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Adjacent Waters Boundaries (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Order 2020

Volume 807: debated on Tuesday 27 October 2020

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Adjacent Waters Boundaries (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Order 2020.

My Lords, I shall start by setting out the context of why we are making this amendment, which is purely technical, now. We are seeking to change the Adjacent Waters Boundaries (Northern Ireland) Order 2002 to accurately reflect the southern boundary of the Northern Ireland zone. The legislation was not amended when the UK Government legislated for its exclusive economic zone—EEZ—in 2013. This was a technical omission, probably due to an oversight at the time. We were alerted to the issue following correspondence between Defra and DAERA in the context of the Fisheries Bill. Given the references to the Northern Ireland zone in the Bill, DAERA wrote to Defra in February 2020, highlighting the legislative defect in the 2002 order.

The Exclusive Economic Zone Order 2013 designated the area of the United Kingdom’s exclusive economic zone. The 2013 order did not revoke the Fishery Limits Act 1976, which set out British fishery limits for the UK at the time. Instead, the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, under which the 2013 order was made, amended the 1976 Act to align the British fishery limits with those of the UK exclusive economic zone.

The Adjacent Waters Boundaries (Northern Ireland) Order 2002, which defines the limits of the territorial sea of the United Kingdom that are to be treated as adjacent to Northern Ireland—known as the Northern Ireland zone—was not amended when the UK Government legislated for its exclusive economic zone in 2013. As a result, the co-ordinates for the southern boundary of the Northern Ireland zone in the area outside Carlingford Lough are out of line and do not follow the UK EEZ boundary line.

The order before noble Lords is therefore required to realign the co-ordinates under the Northern Ireland zone with those under the UK EEZ. The area of water in question is outside the Northern Ireland zone boundary line, but inside the EEZ and approximately 35 square kilometres. It can therefore be described as a pocket of uncertain jurisdiction.

As I said, this legislative defect has created a management issue for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs—DAERA—and the Government, as there is now an area of sea that lies inside the UK’s EEZ but outside the Northern Ireland zone and which cannot be managed by DAERA in relation to sea fishing. In addition, the area of sea that raises this issue straddles the border with Irish waters. This does not affect any other areas of UK waters. The rectification of this legislative defect prior to the end of the transition period will avoid management and enforcement issues for DAERA in relation to sea fishing.

As I set out at the beginning, this is a purely technical correction and we see no controversial issues arising. I hope the Committee will agree. Since we are not seeking to amend the UK EEZ itself there has been no requirement to negotiate any changes with Ireland. However, I can confirm that we have notified it of what we are doing. On that basis, I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation of these regulations. As he said, they are purely technical.

In that regard, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Murphy; as a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, he will be well aware of the southern boundary in Northern Ireland, in terms of Carlingford Lough. It was in my former constituency when I was a Member in the other place, so I am well aware of the beauty of Carlingford Lough and Carlingford Bay, with the Mourne mountains to its rear and the vast expanse of rich fishing grounds. It is also a major tourist resource.

I have had an opportunity to talk to the local fishing industry in the County Down fishing ports of Kilkeel and Ardglass. It believes that this amendment is necessary to align the southern boundary of the Northern Ireland zone to match the boundary of the UK EEZ, as the Minister pointed out. Apparently, this change was not made at the time, in 2013, and DAERA has been trying for several years to get it fixed. It will bring certainty for fishing vessels, as they will know which jurisdiction they are in.

Previously, there was a zigzag line in Carlingford Lough along that part of the sea border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. When the EEZ was agreed, part of that line was straightened out. The effect was that the industry gained an area north of the new EEZ line and lost similar south of the EEZ line. The problem was that the area gained north of the new EEZ line was in UK waters but, as the Minister said, was not legally part of the Northern Ireland zone. At the same time, the area south of the new EEZ line was still part of the Northern Ireland zone according to the adjacent waters boundaries order but was in fact part of the Republic of Ireland.

In many ways, there is now legal certainty for the fishing industry over what is in the County Down fisheries zone and what is not, and who has the power to enforce. No significant change to the territory is involved. However, I have some questions for the Minister. He indicated that the Irish Government were notified. Were they consulted or were they simply notified that this was going to happen? Did they give any particular response? Was the Warrenpoint Harbour Authority consulted or notified, because it is a major harbour authority and dock with a lot of employment in the mouth of Carlingford Lough? There are lots of other recreational facilities situated around Carlingford Lough. Were they consulted? If so, what was their response? I ask this because several years ago, when I was a Member in the other place, I—along with the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson—was part of a delegation. We went on a boat from Kilkeel down into Carlingford Lough; we did not realise that we were on the southern side and somebody had to inform the southern authorities that we were there.

Furthermore, was the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission consulted? If so, what was its response? It is a north/south body set up under the Good Friday agreement, which does a lot of good work in Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough. It is particularly interested in the marine environment and the potential for tourist and economic development. I would like to know whether it was consulted or notified.

What impact will this redrawing have on the voisinage agreement, which is now subject to legislation in the Republic of Ireland? Before that, there was a Supreme Court judgment in Dublin regarding reciprocal fishing rights. It started off as a gentleman’s agreement between the old Stormont Parliament and the Irish Parliament, the Dáil Éireann; it was signed by the then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Terence O’Neill, and the then Taoiseach, Seán Lemass, way back in the mid-1960s in a period of rapprochement. It is important that those reciprocal fishing rights continue for the fishing industry in both north and south.

I would like to know what actual consultation, or notification, took place with the fishing industry, particularly with the two fish producer organisations: the Northern Ireland Fish Producers’ Organisation, and the Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation, which is known now as Sea Source.

When we are talking about fishing and particularly about the Irish Sea, which is an adjacent part of Carlingford Lough, there will be two jurisdictions: the EU represented by the Irish Government and their fishermen, and the British Government and the County Down fisherman. Are we nearer a deal in respect of fisheries and in terms of trade? It is important that there is a deal.

Finally, it is important that we have the jurisdictions marked out, but it is also significant that this is an important area for tourism, and nothing should blunt that. Perhaps the physical embodiment of that economic co-operation, particularly when we are talking about the UK markets Bill, would be the Narrow Water bridge project. This would put one part of the lough in Northern Ireland at Warrenpoint, and the other side of the lough in County Louth. That would be a fairly short journey, but it would be the actual, physical infrastructural embodiment of reconciliation: a north-south project across the lough. That would do so much to foster relations.

I am happy to support this order, in so far as it is not hindering anybody. It will tidy things up, and it will ensure that Northern Ireland’s County Down fishermen have access to both onshore and offshore waters, under DAERA jurisdiction. I am quite happy to note this, and to allow the order’s passage.

My Lords, it was an extremely useful contribution by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, because of her enormous local knowledge and, of course, her experience as Member of Parliament for South Down, covering Carlingford Lough, and dealing with former constituents who are fishers there.

The Opposition will not oppose this order, obviously. It rectifies a mistake, as the Minister has said, in existing legislation. This is an area of water that is inside the United Kingdom waters’ exclusive economic zone, but officially outside the Northern Ireland zone. As he said, it means that the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs can manage the water there. It should be able to do so, particularly with regard to sea fishing, as he said, in Carlingford Lough.

I am particularly impressed by the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, with regard to consultation. It will be very interesting to hear the Minister’s response to that. He has obviously mentioned the Irish Government themselves, but the other bodies, including the north-south body, are important in these matters. Although this is a technical statutory instrument —no one opposes it—it touches on the much more controversial area of fishing, which is currently the subject of negotiation between the European Union and the United Kingdom. These are hugely significant issues and I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

In this particularly short debate, I want to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, for their general support for the order. I am perhaps not so surprised, because it is uncontroversial, as both of them will know.

I was pleased to listen carefully to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, particularly because she was referring to her former constituency. She knows the area very well. I was grateful to her for a sort of tour d’horizon from her own personal input, particularly focusing on her long-standing local knowledge. She is right that this order will provide legal certainty.

Most of the noble Baroness’s questions focused on the important matter of consultation. She asked whether we had consulted the Irish Government. The amendment is to align the Northern Ireland zone. It does not require us to consult the Irish Government, but we will of course keep in touch with them on this issue.

On that same point, the noble Baroness asked whether the people of the Carlingford Lough area had been consulted. We do not have to consult them and have not done so, but we will notify the relevant bodies, including DAERA, about this order. I hope that that gives the noble Baroness some reassurance. I further reassure her that there is no impact on the voisinage agreement.

The noble Baroness is right to say that the order is pretty uncontentious. On fisheries, negotiations are of course ongoing, and we hope that a deal will be forthcoming. We have always made it clear that, having left the EU, we are, and should be treated as, a separate sovereign nation, including having full control of our fishing rights. I hope that that there will be a good solution to that.

I also reassure the noble Baroness that there is nothing in the order to blunt the tourism trade in Carlingford Lough. I gather that it is a very pretty area.

A number of questions were raised, particularly by the noble Baroness. I will check Hansard, but I hope that my response has covered all the points. I again thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their support.

Motion agreed.

My Lords, that completes the business before the Grand Committee this afternoon. I remind Members to sanitise their desks and chairs before leaving the Room.

Committee adjourned at 6.32 pm.