Committee (2nd Day)
Relevant document: 6th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
Clause 1: Fisheries objectives
24: Clause 1, page 2, line 35, at end insert—
“( ) In addition to the fisheries objectives, section (Duty to sustain the UK fishing industry workforce) outlines responsibilities towards the UK fishing industry workforce.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment makes clear that the Secretary of State has additional duties to the UK fishing industry workforce which extend beyond the general environmental and sustainability principles provided for in Clause 1.
My Lords, Amendments 24 and 29, in my name, make it clear that the Secretary of State should have a wider regard to the national interest through exercising responsibilities to the UK fishing industry workforce, particularly its safety and training. They would require the Secretary of State to consult and produce a report within six months of the Bill being passed. The consultation should be a collaborative exercise involving cross-government engagement, the industry and a range of stakeholder groups.
The amendments are tabled with the support of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, and they are underpinned by continued concerns about the number of accidents and deaths at sea. Fishing is a dangerous industry and, unlike most other jobs, going to sea is incredibly physically demanding and requires extended periods away from home. It remains one of the most dangerous occupations in the world and every year there are deaths in UK waters, many of which are avoidable. The Sea Fish Industry Authority has identified 535 serious injuries to fishermen in the last 10 years, so we can and must do better.
It would be a start if there were a co-ordinated approach to training new entrants to help future generations to begin their careers in a safe and sustainable manner. The introduction of remote electronic monitoring equipment on boats, which is covered by other amendments, would also help maintain safety standards. It is also vital that we set the same high safety standards on foreign vessels as we expect of our domestic fleet, and the licensing arrangements should help facilitate that.
So, although our domestic safety standards are high, the amendments would require the Government to show how they intend to build upon them once we are outside the common frameworks and responsible for our own safety policy development. The amendments would also require the Government to highlight how they intend to assist the industry in identifying, training and retaining new talent to ensure a vibrant industry in the years to come.
Finally, we need an immigration system that allows UK vessels to continue to recruit skilled non-UK nationals to help plug the short-term skills gaps. All these measures need to come together in an overarching plan to build and sustain the fisheries’ future, grow the industry and revive coastal communities. This is vital if we are to realise the objectives in Clause 1. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support both amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch; I have added my name to Amendment 29. As the noble Baroness said, the purpose of both her amendments is to introduce requirements on the Secretary of State to build and sustain the UK fishing industry. They would also require the publication of a strategy for enhancing the safety of fishers and providing the necessary legal and training infrastructure. The amendments are supported by fish producer organisations throughout the UK.
For many coastal communities, the fishing industry, both onshore and offshore, is critical to their growth, development, job creation potential and local economy. In that respect, I remind noble Lords of the County Down fishing ports, about which I have already spoken to the Minister, where the fishing villages survive and thrive due to the prevalence of the fishing fleet and the fish-processing industries.
Allied with that, though, is a high level of risk and danger. Deaths of fishermen have occurred in the Irish Sea over the last 20 years. I think of one particular family from Kilkeel where a grandfather, a son and his son all perished on one night about 20 years ago. The fishing industry believes that there is a once-in-a-generation opportunity not only to revive those coastal communities and grow the region’s industry role as leaders in sustainable fisheries management but to ensure that this worthy profession is provided with adequate and up-to-date training; that incentives are provided to those who wish to engage in fishing as a profession; and that they are provided with the necessary qualifications in a safe environment to do so.
Take the example of the County Down fishing ports, where about 1,700 people are employed in fishing. I suppose on a proportionate basis, taken throughout the UK, that is not considered a lot. However, in those communities, it is, because fishing is vital to their revitalisation.
The Bill is about setting the future legal framework for fisheries management, but it is also right that Government, Parliament and industry consider how to grow and sustain the workforce needed if new opportunities are to be realised.
The three central themes of these amendments are to protect and enhance the safety of workers across the industry; to develop that modern legal and training infrastructure that helps to grow our domestic workforce; and to shape an immigration system that allows UK vessels to continue to recruit skilled non-UK nationals. I am mindful of the Minister’s written response on this issue to all of us who participated at Second Reading some three weeks ago, in which he said:
“We will prioritise the skills a person has to offer, not their nationality.”
I note that, through the prospective immigration Bill, Defra is working closely with the Home Office to ensure that there is a long-term strategy for the food, farming and fisheries workforce as part of the immigration policy. I hope that the Government will be able to accommodate skilled non-EEA fishers to contribute to the revitalisation of those coastal communities, as well as protecting and enhancing the legal and training infrastructure of all domestic workforces.
I believe that if our fishing industry is to recover and become the catalyst for economic regeneration in our coastal communities again, there is a duty on all of us, and on the Government, to work in a collaborative way with the industry and other relevant organisations to achieve that objective, which should be placed in legislation. That is why I support both amendments.
I have not participated in these debates, but I wanted to support this amendment because of the emphasis on safety. I do so, my Lords, for personal reasons. I was born in Grimsby just before the Second World War. Grimsby was in those days the largest fishing port in the world. The title was sometimes disputed by our friendly rival and neighbour across the Humber in Hull. Certainly, those two great fishing ports occupied the first and the second positions.
My family had generations in the fishing industry, coming down first from Eyemouth in the Borders of Scotland with smacks when the fishing industry was established around the middle of the 19th century. I was brought up to have great respect for those who went down to the sea in ships. That respect was reinforced by great sadness almost every year, because there was hardly a year when a trawler was not lost, often with the deaths of 20 or 30 men. This brought great grief, either to Grimsby or Hull.
As a young man growing up, I knew all this theoretically. But then, in 1965, I was chosen as the Conservative candidate for Grimsby for the election that in fact took place in 1966. For some 18 or 19 days in August 1965, I went on a deep-sea trawler and lived with the fishermen on board, and got up when the cod end was swung in and the catch was teemed on the deck. Although it was August, we faced at least one force 8 gale; we were also becalmed for a time. I saw the extraordinary skill, courage and resilience of the fishermen. You can understand it only if you have seen it at first hand. They were a wonderful bunch of men, marvellous comrades. The cook was not the most brilliant, but he had been a fisherman until forced to retire in his late 60s and then he became a cook. There was a wonderful spirit of camaraderie and there was great skill, but there was always great danger.
I became very sad when, following our joining what was then the Common Market, the fishing industry was certainly hit—I speak as one who was, as many of your Lordships know, a fervent remainer. If we are to revive our fishing industry, as I hope we will, it is tremendously important that we place emphasis on training and appreciating those who are trained. They have to be immensely strong, resilient and courageous, working at all hours of day and night and rarely getting more than a handful of hours of sleep. A revived fishing industry will depend wholly on those people. It is therefore right that we concentrate for a few moments on this issue and I feel it appropriate to give my words of support in this context.
My Lords, I concur with the sentiments of the previous speaker. However, I fear that the amendments are misconceived in calling for the building of a fishing industry workforce. Even if one were to argue in favour of a substantial increase in the size of the UK catch, which would be utterly wrong in the current circumstances of depleted fish stocks, it would not require an increased workforce.
There is already significant underemployment in the fishing workforce, since advances in fishing technology have reduced labour requirements. We should therefore seek alternative employment for our fishermen, unless we seek to ban the technology. This is the technology of the big boats that use sonar to locate the fish, chart their positions by GPS and use encrypted messages conveyed by satellites to alert other vessels in their fleets to their discovery of the prize. They also take most of the fish.
Were fish stocks to be replenished, less effort would need to be devoted to fishing and fewer fishermen would need to be employed. There would no longer be a need to search the vast expanses of the marine deserts in pursuit of the few remaining shoals of fish.
Perhaps I might also remark on the idea that the fish stocks in our so-called exclusive economic zone are a resource that belongs exclusively to our nation, as more than one speaker has maintained. Our EEZ, which is of an exorbitant extent in comparison with those of other European fishing nations, was bequeathed to us by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It was the by-product of an intention to protect the fish stocks of Iceland, which were suffering from the depredations of foreign fishing fleets. It was never the intention of the convention to disbar other European nations from their traditional fishing grounds, yet this is what our fishermen are keen to achieve, seemingly with the support of the Government.
It is a recipe for trouble and conflict, notwithstanding the joy that it has given to my noble friend Lord Grocott, who is exhilarated at the prospect of claiming these fish stocks for the nation. It is foolish. While we were debating the Fisheries Bill on Monday, the International Trade Secretary, Liz Truss, and the French Minister for European Affairs, Amélie de Montchalin, were rehearsing the terms of a major confrontation on fishing rights.
My Lords, I rise briefly to support Amendment 24 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and Amendment 29 in her name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick.
As many have indicated previously, fishing is a dangerous occupation, one where injuries and death occur on an alarmingly regular basis, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, so elegantly told us. For every fisherman and woman employed on a vessel involved in fishing, 10 are employed in landing and processing fish. All those employed in the fishing industry as a whole should be protected and enjoy similar employment rights to those who work in other sectors. The Government should take steps to ensure that those engaged in the fishing industry, whether offshore or onshore, should be protected as far as is possible, and the Government should produce a strategy to ensure this happens. Each person engaged in the industry should be aware that the Government have such a strategy and that their welfare is key to the industry’s success.
Training, as the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Ritchie, have said, is—as it is in everything—key to ensuring safety is carried out and observed. This must be a legal requirement and entitlement for all in the UK fishing industry workforce. It should not be left to the discretion of the vessel or processing plant owners. I fully support these amendments and the need to work for a strategy to sustain the UK fishing industry workforce to be in the Bill.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her proposed Amendments 24 and 29, which would introduce additional duties in the form of safety requirements for fishing activities and training requirements for the UK fishing industry workforce.
In this short debate, we are absolutely at one that these are extremely important matters, and I would like to put on record, as I did at Second Reading, my recognition and regard for those who go to sea to catch fish for our consumption; I pay tribute to them. The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, referred to a family who were very brave and courageous in sustaining the losses that they did. My noble friend Lord Cormack reminded me of those communities, such as coal mining communities and agricultural communities, doing dangerous tasks over the years for our benefit. I therefore identify with all of what has been said. It is important that we support fishers with increased health and safety provisions as well as further training to increase the awareness of dangers and the understanding of how to respond to them.
That is why I say specifically to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, that Defra is working closely with other UK departments and agencies to ensure that fishing becomes an increasingly safe and—although I think it is appealing in many ways—“appealing” form of employment, as my notes say. I was very struck by the point that my noble friend Lord Cormack made about camaraderie. That cook probably continued to go to sea, though no longer fishing, because he did not know how to live outside of that community. I am very struck by that sense of community —which is why the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, spoke in the way that he did on an earlier day in Committee—because these communities feel very strongly about these matters. This work is under way and will consider regulations and other work, which is also under way as I said.
Safety at sea is not just a specific fishing activity issue; it is a vessel issue. The safety of all vessels falls within the remit of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. Provisions for the safety of vessels are included in the Merchant Shipping and Fishing Vessels (Health and Safety at Work) Regulations 1997. In addition, the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 provides the MCA with powers to implement all the safety legislation.
The Government are, importantly, also taking action through our apprenticeship programme and the Post-16 Skills Plan to reform technical education and a new careers strategy for the UK fishing industry workforce. The Sea Fish Industry Authority—known as Seafish—leads the development and delivery of training for workers in all sectors of the seafood supply chain. Seafish has applied levy funds to develop training programmes and learning materials aimed at the seafood processing sector to enhance the skills and quality of operations and final products. In addition, the Seafood Industry Leadership Group, established by Seafish to deliver Seafood 2040: A Strategic Framework for England, will deliver a single cross-sector seafood training and skills plan, aiming to support businesses in the seafood supply chain to recruit workers with suitable skills.
England’s new domestic grant scheme, the Maritime and Fisheries Fund—the MFF—can support training projects for fishers. Under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund—the EMFF—around £3.5 million was spent on improving skills and training up to 31 December 2019. The Bill provides the power, in Clause 33, to introduce grant schemes through regulations for health, safety and training.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, referred to my letter. I should also add that Defra is considering the latest data and working closely with industry to understand and explore the labour demand and supply requirements for both the permanent and seasonal workforces, which are of course very important.
I wanted to explain the current situation to the noble Baroness, so that this is not in a void. I absolutely understand the points that have been made. All these responsibilities are in existence. I hope that this explanation of the regulations, the further work that is under way and the legal requirements that already exist on this important matter mean that the noble Baroness feels able to withdraw her amendment. If during the passage of this Bill, or indeed afterwards, those noble Lords for whom this is a particular concern would like further discussions on what is under way, I would be very happy to facilitate that, because this is an area where we have a duty to coastal communities to show that we are on their side.
My Lords, my noble friend gave a very helpful reply, but I was involved with safety of the fishing fleet many blue moons ago, and there is of course the private sector. He mentioned the boats, but the work of the skipper in handling the boat in difficult conditions is something beyond the control of any Government. Given climate change, our fishermen will face increased hazards with the amount of gales we seem to be getting. The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, raised an important point. If we are working on a sustainability basis and sustainability tells us that we should not be fishing, there has to be something else for the fishermen, particularly as we move to bigger boats with better radar. Does my noble friend have any idea what the potential is for an increase in the workforce as a result of our becoming an island state in control of our own fishing? What are his thoughts about having flexible training to give the fishermen opportunities to find alternative jobs when, for governmental reasons, they are not allowed to fish? My noble friend Lord Cormack referred to the cook—and my noble friend Lord Gardiner picked up that point—but if there were more general training, it might help them into work within the coastal community during those lean times.
My Lords, the whole point about sustainability is that we have moved, as I said in an earlier discussion, from 12%, I think it is, to 59% of the stocks that we know about now being fished at MSY. The whole thrust of what we want to do is to improve stocks and know more about them, so that there will be more fishing opportunities. We believe that there are opportunities, with our new arrangements, to do much more work in the short, medium and long term. We are coming on to fishery management plans and so forth, so that we are going to be more sustainable.
I am afraid that I cannot crystal ball gaze. My noble friend will know, having been a Fisheries Minister, that crystal ball gazing as to the size of the fleet or the numbers of people engaged in it over the next 30 or 40 years is difficult, but I have spoken about financial support, in terms of the new domestic grant scheme for training. One of the difficulties comes with very experienced people. This training is a continuum, and I can think of some skippers who have been at sea all their lives and therefore probably think further training is not required. Continuous understanding of different conditions, improvements in boats and in gear and equipment are all areas by which we will start to reduce bycatch and modernise fishing. They are all areas where we need to work collaboratively with fishing communities.
My noble friend may be being overly negative in his spirit about fishing opportunities. If we get to a sustainable harvest, which is what predicates all our work—the framework of the Bill is about moving towards sustainable fish stocks—then we will get to a point where we can harvest. This is a hugely important part of our food resource, in feeding our nation and beyond.
Thank you. I have a further question in relation to the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. Although it may be difficult to project what the size of the fishing fleet might be in the future, there are surely statistics, which I invite the Minister to quote, on the current increase in efficiency of fishing vessels in the United Kingdom fleet—that is, catch per unit effort. How much has catch per unit effort increased over the last two decades, for example?
I wrote to your Lordships, and I can read what I said in that letter about the size of the fleet, if that would help:
“Lord Krebs raised a question about advances in technology leading to a smaller fishing fleet. As technology advances, the UK fleet may be able to catch more fish in a more efficient and targeted way, which is one of the reasons why the Bill includes a sustainability objective. The sustainability objective in the Bill includes a fleet capacity objective, seeking to ensure that fleets are balanced with fishing opportunities available and that they are economically viable but do not overexploit stocks. Given this objective, we will assess the impact of any additional quota that is negotiated once fishers start to fish against it, as it relates to the size of the fleet.
As to more precise details, I am afraid that I will have to write to the noble Lord.
My Lords, we have had a very interesting discussion arising from these amendments. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for giving us some very moving examples of the tragedies that can occur at sea. I was very taken by the noble Lord’s description, and the message that came through to me was how reliant those vessels are on each other, so that a mistake by one person who does not know what they are doing affects not just that person’s life or livelihood; it can actually bring the whole vessel down.
That underlines the absolute need for everybody on the boats to know what they are doing and to have the appropriate level of skills to make sure that nobody is put in unnecessary danger. The licensing regime that underpins the arrangements in the Bill provides a new opportunity for us to set standards and say, “We won’t license the boat unless the people on your vessel can all prove a certain level of knowledge and skills.” It happens in other industries, and I do not see why we should not have something similar in the fishing sector, so we could be more proactive on this.
My noble friend Lord Hanworth challenged me on whether we need to build the workforce, and I suppose I meant building in the round rather than building a large number of other people. There is a danger anyway of an ageing workforce among those who go to sea, so we will always need a new generation to come forward. The more we can make it an attractive and skilled career, the more likely that will happen, so I do not necessarily agree with my noble friend.
We have talked about what new opportunities will arise from the Bill and from the new quotas. That is a more fundamental issue raised by my noble friend, because he was implying that all the new boats will be huge technological factory boats—super slick and able to gobble up the seas in half a day or whatever. There is a role for that, but the opportunities I saw arising from the Bill were much more balanced, both for large vessels and the smaller, under-10 metre vessels. A lot of the smaller ports and fishers want to carry on fishing in those smaller boats. We need a new generation coming through that will give people all of those different opportunities, and it is important that they all have those same skills.
I listened carefully to the Minister’s response. He said that work was ongoing, which was lovely to hear, but I wonder, if he is in the mood when he writes on other things—as I am sure he will be at the end of this—to give some timescale. Ongoing work on skills and training is a lovely idea, but these things need a deadline and they need action, so it would be good to know when that work will be complete. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 24 withdrawn.
Amendments 25 and 26 not moved.
Debate on whether Clause 1 should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to debate some issues that have not yet been covered in the debate on Clause 1. In particular, I refer to the political declaration, which says that
“Parties should cooperate on the development of measures for the conservation, rational management and regulation of fisheries, in a non-discriminatory manner.”
I am particularly taken by Clause 1(2) and the reference to contributing to the “availability of food supplies”. I recognise that the fishing fleet plays a significant role in bringing food to the table. We have just had a debate on how dangerous those activities can be, but it is important to recognise the substantial contribution it makes to the food supply in this country. Clause 1(8) states:
“The ‘national benefit objective’ is that fishing activities of UK fishing boats bring social or economic benefits to the United Kingdom or any part of the United Kingdom.”
I make a brief plea to my noble friend. In recognising that economic link, will the Government consider the fact that active fishermen should benefit from this and that as far as possible it should not be non-fisheries activity that do? I am mindful of the fact that some of the quota is owned by non-fisheries entities—indeed, by football clubs and others. Will my noble friend and the Government take this opportunity to make sure that active fishermen will continue to benefit from the national benefit objective and from the foreseen economic benefits for the United Kingdom?
My remaining remarks relate to the precautionary principle in Clause 1(10)(b). Can my noble friend explain how the landing of fish will be recorded in every circumstance? I know that later parts of the Bill look at bycatch and discards, but how will the precautionary principle be applied and what will be the relationship between the principle and the maximum sustainable yield? Will it be enough to look at the usual understanding, which is that that will keep sufficient stock within safe biological limits? I ask this because we have been told that the Government’s stated objective is to replace the equivalent objectives in Article 2 of the basic regulations of the common fisheries policy but, while some of the wording relies on Article 2, it does not entirely replicate it. For example, the precautionary objective in Clause 1 admits the requirement in the EU regulation to achieve the maximum sustainable yield exploitation rate by 2020 at the latest for all stocks. Are the Government still adhering to that objective?
There are other requirements relating to maximum sustainable yield elsewhere, particularly in Clause 6, which I shall want to debate further. Also, the ecosystem objective set out in the EU regulation requires fisheries to be managed so as to ensure that the negative impacts of fishing activities on the marine ecosystem are minimised. The ecosystem objective in Clause 1 goes further, setting an objection to ensure that negative impacts are minimised and, where possible, reversed. Will my noble friend take the opportunity to explain why that is? I know that he has said on many occasions that we will go further than the EU, but why have we taken the opportunity to do that here?
My noble friend will understand that I do not wish to remove Clause 1, but I want to understand it better. It is important that we revert to the precautionary approach to fisheries management wherever possible, but my underlying concern is to ensure that active fishermen will be the principal definition.
My Lords, I do not have a great deal to add to the words of the noble Baroness, who has obviously used this debate to ask for clarification from the Minister on a number of questions. I do not disagree with that, but I do not necessarily support the aim of questioning that Clause 1 should stand part, so I shall leave it to the Minister to answer his noble friend’s questions.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for enabling me to wrap up why the Government feel that Clause 1 is so important to shaping our fisheries management regime for the future. The objectives, which have been under considerable discussion, support our commitment to leave the natural environment in a better state. As noble Lords are well aware, Clause 1 sets out eight fisheries objectives that will shape and guide the fisheries policies of the four fisheries administrations. They build on and develop the objectives set out in the common fisheries policy.
The aim of the first objective—the sustainability objective—is to ensure that fishing and aquaculture activities are environmentally sustainable while delivering economic and social benefits. My noble friend Lady McIntosh, particularly in raising the aim of the second objective—the precautionary objective—stresses that the absence of adequate scientific information should not justify postponing or failing to take management measures that will conserve fish stock and its environment. This objective includes our commitment to achieve maximum sustainable yield for all stocks as quickly as practically possible.
I stress that the UK has always been a strong advocate for fishing within safe ecological limits such as MSY, both in international agreements and in negotiations over catch limits for stocks we have an interest in. I say specifically that this will not change. The new provision in the Bill to produce fisheries management plans, which we will discuss at a later point, further supports this ambition.
The clause also makes clear that effective fisheries management needs to take into account the wider implications for the marine environment. The aim of the third objective—the ecosystem objective—is therefore to ensure that negative impacts of fishing activities on the marine ecosystem are minimised. This will help ensure that we have a healthy marine environment on which our fisheries resources and others rely. This includes addressing the issue of incidental catches of sensitive species. The clause recognises the need to reverse negative impacts to meet our ambition to restore our marine environment. The availability and use of good data are vital for effective management of our precious marine resources. The fourth objective, therefore—the scientific evidence objective— confirms our commitment to contribute to the collection and sharing of data between the fisheries administrations; and that fisheries and aquaculture activities are based on the best available science.
The fifth objective is the bycatch objective. Its aim is that bycatch is avoided or reduced, that catches are recorded and accounted for, and that bycatch—that is, fish—is landed where appropriate. Tackling bycatch tackles the root cause of discarding, and the UK Government remain fully committed to ending the wasteful discarding of fish, acknowledging the impact this can have on fisheries management and the marine environment.
The equal access objective confirms the position of the four fisheries administrations, which noble Lords have discussed—that UK fishing fleets should continue to have access to fish across UK waters regardless of their UK home port. Another point that my noble friend Lady McIntosh raised was on the national benefit objective. As I have set out, this recognises the importance of fishing by UK boats to our coastal communities and the UK more generally. The objective will therefore ensure that the fisheries administrations set out policies that help realise economic and social benefits from UK boats, including those under foreign ownership. In terms of UK-registered vessels, and regardless of who owns the quota, the economic link is precisely designed to ensure that coastal communities are advantaged.
The aim of the climate change objective—a new objective that came into this list—is that the impact of the fishing and aquaculture sectors on climate change is minimised and that their management adapts in response to climate change. These objectives, and the steps we will set out in the fisheries statements on how we will achieve them, are integral to protecting our precious marine environment and maintaining profitable fishing and aquaculture industries today and, of course, for the years to come. This is absolutely why it is so important to the environment that the next generation is prepared to go to sea to ensure a sustainable harvest, which is after all what we all seek.
I will look at Hansard to check if there were any further points that my noble friend has raised, but I have no further information so will make sure that I cover them with another letter as soon as I can. I hope that noble Lords have already received the letter arising from Monday. In the meantime, I hope that I have given her—she probably approves of much of Clause 1—the opportunity to understand that these are hugely important objectives. They set the framework from which we all must now take these matters forward. I hope that she will feel able to agree to Clause 1.
Perhaps I could just follow up on a couple of the things that the Minister stated are important. As he knows, one of the things I questioned on Monday was the equal access objective. He made rather a different point going through the objectives today than he did to me on Monday. If I recall, he said that that objective means there is equal access to fish. I think he said in his answer to me on Monday that the equal access is to waters, rather than to actual fish. If there is equal access to fish, that concerns me greatly.
I take the Minister’s point about the Government not changing their attitude to sustainability. I want to make the obvious point, and I know that he will not disagree. While I would not question for a minute this Minister’s—or maybe even this Government’s—wish to have sustainability as the most important point, we have to make sure that that is true for future Governments, who might not have the same sensitivities as this Government. That is why we spent a lot of time on Monday trying to clarify the sustainability objective. If it is fudged, as it is at the minute, that will allow future Governments to move away from those pure sustainability objectives in marine ecology without changing the legislation.
Does the Minister see these fishing objectives as a reserved or a devolved matter? I would be interested to understand that.
I might need to clarify this, but on the noble Lord’s first point, using “to fish” as a verb refers to the act of fishing. I will look at what I said on Monday and what I said today, but as far as I am concerned equal access enables UK fishing vessels to have that access across UK waters. This enables, for instance, English vessels to fish in what would be Scottish waters, and all the arrangements of the four fishing administrations.
The most important thing is that I do not mislead the noble Lord, or anyone, if there was a looseness of mine either on Monday or today. I am very clear that this equal access objective confirms the position of the four fisheries administrations regarding the abilities of UK fishing vessels in the act of fishing. I do not want to play with words; I want to get this right, because I believe the equal access objective is important for all four parts of the United Kingdom. This is something that the four fisheries administrations have come to agree.
We might have a collision point on sustainability. I think we all agree that, if we overfish our stocks, the safety at sea objectives will be academic, because there will not be any fish to fish. Given this set of objectives on bycatch, climate change, precaution and science, I do not think that this Government or a future Government will suddenly think that having sustainable fish stocks is not a desirable objective towards which we should all work. I very much hope that, by the time that there is a new Government, we will have achieved many of these objectives, in the same way we have gone up from 12% to 59% fishing of MSY. The objective is that we need sustainability for all stocks, and the precautionary objective is very important. One of the things that we must all wrestle with is that currently, we do not have adequate scientific information on all stocks and we need a better assessment. That is why the precautionary objective is in place. The aim is for the activities to be environmentally sustainable, while delivering economic and social benefits. As I said in the agricultural context, we must ensure that farmers produce food and enhance the environment, both of which are entirely compatible.
This Government have not invented the idea that sustainability involves social and economic considerations; this is a UN framework for interpreting sustainability. If we are so rigid that there is only one view, where will the coastal communities be? I have been thinking a lot about this and about how to deploy the arguments at Report, so I must not say too much. We need to think about ratcheting sustainability to one element of the prism, which I am prepared to say is the essential part. However, if the law said that we could not have arrangements whereby moving upwards from 59% involved nuances and an ability to keep coastal communities alive, in order to work to sustainable harvest for all stocks, that would make it a blunt instrument.
We are all on the same page, and I am sure about what we want. However, I am afraid that the Government are not going to suggest that we should not think about the social and economic consequences. I am clear, given the comments of noble Lords who spoke about sustainability and then spoke to the amendments about economic and social benefits, that we want the same thing. However, to put one objective beyond all others in what is a balanced package will result in something that none of us wants.
On the question of balance, social and economic questions tend to take care of themselves because they create incumbents who then have power in lobbying the system we put in place. The reason why we are so interested in trying to level up the sustainability issue is that there is not a natural way to represent that in the economy. The economy is an active and very influential factor in politics—we must admit that. If it was not, we would not have seen the fish stocks collapse as they have. It is our job as legislators to think about balance: where does the power lie today, and what do we have to do to level up?
That is a very intriguing aspect of an issue that we will wrestle with on Report, but we are all on the same page in many respects. I need to refine my arguments, and perhaps we might then meet somewhere. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and all noble Lords, for this rather elongated discussion.
Again, I will probably need to take some advice, possibly legal. The management of fisheries is devolved. The great thing about what has happened—I had no part in the discussions, so I can say this—is that the fisheries administrations of the four parts of the United Kingdom have come together with these objectives. I have the privilege of taking this Bill through the House, but it is at the request of, and the work of, all four Administrations.
We all know about international agreements. This is a domestic agreement between the four fisheries administrations, working collaboratively in the interests of fish stocks and of the communities, which are very important. If there is any flavour of ambiguity in what I have said regarding the legal position, I will put this information in the letter. This is absolutely the work of the four Administrations, seeking to do the right thing for fish stocks and for the communities that harvest the fish for us.
There are still some things to answer in respect of the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. It seems to me that the ability to deliver on the objectives in this clause depends almost entirely on the joint fisheries statements and the fisheries plans. There are quite a few loopholes that enable the fisheries administrations to wriggle around the requirements in the joint fisheries statements and the fisheries plans—extenuating circumstances, as it were.
We are in a strange position. Although the objectives may well be shared by each of the four fisheries administrations, because of the way they are implemented —through the joint fisheries statements and the plans that have to adhere to the statements, except where there are extenuating circumstances—we might find that these are very delegated, very devolved decisions. We may be lost between the devil and the deep blue sea, if that is not the wrong thing to say about a Fisheries Bill.
This piece of work is an honest endeavour. Yes, the issues are devolved unless they are internationally related. All objectives must be interpreted proportionately—that is a requirement of the Bill. Interestingly, I have come across a number of noble Lords who would have been wholly in favour of devolution but, now that this actually is devolved, think that there may be problems. We are working very collaboratively with the devolved Administrations. Of course, there are a lot of totemic issues for many of those communities—indeed, in England this is also a totemic matter.
I think the noble Baroness has one or two amendments on this matter in later groups. We have to be frank: these are devolved matters and that is why the coming together of the four fisheries administrations for this Bill is really important. We should see that achievement as a positive, rather than a negative.
My Lords, I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to debate what I thought were non-controversial matters. Part of the answer is that this Bill provides the legal basis on which the fishing authorities of each of the four nations will proceed, so we are giving legal clarity as we go along. I think that is very helpful.
I just wanted to put down a marker regarding my remaining concern. There is a gap in our knowledge of fish stocks, which is presumably why Clause 1(10) exists. Even ICES cannot explain where the species have gone that have moved out of our waters and European waters generally because the waters are warming. We are not fishing in the areas, so we do not know. That may pose a bigger problem as climate change proceeds. It is entirely appropriate to have climate change and all the objectives in the Bill.
I am very grateful for the debate, and I will not oppose the clause.
Clause 1 agreed.
Amendment 27 not moved.
28: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty to achieve fisheries objectives
Any public authority having any function relating to fish and aquaculture activities or fisheries management must exercise its functions in order to achieve the fisheries objectives.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is to place a legal duty on any public authority with any function related to fisheries to achieve the objectives.
My Lords, this amendment largely speaks for itself. It is all very well having all the noble objectives in Clause 1—made, one hopes, even more noble if some of our discussions to date bear fruit in the future—but, as they used to say in 16th-century diplomatic circles, “Fine words butter no parsnips”.
Once we are cast adrift on the post-Brexit realities of running our own fisheries, there will be numerous parties all promoting their own visions. The parties will range from the fishermen themselves to the local communities, local authorities, LEPs, the MMO and the devolved nations. They might even wiggle, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said a moment ago. They will also include the Secretaries of State at Defra and BEIS—after all, fishing is an industry and a business—and even the Secretary of State at the Department for International Trade. I suspect that at some point in the future—probably quite a long time down the line—they will have priorities that do not necessarily liaise with the objectives in Clause 1. The visions of all those bodies will be influenced by wholly separate objectives that might or might not be in line with Clause 1.
Politics in action, both local and national, has a tendency to be influenced by lobbying, usually involving specific interests, and, as Harold Macmillan was apparently wont to say, “Events, dear boy”—both of which tend, in turn, to be influenced by rather shorter-term objectives than the long-term sustainable priorities that we are all trying to achieve in Clause 1.
My amendment is hardly dictatorial, but I hope that it is a good starting point for discussion. The Minister will remember our debate last year on the then Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill, in which local authorities were given a “must have regard to” obligation concerning the environment and biodiversity. What happened? In most cases, absolutely nothing. The noble words of the objectives in the NERC Bill did not enter anyone’s thinking or area of responsibility. Other problems such as roads, housing and the local economy were more pressing—that is the lobbying influence—and austerity overtook any good intentions that there might have been. That is the “Events, dear boy” bit of the equation. We must not let that happen to our sustainable fisheries objectives.
In his reply, the Minister will no doubt refer to Clause 2(1)(c), where the fisheries policy authorities have to make a statement on how “proportionately” they have applied the Clause 1 objectives—but what mealy-mouthed words are those? I totally support Amendment 30, which would remove the word “proportionately”. In spite of that, there is no legal obligation even to have a duty of care towards the Clause 1 objectives, let alone to promote and implement them, which is what I am trying to achieve.
The Government will also likely argue that the joint fisheries statements and fisheries management plans are where the policies that will achieve the fisheries objectives will be set out and that, as the joint fisheries statement and fisheries management plan will be legally binding, there is no need to have a commitment on the face of the Bill to achieve the objectives. However, there is currently too much flexibility around how the joint fisheries statements and fisheries management plans are to be drafted, and no detail about the timeframes. Moreover, there is the ability to opt out or amend the joint fisheries statement where there is a “relevant change of circumstances”, as referred to in Clauses 7 and 10. A relevant change of circumstances can include a socioeconomic change—“Events, dear boy”.
Experience in Scotland, which has a similar provision in the Marine (Scotland) Act, has shown that, where that opt-out exists, environmental considerations can get pushed to one side in favour of economic impacts, and important measures that could benefit the environment are not taken. Six years after the designation of the Small Isles Marine Protected Area, fishing continues unchecked over the protected features, because a hole in the Act has allowed the authorities to opt out. I am trying to prevent such a hole in our Bill. In his reply a moment ago, the Minister referred to this: that, while unlikely, there is a risk that a future Government might not be so committed to sustainable fisheries, and they could amend fisheries management plans or let aberrations in those plans, or in joint fisheries statements, go through unchecked.
Frankly, my Lords, without my proposed new clause inserting a legal duty to achieve the fisheries objectives, Clause 1 is merely a series of hopeful words. As I say, it will certainly butter no parsnips—nor, for that matter, sustain a long-term and profitable UK fishing industry.
My Lords, I speak in support of my noble friend’s amendment, and apologise for not being here on Monday as I was overseas and unable to join the debate. However, I read the account in Hansard very carefully, and it seems to me that, as has indeed been said this afternoon, one of the key problems that a number of us have with the Bill relates not to its apparent intent—we are very happy with that—but the amount of wriggle room that is left in the Bill.
We heard again, in the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, a few minutes ago, about the wriggle room around the meaning of sustainability. We all agree that sustainability has three pillars—the economic, the social and the environmental—but there is a question of how you balance them. The Minister referred to the need to balance them, but how you do this leaves a great deal of wriggle room. I will not repeat the arguments that were rehearsed on Monday, and again briefly earlier this afternoon, about the way in which economic considerations will always tend to trump environmental considerations because the short term is here and now, and the long term is the next generation’s problem.
This amendment that my noble friend Lord Cameron of Dillington is proposing is attempting to narrow down a further possibility of wriggle room. As he has so eloquently explained, without a legally binding commitment on the noteworthy and honourable and desirable objectives, it is not clear whether they will be adhered to in the fisheries statements and fisheries management plans. So the question for me is: who is going to be accountable if the objectives are not met, and what sanctions will be placed on the fisheries authorities, or other bodies, if that happens? I do not wish to repeat the arguments that my noble friend Lord Cameron of Dillington rehearsed so eloquently, but I would like clarity on the question of accountability.
My Lords, I declare my interest again today—if I may do it once, rather than each time I speak. As I mentioned on Monday, the company of which I am a director is in a partnership with an agency whose clients include UK fisheries.
I know we discussed this, but with Amendment 28 the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, has enabled us to illustrate a question. It will be interesting to hear my noble friend’s answer, but I am afraid I cannot bring myself to agree that the amendment is needed. By virtue of Clause 10, national fisheries policy authorities are required to make fisheries statements—either a joint fisheries statement or a Secretary of State fisheries statement—and fisheries management plans, and they are obliged to do so in ways that show how they wish to balance the objectives.
We know that there are eight objectives. We discussed all that on Monday, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, quite rightly said. We acknowledge that this range of objectives presents a particularly testing task for the fisheries policy authorities. There is a relatively large number of objectives and several are, in themselves, relatively testing. As far as I can see, virtually none of them can be said either to have been achieved or not achieved. One is always in a process of seeking to achieve them. The balance that is struck, and the extent to which one achieves those objectives, is entirely the issue.
Clause 10 makes it clear that, whenever the national fishing policy authorities engage in anything to do with fishing or aquaculture, they must seek to apply the objectives in doing so. That is the link between Clause 1 and the rest of the Bill. Why then do I think that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, has asked an interesting question, to which I do not know the answer? It is because he said that there are many public authorities that are not necessarily fisheries policy authorities. This is true. When setting objectives in relation to one sector of governmental activity, we would not normally expect to include a clause every time saying, “Oh and by the way, it must apply to every sector of government whatever it happens to be doing.” I do not go down that path; but, in this instance, we live in a world where the relationship between access to fish stocks and quota will potentially, in certain circumstances, be part of the same negotiation as the trade and market access relationships that we have with other countries.
My question, off the back of the noble Lord’s amendment, is: are the fisheries objectives—and, by extension, joint fisheries statements and the like—regarded as equally applicable to the Department for International Trade as to any national fisheries policy authorities?
My Lords, perhaps I might seek clarification from the noble Lord, Lord Cameron. As I read his amendment, it could equally apply to fresh water—rivers, streams and lakes—as well as the sea. I do not think that that is his objective at all, or the objective of the Bill, but as I read his amendment, it could also deal with freshwater fishing.
My Lords, I looked at this very carefully as it is a fairly concise amendment. I picked up on the three words—and indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, has kindly enlarged and reflected upon them—“any public authority”. That, to me, is huge, as there are so many different aspects of public authority. It goes on to say
“having any function relating to fish and aquaculture activities … must exercise its functions in order to achieve the fisheries objectives.”
I have no disagreement with the noble Lord, or indeed with other Members who have spoken on the need for sustainability; that is, I hope, accepted around this Chamber. But I was a little alarmed. I started noting down county councils, local councils, borough councils, police and all sorts of different authorities. I wonder whether the noble Lord would consider slightly narrowing his expression. Knowing the immense pressures on so many of these authorities at this time, I wonder if it is not a step too far. While I accept in principle the thrust of what he is trying to do, I think that referring to “Any public authority” having “any function” is too open-ended and goes a bit too far.
My Lords, I see the need for something like the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, but I find it difficult to believe that any public authority will necessarily have the power to
“exercise its functions in order to achieve the fisheries objectives.”
Is an authority supposed to cover all of them, part of them, or what? I cannot see how that can work, where there are different authorities, some of which have a marginal connection with fisheries and aquaculture—such as the enforcement authorities, for example. I have tried, in a later amendment, to approach this subject in requiring the plans to set out how they have integrated the fisheries objectives.
I do not claim that my amendment would be any better or more effective than this amendment, but I do say that this one has a difficulty, in putting on public authorities an obligation that many of them may have no power to accomplish. In particular, if they have to do the whole lot—that is, to achieve all the fisheries objectives—that seems a tall task to give every public authority. Yet that is what the amendment seems to say. However, I agree that we must attend to the expectation that fisheries authorities are not there just as matters of speculation but are supposed to be practical.
My Lords, I strongly support the amendment. It is obvious common sense. When I first read the Bill I never even thought about there being a gap, but as soon as we see the amendment we have that lightbulb moment: there is a gap. As the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, said, if no duty is stated in the Act, this just will not happen. I have been critical of the number and style of some of the objectives, and the fact that there is no priority within them. However, I am clear that once this has been resolved—or even if it remains as it is—that duty must be there.
On Monday we had a debate on an amendment of mine about the office for environmental protection, and I would have thought that this amendment would strengthen that body’s role in making sure that some of the things in this area happen. I do not know whether or not the Government would like that, but if there is a duty there, there will be much more ability to enforce the objectives that the Government and the devolved authorities feel are so important.
I take the noble and learned Lord’s point about the range of authorities. Maybe that needs reconsidering; I am not sure. We should not forget that many unitary local authorities on the coast of England are strongly involved in inshore fisheries and conservation authorities —IFCAs—which in many ways are an animal of local government. We should remember that public authorities include not only the devolved authorities, the Secretary of State or the enforcement organisations, but local authorities, which are at the heart of much of the management of our territorial waters—the 0-6 mile limit.
I strongly support the amendment, and even if it is not perfect I encourage the noble Lord to bring it back on Report—if, indeed, he does not intend to test the opinion of the House this afternoon.
I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, for tabling Amendment 28, and to other noble Lords who have made comments in this short debate. I agree that, although the drafting may not be entirely correct, we must not lose the crucial point. The amendment raises an important matter, because at this juncture, as the UK becomes an independent coastal state outside the EU, there must be a signal to the whole industry, including any relevant public authority or other body, that it must make sure that its strategic objectives align with this reality and that it sets its strategic direction towards supporting the fisheries objectives included in Clause 1.
It is worth repeating that, although many of those objectives are a legacy of the UK’s membership of the common fisheries policy, they have been expanded, updated and made more relevant to the UK, with the addition of three important key objectives. On Monday I drew attention to the new climate change objective. Adding this duty for public authorities to have regard to the objectives means that they must ensure that their activities comply and that any objective is not overlooked. My noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, my colleague on the Bill, has tabled further probing amendments in the next group of amendments, which begins with Amendment 30, probing the use of the term “proportionality” in relation to the application of the objectives in future joint fisheries statements.
It is not just fisheries authorities that have a role in aquaculture activities in ensuring success. Other public authorities with responsibilities that will have an impact on the industry must play their part, be that regulating standards, carrying out inspections at ports and processing plants or whatever. There is little mention in any guidance on this matter, and perhaps that is something that should also be looked at. There is real concern that other priorities in different localities may take precedence over these national objectives, particularly in relation to the key objectives relating to sustainability and climate change. This is crucial to understanding the main reasons why the UK could make a difference to fisheries and fishing communities now that it is outside the CFP.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords for contributing to the short debate on this important subject. I am particularly grateful for Amendment 28, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, which would require public authorities to exercise their functions in a manner to achieve the fisheries objectives.
While I fully support the principle that our public authorities should support the achievement of the fisheries objectives, I believe that the amendment, which would place a blanket duty on all authorities, would not be suitable, as my noble friend Lady Byford so rightly pointed out. For instance, there has been no consultation with local authorities, and the new duty could lead to them having to prioritise fisheries management over the many other responsibilities that they have. A number of noble Lords have commented on those tensions.
The role and function of each public authority is set out in its implementing legislation. Each authority will vary how it exercises its functions on a case-by-case basis, and any local responsibilities to manage the 0-6 nautical mile zone will be delivered through the inshore fisheries conservation authorities. In some circumstances, elements of an authority’s function may not accord with some of the fisheries objectives. It would therefore be impractical for the Fisheries Bill to place a legal duty on such an authority. As my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay pointed out, the local authorities and public bodies may well not have the power to achieve these objectives legally.
Key fisheries regulators—the Marine Management Organisation and the inshore fisheries conservation authorities—also already have sustainable development duties under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and other noble Lords are reassured by this. Contrary to the intention of the amendment, its effect could also be to dilute the accountability of fisheries administrations, which is clearly established by the Bill, by spreading responsibility for the objectives more broadly across public authorities.
In answer to the specific questions from the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, the current scope of the functions of the relevant national authorities cover the primary fisheries management tools and activities. We appreciate that local public authorities provide an important role in the achievement of successful fisheries management. However, key activities and functions are covered by the joint fisheries statement, due to their dependency in decision-making on national authorities—for example, in confirming by-laws. The fisheries statement is also legally binding.
Clause 2(1)(c), which the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, asked about, requires a statement on how fisheries objectives have been interpreted and proportionately applied. This will ensure a clear explanation of how the policies in the JFS meet the objectives and how their application is tailored to each specific case. It is worth highlighting that noble Lords will scrutinise the JFS before it comes into effect.
By holding fisheries administrations to account for the policies that they commit to in the statutory statements and management plans that will be created under the Bill, we are providing a strong framework for accountability that also recognises that fisheries authorities cannot unilaterally deliver on all these objectives but must to varying degrees work in partnership with industry. As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, rightly pointed out, fisheries administrations will be accountable for meeting the policies in the JFS, and this could be something that the Office for Environmental Protection chooses to scrutinise.
Clause 10 makes the policies legally binding. Under these objectives, all must to varying degrees work in partnership with industry, stakeholders and international partners in some cases.
I was grateful to my noble friend Lord Lansley for his helpful comments. The range of objectives does present a challenge, but Clause 10 makes it clear that the policies are legally binding. I hope that, with this explanation, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I asked a question, but I do not require an answer now. In so far as the Department for International Trade, for example, is engaged in trade negotiations that might impact on fish stocks because of market-access considerations, it will do so by exercising prerogative powers. It does not have duties derived from statute. So it might be interesting to know whether the Government regard these fisheries objectives as relevant to the task that the Department for International Trade will perform.
I will make a point very quickly. I was slightly disappointed in the Minister’s response when she said local authorities had not been consulted in any way on this Bill. The IFCAs—which are incredibly important vehicles for the conservation of sea fish within the six-mile limit around our coast—are very much creatures of local government. Some of their members are appointed by the MMO, but they are largely local authority organisations, and are significantly funded by local authorities. I wonder whether a consultation —at least with the LGA—might have been a good thing. So I do feel some disappointment.
In answer to my noble friend Lord Lansley’s question, it probably would be better if I wrote about the international trade position on these objectives. I said that we have consulted with the inshore fisheries conservation authorities, which would have had their own contacts with local authorities. So while perhaps not directly, they would have been indirectly involved in all these discussions.
I thank noble Lords for taking part in the debate and, on the whole, for their support of the principles involved, or indeed the accountability of the fisheries authorities. I totally accept that the amendment may have been too loosely drawn up, for which I apologise to the House. The objective was to create a discussion and a response on whether the objectives in Clause 1 are worth more than the paper they are written on. I am not totally sure we received any real assurance on that point, but I will read Hansard and maybe come back to it. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 28 withdrawn.
Amendment 29 not moved.
Clause 2: Joint fisheries statement
30: Clause 2, page 3, line 12, leave out “proportionately”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment removes the word “proportionately” in relation to the application of the fisheries objectives when formulating the policies and proposals in the joint fisheries statement.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 30 in my name and Amendment 42 in the name of my noble friend Lord Grantchester.
Amendment 30 questions what it means for a joint fisheries statement to interpret and apply the fisheries objectives “proportionately”. This is an issue that we were beginning to flag up in the previous debate. We have removed the word “proportionately” to probe this drafting further. As we know, we have spent considerable time delving into the wording of the fisheries objectives, and we have been very keen to get the wording right so that it can be consistently applied. I do not intend to reopen that discussion again at the moment, but what does it mean to have to apply those objectives only “proportionately”? There seems to be little guidance or restriction on the extent to which fisheries policy authorities should comply with the objectives. There is therefore no reassurance that the policy statements will deliver effective policies to achieve these objectives.
We could end up with different policy authorities putting different weight on their responsibility to deliver, with different timescales and different monitoring procedures. If they apply the objectives “proportionately”, it could mean that other objectives not specified in the Bill could be weighed against those set out here. If we do not get this right at the top level, it will filter down to the fisheries management plans and undermine all the good work in setting meaningful objectives in the first place. All this feels a little unsatisfactory. As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said in the previous debate, we remain concerned about the wriggle room in these objectives, and this is another manifestation of that.
When we met the Minister and his officials the other day, it was argued that “proportionately” was in the Bill so that fisheries authorities have the discretion to decide on the appropriate balance between the various objectives. I understand that point at one level, but it does not seem to be how the Bill reads at the moment. I hope that the Minister will concede that there should be a better way of delivering the objectives with the degree of flexibility that he seeks but perhaps not with this wording.
Amendment 31, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, deals with the issue of fish crossing national boundaries and the obvious need for UK policy decisions to be taken with the international nature of fisheries in mind. Amendment 32 would require fisheries authorities to outline how they had complied with obligations under UNCLOS and other agreements. We agree that this makes sense. If the authorities are doing it anyway, it should be straightforward for them to provide the evidence. We therefore support both amendments.
Amendment 42, in the name of my noble friend Lord Grantchester, deals with recreational fishing, which we touched on in an earlier debate. Our amendment would require the Secretary of State to include policies relating to recreational fishing in the Secretary of State’s fisheries statement if they are not already present in the joint fisheries statements. Recreational fishing is an important and growing leisure activity involving many more individuals and boats than the commercial fishing fleet. It is also more environmentally sustainable. Defra’s own studies show that nearly a million UK citizens go sea-angling every year for recreation or personal consumption. Annually, their activities generate total economic activity of well over £2 billion and support more than 20,000 jobs. Recreational fishing could play an increased role in reviving our smaller ports and coastal communities, and it deserves our support.
The amendment would build on a commitment given in Committee in the Commons in a previous Session. It was George Eustice himself who suggested that the Government could add a reference to recreational fishing to what was then Clause 2. The clauses have now been reorganised and the first section of the Bill redrafted so the placement would be different, but we expect the Government to uphold that previous promise and look forward therefore to hearing from the Minister how he intends to deliver this. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. It is always useful to go back to the Government’s own approach to negotiations published in February. In part 2 of the document, headed “Other Agreements”—maybe fisheries did not quite get the profile it should have done in the document—paragraph 3d states:
“The UK is committed to acting as a responsible coastal state and to working closely with the EU and its Member States and other coastal states on the sustainable management of shared stocks in line with our international obligations.”
How could I ever improve on that? It is absolutely on the button.
It is therefore completely in line with government policy that we should put those agreements within the statements. That would make the statements far more comprehensive. This is a good part of the Bill, in that it deals with a lot of the areas that we are concerned about, but there are gaps in two areas. The first is in respect of those agreements that have been reached on adjacent stocks. Let us not forget that something like 80% of UK fish stocks are shared with other EEZs, so it is a positive thing to include that in those lists. Secondly, given the Government’s right focus on complying with international agreements—the Minister has referred to it many times—it would be good to boast and be proud of how we have implemented and complied with those obligations. That is obvious and would be helpful, and I hope the Government would not find it difficult to agree.
On Amendment 34, it seems to me that that part of the Bill is mealy-mouthed. We ought to be able to go beyond sustainability, whereas that clause seems to suggest that sustainability is all that we need to aim for. It may be the way it is phrased, but it is almost as if we need to stop once we have achieved sustainability or MSY. I want to go beyond that to a much more bountiful harvest, if that is possible.
My Lords, I have put my name to Amendment 31 in this grouping because I think it is important that we put in place agreements with other nations who host most of the stock we live on.
When I first heard that a new UK fisheries policy was one of the primary reasons for Brexit, I scoffed, because surely fish do not understand national borders. As we know, they move about and we can never have a fishing policy without close co-operation with our neighbours. But that was before I understood the absurd principles of relative stability and how our total allowable catch was based on fishing records from the mid-1970s, when our large fleet was fishing around Iceland before the cod wars and our inshore fleet kept very few records, and before climate change moved our national dish of cod into northern waters. Did your Lordships know that we are only 8% self-sufficient in cod? Furthermore, we currently consume in the UK three times the total EU quota of cod. We are no longer blessed with being—as I was taught in my childhood—an island built on coal and surrounded by cod. Climate change has changed all that. So, to some extent, our fishing arrangements with Norway, the Faroes, Iceland and even Russia are going to be as important as our fishing arrangements with the EU.
But the problem for the EU fleets is that their catch, like ours, has moved north. Therefore, they catch a lot of their fish in UK waters. The European Fisheries Alliance reckons that cutting them off from our waters would slash profits for the EU fleets in half, leading to job losses for at least 6,000 people. A fish war with the EU, or at least clashes between boats, is not such a remote possibility, which is why the EU Commission has given itself the powers to command any or all EU fishing boats to return to port. They have also allocated funds from the EMFF to compensate fishermen forced to retire due to Brexit.
The EU is also gearing itself up for the possibility of tariffs or other restrictions on the 60% to 70% of the UK catch that is currently exported to Europe. I have often thought that one of the best ways we could spend the replacement for European Maritime and Fisheries Fund money would be to have a massive marketing campaign to stop us eating so much cod and persuade the great British public to eat more of the fish we produce. Sadly, I suspect that the great British public could not afford to do that, even if they were so inclined.
We all hope that it will not come to clashes at sea, but the point of this amendment is to prevent future clashes with our neighbours while at the same time ensuring that we use the best up-to-date science to sustain our fishing stocks. Zonal allocation is a far better way of distributing quota among national fishing fleets than the historically based quotas. The seas are always changing, and so are the fish within them; this amendment is an effort to take account of that fact.
However, the problem is that looking at relative stability terrifies the Europeans—opening up a whole can of worms for them, from the Black Sea to the Baltic —even if they know in their hearts that it is the right thing to do. We have to enter into very serious negotiations with not only them but our other fishing neighbours in order to achieve sustainable fisheries.
My Lords, a few years ago I had the great pleasure of serving on the Energy and Environment Sub-Committee of the European Union Committee, under the very able chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. In our inquiry into Brexit and fisheries, we heard very compelling evidence about the management of shared stocks and nobody, from the fishing industry to private fishermen to the Minister at the time—now the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—disagreed that any policy for the management of UK stocks has to take into account the fact that many of our stocks are shared with other European countries and, therefore, we cannot develop plans on our own.
For me, one of the more compelling anecdotes was the case of species that spend the earlier part of their life in, for example, French waters, and later move into UK waters. One could envisage a future situation in which, in this case, the French might say, “Okay, we will harvest the younger fish and leave the older ones for you.” Of course, there would not be any older ones. I just emphasise that all the evidence I heard in that Select Committee inquiry three years ago makes a very compelling case for this amendment on shared stocks.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords, particularly the noble Baroness, for this debate. This provides me with the opportunity to explain a little more about why we have drafted the provisions and proposals for the joint fisheries statement as we have done, and why this clause has been written with a requirement that proportionality is considered when formulating the policies and proposals in the joint fisheries statement.
The requirement for proportionality, which Amendment 30 would remove, is because the fisheries objectives work together to set out the core principles that should be followed 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. These policies will focus on key areas of our fisheries management, both to protect the environment and enable a thriving fishing industry. We will achieve this ambition only if the fisheries objectives are proportionately applied to the policies in the joint statement. A requirement for proportionality was included to provide reassurance that the fisheries administrations will take a balanced approach in the development of policies and proposals. The joint fisheries statement on proportionality will be scrutinised as part of the consultation and the legislative scrutiny process so that if there were any concerns that needed to be raised, they would be raised prior to the statement’s adoption.
Amendments 31 and 32 both relate to our intentions in the international sphere. Amendment 31 would require us to set out how we will co-operate with our regional neighbours in managing shared fish stocks. This is clearly an extremely important consideration in fisheries management. However, the UK is already bound by international law, as I know noble Lords know, to co-operate with other coastal states on the management of shared stocks; for example, through the UN fish stocks agreement—UNSFA—which establishes a comprehensive regime for the management of such transboundary fish stocks.
We are taking the necessary steps to build the active role we need to play internationally as an independent coastal state that takes its rights and responsibilities under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea—UNCLOS—very seriously. For example, we will participate as a sovereign nation in negotiations on mackerel stocks and are joining several priority regional fisheries management organisations in our own right. We are keen to develop new framework agreements with our neighbouring coastal states for annual co-operation on fisheries of shared interest. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, was absolutely right to refer to scientists: of course, we have some world-class fisheries scientists and scientific institutions in this country, and fully intend to continue to play a leading role in the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas.
Having left the EU, our international environmental obligations remain unchanged. As implied in Amendment 32, a significant amount of what we do in fisheries management, both domestically and internationally, is underpinned by international law and obligations. Meeting the objective set out in the Bill to restore stocks to levels capable of producing maximum sustainable yield will require working with our coastal neighbours to agree sustainable catch levels for shared stocks. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, is right and I agree: UNCLOS obliges us to co-operate with other coastal states on shared stocks, and we will do so.
We will set out our approach to achieving this objective in the joint fisheries statement and will report on the extent to which the objective has been achieved in subsequent reviews. In so doing, we will in effect be reporting on the extent to which we have complied with our obligations—for example, under UNCLOS—to manage our stocks sustainably and in co-operation with our regional neighbours.
In practical terms, the amendment as drafted poses some challenges. First, Clause 2 is forward-looking, requiring the fisheries authorities to set out how we will meet the fisheries objectives, including policies that will also support us in meeting our international obligations. This will allow scrutiny of our policy plans before and during their implementation. My understanding is that the amendment asks only that the administrations report on compliance after the policies have been implemented, which overall could lead to less scrutiny of the UK Government’s policies and actions. I am pretty certain that that is not what was intended, but that is my advice on how it would be interpreted.
Secondly, the United Kingdom is a signatory to more than 14,000 international treaties, not all of which are related to fisheries policy. I am informed that the technical effect of this amendment—I am sorry, but my task is to report back on such technical issues when this goes through the legal mincer—is that it would require each administration to report on all of these, regardless of its links to fishing. Again, I do not imagine that that is what was intended, but that is the legal interpretation. I reassure noble Lords that the UK already reports regularly and in detail on progress against conventions and obligations, ranging from implementation of the sustainable development goals to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Amendment 42 seeks to highlight the importance of the recreational sea-fishing sector. Recreational sea fishing makes a valuable contribution to the UK economy. It has been estimated that in 2012, taking indirect and induced effects into account, sea angling supported £2.1 billion of total spending, more than 23,600 jobs and almost £980 million of gross value added in England alone. As well as making a clear economic contribution, angling provides health and well-being benefits for those individuals who participate. My understanding of the figures is that this represents around 2% of England’s adult population.
For these reasons I am pleased that the Bill provides the Secretary of State, for the first time, with the power to arrange financial assistance for the promotion or development of recreational fishing. In addition to this new power to provide financial assistance to the sector, all references to fisheries in the Bill include recreational as well as commercial fishing unless otherwise stated, as set out in paragraph 62 of the Explanatory Notes. Recreational sea fishing will contribute to the delivery of the UK fisheries objectives, along with commercial fisheries and aquaculture. The Bill does not list all the sectors for which the joint fisheries statement might be expected to include policies and it is not appropriate to single out recreational fishing. The nature of the joint fisheries statement is that it is designed to include all policies relevant to the achievement of the fisheries objectives across both commercial and non-commercial fishing wherever relevant.
I am therefore confident, for the reasons I have outlined, that the previous commitments in relation to recreational sea angling have been honoured within the current text of the Bill. We understand our legal and international obligations, which we are signatories to, and this country is well regarded in upholding them—we are recognised as a country that seeks MSY —so I hope that, with the reassurances on these varied matters, the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
I thank all noble Lords who have spoken on this issue, and the Minister for his response. We are flogging the same issue of proportionality over and again with different wording. I was not totally convinced by the Minister’s response. He talked about the need for a balanced approach between all the different objectives. We have already rehearsed the fact that that could lead to an unbalanced approach if we are not very careful, or the wrong objectives coming to the top in the hierarchy, so I am slightly anxious about that. I took it from the Minister’s reply that it would not be appropriate for other objectives that were not already listed to be put in that balance. If that is what he was saying, it is certainly reassuring.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, made a very compelling case on the international issues and I am not sure that the Minister managed to unravel it, particularly on the first amendment. There will be a need for us to carry on co-operating with our international neighbours, so I do not see what would be wrong in putting that in the joint fisheries statement alongside all the other tasks that have to be carried out. It is not a minor issue: it will be a major part of the authorities’ functions. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, will reflect on that because I think it is worth further discussion. It may be in a slightly different form of words, but that balance—
We are rehearsing and repeating some of these debates, but that was very reassuring to hear, and I am glad the noble Lord has taken that on board.
The Minister’s point that we will report after the event, rather than be forward-looking, was well made and we need to reflect on it. I was a bit disappointed by his answer on recreational fishing. It is not just about funding or having access to financial assistance but more about the importance of recreational fishing. As I said to the Minister—and he reflected it back to me—it is a major part of the fishing sector, not a minor part. It employs more people and involves more money and jobs, so to say that the joint fisheries statement should not explicitly take account of that does not feel right to me. Again, we may not have put the amendment in the right place, but I think we can firm it up in some way. I will reflect on his comments in Hansard. It may be another one of those issues that will crop up somewhere else during the course of the Bill. For the time being, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 30 withdrawn.
Amendments 31 and 32 not moved.
33: Clause 2, page 3, line 35, leave out from “to” to end of line 36 and insert—
“(a) restore one or more stocks of sea fish to, or maintain them at, sustainable levels, and(b) in respect of fish activities for the one or more stocks of sea fish referred to in paragraph (a), achieve the ecosystem objective.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment requires the ecosystem objective to be achieved whenever policies to maintain or restore a particular fish stock are set out.
My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, has just pointed out, we seem to be repeating ourselves because we are going around in circles. As I said the other day, if you do not have environmental sustainability, you do not have social or economic sustainability. The Minister is not hearing that, or certainly not agreeing with it, and nor are his advisers. They just do not seem to get the basic premise that if you do not have a healthy planet, you do not have anything else. You cannot make deals with nature. Nature can heal itself, but not with all our interventions. The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, has pointed out that we are essentially the voices of the environment here because there are no huge and powerful pressure groups supporting it.
I am also going to have to repeat the fact that the Conservative Party manifesto made a commitment to the people of Britain who voted for the Conservatives that there would be a legal commitment to fish sustainably, so it should be in this Bill. It is no good saying that it is in other places; it has to be in this Bill because only then will people understand that it is an incredibly important component of the whole fishing industry. Ecosystems are part of that sustainability and it all has to work together holistically. At the moment, the mechanisms in the Bill are quite disjointed and have to be tidied up, and presumably an awful lot of Members of this House would be very happy to contribute to that.
Amendment 33 aims to ensure that the fisheries management plans are made in the context of the ecology that they will affect. It is impossible to change the dynamics of one species without creating a whole load of repercussions, possibly unknown ones, within the ecosystem. More predators might lead to fewer prey, for example, while more prey might lead to more predators. Sometimes, the best interventions might be farther down the food chain, such as increasing the population of microscopic plankton which will then support higher populations all the way up the chain. The fisheries management plans would better be regarded as being ecosystem management plans and should be made with the purpose of achieving the ecosystem objective. I beg to move.
I should tell the Committee that if Amendment 33 were to be agreed to, I would not be able to call Amendment 34 on the grounds of pre-emption.
My Lords, I should like to speak to Amendment 49A in this group, which would insert the words
“having regard to the precautionary criteria for stock biomass.”
I am wedded to the idea of the importance of a fisheries management plan to embellish what is set out in Clause 2 on the joint fisheries statement. My noble friend has spoken at some length elsewhere about the importance to the UK of mixed fishery issues, but my reading of Clause 6 is that we are focusing on a single stock-by-stock basis. However, a number of noble Lords have said that the current cause of overcatch is quota catch and excess bycatch. Does my noble friend not agree that the current drafting misses an opportunity to specify multi-species plans by area, with proposals for how to address mixed fisheries with quotas? If there is a reason for that, perhaps he will explain it. I understand that the Faroe Islanders have tried to control their fisheries through quotas, but it has not gone entirely well.
Clause 6(2)(c) seeks to use indicators, but the objectives do not refer to the precautionary criteria, which is why I would like to take this opportunity to stress that those criteria are important to the drafting of fisheries management plans. The reason is twofold. One is, as my noble friend has stated, that we need the scientific evidence to be specific and required to do much more than just assessing maximum sustainable yield and to work within the context of the fisheries management plan. The science will need to be sufficient to monitor the status against indicators and to inform with sufficient accuracy catch options required by the Secretary of State in order to set quotas. That, I presume, is the purpose of what a management plan should be: to identify this, not just the ability of assessing maximum sustainable yield. It goes to the Minister’s earlier comments about why it is important to have the most accurate data and science available.
Secondly, my Amendment 49A provides that, rather than concentrate as it does at the moment on sustainability objectives—to which we are all signed up, as we have said on both days in Committee—the plan should refer to consideration of the precautionary objective as set out in Clause 1(3). By excluding that, I am not sure that we can achieve maximum sustainable yield. In my humble submission, if you look only at maximum sustainable yield, you actually reduce the potential to achieve that maximum sustainable yield. I would like a phrase about the precautionary requirement to be inserted here in the clause related to fisheries management plans, because that should help the Government to achieve what it would be. That is the purpose of Amendment 49A: just to introduce a precautionary approach there.
My Lords, I speak to my Amendments 45, 49, 50, 53, 54 and 55, all of which are aimed at making a good thing better. We agree that fisheries management plans are a good thing, but they are a bit of a moveable feast as currently structured in this Bill. They are optional; there are a range of circumstances in which authorities can simply opt out of plans and out of the joint statements placed around the plans. These amendments focus on the need for plans to be obligatory—to have timescales associated with them and to have more teeth if they are to deliver in practice the Government’s manifesto commitment to introduce a legal commitment to fish sustainably.
These amendments are aimed at plugging a number of gaps that could mean that the authorities could opt out of preparing fisheries plans at all for some stocks. These amendments taken together introduce provisions to ensure that fisheries management plans must be introduced for all commercially exploited stocks and any other stocks that fall below sustainable levels. They also introduce timeframes for preparing and publishing fisheries management plans. The Bill says that authorities are to prepare a statement explaining the use that
“the authorities … propose to make of fisheries management plans”
and what fisheries management plans they
“propose to prepare and publish”,
together with their reasons for deciding not to introduce a fisheries management plan for a particular stock. There is a rather perverse phraseology in the Bill, which seems to imply that finding an excuse for not having a fisheries management plan is pretty legit. We need to turn it around and set out a very clear requirement for a fisheries management plan to be prepared in the circumstances that I just described. Indeed, with the way the Bill is drafted, we could have a situation where a stock in a depleted state would not be subject to a fisheries management plan. That seems perverse.
I go back to a point that has been made several times—that what we are trying to achieve with the Bill is effectiveness, because ineffective fisheries management plans, for example, would be bad for fish stocks, and that would be bad for the fishing industry as well as bad for the fish.
To take my amendments in turn, Amendment 45 would remove the discretion over whether authorities have to produce a plan. Instead, it states that
“authorities must prepare and publish fisheries management plans for all commercially exploited stocks … and … other stocks … that fall below”
sustainable levels. It is absolutely vital to introduce this accountability into the Bill. Far too many of our stocks are still overfished through setting fishing limits above sustainable levels year on year. It is vital that the Bill reverse that through the introduction of effective fishery plans for all stocks currently below sustainable levels. It is also important that we have plans for all commercially exploited stocks, even if they are currently fished at sustainable levels. Those plans need to be in place to ensure stock levels remain at or above sustainable levels.
Amendment 49 would ensure that fisheries management plans actually maintain stocks at or restore them to the sustainable level, rather than merely “contributing” to the stocks’ restoration. Amendment 50 would ensure that authorities are required to establish policies that will return data-deficient stocks to an equivalent proxy of maximum sustainable yield, rather than just having a vague commitment to increase stock levels without specifying any limit.
Amendment 53 would introduce additional requirements for fisheries management plans introduced for stocks that fall below sustainable levels, defined as BLIM. In particular, it would introduce timelines for restoring stocks that have not been fished sustainably. It would introduce catch limits and conservation measures to increase or return the biomass of each stock to sustainable levels within 10 years. It would also require authorities to prepare and publish a fisheries management plan within 12 months of a stock falling below sustainable levels.
If we do not introduce timelines for recovering stocks we could see many more stocks depleted, possibly beyond levels from which they can recover. The Minister talked about 59% of our stocks being fished at sustainable levels, but that figure is actually going down rather than up: in 2018, 69% of our stocks were being fished at or below sustainable levels. We still have a long way to go, so it is important that these timelines are included so that authorities can be held to account if they do not achieve them. It would be bizarre to abandon the common fisheries policy’s target, which requires all stocks to be fished at or below MSY by 2020. I know that it is unfashionable to hark back to the common fisheries policy, but it was right to have that clear target. In a wider ecosystem context, the marine strategy review found that we were failing 11 out of 15 marine indicators, one of which was fishing.
Amendment 54 would ensure that where stocks are shared with another coastal state, the Secretary of State must engage with that state to try to put in place a joint fisheries management plan for shared stocks. This is pretty key, given that the UK shares more than 100 stocks with the European Union alone.
Amendment 55 would simply define BLIM as the reference point at which additional measures need to be introduced to fisheries management plans to ensure stocks are returned to sustainable levels. If fish stocks fall below this level, their ability to reproduce might be reduced and stocks might be in serious danger of collapse. This is the measure used by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, which provides annual scientific advice on and assessment of the state of fish stocks used by authorities when making decisions about catch limits.
I know the Minister will tell me that there will be guidance on fisheries management plans, but many of these issues are so important that they should be in the Bill rather than simply in guidance. Although the flexibility that the Bill currently allows on fisheries management plans might be admirable in some respects, it raises another question about the whole issue of consistency. If our fisheries and access to them becomes a material matter in negotiations with the European Union and other states on a variety of trade and international relations issues, the fact that we could be widely—perhaps even wildly—divergent across the four nations must raise interesting questions for the Secretary of State.
My Lords, I will speak briefly to Amendment 34 and other amendments in this group that relate to sustainable fish levels being included in the fisheries management plans. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said, we are going around in circles—perhaps like some fish.
Fisheries management plans are key to the Bill’s implementation and success, but they will be ineffective if fish stocks are not maintained at or above sustainable levels. The Bill’s thrust is to promote sustainable fisheries management—that is how I have interpreted it, anyway. This aim in endorsed and welcomed by the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations. The UK is already well ahead in sustainable fisheries management and has much to build on to become a world leader. For the fishing industry to maintain its current position and go from strength to strength, it is vital that fish stocks are preserved, enhanced and sustainable. It would be unacceptable to promote short-term gain at the expense of fish stocks for future generations.
Decisions on fisheries management must be informed by science, data and information gathering. We welcome the Government’s commitment to ensuring this happens and to an “ecosystem-based approach” to fisheries. This should minimise any harmful effects on fishing activities within the broader environmental, social and economic context. It is therefore essential to manage fish stocks, not only to maintain them at a sustainable level, but to go beyond that. As is clear, climate change can have a dramatic effect on water levels and temperatures. It is paramount that fish stocks are truly sustainable and can adapt to changes over time. It is incumbent on us all to ensure that this happens.
My Lords, I will speak briefly on Amendment 54, which is to do with shared stocks. The UK Government share the Irish Sea with the Irish Government. An agreement is already in place in legislation called the voisinage agreement, which is like a shared fisheries management plan. I am seeking reassurance that that will remain in place and that the alleged regulatory border in the Irish Sea, as a result of EU management issues, will not impact on fishing efforts in the Irish Sea.
My Lords, I will speak very briefly to Amendment 33, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I have to confess that it raised in my mind a thought I had not had before, and I thank her very much for it. Her amendment reflects the fact that in certain circumstances, the removal of one species from an ecological community can have a dramatic effect on the whole ecosystem. I used to teach this notion to undergraduates in Oxford. It refers in particular to the idea of a keystone species—one that might have a disproportionate effect on the balance of an ecological community as a whole. In a quite unanticipated way, fishing effort on a particular target species might disrupt and radically transform the whole ecosystem. The noble Baroness’s amendment suggests that the ecosystem objective should be built into consideration of fishing effort. Of course, we saw the ecosystem objective at the very beginning of Clause 1, which is one of the objectives that form the pillars of the Bill. Does the Minister or his officials have a clear view about the notion of keystone species and unintended disruptions to the whole marine ecosystem that might arise as a consequence of a fishing effort targeted at a particular species?
My Lords, I put my name to Amendment 34. It is obvious that setting quotas at MSY is a largely short-term approach. I realise that it is incredibly complicated, particularly for mixed fisheries—the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, just introduced me to a new complication—but the point is that MSY tends to be set to allow for some harvest or return from whatever level the stocks reached, unless, of course, the scientists think that they are getting close to the point of no return or BLIM. Many conservation biologists think that MSY is dangerous and can be misused. If possible, stocks should be set above sustainable levels, so that we are not always living from hand to mouth and our children’s children have a truly sustainable fishing future ahead of them.
My Lords, I rise briefly to support Amendment 34. As has been said, it is crucial that there is something on the face of this Bill making clear our serious intention to allow our stocks to recover. I fear that with all ecological assessments there is a danger that we become immune, that the steady decline becomes the new normal as we become more and more used to empty seas, the lack of birds in our hedgerows and the lack of wildlife in general, and that we simply adjust down our expectations to this new normal. We simply cannot do that.
The wonderful thing about fisheries is that if you take the pressure off them, they rebound. Fish are one of the most resilient of wildlife species. We must allow ourselves to take that pressure off. We have had decades of overfishing, and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, pointed out, we saw a 10% decrease in one year in the number of stocks that are at sustainable levels. That tells us that there is something deeply wrong. It is fine to say that 59% of stocks are better than they were a decade ago, but that is 10% fewer than the year before. So we must give ourselves the opportunity. We do not want to be subject to legal challenge. If we believe that we must take a management approach that will set stocks at well below the sustainable limit, we must be allowed to do so. They can then recover quickly and everyone can benefit, including the fishers.
My Lords, I am speaking to Amendment 48 in my name, but I also echo the arguments made by other noble Lords. Our amendment seeks to achieve a very similar objective to many others in the group: to maintain stocks of sea fish at or above sustainable levels. We are all, in our different ways, seeking to clarify and firm up the wording which would achieve that. As with some of the other debates, we believe that this is a core principle that should lie at the heart of the Bill.
The objectives set out at the front of the Bill emphasise the importance of sustainability, but this means nothing unless we use the Bill to tackle the scourge of overfishing and bring fish stocks back up to sustainable levels. Of course, as we have discussed before, we recognise that this is not just a UK problem but a global problem. Globally, 29% of stocks are overfished, many of them illegally, or they are unregulated. The Blue Marine Foundation has said that, if these trends continue, the world’s seafoods will collapse by 2048.
This is an opportunity for us to play a leading role globally in addressing this crisis. However, we will only have respect and influence if we are seen to be putting our own house in order. Coming out of the common fisheries policy is an ideal time for us to show leadership on this. Taking more control of UK waters provides a rare opportunity to revisit the scientific data, make a baseline stock assessment, create space for stocks to replenish and reset the dial on how much fishing should be allowed to achieve long-term sustainability. That is why we want to see a requirement not to fish above sustainability levels as a guiding principle running through this Bill.
This should apply equally to UK fishers and foreign vessels given a licence to fish in our waters. Amendment 48 would require fisheries management plans not just to contribute to the restoration of stock levels up to sustainable levels but to go further, by restoring the stock and creating a long-term reserve, so that we can begin to repair the damage that has already been done.
Of course, we recognise that much of the fishing allocation around our shores will continue to be determined through negotiation with our European neighbours, but they have already signed up to the principle of maximum sustainable yield through the common fisheries policy, so they cannot really object if we take a more robust stand on this issue than the negotiations around the CFP have so far delivered.
As we have discussed, we will in due course have new opportunities to fish in UK waters, and this is an area where we could make the most progress. This will be under our direct control, so the benefits can be shared between the recovering fish stocks and the UK fishers who understand that it is in their interest to let those stocks regenerate.
I hope that the Minister will recognise the sense of these arguments and seek ways to incorporate the principles into the Bill.
My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this very interesting debate relating to the Bill’s new provisions for the UK Government and, where appropriate, the devolved Administrations, to publish fisheries management plans. These plans will set out the action that we will take to get stocks to sustainable levels. Where we cannot make such an assessment, we will gather scientific data so that such an assessment is possible.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, knows how fond I am of her. The sustainability objective is the first objective of this Bill. I am starting to take exception to the questioning of the bona fides of the Government, who have worked with the devolved Administrations to bring this forward. This Bill is absolutely predicated on sustainable fishing for the future, and we will not be doing our fishing community any good if we overfish and do not have good custodianship of our waters. That is the whole basis of this work, and the legally binding nature of the statement and the fisheries plan. When I hear noble Lords talking as if this Government were being negligent about sustainability and the importance of sustainability to the whole basis of this work, I will go round in circles and re-explain why these objectives are part of a balance which we have agreed with the devolved Administrations.
I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for tabling Amendment 33. I recognise her clear intention to ensure that fisheries management plans make a vital contribution to enhancing the protection of the marine environment. I firmly believe that the clauses as drafted in this Bill will support a holistic, ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, will not be embarrassed by me highlighting what she said: that this country is well ahead. It is recognised as one of the leaders. Obviously, we want to be doing even better than everyone else, but it is important to reflect on the bona fides of all Administrations to get this right and to have a vibrant fishing fleet.
The joint fisheries statement requires the Administrations to explain how fisheries management plans will contribute to the fisheries objectives, including the ecosystem objective. The four fisheries administrations are also bound by our wider body of marine legislation, including the provisions in the Marine Strategy Regulations, the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations and the Marine and Coastal Access Act. The fisheries management plans will make an appropriate contribution to delivering these broader obligations, and I am confident that these plans will deliver the environmental improvement that the noble Baroness, and all noble Lords, are rightly seeking.
In relation to Amendments 34 and 48, the clause already requires fisheries administrations to set out policies to manage stocks in such a way as to restore them and grow them over time. I agree that in some circumstances it may be necessary or desirable to fish some stocks below maximum sustainable yield for conservation purposes. This could be to ensure that all stocks in a mixed fishery can be managed sustainably, for instance. The clause already allows this. To refer specifically to the second part of the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, we already have spatial measures to protect key areas of the sea to allow recovery, and fishing stocks at levels no greater than their maximum sustainable level will, by default, leave a proportion of the stock to allow regeneration. The UK Government are also committed to supporting our fishers. It is therefore important that fishing activities are managed to achieve economic, social and employment benefits, as well as contributing to the availability of food supplies.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, tabled a series of important amendments on the topic of the health of stocks, measured by BLIM. This is the scientific term for the limit reference point for all the mature fish in a particular stock. Amendment 55 from the noble Baroness would add a definition of BLIM to the Bill. This amendment cannot be considered in isolation as it links with other amendments that aim to introduce provisions to manage stocks to levels above BLIM elsewhere in the Bill—so I will address it first.
The proposed definition of BLIM—I have to say that I am not an expert on this, so this is what I am advised—is not the same as that used by the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas, ICES, the body which provides scientific advice on many of the fish stocks in the North Atlantic. ICES defines BLIM as:
“A deterministic biomass limit below which a stock is considered to have reduced reproductive capacity.”
Introducing a different definition in law could inadvertently create issues with interpreting and applying ICES’s advice in future. I am very happy to have a discussion with the noble Baroness, if that would help, because I am afraid it is out of my area of expertise and it might be interesting.
Returning to Amendment 45, there are many factors that can affect the biomass of a fish stock, and fisheries management plans will have to take them into account. Commercial fishing is by no means the only pressure on fish-stock biomass, although I acknowledge that it often is the most significant. Of course, a priority of the fisheries administrations will be to recover fish stocks to healthy levels of biomass, and this will be a key purpose of fisheries management plans. Fisheries administrations will produce fisheries management plans irrespective of whether the stock is overfished, because stocks currently fished at sustainable levels must also be managed attentively to ensure that they maintain their biomass status.
This amendment would restrict authorities to creating fisheries management plans only for commercially exploited stocks and those below BLIM, which would not be the best outcome for all stocks found in UK waters. This amendment may also inadvertently mean that we would be unable to manage some stocks. For instance, there are data-poor stocks where it is not possible to set a BLIM level. This includes certain stocks of lemon sole, ray, dogfish and boarfish. The Bill’s objectives already seek to provide that the health of stocks is restored and maintained and, in particular, the stocks below BLIM would be covered by the precautionary objective. This means that the amendment is not required to achieve its desired purpose and would instead create an inappropriate restriction in the remit of authorities to create fisheries management plans.
Amendments 49 and 49A allow me to set out the important matter of how policies support the achievement of the objectives. The clause in question places a duty on fisheries authorities to set up policies to restore and maintain a stock to sustainable levels, or contribute to these aims, when there is sufficient scientific evidence to do so. These amendments would delete the section on contributing to these aims, which would mean that the policies would have to restore or maintain a stock immediately to sustainable levels, which may not be possible. Furthermore, Amendment 49A adds an unnecessary requirement to meet unspecified criteria on taking a precautionary approach, as plans will already have to be compatible with the precautionary approach.
I say also to my noble friend Lady McIntosh that fisheries management plans can include details of the type of stock, the type of fishing and the geographical area to which they relate. Each plan could therefore cover multiple stocks in a geographical area. Clause 2(5) makes it clear that fisheries management plans set out policies for “one or more stocks”. I assure the noble Baroness that the wording on “contributing” does not remove the duty for authorities to restore and protect stocks.
To give an example of a policy that would contribute to a stock’s sustainability, if a fisheries management plan covers a fishery that targets only part of a stock, the policies set out within that plan cannot achieve sustainability for the whole stock. The devolution settlement allows for the different fisheries administrations in the UK to produce their own plans that contribute to a stock’s management, and the clause reflects this. The proposed amendments would run contrary to the devolution settlement. The same applies for stocks shared with other countries, where our policies, no matter how effective, can go only so far as to contribute to the restoration or protection of stocks.
The noble Baroness’s Amendment 50 would require the plans to specify an alternative measure of the limit of sustainable harvesting of a stock when an MSY is not available. I fully support the intent to implement robust measures to recover and maintain stocks to sustainable levels. However, there are concerns that the amendment could inadvertently—I know it is not the intention—undermine this effort.
The UK Government remain fully committed to sustainable fishing, using the principle of setting an MSY where possible. We recognise that there is insufficient data to conduct an MSY assessment for many stocks, so we use other measures where possible, such as effort limits, to ensure that stocks are fished sustainably. These provisions recognise our state of knowledge on stocks by requiring fisheries authorities to address data deficiencies while still setting policies that follow a precautionary approach to maintain or increase levels of stocks.
The plans will specify indicators to demonstrate the effectiveness of the plan and, by implication, the success of policies to manage data-deficient stocks in a sustainable manner. The amendment will require fisheries authorities to specify a proxy measure, regardless of whether there is scientific information on what an appropriate measure would be. Authorities could be forced to use measures that could be ineffective and give false positive information on the status of a stock. Again, I am very happy to have a further and more technical discussion on some of these matters. Our proposed approach of using precautionary management, while endeavouring to collect enough information to identify the appropriate measure for a sustainable harvest, is preferable to risking the use of unverified measures.
I support the intention underpinning the noble Baroness’s Amendment 53. However, the amendment as drafted would make the fisheries administrations legally accountable for achieving targets which are not within their gift to deliver. The reproductive success and recruitment of juveniles to wild fish populations is beyond our control. Environmental and ecological factors control natural populations and despite the best endeavours of our fisheries managers in all four administrations, we cannot guarantee that a population will increase by a minimum of 20% per year.
Similarly, we could limit harvest control rates over a 10-year period, but environmental factors could still limit population growth such that a stock would not reach an MSY level. We saw this scenario with cod stocks on the Grand Banks off Newfoundland. This could force the fisheries administrations to set very low or even zero harvest rates for a stock to achieve the fixed limits in the amendment. While in some circumstances this may be appropriate, noble Lords will be aware that setting a zero harvest rate would close any mixed fishery where fishermen could not avoid catching a species. Such action would have a significant social and economic impact and undermine the social and environmental pillars of sustainability, which are crucial to ensuring the success of sustainable fisheries management.
Our view is that we cannot unilaterally impose fixed limits for stock recovery for stocks that we share with other coastal states. Although the UK can, and does, encourage sustainable fishing by other coastal states, we cannot control how another coastal state manages the stock in its waters; nor can we control how and where the fish swim between the borders. Setting fixed limits in law would constrain the UK within international negotiations and would allow those with whom we are negotiating to take advantage of the UK’s legal position. Ultimately, the UK being bound by a legal limit would not mean that other coastal states would be, and ultimately stocks might see no benefit. Although I know that the amendment is well intentioned, we believe that it is impractical to set deadlines for stock recovery in statute.
The joint fisheries statement will set out the list of proposed fisheries management plans and these will be subject to consultation and scrutiny. There is further provision to add plans later when we have a better understanding of the science, particularly on what constitutes sustainable levels. It is important to note that ICES does not yet have the data to produce accurate MSY or BLIM values for all commercial stocks, let alone non-commercial stocks.
On Amendment 54 and the point about international obligations, as I have said, as a party to the UN fish stocks agreement, the UK is committed to working with other coastal states to manage shared stocks fairly and sustainably, and to take a precautionary approach to their management. This means that we are committed to taking appropriate action when the science indicates that stock health is failing; for example, if the biomass falls below a precautionary reference point such as BLIM or a similar proxy measure.
As an independent coastal state, we are already giving effect to that commitment by joining regional fisheries management organisations and developing new agreements with our neighbours in the north-east Atlantic, providing frameworks for co-operation to manage shared stocks. In turn, that will enable us to work together with other coastal states: first, to commission scientific advice on the health of shared stocks and appropriate management options; and, secondly, to use that advice to put in place plans for stocks that allow us to respond effectively to changes in the health of those stocks.
Any agreement on fisheries management with another country would have the status of an international agreement rather than a fisheries management plan. They might look very similar but it is important to say that. Fisheries management plans are intended to set specific plans for managing fishing activity wholly within UK waters. Although fisheries management plans could be used as a vehicle for implementing internationally agreed approaches to stock management in UK waters, they could also contain UK-specific measures on issues such as the wider conservation of the ecosystem. They might reflect specific social and economic objectives linked to a particular fishery. Therefore, in our view it would be inappropriate to seek to agree these plans internationally. The UK could enter into higher-level regional fisheries management plans through international agreements.
In addition, we believe that the amendment would restrict the ability of the devolved Administrations to introduce measures within areas of devolved competence. Individual fisheries administrations may produce fisheries management plans. The amendment blurs the distinction between reserved and devolved matters. Agreeing the UK’s fishing opportunities internationally is a reserved matter for the Secretary of State. Implementing international obligations and developing fisheries management plans, where they relate to devolved competence, are devolved matters.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, asked about the voisinage agreement. The UK Government remain committed to that agreement and to protecting and supporting continued co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The voisinage agreement exists outside the CFP, so we very much endorse that. It is a long-standing bilateral arrangement between Ireland and Northern Ireland that can in principle continue in the future, and we would welcome that.
Article 5(3) of the Northern Ireland protocol makes provision for fishery and aquaculture products landed at EU ports by Northern Ireland-registered vessels flying the flag of the United Kingdom to be exempted from duties. No tariffs will apply to these vessels landing their catches in ports across the rest of the United Kingdom.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, asked about the importance of keystone species to food webs. The importance of food webs is recognised in the definition of “good environmental status” under the UK marine strategy. There is ongoing work to look at the structure of food webs and how fisheries management will support healthy systems.
I started off by looking at the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, rather too fiercely but I hope that that rather detailed explanation has reassured her. In that explanation, I do not think that anyone could have interpreted a government Minister as saying anything other than that environmental enhancement of the ecosystem of fish stocks is of enormous importance within this whole scenario.
This is not the beginning of a promise of something further but if the mood in the Committee is that it would be helpful to talk through the fisheries management plans around a table—perhaps, after checking our diaries, once we have finished the Committee stage—so that everyone can see the bona fides of what we are seeking to do, I shall of course be prepared to do that. We will come on to this but this is not about us finding loopholes; it is about having a statement and management plans which will go out for consultation and receive parliamentary scrutiny. Wherever we all are, these are areas that we will return to constantly. However, for the moment, I very much hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
I thank the Minister for his offer to meet to talk about management plans, and I would very much like to take that up. Perhaps before that meeting he might ponder on whether something can be inserted into the Bill. I am trying to be kind here and am choosing my words very carefully. I absolutely do not doubt his commitment, at a UK level, to the intent of the Bill and to the sustainability issue being entirely at the forefront. However, devolution is quite a long arm and I suspect that there will be occasions when one or more of the devolved fishing authorities have other priorities in mind. I would be searching for something much more specific about what fisheries management plans there need to be. The provisions of Clause 7 allow a little bit of coming and going at a devolved level and could mean that very significant stocks do not have plans applied to them. I would very much like to explore the ability to plug that hole.
We might perhaps incorporate that if there is a more general desire to talk through fisheries plans. The truth is that the four fisheries administrations have worked very constructively and positively, with sustainability at the heart of that work. We have all been saying that there is no point in overextracting or overexploiting fish stocks anywhere in UK waters. We need to work on restoring all our stocks, and that is absolutely what these plans are designed to do. I shall of course be very happy to have further discussions on that.
I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, almost all of whom probably have much more competence in this area than I do. I thank the noble Lord for his answer. He was quite fierce towards me—in fact, that is probably the grumpiest I have ever seen him—and I consider myself told off. I did not mean to doubt his integrity but I am afraid that I cannot say the same for the Prime Minister. It is very dispiriting to be on this side of the Chamber, to put a lot of work into legislation, to come forward with what we think are good suggestions to make it a better piece of legislation and then to have them all swept aside simply because the Government have a large majority. The Minister must see that that is quite difficult to swallow at times.
I thank the Minister for giving an answer that he felt to be very reassuring. I will read it to see how much I am reassured by it and, in view of that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 33 withdrawn.
Amendment 34 not moved.
35: Clause 2, page 3, line 36, at end insert—
“( ) The fisheries policy authorities must whenever possible draw up fisheries management plans that are agreed with all those non-UK authorities that share those stocks.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment requires management plans to take account of the fact that fish migrate across boundaries.
My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendment 46. I was surprised that the Minister seemed to give the impression that we were saying that the British fishing industry or this sector had a bad reputation, or that we were somehow denying that it was trying to obtain sustainability. I do not think that anybody in the Chamber has said that at all. However, that provides a good introduction to this amendment.
One of the things that the UK did, as part of the European Union, was to help reform the common fisheries policy quite successfully in all sorts of ways. The landing obligation was one of those reforms, which I am delighted the Government are still pursuing post Brexit, and so was the issue of regionalisation—an area of fisheries management that the UK always pursued in the Council of Ministers. In the last major reform of the common fisheries policy, we achieved regionalisation to a large degree.
Why did we do that? Why was that important? Well, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, referred to, a large proportion of our commercial, and indeed other, species are not confined to the UK EEZ. As he said, spawning grounds, for instance, are more likely and more often to be found elsewhere rather than in our exclusive economic zone. What that means—and this is stark-staringly obvious—is that we have to continue co-operation to manage these stocks because, if we do not, it will not work.
A key difficulty with this Bill for me is that, to a degree, it asks for three fictions—or three novels—in the form of the two documents on sustainable fisheries, which we will continue to talk about, and also, particularly, the fisheries management plans. I welcome the Minister’s offer to talk about those, because I do not think the Bill is very clear about what these plans are trying to do. However, one thing that I am sure about is that the fisheries management plans need to take into account the total circulation of the fish, or other marine animals, in the areas that we are trying to manage. If we do not do that, the plans are a waste of time; they are just not going to work.
This amendment says that there has to be an obligation—of course, all our international obligations are general rather than specific, so they would not work sufficiently in terms of the detail that I would see in the management plans—to do our best, or a best endeavours obligation on the fishing authorities, to come to agreement with other non-UK authorities that are in charge of those fish stocks that are within that management plan, so that we have a holistic plan for the range of those stocks. I cannot think why we could not do that, but I do not believe that the international obligations are specific enough for there to be a need to do that at management plan level. There is a general obligation; it is not a specific obligation.
That is why my amendment proposes that fisheries authorities, in bringing those management plans together, have to try to reach agreement with other coastal states or member states of the European Union. It is not compulsory—clearly, agreement might not be reached—but, equally clearly, those others will want that same result. This will not be part of the Brexit negotiations, so it is not around high negotiation; it is around practical effect, once we are out of the common fisheries policy and we are into our future relation. There is not some great negotiation point here; it is a matter of trying to achieve all the goals in those objectives, all of which will be largely impossible to achieve if we do not have management plans that co-ordinate with those of adjacent coastal states.
That seems to me to be a complete and clear proposition—one that not just biologists but anyone who has been involved in this area would recognise—and I hope that the Minister will find a way of getting this aspect into the Bill. I say once again that, without this aspect, we are looking at a Bill that talks about management plans that become a fiction. I beg to move.
My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendments 57 and 58, which were put down by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern.
The premise I start from is that conservation and sustainability are essential if we want to conserve all kinds of fish for the good of our planet and as a legacy that we can be proud of for the future generations who will inhabit it. To achieve such success for the future, we need both clear, co-ordinated objectives and detailed management plans working in concert. The changes proposed will improve the coherence between the objectives contained in the detailed management plans. These plans will have to include an explanation of how the overarching objectives of sustainability and marine conservation have been interpreted and applied.
I ask the Minister to give more details on the operation of these new management plans and how they will co-exist alongside other co-management initiatives, which already exist in the industry. For example, the shellfish advisory group is engaged in such an arrangement, and this can be built upon.
We also believe that, within six months after the passing of this Bill, the Secretary of State should issue a consultation on the design and creation of these management plans. Can the Minister tell us a little more about the Government’s long-term vision for the future of this very special industry?
On the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson—who, if I may say so, was an excellent chairman of the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee, on which I was privileged to serve—I believe what he said is essentially right, in that every interest should look at this issue with a considerable sense of realism. In his speech, he pointed the way to a meeting of minds, which I believe and hope very much will come into existence. Surely, it should not be beyond the wit of humankind to come to a meeting of minds on this subject.
My Lord, perhaps it is as well that I should speak to my amendments, in view of the fact that my noble friend has done it already. These amendments are an attempt to deal with the point that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, referred to earlier.
Amendments 57 and 58 which I have put forward—my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering has also signed up to the first one—would require the fisheries management plans to explain how they are implementing, or taking account of, the objectives in a way that we can understand. I think that that is a reasonable obligation. It is not a legal obligation in quite the sense that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, was talking of in the earlier amendment, but I think that these objectives are intended to form part of the structure of the management plans. Therefore, the test is whether, on a proper examination of the management plans, we can see how these objectives have been implemented.
Amendment 58 would require the Secretary of State to set out procedures for arriving at these management plans, including consultation on how this should happen. He would then be able to go forward with a procedure which will implement the objectives within the management plan.
My other amendment in this group, Amendment 125A, would require the Secretary of State to make a statement about the economic benefits of this system to the United Kingdom in pursuance of the national benefits objective. Management under that objective requires social and economic benefits. I venture to think that it would be right for the Secretary of State to apply his mind in time, just at the end of the first year, to explain how he hopes to achieve economic benefits as a result of the arrangements made under this Bill for fishing in United Kingdom waters.
I strongly support what the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said about the need for co-operation with other authorities that have responsibility for stocks which we share with them, for the obvious reason that, unless there is such co-operation, there is no real management of the whole stock. As the noble Lord said, it is absolute common sense to do that. It is not quite a matter for the negotiations over Brexit; it is about practical arrangements for ascertaining what is required in respect of these stocks.
Coming back to a point that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, made earlier about equal access arrangements, as I understand the Bill, the equal access arrangements are about the actual movement of fishing boats. The quota system controls the catch. If one looks at what the Bill says about equal access, it is pretty plain that, for example, you are not tied to your home port; you can go somewhere else. If you think that there is a better bargain in Peterhead than in Grimsby, you can go there. Conversely, of course, if you fish in Scotland and think there is a better bargain in the south, you can go there, but you cannot drop your line to bring fish out of the water as you go through English waters if you do not have a quota for that. If you are licensed for Scotland, you have to exercise your quota rights there. That is the way that I have understood it. I may be completely wrong, but it looks to me as though that is the way the Bill is framed. That goes back to a previous discussion.
So far as my amendments are concerned, they are intended to incorporate the objectives into the plan in a way that anybody can reasonably understand. That obligation would be a practical obligation in respect of these objectives. We cannot expect any authority to implement all of them; it will depend a bit on the nature of the arrangements. Incorporating them in a way that is explicable and explained in the management plans is the way forward. I would like to know in due course what the Government think about these amendments.
My Lords, I will speak to my Amendments 51 and 52, which are about data-deficient stocks. I was very pleased to hear the Minister say earlier that there is a real commitment to know more about stocks in order to improve them. Amendment 51 strengthens the drafting of the Bill to ensure that authorities “will” take steps to obtain the scientific advice and data necessary to enable an assessment of a stock’s maximum sustainable yield. This would replace the rather loose drafting in the Bill at the moment, which says that authorities will specify the steps, “if any”, that they propose to take. That seems to imply that they may choose to remain deficient in data. It would be an improvement to lay that stronger requirement.
Amendment 52 would be consequential on Amendment 51. It would remove the wording
“where no such steps are proposed, state the reasons for that.”
If there was a requirement to absolutely lay down a proposition as to how the data and evidence could be collected, there would be no need for a statement of reasons for doing nothing. We do not want the authorities to explain why they are doing nothing; we want them to explain how they are going to do something.
I also support Amendment 58 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. It would be great to have some of the changes that we want to fisheries management plans on the face of the Bill: but, if we cannot have that, guidance will be very important. Establishing that fairly swiftly, and consulting widely on it, would be extremely helpful.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 61 and 71 in my name, as well as to speak in support of other amendments. I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Krebs, for adding their names to Amendment 61. While it adds merely one word to the Bill, it makes an important distinction that science and scientific evidence must be good and up to date.
At present, as my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch will outline in relation to some later amendments, Clause 7 provides for fisheries management plans to be amended in the event of “relevant” changes in circumstances. These include changes to scientific evidence. Earlier in the Bill, there is a reference to drawing on the “best available” scientific evidence. The objective in question states that the management of fish and aquaculture activities should be based on this best evidence.
I am sure that the Clause 7 provisions do not intend to allow for any change in scientific evidence to be used as a justification for changing the ways in which fishing activities are managed. Peer review reports are a key aspect in coming to conclusions in scientific matters. Given that, sadly, we live in a world where a small minority of scientists still deny many aspects of the nature of climate change and other generally accepted problems, it seems curious that we should leave open the risk that a minority of scientific opinion could justify watering down important sustainability provisions. It is an important distinction to make sure that this safeguard is added in Clause 7.
Amendment 71 is a probing amendment relating to the issue of transitional provision as the UK becomes an independent coastal state. The amendment makes it clear that fisheries policy authorities must consult with one another in drawing up management plans. Clause 9 of the Bill makes it clear that interim fisheries management plans can be adopted prior to the full versions being published under Clause 2. This makes a great deal of sense in relation to authorities acting alone, which could lead to the adoption of contradictory —or, at least, not entirely complementary—interim measures. There should be some requirement for the policy authorities to discuss interim measures with each other. We need to be satisfied that joined-up policy-making remains a priority even during any transitional spells.
Of the other amendments in the group, Amendment 35, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, supplemented by his Amendment 46, makes common sense in saying that international co-operation should be achieved, as far as possible, in management plans.
My noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone tabled Amendments 51 and 52, which seek to strengthen the emphasis on pursuing sustainability in policies and actions, especially with deficient stock, by seeking scientific evidence. It is important that such evidence must support management plans.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, tabled Amendments 57 and 58, which would require management plans to include a statement setting out how the overarching objectives have been interpreted and applied, and consultation on the design of the plans themselves. Those two amendments probe the element of consultation that must be undertaken by the relevant authorities, and how far consultation on these arrangements needs specifying in the Bill. I might say that those requirements could be added in relation to many, if not all, of the other objectives to which management plans need to have regard.
I also thank the noble and learned Lord for tabling Amendment 125A, which would introduce a requirement for the Secretary of State to provide more information on the realisation of economic benefits stemming from the new fisheries approach. The extra information that he requires could only help achieve greater degrees of success.
All these amendments raise valid points, and there is a common theme: we do not know nearly enough about the Government’s plans at this stage, which should be a concern to all noble Lords. At this point I thank the Minister for his offer to explore the workings of management plans in greater detail before Report. That would be very productive.
I thank all noble Lords who have tabled amendments in this group. Amendments 35 and 46, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, address our engagement with other coastal states in relation to fisheries management plans. As noble Lords know—we are going around in circles a bit—many of the fish stocks that are important to the UK industry are shared with our regional neighbours, inhabiting both UK and non-UK waters.
I fully support the intention behind the amendment, which is to ensure that we co-operate closely with our regional neighbours in the management of those shared stocks to ensure their sustainable management. Indeed, as I have said before, as a responsible independent coastal state, we of course seek to do that, both as members of the relevant regional fisheries management organisations and in line with our international obligations under UNCLOS. Indeed, we will seek international agreement on the management of shared stocks, and fisheries management plans could be a vehicle for delivering some aspects of those agreements in UK waters. But fisheries management plans are not just about agreeing quota; they are about managing the wider ecosystem impacts of fishing.
I am advised that the amendment is incompatible with the devolution settlements. In respecting the fact that most fisheries management is devolved, the Bill provides that individual fisheries administrations may produce fisheries management plans. However, as noble Lords know, and as I have said before, international negotiations are a reserved matter. Therefore, in practice, if this amendment were to become law it could restrict the devolved Administrations from implementing management measures in their own waters pending any international agreement, which would necessarily be led by the UK Government.
The UK is committed to continuing co-operation with other coastal states for the sustainable management of shared stocks. Were we to enter into joint regional arrangements for shared stocks, these would be set out in international agreements—although, as I have highlighted, any management aspects relating to the stocks that swim in our waters could be implemented through the fisheries management plans.
Amendments 51 and 52 are designed to ensure that all stocks within the fisheries management plans have an assessment to make sure that harvest rates are set to restore or maintain populations of harvested species above the biomass levels capable of producing maximum sustainable yield. I agree that it is important to have the best available scientific advice to support fisheries management, and this ambition is reflected in the Bill, principally through the scientific evidence objective. However, the Bill specifies that in cases where an assessment of a stock’s MSY cannot be made, steps are taken to obtain the necessary scientific evidence for that to be done.
For some stocks, it is not possible or appropriate to conduct assessments of their MSY. For example, this can be due to stocks such as bycatch or conservation species not being caught in large enough quantities, so that there is insufficient data. Clause 6(3)(b)(iii) contains the important provision that in such circumstances, the fisheries policy authorities must explain their reasoning as to why they are not setting out steps to understand the maximum sustainable yield of the stock. This, I hope, will provide noble Lords with the certainty that they will understand the reasoning if and when, in narrow cases, some stocks in a fisheries management plan do not have such steps set out.
Amendment 57 would include a requirement to state explicitly how each fisheries management plan’s policies link to the fisheries objectives. I recognise my noble and learned friend’s clear intention to ensure that there is a direct link in the Bill between the fisheries management plans and the fisheries objectives. My noble friend Lord Selkirk also made that point, and asked me what the Government’s desire through all this was. It is to have sustainable fisheries with vibrant and successful ecosystems, and a harvest that provides an important food source. However, the joint fisheries statement is already required to explain how fisheries management plans will contribute to all the fisheries objectives.
The plans themselves must be consistent with the joint fisheries statement and must, in accordance with the sustainability objective, set out how they will maintain stocks at sustainable levels. They must also set out how they will obtain new scientific evidence, which will meet the scientific evidence objective; and how they will take a precautionary approach, which links to the precautionary objective.
My noble friend Lord Selkirk also asked about shellfish. Shellfish can and will be covered by fisheries management plans. The newly formed Shellfish Industry Advisory Group is looking to create specific plans, and the scallop industry consultation group is looking at what could be considered in plans too.
The Government believe that the existing provisions for the joint fisheries statement and fisheries management plans, taken together, will clearly demonstrate how our future fisheries management regime will be underpinned by the fisheries objectives.
Amendment 58 gives me the opportunity to set out the process of consultation already provided for in the Bill; we will explore it in more detail later. I support the principle of requiring consultation on the design and implementation of fisheries management plans. The Bill sets out in Clause 3 and Schedule 1 the process for statutory consultation on the joint fisheries statement. The statement will also be subject to parliamentary scrutiny before it is adopted. It will include a list of the proposed fisheries management plans and will necessarily set out general principles around how fisheries management plans will be developed.
The Bill also requires consultation on the fisheries management plans themselves. Part 3 of Schedule 1 is clear that the relevant authority or authorities must bring the consultation draft to the attention of “interested persons”. In addition, we want to learn lessons from other parts of the world and ensure that our plans are appropriate for our circumstances and fisheries. We may therefore trial different types of plans or have plans that nest inside others. Fisheries management is well known for bringing unintended consequences, and we need to be able to adapt, learn and build as we go. We believe that a one-size-fits-all process for the production of plans would therefore not be suitable, for the reasons I have outlined. I assure noble Lords that we intend that the whole process of developing the plans, including their design, be carried out openly and collaboratively.
I am grateful for the noble Lord’s Amendment 61, on clarifying the evidence used in fisheries management plans. I appreciate the importance of making decisions on the basis of the “best” science. I also appreciate the advantages of consistent terminology, as we want to ensure that the Bill’s purpose and ambitions are clear. However, the fisheries objectives already refer to the need to manage fisheries on the basis of the best available science. I am advised that including a reference to “best” science in the provision on fisheries management plans is therefore not needed.
Amendment 71 would add further requirements to the consultation arrangements for fisheries management plans published prior to the adoption of the joint fisheries statement. I make it clear that I fully support the noble Lord’s aim of ensuring that any early fisheries management plans are sufficiently consulted upon, ensuring not least that other fisheries policy authorities have the opportunity to contribute.
However, Clause 8 and Part 3 of Schedule 1 set out the procedure for preparing, consulting on and publishing fisheries management plans. These provisions require an authority or authorities publishing a plan to consult with “interested persons” and then have regard to any representations they receive. These provisions will apply to any plans prepared under the transitional arrangements in Clause 9.
On a technical note, as currently drafted the amendment would apply only to a fisheries policy authority acting alone. However, there may be circumstances where some UK fisheries administrations produce a plan that others are not party to. In those circumstances, we would still expect the other administrations to be consulted in line with the procedures set out in Clause 8 and Schedule 1.
I turn to Amendment 125A from my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. As I have described previously, economic considerations are covered in the objectives in Clause 1, which requires that fish and aquaculture activities are managed so as to achieve economic, social and employment benefits. I therefore reassure my noble and learned friend that measures for obtaining such benefits will be included in the joint fisheries statement. I recognise that he may have deliberately chosen the date in the amendment as 1 January 2021 in anticipation of the end of the transition period. However, it is not clear how in practice this clause would sit with all the other considerations in the objectives set out in Clause 1, and it would place economic benefits outside the joint fisheries statement, which would be less transparent.
To achieve true sustainable fisheries, it is important that a balance exists between all of the objectives set out in Clause 1, and we believe that it would be inappropriate to bring forward statements on the economic benefits early. Developing a hierarchy within the objectives would be inappropriate since it could undermine this approach. Furthermore, while the amendment refers only to the Secretary of State’s responsibilities, the purpose of the joint fisheries statement framework is to help to develop a UK-wide framework through co-operation across all four fisheries administrations. We believe that the amendment would run contrary to that aspiration.
I am grateful for all the amendments tabled and points raised during the debate on this group. Again, I hope I have spoken in enough detail, but if there are any residual points of detail that noble Lords would like to raise after Committee or thereafter, I would be very happy to discuss them further. I hope that in many of the cases that have been raised I have been able to highlight that there are already provisions catering for them in the Bill. Again, at the international level these are subject to our international obligations, and we will be working through them. At this stage I respectfully ask the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister for what I think was a very constructive reply. I could see the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, almost thinking that the Minister was going to concede one amendment—but then it was taken away. What a disappointment, but there we are. Of all the amendments, the one tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, which would put how the objectives have been met in the fisheries management plan, seems to be totally obvious and, while not a substitute for what the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, wishes to do, something that would really tie that down. The statements are too high a level to do that; it needs to be done at the level that the noble and learned Lord suggests.
I have one question for the Minister before I— probably—withdraw my amendment. We leave the common fisheries policy on 31 December this year; it will all go and we will have a clean sheet. When does he expect the first of these management plans to be in place, and what will happen in between?
I think I will write to the noble Lord on that precise issue. As I have said, there are some existing plans, as well as work that we are already undertaking. The whole purpose of this is to take those management plans even further. That is why we need to get this framework Bill through, and then we can work on the plans. I could not give the noble Lord a precise date and I am not going to make one up. Obviously a lot of work is being undertaken and we will need to work with the devolved Administrations and interested parties.
As I said in relation to the consultation following Royal Assent, there are provisions here with the affirmative statutory instruments, which will be part of the aftermath of this where we will have consideration. This is work that we need to advance very quickly. I am not in a position to give a precise date—the noble Lord would probably think it unwise if I did so—but this is work that absolutely has to be advanced because, yes, our aspirations for sustainable fisheries apply now and on 1 January and thereafter.
I will not press the Minister any more on that, but I think all of us, and maybe the industry itself, would have a concern if there was a blank sheet between when we leave the current regulatory regime and when these plans arrive. I will wait for him to write on that.
I look forward to meeting the Minister, along with others, to understand the management plans more. However, I say yet again that the science has to be the best, and I am glad that that is accepted in principle. We have to find a way to integrate co-operation and co-planning with our adjacent coastal states with our fisheries management plans. We just have to do that; we cannot do it any other way. The debate that we have had has still not convinced me how that will happen in a practical way, and that is very much what I will be looking to the Minister to explain to me and others when we meet before Report. At the moment, though, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 35 withdrawn.
36: Clause 2, page 3, line 36, at end insert—
“(5A) If the fisheries policy authorities (or any of them) believe that a statement under this Act is or would be, if made, inconsistent with their policies, they may request an independent reviewer, which the Secretary of State must appoint, to report within 6 weeks.(5B) The Secretary of State and fisheries policy authorities must have regard to the report of the independent reviewer appointed under subsection (5A) in making a JFS thereafter.(5C) The Secretary of State must have regard to the report of the independent reviewer appointed under subsection (5A) before setting out policies in a Secretary of State fisheries statement under section 4, which would otherwise be included in the JFS.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would interpose an independent review, if requested by an authority, if there is a difference of view over policies. It would seek to resolve disputes between authorities before policies are set out in a Secretary of State’s Statement, rather than in a JFS.
My Lords, I would be grateful if noble Lords would look at the revised version of Amendment 36 on the supplementary Marshalled List. It is revised not because I have changed my view about what it should say but because there was a transcription error on the Marshalled List. If one is referring to Amendment 36, I would be grateful if one would look at the version on the supplementary list. The difference is that the revised version says “6 weeks” for the report of an independent reviewer, not “six months”.
This is my best effort thus far to meet the test that my noble friend set us on Monday afternoon, when he said that this Bill had been through the mincer to an extent beyond that which most Bills do. He said any change had to meet the test of,
“Gosh, I wish we’d thought of that.”—[Official Report, 2/3/20; col. 421.]
So this is the amendment that I am hoping the Government might wish they had thought of.
Why do I put it forward? It is like lawyers writing contracts. When people write a contract together, they often sit down and write it on the basis of the agreement they plan to come to. The lawyers carefully explain to them that the purpose of the contract is not simply to give effect to the agreement but to explain what happens when things go wrong. Legislation has to be like this as well; it has to explain what happens if there is no agreement.
My Amendment 36, and indeed this group, provide an opportunity at this stage to look at the process of establishing joint fisheries statements and the Secretary of State’s fisheries statements. I think what we need to do is present that challenge in question. Discussions on the Bill, and between the fisheries authorities of the United Kingdom, have gone very well. However, this does not mean that we cannot be in a position where there might be an element of disagreement about the policies that should be pursued by the respective authorities.
One might say that the Secretary of State writes the policies that they want to pursue in a Secretary of State fisheries statement, that these will no doubt be the reserved matters, and that the respective fisheries policy authorities will set out their own policies on the non-reserved matters. It is not like that, in my view, for two reasons. First, with regard to replacing the common fisheries policy, the industry, if there is no common United Kingdom policy, wants to see at the very least a degree of consistency, not least because there are some objectives that have to be pursued together. We do not have to go back over all of these, but the equal access objective, for example, means that there must be a degree of co-ordination and consistency built into the structure of the licensing processes.
The second reason is that the Secretary of State’s fisheries statement is not simply about reserved matters: it is about quota and how it is used. As we will discuss when we come to Clause 23 and subsequent clauses, the use of quota and the determination of fishing opportunities can override all the devolved matters.
I should say that I was prompted to write Amendment 36 by the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, which has said for some time that it wants a dispute resolution mechanism. It wants the fisheries policy authorities, so far as possible, to agree, and for their policies to be reflected in a consistent fashion in a joint fisheries statement. This is something we should endorse. The NFFO did not, however, suggest how the dispute resolution should function, so I took that upon myself—so any deficiencies in the drafting of the amendment or the proposed mechanism lie at my door, not at the NFFO’s.
The NFFO wants a dispute resolution mechanism because it is concerned that it will not otherwise be possible to deliver the equal access objectives, and that things like the economic link requirements under the licences would diverge significantly and cause difficulties for the industry. It feels that devolution is a highly desirable aspect of making decisions, but understandably it does not want this to be done at the cost of the industry finding conflicting and inconsistent decisions in relation to these objectives.
I commend Amendment 36 and will refer very briefly to Amendments 66 and 68, which are also in this group. This takes us into Schedule 1, which is about the process for making the joint fisheries statement and the Secretary of State fisheries statement. At the moment—and I find this interesting—the policy authorities will be publishing a consultation draft. Unless I am mistaken—and I will be glad to be corrected by my noble friend if so—this means that it is not a formal consultation but the publication of a draft at a suitable moment: one on which the Government say that they are happy to receive representations and that they will draw it to the attention of all interested persons.
My amendments probe what the Government’s actual intentions are. I think that the consultation draft—as we need to hear—will be published at a point when decisions have not been finalised, and must be brought to the attention of the people whom it affects. I instance the fishing fleets—not only those that operate in our coastal waters but also those that do so in more distant waters, because we are dealing with the determination of fishing opportunities that could extend beyond our own exclusive economic zone.
I do want—and look to my noble friend to offer—assurance about the way in which the Government and the fisheries policy authorities will go about the processes of securing representations at the right time from the right people. I beg to move.
My Lords, if nobody else wishes to speak, I want to do so on behalf of my noble friend the Duke of Montrose, who unfortunately could not be here today but who gave me permission this morning to speak to his two amendments in this group, 40 and 47.
Amendment 40 states:
“If, in the light of a review, the fisheries policy authorities conclude that changes are not required to the JFS, they must prepare and publish, as soon as reasonably practicable, a statement setting out the reasons for that conclusion.”
My interpretation of this is that if, in the light of a review, the fisheries policy authorities conclude that changes are not required to the joint fisheries statement, they must prepare and publish as soon as practicable. In other words, there must be as much openness as possible in the statement setting out the reasons for that conclusion.
Amendment 67 states that the period should be
“not less than 28 days”.
This means that the facts must be realistically and correctly stated in the document that would be issued. This decision ensures that the scrutiny period for consultation on the joint fisheries statement should be long enough to ascertain all the facts. It is a safeguard that should be supported, and I submit that it is in the interests of everyone involved. The purpose is to prevent a conclusion being rushed out when all the scientific evidence may need to be taken into account for the cause of sustainability.
I do not think there is anything more I can adequately say on this subject, as the facts speak for themselves.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk of Douglas. I too was going to speak to Amendments 40 and 47 on behalf of the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose—the Law Society of Scotland had sent me a very extensive briefing—but the noble Lord has made all the points that I would have made.
On issue of the 28 days, we have Amendment 69, which mirrors Amendment 67. The Bill currently requires each of the fisheries policy authorities to specify a period for scrutiny of the consultation draft of the joint fisheries statement, but no definition is set out in paragraphs (3) and (4) of Schedule 1. There is no timescale attached to the definition, and it is important that we have one.
The Bill provides that each fisheries policy authority must specify a period for scrutiny of the consultation draft by the appropriate legislature. To rectify this, we propose a minimum period of 28 days if scrutiny must be undertaken. That is important, so I echo what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk.
My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, and have added my name to it. I know that my noble friend the Minister will say that the amendment is not needed, but I would argue that it is. If there were no changes to the joint fisheries statement, we should be able to understand why that was the case and why everyone had agreed. It would be helpful to have more openness and transparency in that regard.
My Lords, I have a number of amendments in this group which I am sure the Minister will be able to bat away quickly and easily. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, on his amendment: it is a problem that I thought we would never have, but he suggests a way to resolve it and I am sure that he would make an excellent independent adviser if it should ever arise.
Clause 3(1) states:
“The fisheries policy authorities may at any time prepare and publish a replacement JFS.”
It comes back to trying to make the rules clearer. Can one of the authorities trigger this, or does there have to be a consensus? I look to the Minister for guidance on what precisely that mechanism is.
I always like simplification in life. While I understand what the Bill is trying to do in requiring two fisheries statements, it would be great to have a combined document so that everybody could understand how the policy looks as a whole. That would be terribly useful to the consumers of the legislation; that is, the industry and all the stakeholders.
I would be interested to hear from the Minister how the department came to six years as a review period. We have American presidential elections every four years, the World Cup is every four years, the Olympics are every four years, and fixed-term Parliaments are every five. Why six? It would be better if it was five. Six years seems a long time in terms of marine ecology and fisheries statements. It should be looked at just a little more regularly.
My Lords, we have a relatively simple amendment, Amendment 74, in this group. The Bill requires the fisheries policy authorities to produce periodically a report on the extent to which their policies as set out in the joint fisheries statement have been implemented. Where there is an omission, the Secretary of State is required to intervene.
The amendment would require the Secretary of State, if required to produce a report on the policies omitted from the joint fisheries statement, to consult not only the devolved Administrations but a wider group of representative bodies on the content of the report. It is a straightforward amendment which seeks to fill a gap in the consultation provisions made elsewhere in the Bill. The provision in Schedule 1 does not spell this out in sufficient detail.
On an earlier amendment, the Minister read out a list of representative bodies which the department regularly consults, which of course is welcome, and described it as an “expert advisory group”. However, that is different from a statutory requirement to consult at various stages of policy production and review. I hope that the Minister will concede that our amendment would fill a gap in the consultation proposals. Like the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, I hope that she does not just bat it away.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, for his amendments. As he said, we need mechanisms to address what happens when things go wrong, and he made a good stab at doing that. He made the useful proposal that an independent review could be sought when conflicts over policies and their application arose. I hope that the Minister agrees that those proposals have some merit. The noble Lord’s other amendments touch on the extent to which representatives of the UK fishing fleet should be consulted. Again, that is important. We agree with the proposal but, as in our amendment, would want any consultation extended to a wider group of stakeholders.
The amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, relate to the timescale for the review of joint fisheries statements. He proposed a more meaningful review period of five years rather than six. We agree that there is little logic in the six-year timescale. Given that it is assumed that international negotiations will continue to take place annually, it seems far more practical to review and update the joint fisheries statements in a more timely way in line with changes taking place scientifically and the negotiations with the international community. As he said, five years is consistent also with the parliamentary cycle, so there seems to be not much logic for six and a whole lot more logic for five. I hope that the Minister is able to take that on board.
The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, seeks via his amendments to build more flexibility into the production of joint fisheries statements. He may have a point, although I doubt that there would be many occasions where there would not be some need for a review every five or—if necessary—six years.
At the heart of these amendments is a need for proper statutory consultation, meaningful timeframes, the best advice and flexibility. I hope that the Minister will see the sense in the proposals and perhaps take some on board.
My Lords, I congratulate your Lordships on getting through a daunting-looking group of amendments in record time. Your points have been made well and succinctly.
Any Secretary of State fisheries statement, or SSFS, would cover only reserved and UK quota matters and would be published only if such matters were not covered in the joint fisheries statement. It is our intention that the joint fisheries statement will be the vehicle which sets out the fisheries administrations’ future fisheries management policies, respecting the devolved nature of fisheries but recognising the benefits of a joined-up approach.
My noble friend Lord Lansley’s Amendment 36 relates to a process to resolve disagreements through an independent review. While I appreciate the sentiment behind making provision for disagreements over policy between fisheries policy authorities to be dealt with amicably, it is unclear exactly how he is interpreting the expression
“a statement under this Act”.
Sadly, I am advised that the amendment would create legal uncertainty.
In respecting the devolution settlements, the provision for a JFS allows for the fisheries policy authorities to set out individual policies alongside those agreed jointly. This means that an authority could publish its own policies if they would contravene its wider policies as part of the statement. Therefore, given that the statement requires administrations to set out their policies, it is hard to envisage how they could then claim that the statement was incompatible with those very policies. If the amendment related to the SSFS, the Bill is clear that this can contain only reserved or UK quota matters, so it would be inappropriate for other fisheries authorities to be able to block a decision by the UK Government in this case. The amendment also seems to allow for a review to be invoked at any time after a SSFS or JFS is finalised, potentially leading to uncertainty around the state of those documents after they are in force.
The review process could also cause problems for the fisheries policy authorities in complying with what the Bill sets out as their legal duty to produce a joint fisheries statement, because it would appear to undermine the statutory framework for co-operation that we are seeking to build, by consent, with the devolved Administrations. I appreciate the concerns that my noble friend seeks to address through the amendment, but perhaps I can provide further reassurance to him by saying that other, non-legislative elements of the framework will be set out in a memorandum of understanding which is being developed with the devolved Administrations. This will enshrine co-operative ways of working and a mechanism for escalating and resolving disputes, were they to arise. Existing governance structures and agreements such as the overarching MOU on devolution between UKG and the devolved authorities, which sets out the JMC process for managing intergovernmental disputes, will also continue to apply.
I turn to Amendment 37, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. Schedule 1 states that in consulting on a draft, there is a requirement for the fisheries policy authorities to act jointly. Paragraph 4 of that schedule ensures that the fisheries policy authorities, acting jointly, must publish the JFS as soon as is reasonably practicable. I hope this makes clear to the noble Lord that the JFS is a joint endeavour.
I will address the amendment to reduce the period between reviews of the JFS from six years to five years together with similar amendments relating to the SSFS, as the logic behind the decision for a six-yearly fisheries statement cycle applies to both statements. We believe a six-year period to be sufficiently regular to ensure that both statements are up to date with the current state of fisheries management and best available scientific advice, while providing enough stability and management to enable results to become apparent. The six-year period also reflects the practice of reviewing marine plans as set out under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. I am reliably informed by my noble friend that this is a Bill which the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, was rather proud of. It also allows reviews to be scrutinised by all the relevant legislatures, thereby ensuring that the priorities of the legislatures of the day can be reflected, as the JFS will need to be scrutinised by all four legislatures, including those in the devolved Administrations which operate on different electoral cycles. It seems prudent to allow a little more time between reviews. Also, the six-year period is a maximum time allowed between reviews. If appropriate, a statement could be reviewed earlier.
In addition, the Bill now commits the fisheries policy authorities to report every three years on progress against these objectives. This increases transparency and accountability further. As Clause 3 allows for the statement to be amended as the need arises and Clause 11 provides for a three-year reporting period, I hope that the Committee will agree that we will be able to respond quickly to changing circumstances and environmental needs as required, ensuring that the policies in our statements remain fit for purpose.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Selkirk and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, for speaking to the amendments by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, seeking to require fisheries policy authorities to publish an explanation of their reasons if they choose not to amend the joint fisheries statement following a review.
I fully support the need for transparency around reviews of the statement. However, Clause 3 and Schedule 1 require a statement to be reviewed at least every six years and progress against the objectives to be reported on at least every three years to ensure that the policies remain fit for purpose. The fisheries policy authorities will consult on any changes to the JFS, any SSFS and any fisheries management plans.
Fisheries management needs to be adaptive due to the dynamic nature of the environment. It is therefore extremely unlikely that the JFS, which will include policies for all the fisheries policy authorities, will not require changes. That is why this clause allows the statement to be amended as need arises in accordance with processes outlined in Schedule 1.
Amendment 41 seeks to ensure as much clarity as possible on the policies of the UK as set out in the two fisheries statements. I agree that anyone reviewing the fisheries statements should be able to review the documents with ease. However, it is important to recognise that the documents serve different purposes in that they deal with devolved and non-devolved matters. They are therefore subject to different preparation and scrutiny requirements. It is therefore important that the two statements remain legally distinct from one another. I am happy to commit that if both statements are published, each will be referenced on the relevant website to make it clear that the two are linked.
I shall address Amendments 66 and 68 together. These amendments afford me the opportunity to provide clarity on the consultation process for both statements. My noble friend raised concerns at Second Reading that the consultation process needs to balance a range of interests and that consultation may not go beyond publishing the documents online. We have begun engaging informally with stakeholders and will continue to do so. A full public consultation will also take place on these statements.
Schedule 1 ensures that a consultation draft must be brought to the attention of interested parties, including members of the public, and that the final text must have regard for any representations made. Both documents will also go before legislative assemblies of all four fisheries administrations.
Paragraph 2(1) sets out that the consultation drafts must be brought to the attention of interested persons. This is broadly defined to recognise that there will be a wide range of views which must be taken on board. We have taken legal advice which confirms that there is no need to specify groups already within the scope of this definition. I also wish to reassure my noble friend about the process of consultation. It is true that drafts of consultation will be made available online, but wider engagement will also take place. Indeed, the Government and devolved Administrations have already begun conversations with a range of stakeholders about the joint fisheries statements. The statements are also subject to parliamentary scrutiny, and it is right that during this process, not only are the statements themselves scrutinised, but the right level of engagement is carried out to ensure the statements have been brought to the attention of interested parties.
Legislative scrutiny is the area that my noble friend the Duke of Montrose, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh sought to explore in Amendments 67 and 69 respectively. I am supportive of the principle underlying my noble friend’s amendment to allow Parliament sufficient time to examine a draft of the JFS and a similar ambition in relation to the SSFS. There is precedent for not specifying a minimum period for parliamentary consultation in a Bill; notably, in the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. Your Lordships can be assured that discussions with the House authorities and a relevant Select Committee on the appropriate time needed for consultation will take place and the department will ensure that an appropriate amount of time is given for scrutiny.
The date of the adoption of the JFS of 18 months after the Bill passes will ensure that enough time is given to scrutinise the draft statement, both by the public through robust consultation and by members of each UK legislature. The date of the adoption of the SSFS, if one is required to be published, will be no longer than six months after the adoption of the JFS, again allowing time for appropriate scrutiny.
In relation specifically to my noble friend’s amendment, as the JFS will also be scrutinised by the appropriate legislatures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, it is not appropriate for the UK Government to specify how each Administration undertake scrutiny, as this would cut through the internal processes of the devolved legislatures.
Turning to Amendment 70, I reassure noble Lords that the fisheries administrations have regular and routine engagement with stakeholder groups across the UK. Such engagement will continue so that stakeholders will be able to contribute to the development of fisheries management plans and to their implementation. The Government do not consider it necessary to set up statutory local advisory boards. Again, I highlight that Schedule 1 to the Bill already requires fisheries authorities to consult with interested persons.
Amendment 74 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, seeks to widen the consultation process when developing the progress report for the SSFS. The Bill refers to consulting with the devolved Administrations on the development of the report because the SSFS may contain additional policies relating to the reserved and UK quota matters necessary to delivering those fisheries objectives. As the report may cover progress against policies of relevance to the devolved Administrations, we consider it appropriate to consult them specifically. It is important to note that the report will subsequently be published and available widely. It will also be laid before Parliament.
While we will always seek to consult stakeholders where appropriate in implementing policies set out in the SSFS—or, for that matter, the JFS—a statutory duty to consult on the interim review is disproportionate and would create an unnecessary burden. Instead, we believe that the requirement for a formal consultation, when the statements are fully reviewed at least once every six years, is sufficient. With this explanation, I hope my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I did not understand the Minister’s response on my Amendment 37. I am specifically trying to understand how the joint fisheries statement is triggered. Forgive me, I may have misheard the Minister, but can it be triggered by any one of the authorities or does it have to be unanimously triggered by them? It is not specified, and that obviously makes a big difference to when replacements might be demanded or when they might happen. Clause 3(1) does not say how those are triggered, just that they can be at any time. It is by one, two, three or four of the devolved authorities?
There was a part of the speech that got cut, which I think may provide some elucidation on this point. The JFS is a joint endeavour; all fisheries policy authorities must work together throughout the drafting processes, publication, and review and replacement of the statements. All authorities must agree to go consultation and to publish. I hope that answers the noble Lord.
I am grateful to my noble friend. There were 14 amendments in this group, so it was not easy to tackle them all, not least since we managed to introduce them all in 18 minutes—it did not leave a lot of time for the preparation of notes on amendments. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, because the point he just made in his further intervention illustrated forcefully the point I was making. This is all absolutely fine if everybody agrees; it is when they do not agree that we want the legislation to tell us what happens. I do not think it does that yet.
My noble friend has explained that there will be a memorandum of understanding and, as we have heard, there is the 2012 concordat relating to licence conditions and how the economic link requirement is implemented and so on. I do not dispute that non-legislative means may well deliver the co-ordination between the fisheries policy authorities that is required, but it is not transparent to us now; nor is it transparent yet to the industry. That is why the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations asked, quite properly, the questions and illustrated how problems could arise; for example, on the implementation of the equal access objective.
My noble friend quite rightly challenged my drafting, but we can deal with that if we need to. It could perhaps be “statements under this Section” and not “under this Act”; we can deal with that very easily. If necessary, we can make it very clear that the independent reviewer could be resorted to by any of the fisheries policy authorities before the point at which the joint fisheries statement is made—that is just to clarify; I thought it was clear but it clearly was not. We can deal with the drafting.
The issue that we come back to is: what happens when they do not agree? I am afraid that my noble friend lapsed straight into the problem that I think we are trying to avoid, which is that the fisheries policy authorities that have devolved responsibilities will set out their policies and the Secretary of State will set out policies on reserved matters in the Secretary of State fisheries statement. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, made perfectly clear, we want and the industry needs—and it will clearly be better—all the policies to be set out in the joint fisheries statement. They can be; there is absolutely nothing in the Bill that requires the Secretary of State to publish a Secretary of State fisheries statement on reserved matters. The Secretary of State can put it all into the JFS. It would be better if it were all in the JFS, but it will all get into the JFS only if there is agreement between all the authorities to this effect. But that is pretty important: remember that the reserved matters in this context include quota functions—the catch quota and effort quota—which could, in certain circumstances, completely override what might otherwise be the licensing of fishing boats by devolved authorities. If we can get it all into the JFS, it would be a better outcome.
I will happily beg leave to withdraw the amendment, but I do not think that we have concluded this conversation. We need to keep this conversation going, and I hope that my noble friend will make it clear that we will—she does not need to go back to the Dispatch Box. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 36 withdrawn.
Clause 2 agreed.
Clause 3: Joint fisheries statement: procedure
Amendments 37 to 40 not moved.
Clause 3 agreed.
Clause 4: Secretary of State fisheries statement
Amendments 41 and 42 not moved.
Clause 4 agreed.
Clause 5: Secretary of State fisheries statement: procedure
Amendments 43 and 44 not moved.
Clause 5 agreed.
Clause 6: Fisheries management plans: duty to comply with proposals in JFS
Amendments 45 to 58 not moved.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.46 pm.