my view, would frustrate all of that at the outset, and for that reason I do not support it.

15:30
Earl of Caithness Portrait The Earl of Caithness (Con)
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My Lords, I rise to support what my noble friend Lord Lansley has said. I recall the words well that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said at Second Reading: the more you know about fisheries, the less you actually know. It is much more complicated than one originally thinks. This amendment is an example of something that is practically simple, but would be very difficult if it ever got on to the face of the Bill, because—my noble friend is absolutely right—it does infringe on the Scottish Government’s right to allocate quotas, and it is one of many amendments before us that cannot be accepted because it infringes on the Scottish Government’s devolution ability. It would be quite wrong for us in this Chamber—or indeed the other Chamber—to legislate on it.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
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My Lords, I added my name to this amendment, and fully support the contribution made by my noble friend Lord Teverson. There are a number of amendments to the Bill which refer to the fact that fish are not static. They move with the seas, towards their spawning grounds, and according to the temperature of the water and other conditions. The fish are not owned by any individual person, organisation or fishing fleet. They know nothing of quotas or public authorities. It is therefore right that marine stocks should belong to the nation as a whole.

As has been referred to, no doubt the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and the Scottish Government might have a different view, being very keen on fish being a devolved matter. I do not subscribe to that view. As the amendment makes very clear, we believe that marine stocks within the UK exclusive economic zone are a national resource, whether they are swimming around Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the coast of Northumberland or Cornwall. This should be declared on the face of the Bill. My colleague has laid out the arguments cogently, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Baroness Worthington Portrait Baroness Worthington (CB)
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My Lords, I rise to speak in general support of the principles behind this amendment. We must consider in this debate how we establish—without any shadow of a doubt—that in the handing over of quota for fisheries activities, we are transferring something that should be held as public property, in trust for the people of the nation. That should be established in law, without doubt. I worry that, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, this is far too similar to the current system that we experience under the European Union, where there is an explicit conference of rights to fishermen based on the principle of relative stability. This had led to a race to claw back the rights that have already been given out. We will see, as the debate on the Bill progresses, that a lot of what this centres on is how we take control of those rights, so that they are granted with the appropriate level of scrutiny, transparency and consideration of the multiple benefits that accrue to us as a nation from the maritime resources within our waters.

I am not sure that this is the right approach, but I completely support the principles behind it. As we go forward, we must consider, as we are now doing with our agricultural policy, that, freed of the common policies of Europe, we must have the courage and the ambition to do something that is truly transformative. We will certainly come back to this principle that the rights to fish are, essentially, a public property held in trust for the nation.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for allowing us to debate these important principles about the ownership of our marine stocks. He is right to say that the Bill currently lacks ambition and relies far too much on sustaining the status quo, with all the inequalities and inadequacies that we have identified, which have belied our fishing negotiations over the years.

During the course of the Bill, we will have some difficult discussions about the allocation of existing and future fishing rights, and I suspect that they will not be so easily resolved by this simple declaration. I accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, about the issues of devolution. We have to be careful about our language, but it is important to say at the outset that no claim on rights should be permanent and all should be subject to our overriding commitments on sustainability.

This is also a welcome opportunity to register the important role that the fishing industry plays in many coastal communities across the UK. This Bill must be a vehicle for supporting and strengthening those communities while at the same time protecting our marine stocks, rather than being the means through which we exploit a natural resource for purely business and economic benefit. At the same time, a flourishing fishing industry is good for the nation as it provides healthy, locally accessed food, as well as trading opportunities with our neighbours.

In this regard, would the Minister like to comment on the words of the Treasury advisor, Tim Leunig, who has been quoted as saying that the

“Food sector isn’t critically important”


to the economy, and that

“ag[riculture] and fish production certainly isn’t”?

I know the Minister will say that this is not government policy, but what message do comments like this send to a sector already nervous about its future? From our side, we want a vibrant UK agriculture and fisheries industry and to encourage UK consumers to buy British and have faith in locally accessed food. I hope that the Minister will disassociate himself from these comments and send a message back to the Treasury that it should not be employing or listening to advisers who are so out of kilter with the views of most politicians and the vast majority of the British public.

On the subject of trade deals, although the Bill is intended to be negotiation neutral, does the Minister agree that there is a responsibility on the Government to secure a deal with the EU and EEA which allows us, first, to catch more of what we eat and, secondly, to easily sell the catch that we will not eat into those markets? We understand the intentions behind tabling this amendment today. It is of course important to restate that the resource belongs to the nation, but I suspect that we will be debating these issues for many days to come, no doubt giving us the opportunity to explore and spell out in more detail what that really means during consideration of the Bill. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Gardiner of Kimble) (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for bringing forward this amendment and, indeed, to all noble Lords who have spoken. While I fully understand the aim of this amendment, to make it clear that UK fish stocks belong to the nation, I take this opportunity to explain why I cannot support it and, indeed, why the Government cannot do so. I am mindful of what my noble friends Lord Lansley and Lord Caithness have said, particularly when it comes to devolution.

We were clear in our fisheries White Paper that we consider that

“The fish in our seas, like our wider marine assets, are a public resource and therefore the rights to catch them are a public asset.”


I should also say at this juncture, in declaring my farming interests, that the sustainable harvest that we get from our seas, our lakes and, indeed, from our farming sector are absolutely crucial to this nation. I emphasis particularly—as, I am sure, would the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch—that, as far as I am concerned, it is in the national interest that we have a vibrant farming and fisheries sector. We want that not only because it is a public good but because, in order to feed the nation as well as in terms of our exports, with climate change and all the pressures from that, we are going to have to find innovative ways of feeding ourselves and the wider communities of the world. So I say absolutely that in my department, and indeed across the nation, we look to our farmers and our fishers.

I put on record that there are dangers in both sectors and there are too many fatalities; I think safety is of primary importance. I take this opportunity to say to the noble Baroness and all your Lordships that this—after all, Defra covers environment, food and rural affairs—is a very important part of our food supply and a very healthy one.

On a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, during the passage of the previous Fisheries Bill the then Fisheries Minister—now the Secretary of State—made it very clear in the other place that

“it is a statement of fact that”

fish

“are a public asset, and our common law tradition enshrines that.”—[Official Report, Commons, Fisheries Bill Committee, 11/12/18; col. 141.]

The need to view fisheries as a public good is reflected in the measures that we take to promote sustainable fishing. It is, for example, reflected in our approach in Clause 27, “Sale of English fishing opportunities”. Any scheme set up under this power, having been through consultation, would recognise the value of fisheries and raise revenue for the public good. That revenue could be used to support fisheries science, particularly the stock surveys that underpin annual negotiations on the total allowable catch and in-year fisheries management.

I assure the noble Lord that this principle is further covered by the objectives in the Fisheries Bill. The key objectives in this instance are the national benefit and sustainability objectives, which state that

“fishing activities of UK fishing boats bring social or economic benefits to the United Kingdom or any part of the United Kingdom”

and that fishing activities are

“environmentally sustainable in the long term”.

That is a point that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, referred to: we want our fishing and coastal communities to have a vibrant future.

We believe that the effect of this amendment would have a profound implication for the existing quota system. I know there are critics of the current regime, but it is also not without its supporters. Indeed, there has been considerable investment in the regime, and it has allowed our quotas to be well-utilised. For example, the flexibility to sell or lease quota has proven helpful to fishers as it enables them to continue to fish for certain stocks when there has been more of an abundance, or if a fishing stock for which they have a quota is not proving to be profitable. It can also be a solution to fishers not being able to fish all their quota for one species because their quota for another species in a mixed fishery has been exhausted.

This is another point that I would like to make to the noble Lord. While under 10-metre vessels may receive only a small percentage of the total UK quota, they receive a greater share of the stocks that are important to them. For example, in 2018 around 77% of the weight and 78% of the value of UK under 10-metre landings were from non-quota species such as crabs and lobsters. The UK Government recognise the need for balance between continuity in the existing system and opportunities for change in future. That is why the fisheries White Paper noted that existing quotas would continue to be allocated using the existing methodology but that additional quotas negotiated will be allocated using a different methodology. This approach has been broadly welcomed across the industry, which agrees that this is a sensible way to proceed—learning, piloting and ensuring that the industry is not destabilised. That really is an important feature of this matter. We do not wish the industry to be destabilised; in fact, quite the reverse.

I say to the noble Lord that I think the amendment rocks the delicate balance between the certainty of the existing system and the new opportunities that new quota would bring. I also have to say at the beginning of this Committee stage that what resonates with me is that not only has the Bill been through an earlier phase in the other place but it has been worked out really strongly and collaboratively with the devolved Administrations. I say to your Lordships, as we embark upon this particular voyage, that it is important to recognise that this is a piece of work that we are also legislating for the devolved Administrations, and the points that my noble friends have made are extremely pertinent. On that basis, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

15:45
Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, made an interesting and important point. He assumed that this was already the case, but the British courts do not see it that way. The Minister, now Secretary of State, tried to reallocate quotas towards the under 10-metre fleet, but that was disputed within the legal system. There is an underlying assumption here that this is a privatised resource, not a resource of the nation. That is why, to deliver what the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, wants, it is important to have an amendment like this in the Bill.

As the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, pointed out, this makes no difference to the quota allocation in Scotland: the devolved management authorities can make what decisions they want in allocating harvesting rights in those territorial areas. We are saying here that, ultimately, fundamental ownership of those rights is not for keeps, whereas at the moment they can be interpreted that way. I am not suggesting that, as part of this amendment, we should not allow a degree of certainty and ability to invest, but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, put it very well, these rights are in trust to the nation.

As to how one interprets “the nation”, I see our fishing stocks as a national resource, not as devolved. Clearly, however, how they are shared out and used is an issue for the devolved authorities. I look forward to the later amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, which come back to this subject, but I believe that this is fundamental to the way in which we should view this national resource and how that affects policy decisions as we go through this Bill and make fisheries policy. But, for the moment, I am content to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Clause 1: Fisheries objectives
Amendment 2
Moved by
2: Clause 1, page 1, line 4, at end insert—
“( ) the socio-economic objective,”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that socio-economic issues are included in the fisheries objectives.
Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, as the Minister said, we have here a list of objectives of great importance. I would not disagree with most, but one or two I have an issue with. There is always a danger in having too many objectives: which is the important one that guides regulatory authorities and which guides legislators in drafting subsequent secondary legislation? That is difficult, because it is almost impossible to meet all objectives at the same time. This amendment, and the others in my name—Amendments 6, 10 and 27—are based on my belief that sustainability is the most important objective. I take “sustainability” as here meaning the aquatic biosphere and the health of our fish stocks.

I do not accuse the Government of putting it this way, but the Bill reads to me as having a muddled sustainability objective, because it is prejudiced by the addition of what is almost a socioeconomic objective. A socioeconomic objective is very valid. In fact, one of my amendments in this group states that there should be a socioeconomic objective. The sustainability objective should, however, relate to the marine ecology, fish stocks and the wider marine inhabitants. I therefore suggest that we leave out subsection (2)(b), which states

“the fishing capacity of fleets is such that fleets are economically viable but do not overexploit marine stocks.”

That is a socioeconomic objective and should go under that heading. The sustainability objective has to be the lead objective. There are various ways of sorting out the socioeconomic objectives, including financially, and that is how we should do it.

We need clarity; we need the sustainability objective to be the prime objective, and we need it to be well policed. That is why my Amendment 27 would bring in the office for environmental protection. I would be interested to hear what the Minister says. He may tell me that this is unnecessary, and I could well be persuaded that it is, but it is vital that that office, once founded and operational, has full oversight of the fisheries industry and the protection of our marine environment. I beg to move.

Baroness Worthington Portrait Baroness Worthington
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, Amendment 7 is in my name. I support many of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. My amendment would change Clause 1(2)(b) simply to state

“the fishing effort does not overexploit marine stocks.”

The Bill states

“the fishing capacity of fleets is such that fleets are economically viable but do not overexploit marine stocks.”

The purpose behind trying to simplify the provision is to make it clear that we cannot have a sustainable long-term fishing effort if we overexploit stocks. That should not need to be said, but we have seen routine overexploitation of stocks as a consequence of how the common fisheries policy is interpreted, with member states then allocating quota to private fishing enterprises.

To state first that fleets should be economically viable and then to qualify it by saying that they should not overexploit marine stocks gives entirely the wrong impression. It implies that we are to continue with the belief, commonly held in Europe, that fishing rights and the economic viability of the fishing industry are the first and foremost concerns. That speaks to short-term political considerations because these are entities that employ people and pay taxes. My amendment tries to correct for that short-termism endemic to political thinking by stating that it is the sustainability of the stock that we should regulate for, not the commercial viability of the entities that exploit it. The latter is entirely what has been wrong with the common fisheries policy since we have been in it. There is an assumption that the exploiters’ rights should come first, with the environment an afterthought. We must turn that around. It is short-termism not just politically but in the context of the changing climate. Nothing from now on is business as usual; everything is shifting. We must put the resilience of our marine resources at the heart of everything we legislate on and at the heart of everything we do today in considering the Bill.

My amendment would simply take away the qualifier; there is no need to qualify this. It is simply logical that we legislate so that we do not overexploit fishing stocks. That is the only purpose of this legislation. Therefore, it must be stated unequivocally in the Bill.

Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. I regret that we have to say it, but it is important to point out that there will be no socioeconomic benefits if there are no fish left. The cod fishermen of Newfoundland would understand this clearly. Apart from that, the noble Baroness said exactly what I needed to say.

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I have just one thing to say about this group. Amendment 6 addresses an issue we discussed at Second Reading: managing so many objectives. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, drew the attention of the House, forcefully and compellingly, to the way in which the sustainability objective in the Bill, as drafted, includes socioeconomic objectives. They ought to be identified and listed separately. To that extent, I support Amendment 6. Noble Lords will be aware that it includes the sentence:

“The sustainability objective shall be the prime objective”.


Not everybody is in favour of that, but I think we need to say it. My noble friend Lord Randall was talking about Amendment 7, but the same thought applies here. He is quite right that if we do not sustain our fish stocks all the other objectives will be vitiated. It has to be clear that there is a first objective, even though it would be beyond this Committee to list, sequence or rank the others. However, the joint fisheries statement will probably have to do something of that kind, at least, to show how they are being interpreted and balanced. I do not envy it that difficult task. The Committee should look carefully at Amendment 6 and see whether it is possible to incorporate its principles into the Bill before it leaves this place.

Lord Cameron of Dillington Portrait Lord Cameron of Dillington
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I added my name to Amendment 2 and would have done so to Amendment 6, had I been allowed, but there were too many subscribers. I support Amendment 2 because, as many noble Lords know, the existence of intergenerational poverty and deprivation in rural areas has long been of concern to me. While the numerous villages and market towns throughout rural England all have their problems in this respect, there is no doubt that coastal communities suffer more than most. The main reason for this is that an ordinary market town can survive, and sometimes thrive, on services maintained by its surrounding farmers, businesses and maybe even wealthy retirees. However, a coastal community, by its very geography—I realise that I am straying into the realms of the bleeding obvious here—only ever has 50% of the catchment of an inland market town. Coastal communities therefore struggle. The sea provides very little except fish and tourism, with, perhaps in the future, some form of energy added to that mix. It is therefore important that a firm part of our fisheries objectives should include the socioeconomic objective.

I totally agree with Amendment 6 that the sustainability objective should always be the prime one. I support that, maybe even to exclusion of Amendment 2, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said. As the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, said, we need these coastal communities, and their harvest, to survive in the long term. In the past, I always said that one of the problems with the common fisheries policy is that the children and grandchildren of today’s fishing communities never get a vote. We now have the chance. When we repatriate our fisheries policy, we must always think of the socioeconomic prosperity of these grandchildren.

I also support Amendment 27, which puts the monitoring of the sustainability objectives firmly in the hands of the OEP in future. That makes very good sense.

Returning to Amendment 2, a key part of the socioeconomic objective should include recreational sea angling. There is not much about recreational angling in the Bill, which is fine because there is not much to say. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, has tabled an amendment on this point; I came across that quite late in the day. The socioeconomic benefit of recreational angling to coastal communities is huge. Even in 2012, the latest year for which I could get hold of statistics, the sea angler spend was £2.1 billion locally, supporting more than 20,000 local jobs. They say that a fish caught with rod and line is worth at least six times more than one caught in a net. Recreational fishermen use local boats and local crews, and they use local pubs, hotels, shops, garages, car hire et cetera. All of this is vital to the socioeconomic objectives in this amendment and needs nurturing.

16:00
The other socioeconomic point to introduce concerns some sort of replacement for the European maritime and fisheries fund. I know the Government are making arrangements to put a replacement fund in place. The EMFF has been particularly beneficial for some of the smaller fishing communities in western Scotland, Wales and Cornwall, and some consideration definitely needs to be given to the socioeconomic well-being of these small fishing communities that depend on the seas for their economic wherewithal. I strongly support Amendment 2, but primarily Amendment 6.
Lord Grocott Portrait Lord Grocott
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My Lords, it is with considerable diffidence, and I do mean that, that I make any contribution to this discussion, and I do not intend to make any more, partly because it is impossible to live quite as far as I do from the coast. Perhaps we inlanders should remain largely silent in these discussions, but I found it almost exhilarating, I think that is the word, to hear specialists—I am not one, which is why I will not contribute any further—making points all related to the principle that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, has just enunciated, which is that we are talking about the consequences of the repatriation of our fishing policies.

For me, as a Brexiteer, it is exhilarating, and I am not exaggerating, that these discussions can take place in the context of knowing that our coastal waters will be like those of Iceland—although I know that fishing is a lot more important to the overall economy of Iceland than it is to that of the United Kingdom. In all the discussions of the details of the various amendments, that is surely the basis on which this debate is taking place. Let us not miss the wood for the trees: the wood is precisely that in a democracy a Chamber of Parliament is discussing how best our nation should use its resources in a way that is accountable; which of course it never was when it was entirely a European responsibility. The Council of Ministers is nothing like a responsible body in the way that this is.

I will not go any further down this route, the Committee will be relieved to know, but I just wanted to point out how happy I feel about this debate.

Earl of Caithness Portrait The Earl of Caithness
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My Lords, the Committee will note that I am in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. It does not happen all the time and will not happen in future, I know, but today we are very much in agreement. What he says hinges very much on the agreement we get with the EU, because however sustainable we are, if the fish decide to move and the EU has different sustainability goals, the fish we have so carefully sustained will be harvested by the ever-hungry Spanish fleet and others that will be poised outside our waters—some of them will even be allowed in—and will be taking what they can.

I hope my noble friend the Minister will confirm that all the objectives that are so well set out in the Bill have the aim of sustainable development, because sustainability really matters. If all our objectives adhere in that way, there is hope for the grandchildren that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, mentioned. He also made the very important point about coastal communities. It is not just the fishing fleets but the whole coastal communities and the people who feed off them who are important in the socioeconomic goal. We need to take a wider look at this between now and the next stage.

What has not been mentioned so far with regard to sustainability is human health. Can my noble friend say how many of the fish caught are used for fishmeal? The latest statistic I can find, which I looked up on the internet, dates from 2008 and claims that a third of the world’s fish is used for fishmeal. What is the point of fishing—some may even ask what is the point of agriculture—if not to provide a healthy, sustainable diet for human beings? That ought to take priority over producing fish for fishmeal. I hope that that will be taken into account in the sustainability goals my noble friend is aiming for, because health and diet have deteriorated badly in the western world and fishing is one area which can help us on that.

I hope my noble friend will also bear in mind trade—another area which could undermine our sustainable goals. If we have a strong, sustainable policy but by trade allow fish to be caught in an unsustainable way, that would undercut our market and be to the detriment of the Government’s whole policy.

I come now to the tricky question of the batting order of our goals. There is a good argument for putting the environmental sustainability objective first, but I wonder whether that is right and whether it would not be better to leave it as it is, agreed with the devolved Administrations. It is currently top of the list and, to me, probably the most important, but I am not yet convinced about singling it out.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab)
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My Lords, this has been a very interesting discussion—a counterpart to the discussion on the first group, where we failed to agree. This had a lot more agreement, though there are drafting issues that need to be addressed in the Bill if we are fully to realise the sorts of changes that are in everybody’s minds as we approach this opportunity, as my noble friend Lord Grocott described it, to improve what we do in relation to our fishing and fishing resources, as we have been trying to do for some time. I point out to him that, although it is nice that he is happy and feels joyful about this debate, the real test will be whether we end up with something different from a simple rehash of the existing common fisheries policy. That test is now ahead of us as we begin to drill down into the particularities of the Bill.

I will speak to Amendment 8 in the name of my noble friend Lord Grantchester, who we did not think would be here in time to speak but luckily has appeared—almost in time; he will take over from me as we go through the Bill—and Amendment 9, tabled by my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch. Amendment 8 is a probing amendment to ask the Government to specify more clearly what “economically viable” means in practice under the Bill and how it might be applied, and to gain a clearer understanding of the relative importance of viability compared with sustainability, which has been the theme of most of the contributions so far.

Amendment 9 targets the same sustainability objective and seeks to bring the term “maximum sustainable yield” into the Bill. At present the Government favour a phrase which we do not think has quite caught the essence of what we are trying to do about overexploitation of marine stocks and which seems to offer less clarity than the forward-looking point made by just about all noble Lords: there will be no fishing unless we have a sustainable stock on which to operate.

All noble Lords agree there has to be a vibrant fishing industry. It is part of our heritage as an island nation and, as we will discuss during the Bill’s passage, our catch both helps feed people here and is sold abroad to others who want to buy these products. As the Minister said in his opening statement, we are talking about a highly organised industry. Hard-working fishers being fairly rewarded for their work at sea is important. It is a very physically demanding and often dangerous job, and they have to endure long periods of separation from their loved ones. They should be remunerated accordingly. The economics of the industry must be geared to ensure that there is something there for everybody, not just the fishers; the ports and processing plants need to make their fair share. This is important if we are to encourage them to contribute to the climate change objective—something that will be the focus of subsequent debates but has already been raised.

While we want a viable fishing fleet for many years to come, we have been in meetings with outside groups that feel that the current wording of the Bill may allow the economic to trump the environmental, particularly, as I have already said, as it refers to overexploitation rather than maximum sustainable yield. If that were to be the case, ironically, we would find ourselves in no better position than we are under the common fisheries policy. It would make this Bill a missed opportunity to put sustainability front and centre of the new approach. There is enough support around the Committee to suggest that the Minister might want to look at this carefully when he responds.

I am aware that the Minister has met many Members of your Lordships’ House and has made time to discuss amendments. I understand that these discussions have been valuable, and I hope that he will be able to offer the same reassurance to others who wish to join the debate now and in the future. I hope that when the Minister responds, he will confirm what he envisages happening if the second part of the sustainability objective cannot, despite the best endeavours of the fisheries authorities, be met. Would boats be allowed to overexploit stocks to ensure their viability? If not, what options would the Government or the devolved Administrations have available if they wanted to step in? This is a tricky balancing act. It is certainly not easy, and I know the Minister appreciates that and takes it seriously. I look forward to him providing further detail on the Government’s approach.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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My Lords, at Second Reading I made it clear that sustainability is at the heart of the Bill, so I am pleased that one of the first discussions we are having in Committee relates to this area of utmost importance. As the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, said, this work involves balance. Balance is necessary in these matters and is why our work with the devolved Administrations has been so valuable but intricate.

The Government’s view and that from our discussions with the devolved Administrations is that sustainability is often considered a three-legged stool, consisting of environmental, social and economic factors. To achieve the true sustainability of a healthy environment, thriving communities and a vibrant industry, it is important that a balance exists between them. That is a point that, in the wrestling of this, was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson. They are also not mutually exclusive. For instance, if fish stocks are managed at sustainable levels, the stocks are protected into the future, while allowing the fishing industry to remain profitable and able to provide benefits to coastal communities and beyond. That point was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, and my noble friend Lord Caithness.

The fisheries objectives in the Bill work together to set out the core principles to achieve a successful and sustainable fisheries management regime, with the joint fisheries statement setting out the policies that will contribute to achieving our objectives. While I therefore fully support the aim—and I emphasise aim—of Amendment 2, which seeks to ensure that socio- economics are included within the fisheries objectives, I believe it is unnecessary and will explain why.

The sustainability objective currently sets out a requirement in the Bill that fish and aquaculture activities are

“managed so as to achieve economic, social and employment benefits”.

The Bill includes a number of objectives relating to environmental sustainability, while also recognising the need to take into account socioeconomic issues. Given that, in response to Amendment 6, I should like to set out in more detail what we aim to achieve by seeking a balanced approach to the objectives set out in Clause 1. I also understand that Amendment 10 in this group further seeks to change the Bill in the context of Amendment 6.

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The framework provided by the objectives will operate on a UK-wide basis and will bind all the UK’s Administrations. As I have said, it has been developed in close co-operation with officials in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and is carefully balanced to reflect the interests of all the Administrations. The Government wholly support the need for environmental sustainability, and our 25-year environment plan makes it clear that it is only by putting the environment first that we can deliver social and economic benefits for future generations. In delivering this vision, we also have a responsibility to maintain the livelihoods of fishers and their coastal communities. Fishers have already made significant strides in improving their sustainability and there has been a sea change in attitudes, with the fishing industry understanding the need for better stock management.
Of course, more action is needed to transition to more sustainable practices, but I hope that noble Lords will agree that we must also avoid economic hardship in the short term. We believe that developing a hierarchy within the objectives would not be appropriate since it would undermine this approach. Through our international negotiations, we seek to achieve sustainable catch limits set in accordance with the maximum sustainable yield, while balancing this with economic opportunities for the UK fishing fleet. Maintaining flexibility in our negotiating position will ensure that we are able to undertake this transition in co-operation with our coastal state partners and avoid the abrupt closure of fisheries, so as to maintain our coastal communities. Indeed, at Second Reading, a number of noble Lords talked about the need to revive our coastal communities. Achieving that revival will require a balance of objectives to maintain our focus on economic and social matters, while pushing for environmental sustainability.
I should say at this point to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, that we are going to discuss recreational sea fishing in considering later amendments because it is a very important part of the fishing world. Indeed, I am led to believe that 2% of our population engages in sea fishing, which is quite a large number of people.
Returning to the point about maximum sustainable yield, recent analysis shows that in 2019, 37 stocks were fished at MSY levels, representing 59% of the stocks for which we have the necessary data. I raise this issue because in 1990 the figure was just 12%, which demonstrates that we are transitioning. However, we recognise that more needs to be done to protect our marine environment and fish stocks.
The Bill provides the legal framework for pushing more stocks towards MSY as quickly as practically possible, and in line with our international obligations. Policies to achieve MSY will be set out in the legally binding joint fisheries statement and fisheries management plans. A key objective of the joint fisheries statement will be to ensure that fisheries policy is based on the best scientific advice. The setting of MSY can often occur without full scientific certainty, so it makes sense to include it under the precautionary objective, although it clearly supports sustainability.
While I fully support the ambition to ensure that environmental sustainability is not compromised, I do not believe that Amendment 6 is appropriate in the context of a Bill that seeks to establish a framework to manage all aspects of our fisheries. The weight given to each of the fisheries objectives may vary from case to case, and Clause 2(1)(c) provides that the joint fisheries statement must include a statement explaining how the objectives have been “interpreted and proportionately applied.” The approach of balancing environmental, economic and social sustainability lies at the core of best international practice as established by the United Nations Sustainability Framework. That chimes with the point raised by my noble friend Lord Caithness: it is international best practice to combine sustainability issues in the way I have described. The achievement of socioeconomic benefits through our fisheries and aquaculture management is therefore currently covered by the existing fisheries objectives, and the proposed amendment would not change their effect.
I turn to Amendment 7, which seeks to ensure that fish stocks are managed sustainably and not over-exploited—an aim that we all share, of course. The precautionary objective already includes a clear objective to restore all marine stocks to sustainable levels. As I have made clear, the provisions in the Bill for fisheries management plans set out a framework for ensuring the sustainable management of our fish stocks. We believe this amendment would inadvertently weaken the objectives—first, because an express reference to managing fishing “effort” would not be the full picture. Managing how many days fishermen fish is one of the tools for fisheries management, but we also manage through restrictions on quota. Secondly, by removing the reference to fleet capacity, this amendment would weaken the objectives by not requiring the fisheries authorities to set out policies relating to the overall size and structure of the fleet.
Turning to Amendment 8, I highlight once more that the Bill’s sustainability objective seeks to ensure that we have healthy fish stocks and seas, while promoting economic, social and employment benefits. These two aspirations are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In the past we have brought forward initiatives that address fleet capacity with the twin aims of avoiding overfishing and protecting the economic viability of active fishers. For example, we have restricted fishing licences that have not been used so as to prevent them being sold on and others entering fisheries, which could both put added pressure on the stocks and reduce the profitability of those already fishing.
I was grateful to learn that the noble Baroness’s amendment—put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson —is a probing amendment. I welcome the opportunity to explain the rationale for the current drafting of the Bill. The UK Government remain fully committed to sustainable fishing and the principle of MSY. We reiterated this in our manifesto, with the commitment to produce plans to restore all stocks to MSY. However, due to the international nature of fishing and fish stocks, which span national boundaries, MSY cannot be delivered unilaterally through management of the size of the UK fleet. Furthermore, for some stocks we do not yet have the data to conduct an MSY assessment and so instead use other measures, such as effort limits, to ensure that stocks are fished sustainably. In practice, we control the level of catch by the English fleet through the quota allocation system and effort controls. We have also been clear that we have no plans to increase capacity beyond current vessel numbers.
The existing language in the Bill recognises the different tools that we have in place to ensure that stocks are fished sustainably. It is important to read this objective alongside the precautionary objective, which sets out our commitment to restore stocks to levels above those capable of producing MSY.
I turn to Amendment 27. As your Lordships know, the office for environmental protection will be established through the Environment Bill currently being discussed in the other place, so it does not yet exist—nor have its role and functions been set in law. I strongly support the need for independent scrutiny and advice on our policy and its delivery, and the OEP may have a role in this in due course. The Environment Bill is clear that the new body’s principal objective will be the protection and/or improvement of the natural environment. It will have a duty to scrutinise environmental improvement plans and targets, and can advise on the implementation of environmental law. As I have detailed, the sustainability objective in this Bill covers environmental, social and economic elements, including fleet capacity, so we cannot assume that all elements of this objective will fall within the OEP’s remit.
We are establishing the OEP as an independent body. It should therefore be for the OEP to decide where and how to exercise its functions and what priority should be given to matters it proposes to review. We believe that creating a duty for the OEP to “promote” these objectives could undermine the OEP’s independence. The Environment Bill already provides the OEP with functions to scrutinise the Government’s progress on their environmental commitments. These will include relevant fisheries and other marine functions. The Environment Bill is also clear that the new body should not overlap with the functions of the Committee on Climate Change. There is no doubt that the review of many aspects of fisheries management would fall within the remit of the office for environmental protection. However, the UK Government do not feel it is appropriate for the Fisheries Bill to place a duty on the new body to promote objectives that lie outside its remit, nor fetter its ability to determine independently its own work programme.
On the point that my noble friend Lord Caithness raised about fishmeal, I think the best thing is for me to write to my noble friend, because the latest data is from 2008. According to Seafish, however, in 2014 around 16.5% of total catches went to fishmeal and fish oil.
I realise the complete bona fides of all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate about the importance of sustainability. I have tried to explain that the word “sustainability” is not just environmental in our view; it is a sustainable package. Indeed, the objectives are a package. Working through the fisheries statement and the fisheries management plan, this range of objectives is the best way of tackling a matter which should not be straitjacketed. There needs to be a flexibility to deal with each and every stock.
While understanding what noble Lords across the House have said, I am not in a position to support amendments which seek to unpick a very intricate seeking of the right balance. For now, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Baroness Worthington Portrait Baroness Worthington
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Before the Minister sits down, may I enquire in good faith whether we are saying that we have taken back control from Brussels, only to cede it to Scotland? It would be a waste of time if every answer is “We cannot do anything, because we have had a really delicate discussion with our devolved Administrations”.

We are still the UK Parliament; this is an important issue that has been repatriated to us first, and then we will repatriate it through devolution. Should we need to change the devolution arrangements, we will. Perhaps I am speaking out of turn, but surely we are not taking back control from Brussels only to give it to Holyrood.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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We have had very successful and collaborative discussions and arrangements with all the devolved Administrations. They have taken this matter very seriously, and we are legislating on behalf of the devolved Administrations as well. I do not think many noble Lords are seeking to change the devolution arrangements through the Fisheries Bill. That would be unwise and not sensible.

We are seeking to have sustainability at the heart of the Bill, but sustainability—as the UN describes it—is not just environmental; it is a balance. Clearly, we want fisheries stocks which enable communities to prosper. That is the whole thrust of this, and why it is a package. I say to the noble Baroness: I do not see it in those terms. We are collaboratively working with our friends and partners across the United Kingdom, on something which requires balance. Sustainability is at the heart of the Bill, and that is why I have made the remarks I have.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara
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To follow up on what the noble Baroness has said, we understand the delicacy of the situation and that considerable discussion has preceded the Bill we are debating today. I wonder whether she has a point: if it is already all sewn up and too difficult to change, what is the point? Will the Minister reassure us that this amendment is not just being turned down because it would be too difficult? The mood of the House seems to be that this is worthy of further consideration, if not necessarily being voted through.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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No, my Lords. Obviously, I recognise that the noble Lords who have spoken feel particularly strongly about environmental sustainability. I have argued, what the Government feel is a compelling case, that sustainability is a balance. Therefore, the package we are bringing forward has been worked on not with one devolved Administration, but with all of them.

It has always been the point that noble Lords need to make a compelling case in all matters. The Government and the devolved Administrations have worked on this, mindful of observations made during the period of, let us say, the Fisheries Bills. That is how I would describe it; it is important we have these considerations. I have been clear—as when I referred to the UN—that sustainability has a range of points to it, and that is what I have been seeking to describe.

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Baroness Byford Portrait Baroness Byford (Con)
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My Lords, I apologise that I did not speak earlier in the debate, but I will read Hansard very carefully tomorrow. From what I gather, my noble friend has indicated that, for some stocks, we do not have data available, and some of the data we do have is 12 years old. I agree with the view of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott: I am excited by the Bill because it gives us an opportunity to move forward in a sustainable way. However, we need information on which we can base our assumptions. Will the Minister indicate where there are gaps in that information and what is being done about it? Referring to my noble friend Lord Caithness’s comments on the whole question of trade and standards, it is essential that we have information on which we can base the decisions we have taken. I have listened carefully to my noble friend and know that an enormous amount of work has gone on with the devolved Administrations—I am perhaps happier about that than some other Members of the House are—but we need as much information as we can get at this stage.

For me, sustainability has to be key: at the end of the day, you cannot fish if there are no fish. If we do not have the data and information that we need, how can we make the assumptions that we will be dealing with in the Bill? There is an amendment to come shortly on the question of discards, and we will return to this issue in that debate. I have one or two queries, but if the Minister cannot answer them at the moment, perhaps he will look into it—or somebody will—so that we have a better overall picture of the sustainability side before we come back on Report. That would be immensely helpful.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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I made it clear that the precautionary objective already includes the clear objective to restore all marine stocks to sustainable levels. We are very clear that we need to work through all stocks—that is what the fisheries management plans are intended to do—so that for those stocks for which we do not have sufficient information, there is this precise precautionary objective. As my noble friend Lord Lansley referred to, there is a difficulty in trying to put these objectives in some order of priority. As I say, we are seeking to improve all stocks because the truth is that, at the moment, we do not have an assessment of all stocks. That is precisely why, picking up the point raised earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, it is an enormous opportunity for us to look now across the whole of the marine environment at all our stocks.

This will not be sorted out overnight; I do not think any noble Lord expects there to be a magic switch and, suddenly, we are now responsible and it can be turned around immediately. But the whole purpose of the structure that we have put in place is precisely to address the sustainability of all stocks.

Earl of Caithness Portrait The Earl of Caithness
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My noble friend gave a comprehensive answer, but can I make one suggestion that might help in driving forward our sustainability objectives? He has made it very clear to the farming community that there will be public money for public goods. Surely exactly the same argument is true for the fishing and coastal communities: if they follow the sustainability line, there will be public money for public goods. Perhaps that would help to sell the argument.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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During this Committee, I think we will probably go on to talk about some of the further arrangements for financial assistance. Clearly, the Government see this as a vital interest, a source of food and an opportunity for the whole of the coastal community. I agree with the thrust of what I think my noble friend Lord Caithness is saying: this is an area contained in the Bill. As has been mentioned, there will be a need for a replacement of the European funding, which we will discuss again. I am sure there will be ways in which financial assistance to support coastal communities will be considered and will come forward.

Baroness Worthington Portrait Baroness Worthington
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My Lords, I believe the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, was going beyond grant funding and referring to the allocation of fishing rights. That confers a financial benefit to the recipient of those rights, so it is much broader than just grants.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara
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I would like one more chance to narrow down the point on which we were exchanging before the other two very good contributions came in.

The noble Lord has a reputation in this House for being very easy to talk to and very willing to engage in debate. I am slightly trading on that because, in my experience, on any Bill there is a worry that the Minister will get it drummed into him by those sitting in the Box that he must never concede anything. Sometimes, however, we can be in quite a difficult mode, when good points are made but the willingness to concede is not there from the Minister concerned. I know that the noble Lord is not like that. It may not happen on the point that we have been discussing, although it is a very good one from the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, but issues will come up in future amendments to do with the workforce health and safety, on which the Committee may feel that a change in wording is possible. Will he just confirm, for the sake of allowing us to go forward, that he is not against the possibility of that happening and that, if it were the case, he would undertake the necessary consultations that might be required to bring the devolved Assemblies, and others who signed up to the previous version of the Bill, up to the new standard that will be set by this House?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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I will conclude on this, otherwise the “Ah, buts” will lose the force of the sustainability point of this debate. It is clear, I believe—as I always have—that the House and your Lordships need to make a compelling case, which a government Minister will always want to listen to. If a compelling case is made, as I have said previously, my answer will be, “Gosh, I wish we’d thought of that.” I emphasise that the Bill has been considered over a very long time. We have one go at this Bill and there have been a lot of representations. It has gone through a mincer in a way that most other Bills do not. Given our very close connections and our responsibilities, and given that fishing is devolved, we have worked collaboratively and positively with the devolved Administrations. I emphasise to the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, that I do not use that as an excuse. It is a statement of fact that we are legislating on behalf of all parts of the kingdom. That is really what I wish to say at this point.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for probably one of the most important debates during this Committee and for all the points made. They were made pretty much in the same direction, even if they did not totally agree on the detail.

I was very grateful for the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott—I thought it was fantastic. The sad thing to someone like me is that, apart from relative stability and technical regulations, which are not dealt with in the Bill, we could have done everything else over the last 40 years, but we did not because we just went along and did what was easiest. We did not need to let our quotas go to foreign owners, we could have changed the balance between the large and small fleets completely, and we could have put far more European money into our coastal communities when they did not have enough quotas. We could have done all those things, but we did not. However, the noble Lord was absolutely right: we have here an opportunity to really open our minds. The Minister says, “We’ve gone through all of this before, it’s been looked at before and we’ve talked to all the other sides”, but we have had a break, we are now out of the European Union, we have opened our minds and we have had some really good suggestions on the Bill. We should not be railroaded by past negotiations. Clearly, devolution is key—we do not want to change that settlement in any way—but that cannot prevent our making some changes.

One fundamental thing, on which I disagree completely with the Minister, is that referring to “balance” between socioeconomic issues and sustainability was exactly the argument that Ministers used on the common fisheries policy from the 1980s to about five years ago, when the whole regime changed. Because of that so-called balance, stocks disappeared from the North Sea and the Baltic Sea and were depleted from western waters. If we do not decide to make sustainability a prime objective, that is what we will end up with. The history shows that the politics takes over from the science.

I was very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Randall, mentioned Newfoundland. I went out to Newfoundland in 1996 at the height of the conflict with the Portuguese and the Spanish. I went out on an aeroplane with the Canadian fisheries department to look at the line of big Atlantic fishing vessels fishing right along the EEZ line. I saw the communities of St John’s in Newfoundland that were unable to fish their own waters because there was nothing left. That was due to the short-term socioeconomic objective taking the place of the sustainability objective. That is exactly what you get and exactly what we must not have in this country, whether in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or England. We cannot afford that.

If I was chief executive of a company and somebody gave me eight different objectives and did not rank them, the first thing I would do is ask the chairman to fire the non-executive directors, because it is absolutely impossible to have eight equal objectives in any subject. That is for running a company; if you are running the marine environment of a nation, surely it is far more important.

To come back to the point from the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, we absolutely need a socioeconomic objective. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, is absolutely right as well—we will come to the financing part of the Bill. There are amendments to that part to say that we will need to intervene when there is a socioeconomic problem and that we should not be afraid to do so. We should protect those communities in that way. We should not pretend that we are protecting them by letting people go out for fish stocks that are not there and are not sustainable.

I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. She made her argument very strongly. The same goes for the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, on the points he made. Although my amendments may not be perfect, I have tried to stick within the Government’s framework by changing around some of the words but using the Government’s own settlement with the devolved authorities. I am absolutely sure that we will come back to this on Report, but at this point I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 2 withdrawn.
Amendment 3
Moved by
3: Clause 1, page 1, line 7, at end insert—
“( ) the discards objective,”
Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful for the meeting that I had prior to today with my noble friend the Minister. I assure him that this is indeed a probing amendment. It enables me to press him on why the original objective in the initial Bill, which clearly stated that discards were an objective under Clause 1, has been dropped and replaced with a bycatch objective. The House had the chance to debate the difficulties involved in the landing objective on reports adopted by the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee before I was a member of it, but I will press my noble friend very specifically on the narrow point of discards to ask him what the Government’s policy is in connection with the Fisheries Bill, and why they have removed the discards objective in Clause 1 and replaced it with one for bycatch. There is clearly a difference between those policies of reducing discard as a result of the use of bycatch.

I was grateful for the conversation I had with my noble friend but, separately and elsewhere, I would like to raise the possibility of using some of the bycatch of inshore fishermen in ways currently not allowed. Can he take the opportunity to explain how the Government intend to reduce discard and bycatch and what measure of enforcement is envisaged? As far as I can see, the Bill in its present form is silent on what the enforcement and implementation measures for discards will be. I give notice that I have tabled two more amendments on discards.

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The Government need to make onboard monitoring of discards a condition of licensing. Can my noble friend explain why there is no mention—that I can see—in the Bill and its schedules of onboard enforcement cameras? When we come to consider the issuing of licences, is it not the Government’s intention to make it a condition that there should be onboard enforcement and cameras? Clauses 28 and 32 allow the Government and the Secretary of State to bring forward regulations, but will my noble friend please take this opportunity to reassure us today that the discards policy will be enforceable and enforced, and not a voluntary scheme?
Has my noble friend taken the opportunity to consider discards policy, in particular, and discards charging by other countries? Obviously, New Zealand springs to mind. It had teething problems but has now introduced a more successful and reliable discards charging policy.
We need to maintain a discards objective in Clause 1. I would like to see a discards policy elaborated later in the Bill but, if my noble friend does not come up with a policy for implementing this, would he consider that a successful reduction in discards will need monitoring and the use of cameras as part of the necessary enforcement associated with either bycatch policy or discard reduction policy? Can he put my mind at rest? At the moment, the Bill seems not to require onboard monitoring of discards and other activities, but are the Government thinking about it in connection with the licensing regime, and will it be an obligatory—not a voluntary—scheme? Otherwise, we have time to come back at a later stage and help the Government to come up with such a scheme in the Bill.
I have tabled this probing amendment because it is extremely important to maintain the discards objective—in addition to a bycatch objective—in the Fisheries Bill, which will be elaborated later, and to ensure that there will be a meaningful implementation scheme to enforce it.
Baroness Byford Portrait Baroness Byford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I take the amendment very seriously. I will point the Minister in the direction of Clause 1(6)(c) refers to,

“bycatch that is fish is landed”,

and then goes on to say,

“but only where this is appropriate”.

I would be glad of some clarification of that. It continues that it,

“does not create an incentive to catch fish that are below minimum conservation reference size”,

and perhaps that is exactly what is meant by it. Certainly, we have had discussions over the weeks about discards, about which I think many of us are concerned. My question is on the phrase that they have used here. Is the Government worried that moving from the discard to the new bycatch will help to disincentivise people from catching fish that are below a minimum standard? Why was the decision made to change it from discarding to the particular wording of the Bill? When we come at a later stage to discuss how we can look at the way we record and know what is being discarded and what is being landed at ports, it will be immensely important. I am just a little bit unhappy with the wording that we have in subsection (6)(c), and would be glad of some clarification.

Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I rise to speak to my Amendment 16, specifically on subsection (6) on page 2 of the Bill; it is grouped with this Amendment 3 on page 1, on the issue of discards, or “bycatch” as referred to in the Bill. It complements the tabling of Amendment 3 by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, which alludes to the inclusion of a dedicated objective on fish discards among the list of objectives. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, for her probing on this.

For a variety of reasons, and as I am sure we will hear from the Minister, it is virtually impossible to avoid catching some of the wrong species—or, indeed, the wrong sized members of the right species—when fishing. There have been some great advances in techniques and technologies, but some degree of bycatch remains an inevitability.

The Bill's bycatch objective, which is lifted from the common fisheries policy, rightly seeks to reduce the catching of fish that are below minimum conservation size and to ensure a proper audit trail for those caught. The latter also raises issues around monitoring and recording; this will in turn contribute to better data that can be used to inform future quota decisions.

Paragraph (c) of subsection (6), which my probing amendment proposes leaving out, refers to allowing bycatches to be landed

“only where this is appropriate”

and an incentive to catch undersize fish is not created as a result of the landing. As we sought to make clear in our explanatory statement, we wish to understand the circumstances in which Ministers believe the landing of bycatch will be “appropriate”. Presumably this is meant in the context of the landing obligation, in order to prevent fish simply being discarded back into the sea—a practice which we have fought for many years to bring to an end.

If this is the case, would it not be better for the Bill to be explicit in this regard, and for the references to the prevention of incentivising the landing of bycatch to make clear that such fish cannot be sold for human consumption, thereby producing an economic benefit? Or, if the phraseology does not relate purely to the landing obligation, perhaps the Minister could outline which other circumstances are deemed as being appropriate for landing bycatch at ports?

We are very much probing at this stage of proceedings, but I think I speak on behalf of many across your Lordships' House when I say that we need confidence that, whether we use the terms “discards” or “bycatch”, the Government and devolved Administrations will be properly equipped to build on recent progress and answer the wider probing made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the Government remain fully committed to ending the wasteful discarding of fish, acknowledging the impact this can have on fisheries management and the marine environment. I fully support that the issue of illegal discarding should be addressed within the fisheries objectives. In doing so, we will ensure that policies in the joint fisheries statement will focus on this important area.

The prevention of illegal discarding is addressed in the fisheries objectives through the “bycatch objective”, which sets out a series of “sub-objectives” to address the issue of illegal discarding. These include avoiding or reducing bycatch, ensuring that catches are recorded and accounted for, and ensuring that fish stocks are landed. It is overfishing and the catching of unwanted bycatch that result in illegal discarding, and the objective has been named the “bycatch objective” to address the root cause of the issue. For example, unreported catches, whether landed or discarded, contribute significant uncertainty to the scientific assessment process. Such uncertainty enhances the risk that stocks are fished at levels beyond MSY.

One limb of the bycatch objective is that catches are recorded and accounted for. We will improve the accuracy of the data available on fishing mortality and enable sustainable quota setting that avoids overfishing. I therefore believe that my noble friend’s aims are already met through the existing bycatch objective. An additional discards objective—which the amendment does not seek to define—risks adding complexity and confusion when read in conjunction with the existing objective, which already serves the purpose of setting a clear framework for tackling discards.

In future, we will have the opportunity to be creative and adopt new measures and flexibilities outside the current common fisheries policy toolkit, to implement a workable discards ban. The Fisheries Bill—we will no doubt come on to this—sets out provisions to introduce one such flexibility: a discard prevention charging scheme to provide a mechanism that allows fishers to pay for additional quota to cover any excess catch that would otherwise push them into illegal fishing. Alongside the MMO and industry, Defra is exploring the use of remote electronic monitoring—REM—as a cost-effective and efficient way of monitoring fishing activities, including the effectiveness of selected gear types, and ensuring compliance.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for saying that his amendment is a probing amendment. I am aware that he seeks to understand the circumstances in which the Government believe that landing bycatch will be “appropriate”. I believe that this is something to which my noble friend Lady Byford also referred. Under the common fisheries policy—CFP—the landing obligation, which was fully implemented last year, requires all species subject to catch limits to be landed and counted against quota rather than discarded at sea, subject to certain exceptions. Now that we have left the EU, the UK will develop a discards policy that is tailored to our industry. It will have an emphasis on reducing the level of unintentional and unwanted bycatch through sustainable and selective fishing. However, even when our fishing practices are highly selective—this is a point that the noble Lord absolutely recognised—there will be instances when this unwanted bycatch cannot be avoided entirely, given the high number of mixed fisheries in UK waters. The sub-objective that the noble Lord seeks to remove with his amendment specifies that bycatch is landed only if appropriate. This is because, for example, if catch is scientifically proven to have high survivability, it could be beneficial to the long-term sustainability of the stock for it to be returned alive to the sea, rather than landed dead. I use that as an example that we need to think through.

However, the crux of the amendment is that the Government would not have to describe how and when bycatch would be landed in the joint fisheries statement. I have already set out the critical importance of understanding what is taken from the sea; removing this sub-objective could undermine our future discards policy and our ability to advance our scientific understanding of the state of our fisheries.

I should add an embellishment for my noble friend Lady Byford. Where we refer to a good chance of survivability—which I have already raised—there could, for instance, be high-survivability exemptions. Where it is accepted that unwanted catches of certain species in certain fisheries are unavoidable and costly to handle, a small percentage of the catch is permitted to be discarded through the de minimis exemptions.

I say in particular to my noble friend Lady McIntosh, with whom I was pleased to discuss this matter, that in further consideration of the Bill the word “bycatch” is not intended to denigrate the absolutely clear requirement that discard is addressed; rather, “bycatch” is a better description of dealing with the issue and its root causes. My noble friend knows that there are, as I said, references to “discards” in the draft legislation. The point about bycatch as an objective is precisely that we think this wording covers and addresses the matter in a wider sense. However, I think we all want the same objective, and I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

17:00
Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to those who have contributed. The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, is entirely consistent with my amendment, in the sense of probing. I am a little disappointed that I have no greater understanding of why the discards objective was dropped between the initial Bill that was published and this version. While I am sure that it is of interest that remote electronic monitoring equipment is being proposed, my noble friend did not explain whether or not that would be on a voluntary basis. Other amendments that I have tabled at later stages will provide him with the opportunity to do so. Also, will foreign fishing boats be policed? Will they also be required to have such monitoring systems in place?

In summing up, my noble friend did not actually respond to whether or not the monitoring equipment would include cameras but, as a subsequent amendment that I have tabled relates specifically to cameras, I would be grateful if he could reply on that specific point at that stage.

I emphasise that even if we use “discards” or “bycatch” interchangeably in the way that we seem to now, for the policy to work effectively, and for more fish to be landed so that we have a better idea of the state of the current stock, it must be effectively policed or it will fall flat on its face. I will return to this issue in later amendments, but at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 3 withdrawn.
Amendment 4
Moved by
4: Clause 1, page 1, line 11, at end insert—
“( ) the marine planning objective.”
Baroness Worthington Portrait Baroness Worthington
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, in moving Amendment 4 in my name I shall speak also to Amendment 25, which is grouped with it. I also seek permission to speak to Amendments 47 and 56, which will come up later in Committee but are related to this point, so I hope I can speak to all four in this speech.

The purpose of Amendment 4 is to add a new fisheries objective to the Bill stating that there is a “marine planning objective” in relation to fisheries management. The reason is that there is a real need to integrate fisheries into our wider marine planning processes. The phrase “fisheries exceptionalism” has been used. In essence, what is being got at there is that the way we plan for our use of the marine environment for fisheries is very separate from our wider spatial planning that we use for other activities that occur in the marine environment. Sometimes we forget that, although fishing is a hugely important part of our marine environment, it is certainly not the only economically productive activity that occurs within our seas. It is important that we integrate fisheries into marine planning and that marine planning integrates fisheries into its processes.

Therefore, there is a very clear objective missing from the Bill, which is to accomplish that wider integration in public policy. Many users of the marine environment interact with fisheries, not least the growing and highly profitable energy sector. We are shifting towards greater use of our marine environment for the production of sustainable energy. That has an interesting intersection with fisheries: the offshore wind farms that we are putting into the marine environment can act as no-take zones for vessels over a certain size, and as hatcheries and protected areas that allow fish stocks to return to an area that would otherwise be decimated through overexploitation by large vessels with large gear. There is a real benefit to be gained from integrating fisheries with our spatial planning.

It is not just about reducing fishing effort, although another key part of planning—now in UK law—is the protection of areas of high biodiversity interest or sites of scientific interest in the marine environment. We have a marine planning process that designates marine planning areas, some of which are working well while others need to be better thought-through and planned. It would be much more effective if, when setting these new fishing policies, we think of them as an integral part of our marine planning for conservation.

There are other uses of the marine environment that require planning, including dredging the shipping channels. It is an environment that requires careful management and balance—I agree with that—but not to mention the existing marine plans that are required to be made, and not to integrate them with the fishing objectives, feels like a missed opportunity. I tabled this amendment in the hope that we can have a wider debate about spatial planning and how it relates to fisheries management. It is not a negative proposal: it could bring greater benefits as we think about how we manage our seas. I look forward to the Minister’s response, and I hope that we have a good debate. I beg to move.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I very much welcome marine planning. I should perhaps declare a past interest as a board member of the Marine Management Organisation, which is responsible for marine planning in England. Last week I talked to Gillian Martin, the convenor of the environment committee of the Scottish Parliament, about marine planning. It is happening in Scotland, too.

I am certainly not advocating this as yet another objective—we have too many already—but it is important that the Bill takes account of marine planning and all the work going on in that field. Today our seas are, to put it mildly, used in multiple ways—for trade, renewable energy, undersea carbon capture and storage, and lots of other areas. I am not sure that the Bill even mentions things such as marine conservation zones, which are part of marine plans and, inevitably, part of the management of the fishing regimes. I would like to think that there was a way to refer to marine plans in the Bill, although not quite in this way.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, for tabling these amendments. As she said, they relate to the importance of marine planning and the conservation obligations of the fishing sector.

The Marine and Coastal Access Act is an important piece of legislation, passed in the final years of the Labour Government, of which we are very proud. It already requires the UK and devolved Administrations to prepare marine plans. The point made by the noble Baroness was important: new legislation should incorporate the marine plans where they overlap and apply. With this Bill it is sensible to incorporate them into the joint fisheries statements and the fisheries management plans. We should not risk one piece of legislation overriding the obligations of another: the case for integration is well made.

As marine plans have been with us for some time, there is an argument that they should provide the bedrock on which other policies are built and developed. There is little sense in having marine conservation measures in place if certain protections are at risk of being disrupted by fishing activities authorised under the Bill, so the case for integration is strong.

We have raised previously with the Minister the wider challenge of how all Defra Bills integrate; for example, how this Bill will integrate with the Environment Bill. They all need to interlink and create a bigger whole. I am sure that we will be told that a number of the issues that we raise here will be dealt with in the Environment Bill. We need to make sure that everything is in its place and is interlinked. Everything should be developed as a package. The points made by the noble Baroness about the links between this Bill and marine conservation are well made. As with all these things, it is about finding the right wording and the right place in the legislation, but the principle is one that we should adopt.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I should have made another declaration: I am co-chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Nature Partnership. Obviously, being surrounded by sea apart from the Tamar—which is an even more important boundary with our brothers in Devon—Cornwall has a marine interest.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, for her amendments. Together, they would require policies made to achieve the fisheries objectives to be consistent with the objectives and policies in relevant marine plans.

I want to take this opportunity to make it clear that the UK Government recognise the importance of marine plans, which enable the increasing and, at times, competing demands for use of the marine area to be balanced and managed in an integrated way—a way that protects the marine environment while supporting sustainable development. Using our marine resources effectively and sustainably has the potential to provide significant benefits for the UK economy and for coastal communities. The economic contribution of marine-related industries to the UK’s GDP in 2015 was estimated at £27 billion, with scope for further growth.

In England, the East Inshore and East Offshore Marine Plans were published in April 2014 and the South Inshore and South Offshore Marine Plan was published in July 2018. The remaining marine plans for England are out for consultation by the Marine Management Organisation and will be in place by 31 March 2021, delivering the Government’s commitment in the 25-year environment plan.

Marine plans support economic growth in a way that benefits society while respecting the needs of local communities and protecting the marine environment. That is why I understand the importance of the points that the noble Baroness has raised. We believe that what her amendment requires is already provided for. As was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, Section 58 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 requires public authorities to have regard to

“the appropriate marine policy documents”—

which could be a marine policy statement or a marine plan—when taking decisions affecting the marine environment. The amendments would therefore duplicate this requirement. I am advised that the requirement is already sufficient to meet what I know are the noble Baroness’s positive intentions.

With that explanation and the assurance that I have been advised that Section 58 covers this point and that the amendment would merely duplicate what is already a legal requirement, I hope that she will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Worthington Portrait Baroness Worthington
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his response and explanation. Perhaps there will be an opportunity to discuss this further after Committee, as I am minded to withdraw the amendment. Even if that piece of legislation predates the Bill and states that the planners must take into account certain factors, the amendment creates an objective relating to marine planning, ensuring that the fisheries plans drawn up under the Bill take into account the marine planning aspects. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, said, it is to make sure that the Bill is fully up to date with our marine planning requirements, not the other way around. However, on the basis that we can discuss this further, I beg leave to withdraw.

Amendment 4 withdrawn.
House resumed.

Fisheries Bill [HL]

Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard - continued) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard - continued): House of Lords
Monday 2nd March 2020

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard - continued) Page Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 71-II Second marshalled list for Committee - (2 Mar 2020)
Committee (1st Day) (Continued)
20:36
Relevant document: 6th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
Amendment 17
Moved by
17: Clause 1, page 2, line 24, leave out subsection (7)
Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I suspect that this amendment will not take up a lot of the Committee’s time. I want to understand what the equal access objective is trying to do and what its implications are. The objective says that

“the location of the fishing boat’s home port, or … any other connection of the fishing boat, or any of its owners, to any place in the United Kingdom”

does not affect their rights. If I read that objective as a local fisher—perhaps in Mevagissey, the nearest port to me, or in a smaller fishery down further west, let alone those along the south coast—I would be concerned that any decision by government to allocate anything at all could be challenged by a larger fleet, or by someone from further round the coast, and could disrupt or exploit a well-managed local fishery. I understand entirely that the last thing we want to do is compartmentalise the United Kingdom in any way, and I think the system works fairly well as it is at the moment. This is the one area where perhaps I would like to keep the status quo, rather than introduce this objective.

My concern is that this makes local fisheries susceptible to challenge when it comes to fishing rights and their ability to look after particular stocks or to get Marine Society accreditation. This is a threat. I would be very interested to hear from the Minister why the Government want to do this and why I should not fear the consequences for the lesser fleets in the United Kingdom. There is also a slight risk that this might encourage further consolidation of the market. We already have market concentration and it concerns me that those are the fleets with the money, capacity and ability to buy or to trade fishing rights, so this is an area of susceptibility.

When I first got involved in fisheries in the 1990s, I used to talk regularly to fishing organisations down in the far south-west. Publicly, there was always a concern about the Spanish fleets. Whenever you put a microphone or camera in front of someone, they were the big threat. If you talked to them otherwise, it was the Scots who came down and took everything out of the water when they had nothing better to do north of the border. I am not for a minute saying that is the case today, but I have a real concern here and I would be very interested to hear from the Minister why I should not be so afraid. I beg to move.

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, perhaps I might add a question to this. To understand what the equal access objective is about, one should look at Clause 17 of the Bill. If a Scottish fisheries authority were to grant a licence to a non-UK fishing boat under the new regime, that would be a licence to fish in Scottish waters. Both this current objective and, indeed, the related amendment on the determination of fishing opportunities say that, when a ship is licensed, or when fishing opportunities are allotted, this cannot be done to British boats on the basis of where they come from. If I understand correctly—I put this simply because I am sure the Minister will put us both right when we have presented our questions—the object of the equal access objective is to make sure that, when the administrations put forward their joint fisheries statement, they must do so on the basis that a British fishing boat can go anywhere in British fishing waters. That seems a desirable objective because otherwise we could well end up with not British fishing waters but entirely separate Scottish, Welsh or English fishing waters. I do not regard that as the objective we are seeking, so to that extent, I rather like keeping the equal access objective and I would not see it removed from the Bill.

Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, poses some serious challenges in his amendment. Indeed, quota allocation is already a highly complex and opaque feature in fishing. The tabling of Amendments 17 and 95 affords us a brief opportunity to probe the Government over how equal access will work in practice once the constituent parts of the UK have the freedom, at least theoretically, to determine their own quota allocations and wider regulatory frameworks.

In view of the earlier discussion today, I am sure the Minister will argue that these amendments are unwise as they undermine the work that the Government have already undertaken with the devolved Administrations in drafting the Bill. I also pre-empt his commitment that the various issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, will come out in the mix once the Bill is in place and the various statements and management plans begin to appear. Be that as it may, I am sure that fishers in different parts of the UK will be interested to hear his comments on how all of this will work in practice.

For example, how will the Government and devolved Administrations work together to ensure that the regulations of each part of the UK are compatible, being both available and accessible to those who will have to rely on them? How will issues such as enforcement be managed to ensure that the devolution settlement is upheld, while also respecting the equal access objective, as it is currently drafted, when they could diverge over time? This topic arose during the Commons Committee stage on the previous Bill, so I hope that the reassurances offered tonight will meet all the Committee’s expectations. A significant amount of time has passed since those debates and we are only a short time away from potential problems ceasing to be purely hypothetical.

20:45
Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Gardiner of Kimble) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am most grateful to noble Lords for this short debate. As I understand it, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, is concerned that our provisions relating to equal access could lead to unintended consequences, which could include a further concentration of the fishing industry, and incentivise the purchasing of additional quota from other fisheries authorities.

The UK Government believe that the equal access objective in the Fisheries Bill is vital as it sets out a joint commitment for all four fisheries administrations to work together to ensure that boats based all over the UK enjoy the same rights of access to fish in UK waters, no matter where their home port is. This is important, since many vessels fish in the waters of multiple fisheries authorities. As with all the objectives, this objective has been carefully developed and designed with close discussion with the devolved Administrations. This is one of the key points that I would like to make to the noble Lord: the objective is limited to access to waters only and does not grant any access to quota.

Amendment 95 relates to UK quota-setting and seeks to remove the restriction on setting different maxima by reference to a UK boat’s home port or other connection. I will provide some further detail on the provisions in Clause 23. Clause 23 relates to the determination of the pot of UK fishing opportunities. It does not relate to the subsequent allocation of those opportunities to the fisheries administrations, or to their subsequent distribution to the fishing industry. Total UK fishing opportunities are defined by the criteria set out in the clause: the description of sea fish, the area of the sea and the description of the fishing vessel.

The reason for the stipulation in Clause 23(4) that fishing opportunities cannot be set based on any reference to a boat’s home port or connection to a particular part of the UK is to ensure that this power can be used to set only the overall amount of UK-wide fishing opportunities. It cannot be used to determine how quota, once divided between the fisheries administrations, is allocated to each administration’s industry. This is clearly a devolved matter.

Amendment 95 would therefore give the Secretary of State the power to set quota within devolved competence—for example, setting quota for boats fishing out of Peterhead in Scotland. This is clearly not something that would be desired by the Committee; nor do I think it is the noble Lord’s intention. He may hope that the amendment addresses the need for local boats to have access to local quota. This is a matter for each administration, but Clause 17, which my noble friend Lord Lansley referred to, maintains the current approach on this: each administration will use transparent criteria, including environmental and socioeconomic criteria, when deciding how to allocate quota. The amendment therefore does not achieve the exact effect the noble Lord may have hoped for.

I also provide further reassurance that the methodology for allocating quota to industry within England is published in the publicly available English quota management rules, alongside the allocations themselves. Each administration also has its own quota management rules. The Government are committed to supporting fishers around the country and we are engaging with them to ensure that our coastal communities see the maximum benefit from the quota that we hold.

I will provide a further piece of information. The equal access objective in Clause 1 preserves the status quo. Currently all UK boats can fish in all UK waters. Clause 17 provides for each administration to license foreign boats in its waters, since licensing is a devolved matter. In practice, each administration will delegate its licensing functions to, or allow the administration of, a single UK licensing regime through the single licensing authority.

I am very happy to have a further discussion with the noble Lord if there are any residual matters of concern. I hope that I have got across that the equal access objective is precisely on the basis to ensure—particularly with many vessels fishing in the waters of multiple fisheries authorities—that this is equal access for all rather than the way in which the noble Lord describes it. Our intention is for the four constituent parts to have the ability to fish in UK waters.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have not finished yet. So that is where the position lies. I will now take the noble Lord’s intervention.

Lord Cameron of Dillington Portrait Lord Cameron of Dillington
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I apologise to the Minister. It may be that he cannot answer this question but, when it comes to the future division, he said that the boats may have access to the waters but not necessarily to the quota, which explains many of the problems. Is the quota going to be divided into the areas that currently exist—7A, 7B, 7C, 7D and 6—or are we going to have completely new areas? How localised will these areas be? Will they be near to the Cornish ports that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, is worried about? It may be that that has not been decided yet.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will avail myself of receiving some information and let everyone in this debate know. Clearly, it is a devolved matter and therefore all three devolved Administrations and the UK Government will make those considerations. That is why I mentioned in particular the English quota management rules. These are matters of responsibility for the devolved Administrations and ourselves in terms of quota. On that basis, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, for his question because even if we use the traditional ICES areas, those do not reflect the boundaries between the devolved nations. It is an interesting question.

I thank the Minister for his explanation. I feel reassured by that. If it does not relate to quotas and refers only to vessels steaming around in circles doing nothing at all, who can complain? However, it does not seem to be much of an objective if that is the case. On that basis, I withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 17 withdrawn.
Amendment 18
Moved by
18: Clause 1, page 2, line 29, leave out subsection (8) and insert—
“(8) The “national benefit objective” is that the public exploitation of the fishery for commercial, recreational and environmental purposes brings benefit to the United Kingdom or any part of the United Kingdom.”
Baroness Worthington Portrait Baroness Worthington (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I must confess to feeling that perhaps I am not the best person to lead off this segment of the debate, because my amendment seeks to change subsection (8) of the clause but the group as a whole will take into account a wider range of issues relating to the definition of “national benefit”. I look forward to hearing the many views that will be expressed around the amendments in this group.

My amendment simply seeks to make the point—I fear this is a return to the discussion at the start of the debate—of what it is that we are doing in the handing out of a fishing quota, which is held in public trust, for private benefit. I therefore seek to amend the description of the national benefit objective as set out in the Bill from a fairly narrow definition that

“fishing activities of UK fishing boats bring social or economic benefits to the United Kingdom”,

and suggest that it should be reworded that the national benefit objective is that

“the public exploitation of the fishery for commercial, recreational and environmental purposes brings benefit to the United Kingdom”.

So the amendment seeks to make it clear in the Bill that it is more than simply the fishing activity for which we are granting quotas that constitutes a national benefit.

I know that noble Lords will speak to other amendments around the principle of the UK benefiting from the granting of quotas, but my amendment seeks to probe why it is that we are defining national benefits so narrowly and restricting it to fishing activities and fishing boats. The phrase seems a little odd, given that, as we have discussed, the founding principle of the Bill is that we have a national asset in our fishing resource that is held in trust for the public and granted out to fishing activity. I feel that the national benefit has been too narrowly drawn and too narrowly attached to fishing activities and fishing boats.

That is the purpose of the amendment. As I say, the rest of the amendments in the group seek to consider and assess different aspects of the national benefit—but I beg to move my amendment.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern Portrait Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, my Amendment 19 is trying to deal with the same matter, but it attempts to use the activities of fishing fleets to bring

“social, economic and employment benefits to the United Kingdom or any part”.

In other words, it is intended that the activities of fishing boats should not merely benefit the fisheries, but also the rest of the United Kingdom, and in particular produce social, economic and employment benefits. One can see that this is a bit wider than the proposal of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, but it is just a question of what precisely this “national benefit objective” is aiming at.

I think it does not aim at benefiting the fishing industry itself, but at benefiting others through the activities of the fishing industry. Paragraph (b) of my proposed new subsection, which contains a reference to fish and aqua- culture activities, manages to achieve the same sort of thing. In other words, in both cases the activities of the boats and the management of the fleets are supposed to bring these general social, economic and employment benefits to the United Kingdom and parts of it.

The issues in this amendment were brought to my attention by the national authority, or corporation, of the fishing fleets of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Scottish people are somewhat separately represented, and it is not altogether surprising that their attitude is that the Bill is pretty good and perhaps the best thing to do is to leave it alone. It may be that they have ideas about the present situation, and the way in which the Bill is constructed is, from their point of view, very acceptable.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
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My Lords, I will speak to my Amendment 78, which is in a similar vein around national benefit. It is quite clear, certainly in the south-west, that if all the fishing vessels with British flags actually landed their catch—or a major proportion of it—in their home port, the number of landings in the UK and the viability of those ports would be hugely increased. Of course, we have here the issue of what used to be called “quota hoppers”, around which everything has gone staggeringly quiet during the Brexit negotiations and the formulation of the Bill.

As we know, a little under half of the English—not Scottish—quota is effectively owned by Dutch, Spanish or Icelandic interests. Grimsby, which I think used to be the world’s or Europe’s largest fishing port, now has a very important fish processing industry, but hardly any activity in terms of landings. Most of the quota there is effectively owned by Dutch vessels that land in Holland.

So, we have a question: how do we change that? The Bill does nothing to change this area. In a way, it suits the fishing industry establishment to keep things as they are, because those are the members. Whether vessels are English or foreign-owned, those are the members of the fishing organisations. That is why, in Amendment 78, I have used the scientifically calculated number of 75%, which came out at the end of my spreadsheet, to suggest what proportion of fish should be landed by English-flagged—or British-flagged, depending on how we want to define the devolution thing—vessels. It is a probing amendment, but only in the sense that something needs to be done in this area. Very few other EU member states have allowed the foreign ownership of quota in the way that we have. We decided to do that. We are where we are, but we need to make sure there is a national benefit; I assume that is why this objective is here.

21:00
I very much support the majority of the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. However, one of them slightly suggests an obligation for foreign vessels licensed to fish in UK waters also to land in the UK. I am slightly more hesitant about that approach; the last thing we would want is retaliation, or reciprocation. The last thing we would want in, say, Norwegian fisheries, is for British boats to have to land their catch in Norway. I do not really think that that would work. I am not so bothered about foreign vessels that are licensed here; as long as they pay us good money, or we have swaps on quota allowances, that would be sufficient. But we do need to tackle this area of effective foreign ownership of UK quota and bring some of that back home to our ports—so that they can thrive and make the most of the new situation that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, described.
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, we have five amendments in this group: Amendments 20, 21, 77, 80 and 84. First, a number of noble Lords have sought to amend and clarify the definition of “national benefit” in different ways. The fact that different Peers have tried to do that shows that this is open to a huge range of interpretations. It is a rather vague, catch-all phrase so it is right that we should probe it; it needs further clarification. It is also important that we return to our earlier discussion. If the phrase is too vague, it could be used to override some of the other important objectives that could be subsumed under it. So it is important that we understand exactly what it means, and that it holds its place proportionately with all the other objectives; it is clearly better defined by that.

I think we are all still struggling with those objectives. We identified at the beginning of the debate that eight—or however many there are—is too many, and asked how we rank them and so on. The vaguer they are, the more difficult any of that ranking will be. The phrase “national benefit” is so vague; we need to do a bit more work on the phrase itself but also on how to interpret and define it. We need to bottom out that discussion; maybe the Minister can help us a bit more with that.

Our Amendment 20 has a simple intent: it seeks to ensure that foreign vessels fishing in our waters should have the same obligation to respect the national benefit—however we define it—as required of the UK fleet. This should be the basis on which licences are granted. We believe it is a straightforward and uncontroversial amendment; we hope that noble Lords will agree.

Amendments 21, 77, 80 and 84 raise a very different issue—some of these amendments have been grouped rather oddly, but I shall address them as they have been set out—which is the concept of a national landing obligation. We believe this is vital to ensuring the long-term health of our coastal fishing fleets and communities. This is spelled out in detail in Amendment 84, where we specify that all licensed boats should be subject to the national landing requirement to land a percentage of their boat’s catch at a port in the UK. Our proposal is that the percentage of the catch should be set at 70%, rather than the noble Lord’s 75%, unless the Secretary of State determines otherwise and sets out his reasons, but we could discuss trading that figure.

This is an important principle and we set out our argument for it at Second Reading: a requirement to land at UK ports could herald the renaissance of our coastal communities, which is long overdue. While the numbers vary according to the type of fisher, we know that for every job created at sea many more are created on land as a result of the need for landing, processing and onward transportation, for example. It is estimated that about 10 times as many jobs are created on land as at sea, and currently many of those jobs are going to other EU ports. Meanwhile coastal communities currently have higher rates of unemployment and lower wages. They have the additional challenges of a drain of young people, social isolation and poor health. A policy based on a national landing requirement would provide more local jobs for local people and would save fishers having to travel hundreds of miles in search of a fair price for their catch because then, we hope, the market would come to them rather than them having to chase the markets overseas.

If we were to introduce a minimum landing requirement for fish caught in our waters, that would provide a level of certainty for the sector that historically has been lacking. That in turn would, we hope, facilitate investment and innovation, which could help with other matters such as decarbonisation and, as I say, would bring local regeneration based on good environmental principles. I hope noble Lords will see the sense of this argument and support the amendments.

Amendment 78, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, which he has just eloquently described, also deals with the requirement to land a proportion in UK ports. He has an exception for landing in distant-water fisheries, which I think we accept; you can take the principle that we are suggesting only so far, so there is merit in that. That is also an issue that we have covered in our Amendment 90. We need more clarification on it but I think we are all fishing in the same water around those principles.

We also welcome the tabling of Amendment 18 by the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. It would bring other forms of fishing, such as recreational fishing, into the scope of the national benefit objective. Again, this underlines the fact that the phrase is very vague and therefore you could tack all sorts of things on to it. However, we support the principle. We have other amendments that spell out in more detail the importance of recreational fishing. Perhaps it could be better sited elsewhere but it is an important principle and we are happy to find the appropriate place to put that wording for the future. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley
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My Lords, if my noble friend will forgive me, I want to interject for a short moment, not about the definition of the national benefit objective but on the second part of this group of amendments, relating to a landing requirement. It struck me as a useful debate to have in Committee. For a start, it allows us to expose the question of whether Ministers want to be in the position to impose any kind of landing requirement under any circumstances.

Personally, I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, say that setting a landing requirement for foreign boats in UK waters would simply lead to the imposition of the same requirement on British boats in other waters, and I am not sure that is where we want to end up. I am glad that both speakers from Labour and the Liberal Democrats have endorsed the view that this should apply only to fishing in our exclusive economic zone; it would need not to apply, or to be able to be exempted, for distant-waters fishing. I hope noble Lords will forgive me for saying that to set 70% or 75% in primary legislation would make no sense whatever. Putting that to one side—and saying that therefore the amendments do not work—it raises a very interesting question: does the Bill, under any circumstances, allow fishing authorities in the United Kingdom to set any kind of landing requirement? I do not know the answer; I cannot find it anywhere. I wonder whether it is thought potentially never to be necessary under any circumstances. It seems to me that there is a potential mischief involved in the ownership and use of quota, which could be remedied either through the allocation of quotas or through a landing requirement. I am not sure that Ministers have told us whether under any circumstances they would use the former and never the latter. That is an interesting question.

Lord Mawson Portrait Lord Mawson (CB)
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My Lords, I will not detain the House for long. I am encouraged by this debate. Last year I sat on the committee on regenerating coastal and seaside towns. We looked in a lot of detail at what is happening to our seaside towns—at the poverty and great difficulty they are experiencing. I am certainly not an expert on what the quotas should or should not be, but this kind of discussion is a source of encouragement, and is putting its finger on the issues and on the opportunities that may come to these towns if we push these ideas. It feels as though there is movement on getting to grips with the positive opportunities that may now result from the time we are in. I thank the Committee for this helpful discussion.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern Portrait Lord Mackay of Clashfern
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My Lords, I wonder whether this question of landing obligations will need to be resolved in the fisheries negotiations during the coming “passage of arms” with the EU. I believe that there is a good deal of voluntary landing in our ports by foreign fishing vessels at the moment, and one of the reasons for that is the efficiency of the transfer from these ports to the European market. They are able to get their fish stocks to the European market from some ports very quickly—in a way that, if they had to take them back to Spain or southern France, would take much longer and probably be less efficiently organised. I do not know whether it needs compulsion, but compulsion would need to be authorised as part of the future negotiations.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
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Perhaps I may intervene on the noble and learned Lord. We should not forget that we are talking about British boats in British waters—it is not about foreign vessels. Sorry, I will sound like Michael Gove or the Prime Minister, but this has nothing to do with the European Union or the Commission: it is purely a British decision, apart from foreign vessels and where they have to land. That is why we have raised the issue.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern Portrait Lord Mackay of Clashfern
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I can see that, if it is restricted to British vessels, it is perfectly within the powers of this Parliament, but I am not at all clear that it would be right to impose that kind of obligation on British vessels without attempting to encourage foreign vessels to do the same. As I mentioned at Second Reading, something like this is already happening, and in pretty small ports—though they have a large amount of traffic, usually overnight, when refrigerated vehicles go straight to Europe and arrive quickly at their markets, which are pretty hungry for the result.

21:15
Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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My Lords, this debate has turned into rather an intriguing one, with lots of contributions. I am grateful to noble Lords for these amendments, which all relate to a matter emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Mawson; that is, ensuring that coastal communities which rely on fishing see a benefit from fish caught in UK waters. The UK Government agree that this is a matter of the upmost importance, but I suggest that other routes beyond this Bill should be used to secure this outcome as well.

Amendment 18 would include recreational and environmental use of fisheries in the national benefit objective. Amendment 19 seeks to ensure economic, social and employment benefits from fish and aquaculture activities. The objective as it stands in the Bill highlights that UK boats, including foreign-owned but UK-flagged boats, should provide economic, social and employment benefits to the UK when fishing against the UK’s fishing opportunities. This is currently achieved through a licence condition requiring all UK vessels to demonstrate an economic link to the UK. The Bill also extends the ability to prescribe an economic link in respect of foreign vessels licensed to fish in the UK through the foreign vessel licensing regime, if this is negotiated internationally.

Perhaps I might take a moment to set out what the economic link requirement currently stipulates of UK vessels. The requirement is delivered through the licensing regime and can be controlled and enforced by the fisheries authorities and the Marine Management Organisation. The economic link is a devolved matter, but currently this licence condition is UK-wide, as agreed in the 2012 fisheries concordat between the Administrations.

I say in reply to my noble friend Lord Lansley that we do not need legislation to amend or set an economic link; it is managed through licence conditions. The conditions of the economic link are that vessels must land at least 50% of their catch of quota species into UK ports; have at least 50% of their crew normally resident in the UK; spend at least 50% of operating expenditure in the UK; or demonstrate an economic link by other means. In practice, this last option usually involves the donation of quota to the under-10 metre quota pool.

In 2018, the majority of vessels met the economic link by landing at least 50% of their catch in UK ports. Twenty-seven vessels met the economic link through other economic link criteria. Of the 27, 22 complied by donating 714 tonnes of quota worth £2.5 million, and five employed a crew the majority of whom were resident in the UK. This quota was put into the under-10 metre pool, which is managed by the MMO, and vessel owners who have valid licences are entitled to fish for it.

Other parts of the Bill, in particular paragraph (a)(ii) of the sustainability objective in Clause 1, already state the UK Government’s aim of ensuring that fishing activities are managed so as to achieve economic, social and employment benefits, which I hope provides the reassurance that my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay seeks in his Amendment 19. This would include the management of recreational and environmental use of fisheries. As such, Amendment 18 does not need to be included because the Bill achieves the same effect as the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, seeks. I am happy to have further conversations if that presents difficulties for her, but that is the position as I understand it.

There are some further, practical issues to consider in relation to these amendments. It is not clear what any national benefit requirement for the recreational sector could be or for those exploiting the resources for environmental reasons; nor would it be easy to consider how any wider national benefit requirement could be delivered.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, seeks through Amendment 20 to extend the scope of the objective that the fishing activities of UK fishing boats should benefit the UK to include the activity of foreign vessels and, through Amendment 21, to require that a majority of fish be landed by UK boats for processing at UK ports. I shall speak to these amendments in turn.

In the future, any access by non-UK vessels to fish in UK waters will be, as all noble Lords know, a matter for negotiation. Access will be on the UK’s terms and for the benefit of UK fishermen. Our access negotiations will always seek to bring environmental, economic and social benefits to the UK. Therefore, through our negotiations, benefits to the UK from any foreign vessels fishing in our waters would be sought and secured, without such an amendment to the Bill.

There would be a number of practical challenges to delivering the change that Amendment 21 seeks to impose. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and my noble friend Lord Lansley referred to this. The imposition of this requirement on UK vessels would make many vessels’ existing business models inoperable, as they rely on non-UK markets for the sale of their catch. This is often the case where prices are higher or, in some instances, where appropriate port facilities in the UK are not available. There could be implications for safety if vessels are not able to access suitable ports at the appropriate time. Further, enforcing increased landings into the UK could result in lower prices for the catching sector.

The amendment refers specifically to fish for “processing in UK ports”. While we want to encourage greater processing in the UK, as it creates value and brings employment, there are challenges in practice. We have some world-class processing plants in the UK, but they are not necessarily found in ports. It will also take time and money to invest and build processing capacity. We must also recognise that markets for processed fish need to be developed and there can be good value to be gained from the sale of, for example, unprocessed fish or live shellfish.

Landing requirements currently exist as part of the economic link condition attached to all UK vessel licences, as I have already detailed. This proposed amendment would make it more difficult for other mechanisms which benefit UK coastal communities to operate, including quota donations made under the economic link condition, resulting in a fall in fishing opportunities for the inshore fleet. Schedule 3 to the Bill sets out vessel licensing powers, which we will continue to use to impose economic link conditions on UK registered boats. The economic link policy is being reviewed, to ensure that it remains as effective as possible as we leave the CFP. However, I believe that a licence condition remains the most flexible and effective way of achieving this objective.

Amendments 77, 78, 80, and 84 seek to introduce a new national landing requirement and apply it to vessels licensed using powers in the Bill. While the Government support the intent of these amendments, which is to ensure that the UK benefits from its valuable natural resources, we believe that their aims are addressed both in the Bill through the national benefit objective, as I have previously highlighted, and the provisions to license foreign vessels for the first time, which would allow us to impose on them requirements which are equitable with our licensing regime for UK boats.

There is already work being undertaken on this topic by the Government and by the devolved Administrations. The amendments as drafted would not be appropriate to include in the Bill as they do not respect the devolution settlements—the economic link being a devolved matter, as I have set out. As made clear in the UK Government’s fisheries White Paper, the economic link conditions will be reviewed with a view to strengthening them. The Scottish Government consulted on this issue three years ago. We wish to work with the devolved Administrations to consider whether having the same economic link conditions across the UK would simplify matters for industry.

I am sure noble Lords will agree that, in developing options for reform, we must consider the best interests of the whole fleet, including those British vessels that land abroad when it is most profitable, and ensure that vessels can continue to operate as successful businesses. As we review the economic link, we will carefully consider the impact of changing the required share of landings into UK ports. Setting a fixed percentage for required landings into UK ports by all vessels could present practical difficulties, as the infrastructure for handling large increases in landings may not be in place, and it could disrupt existing supply chains. Furthermore, it would not necessarily benefit the inshore fleet, as quota that has been donated to the under-10 metre pool in the past would, instead, be required to be landed into UK ports by foreign owned vessels. The current drafting of the Bill respects and reflects the devolution settlements, where each Administration is responsible for setting licence conditions, including the economic link. It would therefore not be appropriate for the Secretary of State to be legislating for the whole UK, as proposed.

I realise that this has been a fairly lengthy explanation, but I hope that it has been helpful in demonstrating the UK Government’s commitment to, first, seeing a real benefit from fishing for our coastal communities, and secondly, ensuring that our fishing industry is given enough flexibility to flourish. I understand the rationale behind all the amendments, but I have sought to outline some of the practical intricacies of the fishing industry.

One of the generous remarks by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, repeated today, is that the more you learn about the fishing industry, the more you realise how little you really know, because of its intricacy and complexity. I have tried to outline some of the points of difficulty that the amendment presents, although I absolutely respect the importance of supporting our coastal communities. With all that in mind, I ask the noble Baroness at this stage to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
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I shall read what the Minister said in detail in Hansard. He said that this is riddled with complexity, and I am sure that that is true, but did I understand him to say that there is a working party already working on issues around the national landing requirement? Is it that he thinks this is a good idea but, as we were discussing earlier, everything has to be agreed with the devolved nations and therefore we cannot agree anything in the Bill? Is this something that is already in train but has not yet been signed off? Is that really what he is saying? I understand that there may be details underneath it.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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I repeat what I said: work is already being undertaken on this by the Government and the devolved Administrations. It is work in progress, but that is the right route, particularly as these are devolved matters and that is important. The Government want to find ways: although we must and do respect the devolution settlement, there are many respects where we have been seeking to work together and why we are legislating on behalf of all four parts of the United Kingdom on this matter. It is the case that we are acting in concert with the devolved Administrations. We are very mindful that many of these areas are devolved, but we think that in the interests of simplicity and straightforwardness there are many areas where we would like to have a single focus, as it were.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Perhaps I can be helpful to the Minister, in that the whole area of foreign ownership of British-flagged vessels is an English issue, and I am sure that we can solve it in that way and help the Minister get this into the Bill. It is an English, not a Scottish, problem. That is one thing we can do. The other thing is that, on the under-10 fleet redistribution of quota, of course the big promise of the Government is that the pie is going to increase anyway, so there will be plenty for the under-10 fleet. If the Government’s promises, in terms of taking back control and getting rid of relative stability, is what we manage to achieve, then that should not be a problem.

What I particularly want to do at this stage is to go through a thought experiment with the Minister. Taking the point that it is the Government’s objective, quite rightly, post Brexit to have a much larger pie—because the fish stocks are within our EEZ and we will have this whole idea of zonal attachment—we will have much larger fishing opportunities for the fleet as a whole. So, with that bigger pie, are we going to allow the foreign-owned British companies with British-flagged vessels to take even more quota than they have now, or have the Government got a cunning plan to make sure that this expanded quota stays and resides more with real British fishing fleets? I would be very interested to hear the Government’s answer.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

For tonight, I will say that these are matters under active consideration. We take the point that there is scope for additional quota to benefit coastal communities. I am not in a position to give precise details because this is under active consideration, but the noble Lord has absolutely hit on the point that this is about additional opportunities. The Government are working on and considering how best we fulfil that in a way which benefits coastal communities. That, as with a number of other aspects, is work in hand.

21:30
Baroness Worthington Portrait Baroness Worthington
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister’s response to this group of amendments. I will read Hansard in detail. Touching on the point of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, it struck me as odd that we still seem to be referring to the current system under the CFP as some sort of gold standard we should seek to continue. I think most people would agree it is the exact opposite of what we are trying to achieve.

This concept of an economic link being proofed by the charitable donation of quota back to a deserving cause seems out of kilter with what we are trying to achieve. We should not give the vast majority of quota to a small number of players and then rely on their beneficence to give it back to those located in coastal communities who are actually fishing in our waters, employing people, feeding local markets and producing sustainable food. Something is a bit awry in the way that this opportunity is being interpreted by our Government. We will probably come back to probe this further as we go through the Bill, particularly on the quota allocation clauses, but I am grateful for the response—it will tee up an interesting debate later.

On whether recreational fishing could in any way contribute to the national benefit, it is a bit dismissive to state that only commercial fishing and fish stocks have any contribution to make to the benefit of the nation. It is clear that, if we are a destination for a large number of recreational fishers, that will be of national benefit. If we can sustain a really rich and biodiverse marine environment, that will enable us to encourage any manner of recreational activities—not just fishing but whale watching, porpoise watching and birdwatching are inherently linked to the sustainability of our fish stocks. Without fish in the seas, we do not have birds.

There are lots of reasons why good management of our marine environment produces a national benefit, so I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that this is a really odd phrase and that the narrow definition of “national benefit” needs revisiting as we go through the Bill. However, at this stage I am happy to withdraw this amendment.

Amendment 18 withdrawn.
Amendments 19 to 21 not moved.
Amendment 22
Moved by
22: Clause 1, page 2, line 34, after “minimised” insert “, in particular through efforts to—
(i) improve the environmental performance of fishing ports, and(ii) promote the decarbonisation of fish and aquaculture activities”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment strengthens the “climate change objective” by requiring action to improve the environmental performance of ports and decarbonise the catching process.
Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester
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My Lords, in moving Amendment 22, I will speak also to Amendment 23. These amendments are tabled with slightly different intentions in mind, so while they may be grouped together, they address slightly different aspects of climate change. The addition of the climate change objective is very much to be welcomed, and must be fundamental to all policy developments, perhaps second only to the sustainability objective, as debated earlier tonight.

Amendment 22 would strengthen the climate change objective by requiring two sets of actions: one on land to improve the green credentials of ports and the other at sea to help the fisheries fleet decarbonise. Both are important and must reflect together the environmental sustainability practices on landed catches while making the industry undertake precise measures on decarbonisation. Either step or both would have a positive impact on the country’s net zero aspirations. The amendment was tabled to probe how action the Government propose to take will be specified and measured, including what support they will provide in the future to allow the industry to improve its environmental footprint. The Bill allows financial assistance to be provided for a variety of purposes, including many linked with the overarching fisheries objectives. Can it, therefore, be safely assumed that such support would be made available to fishers who wish to fit cleaner engines, and perhaps to ports and processing plants that want to upgrade equipment to run on low-carbon technologies?

Amendment 23 deals directly with achieving net zero in the industry. I was disappointed to see no link between this framework legislation and the legally binding targets for the UK to achieve net zero by 2050. Amendment 25, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, seeks to achieve a link and we support such a consultation. However, we propose that the Government are not taking action quite as seriously as we would like and need to proceed faster, with more urgency.

We have been told time and again, and will no doubt be reminded in the Minister’s response, that the UK is a world leader in the race to decarbonise, with this Government being the first to adopt a binding target to achieve net zero by 2050. However, I hope the Minister accepts and can forgive that, across your Lordships’ House, many are sceptical of the Government’s claims. Reference need be made to the court’s ruling only last week on Heathrow expansion to see that, just because an environmental target has been adopted, it does not necessarily filter through to everyday decision-making in Whitehall. There remains a gulf between stated ambition and reality. The UK, working alongside others, needs to do more to tackle the climate crisis before it is too late.

As part of that, industries such as fisheries should be encouraged to be ambitious by working to an accelerated timescale. Although it would require significant effort, we believe this could be achieved. If the Minister rejects the premise of achieving net zero in fisheries by 2030, or if he believes that decarbonisation is better dealt with in the upcoming Environment Bill, he at least needs to indicate what progress he would like to see made in the next decade.

With this in mind, what will our fishing fleet look like after nearly 10 years of the UK operating outside the CFP? What is the size of the Government’s ambitions? What gear will our fishers be using? How will the way that their catch is processed and transported be different from today? When will emissions targets be made binding on international shipping? These are but a few of the questions to which we need answers, and we ideally need them before either this or the Environment Bill reach the statute book. To include ambition in the Bill, the House must be assured that it will be key feature in the drawing up of fisheries statements and management policies. There is a climate emergency now and every sector should play its part in addressing it. I beg to move.

Baroness Worthington Portrait Baroness Worthington
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 125 in my name, also in this group. I also lend my support to the two amendments spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. This is very welcome. I start by being positive about the climate change objective being added to the list of 12—or however many we have now. It is good to see it there. As I stated earlier, there really is no business as usual anymore. Climate change impacts are upon us and we are living through an age of consequences. This will permeate all the discussions around fishing policy that we bring on the back of the Bill. Fishing quotas will change, the availability of fish stocks will change and the resilience of the natural environment will be increasingly affected and diminished, so it is incredibly important that we take this seriously.

The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, rightly goes to the heart of the definition here. It seems a little lacking in ambition and specificity, as stated in the Bill, which refers to

“the adverse effects of fishing and aquaculture minimised”.

What does “minimised” mean when, really, they should be eliminated? In fact, any economic activity now taking place specifically within the natural environment should not just seek to have zero emissions, it should be seeking to be a positive sink. We will have to use policies and the framework for managing the natural world to ensure that we are not just reducing our outputs, but seeking to enhance the ability of the natural world to absorb carbon dioxide.

That has to be an aim because we have left it so late. We are about 20 years behind where we should be in reducing emissions on a global level, so the challenge now will be that of eliminating emissions in a decade. Thereafter it will be about soaking out the greenhouse gases that have been emitted. The oceans and the marine environment are a huge component of that, so we should be ambitious. I think that the bare minimum should be to achieve net zero, not simply minimising adverse effects and adapting to climate change.

My third point is about accepting that we may have to implement the precautionary principle, which states that for the period we are in, where there is so much uncertainty, we will be allocating below scientifically determined maximum sustainable yields because of the risk of climate change that overlays everything. We might have to get used to allocating quota on a very precautionary basis because we are entering uncharted waters, if I may be excused the pun.

I turn to my Amendment 125. Amendments that seek consultation always feel a bit redundant in primary legislation, but my point is that, under the powers granted under the Climate Change Act 2008, we have the ability to introduce a policy. Before any activity that causes a net contribution to greenhouse gases, we can simply consult and then use secondary legislation to introduce that policy. If the Government were minded to get going on achieving the net zero target, simply asking for public consultation would be the trigger to introducing secondary legislation to bring in very targeted, market-based policies to encourage investment in low-carbon activities. The Government now have the opportunity to consult on how we can best make this sector carbon neutral and use the powers that already exist to bring in those policies; hence the quest for a public consultation.

It is worth stating that, at the moment, the fishing industry has an effect on climate change in a number of ways. It is not just about how vessels are propelled or the energy choices made by processing plants, it is also about how the degradation of the natural environment can release greenhouse gases. Trawling activities, for example, can disturb the sediment at the bottom of the ocean, which releases otherwise stored carbon. There are plenty of examples and reasons why one would want the sector to take this issue seriously.

This is an opportunity to do something really positive. We must think about the provision of licences to cover the activities that take place in this environment with a positive vision that will create jobs and allow activities to be carried out in the natural world that will help us as we seek to combat climate change. There is no reason why fisheries cannot be part of that process. There are particular types of fish stocks and particular ways of fishing that can lock carbon up while low-impact aquaculture can make a net-positive contribution to our carbon budgets. I hope this is not seen as an imposition; rather, it should be seen as an opportunity.

Again, to finish on a positive note, seeing this objective included is very welcome. I happen to be in the camp of thinking that sustainability is the primary objective, so this climate objective is integral to that. However, we need to see a little more action and commitment to some of the specifics of what making this a primary objective would really mean for how we manage our fisheries. I am glad to have had the opportunity to discuss these amendments.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I put my name on the amendment and am pleased to welcome it. One message from the climate change committee was that we cannot do decarbonisation and net zero sequentially; we have to do it all at the one time. That must include this industry.

My only word of caution is that fish oil is used as an energy source on some occasions, and could be described as renewable. It is used as biodiesel, like fishmeal. That should be excluded completely. We do not do that in this country, but I have a feeling the Danes have occasionally done it before.

21:45
Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, this Government have committed to ambitious action to tackle climate change, including reaching net zero by 2050. To support this objective, it is right that we have included a climate change objective in the Bill.

The Government share the ambition of Amendment 22, which is to make sure that we take meaningful action to decarbonise fishing and aquaculture activities and the infrastructure that supports them, as we must do across our economy. Indeed, I believe we are the first major economy to include an objective of this kind in legislation in relation to fisheries.

Evidence of the links between fishing and climate change continues to grow, and our approach must adapt to follow new evidence over successive iterations of the joint fisheries statement. Therefore, while I agree that action to support decarbonisation of ports and fishing activities must form part of our policies, I am reluctant to prioritise these in primary legislation ahead of the full development of, consultation on and scrutiny of the joint fisheries statement. This is also an issue for other departments, and we will work together to ensure that our functions under this legislation and other specific climate change and environmental legislation are carried out effectively.

The amendment would also have broader unintended consequences. For example, it could lead to future fisheries funding having to prioritise subsidies for fishing port energy efficiency measures that may better be delivered through measures other than fishing policy, such as planning and energy efficiency regulation, over measures to support directly the industry-focused infrastructure such as auction halls and landing sites. It could also lead to future fisheries funding having to priorities support for energy-efficient engines over more targeted fishing gear. The Government should be able to change their priorities for a future funding scheme in consultation with stakeholders so that it best delivers the government policies needed in response to the conditions at the time. We should always take an evidence-based approach to deciding which areas to prioritise in achieving this objective. We believe that the best way to do this is through the joint fisheries statement, rather than in the Bill.

Amendment 23 enables me to highlight that the UK—as the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said—is at the vanguard of global ambition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, having last year committed to achieving economy-wide net-zero emissions by 2050 through the Climate Change Act 2008 (2050 Target Amendment) Order 2019. While I fully support the noble Lord’s ambition to transition to net-zero emissions in the fisheries and aquaculture sector, we have a clear target already enshrined in primary legislation. To introduce a further acceleration of that target in the Bill would create a sectoral disparity that could unfairly disadvantage an industry already facing challenges to adapt to the impacts of climate change. This is not to say that we should not seek to be ambitious as we work towards decarbonising our fisheries and aquaculture operations, but rather that we take a measured approach that supports the sector through the transition on a timescale achievable for all—from small, single-vessel operators to large processing operations. Legally binding policies will be contained in the joint fisheries statement, which will set out in more detail the steps we will take to deliver against the objectives in the Bill.

Turning to Amendment 125, I take the opportunity to set out some of the work already going on across the UK to support the fishing industry’s progress, along with the rest of the country, towards achieving economy-wide net-zero emissions by 2050. I apologise to noble Lords who were aware of this, but I shall put this on the record.

The national adaptation programme—NAP—sets the actions that Government and others will take to adapt to the challenges of climate change in the UK. Published in 2018, it sets out key actions for the following five years across a wide range of sectors, including fisheries and aquaculture.

The UK Clean Maritime Plan, published by the Department for Transport, sets out a national action plan for the whole of the UK maritime sector. The plan includes commitments to support maritime innovation, establish a maritime emissions regulation advisory service and consult on how the renewable transport fuel obligation can be used to encourage the uptake of low-carbon fuels in maritime sectors. The aim of the plan is to achieve zero-emission shipping by 2050, as set out in the Government’s Maritime 2050 strategy. This recognises the need to take action to tackle greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris agreement and the UK’s 2050 net zero ambition. Together, both plans ensure the fishing industry will effectively contribute to the target for zero net emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 2050.

The climate change objective in Clause 1 will support this ambition by requiring the fisheries administrations to consider these matters in consultation with industry and interested parties, as they develop the policies that will sit in the joint fisheries statement. I recognise, and I am pleased, that a number of noble Lords have recognised, in the hurly-burly of the exchanges, that we did insert this new climate change objective. It is absolutely right we did so, because it is at the very heart of what we have to do. For the sake of tonight, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, and I take it entirely in the spirit in which he makes it. We are all committed to this objective, and we all work as fast as we may. We will study the Bill’s words very carefully, to look at where it is appropriate to put in a little more ambition, and whether it is right to leave it to the fisheries statement or whether we could devise some plan to escalate it up to being a stronger commitment. But at this stage—

Baroness Worthington Portrait Baroness Worthington
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before the noble Lord withdraws his amendment, I want to comment on the Minister’s list of activities that relate to this. It is welcome to hear about the marine plans and the alternative fuels. We also need to integrate into this that the Government are pursuing nature-based solutions and carbon stored in the natural environment. We are doing that in the Agriculture Bill, and will be talking about it a lot as we go into the Glasgow talks, but the definitions the department is thinking about in the fishing sector are quite limited; for example, just the propulsion of the vessels. We are not thinking holistically about nature-based solutions, which are very important. When we have discussions following on from today’s debate, I encourage us to think about this holistically to make this a positive thing the maritime sector can help deliver, as we think about the net zero question.

Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, for reminding me of the important issue of nature’s ability to store carbon at sea. This is part of the wider implications of what we are seeking to achieve through amendments to the Bill’s climate change provisions. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 22 withdrawn.
Amendment 23 not moved.
House resumed.
House adjourned at 9.54 pm.

Fisheries Bill [HL]

Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 4th March 2020

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) Page Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 71-II(a) Amendments for Committee, supplementary to the second marshalled list - (3 Mar 2020)
Committee (2nd Day)
15:44
Relevant document: 6th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
Clause 1: Fisheries objectives
Amendment 24
Moved by
24: Clause 1, page 2, line 35, at end insert—
“( ) In addition to the fisheries objectives, section (Duty to sustain the UK fishing industry workforce) outlines responsibilities towards the UK fishing industry workforce.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment makes clear that the Secretary of State has additional duties to the UK fishing industry workforce which extend beyond the general environmental and sustainability principles provided for in Clause 1.
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, Amendments 24 and 29, in my name, make it clear that the Secretary of State should have a wider regard to the national interest through exercising responsibilities to the UK fishing industry workforce, particularly its safety and training. They would require the Secretary of State to consult and produce a report within six months of the Bill being passed. The consultation should be a collaborative exercise involving cross-government engagement, the industry and a range of stakeholder groups.

The amendments are tabled with the support of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, and they are underpinned by continued concerns about the number of accidents and deaths at sea. Fishing is a dangerous industry and, unlike most other jobs, going to sea is incredibly physically demanding and requires extended periods away from home. It remains one of the most dangerous occupations in the world and every year there are deaths in UK waters, many of which are avoidable. The Sea Fish Industry Authority has identified 535 serious injuries to fishermen in the last 10 years, so we can and must do better.

It would be a start if there were a co-ordinated approach to training new entrants to help future generations to begin their careers in a safe and sustainable manner. The introduction of remote electronic monitoring equipment on boats, which is covered by other amendments, would also help maintain safety standards. It is also vital that we set the same high safety standards on foreign vessels as we expect of our domestic fleet, and the licensing arrangements should help facilitate that.

So, although our domestic safety standards are high, the amendments would require the Government to show how they intend to build upon them once we are outside the common frameworks and responsible for our own safety policy development. The amendments would also require the Government to highlight how they intend to assist the industry in identifying, training and retaining new talent to ensure a vibrant industry in the years to come.

Finally, we need an immigration system that allows UK vessels to continue to recruit skilled non-UK nationals to help plug the short-term skills gaps. All these measures need to come together in an overarching plan to build and sustain the fisheries’ future, grow the industry and revive coastal communities. This is vital if we are to realise the objectives in Clause 1. I beg to move.

Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Portrait Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I support both amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch; I have added my name to Amendment 29. As the noble Baroness said, the purpose of both her amendments is to introduce requirements on the Secretary of State to build and sustain the UK fishing industry. They would also require the publication of a strategy for enhancing the safety of fishers and providing the necessary legal and training infrastructure. The amendments are supported by fish producer organisations throughout the UK.

For many coastal communities, the fishing industry, both onshore and offshore, is critical to their growth, development, job creation potential and local economy. In that respect, I remind noble Lords of the County Down fishing ports, about which I have already spoken to the Minister, where the fishing villages survive and thrive due to the prevalence of the fishing fleet and the fish-processing industries.

Allied with that, though, is a high level of risk and danger. Deaths of fishermen have occurred in the Irish Sea over the last 20 years. I think of one particular family from Kilkeel where a grandfather, a son and his son all perished on one night about 20 years ago. The fishing industry believes that there is a once-in-a-generation opportunity not only to revive those coastal communities and grow the region’s industry role as leaders in sustainable fisheries management but to ensure that this worthy profession is provided with adequate and up-to-date training; that incentives are provided to those who wish to engage in fishing as a profession; and that they are provided with the necessary qualifications in a safe environment to do so.

Take the example of the County Down fishing ports, where about 1,700 people are employed in fishing. I suppose on a proportionate basis, taken throughout the UK, that is not considered a lot. However, in those communities, it is, because fishing is vital to their revitalisation.

The Bill is about setting the future legal framework for fisheries management, but it is also right that Government, Parliament and industry consider how to grow and sustain the workforce needed if new opportunities are to be realised.

The three central themes of these amendments are to protect and enhance the safety of workers across the industry; to develop that modern legal and training infrastructure that helps to grow our domestic workforce; and to shape an immigration system that allows UK vessels to continue to recruit skilled non-UK nationals. I am mindful of the Minister’s written response on this issue to all of us who participated at Second Reading some three weeks ago, in which he said:

“We will prioritise the skills a person has to offer, not their nationality.”


I note that, through the prospective immigration Bill, Defra is working closely with the Home Office to ensure that there is a long-term strategy for the food, farming and fisheries workforce as part of the immigration policy. I hope that the Government will be able to accommodate skilled non-EEA fishers to contribute to the revitalisation of those coastal communities, as well as protecting and enhancing the legal and training infrastructure of all domestic workforces.

I believe that if our fishing industry is to recover and become the catalyst for economic regeneration in our coastal communities again, there is a duty on all of us, and on the Government, to work in a collaborative way with the industry and other relevant organisations to achieve that objective, which should be placed in legislation. That is why I support both amendments.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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I have not participated in these debates, but I wanted to support this amendment because of the emphasis on safety. I do so, my Lords, for personal reasons. I was born in Grimsby just before the Second World War. Grimsby was in those days the largest fishing port in the world. The title was sometimes disputed by our friendly rival and neighbour across the Humber in Hull. Certainly, those two great fishing ports occupied the first and the second positions.

My family had generations in the fishing industry, coming down first from Eyemouth in the Borders of Scotland with smacks when the fishing industry was established around the middle of the 19th century. I was brought up to have great respect for those who went down to the sea in ships. That respect was reinforced by great sadness almost every year, because there was hardly a year when a trawler was not lost, often with the deaths of 20 or 30 men. This brought great grief, either to Grimsby or Hull.

As a young man growing up, I knew all this theoretically. But then, in 1965, I was chosen as the Conservative candidate for Grimsby for the election that in fact took place in 1966. For some 18 or 19 days in August 1965, I went on a deep-sea trawler and lived with the fishermen on board, and got up when the cod end was swung in and the catch was teemed on the deck. Although it was August, we faced at least one force 8 gale; we were also becalmed for a time. I saw the extraordinary skill, courage and resilience of the fishermen. You can understand it only if you have seen it at first hand. They were a wonderful bunch of men, marvellous comrades. The cook was not the most brilliant, but he had been a fisherman until forced to retire in his late 60s and then he became a cook. There was a wonderful spirit of camaraderie and there was great skill, but there was always great danger.

I became very sad when, following our joining what was then the Common Market, the fishing industry was certainly hit—I speak as one who was, as many of your Lordships know, a fervent remainer. If we are to revive our fishing industry, as I hope we will, it is tremendously important that we place emphasis on training and appreciating those who are trained. They have to be immensely strong, resilient and courageous, working at all hours of day and night and rarely getting more than a handful of hours of sleep. A revived fishing industry will depend wholly on those people. It is therefore right that we concentrate for a few moments on this issue and I feel it appropriate to give my words of support in this context.

Viscount Hanworth Portrait Viscount Hanworth (Lab)
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My Lords, I concur with the sentiments of the previous speaker. However, I fear that the amendments are misconceived in calling for the building of a fishing industry workforce. Even if one were to argue in favour of a substantial increase in the size of the UK catch, which would be utterly wrong in the current circumstances of depleted fish stocks, it would not require an increased workforce.

There is already significant underemployment in the fishing workforce, since advances in fishing technology have reduced labour requirements. We should therefore seek alternative employment for our fishermen, unless we seek to ban the technology. This is the technology of the big boats that use sonar to locate the fish, chart their positions by GPS and use encrypted messages conveyed by satellites to alert other vessels in their fleets to their discovery of the prize. They also take most of the fish.

Were fish stocks to be replenished, less effort would need to be devoted to fishing and fewer fishermen would need to be employed. There would no longer be a need to search the vast expanses of the marine deserts in pursuit of the few remaining shoals of fish.

Perhaps I might also remark on the idea that the fish stocks in our so-called exclusive economic zone are a resource that belongs exclusively to our nation, as more than one speaker has maintained. Our EEZ, which is of an exorbitant extent in comparison with those of other European fishing nations, was bequeathed to us by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It was the by-product of an intention to protect the fish stocks of Iceland, which were suffering from the depredations of foreign fishing fleets. It was never the intention of the convention to disbar other European nations from their traditional fishing grounds, yet this is what our fishermen are keen to achieve, seemingly with the support of the Government.

It is a recipe for trouble and conflict, notwithstanding the joy that it has given to my noble friend Lord Grocott, who is exhilarated at the prospect of claiming these fish stocks for the nation. It is foolish. While we were debating the Fisheries Bill on Monday, the International Trade Secretary, Liz Truss, and the French Minister for European Affairs, Amélie de Montchalin, were rehearsing the terms of a major confrontation on fishing rights.

16:00
Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I rise briefly to support Amendment 24 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and Amendment 29 in her name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick.

As many have indicated previously, fishing is a dangerous occupation, one where injuries and death occur on an alarmingly regular basis, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, so elegantly told us. For every fisherman and woman employed on a vessel involved in fishing, 10 are employed in landing and processing fish. All those employed in the fishing industry as a whole should be protected and enjoy similar employment rights to those who work in other sectors. The Government should take steps to ensure that those engaged in the fishing industry, whether offshore or onshore, should be protected as far as is possible, and the Government should produce a strategy to ensure this happens. Each person engaged in the industry should be aware that the Government have such a strategy and that their welfare is key to the industry’s success.

Training, as the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Ritchie, have said, is—as it is in everything—key to ensuring safety is carried out and observed. This must be a legal requirement and entitlement for all in the UK fishing industry workforce. It should not be left to the discretion of the vessel or processing plant owners. I fully support these amendments and the need to work for a strategy to sustain the UK fishing industry workforce to be in the Bill.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Gardiner of Kimble) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her proposed Amendments 24 and 29, which would introduce additional duties in the form of safety requirements for fishing activities and training requirements for the UK fishing industry workforce.

In this short debate, we are absolutely at one that these are extremely important matters, and I would like to put on record, as I did at Second Reading, my recognition and regard for those who go to sea to catch fish for our consumption; I pay tribute to them. The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, referred to a family who were very brave and courageous in sustaining the losses that they did. My noble friend Lord Cormack reminded me of those communities, such as coal mining communities and agricultural communities, doing dangerous tasks over the years for our benefit. I therefore identify with all of what has been said. It is important that we support fishers with increased health and safety provisions as well as further training to increase the awareness of dangers and the understanding of how to respond to them.

That is why I say specifically to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, that Defra is working closely with other UK departments and agencies to ensure that fishing becomes an increasingly safe and—although I think it is appealing in many ways—“appealing” form of employment, as my notes say. I was very struck by the point that my noble friend Lord Cormack made about camaraderie. That cook probably continued to go to sea, though no longer fishing, because he did not know how to live outside of that community. I am very struck by that sense of community —which is why the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, spoke in the way that he did on an earlier day in Committee—because these communities feel very strongly about these matters. This work is under way and will consider regulations and other work, which is also under way as I said.

Safety at sea is not just a specific fishing activity issue; it is a vessel issue. The safety of all vessels falls within the remit of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. Provisions for the safety of vessels are included in the Merchant Shipping and Fishing Vessels (Health and Safety at Work) Regulations 1997. In addition, the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 provides the MCA with powers to implement all the safety legislation.

The Government are, importantly, also taking action through our apprenticeship programme and the Post-16 Skills Plan to reform technical education and a new careers strategy for the UK fishing industry workforce. The Sea Fish Industry Authority—known as Seafish—leads the development and delivery of training for workers in all sectors of the seafood supply chain. Seafish has applied levy funds to develop training programmes and learning materials aimed at the seafood processing sector to enhance the skills and quality of operations and final products. In addition, the Seafood Industry Leadership Group, established by Seafish to deliver Seafood 2040: A Strategic Framework for England, will deliver a single cross-sector seafood training and skills plan, aiming to support businesses in the seafood supply chain to recruit workers with suitable skills.

England’s new domestic grant scheme, the Maritime and Fisheries Fund—the MFF—can support training projects for fishers. Under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund—the EMFF—around £3.5 million was spent on improving skills and training up to 31 December 2019. The Bill provides the power, in Clause 33, to introduce grant schemes through regulations for health, safety and training.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, referred to my letter. I should also add that Defra is considering the latest data and working closely with industry to understand and explore the labour demand and supply requirements for both the permanent and seasonal workforces, which are of course very important.

I wanted to explain the current situation to the noble Baroness, so that this is not in a void. I absolutely understand the points that have been made. All these responsibilities are in existence. I hope that this explanation of the regulations, the further work that is under way and the legal requirements that already exist on this important matter mean that the noble Baroness feels able to withdraw her amendment. If during the passage of this Bill, or indeed afterwards, those noble Lords for whom this is a particular concern would like further discussions on what is under way, I would be very happy to facilitate that, because this is an area where we have a duty to coastal communities to show that we are on their side.

Earl of Caithness Portrait The Earl of Caithness (Con)
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My Lords, my noble friend gave a very helpful reply, but I was involved with safety of the fishing fleet many blue moons ago, and there is of course the private sector. He mentioned the boats, but the work of the skipper in handling the boat in difficult conditions is something beyond the control of any Government. Given climate change, our fishermen will face increased hazards with the amount of gales we seem to be getting. The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, raised an important point. If we are working on a sustainability basis and sustainability tells us that we should not be fishing, there has to be something else for the fishermen, particularly as we move to bigger boats with better radar. Does my noble friend have any idea what the potential is for an increase in the workforce as a result of our becoming an island state in control of our own fishing? What are his thoughts about having flexible training to give the fishermen opportunities to find alternative jobs when, for governmental reasons, they are not allowed to fish? My noble friend Lord Cormack referred to the cook—and my noble friend Lord Gardiner picked up that point—but if there were more general training, it might help them into work within the coastal community during those lean times.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the whole point about sustainability is that we have moved, as I said in an earlier discussion, from 12%, I think it is, to 59% of the stocks that we know about now being fished at MSY. The whole thrust of what we want to do is to improve stocks and know more about them, so that there will be more fishing opportunities. We believe that there are opportunities, with our new arrangements, to do much more work in the short, medium and long term. We are coming on to fishery management plans and so forth, so that we are going to be more sustainable.

I am afraid that I cannot crystal ball gaze. My noble friend will know, having been a Fisheries Minister, that crystal ball gazing as to the size of the fleet or the numbers of people engaged in it over the next 30 or 40 years is difficult, but I have spoken about financial support, in terms of the new domestic grant scheme for training. One of the difficulties comes with very experienced people. This training is a continuum, and I can think of some skippers who have been at sea all their lives and therefore probably think further training is not required. Continuous understanding of different conditions, improvements in boats and in gear and equipment are all areas by which we will start to reduce bycatch and modernise fishing. They are all areas where we need to work collaboratively with fishing communities.

My noble friend may be being overly negative in his spirit about fishing opportunities. If we get to a sustainable harvest, which is what predicates all our work—the framework of the Bill is about moving towards sustainable fish stocks—then we will get to a point where we can harvest. This is a hugely important part of our food resource, in feeding our nation and beyond.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for giving me a chance to ask—

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I had not finished, actually, but I will sit down.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you. I have a further question in relation to the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. Although it may be difficult to project what the size of the fishing fleet might be in the future, there are surely statistics, which I invite the Minister to quote, on the current increase in efficiency of fishing vessels in the United Kingdom fleet—that is, catch per unit effort. How much has catch per unit effort increased over the last two decades, for example?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I wrote to your Lordships, and I can read what I said in that letter about the size of the fleet, if that would help:

“Lord Krebs raised a question about advances in technology leading to a smaller fishing fleet. As technology advances, the UK fleet may be able to catch more fish in a more efficient and targeted way, which is one of the reasons why the Bill includes a sustainability objective. The sustainability objective in the Bill includes a fleet capacity objective, seeking to ensure that fleets are balanced with fishing opportunities available and that they are economically viable but do not overexploit stocks. Given this objective, we will assess the impact of any additional quota that is negotiated once fishers start to fish against it, as it relates to the size of the fleet.


As to more precise details, I am afraid that I will have to write to the noble Lord.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
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My Lords, we have had a very interesting discussion arising from these amendments. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for giving us some very moving examples of the tragedies that can occur at sea. I was very taken by the noble Lord’s description, and the message that came through to me was how reliant those vessels are on each other, so that a mistake by one person who does not know what they are doing affects not just that person’s life or livelihood; it can actually bring the whole vessel down.

That underlines the absolute need for everybody on the boats to know what they are doing and to have the appropriate level of skills to make sure that nobody is put in unnecessary danger. The licensing regime that underpins the arrangements in the Bill provides a new opportunity for us to set standards and say, “We won’t license the boat unless the people on your vessel can all prove a certain level of knowledge and skills.” It happens in other industries, and I do not see why we should not have something similar in the fishing sector, so we could be more proactive on this.

16:15
My noble friend Lord Hanworth challenged me on whether we need to build the workforce, and I suppose I meant building in the round rather than building a large number of other people. There is a danger anyway of an ageing workforce among those who go to sea, so we will always need a new generation to come forward. The more we can make it an attractive and skilled career, the more likely that will happen, so I do not necessarily agree with my noble friend.
We have talked about what new opportunities will arise from the Bill and from the new quotas. That is a more fundamental issue raised by my noble friend, because he was implying that all the new boats will be huge technological factory boats—super slick and able to gobble up the seas in half a day or whatever. There is a role for that, but the opportunities I saw arising from the Bill were much more balanced, both for large vessels and the smaller, under-10 metre vessels. A lot of the smaller ports and fishers want to carry on fishing in those smaller boats. We need a new generation coming through that will give people all of those different opportunities, and it is important that they all have those same skills.
I listened carefully to the Minister’s response. He said that work was ongoing, which was lovely to hear, but I wonder, if he is in the mood when he writes on other things—as I am sure he will be at the end of this—to give some timescale. Ongoing work on skills and training is a lovely idea, but these things need a deadline and they need action, so it would be good to know when that work will be complete. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 24 withdrawn.
Amendments 25 and 26 not moved.
Debate on whether Clause 1 should stand part of the Bill.
Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to debate some issues that have not yet been covered in the debate on Clause 1. In particular, I refer to the political declaration, which says that

“Parties should cooperate on the development of measures for the conservation, rational management and regulation of fisheries, in a non-discriminatory manner.”


I am particularly taken by Clause 1(2) and the reference to contributing to the “availability of food supplies”. I recognise that the fishing fleet plays a significant role in bringing food to the table. We have just had a debate on how dangerous those activities can be, but it is important to recognise the substantial contribution it makes to the food supply in this country. Clause 1(8) states:

“The ‘national benefit objective’ is that fishing activities of UK fishing boats bring social or economic benefits to the United Kingdom or any part of the United Kingdom.”


I make a brief plea to my noble friend. In recognising that economic link, will the Government consider the fact that active fishermen should benefit from this and that as far as possible it should not be non-fisheries activity that do? I am mindful of the fact that some of the quota is owned by non-fisheries entities—indeed, by football clubs and others. Will my noble friend and the Government take this opportunity to make sure that active fishermen will continue to benefit from the national benefit objective and from the foreseen economic benefits for the United Kingdom?

My remaining remarks relate to the precautionary principle in Clause 1(10)(b). Can my noble friend explain how the landing of fish will be recorded in every circumstance? I know that later parts of the Bill look at bycatch and discards, but how will the precautionary principle be applied and what will be the relationship between the principle and the maximum sustainable yield? Will it be enough to look at the usual understanding, which is that that will keep sufficient stock within safe biological limits? I ask this because we have been told that the Government’s stated objective is to replace the equivalent objectives in Article 2 of the basic regulations of the common fisheries policy but, while some of the wording relies on Article 2, it does not entirely replicate it. For example, the precautionary objective in Clause 1 admits the requirement in the EU regulation to achieve the maximum sustainable yield exploitation rate by 2020 at the latest for all stocks. Are the Government still adhering to that objective?

There are other requirements relating to maximum sustainable yield elsewhere, particularly in Clause 6, which I shall want to debate further. Also, the ecosystem objective set out in the EU regulation requires fisheries to be managed so as to ensure that the negative impacts of fishing activities on the marine ecosystem are minimised. The ecosystem objective in Clause 1 goes further, setting an objection to ensure that negative impacts are minimised and, where possible, reversed. Will my noble friend take the opportunity to explain why that is? I know that he has said on many occasions that we will go further than the EU, but why have we taken the opportunity to do that here?

My noble friend will understand that I do not wish to remove Clause 1, but I want to understand it better. It is important that we revert to the precautionary approach to fisheries management wherever possible, but my underlying concern is to ensure that active fishermen will be the principal definition.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I do not have a great deal to add to the words of the noble Baroness, who has obviously used this debate to ask for clarification from the Minister on a number of questions. I do not disagree with that, but I do not necessarily support the aim of questioning that Clause 1 should stand part, so I shall leave it to the Minister to answer his noble friend’s questions.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for enabling me to wrap up why the Government feel that Clause 1 is so important to shaping our fisheries management regime for the future. The objectives, which have been under considerable discussion, support our commitment to leave the natural environment in a better state. As noble Lords are well aware, Clause 1 sets out eight fisheries objectives that will shape and guide the fisheries policies of the four fisheries administrations. They build on and develop the objectives set out in the common fisheries policy.

The aim of the first objective—the sustainability objective—is to ensure that fishing and aquaculture activities are environmentally sustainable while delivering economic and social benefits. My noble friend Lady McIntosh, particularly in raising the aim of the second objective—the precautionary objective—stresses that the absence of adequate scientific information should not justify postponing or failing to take management measures that will conserve fish stock and its environment. This objective includes our commitment to achieve maximum sustainable yield for all stocks as quickly as practically possible.

I stress that the UK has always been a strong advocate for fishing within safe ecological limits such as MSY, both in international agreements and in negotiations over catch limits for stocks we have an interest in. I say specifically that this will not change. The new provision in the Bill to produce fisheries management plans, which we will discuss at a later point, further supports this ambition.

The clause also makes clear that effective fisheries management needs to take into account the wider implications for the marine environment. The aim of the third objective—the ecosystem objective—is therefore to ensure that negative impacts of fishing activities on the marine ecosystem are minimised. This will help ensure that we have a healthy marine environment on which our fisheries resources and others rely. This includes addressing the issue of incidental catches of sensitive species. The clause recognises the need to reverse negative impacts to meet our ambition to restore our marine environment. The availability and use of good data are vital for effective management of our precious marine resources. The fourth objective, therefore—the scientific evidence objective— confirms our commitment to contribute to the collection and sharing of data between the fisheries administrations; and that fisheries and aquaculture activities are based on the best available science.

The fifth objective is the bycatch objective. Its aim is that bycatch is avoided or reduced, that catches are recorded and accounted for, and that bycatch—that is, fish—is landed where appropriate. Tackling bycatch tackles the root cause of discarding, and the UK Government remain fully committed to ending the wasteful discarding of fish, acknowledging the impact this can have on fisheries management and the marine environment.

The equal access objective confirms the position of the four fisheries administrations, which noble Lords have discussed—that UK fishing fleets should continue to have access to fish across UK waters regardless of their UK home port. Another point that my noble friend Lady McIntosh raised was on the national benefit objective. As I have set out, this recognises the importance of fishing by UK boats to our coastal communities and the UK more generally. The objective will therefore ensure that the fisheries administrations set out policies that help realise economic and social benefits from UK boats, including those under foreign ownership. In terms of UK-registered vessels, and regardless of who owns the quota, the economic link is precisely designed to ensure that coastal communities are advantaged.

The aim of the climate change objective—a new objective that came into this list—is that the impact of the fishing and aquaculture sectors on climate change is minimised and that their management adapts in response to climate change. These objectives, and the steps we will set out in the fisheries statements on how we will achieve them, are integral to protecting our precious marine environment and maintaining profitable fishing and aquaculture industries today and, of course, for the years to come. This is absolutely why it is so important to the environment that the next generation is prepared to go to sea to ensure a sustainable harvest, which is after all what we all seek.

I will look at Hansard to check if there were any further points that my noble friend has raised, but I have no further information so will make sure that I cover them with another letter as soon as I can. I hope that noble Lords have already received the letter arising from Monday. In the meantime, I hope that I have given her—she probably approves of much of Clause 1—the opportunity to understand that these are hugely important objectives. They set the framework from which we all must now take these matters forward. I hope that she will feel able to agree to Clause 1.

16:30
Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Perhaps I could just follow up on a couple of the things that the Minister stated are important. As he knows, one of the things I questioned on Monday was the equal access objective. He made rather a different point going through the objectives today than he did to me on Monday. If I recall, he said that that objective means there is equal access to fish. I think he said in his answer to me on Monday that the equal access is to waters, rather than to actual fish. If there is equal access to fish, that concerns me greatly.

I take the Minister’s point about the Government not changing their attitude to sustainability. I want to make the obvious point, and I know that he will not disagree. While I would not question for a minute this Minister’s—or maybe even this Government’s—wish to have sustainability as the most important point, we have to make sure that that is true for future Governments, who might not have the same sensitivities as this Government. That is why we spent a lot of time on Monday trying to clarify the sustainability objective. If it is fudged, as it is at the minute, that will allow future Governments to move away from those pure sustainability objectives in marine ecology without changing the legislation.

Does the Minister see these fishing objectives as a reserved or a devolved matter? I would be interested to understand that.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I might need to clarify this, but on the noble Lord’s first point, using “to fish” as a verb refers to the act of fishing. I will look at what I said on Monday and what I said today, but as far as I am concerned equal access enables UK fishing vessels to have that access across UK waters. This enables, for instance, English vessels to fish in what would be Scottish waters, and all the arrangements of the four fishing administrations.

The most important thing is that I do not mislead the noble Lord, or anyone, if there was a looseness of mine either on Monday or today. I am very clear that this equal access objective confirms the position of the four fisheries administrations regarding the abilities of UK fishing vessels in the act of fishing. I do not want to play with words; I want to get this right, because I believe the equal access objective is important for all four parts of the United Kingdom. This is something that the four fisheries administrations have come to agree.

We might have a collision point on sustainability. I think we all agree that, if we overfish our stocks, the safety at sea objectives will be academic, because there will not be any fish to fish. Given this set of objectives on bycatch, climate change, precaution and science, I do not think that this Government or a future Government will suddenly think that having sustainable fish stocks is not a desirable objective towards which we should all work. I very much hope that, by the time that there is a new Government, we will have achieved many of these objectives, in the same way we have gone up from 12% to 59% fishing of MSY. The objective is that we need sustainability for all stocks, and the precautionary objective is very important. One of the things that we must all wrestle with is that currently, we do not have adequate scientific information on all stocks and we need a better assessment. That is why the precautionary objective is in place. The aim is for the activities to be environmentally sustainable, while delivering economic and social benefits. As I said in the agricultural context, we must ensure that farmers produce food and enhance the environment, both of which are entirely compatible.

This Government have not invented the idea that sustainability involves social and economic considerations; this is a UN framework for interpreting sustainability. If we are so rigid that there is only one view, where will the coastal communities be? I have been thinking a lot about this and about how to deploy the arguments at Report, so I must not say too much. We need to think about ratcheting sustainability to one element of the prism, which I am prepared to say is the essential part. However, if the law said that we could not have arrangements whereby moving upwards from 59% involved nuances and an ability to keep coastal communities alive, in order to work to sustainable harvest for all stocks, that would make it a blunt instrument.

We are all on the same page, and I am sure about what we want. However, I am afraid that the Government are not going to suggest that we should not think about the social and economic consequences. I am clear, given the comments of noble Lords who spoke about sustainability and then spoke to the amendments about economic and social benefits, that we want the same thing. However, to put one objective beyond all others in what is a balanced package will result in something that none of us wants.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think the noble Baroness will want to talk about this issue on Report. Perhaps I now regret taking us down that line, but of course, I will give way.

Baroness Worthington Portrait Baroness Worthington
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On the question of balance, social and economic questions tend to take care of themselves because they create incumbents who then have power in lobbying the system we put in place. The reason why we are so interested in trying to level up the sustainability issue is that there is not a natural way to represent that in the economy. The economy is an active and very influential factor in politics—we must admit that. If it was not, we would not have seen the fish stocks collapse as they have. It is our job as legislators to think about balance: where does the power lie today, and what do we have to do to level up?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is a very intriguing aspect of an issue that we will wrestle with on Report, but we are all on the same page in many respects. I need to refine my arguments, and perhaps we might then meet somewhere. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and all noble Lords, for this rather elongated discussion.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I had a question about whether the objectives were effectively a reserved area, or a devolved area and the Administrations had come together and agreed this. Are they a reserved area or not?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Again, I will probably need to take some advice, possibly legal. The management of fisheries is devolved. The great thing about what has happened—I had no part in the discussions, so I can say this—is that the fisheries administrations of the four parts of the United Kingdom have come together with these objectives. I have the privilege of taking this Bill through the House, but it is at the request of, and the work of, all four Administrations.

We all know about international agreements. This is a domestic agreement between the four fisheries administrations, working collaboratively in the interests of fish stocks and of the communities, which are very important. If there is any flavour of ambiguity in what I have said regarding the legal position, I will put this information in the letter. This is absolutely the work of the four Administrations, seeking to do the right thing for fish stocks and for the communities that harvest the fish for us.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There are still some things to answer in respect of the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. It seems to me that the ability to deliver on the objectives in this clause depends almost entirely on the joint fisheries statements and the fisheries plans. There are quite a few loopholes that enable the fisheries administrations to wriggle around the requirements in the joint fisheries statements and the fisheries plans—extenuating circumstances, as it were.

We are in a strange position. Although the objectives may well be shared by each of the four fisheries administrations, because of the way they are implemented —through the joint fisheries statements and the plans that have to adhere to the statements, except where there are extenuating circumstances—we might find that these are very delegated, very devolved decisions. We may be lost between the devil and the deep blue sea, if that is not the wrong thing to say about a Fisheries Bill.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This piece of work is an honest endeavour. Yes, the issues are devolved unless they are internationally related. All objectives must be interpreted proportionately—that is a requirement of the Bill. Interestingly, I have come across a number of noble Lords who would have been wholly in favour of devolution but, now that this actually is devolved, think that there may be problems. We are working very collaboratively with the devolved Administrations. Of course, there are a lot of totemic issues for many of those communities—indeed, in England this is also a totemic matter.

I think the noble Baroness has one or two amendments on this matter in later groups. We have to be frank: these are devolved matters and that is why the coming together of the four fisheries administrations for this Bill is really important. We should see that achievement as a positive, rather than a negative.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to debate what I thought were non-controversial matters. Part of the answer is that this Bill provides the legal basis on which the fishing authorities of each of the four nations will proceed, so we are giving legal clarity as we go along. I think that is very helpful.

I just wanted to put down a marker regarding my remaining concern. There is a gap in our knowledge of fish stocks, which is presumably why Clause 1(10) exists. Even ICES cannot explain where the species have gone that have moved out of our waters and European waters generally because the waters are warming. We are not fishing in the areas, so we do not know. That may pose a bigger problem as climate change proceeds. It is entirely appropriate to have climate change and all the objectives in the Bill.

I am very grateful for the debate, and I will not oppose the clause.

Clause 1 agreed.
Amendment 27 not moved.
16:45
Amendment 28
Moved by
28: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty to achieve fisheries objectives
Any public authority having any function relating to fish and aquaculture activities or fisheries management must exercise its functions in order to achieve the fisheries objectives.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is to place a legal duty on any public authority with any function related to fisheries to achieve the objectives.
Lord Cameron of Dillington Portrait Lord Cameron of Dillington (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, this amendment largely speaks for itself. It is all very well having all the noble objectives in Clause 1—made, one hopes, even more noble if some of our discussions to date bear fruit in the future—but, as they used to say in 16th-century diplomatic circles, “Fine words butter no parsnips”.

Once we are cast adrift on the post-Brexit realities of running our own fisheries, there will be numerous parties all promoting their own visions. The parties will range from the fishermen themselves to the local communities, local authorities, LEPs, the MMO and the devolved nations. They might even wiggle, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said a moment ago. They will also include the Secretaries of State at Defra and BEIS—after all, fishing is an industry and a business—and even the Secretary of State at the Department for International Trade. I suspect that at some point in the future—probably quite a long time down the line—they will have priorities that do not necessarily liaise with the objectives in Clause 1. The visions of all those bodies will be influenced by wholly separate objectives that might or might not be in line with Clause 1.

Politics in action, both local and national, has a tendency to be influenced by lobbying, usually involving specific interests, and, as Harold Macmillan was apparently wont to say, “Events, dear boy”—both of which tend, in turn, to be influenced by rather shorter-term objectives than the long-term sustainable priorities that we are all trying to achieve in Clause 1.

My amendment is hardly dictatorial, but I hope that it is a good starting point for discussion. The Minister will remember our debate last year on the then Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill, in which local authorities were given a “must have regard to” obligation concerning the environment and biodiversity. What happened? In most cases, absolutely nothing. The noble words of the objectives in the NERC Bill did not enter anyone’s thinking or area of responsibility. Other problems such as roads, housing and the local economy were more pressing—that is the lobbying influence—and austerity overtook any good intentions that there might have been. That is the “Events, dear boy” bit of the equation. We must not let that happen to our sustainable fisheries objectives.

In his reply, the Minister will no doubt refer to Clause 2(1)(c), where the fisheries policy authorities have to make a statement on how “proportionately” they have applied the Clause 1 objectives—but what mealy-mouthed words are those? I totally support Amendment 30, which would remove the word “proportionately”. In spite of that, there is no legal obligation even to have a duty of care towards the Clause 1 objectives, let alone to promote and implement them, which is what I am trying to achieve.

The Government will also likely argue that the joint fisheries statements and fisheries management plans are where the policies that will achieve the fisheries objectives will be set out and that, as the joint fisheries statement and fisheries management plan will be legally binding, there is no need to have a commitment on the face of the Bill to achieve the objectives. However, there is currently too much flexibility around how the joint fisheries statements and fisheries management plans are to be drafted, and no detail about the timeframes. Moreover, there is the ability to opt out or amend the joint fisheries statement where there is a “relevant change of circumstances”, as referred to in Clauses 7 and 10. A relevant change of circumstances can include a socioeconomic change—“Events, dear boy”.

Experience in Scotland, which has a similar provision in the Marine (Scotland) Act, has shown that, where that opt-out exists, environmental considerations can get pushed to one side in favour of economic impacts, and important measures that could benefit the environment are not taken. Six years after the designation of the Small Isles Marine Protected Area, fishing continues unchecked over the protected features, because a hole in the Act has allowed the authorities to opt out. I am trying to prevent such a hole in our Bill. In his reply a moment ago, the Minister referred to this: that, while unlikely, there is a risk that a future Government might not be so committed to sustainable fisheries, and they could amend fisheries management plans or let aberrations in those plans, or in joint fisheries statements, go through unchecked.

Frankly, my Lords, without my proposed new clause inserting a legal duty to achieve the fisheries objectives, Clause 1 is merely a series of hopeful words. As I say, it will certainly butter no parsnips—nor, for that matter, sustain a long-term and profitable UK fishing industry.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I speak in support of my noble friend’s amendment, and apologise for not being here on Monday as I was overseas and unable to join the debate. However, I read the account in Hansard very carefully, and it seems to me that, as has indeed been said this afternoon, one of the key problems that a number of us have with the Bill relates not to its apparent intent—we are very happy with that—but the amount of wriggle room that is left in the Bill.

We heard again, in the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, a few minutes ago, about the wriggle room around the meaning of sustainability. We all agree that sustainability has three pillars—the economic, the social and the environmental—but there is a question of how you balance them. The Minister referred to the need to balance them, but how you do this leaves a great deal of wriggle room. I will not repeat the arguments that were rehearsed on Monday, and again briefly earlier this afternoon, about the way in which economic considerations will always tend to trump environmental considerations because the short term is here and now, and the long term is the next generation’s problem.

This amendment that my noble friend Lord Cameron of Dillington is proposing is attempting to narrow down a further possibility of wriggle room. As he has so eloquently explained, without a legally binding commitment on the noteworthy and honourable and desirable objectives, it is not clear whether they will be adhered to in the fisheries statements and fisheries management plans. So the question for me is: who is going to be accountable if the objectives are not met, and what sanctions will be placed on the fisheries authorities, or other bodies, if that happens? I do not wish to repeat the arguments that my noble friend Lord Cameron of Dillington rehearsed so eloquently, but I would like clarity on the question of accountability.

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I declare my interest again today—if I may do it once, rather than each time I speak. As I mentioned on Monday, the company of which I am a director is in a partnership with an agency whose clients include UK fisheries.

I know we discussed this, but with Amendment 28 the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, has enabled us to illustrate a question. It will be interesting to hear my noble friend’s answer, but I am afraid I cannot bring myself to agree that the amendment is needed. By virtue of Clause 10, national fisheries policy authorities are required to make fisheries statements—either a joint fisheries statement or a Secretary of State fisheries statement—and fisheries management plans, and they are obliged to do so in ways that show how they wish to balance the objectives.

We know that there are eight objectives. We discussed all that on Monday, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, quite rightly said. We acknowledge that this range of objectives presents a particularly testing task for the fisheries policy authorities. There is a relatively large number of objectives and several are, in themselves, relatively testing. As far as I can see, virtually none of them can be said either to have been achieved or not achieved. One is always in a process of seeking to achieve them. The balance that is struck, and the extent to which one achieves those objectives, is entirely the issue.

Clause 10 makes it clear that, whenever the national fishing policy authorities engage in anything to do with fishing or aquaculture, they must seek to apply the objectives in doing so. That is the link between Clause 1 and the rest of the Bill. Why then do I think that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, has asked an interesting question, to which I do not know the answer? It is because he said that there are many public authorities that are not necessarily fisheries policy authorities. This is true. When setting objectives in relation to one sector of governmental activity, we would not normally expect to include a clause every time saying, “Oh and by the way, it must apply to every sector of government whatever it happens to be doing.” I do not go down that path; but, in this instance, we live in a world where the relationship between access to fish stocks and quota will potentially, in certain circumstances, be part of the same negotiation as the trade and market access relationships that we have with other countries.

My question, off the back of the noble Lord’s amendment, is: are the fisheries objectives—and, by extension, joint fisheries statements and the like—regarded as equally applicable to the Department for International Trade as to any national fisheries policy authorities?

Lord Swinfen Portrait Lord Swinfen (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, perhaps I might seek clarification from the noble Lord, Lord Cameron. As I read his amendment, it could equally apply to fresh water—rivers, streams and lakes—as well as the sea. I do not think that that is his objective at all, or the objective of the Bill, but as I read his amendment, it could also deal with freshwater fishing.

Lord Cameron of Dillington Portrait Lord Cameron of Dillington
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, as far as I am concerned, I am dealing only with coastal fisheries and marine fish.

Baroness Byford Portrait Baroness Byford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I looked at this very carefully as it is a fairly concise amendment. I picked up on the three words—and indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, has kindly enlarged and reflected upon them—“any public authority”. That, to me, is huge, as there are so many different aspects of public authority. It goes on to say

“having any function relating to fish and aquaculture activities … must exercise its functions in order to achieve the fisheries objectives.”

I have no disagreement with the noble Lord, or indeed with other Members who have spoken on the need for sustainability; that is, I hope, accepted around this Chamber. But I was a little alarmed. I started noting down county councils, local councils, borough councils, police and all sorts of different authorities. I wonder whether the noble Lord would consider slightly narrowing his expression. Knowing the immense pressures on so many of these authorities at this time, I wonder if it is not a step too far. While I accept in principle the thrust of what he is trying to do, I think that referring to “Any public authority” having “any function” is too open-ended and goes a bit too far.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern Portrait Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I see the need for something like the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, but I find it difficult to believe that any public authority will necessarily have the power to

“exercise its functions in order to achieve the fisheries objectives.”

Is an authority supposed to cover all of them, part of them, or what? I cannot see how that can work, where there are different authorities, some of which have a marginal connection with fisheries and aquaculture—such as the enforcement authorities, for example. I have tried, in a later amendment, to approach this subject in requiring the plans to set out how they have integrated the fisheries objectives.

17:00
I do not claim that my amendment would be any better or more effective than this amendment, but I do say that this one has a difficulty, in putting on public authorities an obligation that many of them may have no power to accomplish. In particular, if they have to do the whole lot—that is, to achieve all the fisheries objectives—that seems a tall task to give every public authority. Yet that is what the amendment seems to say. However, I agree that we must attend to the expectation that fisheries authorities are not there just as matters of speculation but are supposed to be practical.
Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I strongly support the amendment. It is obvious common sense. When I first read the Bill I never even thought about there being a gap, but as soon as we see the amendment we have that lightbulb moment: there is a gap. As the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, said, if no duty is stated in the Act, this just will not happen. I have been critical of the number and style of some of the objectives, and the fact that there is no priority within them. However, I am clear that once this has been resolved—or even if it remains as it is—that duty must be there.

On Monday we had a debate on an amendment of mine about the office for environmental protection, and I would have thought that this amendment would strengthen that body’s role in making sure that some of the things in this area happen. I do not know whether or not the Government would like that, but if there is a duty there, there will be much more ability to enforce the objectives that the Government and the devolved authorities feel are so important.

I take the noble and learned Lord’s point about the range of authorities. Maybe that needs reconsidering; I am not sure. We should not forget that many unitary local authorities on the coast of England are strongly involved in inshore fisheries and conservation authorities —IFCAs—which in many ways are an animal of local government. We should remember that public authorities include not only the devolved authorities, the Secretary of State or the enforcement organisations, but local authorities, which are at the heart of much of the management of our territorial waters—the 0-6 mile limit.

I strongly support the amendment, and even if it is not perfect I encourage the noble Lord to bring it back on Report—if, indeed, he does not intend to test the opinion of the House this afternoon.

Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, for tabling Amendment 28, and to other noble Lords who have made comments in this short debate. I agree that, although the drafting may not be entirely correct, we must not lose the crucial point. The amendment raises an important matter, because at this juncture, as the UK becomes an independent coastal state outside the EU, there must be a signal to the whole industry, including any relevant public authority or other body, that it must make sure that its strategic objectives align with this reality and that it sets its strategic direction towards supporting the fisheries objectives included in Clause 1.

It is worth repeating that, although many of those objectives are a legacy of the UK’s membership of the common fisheries policy, they have been expanded, updated and made more relevant to the UK, with the addition of three important key objectives. On Monday I drew attention to the new climate change objective. Adding this duty for public authorities to have regard to the objectives means that they must ensure that their activities comply and that any objective is not overlooked. My noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, my colleague on the Bill, has tabled further probing amendments in the next group of amendments, which begins with Amendment 30, probing the use of the term “proportionality” in relation to the application of the objectives in future joint fisheries statements.

It is not just fisheries authorities that have a role in aquaculture activities in ensuring success. Other public authorities with responsibilities that will have an impact on the industry must play their part, be that regulating standards, carrying out inspections at ports and processing plants or whatever. There is little mention in any guidance on this matter, and perhaps that is something that should also be looked at. There is real concern that other priorities in different localities may take precedence over these national objectives, particularly in relation to the key objectives relating to sustainability and climate change. This is crucial to understanding the main reasons why the UK could make a difference to fisheries and fishing communities now that it is outside the CFP.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords for contributing to the short debate on this important subject. I am particularly grateful for Amendment 28, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, which would require public authorities to exercise their functions in a manner to achieve the fisheries objectives.

While I fully support the principle that our public authorities should support the achievement of the fisheries objectives, I believe that the amendment, which would place a blanket duty on all authorities, would not be suitable, as my noble friend Lady Byford so rightly pointed out. For instance, there has been no consultation with local authorities, and the new duty could lead to them having to prioritise fisheries management over the many other responsibilities that they have. A number of noble Lords have commented on those tensions.

The role and function of each public authority is set out in its implementing legislation. Each authority will vary how it exercises its functions on a case-by-case basis, and any local responsibilities to manage the 0-6 nautical mile zone will be delivered through the inshore fisheries conservation authorities. In some circumstances, elements of an authority’s function may not accord with some of the fisheries objectives. It would therefore be impractical for the Fisheries Bill to place a legal duty on such an authority. As my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay pointed out, the local authorities and public bodies may well not have the power to achieve these objectives legally.

Key fisheries regulators—the Marine Management Organisation and the inshore fisheries conservation authorities—also already have sustainable development duties under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and other noble Lords are reassured by this. Contrary to the intention of the amendment, its effect could also be to dilute the accountability of fisheries administrations, which is clearly established by the Bill, by spreading responsibility for the objectives more broadly across public authorities.

In answer to the specific questions from the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, the current scope of the functions of the relevant national authorities cover the primary fisheries management tools and activities. We appreciate that local public authorities provide an important role in the achievement of successful fisheries management. However, key activities and functions are covered by the joint fisheries statement, due to their dependency in decision-making on national authorities—for example, in confirming by-laws. The fisheries statement is also legally binding.

Clause 2(1)(c), which the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, asked about, requires a statement on how fisheries objectives have been interpreted and proportionately applied. This will ensure a clear explanation of how the policies in the JFS meet the objectives and how their application is tailored to each specific case. It is worth highlighting that noble Lords will scrutinise the JFS before it comes into effect.

By holding fisheries administrations to account for the policies that they commit to in the statutory statements and management plans that will be created under the Bill, we are providing a strong framework for accountability that also recognises that fisheries authorities cannot unilaterally deliver on all these objectives but must to varying degrees work in partnership with industry. As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, rightly pointed out, fisheries administrations will be accountable for meeting the policies in the JFS, and this could be something that the Office for Environmental Protection chooses to scrutinise.

Clause 10 makes the policies legally binding. Under these objectives, all must to varying degrees work in partnership with industry, stakeholders and international partners in some cases.

I was grateful to my noble friend Lord Lansley for his helpful comments. The range of objectives does present a challenge, but Clause 10 makes it clear that the policies are legally binding. I hope that, with this explanation, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley
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I asked a question, but I do not require an answer now. In so far as the Department for International Trade, for example, is engaged in trade negotiations that might impact on fish stocks because of market-access considerations, it will do so by exercising prerogative powers. It does not have duties derived from statute. So it might be interesting to know whether the Government regard these fisheries objectives as relevant to the task that the Department for International Trade will perform.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
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I will make a point very quickly. I was slightly disappointed in the Minister’s response when she said local authorities had not been consulted in any way on this Bill. The IFCAs—which are incredibly important vehicles for the conservation of sea fish within the six-mile limit around our coast—are very much creatures of local government. Some of their members are appointed by the MMO, but they are largely local authority organisations, and are significantly funded by local authorities. I wonder whether a consultation —at least with the LGA—might have been a good thing. So I do feel some disappointment.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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In answer to my noble friend Lord Lansley’s question, it probably would be better if I wrote about the international trade position on these objectives. I said that we have consulted with the inshore fisheries conservation authorities, which would have had their own contacts with local authorities. So while perhaps not directly, they would have been indirectly involved in all these discussions.

Lord Cameron of Dillington Portrait Lord Cameron of Dillington
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I thank noble Lords for taking part in the debate and, on the whole, for their support of the principles involved, or indeed the accountability of the fisheries authorities. I totally accept that the amendment may have been too loosely drawn up, for which I apologise to the House. The objective was to create a discussion and a response on whether the objectives in Clause 1 are worth more than the paper they are written on. I am not totally sure we received any real assurance on that point, but I will read Hansard and maybe come back to it. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 28 withdrawn.
Amendment 29 not moved.
Clause 2: Joint fisheries statement
Amendment 30
Moved by
30: Clause 2, page 3, line 12, leave out “proportionately”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment removes the word “proportionately” in relation to the application of the fisheries objectives when formulating the policies and proposals in the joint fisheries statement.
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
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My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 30 in my name and Amendment 42 in the name of my noble friend Lord Grantchester.

Amendment 30 questions what it means for a joint fisheries statement to interpret and apply the fisheries objectives “proportionately”. This is an issue that we were beginning to flag up in the previous debate. We have removed the word “proportionately” to probe this drafting further. As we know, we have spent considerable time delving into the wording of the fisheries objectives, and we have been very keen to get the wording right so that it can be consistently applied. I do not intend to reopen that discussion again at the moment, but what does it mean to have to apply those objectives only “proportionately”? There seems to be little guidance or restriction on the extent to which fisheries policy authorities should comply with the objectives. There is therefore no reassurance that the policy statements will deliver effective policies to achieve these objectives.

We could end up with different policy authorities putting different weight on their responsibility to deliver, with different timescales and different monitoring procedures. If they apply the objectives “proportionately”, it could mean that other objectives not specified in the Bill could be weighed against those set out here. If we do not get this right at the top level, it will filter down to the fisheries management plans and undermine all the good work in setting meaningful objectives in the first place. All this feels a little unsatisfactory. As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said in the previous debate, we remain concerned about the wriggle room in these objectives, and this is another manifestation of that.

17:15
When we met the Minister and his officials the other day, it was argued that “proportionately” was in the Bill so that fisheries authorities have the discretion to decide on the appropriate balance between the various objectives. I understand that point at one level, but it does not seem to be how the Bill reads at the moment. I hope that the Minister will concede that there should be a better way of delivering the objectives with the degree of flexibility that he seeks but perhaps not with this wording.
Amendment 31, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, deals with the issue of fish crossing national boundaries and the obvious need for UK policy decisions to be taken with the international nature of fisheries in mind. Amendment 32 would require fisheries authorities to outline how they had complied with obligations under UNCLOS and other agreements. We agree that this makes sense. If the authorities are doing it anyway, it should be straightforward for them to provide the evidence. We therefore support both amendments.
Amendment 42, in the name of my noble friend Lord Grantchester, deals with recreational fishing, which we touched on in an earlier debate. Our amendment would require the Secretary of State to include policies relating to recreational fishing in the Secretary of State’s fisheries statement if they are not already present in the joint fisheries statements. Recreational fishing is an important and growing leisure activity involving many more individuals and boats than the commercial fishing fleet. It is also more environmentally sustainable. Defra’s own studies show that nearly a million UK citizens go sea-angling every year for recreation or personal consumption. Annually, their activities generate total economic activity of well over £2 billion and support more than 20,000 jobs. Recreational fishing could play an increased role in reviving our smaller ports and coastal communities, and it deserves our support.
The amendment would build on a commitment given in Committee in the Commons in a previous Session. It was George Eustice himself who suggested that the Government could add a reference to recreational fishing to what was then Clause 2.