Fisheries Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:51 pm on 21st November 2018.

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Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 6:51 pm, 21st November 2018

We have had a good debate with many lively exchanges, particularly during the contribution of my hon. Friend Douglas Ross. I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to the DEFRA officials who have worked incredibly hard to get the Bill to this point, to our officials in the Marine Management Organisation, who have done considerable planning on enforcement, and to CEFAS, our science agency, which is truly the best in the world in fisheries science.

The Secretary of State was generous in giving way in his opening speech, and indeed the debate drifted some distance from the contents of the Bill. I will not be giving way, however, as I want to use the short time available to address as many points as possible.

I welcome the fact that the shadow Secretary of State, Sue Hayman supports the Bill. She made some specific points about reallocating quota. We have been clear in our White Paper that we want to move to a different method of allocating quota to the UK fleet. We have also set out proposals in the White Paper to allocate new quota on a different methodology so that it does not simply follow FQA—fixed quota allocation—unit allocations. In the longer term, we could obviously change the allocation keys on the existing FQAs, but the legal advice based on case law is that that would have to be done gradually over a period of time.

It is also important to note that some of the figures bandied about in terms of who owns what quota can be misleading, as there is a huge difference between the small inshore vessels which are limited largely to the 0 to 12 mile zone and the pelagic fleet which has huge vessels with huge capital investment, and for which mackerel is by far the largest stock.

The hon. Lady made some points about sustainability and the discard ban set out in clause 1. She suggested that that is weaker than we have now, but I can tell her that the wording we use in clause 1 is largely borrowed directly from the EU regulation. We envisage that the joint fisheries statement that flows from that—it is a legal requirement and details of it are set out in schedule 1 to the Bill—will define how we will deliver those sustainability objectives. So the basis of clause 1 is borrowed from the existing EU requirements on sustainability.

My hon. Friend Neil Parish raised the issue of enforcement capacity. We are doing work at the moment with Border Force, some of whose staff have been retrained to do fisheries duties. We also have additional vessels from the Royal Navy that are being tested at the moment, and we are in discussion with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency about aerial surveillance. So we are planning on having a significant increase in our enforcement capacity. My hon. Friend also mentioned the danger of the science being out of date. It is always a challenge with the science, but we do put observers on fisheries vessels, and our scientific models attempt to predict the future by looking at particular trends.

Deidre Brock mentioned the clause in the Bill that covers the selling of quota rights, and said that the tendering and auction processes should be devolved. They are devolved, and the clause is absolutely explicit that it applies only to England. The licensing of foreign vessels is devolved, but we have said that, with the consent of the Scottish Government and others, the Marine Management Organisation might issue a single licence for the whole of the UK. Clearly, agreements that are made internationally would be a matter for the UK Government. The hon. Lady also suggested that Norway, being outside the European Union, was a victim of fax democracy and had no control over its fisheries. Nothing could be further from the truth. Norway is a serious player and an independent coastal state that controls access to its waters. It conducts its own negotiations on coastal states matters, unlike us; we are currently represented by the European Union.

My right hon. Friend Mr Paterson gave a passionate speech and raised the importance of allowing selective gear types. This is why we have a power in the Bill to enable us to change technical specifications expeditiously. He has long been an advocate of an effort-based approach. As I have said many times, there are some advantages to an effort-based regime, particularly with mixed fisheries and with the inshore fleet, but there are downsides too. Generally speaking, a quota system makes the most sense for the pelagic fleet, while an effort-based regime could make more sense for a small inshore fleet. We have set out a proposal in our White Paper for further pilot schemes in this area, particularly for the inshore fleet, but it is not an area that we should rush. My right hon. Friend also asked for reassurance on the United Nations convention on the law of the sea, and I can confirm that UNCLOS will be the new legal baseline once we leave the European Union.

The hon. Members for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) and for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) and others raised the issue of tariff-free access for our trade, and of course we are going to be seeking that free trade agreement as part of our future economic partnership, but I would point out that we have a trade surplus in fisheries. We export about £1.3 billion but import £1.1 billion. Largely, the fish species that we export, particularly shellfish, tend to have lower tariffs, while the processed products, which we export far less of, are the ones that tend to have the higher tariffs. I have to say that the message from the processors we have spoken to is, “Don’t sell out the catching sector on our account.” I would really welcome such spirit and courage from other sectors of the economy.

My hon. Friends the Members for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) and for St Ives (Derek Thomas) mentioned the unfairness of existing relative stability shares as the allocation key, and we agree. We set out clearly in the White Paper our view that we should move to zonal attachment—that is, where the fish reside—as a fairer and more scientific basis for allocation. We are clear that that is the approach we will take.

My hon. Friend Scott Mann and Angus Brendan MacNeil raised the issue of bluefin tuna. This is a complex issue and it is not specifically covered by the common fisheries policy—it is covered by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, which is a regional fisheries management organisation—but this is certainly something that we can consider.

My hon. Friend David Duguid has more fishing in his constituency than any other Member in this House. He correctly identified the importance of maintaining access for leverage in negotiations. He also mentioned the issue of lobster and brown crab, which would be covered by the western waters regime but would largely be a matter for the Scottish Government.

In conclusion, the Bill is essential, whether we have a deal or no deal. It gives us the legal powers to control access, set quota and manage fisheries sustainability, and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.