Moved by Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
22: After Clause 17, insert the following new Clause—“National landing requirement(1) Within 18 months of the day on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State must make regulations establishing a national landing requirement which automatically applies to any boat licensed under section 14(1) or 16(1), unless exempted under subsection (4)(b).(2) Before making regulations under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must consult—(a) other relevant UK Ministers,(b) the Scottish Ministers,(c) the Welsh Ministers,(d) the Northern Ireland department, and(e) bodies that appear to the Secretary of State to represent the interests of the UK fishing industry.(3) A consultation under subsection (2) must seek views on setting an average landing requirement across all relevant species that is not less than 65 per cent.(4) An appropriate authority may—(a) determine its own exceptions and exemptions relating to the landing requirement, and(b) exempt any boat licensed to operate within British fishery limits under section 14(1) or 16(1) from the landing requirement after it has come into force.(5) Regulations under subsection (1) are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.(6) In this section—“appropriate authority” means the relevant person under section 15(1);“landing requirement” means the percentage of a boat’s catch that was caught within British fishery limits in any given quarter which must be landed at a port in the United Kingdom, Isle of Man, Guernsey or Jersey;“relevant species” means any species present in a UK fishing zone which is subject to a UK catch quota.”Member’s explanatory statementThis new Clause requires the Secretary of State to consult on and establish a ‘national landing requirement’ to ensure a minimum percentage of fish caught by both domestic and foreign fishing vessels in UK waters are then landed at a port in the UK, Isle of Man, Guernsey or Jersey.
My Lords, this proposed new clause sets out plans to consult on a national landing requirement aiming at an average requirement of 65% of quota fish caught to be landed at UK ports. We believe that such a requirement is vital to help to regenerate our coastal communities. It is an important element of the national benefit objective set out in Clause 1.
As we discussed in Committee, coastal communities are crying out for investment and support. They currently have higher rates of unemployment and lower wages than other parts of the country. They have the additional challenge of social isolation, few training and apprenticeship opportunities, and poor health. A minimum landing requirement for fish caught in our waters could provide a renaissance for these communities that is long overdue.
We know that for every job created at sea, as many as 10 times as many are created on land. It would create new local markets in many of the run-down ports and harbours. Hopefully, tourism and processing work would follow, and the policy would facilitate new investment and innovation. It would also encourage greater self-sufficiency in UK-caught fish being consumed in the UK; for example, it would build on the recent increase in sales of less well-known UK species being sold during the Covid lockdown when imported species were not so freely available.
We believe that this was what many British people were expecting to happen when we left the EU, and this is our chance to get right at least one small aspiration of life after the EU. The alternative will be catches continuing to be landed in EU ports and beyond, with all the profits and benefits draining away elsewhere. Of course, we recognise that this policy is not practical for every landing. For some fish caught by UK trawlers in distant waters it makes more sense to head to market in a local port. That is why our percentage is set at 65%.
In Committee, the Minister explained that under existing licensing conditions, agreed back in 2012, vessels must land at least 50% of their catch of quota species into UK ports or demonstrate their economic link with the UK by other means. Therefore, the principle has already been established, and what we are asking for here is a more ambitious target appropriate for the current socioeconomic times where UK jobs will be a priority. In that context, we believe that an average requirement of 65% quota fish to be landed in UK ports is relatively modest and achievable.
The Minister went on to say that the economic link and the licensing regime were being reviewed, but that this was an area where agreement with the devolved nations was important. We accept that point. We recognise the need for a widescale consultation on this policy before it can be introduced, so the amendment as worded commits us only to a consultation. It allows us to hear and take note of the stakeholder and community views on this. Most importantly, as the Minister keeps stressing the importance of the agreement with the devolved nations on the Bill, it provides a statutory requirement to consult the devolved nations before any such policy could be introduced.
We believe that there is an important principle at stake here, and huge advantages will go to deprived coastal communities if we get this policy right. But we also recognise the importance of full consultation and the need to ensure that the devolved nations share our new ambition. On this basis I beg to move the amendment, and I hope that noble Lords will support it if I am forced to move it to a vote.
When preparing to speak to this amendment, I looked to see where fish caught in UK waters are currently landed, and I hope that the Minister, in his reply, will correct me if my figures are wrong. According to the Marine Management Organisation, UK vessels harvest about 80% of their catch in UK waters. However, in the first three months of 2020, only about half their total catch of just under 200,000 tonnes was landed in the UK. According to MMO figures, vessels from other EU countries catch 35% of their fish in UK waters, but they landed just under 9,000 tonnes in the UK in the first three months of 2020.
Although there is a licence condition called the economic link, already referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, which aims to support the coastal communities, it does not require landing more than 50% of the vessel’s catch in the UK. It is true that there are other ways of showing an economic link, including at least 50% of the crew being UK-based, sourcing goods and services in the UK, or supporting UK coastal communities in other ways. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, said, the Bill is an opportunity for the Government to further enhance the support for the future thriving coastal communities that we all wish to seek. I very much hope that noble Lords will support the amendment if it goes to a Division.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for moving this amendment. I have little to add in substance to what she said. However, I ask the Minister: if the purpose of Brexit was to repatriate powers to Parliament, withdraw from the common fisheries policy and the common agricultural policy, and so on, would not this amendment be wholeheartedly in support of that objective? The Government are rightly committed to a policy and a programme of levelling up. Would not this amendment be very much in line with such a policy?
As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, eloquently put it, for all jobs created at sea, multiple jobs are created on land, and indeed, there could be a key role for looking at how we develop new technologies to assist not just the economics of fisheries but in all aspects, not least in connection with conservation and commitment to the long-term sustainability of our fish stocks.
Does my noble friend agree that the amendment would ensure that at least 65% of the plaice caught would indeed need to be landed at our ports—at our place—and that it would absolutely be in line with everything that is being said by No. 10 and across government regarding plotting a new future for the United Kingdom?
On Monday, I highlighted the need to regenerate our coastal communities, particularly our coastal fishing communities. I have some knowledge from Northern Ireland and from the County Down fishing ports. Two of the three ports are currently involved in regeneration plans and are awaiting communication from the Northern Ireland Executive about further funding provision to take those forward. Clearly, this amendment would strengthen that economic link, which is vital because much fish is caught there, as per the quota requirements. However, if this were permitted, it would ensure that those coastal communities would be revitalised, because there are jobs not only in the catching sector but in the processing sector, which is very much the lifeblood of those communities, which have been subjected to various fishing village initiatives over the last 25 years.
I have a little query. If I take the County Down fishing ports—I know that the Northern Ireland department is one of the authorities that would be consulted—and the pelagic trawlers, at present they cannot land any of their catches in those harbours, and in some cases they are not landing them in other UK ports, the Channel Islands, Guernsey or the Isle of Man, but in Norway and the Republic of Ireland. That is because the port depth does not enable the larger pelagic trawlers to do that. I am sure that that issue exists in other ports in the UK which require a revitalisation process in terms of new and improved infrastructure.
Might the Minister have a quiet word with his opposite number in the Northern Ireland Executive to, shall we say, chivvy along those proposals for regeneration to ensure that the fishing commitment, the landing obligation and—if this is permitted today—the national landing requirement can be activated and implemented? Of course, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said, this is simply consultation at this stage. While this is a strong aspirational clause, I hope that it would be capable of implementation and enforcement.
My Lords, I will speak briefly in support of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch. She set out clearly in her speech the reasoning for the amendment, and I hope it will be supported by the Minister and the whole House.
It is frustrating that the debate on fishing, fisheries policy, the number of British and foreign-owned vessels and the fish landed has been so distorted in the media. It is a matter of much regret that the debate we have had in the UK over many years is not about the reality of the situation. As we know, our demand for fish such as cod and haddock in many cases far exceeds what we could catch in our own waters and much is imported, while much of the fish we catch in our waters is exported.
My noble friend set out the timeframe and made it very clear that this is a consultation that in itself should not cause the Government any particular problems. It is reasonable to ensure that every nation is consulted, along with the interested parties in the fishing industry. The consultation sets out the landing requirement of 65%, which I think is a reasonable figure.
My noble friend set out the case for how many of our coastal communities are very deprived. I know Grimsby very well—in a previous life I worked up in north Lincolnshire—and it is an area that suffers from poor health and poor job prospects and can be very depressed. Not only is fish landed there, but there is a huge food processing industry in the town. Grimsby would certainly benefit tremendously from my noble friend’s proposal here. It is very important that we should look at that.
It is also important that we recognise that when people in these communities voted to leave the European Union, they were voting also for a dividend. They hoped there would be better job prospects in their communities, more fish would be landed and people would prosper more. If we find that this is not the case in the years ahead, I think they will feel very betrayed. They will have voted for something and not seen the dividend from it. So I hope that if the Minister does not accept my noble friend’s amendment, he will carefully set out the reasons why and will make it clear what will be the dividend for these communities in years to come. We all know that they are depressed and have many challenges. If the explanation is not to my noble friend’s satisfaction, I hope that she will test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, I noted that in the earlier version of this Fisheries Bill, which came out over 18 months ago now, there was a clause early on that tried to define a UK fishing boat as one with at least one UK shareholder holding more than 5%. That seemed quite a low bar to me, but the thinking behind it was probably based on the 1970s attempt by the UK to apply an ownership limit to foreign investment in UK fishing boats of 75%. For the record, the UK lost its case in the courts because ownership caps at that time could apply only to EU ownership, not British ownership.
Nowadays, of course, the widespread and sometimes complicated international ownership of all businesses—in this case boats—creates far too tangled a web to unweave through legislation, which is probably why the words I referred to in the earlier version of the Bill were dropped. Anyway, maybe it does not matter who is investing money in our fisheries and boats, as long as they are creating the jobs in the UK. As others have said, we all know that for every one job on a boat, whoever owns it, there are 10 jobs on land in the processing, handling, transporting, marketing, selling, et cetera, of the fish.
So it was very sensible of the Government to drop the reference to the percentage of UK shareholding in a boat, but sadly they did not follow through with any sort of landing requirement. It seems that they understood the issue but, having realised that their solution would not work, failed to see that a landing requirement would achieve almost the same end but by a slightly different means.
This is an important amendment. Such a landing requirement could make a huge difference to coastal communities—and, believe me, they need this boost. Of the 25 local authorities with the highest rates of insolvency, 16 are coastal—and that was before Covid-19 came along to make matters worse.
I hope that the Government will accept this enabling amendment, or agree to bring in a similar amendment of their own. I accept that such a commitment might be dependent on Brexit negotiations, but I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some comfort in his reply and indicate that such a requirement is very much at the forefront of the Government’s mind.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, on bringing forward this debate on a key topic in the Bill. I agree entirely with the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy: the key to coastal community economic success is processing activities. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, put so eloquently how these have been devastated in communities such as Grimsby.
There is another side-effect. If we do not have a national landing requirement, as set out in this amendment, I struggle to see how we can apply Clause 28, in which the Government hope to introduce a discard prevention charging scheme. My noble friend will recall my disappointment that we have moved away from discard being an objective in Clause 1, but we are now going to have a discard prevention charging scheme. A bycatch objective has now been added to Clause 1. How can we police the bycatch and impose a discard prevention charging scheme if we do not have a national landing requirement?
My Lords, I support this amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch. The situation reminds me of what used to happen with EU structural funds, which were intended to promote regional development and often funded roads and railways into remote rural areas. These promptly allowed all primary agricultural and other products and skills to be sucked out of those rural areas and processed elsewhere, which resulted in more impoverishment of the very areas the investment was intended to help. We do not want an example in the Fisheries Bill of inadvertent consequences of this sort.
Bearing in mind that we are repatriating and setting forth towards a brave new world of our own fisheries management independence, it is highly appropriate that this amendment aims at ensuring that our new fisheries regime will make sure that UK producers, processors and coastal communities play a full role in a thriving and sustainable fisheries market, and at the promotion of UK jobs and skills. This is a highly appropriate amendment.
I pay tribute to the Deputy Speaker for getting my title right; many before him have tried and failed.
I very much welcome this debate and the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Jones. I am minded to support it on the principle of the coastal town economies affected by the historical decline in activity around the fishing industry. This is a very important debate and amendment; the issue is absolutely central to wider economic regeneration, if that is to be one of the objectives of the repatriation of powers from Brussels. However, I have some concerns about the constitutional principles relating to this amendment and would be very grateful if my noble friend could perhaps clarify her thinking on these issues if she intends to push this amendment to a Division.
I am concerned that the amendment simply talks about “consulting” the devolved Governments—particularly the Scottish Government, who have clear legislative authority—rather than “agreeing” with them a national landing requirement. I am interested in knowing the thinking on having a UK-wide national landing requirement imposed from the centre rather than agreed by consensus across the four nations, and how that would work in practice.
As was mentioned regularly in your Lordships’ House on Monday afternoon, the Scottish Government have already indicated their support for a legislative consent Motion for the Bill as it currently stands. Notwithstanding that, I was willing to support amendments on Monday that might challenge that position. What consultations, if any, or thoughts might there be in relation to the position of the Scottish Parliament on a national landing requirement? I would be interested in knowing that in advance of the House dividing on the amendment, perhaps creating a situation where the legislative consent Motion is withheld because of this or other amendments.
My Lords, I fully understand why this amendment has been tabled and, emotionally, I warm to it. On the other hand, I have spent my life in both Houses looking at the legal implications of the laws that we propose. I am guided by the fact that, as I understand it, this is framework legislation, which means that we are working within a broad framework out of which, I imagine, will flow statutory instruments. The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, quite rightly raised the fact that Scottish fishing is undoubtedly the largest part of the UK’s fishing industry and that this is a matter that has been devolved to that authority. Rightly, he asked whether the word “consultation” is correct in relation to devolved countries or whether the words used should be “agree with”.
There are other dimensions to this issue. I love the east coast of England. I also love going down to Cornwall and Devon, and am hoping to go there this summer. Nevertheless, I am not aware that at the moment many of our ports are particularly well equipped to handle the larger trawlers, which are the most efficient ones, and you can understand why. UK boats are fishing only 40% of the catches. I do not have the information but I would like to know a little more about Norway, which as a country is a good friend of ours. Norwegian vessels account for 80% of the catch in Norwegian waters. We have a long way to go to get to that point. We have just heard from one noble Lord that a significant number of our large trawlers go to Norway.
Although I understand why this amendment has been tabled, I think that the clause it would introduce is a little overcomplicated. I am not at all sure that 65% is the right figure—quite frankly, it might be too low. Therefore, at this point, I would like to reserve my position and listen to my noble friend on the Front Bench.
My Lords, although subsection (2) of the new clause proposed in the amendment states that the UK Secretary of State must consult fishing bodies and the devolved Administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the clause would require this United Kingdom Parliament to legislate for the devolved Administrations in a manner that is not consistent with the devolution settlement. I do not think that Mrs Sturgeon would like that very much, and I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord McConnell.
The Bill is carefully constructed to devolve as much power to the devolved Administrations as legally possible, and we should not adopt an amendment that requires the UK Secretary of State to legislate for the devolved Administrations on a devolved issue. Furthermore, it is not necessary. I refer noble Lords to Schedule 3 to the Bill, which states, inter alia:
“Power to attach conditions to sea fishing licence
1(1) A sea fish licensing authority may, on granting a sea fishing licence, attach to the licence such conditions as appear to it to be necessary or expedient for the regulation of sea fishing (including conditions which do not relate directly to fishing).
(2) The conditions that may be attached to a sea fishing licence include, in particular, conditions—
(a) as to the landing of fish or parts of fish (including specifying the ports at which catches are to be landed);
(b) as to the use to which the fish caught may be put”.
There is more but it is not relevant to this part of the debate. Therefore, the Bill already provides the powers necessary for each of the fisheries Administrations of the United Kingdom to introduce a landing requirement designed by them for their own specific national conditions. Thus, it is not a national landing requirement for the UK; it is four national landing requirements for each of the countries of the UK.
Indeed, each fisheries Administration has a landing requirement as part of the economic link condition in the licences it issues. This is one of several economic link criteria that ensure that the UK receives economic benefit from UK-registered vessels that fish against UK quota.
The amendment requires 65% of fish caught in UK waters to be landed in the UK. That is a desirable aspiration. Superficially it is appealing, and it appeals to me instinctively. However, at the moment there are good reasons—commercial or economic—why a vessel might want to land its catch abroad. The current economic link criteria allow this flexibility while requiring vessel owners to contribute to the UK economy in another fashion. The amendment would seem to place unjustified restrictions on the ability of vessels to seek the best market for their catch and therefore would not necessarily be in the best interests of the industry.
I suspect that I am the only Peer taking part who is a supporter of Fishing for Leave. Indeed, I am probably the only Peer in the whole House who is a member and supporter of this organisation. I commend Fishing for Leave for its splendid work during the referendum and its campaigning on fishing issues since. I think I am right in saying that it is a Fishing for Leave point that the UK has lost fish processing capacity. It must be a key objective to rebuild that capacity in our ports once again. However, at the moment our UK fishing ports cannot handle and process the fish which British boats could land. The noble Baroness made the point that some ports cannot take big boats, and time is required to reconstruct those ports. Now that our fishing grounds, catches and landings will be back under UK control, I look forward to that capacity being rebuilt, but we are not nearly there yet.
Finally, the fishing industry has long objected to the inflexibilities imposed by the common fisheries policy. One of the much-anticipated outcomes of Brexit is the opportunity to move away from the CFP. That was a key demand from Fishing for Leave, which I strongly support. The amendment requires that the landing requirement be imposed by secondary legislation, but the current economic link criteria exist in licensing conditions, enabling alterations to be made fairly quickly in response to changing circumstances. I do not think that we want to leave the CFP while introducing a more restrictive approach to our management of the economic link policy. That would seem to waste the opportunity that leaving the EU has provided us with to improve our fisheries management.
Therefore, although the amendment is well intended, I submit that it is wrong in devolution terms; it is unnecessary, since Schedule 3 already provides for it; and it is inflexible when there are faster solutions.
My Lords, I can see the superficial attraction of this amendment but, in my view, very serious questions arise from it. First, I understood that this was just a consultation but, of course, it is not. The proposed new subsection (1) makes it clear that
“the Secretary of State must make regulations establishing a national landing requirement”.
One has to remember that we are still negotiating fisheries arrangements with the EU. If there is an obligation on the Secretary of State to make such an order as this, it must be possible under the negotiations with the EU. It does not seem wise to make these negotiations more difficult by interposing a requirement of this sort.
On Monday, the noble Lord, Lord Hain, made an impassioned speech on the difficulties of the arrangements with the EU on fisheries. He inclined to the view that they might lead to a difficulty about the whole arrangement, with prejudice to other matters which, in his view, held larger significance economically for the United Kingdom. That is my first point. It is a requirement to regulate, not just a consultation—and it is a requirement that would impinge on ongoing negotiations between the European Union and the UK.
Fisheries interests—that is, people who are actually involved in fishing—have suggested to me that these are impractical requirements being set down from above when, in fact, the conditions under which a vessel goes to a particular port vary from time to time. For example, if a good market is near the fishing ground—nearer than any route that would get to that market otherwise—there is no economic reason why the boat should not go there and get a higher price for the fish than it might get if it had a much longer journey.
Secondly, there is the problem of the weather, an important consideration in deciding which port you go to. I also take up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, as well as my noble friend Lord Naseby, about the nature of the arrangements available at the different ports. I am an ardent supporter of the ports in the north-west of Scotland, particularly Lochinver and Kinlochbervie, which have a considerable number of landings from vessels other than British vessels. It means a tremendous amount to them, but that is because people choose to do that—fishermen choose to do it because of the convenience to them. Surely, if we are to have a flourishing fishing industry, it is important that we do not put obligations on fisherman which are not particularly good, from their point of view, for the practice of fishing.
I am also told that it is quite common for people to find the nature of the establishment at the port an important consideration in whether they can go there, and whether it could be suitable for them to land there; the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, has already made this point in relation to ports near the area in which she has an interest. It is really not wise for us to legislate in this way. It is much better that we rely on the economic link arrangements in the licensing. My noble friend Lord Blencathra has referred to this in some detail, which I do not need to repeat. It is a very flexible arrangement with regard to particular licences and therefore much easier to apply than a top-down thing that is supposed to apply to the whole of the United Kingdom.
It would not be wise for us to go down this road at present. It may be that, at a later stage in the history of this matter, some consideration could be given to it, but to do it while the negotiations with the European Union are still open and being conducted would be unwise.
It is a great pleasure and a bit of luck for me to follow two such powerful speeches from my noble friend Lord Blencathra and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. I agree very much with what they said. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, that this is a devolved matter. For the UK Ministers to consult but then set regulations in this Parliament would be quite contrary to any devolution settlement. I was very surprised that the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, did not pick that up as she is a stalwart defender of the rights of Northern Ireland.
I agree with my noble and learned friend about the remark of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, that this is merely consultation. It is not—this is hard regulation. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, that the fishers in Wick 110 years ago remember Grimsby and Yarmouth without much pleasure, as they suddenly introduced bigger and faster boats than the Wickers had. The fishing industry in Wick suffered horribly from the activities of Yarmouth and Grimsby, but that is history.
The noble Baroness who moved the amendment, which has good intentions but is very faulty, gave no real justification for why 65% should be the figure. I think she woke up one morning and thought, “That’s a good idea; we’ll try that one.” There is no justification for 65%. It made me wonder what I would I do if I were the French Fisheries Minister. I see that the Brits are now getting very protectionist; they want 65% of their catch. How would it affect our fishing fleets if the Europeans said to all their boats, “You can land your catches only in EU ports—you can’t land them in UK ports”? That would do huge damage to our fisheries, reducing their flexibility and the economic benefits that they currently produce for all our coastal towns, which we all want to see improve and provide better economic opportunities than they currently do. It is quite clear in Clause 16(1), covered by this amendment, that this relates to non-UK boats.
Another thought that struck me was: if this clause comes in, will we return to something like the klondykers of the 1980s and 1990s? When I was Fisheries Minister, I remember going up to Ullapool and seeing those big Russian klondyke boats in Loch Broom. We would potentially return to a situation where you have one big British fishing tanker taking fish from all the smaller boats, bringing that back to the UK and claiming it as the landing of the catch. That would be a retrograde step.
All my other points have been covered, but I want to stress one briefly mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. She said that, besides the 50% landing at the moment, there are other economic links. This amendment does not cover any other economic links. It takes out just one of the economic links that currently exist and distorts it. Huge difficulties could result from that. It is worth remembering that the vast majority of UK vessels already meet the landing requirements; I think the current figure is 99%. But, as my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern said, it is so variable; it depends on weather conditions and on the sea—and the fishermen require that flexibility. I cannot support the amendment.
My Lords, what interesting speeches. I get the impression that almost all those who supported us leaving the European fisheries policy would have had their speeches applauded by Michel Barnier, a previous French fisheries Minister, whom we spoke to in the European Union Committee, particularly the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra. I do not want to take away the fire of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on some of this, but let us go through some of the points.
First, the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, asked in Committee about facilities: could we actually cope with landing more fish in UK ports? What a question. During Committee stage, one of the people I spoke to—I did not know he was coming but he happened to be here—was the chairman of the harbour commissioners of Newlyn, one of the largest fishing ports in England, although still dwarfed by the Scottish ports. He said to me, “If I had just one or two more of these foreign-owned, British-flagged vessels into my port, it would make a huge difference to me and what I am trying to achieve”. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, that if we could give the UK fishing ports, particularly the English ports, that challenge, they would love to have those vessels here.
The point was made about this Bill being a framework Bill. I am sorry, but it does not say that. Surely, as parliamentarians we want to be able to affect the key issues, to make changes and to have policies that are better and amendments that improve Bills. We are not here just to have framework Bills. If we think something is of crucial national importance—and this is—then we should be able to debate those amendments and decide whether we accept them.
On devolution, yes, there is an argument there, but if the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, really feels that there should be complete devolution of fisheries issues, he should have voted against the Bill at Second Reading, because the whole Bill is completely concerned with devolved issues; therefore, some of the amendments will be as well.
As for the landing obligation, yes, we have one, but what have the Government done about it over the last few years? It has not changed and there are a number of opt-outs, so some of those economic links will still be there. However, it is vital, surely, that we look at the most important ones, those that actually protect or improve our coastal communities and our fishing industry. We can ask ourselves why the fishing industry has not strongly campaigned for this. I remember going, soon after the Brexit vote, to a fisheries conference elsewhere in London where I raised this point with the main fishing trade associations, and they did not really want to discuss it. Why? Because their members are primarily owned by foreign owners, so it is not particularly in the interest, certainly in England and Wales, of the main fisheries representatives to argue this.
Let us remember that some 55%, by value, of our fisheries are fished by foreign vessels owned primarily by Spain, Iceland and the Netherlands. Those interests are there; what we are trying to do here is to defend all those people who are excluded: the coastal communities we are talking about do not have a vote and do not have a piece of the action at the moment. We are trying to improve that. That is why this amendment is so important and why I back it. In Wales, the by value figure is 85%. One foreign-owned vessel, as I understand it, has 85% of Welsh quota. This is a real issue and it is absolutely appropriate to deal with it in the Bill. What I particularly like about the amendment is that it actually says that something has to come out of this consultation—the 65% or more—but it allows the fishing authorities to make exceptions, such as where the long-distance fleet has to land, perhaps.
Interestingly, Norway has been particularly mentioned. What are the statistics on Norway? Norwegian interests own 100% of Norwegian-flagged vessels, so Norway does not have this problem; indeed, Scotland hardly has it either. In many ways—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, on this—we are being global Britain: we are claiming back, as an independent coastal state, rights over our economic zone and our fish stocks. We are putting them out for sale to the world and the world is enjoying the benefits of our biomass and our marine stocks.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for her amendment, because it has provided the opportunity to debate the important subject of ensuring that the UK benefits from the valuable natural resource within our seas, a resource that is a vital source of food for our nation. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh spoke powerfully of the really great communities along our coasts; we need to support them. I reassure the noble Baroness that this Government strongly agree with the sentiment behind the amendment. This is precisely why the Bill already accounts for both the amendment’s aim, as I understand it, and the means needed to achieve that aim.
Throughout the drafting of the Bill, the Government have been scrupulous in their respect for the devolution settlements. The Bill legislates for the UK as a whole only where the matter is reserved, or at the request of, and with the full agreement of, the devolved Administrations. For example, the fisheries objectives have been the result of a fruitful collaborative effort with the devolved Administrations, who have all laid positive legislative consent memoranda to begin the process set out in the Sewel convention. Accepting this amendment would mean legislating in areas of devolved competence. It would impose fisheries management policies on the devolved Administrations without their consent. Officials have engaged with their counterparts in the devolved Administrations and while they too recognise the intention behind the amendment, it has caused them great concern. I address this particularly to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, and I think the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, also touched on it, but, for instance, owing to the particular circumstances on the island of Ireland, at times it may need to take a different approach to the rest of the UK if necessary. This amendment would prohibit that, and we simply could not accept that.
I now address a concern raised by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, but also by my noble friends Lord Blencathra, Lord Naseby and Lord Caithness and the noble Lord, Lord McConnell. Of course, I recognise what the noble Baroness said about the consultation provision, but it is unclear what would happen as a result of the consultation if a devolved Minister did not want to agree to this landing requirement, as the Secretary of State is still bound to bring forward UK-wide regulations even without devolved Administration consent.
Turning to how I believe the amendment’s aim is met in the Bill, in Clause 1 the national benefit objective acknowledges that all UK boats fishing against the UK’s fishing opportunities should bring benefits to the United Kingdom. Under this objective, each fisheries policy authority is required to have policies in place to achieve it, while allowing each the flexibility to do so in its own way and in a manner which respects the devolved status of fisheries management.
That policy is currently achieved through licence conditions which ensure that all UK fishing vessels fishing against UK quota demonstrate a link to the UK economy. This condition can be met in a number of ways, each of which brings different benefits to the UK. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, mentioned a number of them, but I think it is important that I put on the record exactly the range of them. Those ways include landing at least 50% of their quota stock catch into UK ports; employing a crew at least 50% of whom are normally resident in the UK; spending at least 50% of operating expenditure in UK coastal areas; or by demonstrating an economic link in another way, usually through the donation of quota to the under-10-metre pool. That was a point made by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern.
My noble friend Lord Blencathra also remarked—saying it much better than I shall—that Schedule 3 to the Bill provides each fisheries licensing authority with the power to attach conditions to the licences that it issues, and reproduces and clarifies existing powers in the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967. This includes conditions that explicitly relate to where fish caught by UK vessels must be landed, as in the existing economic link condition. The Government fully intend to continue using these powers in the future and, as committed to in the fisheries White Paper, are reviewing the economic link and will look to increase the impact and effectiveness of the condition in England.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, raised the issue of foreign companies. Foreign-owned and UK flag vessels will be allowed to fish in UK waters. The economic link criteria will ensure that the UK accrues benefit from fish caught in UK waters by UK boats, which is what these boats are. The national benefit objective in the Bill also demonstrates our commitment to ensure that a benefit is felt in the UK from foreign companies that own British fishing vessels. As I say, we are reviewing the economic link condition and associated practices as part of our development of future fisheries management arrangements.
I was interested in the fact—this is really for the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson—that in 2018 there were 2,923 fishing vessels registered in England. Of these, only 27 failed to meet the economic link 50% landing requirement. Of those 27, 22 donated quota worth £2.5 million to the English under-10-metre pool to be fished by the inshore fleet, and five employed a crew a majority of whom were resident in England.
One of the problems that we have with the amendment is that it would move away from the existing approach of using licence conditions. Making regulations to operate the economic link instead of using licence conditions would significantly limit the ability of the fisheries administrations to respond to changing circumstances. Under the current approach we have the ability to adjust licence conditions at short notice—indeed, within a few weeks if necessary—which can be essential for responding effectively to events. The time required to adjust legislation is inevitably considerably longer.
We have long been frustrated by the inflexibility of the common fisheries policy and do not want to impose further inflexibility through our domestic legislation. A number of Peers have raised this issue. We recognise the importance of the economic link, which is why we have committed to consult on it and why we do not think it appropriate to prescribe the outcome of that consultation before it is finished, as I think is the premise of the amendment. The amendment seeks the economic link to be based solely on a percentage landing requirement rather than the full variety of ways that I have outlined through which vessel owners can demonstrate an economic link. Clearly, this would reduce flexibility in the system. For example—I say this particularly to my noble friends Lord Naseby and Lord Holmes of Richmond and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick—it would prevent UK vessels landing in a foreign port if it was the best market for their catch, while enabling them to demonstrate an economic link to the UK in another way. Furthermore, in accepting the amendment I believe we would lose the other benefits of the existing system; I have already spoken of the quota available for the English under-10-metre pool.
My final point concerns the scope of the amendment. It would extend this landing requirement to any foreign vessels that may be licensed to fish in UK waters in future. Access for foreign fishing vessels will be a matter for negotiation and, from 11 pm on
In summary, the Bill already sets out the objective that fishing activity by UK vessels should benefit the UK, and provides the power necessary to place landing requirements on vessels, as is currently done with the economic link licence condition. Furthermore, it does so in a way that is compatible with the devolution settlements and, in our view, allows for a wider range of benefits to the UK than would be provided by a uniform landing requirement.
I give the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, some assurance: the new grant-making power in the Bill, which gives powers to the Secretary of State and devolved Ministers, will allow funding to be given to support infrastructure development, but of course it will be up to the devolved Administrations to design their schemes.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering raised bycatch. Clause 1(6)(c) seeks to ensure the landing of bycatch where appropriate. I assure my noble friend that we can impose and enforce licence conditions through statutory instruments and by-laws, and we have further powers in Clause 36 to introduce statutory instruments on monitoring and enforcement.
The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, referred to British fishing boats. The definitions of UK fishing boats and British fishing boats have remained the same in this and previous versions of the Bill. The term “British-owned” is defined in Clause 48 but, although I have a long note on it, I think I will not go into that definition. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that 98% of Scottish vessels are domestically owned and land most of their catch in Scotland, as an example.
This has been an interesting debate. I think we are all united in wanting more vibrant seafaring and coastal communities across the UK. Like many noble Lords, I agree with my noble friend Lord Blencathra that we need to rebuild those communities, and we want to use the opportunities that are in the Bill. It is only a framework Bill but much more work on this issue will come before noble Lords for scrutiny, so there is further work to do.
However, I am concerned—I say this in honesty because, as I have said, I understand the aim of the noble Baroness’s amendment—because I and the Government think that the licence is better than regulation, and that flexibility is better than inflexibility. I agree with my noble and learned friend: I would question the wisdom of doing it at this particular time, not just in terms of our EU negotiations but because of our very good relationship in seeking to, yes, have a United Kingdom Bill at the request of the devolved Administrations, the complications of that and the fact that the amendment would require regulations from a UK Secretary of State, even if there may be a consultation element to it.
For those reasons, I could not recommend the amendment to your Lordships. I sense that the noble Baroness may well want to test the opinion of the House, but I say in all honesty that we see complications and difficulties with this amendment. Therefore, as is normal, I ask the noble Baroness if she would feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I have a short question. I certainly understand the objective of the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and sympathise with it, and I note the importance of the role of devolution. However, the amendment says there would be consultation with the Scottish Ministers and the Welsh Ministers but it does not mention the Northern Ireland Minister, just the department. The department had a role when there was no devolution in operation in Northern Ireland but devolution is now operating day by day and there is a Fisheries Minister. Why is the Fisheries Minister not mentioned in the amendment, like those of Scotland and Wales?
I thank a number of noble Lords from around the Chamber for their support of this amendment. I find it ironic that we are being ambitious about the consequences of Brexit, perhaps more than the Government are. A number of noble Lords said, in essence, “Don’t rock the boat because of the ongoing Brexit negotiations”. My response would be that that is what the whole of the Bill is about. It is about setting out what we think the future of the fishing sector should be, so if we were going to take that line—“Let’s wait until we know the outcome of the Brexit negotiations around fisheries”—then we really should not have the Bill in front of us in the first place. We should have written the Bill once we knew the outcome of all that. This is our opportunity to state what we feel are the fundamental principles and framework that the future of fishing in the UK should adopt.
The Bill is therefore not about retaining the status quo. There has been an awful lot of caution in the comments made, but what is the point of doing this if we are just going to steady the ship and carry on as we were? We do not want to retain the status quo; this is about seizing the opportunities that taking control of our own waters can bring. Our amendment is a contribution to a particularly important element of that.
Many noble Lords have shared our concerns about the regeneration of coastal communities and quite rightly made the point that it is not just about the jobs within the fleet but jobs on land, particularly those which could arise in the processing sector. There are obviously very important economic benefits. As my noble friend Lord Kennedy said, what would the Brexit dividend otherwise be if not about these sorts of new jobs?
Perhaps I may touch on the issue of devolution. I would urge noble Lords to look again at the wording of our amendment, because all that it requires the Secretary of State to do is to
“make regulations establishing a national landing requirement”.
It then goes on to refer to the consultation details and has a subsection (4) about the potential for exemptions to the landing requirements. The framework—the essence of our amendment—is a very slight obligation. Of course we expect it to be implemented, as all other fishing developments are, on the basis of a concordat or consensus about how we should go forward.
The Minister said that we already have an economic link for 50% of fish landed in the UK. We do not feel that we are going much further than that, and that 50% economic link is something that has been agreed across the devolved nations. It is important to get back to the basics of what our amendment is saying. It puts no obligation or particular burden on the devolved nations, and I very much hope that they would all welcome and embrace it. It is a very modest change: an average 15% increase in the landing requirement is not rocking the boat, by any means. As I say, it allows for a number of exceptions should the appropriate authorities desire to do that.
The Minister said that he already has this matter under review and that the Government are looking at the licensing agreement and the current arrangements. I take it from that that the Government clearly do not think the current arrangements are as robust and worth while as they would want them to be. All our amendment would do is to take it one step further. Rather than the Minister just saying that the review is taking place, it would effectively put that review into legislation. It says that there should be a review, that we should draw up new regulations and that there should be a consultation—not just with the devolved nations but a much wider one. We feel that that is, in itself, a fairly modest aspiration.
Sorry, I should pick up the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, about “the Northern Ireland department”. I accept that, in an ideal world, the amendment would have referred to Northern Ireland Ministers. It was probably drafted before that event occurred; I am sure that it could be tidied up at Third Reading. We could take that point on board but, on that basis, I would like to test the opinion of the House.
Ayes 281, Noes 263.