Amendment 28

Fisheries Bill [HL] - Committee (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 4 March 2020.

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Lord Cameron of Dillington:

Moved by Lord Cameron of Dillington

28: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—“Duty to achieve fisheries objectivesAny public authority having any function relating to fish and aquaculture activities or fisheries management must exercise its functions in order to achieve the fisheries objectives.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment is to place a legal duty on any public authority with any function related to fisheries to achieve the objectives.

Photo of Lord Cameron of Dillington Lord Cameron of Dillington Crossbench

My Lords, this amendment largely speaks for itself. It is all very well having all the noble objectives in Clause 1—made, one hopes, even more noble if some of our discussions to date bear fruit in the future—but, as they used to say in 16th-century diplomatic circles, “Fine words butter no parsnips”.

Once we are cast adrift on the post-Brexit realities of running our own fisheries, there will be numerous parties all promoting their own visions. The parties will range from the fishermen themselves to the local communities, local authorities, LEPs, the MMO and the devolved nations. They might even wiggle, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said a moment ago. They will also include the Secretaries of State at Defra and BEIS—after all, fishing is an industry and a business—and even the Secretary of State at the Department for International Trade. I suspect that at some point in the future—probably quite a long time down the line—they will have priorities that do not necessarily liaise with the objectives in Clause 1. The visions of all those bodies will be influenced by wholly separate objectives that might or might not be in line with Clause 1.

Politics in action, both local and national, has a tendency to be influenced by lobbying, usually involving specific interests, and, as Harold Macmillan was apparently wont to say, “Events, dear boy”—both of which tend, in turn, to be influenced by rather shorter-term objectives than the long-term sustainable priorities that we are all trying to achieve in Clause 1.

My amendment is hardly dictatorial, but I hope that it is a good starting point for discussion. The Minister will remember our debate last year on the then Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill, in which local authorities were given a “must have regard to” obligation concerning the environment and biodiversity. What happened? In most cases, absolutely nothing. The noble words of the objectives in the NERC Bill did not enter anyone’s thinking or area of responsibility. Other problems such as roads, housing and the local economy were more pressing—that is the lobbying influence—and austerity overtook any good intentions that there might have been. That is the “Events, dear boy” bit of the equation. We must not let that happen to our sustainable fisheries objectives.

In his reply, the Minister will no doubt refer to Clause 2(1)(c), where the fisheries policy authorities have to make a statement on how “proportionately” they have applied the Clause 1 objectives—but what mealy-mouthed words are those? I totally support Amendment 30, which would remove the word “proportionately”. In spite of that, there is no legal obligation even to have a duty of care towards the Clause 1 objectives, let alone to promote and implement them, which is what I am trying to achieve.

The Government will also likely argue that the joint fisheries statements and fisheries management plans are where the policies that will achieve the fisheries objectives will be set out and that, as the joint fisheries statement and fisheries management plan will be legally binding, there is no need to have a commitment on the face of the Bill to achieve the objectives. However, there is currently too much flexibility around how the joint fisheries statements and fisheries management plans are to be drafted, and no detail about the timeframes. Moreover, there is the ability to opt out or amend the joint fisheries statement where there is a “relevant change of circumstances”, as referred to in Clauses 7 and 10. A relevant change of circumstances can include a socioeconomic change—“Events, dear boy”.

Experience in Scotland, which has a similar provision in the Marine (Scotland) Act, has shown that, where that opt-out exists, environmental considerations can get pushed to one side in favour of economic impacts, and important measures that could benefit the environment are not taken. Six years after the designation of the Small Isles Marine Protected Area, fishing continues unchecked over the protected features, because a hole in the Act has allowed the authorities to opt out. I am trying to prevent such a hole in our Bill. In his reply a moment ago, the Minister referred to this: that, while unlikely, there is a risk that a future Government might not be so committed to sustainable fisheries, and they could amend fisheries management plans or let aberrations in those plans, or in joint fisheries statements, go through unchecked.

Frankly, my Lords, without my proposed new clause inserting a legal duty to achieve the fisheries objectives, Clause 1 is merely a series of hopeful words. As I say, it will certainly butter no parsnips—nor, for that matter, sustain a long-term and profitable UK fishing industry.

Photo of Lord Krebs Lord Krebs Chair, Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Committee, Chair, Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Committee

My Lords, I speak in support of my noble friend’s amendment, and apologise for not being here on Monday as I was overseas and unable to join the debate. However, I read the account in Hansard very carefully, and it seems to me that, as has indeed been said this afternoon, one of the key problems that a number of us have with the Bill relates not to its apparent intent—we are very happy with that—but the amount of wriggle room that is left in the Bill.

We heard again, in the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, a few minutes ago, about the wriggle room around the meaning of sustainability. We all agree that sustainability has three pillars—the economic, the social and the environmental—but there is a question of how you balance them. The Minister referred to the need to balance them, but how you do this leaves a great deal of wriggle room. I will not repeat the arguments that were rehearsed on Monday, and again briefly earlier this afternoon, about the way in which economic considerations will always tend to trump environmental considerations because the short term is here and now, and the long term is the next generation’s problem.

This amendment that my noble friend Lord Cameron of Dillington is proposing is attempting to narrow down a further possibility of wriggle room. As he has so eloquently explained, without a legally binding commitment on the noteworthy and honourable and desirable objectives, it is not clear whether they will be adhered to in the fisheries statements and fisheries management plans. So the question for me is: who is going to be accountable if the objectives are not met, and what sanctions will be placed on the fisheries authorities, or other bodies, if that happens? I do not wish to repeat the arguments that my noble friend Lord Cameron of Dillington rehearsed so eloquently, but I would like clarity on the question of accountability.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative

My Lords, I declare my interest again today—if I may do it once, rather than each time I speak. As I mentioned on Monday, the company of which I am a director is in a partnership with an agency whose clients include UK fisheries.

I know we discussed this, but with Amendment 28 the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, has enabled us to illustrate a question. It will be interesting to hear my noble friend’s answer, but I am afraid I cannot bring myself to agree that the amendment is needed. By virtue of Clause 10, national fisheries policy authorities are required to make fisheries statements—either a joint fisheries statement or a Secretary of State fisheries statement—and fisheries management plans, and they are obliged to do so in ways that show how they wish to balance the objectives.

We know that there are eight objectives. We discussed all that on Monday, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, quite rightly said. We acknowledge that this range of objectives presents a particularly testing task for the fisheries policy authorities. There is a relatively large number of objectives and several are, in themselves, relatively testing. As far as I can see, virtually none of them can be said either to have been achieved or not achieved. One is always in a process of seeking to achieve them. The balance that is struck, and the extent to which one achieves those objectives, is entirely the issue.

Clause 10 makes it clear that, whenever the national fishing policy authorities engage in anything to do with fishing or aquaculture, they must seek to apply the objectives in doing so. That is the link between Clause 1 and the rest of the Bill. Why then do I think that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, has asked an interesting question, to which I do not know the answer? It is because he said that there are many public authorities that are not necessarily fisheries policy authorities. This is true. When setting objectives in relation to one sector of governmental activity, we would not normally expect to include a clause every time saying, “Oh and by the way, it must apply to every sector of government whatever it happens to be doing.” I do not go down that path; but, in this instance, we live in a world where the relationship between access to fish stocks and quota will potentially, in certain circumstances, be part of the same negotiation as the trade and market access relationships that we have with other countries.

My question, off the back of the noble Lord’s amendment, is: are the fisheries objectives—and, by extension, joint fisheries statements and the like—regarded as equally applicable to the Department for International Trade as to any national fisheries policy authorities?

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative

My Lords, perhaps I might seek clarification from the noble Lord, Lord Cameron. As I read his amendment, it could equally apply to fresh water—rivers, streams and lakes—as well as the sea. I do not think that that is his objective at all, or the objective of the Bill, but as I read his amendment, it could also deal with freshwater fishing.

Photo of Lord Cameron of Dillington Lord Cameron of Dillington Crossbench

My Lords, as far as I am concerned, I am dealing only with coastal fisheries and marine fish.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

My Lords, I looked at this very carefully as it is a fairly concise amendment. I picked up on the three words—and indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, has kindly enlarged and reflected upon them—“any public authority”. That, to me, is huge, as there are so many different aspects of public authority. It goes on to say

“having any function relating to fish and aquaculture activities … must exercise its functions in order to achieve the fisheries objectives.”

I have no disagreement with the noble Lord, or indeed with other Members who have spoken on the need for sustainability; that is, I hope, accepted around this Chamber. But I was a little alarmed. I started noting down county councils, local councils, borough councils, police and all sorts of different authorities. I wonder whether the noble Lord would consider slightly narrowing his expression. Knowing the immense pressures on so many of these authorities at this time, I wonder if it is not a step too far. While I accept in principle the thrust of what he is trying to do, I think that referring to “Any public authority” having “any function” is too open-ended and goes a bit too far.

Photo of Lord Mackay of Clashfern Lord Mackay of Clashfern Conservative

My Lords, I see the need for something like the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, but I find it difficult to believe that any public authority will necessarily have the power to

“exercise its functions in order to achieve the fisheries objectives.”

Is an authority supposed to cover all of them, part of them, or what? I cannot see how that can work, where there are different authorities, some of which have a marginal connection with fisheries and aquaculture—such as the enforcement authorities, for example. I have tried, in a later amendment, to approach this subject in requiring the plans to set out how they have integrated the fisheries objectives.

I do not claim that my amendment would be any better or more effective than this amendment, but I do say that this one has a difficulty, in putting on public authorities an obligation that many of them may have no power to accomplish. In particular, if they have to do the whole lot—that is, to achieve all the fisheries objectives—that seems a tall task to give every public authority. Yet that is what the amendment seems to say. However, I agree that we must attend to the expectation that fisheries authorities are not there just as matters of speculation but are supposed to be practical.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Chair, EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee, Chair, EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee 5:00, 4 March 2020

My Lords, I strongly support the amendment. It is obvious common sense. When I first read the Bill I never even thought about there being a gap, but as soon as we see the amendment we have that lightbulb moment: there is a gap. As the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, said, if no duty is stated in the Act, this just will not happen. I have been critical of the number and style of some of the objectives, and the fact that there is no priority within them. However, I am clear that once this has been resolved—or even if it remains as it is—that duty must be there.

On Monday we had a debate on an amendment of mine about the office for environmental protection, and I would have thought that this amendment would strengthen that body’s role in making sure that some of the things in this area happen. I do not know whether or not the Government would like that, but if there is a duty there, there will be much more ability to enforce the objectives that the Government and the devolved authorities feel are so important.

I take the noble and learned Lord’s point about the range of authorities. Maybe that needs reconsidering; I am not sure. We should not forget that many unitary local authorities on the coast of England are strongly involved in inshore fisheries and conservation authorities —IFCAs—which in many ways are an animal of local government. We should remember that public authorities include not only the devolved authorities, the Secretary of State or the enforcement organisations, but local authorities, which are at the heart of much of the management of our territorial waters—the 0-6 mile limit.

I strongly support the amendment, and even if it is not perfect I encourage the noble Lord to bring it back on Report—if, indeed, he does not intend to test the opinion of the House this afternoon.

Photo of Lord Grantchester Lord Grantchester Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, for tabling Amendment 28, and to other noble Lords who have made comments in this short debate. I agree that, although the drafting may not be entirely correct, we must not lose the crucial point. The amendment raises an important matter, because at this juncture, as the UK becomes an independent coastal state outside the EU, there must be a signal to the whole industry, including any relevant public authority or other body, that it must make sure that its strategic objectives align with this reality and that it sets its strategic direction towards supporting the fisheries objectives included in Clause 1.

It is worth repeating that, although many of those objectives are a legacy of the UK’s membership of the common fisheries policy, they have been expanded, updated and made more relevant to the UK, with the addition of three important key objectives. On Monday I drew attention to the new climate change objective. Adding this duty for public authorities to have regard to the objectives means that they must ensure that their activities comply and that any objective is not overlooked. My noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, my colleague on the Bill, has tabled further probing amendments in the next group of amendments, which begins with Amendment 30, probing the use of the term “proportionality” in relation to the application of the objectives in future joint fisheries statements.

It is not just fisheries authorities that have a role in aquaculture activities in ensuring success. Other public authorities with responsibilities that will have an impact on the industry must play their part, be that regulating standards, carrying out inspections at ports and processing plants or whatever. There is little mention in any guidance on this matter, and perhaps that is something that should also be looked at. There is real concern that other priorities in different localities may take precedence over these national objectives, particularly in relation to the key objectives relating to sustainability and climate change. This is crucial to understanding the main reasons why the UK could make a difference to fisheries and fishing communities now that it is outside the CFP.

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords for contributing to the short debate on this important subject. I am particularly grateful for Amendment 28, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, which would require public authorities to exercise their functions in a manner to achieve the fisheries objectives.

While I fully support the principle that our public authorities should support the achievement of the fisheries objectives, I believe that the amendment, which would place a blanket duty on all authorities, would not be suitable, as my noble friend Lady Byford so rightly pointed out. For instance, there has been no consultation with local authorities, and the new duty could lead to them having to prioritise fisheries management over the many other responsibilities that they have. A number of noble Lords have commented on those tensions.

The role and function of each public authority is set out in its implementing legislation. Each authority will vary how it exercises its functions on a case-by-case basis, and any local responsibilities to manage the 0-6 nautical mile zone will be delivered through the inshore fisheries conservation authorities. In some circumstances, elements of an authority’s function may not accord with some of the fisheries objectives. It would therefore be impractical for the Fisheries Bill to place a legal duty on such an authority. As my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay pointed out, the local authorities and public bodies may well not have the power to achieve these objectives legally.

Key fisheries regulators—the Marine Management Organisation and the inshore fisheries conservation authorities—also already have sustainable development duties under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and other noble Lords are reassured by this. Contrary to the intention of the amendment, its effect could also be to dilute the accountability of fisheries administrations, which is clearly established by the Bill, by spreading responsibility for the objectives more broadly across public authorities.

In answer to the specific questions from the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, the current scope of the functions of the relevant national authorities cover the primary fisheries management tools and activities. We appreciate that local public authorities provide an important role in the achievement of successful fisheries management. However, key activities and functions are covered by the joint fisheries statement, due to their dependency in decision-making on national authorities—for example, in confirming by-laws. The fisheries statement is also legally binding.

Clause 2(1)(c), which the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, asked about, requires a statement on how fisheries objectives have been interpreted and proportionately applied. This will ensure a clear explanation of how the policies in the JFS meet the objectives and how their application is tailored to each specific case. It is worth highlighting that noble Lords will scrutinise the JFS before it comes into effect.

By holding fisheries administrations to account for the policies that they commit to in the statutory statements and management plans that will be created under the Bill, we are providing a strong framework for accountability that also recognises that fisheries authorities cannot unilaterally deliver on all these objectives but must to varying degrees work in partnership with industry. As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, rightly pointed out, fisheries administrations will be accountable for meeting the policies in the JFS, and this could be something that the Office for Environmental Protection chooses to scrutinise.

Clause 10 makes the policies legally binding. Under these objectives, all must to varying degrees work in partnership with industry, stakeholders and international partners in some cases.

I was grateful to my noble friend Lord Lansley for his helpful comments. The range of objectives does present a challenge, but Clause 10 makes it clear that the policies are legally binding. I hope that, with this explanation, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative

I asked a question, but I do not require an answer now. In so far as the Department for International Trade, for example, is engaged in trade negotiations that might impact on fish stocks because of market-access considerations, it will do so by exercising prerogative powers. It does not have duties derived from statute. So it might be interesting to know whether the Government regard these fisheries objectives as relevant to the task that the Department for International Trade will perform.

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

I will make a point very quickly. I was slightly disappointed in the Minister’s response when she said local authorities had not been consulted in any way on this Bill. The IFCAs—which are incredibly important vehicles for the conservation of sea fish within the six-mile limit around our coast—are very much creatures of local government. Some of their members are appointed by the MMO, but they are largely local authority organisations, and are significantly funded by local authorities. I wonder whether a consultation —at least with the LGA—might have been a good thing. So I do feel some disappointment.

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

In answer to my noble friend Lord Lansley’s question, it probably would be better if I wrote about the international trade position on these objectives. I said that we have consulted with the inshore fisheries conservation authorities, which would have had their own contacts with local authorities. So while perhaps not directly, they would have been indirectly involved in all these discussions.

Photo of Lord Cameron of Dillington Lord Cameron of Dillington Crossbench

I thank noble Lords for taking part in the debate and, on the whole, for their support of the principles involved, or indeed the accountability of the fisheries authorities. I totally accept that the amendment may have been too loosely drawn up, for which I apologise to the House. The objective was to create a discussion and a response on whether the objectives in Clause 1 are worth more than the paper they are written on. I am not totally sure we received any real assurance on that point, but I will read Hansard and maybe come back to it. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 28 withdrawn.

Amendment 29 not moved.

Clause 2: Joint fisheries statement