My Lords, I suspect that this amendment will not take up a lot of the Committee’s time. I want to understand what the equal access objective is trying to do and what its implications are. The objective says that
“the location of the fishing boat’s home port, or … any other connection of the fishing boat, or any of its owners, to any place in the United Kingdom” does not affect their rights. If I read that objective as a local fisher—perhaps in Mevagissey, the nearest port to me, or in a smaller fishery down further west, let alone those along the south coast—I would be concerned that any decision by government to allocate anything at all could be challenged by a larger fleet, or by someone from further round the coast, and could disrupt or exploit a well-managed local fishery. I understand entirely that the last thing we want to do is compartmentalise the United Kingdom in any way, and I think the system works fairly well as it is at the moment. This is the one area where perhaps I would like to keep the status quo, rather than introduce this objective.
My concern is that this makes local fisheries susceptible to challenge when it comes to fishing rights and their ability to look after particular stocks or to get Marine Society accreditation. This is a threat. I would be very interested to hear from the Minister why the Government want to do this and why I should not fear the consequences for the lesser fleets in the United Kingdom. There is also a slight risk that this might encourage further consolidation of the market. We already have market concentration and it concerns me that those are the fleets with the money, capacity and ability to buy or to trade fishing rights, so this is an area of susceptibility.
When I first got involved in fisheries in the 1990s, I used to talk regularly to fishing organisations down in the far south-west. Publicly, there was always a concern about the Spanish fleets. Whenever you put a microphone or camera in front of someone, they were the big threat. If you talked to them otherwise, it was the Scots who came down and took everything out of the water when they had nothing better to do north of the border. I am not for a minute saying that is the case today, but I have a real concern here and I would be very interested to hear from the Minister why I should not be so afraid. I beg to move.
My Lords, perhaps I might add a question to this. To understand what the equal access objective is about, one should look at Clause 17 of the Bill. If a Scottish fisheries authority were to grant a licence to a non-UK fishing boat under the new regime, that would be a licence to fish in Scottish waters. Both this current objective and, indeed, the related amendment on the determination of fishing opportunities say that, when a ship is licensed, or when fishing opportunities are allotted, this cannot be done to British boats on the basis of where they come from. If I understand correctly—I put this simply because I am sure the Minister will put us both right when we have presented our questions—the object of the equal access objective is to make sure that, when the administrations put forward their joint fisheries statement, they must do so on the basis that a British fishing boat can go anywhere in British fishing waters. That seems a desirable objective because otherwise we could well end up with not British fishing waters but entirely separate Scottish, Welsh or English fishing waters. I do not regard that as the objective we are seeking, so to that extent, I rather like keeping the equal access objective and I would not see it removed from the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, poses some serious challenges in his amendment. Indeed, quota allocation is already a highly complex and opaque feature in fishing. The tabling of Amendments 17 and 95 affords us a brief opportunity to probe the Government over how equal access will work in practice once the constituent parts of the UK have the freedom, at least theoretically, to determine their own quota allocations and wider regulatory frameworks.
In view of the earlier discussion today, I am sure the Minister will argue that these amendments are unwise as they undermine the work that the Government have already undertaken with the devolved Administrations in drafting the Bill. I also pre-empt his commitment that the various issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, will come out in the mix once the Bill is in place and the various statements and management plans begin to appear. Be that as it may, I am sure that fishers in different parts of the UK will be interested to hear his comments on how all of this will work in practice.
For example, how will the Government and devolved Administrations work together to ensure that the regulations of each part of the UK are compatible, being both available and accessible to those who will have to rely on them? How will issues such as enforcement be managed to ensure that the devolution settlement is upheld, while also respecting the equal access objective, as it is currently drafted, when they could diverge over time? This topic arose during the Commons Committee stage on the previous Bill, so I hope that the reassurances offered tonight will meet all the Committee’s expectations. A significant amount of time has passed since those debates and we are only a short time away from potential problems ceasing to be purely hypothetical.
My Lords, I am most grateful to noble Lords for this short debate. As I understand it, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, is concerned that our provisions relating to equal access could lead to unintended consequences, which could include a further concentration of the fishing industry, and incentivise the purchasing of additional quota from other fisheries authorities.
The UK Government believe that the equal access objective in the Fisheries Bill is vital as it sets out a joint commitment for all four fisheries administrations to work together to ensure that boats based all over the UK enjoy the same rights of access to fish in UK waters, no matter where their home port is. This is important, since many vessels fish in the waters of multiple fisheries authorities. As with all the objectives, this objective has been carefully developed and designed with close discussion with the devolved Administrations. This is one of the key points that I would like to make to the noble Lord: the objective is limited to access to waters only and does not grant any access to quota.
Amendment 95 relates to UK quota-setting and seeks to remove the restriction on setting different maxima by reference to a UK boat’s home port or other connection. I will provide some further detail on the provisions in Clause 23. Clause 23 relates to the determination of the pot of UK fishing opportunities. It does not relate to the subsequent allocation of those opportunities to the fisheries administrations, or to their subsequent distribution to the fishing industry. Total UK fishing opportunities are defined by the criteria set out in the clause: the description of sea fish, the area of the sea and the description of the fishing vessel.
The reason for the stipulation in Clause 23(4) that fishing opportunities cannot be set based on any reference to a boat’s home port or connection to a particular part of the UK is to ensure that this power can be used to set only the overall amount of UK-wide fishing opportunities. It cannot be used to determine how quota, once divided between the fisheries administrations, is allocated to each administration’s industry. This is clearly a devolved matter.
Amendment 95 would therefore give the Secretary of State the power to set quota within devolved competence—for example, setting quota for boats fishing out of Peterhead in Scotland. This is clearly not something that would be desired by the Committee; nor do I think it is the noble Lord’s intention. He may hope that the amendment addresses the need for local boats to have access to local quota. This is a matter for each administration, but Clause 17, which my noble friend Lord Lansley referred to, maintains the current approach on this: each administration will use transparent criteria, including environmental and socioeconomic criteria, when deciding how to allocate quota. The amendment therefore does not achieve the exact effect the noble Lord may have hoped for.
I also provide further reassurance that the methodology for allocating quota to industry within England is published in the publicly available English quota management rules, alongside the allocations themselves. Each administration also has its own quota management rules. The Government are committed to supporting fishers around the country and we are engaging with them to ensure that our coastal communities see the maximum benefit from the quota that we hold.
I will provide a further piece of information. The equal access objective in Clause 1 preserves the status quo. Currently all UK boats can fish in all UK waters. Clause 17 provides for each administration to license foreign boats in its waters, since licensing is a devolved matter. In practice, each administration will delegate its licensing functions to, or allow the administration of, a single UK licensing regime through the single licensing authority.
I am very happy to have a further discussion with the noble Lord if there are any residual matters of concern. I hope that I have got across that the equal access objective is precisely on the basis to ensure—particularly with many vessels fishing in the waters of multiple fisheries authorities—that this is equal access for all rather than the way in which the noble Lord describes it. Our intention is for the four constituent parts to have the ability to fish in UK waters.
I have not finished yet. So that is where the position lies. I will now take the noble Lord’s intervention.
I apologise to the Minister. It may be that he cannot answer this question but, when it comes to the future division, he said that the boats may have access to the waters but not necessarily to the quota, which explains many of the problems. Is the quota going to be divided into the areas that currently exist—7A, 7B, 7C, 7D and 6—or are we going to have completely new areas? How localised will these areas be? Will they be near to the Cornish ports that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, is worried about? It may be that that has not been decided yet.
I will avail myself of receiving some information and let everyone in this debate know. Clearly, it is a devolved matter and therefore all three devolved Administrations and the UK Government will make those considerations. That is why I mentioned in particular the English quota management rules. These are matters of responsibility for the devolved Administrations and ourselves in terms of quota. On that basis, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, for his question because even if we use the traditional ICES areas, those do not reflect the boundaries between the devolved nations. It is an interesting question.
I thank the Minister for his explanation. I feel reassured by that. If it does not relate to quotas and refers only to vessels steaming around in circles doing nothing at all, who can complain? However, it does not seem to be much of an objective if that is the case. On that basis, I withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 17 withdrawn.