Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)
Debate on whether Clause 6 should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, I do not propose to debate this at any length. When I tabled my opposition to Clause 6, I had not appreciated that my Amendment 49A, which we debated earlier, would have had the chance to have been debated today.
I am especially grateful that my noble friend the Minister has said that we can have a further discussion on the question of fisheries management plans. That would give me the opportunity to explore many of the issues. Therefore, I do not wish to pursue this, other than to say that I stand by the comments I made earlier that, in terms of stock levels and controlling the biomass, it is not sufficient to look at it purely in terms of sustainability. We need to look at the biomass in terms of maximum sustainable yield. We will have an opportunity to discuss that next time.
My Lords, I am glad to have the opportunity to set out the intentions of the Government in this new provision in the Bill to produce fisheries management plans. We have already discussed various aspects and provisions of the plans, and I take this opportunity to highlight the fact that the requirement to produce these plans was not included in the previous fisheries Bill. Inclusion of this requirement demonstrates the Government’s commitment towards securing sustainable stocks and meeting the manifesto commitment on the matter. Fisheries management plans will help the United Kingdom’s aims to recover and maintain fish stocks to healthy levels, ensure we fish sustainably and offer the flexibility in our management approaches to deal with our complex fisheries.
Clause 6 requires the UK fisheries administrations to produce fisheries management plans as described in the joint fisheries statement and sets out the detail of what these plans must contain. The plans will directly contribute to the fisheries objectives in Clause 1. They will set out the detailed fisheries conservation measures necessary to manage specific fisheries and fish stocks. Each plan will set out the geographic area that it covers, the stock or stocks covered, and how its effectiveness will be monitored and reported.
Where we do not have enough scientific evidence to assess a stock’s MSY, the administration or administrations must include the steps they will take to obtain the scientific evidence required to establish sustainable harvest limits or explain why they do not intend to do so. This might, for instance, be if scientific advice indicates that a suitable proxy measure for assessing a stock’s sustainability can be used instead. For example, such an approach is used for North Sea lemon sole, which is a data-limited stock. A precautionary buffer is applied based on advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea.
As I have said, I am very happy to have what I would call as technical a meeting as your Lordships wish it to be on the fisheries management plans. These plans will be the backbone of the technical aspects of fisheries management policy in the future. However, for this evening, I hope that my noble friend feels happy not to press her opposition to the clause.
As I said, I am happy not to pursue this matter.
Clause 6 agreed.
Clause 7: Fisheries management plans: power to depart from proposals in JFS
59: Clause 7, page 7, line 34, leave out “include (in particular)” and insert “are limited to”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment changes the list of changes in circumstances which are capable of being “relevant” from indicative to exhaustive.
My Lords, the amendments in this group are tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Grantchester. They are, in the main, probing amendments. They follow on from the earlier group of amendments and concern the scope of powers to amend or depart from proposals in the joint fisheries statement.
As it stands, the Bill allows the fisheries policy authorities to depart from proposals in the joint fisheries statement if there is a change of circumstances. It goes on to say that the changes of circumstances include, but are not limited to, international obligations, actions by a territory outside the UK, scientific evidence, and evidence relating to the social, economic or environmental objectives. Amendments 59 and 72 tighten up that wording so that those are the only reasons for agreeing a change of circumstances, the reason being that quite a wide scope for change is already given in the joint fisheries statement, which is envisaged to be a longer-term planning document rather than one constantly under revision. Therefore, we believe that the original wording is too loose and could allow other, extraneous factors to come into play.
Our Amendment 60, in the name of my noble friend Lord Grantchester, goes one stage further and removes international obligations altogether as a reason for a change of circumstances. Our concern is that the negotiations with the EU 27 and other external coastal fishing areas will be taking place this year and in future years, and those international obligations could be used as a reason to revisit the joint fisheries statement and abandon our commitment to the sustainability and climate change objectives and the other important objectives in Clause 1.
During our debates on the Bill, all noble Lords have been concerned that a good set of objectives in Clause 1 will end up being watered down by the economic pressures of the trade deals and that we will end up back at square one with something not dissimilar to the common fisheries policy, which has, rightly, been discredited. Therefore, we tabled this amendment to explore under what circumstances international obligations might be used as a reason to amend the joint fisheries statement.
Finally, Amendments 62, 63 and 73 tackle the rather vague reason for a change of circumstances being
“available evidence relating to the social, economic or environmental elements of sustainable development.”
We felt that phrase could mean anything. Changes in these elements relating to fishing management will happen constantly. New reports and statistics about progress in these areas will appear regularly. At what point could this be used to promote a review of the scheme, and is this how we envisage it would work? Instead, we have proposed a much tighter phrase, which is to limit reviews of the joint fisheries statement to resulting from
“catastrophic events which have an impact on fisheries management or the marine environment.”
The previous wording of the Bill did not have the reference to changes in socioeconomic circumstances as a reason for non-compliance with the JFC. Instead the Explanatory Notes listed catastrophic events as a reason for revisiting it, so we have taken this wording and added it to this version of the Bill. Does this not make more sense? Obviously we do not want to put a complete straitjacket on the wording of the JFS, but those drawing up fisheries management plans and those employed in the industry need certainty to plan and invest, otherwise there is a danger of constant lobbying to change the provisions and much confusion among those tasked with implementing the plans.
I hope noble Lords will see the sense in what I say, including the Minister. I therefore beg to move.
My Lords, I very much welcome these amendments and support them. I have put my name to Amendment 62, which is about my genuine concern—I will not go over it again at this time of the evening—that somehow social and economic elements will be used to trump a sustainability issue, even if it is not the will of the present Government or of the Minister. It just makes me uncomfortable, and I would much prefer this whole area to be tighter, as with the other amendments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, which she has explained. It is coming back to this area again of ensuring that we do not prejudice the long term by making life easier politically in the short term.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness and indeed the noble Lord for the points they have made. This gives me the opportunity to set out the reasoning behind the ability of fisheries policy authorities to diverge from policies in the joint fisheries statement and from policies in the fisheries management plan, in the narrow circumstances where relevant considerations apply, and to take a different approach for stocks for which it would not be appropriate to gather data to calculate their MSY.
Starting with Amendments 59 and 63, it is clear that fisheries management plans will need to evolve over time to retain their efficacy and feasibility. While the list presented in the clause in question covers some of the major changes that we could predict might take place, other circumstances may bring to light fundamental factors to consider in updating fisheries management plans. This legislation aims to be future-proof and flexible enough to allow dynamic, evidence-based policy-making.
The premise behind this amendment is that the fisheries administrations could use this clause to somehow water down plans. However, it would also hinder their ability to strengthen plans in the light of changing circumstances. It would limit those circumstances under which fisheries administrations might consider amending, revoking or developing new fisheries management plans, or to set out a plan described in a different way from that initially proposed in a joint fisheries statement, to one or more of four exclusive reasons that we believe will severely limit their ability to react to new or emerging issues. Furthermore, preventing fisheries administrations making use of new economic, social or environmental evidence as a trigger to amend or replace fisheries management plans, and by inference informing the development of new fisheries plans, is contrary to the core principle of evidence-based policy-making.
The amendment proposed by the noble Baroness puts the threshold for using evidence at that relating only to “catastrophic events”, which would seem extremely high and to relate, one hopes, to very rare occasions. I have reflected on this and feel that it would mean that fisheries administrations would have to wait to react to events, rather than be proactive and use all new evidence potentially to head off a catastrophic event. I am concerned that the amendment creates an unacceptable risk that our fisheries administrations would be unhelpfully bound by what was foreseen as necessary at the point at which the joint fisheries statement was published, rather than having the flexibility to react to changing circumstances or moving stocks that could result in environmental, economic or social harm that was not yet catastrophic.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for his probing Amendment 60, introduced by the noble Baroness, as it gives me the opportunity to reaffirm that our international obligations are fundamentally important to the United Kingdom and will become even more crucial now that we are an independent coastal state responsible for our actions. The existing clause will ensure that fisheries management plans can evolve with our growing international ambition for the wider environment, as well as fisheries, and be a tool to help us meet our obligations. We need to have the flexibility to make changes to accommodate new international agreements in the future. This amendment would tie us to having fisheries management plans that might be in contravention of our international obligations in the future, which I am sure is not a situation that the noble Lord or any of us would wish to end up in.
I turn to Amendment 62, which seeks clarification as to why the inclusion of the three pillars of sustainable development are a relevant circumstance to trigger changes to fisheries management plans. I have set out in some detail already the importance of being able to respond flexibly to events beyond our control, but I would like to give a little more detail. We have committed to taking an ecosystem approach to fisheries management whereby the impact on humankind, and vice versa, is a fundamental principle for consideration. Social, economic and environmental evidence is central to our implementation of a new, progressive approach to fisheries management. As I have set out, this amendment would curtail responsive, evidence-based policy-making based on using the best available scientific evidence—a commitment made through our scientific evidence objective in Clause 1.
I turn now to Amendments 72 and 73, which aim to narrow the relevant circumstances for authorities to diverge from policies set out in the fisheries management plans, joint fisheries statement and Secretary of State’s fisheries statement. As I have highlighted already, the UK Government believe that there are good reasons for retaining this degree of flexibility, while maintaining the premise, as set out in the clause, that the national fisheries authorities are required to pursue the policies outlined in the relevant fisheries statements or fisheries management plans, as applicable to them. I will not repeat all the detailed arguments made and discussed earlier, but simply note that overly restricting the circumstances in which fisheries administrations may depart from policies could inappropriately limit their ability to react to those new and emerging issues. The safeguards in Clause 10(2) set out that, if there is divergence due to a relevant change in circumstances, the relevant fisheries administration would publish a document describing the decision and the relevant change of circumstances, as well as explaining how the relevant change in circumstances affected that decision.
I have spent a little time on this and used words such as “flexibility”. This is all part of addressing our concern that we need—and our stance is—to be proactive in seeking what we all seek, which is sustainability. Although I agree that the amendments are well intentioned, they could make it more difficult to do all the things we want to do. I hope that the noble Baroness feels able to withdraw her amendment.
Before the Minister sits down, may I ask a simple question: does he think that the phrase “international obligations” means international negotiations such as I described, which would include the ongoing regular annual negotiations? Or do “international obligations” cover some wider commitment to international law? If that phrase means the former—the negotiations that go on from time to time—that is quite troubling, because that is where we got into difficulties with the common fisheries policy and other issues. We had our own sustainability principles, and then we traded them away, because that was the outcome of the trade negotiations. Before I comment more widely on what the Minister has said, I am just wondering what that phrase means.
So that I am not anything other than very clear with the noble Baroness, I shall read from the Bill: in Clause 48, on interpretation, an
“‘international obligation of the United Kingdom’ includes any obligation that arises or may arise under an international agreement or arrangement to which the United Kingdom is a party”.
That is the definition.
Does that include the 5,000 agreements that the Minister talked about in order to negate one of our earlier amendments?
I think I am consistent, in that there are many treaties that do not relate to fisheries, and I am consistent in saying that this is in relation to our international fisheries obligations. With the other amendment that we discussed, the drafting could have involved us in all the 14,000 treaties—I think it was 14,000—whereas here I believe it is distinctly involved in and engaged with the arrangements for fisheries within our international obligations.
Just to pick up on that point, the definition to which the Minister has pointed us is about international agreements or arrangements
“to which the United Kingdom is a party”.
That could mean anything or everything that we deal with and negotiate on an international basis, and it continues to raise concerns about the outcome of those negotiations, and whether such considerations will trump our more aspirational objectives, which we agreed in Clause 1. We may come back to that. I continue to have a sense of disquiet about the implications —as I do about the phraseology around the word “socioeconomic”, which we shall not bottom out now; we have debated it several times. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that we are in danger of trading the long-term benefit to the marine environment for short-term advantage. Whatever the good will of the Government may be, some of that practicality and necessity will, sadly, get in the way of some of our more profound objectives.
I listened carefully to what the Minister said about the other factors. He talked about dynamic policy-making and reacting to new emerging issues. It just feels as if this will be a moveable feast and will not provide the stability that the fishing community and the devolved Administrations would welcome. I am worried that the wording provides a little too much flexibility.
I quite like the “catastrophic event” phrase: it was the Government’s phrase in the first place, and I just quoted it back. I would have thought there was some merit in adopting it anyway, because such things will be factors. There could be extreme weather changes, or other circumstances could have an impact that the Government would want to respond to, but which would not be covered under the other terminology in the Bill. This is all a bit unsatisfactory, but obviously I am not going to pursue it at this point, so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 59 withdrawn.
60: Clause 7, page 7, line 35, leave out paragraph (a)
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment removes paragraph (a) to probe whether the powers to amend or revoke a fisheries management plan can be used to implement the outcome of negotiations with the EU27.
If I may detain the House for a quick moment, I thank my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch for pursuing this issue further with the Minister. I refer back to the probing done by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, on how far Ministers in the Department for International Trade will be abiding by the objectives mentioned in the Bill in their negotiations over fisheries trade with the EU. I just make that point, and I look forward to the Minister’s letter in that regard.
Amendment 60 not moved.
Amendments 61 to 63 not moved.
Clause 7 agreed.
Clause 8: Fisheries management plans: procedure
64: Clause 8, page 8, line 31, after “means” insert “an English advisory board and”
Member’s explanatory statement
The amendment brings an element of devolution into England’s fisheries plans, and introduces consultation with fisheries’ stakeholders.
My Lords, I repeat my declaration of interest as co-chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Nature Partnership, as one of my amendments mentions local nature partnerships.
I was grateful to the Minister for his letter of 4 March, which I think was to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron. In the passage dealing with “Stock definition areas”, the Minister stated:
“One of the matters the Department will consider is whether and how it could take a more regionalised approach to quota management.”
I welcome that statement very strongly. One of my aims with this group of amendments is to try to understand what is in the Minister’s, and indeed the Government’s, mind.
We are constantly reminded that the Bill has been knitted together by the various devolved authorities along with Defra and the Secretary of State. That is great: the devolved authorities can go off and agree their authority in terms of how fisheries management works. However, in England we do not have devolution at all; the whole of England is treated as one. I feel strongly that that advantage of devolution in the rest of the UK should be allowed to happen within England as well. I do not see why England should be at a disadvantage here. There are very different fisheries; even within south-west England there are significant differences, let alone further along the south coast, and certainly once you get to the North Sea. There is a very wide range of fisheries, and there will be a very wide range of fisheries plans.
I am sure the Minister will be able to pick holes in this amendment in all sorts of ways, but what I am trying to say is that there needs to be a method of devolution within England around fisheries management in how the industry operates that goes beyond bog-standard consultation, which, to be honest, is very limited in its effect on the way that it works. What I have suggested—I am not saying that this suggestion is perfect; I am just looking to the Government to take the issue seriously and come back to what has been suggested in that letter—is a way to a devolved situation.
I suggest that the major ports should have an advisory board—I am not saying that it should be an executive board, so I am being very modest in my aspirations—that should be able to have a major influence over the management plans. In fact, in many ways the advisory board should be the initiator of the local or regional strategy. It should then meet to go through the issues and make suggestions to the Secretary of State before the draft management plan comes out. When the draft management plan has been produced, the advisory board would then have a second bite at considering that and making recommendations. This is a process, and the amendment is very process driven.
I am trying to present a possible model of a way to involve and get expertise in a real sense—not just in a passive consultation—to make sure that these management plans are workable, have real buy-in from those that are affected by and have to operate them, and include the organs of the state, whether it be Natural England, the MMO or Defra. These should be able to participate in the process as well.
I am looking for the Minister to set out how we are going to achieve this in England. This will makes a difference not just to the fishery but also—as we have talked about so much—to the local communities, particularly coastal communities, which are affected. This allows that wider dimension to affect the local benefit of these fisheries plans.
One of the possible methods of devolution is already established. IFCAs are already responsible for management in quite a broad sense, not just in fisheries but in conservation more generally up to the six-mile limit. There are local fisheries all along the English coastline that operate within the six-mile limit. These organisations are already well represented by stakeholders, from local authorities, NGOs and the fishing community. Could we not use them to be able to have a strong power —in fact, executive power is what I am suggesting—over their own local fisheries? By doing so I believe we will have much greater buy-in and much more effective management plans.
I am not sure what the principle of this Government is regarding devolution at this stage, but I get the impression that they are keen to push power downwards where appropriate. I feel this is an area where that could be done successfully, but I stress again that this is a model and not necessarily the definitive answer. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the amendments in this group, particularly Amendments 98 and 99. It is an interesting idea to have the IFCAs involved in determining fisheries’ opportunities.
There does not seem to be much respect for the MMO among smaller fishermen. In our committee last year, for instance, we heard complaints that it tended to take a short-term view of micromanaging individual small fishermen’s quota—that is, the quota for the under-10 boats. As opposed to issuing an annual quota, which would let them decide when and how they should be managed, the MMO issued weekly or monthly quotas, which did not go down well.
Since then, I have spoken to fishermen operating in Cornwall, south Devon and south Dorset. While I have no sense of the veracity of what I heard, it is clear that respect is pretty low. One said: “The MMO do short term quota fixes, sometimes on a daily basis. People go out and come back and find their quota has changed.” Another said: “With the new catch app, a skipper has to compulsorily weigh up his 20 species of fish before he lands, while meanwhile the coastguard says, ‘Do not work the app while steering your boat.’ Who do you obey?”. The last one is pretty damning—again, I am just repeating quotes; I have no idea about the truth of them—“The MMO is always looking for ways to prosecute the under-10s industry, which is already on its knees.”
As I say, I do not know where the blame lies for the breakdown in communication and trust, but clearly something needs to change. It might be worth looking at the more democratic and wider interests of the IFCAs—as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, was saying—to see whether they could be involved in the setting and monitoring of the inshore fleet quota.
My Lords, I support the amendments in this group, which are linked and would bring transparency and accountability to the process, as set out clearly by my noble friend Lord Teverson. As he said, in the absence of devolution in England, setting up an English advisory board would allow consultation on England’s fisheries plans with fisheries stakeholders.
On our first day in Committee, we heard much about the consultation that has taken place with the devolved Administration and the agreements reached with them. Some of your Lordships, including me, felt that English fishermen were being undersold. We heard that the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly agreed with the relevant clauses in the Bill, but we did not hear that the view of English fishermen and women had received quite the same input. Setting up an English advisory board and other advisory boards to oversee fisheries management plans would bring some accountability and transparency into the process and help English fisheries receive parity with their Scottish and Welsh compatriots.
The list of those to be involved would ensure that not only major fishing ports but smaller ports in a region would have a voice in how the fisheries management plans were drawn up and implemented. Although Amendment 65 is long, it is comprehensive and would ensure accountability, devolution and representation for the English fisheries. This is long overdue. I look forward to hearing from the Minister just how this might be achieved.
My Lords, one of the puzzles in this Bill is getting to grips with the relative powers of, and interaction between, the Secretary of State, Parliament and the devolved Administrations. Into this mix, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, has introduced a measure of devolution for England and its regions. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, for sharing his comments with the Committee.
In his Amendments 64 and 65, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, has made a strong case for creating advisory boards for major fishing ports in England, giving the power of determination for fisheries operating within the six-mile limit to the relevant local inshore fisheries and conservation authority, and ensuring consultation with local bodies on matters that will affect them. It might even be said that, subject to consideration by the devolved Administrations, similar processes should be followed in the devolved nations.
It does not seem unreasonable for us to use this Bill to examine which level of government is best suited for the various activities and how best to ensure a level of local decision-making in England. At the very least, the Bill should make sure that in formulating policies the authorities engage properly with all relevant stakeholders, including port authorities, inshore fishers and so on.
In his Amendments 91, 98 and 99, the noble Lord distinguishes between the UK’s six-mile limit and its exclusive economic zone. He quite is right to challenge the Bill on its localism provisions.
I thank noble Lords for this short debate on a topic of real interest, but I believe that we can cover elsewhere the concerns that have been raised.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his amendments, which would involve a proposed English advisory board and other boards in the process of preparing fisheries management plans. Such boards, as well as the IFCAs, would be involved in the determination of UK fishing opportunities. I understand the intention of noble Lords fully to involve local stakeholders in England in decisions that affect them, such as the development of fisheries management plans and determination of fishing opportunities.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, asked how we would achieve this. We intend to collaborate closely with local fishermen and stakeholders, who will often have the best understanding of their area. However, a statutory advisory board is not the most effective way to achieve such collaboration.
It is a long-established policy for the Government to consult widely on the use of statutory powers. Our provisions for fisheries management plans already require consultation through Clause 8 and Schedule 1. Fisheries policy authorities are required to consult with interested persons and have regard to their views when publishing the final plans. These interested persons will catch a wider range of stakeholders than those who would be required to sit on the English advisory boards according to this amendment.
I know that noble Lords are aware that fisheries management is complex. Our provisions for fisheries management plans need to have sufficient flexibility in design to ensure that we achieve our aim of fishing our stocks sustainably, wherever they live in our waters. Many stocks targeted by local fishermen in England are not restricted to their local area and, depending upon location, may be shared with devolved Administrations or neighbouring coastal states. Fisheries management plans will need to deal with specific geographic coverage of stocks. Plans must cover both inshore and offshore areas, possibly at the same time. They should not be restricted to administrative boundaries or ports.
The amendment would establish new bodies with defined formal responsibilities in the development and implementation of fisheries management plans. Public and private bodies, along with groups of individuals, would be required to field representatives to these advisory boards. The operation of the boards as set out could require a significant resource commitment from their members, and I do not think it is appropriate for the UK Government to place formal obligations on private individuals joining a board dealing in fisheries management. Local authorities would be given the responsibility to resolve any conflicts in finalising the membership of advisory boards, which seems inappropriate for a local authority.
The IFCAs already have sustainable fisheries duties under the Marine and Coastal Access Act and are required to consult formally on management measures. IFCAs produce management plans for species within their districts, working with local fishermen to achieve the best outcome. Each IFCA comprises members from relevant local authorities, general members representing local organisations, and statutory agencies. Requiring an IFCA to work with the proposed advisory board that itself will have representatives from some of the bodies on the IFCA has the potential to create conflicts of interest and operational problems. Adding this responsibility will create a further burden on the IFCAs themselves and local organisations.
The UK Government support last October’s Future of Our Inshore Fisheries conference organised by Seafish. Fishermen and stakeholders discussed themes such as greater collaboration and the devolution of decision-making responsibility. I highlight that Amendment 64 as drafted would give boards statutory responsibility to prepare and publish plans. We cannot pass the responsibility for developing statutory policy that imposes legal requirements on the Government and relevant authorities to an advisory board.
Amendments 91 and 98 would include the IFCAs in Clause 24—the clause that addresses the determination of fishing opportunities—and Amendment 99 would include the advisory body as a consultee on the determination of fishing opportunities. Clause 24 sets out the duties that will apply to the Secretary of State when determining UK fishing opportunities. It does not relate to the subsequent allocation of these opportunities to the fisheries administrations or to their distribution to the fishing industry. The aim of this clause is to ensure that, as far as possible, the interests of the whole of the UK are taken into account when the UK’s fishing opportunities are set.
I accept that the quota system is complex. However, enabling the IFCAs to determine fishing opportunities separately alongside the existing allocation methods could lead to confusion and inconsistency in allocation and put the UK at risk of breaching its international obligations and sustainability commitments.
If the objective is to enable English IFCAs to manage certain parts of the English quota pot, this is currently done by the Marine Management Organisation for vessels under 10 metres. The MMO manages a system of closures in English waters to help manage, for example, the cod effort in the eastern Channel. I note what the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, said about the lack of regard in which they are held. We note what was said; we have other information.
Inshore fisheries and conservation authorities play a key role in the management of inshore fisheries and can already make by-laws under Section 156 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 to limit the amount of sea fisheries resources a person or vessel may take in a specified period, and the amount of time a person or vessel may spend fishing for or taking sea fisheries resources in a specified period.
To provide reassurance around the need for statutory engagement with stakeholders in the setting of fishing opportunities in relation to Amendment 99, in England, Defra and the MMO already regularly engage fishing industry representatives, and those with a wider interest, on fishing opportunities through a number of different routes. This engagement starts when the scientific advice arrives ahead of the annual negotiations. Industry is also engaged and consulted when changes are proposed to the allocation of fishing opportunities. Engagement continues through the subsequent management over the fishing season. In the UK Government’s fisheries White Paper, we committed to additional quota gained through negotiation being allocated in a different way. Engagement with the devolved Administrations on the intra-UK allocation has begun. Defra conducted a call for evidence in relation to the allocation in England last year, with more engagement planned.
With this explanation, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, is reassured that our fisheries management plans and approach to quota setting will provide sufficient opportunity for appropriate and local engagement, and so will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
How do I reply to the Minister on that one? If I am really honest about it, what I hear is “We would quite like to keep it as it is at the minute, all we want to do is go through our normal consultation exercise and that will be okay.” I was quite encouraged by the letter from the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, which began to talk about regional devolution—just on quota management—but I did not really hear anything from the noble Baroness the Minister that suggested that the Government would develop that idea further.
On the arguments about forcing people to be on an advisory board, you would have a queue of people—in fact, the problem would be that the queue would be worse than a queue in a hospital at the height of the NHS crisis. Lots of people would want to participate in this, and for good reason: they want to do good for their region, they want to get this right and they want to stimulate the local economy and have greater authority over these fishing plans.
I feel severely disappointed. As I have said, this model is not perfect but, if you are going to have management plans that work, you have to base them around the industry, and the industry operates from ports. That is why you have to base this at ports. Sure, some of the same fisheries relate to different ports but, on the whole, they are adjacent. Often, even close ones—certainly the fisheries out of Brixham, Newlyn and Plymouth—are very different. I have had representations from the Cornwall and Scilly LEP for it to be sensibly and actively involved somehow, rather than in the normal run of consultation. There is a big difference between consultation and devolution. What we are looking for here is real devolution. In the model that I have put forward—perfect though it may not be—I have not made it so it has statutory power; I have tried to make it moderate and reasonable.
I would really like the Minister to develop the undertaking that was given to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, in that letter and to think about this further. This Bill could really make a difference. At the moment, I feel that all the Bill does is create more of the same. There is so much that we could do to really make a difference here. I am sure we would agree to most of that, yet we have a framework Bill that pretty well keeps everything as it is. All is does is replace the mechanisms of the common fisheries policy with something else; it does not really act to a greater good than we have at the moment. These are the sorts of things we could do but, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 64 withdrawn.
Clause 8 agreed.
Amendment 65 not moved.
Schedule 1: Fisheries statements and management plans: preparation and publication
Amendments 66 to 70 not moved.
Schedule 1 agreed.
Clause 9: Fisheries management plans: transitional provision
Amendment 71 not moved.
Clause 9 agreed.
Clause 10: Effect of fisheries statements and fisheries management plans
Amendments 72 and 73 not moved.
Clause 10 agreed.
Clause 11: Reports on fisheries statements and fisheries management plans
Amendment 74 not moved.
75: Clause 11, page 10, line 28, at end insert—
“( ) The Secretary of State must, in consultation with the devolved authorities, publish a report annually that details the state of all stocks for which there are fisheries management plans.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that there is a report on the state of the stocks each year, not every three years.
My Lords, I am sure we will deal with this very quickly: there may be a misunderstanding here. One of the most important things if we are to have a sustainable fishery is that we understand the state of the stocks on an annual basis, as we do at the moment. We have cited many times this evening and on Monday the proportion of the stocks that are or are not meeting MSY within the common fisheries policy. I just want to be assured that there will be something similar each year, certainly for those precious stocks and, I hope, for some others as well—I am looking to the Government to guide me here—so we can understand, as Parliament and as the industry, what the states of the stocks are each year. I cannot understand why this could not be the case if we have any sort of quota allocation or annual international negotiation with adjacent coastal states. I am looking to the Minister to clarify this and to assure me that we will keep that regular feedback on the state of the stocks. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for tabling this amendment. He raises an important point about the need for the most up-to-date scientific evidence on the state of stocks to aid planning and quota allocation. As previous debates established, there are a number of different timescales resulting from the provisions in the Bill and it is important that we somehow manage to mesh them effectively. One of them, the reporting of the state of stocks, is currently a three-year timescale, whereas this amendment quite rightly proposes a timescale of one year.
We feel that there are strong arguments for this. Given that quota negotiations and fishing opportunity determinations are due to be made annually, and they are meant to draw upon the latest and best scientific advice, it makes sense for the stock reports to coincide with this timescale. Given that the Secretary of State has the opportunity to make mid-term revisions to fisheries management plans, access to the latest data would provide the best possible motive for change. We would go one stage further and hope that these stock reports could be officially collated by Defra and the devolved Administrations and made publicly available. Given that we are moving towards real-time stock measurement and given that the scientific processes we are putting in place will be much more real-time and up to date, I do not think that this is too onerous; therefore we support this amendment and hope the Minister agrees.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his Amendment 75, which requires annual reports on the state of
“stocks for which there are fisheries management plans.”
Existing annual publications provide information on the state of our fish stocks. The Joint Nature Conservation Committee publishes the UK biodiversity indicators annually on behalf of Defra and the devolved Administrations. These indicators include two covering sustainable fisheries: one shows the percentage of quota stocks harvested sustainably, and the other the percentage of quota stocks whose biomass is at such a level to maintain full reproductive capacity. These indicators are national statistics and part of the UK’s commitment to the Convention on Biological Diversity to report on our progress towards its goals and targets—the Aichi targets. Our indicators on sustainable fisheries show data back to 1990.
The Government published their 25-year environment plan in 2018, in which they committed to develop a new set of indicators to report on the state of our natural assets, and to publish an annual report on their progress in meeting the goals and targets set out in the plan. The first annual report, published in May 2019, had an indicator on sustainable fisheries alongside a narrative setting out how we are progressing towards our broader goal for sustainable fisheries. The indicator and narrative will be updated in the 2020 report due in the spring. The evolution of the Fisheries Bill and the introduction of our provisions for fisheries management plans means we will need to reflect and consult more widely with stakeholders as it may be more appropriate for each plan to contain its own reporting framework rather than for us to do a single annual report.
There are also some devolution implications arising from the amendment which cause concern. It would commit the Secretary of State to report annually on any stocks in fisheries management plans published by the devolved Administrations covering their waters only. The devolved Administrations would determine how and when they report on the state of stocks covered by their fisheries management plans. In addition, we have enhanced the transparency framework set out in the Bill by committing to provide triennial reviews of the joint fisheries statement and the implementation of fisheries management plans. There are stocks for which we do not currently have sufficient data to assess their status, and we have made provision in the Bill to collect further evidence to determine sustainable levels. The proposed three-year reporting cycle for fisheries management plans will set out our progress for these data-poor stocks.
I am very happy to have further discussions with the noble Lord if he thinks there are any loose ends, but with the existing annual publications—he is probably aware of them already—and the requirements in the Bill, we are asking the question that we all want to know the answer to, which is: are we making progress and is this working? With what we have already and what is planned in the Bill, his aspirations are covered. On that basis, I hope he will withdraw his amendment.
Whenever the Minister gives such a comprehensive answer, I get more worried. This was an amendment where I was expecting an answer such as, “Lord Teverson, on this, don’t worry. We’re just going to carry on. You will know each year how many of these stocks are at MSY and how many aren’t.” That is the core of what I was trying to get to. I am even more concerned because devolution means that we might not all be on the same page in reporting our fish stocks as a nation, so I ask the question: at the end of 2021, when we are outside the common fisheries policy, will Defra be able to give us or anybody else who wants to know the percentage of stocks that are meeting MSY, just as it does now through the common fisheries policy? Will we know that?
Let me repeat what I said. The existing annual publications include one showing the percentage of quota stocks harvested sustainably and another showing the percentage of quota stocks whose biomass is at such a level as to maintain full reproductive capacity. I will be happy to look at those myself, but I am afraid that I do not have them with me. However, not only does the Bill refer to reporting; annual publications already exist.
The noble Lord is worried when I give a comprehensive answer but if I have read this correctly, there is an existing annual publication. Perhaps the noble Lord has got me worried now, but I have no doubt about this. This is published as a part of our indicators on behalf of Defra and the devolved Administrations. I understand the point about the references to the devolved Administrations in the Bill. The task for Defra Ministers, which is an interesting one, is to work very productively with the devolved Administrations, which we are. There is no suggestion that matters which are devolved are no longer going to be devolved; they are absolutely part of the devolved settlement. Whether or not that proves to be an inconvenience for some, that is the settlement which is enshrined, and we will continue to work extremely collaboratively.
If the current publications are going to continue as they are, that is probably the answer, but I will check that myself. I thank the Minister for coming back on that point.
More seriously, I accept his point entirely about devolution, and I know that there are problems in other areas. For example, you get only the English figure for fuel poverty because Scotland defines it in a different way. Maximum effort should be made regarding the state of fish stocks because clearly, they are shared between England, Scotland and Wales. There should be a uniform measurement that we can understand, because this situation is different. Fish move across the devolved national boundaries and their stocks are absolutely fundamental to the health of our marine environment. Again, I accept entirely what the Minister has said about devolution and we are not trying to change that, but there really does need to be co-ordination in this area. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 75 withdrawn.
Clause 11 agreed.
Clause 12: Access to British fisheries by foreign fishing boats
76: Clause 12, page 10, line 39, at end insert—
“( ) The master, the owner and the charterer (if any) are not each guilty of an offence if a fishing boat contravenes subsection (1) or (2) as a result of—(a) danger to life or property, or(b) any other reason prescribed by the Secretary of State in regulations.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment makes clear that a foreign fishing boat is not committing an offence if it enters or remains in British waters due to conditions presenting a danger to life or property.
My Lords, I hope that this will be a fairly brief discussion. Amendment 76 has been tabled to seek clarification about the circumstances in which foreign fishing boats might legitimately enter UK waters without a licence. The kind of circumstances we had envisaged were during a storm, if there is an illness on board or when sailing through UK waters to reach a more distant fishing ground. This topic was raised at a meeting with the Minister last week and we were offered assurances by officials that appropriate international agreements and conventions would trump this Bill in the event of an emergency incident. I hope that the Minister will be able use this opportunity to clarify the conventions, how they would apply in these new circumstances, and the legal advice that he has received in relation to this matter.
We appreciate that the criminal offence set out in the Bill relates only to fishing in UK waters without a licence, rather than using UK waters for transit or an emergency landing. However, presumably it is not unusual for foreign vessels which are not licensed to enter UK waters to cast their nets as close to the EEZ boundary as possible. If a vessel were to be swept off course by changing weather, could that be construed by a patrol boat as unauthorised fishing?
I accept that these are hypotheticals, but there are potentially difficult times ahead for policing our waters. We need to recognise that while we will have robust enforcement in our waters, emotions can sometimes run high when it comes to perceived incursions. It is vital that there be a responsible approach which puts safety first, while ensuring that all foreign vessels understand the implications of the licensing regime we are proposing to introduce and do not flout them without recognising the consequences. I therefore beg to move the amendment.
My Lords, this is a really important issue and one that we need to clarify. I am sure that there are international obligations to do this, but I would be very interested to hear what they are. The noble Baroness raises some really important points about the fact that at sea, things can get difficult and emotional. We saw the incidents in the Baie de Seine last year or the year before, so we have to be very clear and careful about some of these things.
One thing I want to point out, which the Minister will be completely aware of, is that we sometimes envision an EEZ where foreign vessels have to stay on one side and British ones on the other; but under international convention, as long as they are steaming and not fishing, they are absolutely allowed to go through international waters. It is important to remember in this debate that it is not all about keeping foreign fishing vessels out of the UK EEZ; they are perfectly entitled to be there, not necessarily in territorial waters but between 12 miles and the median line, or 200 nautical miles. They are entirely allowed to steam through there as long as they do not fish, and we should remind people of that.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her amendment. This again touches on an issue that I am sure we can all agree is of great importance. The Merchant Shipping Act 1995 has special provisions for assisting vessels in distress. These provisions allow for any UK or foreign vessel that is wrecked, stranded or in distress at any place on or near the coast of the United Kingdom or any tidal water within UK waters to receive any assistance required. In addition, Articles 17 and 18 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea allow for the right of innocent passage, which applies to all ships of all states, to territorial seas——between 0 and 12 nautical miles—and to the exclusive economic zone, which is between 12 and 200 nautical miles, or the median line. Passage in this instance means navigation through the territorial sea, anchoring or stopping in territorial waters in cases of force majeure or distress or for the purpose of rendering assistance to persons, ships or aircraft in danger or distress.
For example, in poor weather, foreign vessels can stop fishing and shelter behind a headland to escape the worst of the wind and waves. According to the MMO, it is a common occurrence, especially in east and south-western areas and in Northern Ireland waters, to allow vessels safe navigation and passage. Through this existing legislation, we have a duty to provide shelter in our waters and in our ports so that vessels may deal with injuries, replenish their provisions and refuel; and also to allow them safe transit through our waters to reach more distant fishing grounds. Therefore, foreign vessels that need to access UK waters to get to their fishing grounds, or where there is a concern over danger to life or property, will continue to be able to do so. Any further exceptions will be agreed in international arrangements or set out in vessel licence conditions. This is already provided for in Clause 12(1).
I thank the noble Baroness for her explanation, but I regret that the second part of the amendment, which allows the Secretary of State to prescribe other reasons by regulation, is rather broad and potentially could be a catch-all. Additionally, as drafted, the breadth and ambiguity could cause challenges within the devolution settlements, depending on how broadly or narrowly the reasons were interpreted. I believe that the matter that this amendment relates to is covered in legislation already. With this explanation, I hope the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
I thank the Minister for that. It is useful to have all that restated. My only other point is that things will change with the new licensing arrangement. The last thing we want is for foreign vessel owners to put their own interpretation on how this will work, so the more we restate it and communicate it very clearly to all concerned, the less scope there will be for other people to try to misinterpret it. I do not wish to pursue this any further. I thank the Minister and I therefore beg to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 76 withdrawn.
Clause 12 agreed.
Clause 13 agreed.
Schedule 2 agreed.