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

(4 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Fisheries Act 2020 View all Fisheries Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 71-II(a) Amendments for Committee, supplementary to the second marshalled list - (3 Mar 2020)
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, Amendments 24 and 29, in my name, make it clear that the Secretary of State should have a wider regard to the national interest through exercising responsibilities to the UK fishing industry workforce, particularly its safety and training. They would require the Secretary of State to consult and produce a report within six months of the Bill being passed. The consultation should be a collaborative exercise involving cross-government engagement, the industry and a range of stakeholder groups.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville
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My Lords, I will speak briefly to Amendment 34 and other amendments in this group that relate to sustainable fish levels being included in the fisheries management plans. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said, we are going around in circles—perhaps like some fish.

Fisheries management plans are key to the Bill’s implementation and success, but they will be ineffective if fish stocks are not maintained at or above sustainable levels. The Bill’s thrust is to promote sustainable fisheries management—that is how I have interpreted it, anyway. This aim in endorsed and welcomed by the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations. The UK is already well ahead in sustainable fisheries management and has much to build on to become a world leader. For the fishing industry to maintain its current position and go from strength to strength, it is vital that fish stocks are preserved, enhanced and sustainable. It would be unacceptable to promote short-term gain at the expense of fish stocks for future generations.

Decisions on fisheries management must be informed by science, data and information gathering. We welcome the Government’s commitment to ensuring this happens and to an “ecosystem-based approach” to fisheries. This should minimise any harmful effects on fishing activities within the broader environmental, social and economic context. It is therefore essential to manage fish stocks, not only to maintain them at a sustainable level, but to go beyond that. As is clear, climate change can have a dramatic effect on water levels and temperatures. It is paramount that fish stocks are truly sustainable and can adapt to changes over time. It is incumbent on us all to ensure that this happens.

Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Portrait Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick
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My Lords, I will speak briefly on Amendment 54, which is to do with shared stocks. The UK Government share the Irish Sea with the Irish Government. An agreement is already in place in legislation called the voisinage agreement, which is like a shared fisheries management plan. I am seeking reassurance that that will remain in place and that the alleged regulatory border in the Irish Sea, as a result of EU management issues, will not impact on fishing efforts in the Irish Sea.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs
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My Lords, I will speak very briefly to Amendment 33, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I have to confess that it raised in my mind a thought I had not had before, and I thank her very much for it. Her amendment reflects the fact that in certain circumstances, the removal of one species from an ecological community can have a dramatic effect on the whole ecosystem. I used to teach this notion to undergraduates in Oxford. It refers in particular to the idea of a keystone species—one that might have a disproportionate effect on the balance of an ecological community as a whole. In a quite unanticipated way, fishing effort on a particular target species might disrupt and radically transform the whole ecosystem. The noble Baroness’s amendment suggests that the ecosystem objective should be built into consideration of fishing effort. Of course, we saw the ecosystem objective at the very beginning of Clause 1, which is one of the objectives that form the pillars of the Bill. Does the Minister or his officials have a clear view about the notion of keystone species and unintended disruptions to the whole marine ecosystem that might arise as a consequence of a fishing effort targeted at a particular species?