Amendment 2

Fisheries Bill [HL] - Committee (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 2nd March 2020.

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Lord Teverson:

Moved by Lord Teverson

2: Clause 1, page 1, line 4, at end insert—“( ) the socio-economic objective,”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment ensures that socio-economic issues are included in the fisheries objectives.

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

My Lords, as the Minister said, we have here a list of objectives of great importance. I would not disagree with most, but one or two I have an issue with. There is always a danger in having too many objectives: which is the important one that guides regulatory authorities and which guides legislators in drafting subsequent secondary legislation? That is difficult, because it is almost impossible to meet all objectives at the same time. This amendment, and the others in my name—Amendments 6, 10 and 27—are based on my belief that sustainability is the most important objective. I take “sustainability” as here meaning the aquatic biosphere and the health of our fish stocks.

I do not accuse the Government of putting it this way, but the Bill reads to me as having a muddled sustainability objective, because it is prejudiced by the addition of what is almost a socioeconomic objective. A socioeconomic objective is very valid. In fact, one of my amendments in this group states that there should be a socioeconomic objective. The sustainability objective should, however, relate to the marine ecology, fish stocks and the wider marine inhabitants. I therefore suggest that we leave out subsection (2)(b), which states

“the fishing capacity of fleets is such that fleets are economically viable but do not overexploit marine stocks.”

That is a socioeconomic objective and should go under that heading. The sustainability objective has to be the lead objective. There are various ways of sorting out the socioeconomic objectives, including financially, and that is how we should do it.

We need clarity; we need the sustainability objective to be the prime objective, and we need it to be well policed. That is why my Amendment 27 would bring in the office for environmental protection. I would be interested to hear what the Minister says. He may tell me that this is unnecessary, and I could well be persuaded that it is, but it is vital that that office, once founded and operational, has full oversight of the fisheries industry and the protection of our marine environment. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Worthington Baroness Worthington Crossbench

My Lords, Amendment 7 is in my name. I support many of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. My amendment would change Clause 1(2)(b) simply to state

“the fishing effort does not overexploit marine stocks.”

The Bill states

“the fishing capacity of fleets is such that fleets are economically viable but do not overexploit marine stocks.”

The purpose behind trying to simplify the provision is to make it clear that we cannot have a sustainable long-term fishing effort if we overexploit stocks. That should not need to be said, but we have seen routine overexploitation of stocks as a consequence of how the common fisheries policy is interpreted, with member states then allocating quota to private fishing enterprises.

To state first that fleets should be economically viable and then to qualify it by saying that they should not overexploit marine stocks gives entirely the wrong impression. It implies that we are to continue with the belief, commonly held in Europe, that fishing rights and the economic viability of the fishing industry are the first and foremost concerns. That speaks to short-term political considerations because these are entities that employ people and pay taxes. My amendment tries to correct for that short-termism endemic to political thinking by stating that it is the sustainability of the stock that we should regulate for, not the commercial viability of the entities that exploit it. The latter is entirely what has been wrong with the common fisheries policy since we have been in it. There is an assumption that the exploiters’ rights should come first, with the environment an afterthought. We must turn that around. It is short-termism not just politically but in the context of the changing climate. Nothing from now on is business as usual; everything is shifting. We must put the resilience of our marine resources at the heart of everything we legislate on and at the heart of everything we do today in considering the Bill.

My amendment would simply take away the qualifier; there is no need to qualify this. It is simply logical that we legislate so that we do not overexploit fishing stocks. That is the only purpose of this legislation. Therefore, it must be stated unequivocally in the Bill.

Photo of Lord Randall of Uxbridge Lord Randall of Uxbridge Conservative

My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. I regret that we have to say it, but it is important to point out that there will be no socioeconomic benefits if there are no fish left. The cod fishermen of Newfoundland would understand this clearly. Apart from that, the noble Baroness said exactly what I needed to say.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative

My Lords, I have just one thing to say about this group. Amendment 6 addresses an issue we discussed at Second Reading: managing so many objectives. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, drew the attention of the House, forcefully and compellingly, to the way in which the sustainability objective in the Bill, as drafted, includes socioeconomic objectives. They ought to be identified and listed separately. To that extent, I support Amendment 6. Noble Lords will be aware that it includes the sentence:

“The sustainability objective shall be the prime objective”.

Not everybody is in favour of that, but I think we need to say it. My noble friend Lord Randall was talking about Amendment 7, but the same thought applies here. He is quite right that if we do not sustain our fish stocks all the other objectives will be vitiated. It has to be clear that there is a first objective, even though it would be beyond this Committee to list, sequence or rank the others. However, the joint fisheries statement will probably have to do something of that kind, at least, to show how they are being interpreted and balanced. I do not envy it that difficult task. The Committee should look carefully at Amendment 6 and see whether it is possible to incorporate its principles into the Bill before it leaves this place.

Photo of Lord Cameron of Dillington Lord Cameron of Dillington Crossbench

My Lords, I added my name to Amendment 2 and would have done so to Amendment 6, had I been allowed, but there were too many subscribers. I support Amendment 2 because, as many noble Lords know, the existence of intergenerational poverty and deprivation in rural areas has long been of concern to me. While the numerous villages and market towns throughout rural England all have their problems in this respect, there is no doubt that coastal communities suffer more than most. The main reason for this is that an ordinary market town can survive, and sometimes thrive, on services maintained by its surrounding farmers, businesses and maybe even wealthy retirees. However, a coastal community, by its very geography—I realise that I am straying into the realms of the bleeding obvious here—only ever has 50% of the catchment of an inland market town. Coastal communities therefore struggle. The sea provides very little except fish and tourism, with, perhaps in the future, some form of energy added to that mix. It is therefore important that a firm part of our fisheries objectives should include the socioeconomic objective.

I totally agree with Amendment 6 that the sustainability objective should always be the prime one. I support that, maybe even to exclusion of Amendment 2, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said. As the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, said, we need these coastal communities, and their harvest, to survive in the long term. In the past, I always said that one of the problems with the common fisheries policy is that the children and grandchildren of today’s fishing communities never get a vote. We now have the chance. When we repatriate our fisheries policy, we must always think of the socioeconomic prosperity of these grandchildren.

I also support Amendment 27, which puts the monitoring of the sustainability objectives firmly in the hands of the OEP in future. That makes very good sense.

Returning to Amendment 2, a key part of the socioeconomic objective should include recreational sea angling. There is not much about recreational angling in the Bill, which is fine because there is not much to say. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, has tabled an amendment on this point; I came across that quite late in the day. The socioeconomic benefit of recreational angling to coastal communities is huge. Even in 2012, the latest year for which I could get hold of statistics, the sea angler spend was £2.1 billion locally, supporting more than 20,000 local jobs. They say that a fish caught with rod and line is worth at least six times more than one caught in a net. Recreational fishermen use local boats and local crews, and they use local pubs, hotels, shops, garages, car hire et cetera. All of this is vital to the socioeconomic objectives in this amendment and needs nurturing.

The other socioeconomic point to introduce concerns some sort of replacement for the European maritime and fisheries fund. I know the Government are making arrangements to put a replacement fund in place. The EMFF has been particularly beneficial for some of the smaller fishing communities in western Scotland, Wales and Cornwall, and some consideration definitely needs to be given to the socioeconomic well-being of these small fishing communities that depend on the seas for their economic wherewithal. I strongly support Amendment 2, but primarily Amendment 6.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour 4:00 pm, 2nd March 2020

My Lords, it is with considerable diffidence, and I do mean that, that I make any contribution to this discussion, and I do not intend to make any more, partly because it is impossible to live quite as far as I do from the coast. Perhaps we inlanders should remain largely silent in these discussions, but I found it almost exhilarating, I think that is the word, to hear specialists—I am not one, which is why I will not contribute any further—making points all related to the principle that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, has just enunciated, which is that we are talking about the consequences of the repatriation of our fishing policies.

For me, as a Brexiteer, it is exhilarating, and I am not exaggerating, that these discussions can take place in the context of knowing that our coastal waters will be like those of Iceland—although I know that fishing is a lot more important to the overall economy of Iceland than it is to that of the United Kingdom. In all the discussions of the details of the various amendments, that is surely the basis on which this debate is taking place. Let us not miss the wood for the trees: the wood is precisely that in a democracy a Chamber of Parliament is discussing how best our nation should use its resources in a way that is accountable; which of course it never was when it was entirely a European responsibility. The Council of Ministers is nothing like a responsible body in the way that this is.

I will not go any further down this route, the Committee will be relieved to know, but I just wanted to point out how happy I feel about this debate.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

My Lords, the Committee will note that I am in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. It does not happen all the time and will not happen in future, I know, but today we are very much in agreement. What he says hinges very much on the agreement we get with the EU, because however sustainable we are, if the fish decide to move and the EU has different sustainability goals, the fish we have so carefully sustained will be harvested by the ever-hungry Spanish fleet and others that will be poised outside our waters—some of them will even be allowed in—and will be taking what they can.

I hope my noble friend the Minister will confirm that all the objectives that are so well set out in the Bill have the aim of sustainable development, because sustainability really matters. If all our objectives adhere in that way, there is hope for the grandchildren that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, mentioned. He also made the very important point about coastal communities. It is not just the fishing fleets but the whole coastal communities and the people who feed off them who are important in the socioeconomic goal. We need to take a wider look at this between now and the next stage.

What has not been mentioned so far with regard to sustainability is human health. Can my noble friend say how many of the fish caught are used for fishmeal? The latest statistic I can find, which I looked up on the internet, dates from 2008 and claims that a third of the world’s fish is used for fishmeal. What is the point of fishing—some may even ask what is the point of agriculture—if not to provide a healthy, sustainable diet for human beings? That ought to take priority over producing fish for fishmeal. I hope that that will be taken into account in the sustainability goals my noble friend is aiming for, because health and diet have deteriorated badly in the western world and fishing is one area which can help us on that.

I hope my noble friend will also bear in mind trade—another area which could undermine our sustainable goals. If we have a strong, sustainable policy but by trade allow fish to be caught in an unsustainable way, that would undercut our market and be to the detriment of the Government’s whole policy.

I come now to the tricky question of the batting order of our goals. There is a good argument for putting the environmental sustainability objective first, but I wonder whether that is right and whether it would not be better to leave it as it is, agreed with the devolved Administrations. It is currently top of the list and, to me, probably the most important, but I am not yet convinced about singling it out.

Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (International Trade)

My Lords, this has been a very interesting discussion—a counterpart to the discussion on the first group, where we failed to agree. This had a lot more agreement, though there are drafting issues that need to be addressed in the Bill if we are fully to realise the sorts of changes that are in everybody’s minds as we approach this opportunity, as my noble friend Lord Grocott described it, to improve what we do in relation to our fishing and fishing resources, as we have been trying to do for some time. I point out to him that, although it is nice that he is happy and feels joyful about this debate, the real test will be whether we end up with something different from a simple rehash of the existing common fisheries policy. That test is now ahead of us as we begin to drill down into the particularities of the Bill.

I will speak to Amendment 8 in the name of my noble friend Lord Grantchester, who we did not think would be here in time to speak but luckily has appeared—almost in time; he will take over from me as we go through the Bill—and Amendment 9, tabled by my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch. Amendment 8 is a probing amendment to ask the Government to specify more clearly what “economically viable” means in practice under the Bill and how it might be applied, and to gain a clearer understanding of the relative importance of viability compared with sustainability, which has been the theme of most of the contributions so far.

Amendment 9 targets the same sustainability objective and seeks to bring the term “maximum sustainable yield” into the Bill. At present the Government favour a phrase which we do not think has quite caught the essence of what we are trying to do about overexploitation of marine stocks and which seems to offer less clarity than the forward-looking point made by just about all noble Lords: there will be no fishing unless we have a sustainable stock on which to operate.

All noble Lords agree there has to be a vibrant fishing industry. It is part of our heritage as an island nation and, as we will discuss during the Bill’s passage, our catch both helps feed people here and is sold abroad to others who want to buy these products. As the Minister said in his opening statement, we are talking about a highly organised industry. Hard-working fishers being fairly rewarded for their work at sea is important. It is a very physically demanding and often dangerous job, and they have to endure long periods of separation from their loved ones. They should be remunerated accordingly. The economics of the industry must be geared to ensure that there is something there for everybody, not just the fishers; the ports and processing plants need to make their fair share. This is important if we are to encourage them to contribute to the climate change objective—something that will be the focus of subsequent debates but has already been raised.

While we want a viable fishing fleet for many years to come, we have been in meetings with outside groups that feel that the current wording of the Bill may allow the economic to trump the environmental, particularly, as I have already said, as it refers to overexploitation rather than maximum sustainable yield. If that were to be the case, ironically, we would find ourselves in no better position than we are under the common fisheries policy. It would make this Bill a missed opportunity to put sustainability front and centre of the new approach. There is enough support around the Committee to suggest that the Minister might want to look at this carefully when he responds.

I am aware that the Minister has met many Members of your Lordships’ House and has made time to discuss amendments. I understand that these discussions have been valuable, and I hope that he will be able to offer the same reassurance to others who wish to join the debate now and in the future. I hope that when the Minister responds, he will confirm what he envisages happening if the second part of the sustainability objective cannot, despite the best endeavours of the fisheries authorities, be met. Would boats be allowed to overexploit stocks to ensure their viability? If not, what options would the Government or the devolved Administrations have available if they wanted to step in? This is a tricky balancing act. It is certainly not easy, and I know the Minister appreciates that and takes it seriously. I look forward to him providing further detail on the Government’s approach.

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

My Lords, at Second Reading I made it clear that sustainability is at the heart of the Bill, so I am pleased that one of the first discussions we are having in Committee relates to this area of utmost importance. As the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, said, this work involves balance. Balance is necessary in these matters and is why our work with the devolved Administrations has been so valuable but intricate.

The Government’s view and that from our discussions with the devolved Administrations is that sustainability is often considered a three-legged stool, consisting of environmental, social and economic factors. To achieve the true sustainability of a healthy environment, thriving communities and a vibrant industry, it is important that a balance exists between them. That is a point that, in the wrestling of this, was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson. They are also not mutually exclusive. For instance, if fish stocks are managed at sustainable levels, the stocks are protected into the future, while allowing the fishing industry to remain profitable and able to provide benefits to coastal communities and beyond. That point was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, and my noble friend Lord Caithness.

The fisheries objectives in the Bill work together to set out the core principles to achieve a successful and sustainable fisheries management regime, with the joint fisheries statement setting out the policies that will contribute to achieving our objectives. While I therefore fully support the aim—and I emphasise aim—of Amendment 2, which seeks to ensure that socio- economics are included within the fisheries objectives, I believe it is unnecessary and will explain why.

The sustainability objective currently sets out a requirement in the Bill that fish and aquaculture activities are

“managed so as to achieve economic, social and employment benefits”.

The Bill includes a number of objectives relating to environmental sustainability, while also recognising the need to take into account socioeconomic issues. Given that, in response to Amendment 6, I should like to set out in more detail what we aim to achieve by seeking a balanced approach to the objectives set out in Clause 1. I also understand that Amendment 10 in this group further seeks to change the Bill in the context of Amendment 6.

The framework provided by the objectives will operate on a UK-wide basis and will bind all the UK’s Administrations. As I have said, it has been developed in close co-operation with officials in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and is carefully balanced to reflect the interests of all the Administrations. The Government wholly support the need for environmental sustainability, and our 25-year environment plan makes it clear that it is only by putting the environment first that we can deliver social and economic benefits for future generations. In delivering this vision, we also have a responsibility to maintain the livelihoods of fishers and their coastal communities. Fishers have already made significant strides in improving their sustainability and there has been a sea change in attitudes, with the fishing industry understanding the need for better stock management.

Of course, more action is needed to transition to more sustainable practices, but I hope that noble Lords will agree that we must also avoid economic hardship in the short term. We believe that developing a hierarchy within the objectives would not be appropriate since it would undermine this approach. Through our international negotiations, we seek to achieve sustainable catch limits set in accordance with the maximum sustainable yield, while balancing this with economic opportunities for the UK fishing fleet. Maintaining flexibility in our negotiating position will ensure that we are able to undertake this transition in co-operation with our coastal state partners and avoid the abrupt closure of fisheries, so as to maintain our coastal communities. Indeed, at Second Reading, a number of noble Lords talked about the need to revive our coastal communities. Achieving that revival will require a balance of objectives to maintain our focus on economic and social matters, while pushing for environmental sustainability.

I should say at this point to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, that we are going to discuss recreational sea fishing in considering later amendments because it is a very important part of the fishing world. Indeed, I am led to believe that 2% of our population engages in sea fishing, which is quite a large number of people.

Returning to the point about maximum sustainable yield, recent analysis shows that in 2019, 37 stocks were fished at MSY levels, representing 59% of the stocks for which we have the necessary data. I raise this issue because in 1990 the figure was just 12%, which demonstrates that we are transitioning. However, we recognise that more needs to be done to protect our marine environment and fish stocks.

The Bill provides the legal framework for pushing more stocks towards MSY as quickly as practically possible, and in line with our international obligations. Policies to achieve MSY will be set out in the legally binding joint fisheries statement and fisheries management plans. A key objective of the joint fisheries statement will be to ensure that fisheries policy is based on the best scientific advice. The setting of MSY can often occur without full scientific certainty, so it makes sense to include it under the precautionary objective, although it clearly supports sustainability.

While I fully support the ambition to ensure that environmental sustainability is not compromised, I do not believe that Amendment 6 is appropriate in the context of a Bill that seeks to establish a framework to manage all aspects of our fisheries. The weight given to each of the fisheries objectives may vary from case to case, and Clause 2(1)(c) provides that the joint fisheries statement must include a statement explaining how the objectives have been “interpreted and proportionately applied.” The approach of balancing environmental, economic and social sustainability lies at the core of best international practice as established by the United Nations Sustainability Framework. That chimes with the point raised by my noble friend Lord Caithness: it is international best practice to combine sustainability issues in the way I have described. The achievement of socioeconomic benefits through our fisheries and aquaculture management is therefore currently covered by the existing fisheries objectives, and the proposed amendment would not change their effect.

I turn to Amendment 7, which seeks to ensure that fish stocks are managed sustainably and not over-exploited—an aim that we all share, of course. The precautionary objective already includes a clear objective to restore all marine stocks to sustainable levels. As I have made clear, the provisions in the Bill for fisheries management plans set out a framework for ensuring the sustainable management of our fish stocks. We believe this amendment would inadvertently weaken the objectives—first, because an express reference to managing fishing “effort” would not be the full picture. Managing how many days fishermen fish is one of the tools for fisheries management, but we also manage through restrictions on quota. Secondly, by removing the reference to fleet capacity, this amendment would weaken the objectives by not requiring the fisheries authorities to set out policies relating to the overall size and structure of the fleet.

Turning to Amendment 8, I highlight once more that the Bill’s sustainability objective seeks to ensure that we have healthy fish stocks and seas, while promoting economic, social and employment benefits. These two aspirations are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In the past we have brought forward initiatives that address fleet capacity with the twin aims of avoiding overfishing and protecting the economic viability of active fishers. For example, we have restricted fishing licences that have not been used so as to prevent them being sold on and others entering fisheries, which could both put added pressure on the stocks and reduce the profitability of those already fishing.

I was grateful to learn that the noble Baroness’s amendment—put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson —is a probing amendment. I welcome the opportunity to explain the rationale for the current drafting of the Bill. The UK Government remain fully committed to sustainable fishing and the principle of MSY. We reiterated this in our manifesto, with the commitment to produce plans to restore all stocks to MSY. However, due to the international nature of fishing and fish stocks, which span national boundaries, MSY cannot be delivered unilaterally through management of the size of the UK fleet. Furthermore, for some stocks we do not yet have the data to conduct an MSY assessment and so instead use other measures, such as effort limits, to ensure that stocks are fished sustainably. In practice, we control the level of catch by the English fleet through the quota allocation system and effort controls. We have also been clear that we have no plans to increase capacity beyond current vessel numbers.

The existing language in the Bill recognises the different tools that we have in place to ensure that stocks are fished sustainably. It is important to read this objective alongside the precautionary objective, which sets out our commitment to restore stocks to levels above those capable of producing MSY.

I turn to Amendment 27. As your Lordships know, the office for environmental protection will be established through the Environment Bill currently being discussed in the other place, so it does not yet exist—nor have its role and functions been set in law. I strongly support the need for independent scrutiny and advice on our policy and its delivery, and the OEP may have a role in this in due course. The Environment Bill is clear that the new body’s principal objective will be the protection and/or improvement of the natural environment. It will have a duty to scrutinise environmental improvement plans and targets, and can advise on the implementation of environmental law. As I have detailed, the sustainability objective in this Bill covers environmental, social and economic elements, including fleet capacity, so we cannot assume that all elements of this objective will fall within the OEP’s remit.

We are establishing the OEP as an independent body. It should therefore be for the OEP to decide where and how to exercise its functions and what priority should be given to matters it proposes to review. We believe that creating a duty for the OEP to “promote” these objectives could undermine the OEP’s independence. The Environment Bill already provides the OEP with functions to scrutinise the Government’s progress on their environmental commitments. These will include relevant fisheries and other marine functions. The Environment Bill is also clear that the new body should not overlap with the functions of the Committee on Climate Change. There is no doubt that the review of many aspects of fisheries management would fall within the remit of the office for environmental protection. However, the UK Government do not feel it is appropriate for the Fisheries Bill to place a duty on the new body to promote objectives that lie outside its remit, nor fetter its ability to determine independently its own work programme.

On the point that my noble friend Lord Caithness raised about fishmeal, I think the best thing is for me to write to my noble friend, because the latest data is from 2008. According to Seafish, however, in 2014 around 16.5% of total catches went to fishmeal and fish oil.

I realise the complete bona fides of all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate about the importance of sustainability. I have tried to explain that the word “sustainability” is not just environmental in our view; it is a sustainable package. Indeed, the objectives are a package. Working through the fisheries statement and the fisheries management plan, this range of objectives is the best way of tackling a matter which should not be straitjacketed. There needs to be a flexibility to deal with each and every stock.

While understanding what noble Lords across the House have said, I am not in a position to support amendments which seek to unpick a very intricate seeking of the right balance. For now, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Baroness Worthington Baroness Worthington Crossbench 4:15 pm, 2nd March 2020

Before the Minister sits down, may I enquire in good faith whether we are saying that we have taken back control from Brussels, only to cede it to Scotland? It would be a waste of time if every answer is “We cannot do anything, because we have had a really delicate discussion with our devolved Administrations”.

We are still the UK Parliament; this is an important issue that has been repatriated to us first, and then we will repatriate it through devolution. Should we need to change the devolution arrangements, we will. Perhaps I am speaking out of turn, but surely we are not taking back control from Brussels only to give it to Holyrood.

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

We have had very successful and collaborative discussions and arrangements with all the devolved Administrations. They have taken this matter very seriously, and we are legislating on behalf of the devolved Administrations as well. I do not think many noble Lords are seeking to change the devolution arrangements through the Fisheries Bill. That would be unwise and not sensible.

We are seeking to have sustainability at the heart of the Bill, but sustainability—as the UN describes it—is not just environmental; it is a balance. Clearly, we want fisheries stocks which enable communities to prosper. That is the whole thrust of this, and why it is a package. I say to the noble Baroness: I do not see it in those terms. We are collaboratively working with our friends and partners across the United Kingdom, on something which requires balance. Sustainability is at the heart of the Bill, and that is why I have made the remarks I have.

Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (International Trade)

To follow up on what the noble Baroness has said, we understand the delicacy of the situation and that considerable discussion has preceded the Bill we are debating today. I wonder whether she has a point: if it is already all sewn up and too difficult to change, what is the point? Will the Minister reassure us that this amendment is not just being turned down because it would be too difficult? The mood of the House seems to be that this is worthy of further consideration, if not necessarily being voted through.

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

No, my Lords. Obviously, I recognise that the noble Lords who have spoken feel particularly strongly about environmental sustainability. I have argued, what the Government feel is a compelling case, that sustainability is a balance. Therefore, the package we are bringing forward has been worked on not with one devolved Administration, but with all of them.

It has always been the point that noble Lords need to make a compelling case in all matters. The Government and the devolved Administrations have worked on this, mindful of observations made during the period of, let us say, the Fisheries Bills. That is how I would describe it; it is important we have these considerations. I have been clear—as when I referred to the UN—that sustainability has a range of points to it, and that is what I have been seeking to describe.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative 4:30 pm, 2nd March 2020

My Lords, I apologise that I did not speak earlier in the debate, but I will read Hansard very carefully tomorrow. From what I gather, my noble friend has indicated that, for some stocks, we do not have data available, and some of the data we do have is 12 years old. I agree with the view of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott: I am excited by the Bill because it gives us an opportunity to move forward in a sustainable way. However, we need information on which we can base our assumptions. Will the Minister indicate where there are gaps in that information and what is being done about it? Referring to my noble friend Lord Caithness’s comments on the whole question of trade and standards, it is essential that we have information on which we can base the decisions we have taken. I have listened carefully to my noble friend and know that an enormous amount of work has gone on with the devolved Administrations—I am perhaps happier about that than some other Members of the House are—but we need as much information as we can get at this stage.

For me, sustainability has to be key: at the end of the day, you cannot fish if there are no fish. If we do not have the data and information that we need, how can we make the assumptions that we will be dealing with in the Bill? There is an amendment to come shortly on the question of discards, and we will return to this issue in that debate. I have one or two queries, but if the Minister cannot answer them at the moment, perhaps he will look into it—or somebody will—so that we have a better overall picture of the sustainability side before we come back on Report. That would be immensely helpful.

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

I made it clear that the precautionary objective already includes the clear objective to restore all marine stocks to sustainable levels. We are very clear that we need to work through all stocks—that is what the fisheries management plans are intended to do—so that for those stocks for which we do not have sufficient information, there is this precise precautionary objective. As my noble friend Lord Lansley referred to, there is a difficulty in trying to put these objectives in some order of priority. As I say, we are seeking to improve all stocks because the truth is that, at the moment, we do not have an assessment of all stocks. That is precisely why, picking up the point raised earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, it is an enormous opportunity for us to look now across the whole of the marine environment at all our stocks.

This will not be sorted out overnight; I do not think any noble Lord expects there to be a magic switch and, suddenly, we are now responsible and it can be turned around immediately. But the whole purpose of the structure that we have put in place is precisely to address the sustainability of all stocks.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

My noble friend gave a comprehensive answer, but can I make one suggestion that might help in driving forward our sustainability objectives? He has made it very clear to the farming community that there will be public money for public goods. Surely exactly the same argument is true for the fishing and coastal communities: if they follow the sustainability line, there will be public money for public goods. Perhaps that would help to sell the argument.

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

During this Committee, I think we will probably go on to talk about some of the further arrangements for financial assistance. Clearly, the Government see this as a vital interest, a source of food and an opportunity for the whole of the coastal community. I agree with the thrust of what I think my noble friend Lord Caithness is saying: this is an area contained in the Bill. As has been mentioned, there will be a need for a replacement of the European funding, which we will discuss again. I am sure there will be ways in which financial assistance to support coastal communities will be considered and will come forward.

Photo of Baroness Worthington Baroness Worthington Crossbench

My Lords, I believe the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, was going beyond grant funding and referring to the allocation of fishing rights. That confers a financial benefit to the recipient of those rights, so it is much broader than just grants.

Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (International Trade)

I would like one more chance to narrow down the point on which we were exchanging before the other two very good contributions came in.

The noble Lord has a reputation in this House for being very easy to talk to and very willing to engage in debate. I am slightly trading on that because, in my experience, on any Bill there is a worry that the Minister will get it drummed into him by those sitting in the Box that he must never concede anything. Sometimes, however, we can be in quite a difficult mode, when good points are made but the willingness to concede is not there from the Minister concerned. I know that the noble Lord is not like that. It may not happen on the point that we have been discussing, although it is a very good one from the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, but issues will come up in future amendments to do with the workforce health and safety, on which the Committee may feel that a change in wording is possible. Will he just confirm, for the sake of allowing us to go forward, that he is not against the possibility of that happening and that, if it were the case, he would undertake the necessary consultations that might be required to bring the devolved Assemblies, and others who signed up to the previous version of the Bill, up to the new standard that will be set by this House?

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

I will conclude on this, otherwise the “Ah, buts” will lose the force of the sustainability point of this debate. It is clear, I believe—as I always have—that the House and your Lordships need to make a compelling case, which a government Minister will always want to listen to. If a compelling case is made, as I have said previously, my answer will be, “Gosh, I wish we’d thought of that.” I emphasise that the Bill has been considered over a very long time. We have one go at this Bill and there have been a lot of representations. It has gone through a mincer in a way that most other Bills do not. Given our very close connections and our responsibilities, and given that fishing is devolved, we have worked collaboratively and positively with the devolved Administrations. I emphasise to the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, that I do not use that as an excuse. It is a statement of fact that we are legislating on behalf of all parts of the kingdom. That is really what I wish to say at this point.

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

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for probably one of the most important debates during this Committee and for all the points made. They were made pretty much in the same direction, even if they did not totally agree on the detail.

I was very grateful for the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott—I thought it was fantastic. The sad thing to someone like me is that, apart from relative stability and technical regulations, which are not dealt with in the Bill, we could have done everything else over the last 40 years, but we did not because we just went along and did what was easiest. We did not need to let our quotas go to foreign owners, we could have changed the balance between the large and small fleets completely, and we could have put far more European money into our coastal communities when they did not have enough quotas. We could have done all those things, but we did not. However, the noble Lord was absolutely right: we have here an opportunity to really open our minds. The Minister says, “We’ve gone through all of this before, it’s been looked at before and we’ve talked to all the other sides”, but we have had a break, we are now out of the European Union, we have opened our minds and we have had some really good suggestions on the Bill. We should not be railroaded by past negotiations. Clearly, devolution is key—we do not want to change that settlement in any way—but that cannot prevent our making some changes.

One fundamental thing, on which I disagree completely with the Minister, is that referring to “balance” between socioeconomic issues and sustainability was exactly the argument that Ministers used on the common fisheries policy from the 1980s to about five years ago, when the whole regime changed. Because of that so-called balance, stocks disappeared from the North Sea and the Baltic Sea and were depleted from western waters. If we do not decide to make sustainability a prime objective, that is what we will end up with. The history shows that the politics takes over from the science.

I was very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Randall, mentioned Newfoundland. I went out to Newfoundland in 1996 at the height of the conflict with the Portuguese and the Spanish. I went out on an aeroplane with the Canadian fisheries department to look at the line of big Atlantic fishing vessels fishing right along the EEZ line. I saw the communities of St John’s in Newfoundland that were unable to fish their own waters because there was nothing left. That was due to the short-term socioeconomic objective taking the place of the sustainability objective. That is exactly what you get and exactly what we must not have in this country, whether in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or England. We cannot afford that.

If I was chief executive of a company and somebody gave me eight different objectives and did not rank them, the first thing I would do is ask the chairman to fire the non-executive directors, because it is absolutely impossible to have eight equal objectives in any subject. That is for running a company; if you are running the marine environment of a nation, surely it is far more important.

To come back to the point from the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, we absolutely need a socioeconomic objective. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, is absolutely right as well—we will come to the financing part of the Bill. There are amendments to that part to say that we will need to intervene when there is a socioeconomic problem and that we should not be afraid to do so. We should protect those communities in that way. We should not pretend that we are protecting them by letting people go out for fish stocks that are not there and are not sustainable.

I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. She made her argument very strongly. The same goes for the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, on the points he made. Although my amendments may not be perfect, I have tried to stick within the Government’s framework by changing around some of the words but using the Government’s own settlement with the devolved authorities. I am absolutely sure that we will come back to this on Report, but at this point I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 2 withdrawn.