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Amendment 30

Fisheries Bill [HL] - Committee (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 4th March 2020.

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Baroness Jones of Whitchurch:

Moved by Baroness Jones of Whitchurch

30: Clause 2, page 3, line 12, leave out “proportionately”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment removes the word “proportionately” in relation to the application of the fisheries objectives when formulating the policies and proposals in the joint fisheries statement.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 30 in my name and Amendment 42 in the name of my noble friend Lord Grantchester.

Amendment 30 questions what it means for a joint fisheries statement to interpret and apply the fisheries objectives “proportionately”. This is an issue that we were beginning to flag up in the previous debate. We have removed the word “proportionately” to probe this drafting further. As we know, we have spent considerable time delving into the wording of the fisheries objectives, and we have been very keen to get the wording right so that it can be consistently applied. I do not intend to reopen that discussion again at the moment, but what does it mean to have to apply those objectives only “proportionately”? There seems to be little guidance or restriction on the extent to which fisheries policy authorities should comply with the objectives. There is therefore no reassurance that the policy statements will deliver effective policies to achieve these objectives.

We could end up with different policy authorities putting different weight on their responsibility to deliver, with different timescales and different monitoring procedures. If they apply the objectives “proportionately”, it could mean that other objectives not specified in the Bill could be weighed against those set out here. If we do not get this right at the top level, it will filter down to the fisheries management plans and undermine all the good work in setting meaningful objectives in the first place. All this feels a little unsatisfactory. As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said in the previous debate, we remain concerned about the wriggle room in these objectives, and this is another manifestation of that.

When we met the Minister and his officials the other day, it was argued that “proportionately” was in the Bill so that fisheries authorities have the discretion to decide on the appropriate balance between the various objectives. I understand that point at one level, but it does not seem to be how the Bill reads at the moment. I hope that the Minister will concede that there should be a better way of delivering the objectives with the degree of flexibility that he seeks but perhaps not with this wording.

Amendment 31, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, deals with the issue of fish crossing national boundaries and the obvious need for UK policy decisions to be taken with the international nature of fisheries in mind. Amendment 32 would require fisheries authorities to outline how they had complied with obligations under UNCLOS and other agreements. We agree that this makes sense. If the authorities are doing it anyway, it should be straightforward for them to provide the evidence. We therefore support both amendments.

Amendment 42, in the name of my noble friend Lord Grantchester, deals with recreational fishing, which we touched on in an earlier debate. Our amendment would require the Secretary of State to include policies relating to recreational fishing in the Secretary of State’s fisheries statement if they are not already present in the joint fisheries statements. Recreational fishing is an important and growing leisure activity involving many more individuals and boats than the commercial fishing fleet. It is also more environmentally sustainable. Defra’s own studies show that nearly a million UK citizens go sea-angling every year for recreation or personal consumption. Annually, their activities generate total economic activity of well over £2 billion and support more than 20,000 jobs. Recreational fishing could play an increased role in reviving our smaller ports and coastal communities, and it deserves our support.

The amendment would build on a commitment given in Committee in the Commons in a previous Session. It was George Eustice himself who suggested that the Government could add a reference to recreational fishing to what was then Clause 2. The clauses have now been reorganised and the first section of the Bill redrafted so the placement would be different, but we expect the Government to uphold that previous promise and look forward therefore to hearing from the Minister how he intends to deliver this. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Chair, EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee 5:15 pm, 4th March 2020

My Lords, I support the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. It is always useful to go back to the Government’s own approach to negotiations published in February. In part 2 of the document, headed “Other Agreements”—maybe fisheries did not quite get the profile it should have done in the document—paragraph 3d states:

The UK is committed to acting as a responsible coastal state and to working closely with the EU and its Member States and other coastal states on the sustainable management of shared stocks in line with our international obligations.”

How could I ever improve on that? It is absolutely on the button.

It is therefore completely in line with government policy that we should put those agreements within the statements. That would make the statements far more comprehensive. This is a good part of the Bill, in that it deals with a lot of the areas that we are concerned about, but there are gaps in two areas. The first is in respect of those agreements that have been reached on adjacent stocks. Let us not forget that something like 80% of UK fish stocks are shared with other EEZs, so it is a positive thing to include that in those lists. Secondly, given the Government’s right focus on complying with international agreements—the Minister has referred to it many times—it would be good to boast and be proud of how we have implemented and complied with those obligations. That is obvious and would be helpful, and I hope the Government would not find it difficult to agree.

On Amendment 34, it seems to me that that part of the Bill is mealy-mouthed. We ought to be able to go beyond sustainability, whereas that clause seems to suggest that sustainability is all that we need to aim for. It may be the way it is phrased, but it is almost as if we need to stop once we have achieved sustainability or MSY. I want to go beyond that to a much more bountiful harvest, if that is possible.

Photo of Lord Cameron of Dillington Lord Cameron of Dillington Crossbench

My Lords, I have put my name to Amendment 31 in this grouping because I think it is important that we put in place agreements with other nations who host most of the stock we live on.

When I first heard that a new UK fisheries policy was one of the primary reasons for Brexit, I scoffed, because surely fish do not understand national borders. As we know, they move about and we can never have a fishing policy without close co-operation with our neighbours. But that was before I understood the absurd principles of relative stability and how our total allowable catch was based on fishing records from the mid-1970s, when our large fleet was fishing around Iceland before the cod wars and our inshore fleet kept very few records, and before climate change moved our national dish of cod into northern waters. Did your Lordships know that we are only 8% self-sufficient in cod? Furthermore, we currently consume in the UK three times the total EU quota of cod. We are no longer blessed with being—as I was taught in my childhood—an island built on coal and surrounded by cod. Climate change has changed all that. So, to some extent, our fishing arrangements with Norway, the Faroes, Iceland and even Russia are going to be as important as our fishing arrangements with the EU.

But the problem for the EU fleets is that their catch, like ours, has moved north. Therefore, they catch a lot of their fish in UK waters. The European Fisheries Alliance reckons that cutting them off from our waters would slash profits for the EU fleets in half, leading to job losses for at least 6,000 people. A fish war with the EU, or at least clashes between boats, is not such a remote possibility, which is why the EU Commission has given itself the powers to command any or all EU fishing boats to return to port. They have also allocated funds from the EMFF to compensate fishermen forced to retire due to Brexit.

The EU is also gearing itself up for the possibility of tariffs or other restrictions on the 60% to 70% of the UK catch that is currently exported to Europe. I have often thought that one of the best ways we could spend the replacement for European Maritime and Fisheries Fund money would be to have a massive marketing campaign to stop us eating so much cod and persuade the great British public to eat more of the fish we produce. Sadly, I suspect that the great British public could not afford to do that, even if they were so inclined.

We all hope that it will not come to clashes at sea, but the point of this amendment is to prevent future clashes with our neighbours while at the same time ensuring that we use the best up-to-date science to sustain our fishing stocks. Zonal allocation is a far better way of distributing quota among national fishing fleets than the historically based quotas. The seas are always changing, and so are the fish within them; this amendment is an effort to take account of that fact.

However, the problem is that looking at relative stability terrifies the Europeans—opening up a whole can of worms for them, from the Black Sea to the Baltic —even if they know in their hearts that it is the right thing to do. We have to enter into very serious negotiations with not only them but our other fishing neighbours in order to achieve sustainable fisheries.

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

My Lords, a few years ago I had the great pleasure of serving on the Energy and Environment Sub-Committee of the European Union Committee, under the very able chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. In our inquiry into Brexit and fisheries, we heard very compelling evidence about the management of shared stocks and nobody, from the fishing industry to private fishermen to the Minister at the time—now the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—disagreed that any policy for the management of UK stocks has to take into account the fact that many of our stocks are shared with other European countries and, therefore, we cannot develop plans on our own.

For me, one of the more compelling anecdotes was the case of species that spend the earlier part of their life in, for example, French waters, and later move into UK waters. One could envisage a future situation in which, in this case, the French might say, “Okay, we will harvest the younger fish and leave the older ones for you.” Of course, there would not be any older ones. I just emphasise that all the evidence I heard in that Select Committee inquiry three years ago makes a very compelling case for this amendment on shared stocks.

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

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords, particularly the noble Baroness, for this debate. This provides me with the opportunity to explain a little more about why we have drafted the provisions and proposals for the joint fisheries statement as we have done, and why this clause has been written with a requirement that proportionality is considered when formulating the policies and proposals in the joint fisheries statement.

The requirement for proportionality, which Amendment 30 would remove, is because the fisheries objectives work together to set out the core principles that should be followed 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. These policies will focus on key areas of our fisheries management, both to protect the environment and enable a thriving fishing industry. We will achieve this ambition only if the fisheries objectives are proportionately applied to the policies in the joint statement. A requirement for proportionality was included to provide reassurance that the fisheries administrations will take a balanced approach in the development of policies and proposals. The joint fisheries statement on proportionality will be scrutinised as part of the consultation and the legislative scrutiny process so that if there were any concerns that needed to be raised, they would be raised prior to the statement’s adoption.

Amendments 31 and 32 both relate to our intentions in the international sphere. Amendment 31 would require us to set out how we will co-operate with our regional neighbours in managing shared fish stocks. This is clearly an extremely important consideration in fisheries management. However, the UK is already bound by international law, as I know noble Lords know, to co-operate with other coastal states on the management of shared stocks; for example, through the UN fish stocks agreement—UNSFA—which establishes a comprehensive regime for the management of such transboundary fish stocks.

We are taking the necessary steps to build the active role we need to play internationally as an independent coastal state that takes its rights and responsibilities under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the SeaUNCLOS—very seriously. For example, we will participate as a sovereign nation in negotiations on mackerel stocks and are joining several priority regional fisheries management organisations in our own right. We are keen to develop new framework agreements with our neighbouring coastal states for annual co-operation on fisheries of shared interest. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, was absolutely right to refer to scientists: of course, we have some world-class fisheries scientists and scientific institutions in this country, and fully intend to continue to play a leading role in the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas.

Having left the EU, our international environmental obligations remain unchanged. As implied in Amendment 32, a significant amount of what we do in fisheries management, both domestically and internationally, is underpinned by international law and obligations. Meeting the objective set out in the Bill to restore stocks to levels capable of producing maximum sustainable yield will require working with our coastal neighbours to agree sustainable catch levels for shared stocks. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, is right and I agree: UNCLOS obliges us to co-operate with other coastal states on shared stocks, and we will do so.

We will set out our approach to achieving this objective in the joint fisheries statement and will report on the extent to which the objective has been achieved in subsequent reviews. In so doing, we will in effect be reporting on the extent to which we have complied with our obligations—for example, under UNCLOS—to manage our stocks sustainably and in co-operation with our regional neighbours.

In practical terms, the amendment as drafted poses some challenges. First, Clause 2 is forward-looking, requiring the fisheries authorities to set out how we will meet the fisheries objectives, including policies that will also support us in meeting our international obligations. This will allow scrutiny of our policy plans before and during their implementation. My understanding is that the amendment asks only that the administrations report on compliance after the policies have been implemented, which overall could lead to less scrutiny of the UK Government’s policies and actions. I am pretty certain that that is not what was intended, but that is my advice on how it would be interpreted.

Secondly, the United Kingdom is a signatory to more than 14,000 international treaties, not all of which are related to fisheries policy. I am informed that the technical effect of this amendment—I am sorry, but my task is to report back on such technical issues when this goes through the legal mincer—is that it would require each administration to report on all of these, regardless of its links to fishing. Again, I do not imagine that that is what was intended, but that is the legal interpretation. I reassure noble Lords that the UK already reports regularly and in detail on progress against conventions and obligations, ranging from implementation of the sustainable development goals to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Amendment 42 seeks to highlight the importance of the recreational sea-fishing sector. Recreational sea fishing makes a valuable contribution to the UK economy. It has been estimated that in 2012, taking indirect and induced effects into account, sea angling supported £2.1 billion of total spending, more than 23,600 jobs and almost £980 million of gross value added in England alone. As well as making a clear economic contribution, angling provides health and well-being benefits for those individuals who participate. My understanding of the figures is that this represents around 2% of England’s adult population.

For these reasons I am pleased that the Bill provides the Secretary of State, for the first time, with the power to arrange financial assistance for the promotion or development of recreational fishing. In addition to this new power to provide financial assistance to the sector, all references to fisheries in the Bill include recreational as well as commercial fishing unless otherwise stated, as set out in paragraph 62 of the Explanatory Notes. Recreational sea fishing will contribute to the delivery of the UK fisheries objectives, along with commercial fisheries and aquaculture. The Bill does not list all the sectors for which the joint fisheries statement might be expected to include policies and it is not appropriate to single out recreational fishing. The nature of the joint fisheries statement is that it is designed to include all policies relevant to the achievement of the fisheries objectives across both commercial and non-commercial fishing wherever relevant.

I am therefore confident, for the reasons I have outlined, that the previous commitments in relation to recreational sea angling have been honoured within the current text of the Bill. We understand our legal and international obligations, which we are signatories to, and this country is well regarded in upholding them—we are recognised as a country that seeks MSY —so I hope that, with the reassurances on these varied matters, the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 5:30 pm, 4th March 2020

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken on this issue, and the Minister for his response. We are flogging the same issue of proportionality over and again with different wording. I was not totally convinced by the Minister’s response. He talked about the need for a balanced approach between all the different objectives. We have already rehearsed the fact that that could lead to an unbalanced approach if we are not very careful, or the wrong objectives coming to the top in the hierarchy, so I am slightly anxious about that. I took it from the Minister’s reply that it would not be appropriate for other objectives that were not already listed to be put in that balance. If that is what he was saying, it is certainly reassuring.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, made a very compelling case on the international issues and I am not sure that the Minister managed to unravel it, particularly on the first amendment. There will be a need for us to carry on co-operating with our international neighbours, so I do not see what would be wrong in putting that in the joint fisheries statement alongside all the other tasks that have to be carried out. It is not a minor issue: it will be a major part of the authorities’ functions. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, will reflect on that because I think it is worth further discussion. It may be in a slightly different form of words, but that balance—

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

I assure the noble Baroness that, in the next group, I will very much take hold of that issue.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

We are rehearsing and repeating some of these debates, but that was very reassuring to hear, and I am glad the noble Lord has taken that on board.

The Minister’s point that we will report after the event, rather than be forward-looking, was well made and we need to reflect on it. I was a bit disappointed by his answer on recreational fishing. It is not just about funding or having access to financial assistance but more about the importance of recreational fishing. As I said to the Minister—and he reflected it back to me—it is a major part of the fishing sector, not a minor part. It employs more people and involves more money and jobs, so to say that the joint fisheries statement should not explicitly take account of that does not feel right to me. Again, we may not have put the amendment in the right place, but I think we can firm it up in some way. I will reflect on his comments in Hansard. It may be another one of those issues that will crop up somewhere else during the course of the Bill. For the time being, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 30 withdrawn.

Amendments 31 and 32 not moved.