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Fisheries: London Convention—Withdrawal

Volume 788: debated on Thursday 11 January 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government under what authority they notified on 3 July 2017 the United Kingdom’s decision to withdraw from the London Fisheries Convention of 1962; and what account they took of the provisions of the Fishery Limits Act 1964 and of European Union Regulation 2371/2002 before making that decision.

My Lords, the London Fisheries Convention provides access to fish in UK territorial waters from six to 12 nautical miles. Similar provisions appear in the common fisheries policy. Article 15 of the convention permits parties to withdraw with two years’ notice. The UK gave notice on 3 July 2017, using prerogative powers. Before making this decision, we considered all relevant legislation, including the 2013 regulation that replaced the 2002 regulation and the 1976 Act that replaced the 1964 Act.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer and for his courtesy in fielding a number of importunate questions on this matter from me over recent months. He started by trying to answer a lot of questions that I did not ask, but he has now answered the question that I did and told us that the royal prerogative has been used for this purpose. I wonder whether he thinks that is a trifle risky, given the Government’s experiences in the Supreme Court over Article 50. It is quite clear that the Fishery Limits Act 1964, which came after the conclusion of the London convention, was designed to take into domestic law the provisions of the London convention. On 15 June 1964, when introducing the Second Reading of that Bill, the then Minister of Fisheries said:

“The purpose of the Bill is to establish the fishery regime in our waters for which the Convention provides”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/6/1964; col. 946.]

Sorry; I thought that the Minister might wish to be reminded of what one of his predecessors at the Dispatch Box said. My question is this: does that not make the situation even more risky due to the way in which the Government have acted without a parliamentary process?

My Lords, I assure noble Lords that a great deal of consideration went into this matter. For instance, the Supreme Court made it clear that an Act of Parliament was not required where a treaty did not grant individual rights. We decided that we should trigger article 15 to give complete clarity, so that when it comes to us leaving the common fisheries policy we could have a clean slate on which to negotiate for all our waters. We are talking about between six and 12 nautical miles, but it is in the 12 to 200 nautical mile median line that the vast bulk of fishing takes place. The 1976 Act provides Ministers with the power to designate which countries can fish in UK waters. We are all looking forward to the negotiations, so that we can have sustainable fishing.

My Lords, one of the key elements is that we have a responsibility to fish all these waters sustainably, and those in this country and in the EU should be proud of that. One of the great things we have been able to do co-operatively, and what I would like us to do afterwards, is ensure that in UK waters we fish all stock sustainably. We need to work in collaboration.

The noble Lord will know that the Government played a significant role in creating the new EU multilateral management plan for the North Sea, and have indicated that we want to carry on participating in this plan or a similar one in the future, post Brexit. Does he believe that the EU 27 will take this commitment at face value in the light of the unilateral decision to withdraw from the London Fisheries Convention? Will not the rest of the EU think this is rather provocative and respond accordingly?

My Lords, the countries involved in the London Fisheries Convention expected this to happen. It deals with the six to 12 miles issue when already we will leave the 12 to 200 miles agreement when we leave the common fisheries policy and the EU. This is why we took the decision that we did. As I have said, we want to work with partners, because fish stocks need to be sustainably driven. However, it gives an opportunity for the excellent fishing fleets in all parts of our kingdom to fish productively, sustainably and profitably.

My Lords, I have heard what the Minister has said, but does he not agree that the Government must allow full parliamentary scrutiny of decisions affecting historic rights of access to UK and European waters?

My Lords, as I have said, a great deal of consideration went into this. Article 5 and annexe 1 of the Council regulation deal with historic rights. They are already in the common fisheries policy and it was a moot point as to whether we needed to address this issue at all. We thought it would be open and honest with the partners we have in the London convention formally to trigger that we would be leaving in two years’ time.

My Lords, the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, asked on what authority the Government were acting. Surely the answer to that is the authority of the 17.6 million people who voted to leave the European Union and restore our ability to redress the damage done to fishing communities throughout the United Kingdom. Does the Minister agree that to describe as provocative this Government exercising their authority on behalf of the people tells us everything we need to know about the Opposition’s position on withdrawal from the European Union?

My Lords, it is right that fishing was one of most potent parts of this political issue. Fishing fleets and communities up and down the land are looking to us to have our waters fished sustainably and to ensure that we have continuing fish stocks. We have had success with cod—we need that more—and it is important that we now get on with negotiations and have a proper dialogue with other countries, including Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands, as well as the EU so that we can ensure that UK waters have sustainable fish stocks. I am grateful to my noble friend for his question.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that many British fishermen sold their rights to catch to the Portuguese and the Spanish. Will the Government pay compensation to them and, if so, how much will that cost?

Do the Government agree that our fishing industry epitomises our capture by the corrupt octopus in Brussels and that our complete escape will be the acid test of Brexit?

My Lords, it will be helpful for your Lordships to know that the seafood sector employs 33,000 people and contributes £1,441 million to the economy. This is why we need to work with the fishing industry on the new arrangements to ensure that we have a successful domestic fishing fleet in sustainable waters.