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House of Lords Hansard
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Fisheries Bill [HL]
02 March 2020
Volume 802

Committee (1st Day) (Continued)

Amendment 5

Moved by

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5: Clause 1, page 1, line 11, at end insert—

“( ) the collaborative objective.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment ensures that collaboration with external authorities is included in the fisheries objectives.

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My Lords, I have the great pleasure of speaking to the amendments standing in my name and that of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. Unfortunately, he is delayed. He had hoped to arrive in time, but I have the pleasure of moving the amendment anyway. Together, the two amendments call for collaborative working on the Bill. While in our earlier discussions we asked whether 10 objectives were plenty, here we are calling for one extra. To a certain extent we will understand if, standing alone, it is not accepted. However, the point behind collaborative working is very important.

Amendment 5 speaks for itself, so I turn to Amendment 26, which itemises the intentions behind this whole idea. The “collaborative objective” is to ensure that

“the fisheries policy authorities receive guidance on fisheries management from the fishing industry, scientists and other relevant stakeholders.”

That engagement has not been as close as it could have been over the years. The amendment would provide the opportunity to establish a proper common base on which these decisions can be made. Proposed new subsection (9B) says that guidance under proposed new subsection (9A)

“must be formally established and shared by a consultative group”—

in other words, there will be a direct link to make sure that it is established and that working together happens. Proposed new subsection (9C) states:

“Within six months of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must issue a consultation on the establishment of a consultative group under subsection (9B) or an alternative vehicle for producing guidance under subsection (9A).”

I am very grateful to the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations for its help in putting this amendment together. If my noble friend the Minister cannot accept it, I hope he will look carefully at what is being suggested, which is the need to make sure that we bring together all those who work in the fishing industry to come up with positive suggestions for future sustainability. The consultative group would guide and advise on policy; promote collaboration between central government and the devolved Administrations; allow ongoing dialogue on the viability of the industry; and channel the fishing industry’s knowledge and experience, about which I spoke earlier, into the design and implementation of management measures. This would be hugely helpful.

The consultative group would play a leading role in the use of secondary legislation—as we all know, the Bill will set up systems, but a lot of the detail will come in the secondary legislation—to ensure that we have an agile and responsive approach to future fisheries management. The inclusion of the consultative group of fishery experts would guarantee that sustainability issues are fully considered. It would also play a valuable role in the development and operation of the management plans proposed later in the Bill.

As I said, we might be adding an 11th objective—I still think number one, sustainability, is the most important overall—but it is important that those who work on the sea, those who plan for what is happening, the scientists and the data collected should work together. I have great pleasure in moving the amendment.

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My Lords, I agree that there needs to be far more collaboration. It is the big missing thing in the Bill in many ways. We have a Bill that covers the whole of the United Kingdom. We have devolution in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales but I am concerned that we have no devolution in England despite the fact that the English fishery is diverse—as are those of the other nations—and I have amendments later in the Bill that seek to tackle that in a sensible and not too radical way.

I welcome the spirit of the amendments. They are the basement of what we need but I hope the Minister will take strongly the message that there needs to be consultation and working with not only the industry but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said, the larger stakeholders to make this sector work. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s response to this proposal.

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I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, for tabling these amendments, and I listened carefully to what the noble Baroness said.

The noble Baroness raised an important point about consultation, although, as we discussed in the earlier amendments, I am not sure—I think she acknowledged this—that adding it to the list of objectives is the right way to go about it. But the sense of what she is trying to achieve certainly has merit.

A number of the delegated powers in the Bill contain consultation requirements with devolved Ministers and/or representatives of the fishing industry. However, in that respect, the need for consultation is reserved for specific purposes and is envisaged as a one-off, whereas this amendment proposes a more regular and longer-term consultation. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said he thought it was at the basement of the types of consultation we should have but, nevertheless, we agree that there should be more comprehensive regular engagement with relevant stakeholders.

Moving further than the noble Baroness’s amendment, we need to make sure that the different sections of the UK’s fleet—the trawlers and the 10s and so on—are all effectively represented in the process. We need to make sure that the spread of stakeholders is right.

We are not doing very well with this Bill because we keep having to revisit and go back and forth to parts that we have already discussed. We have amendments later in the Bill which deal with the issue of consultation, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, has said that he has more detailed proposals with regard to the establishment of advisory boards and so on.

In the mix of all that there is the fundamental issue of consultation, and all these proposals have merit. We will listen carefully to what the Minister has to say on this issue and, when we have dealt with all the amendments we have tabled, we will try to pull together a considered view about the best wording and the best way forward. We would like to get this element of the Bill right and we may well have to come back to it on Report. As I say, we will listen to what the Minister has to say but we may need to pool our ideas to take this issue forward, and we should do so.

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My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend and my noble and learned friend—I am sorry he is not able to be present—and wholeheartedly agree with the principle that fisheries management should be informed by the best available evidence and that there should be close working between the UK Government, the devolved Administrations, industry, scientists and interested parties. All noble Lords who have spoken in this shortish debate have referred to that.

It is a long-established approach for the Government to engage widely on the implementation of policy. We have an expert advisory group considering issues relating to fisheries policy and, because the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, raised one or two points, I would like to indicate which organisations are part of that to show the spread: the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, the United Kingdom Association of Fish Producer Organisations, the Scottish Association of Fish Producer Organisations, the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association, Greener UK, the British Retail Consortium, the Association of IFCAs and the UK Seafood Industry Alliance/Provision Trade Federation.

Additionally, we have a Marine Science Co-ordination Committee, bringing together bodies across government, together with senior scientific advisers. I mention in particular Professor Mike Elliott, director of the Institute of Estuarine and Coastal Studies and professor of estuarine and coastal sciences at the University of Hull, and Professor Michael J Kaiser, professor of marine conservation ecology at the School of Ocean Sciences, Bangor University. I mention this because it is important that your Lordships understand the range of the expert advice we are receiving.

The UK Government are also supporting initiatives from the industry—

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I promise the Minister that I will not go through a list of even more organisations that should be consulted but Natural England is a key government and Defra body for looking at everything, including take-free zones and so on. Is it involved at all or is that done by the Secretary of State?

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All the organisations that I have referred to are organisations rather than statutory bodies. Clearly, bodies such as Natural England have statutory functions and interests, and obviously are part of the work. The Environment Agency, Natural England and other such bodies would all have an interest in marine areas and so on. As to the part they will play in the expert advisory group—I will try not to mislead your Lordships—clearly all such statutory organisations and bodies would have a locus in this.

As to the initiatives from the industry itself that the UK Government are supporting to manage fisheries, these include, for example, the work of the Scallop Industry Consultation Group and the newly created shellfish industry group. We have also held a call for evidence on how we allocate additional English quota.

In addition—the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, referred to this and we shall have discussions about it—the Bill includes statutory provisions requiring consultation and parliamentary scrutiny of proposals in the joint fisheries statement, any Secretary of State fisheries statement and fisheries management plans. The provision for consultation in these three areas—particularly when we get down to the fisheries management plans, which are about each and every stock—shows the level of ability and the importance of consultation. Its purpose is to get these matters right and to have sustainable fishing.

Given the complexities of fisheries management, the different interests and the different levels at which advice and engagement need to take place—be it at national, administration or local level—a one-size-fits-all body is unlikely to work. Consultation and collaboration will need to flex and adapt as we improve our fisheries management.

In addition, I am advised that, as drafted, the amendment would present some challenges given the devolution settlements. Officials in the UK Government have worked very closely with their counterparts in the devolved Administrations to develop and draft this new set of fisheries objectives. We appreciate the level of engagement that the devolved Administrations have shown in this work. The objectives are truly shared ambitions for our future fisheries management. I am pleased to report that the devolved Administrations already collaborate and consult widely in developing their own future fisheries management policies.

As I say, we will come to discussions on consultation at a later stage but I hope it has been helpful to my noble friend that I have set out in slightly more detail than I might have intended the organisations that are part of the expert advisory group. As we all know, we need to base what we do on scientific advice—and we are seeking the best scientific advice we can.

With those extra words, I hope my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response, and the two other noble Lords for supporting—in principle, I think—the ideas behind this amendment. Obviously, we look forward to looking at theirs in greater detail as well.

The one thing that slightly concerns me, as the Minister rightly said, is that there is no one size that fits all. I understand that but, on the other hand, if we have lots of little bits doing different things, surely you need something overall, like an umbrella, which brings it together. This is the thought behind the amendment. It is an ongoing consultation: it is not that you go out to consult on one issue, but that it would be something that goes on into the future. As my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay could not be here tonight, I say at this stage that I will obviously read Hansard very carefully, as I know he will. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 5 withdrawn.

Amendments 6 to 10 not moved.

Amendment 11

Moved by

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11: Clause 1, page 2, line 7, leave out “, where possible,”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment strengthens the “ecosystem objective” in relation to the reversal of the negative impacts of fish and aquaculture activities on marine ecosystems.

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My Lords, in moving Amendment 11, I shall speak also to Amendment 13; both are in my name. These amendments tighten up the definition of the ecosystem objective, by removing the get-out phrase of “where possible”. They raise the issue of how we are going to measure what is possible and achievable.

We welcome that the Bill seeks to emphasise the need for an ecosystem-based approach to fishing and aquaculture activities, and to minimise and eliminate incidental catches of sensitive species. This is really important: we have a long way to go in firmly embedding the ecosystem objectives so that we can start to restore the damage that human overexploitation has caused over many years.

For too long fisheries management has been carried out in isolation from other marine management activities, with little consideration of its wider ecological impact. We debated this issue earlier with the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, which raised marine planning and the need to integrate these policies.

The recent marine strategy review found that the UK is failing to achieve good environmental status in 11 out of 15 indicators. The review went on to state that good environmental status

“may not be achieved for many years, unless there are further improvements to fisheries management measures.”

We need to drive that change as a matter of urgency. This leads us to the question: what are the legal implications of specifying that these measures should occur only “where possible”? I realise that this might be a legal nicety, and it might be necessary to put some of these checks and balances into a Bill, but I am also concerned that this is a loophole through which all sorts of bad practice will slip. We are probing the extent to which the Government are committed to securing the reversal of negative impacts and the elimination of incidental catches, rather than simply minimising them. Of course, we accept that these amendments are not perfectly worded, but we believe that the Government can go further than the current position in the Bill. I hope the Minister will acknowledge our concerns about the extent to which the existing wording waters down what would otherwise be a strong objective.

Amendment 14 takes a slightly different route to defining the ecosystem objective, by specifying the protection of endangered aquatic species and undersized fish. Again, we welcome this amendment as a helpful way of improving the current wording.

Amendment 12, on the catching of incidental species, seeks to impose a deadline on the Government’s delivery. We agree with the spirit behind this, and would be interested in exploring ways of achieving it; for example, having a reporting requirement rather than a hard deadline.

Amendments 126 and 127 deal with the specific definition of sensitive species with regard to cetaceans, or aquatic mammals. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for raising this concern. I am sure she will speak on this in a moment. It is clear that our conservation policies need to be at least as good as those provided by EU law.

I am glad to have the opportunity to raise this issue. Again, it goes back how firm the Government are in following through on some of the objectives they have set out, and not having too many loopholes that will enable Ministers or future fisheries management groups to disregard what was intended to be a firm policy. I am grateful for the opportunity to explore that further; I therefore beg to move.

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My Lords, I rise to support Amendment 11 and the amendments in my name. I note that the Minister did not ask me to meet him before today, and so I am hazarding a guess that he is happy with all my amendments, which is a thrill for me. I almost think I do not need to argue for them here.

However, the Conservative Party manifesto, from which this Government obtained their democratic mandate less than three months ago, made a very specific promise about fisheries. In the section entitled “A Post-Brexit Deal for Fisheries”, big bold letters promised:

“There will be a legal commitment to fish sustainably.”

At the moment, that is a broken promise. There is nothing in the Bill about a legal commitment to fish sustainably. There are ambitions, powers, objectives, statements and a whole load of other bits and pieces, but no legal commitment. I would like the Minister to explain when that legal commitment will be put into the Bill. If it is because I have tabled my amendment, that is absolutely fantastic. The Government promised this to the people in exchange for their votes, so I do not think there is any way that the Government can say that it is not the will of the people and not put it into the Bill.

My Amendment 12 will eliminate the catching of sensitive species within five years of the Bill becoming law. That is important because the current drafting is very weak. Sensitive species should be protected whether incidentally caught or not, and this should not just be minimised but eliminated altogether. Five years gives industry plenty of time to adapt its methods and equipment to achieve this aim. So this is not a probing amendment; it is obviously going to be picked up.

Amendment 14, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and others in this group have similar intentions. Any legal commitment to fish sustainably would contain these provisions, so the Government really need to listen to the Committee on these issues.

My Amendments 126 and 127 refer to the definitions set out in Clause 48. The definition of sensitive species is very curiously drafted, as it refers to

“any species of animal or plant listed in Annex II or IV of Directive 92/43/EEC of the Council of the European Communities on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild flora and fauna (as amended from time to time)”.

I read that out in full because it raises another very important point. Unless I am mistaken, and I am sure the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, this is not referring to retained EU law but to ongoing, actual EU law. Can the Minister please clarify that for me? It seems that a decision has been made to impose this little snippet of EU law onto our fisheries policy, which seems slightly strange. I would like to know more about that.

Amendments 126 and 127 seek to improve this definition of sensitive species so that it is not so heavily dependent on EU law, which is amended from time to time. This is particularly important for cetacean species: our dolphins, whales, porpoises and other similar highly advanced marine creatures, which, as we all admit, suffer extremely under the treatment they currently get. It is important to have cetaceans named in the Bill in case the Government later decide to remove reference to the EU directive, perhaps because they do not like it any more. I am in no way suggesting that this is the only way to deal with this issue, but the current decision to base the definition on EU law needs explaining and I think it needs to be improved.

Coming back to the will of the people, I want the Minister to reassure me that the Conservative Party’s manifesto will be delivered on this issue. I hope he can commit to working with noble Lords from across the Chamber, who care deeply about this and bring a great deal of knowledge and expertise. On his earlier point on the meanings of sustainability, the fact is that if you do not have environmental sustainability, neither do you have social and economic sustainability. If you deplete fish stocks, fishers will go out of business.

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My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 14 in my name and that of—if I may say so—my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I was grateful for the opportunity to discuss this with my noble friend the Minister when we met. Currently, Clause 1(4) relates to the ecosystem objective. I agree with much of what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and lend my support to her comments. But there is currently no mention at all of endangered species in Clause 1(4). Even a cursory glance at the list of endangered species shows how deeply worrying this is, and that list is growing by the minute. I would also like to see some mention of sensitive habitats, which I think could loosely be encompassed within the ecosystem objective; perhaps the Minister, when he replies, will tell me that it is.

Certainly I would look for some form of recognition that we need measures to protect endangered species where they are being caught. In particular, I am conscious that dolphins and porpoises are being caught inadvertently in nets. I noticed that the Minister referred to mesh sizes and gear. When we met, I spoke about the work that I had seen when I visited Denmark and Sweden with Defra’s Select Committee. In the narrow stretches of water that they share, they are doing a lot of work to pool and collaborate on mesh sizes and gear. I would like to think that, particularly where endangered species are concerned, we could work towards this with our international partners.

The reason behind Amendment 14, as I raised with the Minister, is that there are species such as sharks and rays which seem to have been overlooked, and which I believe need statutory protection for the simple reason that they reproduce more slowly. I understand—and have heard evidence to the effect—that most commercial fish species reproduce more quickly. I believe it can be two years before sharks reproduce. Is this something that the Minister is aware of, and that the Government may see fit to add to the Bill, or is it encompassed in their thinking elsewhere?

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My Lords, I rise to support Amendments 126 and 127, as tabled by the noble Baroness opposite, in so far as I want to hear the wise words of my noble friend the Minister. I am concerned that cetaceans should be included; I am sure he will tell me that they are, in some form or another, but I want to be assured of that. On that note, I would expect sea turtles to be included somehow, as that is another species very vulnerable to bycatch.

I should probably declare that I am a longstanding member of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation charity as well as the Marine Conservation Society. One of the problems when you talk about endangered species is that, while some are endangered and remain endangered, some are endangered but, after sustained work, might come off that list while others will go on. I would say that it is a moving feast, but that would rather imply that we are going to eat them all. As we deal with the Bill, we need rigorous measures in place to ensure that those species most at risk are protected. That is far as I will go. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, is perhaps a little down on this Bill. There are issues of sustainability, but it is our job in this Chamber to ensure that these are addressed. I am pretty certain that the Government’s motives are genuine in this regard; I wait to hear the words of my noble friend the Minister so that he can assure me of this.

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My Lords, I should like to say a brief word as I have a question for my noble friend on the Front Bench: if the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, are carried and the words “where possible” are deleted, what would happen in a situation where negative impacts cannot be reversed? Will the Government be liable for something over which they have no control? I agree with my noble friend Lord Randall, who said that he believes the Government are heading in the right direction. I just hope that perfection will not be the enemy of the good and of what we can really achieve.

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My Lords, I recognise that the proposed Amendment 11 is designed to enhance protection of the marine environment. It would, though, have hugely significant impacts if we took it as it is drafted. Indeed, the impact could be as radical as stopping all management of the terrestrial environment, including farming.

I will explain why we have a concern about what is obviously a very laudable range of amendments. Requiring the reversal of all negative impacts on the marine environment is, we believe, not practicable if we are also to support the UK’s fisheries and aquaculture sectors. As a maritime nation, the UK’s vision of

“clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas”

acknowledges that we must balance the protection of our marine environment with our objective of supporting thriving fishing and aquaculture sectors. As I responded in an earlier group of amendments, that is because this is some of our best and most healthy food. We must remember that men and women go to sea to produce food for us. This approach is already supported in the UK Marine Strategy Regulations. Requiring our fisheries and aquaculture sectors to reverse all the negative impacts of their activities on marine ecosystems, as proposed in this amendment, would in our view render many fishing activities uneconomic. We must also recognise that fishing is not the only maritime activity that can affect the marine environment. Indeed, natural events do the same.

I will turn to Amendments 12 and 13, and take the opportunity to highlight that the UK Government agree with the purpose of protecting sensitive species from incidental catches in fishing nets. I hope that I can reassure your Lordships that the existing objective already provides the utmost protection possible for these species. The Government are resolutely committed to minimising bycatch of sensitive species as much as is practically possible. To achieve this, we are developing UK plans of action for cetacean and seabird bycatch, working closely with the fishing industry and environmental groups. Our various bycatch monitoring programmes are essential to inform this work.

We will also be launching a broader programme of work on protected, endangered and threatened species bycatch, which will support a holistic, ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management and will encourage the development of sustainable fisheries with minimal impact on sensitive species. The proposed Amendment 12, however, would legally require fishers to eliminate all bycatch within five years; Amendment 13 would require this as soon as the Act is passed. Sadly, I have to say that this is not practical or realistic. I mention this because—I think the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, may have referred to this in a different set of amendments—with the mixed fisheries that we have, actually eliminating bycatch is not practical. It is desirable to do all that we can, and that is why our goal is to reduce bycatch to as close as zero as possible, but in many situations the complete elimination of bycatch is sadly not possible. Some sensitive species will inevitably be caught in nets and gear despite the implementation of effective mitigation measures.

The wording

“to minimise and, where possible, eliminate bycatch”

is accepted by environmental organisations and fishers, and is in various international agreements such as the Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic, North East Atlantic, Irish and North Seas, ASCOBANS, as well as existing legislation such as technical conservation measures and regulations. So we do have a concern because of what we think would be a disproportionate impact that would significantly and adversely impact the industry.

The amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, also seek to extend the objective beyond incidental bycatch to include deliberate catch. Again, I am advised that this extension is not required as Article 12 of the habitats directive already prohibits the deliberate killing of sensitive species.

At Second Reading my noble friend Lady McIntosh referred in particular to the more vulnerable nature of sharks and rays, and I understand, as she has mentioned, that this is the background to her Amendment 14. I wholeheartedly agree with the purpose of protecting endangered species and minimising the catching of undersized fish. I hope I can reassure noble Lords of the UK’s commitment to their protection through both the existing fisheries objectives and the current legal protections that are in place. The Bill has a definition of “sensitive species” that encompasses endangered species and goes beyond by including all species that are due protection under Annexes II and IV of the European habitats directive, which will become part of retained EU law. In relation to sharks and rays specifically, these species are protected from incidental catches in the bycatch objective in Clause 1(6) of the Bill.

Our fisheries objectives are also enforced by current domestic legislation—for example, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Tope (Prohibition of Fishing) Order 2008. These establish a legal framework for the protection of both threatened and endangered species. The bycatch objective in the Bill will require policies, which will be set out in the joint fisheries statement, to address the recording and accounting of bycatch.

I should say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that the legal commitment is met through the fisheries management plans and statement. That is where the legally binding aspect of the points that she and other noble Lords have raised comes in; obviously we are wrestling with the objectives at the moment, but their legally binding nature is through the fisheries statement and the management plans, which of course encompass all stocks.

I return to the point about the recording and accounting of bycatch. This will help us to understand the issue of shark and ray bycatch better, which in turn will support the development of effective adaptive management strategies for shark and ray fisheries. EU technical conservation measures that prohibit the fishing of certain sharks and rays as protected species will be incorporated into UK law as retained EU law. Catches of undersized fish are also included as part of the bycatch objective, which states that

“the catching of fish that are below minimum conservation reference size, and other bycatch, is avoided or reduced”.

The purpose of the amendments is therefore already achieved through the existing fisheries objective and reinforced with existing legislation.

On Amendments 126 and 127, I agree with the purpose of protecting all species of cetacean from incidental catches in fishing nets. Again, I hope that I can reassure noble Lords that the existing objective provides the utmost protection possible to species. I also say to my noble friend Lord Randall that the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and the CITES regulations include turtles. That is an international agreement to which the UK is a signatory.

The definition of “sensitive marine species” used in the Bill already includes all species of cetaceans by virtue of its reference to Annexe IV of Council Directive 92/43/EEC, which will become part of UK law as retained EU law. I say to the noble Baroness that I am advised that the proposed amendment is already covered by what we have. I will be very happy to discuss this matter in detail with officials. I am afraid that I would have loved to have had meetings with every noble Lord who submitted amendments, but there was such a wave of them for about 48 hours last week that it was not possible to meet everyone. However, if possible, I like to have such meetings, which give us the ability perhaps to iron out some of the misconceptions before we embark on the Bill in the Chamber.

I hope that the noble Lords who have tabled these amendments will find my explanations sufficient. I reiterate my practical point to the noble Baroness that there are really serious issues when one starts requiring elimination; with the best will in the world we want to have minimal bycatch as close to zero as possible, but actually achieving zero can be incredibly difficult. However, with innovation and all that we need to do at a practical level, we want to find ways, possibly involving new fishing nets and gear, to reduce it.

I hope that I have been able to emphasise the Government’s clear commitment to sensitive marine species and to the marine environment, both through the Bill and through other strategies because this is part of a continuum of other pieces of legislation that make up our statute book. On that basis, I ask the noble Baroness whether she feels able to withdraw her amendment.

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I thank the Minister for that answer. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for mentioning the wording in the Conservative manifesto about the legal commitment to fishing sustainably. This goes back to the discussion we had at the beginning of today’s debate: there seems to be a chasm between our understanding of what fishing sustainably is, and indeed what was implied by the Conservative manifesto, and what the Minister has told us it is. We use the word “sustainable” to mean environmentally sustainable but earlier the Minister was adding all sorts of other interpretations of the word. We need to thrash this out because I feel uncomfortable with “sustainable” having a much broader definition that encompasses economic and social sustainability. That is not what I mean; nor do I think it is what was intended by what is in the manifesto. The Minister said that the legal binding would be through the fisheries statements and so on, but when it comes to the legal requirement it is different if you use his interpretation of “sustainable” or ours. I do not think we have sorted that question. We need to come back to it and we will, as I am sure the Minister will be aware.

On our amendments on the ecosystem-based approach, I realise that taking out “where possible” was perhaps a stretch too far, but equally it brings up the question of how you measure what is possible. Anyone can say that something is not possible. I am not sure of the legal definition of what is and is not possible, but as long as you say that you will do something “if it is possible”, in my book that means it might not happen. Of course, I am not saying that our wording is right, but an ecosystem-based approach should be an all-encompassing approach that determines what is possible and what is not, what is measurable and which deadlines should be used to achieve all that. We should not need to have all the extra caveats that are in the Bill. As I say, I realise that I was pushing the limits of all this, but I feel as if we have left that door a little too far open and we might have to come back to it again.

I heard what the Minister said about sensitive species and I will certainly want to look very carefully at it in Hansard. I do not know whether the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, was reassured about the retained EU law. It seemed to make sense to me but she may take a different view on that. We will certainly need to check it again. We may come back to some of these issues but in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 11 withdrawn.

Amendments 12 to 14 not moved.

Amendment 15

Moved by

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15: Clause 1, page 2, line 16, at end insert—

“( ) the fisheries policy authorities cooperate with international parties as appropriate.”

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My Lords, this is another probing amendment, following on from the discussion I had with my noble friend the Minister in preparing for Committee. Its aim is to tease out from the Government which international fisheries policy authorities they intend to co-operate with.

The back narrative of this is that in paragraph 71 of the political declaration published in October, it is stated, in respect of fishing opportunities, that:

“The parties should cooperate bilaterally and internationally to ensure fishing at sustainable levels, promote resource conservation, and foster a clean, healthy and productive marine environment, noting that the United Kingdom will be an independent coastal state.”

This will be extremely important when, as we see later in the Bill, a fisheries policy authority, when publishing a fisheries management plan, has to have regard to changes in circumstances, one of which could be changes in the UK’s international obligations.

My noble friend has expressed very clearly our desire to maintain our role in UNCLOS—the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Presumably we were an independent member of UNCLOS before we joined the European Union. I would like confirmation that our status in that regard has not changed. I know that there is a verbal commitment to our continuing engagement with ICES—the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea—but will we maintain the same level of spending as in the past? I am not clear, either, about which budget this will come from—the Defra budget or another departmental budget. It would be helpful to know that. We took evidence from ICES in connection with our work on the energy and environment sub-committee, and I have visited the ICES headquarters in Copenhagen twice. It is important for us to continue to rely on the excellent research work that it does.

I am not aware whether there will be any change in our status in relation to the Food and Agriculture Organization—particularly the fisheries and agricultural aspects of its work—or what our dependence on it will be, but that is also extremely important. One non-governmental organisation that I presume we have left, now that we are an independent sovereign state, is the European Environment Agency. It is of particular historic interest—I want to place this on record—that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister’s father, Stanley Johnson, is a great expert in this field and was a leading environmentalist in the European Commission for a number of years before he was elected to the European Parliament. He is still a highly regarded and internationally respected environmentalist in his own right. Will the Government commit to continuing to work very closely with, and rely on the work of, the European Environment Agency with regard to fisheries but also on other environmental work—particularly agriculture, when the Agriculture Bill comes up? I hope that we can keep the door open to the work of the European Environment Agency.

I would be interested to learn about the nature of our new relationships with international parties such as Norway, Iceland and the Faroes that the Bill sets out, particularly—dare I say—if a fisheries dispute arises. The Government have clearly stated that we will not be subject to any jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, but I argue that there is a degree of urgency about fisheries policy—and other policies—since we are now an independent coastal state. Who will arbitrate in the event of any fisheries dispute in our new relationships with Norway, Iceland and the Faroes? More importantly, what will the dispute resolution mechanisms be with regard to any dispute with the other 27 European Union countries? If, for example, France was to follow through with its threat to blockade the continental ports, despite a fisheries agreement being in place, thereby preventing our fisheries products accessing the market—a very real prospect—what would the dispute mechanism be? We need to know. I am not aware what it would be and I seek reassurance on that.

International relations are particularly important because—I place this on record—the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea requires the UK to participate in management based on an agreement on straddling stocks, which means that we would need to negotiate almost everything. With those few introductory remarks, I look forward to clarification on the issues that I have raised this afternoon. I beg to move.

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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, for introducing at last the other people who deal with our fish stocks—other national authorities. The fundamental flaw of this Bill is that it seems to ignore the rest of the world, while our fish stocks—most of them, including their spawning grounds—are outside our exclusive economic zone. Later in the Bill we come to amendments where, I hope, we can strengthen it so that it notes and acts on the real world, where this resource is not exclusive to us.

I welcome the Bill in relation to the scientific side, which, to give the Government their due, is well advanced in terms of using ICES and stock assessments, for example, and I hope that the Minister will tell us about a lot of other things that they are doing with regard to keeping within those international areas. However, we are a member of all sorts of regional fisheries organisations, such as the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission and various tuna organisations, as well as UNCLOS, as the noble Baroness mentioned. These are basic, fundamental aspirations that we need to exceed to make sure that we have the sustainability that we need.

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My Lords, I rise briefly to support the thrust behind Amendment 15, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, which seeks to add a reference to appropriate international co-operation to the scientific evidence objective—an extension to the debate on a previous grouping. I am sure that we will return to the point about science and international co-operation throughout Committee—and, depending on the Government’s clarifications, perhaps on Report as well.

As your Lordships’ House has observed and debated on numerous occasions in recent years, fisheries management is complicated not only by the fact that fish have no knowledge of, or respect for, the boundaries of national waters, but that each species’ habitat shifts as ocean temperatures and conditions fluctuate—a phenomenon that is likely only to increase with climate change. This was the thrust of the point just made by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson.

The Government are committed under international law to co-operation with neighbouring states. They have indicated that they want annual negotiations with the EU on access to UK waters and quota, although on the premise that a fishing deal has been concluded by 1 July. While commitments to work with neighbouring states exist, such co-operation is important particularly for the gathering and analysis of scientific data. We are lucky to have world-class scientists and conservationists in the UK, but that does not mean that we cannot engage with and learn from others from wherever they come, and with organisations that the UK may also wish to co-operate with long into the future.

I hope therefore that the Minister will be able to offer assurances that his department will engage with international partners as appropriate, not just to agree high-level terms on access but to share science, practical knowledge and best practice, and that this will be included in the Bill.

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My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering for her amendment in relation to international co-operation and for her indicating that it is a probing amendment. I agree with the sensible recognition that international co-operation will be important in the collection of scientific data.

The UK currently works closely with international bodies, particularly through our membership of ICES—the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea—which advises on the status of fish stocks. I am delighted to confirm that the UK is in the process of establishing a further agreement with it. This will ensure that the advice that we require is in place so that the UK can continue to meet its international and domestic commitments and obligations on sustainability. The UK’s share of funding for ICES will be a matter for the Budget and the spending review.

The UK will continue to make a strong contribution to international co-operation on data collection and related fisheries science. The scientific evidence objective stipulates that the management of fish and aquaculture activities is to be undertaken on the basis of the “best available scientific advice”. The best advice can be obtained only by co-operation. The UK also has obligations through the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to co-operate with other coastal states in relation to shared stocks. Such co-operation includes the sharing of scientific research and data.

The UK is also a contracting party to a number of multilateral environmental agreements that have a remit within the marine environment and for marine species. These include the International Whaling Commission and the convention on migratory species and its sub-agreements. Working with a variety of parties, both domestic and international, is therefore covered within the existing objective.

To ensure that we are able to fulfil these obligations and to co-operate with international parties, including in the scientific space, the Bill gives us a power under which regulations can be made relating to specific technical matters as long as they are for a conservation purpose or a fish industry purpose.

One leg of the conservation purpose means that regulations can be made for the

“purpose of conserving, improving or developing marine stocks”.

This will allow the UK Government and the devolved Administrations, for whom equivalent powers are provided at their request, to make regulations to meet these international obligations for scientific and research purposes.

My noble friend also asked about the forums for dispute settlements. These are covered by Article 287 of UNCLOS. They are: the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the International Court of Justice, an Annex VII arbitral tribunal and an Annex VIII special arbitral tribunal. I hope that answer her question. As for other international organisations, we have prioritised joining five regional fishing management organisations now that we have left the EU on the basis of where the UK has a direct fishing and/or conservation interest. They are: the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission and the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. In addition, we shall want to join the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization—NASCO—where our interests are focused primarily on conservation. With this explanation, I ask my noble friend to consider withdrawing her amendment.

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I am grateful for the opportunity to have this short debate. Alarm bells are ringing given the leaked email over the weekend about the lack of importance apparently attached by the Government to farming and potentially to fisheries, so my noble friend the Minister will understand why there is considerable concern among the fisheries community. Your Lordships will have heard what she said about the financing for ICES now being a matter for the Budget and in particular for the spending review. I hope that there will opportunities for us to contribute to that. It was helpful to learn what the dispute resolution mechanism will be, but my heart sinks a little, because if one thought that a case before the European Court of Justice took a while, I shudder to think how long an average case involving fisheries before the International Court of Justice would take to conclude.

I am sure that we will return to these issues at a later stage, so I shall not press the amendment now. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 15 withdrawn.

Amendment 16 not moved.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.36 pm.