Amendment 92

Fisheries Bill [HL] - Committee (3rd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 9th March 2020.

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Baroness Jones of Whitchurch:

Moved by Baroness Jones of Whitchurch

92: Clause 23, page 15, line 16, leave out “may” and insert “must”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment makes it compulsory for the Secretary of State to make a determination relating to annual fishing opportunities.

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

My Lords, Amendments 92 and 97 are in the name of my noble friend Lord Grantchester and Amendment 96 is in my name.

Amendment 92 raises an important question about the role of the Secretary of State in overseeing the total stocks that can be fished by UK fishing boats in a calendar year. It addresses what happens if the combined policies of the joint fisheries authorities and the fisheries management plans add up to a greater allowable catch than science tells us is sustainable for UK waters. Somebody needs to keep an overview of the overarching picture and, in the absence of another competent authority, we argue that this role should fall to the Secretary of State. Hence our amendment requires that the Secretary of State “must”, rather than “may”, determine annually the maximum quantity of fish to be caught and the maximum number of days at sea. This determination should lie at the heart of our commitment to deliver the objectives set out in Clause 1.

We also have some sympathy with the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, which explores why the determination is limited to our international obligations, rather than applying to all UK fishing agreements. It would also be helpful to have some clarity on the existing wording. For example, do our international obligations cover the general sustainability commitments in UNCLOS? What happens if we fail to reach an agreement with the EU? Would that mean that there would be no obligation to make an annual determination? I hope the Minister is able to shed some light on these issues.

Amendment 96 requires the devolved Administrations to be consulted on this determination. It is a probing amendment to check whether the consultation provisions in Clause 24 apply also to this clause. I assume that this is the case, but it would be good to have this on the record. The amendments in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, go further and extend the categories of those who would be consulted to a wider group of interested parties, and I think these proposals also have merit. However, it is vital that any determination made under this clause is subject to the best scientific evidence, and the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, makes this absolutely clear. This is a matter we have spoken about before and we reinforce our support for it again.

Finally, our amendment builds in a process for proper parliamentary scrutiny of the Secretary of State’s determination by insisting that it should be subject to affirmative approval. A number of noble Lords are on the same page here. We want to ensure that UK fishing does not exceed the best scientific evidence but that the Secretary of State plays a role in overseeing this responsibility, and we want all appropriate stakeholders, including Parliament, to be consulted. I hope noble Lords will see the sense of this and will support these amendments. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

My Lords, I associate myself with the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. I shall speak to my Amendment 92A. In the absence of my noble friend Lord Lansley, who is travelling from an engagement and has not yet arrived, I shall speak also to his Amendment 100, and to Amendments 101 and 102 in the name of my noble friend the Duke of Montrose, to which I have appended my name.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, was kind enough to lend her support to Amendment 92A, which just seeks clarification as to what my noble friend the Minister means. I thought the easiest way of extracting that information was to suggest that we delete Clause 23(2) because on the present reading of that—and looking at Clause 36, which in some respects is clearer—it looks as though the Government are looking either to have quotas only in connection with international agreements, as the noble Baroness said, or are moving away from quotas completely. If it is the Government’s intention to move away from quotas, particularly as regards other than the international fisheries agreements that the UK has subscribed to, it begs the question of what the means of dividing up the allocation of fisheries schemes will be if not quotas. There seems to be a degree of confusion among the experts between Clause 23(1) and (2). It begs the question of whether it applies to all fisheries agreements or only international obligations, and whether the Government are moving away from quotas. I do not think the Government have said anywhere that they are planning to move away from quotas, so I hope that the Minister will put my mind at rest.

Amendment 100, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lansley, is designed to set out the need to consult not only fishing policy authorities—as at present—but representatives of British fishing boats. I see my noble friend has appeared; apparently I am on the right track. I hope the Minister will look favourably on my noble friend’s amendment. I am delighted to see him in his place, and I am sure that he would have spoken to it much more eloquently. I would certainly like to lend my support to this; it is extremely important. The Minister has said on other occasions that he is indeed looking to consult as widely as possible, so I am sure that it will be amenable to him, and I hope that he will support Amendment 100.

I have appended my name to Amendments 101 and 102, tabled by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose. Amendment 101 seeks to impose a duty on the Secretary of State to consult relevant stakeholders who are making or withdrawing a determination under Clause 23, and would fit neatly in Clause 24. The reason for this is that the consultation provides for scrutiny by—I would say—all interested parties. A requirement on the Secretary of State to consult, as set out in this amendment, would help ensure openness and transparency over the Secretary of State’s actions. Indeed, similar requirements are found in Clauses 27 and 34, in connection with consultation. This is not anathema to the Government in any shape or form.

Similarly, Amendment 102 seeks to impose a duty on the Secretary of State to include, within a notice of reasons for making or withdrawing a determination under Clause 23, a requirement to publish such reasons for making or withdrawing a determination in connection with fishing opportunities, providing for additional scrutiny of the Secretary of State’s actions by stakeholders.

I am grateful for the opportunity to have spoken to those amendments.

Photo of Baroness Worthington Baroness Worthington Crossbench

My Lords, I have Amendment 103 in this group. I feel we are getting into the heart of the Bill here, under this section entitled “Fishing Opportunities”, and—like the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering—I would be grateful for some explanation from the Minister about how Clause 23 relates to the rest of the clauses in this section. It seems to say that these powers are only for purposes of complying with international obligations; I assume that is because we are envisaging a process by which we are negotiating with other member states in the European Union in relation to shared fishing stocks. That will have an overlaying influence over the allocation of rights in our own waters, and then there is the question of devolution when we hand that over to the devolved Administrations. I am looking forward to receiving confirmation that this is the case, and an understanding of why we have these determinations written out here, which will obviously then apply—the Secretary of State will be determining in a calendar year the quota that is allocated within the UK on this basis. It feels a little confusing, and I am therefore looking forward to a much clearer explanation from the Minister.

My Amendment 103 was designed merely to reinsert the principle that we are trying to break away from the common fisheries policy, I think for good reason. It is not delivering a sustainable industry, and it is certainly not delivering a thriving and vibrant fishing industry which we would like to see return to our waters. As has been said many times, one of the main issues is that under the CFP, scientific advice is received and then a trading negotiation occurs on top of that advice, which means we are not allocating quota sustainably. My Amendment 103 simply states the obvious: we should not, in this process of continuing to negotiate with the EU about access to our waters, fall back into that trap of overallocation as a result of trade-offs and negotiations that happen after we have received scientific advice. I hope that the Minister can reassure me that this is at the core of what we are seeking to achieve.

I absolutely support the amendment which seeks to make the powers under Clause 23 subject to the affirmative resolution. This feels like a crucial part of how this is going to work in practice. If there is any doubt that this could undermine our ability to set quota or effort limits, this must be subject to affirmative resolution so that we get a chance to scrutinise it. I worry that a little loophole could open up here if this is indeed negative.

I am happy to lend my support to this part of the debate, and I am sure we will come on to it now in subsequent groups, as we get into the nitty-gritty.

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 5:45 pm, 9th March 2020

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for his amendment, and to the noble Baroness who moved it. Although I recognise that the aim of the amendment is to make it compulsory for the Secretary of State to determine annual fishing opportunities, it would oblige the Secretary of State to determine all fishing opportunities on an annual basis. Some stocks are determined on different timescales, and for some non-quota species, there is no specific determination. I assure noble Lords that the original provisions are sufficient to ensure that the Secretary of State fulfils the function of determining UK fishing opportunities, through Clause 23(1) and (2), and that Parliament is able to scrutinise these determinations through Clause 24(2)(b).

Further, for non-quota stocks—for which we do not currently have the science to make an accurate determination—the fisheries management plans, as outlined in the joint fisheries statement, will set out policies for getting stocks to their maximum sustainable yield. For such stocks, this will necessarily include our plans for improving the scientific data and evidence that will underpin the future management of our non- quota fisheries. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that this is why he should be more positive about the fisheries management plans, bearing in mind the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, made earlier. I think this is an opportunity, particularly where the science is not the strongest, and we need to improve it—this is where we can get down to some of the pragmatic ways in which we can improve all stocks.

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

I am sure that there is the potential to do that, and I look forward to the meeting; I am very pleased that the Minister is going to bring this meeting together, and maybe we will find a way forward from there. I do not in any way write them off, but when they are purely UK territorial waters, that is where I have a problem. So I endorse the Minister’s comment.

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

There was, shall we say, licence on my part there because I thought it might excite intervention. Anyway, I look forward very much to the discussions. Anyone who wishes to come is welcome; I will send a wide invitation and get scientists there so that we can get to the heart of some of these matters.

On Amendment 92A, the power set out in the clause would be used to set the UK’s total allowable catch, or the absolute amount the UK is able to fish, reflecting the outcome of the negotiations with the EU and other coastal states. It could also be used to ensure our compliance with Article 61 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS, which provides that catch levels should be set at sustainable levels, taking into account the best scientific evidence available. As an independent coastal state, we are committed to working closely with our partners to manage shared stocks sustainably and to share fishing opportunities on a fair and scientific basis.

It is imperative that we meet our international obligations, such as those I have described under UNCLOS, as we strive to set a gold standard for sustainable fishing around the world. I say to my noble friend that sustainability, as set out in the objectives of the Bill, is a key driver for our future plans for the industry and our negotiations. We have been clear that, in entering into negotiations and making determinations, we will be informed by independent scientific advice from ICES, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, CEFAS, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, and its equivalents in the devolved Administrations. In conjunction with our commitments through the scientific evidence objective, this provides the assurance that determinations will be fully informed by the best available science.

The existing clause also ensures that we respect the devolution settlements. The Secretary of State will make determinations on UK fisheries opportunities only where this relates to an internationally negotiated outcome, which is a reserved competence. Removing this subsection would give the Secretary of State powers to set fishing opportunities directly for each devolved Administration, which would contravene the devolution settlements. This clause provides the necessary reassurance to the devolved Administrations that the Secretary of State would not seek to overstep on areas of devolved competence.

Our fisheries White Paper made it clear that for existing quota we will honour the allocation and distribution through the FQA units. However, we have been clear that we will explore alternative methods for allocating and distributing any additional quota negotiated both at UK level and within England.

Photo of Baroness Worthington Baroness Worthington Crossbench

To be absolutely clear, does the Minister mean that we will honour the allocation of the FQAs in perpetuity or for a transitional phase? If so, how long will that transition be?

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 will write to the noble Baroness on that. The reason for taking this decision at this time is to provide certainty on the current allocations. The point about potential changes concerns any additional quota; I will write if I have any further information on anything suggested to the contrary, but our intention is that the existing distribution will remain. We will explore alternative methods, one of which is to ensure that there is benefit to coastal communities from our additional quota. I do not think I am in a position to give further clarification unless I get some information shortly, but I will make sure that point is covered if I have any further detail. That is precisely the position; to have continuing certainty at this time of change for the existing quota.

In addressing Amendments 96 and 97 together, I am glad to confirm that the Secretary of State would of course consult the devolved Administrations and the MMO before making regulations under Clause 23(8), which would be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. I will provide further reassurance that these regulations would also be subject to public consultation. This power relates to a highly technical matter: how to calculate a “day at sea”. It could be used, for example, to determine when a boat is deemed to have left or returned to port, entered the UK’s inshore waters or, by stowing its fishing gear, not to be fishing. Consultation with the devolved Administrations on this power will be set out in a memorandum of understanding.

Further, I would like to provide reassurance that the UK Government have carefully considered the delegated powers in the Bill and the procedures that would apply to regulations. The regulations may also refer to provisions made under separate powers to regulate days at sea arrangements under paragraph 1(3) of Schedule 3 to the Bill, which are licence conditions and therefore not subject to parliamentary procedure. The Government consider that we have struck the right balance between the need for parliamentary scrutiny and the need to be able to react quickly to make what are often technical amendments by secondary legislation.

I am sure your Lordships will be aware that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee of this House considered the proposals for all the delegated powers in the previous Bill when it was progressing through its stages in the other place. The committee said:

“Of the Bill’s 15 delegated powers that have a parliamentary procedure, only four are solely governed by the negative procedure, and justifiably so.”

The committee published a new report on 26 February on this Fisheries Bill and did not change its views on the procedures we have adopted.

I recognise the intention behind Amendments 100 and 101 but will explain why this is already covered. Clause 24 sets out the duties that will apply to the Secretary of State when determining UK fishing opportunities. It does not relate to the subsequent allocation of those opportunities to the fisheries administrations or to their distribution to the fishing industry. This clause aims to ensure that, as far as possible, the interests of the whole of the United Kingdom are taken into account when the UK’s fishing opportunities are set.

In England, Defra and the Marine Management Organisation already regularly engage fishers and industry representatives on fishing opportunities through a number of different routes. This engagement covers both the determination of fishing opportunities and their subsequent management over the fishing season. It is also unclear how these amendments would improve current engagement. Consulting such a wide and undefined group is likely to cause delays in publishing UK fishing opportunities and could complicate the process of negotiating and implementing the UK’s international obligations.

Turning to Amendment 102, as I made clear, to ensure that we are fishing sustainably and meeting our international requirements, it is important that we are able to determine the UK’s fishing opportunities. Clause 23(2) allows determinations to be made for the purpose of complying with an international obligation. To reiterate, to respect the devolution settlements, the determination can relate only to the high-level function of setting the UK’s overall pot of quota, in line with any internationally negotiated outcome or the UK’s overarching obligations under international law.

Clause 24 requires the Secretary of State to consult the devolved Administrations and the Marine Management Organisation before making or withdrawing a determination. This is to ensure that the interests of the whole of the UK are taken into account when the UK sets its fishing opportunities. The Secretary of State is required to publish any determination or withdrawal and lay it before this House. At that point, the UK Government will need to explain the reason for the withdrawal and new determinations.

Finally, while I support fully the aim of Amendment 103 to ensure that fishing opportunities are determined in accordance with the best scientific advice available, I believe this amendment is covered. The Government’s commitment to using the best available scientific advice to guide our negotiating position and, by extension, determination of fishing opportunities is already given force in the Bill through the scientific evidence objective in Clause 1. I have been clear that in our negotiations with other coastal states and in responding to other international obligations, we will be informed by independent scientific advice such as that from ICES and CEFAS. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, referred to the importance of that.

The UK’s approach to making any such determination —including the position it will adopt when negotiating with other coastal states on fisheries management decisions of shared interest—will also, necessarily, take into consideration socioeconomic analysis as well as the views of the devolved Administrations, industry, environmental NGOs and other stakeholders. Further factors to be taken into consideration will include aspects such as gear types, choke risks and the dynamics of the fishing fleet.

UK negotiators must be able to take a flexible approach in negotiations and that includes considering the best available scientific advice alongside the range of other factors I have just mentioned. But as I said, the Government’s commitment to using the best available scientific advice is already clear.

Photo of Baroness Worthington Baroness Worthington Crossbench 6:00 pm, 9th March 2020

I am grateful for the Minister’s response. I would just like to clarify that my amendment did not say that we should seek scientific advice, but that no allocation should run counter to that advice to enforce the basic point that if we carry on allocating over what is scientifically advised, we will all be diminished. We will have fewer fish stocks, less profitable fisheries and a more degraded environment. I still do not think that the point has been accepted that we cannot continue to allocate over scientific advice and still have a flourishing industry.

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 take the noble Baroness’s point. It is why, in rerunning the objectives debate on Clause 1, the whole range of those objectives is absolutely entrenching our desire for sustainability and the environmental sustainability that I know the noble Baroness and all noble Lords desire.

As I have said, and I can only reiterate, we will be—

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

Is my understanding correct? Did my noble friend say that Clause 23(2) could be used to allocate the unused quota to under-10-metre boats, rather than just being for international obligations?

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 had better look at the Bill again, and check exactly what I said so that I do not, in any way, say anything to the contrary. Certainly, the mechanism for new quotas and how we best benefit coastal communities is an area we are looking at with considerable interest. Clause 23(2) allows:

“A determination under subsection (1) may be made only for the purpose of complying with an international obligation.”

The determination can relate only to the high-level function of setting the UK’s overall pot in line with any international negotiated outcome, or the UK’s overarching obligations under international law. This might be even more of a clincher. On my noble friend’s point, I will look at Hansard, because I did not intend to make that inference and I do not think I did. For the record, Clause 23 is for the determination of only the UK pot of quota. It does not provide for allocating to industry at fisheries administration level.

To conclude, I absolutely take the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington: the best available scientific evidence is absolutely clear. We all want the same thing. With that explanation, I hope the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

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

My Lords, the Minister has given a lot of detail, so I feel that I too will have to go back and read through Hansard. I am trying to clarify our very simple first amendment, the one that would put “must” rather than “may” in Clause 23(1). At the moment, it reads:

“The Secretary of State may determine, for a calendar year—

The maximum quantity of sea fish that may be caught by British fishing boats;

The maximum number of days that British fishing boasts may spend at seas.”

Our amendment said:

“The Secretary of State must”.

If it is okay in some calendar years for the Secretary of State to determine that, I am not quite clear why it is not okay every year, which is what our amendment would have achieved. In which years is it all right to do it, and in which years is it not? This is where I am lost, because if the principle is accepted—which it clearly is because it is spelled out there—why not do it every year?

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

Again, the problem with the amendment stating “must” is that it concerns the determination of all fishing opportunities. If it says “must”, the amendment becomes a requirement that would involve stocks determined on different timescales. There are also some non-quota species where there is no specific determination. The word “may” allows the determination of the annual fishing opportunities. The problem with the amendment making it “must” is that it brings in these non-quota species. The issue I have sought to put across is that making the determination compulsory embraces all stocks—because it “must”. Obviously, there will be annual fishing opportunities for all those that involve quotas and so forth, and we will be having annual negotiations and arrangements. It is not that the Secretary of State will suddenly say, “I don’t think we’ll do this, this year”; it is that making it “must” brings in these stocks determined on a different timescale and non-quota species. That is the problem as I understand it: the amendment has that legal interpretation.

The original provisions ensure that the Secretary of State fulfils the function of determining UK fishing opportunities through Clause 23(1). Making it a “must” brings into scope stocks that would not be subject to the determination of annual fishing opportunities. That is as I understand it. If it is any different, perhaps I can discuss with the noble Baroness, but that is, in our view, the problem with the interpretation of that amendment.

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

I strongly support this amendment and, if that is the case, clearly the Government should just bring forth an amendment themselves. It should say that for quota species it should be a “must”. That is how we solve it. Clearly there must be that assessment or process every year for quota species. It is obvious and clear. The Government need to bring forward their own amendment to make sure that it includes only quota species.

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

Again, the provision talks about “for a calendar year”, so these are annual fishing opportunities. “Annual” means every year; it does not mean that by saying “may”, the Secretary of State can decide not to bother one year. That is not the case—rather, it is about the fixing of annual fishing opportunities.

As I say, I have been informed that the original provisions are sufficient to ensure that the Secretary of State fulfils the functions of determining UK fishing opportunities, but if I have anything further that will assist noble Lords, I will of course communicate it. I think that the interpretation of this power to determine serves the correct purpose, but if there is a pressing need to have discussions with noble Lords on the matter outside the Committee, I am happy to do so. However, as I say, I have been advised that there is no problem with it.

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

I feel that the more we dig, the more complicated and confusing this gets. I understand that the noble Lord has to read out the brief he has been given, but I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that if it is not here, where is the wording to say that there will be an annual determination of the fishing stock? It may be that it is somewhere else in the Bill and I have missed it, but if it is not, it should be here. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, has made a helpful suggestion about how the Government could address that point. I am still not clear on what the Minister said about what would apply and what would not, but the overarching point to make is that it needs to say in the Bill that there is a total number of fish stocks; that needs to be spelled out somewhere.

I think that I am reassured by what the Minister has said about consultation, but again it is one of those things which is covered in a number of different places in the Bill. We need to make sure that everything lines up so that the reassurance he has given means that this is covered elsewhere Bill, as well as by the comments he has made today.

I note what he said about the Delegated Powers Committee report, which has reminded me that I should take another look at it, but on the basis of what he said, I am sure that the committee has not raised any issues, so I will not pursue that.

I turn finally to the point about the scientific advice which was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. I think that we have a running theme of agreeing to disagree on this. Once again, we hear what the Minister has to say but we do not feel that the wording is good enough, so we may bring this back in some form on Report. There is a general view around the Committee that we need to pin down the significance of the scientific advice and make sure that it is heeded on all occasions. That is what the noble Baroness is trying to do.

That is enough for now and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 92 withdrawn.

Amendment 92A not moved.