My Lords, I put my name to Amendment 105 because I think that this group of amendments, around Clause 25 and the overhaul of the fishing opportunities, is a really important part of the Bill. I do not think that Defra and the devolved authorities have yet given it quite enough thought. As the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, has said, it is an opportunity and we must not let it slip.
When we discussed the sustainability objectives on day 1 of Committee, the object was to put in place a framework that put sustainability at the forefront of the objectives. We will no doubt come back to that on Report. During the discussion, the Minister emphasised that sustainability included social and economic sustainability, as well as environmental. During the discussion, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, suggested that we could mimic the Agriculture Bill, where public good by farmers is to be rewarded. I think that it is in Clause 25 where we can put all that into practice: where we can take the ethereal objectives in Clause 1 and put them into practice.
Like the noble Baronesses, Lady Worthington and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, I considered putting down a comprehensive clarification of article 17 of the common fisheries policy. But already having a reputation for rather badly worded amendments to this Bill, I decided to desist; I thought that I would ride on their coat-tails instead. In the end, I do not necessarily think that either amendment is right, but this is an area where we might take advantage of the Minister’s well-earned reputation for discussion and compromise and, I hope, persuade him and the Government to bring forward their own amendment on the subject, spelling out in detail exactly what the allocation of the fishing opportunities should be.
Perhaps I could spell out where I stand. First of all, we have to take it for granted that the total allocation of quota in each fishing area is well within the levels of sustainability and actually encourages the growth of the fishing stock. I have assumed that the existing borderline harvesting of many stocks will not just continue; a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington.
Now we come to the all-important criteria for the allocation of this quota. This is sustainability in practice and is as important as the framework of objectives set out in Clause 1. I will list my criteria, which the Government and others may wish to amend or add to.
First, the allocation must take account of the impact of the boat’s fishing on the environment. This would involve taking account of any damage to the vegetation on the seabed, for instance, with beam trawling and pulse trawling coming to mind. It also means taking account of the impact of fishing on the wider environment, for instance the seabird population. How do the boats in question mange the recovery of lines, hooks and, above all, plastic fishing equipment? There would be other aspects of this environmental criteria, but that is probably enough for starters.
Secondly, on the vessel’s history of compliance, I know this is already included in article 17, but I would like to see every part of the allocation process set out clearly for all to understand.
Thirdly, with historic catch levels, I do not want to go back to the relative stability and the allocation of quotas in the 1980s but, clearly, for the purposes of a stable fishing industry and for the encouragement of reinvestment, it would be sensible if a boat’s quota did not change too dramatically, up or down, from year to year.
Fourthly, the use of selective fishing gear is part of the reinvestment we should be looking for. I know that the Minister mentioned last week that it was already part of the criteria, but I do not think that sales of selective fishing gear are booming. If it can be proven by invoices that the boat in question is genuinely doing its best to catch only what it is allowed to or intending to catch—and thus avoiding discards or catching fish that are sensitive—then the quota allocation should be biased in its favour.
Fifthly, and importantly, there is the boat’s contribution to the local economy and community, which we have been over many times in our debates. Are the fish being landed locally? How many full-time jobs are being created by the boat’s fishing activities, both at sea and, probably more importantly, on shore? Also coming under this category is whether the boat has a recognised apprentice scheme for encouraging local youngsters. I think that is important.
That is probably enough of a stab at some of the more important criteria. To some extent, this amendment is tied up with the “under-10” amendments, such as Amendment 94 and the “new entrants” one, Amendment 106, in this group, both of which I support. I would like to have the seen the new entrants amendment added to slightly because I always compare this with water rationing in Australia. In the Murray-Darling river basin, for instance, when the Australian Government allocated the quota for abstracting water, they took quite a substantial amount into a government reserve. I would like to see us do that. In Australia, they wanted to cater for environmental disasters and mistakes in water distribution, but I think the same thing applies to us. We should not be fishing on the limit. We should try to make certain that there is some reserve, and that would be best held by the Government.
I return to Amendment 105. If, indeed, quota is a national commodity—and that has been mentioned by several speakers—and if we manage to negotiate a little extra, then I believe the principles of allocation should be set out very clearly so fisherman are aware of the standards they should aspire to. I would like the Government to give more thought to Clause 25 and, as I suggested earlier, perhaps have a conversation with interested Peers to ensure that the general principles of sustainability from Clause 1 are firmly embedded within the principles for future allocation of what will be our quota.