Moved by Baroness Worthington
18: Clause 1, page 2, line 29, leave out subsection (8) and insert—“(8) The “national benefit objective” is that the public exploitation of the fishery for commercial, recreational and environmental purposes brings benefit to the United Kingdom or any part of the United Kingdom.”
I must confess to feeling that perhaps I am not the best person to lead off this segment of the debate, because my amendment seeks to change subsection (8) of the clause but the group as a whole will take into account a wider range of issues relating to the definition of “national benefit”. I look forward to hearing the many views that will be expressed around the amendments in this group.
My amendment simply seeks to make the point—I fear this is a return to the discussion at the start of the debate—of what it is that we are doing in the handing out of a fishing quota, which is held in public trust, for private benefit. I therefore seek to amend the description of the national benefit objective as set out in the Bill from a fairly narrow definition that
“fishing activities of UK fishing boats bring social or economic benefits to the United Kingdom”,
and suggest that it should be reworded that the national benefit objective is that
“the public exploitation of the fishery for commercial, recreational and environmental purposes brings benefit to the United Kingdom”.
So the amendment seeks to make it clear in the Bill that it is more than simply the fishing activity for which we are granting quotas that constitutes a national benefit.
I know that noble Lords will speak to other amendments around the principle of the UK benefiting from the granting of quotas, but my amendment seeks to probe why it is that we are defining national benefits so narrowly and restricting it to fishing activities and fishing boats. The phrase seems a little odd, given that, as we have discussed, the founding principle of the Bill is that we have a national asset in our fishing resource that is held in trust for the public and granted out to fishing activity. I feel that the national benefit has been too narrowly drawn and too narrowly attached to fishing activities and fishing boats.
That is the purpose of the amendment. As I say, the rest of the amendments in the group seek to consider and assess different aspects of the national benefit—but I beg to move my amendment.
My Lords, my Amendment 19 is trying to deal with the same matter, but it attempts to use the activities of fishing fleets to bring
“social, economic and employment benefits to the United Kingdom or any part”.
In other words, it is intended that the activities of fishing boats should not merely benefit the fisheries, but also the rest of the United Kingdom, and in particular produce social, economic and employment benefits. One can see that this is a bit wider than the proposal of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, but it is just a question of what precisely this “national benefit objective” is aiming at.
I think it does not aim at benefiting the fishing industry itself, but at benefiting others through the activities of the fishing industry. Paragraph (b) of my proposed new subsection, which contains a reference to fish and aqua- culture activities, manages to achieve the same sort of thing. In other words, in both cases the activities of the boats and the management of the fleets are supposed to bring these general social, economic and employment benefits to the United Kingdom and parts of it.
The issues in this amendment were brought to my attention by the national authority, or corporation, of the fishing fleets of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Scottish people are somewhat separately represented, and it is not altogether surprising that their attitude is that the Bill is pretty good and perhaps the best thing to do is to leave it alone. It may be that they have ideas about the present situation, and the way in which the Bill is constructed is, from their point of view, very acceptable.
My Lords, I will speak to my Amendment 78, which is in a similar vein around national benefit. It is quite clear, certainly in the south-west, that if all the fishing vessels with British flags actually landed their catch—or a major proportion of it—in their home port, the number of landings in the UK and the viability of those ports would be hugely increased. Of course, we have here the issue of what used to be called “quota hoppers”, around which everything has gone staggeringly quiet during the Brexit negotiations and the formulation of the Bill.
As we know, a little under half of the English—not Scottish—quota is effectively owned by Dutch, Spanish or Icelandic interests. Grimsby, which I think used to be the world’s or Europe’s largest fishing port, now has a very important fish processing industry, but hardly any activity in terms of landings. Most of the quota there is effectively owned by Dutch vessels that land in Holland.
So, we have a question: how do we change that? The Bill does nothing to change this area. In a way, it suits the fishing industry establishment to keep things as they are, because those are the members. Whether vessels are English or foreign-owned, those are the members of the fishing organisations. That is why, in Amendment 78, I have used the scientifically calculated number of 75%, which came out at the end of my spreadsheet, to suggest what proportion of fish should be landed by English-flagged—or British-flagged, depending on how we want to define the devolution thing—vessels. It is a probing amendment, but only in the sense that something needs to be done in this area. Very few other EU member states have allowed the foreign ownership of quota in the way that we have. We decided to do that. We are where we are, but we need to make sure there is a national benefit; I assume that is why this objective is here.
I very much support the majority of the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. However, one of them slightly suggests an obligation for foreign vessels licensed to fish in UK waters also to land in the UK. I am slightly more hesitant about that approach; the last thing we would want is retaliation, or reciprocation. The last thing we would want in, say, Norwegian fisheries, is for British boats to have to land their catch in Norway. I do not really think that that would work. I am not so bothered about foreign vessels that are licensed here; as long as they pay us good money, or we have swaps on quota allowances, that would be sufficient. But we do need to tackle this area of effective foreign ownership of UK quota and bring some of that back home to our ports—so that they can thrive and make the most of the new situation that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, described.
My Lords, we have five amendments in this group: Amendments 20, 21, 77, 80 and 84. First, a number of noble Lords have sought to amend and clarify the definition of “national benefit” in different ways. The fact that different Peers have tried to do that shows that this is open to a huge range of interpretations. It is a rather vague, catch-all phrase so it is right that we should probe it; it needs further clarification. It is also important that we return to our earlier discussion. If the phrase is too vague, it could be used to override some of the other important objectives that could be subsumed under it. So it is important that we understand exactly what it means, and that it holds its place proportionately with all the other objectives; it is clearly better defined by that.
I think we are all still struggling with those objectives. We identified at the beginning of the debate that eight—or however many there are—is too many, and asked how we rank them and so on. The vaguer they are, the more difficult any of that ranking will be. The phrase “national benefit” is so vague; we need to do a bit more work on the phrase itself but also on how to interpret and define it. We need to bottom out that discussion; maybe the Minister can help us a bit more with that.
Our Amendment 20 has a simple intent: it seeks to ensure that foreign vessels fishing in our waters should have the same obligation to respect the national benefit—however we define it—as required of the UK fleet. This should be the basis on which licences are granted. We believe it is a straightforward and uncontroversial amendment; we hope that noble Lords will agree.
Amendments 21, 77, 80 and 84 raise a very different issue—some of these amendments have been grouped rather oddly, but I shall address them as they have been set out—which is the concept of a national landing obligation. We believe this is vital to ensuring the long-term health of our coastal fishing fleets and communities. This is spelled out in detail in Amendment 84, where we specify that all licensed boats should be subject to the national landing requirement to land a percentage of their boat’s catch at a port in the UK. Our proposal is that the percentage of the catch should be set at 70%, rather than the noble Lord’s 75%, unless the Secretary of State determines otherwise and sets out his reasons, but we could discuss trading that figure.
This is an important principle and we set out our argument for it at Second Reading: a requirement to land at UK ports could herald the renaissance of our coastal communities, which is long overdue. While the numbers vary according to the type of fisher, we know that for every job created at sea many more are created on land as a result of the need for landing, processing and onward transportation, for example. It is estimated that about 10 times as many jobs are created on land as at sea, and currently many of those jobs are going to other EU ports. Meanwhile coastal communities currently have higher rates of unemployment and lower wages. They have the additional challenges of a drain of young people, social isolation and poor health. A policy based on a national landing requirement would provide more local jobs for local people and would save fishers having to travel hundreds of miles in search of a fair price for their catch because then, we hope, the market would come to them rather than them having to chase the markets overseas.
If we were to introduce a minimum landing requirement for fish caught in our waters, that would provide a level of certainty for the sector that historically has been lacking. That in turn would, we hope, facilitate investment and innovation, which could help with other matters such as decarbonisation and, as I say, would bring local regeneration based on good environmental principles. I hope noble Lords will see the sense of this argument and support the amendments.
Amendment 78, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, which he has just eloquently described, also deals with the requirement to land a proportion in UK ports. He has an exception for landing in distant-water fisheries, which I think we accept; you can take the principle that we are suggesting only so far, so there is merit in that. That is also an issue that we have covered in our Amendment 90. We need more clarification on it but I think we are all fishing in the same water around those principles.
We also welcome the tabling of Amendment 18 by the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. It would bring other forms of fishing, such as recreational fishing, into the scope of the national benefit objective. Again, this underlines the fact that the phrase is very vague and therefore you could tack all sorts of things on to it. However, we support the principle. We have other amendments that spell out in more detail the importance of recreational fishing. Perhaps it could be better sited elsewhere but it is an important principle and we are happy to find the appropriate place to put that wording for the future. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, if my noble friend will forgive me, I want to interject for a short moment, not about the definition of the national benefit objective but on the second part of this group of amendments, relating to a landing requirement. It struck me as a useful debate to have in Committee. For a start, it allows us to expose the question of whether Ministers want to be in the position to impose any kind of landing requirement under any circumstances.
Personally, I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, say that setting a landing requirement for foreign boats in UK waters would simply lead to the imposition of the same requirement on British boats in other waters, and I am not sure that is where we want to end up. I am glad that both speakers from Labour and the Liberal Democrats have endorsed the view that this should apply only to fishing in our exclusive economic zone; it would need not to apply, or to be able to be exempted, for distant-waters fishing. I hope noble Lords will forgive me for saying that to set 70% or 75% in primary legislation would make no sense whatever. Putting that to one side—and saying that therefore the amendments do not work—it raises a very interesting question: does the Bill, under any circumstances, allow fishing authorities in the United Kingdom to set any kind of landing requirement? I do not know the answer; I cannot find it anywhere. I wonder whether it is thought potentially never to be necessary under any circumstances. It seems to me that there is a potential mischief involved in the ownership and use of quota, which could be remedied either through the allocation of quotas or through a landing requirement. I am not sure that Ministers have told us whether under any circumstances they would use the former and never the latter. That is an interesting question.
My Lords, I will not detain the House for long. I am encouraged by this debate. Last year I sat on the committee on regenerating coastal and seaside towns. We looked in a lot of detail at what is happening to our seaside towns—at the poverty and great difficulty they are experiencing. I am certainly not an expert on what the quotas should or should not be, but this kind of discussion is a source of encouragement, and is putting its finger on the issues and on the opportunities that may come to these towns if we push these ideas. It feels as though there is movement on getting to grips with the positive opportunities that may now result from the time we are in. I thank the Committee for this helpful discussion.
My Lords, I wonder whether this question of landing obligations will need to be resolved in the fisheries negotiations during the coming “passage of arms” with the EU. I believe that there is a good deal of voluntary landing in our ports by foreign fishing vessels at the moment, and one of the reasons for that is the efficiency of the transfer from these ports to the European market. They are able to get their fish stocks to the European market from some ports very quickly—in a way that, if they had to take them back to Spain or southern France, would take much longer and probably be less efficiently organised. I do not know whether it needs compulsion, but compulsion would need to be authorised as part of the future negotiations.
Perhaps I may intervene on the noble and learned Lord. We should not forget that we are talking about British boats in British waters—it is not about foreign vessels. Sorry, I will sound like Michael Gove or the Prime Minister, but this has nothing to do with the European Union or the Commission: it is purely a British decision, apart from foreign vessels and where they have to land. That is why we have raised the issue.
I can see that, if it is restricted to British vessels, it is perfectly within the powers of this Parliament, but I am not at all clear that it would be right to impose that kind of obligation on British vessels without attempting to encourage foreign vessels to do the same. As I mentioned at Second Reading, something like this is already happening, and in pretty small ports—though they have a large amount of traffic, usually overnight, when refrigerated vehicles go straight to Europe and arrive quickly at their markets, which are pretty hungry for the result.
My Lords, this debate has turned into rather an intriguing one, with lots of contributions. I am grateful to noble Lords for these amendments, which all relate to a matter emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Mawson; that is, ensuring that coastal communities which rely on fishing see a benefit from fish caught in UK waters. The UK Government agree that this is a matter of the upmost importance, but I suggest that other routes beyond this Bill should be used to secure this outcome as well.
Amendment 18 would include recreational and environmental use of fisheries in the national benefit objective. Amendment 19 seeks to ensure economic, social and employment benefits from fish and aquaculture activities. The objective as it stands in the Bill highlights that UK boats, including foreign-owned but UK-flagged boats, should provide economic, social and employment benefits to the UK when fishing against the UK’s fishing opportunities. This is currently achieved through a licence condition requiring all UK vessels to demonstrate an economic link to the UK. The Bill also extends the ability to prescribe an economic link in respect of foreign vessels licensed to fish in the UK through the foreign vessel licensing regime, if this is negotiated internationally.
Perhaps I might take a moment to set out what the economic link requirement currently stipulates of UK vessels. The requirement is delivered through the licensing regime and can be controlled and enforced by the fisheries authorities and the Marine Management Organisation. The economic link is a devolved matter, but currently this licence condition is UK-wide, as agreed in the 2012 fisheries concordat between the Administrations.
I say in reply to my noble friend Lord Lansley that we do not need legislation to amend or set an economic link; it is managed through licence conditions. The conditions of the economic link are that vessels must land at least 50% of their catch of quota species into UK ports; have at least 50% of their crew normally resident in the UK; spend at least 50% of operating expenditure in the UK; or demonstrate an economic link by other means. In practice, this last option usually involves the donation of quota to the under-10 metre quota pool.
In 2018, the majority of vessels met the economic link by landing at least 50% of their catch in UK ports. Twenty-seven vessels met the economic link through other economic link criteria. Of the 27, 22 complied by donating 714 tonnes of quota worth £2.5 million, and five employed a crew the majority of whom were resident in the UK. This quota was put into the under-10 metre pool, which is managed by the MMO, and vessel owners who have valid licences are entitled to fish for it.
Other parts of the Bill, in particular paragraph (a)(ii) of the sustainability objective in Clause 1, already state the UK Government’s aim of ensuring that fishing activities are managed so as to achieve economic, social and employment benefits, which I hope provides the reassurance that my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay seeks in his Amendment 19. This would include the management of recreational and environmental use of fisheries. As such, Amendment 18 does not need to be included because the Bill achieves the same effect as the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, seeks. I am happy to have further conversations if that presents difficulties for her, but that is the position as I understand it.
There are some further, practical issues to consider in relation to these amendments. It is not clear what any national benefit requirement for the recreational sector could be or for those exploiting the resources for environmental reasons; nor would it be easy to consider how any wider national benefit requirement could be delivered.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, seeks through Amendment 20 to extend the scope of the objective that the fishing activities of UK fishing boats should benefit the UK to include the activity of foreign vessels and, through Amendment 21, to require that a majority of fish be landed by UK boats for processing at UK ports. I shall speak to these amendments in turn.
In the future, any access by non-UK vessels to fish in UK waters will be, as all noble Lords know, a matter for negotiation. Access will be on the UK’s terms and for the benefit of UK fishermen. Our access negotiations will always seek to bring environmental, economic and social benefits to the UK. Therefore, through our negotiations, benefits to the UK from any foreign vessels fishing in our waters would be sought and secured, without such an amendment to the Bill.
There would be a number of practical challenges to delivering the change that Amendment 21 seeks to impose. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and my noble friend Lord Lansley referred to this. The imposition of this requirement on UK vessels would make many vessels’ existing business models inoperable, as they rely on non-UK markets for the sale of their catch. This is often the case where prices are higher or, in some instances, where appropriate port facilities in the UK are not available. There could be implications for safety if vessels are not able to access suitable ports at the appropriate time. Further, enforcing increased landings into the UK could result in lower prices for the catching sector.
The amendment refers specifically to fish for “processing in UK ports”. While we want to encourage greater processing in the UK, as it creates value and brings employment, there are challenges in practice. We have some world-class processing plants in the UK, but they are not necessarily found in ports. It will also take time and money to invest and build processing capacity. We must also recognise that markets for processed fish need to be developed and there can be good value to be gained from the sale of, for example, unprocessed fish or live shellfish.
Landing requirements currently exist as part of the economic link condition attached to all UK vessel licences, as I have already detailed. This proposed amendment would make it more difficult for other mechanisms which benefit UK coastal communities to operate, including quota donations made under the economic link condition, resulting in a fall in fishing opportunities for the inshore fleet. Schedule 3 to the Bill sets out vessel licensing powers, which we will continue to use to impose economic link conditions on UK registered boats. The economic link policy is being reviewed, to ensure that it remains as effective as possible as we leave the CFP. However, I believe that a licence condition remains the most flexible and effective way of achieving this objective.
Amendments 77, 78, 80, and 84 seek to introduce a new national landing requirement and apply it to vessels licensed using powers in the Bill. While the Government support the intent of these amendments, which is to ensure that the UK benefits from its valuable natural resources, we believe that their aims are addressed both in the Bill through the national benefit objective, as I have previously highlighted, and the provisions to license foreign vessels for the first time, which would allow us to impose on them requirements which are equitable with our licensing regime for UK boats.
There is already work being undertaken on this topic by the Government and by the devolved Administrations. The amendments as drafted would not be appropriate to include in the Bill as they do not respect the devolution settlements—the economic link being a devolved matter, as I have set out. As made clear in the UK Government’s fisheries White Paper, the economic link conditions will be reviewed with a view to strengthening them. The Scottish Government consulted on this issue three years ago. We wish to work with the devolved Administrations to consider whether having the same economic link conditions across the UK would simplify matters for industry.
I am sure noble Lords will agree that, in developing options for reform, we must consider the best interests of the whole fleet, including those British vessels that land abroad when it is most profitable, and ensure that vessels can continue to operate as successful businesses. As we review the economic link, we will carefully consider the impact of changing the required share of landings into UK ports. Setting a fixed percentage for required landings into UK ports by all vessels could present practical difficulties, as the infrastructure for handling large increases in landings may not be in place, and it could disrupt existing supply chains. Furthermore, it would not necessarily benefit the inshore fleet, as quota that has been donated to the under-10 metre pool in the past would, instead, be required to be landed into UK ports by foreign owned vessels. The current drafting of the Bill respects and reflects the devolution settlements, where each Administration is responsible for setting licence conditions, including the economic link. It would therefore not be appropriate for the Secretary of State to be legislating for the whole UK, as proposed.
I realise that this has been a fairly lengthy explanation, but I hope that it has been helpful in demonstrating the UK Government’s commitment to, first, seeing a real benefit from fishing for our coastal communities, and secondly, ensuring that our fishing industry is given enough flexibility to flourish. I understand the rationale behind all the amendments, but I have sought to outline some of the practical intricacies of the fishing industry.
One of the generous remarks by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, repeated today, is that the more you learn about the fishing industry, the more you realise how little you really know, because of its intricacy and complexity. I have tried to outline some of the points of difficulty that the amendment presents, although I absolutely respect the importance of supporting our coastal communities. With all that in mind, I ask the noble Baroness at this stage to withdraw her amendment.
I shall read what the Minister said in detail in Hansard. He said that this is riddled with complexity, and I am sure that that is true, but did I understand him to say that there is a working party already working on issues around the national landing requirement? Is it that he thinks this is a good idea but, as we were discussing earlier, everything has to be agreed with the devolved nations and therefore we cannot agree anything in the Bill? Is this something that is already in train but has not yet been signed off? Is that really what he is saying? I understand that there may be details underneath it.
I repeat what I said: work is already being undertaken on this by the Government and the devolved Administrations. It is work in progress, but that is the right route, particularly as these are devolved matters and that is important. The Government want to find ways: although we must and do respect the devolution settlement, there are many respects where we have been seeking to work together and why we are legislating on behalf of all four parts of the United Kingdom on this matter. It is the case that we are acting in concert with the devolved Administrations. We are very mindful that many of these areas are devolved, but we think that in the interests of simplicity and straightforwardness there are many areas where we would like to have a single focus, as it were.
Perhaps I can be helpful to the Minister, in that the whole area of foreign ownership of British-flagged vessels is an English issue, and I am sure that we can solve it in that way and help the Minister get this into the Bill. It is an English, not a Scottish, problem. That is one thing we can do. The other thing is that, on the under-10 fleet redistribution of quota, of course the big promise of the Government is that the pie is going to increase anyway, so there will be plenty for the under-10 fleet. If the Government’s promises, in terms of taking back control and getting rid of relative stability, is what we manage to achieve, then that should not be a problem.
What I particularly want to do at this stage is to go through a thought experiment with the Minister. Taking the point that it is the Government’s objective, quite rightly, post Brexit to have a much larger pie—because the fish stocks are within our EEZ and we will have this whole idea of zonal attachment—we will have much larger fishing opportunities for the fleet as a whole. So, with that bigger pie, are we going to allow the foreign-owned British companies with British-flagged vessels to take even more quota than they have now, or have the Government got a cunning plan to make sure that this expanded quota stays and resides more with real British fishing fleets? I would be very interested to hear the Government’s answer.
For tonight, I will say that these are matters under active consideration. We take the point that there is scope for additional quota to benefit coastal communities. I am not in a position to give precise details because this is under active consideration, but the noble Lord has absolutely hit on the point that this is about additional opportunities. The Government are working on and considering how best we fulfil that in a way which benefits coastal communities. That, as with a number of other aspects, is work in hand.
My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister’s response to this group of amendments. I will read Hansard in detail. Touching on the point of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, it struck me as odd that we still seem to be referring to the current system under the CFP as some sort of gold standard we should seek to continue. I think most people would agree it is the exact opposite of what we are trying to achieve.
This concept of an economic link being proofed by the charitable donation of quota back to a deserving cause seems out of kilter with what we are trying to achieve. We should not give the vast majority of quota to a small number of players and then rely on their beneficence to give it back to those located in coastal communities who are actually fishing in our waters, employing people, feeding local markets and producing sustainable food. Something is a bit awry in the way that this opportunity is being interpreted by our Government. We will probably come back to probe this further as we go through the Bill, particularly on the quota allocation clauses, but I am grateful for the response—it will tee up an interesting debate later.
On whether recreational fishing could in any way contribute to the national benefit, it is a bit dismissive to state that only commercial fishing and fish stocks have any contribution to make to the benefit of the nation. It is clear that, if we are a destination for a large number of recreational fishers, that will be of national benefit. If we can sustain a really rich and biodiverse marine environment, that will enable us to encourage any manner of recreational activities—not just fishing but whale watching, porpoise watching and birdwatching are inherently linked to the sustainability of our fish stocks. Without fish in the seas, we do not have birds.
There are lots of reasons why good management of our marine environment produces a national benefit, so I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that this is a really odd phrase and that the narrow definition of “national benefit” needs revisiting as we go through the Bill. However, at this stage I am happy to withdraw this amendment.
Amendment 18 withdrawn.
Amendments 19 to 21 not moved.