Fisheries Bill [HL]

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

(4 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I speaking to Amendment 1, I will speak also to Amendments 4 to 6. What concerns me about all these is that if the UK and the EU fail to reach a deal by the end of the year, they will be bound by international law; namely, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea—UNCLOS—which requires co-operation and efforts to agree rules on access to waters, as well as setting catch limits and standards on conservation and management of marine resources.

In the bizarre world of Brexit, the fishing sector—which represents a fraction of 1% of the UK economy—may be the issue that determines whether the current trade negotiations with the EU succeed or fail. Escape from the common fisheries policy was touted by the Brexiteers during the campaign as a great prize to be won, but this sector is heavily dependent on easy access to EU markets, whereas British consumers prefer to eat fish imported from Europe.

I suggest that the future of UK fishing should be determined not by this vacuous Bill or by Amendments 1, 4, 5 and 6, but by a sensible and detailed negotiation with the EU in the current trade talks. At present, regrettably, there is little sign of this happening, and there is now a danger that this issue will prove to be the rock on which a potential deal founders.

As everybody in this debate will be aware, the UK fishing industry, including processing, is heavily concentrated in coastal communities of the nations and regions, which rightly deserve protection in view of their high levels of deprivation and low levels of income and education. However, these communities are heavily reliant on easy access to EU markets. About two-thirds of fish caught by British fishers is sold to the EU in frictionless overnight trade. Most Welsh fishing boats specialise in shellfish, with 90% of their catch currently exported to the EU; I am speaking from my home in Wales at the moment. Meanwhile, UK consumers prefer fish imported from Europe, so our fish processing industry is also heavily reliant on imports from the EU.

After years of one-sided propaganda about “our fish” and claims in the tabloids that a single British fishing industry will benefit from reclaiming the proportion of fish caught by EU boats in UK waters—probably around 60% by weight and 40% by value—a more complex picture now emerges, as this catch is mostly fish for which there is little demand in the UK. There are also large British boats that depend on EU-agreed quotas for their access to Norwegian waters.

In April 2019 the biggest whitefish trawler in the UK fleet sailed up the Thames to highlight the threats facing the fishing industry if Brexit negotiations end in no deal. This is because in that event there would be no automatic access for British boats to these key waters. The jobs of hundreds of fishermen and many hundreds more in fish processing in north-east England will be at risk unless a deal is reached whereby UK vessels are able to continue in such waters that have long been open to UK fleets.

Unsurprisingly, protecting their own vulnerable coastal communities, and ensuring that fishing rights that have existed for hundreds of years do not die, is also a priority for a number of coastal EU member states, such as Ireland, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and France. This became evident earlier this month when EU Fisheries Ministers were reported to have rejected Michel Barnier’s proposals for compromise and instructed him to hold firm to his red lines. Just as the Conservatives may be wary of being seen as having betrayed Scottish fishers—as they are worried about the Scottish Parliament elections next year—President Macron of France, for example, will have in mind that he faces an election in 2022.

Incredibly, our dogmatist Government—I acquit the Minister of this charge, because I think he is doing an honest job—seem willing even to sacrifice the chance of a beneficial deal for the UK financial services industry to save UK waters for the British fishing industry. The financial services sector accounted for 7% of UK GDP in 2018, employing an estimated 2 million people. In any event, the UK fishing industry is likely to suffer, rather than prosper, if there are EU-UK cod wars, as, among other things, there will be a danger to sustainability of stocks through overfishing. It would therefore be a spectacular own goal if the UK refused a deal relating to finance as the price of not reaching an agreement on fishing.

What might constitute a reasonable deal? Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, outside the common fisheries policy the UK is still legally obliged to consider the historical fishing rights of its neighbours, which suggests that some continued access to UK waters for fishers across the channel would be a reasonable expectation. As a quid pro quo, and irrespective of Brexit, as a result of fish migration there is probably a case for review of some UK quotas for mackerel, herring, cod and hake, but that does not need to be at a scale that destroys the livelihoods of hundreds of EU fishers.

However, a no-deal Brexit would destroy the significant parts of the UK industry that are dependent on frictionless overnight trade in fish, impact fish processing—which depends on access to EU imports—and cause loss of access to waters off non-EU states for large UK boats that currently benefit from EU access. I am really not sure how Amendments 1, 4, 5 and 6 help deal with that predicament.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I was very interested to hear the reasons the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, gave for bringing a slightly amended version of this amendment back on Report. While I am sympathetic to what I think he is trying to achieve, I have great difficulty in finding this amendment appropriate. I fear it looks at the issue from a particularly English perspective, and I hazard a guess that the Scots may take a different view. I was fortunate to receive briefings from both the Scottish fisheries organisation and the Law Society of Scotland, and we must appreciate that the fisheries opportunities in Scotland are immensely important. They represent 58% of the value and 64% of the tonnage of all fish landed by UK vessels, so I am struggling to understand.

I see that we have changed the wording from “marine stocks” to “fish”, probably in recognition of the fact that, in Scotland, there are many other uses of the exclusive economic zone. But the argument remains: the citizens of the four nations, and in particular those of Scotland, would argue that they have a right to a lion’s share of the fish.

Proposed new subsection (2) goes on to talk about quotas. I have tabled an amendment to Clause 48, which we will come to much later, when I will develop my argument on quotas more fully. I wait with great interest to hear what my noble friend the Minister has to say on this matter, but I am not entirely convinced that the law as it currently stands does not encompass what the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, is trying to achieve. If noble Lords will forgive the pun, I believe that this amendment will, if anything, rather muddy the waters and not take the arguments any further forward.

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Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB) [V]
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My Lords, we spent a great deal of time discussing sustainability during earlier stages of the Bill so I do not wish to repeat the arguments at length. However, because it has been well over three months since we last discussed this issue, I will recap briefly.

This amendment supports the Government’s own aim. At Second Reading, the Minister told us that

“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.”—[Official Report, 11/2/20; col. 2167.]

He also said that sustainability is at the heart of the Bill. Sure enough, the first fisheries objective in Clause 1(1) is the sustainability objective. Unfortunately, however, as drafted, the Bill does not guarantee the protection of fish stocks and the wider marine environment. To be absolutely sure that the Bill does what it claims on the tin, let us get the commitment to protecting the natural environment written into it. That is the purpose of this amendment.

What is the problem? History shows that whenever there is a trade-off between short-term economic and employment considerations and longer-term environmental sustainability, short-term factors nearly always win. This is what has led to overfishing and long-term damage to the marine environment in many of the world’s fisheries, including those covered by the common fisheries policy. That is the key point. The Bill as drafted allows for the possibility of short-term economic and social factors overruling environmental sustainability in making trade-offs.

Clause 1(2) defines the sustainability objective as having three elements: environmental, social and economic. I do not argue with the fact that sustainability has these three components; indeed, the Minister reminded us that they are the UN framework. I want to ensure, however, that socio-economic factors do not win out over protection of the marine environment. That is why the first part of the amendment ensures that, in calculating trade-offs between these three, the environment always remains the priority. This will ensure that we do not repeat past mistakes of putting short-term economic and social interests ahead of protecting the environment.

The second part of the amendment refers back to Clause 1(1). As we discussed in detail at earlier stages of the Bill, the eight fisheries objectives are not all born equal. The sustainability objective, as redefined in the amendment, takes precedence. The other seven fisheries objectives should support, or be subordinate to, environmental sustainability. This would make it unequivocal that the aim of the Bill is to harvest our marine resources without compromising the health of the marine environment. The amendment is not saying: “no fishing”; it is saying: “sensible fishing”. It is not saying that there will not have to be trade-offs, but it sets boundary conditions for the calculation of the trade-offs.

At earlier stages of the Bill, the Minister did not agree with the arguments that I have rehearsed. I suspect that he will argue again for a proportionate approach that gives equal, or at least undetermined, weight to all three components of sustainability. In Committee he acknowledged:

“We might have a collision point on sustainability.”—[Official Report, 4/3/20; col. 629.]


He also said:

“We must balance the protection of our marine environment with our objective of supporting thriving fishing and aquaculture sectors.”—[Official Report, 2/3/20; col. 461.]


If the Minister is not minded to accept this amendment, I would ask him to explain how these trade-offs will be made in practice.

This is our big chance to get the management of our fisheries on a genuinely sustainable footing and avoid the mistakes of the past. We can join the leading nations in the world such as Australia, New Zealand and the USA, managing our fisheries in a genuinely environmentally sustainable way, or we can languish lower down the international league table, with the risk of putting short-term gain ahead of long-term pain. I will listen carefully to the Minister’s reply at the end of this debate, but unless there is a significant change of tack, I would wish to test the opinion of the House on this crucial issue of the Fisheries Bill. I beg to move.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering [V]
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My Lords, I lend my support to this amendment. There is a certain attraction in having one objective, namely sustainability, in the context of the Fisheries Bill, as the primary objective. Part of my reasoning for this is that the House might wish to take a broader view and make sure that we come to the same view on the Fisheries Bill as we do, for example, when we come to consider the Environment Bill. We should not consider one in isolation from the other.

I was very taken by the Minister’s argument in Committee that in relation to objectives, there was a three-legged stool, whereby environmental, social and economic objectives should be given equal weight. There is a distinct attraction in singling out the environmental objective as the “prime fisheries objective”, as it says in the amendment. I know that it is a concern of Scottish fishermen and the Scottish Government in particular that we should look at the broader use of the marine environment, particularly in regard to renewables and other resources. There is an overwhelming attraction in having the sustainability objective as the prime objective. To put my mind at rest, I would be very interested to learn from the Minister, in the event of a contest between the three legs of the stool, how the Government would decide to prioritise between the economic, social and sustainability objectives.

Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Portrait Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick (Non-Afl) [V]
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My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. I know that my local fishermen and those involved in the catching and processing sector want fishing to be a leader in the marine food system. They also want to ensure that people have access to good-quality products in the various fish species which they catch. I firmly believe that this can be achieved through the principle of environmental sustainability and the commitment to protect the natural environment. We are in no doubt that sustainable fishing means leaving enough fish in the ocean, respecting the habitats and ensuring that people who depend on fishing can maintain their livelihoods. It is a bit of a balancing act and I hope the Minister will address that issue.

The Bill provides a framework for future fisheries management. However, in some quarters, it is felt that the Bill will not achieve the Government’s aim of world-leading sustainable fisheries management because sustainable fisheries depend on a healthy marine environment. Environmental legislation has featured little in the fisheries and Brexit debates so far. Of particular relevance to a healthy marine environment are the European marine strategy framework directive, the birds directive, the habitats directive, the bathing waters directive and the water framework directive. Will the Minister outline how this will be achieved in the post-transition period, while at the same time protecting the local fishing industry?

It is important, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said when he moved the amendment, that fishing and aquacultural activity do not compromise environmental sustainability in the short or long term. This legislation presents us with a unique opportunity to ensure that environmental sustainability and the principle of sustainability take precedence in the various elements of sustainability and that sustainability is a prime fisheries objective. We should grasp that opportunity now, but be mindful of not ending up with legislation that is too rigid in the eyes of those in the fishing sector—both catching and processing—because we do not want to replicate the challenges that beset the fishing industry as a result of the common fisheries policy.

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Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs [V]
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My Lords, I hope and expect that this amendment will not take as long as Amendment 2, so I will be very brief in my introduction. First, I thank the Minister and his officials for their very helpful discussions on the question of bycatch, and my Oxford University colleague Professor EJ Milner-Gulland for her expertise and advice in drafting the amendment.

The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the bycatch objective focuses on the desired outcome, rather than on the processes that might contribute to the outcome. As drafted, the objective appears to focus primarily on undersized and unwanted fish species rather than on the wider marine environment. Yet we know that, globally, non-selective fishing gear—including long lines, gill nets and trawling—causes major mortality among non-target species. According to WWF, bycatch is the single largest cause of mortality in small cetaceans; it causes significant mortality in turtles and 26 species of seabirds; and it destroys large areas of coral reef. North Sea trawlers are estimated to discard up to 150,000 tonnes of marine invertebrates annually, including starfish, sea urchins, sponges and marine worms.

In Committee, the Minister assured us:

“The Government are resolutely committed to minimising bycatch of sensitive species as much as is practically possible”.—[Official Report, 2/3/20; col. 461.]


That is absolutely in line with the purpose of this amendment. He also referred specifically to seabirds, cetaceans, sharks and rays, and to the definition of “sensitive species”, which goes wider than the category of endangered species. Furthermore, he pointed out that the ecosystem objective encompasses the bycatch of species that are not covered by the bycatch objective.

In short, the intent of the Bill seems to me quite appropriate, although it may appear to some to be slightly confusing to have the issue of bycatch spread across two fisheries objectives. It would be very helpful if, in his reply, the Minister were able to remove any ambiguity by confirming that the bycatch objective aims to reduce bycatch—and bycatch mortality—to support the conservation of not only fish stocks but the wider marine environment. I beg to move.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering [V]
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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, on bringing forward this amendment, which I have signed and am lending my support to. The amendment seeks to delete subsection (6) from the original Clause 1. I have particular difficulty with subsection (6)(c) and the wording therein. It says that,

“bycatch that is fish is landed, but only where this is appropriate and … does not create an incentive to catch fish that are below minimum conservation reference size”.

My noble friend Lord Gardiner will recall my disappointment in Committee that the original Bill had looked to have a discard objective. I would still place on record my belief that that is preferable to bycatch, or should be seen as additional to bycatch. During his comments in Committee my noble friend said:

“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”.—[Official Report, 2/3/20; col. 425.]


I will take this opportunity to ask my noble friend how he expects to achieve that. As a supplementary point, it would be helpful to understand precisely what the bycatch objective is.

Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge [V]
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has put this very succinctly. I have concerns, not just about the fish bycatch but about the wider marine environment, which he mentioned. It may be of interest to noble Lords that Saturday was World Albatross Day. As many noble Lords will know, a large number of the world’s population of those birds breed in the UK’s overseas territories so, as well as having a general interest in biodiversity, we should all take this seriously. On the subject of albatrosses and other sea-bird bycatch, I recommend that, if he has not already, the Minister looks at a British invention called Hookpod that cuts sea-bird bycatch on long-line fishing. I will not detain the House with a long discussion of it, but it has made significant progress in reducing that bycatch in a cost-effective way. I would be interested in what the Minister says on the whole subject of bycatch, because I have great concerns about it.

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Lord Naseby Portrait Lord Naseby (Con)
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My Lords, I apologise to my noble friend the Minister for not being able to take part in the Second Reading of this very important Bill. I come to this from the perspective of someone who used to look at legislation in great detail in the other place to decide whether Bills were overarching Bills, out of which would flow secondary legislation, or ones that would generate very little secondary legislation.

This Bill deals with the key objectives behind a very novel situation for us as a country as we leave the EU, in the sense that 60% of the fish caught in the UK’s exclusive economic zone were not caught by the UK fleet. It is very transitional, in the sense not just of time but of quantum. A huge change will take place. One has to look only at the scale of Norway to understand the real size of this change.

Against that situation, and as someone who was in commerce and industry for most of my life before I entered the other place, I believe that objectives have to be clear and not very long. There is nothing wrong with the sentiment of what my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern puts forward; they are clear objectives. However, I am grateful to the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, which reminds us in its briefing that this is enabling legislation. It is framework legislation that provides for arrangements to be developed for fisheries management in the UK. They are workable in their current form, but the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation cautions against amendments that would add unnecessary complexity through primary statute when the detail that will be needed for fisheries management and managers should rightly lie in secondary legislation made through the Bill’s powers that reflect what is needed.

I am on that side: the side of clear, precise objectives. That does not mean that I am against what my noble and learned friend and others are saying, but that is underneath the clear objectives. Therefore, I am not in a position to support these amendments.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering [V]
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My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern for bringing forward Amendment 4, which I support. My question in regard to that amendment and that of my noble friend Lord Lansley is the relationship between these amendments and the devolved Administrations. I pay tribute to the Minister, who I know has spent a great deal of time trying to ensure that the devolution aspects in relation to the devolved Administrations are respected as far as possible. If we were to accept this amendment, how would it impact on the way in which this provision would be interpreted by the devolved Administrations?

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Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering [V]
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My Lords, I too support the amendments and thank my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern for bringing them before the House. The amendments reflect the sad fact that farming and fishing are two of our most dangerous industries, with perhaps a higher number of casualties and fatalities than any other. However, is it the Minister’s position that the sentiments behind Amendments 5 and 6 fall better within normal health and safety legislation and wider maritime law, which would be the usual place for such amendments to be found? Having said that, I welcome this opportunity to consider the great service that our fishermen do in battling the elements and bringing their excellent produce to our tables.

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley
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My Lords, I join my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay and other noble Lords in paying tribute to the courage, fortitude and skill of those who work in our fishing fleets. In that sense, I think that we are all very much behind the spirit of the two amendments.

I hope that it will be unnecessary to insert an additional clause on sustaining the workforce, because it is implied by the fisheries objectives as they exist, but I hope that the Minister might also tell us more about the ways in which the Government are proposing to assist Seafish, the NDPB which under the Fisheries Act 1981 has responsibility to provide support to the workforce of the sea fish industry and, under regulations introduced in 1982, the ability to place a levy on the first sale of sea foods in this country. Its corporate plan is due to be renewed. It would be helpful, if not this evening then perhaps subsequently in a letter placed in the Library of the House, if the Minister were able to say something about how the Government hope to support Seafish in its endeavours. Its last corporate plan had as one of its five challenges to support a safe and skilled workforce. The issues that we are talking about, of recruitment to the industry, of training for those in it and the achievement of an as-safe-as-possible working environment for them, are things that Seafish is endeavouring to address, and we want to see it supported.

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Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs [V]
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for tabling Amendments 7 and 53. I have added my name to the latter. I strongly support them for the reasons she set out so clearly.

The climate change committee will publish its annual report to Parliament this Thursday. It will be a very uncomfortable read for the Government. The committee’s chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Deben, is reported in yesterday’s press as saying that the response to the climate crisis in the UK is being run by the Government like a Dad’s Army operation. Fisheries and aquaculture may not be the biggest contributor to our greenhouse gas inventory but, if we are to get to net zero by 2050 or even sooner, every sector of the UK will have to make its contribution. Furthermore, the way in which we fish will have to change as a result of the inevitable climate change to which we are already committed as a result of the greenhouse gases that we have pumped into the atmosphere over the past 150 years. For instance, there is growing evidence that changes in ocean temperature will affect the distribution of the plankton that form the basis of the marine food chain. As a consequence, the distribution and abundance of fish will change, and this will need to be taken into account and anticipated.

I had the privilege of sitting on the climate change committee for eight years, and chaired its adaptation sub-committee. In every one of our annual reports we called for a step change in action by the Government: on both mitigation, reducing our greenhouse gas footprint; and on adaptation, preparing for the inevitable climate change that we will experience in coming decades. Amendment 53 will ensure that fisheries and aquaculture contribute to that step change. There is overwhelming public support for more action from the Government on climate change. For instance, the recent Climate Assembly poll showed that 80% of people agree or strongly agree that, in the post-Covid world, government plans to achieve net zero should be advanced.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering [V]
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My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for bringing forward these two amendments and allowing the House to debate this issue briefly. What will be the relationship between this part of the Bill—and the new climate change objective, to which she referred—and the Environment Bill? Can my noble friend confirm my understanding that fisheries activities do not themselves contribute greatly to climate change? We should recognise that and commend this activity as being fairly neutral in that regard. My concern is the impact of climate change on our waters, as so eloquently expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. My understanding is that, as the waters warm, various species migrate as they cannot adapt to the warmer temperatures. This will obviously have an impact on any agreement, either within the United Kingdom or, as a coastal state, with our erstwhile partners in the European Union under the new arrangements. How can the Minister and the Government be absolutely sure that any arrangement that we come to will not be undermined by the fact that the fish are no longer where we thought they were, but have migrated to colder waters?

Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait The Deputy Speaker
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Do we have the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge? We do not seem to. Perhaps we will try to get him later. The noble Lords, Lord Mann and Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, have both withdrawn from this group, so I call the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. Oh, do we have the noble Earl?