House of Lords
Monday 22 June 2020
The House met in a Hybrid Sitting.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Newcastle.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. A limited number of Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing. Other Members will participate remotely, but all Members will be treated equally, wherever they are. For Members participating remotely, microphones will unmute shortly before they are to speak. Please accept any on-screen prompt to unmute. Microphones will be muted after each speech. I ask noble Lords to be patient if there are any short delays as we switch between physical and remote participants.
Oral Questions will now commence. I ask that those asking supplementary questions please keep them short and confined to two points and that, equally, Ministers’ answers are also brief.
Yes, the Government plan to publish a heat and buildings strategy in due course, which will set out the immediate action that we will take to reduce emissions from buildings, including the deployment of energy-efficiency measures and low-carbon heating as part of the ambitious programme of work required to enable the mass transition to low-carbon heat and set us on a path to meeting our net-zero 2050 emissions target.
My Lords, in its report on energy efficiency last year, the BEIS Select Committee recommended that the winter fuel payment, which costs around £3 billion per year, be refocused and the savings invested in energy-efficiency programmes for fuel-poor households. Before the pandemic, the last Government rejected this, but can the Minister encourage the DWP and the Treasury to have another look at this proposal, which would help to achieve our zero-carbon commitment, tackle fuel poverty and promote a green recovery?
As always, my noble friend asks a very good and pertinent question, but we continue to believe that the winter fuel payment gives reassurance, particularly to poorer pensioners, that they can keep warm during the colder months, so we will continue to pay £200 for households with somebody who has reached state pension age and who is under the age of 80, or £300 for households with somebody aged 80 or over.
Retrofit is a resource-intensive job creator, and therefore a good way to come out of the pandemic in a sustainable way, so what commitment have the Government made to retrofit publicly owned or publicly funded buildings, including all our schools and educational facilities?
My Lords, can the Minister make it quite clear that there is no such thing as UK housing? In Scotland, housing has been a devolved matter ever since I was first an MP, 41 years ago. Under previous Administrations it was a matter for the Secretary of State for Scotland, and now it is for the Scottish Parliament. Therefore, on the important issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, can the Minister confirm that he has had meetings with his opposite numbers in the devolved Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?
Does the Minister agree that in addition to insulating the existing housing stock, we must replace the boilers in these homes if we are to meet our net-zero target? Is he aware that as of today this means replacing over 2,000 boilers every day, 365 days a year every year until 2050—and we have not even started yet? What will the Government do about that?
We do not necessarily need to replace every boiler. There are a number of alternative courses of action. One would be to investigate the use of hydrogen as an alternative. Already we have pilot programmes that will enable boilers to be quickly and easily upgraded to work on hydrogen.
It is obviously important to upgrade existing stock, but some local authorities have set up carbon offsetting schemes which allow carbon-intensive building developments to go ahead with building inadequate housing for the future. Will the Government close this loophole?
My Lords, given the likely increase in unemployment, the need to reboot nationally and internationally post the pandemic, and our chance to give a global lead at COP 26 in Glasgow, will my noble friend use his best endeavours to ensure that our Government follow up on this positive idea put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson?
My noble friend is entirely right. As the holders of the incoming presidency of COP 26, the Government will continue to press for much greater ambition around the world to reduce emissions, build resilience, co-operate and support each and every country.
My Lords, in response to the Minister’s reply to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and his encouraging reference to hydrogen, does he agree that the UK Government urgently need a UK-wide hydrogen strategy which includes sustainable domestic heating, transport and energy-intensive industry? Germany is about to confirm such a strategy, and many other countries are doing the same. Will the Government respond positively to the hydrogen industry’s campaign to have this important strategy? Companies are willing to invest £1.5 billion in it if the Government are behind them. Will he talk to key people about their plans?
Of course. I am always willing to have meetings with stakeholders and others about this important area. As I said in response to a previous question, we continue to investigate with other people—for instance, boiler manufacturers—how hydrogen can contribute to our climate goals in the future. It is an important point to make.
I shall follow up the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. Given the low cost of creating a job retrofitting loft and wall insulation in our housing stock, can the Minister confirm that this green new deal approach will feature in the Government’s forthcoming economic recovery plan?
I can confirm that we will do that. The noble Lord makes a very good point. We noted with interest the analysis in the Smart Growth America report that a job in home insulation could be created for £59,000, which is less than for comparative jobs, such as road maintenance. The most recent release by the Office for National Statistics shows that in 2018 energy-efficiency products supported the largest number of full-time jobs—about 114,000—of any sector in the low-carbon and renewable energy economy.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Teverson called for a plan of action and asked what the plan of action is. What we have heard from the Minister is an ambition. Will he say what action the Government are going to take? For instance, will there be technical advice on older houses? Will there be different advice for those in older buildings and for buildings with cavity walls? Will there be help with double glazing? I have heard nothing about action; I have heard only about ambition.
We are taking action in a number of areas. We are spending something like £640 million a year under the ECO scheme to support fuel-poor and vulnerable households in precisely the sort of work that the noble Lord mentioned. We want to go further, and that is why we need the strategy to which I referred.
The noble Earl makes a very good point. We are committed to working with the planning authorities to help us in our aspiration for green growth and in bringing as many homes as possible to reach EPC band C strategy by 2035. As we develop those policies, we will need to consider the interaction with planning restrictions where that is appropriate.
My Lords, the Government are taking a number of measures to make sure that our seaside resorts can open safely at the earliest possible opportunity. We meet regularly with the industry to hear views on how tourism businesses, including those in seaside destinations, can best prepare to welcome holidaymakers when it is safe to do so. My department has set up a cultural renewal task force with a specific visitor economy working group to develop Covid-secure guidance to help tourism businesses, including those on the coast, reopen. We are working very closely with the sector on this. When it is ready, we look forward to welcoming people back to our fantastic seaside resorts.
My Lords, the seaside towns cannot wait, because time moves on. We are about to move into the busiest three months of a seaside town’s economic year. From the much-trailed statements that are to come out tomorrow, we need immediately clear guidance for seaside towns on how best they can reopen their attractions, particularly hospitality and iconic indoor attractions, perhaps taking best practice from abroad. I welcome the statement about the committee. By the end of this tourist season, it must put in place long-term help for seaside towns, as recommended by the committee on seaside towns chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, on which I served.
The noble Lord is absolutely right that tourism is a critical part of the economy for a number of seaside towns. We are looking at all options for how we can reopen safely as quickly as possible. We have set an ambitious target of 4 July to do just that.
My Lords, my diocese boasts some of the UK’s most beautiful coastline, and I welcome the Minister’s reassurances on the significance of tourism and the measures to be taken to aid it. However, many of the coastal communities in the north-east, in common with coastal towns elsewhere, are among the 10% most-deprived areas in England. What action do the Government propose to ensure that the present crisis will not make the inequality with non-coastal areas even greater?
The right reverend Prelate is right. I was lucky enough to visit some of the coastline in her diocese before Covid, and it is absolutely stunning. The Government have been committed since 2012 to supporting coastal communities and have spent £229 million through the Coastal Communities Fund. She will be aware of the focus that this Government put in their manifesto on levelling up some of the communities that are perceived as left behind, covering all sorts of job creation, infrastructure and, importantly, tourism.
My Lords, Covid-19 has been a huge blow to Eastbourne and surrounding south coast resorts—the area where I live. Responding to the renaissance of demand will require substantial, imaginative and fast investment. Will my noble friend tell our local authorities that they should bring forward their proposals now, and will she support them by providing them with a single point of contact rather than making them—their very overworked selves—fight round the myriad government departments?
My noble friend makes an important point. I am not sure that it is our style to tell local authorities what they should do, because each local authority will face a slightly different set of issues. However, we are looking at a series of regulatory easements that would potentially extend the holiday season and therefore address some of the critical pressures that seaside resorts and other tourist destinations are facing.
My Lords, UK rural and seaside tourism is not a good business at the best of times, with often only part-time work in the summer from which you hope to save enough to survive the winter. People in Cornwall are now talking about three consecutive winters, owning to the freeze on income during this summer. So when do the Government hope that their coastal or tourism task force, which she mentioned, will report? This situation is getting very serious.
We are expecting the visitor economy task force, as we have named it, to report very shortly. There is real complexity in the tourism industry, given its breadth, and the task force will aim to address all the different aspects on which the sector needs clarity.
My Lords, in April VisitBritain’s impact assessment forecast a £15 billion loss in spend from incoming tourism and a £22 billion loss in spend from domestic tourism to our seaside resorts as a result of Covid. These are horrendous figures, which must impact the long-term prospects of our coastal resorts. So what long-term aid are the Government offering them?
The noble Lord is right that the impact of the drop that we have seen in the number of tourists is extraordinary. He will be aware that at the end of last year the Government announced a tourism sector deal. As part of that, there will be a number of tourism action zones. Sadly, Covid-19 has delayed those plans somewhat, but we are still absolutely committed to our tourist industry.
My Lords, during the lockdown will the Government allow councils to give waivers from both licensing and planning limitations on the use of outside space? This would allow the hospitality sector to have tables outside their premises and allow more businesses to reopen while maintaining social distancing.
I live in the seaside resort of Hastings and St Leonards—a borough that relies quite heavily on an influx of students coming to language schools. Unfortunately, language schools are not eligible for the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant fund. Do the Government have any other ways of helping them before they all disappear? Perhaps help could be made available through the Coastal Communities Fund, mentioned by my noble friend.
I will check on the specifics of language schools, but I assume that they are eligible for some of the wider cross-economy measures that the Chancellor announced, including, in particular, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. However, if there are additional points, I will be happy to write to my noble friend.
My Lords, University of Southampton research shows that the five towns at the greatest economic risk from the pandemic across the entire UK are coastal: Mablethorpe, Skegness, Clacton-on-Sea, Bridlington and Kinmel Bay. Seaside towns saw workers laid off in April at a faster rate than anywhere else in Britain, and seasonal employment practices mean that many local people fall between government support schemes. Does the Minister agree that, although measures to bolster domestic tourism this summer are important, they need to be part of a broader package of support for coastal towns to diversify their economies and build long-term resilience?
The noble Baroness is right, and that is why the Government are trying to tackle this problem from different perspectives. We were already aiming to work in just those communities ahead of Covid, whether through our ambitious transport and infrastructure plans, our levelling-up plans, our tourism sector deal or the wider work within that deal that will focus on improving job opportunities in those communities.
My Lords, the Lords Select Committee on the future of seaside towns, which I had the privilege of chairing, recommended government intervention on transport, education, skills training, digital inclusion, housing and the creation of new town deals. Will the Government now consider expanding the scope of the town deals to cover more left-behind seaside communities, and will they seek to use an expanded programme as part of the national recovery plan, given that Covid has, as we have heard, hit these communities hardest?
The Government are certainly looking at how we can maximise the impact of the tourism sector deal. I am not clear at the moment whether that will be through expanding the number of tourism action zones or making sure that some of the skills and other training that will be offered through the deal are spread more broadly across the country. However, this is definitely something that we are focusing on.
Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse
My Lords, the Government set up the independent inquiry to shine a light on the institutional failings of the past, to give a voice to victims and to learn lessons for the future. The inquiry is operationally independent and responsible for the management of its own budget. Since it was established in 2015, it has made significant progress. The cost of the inquiry to the end of March 2020 was just over £137 million.
Are we not now witnessing in the IICSA inquiry a macabre, quasi-criminal trial of the dead? As the Minister has said, it has already cost over £130 million at a time when the country is spiralling into debt, and its chairman is costing nearly a quarter of a million pounds a year. In the Janner case the accusers are there for the compensation, while the lawyers milk the system. Is not the simple truth that a well-motivated inquiry doing excellent work has now nearly run its course, with little further to add to the sum of human knowledge on institutional child abuse? Its job is done.
My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord’s first question as to whether we have embarked upon a macabre criminal trial of the dead, I think that the House would agree that the inquiry is there to learn the lessons of the past so that no more children have to go through what historically some of those children had to. I agree with him that at some point the inquiry will come to an end. It expects its public hearings to conclude by the end of 2020.
My Lords, as a former law officer, I am most anxious to discover the facts of any wrongdoing so that any action can be considered and lessons learned, as we have heard. But has any terminal date been firmly put to this inquiry—a date that cannot be moved—and is there a ceiling on costs, which have shot through the roof?
The noble and learned Lord is right to say that, at some point, this inquiry will end. I have recently been to see the inquiry chair to understand the progress of the inquiry. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, the public hearings are due to conclude by the end of 2020. From there on, the Government will consider the final report and respond in due course.
My Lords, the Crime Survey for England and Wales 2019 calculated that 7.5% of adults between the ages of 18 and 74 have been subject to sexual abuse before the age of 16. That amounts to 3.1 million people. Applying that statistic to this House would suggest that upward of 50 of your Lordships might have been victims. Does the Minister not agree that the scale and cost of IICSA is entirely proportionate?
I most certainly would agree with the noble Lord. If we do not learn from the institutional failings of the past, how will we ever address such statistics in the future? I thank him for that point. It was deference to authority in many ways that allowed these things to go on in the past; we need to learn from that.
My Lords, I associate myself with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell- Savours, said. But how can we justify this expenditure while continuing to refuse to have a proper inquiry into the activities of Wiltshire Police, which maligned and traduced the reputation of a very notable former Prime Minister?
My Lords, there is every justification for looking into some of the institutional failings of the past, which damaged the lives of those children affected. Let us not forget, there have been 4,024 convictions since 2016 for historic allegations of child sexual abuse.
My Lords, I declare an interest: I was briefly the first chairman of this inquiry, I wrote a report for the diocese of Chichester and gave written evidence to the inquiry. My view is that the inquiry is doing a good job, but what progress has been made on the review of the criminal injuries compensation scheme, which was a recommendation of the interim report?
My Lords, I will have to give the noble and learned Baroness an update on that as I do not, in all honesty, know where it is up to. I agree with her that the inquiry is doing a good job. It is good that the public hearings are due to conclude at the end of this year.
My Lords, the inquiry into child sexual abuse published a report into online-facilitated abuse, which found that law enforcement agencies were struggling to keep up and tech companies seemed unaware of the full scale of the problem on their platforms. Dreadfully, this issue has now become even more prevalent during the lockdown. Why have the Government still not published the interim code of practice on tackling child abuse content, which they promised in February pending legislation? What immediate action, as called for in the independent inquiry report, are the Government taking now to deal with the increasing scourge of this online abuse?
My Lords, the Home Secretary speaks every day to operational partners—the NCA, the police and the NPCC. It is not just that we are aware of the dangers of children being at home with their computers and not at school; significant effort has been undertaken to mitigate some of the potential for harm to children over this period. As for production of the report, that will come in due course.
My Lords, on 10 September 2018, the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, promised, in response to my question about an extra seminar on mandatory reporting, that
“the Government are committed to ensuring that legislation can adequately deal with this”—[Official Report, 10/9/18; col. 2093.]
issue, and would scope it fully “during the current Parliament”. Has that scoping taken place and, if so, what was the result?
When the Government come to make their promised response to the inquiry’s report on Westminster, published in February, will they ask why it failed to interview Mr Tom Watson about his appalling slurs on innocent people? Will they also ask why the section in that report on Westminster, which dealt with allegations about a paedophile ring said to have been based in Dolphin Square in the mid-1990s—allegations in which I happened to be implicated—failed to mention that the allegations were shown to be a pack of lies and the magazine in which they appeared was closed down? How can we trust fully an inquiry that fails to show proper balance in carrying out its responsibilities?
My noble friend is absolutely right that the Westminster strand did not find evidence of a paedophile ring, but it did find deference by the police, prosecutors and political parties towards public figures. It found differences in treatment accorded to well-connected people, as opposed to those without networks and influence, and a failure by almost every institution to put the needs of children first. They are shocking findings; they should give us all pause for thought.
The noble Lord mentioned something that is very much a concern at this point in time and has been in recent years as well. It is not for me, or indeed the Government, to tell IICSA what it must look into. In the main, it has been looking into institutional failures and problems in institutional settings. But I am sure that it will look into the appropriate issues at the right time.
Covid-19: Supply Chains
The Government are working around the clock to protect our people and businesses. BEIS is engaging with UK industry and suppliers to ensure that we support all our sectors during and after the Covid-19 crisis. The Government have put in place an unprecedented package of support. Internationally, the UK is responding bilaterally to support companies and supply chains through financial and advisory support.
I thank the Minister for her reply. As she will know, migrant workers making garments and other goods for the western market are a particularly vulnerable group. Most have lost their jobs, many have not been paid for months and millions have been on the road, walking without any money in their pockets to their home villages. Will the Government ensure that, if they offer financial assistance to companies, those companies fulfil all their legal obligations to the workers in their supply chains and, if at all possible, go beyond that to support this most vulnerable group of people?
The noble and right reverend Lord is correct that garment workers from countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, Pakistan, India and Myanmar have had major difficulties since UK retailers cancelled their orders. Following a joint Department for International Trade and DfID ministerial meeting with CEOs from the UK garment industry, we are setting up a multi-stakeholder working group for government, retailers and NGOs. In Bangladesh, for example, DfID has been able to support about 1,000 factories and their workers through its “Better Jobs in Bangladesh” programme, enabling them to return safely to work when their factories reopen.
Do the Government not understand that there are already many people, not least in Bangladesh, who are left totally destitute as a result of coronavirus-related policies pursued by the companies which they were supplying? What action are the Government taking to introduce mandatory human rights due diligence in establishing a corporate duty to respect human rights and require companies to identify and prevent abuses in their supply chains?
The noble Lord will be aware that the United Kingdom was, in 2013, the first country to produce a national action plan to respond to the guiding principles on the international treaty on human rights. The UK is responding strongly and bilaterally to support companies and supply chains abroad through financial and advisory support. For example, CDC, the UK’s bilateral development finance institution, is maintaining investments to protect a strongly countercyclical response at this time so as to help companies access finance and protect supply chains and jobs overseas.
But, on another tack, many were struck by how enterprise and private investment helped to secure a speedy recovery in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. What steps are the Government planning to remove existing barriers to private enterprise and to encourage new private investment in response to the coronavirus crisis, in the supply chain and elsewhere?
As always, my noble friend displays her credentials as a champion for business. This is a Government who consistently aim to create a strong environment for enterprise, but business needs three things: it needs the markets, and in that regard the Government continually announce measures that will increase confidence in the economy as we move forward through the pandemic; it needs finance—the British Business Bank, a centre of excellence for SME finance, administers the new Future Fund announced in May, which is securing match funding for the private sector to new businesses; and it needs increased productivity through increasing use of technology, as advocated by the Mayhew report, of which my noble friend will be aware, and championed by B4 Business, a charity financially supported by government funds. Only by working on all three fronts can we create the environment in which new small businesses will thrive.
The best way that tier 1 companies can help protect UK supply chains from the effects of Covid is by paying on time. The FSB reports that the problem of late payment is as bad as ever, if not worse. Will the Government now publish their long-awaited consultation on the Prompt Payment Code? Will they make signing up mandatory and enforceable for all companies with 250 or more staff?
The Government are completely focused on fulfilling our manifesto commitment to clamp down on irresponsible payment practices and support small businesses, which are impacted the most. We have a whole range of measures to tackle late payment, including the role of the Small Business Commissioner and the payment practices reporting duty. Minister Scully—the Minister for Small Business—has recently written to the top 18 accounting firms, asking them not only to pay their smaller suppliers promptly but to pass that message on to their large clients. I accept that publishing reform proposals is taking longer than originally hoped. Part of this reflects the need to focus our attention on the urgent response to the Covid-19 pandemic. I am sure that noble Lords on all sides of the House will understand this, but as soon as we can we will address this issue at pace.
My Lords, medical supply chains are only as strong as their weakest link, which is why shortages were common well before Covid or Brexit. However, Covid has caused a systemic shock, which is far from over. It is time to take a far more strategic approach to assuring the resilience of medical supply chains. Following the financial crisis, stress tests were applied to the banking system. Does the Minister agree that it is time to design similar stress tests for UK medical supply, and will she work with colleagues at DHSC to take this forward?
My noble friend asks an interesting question, as even in normal times there have been unforeseen hold-ups in the supply chain, often made worse when the headquarters are overseas and the UK company often cannot have the same visibility of its supply chain in order to alert us to unforeseen hold-ups. The idea of stress testing the supply chains within target industries is an excellent one, and I shall certainly take it back to BEIS, which could perhaps work with DHSC to evaluate measures to mitigate such risks.
Amazon increasingly seems to be part of our critical national infrastructure. US legislators have been asking tough questions about the number of Covid cases in its warehouses and among its delivery workers. What conversations have the Government had with this vital online service, which is serving our nation at the moment?
The Government have been engaging with a wide range of stakeholders about safety in the workplace during this crisis. This includes Amazon, with which we have had many conversations, and I know that the DHSC is grateful to it for its support. In answer to the noble Baroness, I cannot talk in specific terms about what those conversations have held. However, our approach has been split not by specific business types but by the type of working environment. We think that the risk of Covid-19 can be best addressed through personal hygiene and social distancing, and not necessarily through the use of PPE, except of course in clinical settings.
My Lords, following up the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, the Minister will be aware that EU directive 2014/24 on public procurement enables a public authority to pay a subcontractor for work completed in cases of insolvency, instead of the main contractor. This would help cash flow considerably in the supply chain, particularly for small construction companies. Will the Government consider it?
I am grateful to the noble Lord for his question and for giving me advance sight of it, since I do not think that I would have heard of that measure had he not done so. The Government have announced unprecedented support for businesses and workers. These measures include an uncapped package to help firms keep people in employment, deferred tax payments, business rate holidays, small business grants and commercial property mortgage holidays. In any situation where a main contractor becomes insolvent, the immediate focus will be on continuity of service, including by the incumbent contractor or its supply chain. Contracting authorities would first look to the terms of their contracts; they may have step-in rights, direct agreements or collateral agreements which allow them to engage directly with the supply chain behind the insolvent contractor. There are also provisions in UK procurement law—specifically, Regulation 72 of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 —to allow replacement of an insolvent contractor.
I do not accept the premise of the noble Baroness’s question; I do not believe that the role of DfID has been downgraded. As she knows, this Government have been foremost in stopping modern slavery outrages around the world, and we will continue to do that within the context of a combined department.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, proceedings will now commence. Some Members are here in the Chamber, others participating virtually, but all Members will be treated equally. For Members participating remotely, microphones will unmute shortly before they are to speak—please accept any on-screen prompt to unmute. Microphones will be muted after each speech. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House. I ask noble Lords to be patient if there are any short delays between physical and remote participants. The usual rules and courtesies in debate apply. Please ensure that questions and answers are short.
Covid-19: Test and Trace App
Private Notice Question
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the announcement made on 18 June regarding the switch in technology for the NHSX Covid-19 Test and Trace app, what is their assessment of (1) the operational impact, (2) the financial impact, and what lessons have been learned.
My Lords, we remain optimistic that high-tech can help our fight against this horrible disease, but we have learned that consumers want a personal touch rather than a text exchange, that tools that assist outbreak management are our immediate priority and that the challenges of proximity detection have confounded many Governments around the world. That is why we are working with the best companies to build the best app that meets the needs of the British people.
My Lords, I hope that the Minister understands the anger at the Government’s and NHSX’s sheer incompetence and lack of humility in what was rightly called a fiasco by the Daily Mail last Friday, and that their go-it-alone approach and attempt to shift the blame on to tech companies simply will not wash. Is it not time that the Government just accepted that we cannot develop our own app and went straight to adopt the available interface, or API, behind the off-the-shelf, decentralised app now in widespread use? Such apps have been introduced in Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Denmark, where they appear to be working well, and are close to release in Holland, Ireland, Latvia and Estonia. They would help travellers avoid quarantine this summer, and many of us were urging this on the Government back in April?
I want to say a profound thanks to those at NHSX, NHS Digital and others who have worked so hard on the NHS app. They have made phenomenal progress and their hard work is hugely appreciated. I also want to say a profound thanks to those at Apple who are working with us to design an app that suits the British public. Both teams have faced enormous challenges and I look forward to their working together to overcome them.
My Lords, getting back to the fundamentals, why did NHSX decide to make a new contact tracing app and not collaborate with other countries which had successfully produced such apps? What is the specific business case or use case if the app continues to require a different design from those implemented already?
My Lords, from the beginning we have worked closely with other countries, including in Asia, Europe and America. We have worked closely with companies including Apple and started our dialogue with it the moment it launched its app. There are a number of challenges. A most profound one is our need to use technology to tackle local outbreaks. Without local information on where new cases have originated, it is difficult for the Government to achieve that task. We look forward to working with Apple to try to define a use case around that.
Has this experience prompted broader reflection in government about the influence of big tech companies in so many spheres of our lives? Has it prompted a need and desire for proper regulation of those companies now to be brought to bear?
My Lords, it has been my experience that working with some of the biggest companies in the world in pharmaceuticals, in diagnostics and in tech has brought to the fore the paramount importance of partnership with big industry. We have benefited enormously from such partnerships and I thank some of the major companies that we have worked with. However, it is undoubtedly the case that government has its own agenda and it is important that we work to champion the needs of the British public, which is where our biggest interests lie.
All avenues to reduce the transmission of coronavirus have to be seriously explored, so what was to be gained by NHSX and the UK Government refusing over a period of months positively to engage with those involved in the COVID Symptom Study app?
My Lords, I completely endorse the noble Lord’s point. We have followed the principle of working in parallel in all cases possible. However, I should explain that pressure is incredibly intense, and one cannot focus on everything all the time. I understand the point that he makes, but I suggest that, at some points, one has to focus on one part at a time. That is what we have sometimes needed to do, but we have remained in contact with all players at all times.
My Lords, I have one question in two parts. First, in the event of a substantial increase in the number of new infections, what plans do the Government have to manage such an increase, and will they publish them? Secondly, what plans do they have to use antibody screening of the population?
My Lords, our plans for the winter are in development and I look forward to their publication. The noble Lord is entirely right to prioritise antibody screening. We have invested considerably in antibody testing from a number of suppliers, including Roche and Abbott. As he knows very well, the science remains ambiguous, but we are optimistic. That is why we are putting our best minds to understand it better, and we are world-leading in that respect.
My Lords, I have listened to my noble friend and feel that confidence in the Government has been shaken by this approach. I have one question: how do we anticipate this approach now being rolled out across the four nations of the United Kingdom and how will they interface, one with another?
My Lords, in all aspects of our battle against Covid, we have sought a four-nations approach. We hope to work together for one solution. I am aware that other nations are looking at their own options, but it is our hope that, in time, they will all come together for one solution.
What were the governance processes behind the decision to abandon rather than complete the last stages of development of the NHSX app and where are they published, given that the NHSX app had MHRA and security clearance and was days away from being finalised?
My Lords, the decision to change strategy was taken ultimately on operational grounds. The regulatory environment was not necessarily relevant for that. We cannot avoid the fact that there have been technical issues with both the Apple and the NHS apps. We are still some way from resolving those issues, but we hope to overcome them, in partnership with Apple, and the House will be updated when we do.
My Lords, the SAGE minutes of 1 May indicate that 80% of contacts should be isolated within 48 hours of the original case becoming ill. The SAGE meeting on 19 May included the summary point that a test, trace and isolate system would be necessary, though not sufficient on its own, to allow changes to distancing measures without pushing R above 1. Given the failure of the Government’s app, and their intention to reduce the two-metre social distancing rule, has SAGE now changed its mind?
My Lords, the Government have the two-metre rule under review, but no decision has been made on it. Enormous progress has been made on reducing the turnaround times of tests. A large proportion of them now take place within 24 hours and we remain focused on this important index.
My Lords, I do not think anyone needs to apologise for their efforts. I have already paid tribute to the teams at NHSX and NHS Digital for the incredibly hard work they have put in. I cannot disguise how complex and challenging are the issues we face in this area. Some of the best Governments in the world are wrestling with them and they have not been overcome in many territories. I am extremely proud of our achievements to date and look forward to more in the future.
The noble Lord, Lord Mann, is entirely right. One of our learnings—and a point made by many noble Lords—is that, ultimately, the most effective response is the local one. We are at a moment in the epidemic when local outbreaks are what we fear most. The way to handle those is through local contact and tracing. That is currently done by a large tracing team, putting in telephone calls which prove extremely effective. The uptake of the isolation protocol has been extremely high.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a former chairman of King’s College London. Will the Government endorse KCL’s COVID Symptom Study app, now used by 3.5 million people, as soon as possible? Meanwhile, I repeat the simple interim measure of encouraging everyone to keep a daily diary of people met and places visited, to help tracing should they be infected.
I pay tribute to the KCL symptom tracker app. I have been a subscriber since the early days of its launch. The data it provides has been extremely useful to the Government and is used regularly. I also pay tribute to my noble friend, who has spoken before about the need for diaries. The work on diary keeping in South Korea and New Zealand has proved important.
My Lords, the PNQ refers to lessons learned. A key one from the sorry story of the NHS app is that the Government should have involved local councils in the trace and contact system from the outset and used the decentralised local PHE expertise and knowledge of infection control already in place. Instead, we had a chaotic government launch of a system that was not ready, with serious IT problems experienced by many of the 25,000 new staff recruited by the NHS to carry out manual contact tracing, as well as training problems and many staff literally not having anything to do. Current figures show that they are doing just 11% of the total work while the vast majority of manual contact is being completed by trained PHE officials. Can the Minister reassure the House that the Government will make sure that councils have the necessary powers they are calling for to be able to fully respond to local outbreak hotspots, and ensure that PHE directors and local infection officials have the funding and support they need?
The noble Baroness is entirely right that local councils are pivotal to our response to Covid-19. I pay tribute to Tom Riordan, CEO of Leeds City Council, for the important work he is doing to stitch together the alliance of councils which is working closely with the joint biosecurity centre to organise that response. However, I do not agree with the noble Baroness on the role of the tracing teams—it has been incredibly important. There has not been the capacity in the decentralised PHE teams to provide the response necessary to this national epidemic. A central team was necessary and is proving to be effective. We have put PHE expertise at the heart of that programme.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, some Members are here in the Chamber, others participating virtually, but all Members are treated equally. For Members participating remotely, microphones will unmute shortly before they speak—please accept any on-screen prompt to unmute. Microphones will be muted after each speech. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will adjourn the House immediately. I ask noble Lords to be patient if there are any short delays between physical and remote participants. The usual rules and courtesies of debate apply. Please ensure that questions and answers are short.
Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given on Wednesday 17 June in the House of Commons.
“I am grateful for the chance to update the House on the urgent matter of coronavirus.
Yesterday’s treatment breakthrough shows that British science is among the best in the world. As a nation, we can be incredibly proud of our scientists. The UK is home to the best clinical trials, the most advanced immunology research, and the most promising vaccine development work of any country. We have backed the science from the start, and I am sure the whole House welcomes the life-saving breakthrough that was announced yesterday. Today, I will briefly update the House on all three aspects of that national scientific effort.
First, on clinical trials, our recovery programme, which looks at the effects of existing treatments in real-world hospital settings, is the largest of its kind. As of yesterday, 11,547 NHS patients had been recruited to the programme, which is operating across 176 sites in all four nations. In Oxford University’s dexamethasone trial, over 2,000 NHS Covid patients were given a course of the drug—a commonly used steroid—over 10 days. For patients who were ill enough to require oxygen, the risk of dying fell by a fifth, and for the most seriously ill patients on mechanical ventilators, the risk of dying fell by over a third.
This is an important moment in the fight against this virus, and the first time that anyone in the world has clinically proven that a drug can improve the survival chances for the most seriously ill coronavirus patients. In February we began the trial, supported by £25 million of government funding, and in March we began recruiting patients, and started the process of building a stockpile in case the trial was successful. As of today, we have 240,000 doses in stock, and on order. That means that treatment is immediately available, and already in use on the NHS. I am incredibly proud that this discovery has happened right here in Britain, through a collaboration between the Government, the NHS, and some of our top scientists. It is not by any means a cure, but it is the best news we have had.
Throughout this crisis, our actions have been guided by the science, and that is what good science looks like: randomised control trials; rigorous and painstaking research; moving at pace, yet getting it right. The result is that we now have objective proof—not anecdotes, but proof—that this drug saves lives, and that knowledge will benefit many thousands of people all around the world.
Seven other drugs are currently being trialled as part of the recovery process, and a further nine drugs are in live clinical trials as part of the ACCORD programme, which is looking at early-stage treatments. We look forward to seeing the results of those trials. I thank everyone involved in that process, and put on the record my thanks to our deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, who led the work in government, as well as to NHS clinicians, the scientific teams, and the participants in the trial who took the drug before they knew that it worked.
Our immunology research, again, is world leading. Last month I announced a new antibody testing programme to help us understand the immunological response to the disease, and whether someone acquires resistance to coronavirus once they have had it and recovered. I am part of that programme, and as of yesterday, 592,204 people have had an NHS antibody test. The nature of immunity research means that it takes time, and we must wait to see whether someone with antibodies gets reinfected. However, with every test, we improve our picture of where the virus has been, and we grow the evidence to discover whether people who have had the disease and have antibodies are at lower risk of getting or transmitting the virus again.
Crucially, that work will help to inform how we deploy a vaccine, and it is moving at pace. Earlier this week Imperial College began its first phase of human clinical trials, and 300 participants will receive doses of the vaccine. Should they develop a promising response, Imperial will move to a large phase-3 trial later this year. Yesterday, AstraZeneca signed a deal for the manufacture of the Oxford vaccine, AZD-1222, which is the world’s most advanced vaccine under development. Its progress, while never certain, is promising.
None of that happened by accident. It happened because the British Government, scientists and the NHS put in place a large-scale, programmatic, comprehensive, well-funded, systematic, rigorous, science-led system of research and innovation. We have been working on it since the moment we first heard of coronavirus. There is more to do in this national effort, but that is how we will win the battle. We will leave no stone unturned as we search for the tools to hunt down, control and ultimately defeat this dreadful disease.”
To follow on from the question asked in the previous debate by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, in the last week the Secretary of State, when explaining the failure of the NHSX app, said that the Government are committed to trying and supporting any innovation that might work in this pandemic. That attitude is to be applauded, as long as it is not linked to exaggerated promises—and of course it means that some things will not work. It is therefore puzzling that the Government refuse to partner and adapt the Covid Symptom Study app, which might close the gap on the two-thirds of infections not currently being identified and fit into the existing human contact tracing effort. Some 3.5 million of us take 30 seconds a day to report our health; with government support, that could easily and quickly be 10,000,000. The founders from King’s College and ZOE have written to the Prime Minister today. In the spirit of trying everything to find a solution, will the Minister encourage a positive response to that initiative?
My Lords, I pay tribute again to those at KCL who developed the symptom-tracking app. The information from it has been enormously helpful over the last few months. In many ways we have benefited from the app’s independence as a source of important front-line intelligence. I am aware of the letter written to the Prime Minister, and I hope very much that we will be able to work more closely together. The information on asymptomatic references is very important. However, I stress that the ONS study suggests that, unfortunately, many people who declare the symptoms of coronavirus are mis-self-diagnosing, and we have to bear that factor in mind.
Following last week’s Urgent Question, the Secretary of State responded to questions about new outbreaks in local areas and local authorities not being given access to all the necessary data. He said:
“We have provided more data to them, and we will continue to do more.”—[Official Report, Commons, 17/6/20; col. 810.]
I am still hearing from local authorities that the data sent to local areas is still incomplete, which means that vital urgent local tracing teams are trying to do their job with one hand tied behind their back. This includes the outbreak at the meat-processing factory in Kirklees. When will local authorities and directors of public health get the data they need?
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is right that the creation of a seamless network between the centre and local authorities is challenging. A huge amount of work has gone into refining the accuracy and speed of the exchange of data, and the joint biosecurity centre is investing a huge amount of effort in getting this right. The responses to Kirklees, Leicester and Cardiff show the progress that has been made, but also some of the shortcomings. We are fully aware of the challenge and difficulty of getting this right; we are very much focused on it and it is our top priority.
As obesity makes one more likely to suffer with Covid-19, and as more than half of people in the UK are obese, will the Government launch an all-out campaign this summer to reduce obesity by persuading people to put fewer calories into their mouth before the next pandemic arrives to kill even more people? Exercise is good for general health but will reduce weight only in grams, whereas eating puts on weight in kilos.
My noble friend makes a tough but serious set of points. It is undoubtedly true that this country has been hit hard by Covid because of the prevalence of obesity, and it is a truth long explained by Public Health England that there is a direct correlation between calorie intake and weight—there is no getting away from that. The Government are looking at how to address this issue, public health remains a massive priority for us and, when the time is right, we will look at ways of using marketing to communicate the message on this.
My Lords, it is very good news that the trials of dexamethasone have gone successfully and that other trials are progressing well; I hope that the vaccine trials will also yield success. However, can the Minister confirm reports that more than a third of care home patients have not yet been tested? When will all care home patients and staff be tested fully and regularly? Secondly, with the good news coming from the Prime Minister—we hope—of the economy opening up from 4 July, will widespread testing be available for businesses on top of the two-metre social distancing being reduced to one metre?
My Lords, the progress on testing in social care is dramatic. The rollout of testing to all care homes is complete, and tests have been offered to all those who are symptomatic. The focus is very much on staff who travel between more than one home, and asymptomatic testing. As for the economy, all those who show symptoms can have a test, but we are talking to business about how businesses can also contribute to their own testing regimes, and we look forward to developing those plans.
My Lords, knowing who has and who has not had the virus is clearly essential in knowing who should be isolating themselves. The Minister has failed to answer my questions on what proportion of the self-testing kits are being returned, and on the estimated number of false negatives as a result of people not swabbing themselves properly or because of inherent weaknesses in the test itself. However, at the moment, NHS staff are being given antibody tests and many who have palpably had the virus and been exposed to it are showing as negative. What is the department’s working estimate of what proportion of false negatives there will be in those antibody tests?
My Lords, the noble Lord makes an important point. How it is that some people have palpably had the virus, as he rightly says, but do not show a positive antibody test, is a mystery that we do not fully understand. It seems that the tighter—more minimal—the amount of antibody left in the bloodstream, the less likely it is to register in the test. We are undertaking a massive antibody testing programme through the health service to understand this phenomenon more closely, and we look forward to publishing those results as a priority.
My Lords, successfully passing a test does not predict the future. We know that 20% of people who have contracted the virus did so in hospital. So those in certain professions come into daily contact and will require periodic, regular tests. What plans do the Government have to ensure that those in the professions at greatest risk receive a regular test?
My noble friend Lord Pickles is entirely right to say that people in some professions are clearly at higher risk. Bus drivers, taxi drivers and hospital porters are three such professions, and I pay tribute to those who put themselves in harm’s way in order to serve the public. The Prime Minister announced, I think two weeks ago, a special programme to introduce regular, asymptomatic testing to protect people in those professions, and we are working very closely with their representatives to roll out the necessary schemes at pace.
My Lords, in view of the large number of cases that have been confirmed at a meat processing plant in Anglesey and the likely reduction in social distance, will the Government seriously consider extending the mandatory wearing of face masks for people in enclosed spaces, including workplaces, for staff and customers in shops, and certainly for staff in restaurants and pubs?
My Lords, the introduction of face masks is something that has been recommended by the Government, but the mandatory wearing of them is not. We are looking at the various recommendations from SAGE to inform the proposals that might come after the lifting of social distancing, but our focus remains on hygiene, social distancing and isolation. Those are the three most effective measures and we remain committed to them for the moment.
Fisheries Bill [HL]
My Lords, a limited number of Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing, and if the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House. Other Members will participate remotely, but all Members will be treated equally, wherever they are. For Members participating remotely, microphones will unmute shortly before they are to speak—please accept any on-screen prompt to unmute. Microphones will be muted after each speech. I ask noble Lords to be patient if there are any short delays between physical and remote participants. I should remind the House that our normal courtesies in debate still very much apply in this new hybrid way of working.”
I shall begin by setting out how the proceedings will work. A participants list for today’s proceedings has been published and is in my brief, which Members should have received. I also have lists of Members who have put their names to amendments or who have expressed an interest in speaking on each group. I will call Members to speak in the order in which they are listed. Members’ microphones will be muted by the broadcasters, except when I call a Member to speak. Interventions during speeches or “before the noble Lord sits down” are not permitted, and uncalled speakers will not be heard. Other than the mover of an amendment or the Minister, Members may speak only once on each group. Short questions of elucidation after the Minister’s response are permitted but discouraged; a Member wishing to ask such a question, including Members in the Chamber, must email the clerk in advance.
The groupings are binding and it will not be possible to de-group an amendment for separate debate. A Member intending to press an amendment already debated to a Division should give notice in the course of the debate. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the Question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely intends to trigger a Division, they should make this clear when speaking on the group. We will now begin.
1: Before Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
(1) Fish present within the UK Exclusive Economic Zone shall be a common resource owned by the United Kingdom on behalf of its citizens.(2) Quotas or other rights to harvest fish whether allocated to vessels, public bodies, or individuals natural or corporate shall remain the property of the United Kingdom.(3) No vessel, public body, or individual natural or corporate shall have a permanent claim over quota or other fishing rights granted to them by a public authority.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment makes clear that UK fish stocks are the property of the nation and not private organisations.
My Lords, we very much come back to something that is completely fundamental to the concept of this Bill and in terms of fisheries in the United Kingdom: who has ownership of these stocks. It is absolutely fundamental that they are owned by the nation. I am very aware that in Committee the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, challenged me, quite rightly, to say what is the “nation”, given that we have devolved nations and what can be described as the nation state. So I have made the amendment far clearer than it was, to make sure that there are none of those differences of interpretation.
This comes back to the fundamental principle that fish stocks do not belong to an individual, a public authority, a business or a vessel. They are the common property of the nation. That is very important because, although it might seem obvious, and again I was challenged in Committee on why we need this amendment at all, the fact is that when the Government —I am very much on the Government’s side in this amendment—were challenged by the UK fish producers’ organisations about a restructuring of the quota, on that occasion the Government lost and the UK producer organisations won.
I am giving the Government the opportunity here to right that wrong. They rightly thought it was in the Secretary of State’s power to make it clear that this is a common resource owned by the nation. Sure, it can be allocated for quota or effort control—all those sorts of things can be done, and the Bill delineates how they should be done—but that ownership remains there.
It seems that if one thing comes out of Brexit on fisheries, it is—exactly as the Government themselves say—that we will be an independent coastal state. But if you asked the population and voters of this country who those fish stocks that we now have control over belong to, they would not say the industry, which is 40% owned by foreign companies, but the British people—and they would be right. That is why this amendment is here and is important. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with the concept of the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. It is right that we discuss this. However, the more I look at it, the more complicated I feel even this new version will be. It will be very important to hear what my noble friend the Minister says on this. Of course, we feel that it is the nation—I take the point that four nations comprise the United Kingdom and, knowing that some of them are a little more territorial than others at the moment, they might start claiming the fish stocks as they move across—and that the concept is absolutely right, but I am waiting to see what my noble friend says on this before I make up my mind on whether or not to support this amendment.
My Lords, I speaking to Amendment 1, I will speak also to Amendments 4 to 6. What concerns me about all these is that if the UK and the EU fail to reach a deal by the end of the year, they will be bound by international law; namely, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea—UNCLOS—which requires co-operation and efforts to agree rules on access to waters, as well as setting catch limits and standards on conservation and management of marine resources.
In the bizarre world of Brexit, the fishing sector—which represents a fraction of 1% of the UK economy—may be the issue that determines whether the current trade negotiations with the EU succeed or fail. Escape from the common fisheries policy was touted by the Brexiteers during the campaign as a great prize to be won, but this sector is heavily dependent on easy access to EU markets, whereas British consumers prefer to eat fish imported from Europe.
I suggest that the future of UK fishing should be determined not by this vacuous Bill or by Amendments 1, 4, 5 and 6, but by a sensible and detailed negotiation with the EU in the current trade talks. At present, regrettably, there is little sign of this happening, and there is now a danger that this issue will prove to be the rock on which a potential deal founders.
As everybody in this debate will be aware, the UK fishing industry, including processing, is heavily concentrated in coastal communities of the nations and regions, which rightly deserve protection in view of their high levels of deprivation and low levels of income and education. However, these communities are heavily reliant on easy access to EU markets. About two-thirds of fish caught by British fishers is sold to the EU in frictionless overnight trade. Most Welsh fishing boats specialise in shellfish, with 90% of their catch currently exported to the EU; I am speaking from my home in Wales at the moment. Meanwhile, UK consumers prefer fish imported from Europe, so our fish processing industry is also heavily reliant on imports from the EU.
After years of one-sided propaganda about “our fish” and claims in the tabloids that a single British fishing industry will benefit from reclaiming the proportion of fish caught by EU boats in UK waters—probably around 60% by weight and 40% by value—a more complex picture now emerges, as this catch is mostly fish for which there is little demand in the UK. There are also large British boats that depend on EU-agreed quotas for their access to Norwegian waters.
In April 2019 the biggest whitefish trawler in the UK fleet sailed up the Thames to highlight the threats facing the fishing industry if Brexit negotiations end in no deal. This is because in that event there would be no automatic access for British boats to these key waters. The jobs of hundreds of fishermen and many hundreds more in fish processing in north-east England will be at risk unless a deal is reached whereby UK vessels are able to continue in such waters that have long been open to UK fleets.
Unsurprisingly, protecting their own vulnerable coastal communities, and ensuring that fishing rights that have existed for hundreds of years do not die, is also a priority for a number of coastal EU member states, such as Ireland, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and France. This became evident earlier this month when EU Fisheries Ministers were reported to have rejected Michel Barnier’s proposals for compromise and instructed him to hold firm to his red lines. Just as the Conservatives may be wary of being seen as having betrayed Scottish fishers—as they are worried about the Scottish Parliament elections next year—President Macron of France, for example, will have in mind that he faces an election in 2022.
Incredibly, our dogmatist Government—I acquit the Minister of this charge, because I think he is doing an honest job—seem willing even to sacrifice the chance of a beneficial deal for the UK financial services industry to save UK waters for the British fishing industry. The financial services sector accounted for 7% of UK GDP in 2018, employing an estimated 2 million people. In any event, the UK fishing industry is likely to suffer, rather than prosper, if there are EU-UK cod wars, as, among other things, there will be a danger to sustainability of stocks through overfishing. It would therefore be a spectacular own goal if the UK refused a deal relating to finance as the price of not reaching an agreement on fishing.
What might constitute a reasonable deal? Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, outside the common fisheries policy the UK is still legally obliged to consider the historical fishing rights of its neighbours, which suggests that some continued access to UK waters for fishers across the channel would be a reasonable expectation. As a quid pro quo, and irrespective of Brexit, as a result of fish migration there is probably a case for review of some UK quotas for mackerel, herring, cod and hake, but that does not need to be at a scale that destroys the livelihoods of hundreds of EU fishers.
However, a no-deal Brexit would destroy the significant parts of the UK industry that are dependent on frictionless overnight trade in fish, impact fish processing—which depends on access to EU imports—and cause loss of access to waters off non-EU states for large UK boats that currently benefit from EU access. I am really not sure how Amendments 1, 4, 5 and 6 help deal with that predicament.
My Lords, I was very interested to hear the reasons the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, gave for bringing a slightly amended version of this amendment back on Report. While I am sympathetic to what I think he is trying to achieve, I have great difficulty in finding this amendment appropriate. I fear it looks at the issue from a particularly English perspective, and I hazard a guess that the Scots may take a different view. I was fortunate to receive briefings from both the Scottish fisheries organisation and the Law Society of Scotland, and we must appreciate that the fisheries opportunities in Scotland are immensely important. They represent 58% of the value and 64% of the tonnage of all fish landed by UK vessels, so I am struggling to understand.
I see that we have changed the wording from “marine stocks” to “fish”, probably in recognition of the fact that, in Scotland, there are many other uses of the exclusive economic zone. But the argument remains: the citizens of the four nations, and in particular those of Scotland, would argue that they have a right to a lion’s share of the fish.
Proposed new subsection (2) goes on to talk about quotas. I have tabled an amendment to Clause 48, which we will come to much later, when I will develop my argument on quotas more fully. I wait with great interest to hear what my noble friend the Minister has to say on this matter, but I am not entirely convinced that the law as it currently stands does not encompass what the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, is trying to achieve. If noble Lords will forgive the pun, I believe that this amendment will, if anything, rather muddy the waters and not take the arguments any further forward.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern. No? I call the noble Earl, Lord Caithness.
My Lords, I am sorry that my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern is not able to join us just now. I hoped that he would elucidate the picture with regard to case law on this. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, mentioned a case, but there are other cases, going back to 1803, that clearly establish that, if fish belong to anybody, they belong to the King’s subjects. That is well established. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, is perhaps taking a slightly Napoleonic view of the situation, rather than the common-law and case law approach that is usual in this country.
I want to pick up a point that my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering raised: the question of the “quotas” in proposed new subsection (2). What quotas is the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, talking about? The overall quota is set by the UK Government, but quotas are a devolved matter as well. I think that the noble Lord is in grave danger of complicating the Bill and treading hard on the toes of the devolved Governments. This is something that we have to be extremely careful not to allow in this Bill, which has been carefully crafted to achieve a balance between what the UK Government are able to do and what the devolved Governments rightly should do. I do not think that this amendment helps that situation in any way at all.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Teverson has set out the reasons for this amendment, which we debated in Committee. Fish are a resource that is not owned by any one region, corporate body or individual. Unlike farm animals, which can be corralled and shepherded into barns, pens or open fields, fish are free-swimming. The oceans and shores around the UK have no physical barriers. It therefore follows that fish in our waters are a UK-wide resource.
The noble Lord, Lord Hain, said that 1% of the UK economy is dependent on fishing. But the UK is totally encircled by the seas, so fishing is extremely important. I agree that the Brexit deal is vital to how we move forward. The Fisheries Bill is a golden opportunity to set exacting principles on just how the fishing rights around our shores are managed to best maintain, and at the same time increase, fish stocks, with sustainability at the heart of the Bill.
The UK exclusive economic zone is a resource owned by the UK on behalf of its citizens, and must be preserved as such, whether they are in the devolved Administrations or not. No one should be allowed to claim that fishing rights in any particular area belong just to them. This is a national resource, and it must remain so. It is vital that fish stocks are protected and increased. This can happen only if the fish are not seen to be the property of any one individual private organisation or corporate body.
I note the comments of noble Lords about what they see as the complication of the issues in this amendment, and I look forward to what the Minister has to say. But this is an extremely important principle, which we feel should be included in the Bill.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for raising this issue again, following our debate in Committee. It is a fundamental issue, which deserves more attention. Who owns the resources in our coastal waters? How can it be that, once a quota of fish is issued, it seems to be owned indefinitely by mainly foreign vessels?
As the noble Lord said, there is a strong argument that, when we become an independent coastal state, the ownership of those resources, including the fish, should be returned to the nation. What we do with them then should be the subject of a new consensus, with new timescales and obligations, and with the ultimate right of the UK to take back control of those resources. This would obviously be subject to a new devolved settlement, so that the rights to the resources were properly shared. Some noble Lords seem to feel that that is quite a complicated argument, but, personally, I think that it is fairly straightforward.
As the noble Lord is right to say, we should be more ambitious about the opportunities that could flow from our independence. If we were writing a new plan for UK fishing, we certainly would not start from here, with all that existing baggage.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Hain that a no-deal Brexit would of course be disastrous, not only for the fishing sector but for all other trade sectors in the UK.
We will explore in other amendments what we need to do to revitalise the UK fishing sector. In the meantime, it is useful to put on record our belief that fish stocks are a public asset and should be owned by the nation. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, this proposal’s reference to “the United Kingdom” requires consideration, given the matters that arise in connection to it from devolution. It is true that fisheries are devolved, and so in respect of rights of the United Kingdom and fish, these will be devolved. It is therefore quite important that the role of the devolved Administrations is kept in view, as is recognised in later clauses in the Bill.
The other point I was slightly doubtful about is that of quotas being owned by the public, or the nation. When the quota is granted, the rights of the quota will belong to the person to whom it was granted. I should have thought that that would mean an innovation to the rights of the public in respect of the quota, once it is granted. To me, it seems clear that the public own the fish stocks in our waters, but it is quite important to recognise the devolution settlements in that connection.
My Lords, I am grateful the noble Lord for his amendment and to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate.
As noble Lords will be aware, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea—UNCLOS—establishes that the UK has sovereign rights to manage the marine resources within our exclusive economic zone. This includes fish. I am very glad of the intervention from my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and those from my noble friends Lord Caithness, Lady McIntosh and Lord Randall. The Government are clear that there is a public right to these fish. Indeed, lawyers have advised me that UK case law recognises that fish are a public asset, held by the Crown for the benefit of the public. Legally, it is clear that no one individual can own the actual fish. As this fact is already well established in law, I suggest that an amendment to this Bill would not deliver any new clarity on the matter.
It is therefore important to say on the catching rights for those fish that, as noble Lords will be aware, most UK fishing opportunities are managed through fixed quota allocation—FQA—units. These units are based on historic fishing patterns and allow their holders to receive a proportion of the quota for a given stock. However, I emphasise that FQA units do not guarantee that the holder will receive a certain amount of, or even any, quota in these stocks each year. For example, scientific advice about a given stock may recommend that the total allowable catch—TAC—is set at zero. Where a TAC is set at zero, no quota will be allocated to FQA unit holders in that stock, no matter how many FQA units they hold.
As my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern said, FQA units have been held by the High Court to be a form of property right. FQA holders do not own the fish in the sea but the FQA units that they hold entitle them to a share of whatever quota is available in a particular year. They do not confer a permanent right to quota but the Government’s current position is to maintain the FQA system, which has provided certainty to the industry for many years. This does not mean that the Government do not keep quota allocation under review. In fact, in 2012, the Government realigned some FQA units from the producer organisations to the under-10-metre pool.
I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that I am advised that there may be some drafting problems with the amendment. An unintended consequence of this amendment is that it could cover rights to catch freshwater fish, which I am not sure was intended. There are various national and local rules governing freshwater fish; these vary under each Administration of the UK. The amendment also refers to the UK exclusive economic zone but this includes only waters beyond 12 nautical miles. To avoid any confusion, the principle of fish being vested in the Crown on behalf of the public applies to all UK waters, including those between zero and 12 nautical miles.
There are further problems with the legal drafting of the amendment. For example, it is assumed that “individuals natural or corporate” refers to “legal or natural persons”. We believe that the different phrasing used in this amendment would cause confusion as to who is intended to be in scope.
In setting out this clear legal view, I emphasise the position on which we are all agreed: fish are a public resource held by the Crown for the benefit of the public and no individual may either own the fish themselves or have any permanent right to fish for them. I take seriously the spirit in which the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and other noble Lords articulated this point but the case law is absolutely clear on this matter. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
Can my noble friend the Minister comment on what the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, said? She seemed to be in favour of arbitrarily taking away fisherman’s quotas that are already established, which sounds like a pretty draconian socialist measure to me.
On the noble Baroness’s intention, we do not think that it would be helpful to the fishing industry to take away the current system of FQAs and the certainty that that allocation provides. That is why the Government are clear that we do not intend to change the current quota arrangements, except where we will want to look at ways in which any additional quota is allocated. I am sure that the noble Baroness was articulating a view that was not necessarily partisan or political. To be clear, we want the British fishing industry to be successful. I hope that that helps my noble friend Lord Caithness.
My Lords, I thank everybody, particularly the Minister, for their contributions.
I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, believes that the Scottish legal system is far better than the English one and that our problems in this regard may be with the English system, but my amendment does not challenge devolution in any way. As the Minister said, it aligns absolutely with UNCLOS, the law of the sea, in terms of national rights over parts of the sea.
I accept entirely the Minister’s criticism of my wording in that I did not include coastal waters—I hope that he will forgive me for that—but I am encouraged that he is taking a robust view of the legal situation. I am not a lawyer but I accept his assurances. However, the 2013 case seemed to say the opposite to me. I still find it difficult that, in the Government’s response, there seems to be an assumption that those people who have allocations will continue to have the same or more and yet all sorts of other businesses and individuals that want to come into this industry are effectively barred by the present allocation system. I accept the Minister’s assurances; I just hope that the Government take their position strongly and implement it because of the current situation.
I was wrong when I said that foreign vessel owners, mainly from Iceland, Spain and the Netherlands, own 40% of the quota; in 2019, it was estimated that, by value, it is 55%. This is not what people voted for in the Brexit referendum.
I accept the Government’s assurances but ask them to use their powers and change this business radically. It is not often that we hear from a Conservative Government that we should keep an industry in aspic, which is basically what happens with ownership at the moment. We should allow it to be more entrepreneurial, allow more people to come in and shake this industry up. We should make it work well and conserve its resources.
Let us move on. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Clause 1: Fisheries objectives
2: Clause 1, page 1, line 12, leave out subsection (2) and insert—
“(2) The “sustainability objective” is that—(a) fish and aquaculture activities do not compromise environmental sustainability in either the short or the long term;(b) subject to subsection (2)(a), fishing fleets must—(i) be managed to achieve economic, social and employment benefits and contribute to the availability of food supplies, and(ii) have fishing capacity that is economically viable but does not overexploit marine stocks.(2A) The sustainability objective is the prime fisheries objective.”Member’s explanatory statement
This ensures (a) that environmental sustainability takes precedence among the various elements of sustainability and (b) that sustainability is the prime fisheries objective.
I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover of an amendment and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in the group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
My Lords, we spent a great deal of time discussing sustainability during earlier stages of the Bill so I do not wish to repeat the arguments at length. However, because it has been well over three months since we last discussed this issue, I will recap briefly.
This amendment supports the Government’s own aim. At Second Reading, the Minister told us that
“this Bill creates a strong and legally binding framework to deliver this Government’s ambition to leave the natural environment in a better state than we inherited it.”—[Official Report, 11/2/20; col. 2167.]
He also said that sustainability is at the heart of the Bill. Sure enough, the first fisheries objective in Clause 1(1) is the sustainability objective. Unfortunately, however, as drafted, the Bill does not guarantee the protection of fish stocks and the wider marine environment. To be absolutely sure that the Bill does what it claims on the tin, let us get the commitment to protecting the natural environment written into it. That is the purpose of this amendment.
What is the problem? History shows that whenever there is a trade-off between short-term economic and employment considerations and longer-term environmental sustainability, short-term factors nearly always win. This is what has led to overfishing and long-term damage to the marine environment in many of the world’s fisheries, including those covered by the common fisheries policy. That is the key point. The Bill as drafted allows for the possibility of short-term economic and social factors overruling environmental sustainability in making trade-offs.
Clause 1(2) defines the sustainability objective as having three elements: environmental, social and economic. I do not argue with the fact that sustainability has these three components; indeed, the Minister reminded us that they are the UN framework. I want to ensure, however, that socio-economic factors do not win out over protection of the marine environment. That is why the first part of the amendment ensures that, in calculating trade-offs between these three, the environment always remains the priority. This will ensure that we do not repeat past mistakes of putting short-term economic and social interests ahead of protecting the environment.
The second part of the amendment refers back to Clause 1(1). As we discussed in detail at earlier stages of the Bill, the eight fisheries objectives are not all born equal. The sustainability objective, as redefined in the amendment, takes precedence. The other seven fisheries objectives should support, or be subordinate to, environmental sustainability. This would make it unequivocal that the aim of the Bill is to harvest our marine resources without compromising the health of the marine environment. The amendment is not saying: “no fishing”; it is saying: “sensible fishing”. It is not saying that there will not have to be trade-offs, but it sets boundary conditions for the calculation of the trade-offs.
At earlier stages of the Bill, the Minister did not agree with the arguments that I have rehearsed. I suspect that he will argue again for a proportionate approach that gives equal, or at least undetermined, weight to all three components of sustainability. In Committee he acknowledged:
“We might have a collision point on sustainability.”—[Official Report, 4/3/20; col. 629.]
He also said:
“We must balance the protection of our marine environment with our objective of supporting thriving fishing and aquaculture sectors.”—[Official Report, 2/3/20; col. 461.]
If the Minister is not minded to accept this amendment, I would ask him to explain how these trade-offs will be made in practice.
This is our big chance to get the management of our fisheries on a genuinely sustainable footing and avoid the mistakes of the past. We can join the leading nations in the world such as Australia, New Zealand and the USA, managing our fisheries in a genuinely environmentally sustainable way, or we can languish lower down the international league table, with the risk of putting short-term gain ahead of long-term pain. I will listen carefully to the Minister’s reply at the end of this debate, but unless there is a significant change of tack, I would wish to test the opinion of the House on this crucial issue of the Fisheries Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I lend my support to this amendment. There is a certain attraction in having one objective, namely sustainability, in the context of the Fisheries Bill, as the primary objective. Part of my reasoning for this is that the House might wish to take a broader view and make sure that we come to the same view on the Fisheries Bill as we do, for example, when we come to consider the Environment Bill. We should not consider one in isolation from the other.
I was very taken by the Minister’s argument in Committee that in relation to objectives, there was a three-legged stool, whereby environmental, social and economic objectives should be given equal weight. There is a distinct attraction in singling out the environmental objective as the “prime fisheries objective”, as it says in the amendment. I know that it is a concern of Scottish fishermen and the Scottish Government in particular that we should look at the broader use of the marine environment, particularly in regard to renewables and other resources. There is an overwhelming attraction in having the sustainability objective as the prime objective. To put my mind at rest, I would be very interested to learn from the Minister, in the event of a contest between the three legs of the stool, how the Government would decide to prioritise between the economic, social and sustainability objectives.
My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. I know that my local fishermen and those involved in the catching and processing sector want fishing to be a leader in the marine food system. They also want to ensure that people have access to good-quality products in the various fish species which they catch. I firmly believe that this can be achieved through the principle of environmental sustainability and the commitment to protect the natural environment. We are in no doubt that sustainable fishing means leaving enough fish in the ocean, respecting the habitats and ensuring that people who depend on fishing can maintain their livelihoods. It is a bit of a balancing act and I hope the Minister will address that issue.
The Bill provides a framework for future fisheries management. However, in some quarters, it is felt that the Bill will not achieve the Government’s aim of world-leading sustainable fisheries management because sustainable fisheries depend on a healthy marine environment. Environmental legislation has featured little in the fisheries and Brexit debates so far. Of particular relevance to a healthy marine environment are the European marine strategy framework directive, the birds directive, the habitats directive, the bathing waters directive and the water framework directive. Will the Minister outline how this will be achieved in the post-transition period, while at the same time protecting the local fishing industry?
It is important, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said when he moved the amendment, that fishing and aquacultural activity do not compromise environmental sustainability in the short or long term. This legislation presents us with a unique opportunity to ensure that environmental sustainability and the principle of sustainability take precedence in the various elements of sustainability and that sustainability is a prime fisheries objective. We should grasp that opportunity now, but be mindful of not ending up with legislation that is too rigid in the eyes of those in the fishing sector—both catching and processing—because we do not want to replicate the challenges that beset the fishing industry as a result of the common fisheries policy.
My Lords, I have listened carefully to the arguments made by the proponents of the amendment and I understand the desire to promote environmental quality as the highest priority, since sustainability itself affects the amount of fish available to catch. But I am not convinced that we should downgrade all the other noble objectives in Clause 1, which would be the case if sustainability was classed as the prime objective.
The Government have constructed the Bill with a number of important objectives that contribute to environmental protection, including objectives covering science, the precautionary principle, the ecosystem and climate change. However, the Bill also allows policymakers and fisheries managers to balance actions across these objectives to achieve sustainable outcomes that protect the environment and still ensure that we have a viable and thriving fishing industry. Sustainable development recognises the needs of society alongside the environment and thus points to a balanced approach. If we place environmental sustainability as the prime objective, we will prevent fisheries managers taking balanced decisions by always favouring the environment over social, scientific, national and economic matters.
I am not being facetious, but as a Star Trek fan I am aware of the Prime Directive—not to interfere—but I do not know how the “prime” objective would be implemented, and nor has the mover of the amendment sought to define it. I looked up some meanings and synonyms of the word “prime” and got the following: “main”, “chief”, “key”, “central”, “principal”, “foremost”, “first”, “most important”, “paramount”, “major”, “dominant”, “supreme”, “overriding”, “cardinal”, “pre-eminent” and “ultimate”. If that is how our courts would define “prime”, I am concerned if that is how it would be interpreted in the Bill.
Of course the sustainability objective is essential, but so are the precautionary, scientific, bycatch, ecosystem, equal access, national benefit and climate change objectives. The lawyers and no doubt my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern will correct me if I am wrong, but the wording of the clause means that all of these must be complied with, so all of these other objectives must still satisfy the test of being sustainable. It is not an either/or list. Thus, if the Government are making rules under the national benefit objective, the bycatch objective, or any other objective, these rules must still satisfy the test of being sustainable. Setting one objective above the others would create confusion and undermine the basic construct of the Government’s future fisheries legislation.
Managing trade-offs is complex and not easily amenable to simple rules, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, just warned us. I believe that the current drafting of the fisheries objectives strikes the best balance between requiring Ministers to respect the science and be precautionary, and also to consider the impact on our fishing communities before acting.
We all recognise the need to protect our precious marine environment, but we must find a way to do so that supports our equally precious coastal communities. I urge the House to consider the potential costs to those communities if we constrain the Government’s ability to make balanced decisions—a balance that appears to be central to this Bill’s ambition to support both the environment and the people living and working in fishing communities.
My Lords, I fully support Amendment 2, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and others. It would make it clear that fish and aquaculture activities must not compromise environmental sustainability. The Government have said that they will continue to strive for the ambitions of the relevant directives in this regard, but many are concerned that these could be weakened. That is why it is important to set this out clearly in the Bill with the amendment.
If the Minister will not accept the amendment today, will he set out how the Government will ensure that the important principles in directives such as the European marine strategy framework, the bathing water directive and the water framework directive will be taken forward and not compromised, as my friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, highlighted in her speech? If they are compromised, what mechanism will there be to ensure that they are properly enforced, since we will have no access to the Court of Justice of the European Union? What mechanism is proposed by the Government?
Proposed new subsection (b) would put commitments in the Bill on economic, social and employment benefits and not overexploiting marine stocks. Again, it is important that this is clearly in the Bill because the devil will be in the detail and we must have clarity that the principles are set out without any dispute. The details will be issues such as licensing powers, catch limits and other restrictions on fishing.
As my noble friend Lord Hain set out in the previous debate, the reality of today’s British fishing industry is how much of the catch is in fact exported to the European Union and beyond, and how much of the fish we eat—cod, haddock, langoustine, salmon—is in fact imported into the UK. That has not been made clear in the debate, in the media and elsewhere over many years, much to the detriment of the debate, to the reality of the situation, and to the British fishing industry and the UK at large. The Government should aim to get this right by accepting the amendment.
My Lords, it is probably my naivety, but it seems to me that Amendment 2 is one of those amendments that really should not cause the Government too much of a problem. It just subtly tells them that their first attempt at outlining a sustainability objective is good, but not quite right or strong enough. It needs to emphasise more the importance of both a short-term and a long-term healthy marine environment, full of marine life and with a healthy variety of fish stocks. More importantly, as others have said, the amendment insists that the sustainability objective must be the prime objective. That fact makes it better than the Government’s first attempt.
It is probably platitudinous to say that if you have too many objectives or priorities, you have no priorities or real objectives at all. You cannot be all things to all men. I, along with the promoters of this amendment, believe that the preservation of our fisheries and marine environment for our grandchildren should always trump even the suspicion of overexploitation today. So I hope that the Government will accept that proposed new subsection (2) is better and more explicit than theirs. In that light, I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment.
My Amendment 20, would, in effect, put Amendment 2 into practical application. The problem, as I am sure everyone is aware, lies in the opt-out sections of Clause 7, notably Clause 7(7)(d), and Clause 10(2). If you are allowed to opt out or alter the fisheries statement or a fisheries management plan for socioeconomic reasons, there is a danger—maybe only a small one, but it is there—that the fisheries authority will support today’s fisheries at the expense of tomorrow’s fishers. So it is important to make it clear that the sustainability objective trumps all, which is what both these amendments seek to achieve.
Experience in Scotland, which has a similar opt-out provision in the Marine (Scotland) Act, has shown that, where an opt-out exists, environmental considerations can get pushed to one side for socioeconomic reasons. As I reported in Committee, six years after—
My Lords, a large number of noble Lords are taking part in this important debate on Amendments 2 and 20. Both at Second Reading and in Committee, many of your Lordships made the point that the sustainability objective must be the prime fisheries objective. It is nonsense to link it to economic, social, and employment benefits. So long as it is linked to economic benefits, sustainability will be overridden, as the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Cameron, have stated. During the long drawn-out process of lockdown caused by Covid-19, we have seen that the health and safety of citizens is offered up by some as less important than economic recovery. While economic prosperity is important and people have to make a living that will support them, if we do not put sustainability first and foremost, this will be counterproductive. We will find that fish stocks are depleted, and not there to provide any sort of a living to the fishermen and women we seek to encourage. The marine environment should be supported, and should be the prime objective.
Since the start of the progress of the Bill, there has been more than one programme on our televisions featuring the lives of those engaged in fishing and agriculture. We have seen how individual fishermen are able, by adapting what they catch, to fish sustainably without damaging fish stocks. All know the size criteria for landing catch, or returning it to the sea to be allowed to increase in size. It would seem that many of those living and fishing around our coasts are aware of their responsibility toward sustainability. I believe that the Minister is also aware of the Government’s responsibility toward sustainability, but is unable to place it above economics.
I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, that the sustainability objective will take no notice of the scientific objective. The sustainable and environment aspect of the Bill will depend on the scientific objective, and all the other objectives.
As I said on a previous amendment, the Bill is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the UK to take control of its fishing, and ensure that the waters around our country are thriving and have plentiful fish stocks. Plentiful stocks will ensure economic viability for our fishing industry, and only this can do it, but this will not be ensured unless we make it clear to one and all that sustainability is the prime fisheries objective, and that this is stated on the face of the Bill. I look forward to the Minister’s response, which I hope will be positive. Unless he gives a categorical undertaking, we will ask the House to divide on this vital issue.
My Lords, as previous speakers have said, this is a fundamental part of the Bill, and I feel very strongly that environmental sustainability is the crux of this matter. I heard the arguments of my noble friend Lord Blencathra, and as always, they are very strong. I do not doubt the Government’s intentions on the environment and on the sustainability of stocks, but it should be on the face of the Bill. If you do not have environmental sustainability, it is obvious that the other issues we are talking about are irrelevant, because there will be no fish, and no economic advantages. It is absolutely fundamental. I urge my noble friend the Minister to accept this amendment, otherwise I will find myself having to support it in the Division Lobby.
I support Amendment 2 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. The end of our participation in the common fisheries policy is a real opportunity, which we must not miss if we are to ensure that this self-determined fisheries policy for the first time has a firm foundation in sustainability. I too was rather unconvinced by the account by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, of how balance needs to be achieved in these discussions and decisions. So often the environment does not get a fair shout in these questions of balance. Fisheries, aquaculture, economic and social interests all rightly have a voice, but in some cases those voices are disproportionately loud, and this amendment ensures that environmental sustainability also has a voice. This is fundamental, as many noble Lords have said, not only for our seas but to prevent overfishing and to support sustainable fisheries and coastal communities. In the truest sense, it would be a real shame if we did not ensure that this opportunity was enshrined on the face of the Bill.
This is a Bill of missed opportunities. Our discussion of quota reform on the previous amendment demonstrated that this could be a real opportunity to underpin the Government’s commitment to a world-class fisheries policy. I also support Amendment 20, which outlines that where a national authority decides to do something that is against the joint policy statement or a fisheries management plan, it still has to achieve the requirements of the sustainability objective in whatever it chooses to do, for the reasons I have just outlined. If the Government are not minded to put the sustainability of fisheries management securely in Bill as the prime objective, could the Minister outline how the Government will achieve their aim of world-leading and sustainable fisheries management?
My Lords, I am very glad to have the opportunity to contribute on Report. I declare an interest in that I am a director of a company that is in partnership with another company whose client is UK Fisheries. It is not a very direct interest, but I would not want anyone to be unaware of the connection.
We discussed this in Committee, when I contributed, and then and now I express my support for the intention behind the amendment. It seems entirely right that we put sustainability, and environmental sustainability in particular, at the heart of what we set out to do. But as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, quite rightly said, he is intending to support the Government’s own intentions in that sense. Sustainability is not outwith the Government’s intentions but central to them. The debate has already demonstrated through its contributions—for example, that of my noble friend Lord Blencathra, and subsequently that of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville—the way in which the sustainability objective interacts with other fisheries objectives. The precautionary objective, the scientific evidence objective, the ecosystem objective and effectively all other objectives interact with the sustainability objective in one way or another. Putting the sustainability objective as the prime objective simply asserts in a literal sense that it comes first, but to suggest that it is somehow more important or overrides any of the others would be misplaced, since actually integral parts of the sustainability objective are reflected in other fisheries objectives. The point of the Bill is for the fisheries policy authorities to express clearly in the joint fisheries statement what their balance and their mechanisms for achieving the objectives overall are to be.
That said, if the sustainability objective were by virtue of this amendment to be treated as the prime objective in statute, we would have problems. The first is that I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, was accurate in how he described his own amendment, since he described it as putting environmental sustainability above other objectives. Actually, if one looks at it, it puts the sustainability objective as the prime fisheries objective, and under the sustainability objective are both proposed new paragraphs (a) and (b). Proposed new paragraph (b) deals with
“economic, social and employment benefits”
and economic viability. By stating that the sustainability objective is the prime fisheries objective, we do not simply state that environmental sustainability must come first. It is already more complicated than that, so I am not sure that it adds the simplicity for which the advocates of the amendment are looking.
My second problem—people can argue about the other points I have made, but this and my next point make it very difficult to accept this amendment—is that attaching this statutory provision to one of the objectives, which is in a series of objectives that must be prioritised and balanced in the joint fisheries statement, would create unacceptable legal risk. From then on, every time any of the fisheries policy authorities says how it thinks meeting the objectives should be balanced in the statement, somebody can say that—particularly in the short term—it might be prejudicial to environmental sustainability, and, because that is not fundamentally defined in the statute, by whatever definition of environmental sustainability they attach to it they could directly challenge the decisions set out in a joint fisheries statement and throw the legal certainty the statements are intended to convey out of the window. That is a serious problem.
Thirdly, while the structure of the amendment incorporates the original text of the sustainability objective, it has rewritten it in a rather odd and disturbing way. The economic, social and employment benefits, the availability of food supplies and having fishing capacity without overexploiting marine stocks are all still mentioned, but under the heading “fishing fleets must”. What does that mean in statute? Does it mean that it is the responsibility of the fisheries policy authorities and of the Government? Or is this a statutory provision telling the fishing fleets that they must accept responsibility for all the other secondary objectives and that these are no longer the responsibility of Government?
I do not understand how the amendment works, and I am afraid that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, did not explain why it has been written such that, subject to the environmental sustainability objective being met, fishing fleets “must” do these things. By what mechanism will they do them? Who tells them to do them? How is it set out in statute? This amendment does not deliver any of that. For those two latter reasons in particular, the amendment is flawed and I cannot support it.
My Lords, this amendment is of considerable importance. It seeks to set aside all the other objectives as less important, and it is apparent to me that at least some of them are essential. To set them aside would bring an imbalance to the situation, which is very strange—particularly since the objective is described as something that does “not compromise”. It is negative, it is to not do something; whereas an objective would normally be to achieve something rather than to prevent something happening.
I strongly support what has been said about the difficulties. I find it very hard to see how, with proposed new subsections (2)(b) and (2)(a) subject to the definition, you can have it as a prime objective.
I understood from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, that his principal reason for this amendment was to avoid a situation in which economic matters might prejudice the longevity and sustainability of the stocks. However, the objective as stated by the Government is clear; under it, the long-term interest of the stocks must be preserved. That is surely the sort of flexibility we need in a proper environmental and sustainability project. You cannot be sure from day to day exactly what will happen. There are not many effective prophets in the world; it is therefore very difficult to proceed without a long-term view of what you are aiming at, and it seems that that will be prejudiced if you knock out the other objectives, which are also very important.
The amendment says “prime” objective; it does not say that it is the only objective. However, I do not know how a court could say whether or not a particular objective had been considered “prime”. As has been said, it generally means “first”, although it can have other meanings. It seems to me that, as long as the objective is mentioned and then taken account of alongside others, that is what should happen. I do not think that this amendment achieves the kind of result mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. One of the mistakes of the common fisheries policy was too detailed and precise an attempt to control this aspect. The Government’s method of balancing this—the purpose of the clause as a whole—is excellent and would be damaged by this amendment.
My Lords, the common fisheries policy was certainly flawed at times in its execution, but it had one advantage: the member states of the European Union were able to come together and resist, on occasion, short-term pressures on politicians in individual states to change fisheries policy. The collective agreement on fisheries policy ensured a strong element of long-termism in the decisions that were made. I worry that, as fisheries policy and regulation are returned to the United Kingdom, the pressure on politicians for short-term decision-making from those with a direct financial interest in the industry, when quotas and other decisions are reached, will still be there—as it is right now.
I have a vivid memory of the first year of devolution in 1999. An effigy of the then Fisheries Minister in the Scottish Government, Rhona Brankin MSP, was burned by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation at a demonstration because people were angry and wanted more short-term decision-making on quotas. That controversy, passion and anger impacted on individual Members of the Scottish Parliament and on the debate. In years to come, that impact was seen again and again with the sacrifice of the long term—I do not think it was ever sacrificed by Ministers but it was by individual politicians pushing Ministers to make more short-term decisions.
Contrary to what has been said by a number of other noble Lords, I think that being very clear that the sustainability objective is the prime objective is essential if the decisions are to be long-term. To have eight objectives constantly being balanced year after year without a prime objective would be an error. I therefore support Amendment 2 enthusiastically.
I support it for a second reason. The Government, like many other Governments around the world, are very keen to sign up to international goals and targets. In 2015, the then Conservative Government were supported by all parties in this Chamber when they agreed the United Nations global goals. Global goal 14 relates to the oceans and seas:
“Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.”
At first glance, that might seem to be about the marine ecosystem and pollution, which has been a big issue this past decade around the world, but the goal is also quite explicitly about sustainable fishing.
However, every time we have debated the global goals in your Lordships’ Chamber over the last five years, despite consistent support for them from three Prime Ministers from the same party—as recently as last month the current Prime Minister said in a statement that he hopes the UK will be able to move forward after the pandemic, charging towards achieving the global goals—the Government have never embraced the concept of the goals that they were central to agreeing in 2015: that they are universal and apply inside the UK as much as throughout the rest of the world.
If the sustainable development goals are to apply inside the UK as they do everywhere else, we need to start seeing that represented in the Government’s planning, budgeting and legislation inside the UK too. Therefore, starting a process of writing sustainability as a prime objective into more legislation in this country, and getting more long-term and less short-term decision making, would put us on a good course, and the Fisheries Bill is a very good place to start.
The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, speaks with great knowledge and wisdom on the pressures brought by the Scottish fishing industry, and of course, with over 98% of it owned by Scots, it will be a powerful lobby on politicians. It is a shame that half of England’s quota is foreign-owned, and so we are talking about an industry rather than a national facility—or at least, half of one.
I want to draw attention to what happened on Saturday at Verkhoyansk in Siberia: it was 38 degrees centigrade, the highest temperature ever recorded in the Arctic. Since 1930, we have had a 4% loss in fish stocks worldwide, but in the North Sea we are talking about a much higher percentage of permanent loss. Therefore, this amendment is about the sustainability of the industry itself.
A report published in the last few days has reinforced how artificial light in the Arctic is disrupting fish and zooplankton, destroying the very origins of the fish stocks. I hope that, in the light of this new evidence, the Government are reassessing their stock assessments of what will be there in the future. Also, I trust that the Government have signed—and, post leaving the European Union, remain signed up to—the agreement on no fishing in the Arctic, in that large amount of sea which until recently was ice cap but which, sadly, has now melted.
Anyone who listens to the scientific evidence from the Arctic—that fish that have never been seen there are now commonly viewed and how warming is changing the entire ecosystem—will hear the evidence first hand that sustainability of fishing stocks in our waters is directly related to dealing with global warming and climate change. Therefore, this amendment is about the future of our fishing industry, and I support it.
My Lords, this has been a very interesting debate. My instinct is to support this amendment wholeheartedly, because I am a great believer in environmental sustainability, but we must also look very carefully at sustainability, because in all our discussions sustainability has rested on the three pillars: economic, social and environmental. If we change our understanding of that, it will affect not only fisheries but also every other industry.
The noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, gave the game away completely when he said that it should be introduced to every other piece of legislation. I do not think that this House has given enough thought to that. If this amendment is accepted, it will become a precedent for the Agriculture Bill. That will mean that the son of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, will now be told that he cannot farm a certain crop because it is not environmentally sustainable in the way that people would like it maintained. It will mean foresters being told that they cannot cut down trees because it is environmentally unsustainable to cut down a tree when that will happen anyway through natural regeneration. There are huge complications that we have not considered if we alter the balance now, because this will go into legislation and become a very firm precedent for the future. That gives me great concern.
I strongly believe that the environment should be given priority, but it must be in a way that respects the other two legs of the sustainability stool. My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern said that, legally, this is almost impossible. We are in a real quandary here. I hope that, between now and Third Reading, the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, can get together to achieve what I know they both want. We are all on common ground regarding where we want to get to, but the wording of this amendment will cause us problems.
The noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, also mentioned the effect on coastal areas. If suddenly a report said that fishing must stop in a certain area since environmental sustainability was the prime objective, the effect on that area socially and economically would be immense, and the Government would not be able to mitigate it in the way that they could as the Bill is presently worded.
Although I support the spirit of this amendment, I cannot support it in the way that it is worded. My noble friend Lord Lansley was right to highlight the question of “fishing fleets must”, which is a wording that we are not used to in legislation. I do not see how that can be implemented. I look forward to what the Minister says and hope that we can reach a common position on this, rather than bringing into law something that we may all regret in a few months’ or years’ time.
My Lords, if I may just respond first to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, this amendment does exactly what he asks. It gives priority to environmental sustainability, but the other elements are there as well—so, bingo, we are there. We do not have a Content Lobby, but if we did, the noble Earl would need to go through it.
I congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Cameron of Dillington, on their amendments, both of which I put my name to. The irony in this debate is that the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, are arguing for the old-style common fisheries policy. What they are asking for is exactly what the CFP did. It gave a range of options to politicians—Commissioners or the Council of Ministers in that bun-fight that happened every December—which allowed fudge in decision-making about future quotas and fishing rights over the next year. They could look at some other objective or reason and decide to take an easy way out, forget environmental sustainability or put it second, third or fourth, and go for a short-term decision on fisheries.
And what was the outcome of that? We have hugely depleted stocks in our own EEZ and globally, because of all those fudge factors. Tell me an organisation that can survive with eight objectives but without anything being said about which is the most important. You cannot do that. You must have some idea of what the priorities are. None of us could run our lives on that basis; it would be impossible.
I come back to the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, when he criticised the word “prime”. I did Classics up to O-level—pause for a “wow” from the Chamber—and “primus” means first. We know what “first” means, and it does not push the others aside. We have a first Secretary of State in the Government but that does not mean to say that the other Secretaries of State are all redundant; they are not. It is just giving a priority.
We also know, exactly as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has said, that if we do not have environmental sustainability first, then everything else falls aside; it just goes away. Sometimes we have zero quotas, as I think the Minister said earlier about my first amendment, and they are dealt with by finding ways around them, either with financial compensation or otherwise. That means those stocks, the health of the industry and jobs in those coastal communities are there for the long term. That is why this is inarguable; you cannot have it any other way than that environmental sustainability has to be a prime objective. That would not get rid of the rest of the objectives; they are in the Bill for us to see.
I want to take a point that has not been mentioned: devolution. We are told by the Government that this House is not competent to amend the Bill because of devolution; we are going through this process for no reason at all because everything in it is devolved. The Government have brought a Bill to us that they may have agreed with the executives but, as I understand it, it has not gone through any of the democratic assemblies or parliaments of the nations. We have been given a Bill that we have to make decisions on. The Government cannot put a gun to our head and say, “Because we have done a deal with the other executives, the Bill can’t change at all”. If the Government hold that view, they should dissemble this Bill, bring an English Bill to this House and let the assemblies and parliaments have their own fisheries Bills. That is the solution. However, we do not have time for that because we need to get this right and we need to do it before the end of the year when we move out of the transition period. All we can do is ensure that the Bill is right and protects the industry and our marine environment for the future—for the long term as well as the short and medium terms—by making sure that the amendment is passed.
My Lords, I am pleased to have added my name to Amendment 2 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and to add our support to Amendment 20 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron. Amendment 2 goes to the heart of our future fisheries policy. It spells out that, within all the other important objectives, the sustainability of our fishing stock is the number one priority. This is a hugely significant prize as we take control of our coastal waters. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, it leaves behind the deals and compromises that were inevitably part of the common fisheries policy, and will put our fisheries on a more long-term assured footing where there will be fish stocks to fish for generations to come. The logic of this is obvious: we all want a thriving and economically viable fishing industry and we aspire to have better managed stocks, enabling a renaissance in our coastal ports and towns. There could be huge new opportunities for jobs and prosperity in this sector. We have other amendments, which we will debate later, that would give greater impetus to new jobs and growth.
However, this economic regeneration will be permanent only if it is based on the certainty of an abundant long-term fish stock. If not, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has asked, how will the trade-offs between the competing objectives be made? Will there be an inevitable skew towards short-term economic pressures at the expense of that long-term viability? In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, and indeed as the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, says, if you have too many objectives then, quite frankly, you end up with none at all.
The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and others questioned the wording of our amendment, but our concern is that the original wording in the Bill defines “sustainability” in a very broad way. It is not what a normal person would understand sustainability to mean; it incorporates issues such as food supply, jobs and other social and economic benefits, whereas most people would understand “sustainability” to be exactly that—to be about environmental sustainability. So it was the original wording in the original Bill that caused our concern in the first place and encouraged us to table an amendment which would ensure that there is a proper definition of environmental sustainability and that it finds its proper place in the Bill.
Noble Lords who buy fish in their local supermarket know how fragile the availability of our local stocks can be. Much-loved species such as North Sea cod are available in one season but disappear in another. Indeed, the Minister conceded in Committee that only 59% of our stocks—just over half—are fished at maximum sustainable yield levels, with the rest continuing to be overfished. We cannot go on like this. We want people to eat more fish but only if they can do so in confidence that they are not decimating our stocks. So we believe that the environmental sustainability of fish stocks is the core policy principle from which all other objectives and benefits flow.
In previous debates the Minister has sought to characterise the sustainable economic and social objectives as a “three-legged stool”, with each leg having equal weight. I would put it differently. I would say that environmental sustainability is the rock, the solid foundation on which to build our future fishing prosperity, and therefore it needs to have a status that reflects that. I only studied Classics to O-level as well, but to my mind the phrase “primus inter pares”, which I think the Minister has used before, well reflects that: first among equals. We are not talking about ignoring the other objectives; we are ensuring that the environmental sustainability objective is prime. I think that is quite clear and it takes into account all the other objectives as well. I therefore urge all noble Lords to support Amendment 2 should it be put to the vote.
My Lords, what an interesting debate. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for initiating it and to all noble Lords. It gives me an opportunity to reiterate the Government’s commitment to supporting the seafood industry in developing sustainably. Across this House we are seeking the same thing: a vibrant and sustainable fishing industry with a greatly improved marine environment and a healthy and valuable food source for millions of people in the UK and abroad.
We all recognise that we have a viable fishing industry in the long term only if that industry is environmentally sustainable, but in our view sustainability is like a three-legged stool, and the Government’s view is that we need to ensure that all three legs are balanced. My noble friend Lord Blencathra was the first to use the word “balance” and I will elaborate on that. It is why the Bill currently gives equal weight to environmental, social and economic considerations. That follows the concept of the three pillars of sustainable development, a concept that is well established in international law and practice. By contrast, the amendment that we are now considering would create a hierarchy in the objectives. It would mean that in any circumstances, short-term environmental considerations would need to override even critical economic and social needs.
I would like to take the opportunity to explain why the Government have significant concerns about the severe impact that the amendment could have on parts of the UK fishing industry. The Government are concerned that giving the environmental limb of the sustainability objective primacy would bring into question the weight that could be given to the other objectives in the Bill as we develop policies and negotiate with the rest of the world. Those are important objectives, developed with the devolved Administrations to ensure that we can agree a UK-wide approach to sustainable fisheries management.
I was somewhat surprised by what the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said. If we had sought to separate all these matters and had not tried to go forward with a UK-wide approach, I think that many noble Lords would have considered that a retrograde step. Working at these matters at the UK level is advantageous. I will develop that point a little more because I disagree with the noble Lord.
The Government recognise that it might be vital to give more weight to one objective in a particular case, and the Bill recognises that. It requires fisheries administrations to set out in the joint fisheries statement how they have proportionately applied the objectives in formulating policies. The draft statement will be consulted on and laid before Parliament for scrutiny. The Government and the devolved Administrations have thought carefully about the balance here: we need stretching objectives but the weight that each is given may vary depending on the circumstances of a particular case. I say that being particularly mindful of the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick.
For example, the approach suggested by the amendment could lead to the closure of mixed fisheries where most fish stocks were at sustainable levels but some stocks were still in the process of recovery. This could severely restrict demersal fishing operations, as well as cuttlefish trawlers, in the south-west. Cuttlefish and demersal fish brought into south-west ports in 2018 alone were worth £57 million.
Introducing a hierarchy could also undermine the UK’s ability to engage constructively with other countries in international negotiations on shared fish stocks. Were the UK to go into negotiations on the basis that it could sign up only to agreements that met certain environmental criteria, we would run the risk of not having deals.
I return to the issue of devolution. This Bill is the result of all Administrations working collaboratively. My understanding is that the amendment does not command the support of the devolved Administrations.
I return too to the importance of the other objectives in Clause 1. I was interested in what the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, said about giving the environment a voice. I refer to the precautionary, ecosystem, scientific evidence, bycatch, equal access, national benefit and climate change objectives listed in the clause. If that is not giving a voice to the environment, I cannot imagine what is. I entirely agree with the point that the noble Lord, Lord Mann, made about Siberia. It is very important that we have the climate change objectives in the Bill. What my noble friends Lord Lansley and Lord Blencathra had to say on the matter was extremely pertinent. The breadth of the objectives in the Bill recognises the complexities of decision-making and is designed to deliver both environmental protection and a sustainable fishing industry in practice. This complex and dynamic balance lies at the heart of the Bill, and the amendment would upset that critical balance. As I said, it would throw doubt on the weight to be given to the other objectives and on when they could be taken into account as part of the decision-making process.
The balancing act of fisheries management—and, for that matter, of all sustainable development—lies in ensuring that we see social, economic and environmental progress. This is a balance enshrined in Clause 2, which requires the fisheries administrations to set out in their joint fisheries statement how they have interpreted and proportionately applied the objectives in formulating policies. The purpose of that is to ensure that policies do not give undue weight to one objective or element of an objective over others. It means that we must focus on win-win outcomes for the environment and industry, rather than prioritising one over the other. In addition—I say this particularly to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering—the new framework of environmental governance and principles being created under the Environment Bill provides an additional safeguard to ensure that the UK Government act in an environmentally responsible manner.
What concerns the Government most about the amendment is that it appears to be based on the premise that you are either for the environment or for industry. The amendment squarely prioritises environmental sustainability, even at the cost of a viable UK fishing industry. We believe that that is a false dichotomy. This Government are both for the environment and for a thriving fishing industry. That is why the Bill as currently drafted recognises the complexity and challenges of fisheries management and sets a framework for addressing the challenges in a constructive way. It seeks to ensure that sustained environmental progress and social and economic considerations go hand in hand in a balanced way.
Finally, it is clearly in the interests of the UK fishing industry to fish sustainably. We all know that with no fish, there is no industry. This Government believe that it is by working positively with industry to address this balance that we are most likely to succeed in achieving our environmental outcomes, alongside ensuring a thriving UK fishing industry into the future.
In the spirit of that final point, I turn to Amendment 20 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington. This aims to ensure that fisheries authorities still try to achieve the sustainability objective when diverging from policies within a fisheries statement or fisheries management plan due to a relevant change of circumstances. As the noble Lord’s speech was truncated, I will be pleased to hear his further remarks and will obviously take them on board.
As I have made clear, I support fully the principle that we should take decisions which ensure that our fishing sector is sustainable in the long term. The provisions for the fisheries statements in Clause 2(1) and the processes set out in Clause 10 clearly show that decisions will be taken with due regard for the sustainability objective, alongside the other objectives, while providing fisheries authorities with the necessary flexibility to respond to relevant changes of circumstances.
We cannot predict the future and we want legislation that allows adaptation to prevailing circumstances. The relevant changes of circumstances that enable deviation from policies within the fisheries statements are, rightly, set out in Clause 10(4) and are there to enable fisheries authorities to remain flexible and adaptable. For example, it could enable them to take account of new evidence that will require a divergence from policies to improve fisheries management.
I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, that the provisions in Clause 10 do not enable authorities to deviate from the objectives of the Bill on an arbitrary basis. Fisheries authorities must publish their reasons for deviating from any policy in the joint fisheries statement, explaining what they thought to be a relevant change in circumstance and how that affected their decision. Any unreasonable decision not based on a relevant change in circumstance could be challenged in the courts.
I say also to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, that the Marine (Scotland) Act requires consideration of all three elements of sustainability—social, economic and environmental—in decision-making on the management of marine conservation zones, for instance. It requires any adverse impacts to be minimised so far as practicable and therefore does not provide an opt-out to prioritise one element of sustainable development over another.
I reiterate that I absolutely respect the views expressed by everyone who has promoted these amendments. However, as noble Lords would expect, it is my responsibility to say that the Government cannot accept them because they would undermine the heart of the Bill. What my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern said is relevant: we are dealing with the law, not with the spirit of what was intended. It is about how this proposal would be interpreted in law. At the heart of the Bill is a wish to find a balanced path towards an environmentally sustainable and thriving fishing industry, and of course to provide government accountability when doing so.
Again, all this has been agreed with the devolved Administrations. The Scottish Government have published their legislative consent memorandum, which recommends that their Parliament consent to the Bill. The Welsh Government and DAERA have also published positive memoranda. We welcome this constructive engagement with our devolved colleagues. I say to all noble Lords that, in practice, we have found the collaboration of all the devolved Administrations very strong and positive. We believe that the Bill provides a UK framework for fisheries, providing the best outcome for industry and, essentially, the health of all fish stocks.
It is difficult when so many noble Lords who have made great contributions are not here, so I say specifically to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, that the Government accept that there is still more to do to achieve sustainable fish stocks and a healthy marine environment. This is why the Bill includes a robust set of objectives to support environmental sustainability, given effect through the joint fisheries statement. It is why the Bill includes powers to bring forward fisheries management plans that will also contribute to a wider environmental restoration, to which we all aspire and in which we believe. The Government’s position is that we can achieve a strong environment and a strong fishing industry hand in hand. We believe that these amendments present great difficulties in achieving that balanced aim.
I well understand that there may, for a number of reasons, be a desire to test the opinion of the House on this matter. However, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, was generous enough to say that he would give consideration to what I said and, particularly, to what my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern said. Therefore, while mindful of that desire to test the opinion of the House, I respectfully ask the noble Lord to give due consideration to withdrawing his amendment.
My Lords, my reference to the Marine (Scotland) Act was really trying to say that the authorities up there went for the socioeconomic objective rather than the long-term environmental objective and, as a result, six years after the Marine (Scotland) Act, fishing continues in what should be a protected area. As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said in his introduction, short-term socioeconomic priorities always seem to trump long-term environmental objectives. Of course, we all know that such an approach is based on a false premise because securing good ocean health provides the strongest possible foundation for a sustainable industry. In response to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, it is like a farmer nurturing his soil: without that long-term approach, the socioeconomic future of an industry is not realistically secure. Does the Minister not think that we should now endeavour to achieve the sustainability objectives instead of the eight objectives in Clause 1, which, put together, mean very little?
I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, that there have now been many iterations of the Bill and a lot of consideration has been given to it. We have a balance of objectives here: sustainability, the three-legged stool and all the many other essential objectives, including—as the noble Lord, Lord Mann, effectively mentioned—addressing climate change. There could be no more important objective than that. The Government believe that the balance we have created with the support of the devolved Administrations offers the strongest possible way forward.
My Lords, I thank all who have taken part in this important debate; we have heard some interesting and well-informed contributions. Although we are not all of the same view, a clear majority of those who have spoken support the amendment.
I want to pick up on a couple of specific points. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, talked about how the different priorities could be balanced, but the difficulty is that Clause 1 contains a fundamental category error. Sustainability is an overarching objective; others, such as the scientific, precautionary and client objectives, are subservient to sustainability. So, it is not a matter of weighing them up against one another; it is a matter of seeing that sustainability is an overarching priority.
I turn to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, who suggested that, in the amendment to Clause 1(2) we had already referred to the three-legged stool. If noble Lords read the amendment carefully, the objective in proposed new paragraph (a) is that
“fisheries and Aquaculture activities do not compromise environmental sustainability in either the long or the short term … subject to”
—and it then goes on to talk about economic, social and employment benefits.
I now come to the Minister’s summing up. I thank him very much for his comments and his thoughtful response to the amendment and the debate. As he said, we are all aiming for the same thing—sustainable fisheries, which mean that today’s activities do not compromise the health of the marine environment in the future. He also reiterated the need to balance the three legs of sustainability; indeed, many noble Lords who spoke also referred to the balance of the trade-offs, including the noble Lords, Lord Blencathra, Lord Teverson, Lord Randall of Uxbridge and Lord Cameron of Dillington, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and Lady Jones of Whitchurch.
The Minister said that he thought that the three legs of the stool should be given equal weight. I have difficulty with that because, when I think of weighing something, I need a currency to weigh it in—is it pounds or ounces, kilograms or grams, or what? I am also unconvinced by his explanation of how the trade-offs will be made. Is it mathematical so that, for example, 100 jobs are worth one fish stock? Is it a purely political judgement? If so, by whom and on what basis? Is it a response to lobbying, where those who shout loudest get their way? That would clearly be unsatisfactory. I did a quick search of the specialist literature on how these three legs of the sustainability stool are balanced; the literature suggests that no one has cracked this problem. So, we have to take it on trust that the Government have a solution to the problem secretly up their sleeve. I am afraid I cannot take that on trust.
The Minister also referred to compromising our position in international negotiations. Surely, however, setting out a strong position by saying that we are at the top of the world league table in stewarding our marine environment, along with countries such as Australia and New Zealand, would be a very good starting point for any international negotiation. In view of the fact that I am not convinced that the safeguards proposed will be sufficient to protect the marine environment, I wish to test the opinion of the House.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 3. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press the amendment to a Division should make that clear in debate.
3: Clause 1, page 2, line 17, leave out subsection (6) and insert—
“(6) The “bycatch objective” is to reduce bycatch and bycatch mortality in support of sustainably managing fisheries, and supporting and conserving protected species.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that the bycatch objective focuses on the outcomes rather than on the processes that might lead to the outcomes. It also brings the objective into line with practices in other jurisdictions.
My Lords, I hope and expect that this amendment will not take as long as Amendment 2, so I will be very brief in my introduction. First, I thank the Minister and his officials for their very helpful discussions on the question of bycatch, and my Oxford University colleague Professor EJ Milner-Gulland for her expertise and advice in drafting the amendment.
The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the bycatch objective focuses on the desired outcome, rather than on the processes that might contribute to the outcome. As drafted, the objective appears to focus primarily on undersized and unwanted fish species rather than on the wider marine environment. Yet we know that, globally, non-selective fishing gear—including long lines, gill nets and trawling—causes major mortality among non-target species. According to WWF, bycatch is the single largest cause of mortality in small cetaceans; it causes significant mortality in turtles and 26 species of seabirds; and it destroys large areas of coral reef. North Sea trawlers are estimated to discard up to 150,000 tonnes of marine invertebrates annually, including starfish, sea urchins, sponges and marine worms.
In Committee, the Minister assured us:
“The Government are resolutely committed to minimising bycatch of sensitive species as much as is practically possible”.—[Official Report, 2/3/20; col. 461.]
That is absolutely in line with the purpose of this amendment. He also referred specifically to seabirds, cetaceans, sharks and rays, and to the definition of “sensitive species”, which goes wider than the category of endangered species. Furthermore, he pointed out that the ecosystem objective encompasses the bycatch of species that are not covered by the bycatch objective.
In short, the intent of the Bill seems to me quite appropriate, although it may appear to some to be slightly confusing to have the issue of bycatch spread across two fisheries objectives. It would be very helpful if, in his reply, the Minister were able to remove any ambiguity by confirming that the bycatch objective aims to reduce bycatch—and bycatch mortality—to support the conservation of not only fish stocks but the wider marine environment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, on bringing forward this amendment, which I have signed and am lending my support to. The amendment seeks to delete subsection (6) from the original Clause 1. I have particular difficulty with subsection (6)(c) and the wording therein. It says that,
“bycatch that is fish is landed, but only where this is appropriate and … does not create an incentive to catch fish that are below minimum conservation reference size”.
My noble friend Lord Gardiner will recall my disappointment in Committee that the original Bill had looked to have a discard objective. I would still place on record my belief that that is preferable to bycatch, or should be seen as additional to bycatch. During his comments in Committee my noble friend said:
“One limb of the bycatch objective is that catches are recorded and accounted for. We will improve the accuracy of the data available on fishing mortality and enable sustainable quota setting that avoids overfishing”.—[Official Report, 2/3/20; col. 425.]
I will take this opportunity to ask my noble friend how he expects to achieve that. As a supplementary point, it would be helpful to understand precisely what the bycatch objective is.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has put this very succinctly. I have concerns, not just about the fish bycatch but about the wider marine environment, which he mentioned. It may be of interest to noble Lords that Saturday was World Albatross Day. As many noble Lords will know, a large number of the world’s population of those birds breed in the UK’s overseas territories so, as well as having a general interest in biodiversity, we should all take this seriously. On the subject of albatrosses and other sea-bird bycatch, I recommend that, if he has not already, the Minister looks at a British invention called Hookpod that cuts sea-bird bycatch on long-line fishing. I will not detain the House with a long discussion of it, but it has made significant progress in reducing that bycatch in a cost-effective way. I would be interested in what the Minister says on the whole subject of bycatch, because I have great concerns about it.
My Lords, I like this amendment very much. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has managed to write out and explain clearly exactly what a bycatch objective should be whereas, in the Bill, there is not so much that and more a breakdown of how it will be achieved. Having said that, I congratulate the Government on their determination to stop discarding and to prevent bycatch or at least ensure that, if caught, it has to be landed and accounted for. That is the positive side, but the definition in the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, is a much better one. To make sure that the bycatch objective is actually fulfilled, I hope that the Government will support the amendment on remote electronic monitoring, which the House will probably deal with on Wednesday.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for tabling the amendment and for succinctly and ably addressing the concerns that we raised in Committee about the definition of the bycatch objective in the Bill. We were concerned that the existing wording, which referred to bycatch below minimum sustainable yields being “avoided or reduced”, and bycatch to be landed but only when “appropriate”, lacked the rigour and systematic monitoring of bycatch and discards which the UK Government had agreed. As other noble Lords have said, this issue was explored thoroughly and expertly by the report of the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee. It confirmed the case for an absolute ban on discards, but also identified how the policy was being undermined. We believe that urgent action is needed to make a more stringent policy a reality.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has now taken the debate further by seeking to better define the outcome of a bycatch objective. The outcome should be defined not by whether the bycatch is landed or not, but by whether bycatch is reduced using sustainable fishing applications. Obviously we want to drive this down to the absolute minimum. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, this will be increasingly achievable as we harness the advantages of new technology, particularly the application of remote electronic monitoring, which will be dealt with on a later amendment. We should also learn the lessons of the now discredited catch app, which threatened fishers with legal prosecution from the Marine Management Organisation if they failed to record their catch accurately on the app.
We support this amendment, which adds considerable clarity to the need for bycatch objective, and hope that the Minister will feel able to accept it.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for this amendment, because it provides me with an opportunity to expand on the Government’s position on bycatch. As he said, we had a most productive meeting before lockdown. All the scientists getting together was fascinating; I tried to keep up with them. The Government are fully committed to ensuring that our stocks are fished sustainably, and to ending the wasteful practice of discarding. We now have an opportunity to develop, for the first time, a catching and discards policy tailored to our own marine environment and our diverse fishing industry. As is made clear through the bycatch and ecosystem objectives in the Bill, it is the Government’s intention that we adopt a more holistic approach for our future policies. We will seek to address the challenges of the wider ecosystem, rather than looking at each area in isolation.
Therefore, I emphasise that the Government wholeheartedly agree with the principle behind the noble Lord’s amendment. We aim to reduce the level of catches and mortality of bycatch to protect and conserve vulnerable fish stocks and, I emphasise, other protected species—I was most grateful to my noble friend Lord Randall for mentioning the albatross, for instance. However, we certainly want to work towards a holistic way of reducing and avoiding bycatch.
Indeed, we believe that the current bycatch objective actually goes further than the noble Lord’s amendment, by setting out a number of sub-objectives. The Government and the devolved Administrations will be legally bound to set out policies relating to all of these sub-objectives in the joint fisheries statement. I therefore hope that this will help my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering.
Clause 1(6)(a) states that bycatch, and the catching of fish that are below minimum conservation reference size, should be reduced. That is similar to the noble Lord’s amendment, but our objective goes on to stipulate that we will also work to avoid it entirely where we can—I say to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that it is important that we are working towards avoidance rather than reduction. That might be achieved through more selective fishing practices—I think the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, alluded to that—and we think that is a stronger position to be in on the matter.
The specific reduction or avoidance in catching those fish which are under minimum conservation reference size, or juvenile fish, is important in the Bill’s objective too. It is particularly important to protect those juvenile fish, as they are, quite clearly, what sustain the stocks for the future. These fish can be at specific risk of being targeted and then sold on or used as bait, which is why paragraph (c) specifically notes that policies must be set out to avoid creating a market for the landing of those fish.
Paragraph (b) of the bycatch objective in Clause 1(6) also sets out the need for accurate recording and accounting for of all catches, which is essential in capping overall mortality. By not accurately recording all catches, we believe that we risk introducing uncertainty in whether stocks are being fished at or beyond MSY—maximum sustainable yield. The amendment proposed by the noble Lord removes some of this detail which, in practical terms, we believe may unintentionally undermine the sustainability of our stocks and may mean that protected species are not conserved. I know that that is not the intent of the noble Lord or of any noble Lords in this amendment.
The bycatch objective in the Bill has been carefully thought through and worded in such a way as to tackle not only discarding itself but also the root cause of discarding in the accidental take of fish. As I say, I found our discussion with the scientists stimulating, but I hope that these further remarks on this issue will help the noble Lord to feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. I think that we are all agreed on the purpose of the amendment and the intention to make the bycatch objective contribute to the sustainable management of our marine environment. I also thank the Minister for his reply, although he was rather too modest in his account of following the science; he was very good at asking the hard questions that put the scientists firmly on the spot.
However, on the substance, the Minister has provided the reassurance that I sought. To recap what I understood him to have said, the bycatch objective aims to reduce bycatch and bycatch mortality as part of sustainable fisheries management in order to support the conservation of fish stocks and the wider marine environment. Although I would prefer to reword the bycatch objective as I proposed in the amendment, I am content that the Minister’s statement in his reply explains the Government’s position, which is in fact that which we had hoped to reach in tabling this amendment. I therefore beg leave to withdraw.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
4: Clause 1, page 2, line 29, leave out subsection (8) and insert—
“(8) The “national benefit objective” is that—(a) fishing activities of UK fishing boats bring social, economic and employment benefits to the United Kingdom or any part of the United Kingdom, and(b) fish and aquaculture activities are managed to achieve economic, social and employment benefits and contribute to communities in all parts of the United Kingdom.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment defines the “national benefit objective” to ensure any measures introduced by the Bill support and grow the UK fishing industry.
I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover of an amendment and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in the group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
My Lords, I listened with a certain amount of concern to what the noble Lord, Lord Hain, said about the difficulties of securing an agreement on this matter. I am glad to say that, so far as this Bill is concerned, we assume that there will be an agreement on the fisheries matter. The principles and the legal situation are fairly clear; it is a question of reaching an agreement, for a change.
My concern in this amendment is to benefit the people mainly affected by the fisheries situation. The objective is to have fisheries managed in such a way as to achieve economic, social and employment benefits and contribute to communities in all parts of the United Kingdom. If the negotiations are successful, the Government should be required to think of the people who are employed in the fisheries industry, and the national objective should guide future secondary legislation in the context of considering its social, economic and employment impact.
This amendment also raises the issue of the economic link that needs be adapted in line with other duties in the Bill. The economic link requires some degree of proportionate benefit to the UK from its fisheries, even when the fish is landed abroad. It is sometimes suggested that it should be required that fish caught in UK waters be landed in UK ports, but it is obvious that in some circumstances it is beneficial from the point of view of disposing of cargo that the fish should be landed elsewhere, so I do not think it is a particularly useful idea in that context.
The amendment gives an opportunity to press the Minister and the Government to grow the industry in economic, social and employment terms. I wonder whether there is a vision for doing that. Who are they consulting to develop the vision? Will the Government be carrying out any formal consultation to gather the views of wider stakeholders? What engagement are the Government having with local authorities and local enterprise partnerships to collaborate on that plan for growing the fishery industry in their region? I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendment 23 in my name is in this group. It and Amendment 4 are grouped together because they relate in their various ways to the economic benefits that are to be derived from sea fishing activities, but my amendment is quite specific and I will explain why I commend it to the House.
When we get to Clause 15 later in the Bill, your Lordships will recall that a power is granted to license boats engaged in fishing and that various specific powers may be granted by reference to that licence. They are included in Clause 15(2) and are amplified in Schedule 3. Schedule 3 makes further provisions relating to sea fishing licences. Looking at it, I was surprised that, given the importance placed on the economic links that are applied in conditions to licences by all fisheries policy authorities nowadays, there was nothing in the legislation that provides a specific reference to the use of those economic conditions. When I looked at Clause 15 and Schedule 3, I could see that the original material, principally from the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967, which originated the power for these licences, has been reproduced in the legislation before us—with, I might say, the benefit of better and more concise drafting. None the less, the purposes seemed to be the same.
However, it seems to me that the purposes of licensing are now established to go more widely and to include economic conditions. I do not need to explain the conditions, because we have debated these in a number of contexts in a number of debates in Committee. There is no real debate about whether there should be economic conditions attached to licences. Indeed, the Government’s position, if I understand it correctly, is that they want further to reinforce such conditions; that is part of the objectives. I found it very odd, therefore, that statutory backing was not given, at this stage, by reference in the Bill to the inclusion of such economic links.
In Amendment 23, I have made the following suggestion. Paragraph (2) of Schedule 3 lists:
“The conditions that may be attached to a sea fishing licence include, in particular, conditions”
to which my amendment would add the same language used elsewhere, as we have talked about, of
“conferring economic, social or employment benefits to the United Kingdom or any part of the United Kingdom.”
This would give statutory force to the Government’s intentions in relation to future licences for fishing boats.
We may not reach the point at which this amendment arises until Wednesday, although we are debating it today. I simply say that it is my hope that, even at this late stage, Ministers will reflect on whether, on Wednesday, this is something that they might like yet to adopt into the Bill.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Hain, I agree that the common fisheries policy, under the European Union, provided quite substantial progress for fishing, notwithstanding the challenges it presented to fishers and the processing sector. However, I should acknowledge that many in the fishing industry were deeply unhappy about its consequences and would urge the Government to replace it with something that enables the fishing industry to grow and prosper.
I understand where the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, is coming from. As somebody who was a remainer, I none the less accept the outcome of the referendum, and I agree with the principle that there must be a vision for the UK fishing industry. In that vision, there must be objectives—not just environmental and sustainability objectives but clearly stated economic and social objectives, to ensure that our coastal communities can grow.
Reference has been made to the fact that fish can be landed in UK ports or elsewhere. I come from a community in County Down, in Northern Ireland, where there are three fishing ports. On numerous occasions, due to inadequate depth at the harbour mouths caused by siltation, larger ships with processing facilities, and native to the area, are unable to land their processed catch. Some do it in ports in the Republic of Ireland, others in Britain, and some in Norway. There are currently applications with DAERA, the department with responsibility for fisheries in Northern Ireland, for infrastructural improvements—some have been with the department for several years—but no decisions have yet been taken. That has placed a halt on the development of infrastructure and the economic and social objectives of the fishing industry under the devolved Administration in Northern Ireland.
A second objective should be training facilities, which should be enhanced to ensure that young people and older people—I would not wish to be ageist—are encouraged to enter the fish training sphere to become fishers. In that respect, there needs to be a two-pronged approach. While the training infrastructure has to be built up, I would like to hear from the Minister whether there has been any further progress towards the Home Office licensing the Filipino fishermen who have provided a much-needed training and fishing resource in ports throughout the United Kingdom.
I support a vision to grow and ensure the prosperity of the UK fishing industry from an economic and social perspective, and to ensure that fish and aquaculture activities are so managed to achieve those objectives. I therefore understand and empathise with the amendment tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern.
My Lords, I apologise to my noble friend the Minister for not being able to take part in the Second Reading of this very important Bill. I come to this from the perspective of someone who used to look at legislation in great detail in the other place to decide whether Bills were overarching Bills, out of which would flow secondary legislation, or ones that would generate very little secondary legislation.
This Bill deals with the key objectives behind a very novel situation for us as a country as we leave the EU, in the sense that 60% of the fish caught in the UK’s exclusive economic zone were not caught by the UK fleet. It is very transitional, in the sense not just of time but of quantum. A huge change will take place. One has to look only at the scale of Norway to understand the real size of this change.
Against that situation, and as someone who was in commerce and industry for most of my life before I entered the other place, I believe that objectives have to be clear and not very long. There is nothing wrong with the sentiment of what my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern puts forward; they are clear objectives. However, I am grateful to the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, which reminds us in its briefing that this is enabling legislation. It is framework legislation that provides for arrangements to be developed for fisheries management in the UK. They are workable in their current form, but the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation cautions against amendments that would add unnecessary complexity through primary statute when the detail that will be needed for fisheries management and managers should rightly lie in secondary legislation made through the Bill’s powers that reflect what is needed.
I am on that side: the side of clear, precise objectives. That does not mean that I am against what my noble and learned friend and others are saying, but that is underneath the clear objectives. Therefore, I am not in a position to support these amendments.
My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern for bringing forward Amendment 4, which I support. My question in regard to that amendment and that of my noble friend Lord Lansley is the relationship between these amendments and the devolved Administrations. I pay tribute to the Minister, who I know has spent a great deal of time trying to ensure that the devolution aspects in relation to the devolved Administrations are respected as far as possible. If we were to accept this amendment, how would it impact on the way in which this provision would be interpreted by the devolved Administrations?