Fisheries Bill [HL] DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Lord Mackay of ClashfernMain Page: Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Conservative - Life peer)
(10 months, 3 weeks ago)Lords Chamber
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.
My Lords, the common fisheries policy was certainly flawed at times in its execution, but it had one advantage: the member states of the European Union were able to come together and resist, on occasion, short-term pressures on politicians in individual states to change fisheries policy. The collective agreement on fisheries policy ensured a strong element of long-termism in the decisions that were made. I worry that, as fisheries policy and regulation are returned to the United Kingdom, the pressure on politicians for short-term decision-making from those with a direct financial interest in the industry, when quotas and other decisions are reached, will still be there—as it is right now.
I have a vivid memory of the first year of devolution in 1999. An effigy of the then Fisheries Minister in the Scottish Government, Rhona Brankin MSP, was burned by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation at a demonstration because people were angry and wanted more short-term decision-making on quotas. That controversy, passion and anger impacted on individual Members of the Scottish Parliament and on the debate. In years to come, that impact was seen again and again with the sacrifice of the long term—I do not think it was ever sacrificed by Ministers but it was by individual politicians pushing Ministers to make more short-term decisions.
Contrary to what has been said by a number of other noble Lords, I think that being very clear that the sustainability objective is the prime objective is essential if the decisions are to be long-term. To have eight objectives constantly being balanced year after year without a prime objective would be an error. I therefore support Amendment 2 enthusiastically.
I support it for a second reason. The Government, like many other Governments around the world, are very keen to sign up to international goals and targets. In 2015, the then Conservative Government were supported by all parties in this Chamber when they agreed the United Nations global goals. Global goal 14 relates to the oceans and seas:
“Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.”
At first glance, that might seem to be about the marine ecosystem and pollution, which has been a big issue this past decade around the world, but the goal is also quite explicitly about sustainable fishing.
However, every time we have debated the global goals in your Lordships’ Chamber over the last five years, despite consistent support for them from three Prime Ministers from the same party—as recently as last month the current Prime Minister said in a statement that he hopes the UK will be able to move forward after the pandemic, charging towards achieving the global goals—the Government have never embraced the concept of the goals that they were central to agreeing in 2015: that they are universal and apply inside the UK as much as throughout the rest of the world.
If the sustainable development goals are to apply inside the UK as they do everywhere else, we need to start seeing that represented in the Government’s planning, budgeting and legislation inside the UK too. Therefore, starting a process of writing sustainability as a prime objective into more legislation in this country, and getting more long-term and less short-term decision making, would put us on a good course, and the Fisheries Bill is a very good place to start.
I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover of an amendment and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in the group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
My Lords, Amendment 23 in my name is in this group. It and Amendment 4 are grouped together because they relate in their various ways to the economic benefits that are to be derived from sea fishing activities, but my amendment is quite specific and I will explain why I commend it to the House.
When we get to Clause 15 later in the Bill, your Lordships will recall that a power is granted to license boats engaged in fishing and that various specific powers may be granted by reference to that licence. They are included in Clause 15(2) and are amplified in Schedule 3. Schedule 3 makes further provisions relating to sea fishing licences. Looking at it, I was surprised that, given the importance placed on the economic links that are applied in conditions to licences by all fisheries policy authorities nowadays, there was nothing in the legislation that provides a specific reference to the use of those economic conditions. When I looked at Clause 15 and Schedule 3, I could see that the original material, principally from the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967, which originated the power for these licences, has been reproduced in the legislation before us—with, I might say, the benefit of better and more concise drafting. None the less, the purposes seemed to be the same.
However, it seems to me that the purposes of licensing are now established to go more widely and to include economic conditions. I do not need to explain the conditions, because we have debated these in a number of contexts in a number of debates in Committee. There is no real debate about whether there should be economic conditions attached to licences. Indeed, the Government’s position, if I understand it correctly, is that they want further to reinforce such conditions; that is part of the objectives. I found it very odd, therefore, that statutory backing was not given, at this stage, by reference in the Bill to the inclusion of such economic links.
In Amendment 23, I have made the following suggestion. Paragraph (2) of Schedule 3 lists:
“The conditions that may be attached to a sea fishing licence include, in particular, conditions”
to which my amendment would add the same language used elsewhere, as we have talked about, of
“conferring economic, social or employment benefits to the United Kingdom or any part of the United Kingdom.”
This would give statutory force to the Government’s intentions in relation to future licences for fishing boats.
We may not reach the point at which this amendment arises until Wednesday, although we are debating it today. I simply say that it is my hope that, even at this late stage, Ministers will reflect on whether, on Wednesday, this is something that they might like yet to adopt into the Bill.
My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for Amendment 4, which seeks to make sure that fishing and aquaculture activities contribute to communities around the UK. I share his optimism with regard to reaching an agreement soon.
These are indeed very important sectors. This is in part due to the role they play in the communities in which they are located, largely in coastal areas, but also because of the wider contribution they make in providing a vital source of food for the nation. I am therefore grateful for the opportunity my noble and learned friend has provided for me to highlight that the Government have already included provisions in the Bill to address these matters and so to illustrate why this amendment is not required.
One limb of the sustainability objective in Clause 1 already seeks to ensure that fish and aquaculture activities are managed so as to achieve economic, social and employment benefits. The Bill requires the fisheries administrations to set out their policies for achieving this objective and the other objectives in the legally binding joint fisheries statement. I suggest that this regime already provided for in the Bill is more appropriate for the development and implementation of socioeconomic policies than is the use of vessel licence conditions. Vessel licence conditions are more commonly used for matters relating to where a vessel can fish, how it can do so and where it must land fish. In England the Marine Management Organisation is the licensing authority. While it may be appropriate for the MMO to impose conditions relating to fishing activities, policies on socioeconomic and employment matters are for Ministers.
Amendment 23 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lansley sets out an approach very much in line with the Government’s general policy on the economic link, in that it seeks to clarify that the sea fish licensing authorities have the power to ensure that an economic link exists between the vessels they license and the United Kingdom, or parts of the United Kingdom. I reassure my noble friend that the licensing provisions in Schedule 3 to the Bill reproduce but give greater clarity to the licensing powers provided for in the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967. Lawyers have confirmed that these powers already provide sufficient scope for the sea fish licensing authorities to include in all licences issued to UK fishing vessels an economic link that ensures that economic benefits accrue to the United Kingdom.
As I have explained previously, this condition can be met by vessels fishing against UK quota through a variety of ways: landing at least 50% of their quota stock catch into UK ports; employing a crew at least 50% of whom are normally UK resident; spending at least 50% of operating expenditure in UK coastal areas; or demonstrating an economic link in another way, usually through the donation of quota to the under-10-metre pool.
I hope it will reassure my noble friend that the Government have been clear that they intend to review the economic condition in England this year, with a view to it following the end of the transition period. This was noted in our fisheries White Paper, and I have restated this intent in earlier debates on this Bill. Vessel licensing is a devolved matter, and the Scottish Government carried out their own consultation on proposed changes to economic link conditions in their licensing in 2017.
I would like to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, that the Government fully intend to encourage the regeneration of coastal communities and that this is the purpose of the economic link. Indeed, this Bill reflects the Government’s vision for a thriving, vibrant fishing industry in all four nations. The noble Baroness also asked about the Home Office adjudication on migration and people who could be employed by the fishing industry; I believe we have been able to provide some reassurance in that regard.
In answer to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, the Government have worked closely with all the devolved Administrations to establish the fisheries objectives for the whole of the UK, including the setting of the sustainability objective. Economic and social benefits are the key pillars of these objectives, and policies in these areas will be set out in the joint fisheries statement. As I have said already, vessel licensing is a devolved matter and the Scottish Government have already carried out their own consultation.
In summary, this Bill provides the powers necessary to continue including the existing economic link in vessel licences. It also provides powers to introduce other measures for ensuring that economic and social benefits accrue to the UK from the fishing activity of the UK fishing fleet. I hope that this will assure my noble and learned friend that this is an area that has already been carefully considered by the Government and provided for within the Bill and that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Amendment 4 withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 5. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in this group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
My Lords, I support the principles behind the amendment moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. Like him, I firmly believe that the people in our fishing workforce need to be protected, to receive all the training that is available to them, and that further training should be developed for them. Many people have perished in order to ensure that we have food from fishing that we can enjoy. This is an industry that carries a lot of risk for fishermen and fishers and they should receive all the protection that they can.
I should like also to speak to Amendment 6 in this group. The Government, in consultation with the devolved Administrations, should bring forward a strategy as a result of this Bill to build and sustain the UK fishing workforce. Probably the best way to do that is through working directly with the devolved Administrations, because obviously this would be a devolved function. We must see a resurgence of the training schools running alongside granting permissions for migrant Filipino labour—the Minister has mentioned that assurances have been provided in that regard. I would be very pleased if we could see the assurances in relation to this issue set out in writing, if that is not too much bother.
All of us want to see vibrant coastal fishing communities because fishing is the kernel of their regeneration, offering employment with no tie-ups and providing direct links to the processing, retailing and supply chains. Local supermarkets should supply locally caught fish to boost the industry and employment prospects within it.
Therefore, it must be an integrated strategy covering all aspects of the sector with clear goals and objectives to meet the Government’s responsibilities towards the industry’s workforce, as required by Amendments 5 and 6 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay. Workers need to be protected; there must be high safety standards within all sectors—we all know people who have died while fishing at sea in the pursuit of bringing high-quality food to our table. I am content to support these amendments.
My Lords, I am grateful for my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay’s proposed amendments on two crucial aspects facing the fishing industry—namely, making it safer and more attractive to work in. As my noble friend Lord Lansley said, we can all only agree with the spirit of these two amendments.
I will address the issues in turn, but first I want to clarify my comments to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. I will write to her specifically on the question of Filipino crew, but on 28 January this year the Migration Advisory Committee published its report to the Home Secretary on a points-based immigration system. The Government are currently considering the report’s recommendations before setting out further details on the UK’s future immigration system. As I have said, I will write with further details and put a copy in the Library.
I will address in turn the issues raised by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay. As we reflected at Second Reading, commercial fishing is without doubt one of the most dangerous occupations in the world. The industry still loses too many lives and fishermen suffer too many often life-changing injuries. I think we all agree that more needs to be done. However, I am not convinced that more legislation, or indeed yet another strategy, is the way forward here. What is perhaps needed is better implementation of the existing and extensive framework of legislation and training and, above all, behaviour change from within the industry itself.
I am pleased to see how innovation has also helped in the design of personal flotation devices, which are much better designed and interfere less with what is often a very manual job. These modern PFDs, as they are known, can include personal locator beacons, which can speed up the search in the unfortunate event of someone going overboard. Technology and innovation are helping, and attitudes are changing, albeit slowly. However, I am afraid there are still pockets where the wearing of personal flotation devices is ridiculed or where, perhaps through habit or poor judgment about risk, they are not worn at the most appropriate times—for example, when getting on and off vessels.
It is perhaps helpful to again set out briefly that extensive support and material are already available. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency publishes a guide to fishermen’s safety, which is updated regularly. This comprehensive guide covers over 100 pages of responsibilities, obligations, risk assessment, vessel safety, personal safety, fishing operations, health and welfare, emergencies and training, and this helps to navigate through the comprehensive legislation already in place. On top of this, the Sea Fish Industry Authority collaborates closely with the industry, with government and with other organisations to help reduce the number of fatalities and accidents that involve fishermen, and to improve overall safety at sea. Working closely with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the RNLI, this work includes the development and delivery of safety training courses for fishermen. I am pleased that the industry itself is taking the issue seriously, with the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations having a dedicated safety and training officer. The NFFO and Scottish Fishermen’s Federation have both produced a wealth of material on the subject, and also represent the sector on a number of boards and committees relating to safety.
Clearly, Covid-19 has created new challenges for the fishing industry to remain safe while working at sea. The Government’s outdoor working guidance provides guidelines for businesses to conduct risk assessments and to create a working environment that is as safe as possible in these difficult circumstances. The Government have also set up a safer working group for the English industry, with representatives from across the different sectors of the fishing industry, local government, the MCA and the MMO to help industry bodies collaborate with each other and with enforcement bodies on safer working practices and materials. We will continue to support the industry to disseminate messages on safer working from the existing Government guidance and industry-led initiatives.
Turning now to the issue of ensuring that the infrastructure for a sustainable work force is in place, Seafish has a fishermen’s training team which again produces a plethora of material and co-ordinates training opportunities, and which works very closely with the industry. I am pleased to note that Seafish and the training providers have adapted this, given the Covid-19 situation. In answer to the question from my noble friend Lord Lansley about our work with Seafish, both the Department for Transport and the MCA have funded almost £3 million-worth of safety training for free since 2008, and this has been matched by Seafish using European funding schemes, delivering nearly 4,000 training courses and over 26,000 training places.
I would also point to the very good work of the seafood industry leadership group, again established by Seafish, to deliver Seafood 2040, a strategic framework for England. This initiative 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. The industry has to take responsibility, too, for the sustainable development of the sector, thinking about how it can make itself more attractive to new entrants, perhaps through pay and different contractual and employment practices, and also looking to the future, thinking about automation and technology. With this explanation, I hope that my noble and learned friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Amendment 5 withdrawn.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, for setting a precedent for us. Parliament is built around precedent and now we have it, which is most useful, and I am most grateful to him, and to the Minister for having changed policy in such a fundamental way on this Bill. I can give the Minister another opportunity to do so, because if any amendment is totally, screamingly obvious, it is this one.
The Bill reads:
“In this Act ‘fisheries management plan’ means a document, prepared and published under this Act, that sets out policies designed to restore one or more stocks of sea fish to, or maintain them at, sustainable levels.”
I am sure the Government do not mean it, but if one sentence of this Bill lacked ambition, this would be it. Surely we are not trying just to get back to where we were—that is, to “restore”—or merely to a “sustainable” level. That level of ambition is about as neutral as it can get. My amendment would not change the intention of the Bill but would have it say
“manage one or more stocks of sea fish to maintain them at, or above, sustainable levels”.
There is no reason why we should not aim, or potentially have as an aim—I shall not say that it has to be the aim; it could still be to “restore” and to get to sustainable levels—to get to above sustainable levels. As the Bill is written, it seems that we are not allowed to go beyond sustainable levels; it prohibits it. It is a straightforward amendment. Let us be more ambitious and allow ourselves to go beyond sustainability. We want, as a result of the Bill, to see success over years— it will take a number of years or a number of stocks—in going well beyond sustainable levels so that, in five or 10 years, we have a much greater harvest that allows a much bigger fishing fleet, a bigger catch and more prosperous coastal communities. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for Amendment 10. I will speak to Amendment 16 in my name, which is retabled from Committee. It is a simple amendment that inserts in Clause 7(7) a reference to using the “best” available scientific evidence—a term used elsewhere in the Bill. It is also consistent with the wording of Amendments 10 and 17, to which I have added my name. In Committee, the Minister stated that the insertion of “best” was not necessary, as the overall fisheries objectives in Clause 1 already set this benchmark. However, the context in which “available scientific evidence” is used in Clause 7 is very different to the overall thrust of the Bill. As the Minister will know, Clause 7(7) provides a list of relevant changes. It allows authorities to depart from the original contents of a joint fisheries statement. My reading of the current drafting is that any available scientific evidence could be cited as a reason for departing from the previously published plans, even if this evidence were to fail the test of the “best available” that is applied when a plan is initially formulated.
To be best in class, scientific advice needs proper peer review. We are always aware that there are studies which deny the true scale of the climate crisis. These studies are available but would clearly not be classified as being the best, as they are an anomaly compared to mainstream scientific thought. I know that that need not necessarily make them incorrect, but surely they could not be classified as “the best”. Under Clause 7(7), as currently drafted, a study could be cited by a fisheries policy authority as a reason to depart from original proposals, especially in conjunction with promoting an alternative objective that could take precedence over another in some circumstances. The Minister may well say that no responsible fisheries policy authority would wish to do this, but it would still be possible, so I ask her to accept this amendment.
I have also added my name to Amendment 17 and agree that greater consultation with fisheries stakeholders in management plans in England, as well as the devolved Administrations, should be properly addressed. While I have not formally supported Amendments 14, 15 and 54, tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, I believe that there is merit in the questions he is asking the Minister.
Fisheries Bill [HL] DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Lord Mackay of ClashfernMain Page: Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Conservative - Life peer)
(1 year, 2 months ago)Lords Chamber
My Lords, I looked at this very carefully as it is a fairly concise amendment. I picked up on the three words—and indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, has kindly enlarged and reflected upon them—“any public authority”. That, to me, is huge, as there are so many different aspects of public authority. It goes on to say
“having any function relating to fish and aquaculture activities … must exercise its functions in order to achieve the fisheries objectives.”
I have no disagreement with the noble Lord, or indeed with other Members who have spoken on the need for sustainability; that is, I hope, accepted around this Chamber. But I was a little alarmed. I started noting down county councils, local councils, borough councils, police and all sorts of different authorities. I wonder whether the noble Lord would consider slightly narrowing his expression. Knowing the immense pressures on so many of these authorities at this time, I wonder if it is not a step too far. While I accept in principle the thrust of what he is trying to do, I think that referring to “Any public authority” having “any function” is too open-ended and goes a bit too far.
I do not claim that my amendment would be any better or more effective than this amendment, but I do say that this one has a difficulty, in putting on public authorities an obligation that many of them may have no power to accomplish. In particular, if they have to do the whole lot—that is, to achieve all the fisheries objectives—that seems a tall task to give every public authority. Yet that is what the amendment seems to say. However, I agree that we must attend to the expectation that fisheries authorities are not there just as matters of speculation but are supposed to be practical.
My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendments 57 and 58, which were put down by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern.
The premise I start from is that conservation and sustainability are essential if we want to conserve all kinds of fish for the good of our planet and as a legacy that we can be proud of for the future generations who will inhabit it. To achieve such success for the future, we need both clear, co-ordinated objectives and detailed management plans working in concert. The changes proposed will improve the coherence between the objectives contained in the detailed management plans. These plans will have to include an explanation of how the overarching objectives of sustainability and marine conservation have been interpreted and applied.
I ask the Minister to give more details on the operation of these new management plans and how they will co-exist alongside other co-management initiatives, which already exist in the industry. For example, the shellfish advisory group is engaged in such an arrangement, and this can be built upon.
We also believe that, within six months after the passing of this Bill, the Secretary of State should issue a consultation on the design and creation of these management plans. Can the Minister tell us a little more about the Government’s long-term vision for the future of this very special industry?
On the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson—who, if I may say so, was an excellent chairman of the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee, on which I was privileged to serve—I believe what he said is essentially right, in that every interest should look at this issue with a considerable sense of realism. In his speech, he pointed the way to a meeting of minds, which I believe and hope very much will come into existence. Surely, it should not be beyond the wit of humankind to come to a meeting of minds on this subject.
My Lords, I will speak to my Amendments 51 and 52, which are about data-deficient stocks. I was very pleased to hear the Minister say earlier that there is a real commitment to know more about stocks in order to improve them. Amendment 51 strengthens the drafting of the Bill to ensure that authorities “will” take steps to obtain the scientific advice and data necessary to enable an assessment of a stock’s maximum sustainable yield. This would replace the rather loose drafting in the Bill at the moment, which says that authorities will specify the steps, “if any”, that they propose to take. That seems to imply that they may choose to remain deficient in data. It would be an improvement to lay that stronger requirement.
Fisheries Bill [HL] DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Lord Mackay of ClashfernMain Page: Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Conservative - Life peer)
(1 year, 2 months ago)Lords Chamber
I must confess to feeling that perhaps I am not the best person to lead off this segment of the debate, because my amendment seeks to change subsection (8) of the clause but the group as a whole will take into account a wider range of issues relating to the definition of “national benefit”. I look forward to hearing the many views that will be expressed around the amendments in this group.
My amendment simply seeks to make the point—I fear this is a return to the discussion at the start of the debate—of what it is that we are doing in the handing out of a fishing quota, which is held in public trust, for private benefit. I therefore seek to amend the description of the national benefit objective as set out in the Bill from a fairly narrow definition that
“fishing activities of UK fishing boats bring social or economic benefits to the United Kingdom”,
and suggest that it should be reworded that the national benefit objective is that
“the public exploitation of the fishery for commercial, recreational and environmental purposes brings benefit to the United Kingdom”.
So the amendment seeks to make it clear in the Bill that it is more than simply the fishing activity for which we are granting quotas that constitutes a national benefit.
I know that noble Lords will speak to other amendments around the principle of the UK benefiting from the granting of quotas, but my amendment seeks to probe why it is that we are defining national benefits so narrowly and restricting it to fishing activities and fishing boats. The phrase seems a little odd, given that, as we have discussed, the founding principle of the Bill is that we have a national asset in our fishing resource that is held in trust for the public and granted out to fishing activity. I feel that the national benefit has been too narrowly drawn and too narrowly attached to fishing activities and fishing boats.
That is the purpose of the amendment. As I say, the rest of the amendments in the group seek to consider and assess different aspects of the national benefit—but I beg to move my amendment.
My Lords, I will speak to my Amendment 78, which is in a similar vein around national benefit. It is quite clear, certainly in the south-west, that if all the fishing vessels with British flags actually landed their catch—or a major proportion of it—in their home port, the number of landings in the UK and the viability of those ports would be hugely increased. Of course, we have here the issue of what used to be called “quota hoppers”, around which everything has gone staggeringly quiet during the Brexit negotiations and the formulation of the Bill.
As we know, a little under half of the English—not Scottish—quota is effectively owned by Dutch, Spanish or Icelandic interests. Grimsby, which I think used to be the world’s or Europe’s largest fishing port, now has a very important fish processing industry, but hardly any activity in terms of landings. Most of the quota there is effectively owned by Dutch vessels that land in Holland.
So, we have a question: how do we change that? The Bill does nothing to change this area. In a way, it suits the fishing industry establishment to keep things as they are, because those are the members. Whether vessels are English or foreign-owned, those are the members of the fishing organisations. That is why, in Amendment 78, I have used the scientifically calculated number of 75%, which came out at the end of my spreadsheet, to suggest what proportion of fish should be landed by English-flagged—or British-flagged, depending on how we want to define the devolution thing—vessels. It is a probing amendment, but only in the sense that something needs to be done in this area. Very few other EU member states have allowed the foreign ownership of quota in the way that we have. We decided to do that. We are where we are, but we need to make sure there is a national benefit; I assume that is why this objective is here.
My Lords, I will not detain the House for long. I am encouraged by this debate. Last year I sat on the committee on regenerating coastal and seaside towns. We looked in a lot of detail at what is happening to our seaside towns—at the poverty and great difficulty they are experiencing. I am certainly not an expert on what the quotas should or should not be, but this kind of discussion is a source of encouragement, and is putting its finger on the issues and on the opportunities that may come to these towns if we push these ideas. It feels as though there is movement on getting to grips with the positive opportunities that may now result from the time we are in. I thank the Committee for this helpful discussion.
Perhaps I may intervene on the noble and learned Lord. We should not forget that we are talking about British boats in British waters—it is not about foreign vessels. Sorry, I will sound like Michael Gove or the Prime Minister, but this has nothing to do with the European Union or the Commission: it is purely a British decision, apart from foreign vessels and where they have to land. That is why we have raised the issue.
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.
Fisheries Bill [HL] DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Lord Mackay of ClashfernMain Page: Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Conservative - Life peer)
(1 year, 2 months ago)Lords Chamber
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, and my contribution will do so from a Northern Ireland perspective. I live in County Down, and three principal ports associated with the sea fish sector are in County Down: Portavogie, Ardglass and Kilkeel. Two of those, Ardglass and Kilkeel, are among the top UK ports. In a Northern Ireland Assembly report of 2015, which is the last known record, the value to the local economy of the fish landed was £20.8 million.
Yesterday evening, I had an opportunity to talk to the Minister about issues that appertain to the sea fishing sector in Northern Ireland. I am reminded by our fishermen and their representatives of a phrase that has been used throughout this process, which neatly sums up the position that the fishing industry finds itself in today. That is: nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Like noble Lords who spoke earlier, I agree that this Bill is a framework and that much has to be coloured in with what the devolved Administrations come up with, and with what happens in the negotiations between the UK Government and the European Union. So, with the UK’s formal departure from the EU, the Fisheries Bill we are discussing today is an important stepping stone in the process.
As we have been reminded by Boris Johnson, his predecessor and others, the UK will be an independent coastal state and as such we should be able to unleash the potential of the fishing industry. For 47 years it was subjected to the management of the common fisheries policy, which some within the fishing industry believe was mismanagement. We are told that the Bill will deliver a legal guarantee that the UK will leave the common fisheries policy at the end of the transition period in December 2020. Nevertheless, the reality is that, before the potential referred to by the Government can be realised, the UK and the EU have to use their “best endeavours” to agree a new fisheries relationship by the middle of this year. This agreement will be critical to the future continued regeneration of the ports I have referred to, but our fishing industry remains some way off a final agreement in terms of resolving the imbalances in fishing quota allocations, most notably from an Irish Sea perspective.
We also want to see the ending of the annual reallocation of quota from UK fishermen, especially those from Northern Ireland, in favour of their colleagues in the south of Ireland under the so-called Hague Preference. Yesterday evening I had an opportunity to talk to the Minister and I mentioned the voisinage agreement that was originally a gentlemen’s agreement between the old Northern Ireland Parliament and the Government in Dublin. It enabled fishermen from County Down to fish in Dundalk Bay but, because of a Supreme Court judgment in Dublin in 2016, it had to be suspended. The Irish Government have since put the voisinage agreement into legislation. I say this to the Minister: we do not want that agreement dismantled in any way, because good relations have now been resumed and fishermen are continuing to ply the Irish Sea in pursuit of their best endeavours. Now, with a future Irish Government who it is hoped should be in place in the next couple of weeks, I hope that the good relationship with the previous Minister will continue with the noble Lord the Minister.
We should recall that securing a new fisheries agreement between the UK and EU is not about inventing the wheel. Other independent European coastal states, most notably Norway, have fisheries agreements with the EU. Last week, we heard about the EU’s ambition for the new fisheries agreement with the UK. It includes an aspiration for a more detailed agreement than the Norway-EU agreement. Given the huge implications that the UK-EU fisheries agreement will have for the success of this Bill, it would be useful to learn what the UK has in mind.
Reference has already been made to the previous incarnation of the Fisheries Bill, which was addressed in late 2018 in the other place, and to a House of Lords EU Committee report that provided the basis for this legislation. One of the biggest changes is that it delivers on the Government’s manifesto aim to manage our fisheries at their maximum sustainable yield levels under a wider ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management. This is obviously very important, and the application of MSY levels to fisheries management has been the subject of extensive debate since they were adopted by the EU at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002. For some, MSY is a conceptual theory that has little applicability to an ocean environment that is subject to constant change—change that has been accelerated by climatic change. So it is important that the Bill is shaped in a way that allows it to evolve and does not provide for unachievably hard MSY targets.
Another feature that local fishermen have raised with me is a fairer share of fishing opportunities. They suggest that they would like to see, as part of the management framework outlined in the Bill, a quota allocation system that is appropriate for Northern Ireland. What is suggested for England might not necessarily work in Northern Ireland. Fishermen in Northern Ireland should not be penalised, because they have taken all the—let us say—outstanding resilience measures over the last number of years and have been able to deal with discards, by-catches and the landing obligation. They introduced and got patented some areas of gear changes, which it would be useful for the Minister to have a look at.
While the fishing industry welcomes Prime Minister Johnson’s commitment that there will be no checks on the trade of seafood and other products from GB to Northern Ireland, it looks forward to hearing how the Government will deliver on that commitment—in particular with seafood brought to Northern Ireland for primary processing before being returned in its entirety to GB.
Last night I raised with the Minister the issue of allowing non-EEA fishermen to continue to work on County Down boats. In fact, they work on other boats throughout the fishing industry in the UK. So far, in spite of our best endeavours, the Home Office has not come forward with a legal formula to enable them to continue to do this work. In many instances, our local fishing industry could face tie-up without the expertise of these people. The Northern Ireland fishing industry faces a compromised position, because back in 2016 the Irish Government provided a legal framework to enable these non-EEA crew to fish in Irish waters. They can move from one Irish-registered vessel to another, so our local fishing industry in County Down, which relies largely on fishing in the Irish Sea, feels compromised.
I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments in response to the issues I have raised and to participating in Committee on the Floor of the House. I hope that the Bill will lead to the continued regeneration of coastal communities. Other noble Lords have mentioned the issues raised by environmental organisations about the need for greater sustainability and reflection of climate change. While that is referred to in the Bill, they want to see consideration given to binding commitments not to fish above independent, scientifically recommended sustainable levels. To allow an industry such as fishing to grow, develop and nurture, we have to adopt a balanced approach to all this.
In conclusion, I look forward to working with the Minister and noble Lords across the House to develop an enhanced Bill that will bring benefit to fishermen, particularly those I know in County Down fishing villages.
My Lords, I am not a fisheries expert; other than sporting a beard worthy of Captain Haddock and managing medieval manorial interests on the foreshore of the River Exe, I am a novice. I am thus grateful to the Minister for his introduction and to many other noble Lords for their expertise.
My law firm represents clients with commercial sea fishing interests and I know a number of local inshore fishermen in and around the Exe. I have been able to discuss this legislation with them. While happy to be free of the common fisheries policy, and the havoc it wreaked upon our fishing industry and our marine environment, their consensus is apprehension that their remaining livelihoods and coastal way of life may be sold down the river in forthcoming trade negotiations. The industry is also nervous that departure from the CFP will result in new systems that will cause uncertainty and delays. It seeks assurances that investments made in equipment and quota will not be undermined by administrative delays. Banks are currently reluctant to lend to fishing enterprises, and continued uncertainty will only make this worse.
As a Devonian, I am aware of the importance of the fishing industry to the local, regional and national economy. Devon is proud to host a large proportion of England’s fishing fleet, and in Brixham it has England’s largest fish market by value—approximately £40 million per annum.
Fishing has been core to the county’s economy for centuries. My home was built by an admiral of the Western Fleet during the Hundred Years’ War. Much of his time was spent defending English waters from marauding vessels from Brittany and Iberia. I hope that this will not be a task for the Earl of Devon in future, and that we can settle peacefully the fair allocation of our maritime resources towards the long-term health of our fisheries and the communities that depend on them. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, noted, fisheries monitoring and enforcement will still be key to the exercise of our sovereign control and to achieving the bold ambitions set out in this legislation. What additional investment do the Government intend to make?
As many of your Lordships will be aware—because I have mentioned it—2020 marks the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the “Mayflower” from Plymouth, a commemoration of which I am a patron. This momentous voyage set sail from Devon because of the sophistication of local fishermen who ventured for months, from small ports such as Teignmouth and Kenton, over the vast north Atlantic, to catch and salt cod in enormous quantities. It was much due to the efforts of these modest West Country folk, who established seasonal encampments on the east coast of North America, that we achieved the early English settlement of those distant shores. The trading relationships they operated were complex and cross-border, combining fishermen from Devon, fish from the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, salt from the Bay of Biscay, wine from Bordeaux and consumers on the coasts of the Mediterranean. As the Government head into trade negotiations with Europe and the United States, I hope that they will take lessons from this history, not least the need to work closely with our neighbours and to care for our fish stocks.
With respect to these negotiations, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, noted, the political declaration committed the UK and the EU to use their best endeavours not only to conclude but to ratify a new fisheries agreement by 1 July 2020. This seems a little ambitious. Can the Minister describe the progress of those negotiations?
As to the new fisheries objectives, the bycatch objective is laudable. Minimising wastage is essential to the sustainability of our fisheries. In pursuing this objective, we must take account of the peculiarly mixed nature of certain UK fish stocks, which makes for a higher rate of bycatch compared with others. We must be cautious about burdening UK vessels with well-intentioned objectives that render them uncompetitive. We must also ensure that the fisheries management plans not only become compulsory but are localised in their requirements. What may be good for the North Sea fleet may not be good for the south-west, where conditions are so different. How will the Government ensure, post CFP, that quota is allocated more smartly, providing benefit to the fish and the fishers?
I note that the recent debate on the EU fisheries landing obligation concluded that compliance with the discard ban has been impossible to evaluate, through a lack of data. The consensus in favour of remote electronic monitoring in UK waters is shared by fishermen, but they are concerned that this must apply to all vessels fishing in UK waters, not just those landing in UK ports. A level playing field is essential.
The UK is a champion in the area of fisheries technology. At the universities of Plymouth, Falmouth and Exeter, the south-west boasts world leaders in marine and environmental engineering and sciences. How will the Government harness that expertise to ensure that we accelerate productivity, increase sustainability and build the competitive advantage of our fishing fleet? Also, what plans do the Government have to develop skills in fishing and in the onshore processing of fish for the food industry?
The climate change objective is an important addition. Given our location at the end of the Gulf Stream, UK fisheries will be impacted more than most by rising sea temperatures. Does the Minister have data on the carbon footprint of the UK’s fishing fleet, and do the Government have specific targets to address it? Is the Minister aware that offshore fishing vessels from Brixham are currently forced to steam all the way up the channel to Holland for all but the most basic maintenance, because there is no facility in the entire south-west peninsula with the capacity for such work? It surprises me that after more than 500 years of offshore fishing, we have lost the ability to repair our own fleet. The Minister will be aware of recent progress towards reopening the shipyard at Appledore. Are the Government able to support that endeavour and reverse this terrible decline in local shipyard services?
Finally, can the Minister acknowledge the importance of the continental market for UK-caught fish? The vast majority of the fish landed in Devon are sold across the channel. The Brixham market uses state-of-the-art online auction technology to ensure the fastest and most efficient sale of the daily catch. Given the inherent perishability of fish, any delay in transportation will impact sales dramatically, and any increase in border checks will destroy this important regional industry. I realise that Mr Gove thinks a degree of cross-border friction is a price worth paying. However, there is no point in securing the right to fish our own waters only to destroy our ability to sell the fish that we catch; otherwise, it will be fish fingers for tea, for everyone, every day.