(2 months ago)Westminster Hall
It is a pleasure to be able to sum up this debate for the Opposition. First, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) for the way in which she introduced this debate with such passion and care. It is very clear that she is an animal lover, not just of Dotty and Dora, but of many other animals as well. I think she spoke for nearly all of us in the debate when she spoke so eloquently about what has happened during the pandemic to our pets and animals, and why it is so important to take action to ensure that there is no more suffering for animals during this period. She is one of Labour’s rising stars and her remarks show us why.
Britain is indeed a nation of animal lovers and, as we have heard throughout the debate, wherever we are in the United Kingdom, there is a requirement, a need and an urgency to see better protection for animals, better enforcement and better funding for those services that are trying to look after those animals. Successive lockdowns have shown more than ever how important animals are to our wellbeing and how much joy and comfort they can bring to our lives. They really are incredibly special.
Pets are not just a commodity; they are not just an item to be purchased; they are not a DVD player or an iPhone—they are part of the family. When we talk about pets and the impact on animals throughout the pandemic, we should approach it from that point—our pets are a full part of our families, not just property. Sadly, that is not how they are described in law. Many of the challenges presented to the Minister today are about how the law can better reflect the importance of animals and how our relationship with animals has changed over time. They are no longer just work animals in support of our economy, but animals to comfort, nurture and be a full member of our families.
A number of issues have been raised in this debate. I thank all hon. Members who have spoken. They have all raised very important, serious issues that need to be addressed by the Minister—I hope they will be.
There has been a huge rise in demand for dogs and cats—pandemic puppies and covid cats—during this period, and that is clear not only in the price paid for them, but in internet searches for them. That creates an opportunity for unscrupulous dealers and those people who want to exploit, con and make money at all costs, including accepting cruelty to animals. As well as the increased sale of healthy pets, there has been a rise in the number of dogs and cats being imported into the UK from unscrupulous dealers. As the hon. Member for Angus (Dave Doogan), not all foreign imports are from unscrupulous dealers, but sadly, far too many of them are. That needs to be addressed.
Many unscrupulous dealers are taking pets away from their mothers at an extremely young age. Those pets have a higher risk of carrying diseases and have not been fully nurtured into the healthy young animals we hope them to be. Many new pet owners have participated in impulse-buying over the pandemic. Battersea Dogs and Cats Home found that 42% of pandemic pup buyers had not seen their puppy’s breeding environment prior to purchase, and 27% paid for their puppy without even seeing it.
This situation underlines the need not only for regulatory action, but for better communication of the laws that already exist. In many cases, campaigners, on a cross-party basis, have changed the law, to require that animals should be seen with their mother and to make sure that animal cruelty in the breeding process is eliminated as much as possible, but if people do not know that those laws exist, they might as well not exist. That is a really important part of the communication effort that I encourage the Minister to look at. As well as arguing for regulation, we need to make sure that people understand what is going on, so they can be better protected.
Now more than ever, when demand for pets is so high, it is vital that the Government increase the legal imported age to six months, as has been discussed. Doing so would make it easier for imported dogs to be checked for rabies and would also ensure that pets are not taken for long journeys at far too young an age. I would also like the Government to stop allowing soft repercussions for those who disregard animal welfare for their own monetary benefits.
We have heard much about the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill—and believe me, the Minister has heard an awful lot from me about it over many years. As we heard from the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers), we can have no more false starts on this Bill. She argued for it during her time at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; indeed, successive Secretaries of State have argued for it. There seems to be a blockage in the way that Bills are brought forward to Parliament and a blind spot towards the needs of animals among those doing the parliamentary programming. I know that the Minister shares that concern and will do all that she can to ensure that the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill is passed through the other place in due course.
Equally, I pay tribute to my fellow west country Member, the hon. Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder), for his work. In praising him for the way that he has conducted his campaign, I also place on record the work of Anna Turley, the former Member for Redcar, who did so much during her time in this place to learn the lessons from the experience of Baby, the young dog that was cruelly abused in such an awful way. Although increasing the sentence for animal cruelty from six months to five years in the most extreme cases is a substantial step, the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill does not do two things that in my mind it must do.
The first is to apply equally to wild animals as it does to domestic animals, a step that has been taken elsewhere in the United Kingdom but not in England. Secondly, learning the lesson from Baby’s law, we should consider introducing the aggravating offence of deliberately filming the animal cruelty for the personal enjoyment of those doing it or to boast by sharing it online. That is an extra-special form of cruelty, and the law should better reflect that. We did not have the chance to vote on those amendments, which Labour tabled, to the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill. The Minister will know that I am hopeful that she will look to cut and paste those amendments, in the spirit of cross-party co-operation, in any future legislation.
I want to turn briefly to pet theft, which my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd and others mentioned. Losing a pet is not about losing property, which is what the law currently suggests, so I think the law on pet theft needs to be updated. It needs to be better understood and communicated; it also needs to be better enforced. Lockdown has created situations that have led to social media panic, certainly in Plymouth and Pontypridd, about the risk of dog theft. Although pet theft has increased during the pandemic, especially for rare and valuable breeds of dogs and cats in particular, the worry for people that someone will steal their animal, or that something could happen if they let it out of sight, has been combined with the extra worry of those walking their dog on their own, especially at night. Many dog owners have correctly taken extra steps to avoid people during the pandemic, following Government advice to stay away from people, but in doing so they potentially put themselves at greater risk, if only of greater worry about what might happen to them. The Minister urgently needs to communicate with her colleagues at the Home Office to ensure that pet theft is adequately addressed in law and also regulation.
We have seen not only risks of cruelty towards pets, but risks of animals not receiving the medical care they need. The hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson) used his expertise very wisely to talk about the implications of not taking a new animal to a vet for support, and I support his words of thanks to those in the veterinary profession for their tireless work to help animals during the pandemic. We need to ensure that we pick up on the lessons from microchipping, which the hon. Member for Bury North (James Daly) spoke about. Tuk’s law and Gizmo’s law are much to be supported, but I would like the Minister to apply the same emphasis elsewhere, because it is not right that steps are taken to microchip animals without then scanning them at certain points. Indeed, I might go one step further and suggest that we extend the current requirement to report on motor incidents involving livestock and dogs to include cats, because as we know, the loss of an animal, especially when they have a microchip, or not knowing what has happened to them is very serious.
I would also like to echo the concerns raised by hon. Members about the funding for animal welfare charities. Each animal welfare charity is really important in stopping cruelty in their community and for campaigning for better standards, and I am very concerned to read of the huge numbers of losses that many animal welfare charities have had during this period. Dogs Trust has seen a loss of income of 15% to 30% in donations and legacy income. RSPCA had a 12% fall in donations and a 9% reduction in legacies, and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home has suffered a £4 million loss in fundraising income.
Smaller charities have also suffered. They might not have the public affairs team to send us briefs on it, but smaller animal charities up and down the country are equally facing difficult times. The Association of Dogs and Cats Homes found that 47% of the 142 UK rescue organisations have reported an income drop of more than 50%. With a recession looming, their recovery will be incredibly difficult, and extending support to those organisations is incredibly vital, as we have heard from the hon. Member for Pontypridd. Just as we have seen with the zoo support fund, the Minister has allocated funding for it, but with 97% of the zoo support fund not yet spent, I encourage her to look at the conditions for that and see whether money can be allocated to support those individuals or steps can be taken by the Treasury.
The hon. Member for Penrith and The Border spoke about the need to ensure that it is not just domestic animals that are protected during this period. The case he made around equine health is especially important because of the incredible cost of keeping a horse. I share his concern that horse abandonment will increase during this period. I know these concerns are shared by the animal welfare sector as well, and I think the Minister would be wise to look at this issue. One way that she could address this area and provide a bit of hope would be to look at the Labour animal welfare manifesto from the previous election. There is much to be said for bringing forward a comprehensive animal welfare Bill in the next Queen’s Speech. It is a proposition that I have put to the Minister previously in debates, and I hope that she will take it up in the spirit that it is intended.
There is cross-party support for tougher measures for animal welfare, better support for pet owners and better support for those people working in this sector. In my mind, an animal welfare Bill should include provisions for tightening the rules on pet theft and puppy smuggling. Should the Bill sponsored by the hon. Member for Bury North not pass, an animal welfare Bill should adopt Tuk’s law and Gizmo’s law and look at cat microchipping. It should look at cruelty to wild animals and include tougher sentences for filming, as I mentioned in relation to the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill earlier. It should also include provisions for animal sentience and for the “flop not crop” campaign to ensure that dog ear cropping is not part of our national culture.
An animal welfare Bill should also improve accessibility to vets, improve affordability for those on low incomes, and improve tenants’ ability to properly keep pets. It should improve reporting of motor incidents to include animals beyond livestock and dogs, and take action around livestock worrying. Many people have taken their animals into rural areas and that has had consequences for farm animals. I think that can be better supported without necessarily reducing the right to roam along the way. As we have heard from the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), action should be taken to ban fur imports and to address trophy hunting. Finally, there should be an animal welfare commissioner to produce an annual report on the state of animal welfare in England in particular.
With a Bill as comprehensive as that, there would be much that would have cross-party support. I would encourage the Minister to look carefully at how that can be included in the Queen’s Speech that we are expecting, so we can avoid so many of these debates where hon. Members on both sides make the same cases. Let us have one single Bill to deal with all these issues and to make sure that we are properly putting into law the fact that every pet and every animal matters, with proper, decent protection and funding to go along with it.
For anyone watching this, can the Minister confirm that there are organisations that will support the animal of anyone fleeing domestic violence as well? The power that a perpetrator may have over an animal should not be used to keep a victim of domestic abuse in their home.
(3 months, 2 weeks ago)Public Bill Committees
I support the comments from the hon. Gentleman, who has done a good job in building cross-party support in his usual way. Clauses 1 and 2 are good and we will not oppose them.
I want to pose a question to the Minister about clause 1 and disqualification. The proposal to increase maximum sentences from six months to five years is welcome. It will of course be up to the court to decide the point on that scale for any offence. The Dogs Trust has raised the point about issuing disqualification orders where the court has imposed the maximum penalty, to ensure that those convicted of the most extreme animal cruelty and receiving the maximum penalty face mandatory disqualification.
The courts are able to issue disqualifications. It is important to note that at the moment disqualifications are regarded not as part of the punishment but as part of measures to prevent future abuse of animals. However, the Dogs Trust makes a strong case for mandatory disqualification in the event of maximum penalties being imposed, as provided for by the Bill.
There certainly have been recent examples, such as that reported yesterday in Plymouth’s local paper, The Herald, of poor Riot, an American pocket bully-type dog in Plymouth, who had her ears cropped. She was seized by the RSPCA and, thankfully, rehomed. The courts chose not to issue a disqualification order on the owner. That would be one of those points that the public does not understand: how someone can be convicted of severe animal cruelty but not be automatically disqualified. I appreciate that that point sits complementary to clause 1, but I would be grateful if the Minister addressed it in her response.
I rise in support of my hon. Friend’s remarks on extending the provisions to include wild animals. I take this from a simple perspective: how would we explain to a member of the public, or to a child, that one rabbit will be treated differently from another rabbit, depending on whether it is in a cage or in a field? How do we instil the same sense of value for both those animals if one is treated differently by the law from the other? There is a case here for including wild animals; I appreciate that the opportunity to include them in this Bill may not be immediately forthcoming, but I believe that is a clear and important part of ensuring that wild animals do matter—that all animals matter.
The second part of the new clause, which is worthy of being adopted by the Minister, is the two-year review of this legislation to see how it is working. One area in particular that needs to be looked at is the effects of the restrictions around coronavirus and covid-19 on animal cruelty. I mentioned in my earlier remarks that we have seen an increase in the number of cases of animal cruelty during these restrictions. It would be useful to policy makers and to those seeking to enforce this legislation if there was an assessment about its impacts on animal cruelty, at a time when we know animal cruelty is increasing, to see whether the deterrent effect is working.
In particular, it would be useful to assess how the provisions of the Bill can be better communicated to people, to ensure that they make better decisions before committing cruelty to an animal, recognising that there are now stronger and tougher penalties that equally are being used by the courts as a form of deterrence as well as a form of punishment. That is an element that could also be looked at.
(7 months ago)Westminster Hall
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) for introducing the debate with such verve. The Member whom he replaced had a similar verve when it came to animals, so there is clearly something in the way Ipswich elects people that ensures that they are animal friendly.
Like others, I place on the record my thanks to the researchers and other people who have been fighting so hard on this issue for so long. That is an aspect to which I would like to return. As the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) so ably and politely put it when mentioning it to the Minister, we have been here before. No matter how good the debate has been—this has been a very good debate—it is not the quality of the debate but the pressure on the Minister to act that we need to look at.
We have all heard this stated before, but it is true that the theft of a pet is not a simple matter of theft of an item, nor should it be treated as such by the law. It is the callous and criminal removal of a family member. It is kidnapping. It is something that strikes at the very heart of the family unit. Pet theft is a tragedy that should be measured more in emotional distress than in economic loss.
The debate has touched on not just pet theft but a number of parallel issues relating to animal welfare and protection of animals: microchipping, animal cruelty, criminal breeding, puppy farming and the import and export of animals. I think that we should not just take one item, as a line item, to look at what can be done, but recognise that pet theft plays into a much bigger concern about the future and the welfare of our animals. One of the opportunities, which has not been spoken about in the debate so far, is that of bringing together those bits of outstanding welfare legislation for which we are still waiting. As the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Jane Stevenson) hinted in her remarks, there is enormous cross-party support for many of those items sitting in Ministers’ to-do trays.
I think that the approach that Ministers have adopted, especially since 2015, of parcelling up animal welfare into smaller and smaller Bills, smaller issues, and dealing with them one by one is a fantastic way of gaining headlines, but it does not deal with the comprehensive nature of some of those challenges. I encourage the Minister to look at whether animal sentience and animal welfare sentencing—assuming that there is not enough time for the Bill that was spoken about; it is due to be debated on Friday, and I hope that there will be—as well as cat microchipping and the other issues can be wrapped up together in a flagship animal welfare Bill that could be in the Queen’s Speech. I think that there would be enormous public support not just on this issue but for a whole host of other animal welfare concerns if that were the case.
A number of hon. Members spoke passionately and it is only appropriate that I mention some of them, because it does tell a story about what is going on. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams), who is no longer in his place, talked about the law being sub-optimal and not working. That is a cross-party concern that was echoed right across the Chamber. The reality of it, mentioned by the hon. Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson), is that only one in five animals are returned, meaning that enormous amounts of families are without their pets each and every year. That figure is important.
The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Dr Kieran Mullan) talked about the importance of the data. I agree with him on that: the stretched police resource and the real pressure on the police mean that in many cases these crimes are not being properly recorded as pet theft. They are recorded as animals going missing, or simply not at all. That is especially true of certain age groups who do not want to be a burden or to bother the authorities. They might sit at home desperately worried about their animal, but will not want to make an appeal or burden the police with it. I say to all those people who have lost or are worried about an animal to report it. Animals in animal shelters up and down the country are waiting to be reunited with people. It is important that we encourage that so that we can get the data, as mentioned by the hon. Member, to make sure that the work is being done properly.
The hon. Member for Stockton South (Matt Vickers) said that pets are priceless, and indeed a number of Members have spoken today about the economic value of their own animals in this regard. A law based simply on an animal’s economic value will always discount and disregard the emotional value of that animal. A bigger change in animal welfare legislation is a theme we have seen in the past decade or so: we are recognising not just animals as little furry creatures, but their role within our families and within our society, and the values we want to attach to those animals are being reflected in the legislation that governs them. There has been a gap there, and there are opportunities to close that gap. I say to the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) that we all wish the village of Wherwell the best of luck with their endeavours in relation to finding Cleo. It is good to see so many people feeling strongly about the issue.
Animal welfare has been mentioned as a topic at the top of our inboxes. When I explain that to people, there is an element of shock and surprise in their first instant reaction, “Is it not Brexit? Is it not covid-19?” Then there is the realisation that people love animals more than they love people sometimes. It is no surprise to me that animal welfare is at the top of our agenda, and that demands that the action follows it.
As a number of Members, including the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), have hinted, when we talk about the theft of an animal we need to look at it not just in the moment of its being stolen, not just as regards the use of sophisticated machinery—as mentioned by the hon. Member for Ipswich in reference to the theft of a number of animals—and not just as being about opportunism. We also need to think about happens to the animal afterwards. I know that when someone loses an animal, they do not think about the economic cost, they worry about what is happening to that animal at that point. They worry about whether the animal is trapped somewhere. “Can’t they get out? Are they okay? Is there something I can do to safeguard and protect the animal?” The worry and concern eats away. The SNP spokesperson, the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Lisa Cameron), spoke about the psychological torture at the moment of loss. That is what is so cruel about this crime, because it is torturous. It is a form of torture when we lose an animal along the way, and that needs to be properly reflected.
These petitions are good petitions. There is an enormous opportunity to do something about the situation. We know that pets are not simply possessions. Labour are sympathetic to the need to do more to tackle pet theft, including considering the possible changes in the law that have been spoken about so passionately across the Chamber today. There is an opportunity for Ministers to work with campaigners, because despite the reasons that have been discussed for the Government refusing to act so far—that sentences already exist and that there are criminal and sentencing guidelines—those measures are not working. This is a moment to look again at not just the words on the page of the guidelines, but how they are being implemented. They are not being implemented in a way that, I believe, carries public confidence in the measures. There is an opportunity to change that.
I hope that the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill that has, like this debate, been seen many times before will get proper attention on Friday as a private Member’s Bill. Indeed, I have called on the Government to adopt it as a Government Bill to ensure that it has enough time, and I encourage the Minister to make sure that is the case.
My neighbour, the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) spoke passionately about the need to microchip cats. Indeed, just before the last general election some of us, in this same room, debated the need to microchip cats. That was a compelling case then, and it remains a compelling case now.
With the world in crisis, a jobs crisis looming and covid-19 taking up much of the Government’s bandwidth, how can we get animal welfare issues properly on the agenda? I say to the Minister that wrapping them together in a comprehensive animal welfare law is one way to do that, and I encourage her to include puppy smuggling as part of that. When we talk about puppy smuggling, we frequently talk about animals smuggled into the United Kingdom, but there is also the reverse trend. That is especially being used at the moment to satisfy the demand of people seeking to buy an animal during the lockdown.
We have heard a number of times during the debate about how pets offer such important companionship—they are part of the family. We know there has been a real increase in the value of animals during the lockdown, particularly dachshunds, English bulldogs, French bulldogs, pugs and chow chows—prices have been shooting up. The price of a dachshunds has shot up by a whopping 80% since the start of the lockdown. That is a market that criminals will prey on, and I encourage the Minister to ensure that that is taken into account.
Plymouth is no different from many of the places that have been mentioned so far in the debate, and there is enormous public concern that we should not find ourselves here again in six months’ time. When the Minister addresses hon. Members’ valid and well-put concerns, I encourage her to offer reassurance that all the hundreds of thousands of people who signed the petition, including 500 people in Plymouth, will not need to sign the same petition again to get another debate in order to put pressure on a Minister to enact what is a very clear and obvious instruction from the public—indeed, from the House—that we want to see pet theft taken more seriously.
(7 months, 1 week ago)Commons Chamber
A Labour party policy.
(7 months, 1 week ago)Commons Chamber
I agree. At least British Ministers will not have to utter the phrase, “It won’t get through Parliament,” because Parliament has, sadly, voted itself out of having a say, making it one of the few Parliaments in the world that will not have a say on any trade deals with Britain.
Let me address briefly some of the reasons the Minister gave for not supporting the amendments, because it is important that we consider the arguments. Last week I heard the International Trade Secretary say that if we have high standards, that would risk having a crippling effect on agricultural exports from developing countries such as Kenya. I know that Members are concerned about that, but the problem is that it is not right. At the moment, thanks to our membership of the EU, the Government have nine trade deals with sub-Saharan African countries, and so far not a single one of them has been rolled over. We risk losing those trade deals with sub-Saharan Africa if we do not renew them by 31 December. If we care about our agricultural exports, that should be the priority. The Minister also knows that the Government should have a better plan for improving the post-Brexit UK version of the EU’s generalised scheme of preferences, which sets lower tariffs for developing countries in exchange for meaningful protection of human rights, labour rights and the environment.
What else is used as an excuse for the Government not putting their promise into law? The Minister mentioned labelling. I have spoken proudly from this Dispatch Box about the need to buy local. I want consumers to look out for the red tractor and other local accreditations when they are making purchasing decisions. But let us be real: an extra label will not stop lower-quality food being sold in Britain. It offers a meagre apology on the packaging, but only where there is packaging. Ministers know that 50% of our agricultural production does not go into retail. It goes into food service—to cafés and restaurants, food processing and the like—where the origin of the ingredients is, at best, hidden. That is precisely where chlorinated chicken would be sold and eaten first. It would go to big caterers and into mass production—places where consumers cannot tell where their food has come from or know the standards it is produced to. It would go into hospital food and into meals for our armed forces and our schools. The Government claim that the amendment is unnecessary because standards are included in the withdrawal Act, as we have just heard. However, the EU’s import restrictions apply only to products banned on the basis of safety and, as was mentioned earlier, they do not deal with animal welfare or environmental protections, which is what this amendment seeks to do.
There is one more excuse, which has not been spoken about so far, that is absolutely key to the Government’s future trade strategy, and it is about taxes. Could not Ministers just tax these products a wee bit more with an extra couple of pence on tariffs and let the market decide? This is something I have heard and read about in Tory-leaning media, but let me be clear with Ministers, because all those in this place know what the Treasury and the Department for International Trade are planning. Charging a few extra pence on lower-standard food import tariffs while public anger is at its highest will give Ministers a convenient soundbite to offer a nation ill at ease with the Government’s policy. They will then be able to drop those tariffs through secondary legislation when the anger dies down. The end result will be that we still have chlorinated chicken and food produced to lower standards on sale, whether it is for a few pence more or a few pence less. That will not stop those products being sold in the United Kingdom. It will authorise and legitimise it, and it will sign the death warrant for farm businesses the nation over. That is why we want these standards put into law.
In the midst of a climate and ecological emergency, it is imperative that we have a clear road map for agriculture to reach net zero. The NFU has done a good job in its work so far, and I want to thank farmers for the efforts they are making to cut carbon emissions, which are a sizeable chunk of UK emissions. That is why we back efforts to have clear, sector-specific plans that farmers can follow, and we also back efforts including the amendment tabled by Lord Whitty in the other place on pesticides. That matters because of the impact not only on the environment but on human health.
I fear that, in seeking to disagree with these amendments tonight, the Government might be trying to hint at the Salisbury convention, which is that the other place should not interfere with manifesto commitments. However, the Lords are doing something different from that: they are doing a reverse Salisbury. They are asking the Government to stick to their manifesto commitments. In such circumstances, the Salisbury principle does not apply, and the Lords should ask the Commons to reconsider these amendments on food safety and on the Trade and Agriculture Commission again—and again, if necessary. Every time this House votes on these amendments, more and more farmers will be looking at the voting list to see which Members support the farmers and which have chosen not to. We cannot take any votes for granted, and I warn Conservative Members against doing so.
Just last week the Leader of the Opposition and I visited the farm of the NFU president, Minette Batters, in Wiltshire. That was our second meeting with the NFU president in a month, but the Prime Minister still refuses to meet her. I would be grateful if the Minister could pull a few strings to get the PM to meet farmers to talk about this issue.
Where the Leader of the Opposition leads, the Government follow. I am grateful for that. That visit to Wiltshire was not in vain, I see—[Interruption.]
What kind of country do we want to be? [Interruption.] I do not think that a country whose MPs shout at each other in a debate like this is a country that is good—[Interruption.] I have not heard that from this side and I encourage those on the Conservative side to recognise that as well. There are people watching this debate in farming communities up and down the country. They are tuning into BBC Parliament and parliamentlive.tv for the first ever time, and they should see parliamentarians performing at our best in this debate.
I want Britain to be a nation of quality—[Interruption.] Let me start that again, because the people at home might not have heard me over the chuntering. I want Britain to be a nation of quality, of high standards, of ethical treatment of animals and of stewardship of our landscapes; a custodian of high environmental standards; and a nation that challenges other nations to compete with us fiercely but to do so on a level playing field. I want Britain to be a beacon country with our values proudly on show, not just in soundbites and manifestos, but in our laws, trade deals and behaviours. That is what the amendments on food standards seek to achieve. It is a moral compass that this Agriculture Bill desperately needs.a It is because of that, and because Labour backs our farmers, that we have voted at every opportunity against the Bill, which singularly fails to protect our farmers from being undercut by food produced to lower animal welfare and environmental standards abroad. Our farmers are not afraid of competition but, when we maintain high standards for them but allow potentially food produced at lower standards to be imported, that is unfair. It is not a level playing field. That food would be illegal for British farmers to produce here, but somehow it would be okay to have it through the back door. That cannot be allowed and that is why our food standards must be put into law.
I agree with the key point the right hon. Gentleman makes because, as a west country MP, I see an awful lot of dumpy boats around the west country that have been adjusted to be as broad as they possibly can while still coming under the designated length, be that 10, 12 or 14 metres or whatever. I share his concern about retrofits to fishing boats; in particular, he will know of my concern about retrofits to boats that do not come with the latest stability features, so that the retrofitting not only avoids certain fisheries regulations, which is the point he is making, but also potentially poses a greater safety risk to the lives of the crew, if they were to go over, and of those volunteers tasked with saving them in such an event.
I take the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes. However, when it comes to banning supertrawlers, although I know that the amendment that Labour tabled mentioned supertrawlers over 100 metres, he will be aware that there is a debate about whether a supertrawler at 90 metres is also sufficiently sized. To a certain extent, that is a moot point, because as he will know the oceans treaty that his Government have signed up to effectively seeks to ban all extractive activity in marine protected areas by 2030, working on the assumption that marine protected areas will be the ones that would become highly protected marine areas. I hope there is a strong case for that status being given to Wembury bay, around the coast from Plymouth. The Minister will know it. It has a beautiful diverse marine environment, and would be an effective highly protected marine area; it does not necessarily enjoy all the protections of other classifications at the moment. There is some wiggle room there.
The key point of the new clause is to seek clarity from the Minister and the Government on the journey ahead. My fear is that we will not see a clear plan produced, or a part two of the Benyon review. I would like Richard Benyon recommissioned to start a part two, because the questions of how an area is designated, and how commercial and recreational fishers are included in the process, are essential. The UK Government must not renege on their 2030 treaty obligations because they did not put in the advance work, and we must not have a rush to designate in the lead-up to 2030 that does not adequately take into account the livelihoods of fishers, who otherwise could have been supported for a period through re-zoning of fishing activity. That is the purpose of the new clause. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about it.
I am afraid I did not get the answers that I was looking for from the Minister with regard to a commitment and a timetable. I am grateful for the commitment she has given on consultation, but I will push the new clause to a vote.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
I take the point, although it is brave of any Conservative MP to talk about rule breaking at the moment.
Returning to the issue at hand, rather than the game playing, it is important that we look at this issue. That is why in proposed new clause 13(6) we say that there must be “sufficient resources” available for proper enforcement, including
“an appropriate number of vessels…an appropriate number of personnel, and…any of other resource”
that is needed, such as new aerial assets and drones, as we have discussed. Joining together our Royal Navy assets, coastguard assets, the enforcement activities of the devolved nations, electronic monitoring systems, automatic identification systems and other electronic tracking systems gives us the ability to track vessels as well as giving us a better understanding of the reality at sea. That is important.
Frequently, in regulatory terms, there has been an idea that when a fishing boat leaves port some of the rules will not be enforced, even if it undertakes activities incorrectly. As we have seen, there is an appetite among fishers, coastal communities and the people we represent to ensure that fishing activities at sea are legal, sustainable and fair when distributed between British and foreign boats in our waters. At the moment, that is not the view of many fishers in the west country. There seems to be a bias towards prosecuting British boats rather than foreign boats that are potentially in breach. I encourage the Minister to look at the enforcement priorities of the authorities when she has a moment.
All of those who feed into enforcement need to ensure that people are playing by the rules; I do not think people are doing that at the moment. There needs to be sufficient enforcement of the standard that we want. As we become a newly independent coastal state, the message about our values and enforcement that we send now will be one that we are judged against in the future. I want the Government to use the powers that they already have and have had for many years—not new powers that may be afforded to them by any negotiations—to ensure sufficient enforcement of our marine laws, to make sure there is no bias in favour of prosecuting British boats at the expense of rule-breaking foreign boats in our waters, and that we have a higher standard regime for safety enforcement.
Many non-departmental bodies that the Minister has in her remit have an important role in sending messages about stability tests, proper training and wearing lifejackets, as well as the issues that she spoke about relating to discards and other matters. I am keen to hear what the Minister has to say.
I am grateful to the Minister for setting that out. I agree that there has been a great deal of scrutiny, but that scrutiny has found enforcement gaps, enforcement problems and a lower number of interventions and hours at sea. There is more work to be done there, but on the basis that we have discussed this and the Minister can be in no doubt that there is a better job to be done than is done already, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
New Clause 14
Expert advisory council on fisheries
“(1) The Secretary of State must establish a body called the Expert Advisory Council on Fisheries for the purpose of exercising the functions in subsections (4) to (6).
(2) The Expert Advisory Council on Fisheries shall consist of as many people as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(3) Before appointing any person to the Expert Advisory Council, the Secretary of State must consult with—
(a) the other fisheries policy authorities;
(b) inshore fisheries and conservation authorities;
(c) fishing industry representatives;
(d) representatives of the 10m and under fishing sector;
(e) recreational fishing representatives;
(f) environmental organisations;
(g) fish processors;
(h) port representatives;
(i) local government representatives; and
(j) any other such organisations as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(4) The Secretary of State must have regard to the advice of the Expert Advisory Council on Fisheries before—
(a) publishing or amending a Secretary of State fisheries statement,
(b) making or withdrawing a determination of fishing opportunities under Section 24, and
(c) making any regulations under this Act.
(5) The Secretary of State shall publish the Expert Advisory Council on Fisheries’ assessment, for a calendar year, of the state of UK fisheries, including—
(a) current stocks and their sustainability,
(b) species distribution within the Exclusive Economic Zone,
(c) the status of employment and skills in the fishing industry,
(d) the take-up of fishing industry job opportunities by school and college leavers,
(e) present total catches and future projected total catches, by both volume and monetary value, and
(f) the economic and social value and impact of the fishing industry on coastal communities.
(6) The first annual assessment under subsection (5) shall be published within 12 months of this section coming into force, and each subsequent assessment must be published within 12 months of the previous such assessment.
(7) For a calendar year, no determination may be made under section 24 until the annual assessment under subsection (5) has been published for that year.” —(Stephanie Peacock.)
This new clause would place a duty on the Secretary of State to establish an Expert Advisory Council on Fisheries, and would provide for the Council’s membership and functions.
Brought up, and read the First time.
I agree entirely. Plymouth’s plan for fish has a similar focus on marine skills, and again, if the hon. Member for Waveney were here, he would no doubt be talking about the skills in the Renaissance of the East Anglian Fisheries project. What is happening here, though—this is a good example—is that the responsibility for workforce is being shifted to local authorities and local initiatives, and is not part of a national strategy. If it is happening in certain communities, we can presume that it is not happening in others, and sharing best practice, though important, is no substitute for a national lead that would create such a strategy and make skills workforce development easier for people to undertake.
This is a really important new clause, and I hope the Minister thinks strongly about adopting it. We do not eat enough local fish, and it was universally agreed on Second Reading that we need to eat more. As part of that, we need to buy more local fish. The public sector—the UK’s largest fish buyer—has the potential, as the national caterer, to buy more local fish.
Marine Stewardship Council certification of UK stocks is not as high as we would like it to be, and the opportunity to have more sustainable fish stocks should also mean the opportunity for more Government procurement. It seems odd that, at the moment, the fish eaten in our prisons, Government offices, schools and hospitals is frequently foreign fish because our own fish do not adhere to the sustainability standards. I am sure the Minister wants to change that.
If the UK Government were to lead by example and set an objective as part of the procurement report that the shadow fisheries Minister set out, they would also encourage more private sector buyers to buy more British fish, because that would support domestic infrastructure for processing and the onward distribution of fish in the UK.
On Second Reading, I challenged UK supermarkets to buy more British fish, and asked them to write to me to set out how they planned to do so. I fear that the supermarkets’ monitoring of parliamentary debates may be a little faulty, because not a single one has yet put pen to paper to set out how that might happen. Hopefully, the Minister will set out how the Government intend to buy more British fish, and at the same time will encourage UK supermarkets, which could, after the lead of the UK Government, provide the biggest boost for our domestic fishers.
At a time when international markets are disrupted—they could be disrupted further, given what may follow the no-deal Brexit that we seem to be heading towards—the ability for UK supermarkets and the UK public sector to buy more British fish would be enormously helpful.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
This brief new clause would require the Government to publish a report into the distant water fleet. On a recent visit to Hull, I spoke to a number of fishers from UK Fisheries who are part of that fleet.
It may be useful for new Committee members to understand what a distant water fleet is. Historically, the UK fished in distant waters, especially around Iceland, Norway, Greenland and other places. It was in those waters that we developed a taste for the white fish that still makes up the vast majority of our imports, and from which the white fish for fish and chips largely still comes. As those nations took back control of their own waters and pushed our boats out of them—as part of the cod wars that I am sure all hon. Members are familiar with—distant water fishing opportunities declined, and with them, sadly, many of our fishing ports that relied on the distant water fleet, especially along the east coast in places such as Hull and Grimsby.
A small distant water fleet remains. The Minister knows that I want more fishers to land their fish in UK waters. Whether they are UK boats or UK flagged boats, if they are using any quota that has been given to the UK, I want that fish to be landed in UK ports. Notwithstanding that, the new clause seeks to encourage the Minister to ensure that in the negotiations taking place with our EU friends, the quota available for the distant water fleet that is currently UK flagged still has the opportunity to continue fishing in those waters.
In the Norway-EU agreement, for instance, the UK has approximately 50% of the available quota. Norway has said: “Brexit is your problem to sort out. We’ve allocated our quota to you guys. You sort it out between you.” That is perhaps fair-minded of it and not unreasonable, but in making the case for a distant water fleet to preserve that quota, I would be grateful if the Minister confirmed, first, that that is part of the fisheries negotiations; secondly, that conversations are taking place with the distant water fleet; and thirdly, that the Minister and her Department have had opportunities to encourage the distant water fleet to genuinely build an economic link with UK ports, particularly on the east coast, and ensure that it is not just flying a UK flag for convenience and that it is landing more fish.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
New Clause 19
Report on fish caught in UK waters but landed abroad
‘(1) Within 12 months of this Act being passed and annually thereafter, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report stating—
(a) what fish have been caught within the UK Exclusive Economic Zone but landed at ports outside the United Kingdom, Isle of Man, Guernsey or Jersey; and
(b) why such fish were not landed at a port in the United Kingdom, Isle of Man, Guernsey or Jersey.’—(Luke Pollard.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
The new clause, which is consistent with the case made by Labour Members in Committee, would create an evidence base for the missing fish that our coastal ports are denied when it is landed in foreign ports. We know that Conservative MPs have voted down Labour’s jobs in coastal communities amendments, favouring the landing of fish in foreign ports rather than British ports. That does not create jobs in Grimsby, Hull, Plymouth, Newlyn, Portavogie and elsewhere.
The new clause seeks to understand how much fish caught under a UK quota is being landed in foreign ports. As set out by the shadow fisheries Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East, for every job at sea, there are 10 jobs on the shore. Landing more fish in our coastal communities creates more jobs in them, and creates the opportunity for more fish to be sold in the UK, supporting our domestic industry. The report proposed by the new clause, which would only create the evidence base for missing fish, would hopefully inform that debate.
When the Government voted against the jobs in coastal communities amendment that would have required two thirds of fish caught under a UK quota to be landed in British ports, I told the Minister that that would not be the end of the matter. Indeed, she should expect Labour to continue campaigning for the creation of jobs in coastal communities, especially given the jobs crisis that they face in particular. The new clause would create an evidence base, and it is hard to disagree with the merit of that. The promise of more jobs that was made to our coastal communities—with Brexit and with more fish being landed—can be realised only if more fish is actually landed.
Although the Minister and I are perhaps not on exactly the same page on the negotiations, she has a wee advantage over me as she knows what is going on— I hope so, anyway. But whether or not we get more fish, we still need to focus on creating support for our domestic industry. The new clause would require Ministers to produce a report setting out how much fish caught in our exclusive economic zone is landed in ports outside the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey, and to investigate why that fish was not landed in ports in the United Kingdom. To realise the benefits of landing more fish in the United Kingdom, we need to strengthen that economic link. It is important that Parliament has a voice on the public asset test.
I am grateful for the evidence that has been submitted even though we did not have an evidence session, and I note that the Clerk has been busy forwarding it to the Committee. Some of the evidence arrived after the objectives were debated by the Committee, so we have not had a chance to integrate it all fully, but one particular point is worth highlighting. Professor Richard Barnes, of Lincoln University, correctly points out in his submission that assuming that fish are already a public asset is incorrect, and that there is nothing about that in the Magna Carta, as many people think there is. There is nothing about it in international law necessarily —not that that is relevant here. He states:
“FQAs do not establish…stewardship responsibilities”,
and that fish are in effect private property through quota. He goes on:
“Establishing that fish are a public asset would be a critical first step in establishing a stewardship framework for fishing in the UK. It would create an opportunity for engagement in ongoing debates and decisions about how best to manage a valuable public good.”
It is a shame to miss out on that evidence. Are fish to be a public asset? The Minister voted down that amendment, but in effect she said that fish should be one and should be managed in that way. If so, an important part of the evidence base is to have an understanding of how much of that public asset derives an economic benefit to the UK and how much of it is deriving a considerable economic benefit to our European friends. We have no such understanding simply because Ministers have not yet chosen to use the powers they already have, whether in primary legislation or through licensing.
Should the Minister be thinking about adjusting the requirement to land more fish in British ports through the licence, having taken note of Labour’s amendment that was defeated—seeking to introduce the policy without giving the Opposition a win, so to speak—an evidence base would be important. That is what the report seeks to achieve.
I will take up that opportunity, Sir Charles.
I am grateful to the Minister for confirming that the MMO publishes those statistics. As a recent response of hers to a parliamentary question showed, however, 50% of cod catches do not have a sales note registered, so how convinced is she that the MMO has the ability to track accurately what of the UK total allowable catch is caught and landed? That is why an evidence base is important.
I do not think the Minister has given an adequate reason for why there should not be a report into fish caught abroad. We are missing fish still from our economy. We do not have a strong enough economic link. UK ports are missing out on fish that could be landed in our ports. I encourage the Minister to borrow as much Labour policy as she possibly can from our jobs and coastal communities amendment, as I suspect she will. [Interruption.] A set of Conservative MPs are huffing and hawing about the idea, but I suspect that, in the weeks and months ahead, we will see the Minister in effect cutting and pasting large parts of our amendments.
I did not detect a question in that intervention, so I am not sure I can reply. However, I would not want the Minister to be under a misapprehension about Labour policy. I believe she was attempting to paint a picture that Labour were suggesting that 100% of fish should be landed under a UK quota. She will know, because I am sure she has read the new clause and no doubt seen the considerable amount of media coverage in coastal communities on it, that we have suggested that two thirds of fish caught under a UK quota should be landed in a UK port.
I am grateful to the Minister for listening, and agreeing to the amendments that were tabled, effectively, by Labour, in the previous iteration of the Bill, for protection of marine archaeology. Today, through these amendments, we are making the case for additional powers for the Government to ensure that marine archaeology is protected. I uage the Minister to adopt them in the good spirit in which they have been tabled.
I beg to move amendment 98, in schedule 9, page 95, line 16, leave out “and” and insert “or”.
This amendment would enable the Marine Management Organisation to make byelaws to protect marine features in circumstances where the need for protection is not urgent.
The amendment is designed to strengthen provisions already in the Bill. It ensures more protections for sea features by changing an “and” to an “or”, so that a feature can be exempted from the MMO byelaws if there is an urgent need or if the Secretary of State sees fit to do so. It also removes Whitehall red tape by allowing the MMO to designate a protected sea feature if there is an urgent need to do so. I hope the Minister will accept this friendly amendment.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment made: 52, in schedule 9, page 96, line 37, leave out “2010 (S.I. 2010/940)” and insert “2017 (S.I. 2017/1012)”.—(Victoria Prentis.)
This technical amendment updates a cross reference to a set of regulations so that it refers to the current version.
Question proposed, That the schedule, as amended, be the Ninth schedule to the Bill.
I think there is agreement across the House that we want to see further environmental protection from 1 January. Will the Minister deal specifically with the issue of consultation? There is nothing that prevents her Department or the MMO from starting consultations on those proper protections before the end of the Brexit transition period. It could save time and preserve many of those marine environments if those consultations were to start this side of the Brexit transition period, not the other side.
The Opposition have no problems with amendments 59, 60 or even 53, which we will discuss shortly. The Minister talked about crowbarring statutory instrument content into primary legislation to speed up the process, but I ask her to be very careful with that approach. There are real democratic issues of scrutiny and oversight relating to that, because of the lack of scrutiny of this Government amendment, which was tabled after the publication of the Bill. We do not necessarily have any problems with that, but a stand-alone statutory instrument would go through a clear process and further stakeholder scrutiny.
It is important that Ministers do not get too attached to this method. Although I do not see too many problems with the content of the amendments, there is a risk that, if this method is used more frequently, the lack of oversight will produce a polluted statute book. As the Minister knows, that is something that I feel very strongly about. We have already removed statutory instruments that I cautioned about in Committee with this legislation. There is a democratic issue that needs to be addressed. I am not opposing the Government amendments, but I am keen that the approach that has been taken is not used subsequently.
I think there is different regulation for enforcement; this is on access. Amendment 109 seeks to clarify the difference between a British fishing vessel and an English fishing vessel. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the devolution agreements enable the fisheries authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to have a slightly different view from the one we hold in England—and I mean England, rather than Britain, because Britain and England are different things. As an English MP, I find it frustrating that “England” and “Britain” are used interchangeably. They represent different geographies and identifies, and we should be unafraid of speaking about England more frequently. The Bill has an English problem, because it makes a distinction between Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish, British and UK fishing boats, but it does not deal with English fishing boats. That is an issue of identity that we need to come to.
Amendment 109 seeks to set out clearly that clause 48 applies to English fishing boats. It would thus deal with the devolution concern expressed by our SNP colleague, the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute, which the Minister will no doubt address. These amendments teach us all the lesson that devolution-compliant amendments are much more complicated to draft, but it is important that we take time to draft them in such a way that they respect the devolution agenda. That is not just about making sure that our friends in Cardiff, Belfast and Holyrood are comfortable; provisions must work for the English as well, which is what the amendment seeks to ensure.
Remote electronic monitoring and cameras on boats are a practical and cost-effective fisheries management tool that brings many benefits. The Lords’ addition of the clause improves the Bill considerably, and I will explain why. Robust and verifiable data helps to inform scientific modelling. Many times, fishers have told me that they know that there are more fish out there than the science says, and we need to ensure that the data deficiency, gap and lag between collection and utilisation is reduced as much as possible. Providing assurances to seafood supply chains that seafood is being supplied and sustainably and legally sourced is an important part of that, which the clause seeks to address. It has the potential to transform UK fishing by providing the data needed to unlock the economic, environmental and social benefits of well-managed and sustainable fisheries, which will in turn help our fisheries and coastal communities to thrive.
The Secretary of State commented on Second Reading that the Government would be able to
“increase the use of remote electronic monitoring, which we will be able to do once we have a greater understanding of how it would be deployed.”—[Official Report, 1 September 2020; Vol. 679, c. 69.]
Trials of REM have been under way in the UK for some time, including voluntary schemes run by the MMO since 2011. It has been successfully implemented in other countries, particularly Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The Scottish Government have indicated support for REM, and said that they would support the REM amendment if it were devolution-compliant, as we spoke about when debating the previous set of amendments. The Government need to show leadership and commit to introduce REM via the Bill. It will set a clear direction of travel and a level playing field for all fishing vessels fishing in UK waters. It is important that it be for all fishing vessels, so that British boats are not, as I mentioned, held to a higher and therefore more expensive standard than foreign boats that are allowed to fish in our waters.
REM will also make our regulatory obligations as a coastal state, under the United Nations convention on the law of the sea, much easier. We have an enforcement problem and an enforcement gap. The Minister might not use those words, but she is aware that we have a problem enforcing our fisheries rules in the UK. There are insufficient resources focused on enforcement at present, let alone to deal with territorial disputes or access difficulties that might arise after 1 January next year. Remote electronic monitoring could help reduce the problem for Ministers.
I am concerned that the resources provided to the Royal Navy—for example, for English enforcement in English waters—will be insufficient. I support what the Minister has said about additional aerial methods. Indeed, one of the counterintuitive aspects of increased enforcement is that we might not need more boats, but we will definitely need more aerial assets. The combination of those assets is what makes the enforcement a key part of this endeavour.
It is recognised by all involved that REM provides an important and powerful tool in supporting fisheries enforcement. The question is how that is implemented and included in the Bill. Indeed, the UK is leading in the use of satellite technology to support fisheries enforcement through the satellite applications catapult project. Given that we are aware of problems and gaps in enforcement capacity, and that we have a solution, there is a strong argument for requiring such measures to form a part of the enforcement framework under fisheries law in the UK, and to be part of the framework setting. That is why it is important that that be in the Fisheries Bill. The UK could demonstrate leadership in fisheries regulation and be world leading in this area.
I am in favour of strong data protection regulations to stop remote electronic monitoring being exploited, as I know the Minister is, and the concerns of fishers are understandable. One of the concerns that I hear is about how REM sits with automatic identification systems and some monitoring systems, especially those that show a fishing boat going back and forth on its track, which shows that it has found fish. That encourages other fishers to try to locate the fish found by the boat. We are aware that some of our fishers sometimes turn their systems off to prevent their location being tracked. In the previous iteration of the Fisheries Bill, and certainly in subsequent Delegated Legislation debates, the Minister gave commitments that although the new vessel monitoring systems would prevent fishers having their position shared, authorities could still pick up on the sharing of those positions to ensure that enforcement action took place.
Other important aspects of remote electronic monitoring is cameras on boats and the wearing of lifejackets. Remote electronic monitoring is not just about positioning; it is about cameras on boats. A safety aspect can be included here. If a camera, regardless of whether it is live-monitored or has its footage held in the cloud, is pointing at someone, they are much more likely to obey the regulations, wear a lifejacket and behave in a legal manner. Lifejackets are still not worn properly right across United Kingdom fisheries waters, but they need to be.
It is curious to look at what Ministers have said about closed circuit television in slaughterhouses, which is a parallel issue. Speaking in debate on the draft Mandatory Use of Closed Circuit Television in Slaughterhouses (England) Regulations 2018, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said:
“Access to CCTV recordings for monitoring, verification and enforcement purposes is essential, and will be especially useful where the official veterinarian undertakes other duties in the slaughterhouse and does not directly witness all incidents.”—[Official Report, Second Delegated Legislation Committee, 30 April 2018; c. 4.]
Although that is in the slaughterhouse context, the fishing boat context is parallel, as is well supported.
If the Minister will not support the clause, which was added by our friends in the other place, will she set out how she intends to bring forward greater provision for remote electronic monitoring, and cameras on boats in particular? This is about not just discard prevention but safety, and enforcement of rules about wearing lifejackets.
Labour supports these amendments and we will not vote against them.
Every seal matters and the discussions that we have had with stakeholders show strong support for the measures outlined by the Minister. Indeed, the changes to the Conservation of Seals Act 1970 and the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 prohibit the killing, injuring or taking of seals, as well as limiting the circumstances in which those activities can be permitted. Previously, these activities were prohibited only if particular weapons or poisonous substances were used. These changes provide a broader set of protections for seals.
Seals form an important part of the UK’s marine ecosystem, but face an increasing threat from climate change and hunting. Indeed, seals eat a lot of fish and there is sometimes a sense that killing seals protects fish stocks. In fact, such killing damages the fragile ecosystem that supports all life in our oceans, which is why we need to protect seals.
These amendments will help to protect an iconic and much-loved species, and we welcome them. However, when the Minister responds, I would be grateful if she set out why this amendment and the new schedule have been introduced so late in the Bill’s progress and were not originally included in the Bill when it was published, because they seem to be changes that would carry strong support and are worthy of good scrutiny by stakeholders.
It is unusual in this place that we are adjusting our legislation to amend something that Donald Trump may want for trade with the US, and doing so with full enthusiasm from both sides of the House. However, there is popular support for these changes.
I am grateful to the Minister for her support. Noting what the former Minister said, may I challenge the Minister about where the measure will apply to imports? She mentioned that it was being introduced to facilitate the export of British fish to American markets, but to take the example of the hoki fishery in New Zealand, where we know there is licensed and widespread killing of seals in the fishery, we may still import fish from that fishery. Will the Minister set out her intention for fish imports? The principle is a good one, but I want to understand how far it will go.
I beg to move amendment 83, in clause 54, page 37, line 37, after “the” insert “Sustainable”.
I will beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment in due course, because the Bill comes nowhere near deserving “Sustainable” in its title. I have concerns that the Bill is not sustainable, and the Government voted down the Labour amendments to make it more sustainable, such as making sustainability the prime objective of fisheries management, including a net zero plan for how fishing will decarbonise. The Government also refused to ban supertrawlers fishing in marine protected areas. The Bill will therefore not be the world-beating one that it needs to be, and it does not deserve to be called the “Sustainable Fisheries Bill”. I will keep that title in my back pocket for Labour’s first fisheries Bill after 2024.
Fearing that I would fall foul of the Trade Descriptions Act were I to seek amend the short title of the Bill, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment made: 84, in clause 54, page 37, line 38, leave out subsection (2).—(Victoria Prentis.)
This amendment removes the privilege amendment inserted by the Lords.
Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.
Very briefly—not to interrupt your pace.
I am sure the Minister has had time to reflect on the question that I asked in this morning’s session about the difference between a hard and soft copy licence. I wonder whether this might be an opportunity to clarify that situation.
I beg to move amendment 104, in schedule 3, page 52, line 7, at end insert—
“(2A) A sea fishing licensing authority must attach to any sea fishing licence appropriate conditions with respect to the safety of the boat and its crew.”
This amendment would require the licensing authority to set appropriate conditions regarding safety when granting a sea fishing licence.
This amendment continues the theme that we have had for a number of amendments: safety. I am grateful that the efforts of the Departments for Transport and for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have contributed to an improvement in safety and, importantly, the involvement of more fishers in making decisions about safety—not just regulation of them for safety purposes—but I think we all agree that more work still needs to be done.
I mentioned earlier the need to have more fishers wearing lifejackets that come as standard with personal locator beacons, which take the “search” out of the search and rescue when boats go down or fishers are washed overboard. I want to see more stability work, especially for our smaller boats that I mentioned earlier. Having remote vessel monitoring and CCTV on board, which was proposed in amendment 1 in the Lords, helps ensure that fishing stays within the law, but it also incentivises fishers to wear a lifejacket and come home safely to each other. I know there is cross-party concern about this issue, and I want to reiterate the support for cross-party working that I gave the Minister earlier. I will not say any more about remote vessel monitoring, because that comes later in the Bill, but the amendment was an attempt to probe the Government position on this issue.
I beg to move amendment 100, in schedule 3, page 52, line 15, at end insert—
‘(6) Conditions attached to any sea fishing licence must include a prohibition on the use of any form of electric pulse beam trawl fishing.’
This amendment would require sea fishing licences to prohibit electric pulse beam trawl fishing.
The amendment that has been tabled in my name and that of the shadow fisheries Minister relates to pulse beam trawling, which is an area that we briefly touched on earlier, and I know that colleagues have similar views on this issue. What we are attempting to do with this amendment is to prohibit the use of electro-pulse beam trawling in any form. I suspect that the Minister will say that the amendment is not needed because of the statutory instrument that was passed last year. However, I hope to press her further on enforcement in this area.
Parliament initially rejected Labour’s proposal to ban pulse beam trawling but then saw the light and passed a statutory instrument to put into action the intention behind the original amendment that we tabled the last time we discussed the Fisheries Bill. However, I am concerned that the scientific derogation is too large, allowing 5% of a fleet—up to 200 vessels, potentially—to use this gear.
I am grateful that the Minister set out earlier her intent that the English fisheries Minister should effectively remove the licences from those boats that have electro-pulse gear in English waters. However, what this amendment seeks is a prohibition on the use of any form of electro-pulse beam trawling on any boats with any flag in our waters. There is a very strong environmental case for doing so. Electro-pulse beam trawling is utter vandalism of our seabed. It is indiscriminate—in particular, it kills many smaller fish that might otherwise grow and reproduce. Therefore, it poses a greater threat of stock damage than other methods of fishing. In particular we are concerned, as I mentioned earlier, about the risk of this technology in certain locations around our waters, where the use of electro-pulse beam trawling methods and gear can be disguised by the claim that other gear is being used.
The Minister will know that I and other Labour Members have strong views on how we need to protect our marine protected areas, and about the gear used in those areas. We believe that such protection should be part of the nine-year journey that we effectively have between now and 2030, when our marine protected areas will effectively need to become no-take zones. Again, I will reiterate what I said on Tuesday about that issue, namely that it would do the Government credit and do the debate a lot of good if they could start the conversation with our coastal communities about how that will happen, because I do not think there is awareness of that situation among our coastal communities and I think that, when they find out about it, it will come as quite a shock to them.
So, to support the work of the Minister and to help her to have an easy life by not having to respond to angry fishers when they find out about that change, there is a debate to be had around this issue. I think that debate can be softened somewhat by clearly saying that we do not support in any way the use of this method of fishing—electro-pulse beam trawling—and that, as an independent coastal state, we will outlaw it in our waters.
Importantly, the amendment seeks to remove the scientific derogation that was in the SI by saying that we do not want this technology in our waters at all. I am concerned about the scientific derogation being used, as other countries have sometimes used it, to disguise commercial fishing activities. Indeed, if we look at our friends over in the Netherlands, how much of their fleet was using this particular gear and disguising it behind a scientific purpose is a cause for concern.
So, in support of the amendment, I will say again that there is both cross-party concern and concern in all our fishing communities. A statutory instrument was delivered to put into practice what Labour proposed last time, but I do not think that it is working to the extent that we had initially intended it would. I remember that when we discussed this issue then, there was a concern about how enforcement would work. I encourage the Minister to work with her officials to look again at enforcement in this area, because it seems that environmental groups and some fisheries have a legitimate concern about the potential damage being done to specific marine areas by this method of fishing.
The concern put out there is specifically about enforcement. I realise that the Minister does not have figures to hand on the scope of enforcement, which would be useful for the debate. However, I will seek those through a parliamentary question. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The former Minister raises a good question. Marine protected areas do not exclusively protect the seabed, although that is a clear part of the validity of any marine protection. Such areas also protect species mix and can also deal with bird life and other forms of ocean-going life. The issue is complicated by the diversity that we seek to protect. Marine protected areas protect the seabed, but they also apply in other ways as well. None the less, the commitment that the Government have made around the UN oceans treaty is one that the Labour party fully supports. I say in all candour to the Minister that it will be a difficult sell and a difficult journey between now and 2030 to pitch that to fishers, but we need to have that honest conversation with them.
The Benyon review’s remarks about how highly protected marine protected areas can be designated, which effectively make MPAs no-take zones, need to include fishers. There is huge support among British fishers, particularly among the small boat fleet, for the banning of supertrawlers. Apart from the supertrawler that I mentioned earlier that currently flies a British flag, but did not until very recently, all the supertrawlers that fish in UK waters, especially in marine protected areas, are foreign-owned boats. There is a huge advantage to our sustainability and our support for our domestic fishing industry if we make the case now to ban supertrawlers over 100 metres and if we start the conversation about how we move the Benyon review recommendations into a greater awareness with a plan as to how that comes about. I hope the Minister—no doubt she objects to this particular amendment—will set out how she intends to implement a similar ban, because I think a ban is coming. I cannot see that the Government’s position is sustainable if they do not ban supertrawlers over 100 metres, if only due to the very sincere and heartfelt public opposition to that method of fishing.
If the Minister had given a commitment to ban supertrawlers over 100 metres with the licence conditions, I would have happily withdrawn the amendment, but as she has said only that the Government are taking powers, with no commitment to ban supertrawlers, I am afraid that we could be waiting for a very long time for those powers to be used. As such, and because the issue is so pressing and of such public concern, I will press the amendment to a vote.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
I beg to move amendment 95, in schedule 3, page 55, line 4, leave out “negative” and insert “affirmative”.
This amendment would make the relevant regulations subject to the affirmative procedure.
This is a very simple amendment, which seeks to move from a negative process to an affirmative one. We have seen that good parliamentary scrutiny improves Government legislation and that, when things are rushed or not given scrutiny, faults and things that even those pushing the devices may not be aware of emerge. That is why we are seeking, as standard in such matters, to move negative procedures to affirmative ones, to ensure that the Government can achieve their objectives by having improved legislation, rather than rushed legislation that they then seek to change subsequently.
Later amendments that remove lots of the statutory instruments that we spent many hours working on show that good scrutiny lends itself to the delivery of Government objectives and better policy making, and offers more people the chance to contribute to policy making. That is why we are seeking to have an affirmative resolution policy here, rather than a negative one.
In the debate on landing fish in coastal communities and banning supertrawlers, the Minister said that the salvation to those causes lies in the licence restrictions. She cannot argue on those controversial issues that the future needs to be trusted to the licence conditions and then deny Parliament’s scrutiny of those licence conditions. However, recognising that she probably will take this as an opportunity for greater consultation, perhaps with stakeholders, before such decisions are made, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Briefly, it is good to hear that licences can be emailed. I will come back to that point.
This technical amendment relates to how foreign boats and UK boats could be regarded in different regulatory environments, so I do not think it is as slight as the Minister is suggesting. How British boats and foreign boats are judged and regulated is at the heart of the Bill, because I am concerned that there is not a level playing field. It is good news that the licence can be emailed and I will pick that up in due course, but we will not be opposing this amendment.
Amendment 27 agreed to.
Question proposed, That the schedule, as amended, be the Third schedule to the Bill.
This is a completely uncontroversial amendment, which we are happy to support. However, I am keen to understand from the Minister why the measure was not included in the original Bill and is being proposed as a Government amendment, because that removes the ability for others to have time to consider the implications.
The I pick up on one theme I have raised with the Minister around the difference between a hard copy and an electronic licence. That relates to the experience of British fishers in particular and the MMO’s licensing arrangements. As we discussed earlier, arrangements have changed in relation to the covid procedures, particularly in relation to the carrying of a hard copy versus an electronic copy. My reading of the amendment is that it provides a different service and puts a different requirement on foreign fishers than on UK fishing boats.
Current UK fishing licence conditions, including conditions 6.1a and 6.1b, require UK fishing boats to carry a hard copy of their licence on board, or to be able to produce it at a time and place requested by the regulator or their agent, which in most cases in England is the Royal Navy, within five days. This amendment seeks to make an electronic version a permanent solution for foreign boats, but not for UK boats.
I understand that we have seen changes with the covid situation. I hope the Minister has effectively announced that the licence will now be electronic for all UK boats. She may need to bring forward a statutory instrument to adjust the regulations after the covid regulations are removed. My understanding of the covid regulations is that they will all go and we will revert back to the pre-covid regulations, which would require a new statutory instrument to be brought forward. That would be a welcome move because it would put UK fishers on a level playing field with foreign fishers.
With this amendment, foreign fishers get a better service than UK fishers, outside the current covid regulations. I am concerned about that, so I shall be grateful if the Minister will set out how that would work, particularly regarding enforcement and the difficulties of obtaining signal while at sea, in order to demonstrate to an enforcement vessel during a stop that a vessel has an electronic licence if it does not have a hard copy.
We know there have been difficulties in the past with foreign boats fishing in our waters without a licence and not being checked. The Minister will probably be aware of the case of the Dutch-registered Friesian that was scalloping and landing in and out of UK ports without a licence, before it was finally checked by the French, who took it to task. That was a number of years ago and it is extraordinary that steps have not been taken to address that level of enforcement since then. There is a point to make about both UK and foreign fishing boats being regulated in a similar way.
I realise that the approach that the Minister has taken in the past is to say that other nations regulate their own boats. However, when fishing in our waters, using permissions granted by the UK Government or UK fisheries authorities, there should be a similar approach, whether the boat is British-based or foreign-based.
We spent a lot of time on these fisheries statutory instruments, and concerns were raised by Labour at the time as to whether we would need to revisit them—a point that the Minister at the time, although not this Minister, refuted. It turns out that the Government were incorrect and the Opposition were correct, as we are repeating activities here. This again underlines the importance of proper time for scrutiny and getting things right before pushing through a legislative programme. Taking greater care would have improved the outcomes and avoided our needing this Government amendment to revoke the SIs.
Indeed, the question is: why were the SIs not revoked in the original Bill, rather than as a result of a Government amendment? That pattern of behaviour—last-minute changes to things that were rushed—is concerning and makes me worry about the effectiveness of the legislation being passed if things are rushed in this way.
The Minister is shaking her head. It is good to have that on the record. When we come to future SIs that take out bits that have been missed, because of the pace at which the Government are going, that can be correctly quoted back at whichever Minister is in the role at the time.
We have not spent as much time discussing effort during the passage of this Bill as we did during the course of the last Bill. One reason for that is that Ministers subsequently committed to undertake days at sea trials, and there have been discussions among various ports as to which ones would undertake those trials. As the Minister will know, Plymouth is one of those ports; it is keen to undertake the trials, and with a very active council on fisheries matters and the shadow Secretary of State representing the area, that would be the perfect opportunity to prove or disprove whether this works. Is it still the Government’s intention to hold those days at sea trials, and if so, would they be a substitute for what the amendment seeks to provide?
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again. Whether it is a Plymouth trial, a Fraserburgh trial or a Grimsby trial, the concept is of a series of trials to look at days at sea and effort-based fishing, beyond the stocks that already have effort-based regimes in place. That was an important concession that the Government made after the pausing of the last Fisheries Bill. If the Minister does not know the status of those trials, perhaps she could write to the Opposition to set out those details. It is important that we have clarity on that.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way at the last minute and for agreeing to meet me, the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) and, perhaps in a different capacity, the Chair to discuss bluefin tuna. Will she address the point about the role of recreational fishers in helping to provide science? That was at the heart of what the shadow fisheries Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East, was saying. For data-deficient stocks in particular, and for stocks for which data is held but is poorly applied, recreational fishers—a group of people who love their fish and have really strong opinions on making fishing more sustainable—could provide an enormous benefit to Government science.
I rise in support of the case that has just been laid out by my colleague the shadow fisheries Minister. There is an opportunity here to support our small boat fleet and to send a message about what type of fisheries we want to have after we leave the Brexit transition period at the end of the year. I believe the British public and those in our coastal communities where fishing has a presence want to see our small boat fleet supported in particular. That is the sentiment that comes from fishers and coastal communities in Plymouth and across the south-west and, indeed, when I visited Grimsby and Hull recently. They want to see the small boats in particular benefiting.
As the Minister knows, I am sceptical about whether more fish will appear in any negotiations, and that is why, regardless of whether more fish come or not, now or later or not at all—I hope they do, through zonal attachment rather than relative stability—the ability to redistribute even a small percentage of our current quota to the benefit of our smaller fishers could have a profound and positive impact on our coastal communities. It would support our small fishers, create more jobs and, in particular, provide an economic foundation for fishers to expand the number of boats, expand the workforce and invest in our port infrastructure.
I anticipate that the Minister will be less keen on this measure. However, the sentiment that has been articulated is sound and good and would deliver on much of the promise that many of our coastal communities want to see from a revised fisheries regime.
I beg to move amendment 121, in clause 26, page 17, line 44, at end insert—
“(3A) When distributing catch quotas for use by fishing boats, the national fisheries authorities may make provision for the pooling of catch quotas by two or more boats.
(3B) Before making provision for the pooling of catch quotas under subsection (3A), the national fisheries authorities must be satisfied that any pooling will lead to a reduction in the discard of catch, including bycatch.”.
This amendment would allow the national fisheries authorities to enable catch quota to be pooled by two or more boats in cases where doing so would avoid discards.
This probing amendment is intended to investigate the Government’s plans to deal with discards and bycatch. We know that in mixed fisheries in particular, there is the real problem of small boats not having a quota for the fish they are catching because of their inability to target species in a 100% accurate manner. The amendment argues for a greater pooling of an element of quota to avoid fishers getting into trouble, through no fault of their own, despite best efforts to avoid bycatch when catching species they have neither quota for nor the ability to discard over the side or land in an economic manner. It is intended not as the preferred solution but rather as an opportunity for the Minister to set out the options, because I am concerned that the current discards regime, introduced for all the right reasons with a huge amount of public support, does not support our fishers in achieving the right outcomes in support of their businesses or the regime’s intended environmental objectives.
I expect the Minister to take much issue with the wording of the amendment. I am less fussed about its wording and more fussed about the clarity of where she intends to take discard policy in the future.
This is a probing amendment. I want fisheries to be sustainable, as we discussed on Tuesday, but I also want them to be safe for British fishers, foreign fishers and all those in our waters. We have tabled the amendment to hear from the Minister what would happen in scenarios in which a foreign fishing boat is in trouble near our waters, and the only way for them seek help or to address their concerns is to enter our waters, where they may not normally have a licence to operate.
I hope that the Minister will say that under our international commitments to safety on the high seas, those boats would receive aid and, because of the close working relationship that I hope we will have with our European neighbours, we will be able to co-ordinate rescue efforts if required, and so the authorities will not need to prosecute in those circumstances. Furthermore—as the Minister will know from her legal past—should any prosecution take place for such a scenario, which I doubt it would, the public interest test to evaluate whether there were a case would probably not be passed if the vessel were genuinely seeking help.
Moreover, the Bill must specify that if a foreign fishing vessel enters UK fishing waters for the purpose of fishing, but erroneously claims that it is because they are in distress, they would be committing an offence in that circumstance as they would not have a licence to operate in our waters, and could face prosecution. This is a probing amendment, tabled mainly to enable the Minister to clarify that scenario on the record.
I am grateful for the Minister’s clarifying that situation, and on the basis of that clarity, I am happy to withdraw the amendment. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Regulation of foreign fishing boats
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
The set of amendments to the clause and the schedule relate an awful lot to the Undersized Velvet Crabs Order 1989. There will be some concern, after only a cursory glance at the amendments and the schedule, that the Government are permitting the taking of undersized crabs, which would obviously be contrary to the principles of sustainability that we have spoken about. I will be grateful if the Minister sets out the intent behind the undersized velvet crabs amendments in a wee bit more detail.
I am grateful to the Minister for setting that out. For the sake of clarity, the Undersized Velvet Crabs Order 1989 was not previously on my reading list; however, it was yesterday. I am grateful to those people who got in touch asking whether this would put further pressure on those species. From my understanding of what the Minister has just said, it does not relate to any further risk to the stock levels; it relates only to access. I am grateful for what she has said on that.
Amendment 11 agreed to.
Amendments made: 12, in schedule 2, page 43, line 2, leave out, from “crabs)” to end of line 4 and insert
“, in paragraph (2), after ‘foreign fishing boats’ insert ‘and were caught in waters lying outside British fishery limits’.”
This amendment exempts foreign vessels from restrictions in the Undersized Velvet Crabs Order 1989 in relation to fish caught outside British fishery limits.
Amendment 13, in schedule 2, page 43, line 13, leave out “Scottish or”.
This amendment removes Scottish fishing boats from the scope of article 4 of the Undersized Velvet Crabs Order 1989 (which imposes a minimum size for carriage of velvet crabs in the English zone).
Amendment 14, in schedule 2, page 43, line 13, leave out “or a foreign vessel”.
This amendment exempts foreign vessels from restrictions in the Undersized Velvet Crabs Order 1989 in relation to fish caught outside British fishery limits.
Amendment 15, in schedule 2, page 43, line 16, at end insert—
“(4) A foreign vessel is prohibited from carrying in the English zone velvet crab that were caught in waters lying within British fishery limits and are below the minimum size mentioned in sub-paragraph (1).”
This amendment exempts foreign vessels from restrictions in the Undersized Velvet Crabs Order 1989 in relation to fish caught outside British fishery limits.
Amendment 16, in schedule 2, page 43, line 23, leave out “Scottish or”.—(Victoria Prentis.)
This amendment removes Scottish fishing boats from the scope of article 4 of the Undersized Velvet Crabs Order 1989 (which imposes a minimum size for carriage of velvet crabs in the English zone).
I welcome the Government legislating to comply with international treaties, which I am sure the Minister will agree with—I know she is a fond supporter of the rule of law. Until very recently, I did not think that complying with international law or international treaties was a point of contention in this House, but perhaps I am just being old-fashioned in that respect.
We support the amendments to comply with the 1999 agreement with Denmark and the Faroe Islands—that was something else I did not expect to have on my reading list last night, but none the less a thrilling treaty to have a read of. We think there should be no question when it comes to complying with international law, so we support the amendments, but I would like to press the Minister slightly on one aspect.
The Minister will know that when the 200-metre EEZ became the norm, the UK and Denmark on behalf of the Faroes sought to delimit their maritime zones. However, they disagreed at the time on the method and that produced areas of overlap. Those grey areas or special zones, which the Minister referred to in her remarks, are basically a no man’s water subject to special provisions.
For fishing in the special zones, each country can fish and regulate its own vessels. As the Faroes are not in the EU, the measure has not had much impact to date. However, it does now, potentially. As the Minister will no doubt be aware, we are seeing an increase in RIG activity—that is, Russia, Iceland and Greenland—in the areas around the Faroe Islands and the surrounding high seas. The RIG countries are not signatories to the sharing of coastal states agreements, in particular the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission. I would be grateful if the Minister could offer some clarity on whether the measure only applies to Faroese boats and not those from Russia, Iceland and Greenland—countries that the Faroe Islands may grant permissions to fish. How does that apply to the approach the Government are taking?
The stocks in this zone are big business and I am anxious to ensure that we are not leaving a back door here for fishing in this joint area to become over-exploited by others under Faroese permissions. It is of particular importance that we safeguard our distant water fleets. I do not want to see British fishers undermined in this way. I would be grateful if the Minister could set out some clarity, in particular in relation to RIG activity.
I am grateful to the Minister, and I appreciate that this is a very difficult area. My key concern is about overfishing. From what I gather from the Minister, because the UK and Faroese fisheries authorities will be issuing licences, that would include RIG activity within those waters. Is her understanding that there is sufficient data transfer between those two licences and a scientific basis to ensure that those waters are being fished sustainably?
I have a simple question for the Minister. I think that many fishers would welcome clarification, especially in relation to later amendments about electronic licences, of what the licence is. Can it be an electronic licence, or does it need to be held in hard copy on a fishing boat?
The pre-covid regulations required a hard copy to be held on board a fishing boat while it was at sea. However, the covid regulations published by the Department made it an electronic one. Presumably for consistency with other covid-related regulations that requirement will be removed once the pandemic is over, creating a distinction between the holding of a hard or electronic copy.
Clearly, there is a subtle difference between a bit of paper or an electronic file on an email server. Particularly with reference to enforcement activities, what definition is the Minister using of the form of the licence?
I note that the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations—not an organisation that I always agree with about its fishing lobbying, although I respect the energy and enthusiasm with which it pursues its purposes—puts forward some questions about the different classifications of boats in its brief, which I am sure the Minister and her officials have seen.
The NFFO is concerned that the clause gives powers to the Marine Management Organisation to grant licences for
“any other British fishing boat”.
The clause gives the power to grant a licence to Scottish Ministers in respect of a Scottish fishing boat, Welsh Ministers in respect of a Welsh fishing boat, and the Northern Ireland Department in respect of a Northern Ireland fishing boat. However, for any other British fishing boat the MMO has the power to grant a licence. My question is about the imbalance of the wording about the remits of the MMO and the devolved Administrations.
I understand that the MMO grants licences to English fishing boats, but I appreciate that the Minister and the Bill are at pains to avoid saying “English fishing boats”. Is it, however, to be understood that, for the purpose of the provision, a “British fishing boat” is an English fishing boat rather than a British fishing boat that may also simultaneously include a Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish fishing boat? I think that the NFFO would be grateful for clarity on that from the Minister.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for that intervention and I share her concerns and those of her constituents about electro-pulse beam trawling in particular. It was an area where, sadly, the last time we debated the Fisheries Bill there was not cross-party agreement. Indeed, the proposals to ban electro-pulse beam trawling in British waters were voted down by the Government party at the time, and further voted down when the Bill was debated in the main Chamber.
Having control of who fishes in our waters is really important; I agree with the hon. Member on that. Indeed, that is the position that my hon. Friend, the shadow Fisheries Minister, set out yesterday.
What happens to electro-pulse beam trawling within UK waters is technical, but it still really matters. I use the example of Dogger Bank because there is an assumption at the moment among many fishers and environmentalists that foreign fishing vessels equipped with electro-pulse beam trawling gear are using that gear on the Dogger Bank, partly because of the nature of the seabed in relation to that, while simultaneously having other gear on board, so that they can claim they are using one type of fishing gear when in fact they are using a different type of fishing gear.
I see no justifiable reason for electro-pulse beam trawling in British waters. It ravages our seabed, causes enormous ecological destruction and is not something that the constituents I represent in Plymouth want to see—nor, by the sounds of it, those whom the hon. Member for South Ribble represents. That is why the enforcement question is important.
If an assessment is required under the Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 before a new fisheries licence is granted for foreign fishers, especially in special areas of conservation, and there is a concern out there—I believe there is—how is that requirement correctly enforced? Will that additional appropriate assessment prevent foreign fishers from using gear that we regard as environmentally damaging in our own waters?
I beg to move amendment 99, in clause 17, page 13, line 29, at end insert—
‘(3A) No licence may be granted under this section unless conditions are attached to that licence so as to require the foreign fishing boat to comply with any standards in relation to environmental protection and marine safety that would apply to the same boat if it were a British fishing boat.’.
Under this amendment, licences granted to foreign fishing boats would require those boats to comply with the same environmental protection and marine safety standards as British fishing boats.
The amendments seek to apply the same marine safety standards to foreign boats as to British boats. The Minister will know from our debate on Tuesday how important it is that we have similar and equivalent safety standards for everyone fishing in UK waters. In the previous iteration of the Fisheries Bill Committee we had considerable debates about the minimum standard that should be applied to any boat under whatever flag fishing in our waters.
The premise that many fishers voted for Brexit to ensure that level playing field and access is an important one, because the concern is that the cost of implementing regulations for UK fishers—albeit well-intentioned regulations to save lives—is not carried in the same way by some of our European friends, who enjoy lower costs, albeit with a greater risk from lower standards. Amendments 99 and 103 look at whether there should be a more explicit provision in the Bill to say that foreign fishing boats should have the same level of safety as UK fishing boats. That is about not only saving lives, but the economic cost that goes along with that in terms of the regulatory burden for businesses involved.
It is important to make sure that people stay safe. Amendment 103, in the name of my hon. Friend the shadow fisheries Minister, contains the phrase
“at least equivalent to those applicable to British fishing boats.”
Although we have been governed by the same common fisheries policy as our European friends for many years, and by similar obligations under the International Maritime Organisation, they have implemented their safety standards slightly differently. The amendment would therefore ensure that there is equivalence of safety standards and a similar basis, because any fishing boat going down or getting into trouble should worry us all.
Marine safety is not only about the behaviour of the crew onboard in terms of wearing lifejackets. As the Minister knows, I welcome the support of the Department for Transport and her predecessor in the roll-out of the Plymouth lifejacket scheme, which was pioneered in Plymouth. It includes a personal locator beacon on the lifejacket and moves the clasp from the middle of someone’s chest to being lower, which enables them to use filleting knives more easily on board a boat, so it is easier to operate, do their job and stay safe. That roll-out is important, but it is not compulsory and is not being applied to our European friends in the same way.
It is also important to make sure that stability testing is the same, particularly for small boats. The biggest risk to our small boat fleet is of capsize from the change of gear, where stability tests have not proven that boat to be stable in the way that we would all want it to be. There is no suggestion that they are breaching their licence by doing that but, to borrow a plea from the hon. Member for South Ribble in the last debate, there is cross-party support for a high level of marine safety.
I would be grateful if the Minister could respond as to how fishing licences will ensure that there is an equivalence of marine safety between foreign fishing boats and UK fishing boats, and how that will be checked during the implementation of the new regulations to ensure compliance. There is sometimes a sense among British fishers that the enforcement agencies, which for English fisheries is the Royal Navy, look at UK boats more than foreign boats. Whether that is true or not, I am sure the Minister will have heard that in her conversations with fishers. I would be grateful if she could set out the enforcement side as well as the safety side in her response.
I am grateful for that explanation, but I want to press the Minister, so that I understand her a bit more on enforcement. I am concerned that it seems that we are setting a higher regulatory cost for UK fishers than we are allowing for foreign fishers fishing in the same waters.
When it comes to enforcement, can the Minister clarify something? The Marine and Coastguard Agency does not inspect boats at sea. She suggested that, therefore, as a corollary, it will only inspect boats when they are on land. Therefore, unless they are landing their fish at UK ports, they will not be inspected. It falls, therefore, upon the safety, search and rescue, the Royal Navy and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, to go to support boats of lower standards that get into trouble, because the regulatory regime that she has just said is sufficient means that they are only inspected at port and not while at sea.
Does the Minister understand fishers’ concerns that this suggests that the regulatory burden on British fishing boats is different from that on foreign fishing boats and, as a result, that there is a different enforcement probability? A UK boat is more likely to be subject to enforcement than a foreign boat, even if it does not adhere to the same standards.
On the basis that the Minister is not setting out a level playing field between UK fishers and foreign fishers, I am concerned that this sends the wrong message to fishers. However, I understand that we will be revisiting the issue of safety a number of times during this process, so I will not be pushing any of these amendments to a vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
National Landing Requirement
Indeed, and if clause 18 were about processing fish, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would have a point, but—I am sure he has read it—it is about landing fish, rather than processing them. That is a good cul-de-sac to try to take us down, but that is not what the clause actually says. I went to Grimsby recently and spoke to people on the fish quay, and they hark back to the days when there were 800 fishing boats in their port. They want more fish to be landed in their port, so it is bizarre in the extreme that the Government are arguing against more fish being landed there.
Having more fish processed in Britain will create more jobs. Interfish in Plymouth creates an enormous number of jobs from landing the fish that it catches in Plymouth and processing them there, supplying our supermarkets. I want to see more British supermarkets buying British fish. That would be greatly helped by this clause, because more British fish would be available in our markets.
A number of points have been raised about why the clause does not work, so let me briefly address them. First, the former fishing Minister, the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby, mentioned the increased carbon footprint. At a point when Conservative MPs voted against the net zero objective in the Fisheries Bill, I think that does not apply in the same way. We want fishing to be carbon free, and we want more fish to be landed in our ports. I agree that it is often argued that fishers chase the higher price that is delivered in foreign markets, and that if they if they landed in a UK port, the price would be lower. I hope the same arguments are used about any departure from any regimes in the European Union that make travel across borders easy. Delays at the border put an extra focus on this. I hope the argument that has been applied to this clause is applied equally to the Government’s policy, but I fear that it will not be. None the less, it was a good attempt.
As we said in the debate on Tuesday, fish should be a public asset. The economic link between the fish in our waters and the United Kingdom should be strengthened. That is what clause 18 does: it strengthens the economic link. I fear, on this point, that the arguments of Government MPs will need to be reversed when the licence conditions change.
I welcomed the consultation that the Minister has set out, but I disagree with her that the figure is 50% currently. As she knows, landing 50% of fish in the UK is potentially one of the licence conditions, but it is not the only one, and it is important to state that if a company has a brass plaque in the UK and employs UK crew, it can get out of that. That is why many fishers catching fish in UK waters land nearly all their catch in foreign ports. One trawler in Wales lands barely any of its catch in British ports; it lands 84% in foreign ports. That fish should be supporting the Welsh economy. There are examples of that in English and Scottish waters. That is why this matters so much. We will be betraying those coastal communities if we do not support job creation.
I hope the Minister, when she comes to her consultation, cuts and pastes this clause, as Ministers did for Labour’s last set of amendments to the Fisheries Bill, and makes it her own. I am a big fan of Louis Walshisms in politics. The Government should make it their own. I hope they copy this clause and put it into their consultation, because we need to create jobs in coastal communities, and that is what the clause seeks to do.
When this clause comes to a vote—surely it will do—and Labour and SNP Members vote in favour of the jobs in coastal communities clause and in favour of landing at least two thirds of fish in our coastal ports, I hope that every single Conservative MP who represents a coastal community will be able to explain to their electorates in those communities why they chose to support ports on the continent, rather than the port that they represent, why they chose to create and preserve jobs in foreign ports, not in their communities, and why they chose not to give the young people in their communities the opportunity that would come from enhanced employment not only in the catching sector but in processing, and the engineering jobs that accompany this. I hope they have a decent argument for that, because this flies in the face of everything that has been promised to coastal communities. That is why Labour will be supporting keeping clause 18 in the Bill to protect jobs in coastal communities, and opposing the Government’s plan to continue the export of those jobs to our European friends.
I am afraid that the remit of the Fisheries Bill affords us only the ability to give certain responsibilities to certain people, and the Secretary of State is responsible for the Secretary of State’s fisheries statement, so he seems to be the logical person to look at in that respect. I am pleased that the SNP wants to see a dispute resolution system in place. I say to the Minister that there is a good argument for having a plan before a dispute arises. Given that fishing is so political and important to the livelihoods of our coastal communities, as the shadow Minister said, having a dispute resolution system in place makes good sense, and it is better to design one when the Administrations are not in dispute than to cobble one together when they are.
Forgive me; I meant against a five-year period. Will she set out in which years she expects the first and second reviews to be produced, as that would allay fears that we will not have an opportunity in this Parliament, and perhaps the next, to ensure that a review is adequately addressed?
Could the Minister set out whether the list of people she expects to be consulted on such statements includes organisations representing recreational fishing? There is a concern among many fishers in that sector that recent decisions, and especially those in relation to bass, for instance, were taken without adequate consultation with that part of the sector.
Yes, Mr McCabe. I am still on amendment 61. I beg your pardon; I will get to amendment 62 in just a moment.
Amendment 61 would ensure that public bodies—national Governments, regulatory bodies, science bodies and, in relation to funding arrangements, bodies of the Government that allocate funding to our coastal communities—have due regard for the objectives. If they are not to have due regard for them, why are they there at all? Why have a sustainability or ecosystem objective, or a bycatch objective, if they are just to create lines in the Bill and are not an important part of it?
Turning hurriedly to amendment 62, Mr McCabe, the important part of laying the statement before Parliament is that we want the opportunity to discuss it on an annual basis. In the previous Bill Committee, the transcripts of which I am sure the Minister has read thoroughly, there was a good debate about the frequency with which the Government should report to Parliament. Historically, we had the annual fisheries debate in Westminster, which was designed to strengthen the hand of the Fisheries Minister ahead of the December Fisheries Council, to set out clearly for them the concerns of our fishing sector and coastal communities, and to ensure that they would fight the corner of the species and sectors that were most at risk. However, the annual fisheries debate has become slightly less frequent, and it has moved around because of the frequency of fisheries Bills. Having an annual report laid before Parliament and therefore discussed by parliamentarians is the key part of amendment 62 that would allow us to look at what progress has been achieved towards the objectives. Amendment 61 states that people must have due regard in the exercise of public functions, and amendment 62 states that there must be decent scrutiny of the progress towards those objectives. Both are important starting points for the Bill. Both set the tone, which is that sustainability must be the prime consideration.
Although there is good, sound logic to say that all the objectives are equal, there is one simple truth: if we overfish our seas, there will not be enough fish left for a fishing industry to exist. That is why sustainability has to be the prime consideration. I want jobs in our coastal communities to continue. That is the argument that Labour Members present. We need to make sure we manage our fish stocks at sustainable levels, that we do not set total allowable catches above maximum sustainable yields, and that we ensure that sustainability is the prime consideration at all times. For that to take place, we need to make sure that all public bodies have due regard to the objectives set out in the Bill. I know that the Minister and her officials have worked very hard on those objectives and will make further proposals to improve them shortly, but what is the point of all the work that has gone into those provisions if no regard is paid to them?
I am a big fan of having votes on these proposals and putting Labour’s positions clearly, but on this amendment, I have listened to what the Minister has said and I am happy not to push it to a vote. I like the commitment that the Minister has given to good scrutiny of fisheries policy in the future. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The Minister mentions Interfish, which is a brilliant fishing company that I am very proud to have in the patch I represent. However, I do not follow her argument. Can she set out how having “public asset” already in UK law, as defined by the court case she has just mentioned, and then having a public asset objective are different? They seem to be very similar. Saying that we already have a public asset within UK law but that we cannot have a public asset objective in UK law because that would be bad seems to be contradictory. Can the Minister clarify that?
I am grateful to the Minister for setting out her reasons for disagreeing with the amendments and for setting out the importance of safety. We will return to safety later. With that in mind, I am happy to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I am grateful to the Minister for setting out what is a lengthy, complicated group of amendments. I will also go through each amendment in turn, with specific focus on Government amendment 1 and amendment 73, the key amendments within this group.
Government amendment 1 seeks to remove a line inserted by the House of Lords:
“The sustainability objective is the prime fisheries objective.”
That sends a very poor message to those who want us to manage our fish stocks sustainably. There is no future for fishing unless it is sustainable, which is the clear message of the current wording of the Bill. I disagree with the Minister’s argument that the current wording makes things difficult. Indeed, we have to face up to the difficult truth around fishing and sustainability—if fishing is not truly sustainable, there will not be a fishing industry in future.
(1 year, 2 months ago)Westminster Hall
The difficulty when we sit on the Opposition Benches, where our job is to scrutinise rather than to support, is that we look for evidence of the words. There is a genuine risk that standards could be undercut.
It is important to make a distinction here, because this is frequently lost in interventions, although I hope that will not be the case with the hon. Gentleman. It is not that we think the Government will somehow lower our standards immediately, but by signing trade deals that undercut our standards and permit food produced to lower animal welfare standards or with negative environmental impacts, we will be allowing in produce that undercuts our own farmers and our high animal welfare standards, and that creates an incentive to lower regulatory pressures in the UK—or protections, as the Opposition like to think of them.
That is not something that is supported. It is not supported by Labour, it is not supported by the SNP and it is not supported by many Conservative Members, nor is it supported by the National Farmers Union and other groups. There are elements of cross-party support for keeping standards high and keeping that in law; it is one of those areas where we can come together on a cross-party basis to say that animal sentience should be in law. If we did, it should be a simple Bill with good scrutiny—the Minister knows that there are many experts in this House who would happily advise her for free along the way—because it is important that we get it done. At the moment, far from getting done, it is just getting delayed.
I hope that the Minister, when she gets to her feet, will give a boost to the petitioners—all 104,000 of them, in nearly every single parliamentary constituency of the country—and reassure them that this petition will not only enjoy warm words from Government, but see Government action before the end of the implementation period at the end of this year.