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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.