Amendment 83

Fisheries Bill [HL] - Committee (3rd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 4:42 pm on 9 March 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch:

Moved by Baroness Jones of Whitchurch

83: After Clause 17, insert the following new Clause—“Enforcement of licences(1) A Minister of the Crown must, before the end of the period of 6 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, lay before Parliament a statement containing the policy of Her Majesty’s Government in relation to the—(a) routine patrolling of waters within British fishery limits, and(b) enforcement of the requirements under sections 14(1) and 16(1).(2) The statement under subsection (1) must include a declaration of whether, in the Minister’s opinion, the United Kingdom has sufficient resources to undertake the actions mentioned in subsection (1)(a) and (b). (3) If, in the Minister’s opinion, the United Kingdom does not have sufficient resources to undertake the actions mentioned in subsection (1)(a) and (b), the Minister must, within 30 days of making the statement, publish a strategy for acquiring such resources.(4) A strategy published under subsection (3) must be laid before each House of Parliament.(5) For the purpose of this section “sufficient resources” includes—(a) an appropriate number of vessels,(b) an appropriate number of personnel, and(c) any other resource that a Minister of the Crown deems appropriate.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment requires a Minister of the Crown to outline the Government’s policy in relation to the patrolling of British waters and enforcement of fisheries licences, and, in the event of the UK not having sufficient resources, requires publication of a strategy for them.

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

My Lords, my proposed new clause seeks to clarify whether we have sufficient resources to patrol British waters and enforce fisheries licences, an issue we did begin to touch on in previous debates.

Apart from the odd skirmish, we have had a settled agreement on the distribution of fishing rights in UK waters and shared waters in recent times. However, leaving the EU and the common fisheries policy will potentially change all that. We do not know the outcome of the trade negotiations with particular regard to fisheries, but there are bound to be winners and losers—and there may well be bad losers.

We very much hope that the settlement works to everyone’s advantage, but that seems unlikely. The truth is that most commentators expect fisheries to be a highly emotive part of the UK-EU negotiations. I am sure that the noble Lord will seek to reassure us otherwise, but it seems unlikely that UK fishers will see a return to the unconstrained access to UK waters that they were promised in the referendum and beyond. The potential for bad feeling and a sense of betrayal could prevail from a number of quarters.

This brings us on to the resources needed to manage these disputes, which is the issue covered by our amendment. The Minister’s helpful letter following Second Reading described how offshore fisheries enforcement in English waters will be primarily delivered by two vessels operated by the MMO. In addition, the Royal Navy is increasing its offshore patrol vessels from four to eight in 2020, but only two of these would regularly be available to support fisheries enforcement. This does not seem sufficient for what could be choppy waters, and it is not clear whether Ministers consider these numbers sufficient or how they intend to deploy this capacity once the UK is an independent coastal state.

Therefore, we are seeking to require a statement setting out whether the UK has sufficient resources to patrol our waters and to enforce the licences. This includes whether we have sufficient vessels and personnel. It should also clarify what training Royal Navy personnel will be given in this specialist, potentially somewhat diplomatic, enforcement requirement. For example, what orders will enforcement boats be given when interacting with those they suspect of breaching licensing arrangements?

Given the PM’s stubbornness on the transition period, everyone is having to work on an accelerated timeline. We need to be confident that the UK is prepared to take up these opportunities to bring the matter to Parliament. Unless the Minister can offer a guarantee of a debate in the weeks and months to come, it seems we will get clarity only by introducing a statutory reporting requirement as set out in this amendment. I beg to move.

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

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for an excellent and important amendment. There is no point doing any of this stuff if we cannot enforce it, and enforcement on the high seas is one of the most difficult tasks that there is in terms of enforcement of laws and regulations, as we well know.

I absolutely take the noble Baroness’s point—I hope the Minister does as well, although I am sure he does—about the sensitivity of this. If negotiations are difficult, potentially we will have quite angry people on the seas from 1 January. It is important that any incident can be dealt with properly and diplomatically. We saw in the Baie de Seine, back in the latter part of 2018, how a dispute on the high seas quickly becomes dangerous and difficult to control—sense came when the two Governments came together afterwards to sort it out. There are all sorts of tensions there.

The question I particularly want to ask the Minister is about something that came up when the Secretary of State was in front of the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee last week. One of the officials there with the Secretary of State said that a lot of the money going into enforcement was part of the Brexit process and therefore temporary. I would be interested to hear from the Minister what sort of budget has been put forward for additional enforcement over the time of Brexit and a potential Australian-style deal at the end of this year. What is the ongoing enforcement funding likely to be? There is too much temptation for the Treasury to be generous—realistic, shall we say—with enforcement funding over the Brexit transition period but thereafter ask Defra for huge economies in enforcement as it has done in the past. Assurances from the Minister, or otherwise, would be very useful at this stage.

Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 5:00, 9 March 2020

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her amendment. The UK Government’s robust fisheries enforcement system is delivered in England by a number of agencies working in partnership, in particular the Marine Management Organisation, or MMO, the inshore fisheries and conservation authorities, or IFCAs, and the Royal Navy. Fisheries enforcement is a devolved matter, with each Administration ensuring that appropriate control and enforcement matters are in place in its waters.

As I am sure noble Lords are aware, the UK has recently taken significant steps and we have been working closely with the devolved Administrations to ensure that the UK can enforce its fishing rights. As the noble Baroness said, the Royal Navy is increasing its force of offshore patrol vessels, or OPVs, from four to eight ships over the next year. Currently, four are operating at sea, conducting enforcement and overseas tasking, with four in build or regeneration. Of these, at least—I emphasise the “at least” to the noble Baroness—two Royal Navy OPVs are always provided to support MMO activity in English waters.

The MMO’s core provision includes two offshore patrol vessels and up to two aircraft. IFCAs provide an additional layer of inshore surface surveillance capability, which includes 22 vessels. Administrations share assets when appropriate. This may be as a joint working, MoU or chartering arrangement. For example, the MMO and the Welsh Government have agreed an MoU to undertake joint working and patrolling in each other’s waters.

Marine Scotland’s aircraft and patrol vessels have operated in other Administration’s waters, and it is receptive to requests for its assets to assist when possible. Marine Scotland operates a fleet of three marine protection ships and two surveillance aircraft. In Northern Ireland, DAERA has one fisheries protection vessel, accompanied by two fast-response rigid inflatable boats, or RIBs, dedicated to inspection work. Wales operates three vessels: a 24-metre monohull, a 19-metre catamaran and a 13-metre fast response cabin RIB.

In respect of England, via the MMO we have increased the number of front-line warranted officers by 50% for 2019-20, which is 35 people, putting in place a framework to increase aerial surveillance capacity by a maximum of two surveillance aircraft as risk and intelligence demands and chartering two additional commercial vessels to enable an increase in routine sea-based inspections to supplement provision from the Royal Navy Fishery Protection Squadron. I say to the noble Baronesses that it is one of the oldest front-line squadrons in the Royal Navy. It goes back many centuries and has a long history of dealing with these matters. There have been all sorts of instances in the past and, if this were to occur again, I am confident that our service men and women would have the ability and knowledge to deal with these matters proportionately and sensibly.

Additionally, it is also important, since we had an earlier discussion about this, that surface patrol vessels are complemented by satellite-based surveillance technologies such as vessel monitoring systems, or VMS, and electronic reporting systems, or ERS, monitored by the MMO from Newcastle. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, will know about this, but when I and the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, went to the MMO, this was a feature of every vessel we were taken through. I am sure that the MMO would be very pleased for noble Lords to look at this interesting capability. I would be very happy to facilitate that.

These provisions are in line with the MMO’s latest assessment, based on a risk-based, intelligence-led control and enforcement strategy. This is regularly monitored and reviewed, which is entirely appropriate to ensure that in all circumstances we are receiving that assessment.

The amendment’s proposed requirement for a Minister to declare the UK Government’s fisheries enforcement resources sufficient duplicates our existing policy and procedure. In addition, noble Lords will also be aware of the Joint Maritime Operations Coordination Centre, or JMOCC, which was officially approved by the Home Secretary in October 2017. The JMOCC has enhanced the co-ordination of cross-agency patrol capabilities, increased information and resource sharing, promoted prioritisation across government assets and enhanced aerial surveillance operations to derive maximum surveillance benefit. In place in its operational headquarters, the JMOCC has highly trained and professionally qualified representatives from key stakeholders, including Border Force, the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Transport, the National Maritime Information Centre and the police, as well as the MMO and Marine Scotland. This ensures that available resources can be fully and appropriately utilised across the United Kingdom, thereby maximising our maritime capability, including fisheries protection.

As I have highlighted, the control and enforcement is a devolved matter, and it will continue to be for each devolved Administration to decide how best to control its waters and what new arrangements may be needed in future. In that context, I should say that Defra, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive will continue to work together to share information and ensure a co-ordinated approach to monitoring, compliance and enforcement across UK waters. That will be undertaken.

I have perhaps gone into more detail on some of the abilities for all parts of the United Kingdom to contribute to this process, so I hope noble Lords will forgive me for that detail. I hope with that explanation—

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

There were other questions posed by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, to which I hope the Minister will respond. Going back to the Navy, the Minister talked about the MMO having a risk-based intelligence review that justified the number of vessels it was able to provide. However, it seems to me—I am sure my noble friend Lord West would reiterate this point—that there is a sense that the Navy is overstretched, and that the two or four vessels to which the Minister referred as being available do not seem a lot in the short term. I am sure that eventually things will settle down again, but in the next 18 months I can see that small skirmishes could break out because of misunderstandings in all sorts of places. People could misunderstand the new rules, for example. It only needs something to happen in the English Channel and the Irish Sea at the same time for resources to be stretched. Does the Minister think that there are sufficient resources? That is the real question, not what everyone else thinks. Does the Minister, who is ultimately responsible, feel that this is sufficient resource?

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

I absolutely understand the point made by the noble Baroness. My assessment is that this is at the right level, and the fact is that the Royal Navy is growing or doubling its vessels. That is why I emphasised the phrase “at least”. There is an agreement between the MMO and the Royal Navy about those two things. I emphasised “at least”; all our efforts will be to ensure that there are no difficulties at sea, which would be in no one’s interests. That is precisely why I explained about the doubling of the number of front-line warranted officers, and why I outlined increasing aerial surveillance and the work of surveillance technologies. All this is upscaling, precisely to accommodate the point made by the noble Baroness, if we are in potentially uncertain times, rather than where we were before. I described the increase in almost every feature of what is available to us at sea, including technology and personnel, to accommodate the possibilities that the noble Baroness outlined. I am basing my judgment on a much more rigorous assessment than me just saying yes to the noble Baroness. It is also why JMOCC is so important, because so much of this is intertwined with those organisations involved in JMOCC. It is terribly important that the MMO and Marine Scotland are part of that because there may be a time when fisheries protection becomes an issue and all this resource across the United Kingdom and the Royal Navy may need to be deployed.

I will say that the answer is yes, but it is not a glib yes. It is because the people who understand these areas have assessed and advised us that we should increase what we have done. That is why I am confident that we are where we should be. However, I emphasise to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that it is really important that all these matters are kept under review. That is why I deliberately emphasised that, on this matter, there is strong working with all four fisheries administrations in the United Kingdom interest.

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

How long will the temporary financing of extra resources last and when it will end? At that point, there will be a question mark. Will we go back to where we were when, effectively, for many years there was no real access to the Royal Navy at all because it was off doing other things? This is a really important point to clarify.

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

I apologise to the noble Lord and the noble Baroness that I have no further detail other than to say that I am confident. We have upscaled in the way that we have—constructing vessels and all we are doing is not like turning on and off a tap—and are increasing the number of Royal Navy vessels for this sort of demand. If we were to need additional support because something happened, I am confident that all the resources would be at our disposal.

I do not think we need to discuss a theoretical point, but if in 10, five or three years’ time all is well and we have good negotiations and agreements, the most important thing—the responsibility that all Governments should have—is the safety of UK interests and the safety of people at sea. Obviously, we will need to have all that I have outlined with the assessment that the MMO is constantly reviewing. I imagine that, down the line, there may be an assessment that there is not much of an issue and we are working towards having that capability, but that would be for the future. For now and for the foreseeable future, however, it is precisely why the Navy is upscaling the number of vessels and why we have done what we have by increasing the number on the front line.

I have been handed a note that says that all matters for future enforcement funding will be the subject of the spending review, but we will put in a robust bid, as befits our status as an independent coastal state. I hope I have not offended the Treasury by saying that.

I apologise. I should have addressed that, but in the meantime, I hope I have outlined to the noble Baroness that this is obviously an area of continuing interest and continuing responsibility.

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

Perhaps the Minister can write to me with the figures for the current enforcement budget for England and the amount of Brexit special funding from the Treasury. They are discrete amounts and I would be interested to know what they are.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 5:15, 9 March 2020

I thank the Minister for that reply. We wish him well in his application in the spending review. I suppose that is what we should say first.

We here today really do not have an understanding of the scale of the problem. We are talking in a vacuum. Once the trade negotiations are complete, we will have a much better idea. We will really know who the winners and losers are—who is angry and who is not. At that point, I would like to think that the Government will have the flexibility to draw on other resources that may not be currently available.

I may be anticipating a problem that will not exist or will be 10 times worse than I have already described. It seems wrong when we have a Bill such as this to just say, “Let’s wait and see”, but I do not think we have much of an option at this stage. I would like to think that we have the flexibility to look at this issue of resources again at some point, even if not through the structure of the Bill. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw.

Amendment 83 withdrawn.

Amendment 84 not moved.

Clause 18 agreed.

Schedule 3: Sea fishing licences: further provision

Amendments 85 to 87 not moved.

Schedule 3 agreed.

Clause 19: Penalties for offences