House of Lords
Tuesday 11 February 2020
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Portsmouth.
Oaths and Affirmations
Baroness Mobarik took the oath, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Housing: New Homes
My Lords, we have delivered more than 1.5 million new homes since 2010, with last year seeing over 241,000 net additions—the highest level delivered for over 30 years—but there is much more to do. We will review everything from planning reforms to housing zones, backed with more than £44 billion of support, over five years. To make the planning process simpler, we will publish a planning White Paper in due course. These actions, taken together, will see us deliver 300,000 homes yearly by the mid-2020s.
My noble friend’s Answer confirms that increasing the availability of housing is a complicated matter with many facets, two of which I probed. It is vital to look forward, to have a clear strategy and to deliver on it, and not to twist and turn. Does the Minister agree that policy on building and planning needs to go with the grain of economics and take proper account of incentives to the private sector, including to smaller builders? Does she also agree that one important factor on which UK Governments will be judged is their success in meeting voters’ aspirations to own their own home?
My noble friend is correct that economics and the prompting that the Government can give this sector are important. That is why local authorities must now have a five-year land supply as part of their reporting requirements. Within that, they have to identify small and medium-sized sites, because we have recently seen a decline in the number of small and medium-sized enterprises. We need to encourage those businesses and make funding available to them, because they are so important, particularly in training the next generation of the workforce and apprenticeships.
My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my registered interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. What are the Government going to do about the crisis of planning permissions being granted but not a brick being laid? At the last check, there were well over 250,000 applications with nothing happening on those sites. If you have land and have received planning permission to build homes, but you do not take action, surely the Government should do something. If nothing has happened in 12 months, surely the Government should find somebody to build houses on these big sites.
The noble Lord is correct that, once planning permission is granted—which can take about two years—it is in everyone’s interests, including the developer and the local community, that the site is built on. Last year, we saw more than 375,000 grants of planning permission. The noble Lord is aware that in 2018 Sir Oliver Letwin was asked to review whether there was a hold-up of what is called the build-out rate. His main conclusion was about the absorption rate of bringing large numbers of units into the local market. He recommended that we diversify the type of units on each site, so they can be put on the market in smaller groups, appeal more widely and not affect the market price.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that many new houses are being built in flood-risk areas. Between 2001 and 2014, 250,000 new homes were built in such areas and currently the number being built in them is increasing year on year. Many of these houses are being built against Environment Agency advice. Although some are protected by hard flood defences, does the noble Baroness agree that two measures should be crucial to all new building developments; namely, the installation of sustainable urban drainage systems and, secondly, the removal of the automatic right to connect to often overloaded Victorian drains?
The noble Lord is correct to raise this issue, given the effects of the recent storm. Many communities are today living with the effects of flooding in their properties. However, it would be unrealistic to ban all development in flood-risk areas because around 10% of England and parts of London are viewed as being at high risk. These decisions need to be taken locally and carefully, and the Environment Agency is one of the statutory bodies that needs to be consulted on planning.
My Lords, one of the tools the Government are using is the housing delivery test. I believe it is designed to put even more pressure on councils to deliver even more development and I can see where the Government are coming from. However, the regime is forcing councils in already built up and congested urban areas to accept applications for large tower blocks ranging from 20 storeys to, in Croydon for example, 65 storeys in height. Do the Government accept that these developments are very unpopular with the public and do they recognise that these concerns are justified? Such buildings will impact on the townscape and the built environment, and certainly on quality of life. The jury is still out on the quality of family life on the 61st floor of a major tower block.
The noble Baroness raises an important issue that will be part of the planning White Paper: how do we involve communities in the planning process and is guidance to consult before a planning application sufficient, or should there be consultation before that? The housing delivery test mentioned by the noble Baroness is one of the tools the Government are using to hold local authorities to account for the part they play in delivering the number of houses needed in their local communities—and they are best placed to know that. The good news is that in 2018, two-thirds of local authorities had indeed delivered to the correct threshold under the housing delivery test, but we have promised to review it after 18 months, which I believe will be in August of this year.
My Lords, does my noble friend recall that the last time a Conservative Government built 300,000 houses a year was under Harold Macmillan, when Ernie Marples built them for him? He found that private housebuilders were not capable of building at that rate because they had to depend on investment by local authorities and housing associations. Would she welcome that in this target?
My noble friend is correct about the rate of housebuilding, but given that we completed 241,000 builds last year, there is evidence that such a figure can be delivered. Housing associations, councils and small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as self-build and custom-build, all need to be part of this, with a particular emphasis on small and medium-sized sites. Some 10% of the land in a plan must be of less than a hectare in size, so we need to use all those means to deliver the 300,000 homes a year that this country needs, because 90% of young people want to own their own home.
My Lords, seven years ago the Government made a commitment, setting a target to build 160,000 public sector houses by 2020. That target has not been met. Given that the Government are, among other things, encouraging public sector bodies—hospitals, schools and local authorities—to surrender what is termed “surplus land” for housebuilding, why have they made such a mess of reaching that target?
My Lords, there is now a longer timeframe for the target of 160,000 homes to be delivered from public sector land use, but 51,000 homes have been delivered under that. It has not been for lack of effort by government departments. There have been complications in releasing some of the land, and some of the land has been repurposed by departments. For instance, the Department for Education has used some land for schools that is then not available for housing. It will take longer, but the Government take seriously their responsibility to meet that target.
Housing: Social Homes for Rent
My Lords, this Government’s priority is to boost the housing supply. We remain committed to increasing social housing, with £9 billion in the affordable housing programme delivering around 250,000 new affordable homes, including homes for social rent. We have fully supported local authorities to build by removing the HRA borrowing caps and setting a long-term rent deal, and are committed to renewing the affordable homes programme.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply, but I point out that social rented housebuilding has decreased over the last year, and only 6,287 new social rented homes were delivered in England in 2018-19. Despite increases in housebuilding overall, social rent made up only 2.5% of all homes delivered in England in 2018-19. Of the affordable homes delivered, to which the Minister refers, only 11% were for social rent, while 51% were for affordable rent and 37% for intermediate tenures, including shared ownership. Do the Government accept that the housing crisis will never be solved unless more homes for social rent are built?
The Government accept that councils and housing associations need to play their part in building the number of homes we have outlined—there are 4.14 million homes in this country that are housing association or local council owned—and that is why the Government have reintroduced the grant for affordable homes, with a minimum of 12,500 social rent homes within the affordable homes programme. That is in addition to local authorities now having the borrowing cap removed, so that they can build more, particularly on those small and medium-sized sites that I have outlined.
My Lords, the number of people aged over 65 in the UK—many of whom need and deserve social housing—will rise by over 40%, to more than 16 million, in the next 17 years. The number who have four or more diseases is expected to double by 2035. The fact that two-thirds are unable to invite a wheelchair user into their home is absolutely appalling. The government consultation on mandating accessible and adaptable housing was promised in the autumn, but we are still waiting for it. Will the Minister confirm when that consultation will start? We have now been waiting for eight months since the initial announcement.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her question. A specific question I asked of officials was about accessibility for older people and disabled people. However, I may disappoint her by saying that all I can tell her is that we will consult shortly on raising the minimum standards for accessible housing in all new homes. The revised National Planning Policy Framework in July 2018 strengthened policy in this area. It is the responsibility of local authorities, which know the demographics of their area, to include in local plans the amount of housing that they need for older people and adults with learning disabilities.
My Lords, many of the social homes for rent referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, are built under Section 106 agreements by developers with local authorities. My noble friend will know that, once development has started, quite often the developers, using a so-called viability assessment, then wriggle out of the commitment to build social homes. Is my noble friend aware of this loophole? What action are the Government taking to close it?
Noble Lords have previously raised this issue in debates on this topic. Social housing in this country comes from the budget in the affordable housing programme and the borrowing that local councils can now do, and, yes, under Section 106 agreements. There has been a problem with developers then saying that they are not economically viable. In the plans I have mentioned, there are now requirements that landowners and site purchasers will know the likely costs up front, so they will know the types of affordable housing provision they have to provide and the levels of it. They will know that up front, before they buy the land, so they cannot then come back to the council and say, “Oh, we purchased the land for a different sum of money, and it is now no longer economically viable”. I hope that that will close the loophole.
My Lords, I note with some caution the noble Baroness’s confidence about private sector housing. From my knowledge of places such as Tower Hamlets, I know that huge development has not necessarily yielded a social rent market in any meaningful way. What are the Government doing to ensure that her department is working with the housing associations, which have a long, honourable history of creating quality housing for social rent purposes? I declare my interest as on the register.
Both councils and housing associations can bid to the affordable homes programme for that money. Housing associations now have the benefit of a 10-year secure, £2 billion-worth of funding; they have never had that, under any Government. They should be able to plan to deliver the homes that we need. We recognise that, particularly for those at risk of being homeless and for particular families, we need to increase the number of homes available for social rent. We want to see a new generation of council housing, built both by housing associations and by local councils.
My Lords, England’s mills are the engines of the original northern powerhouse. With 2 million square metres of unused floor space, there is enormous opportunity to repurpose these historic buildings for residential, commercial and community use. We will capitalise on this, combining Historic England’s expertise with the Government’s £4.5 billion home building fund. Forty-five places identified as eligible to apply for the Government’s £3.6 billion towns fund are also located within the northern powerhouse, providing further opportunity to level up through returning the north’s industrial heritage to viable productive use.
I thank the Minister for her reply and for the meeting we had last week to discuss this. Historic England reports that there are more than 500 former textile mills in the Pennines region that are disused and falling into disrepair. These are iconic buildings, and many are listed. Conversion will bring many benefits; for example, an estimated 120,000 apartments could be put into these mill buildings. This would, at the same time, preserve a source of civic pride. Will the Government commit to housing funding to kick-start their regeneration?
I thank the noble Baroness for her Question. She is right to highlight the potential of these buildings and the important place that they hold within their communities. I have already touched on some of the big funding streams that will be going into this area; we hope that the combination of skills that organisations such as Historic England bring, in partnership with local authorities and those major funding streams, will result in a number of these buildings being redeveloped.
My Lords, there are some wonderful examples of how old mills being rejuvenated and given new life, such as Salts Mill in Saltaire and Manningham Mills, although there is a vast amount of empty space there. If they were icons of the old northern powerhouse, they are now becoming icons of dereliction. Does the Minister agree that if nothing is going to happen, then it would be better to knock them down? I do not favour that, but there needs to be a strategy that allows these wonderful buildings to be brought back into life, to be given a sort of resurrection.
The right reverend Prelate is right: the pattern of development and disrepair is very uneven. It often reflects the strength of the local economy, which in some areas permits commercial redevelopment and in others makes it much more challenging. With our arm’s-length bodies, we are exploring how to address the areas that the right reverend Prelate is concerned about.
My Lords, these are such interesting questions, and there is such a diversity of interests around the House. I once taught Anglo-Saxon literature. “Beowulf” is full of allusions to decrepit buildings left behind by the Romans. This seems as endemic a feature of the British landscape as its history. There are five hundred and something of these mills still standing, asking for something to happen to them. The tourist industry comes to mind—our industrial heritage is an important part of our history that it could well incorporate—but could priority be given to those mills that stand in places which do not, at the moment, attract that many visitors, to give them a focal point that could create a little bit of energy from the touristic side and in terms of our heritage?
There is a lot of energy going into these issues. The noble Lord is right that tourism is an important beneficiary of these mills’ regeneration. As he will know, the Government have just developed a new tourism deal. All these issues will be considered as part of it.
My Lords, I have spent a great deal of my life living in an area of textile mills. Can the Minister suggest how we overcome the challenges presented by the original use of these buildings; for example, where oil from the woollen industry has impregnated the floors and the fabric of them?
My noble friend raises a point about how previous usage impacts on the ability to regenerate. This is true across a range of historic and industrial heritage buildings, not just mills. Again, Historic England can provide a lot of expertise in this area, but I am aware that this is a matter of concern. Sadly, as a result of arson, in the last decade there have been more than 100 fires in the Bradford mills close to my noble friend’s home, but we are working with the fire and rescue services to address this.
My Lords, Brierfield Mill, a large grade 2 listed building in east Lancashire, now known as Northlight, is being redeveloped as a joint venture between Pendle Borough Council—I declare my interest—and a local development company, with a £32 million project of investment in leisure, arts, apartments, work spaces and canal-side moorings, with much more to come. Will the Minister take back the lessons from Brierfield Mill that the way to carry out successful projects of this kind is for them to be promoted and carried out by the local authority, working together with local businesses and local people, and for the Government to provide the necessary funding for it to happen, but then to strictly avoid the time-wasting and energy-sapping temptation to micromanage the project from Whitehall or even from the LEP?
Hate Crime: Anti-Semitism
My Lords, the Government are committed to combating all forms of antisemitism. Our cross-party working group ensures that we are alive to Jewish community concerns and can respond effectively, alongside the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Mann, as our independent adviser. We have spent nearly £860,000 this year on projects tackling religiously and racially motivated hatred, including almost £150,000 to tackle anti-Semitism online.
I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer. According to the Community Security Trust, the number of anti-Semitic instances has risen for each of the past four years. It is a growing problem. We in the churches have been exploring with Jewish groups any role that we may have played in the past with any stereotyping. Recently, the entire College of Bishops of the Church of England signed up to the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. Education will be key. I am grateful for what the noble Baroness has said, but can she tell us not only about the funds but which projects and resources Her Majesty’s Government are making available so that we can address, through education, the stereotyping and the troping of Jewish people to address this scourge.
I am pleased to note that the right reverend Prelate said that the bishops have adopted the definition. In 2016, this Government were the first to do so. The Department for Education specifically teaches on the Holocaust in schools through programmes such as lessons on Auschwitz and the work of the UCL Centre for Holocaust Education. It is the only compulsory named topic in the history curriculum. We agree that the effective teaching of pupils can help them understand the possible consequences of anti-Semitism. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate is taking his experience back to the many schools that the Church of England runs in our country.
I refer to my declaration in the register of interests. As well as the bishops, six football clubs—Chelsea, West Ham United, Newcastle United, Bournemouth, Brighton and Crystal Palace—have all adopted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. Does the Minister agree that if it is good enough for the Church and football clubs, then it should be good enough for employers, trade unions, universities and other institutions of civil society?
I agree with the noble Lord. He will be aware that the relevant Ministers have written to local authorities and universities asking them to adopt this definition. Noble Lords will be aware that I answered this question on behalf of the Department for Education not many months ago. The rate of take-up is not what the Government want. There is now a proposal that information about those universities and local authorities which have not signed up to the definition will in some form be made public.
My Lords, I draw noble Lords’ attention to my declaration of interests and associate myself with the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Mann. Given that anti-Semitism is often an open gateway to violent extremism, does the Minister think that now is an appropriate time for the Government to incorporate anti-Semitism into their Prevent strategy?
My Lords, I am unfortunately not aware of whether that has been proposed although, as noble Lords will know, we have recently reviewed the Prevent strategy. I will take my noble friend’s suggestion back, write to him and put the letter in the Library.
My Lords, anti-Semitism is evil and should be combated in every possible way, but will the Minister make it clear that the Government are equally committed to tackling hate crimes against all communities, even those of non-Abrahamic faiths?
My Lords, the Government abhor all hate crimes committed on the basis of religion or of lack of religious belief. In relation to the legislative framework in this area, I am pleased to tell the House that, due to the of prevalence of these offences online, the Law Commission is currently looking at the Malicious Communications Act and will shortly be announcing a consultation on hate crime legislation to see whether it sufficiently covers all religious groups. There are peculiarities in relation to the legislation when a religious group is also a racial group.
My Lords, I agree with others in this House that anti-Semitism is an evil prejudice and that we must do everything to drive it out. Will the Minister agree to speak to the Cabinet Office Minister Chloe Smith to look at the possibility of changing the nomination process for all public elections, to require candidates to confirm their opposition to anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and all other race and hate crimes, as well as changing our code of conduct in this House? If anyone falls short of their commitments, swift action can be taken by the relevant authorities, up to and including expulsion from the relevant House, Parliament, Assembly or local authority.
I thank the noble Lord for his suggestions. In relation to the Cabinet Office, I am sure that officials are listening to today’s debate and will act upon it. The code of conduct is for the authorities here, but the noble Lord will be aware that the APPG has been asking all MPs to sign the declaration; 641 out of 643 have signed the definition. Unfortunately, two sitting MPs and seven Sinn Féin MPs—who do not take up their places—have not signed.
My Lords, we have just marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, but this shocking report referred to by the right reverend Prelate shows that levels of anti-Semitism have never been higher. I fear that we have not learned the lessons of the past. What will the Government do right now to stem this tide of what the Home Secretary herself has called
“this shameful stain on our society”?
My Lords, I have outlined some of the actions that the Government are taking. However, it is for all of society to take responsibility: families, communities and faith groups. Yes, the Community Security Trust figures are the highest on record; they match the Home Office figures, which show that a greater proportion of religiously motivated hate crime is against the Jewish community. The Government have now announced funding of half a million pounds to take 200 university students to Auschwitz so that they can then go back to their campus and educate others.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in the other place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:
“With permission, Mr Speaker, there are all sorts of reasons why the city in which we now sit is the most productive region in the whole of Europe—the time zone, the language, the agglomeration of talents and, above all, the mass transit system that every day conveys millions of people efficiently and affordably, with tubes and 8,600 buses, into the central activities zone in the morning and out in the evening, like the respiration of some vast undersea coelenterate.
As that public transport network has expanded in the last 150 years it has brought hope and opportunity and job prospects to people growing up in every part of this city and beyond, and it is the ambition of this Government to employ that same utensil—fantastic transport infrastructure—to unite and level up across the country. Of course there is far more to do in London—frankly, the present mayor needs to be shaken from his complacency—but there is even more to do across the nation as a whole. Whether you are stuck in a jam on the A303 or on the outskirts of Lincoln, whether you are trying to get from Warrington to Manchester or toiling across the Pennines by rail, you know that this country is being held back by our inadequate infrastructure.
So in the next few weeks this Government will be setting out more details of a transport revolution, because we all know the potential of transport to change your life and the life of your town or city, and we know that efficient transport can clean the air and cut pollution and get cars off the road. We can simultaneously reach our ambition of net zero by 2050, shorten your commute and give you more time with your family, increase productivity and bring business and investment to left-behind communities. That is why we are embarking on a massive programme of investment in local transport, starting with a record-breaking £5 billion of new investment in buses and bicycles.
That investment will mean bus passengers across the country seeing a dramatic improvement in their daily journeys, with more than 4,000 brand-new buses—zero-carbon British-built buses—on the roads of places like Ashfield, Barnstaple, Southampton, Manchester and many more towns and cities besides. There will be more services, especially in the evenings and weekends, simpler, cheaper and more convenient ticketing, and properly designed priority schemes to speed passengers past the traffic jams. It is an investment that will also mean cyclists enjoying hundreds of miles of brand-new separated lanes, with ‘mini-Hollands’ blooming like so many tulips in towns and cities right across the country.
That £5 billion is just the start. My very good friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be making a full announcement on this in next month’s Budget, and I have no desire to steal his thunder, but I can signal today that we are taking forward transformative investments: road improvements from Cornwall to the A1 north of Newcastle; from south Salisbury to south Ribble; from Cheadle to Chiverton; dual carriageways, roundabouts, bypasses, underpasses—and those are just the roads.
We have already set out plans to explore new investments in the rail network across the north—developing proposals to reopen the Fleetwood line in Lancashire and the Ashington-Blyth rail line in the north-east, improving track and platform capacity at Middlesbrough station, and installing new signalling at Harrogate, one of North Yorkshire’s busiest stations. Further south, I can today announce that we will be upgrading the Bristol East junction—a major pinch point in the rail network of the south-west that limits access to the Brunel-designed Victorian splendour of Bristol Temple Meads station.
This transport revolution is local, because it must be local. We can unite and level up across the country, with fantastic local improvements—better rail and less congested roads, beautiful British-made buses that are cleaner, greener, quieter, safer and more frequent, and above all, we can improve the quality of life and improve productivity, and make places more attractive to live in and to invest in. But we cannot make these improvements in isolation from one another, because we will only be doing half the job. We will not fix the great musculoskeletal problem of UK transport.
Yes, we must fix the joint between the knee bone and the thigh bone—and the shin bone and the ankle bone. And yes, we must fix the arthritis in the fingers and the toes. But we also have to fix the spine. Our generation faces a historic choice: we can try to get by with the existing routes from north to south and consign the next generation to overcrowding and standing up in the carriages, or we can have the guts to take a decision, no matter how difficult and controversial, that will deliver prosperity to every part of the country. This will take 50 minutes off the time to Glasgow.
When it comes to advocating HS2, it must be said that the task is not made easier by HS2 Ltd, the company concerned. Speaking as a Member of Parliament whose constituency is on the route, I cannot say that HS2 Ltd has distinguished itself in its handling of local communities and, as everyone knows, the cost forecasts have exploded. However, the poor management to date has not detracted from the fundamental value of the project.
The review recently conducted by Douglas Oakervee, copies of which will be placed in the Library of the House, leaves no doubt of the clinching case for high-speed rail. A vast increase in capacity, with hundreds of thousands of extra seats, making it so much easier for travellers to move up down our long, narrow country, means not just more capacity but extraordinarily faster journey times. Passengers arriving at Birmingham Airport will be able to get to central London by train in 38 minutes, which compares favourably with the time that it takes to get from Heathrow by taxi, a point that I just draw to the attention of the House. But this is not just about getting from London to Birmingham and back considerably faster than the Piccadilly line. It is about finally making a rapid connection from the West Midlands to the northern powerhouse to Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds while simultaneously permitting us to go forward with Northern Powerhouse Rail across the Pennines, finally giving the home of the railways the fast connections that it needs—and none of this makes any sense without HS2.
The Infrastructure and Projects Authority considers that this first phase can be delivered for its current projected cost of £35 billion to £45 billion in today’s prices. The designs have been improved immeasurably thanks to the tireless contributions of campaigners, including the right honourable Member for Chesham and Amersham, who I do not think is in her place. If we start now, services could be running by the end of the decade.
So today the Cabinet has given high-speed rail the green signal. We are going to get this done and, to ensure that we do so without further blowouts on either cost or schedule, we are today taking decisive action to restore discipline to the programme. I will be appointing a Minister whose full-time job will be to oversee the project. A new ministerial oversight group will be tasked with taking strategic decisions about it. There will be changes to the way that HS2 Ltd is managed. In line with Mr Oakervee’s recommendations, we will be interrogating the current costs to identify where savings can be made on phase 1 without the costs and delays associated with a detailed redesign. So that the company can focus solely on getting phases 1 and 2a built on something approaching time and budget, I will be creating new delivery vehicles for both the grossly behind-schedule Euston terminus and phase 2b of the wider project.
However, before those designs are finalised and legislation introduced, we will also present an integrated plan for rail in the north. Informed by an assessment from the National Infrastructure Commission, it will, in line with the findings of the Oakervee review, look at how we can best design and integrate rail investments across the north, including Northern Powerhouse Rail between Leeds and Manchester. I have just spoken to the Mayor of Greater Manchester, who has warmly welcomed this project, which I committed to supporting, I seem to remember, during my first days in office.
I want the plan to identify the most effective design and sequencing of all relevant investments in the north. For example, with many in the north crying out for better east-west links instead of improved north-south ones, which we have heard many times in this House, some have suggested delaying or even cancelling HS2 in order to get Northern Powerhouse Rail done more quickly. I want to say to you, Mr Speaker, and to the House that this is not an either/or proposition. Both are needed, and both will be built as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. To ensure that this happens, we will—working closely with northern leaders—explore options for creating a new delivery vehicle for Northern Powerhouse Rail. We will also start treating HS2 north of Birmingham, Northern Powerhouse Rail and other local rail improvements as part of one integrated masterplan: high-speed north.
Something has to change. Those who deny this, who say that we should simply build 2b and Northern Powerhouse Rail according to the plans currently on the table, are effectively condemning the north to get nothing for 20 years. That would be intolerable. As we draw up this plan, therefore, we are not asking whether it is phase 2b or not 2b—
That is not the question. The question is how we can bring a transport revolution to the north sooner. Together, this revolution in both local and national transport has the potential to be truly transformative for the entire country. Yes, it is ambitious—but ambition is what we have lacked for too long. Two centuries ago, our ancestors could have been content with breeding faster horses. Instead, they invented the railways. They created the transport network on which the United Kingdom rose to economic pre-eminence. They looked to the future of transport and made it happen, and today it is our duty today to do the same. Let us bring about a future where high-speed trains glide between our great cities; where electric buses convey us cleanly around our towns; where self-driving cars roam along roads that are free of the congestion that causes so much pollution; and where a new generation of cyclists pedal safely and happily to school and work in tree-dappled sunlight—
—in tree-dappled sunlight on their own network of fully segregated cycle lanes, as we did in London.
This Government will deliver a new anatomy of British transport—a revolution in this nation’s public transport provision and a sign to the world that, in the 21st century, this United Kingdom still has the vision to dream big dreams and the courage to bring those dreams about. I commend this Statement to the House.” [Applause.]
My Lords, that has rather spoilt my opening lines. I was of course going to thank the Minister for repeating the Statement, and also to suggest that if it were not for the conventions of the House I could congratulate her, knowing that there would be a natural instinct to follow that with a round of applause. The trouble is, there was actually a round of applause. I am afraid that my response will be nothing like as entertaining.
No, it is an impossible bar. Perhaps the noble Baroness would consider writing for the Spectator.
I welcome the Statement—not for what it says, which I will go through with some care—but for what it does not say, because the essence of this Statement is that it does not say “HS2 is cancelled”. That is, frankly, the only substantial point it makes. I want to make it very clear—to avoid all doubt—that Labour supports HS2, Labour supports northern rail and Labour supports the whole concept of a fully integrated, nationally owned railway system owned by the public and operated for the whole nation.
I will try to point out where the hard commitments are in this Statement—so it will not be a very long speech. I was involved in the improvements at London Transport and subsequently TfL, from the King’s Cross tragedy in 1987 until today. I am very proud of my involvement in that and of the people who worked with me. I did not expect to be praised by the Prime Minister in a Statement about northern rail, but I thank him very much. As one who has spent most waking moments over the past 12 years trying to screw more money out of the Government, I am very pleased that the Prime Minister has not forgotten his London roots and ends up saying not only how wonderful the mass transit system is but that there is more to do in London. Can I take that as a commitment for more money and, if so, how much and when? I find no other possible interpretation given the general speech.
The next commitment is, like most of the commitments in the Statement, pretty fluffy. The Prime Minister goes on to say that we are
“being held back by our inadequate infrastructure and so in the next few weeks this government will be setting out more details of a transport revolution”
When is the “next few weeks”? I thought about that phrase. A few weeks is sooner than a few months and more than a few days. Could we settle, say, on the end of March? Can the Minister give us a commitment on when this will happen? We know in this House that Ministers sometimes slip from commitments unless they are very clear, so I hope that she will be able to give us a date.
The first spending commitment is the record-breaking £5 billion of new investment in buses and bicycles. Can the Minister indicate a timeframe for that? It could be anything from a year to 50 years; it has to be set against the fact that, since 2010, the Government have inflicted cuts of £645 million a year in real terms on bus services, with 3,300 routes cut or withdrawn and fares soaring by two and a half times average wages. Just how immediate a commitment is this? Is it over 10 years? Is it over five years? Is it over an even shorter time?
I then ploughed on to see whether there was anything of substance and found nothing more until I got to page 5 of the printed version of the Statement, at which point the Prime Minister said that
“that £5 billion is just the start”.
I love these phrases: “just the start” means there is more. Does the Minister agree that that means that there is more than £5 billion? Will this be set out in the Budget?
The Statement then goes into a whole series of road improvements—you will notice that there is no commitment to any particular project; there is no money; there is no deadline. On the next page, it talks about
“new investments in the rail network across the North”
and then repeats three schemes which have already been announced, once again with no deadlines and no budget. The paragraph concludes with one of the singular commitments in the Statement:
“I can today announce that we will be upgrading the Bristol East junction”.
What a delight that that is picked out to be in the midst of this splendid speech.
I could not find anything of substance on pages 7 or 8, but then I got to page 9. There, the Prime Minister slags off the management of HS2:
“Speaking as an MP whose constituency is on the route I cannot say that the company has distinguished itself in its handling of local communities. The cost forecasts have exploded. But the poor management to date has not detracted from the fundamental value of the project.”
What is he going to do about the management? At no point in the speech that I read does he make any recommendations about that.
Page 10, once again, contains absolutely nothing in terms of commitments. When we get to page 11, we are beginning to creep up to a commitment. It starts in the middle of the page:
“The Infrastructure and Projects Authority considers that this first phase can be delivered for its current projected cost of £35 billion to £45 billion in today’s prices … if we start now, services could be running by the end of the decade.”
Then, on the next page, he says:
“So I am giving high speed rail the green signal.”
That might reasonably be interpreted as a commitment to deliver the first phase, for between £35 billion and £45 billion, by 2030. Will the Minister please confirm that that is a hard commitment?
Further on, on page 12, we now know what the decisive action is going to be to bring this project to boot: we are going to appoint a Minister. Let us hope that he or she is a near relative of the Almighty. There will be a
“Ministerial oversight group … tasked with taking strategic decisions”.
At least we will know who to blame if it all goes wrong.
The Statement goes on to say:
“There will be changes in the way HS2 Ltd is managed”,
and from page 13 we know what these are: the company will be divided in two—at least that is what I think it says. It says,
“so that the company can focus solely on getting phases 1 and 2A built on something approaching on time and on budget, I will be creating new delivery arrangements for both the grossly behind-schedule Euston terminus, and phase 2B of the wider project.”
Am I right in assuming that HS2 Ltd will be divided in two?
Now we come on to the really important question: are these hints and words an equal commitment for the whole project? Is this Statement a commitment for the whole project—phase 1, phase 2 and the northern rail? There is a little hint at the end of page 13 where the Prime Minister says,
“Northern Powerhouse Rail between Leeds and Manchester, which I committed to supporting during my first days in office.”
Once again I ask: is this Statement a commitment to all of HS2 and the northern rail project?
The Statement often says very little, except that,
“we will … explore options for creating a new delivery vehicle for Northern Powerhouse Rail. And we will start treating HS2”—
At that point, I think that the Statement changed things slightly from what has been said previously. I think it suggested that the two halves of HS2, north and south, phase a and phase b, have been divided into two but will now be in one company called High Speed North. I hope that the Minister is capable of working out how that is going to streamline the project and deliver it.
The next two pages are blank of comment. Then the Statement ends with:
“This government will deliver a new anatomy of British transport”.
But what do they actually commit to? Five billion pounds for buses and bicycles, with no programme or timetable; a commitment to build phases 1 and 2a at between £35 billion and £45 billion by 2030; at best an implied promise to do phase 2 and northern rail, with no figures, no timescale and no detail; and upgrading Bristol East junction. This is the most vacuous Statement I have ever heard repeated in this House. To thrive, the north needs a hard, measurable commitment; this Statement does not meet that test.
My Lords, I feel sorry for the Minister, having to repeat all that. But what the Statement boasted in juvenile, rhetorical flourishes it lacked in detail on all fronts. It reminded me of one of those exercises that teachers give primary school children to expand their vocabulary. But it lacked detail, and transport is all about detail.
Like the noble Lord, I went through the Statement carefully and was struck by the fact that the first thing this Government apparently committed to was net zero by 2050, and the first thing they are going to do is build lots of new roads. Everyone who knows about transport knows that if you build a road, it gets full of cars immediately. We will still have cars from today on the roads in 20 years’ time. The electric vehicle revolution will not come that quickly and we cannot reach net zero if we go on with large-scale road-building projects.
What was said about east-west rail links is good, but it needs to go way beyond the few examples here. There is a lack of detail on buses beyond a nice big, shiny figure. I ask the Minister to provide us with more detail on the buses, because we can have the bus revolution a great deal more quickly than we can have the railway revolution. We could revolutionise our buses within a couple of years if we had the money and the legislative framework to do it.
I was very pleased, of course, to hear that HS2 is not going to be cancelled, but again disappointed and really frustrated by the fact that there are just a few hints of how this will go ahead in the future—a couple of avenues have been closed off, but there is no detail on how it will work or how the future will be better than the past. “We are going to change it, we are going to have a Minister”—with all due respect, it is not ministerial control that has been lacking, but good, solid day-to-day project management. However, we will obviously have to wait patiently for some time still to get the detail that we need.
I say to the Minister that this is a very grandiose series of visions but, in reality, people need certainty and consistency. They need to know the details of what will happen and, given the scale of the ambition in this announcement, it is way beyond the capacity of the Department for Transport to deal with. Work will have to be done across government. I will give just one example of what needs thinking about. If you are to have all these new buses—one hopes they will be electric or hydrogen, but in the short term we are probably talking about electric—we will need to totally reinvent the electricity grid to cope in certain parts of the country. The Minister looks doubtful: I have just come from a lunchtime event where experts in the field confirmed that we need a massive increase in our electricity capacity in parts of the country. There are lots of questions for her to answer.
With the leave of the House, I will certainly do that to answer the questions as fully as I can at this stage. I was slightly disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, felt that there were not enough hard commitments: I felt that the Statement was full of very hard commitments. The commitment to HS2 draws a line in the sand and removes any doubt about whether the project will go ahead. It means that phase 1 can continue at pace and that the Bill for phase 2a can come back to your Lordships’ House, because I know there is work to be done on it. We will be pushing the western leg towards Manchester and look at the eastern leg and other northern areas, where we are looking at connections into Northern Powerhouse Rail too. A very quick infrastructure plan for rail in the north will be carried out to make sure that that entire structure works well together. If it does not, clearly HS2 will not be as beneficial as it would otherwise be.
I shall stay with HS2 and then move on to buses in due course. The noble Lord mentioned governance and accountability. That is key to the way we approach HS2 and the way we interact with HS2 Ltd in future. This is not necessarily to denigrate the current management of HS2 Ltd: over successive managements there have been a series of failings, as I am sure a number of noble Lords will agree. We want to draw a line under this and start a new relationship between it and the department, representing the taxpayer to make sure that we get the best result.
This new Minister—poor thing—will have an incredibly important role to play. They will hold HS2 to account and report to Parliament every six months on its progress. Furthermore, we will encourage a culture of transparency and accountability, as stated by the Secretary of State some time ago. That is particularly important. There will be members on the board of HS2 Ltd from both the DfT and the Treasury to make sure that taxpayers’ money is spent as effectively as it possibly can be. We will also ask the IPA to report on progress every year. There will be a step change in the governance of HS2 going forward.
I apologise if I did not explain the delivery arrangements well enough. HS2 Ltd will continue as currently on phases 1 and 2a and there will be separate delivery arrangements for Euston and phase 2b. The schedule for phase 1 is 2029 to 2033; the ambition is to get trains on the track by the end of the decade.
Beyond HS2, there is the issue of buses. I have a personal love of buses. Being the Buses Minister, I obviously welcome this funding of £5 billion over five years. Noble Lords have said that there is no detail. There is a reason for that: we wanted to show local authorities and bus operators the scale of our ambition for buses. Historically, buses have known roughly what they were going to get, but this is a step change in ambition. We wanted to get that message across so that our national bus strategy, which we will develop at pace over the coming months, will set out how this investment can best be spent. There will be investment in capital and in revenue but until we have the national bus strategy I cannot say for certain exactly where all this money will go.
Another reason I cannot say this for certain is that, as we look at integrated transport systems going forward, the most important thing to think about is place-based funding. Often funding based on places is not single-modal. There might be some bus funding from one pot and some cycling funding from another pot, but a certain place will bid and, rather like with the TCF, it will offer a cohesive and integrated plan for improving local transport. We cannot just say, “Here you go, Barnsley, have an extra £1 million.” It must be more thought through than that. That will come out of how we look at the framework for the national bus strategy and how we integrate the strategy with getting local authorities to step up in partnership with their bus operators, which is essential, to make the best use of the money.
I wanted to talk about this very important issue and that same partnership. We do not need new legislation to do this. We already have the Bus Services Act, which has partnerships in it. Where partnerships exist, the ridership of buses goes up significantly. Bristol has seen amazing gains, as has South Gloucestershire, because the local authority has a really good partnership with the bus operator. The local authority puts in place bus priority measures, steps up and says, “I will give you your buses and services.” That will come to fruition over the coming months. We will work closely, as we have already started to do, with local authorities and bus operators to make sure that they are ready to seize this level of ambition. It must be collaborative.
Cycling is at a very similar stage to the bus strategy in that we need to consider the means by which we can get it to the most needed places, alongside other funding, if that makes sense.
I think I have answered all the questions. If not, I will write.
My Lords, I was Secretary of State for Transport in 1996, when we gave the go-ahead for HS1—the fast link between St Pancras and the Channel Tunnel. It was opposed by local MPs and challenged through the courts. People said it was too expensive and it was challenged on environmental grounds. People said we should spend the money on local lines instead. Today, not a single Member of your Lordships’ House would argue that HS1 was not the right decision to take. Will it not be the same in 25 years’ time about HS2?
I thank my noble friend for his question, which was not a plant. Last Friday I went on HS1 and had the honour of being in the cab. It was amazing, although they did not let me drive the train. I drove the simulator afterwards. It was striking that when you are in the cab and looking down the track, it is beautiful, it is straight and it works. There is little clutter and you can see that it is modern. Barrelling along at 140 miles per hour, you think, “I could go a bit faster, actually”. I went from St Pancras to Ashford, an area that has been revolutionised. The development there has been amazing. I agree with my noble friend; HS1 was a great boon and HS2 will be, too.
My Lords, there has been comment on the lack of detail and substance in the Statement. If a little less time had been expended on corny analogies and flowery phrases, there might have been a bit more space for some of the core issues that need to be addressed. One is the speed proposed for HS2. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Young, that HS1’s speed is hugely slower than that proposed for HS2, which is far faster than any other high-speed rail system, apart from that in China. Can the Minister comment on why this important issue has been omitted from the Statement, particularly given that the cost of the proposed speed is so high? If it was somewhat slower, the savings could be used for some of the other projects set out in the Statement.
The noble Baroness will be well aware that we had an extensive debate on HS2, its speed and all the various elements. These issues have been well debated and the Government agree with the spirit of Oakervee. His report discusses speed among many other things. Indeed, there were 60 conclusions in the report, and it would have been impossible for the Government to discuss every issue in it. We will respond in full in due course and that will cover the issue of speed. However, we are not minded to slow the train down. Phase 1 has been designed with speed in mind and it is not going to be redesigned. There is therefore no need to reduce the speed.
My Lords, the problem was that the Statement was the least professional and most hyperbolic pile of nonsense from a government spokesperson—not the noble Baroness. It was an appalling abuse. It read like a Telegraph column, so we know who might have written some of it. There are two big problems with HS2. First, it is extremely damaging to our environment. We are losing 108 ancient woodlands, five wildlife refuges, 39 nature reserves and 33 protected sites. The project is also a huge emitter of CO2 . Does the Minister agree that, as a result of that and the extra road extensions and plans proposed in the Statement, the Government will be unable to meet their CO2 reduction targets?
The Minister does not agree. I take it that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, is not a fan of the Prime Minister, but the sort of words she uses are somewhat inappropriate. On the substance of her question about the environment and ancient woodlands, noble Lords have had the opportunity to discuss those issues in significant detail. HS2 is committed to no net loss of biodiversity. We believe that it is an important part of achieving net zero emissions by 2050. Lost wildlife habitat will be replaced and, as I have said in your Lordships’ House, on the stretch from London to Crewe 43 ancient woodlands will be affected, but only 20% of each. That is out of a total of 52,000 ancient woodlands. I see the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, who will say, “But that is salami slicing”. That is the thinnest slice of salami, which will not make even half a breakfast.
My Lords, I declare an interest, as in the register, and as a former Transport Secretary, of which there are quite a few in this House. Does my noble friend recall that over 40 years ago, Germany developed an elaborate system of bus-type vehicles which travel by rail as well as road? I welcome the part about buses but our roads are very crowded, and there is still a big network of completely disused rail tracks in this country. Will my noble friend undertake that this technology, which is quite well advanced, will also be included in our great transport revolution?
I thank my noble friend for raising that issue. It is of course critical that where tracks already go into major towns or cities—some might be Beeching line closures—the opportunity for reopening those lines may not take the form of heavy rail; there are many new and innovative ways. I know that the one my noble friend referred to is from 40 years ago, but nowadays there are some lightweight, low-cost alternatives to building heavy rail, which could effectively, and with good value for money, get people to where they need to be.
My Lords, a long time ago the Government made a commitment that, before construction started on HS2, they would produce a new cost-benefit analysis and business case. That was confirmed to me in a letter from the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, when she was Minister, on 18 December 2018. Has that cost-benefit analysis and business case been published, and if not, when does she expect it to be, and can she confirm that it will be published before permanent construction starts and the formal go-ahead is given?
My Lords, I can find no mention in the Statement regarding HS2 and the north-east of England. Can the Minister confirm that there is no change in the plan in relation to that? That is, HS2 rolling stock will run on conventional track north of Leeds, joining the east coast main line just north-east of that city. As I raised when we debated HS2 a couple of weeks ago, to be successful, that link to Newcastle upon Tyne, where I live, needs four tracks on the east coast main line as opposed to the current two. Will the Minister confirm that the Government would be willing to look closely at the case for expanding the number of tracks north of Leeds?
I will certainly take that point back to the department. The parts of the track that the noble Lord mentions will all be part of the integrated plan for rail for the north, which will be an important, if fairly short, project to make sure that HS2 works with NPR and all the multibillion pounds of rail investment that we are already putting into the north. It would be absolutely wrong for us to undertake such a massive and costly project unless we squeeze every single benefit out of it that we can.
My Lords, there were six mentions of Manchester and, quite rightly, mentions of both Liverpool and Leeds in the Statement, but not a single mention of Sheffield, the fourth-largest city in England. Can the Minister confirm that there will be an eastern leg rather than linking Manchester through Leeds to the north, and that that leg will go through the east Midlands, South Yorkshire and then through Leeds, so that we can have some benefit to a county which has a population greater than that of Scotland?
I absolutely understand the noble Lord’s desire to get improved connectivity to Sheffield. Indeed, we want improved connectivity between all the major cities in the north, which is why we are doing the integrated plan for rail for the north.
My Lords, as the completion of the HS2 project will lead to a dramatic slashing of journey times between Manchester, Birmingham and London, does the Minister agree that it would be sensible, at this stage, to make more effort to promote Manchester Airport and Birmingham Airport as points of entry into this country, attractive to all categories of visitor? This would take some of the pressure off the London airport system, as well as contributing to levelling up the economy of our country, as the Government are set upon.
I thank my noble friend for that question. One of my first visits, when I was Aviation Minister, was to Birmingham Airport and that is precisely what they said to me: once HS2 is up and running, the journey time to London will be slashed. For example, if you live in north-east London or close to Euston, you will be able to use Birmingham rather than a London airport.
My Lords, I strongly support the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Young, that yesterday’s pessimists about HS1 are today’s enthusiasts for HS1. The same point can be made about the first London-to-Birmingham railway, which was ferociously opposed on cost and other grounds. Since it was built in 1838, it must represent, though no one can calculate it, the most phenomenal return on capital of any project ever constructed, which we could not possibly do without. I ask the Minister, given that the Victorians built the first London-to-Birmingham railway in five years, with picks, shovels and wheelbarrows, if it is too much to expect a better completion date. I think the one she offered was somewhere between 2029 and 2032, or something like that. If she gives an option, it will be the latter of those dates. Can she not be firmer and speed it up a bit?
My Lords, Members across the Government would very much like to speed this up, but a process needs to be gone through and this is a highly technical line. The noble Lord is quite right, and I mentioned during the recent HS2 debate that four lines went under construction within 10 years back in the 1830s and 1840s. Many considerations must be gone through to build these lines and, nowadays, we have far more concern about the environment than we have ever had before, and about stakeholder and community engagement, and making sure that local communities feel happy about the construction.
My Lords, in the prologue, long before we got to the dappled trees, my noble friend referred to Lincoln. I am glad that she recognised the congestion outside that great city. Can I infer from that that Lincoln will be high in the order of priorities as our roads are improved?
My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for the letter of 4 February that she wrote to all Peers who took part in the debate on 23 January. I certainly found it very helpful and encouraging, although not all her noble friends did. I will raise a question that was touched on by her noble friend Lord Haselhurst. The Minister says that, if the project goes ahead, HS2 will create a long-term carbon alternative to domestic flights or driving, and that HS2 can play a key role in achieving the transition to carbon net zero by 2050—something that I wish the Green Party would occasionally take seriously. The Prime Minister’s Statement says that:
“Passengers arriving at Birmingham Airport will be able to get to central London by train in 38 minutes, which compares favourably with the time it takes to get from Heathrow by taxi”.
Presumably we are not now going to have a third runway.
My Lords, I give a perspective from the hills in the middle of the Pennines. I am interested in knowing that we are going to have more tree-dappled sunlight. We welcome the trees; the sunlight might be beyond even the present Prime Minister. I just point out that those of us who live in the corridor between east Lancashire and Skipton in the Aire Valley in Yorkshire are not bothered about having high-speed rail. We want our railway back: the 11 miles between Colne and Skipton. We would be quite happy for the trains to go at a normal speed, but please can we have our railway back?
My Lords, perhaps we might return to the north-east. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and I, along with many others, have argued previously that this infrastructure should have begun in the north and the south at the same time. In the review, can we please ensure that we are working not just south to north but north to south? This would help speed up the process. Can the Minister also answer a question on the production of the trains and the carriages? Companies such as Hitachi and Bombardier have been mentioned. Are the contracts going to be given out in Britain?
The right reverend Prelate refers to an issue that is raised fairly frequently. I think that we can all agree that phase 1 will go ahead straightaway because enabling works have already taken place. Part of the integrated plan for rail will look at ways of getting the benefits of this new railway more quickly, and it may be—I am not prejudging this at all—that construction starts in several places at once, as well as at different points, in order that it can join up. To me that seems quite sensible, but I am sure that someone technical will tell me that it is not. However, it is our ambition to get the benefits more quickly and to keep the costs as low as possible. We will certainly look at all the eventualities when it comes to that part of the railway.
On the construction of the rolling stock, this does not need to be considered for some time yet. Of course it would be very good if the trains were built in Britain, but I happen to know that the HS1 trains were built in Japan and that they function very well. But, again, we cannot prejudge that and it will be some time before that contract is awarded.
My Lords, can the Minister give us some assurances about the management changes at HS2? I worked first with HS1 from an environmental point of view and then with Crossrail. I have been appalled by HS2’s environmental illiteracy. Can we make sure that in the future phases of this development, the company that replaces HS2, or its reconfiguration or whatever arrangements are made, is required to use its best endeavours to avoid going through ancient woodlands and other sensitive sites? About half of the sensitive sites that are being trashed by this development were not even identified by the company when it carried out its reviews, and that is negligent.
Perhaps I might also make the point that as far as the 52,000 ancient woodlands are concerned, it used to be one woodland, but it has been so split up and hacked into small fragments that now there are only 52,000 small pieces of it. If we keep on doing that, we will not have any at all.
I hope to be able to put the record straight. I do not propose that there will be changes to the management of HS2; rather, changes will be made to its governance. As I explained earlier, the DfT and HMT will be on the board and there will be a new Minister. I will ensure that I mention to the new Minister, whenever she or he takes up their role, that stakeholder engagement and ensuring that environmental stakeholders are included as part of the process is absolutely essential.
My Lords, this is a hugely welcome announcement as far as the economy of the West Midlands is concerned. While I understand that the Statement needs to make a lot of references to the northern powerhouse, it makes no reference to the issue of east-west links in the Midlands. The Minister will know that it takes almost as long to go from Leicester to Derby or from Leicester or Derby to Birmingham as it does to go from Manchester to Leeds, so this is a real issue. Can she assure me that in the work that is being taken forward, the links within the Midlands will be given full consideration?
The noble Lord is right and we intend that the work on the integrated plan for rail should include the Midlands and the north. Of course, the department is engaging with Midlands Connect because of its interest in the Midlands rail hub, which would certainly lead to improvements in east to west connectivity. We are well aware of the issue and we are working on it.
Fisheries Bill [HL]
My Lords, as we are an island nation, our seas are integral to our history, economy and culture, so it is a great privilege to open this debate. A rich diversity of fish and shellfish provides us with nutritious, valuable food and employment. I recognise at the outset the dangers of this harvest: seven lives were lost in 2019, and I pay tribute to the bravery of those at sea and their families.
Together with the Agriculture Bill and the Environment Bill, 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. It is crucial that we are successful. The Government’s vision is to build a sustainable fishing industry, with healthy seas and a fair deal for UK fishing interests. This Bill is a key step towards delivering that vision.
Fisheries management is complex and requires responsive, science-based policy-making. Data on fish stocks must be gathered and analysed. The safe levels of exploitation of those stocks must be considered, as well as the allocation of those resources and the granting of rights to use them. On top of this are technical rules on matters ranging from the use of types of fishing gear to minimum landing sizes of species—all required to allow the harvest of our fish while avoiding damage to stocks and the environment.
The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 ensures that the existing legislative framework to manage our fisheries remains in place after the transition period. Along with earlier pieces of fisheries legislation, this Bill gives us the powers needed to manage our fisheries more effectively in future, ensuring that we can meet our international obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea—UNCLOS—and the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement—UNFSA—and become a global leader in fisheries management as befits our island nation.
The Bill’s objectives for sustainable fisheries management ensure a UK-wide framework to manage the fish that live in UK waters. We have worked closely with the devolved Administrations in developing this framework to ensure that our approach fully respects the devolution settlements, while recognising that we have a shared responsibility to protect our marine environment and to support a thriving industry across the UK. The Bill provides the powers to manage and support the recreational sea fishing community too, as well as the commercial sector.
First and foremost, this Bill confirms in law our commitment to environmentally, economically and socially sustainable fishing. Healthy fish stocks are the basis of a thriving and profitable fishing industry. We must therefore ensure that we apply science-based management approaches both to the benefit of the environment but also, crucially, to the long-term profitability of our fishing industry.
This Bill takes and reforms the EU’s sustainable fishing objectives and commits to a new, ambitious set of UK objectives, which are in the Bill. These include a climate change objective, to ensure that the impacts of the fishing industry on climate change are minimised while ensuring that fisheries management adapts to a changing climate; objectives to further the collection of scientific evidence across the Administrations and to take the precautionary approach to fisheries management in the absence of such evidence; and the national benefit objective, which seeks to ensure that a benefit to the UK is felt as a result of UK boats fishing stocks from UK waters—the first time such a requirement has been included in our legislation.
The Bill requires the Government and devolved Administrations to set out in a joint fisheries statement how we will together contribute to the achievement of the objectives. Our intention is for all policies that achieve the objectives to be included in the joint fisheries statement. There is, however, a provision in the Bill to allow the Secretary of State to set out reserved or non-devolved policy in a Secretary of State fisheries statement.
The Bill includes the requirement to produce fisheries management plans, alongside the devolved Administrations where appropriate, delivering on our manifesto commitment. These plans will set out on a stock-by-stock or fisheries basis our plans for achieving the sustainability of those stocks. The plans go further than we have gone before in relation to stocks, for which assessing sustainability is much harder. Many of these are valuable shellfish stocks. The plans commit us, in those circumstances where we do not have the scientific data to assess their health, to develop the scientific evidence base on which we will then be able to do so. The fisheries statements and the fisheries management plans will be legally binding.
The Bill also extends the powers of the Marine Management Organisation and the devolved Administrations to protect the marine environment, strengthening them so that they can be used to restore and enhance, as well as conserve, the marine environment.
Secondly, the Bill creates the powers that the UK needs to operate as an independent coastal state and fulfil our international obligations. From 2021, the UK will be an independent coastal state, able to control who can fish in our waters. We will be responsible for setting annual total allowable catches of fish species within our waters. For stocks that are shared with other coastal states such as the EU and Norway, we will negotiate to agree fishing quotas. Currently, the EU distributes quotas between its member states using a principle called relative stability, which provides a fixed percentage of quota based on fishing patterns from the 1970s. This gives an unfair share of quota to UK fishers, not reflective of what is found in UK waters, and so we will negotiate to move towards a fairer, more scientific method for the allocation of shared stocks.
The Bill will put in place the powers we need to operate as an independent coastal state by allowing us to set fishing opportunities and to determine which vessels may enter our waters. Any decisions about giving vessels from the EU and any other coastal states access to our waters will be a matter for negotiation. This Bill provides the framework to enable us to implement whatever is agreed internationally. For example, it ensures that should we negotiate access to our waters, vessels from other coastal states will have to hold a licence. This is equitable and ensures a level playing field between UK and foreign boats.
Enforcement in UK waters is a devolved matter, and each fisheries administration is responsible for control and enforcement in their waters. In England, the Marine Management Organisation has assessed, and continues to assess, the levels of enforcement capacity required for fisheries protection and the options for best delivering this. It is undertaking a significant increase in the number of personnel and surveillance assets relating to fisheries protection, with a sizeable increase in support, much of which is already in place. We are committed to continuing to work closely with our neighbours to ensure the sustainable management of shared fish stocks.
Thirdly, the Bill introduces powers to make reforms to our fishing industries across the Administrations, while respecting the devolution settlements. Many of the regulations that form the common fisheries policy will be retained as part of UK law, providing legal certainty to fishers at the end of the transition period. It is right that while the Bill gives us the powers to move away from this law, we make evidence-based changes.
The management of fisheries is devolved and this Bill respects that. Officials from the devolved Administrations have been closely involved in the development of the provisions in the Bill. I am pleased to say that the Bill reflects this joint working by legislating on behalf of the devolved Administrations in some areas, at their request. In most cases, the powers provided are equivalent to those provided for the Secretary of State in the Bill, within the devolved Administrations’ competence.
The dynamic nature of our fisheries, and the importance of keeping pace with scientific developments, mean that both the Government and the devolved Administrations, at their requests, need powers to amend the highly technical regulations governing rules such as the size of fishing nets or the grading of fish, and to amend measures so that we can control aquatic animal disease.
Beyond this, the Bill creates new schemes to help fishing fleets thrive across the UK. These include broadening grant-making powers, creating powers for England and Wales to tender some of the additional quota received after we become an independent coastal state, and establishing a new scheme to help the fishing industry comply with the landing obligation in England.
The Bill also makes a technical correction to the Welsh devolution settlement by extending the competence of the National Assembly for Wales in relation to fisheries in the Welsh offshore zone, from 12 nautical miles to 30 nautical miles at its greatest extent. The Welsh Government previously devolved Executive responsibilities in this area.
These new powers for the four fisheries administrations ensure that the fishing industry across the UK can be supported appropriately. However, in some areas, it makes sense to continue having a common approach. The Bill creates common approaches where the Government and the devolved Administrations have agreed this is necessary—for example, a joint approach to managing the access of foreign vessels through licences given by the single issuing authority.
I am pleased to say that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee published an exceptional and highly positive report relating to the powers contained in the previous Bill. We await its report into this Bill with considerable interest. It should be noted that there are no additional delegated powers contained in this Bill, beyond the extension of some powers to the devolved Administrations, at their request. It is important that we are clear to your Lordships and the other place on precisely what these powers are about, why some of them are extremely technical and why it is important that we take advantage of them as we have more technological advances. Where we have legislated within devolved competence, we have sought legislative consent from the devolved legislatures. Our objective is to ensure that the fishing industry across the UK is supported and can thrive under the governance of the relevant fisheries administration.
The Bill puts sustainability at the front and centre of our future fisheries management policy. It sets us on a path to building a sustainable and profitable fishing industry, with healthy seas and a fair deal for UK fishing interests. Importantly, it respects and enhances the devolution settlements, giving the devolved legislatures more powers and responsibilities than they have ever had. It will allow us to control access to our waters by foreign fishing boats, and, for the first time in 45 years, to place equitable rules on them while they are in our waters.
A sustainable harvest of our waters is our objective. The objectives in the Bill make the direction of our future policy abundantly clear. The future of our fishing fleet is intrinsically bound up with the vitality of the marine ecosystem. There are noble Lords here who have considerable experiences of fisheries, some as former Fisheries Ministers. Seafaring and fishing the seas have a very long history, and many in the fishing fleets feel that they have not been cared for. This is an opportunity for us all to ensure prosperity for this important British industry. I emphasise that this will be possible only if we are, above all, wise custodians.
I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to this important and strategic Bill.
In the region of 470 days has passed since the Government published the first version of their Fisheries Bill, back in October 2018. The then Secretary of State, Michael Gove, spoke of how the Government was finally putting our hard-working fishers and hard-up coastal communities first after years of them being ignored and undermined by the workings of the common fisheries policy of the EU. However, as the Conservative Party found itself in trouble and its numbers in the Commons began to fall, this Bill was mysteriously stalled before Report. It never made it to your Lordships’ House—meaning that we are now looking at implementing an entirely new fisheries regime on an accelerated timetable. That hardly provides the due consideration to bring the clarity that UK fishers urgently require.
I am sure we will hear some of the same rhetoric from the Minister today, but we are all serious about improving the prospects of the UK’s fishing industry and coastal communities. The Minister shares this commitment—he has demonstrated that in his correspondence and briefing to Peers, for which we are most grateful—but Labour needs to be sure that this Bill does all that it needs to do to have confidence in the Government’s proposals.
I certainly welcome the more collaborative approach that has been adopted with the devolved Administrations. We have not always seen such a productive approach in relation to Brexit legislation. The priority now is to instil the further confidence that devolved Ministers will be able to play their role in shaping the delivery of the new regime, with the inclusion of their priorities.
As was the case with the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill—and as we will see with the Agriculture Bill and Environment Bill when they reach this House—the Government have chosen to amend the legislation following the recent election. Following some of the criticisms of the original Bill, many of these changes are welcome. However, some need to be enhanced further. For example, we recognise and appreciate the clarity provided by the new Clause 1. This replicates and adds to the number of principles and objectives which underpin the common fisheries policy that has governed access to British waters in previous decades. However, the clause does not include the necessary objective to land fish from British waters at British ports if it is to bring prosperity back to coastal communities.
Several other aspects of the Bill do not quite meet Labour’s hopes and expectations. The Minister will tell us that the Bill has sustainability at its heart, and I agree. However, there is a worrying lack of detail over the Government’s plans regarding maximum sustainable yield. The common fisheries policy has disappointed in relation to the protection of fish stocks, but we will need more detail from the Minister to be confident that the new regime will present a genuine step forward. As part of that, we will explore mechanisms for the Government to provide periodic reports to Parliament on the impacts of their new fisheries regime.
We also see in the Bill that the Government have inserted new commitments on climate change. This is great news. However, there is no mention of how fishers will be assisted in cutting down on the use of harmful plastics or adopting the use of greener technologies, both at sea and during processing. Nor is there any statutory commitment for the sector to meet net-zero emissions. The challenge is that the Bill needs to bring across aspects of the commitment of public goods in other Defra Bills into this framework. There are areas where we would like to see real progress over the course of the next decade, and I certainly do not want us to look back on this Bill as a missed opportunity.
We are not alone with such concerns. While they acknowledge the progress made since publication of the first Bill, groups including the Marine Conservation Society and Greener UK have called for the toughening and tightening up of the Bill’s measures on climate change and ecosystem sustainability. We stand ready to work with those organisations and others to facilitate those debates. It is encouraging to see that your Lordships’ sub-committee report on discards has been well receive and that the Government have included new mechanisms in the Bill to tackle this. Amendments will be tabled in Committee to examine how this will work. We certainly welcome the increased responsibilities of the Marine Management Organisation.
Having promised to cut the much-derided red tape of Brussels, the Government have produced a second iteration of the Bill that has somehow become more cumbersome. The fishing industry needs the Government to understand that many regulations must be much clearer, more viable and realistic, in tune with the evidence from those who have to abide by them. After all, that was the promise made so frequently and forcibly during the campaigns.
Despite 40 pages having been added since the first Bill, the document omits other important topics. While we accept the need for a new licensing regime and a new power to set annual fishing quota opportunities, there is very little information on the interplay between the two. Will a boat need a licence to secure quota, or will having quota be a precondition of receiving a licence? How will the quota regime operate? What will happen with regard to the UK’s share of UK quotas on 1 January 2021? With Britain now an independent coastal state, will the Government unilaterally take back 100% of the quota on day one, before redistribution, or will they adopt a phased approach? Will Ministers seek continued access to non-British distant waters where some of the UK fleet has such an interest?
While the Bill introduces offences for illegal fishing, we do not yet know what enforcement will look like on the ground—or, rather, on the open seas. Recent media reports suggest that the Government are bolstering the number of both boats and personnel, but I know of colleagues, including my noble friend Lord West of Spithead, who want more detail; indeed, he has put down a Question on the Order Paper for tomorrow.
The Bill lacks detail on how fishers will be protected and conflict avoided. This will need to be tested long before the joint fisheries statement and the Secretary of State’s fisheries statement. In Committee, we will be probing the Government’s plans to ensure that a fair quota is allocated to small boats, facilitating the creation of new jobs at sea, in ports and in the food supply chain. There will be amendments to ensure that a majority of catch in UK waters is landed at UK ports, that UK-registered boats have the first option to take up further quota, that the Government retain a strategic reserve of quota to assist with achieving maximum sustainable yield and that foreign vessels cannot undercut UK boats on safety or employment standards. The Minister referred in his opening remarks to the dangers faced by those at sea. Recognising this, we call for the raising of standards and not an undercutting of UK livelihoods.
I very much hope that the Minister and his colleagues in the Commons are willing to work collaboratively on this legislation. It can be improved and, whatever the changed circumstances in the other place, it is clearly in the interests of our fishers that the Government approach this process with a commitment to work with your Lordships’ House. We will be tabling a number of amendments, some of which we have already suggested to the Minister and his departmental officials. I very much hope that the responses to those amendments throughout Committee stage will be constructive and that, whether through government or opposition amendments, we will ultimately send a much-improved Bill to our colleagues in the House of Commons.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his informative introduction to this important Bill and for his time and that of the Minister of State for fisheries. I also thank those organisations who have sent me information, and in particular the House of Lords Library for its briefing, which was comprehensive and excellent.
It would be completely dishonest of me to pretend that I am an expert on fishery matters but, luckily, we do have an expert on our Benches in my noble friend Lord Teverson, so I will leave all technical matters to him and deal with those matters which I am able to comprehend—I have warned him of this.
I welcome this Bill, which is a definite step in the right direction of returning control of our fishing waters to the UK. Sustainability is everything. I believe this Bill moves us in the right direction of helping to preserve fish stocks and build up those in danger of being depleted. But I have grave concerns about the way in which sustainability is enshrined in the legal process of the Bill.
As we have heard, there are eight objectives at the beginning, which at first glance look sensible but on more careful examination appear, in some cases, to contradict each other. Clause 1(2)(a)(i) clarifies the first of those—the sustainability objective—as meaning that activities must be
“environmentally sustainable in the long term”.
But in paragraph (a)(ii) there is a commitment to
“achieve economic, social and employment benefits and contribute to the availability of food supplies”.
I believe that is at odds with the preceding statement in sub-paragraph (i). Sustainability and economic benefits are not easy bedfellows, and the Government will have their work cut out to ensure that the Bill produces both. I am sure we will return to this subject in Committee.
The Bill sets out the need to produce both a joint fisheries statement and fisheries management plans. As with everything, planning ahead is essential both to secure economic investment in equipment and to preserve stocks. But under the procedure rules, we read that the fisheries policy authorities may, at any time, prepare and publish a replacement joint fisheries statement or amendments to a joint fisheries statement. I am sure there will be good reasons for this, but I fear that it will not lead to security for our fishermen. It is also unlikely that chopping and changing the JFS will lead to sustainability.
There is no timeframe in the Bill for the preparation and implementation of fisheries management plans. I ask the Minister whether there is an anticipated timetable when all species will be covered by individual FMPs. It is essential to sustainable fishing that these plans should be in place as quickly as possible.
The joint fisheries statement must be reviewed every six years from the day on which it is first published. So far, so good. But the reports on fisheries statements and fisheries management plans must be published every three years, for each subsequent three-year period. There will, of course, be only one overarching joint fisheries statement, but there will be a fisheries management plan for each species of fish to be caught in our waters. Those two are inextricably linked, so I am curious as to why different timeframes have been specified. Perhaps the Minister would care to comment.
I am also concerned that a fisheries management plan will refer, among other criteria, to a “geographical area”. Fish are not like cows or pigs in being able to be corralled into a specific area; they are completely free creatures. Of course they will have their preferred spawning grounds, but we are beginning to see that the pattern of fish movements is changing. Cod are moving further north, as climate change begins to warm the waters further south. Mackerel are being caught by the pelagic fleets and are no longer making their way down to Cornwall in what was the traditional mackerel-fishing season. I am, therefore, intrigued as to how fisheries management plans will specify geographical areas for some species of fish. Perhaps the Minister could clarify this point in his summing up.
I am somewhat addicted to television documentaries that deal with real people in real situations. “Helicopter ER” and “Saving Lives at Sea” are among my favourites. I have, therefore, been watching the six-week series about fishing around the coast of Cornwall. This is fascinating, dealing for the most part with the lives of those who own or work on vessels under 10 metres. Each weekly programme begins with a series of clips of fishermen around Cornwall, generally fishing for different species. But the message is the same: young men with families are struggling to make a living from their traditional career—and it is a career. We see young men following in their fathers’ footsteps, learning the trade from them, working alongside them, borrowing from them, and saving to buy their own boats and start out on their own. But this is a rough and hard trade.
For me, one of the most poignant scenes was the harbour front at Mousehole one evening in the middle of winter: there was not a light from a house to be seen. All were either holiday lets or second homes. The fishermen were housed up on the hill outside the town in social housing, which was all they could afford. The average wage was £15,000; the average house price £300,000. The fishermen’s cottages on the quayside, which they would previously have occupied, were now well out of their price range, snapped up by those who visit for their annual holidays or the odd week. This cannot be right. We are a nation of coastal waters. Up and down the country, we see local people engaged in essential work that is not highly paid being priced out of their villages by second-home owners and holiday lets. While the tourist trade is an important part of many rural and coastal economies, it really is time the Government grasped this nettle and did something about a tourist tax and second-home owners. Sorry, that is the end of the rant.
There is a vast difference between the pelagic fishing fleets and the smaller vessels under 10 metres that operate inshore and off the coasts of our country. I have seen some very interesting adaptations to boats that have had the end cut off in order to bring them under the 10 metre rule. Those fishermen operating on such vessels represent 79% of the fleet but hold only 2% of the quota. Some 20% of the vessels are the large pelagic fleet, which receive the vast majority of the quota. There is a desperate need for fishing quotas to be redistributed to bring a much fairer share to the smaller fishers who are struggling to make a living. The UK’s fishing quota is owned or controlled by just five families. I ask the Minister to give assurances that these inequalities will be effectively dealt with in the Bill.
There is concern that a legal maximum sustainable yield for each stock, which was a commitment in the Conservative manifesto, will not be achieved if scientific evidence is not used to determine what an individual stock’s MSY should be. Since there is currently no fail-safe mechanism for ensuring that the total allowance catch is not exceeded, just how will the MSY be arrived at and how will it be monitored and policed?
When it comes to the Marine Management Organisation granting licences to foreign fishing boats to fish within British fishery limits, I fear that, for me at least, the Bill causes confusion. The MMO will grant licences but only for use outside of the devolved Administrations’ waters, but boats licensed by the Scottish Minister will be valid throughout all UK waters. Can Minister explain just how this will work in practice?
I welcome the licensing of foreign vessels. This is essential to ensure that the total allowable catch is not exceeded and our own fishing fleets are able to prosper, but it is also important that TACs are set at a level that is supported by ICES scientific advice, not set higher due to pressure from the large pelagic fleet owners.
There is a great deal of technical detail and some loopholes in the Bill, which we will return to in Committee. I shall finish by raising Clause 23(6), which allows the Secretary of State to set a catch or effort quota of zero, or to replace a quota already set, provided that this is done before the end of the relevant calendar year. What will happen if the Secretary of State adjusts a quota down to below the amount of fish already taken in that year, thus making the catch over quota? What will happen to the unlucky culprit who has fished according to his or her quota but then suddenly finds himself in breach of the legal limit? I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I suggest that the Fisheries Bill to which we are giving a Second Reading today is no more than a picture frame without a picture. What that picture will be—the detailed shape of Britain’s new post-Brexit fisheries policies—remains as shrouded in mystery as ever. I note that I am the first person speaking in this debate who has even recognised that quite a lot of this will have to be thrashed out in negotiation with the European Union and Norway and cannot just be decided unilaterally by us—although we will of course have a much bigger say than we had before we left the EU. Moreover, as with other aspects of post-Brexit legislation, the detailed implementation and filling-out of that picture is very much conferred in wide-ranging powers for the Executive, with only a pretty vestigial role for Parliaments and Assemblies.
Thirdly, while I note what the Minister said about fisheries being a devolved subject, and due account of that having been taken, there is not a lot about how the devolved Administrations in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast are to be brought into policy-making for a sector of great importance to their economies and electorates—of proportionally greater importance, incidentally, than it is to the English economy.
That is quite a long list of gaps that I hope the Minister will fill when he replies to this debate. With regard to filling in the details of that picture, I have not the slightest intention of asking the Government to divulge their negotiating position in the talks, which will probably get under way in March—even if they knew what it was, which I rather doubt. I will be neither surprised nor particularly disappointed if the Minister says that at this stage he will not go into that detail. But it is important to go into those negotiations, which will inevitably be tough and difficult, with a set of realistic and realisable objectives, not just a collection of slogans and mantras—which is all that has been unveiled in the past three and a half years. We should also be prepared to reach compromises along the way, since an all-or-nothing approach would be all too likely to inflict damage well beyond the fisheries sector itself.
It is not rocket science to suggest that any decent deal will have to cover three crucial elements. The first, and most sensitive, will be access by other parties to fishing grounds lying within our exclusive economic zone and territorial waters. Secondly, there will need to be shared arrangements for fish stocks in those waters, particularly the North and Irish Seas and the English Channel. The third crucial item will be the tariff and phytosanitary control arrangements applying to both our exports and imports. If we gave total priority to one of those three, or excluded one of them from consideration, the results would not be as we wished.
Access to waters is a hugely sensitive issue. It is not a new one, nor did it first arise in the context of our membership of the European Union or the common fisheries policy. In 1964, when the Government of the day decided to extend Britain’s territorial waters from six to 12 miles, we negotiated the London Convention, which gave what were called historic rights to continue to fish in our waters to a number of European countries. At that time, it is important to remember, we were not a member of the EU, and the common fisheries policy did not exist. That has to be borne in mind, because that history will be on the table when we come to negotiate. It will not decide how we handle it, but it needs to be taken into account. That is not just a legal issue—I am not making a legal point here at all—but a political issue: what is pragmatic and practical. I believe that an all-or-nothing approach to that issue will work to our disadvantage.
There is then the hugely important issue of shared management and conservation of stocks. That must be a shared responsibility with the EU and with Norway, given the inconvenient tendency of fish not to know when they are crossing a boundary. In the earlier years of the common fisheries policy, that issue was badly mishandled and stocks were grievously damaged, with decisions taken that rode roughshod over scientific advice. That must not happen again, and I recognise that it is one of the aims of the Government in this legislation, which I welcome. We must not slip back into that period where the politics of allocating shared stocks gained over the science. Neither, again, should we take an all-or-nothing approach.
The third element is the trade in fish and fish products. Over the 47 years that we have been in the EU, we have benefited, of course, from zero tariffs, zero quotas and common phytosanitary rules. They have covered our exports and our imports of fish and fish products, both wild and farmed. Those exports have grown exponentially during that period. They are pretty substantial now, as they were not when all this started. That gives the possible outcome on access to fisheries markets great importance, and we should not delude ourselves that, if we acted in a way that led to the loss of those continental markets, we would be able to replace them quite easily, because that is not the nature of this highly perishable product.
On devolution, I will merely say that every aspect of our new fisheries policy will directly or indirectly involve the devolved Administrations, so it will be important to build them from the outset into the negotiating and implementing process—all the more so as fisheries are such an important subject for them. The alternative, to have a kind of running battle between the devolved Administrations and the UK Government, will only feed the fissiparous tendencies already undermining the unity of the United Kingdom.
So it is a complex picture, but I see no reason why our fishing industry should not emerge quite a lot better placed than it is now, so long as we do not insist on negotiating overreach and do not play about with fancy ideas of linkages with other sectors, of the sort that were put forward recently by the Taoiseach when he suggested some kind of linkage with financial services. That would make a balanced fisheries deal on the three crucial decisions that I have suggested far more difficult to reach, and it would be a mistake if we went down that road.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. Perhaps I should be more upbeat than he was, but he has wide experience and knowledge which I certainly recognise.
This is an important, positive Bill; it has many challenges and, as the noble Lord said, it is a complex picture, so there are no easy solutions. But I welcome the Bill and the changes made to the original Bill debated in the Commons over a year ago. At the end of December this year, the UK will no longer be constrained by the common fisheries policy, which I believe has failed to protect fish stocks, the seabed or its marine life.
As others have said, the Bill gives the UK powers to establish a sustainable approach to the way in which fishing will be allowed in future years. But successful changes can be achieved only by the devolved Administrations working closely together. The Bill creates a common approach, preserving the right of UK vessels and any licensed foreign vessels to fish across our four zones in United Kingdom waters. The Bill sets out detailed objectives, and I am pleased, like others, to see a climate change objective in there as well. It requires joint fisheries statements, fisheries management plans and reports to be laid and reviewed.
I will turn directly to the practice of discarding. Only two weeks ago we had a debate on the EU Select Committee’s reports on the EU fisheries landing obligation, in which the Minister acknowledged that the landing of undersized fish had increased, but not by the amount that was anticipated. The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations is pleased to see in the Government’s proposals a discard prevention charge scheme, recognising the importance of reducing discards. It will give a truer picture and truer data of the fish stocks that are collected and whether they are landed in a proper way rather than just thrown over the side. We need to know about the fish stocks’ long-term ability to reproduce.
I take this opportunity to put on record the valuable work done by the then Fisheries Minister, Richard Benyon, when he introduced the fisheries landing scheme. Further improvements have been made in this Bill. Last year Mr Benyon was asked to review the highly protected marine areas, which I think will add substance once we come to debate this in Committee.
In becoming an independent coastal state, the United Kingdom will have the power to set catch limits for all vessels. Foreign boats wishing to fish in UK waters will have to follow UK rules, abide by catch limits set and, I hope, be required to have remote electronic monitoring equipment on those vessels. I would be grateful if the Minister would clarify this when he responds.
Clause 44 creates new measures to help the Marine Management Organisation to protect marine ecosystems. Back in 2008, a POSTnote commented that, at that stage, no UK body had the responsibility of creating new marine conservation zones; nor were targets set for the area to be covered at that time. In this Bill, amendments to the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 confer powers to make by-laws and orders relating to the exploitation of sea fisheries resources. I ask the Minister: will that include the awful practice that has gone on for many years of bottom-trawling, which has devastated parts of the seabed? I also ask the Minister: if data is available for all areas around our coasts, are those shores fully mapped? If so, how far out to sea does such mapping information go? In looking at the 12-mile limit, have the Government considered, with regard to the seabed and marine conservation, whether it should be regarded in a similar way to the way we have planning on land? It is all too easy to forget what is under the sea because we do not see it, whereas we see it on land.
The Bill is of great importance. Those involved in catching fish work in rough seas and in some of the most demanding circumstances. Indeed, my noble friend said that, tragically, seven of them lost their lives last year. The fish caught and returned to UK shores bring additional jobs to local communities and provide us with good nutritious food. While, as has been said, most of the fish caught by UK fishermen is actually exported to the European Union and other areas and the proportion consumed in the UK is very low, I look to the Bill to enable us, through extra quotas, to eat more of the fish that we catch in this country than has been possible in the past, and that the fish landed will be sold and consumed directly through UK markets. Fishermen will be looking to the Bill to bring certainty for their future. Catches taken must be decided on the best scientific data available, stocks protected and fishing licences granted on actual known stocks, rather than on historic agreements.
ln our desire to see healthy seas around our shores and more widely, we must not forget the continuing need to tackle plastic waste. Whether we are fishermen, individual recreational fishers or simply people who care about our oceans, the Bill is surely a step in the right direction. There will be much to do but I welcome and support it.
My Lords, this is a really historic Bill. For the first time in 50 years, we can design our own fisheries policy; it will be one of the few silver linings of Brexit, if we get it right. It will be a real test of the Government’s approach to the UK-EU negotiation. There will be lots of pushing and shoving between now and December, and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, rightly pointed out that there are big shares of quota at stake for other EU states and a big share of markets for us. We need to watch that the needs of sustainable fisheries do not get traded away for other trade-deal requirements
The Bill is an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate that, in totally rethinking how we manage our fisheries, we can ensure a sustainable future for the marine environment, the fishing industry and coastal communities, as the Minister said. Current fisheries policy, of course, is in no way sustainable. Government assessments have shown that we are not on track to meet the commitment to reach good environmental status and healthy seas by 2020. That is particularly so for fish stocks, shellfish, birds and benthic habitats. Last year, only 59% of UK fish stocks were fished at or below sustainable levels, down a whole 10% on the previous year. North Sea cod stocks have declined to critical levels, due to lax setting of quotas and failure to manage effectively. North Sea cod has lost its Marine Stewardship Council certification, with an impact on valuable market share. This is bad not only for the fish and the environment but for fishers and fishing communities.
The UK Government are currently challenging the global community to increase protection of the world’s oceans to 30% by 2030. If we are to do that without being laughed at, we need to demonstrate world-leading fisheries management and to measure this by recovery of nature and recovery of stocks. The Bill is a welcome improvement on the Bill in the previous 2017-19 Session, but it is very much a framework Bill, whose implementation raises many questions. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, called it a picture frame without a picture and I very much appreciate that analogy. I hope the Minister can give us some assurances about painting in the picture frame at the end of this debate, and I shall raise some of the issues on which I think further answers are needed.
I welcome the new climate-change objective in the Bill. We must ensure that it is about not just low-carbon fishing technology but the importance of recovering fish populations and restoring marine habitats, such as kelp forests, deep sediments and coastal seagrass meadows, as effective natural solutions to tackling the twin emergencies of climate change and biodiversity together.
My second anxiety concerns future trade deals with the EU and other states, where the Government are saying that fisheries negotiation will be a separate annual bilateral agreement. I thoroughly endorse that approach: we must avoid the overall UK-EU negotiation sliding into a link between access to UK waters for the EU states and other states and access to EU markets for us.
The Bill is very much a framework Bill, leaving a lot to the devolved Administrations and secondary legislation. I urge the Minister to let us see the secondary legislation in draft before it is laid or, even better, produce co-management arrangements involving all key stakeholders to ensure that the painting in of the picture that secondary legislation will represent suits all stakeholders.
Many of the objectives listed at the beginning of the Bill are to be applauded: the sustainability objective, the precautionary principle, an approach that involves ecosystems, the climate change objective and the importance of science and evidence-based decisions. However, somewhere in the mix we need a legal duty on relevant public authorities to achieve these objectives and be accountable by publishing specific regular reports on their achievement of the objectives, not just on their activities.
The Conservative manifesto promised
“a legal commitment to fish sustainably”,
but in the Bill there are no legally binding targets or timeframes for bringing unsustainable fisheries stocks to sustainable levels. I am sure the Minister will say that there will be fisheries management plans, but there is nothing in the Bill to say when these plans will be made, what they will cover and when the actions outlined in them will be achieved. I will talk about that in a moment.
There needs to be a legal commitment in the Bill not to fish above independent, scientifically recommended, sustainable levels. Even the rotten old common fisheries policy set catch limits in article 2 to be within maximum sustainable yield by 2020. In the Bill we simply have an aspirational objective to achieve a healthy biomass of stocks, a rather woolly objective that is neither legally enforceable nor subject to any deadline, to be taken forward by way of a policy statement that the Bill says can be disregarded in a wide variety of circumstances. All that represents a potential regression in environmental standards.
There is also no firm commitment to ensure that the stocks we share with other countries are managed sustainably. The Bill needs to set an objective for the Secretary of State in his or her negotiations with the EU and other countries to be directed by clear sustainability criteria, including a commitment to agree catch limits in line with scientific advice. We need to learn from past situations such as the interminable disputes over mackerel between the European Union, Norway, Iceland and the Faroes, which resulted in 35% overfishing and loss of MSC status for that catch. We share over 100 stocks with the European Union, so an effective, evidence-based process is important.
We used to call those the mackerel wars. I turn now to other potential wars. I regret that the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, is not in his place—I am sure he would have relished this. We need to think about monitoring and enforcement of our new approach, which the Minister touched on in his introduction. I hope the cod wars will not return; the circumstances are different now that territorial waters have been delineated, but can the Minister say exactly what resources—by way of ships, technological kit and monitoring offices—the Government envisage either to have been recently provided or to be provided in future?
In his response to the committee report of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on the landing obligation six months on, the Minister of State cited some interesting figures on Marine Management Organisation inspections annually since 2016. Inspections of onshore vessels and premises have greatly increased, but the number of inspections at sea, which are vital, has stayed completely flat. Can the Minister tell us the exact scale of additional resources for monitoring and enforcing under the new arrangements, at least in England, if he cannot speak for the devolved Administrations?
The major feature of the Bill is that it is a high-level framework—the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, about it being a picture frame with no picture is rather good. There are lots of stages that will follow the Bill and many a slip between cup and lip. The devolved Administrations will be in the driving seat in many cases and we need to see what proposals they will bring forward to paint this picture. The negotiation of a joint fisheries statement will, I suspect, be fraught and there is no guarantee that the joint fisheries policy statement will achieve the objectives outlined in the Bill or by when.
The national authorities have a “get out of jail free” card. The Bill specifies that they can disregard the policy statement where evidence changes. That might be regarded as admirable flexibility but it risks meaning that the fisheries objective will take priority, especially where the interests of the UK fishing industry are at stake. It can shout at the expense of fish stocks and biodiversity, which of course cannot shout.
Fisheries management plans will be important and much will hang on them, but they are optional. The only requirement on authorities in the legislation is to issue a statement explaining how they intend to use fisheries management plans. I suspect they will not come out with a statement saying that they do not think they will use fisheries management plans much. However, they could, given the way the Bill is framed. There must be a legal requirement for authorities to introduce fisheries management plans where stocks are currently fished above sustainable levels or for data-deficient stocks. There are no timescales for laying out or achieving the plans. We need statutory timescales. National authorities have a similar “get out of jail free” card on fisheries management plans, which could mean caving into socioeconomic pressures at the expense of environmental protection.
I started off thinking that this was rather a good Bill but, having thought about it for some time, the fact that it leaves so much unanswered is worrying. It needs to be a tougher framework and I hope the Minister can assure us that the Government’s manifesto commitment to sustainable fishing can truly be guaranteed through the mechanisms outlined in the Bill, especially where the devolved Administrations are concerned. We need that to work for the benefit of fish ecosystems, the fishing industry and coastal and fishing communities.
My Lords, I support the Bill for many of the reasons already given and will not repeat them. However, there is one point for which I thank the Minister: the evident hard work undertaken by his department in seeking co-operation with the devolved Governments in the drafting and framework of the Bill.
There are three matters, however, on which I should like briefly to touch. First, as reflected in the debates on the withdrawal agreement Act, it is essential that the devolved Administrations are involved in a meaningful and systematic way in the negotiations. I am sure, in the light of the assurances given by Ministers then, that this will happen. However, it will be important to check from time to time that it is happening. It would not be good for the future of the union if we went into negotiations when there was not the greatest possible degree of consensus between the devolved nations, given their responsibilities proposed under the Bill.
Secondly, it is important that every attempt is made to reach a consensus on the position that the United Kingdom Government will take on their negotiations with the European Union and any other states or organisations. It would be a serious matter if the Secretary of State was put in a position where he had to exercise the powers under Clause 23 to force the devolved Administrations to alter their policies, unless every possible attempt had been made to reach a common negotiating position.
Thirdly—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and the noble Baroness Lady Young, whom it is a privilege to follow—the Bill is lacking much detail, particularly regarding how the policies are to be agreed between the various Governments and legislatures. It would be far better, sooner rather than later, to spell out the mechanisms that are intended to be deployed to try to reach consensus, to say what is to happen if there is not consensus, and to do everything possible to reach common policies. Furthermore, it may well be that the fisheries sector and the way it emerges from the frameworks will have an effect on the internal market. Therefore, I suggest that it is important that we address the issue now and see what the picture is, rather than leave it until months or years later.
No doubt many of these issues will require discussion in Committee but it is important that they are grappled with now, because they go to the maintenance and strength of the union.
My Lords, it is refreshing and a great pleasure to follow a distinguished former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, who has a reputation for justice and fairness. I hope that the Minister will consider his wise words with care.
There is no doubt that the negotiations between the Government and the European Union to secure the future of the United Kingdom’s fishing industry after we leave the common fisheries policy are one of the trickiest and most challenging aspects of the trade talks now beginning. They will require cool heads all round and, on the Government’s part, a steely commitment not to let down our fishing communities. Hopes and aspirations in this iconic industry are high, from Peterhead to Cornwall, and what a blow it would be if they were dashed by some financial trade-off. That is not to mention the political gift such a perception would be to some, who would seek to ruthlessly exploit it to further damage the union, as their eventual aim is to destroy it altogether.
In stark economic terms, the UK fishing industry may be responsible only for around 1% of GDP but it has an emotional hold on the hearts of this island nation. In this respect, I hope that during the forthcoming talks with the EU, Ministers will keep in mind that famous definition of a cynic in one of Oscar Wilde’s plays:
“A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
It is indeed the case that the intrinsic value to the United Kingdom of these small but indomitable communities can never be assessed simply on a spreadsheet.
The Bill we are debating today sets out a new framework for managing our fisheries in a sustainable way as the UK emerges as an independent coastal state after over 40 years of being inside the EU’s common fisheries policy. It also details welcome plans for how the UK will take into account the impact of climate change on the health of the ocean and indeed our entire planet. The Scottish Government are unlikely to show a great deal of appreciation, but it must be drawn to their attention that the Bill also gives important new powers to the devolved Administrations to help conserve and enhance the marine environment, and conservation is of course enormously important.
When I first spoke on this subject some three years ago, I acknowledged that some compromises might have to be made in the interests of the fishing industry’s sizeable export trade—70% of the catch goes to European markets. However, it is unfortunate that some EU countries seem to want the UK to concede that their access to our fishing grounds should remain very much as it is at present. Setting out their template for talks, their negotiator, Michel Barnier, has said that he wants to uphold EU fishing activities and that any agreement should
“build on existing reciprocal access conditions.”
This clearly cannot be the case, as the Bill removes the EU’s automatic right to fish in our waters. It is to be hoped that the Government will stick to their commitment for annual negotiations to be held, resulting in improved quotas for our boats and the licensing of access for foreign fishing vessels to the United Kingdom. These would be based not on historic quotas but on scientific data about sustainable catch levels. It is a system strongly supporting conservation, which has already been put into practice by Norway, Iceland and the Faroes. At the same time, the Government have to bear in mind, during the talks, that any barriers and tariffs erected because of UK divergence from EU regulations and standards would be bad news for those who need to get their fish and other seafood produce swiftly to the available markets.
There is also the problem that the EU is insisting that negotiations should be inextricably linked to the wider trade talks. The Government are adamant that this will not be the case, and rightly, in my view. We are dealing with a situation on which an expression has been made by no less a person than Barrie Deas. He issued a statement of powerful wording, which he sent to me this morning. He said:
“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to secure a better deal for the UK fishing industry and revive coastal communities across the country. The Government must not backdown on their promises to UK fishermen. If it does, many of the objectives that the Fisheries Bill is aiming to achieve will be impossible”.
He is chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations.
Speaking previously, I stressed the totemic nature of the United Kingdom’s fishing industry and spoke of the sheer spirit and bravery shown over the years by those who work at sea, as well as the dangers faced. As an example, at Eyemouth, down the coast from where I live, a starkly poignant granite memorial depicting a broken mast commemorates that Black Friday when, on 14 October 1881, a terrible storm took the lives of 189 men from the port and left 267 children without their fathers.
Last week, the Prime Minister chose to set out the Government’s vision of its post-Brexit future economic relationship with the EU amid the splendour of the Painted Hall of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. He spoke of the United Kingdom being “on the slipway”, recalled our “seafaring ancestors” and claimed we are now embarking “on a great voyage”. We must hope that all those who ply their trade in our historic fishing communities around the United Kingdom will still share that same spirit of optimism and of new beginnings once the trade talks with our European neighbours have concluded.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, and my contribution will do so from a Northern Ireland perspective. I live in County Down, and three principal ports associated with the sea fish sector are in County Down: Portavogie, Ardglass and Kilkeel. Two of those, Ardglass and Kilkeel, are among the top UK ports. In a Northern Ireland Assembly report of 2015, which is the last known record, the value to the local economy of the fish landed was £20.8 million.
Yesterday evening, I had an opportunity to talk to the Minister about issues that appertain to the sea fishing sector in Northern Ireland. I am reminded by our fishermen and their representatives of a phrase that has been used throughout this process, which neatly sums up the position that the fishing industry finds itself in today. That is: nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Like noble Lords who spoke earlier, I agree that this Bill is a framework and that much has to be coloured in with what the devolved Administrations come up with, and with what happens in the negotiations between the UK Government and the European Union. So, with the UK’s formal departure from the EU, the Fisheries Bill we are discussing today is an important stepping stone in the process.
As we have been reminded by Boris Johnson, his predecessor and others, the UK will be an independent coastal state and as such we should be able to unleash the potential of the fishing industry. For 47 years it was subjected to the management of the common fisheries policy, which some within the fishing industry believe was mismanagement. We are told that the Bill will deliver a legal guarantee that the UK will leave the common fisheries policy at the end of the transition period in December 2020. Nevertheless, the reality is that, before the potential referred to by the Government can be realised, the UK and the EU have to use their “best endeavours” to agree a new fisheries relationship by the middle of this year. This agreement will be critical to the future continued regeneration of the ports I have referred to, but our fishing industry remains some way off a final agreement in terms of resolving the imbalances in fishing quota allocations, most notably from an Irish Sea perspective.
We also want to see the ending of the annual reallocation of quota from UK fishermen, especially those from Northern Ireland, in favour of their colleagues in the south of Ireland under the so-called Hague Preference. Yesterday evening I had an opportunity to talk to the Minister and I mentioned the voisinage agreement that was originally a gentlemen’s agreement between the old Northern Ireland Parliament and the Government in Dublin. It enabled fishermen from County Down to fish in Dundalk Bay but, because of a Supreme Court judgment in Dublin in 2016, it had to be suspended. The Irish Government have since put the voisinage agreement into legislation. I say this to the Minister: we do not want that agreement dismantled in any way, because good relations have now been resumed and fishermen are continuing to ply the Irish Sea in pursuit of their best endeavours. Now, with a future Irish Government who it is hoped should be in place in the next couple of weeks, I hope that the good relationship with the previous Minister will continue with the noble Lord the Minister.
We should recall that securing a new fisheries agreement between the UK and EU is not about inventing the wheel. Other independent European coastal states, most notably Norway, have fisheries agreements with the EU. Last week, we heard about the EU’s ambition for the new fisheries agreement with the UK. It includes an aspiration for a more detailed agreement than the Norway-EU agreement. Given the huge implications that the UK-EU fisheries agreement will have for the success of this Bill, it would be useful to learn what the UK has in mind.
Reference has already been made to the previous incarnation of the Fisheries Bill, which was addressed in late 2018 in the other place, and to a House of Lords EU Committee report that provided the basis for this legislation. One of the biggest changes is that it delivers on the Government’s manifesto aim to manage our fisheries at their maximum sustainable yield levels under a wider ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management. This is obviously very important, and the application of MSY levels to fisheries management has been the subject of extensive debate since they were adopted by the EU at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002. For some, MSY is a conceptual theory that has little applicability to an ocean environment that is subject to constant change—change that has been accelerated by climatic change. So it is important that the Bill is shaped in a way that allows it to evolve and does not provide for unachievably hard MSY targets.
Another feature that local fishermen have raised with me is a fairer share of fishing opportunities. They suggest that they would like to see, as part of the management framework outlined in the Bill, a quota allocation system that is appropriate for Northern Ireland. What is suggested for England might not necessarily work in Northern Ireland. Fishermen in Northern Ireland should not be penalised, because they have taken all the—let us say—outstanding resilience measures over the last number of years and have been able to deal with discards, by-catches and the landing obligation. They introduced and got patented some areas of gear changes, which it would be useful for the Minister to have a look at.
While the fishing industry welcomes Prime Minister Johnson’s commitment that there will be no checks on the trade of seafood and other products from GB to Northern Ireland, it looks forward to hearing how the Government will deliver on that commitment—in particular with seafood brought to Northern Ireland for primary processing before being returned in its entirety to GB.
Last night I raised with the Minister the issue of allowing non-EEA fishermen to continue to work on County Down boats. In fact, they work on other boats throughout the fishing industry in the UK. So far, in spite of our best endeavours, the Home Office has not come forward with a legal formula to enable them to continue to do this work. In many instances, our local fishing industry could face tie-up without the expertise of these people. The Northern Ireland fishing industry faces a compromised position, because back in 2016 the Irish Government provided a legal framework to enable these non-EEA crew to fish in Irish waters. They can move from one Irish-registered vessel to another, so our local fishing industry in County Down, which relies largely on fishing in the Irish Sea, feels compromised.
I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments in response to the issues I have raised and to participating in Committee on the Floor of the House. I hope that the Bill will lead to the continued regeneration of coastal communities. Other noble Lords have mentioned the issues raised by environmental organisations about the need for greater sustainability and reflection of climate change. While that is referred to in the Bill, they want to see consideration given to binding commitments not to fish above independent, scientifically recommended sustainable levels. To allow an industry such as fishing to grow, develop and nurture, we have to adopt a balanced approach to all this.
In conclusion, I look forward to working with the Minister and noble Lords across the House to develop an enhanced Bill that will bring benefit to fishermen, particularly those I know in County Down fishing villages.
My Lords, I begin by associating myself with what the Minister said about the dangers encountered by those who go to sea, especially those who go fishing. In my connection with Trinity House, I come across some of these from time to time.
My first connection with the common fisheries policy was shortly after I became Lord Advocate in 1979, when a number of cases were brought by the Commission against the decisions of the previous Government. In accordance with the proper practice, the new Government found themselves defending these decisions. The decisions had been referred to one of the leading silks of the day, Tom Bingham, who ultimately became Lord Chief Justice, a senior Law Lord and a very distinguished judge. I did not know it at the time, but he had advised the Attorney-General that none of these would succeed; in other words, that in every case, the defence would fail. In pursuance of his policies in relation to the appointment of the judiciary, shortly after that the Lord Chancellor appointed Tom Bingham as a judge, and therefore he was no longer available to defend the cases. I was appointed to defend these cases and, sure enough, Lord Bingham’s prophecy was fulfilled to the letter. I was glad afterwards to know that he had advised that before I had begun at all.
One of the last of the cases was an extraordinary case about the common fisheries policy’s application to the waters around the Isle of Man. It showed me that the provisions of the common fisheries policy did not come naturally to the Government of the United Kingdom as something to be observed in every detail. As time has gone on under that policy, that hesitation has been demonstrated as growing. Anyhow, we are to come out of the common fisheries policy soon and the question is: what will replace it? As has been said, that is really what makes the picture in this Bill. Until we know that, it is very difficult to know exactly what will happen. Of course, it is right to be prepared for what will happen, whatever it be, and we need a structure to replace the common fisheries policy.
I agree with a good deal of what has been said already about the law, and I will not repeat it. I want to say one thing on what the noble Baroness said about legal enforcement of the policy statements mentioned at the beginning. I rather think it is implied that the policies to be adopted are to be in accordance with these objectives. Precise legal provisions may not be needed to require that, but I certainly think it is implied at present.
Clause 12 appears to require that fishing in the territory of the United Kingdom should require a licence. It is a very reasonable requirement for every fishing boat to have a licence. But the clause specifies that not only will fishing boats be required to hold a licence but that they must be in accordance with international law and international agreements to which the UK is a party. I can see the force of that, but I do not see how that kind of thing would be decided in a discussion on the high seas. Take the territorial waters of the North Sea: the enforcing boat might come along and the skipper of the fishing boat could say, “I’m here for a purpose recognised by international law.” Can you imagine how that would be resolved? Alternatively, they might say, “I’m here by virtue of an agreement or arrangement to which the United Kingdom is a party.” I do not know how well equipped the fisheries protection vessels will be, but I imagine that they may be hard put to test that kind of thing. I would have thought it might be wiser to require that, if a boat is coming on that account, it gets a licence before it comes. I am sure it would be much easier for the enforcing authority to look at a licence than to try to find out what international law was defending the incoming fishing boat.
Although not dealt with in this Bill, the arrangements for selling the products of the sea to Europe are extremely important. That is certainly true in some parts of Scotland, particularly the north-west, where I happen to know the ports of Kinlochbervie and Lochinver, which lie on each side of the distinction between my title and that of my noble friend, the chief of my clan. Lochinver and Kinlochbervie are both quite small, but they attract a great deal of seafood, which is sent by road to many parts of Europe. These small communities very much depend upon that. Therefore, the last thing I would like to see is that kind of arrangement being damaged in the result. I mention that not as part of the Bill, but as part of the negotiations, which will be, without any doubt, difficult to conclude satisfactorily. One can see the desire of the European nations to get what they can out of it, and we must be careful about that.
I strongly support what was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, about the involvement of the devolved Administrations. Without getting into too much detail, I have to say that that could be pretty difficult if the fundamental policy of the devolved Administration is not in accordance with the present situation. One can see the difficulty of that, and I hope that what my noble friend said in opening will be true: that the co-operation of the devolved Administrations in working out the detail of this will be forthcoming and helpful.
My Lords, I am not a fisheries expert; other than sporting a beard worthy of Captain Haddock and managing medieval manorial interests on the foreshore of the River Exe, I am a novice. I am thus grateful to the Minister for his introduction and to many other noble Lords for their expertise.
My law firm represents clients with commercial sea fishing interests and I know a number of local inshore fishermen in and around the Exe. I have been able to discuss this legislation with them. While happy to be free of the common fisheries policy, and the havoc it wreaked upon our fishing industry and our marine environment, their consensus is apprehension that their remaining livelihoods and coastal way of life may be sold down the river in forthcoming trade negotiations. The industry is also nervous that departure from the CFP will result in new systems that will cause uncertainty and delays. It seeks assurances that investments made in equipment and quota will not be undermined by administrative delays. Banks are currently reluctant to lend to fishing enterprises, and continued uncertainty will only make this worse.
As a Devonian, I am aware of the importance of the fishing industry to the local, regional and national economy. Devon is proud to host a large proportion of England’s fishing fleet, and in Brixham it has England’s largest fish market by value—approximately £40 million per annum.
Fishing has been core to the county’s economy for centuries. My home was built by an admiral of the Western Fleet during the Hundred Years’ War. Much of his time was spent defending English waters from marauding vessels from Brittany and Iberia. I hope that this will not be a task for the Earl of Devon in future, and that we can settle peacefully the fair allocation of our maritime resources towards the long-term health of our fisheries and the communities that depend on them. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, noted, fisheries monitoring and enforcement will still be key to the exercise of our sovereign control and to achieving the bold ambitions set out in this legislation. What additional investment do the Government intend to make?
As many of your Lordships will be aware—because I have mentioned it—2020 marks the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the “Mayflower” from Plymouth, a commemoration of which I am a patron. This momentous voyage set sail from Devon because of the sophistication of local fishermen who ventured for months, from small ports such as Teignmouth and Kenton, over the vast north Atlantic, to catch and salt cod in enormous quantities. It was much due to the efforts of these modest West Country folk, who established seasonal encampments on the east coast of North America, that we achieved the early English settlement of those distant shores. The trading relationships they operated were complex and cross-border, combining fishermen from Devon, fish from the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, salt from the Bay of Biscay, wine from Bordeaux and consumers on the coasts of the Mediterranean. As the Government head into trade negotiations with Europe and the United States, I hope that they will take lessons from this history, not least the need to work closely with our neighbours and to care for our fish stocks.
With respect to these negotiations, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, noted, the political declaration committed the UK and the EU to use their best endeavours not only to conclude but to ratify a new fisheries agreement by 1 July 2020. This seems a little ambitious. Can the Minister describe the progress of those negotiations?
As to the new fisheries objectives, the bycatch objective is laudable. Minimising wastage is essential to the sustainability of our fisheries. In pursuing this objective, we must take account of the peculiarly mixed nature of certain UK fish stocks, which makes for a higher rate of bycatch compared with others. We must be cautious about burdening UK vessels with well-intentioned objectives that render them uncompetitive. We must also ensure that the fisheries management plans not only become compulsory but are localised in their requirements. What may be good for the North Sea fleet may not be good for the south-west, where conditions are so different. How will the Government ensure, post CFP, that quota is allocated more smartly, providing benefit to the fish and the fishers?
I note that the recent debate on the EU fisheries landing obligation concluded that compliance with the discard ban has been impossible to evaluate, through a lack of data. The consensus in favour of remote electronic monitoring in UK waters is shared by fishermen, but they are concerned that this must apply to all vessels fishing in UK waters, not just those landing in UK ports. A level playing field is essential.
The UK is a champion in the area of fisheries technology. At the universities of Plymouth, Falmouth and Exeter, the south-west boasts world leaders in marine and environmental engineering and sciences. How will the Government harness that expertise to ensure that we accelerate productivity, increase sustainability and build the competitive advantage of our fishing fleet? Also, what plans do the Government have to develop skills in fishing and in the onshore processing of fish for the food industry?
The climate change objective is an important addition. Given our location at the end of the Gulf Stream, UK fisheries will be impacted more than most by rising sea temperatures. Does the Minister have data on the carbon footprint of the UK’s fishing fleet, and do the Government have specific targets to address it? Is the Minister aware that offshore fishing vessels from Brixham are currently forced to steam all the way up the channel to Holland for all but the most basic maintenance, because there is no facility in the entire south-west peninsula with the capacity for such work? It surprises me that after more than 500 years of offshore fishing, we have lost the ability to repair our own fleet. The Minister will be aware of recent progress towards reopening the shipyard at Appledore. Are the Government able to support that endeavour and reverse this terrible decline in local shipyard services?
Finally, can the Minister acknowledge the importance of the continental market for UK-caught fish? The vast majority of the fish landed in Devon are sold across the channel. The Brixham market uses state-of-the-art online auction technology to ensure the fastest and most efficient sale of the daily catch. Given the inherent perishability of fish, any delay in transportation will impact sales dramatically, and any increase in border checks will destroy this important regional industry. I realise that Mr Gove thinks a degree of cross-border friction is a price worth paying. However, there is no point in securing the right to fish our own waters only to destroy our ability to sell the fish that we catch; otherwise, it will be fish fingers for tea, for everyone, every day.
My Lords, the Fisheries Bill has huge potential to cause trouble among the nations of the United Kingdom and with our European neighbours. What is written on the face of the Bill is, in the main, unexceptional. Indeed, the environmental precepts are laudable. In the words of a letter from the Minister, the Bill will be a major step forward in the Government’s vision
“to build a sustainable fishing industry with healthy seas”.
We will be moving away from a common European fishing policy that has been vitiated by the competitive bidding among the European fishing nations for quotas that determine their allowable catches. The quotas have invariably exceeded the levels recommended by scientists; the common understanding is that they have been consistently breached and widely ignored. Even when the quotas have been observed, the practice of discarding fish that are undersized or in excess of species-specific limits has subverted policies aimed at conserving stocks.
The competitive animosity of the nations bidding for quotas has been fuelled by the grievances that the British brought to the negotiations. The British fishermen were still smarting from their exclusion from Icelandic waters when, on joining the EEC in 1973, free access to our surrounding waters was granted to the other European nations. The situation was worsened by the severe contemporaneous decline in fish stocks on account of the overfishing. Now, in the words of our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, Britain will “take back control” and have full jurisdiction over its “spectacular marine wealth”. He has asserted that:
“We will make sure we don’t trade away Britain’s fishing rights as they were traded away… in the early 1970s.”
The Prime Minister has given voice to a common sentiment that has been expressed enthusiastically by fishermen and their representatives. When it becomes independent of the European Union at the end of the transition period, Britain will be surrounded by an exclusive economic zone—an EEZ—over which it intends to assert its fishing rights. The zone will extend as far as 200 miles from our coastline, when it is not constrained by the proximity of an adjacent coastal nation. In that case, a median line will separate the British zone from that of the neighbouring nation.
The concept of an exclusive economic zone, which was established to protect the fishing rights of Iceland, now redounds to Britain’s advantage. It is enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Geography has endowed Britain with an exorbitantly large zone in comparison to the zones of other European fishing nations such as France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark, whose EEZs are limited by the median lines.
The outrage at Britain’s pre-emption of fishing areas to which other nations have traditionally had access is now palpable. It threatens to have a detrimental effect on the forthcoming trade negotiations. Already, the granting of a European passport to our financial services sector has become conditional upon our granting fishing rights to other European nations. However, any concessions to those nations are liable to enrage British fishermen, who are looking forward to greatly increased fishing quotas.
There is also a potential for conflict among the nations of Britain over the control of fishing rights. The Fisheries Bill declares that the management of fisheries is a matter that is devolved to the regions of the United Kingdom. Hitherto, a consistent UK-wide approach to fisheries has been maintained because all the fisheries administrations have been required to comply with European law, which has imposed the common fisheries policy. In consequence of our leaving the European Union, that constraint will no longer apply.
Clause 18 of the Fisheries Bill of Session 2017-19, which has become Clause 23 of the current Bill, gives the Secretary of State the power to determine the quantity of fish that may be caught by British boats. Although the Secretary of State must consult with the devolved Administrations in determining this quantity, the UK Government views the determination of fishing opportunities as a reserved function. However, both the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government have disagreed strongly with this. Given the spirit of disagreement and grievance against Westminster that prevails among Members of the Scottish Parliament, one can imagine that this will become a major point of contention. Scottish parliamentarians will be backed by a powerful fishermen’s lobby, which will point to the fact that over 60% of the UK catch is landed by the Scottish fishing fleet.
More must now be said about the attitudes of fishermen and their organisations. It is clear that the fishermen expect there to be large increases in the allowable catch. In a briefing from the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, we are told that it expects to see an immediate and significant uplift in the quantity of fish available to its fleets. It expects, moreover, that this will be followed by further year-on-year gains. Although the fishermen and their representatives tend nowadays to pay lip-service to the nostrums of conservation, their words and deeds show that in practice they are likely to resist any resulting restrictions on their activities. In particular, they bridle at the injunction that fishing opportunities should be limited by the maximum sustainable yield, the MSY, of fish stocks. The MSY is the maximum rate at which the fish can replace themselves under conditions of human predation or harvesting. If the harvest exceeds the MSY for any length of time then the fish will be destined for extinction.
The objective of fishing at the MSY was incorporated into the rules of the European common fisheries policy. However, certain exceptions have been allowed. One of the principal documents states that, if fishing at the MSY would imply very large annual reductions of fishing opportunities that seriously jeopardise the social and economic sustainability of the fleets involved, then a delay in reaching that objective would be acceptable. This is profoundly illogical. Any such allowance can have arisen only as a consequence of fraught negotiations. Fishing above the MSY will jeopardise the survival of the fish and of the industry. Attempting to fish at the MSY is also dangerous because of the likelihood of exceeding that level inadvertently.
Nevertheless, a recent briefing from the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations has militated against the imposition of any constraint based on the MSY. It seeks the allowances that are recorded by the European common fisheries policy. It is clear that, if they are to achieve some of the more reasonable objectives of the Fisheries Bill, the Government will have to stand firm against the onslaughts of numerous parties.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Viscount and to support the Bill, which enables the UK to be, in the Prime Minister’s words,
“an independent coastal state from the end of this year, controlling our own waters”.
While the Bill is not directly about the negotiations to come with the EU, it provides the legal framework for the future of fisheries management and is therefore inextricably linked.
I want to focus my remarks on the importance of the Bill to Scotland, which has already been mentioned on several occasions. After seeing their interests subordinated in the 1970s to other priorities in the UK’s negotiations to enter the Common Market, it is understandable that fishing communities are nervous of the same thing happening again as we exit. That is why the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations welcomed the Prime Minister’s speech on 3 February, in which he reiterated his commitment that:
“There would be annual negotiations with the EU, using the latest scientific data, ensuring British fishing grounds are first and foremost for British boats.”
This is a promise that must be kept—a promise that has particular significance for Scotland.
Scottish boats in 2018 were responsible for 64% by volume and 58% by value of all UK landings. While fishing makes a relatively small contribution to our overall GDP, it is disproportionately important for often fragile coastal communities. For example, fishing is a significant part of the local economies of the Western Isles and Shetland. According to the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, more fish are landed in Shetland alone than in the whole of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Also, Scottish towns such as Peterhead—which invested £45 million to create one of the largest and most modern fish markets in Europe—are heavily reliant on fishing.
Let us not forget the political significance of fishing for the union. A majority of Scots need convincing about the benefits of leaving the EU, and fishing is an area where the potential benefits are perhaps most immediately apparent and where the UK Government can demonstrate they are delivering for Scotland.
The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has described the move to independent coastal status as offering a “sea of opportunity”, and it is hard to disagree. As a member of the EU, the UK was allocated around 40% of total allowable catch in UK waters. For the purposes of comparison, the equivalent figure for Norway is around 85% and for Iceland 95%. Moreover, EU quotas are based on historical fishing patterns established nearly 30 years ago. They take no account, for example, of the impact of climate change, which has seen stocks of fish such as cod, hake and tuna moving further north.
It is sobering to consider the combined impact of the CFP on a place such as the Western Isles since the UK joined the EU: the number of vessels has reduced by one-fifth; the number of fishermen has fallen by nearly one-third. So, Western Isles fishermen are already looking to secure fresh opportunities. To take one small example, seasonal bluefin tuna are found increasingly in UK waters—and it is a valuable fish. So, the Western Isles see an opportunity to develop its own rod and line fishery, strengthening its tourist offering and increasing local economic resilience.
Currently there is no UK quota for tuna and the UK, as an EU member, has not had its own seat at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. The prize in prospect is clear: to increase the quota opportunities and to ensure that they are spread more widely and fairly, playing a part in coastal community regeneration. I hope the licensing regime encourages new entrants and avoids additional fishing opportunities becoming overly concentrated in a few hands. I hope the Minister will address this issue when he winds up.
It is of course self-defeating to create new fishing opportunities for British boats without access to markets. The EU proposes that provisions for fisheries should
“build on existing reciprocal access conditions, quota shares and the traditional activity of the European Union fleet.”
However, access to waters is not the same as access to markets. The UK is party to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and, according to the excellent House of Lords briefing:
“Coastal states have exclusive rights to the natural resources, including fish, in their exclusive economic zone.”
The UK should therefore have the opportunity to negotiate annually reciprocal water access with Norway, the Faroe Islands, the EU and others. After all, this is how Norway, a member of the European Economic Area, negotiates with the EU and how the EU negotiates with every other third country. We should move on from quotas based on historical patterns to zonal attachment, calculating shares using best science of where fish are today, not where they were 30 to 40 years ago.
None of this means that EU vessels should or will be denied access to our waters, but relative opportunities need to be more balanced and managed over time—not least to allow the EU fleet a period of adjustment to avoid dislocation and to give our fishing industry time to expand its onshore infrastructure to cope with new opportunities.
When it comes to market access, trade in fishing products is not a zero-sum game. The EU exports as much fish to the UK as it imports from the UK: over £1 billion of trade in each direction. It must surely be in the interests of both parties to avoid restrictions on trade or the introduction of tariffs.
My final point concerns devolution, which is an important aspect of the Bill. Our withdrawal from the EU has often strained relations between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. However, the discussions among the Administrations about fishing are an example of best practice. As the Law Society of Scotland’s Bill briefing says:
“We welcome the recognition given by Defra of the importance of engaging with the devolved administrations and legislatures and the collaborative approach taken by the Bill.”
This is reflected in the arrangements in the Bill for a joint fisheries statement and for individual fisheries management plans. The provisions in Clauses 14 and 16 that require UK Ministers to secure the consent of devolved Ministers in exercising their licence regulation-making powers are also examples of a collaborative approach.
Clause 23, which has been mentioned, gives the Secretary of State a power to set
“the maximum quantity of sea fish that may be caught by British fishing boats”
“the maximum number of days that British fishing boats may spend at sea.”
When making a determination under Clause 23, the Secretary of State is under an obligation via Clause 24 to consult the devolved Administrations, but their consent is not required. This seems to strike the right balance. International relations are a reserved matter and the UK has responsibility to establish quotas for the purpose of complying with an international obligation of the UK to determine fishing opportunities. How quota is then allocated within the UK is governed by a well-established concordat agreed in 2012 between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. This appears to work well.
In conclusion, I welcome the Bill. It paves the way for new economic opportunities. It will improve fisheries management, making it more sustainable and environmentally friendly. In the negotiations to come, the UK Government must stand firm and the United Kingdom’s status as a normal independent coastal state should be non-negotiable.
My Lords, as the Minister so clearly set out in his introduction, sustainability is at the heart of this Bill. The Defra briefing Sustainable Fisheries for Future Generations tells us:
“Underpinning everything will be our commitment to sustainability—supporting future generations of fishermen and allowing our marine environment to thrive.”
Clause 1 of the Bill, as we have heard, sets out the fisheries objectives, the first of which is sustainability. If this is what the Bill really delivers, in a world where scientists estimate that in the order of two-thirds of the world’s fish stocks are overfished and in which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, mentioned, only 59% of UK stocks were fished at or below sustainable levels last year, who could object? However, I will argue that the Bill may not be all it seems.
When you look at the Bill in more detail, you begin to question whether or not it will deliver on this sustainability promise—but first I must digress. “Sustainability” is, unfortunately, one of those words used by too many people to mean too many different things and therefore runs the danger of becoming almost meaningless, unless we define our terms. It was not always like this. The term was coined with a very specific purpose by the German forester and land- owner Hans Carl von Carlowitz, whose treatise on Nachhaltigkeit, the German word for sustainability, appeared a year or so before his death in 1714. Von Carlowitz was concerned about the rapid deforestation of western Europe to provide wood for buildings, ships and fuel. He set out the principles by which forests should be managed for their long-term viability for future generations. Nowadays, however, the term is used for a much wider range of objectives. For example, the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals, descended from the 1987 Brundtland report, range from ending poverty and hunger to securing economic growth, justice and gender equality.
So, what does the Bill mean when it talks about sustainability? Does it really mean securing the long-term health of fish stocks and marine ecosystems or does it mean something vaguer and more general? I am sorry to say that, as it stands, the Bill does not guarantee the long-term health of either our fish stocks or our marine environment. Why do I say this? The clue, as has been said, lies in Clause 1(1). This clause lists eight objectives of the Bill, but contains a fundamental category error by listing sustainability as merely one of the eight. If the Government really meant sustainability in the von Carlowitz sense, there would be just one objective: sustainability; the other seven would be subordinate to this as a means of achieving sustainability.
Noble Lords may think that I am making a rather technical—even academic, as suits my background—and abstruse point. However, when we move to Clause 1(2), the alarm bells start to ring loud and clear. This is where the Bill declares its hand. I refer to a point touched on by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, my noble friend Lord Hannay and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell. In this clause, the sustainability objective is defined not merely as ensuring that fish stocks are sustainable in the long term, but also as ensuring economic, social and employment benefits.
This is precisely why, under the common fisheries policy, so many stocks have been overexploited. The argument for going beyond the scientifically recommended quotas is that, by adhering to these quotas, the livelihoods of fishermen and communities are put at risk. In other words, in the trade-off between the different elements of sustainability, short-term gain has taken precedence over longer-term pain. By fishing more now, fishermen have good livelihoods today, but their descendants will not have this tomorrow. I therefore ask the Minister, in his reply, to explain to us how the trade-off between these elements of sustainability in the Bill will be calculated, and to assure us that short-term interests will not be placed ahead of the longer-term objective of ensuring that fish stocks are there for future generations. In short, can the Minister commit to a legally binding obligation not to exceed the scientifically recommended levels of quota?
However, the problems do not end there; the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, has already referred to this. The fisheries management plans covered in Clauses 7 to 11 of the Bill are designed, as Defra’s briefing on the Bill says, to
“achieve maximum sustainable yield for all stocks.”
One of the standard textbooks of ecology that I have used for teaching undergraduates at Oxford says that
“a fixed quota strategy at the MSY level might be desirable and reasonable in a wholly predictable world about which we have perfect knowledge. But in the real world of fluctuating environments and imperfect data sets, these fixed quotas are open invitations to disaster.”
The Peruvian anchovy stock was the world’s largest single fishery from 1960 to 1972; it was managed by MSY quotas and collapsed in 1972, taking 20 years to recover. Does the Minister have a view on whether MSY is indeed the measure through which to manage quota? There are alternatives that are well known in the fisheries science literature.
I wish to raise a couple of final points, one of which has already been mentioned—namely, the importance of data. The only way to get real data on what is being taken out of the sea, as other noble Lords have said, is to have remote electronic monitoring or CCTV cameras on board all fishing vessels. Why is that not part of the deal?
My very final point is something that has not been mentioned before: fishing vessels are continually increasing in efficiency. One estimate in the literature is that the introduction of GPS and sonar on fishing vessels has resulted in an increase in efficiency—catch per unit effort—of between 300% and 400% in recent decades. It seems an ineluctable consequence that, if we are to fish at sustainable levels, the fishing industry will in the future have to shrink. There will have to be fewer fishermen, each operating a more efficient vessel. Do the Government acknowledge that one element of sustainability in the future will be a smaller fishing industry?
My Lords, I do not want to embarrass the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, but I thought that was an excellent speech. It reminded me of an important point about the drafting of legislation. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, may recall, when one asks any administration to adhere to a series of duties or objectives, the more one adds in, the greater is the difficulty in the administration thereof. And, indeed, the Bill before us is different from the Bill as introduced in the other place, and has further objectives. Until the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, drew our attention to it, I had not noticed that even the sustainability objective has more than one objective within it. There is a heaping up of objectives, which is why either we would have to put into the Bill some kind of hierarchy of objectives—as noble Lords will recall, that has been done in relation to other regulators—or the Government and the fisheries administrations would have to proceed to a joint fisheries statement that provided clarity to all concerned about their balancing of the several objectives at an early stage. The noble Lord helped us greatly by what he said about that.
I share with the noble Earl, Lord Devon, the fact that I am no fisheries expert, but I do have to declare an interest: my wife’s company in Brussels is a partner to an agency that has UK Fisheries as one of its clients. I would not want anyone not to recognise that I have that interest to declare—although I have received no briefing particular to me in that respect, and what I say is not derived from that.
I share with many of my noble friends a feeling, expressed admirably by my noble friend Lord Dunlop, that expectations about our establishment as an independent coastal state from the beginning of next year are, justifiably, high. They ought to be high. If leaving the European Union is intended to deliver significant economic benefits to the United Kingdom, they should be visible—hopefully, dramatically visible—in relation to the fishing sector, perhaps before any other.
How is that to be achieved? I shall focus on two points. One is about how the Bill takes account of the interests of the fishing industry and secures them. The second comes back to what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, referred to earlier—something in which I am interested by virtue of our previous discussions on the Trade Bill and other legislation—and that is the question: how shall we here go about scrutinising and contributing to the exercise by the Government of their prerogative powers to make treaties?
On the first point, it is not clear how the Government will consult, beyond consulting the other fisheries administrations. Devolution is a central factor here, but all those administrations must understand how to balance a range of interests. We need to see in the Bill how those interests can be taken on board. For example, what Schedule 1 says about consultation on joint fisheries statements is, essentially, that the Government can consult pretty much anybody they regard as an interested person simply by publishing the document to the general public. Nothing more is required. In our discussions on the Bill, we must require more. We must require the Government to take specific account not only of the scientific evidence but of the views of those who can bring that evidence to bear. They should also take on board the views of the various fishing sectors—not only those of people who, rightly, expect more quota and a greater share of the allocation of catch in coastal zones and in our own territorial waters, but also the interests of the distant waters fleet. Last year, I had the privilege of being on the “Kirkella”, a trawler out of Hull, with two crews overwhelmingly based in Hull and Humberside, that sails great distances. As the Minister rightly said, the resilience of the fishing fleet is much to be admired. They travel a great distance to bring back fish—in their case, generally cod—for us to consume here. Their interests, as well as those of the coastal fishers, must be taken into account.
That brings me to my second point, about treaties and agreements. We are proceeding on the basis that, in an ideal world, in July we will arrive at a fisheries agreement that will, presumably, give us a greater share of the catch and quotas in UK territorial waters, our exclusive economic zone, and the European Union will just say, “Fair enough—that’s not how it’s been in the past, but clearly that’s how it’s going to be in the future, and we’ll leave it at that”. However, there is no evidence that the EU will leave it at that. My noble friend quoted the draft negotiating mandate presented by the European Commission, which, I remind noble Lords, proposed that fisheries should
“build on existing reciprocal access conditions, quota shares and the traditional activity of the Union fleet”.
The Commission has moved from that draft in the past few days and, significantly, replaced the words “build on” with the word “uphold”. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, will know more about that than I do, but it is a hardening of the Commission’s position, not a softening.
We are trying to separate market access from access to waters. They are different things. In an ideal world, access to waters would be subject to one agreement and market access would be as liberalised as we could possibly make it, with zero tariffs and zero quotas. That, doubtless, is our ambition. But let us imagine that we were in a bilateral agreement—with Norway, for example—whereby the Norwegians had access to our markets but we did not have access to their waters. Would we say, “Fair enough—those are entirely separate things and we won’t regard them as even remotely interconnected”? But they are interconnected, and they will be interconnected in the minds of European Union negotiators. It would be unrealistic for us to imagine otherwise.
In terms of treaties, Clauses 23 to 25 are pretty critical. There is a legal structure governing everything else, which is terrifically important, but it could all be overruled by the nature of the agreements that the Government enter into with the European Union, and other bilateral agreements. Clearly, we shall not issue a negotiating mandate for the negotiations, and I do not seek one. None the less, we have a legitimate expectation that those treaty negotiations with the EU, and bilaterally with other coastal states, will be based on a joint fisheries statement that we have examined and considered, and that the Government will give Parliament, along with other interests, a substantial opportunity to comment on the Government’s understanding of what their objectives should be—in the same way as I hope we shall, in due course, be able to do in relation to other treaty negotiations. The Government should at least tell us what their objectives are, so that we can contribute, and hope to hold them to account for their achievement, or otherwise, of those objectives.
That said, expectations are high. The Government have brought forward a Bill that, as I think the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, said, looks pretty good on the face of it; when I went through it, much of the structure seemed entirely logical. It is just that, when it comes to the actual substance beyond the structure, we need to put much more into it to make it work.
My Lords, I join the Minister and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay in paying tribute to our fishermen, who carry out an amazing job in extraordinary weather. Those who have been tossed around in a force 8 gale and run for shelter when the fishermen are working hard in that same gale know the sort of conditions that they have to work in. Safety at sea has of course considerably improved, and I am delighted by that. When I was Fisheries Minister, I was very involved with safety because of some very sad accidents. I particularly remember Albert McQuarrie bringing in the Safety at Sea Act, which all the fishermen wanted except when it came to actually implementing it on their boats and it took up space. The reward that my friend Albert McQuarrie got for all his hard work was that he lost his seat at the next election.
This is undoubtedly a hugely critical area for relationships between the UK and the EU, and for the Government. As my noble friend Lord Lansley has just said, we start from totally different poles. The Government quite rightly, as our own state, want to go in one direction, but the EU will resist tooth and nail moving away from any benefit that the common fisheries policy has. We were misled to some extent when we joined the EEC; the rules regarding fisheries were changed before we joined. That is the lesson for how careful we are going to have to be in our negotiations with the EU. However, there are opportunities, as my noble friend Lord Dunlop said. He mentioned the Western Isles, and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay mentioned Kinlochbervie and Lochinver. I will of course mention Thurso as being a critical landing port, and a critical point from which the EU gets a lot of its fish. There is a stream of traffic and, when you know that that stream of traffic is going to come, you get ahead of it on the A9 coming south; otherwise, you are going to get stuck behind it all the way to Inverness before you have a chance of overtaking the fish lorries.
Enforcement is critical for the Bill. I join the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in asking the Minister to be a bit more forthcoming about what the UK fishery administrations are planning for in the way of enforcement at sea. We are going to have a new line between us and the EU. If the EU is aggrieved by the deal that will be done with it later this year, a lot of those boats are going to test our resolve and our enforcement at sea to the highest level that they can. If my noble friend could be more forthcoming, that would be helpful.
On the proposed fisheries agreement with the EU, I agree with my noble friend Lord Lansley that this is something that Parliament ought to look at. It intersects with the Bill in a number of areas. He mentioned Clause 23, but I am also thinking of Clauses 7 and 12. In a number of areas, what is going to be agreed in July and in the trade deals cuts right across the Bill and could undermine a huge amount of what it is trying to do. I am not trying to tell the Minister how to negotiate or what his negotiating brief should be, but when we get to a certain point before this becomes a statutory instrument, Parliament really ought to be in a position to debate it and look at its relevance to the Bill.
Talking of enforcement, I would also like more information about how we are going to monitor by-catch. I listened with interest to the debate that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, had the other day, and what I did not listen to I read. Clearly, this is another area where we need much more information in order to be accurate on the data. As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has just said, it is about getting that data. And it is not just about our data; it is about making sure that the EU is doing the same thing. We find far too often that people are working on different bases and do not have the right scientific information.
I turn to the devolved Administrations. I am delighted by the close working relationship that seems to have been developed on fisheries, but there are a couple of aspects that worry me. Under Clause 17, Scotland is able to license a foreign boat, but Clause 17(2)(a) says that boat is not allowed to fish in waters outside Scotland. What happens if the Scottish authority licences a foreign boat and it strays into English waters? Whose responsibility is that? Would it not be better for all the fishing authorities to work together on licences so that there is a common pool of the foreign boats that are licensed as well as the UK boats?
On Clause 33, I am concerned that the power for devolved authorities to help fisheries might lead to an intra-UK state war. I hope this can be avoided, and I hope that by working with the devolved authorities we will all do roughly the same thing, but it would be sad if one devolved Administration used state aid in a way that was detrimental to the rest of the UK. Given the problems that we could have among the devolved Administrations, and between the devolved Administrations and the fishermen who will be seeking to get the maximum catch that they can, is there not an argument that there ought to be some sort of mediation or arbitration service to help in that respect?
I end on a point that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, mentioned. He called them “historic rights” and I remember that, when I was Minister for fishing, we called them “grandfather rights”, but either way they are long-established rights. I am thinking particularly of the fishing boats designation orders in 1965 for France, Belgium and Ireland, which give certain boats from those countries the right to fish in our waters, particularly when they are going to the Isle of Man’s territorial waters, where they have a separate arrangement. I do not think that in the Bill those rights have been extinguished. Could the Minister confirm whether those grandfather rights have been extinguished? What discussions has he had with the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands to make certain that no grandfather rights will continue forward under the present legislation? While we are on grandfather rights, can the Minister be absolutely certain that he is not inadvertently creating new grandfather rights should there be a break-up of the United Kingdom—which I certainly would not like to see—that would cause us problems in future?
The Bill is absolutely going in the right direction and my noble friend has my support, but I hope he will be able to fill in some of the details of the picture that badly need to be painted.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. I know that he cares very deeply about the natural world.
I would like to put the Bill in a political context. We have to remember that “taking back control of our fisheries” was one of the rallying cries of the Brexit campaign. The promise that by leaving the European Union we would develop more sustainable food, fishing and farming systems was what convinced many people like me that Brexit would open up a brighter, greener future. The Conservatives recognised this in their manifesto, which made big promises on the environment and getting Brexit done. The challenge is now to meet those promises in the legislation before your Lordships’ House.
We Brits have a natural affinity with the seas around us and the creatures that inhabit them. Many people are shocked to learn of the impacts that the industrialised fishing industry has had: destroying marine ecosystems, depleting fishing stocks and killing some of the sweetest and most intelligent life forms on the planet. In UK waters thousands of marine animals, including harbour porpoises, dolphins, whales, seals and seabirds, die every year as a result of incidental capture and drowning in fishing gear. Recent estimates of the annual UK fisheries death toll include over 1,500 dolphins and porpoises, 400 to 600 seals, and a concerning and increasing level of entanglements of humpback and minke whales. These problems can be solved in this Bill, but at the moment the words do not match the ambition in the Conservative Party manifesto.
I do not want to pick a fight across the Chamber—although I probably will—particularly with such charming Peers as the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, but there is, for example, no UK quota on bluefin tuna, because it is a threatened species and we are waiting for stocks to recover from past overfishing. Illegal fishing of bluefin tuna is quite a problem: there is a lack of enforcement, and that is something we have seen in the Bill.
“Uncompetitive?” Well, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said, perhaps we need a smaller fishing industry. We cannot exploit the seas for short-term gain if that means a poorer quality of life in future for more than just fish. I note that the mottos of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, are, “What is true is safe”—to which I subscribe completely—and “Where I have fallen, what have I done?”, which I am afraid I will have to have explained to me.
Proper monitoring and enforcement of the fishing industry are necessary and should begin with modern electronic systems such as CCTV cameras on fishing vessels and sea-to-plate traceability. That would help people who eat fish products to be confident about conditions and the minimisation of environmental impact. Retailers, too, could be sure that no dolphins were harmed in their products.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, mentioned, the Bill falls short of the commitment to fish sustainably. There is no legal commitment in it. The sum of the parts of the Bill do not amount to a legal commitment of any kind. Many of the ingredients are present, but the Bill reads as though someone started with a lot of ambition and promise and then someone else went through it with a red pen, which sadly has enfeebled it.
I offer to work with noble Lords across the House, including the Minister, to turn the wishy-washy parts of the Bill into something strong, with legal mechanisms, to make good on those promises on Brexit and in the Conservative manifesto. If, however, the Government resist important amendments, your Lordships’ House might be well justified in insisting that the amendments are written into the Bill. A legal commitment to fish sustainably is now, unquestionably, the will of the people.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, particularly when she is encouraging the Government to carry out their manifesto. I welcome the chance to examine this legislation so early in the parliamentary Session, as it will be a prime illustration of the Government’s approach to relationships with the devolved Administrations. Many of the powers that will now come back to the UK involve devolution.
On the repatriation of fishing, in October 2017 the Joint Ministerial Council reached an agreement that there would be a need for a legislative framework for regulation as we leave the EU’s common fisheries policy. Here we begin to see what that would mean. Can the Minister say when the final meeting of the Joint Ministerial Council that addressed the Bill took place, and how much agreement was achieved?
The tone of the Bill strikes me as incredibly optimistic in comparison with the norms of most of our legislation, but perhaps it is impossible for it to work otherwise. Many clauses call for consultation, and there is to be an appeal or dispute resolution process for the charges on discards—but, interestingly, not on the allocation of licences or on many other issues. As my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay emphasised, the presumption has to be that everyone will remain co-operative and ready to agree. If, however, they do not, we are in unknown territory.
From briefings that we have received from the industry, it appears that the new mechanism for regulating catches is much more acceptable than the old common fisheries policy concept of “relative stability”. This is a hopeful sign. However, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, pointed out where the criteria that we are adopting fall short of what might be required for true sustainability.
The fact that in Clause 1(6) there is to be a requirement to record all catches, including bycatch, should—as was mentioned by my noble friend Lady Byford—give a far more comprehensive and acceptable record on which to base policies. Furthermore, it is supported by fishermen. I believe that we all recognise that in the fishing industry, when an edict comes down from on high—as currently happens—it is usually not something with which fishermen will meekly comply. The challenge for the new policy is whether it will trigger a change in the culture of some of the more belligerent elements in the industry, and whether there will be a sufficient number of responsible fishermen to set a new tone that will encourage others to comply.
My noble friend Lord Selkirk of Douglas reconfirmed the general idea proposed in regulation to reflect the pattern that has been developed in the Norwegian fishery over the last 20 years, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, mentioned that we should look for an improvement in what has been developed there. However, until we have a little more detail on implementation and monitoring, it is hard for us here to know how successful it will be in protecting vulnerable species.
One area where devolved rights seem to be a very contentious issue is quotas. A number of noble Lords who have spoken find, as I do, that the different elements in the Bill paint a very confusing picture. In Clause 2, the Bill very properly says that all must agree on policy in a joint fisheries statement. However, when we get to Clause 23 we see that it will be up to the Secretary of State to set out the quantity of fish that may be taken or the number of days that boats can be at sea. Having spent many days—like many earlier speakers—in your Lordships’ Energy and Environment Committee debating the uptake of the EU’s new discard policy, it would be interesting for me to get some indication from the Minister about what criteria the Government are thinking of using in this judgment.
In Clause 25 it is the national fisheries authorities who appear to be responsible for distributing fishing opportunities to fishing boats. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Dunlop for explaining what will govern the distribution of quotas among the four Administrations. Does the Minister not think that it would be helpful for some reference to this mechanism to be mentioned in the Bill? Otherwise, we are left with very little indication.
How different national fisheries authorities should conduct their own distribution is, quite appropriately, not addressed in the Bill, but an exception is made when it states that the Secretary of State should have power of regulation over any sale of English catch quota. Can my noble friend the Minister indicate whether in England, or even in other authorities, sales to foreign vessels will be in the hands of the fisheries authorities, or will it be merely an opportunity for individual fishermen to dispose of the catch as they wish?
It is welcome that one of the objectives of the Bill is to bring social and economic benefits to any part of the United Kingdom, but I think we can all agree that the real issue for our fishermen will be the deals that the Government make to secure a reasonable level of income for their industry.
My Lords, I note my maritime interests recorded in the register, particularly as a council member of Maritime UK, which brings together the UK’s major maritime trade associations, and as a trustee of Seafarers UK, the leading national maritime charity. Both organisations are concerned for the economic and social welfare of the UK’s coastal communities, not least fishing communities.
I shall not rehearse again the numerous positive features of the Bill, which your Lordships have heard about already, other than to say that I support it. It is an enabling Bill, and I am sure that many in the House will look forward to working with the Minister to achieve its desirable goals and others that have been suggested.
The Bill and what will follow offer a unique opportunity to address the severe challenges facing the under 10 metre fleet. This once-vibrant sector of our fleet used to supply fresh fish, employment—often in areas where few, if any, alternatives were present—and a sense of worth. There is a historical disparity in allocation of quota, in the form of fixed-quota allocations, which has seriously disadvantaged the smaller sector, which, despite making up 80% of the UK fleet by number, has access to less than 2% of our national allocation. I welcome the aims of Clause 25, which seeks to utilise social, economic and environmental criteria when allocating quota rather than continue to rely only on the highly controversial historical rights as a basis for allocation. I agree with the Fisheries Minister, George Eustice, who made clear in evidence to a parliamentary committee recently:
“As we depart from relative stability and have new fishing opportunities coming in, I do not think it makes any sense at all to compound the injustice of the FQA system.”
If I might make one suggestion to the Minister, an easy win for the under 10 metre sector would be for him to intercede to ensure that delays in granting the Coastal Producer Organisation the same rights and privileges as other producer organisations in the country are dealt with by the Marine Management Organisation. The under 10 metre fleet could then benefit from tailored quota management in the same way as the over 10 metre fleet currently enjoys. This could be profoundly beneficial to the fortunes of the small-boat sector.
Staying with quotas, it is clear that, in real terms, its effective privatisation has led to increased consolidation to the detriment of the small-scale fleet, which simply does not have the resources to compete with far better-resourced corporate bodies. There are some alarming figures out there: a recent investigation found that the five largest quota-holders control more than a third of UK fishing quota. Around half of England’s quota is ultimately owned by Dutch, Icelandic or Spanish interests. I have found, as I am sure have others, that the deeper one goes into this, the more complex the whole subject is.
On the basis of the above, I am concerned to see that Clause 27 promotes an annual auction of fishing rights. If the Government are looking at this approach as a method of generating revenue, surely a more equitable method would be simply to increase the levy currently attributed to the Sea Fish Industry Authority rather than effectively sell off a chunk of quota annually to the detriment of the great majority of the fleet, not least those who do not have the financial reserves to enter into an auction race and those new entrants where it has been recognised that a major impediment to their ability to enter the catching sector is the cost of quota. Such an auction would without doubt serve only to benefit already wealthy operators at the expense of other fishermen. and would ostensibly be open to resale or lease under the proposed rules, further underpinning the current imbalance in allocations.
In addition, Clause 27(3)(n) states that the regulations may include provision for
“the payment of compensation to a person who holds but does not use rights sold in accordance with the regulations.”
In much the same way as UK fishermen are regularly disenfranchised by the quota held by slipper skippers—those who have been awarded quota but lease it out rather than fish themselves—and quota traders, anyone other than genuinely working fishermen holding quota should arguably do so only on a “use it or lose it” basis.
On access to our waters by EU fishing vessels from January 2021, it is of paramount importance to the fishing community that, whatever arrangements the Government finally come to with the EU, the absolute red line for the UK’s inshore fleet is that the 12-mile fisheries limit is made sacrosanct. This move, together with the increasingly urgent need to develop, in the words of Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, world-leading fisheries management linked to a fairer and more equitable allocation of quota, would do much to begin to rejuvenate many of our coastal communities and the small-scale fishermen and women who support them.
The Bill and the welcome accompanying debate around the UK fishing industry afford a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for government and society to address some of the challenges that I and other noble Lords have noted. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, noted the dangers of this calling. In the past 10 years, 94 fishermen have died off the UK, 529 have suffered serious injury and 210 fishing vessels have been lost.
As noted by the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester and Lord Lansley, we must not overlook the importance and value of our distant-waters fishermen who fish the north Atlantic waters of the Barents Sea, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. In the context of the negotiations with the EU, it is vital that the UK retains access to these waters. At the same time, these countries will want continued access to the UK market for their fish exports. But as far as I can see, their interests are not addressed in the Bill. This may be appropriate, as the Bill seeks to address the opportunities of an independent state. Can the Minister say that their interests—essentially, continued access to the waters of Arctic Norway, Greenland and the Faroe Islands—will be assured? Their major concerns can be summarised as follows: a statutory requirement to consult industry, including the distant fishing fleet, in agreeing fisheries statements or in respect of bilateral or multilateral fisheries agreements; including in the Bill reference to the objectives and processes for UK participation in the future management of fisheries in the so-called northern external waters, and ensuring that the competent authority secures continued UK access to fisheries in respect of those non-EU coastal states with which the UK enters bilateral trade agreements.
I draw the attention of the Minister and the House to a forthcoming report from Liverpool John Moores University to be published by Seafarers UK. This follows the study, Fishing for a Future, which Seafarers published in 2018. That wide-ranging study covered multiple aspects of the industry and helped raise awareness of the safety, welfare and social issues affecting many of the UK’s small-scale coastal fishers and their communities among government and other policymakers. I commend the report, the final draft of which I hope I have seen.
Since I have the attention of a well-informed and very engaged Minister, I want to conclude with mention of some of the study’s recommendations. On the need for access to affordable credit, a proposal is made for a national credit union offer. A second proposal is for financial education for those employed in the “share fish” community; here, as with those employed in the gig economy, government clearly has a key role. Regarding PAYE, tax and national insurance, we recommend that charities, third-sector organisations and government departments initiate interventions to support fishermen where support and guidance with form-filling, assessments et cetera is required. To modernise share fishing, it is recommended that the larger-scale fleet more widely introduce employment status in its sector and that, within the smaller-scale fleet, a debate is had on the value of moving from a share fishing model to one based on co-operative principles. Finally, a national plan for the development and sustainability of small-scale fishing is proposed. This would need specific action to support the financial resilience and business success of small-scale coastal fishers.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak in this debate and to follow so many learned noble Lords and the excellent points they have made in relation to this Bill. I agree with many who have said that this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to introduce new framework legislation to address the management of our fisheries.
Fisheries management is the ultimate tragedy of the commons. We have a collective resource, yet it is in everyone’s individual interests to exploit it to maximum economic yield in the short term to the detriment of the long term; a number of noble Lords have pointed out that this is true fisheries. Add to that that in the marine environment it is almost impossible to carry out effective MRV—monitoring, reporting and verification —and you get a really wicked problem. Therefore, the chance in the UK to write new framework legislation is hugely exciting. In the tragedy of the commons, the normal way to try and resolve the issue might be to form multilateral approaches. We are here doing the opposite; we are going to use unilateral policy, and there are challenges in that.
Of course, we have talked about the negotiations that we had with the European Union, but the best way we can go forward, I think, is to take more time to create exemplary policy in this area. If we are to be unilateral about it, let us write gold-standard, world-class legislation and hope that that then promulgates itself into other parts of the world where it is much needed, and that includes within the European Union because—let us be honest—the CFP is failing, for two important reasons. The first is that maximum scientific yield is disregarded. The scientists spend lots of time poring over data and trying to estimate in this horribly changing world what a safe yield might be for fisheries stocks. Then a political horse trading takes place on top of that, in which case the maximum scientific yield values are then disregarded and a new maximum quota is set which takes into account socioeconomic factors—meaning jobs in the near term in countries, places and regions of countries where politicians care about the jobs. We already see that the CFP is failing on that basic test of whether it can successfully manage the tragedy of the commons. It has resulted in overfishing. In the UK now, 40% of our stocks are deemed to be overfished. That is up from 30% just a year ago, so something clearly is not working; and this is after successive rounds of reform of the CFP. We have a chance now to get it right. Another fundamental failure, apart from the MSY-plus-plus model that was adopted, is the relative stability, the model by which we grant access to quota. That has been done on the basis of a historic catch, which now no longer has any bearing on the modern fishing fleet or indeed the actual availability of fish in our waters, so being able to move away from that and to develop a much better system is a real prize.
EO Wilson, a famous conservationist, once said that the problem with humanity is that we have Palaeolithic brains, medieval institutions and godlike technology; I think this definitely applies in the fishing sector. The godlike technology, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and others have mentioned, has basically made us capable of extracting resource from the marine environment in ever more efficient ways. We are literally hoovering masses and tons of biomass out of our oceans and into commodity supply chains. The bucolic vision of a small fishing fleet leaving a harbour, getting a lovely fresh catch and bringing it back to shore, which we all then enjoy and eat, is not the reality of the industry today. It is hugely industrialised, hugely concentrated in its power and hugely influential in its lobbying. There is a tragedy of the incumbents that is writ throughout the sector, and they will put pressure on all the people involved in this new system to ask for a greater quota and more access to immediate cash in the short term. I am sure that in those negotiations the €500 million being taken by overseas vessels out of UK waters will be front and centre in their minds about how this should be managed.
As a society, we must really think about what we are doing in granting a quota. We are giving a right to a common asset that belongs not just to us but to future generations. There is an intrinsic value in what we are doing. We are taking something of great worth and giving it to the private sector to exploit. We should ask for far higher standards in that transaction. Think about what we are asking now in the common agricultural policy—there is another Bill in another place going through the same process, trying to reinvent a framework piece of legislation that can show the world how we do this sustainable management of our commons correctly. There, we will establish a principle that no public money should be spent without public good coming back in return. By granting quota and giving grants—I note that the Bill enables the continuation of grants—we have to apply strict criteria that this public money is being spent for the public good. I see no reason why we should not treat the fishing industry the same way as we treat the agriculture industry, in moving us forward into a much more sustainable management system.
The other thing, which many noble Lords have mentioned, is the use of MRV in technology. The godlike technology cuts both ways. It obviously enables us to catch and find fish far more effectively, but it also enables us to keep an eye on what we are doing in this tragedy of the commons. There has to be much more in this Bill that signals to the fleet that we will use MRV to oversee this management process, to ensure that we see fish come back into our oceans and a return to the time when our oceans were abundant with life. That is what we need to get back to, both for the short term and for the longer term. How will we use MRV to ensure not just that we are policing what is happening in our waters but, if we sell off quota to overseas fisheries, that we know what they have caught if it is not landed in the UK? What will be the reciprocal reporting arrangements so that we can make sure that our quota is genuinely sustainable and not continuing this pattern of business-as-usual overfishing and all the problems that brings?
Finally, another thing that we ought to think about strongly is the fact that our oceans, in terms of climate change, are a natural sink of carbon. They can help us in meeting our carbon budgets in the sense that they store carbon and lock up carbon in our waters. I might table a probing set of amendments in relation to this Bill, but I see no reason why we cannot think now about some of the methodologies we could introduce that would encourage fishermen, the fishers and stewards of our coastal communities, to be rewarded for doing the right thing in terms of climate change. That might mean a return to much more coastal fisheries, a low-impact aquaculture—returning to bivalves as a key source of protein, which locks up carbon; seagrass plantations; and the preservation of seaweed beds. We must think carefully about the effect of bottom trawling on our deep sink of carbon on the floor of the oceans. It is a much less studied issue, but our seas store more carbon than the rainforests, and by allowing fishing to carry on unrestrained we are losing carbon sinks and adding to a possibly unmonitored and unreported source of climate damage. This sector has huge potential to help us in both restoring carbon and drawing it down, while providing good, fresh protein sources for our people. Locally caught fish are some of the best forms of protein that we could possibly imagine. They have a very low carbon footprint, and we are much better eating local fish than importing meat from overseas.
We have a possibility here of bringing life back to our oceans, stimulating our local communities, helping with climate change and stopping the fishing industry from making it any worse. That can all be achieved with the right framework legislation. I have been involved in another form of framework legislation on climate change, from which I learned that to make a Bill successful and to make the legislation truly framework, you need clear targets in legislation, a clear timetable that holds the Government to account, and independent advice. This Bill does not contain any of those things, I am afraid, so it misses that important opportunity to learn from what we know has worked in other sectors. This Bill is that famous empty picture frame. We need to fill it with a wonderful picture and a vision that will bring money and life back to our oceans and will help show that there is some benefit to us becoming unilateral, in a time in the world when I think we need much more multilateralism. But that is another discussion.
My Lords, we are at a historic moment where the UK is in transit to leaving the European Union, and we need to negotiate new arrangements in that process. We are leaving the common fisheries policy and there will be major changes, with, I hope, not unexpectedly high expectations, as other noble Lords have referred to. This is a framework Bill, and much of the detail, by necessity, will be set out in subsequent regulations.
It is generally understood that fish stocks are a shared resource. After all, they do not swim around with union jacks on their fins. An extra complicating factor is the warming of the waters, and the fact that fish stocks are moving further north out of UK waters.
The Bill is based on the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone agreed under UNCLOS—the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea—which allows us to exploit resources from the water and the seabed. The 200 nautical mile limit is modified by median lines drawn between inhabited areas, occupied islands and mainlands. For the UK, the median lines define the limits in all areas to the south, which is France; to the east, the North Sea countries; and to the north, Norway to the north-east and the Faroes to the north-west. Yet in fact in only two places do we reach 200 nautical miles.
I was very taken by the accounts of the court cases shared with us by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. I do not know if he remembers one in 1983, with the arrest of the Danish skipper and Member of the European Parliament, Kent Kirk, who was fishing in the 12-mile limit and was eventually referred, after his arrest in South Shields, to the European Court of Justice.
My interest in fisheries derives from my student days learning the international law of the sea from the legendary Pat Birnie, who was also the legal adviser to the Government at the time, from my time in Maryport as a parliamentary candidate, through to representing the Essex coast as a Member of the European Parliament and then, for a time, being MP for Filey. There is an issue I have come across in all those scenarios, which I thought the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, put very eloquently, which is the plight of the inshore fishermen. That is not something that has ever been a problem under the common fisheries policy: it could easily be resolved by our Government and I hope the Minister and the Government will now take the opportunity to resolve this issue. I am also interested in the issue of bycatch, particularly the issue of salmon as bycatch to the main catch of shellfish, and I hope that that can be resolved. I was not entirely satisfied by the responses in the briefing we received prior to the Bill being published.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, referred to sustainability. He would like to see Clause 1 relate entirely to sustainability, but I believe it is very important—indeed, crucial—that sustainability must be based on research. That is why I welcome the scientific evidence objective. I also welcome the fact that the Government are committed to continuing the work of ICES—the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea—which is based in Copenhagen but relies heavily on research input from the UK. The Government have said they will continue to fund this, but my understanding is that it is currently funded up to 50%, in our case, by the European Union. How will that research continue to be funded?
I believe that where we have gone wrong in the past, which has led to overfishing, is that we have not relied enough on the research that has been handed to Fisheries Ministers. There is a very real concern, which my noble friend the Duke of Montrose referred to, that conservation is being left entirely to the fishing industry to uphold. I hope my noble friend the Minister will reassure us on this point. I am mindful of the history; notably what was referred to as the black fish scam, in which, over a three-year period between January 2002 and March 2005, 17 fishermen were brought to court and found to have illegally landed mackerel and herring at a Shetland factory in Lerwick. This was a £63 million scam, leading to a fine of almost £1 million, so I hope we will not see the likes of that again.
I welcome the Second Reading of the Bill. During its passage I would like to explore a number of issues. The first goes to the heart of fisheries policy post Brexit: how will the UK access fish stocks and how will our erstwhile EU partners have access to those stocks in our waters? The Government oversimplify things by saying that claiming our waters is their priority, because that is only part of the issue. Is it not the case that the UK will potentially lose some useful areas outside UK waters where we currently fish, but potentially gain exclusive access to less useful areas? While almost all the economically significant stocks are in the UK exclusive economic zone, there are others that we fish in the waters of other EU member states.
UNCLOS requires the UK to participate in a management based on the straddling fish stocks agreement, which means that we need to negotiate almost everything. I would welcome greater emphasis on the fact that the Government do indeed intend to meet their international obligations under UNCLOS. How will the UK access the market, given that we currently sell 50% of the UK quota to the EU? Given the high price that fresh fish raises, which a number of noble Lords alluded to, and the fact that fresh fish can be taken rapidly by lorry—typically to French markets aimed at the restaurant trade there—it is very important that we keep this flexible, quick trade open. If it is interrupted, we must recognise that the value of landings may drop. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that seeking agreement with the EU in all things in fisheries, including markets and access, is important, however complex the negotiations might be?
I am mindful of the fact that the implications of breaches of any such agreement can be serious. We should learn from past experience. When the Faroes, which are not in the EU, broke a quota agreement on mackerel, the EU blocked all fisheries imports from the Faroes. What happens to that part of the UK’s current quota that is owned by EU fishermen in the Netherlands and other EU countries, notably herring, plaice and sole quotas? These species are often caught under the UK quota, using UK-flagged vessels, and landed directly into the Netherlands. Who should have rights of quota ownership in the new situation under the Bill? Will the UK reallocate all quota which is owned—in other words, already bought—by UK-based but foreign-owned fishing companies? What will the solution be to each of these issues, which are, after all, linked?
One fact I have not heard raised this evening is that most Danish fisheries, and certainly most Danish fishing companies, are owned by the Norwegians, which is how they manage to get into the single market and the customs union. That is often overlooked.
There are number of omissions in the Bill that I will pursue in Committee. In particular, why were discards dropped as an objective in Clause 1, and why is there no mention in Clause 1(4) of endangered species? Sharks and ray reproduce more slowly than most commercial fish and are therefore deemed to be vulnerable and perhaps worthy of protection. There is lots to explore in Committee, but I give the Second Reading a warm welcome.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lady McIntosh. When I was about nine or 10, my father took me from our home on the River Dart in Devon to Brixham harbour to watch the fishing fleet leaving port on the tide. There were dozens and dozens—it seemed like hundreds to me—of trawlers fanning out to sea to their favourite fishing spots. It is a sight that I have never forgotten. Of course, we will never see the like of that again, because since joining the Common Market, the size of our fishing fleet has reduced to only a fraction of what it was. Indeed, in the last 20 years 750 vessels—about half—have gone out of business. This has had a devastating effect on the way of life and jobs throughout UK harbours.
The common fisheries policy has been called the EU’s most unpopular and discredited policy, leaving the UK with only about 40% of the fish caught in its own waters. The Bill is about recovering the responsibility for the management of our fishing waters, which was lost to Brussels when we joined the Common Market. I support the Bill, which is also supported broadly by all the fishing organisations. Under international law, from 1 January 2021, the UK will become an independent coastal state and, as far as the EU is concerned, a separate country. As such, the UK will determine who may fish in UK waters and under what conditions, just as the EU will determine if UK trawlers may fish in EU waters and under what conditions. It will work both ways.
It is interesting that in money terms EU catches from UK waters are worth about five times as much as what our fleet catches in EU waters. One can understand why the EU wants a 25-year settlement based on the current quota system—in order, it says, to avoid economic dislocation for its continental fishermen and their communities. What a pity that Brussels was not just as concerned to avoid economic dislocation for our fishermen and their communities when we joined the common market.
I have no doubt that the negotiations will be difficult, but what if no agreement can be reached by January 2021? Under international law, the UK and EU fleets will be able to fish only in their own zones until an agreement is reached. This happens from time to time when there is an impasse in the annual negotiations between the EU and Norway—both fleets are restricted to their respective zones until agreement is reached.
As my noble friend Lord Dunlop said, last week the Prime Minister said that any agreement on fisheries
“must reflect the fact that the UK will be an independent coastal state from the end of this year, controlling our own waters.”
Interestingly, he has proposed annual negotiations, like those between the EU and Norway, to ensure that
“British fishing grounds are first and foremost for British boats.”
That is a good starting point. This Bill is about taking back control of our fishing waters. Quite what will be given away is anyone’s guess, and I am sure that the negotiations will be tricky. Already the EU is trying to link fishing with finance. But there are high expectations, as has been said, from the fishing communities that a deal will be reached which will ensure a reinvigorated and vibrant fishing industry with a sustainable future. By that I mean fish stocks, but I will have to read the excellent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, again. I just trust that the fishing communities will not be too disappointed.
My Lords, one thing that I have come to learn about fisheries is that, the more you learn about it, the more you do not understand it. It is absolutely true; if there is one sector where the more you know, the more you do not know, this is it. Following on from that, it is very easy for us, quite rightly, to criticise the common fisheries policy—I have been one of its fundamental critics in the past—but no fisheries policy is perfect. Nowhere in the world can you find a perfect fisheries regime.
The closest I have ever got to seeing one was in New Zealand, which is seen as having one of the most successful systems that works well for producers as well as conservation. It has complete control of its continental shelf, which helps, but strangely enough its industry is totally concentrated. In fact, we would find it completely unacceptable in this country because there are no fishing coves with small boats; it is dominated by large vessels with tradeable quotas that everybody bids for annually or triennially—I cannot remember which. Because of that, those few boats can be controlled very strongly by the authorities, and it is in the interests of the three or four producers not to keep an eye on each other—and the problem, actually, is recreational fisheries, which I am pleased to say come under this Bill.
That model is absolutely inappropriate for the United Kingdom, but we should not forget that we have a very disparate industry here. Some in the industry make a shedload of money in this country. We all think of these sectors—which I know in Cornwall and others will know on the west coast of Scotland, the east coast of England and, I suspect, Northern Ireland—where fisheries are a really hard living. However, the big companies make a lot of money, so we should not think too sentimentally about a large proportion of this industry in terms of money and volume. Good luck to them; I am not against that, but there are certain things which come from that. We think of fisheries in terms of the products we eat for our supper or have with chips, but the shellfish industry is also incredibly important to the UK—going out with pots and all those other things are important as well. It is a very varied industry.
Scotland is very different from England as well. I was slightly surprised by the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, who I think said that the Shetlands lands more fish than the whole of England. I may be wrong, but I think Peterhead is the largest fishing port in the UK by far, followed by Fraserburgh, then Lerwick and Scrabster. However, Newlyn and Brixham are not far behind, certainly compared to Lerwick, but they are very different industries looking at different things.
We on these Benches are looking for four principles in this Bill. The key one is sustainability. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has said that that must be defined better, and I accept that entirely. The amendments I have been thinking about do not do so sufficiently, so I look forward to his intervention.
The second principle is looking at how the inshore fleet—particularly the fleets with boats under 10 metres—are dealt with. Exactly as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said, ironically it was completely in our power to give that sector as much of our total quota as we wanted. To give George Eustice, the Fisheries Minister, his due, he started to reallocate some of that quota to the under 10 metre or inland fleet over the last couple of years. That is an important area.
Another important issue for these Benches, which I do not think has been mentioned, is transparency. This is a national resource, yet there is little transparency about how quota is divided up and who owns what among the producer organisations. We talk about statistics of foreign-owned British flag vessels, but no one has an exact percentage of what quota they have. Much of this area is not easily understood, and we would like to see a dose of transparency about the industry—this is not to threaten commercial confidences in any way, but we need to understand how a lot of these mechanisms work. There is an incumbency at the moment; it is not necessarily just for the future.
The final principle for us, coming back to what the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, said, is that we should never forget that this is a national resource. We are talking about the UK taking back control; this should be a resource that is nationally ours as citizens. We should take care over how it is distributed and looked after.
I will go through a couple of things in the Bill. To come back to something said very well by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, the objectives at the beginning of this Bill are seriously muddled. There is the sustainability objective, yet most of that is about a socioeconomic objective. I would not be averse to maybe having a separate socioeconomic objective. The sustainability objective must be the prime objective among all the others. We have confusion with eight, potentially nine, objectives, and that is almost impossible. Organisations such as Ofgem in the energy area have a number of objectives that can become confused. We need to indicate which objectives are the most important and which are not. The sustainability objective needs to stand by itself and the rest should be shifted elsewhere.
The socioeconomic aspect is important, but there are other ways to solve that issue other than going for short-term non-sustainability. We can fund fleets—the EU does that—and there are ways in which we can finance people not to fish, if necessary, to protect our national resource. It would not be perfect, but it is a way in which to do it. There have been decommissioning schemes in the past, and one of the main reasons why all fleets have reduced in size is nothing to do with the common fisheries policy specifically but because we are much more efficient in how we operate our fishing vessels. Of course we are. They innovate with larger vessels, larger nets, bigger engines and all the technology that allows them to fish more intelligently. Therefore, fleet sizes are going to come down. The biggest example of that was when sail was replaced by steam. The whole of the south-west fishing fleet halved in a matter of years. It is around technology.
The objective on equal access also concerns me. It sounds reasonable and means effectively that wherever vessels are registered—in Scotland, Wales, England or at a particular port—they can fish where they want. That is my understanding. My concern is because the industry is highly concentrated and wants to concentrate more. It has large returns and big financial resources. The Bill proposes a method by which quotas can be auctioned, tendered or used, but what is to stop additional concentration and for those vessels to come to other parts of the UK and start to take away other stocks that are relied on by other regions? I can imagine a situation whereby there was an auction for a quota in the south-west and Scottish vessel owners said, “Yes, we will try to buy that up”, but the Government said, “No, we want that for the south-west”. Given the current objective, I would say that that situation would be a matter for judicial review and the Government would lose. I am concerned that having a stated objective would be a potential threat to other regions that the mobility is no good for. However, I am not trying to stop that mobility because, in Plymouth, Scottish vessels are important for a lot of the fish processing. I am just concerned about having equal access as an objective.
Another issue in the Bill is the stock management plans, which, as proposed, are a fiction. As we know, some 80% of our precious stocks swim outside our EEZ, and quite a few of the spawning grounds for those stocks are also outside it. It is therefore impossible to have a credible fisheries plan—the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, mentioned this—just for one’s own territorial waters. That does not work around the United Kingdom. I should be interested to hear from the Minister what will happen to what has been the relatively successful regional management of the common fisheries policy, with agreements on regimes for the North Sea and the western waters. Will we try to continue those? We must try to make them work first before we go down the route of national plans, which need to be produced as a result of the overall plans in those fishery areas. Otherwise, the national plans cannot work and I do not see that sequence provided for in the Bill.
Another issue is data, which has been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. There must be more transparency within producer organisations. They effectively run the business and sort out quota, which has huge value, but they are pretty opaque organisations. There should be a public duty to have much more transparency in their actions, allocations and how they are run. A lot of that is there to some degree already, but it would be a lot healthier for what is a national resource if there was more transparency.
I am delighted that the landing obligation remains in the Bill and that the Government still see it as important. However, as has been said in previous debates and mentioned by a number of Members, if the landing obligation is to remain, we must have remote electronic monitoring. One cannot have non-discarding regimes that work without it. That obviously needs to apply also to foreign vessels that come into our waters. As has been stated by, I think, the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, there also must be a way in which we can access the data from foreign vessels that land abroad in order to have joint management.
The Bill is necessary. The marine environment is under pressure. Fisheries must become sustainable, not just in the long term but in the short term—and that is possible. The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, who is a valuable member of the committee that looked at this area, was right to say that maximum sustainable yield may not be the right measure and is something that must be looked at. That area gets complicated.
The Bill is needed, but we must put that painting that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, talked about into the picture frame before the legislation leaves this House. Understandably, a lot of downstream regulation in terms of technical measures and so on has to be done by secondary legislation. However, we have to get the Bill right. I am not sure about banning foreign landings by UK vessels. I have talked to the industry about that and it takes away part of their commercial ability. Now that we will have the friction of phytosanitary controls on land borders—although they will still be in operation at ports—such a ban would make it even more difficult to keep our markets open in the European Union. It is an interesting concept, however.
The Bill is important. We agree on a number of areas, particularly on the landing obligations and on getting the objectives right, and we very much look forward to Committee.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for setting out the purpose of the Bill so clearly, and for organising some helpful briefings with officials beforehand. As many noble Lords have also admitted, I have been—and am still—on a steep learning curve, but we battle on. As my noble friend Lord Grantchester made clear, although the Bill has been a long time coming, we welcome its intent and many of the modifications made since the original version was published. We all want to see a more sustainable fishing regime, with scope for our declining fishing stock to be replenished, and we all want to see a better deal for UK fishers to have access to our own territorial waters. As with many of the Bills we will deal with in the coming months, our divergence from the Government is on the detail rather than the principle, but before I get into the detail I shall make a more general point about consistency.
We will shortly consider the Agriculture Bill and the Environment Bill in quick succession. These three Bills together make up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform our environmental footprint and clean up our air, water and land to create a green—and blue—renaissance. Delivering on our Paris agreement obligations and our new ambitions for COP 26 will be key, as will robust targets and measurable outcomes. In this respect, it is welcome that tackling climate change has been added to the Bill’s objectives. But we need something more than an aspiration to minimise the adverse impacts of fishing. We need to agree the current carbon footprint of the UK fleet, and we need a statutory commitment to deliver net zero emissions within a defined timescale. It is vital that these three Bills are consistent in their aspirations, targets and timescales. I therefore hope that when the Minister winds up, he will be able to confirm that a process of cross-referencing between the Bills is taking place to ensure that policy priorities do not slip through the cracks or suffer from conflicting narratives between the Bills.
As many noble Lords said, much of the detailed future for UK fishers will be dealt with elsewhere, in trade negotiations, rather than in the detail of the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said—he has been quoted several times—it is a picture frame without a picture. It is therefore a real concern that our sustainability objective could be traded away for other priorities or subsumed under more pressing economic interests. We will need to address and bottom out that issue as the debate goes on, and we will need to understand quite how much influence we can have, not over the detail of the trade negotiations but over the essential priorities that we have all outlined today. Meanwhile, there are a number of details in the Bill where we would like to see some improvement, some of which I will set out.
First, a number of noble Lords raised concerns about the loose commitment on maximum sustainable yields in the Bill, although that looser wording seems nevertheless to have the support of the fishers’ organisations. However, we know from our experience with the common fisheries policy that warm words without distinct obligations are all too easily circumvented. We would therefore like to see that wording tightened up, although I am rather chastened by the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, who said that “maximum sustainable yield” might not be the best terminology in the first place. I am sure we can debate that as we go forward. We agree that there is a case for quotas to be set below maximum sustainable yield to allow a period of stock and marine habitat regeneration, and this coming period would be the ideal time to do this as new fishing opportunities come online. However, at the very least, we would expect to see a binding legal commitment running through the Bill not to fish above scientifically agreed sustainable levels, applicable to all the players responsible for oversight of the fishing allocations. As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said, we expect to see delivery of real investment and support for our scientists. If ours are to be the most sustainable fisheries in the world, we need the best and most trusted science in the world.
However, as my noble friend Lord Grantchester made clear, our scientific data is of use only if it is backed up by proper enforcement. As we discovered with the rollout of the discard ban and our wonderful debate on the Lords committee report on it, there is far too little real evidence of whether it is working. That is why, along with several noble Lords this evening, we support the use of compulsory surveillance technology on board boats, and an increase in inspection and enforcement vessels. We welcome the Government’s proposal in the Bill for charging those who land over-quota or unauthorised fish, and we think that will help to address this matter. It will also help to address the complexities of mixed fisheries, but we can explore that further in Committee. We will want to explore these things in more detail as the Bill progresses.
Secondly, we would like to see the majority of the new fishing quotas that will come on stream being allocated to the smaller boats and fleets. As several noble Lords said, the current fixed-quota system has not been updated since the 1990s and is outdated and unfair, with quotas increasingly consolidated in the hands of a few rich families. We therefore believe that the smaller fleets should now be given preference, particularly as they tend to use less damaging gear and create significantly more jobs per tonne of fish landed than the larger-scale sector. We are particularly concerned that a tendering process for new fishing opportunities, as envisaged in the Bill, will preclude those small operators unless quota is set aside for them. A number of noble Lords talked about the olden days and how they remember them, and I suspect that most of the great British public, when they thought we were getting our fishing waters back, expected that advantage to be given to smaller fishing fleets rather than the larger, more industrial fishing boats. It is what we want and I think it is what the public would want. We will also want to ensure that where foreign vessels are licensed to fish in our waters, they have to abide by the same safety and surveillance standards as we demand of our domestic vessels.
Thirdly, we expect to see specific measures to help regenerate our struggling coastal communities. My noble friend Lord Bassam’s committee last year produced an excellent report showing that seaside towns are some of the most deprived in the country. They have the highest rates of unemployment and lower wages, and many suffer large outflows of younger workers. They urgently need new and sustainable businesses in their locality to give them hope. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, that affordable housing has to be in that mix as well. The Bill could provide an impetus for regeneration, providing new jobs in commercial and recreational fishing at sea, and support services on shore. However, it will happen only if the socioeconomic concerns identified in the Bill are turned into something positive. I was rather taken by the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that those socioeconomic concerns should perhaps be set out somewhere else in the Bill. We can certainly explore that in more detail. That is why we will propose amendments to require the majority of the catch caught in UK waters to be landed in UK ports. We may have a difference on that, but we can talk about it in more detail. That could provide the crucial sea change that makes our ports and harbours live again and turns around the fortunes of many of those communities.
Finally, as the Minister pointed out, this is a framework Bill, and it leaves many of the questions about the future of the UK fleet unanswered. As such, it will provide little comfort for the fishers, who have to await the outcome of the trade talks still to take place. However, it seems ironic that the Bill seems to describe a process for allocating quotas just as complicated as the much-derided common fisheries policy. Again, I agree that a little more transparency would not go amiss where that is concerned. The Bill also gives the Secretary of State considerable powers to vary the terms of the fisheries management plans and the licence allocations. Therefore, while several noble Lords welcomed the collaboration with the devolved nations which led up to the framework Bill before us, it is also vital that there is a degree of ongoing generosity and diplomacy in ensuring that the particular interests of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland continue to be properly reflected. Several noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, described the disproportionate impact on fragile, localised communities, so it is not just a case of the four devolved nations; more specific and delicate negotiations will need to take place. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, described very well the particular dexterity needed to balance those different needs, particularly when they are so disparate. We want to ensure that there is proper consultation and parliamentary scrutiny of the powers given to the Secretary of State. I was very taken by the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, that the joint fisheries statement could provide something more proactive in taking negotiations forward. I like the idea that it ought to happen now, rather than later. Maybe we can explore that further.
Finally, we want more information about the proposed transition to these new arrangements, including, for example, on points that noble Lords have raised about the status of existing quotas, which have historically been purchased by foreign vessels. Will they still apply on 1 January next year? I am conscious that I have not done justice to all the points made, but I look forward to working with noble Lords on their many good suggestions as the Bill moves through the House. This is a vital Bill for the future livelihoods of UK fishers and the future health of our marine environment. It is important that we all play our part in getting it right, and I look forward to the debate.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to the debate. I say from the outset that so many points have been made that it would be impossible to answer them all, even if I persuaded the Chief Whip to give me an hour. I have taken all the points on board, but I cannot answer every one during my reply. I regret that, but that is where we are.
There are around 12,000 people employed in the UK fishing fleet and the UK seafood sector employs 33,000 people in total. The Bill provides the powers to continue to support this important sector, which is intrinsically bound to our island heritage. One of our experts in this House, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, quite rightly said that it is such a varied industry. I was pleased that the noble Lord raised shellfish. The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, mentioned a national resource. Absolutely it is. A number of your Lordships mentioned that we have some of the best scientists in the world on this matter, and we should be proud of that.
I return to my noble friend Lord Cathcart speaking of his early memories of fishing fleets at Brixham. Indeed, some of your Lordships have spoken of what has happened in the intervening period. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, referred to a number of Defra Bills. In conjunction with the Environment Bill and the retained EU law that will be in place from 2021, this Fisheries Bill is key to ensuring that we manage our fisheries in a sustainable and coherent way, respecting the devolution settlements and, as has been mentioned before, supporting our coastal communities. In the interconnection, the proposed office for environmental protection will have a role in scrutinising all environmental law, including that which relates to fisheries and marine conservation.
A number of your Lordships raised this, but we have worked extremely closely with the devolved Administrations to establish fisheries objectives for the whole United Kingdom, for which we will set policies in the joint fisheries statement. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, raised this. These policies will focus on key areas of fisheries management, both to protect the environment and to enable a thriving fisheries industry. It is important, in the Government’s view, that each of the objectives is applied in a proportionate and balanced manner, when formulating policies and proposals. We have therefore committed to the joint fisheries statement explaining how the objectives have been interpreted and proportionately applied. This provides an additional guarantee that we will not implement policies that promote one objective at the expense of delivering others.
On the devolved Administrations, I was very pleased by what was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and my noble friends Lord Selkirk and Lord Dunlop. Defra considers its relationship with the devolved Administrations to be vital. The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, gave what I thought was a rather too pessimistic analysis of how we have been conducting business with the devolved Administrations. We have worked extremely closely with colleagues in the Administrations on a range of marine fisheries matters, including during the annual negotiations. This Bill has been much improved as a result of the input of each of the Administrations.
I had the privilege of representing the United Kingdom in the 2018 fisheries negotiations, and I can attest to the closeness with which we worked with the devolved Administrations—through the night, I have to say. This work was an example of that. I was pleased that my noble friend Lord Dunlop raised Scotland, but I would say this also for Wales or Northern Ireland. Our work has been very close. It is why, for elements that need resolutions that are more difficult to manage, the Government are developing a memorandum of understanding with the devolved Administrations. This was a matter my noble friend Lord Caithness particularly raised. It will enshrine co-operative ways of working, and a mechanism for escalating and resolving disputes, should they arise.
Consultation with the devolved Administrations was raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and my noble friend Lord Dunlop. International fisheries arrangements are a reserved matter under the devolution settlement. On that basis, the Secretary of State has the responsibility for setting the quota but, again, the devolved Administrations are always consulted. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, asked whether the joint fisheries statements would be legally binding. The joint fisheries statement is legally binding for the four fisheries administrations, which again is clear.
I think I heard the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, say that no speaker before him had raised the issue of negotiations. I made it clear in my opening remarks that access to our waters will be a matter of negotiation. As all noble Lords have referred to, this Bill is the framework to enable us to implement whatever is agreed internationally. I say also to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and my noble friend Lord Selkirk that the UK has always said that it is seeking to put in place new arrangements for annual negotiations on access to waters, with the sharing of fishing opportunities based on fairer and more scientific methods. The UK and EU commit to use best endeavours to have a fisheries agreement in place by 1 July 2020. This will allow us to negotiate as an independent coastal state for access and fisheries opportunities. I know we all need a reality check, but some of your Lordships have suggested that they almost will these negotiations not to be successful. It is our job always to ensure success in these negotiations.
The noble Earl, Lord Devon, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, noted that discussions with the EU on the structure and frequency of negotiations have begun. We expect negotiations to begin in the first week of March, once the EU’s mandate process is complete. We expect them to be conducted between sovereign equals on the basis of mutual respect.
As was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and the noble Lords, Lord Mountevans and Lord Hannay, meetings have been held with Norway and the Faroe Islands. Initial discussions focused on future fishing partnerships. Informal talks have also taken place with Iceland and Greenland. This emphasises the bona fides of the United Kingdom Government, as well as a recognition in all parts that these are shared stocks, so we have to work collaboratively.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, referred to the regional fisheries management organisations. The UK will join those organisations after the transition period and will continue to collaborate with other coastal states where there are shared interests in fisheries. There will be no gap in membership, which is very important. I should also say that through these bodies and our membership of ICES, the international body which advises on the status of fish stocks, we will continue to contribute our own scientific data to help set catch limits. UK data is and will continue to be collected by the world-leading Cefas.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, asked about scrutiny. Powers contained in the Bill require public consultation before they can be used. In addition, 11 of the 15 powers require the affirmative procedure. The fisheries White Paper sets out our commitment to working in greater partnership with industry and stakeholders, and we have already started to deliver on that by working with industry and the Sea Fish Industry Authority to develop improved management for shellfish and to consider the reform of inshore fisheries.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Young, asked about timetables. The timetables for producing fisheries management plans will be set out in the joint fisheries statement and will go out to public consultation as a part of that process. The joint fisheries statement must be adopted at least 18 months after the Bill receives Royal Assent.
The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, talked about quota. After 1 January next year, quota will be a matter for negotiation as an independent coastal state. We have been clear that any additional quota we negotiate may be distributed in England through a new method and we are working with the industry on this.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, talked about transparency. The Bill will provide greater transparency on how we manage and allocate quota in the United Kingdom through the Secretary of State’s determination of UK fisheries opportunities, which will be laid before Parliament. Furthermore, we will continue to work with the other fisheries administrations and the industry to revise the UK quota management rules. We have already published details on how we receive quota in the UK through the FQA register and we will continue to do so.
A number of noble Lords raised the issue of the under 10-metre fleet. The Government recognise the importance of the fleet and the actions we have already taken helped it land 36,000 tonnes of fish in 2018. We should also not forget that some under 10-metre vessels have sold their quota, while other fishermen have sold their quota for larger boats and have bought boats of under 10 metres.
On quota allocation, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, we do not need new powers in the Bill except for where we may tender for quota. Perhaps I may write to him in further detail about this because the subject is quite complex and I really ought to try to make progress. I was asked by my noble friend the Duke of Montrose whether there will be a guarantee that additional quota will not be sold to foreign vessels. In England, we will consider how best to use any additional quota in a way that maximises support for coastal communities. We will consult on the proposed approach enabling the industry, coastal communities and the wider public to have their say. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, asked about the determination of quota at a lower level than has been fished, which is covered in Clause 23. If necessary and appropriate, the Secretary of State can replace a determination during the calendar year, as is the case now, but if fisheries exceed their quota limits, they may be subject to sanction.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, asked whether maximum sustainable yield is the best measure. MSY is the standard internationally recognised measure in, for instance, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. However, in our view, MSY used is isolation is not sufficient to ensure the true sustainability of our fisheries. That is why we have proposed the development of fisheries management plans, which will allow us to take a wider-ecosystem approach. A number of noble Lords, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, also spoke about MSY. Due to the international nature of fishing and fish stocks, which span national boundaries, MSY for many stocks can be achieved only through international negotiations and relies on the good will and shared ambition of other parties. That is why the EU as a whole has not met the 2020 target. It is also why achieving MSY by 2020 was a target for the EU as a whole and did not apply to individual member states—precisely because many stocks cover broad geographical areas. This demonstrates how critical it is to seek to achieve MSY through negotiations with other coastal states, and we will use our negotiating power as an independent coastal state to seek to achieve sustainable fishing at the international level.
I agree with my noble friend Lady Byford and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, that we must cut down on the use of plastic. We are committed to protecting the marine environment, and tackling marine litter is a matter that we need to address both domestically and internationally.
On climate change, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, there are new grant-making powers for environmental conservation which cover climate change further. Emissions from fishing vessels count towards national emissions and are part of the national plans to address them over the longer term as part of the Climate Change Act.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked why we have removed the discards objective. While of course we are committed to ending wasteful discards, discarding is a symptom of bycatch, and this objective aims also to address the root causes of the issue. That is why it is now called the bycatch objective. My noble friend Lord Caithness asked about bycatch monitoring. Clause 1 on bycatch will require fisheries administrations to introduce policies that will deliver an improvement in the accuracy of the data available on catches.
My noble friend Lord Caithness asked about the licensing of foreign vessels in Scotland. The fisheries administrations have agreed that the MMO will act as a single issuing authority and issue licences to foreign boats on behalf of the four fishing administrations. As regards the plans on targets, these will set out the steps that the UK fisheries administration will take to achieve the objectives of the Bill. However, many of our fish stocks are shared with other coastal states, which means that we cannot unilaterally commit to time-bound targets for their restoration. This may well come up in Committee, but the Government are clear that this is an issue that we need to deal with on an international basis and we must not prejudice our own fishing interests on the back of it; we need to work collaboratively.
My noble friend Lord Lansley raised fishing data, as did other noble Lords. We are a strong advocate of collecting data to support the sustainable management of fisheries. Grandfather rights will be extinguished automatically, but the Crown dependencies will license foreign vessels in their waters. We are in discussions with the Isle of Man and the Crown dependencies.
My noble friend Lady Byford talked about the seabed. Some 25% of the UK seabed is currently protected by marine protection zones and the UK marine strategy includes a framework for assessing its health. I should also say to the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, that we have included new powers in the Bill to enable the Marine Management Organisation and Welsh and Scottish Ministers to protect and conserve the marine environment.
Again on the issue of discards, in England the discard prevention charging system is intended to work to help in this, and I am most grateful to my noble friend Lady Byford for mentioning Richard Benyon in that regard.
The Bill provides the powers to introduce the remote electronic monitoring—REM—of fishing vessels at sea. We continue to explore the potential use of REM, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and my noble friend Lady Byford, alongside other monitoring and enforcement tools, as a cost-effective and efficient way of monitoring fishing activity. In future we will be able to specify the requirement that foreign vessels wishing to fish in our waters have to comply with the conditions of access.
My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern spoke about Clause 12. This replaces a similar provision in the Fishery Limits Act 1976. Its aim is to recognise that boats may enter UK waters for purposes such as navigation or in cases of force majeure recognised by the UN convention.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, raised the voisinage agreement. The UK Government remain committed to the voisinage arrangement and to protecting continuing co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Methods for the allocation of the Northern Irish quota will be for the Northern Ireland Executive to consider and manage. The Prime Minister has been clear that beyond the limited changes introduced by the protocol, there will be no changes to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland remains part of the UK customs territory.
The noble Earl, Lord Devon, and a number of other noble Lords raised the issue of trade. Of course, we absolutely wish to trade. The political declaration sets out as an aim a zero-tariff and zero-quota FTA, and we are working to ensure that.
The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, asked about grant-making powers that will allow us to support the reorganisation, development and promotion of commercial aquaculture and commercial fishing activities. There were all sorts of other questions on the further support that we will have in the Bill. I am afraid that many other points were raised—I have gone through at the briskest gallop I could—but at this stage I look forward very much to a collaborative endeavour with your Lordships on the further stages of the Bill. For today, I commend this Bill to your Lordships.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
My Lords, with permission, I will now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Health Secretary regarding the ongoing situation with the Wuhan coronavirus. The Statement is as follows:
“I have laid an instrument before the House to confirm the power that we have taken to isolate those at risk of spreading the virus, and if necessary to keep them isolated as part of our belt-and-braces approach to protecting the public. The powers are proportionate and will help us slow down transmission of the virus and make it easier for NHS and public health staff to do their jobs.
The clinical advice about risks to the public has not changed and remains moderate. As of today, eight people in England have tested positive for coronavirus. All are receiving expert care from the NHS, which is well prepared and equipped to deal with this situation. Contact tracing of the first four cases has been undertaken rapidly and is now complete, while tracing for the latest four cases is ongoing. This contact tracing itself identified five of the cases—a tribute to the skill and tenacity of Public Health England staff—as well as finding five further British nationals in France who also tested positive for the virus. They are now receiving treatment, and the Foreign Office is following up with consular support.
On Sunday, 105 more British nationals and dependants from Hubei province landed safely at Brize Norton. They are now in isolation facilities at Kents Hill Park in Milton Keynes and receiving all the necessary medical attention. I pay tribute to the Foreign Office and the MoD, as well as Milton Keynes Council, Milton Keynes hospital and my own team, for their hard work and efficiency in ensuring that this all went smoothly. This is, of course, in addition to those now reaching the end of their isolation on the Wirral.
I turn to the efforts to contain the outbreak in China. The Foreign Office is advising against all travel to Hubei province and all but essential travel to mainland China. Last week we issued new advice to all travellers returning to the UK from China, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand. That advice is clear: if you develop symptoms of cough, fever or shortness of breath, you should call NHS 111 and immediately self-isolate for 14 days, even if the symptoms are minor. If you have returned from Hubei, you should self-isolate and contact NHS 111, even if you have no symptoms.
My officials discussed the incubation period with the World Health Organization this morning. The current evidence shows that a 14-day incubation period remains appropriate. We will continue to monitor emerging evidence closely with our international partners.
As I said last week, dealing with this disease is a marathon, not a sprint. The situation will get worse before it gets better. We will be guided by the science. Be in no doubt: we will do everything that is effective to tackle this virus and keep people safe. We are investing £40 million in vaccine research and working with international efforts on therapeutics. Today I can announce to the House the immediate launch of a capital facility to support any urgent works the NHS needs for coronavirus response, such as the creation of further isolation areas and other necessary facilities.
Finally, there are actions that each and every one of us can take—simple but effective steps such as washing hands and using tissues. We will take all necessary precautions to keep the public safe. I commend this Statement to the House.”
I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. Of course, our thoughts are with those who have been diagnosed with coronavirus and are in quarantine. I place on record these Benches’ thanks to our NHS and public health staff.
On the specific issues of quarantine arrangements, we understand the approach the Government have taken, particularly to deal with anyone who seeks to break the quarantine. We understand why the Secretary of State has invoked the regulations; he is entitled to do so under the Public Health Act, and we offer our support for that. Quarantine arrangements must be seen to be necessary, proportionate and in accordance with the law. Their enforcement, including with powers of restraint where necessary, must be fully transparent. The rights and freedoms of the quarantined evacuees must be fully understood to ensure that they are treated with dignity and respect. The media coverage so far certainly suggests that that is exactly the case.
To maintain public confidence in these arrangements, the framework must be understood and scrutinised by Parliament. With that in mind, I ask the Minister when we in this Chamber will deal with the regulations laid. The progress of this virus is rapid; there seems to be rapid change from day to day. We are due to break next week and it seems that 24 February may be too late, because it is moving so quickly. What arrangements are the Government making for us to deal with the regulations in this Chamber?
I feel that I need to declare an interest in the register: I am a member of a local clinical commissioning group. Perhaps the Minister could tell the House what clinical commissioning groups and trusts are being asked to do in terms of making plans in the coming months if this turns into a pandemic. Can she assure the House that local plans are robust and fully resourced? Are we confident that the 111 helpline has sufficient capacity to deal with increased calls? Will the community health trusts that are tasked with visiting suspected patients, and will have to visit people’s homes to carry out swab tests, be given extra resources to build up the capacity to be able to carry that out properly?
Finally, will the Minister update the House on international efforts to share research intelligence and attempts to find a vaccine, as well as the likely timescale? I understand that there is a summit of the World Health Organization today. On behalf of the Official Opposition, I thank all our NHS staff and reiterate our hope that the Secretary of State will continue to keep the House fully informed.
My Lords, I begin my remarks from the Liberal Democrat Benches by echoing those thanks to all staff who are involved, not just on the front line but in the large amount of planning that is going on. We would also like to thank the patients who have self-isolated in calmness, accepting what has happened and moving a long way from home, and those who after flying back from abroad have quite contentedly gone on elsewhere. The advantage of social media, television and radio is that we can hear how they are managing.
I note that the Secretary of State has declared that transmission of coronavirus is a serious and imminent threat to public health, despite the fact that the current situation remains moderate. The regulations for England only—to isolate and hold those at risk of spreading the virus—is, I hope, a last resort. So far, that has not been necessary, but we on these Benches understand that there may be occasions when it is. Will the Minister confirm that the devolved states will follow suit? We would not want Gretna Green suddenly to have a reputation for the wrong reasons, with people trying to remove themselves to somewhere that the regulations do not apply. It seems sensible in the United Kingdom to make sure that there is consistency among the four states.
What safeguards are in place for those conducting the quarantines and isolation to ensure that they are kept safe, along with the patients, and to prevent them contracting the virus?
I note also the regulation that came into force at the end of January, ensuring that no charge is to be made or recovered from overseas visitors who may have to be diagnosed with, or treated for, coronavirus. We believe that that is right, but how is this information being disseminated to healthcare bodies? I see nothing at all about it on the department’s website. The regulation appears for parliamentarians via Hansard, but I can see nothing else anywhere that might help inform hospitals and other bodies.
Today’s Statement from the Secretary of State, the department’s daily 2 pm statement, and the report from the Chief Medical Officer all talk only about those travelling from a number of Asian countries—which the Minister read out in her repeat of the Statement—and who have come from those countries in the last 14 days. This is echoed in the department’s advice to healthcare professionals. So, despite being updated daily—and the number of patients was up to date as at 2 pm today—these Statements do not reflect the fact that some of the eight UK-based cases contracted coronavirus in France, or possibly even in the UK.
Today on radio and television, we have heard a number of experts from China, from John Hopkins University and from UK universities all talking about the possibility of substantial transmission. Indeed, the department has confirmed that this is a high-consequence infectious disease, with all the concerns and constraints that go with it, which include being
“often difficult to recognise and detect rapidly … ability to spread in the community and within healthcare settings … requires an enhanced individual, population and system response to ensure it is managed effectively, efficiently and safely”.
We now have cases in York, in Brighton and its area, and in the specialist receiving hospitals in London and Newcastle, in addition to two GP surgeries in Brighton that have been closed for cleaning. There are local concerns in Brighton about a community centre, and some schools appear to be making the decision to allow children not to come in, after two people were told to self-isolate. But there does not appear to be any formal advice being offered to councils, councillors, schools, prisons and other public bodies. Can the Minister explain why the Statement seems to take no account of what is happening in the UK at the moment? What advice is being given to local councillors, schools and other bodies about early planning for their area, what they should do if a person may have coronavirus, and what happens once they are diagnosed, so that they are ready in the event that there are cases in their area?
I specifically want to mention the role of councillors here. Elected members are often at the heart of their communities, and an informed councillor can calm worries, particularly at the school gate, if they can say that they have been briefed. These days, briefings do not have to happen face to face; there are mechanisms through technology for people to be brought up to date.
Finally, in Brighton, it has been reported in the local media that a number of people with cancer and other long-term conditions are understandably worried about what they should do. They are asked to make sure that they have their annual flu jab, but at the moment there seems to be no specific advice for people regarded as vulnerable patients. Public Health England’s very helpful flow chart on the management of a suspected case runs through very sensibly what to do with the patient, but nowhere does it suggest to ask the patient whether they have any vulnerable people in their family or their contact, nor can I find any advice, anywhere at all, about what primary care doctors should be saying to vulnerable patients in their area—I am thinking particularly of Brighton, at the moment—to make sure that they feel comfortable about this.
These are concerns that could, I suspect, be resolved with effective planning. However, it seems that, at the moment, there is a bit of a lacuna, and I hope that the Minister will be able to help fill the space.
I thank the noble Baronesses for those important questions and, like them, I thank NHS and PHE staff for their extraordinary work over recent days, and those patients who have acted so responsibly in self-isolating. In doing so, they have slowed the transmission of coronavirus in the UK and protected many, including those who are particularly vulnerable. I also thank both Benches for their support of these regulations, which hopefully will not be needed, but should they be needed, could play a crucial role going forward.
I wish to clarify that these regulations will apply only to coronavirus. They will be in force for two years and will be triggered only in the instance of a serious or imminent threat to public health by a person not complying with public heath advice and therefore putting themselves and/or others at risk.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, asked about the devolved Administrations. These regulations apply only to England, but we are in touch with the devolved Administrations, and they will consider this. Obviously, CMOs are acting in concert, and we think that the devolved Administrations will want to take this forward. The question of the scrutiny by Parliament is one for duty managers, but we have come back to the House with this issue on a number of occasions and we are very committed to keeping the House updated on this and will continue to do so.
On the point about how the NHS is being kept updated and prepared, we have announced the capital arrangements today to ensure that the NHS can be prepared for different isolation measures, but the NHS is always ready to provide world-class care, with expert teams in every ambulance service and a number of specialist hospital units that can respond to this. I am pleased to report that the latest data from PHE indicates that, in the past week, flu activity has once again decreased, against all indicators, the rate of GP consultations remains below baseline levels and the rate of ICU and HDU admissions and hospitalisations remains low, which is an encouraging background for us.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, also asked about those who are vulnerable. This is factored into the NHS 111 algorithm, where we advise individuals to call should they have any concerns, as part of the public health advice. I take on board her point about those individuals who may be useful for community communications with councils, schools and others. Obviously, the first place for advice is Public Health England, but there may be activity which I do not have in my brief, so I will come back to her on this.
We have cascaded very detailed information through the NHS about coronavirus—what to look out and what actions to take—which has come from the Chief Medical Officer and those leading the response, to ensure not only immediate response and preparedness, but also on what actions can be taken by healthcare professionals to protect themselves.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked about vaccines. She will know that we have pledged £20 million for the new vaccines to combat this. Every day that we slow down sustained transmission is a day closer to development of that vaccine. Developing a new vaccine is not necessarily a quick process; I think it will be in months rather than weeks, but we will put every effort into making sure that we can take part in that.
Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, asked about the differential advice regarding travel from Wuhan and travel from other Asian states and about where that stands at present. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies and UK Chief Medical Officers have given that advice, on those who have travelled from mainland China and the other nations that I stated versus those who have travelled from Wuhan, based on evidence now available on sustainable transmission. Should there be person-to-person transmission at a different rate, it would be kept under review and the advice would change.
I hope that I have responded to most of the questions. Should there be further questions, I am happy to respond in writing.
My Lords, I do not want to overreact, but this is a very dangerous condition, and prevention starts at home. The average age in this House is 70. We therefore form part of the most vulnerable group, the group most susceptible to viral infections. Bearing in mind the pressures on Members to attend, should not the House authorities be preparing advice for us on what action should be taken to avoid cross-infection within the House, including, in the event of an infection breakout in London, the wearing of face masks on these premises, not only for self-protection but also for the protection of other people in the House?
The noble Lord is quite right that each of us has a role to play in preventing the spread of infection. At this point, the advice is that, if you have travelled from any of the infected areas or have been part of the contact tracing, you should self-isolate. Should you have any of the symptoms associated with coronavirus—a cough, fever or shortness of breath—you should stay indoors and call 111, even if the symptoms are mild. Outside the question of whether you have had any contact or travelled to the affected areas, the advice from the Chief Medical Officer is that effective handwashing and the “Catch It, Bin It, Kill It” concept—to use tissues when you sneeze or cough and to throw those tissues away—is the most effective way of limiting the passing on of infection, and each and every one of us has a role to play in doing that. However, I am happy to pass on to the House authorities the point the noble Lord has made and ask for communications to be sent from Public Health England with the most up-to-date information.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for bringing the update to the House. Among all those people to whom we owe a debt, we should particularly single out the chief medical officers, led by Chris Whitty, who is an epidemiologist and therefore has an in-depth understanding of the science. We should also thank the owners and crew of, and all those on board, the “Diamond Princess”—a British-owned vessel—who are working with the Japanese authorities and doing all they can to contain the outbreak that has occurred there.
One of the difficulties—this was alluded to by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, who is not in her place at the moment—is that in the early stages this is like the common manifestation of any other viral disease. Therefore, self-isolation and being responsible by staying away from people is everyone’s responsibility with all such infections. Unfortunately, some turn out to be coronavirus. Are the diagnostic kits for Covid-19, which I think is now its official name, available to adequate numbers of hospital laboratories which are under public health supervision? Are those diagnostic kits available across all four nations of the United Kingdom? Are they linked to Colindale so that there is good co-ordination of the way in which the diagnostic procedures are undertaken?
The noble Baroness is quite right. We are aware that there are British nationals on board the “Diamond Princess” in Japan and that six more people have tested positive for coronavirus, none of whom is a British national. We have offered consular assistance to those British nationals—we have been in touch with the “Diamond Princess”—including one who is in hospital. We obviously pay tribute to the work being done in trying to contain the situation there. I identify myself with the thanks and tribute paid to the work of the CMOs, who are doing an extraordinary job right now to make sure that the UK is prepared.
We are one of the first countries in the world to have an effective test; it is working well. Now that the protocols have been sent to the devolved Administrations, testing centres in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast have started testing already. Labs in Cambridge, Bristol and Manchester have started testing today and Birmingham, Newcastle and Southampton will come online shortly. I hope that reassures the House about the capability already available within the NHS.
My noble friend’s appreciation of what is being done in contact tracing and the urgency that has been invested in that and other aspects of containment of the disease is welcome. I share the appreciation that there is across the House for that.
I am sure my noble friend agrees that the effort put in now to try to contain the virus is not disproportionate, even if it includes the powers under the new regulation, because it buys us time. She referred to buying time for research into a potential vaccine. I have not seen any reference to other antiviral treatments that might be identified and be of use. For example, if a new flu-like virus was circulating we could use our stockpiles of Tamiflu. Have any viral treatments been explored for this particular virus?
As ever, my noble friend is astute on this issue. Contact tracing has been hugely effective, particularly for the 1,466 passengers and 95 staff who arrived in the UK on direct flights from Wuhan between 10 and 24 January. All those have now passed through the incubation period and none of them was a confirmed case. Of the remaining cases that we have found, a number are linked to contact tracing. We should be very proud of the effectiveness of our system.
On the question of antivirals, work and research is ongoing in regard to a particular HIV retroviral which has been used in this measure. That is being considered. There are three projects which aim to advance the vaccine candidates into clinical testing as quickly as possible. We are also looking at some correspondence from both diagnostic kit manufacturers and potential end users, and we are considering whether we can also improve the diagnostic kit.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to correct the former Secretary of State for Health. This virus is RNA in its genetic makeup. H1N1—the previous pandemic that we were worried about when we stockpiled the antivirals—had a DNA genetic make-up. Some antivirals work better with DNA than RNA, although the Minister was correct to say that there are several antivirals currently being tested to see whether they will work against the coronavirus. As far as a vaccine is concerned, it takes a long time to develop a vaccine; when you develop one, it takes even longer to see whether it is effective.
Last time we discussed this, I said that the Government were taking a proportionate action to contain the virus in the United Kingdom. I believe that to be so even today. However, we might be on the knife edge of a pandemic. If a pandemic is declared, the whole attitude to how we contain this changes. It becomes much more draconian, to stop the movement of people, isolate the index cases and identify the contacts. Currently, asking the Members of this House to wear masks would only make the public panic and ask why we are protecting ourselves when they are not being protected. It can be a good measure, but we have to wait to see how things develop. I would like to hear reassurance from the Minister that there are plans in place, so that if this becomes pandemic, the Government will take the draconian action that is required.
We are fortunate that, apart from the Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, who is a first-rate epidemiologist, we have Professor Piot, who discovered the Ebola virus, and Jeremy Farrar, chief executive of the Wellcome Trust. They have better knowledge on containing pandemics than anyone else in the world; I hope the Government will use their expertise.
The noble Lord has demonstrated, far more eloquently than me, why we have more expertise in public health, and in particular in infectious diseases, than many other nations; we of course share our expertise through the WHO with Professor Piot, Professor Jeremy Farrar and our own Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty. We operate using the best scientific evidence and advice from SAGE, which is currently advising the risk level of moderate. We keep that under constant review and are not complacent in any way. Through the preparations that we are putting through the NHS and all other parts of the system, we will be prepared for whatever situations might emerge should there be more sustained transmission in the UK. We will take the measures necessary to protect public health. The steps that we have taken so far have been proportionate and appropriate; they also demonstrate that the Government will act as necessary to make sure that we protect public health.
My Lords, these are indeed worrying times, with self-isolation a necessary measure to control transmission. In the spirit of informing government, in the context of borders, is the Minister aware that mandatory forced isolation is contrary to provisions in the Portuguese constitution? This might become relevant when protecting our shores in future risk management efforts, to which she referred.
I believe there are some legal specialists in the Chamber. I note the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, sitting at the front on his Bench, who may be able to answer more effectively than I can. However, I believe that the regulations as they have been drawn up are legally appropriate and proportionate. As I have said, they apply only to coronavirus, are in force for only two years and are triggered only by a serious and imminent threat to public health and where a person has not complied, or will not comply, with public health advice and is therefore putting themselves and others at risk. This is well in line with other legal measures.
My Lords, will the Minister give more information on people, including parliamentarians, attending conferences and functions in various parts of the world? Is there a risk of picking up coronavirus at airports and on long-haul flights? Many of your Lordships attend conferences and one noble Lord has asked me to relay this question.
My Lords, perhaps I could follow up on that very subject. This afternoon the set of barristers’ chambers to which I belong advised any of its members who had returned from any of the named countries to self-isolate, irrespective of whether they were showing symptoms. I think that is because it is so difficult, at the beginning, for the symptoms to emerge to a point at which somebody realises that they have reached the stage of being able to transmit the disease. This set of chambers has taken rather an extreme measure; maybe others are doing the same. Do I gather that that is not yet the CMO’s advice? On the other hand, would the CMO be considering whether the advice should be not just to self-isolate if symptoms develop, but for people returning from such places to self-isolate anyway as a precaution?
I am sorry that I had not noticed the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope—who is of course also an excellent legal mind— sitting right behind the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. We are very grateful for the precautionary measures being taken by a number of individuals and organisations. However, the advice from the Chief Medical Officer and SAGE is proportionate. At the moment, the available evidence is that transmission while asymptomatic is very unlikely. That is why the advice stands as it is: where the risk is highest and where transmission is sustained, people should self-isolate immediately on return—which means on return from Wuhan and the rest of Hubei province. On return from other areas where transmission is less sustained, people should self-isolate on the arrival of symptoms.
Sentencing (Pre-consolidation Amendments) Bill [HL] (Law Commission Bill)
My Lords, the sole purpose of this Bill is to pave the way for the Law Commission’s sentencing code, a consolidation of legislation governing sentencing procedure in England and Wales, as well as sentencing procedural law as it applies to the Armed Forces. I reiterate that the task before us today is to consider this necessary first step in the long-awaited consolidation proposed by the Law Commission. Noble Lords will have the opportunity to discuss wider issues relating to the substance of sentencing and release legislation in due course.
During proceedings on the Bill in the previous Parliament we heard many examples of highly experienced lawyers and judges spending too much time trying to disentangle which law applied to particular offenders. That challenge is made no easier by having to deal with multiple changes to the statute book, which may determine what sorts of disposals are available in particular cases.
It was with this in mind that the Government agreed in 2014 that the Law Commission should undertake a project designed to consolidate the law relating to sentencing procedure. The resulting sentencing code aims to assist judges and legal professionals in identifying and applying the law, thereby reducing the risk of error, appeals and delays in the sentencing process. It should also enhance the transparency of the process for the general public. However, for the sentencing code to work effectively, some technical changes need to be made to legislation that will be consolidated in the code.
In broad terms, the current Bill before the House does two things. First, it brings about something that we can call the “clean sweep”, which does away with historic layerings of sentencing legislation. Secondly, it makes various pre-consolidation amendments needed to tidy the statute book and make it ready for the ultimate consolidation process.
A key cause of the current complexity in sentencing procedural law is the need for courts to refer to historical sentencing provisions to ensure that sentences passed are in accordance with the applicable sentencing law at the time of the offence. The clean sweep mechanism in Clause 1 attempts to remedy that complexity by removing the need to identify and apply historic versions of the law. As a result, the current law of sentencing procedure as enacted in the sentencing code will apply to all offenders convicted after its commencement. Importantly, the clean sweep is subject to exceptions to protect the fundamental rights of the offender. These exceptions ensure that when an offender is sentenced under the sentencing code, they will not be subject to a greater penalty than was available, or to a minimum or mandatory sentence that did not apply, at the time they committed their offence.
Then there are the amendments and modifications of sentencing legislation contained in Schedule 2 to the Bill. These are referred to in Clause 2. These pre-consolidation amendments are generally limited to correcting minor errors and streamlining sentencing procedural law. They are a standard measure that often precedes a consolidation Bill. It should be emphasised that none of the pre-consolidation amendments makes changes to existing offences and penalties, nor do they introduce any new sentencing law.
The Government have made some changes to the Bill since it was most recently considered in the last Parliament. These are the result of the ongoing work of the Law Commission, working with parliamentary counsel, on readying the sentencing code Bill for introduction. The pre-consolidation Bill now includes a number of technical amendments that were tabled by the Government ahead of the scheduled Third Reading in the last Parliament. These include pre-consolidation amendments that seek to tidy up a few provisions of sentencing law as it applies to the Armed Forces, to ensure that the sentencing code can apply Armed Forces sentencing law as clearly and consistently as possible.
Further pre-consolidation amendments limit the provisions of primary legislation that can be amended by statutory instrument so that the sentencing code can contain more precisely targeted powers than is the case under the current law. Other pre-consolidation amendments reflect the recent coming into force of provisions in the Crime and Courts Act 2013.
Some further technical amendments that were not tabled in the last Parliament have now also been incorporated into the Bill. These amendments broadly fall into four categories. First, a minor drafting change has been made to Clause 5(3) of the Bill to accommodate a drafting change to the commencement clause in the sentencing code Bill itself. This will make clear, in the context of legislation to be consequentially amended by the sentencing code, to which offences the amendments apply where a person has been convicted over time of two or more offences. This change does not affect the way that the code will apply to a person convicted of an offence but is necessary to make clear that those amendments apply only in relation to offences for which a person is convicted after the commencement of the code.
Secondly, the Bill now includes some additional pre-consolidation amendments that will correct anomalies in references in existing legislation to provisions that will be rewritten in the sentencing code, so that the resulting references to the code in existing legislation are correct.
Thirdly, the Bill now makes provision at paragraph 133 of Schedule 2 to provide that where powers that are to be included in the sentencing code which are subject to different parliamentary procedures are exercised in the same instrument, the highest level of parliamentary procedure of the various powers will apply. For example, where provisions that are subject to negative resolution procedure are included in the same instrument as provisions that are subject to affirmative resolution procedure, affirmative resolution procedure will apply to the whole instrument. That is necessary, as the code will consolidate a number of different powers to make subordinate legislation that do not currently deal consistently with cases where powers that are subject to different levels of parliamentary scrutiny are exercised in the same instrument.
Finally, paragraph 134 of Schedule 2 provides the Secretary of State with the power to state the effect of savings or transitional provisions on the face of the sentencing code where uncommenced provisions in the code are brought into force. For example, if the Government wished in the future to commence a provision in the code only for offences committed on or after the date of commencement, commencement regulations could amend the code to state that date on its face. This should help provide courts and legal advisers with the full benefit of the clarity that the code will bring.
I finish by reiterating the Government’s gratitude to the staff of the Law Commission, and indeed to parliamentary counsel, for their exceptional efforts and continuous expertise and energy throughout the sentencing code project. It is a formidable achievement. I beg to move.
My Lords, this process has been moving at a speed that would attract the unrestrained admiration of an indolent sloth—and an indolent sloth has no interest in the administration of justice in England and Wales.
As the Minister set out, this process began in 2014. In fact, even before that judges had been trying to persuade the ministry to let a code be created. The final report on the draft code became available in November 2018. As the Minister has said, it has been a work of astonishing complexity—a prodigious effort by the Law Commission, led for this work by Professor David Ormerod. Unsurprisingly, it has been greeted enthusiastically, rightly, by anyone with any real experience of the problems, not of sentencing decisions as such—although any judge who passes sentence will tell you that those decisions are difficult enough—but of sentencing technicalities; statutory pitfalls; optimistically drafted regulations; regulations that are drafted, come into force and disappear after three or four months; and, with no disrespect to Parliament, general parliamentary tinkering with the sentencing processes. This has resulted in a morass of confusion.
Every Government, of all colours, going back years, have added their own ingredients and then left it to the courts to sort out the puzzle. Sentencing decision is, however, not a game. Every single case involves a defendant, and from time to time people forget that every case involves a victim. The sentence matters to the victim, too, and it should be right. In every sentencing decision—of which there are tens of thousands every year—the first question is: “What are the powers of the court?” The second question that should be asked is: “What are the legislative requirements and constraints that apply to this case?” The decision of the court should always be lawful, but too often, because the relevant law is obscured by technicalities and legislative confusion, it is not. This is unacceptable, it is inconsistent with the rule of law and it has been besmirching our system for years. A remedy is urgently needed and this sentencing code, the Bill and the processes that we are now reviewing will provide the desperately needed remedy—not because it is needed by lawyers but because there are daily miscarriages of justice. It is a miscarriage of justice for a court to pass a sentence that is unlawful. Those miscarriages result directly from the chronic state of our legislation.
I will make two further points. First, the code and Bill simultaneously avoid any retrospective increase in sentencing: the date of the commission of the offence is the starting point for the sentence. Secondly, it provides for a degree of flexibility, so that as new legislation creates further crimes—as happens constantly —it can all be worked into the code, so that we do not have to come back in 10 years’ time and say, “Ten years have gone by and we need another code”. We shall soon be looking at the counterterrorism Bill. That can be fitted into this code. If I were in charge—and I am not—I would get this done first and then look at the sentencing decisions which will arise when we consider that Bill.
The committee of the House which I had the honour to chair examined the proposed Bill and was enthusiastically in support of it. Members of that committee are here to speak, and those who for different reasons cannot be here have asked me to convey on their behalf their continuing support. What is surprising and disappointing is that the proposal has received the wholehearted support of Parliament, yet we have had to wait. I am not blaming anybody for this, but here is the fact: the Bill was introduced into this House on 22 May. It completed all its stages up to Report. It was ready to go, and it was lost when Parliament was prorogued. There were more significant consequences of the Prorogation of Parliament, but this was one of them. Then the process started in the next Session, and again the Bill was taken forward. Everything was in sight, the cup about to be grasped. A number of small amendments were introduced by the Government at that stage which were sensible, so that the Bill would be ready for enactment, but it was torpedoed by Dissolution—again, the Dissolution process had rather greater consequences than this.
Now we are here a third time. The amendments suggested by the Government again make good sense; they serve to improve the Bill. I did my own cross-check, but I ran out of energy just because we need a sentencing code. So I sought the advice of Professor Ormerod, who was able to assure me that he was prepared to give his blessing. If he had not, I would have complained—not to him but to the Government. A particular point to raise is that amendments should be commenced which, whenever possible, follow the “clean sweep” model and, again, reduce to extinction the risk of retrospectivity. A second is that any new legislation can be made compatible with the code. That, I earnestly urge should happen.
There is a solitary advantage in us having to address these issues again: it will give the House the opportunity to hear from my noble and learned friend Lady Hallett, who will be making her maiden speech. She is a very long-standing friend. There are many things that could be said, but I want to highlight this: she was the judge to whom I turned to conduct the harrowing inquest into the tragic consequences of the murderous terrorist attack in London in July 2005. We will all remember the transport disaster which resulted in so many deaths. I know her well enough; I have heard her say that she would be the first to extol the fortitude and courage of the families of the victims and the survivors who appeared before her at that inquest. But she will not say it, so I will. The sensitivity of her approach to each individual human tragedy encompassed in that long, sad catalogue of murder can, even at the risk of embarrassing her, be highlighted.
More to the present point, she was until a few months ago the vice-president of the Court of Appeal Criminal Division, much of whose work involves dealing with appeals against sentence which would have been quite unnecessary if the legislation had not been impenetrable and the proposed code in force.
This is the third time in a few months that this issue has been addressed. Even the journey of an indolent sloth eventually reaches a sluggish conclusion. Can we not have any more sloth-like behaviour? Can we have urgent attention so that, third time lucky, we will be quick?
My Lords, I am looking forward very much to the maiden speech of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hallett. Like myself, she is of a police family and a veteran of the criminal Bar, although she subsequently rose to dizzying heights that I never attained on the Bench. We need her contribution at this time, and no doubt in the future.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said, the Bill was pored over in the last Parliament. I have little to add generally, save to welcome it as a precursor to the sentencing Bill. The Leader of the House in another place has promised us that Bill in this Session. I assume that the sentencing Bill will introduce the excellent sentencing code, and I too congratulate the Law Commission and parliamentary counsel for the years of expert work that they have done in producing it.
I am grateful to the Minister for his letters of 23 October and 5 February. In his first letter, he informed me that work was continuing to include Armed Forces sentencing law in the code, and the new provisions in this Bill do indeed include tidying up pre-consolidation amendments. As chair of the Association of Military Court Advocates, I naturally have an interest in this area, and my comments will be directed to that.
The Law Commission, in paragraph 3.23 of its report, had decided that, by reason of pressure on resources, it was unable to draft the necessary amendments to the sentencing code to apply it to the service jurisdiction within the timeframe of this project. It also pointed out that the application of the code to the service jurisdiction could be achieved by way of the next Armed Forces Act, which must be passed before the end of 2021. It noted the ongoing review of military justice, the report of which will no doubt be published shortly. Is it now intended that the sentencing code will be brought to bear on courts martial in the sentencing Bill, or will the Government wait for the review report and for the Armed Forces Bill to be brought forward in 2021?
I thoroughly approve of the “clean sweep” principle, not least in connection with service criminal law. Service law and procedure have been built up piecemeal. I want to make some comments about an important procedural issue which in my view has gathered barnacles and needs to be challenged in the light of the Law Commission’s report. It is the current sentencing role of a court martial panel, against which I have argued on previous Armed Forces Bills. I take my text from the Law Commission’s report itself, paragraph 1.16 of which states that
“the law governing sentencing procedure is complex, difficult to locate, and difficult to understand, even for experienced judges and practitioners.”
The services, as represented in Parliament, have always been proud and protective of the military justice system. In history, there is not much to be proud of. In the 18th century, general courts martial, before a panel of 13, followed the rudiments of a trial as in a civilian court. Regimental courts martial, on the other hand, before five or three officers, were much easier to summon and consequently more popular with authority. They were, however, much more informal. Witnesses did not give evidence on oath, and severe and unusual punishments were meted out. An example was the wooden horse. This instrument, invented by the Inquisition, resembled a carpenter’s sawhorse standing on four legs, save that the crossbar was not flat but a triangle, the upper point of which was suitably shaved to a sharp edge. The convicted soldier had to sit astride the horse on this edge for the prescribed period, elevated in the air, often with weights tied to his legs to increase the pain and add to the injury.
Records were generally not kept, but a fragment has survived from 1722. Within a five-week period, seven prisoners were sentenced to the wooden horse, some for insolence to an officer, others for going out of camp. Another punishment popular with these regimental courts martial, also recorded in this 1722 fragment, was running the gauntlet. The prisoner would be lashed by a company of soldiers drawn up in two files through which he would be slowly marched, an officer in front of him with his sword pointed backwards and another behind with his sword pointed forward. It could be lethal. Another case is recorded in that fragment where the prisoner was found to have absented himself from guard duty, his punishment being to have his neck and heels tied together.
In the army, flogging was standard. One sentence recorded in 1750 was 600 lashes for being absent without leave. In 1777, one Elijah Reeves received 500 lashes for visiting a whorehouse that had been declared off limits. Military justice very slowly improved, but there was always resistance to change. Flogging was not abolished until 1881, despite campaigns against it throughout the earlier part of the century, led by parliamentarians such as John Bright and Joseph Hume. The military always argued that it was essential for officers to have the power to flog,
“to curb the natural passions of men”,—[Official Report, Commons, 16/2/1880; col. 1167.]
as the Tory MP Colonel John North put it.
As for the informality of these proceedings, a Bill was introduced in 1805 to require that the evidence given in a regimental court martial should be on oath. In the debate on that Bill, Lord de Blaquiere, a supporter, told the Commons that he had
“seen a man sentenced by a regimental Court-martial to receive one thousand strokes, for an offence, which, on board a ship, would not have been punished with more than a dozen lashes”.—[Official Report, Commons, 12/3/1805; col. 860.]
Sir John Wrottesley, on the other hand, a major in the militia as well as an MP, opposed the Bill, arguing that “petty fogging attorneys” would always be lying in wait to interfere with military justice.
As a pettifogging attorney myself, I recall moving amendments to the 2006 Armed Forces Bill, one of which proposed that members a court martial panel should, as in the United States, be drawn from other ranks as well as officers. Another proposed amendment was that members of a court martial panel should be mixed, drawn from all three services instead of solely from the prisoner’s service. These amendments were opposed by the Minister, Lord Drayson, strongly supported by a noble and gallant Lord who later, in a touch of banter outside the Chamber, told me that my amendments were outrageous and asserted, with the approval of two other noble and gallant Lords from different services, that I should be shot.
There have been significant improvements over the years, despite such resistance. However, both the services and the Ministry of Defence have insisted up to now that sentencing should be the responsibility of the court martial panel—its decision being, of course, by a simple majority. Under the current law, the role of the judge advocate at the sentencing stage is merely to advise panel members of the extent of their sentencing powers, rather like a clerk to the justices. Under Section 160(4) of the 2006 Act, the judge advocate has a casting vote only in the event that the panel is equally divided on sentencing. He has no vote, of course, on the issue of the finding of guilt or innocence. I remind your Lordships of the comment of the Law Commission that the law is incredibly complex and difficult to understand, even for experienced judges and lawyers. One wonders at the faith placed in a court martial panel to get a sentence right, particularly when it may be dealing, under Section 42 of the Act, with a most serious crime, all the way up to rape, manslaughter and murder.
In the civilian courts, where a person has been convicted of manslaughter, I have known sentences of life imprisonment, but also sentences of lesser severity, all the way down to an absolute discharge. How can a court martial panel deal with that? Remember that, unlike a much more experienced bench of magistrates, whose powers of sentencing are limited to two years’ imprisonment, the officers on the panel, save for the president, may well be new to the job. For many, perhaps the majority, this will be the first and last time they are called upon to sit in judgment. Surely it would be more sensible to leave sentencing as the responsibility of the judge advocate, assisted by the panel on any service issues that may arise.
I have no doubt that I shall return to this point when we consider the sentencing Bill in this Session, or the armed forces Bill in the next. As we await anxiously the findings of the current review, I wish this Bill a fair passage.
My Lords, I rise as testament to the grace of the open speakers’ list offered by the Whips’ Office that a non-lawyer should be able to speak on a Law Commission Bill, in a debate in which will take part two former Lord Chancellors, a former Lord Chief Justice and a Deputy President of the Supreme Court. I also stand between your Lordships and the very welcome maiden speech of a former High Court judge.
I am speaking because I read the written evidence provided to the Special Public Bill Committee on this measure by the Prison Reform Trust, which welcomes the Bill but remains
“concerned that Parliament risks missing a vital opportunity to scrutinise the impact of the current sentencing framework on outcomes in the criminal justice system.”
With your Lordships’ forbearance, I want to test for a few moments the effectiveness of those custodial sentences.
It goes without saying that it is right that those convicted of a criminal offence are punished for that offence. It is important that victims see justice being done. A custodial sentence can serve as a deterrent and protect the public from those who pose a serious threat. However, the objective of sentencing should also be that the offender may on completion of their sentence be rehabilitated and leave their criminal behaviour behind them.
Yet it is in this final area that we seem to be having most difficulty. The prison population in England and Wales was 83,430 in 2019. In 1900 the prison population was around 17,400; over the next 90 years it doubled to around 40,000 and over the past 30 years it has doubled again. It is projected to continue to grow to 85,800 by 2022 and at that rate we will hit around 100,000 in England and Wales by 2030. The average cost per prison place in England and Wales is £40,843. There are fewer than 100 prisoners serving whole-of-life sentences, so while we are locking more people up we are also letting more people out. Last year 69,622 prisoners were released from prison. Reoffending rates are 48% for all adults released, rising to 65% for those serving sentences shorter than 12 months. A survey published by the Ministry of Justice last year put the economic and social cost of reoffending at £18.1 billion. Where have we gone wrong and what can we do to put it right?
Prevention would be best. We know that fewer than 1% of school pupils have been permanently excluded from school in the general population, but in the prison population they account for 42%. We know that 2% of children have been taken into care in the general population but they form 24% of the prison population. We know that 64% had used illicit drugs before entering prison, that 46% had alcohol problems and that 40% have mental health problems. We know that 62% of prisons are currently rated as overcrowded, with cells intended for one person often used to house two. We know that many prisoners are locked in their cells for all but a few hours of each day.
I suggest another reason why prison is failing to be as effective at rehabilitation as we wish: while we have strengthened a little our belief in judgment and demands for retribution, perhaps with the advance of social media and the web, at the same time, perhaps with the decline in religious belief, we have weakened a little our understanding of and belief in concepts such as forgiveness, mercy, grace and redemption. Redemption: the belief that though you have done something terribly wrong, at the end of your punishment and displaying remorse there is afforded to you a second chance to start afresh and make a positive contribution to society.
In his book No Future Without Forgiveness, the Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu wrote the following:
“Forgiveness is taking seriously the awfulness of what has happened when you are treated unfairly. It is opening the door for the other person to have a chance to begin again. Without forgiveness, resentment builds in us a resentment which turns into hostility and anger”.
If all that sounds a bit too woolly for my noble and learned friend on the Front Bench, let me pray in aid a Conservative Lord Chancellor who said in the House of Commons:
“It is because I am a Conservative that I believe in the rule of law as the foundation stone of our civilisation; it is because I am a Conservative that I believe that evil must be punished; but it is also because I am a Conservative, and a Christian, that I believe in redemption, and I think that the purpose of our prison system and our criminal law is to keep people safe by making people better”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/1/16; col. 149.]
Those were the words of my right honourable friend Michael Gove in 2016, someone who in the intervening years has demonstrated the benefits of political redemption.
When my noble and learned friend responds to this debate, can he say whether the purpose of prison is still to keep people safe by making people better? If so, when will we have an opportunity to scrutinise the effectiveness of the Government in doing so? Custodial sentences have an important part to play in keeping the public safe and ensuring justice is seen to be done; but an over-focus on longer sentences resulting in an ever larger prison population without an equivalent focus on redemption and rehabilitation may only serve to ensure that those people leave custody bitter but not necessarily better.
My Lords, as a barrister for 27 years and a judge for 20 years, I am accustomed to speaking in public, yet I confess that I find the task before me now somewhat daunting—a feeling that has been exacerbated by the relatively long wait today. The good news from your Lordships’ point of view is that, as every hour passed, I deleted yet another passage from what I had intended to say.
My feelings of trepidation stem from the knowledge that becoming a Member of this noble House is both an honour and a privilege. I am extremely grateful to those who played a part in my appointment and to my supporters, especially my noble and learned friend Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, who left his sick bed to be with me on the day of my introduction. I shall do my utmost to prove that their trust in me is well placed.
I am also extremely grateful to the staff, to officials and to noble Lords and Baronesses who have proved so helpful and welcoming since my arrival. I should also like to thank my noble and learned friend Lord Judge and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, for their kind remarks. If I had to leave the justice system—which I did because of an Act of Parliament and I was getting too old—I can think of no better place to be. The justice system will, however, remain close to my heart.
My father, as noble Lords have heard, was a police officer, who taught me at an early stage the importance of the justice system. I am proud to have played a part in it, particularly as I was told more than once that people from my background, especially women, could not cut it as lawyers.
I shall therefore follow with interest steps taken to ensure that the justice system of this country remains one of the best in the world. A fully functioning and properly funded justice system is essential to a healthy democracy. We have the excellent business and property courts, but they are only part of the equation; we must not allow other parts of the system to crumble. It is the system as a whole that makes this country a desirable place to invest, to do business and to litigate, and it provides access to justice for all our citizens.
This is not the time to list the problems that beset judges, magistrates and practitioners. The Bill aims to address just one of them. The idea is simple, as noble Lords have heard. It is to streamline the sentencing process; it is not about outcomes. It is the sentencing process that affects hundreds of thousands of cases each year. The aim of the Bill is to make it quicker and easier for a sentencing judge and practitioners to find the relevant sentencing provisions.
As your Lordships have heard, at present sentencing provisions are extraordinarily complex. Experienced judges and lawyers struggle to interpret them even when, in the Court of Appeal, there is rather more time than is available to the sentencing judge in the Crown Court, who may have nine other cases in her busy list that day. The provisions are scattered among several statutes, and in the case of one defendant different statutes may be in play.
Back to that busy judge, who has a list of 10 cases —one of them involves four defendants, one of whom is under 17, one was 17 at the time of the commission of the offence and is 18 at the time of sentence, one may attract the dangerousness provisions, and one may be lucky to get away with a suspended sentence and possibly a community penalty. I cannot tell your Lordships how many statutory provisions would be involved in the judge trying to work out how to sentence the four—and do not forget that she also has nine other cases to deal with that day. The scope for error is huge.
As vice-president of the Court of Appeal Criminal Division until last October, I promise your Lordships that I lost count of the number of unlawful sentences put before us, costing time and money to rectify and, in the process, causing unnecessary distress to the victims of crime, who were uncertain of the sentence passed on the perpetrator of the crime against them and who were extraordinarily, and obviously rightly, angry when we were forced to quash a sentence because it was unlawful.
When Professor David Ormerod QC first announced that, as a Law Commissioner, he intended to embark upon a codification of the sentencing process, many experienced criminal lawyers—and I confess that I was one of them—thought it was an impossible task. But with the help of parliamentary counsel the Law Commission has done it, and after much consultation, the code has been greeted with acclaim by the informed legal community.
It is worth repeating that, if enacted, the code will not: alter any maximum sentences currently available for offences; subject any offender to a harsher penalty than could have been imposed at the time of the offence; or affect the release dates as currently set. Those are all matters that may have to be considered on another occasion, as will the point about the principles of sentencing, rehabilitation, deterrence and the like. But that is not for today.
This Bill is about process. It will, at a stroke, simplify sentencing, save unnecessary distress, money, time and effort, and it will not cost any money. I know of no criminal lawyer or judge who objects to it. On the contrary, they are impatient for it to be enacted. They have been disappointed twice; there is no reason for them to be disappointed a third time.
I speak for the whole House in congratulating the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hallett, on her absolutely excellent maiden speech. The House has got a taste of what is to come. For me it is a huge personal pleasure to follow her in this debate. I have known her for very many years. She is one of quite a small number of people who have been profound change-makers in the law, and without any fuss. As she said, she was an advocate for 27 years; she did not mention that she was the chair of the Bar. As it happens, she was the first woman chair of the Bar, but that makes no difference to the fact that she was among the best of them. She was a judge who was in effect in charge of criminal sentencing for a long period of time in the Court of Appeal. She is testament to the stupidity of the judicial service arrangements that forced her to retire too young, and testament to the inadequacy of the judicial appointments arrangements in that she did not become the Lord Chief Justice. One of the things about the noble and learned Baroness is that she knows just as much about human beings as she does about the law. I am absolutely sure that the best is yet to come.
I move to the Bill. I, like all other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, commend this short but important paving Bill towards a sentencing code. The effect of this Bill and the Bill it paves the way for will be very significant to the performance of the criminal justice system. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hallett, have explained the current position. As a result of a random test in 2012, the Law Commission made available to us the statistic that 36% of sentences are unlawful. That does not mean that they were just too long as judgments, but that they were passed contrary to the terms of the statute allowing them. We are a country that prides itself on the rule of law. If over a third of the sentences that are passed are unlawful, there is something wrong with the law and we need to change it.
There is unanimity among those who practise in the criminal justice system, whether advocates, prosecutors or judges, that there should be change. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, has pointed out, this Bill and that which it paves the way for has been, as the Prime Minister would say, oven-ready since May 2019. Some time will pass before this paving Bill gets through and thereafter—and only thereafter—does the sentencing code come. I strongly urge the Government, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, has done, to deal with this as quickly as possible. It is something on which Parliament agrees; there is no reason for delay.
I will mention three specific points. First, I congratulate the Law Commission on its work, particularly the clean sweep principle, which allows the courts to adjudicate what the right sentence is based on one statute only, in effect the sentencing code when it comes. I congratulate the Law Commission on coming up with a principle as sensible and simple as the clean sweep.
Secondly, I agree with the Law Commission that it has to protect the principle of retrospectivity and particularly that you cannot be sentenced at a higher level than the sentence that applied at the time you committed the offence. It preserves that in the Bill and it is right to. The House is going to come back to that issue in the Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill that was published today. The effect of that Bill is, for no doubt good policy reasons, to transform the time before release for terrorist offenders on determinate sentences from half way through the sentence and automatically to two-thirds of the way through, and then with the approval of the Parole Board only.
A question arises as to whether that changes a sentence after the commission of the offences. I am aware of cases, particularly that of Uttley in the House of Lords in 2004, which suggest that it is relevant to focus on the maximum in the sentence, and only if the new sentence is higher than the maximum would it be retrospective. I have anxieties about that, because a statute is being passed that will unquestionably increase significantly the time that people spend in prison. The principle of preventing retrospectivity is that you should not, after the event—maybe by a statute driven by public opinion—change somebody’s sentence for the worse. It should be the courts, in accordance with law, that fix the sentence, not public opinion subsequently. But that is a debate for another day.
My third point is again one that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, has already made. The intention of the sentencing code is that it is to be one statute to which judges can refer in order to determine what the sentence is. That works only if in years to come, amendments to sentencing abide by the principle of the sentencing code. It is worth drawing attention to the fact that substantial changes were made to sentencing in 1991, 1993, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2018 and 2019. I say in parenthesis that even Brexit did not stop the change in sentencing. It is extremely unlikely that that pattern will not continue after the sentencing code is passed.
In order for the code’s principles to be given effect, four principles need to be adhered to. First, any changes in sentencing should be made by changing the terms of the sentencing code, not in a new document. Secondly, if any changes do not come into force straightaway, they should be put into Schedule 22 to the sentencing code so that people can see that it is one which has not come into force straightaway. Thirdly, any new arrangements should maintain the principle of the clean sweep, and fourthly, any commencement information should be included in the Bill. Only if the principles of the sentencing code are adhered to as we go forward will the very brilliant work of Professor Ormerod and his team take us through into the future.
I strongly support this Bill and I hope that it becomes law, and that the sentencing code which is to follow it becomes law as quickly as possible.
My Lords, it gives me the greatest possible pleasure to follow the excellent maiden speech of the noble and learned Baroness—which, of course, having known her for some time, I expected to be of the highest quality.
This Bill forms part of the extremely valuable consolidation procedure. For a short time, I had the honour of being the chairman of the consolidation committee, but I was saved from continuing in the role by being appointed Lord Chancellor. I discovered that, of all the committees which serve Members of both this House and the other place, the difficulty of convening a quorum for the consolidation committee was the probably the highest. That suggests to me that the process of consolidation is not as precious, or perhaps as fully understood, as it should be. That is because, unless we have reasonable consolidation, our statute book will become less and less intelligible.
I had the honour of being a member of the Scottish Law Commission for a time, and like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, I was the Minister for the Law Commission during my time as Lord Chancellor. I think that it was a marvellous institution which was set up by Lord Gardiner, with a certain amount of query from some lawyers, as is usually the case if you make an improvement, and the result has been absolutely excellent. One of the features of the Law Commission as I knew it was that it usually had the services of a parliamentary counsel, then detached from the ordinary office in Whitehall. I suspect that the parliamentary counsel involved in this Bill was seconded to the Law Commission.
In the past I have had a little experience of the relationship between the Law Commission and Her Majesty’s Government. One of the features of the criminal law of England and Wales is that it is principally statutory law and not all of it is absolutely at the peak of modernity. In fact, it is extraordinary how old some of the essential provisions that are in day-to-day use are. When I was concerned in these matters, there was a move to codify the criminal law. A certain office of state had responsibility for the criminal law and was reluctant to see anything of the kind happen—but somehow the Law Commission managed to start a procedure for codifying the criminal law. It was eventually able to excise a bit that seemed reasonably attractive to the office in question—but, so far as I know, it never got any further.
We have here an example of modifying and modernising the process for sentencing, as has been pointed out. We are not able today to give effect to my noble friend Lord Bates’s sentiments, which I very much share. It is not part of this Bill, which is concerned only with the sentencing process. It deals with it in a very effective way; it could not possibly do it simply by a consolidation Bill. This pre-consolidation Bill is able to make the corrections that, when fitted in, will bring in a sentencing code that will be absolutely excellent. I hope—I feel certain this will be the case—that there will be many fewer unlawful judgments from now on. Even judges can make mistakes, but the chances of mistakes in this situation are very much reduced.
The noble and learned Baroness pointed out in her maiden speech how much she values the judiciary of this country. As it happens, I was coming from Inverness last night on a plane that was a little later than it might have been if the weather had been different, and I was talking to a gentlemen who was much in business and somehow knew my line of life. He began to talk about the judiciary and said, “I have had experience of many countries and of employment law in many countries. The unique feature of the United Kingdom is the absolute honesty of the judiciary.” It is an extremely precious quality, and I honestly am not absolutely certain that it is fully appreciated in every quarter as it should be.
It is extremely important that the status and remuneration of the judiciary, including pensions, should match that very big quality. It is not that they are paid for honesty, but they are employed and continue to be employed because they are honest. Sometimes some statutory instrument comes along and their termination appears, but it is nothing at all to do with any fault in them. It is simply what some mistaken people in the past have brought in as the ultimate age for service. This is an extremely important matter. I certainly believe that that quality is in a way preserved by this Bill, which will help honest judges get the answer that is right.
My Lords, it is an honour for me to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern—my former devil-master, from whom I learned so much. I take this opportunity to congratulate the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hallett, on her excellent speech. She demonstrated very well what the House is gaining by her membership, because of her remarkable and deep experience of criminal law at every level, from the Bar right up to the very high level she reached on the Bench. Her remarks about the difficulties that sentencing judges face, which she observed so well from her position in the Court of Appeal, are extremely valuable in the context of the debate we are having.
I have no hesitation in welcoming the Bill, and I am delighted that it is being sponsored by the Government. As chairmen of the Law Commission, I have known only too well for decades, that it is not easy for Law Commission Bills to make progress in Parliament. Parliamentary time is often at a premium and, without sponsorship from the Government, it would be difficult—probably impossible—for any progress to be made at all. We must be grateful to the Government, not only for being willing to sponsor the Bill but for being willing to find time for it, at the third time of asking, only six weeks into the new parliamentary Session. This is, of course, only the first stage of the further process which will, we hope, end up with the approval of the code itself. I hope, as others have said, that the progress made so far in this Session—let us ignore the fits and starts of the previous ones—will be maintained, and that rapid progress will be made to get us to the stage at which we may be able to consider and approve the code itself.
It is very easy in a debate of this kind to be drawn into a broad discussion of sentencing policy, as the noble Lord, Lord Bates, demonstrated in his entertaining and fascinating speech. If I had freedom to do so, I would say something about the disturbing, inevitable creep in the level of sentences: up and up they go, without any obvious benefit. However, I will leave that all aside because, as has been said already, the Bill, as its long title makes clear, does no more than lay a sound basis for the enactment of the sentencing code itself.
I pay tribute to the Law Commission and parliamentary counsel for the immensely impressive and painstaking work put into the schedules, particularly Schedule 2. I did my own research when comparing this Bill with its predecessor, in June of last year. I was looking for what used to be paragraphs 90 and 92 of Schedule 2, which I commented on at Second Reading last time. They dealt with the transfers of community orders and suspended sentences from England and Wales to Scotland under the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000. I could not find them, because the numbers had changed. I was rather startled to find that what were paragraphs 90 and 92 had moved to paragraphs 101 and 103. As I looked further into the schedule, I found another nine new provisions, including paragraphs 133 and 134, to which the Minister has already made reference. It is to be admired that, although the Bill was becalmed in the summer, work to make sure that the schedules were absolutely up to date did not cease; I am sure we will all benefit from the work that has been put in.
I will say no more about the problems that sentencing judges and magistrates face; it is a morass of confusion, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said. However, I want to draw attention to one point. In his celebrated book The Rule of Law, the late Lord Bingham of Cornhill identified eight principles of the rule of law that he thought we should bear in mind. The first was this:
“the law must be accessible … intelligible, clear and predictable.”
The law which magistrates and judges should be required to administer should be accessible, clear and intelligible. It is absolutely plain from the noble and learned Baroness’s speech that that is very far from the case, and indeed that we are in serious risk of failing to observe the rule of law in the situation as it is at the moment. I mention that just to underline the point others have made—I am referring in particular to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, and his impressive speech—of the urgency to make progress with the Bill to the stage which we all wish to reach.
Finally, I pay tribute to the care which has been taken in the drafting of Clause 1(3) and (4), which are designed to ensure that those convicted after the code comes into force will be dealt with according to the most up-to-date law, and also the corollary: that the convicted person is not dealt with by the imposition of a penalty of any kind that is more onerous than that which applied when the offence was committed. Perhaps there is a difference in the uplifting and administration of a penalty which the court has imposed, which may be a riposte to the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, on the Bill he referred to. If the judge is not required to increase the sentence, but only to deal with the way that it is administered by changing terms of parole and so on, one might not think that that is the case, but we are not really concerned with that here, because every effort is being made—and should continue to be made—to ensure a clean sweep in both these respects.
This is a supremely well-drafted and very carefully put together Bill, and I offer it my full support.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to join in congratulating the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hallett. She made what has been, in my time in the House, the briefest but most authoritative maiden speech. I can see why she has such an impressive record as a judge. We are extremely fortunate to have her in the House for the future.
Clearly, the arguments for this Bill are overwhelming. They have been made by the Minister, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and all other noble Lords who have spoken. We look to the Minister to facilitate the passage of this Bill so that we can get on with the substantive Bill. It says something about the complexities that we are dealing with that it takes a prior Bill to get to the consolidation Bill to bring about the reforms that we want. This further demonstrates the need for these pieces of legislation. My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer said that in a sample of sentences, 36% were found to be unlawful, which is truly shocking. As the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hallett, said, for a nation that prides itself and exhibits itself to the world in respect of the rule of law and setting high standards, that is not acceptable.
I hesitated to speak, because these points are agreed among us, and because this is a debate dominated by very experienced judges and lawyers. However, fortified by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, who took us into courts martial in the 18th century, and the noble Lord, Lord Bates, who talked about the wider principles of sentences and outcomes, I will make a few wider remarks. To the lay person coming into this field, the fundamental issue is not the operation of the law—although clearly that needs to be improved—but the outcomes. To anybody looking at this from the outside, the fact that in the last 40 years the prison population has doubled, the average length of sentences has significantly increased, and concern about crime and recidivism has not improved in society, proves that we are out of step. I hesitate to say it in this company, but Scandinavia and other countries have lessons to teach us on how to manage crime in society. We are way out of step with those societies in the numbers that we incarcerate and the lengths of sentences. The question must be asked—and if not in this debate, there needs to be an appropriate time—what are we going to do about it? Are we going to let this continue?
I look at most of the things we did when I was a member of the same Government as my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer with great pride. In most areas of public policy, we left things better at the end than at the start, but I do not look back with any pride at the fact that we had a larger prison population at the end of our time than the beginning, nor that we had a criminal justice system that evidently was not working better. My noble friend recited a long list of statutes which have been passed, making the point that the law on sentencing has changed virtually annually in the last 30 years. What struck me as I listened to the debate and read the material relevant to it was that very few of those statutes have taken a wide-ranging and comprehensive view of sentencing. All of them, except perhaps the Criminal Justice Act 2003, have been incremental reforms to sentencing, in response to issues of public concern and often not dealt with in the best context. They have not been properly co-ordinated and have added to the complexity of the statute book, which the noble and learned Baroness referred to. They have all had the effect of ratcheting up, bit by bit, the prison population and the length of sentences.
The question I wish to put into the debate—I came here partly to form views as to how we might tackle the problem—is: how are we going to address this wider issue? The noble Lord, Lord Bates, did it by reference to wider moral principles, which I fully respect, and he referred to Michael Gove’s speech. However, we are legislators—we should obviously be guided by moral principles but we also need to have regard to how we can change the law—and we need an opportunity to get to grips with the issue of sentencing and its relationship to crime and public confidence in a comprehensive way. I am not sure how we can do it—clearly, this Bill is not the appropriate vehicle—but we need a process which gives a comprehensive view of sentencing at large.
I thought I had an answer as I listened to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, referring to the committee he chairs. That committee is not directly relevant to this issue but it prompted the thought in my mind that, as we are currently looking for new subjects for Select Committees of the House—ad hoc committees—to examine, it would be fit and proper for the issue of sentencing at large to be examined comprehensively by a Select Committee of this House. Perhaps the noble and learned Baroness, in the new duties she is going to undertake in this House, could play a prominent part in that, given that she has more experience in this field than anyone.
We have a duty to society at large to undertake this exercise at some point. It may be that doing it in parallel with the sentencing code being put on a statutory basis in the legislation that follows this would be an opportunity to do so. There is certainly no body in Parliament or the country that is more fit to undertake this exercise. I put the thought to the Minister and other noble and noble and learned Lords that the time has come for us to seek to address what should happen to sentencing policy and to give our advice to Parliament and the public at large.
The facts are stark: we have a prison population that has doubled, we are seriously out of step with international opinion and best practice, and the prison estate is in a scandalous state. Given the reports of the prison inspectorate that come forward month after month, if any other field of public service—I have significant experience of education but one could look at any of the others—was addressing reports of this kind, we would close down those institutions immediately. Obviously, we cannot close down prisons because we have to have places where we can incarcerate criminals. However, the time may have come when we need to take a comprehensive view of this issue and a Select Committee of this House might be the way to take it forward.