My Lords, as we are an island nation, our seas are integral to our history, economy and culture, so it is a great privilege to open this debate. A rich diversity of fish and shellfish provides us with nutritious, valuable food and employment. I recognise at the outset the dangers of this harvest: seven lives were lost in 2019, and I pay tribute to the bravery of those at sea and their families.
Together with the Agriculture Bill and the Environment Bill, this Bill creates a strong and legally binding framework to deliver this Government’s ambition to leave the natural environment in a better state than we inherited it. It is crucial that we are successful. The Government’s vision is to build a sustainable fishing industry, with healthy seas and a fair deal for UK fishing interests. This Bill is a key step towards delivering that vision.
Fisheries management is complex and requires responsive, science-based policy-making. Data on fish stocks must be gathered and analysed. The safe levels of exploitation of those stocks must be considered, as well as the allocation of those resources and the granting of rights to use them. On top of this are technical rules on matters ranging from the use of types of fishing gear to minimum landing sizes of species—all required to allow the harvest of our fish while avoiding damage to stocks and the environment.
The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 ensures that the existing legislative framework to manage our fisheries remains in place after the transition period. Along with earlier pieces of fisheries legislation, this Bill gives us the powers needed to manage our fisheries more effectively in future, ensuring that we can meet our international obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea—UNCLOS—and the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement—UNFSA—and become a global leader in fisheries management as befits our island nation.
The Bill’s objectives for sustainable fisheries management ensure a UK-wide framework to manage the fish that live in UK waters. We have worked closely with the devolved Administrations in developing this framework to ensure that our approach fully respects the devolution settlements, while recognising that we have a shared responsibility to protect our marine environment and to support a thriving industry across the UK. The Bill provides the powers to manage and support the recreational sea fishing community too, as well as the commercial sector.
First and foremost, this Bill confirms in law our commitment to environmentally, economically and socially sustainable fishing. Healthy fish stocks are the basis of a thriving and profitable fishing industry. We must therefore ensure that we apply science-based management approaches both to the benefit of the environment but also, crucially, to the long-term profitability of our fishing industry.
This Bill takes and reforms the EU’s sustainable fishing objectives and commits to a new, ambitious set of UK objectives, which are in the Bill. These include a climate change objective, to ensure that the impacts of the fishing industry on climate change are minimised while ensuring that fisheries management adapts to a changing climate; objectives to further the collection of scientific evidence across the Administrations and to take the precautionary approach to fisheries management in the absence of such evidence; and the national benefit objective, which seeks to ensure that a benefit to the UK is felt as a result of UK boats fishing stocks from UK waters—the first time such a requirement has been included in our legislation.
The Bill requires the Government and devolved Administrations to set out in a joint fisheries statement how we will together contribute to the achievement of the objectives. Our intention is for all policies that achieve the objectives to be included in the joint fisheries statement. There is, however, a provision in the Bill to allow the Secretary of State to set out reserved or non-devolved policy in a Secretary of State fisheries statement.
The Bill includes the requirement to produce fisheries management plans, alongside the devolved Administrations where appropriate, delivering on our manifesto commitment. These plans will set out on a stock-by-stock or fisheries basis our plans for achieving the sustainability of those stocks. The plans go further than we have gone before in relation to stocks, for which assessing sustainability is much harder. Many of these are valuable shellfish stocks. The plans commit us, in those circumstances where we do not have the scientific data to assess their health, to develop the scientific evidence base on which we will then be able to do so. The fisheries statements and the fisheries management plans will be legally binding.
The Bill also extends the powers of the Marine Management Organisation and the devolved Administrations to protect the marine environment, strengthening them so that they can be used to restore and enhance, as well as conserve, the marine environment.
Secondly, the Bill creates the powers that the UK needs to operate as an independent coastal state and fulfil our international obligations. From 2021, the UK will be an independent coastal state, able to control who can fish in our waters. We will be responsible for setting annual total allowable catches of fish species within our waters. For stocks that are shared with other coastal states such as the EU and Norway, we will negotiate to agree fishing quotas. Currently, the EU distributes quotas between its member states using a principle called relative stability, which provides a fixed percentage of quota based on fishing patterns from the 1970s. This gives an unfair share of quota to UK fishers, not reflective of what is found in UK waters, and so we will negotiate to move towards a fairer, more scientific method for the allocation of shared stocks.
The Bill will put in place the powers we need to operate as an independent coastal state by allowing us to set fishing opportunities and to determine which vessels may enter our waters. Any decisions about giving vessels from the EU and any other coastal states access to our waters will be a matter for negotiation. This Bill provides the framework to enable us to implement whatever is agreed internationally. For example, it ensures that should we negotiate access to our waters, vessels from other coastal states will have to hold a licence. This is equitable and ensures a level playing field between UK and foreign boats.
Enforcement in UK waters is a devolved matter, and each fisheries administration is responsible for control and enforcement in their waters. In England, the Marine Management Organisation has assessed, and continues to assess, the levels of enforcement capacity required for fisheries protection and the options for best delivering this. It is undertaking a significant increase in the number of personnel and surveillance assets relating to fisheries protection, with a sizeable increase in support, much of which is already in place. We are committed to continuing to work closely with our neighbours to ensure the sustainable management of shared fish stocks.
Thirdly, the Bill introduces powers to make reforms to our fishing industries across the Administrations, while respecting the devolution settlements. Many of the regulations that form the common fisheries policy will be retained as part of UK law, providing legal certainty to fishers at the end of the transition period. It is right that while the Bill gives us the powers to move away from this law, we make evidence-based changes.
The management of fisheries is devolved and this Bill respects that. Officials from the devolved Administrations have been closely involved in the development of the provisions in the Bill. I am pleased to say that the Bill reflects this joint working by legislating on behalf of the devolved Administrations in some areas, at their request. In most cases, the powers provided are equivalent to those provided for the Secretary of State in the Bill, within the devolved Administrations’ competence.
The dynamic nature of our fisheries, and the importance of keeping pace with scientific developments, mean that both the Government and the devolved Administrations, at their requests, need powers to amend the highly technical regulations governing rules such as the size of fishing nets or the grading of fish, and to amend measures so that we can control aquatic animal disease.
Beyond this, the Bill creates new schemes to help fishing fleets thrive across the UK. These include broadening grant-making powers, creating powers for England and Wales to tender some of the additional quota received after we become an independent coastal state, and establishing a new scheme to help the fishing industry comply with the landing obligation in England.
The Bill also makes a technical correction to the Welsh devolution settlement by extending the competence of the National Assembly for Wales in relation to fisheries in the Welsh offshore zone, from 12 nautical miles to 30 nautical miles at its greatest extent. The Welsh Government previously devolved Executive responsibilities in this area.
These new powers for the four fisheries administrations ensure that the fishing industry across the UK can be supported appropriately. However, in some areas, it makes sense to continue having a common approach. The Bill creates common approaches where the Government and the devolved Administrations have agreed this is necessary—for example, a joint approach to managing the access of foreign vessels through licences given by the single issuing authority.
I am pleased to say that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee published an exceptional and highly positive report relating to the powers contained in the previous Bill. We await its report into this Bill with considerable interest. It should be noted that there are no additional delegated powers contained in this Bill, beyond the extension of some powers to the devolved Administrations, at their request. It is important that we are clear to your Lordships and the other place on precisely what these powers are about, why some of them are extremely technical and why it is important that we take advantage of them as we have more technological advances. Where we have legislated within devolved competence, we have sought legislative consent from the devolved legislatures. Our objective is to ensure that the fishing industry across the UK is supported and can thrive under the governance of the relevant fisheries administration.
The Bill puts sustainability at the front and centre of our future fisheries management policy. It sets us on a path to building a sustainable and profitable fishing industry, with healthy seas and a fair deal for UK fishing interests. Importantly, it respects and enhances the devolution settlements, giving the devolved legislatures more powers and responsibilities than they have ever had. It will allow us to control access to our waters by foreign fishing boats, and, for the first time in 45 years, to place equitable rules on them while they are in our waters.
A sustainable harvest of our waters is our objective. The objectives in the Bill make the direction of our future policy abundantly clear. The future of our fishing fleet is intrinsically bound up with the vitality of the marine ecosystem. There are noble Lords here who have considerable experiences of fisheries, some as former Fisheries Ministers. Seafaring and fishing the seas have a very long history, and many in the fishing fleets feel that they have not been cared for. This is an opportunity for us all to ensure prosperity for this important British industry. I emphasise that this will be possible only if we are, above all, wise custodians.
I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to this important and strategic Bill.
In the region of 470 days has passed since the Government published the first version of their Fisheries Bill, back in October 2018. The then Secretary of State, Michael Gove, spoke of how the Government was finally putting our hard-working fishers and hard-up coastal communities first after years of them being ignored and undermined by the workings of the common fisheries policy of the EU. However, as the Conservative Party found itself in trouble and its numbers in the Commons began to fall, this Bill was mysteriously stalled before Report. It never made it to your Lordships’ House—meaning that we are now looking at implementing an entirely new fisheries regime on an accelerated timetable. That hardly provides the due consideration to bring the clarity that UK fishers urgently require.
I am sure we will hear some of the same rhetoric from the Minister today, but we are all serious about improving the prospects of the UK’s fishing industry and coastal communities. The Minister shares this commitment—he has demonstrated that in his correspondence and briefing to Peers, for which we are most grateful—but Labour needs to be sure that this Bill does all that it needs to do to have confidence in the Government’s proposals.
I certainly welcome the more collaborative approach that has been adopted with the devolved Administrations. We have not always seen such a productive approach in relation to Brexit legislation. The priority now is to instil the further confidence that devolved Ministers will be able to play their role in shaping the delivery of the new regime, with the inclusion of their priorities.
As was the case with the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill—and as we will see with the Agriculture Bill and Environment Bill when they reach this House—the Government have chosen to amend the legislation following the recent election. Following some of the criticisms of the original Bill, many of these changes are welcome. However, some need to be enhanced further. For example, we recognise and appreciate the clarity provided by the new Clause 1. This replicates and adds to the number of principles and objectives which underpin the common fisheries policy that has governed access to British waters in previous decades. However, the clause does not include the necessary objective to land fish from British waters at British ports if it is to bring prosperity back to coastal communities.
Several other aspects of the Bill do not quite meet Labour’s hopes and expectations. The Minister will tell us that the Bill has sustainability at its heart, and I agree. However, there is a worrying lack of detail over the Government’s plans regarding maximum sustainable yield. The common fisheries policy has disappointed in relation to the protection of fish stocks, but we will need more detail from the Minister to be confident that the new regime will present a genuine step forward. As part of that, we will explore mechanisms for the Government to provide periodic reports to Parliament on the impacts of their new fisheries regime.
We also see in the Bill that the Government have inserted new commitments on climate change. This is great news. However, there is no mention of how fishers will be assisted in cutting down on the use of harmful plastics or adopting the use of greener technologies, both at sea and during processing. Nor is there any statutory commitment for the sector to meet net-zero emissions. The challenge is that the Bill needs to bring across aspects of the commitment of public goods in other Defra Bills into this framework. There are areas where we would like to see real progress over the course of the next decade, and I certainly do not want us to look back on this Bill as a missed opportunity.
We are not alone with such concerns. While they acknowledge the progress made since publication of the first Bill, groups including the Marine Conservation Society and Greener UK have called for the toughening and tightening up of the Bill’s measures on climate change and ecosystem sustainability. We stand ready to work with those organisations and others to facilitate those debates. It is encouraging to see that your Lordships’ sub-committee report on discards has been well receive and that the Government have included new mechanisms in the Bill to tackle this. Amendments will be tabled in Committee to examine how this will work. We certainly welcome the increased responsibilities of the Marine Management Organisation.
Having promised to cut the much-derided red tape of Brussels, the Government have produced a second iteration of the Bill that has somehow become more cumbersome. The fishing industry needs the Government to understand that many regulations must be much clearer, more viable and realistic, in tune with the evidence from those who have to abide by them. After all, that was the promise made so frequently and forcibly during the campaigns.
Despite 40 pages having been added since the first Bill, the document omits other important topics. While we accept the need for a new licensing regime and a new power to set annual fishing quota opportunities, there is very little information on the interplay between the two. Will a boat need a licence to secure quota, or will having quota be a precondition of receiving a licence? How will the quota regime operate? What will happen with regard to the UK’s share of UK quotas on 1 January 2021? With Britain now an independent coastal state, will the Government unilaterally take back 100% of the quota on day one, before redistribution, or will they adopt a phased approach? Will Ministers seek continued access to non-British distant waters where some of the UK fleet has such an interest?
While the Bill introduces offences for illegal fishing, we do not yet know what enforcement will look like on the ground—or, rather, on the open seas. Recent media reports suggest that the Government are bolstering the number of both boats and personnel, but I know of colleagues, including my noble friend Lord West of Spithead, who want more detail; indeed, he has put down a Question on the Order Paper for tomorrow.
The Bill lacks detail on how fishers will be protected and conflict avoided. This will need to be tested long before the joint fisheries statement and the Secretary of State’s fisheries statement. In Committee, we will be probing the Government’s plans to ensure that a fair quota is allocated to small boats, facilitating the creation of new jobs at sea, in ports and in the food supply chain. There will be amendments to ensure that a majority of catch in UK waters is landed at UK ports, that UK-registered boats have the first option to take up further quota, that the Government retain a strategic reserve of quota to assist with achieving maximum sustainable yield and that foreign vessels cannot undercut UK boats on safety or employment standards. The Minister referred in his opening remarks to the dangers faced by those at sea. Recognising this, we call for the raising of standards and not an undercutting of UK livelihoods.
I very much hope that the Minister and his colleagues in the Commons are willing to work collaboratively on this legislation. It can be improved and, whatever the changed circumstances in the other place, it is clearly in the interests of our fishers that the Government approach this process with a commitment to work with your Lordships’ House. We will be tabling a number of amendments, some of which we have already suggested to the Minister and his departmental officials. I very much hope that the responses to those amendments throughout Committee stage will be constructive and that, whether through government or opposition amendments, we will ultimately send a much-improved Bill to our colleagues in the House of Commons.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his informative introduction to this important Bill and for his time and that of the Minister of State for fisheries. I also thank those organisations who have sent me information, and in particular the House of Lords Library for its briefing, which was comprehensive and excellent.
It would be completely dishonest of me to pretend that I am an expert on fishery matters but, luckily, we do have an expert on our Benches in my noble friend Lord Teverson, so I will leave all technical matters to him and deal with those matters which I am able to comprehend—I have warned him of this.
I welcome this Bill, which is a definite step in the right direction of returning control of our fishing waters to the UK. Sustainability is everything. I believe this Bill moves us in the right direction of helping to preserve fish stocks and build up those in danger of being depleted. But I have grave concerns about the way in which sustainability is enshrined in the legal process of the Bill.
As we have heard, there are eight objectives at the beginning, which at first glance look sensible but on more careful examination appear, in some cases, to contradict each other. Clause 1(2)(a)(i) clarifies the first of those—the sustainability objective—as meaning that activities must be
“environmentally sustainable in the long term”.
But in paragraph (a)(ii) there is a commitment to
“achieve economic, social and employment benefits and contribute to the availability of food supplies”.
I believe that is at odds with the preceding statement in sub-paragraph (i). Sustainability and economic benefits are not easy bedfellows, and the Government will have their work cut out to ensure that the Bill produces both. I am sure we will return to this subject in Committee.
The Bill sets out the need to produce both a joint fisheries statement and fisheries management plans. As with everything, planning ahead is essential both to secure economic investment in equipment and to preserve stocks. But under the procedure rules, we read that the fisheries policy authorities may, at any time, prepare and publish a replacement joint fisheries statement or amendments to a joint fisheries statement. I am sure there will be good reasons for this, but I fear that it will not lead to security for our fishermen. It is also unlikely that chopping and changing the JFS will lead to sustainability.
There is no timeframe in the Bill for the preparation and implementation of fisheries management plans. I ask the Minister whether there is an anticipated timetable when all species will be covered by individual FMPs. It is essential to sustainable fishing that these plans should be in place as quickly as possible.
The joint fisheries statement must be reviewed every six years from the day on which it is first published. So far, so good. But the reports on fisheries statements and fisheries management plans must be published every three years, for each subsequent three-year period. There will, of course, be only one overarching joint fisheries statement, but there will be a fisheries management plan for each species of fish to be caught in our waters. Those two are inextricably linked, so I am curious as to why different timeframes have been specified. Perhaps the Minister would care to comment.
I am also concerned that a fisheries management plan will refer, among other criteria, to a “geographical area”. Fish are not like cows or pigs in being able to be corralled into a specific area; they are completely free creatures. Of course they will have their preferred spawning grounds, but we are beginning to see that the pattern of fish movements is changing. Cod are moving further north, as climate change begins to warm the waters further south. Mackerel are being caught by the pelagic fleets and are no longer making their way down to Cornwall in what was the traditional mackerel-fishing season. I am, therefore, intrigued as to how fisheries management plans will specify geographical areas for some species of fish. Perhaps the Minister could clarify this point in his summing up.
I am somewhat addicted to television documentaries that deal with real people in real situations. “Helicopter ER” and “Saving Lives at Sea” are among my favourites. I have, therefore, been watching the six-week series about fishing around the coast of Cornwall. This is fascinating, dealing for the most part with the lives of those who own or work on vessels under 10 metres. Each weekly programme begins with a series of clips of fishermen around Cornwall, generally fishing for different species. But the message is the same: young men with families are struggling to make a living from their traditional career—and it is a career. We see young men following in their fathers’ footsteps, learning the trade from them, working alongside them, borrowing from them, and saving to buy their own boats and start out on their own. But this is a rough and hard trade.
For me, one of the most poignant scenes was the harbour front at Mousehole one evening in the middle of winter: there was not a light from a house to be seen. All were either holiday lets or second homes. The fishermen were housed up on the hill outside the town in social housing, which was all they could afford. The average wage was £15,000; the average house price £300,000. The fishermen’s cottages on the quayside, which they would previously have occupied, were now well out of their price range, snapped up by those who visit for their annual holidays or the odd week. This cannot be right. We are a nation of coastal waters. Up and down the country, we see local people engaged in essential work that is not highly paid being priced out of their villages by second-home owners and holiday lets. While the tourist trade is an important part of many rural and coastal economies, it really is time the Government grasped this nettle and did something about a tourist tax and second-home owners. Sorry, that is the end of the rant.
There is a vast difference between the pelagic fishing fleets and the smaller vessels under 10 metres that operate inshore and off the coasts of our country. I have seen some very interesting adaptations to boats that have had the end cut off in order to bring them under the 10 metre rule. Those fishermen operating on such vessels represent 79% of the fleet but hold only 2% of the quota. Some 20% of the vessels are the large pelagic fleet, which receive the vast majority of the quota. There is a desperate need for fishing quotas to be redistributed to bring a much fairer share to the smaller fishers who are struggling to make a living. The UK’s fishing quota is owned or controlled by just five families. I ask the Minister to give assurances that these inequalities will be effectively dealt with in the Bill.
There is concern that a legal maximum sustainable yield for each stock, which was a commitment in the Conservative manifesto, will not be achieved if scientific evidence is not used to determine what an individual stock’s MSY should be. Since there is currently no fail-safe mechanism for ensuring that the total allowance catch is not exceeded, just how will the MSY be arrived at and how will it be monitored and policed?
When it comes to the Marine Management Organisation granting licences to foreign fishing boats to fish within British fishery limits, I fear that, for me at least, the Bill causes confusion. The MMO will grant licences but only for use outside of the devolved Administrations’ waters, but boats licensed by the Scottish Minister will be valid throughout all UK waters. Can Minister explain just how this will work in practice?
I welcome the licensing of foreign vessels. This is essential to ensure that the total allowable catch is not exceeded and our own fishing fleets are able to prosper, but it is also important that TACs are set at a level that is supported by ICES scientific advice, not set higher due to pressure from the large pelagic fleet owners.
There is a great deal of technical detail and some loopholes in the Bill, which we will return to in Committee. I shall finish by raising Clause 23(6), which allows the Secretary of State to set a catch or effort quota of zero, or to replace a quota already set, provided that this is done before the end of the relevant calendar year. What will happen if the Secretary of State adjusts a quota down to below the amount of fish already taken in that year, thus making the catch over quota? What will happen to the unlucky culprit who has fished according to his or her quota but then suddenly finds himself in breach of the legal limit? I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I suggest that the Fisheries Bill to which we are giving a Second Reading today is no more than a picture frame without a picture. What that picture will be—the detailed shape of Britain’s new post-Brexit fisheries policies—remains as shrouded in mystery as ever. I note that I am the first person speaking in this debate who has even recognised that quite a lot of this will have to be thrashed out in negotiation with the European Union and Norway and cannot just be decided unilaterally by us—although we will of course have a much bigger say than we had before we left the EU. Moreover, as with other aspects of post-Brexit legislation, the detailed implementation and filling-out of that picture is very much conferred in wide-ranging powers for the Executive, with only a pretty vestigial role for Parliaments and Assemblies.
Thirdly, while I note what the Minister said about fisheries being a devolved subject, and due account of that having been taken, there is not a lot about how the devolved Administrations in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast are to be brought into policy-making for a sector of great importance to their economies and electorates—of proportionally greater importance, incidentally, than it is to the English economy.
That is quite a long list of gaps that I hope the Minister will fill when he replies to this debate. With regard to filling in the details of that picture, I have not the slightest intention of asking the Government to divulge their negotiating position in the talks, which will probably get under way in March—even if they knew what it was, which I rather doubt. I will be neither surprised nor particularly disappointed if the Minister says that at this stage he will not go into that detail. But it is important to go into those negotiations, which will inevitably be tough and difficult, with a set of realistic and realisable objectives, not just a collection of slogans and mantras—which is all that has been unveiled in the past three and a half years. We should also be prepared to reach compromises along the way, since an all-or-nothing approach would be all too likely to inflict damage well beyond the fisheries sector itself.
It is not rocket science to suggest that any decent deal will have to cover three crucial elements. The first, and most sensitive, will be access by other parties to fishing grounds lying within our exclusive economic zone and territorial waters. Secondly, there will need to be shared arrangements for fish stocks in those waters, particularly the North and Irish Seas and the English Channel. The third crucial item will be the tariff and phytosanitary control arrangements applying to both our exports and imports. If we gave total priority to one of those three, or excluded one of them from consideration, the results would not be as we wished.
Access to waters is a hugely sensitive issue. It is not a new one, nor did it first arise in the context of our membership of the European Union or the common fisheries policy. In 1964, when the Government of the day decided to extend Britain’s territorial waters from six to 12 miles, we negotiated the London Convention, which gave what were called historic rights to continue to fish in our waters to a number of European countries. At that time, it is important to remember, we were not a member of the EU, and the common fisheries policy did not exist. That has to be borne in mind, because that history will be on the table when we come to negotiate. It will not decide how we handle it, but it needs to be taken into account. That is not just a legal issue—I am not making a legal point here at all—but a political issue: what is pragmatic and practical. I believe that an all-or-nothing approach to that issue will work to our disadvantage.
There is then the hugely important issue of shared management and conservation of stocks. That must be a shared responsibility with the EU and with Norway, given the inconvenient tendency of fish not to know when they are crossing a boundary. In the earlier years of the common fisheries policy, that issue was badly mishandled and stocks were grievously damaged, with decisions taken that rode roughshod over scientific advice. That must not happen again, and I recognise that it is one of the aims of the Government in this legislation, which I welcome. We must not slip back into that period where the politics of allocating shared stocks gained over the science. Neither, again, should we take an all-or-nothing approach.
The third element is the trade in fish and fish products. Over the 47 years that we have been in the EU, we have benefited, of course, from zero tariffs, zero quotas and common phytosanitary rules. They have covered our exports and our imports of fish and fish products, both wild and farmed. Those exports have grown exponentially during that period. They are pretty substantial now, as they were not when all this started. That gives the possible outcome on access to fisheries markets great importance, and we should not delude ourselves that, if we acted in a way that led to the loss of those continental markets, we would be able to replace them quite easily, because that is not the nature of this highly perishable product.
On devolution, I will merely say that every aspect of our new fisheries policy will directly or indirectly involve the devolved Administrations, so it will be important to build them from the outset into the negotiating and implementing process—all the more so as fisheries are such an important subject for them. The alternative, to have a kind of running battle between the devolved Administrations and the UK Government, will only feed the fissiparous tendencies already undermining the unity of the United Kingdom.
So it is a complex picture, but I see no reason why our fishing industry should not emerge quite a lot better placed than it is now, so long as we do not insist on negotiating overreach and do not play about with fancy ideas of linkages with other sectors, of the sort that were put forward recently by the Taoiseach when he suggested some kind of linkage with financial services. That would make a balanced fisheries deal on the three crucial decisions that I have suggested far more difficult to reach, and it would be a mistake if we went down that road.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. Perhaps I should be more upbeat than he was, but he has wide experience and knowledge which I certainly recognise.
This is an important, positive Bill; it has many challenges and, as the noble Lord said, it is a complex picture, so there are no easy solutions. But I welcome the Bill and the changes made to the original Bill debated in the Commons over a year ago. At the end of December this year, the UK will no longer be constrained by the common fisheries policy, which I believe has failed to protect fish stocks, the seabed or its marine life.
As others have said, the Bill gives the UK powers to establish a sustainable approach to the way in which fishing will be allowed in future years. But successful changes can be achieved only by the devolved Administrations working closely together. The Bill creates a common approach, preserving the right of UK vessels and any licensed foreign vessels to fish across our four zones in United Kingdom waters. The Bill sets out detailed objectives, and I am pleased, like others, to see a climate change objective in there as well. It requires joint fisheries statements, fisheries management plans and reports to be laid and reviewed.
I will turn directly to the practice of discarding. Only two weeks ago we had a debate on the EU Select Committee’s reports on the EU fisheries landing obligation, in which the Minister acknowledged that the landing of undersized fish had increased, but not by the amount that was anticipated. The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations is pleased to see in the Government’s proposals a discard prevention charge scheme, recognising the importance of reducing discards. It will give a truer picture and truer data of the fish stocks that are collected and whether they are landed in a proper way rather than just thrown over the side. We need to know about the fish stocks’ long-term ability to reproduce.
I take this opportunity to put on record the valuable work done by the then Fisheries Minister, Richard Benyon, when he introduced the fisheries landing scheme. Further improvements have been made in this Bill. Last year Mr Benyon was asked to review the highly protected marine areas, which I think will add substance once we come to debate this in Committee.
In becoming an independent coastal state, the United Kingdom will have the power to set catch limits for all vessels. Foreign boats wishing to fish in UK waters will have to follow UK rules, abide by catch limits set and, I hope, be required to have remote electronic monitoring equipment on those vessels. I would be grateful if the Minister would clarify this when he responds.
Clause 44 creates new measures to help the Marine Management Organisation to protect marine ecosystems. Back in 2008, a POSTnote commented that, at that stage, no UK body had the responsibility of creating new marine conservation zones; nor were targets set for the area to be covered at that time. In this Bill, amendments to the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 confer powers to make by-laws and orders relating to the exploitation of sea fisheries resources. I ask the Minister: will that include the awful practice that has gone on for many years of bottom-trawling, which has devastated parts of the seabed? I also ask the Minister: if data is available for all areas around our coasts, are those shores fully mapped? If so, how far out to sea does such mapping information go? In looking at the 12-mile limit, have the Government considered, with regard to the seabed and marine conservation, whether it should be regarded in a similar way to the way we have planning on land? It is all too easy to forget what is under the sea because we do not see it, whereas we see it on land.
The Bill is of great importance. Those involved in catching fish work in rough seas and in some of the most demanding circumstances. Indeed, my noble friend said that, tragically, seven of them lost their lives last year. The fish caught and returned to UK shores bring additional jobs to local communities and provide us with good nutritious food. While, as has been said, most of the fish caught by UK fishermen is actually exported to the European Union and other areas and the proportion consumed in the UK is very low, I look to the Bill to enable us, through extra quotas, to eat more of the fish that we catch in this country than has been possible in the past, and that the fish landed will be sold and consumed directly through UK markets. Fishermen will be looking to the Bill to bring certainty for their future. Catches taken must be decided on the best scientific data available, stocks protected and fishing licences granted on actual known stocks, rather than on historic agreements.
ln our desire to see healthy seas around our shores and more widely, we must not forget the continuing need to tackle plastic waste. Whether we are fishermen, individual recreational fishers or simply people who care about our oceans, the Bill is surely a step in the right direction. There will be much to do but I welcome and support it.
My Lords, this is a really historic Bill. For the first time in 50 years, we can design our own fisheries policy; it will be one of the few silver linings of Brexit, if we get it right. It will be a real test of the Government’s approach to the UK-EU negotiation. There will be lots of pushing and shoving between now and December, and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, rightly pointed out that there are big shares of quota at stake for other EU states and a big share of markets for us. We need to watch that the needs of sustainable fisheries do not get traded away for other trade-deal requirements
The Bill is an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate that, in totally rethinking how we manage our fisheries, we can ensure a sustainable future for the marine environment, the fishing industry and coastal communities, as the Minister said. Current fisheries policy, of course, is in no way sustainable. Government assessments have shown that we are not on track to meet the commitment to reach good environmental status and healthy seas by 2020. That is particularly so for fish stocks, shellfish, birds and benthic habitats. Last year, only 59% of UK fish stocks were fished at or below sustainable levels, down a whole 10% on the previous year. North Sea cod stocks have declined to critical levels, due to lax setting of quotas and failure to manage effectively. North Sea cod has lost its Marine Stewardship Council certification, with an impact on valuable market share. This is bad not only for the fish and the environment but for fishers and fishing communities.
The UK Government are currently challenging the global community to increase protection of the world’s oceans to 30% by 2030. If we are to do that without being laughed at, we need to demonstrate world-leading fisheries management and to measure this by recovery of nature and recovery of stocks. The Bill is a welcome improvement on the Bill in the previous 2017-19 Session, but it is very much a framework Bill, whose implementation raises many questions. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, called it a picture frame without a picture and I very much appreciate that analogy. I hope the Minister can give us some assurances about painting in the picture frame at the end of this debate, and I shall raise some of the issues on which I think further answers are needed.
I welcome the new climate-change objective in the Bill. We must ensure that it is about not just low-carbon fishing technology but the importance of recovering fish populations and restoring marine habitats, such as kelp forests, deep sediments and coastal seagrass meadows, as effective natural solutions to tackling the twin emergencies of climate change and biodiversity together.
My second anxiety concerns future trade deals with the EU and other states, where the Government are saying that fisheries negotiation will be a separate annual bilateral agreement. I thoroughly endorse that approach: we must avoid the overall UK-EU negotiation sliding into a link between access to UK waters for the EU states and other states and access to EU markets for us.
The Bill is very much a framework Bill, leaving a lot to the devolved Administrations and secondary legislation. I urge the Minister to let us see the secondary legislation in draft before it is laid or, even better, produce co-management arrangements involving all key stakeholders to ensure that the painting in of the picture that secondary legislation will represent suits all stakeholders.
Many of the objectives listed at the beginning of the Bill are to be applauded: the sustainability objective, the precautionary principle, an approach that involves ecosystems, the climate change objective and the importance of science and evidence-based decisions. However, somewhere in the mix we need a legal duty on relevant public authorities to achieve these objectives and be accountable by publishing specific regular reports on their achievement of the objectives, not just on their activities.
The Conservative manifesto promised
“a legal commitment to fish sustainably”,
but in the Bill there are no legally binding targets or timeframes for bringing unsustainable fisheries stocks to sustainable levels. I am sure the Minister will say that there will be fisheries management plans, but there is nothing in the Bill to say when these plans will be made, what they will cover and when the actions outlined in them will be achieved. I will talk about that in a moment.
There needs to be a legal commitment in the Bill not to fish above independent, scientifically recommended, sustainable levels. Even the rotten old common fisheries policy set catch limits in article 2 to be within maximum sustainable yield by 2020. In the Bill we simply have an aspirational objective to achieve a healthy biomass of stocks, a rather woolly objective that is neither legally enforceable nor subject to any deadline, to be taken forward by way of a policy statement that the Bill says can be disregarded in a wide variety of circumstances. All that represents a potential regression in environmental standards.
There is also no firm commitment to ensure that the stocks we share with other countries are managed sustainably. The Bill needs to set an objective for the Secretary of State in his or her negotiations with the EU and other countries to be directed by clear sustainability criteria, including a commitment to agree catch limits in line with scientific advice. We need to learn from past situations such as the interminable disputes over mackerel between the European Union, Norway, Iceland and the Faroes, which resulted in 35% overfishing and loss of MSC status for that catch. We share over 100 stocks with the European Union, so an effective, evidence-based process is important.
We used to call those the mackerel wars. I turn now to other potential wars. I regret that the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, is not in his place—I am sure he would have relished this. We need to think about monitoring and enforcement of our new approach, which the Minister touched on in his introduction. I hope the cod wars will not return; the circumstances are different now that territorial waters have been delineated, but can the Minister say exactly what resources—by way of ships, technological kit and monitoring offices—the Government envisage either to have been recently provided or to be provided in future?
In his response to the committee report of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on the landing obligation six months on, the Minister of State cited some interesting figures on Marine Management Organisation inspections annually since 2016. Inspections of onshore vessels and premises have greatly increased, but the number of inspections at sea, which are vital, has stayed completely flat. Can the Minister tell us the exact scale of additional resources for monitoring and enforcing under the new arrangements, at least in England, if he cannot speak for the devolved Administrations?
The major feature of the Bill is that it is a high-level framework—the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, about it being a picture frame with no picture is rather good. There are lots of stages that will follow the Bill and many a slip between cup and lip. The devolved Administrations will be in the driving seat in many cases and we need to see what proposals they will bring forward to paint this picture. The negotiation of a joint fisheries statement will, I suspect, be fraught and there is no guarantee that the joint fisheries policy statement will achieve the objectives outlined in the Bill or by when.
The national authorities have a “get out of jail free” card. The Bill specifies that they can disregard the policy statement where evidence changes. That might be regarded as admirable flexibility but it risks meaning that the fisheries objective will take priority, especially where the interests of the UK fishing industry are at stake. It can shout at the expense of fish stocks and biodiversity, which of course cannot shout.
Fisheries management plans will be important and much will hang on them, but they are optional. The only requirement on authorities in the legislation is to issue a statement explaining how they intend to use fisheries management plans. I suspect they will not come out with a statement saying that they do not think they will use fisheries management plans much. However, they could, given the way the Bill is framed. There must be a legal requirement for authorities to introduce fisheries management plans where stocks are currently fished above sustainable levels or for data-deficient stocks. There are no timescales for laying out or achieving the plans. We need statutory timescales. National authorities have a similar “get out of jail free” card on fisheries management plans, which could mean caving into socioeconomic pressures at the expense of environmental protection.
I started off thinking that this was rather a good Bill but, having thought about it for some time, the fact that it leaves so much unanswered is worrying. It needs to be a tougher framework and I hope the Minister can assure us that the Government’s manifesto commitment to sustainable fishing can truly be guaranteed through the mechanisms outlined in the Bill, especially where the devolved Administrations are concerned. We need that to work for the benefit of fish ecosystems, the fishing industry and coastal and fishing communities.
My Lords, I support the Bill for many of the reasons already given and will not repeat them. However, there is one point for which I thank the Minister: the evident hard work undertaken by his department in seeking co-operation with the devolved Governments in the drafting and framework of the Bill.
There are three matters, however, on which I should like briefly to touch. First, as reflected in the debates on the withdrawal agreement Act, it is essential that the devolved Administrations are involved in a meaningful and systematic way in the negotiations. I am sure, in the light of the assurances given by Ministers then, that this will happen. However, it will be important to check from time to time that it is happening. It would not be good for the future of the union if we went into negotiations when there was not the greatest possible degree of consensus between the devolved nations, given their responsibilities proposed under the Bill.
Secondly, it is important that every attempt is made to reach a consensus on the position that the United Kingdom Government will take on their negotiations with the European Union and any other states or organisations. It would be a serious matter if the Secretary of State was put in a position where he had to exercise the powers under Clause 23 to force the devolved Administrations to alter their policies, unless every possible attempt had been made to reach a common negotiating position.
Thirdly—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and the noble Baroness Lady Young, whom it is a privilege to follow—the Bill is lacking much detail, particularly regarding how the policies are to be agreed between the various Governments and legislatures. It would be far better, sooner rather than later, to spell out the mechanisms that are intended to be deployed to try to reach consensus, to say what is to happen if there is not consensus, and to do everything possible to reach common policies. Furthermore, it may well be that the fisheries sector and the way it emerges from the frameworks will have an effect on the internal market. Therefore, I suggest that it is important that we address the issue now and see what the picture is, rather than leave it until months or years later.
No doubt many of these issues will require discussion in Committee but it is important that they are grappled with now, because they go to the maintenance and strength of the union.
My Lords, it is refreshing and a great pleasure to follow a distinguished former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, who has a reputation for justice and fairness. I hope that the Minister will consider his wise words with care.
There is no doubt that the negotiations between the Government and the European Union to secure the future of the United Kingdom’s fishing industry after we leave the common fisheries policy are one of the trickiest and most challenging aspects of the trade talks now beginning. They will require cool heads all round and, on the Government’s part, a steely commitment not to let down our fishing communities. Hopes and aspirations in this iconic industry are high, from Peterhead to Cornwall, and what a blow it would be if they were dashed by some financial trade-off. That is not to mention the political gift such a perception would be to some, who would seek to ruthlessly exploit it to further damage the union, as their eventual aim is to destroy it altogether.
In stark economic terms, the UK fishing industry may be responsible only for around 1% of GDP but it has an emotional hold on the hearts of this island nation. In this respect, I hope that during the forthcoming talks with the EU, Ministers will keep in mind that famous definition of a cynic in one of Oscar Wilde’s plays:
“A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
It is indeed the case that the intrinsic value to the United Kingdom of these small but indomitable communities can never be assessed simply on a spreadsheet.
The Bill we are debating today sets out a new framework for managing our fisheries in a sustainable way as the UK emerges as an independent coastal state after over 40 years of being inside the EU’s common fisheries policy. It also details welcome plans for how the UK will take into account the impact of climate change on the health of the ocean and indeed our entire planet. The Scottish Government are unlikely to show a great deal of appreciation, but it must be drawn to their attention that the Bill also gives important new powers to the devolved Administrations to help conserve and enhance the marine environment, and conservation is of course enormously important.
When I first spoke on this subject some three years ago, I acknowledged that some compromises might have to be made in the interests of the fishing industry’s sizeable export trade—70% of the catch goes to European markets. However, it is unfortunate that some EU countries seem to want the UK to concede that their access to our fishing grounds should remain very much as it is at present. Setting out their template for talks, their negotiator, Michel Barnier, has said that he wants to uphold EU fishing activities and that any agreement should
“build on existing reciprocal access conditions.”
This clearly cannot be the case, as the Bill removes the EU’s automatic right to fish in our waters. It is to be hoped that the Government will stick to their commitment for annual negotiations to be held, resulting in improved quotas for our boats and the licensing of access for foreign fishing vessels to the United Kingdom. These would be based not on historic quotas but on scientific data about sustainable catch levels. It is a system strongly supporting conservation, which has already been put into practice by Norway, Iceland and the Faroes. At the same time, the Government have to bear in mind, during the talks, that any barriers and tariffs erected because of UK divergence from EU regulations and standards would be bad news for those who need to get their fish and other seafood produce swiftly to the available markets.
There is also the problem that the EU is insisting that negotiations should be inextricably linked to the wider trade talks. The Government are adamant that this will not be the case, and rightly, in my view. We are dealing with a situation on which an expression has been made by no less a person than Barrie Deas. He issued a statement of powerful wording, which he sent to me this morning. He said:
“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to secure a better deal for the UK fishing industry and revive coastal communities across the country. The Government must not backdown on their promises to UK fishermen. If it does, many of the objectives that the Fisheries Bill is aiming to achieve will be impossible”.
He is chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations.
Speaking previously, I stressed the totemic nature of the United Kingdom’s fishing industry and spoke of the sheer spirit and bravery shown over the years by those who work at sea, as well as the dangers faced. As an example, at Eyemouth, down the coast from where I live, a starkly poignant granite memorial depicting a broken mast commemorates that Black Friday when, on 14 October 1881, a terrible storm took the lives of 189 men from the port and left 267 children without their fathers.
Last week, the Prime Minister chose to set out the Government’s vision of its post-Brexit future economic relationship with the EU amid the splendour of the Painted Hall of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. He spoke of the United Kingdom being “on the slipway”, recalled our “seafaring ancestors” and claimed we are now embarking “on a great voyage”. We must hope that all those who ply their trade in our historic fishing communities around the United Kingdom will still share that same spirit of optimism and of new beginnings once the trade talks with our European neighbours have concluded.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, and my contribution will do so from a Northern Ireland perspective. I live in County Down, and three principal ports associated with the sea fish sector are in County Down: Portavogie, Ardglass and Kilkeel. Two of those, Ardglass and Kilkeel, are among the top UK ports. In a Northern Ireland Assembly report of 2015, which is the last known record, the value to the local economy of the fish landed was £20.8 million.
Yesterday evening, I had an opportunity to talk to the Minister about issues that appertain to the sea fishing sector in Northern Ireland. I am reminded by our fishermen and their representatives of a phrase that has been used throughout this process, which neatly sums up the position that the fishing industry finds itself in today. That is: nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Like noble Lords who spoke earlier, I agree that this Bill is a framework and that much has to be coloured in with what the devolved Administrations come up with, and with what happens in the negotiations between the UK Government and the European Union. So, with the UK’s formal departure from the EU, the Fisheries Bill we are discussing today is an important stepping stone in the process.
As we have been reminded by Boris Johnson, his predecessor and others, the UK will be an independent coastal state and as such we should be able to unleash the potential of the fishing industry. For 47 years it was subjected to the management of the common fisheries policy, which some within the fishing industry believe was mismanagement. We are told that the Bill will deliver a legal guarantee that the UK will leave the common fisheries policy at the end of the transition period in December 2020. Nevertheless, the reality is that, before the potential referred to by the Government can be realised, the UK and the EU have to use their “best endeavours” to agree a new fisheries relationship by the middle of this year. This agreement will be critical to the future continued regeneration of the ports I have referred to, but our fishing industry remains some way off a final agreement in terms of resolving the imbalances in fishing quota allocations, most notably from an Irish Sea perspective.
We also want to see the ending of the annual reallocation of quota from UK fishermen, especially those from Northern Ireland, in favour of their colleagues in the south of Ireland under the so-called Hague Preference. Yesterday evening I had an opportunity to talk to the Minister and I mentioned the voisinage agreement that was originally a gentlemen’s agreement between the old Northern Ireland Parliament and the Government in Dublin. It enabled fishermen from County Down to fish in Dundalk Bay but, because of a Supreme Court judgment in Dublin in 2016, it had to be suspended. The Irish Government have since put the voisinage agreement into legislation. I say this to the Minister: we do not want that agreement dismantled in any way, because good relations have now been resumed and fishermen are continuing to ply the Irish Sea in pursuit of their best endeavours. Now, with a future Irish Government who it is hoped should be in place in the next couple of weeks, I hope that the good relationship with the previous Minister will continue with the noble Lord the Minister.
We should recall that securing a new fisheries agreement between the UK and EU is not about inventing the wheel. Other independent European coastal states, most notably Norway, have fisheries agreements with the EU. Last week, we heard about the EU’s ambition for the new fisheries agreement with the UK. It includes an aspiration for a more detailed agreement than the Norway-EU agreement. Given the huge implications that the UK-EU fisheries agreement will have for the success of this Bill, it would be useful to learn what the UK has in mind.
Reference has already been made to the previous incarnation of the Fisheries Bill, which was addressed in late 2018 in the other place, and to a House of Lords EU Committee report that provided the basis for this legislation. One of the biggest changes is that it delivers on the Government’s manifesto aim to manage our fisheries at their maximum sustainable yield levels under a wider ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management. This is obviously very important, and the application of MSY levels to fisheries management has been the subject of extensive debate since they were adopted by the EU at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002. For some, MSY is a conceptual theory that has little applicability to an ocean environment that is subject to constant change—change that has been accelerated by climatic change. So it is important that the Bill is shaped in a way that allows it to evolve and does not provide for unachievably hard MSY targets.
Another feature that local fishermen have raised with me is a fairer share of fishing opportunities. They suggest that they would like to see, as part of the management framework outlined in the Bill, a quota allocation system that is appropriate for Northern Ireland. What is suggested for England might not necessarily work in Northern Ireland. Fishermen in Northern Ireland should not be penalised, because they have taken all the—let us say—outstanding resilience measures over the last number of years and have been able to deal with discards, by-catches and the landing obligation. They introduced and got patented some areas of gear changes, which it would be useful for the Minister to have a look at.
While the fishing industry welcomes Prime Minister Johnson’s commitment that there will be no checks on the trade of seafood and other products from GB to Northern Ireland, it looks forward to hearing how the Government will deliver on that commitment—in particular with seafood brought to Northern Ireland for primary processing before being returned in its entirety to GB.
Last night I raised with the Minister the issue of allowing non-EEA fishermen to continue to work on County Down boats. In fact, they work on other boats throughout the fishing industry in the UK. So far, in spite of our best endeavours, the Home Office has not come forward with a legal formula to enable them to continue to do this work. In many instances, our local fishing industry could face tie-up without the expertise of these people. The Northern Ireland fishing industry faces a compromised position, because back in 2016 the Irish Government provided a legal framework to enable these non-EEA crew to fish in Irish waters. They can move from one Irish-registered vessel to another, so our local fishing industry in County Down, which relies largely on fishing in the Irish Sea, feels compromised.
I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments in response to the issues I have raised and to participating in Committee on the Floor of the House. I hope that the Bill will lead to the continued regeneration of coastal communities. Other noble Lords have mentioned the issues raised by environmental organisations about the need for greater sustainability and reflection of climate change. While that is referred to in the Bill, they want to see consideration given to binding commitments not to fish above independent, scientifically recommended sustainable levels. To allow an industry such as fishing to grow, develop and nurture, we have to adopt a balanced approach to all this.
In conclusion, I look forward to working with the Minister and noble Lords across the House to develop an enhanced Bill that will bring benefit to fishermen, particularly those I know in County Down fishing villages.
My Lords, I begin by associating myself with what the Minister said about the dangers encountered by those who go to sea, especially those who go fishing. In my connection with Trinity House, I come across some of these from time to time.
My first connection with the common fisheries policy was shortly after I became Lord Advocate in 1979, when a number of cases were brought by the Commission against the decisions of the previous Government. In accordance with the proper practice, the new Government found themselves defending these decisions. The decisions had been referred to one of the leading silks of the day, Tom Bingham, who ultimately became Lord Chief Justice, a senior Law Lord and a very distinguished judge. I did not know it at the time, but he had advised the Attorney-General that none of these would succeed; in other words, that in every case, the defence would fail. In pursuance of his policies in relation to the appointment of the judiciary, shortly after that the Lord Chancellor appointed Tom Bingham as a judge, and therefore he was no longer available to defend the cases. I was appointed to defend these cases and, sure enough, Lord Bingham’s prophecy was fulfilled to the letter. I was glad afterwards to know that he had advised that before I had begun at all.
One of the last of the cases was an extraordinary case about the common fisheries policy’s application to the waters around the Isle of Man. It showed me that the provisions of the common fisheries policy did not come naturally to the Government of the United Kingdom as something to be observed in every detail. As time has gone on under that policy, that hesitation has been demonstrated as growing. Anyhow, we are to come out of the common fisheries policy soon and the question is: what will replace it? As has been said, that is really what makes the picture in this Bill. Until we know that, it is very difficult to know exactly what will happen. Of course, it is right to be prepared for what will happen, whatever it be, and we need a structure to replace the common fisheries policy.
I agree with a good deal of what has been said already about the law, and I will not repeat it. I want to say one thing on what the noble Baroness said about legal enforcement of the policy statements mentioned at the beginning. I rather think it is implied that the policies to be adopted are to be in accordance with these objectives. Precise legal provisions may not be needed to require that, but I certainly think it is implied at present.
Clause 12 appears to require that fishing in the territory of the United Kingdom should require a licence. It is a very reasonable requirement for every fishing boat to have a licence. But the clause specifies that not only will fishing boats be required to hold a licence but that they must be in accordance with international law and international agreements to which the UK is a party. I can see the force of that, but I do not see how that kind of thing would be decided in a discussion on the high seas. Take the territorial waters of the North Sea: the enforcing boat might come along and the skipper of the fishing boat could say, “I’m here for a purpose recognised by international law.” Can you imagine how that would be resolved? Alternatively, they might say, “I’m here by virtue of an agreement or arrangement to which the United Kingdom is a party.” I do not know how well equipped the fisheries protection vessels will be, but I imagine that they may be hard put to test that kind of thing. I would have thought it might be wiser to require that, if a boat is coming on that account, it gets a licence before it comes. I am sure it would be much easier for the enforcing authority to look at a licence than to try to find out what international law was defending the incoming fishing boat.
Although not dealt with in this Bill, the arrangements for selling the products of the sea to Europe are extremely important. That is certainly true in some parts of Scotland, particularly the north-west, where I happen to know the ports of Kinlochbervie and Lochinver, which lie on each side of the distinction between my title and that of my noble friend, the chief of my clan. Lochinver and Kinlochbervie are both quite small, but they attract a great deal of seafood, which is sent by road to many parts of Europe. These small communities very much depend upon that. Therefore, the last thing I would like to see is that kind of arrangement being damaged in the result. I mention that not as part of the Bill, but as part of the negotiations, which will be, without any doubt, difficult to conclude satisfactorily. One can see the desire of the European nations to get what they can out of it, and we must be careful about that.
I strongly support what was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, about the involvement of the devolved Administrations. Without getting into too much detail, I have to say that that could be pretty difficult if the fundamental policy of the devolved Administration is not in accordance with the present situation. One can see the difficulty of that, and I hope that what my noble friend said in opening will be true: that the co-operation of the devolved Administrations in working out the detail of this will be forthcoming and helpful.
My Lords, I am not a fisheries expert; other than sporting a beard worthy of Captain Haddock and managing medieval manorial interests on the foreshore of the River Exe, I am a novice. I am thus grateful to the Minister for his introduction and to many other noble Lords for their expertise.
My law firm represents clients with commercial sea fishing interests and I know a number of local inshore fishermen in and around the Exe. I have been able to discuss this legislation with them. While happy to be free of the common fisheries policy, and the havoc it wreaked upon our fishing industry and our marine environment, their consensus is apprehension that their remaining livelihoods and coastal way of life may be sold down the river in forthcoming trade negotiations. The industry is also nervous that departure from the CFP will result in new systems that will cause uncertainty and delays. It seeks assurances that investments made in equipment and quota will not be undermined by administrative delays. Banks are currently reluctant to lend to fishing enterprises, and continued uncertainty will only make this worse.
As a Devonian, I am aware of the importance of the fishing industry to the local, regional and national economy. Devon is proud to host a large proportion of England’s fishing fleet, and in Brixham it has England’s largest fish market by value—approximately £40 million per annum.
Fishing has been core to the county’s economy for centuries. My home was built by an admiral of the Western Fleet during the Hundred Years’ War. Much of his time was spent defending English waters from marauding vessels from Brittany and Iberia. I hope that this will not be a task for the Earl of Devon in future, and that we can settle peacefully the fair allocation of our maritime resources towards the long-term health of our fisheries and the communities that depend on them. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, noted, fisheries monitoring and enforcement will still be key to the exercise of our sovereign control and to achieving the bold ambitions set out in this legislation. What additional investment do the Government intend to make?
As many of your Lordships will be aware—because I have mentioned it—2020 marks the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the “Mayflower” from Plymouth, a commemoration of which I am a patron. This momentous voyage set sail from Devon because of the sophistication of local fishermen who ventured for months, from small ports such as Teignmouth and Kenton, over the vast north Atlantic, to catch and salt cod in enormous quantities. It was much due to the efforts of these modest West Country folk, who established seasonal encampments on the east coast of North America, that we achieved the early English settlement of those distant shores. The trading relationships they operated were complex and cross-border, combining fishermen from Devon, fish from the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, salt from the Bay of Biscay, wine from Bordeaux and consumers on the coasts of the Mediterranean. As the Government head into trade negotiations with Europe and the United States, I hope that they will take lessons from this history, not least the need to work closely with our neighbours and to care for our fish stocks.
With respect to these negotiations, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, noted, the political declaration committed the UK and the EU to use their best endeavours not only to conclude but to ratify a new fisheries agreement by 1 July 2020. This seems a little ambitious. Can the Minister describe the progress of those negotiations?
As to the new fisheries objectives, the bycatch objective is laudable. Minimising wastage is essential to the sustainability of our fisheries. In pursuing this objective, we must take account of the peculiarly mixed nature of certain UK fish stocks, which makes for a higher rate of bycatch compared with others. We must be cautious about burdening UK vessels with well-intentioned objectives that render them uncompetitive. We must also ensure that the fisheries management plans not only become compulsory but are localised in their requirements. What may be good for the North Sea fleet may not be good for the south-west, where conditions are so different. How will the Government ensure, post CFP, that quota is allocated more smartly, providing benefit to the fish and the fishers?
I note that the recent debate on the EU fisheries landing obligation concluded that compliance with the discard ban has been impossible to evaluate, through a lack of data. The consensus in favour of remote electronic monitoring in UK waters is shared by fishermen, but they are concerned that this must apply to all vessels fishing in UK waters, not just those landing in UK ports. A level playing field is essential.
The UK is a champion in the area of fisheries technology. At the universities of Plymouth, Falmouth and Exeter, the south-west boasts world leaders in marine and environmental engineering and sciences. How will the Government harness that expertise to ensure that we accelerate productivity, increase sustainability and build the competitive advantage of our fishing fleet? Also, what plans do the Government have to develop skills in fishing and in the onshore processing of fish for the food industry?
The climate change objective is an important addition. Given our location at the end of the Gulf Stream, UK fisheries will be impacted more than most by rising sea temperatures. Does the Minister have data on the carbon footprint of the UK’s fishing fleet, and do the Government have specific targets to address it? Is the Minister aware that offshore fishing vessels from Brixham are currently forced to steam all the way up the channel to Holland for all but the most basic maintenance, because there is no facility in the entire south-west peninsula with the capacity for such work? It surprises me that after more than 500 years of offshore fishing, we have lost the ability to repair our own fleet. The Minister will be aware of recent progress towards reopening the shipyard at Appledore. Are the Government able to support that endeavour and reverse this terrible decline in local shipyard services?
Finally, can the Minister acknowledge the importance of the continental market for UK-caught fish? The vast majority of the fish landed in Devon are sold across the channel. The Brixham market uses state-of-the-art online auction technology to ensure the fastest and most efficient sale of the daily catch. Given the inherent perishability of fish, any delay in transportation will impact sales dramatically, and any increase in border checks will destroy this important regional industry. I realise that Mr Gove thinks a degree of cross-border friction is a price worth paying. However, there is no point in securing the right to fish our own waters only to destroy our ability to sell the fish that we catch; otherwise, it will be fish fingers for tea, for everyone, every day.
My Lords, the Fisheries Bill has huge potential to cause trouble among the nations of the United Kingdom and with our European neighbours. What is written on the face of the Bill is, in the main, unexceptional. Indeed, the environmental precepts are laudable. In the words of a letter from the Minister, the Bill will be a major step forward in the Government’s vision
“to build a sustainable fishing industry with healthy seas”.
We will be moving away from a common European fishing policy that has been vitiated by the competitive bidding among the European fishing nations for quotas that determine their allowable catches. The quotas have invariably exceeded the levels recommended by scientists; the common understanding is that they have been consistently breached and widely ignored. Even when the quotas have been observed, the practice of discarding fish that are undersized or in excess of species-specific limits has subverted policies aimed at conserving stocks.
The competitive animosity of the nations bidding for quotas has been fuelled by the grievances that the British brought to the negotiations. The British fishermen were still smarting from their exclusion from Icelandic waters when, on joining the EEC in 1973, free access to our surrounding waters was granted to the other European nations. The situation was worsened by the severe contemporaneous decline in fish stocks on account of the overfishing. Now, in the words of our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, Britain will “take back control” and have full jurisdiction over its “spectacular marine wealth”. He has asserted that:
“We will make sure we don’t trade away Britain’s fishing rights as they were traded away… in the early 1970s.”
The Prime Minister has given voice to a common sentiment that has been expressed enthusiastically by fishermen and their representatives. When it becomes independent of the European Union at the end of the transition period, Britain will be surrounded by an exclusive economic zone—an EEZ—over which it intends to assert its fishing rights. The zone will extend as far as 200 miles from our coastline, when it is not constrained by the proximity of an adjacent coastal nation. In that case, a median line will separate the British zone from that of the neighbouring nation.
The concept of an exclusive economic zone, which was established to protect the fishing rights of Iceland, now redounds to Britain’s advantage. It is enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Geography has endowed Britain with an exorbitantly large zone in comparison to the zones of other European fishing nations such as France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark, whose EEZs are limited by the median lines.
The outrage at Britain’s pre-emption of fishing areas to which other nations have traditionally had access is now palpable. It threatens to have a detrimental effect on the forthcoming trade negotiations. Already, the granting of a European passport to our financial services sector has become conditional upon our granting fishing rights to other European nations. However, any concessions to those nations are liable to enrage British fishermen, who are looking forward to greatly increased fishing quotas.
There is also a potential for conflict among the nations of Britain over the control of fishing rights. The Fisheries Bill declares that the management of fisheries is a matter that is devolved to the regions of the United Kingdom. Hitherto, a consistent UK-wide approach to fisheries has been maintained because all the fisheries administrations have been required to comply with European law, which has imposed the common fisheries policy. In consequence of our leaving the European Union, that constraint will no longer apply.
Clause 18 of the Fisheries Bill of Session 2017-19, which has become Clause 23 of the current Bill, gives the Secretary of State the power to determine the quantity of fish that may be caught by British boats. Although the Secretary of State must consult with the devolved Administrations in determining this quantity, the UK Government views the determination of fishing opportunities as a reserved function. However, both the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government have disagreed strongly with this. Given the spirit of disagreement and grievance against Westminster that prevails among Members of the Scottish Parliament, one can imagine that this will become a major point of contention. Scottish parliamentarians will be backed by a powerful fishermen’s lobby, which will point to the fact that over 60% of the UK catch is landed by the Scottish fishing fleet.
More must now be said about the attitudes of fishermen and their organisations. It is clear that the fishermen expect there to be large increases in the allowable catch. In a briefing from the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, we are told that it expects to see an immediate and significant uplift in the quantity of fish available to its fleets. It expects, moreover, that this will be followed by further year-on-year gains. Although the fishermen and their representatives tend nowadays to pay lip-service to the nostrums of conservation, their words and deeds show that in practice they are likely to resist any resulting restrictions on their activities. In particular, they bridle at the injunction that fishing opportunities should be limited by the maximum sustainable yield, the MSY, of fish stocks. The MSY is the maximum rate at which the fish can replace themselves under conditions of human predation or harvesting. If the harvest exceeds the MSY for any length of time then the fish will be destined for extinction.
The objective of fishing at the MSY was incorporated into the rules of the European common fisheries policy. However, certain exceptions have been allowed. One of the principal documents states that, if fishing at the MSY would imply very large annual reductions of fishing opportunities that seriously jeopardise the social and economic sustainability of the fleets involved, then a delay in reaching that objective would be acceptable. This is profoundly illogical. Any such allowance can have arisen only as a consequence of fraught negotiations. Fishing above the MSY will jeopardise the survival of the fish and of the industry. Attempting to fish at the MSY is also dangerous because of the likelihood of exceeding that level inadvertently.
Nevertheless, a recent briefing from the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations has militated against the imposition of any constraint based on the MSY. It seeks the allowances that are recorded by the European common fisheries policy. It is clear that, if they are to achieve some of the more reasonable objectives of the Fisheries Bill, the Government will have to stand firm against the onslaughts of numerous parties.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Viscount and to support the Bill, which enables the UK to be, in the Prime Minister’s words,
“an independent coastal state from the end of this year, controlling our own waters”.
While the Bill is not directly about the negotiations to come with the EU, it provides the legal framework for the future of fisheries management and is therefore inextricably linked.
I want to focus my remarks on the importance of the Bill to Scotland, which has already been mentioned on several occasions. After seeing their interests subordinated in the 1970s to other priorities in the UK’s negotiations to enter the Common Market, it is understandable that fishing communities are nervous of the same thing happening again as we exit. That is why the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations welcomed the Prime Minister’s speech on 3 February, in which he reiterated his commitment that:
“There would be annual negotiations with the EU, using the latest scientific data, ensuring British fishing grounds are first and foremost for British boats.”
This is a promise that must be kept—a promise that has particular significance for Scotland.
Scottish boats in 2018 were responsible for 64% by volume and 58% by value of all UK landings. While fishing makes a relatively small contribution to our overall GDP, it is disproportionately important for often fragile coastal communities. For example, fishing is a significant part of the local economies of the Western Isles and Shetland. According to the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, more fish are landed in Shetland alone than in the whole of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Also, Scottish towns such as Peterhead—which invested £45 million to create one of the largest and most modern fish markets in Europe—are heavily reliant on fishing.
Let us not forget the political significance of fishing for the union. A majority of Scots need convincing about the benefits of leaving the EU, and fishing is an area where the potential benefits are perhaps most immediately apparent and where the UK Government can demonstrate they are delivering for Scotland.
The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has described the move to independent coastal status as offering a “sea of opportunity”, and it is hard to disagree. As a member of the EU, the UK was allocated around 40% of total allowable catch in UK waters. For the purposes of comparison, the equivalent figure for Norway is around 85% and for Iceland 95%. Moreover, EU quotas are based on historical fishing patterns established nearly 30 years ago. They take no account, for example, of the impact of climate change, which has seen stocks of fish such as cod, hake and tuna moving further north.
It is sobering to consider the combined impact of the CFP on a place such as the Western Isles since the UK joined the EU: the number of vessels has reduced by one-fifth; the number of fishermen has fallen by nearly one-third. So, Western Isles fishermen are already looking to secure fresh opportunities. To take one small example, seasonal bluefin tuna are found increasingly in UK waters—and it is a valuable fish. So, the Western Isles see an opportunity to develop its own rod and line fishery, strengthening its tourist offering and increasing local economic resilience.
Currently there is no UK quota for tuna and the UK, as an EU member, has not had its own seat at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. The prize in prospect is clear: to increase the quota opportunities and to ensure that they are spread more widely and fairly, playing a part in coastal community regeneration. I hope the licensing regime encourages new entrants and avoids additional fishing opportunities becoming overly concentrated in a few hands. I hope the Minister will address this issue when he winds up.
It is of course self-defeating to create new fishing opportunities for British boats without access to markets. The EU proposes that provisions for fisheries should
“build on existing reciprocal access conditions, quota shares and the traditional activity of the European Union fleet.”
However, access to waters is not the same as access to markets. The UK is party to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and, according to the excellent House of Lords briefing:
“Coastal states have exclusive rights to the natural resources, including fish, in their exclusive economic zone.”
The UK should therefore have the opportunity to negotiate annually reciprocal water access with Norway, the Faroe Islands, the EU and others. After all, this is how Norway, a member of the European Economic Area, negotiates with the EU and how the EU negotiates with every other third country. We should move on from quotas based on historical patterns to zonal attachment, calculating shares using best science of where fish are today, not where they were 30 to 40 years ago.
None of this means that EU vessels should or will be denied access to our waters, but relative opportunities need to be more balanced and managed over time—not least to allow the EU fleet a period of adjustment to avoid dislocation and to give our fishing industry time to expand its onshore infrastructure to cope with new opportunities.
When it comes to market access, trade in fishing products is not a zero-sum game. The EU exports as much fish to the UK as it imports from the UK: over £1 billion of trade in each direction. It must surely be in the interests of both parties to avoid restrictions on trade or the introduction of tariffs.
My final point concerns devolution, which is an important aspect of the Bill. Our withdrawal from the EU has often strained relations between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. However, the discussions among the Administrations about fishing are an example of best practice. As the Law Society of Scotland’s Bill briefing says:
“We welcome the recognition given by Defra of the importance of engaging with the devolved administrations and legislatures and the collaborative approach taken by the Bill.”
This is reflected in the arrangements in the Bill for a joint fisheries statement and for individual fisheries management plans. The provisions in Clauses 14 and 16 that require UK Ministers to secure the consent of devolved Ministers in exercising their licence regulation-making powers are also examples of a collaborative approach.
Clause 23, which has been mentioned, gives the Secretary of State a power to set
“the maximum quantity of sea fish that may be caught by British fishing boats”
“the maximum number of days that British fishing boats may spend at sea.”
When making a determination under Clause 23, the Secretary of State is under an obligation via Clause 24 to consult the devolved Administrations, but their consent is not required. This seems to strike the right balance. International relations are a reserved matter and the UK has responsibility to establish quotas for the purpose of complying with an international obligation of the UK to determine fishing opportunities. How quota is then allocated within the UK is governed by a well-established concordat agreed in 2012 between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. This appears to work well.
In conclusion, I welcome the Bill. It paves the way for new economic opportunities. It will improve fisheries management, making it more sustainable and environmentally friendly. In the negotiations to come, the UK Government must stand firm and the United Kingdom’s status as a normal independent coastal state should be non-negotiable.
My Lords, as the Minister so clearly set out in his introduction, sustainability is at the heart of this Bill. The Defra briefing Sustainable Fisheries for Future Generations tells us:
“Underpinning everything will be our commitment to sustainability—supporting future generations of fishermen and allowing our marine environment to thrive.”
Clause 1 of the Bill, as we have heard, sets out the fisheries objectives, the first of which is sustainability. If this is what the Bill really delivers, in a world where scientists estimate that in the order of two-thirds of the world’s fish stocks are overfished and in which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, mentioned, only 59% of UK stocks were fished at or below sustainable levels last year, who could object? However, I will argue that the Bill may not be all it seems.
When you look at the Bill in more detail, you begin to question whether or not it will deliver on this sustainability promise—but first I must digress. “Sustainability” is, unfortunately, one of those words used by too many people to mean too many different things and therefore runs the danger of becoming almost meaningless, unless we define our terms. It was not always like this. The term was coined with a very specific purpose by the German forester and land- owner Hans Carl von Carlowitz, whose treatise on Nachhaltigkeit, the German word for sustainability, appeared a year or so before his death in 1714. Von Carlowitz was concerned about the rapid deforestation of western Europe to provide wood for buildings, ships and fuel. He set out the principles by which forests should be managed for their long-term viability for future generations. Nowadays, however, the term is used for a much wider range of objectives. For example, the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals, descended from the 1987 Brundtland report, range from ending poverty and hunger to securing economic growth, justice and gender equality.
So, what does the Bill mean when it talks about sustainability? Does it really mean securing the long-term health of fish stocks and marine ecosystems or does it mean something vaguer and more general? I am sorry to say that, as it stands, the Bill does not guarantee the long-term health of either our fish stocks or our marine environment. Why do I say this? The clue, as has been said, lies in Clause 1(1). This clause lists eight objectives of the Bill, but contains a fundamental category error by listing sustainability as merely one of the eight. If the Government really meant sustainability in the von Carlowitz sense, there would be just one objective: sustainability; the other seven would be subordinate to this as a means of achieving sustainability.
Noble Lords may think that I am making a rather technical—even academic, as suits my background—and abstruse point. However, when we move to Clause 1(2), the alarm bells start to ring loud and clear. This is where the Bill declares its hand. I refer to a point touched on by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, my noble friend Lord Hannay and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell. In this clause, the sustainability objective is defined not merely as ensuring that fish stocks are sustainable in the long term, but also as ensuring economic, social and employment benefits.
This is precisely why, under the common fisheries policy, so many stocks have been overexploited. The argument for going beyond the scientifically recommended quotas is that, by adhering to these quotas, the livelihoods of fishermen and communities are put at risk. In other words, in the trade-off between the different elements of sustainability, short-term gain has taken precedence over longer-term pain. By fishing more now, fishermen have good livelihoods today, but their descendants will not have this tomorrow. I therefore ask the Minister, in his reply, to explain to us how the trade-off between these elements of sustainability in the Bill will be calculated, and to assure us that short-term interests will not be placed ahead of the longer-term objective of ensuring that fish stocks are there for future generations. In short, can the Minister commit to a legally binding obligation not to exceed the scientifically recommended levels of quota?
However, the problems do not end there; the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, has already referred to this. The fisheries management plans covered in Clauses 7 to 11 of the Bill are designed, as Defra’s briefing on the Bill says, to
“achieve maximum sustainable yield for all stocks.”
One of the standard textbooks of ecology that I have used for teaching undergraduates at Oxford says that
“a fixed quota strategy at the MSY level might be desirable and reasonable in a wholly predictable world about which we have perfect knowledge. But in the real world of fluctuating environments and imperfect data sets, these fixed quotas are open invitations to disaster.”
The Peruvian anchovy stock was the world’s largest single fishery from 1960 to 1972; it was managed by MSY quotas and collapsed in 1972, taking 20 years to recover. Does the Minister have a view on whether MSY is indeed the measure through which to manage quota? There are alternatives that are well known in the fisheries science literature.
I wish to raise a couple of final points, one of which has already been mentioned—namely, the importance of data. The only way to get real data on what is being taken out of the sea, as other noble Lords have said, is to have remote electronic monitoring or CCTV cameras on board all fishing vessels. Why is that not part of the deal?
My very final point is something that has not been mentioned before: fishing vessels are continually increasing in efficiency. One estimate in the literature is that the introduction of GPS and sonar on fishing vessels has resulted in an increase in efficiency—catch per unit effort—of between 300% and 400% in recent decades. It seems an ineluctable consequence that, if we are to fish at sustainable levels, the fishing industry will in the future have to shrink. There will have to be fewer fishermen, each operating a more efficient vessel. Do the Government acknowledge that one element of sustainability in the future will be a smaller fishing industry?
My Lords, I do not want to embarrass the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, but I thought that was an excellent speech. It reminded me of an important point about the drafting of legislation. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, may recall, when one asks any administration to adhere to a series of duties or objectives, the more one adds in, the greater is the difficulty in the administration thereof. And, indeed, the Bill before us is different from the Bill as introduced in the other place, and has further objectives. Until the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, drew our attention to it, I had not noticed that even the sustainability objective has more than one objective within it. There is a heaping up of objectives, which is why either we would have to put into the Bill some kind of hierarchy of objectives—as noble Lords will recall, that has been done in relation to other regulators—or the Government and the fisheries administrations would have to proceed to a joint fisheries statement that provided clarity to all concerned about their balancing of the several objectives at an early stage. The noble Lord helped us greatly by what he said about that.
I share with the noble Earl, Lord Devon, the fact that I am no fisheries expert, but I do have to declare an interest: my wife’s company in Brussels is a partner to an agency that has UK Fisheries as one of its clients. I would not want anyone not to recognise that I have that interest to declare—although I have received no briefing particular to me in that respect, and what I say is not derived from that.
I share with many of my noble friends a feeling, expressed admirably by my noble friend Lord Dunlop, that expectations about our establishment as an independent coastal state from the beginning of next year are, justifiably, high. They ought to be high. If leaving the European Union is intended to deliver significant economic benefits to the United Kingdom, they should be visible—hopefully, dramatically visible—in relation to the fishing sector, perhaps before any other.
How is that to be achieved? I shall focus on two points. One is about how the Bill takes account of the interests of the fishing industry and secures them. The second comes back to what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, referred to earlier—something in which I am interested by virtue of our previous discussions on the Trade Bill and other legislation—and that is the question: how shall we here go about scrutinising and contributing to the exercise by the Government of their prerogative powers to make treaties?
On the first point, it is not clear how the Government will consult, beyond consulting the other fisheries administrations. Devolution is a central factor here, but all those administrations must understand how to balance a range of interests. We need to see in the Bill how those interests can be taken on board. For example, what Schedule 1 says about consultation on joint fisheries statements is, essentially, that the Government can consult pretty much anybody they regard as an interested person simply by publishing the document to the general public. Nothing more is required. In our discussions on the Bill, we must require more. We must require the Government to take specific account not only of the scientific evidence but of the views of those who can bring that evidence to bear. They should also take on board the views of the various fishing sectors—not only those of people who, rightly, expect more quota and a greater share of the allocation of catch in coastal zones and in our own territorial waters, but also the interests of the distant waters fleet. Last year, I had the privilege of being on the “Kirkella”, a trawler out of Hull, with two crews overwhelmingly based in Hull and Humberside, that sails great distances. As the Minister rightly said, the resilience of the fishing fleet is much to be admired. They travel a great distance to bring back fish—in their case, generally cod—for us to consume here. Their interests, as well as those of the coastal fishers, must be taken into account.
That brings me to my second point, about treaties and agreements. We are proceeding on the basis that, in an ideal world, in July we will arrive at a fisheries agreement that will, presumably, give us a greater share of the catch and quotas in UK territorial waters, our exclusive economic zone, and the European Union will just say, “Fair enough—that’s not how it’s been in the past, but clearly that’s how it’s going to be in the future, and we’ll leave it at that”. However, there is no evidence that the EU will leave it at that. My noble friend quoted the draft negotiating mandate presented by the European Commission, which, I remind noble Lords, proposed that fisheries should
“build on existing reciprocal access conditions, quota shares and the traditional activity of the Union fleet”.
The Commission has moved from that draft in the past few days and, significantly, replaced the words “build on” with the word “uphold”. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, will know more about that than I do, but it is a hardening of the Commission’s position, not a softening.
We are trying to separate market access from access to waters. They are different things. In an ideal world, access to waters would be subject to one agreement and market access would be as liberalised as we could possibly make it, with zero tariffs and zero quotas. That, doubtless, is our ambition. But let us imagine that we were in a bilateral agreement—with Norway, for example—whereby the Norwegians had access to our markets but we did not have access to their waters. Would we say, “Fair enough—those are entirely separate things and we won’t regard them as even remotely interconnected”? But they are interconnected, and they will be interconnected in the minds of European Union negotiators. It would be unrealistic for us to imagine otherwise.
In terms of treaties, Clauses 23 to 25 are pretty critical. There is a legal structure governing everything else, which is terrifically important, but it could all be overruled by the nature of the agreements that the Government enter into with the European Union, and other bilateral agreements. Clearly, we shall not issue a negotiating mandate for the negotiations, and I do not seek one. None the less, we have a legitimate expectation that those treaty negotiations with the EU, and bilaterally with other coastal states, will be based on a joint fisheries statement that we have examined and considered, and that the Government will give Parliament, along with other interests, a substantial opportunity to comment on the Government’s understanding of what their objectives should be—in the same way as I hope we shall, in due course, be able to do in relation to other treaty negotiations. The Government should at least tell us what their objectives are, so that we can contribute, and hope to hold them to account for their achievement, or otherwise, of those objectives.
That said, expectations are high. The Government have brought forward a Bill that, as I think the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, said, looks pretty good on the face of it; when I went through it, much of the structure seemed entirely logical. It is just that, when it comes to the actual substance beyond the structure, we need to put much more into it to make it work.
My Lords, I join the Minister and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay in paying tribute to our fishermen, who carry out an amazing job in extraordinary weather. Those who have been tossed around in a force 8 gale and run for shelter when the fishermen are working hard in that same gale know the sort of conditions that they have to work in. Safety at sea has of course considerably improved, and I am delighted by that. When I was Fisheries Minister, I was very involved with safety because of some very sad accidents. I particularly remember Albert McQuarrie bringing in the Safety at Sea Act, which all the fishermen wanted except when it came to actually implementing it on their boats and it took up space. The reward that my friend Albert McQuarrie got for all his hard work was that he lost his seat at the next election.
This is undoubtedly a hugely critical area for relationships between the UK and the EU, and for the Government. As my noble friend Lord Lansley has just said, we start from totally different poles. The Government quite rightly, as our own state, want to go in one direction, but the EU will resist tooth and nail moving away from any benefit that the common fisheries policy has. We were misled to some extent when we joined the EEC; the rules regarding fisheries were changed before we joined. That is the lesson for how careful we are going to have to be in our negotiations with the EU. However, there are opportunities, as my noble friend Lord Dunlop said. He mentioned the Western Isles, and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay mentioned Kinlochbervie and Lochinver. I will of course mention Thurso as being a critical landing port, and a critical point from which the EU gets a lot of its fish. There is a stream of traffic and, when you know that that stream of traffic is going to come, you get ahead of it on the A9 coming south; otherwise, you are going to get stuck behind it all the way to Inverness before you have a chance of overtaking the fish lorries.
Enforcement is critical for the Bill. I join the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in asking the Minister to be a bit more forthcoming about what the UK fishery administrations are planning for in the way of enforcement at sea. We are going to have a new line between us and the EU. If the EU is aggrieved by the deal that will be done with it later this year, a lot of those boats are going to test our resolve and our enforcement at sea to the highest level that they can. If my noble friend could be more forthcoming, that would be helpful.
On the proposed fisheries agreement with the EU, I agree with my noble friend Lord Lansley that this is something that Parliament ought to look at. It intersects with the Bill in a number of areas. He mentioned Clause 23, but I am also thinking of Clauses 7 and 12. In a number of areas, what is going to be agreed in July and in the trade deals cuts right across the Bill and could undermine a huge amount of what it is trying to do. I am not trying to tell the Minister how to negotiate or what his negotiating brief should be, but when we get to a certain point before this becomes a statutory instrument, Parliament really ought to be in a position to debate it and look at its relevance to the Bill.
Talking of enforcement, I would also like more information about how we are going to monitor by-catch. I listened with interest to the debate that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, had the other day, and what I did not listen to I read. Clearly, this is another area where we need much more information in order to be accurate on the data. As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has just said, it is about getting that data. And it is not just about our data; it is about making sure that the EU is doing the same thing. We find far too often that people are working on different bases and do not have the right scientific information.
I turn to the devolved Administrations. I am delighted by the close working relationship that seems to have been developed on fisheries, but there are a couple of aspects that worry me. Under Clause 17, Scotland is able to license a foreign boat, but Clause 17(2)(a) says that boat is not allowed to fish in waters outside Scotland. What happens if the Scottish authority licences a foreign boat and it strays into English waters? Whose responsibility is that? Would it not be better for all the fishing authorities to work together on licences so that there is a common pool of the foreign boats that are licensed as well as the UK boats?
On Clause 33, I am concerned that the power for devolved authorities to help fisheries might lead to an intra-UK state war. I hope this can be avoided, and I hope that by working with the devolved authorities we will all do roughly the same thing, but it would be sad if one devolved Administration used state aid in a way that was detrimental to the rest of the UK. Given the problems that we could have among the devolved Administrations, and between the devolved Administrations and the fishermen who will be seeking to get the maximum catch that they can, is there not an argument that there ought to be some sort of mediation or arbitration service to help in that respect?
I end on a point that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, mentioned. He called them “historic rights” and I remember that, when I was Minister for fishing, we called them “grandfather rights”, but either way they are long-established rights. I am thinking particularly of the fishing boats designation orders in 1965 for France, Belgium and Ireland, which give certain boats from those countries the right to fish in our waters, particularly when they are going to the Isle of Man’s territorial waters, where they have a separate arrangement. I do not think that in the Bill those rights have been extinguished. Could the Minister confirm whether those grandfather rights have been extinguished? What discussions has he had with the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands to make certain that no grandfather rights will continue forward under the present legislation? While we are on grandfather rights, can the Minister be absolutely certain that he is not inadvertently creating new grandfather rights should there be a break-up of the United Kingdom—which I certainly would not like to see—that would cause us problems in future?
The Bill is absolutely going in the right direction and my noble friend has my support, but I hope he will be able to fill in some of the details of the picture that badly need to be painted.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. I know that he cares very deeply about the natural world.
I would like to put the Bill in a political context. We have to remember that “taking back control of our fisheries” was one of the rallying cries of the Brexit campaign. The promise that by leaving the European Union we would develop more sustainable food, fishing and farming systems was what convinced many people like me that Brexit would open up a brighter, greener future. The Conservatives recognised this in their manifesto, which made big promises on the environment and getting Brexit done. The challenge is now to meet those promises in the legislation before your Lordships’ House.
We Brits have a natural affinity with the seas around us and the creatures that inhabit them. Many people are shocked to learn of the impacts that the industrialised fishing industry has had: destroying marine ecosystems, depleting fishing stocks and killing some of the sweetest and most intelligent life forms on the planet. In UK waters thousands of marine animals, including harbour porpoises, dolphins, whales, seals and seabirds, die every year as a result of incidental capture and drowning in fishing gear. Recent estimates of the annual UK fisheries death toll include over 1,500 dolphins and porpoises, 400 to 600 seals, and a concerning and increasing level of entanglements of humpback and minke whales. These problems can be solved in this Bill, but at the moment the words do not match the ambition in the Conservative Party manifesto.
I do not want to pick a fight across the Chamber—although I probably will—particularly with such charming Peers as the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, but there is, for example, no UK quota on bluefin tuna, because it is a threatened species and we are waiting for stocks to recover from past overfishing. Illegal fishing of bluefin tuna is quite a problem: there is a lack of enforcement, and that is something we have seen in the Bill.
“Uncompetitive?” Well, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said, perhaps we need a smaller fishing industry. We cannot exploit the seas for short-term gain if that means a poorer quality of life in future for more than just fish. I note that the mottos of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, are, “What is true is safe”—to which I subscribe completely—and “Where I have fallen, what have I done?”, which I am afraid I will have to have explained to me.
Proper monitoring and enforcement of the fishing industry are necessary and should begin with modern electronic systems such as CCTV cameras on fishing vessels and sea-to-plate traceability. That would help people who eat fish products to be confident about conditions and the minimisation of environmental impact. Retailers, too, could be sure that no dolphins were harmed in their products.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, mentioned, the Bill falls short of the commitment to fish sustainably. There is no legal commitment in it. The sum of the parts of the Bill do not amount to a legal commitment of any kind. Many of the ingredients are present, but the Bill reads as though someone started with a lot of ambition and promise and then someone else went through it with a red pen, which sadly has enfeebled it.
I offer to work with noble Lords across the House, including the Minister, to turn the wishy-washy parts of the Bill into something strong, with legal mechanisms, to make good on those promises on Brexit and in the Conservative manifesto. If, however, the Government resist important amendments, your Lordships’ House might be well justified in insisting that the amendments are written into the Bill. A legal commitment to fish sustainably is now, unquestionably, the will of the people.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, particularly when she is encouraging the Government to carry out their manifesto. I welcome the chance to examine this legislation so early in the parliamentary Session, as it will be a prime illustration of the Government’s approach to relationships with the devolved Administrations. Many of the powers that will now come back to the UK involve devolution.
On the repatriation of fishing, in October 2017 the Joint Ministerial Council reached an agreement that there would be a need for a legislative framework for regulation as we leave the EU’s common fisheries policy. Here we begin to see what that would mean. Can the Minister say when the final meeting of the Joint Ministerial Council that addressed the Bill took place, and how much agreement was achieved?
The tone of the Bill strikes me as incredibly optimistic in comparison with the norms of most of our legislation, but perhaps it is impossible for it to work otherwise. Many clauses call for consultation, and there is to be an appeal or dispute resolution process for the charges on discards—but, interestingly, not on the allocation of licences or on many other issues. As my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay emphasised, the presumption has to be that everyone will remain co-operative and ready to agree. If, however, they do not, we are in unknown territory.
From briefings that we have received from the industry, it appears that the new mechanism for regulating catches is much more acceptable than the old common fisheries policy concept of “relative stability”. This is a hopeful sign. However, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, pointed out where the criteria that we are adopting fall short of what might be required for true sustainability.
The fact that in Clause 1(6) there is to be a requirement to record all catches, including bycatch, should—as was mentioned by my noble friend Lady Byford—give a far more comprehensive and acceptable record on which to base policies. Furthermore, it is supported by fishermen. I believe that we all recognise that in the fishing industry, when an edict comes down from on high—as currently happens—it is usually not something with which fishermen will meekly comply. The challenge for the new policy is whether it will trigger a change in the culture of some of the more belligerent elements in the industry, and whether there will be a sufficient number of responsible fishermen to set a new tone that will encourage others to comply.
My noble friend Lord Selkirk of Douglas reconfirmed the general idea proposed in regulation to reflect the pattern that has been developed in the Norwegian fishery over the last 20 years, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, mentioned that we should look for an improvement in what has been developed there. However, until we have a little more detail on implementation and monitoring, it is hard for us here to know how successful it will be in protecting vulnerable species.
One area where devolved rights seem to be a very contentious issue is quotas. A number of noble Lords who have spoken find, as I do, that the different elements in the Bill paint a very confusing picture. In Clause 2, the Bill very properly says that all must agree on policy in a joint fisheries statement. However, when we get to Clause 23 we see that it will be up to the Secretary of State to set out the quantity of fish that may be taken or the number of days that boats can be at sea. Having spent many days—like many earlier speakers—in your Lordships’ Energy and Environment Committee debating the uptake of the EU’s new discard policy, it would be interesting for me to get some indication from the Minister about what criteria the Government are thinking of using in this judgment.
In Clause 25 it is the national fisheries authorities who appear to be responsible for distributing fishing opportunities to fishing boats. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Dunlop for explaining what will govern the distribution of quotas among the four Administrations. Does the Minister not think that it would be helpful for some reference to this mechanism to be mentioned in the Bill? Otherwise, we are left with very little indication.
How different national fisheries authorities should conduct their own distribution is, quite appropriately, not addressed in the Bill, but an exception is made when it states that the Secretary of State should have power of regulation over any sale of English catch quota. Can my noble friend the Minister indicate whether in England, or even in other authorities, sales to foreign vessels will be in the hands of the fisheries authorities, or will it be merely an opportunity for individual fishermen to dispose of the catch as they wish?
It is welcome that one of the objectives of the Bill is to bring social and economic benefits to any part of the United Kingdom, but I think we can all agree that the real issue for our fishermen will be the deals that the Government make to secure a reasonable level of income for their industry.
My Lords, I note my maritime interests recorded in the register, particularly as a council member of Maritime UK, which brings together the UK’s major maritime trade associations, and as a trustee of Seafarers UK, the leading national maritime charity. Both organisations are concerned for the economic and social welfare of the UK’s coastal communities, not least fishing communities.
I shall not rehearse again the numerous positive features of the Bill, which your Lordships have heard about already, other than to say that I support it. It is an enabling Bill, and I am sure that many in the House will look forward to working with the Minister to achieve its desirable goals and others that have been suggested.
The Bill and what will follow offer a unique opportunity to address the severe challenges facing the under 10 metre fleet. This once-vibrant sector of our fleet used to supply fresh fish, employment—often in areas where few, if any, alternatives were present—and a sense of worth. There is a historical disparity in allocation of quota, in the form of fixed-quota allocations, which has seriously disadvantaged the smaller sector, which, despite making up 80% of the UK fleet by number, has access to less than 2% of our national allocation. I welcome the aims of Clause 25, which seeks to utilise social, economic and environmental criteria when allocating quota rather than continue to rely only on the highly controversial historical rights as a basis for allocation. I agree with the Fisheries Minister, George Eustice, who made clear in evidence to a parliamentary committee recently:
“As we depart from relative stability and have new fishing opportunities coming in, I do not think it makes any sense at all to compound the injustice of the FQA system.”
If I might make one suggestion to the Minister, an easy win for the under 10 metre sector would be for him to intercede to ensure that delays in granting the Coastal Producer Organisation the same rights and privileges as other producer organisations in the country are dealt with by the Marine Management Organisation. The under 10 metre fleet could then benefit from tailored quota management in the same way as the over 10 metre fleet currently enjoys. This could be profoundly beneficial to the fortunes of the small-boat sector.
Staying with quotas, it is clear that, in real terms, its effective privatisation has led to increased consolidation to the detriment of the small-scale fleet, which simply does not have the resources to compete with far better-resourced corporate bodies. There are some alarming figures out there: a recent investigation found that the five largest quota-holders control more than a third of UK fishing quota. Around half of England’s quota is ultimately owned by Dutch, Icelandic or Spanish interests. I have found, as I am sure have others, that the deeper one goes into this, the more complex the whole subject is.
On the basis of the above, I am concerned to see that Clause 27 promotes an annual auction of fishing rights. If the Government are looking at this approach as a method of generating revenue, surely a more equitable method would be simply to increase the levy currently attributed to the Sea Fish Industry Authority rather than effectively sell off a chunk of quota annually to the detriment of the great majority of the fleet, not least those who do not have the financial reserves to enter into an auction race and those new entrants where it has been recognised that a major impediment to their ability to enter the catching sector is the cost of quota. Such an auction would without doubt serve only to benefit already wealthy operators at the expense of other fishermen. and would ostensibly be open to resale or lease under the proposed rules, further underpinning the current imbalance in allocations.
In addition, Clause 27(3)(n) states that the regulations may include provision for
“the payment of compensation to a person who holds but does not use rights sold in accordance with the regulations.”
In much the same way as UK fishermen are regularly disenfranchised by the quota held by slipper skippers—those who have been awarded quota but lease it out rather than fish themselves—and quota traders, anyone other than genuinely working fishermen holding quota should arguably do so only on a “use it or lose it” basis.
On access to our waters by EU fishing vessels from January 2021, it is of paramount importance to the fishing community that, whatever arrangements the Government finally come to with the EU, the absolute red line for the UK’s inshore fleet is that the 12-mile fisheries limit is made sacrosanct. This move, together with the increasingly urgent need to develop, in the words of Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, world-leading fisheries management linked to a fairer and more equitable allocation of quota, would do much to begin to rejuvenate many of our coastal communities and the small-scale fishermen and women who support them.
The Bill and the welcome accompanying debate around the UK fishing industry afford a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for government and society to address some of the challenges that I and other noble Lords have noted. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, noted the dangers of this calling. In the past 10 years, 94 fishermen have died off the UK, 529 have suffered serious injury and 210 fishing vessels have been lost.
As noted by the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester and Lord Lansley, we must not overlook the importance and value of our distant-waters fishermen who fish the north Atlantic waters of the Barents Sea, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. In the context of the negotiations with the EU, it is vital that the UK retains access to these waters. At the same time, these countries will want continued access to the UK market for their fish exports. But as far as I can see, their interests are not addressed in the Bill. This may be appropriate, as the Bill seeks to address the opportunities of an independent state. Can the Minister say that their interests—essentially, continued access to the waters of Arctic Norway, Greenland and the Faroe Islands—will be assured? Their major concerns can be summarised as follows: a statutory requirement to consult industry, including the distant fishing fleet, in agreeing fisheries statements or in respect of bilateral or multilateral fisheries agreements; including in the Bill reference to the objectives and processes for UK participation in the future management of fisheries in the so-called northern external waters, and ensuring that the competent authority secures continued UK access to fisheries in respect of those non-EU coastal states with which the UK enters bilateral trade agreements.
I draw the attention of the Minister and the House to a forthcoming report from Liverpool John Moores University to be published by Seafarers UK. This follows the study, Fishing for a Future, which Seafarers published in 2018. That wide-ranging study covered multiple aspects of the industry and helped raise awareness of the safety, welfare and social issues affecting many of the UK’s small-scale coastal fishers and their communities among government and other policymakers. I commend the report, the final draft of which I hope I have seen.
Since I have the attention of a well-informed and very engaged Minister, I want to conclude with mention of some of the study’s recommendations. On the need for access to affordable credit, a proposal is made for a national credit union offer. A second proposal is for financial education for those employed in the “share fish” community; here, as with those employed in the gig economy, government clearly has a key role. Regarding PAYE, tax and national insurance, we recommend that charities, third-sector organisations and government departments initiate interventions to support fishermen where support and guidance with form-filling, assessments et cetera is required. To modernise share fishing, it is recommended that the larger-scale fleet more widely introduce employment status in its sector and that, within the smaller-scale fleet, a debate is had on the value of moving from a share fishing model to one based on co-operative principles. Finally, a national plan for the development and sustainability of small-scale fishing is proposed. This would need specific action to support the financial resilience and business success of small-scale coastal fishers.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak in this debate and to follow so many learned noble Lords and the excellent points they have made in relation to this Bill. I agree with many who have said that this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to introduce new framework legislation to address the management of our fisheries.
Fisheries management is the ultimate tragedy of the commons. We have a collective resource, yet it is in everyone’s individual interests to exploit it to maximum economic yield in the short term to the detriment of the long term; a number of noble Lords have pointed out that this is true fisheries. Add to that that in the marine environment it is almost impossible to carry out effective MRV—monitoring, reporting and verification —and you get a really wicked problem. Therefore, the chance in the UK to write new framework legislation is hugely exciting. In the tragedy of the commons, the normal way to try and resolve the issue might be to form multilateral approaches. We are here doing the opposite; we are going to use unilateral policy, and there are challenges in that.
Of course, we have talked about the negotiations that we had with the European Union, but the best way we can go forward, I think, is to take more time to create exemplary policy in this area. If we are to be unilateral about it, let us write gold-standard, world-class legislation and hope that that then promulgates itself into other parts of the world where it is much needed, and that includes within the European Union because—let us be honest—the CFP is failing, for two important reasons. The first is that maximum scientific yield is disregarded. The scientists spend lots of time poring over data and trying to estimate in this horribly changing world what a safe yield might be for fisheries stocks. Then a political horse trading takes place on top of that, in which case the maximum scientific yield values are then disregarded and a new maximum quota is set which takes into account socioeconomic factors—meaning jobs in the near term in countries, places and regions of countries where politicians care about the jobs. We already see that the CFP is failing on that basic test of whether it can successfully manage the tragedy of the commons. It has resulted in overfishing. In the UK now, 40% of our stocks are deemed to be overfished. That is up from 30% just a year ago, so something clearly is not working; and this is after successive rounds of reform of the CFP. We have a chance now to get it right. Another fundamental failure, apart from the MSY-plus-plus model that was adopted, is the relative stability, the model by which we grant access to quota. That has been done on the basis of a historic catch, which now no longer has any bearing on the modern fishing fleet or indeed the actual availability of fish in our waters, so being able to move away from that and to develop a much better system is a real prize.
EO Wilson, a famous conservationist, once said that the problem with humanity is that we have Palaeolithic brains, medieval institutions and godlike technology; I think this definitely applies in the fishing sector. The godlike technology, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and others have mentioned, has basically made us capable of extracting resource from the marine environment in ever more efficient ways. We are literally hoovering masses and tons of biomass out of our oceans and into commodity supply chains. The bucolic vision of a small fishing fleet leaving a harbour, getting a lovely fresh catch and bringing it back to shore, which we all then enjoy and eat, is not the reality of the industry today. It is hugely industrialised, hugely concentrated in its power and hugely influential in its lobbying. There is a tragedy of the incumbents that is writ throughout the sector, and they will put pressure on all the people involved in this new system to ask for a greater quota and more access to immediate cash in the short term. I am sure that in those negotiations the €500 million being taken by overseas vessels out of UK waters will be front and centre in their minds about how this should be managed.
As a society, we must really think about what we are doing in granting a quota. We are giving a right to a common asset that belongs not just to us but to future generations. There is an intrinsic value in what we are doing. We are taking something of great worth and giving it to the private sector to exploit. We should ask for far higher standards in that transaction. Think about what we are asking now in the common agricultural policy—there is another Bill in another place going through the same process, trying to reinvent a framework piece of legislation that can show the world how we do this sustainable management of our commons correctly. There, we will establish a principle that no public money should be spent without public good coming back in return. By granting quota and giving grants—I note that the Bill enables the continuation of grants—we have to apply strict criteria that this public money is being spent for the public good. I see no reason why we should not treat the fishing industry the same way as we treat the agriculture industry, in moving us forward into a much more sustainable management system.
The other thing, which many noble Lords have mentioned, is the use of MRV in technology. The godlike technology cuts both ways. It obviously enables us to catch and find fish far more effectively, but it also enables us to keep an eye on what we are doing in this tragedy of the commons. There has to be much more in this Bill that signals to the fleet that we will use MRV to oversee this management process, to ensure that we see fish come back into our oceans and a return to the time when our oceans were abundant with life. That is what we need to get back to, both for the short term and for the longer term. How will we use MRV to ensure not just that we are policing what is happening in our waters but, if we sell off quota to overseas fisheries, that we know what they have caught if it is not landed in the UK? What will be the reciprocal reporting arrangements so that we can make sure that our quota is genuinely sustainable and not continuing this pattern of business-as-usual overfishing and all the problems that brings?
Finally, another thing that we ought to think about strongly is the fact that our oceans, in terms of climate change, are a natural sink of carbon. They can help us in meeting our carbon budgets in the sense that they store carbon and lock up carbon in our waters. I might table a probing set of amendments in relation to this Bill, but I see no reason why we cannot think now about some of the methodologies we could introduce that would encourage fishermen, the fishers and stewards of our coastal communities, to be rewarded for doing the right thing in terms of climate change. That might mean a return to much more coastal fisheries, a low-impact aquaculture—returning to bivalves as a key source of protein, which locks up carbon; seagrass plantations; and the preservation of seaweed beds. We must think carefully about the effect of bottom trawling on our deep sink of carbon on the floor of the oceans. It is a much less studied issue, but our seas store more carbon than the rainforests, and by allowing fishing to carry on unrestrained we are losing carbon sinks and adding to a possibly unmonitored and unreported source of climate damage. This sector has huge potential to help us in both restoring carbon and drawing it down, while providing good, fresh protein sources for our people. Locally caught fish are some of the best forms of protein that we could possibly imagine. They have a very low carbon footprint, and we are much better eating local fish than importing meat from overseas.
We have a possibility here of bringing life back to our oceans, stimulating our local communities, helping with climate change and stopping the fishing industry from making it any worse. That can all be achieved with the right framework legislation. I have been involved in another form of framework legislation on climate change, from which I learned that to make a Bill successful and to make the legislation truly framework, you need clear targets in legislation, a clear timetable that holds the Government to account, and independent advice. This Bill does not contain any of those things, I am afraid, so it misses that important opportunity to learn from what we know has worked in other sectors. This Bill is that famous empty picture frame. We need to fill it with a wonderful picture and a vision that will bring money and life back to our oceans and will help show that there is some benefit to us becoming unilateral, in a time in the world when I think we need much more multilateralism. But that is another discussion.
My Lords, we are at a historic moment where the UK is in transit to leaving the European Union, and we need to negotiate new arrangements in that process. We are leaving the common fisheries policy and there will be major changes, with, I hope, not unexpectedly high expectations, as other noble Lords have referred to. This is a framework Bill, and much of the detail, by necessity, will be set out in subsequent regulations.
It is generally understood that fish stocks are a shared resource. After all, they do not swim around with union jacks on their fins. An extra complicating factor is the warming of the waters, and the fact that fish stocks are moving further north out of UK waters.
The Bill is based on the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone agreed under UNCLOS—the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea—which allows us to exploit resources from the water and the seabed. The 200 nautical mile limit is modified by median lines drawn between inhabited areas, occupied islands and mainlands. For the UK, the median lines define the limits in all areas to the south, which is France; to the east, the North Sea countries; and to the north, Norway to the north-east and the Faroes to the north-west. Yet in fact in only two places do we reach 200 nautical miles.
I was very taken by the accounts of the court cases shared with us by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. I do not know if he remembers one in 1983, with the arrest of the Danish skipper and Member of the European Parliament, Kent Kirk, who was fishing in the 12-mile limit and was eventually referred, after his arrest in South Shields, to the European Court of Justice.
My interest in fisheries derives from my student days learning the international law of the sea from the legendary Pat Birnie, who was also the legal adviser to the Government at the time, from my time in Maryport as a parliamentary candidate, through to representing the Essex coast as a Member of the European Parliament and then, for a time, being MP for Filey. There is an issue I have come across in all those scenarios, which I thought the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, put very eloquently, which is the plight of the inshore fishermen. That is not something that has ever been a problem under the common fisheries policy: it could easily be resolved by our Government and I hope the Minister and the Government will now take the opportunity to resolve this issue. I am also interested in the issue of bycatch, particularly the issue of salmon as bycatch to the main catch of shellfish, and I hope that that can be resolved. I was not entirely satisfied by the responses in the briefing we received prior to the Bill being published.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, referred to sustainability. He would like to see Clause 1 relate entirely to sustainability, but I believe it is very important—indeed, crucial—that sustainability must be based on research. That is why I welcome the scientific evidence objective. I also welcome the fact that the Government are committed to continuing the work of ICES—the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea—which is based in Copenhagen but relies heavily on research input from the UK. The Government have said they will continue to fund this, but my understanding is that it is currently funded up to 50%, in our case, by the European Union. How will that research continue to be funded?
I believe that where we have gone wrong in the past, which has led to overfishing, is that we have not relied enough on the research that has been handed to Fisheries Ministers. There is a very real concern, which my noble friend the Duke of Montrose referred to, that conservation is being left entirely to the fishing industry to uphold. I hope my noble friend the Minister will reassure us on this point. I am mindful of the history; notably what was referred to as the black fish scam, in which, over a three-year period between January 2002 and March 2005, 17 fishermen were brought to court and found to have illegally landed mackerel and herring at a Shetland factory in Lerwick. This was a £63 million scam, leading to a fine of almost £1 million, so I hope we will not see the likes of that again.
I welcome the Second Reading of the Bill. During its passage I would like to explore a number of issues. The first goes to the heart of fisheries policy post Brexit: how will the UK access fish stocks and how will our erstwhile EU partners have access to those stocks in our waters? The Government oversimplify things by saying that claiming our waters is their priority, because that is only part of the issue. Is it not the case that the UK will potentially lose some useful areas outside UK waters where we currently fish, but potentially gain exclusive access to less useful areas? While almost all the economically significant stocks are in the UK exclusive economic zone, there are others that we fish in the waters of other EU member states.
UNCLOS requires the UK to participate in a management based on the straddling fish stocks agreement, which means that we need to negotiate almost everything. I would welcome greater emphasis on the fact that the Government do indeed intend to meet their international obligations under UNCLOS. How will the UK access the market, given that we currently sell 50% of the UK quota to the EU? Given the high price that fresh fish raises, which a number of noble Lords alluded to, and the fact that fresh fish can be taken rapidly by lorry—typically to French markets aimed at the restaurant trade there—it is very important that we keep this flexible, quick trade open. If it is interrupted, we must recognise that the value of landings may drop. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that seeking agreement with the EU in all things in fisheries, including markets and access, is important, however complex the negotiations might be?
I am mindful of the fact that the implications of breaches of any such agreement can be serious. We should learn from past experience. When the Faroes, which are not in the EU, broke a quota agreement on mackerel, the EU blocked all fisheries imports from the Faroes. What happens to that part of the UK’s current quota that is owned by EU fishermen in the Netherlands and other EU countries, notably herring, plaice and sole quotas? These species are often caught under the UK quota, using UK-flagged vessels, and landed directly into the Netherlands. Who should have rights of quota ownership in the new situation under the Bill? Will the UK reallocate all quota which is owned—in other words, already bought—by UK-based but foreign-owned fishing companies? What will the solution be to each of these issues, which are, after all, linked?
One fact I have not heard raised this evening is that most Danish fisheries, and certainly most Danish fishing companies, are owned by the Norwegians, which is how they manage to get into the single market and the customs union. That is often overlooked.
There are number of omissions in the Bill that I will pursue in Committee. In particular, why were discards dropped as an objective in Clause 1, and why is there no mention in Clause 1(4) of endangered species? Sharks and ray reproduce more slowly than most commercial fish and are therefore deemed to be vulnerable and perhaps worthy of protection. There is lots to explore in Committee, but I give the Second Reading a warm welcome.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lady McIntosh. When I was about nine or 10, my father took me from our home on the River Dart in Devon to Brixham harbour to watch the fishing fleet leaving port on the tide. There were dozens and dozens—it seemed like hundreds to me—of trawlers fanning out to sea to their favourite fishing spots. It is a sight that I have never forgotten. Of course, we will never see the like of that again, because since joining the Common Market, the size of our fishing fleet has reduced to only a fraction of what it was. Indeed, in the last 20 years 750 vessels—about half—have gone out of business. This has had a devastating effect on the way of life and jobs throughout UK harbours.
The common fisheries policy has been called the EU’s most unpopular and discredited policy, leaving the UK with only about 40% of the fish caught in its own waters. The Bill is about recovering the responsibility for the management of our fishing waters, which was lost to Brussels when we joined the Common Market. I support the Bill, which is also supported broadly by all the fishing organisations. Under international law, from 1 January 2021, the UK will become an independent coastal state and, as far as the EU is concerned, a separate country. As such, the UK will determine who may fish in UK waters and under what conditions, just as the EU will determine if UK trawlers may fish in EU waters and under what conditions. It will work both ways.
It is interesting that in money terms EU catches from UK waters are worth about five times as much as what our fleet catches in EU waters. One can understand why the EU wants a 25-year settlement based on the current quota system—in order, it says, to avoid economic dislocation for its continental fishermen and their communities. What a pity that Brussels was not just as concerned to avoid economic dislocation for our fishermen and their communities when we joined the common market.
I have no doubt that the negotiations will be difficult, but what if no agreement can be reached by January 2021? Under international law, the UK and EU fleets will be able to fish only in their own zones until an agreement is reached. This happens from time to time when there is an impasse in the annual negotiations between the EU and Norway—both fleets are restricted to their respective zones until agreement is reached.
As my noble friend Lord Dunlop said, last week the Prime Minister said that any agreement on fisheries
“must reflect the fact that the UK will be an independent coastal state from the end of this year, controlling our own waters.”
Interestingly, he has proposed annual negotiations, like those between the EU and Norway, to ensure that
“British fishing grounds are first and foremost for British boats.”
That is a good starting point. This Bill is about taking back control of our fishing waters. Quite what will be given away is anyone’s guess, and I am sure that the negotiations will be tricky. Already the EU is trying to link fishing with finance. But there are high expectations, as has been said, from the fishing communities that a deal will be reached which will ensure a reinvigorated and vibrant fishing industry with a sustainable future. By that I mean fish stocks, but I will have to read the excellent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, again. I just trust that the fishing communities will not be too disappointed.
My Lords, one thing that I have come to learn about fisheries is that, the more you learn about it, the more you do not understand it. It is absolutely true; if there is one sector where the more you know, the more you do not know, this is it. Following on from that, it is very easy for us, quite rightly, to criticise the common fisheries policy—I have been one of its fundamental critics in the past—but no fisheries policy is perfect. Nowhere in the world can you find a perfect fisheries regime.
The closest I have ever got to seeing one was in New Zealand, which is seen as having one of the most successful systems that works well for producers as well as conservation. It has complete control of its continental shelf, which helps, but strangely enough its industry is totally concentrated. In fact, we would find it completely unacceptable in this country because there are no fishing coves with small boats; it is dominated by large vessels with tradeable quotas that everybody bids for annually or triennially—I cannot remember which. Because of that, those few boats can be controlled very strongly by the authorities, and it is in the interests of the three or four producers not to keep an eye on each other—and the problem, actually, is recreational fisheries, which I am pleased to say come under this Bill.
That model is absolutely inappropriate for the United Kingdom, but we should not forget that we have a very disparate industry here. Some in the industry make a shedload of money in this country. We all think of these sectors—which I know in Cornwall and others will know on the west coast of Scotland, the east coast of England and, I suspect, Northern Ireland—where fisheries are a really hard living. However, the big companies make a lot of money, so we should not think too sentimentally about a large proportion of this industry in terms of money and volume. Good luck to them; I am not against that, but there are certain things which come from that. We think of fisheries in terms of the products we eat for our supper or have with chips, but the shellfish industry is also incredibly important to the UK—going out with pots and all those other things are important as well. It is a very varied industry.
Scotland is very different from England as well. I was slightly surprised by the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, who I think said that the Shetlands lands more fish than the whole of England. I may be wrong, but I think Peterhead is the largest fishing port in the UK by far, followed by Fraserburgh, then Lerwick and Scrabster. However, Newlyn and Brixham are not far behind, certainly compared to Lerwick, but they are very different industries looking at different things.
We on these Benches are looking for four principles in this Bill. The key one is sustainability. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has said that that must be defined better, and I accept that entirely. The amendments I have been thinking about do not do so sufficiently, so I look forward to his intervention.
The second principle is looking at how the inshore fleet—particularly the fleets with boats under 10 metres—are dealt with. Exactly as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said, ironically it was completely in our power to give that sector as much of our total quota as we wanted. To give George Eustice, the Fisheries Minister, his due, he started to reallocate some of that quota to the under 10 metre or inland fleet over the last couple of years. That is an important area.
Another important issue for these Benches, which I do not think has been mentioned, is transparency. This is a national resource, yet there is little transparency about how quota is divided up and who owns what among the producer organisations. We talk about statistics of foreign-owned British flag vessels, but no one has an exact percentage of what quota they have. Much of this area is not easily understood, and we would like to see a dose of transparency about the industry—this is not to threaten commercial confidences in any way, but we need to understand how a lot of these mechanisms work. There is an incumbency at the moment; it is not necessarily just for the future.
The final principle for us, coming back to what the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, said, is that we should never forget that this is a national resource. We are talking about the UK taking back control; this should be a resource that is nationally ours as citizens. We should take care over how it is distributed and looked after.
I will go through a couple of things in the Bill. To come back to something said very well by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, the objectives at the beginning of this Bill are seriously muddled. There is the sustainability objective, yet most of that is about a socioeconomic objective. I would not be averse to maybe having a separate socioeconomic objective. The sustainability objective must be the prime objective among all the others. We have confusion with eight, potentially nine, objectives, and that is almost impossible. Organisations such as Ofgem in the energy area have a number of objectives that can become confused. We need to indicate which objectives are the most important and which are not. The sustainability objective needs to stand by itself and the rest should be shifted elsewhere.
The socioeconomic aspect is important, but there are other ways to solve that issue other than going for short-term non-sustainability. We can fund fleets—the EU does that—and there are ways in which we can finance people not to fish, if necessary, to protect our national resource. It would not be perfect, but it is a way in which to do it. There have been decommissioning schemes in the past, and one of the main reasons why all fleets have reduced in size is nothing to do with the common fisheries policy specifically but because we are much more efficient in how we operate our fishing vessels. Of course we are. They innovate with larger vessels, larger nets, bigger engines and all the technology that allows them to fish more intelligently. Therefore, fleet sizes are going to come down. The biggest example of that was when sail was replaced by steam. The whole of the south-west fishing fleet halved in a matter of years. It is around technology.
The objective on equal access also concerns me. It sounds reasonable and means effectively that wherever vessels are registered—in Scotland, Wales, England or at a particular port—they can fish where they want. That is my understanding. My concern is because the industry is highly concentrated and wants to concentrate more. It has large returns and big financial resources. The Bill proposes a method by which quotas can be auctioned, tendered or used, but what is to stop additional concentration and for those vessels to come to other parts of the UK and start to take away other stocks that are relied on by other regions? I can imagine a situation whereby there was an auction for a quota in the south-west and Scottish vessel owners said, “Yes, we will try to buy that up”, but the Government said, “No, we want that for the south-west”. Given the current objective, I would say that that situation would be a matter for judicial review and the Government would lose. I am concerned that having a stated objective would be a potential threat to other regions that the mobility is no good for. However, I am not trying to stop that mobility because, in Plymouth, Scottish vessels are important for a lot of the fish processing. I am just concerned about having equal access as an objective.
Another issue in the Bill is the stock management plans, which, as proposed, are a fiction. As we know, some 80% of our precious stocks swim outside our EEZ, and quite a few of the spawning grounds for those stocks are also outside it. It is therefore impossible to have a credible fisheries plan—the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, mentioned this—just for one’s own territorial waters. That does not work around the United Kingdom. I should be interested to hear from the Minister what will happen to what has been the relatively successful regional management of the common fisheries policy, with agreements on regimes for the North Sea and the western waters. Will we try to continue those? We must try to make them work first before we go down the route of national plans, which need to be produced as a result of the overall plans in those fishery areas. Otherwise, the national plans cannot work and I do not see that sequence provided for in the Bill.
Another issue is data, which has been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. There must be more transparency within producer organisations. They effectively run the business and sort out quota, which has huge value, but they are pretty opaque organisations. There should be a public duty to have much more transparency in their actions, allocations and how they are run. A lot of that is there to some degree already, but it would be a lot healthier for what is a national resource if there was more transparency.
I am delighted that the landing obligation remains in the Bill and that the Government still see it as important. However, as has been said in previous debates and mentioned by a number of Members, if the landing obligation is to remain, we must have remote electronic monitoring. One cannot have non-discarding regimes that work without it. That obviously needs to apply also to foreign vessels that come into our waters. As has been stated by, I think, the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, there also must be a way in which we can access the data from foreign vessels that land abroad in order to have joint management.
The Bill is necessary. The marine environment is under pressure. Fisheries must become sustainable, not just in the long term but in the short term—and that is possible. The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, who is a valuable member of the committee that looked at this area, was right to say that maximum sustainable yield may not be the right measure and is something that must be looked at. That area gets complicated.
The Bill is needed, but we must put that painting that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, talked about into the picture frame before the legislation leaves this House. Understandably, a lot of downstream regulation in terms of technical measures and so on has to be done by secondary legislation. However, we have to get the Bill right. I am not sure about banning foreign landings by UK vessels. I have talked to the industry about that and it takes away part of their commercial ability. Now that we will have the friction of phytosanitary controls on land borders—although they will still be in operation at ports—such a ban would make it even more difficult to keep our markets open in the European Union. It is an interesting concept, however.
The Bill is important. We agree on a number of areas, particularly on the landing obligations and on getting the objectives right, and we very much look forward to Committee.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for setting out the purpose of the Bill so clearly, and for organising some helpful briefings with officials beforehand. As many noble Lords have also admitted, I have been—and am still—on a steep learning curve, but we battle on. As my noble friend Lord Grantchester made clear, although the Bill has been a long time coming, we welcome its intent and many of the modifications made since the original version was published. We all want to see a more sustainable fishing regime, with scope for our declining fishing stock to be replenished, and we all want to see a better deal for UK fishers to have access to our own territorial waters. As with many of the Bills we will deal with in the coming months, our divergence from the Government is on the detail rather than the principle, but before I get into the detail I shall make a more general point about consistency.
We will shortly consider the Agriculture Bill and the Environment Bill in quick succession. These three Bills together make up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform our environmental footprint and clean up our air, water and land to create a green—and blue—renaissance. Delivering on our Paris agreement obligations and our new ambitions for COP 26 will be key, as will robust targets and measurable outcomes. In this respect, it is welcome that tackling climate change has been added to the Bill’s objectives. But we need something more than an aspiration to minimise the adverse impacts of fishing. We need to agree the current carbon footprint of the UK fleet, and we need a statutory commitment to deliver net zero emissions within a defined timescale. It is vital that these three Bills are consistent in their aspirations, targets and timescales. I therefore hope that when the Minister winds up, he will be able to confirm that a process of cross-referencing between the Bills is taking place to ensure that policy priorities do not slip through the cracks or suffer from conflicting narratives between the Bills.
As many noble Lords said, much of the detailed future for UK fishers will be dealt with elsewhere, in trade negotiations, rather than in the detail of the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said—he has been quoted several times—it is a picture frame without a picture. It is therefore a real concern that our sustainability objective could be traded away for other priorities or subsumed under more pressing economic interests. We will need to address and bottom out that issue as the debate goes on, and we will need to understand quite how much influence we can have, not over the detail of the trade negotiations but over the essential priorities that we have all outlined today. Meanwhile, there are a number of details in the Bill where we would like to see some improvement, some of which I will set out.
First, a number of noble Lords raised concerns about the loose commitment on maximum sustainable yields in the Bill, although that looser wording seems nevertheless to have the support of the fishers’ organisations. However, we know from our experience with the common fisheries policy that warm words without distinct obligations are all too easily circumvented. We would therefore like to see that wording tightened up, although I am rather chastened by the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, who said that “maximum sustainable yield” might not be the best terminology in the first place. I am sure we can debate that as we go forward. We agree that there is a case for quotas to be set below maximum sustainable yield to allow a period of stock and marine habitat regeneration, and this coming period would be the ideal time to do this as new fishing opportunities come online. However, at the very least, we would expect to see a binding legal commitment running through the Bill not to fish above scientifically agreed sustainable levels, applicable to all the players responsible for oversight of the fishing allocations. As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said, we expect to see delivery of real investment and support for our scientists. If ours are to be the most sustainable fisheries in the world, we need the best and most trusted science in the world.
However, as my noble friend Lord Grantchester made clear, our scientific data is of use only if it is backed up by proper enforcement. As we discovered with the rollout of the discard ban and our wonderful debate on the Lords committee report on it, there is far too little real evidence of whether it is working. That is why, along with several noble Lords this evening, we support the use of compulsory surveillance technology on board boats, and an increase in inspection and enforcement vessels. We welcome the Government’s proposal in the Bill for charging those who land over-quota or unauthorised fish, and we think that will help to address this matter. It will also help to address the complexities of mixed fisheries, but we can explore that further in Committee. We will want to explore these things in more detail as the Bill progresses.
Secondly, we would like to see the majority of the new fishing quotas that will come on stream being allocated to the smaller boats and fleets. As several noble Lords said, the current fixed-quota system has not been updated since the 1990s and is outdated and unfair, with quotas increasingly consolidated in the hands of a few rich families. We therefore believe that the smaller fleets should now be given preference, particularly as they tend to use less damaging gear and create significantly more jobs per tonne of fish landed than the larger-scale sector. We are particularly concerned that a tendering process for new fishing opportunities, as envisaged in the Bill, will preclude those small operators unless quota is set aside for them. A number of noble Lords talked about the olden days and how they remember them, and I suspect that most of the great British public, when they thought we were getting our fishing waters back, expected that advantage to be given to smaller fishing fleets rather than the larger, more industrial fishing boats. It is what we want and I think it is what the public would want. We will also want to ensure that where foreign vessels are licensed to fish in our waters, they have to abide by the same safety and surveillance standards as we demand of our domestic vessels.
Thirdly, we expect to see specific measures to help regenerate our struggling coastal communities. My noble friend Lord Bassam’s committee last year produced an excellent report showing that seaside towns are some of the most deprived in the country. They have the highest rates of unemployment and lower wages, and many suffer large outflows of younger workers. They urgently need new and sustainable businesses in their locality to give them hope. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, that affordable housing has to be in that mix as well. The Bill could provide an impetus for regeneration, providing new jobs in commercial and recreational fishing at sea, and support services on shore. However, it will happen only if the socioeconomic concerns identified in the Bill are turned into something positive. I was rather taken by the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that those socioeconomic concerns should perhaps be set out somewhere else in the Bill. We can certainly explore that in more detail. That is why we will propose amendments to require the majority of the catch caught in UK waters to be landed in UK ports. We may have a difference on that, but we can talk about it in more detail. That could provide the crucial sea change that makes our ports and harbours live again and turns around the fortunes of many of those communities.
Finally, as the Minister pointed out, this is a framework Bill, and it leaves many of the questions about the future of the UK fleet unanswered. As such, it will provide little comfort for the fishers, who have to await the outcome of the trade talks still to take place. However, it seems ironic that the Bill seems to describe a process for allocating quotas just as complicated as the much-derided common fisheries policy. Again, I agree that a little more transparency would not go amiss where that is concerned. The Bill also gives the Secretary of State considerable powers to vary the terms of the fisheries management plans and the licence allocations. Therefore, while several noble Lords welcomed the collaboration with the devolved nations which led up to the framework Bill before us, it is also vital that there is a degree of ongoing generosity and diplomacy in ensuring that the particular interests of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland continue to be properly reflected. Several noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, described the disproportionate impact on fragile, localised communities, so it is not just a case of the four devolved nations; more specific and delicate negotiations will need to take place. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, described very well the particular dexterity needed to balance those different needs, particularly when they are so disparate. We want to ensure that there is proper consultation and parliamentary scrutiny of the powers given to the Secretary of State. I was very taken by the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, that the joint fisheries statement could provide something more proactive in taking negotiations forward. I like the idea that it ought to happen now, rather than later. Maybe we can explore that further.
Finally, we want more information about the proposed transition to these new arrangements, including, for example, on points that noble Lords have raised about the status of existing quotas, which have historically been purchased by foreign vessels. Will they still apply on 1 January next year? I am conscious that I have not done justice to all the points made, but I look forward to working with noble Lords on their many good suggestions as the Bill moves through the House. This is a vital Bill for the future livelihoods of UK fishers and the future health of our marine environment. It is important that we all play our part in getting it right, and I look forward to the debate.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to the debate. I say from the outset that so many points have been made that it would be impossible to answer them all, even if I persuaded the Chief Whip to give me an hour. I have taken all the points on board, but I cannot answer every one during my reply. I regret that, but that is where we are.
There are around 12,000 people employed in the UK fishing fleet and the UK seafood sector employs 33,000 people in total. The Bill provides the powers to continue to support this important sector, which is intrinsically bound to our island heritage. One of our experts in this House, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, quite rightly said that it is such a varied industry. I was pleased that the noble Lord raised shellfish. The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, mentioned a national resource. Absolutely it is. A number of your Lordships mentioned that we have some of the best scientists in the world on this matter, and we should be proud of that.
I return to my noble friend Lord Cathcart speaking of his early memories of fishing fleets at Brixham. Indeed, some of your Lordships have spoken of what has happened in the intervening period. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, referred to a number of Defra Bills. In conjunction with the Environment Bill and the retained EU law that will be in place from 2021, this Fisheries Bill is key to ensuring that we manage our fisheries in a sustainable and coherent way, respecting the devolution settlements and, as has been mentioned before, supporting our coastal communities. In the interconnection, the proposed office for environmental protection will have a role in scrutinising all environmental law, including that which relates to fisheries and marine conservation.
A number of your Lordships raised this, but we have worked extremely closely with the devolved Administrations to establish fisheries objectives for the whole United Kingdom, for which we will set policies in the joint fisheries statement. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, raised this. These policies will focus on key areas of fisheries management, both to protect the environment and to enable a thriving fisheries industry. It is important, in the Government’s view, that each of the objectives is applied in a proportionate and balanced manner, when formulating policies and proposals. We have therefore committed to the joint fisheries statement explaining how the objectives have been interpreted and proportionately applied. This provides an additional guarantee that we will not implement policies that promote one objective at the expense of delivering others.
On the devolved Administrations, I was very pleased by what was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and my noble friends Lord Selkirk and Lord Dunlop. Defra considers its relationship with the devolved Administrations to be vital. The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, gave what I thought was a rather too pessimistic analysis of how we have been conducting business with the devolved Administrations. We have worked extremely closely with colleagues in the Administrations on a range of marine fisheries matters, including during the annual negotiations. This Bill has been much improved as a result of the input of each of the Administrations.
I had the privilege of representing the United Kingdom in the 2018 fisheries negotiations, and I can attest to the closeness with which we worked with the devolved Administrations—through the night, I have to say. This work was an example of that. I was pleased that my noble friend Lord Dunlop raised Scotland, but I would say this also for Wales or Northern Ireland. Our work has been very close. It is why, for elements that need resolutions that are more difficult to manage, the Government are developing a memorandum of understanding with the devolved Administrations. This was a matter my noble friend Lord Caithness particularly raised. It will enshrine co-operative ways of working, and a mechanism for escalating and resolving disputes, should they arise.
Consultation with the devolved Administrations was raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and my noble friend Lord Dunlop. International fisheries arrangements are a reserved matter under the devolution settlement. On that basis, the Secretary of State has the responsibility for setting the quota but, again, the devolved Administrations are always consulted. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, asked whether the joint fisheries statements would be legally binding. The joint fisheries statement is legally binding for the four fisheries administrations, which again is clear.
I think I heard the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, say that no speaker before him had raised the issue of negotiations. I made it clear in my opening remarks that access to our waters will be a matter of negotiation. As all noble Lords have referred to, this Bill is the framework to enable us to implement whatever is agreed internationally. I say also to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and my noble friend Lord Selkirk that the UK has always said that it is seeking to put in place new arrangements for annual negotiations on access to waters, with the sharing of fishing opportunities based on fairer and more scientific methods. The UK and EU commit to use best endeavours to have a fisheries agreement in place by 1 July 2020. This will allow us to negotiate as an independent coastal state for access and fisheries opportunities. I know we all need a reality check, but some of your Lordships have suggested that they almost will these negotiations not to be successful. It is our job always to ensure success in these negotiations.
The noble Earl, Lord Devon, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, noted that discussions with the EU on the structure and frequency of negotiations have begun. We expect negotiations to begin in the first week of March, once the EU’s mandate process is complete. We expect them to be conducted between sovereign equals on the basis of mutual respect.
As was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and the noble Lords, Lord Mountevans and Lord Hannay, meetings have been held with Norway and the Faroe Islands. Initial discussions focused on future fishing partnerships. Informal talks have also taken place with Iceland and Greenland. This emphasises the bona fides of the United Kingdom Government, as well as a recognition in all parts that these are shared stocks, so we have to work collaboratively.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, referred to the regional fisheries management organisations. The UK will join those organisations after the transition period and will continue to collaborate with other coastal states where there are shared interests in fisheries. There will be no gap in membership, which is very important. I should also say that through these bodies and our membership of ICES, the international body which advises on the status of fish stocks, we will continue to contribute our own scientific data to help set catch limits. UK data is and will continue to be collected by the world-leading Cefas.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, asked about scrutiny. Powers contained in the Bill require public consultation before they can be used. In addition, 11 of the 15 powers require the affirmative procedure. The fisheries White Paper sets out our commitment to working in greater partnership with industry and stakeholders, and we have already started to deliver on that by working with industry and the Sea Fish Industry Authority to develop improved management for shellfish and to consider the reform of inshore fisheries.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Young, asked about timetables. The timetables for producing fisheries management plans will be set out in the joint fisheries statement and will go out to public consultation as a part of that process. The joint fisheries statement must be adopted at least 18 months after the Bill receives Royal Assent.
The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, talked about quota. After 1 January next year, quota will be a matter for negotiation as an independent coastal state. We have been clear that any additional quota we negotiate may be distributed in England through a new method and we are working with the industry on this.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, talked about transparency. The Bill will provide greater transparency on how we manage and allocate quota in the United Kingdom through the Secretary of State’s determination of UK fisheries opportunities, which will be laid before Parliament. Furthermore, we will continue to work with the other fisheries administrations and the industry to revise the UK quota management rules. We have already published details on how we receive quota in the UK through the FQA register and we will continue to do so.
A number of noble Lords raised the issue of the under 10-metre fleet. The Government recognise the importance of the fleet and the actions we have already taken helped it land 36,000 tonnes of fish in 2018. We should also not forget that some under 10-metre vessels have sold their quota, while other fishermen have sold their quota for larger boats and have bought boats of under 10 metres.
On quota allocation, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, we do not need new powers in the Bill except for where we may tender for quota. Perhaps I may write to him in further detail about this because the subject is quite complex and I really ought to try to make progress. I was asked by my noble friend the Duke of Montrose whether there will be a guarantee that additional quota will not be sold to foreign vessels. In England, we will consider how best to use any additional quota in a way that maximises support for coastal communities. We will consult on the proposed approach enabling the industry, coastal communities and the wider public to have their say. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, asked about the determination of quota at a lower level than has been fished, which is covered in Clause 23. If necessary and appropriate, the Secretary of State can replace a determination during the calendar year, as is the case now, but if fisheries exceed their quota limits, they may be subject to sanction.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, asked whether maximum sustainable yield is the best measure. MSY is the standard internationally recognised measure in, for instance, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. However, in our view, MSY used is isolation is not sufficient to ensure the true sustainability of our fisheries. That is why we have proposed the development of fisheries management plans, which will allow us to take a wider-ecosystem approach. A number of noble Lords, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, also spoke about MSY. Due to the international nature of fishing and fish stocks, which span national boundaries, MSY for many stocks can be achieved only through international negotiations and relies on the good will and shared ambition of other parties. That is why the EU as a whole has not met the 2020 target. It is also why achieving MSY by 2020 was a target for the EU as a whole and did not apply to individual member states—precisely because many stocks cover broad geographical areas. This demonstrates how critical it is to seek to achieve MSY through negotiations with other coastal states, and we will use our negotiating power as an independent coastal state to seek to achieve sustainable fishing at the international level.
I agree with my noble friend Lady Byford and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, that we must cut down on the use of plastic. We are committed to protecting the marine environment, and tackling marine litter is a matter that we need to address both domestically and internationally.
On climate change, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, there are new grant-making powers for environmental conservation which cover climate change further. Emissions from fishing vessels count towards national emissions and are part of the national plans to address them over the longer term as part of the Climate Change Act.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked why we have removed the discards objective. While of course we are committed to ending wasteful discards, discarding is a symptom of bycatch, and this objective aims also to address the root causes of the issue. That is why it is now called the bycatch objective. My noble friend Lord Caithness asked about bycatch monitoring. Clause 1 on bycatch will require fisheries administrations to introduce policies that will deliver an improvement in the accuracy of the data available on catches.
My noble friend Lord Caithness asked about the licensing of foreign vessels in Scotland. The fisheries administrations have agreed that the MMO will act as a single issuing authority and issue licences to foreign boats on behalf of the four fishing administrations. As regards the plans on targets, these will set out the steps that the UK fisheries administration will take to achieve the objectives of the Bill. However, many of our fish stocks are shared with other coastal states, which means that we cannot unilaterally commit to time-bound targets for their restoration. This may well come up in Committee, but the Government are clear that this is an issue that we need to deal with on an international basis and we must not prejudice our own fishing interests on the back of it; we need to work collaboratively.
My noble friend Lord Lansley raised fishing data, as did other noble Lords. We are a strong advocate of collecting data to support the sustainable management of fisheries. Grandfather rights will be extinguished automatically, but the Crown dependencies will license foreign vessels in their waters. We are in discussions with the Isle of Man and the Crown dependencies.
My noble friend Lady Byford talked about the seabed. Some 25% of the UK seabed is currently protected by marine protection zones and the UK marine strategy includes a framework for assessing its health. I should also say to the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, that we have included new powers in the Bill to enable the Marine Management Organisation and Welsh and Scottish Ministers to protect and conserve the marine environment.
Again on the issue of discards, in England the discard prevention charging system is intended to work to help in this, and I am most grateful to my noble friend Lady Byford for mentioning Richard Benyon in that regard.
The Bill provides the powers to introduce the remote electronic monitoring—REM—of fishing vessels at sea. We continue to explore the potential use of REM, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and my noble friend Lady Byford, alongside other monitoring and enforcement tools, as a cost-effective and efficient way of monitoring fishing activity. In future we will be able to specify the requirement that foreign vessels wishing to fish in our waters have to comply with the conditions of access.
My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern spoke about Clause 12. This replaces a similar provision in the Fishery Limits Act 1976. Its aim is to recognise that boats may enter UK waters for purposes such as navigation or in cases of force majeure recognised by the UN convention.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, raised the voisinage agreement. The UK Government remain committed to the voisinage arrangement and to protecting continuing co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Methods for the allocation of the Northern Irish quota will be for the Northern Ireland Executive to consider and manage. The Prime Minister has been clear that beyond the limited changes introduced by the protocol, there will be no changes to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland remains part of the UK customs territory.
The noble Earl, Lord Devon, and a number of other noble Lords raised the issue of trade. Of course, we absolutely wish to trade. The political declaration sets out as an aim a zero-tariff and zero-quota FTA, and we are working to ensure that.
The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, asked about grant-making powers that will allow us to support the reorganisation, development and promotion of commercial aquaculture and commercial fishing activities. There were all sorts of other questions on the further support that we will have in the Bill. I am afraid that many other points were raised—I have gone through at the briskest gallop I could—but at this stage I look forward very much to a collaborative endeavour with your Lordships on the further stages of the Bill. For today, I commend this Bill to your Lordships.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.