All 12 contributions to the Fisheries Act 2020 (Ministerial Extracts Only)

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Tue 11th Feb 2020
Fisheries Bill [HL]
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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]
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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]
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Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report: 1st sitting & Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords & Report stage
Wed 1st Jul 2020
Fisheries Bill [HL]
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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

Fisheries Bill [HL]

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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

(2 years, 4 months ago)

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This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Fisheries Act 2020 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

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

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.

--- Later in debate ---
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]

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Fisheries Act 2020 - Government Bill Page Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 71-II Second marshalled list for Committee - (2 Mar 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Fisheries Act 2020 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

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)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

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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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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.

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.

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Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester (Lab)
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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
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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.

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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.

Fisheries Bill [HL]

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

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Fisheries Act 2020 - Government Bill Page Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 71-II Second marshalled list for Committee - (2 Mar 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Fisheries Act 2020 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

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
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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
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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
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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
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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.

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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
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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.

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Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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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—

Fisheries Bill [HL]

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

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Fisheries Act 2020 - Government Bill Page Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 71-II(a) Amendments for Committee, supplementary to the second marshalled list - (3 Mar 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Fisheries Act 2020 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

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)
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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
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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)
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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
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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
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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.

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Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
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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
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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.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson (LD)
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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)
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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
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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
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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.

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Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords, particularly the noble Baroness, for this debate. This provides me with the opportunity to explain a little more about why we have drafted the provisions and proposals for the joint fisheries statement as we have done, and why this clause has been written with a requirement that proportionality is considered when formulating the policies and proposals in the joint fisheries statement.

The requirement for proportionality, which Amendment 30 would remove, is because the fisheries objectives work together to set out the core principles that should be followed 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. These policies will focus on key areas of our fisheries management, both to protect the environment and enable a thriving fishing industry. We will achieve this ambition only if the fisheries objectives are proportionately applied to the policies in the joint statement. A requirement for proportionality was included to provide reassurance that the fisheries administrations will take a balanced approach in the development of policies and proposals. The joint fisheries statement on proportionality will be scrutinised as part of the consultation and the legislative scrutiny process so that if there were any concerns that needed to be raised, they would be raised prior to the statement’s adoption.

Amendments 31 and 32 both relate to our intentions in the international sphere. Amendment 31 would require us to set out how we will co-operate with our regional neighbours in managing shared fish stocks. This is clearly an extremely important consideration in fisheries management. However, the UK is already bound by international law, as I know noble Lords know, to co-operate with other coastal states on the management of shared stocks; for example, through the UN fish stocks agreement—UNSFA—which establishes a comprehensive regime for the management of such transboundary fish stocks.

We are taking the necessary steps to build the active role we need to play internationally as an independent coastal state that takes its rights and responsibilities under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea—UNCLOS—very seriously. For example, we will participate as a sovereign nation in negotiations on mackerel stocks and are joining several priority regional fisheries management organisations in our own right. We are keen to develop new framework agreements with our neighbouring coastal states for annual co-operation on fisheries of shared interest. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, was absolutely right to refer to scientists: of course, we have some world-class fisheries scientists and scientific institutions in this country, and fully intend to continue to play a leading role in the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas.

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Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
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My Lords, I am speaking to Amendment 48 in my name, but I also echo the arguments made by other noble Lords. Our amendment seeks to achieve a very similar objective to many others in the group: to maintain stocks of sea fish at or above sustainable levels. We are all, in our different ways, seeking to clarify and firm up the wording which would achieve that. As with some of the other debates, we believe that this is a core principle that should lie at the heart of the Bill.

The objectives set out at the front of the Bill emphasise the importance of sustainability, but this means nothing unless we use the Bill to tackle the scourge of overfishing and bring fish stocks back up to sustainable levels. Of course, as we have discussed before, we recognise that this is not just a UK problem but a global problem. Globally, 29% of stocks are overfished, many of them illegally, or they are unregulated. The Blue Marine Foundation has said that, if these trends continue, the world’s seafoods will collapse by 2048.

This is an opportunity for us to play a leading role globally in addressing this crisis. However, we will only have respect and influence if we are seen to be putting our own house in order. Coming out of the common fisheries policy is an ideal time for us to show leadership on this. Taking more control of UK waters provides a rare opportunity to revisit the scientific data, make a baseline stock assessment, create space for stocks to replenish and reset the dial on how much fishing should be allowed to achieve long-term sustainability. That is why we want to see a requirement not to fish above sustainability levels as a guiding principle running through this Bill.

This should apply equally to UK fishers and foreign vessels given a licence to fish in our waters. Amendment 48 would require fisheries management plans not just to contribute to the restoration of stock levels up to sustainable levels but to go further, by restoring the stock and creating a long-term reserve, so that we can begin to repair the damage that has already been done.

Of course, we recognise that much of the fishing allocation around our shores will continue to be determined through negotiation with our European neighbours, but they have already signed up to the principle of maximum sustainable yield through the common fisheries policy, so they cannot really object if we take a more robust stand on this issue than the negotiations around the CFP have so far delivered.

As we have discussed, we will in due course have new opportunities to fish in UK waters, and this is an area where we could make the most progress. This will be under our direct control, so the benefits can be shared between the recovering fish stocks and the UK fishers who understand that it is in their interest to let those stocks regenerate.

I hope that the Minister will recognise the sense of these arguments and seek ways to incorporate the principles into the Bill.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this very interesting debate relating to the Bill’s new provisions for the UK Government and, where appropriate, the devolved Administrations, to publish fisheries management plans. These plans will set out the action that we will take to get stocks to sustainable levels. Where we cannot make such an assessment, we will gather scientific data so that such an assessment is possible.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, knows how fond I am of her. The sustainability objective is the first objective of this Bill. I am starting to take exception to the questioning of the bona fides of the Government, who have worked with the devolved Administrations to bring this forward. This Bill is absolutely predicated on sustainable fishing for the future, and we will not be doing our fishing community any good if we overfish and do not have good custodianship of our waters. That is the whole basis of this work, and the legally binding nature of the statement and the fisheries plan. When I hear noble Lords talking as if this Government were being negligent about sustainability and the importance of sustainability to the whole basis of this work, I will go round in circles and re-explain why these objectives are part of a balance which we have agreed with the devolved Administrations.

I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for tabling Amendment 33. I recognise her clear intention to ensure that fisheries management plans make a vital contribution to enhancing the protection of the marine environment. I firmly believe that the clauses as drafted in this Bill will support a holistic, ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, will not be embarrassed by me highlighting what she said: that this country is well ahead. It is recognised as one of the leaders. Obviously, we want to be doing even better than everyone else, but it is important to reflect on the bona fides of all Administrations to get this right and to have a vibrant fishing fleet.

The joint fisheries statement requires the Administrations to explain how fisheries management plans will contribute to the fisheries objectives, including the ecosystem objective. The four fisheries administrations are also bound by our wider body of marine legislation, including the provisions in the Marine Strategy Regulations, the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations and the Marine and Coastal Access Act. The fisheries management plans will make an appropriate contribution to delivering these broader obligations, and I am confident that these plans will deliver the environmental improvement that the noble Baroness, and all noble Lords, are rightly seeking.

In relation to Amendments 34 and 48, the clause already requires fisheries administrations to set out policies to manage stocks in such a way as to restore them and grow them over time. I agree that in some circumstances it may be necessary or desirable to fish some stocks below maximum sustainable yield for conservation purposes. This could be to ensure that all stocks in a mixed fishery can be managed sustainably, for instance. The clause already allows this. To refer specifically to the second part of the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, we already have spatial measures to protect key areas of the sea to allow recovery, and fishing stocks at levels no greater than their maximum sustainable level will, by default, leave a proportion of the stock to allow regeneration. The UK Government are also committed to supporting our fishers. It is therefore important that fishing activities are managed to achieve economic, social and employment benefits, as well as contributing to the availability of food supplies.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, tabled a series of important amendments on the topic of the health of stocks, measured by BLIM. This is the scientific term for the limit reference point for all the mature fish in a particular stock. Amendment 55 from the noble Baroness would add a definition of BLIM to the Bill. This amendment cannot be considered in isolation as it links with other amendments that aim to introduce provisions to manage stocks to levels above BLIM elsewhere in the Bill—so I will address it first.

The proposed definition of BLIM—I have to say that I am not an expert on this, so this is what I am advised—is not the same as that used by the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas, ICES, the body which provides scientific advice on many of the fish stocks in the North Atlantic. ICES defines BLIM as:

“A deterministic biomass limit below which a stock is considered to have reduced reproductive capacity.”


Introducing a different definition in law could inadvertently create issues with interpreting and applying ICES’s advice in future. I am very happy to have a discussion with the noble Baroness, if that would help, because I am afraid it is out of my area of expertise and it might be interesting.

Returning to Amendment 45, there are many factors that can affect the biomass of a fish stock, and fisheries management plans will have to take them into account. Commercial fishing is by no means the only pressure on fish-stock biomass, although I acknowledge that it often is the most significant. Of course, a priority of the fisheries administrations will be to recover fish stocks to healthy levels of biomass, and this will be a key purpose of fisheries management plans. Fisheries administrations will produce fisheries management plans irrespective of whether the stock is overfished, because stocks currently fished at sustainable levels must also be managed attentively to ensure that they maintain their biomass status.

This amendment would restrict authorities to creating fisheries management plans only for commercially exploited stocks and those below BLIM, which would not be the best outcome for all stocks found in UK waters. This amendment may also inadvertently mean that we would be unable to manage some stocks. For instance, there are data-poor stocks where it is not possible to set a BLIM level. This includes certain stocks of lemon sole, ray, dogfish and boarfish. The Bill’s objectives already seek to provide that the health of stocks is restored and maintained and, in particular, the stocks below BLIM would be covered by the precautionary objective. This means that the amendment is not required to achieve its desired purpose and would instead create an inappropriate restriction in the remit of authorities to create fisheries management plans.

Amendments 49 and 49A allow me to set out the important matter of how policies support the achievement of the objectives. The clause in question places a duty on fisheries authorities to set up policies to restore and maintain a stock to sustainable levels, or contribute to these aims, when there is sufficient scientific evidence to do so. These amendments would delete the section on contributing to these aims, which would mean that the policies would have to restore or maintain a stock immediately to sustainable levels, which may not be possible. Furthermore, Amendment 49A adds an unnecessary requirement to meet unspecified criteria on taking a precautionary approach, as plans will already have to be compatible with the precautionary approach.

I say also to my noble friend Lady McIntosh that fisheries management plans can include details of the type of stock, the type of fishing and the geographical area to which they relate. Each plan could therefore cover multiple stocks in a geographical area. Clause 2(5) makes it clear that fisheries management plans set out policies for “one or more stocks”. I assure the noble Baroness that the wording on “contributing” does not remove the duty for authorities to restore and protect stocks.

To give an example of a policy that would contribute to a stock’s sustainability, if a fisheries management plan covers a fishery that targets only part of a stock, the policies set out within that plan cannot achieve sustainability for the whole stock. The devolution settlement allows for the different fisheries administrations in the UK to produce their own plans that contribute to a stock’s management, and the clause reflects this. The proposed amendments would run contrary to the devolution settlement. The same applies for stocks shared with other countries, where our policies, no matter how effective, can go only so far as to contribute to the restoration or protection of stocks.

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Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone
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I thank the Minister for his offer to meet to talk about management plans, and I would very much like to take that up. Perhaps before that meeting he might ponder on whether something can be inserted into the Bill. I am trying to be kind here and am choosing my words very carefully. I absolutely do not doubt his commitment, at a UK level, to the intent of the Bill and to the sustainability issue being entirely at the forefront. However, devolution is quite a long arm and I suspect that there will be occasions when one or more of the devolved fishing authorities have other priorities in mind. I would be searching for something much more specific about what fisheries management plans there need to be. The provisions of Clause 7 allow a little bit of coming and going at a devolved level and could mean that very significant stocks do not have plans applied to them. I would very much like to explore the ability to plug that hole.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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We might perhaps incorporate that if there is a more general desire to talk through fisheries plans. The truth is that the four fisheries administrations have worked very constructively and positively, with sustainability at the heart of that work. We have all been saying that there is no point in overextracting or overexploiting fish stocks anywhere in UK waters. We need to work on restoring all our stocks, and that is absolutely what these plans are designed to do. I shall of course be very happy to have further discussions on that.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb
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I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, almost all of whom probably have much more competence in this area than I do. I thank the noble Lord for his answer. He was quite fierce towards me—in fact, that is probably the grumpiest I have ever seen him—and I consider myself told off. I did not mean to doubt his integrity but I am afraid that I cannot say the same for the Prime Minister. It is very dispiriting to be on this side of the Chamber, to put a lot of work into legislation, to come forward with what we think are good suggestions to make it a better piece of legislation and then to have them all swept aside simply because the Government have a large majority. The Minister must see that that is quite difficult to swallow at times.

I thank the Minister for giving an answer that he felt to be very reassuring. I will read it to see how much I am reassured by it and, in view of that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester
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My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 61 and 71 in my name, as well as to speak in support of other amendments. I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Krebs, for adding their names to Amendment 61. While it adds merely one word to the Bill, it makes an important distinction that science and scientific evidence must be good and up to date.

At present, as my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch will outline in relation to some later amendments, Clause 7 provides for fisheries management plans to be amended in the event of “relevant” changes in circumstances. These include changes to scientific evidence. Earlier in the Bill, there is a reference to drawing on the “best available” scientific evidence. The objective in question states that the management of fish and aquaculture activities should be based on this best evidence.

I am sure that the Clause 7 provisions do not intend to allow for any change in scientific evidence to be used as a justification for changing the ways in which fishing activities are managed. Peer review reports are a key aspect in coming to conclusions in scientific matters. Given that, sadly, we live in a world where a small minority of scientists still deny many aspects of the nature of climate change and other generally accepted problems, it seems curious that we should leave open the risk that a minority of scientific opinion could justify watering down important sustainability provisions. It is an important distinction to make sure that this safeguard is added in Clause 7.

Amendment 71 is a probing amendment relating to the issue of transitional provision as the UK becomes an independent coastal state. The amendment makes it clear that fisheries policy authorities must consult with one another in drawing up management plans. Clause 9 of the Bill makes it clear that interim fisheries management plans can be adopted prior to the full versions being published under Clause 2. This makes a great deal of sense in relation to authorities acting alone, which could lead to the adoption of contradictory —or, at least, not entirely complementary—interim measures. There should be some requirement for the policy authorities to discuss interim measures with each other. We need to be satisfied that joined-up policy-making remains a priority even during any transitional spells.

Of the other amendments in the group, Amendment 35, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, supplemented by his Amendment 46, makes common sense in saying that international co-operation should be achieved, as far as possible, in management plans.

My noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone tabled Amendments 51 and 52, which seek to strengthen the emphasis on pursuing sustainability in policies and actions, especially with deficient stock, by seeking scientific evidence. It is important that such evidence must support management plans.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, tabled Amendments 57 and 58, which would require management plans to include a statement setting out how the overarching objectives have been interpreted and applied, and consultation on the design of the plans themselves. Those two amendments probe the element of consultation that must be undertaken by the relevant authorities, and how far consultation on these arrangements needs specifying in the Bill. I might say that those requirements could be added in relation to many, if not all, of the other objectives to which management plans need to have regard.

I also thank the noble and learned Lord for tabling Amendment 125A, which would introduce a requirement for the Secretary of State to provide more information on the realisation of economic benefits stemming from the new fisheries approach. The extra information that he requires could only help achieve greater degrees of success.

All these amendments raise valid points, and there is a common theme: we do not know nearly enough about the Government’s plans at this stage, which should be a concern to all noble Lords. At this point I thank the Minister for his offer to explore the workings of management plans in greater detail before Report. That would be very productive.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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I thank all noble Lords who have tabled amendments in this group. Amendments 35 and 46, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, address our engagement with other coastal states in relation to fisheries management plans. As noble Lords know—we are going around in circles a bit—many of the fish stocks that are important to the UK industry are shared with our regional neighbours, inhabiting both UK and non-UK waters.

I fully support the intention behind the amendment, which is to ensure that we co-operate closely with our regional neighbours in the management of those shared stocks to ensure their sustainable management. Indeed, as I have said before, as a responsible independent coastal state, we of course seek to do that, both as members of the relevant regional fisheries management organisations and in line with our international obligations under UNCLOS. Indeed, we will seek international agreement on the management of shared stocks, and fisheries management plans could be a vehicle for delivering some aspects of those agreements in UK waters. But fisheries management plans are not just about agreeing quota; they are about managing the wider ecosystem impacts of fishing.

I am advised that the amendment is incompatible with the devolution settlements. In respecting the fact that most fisheries management is devolved, the Bill provides that individual fisheries administrations may produce fisheries management plans. However, as noble Lords know, and as I have said before, international negotiations are a reserved matter. Therefore, in practice, if this amendment were to become law it could restrict the devolved Administrations from implementing management measures in their own waters pending any international agreement, which would necessarily be led by the UK Government.

The UK is committed to continuing co-operation with other coastal states for the sustainable management of shared stocks. Were we to enter into joint regional arrangements for shared stocks, these would be set out in international agreements—although, as I have highlighted, any management aspects relating to the stocks that swim in our waters could be implemented through the fisheries management plans.

Amendments 51 and 52 are designed to ensure that all stocks within the fisheries management plans have an assessment to make sure that harvest rates are set to restore or maintain populations of harvested species above the biomass levels capable of producing maximum sustainable yield. I agree that it is important to have the best available scientific advice to support fisheries management, and this ambition is reflected in the Bill, principally through the scientific evidence objective. However, the Bill specifies that in cases where an assessment of a stock’s MSY cannot be made, steps are taken to obtain the necessary scientific evidence for that to be done.

For some stocks, it is not possible or appropriate to conduct assessments of their MSY. For example, this can be due to stocks such as bycatch or conservation species not being caught in large enough quantities, so that there is insufficient data. Clause 6(3)(b)(iii) contains the important provision that in such circumstances, the fisheries policy authorities must explain their reasoning as to why they are not setting out steps to understand the maximum sustainable yield of the stock. This, I hope, will provide noble Lords with the certainty that they will understand the reasoning if and when, in narrow cases, some stocks in a fisheries management plan do not have such steps set out.

Amendment 57 would include a requirement to state explicitly how each fisheries management plan’s policies link to the fisheries objectives. I recognise my noble and learned friend’s clear intention to ensure that there is a direct link in the Bill between the fisheries management plans and the fisheries objectives. My noble friend Lord Selkirk also made that point, and asked me what the Government’s desire through all this was. It is to have sustainable fisheries with vibrant and successful ecosystems, and a harvest that provides an important food source. However, the joint fisheries statement is already required to explain how fisheries management plans will contribute to all the fisheries objectives.

The plans themselves must be consistent with the joint fisheries statement and must, in accordance with the sustainability objective, set out how they will maintain stocks at sustainable levels. They must also set out how they will obtain new scientific evidence, which will meet the scientific evidence objective; and how they will take a precautionary approach, which links to the precautionary objective.

My noble friend Lord Selkirk also asked about shellfish. Shellfish can and will be covered by fisheries management plans. The newly formed Shellfish Industry Advisory Group is looking to create specific plans, and the scallop industry consultation group is looking at what could be considered in plans too.

The Government believe that the existing provisions for the joint fisheries statement and fisheries management plans, taken together, will clearly demonstrate how our future fisheries management regime will be underpinned by the fisheries objectives.

Amendment 58 gives me the opportunity to set out the process of consultation already provided for in the Bill; we will explore it in more detail later. I support the principle of requiring consultation on the design and implementation of fisheries management plans. The Bill sets out in Clause 3 and Schedule 1 the process for statutory consultation on the joint fisheries statement. The statement will also be subject to parliamentary scrutiny before it is adopted. It will include a list of the proposed fisheries management plans and will necessarily set out general principles around how fisheries management plans will be developed.

The Bill also requires consultation on the fisheries management plans themselves. Part 3 of Schedule 1 is clear that the relevant authority or authorities must bring the consultation draft to the attention of “interested persons”. In addition, we want to learn lessons from other parts of the world and ensure that our plans are appropriate for our circumstances and fisheries. We may therefore trial different types of plans or have plans that nest inside others. Fisheries management is well known for bringing unintended consequences, and we need to be able to adapt, learn and build as we go. We believe that a one-size-fits-all process for the production of plans would therefore not be suitable, for the reasons I have outlined. I assure noble Lords that we intend that the whole process of developing the plans, including their design, be carried out openly and collaboratively.

I am grateful for the noble Lord’s Amendment 61, on clarifying the evidence used in fisheries management plans. I appreciate the importance of making decisions on the basis of the “best” science. I also appreciate the advantages of consistent terminology, as we want to ensure that the Bill’s purpose and ambitions are clear. However, the fisheries objectives already refer to the need to manage fisheries on the basis of the best available science. I am advised that including a reference to “best” science in the provision on fisheries management plans is therefore not needed.

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Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
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I thank the Minister for what I think was a very constructive reply. I could see the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, almost thinking that the Minister was going to concede one amendment—but then it was taken away. What a disappointment, but there we are. Of all the amendments, the one tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, which would put how the objectives have been met in the fisheries management plan, seems to be totally obvious and, while not a substitute for what the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, wishes to do, something that would really tie that down. The statements are too high a level to do that; it needs to be done at the level that the noble and learned Lord suggests.

I have one question for the Minister before I— probably—withdraw my amendment. We leave the common fisheries policy on 31 December this year; it will all go and we will have a clean sheet. When does he expect the first of these management plans to be in place, and what will happen in between?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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I think I will write to the noble Lord on that precise issue. As I have said, there are some existing plans, as well as work that we are already undertaking. The whole purpose of this is to take those management plans even further. That is why we need to get this framework Bill through, and then we can work on the plans. I could not give the noble Lord a precise date and I am not going to make one up. Obviously a lot of work is being undertaken and we will need to work with the devolved Administrations and interested parties.

As I said in relation to the consultation following Royal Assent, there are provisions here with the affirmative statutory instruments, which will be part of the aftermath of this where we will have consideration. This is work that we need to advance very quickly. I am not in a position to give a precise date—the noble Lord would probably think it unwise if I did so—but this is work that absolutely has to be advanced because, yes, our aspirations for sustainable fisheries apply now and on 1 January and thereafter.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
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I will not press the Minister any more on that, but I think all of us, and maybe the industry itself, would have a concern if there was a blank sheet between when we leave the current regulatory regime and when these plans arrive. I will wait for him to write on that.

I look forward to meeting the Minister, along with others, to understand the management plans more. However, I say yet again that the science has to be the best, and I am glad that that is accepted in principle. We have to find a way to integrate co-operation and co-planning with our adjacent coastal states with our fisheries management plans. We just have to do that; we cannot do it any other way. The debate that we have had has still not convinced me how that will happen in a practical way, and that is very much what I will be looking to the Minister to explain to me and others when we meet before Report. At the moment, though, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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

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Fisheries Act 2020 - Government Bill Page Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 71-II(a) Amendments for Committee, supplementary to the second marshalled list - (3 Mar 2020)

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In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, I do not propose to debate this at any length. When I tabled my opposition to Clause 6, I had not appreciated that my Amendment 49A, which we debated earlier, would have had the chance to have been debated today.

I am especially grateful that my noble friend the Minister has said that we can have a further discussion on the question of fisheries management plans. That would give me the opportunity to explore many of the issues. Therefore, I do not wish to pursue this, other than to say that I stand by the comments I made earlier that, in terms of stock levels and controlling the biomass, it is not sufficient to look at it purely in terms of sustainability. We need to look at the biomass in terms of maximum sustainable yield. We will have an opportunity to discuss that next 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, I am glad to have the opportunity to set out the intentions of the Government in this new provision in the Bill to produce fisheries management plans. We have already discussed various aspects and provisions of the plans, and I take this opportunity to highlight the fact that the requirement to produce these plans was not included in the previous fisheries Bill. Inclusion of this requirement demonstrates the Government’s commitment towards securing sustainable stocks and meeting the manifesto commitment on the matter. Fisheries management plans will help the United Kingdom’s aims to recover and maintain fish stocks to healthy levels, ensure we fish sustainably and offer the flexibility in our management approaches to deal with our complex fisheries.

Clause 6 requires the UK fisheries administrations to produce fisheries management plans as described in the joint fisheries statement and sets out the detail of what these plans must contain. The plans will directly contribute to the fisheries objectives in Clause 1. They will set out the detailed fisheries conservation measures necessary to manage specific fisheries and fish stocks. Each plan will set out the geographic area that it covers, the stock or stocks covered, and how its effectiveness will be monitored and reported.

Where we do not have enough scientific evidence to assess a stock’s MSY, the administration or administrations must include the steps they will take to obtain the scientific evidence required to establish sustainable harvest limits or explain why they do not intend to do so. This might, for instance, be if scientific advice indicates that a suitable proxy measure for assessing a stock’s sustainability can be used instead. For example, such an approach is used for North Sea lemon sole, which is a data-limited stock. A precautionary buffer is applied based on advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea.

As I have said, I am very happy to have what I would call as technical a meeting as your Lordships wish it to be on the fisheries management plans. These plans will be the backbone of the technical aspects of fisheries management policy in the future. However, for this evening, I hope that my noble friend feels happy not to press her opposition to the clause.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
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As I said, I am happy not to pursue this matter.

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Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson (LD)
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My Lords, I very much welcome these amendments and support them. I have put my name to Amendment 62, which is about my genuine concern—I will not go over it again at this time of the evening—that somehow social and economic elements will be used to trump a sustainability issue, even if it is not the will of the present Government or of the Minister. It just makes me uncomfortable, and I would much prefer this whole area to be tighter, as with the other amendments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, which she has explained. It is coming back to this area again of ensuring that we do not prejudice the long term by making life easier politically in the short term.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness and indeed the noble Lord for the points they have made. This gives me the opportunity to set out the reasoning behind the ability of fisheries policy authorities to diverge from policies in the joint fisheries statement and from policies in the fisheries management plan, in the narrow circumstances where relevant considerations apply, and to take a different approach for stocks for which it would not be appropriate to gather data to calculate their MSY.

Starting with Amendments 59 and 63, it is clear that fisheries management plans will need to evolve over time to retain their efficacy and feasibility. While the list presented in the clause in question covers some of the major changes that we could predict might take place, other circumstances may bring to light fundamental factors to consider in updating fisheries management plans. This legislation aims to be future-proof and flexible enough to allow dynamic, evidence-based policy-making.

The premise behind this amendment is that the fisheries administrations could use this clause to somehow water down plans. However, it would also hinder their ability to strengthen plans in the light of changing circumstances. It would limit those circumstances under which fisheries administrations might consider amending, revoking or developing new fisheries management plans, or to set out a plan described in a different way from that initially proposed in a joint fisheries statement, to one or more of four exclusive reasons that we believe will severely limit their ability to react to new or emerging issues. Furthermore, preventing fisheries administrations making use of new economic, social or environmental evidence as a trigger to amend or replace fisheries management plans, and by inference informing the development of new fisheries plans, is contrary to the core principle of evidence-based policy-making.

The amendment proposed by the noble Baroness puts the threshold for using evidence at that relating only to “catastrophic events”, which would seem extremely high and to relate, one hopes, to very rare occasions. I have reflected on this and feel that it would mean that fisheries administrations would have to wait to react to events, rather than be proactive and use all new evidence potentially to head off a catastrophic event. I am concerned that the amendment creates an unacceptable risk that our fisheries administrations would be unhelpfully bound by what was foreseen as necessary at the point at which the joint fisheries statement was published, rather than having the flexibility to react to changing circumstances or moving stocks that could result in environmental, economic or social harm that was not yet catastrophic.

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Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
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Before the Minister sits down, may I ask a simple question: does he think that the phrase “international obligations” means international negotiations such as I described, which would include the ongoing regular annual negotiations? Or do “international obligations” cover some wider commitment to international law? If that phrase means the former—the negotiations that go on from time to time—that is quite troubling, because that is where we got into difficulties with the common fisheries policy and other issues. We had our own sustainability principles, and then we traded them away, because that was the outcome of the trade negotiations. Before I comment more widely on what the Minister has said, I am just wondering what that phrase means.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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So that I am not anything other than very clear with the noble Baroness, I shall read from the Bill: in Clause 48, on interpretation, an

“‘international obligation of the United Kingdom’ includes any obligation that arises or may arise under an international agreement or arrangement to which the United Kingdom is a party”.

That is the definition.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
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Does that include the 5,000 agreements that the Minister talked about in order to negate one of our earlier amendments?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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I think I am consistent, in that there are many treaties that do not relate to fisheries, and I am consistent in saying that this is in relation to our international fisheries obligations. With the other amendment that we discussed, the drafting could have involved us in all the 14,000 treaties—I think it was 14,000—whereas here I believe it is distinctly involved in and engaged with the arrangements for fisheries within our international obligations.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
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Just to pick up on that point, the definition to which the Minister has pointed us is about international agreements or arrangements

“to which the United Kingdom is a party”.

That could mean anything or everything that we deal with and negotiate on an international basis, and it continues to raise concerns about the outcome of those negotiations, and whether such considerations will trump our more aspirational objectives, which we agreed in Clause 1. We may come back to that. I continue to have a sense of disquiet about the implications —as I do about the phraseology around the word “socioeconomic”, which we shall not bottom out now; we have debated it several times. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that we are in danger of trading the long-term benefit to the marine environment for short-term advantage. Whatever the good will of the Government may be, some of that practicality and necessity will, sadly, get in the way of some of our more profound objectives.

I listened carefully to what the Minister said about the other factors. He talked about dynamic policy-making and reacting to new emerging issues. It just feels as if this will be a moveable feast and will not provide the stability that the fishing community and the devolved Administrations would welcome. I am worried that the wording provides a little too much flexibility.

I quite like the “catastrophic event” phrase: it was the Government’s phrase in the first place, and I just quoted it back. I would have thought there was some merit in adopting it anyway, because such things will be factors. There could be extreme weather changes, or other circumstances could have an impact that the Government would want to respond to, but which would not be covered under the other terminology in the Bill. This is all a bit unsatisfactory, but obviously I am not going to pursue it at this point, so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for tabling this amendment. He raises an important point about the need for the most up-to-date scientific evidence on the state of stocks to aid planning and quota allocation. As previous debates established, there are a number of different timescales resulting from the provisions in the Bill and it is important that we somehow manage to mesh them effectively. One of them, the reporting of the state of stocks, is currently a three-year timescale, whereas this amendment quite rightly proposes a timescale of one year.

We feel that there are strong arguments for this. Given that quota negotiations and fishing opportunity determinations are due to be made annually, and they are meant to draw upon the latest and best scientific advice, it makes sense for the stock reports to coincide with this timescale. Given that the Secretary of State has the opportunity to make mid-term revisions to fisheries management plans, access to the latest data would provide the best possible motive for change. We would go one stage further and hope that these stock reports could be officially collated by Defra and the devolved Administrations and made publicly available. Given that we are moving towards real-time stock measurement and given that the scientific processes we are putting in place will be much more real-time and up to date, I do not think that this is too onerous; therefore we support this amendment and hope the Minister agrees.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his Amendment 75, which requires annual reports on the state of

“stocks for which there are fisheries management plans.”

Existing annual publications provide information on the state of our fish stocks. The Joint Nature Conservation Committee publishes the UK biodiversity indicators annually on behalf of Defra and the devolved Administrations. These indicators include two covering sustainable fisheries: one shows the percentage of quota stocks harvested sustainably, and the other the percentage of quota stocks whose biomass is at such a level to maintain full reproductive capacity. These indicators are national statistics and part of the UK’s commitment to the Convention on Biological Diversity to report on our progress towards its goals and targets—the Aichi targets. Our indicators on sustainable fisheries show data back to 1990.

The Government published their 25-year environment plan in 2018, in which they committed to develop a new set of indicators to report on the state of our natural assets, and to publish an annual report on their progress in meeting the goals and targets set out in the plan. The first annual report, published in May 2019, had an indicator on sustainable fisheries alongside a narrative setting out how we are progressing towards our broader goal for sustainable fisheries. The indicator and narrative will be updated in the 2020 report due in the spring. The evolution of the Fisheries Bill and the introduction of our provisions for fisheries management plans means we will need to reflect and consult more widely with stakeholders as it may be more appropriate for each plan to contain its own reporting framework rather than for us to do a single annual report.

There are also some devolution implications arising from the amendment which cause concern. It would commit the Secretary of State to report annually on any stocks in fisheries management plans published by the devolved Administrations covering their waters only. The devolved Administrations would determine how and when they report on the state of stocks covered by their fisheries management plans. In addition, we have enhanced the transparency framework set out in the Bill by committing to provide triennial reviews of the joint fisheries statement and the implementation of fisheries management plans. There are stocks for which we do not currently have sufficient data to assess their status, and we have made provision in the Bill to collect further evidence to determine sustainable levels. The proposed three-year reporting cycle for fisheries management plans will set out our progress for these data-poor stocks.

I am very happy to have further discussions with the noble Lord if he thinks there are any loose ends, but with the existing annual publications—he is probably aware of them already—and the requirements in the Bill, we are asking the question that we all want to know the answer to, which is: are we making progress and is this working? With what we have already and what is planned in the Bill, his aspirations are covered. On that basis, I hope he will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Whenever the Minister gives such a comprehensive answer, I get more worried. This was an amendment where I was expecting an answer such as, “Lord Teverson, on this, don’t worry. We’re just going to carry on. You will know each year how many of these stocks are at MSY and how many aren’t.” That is the core of what I was trying to get to. I am even more concerned because devolution means that we might not all be on the same page in reporting our fish stocks as a nation, so I ask the question: at the end of 2021, when we are outside the common fisheries policy, will Defra be able to give us or anybody else who wants to know the percentage of stocks that are meeting MSY, just as it does now through the common fisheries policy? Will we know that?

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

Let me repeat what I said. The existing annual publications include one showing the percentage of quota stocks harvested sustainably and another showing the percentage of quota stocks whose biomass is at such a level as to maintain full reproductive capacity. I will be happy to look at those myself, but I am afraid that I do not have them with me. However, not only does the Bill refer to reporting; annual publications already exist.

The noble Lord is worried when I give a comprehensive answer but if I have read this correctly, there is an existing annual publication. Perhaps the noble Lord has got me worried now, but I have no doubt about this. This is published as a part of our indicators on behalf of Defra and the devolved Administrations. I understand the point about the references to the devolved Administrations in the Bill. The task for Defra Ministers, which is an interesting one, is to work very productively with the devolved Administrations, which we are. There is no suggestion that matters which are devolved are no longer going to be devolved; they are absolutely part of the devolved settlement. Whether or not that proves to be an inconvenience for some, that is the settlement which is enshrined, and we will continue to work extremely collaboratively.

Fisheries Bill [HL]

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Monday 9th March 2020

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This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Fisheries Act 2020 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

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

I will speak to Amendments 85 and 87 in my name, tabled for probing purposes. Amendment 85 concerns conditions being imposed on sea fishing licences regarding matters that are not themselves directly related to the regulation of sea fishing. I am sure there will be a number of examples of conditions that it would be both logical and reasonable to impose, and I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify for the record what these include.

Amendment 87 deals with the duty of a sea fish licensing authority to comply or not with a request submitted by another licensing authority. In paragraph 4(3) of Schedule 3, there is an exemption to the statutory duty to comply:

“unless … it is unreasonable to do so.”

This amendment merely seeks clarity from the Minister to highlight the designation between reasonable and unreasonable, as presumably the requesting authority may consider the request entirely reasonable. What steps must a fish licensing authority take when a request is denied, and is that the end of the matter? Would the licensing authority need to justify that denial and, if so, is there a timetable for this, should the requesting authority wish to follow up?

I turn now to other amendments in this group. Amendment 76ZA in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, brings into focus in my mind the interplay between farmed salmon, which is not regulated in this legislation, and the Fisheries Bill. The Norwegian Government believe that farmed salmon escapes are the biggest threat to Norway’s wild salmon population. The Scottish Government are certainly aware of the significant risk to the vital recovery of remaining west coast salmon stocks. Experts estimate that the number of escapes—often laden with disease, especially lice burdens—is around double the number of wild Atlantic salmon that return to their spawning rivers on the west coast of Scotland. During Storm Brendan in January, around 73,000 farmed salmon escaped from the open-net cage near Colonsay. I draw attention to the considerable effect this may have on west coast fisheries.

I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his amendments in this group. In Amendment 76A, he poses the question of whether the recreational use of a charter fishing vessel requires a full licence and in what circumstances. Would the planned exemption for recreational activities still stand? The Committee has welcomed the previous positive comments from the Minister about recreational fishing. Indeed, my comments on salmon are apposite. It is an often overlooked yet important part of our fisheries industry, reported to be valued at over £2 billion annually and supporting more than 18,000 jobs. I am grateful to David Mitchell at the Angling Trust for making contact regarding the size of recreational fishing and the economic impact it has. This merits some attention.

Finally, I thank the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, for his careful scrutiny of the provisions under Schedule 3, seeking clarity on the balance and pertinence of information required by a licensing authority.

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 my noble friend Lady McIntosh for her Amendment 76ZA. I understand her interest in querying eels, salmon and migratory trout’s apparent exemption from the licensing regime, as they are all valuable and vulnerable species. However, I think I can provide the reassurances that my noble friend and other noble Lords would expect—that they are licensed and controlled.

Legislation is already in place at the devolved level to manage the licensing or authorisation of fishing for these species. In England and Wales, it is the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975, as amended by the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, that already makes provision for the licensing or authorisation of fishing for salmon and eels in England and Wales. Marine Scotland does not “license” fishing in inland waters as is done in England and Wales. Salmon fishing in rivers, estuaries and coastal waters is managed by way of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 2003 and, more specifically, the Conservation of Salmon (Scotland) Regulations 2016, as amended annually.

For eels, the Freshwater Fish Conservation (Prohibition on Fishing for Eels) (Scotland) Regulations 2008 prohibit the taking of eel without a licence from Scottish Ministers. In Northern Ireland, the Salmon Drift Net Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2014 and the Salmon Netting Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2014 prohibited the use of any nets to catch and kill salmon and sea trout in tidal waters and inland fisheries. The Eel Fishing Regulations 2010 license only eel fishing activity using long lines and draft nets on Lough Neagh and eel weirs at Toome and Portna. Because of the state of both species, these fisheries are closely managed and heavily restricted in all four Administrations.

Should we need to vary the existing regimes in the future, the Fisheries Bill provides a mechanism for this. Clause 14(3) allows the Secretary of State to “add, remove or vary” the current exceptions by regulation. These regulations would be made based on evidence and following consultation.

I turn to Amendment 76A. According to research published in Defra’s report Sea Angling 2012, recreational fishers fishing from charter boats account for the minority of fishing days and a limited proportion of fish caught recreationally, compared with those fishing from the shore or from private boats. Research from 2015 to 2017, due to be released later this year, shows that the percentage contribution of charter boats to fish caught has remained relatively low over this period.

Measures are already in place across the United Kingdom to protect bass from recreational fishers, including those fishing from charter boats, through daily bag limit restrictions as well as via minimum landing sizes. In England, controls are also imposed through by-laws made by the inshore fisheries conservation authorities.

Taking into account the best available evidence, the Government are of the view that licensing charter boats at this stage, would be disproportionate and not driven by evidence. Instead, officials will focus on working with the recreational sector to drive improved voluntary data collection to support conservation and sustainability and, where necessary, to implement intervention at a species level.

The Fisheries Bill provides the mechanism to implement licensing in the future, should this be deemed necessary. Clause 14(3) allows the Secretary of State to “add, remove or vary” the current exceptions by regulation. This would be done based on evidence and following consultation. I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising this issue, which we wish to keep under review, but I hope my explanation of where we are provides some reassurance, and I emphasise that we take all these matters into account and take them seriously.

The noble Lord’s Amendment 79 seeks to ensure that fleet overcapacity does not threaten the sustainability of fish stocks when granting licences. The common fisheries policy requires member states to take steps to ensure that their fishing fleet capacity does not exceed the fishing opportunities available to them. Each member state is obliged to provide annual reports on the status of its fleets. These reports make clear that the United Kingdom has consistently operated within the capacity ceiling.

The licence system in place in the United Kingdom is designed to ring-fence the UK fleet capacity to the level seen at the creation of the UK licensing regime in the mid-1990s. No new capacity has been created in that time. No new licences have been issued and a new entry to the fleet can take place only when another vessel is removed from it. Any new entrant to the fleet must not be larger than the vessel that was withdrawn. Any vessel owner wishing to fish in UK waters in this scenario must purchase a licence entitlement from an existing registered vessel. The requirement on the UK to limit its fleet will become part of retained EU law. In addition, as we considered last week, the sustainability objective in Clause 1 requires that the fishing capacity of fleets is economically viable but does not overexploit marine stocks.

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Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
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My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister, particularly for his very helpful answer on recreational fisheries matters. I felt his answer on capacity was useful, but I just want to be clear. Is he saying that after this year, even when the Bill becomes an Act, through retained common fisheries policy law, the capacity rules from the common fisheries policy will remain for the United Kingdom? That is what I understood, and I am fully reassured.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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I repeat that the requirement on the UK to limit its fleet will become part of retained EU law.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
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My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this little group of amendments and explained their concerns. I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister, who I hope has put my mind at rest. Obviously, this is something I will keep an eye on, and I will share his reply with the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose. With the permission of the Committee, I wish to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, we very much welcome the tabling of these amendments, all of which deal with the introduction of remote electronic monitoring cameras on vessels.

I say first that I listened very carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. I am sorry that he felt that we did not take his comments seriously when he last made them. I certainly listened carefully to what he had to say when this was last debated. I am quite prepared to admit that maximum sustainable yield is not the best measure, but I have not read the book or the scientific treatise to which he referred. I would say back to him: if not that, then we need to find the right form of words that we can put in the Bill. We all know that we want to deliver sustainability. It does not have to be through maximum sustainable yield or, indeed, through some of the other amendments that we have elsewhere in the Bill, which talk about setting the standard above maximum sustainable yield so that there is some leeway. But if that is not the right measure, we need to find something that can practically be put in a Bill. I am very happy to talk to him and learn a bit more about how we might do that.

We agree with the noble Lord and others who have spoken that full and verifiable documentation of catch is absolutely important and can provide help with enforcement and be an added safety feature on boats. Again, I agree with particularly the noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Krebs, that these amendments could be the vehicle for bringing about a major change in a Bill that in many other respects seems to maintain the status quo. They are, therefore, important amendments and we hope that we can follow them up on Report.

If the UK is to achieve its sustainable fishing goals, it needs advance data collection to allow authorities to be better informed about the true state of our fishing stocks, to ensure that quotas are set in line with the most up-to-date and accurate scientific advice. REM has the great advantage of providing data in real time, and could provide a complete snapshot of fish stocks and their movement around our waters. This could also add to our intelligence about the impact of climate change and warming waters. It could also create new economic opportunities. Historically, two-thirds of UK fishing stock has been fished beyond its sustainable limits, but better scientific advice does not necessarily mean fewer fishing opportunities. The New Economics Foundation has estimated that if catches were properly aligned with the best scientific data, the yield could actually increase to something like 45% higher landings, and an additional gross value of around £150 million across the UK coast. Better data would also allow more opportunities to classify UK-caught fish as sustainable and to qualify for the Marine Conservation Society’s approval, which could boost their sales in supermarkets and lead to more sustainability.

We therefore see the introduction of REM as a win-win for the sector. Many larger vessels already have this technology; the challenge for us is to roll this out so that it is a universal requirement for all licensed vessels fishing in our waters. Obviously, we do not want the cost to be a barrier for smaller vessels, but the cost of this equipment is coming down and the Government could help by issuing some standard specifications that would make production more efficient. We also have Amendments 113 and 120 to be debated later, which would allow financial assistance to be given to aid the gathering of scientific data that might help in this regard and could be used to subsidise REM for those on the smaller fleet.

We draw a big distinction between REM and the catch-tracking app that has been introduced by the MMO for boats under 10 metres. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, raised concerns about this in a previous debate, but I hear the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, say that he thinks it is a good idea. We will have to agree to disagree on this, because for us it seems that this has been gone about in completely the wrong way. It comes with the power to prosecute and demand heavy fines—up to £100,000—for those found to have imputed catch weights into their smartphone that are wrong by a margin of 10% or more. Many of these boats do not have accurate weighing scales on board, however, and many fishers are forced to rely on estimates, which can clearly lead to incorrect data being submitted. It feels as if a whole new layer of bureaucracy and red tape is being introduced by these measures, whereas REM would provide an independent measure of the catch.

I turn to the specifics of the amendments. Those in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, are rather absolutist in their approach, making the installation of video equipment a condition of licences being granted to both UK and foreign vessels. Amendment 112, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, offers an alternative way forward, requiring REM on vessels of more than 10 metres and commissioning a feasibility study for under-10s. Amendment 124, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, would allow a phased introduction of REM and might be the best solution if we are to find a consensus about a way forward.

Regardless of the approach, there appears to be a consensus that we should move forward towards mandatory video monitoring as part of the fight against irresponsible behaviour and for better data collection on fish stocks. I hope noble Lords will support these amendments.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for her Amendments 77A and 80A, and to other noble Lords for their amendments, which, in various ways, seek to place requirements on fisheries licensing authorities to introduce onboard monitoring equipment and cameras on British boats and foreign vessels fishing in UK waters. I reiterate that this Government remain fully committed to reducing bycatch and ending the wasteful discarding of fish. While we recognise the potential of onboard monitoring and cameras as an effective technology to monitor, control and enforce the end of wasteful discarding, Amendment 77A could divert us from taking a more appropriate, risk-based, intelligence-led enforcement approach through vessel monitoring systems and aerial surveillance, for example, as well as ones that may develop in the future, such as onboard observers or drones.

Control and enforcement, and fishing vessel licensing, are both devolved matters. The amendment cuts across devolved competence by trying to prescribe this at a UK level. It is for each devolved Administration to decide how best to control their waters, tailoring their management measures to their specific industry.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
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I just remind the Minister—this comes back to something the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, said—that last Wednesday, when we last discussed the Bill, the Minister made it clear that the whole area of objectives is a devolved area, yet the Government have put all those objectives in. It seems to me that the Minister is saying, “Do what I say, not what I do.” The Government have put in devolved measures, but they are saying to Parliament that we should not. I find that very difficult.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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I am sorry that the noble Lord finds it difficult. The objectives have been agreed with the devolved Administrations; they have asked us to legislate with the agreement of those objectives which are in Clause 1. However, as the noble Lord knows better than I, all the things I have outlined ad nauseam about the seeking of amendments mean that they cut across the settlement we have with the devolved Administrations. I am very pleased to say that the devolved Administrations have come together, have agreed and have asked us to legislate on these matters in Clause 1 and, indeed, in the schedules that relate to those issues that the devolved Administrations would like us to deal with in the Bill.

I sense that the noble Lord and others may want it all best ways, which would mean that somehow we do not respect the fact that the devolved Administrations have it entirely in their gift to make the arrangements they so wish. For instance, my noble friend Lady McIntosh asked about the discard prevention charging scheme in Clause 29(1). This provides that

“‘chargeable person’ means—(a) the holder of an English sea fishing licence, or (b) a producer organisation that has at least one member who is the holder of an English sea fishing licence.”

We are taking measures where we can, which is where we can make those provisions, but it is entirely up to the devolved Administrations.

If the noble Lord will let me, I shall outline some of the areas where I hope he will be pleased, also, that the devolved Administrations are working on this, but it is their right to do it through their own legislation as well. I hope we will not go around in circles.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
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Have the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Welsh Assembly approved these measures? The Government are saying, “These are devolved areas” and have put it in a UK-wide Bill. Parliament here is doing exactly the same. We are a UK Chamber, just as the Minister’s Government are a UK Government. They have not got permission from those legislatures, so we have to take on that role ourselves. I do not take the Government’s point on this at all.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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I think I will take this offline with the noble Lord, because why are those schedules in the Bill, specifically requested by the devolved Administrations, giving them the powers that we are also seeking through the Bill? The Bill comes with the working, active collaboration—as I have said almost every day in Committee and at Second Reading—of all the devolved Administrations.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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No, I think I must make progress. My noble friend Lady McIntosh raised this issue but we understand there are no current proposals for a Scottish fisheries Bill. This Bill is designed to give all four Administrations the powers they need in the future, out of the common fisheries policy. This includes the powers to bring forward REM, if appropriate and after trials and consultation.

In England, trials into the use of REM for enforcement, as well as for other purposes, such as stock assessment, are ongoing. This point was referred to by the noble Baronesses, Lady Young of Old Scone and Lady Worthington. An example of this is the North Sea Fully Documented Fishery—FDF—scheme. The Fully Documented Fishery scheme employs REM systems on English-registered fishing vessels operating in the North Sea and is administered by the Marine Management Organisation. During 2019, 11 vessels participated in the scheme, receiving reserve quota as an incentive.

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Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs
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I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, and I thank him for sitting down. The notion of an amendment proposing REM is not specifying a particular technology. As I mentioned in my introduction to Amendment 124, there are rapidly emerging technologies; I gave the example of Shellcatch, which works on your smartphone. I did not see this as prescribing a particular method, but rather saying that what we need is a system to get accurate data on what is being caught—whether it is from the point of view of the discard ban or of getting accurate harvest data to inform fisheries scientists’ modelling—without prescribing particular technologies. I just want to make it clear that I did not have a particular gadget in mind, I had the notion of using whatever was the latest technology—which will, as the Minister has said, evolve over time.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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All I will say to the noble Lord is that some amendments referred to, for instance, cameras or whatever. If he will allow me, I will move into areas that might be more in tune with some of the other points. I agree with noble Lords that this is an area where the range of technologies and abilities are going to be immensely helpful in what we all want to achieve: a vibrant ecosystem, marine conservation, and sustainability.

The UK Government also recognise the effectiveness of introducing a requirement for vessels to operate a vessel monitoring system for fisheries enforcement purposes. This is a satellite-based monitoring system, which at regular intervals provides data to the fisheries authorities on the location, course and speed of a vessel. This provides a picture of fishing activity which can support targeted enforcement action, which is why it is currently a requirement for all UK-registered vessels over 12 metres in length, but this is not prescribed through primary legislation.

Defra ran a public consultation in February 2019 to introduce inshore vessel monitoring systems—IVMS—for all British fishing vessels under 12 metres in length operating in English waters. In its response to the consultation, Defra concluded that IVMS would be introduced and that it would bring forward the required statutory instrument. The requirement will also apply to all English-registered vessels wherever they are fishing. I understand that the devolved Administrations are adopting similar policy proposals; picking up on the point of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, here the devolved Administrations, entirely within their gift, are adopting similar policy proposals.

The balance the UK Government are trying to achieve is a proportionate and practical approach to monitoring and enforcement that reflects the risk of discarding. This includes factors such as the fishery being exploited, the type of gear being used and the size of the vessel. Further, in respect of Amendment 80A as it relates to foreign vessels, we are also clear that we wish to ensure a level playing field between UK-registered vessels and any foreign-registered vessels which we allow to fish in our waters. In principle, ensuring that the same standards apply to foreign vessels as to our own is a sound concept.

We wish to conclude the trials and assess them. We recognise that enhanced monitoring has huge potential benefits and I am genuinely grateful to all noble Lords who have raised this matter. It is extremely serious and we need to undertake more work to come forward with further proposals on it.

On the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on the catch certificate app, obviously the safety of fishers is paramount. While it is important that catch records be submitted as soon as practically possible, this should take place only once the vessel and its crew are in a safe place. Catch records ought to be submitted in port when it is safe to do so, not at sea. We know that most fishers operate in good faith and make efforts to comply with catch recording guidance, but I thought it helpful to say that we want to be pragmatic about these points and have an overriding objective of keeping people safe.

I turn to the requirement in Amendment 124 to develop a framework to tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated—IUU—fishing. The Government agree that we should seek to eliminate IUU fishing and remain committed to co-operating globally to this end. The EU’s IUU regulation will be incorporated into UK law as retained EU law. The UK aims to be a global leader in the fight against IUU fishing.

I was interested in the exchange between the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on the fisheries management plans. I fully intend for us to have this meeting. I will ask scientists to come to it, because obviously the fisheries management plan was intended to be a new insertion into this second Bill precisely to ensure that every stock is managed and fished sustainably. I would like the opportunity, before we get too jaundiced about it, to work together with noble Lords to see, with the scientists, what we can make of it and how best to take it forward, because it is an opportunity to make sure that the management plans of all stocks are in good order.

The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, raised MSY. I am very happy to talk to him about it. MSY is—I note the number of eminent people he referred to—internationally accepted. However, if I recall right, we recognised at Second Reading that it is just one tool, which is why we have included a range of sustainability objectives in the Bill. As the noble Lord will know well, ICES provides advice about MSY. I was interested in what the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, said on this. MSY is internationally accepted. I am very happy to discuss MSY with the noble Lord; it is a term used both in this country and internationally, so it would be a personal endeavour of mine to understand what other points he wishes to make.

In this context, I hope that I have explained the work already in hand on REM. We recognise that this is an extremely important area both now and for the future. We are bringing forward these proposals, but for the sake of this debate I hope my noble friend feels able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
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My Lords, I am grateful for this debate. I am stung by the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, who said I was being absolutist—which is probably very fair—but we have had a very good discussion here.

We can trade all the experts we like. I was particularly taken by Pat Birnie, who was a one-time adviser to the then Government, and she taught me international law of the sea. I wish I retained all that she told me, for the purposes of this debate. On maximum sustainable yield, that is a wider debate that we have to have because it is my understanding, confirmed by the Minister, that we have international obligations, such as the Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development which we agreed in 2002. We have to look at the wider implications of these international obligations, to which we have subscribed, in the context of moving away from the common fisheries policy to the new regime set out under the Bill.

I was delighted that my noble friend explained the results of the consultation as regards the under-10s, because that is a very particular category. I am now much more aware of why we need a lead-in period, if we are to introduce these for over-10s. This is, I am sure, something we can return to in the separate debate on the fisheries management plans and at the next stage of the Bill. In these circumstances, I thank those who contributed, I thank my noble friend for his reply, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Fisheries Bill [HL]

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard - continued) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard - continued): House of Lords
Monday 9th March 2020

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Fisheries Act 2020 - Government Bill Page Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 71-IV Fourth marshalled list for Committee - (9 Mar 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Fisheries Act 2020 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

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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 thank the noble Baroness for her amendment. The UK Government’s robust fisheries enforcement system is delivered in England by a number of agencies working in partnership, in particular the Marine Management Organisation, or MMO, the inshore fisheries and conservation authorities, or IFCAs, and the Royal Navy. Fisheries enforcement is a devolved matter, with each Administration ensuring that appropriate control and enforcement matters are in place in its waters.

As I am sure noble Lords are aware, the UK has recently taken significant steps and we have been working closely with the devolved Administrations to ensure that the UK can enforce its fishing rights. As the noble Baroness said, the Royal Navy is increasing its force of offshore patrol vessels, or OPVs, from four to eight ships over the next year. Currently, four are operating at sea, conducting enforcement and overseas tasking, with four in build or regeneration. Of these, at least—I emphasise the “at least” to the noble Baroness—two Royal Navy OPVs are always provided to support MMO activity in English waters.

The MMO’s core provision includes two offshore patrol vessels and up to two aircraft. IFCAs provide an additional layer of inshore surface surveillance capability, which includes 22 vessels. Administrations share assets when appropriate. This may be as a joint working, MoU or chartering arrangement. For example, the MMO and the Welsh Government have agreed an MoU to undertake joint working and patrolling in each other’s waters.

Marine Scotland’s aircraft and patrol vessels have operated in other Administration’s waters, and it is receptive to requests for its assets to assist when possible. Marine Scotland operates a fleet of three marine protection ships and two surveillance aircraft. In Northern Ireland, DAERA has one fisheries protection vessel, accompanied by two fast-response rigid inflatable boats, or RIBs, dedicated to inspection work. Wales operates three vessels: a 24-metre monohull, a 19-metre catamaran and a 13-metre fast response cabin RIB.

In respect of England, via the MMO we have increased the number of front-line warranted officers by 50% for 2019-20, which is 35 people, putting in place a framework to increase aerial surveillance capacity by a maximum of two surveillance aircraft as risk and intelligence demands and chartering two additional commercial vessels to enable an increase in routine sea-based inspections to supplement provision from the Royal Navy Fishery Protection Squadron. I say to the noble Baronesses that it is one of the oldest front-line squadrons in the Royal Navy. It goes back many centuries and has a long history of dealing with these matters. There have been all sorts of instances in the past and, if this were to occur again, I am confident that our service men and women would have the ability and knowledge to deal with these matters proportionately and sensibly.

Additionally, it is also important, since we had an earlier discussion about this, that surface patrol vessels are complemented by satellite-based surveillance technologies such as vessel monitoring systems, or VMS, and electronic reporting systems, or ERS, monitored by the MMO from Newcastle. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, will know about this, but when I and the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, went to the MMO, this was a feature of every vessel we were taken through. I am sure that the MMO would be very pleased for noble Lords to look at this interesting capability. I would be very happy to facilitate that.

These provisions are in line with the MMO’s latest assessment, based on a risk-based, intelligence-led control and enforcement strategy. This is regularly monitored and reviewed, which is entirely appropriate to ensure that in all circumstances we are receiving that assessment.

The amendment’s proposed requirement for a Minister to declare the UK Government’s fisheries enforcement resources sufficient duplicates our existing policy and procedure. In addition, noble Lords will also be aware of the Joint Maritime Operations Coordination Centre, or JMOCC, which was officially approved by the Home Secretary in October 2017. The JMOCC has enhanced the co-ordination of cross-agency patrol capabilities, increased information and resource sharing, promoted prioritisation across government assets and enhanced aerial surveillance operations to derive maximum surveillance benefit. In place in its operational headquarters, the JMOCC has highly trained and professionally qualified representatives from key stakeholders, including Border Force, the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Transport, the National Maritime Information Centre and the police, as well as the MMO and Marine Scotland. This ensures that available resources can be fully and appropriately utilised across the United Kingdom, thereby maximising our maritime capability, including fisheries protection.

As I have highlighted, the control and enforcement is a devolved matter, and it will continue to be for each devolved Administration to decide how best to control its waters and what new arrangements may be needed in future. In that context, I should say that Defra, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive will continue to work together to share information and ensure a co-ordinated approach to monitoring, compliance and enforcement across UK waters. That will be undertaken.

I have perhaps gone into more detail on some of the abilities for all parts of the United Kingdom to contribute to this process, so I hope noble Lords will forgive me for that detail. I hope with that explanation—

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
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There were other questions posed by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, to which I hope the Minister will respond. Going back to the Navy, the Minister talked about the MMO having a risk-based intelligence review that justified the number of vessels it was able to provide. However, it seems to me—I am sure my noble friend Lord West would reiterate this point—that there is a sense that the Navy is overstretched, and that the two or four vessels to which the Minister referred as being available do not seem a lot in the short term. I am sure that eventually things will settle down again, but in the next 18 months I can see that small skirmishes could break out because of misunderstandings in all sorts of places. People could misunderstand the new rules, for example. It only needs something to happen in the English Channel and the Irish Sea at the same time for resources to be stretched. Does the Minister think that there are sufficient resources? That is the real question, not what everyone else thinks. Does the Minister, who is ultimately responsible, feel that this is sufficient resource?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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I absolutely understand the point made by the noble Baroness. My assessment is that this is at the right level, and the fact is that the Royal Navy is growing or doubling its vessels. That is why I emphasised the phrase “at least”. There is an agreement between the MMO and the Royal Navy about those two things. I emphasised “at least”; all our efforts will be to ensure that there are no difficulties at sea, which would be in no one’s interests. That is precisely why I explained about the doubling of the number of front-line warranted officers, and why I outlined increasing aerial surveillance and the work of surveillance technologies. All this is upscaling, precisely to accommodate the point made by the noble Baroness, if we are in potentially uncertain times, rather than where we were before. I described the increase in almost every feature of what is available to us at sea, including technology and personnel, to accommodate the possibilities that the noble Baroness outlined. I am basing my judgment on a much more rigorous assessment than me just saying yes to the noble Baroness. It is also why JMOCC is so important, because so much of this is intertwined with those organisations involved in JMOCC. It is terribly important that the MMO and Marine Scotland are part of that because there may be a time when fisheries protection becomes an issue and all this resource across the United Kingdom and the Royal Navy may need to be deployed.

I will say that the answer is yes, but it is not a glib yes. It is because the people who understand these areas have assessed and advised us that we should increase what we have done. That is why I am confident that we are where we should be. However, I emphasise to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that it is really important that all these matters are kept under review. That is why I deliberately emphasised that, on this matter, there is strong working with all four fisheries administrations in the United Kingdom interest.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
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How long will the temporary financing of extra resources last and when it will end? At that point, there will be a question mark. Will we go back to where we were when, effectively, for many years there was no real access to the Royal Navy at all because it was off doing other things? This is a really important point to clarify.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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I apologise to the noble Lord and the noble Baroness that I have no further detail other than to say that I am confident. We have upscaled in the way that we have—constructing vessels and all we are doing is not like turning on and off a tap—and are increasing the number of Royal Navy vessels for this sort of demand. If we were to need additional support because something happened, I am confident that all the resources would be at our disposal.

I do not think we need to discuss a theoretical point, but if in 10, five or three years’ time all is well and we have good negotiations and agreements, the most important thing—the responsibility that all Governments should have—is the safety of UK interests and the safety of people at sea. Obviously, we will need to have all that I have outlined with the assessment that the MMO is constantly reviewing. I imagine that, down the line, there may be an assessment that there is not much of an issue and we are working towards having that capability, but that would be for the future. For now and for the foreseeable future, however, it is precisely why the Navy is upscaling the number of vessels and why we have done what we have by increasing the number on the front line.

I have been handed a note that says that all matters for future enforcement funding will be the subject of the spending review, but we will put in a robust bid, as befits our status as an independent coastal state. I hope I have not offended the Treasury by saying that.

I apologise. I should have addressed that, but in the meantime, I hope I have outlined to the noble Baroness that this is obviously an area of continuing interest and continuing responsibility.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Perhaps the Minister can write to me with the figures for the current enforcement budget for England and the amount of Brexit special funding from the Treasury. They are discrete amounts and I would be interested to know what they are.

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

Yes, I will endeavour to ensure that a letter is directed to the noble Lord and the noble Baroness and put in the Library.

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Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
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My Lords, I am very pleased to support the amendment. If there has been one mistake made since the referendum—apart from the result of the referendum which, of course, is indisputable and I entirely accept—it is that the Government have attempted to exclude Parliament from so much. That has been part of the reason why we have had the three years of turmoil that we have had. It is therefore important that the Government keep Parliament involved or up to date on how these negotiations are working; though clearly Parliament is not looking for the final resolution, those negotiations have to take place in that context.

Last week, I was concerned that when the Secretary of State was in front of the EU sub-committee, he stated that the Scottish Administration—or a Scottish Minister—would not be allowed in the room when the negotiations took place. He was very specific about it: I questioned him and checked what he had said. He said it was because this was not a devolved matter but a matter for the United Kingdom. It was slightly ironic, given the discussions we have had on this Bill. Will the Government reconsider that position, because the Scottish fishing industry is fundamental to the UK fishing industry? This is an area on which the Government ought to change their view. I very much support the amendment and the spirit in which it was introduced.

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

My Lords, I am also grateful to the noble Baroness for her amendment. The UK Government remain committed to keeping Parliament and the public informed of the progress of negotiations. On 27 February, the Government published The Future Relationship with the EU: The UK’s Approach to Negotiations. This makes clear that the UK and the EU have committed to use best endeavours to agree a new fisheries agreement by 1 July 2020. In line with the practice of other independent coastal states, the agreement would provide a framework for annual negotiations on access and quota and set out a mechanism for co-operation on fisheries matters where we share an interest with the EU. The Prime Minister has already committed to providing further details as the negotiating process develops. Both Houses will also have access to their usual arrangements for scrutinising the actions of the Government—and I am in no doubt, looking at various noble Lords here tonight, that your Lordships will take full advantage of these.

As your Lordships will be aware, negotiations for a fisheries framework agreement and our future relationship with the EU started last week. It is important to note that, as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster noted in the other place, the UK Government hope that by June, the broad outline of an agreement will be clear and capable of being rapidly finalised by September. Subsection (1)(b) in the amendment itself refers to distant waters. It is not clear whether “distant waters” was intended to have a specific meaning, but we have taken it to mean waters for which the UK is not the relevant coastal state and which are outside EU waters. Therefore, I make it clear that we will also seek to negotiate fisheries framework agreements with key partners in other coastal states, such as Norway. Again, these agreements will pave the way for annual negotiations on access and fishing opportunities in third-country waters, which I know will be of particular interest to our distant-waters fleet and others whose businesses rely on accessing fishing opportunities in those waters.

As with negotiations with the EU, the Government will keep Parliament informed of the progress of these negotiations. Where we have fisheries or conservation interests in international waters, the UK will join relevant regional fisheries management organisations in its own right and, in so doing, we will continue to collaborate with other coastal states where we have shared interests in fisheries in international waters.

In all these negotiations, leaving the EU creates an opportunity for the UK to secure a fairer sharer of quota, or fishing opportunities, for our own fleets. I assure noble Lords that that is what this Government are determined to achieve but, with all these negotiations, the UK Government must retain flexibility—we may not agree but I think the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, was going along those lines—with regard to the timing and content of our updates to Parliament, in order not to undermine our positions in live and ongoing negotiations. We believe that the amendment would remove this flexibility, obliging the Government to publish a statement at a particular time, potentially while negotiations are still ongoing. This risks undermining our negotiating positions entirely.

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Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
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I think I am going to ask one of my dumb questions, which I know the Minister will tolerate. I am trying to understand the process here, because 1 July is quite soon for the negotiations to be complete. The Minister said that both Houses will be able to scrutinise. Scrutiny quite often happens after the event. How will Parliament be kept informed of those negotiations before the ink is on the paper and everything is a signed and sealed deal? Which bits of the two Houses will see this before it is signed? We had a skirmish about this with the overall withdrawal agreement and it would be good not to have to repeat that anguish for something as specific as this. Can he reassure me that we will see those details and be allowed to comment on them before it is all signed off?

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

I think it would be best if I just repeat that the Prime Minister has already committed to provide further details as the negotiating process develops. I have said those words at the Dispatch Box twice now, and that both Houses will have access for scrutinising the actions. I well understand the point the noble Baroness is making. Obviously the Government have responsibilities for negotiations, but the Prime Minister has already committed to provide further details as the negotiating process develops. I do not think anyone could interpret that as being at the end, when everything has been said and done.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
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In that case, I am grateful to the noble Lord and I think it would be helpful if he could just check the point that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, raised—I know he said he would—about what was said at his committee last week. I will look at Hansard carefully but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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I am happy to lend my support to this part of the debate, and I am sure we will come on to it now in subsequent groups, as we get into the nitty-gritty.
Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for his amendment, and to the noble Baroness who moved it. Although I recognise that the aim of the amendment is to make it compulsory for the Secretary of State to determine annual fishing opportunities, it would oblige the Secretary of State to determine all fishing opportunities on an annual basis. Some stocks are determined on different timescales, and for some non-quota species, there is no specific determination. I assure noble Lords that the original provisions are sufficient to ensure that the Secretary of State fulfils the function of determining UK fishing opportunities, through Clause 23(1) and (2), and that Parliament is able to scrutinise these determinations through Clause 24(2)(b).

Further, for non-quota stocks—for which we do not currently have the science to make an accurate determination—the fisheries management plans, as outlined in the joint fisheries statement, will set out policies for getting stocks to their maximum sustainable yield. For such stocks, this will necessarily include our plans for improving the scientific data and evidence that will underpin the future management of our non- quota fisheries. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that this is why he should be more positive about the fisheries management plans, bearing in mind the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, made earlier. I think this is an opportunity, particularly where the science is not the strongest, and we need to improve it—this is where we can get down to some of the pragmatic ways in which we can improve all stocks.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
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I am sure that there is the potential to do that, and I look forward to the meeting; I am very pleased that the Minister is going to bring this meeting together, and maybe we will find a way forward from there. I do not in any way write them off, but when they are purely UK territorial waters, that is where I have a problem. So I endorse the Minister’s comment.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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There was, shall we say, licence on my part there because I thought it might excite intervention. Anyway, I look forward very much to the discussions. Anyone who wishes to come is welcome; I will send a wide invitation and get scientists there so that we can get to the heart of some of these matters.

On Amendment 92A, the power set out in the clause would be used to set the UK’s total allowable catch, or the absolute amount the UK is able to fish, reflecting the outcome of the negotiations with the EU and other coastal states. It could also be used to ensure our compliance with Article 61 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS, which provides that catch levels should be set at sustainable levels, taking into account the best scientific evidence available. As an independent coastal state, we are committed to working closely with our partners to manage shared stocks sustainably and to share fishing opportunities on a fair and scientific basis.

It is imperative that we meet our international obligations, such as those I have described under UNCLOS, as we strive to set a gold standard for sustainable fishing around the world. I say to my noble friend that sustainability, as set out in the objectives of the Bill, is a key driver for our future plans for the industry and our negotiations. We have been clear that, in entering into negotiations and making determinations, we will be informed by independent scientific advice from ICES, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, CEFAS, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, and its equivalents in the devolved Administrations. In conjunction with our commitments through the scientific evidence objective, this provides the assurance that determinations will be fully informed by the best available science.

The existing clause also ensures that we respect the devolution settlements. The Secretary of State will make determinations on UK fisheries opportunities only where this relates to an internationally negotiated outcome, which is a reserved competence. Removing this subsection would give the Secretary of State powers to set fishing opportunities directly for each devolved Administration, which would contravene the devolution settlements. This clause provides the necessary reassurance to the devolved Administrations that the Secretary of State would not seek to overstep on areas of devolved competence.

Our fisheries White Paper made it clear that for existing quota we will honour the allocation and distribution through the FQA units. However, we have been clear that we will explore alternative methods for allocating and distributing any additional quota negotiated both at UK level and within England.

Baroness Worthington Portrait Baroness Worthington
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

To be absolutely clear, does the Minister mean that we will honour the allocation of the FQAs in perpetuity or for a transitional phase? If so, how long will that transition be?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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My Lords, I will write to the noble Baroness on that. The reason for taking this decision at this time is to provide certainty on the current allocations. The point about potential changes concerns any additional quota; I will write if I have any further information on anything suggested to the contrary, but our intention is that the existing distribution will remain. We will explore alternative methods, one of which is to ensure that there is benefit to coastal communities from our additional quota. I do not think I am in a position to give further clarification unless I get some information shortly, but I will make sure that point is covered if I have any further detail. That is precisely the position; to have continuing certainty at this time of change for the existing quota.

In addressing Amendments 96 and 97 together, I am glad to confirm that the Secretary of State would of course consult the devolved Administrations and the MMO before making regulations under Clause 23(8), which would be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. I will provide further reassurance that these regulations would also be subject to public consultation. This power relates to a highly technical matter: how to calculate a “day at sea”. It could be used, for example, to determine when a boat is deemed to have left or returned to port, entered the UK’s inshore waters or, by stowing its fishing gear, not to be fishing. Consultation with the devolved Administrations on this power will be set out in a memorandum of understanding.

Further, I would like to provide reassurance that the UK Government have carefully considered the delegated powers in the Bill and the procedures that would apply to regulations. The regulations may also refer to provisions made under separate powers to regulate days at sea arrangements under paragraph 1(3) of Schedule 3 to the Bill, which are licence conditions and therefore not subject to parliamentary procedure. The Government consider that we have struck the right balance between the need for parliamentary scrutiny and the need to be able to react quickly to make what are often technical amendments by secondary legislation.

I am sure your Lordships will be aware that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee of this House considered the proposals for all the delegated powers in the previous Bill when it was progressing through its stages in the other place. The committee said:

“Of the Bill’s 15 delegated powers that have a parliamentary procedure, only four are solely governed by the negative procedure, and justifiably so.”


The committee published a new report on 26 February on this Fisheries Bill and did not change its views on the procedures we have adopted.

I recognise the intention behind Amendments 100 and 101 but will explain why this is already covered. Clause 24 sets out the duties that will apply to the Secretary of State when determining UK fishing opportunities. It does not relate to the subsequent allocation of those opportunities to the fisheries administrations or to their distribution to the fishing industry. This clause aims to ensure that, as far as possible, the interests of the whole of the United Kingdom are taken into account when the UK’s fishing opportunities are set.

In England, Defra and the Marine Management Organisation already regularly engage fishers and industry representatives on fishing opportunities through a number of different routes. This engagement covers both the determination of fishing opportunities and their subsequent management over the fishing season. It is also unclear how these amendments would improve current engagement. Consulting such a wide and undefined group is likely to cause delays in publishing UK fishing opportunities and could complicate the process of negotiating and implementing the UK’s international obligations.

Turning to Amendment 102, as I made clear, to ensure that we are fishing sustainably and meeting our international requirements, it is important that we are able to determine the UK’s fishing opportunities. Clause 23(2) allows determinations to be made for the purpose of complying with an international obligation. To reiterate, to respect the devolution settlements, the determination can relate only to the high-level function of setting the UK’s overall pot of quota, in line with any internationally negotiated outcome or the UK’s overarching obligations under international law.

Clause 24 requires the Secretary of State to consult the devolved Administrations and the Marine Management Organisation before making or withdrawing a determination. This is to ensure that the interests of the whole of the UK are taken into account when the UK sets its fishing opportunities. The Secretary of State is required to publish any determination or withdrawal and lay it before this House. At that point, the UK Government will need to explain the reason for the withdrawal and new determinations.

Finally, while I support fully the aim of Amendment 103 to ensure that fishing opportunities are determined in accordance with the best scientific advice available, I believe this amendment is covered. The Government’s commitment to using the best available scientific advice to guide our negotiating position and, by extension, determination of fishing opportunities is already given force in the Bill through the scientific evidence objective in Clause 1. I have been clear that in our negotiations with other coastal states and in responding to other international obligations, we will be informed by independent scientific advice such as that from ICES and CEFAS. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, referred to the importance of that.

The UK’s approach to making any such determination —including the position it will adopt when negotiating with other coastal states on fisheries management decisions of shared interest—will also, necessarily, take into consideration socioeconomic analysis as well as the views of the devolved Administrations, industry, environmental NGOs and other stakeholders. Further factors to be taken into consideration will include aspects such as gear types, choke risks and the dynamics of the fishing fleet.

UK negotiators must be able to take a flexible approach in negotiations and that includes considering the best available scientific advice alongside the range of other factors I have just mentioned. But as I said, the Government’s commitment to using the best available scientific advice is already clear.

Baroness Worthington Portrait Baroness Worthington
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful for the Minister’s response. I would just like to clarify that my amendment did not say that we should seek scientific advice, but that no allocation should run counter to that advice to enforce the basic point that if we carry on allocating over what is scientifically advised, we will all be diminished. We will have fewer fish stocks, less profitable fisheries and a more degraded environment. I still do not think that the point has been accepted that we cannot continue to allocate over scientific advice and still have a flourishing industry.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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I take the noble Baroness’s point. It is why, in rerunning the objectives debate on Clause 1, the whole range of those objectives is absolutely entrenching our desire for sustainability and the environmental sustainability that I know the noble Baroness and all noble Lords desire.

As I have said, and I can only reiterate, we will be—

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

Is my understanding correct? Did my noble friend say that Clause 23(2) could be used to allocate the unused quota to under-10-metre boats, rather than just being for international obligations?

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

I had better look at the Bill again, and check exactly what I said so that I do not, in any way, say anything to the contrary. Certainly, the mechanism for new quotas and how we best benefit coastal communities is an area we are looking at with considerable interest. Clause 23(2) allows:

“A determination under subsection (1) may be made only for the purpose of complying with an international obligation.”


The determination can relate only to the high-level function of setting the UK’s overall pot in line with any international negotiated outcome, or the UK’s overarching obligations under international law. This might be even more of a clincher. On my noble friend’s point, I will look at Hansard, because I did not intend to make that inference and I do not think I did. For the record, Clause 23 is for the determination of only the UK pot of quota. It does not provide for allocating to industry at fisheries administration level.

To conclude, I absolutely take the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington: the best available scientific evidence is absolutely clear. We all want the same thing. With that explanation, I hope the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
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My Lords, the Minister has given a lot of detail, so I feel that I too will have to go back and read through Hansard. I am trying to clarify our very simple first amendment, the one that would put “must” rather than “may” in Clause 23(1). At the moment, it reads:

“The Secretary of State may determine, for a calendar year—


The maximum quantity of sea fish that may be caught by British fishing boats;


The maximum number of days that British fishing boasts may spend at seas.”


Our amendment said:

“The Secretary of State must”.


If it is okay in some calendar years for the Secretary of State to determine that, I am not quite clear why it is not okay every year, which is what our amendment would have achieved. In which years is it all right to do it, and in which years is it not? This is where I am lost, because if the principle is accepted—which it clearly is because it is spelled out there—why not do it every year?

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

Again, the problem with the amendment stating “must” is that it concerns the determination of all fishing opportunities. If it says “must”, the amendment becomes a requirement that would involve stocks determined on different timescales. There are also some non-quota species where there is no specific determination. The word “may” allows the determination of the annual fishing opportunities. The problem with the amendment making it “must” is that it brings in these non-quota species. The issue I have sought to put across is that making the determination compulsory embraces all stocks—because it “must”. Obviously, there will be annual fishing opportunities for all those that involve quotas and so forth, and we will be having annual negotiations and arrangements. It is not that the Secretary of State will suddenly say, “I don’t think we’ll do this, this year”; it is that making it “must” brings in these stocks determined on a different timescale and non-quota species. That is the problem as I understand it: the amendment has that legal interpretation.

The original provisions ensure that the Secretary of State fulfils the function of determining UK fishing opportunities through Clause 23(1). Making it a “must” brings into scope stocks that would not be subject to the determination of annual fishing opportunities. That is as I understand it. If it is any different, perhaps I can discuss with the noble Baroness, but that is, in our view, the problem with the interpretation of that amendment.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I strongly support this amendment and, if that is the case, clearly the Government should just bring forth an amendment themselves. It should say that for quota species it should be a “must”. That is how we solve it. Clearly there must be that assessment or process every year for quota species. It is obvious and clear. The Government need to bring forward their own amendment to make sure that it includes only quota species.

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

Again, the provision talks about “for a calendar year”, so these are annual fishing opportunities. “Annual” means every year; it does not mean that by saying “may”, the Secretary of State can decide not to bother one year. That is not the case—rather, it is about the fixing of annual fishing opportunities.

As I say, I have been informed that the original provisions are sufficient to ensure that the Secretary of State fulfils the functions of determining UK fishing opportunities, but if I have anything further that will assist noble Lords, I will of course communicate it. I think that the interpretation of this power to determine serves the correct purpose, but if there is a pressing need to have discussions with noble Lords on the matter outside the Committee, I am happy to do so. However, as I say, I have been advised that there is no problem with it.

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

I feel that the more we dig, the more complicated and confusing this gets. I understand that the noble Lord has to read out the brief he has been given, but I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that if it is not here, where is the wording to say that there will be an annual determination of the fishing stock? It may be that it is somewhere else in the Bill and I have missed it, but if it is not, it should be here. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, has made a helpful suggestion about how the Government could address that point. I am still not clear on what the Minister said about what would apply and what would not, but the overarching point to make is that it needs to say in the Bill that there is a total number of fish stocks; that needs to be spelled out somewhere.

I think that I am reassured by what the Minister has said about consultation, but again it is one of those things which is covered in a number of different places in the Bill. We need to make sure that everything lines up so that the reassurance he has given means that this is covered elsewhere Bill, as well as by the comments he has made today.

I note what he said about the Delegated Powers Committee report, which has reminded me that I should take another look at it, but on the basis of what he said, I am sure that the committee has not raised any issues, so I will not pursue that.

I turn finally to the point about the scientific advice which was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. I think that we have a running theme of agreeing to disagree on this. Once again, we hear what the Minister has to say but we do not feel that the wording is good enough, so we may bring this back in some form on Report. There is a general view around the Committee that we need to pin down the significance of the scientific advice and make sure that it is heeded on all occasions. That is what the noble Baroness is trying to do.

That is enough for now and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, for tabling Amendment 93, which allows us to return to two previously debated topics: international co-operation and the need to ensure fishing at sustainable levels.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, has previously spoken cogently about shared stocks and the interdependency of sustainability across nation states. The Committee has had several assurances from the Minister on both these topics yet concerns remain. Despite many challenges, especially in relation to the UK and the devolved Administrations’ activities, NGOs and stakeholders remain concerned that the legislation before the Committee does not truly give effect to the Conservative Party’s manifesto commitment to introduce a legal commitment to fish sustainably.

There are negotiations on trade yet to come, where there could be little transparency regarding sustainable outcomes without a commitment to produce annual reports. Instead, we see a commitment subject to caveats of fishing sustainably when circumstances allow and when the UK can strike relevant agreements at international level.

I will not repeat instances from previous Committee debates, but careful consideration must be given to how this framework can add value to the ponderous steps in that direction in the CFP, and brought back on Report. Movement in these areas would give us a level of reassurance that we are heading in the right direction.

However, as it stands, and as Greener UK points out, the objectives on biomass do not go far enough, and in any event are not fully binding. The Bill does not include legal commitments on international co-operation, with the Government falling back on their participation in existing international agreements, even though these are limited in scope.

The Committee can acknowledge that there are areas where the UK will want to diverge from the common fisheries policy. We have all been critical of the CFP for failing to achieve its targets in relation to MSY. Here, I admit to being in the kindergarten stage, having not even reached undergraduate. The fact is that these targets are recognised at international level and the Committee will need to consider how pressure can be brought in this aspect.

If we do not improve the Bill, the UK could be left with a regression in environmental standards resulting from the CFP. We will be left in a situation where the Government say they want to go further than the EU has allowed us to, but where there is no statutory duty to match what came before. This is why those NGOs, and certainly those on these Benches, are so concerned. We cannot let sustainability be left to non-binding policy statements, which can, in a number of cases, be overwritten or overridden. This is no basis for a fully independent fisheries regime; nor will it give the UK any cast-iron basis on which to negotiate with international partners.

The Minister may resist this amendment, but I ask that in the meetings which he has assured the Committee can be undertaken before Report, we might bring forward further improvements that the Government may be willing to sign up to.

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

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her Amendment 93, which sets out a number of requirements relating to the determination of fishing opportunities by the Secretary of State and fisheries authorities.

Starting with subsection (2A), it is important to be clear that the UK is already required to comply with its international obligations, including those under UNCLOS to co-operate with other coastal states to manage shared stocks sustainably. When it comes to shared stocks, noble Lords can be assured that we will be engaging with the coastal states with which we share those stocks. Furthermore, when carrying out his functions relating to the determination of the UK’s fishing opportunities, the Secretary of State will also be bound by the policies set out in the joint fisheries statement and any Secretary of State fisheries statements, as well as by the fisheries management plans. Repeating these requirements in the way proposed by this amendment is not necessary.

Proposed subsection (2A)(b) seeks to ensure that fishing opportunities for shared stocks resulting from negotiations with coastal states are set on the basis of the maximum sustainable yield for those stocks. The UK remains committed to the principle of the maximum sustainable yield. However, our negotiating partners might not always attach the same degree of priority to realising this goal. In those circumstances, the UK must be able to take this into account and negotiate accordingly or risk parties walking away altogether, with potentially worse outcomes for the sustainability of those stocks.

The noble Baroness is right to raise the challenge of fisheries management with limited scientific evidence. Shared understanding between nations becomes imperative in these situations. That is why the UK is so committed to continued engagement through ICES as well as global objectives such as the UN’s relevant sustainable development goal.

Although we will seek to influence and engage responsibly, it is not appropriate for the United Kingdom to seek to solve problems which may be caused by other countries. Subsections (2C) and (2D) of the amendment would introduce duties requiring the United Kingdom to act unilaterally to set fishing opportunities consistent with MSY, irrespective of the behaviour of other coastal states. This could lead to a number of unacceptable outcomes, such as disadvantaging the United Kingdom in negotiations by imposing stricter responsibilities to achieve MSY than those applying to other coastal states; and, more seriously, risking the creation of a perverse incentive for other coastal states when negotiating with the UK to either set higher TACs, or unilaterally claim larger shares, in the knowledge that under our own legislation we would be legally bound to reduce our own quotas as a consequence.

These possible consequences would not be in the interests of fish stocks, our broader marine ecosystems or, indeed, our fishing communities. I must reiterate that creating an inflexible situation for UK negotiators could result in the United Kingdom having to walk away from negotiations altogether, with unilateral quota-setting as a consequence. Experience has shown that unilateral quota-setting in the absence of an agreement between countries is a recipe for overfishing—something we all wish not to happen.

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Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on her work on the lobster hatchery in Cornwall, which really is something quite special and has been very successful.

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

My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lady Wilcox very much for her distinguished support for fishing interests over many years.

Amendment 107 in particular would seek to reserve a proportion of English quota to be sold solely to the under-10-metre fleet. In England, the decision about whether to tender any quota is still being considered. I would say to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate that all these matters are under active consideration. I will want to take back a large number of the points that have been made, but the criteria to be applied to any auction or tender could address concerns raised in relation to the under-10-metre fleet. Measures could be introduced to limit the lots being tendered, the amount of time they are tendered for, and the groups that they are targeted towards. As I have said, the Government will consult on the scheme and any allocation criteria. Other countries, such as Iceland and the Faroes, have explored auction systems for selling national fishing quotas. We will, therefore, also look to learn from these and other countries’ experiences. The Bill provides flexibility about how any future scheme might operate. It would already allow a scheme to be made only for the under-10s, for instance.

I turn to Amendments 108 and 109. The Government are committed to using the additional quota we secure to benefit our fishing industry and the coastal communities that they support. I know that the noble Baroness and many noble Lords will be disappointed, but the Government’s intention is to use this power to auction and tender additional quota. We recognise that this is an opportunity to support different catching sectors and will be consulting in the future, but the Government are committed to the support of coastal communities. While it is our intention that that these additional fishing opportunities be sold, and fished, the clause does not currently prevent someone from buying it and not fishing against it, as Amendment 108 seeks to provide. That said, I would caution that stopping this additional quota from being fished could reduce the benefit for our coastal communities. Encouraging those who do not intend to fish the quota to compete in auctions could also increase prices, and potentially outprice our fishers.

To address Amendment 109 specifically, I highlight that the quota tendered or auctioned through this clause would be only a proportion of total UK quota, as it relates to England only. It would therefore apply only to a proportion of fishing activity, and we must not forget that a significant proportion of our most valuable catches are actually of stocks that are not covered by quotas. Our ambition is to make the whole fleet more sustainable. We believe that this amendment, while well intentioned, is actually too narrow in focus, given that the Bill already provides a range of tools for fisheries managements to ensure that the impact of fishing on the marine environment is minimised.

Any scheme developed under Clause 27 would be developed in line with the sustainable fishing policies and practices that will be set out in the joint fisheries statement, which we have already discussed at length. However, as with everything relating to fishing, it is not as straightforward as might be imagined to determine what a sustainable fishing method is. As with all gear types, an assessment of sustainability is dependent upon how, when and where they are used. Advances in gear technology have also transformed sustainability and greatly cut unintentional bycatch. It is worth noting, for example, that, in line with a management approach the UK supported when an EU member state, Defra has already taken action to end a fishing technique that has caused concern—one that I believe the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, referred to in an earlier group of amendments—being used by English vessels: namely, electric pulse trawling. English licences will be withdrawn at the end of the transition period to end the practice in UK waters by English and any foreign vessels we allow to fish in our waters. Decisions on a future scheme regarding the sale of English fishing opportunities are yet to be determined and will depend on further exploration and consultation. It is right that we continue to develop the details of the scheme with the relevant stakeholders, so that it is flexible.

I turn to Amendment 110. While I agree with the noble Baroness’s intention to ensure that any sale of English fishing opportunities is regulated and based upon clearly defined criteria, I am advised that this amendment would undermine the existing quota allocation system. Case law has recognised that fixed quota allocation units—FQAs, the units by which quota is allocated—are a form of property right. We have committed to maintaining the current system of FQAs in relation to current quota allocations. This has to be taken into account in any new regime for the distribution of fishing opportunities. However, it is also important to highlight again that the UK’s sovereign rights over its fisheries and the public right to fish are already recognised in law. UNCLOS recognises in Articles 2 and 56 that coastal states have sovereign rights over the resources, including fisheries, in their territorial waters and EEZ. At home in our domestic courts, as had been referred to, Mr Justice Cranston noted, in the UK Association of Fish Producer Organisations Judicial Review of 2013, that the Magna Carta recognised fish stocks were a public resource and:

“Consequently there can be no property right in fish until they are caught.”


Additionally, the amendment links quota allocation and the provision of fishing licences in a manner which could inadvertently lead to confusion. While quota is indeed allocated to licence holders, these two concepts are separate issues and should be treated as such. This distinction is important as it allows, for example, quota to be exchanged between licence holders during the fishing year. Such flexibility helps fishers adapt to weather patterns, choke risks and other circumstances.

I absolutely understand the reason for the amendment, particularly given that the noble Baroness and whoever may be working with her have tabled this new clause. But the Government’s position is that there is more work to do on this. We want to consult on it; we want to get it right. All the points that have been raised, not only in the noble Baroness’s amendment but elsewhere, are on work that we wish to continue. That is why I am not in a position to confirm support for these amendments, but the work is continuing. I have found the points that have been made very helpful—

Baroness Worthington Portrait Baroness Worthington
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for those comments. Could we have one of those meetings with the specialists in the room? I am merely a voice that is carrying a view from the sector itself. I would certainly appreciate that. In particular, could the Minister confirm that we can have a meeting on this point about the public rights and the allocation?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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Most definitely. On the basis of my explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
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I just seek a couple of clarifications. With any new fishing opportunities, there will have to be an auction that people have to pay for, but with existing quota they will not. That gives a competitive commercial advantage, completely, to those who are already incumbents of the industry. I would think that the Competition and Markets Authority would be severely challenged by that. That is a real problem. If they are auctioned, do they then become permanent FQAs for those people, or is it a right for only five years? I was also very interested in the Minister’s comments that the rights over the fish stocks come from UNCLOS, which is an international agreement. That suggests to me that this is not a devolved issue. It is clearly a national issue, not a devolved one.

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

Clause 27 is about English fishing opportunities as far as I recall. The other thing I should say is that I have been very clear that the Government’s intention is to use this power to auction and tender additional quota. I have also said that the Government will consult on and consider this matter, so in matters of detail, I shall certainly not pre-empt any consideration by confirming or otherwise what the noble Lord has asked. This is obviously a matter that we wish to work further on and explore. I do not propose to take any more observations, but I will say to the noble Baroness that I am very happy for her and any other noble Lords—if they would let me know—to come and have a think piece on Clause 27.

Fisheries Bill [HL]

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report: 1st sitting & Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords & Report stage
Monday 22nd June 2020

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber
Fisheries Act 2020 - Government Bill Page Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 71-R-II(Rev) Revised second marshalled list for Report - (22 Jun 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Fisheries Act 2020 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Lord Mackay of Clashfern Portrait Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Con) [V]
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My Lords, this proposal’s reference to “the United Kingdom” requires consideration, given the matters that arise in connection to it from devolution. It is true that fisheries are devolved, and so in respect of rights of the United Kingdom and fish, these will be devolved. It is therefore quite important that the role of the devolved Administrations is kept in view, as is recognised in later clauses in the Bill.

The other point I was slightly doubtful about is that of quotas being owned by the public, or the nation. When the quota is granted, the rights of the quota will belong to the person to whom it was granted. I should have thought that that would mean an innovation to the rights of the public in respect of the quota, once it is granted. To me, it seems clear that the public own the fish stocks in our waters, but it is quite important to recognise the devolution settlements in that connection.

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 the noble Lord for his amendment and to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate.

As noble Lords will be aware, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea—UNCLOS—establishes that the UK has sovereign rights to manage the marine resources within our exclusive economic zone. This includes fish. I am very glad of the intervention from my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and those from my noble friends Lord Caithness, Lady McIntosh and Lord Randall. The Government are clear that there is a public right to these fish. Indeed, lawyers have advised me that UK case law recognises that fish are a public asset, held by the Crown for the benefit of the public. Legally, it is clear that no one individual can own the actual fish. As this fact is already well established in law, I suggest that an amendment to this Bill would not deliver any new clarity on the matter.

It is therefore important to say on the catching rights for those fish that, as noble Lords will be aware, most UK fishing opportunities are managed through fixed quota allocation—FQA—units. These units are based on historic fishing patterns and allow their holders to receive a proportion of the quota for a given stock. However, I emphasise that FQA units do not guarantee that the holder will receive a certain amount of, or even any, quota in these stocks each year. For example, scientific advice about a given stock may recommend that the total allowable catch—TAC—is set at zero. Where a TAC is set at zero, no quota will be allocated to FQA unit holders in that stock, no matter how many FQA units they hold.

As my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern said, FQA units have been held by the High Court to be a form of property right. FQA holders do not own the fish in the sea but the FQA units that they hold entitle them to a share of whatever quota is available in a particular year. They do not confer a permanent right to quota but the Government’s current position is to maintain the FQA system, which has provided certainty to the industry for many years. This does not mean that the Government do not keep quota allocation under review. In fact, in 2012, the Government realigned some FQA units from the producer organisations to the under-10-metre pool.

I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that I am advised that there may be some drafting problems with the amendment. An unintended consequence of this amendment is that it could cover rights to catch freshwater fish, which I am not sure was intended. There are various national and local rules governing freshwater fish; these vary under each Administration of the UK. The amendment also refers to the UK exclusive economic zone but this includes only waters beyond 12 nautical miles. To avoid any confusion, the principle of fish being vested in the Crown on behalf of the public applies to all UK waters, including those between zero and 12 nautical miles.

There are further problems with the legal drafting of the amendment. For example, it is assumed that “individuals natural or corporate” refers to “legal or natural persons”. We believe that the different phrasing used in this amendment would cause confusion as to who is intended to be in scope.

In setting out this clear legal view, I emphasise the position on which we are all agreed: fish are a public resource held by the Crown for the benefit of the public and no individual may either own the fish themselves or have any permanent right to fish for them. I take seriously the spirit in which the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and other noble Lords articulated this point but the case law is absolutely clear on this matter. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait The Deputy Speaker
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I have received a request from the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, to speak after the Minister.

Earl of Caithness Portrait The Earl of Caithness [V]
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Can my noble friend the Minister comment on what the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, said? She seemed to be in favour of arbitrarily taking away fisherman’s quotas that are already established, which sounds like a pretty draconian socialist measure to me.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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On the noble Baroness’s intention, we do not think that it would be helpful to the fishing industry to take away the current system of FQAs and the certainty that that allocation provides. That is why the Government are clear that we do not intend to change the current quota arrangements, except where we will want to look at ways in which any additional quota is allocated. I am sure that the noble Baroness was articulating a view that was not necessarily partisan or political. To be clear, we want the British fishing industry to be successful. I hope that that helps my noble friend Lord Caithness.

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Baroness Henig Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Henig) (Lab)
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Before I call the Minister, I shall call the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, who was not able to get in earlier. Lord Cameron? Well, we tried. I call the Minister to respond to the debate.

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

My Lords, what an interesting debate. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for initiating it and to all noble Lords. It gives me an opportunity to reiterate the Government’s commitment to supporting the seafood industry in developing sustainably. Across this House we are seeking the same thing: a vibrant and sustainable fishing industry with a greatly improved marine environment and a healthy and valuable food source for millions of people in the UK and abroad.

We all recognise that we have a viable fishing industry in the long term only if that industry is environmentally sustainable, but in our view sustainability is like a three-legged stool, and the Government’s view is that we need to ensure that all three legs are balanced. My noble friend Lord Blencathra was the first to use the word “balance” and I will elaborate on that. It is why the Bill currently gives equal weight to environmental, social and economic considerations. That follows the concept of the three pillars of sustainable development, a concept that is well established in international law and practice. By contrast, the amendment that we are now considering would create a hierarchy in the objectives. It would mean that in any circumstances, short-term environmental considerations would need to override even critical economic and social needs.

I would like to take the opportunity to explain why the Government have significant concerns about the severe impact that the amendment could have on parts of the UK fishing industry. The Government are concerned that giving the environmental limb of the sustainability objective primacy would bring into question the weight that could be given to the other objectives in the Bill as we develop policies and negotiate with the rest of the world. Those are important objectives, developed with the devolved Administrations to ensure that we can agree a UK-wide approach to sustainable fisheries management.

I was somewhat surprised by what the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said. If we had sought to separate all these matters and had not tried to go forward with a UK-wide approach, I think that many noble Lords would have considered that a retrograde step. Working at these matters at the UK level is advantageous. I will develop that point a little more because I disagree with the noble Lord.

The Government recognise that it might be vital to give more weight to one objective in a particular case, and the Bill recognises that. It requires fisheries administrations to set out in the joint fisheries statement how they have proportionately applied the objectives in formulating policies. The draft statement will be consulted on and laid before Parliament for scrutiny. The Government and the devolved Administrations have thought carefully about the balance here: we need stretching objectives but the weight that each is given may vary depending on the circumstances of a particular case. I say that being particularly mindful of the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick.

For example, the approach suggested by the amendment could lead to the closure of mixed fisheries where most fish stocks were at sustainable levels but some stocks were still in the process of recovery. This could severely restrict demersal fishing operations, as well as cuttlefish trawlers, in the south-west. Cuttlefish and demersal fish brought into south-west ports in 2018 alone were worth £57 million.

Introducing a hierarchy could also undermine the UK’s ability to engage constructively with other countries in international negotiations on shared fish stocks. Were the UK to go into negotiations on the basis that it could sign up only to agreements that met certain environmental criteria, we would run the risk of not having deals.

I return to the issue of devolution. This Bill is the result of all Administrations working collaboratively. My understanding is that the amendment does not command the support of the devolved Administrations.

I return too to the importance of the other objectives in Clause 1. I was interested in what the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, said about giving the environment a voice. I refer to the precautionary, ecosystem, scientific evidence, bycatch, equal access, national benefit and climate change objectives listed in the clause. If that is not giving a voice to the environment, I cannot imagine what is. I entirely agree with the point that the noble Lord, Lord Mann, made about Siberia. It is very important that we have the climate change objectives in the Bill. What my noble friends Lord Lansley and Lord Blencathra had to say on the matter was extremely pertinent. The breadth of the objectives in the Bill recognises the complexities of decision-making and is designed to deliver both environmental protection and a sustainable fishing industry in practice. This complex and dynamic balance lies at the heart of the Bill, and the amendment would upset that critical balance. As I said, it would throw doubt on the weight to be given to the other objectives and on when they could be taken into account as part of the decision-making process.

The balancing act of fisheries management—and, for that matter, of all sustainable development—lies in ensuring that we see social, economic and environmental progress. This is a balance enshrined in Clause 2, which requires the fisheries administrations to set out in their joint fisheries statement how they have interpreted and proportionately applied the objectives in formulating policies. The purpose of that is to ensure that policies do not give undue weight to one objective or element of an objective over others. It means that we must focus on win-win outcomes for the environment and industry, rather than prioritising one over the other. In addition—I say this particularly to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering—the new framework of environmental governance and principles being created under the Environment Bill provides an additional safeguard to ensure that the UK Government act in an environmentally responsible manner.

What concerns the Government most about the amendment is that it appears to be based on the premise that you are either for the environment or for industry. The amendment squarely prioritises environmental sustainability, even at the cost of a viable UK fishing industry. We believe that that is a false dichotomy. This Government are both for the environment and for a thriving fishing industry. That is why the Bill as currently drafted recognises the complexity and challenges of fisheries management and sets a framework for addressing the challenges in a constructive way. It seeks to ensure that sustained environmental progress and social and economic considerations go hand in hand in a balanced way.

Finally, it is clearly in the interests of the UK fishing industry to fish sustainably. We all know that with no fish, there is no industry. This Government believe that it is by working positively with industry to address this balance that we are most likely to succeed in achieving our environmental outcomes, alongside ensuring a thriving UK fishing industry into the future.

In the spirit of that final point, I turn to Amendment 20 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington. This aims to ensure that fisheries authorities still try to achieve the sustainability objective when diverging from policies within a fisheries statement or fisheries management plan due to a relevant change of circumstances. As the noble Lord’s speech was truncated, I will be pleased to hear his further remarks and will obviously take them on board.

As I have made clear, I support fully the principle that we should take decisions which ensure that our fishing sector is sustainable in the long term. The provisions for the fisheries statements in Clause 2(1) and the processes set out in Clause 10 clearly show that decisions will be taken with due regard for the sustainability objective, alongside the other objectives, while providing fisheries authorities with the necessary flexibility to respond to relevant changes of circumstances.

We cannot predict the future and we want legislation that allows adaptation to prevailing circumstances. The relevant changes of circumstances that enable deviation from policies within the fisheries statements are, rightly, set out in Clause 10(4) and are there to enable fisheries authorities to remain flexible and adaptable. For example, it could enable them to take account of new evidence that will require a divergence from policies to improve fisheries management.

I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, that the provisions in Clause 10 do not enable authorities to deviate from the objectives of the Bill on an arbitrary basis. Fisheries authorities must publish their reasons for deviating from any policy in the joint fisheries statement, explaining what they thought to be a relevant change in circumstance and how that affected their decision. Any unreasonable decision not based on a relevant change in circumstance could be challenged in the courts.

I say also to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, that the Marine (Scotland) Act requires consideration of all three elements of sustainability—social, economic and environmental—in decision-making on the management of marine conservation zones, for instance. It requires any adverse impacts to be minimised so far as practicable and therefore does not provide an opt-out to prioritise one element of sustainable development over another.

I reiterate that I absolutely respect the views expressed by everyone who has promoted these amendments. However, as noble Lords would expect, it is my responsibility to say that the Government cannot accept them because they would undermine the heart of the Bill. What my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern said is relevant: we are dealing with the law, not with the spirit of what was intended. It is about how this proposal would be interpreted in law. At the heart of the Bill is a wish to find a balanced path towards an environmentally sustainable and thriving fishing industry, and of course to provide government accountability when doing so.

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Lord Cameron of Dillington Portrait Lord Cameron of Dillington [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, my reference to the Marine (Scotland) Act was really trying to say that the authorities up there went for the socioeconomic objective rather than the long-term environmental objective and, as a result, six years after the Marine (Scotland) Act, fishing continues in what should be a protected area. As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said in his introduction, short-term socioeconomic priorities always seem to trump long-term environmental objectives. Of course, we all know that such an approach is based on a false premise because securing good ocean health provides the strongest possible foundation for a sustainable industry. In response to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, it is like a farmer nurturing his soil: without that long-term approach, the socioeconomic future of an industry is not realistically secure. Does the Minister not think that we should now endeavour to achieve the sustainability objectives instead of the eight objectives in Clause 1, which, put together, mean very little?

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

I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, that there have now been many iterations of the Bill and a lot of consideration has been given to it. We have a balance of objectives here: sustainability, the three-legged stool and all the many other essential objectives, including—as the noble Lord, Lord Mann, effectively mentioned—addressing climate change. There could be no more important objective than that. The Government believe that the balance we have created with the support of the devolved Administrations offers the strongest possible way forward.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank all who have taken part in this important debate; we have heard some interesting and well-informed contributions. Although we are not all of the same view, a clear majority of those who have spoken support the amendment.

I want to pick up on a couple of specific points. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, talked about how the different priorities could be balanced, but the difficulty is that Clause 1 contains a fundamental category error. Sustainability is an overarching objective; others, such as the scientific, precautionary and client objectives, are subservient to sustainability. So, it is not a matter of weighing them up against one another; it is a matter of seeing that sustainability is an overarching priority.

I turn to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, who suggested that, in the amendment to Clause 1(2) we had already referred to the three-legged stool. If noble Lords read the amendment carefully, the objective in proposed new paragraph (a) is that

“fisheries and Aquaculture activities do not compromise environmental sustainability in either the long or the short term … subject to”

—and it then goes on to talk about economic, social and employment benefits.

I now come to the Minister’s summing up. I thank him very much for his comments and his thoughtful response to the amendment and the debate. As he said, we are all aiming for the same thing—sustainable fisheries, which mean that today’s activities do not compromise the health of the marine environment in the future. He also reiterated the need to balance the three legs of sustainability; indeed, many noble Lords who spoke also referred to the balance of the trade-offs, including the noble Lords, Lord Blencathra, Lord Teverson, Lord Randall of Uxbridge and Lord Cameron of Dillington, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and Lady Jones of Whitchurch.

The Minister said that he thought that the three legs of the stool should be given equal weight. I have difficulty with that because, when I think of weighing something, I need a currency to weigh it in—is it pounds or ounces, kilograms or grams, or what? I am also unconvinced by his explanation of how the trade-offs will be made. Is it mathematical so that, for example, 100 jobs are worth one fish stock? Is it a purely political judgement? If so, by whom and on what basis? Is it a response to lobbying, where those who shout loudest get their way? That would clearly be unsatisfactory. I did a quick search of the specialist literature on how these three legs of the sustainability stool are balanced; the literature suggests that no one has cracked this problem. So, we have to take it on trust that the Government have a solution to the problem secretly up their sleeve. I am afraid I cannot take that on trust.

The Minister also referred to compromising our position in international negotiations. Surely, however, setting out a strong position by saying that we are at the top of the world league table in stewarding our marine environment, along with countries such as Australia and New Zealand, would be a very good starting point for any international negotiation. In view of the fact that I am not convinced that the safeguards proposed will be sufficient to protect the marine environment, I wish to test the opinion of the House.

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18:09

Division 1

Ayes: 310


Labour: 137
Liberal Democrat: 80
Crossbench: 65
Independent: 15
Democratic Unionist Party: 4
Conservative: 3
Green Party: 2
Bishops: 1
Plaid Cymru: 1

Noes: 251


Conservative: 219
Crossbench: 23
Independent: 7
Ulster Unionist Party: 2

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

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for tabling the amendment and for succinctly and ably addressing the concerns that we raised in Committee about the definition of the bycatch objective in the Bill. We were concerned that the existing wording, which referred to bycatch below minimum sustainable yields being “avoided or reduced”, and bycatch to be landed but only when “appropriate”, lacked the rigour and systematic monitoring of bycatch and discards which the UK Government had agreed. As other noble Lords have said, this issue was explored thoroughly and expertly by the report of the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee. It confirmed the case for an absolute ban on discards, but also identified how the policy was being undermined. We believe that urgent action is needed to make a more stringent policy a reality.

The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has now taken the debate further by seeking to better define the outcome of a bycatch objective. The outcome should be defined not by whether the bycatch is landed or not, but by whether bycatch is reduced using sustainable fishing applications. Obviously we want to drive this down to the absolute minimum. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, this will be increasingly achievable as we harness the advantages of new technology, particularly the application of remote electronic monitoring, which will be dealt with on a later amendment. We should also learn the lessons of the now discredited catch app, which threatened fishers with legal prosecution from the Marine Management Organisation if they failed to record their catch accurately on the app.

We support this amendment, which adds considerable clarity to the need for bycatch objective, and hope that the Minister will feel able to accept it.

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

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for this amendment, because it provides me with an opportunity to expand on the Government’s position on bycatch. As he said, we had a most productive meeting before lockdown. All the scientists getting together was fascinating; I tried to keep up with them. The Government are fully committed to ensuring that our stocks are fished sustainably, and to ending the wasteful practice of discarding. We now have an opportunity to develop, for the first time, a catching and discards policy tailored to our own marine environment and our diverse fishing industry. As is made clear through the bycatch and ecosystem objectives in the Bill, it is the Government’s intention that we adopt a more holistic approach for our future policies. We will seek to address the challenges of the wider ecosystem, rather than looking at each area in isolation.

Therefore, I emphasise that the Government wholeheartedly agree with the principle behind the noble Lord’s amendment. We aim to reduce the level of catches and mortality of bycatch to protect and conserve vulnerable fish stocks and, I emphasise, other protected species—I was most grateful to my noble friend Lord Randall for mentioning the albatross, for instance. However, we certainly want to work towards a holistic way of reducing and avoiding bycatch.

Indeed, we believe that the current bycatch objective actually goes further than the noble Lord’s amendment, by setting out a number of sub-objectives. The Government and the devolved Administrations will be legally bound to set out policies relating to all of these sub-objectives in the joint fisheries statement. I therefore hope that this will help my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering.

Clause 1(6)(a) states that bycatch, and the catching of fish that are below minimum conservation reference size, should be reduced. That is similar to the noble Lord’s amendment, but our objective goes on to stipulate that we will also work to avoid it entirely where we can—I say to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that it is important that we are working towards avoidance rather than reduction. That might be achieved through more selective fishing practices—I think the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, alluded to that—and we think that is a stronger position to be in on the matter.

The specific reduction or avoidance in catching those fish which are under minimum conservation reference size, or juvenile fish, is important in the Bill’s objective too. It is particularly important to protect those juvenile fish, as they are, quite clearly, what sustain the stocks for the future. These fish can be at specific risk of being targeted and then sold on or used as bait, which is why paragraph (c) specifically notes that policies must be set out to avoid creating a market for the landing of those fish.

Paragraph (b) of the bycatch objective in Clause 1(6) also sets out the need for accurate recording and accounting for of all catches, which is essential in capping overall mortality. By not accurately recording all catches, we believe that we risk introducing uncertainty in whether stocks are being fished at or beyond MSY—maximum sustainable yield. The amendment proposed by the noble Lord removes some of this detail which, in practical terms, we believe may unintentionally undermine the sustainability of our stocks and may mean that protected species are not conserved. I know that that is not the intent of the noble Lord or of any noble Lords in this amendment.

The bycatch objective in the Bill has been carefully thought through and worded in such a way as to tackle not only discarding itself but also the root cause of discarding in the accidental take of fish. As I say, I found our discussion with the scientists stimulating, but I hope that these further remarks on this issue will help the noble Lord to feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. I think that we are all agreed on the purpose of the amendment and the intention to make the bycatch objective contribute to the sustainable management of our marine environment. I also thank the Minister for his reply, although he was rather too modest in his account of following the science; he was very good at asking the hard questions that put the scientists firmly on the spot.

However, on the substance, the Minister has provided the reassurance that I sought. To recap what I understood him to have said, the bycatch objective aims to reduce bycatch and bycatch mortality as part of sustainable fisheries management in order to support the conservation of fish stocks and the wider marine environment. Although I would prefer to reword the bycatch objective as I proposed in the amendment, I am content that the Minister’s statement in his reply explains the Government’s position, which is in fact that which we had hoped to reach in tabling this amendment. I therefore beg leave to withdraw.

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Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge [V]
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I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for tabling this amendment. We have had some excellent contributions. Climate change is such an important issue for us all that it should be considered in everything that we do, if not at the heart of what we do, in these sectors. As the noble Baroness has just said, we should not look at climate change in isolation as an issue only for the Environment Bill; it has to be considered in all Bills. I urge the Government not simply to say that they will take it seriously. We want to see action. Thursday’s report will show that we are falling well behind on this issue.

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

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for her amendment, which would require the joint fisheries statement to include a specific statement setting out how the fisheries administrations’ policies contribute to the achievement of the climate change objective. The Government agree that the joint fisheries statement should include such a statement, and I will take this opportunity to expand on where this is already covered in the Bill.

The existence of the climate change objective in Clause 1 means that fisheries administrations must already set out, in the joint fisheries statement, their policies for achieving or contributing to the climate change objective. These must include policies addressing the adverse effects of the fish and aquaculture sectors on climate change and for adapting those sectors to its impact in the future.

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Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for tabling these amendments. I support Amendments 8 and 12, to which I have added my name. This group of amendments returns to the topic covered in some detail in Committee but where concerns remain about the Government’s approach.

I believe I am right in saying that we all recognise the unique challenge in this area: that the human concepts of borders, division lines in miles from any coast and exclusive economic zones are not recognised and respected by the fish we catch. Recognising this, it is safe to say that we are all in agreement on the need to co-operate with our neighbours on fisheries management —indeed, we all accept that we are bound to do so, at least by international treaties and conventions. However, we need to co-operate better by recognising that fish migrations will only increase in response to conditions brought about by climate change. Ordinarily, this level of consensus would result in the tabling of government amendments which, while not changing the accepted legal position, could provide clarity and reassurance. For the avoidance of all doubt, the issue would be dealt with in the Bill.

The majority of stocks are shared and we need to avoid future aggressive actions between fishing fleets. Amendments 8, 12 and 13 strike me as uncontroversial but not, as the Minister may say, unnecessary. He may argue that the duties already exist and do not need to be in the Bill. We respectfully disagree and believe that legislation should properly reflect the situation as we, and the fisheries policies authorities, understand it to be.

I do not believe these amendments would have unintentional consequences. If that were the case, it would not have been by design and I am sure that the Minister and his officials could have formulated their own satisfactory wording. We have repeatedly been told that this legislation cannot change because it requires the agreement of the devolved Administrations and there is simply no mechanism for revisiting it. That argument does not hold water—if I may be allowed to use that analogy—when it is understood that the Minister will accept two amendments in the very next group. I am therefore unable to understand why the Government are resisting these amendments. Can the Minister commit to thinking again and bringing forward appropriate changes at Third Reading?

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

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for the opportunity to discuss these amendments and to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I am interested that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, did not believe that the Government thought that fish somehow go about. Perhaps I may reassure the House that we recognise that fully; there is nothing in the Bill to suggest anything else.

We recognise fully that it is essential to manage fish stocks across shared boundaries. Many of our important stocks migrate to and from, or are simply spread across, the waters of the UK, those of other states and the high seas. As the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, mentioned, our international obligations require us to work with other countries on the management of shared stocks. It is therefore imperative—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Teverson—that our policies take this into account and are effectively co-ordinated with other states.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, raised international co-operation, which is critical to achieving the ambitious objectives set in the Fisheries Bill. We recognise this, and it will be integral to the joint fisheries statement. For example, the ecosystem objective requires us to use an ecosystem-based approach to manage fish activities and to minimise and where possible eliminate incidental catches of sensitive species. This cannot be achieved without considering the needs of migratory species across their range and by working closely with our neighbouring states. The scientific evidence objective requires us to follow the best available scientific advice, which will entail working closely with other countries, as well as international bodies such as ICES. As further reassurance, the joint fisheries statement will indeed include our approach to co-ordinating with adjacent coastal states and, among other elements, how migration of species into and from adjacent exclusive economic zones or territorial waters will be taken into account in that co-ordination.

I also emphasise the importance of another piece of the legal framework which is not covered in this Bill as it is already part of our international agreements. As noble Lords will be aware, we do not as a matter of course restate international legal commitments in domestic legislation, but that does not mean that they do not continue to be relevant to the United Kingdom. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea—in particular, Articles 63, 64, 66 and 67 of UNCLOS—already provides an internationally recognised and binding set of requirements setting out how states should co-ordinate in, among other things, managing shared and migratory stocks that occur in their waters. The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, raised this issue. These requirements are given further effect and developed in more detail in the UN fish stocks agreement. These already oblige us to take into account the nature of such stocks and to co-operate with other states in their management. We should be mindful not simply to duplicate existing international obligations in domestic legislation, which I fear could be a consequence of this amendment.

The Government are committed to continued close co-operation with our regional neighbours and international partners more widely. We will join regional fisheries management organisations as an independent contracting party. In so doing, our commitment to fulfil the obligations that come as part of RFMO membership will continue, but having our own seat at the table will give us a renewed opportunity to co-ordinate effectively with other states.

We also intend to develop new fisheries agreements with other coastal states so that we can work directly with them to develop frameworks for effective management of shared stocks. The more detailed aspects of the co-ordination with other states—by which I mean the arrangements we make with them on the management of shared or migratory stocks—will be determined through the annual cycle of RFMO meetings and consultations with other states. Our approach to these consultations will need to remain flexible and adaptable in order to co-ordinate effectively with other states, whose own positions will change and evolve, and to reflect the dynamic nature of fisheries management. For this reason, Clause 10(1) includes provisions for some flexibility in our approach due to changes in circumstances, which could include changes relating to the United Kingdom’s international obligations. It is for this reason also that stipulating the detail we should include in the joint fisheries statement on matters of international co-operation presents difficulties.

I will raise some specific points on Amendments 12 and 13. As noble Lords will know, international law and domestic law are different legal systems. While we will of course use our best endeavours to seek to agree sustainable management of shared stocks, the legal position is unequivocal: we cannot impose requirements on other states via domestic law. International agreements are creatures of international, not domestic, law. Amendments 12 and 13 seek to bind foreign states to comply with UK law in respect of developing management plans for shared stocks. Those states clearly would be bound by any international agreement agreed with the UK, but we cannot use a UK statute to bind other states.

I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, found the discussion of fisheries management plans of some use. I was grateful to all noble Lords who attended those meetings and am genuinely very pleased that the noble Lord found these matters positive in principle. These management plans—I say this also to my noble friend Lord Lansley—are designed to be a domestic UK model for managing fishery activity within the UK waters. As I have said, the process of agreeing joint management plans with other countries in relation to shared stocks is necessarily separate under international law. We will set out our policies for doing this in the joint fisheries statement.

There will also clearly be links between international plans and our domestic fisheries plans. Measures agreed internationally will be reflected in our fisheries management plans, and we will seek to ensure that measures we support are adopted in international plans. The joint fisheries statement would include policies on how we intend to do this in practice.

On a separate matter, this amendment does not take account of the UK Government’s reserved competence in relation to international negotiations. This amendment would place a duty on all the fisheries administrations to seek to reach agreement on shared stocks. International negotiations are a reserved matter, and one in which the UK Government should represent the interests of the whole of the United Kingdom, engaging—I emphasise —with the devolved Administrations through our established consultation processes.

I take extremely seriously all that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and others have said. I have set out the position as I see it, but I absolutely emphasise that the only way in which we are all going to have success on these matters—a vibrant ecosystem and a vibrant fishing industry—is through co-operation. That is absolutely intrinsic to both our international obligations and the way in which we have constructed the Bill. Yes, it is a framework Bill, but there is more coming for parliamentary scrutiny and consultation.

I hope that the noble Lord will be reassured that the matters he raised are taken extremely seriously. They are absolutely pertinent to a successful fisheries system across our waters and those we share with our neighbours. For tonight, I very much hope he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
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I thank the Minister very much for that positive and upbeat response, and I thank all noble Lords who have contributed—particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, illustrating the particular issues between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Sometimes we over on this side, in Great Britain, look a little too often just to those on the other side of the North Sea and the channel, rather than the Irish Sea.

There is absolutely nothing in Amendments 12 or 13 that tries to bind any foreign state to anything, but I do not want to go down a negative route on this. I am very assured by the Minister’s response. The Government’s tone on this seems to have changed substantially since Committee. Maybe we were talking at cross purposes in Committee—I am not sure. From the conversations we have had with his officials over these management plans, it certainly seems clear that they expect to engage strongly with adjacent coastal and EEZ states.

It was useful that the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, mentioned the science, ICES and the fact that we continue to share that resource. Both we and the European Union at least—and Norway, I presume—use ICES. On mackerel stock, that is a pelagic species; stocks in that area are a lot more straightforward than in a mixed fishery, as in the Celtic and south-west seas.

Given the Minister’s very positive response and that of his officials when we have had discussions, I feel far more confident that these management plans will achieve what we both want them to. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Lansley for his proposed amendments, which require the national fisheries authorities to use criteria that are transparent and objective and take account of environmental, social and economic factors when distributing catch and effort quotas to our fishing boats. As noble Lords will know, this Bill has been through a number of iterations. We have said that the Government would consider carefully all amendments brought forward—and I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, that we have considered all of them. In particular, we have considered those which provided an opportunity to set out a clear way forward for the UK as an independent coastal state outside the confines of the common fisheries policy. We have consulted all the devolved Administrations and they agreed to the drafting of my noble friend’s amendment.

We listened to the concerns expressed by Members of your Lordships’ House that Clause 25 could be made more transparent, could better reflect our status as an independent coastal state, and should be clearly linked to the UK fisheries’ objectives. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend for his tenacity on this matter.

I should also respond to the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington. He rightly raised this in Committee and spoke in support of a clarification of Article 17 of the common fisheries policy, as well as about the importance of making clear the link between quota distribution and the Bill’s fisheries objectives. In England, we communicate criteria used through the quota management rules. This is devolved, so each Administration would undertake this. The Government consider that these two amendments proposed by my noble friend would deliver on all those points raised previously. The amendments would set out the criteria for distributing UK fishing opportunities on the face of the Bill rather than by reference to retained EU law. The wording of the provision has been updated to reflect UK drafting style, but the revision includes the same requirement for transparent and objective criteria that take account of environmental, social and economic factors.

This approach is in line with the Government’s policy of maintaining the current system for distributing our existing share of quota. It also provides a clear framework for development in England of a new method of allocating any additional quota we secure following the transition period. Furthermore, these amendments make the link between the UK fisheries objective and quota distribution clear. The joint fisheries statement will set out the Administrations’ fisheries policies for meeting the fisheries objectives. This statement must include each Administration’s policies on the distribution of quota. That was the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, and the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington raised. I should also say to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, that science is always integral to our quota-setting and will continue to be so.

This ensures that the Secretary of State, the devolved Administrations, and the Marine Management Organisation must all use transparent and objective environmental, social and economic criteria when making decisions on the distribution of fishing opportunities, and must explain how their policies on quota allocation contribute to the achievement of the fisheries objectives. As I have said before, in England, the criteria used could then be published in the English quota management rules.

I hope that all noble Lords will take this in the spirit I intend. We looked at all the amendments, and thought that that this one had particular merit. I am not saying that any amendment lacks a kernel of importance in it, but my noble friend and other noble Lords made a point that we found very compelling. I am grateful to my noble friend for bringing this matter to your Lordships’ attention, and I therefore am pleased to support my noble friend’s amendments to the Bill.

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley
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I am grateful to my noble friend, and I reiterate my thanks to him and his colleagues in the department who worked together on this subject. I am also grateful to all noble Lords who contributed very positively to this debate. It is rather an agreeable thing to have at this stage of proceedings on the first day on Report, and I hope it will not be the last time.

On one point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, if she cares to look back, I tabled an amendment in the latter part of March, which led to discussions with the department through the latter part of April, and by the end of May we had arrived at a new draft. By this time, the structure of that draft had been the subject of the consultation with the devolved Administrations, referred to by my noble friend. It did not all happen in the last few weeks; it was derived from the Committee stage, and I pursued it soon after the last day in Committee. I echo my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, who raised these points of substance in Committee. To that extent, the origination of this draft is not my own, and is owed to them as well. I am most grateful to all noble Lords for their support for this amendment. I give notice that I intend to move formally Amendment 28 at a later stage.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester
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My Lords, Amendment 11, which was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, raises an important question in relation to the formulation of joint fisheries statements. Indeed, what happens if the authorities disagree on the policies to be included or their suitability in relation to the overall fisheries objectives? This is an area where we tried to tease out a little more detail in Committee, albeit with a focus on the Clause 9 power for authorities to make transitional provision. My concern then was to ensure joined-up policy-making rather than dealing with a formal dispute between different parties. However, the essence of the problem is the same. With different authorities working on different areas of policy, what mechanism is or should be in place should differences occur?

The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, proposes an ability to refer matters to an independent review that would report in a relatively short timeframe. Such an approach would not necessarily resolve the differences of opinion, but it would at least provide an external arbiter whose findings each body would have to take account of. I would be grateful if the Minister could outline the process envisaged under the current formulation. If he does not agree with the approach suggested in Amendment 11, will he acknowledge that this may require further thought as the Bill progresses through the Commons?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for his amendment. The fisheries administrations have a strong track record of working closely together to develop fisheries management policy. We recognise that there will be areas where we take different approaches to reach the same goals. The Fisheries Bill provides a common and transparent legislative framework for developing policies on shared objectives. Crucially, it also provides the flexibility for each Administration to choose how best to contribute to those same goals. This is essential to achieve sustainable management of our fisheries, recognise and accommodate the diversity of our industry and respect the devolution settlements.

The processes for developing the statements, as set out in the Bill, involve a great deal of consultation and parliamentary scrutiny, and before that there will need to be close working between the Administrations throughout the drafting process. There are therefore many opportunities for working together through potential differences. Nevertheless, we recognise the need for a clear mechanism for resolving disputes, should they arise. The key point is that we already have in place a clear, transparent dispute resolution process for fisheries management.

It may help noble Lords if I briefly set out this formal process. It is enshrined in the general memorandum of understanding between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. This sets out an intergovernmental dispute resolution process that applies across many areas, including fisheries issues. In general, any differences are considered and resolved by policy officials and, if necessary, can be referred to the senior officials programme board for further consideration. In the highly unusual event that issues remain unresolved, they can be escalated through the EFRA inter-ministerial group. Where a difference over an issue cannot be resolved at the EFRA portfolio level, it becomes a disagreement that, as a last resort, any party can refer to the Joint Ministerial Committee secretariat. The Joint Ministerial Committee consists of the Prime Minister, the First Ministers from the devolved Administrations and the three territorial Secretaries of State.

While this formal process has been adopted through the wider MoU, most fisheries issues are resolved through joint working between officials, which we have found leads to overwhelmingly harmonious and successful outcomes. There is also regular individual and collective ministerial contact between the Secretary of State and Ministers from all Administrations representing fisheries and the environment.

All four fisheries Administrations are also signatories to the 2012 Concordat on Management Arrangements for Fishing Opportunities and Fishing Vessel Licensing in the United Kingdom, which sets out ways of working. The intention is that this will be replaced by a new fisheries memorandum of understanding as part of the UK and devolved Administration common frameworks programme. The memorandum of understanding will reflect the changes to the relationship between the devolved Administrations and to how devolution will operate now that we have left the EU. It will set out how we will work together to deliver the joint fisheries statement and include a fisheries-specific dispute resolution process.

Ultimately, Clause 2(1) requires the joint fisheries statement to include policies which achieve, or contribute to the achievement of, the objectives set out in Clause 1, which enables each Administration to develop approaches appropriate for their industry. The statutory requirement for consultation and parliamentary scrutiny of the joint fisheries statement in each Administration will provide certainty that the policies developed will meet the requirements of Clause 2.

The Government do not see that a separate independent review would have the additional value my noble friend has sought to articulate, given the existing well-tested processes for resolving disagreements between the fisheries Administrations, which have worked overwhelmingly successfully to date. I hope that my noble friend will accept this fairly brisk explanation and feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley
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I am most grateful to my noble friend. It might have been brisk, but it was also thorough. It helped a great deal, particularly the reference to the dispute resolution mechanism in the memorandum of understanding that will replace the concordat, which I am very grateful for. He will have heard what I said about ensuring equal treatment; I am sure that the consultations on the joint fisheries statement, not least with the producer organisations, will afford an opportunity to make sure that those issues which have concerned them can be exposed and dealt with, if necessary through the mechanisms my noble friend describes. In view of his response, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Fisheries Bill [HL]

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Wednesday 1st July 2020

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Lords Chamber
Fisheries Act 2020 - Government Bill Page Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 71-R-II(Rev) Revised second marshalled list for Report - (22 Jun 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Fisheries Act 2020 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Moved by
Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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That the Bill do now pass.

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 express my gratitude to noble Lords for their interest in the Bill and their contributions. In particular, I thank my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern and my noble friends Lord Caithness and Lord Blencathra for their stalwart support. I also thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, from the Opposition Front Benches for our constructive dialogue as we have navigated together through the complexities of fisheries.

I acknowledge the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his extensive experience of fisheries matters, and my noble friend Lord Lansley, whose tenacity and force of argument produced an amendment that the Government supported. As a non-scientist, my scientific discussions with the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, have been both illuminating and helpful.

Your Lordships’ Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has twice reported positively on this Bill, stating that it

“represents a significant increase in the scrutiny that Parliament will have over fisheries policy compared to the last 45 years.”

Noble Lords have certainly ensured that, and will continue to do so.

I place on record my appreciation for officials in both Defra and the devolved Administrations, parliamentary counsel and the clerks who have assisted us all. The Bill team’s officials and lawyers have been exemplary throughout the passage of the Bill, and I am most grateful for their professional approach. My noble friend Lady Bloomfield has been unwavering in her dedication and commitment throughout the passage of the Bill. I much appreciate her support.

Finally, it is clear that we all wish to seek to secure a brighter future for our fishing industry across the United Kingdom, both in the immediate and the longer term. We are united across this House in recognition of the importance of the industry as a source of employment for many in coastal communities, and of fish as a healthy food source. We all appreciate that the future of our fishing fleet cannot be separated from the health of our marine ecosystem. This Bill takes a vital holistic approach to fishing, and I believe that this will spell a brighter future for our industry and our seas. I beg to move.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his usual courtesy in the way he has dealt with this Bill, and for all the information and help he has given us as we have moved through it. I thank all those around the House who have come together to pass a number of essential amendments, including the important amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley.

Having said that, I hope that the Government will talk to us more about these amendments. As the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, mentioned, they are very much in line with government policy to protect the marine environment and level up coastal communities. I hope that we can find a way to retain the substance and the spirit of those amendments as the Bill passes through the other place and, potentially, comes back to this House.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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My Lords, I know that it is not necessarily normal to speak on Third Reading when there are no amendments, but given that our current procedures do not really allow for reflection on developments made during Report, this is perhaps my only opportunity to comment on those.

The passing of at least one amendment on Report highlighted the relationship between the legislation that we pass here and the legislative responsibilities of, in particular, the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament. I hope that, in reflecting on the amendments that were carried, the Government will try to keep the spirit of those amendments—for example, I supported in principle the amendment on landing rights but did not vote for it because of the impingement on the devolution settlement, but its spirit was very positive for coastal towns and their future—and perhaps come back with their own amendments that deal with such issues in England, Wales and Northern Ireland but do not impinge on the devolution settlement. I hope that the Government will reflect on that in the other place and, if amended, when the Bill comes back to the House of Lords.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson—and to the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, although there was an element of surprise to that, as we are now into the “Bill do now pass” stage.

I conclude with one key point: this has been a Bill on which Her Majesty’s Government have worked very closely with the devolved Administrations. We will continue to do so, for the interests of fishing communities across the United Kingdom. With those remarks, and with my thanks to all noble Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Fisheries Bill [Lords]

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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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: House of Commons
Tuesday 1st September 2020

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Fisheries Act 2020 - Government Bill Page Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 71-R-II(Rev) Revised second marshalled list for Report - (22 Jun 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Fisheries Act 2020 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

George Eustice Portrait The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Fishing is at the heart of coastal communities the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, from the Shetland Islands all the way down to Cornwall and some of the communities that I represent. Across the UK, the seafood sector employs about 33,000 people in often dangerous work, and I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all our fishermen, who risk the perils of the sea to bring fish to our tables, and, in particular, to remember the six fishermen who sadly lost their lives last year.

Of course, the industry has also been hit hard by the impact of the coronavirus on the export of fish, but once again, our resilient fishing communities have shown real ingenuity by finding new ways to sell fresh fish direct to our doors. However, the common fisheries policy has long been seen by these coastal communities as a policy that symbolised the unfairness of our EU membership and the failure of EU policy. It has granted uncontrolled access to UK waters for EU vessels. It has given the European Commission the legal right to trade UK fishing interests during international negotiations with our neighbours such as Norway and the Faroes, and the principle of relative stability has set in stone an anachronistic methodology for sharing quota dating back to the 1970s, which is profoundly unfair to the UK fleet and does not reflect the quantity of fish found in British waters.

For example, under relative stability, we receive just 10% of the overall quota for Celtic sea haddock, but our zonal attachment analysis suggests that our share should be around 50%. Overall, the UK fishing industry currently has access to just around half of the fishing opportunities that are in our waters, and that cannot be right. The CFP has also failed our marine environment. The misallocation of fishing opportunities combined with ill-conceived technical measures and a cumbersome decision-making process that is slow to correct errors, have all taken their toll on the health of our marine environment and the resources in our waters.

As we leave the European Union, we have the opportunity for the first time in almost half a century to correct these shortcomings. The Bill before the House today gives the UK the powers that it needs to chart a new course as an independent coastal state. It gives us the powers we need to implement the approach that we outlined in our fisheries White Paper published in 2018. The Bill sets out in statute the environmental and scientific principles and objectives that will inform future policy. It creates a legal requirement for a joint fisheries statement across the UK Administrations relating to those objectives, and it creates a legal requirement for the preparation of a series of fisheries management plans to ensure that continuous progress towards our objectives is secured.

The Bill also gives us the power to control access by individual foreign vessels to our exclusive economic zone. This includes the power to stipulate, through a vessel licence, where in our EEZ a vessel may fish, when it may fish there, what fish it may catch while there, and what type of fishing gear it may or may not use. The ability to control and manage access to our waters will be crucial to ensuring that a fairer sharing arrangement prevails in future.

Jonathan Edwards Portrait Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (Ind)
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Like many right hon. and hon. Members, I suspect, I have received emails from campaigners calling for a ban on super-trawlers in UK countries’ fisheries’ waters. My understanding is that there is no UK-registered super-trawler. I suppose that many citizens will be perplexed as to why there is no mention of this in the Bill. Is it not the reality that these provisions will be made in future trade deals rather than in legislation coming from this House?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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The hon. Gentleman is wrong in that the Bill does provide the powers for us to exclude all these trawlers through the licence conditions that we have, and that is not affected at all by any trade deals. The reason the super-trawlers are there at the moment is that they are allowed to be under EU law. Some of them are registered in countries such as, for instance, Lithuania. Under EU law, they are allowed to fish in our waters and there is nothing we can do about it. If the House passes this Bill, we will be able to exclude those vessels if that is our choice.

The Bill also gives us the power to modify and introduce technical conservation measures relating to matters such as the type of fishing gear that can be used, and other requirements relating to equipment or area-based restrictions that help to conserve our marine environment and preserve stocks.

Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister talks about the welfare of fishermen. Apostleship of the Sea tells me that the industry after Brexit will be just as reliant, perhaps even more reliant, on non-European Economic Area nationals. They enter this country, or this industry, under a very opaque system that almost pretends they are not there. As a result, they have no rights and are often abused in the workplace. After Brexit, can we ensure that we work with the fishing industry and other regulatory mechanisms to ensure that these people are properly cared for and we have a robust visa system?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. He is right that there is, in some sections of the fleet, quite a reliance on non-EEA crews. This issue has been raised. Of course, as we leave the European Union, we will also have an independent immigration policy. The issue that he addresses is very much one for the Home Office and for future immigration policy. But of course, as an independent country, we are free to make changes that we deem necessary or appropriate.

I know that there will be a great deal of interest in the House in the ongoing negotiations with the European Union and whether a future partnership agreement will include a fisheries partnership agreement. However, I would say to hon. Members that it is very important today to focus on the contents of this Bill. The powers in this Bill will be needed whether or not there is a further negotiated outcome on a future partnership with the European Union. The Bill does not prescribe a particular outcome but gives us the powers that are needed irrespective of that outcome.

I turn now to some of the specific clauses. The objectives set out in clause 1 range from the ecosystems objective and the scientific evidence objective to the newly introduced climate change objective, putting sustainability at the heart of a new framework for managing our fisheries. As we become an independent coastal state, we are taking back control of fisheries in the UK’s exclusive economic zone and leaving behind the outdated common fisheries policy, so clauses 12 to 19 of the Bill end the automatic access to UK waters for EU vessels. As I said earlier, there has long been an historic injustice in the sharing arrangements set in stone under relative stability. However, the CFP has also previously prevented us from extending certain technical conservation measures required of our own vessels to EU vessels accessing our waters. Schedule 2 extends to foreign vessels for the first time the technical statutory instruments that protect, for instance, undersized or vulnerable stocks.

Clauses 38 and 40 propose powers to bring forward secondary legislation to introduce technical measures for fisheries and to ensure aquatic animal health. Those powers are essential so that we can make timely changes and adaptations to policy, to reflect a changing marine environment. The powers will enable us to follow the latest scientific evidence on fish stocks, respond to technological innovation and make our data collection more effective.

We will be working with the industry, scientists and local communities to develop a more transparent fishing management policy that will help us to achieve healthy fish stocks and a diverse marine ecosystem. The marine environment is complex, and we will make science and sustainability a core component of our approach. We remain committed to ending the wasteful discarding of fish at sea, and we will use a range of tools to ensure that the landing obligation works in practice, as well as in theory, including through the prevention charging scheme, which is introduced under clauses 30 to 34.

Sheryll Murray Portrait Mrs Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con)
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Does my right hon. Friend accept that using our own landing obligation will stop fishermen having to basically tie up because of the silly CFP by-catch rule?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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My hon. Friend is a long-time expert in fisheries policy, with direct experience of all the difficulties and shortcomings of the CFP, and she makes an important point. We have a particular problem, due to the unfair sharing arrangements under relative stability, of what is called choke species affecting our fleet, where there simply is not enough quota for fishermen to even be able to land their by-catch. As she says, the lack of quota for choke species causes a risk that the fleet has to tie up because they simply do not have the quota available to them. We set out in our White Paper a fairer sharing arrangement, so that there will be fewer choke species, but also an approach to managing discards that will enable us to charge a disincentive charge on fishermen who land out-of-quota stock, rather than force them to discard it at sea in a very wasteful way—so we remove the incentive to target vulnerable species but give fishermen left in a difficult position an option that they can exercise.

Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)
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Will the Bill allow us to give grant aid to fishermen to have more selective fishing tackle, to enable them to not catch the choke species that cause these problems?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. I know that he was involved in crafting some of these measures during his time in DEFRA, and I can confirm that those measures remain in place. We have powers in the Bill to make grant payments to fishermen, in particular to support them in fishing in a more sustainable way and investing in the gear that enables them to do that. I was about to come on to that point.

As we plan for our future, we need to recognise the immense value of fishing to our local communities, and we want to ensure that our own industry is able to benefit from the new opportunities that will arise. The powers in clause 35 mean that we can set up new funding schemes and grants to support the development of port infrastructure, the development of our fishing industry and its capacity to manage an increased catch and to manage those sustainability issues.