Skip to main content

Fisheries Bill [HL]

Volume 802: debated on Monday 2 March 2020

Committee (1st Day) (Continued)

Relevant document: 6th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee

Amendment 17

Moved by

17: Clause 1, page 2, line 24, leave out subsection (7)

My Lords, I suspect that this amendment will not take up a lot of the Committee’s time. I want to understand what the equal access objective is trying to do and what its implications are. The objective says that

“the location of the fishing boat’s home port, or … any other connection of the fishing boat, or any of its owners, to any place in the United Kingdom”

does not affect their rights. If I read that objective as a local fisher—perhaps in Mevagissey, the nearest port to me, or in a smaller fishery down further west, let alone those along the south coast—I would be concerned that any decision by government to allocate anything at all could be challenged by a larger fleet, or by someone from further round the coast, and could disrupt or exploit a well-managed local fishery. I understand entirely that the last thing we want to do is compartmentalise the United Kingdom in any way, and I think the system works fairly well as it is at the moment. This is the one area where perhaps I would like to keep the status quo, rather than introduce this objective.

My concern is that this makes local fisheries susceptible to challenge when it comes to fishing rights and their ability to look after particular stocks or to get Marine Society accreditation. This is a threat. I would be very interested to hear from the Minister why the Government want to do this and why I should not fear the consequences for the lesser fleets in the United Kingdom. There is also a slight risk that this might encourage further consolidation of the market. We already have market concentration and it concerns me that those are the fleets with the money, capacity and ability to buy or to trade fishing rights, so this is an area of susceptibility.

When I first got involved in fisheries in the 1990s, I used to talk regularly to fishing organisations down in the far south-west. Publicly, there was always a concern about the Spanish fleets. Whenever you put a microphone or camera in front of someone, they were the big threat. If you talked to them otherwise, it was the Scots who came down and took everything out of the water when they had nothing better to do north of the border. I am not for a minute saying that is the case today, but I have a real concern here and I would be very interested to hear from the Minister why I should not be so afraid. I beg to move.

My Lords, perhaps I might add a question to this. To understand what the equal access objective is about, one should look at Clause 17 of the Bill. If a Scottish fisheries authority were to grant a licence to a non-UK fishing boat under the new regime, that would be a licence to fish in Scottish waters. Both this current objective and, indeed, the related amendment on the determination of fishing opportunities say that, when a ship is licensed, or when fishing opportunities are allotted, this cannot be done to British boats on the basis of where they come from. If I understand correctly—I put this simply because I am sure the Minister will put us both right when we have presented our questions—the object of the equal access objective is to make sure that, when the administrations put forward their joint fisheries statement, they must do so on the basis that a British fishing boat can go anywhere in British fishing waters. That seems a desirable objective because otherwise we could well end up with not British fishing waters but entirely separate Scottish, Welsh or English fishing waters. I do not regard that as the objective we are seeking, so to that extent, I rather like keeping the equal access objective and I would not see it removed from the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, poses some serious challenges in his amendment. Indeed, quota allocation is already a highly complex and opaque feature in fishing. The tabling of Amendments 17 and 95 affords us a brief opportunity to probe the Government over how equal access will work in practice once the constituent parts of the UK have the freedom, at least theoretically, to determine their own quota allocations and wider regulatory frameworks.

In view of the earlier discussion today, I am sure the Minister will argue that these amendments are unwise as they undermine the work that the Government have already undertaken with the devolved Administrations in drafting the Bill. I also pre-empt his commitment that the various issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, will come out in the mix once the Bill is in place and the various statements and management plans begin to appear. Be that as it may, I am sure that fishers in different parts of the UK will be interested to hear his comments on how all of this will work in practice.

For example, how will the Government and devolved Administrations work together to ensure that the regulations of each part of the UK are compatible, being both available and accessible to those who will have to rely on them? How will issues such as enforcement be managed to ensure that the devolution settlement is upheld, while also respecting the equal access objective, as it is currently drafted, when they could diverge over time? This topic arose during the Commons Committee stage on the previous Bill, so I hope that the reassurances offered tonight will meet all the Committee’s expectations. A significant amount of time has passed since those debates and we are only a short time away from potential problems ceasing to be purely hypothetical.

My Lords, I am most grateful to noble Lords for this short debate. As I understand it, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, is concerned that our provisions relating to equal access could lead to unintended consequences, which could include a further concentration of the fishing industry, and incentivise the purchasing of additional quota from other fisheries authorities.

The UK Government believe that the equal access objective in the Fisheries Bill is vital as it sets out a joint commitment for all four fisheries administrations to work together to ensure that boats based all over the UK enjoy the same rights of access to fish in UK waters, no matter where their home port is. This is important, since many vessels fish in the waters of multiple fisheries authorities. As with all the objectives, this objective has been carefully developed and designed with close discussion with the devolved Administrations. This is one of the key points that I would like to make to the noble Lord: the objective is limited to access to waters only and does not grant any access to quota.

Amendment 95 relates to UK quota-setting and seeks to remove the restriction on setting different maxima by reference to a UK boat’s home port or other connection. I will provide some further detail on the provisions in Clause 23. Clause 23 relates to the determination of the pot of UK fishing opportunities. It does not relate to the subsequent allocation of those opportunities to the fisheries administrations, or to their subsequent distribution to the fishing industry. Total UK fishing opportunities are defined by the criteria set out in the clause: the description of sea fish, the area of the sea and the description of the fishing vessel.

The reason for the stipulation in Clause 23(4) that fishing opportunities cannot be set based on any reference to a boat’s home port or connection to a particular part of the UK is to ensure that this power can be used to set only the overall amount of UK-wide fishing opportunities. It cannot be used to determine how quota, once divided between the fisheries administrations, is allocated to each administration’s industry. This is clearly a devolved matter.

Amendment 95 would therefore give the Secretary of State the power to set quota within devolved competence—for example, setting quota for boats fishing out of Peterhead in Scotland. This is clearly not something that would be desired by the Committee; nor do I think it is the noble Lord’s intention. He may hope that the amendment addresses the need for local boats to have access to local quota. This is a matter for each administration, but Clause 17, which my noble friend Lord Lansley referred to, maintains the current approach on this: each administration will use transparent criteria, including environmental and socioeconomic criteria, when deciding how to allocate quota. The amendment therefore does not achieve the exact effect the noble Lord may have hoped for.

I also provide further reassurance that the methodology for allocating quota to industry within England is published in the publicly available English quota management rules, alongside the allocations themselves. Each administration also has its own quota management rules. The Government are committed to supporting fishers around the country and we are engaging with them to ensure that our coastal communities see the maximum benefit from the quota that we hold.

I will provide a further piece of information. The equal access objective in Clause 1 preserves the status quo. Currently all UK boats can fish in all UK waters. Clause 17 provides for each administration to license foreign boats in its waters, since licensing is a devolved matter. In practice, each administration will delegate its licensing functions to, or allow the administration of, a single UK licensing regime through the single licensing authority.

I am very happy to have a further discussion with the noble Lord if there are any residual matters of concern. I hope that I have got across that the equal access objective is precisely on the basis to ensure—particularly with many vessels fishing in the waters of multiple fisheries authorities—that this is equal access for all rather than the way in which the noble Lord describes it. Our intention is for the four constituent parts to have the ability to fish in UK waters.

I have not finished yet. So that is where the position lies. I will now take the noble Lord’s intervention.

I apologise to the Minister. It may be that he cannot answer this question but, when it comes to the future division, he said that the boats may have access to the waters but not necessarily to the quota, which explains many of the problems. Is the quota going to be divided into the areas that currently exist—7A, 7B, 7C, 7D and 6—or are we going to have completely new areas? How localised will these areas be? Will they be near to the Cornish ports that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, is worried about? It may be that that has not been decided yet.

I will avail myself of receiving some information and let everyone in this debate know. Clearly, it is a devolved matter and therefore all three devolved Administrations and the UK Government will make those considerations. That is why I mentioned in particular the English quota management rules. These are matters of responsibility for the devolved Administrations and ourselves in terms of quota. On that basis, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, for his question because even if we use the traditional ICES areas, those do not reflect the boundaries between the devolved nations. It is an interesting question.

I thank the Minister for his explanation. I feel reassured by that. If it does not relate to quotas and refers only to vessels steaming around in circles doing nothing at all, who can complain? However, it does not seem to be much of an objective if that is the case. On that basis, I withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 17 withdrawn.

Amendment 18

Moved by

18: Clause 1, page 2, line 29, leave out subsection (8) and insert—

“(8) The “national benefit objective” is that the public exploitation of the fishery for commercial, recreational and environmental purposes brings benefit to the United Kingdom or any part of the United Kingdom.”

I must confess to feeling that perhaps I am not the best person to lead off this segment of the debate, because my amendment seeks to change subsection (8) of the clause but the group as a whole will take into account a wider range of issues relating to the definition of “national benefit”. I look forward to hearing the many views that will be expressed around the amendments in this group.

My amendment simply seeks to make the point—I fear this is a return to the discussion at the start of the debate—of what it is that we are doing in the handing out of a fishing quota, which is held in public trust, for private benefit. I therefore seek to amend the description of the national benefit objective as set out in the Bill from a fairly narrow definition that

“fishing activities of UK fishing boats bring social or economic benefits to the United Kingdom”,

and suggest that it should be reworded that the national benefit objective is that

“the public exploitation of the fishery for commercial, recreational and environmental purposes brings benefit to the United Kingdom”.

So the amendment seeks to make it clear in the Bill that it is more than simply the fishing activity for which we are granting quotas that constitutes a national benefit.

I know that noble Lords will speak to other amendments around the principle of the UK benefiting from the granting of quotas, but my amendment seeks to probe why it is that we are defining national benefits so narrowly and restricting it to fishing activities and fishing boats. The phrase seems a little odd, given that, as we have discussed, the founding principle of the Bill is that we have a national asset in our fishing resource that is held in trust for the public and granted out to fishing activity. I feel that the national benefit has been too narrowly drawn and too narrowly attached to fishing activities and fishing boats.

That is the purpose of the amendment. As I say, the rest of the amendments in the group seek to consider and assess different aspects of the national benefit—but I beg to move my amendment.

My Lords, my Amendment 19 is trying to deal with the same matter, but it attempts to use the activities of fishing fleets to bring

“social, economic and employment benefits to the United Kingdom or any part”.

In other words, it is intended that the activities of fishing boats should not merely benefit the fisheries, but also the rest of the United Kingdom, and in particular produce social, economic and employment benefits. One can see that this is a bit wider than the proposal of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, but it is just a question of what precisely this “national benefit objective” is aiming at.

I think it does not aim at benefiting the fishing industry itself, but at benefiting others through the activities of the fishing industry. Paragraph (b) of my proposed new subsection, which contains a reference to fish and aqua- culture activities, manages to achieve the same sort of thing. In other words, in both cases the activities of the boats and the management of the fleets are supposed to bring these general social, economic and employment benefits to the United Kingdom and parts of it.

The issues in this amendment were brought to my attention by the national authority, or corporation, of the fishing fleets of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Scottish people are somewhat separately represented, and it is not altogether surprising that their attitude is that the Bill is pretty good and perhaps the best thing to do is to leave it alone. It may be that they have ideas about the present situation, and the way in which the Bill is constructed is, from their point of view, very acceptable.

My Lords, I will speak to my Amendment 78, which is in a similar vein around national benefit. It is quite clear, certainly in the south-west, that if all the fishing vessels with British flags actually landed their catch—or a major proportion of it—in their home port, the number of landings in the UK and the viability of those ports would be hugely increased. Of course, we have here the issue of what used to be called “quota hoppers”, around which everything has gone staggeringly quiet during the Brexit negotiations and the formulation of the Bill.

As we know, a little under half of the English—not Scottish—quota is effectively owned by Dutch, Spanish or Icelandic interests. Grimsby, which I think used to be the world’s or Europe’s largest fishing port, now has a very important fish processing industry, but hardly any activity in terms of landings. Most of the quota there is effectively owned by Dutch vessels that land in Holland.

So, we have a question: how do we change that? The Bill does nothing to change this area. In a way, it suits the fishing industry establishment to keep things as they are, because those are the members. Whether vessels are English or foreign-owned, those are the members of the fishing organisations. That is why, in Amendment 78, I have used the scientifically calculated number of 75%, which came out at the end of my spreadsheet, to suggest what proportion of fish should be landed by English-flagged—or British-flagged, depending on how we want to define the devolution thing—vessels. It is a probing amendment, but only in the sense that something needs to be done in this area. Very few other EU member states have allowed the foreign ownership of quota in the way that we have. We decided to do that. We are where we are, but we need to make sure there is a national benefit; I assume that is why this objective is here.

I very much support the majority of the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. However, one of them slightly suggests an obligation for foreign vessels licensed to fish in UK waters also to land in the UK. I am slightly more hesitant about that approach; the last thing we would want is retaliation, or reciprocation. The last thing we would want in, say, Norwegian fisheries, is for British boats to have to land their catch in Norway. I do not really think that that would work. I am not so bothered about foreign vessels that are licensed here; as long as they pay us good money, or we have swaps on quota allowances, that would be sufficient. But we do need to tackle this area of effective foreign ownership of UK quota and bring some of that back home to our ports—so that they can thrive and make the most of the new situation that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, described.

My Lords, we have five amendments in this group: Amendments 20, 21, 77, 80 and 84. First, a number of noble Lords have sought to amend and clarify the definition of “national benefit” in different ways. The fact that different Peers have tried to do that shows that this is open to a huge range of interpretations. It is a rather vague, catch-all phrase so it is right that we should probe it; it needs further clarification. It is also important that we return to our earlier discussion. If the phrase is too vague, it could be used to override some of the other important objectives that could be subsumed under it. So it is important that we understand exactly what it means, and that it holds its place proportionately with all the other objectives; it is clearly better defined by that.

I think we are all still struggling with those objectives. We identified at the beginning of the debate that eight—or however many there are—is too many, and asked how we rank them and so on. The vaguer they are, the more difficult any of that ranking will be. The phrase “national benefit” is so vague; we need to do a bit more work on the phrase itself but also on how to interpret and define it. We need to bottom out that discussion; maybe the Minister can help us a bit more with that.

Our Amendment 20 has a simple intent: it seeks to ensure that foreign vessels fishing in our waters should have the same obligation to respect the national benefit—however we define it—as required of the UK fleet. This should be the basis on which licences are granted. We believe it is a straightforward and uncontroversial amendment; we hope that noble Lords will agree.

Amendments 21, 77, 80 and 84 raise a very different issue—some of these amendments have been grouped rather oddly, but I shall address them as they have been set out—which is the concept of a national landing obligation. We believe this is vital to ensuring the long-term health of our coastal fishing fleets and communities. This is spelled out in detail in Amendment 84, where we specify that all licensed boats should be subject to the national landing requirement to land a percentage of their boat’s catch at a port in the UK. Our proposal is that the percentage of the catch should be set at 70%, rather than the noble Lord’s 75%, unless the Secretary of State determines otherwise and sets out his reasons, but we could discuss trading that figure.

This is an important principle and we set out our argument for it at Second Reading: a requirement to land at UK ports could herald the renaissance of our coastal communities, which is long overdue. While the numbers vary according to the type of fisher, we know that for every job created at sea many more are created on land as a result of the need for landing, processing and onward transportation, for example. It is estimated that about 10 times as many jobs are created on land as at sea, and currently many of those jobs are going to other EU ports. Meanwhile coastal communities currently have higher rates of unemployment and lower wages. They have the additional challenges of a drain of young people, social isolation and poor health. A policy based on a national landing requirement would provide more local jobs for local people and would save fishers having to travel hundreds of miles in search of a fair price for their catch because then, we hope, the market would come to them rather than them having to chase the markets overseas.

If we were to introduce a minimum landing requirement for fish caught in our waters, that would provide a level of certainty for the sector that historically has been lacking. That in turn would, we hope, facilitate investment and innovation, which could help with other matters such as decarbonisation and, as I say, would bring local regeneration based on good environmental principles. I hope noble Lords will see the sense of this argument and support the amendments.

Amendment 78, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, which he has just eloquently described, also deals with the requirement to land a proportion in UK ports. He has an exception for landing in distant-water fisheries, which I think we accept; you can take the principle that we are suggesting only so far, so there is merit in that. That is also an issue that we have covered in our Amendment 90. We need more clarification on it but I think we are all fishing in the same water around those principles.

We also welcome the tabling of Amendment 18 by the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. It would bring other forms of fishing, such as recreational fishing, into the scope of the national benefit objective. Again, this underlines the fact that the phrase is very vague and therefore you could tack all sorts of things on to it. However, we support the principle. We have other amendments that spell out in more detail the importance of recreational fishing. Perhaps it could be better sited elsewhere but it is an important principle and we are happy to find the appropriate place to put that wording for the future. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, if my noble friend will forgive me, I want to interject for a short moment, not about the definition of the national benefit objective but on the second part of this group of amendments, relating to a landing requirement. It struck me as a useful debate to have in Committee. For a start, it allows us to expose the question of whether Ministers want to be in the position to impose any kind of landing requirement under any circumstances.

Personally, I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, say that setting a landing requirement for foreign boats in UK waters would simply lead to the imposition of the same requirement on British boats in other waters, and I am not sure that is where we want to end up. I am glad that both speakers from Labour and the Liberal Democrats have endorsed the view that this should apply only to fishing in our exclusive economic zone; it would need not to apply, or to be able to be exempted, for distant-waters fishing. I hope noble Lords will forgive me for saying that to set 70% or 75% in primary legislation would make no sense whatever. Putting that to one side—and saying that therefore the amendments do not work—it raises a very interesting question: does the Bill, under any circumstances, allow fishing authorities in the United Kingdom to set any kind of landing requirement? I do not know the answer; I cannot find it anywhere. I wonder whether it is thought potentially never to be necessary under any circumstances. It seems to me that there is a potential mischief involved in the ownership and use of quota, which could be remedied either through the allocation of quotas or through a landing requirement. I am not sure that Ministers have told us whether under any circumstances they would use the former and never the latter. That is an interesting question.

My Lords, I will not detain the House for long. I am encouraged by this debate. Last year I sat on the committee on regenerating coastal and seaside towns. We looked in a lot of detail at what is happening to our seaside towns—at the poverty and great difficulty they are experiencing. I am certainly not an expert on what the quotas should or should not be, but this kind of discussion is a source of encouragement, and is putting its finger on the issues and on the opportunities that may come to these towns if we push these ideas. It feels as though there is movement on getting to grips with the positive opportunities that may now result from the time we are in. I thank the Committee for this helpful discussion.

My Lords, I wonder whether this question of landing obligations will need to be resolved in the fisheries negotiations during the coming “passage of arms” with the EU. I believe that there is a good deal of voluntary landing in our ports by foreign fishing vessels at the moment, and one of the reasons for that is the efficiency of the transfer from these ports to the European market. They are able to get their fish stocks to the European market from some ports very quickly—in a way that, if they had to take them back to Spain or southern France, would take much longer and probably be less efficiently organised. I do not know whether it needs compulsion, but compulsion would need to be authorised as part of the future negotiations.

Perhaps I may intervene on the noble and learned Lord. We should not forget that we are talking about British boats in British waters—it is not about foreign vessels. Sorry, I will sound like Michael Gove or the Prime Minister, but this has nothing to do with the European Union or the Commission: it is purely a British decision, apart from foreign vessels and where they have to land. That is why we have raised the issue.

I can see that, if it is restricted to British vessels, it is perfectly within the powers of this Parliament, but I am not at all clear that it would be right to impose that kind of obligation on British vessels without attempting to encourage foreign vessels to do the same. As I mentioned at Second Reading, something like this is already happening, and in pretty small ports—though they have a large amount of traffic, usually overnight, when refrigerated vehicles go straight to Europe and arrive quickly at their markets, which are pretty hungry for the result.

My Lords, this debate has turned into rather an intriguing one, with lots of contributions. I am grateful to noble Lords for these amendments, which all relate to a matter emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Mawson; that is, ensuring that coastal communities which rely on fishing see a benefit from fish caught in UK waters. The UK Government agree that this is a matter of the upmost importance, but I suggest that other routes beyond this Bill should be used to secure this outcome as well.

Amendment 18 would include recreational and environmental use of fisheries in the national benefit objective. Amendment 19 seeks to ensure economic, social and employment benefits from fish and aquaculture activities. The objective as it stands in the Bill highlights that UK boats, including foreign-owned but UK-flagged boats, should provide economic, social and employment benefits to the UK when fishing against the UK’s fishing opportunities. This is currently achieved through a licence condition requiring all UK vessels to demonstrate an economic link to the UK. The Bill also extends the ability to prescribe an economic link in respect of foreign vessels licensed to fish in the UK through the foreign vessel licensing regime, if this is negotiated internationally.

Perhaps I might take a moment to set out what the economic link requirement currently stipulates of UK vessels. The requirement is delivered through the licensing regime and can be controlled and enforced by the fisheries authorities and the Marine Management Organisation. The economic link is a devolved matter, but currently this licence condition is UK-wide, as agreed in the 2012 fisheries concordat between the Administrations.

I say in reply to my noble friend Lord Lansley that we do not need legislation to amend or set an economic link; it is managed through licence conditions. The conditions of the economic link are that vessels must land at least 50% of their catch of quota species into UK ports; have at least 50% of their crew normally resident in the UK; spend at least 50% of operating expenditure in the UK; or demonstrate an economic link by other means. In practice, this last option usually involves the donation of quota to the under-10 metre quota pool.

In 2018, the majority of vessels met the economic link by landing at least 50% of their catch in UK ports. Twenty-seven vessels met the economic link through other economic link criteria. Of the 27, 22 complied by donating 714 tonnes of quota worth £2.5 million, and five employed a crew the majority of whom were resident in the UK. This quota was put into the under-10 metre pool, which is managed by the MMO, and vessel owners who have valid licences are entitled to fish for it.

Other parts of the Bill, in particular paragraph (a)(ii) of the sustainability objective in Clause 1, already state the UK Government’s aim of ensuring that fishing activities are managed so as to achieve economic, social and employment benefits, which I hope provides the reassurance that my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay seeks in his Amendment 19. This would include the management of recreational and environmental use of fisheries. As such, Amendment 18 does not need to be included because the Bill achieves the same effect as the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, seeks. I am happy to have further conversations if that presents difficulties for her, but that is the position as I understand it.

There are some further, practical issues to consider in relation to these amendments. It is not clear what any national benefit requirement for the recreational sector could be or for those exploiting the resources for environmental reasons; nor would it be easy to consider how any wider national benefit requirement could be delivered.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, seeks through Amendment 20 to extend the scope of the objective that the fishing activities of UK fishing boats should benefit the UK to include the activity of foreign vessels and, through Amendment 21, to require that a majority of fish be landed by UK boats for processing at UK ports. I shall speak to these amendments in turn.

In the future, any access by non-UK vessels to fish in UK waters will be, as all noble Lords know, a matter for negotiation. Access will be on the UK’s terms and for the benefit of UK fishermen. Our access negotiations will always seek to bring environmental, economic and social benefits to the UK. Therefore, through our negotiations, benefits to the UK from any foreign vessels fishing in our waters would be sought and secured, without such an amendment to the Bill.

There would be a number of practical challenges to delivering the change that Amendment 21 seeks to impose. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and my noble friend Lord Lansley referred to this. The imposition of this requirement on UK vessels would make many vessels’ existing business models inoperable, as they rely on non-UK markets for the sale of their catch. This is often the case where prices are higher or, in some instances, where appropriate port facilities in the UK are not available. There could be implications for safety if vessels are not able to access suitable ports at the appropriate time. Further, enforcing increased landings into the UK could result in lower prices for the catching sector.

The amendment refers specifically to fish for “processing in UK ports”. While we want to encourage greater processing in the UK, as it creates value and brings employment, there are challenges in practice. We have some world-class processing plants in the UK, but they are not necessarily found in ports. It will also take time and money to invest and build processing capacity. We must also recognise that markets for processed fish need to be developed and there can be good value to be gained from the sale of, for example, unprocessed fish or live shellfish.

Landing requirements currently exist as part of the economic link condition attached to all UK vessel licences, as I have already detailed. This proposed amendment would make it more difficult for other mechanisms which benefit UK coastal communities to operate, including quota donations made under the economic link condition, resulting in a fall in fishing opportunities for the inshore fleet. Schedule 3 to the Bill sets out vessel licensing powers, which we will continue to use to impose economic link conditions on UK registered boats. The economic link policy is being reviewed, to ensure that it remains as effective as possible as we leave the CFP. However, I believe that a licence condition remains the most flexible and effective way of achieving this objective.

Amendments 77, 78, 80, and 84 seek to introduce a new national landing requirement and apply it to vessels licensed using powers in the Bill. While the Government support the intent of these amendments, which is to ensure that the UK benefits from its valuable natural resources, we believe that their aims are addressed both in the Bill through the national benefit objective, as I have previously highlighted, and the provisions to license foreign vessels for the first time, which would allow us to impose on them requirements which are equitable with our licensing regime for UK boats.

There is already work being undertaken on this topic by the Government and by the devolved Administrations. The amendments as drafted would not be appropriate to include in the Bill as they do not respect the devolution settlements—the economic link being a devolved matter, as I have set out. As made clear in the UK Government’s fisheries White Paper, the economic link conditions will be reviewed with a view to strengthening them. The Scottish Government consulted on this issue three years ago. We wish to work with the devolved Administrations to consider whether having the same economic link conditions across the UK would simplify matters for industry.

I am sure noble Lords will agree that, in developing options for reform, we must consider the best interests of the whole fleet, including those British vessels that land abroad when it is most profitable, and ensure that vessels can continue to operate as successful businesses. As we review the economic link, we will carefully consider the impact of changing the required share of landings into UK ports. Setting a fixed percentage for required landings into UK ports by all vessels could present practical difficulties, as the infrastructure for handling large increases in landings may not be in place, and it could disrupt existing supply chains. Furthermore, it would not necessarily benefit the inshore fleet, as quota that has been donated to the under-10 metre pool in the past would, instead, be required to be landed into UK ports by foreign owned vessels. The current drafting of the Bill respects and reflects the devolution settlements, where each Administration is responsible for setting licence conditions, including the economic link. It would therefore not be appropriate for the Secretary of State to be legislating for the whole UK, as proposed.

I realise that this has been a fairly lengthy explanation, but I hope that it has been helpful in demonstrating the UK Government’s commitment to, first, seeing a real benefit from fishing for our coastal communities, and secondly, ensuring that our fishing industry is given enough flexibility to flourish. I understand the rationale behind all the amendments, but I have sought to outline some of the practical intricacies of the fishing industry.

One of the generous remarks by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, repeated today, is that the more you learn about the fishing industry, the more you realise how little you really know, because of its intricacy and complexity. I have tried to outline some of the points of difficulty that the amendment presents, although I absolutely respect the importance of supporting our coastal communities. With all that in mind, I ask the noble Baroness at this stage to withdraw her amendment.

I shall read what the Minister said in detail in Hansard. He said that this is riddled with complexity, and I am sure that that is true, but did I understand him to say that there is a working party already working on issues around the national landing requirement? Is it that he thinks this is a good idea but, as we were discussing earlier, everything has to be agreed with the devolved nations and therefore we cannot agree anything in the Bill? Is this something that is already in train but has not yet been signed off? Is that really what he is saying? I understand that there may be details underneath it.

I repeat what I said: work is already being undertaken on this by the Government and the devolved Administrations. It is work in progress, but that is the right route, particularly as these are devolved matters and that is important. The Government want to find ways: although we must and do respect the devolution settlement, there are many respects where we have been seeking to work together and why we are legislating on behalf of all four parts of the United Kingdom on this matter. It is the case that we are acting in concert with the devolved Administrations. We are very mindful that many of these areas are devolved, but we think that in the interests of simplicity and straightforwardness there are many areas where we would like to have a single focus, as it were.

Perhaps I can be helpful to the Minister, in that the whole area of foreign ownership of British-flagged vessels is an English issue, and I am sure that we can solve it in that way and help the Minister get this into the Bill. It is an English, not a Scottish, problem. That is one thing we can do. The other thing is that, on the under-10 fleet redistribution of quota, of course the big promise of the Government is that the pie is going to increase anyway, so there will be plenty for the under-10 fleet. If the Government’s promises, in terms of taking back control and getting rid of relative stability, is what we manage to achieve, then that should not be a problem.

What I particularly want to do at this stage is to go through a thought experiment with the Minister. Taking the point that it is the Government’s objective, quite rightly, post Brexit to have a much larger pie—because the fish stocks are within our EEZ and we will have this whole idea of zonal attachment—we will have much larger fishing opportunities for the fleet as a whole. So, with that bigger pie, are we going to allow the foreign-owned British companies with British-flagged vessels to take even more quota than they have now, or have the Government got a cunning plan to make sure that this expanded quota stays and resides more with real British fishing fleets? I would be very interested to hear the Government’s answer.

For tonight, I will say that these are matters under active consideration. We take the point that there is scope for additional quota to benefit coastal communities. I am not in a position to give precise details because this is under active consideration, but the noble Lord has absolutely hit on the point that this is about additional opportunities. The Government are working on and considering how best we fulfil that in a way which benefits coastal communities. That, as with a number of other aspects, is work in hand.

My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister’s response to this group of amendments. I will read Hansard in detail. Touching on the point of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, it struck me as odd that we still seem to be referring to the current system under the CFP as some sort of gold standard we should seek to continue. I think most people would agree it is the exact opposite of what we are trying to achieve.

This concept of an economic link being proofed by the charitable donation of quota back to a deserving cause seems out of kilter with what we are trying to achieve. We should not give the vast majority of quota to a small number of players and then rely on their beneficence to give it back to those located in coastal communities who are actually fishing in our waters, employing people, feeding local markets and producing sustainable food. Something is a bit awry in the way that this opportunity is being interpreted by our Government. We will probably come back to probe this further as we go through the Bill, particularly on the quota allocation clauses, but I am grateful for the response—it will tee up an interesting debate later.

On whether recreational fishing could in any way contribute to the national benefit, it is a bit dismissive to state that only commercial fishing and fish stocks have any contribution to make to the benefit of the nation. It is clear that, if we are a destination for a large number of recreational fishers, that will be of national benefit. If we can sustain a really rich and biodiverse marine environment, that will enable us to encourage any manner of recreational activities—not just fishing but whale watching, porpoise watching and birdwatching are inherently linked to the sustainability of our fish stocks. Without fish in the seas, we do not have birds.

There are lots of reasons why good management of our marine environment produces a national benefit, so I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that this is a really odd phrase and that the narrow definition of “national benefit” needs revisiting as we go through the Bill. However, at this stage I am happy to withdraw this amendment.

Amendment 18 withdrawn.

Amendments 19 to 21 not moved.

Amendment 22

Moved by

22: Clause 1, page 2, line 34, after “minimised” insert “, in particular through efforts to—

(i) improve the environmental performance of fishing ports, and(ii) promote the decarbonisation of fish and aquaculture activities”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment strengthens the “climate change objective” by requiring action to improve the environmental performance of ports and decarbonise the catching process.

My Lords, in moving Amendment 22, I will speak also to Amendment 23. These amendments are tabled with slightly different intentions in mind, so while they may be grouped together, they address slightly different aspects of climate change. The addition of the climate change objective is very much to be welcomed, and must be fundamental to all policy developments, perhaps second only to the sustainability objective, as debated earlier tonight.

Amendment 22 would strengthen the climate change objective by requiring two sets of actions: one on land to improve the green credentials of ports and the other at sea to help the fisheries fleet decarbonise. Both are important and must reflect together the environmental sustainability practices on landed catches while making the industry undertake precise measures on decarbonisation. Either step or both would have a positive impact on the country’s net zero aspirations. The amendment was tabled to probe how action the Government propose to take will be specified and measured, including what support they will provide in the future to allow the industry to improve its environmental footprint. The Bill allows financial assistance to be provided for a variety of purposes, including many linked with the overarching fisheries objectives. Can it, therefore, be safely assumed that such support would be made available to fishers who wish to fit cleaner engines, and perhaps to ports and processing plants that want to upgrade equipment to run on low-carbon technologies?

Amendment 23 deals directly with achieving net zero in the industry. I was disappointed to see no link between this framework legislation and the legally binding targets for the UK to achieve net zero by 2050. Amendment 25, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, seeks to achieve a link and we support such a consultation. However, we propose that the Government are not taking action quite as seriously as we would like and need to proceed faster, with more urgency.

We have been told time and again, and will no doubt be reminded in the Minister’s response, that the UK is a world leader in the race to decarbonise, with this Government being the first to adopt a binding target to achieve net zero by 2050. However, I hope the Minister accepts and can forgive that, across your Lordships’ House, many are sceptical of the Government’s claims. Reference need be made to the court’s ruling only last week on Heathrow expansion to see that, just because an environmental target has been adopted, it does not necessarily filter through to everyday decision-making in Whitehall. There remains a gulf between stated ambition and reality. The UK, working alongside others, needs to do more to tackle the climate crisis before it is too late.

As part of that, industries such as fisheries should be encouraged to be ambitious by working to an accelerated timescale. Although it would require significant effort, we believe this could be achieved. If the Minister rejects the premise of achieving net zero in fisheries by 2030, or if he believes that decarbonisation is better dealt with in the upcoming Environment Bill, he at least needs to indicate what progress he would like to see made in the next decade.

With this in mind, what will our fishing fleet look like after nearly 10 years of the UK operating outside the CFP? What is the size of the Government’s ambitions? What gear will our fishers be using? How will the way that their catch is processed and transported be different from today? When will emissions targets be made binding on international shipping? These are but a few of the questions to which we need answers, and we ideally need them before either this or the Environment Bill reach the statute book. To include ambition in the Bill, the House must be assured that it will be key feature in the drawing up of fisheries statements and management policies. There is a climate emergency now and every sector should play its part in addressing it. I beg to move.

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 125 in my name, also in this group. I also lend my support to the two amendments spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. This is very welcome. I start by being positive about the climate change objective being added to the list of 12—or however many we have now. It is good to see it there. As I stated earlier, there really is no business as usual anymore. Climate change impacts are upon us and we are living through an age of consequences. This will permeate all the discussions around fishing policy that we bring on the back of the Bill. Fishing quotas will change, the availability of fish stocks will change and the resilience of the natural environment will be increasingly affected and diminished, so it is incredibly important that we take this seriously.

The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, rightly goes to the heart of the definition here. It seems a little lacking in ambition and specificity, as stated in the Bill, which refers to

“the adverse effects of fishing and aquaculture minimised”.

What does “minimised” mean when, really, they should be eliminated? In fact, any economic activity now taking place specifically within the natural environment should not just seek to have zero emissions, it should be seeking to be a positive sink. We will have to use policies and the framework for managing the natural world to ensure that we are not just reducing our outputs, but seeking to enhance the ability of the natural world to absorb carbon dioxide.

That has to be an aim because we have left it so late. We are about 20 years behind where we should be in reducing emissions on a global level, so the challenge now will be that of eliminating emissions in a decade. Thereafter it will be about soaking out the greenhouse gases that have been emitted. The oceans and the marine environment are a huge component of that, so we should be ambitious. I think that the bare minimum should be to achieve net zero, not simply minimising adverse effects and adapting to climate change.

My third point is about accepting that we may have to implement the precautionary principle, which states that for the period we are in, where there is so much uncertainty, we will be allocating below scientifically determined maximum sustainable yields because of the risk of climate change that overlays everything. We might have to get used to allocating quota on a very precautionary basis because we are entering uncharted waters, if I may be excused the pun.

I turn to my Amendment 125. Amendments that seek consultation always feel a bit redundant in primary legislation, but my point is that, under the powers granted under the Climate Change Act 2008, we have the ability to introduce a policy. Before any activity that causes a net contribution to greenhouse gases, we can simply consult and then use secondary legislation to introduce that policy. If the Government were minded to get going on achieving the net zero target, simply asking for public consultation would be the trigger to introducing secondary legislation to bring in very targeted, market-based policies to encourage investment in low-carbon activities. The Government now have the opportunity to consult on how we can best make this sector carbon neutral and use the powers that already exist to bring in those policies; hence the quest for a public consultation.

It is worth stating that, at the moment, the fishing industry has an effect on climate change in a number of ways. It is not just about how vessels are propelled or the energy choices made by processing plants, it is also about how the degradation of the natural environment can release greenhouse gases. Trawling activities, for example, can disturb the sediment at the bottom of the ocean, which releases otherwise stored carbon. There are plenty of examples and reasons why one would want the sector to take this issue seriously.

This is an opportunity to do something really positive. We must think about the provision of licences to cover the activities that take place in this environment with a positive vision that will create jobs and allow activities to be carried out in the natural world that will help us as we seek to combat climate change. There is no reason why fisheries cannot be part of that process. There are particular types of fish stocks and particular ways of fishing that can lock carbon up while low-impact aquaculture can make a net-positive contribution to our carbon budgets. I hope this is not seen as an imposition; rather, it should be seen as an opportunity.

Again, to finish on a positive note, seeing this objective included is very welcome. I happen to be in the camp of thinking that sustainability is the primary objective, so this climate objective is integral to that. However, we need to see a little more action and commitment to some of the specifics of what making this a primary objective would really mean for how we manage our fisheries. I am glad to have had the opportunity to discuss these amendments.

I put my name on the amendment and am pleased to welcome it. One message from the climate change committee was that we cannot do decarbonisation and net zero sequentially; we have to do it all at the one time. That must include this industry.

My only word of caution is that fish oil is used as an energy source on some occasions, and could be described as renewable. It is used as biodiesel, like fishmeal. That should be excluded completely. We do not do that in this country, but I have a feeling the Danes have occasionally done it before.

My Lords, this Government have committed to ambitious action to tackle climate change, including reaching net zero by 2050. To support this objective, it is right that we have included a climate change objective in the Bill.

The Government share the ambition of Amendment 22, which is to make sure that we take meaningful action to decarbonise fishing and aquaculture activities and the infrastructure that supports them, as we must do across our economy. Indeed, I believe we are the first major economy to include an objective of this kind in legislation in relation to fisheries.

Evidence of the links between fishing and climate change continues to grow, and our approach must adapt to follow new evidence over successive iterations of the joint fisheries statement. Therefore, while I agree that action to support decarbonisation of ports and fishing activities must form part of our policies, I am reluctant to prioritise these in primary legislation ahead of the full development of, consultation on and scrutiny of the joint fisheries statement. This is also an issue for other departments, and we will work together to ensure that our functions under this legislation and other specific climate change and environmental legislation are carried out effectively.

The amendment would also have broader unintended consequences. For example, it could lead to future fisheries funding having to prioritise subsidies for fishing port energy efficiency measures that may better be delivered through measures other than fishing policy, such as planning and energy efficiency regulation, over measures to support directly the industry-focused infrastructure such as auction halls and landing sites. It could also lead to future fisheries funding having to priorities support for energy-efficient engines over more targeted fishing gear. The Government should be able to change their priorities for a future funding scheme in consultation with stakeholders so that it best delivers the government policies needed in response to the conditions at the time. We should always take an evidence-based approach to deciding which areas to prioritise in achieving this objective. We believe that the best way to do this is through the joint fisheries statement, rather than in the Bill.

Amendment 23 enables me to highlight that the UK—as the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said—is at the vanguard of global ambition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, having last year committed to achieving economy-wide net-zero emissions by 2050 through the Climate Change Act 2008 (2050 Target Amendment) Order 2019. While I fully support the noble Lord’s ambition to transition to net-zero emissions in the fisheries and aquaculture sector, we have a clear target already enshrined in primary legislation. To introduce a further acceleration of that target in the Bill would create a sectoral disparity that could unfairly disadvantage an industry already facing challenges to adapt to the impacts of climate change. This is not to say that we should not seek to be ambitious as we work towards decarbonising our fisheries and aquaculture operations, but rather that we take a measured approach that supports the sector through the transition on a timescale achievable for all—from small, single-vessel operators to large processing operations. Legally binding policies will be contained in the joint fisheries statement, which will set out in more detail the steps we will take to deliver against the objectives in the Bill.

Turning to Amendment 125, I take the opportunity to set out some of the work already going on across the UK to support the fishing industry’s progress, along with the rest of the country, towards achieving economy-wide net-zero emissions by 2050. I apologise to noble Lords who were aware of this, but I shall put this on the record.

The national adaptation programme—NAP—sets the actions that Government and others will take to adapt to the challenges of climate change in the UK. Published in 2018, it sets out key actions for the following five years across a wide range of sectors, including fisheries and aquaculture.

The UK Clean Maritime Plan, published by the Department for Transport, sets out a national action plan for the whole of the UK maritime sector. The plan includes commitments to support maritime innovation, establish a maritime emissions regulation advisory service and consult on how the renewable transport fuel obligation can be used to encourage the uptake of low-carbon fuels in maritime sectors. The aim of the plan is to achieve zero-emission shipping by 2050, as set out in the Government’s Maritime 2050 strategy. This recognises the need to take action to tackle greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris agreement and the UK’s 2050 net zero ambition. Together, both plans ensure the fishing industry will effectively contribute to the target for zero net emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 2050.

The climate change objective in Clause 1 will support this ambition by requiring the fisheries administrations to consider these matters in consultation with industry and interested parties, as they develop the policies that will sit in the joint fisheries statement. I recognise, and I am pleased, that a number of noble Lords have recognised, in the hurly-burly of the exchanges, that we did insert this new climate change objective. It is absolutely right we did so, because it is at the very heart of what we have to do. For the sake of tonight, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, and I take it entirely in the spirit in which he makes it. We are all committed to this objective, and we all work as fast as we may. We will study the Bill’s words very carefully, to look at where it is appropriate to put in a little more ambition, and whether it is right to leave it to the fisheries statement or whether we could devise some plan to escalate it up to being a stronger commitment. But at this stage—

Before the noble Lord withdraws his amendment, I want to comment on the Minister’s list of activities that relate to this. It is welcome to hear about the marine plans and the alternative fuels. We also need to integrate into this that the Government are pursuing nature-based solutions and carbon stored in the natural environment. We are doing that in the Agriculture Bill, and will be talking about it a lot as we go into the Glasgow talks, but the definitions the department is thinking about in the fishing sector are quite limited; for example, just the propulsion of the vessels. We are not thinking holistically about nature-based solutions, which are very important. When we have discussions following on from today’s debate, I encourage us to think about this holistically to make this a positive thing the maritime sector can help deliver, as we think about the net zero question.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, for reminding me of the important issue of nature’s ability to store carbon at sea. This is part of the wider implications of what we are seeking to achieve through amendments to the Bill’s climate change provisions. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 22 withdrawn.

Amendment 23 not moved.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 9.54 pm.