Amendment 90

Fisheries Bill [HL] - Committee (3rd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 9th March 2020.

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Baroness Jones of Whitchurch:

Moved by Baroness Jones of Whitchurch

90: Before Clause 23, insert the following new Clause—“Negotiations on fishing opportunities previously governed by the Common Fisheries Policy(1) A Minister of the Crown must, before the end of the period of three months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, lay before both Houses of Parliament a statement containing—(a) information on the status of negotiations with the European Union and other relevant parties on fishing opportunities after IP completion day which were governed by the Common Fisheries Policy before IP completion day,(b) the policy of Her Majesty’s Government in relation to access, after IP completion day, for British fishing boats to EU quota for distant waters outside of the British fishery limits.(2) To meet the requirement under subsection (1)(a), the statement must include a declaration of whether Her Majesty’s Government intends to reclaim the United Kingdom’s full share of EU quota on IP completion day or over a period of time.”Member’s explanatory statementThis new Clause requires a Minister of the Crown to lay a statement before Parliament outlining the status of UK-EU fisheries negotiations and the Government’s policy in relation to (1) ongoing access to EU distant waters quota for British fishing boats and (2) the time period over which it will reclaim the UK’s share of EU fishing quotas.

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

My Lords, this amendment addresses a running concern in the Bill that Parliament will be precluded from knowing the details of the trade negotiations as they affect fishing opportunities until it is too late to comment or influence the outcome. In his letter to Peers, the Minister referred to future treaties, including a framework on fisheries with the EU needing to be laid before Parliament before it is ratified. We would argue that this is too late for Parliament to have any real influence. As we have previously said, this is a particularly sensitive issue given the promises made to UK fishers, and to the electorate, about reclaiming our share of EU quota as we leave the EU at the end of the year.

The Minister has previously stated that this Bill is intended to be negotiation-neutral, but the reality is that we cannot debate our transition to being an independent coastal state without considering the prospects for a future UK-EU deal on access to our fishing waters. If this Bill is not the right vehicle for parliamentary scrutiny of future arrangements—it appears from what the Minister has said that it is not—then many of us will feel frustrated. It is important to clarify what the alternative is. New subsection (1)(b) proposed in the amendment includes a specific reference to retaining a share of EU quota for distant-waters fishing outside UK limits. This is an aspect of the fisheries debate which has not received as much attention, but it is important for parts of the UK fleet.

We appreciate that the UK position is that we want to reach an agreement with the EU and vice versa. However, if that does not prove possible, the default position is that the UK will unilaterally repatriate 100% of quota for UK waters next year, while potentially cutting off access to EU waters immediately for those who fish those distant waters. This could have a huge implication for the UK fleet, much of which relies on continued access to those distant waters. We do not know whether the Government intend to do this or whether they would negotiate some other form of transitory agreement with the EU. It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify the Government’s thinking on this issue.

Meanwhile, I hope that noble Lords will support the amendment. It seeks to give a clearer role for parliamentary scrutiny over these decisions, which could have profound implications for the future of our fleet. 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 am very pleased to support the amendment. If there has been one mistake made since the referendum—apart from the result of the referendum which, of course, is indisputable and I entirely accept—it is that the Government have attempted to exclude Parliament from so much. That has been part of the reason why we have had the three years of turmoil that we have had. It is therefore important that the Government keep Parliament involved or up to date on how these negotiations are working; though clearly Parliament is not looking for the final resolution, those negotiations have to take place in that context.

Last week, I was concerned that when the Secretary of State was in front of the EU sub-committee, he stated that the Scottish Administration—or a Scottish Minister—would not be allowed in the room when the negotiations took place. He was very specific about it: I questioned him and checked what he had said. He said it was because this was not a devolved matter but a matter for the United Kingdom. It was slightly ironic, given the discussions we have had on this Bill. Will the Government reconsider that position, because the Scottish fishing industry is fundamental to the UK fishing industry? This is an area on which the Government ought to change their view. I very much support the amendment and the spirit in which it was introduced.

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

My Lords, I am also grateful to the noble Baroness for her amendment. The UK Government remain committed to keeping Parliament and the public informed of the progress of negotiations. On 27 February, the Government published The Future Relationship with the EU: The UK’s Approach to Negotiations. This makes clear that the UK and the EU have committed to use best endeavours to agree a new fisheries agreement by 1 July 2020. In line with the practice of other independent coastal states, the agreement would provide a framework for annual negotiations on access and quota and set out a mechanism for co-operation on fisheries matters where we share an interest with the EU. The Prime Minister has already committed to providing further details as the negotiating process develops. Both Houses will also have access to their usual arrangements for scrutinising the actions of the Government—and I am in no doubt, looking at various noble Lords here tonight, that your Lordships will take full advantage of these.

As your Lordships will be aware, negotiations for a fisheries framework agreement and our future relationship with the EU started last week. It is important to note that, as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster noted in the other place, the UK Government hope that by June, the broad outline of an agreement will be clear and capable of being rapidly finalised by September. Subsection (1)(b) in the amendment itself refers to distant waters. It is not clear whether “distant waters” was intended to have a specific meaning, but we have taken it to mean waters for which the UK is not the relevant coastal state and which are outside EU waters. Therefore, I make it clear that we will also seek to negotiate fisheries framework agreements with key partners in other coastal states, such as Norway. Again, these agreements will pave the way for annual negotiations on access and fishing opportunities in third-country waters, which I know will be of particular interest to our distant-waters fleet and others whose businesses rely on accessing fishing opportunities in those waters.

As with negotiations with the EU, the Government will keep Parliament informed of the progress of these negotiations. Where we have fisheries or conservation interests in international waters, the UK will join relevant regional fisheries management organisations in its own right and, in so doing, we will continue to collaborate with other coastal states where we have shared interests in fisheries in international waters.

In all these negotiations, leaving the EU creates an opportunity for the UK to secure a fairer sharer of quota, or fishing opportunities, for our own fleets. I assure noble Lords that that is what this Government are determined to achieve but, with all these negotiations, the UK Government must retain flexibility—we may not agree but I think the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, was going along those lines—with regard to the timing and content of our updates to Parliament, in order not to undermine our positions in live and ongoing negotiations. We believe that the amendment would remove this flexibility, obliging the Government to publish a statement at a particular time, potentially while negotiations are still ongoing. This risks undermining our negotiating positions entirely.

I was not at the meeting to which the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, referred, so I would like to discuss with the Secretary of State the manner in which he said what he did. What I will say is that international negotiations are a reserved matter and responsibility, so it would be for the UK Government to be head of any delegation. However, we have been clear that we will work closely with the devolved Administrations. When I attended the Fisheries Council, I worked very closely with the Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh Ministers responsible. We sit at the same discussions and work very closely together. In order that I do not misquote anyone, and although I trust the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, implicitly, I would like to get the circumstances in which the Secretary of State replied. We have been clear that, as now, we will want to work closely with the devolved Administrations. That is why I outlined our procedures with the Fisheries Council.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 5:30 pm, 9th March 2020

I think I am going to ask one of my dumb questions, which I know the Minister will tolerate. I am trying to understand the process here, because 1 July is quite soon for the negotiations to be complete. The Minister said that both Houses will be able to scrutinise. Scrutiny quite often happens after the event. How will Parliament be kept informed of those negotiations before the ink is on the paper and everything is a signed and sealed deal? Which bits of the two Houses will see this before it is signed? We had a skirmish about this with the overall withdrawal agreement and it would be good not to have to repeat that anguish for something as specific as this. Can he reassure me that we will see those details and be allowed to comment on them before it is all signed off?

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 think it would be best if I just repeat that the Prime Minister has already committed to provide further details as the negotiating process develops. I have said those words at the Dispatch Box twice now, and that both Houses will have access for scrutinising the actions. I well understand the point the noble Baroness is making. Obviously the Government have responsibilities for negotiations, but the Prime Minister has already committed to provide further details as the negotiating process develops. I do not think anyone could interpret that as being at the end, when everything has been said and done.

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

In that case, I am grateful to the noble Lord and I think it would be helpful if he could just check the point that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, raised—I know he said he would—about what was said at his committee last week. I will look at Hansard carefully but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 90 withdrawn.

Clause 23: Power of Secretary of State to determine fishing opportunities

Amendment 91 not moved.