Moved by Lord Krebs
2: Clause 1, page 1, line 12, leave out subsection (2) and insert—“(2) The “sustainability objective” is that—(a) fish and aquaculture activities do not compromise environmental sustainability in either the short or the long term;(b) subject to subsection (2)(a), fishing fleets must—(i) be managed to achieve economic, social and employment benefits and contribute to the availability of food supplies, and(ii) have fishing capacity that is economically viable but does not overexploit marine stocks.(2A) The sustainability objective is the prime fisheries objective.”Member’s explanatory statementThis ensures (a) that environmental sustainability takes precedence among the various elements of sustainability and (b) that sustainability is the prime fisheries objective.
My Lords, we spent a great deal of time discussing sustainability during earlier stages of the Bill so I do not wish to repeat the arguments at length. However, because it has been well over three months since we last discussed this issue, I will recap briefly.
“this Bill creates a strong and legally binding framework to deliver this Government’s ambition to leave the natural environment in a better state than we inherited it.”—[
He also said that sustainability is at the heart of the Bill. Sure enough, the first fisheries objective in Clause 1(1) is the sustainability objective. Unfortunately, however, as drafted, the Bill does not guarantee the protection of fish stocks and the wider marine environment. To be absolutely sure that the Bill does what it claims on the tin, let us get the commitment to protecting the natural environment written into it. That is the purpose of this amendment.
What is the problem? History shows that whenever there is a trade-off between short-term economic and employment considerations and longer-term environmental sustainability, short-term factors nearly always win. This is what has led to overfishing and long-term damage to the marine environment in many of the world’s fisheries, including those covered by the common fisheries policy. That is the key point. The Bill as drafted allows for the possibility of short-term economic and social factors overruling environmental sustainability in making trade-offs.
Clause 1(2) defines the sustainability objective as having three elements: environmental, social and economic. I do not argue with the fact that sustainability has these three components; indeed, the Minister reminded us that they are the UN framework. I want to ensure, however, that socio-economic factors do not win out over protection of the marine environment. That is why the first part of the amendment ensures that, in calculating trade-offs between these three, the environment always remains the priority. This will ensure that we do not repeat past mistakes of putting short-term economic and social interests ahead of protecting the environment.
The second part of the amendment refers back to Clause 1(1). As we discussed in detail at earlier stages of the Bill, the eight fisheries objectives are not all born equal. The sustainability objective, as redefined in the amendment, takes precedence. The other seven fisheries objectives should support, or be subordinate to, environmental sustainability. This would make it unequivocal that the aim of the Bill is to harvest our marine resources without compromising the health of the marine environment. The amendment is not saying: “no fishing”; it is saying: “sensible fishing”. It is not saying that there will not have to be trade-offs, but it sets boundary conditions for the calculation of the trade-offs.
At earlier stages of the Bill, the Minister did not agree with the arguments that I have rehearsed. I suspect that he will argue again for a proportionate approach that gives equal, or at least undetermined, weight to all three components of sustainability. In Committee he acknowledged:
“We might have a collision point on sustainability.”—[Official Report, 4/3/20; col. 629.]
He also said:
“We must balance the protection of our marine environment with our objective of supporting thriving fishing and aquaculture sectors.”—[Official Report, 2/3/20; col. 461.]
If the Minister is not minded to accept this amendment, I would ask him to explain how these trade-offs will be made in practice.
This is our big chance to get the management of our fisheries on a genuinely sustainable footing and avoid the mistakes of the past. We can join the leading nations in the world such as Australia, New Zealand and the USA, managing our fisheries in a genuinely environmentally sustainable way, or we can languish lower down the international league table, with the risk of putting short-term gain ahead of long-term pain. I will listen carefully to the Minister’s reply at the end of this debate, but unless there is a significant change of tack, I would wish to test the opinion of the House on this crucial issue of the Fisheries Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I lend my support to this amendment. There is a certain attraction in having one objective, namely sustainability, in the context of the Fisheries Bill, as the primary objective. Part of my reasoning for this is that the House might wish to take a broader view and make sure that we come to the same view on the Fisheries Bill as we do, for example, when we come to consider the Environment Bill. We should not consider one in isolation from the other.
I was very taken by the Minister’s argument in Committee that in relation to objectives, there was a three-legged stool, whereby environmental, social and economic objectives should be given equal weight. There is a distinct attraction in singling out the environmental objective as the “prime fisheries objective”, as it says in the amendment. I know that it is a concern of Scottish fishermen and the Scottish Government in particular that we should look at the broader use of the marine environment, particularly in regard to renewables and other resources. There is an overwhelming attraction in having the sustainability objective as the prime objective. To put my mind at rest, I would be very interested to learn from the Minister, in the event of a contest between the three legs of the stool, how the Government would decide to prioritise between the economic, social and sustainability objectives.
My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. I know that my local fishermen and those involved in the catching and processing sector want fishing to be a leader in the marine food system. They also want to ensure that people have access to good-quality products in the various fish species which they catch. I firmly believe that this can be achieved through the principle of environmental sustainability and the commitment to protect the natural environment. We are in no doubt that sustainable fishing means leaving enough fish in the ocean, respecting the habitats and ensuring that people who depend on fishing can maintain their livelihoods. It is a bit of a balancing act and I hope the Minister will address that issue.
The Bill provides a framework for future fisheries management. However, in some quarters, it is felt that the Bill will not achieve the Government’s aim of world-leading sustainable fisheries management because sustainable fisheries depend on a healthy marine environment. Environmental legislation has featured little in the fisheries and Brexit debates so far. Of particular relevance to a healthy marine environment are the European marine strategy framework directive, the birds directive, the habitats directive, the bathing waters directive and the water framework directive. Will the Minister outline how this will be achieved in the post-transition period, while at the same time protecting the local fishing industry?
It is important, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said when he moved the amendment, that fishing and aquacultural activity do not compromise environmental sustainability in the short or long term. This legislation presents us with a unique opportunity to ensure that environmental sustainability and the principle of sustainability take precedence in the various elements of sustainability and that sustainability is a prime fisheries objective. We should grasp that opportunity now, but be mindful of not ending up with legislation that is too rigid in the eyes of those in the fishing sector—both catching and processing—because we do not want to replicate the challenges that beset the fishing industry as a result of the common fisheries policy.
My Lords, I have listened carefully to the arguments made by the proponents of the amendment and I understand the desire to promote environmental quality as the highest priority, since sustainability itself affects the amount of fish available to catch. But I am not convinced that we should downgrade all the other noble objectives in Clause 1, which would be the case if sustainability was classed as the prime objective.
The Government have constructed the Bill with a number of important objectives that contribute to environmental protection, including objectives covering science, the precautionary principle, the ecosystem and climate change. However, the Bill also allows policymakers and fisheries managers to balance actions across these objectives to achieve sustainable outcomes that protect the environment and still ensure that we have a viable and thriving fishing industry. Sustainable development recognises the needs of society alongside the environment and thus points to a balanced approach. If we place environmental sustainability as the prime objective, we will prevent fisheries managers taking balanced decisions by always favouring the environment over social, scientific, national and economic matters.
I am not being facetious, but as a Star Trek fan I am aware of the Prime Directive—not to interfere—but I do not know how the “prime” objective would be implemented, and nor has the mover of the amendment sought to define it. I looked up some meanings and synonyms of the word “prime” and got the following: “main”, “chief”, “key”, “central”, “principal”, “foremost”, “first”, “most important”, “paramount”, “major”, “dominant”, “supreme”, “overriding”, “cardinal”, “pre-eminent” and “ultimate”. If that is how our courts would define “prime”, I am concerned if that is how it would be interpreted in the Bill.
Of course the sustainability objective is essential, but so are the precautionary, scientific, bycatch, ecosystem, equal access, national benefit and climate change objectives. The lawyers and no doubt my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern will correct me if I am wrong, but the wording of the clause means that all of these must be complied with, so all of these other objectives must still satisfy the test of being sustainable. It is not an either/or list. Thus, if the Government are making rules under the national benefit objective, the bycatch objective, or any other objective, these rules must still satisfy the test of being sustainable. Setting one objective above the others would create confusion and undermine the basic construct of the Government’s future fisheries legislation.
Managing trade-offs is complex and not easily amenable to simple rules, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, just warned us. I believe that the current drafting of the fisheries objectives strikes the best balance between requiring Ministers to respect the science and be precautionary, and also to consider the impact on our fishing communities before acting.
We all recognise the need to protect our precious marine environment, but we must find a way to do so that supports our equally precious coastal communities. I urge the House to consider the potential costs to those communities if we constrain the Government’s ability to make balanced decisions—a balance that appears to be central to this Bill’s ambition to support both the environment and the people living and working in fishing communities.
My Lords, I fully support Amendment 2, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and others. It would make it clear that fish and aquaculture activities must not compromise environmental sustainability. The Government have said that they will continue to strive for the ambitions of the relevant directives in this regard, but many are concerned that these could be weakened. That is why it is important to set this out clearly in the Bill with the amendment.
If the Minister will not accept the amendment today, will he set out how the Government will ensure that the important principles in directives such as the European marine strategy framework, the bathing water directive and the water framework directive will be taken forward and not compromised, as my friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, highlighted in her speech? If they are compromised, what mechanism will there be to ensure that they are properly enforced, since we will have no access to the Court of Justice of the European Union? What mechanism is proposed by the Government?
Proposed new subsection (b) would put commitments in the Bill on economic, social and employment benefits and not overexploiting marine stocks. Again, it is important that this is clearly in the Bill because the devil will be in the detail and we must have clarity that the principles are set out without any dispute. The details will be issues such as licensing powers, catch limits and other restrictions on fishing.
As my noble friend Lord Hain set out in the previous debate, the reality of today’s British fishing industry is how much of the catch is in fact exported to the European Union and beyond, and how much of the fish we eat—cod, haddock, langoustine, salmon—is in fact imported into the UK. That has not been made clear in the debate, in the media and elsewhere over many years, much to the detriment of the debate, to the reality of the situation, and to the British fishing industry and the UK at large. The Government should aim to get this right by accepting the amendment.
My Lords, it is probably my naivety, but it seems to me that Amendment 2 is one of those amendments that really should not cause the Government too much of a problem. It just subtly tells them that their first attempt at outlining a sustainability objective is good, but not quite right or strong enough. It needs to emphasise more the importance of both a short-term and a long-term healthy marine environment, full of marine life and with a healthy variety of fish stocks. More importantly, as others have said, the amendment insists that the sustainability objective must be the prime objective. That fact makes it better than the Government’s first attempt.
It is probably platitudinous to say that if you have too many objectives or priorities, you have no priorities or real objectives at all. You cannot be all things to all men. I, along with the promoters of this amendment, believe that the preservation of our fisheries and marine environment for our grandchildren should always trump even the suspicion of overexploitation today. So I hope that the Government will accept that proposed new subsection (2) is better and more explicit than theirs. In that light, I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment.
My Amendment 20, would, in effect, put Amendment 2 into practical application. The problem, as I am sure everyone is aware, lies in the opt-out sections of Clause 7, notably Clause 7(7)(d), and Clause 10(2). If you are allowed to opt out or alter the fisheries statement or a fisheries management plan for socioeconomic reasons, there is a danger—maybe only a small one, but it is there—that the fisheries authority will support today’s fisheries at the expense of tomorrow’s fishers. So it is important to make it clear that the sustainability objective trumps all, which is what both these amendments seek to achieve.
Experience in Scotland, which has a similar opt-out provision in the Marine (Scotland) Act, has shown that, where an opt-out exists, environmental considerations can get pushed to one side for socioeconomic reasons. As I reported in Committee, six years after—
I think we have lost the noble Lord. We will go on to the next speaker and perhaps come back to him later. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville.
My Lords, a large number of noble Lords are taking part in this important debate on Amendments 2 and 20. Both at Second Reading and in Committee, many of your Lordships made the point that the sustainability objective must be the prime fisheries objective. It is nonsense to link it to economic, social, and employment benefits. So long as it is linked to economic benefits, sustainability will be overridden, as the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Cameron, have stated. During the long drawn-out process of lockdown caused by Covid-19, we have seen that the health and safety of citizens is offered up by some as less important than economic recovery. While economic prosperity is important and people have to make a living that will support them, if we do not put sustainability first and foremost, this will be counterproductive. We will find that fish stocks are depleted, and not there to provide any sort of a living to the fishermen and women we seek to encourage. The marine environment should be supported, and should be the prime objective.
Since the start of the progress of the Bill, there has been more than one programme on our televisions featuring the lives of those engaged in fishing and agriculture. We have seen how individual fishermen are able, by adapting what they catch, to fish sustainably without damaging fish stocks. All know the size criteria for landing catch, or returning it to the sea to be allowed to increase in size. It would seem that many of those living and fishing around our coasts are aware of their responsibility toward sustainability. I believe that the Minister is also aware of the Government’s responsibility toward sustainability, but is unable to place it above economics.
I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, that the sustainability objective will take no notice of the scientific objective. The sustainable and environment aspect of the Bill will depend on the scientific objective, and all the other objectives.
As I said on a previous amendment, the Bill is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the UK to take control of its fishing, and ensure that the waters around our country are thriving and have plentiful fish stocks. Plentiful stocks will ensure economic viability for our fishing industry, and only this can do it, but this will not be ensured unless we make it clear to one and all that sustainability is the prime fisheries objective, and that this is stated on the face of the Bill. I look forward to the Minister’s response, which I hope will be positive. Unless he gives a categorical undertaking, we will ask the House to divide on this vital issue.
My Lords, as previous speakers have said, this is a fundamental part of the Bill, and I feel very strongly that environmental sustainability is the crux of this matter. I heard the arguments of my noble friend Lord Blencathra, and as always, they are very strong. I do not doubt the Government’s intentions on the environment and on the sustainability of stocks, but it should be on the face of the Bill. If you do not have environmental sustainability, it is obvious that the other issues we are talking about are irrelevant, because there will be no fish, and no economic advantages. It is absolutely fundamental. I urge my noble friend the Minister to accept this amendment, otherwise I will find myself having to support it in the Division Lobby.
I support Amendment 2 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. The end of our participation in the common fisheries policy is a real opportunity, which we must not miss if we are to ensure that this self-determined fisheries policy for the first time has a firm foundation in sustainability. I too was rather unconvinced by the account by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, of how balance needs to be achieved in these discussions and decisions. So often the environment does not get a fair shout in these questions of balance. Fisheries, aquaculture, economic and social interests all rightly have a voice, but in some cases those voices are disproportionately loud, and this amendment ensures that environmental sustainability also has a voice. This is fundamental, as many noble Lords have said, not only for our seas but to prevent overfishing and to support sustainable fisheries and coastal communities. In the truest sense, it would be a real shame if we did not ensure that this opportunity was enshrined on the face of the Bill.
This is a Bill of missed opportunities. Our discussion of quota reform on the previous amendment demonstrated that this could be a real opportunity to underpin the Government’s commitment to a world-class fisheries policy. I also support Amendment 20, which outlines that where a national authority decides to do something that is against the joint policy statement or a fisheries management plan, it still has to achieve the requirements of the sustainability objective in whatever it chooses to do, for the reasons I have just outlined. If the Government are not minded to put the sustainability of fisheries management securely in Bill as the prime objective, could the Minister outline how the Government will achieve their aim of world-leading and sustainable fisheries management?
My Lords, I am very glad to have the opportunity to contribute on Report. I declare an interest in that I am a director of a company that is in partnership with another company whose client is UK Fisheries. It is not a very direct interest, but I would not want anyone to be unaware of the connection.
We discussed this in Committee, when I contributed, and then and now I express my support for the intention behind the amendment. It seems entirely right that we put sustainability, and environmental sustainability in particular, at the heart of what we set out to do. But as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, quite rightly said, he is intending to support the Government’s own intentions in that sense. Sustainability is not outwith the Government’s intentions but central to them. The debate has already demonstrated through its contributions—for example, that of my noble friend Lord Blencathra, and subsequently that of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville—the way in which the sustainability objective interacts with other fisheries objectives. The precautionary objective, the scientific evidence objective, the ecosystem objective and effectively all other objectives interact with the sustainability objective in one way or another. Putting the sustainability objective as the prime objective simply asserts in a literal sense that it comes first, but to suggest that it is somehow more important or overrides any of the others would be misplaced, since actually integral parts of the sustainability objective are reflected in other fisheries objectives. The point of the Bill is for the fisheries policy authorities to express clearly in the joint fisheries statement what their balance and their mechanisms for achieving the objectives overall are to be.
That said, if the sustainability objective were by virtue of this amendment to be treated as the prime objective in statute, we would have problems. The first is that I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, was accurate in how he described his own amendment, since he described it as putting environmental sustainability above other objectives. Actually, if one looks at it, it puts the sustainability objective as the prime fisheries objective, and under the sustainability objective are both proposed new paragraphs (a) and (b). Proposed new paragraph (b) deals with
“economic, social and employment benefits” and economic viability. By stating that the sustainability objective is the prime fisheries objective, we do not simply state that environmental sustainability must come first. It is already more complicated than that, so I am not sure that it adds the simplicity for which the advocates of the amendment are looking.
My second problem—people can argue about the other points I have made, but this and my next point make it very difficult to accept this amendment—is that attaching this statutory provision to one of the objectives, which is in a series of objectives that must be prioritised and balanced in the joint fisheries statement, would create unacceptable legal risk. From then on, every time any of the fisheries policy authorities says how it thinks meeting the objectives should be balanced in the statement, somebody can say that—particularly in the short term—it might be prejudicial to environmental sustainability, and, because that is not fundamentally defined in the statute, by whatever definition of environmental sustainability they attach to it they could directly challenge the decisions set out in a joint fisheries statement and throw the legal certainty the statements are intended to convey out of the window. That is a serious problem.
Thirdly, while the structure of the amendment incorporates the original text of the sustainability objective, it has rewritten it in a rather odd and disturbing way. The economic, social and employment benefits, the availability of food supplies and having fishing capacity without overexploiting marine stocks are all still mentioned, but under the heading “fishing fleets must”. What does that mean in statute? Does it mean that it is the responsibility of the fisheries policy authorities and of the Government? Or is this a statutory provision telling the fishing fleets that they must accept responsibility for all the other secondary objectives and that these are no longer the responsibility of Government?
I do not understand how the amendment works, and I am afraid that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, did not explain why it has been written such that, subject to the environmental sustainability objective being met, fishing fleets “must” do these things. By what mechanism will they do them? Who tells them to do them? How is it set out in statute? This amendment does not deliver any of that. For those two latter reasons in particular, the amendment is flawed and I cannot support it.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, has withdrawn, so I now call the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern.
My Lords, this amendment is of considerable importance. It seeks to set aside all the other objectives as less important, and it is apparent to me that at least some of them are essential. To set them aside would bring an imbalance to the situation, which is very strange—particularly since the objective is described as something that does “not compromise”. It is negative, it is to not do something; whereas an objective would normally be to achieve something rather than to prevent something happening.
I strongly support what has been said about the difficulties. I find it very hard to see how, with proposed new subsections (2)(b) and (2)(a) subject to the definition, you can have it as a prime objective.
I understood from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, that his principal reason for this amendment was to avoid a situation in which economic matters might prejudice the longevity and sustainability of the stocks. However, the objective as stated by the Government is clear; under it, the long-term interest of the stocks must be preserved. That is surely the sort of flexibility we need in a proper environmental and sustainability project. You cannot be sure from day to day exactly what will happen. There are not many effective prophets in the world; it is therefore very difficult to proceed without a long-term view of what you are aiming at, and it seems that that will be prejudiced if you knock out the other objectives, which are also very important.
The amendment says “prime” objective; it does not say that it is the only objective. However, I do not know how a court could say whether or not a particular objective had been considered “prime”. As has been said, it generally means “first”, although it can have other meanings. It seems to me that, as long as the objective is mentioned and then taken account of alongside others, that is what should happen. I do not think that this amendment achieves the kind of result mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. One of the mistakes of the common fisheries policy was too detailed and precise an attempt to control this aspect. The Government’s method of balancing this—the purpose of the clause as a whole—is excellent and would be damaged by this amendment.
My Lords, the common fisheries policy was certainly flawed at times in its execution, but it had one advantage: the member states of the European Union were able to come together and resist, on occasion, short-term pressures on politicians in individual states to change fisheries policy. The collective agreement on fisheries policy ensured a strong element of long-termism in the decisions that were made. I worry that, as fisheries policy and regulation are returned to the United Kingdom, the pressure on politicians for short-term decision-making from those with a direct financial interest in the industry, when quotas and other decisions are reached, will still be there—as it is right now.
I have a vivid memory of the first year of devolution in 1999. An effigy of the then Fisheries Minister in the Scottish Government, Rhona Brankin MSP, was burned by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation at a demonstration because people were angry and wanted more short-term decision-making on quotas. That controversy, passion and anger impacted on individual Members of the Scottish Parliament and on the debate. In years to come, that impact was seen again and again with the sacrifice of the long term—I do not think it was ever sacrificed by Ministers but it was by individual politicians pushing Ministers to make more short-term decisions.
Contrary to what has been said by a number of other noble Lords, I think that being very clear that the sustainability objective is the prime objective is essential if the decisions are to be long-term. To have eight objectives constantly being balanced year after year without a prime objective would be an error. I therefore support Amendment 2 enthusiastically.
I support it for a second reason. The Government, like many other Governments around the world, are very keen to sign up to international goals and targets. In 2015, the then Conservative Government were supported by all parties in this Chamber when they agreed the United Nations global goals. Global goal 14 relates to the oceans and seas:
“Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.”
At first glance, that might seem to be about the marine ecosystem and pollution, which has been a big issue this past decade around the world, but the goal is also quite explicitly about sustainable fishing.
However, every time we have debated the global goals in your Lordships’ Chamber over the last five years, despite consistent support for them from three Prime Ministers from the same party—as recently as last month the current Prime Minister said in a statement that he hopes the UK will be able to move forward after the pandemic, charging towards achieving the global goals—the Government have never embraced the concept of the goals that they were central to agreeing in 2015: that they are universal and apply inside the UK as much as throughout the rest of the world.
If the sustainable development goals are to apply inside the UK as they do everywhere else, we need to start seeing that represented in the Government’s planning, budgeting and legislation inside the UK too. Therefore, starting a process of writing sustainability as a prime objective into more legislation in this country, and getting more long-term and less short-term decision making, would put us on a good course, and the Fisheries Bill is a very good place to start.
The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, speaks with great knowledge and wisdom on the pressures brought by the Scottish fishing industry, and of course, with over 98% of it owned by Scots, it will be a powerful lobby on politicians. It is a shame that half of England’s quota is foreign-owned, and so we are talking about an industry rather than a national facility—or at least, half of one.
I want to draw attention to what happened on Saturday at Verkhoyansk in Siberia: it was 38 degrees centigrade, the highest temperature ever recorded in the Arctic. Since 1930, we have had a 4% loss in fish stocks worldwide, but in the North Sea we are talking about a much higher percentage of permanent loss. Therefore, this amendment is about the sustainability of the industry itself.
A report published in the last few days has reinforced how artificial light in the Arctic is disrupting fish and zooplankton, destroying the very origins of the fish stocks. I hope that, in the light of this new evidence, the Government are reassessing their stock assessments of what will be there in the future. Also, I trust that the Government have signed—and, post leaving the European Union, remain signed up to—the agreement on no fishing in the Arctic, in that large amount of sea which until recently was ice cap but which, sadly, has now melted.
Anyone who listens to the scientific evidence from the Arctic—that fish that have never been seen there are now commonly viewed and how warming is changing the entire ecosystem—will hear the evidence first hand that sustainability of fishing stocks in our waters is directly related to dealing with global warming and climate change. Therefore, this amendment is about the future of our fishing industry, and I support it.
My Lords, this has been a very interesting debate. My instinct is to support this amendment wholeheartedly, because I am a great believer in environmental sustainability, but we must also look very carefully at sustainability, because in all our discussions sustainability has rested on the three pillars: economic, social and environmental. If we change our understanding of that, it will affect not only fisheries but also every other industry.
The noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, gave the game away completely when he said that it should be introduced to every other piece of legislation. I do not think that this House has given enough thought to that. If this amendment is accepted, it will become a precedent for the Agriculture Bill. That will mean that the son of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, will now be told that he cannot farm a certain crop because it is not environmentally sustainable in the way that people would like it maintained. It will mean foresters being told that they cannot cut down trees because it is environmentally unsustainable to cut down a tree when that will happen anyway through natural regeneration. There are huge complications that we have not considered if we alter the balance now, because this will go into legislation and become a very firm precedent for the future. That gives me great concern.
I strongly believe that the environment should be given priority, but it must be in a way that respects the other two legs of the sustainability stool. My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern said that, legally, this is almost impossible. We are in a real quandary here. I hope that, between now and Third Reading, the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, can get together to achieve what I know they both want. We are all on common ground regarding where we want to get to, but the wording of this amendment will cause us problems.
The noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, also mentioned the effect on coastal areas. If suddenly a report said that fishing must stop in a certain area since environmental sustainability was the prime objective, the effect on that area socially and economically would be immense, and the Government would not be able to mitigate it in the way that they could as the Bill is presently worded.
Although I support the spirit of this amendment, I cannot support it in the way that it is worded. My noble friend Lord Lansley was right to highlight the question of “fishing fleets must”, which is a wording that we are not used to in legislation. I do not see how that can be implemented. I look forward to what the Minister says and hope that we can reach a common position on this, rather than bringing into law something that we may all regret in a few months’ or years’ time.
My Lords, if I may just respond first to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, this amendment does exactly what he asks. It gives priority to environmental sustainability, but the other elements are there as well—so, bingo, we are there. We do not have a Content Lobby, but if we did, the noble Earl would need to go through it.
I congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Cameron of Dillington, on their amendments, both of which I put my name to. The irony in this debate is that the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, are arguing for the old-style common fisheries policy. What they are asking for is exactly what the CFP did. It gave a range of options to politicians—Commissioners or the Council of Ministers in that bun-fight that happened every December—which allowed fudge in decision-making about future quotas and fishing rights over the next year. They could look at some other objective or reason and decide to take an easy way out, forget environmental sustainability or put it second, third or fourth, and go for a short-term decision on fisheries.
And what was the outcome of that? We have hugely depleted stocks in our own EEZ and globally, because of all those fudge factors. Tell me an organisation that can survive with eight objectives but without anything being said about which is the most important. You cannot do that. You must have some idea of what the priorities are. None of us could run our lives on that basis; it would be impossible.
I come back to the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, when he criticised the word “prime”. I did Classics up to O-level—pause for a “wow” from the Chamber—and “primus” means first. We know what “first” means, and it does not push the others aside. We have a first Secretary of State in the Government but that does not mean to say that the other Secretaries of State are all redundant; they are not. It is just giving a priority.
We also know, exactly as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has said, that if we do not have environmental sustainability first, then everything else falls aside; it just goes away. Sometimes we have zero quotas, as I think the Minister said earlier about my first amendment, and they are dealt with by finding ways around them, either with financial compensation or otherwise. That means those stocks, the health of the industry and jobs in those coastal communities are there for the long term. That is why this is inarguable; you cannot have it any other way than that environmental sustainability has to be a prime objective. That would not get rid of the rest of the objectives; they are in the Bill for us to see.
I want to take a point that has not been mentioned: devolution. We are told by the Government that this House is not competent to amend the Bill because of devolution; we are going through this process for no reason at all because everything in it is devolved. The Government have brought a Bill to us that they may have agreed with the executives but, as I understand it, it has not gone through any of the democratic assemblies or parliaments of the nations. We have been given a Bill that we have to make decisions on. The Government cannot put a gun to our head and say, “Because we have done a deal with the other executives, the Bill can’t change at all”. If the Government hold that view, they should dissemble this Bill, bring an English Bill to this House and let the assemblies and parliaments have their own fisheries Bills. That is the solution. However, we do not have time for that because we need to get this right and we need to do it before the end of the year when we move out of the transition period. All we can do is ensure that the Bill is right and protects the industry and our marine environment for the future—for the long term as well as the short and medium terms—by making sure that the amendment is passed.
My Lords, I am pleased to have added my name to Amendment 2 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and to add our support to Amendment 20 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron. Amendment 2 goes to the heart of our future fisheries policy. It spells out that, within all the other important objectives, the sustainability of our fishing stock is the number one priority. This is a hugely significant prize as we take control of our coastal waters. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, it leaves behind the deals and compromises that were inevitably part of the common fisheries policy, and will put our fisheries on a more long-term assured footing where there will be fish stocks to fish for generations to come. The logic of this is obvious: we all want a thriving and economically viable fishing industry and we aspire to have better managed stocks, enabling a renaissance in our coastal ports and towns. There could be huge new opportunities for jobs and prosperity in this sector. We have other amendments, which we will debate later, that would give greater impetus to new jobs and growth.
However, this economic regeneration will be permanent only if it is based on the certainty of an abundant long-term fish stock. If not, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has asked, how will the trade-offs between the competing objectives be made? Will there be an inevitable skew towards short-term economic pressures at the expense of that long-term viability? In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, and indeed as the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, says, if you have too many objectives then, quite frankly, you end up with none at all.
The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and others questioned the wording of our amendment, but our concern is that the original wording in the Bill defines “sustainability” in a very broad way. It is not what a normal person would understand sustainability to mean; it incorporates issues such as food supply, jobs and other social and economic benefits, whereas most people would understand “sustainability” to be exactly that—to be about environmental sustainability. So it was the original wording in the original Bill that caused our concern in the first place and encouraged us to table an amendment which would ensure that there is a proper definition of environmental sustainability and that it finds its proper place in the Bill.
Noble Lords who buy fish in their local supermarket know how fragile the availability of our local stocks can be. Much-loved species such as North Sea cod are available in one season but disappear in another. Indeed, the Minister conceded in Committee that only 59% of our stocks—just over half—are fished at maximum sustainable yield levels, with the rest continuing to be overfished. We cannot go on like this. We want people to eat more fish but only if they can do so in confidence that they are not decimating our stocks. So we believe that the environmental sustainability of fish stocks is the core policy principle from which all other objectives and benefits flow.
In previous debates the Minister has sought to characterise the sustainable economic and social objectives as a “three-legged stool”, with each leg having equal weight. I would put it differently. I would say that environmental sustainability is the rock, the solid foundation on which to build our future fishing prosperity, and therefore it needs to have a status that reflects that. I only studied Classics to O-level as well, but to my mind the phrase “primus inter pares”, which I think the Minister has used before, well reflects that: first among equals. We are not talking about ignoring the other objectives; we are ensuring that the environmental sustainability objective is prime. I think that is quite clear and it takes into account all the other objectives as well. I therefore urge all noble Lords to support Amendment 2 should it be put to the vote.
My Lords, what an interesting debate. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for initiating it and to all noble Lords. It gives me an opportunity to reiterate the Government’s commitment to supporting the seafood industry in developing sustainably. Across this House we are seeking the same thing: a vibrant and sustainable fishing industry with a greatly improved marine environment and a healthy and valuable food source for millions of people in the UK and abroad.
We all recognise that we have a viable fishing industry in the long term only if that industry is environmentally sustainable, but in our view sustainability is like a three-legged stool, and the Government’s view is that we need to ensure that all three legs are balanced. My noble friend Lord Blencathra was the first to use the word “balance” and I will elaborate on that. It is why the Bill currently gives equal weight to environmental, social and economic considerations. That follows the concept of the three pillars of sustainable development, a concept that is well established in international law and practice. By contrast, the amendment that we are now considering would create a hierarchy in the objectives. It would mean that in any circumstances, short-term environmental considerations would need to override even critical economic and social needs.
I would like to take the opportunity to explain why the Government have significant concerns about the severe impact that the amendment could have on parts of the UK fishing industry. The Government are concerned that giving the environmental limb of the sustainability objective primacy would bring into question the weight that could be given to the other objectives in the Bill as we develop policies and negotiate with the rest of the world. Those are important objectives, developed with the devolved Administrations to ensure that we can agree a UK-wide approach to sustainable fisheries management.
I was somewhat surprised by what the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said. If we had sought to separate all these matters and had not tried to go forward with a UK-wide approach, I think that many noble Lords would have considered that a retrograde step. Working at these matters at the UK level is advantageous. I will develop that point a little more because I disagree with the noble Lord.
The Government recognise that it might be vital to give more weight to one objective in a particular case, and the Bill recognises that. It requires fisheries administrations to set out in the joint fisheries statement how they have proportionately applied the objectives in formulating policies. The draft statement will be consulted on and laid before Parliament for scrutiny. The Government and the devolved Administrations have thought carefully about the balance here: we need stretching objectives but the weight that each is given may vary depending on the circumstances of a particular case. I say that being particularly mindful of the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick.
For example, the approach suggested by the amendment could lead to the closure of mixed fisheries where most fish stocks were at sustainable levels but some stocks were still in the process of recovery. This could severely restrict demersal fishing operations, as well as cuttlefish trawlers, in the south-west. Cuttlefish and demersal fish brought into south-west ports in 2018 alone were worth £57 million.
Introducing a hierarchy could also undermine the UK’s ability to engage constructively with other countries in international negotiations on shared fish stocks. Were the UK to go into negotiations on the basis that it could sign up only to agreements that met certain environmental criteria, we would run the risk of not having deals.
I return to the issue of devolution. This Bill is the result of all Administrations working collaboratively. My understanding is that the amendment does not command the support of the devolved Administrations.
I return too to the importance of the other objectives in Clause 1. I was interested in what the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, said about giving the environment a voice. I refer to the precautionary, ecosystem, scientific evidence, bycatch, equal access, national benefit and climate change objectives listed in the clause. If that is not giving a voice to the environment, I cannot imagine what is. I entirely agree with the point that the noble Lord, Lord Mann, made about Siberia. It is very important that we have the climate change objectives in the Bill. What my noble friends Lord Lansley and Lord Blencathra had to say on the matter was extremely pertinent. The breadth of the objectives in the Bill recognises the complexities of decision-making and is designed to deliver both environmental protection and a sustainable fishing industry in practice. This complex and dynamic balance lies at the heart of the Bill, and the amendment would upset that critical balance. As I said, it would throw doubt on the weight to be given to the other objectives and on when they could be taken into account as part of the decision-making process.
The balancing act of fisheries management—and, for that matter, of all sustainable development—lies in ensuring that we see social, economic and environmental progress. This is a balance enshrined in Clause 2, which requires the fisheries administrations to set out in their joint fisheries statement how they have interpreted and proportionately applied the objectives in formulating policies. The purpose of that is to ensure that policies do not give undue weight to one objective or element of an objective over others. It means that we must focus on win-win outcomes for the environment and industry, rather than prioritising one over the other. In addition—I say this particularly to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering—the new framework of environmental governance and principles being created under the Environment Bill provides an additional safeguard to ensure that the UK Government act in an environmentally responsible manner.
What concerns the Government most about the amendment is that it appears to be based on the premise that you are either for the environment or for industry. The amendment squarely prioritises environmental sustainability, even at the cost of a viable UK fishing industry. We believe that that is a false dichotomy. This Government are both for the environment and for a thriving fishing industry. That is why the Bill as currently drafted recognises the complexity and challenges of fisheries management and sets a framework for addressing the challenges in a constructive way. It seeks to ensure that sustained environmental progress and social and economic considerations go hand in hand in a balanced way.
Finally, it is clearly in the interests of the UK fishing industry to fish sustainably. We all know that with no fish, there is no industry. This Government believe that it is by working positively with industry to address this balance that we are most likely to succeed in achieving our environmental outcomes, alongside ensuring a thriving UK fishing industry into the future.
In the spirit of that final point, I turn to Amendment 20 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington. This aims to ensure that fisheries authorities still try to achieve the sustainability objective when diverging from policies within a fisheries statement or fisheries management plan due to a relevant change of circumstances. As the noble Lord’s speech was truncated, I will be pleased to hear his further remarks and will obviously take them on board.
As I have made clear, I support fully the principle that we should take decisions which ensure that our fishing sector is sustainable in the long term. The provisions for the fisheries statements in Clause 2(1) and the processes set out in Clause 10 clearly show that decisions will be taken with due regard for the sustainability objective, alongside the other objectives, while providing fisheries authorities with the necessary flexibility to respond to relevant changes of circumstances.
We cannot predict the future and we want legislation that allows adaptation to prevailing circumstances. The relevant changes of circumstances that enable deviation from policies within the fisheries statements are, rightly, set out in Clause 10(4) and are there to enable fisheries authorities to remain flexible and adaptable. For example, it could enable them to take account of new evidence that will require a divergence from policies to improve fisheries management.
I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, that the provisions in Clause 10 do not enable authorities to deviate from the objectives of the Bill on an arbitrary basis. Fisheries authorities must publish their reasons for deviating from any policy in the joint fisheries statement, explaining what they thought to be a relevant change in circumstance and how that affected their decision. Any unreasonable decision not based on a relevant change in circumstance could be challenged in the courts.
I say also to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, that the Marine (Scotland) Act requires consideration of all three elements of sustainability—social, economic and environmental—in decision-making on the management of marine conservation zones, for instance. It requires any adverse impacts to be minimised so far as practicable and therefore does not provide an opt-out to prioritise one element of sustainable development over another.
I reiterate that I absolutely respect the views expressed by everyone who has promoted these amendments. However, as noble Lords would expect, it is my responsibility to say that the Government cannot accept them because they would undermine the heart of the Bill. What my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern said is relevant: we are dealing with the law, not with the spirit of what was intended. It is about how this proposal would be interpreted in law. At the heart of the Bill is a wish to find a balanced path towards an environmentally sustainable and thriving fishing industry, and of course to provide government accountability when doing so.
Again, all this has been agreed with the devolved Administrations. The Scottish Government have published their legislative consent memorandum, which recommends that their Parliament consent to the Bill. The Welsh Government and DAERA have also published positive memoranda. We welcome this constructive engagement with our devolved colleagues. I say to all noble Lords that, in practice, we have found the collaboration of all the devolved Administrations very strong and positive. We believe that the Bill provides a UK framework for fisheries, providing the best outcome for industry and, essentially, the health of all fish stocks.
It is difficult when so many noble Lords who have made great contributions are not here, so I say specifically to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, that the Government accept that there is still more to do to achieve sustainable fish stocks and a healthy marine environment. This is why the Bill includes a robust set of objectives to support environmental sustainability, given effect through the joint fisheries statement. It is why the Bill includes powers to bring forward fisheries management plans that will also contribute to a wider environmental restoration, to which we all aspire and in which we believe. The Government’s position is that we can achieve a strong environment and a strong fishing industry hand in hand. We believe that these amendments present great difficulties in achieving that balanced aim.
I well understand that there may, for a number of reasons, be a desire to test the opinion of the House on this matter. However, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, was generous enough to say that he would give consideration to what I said and, particularly, to what my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern said. Therefore, while mindful of that desire to test the opinion of the House, I respectfully ask the noble Lord to give due consideration to withdrawing his amendment.
My Lords, my reference to the Marine (Scotland) Act was really trying to say that the authorities up there went for the socioeconomic objective rather than the long-term environmental objective and, as a result, six years after the Marine (Scotland) Act, fishing continues in what should be a protected area. As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said in his introduction, short-term socioeconomic priorities always seem to trump long-term environmental objectives. Of course, we all know that such an approach is based on a false premise because securing good ocean health provides the strongest possible foundation for a sustainable industry. In response to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, it is like a farmer nurturing his soil: without that long-term approach, the socioeconomic future of an industry is not realistically secure. Does the Minister not think that we should now endeavour to achieve the sustainability objectives instead of the eight objectives in Clause 1, which, put together, mean very little?
I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, that there have now been many iterations of the Bill and a lot of consideration has been given to it. We have a balance of objectives here: sustainability, the three-legged stool and all the many other essential objectives, including—as the noble Lord, Lord Mann, effectively mentioned—addressing climate change. There could be no more important objective than that. The Government believe that the balance we have created with the support of the devolved Administrations offers the strongest possible way forward.
My Lords, I thank all who have taken part in this important debate; we have heard some interesting and well-informed contributions. Although we are not all of the same view, a clear majority of those who have spoken support the amendment.
I want to pick up on a couple of specific points. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, talked about how the different priorities could be balanced, but the difficulty is that Clause 1 contains a fundamental category error. Sustainability is an overarching objective; others, such as the scientific, precautionary and client objectives, are subservient to sustainability. So, it is not a matter of weighing them up against one another; it is a matter of seeing that sustainability is an overarching priority.
I turn to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, who suggested that, in the amendment to Clause 1(2) we had already referred to the three-legged stool. If noble Lords read the amendment carefully, the objective in proposed new paragraph (a) is that
“fisheries and Aquaculture activities do not compromise environmental sustainability in either the long or the short term … subject to”
—and it then goes on to talk about economic, social and employment benefits.
I now come to the Minister’s summing up. I thank him very much for his comments and his thoughtful response to the amendment and the debate. As he said, we are all aiming for the same thing—sustainable fisheries, which mean that today’s activities do not compromise the health of the marine environment in the future. He also reiterated the need to balance the three legs of sustainability; indeed, many noble Lords who spoke also referred to the balance of the trade-offs, including the noble Lords, Lord Blencathra, Lord Teverson, Lord Randall of Uxbridge and Lord Cameron of Dillington, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and Lady Jones of Whitchurch.
The Minister said that he thought that the three legs of the stool should be given equal weight. I have difficulty with that because, when I think of weighing something, I need a currency to weigh it in—is it pounds or ounces, kilograms or grams, or what? I am also unconvinced by his explanation of how the trade-offs will be made. Is it mathematical so that, for example, 100 jobs are worth one fish stock? Is it a purely political judgement? If so, by whom and on what basis? Is it a response to lobbying, where those who shout loudest get their way? That would clearly be unsatisfactory. I did a quick search of the specialist literature on how these three legs of the sustainability stool are balanced; the literature suggests that no one has cracked this problem. So, we have to take it on trust that the Government have a solution to the problem secretly up their sleeve. I am afraid I cannot take that on trust.
The Minister also referred to compromising our position in international negotiations. Surely, however, setting out a strong position by saying that we are at the top of the world league table in stewarding our marine environment, along with countries such as Australia and New Zealand, would be a very good starting point for any international negotiation. In view of the fact that I am not convinced that the safeguards proposed will be sufficient to protect the marine environment, I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Ayes 310, Noes 251.