New Clause 8 - Agency arrangements between sea fish licensing authorities

Part of Fisheries Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 9:00 pm on 13th October 2020.

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Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee 9:00 pm, 13th October 2020

It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. and old Friend Sir David Amess. I think we can say that literally, being much of an age. He and I have consistently disagreed about Brexit, but we still remain friends for all that. For those of us who were staunch remainers, the common fisheries policy was about the most difficult aspect of our EU membership to defend. That is one part of our arrangements in departing that I do not regret, and I do not think that many other people will either. This is a good Bill and a necessary Bill to put matters on a proper footing going forward.

Bromley and Chislehurst is not particularly noted for its fishing industry, although I do use this opportunity to welcome and give every good wish to the establishment by local businesspeople of the excellent Fish Union Chislehurst, which will provide a direct link from the catchers to the streets of Royal Parade in Chislehurst. It is a great initiative and I am delighted that they are doing it.

In fact, as might not surprise you, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am going to talk about a legal point instead, and that brings me to Government amendment 36. I listened with care to my hon. Friend the Minister in her exchanges with me and with Mr Carmichael. My hon. Friend is a very good Minister, she is a very good lawyer, and she was in the past a very distinguished member of the Justice Committee, all of which, I hope, will lead her to pause and take stock as to the wisdom of inserting a PEC—a permissive extent clause—at this late stage of the Bill. In effect, it seeks to give the Government the power to legislate, in certain matters, for the Crown dependencies.

There is a long-standing constitutional convention, as my hon. Friend will know from her time on the Select Committee, from our report in March 2017 on the implications of Brexit on the Crown dependencies, and from our visits to the Crown dependencies, that the normal process is that we legislate for the Crown dependencies only with their consent. They are not former colonies or British territories, and they are not part of the United Kingdom in the strict sense. They are possessions of Her Majesty the Queen, by right of her position as successor to the Duchy of Normandy. That is why they do not have representation here. Where necessary, their legislative dealings with the UK Government are dealt with historically through the Privy Council, and are now safeguarded by the Ministry of Justice via the person of the Lord Chancellor. So their constitutional position is different.

The Government have recognised that in the past, for example in tax transparency legislation, where this House accepted that although we have the power to legislate for overseas territories, we do not constitutionally have the power to legislate for the Crown dependencies in a like manner. I do not understand why the Government are adopting a different stance on this, compared with the one they took on the equally desirable legislation on tax transparency.

The problem is this: of the Crown dependencies, the Isle of Man has consented. Well and good—there is nothing wrong with a permissive extent clause that involves the Isle of Man. However, the Bailiwick of Guernsey, which involves three separate jurisdictions—Guernsey, Alderney and Sark, all of which have their own legislative integrity—and the island of Jersey, have declined to agree to the PEC. Indeed, there were discussions going back to July and they politely said, “No, thank you. We have a good relationship with our neighbours in France”—that is where the vast bulk of their catch lands—“and if we have difficulties we have our own legislative processes, and we will work and legislate for ourselves in an emergency if need be.” So I do not see the constitutional justification for the Government taking these powers.

I had a concern—the Minister will know this—about our taking what many of us thought to be pre-emptive powers in the UK internal markets Bill. In the end that was described as a “break glass in emergency” clause. I do not know whether this is supposed to be a “break glass in emergency” clause, but it seems to suggest the possibility of the UK Government trespassing on the constitutional integrity of the Crown dependencies, in furtherance of a potential dispute between the UK Government and the Crown dependencies.