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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.