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Amendment 1

Fisheries Bill [HL] - Committee (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 3:19 pm on 2nd March 2020.

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Lord Teverson:

Moved by Lord Teverson

1: Before Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—“Fisheries principles(1) Marine stocks within the UK Exclusive Economic Zone are a resource that belongs to the nation as a whole.(2) Any quotas or other rights to harvest marine stocks whether allocated to vessels, public bodies, or persons natural or corporate remain the property of the nation.(3) No vessel, public body, or person natural or corporate shall have a permanent claim over quota or other rights granted to them by a public authority or authorities.”Member’s explanatory statementThe amendment makes clear that UK fish stocks belong to the nation and not to private organisations.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Chair, EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee

My Lords, it seems that whenever we start a fisheries discussion there is rather a lack of sustainability among our Members. One of the useful things between Second Reading and Committee is that we can reflect on the arguments and the Bill until we get into the discussion of amendments. One thing that struck me very strongly after Second Reading, on looking through the Bill again, is that it has hardly any ambition whatever. The withdrawal Act effectively makes us an independent coastal state, which we will be after the transition period, but, apart from that, all the Bill does is provide an administrative framework to keep the status quo.

I do not think that the status quo is good enough for the fishing industry. For instance, there is no provision for new entrants into the industry, which is important. There is no improvement in sustainability methods for fisheries. In fact, the Bill fudges sustainability even more than when we were in the common fisheries policy. There is no particular help for the small under-10 fleet. Because of that, there is no specific help for coastal communities either.

That is why I tabled this amendment, which goes to the fundamental matter of who fish stocks belong to, because the Bill does nothing to change that. At the moment, we have a situation where half of English stocks are owned by companies that are effectively owned by Iceland, Holland or Spain. In Scotland, a vast majority of the industry is owned by a very small number of people. It is a very efficient operation and I certainly have nothing against that, but we have an industry that has become quite fossilised and significantly foreign owned, with no apparent appetite to change that.

We will come on to a number of those issues as we go through the Bill and the amendments, but we are trying to state the completely obvious: if fish stocks belong to anyone while they are in the UK EEZ, they should belong to the nation. That is simply what the amendment says: they are not the everlasting property of a vessel, an individual, a company or even a public body such as the one we have in Cornwall that buys up quota for the local fishing industry. They do not belong to them for eternity; they belong to the nation.

I do not understand how anybody could argue against this concept, but it is really important, since it is fully in line with the ideals of Brexit, becoming an independent coastal state, and Parliament and the nation having control, that we notice and mark that these fish stocks belong to the nation. That does not mean that there should not be, through the Secretary of State or the devolved authorities, a way that those fish stocks—

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

I wholeheartedly agree with the noble Lord about the fish stocks in the zone belonging to the nation. Presumably that could never have occurred had we remained a member of the European Union. Will he confirm that?

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Chair, EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee

Absolutely. I agree with that. That is what I am saying. Given the new opportunity that we have, we should take advantage of being an independent coastal state. The Bill does nothing to change the status quo in any way. This is one thing we can do—lay down a marker on the ownership of those stocks. As to how those stocks are distributed, the amendment does not prevent them being leased for a period, rented or allocated without charge. We are trying to make the point that, at the end of the day, these stocks belong to the nation and not to any individual.

Coming back to the point made by the noble Lord, 17 million people voted for Brexit and for taking control of our own resources. They did not vote for—in relation to fishing—a profitable industry keeping all the advantages that it has at the moment. They were thinking more of the smaller fleets and the fact that those fishing stocks should belong to us rather than to individuals and perhaps, if you would like to call them that, to the elite of the fishing industry at the moment. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Cameron of Dillington Lord Cameron of Dillington Crossbench

My Lords, I support the amendment. At the beginning of last year, in Committee in the Commons on the earlier incarnation of the Bill, the Minister—who is now Secretary of State—George Eustice MP, said:

“I do not believe we need a statement that fisheries resources are a national asset or public property, because that is self-evidently the case and our common law has always held as much.”—[Official Report, Commons, Fisheries Bill Committee, 13/12/18; col. 285.]

At the time I took that as gospel. I admire his legal confidence—I say that in a “Yes Minister” context—because I am not certain that the legal confidence is supported by all involved in the industry. There is a famous case where Justice Cranston suggested that there was a type of property right attributed to a fixed quota allocation and that owners would probably need to be given in the region of seven years’ notice of the intention to move away from those FQA units as a type of property right. Such a legal hitch—this is important—might hamper the Government’s intention to move away from relative stability to zonal allocation.

The point I am making is that if the Government believe that quota and marine stocks belong to the nation as a whole, it cannot possibly do any harm to make that clear in the Bill right at the start, so there is absolutely no doubt throughout the industry; and, more importantly, that in any future court case, trying to prove the opposite will founder on the rock of this legislation, set out in 2020, at the start of a new fishing era by the express will of Parliament.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative

My Lords, I declare an interest at this stage as a director of a company that is in a partnership with another agency among whose clients is UK Fisheries. I put that on record. I will not repeat it every time I intervene in Committee, but I hope noble Lords will be aware of that interest.

This amendment is not grouped with anything else, because if we were to include it in the Bill it would not change any other part of it; it would simply be a statement at the outset. As the noble Lord suggested, it is a statement of the obvious and of fact. In my view it is not the purpose of legislation to state pre-existing facts. It is not necessary in legislation always to state the obvious for the facts to be true. Were this amendment to be included in the Bill, people would say that it had to be included in the Bill, otherwise it would not be true. I am trying to work out in what sense it could not be true that would give rise to it being included in the Bill, which would then give a court a reason to try to interpret it.

I then got into trouble because I am looking at it saying, “the nation”. If the amendment were to be included in the Bill in the form in which it exists, it would drive a coach and horses through the devolution settlement. The Bill very carefully establishes the rights of, for example, the Scottish Fisheries Administration to determine the allocation of quota in relation to Scotland. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, spoke about moving away from relative stability. Indeed, we could, if we wished to, under this legislation change the fixed quota allocations, although it is not the Government’s present intention to do so, as I understand it. To that extent, it is evident that the Government could change the allocation of and access to fish stocks. They can do so because they effectively own the fish stocks. The Bill has, as we will discover, a sophisticated mechanism for planning how this will be done, how it will be consulted on and how it will be managed between the devolved Administrations. This amendment, in my view, would frustrate all of that at the outset, and for that reason I do not support it.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative 3:30 pm, 2nd March 2020

My Lords, I rise to support what my noble friend Lord Lansley has said. I recall the words well that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said at Second Reading: the more you know about fisheries, the less you actually know. It is much more complicated than one originally thinks. This amendment is an example of something that is practically simple, but would be very difficult if it ever got on to the face of the Bill, because—my noble friend is absolutely right—it does infringe on the Scottish Government’s right to allocate quotas, and it is one of many amendments before us that cannot be accepted because it infringes on the Scottish Government’s devolution ability. It would be quite wrong for us in this Chamber—or indeed the other Chamber—to legislate on it.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, I added my name to this amendment, and fully support the contribution made by my noble friend Lord Teverson. There are a number of amendments to the Bill which refer to the fact that fish are not static. They move with the seas, towards their spawning grounds, and according to the temperature of the water and other conditions. The fish are not owned by any individual person, organisation or fishing fleet. They know nothing of quotas or public authorities. It is therefore right that marine stocks should belong to the nation as a whole.

As has been referred to, no doubt the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and the Scottish Government might have a different view, being very keen on fish being a devolved matter. I do not subscribe to that view. As the amendment makes very clear, we believe that marine stocks within the UK exclusive economic zone are a national resource, whether they are swimming around Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the coast of Northumberland or Cornwall. This should be declared on the face of the Bill. My colleague has laid out the arguments cogently, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Photo of Baroness Worthington Baroness Worthington Labour

My Lords, I rise to speak in general support of the principles behind this amendment. We must consider in this debate how we establish—without any shadow of a doubt—that in the handing over of quota for fisheries activities, we are transferring something that should be held as public property, in trust for the people of the nation. That should be established in law, without doubt. I worry that, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, this is far too similar to the current system that we experience under the European Union, where there is an explicit conference of rights to fishermen based on the principle of relative stability. This had led to a race to claw back the rights that have already been given out. We will see, as the debate on the Bill progresses, that a lot of what this centres on is how we take control of those rights, so that they are granted with the appropriate level of scrutiny, transparency and consideration of the multiple benefits that accrue to us as a nation from the maritime resources within our waters.

I am not sure that this is the right approach, but I completely support the principles behind it. As we go forward, we must consider, as we are now doing with our agricultural policy, that, freed of the common policies of Europe, we must have the courage and the ambition to do something that is truly transformative. We will certainly come back to this principle that the rights to fish are, essentially, a public property held in trust for the nation.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for allowing us to debate these important principles about the ownership of our marine stocks. He is right to say that the Bill currently lacks ambition and relies far too much on sustaining the status quo, with all the inequalities and inadequacies that we have identified, which have belied our fishing negotiations over the years.

During the course of the Bill, we will have some difficult discussions about the allocation of existing and future fishing rights, and I suspect that they will not be so easily resolved by this simple declaration. I accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, about the issues of devolution. We have to be careful about our language, but it is important to say at the outset that no claim on rights should be permanent and all should be subject to our overriding commitments on sustainability.

This is also a welcome opportunity to register the important role that the fishing industry plays in many coastal communities across the UK. This Bill must be a vehicle for supporting and strengthening those communities while at the same time protecting our marine stocks, rather than being the means through which we exploit a natural resource for purely business and economic benefit. At the same time, a flourishing fishing industry is good for the nation as it provides healthy, locally accessed food, as well as trading opportunities with our neighbours.

In this regard, would the Minister like to comment on the words of the Treasury advisor, Tim Leunig, who has been quoted as saying that the

“Food sector isn’t critically important” to the economy, and that

“ag[riculture] and fish production certainly isn’t”?

I know the Minister will say that this is not government policy, but what message do comments like this send to a sector already nervous about its future? From our side, we want a vibrant UK agriculture and fisheries industry and to encourage UK consumers to buy British and have faith in locally accessed food. I hope that the Minister will disassociate himself from these comments and send a message back to the Treasury that it should not be employing or listening to advisers who are so out of kilter with the views of most politicians and the vast majority of the British public.

On the subject of trade deals, although the Bill is intended to be negotiation neutral, does the Minister agree that there is a responsibility on the Government to secure a deal with the EU and EEA which allows us, first, to catch more of what we eat and, secondly, to easily sell the catch that we will not eat into those markets? We understand the intentions behind tabling this amendment today. It is of course important to restate that the resource belongs to the nation, but I suspect that we will be debating these issues for many days to come, no doubt giving us the opportunity to explore and spell out in more detail what that really means during consideration of the Bill. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for bringing forward this amendment and, indeed, to all noble Lords who have spoken. While I fully understand the aim of this amendment, to make it clear that UK fish stocks belong to the nation, I take this opportunity to explain why I cannot support it and, indeed, why the Government cannot do so. I am mindful of what my noble friends Lord Lansley and Lord Caithness have said, particularly when it comes to devolution.

We were clear in our fisheries White Paper that we consider that

“The fish in our seas, like our wider marine assets, are a public resource and therefore the rights to catch them are a public asset.”

I should also say at this juncture, in declaring my farming interests, that the sustainable harvest that we get from our seas, our lakes and, indeed, from our farming sector are absolutely crucial to this nation. I emphasis particularly—as, I am sure, would the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch—that, as far as I am concerned, it is in the national interest that we have a vibrant farming and fisheries sector. We want that not only because it is a public good but because, in order to feed the nation as well as in terms of our exports, with climate change and all the pressures from that, we are going to have to find innovative ways of feeding ourselves and the wider communities of the world. So I say absolutely that in my department, and indeed across the nation, we look to our farmers and our fishers.

I put on record that there are dangers in both sectors and there are too many fatalities; I think safety is of primary importance. I take this opportunity to say to the noble Baroness and all your Lordships that this—after all, Defra covers environment, food and rural affairs—is a very important part of our food supply and a very healthy one.

On a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, during the passage of the previous Fisheries Bill the then Fisheries Minister—now the Secretary of State—made it very clear in the other place that

“it is a statement of fact that” fish

“are a public asset, and our common law tradition enshrines that.”—[Official Report, Commons, Fisheries Bill Committee, 11/12/18; col. 141.]

The need to view fisheries as a public good is reflected in the measures that we take to promote sustainable fishing. It is, for example, reflected in our approach in Clause 27, “Sale of English fishing opportunities”. Any scheme set up under this power, having been through consultation, would recognise the value of fisheries and raise revenue for the public good. That revenue could be used to support fisheries science, particularly the stock surveys that underpin annual negotiations on the total allowable catch and in-year fisheries management.

I assure the noble Lord that this principle is further covered by the objectives in the Fisheries Bill. The key objectives in this instance are the national benefit and sustainability objectives, which state that

“fishing activities of UK fishing boats bring social or economic benefits to the United Kingdom or any part of the United Kingdom” and that fishing activities are

“environmentally sustainable in the long term”.

That is a point that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, referred to: we want our fishing and coastal communities to have a vibrant future.

We believe that the effect of this amendment would have a profound implication for the existing quota system. I know there are critics of the current regime, but it is also not without its supporters. Indeed, there has been considerable investment in the regime, and it has allowed our quotas to be well-utilised. For example, the flexibility to sell or lease quota has proven helpful to fishers as it enables them to continue to fish for certain stocks when there has been more of an abundance, or if a fishing stock for which they have a quota is not proving to be profitable. It can also be a solution to fishers not being able to fish all their quota for one species because their quota for another species in a mixed fishery has been exhausted.

This is another point that I would like to make to the noble Lord. While under 10-metre vessels may receive only a small percentage of the total UK quota, they receive a greater share of the stocks that are important to them. For example, in 2018 around 77% of the weight and 78% of the value of UK under 10-metre landings were from non-quota species such as crabs and lobsters. The UK Government recognise the need for balance between continuity in the existing system and opportunities for change in future. That is why the fisheries White Paper noted that existing quotas would continue to be allocated using the existing methodology but that additional quotas negotiated will be allocated using a different methodology. This approach has been broadly welcomed across the industry, which agrees that this is a sensible way to proceed—learning, piloting and ensuring that the industry is not destabilised. That really is an important feature of this matter. We do not wish the industry to be destabilised; in fact, quite the reverse.

I say to the noble Lord that I think the amendment rocks the delicate balance between the certainty of the existing system and the new opportunities that new quota would bring. I also have to say at the beginning of this Committee stage that what resonates with me is that not only has the Bill been through an earlier phase in the other place but it has been worked out really strongly and collaboratively with the devolved Administrations. I say to your Lordships, as we embark upon this particular voyage, that it is important to recognise that this is a piece of work that we are also legislating for the devolved Administrations, and the points that my noble friends have made are extremely pertinent. On that basis, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Chair, EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee 3:45 pm, 2nd March 2020

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, made an interesting and important point. He assumed that this was already the case, but the British courts do not see it that way. The Minister, now Secretary of State, tried to reallocate quotas towards the under 10-metre fleet, but that was disputed within the legal system. There is an underlying assumption here that this is a privatised resource, not a resource of the nation. That is why, to deliver what the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, wants, it is important to have an amendment like this in the Bill.

As the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, pointed out, this makes no difference to the quota allocation in Scotland: the devolved management authorities can make what decisions they want in allocating harvesting rights in those territorial areas. We are saying here that, ultimately, fundamental ownership of those rights is not for keeps, whereas at the moment they can be interpreted that way. I am not suggesting that, as part of this amendment, we should not allow a degree of certainty and ability to invest, but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, put it very well, these rights are in trust to the nation.

As to how one interprets “the nation”, I see our fishing stocks as a national resource, not as devolved. Clearly, however, how they are shared out and used is an issue for the devolved authorities. I look forward to the later amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, which come back to this subject, but I believe that this is fundamental to the way in which we should view this national resource and how that affects policy decisions as we go through this Bill and make fisheries policy. But, for the moment, I am content to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Clause 1: Fisheries objectives