Committee (1st Day)
Relevant document: 6th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
1: Before Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
(1) Marine stocks within the UK Exclusive Economic Zone are a resource that belongs to the nation as a whole.(2) Any quotas or other rights to harvest marine stocks whether allocated to vessels, public bodies, or persons natural or corporate remain the property of the nation.(3) No vessel, public body, or person natural or corporate shall have a permanent claim over quota or other rights granted to them by a public authority or authorities.”Member’s explanatory statement
The amendment makes clear that UK fish stocks belong to the nation and not to private organisations.
My Lords, it seems that whenever we start a fisheries discussion there is rather a lack of sustainability among our Members. One of the useful things between Second Reading and Committee is that we can reflect on the arguments and the Bill until we get into the discussion of amendments. One thing that struck me very strongly after Second Reading, on looking through the Bill again, is that it has hardly any ambition whatever. The withdrawal Act effectively makes us an independent coastal state, which we will be after the transition period, but, apart from that, all the Bill does is provide an administrative framework to keep the status quo.
I do not think that the status quo is good enough for the fishing industry. For instance, there is no provision for new entrants into the industry, which is important. There is no improvement in sustainability methods for fisheries. In fact, the Bill fudges sustainability even more than when we were in the common fisheries policy. There is no particular help for the small under-10 fleet. Because of that, there is no specific help for coastal communities either.
That is why I tabled this amendment, which goes to the fundamental matter of who fish stocks belong to, because the Bill does nothing to change that. At the moment, we have a situation where half of English stocks are owned by companies that are effectively owned by Iceland, Holland or Spain. In Scotland, a vast majority of the industry is owned by a very small number of people. It is a very efficient operation and I certainly have nothing against that, but we have an industry that has become quite fossilised and significantly foreign owned, with no apparent appetite to change that.
We will come on to a number of those issues as we go through the Bill and the amendments, but we are trying to state the completely obvious: if fish stocks belong to anyone while they are in the UK EEZ, they should belong to the nation. That is simply what the amendment says: they are not the everlasting property of a vessel, an individual, a company or even a public body such as the one we have in Cornwall that buys up quota for the local fishing industry. They do not belong to them for eternity; they belong to the nation.
I do not understand how anybody could argue against this concept, but it is really important, since it is fully in line with the ideals of Brexit, becoming an independent coastal state, and Parliament and the nation having control, that we notice and mark that these fish stocks belong to the nation. That does not mean that there should not be, through the Secretary of State or the devolved authorities, a way that those fish stocks—
I wholeheartedly agree with the noble Lord about the fish stocks in the zone belonging to the nation. Presumably that could never have occurred had we remained a member of the European Union. Will he confirm that?
Absolutely. I agree with that. That is what I am saying. Given the new opportunity that we have, we should take advantage of being an independent coastal state. The Bill does nothing to change the status quo in any way. This is one thing we can do—lay down a marker on the ownership of those stocks. As to how those stocks are distributed, the amendment does not prevent them being leased for a period, rented or allocated without charge. We are trying to make the point that, at the end of the day, these stocks belong to the nation and not to any individual.
Coming back to the point made by the noble Lord, 17 million people voted for Brexit and for taking control of our own resources. They did not vote for—in relation to fishing—a profitable industry keeping all the advantages that it has at the moment. They were thinking more of the smaller fleets and the fact that those fishing stocks should belong to us rather than to individuals and perhaps, if you would like to call them that, to the elite of the fishing industry at the moment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the amendment. At the beginning of last year, in Committee in the Commons on the earlier incarnation of the Bill, the Minister—who is now Secretary of State—George Eustice MP, said:
“I do not believe we need a statement that fisheries resources are a national asset or public property, because that is self-evidently the case and our common law has always held as much.”—[Official Report, Commons, Fisheries Bill Committee, 13/12/18; col. 285.]
At the time I took that as gospel. I admire his legal confidence—I say that in a “Yes Minister” context—because I am not certain that the legal confidence is supported by all involved in the industry. There is a famous case where Justice Cranston suggested that there was a type of property right attributed to a fixed quota allocation and that owners would probably need to be given in the region of seven years’ notice of the intention to move away from those FQA units as a type of property right. Such a legal hitch—this is important—might hamper the Government’s intention to move away from relative stability to zonal allocation.
The point I am making is that if the Government believe that quota and marine stocks belong to the nation as a whole, it cannot possibly do any harm to make that clear in the Bill right at the start, so there is absolutely no doubt throughout the industry; and, more importantly, that in any future court case, trying to prove the opposite will founder on the rock of this legislation, set out in 2020, at the start of a new fishing era by the express will of Parliament.
My Lords, I declare an interest at this stage as a director of a company that is in a partnership with another agency among whose clients is UK Fisheries. I put that on record. I will not repeat it every time I intervene in Committee, but I hope noble Lords will be aware of that interest.
This amendment is not grouped with anything else, because if we were to include it in the Bill it would not change any other part of it; it would simply be a statement at the outset. As the noble Lord suggested, it is a statement of the obvious and of fact. In my view it is not the purpose of legislation to state pre-existing facts. It is not necessary in legislation always to state the obvious for the facts to be true. Were this amendment to be included in the Bill, people would say that it had to be included in the Bill, otherwise it would not be true. I am trying to work out in what sense it could not be true that would give rise to it being included in the Bill, which would then give a court a reason to try to interpret it.
I then got into trouble because I am looking at it saying, “the nation”. If the amendment were to be included in the Bill in the form in which it exists, it would drive a coach and horses through the devolution settlement. The Bill very carefully establishes the rights of, for example, the Scottish Fisheries Administration to determine the allocation of quota in relation to Scotland. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, spoke about moving away from relative stability. Indeed, we could, if we wished to, under this legislation change the fixed quota allocations, although it is not the Government’s present intention to do so, as I understand it. To that extent, it is evident that the Government could change the allocation of and access to fish stocks. They can do so because they effectively own the fish stocks. The Bill has, as we will discover, a sophisticated mechanism for planning how this will be done, how it will be consulted on and how it will be managed between the devolved Administrations. This amendment, in my view, would frustrate all of that at the outset, and for that reason I do not support it.
My Lords, I rise to support what my noble friend Lord Lansley has said. I recall the words well that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said at Second Reading: the more you know about fisheries, the less you actually know. It is much more complicated than one originally thinks. This amendment is an example of something that is practically simple, but would be very difficult if it ever got on to the face of the Bill, because—my noble friend is absolutely right—it does infringe on the Scottish Government’s right to allocate quotas, and it is one of many amendments before us that cannot be accepted because it infringes on the Scottish Government’s devolution ability. It would be quite wrong for us in this Chamber—or indeed the other Chamber—to legislate on it.
My Lords, I added my name to this amendment, and fully support the contribution made by my noble friend Lord Teverson. There are a number of amendments to the Bill which refer to the fact that fish are not static. They move with the seas, towards their spawning grounds, and according to the temperature of the water and other conditions. The fish are not owned by any individual person, organisation or fishing fleet. They know nothing of quotas or public authorities. It is therefore right that marine stocks should belong to the nation as a whole.
As has been referred to, no doubt the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and the Scottish Government might have a different view, being very keen on fish being a devolved matter. I do not subscribe to that view. As the amendment makes very clear, we believe that marine stocks within the UK exclusive economic zone are a national resource, whether they are swimming around Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the coast of Northumberland or Cornwall. This should be declared on the face of the Bill. My colleague has laid out the arguments cogently, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I rise to speak in general support of the principles behind this amendment. We must consider in this debate how we establish—without any shadow of a doubt—that in the handing over of quota for fisheries activities, we are transferring something that should be held as public property, in trust for the people of the nation. That should be established in law, without doubt. I worry that, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, this is far too similar to the current system that we experience under the European Union, where there is an explicit conference of rights to fishermen based on the principle of relative stability. This had led to a race to claw back the rights that have already been given out. We will see, as the debate on the Bill progresses, that a lot of what this centres on is how we take control of those rights, so that they are granted with the appropriate level of scrutiny, transparency and consideration of the multiple benefits that accrue to us as a nation from the maritime resources within our waters.
I am not sure that this is the right approach, but I completely support the principles behind it. As we go forward, we must consider, as we are now doing with our agricultural policy, that, freed of the common policies of Europe, we must have the courage and the ambition to do something that is truly transformative. We will certainly come back to this principle that the rights to fish are, essentially, a public property held in trust for the nation.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for allowing us to debate these important principles about the ownership of our marine stocks. He is right to say that the Bill currently lacks ambition and relies far too much on sustaining the status quo, with all the inequalities and inadequacies that we have identified, which have belied our fishing negotiations over the years.
During the course of the Bill, we will have some difficult discussions about the allocation of existing and future fishing rights, and I suspect that they will not be so easily resolved by this simple declaration. I accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, about the issues of devolution. We have to be careful about our language, but it is important to say at the outset that no claim on rights should be permanent and all should be subject to our overriding commitments on sustainability.
This is also a welcome opportunity to register the important role that the fishing industry plays in many coastal communities across the UK. This Bill must be a vehicle for supporting and strengthening those communities while at the same time protecting our marine stocks, rather than being the means through which we exploit a natural resource for purely business and economic benefit. At the same time, a flourishing fishing industry is good for the nation as it provides healthy, locally accessed food, as well as trading opportunities with our neighbours.
In this regard, would the Minister like to comment on the words of the Treasury advisor, Tim Leunig, who has been quoted as saying that the
“Food sector isn’t critically important”
to the economy, and that
“ag[riculture] and fish production certainly isn’t”?
I know the Minister will say that this is not government policy, but what message do comments like this send to a sector already nervous about its future? From our side, we want a vibrant UK agriculture and fisheries industry and to encourage UK consumers to buy British and have faith in locally accessed food. I hope that the Minister will disassociate himself from these comments and send a message back to the Treasury that it should not be employing or listening to advisers who are so out of kilter with the views of most politicians and the vast majority of the British public.
On the subject of trade deals, although the Bill is intended to be negotiation neutral, does the Minister agree that there is a responsibility on the Government to secure a deal with the EU and EEA which allows us, first, to catch more of what we eat and, secondly, to easily sell the catch that we will not eat into those markets? We understand the intentions behind tabling this amendment today. It is of course important to restate that the resource belongs to the nation, but I suspect that we will be debating these issues for many days to come, no doubt giving us the opportunity to explore and spell out in more detail what that really means during consideration of the Bill. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for bringing forward this amendment and, indeed, to all noble Lords who have spoken. While I fully understand the aim of this amendment, to make it clear that UK fish stocks belong to the nation, I take this opportunity to explain why I cannot support it and, indeed, why the Government cannot do so. I am mindful of what my noble friends Lord Lansley and Lord Caithness have said, particularly when it comes to devolution.
We were clear in our fisheries White Paper that we consider that
“The fish in our seas, like our wider marine assets, are a public resource and therefore the rights to catch them are a public asset.”
I should also say at this juncture, in declaring my farming interests, that the sustainable harvest that we get from our seas, our lakes and, indeed, from our farming sector are absolutely crucial to this nation. I emphasis particularly—as, I am sure, would the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch—that, as far as I am concerned, it is in the national interest that we have a vibrant farming and fisheries sector. We want that not only because it is a public good but because, in order to feed the nation as well as in terms of our exports, with climate change and all the pressures from that, we are going to have to find innovative ways of feeding ourselves and the wider communities of the world. So I say absolutely that in my department, and indeed across the nation, we look to our farmers and our fishers.
I put on record that there are dangers in both sectors and there are too many fatalities; I think safety is of primary importance. I take this opportunity to say to the noble Baroness and all your Lordships that this—after all, Defra covers environment, food and rural affairs—is a very important part of our food supply and a very healthy one.
On a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, during the passage of the previous Fisheries Bill the then Fisheries Minister—now the Secretary of State—made it very clear in the other place that
“it is a statement of fact that”
“are a public asset, and our common law tradition enshrines that.”—[Official Report, Commons, Fisheries Bill Committee, 11/12/18; col. 141.]
The need to view fisheries as a public good is reflected in the measures that we take to promote sustainable fishing. It is, for example, reflected in our approach in Clause 27, “Sale of English fishing opportunities”. Any scheme set up under this power, having been through consultation, would recognise the value of fisheries and raise revenue for the public good. That revenue could be used to support fisheries science, particularly the stock surveys that underpin annual negotiations on the total allowable catch and in-year fisheries management.
I assure the noble Lord that this principle is further covered by the objectives in the Fisheries Bill. The key objectives in this instance are the national benefit and sustainability objectives, which state that
“fishing activities of UK fishing boats bring social or economic benefits to the United Kingdom or any part of the United Kingdom”
and that fishing activities are
“environmentally sustainable in the long term”.
That is a point that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, referred to: we want our fishing and coastal communities to have a vibrant future.
We believe that the effect of this amendment would have a profound implication for the existing quota system. I know there are critics of the current regime, but it is also not without its supporters. Indeed, there has been considerable investment in the regime, and it has allowed our quotas to be well-utilised. For example, the flexibility to sell or lease quota has proven helpful to fishers as it enables them to continue to fish for certain stocks when there has been more of an abundance, or if a fishing stock for which they have a quota is not proving to be profitable. It can also be a solution to fishers not being able to fish all their quota for one species because their quota for another species in a mixed fishery has been exhausted.
This is another point that I would like to make to the noble Lord. While under 10-metre vessels may receive only a small percentage of the total UK quota, they receive a greater share of the stocks that are important to them. For example, in 2018 around 77% of the weight and 78% of the value of UK under 10-metre landings were from non-quota species such as crabs and lobsters. The UK Government recognise the need for balance between continuity in the existing system and opportunities for change in future. That is why the fisheries White Paper noted that existing quotas would continue to be allocated using the existing methodology but that additional quotas negotiated will be allocated using a different methodology. This approach has been broadly welcomed across the industry, which agrees that this is a sensible way to proceed—learning, piloting and ensuring that the industry is not destabilised. That really is an important feature of this matter. We do not wish the industry to be destabilised; in fact, quite the reverse.
I say to the noble Lord that I think the amendment rocks the delicate balance between the certainty of the existing system and the new opportunities that new quota would bring. I also have to say at the beginning of this Committee stage that what resonates with me is that not only has the Bill been through an earlier phase in the other place but it has been worked out really strongly and collaboratively with the devolved Administrations. I say to your Lordships, as we embark upon this particular voyage, that it is important to recognise that this is a piece of work that we are also legislating for the devolved Administrations, and the points that my noble friends have made are extremely pertinent. On that basis, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, made an interesting and important point. He assumed that this was already the case, but the British courts do not see it that way. The Minister, now Secretary of State, tried to reallocate quotas towards the under 10-metre fleet, but that was disputed within the legal system. There is an underlying assumption here that this is a privatised resource, not a resource of the nation. That is why, to deliver what the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, wants, it is important to have an amendment like this in the Bill.
As the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, pointed out, this makes no difference to the quota allocation in Scotland: the devolved management authorities can make what decisions they want in allocating harvesting rights in those territorial areas. We are saying here that, ultimately, fundamental ownership of those rights is not for keeps, whereas at the moment they can be interpreted that way. I am not suggesting that, as part of this amendment, we should not allow a degree of certainty and ability to invest, but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, put it very well, these rights are in trust to the nation.
As to how one interprets “the nation”, I see our fishing stocks as a national resource, not as devolved. Clearly, however, how they are shared out and used is an issue for the devolved authorities. I look forward to the later amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, which come back to this subject, but I believe that this is fundamental to the way in which we should view this national resource and how that affects policy decisions as we go through this Bill and make fisheries policy. But, for the moment, I am content to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Clause 1: Fisheries objectives
2: Clause 1, page 1, line 4, at end insert—
“( ) the socio-economic objective,”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that socio-economic issues are included in the fisheries objectives.
My Lords, as the Minister said, we have here a list of objectives of great importance. I would not disagree with most, but one or two I have an issue with. There is always a danger in having too many objectives: which is the important one that guides regulatory authorities and which guides legislators in drafting subsequent secondary legislation? That is difficult, because it is almost impossible to meet all objectives at the same time. This amendment, and the others in my name—Amendments 6, 10 and 27—are based on my belief that sustainability is the most important objective. I take “sustainability” as here meaning the aquatic biosphere and the health of our fish stocks.
I do not accuse the Government of putting it this way, but the Bill reads to me as having a muddled sustainability objective, because it is prejudiced by the addition of what is almost a socioeconomic objective. A socioeconomic objective is very valid. In fact, one of my amendments in this group states that there should be a socioeconomic objective. The sustainability objective should, however, relate to the marine ecology, fish stocks and the wider marine inhabitants. I therefore suggest that we leave out subsection (2)(b), which states
“the fishing capacity of fleets is such that fleets are economically viable but do not overexploit marine stocks.”
That is a socioeconomic objective and should go under that heading. The sustainability objective has to be the lead objective. There are various ways of sorting out the socioeconomic objectives, including financially, and that is how we should do it.
We need clarity; we need the sustainability objective to be the prime objective, and we need it to be well policed. That is why my Amendment 27 would bring in the office for environmental protection. I would be interested to hear what the Minister says. He may tell me that this is unnecessary, and I could well be persuaded that it is, but it is vital that that office, once founded and operational, has full oversight of the fisheries industry and the protection of our marine environment. I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendment 7 is in my name. I support many of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. My amendment would change Clause 1(2)(b) simply to state
“the fishing effort does not overexploit marine stocks.”
The Bill states
“the fishing capacity of fleets is such that fleets are economically viable but do not overexploit marine stocks.”
The purpose behind trying to simplify the provision is to make it clear that we cannot have a sustainable long-term fishing effort if we overexploit stocks. That should not need to be said, but we have seen routine overexploitation of stocks as a consequence of how the common fisheries policy is interpreted, with member states then allocating quota to private fishing enterprises.
To state first that fleets should be economically viable and then to qualify it by saying that they should not overexploit marine stocks gives entirely the wrong impression. It implies that we are to continue with the belief, commonly held in Europe, that fishing rights and the economic viability of the fishing industry are the first and foremost concerns. That speaks to short-term political considerations because these are entities that employ people and pay taxes. My amendment tries to correct for that short-termism endemic to political thinking by stating that it is the sustainability of the stock that we should regulate for, not the commercial viability of the entities that exploit it. The latter is entirely what has been wrong with the common fisheries policy since we have been in it. There is an assumption that the exploiters’ rights should come first, with the environment an afterthought. We must turn that around. It is short-termism not just politically but in the context of the changing climate. Nothing from now on is business as usual; everything is shifting. We must put the resilience of our marine resources at the heart of everything we legislate on and at the heart of everything we do today in considering the Bill.
My amendment would simply take away the qualifier; there is no need to qualify this. It is simply logical that we legislate so that we do not overexploit fishing stocks. That is the only purpose of this legislation. Therefore, it must be stated unequivocally in the Bill.
My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. I regret that we have to say it, but it is important to point out that there will be no socioeconomic benefits if there are no fish left. The cod fishermen of Newfoundland would understand this clearly. Apart from that, the noble Baroness said exactly what I needed to say.
My Lords, I have just one thing to say about this group. Amendment 6 addresses an issue we discussed at Second Reading: managing so many objectives. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, drew the attention of the House, forcefully and compellingly, to the way in which the sustainability objective in the Bill, as drafted, includes socioeconomic objectives. They ought to be identified and listed separately. To that extent, I support Amendment 6. Noble Lords will be aware that it includes the sentence:
“The sustainability objective shall be the prime objective”.
Not everybody is in favour of that, but I think we need to say it. My noble friend Lord Randall was talking about Amendment 7, but the same thought applies here. He is quite right that if we do not sustain our fish stocks all the other objectives will be vitiated. It has to be clear that there is a first objective, even though it would be beyond this Committee to list, sequence or rank the others. However, the joint fisheries statement will probably have to do something of that kind, at least, to show how they are being interpreted and balanced. I do not envy it that difficult task. The Committee should look carefully at Amendment 6 and see whether it is possible to incorporate its principles into the Bill before it leaves this place.
My Lords, I added my name to Amendment 2 and would have done so to Amendment 6, had I been allowed, but there were too many subscribers. I support Amendment 2 because, as many noble Lords know, the existence of intergenerational poverty and deprivation in rural areas has long been of concern to me. While the numerous villages and market towns throughout rural England all have their problems in this respect, there is no doubt that coastal communities suffer more than most. The main reason for this is that an ordinary market town can survive, and sometimes thrive, on services maintained by its surrounding farmers, businesses and maybe even wealthy retirees. However, a coastal community, by its very geography—I realise that I am straying into the realms of the bleeding obvious here—only ever has 50% of the catchment of an inland market town. Coastal communities therefore struggle. The sea provides very little except fish and tourism, with, perhaps in the future, some form of energy added to that mix. It is therefore important that a firm part of our fisheries objectives should include the socioeconomic objective.
I totally agree with Amendment 6 that the sustainability objective should always be the prime one. I support that, maybe even to exclusion of Amendment 2, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said. As the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, said, we need these coastal communities, and their harvest, to survive in the long term. In the past, I always said that one of the problems with the common fisheries policy is that the children and grandchildren of today’s fishing communities never get a vote. We now have the chance. When we repatriate our fisheries policy, we must always think of the socioeconomic prosperity of these grandchildren.
I also support Amendment 27, which puts the monitoring of the sustainability objectives firmly in the hands of the OEP in future. That makes very good sense.
Returning to Amendment 2, a key part of the socioeconomic objective should include recreational sea angling. There is not much about recreational angling in the Bill, which is fine because there is not much to say. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, has tabled an amendment on this point; I came across that quite late in the day. The socioeconomic benefit of recreational angling to coastal communities is huge. Even in 2012, the latest year for which I could get hold of statistics, the sea angler spend was £2.1 billion locally, supporting more than 20,000 local jobs. They say that a fish caught with rod and line is worth at least six times more than one caught in a net. Recreational fishermen use local boats and local crews, and they use local pubs, hotels, shops, garages, car hire et cetera. All of this is vital to the socioeconomic objectives in this amendment and needs nurturing.
The other socioeconomic point to introduce concerns some sort of replacement for the European maritime and fisheries fund. I know the Government are making arrangements to put a replacement fund in place. The EMFF has been particularly beneficial for some of the smaller fishing communities in western Scotland, Wales and Cornwall, and some consideration definitely needs to be given to the socioeconomic well-being of these small fishing communities that depend on the seas for their economic wherewithal. I strongly support Amendment 2, but primarily Amendment 6.
My Lords, it is with considerable diffidence, and I do mean that, that I make any contribution to this discussion, and I do not intend to make any more, partly because it is impossible to live quite as far as I do from the coast. Perhaps we inlanders should remain largely silent in these discussions, but I found it almost exhilarating, I think that is the word, to hear specialists—I am not one, which is why I will not contribute any further—making points all related to the principle that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, has just enunciated, which is that we are talking about the consequences of the repatriation of our fishing policies.
For me, as a Brexiteer, it is exhilarating, and I am not exaggerating, that these discussions can take place in the context of knowing that our coastal waters will be like those of Iceland—although I know that fishing is a lot more important to the overall economy of Iceland than it is to that of the United Kingdom. In all the discussions of the details of the various amendments, that is surely the basis on which this debate is taking place. Let us not miss the wood for the trees: the wood is precisely that in a democracy a Chamber of Parliament is discussing how best our nation should use its resources in a way that is accountable; which of course it never was when it was entirely a European responsibility. The Council of Ministers is nothing like a responsible body in the way that this is.
I will not go any further down this route, the Committee will be relieved to know, but I just wanted to point out how happy I feel about this debate.
My Lords, the Committee will note that I am in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. It does not happen all the time and will not happen in future, I know, but today we are very much in agreement. What he says hinges very much on the agreement we get with the EU, because however sustainable we are, if the fish decide to move and the EU has different sustainability goals, the fish we have so carefully sustained will be harvested by the ever-hungry Spanish fleet and others that will be poised outside our waters—some of them will even be allowed in—and will be taking what they can.
I hope my noble friend the Minister will confirm that all the objectives that are so well set out in the Bill have the aim of sustainable development, because sustainability really matters. If all our objectives adhere in that way, there is hope for the grandchildren that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, mentioned. He also made the very important point about coastal communities. It is not just the fishing fleets but the whole coastal communities and the people who feed off them who are important in the socioeconomic goal. We need to take a wider look at this between now and the next stage.
What has not been mentioned so far with regard to sustainability is human health. Can my noble friend say how many of the fish caught are used for fishmeal? The latest statistic I can find, which I looked up on the internet, dates from 2008 and claims that a third of the world’s fish is used for fishmeal. What is the point of fishing—some may even ask what is the point of agriculture—if not to provide a healthy, sustainable diet for human beings? That ought to take priority over producing fish for fishmeal. I hope that that will be taken into account in the sustainability goals my noble friend is aiming for, because health and diet have deteriorated badly in the western world and fishing is one area which can help us on that.
I hope my noble friend will also bear in mind trade—another area which could undermine our sustainable goals. If we have a strong, sustainable policy but by trade allow fish to be caught in an unsustainable way, that would undercut our market and be to the detriment of the Government’s whole policy.
I come now to the tricky question of the batting order of our goals. There is a good argument for putting the environmental sustainability objective first, but I wonder whether that is right and whether it would not be better to leave it as it is, agreed with the devolved Administrations. It is currently top of the list and, to me, probably the most important, but I am not yet convinced about singling it out.
My Lords, this has been a very interesting discussion—a counterpart to the discussion on the first group, where we failed to agree. This had a lot more agreement, though there are drafting issues that need to be addressed in the Bill if we are fully to realise the sorts of changes that are in everybody’s minds as we approach this opportunity, as my noble friend Lord Grocott described it, to improve what we do in relation to our fishing and fishing resources, as we have been trying to do for some time. I point out to him that, although it is nice that he is happy and feels joyful about this debate, the real test will be whether we end up with something different from a simple rehash of the existing common fisheries policy. That test is now ahead of us as we begin to drill down into the particularities of the Bill.
I will speak to Amendment 8 in the name of my noble friend Lord Grantchester, who we did not think would be here in time to speak but luckily has appeared—almost in time; he will take over from me as we go through the Bill—and Amendment 9, tabled by my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch. Amendment 8 is a probing amendment to ask the Government to specify more clearly what “economically viable” means in practice under the Bill and how it might be applied, and to gain a clearer understanding of the relative importance of viability compared with sustainability, which has been the theme of most of the contributions so far.
Amendment 9 targets the same sustainability objective and seeks to bring the term “maximum sustainable yield” into the Bill. At present the Government favour a phrase which we do not think has quite caught the essence of what we are trying to do about overexploitation of marine stocks and which seems to offer less clarity than the forward-looking point made by just about all noble Lords: there will be no fishing unless we have a sustainable stock on which to operate.
All noble Lords agree there has to be a vibrant fishing industry. It is part of our heritage as an island nation and, as we will discuss during the Bill’s passage, our catch both helps feed people here and is sold abroad to others who want to buy these products. As the Minister said in his opening statement, we are talking about a highly organised industry. Hard-working fishers being fairly rewarded for their work at sea is important. It is a very physically demanding and often dangerous job, and they have to endure long periods of separation from their loved ones. They should be remunerated accordingly. The economics of the industry must be geared to ensure that there is something there for everybody, not just the fishers; the ports and processing plants need to make their fair share. This is important if we are to encourage them to contribute to the climate change objective—something that will be the focus of subsequent debates but has already been raised.
While we want a viable fishing fleet for many years to come, we have been in meetings with outside groups that feel that the current wording of the Bill may allow the economic to trump the environmental, particularly, as I have already said, as it refers to overexploitation rather than maximum sustainable yield. If that were to be the case, ironically, we would find ourselves in no better position than we are under the common fisheries policy. It would make this Bill a missed opportunity to put sustainability front and centre of the new approach. There is enough support around the Committee to suggest that the Minister might want to look at this carefully when he responds.
I am aware that the Minister has met many Members of your Lordships’ House and has made time to discuss amendments. I understand that these discussions have been valuable, and I hope that he will be able to offer the same reassurance to others who wish to join the debate now and in the future. I hope that when the Minister responds, he will confirm what he envisages happening if the second part of the sustainability objective cannot, despite the best endeavours of the fisheries authorities, be met. Would boats be allowed to overexploit stocks to ensure their viability? If not, what options would the Government or the devolved Administrations have available if they wanted to step in? This is a tricky balancing act. It is certainly not easy, and I know the Minister appreciates that and takes it seriously. I look forward to him providing further detail on the Government’s approach.
My Lords, at Second Reading I made it clear that sustainability is at the heart of the Bill, so I am pleased that one of the first discussions we are having in Committee relates to this area of utmost importance. As the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, said, this work involves balance. Balance is necessary in these matters and is why our work with the devolved Administrations has been so valuable but intricate.
The Government’s view and that from our discussions with the devolved Administrations is that sustainability is often considered a three-legged stool, consisting of environmental, social and economic factors. To achieve the true sustainability of a healthy environment, thriving communities and a vibrant industry, it is important that a balance exists between them. That is a point that, in the wrestling of this, was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson. They are also not mutually exclusive. For instance, if fish stocks are managed at sustainable levels, the stocks are protected into the future, while allowing the fishing industry to remain profitable and able to provide benefits to coastal communities and beyond. That point was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, and my noble friend Lord Caithness.
The fisheries objectives in the Bill work together to set out the core principles to achieve a successful and sustainable fisheries management regime, with the joint fisheries statement setting out the policies that will contribute to achieving our objectives. While I therefore fully support the aim—and I emphasise aim—of Amendment 2, which seeks to ensure that socio- economics are included within the fisheries objectives, I believe it is unnecessary and will explain why.
The sustainability objective currently sets out a requirement in the Bill that fish and aquaculture activities are
“managed so as to achieve economic, social and employment benefits”.
The Bill includes a number of objectives relating to environmental sustainability, while also recognising the need to take into account socioeconomic issues. Given that, in response to Amendment 6, I should like to set out in more detail what we aim to achieve by seeking a balanced approach to the objectives set out in Clause 1. I also understand that Amendment 10 in this group further seeks to change the Bill in the context of Amendment 6.
The framework provided by the objectives will operate on a UK-wide basis and will bind all the UK’s Administrations. As I have said, it has been developed in close co-operation with officials in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and is carefully balanced to reflect the interests of all the Administrations. The Government wholly support the need for environmental sustainability, and our 25-year environment plan makes it clear that it is only by putting the environment first that we can deliver social and economic benefits for future generations. In delivering this vision, we also have a responsibility to maintain the livelihoods of fishers and their coastal communities. Fishers have already made significant strides in improving their sustainability and there has been a sea change in attitudes, with the fishing industry understanding the need for better stock management.
Of course, more action is needed to transition to more sustainable practices, but I hope that noble Lords will agree that we must also avoid economic hardship in the short term. We believe that developing a hierarchy within the objectives would not be appropriate since it would undermine this approach. Through our international negotiations, we seek to achieve sustainable catch limits set in accordance with the maximum sustainable yield, while balancing this with economic opportunities for the UK fishing fleet. Maintaining flexibility in our negotiating position will ensure that we are able to undertake this transition in co-operation with our coastal state partners and avoid the abrupt closure of fisheries, so as to maintain our coastal communities. Indeed, at Second Reading, a number of noble Lords talked about the need to revive our coastal communities. Achieving that revival will require a balance of objectives to maintain our focus on economic and social matters, while pushing for environmental sustainability.
I should say at this point to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, that we are going to discuss recreational sea fishing in considering later amendments because it is a very important part of the fishing world. Indeed, I am led to believe that 2% of our population engages in sea fishing, which is quite a large number of people.
Returning to the point about maximum sustainable yield, recent analysis shows that in 2019, 37 stocks were fished at MSY levels, representing 59% of the stocks for which we have the necessary data. I raise this issue because in 1990 the figure was just 12%, which demonstrates that we are transitioning. However, we recognise that more needs to be done to protect our marine environment and fish stocks.
The Bill provides the legal framework for pushing more stocks towards MSY as quickly as practically possible, and in line with our international obligations. Policies to achieve MSY will be set out in the legally binding joint fisheries statement and fisheries management plans. A key objective of the joint fisheries statement will be to ensure that fisheries policy is based on the best scientific advice. The setting of MSY can often occur without full scientific certainty, so it makes sense to include it under the precautionary objective, although it clearly supports sustainability.
While I fully support the ambition to ensure that environmental sustainability is not compromised, I do not believe that Amendment 6 is appropriate in the context of a Bill that seeks to establish a framework to manage all aspects of our fisheries. The weight given to each of the fisheries objectives may vary from case to case, and Clause 2(1)(c) provides that the joint fisheries statement must include a statement explaining how the objectives have been “interpreted and proportionately applied.” The approach of balancing environmental, economic and social sustainability lies at the core of best international practice as established by the United Nations Sustainability Framework. That chimes with the point raised by my noble friend Lord Caithness: it is international best practice to combine sustainability issues in the way I have described. The achievement of socioeconomic benefits through our fisheries and aquaculture management is therefore currently covered by the existing fisheries objectives, and the proposed amendment would not change their effect.
I turn to Amendment 7, which seeks to ensure that fish stocks are managed sustainably and not over-exploited—an aim that we all share, of course. The precautionary objective already includes a clear objective to restore all marine stocks to sustainable levels. As I have made clear, the provisions in the Bill for fisheries management plans set out a framework for ensuring the sustainable management of our fish stocks. We believe this amendment would inadvertently weaken the objectives—first, because an express reference to managing fishing “effort” would not be the full picture. Managing how many days fishermen fish is one of the tools for fisheries management, but we also manage through restrictions on quota. Secondly, by removing the reference to fleet capacity, this amendment would weaken the objectives by not requiring the fisheries authorities to set out policies relating to the overall size and structure of the fleet.
Turning to Amendment 8, I highlight once more that the Bill’s sustainability objective seeks to ensure that we have healthy fish stocks and seas, while promoting economic, social and employment benefits. These two aspirations are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In the past we have brought forward initiatives that address fleet capacity with the twin aims of avoiding overfishing and protecting the economic viability of active fishers. For example, we have restricted fishing licences that have not been used so as to prevent them being sold on and others entering fisheries, which could both put added pressure on the stocks and reduce the profitability of those already fishing.
I was grateful to learn that the noble Baroness’s amendment—put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson —is a probing amendment. I welcome the opportunity to explain the rationale for the current drafting of the Bill. The UK Government remain fully committed to sustainable fishing and the principle of MSY. We reiterated this in our manifesto, with the commitment to produce plans to restore all stocks to MSY. However, due to the international nature of fishing and fish stocks, which span national boundaries, MSY cannot be delivered unilaterally through management of the size of the UK fleet. Furthermore, for some stocks we do not yet have the data to conduct an MSY assessment and so instead use other measures, such as effort limits, to ensure that stocks are fished sustainably. In practice, we control the level of catch by the English fleet through the quota allocation system and effort controls. We have also been clear that we have no plans to increase capacity beyond current vessel numbers.
The existing language in the Bill recognises the different tools that we have in place to ensure that stocks are fished sustainably. It is important to read this objective alongside the precautionary objective, which sets out our commitment to restore stocks to levels above those capable of producing MSY.
I turn to Amendment 27. As your Lordships know, the office for environmental protection will be established through the Environment Bill currently being discussed in the other place, so it does not yet exist—nor have its role and functions been set in law. I strongly support the need for independent scrutiny and advice on our policy and its delivery, and the OEP may have a role in this in due course. The Environment Bill is clear that the new body’s principal objective will be the protection and/or improvement of the natural environment. It will have a duty to scrutinise environmental improvement plans and targets, and can advise on the implementation of environmental law. As I have detailed, the sustainability objective in this Bill covers environmental, social and economic elements, including fleet capacity, so we cannot assume that all elements of this objective will fall within the OEP’s remit.
We are establishing the OEP as an independent body. It should therefore be for the OEP to decide where and how to exercise its functions and what priority should be given to matters it proposes to review. We believe that creating a duty for the OEP to “promote” these objectives could undermine the OEP’s independence. The Environment Bill already provides the OEP with functions to scrutinise the Government’s progress on their environmental commitments. These will include relevant fisheries and other marine functions. The Environment Bill is also clear that the new body should not overlap with the functions of the Committee on Climate Change. There is no doubt that the review of many aspects of fisheries management would fall within the remit of the office for environmental protection. However, the UK Government do not feel it is appropriate for the Fisheries Bill to place a duty on the new body to promote objectives that lie outside its remit, nor fetter its ability to determine independently its own work programme.
On the point that my noble friend Lord Caithness raised about fishmeal, I think the best thing is for me to write to my noble friend, because the latest data is from 2008. According to Seafish, however, in 2014 around 16.5% of total catches went to fishmeal and fish oil.
I realise the complete bona fides of all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate about the importance of sustainability. I have tried to explain that the word “sustainability” is not just environmental in our view; it is a sustainable package. Indeed, the objectives are a package. Working through the fisheries statement and the fisheries management plan, this range of objectives is the best way of tackling a matter which should not be straitjacketed. There needs to be a flexibility to deal with each and every stock.
While understanding what noble Lords across the House have said, I am not in a position to support amendments which seek to unpick a very intricate seeking of the right balance. For now, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Before the Minister sits down, may I enquire in good faith whether we are saying that we have taken back control from Brussels, only to cede it to Scotland? It would be a waste of time if every answer is “We cannot do anything, because we have had a really delicate discussion with our devolved Administrations”.
We are still the UK Parliament; this is an important issue that has been repatriated to us first, and then we will repatriate it through devolution. Should we need to change the devolution arrangements, we will. Perhaps I am speaking out of turn, but surely we are not taking back control from Brussels only to give it to Holyrood.
We have had very successful and collaborative discussions and arrangements with all the devolved Administrations. They have taken this matter very seriously, and we are legislating on behalf of the devolved Administrations as well. I do not think many noble Lords are seeking to change the devolution arrangements through the Fisheries Bill. That would be unwise and not sensible.
We are seeking to have sustainability at the heart of the Bill, but sustainability—as the UN describes it—is not just environmental; it is a balance. Clearly, we want fisheries stocks which enable communities to prosper. That is the whole thrust of this, and why it is a package. I say to the noble Baroness: I do not see it in those terms. We are collaboratively working with our friends and partners across the United Kingdom, on something which requires balance. Sustainability is at the heart of the Bill, and that is why I have made the remarks I have.
To follow up on what the noble Baroness has said, we understand the delicacy of the situation and that considerable discussion has preceded the Bill we are debating today. I wonder whether she has a point: if it is already all sewn up and too difficult to change, what is the point? Will the Minister reassure us that this amendment is not just being turned down because it would be too difficult? The mood of the House seems to be that this is worthy of further consideration, if not necessarily being voted through.
No, my Lords. Obviously, I recognise that the noble Lords who have spoken feel particularly strongly about environmental sustainability. I have argued, what the Government feel is a compelling case, that sustainability is a balance. Therefore, the package we are bringing forward has been worked on not with one devolved Administration, but with all of them.
It has always been the point that noble Lords need to make a compelling case in all matters. The Government and the devolved Administrations have worked on this, mindful of observations made during the period of, let us say, the Fisheries Bills. That is how I would describe it; it is important we have these considerations. I have been clear—as when I referred to the UN—that sustainability has a range of points to it, and that is what I have been seeking to describe.
My Lords, I apologise that I did not speak earlier in the debate, but I will read Hansard very carefully tomorrow. From what I gather, my noble friend has indicated that, for some stocks, we do not have data available, and some of the data we do have is 12 years old. I agree with the view of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott: I am excited by the Bill because it gives us an opportunity to move forward in a sustainable way. However, we need information on which we can base our assumptions. Will the Minister indicate where there are gaps in that information and what is being done about it? Referring to my noble friend Lord Caithness’s comments on the whole question of trade and standards, it is essential that we have information on which we can base the decisions we have taken. I have listened carefully to my noble friend and know that an enormous amount of work has gone on with the devolved Administrations—I am perhaps happier about that than some other Members of the House are—but we need as much information as we can get at this stage.
For me, sustainability has to be key: at the end of the day, you cannot fish if there are no fish. If we do not have the data and information that we need, how can we make the assumptions that we will be dealing with in the Bill? There is an amendment to come shortly on the question of discards, and we will return to this issue in that debate. I have one or two queries, but if the Minister cannot answer them at the moment, perhaps he will look into it—or somebody will—so that we have a better overall picture of the sustainability side before we come back on Report. That would be immensely helpful.
I made it clear that the precautionary objective already includes the clear objective to restore all marine stocks to sustainable levels. We are very clear that we need to work through all stocks—that is what the fisheries management plans are intended to do—so that for those stocks for which we do not have sufficient information, there is this precise precautionary objective. As my noble friend Lord Lansley referred to, there is a difficulty in trying to put these objectives in some order of priority. As I say, we are seeking to improve all stocks because the truth is that, at the moment, we do not have an assessment of all stocks. That is precisely why, picking up the point raised earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, it is an enormous opportunity for us to look now across the whole of the marine environment at all our stocks.
This will not be sorted out overnight; I do not think any noble Lord expects there to be a magic switch and, suddenly, we are now responsible and it can be turned around immediately. But the whole purpose of the structure that we have put in place is precisely to address the sustainability of all stocks.
My noble friend gave a comprehensive answer, but can I make one suggestion that might help in driving forward our sustainability objectives? He has made it very clear to the farming community that there will be public money for public goods. Surely exactly the same argument is true for the fishing and coastal communities: if they follow the sustainability line, there will be public money for public goods. Perhaps that would help to sell the argument.
During this Committee, I think we will probably go on to talk about some of the further arrangements for financial assistance. Clearly, the Government see this as a vital interest, a source of food and an opportunity for the whole of the coastal community. I agree with the thrust of what I think my noble friend Lord Caithness is saying: this is an area contained in the Bill. As has been mentioned, there will be a need for a replacement of the European funding, which we will discuss again. I am sure there will be ways in which financial assistance to support coastal communities will be considered and will come forward.
My Lords, I believe the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, was going beyond grant funding and referring to the allocation of fishing rights. That confers a financial benefit to the recipient of those rights, so it is much broader than just grants.
I would like one more chance to narrow down the point on which we were exchanging before the other two very good contributions came in.
The noble Lord has a reputation in this House for being very easy to talk to and very willing to engage in debate. I am slightly trading on that because, in my experience, on any Bill there is a worry that the Minister will get it drummed into him by those sitting in the Box that he must never concede anything. Sometimes, however, we can be in quite a difficult mode, when good points are made but the willingness to concede is not there from the Minister concerned. I know that the noble Lord is not like that. It may not happen on the point that we have been discussing, although it is a very good one from the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, but issues will come up in future amendments to do with the workforce health and safety, on which the Committee may feel that a change in wording is possible. Will he just confirm, for the sake of allowing us to go forward, that he is not against the possibility of that happening and that, if it were the case, he would undertake the necessary consultations that might be required to bring the devolved Assemblies, and others who signed up to the previous version of the Bill, up to the new standard that will be set by this House?
I will conclude on this, otherwise the “Ah, buts” will lose the force of the sustainability point of this debate. It is clear, I believe—as I always have—that the House and your Lordships need to make a compelling case, which a government Minister will always want to listen to. If a compelling case is made, as I have said previously, my answer will be, “Gosh, I wish we’d thought of that.” I emphasise that the Bill has been considered over a very long time. We have one go at this Bill and there have been a lot of representations. It has gone through a mincer in a way that most other Bills do not. Given our very close connections and our responsibilities, and given that fishing is devolved, we have worked collaboratively and positively with the devolved Administrations. I emphasise to the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, that I do not use that as an excuse. It is a statement of fact that we are legislating on behalf of all parts of the kingdom. That is really what I wish to say at this point.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for probably one of the most important debates during this Committee and for all the points made. They were made pretty much in the same direction, even if they did not totally agree on the detail.
I was very grateful for the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott—I thought it was fantastic. The sad thing to someone like me is that, apart from relative stability and technical regulations, which are not dealt with in the Bill, we could have done everything else over the last 40 years, but we did not because we just went along and did what was easiest. We did not need to let our quotas go to foreign owners, we could have changed the balance between the large and small fleets completely, and we could have put far more European money into our coastal communities when they did not have enough quotas. We could have done all those things, but we did not. However, the noble Lord was absolutely right: we have here an opportunity to really open our minds. The Minister says, “We’ve gone through all of this before, it’s been looked at before and we’ve talked to all the other sides”, but we have had a break, we are now out of the European Union, we have opened our minds and we have had some really good suggestions on the Bill. We should not be railroaded by past negotiations. Clearly, devolution is key—we do not want to change that settlement in any way—but that cannot prevent our making some changes.
One fundamental thing, on which I disagree completely with the Minister, is that referring to “balance” between socioeconomic issues and sustainability was exactly the argument that Ministers used on the common fisheries policy from the 1980s to about five years ago, when the whole regime changed. Because of that so-called balance, stocks disappeared from the North Sea and the Baltic Sea and were depleted from western waters. If we do not decide to make sustainability a prime objective, that is what we will end up with. The history shows that the politics takes over from the science.
I was very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Randall, mentioned Newfoundland. I went out to Newfoundland in 1996 at the height of the conflict with the Portuguese and the Spanish. I went out on an aeroplane with the Canadian fisheries department to look at the line of big Atlantic fishing vessels fishing right along the EEZ line. I saw the communities of St John’s in Newfoundland that were unable to fish their own waters because there was nothing left. That was due to the short-term socioeconomic objective taking the place of the sustainability objective. That is exactly what you get and exactly what we must not have in this country, whether in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or England. We cannot afford that.
If I was chief executive of a company and somebody gave me eight different objectives and did not rank them, the first thing I would do is ask the chairman to fire the non-executive directors, because it is absolutely impossible to have eight equal objectives in any subject. That is for running a company; if you are running the marine environment of a nation, surely it is far more important.
To come back to the point from the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, we absolutely need a socioeconomic objective. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, is absolutely right as well—we will come to the financing part of the Bill. There are amendments to that part to say that we will need to intervene when there is a socioeconomic problem and that we should not be afraid to do so. We should protect those communities in that way. We should not pretend that we are protecting them by letting people go out for fish stocks that are not there and are not sustainable.
I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. She made her argument very strongly. The same goes for the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, on the points he made. Although my amendments may not be perfect, I have tried to stick within the Government’s framework by changing around some of the words but using the Government’s own settlement with the devolved authorities. I am absolutely sure that we will come back to this on Report, but at this point I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 2 withdrawn.
3: Clause 1, page 1, line 7, at end insert—
“( ) the discards objective,”
My Lords, I am grateful for the meeting that I had prior to today with my noble friend the Minister. I assure him that this is indeed a probing amendment. It enables me to press him on why the original objective in the initial Bill, which clearly stated that discards were an objective under Clause 1, has been dropped and replaced with a bycatch objective. The House had the chance to debate the difficulties involved in the landing objective on reports adopted by the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee before I was a member of it, but I will press my noble friend very specifically on the narrow point of discards to ask him what the Government’s policy is in connection with the Fisheries Bill, and why they have removed the discards objective in Clause 1 and replaced it with one for bycatch. There is clearly a difference between those policies of reducing discard as a result of the use of bycatch.
I was grateful for the conversation I had with my noble friend but, separately and elsewhere, I would like to raise the possibility of using some of the bycatch of inshore fishermen in ways currently not allowed. Can he take the opportunity to explain how the Government intend to reduce discard and bycatch and what measure of enforcement is envisaged? As far as I can see, the Bill in its present form is silent on what the enforcement and implementation measures for discards will be. I give notice that I have tabled two more amendments on discards.
The Government need to make onboard monitoring of discards a condition of licensing. Can my noble friend explain why there is no mention—that I can see—in the Bill and its schedules of onboard enforcement cameras? When we come to consider the issuing of licences, is it not the Government’s intention to make it a condition that there should be onboard enforcement and cameras? Clauses 28 and 32 allow the Government and the Secretary of State to bring forward regulations, but will my noble friend please take this opportunity to reassure us today that the discards policy will be enforceable and enforced, and not a voluntary scheme?
Has my noble friend taken the opportunity to consider discards policy, in particular, and discards charging by other countries? Obviously, New Zealand springs to mind. It had teething problems but has now introduced a more successful and reliable discards charging policy.
We need to maintain a discards objective in Clause 1. I would like to see a discards policy elaborated later in the Bill but, if my noble friend does not come up with a policy for implementing this, would he consider that a successful reduction in discards will need monitoring and the use of cameras as part of the necessary enforcement associated with either bycatch policy or discard reduction policy? Can he put my mind at rest? At the moment, the Bill seems not to require onboard monitoring of discards and other activities, but are the Government thinking about it in connection with the licensing regime, and will it be an obligatory—not a voluntary—scheme? Otherwise, we have time to come back at a later stage and help the Government to come up with such a scheme in the Bill.
I have tabled this probing amendment because it is extremely important to maintain the discards objective—in addition to a bycatch objective—in the Fisheries Bill, which will be elaborated later, and to ensure that there will be a meaningful implementation scheme to enforce it.
My Lords, I take the amendment very seriously. I will point the Minister in the direction of Clause 1(6)(c) refers to,
“bycatch that is fish is landed”,
and then goes on to say,
“but only where this is appropriate”.
I would be glad of some clarification of that. It continues that it,
“does not create an incentive to catch fish that are below minimum conservation reference size”,
and perhaps that is exactly what is meant by it. Certainly, we have had discussions over the weeks about discards, about which I think many of us are concerned. My question is on the phrase that they have used here. Is the Government worried that moving from the discard to the new bycatch will help to disincentivise people from catching fish that are below a minimum standard? Why was the decision made to change it from discarding to the particular wording of the Bill? When we come at a later stage to discuss how we can look at the way we record and know what is being discarded and what is being landed at ports, it will be immensely important. I am just a little bit unhappy with the wording that we have in subsection (6)(c), and would be glad of some clarification.
My Lords, I rise to speak to my Amendment 16, specifically on subsection (6) on page 2 of the Bill; it is grouped with this Amendment 3 on page 1, on the issue of discards, or “bycatch” as referred to in the Bill. It complements the tabling of Amendment 3 by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, which alludes to the inclusion of a dedicated objective on fish discards among the list of objectives. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, for her probing on this.
For a variety of reasons, and as I am sure we will hear from the Minister, it is virtually impossible to avoid catching some of the wrong species—or, indeed, the wrong sized members of the right species—when fishing. There have been some great advances in techniques and technologies, but some degree of bycatch remains an inevitability.
The Bill's bycatch objective, which is lifted from the common fisheries policy, rightly seeks to reduce the catching of fish that are below minimum conservation size and to ensure a proper audit trail for those caught. The latter also raises issues around monitoring and recording; this will in turn contribute to better data that can be used to inform future quota decisions.
Paragraph (c) of subsection (6), which my probing amendment proposes leaving out, refers to allowing bycatches to be landed
“only where this is appropriate”
and an incentive to catch undersize fish is not created as a result of the landing. As we sought to make clear in our explanatory statement, we wish to understand the circumstances in which Ministers believe the landing of bycatch will be “appropriate”. Presumably this is meant in the context of the landing obligation, in order to prevent fish simply being discarded back into the sea—a practice which we have fought for many years to bring to an end.
If this is the case, would it not be better for the Bill to be explicit in this regard, and for the references to the prevention of incentivising the landing of bycatch to make clear that such fish cannot be sold for human consumption, thereby producing an economic benefit? Or, if the phraseology does not relate purely to the landing obligation, perhaps the Minister could outline which other circumstances are deemed as being appropriate for landing bycatch at ports?
We are very much probing at this stage of proceedings, but I think I speak on behalf of many across your Lordships' House when I say that we need confidence that, whether we use the terms “discards” or “bycatch”, the Government and devolved Administrations will be properly equipped to build on recent progress and answer the wider probing made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering.
My Lords, the Government remain fully committed to ending the wasteful discarding of fish, acknowledging the impact this can have on fisheries management and the marine environment. I fully support that the issue of illegal discarding should be addressed within the fisheries objectives. In doing so, we will ensure that policies in the joint fisheries statement will focus on this important area.
The prevention of illegal discarding is addressed in the fisheries objectives through the “bycatch objective”, which sets out a series of “sub-objectives” to address the issue of illegal discarding. These include avoiding or reducing bycatch, ensuring that catches are recorded and accounted for, and ensuring that fish stocks are landed. It is overfishing and the catching of unwanted bycatch that result in illegal discarding, and the objective has been named the “bycatch objective” to address the root cause of the issue. For example, unreported catches, whether landed or discarded, contribute significant uncertainty to the scientific assessment process. Such uncertainty enhances the risk that stocks are fished at levels beyond MSY.
One limb of the bycatch objective is that catches are recorded and accounted for. We will improve the accuracy of the data available on fishing mortality and enable sustainable quota setting that avoids overfishing. I therefore believe that my noble friend’s aims are already met through the existing bycatch objective. An additional discards objective—which the amendment does not seek to define—risks adding complexity and confusion when read in conjunction with the existing objective, which already serves the purpose of setting a clear framework for tackling discards.
In future, we will have the opportunity to be creative and adopt new measures and flexibilities outside the current common fisheries policy toolkit, to implement a workable discards ban. The Fisheries Bill—we will no doubt come on to this—sets out provisions to introduce one such flexibility: a discard prevention charging scheme to provide a mechanism that allows fishers to pay for additional quota to cover any excess catch that would otherwise push them into illegal fishing. Alongside the MMO and industry, Defra is exploring the use of remote electronic monitoring—REM—as a cost-effective and efficient way of monitoring fishing activities, including the effectiveness of selected gear types, and ensuring compliance.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for saying that his amendment is a probing amendment. I am aware that he seeks to understand the circumstances in which the Government believe that landing bycatch will be “appropriate”. I believe that this is something to which my noble friend Lady Byford also referred. Under the common fisheries policy—CFP—the landing obligation, which was fully implemented last year, requires all species subject to catch limits to be landed and counted against quota rather than discarded at sea, subject to certain exceptions. Now that we have left the EU, the UK will develop a discards policy that is tailored to our industry. It will have an emphasis on reducing the level of unintentional and unwanted bycatch through sustainable and selective fishing. However, even when our fishing practices are highly selective—this is a point that the noble Lord absolutely recognised—there will be instances when this unwanted bycatch cannot be avoided entirely, given the high number of mixed fisheries in UK waters. The sub-objective that the noble Lord seeks to remove with his amendment specifies that bycatch is landed only if appropriate. This is because, for example, if catch is scientifically proven to have high survivability, it could be beneficial to the long-term sustainability of the stock for it to be returned alive to the sea, rather than landed dead. I use that as an example that we need to think through.
However, the crux of the amendment is that the Government would not have to describe how and when bycatch would be landed in the joint fisheries statement. I have already set out the critical importance of understanding what is taken from the sea; removing this sub-objective could undermine our future discards policy and our ability to advance our scientific understanding of the state of our fisheries.
I should add an embellishment for my noble friend Lady Byford. Where we refer to a good chance of survivability—which I have already raised—there could, for instance, be high-survivability exemptions. Where it is accepted that unwanted catches of certain species in certain fisheries are unavoidable and costly to handle, a small percentage of the catch is permitted to be discarded through the de minimis exemptions.
I say in particular to my noble friend Lady McIntosh, with whom I was pleased to discuss this matter, that in further consideration of the Bill the word “bycatch” is not intended to denigrate the absolutely clear requirement that discard is addressed; rather, “bycatch” is a better description of dealing with the issue and its root causes. My noble friend knows that there are, as I said, references to “discards” in the draft legislation. The point about bycatch as an objective is precisely that we think this wording covers and addresses the matter in a wider sense. However, I think we all want the same objective, and I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to those who have contributed. The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, is entirely consistent with my amendment, in the sense of probing. I am a little disappointed that I have no greater understanding of why the discards objective was dropped between the initial Bill that was published and this version. While I am sure that it is of interest that remote electronic monitoring equipment is being proposed, my noble friend did not explain whether or not that would be on a voluntary basis. Other amendments that I have tabled at later stages will provide him with the opportunity to do so. Also, will foreign fishing boats be policed? Will they also be required to have such monitoring systems in place?
In summing up, my noble friend did not actually respond to whether or not the monitoring equipment would include cameras but, as a subsequent amendment that I have tabled relates specifically to cameras, I would be grateful if he could reply on that specific point at that stage.
I emphasise that even if we use “discards” or “bycatch” interchangeably in the way that we seem to now, for the policy to work effectively, and for more fish to be landed so that we have a better idea of the state of the current stock, it must be effectively policed or it will fall flat on its face. I will return to this issue in later amendments, but at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
4: Clause 1, page 1, line 11, at end insert—
“( ) the marine planning objective.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 4 in my name I shall speak also to Amendment 25, which is grouped with it. I also seek permission to speak to Amendments 47 and 56, which will come up later in Committee but are related to this point, so I hope I can speak to all four in this speech.
The purpose of Amendment 4 is to add a new fisheries objective to the Bill stating that there is a “marine planning objective” in relation to fisheries management. The reason is that there is a real need to integrate fisheries into our wider marine planning processes. The phrase “fisheries exceptionalism” has been used. In essence, what is being got at there is that the way we plan for our use of the marine environment for fisheries is very separate from our wider spatial planning that we use for other activities that occur in the marine environment. Sometimes we forget that, although fishing is a hugely important part of our marine environment, it is certainly not the only economically productive activity that occurs within our seas. It is important that we integrate fisheries into marine planning and that marine planning integrates fisheries into its processes.
Therefore, there is a very clear objective missing from the Bill, which is to accomplish that wider integration in public policy. Many users of the marine environment interact with fisheries, not least the growing and highly profitable energy sector. We are shifting towards greater use of our marine environment for the production of sustainable energy. That has an interesting intersection with fisheries: the offshore wind farms that we are putting into the marine environment can act as no-take zones for vessels over a certain size, and as hatcheries and protected areas that allow fish stocks to return to an area that would otherwise be decimated through overexploitation by large vessels with large gear. There is a real benefit to be gained from integrating fisheries with our spatial planning.
It is not just about reducing fishing effort, although another key part of planning—now in UK law—is the protection of areas of high biodiversity interest or sites of scientific interest in the marine environment. We have a marine planning process that designates marine planning areas, some of which are working well while others need to be better thought-through and planned. It would be much more effective if, when setting these new fishing policies, we think of them as an integral part of our marine planning for conservation.
There are other uses of the marine environment that require planning, including dredging the shipping channels. It is an environment that requires careful management and balance—I agree with that—but not to mention the existing marine plans that are required to be made, and not to integrate them with the fishing objectives, feels like a missed opportunity. I tabled this amendment in the hope that we can have a wider debate about spatial planning and how it relates to fisheries management. It is not a negative proposal: it could bring greater benefits as we think about how we manage our seas. I look forward to the Minister’s response, and I hope that we have a good debate. I beg to move.
My Lords, I very much welcome marine planning. I should perhaps declare a past interest as a board member of the Marine Management Organisation, which is responsible for marine planning in England. Last week I talked to Gillian Martin, the convenor of the environment committee of the Scottish Parliament, about marine planning. It is happening in Scotland, too.
I am certainly not advocating this as yet another objective—we have too many already—but it is important that the Bill takes account of marine planning and all the work going on in that field. Today our seas are, to put it mildly, used in multiple ways—for trade, renewable energy, undersea carbon capture and storage, and lots of other areas. I am not sure that the Bill even mentions things such as marine conservation zones, which are part of marine plans and, inevitably, part of the management of the fishing regimes. I would like to think that there was a way to refer to marine plans in the Bill, although not quite in this way.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, for tabling these amendments. As she said, they relate to the importance of marine planning and the conservation obligations of the fishing sector.
The Marine and Coastal Access Act is an important piece of legislation, passed in the final years of the Labour Government, of which we are very proud. It already requires the UK and devolved Administrations to prepare marine plans. The point made by the noble Baroness was important: new legislation should incorporate the marine plans where they overlap and apply. With this Bill it is sensible to incorporate them into the joint fisheries statements and the fisheries management plans. We should not risk one piece of legislation overriding the obligations of another: the case for integration is well made.
As marine plans have been with us for some time, there is an argument that they should provide the bedrock on which other policies are built and developed. There is little sense in having marine conservation measures in place if certain protections are at risk of being disrupted by fishing activities authorised under the Bill, so the case for integration is strong.
We have raised previously with the Minister the wider challenge of how all Defra Bills integrate; for example, how this Bill will integrate with the Environment Bill. They all need to interlink and create a bigger whole. I am sure that we will be told that a number of the issues that we raise here will be dealt with in the Environment Bill. We need to make sure that everything is in its place and is interlinked. Everything should be developed as a package. The points made by the noble Baroness about the links between this Bill and marine conservation are well made. As with all these things, it is about finding the right wording and the right place in the legislation, but the principle is one that we should adopt.
My Lords, I should have made another declaration: I am co-chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Nature Partnership. Obviously, being surrounded by sea apart from the Tamar—which is an even more important boundary with our brothers in Devon—Cornwall has a marine interest.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, for her amendments. Together, they would require policies made to achieve the fisheries objectives to be consistent with the objectives and policies in relevant marine plans.
I want to take this opportunity to make it clear that the UK Government recognise the importance of marine plans, which enable the increasing and, at times, competing demands for use of the marine area to be balanced and managed in an integrated way—a way that protects the marine environment while supporting sustainable development. Using our marine resources effectively and sustainably has the potential to provide significant benefits for the UK economy and for coastal communities. The economic contribution of marine-related industries to the UK’s GDP in 2015 was estimated at £27 billion, with scope for further growth.
In England, the East Inshore and East Offshore Marine Plans were published in April 2014 and the South Inshore and South Offshore Marine Plan was published in July 2018. The remaining marine plans for England are out for consultation by the Marine Management Organisation and will be in place by 31 March 2021, delivering the Government’s commitment in the 25-year environment plan.
Marine plans support economic growth in a way that benefits society while respecting the needs of local communities and protecting the marine environment. That is why I understand the importance of the points that the noble Baroness has raised. We believe that what her amendment requires is already provided for. As was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, Section 58 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 requires public authorities to have regard to
“the appropriate marine policy documents”—
which could be a marine policy statement or a marine plan—when taking decisions affecting the marine environment. The amendments would therefore duplicate this requirement. I am advised that the requirement is already sufficient to meet what I know are the noble Baroness’s positive intentions.
With that explanation and the assurance that I have been advised that Section 58 covers this point and that the amendment would merely duplicate what is already a legal requirement, I hope that she will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
I thank the Minister for his response and explanation. Perhaps there will be an opportunity to discuss this further after Committee, as I am minded to withdraw the amendment. Even if that piece of legislation predates the Bill and states that the planners must take into account certain factors, the amendment creates an objective relating to marine planning, ensuring that the fisheries plans drawn up under the Bill take into account the marine planning aspects. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, said, it is to make sure that the Bill is fully up to date with our marine planning requirements, not the other way around. However, on the basis that we can discuss this further, I beg leave to withdraw.
Amendment 4 withdrawn.