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I thank the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Teverson, for adding their names to Amendment 29. I congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Lansley and Lord Cameron of Dillington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, on the redrafting of Clause 25, which rewrites Article 17 into UK law and will avoid any further confusion should Article 17 be amended later in the EU. This sits better with Clause 23, the objectives criteria in Clause 1 and the joint fisheries statements in Clause 2. Amendments 29 would follow neatly on from this by putting a duty on the Secretary of State to consider the case for allocating further fishing opportunities—that is, quota—to new entrants and to the under 10-metre fleet against the background of the sustainability criteria or the environmental, social and economic factors.
In Committee we debated two amendments—Amendment 106 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and Amendment 107 in the name of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch—that proposed reserving a portion of English fishing quota to these two categories. Having considered the Minister’s response to these amendments, and given that there are very similar arguments in favour of preserving a portion of quota for both groups, we have chosen to combine the two previous amendments into a single, more comprehensive text. With the new Clause 25 and the consequential government amendments, a minor technical adjustment is now needed to proposed new subsection (4) in Amendment 29, where “each calendar year” would need to be consequentially amended as well to the relevant quota period.
I will briefly outline the system we envisage, as well as reminding noble Lords that it would extend to England only and therefore have no implications for the devolution settlements. Before making the first determination of fishing opportunities under Clause 23, the Secretary of State would have to establish a baseline allocation for each group, the under-10 metre fleet and any reserve for future new entrants. When doing this, they would have to consider historical fishing opportunities through an average of the last three years.
However, and crucially, the Secretary of State could alter this level on the grounds of sustainability under Clause 1(1)(c), which we debated at length on Monday. To all intents and purposes, this would set a minimum benchmark of quota that could be allocated to either new entrants or the under-10 metre fleet. Once the baseline has been established, the Secretary of State would have to consider the case for increasing it with each period’s determination, before laying a statement outlining the outcome of their deliberations before Parliament. If they chose not to increase the reserve quota, the statement would have to outline the reasons.
We believe that such an approach strikes the right balance between providing the Government with flexibility to implement their own policy once the UK is an independent coastal state while affording new entrants and the under-10s a degree of certainty about their current market access and potential for future growth. As I said, if Ministers chose not to prioritise new entrants or the under-10s as part of the overall distribution of fishing opportunities, this system would act as a fail-safe to protect what the two groups already have. In that sense, it upholds the principle elsewhere in the Bill that fisheries plans should consult and consider historical catch data. Conversely, if we wanted to provide significantly more quota to either target group, Ministers would be free to do so.
This amendment merely requires the establishment of a minimum which is then kept under review. There is nothing to prevent that minimum being exceeded in any given year without it necessarily becoming a permanent arrangement. This approach would not be overly burdensome on the Minister’s department and could have significant benefits for the vitality of the sector. This was something that the Minister emphasised as a priority when responding to the amendments in Committee.
We are all aware of the high proportion of UK quota owned by foreign firms and of the predominance of the larger boats. While this new provision would not immediately challenge the dominance of such firms, it would allow the Government slowly to rebalance the sector in favour of smaller domestic fishers, who enjoy close links with their communities, and would reinvigorate the workforce and expand coastal economies. The Government claim to be committed to helping new entrants and smaller vessels but, despite warm words there is little in the Bill for them. This amendment would provide an opportunity for those commitments to be pursued.
While we will listen carefully to the Minister’s response, the guidance for Hybrid Proceedings compels me to say that we are minded to test the opinion of the House on this matter. The amendment provides a very good starting point for supporting new entrants and the under-10-metre fleet. There is nothing in the Bill as it stands. Having reclaimed our ability to set fisheries policy, it would be a tremendous shame if we were to pass up this opportunity to support our home-grown talent. I beg to move.