Amendment 83

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

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Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:42 pm, 9th March 2020

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.