Committee (3rd Day) (Continued)
81: Clause 17, page 13, line 25, at end insert—
“( ) A licence granted under this section must require that foreign fishing vessels fishing in British waters comply with at least the same minimum technical regulations as British vessels for that same fishery.” Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that foreign vessels have to comply with the same technical rules as British vessels.
My Lords, I also support Amendment 82 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. Before I start, I will go back to the previous group of amendments and say how much I welcome the Minister’s statement on IUU fishing. This is absolutely fundamental to the wider global issues around sustainability of fish stocks, which are under great pressure. Unfortunately, a great deal of illegal fishing still goes on. The UK’s work in this area in the past has been really important. In many ways we have led the EU; let us remember the common fisheries policy. I am glad to hear reaffirmation of that today.
I move on to what I hope is a very easy amendment. It seems important that any foreign vessels allowed to fish in UK waters or our economic zone should have to comply at least with the same technical regulations as our own vessels. I have put that in as an amendment; I assume the Minister will stand up and say, “It’s already happening” or “We’re going to make sure it is”. I certainly hope that is the case with the excellent amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, about employment practices and safety standards. Obviously, we are all very aware of the safety issues on fishing vessels—on all vessels, indeed, but particularly in fishing, which is one of the most dangerous activities. I look for confirmation on both of those. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for tabling Amendment 81, and rise to speak to my Amendment 82, which is on the same matter. I hope that is helpful.
The noble Lord’s amendment requires foreign fishing vessels in British waters to comply with the same standards as British vessels. My amendment is very similar, making it clear that as the UK will be granting licences, the licensing authorities in the UK must make sure that all fishing boats, including foreign vessels, comply to UK standards on safety and employment practices.
Equal standards, the level playing field and equivalence have bedevilled all regulations between the UK, the EU and soon others, through all trade negotiations, not least with the USA. In fisheries, as in agriculture, there is clear interest that fair and equal competitive standards must be adhered to across the board. The Committee has recognised the tough and dangerous working conditions in which all UK fishers work; the whole of the UK would want these to be as safe as possible. It is equally important that employment standards and regulations in the UK must not be undermined by any lesser standards that may pertain overseas.
In conversations, officials in the Minister’s department have indicated that the technical side of this issue is dealt with in the Bill. Could the Minister specify its location? I am not sure whether employment law and practices are dealt with specifically, although the Minister may reply they are included in licence conditions. These amendments make sure they are, and that compliance is mandatory for both UK and foreign boats.
Election promises on standards must be upheld in legislation, not merely stating that we are leaving the EU on 31 January and that our future relationship must be decided by 31 December. These standards also need to be put in specific legislation.
My Lords, I add my support for Amendment 81 on the equitable treatment of British and foreign-licensed boats. I would have added my support to the previous group of amendments on remote electronic monitoring, but the mood of the House was not for another person to stand up and agree. But I will do so now.
We will be in close negotiations with the European Union, and—we have been looking into this on our Select Committee—equitable treatment of our boats and foreign boats will be an important part of those negotiations. The point that this might involve the enforced application of REM can be made to the European Union. As I said in the debate on discards a week or so ago, the prevention of discards is European Union law. It is its policy; the EU passed it, not the British. So it cannot, in all equity, claim that having cameras is an ask too far, because it is its law we are trying to enforce.
I am grateful to noble Lords for this short debate, particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. He is right to emphasise the need for proper safety regulations for all vessels fishing in our waters.
Amendment 81 seeks to ensure that all vessels, regardless of nationality, follow the same technical conservation measures when operating in UK waters. Schedule 2 to the Bill extends domestic legislation containing technical measures, such as restrictions on the size of velvet crab that can be caught, to foreign vessels. Under the common fisheries policy, this legislation has been able to apply only to British boats, so this change provides for the first time the level playing field between British and foreign vessels sought by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. Further, Schedule 3 provides the powers to set conditions on licences and to extend those conditions so that they also apply to foreign vessels. I make it clear that our intent is to ensure that equitable approaches for licence conditions apply to both domestic and foreign boats in the future.
This amendment seeks to mandate additional licensing criteria for foreign vessels. We regard this as unnecessary, as measures to achieve equitable treatment are already provided for by the Bill.
Finally, the amendment does not take into account the devolved competence of the fisheries administrations to set their own licence conditions in their waters, where they do not conflict with delivering what has been agreed internationally.
Amendment 82 seeks to address two very serious issues. As my noble friend the Minister noted in his opening speech at Second Reading, and as we have discussed previously in Committee, fishing remains one of the most dangerous occupations. I regret that too many deaths and injuries still occur in our waters. However, safety at sea—for all vessels, not just fishing boats—falls within the remit of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency—the MCA—which has powers to enforce safety regulation.
Under the Fishing Vessel (Codes of Practice) Regulations 2017, a non-UK fishing vessel must not enter UK waters unless,
“if its registered length is 24 metres or over, it has been certified by its flag State as complying with the requirements of the Torremolinos Protocol”
on the safety of fishing vessels,
“or … if its registered length is less than 24 metres, it has been certified by its flag State as complying with the requirements of that State applying to vessels of that length”.
If a foreign vessel does not comply with these requirements in the future, it will not be granted a licence to fish in UK waters.
The MCA is also working to implement the International Labour Organization’s work in fishing convention into UK law. Its aims are for all fishermen to have decent living and working conditions, regardless of employment status. It entitles all fishermen to written terms and conditions of employment, decent accommodation and food, medical care, regulated working time, regular payment, repatriation, social protection, and health and safety onboard. It also provides minimum standards relating to medical fitness.
Lastly, I note that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, mentioned discards and European law. This will be covered at a later stage.
With this explanation, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I am very convinced by the Minister. However, coming back to the fact that this is devolved, I must admit that the thought of Scottish waters insisting on it and English waters not doing so rather boggles the mind. But I am very happy to withdraw the amendment, given those assurances.
Amendment 81 withdrawn.
Amendment 82 not moved.
Clause 17 agreed.
83: After Clause 17, insert the following new Clause—
“Enforcement of licences
(1) A Minister of the Crown must, before the end of the period of 6 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, lay before Parliament a statement containing the policy of Her Majesty’s Government in relation to the—(a) routine patrolling of waters within British fishery limits, and(b) enforcement of the requirements under sections 14(1) and 16(1).(2) The statement under subsection (1) must include a declaration of whether, in the Minister’s opinion, the United Kingdom has sufficient resources to undertake the actions mentioned in subsection (1)(a) and (b). (3) If, in the Minister’s opinion, the United Kingdom does not have sufficient resources to undertake the actions mentioned in subsection (1)(a) and (b), the Minister must, within 30 days of making the statement, publish a strategy for acquiring such resources.(4) A strategy published under subsection (3) must be laid before each House of Parliament.(5) For the purpose of this section “sufficient resources” includes—(a) an appropriate number of vessels,(b) an appropriate number of personnel, and(c) any other resource that a Minister of the Crown deems appropriate.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment requires a Minister of the Crown to outline the Government’s policy in relation to the patrolling of British waters and enforcement of fisheries licences, and, in the event of the UK not having sufficient resources, requires publication of a strategy for them.
My Lords, my proposed new clause seeks to clarify whether we have sufficient resources to patrol British waters and enforce fisheries licences, an issue we did begin to touch on in previous debates.
Apart from the odd skirmish, we have had a settled agreement on the distribution of fishing rights in UK waters and shared waters in recent times. However, leaving the EU and the common fisheries policy will potentially change all that. We do not know the outcome of the trade negotiations with particular regard to fisheries, but there are bound to be winners and losers—and there may well be bad losers.
We very much hope that the settlement works to everyone’s advantage, but that seems unlikely. The truth is that most commentators expect fisheries to be a highly emotive part of the UK-EU negotiations. I am sure that the noble Lord will seek to reassure us otherwise, but it seems unlikely that UK fishers will see a return to the unconstrained access to UK waters that they were promised in the referendum and beyond. The potential for bad feeling and a sense of betrayal could prevail from a number of quarters.
This brings us on to the resources needed to manage these disputes, which is the issue covered by our amendment. The Minister’s helpful letter following Second Reading described how offshore fisheries enforcement in English waters will be primarily delivered by two vessels operated by the MMO. In addition, the Royal Navy is increasing its offshore patrol vessels from four to eight in 2020, but only two of these would regularly be available to support fisheries enforcement. This does not seem sufficient for what could be choppy waters, and it is not clear whether Ministers consider these numbers sufficient or how they intend to deploy this capacity once the UK is an independent coastal state.
Therefore, we are seeking to require a statement setting out whether the UK has sufficient resources to patrol our waters and to enforce the licences. This includes whether we have sufficient vessels and personnel. It should also clarify what training Royal Navy personnel will be given in this specialist, potentially somewhat diplomatic, enforcement requirement. For example, what orders will enforcement boats be given when interacting with those they suspect of breaching licensing arrangements?
Given the PM’s stubbornness on the transition period, everyone is having to work on an accelerated timeline. We need to be confident that the UK is prepared to take up these opportunities to bring the matter to Parliament. Unless the Minister can offer a guarantee of a debate in the weeks and months to come, it seems we will get clarity only by introducing a statutory reporting requirement as set out in this amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for an excellent and important amendment. There is no point doing any of this stuff if we cannot enforce it, and enforcement on the high seas is one of the most difficult tasks that there is in terms of enforcement of laws and regulations, as we well know.
I absolutely take the noble Baroness’s point—I hope the Minister does as well, although I am sure he does—about the sensitivity of this. If negotiations are difficult, potentially we will have quite angry people on the seas from 1 January. It is important that any incident can be dealt with properly and diplomatically. We saw in the Baie de Seine, back in the latter part of 2018, how a dispute on the high seas quickly becomes dangerous and difficult to control—sense came when the two Governments came together afterwards to sort it out. There are all sorts of tensions there.
The question I particularly want to ask the Minister is about something that came up when the Secretary of State was in front of the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee last week. One of the officials there with the Secretary of State said that a lot of the money going into enforcement was part of the Brexit process and therefore temporary. I would be interested to hear from the Minister what sort of budget has been put forward for additional enforcement over the time of Brexit and a potential Australian-style deal at the end of this year. What is the ongoing enforcement funding likely to be? There is too much temptation for the Treasury to be generous—realistic, shall we say—with enforcement funding over the Brexit transition period but thereafter ask Defra for huge economies in enforcement as it has done in the past. Assurances from the Minister, or otherwise, would be very useful at this stage.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her amendment. The UK Government’s robust fisheries enforcement system is delivered in England by a number of agencies working in partnership, in particular the Marine Management Organisation, or MMO, the inshore fisheries and conservation authorities, or IFCAs, and the Royal Navy. Fisheries enforcement is a devolved matter, with each Administration ensuring that appropriate control and enforcement matters are in place in its waters.
As I am sure noble Lords are aware, the UK has recently taken significant steps and we have been working closely with the devolved Administrations to ensure that the UK can enforce its fishing rights. As the noble Baroness said, the Royal Navy is increasing its force of offshore patrol vessels, or OPVs, from four to eight ships over the next year. Currently, four are operating at sea, conducting enforcement and overseas tasking, with four in build or regeneration. Of these, at least—I emphasise the “at least” to the noble Baroness—two Royal Navy OPVs are always provided to support MMO activity in English waters.
The MMO’s core provision includes two offshore patrol vessels and up to two aircraft. IFCAs provide an additional layer of inshore surface surveillance capability, which includes 22 vessels. Administrations share assets when appropriate. This may be as a joint working, MoU or chartering arrangement. For example, the MMO and the Welsh Government have agreed an MoU to undertake joint working and patrolling in each other’s waters.
Marine Scotland’s aircraft and patrol vessels have operated in other Administration’s waters, and it is receptive to requests for its assets to assist when possible. Marine Scotland operates a fleet of three marine protection ships and two surveillance aircraft. In Northern Ireland, DAERA has one fisheries protection vessel, accompanied by two fast-response rigid inflatable boats, or RIBs, dedicated to inspection work. Wales operates three vessels: a 24-metre monohull, a 19-metre catamaran and a 13-metre fast response cabin RIB.
In respect of England, via the MMO we have increased the number of front-line warranted officers by 50% for 2019-20, which is 35 people, putting in place a framework to increase aerial surveillance capacity by a maximum of two surveillance aircraft as risk and intelligence demands and chartering two additional commercial vessels to enable an increase in routine sea-based inspections to supplement provision from the Royal Navy Fishery Protection Squadron. I say to the noble Baronesses that it is one of the oldest front-line squadrons in the Royal Navy. It goes back many centuries and has a long history of dealing with these matters. There have been all sorts of instances in the past and, if this were to occur again, I am confident that our service men and women would have the ability and knowledge to deal with these matters proportionately and sensibly.
Additionally, it is also important, since we had an earlier discussion about this, that surface patrol vessels are complemented by satellite-based surveillance technologies such as vessel monitoring systems, or VMS, and electronic reporting systems, or ERS, monitored by the MMO from Newcastle. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, will know about this, but when I and the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, went to the MMO, this was a feature of every vessel we were taken through. I am sure that the MMO would be very pleased for noble Lords to look at this interesting capability. I would be very happy to facilitate that.
These provisions are in line with the MMO’s latest assessment, based on a risk-based, intelligence-led control and enforcement strategy. This is regularly monitored and reviewed, which is entirely appropriate to ensure that in all circumstances we are receiving that assessment.
The amendment’s proposed requirement for a Minister to declare the UK Government’s fisheries enforcement resources sufficient duplicates our existing policy and procedure. In addition, noble Lords will also be aware of the Joint Maritime Operations Coordination Centre, or JMOCC, which was officially approved by the Home Secretary in October 2017. The JMOCC has enhanced the co-ordination of cross-agency patrol capabilities, increased information and resource sharing, promoted prioritisation across government assets and enhanced aerial surveillance operations to derive maximum surveillance benefit. In place in its operational headquarters, the JMOCC has highly trained and professionally qualified representatives from key stakeholders, including Border Force, the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Transport, the National Maritime Information Centre and the police, as well as the MMO and Marine Scotland. This ensures that available resources can be fully and appropriately utilised across the United Kingdom, thereby maximising our maritime capability, including fisheries protection.
As I have highlighted, the control and enforcement is a devolved matter, and it will continue to be for each devolved Administration to decide how best to control its waters and what new arrangements may be needed in future. In that context, I should say that Defra, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive will continue to work together to share information and ensure a co-ordinated approach to monitoring, compliance and enforcement across UK waters. That will be undertaken.
I have perhaps gone into more detail on some of the abilities for all parts of the United Kingdom to contribute to this process, so I hope noble Lords will forgive me for that detail. I hope with that explanation—
There were other questions posed by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, to which I hope the Minister will respond. Going back to the Navy, the Minister talked about the MMO having a risk-based intelligence review that justified the number of vessels it was able to provide. However, it seems to me—I am sure my noble friend Lord West would reiterate this point—that there is a sense that the Navy is overstretched, and that the two or four vessels to which the Minister referred as being available do not seem a lot in the short term. I am sure that eventually things will settle down again, but in the next 18 months I can see that small skirmishes could break out because of misunderstandings in all sorts of places. People could misunderstand the new rules, for example. It only needs something to happen in the English Channel and the Irish Sea at the same time for resources to be stretched. Does the Minister think that there are sufficient resources? That is the real question, not what everyone else thinks. Does the Minister, who is ultimately responsible, feel that this is sufficient resource?
I absolutely understand the point made by the noble Baroness. My assessment is that this is at the right level, and the fact is that the Royal Navy is growing or doubling its vessels. That is why I emphasised the phrase “at least”. There is an agreement between the MMO and the Royal Navy about those two things. I emphasised “at least”; all our efforts will be to ensure that there are no difficulties at sea, which would be in no one’s interests. That is precisely why I explained about the doubling of the number of front-line warranted officers, and why I outlined increasing aerial surveillance and the work of surveillance technologies. All this is upscaling, precisely to accommodate the point made by the noble Baroness, if we are in potentially uncertain times, rather than where we were before. I described the increase in almost every feature of what is available to us at sea, including technology and personnel, to accommodate the possibilities that the noble Baroness outlined. I am basing my judgment on a much more rigorous assessment than me just saying yes to the noble Baroness. It is also why JMOCC is so important, because so much of this is intertwined with those organisations involved in JMOCC. It is terribly important that the MMO and Marine Scotland are part of that because there may be a time when fisheries protection becomes an issue and all this resource across the United Kingdom and the Royal Navy may need to be deployed.
I will say that the answer is yes, but it is not a glib yes. It is because the people who understand these areas have assessed and advised us that we should increase what we have done. That is why I am confident that we are where we should be. However, I emphasise to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that it is really important that all these matters are kept under review. That is why I deliberately emphasised that, on this matter, there is strong working with all four fisheries administrations in the United Kingdom interest.
How long will the temporary financing of extra resources last and when it will end? At that point, there will be a question mark. Will we go back to where we were when, effectively, for many years there was no real access to the Royal Navy at all because it was off doing other things? This is a really important point to clarify.
I apologise to the noble Lord and the noble Baroness that I have no further detail other than to say that I am confident. We have upscaled in the way that we have—constructing vessels and all we are doing is not like turning on and off a tap—and are increasing the number of Royal Navy vessels for this sort of demand. If we were to need additional support because something happened, I am confident that all the resources would be at our disposal.
I do not think we need to discuss a theoretical point, but if in 10, five or three years’ time all is well and we have good negotiations and agreements, the most important thing—the responsibility that all Governments should have—is the safety of UK interests and the safety of people at sea. Obviously, we will need to have all that I have outlined with the assessment that the MMO is constantly reviewing. I imagine that, down the line, there may be an assessment that there is not much of an issue and we are working towards having that capability, but that would be for the future. For now and for the foreseeable future, however, it is precisely why the Navy is upscaling the number of vessels and why we have done what we have by increasing the number on the front line.
I have been handed a note that says that all matters for future enforcement funding will be the subject of the spending review, but we will put in a robust bid, as befits our status as an independent coastal state. I hope I have not offended the Treasury by saying that.
I apologise. I should have addressed that, but in the meantime, I hope I have outlined to the noble Baroness that this is obviously an area of continuing interest and continuing responsibility.
I thank the Minister for that reply. We wish him well in his application in the spending review. I suppose that is what we should say first.
We here today really do not have an understanding of the scale of the problem. We are talking in a vacuum. Once the trade negotiations are complete, we will have a much better idea. We will really know who the winners and losers are—who is angry and who is not. At that point, I would like to think that the Government will have the flexibility to draw on other resources that may not be currently available.
I may be anticipating a problem that will not exist or will be 10 times worse than I have already described. It seems wrong when we have a Bill such as this to just say, “Let’s wait and see”, but I do not think we have much of an option at this stage. I would like to think that we have the flexibility to look at this issue of resources again at some point, even if not through the structure of the Bill. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw.
Amendment 83 withdrawn.
Amendment 84 not moved.
Clause 18 agreed.
Schedule 3: Sea fishing licences: further provision
Amendments 85 to 87 not moved.
Schedule 3 agreed.
Clause 19: Penalties for offences
88: Clause 19, page 13, line 35, at end insert “not exceeding £50,000”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment replicates the level of fine in Scotland and Northern Ireland for England and Wales, in order to probe the maximum amount under Clause 19(1)(a).
My Lords, I shall move Amendment 88 and speak to Amendment 89. These are the subject of this group. Clause 19 provides for penalties to be imposed for offences under various other clauses. I am using these amendments to probe the sentencing regime in relation to offences and the relevant merits and parity between the UK Administrations.
Clause 19(1) deals with having a licence and licence conditions, as well as the part of Schedule 3 concerning complying with information. It specifies that, on conviction, the penalty will be a fine in England and Wales. The amount is not specified. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, information penalties can be up to the statutory maximum but do not exceed £50,000 for any other cases.
It may be that this is a little confusing—merely a fine being given in England and Wales and that fine being a maximum of £50,000 or, in Scotland or Northern Ireland, the statutory maximum for information breaches. Can the Minister explain these discrepancies across the Administrations? It may be that each have their own powers that they wish to defend certain aspects of, or it may signify that there are certain fundamental differences in approaches between the Administrations in their penalty schedules. Can the Minister also explain why fundamental licence breaches receive only a fine rather than any other sanction? I beg to move.
My Lords, this amendment had me a little puzzled. I wondered whether the noble Lord had, like me, been a magistrate prior to 2012, when the law changed in England. That is at the root of the differences.
Amendment 88 would bring fines in England and Wales for offences committed under Clauses 12(3), 14(6) or 16(6) or paragraphs 1(4), 3(2) or 3(3) of Schedule 3 in line with those in Scotland and Northern Ireland. It would similarly limit fines on conviction on indictment to the same amount through Amendment 89.
In England and Wales, the fines for offences align with the provisions of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. Section 85 of that Act removed the statutory maximum fine on summary conviction and replaced it with a fine of any amount. This gave magistrates, who impose the vast majority of fines, greater flexibility to identify the most effective and proportionate punishment appropriate to the offences and offenders before them. These are not custodial offences in other areas of fisheries legislation, so this is the only penalty that can be imposed. The approach that we have taken on penalties in the Fisheries Bill is consistent with Section 85 of the 2012 Act and other existing fisheries legislation, and ensures a consistent and coherent sentencing framework in England and Wales. The reason for the difference in Northern Ireland and Scotland is that they are separate jurisdictions and the changes made by the 2012 Act applied only to England and Wales.
The reason no limit is placed on fines for conviction on indictment in the Bill, as Amendment 89 probes, is that the enforcement provisions mirror those in the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967. The offences under that Act and other fisheries legislation provide that, where someone has committed an offence and been convicted on indictment, the court has the discretion to impose a fine without a limit. Not only is this consistent with the approach taken in other fisheries legislation, it is consistent with the underlying policy that the Crown Court should not be constrained in its ability to set a fine, in order that it may take into account both the seriousness of the offence and the financial circumstances of the offender. Finally, this amendment would change the position in Scotland and Northern Ireland, which would cut across devolved competencies.
With this explanation, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Amendment 88 withdrawn.
Amendment 89 not moved.
Clause 19 agreed.
Clauses 20 to 22 agreed.
Schedule 4 agreed.
90: Before Clause 23, insert the following new Clause—
“Negotiations on fishing opportunities previously governed by the Common Fisheries Policy
(1) A Minister of the Crown must, before the end of the period of three months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, lay before both Houses of Parliament a statement containing—(a) information on the status of negotiations with the European Union and other relevant parties on fishing opportunities after IP completion day which were governed by the Common Fisheries Policy before IP completion day,(b) the policy of Her Majesty’s Government in relation to access, after IP completion day, for British fishing boats to EU quota for distant waters outside of the British fishery limits.(2) To meet the requirement under subsection (1)(a), the statement must include a declaration of whether Her Majesty’s Government intends to reclaim the United Kingdom’s full share of EU quota on IP completion day or over a period of time.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause requires a Minister of the Crown to lay a statement before Parliament outlining the status of UK-EU fisheries negotiations and the Government’s policy in relation to (1) ongoing access to EU distant waters quota for British fishing boats and (2) the time period over which it will reclaim the UK’s share of EU fishing quotas.
My Lords, this amendment addresses a running concern in the Bill that Parliament will be precluded from knowing the details of the trade negotiations as they affect fishing opportunities until it is too late to comment or influence the outcome. In his letter to Peers, the Minister referred to future treaties, including a framework on fisheries with the EU needing to be laid before Parliament before it is ratified. We would argue that this is too late for Parliament to have any real influence. As we have previously said, this is a particularly sensitive issue given the promises made to UK fishers, and to the electorate, about reclaiming our share of EU quota as we leave the EU at the end of the year.
The Minister has previously stated that this Bill is intended to be negotiation-neutral, but the reality is that we cannot debate our transition to being an independent coastal state without considering the prospects for a future UK-EU deal on access to our fishing waters. If this Bill is not the right vehicle for parliamentary scrutiny of future arrangements—it appears from what the Minister has said that it is not—then many of us will feel frustrated. It is important to clarify what the alternative is. New subsection (1)(b) proposed in the amendment includes a specific reference to retaining a share of EU quota for distant-waters fishing outside UK limits. This is an aspect of the fisheries debate which has not received as much attention, but it is important for parts of the UK fleet.
We appreciate that the UK position is that we want to reach an agreement with the EU and vice versa. However, if that does not prove possible, the default position is that the UK will unilaterally repatriate 100% of quota for UK waters next year, while potentially cutting off access to EU waters immediately for those who fish those distant waters. This could have a huge implication for the UK fleet, much of which relies on continued access to those distant waters. We do not know whether the Government intend to do this or whether they would negotiate some other form of transitory agreement with the EU. It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify the Government’s thinking on this issue.
Meanwhile, I hope that noble Lords will support the amendment. It seeks to give a clearer role for parliamentary scrutiny over these decisions, which could have profound implications for the future of our fleet. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am very pleased to support the amendment. If there has been one mistake made since the referendum—apart from the result of the referendum which, of course, is indisputable and I entirely accept—it is that the Government have attempted to exclude Parliament from so much. That has been part of the reason why we have had the three years of turmoil that we have had. It is therefore important that the Government keep Parliament involved or up to date on how these negotiations are working; though clearly Parliament is not looking for the final resolution, those negotiations have to take place in that context.
Last week, I was concerned that when the Secretary of State was in front of the EU sub-committee, he stated that the Scottish Administration—or a Scottish Minister—would not be allowed in the room when the negotiations took place. He was very specific about it: I questioned him and checked what he had said. He said it was because this was not a devolved matter but a matter for the United Kingdom. It was slightly ironic, given the discussions we have had on this Bill. Will the Government reconsider that position, because the Scottish fishing industry is fundamental to the UK fishing industry? This is an area on which the Government ought to change their view. I very much support the amendment and the spirit in which it was introduced.
My Lords, I am also grateful to the noble Baroness for her amendment. The UK Government remain committed to keeping Parliament and the public informed of the progress of negotiations. On 27 February, the Government published The Future Relationship with the EU: The UK’s Approach to Negotiations. This makes clear that the UK and the EU have committed to use best endeavours to agree a new fisheries agreement by 1 July 2020. In line with the practice of other independent coastal states, the agreement would provide a framework for annual negotiations on access and quota and set out a mechanism for co-operation on fisheries matters where we share an interest with the EU. The Prime Minister has already committed to providing further details as the negotiating process develops. Both Houses will also have access to their usual arrangements for scrutinising the actions of the Government—and I am in no doubt, looking at various noble Lords here tonight, that your Lordships will take full advantage of these.
As your Lordships will be aware, negotiations for a fisheries framework agreement and our future relationship with the EU started last week. It is important to note that, as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster noted in the other place, the UK Government hope that by June, the broad outline of an agreement will be clear and capable of being rapidly finalised by September. Subsection (1)(b) in the amendment itself refers to distant waters. It is not clear whether “distant waters” was intended to have a specific meaning, but we have taken it to mean waters for which the UK is not the relevant coastal state and which are outside EU waters. Therefore, I make it clear that we will also seek to negotiate fisheries framework agreements with key partners in other coastal states, such as Norway. Again, these agreements will pave the way for annual negotiations on access and fishing opportunities in third-country waters, which I know will be of particular interest to our distant-waters fleet and others whose businesses rely on accessing fishing opportunities in those waters.
As with negotiations with the EU, the Government will keep Parliament informed of the progress of these negotiations. Where we have fisheries or conservation interests in international waters, the UK will join relevant regional fisheries management organisations in its own right and, in so doing, we will continue to collaborate with other coastal states where we have shared interests in fisheries in international waters.
In all these negotiations, leaving the EU creates an opportunity for the UK to secure a fairer sharer of quota, or fishing opportunities, for our own fleets. I assure noble Lords that that is what this Government are determined to achieve but, with all these negotiations, the UK Government must retain flexibility—we may not agree but I think the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, was going along those lines—with regard to the timing and content of our updates to Parliament, in order not to undermine our positions in live and ongoing negotiations. We believe that the amendment would remove this flexibility, obliging the Government to publish a statement at a particular time, potentially while negotiations are still ongoing. This risks undermining our negotiating positions entirely.
I was not at the meeting to which the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, referred, so I would like to discuss with the Secretary of State the manner in which he said what he did. What I will say is that international negotiations are a reserved matter and responsibility, so it would be for the UK Government to be head of any delegation. However, we have been clear that we will work closely with the devolved Administrations. When I attended the Fisheries Council, I worked very closely with the Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh Ministers responsible. We sit at the same discussions and work very closely together. In order that I do not misquote anyone, and although I trust the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, implicitly, I would like to get the circumstances in which the Secretary of State replied. We have been clear that, as now, we will want to work closely with the devolved Administrations. That is why I outlined our procedures with the Fisheries Council.
I think I am going to ask one of my dumb questions, which I know the Minister will tolerate. I am trying to understand the process here, because 1 July is quite soon for the negotiations to be complete. The Minister said that both Houses will be able to scrutinise. Scrutiny quite often happens after the event. How will Parliament be kept informed of those negotiations before the ink is on the paper and everything is a signed and sealed deal? Which bits of the two Houses will see this before it is signed? We had a skirmish about this with the overall withdrawal agreement and it would be good not to have to repeat that anguish for something as specific as this. Can he reassure me that we will see those details and be allowed to comment on them before it is all signed off?
I think it would be best if I just repeat that the Prime Minister has already committed to provide further details as the negotiating process develops. I have said those words at the Dispatch Box twice now, and that both Houses will have access for scrutinising the actions. I well understand the point the noble Baroness is making. Obviously the Government have responsibilities for negotiations, but the Prime Minister has already committed to provide further details as the negotiating process develops. I do not think anyone could interpret that as being at the end, when everything has been said and done.
In that case, I am grateful to the noble Lord and I think it would be helpful if he could just check the point that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, raised—I know he said he would—about what was said at his committee last week. I will look at Hansard carefully but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 90 withdrawn.
Clause 23: Power of Secretary of State to determine fishing opportunities
Amendment 91 not moved.
92: Clause 23, page 15, line 16, leave out “may” and insert “must”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment makes it compulsory for the Secretary of State to make a determination relating to annual fishing opportunities.
My Lords, Amendments 92 and 97 are in the name of my noble friend Lord Grantchester and Amendment 96 is in my name.
Amendment 92 raises an important question about the role of the Secretary of State in overseeing the total stocks that can be fished by UK fishing boats in a calendar year. It addresses what happens if the combined policies of the joint fisheries authorities and the fisheries management plans add up to a greater allowable catch than science tells us is sustainable for UK waters. Somebody needs to keep an overview of the overarching picture and, in the absence of another competent authority, we argue that this role should fall to the Secretary of State. Hence our amendment requires that the Secretary of State “must”, rather than “may”, determine annually the maximum quantity of fish to be caught and the maximum number of days at sea. This determination should lie at the heart of our commitment to deliver the objectives set out in Clause 1.
We also have some sympathy with the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, which explores why the determination is limited to our international obligations, rather than applying to all UK fishing agreements. It would also be helpful to have some clarity on the existing wording. For example, do our international obligations cover the general sustainability commitments in UNCLOS? What happens if we fail to reach an agreement with the EU? Would that mean that there would be no obligation to make an annual determination? I hope the Minister is able to shed some light on these issues.
Amendment 96 requires the devolved Administrations to be consulted on this determination. It is a probing amendment to check whether the consultation provisions in Clause 24 apply also to this clause. I assume that this is the case, but it would be good to have this on the record. The amendments in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, go further and extend the categories of those who would be consulted to a wider group of interested parties, and I think these proposals also have merit. However, it is vital that any determination made under this clause is subject to the best scientific evidence, and the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, makes this absolutely clear. This is a matter we have spoken about before and we reinforce our support for it again.
Finally, our amendment builds in a process for proper parliamentary scrutiny of the Secretary of State’s determination by insisting that it should be subject to affirmative approval. A number of noble Lords are on the same page here. We want to ensure that UK fishing does not exceed the best scientific evidence but that the Secretary of State plays a role in overseeing this responsibility, and we want all appropriate stakeholders, including Parliament, to be consulted. I hope noble Lords will see the sense of this and will support these amendments. I beg to move.
My Lords, I associate myself with the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. I shall speak to my Amendment 92A. In the absence of my noble friend Lord Lansley, who is travelling from an engagement and has not yet arrived, I shall speak also to his Amendment 100, and to Amendments 101 and 102 in the name of my noble friend the Duke of Montrose, to which I have appended my name.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, was kind enough to lend her support to Amendment 92A, which just seeks clarification as to what my noble friend the Minister means. I thought the easiest way of extracting that information was to suggest that we delete Clause 23(2) because on the present reading of that—and looking at Clause 36, which in some respects is clearer—it looks as though the Government are looking either to have quotas only in connection with international agreements, as the noble Baroness said, or are moving away from quotas completely. If it is the Government’s intention to move away from quotas, particularly as regards other than the international fisheries agreements that the UK has subscribed to, it begs the question of what the means of dividing up the allocation of fisheries schemes will be if not quotas. There seems to be a degree of confusion among the experts between Clause 23(1) and (2). It begs the question of whether it applies to all fisheries agreements or only international obligations, and whether the Government are moving away from quotas. I do not think the Government have said anywhere that they are planning to move away from quotas, so I hope that the Minister will put my mind at rest.
Amendment 100, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lansley, is designed to set out the need to consult not only fishing policy authorities—as at present—but representatives of British fishing boats. I see my noble friend has appeared; apparently I am on the right track. I hope the Minister will look favourably on my noble friend’s amendment. I am delighted to see him in his place, and I am sure that he would have spoken to it much more eloquently. I would certainly like to lend my support to this; it is extremely important. The Minister has said on other occasions that he is indeed looking to consult as widely as possible, so I am sure that it will be amenable to him, and I hope that he will support Amendment 100.
I have appended my name to Amendments 101 and 102, tabled by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose. Amendment 101 seeks to impose a duty on the Secretary of State to consult relevant stakeholders who are making or withdrawing a determination under Clause 23, and would fit neatly in Clause 24. The reason for this is that the consultation provides for scrutiny by—I would say—all interested parties. A requirement on the Secretary of State to consult, as set out in this amendment, would help ensure openness and transparency over the Secretary of State’s actions. Indeed, similar requirements are found in Clauses 27 and 34, in connection with consultation. This is not anathema to the Government in any shape or form.
Similarly, Amendment 102 seeks to impose a duty on the Secretary of State to include, within a notice of reasons for making or withdrawing a determination under Clause 23, a requirement to publish such reasons for making or withdrawing a determination in connection with fishing opportunities, providing for additional scrutiny of the Secretary of State’s actions by stakeholders.
I am grateful for the opportunity to have spoken to those amendments.
My Lords, I have Amendment 103 in this group. I feel we are getting into the heart of the Bill here, under this section entitled “Fishing Opportunities”, and—like the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering—I would be grateful for some explanation from the Minister about how Clause 23 relates to the rest of the clauses in this section. It seems to say that these powers are only for purposes of complying with international obligations; I assume that is because we are envisaging a process by which we are negotiating with other member states in the European Union in relation to shared fishing stocks. That will have an overlaying influence over the allocation of rights in our own waters, and then there is the question of devolution when we hand that over to the devolved Administrations. I am looking forward to receiving confirmation that this is the case, and an understanding of why we have these determinations written out here, which will obviously then apply—the Secretary of State will be determining in a calendar year the quota that is allocated within the UK on this basis. It feels a little confusing, and I am therefore looking forward to a much clearer explanation from the Minister.
My Amendment 103 was designed merely to reinsert the principle that we are trying to break away from the common fisheries policy, I think for good reason. It is not delivering a sustainable industry, and it is certainly not delivering a thriving and vibrant fishing industry which we would like to see return to our waters. As has been said many times, one of the main issues is that under the CFP, scientific advice is received and then a trading negotiation occurs on top of that advice, which means we are not allocating quota sustainably. My Amendment 103 simply states the obvious: we should not, in this process of continuing to negotiate with the EU about access to our waters, fall back into that trap of overallocation as a result of trade-offs and negotiations that happen after we have received scientific advice. I hope that the Minister can reassure me that this is at the core of what we are seeking to achieve.
I absolutely support the amendment which seeks to make the powers under Clause 23 subject to the affirmative resolution. This feels like a crucial part of how this is going to work in practice. If there is any doubt that this could undermine our ability to set quota or effort limits, this must be subject to affirmative resolution so that we get a chance to scrutinise it. I worry that a little loophole could open up here if this is indeed negative.
I am happy to lend my support to this part of the debate, and I am sure we will come on to it now in subsequent groups, as we get into the nitty-gritty.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for his amendment, and to the noble Baroness who moved it. Although I recognise that the aim of the amendment is to make it compulsory for the Secretary of State to determine annual fishing opportunities, it would oblige the Secretary of State to determine all fishing opportunities on an annual basis. Some stocks are determined on different timescales, and for some non-quota species, there is no specific determination. I assure noble Lords that the original provisions are sufficient to ensure that the Secretary of State fulfils the function of determining UK fishing opportunities, through Clause 23(1) and (2), and that Parliament is able to scrutinise these determinations through Clause 24(2)(b).
Further, for non-quota stocks—for which we do not currently have the science to make an accurate determination—the fisheries management plans, as outlined in the joint fisheries statement, will set out policies for getting stocks to their maximum sustainable yield. For such stocks, this will necessarily include our plans for improving the scientific data and evidence that will underpin the future management of our non- quota fisheries. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that this is why he should be more positive about the fisheries management plans, bearing in mind the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, made earlier. I think this is an opportunity, particularly where the science is not the strongest, and we need to improve it—this is where we can get down to some of the pragmatic ways in which we can improve all stocks.
I am sure that there is the potential to do that, and I look forward to the meeting; I am very pleased that the Minister is going to bring this meeting together, and maybe we will find a way forward from there. I do not in any way write them off, but when they are purely UK territorial waters, that is where I have a problem. So I endorse the Minister’s comment.
There was, shall we say, licence on my part there because I thought it might excite intervention. Anyway, I look forward very much to the discussions. Anyone who wishes to come is welcome; I will send a wide invitation and get scientists there so that we can get to the heart of some of these matters.
On Amendment 92A, the power set out in the clause would be used to set the UK’s total allowable catch, or the absolute amount the UK is able to fish, reflecting the outcome of the negotiations with the EU and other coastal states. It could also be used to ensure our compliance with Article 61 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS, which provides that catch levels should be set at sustainable levels, taking into account the best scientific evidence available. As an independent coastal state, we are committed to working closely with our partners to manage shared stocks sustainably and to share fishing opportunities on a fair and scientific basis.
It is imperative that we meet our international obligations, such as those I have described under UNCLOS, as we strive to set a gold standard for sustainable fishing around the world. I say to my noble friend that sustainability, as set out in the objectives of the Bill, is a key driver for our future plans for the industry and our negotiations. We have been clear that, in entering into negotiations and making determinations, we will be informed by independent scientific advice from ICES, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, CEFAS, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, and its equivalents in the devolved Administrations. In conjunction with our commitments through the scientific evidence objective, this provides the assurance that determinations will be fully informed by the best available science.
The existing clause also ensures that we respect the devolution settlements. The Secretary of State will make determinations on UK fisheries opportunities only where this relates to an internationally negotiated outcome, which is a reserved competence. Removing this subsection would give the Secretary of State powers to set fishing opportunities directly for each devolved Administration, which would contravene the devolution settlements. This clause provides the necessary reassurance to the devolved Administrations that the Secretary of State would not seek to overstep on areas of devolved competence.
Our fisheries White Paper made it clear that for existing quota we will honour the allocation and distribution through the FQA units. However, we have been clear that we will explore alternative methods for allocating and distributing any additional quota negotiated both at UK level and within England.
My Lords, I will write to the noble Baroness on that. The reason for taking this decision at this time is to provide certainty on the current allocations. The point about potential changes concerns any additional quota; I will write if I have any further information on anything suggested to the contrary, but our intention is that the existing distribution will remain. We will explore alternative methods, one of which is to ensure that there is benefit to coastal communities from our additional quota. I do not think I am in a position to give further clarification unless I get some information shortly, but I will make sure that point is covered if I have any further detail. That is precisely the position; to have continuing certainty at this time of change for the existing quota.
In addressing Amendments 96 and 97 together, I am glad to confirm that the Secretary of State would of course consult the devolved Administrations and the MMO before making regulations under Clause 23(8), which would be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. I will provide further reassurance that these regulations would also be subject to public consultation. This power relates to a highly technical matter: how to calculate a “day at sea”. It could be used, for example, to determine when a boat is deemed to have left or returned to port, entered the UK’s inshore waters or, by stowing its fishing gear, not to be fishing. Consultation with the devolved Administrations on this power will be set out in a memorandum of understanding.
Further, I would like to provide reassurance that the UK Government have carefully considered the delegated powers in the Bill and the procedures that would apply to regulations. The regulations may also refer to provisions made under separate powers to regulate days at sea arrangements under paragraph 1(3) of Schedule 3 to the Bill, which are licence conditions and therefore not subject to parliamentary procedure. The Government consider that we have struck the right balance between the need for parliamentary scrutiny and the need to be able to react quickly to make what are often technical amendments by secondary legislation.
I am sure your Lordships will be aware that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee of this House considered the proposals for all the delegated powers in the previous Bill when it was progressing through its stages in the other place. The committee said:
“Of the Bill’s 15 delegated powers that have a parliamentary procedure, only four are solely governed by the negative procedure, and justifiably so.”
The committee published a new report on 26 February on this Fisheries Bill and did not change its views on the procedures we have adopted.
I recognise the intention behind Amendments 100 and 101 but will explain why this is already covered. 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 those opportunities to the fisheries administrations or to their distribution to the fishing industry. This clause aims to ensure that, as far as possible, the interests of the whole of the United Kingdom are taken into account when the UK’s fishing opportunities are set.
In England, Defra and the Marine Management Organisation already regularly engage fishers and industry representatives on fishing opportunities through a number of different routes. This engagement covers both the determination of fishing opportunities and their subsequent management over the fishing season. It is also unclear how these amendments would improve current engagement. Consulting such a wide and undefined group is likely to cause delays in publishing UK fishing opportunities and could complicate the process of negotiating and implementing the UK’s international obligations.
Turning to Amendment 102, as I made clear, to ensure that we are fishing sustainably and meeting our international requirements, it is important that we are able to determine the UK’s fishing opportunities. Clause 23(2) allows determinations to be made for the purpose of complying with an international obligation. To reiterate, to respect the devolution settlements, the determination can relate only to the high-level function of setting the UK’s overall pot of quota, in line with any internationally negotiated outcome or the UK’s overarching obligations under international law.
Clause 24 requires the Secretary of State to consult the devolved Administrations and the Marine Management Organisation before making or withdrawing a determination. This is to ensure that the interests of the whole of the UK are taken into account when the UK sets its fishing opportunities. The Secretary of State is required to publish any determination or withdrawal and lay it before this House. At that point, the UK Government will need to explain the reason for the withdrawal and new determinations.
Finally, while I support fully the aim of Amendment 103 to ensure that fishing opportunities are determined in accordance with the best scientific advice available, I believe this amendment is covered. The Government’s commitment to using the best available scientific advice to guide our negotiating position and, by extension, determination of fishing opportunities is already given force in the Bill through the scientific evidence objective in Clause 1. I have been clear that in our negotiations with other coastal states and in responding to other international obligations, we will be informed by independent scientific advice such as that from ICES and CEFAS. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, referred to the importance of that.
The UK’s approach to making any such determination —including the position it will adopt when negotiating with other coastal states on fisheries management decisions of shared interest—will also, necessarily, take into consideration socioeconomic analysis as well as the views of the devolved Administrations, industry, environmental NGOs and other stakeholders. Further factors to be taken into consideration will include aspects such as gear types, choke risks and the dynamics of the fishing fleet.
UK negotiators must be able to take a flexible approach in negotiations and that includes considering the best available scientific advice alongside the range of other factors I have just mentioned. But as I said, the Government’s commitment to using the best available scientific advice is already clear.
I am grateful for the Minister’s response. I would just like to clarify that my amendment did not say that we should seek scientific advice, but that no allocation should run counter to that advice to enforce the basic point that if we carry on allocating over what is scientifically advised, we will all be diminished. We will have fewer fish stocks, less profitable fisheries and a more degraded environment. I still do not think that the point has been accepted that we cannot continue to allocate over scientific advice and still have a flourishing industry.
I take the noble Baroness’s point. It is why, in rerunning the objectives debate on Clause 1, the whole range of those objectives is absolutely entrenching our desire for sustainability and the environmental sustainability that I know the noble Baroness and all noble Lords desire.
As I have said, and I can only reiterate, we will be—
I had better look at the Bill again, and check exactly what I said so that I do not, in any way, say anything to the contrary. Certainly, the mechanism for new quotas and how we best benefit coastal communities is an area we are looking at with considerable interest. Clause 23(2) allows:
“A determination under subsection (1) may be made only for the purpose of complying with an international obligation.”
The determination can relate only to the high-level function of setting the UK’s overall pot in line with any international negotiated outcome, or the UK’s overarching obligations under international law. This might be even more of a clincher. On my noble friend’s point, I will look at Hansard, because I did not intend to make that inference and I do not think I did. For the record, Clause 23 is for the determination of only the UK pot of quota. It does not provide for allocating to industry at fisheries administration level.
To conclude, I absolutely take the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington: the best available scientific evidence is absolutely clear. We all want the same thing. With that explanation, I hope the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, the Minister has given a lot of detail, so I feel that I too will have to go back and read through Hansard. I am trying to clarify our very simple first amendment, the one that would put “must” rather than “may” in Clause 23(1). At the moment, it reads:
“The Secretary of State may determine, for a calendar year—
The maximum quantity of sea fish that may be caught by British fishing boats;
The maximum number of days that British fishing boasts may spend at seas.”
Our amendment said:
“The Secretary of State must”.
If it is okay in some calendar years for the Secretary of State to determine that, I am not quite clear why it is not okay every year, which is what our amendment would have achieved. In which years is it all right to do it, and in which years is it not? This is where I am lost, because if the principle is accepted—which it clearly is because it is spelled out there—why not do it every year?
Again, the problem with the amendment stating “must” is that it concerns the determination of all fishing opportunities. If it says “must”, the amendment becomes a requirement that would involve stocks determined on different timescales. There are also some non-quota species where there is no specific determination. The word “may” allows the determination of the annual fishing opportunities. The problem with the amendment making it “must” is that it brings in these non-quota species. The issue I have sought to put across is that making the determination compulsory embraces all stocks—because it “must”. Obviously, there will be annual fishing opportunities for all those that involve quotas and so forth, and we will be having annual negotiations and arrangements. It is not that the Secretary of State will suddenly say, “I don’t think we’ll do this, this year”; it is that making it “must” brings in these stocks determined on a different timescale and non-quota species. That is the problem as I understand it: the amendment has that legal interpretation.
The original provisions ensure that the Secretary of State fulfils the function of determining UK fishing opportunities through Clause 23(1). Making it a “must” brings into scope stocks that would not be subject to the determination of annual fishing opportunities. That is as I understand it. If it is any different, perhaps I can discuss with the noble Baroness, but that is, in our view, the problem with the interpretation of that amendment.
I strongly support this amendment and, if that is the case, clearly the Government should just bring forth an amendment themselves. It should say that for quota species it should be a “must”. That is how we solve it. Clearly there must be that assessment or process every year for quota species. It is obvious and clear. The Government need to bring forward their own amendment to make sure that it includes only quota species.
Again, the provision talks about “for a calendar year”, so these are annual fishing opportunities. “Annual” means every year; it does not mean that by saying “may”, the Secretary of State can decide not to bother one year. That is not the case—rather, it is about the fixing of annual fishing opportunities.
As I say, I have been informed that the original provisions are sufficient to ensure that the Secretary of State fulfils the functions of determining UK fishing opportunities, but if I have anything further that will assist noble Lords, I will of course communicate it. I think that the interpretation of this power to determine serves the correct purpose, but if there is a pressing need to have discussions with noble Lords on the matter outside the Committee, I am happy to do so. However, as I say, I have been advised that there is no problem with it.
I feel that the more we dig, the more complicated and confusing this gets. I understand that the noble Lord has to read out the brief he has been given, but I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that if it is not here, where is the wording to say that there will be an annual determination of the fishing stock? It may be that it is somewhere else in the Bill and I have missed it, but if it is not, it should be here. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, has made a helpful suggestion about how the Government could address that point. I am still not clear on what the Minister said about what would apply and what would not, but the overarching point to make is that it needs to say in the Bill that there is a total number of fish stocks; that needs to be spelled out somewhere.
I think that I am reassured by what the Minister has said about consultation, but again it is one of those things which is covered in a number of different places in the Bill. We need to make sure that everything lines up so that the reassurance he has given means that this is covered elsewhere Bill, as well as by the comments he has made today.
I note what he said about the Delegated Powers Committee report, which has reminded me that I should take another look at it, but on the basis of what he said, I am sure that the committee has not raised any issues, so I will not pursue that.
I turn finally to the point about the scientific advice which was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. I think that we have a running theme of agreeing to disagree on this. Once again, we hear what the Minister has to say but we do not feel that the wording is good enough, so we may bring this back in some form on Report. There is a general view around the Committee that we need to pin down the significance of the scientific advice and make sure that it is heeded on all occasions. That is what the noble Baroness is trying to do.
That is enough for now and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 92 withdrawn.
Amendment 92A not moved.
93: Clause 23, page 15, line 23, at end insert—
“(2A) When making a determination under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must engage with any other state that exploits a shared stock with a view to ensuring that—(a) shared stocks are managed in accordance with the UK’s international law obligations and in accordance with the fisheries objectives of this Act, and(b) fishing mortality is below levels which will restore or maintain those shared stocks above levels capable of producing the maximum sustainable yield.(2B) For the purposes of subsection (2A)(b), where the biomass of the stock or the level of fishing mortality consistent with achieving the maximum sustainable yield cannot be estimated reliably using the best available scientific advice, the Secretary of State must—(a) not postpone or fail to determine fishing opportunities for the stock on the ground that there is an absence of, or uncertainty in, that evidence,(b) have regard to the interdependence of stocks, the biological characteristics of the stock, and any environmental conditions affecting the stock, and(c) engage with any other state that exploits a shared stock with a view to ensuring that fishing opportunities are determined—(i) at a quantity which functions as a suitable proxy for maximum sustainable yield, and(ii) in a manner that is consistent with the scientific evidence objective and the precautionary objective.(2C) Where neither a formal agreement nor a common arrangement is made with another state that exploits a shared stock, the Secretary of State must—(a) take all necessary steps to ensure that fishing of shared stocks is carried out such that fishing mortality is below levels which will restore or maintain those shared stocks above levels capable of producing the maximum sustainable yield, and (b) provide, and make public, an annual report to the appropriate legislature outlining the steps taken pursuant to paragraph (a).(2D) For those stocks for which fishing opportunities are not determined pursuant to section 23(1), fisheries policy authorities must—(a) ensure that exploitation does not exceed the maximum sustainable yield exploitation rate, or(b) if the current biomass of the stock or the level of fishing mortality consistent with achieving the maximum sustainable yield cannot be estimated reliably using the best available scientific advice, ensure that exploitation—(i) does not exceed a level determined by a suitable proxy for maximum sustainable yield, having regard to the interdependence of stocks, the biological characteristics of the stock, and any environmental conditions affecting the stock, and(ii) is consistent with the scientific evidence objective and the precautionary objective.”
My Lords, this amendment introduces binding legal commitments not to fish above scientifically recommended sustainable levels. We have touched on this issue in other amendments. I am indebted to the Greener UK organisation for its assistance and we have had a long debate today on Amendments 112 and 124, which are all about sustainability.
The UK shares almost every stock in its waters with another coastal state. While the UK will gain control of its exclusive economic zone as an independent coastal state, the fish that live in these waters will continue to cross between borders and are therefore not the sole responsibility or property of the UK. I have referred to this previously, as have other noble Lords. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said earlier, we are all on the same page here.
The purpose of the amendment is to set clear sustainability criteria in relation to negotiations with other countries to ensure that a clear and robust process can be developed to prevent overfishing. The amendment also requires authorities to set fishing limits in line with sustainable levels for any other stock that is not subject to Clause 23(1), including stocks that are not shared with other coastal states.
The Fisheries Bill must have a strong focus on the UK’s domestic and international commitments to rebuild healthy fish stocks and recover, restore and protect marine habitats and species, enabling the sustainable management of shared resources in co-operation with international partners. This represents international best practice as set out in the common fisheries policy regulation, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the United Nations fish stock agreement and its sustainable development goal 14. All of these highly respected and reputable international organisations cannot be wrong in wishing to see best practice and fish stocks preserved.
Article 2 of the common fisheries policy commits the EU not to set catch limits above MSY by 2020, but this same commitment has not been included in the Fisheries Bill. While MSY is not the only measure, it is important. Instead, there is a simple aspirational objective to achieve a healthy biomass for stocks as set out in the precautionary objective in Clause 1(3)(b). However, it is not legally binding and lacks a timeframe for when it should be delivered. This is a regression in standards from the common fisheries policy and not one that future generations would wish us to sign up to. It is vital to protect against short-term political pressure to set catch limits higher than scientific advice, which will lead to overfishing.
I understand the plight of some fishermen, especially those working the mixed fisheries. This has been flagged up by the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, which has lobbied heavily on this matter. Fishermen wish to increase their catches, but that must be sustainable. Setting catch limits up to or preferably below maximum sustainable yield levels allows for the maximum proportion of fish to be removed from a stock year on year without reducing the stock’s ability to maintain its population at healthy levels. This is the only way we can ensure the fishing industry in this country well into the future.
If the UK sets fishing opportunities above MSY levels or decides to set fishing levels according to an alternative system from neighbouring coastal states, it will fail to implement its international legal obligation to meet Articles 61.2 and 61.3 of UNCLOS and its commitment to sustainable development goal 14 to end overfishing by 2020. Can the Minister give the Committee a reassurance that this will not happen? If it does, not only will the UK miss these targets, it will fail to realise the significant social, economic and environmental benefits of restoring stocks above biomass levels capable of producing sustainable fish stocks. It will also fail to increase the resilience of fish stocks in response to environmental changes such as rising sea temperatures. Again, that is something I have referred to in previous debates on the Bill, as have others. The UK is less likely to improve the stability of catches or to reduce the risks associated with overfishing or natural ecosystem fluctuations in the complex mixed fisheries that are prevalent in our waters.
In order to be effective, this must also be underpinned and supported by properly resourced and effective monitoring, control and enforcement. We are looking for the Minister to give a legal commitment on the face of the Bill not to fish above sustainable levels. I believe that the maintenance of sustainable fish stocks is the golden thread which runs through this Bill, so they must be protected. I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise to speak briefly in support of the amendment because it provides me with an opportunity to give part two of my lecture on maximum sustainable yields, although I detect that the undergraduate audience is less than enthusiastic about hearing it. However, I want to ask the Minister the following question. The classic textbook on maximum sustainable yield was written by William Ricker in 1975. In it he defined it as
“The largest average catch or yield that can continuously be taken from a stock under existing environmental conditions.”
The three key elements of that definition are “average”, “continuously” and “existing environmental conditions”. I hope the Minister will tell us whether, given that the Government are set on harvesting at MSY—which, as I explained earlier, I think is a mistake—there is a definition in their mind of “average”. To give three possibilities, is it the arithmetic mean, the geometric mean or the harmonic mean?
There must also be something in the Government’s mind about “existing environmental conditions”, which the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, already referred to. What does “existing environmental conditions” mean and how will the change in MSY be linked to changing environmental conditions? The Government must also have in their mind a definition of the word “continuously”. Perhaps the Minister could clarify those points for me.
My Lords, I cannot say much more than the noble Baroness has already said, very eloquently. I lend my support to this amendment because it addresses a fundamental question about Clause 23.
In the next group we will discuss some of these issues in relation to Clause 25 in great detail. For now, I fully support the idea that we should be putting these conditions into this agreement. It is similar to my Amendment 103, so I do not want to rehearse it, but I was struck by the noble Baroness’s comments about the fact that we should be managing this stock for future generations and not simply for the short-term economic needs of those who are benefiting from the status quo.
Not to trivialise the debate, but my children are engaged in the marine environment for a number of reasons, not least through watching the wonderful BBC series “Octonauts”. The Octonauts’ phrase is that we should explore, rescue and protect. I hope that the Bill can be transformed into one which enables us to explore the fishing industry with data, rescue those stocks that are in need of respite and their levels to be restored, and protect the socioeconomic conditions of the whole fishing industry, not just a subset.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, for tabling Amendment 93, which allows us to return to two previously debated topics: international co-operation and the need to ensure fishing at sustainable levels.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, has previously spoken cogently about shared stocks and the interdependency of sustainability across nation states. The Committee has had several assurances from the Minister on both these topics yet concerns remain. Despite many challenges, especially in relation to the UK and the devolved Administrations’ activities, NGOs and stakeholders remain concerned that the legislation before the Committee does not truly give effect to the Conservative Party’s manifesto commitment to introduce a legal commitment to fish sustainably.
There are negotiations on trade yet to come, where there could be little transparency regarding sustainable outcomes without a commitment to produce annual reports. Instead, we see a commitment subject to caveats of fishing sustainably when circumstances allow and when the UK can strike relevant agreements at international level.
I will not repeat instances from previous Committee debates, but careful consideration must be given to how this framework can add value to the ponderous steps in that direction in the CFP, and brought back on Report. Movement in these areas would give us a level of reassurance that we are heading in the right direction.
However, as it stands, and as Greener UK points out, the objectives on biomass do not go far enough, and in any event are not fully binding. The Bill does not include legal commitments on international co-operation, with the Government falling back on their participation in existing international agreements, even though these are limited in scope.
The Committee can acknowledge that there are areas where the UK will want to diverge from the common fisheries policy. We have all been critical of the CFP for failing to achieve its targets in relation to MSY. Here, I admit to being in the kindergarten stage, having not even reached undergraduate. The fact is that these targets are recognised at international level and the Committee will need to consider how pressure can be brought in this aspect.
If we do not improve the Bill, the UK could be left with a regression in environmental standards resulting from the CFP. We will be left in a situation where the Government say they want to go further than the EU has allowed us to, but where there is no statutory duty to match what came before. This is why those NGOs, and certainly those on these Benches, are so concerned. We cannot let sustainability be left to non-binding policy statements, which can, in a number of cases, be overwritten or overridden. This is no basis for a fully independent fisheries regime; nor will it give the UK any cast-iron basis on which to negotiate with international partners.
The Minister may resist this amendment, but I ask that in the meetings which he has assured the Committee can be undertaken before Report, we might bring forward further improvements that the Government may be willing to sign up to.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her Amendment 93, which sets out a number of requirements relating to the determination of fishing opportunities by the Secretary of State and fisheries authorities.
Starting with subsection (2A), it is important to be clear that the UK is already required to comply with its international obligations, including those under UNCLOS to co-operate with other coastal states to manage shared stocks sustainably. When it comes to shared stocks, noble Lords can be assured that we will be engaging with the coastal states with which we share those stocks. Furthermore, when carrying out his functions relating to the determination of the UK’s fishing opportunities, the Secretary of State will also be bound by the policies set out in the joint fisheries statement and any Secretary of State fisheries statements, as well as by the fisheries management plans. Repeating these requirements in the way proposed by this amendment is not necessary.
Proposed subsection (2A)(b) seeks to ensure that fishing opportunities for shared stocks resulting from negotiations with coastal states are set on the basis of the maximum sustainable yield for those stocks. The UK remains committed to the principle of the maximum sustainable yield. However, our negotiating partners might not always attach the same degree of priority to realising this goal. In those circumstances, the UK must be able to take this into account and negotiate accordingly or risk parties walking away altogether, with potentially worse outcomes for the sustainability of those stocks.
The noble Baroness is right to raise the challenge of fisheries management with limited scientific evidence. Shared understanding between nations becomes imperative in these situations. That is why the UK is so committed to continued engagement through ICES as well as global objectives such as the UN’s relevant sustainable development goal.
Although we will seek to influence and engage responsibly, it is not appropriate for the United Kingdom to seek to solve problems which may be caused by other countries. Subsections (2C) and (2D) of the amendment would introduce duties requiring the United Kingdom to act unilaterally to set fishing opportunities consistent with MSY, irrespective of the behaviour of other coastal states. This could lead to a number of unacceptable outcomes, such as disadvantaging the United Kingdom in negotiations by imposing stricter responsibilities to achieve MSY than those applying to other coastal states; and, more seriously, risking the creation of a perverse incentive for other coastal states when negotiating with the UK to either set higher TACs, or unilaterally claim larger shares, in the knowledge that under our own legislation we would be legally bound to reduce our own quotas as a consequence.
These possible consequences would not be in the interests of fish stocks, our broader marine ecosystems or, indeed, our fishing communities. I must reiterate that creating an inflexible situation for UK negotiators could result in the United Kingdom having to walk away from negotiations altogether, with unilateral quota-setting as a consequence. Experience has shown that unilateral quota-setting in the absence of an agreement between countries is a recipe for overfishing—something we all wish not to happen.
As I have said, the UK remains committed to applying independent scientific advice, and especially the concept of MSY, in negotiations on fishing opportunities. As an independent coastal state with a major interest in many shared transboundary stocks, the United Kingdom will look to exert an even greater influence on sustainable and responsible fisheries management. In this vein we are already working to: agree new frameworks for fisheries management with other coastal states; join priority regional fisheries management organisations where we have fishing and conservation interests; and prepare to enter other multilateral negotiations as an independent coastal state. We will continue to work tirelessly to achieve our sustainability objectives in all these fora. This is in addition to the joint fisheries statement or Secretary of State’s fisheries statement, in which we will look to set out our policies to deliver on the objectives set out in Clause 1, including ensuring that all stocks are managed sustainably.
I know I will never convince the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, that we should use MSY; I reiterate that it is the recognised international standard—but not the only measure. I am happy to meet the noble Lord—I might get some of our scientists together so that there can be, shall we say, some exchange at the level that he would enjoy. I take the point. As I said before, it is not the only tool. We have to start somewhere, and it is internationally recognised. I am sure that the introduction of a new concept through this Bill is not something the Government will wish to put forward, although we absolutely will want to see what are the best ways of fishing sustainably in future.
On the commitment to sustainable fisheries, I say in particular to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, but also to all noble Lords, that we have emphasised these points in the objectives. However, due to the international nature of fishing and fishing stocks, which span national negotiations, MSY for many stocks can be achieved only through international negotiations and relies on the good will and shared ambitions of other parties too. In part, this is why—we have to concede this—the EU as a whole has not met the 2020 target. It is also why achieving MSY by 2020 was a target for the EU as a whole and did not apply to individual member states, precisely because many stocks cover broad geographic areas. This demonstrates how critical it is to achieve MSY through negotiations with other coastal states. We will use our negotiating power as an independent coastal state to seek to achieve sustainable fishing at an international level.
I also say—particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, but also to others—that the joint fisheries statement is a legally binding document in which the policy authorities set out their policies for achieving the objectives in Clause 1. I do not think I will ever be able to persuade certain noble Lords that this Bill covers sustainability in the way they most desire. Their perfect form would not actually be in our interests, but I absolutely endorse the spirit that the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, and all noble Lords have expressed: sustainable fishing is the way to vibrant communities. As I have set out in my remarks, the Government have that responsibility to negotiate and work with other parties and coastal states. Particularly with shared stocks, this will be the only way in which all of us who wish to share those stocks can achieve that desirable outcome: vibrant stocks.
In summary, although I know that the noble Baroness has all the best intentions in this, the Government think that as drafted this risks unacceptable consequences—unintended by the noble Baroness, I am sure—for our country. Given our existing obligations under international law, we feel that this is not required. As I say, I have taken on all the points made and understand the spirit in which they were made, but on this occasion I respectfully ask whether the noble Baroness feels able to withdraw her amendment.
I thank the Minister for his response and all noble Lords who have contributed to this short debate. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, that my granddaughter is also addicted to “Octonauts”; I quite like it as well.
I have heard what the Minister said and the difficulties around imposing MSY or some other very strong sustainability criteria. This is an issue that noble Lords across the whole House are extremely concerned about. Sustainable stocks are absolutely vital to the fishing industry. I understand the argument will be made that fishermen will want the fish to be there so that they can catch them, but sometimes that leads to overfishing of some stocks. I am grateful for the reassurance that the joint fisheries statements are legally binding documents, but we do not have them at the moment and it is possible that some of these statements will take a little while to come in. In the meantime, we need to be assured that sustainable fishing will take place. I completely agree that sustainable fishing leads to vibrant communities, but we need to maintain sustainable fish stocks across the board.
Given the number of times we have debated this, I feel certain that we will return to this in some form or other on Report, but in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 93 withdrawn.
94: Clause 23, page 15, line 27, at end insert—
“( ) Any rise in the total quantity of an annual quota in England shall be disproportionately allocated to the under-10-metre fleet.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment aims to gradually increase the viability of smaller fishing vessels and protect coastal communities.
My Lords, I come to two amendments; I cannot imagine there is any way the Government could disagree with them, but we will see how we do. They are entirely in line with government policy, as I understand it. In fact, I have given credit before to the Secretary of State. When he was Minister, he managed a redistribution to the under-10-metre fleet, despite the resistance of the English legal system, for which I give him credit.
Amendments 94 and 106, to which I will speak as well, state that we are in a situation in which it is the Government’s intention, through their negotiations later this year, that we will move to a system of zonal attachment, or whatever you want to call it. The outcome is that we should have more entitlement and shed the straitjacket of relative stability, and there should be more fishing opportunities for the UK fleet. That is the bottom line. Amendment 94, which I am perfectly happy to write in future as an English as opposed to a UK amendment, says that as we increase those harvesting opportunities for the UK fleet, the local fishing fleet’s proportion, which is estimated at between 2% and 5% of quota, should increase. Those are the fishers in this industry under greatest pressure. They are part of local communities, and the ones the fisheries campaign around Brexit focused on, if we are honest. Let us deliver on that and make a commitment that the redistribution strongly biases the under-10-metre fleet.
In the agriculture and farming sector, we often concentrate on and hear the question: how do we make sure we get new entrants into the agricultural industry? Yet, we talk about this only infrequently in fisheries, where the barriers are equally high. Here is another opportunity, through the increased harvesting opportunities which the UK—or English—fleet will have, to have a scheme for new entrants and younger people. This industry, on the whole, has a fairly aged profile and not a lot of new entrants. Here is an opportunity for new entrepreneurs and people with new ideas to come into the industry and start to thrive.
Having said that, as the amendment states, if people move out of the industry or are not able to succeed for whatever reason, their quota cannot be sold on. It has to come back to the authorities or to the state. These propositions make the Bill almost mildly exciting for the industry. I hope the Minister can grab that opportunity.
I also support, in general, Amendment 105 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. As in my amendment, with which we started Committee, this all comes down to who owns the stocks. The noble Baroness introduces the interesting concept of those stocks being held in trust. I am concerned that we are stuck in a straitjacket at the moment in the way quota is distributed. The Minister said earlier, on one amendment, that FQAs are staying as they are, so we will still be in a situation where almost half—40%—of English quota is effectively owned by foreign vessels. I put this question to the Minister: even if we increase our quota, largely get rid of relative stability—or at least move towards that—and increase UK catch opportunities, and I am a Danish, Dutch or French corporate that owns fishing rights in the UK, what will I do? Am I going to be excluded from UK fisheries? No, I will just use my deep pockets to buy more UK quota; rather than having my Dutch, Danish or Spanish-flagged vessels fishing extra UK quota, I will have a British flag on my boats. So the status quo is maintained.
It comes down to this: even if we have the additional catch limits, I see no reason why there will be any difference in the structure of the industry; it will be completely open to foreign individuals to buy British companies that own British quota. What is going to change? Companies on the other side of the Channel or the North Sea, or in Ireland, have the deep pockets to do this. Moving slightly away from my amendments, I bring the Minister’s attention to who owns the quotas and fish stocks, and the possibility of bringing them into public trust. At the moment, FQAs are effectively owned by well-off and profitable companies, individuals or families. They pay no rent or income whatever to the UK, the taxpayer or British citizens. I am very interested in the Minister’s response to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington.
My Lords, I rise to speak to my Amendment 104. Like the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, I am concerned about historic fishing rights. One of the supposed benefits of taking back control of our fisheries policy—in fact, of taking back control of everything—was that the opportunities could be used to develop a common-sense fishing policy that would benefit our left behind coastal communities.
My Amendment 104 seeks to make good on that promise, by ensuring that fishing rights are allocated to the greatest benefit of local economies, rather than continuing to be based on historic catch levels. If the Government support my amendment, it will level up our coastal fishing towns and spur on a wave of new entrants to the industry. It removes reference to historic catch because historic catch levels have little or no relevance to decisions about future fishing rights. There is a lack of clarity about them, and this is an opportunity to make things much clearer and fairer. These decisions should be based on an assessment of economic and social benefit, along with all the other environmental and ecological factors set out in the Bill, which should not perpetuate an existing flawed system.
I know that the industry bodies are briefing heavily against changing this, but the Government seem perfectly willing to tackle industry bodies when they want to; it is just a question of political will. As with so many amendments to so many Bills, my amendment seeks to change the discretion to a duty, by changing the “may” to a “shall”. This is important because the “may” is weak and unenforceable, whereas this should be a duty on the relevant authorities to ensure that fishing rights maximise the economic and social benefits, within the environmental and ecological limits.
Finally, my amendment recognises the core principle that our fish stocks are an asset held on trust for all the people. I hope the Government agree with that; it is a point that has already been made. This seems like a missed opportunity to reinvigorate fishing communities. The Minister just talked about vibrant communities, and the heart of this amendment is that we should be seeking to create them.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 105 in my name. We are getting to the heart of the Bill in this discussion and amendment grouping. The advice I sought when seeking to amend Clause 25 was: “Don’t bother; rewrite it.” It has been hastily drafted and gives little clarity to legislators, hence the desire to present a different Clause 25. At the heart of that lies the insertion of the basic principle that the right to fish is held in public trust, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said.
To clarify, in coming out of the CFP we are establishing a new legal system in the UK. That is a tiered approach which takes back control of our waters, and creates a clear process which establishes the concept of a legal fishing right, held in trust for the public. We are dispensing with business as usual, carrying on as we were, and tinkering at the edges. We are fundamentally trying to make it clear that the Secretary of State holds in trust for the public the right to give out the property right to fish.
The reason we need this in the heart of the Bill is that, by being silent on this issue and not clarifying it, we are in danger of allowing the courts to continue to make precedent that will determine how these rights are viewed. In one case, the Association of Fish Producer Organisations took the Government to court over an attempted reallocation of the FQA. Mr Justice Cranston at the time found in favour, essentially conferring a property right on a representative body of private interests to the detriment of the public interest. It is crucial the Bill addresses this, and Amendment 105 is my best attempt, with the assistance of expert legal advisers, to redraft this clause to be crystal clear.
As drafted, Clause 25 is confusing. I urge the Minister to ask his officials why the clause starts with reference back to something that we are leaving. We are supposed to be writing fit-for-purpose legislation to determine our own future, yet here we are, referencing the common fisheries policy. The clause as drafted is therefore unclear, obscure and hard to follow.
The proposed new clause tries to introduce the very important principle that this is
“public property held on trust for the people”.
That must be the basis on which we go forward. The criteria we use for the transferal of this publicly held trust into private hands must be completely transparent and objective. The Minister will, I am sure, point me towards Clause 1, which sets out a lot of lovely objectives. Those objectives are fantastic, but what links them to the fundamental process of the allocation of rights and of fishing opportunities? There is no link, except in the plans, which we have yet to see and will not be able to scrutinise. This proposed new clause would require that we set out transparent objective criteria for the process of moving the allocation from public to private ownership.
Proposed new subsection (5) sets out that we should have the ability to reward selective fishing gear and the use of techniques that reduce environmental impact. I am not in any way saying that it is perfect to include this here, but it is an important principle that when allocating these rights we should attach conditions, as we have done in the agricultural debate, to something that is being transferred from public trust to private ownership. It is simply not good enough to say that they employ people and make a small contribution to GDP; they have to be responsible for helping restore our natural environment to the point at which it can be fished sustainably and we can see a more vibrant industry as a result.
I was reflecting on the Minister’s comment on the previous group that we cannot be overly onerous or restrictive in our rights-giving, because others will not do that, so there is no point. I am afraid that is a bit of a weak argument, and I hope I have misunderstood the Minister. The field I am most experienced in is climate change; another tragedy of the commons. Exactly the same argument was played back to us by various parts of government when we were trying to pass the Climate Change Act, which restricts the UK’s emissions of greenhouse gases: “What’s the point in the UK going further? If others are going to cheat the system, we need to be allowed to cheat too.” Clearly, that is a race to the bottom; we need to inspire a race to the top. The only way to trigger such a race is to grasp this opportunity and set out world-class legislation. If we say that we have to cheat because others are cheating, we will not get anywhere; it will be a continuation of where we are today. And where we are today is dismal for everyone, fishers included.
I encourage the Minister to question his officials, even further than he already does, on the principle of our not going further than the perceived lack of action overseas. We are taking back control and it is incumbent on us to use it wisely and not, in the passing of the Bill, tie our hands by stating in any way that we will continue with the system of handing out quota according to current perceived property rights. We must start with a fresh slate.
I do not want to rehearse arguments we have had before on the devolution issues, but it ought to be crystal clear that we are taking back the ability to set our own fishing management plans. That is of course subject to negotiation, but we go into those negotiations in the spirit of levelling up and inspiring better behaviour, not of descending to the level we have seen in the past through the CFP. With the UK Secretary of State conducting those negotiations on behalf of the four devolved nations, the outcomes should be clearly passed through to them. I do not believe that anything in the proposed new clause goes against the devolution settlements. Devolved matters can be respected but, at the same time, we need to be really clear about how UK negotiations on allocations will go out to the four devolved countries.
I would hate to think that some sort of deal has been negotiated, outside the scrutiny of Parliament, in which an agreement has been reached and the allocation of the pie already settled, and that all we are doing now is arguing over what we might get more of through the repatriation of quota currently used by foreign vessels. If that is all we are doing, we have missed a massive opportunity. We must start from the basis of making fishing more sustainable across the piece. That requires us to have conversations with the devolved nations about whether the effort is correct at the moment, or whether there needs to be a redistribution.
I note the other amendments in the group on redistribution to the under-10-metre fleets and on allowing new entrants. Those are hugely important measures, but if all we are doing is squabbling about the imagined repatriation of some small extra quota, we are missing the opportunity to look again at whether we are distributing in the right way what is essentially a public asset.
I apologise for getting rather out of breath, but I am very passionate about this. I will allow other noble Lords to come in on these issues, but I will say this. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, noted, this is complex, and as we get into the details it gets ever more complex. But Clause 25 as drafted does not help us and does not offer clarity. We need to link the objectives set out at the start of the Bill with the mechanics of the Bill in a much more rigorous way. We need the ability to question and review, and to come forward with a transition—no one is saying that there will be a revolution overnight. We cannot tie our hands legally by accidentally continuing the status quo: that must be our guiding principle as we scrutinise this legislation. I am delighted to take part in this debate.
My Lords, I put my name to Amendment 105 because I think that this group of amendments, around Clause 25 and the overhaul of the fishing opportunities, is a really important part of the Bill. I do not think that Defra and the devolved authorities have yet given it quite enough thought. As the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, has said, it is an opportunity and we must not let it slip.
When we discussed the sustainability objectives on day 1 of Committee, the object was to put in place a framework that put sustainability at the forefront of the objectives. We will no doubt come back to that on Report. During the discussion, the Minister emphasised that sustainability included social and economic sustainability, as well as environmental. During the discussion, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, suggested that we could mimic the Agriculture Bill, where public good by farmers is to be rewarded. I think that it is in Clause 25 where we can put all that into practice: where we can take the ethereal objectives in Clause 1 and put them into practice.
Like the noble Baronesses, Lady Worthington and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, I considered putting down a comprehensive clarification of article 17 of the common fisheries policy. But already having a reputation for rather badly worded amendments to this Bill, I decided to desist; I thought that I would ride on their coat-tails instead. In the end, I do not necessarily think that either amendment is right, but this is an area where we might take advantage of the Minister’s well-earned reputation for discussion and compromise and, I hope, persuade him and the Government to bring forward their own amendment on the subject, spelling out in detail exactly what the allocation of the fishing opportunities should be.
Perhaps I could spell out where I stand. First of all, we have to take it for granted that the total allocation of quota in each fishing area is well within the levels of sustainability and actually encourages the growth of the fishing stock. I have assumed that the existing borderline harvesting of many stocks will not just continue; a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington.
Now we come to the all-important criteria for the allocation of this quota. This is sustainability in practice and is as important as the framework of objectives set out in Clause 1. I will list my criteria, which the Government and others may wish to amend or add to.
First, the allocation must take account of the impact of the boat’s fishing on the environment. This would involve taking account of any damage to the vegetation on the seabed, for instance, with beam trawling and pulse trawling coming to mind. It also means taking account of the impact of fishing on the wider environment, for instance the seabird population. How do the boats in question mange the recovery of lines, hooks and, above all, plastic fishing equipment? There would be other aspects of this environmental criteria, but that is probably enough for starters.
Secondly, on the vessel’s history of compliance, I know this is already included in article 17, but I would like to see every part of the allocation process set out clearly for all to understand.
Thirdly, with historic catch levels, I do not want to go back to the relative stability and the allocation of quotas in the 1980s but, clearly, for the purposes of a stable fishing industry and for the encouragement of reinvestment, it would be sensible if a boat’s quota did not change too dramatically, up or down, from year to year.
Fourthly, the use of selective fishing gear is part of the reinvestment we should be looking for. I know that the Minister mentioned last week that it was already part of the criteria, but I do not think that sales of selective fishing gear are booming. If it can be proven by invoices that the boat in question is genuinely doing its best to catch only what it is allowed to or intending to catch—and thus avoiding discards or catching fish that are sensitive—then the quota allocation should be biased in its favour.
Fifthly, and importantly, there is the boat’s contribution to the local economy and community, which we have been over many times in our debates. Are the fish being landed locally? How many full-time jobs are being created by the boat’s fishing activities, both at sea and, probably more importantly, on shore? Also coming under this category is whether the boat has a recognised apprentice scheme for encouraging local youngsters. I think that is important.
That is probably enough of a stab at some of the more important criteria. To some extent, this amendment is tied up with the “under-10” amendments, such as Amendment 94 and the “new entrants” one, Amendment 106, in this group, both of which I support. I would like to have the seen the new entrants amendment added to slightly because I always compare this with water rationing in Australia. In the Murray-Darling river basin, for instance, when the Australian Government allocated the quota for abstracting water, they took quite a substantial amount into a government reserve. I would like to see us do that. In Australia, they wanted to cater for environmental disasters and mistakes in water distribution, but I think the same thing applies to us. We should not be fishing on the limit. We should try to make certain that there is some reserve, and that would be best held by the Government.
I return to Amendment 105. If, indeed, quota is a national commodity—and that has been mentioned by several speakers—and if we manage to negotiate a little extra, then I believe the principles of allocation should be set out very clearly so fisherman are aware of the standards they should aspire to. I would like the Government to give more thought to Clause 25 and, as I suggested earlier, perhaps have a conversation with interested Peers to ensure that the general principles of sustainability from Clause 1 are firmly embedded within the principles for future allocation of what will be our quota.
My Lords, I apologise for my late arrival at the Committee. I believe my noble friend Lady McIntosh very ably excused me for being late and introduced the amendment in an earlier group—for which I am grateful. I was at a memorial service for a good friend, Professor Ian Calder, who was not only a distinguished forensic pathologist but also a great pleasure to be around.
Noble Lords who have put forward amendments in this group have got to the heart of the issue. I will particularly pick up from the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. One of the central processes following any international negotiations is the determination of fishing opportunities and their allocation. However, we suddenly lapse into a reference to Article 17 of the common fisheries policy. I thought we were escaping from that and setting out for ourselves.
Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, does us a service in her amendment by reminding us what is in the second sentence of Article 17, which otherwise is not referred to in the Bill. It would not have been onerous on the Government’s part for Clause 25 to replace Article 17. Then we could have seen the Government’s intentions. I am looking for the Bill to be very clear about the sequencing and the processes. If I understand correctly, and I may entirely be wrong because I think the Bill does not tell me, under Clause 23 the Government will make a determination following international obligations and must consult the devolved authorities, as Clause 24 tells us. Therefore, by extension, I assume, although it does not say so, that the determination under Clause 23 will include the allocation of fishing opportunities between the national fisheries authorities of the United Kingdom. Is that the case?
That having happened, Clause 25 then says by what process the national fisheries authorities should distribute those fishing opportunities. I gently say to the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, that I think there is a problem with Amendment 105 because although it refers to the United Kingdom allocating fishing opportunities between relevant national authorities and using transparent and objective criteria for that purpose, it does not remove Article 17 and, subsequently, refers to “English” fishing opportunities and “English” fisheries authorities. Unless I am very much mistaken, we are legislating here not only for England but on behalf of national fisheries authorities across the United Kingdom. Therefore, Clause 25 must say how the national fisheries authorities in the other parts of the United Kingdom should allocate their fishing opportunities. We need to know whether they have criteria distinct and different from those that will be applied by the English authorities. As drafted, I think they can use different criteria and the joint fisheries statements are likely to reflect different criteria where those apply.
I just want to clarify things. We see the need for two tiers of transparent objective criteria: one on the allocation of the pie out to the four devolved nations and then a subsequent set of similarly transparent criteria for the allocation to the English fisheries. I think we get on to that in Clause 27 on fishing opportunities in England. The noble Lord is right that we have to be consistent in the two levels.
Happily, I think we are in agreement about this. There are two tiers of allocation: the determination of fishing opportunities between the national fisheries authorities and the process by which each national fisheries authority is to do its own task.
That brings me back to the point I was not able to make in a previous group for Amendment 100. However, listening to the bulk of that debate none the less persuaded me that I may, in any case, have directed my amendment at the wrong place and that Clause 25 is where it really matters. This is the point at which if we move away from historic catch levels, for example, things such as the extent to which we do—we may or may not do so, I do not know—immediately become of relevance to the British fishing boats as they are affected by it. For them, that must be the point at which they are consulted. As far as I can tell, Clause 25 and Article 17 which it amends do not say anything about any process of consultation for those affected by the allocation of fishing opportunities. It would be a good idea if they did. None the less, the purport of Amendment 100 is still an argument in relation to Clause 25. I am making the point now, but we may to return to it at a later stage.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for tabling his amendments, which address the issue of enabling new entrants to come into the sector, giving priority to the under-10 fleet. That is an issue which we will cover in our own amendments in the next group.
The amendments tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Worthington, explore the criteria used to allocate new fishing opportunities. They stress the importance of using transparent criteria and the economic and social contributions that the new allocations will make to local communities. The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, goes one step further and identifies the need for incentives to fishers to use selective fishing gear and techniques which will reduce environmental and habitat damage. I am very grateful to her for her considerable efforts in rewriting Clause 25, which clearly is flawed and inadequate in its current form. We all feel that she has done a sterling job in having a go at that, although as this process goes on we are all discovering that it is not as easy as it first appears.
I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, for his efforts to add his list of improvements that could be made in that clause. In that melting pot, we have enormous agreement for all the arguments being put. These are important principles; we spoke about many of them at Second Reading. We must just find the right place for them in the Bill. We are still struggling with what the Bill’s final architecture should look like.
All noble Lords who have spoken are keen for this Bill to create a fairer distribution of quotas. That is what is needed if we are truly to regenerate our coastal communities. It follows from the debate that we had earlier in this Bill about the principle that our fishing stocks are the property of the nation rather than a select few individuals. The point has been echoed today. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said that we should recognise that the current system of quota allocation is broken; I agree. Half the English quota is held by companies based overseas, the small-scale fleet holds only 6% of the quota, and the five largest quota-holders control more than a third of the UK fishing quota. We can all see what is wrong with that. These disparities did not happen overnight. They have historic roots which may not easily be dismantled, but this should not stop us from aspiring to deliver a more fundamental change; we could use the Bill as a vehicle for it.
A number of noble Lords are, like me, still unclear about the extent to which the new licensing regime will enable action to be taken on the ownership of the existing UK quotas. In his letter of 25 February, the Minister makes it clear that the Government do not intend to alter the allocation methodology for existing quota, but as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, what does this mean in practice? For example, will we ever be in a position to challenge the overseas ownership of some of our quotas, even if they are not seen to operate in the national interest? Can we reset the dial on who owns what? Is this something that could be covered in the trade negotiations? It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify some of this.
The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, was anxious to be clear on the sequencing and the processes for landing many of these issues. We are all trying to find the sequencing and the processes. I know that we are just talking of principles at this level so I will not go into enormous detail, but he felt that it was set out in Clause 23 but now we are discovering that it is not Clause 23. We are chasing the holy grail and will carry on doing so. Clearly the new quota allocations provide an opportunity for change. We can and should use this Bill to lay down a more equitable system for distributing them in the future.
We remain concerned about how quota auctions could work in the future. In his letter, the Minister says that it is not intended for an auction scheme to be used to sell fishing opportunities exclusively based on price. I hope that they would not be based on price; this would perpetuate the discredited schemes that we have already, and there would be no real benefits from leaving the common fisheries policy.
We have amendments in a later group about the need to boost the small-scale fleet. Our aim would be to redistribute the new quotas proportionately in favour of the under-10-metre fleet, the backbone of our coastal communities and ports. We will set out the arguments when we come to that group. In the meantime, we support the general principle of broadening quota ownership and rewarding those vessel owners who demonstrate good practice and a commitment to our sustainability objectives. We therefore support these amendments.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, for bringing forward Amendments 94 and 106, which seek to secure the position of the under-10-metre fleet and for new entrants. We all want to achieve the same thing. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, just said, often putting this into the Bill is more complicated.
The Government recognise the importance of the under-10-metre fleet as a cornerstone of our local coastal communities. However, managing our inshore fisheries is a complex task. The fleet is diverse; they catch an assortment of quota and non-quota species using a variety of boats and gear in conditions that differ considerably around the country. Non-quota species are particularly important to the inshore fleet. In 2018, around 77% of the weight and 78% of the value of their landings were from non-quota species such as brown crabs and lobster.
The Government want to support all fishermen, including the under-10-metre fleet, to fish more sustainably, improve our collective understanding of stock health and adapt to technological innovation. That is why they were fully supportive of last October’s Future of Our Inshore Fisheries conference, organised by Seafish. Themes discussed by fishermen and stakeholders included greater collaboration, responsibility sharing and devolution of decision-making responsibility.
Turning specifically to quota allocation, in England we have already taken action to increase the quota the under-10-metre fleet receive. Since 2012, we have realigned fixed quota allocation units from the sector to provide a 13% increase to the under-10-metre quota pool. In 2018, the under-10-metre fleet was allocated an extra 1,281 tonnes of quota uplift, which equated to an additional £3 million. These combined actions have helped the under-10-metre fleet to land 36,000 tonnes of fish in 2018.
In England, we are already exploring new methods to allocate any additional quota we may secure. Last summer, Defra ran a call for evidence to seek views on the values and processes which underpin good quota management. As may be expected, views expressed were very broad-ranging and there was no overall consensus. More work is needed with industry and other stakeholders to further develop this approach throughout 2020.
The quota needs of the under-10-metre fleet will be a key consideration here. It is right that we wait until this further engagement is complete before deciding how to allocate any additional quota in England, to ensure that we are allocating it fairly, proportionately and in support of the fisheries objectives, and—to address the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb—considering the needs of the community.
This amendment particularly concerns English quota allocation, and amends Clause 23, which relates to the determination of fishing opportunities at a UK level. These are two separate matters and it is potentially confusing to link them in this way. I will address Amendments 104 and 105 together. The UK Government share the desire of the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Worthington, to see improvements in sustainability. We have already set out a range of key commitments to achieve this. The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, asked why Article 17 of the common fisheries policy started off Clause 25. It might be helpful if I read out what the Explanatory Memorandum says:
“This clause amends what will be provisions in retained EU law setting out criteria for the distribution of fishing opportunities. Article 17 of the Common Fisheries Policy Basic Regulation requires that Member States distribute fishing opportunities domestically according to transparent and objective criteria including those of an environmental, social and economic nature. The effect of the amendments is to maintain the existing requirements in UK law and to apply them to the Fisheries Administrations and the MMO.”
The Bill ensures that Article 17 of the common fisheries policy basic regulation works in UK law as retained EU law. Article 17 requires the allocation of fishing opportunities on the basis of transparent and objective criteria. The Secretary of State follows these criteria when distributing quotas to the fisheries administrations, using the methodology set out in the publicly available UK quota management rules. Each administration is then responsible for distributing its quota share to industry. In England, the methodology is set out in the publicly available English quota management rules. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also publish their own quota management rules. Changes to these rules are normally consulted upon. In fact, Defra recently ran a consultation on the options for allocating reserve quota which is the uplift in quota we get to account for the reduction in discarding within England.
Given that these documents and evidence are already publicly available, it is unnecessary for the Bill to explicitly set out that it will not be exempt under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, as Amendment 105 would provide. The Bill would not be the correct vehicle to seek to exempt the Freedom of Information Act in this way. It is also likely that such information would be covered by the Environmental Information Regulations 2004. The Fisheries White Paper made it clear that we will continue to allocate existing quota on the basis of FQA units. This ensures stability and provides certainty to those who have invested in such units. However, we also said that we will work with the devolved Administrations, industry and other stakeholders to develop a new methodology for the allocation of additional or new quota. These criteria will also be published in the relevant quota management rules.
The amendment would put into statute the principle that fisheries are public property held on trust for the people of the UK. This risks further complicating the legal regime. International law, through the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, recognises the rights of coastal states over resources, including fish, in their waters. There is a public right to fish, but this right has been restricted as the regulation of fisheries has been added to over the centuries. The last century saw a significant increase in the powers devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This Bill seeks to ensure as joined-up an approach across the UK as is appropriate. It contains a set of shared fisheries objectives which have been developed by the fisheries administrations and which will be used to ensure that fisheries are managed sustainably.
Imposing a further principle on this regime will complicate things and could undermine this agreed approach. It is not clear what public property held on trust for the people of the UK would mean and what it would add to the sustainability and national benefit objectives. I am concerned that any lack of clarity over the criteria which can be used to distribute fishing opportunities could result in uncertainty for parts of the industry which have invested significant amounts of money in fixed quota allocation units. We recognise that fish are a public asset which should benefit the country as a whole.
I have heard that phrase before that fish are somehow held on trust. Fish are considered to be wild animals and cannot be held by anyone as a property right. We are talking about the allocation of the right to fish, not the fish themselves. They cannot be owned by anybody, but fishing rights can. I want to make sure that that is well understood.
It is understood.
The issue of public property would, we believe, be covered by the socio-economic and other criteria which the Secretary of State is already required to consider. I have just asked for a reply to the question on how the future quota will be dispersed.
Additionally, while I recognise that quota allocation in England is complex, we need to proceed carefully given that, as we have discussed, fisheries management has been plagued by unintended consequences. For example, quota for the Crown dependencies is allocated from the England quota pot. Therefore, the statement about the English fishery as public property held on trust for the people of England could restrict the Crown dependencies’ rights. I am sure that the noble Baroness would not intend to do this.
In terms of the bodies involved in allocating quota, Amendment 105 considers inshore fisheries and conservation authorities as English fisheries administrations for allocations. However, inshore fisheries and conservation authorities do not have a role in quota allocation, so we do not support moves to make them so, for reasons we have articulated when we discussed that amendment. So this may inadvertently cause confusion. Further, Amendment 104 would remove the link to a history of compliance. This is a useful and positive tool which could be used to support our strong commitment to sustainability. Removing it would weaken our ability to achieve these aims.
The proposed grant-making powers in the Bill will enable us to support projects that, among other things, protect the marine environment and develop commercial fishing. Financial assistance could therefore be given as part of a future funding scheme to help fishermen move to more selective and less environmentally damaging fishing techniques. We therefore believe that we should continue to rely on the fisheries objectives in the Bill, as well as existing and well-established mechanisms and criteria, which have proven effective and respect the devolution settlements.
Amendment 106, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, addresses new entrants. We are aware of concerns—
Before moving on to the next amendment, I just wish to clarify that the main objection to this redrafting is that it would reduce clarity and lead to more ambiguity. I really do not think that is the case. I think this is much clearer. If the Minister is saying that the current situation is so clear, can she say categorically who holds the right to give out a fishing quota? There is clearly a financial benefit, so who is responsible for assessing the value of that right and for managing it for the public in perpetuity? Precisely, in legal terms, where do those fishing rights reside?
I go back to Clause 23, which applies to the Secretary of State setting the UK quota. Clause 25 relates to the split of UK-level quotas between the administrations and the subsequent distributions to boats within the administrations.
Clause 23 applies only when we have an international agreement. It is clear that UNCLOS, which is the main international agreement, is not implementable in judicial review. Clause 23 is an insufficient answer, I am afraid. There are many other rights we grant that are not covered by that clause.
I shall write to the noble Baroness on that detailed point.
On Amendment 106, which addresses new entrants, we are aware of concerns about shortages in crew and an ageing demographic within the fishing industry. The average age of fishers in the UK is 42. To address this in England, we are working closely with the Seafood Industry Leadership Group, whose work has highlighted the importance to a thriving seafood industry of training, skills development and workforce retention. I take on board the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, on apprenticeship training, which is very much in line with our own intentions. A number of fishing organisations have tried to develop schemes for new entrants, and apprenticeships. They have had varying degrees of success and many lessons have been learned. It is not easy, but it does not mean that fishing organisations should not continue to try. We must also ensure that there are fish for new entrants to catch, which means balancing the environmental, social and economic objectives.
We are also looking at examples from around the world, such as the Faroes, Scandinavia, Jersey and Guernsey, to identify options to support the UK fleet now and to ensure that it has the labour force necessary for its long-term future. To ensure certainty and stability for the UK fishing industry, after discussions with industry and, as stated in the fisheries White Paper, we took the decision not to overhaul the current system of allocation for existing quota. Quota for new entrants could, therefore, be set aside only from increased fishing opportunities gained through negotiations. Part of the work that we are undertaking with industry and other stakeholders this year will include consideration of the option of using additional quota to support new entrants. We have the powers to do this.
Ensuring that fishers can fish sustainably will be an important aspect of the considerations for allocations. The amendment does not refer to any sustainability criteria and could therefore ultimately restrict our ability to set a gold standard for sustainable fishing. I have been advised that there are, regretfully, a number of other practical issues with the amendment as drafted. It is not clear which quota this allocation should be made from: the UK, English, existing or new. Further, it is not clear for how long a new entrant could keep the quota. If it is for the entire career of the fisherman, provided they continue to fish it, the requirement to always have a proportion available for new entrants could mean taking quota from existing fishermen. With this explanation, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
The fundamental point that we are making is: can we ever imagine a point in the future where we can have a break from the existing status quo, which is not working, to one that is working, which involves the fundamental reallocation of these rights to a different make-up of players? It is a fundamental question. Most of us came into this discussion expecting to be able to debate the fundamental principles on which we allocate these rights. What we are being told today is that the only thing open to debate is if we have a potential, additional small amount of quota that comes back to us. That is a missed opportunity. We have all said repeatedly in different ways that to lock in the status quo is to continue the faults of the common fisheries policy.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for going through all that, but another term for stability and certainty is fossilisation. That is what we are being told. The whole Bill is in many ways on that theme, I am afraid. One fundamental question that the Minister did not answer is: what is to stop all the new fishing opportunities landing up exactly where they are at the moment, particularly with foreign-owned companies? I do not understand how anything can stop all our new fishing opportunities being taken by existing players, because they have the money, influence and experience. What stops everything that is new being exactly the same, replicated? I do not understand that.
My Lords, I have not spoken on this amendment, but I am pretty horrified with the way that it has gone, to be frank. Earlier in Questions, the Minister said that we had legislation that was going to be world class on the environment, agriculture and fisheries, and this Bill is retrenching by the minute to being an endorsement of the status quo. It is very disappointing.
Anyway, I look forward to the new entrants scheme. That is good. I misunderstood the Minister, who seemed to suggest it was possible only if it was sustainable. We have a sustainability objective so it obviously cannot happen unless it is, but the whole point of Brexit was to have more fishing opportunities. I particularly thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Worthington and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for really bringing into focus the whole area of allocation of these incredibly valuable rights. We are talking about tens of millions of pounds—more than that, I am sure. I had not anticipated that this was an area that we would have to return to, but we absolutely will have to.
I understand the point about needing some degree of understanding for investment into the future. That is a dangerous argument, because it is exactly what the European Union will argue in terms of all the people from across the water who have invested in fishing in our waters, so we should expect that to be echoed by the other side in negotiations with us over fisheries agreements in the future. As I said, I look forward to the new entrants scheme and fully accept the Government’s wish to have a better allocation for the under-10-metre fleet. I fully accept the criticism of the Minister that my amendments are relatively minor in comparison with the grand plan. I am with the grand plan as well, but at this moment, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 94 withdrawn.
Amendments 95 to 98 not moved.
Clause 23 agreed.
Clause 24: Duties relating to a determination of fishing opportunities
Amendments 99 to 103 not moved.
Clause 24 agreed.
Clause 25: Distribution of fishing opportunities
Amendments 104 and 105 not moved.
Clause 25 agreed.
Amendment 106 not moved.
Clause 26 agreed.
Clause 27: Sale of English fishing opportunities for a calendar year
107: Clause 27, page 18, line 6, at end insert—
“( ) reserving a proportion of fishing opportunities for boats whose length is 10 metres or less;”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would allow regulations made under Clause 27(1) to reserve a proportion of annual fishing opportunities for small boats.
My Lords, Amendment 107 in my name follows on from our previous debate about the management of, and criteria used for, allocating future fishing rights, which could be the subject of competitive tender or auction. Without repeating the whole debate, the Minister said in winding up on the previous amendment that consideration is being given to the new quota allocation. She also told the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that there was support for a new entrants’ scheme. If that is the case, my challenge back to the Government is: why can we not include the principles of that in the Bill? If the Bill is for anything, it should be for those sorts of future planning activities. I hope we can find a form of wording that incorporates that in the Bill.
We have addressed our concerns about how any future auctions will be run, and what the consequences would be if they were driven solely by the highest bidder. Our amendment would require regulations made to deliver the auctions to reserve a proportion of the fishing opportunities for the under-10-metre boats. The previous debate sought new opportunities for new entrants to the sector. This amendment more specifically focuses on the smaller-sized fleet.
We have already explained the importance of the smaller boats to the economic and environmental sustainability of the sector. They generally use lower-impact gear and provide more jobs per tonne, but their current share of the quota is limited to around 6% of the total. Yet in the UK, the under-10-metre boats represent more than 70% of English fishing boats and 65% of direct employment, so we should be using this opportunity to boost their numbers and their share of the sector.
This is a central argument in our bid to revive the declining and impoverished coastal communities, and for that to work we need a spread of smaller boats accessing the smaller harbours and ports. This intervention is particularly necessary as the small-boat sector is shrinking every year. Between 2007 and 2017, the number of fishers on UK-registered vessels decreased by 10%. In his letter to noble Lords of 10 February, the Minister explained that the Government were indeed keen to support the under-10-metre vessels. He explained that in England they were already taking steps to ensure that they received a higher share of the reserve quota and that further consideration was taking place on the distribution for this year. That is all fine as far as it goes, but it does not represent the step change necessary to really revive the under-10-metre sector.
Nevertheless, given the Minister’s previous comments, I hope he will support this very modest amendment. After all, all it does is to require the auction regulations to address the issue of reserving a proportion of the auctioned fishing opportunities for the under-10-metre fleet, so I hope he can support it.
Amendments 108 and 109 address our wider concerns about the competitive tendering and auction processes. They rightly raise whether we should take into account the bidder’s impact on the marine environment when allocating new quotas. As we have debated before, these amendments have considerable merit and are in line with our earlier arguments and I hope the Minister will support them.
Amendment 110 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, proposes a new Clause 27. Again, she has taken on the Government’s drafting to a considerable extent. I am grateful for her efforts. She specifies in detail what she feels that the ownership and distribution rights of English fisheries should be. These include quite detailed proposals, but they also keep the competitive tendering and auction principles with which we have some concerns. I look forward to hearing the noble Baroness’s explanations for these proposals. It may well be that we will be persuaded at that point. In the meantime, I beg to move Amendment 107.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for putting steel in my backbone again and demanding that this is in the Bill—whereas earlier I sort of retreated a bit.
I am interested in hearing from the Minister how these auction rights will be used. Will they be for all quota or the new quota? I would like to use this opportunity to understand the Government’s specific intention for using these rights in the Bill. How will they do it and when? Will it apply to new quota or all quota? I am unclear, because it all starts with the Secretary of State in May. I would be very interested in understanding what the Government intend to do in the near term.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 110 in my name. I have, perhaps overconfidently, attempted to redraft Clause 27 to set out the mechanism through which the rights to fish held on public trust are reallocated in the context of the English fishery, which is unequivocally the responsibility of the Secretary of State, since we are not talking here about anything that affects the devolved Administrations.
We set out this redrafted clause to try to mesh together the various elements that the Bill is founded on. I strongly believe that this should all be on the basis that this is a right held on trust and conferred to the private sector via the Secretary of State, and that these powers are held by the Secretary of State and then conferred. We see that there needs to be some allocation process by which those rights are transferred. I would like to hear—yet again, rather depressingly—whether this power being taken under Clause 27 applies to all quota or simply quota that may or may not be released as a result of some kind of negotiation with Europe. It feels like a real missed opportunity if it is the latter. Nothing in the Bill should prevent our applying these principles to all quota.
It seems incredible that we are here, at the start of a new decade, thinking about an unlimited right being carried on in perpetuity by the holders of the FQA system. There really needs to be a clarification. In a sense, Amendment 110 and the reworked Clause 27 speak back to Amendment 105 and the reworked Clause 25. They are a pair: the second implements those principles exclusively in relation to the English fishery.
In response to the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, about the auction and competitive tender, this is a valuable tool to have in the kit. It would need to be carefully managed, and we would need to think about how an auction is carried out. There are other auctions for government contracts or rights carried out in different sectors of the economy. The one that I know best is the allocation of contracts for zero-emissions energy, in which case certain pots are made available and certain rules written around the allocation of those rights. If the fear is that these competitive tender processes would always lead to the more dominant players gaining more access, there are policy mechanisms that one can use to mitigate that risk.
This is a crucial clause because it also establishes this concept of payment for something held for the public trust. I am always a bit worried when I hear the Ministers saying, “We’re going to use grants to encourage better behaviour.” They should not have to use grants, because they are granting a right worth tens of millions of pounds every year. In a sense, they do not need to invent additional financial incentives when they have this existing financial instrument in their hands. It should be seen as such, because it certainly is by the fishing operators. It is not a pastime carried out without focusing on the bottom line and the profitability of the activities. The Government must take that approach.
To bring holding a property right in trust to life for noble Lords, if you own a piece of land or a house and simply give it away and say, “It’s fine. You can have that, no questions asked”, it is not likely that that property will be well looked after. You would also feel very vulnerable if you did not have a solid legal basis against which that transaction was carried out.
I am afraid that the current drafting of the Bill is not clear. There is still a lot of uncertainty, which is why the courts get involved and we lose legal cases around this question of quota allocation. There is not a really clearly laid out basis on which we do this transaction, confer these very valuable rights and hand them to the private sector.
As I say, this is a partner to Amendment 105. Listing in proposed new Clause 25(5) the links back to the various plans and statements—fisheries management plans and the marine plan—is an attempt to make the Bill holistic, mesh it together and make it read back against itself in a way that has some meaning in the real world. I will leave it at that.
My Lords, I have been sitting here and listening for a long time. I have worked with these people and know their stories really well. We are also very passionate. We do not expect the English to get upset and worried—to love their boats, to want to bring in their youngsters, teach them properly and bring them forward.
I tried to look back and see what things stuck out for me. A lobster hatchery that I put together down in Cornwall is going jolly well—we enjoy it. In those days, people were able to take money from the European Community to train children to go to university and learn. At the same time, they would come over and take what they liked: when you came to another place, you were supposed to bring your police with you and not have any cheating. You were supposed to be watching it. However, when you talk to the Spanish and the rest of them, who had a hell of a job to get themselves enough fish, they just took it—they left the police back at home. I grew up like that.
We will find it very difficult to pull our people away from saying, “It’s all right now. Everything’s fine. We don’t need to worry”. We do need to. This is what we have heard from this marvellous lady here. I did not know her before, but she is terrific. What these two Ministers have done with patience over hours and hours is something that you do not see at sea.
I remember the first time that you could look down and see all the fish coming, because of the technology that showed it to us—watching us taking loads ourselves and pulling through. We just had to lose it. We had so much that we did not know what to do with it.
At the end of the day, what we do best is fish and chips. We love it down in the West Country. We love to sell it. The frightening thing is realising that our water goes right up to France. We have this huge amount of water around us, this great big place. We also have a place where we can eat the food we love. Hands up—who knows what we eat more of? What is it? Can no noble Lords say what they love to eat? Are you not going to be able to say, “of Britain, of England”? What do we eat? It is beef. We do not eat fish; we eat beef.
I will finish in just a moment. I do not think that it is a problem, or what we are doing is wrong. I think we are recognising, hearing and seeing the great excitement that is coming to us. We have not yet spoken about training up the youngsters to bring them in, get them keen, and get the mechanisms through. I would like to congratulate the Front Bench. I hope that we do not hang around much longer. It has been a long time and I have enjoyed it.
My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lady Wilcox very much for her distinguished support for fishing interests over many years.
Amendment 107 in particular would seek to reserve a proportion of English quota to be sold solely to the under-10-metre fleet. In England, the decision about whether to tender any quota is still being considered. I would say to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate that all these matters are under active consideration. I will want to take back a large number of the points that have been made, but the criteria to be applied to any auction or tender could address concerns raised in relation to the under-10-metre fleet. Measures could be introduced to limit the lots being tendered, the amount of time they are tendered for, and the groups that they are targeted towards. As I have said, the Government will consult on the scheme and any allocation criteria. Other countries, such as Iceland and the Faroes, have explored auction systems for selling national fishing quotas. We will, therefore, also look to learn from these and other countries’ experiences. The Bill provides flexibility about how any future scheme might operate. It would already allow a scheme to be made only for the under-10s, for instance.
I turn to Amendments 108 and 109. The Government are committed to using the additional quota we secure to benefit our fishing industry and the coastal communities that they support. I know that the noble Baroness and many noble Lords will be disappointed, but the Government’s intention is to use this power to auction and tender additional quota. We recognise that this is an opportunity to support different catching sectors and will be consulting in the future, but the Government are committed to the support of coastal communities. While it is our intention that that these additional fishing opportunities be sold, and fished, the clause does not currently prevent someone from buying it and not fishing against it, as Amendment 108 seeks to provide. That said, I would caution that stopping this additional quota from being fished could reduce the benefit for our coastal communities. Encouraging those who do not intend to fish the quota to compete in auctions could also increase prices, and potentially outprice our fishers.
To address Amendment 109 specifically, I highlight that the quota tendered or auctioned through this clause would be only a proportion of total UK quota, as it relates to England only. It would therefore apply only to a proportion of fishing activity, and we must not forget that a significant proportion of our most valuable catches are actually of stocks that are not covered by quotas. Our ambition is to make the whole fleet more sustainable. We believe that this amendment, while well intentioned, is actually too narrow in focus, given that the Bill already provides a range of tools for fisheries managements to ensure that the impact of fishing on the marine environment is minimised.
Any scheme developed under Clause 27 would be developed in line with the sustainable fishing policies and practices that will be set out in the joint fisheries statement, which we have already discussed at length. However, as with everything relating to fishing, it is not as straightforward as might be imagined to determine what a sustainable fishing method is. As with all gear types, an assessment of sustainability is dependent upon how, when and where they are used. Advances in gear technology have also transformed sustainability and greatly cut unintentional bycatch. It is worth noting, for example, that, in line with a management approach the UK supported when an EU member state, Defra has already taken action to end a fishing technique that has caused concern—one that I believe the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, referred to in an earlier group of amendments—being used by English vessels: namely, electric pulse trawling. English licences will be withdrawn at the end of the transition period to end the practice in UK waters by English and any foreign vessels we allow to fish in our waters. Decisions on a future scheme regarding the sale of English fishing opportunities are yet to be determined and will depend on further exploration and consultation. It is right that we continue to develop the details of the scheme with the relevant stakeholders, so that it is flexible.
I turn to Amendment 110. While I agree with the noble Baroness’s intention to ensure that any sale of English fishing opportunities is regulated and based upon clearly defined criteria, I am advised that this amendment would undermine the existing quota allocation system. Case law has recognised that fixed quota allocation units—FQAs, the units by which quota is allocated—are a form of property right. We have committed to maintaining the current system of FQAs in relation to current quota allocations. This has to be taken into account in any new regime for the distribution of fishing opportunities. However, it is also important to highlight again that the UK’s sovereign rights over its fisheries and the public right to fish are already recognised in law. UNCLOS recognises in Articles 2 and 56 that coastal states have sovereign rights over the resources, including fisheries, in their territorial waters and EEZ. At home in our domestic courts, as had been referred to, Mr Justice Cranston noted, in the UK Association of Fish Producer Organisations Judicial Review of 2013, that the Magna Carta recognised fish stocks were a public resource and:
“Consequently there can be no property right in fish until they are caught.”
Additionally, the amendment links quota allocation and the provision of fishing licences in a manner which could inadvertently lead to confusion. While quota is indeed allocated to licence holders, these two concepts are separate issues and should be treated as such. This distinction is important as it allows, for example, quota to be exchanged between licence holders during the fishing year. Such flexibility helps fishers adapt to weather patterns, choke risks and other circumstances.
I absolutely understand the reason for the amendment, particularly given that the noble Baroness and whoever may be working with her have tabled this new clause. But the Government’s position is that there is more work to do on this. We want to consult on it; we want to get it right. All the points that have been raised, not only in the noble Baroness’s amendment but elsewhere, are on work that we wish to continue. That is why I am not in a position to confirm support for these amendments, but the work is continuing. I have found the points that have been made very helpful—
I thank the Minister for those comments. Could we have one of those meetings with the specialists in the room? I am merely a voice that is carrying a view from the sector itself. I would certainly appreciate that. In particular, could the Minister confirm that we can have a meeting on this point about the public rights and the allocation?
I just seek a couple of clarifications. With any new fishing opportunities, there will have to be an auction that people have to pay for, but with existing quota they will not. That gives a competitive commercial advantage, completely, to those who are already incumbents of the industry. I would think that the Competition and Markets Authority would be severely challenged by that. That is a real problem. If they are auctioned, do they then become permanent FQAs for those people, or is it a right for only five years? I was also very interested in the Minister’s comments that the rights over the fish stocks come from UNCLOS, which is an international agreement. That suggests to me that this is not a devolved issue. It is clearly a national issue, not a devolved one.
Clause 27 is about English fishing opportunities as far as I recall. The other thing I should say is that I have been very clear that the Government’s intention is to use this power to auction and tender additional quota. I have also said that the Government will consult on and consider this matter, so in matters of detail, I shall certainly not pre-empt any consideration by confirming or otherwise what the noble Lord has asked. This is obviously a matter that we wish to work further on and explore. I do not propose to take any more observations, but I will say to the noble Baroness that I am very happy for her and any other noble Lords—if they would let me know—to come and have a think piece on Clause 27.
My Lords, that is extremely helpful. If the Minister’s think piece is going to cover the circumstances in which existing fishing allocations could be or would be revisited—the whole issue of whether they were there in perpetuity or whether there were any circumstances in which the existing regime could be unpicked for whatever reason—I would certainly like to be part of that. I am still confused about how that would work and whether there is any flexibility. As I said, there must be circumstances—for example, if someone were repeatedly breaking the rules or operating outside the national interest—in which the authorities could intervene. I would love to explore what those are because the system feels rather rigid at this time.
I was grateful to the Minister for his warm words about under-10-metre boats. He said the matter was still being considered, and we keep being told that the discussion of whether there is merit in reserving some of the allocation for the under-10s will happen in another place. I am getting a little frustrated about this. I cannot see why, if the mood is going in that direction, it cannot be in the Bill. That is certainly something I want to reflect on and come back to, because I do not think that what we are asking for is unreasonable. If the Government are considering it anyway, I do not see why it cannot be in the Bill. For the moment, however, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 107 withdrawn.
Amendments 108 to 110 not moved.
Clause 27: Sale of English fishing opportunities for a calendar year
Debate on whether Clause 27 should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to debate this. We heard the figures earlier for the quota that is held: 29% of the UK fishing quota is owned or controlled by just five families; 49% of the English quota is held by companies based overseas; and the majority of UK fishing boats—79% of which are small-scale—hold only 20% of the UK quota. It is a source of great concern to me, as I said, and it was explored at some length in the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, which I had the privilege to chair for four or five years with my able deputy Barry Gardiner MP, who I know continues to take a great interest in these matters. One of the most shocking things that we discovered was that some of the boats and quotas were owned not just by foreigners but by non-active fishermen. The one that shook me most was that they were owned by English football companies. I therefore hope that the Minister, in summing up this little debate on whether Clause 27 should stand part will assure me that only active fishermen will be allowed to qualify.
My main comments relate to the work done in preparation for the Bill by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in its sixth report of this Session. The committee was particularly concerned that the power under Clause 27 to distribute extra quota envisages fishing opportunities for British fishing boats that will take effect when the UK takes back control. The report refers in particular to paragraph 153 of the Explanatory Notes, and this is what I would like to press the Minister to clarify today. The original Bill’s Explanatory Notes say in that paragraph:
“The scheme would only be used in relation to the portion of UK quota which may be allocated by the MMO or the Secretary of State to English fishing boats. The scheme could include the requirement that certain criteria are met in order to purchase fishing opportunities, for example environmental criteria.”
This is the most important part:
“It is not intended that a scheme would be used to sell fishing opportunities exclusively on the basis of price.”
That has been toned down in the revised Explanatory Notes to the Bill before us today. The last two sentences of paragraph 172 say:
“The regulations could include the requirement that certain criteria are met in order to purchase fishing opportunities, for example environmental criteria. The regulations could therefore require fishing opportunities to be allocated on criteria other than the price.”
It sums up debates held on earlier amendments relating to Clause 27, but I would like the Government to reassure us that quotas will not be tradeable. If they are going to be sold on and the main criterion will be price, we could set up a situation similar to that with the milk quota, and that is totally unacceptable. Will the Minister assure us that that will not happen? That is what the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has also asked us, and I wish to press the Minister in this regard. Will she reassure us that they will not be tradeable and not governed exclusively by price? Would the Minister, in summing up, assure us that, in accordance with paragraph 153 of the Explanatory Notes to the original Bill, it is not the Government’s intention that sales of fishing opportunities under Clause 27 should be governed exclusively by price? Will she also offer a full explanation of the Government’s intentions with regard to the application of criteria other than price? What will they be? Could she expand on the interrelationship between these other criteria and price and their relative weighting? I am particularly concerned that these quotas might be turned into a tradeable commodity—that they will be governed exclusively by price and that that might extend to people other than our active fishermen. That would be totally unacceptable.
Clause 27 allows for the sale of rights to English fishing opportunities —quota and days at sea, known as “effort”—for a calendar year. I, too, have two copies of the Explanatory Notes, and there must be a third copy because I could not find the original one to which my noble friend referred. We could allocate quota another way, not based on price, but we do not need new legislative powers in the Bill to do that. This power just gives one option for the future approach: an additional quota for a limited period. I have asked for clarification on what other criteria could be used and their relative weighting, but it may be that I will have to write to my noble friend on that issue.
Any sales must be made in accordance with regulations that may include a range of provisions. These provisions could cover rights to be sold by competitive tender or auction, setting minimum prices, payment of compensation to anyone who holds rights but does not use them, and a range of other issues that would ensure that the sale of quota was tightly regulated. The 2018 fisheries White Paper made clear that any additional quota that the UK obtains as an independent coastal state would be allocated differently from the current distribution methods. This clause provides the Secretary of State with the mechanisms to do just that for English quota. Schedule 5 provides equivalent powers for the Welsh Government, for Welsh quota.
I have listened to noble Lords’ concerns; this clause now requires the Secretary of State to consult on the regulations, and to make clear that quota could be sold on the basis that price is not the only relevant factor. For example, a determining factor in any tender or auction could be in relation to proof of use of sustainable fishing methods or benefit to a local community. I therefore ask my noble friend not to oppose this clause.
My Lords, I have to say that I find it very disappointing, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said, that the Bill will leave this place without the information being before us. The Minister did not reply on whether it is going to be an entirely tradeable economy or whether it will apply to non-active fishermen, and I find it very disappointing that we will not hear further clarification before the end of Committee.
Clause 27 agreed.