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Amendment 22

Part of Fisheries Bill [HL] - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 24th June 2020.

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Photo of Lord Blencathra Lord Blencathra Chair, Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee 2:30 pm, 24th June 2020

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.