Fisheries Bill [HL]

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

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Moved by
Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I beg to move.

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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.