Amendment 51

Fisheries Bill [HL] - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 24th June 2020.

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Lord Lansley:

Moved by Lord Lansley

51: After Clause 45, insert the following new Clause—“Duties of the Secretary of State in international agreementsThe Secretary of State and Ministers of the Crown, when entering into or negotiating international agreements relevant to fisheries policy, must have regard to the fisheries objectives.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would require Ministers to have regard to the fisheries objectives in relation to all relevant international negotiations, not just those relating wholly to fisheries.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative

My Lords, as I did on Monday, I draw attention today to my interest in a company that essentially operates in Brussels but is in partnership with another agency, which, in turn, has UK Fisheries Ltd as a client. It is not our client but the client of the other agency.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for adding his name to Amendment 51. Its purpose is to provide that where the Secretary of State, although for these purposes it says:

“The Secretary of State and Ministers of the Crown” to make it clear that it encompasses all members of the Government, is engaged in international agreements that could be “relevant to fisheries policy”, they should have regard to the fisheries objectives. Clause 10 makes it clear that if the fisheries policy authorities are exercising functions relevant to fisheries, fishing and aquaculture, they must do so by reference to the joint fisheries statement, the Secretary of State’s fisheries statement or the fisheries management plan. To that extent, in exercising any function—including, presumably, annual negotiations on fisheries, for example—the Secretary of State would do so by reference to and with regard to the fisheries objectives. That is not the issue.

The issue in my mind, which is why my amendment is here, is that there are agreements which would not necessarily be confined to fisheries but would be relevant to them and have impacts on fisheries negotiations. For example, if one were to look at the subsequent Clause 23, the power to determine fishing opportunities derives from international obligations. Those may be in international law but, more particularly, they may be derived from negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union—or, for that matter, between the United Kingdom and other states such as Norway or Iceland, the Faroe Islands or Greenland. My contention is that those international agreements would not necessarily be confined to fisheries.

While I might like to agree with the Government’s proposition in this respect, I have to say that it is unrealistic. The Government’s assertion is that fisheries, trade and market access must be kept separate. If that were indeed true, the problem that I perceive would not eventuate. But it is not true—there is a connection between the two.

I pray in aid the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who, on 19 May in the other place—I believe he was physically in the other place, although it was a Hybrid Proceeding—made a Statement on the state of EU-UK fishing negotiations. He said of the EU’s approach:

“The EU … wants the same access to our fishing grounds as it currently enjoys while restricting our access to its markets.”—[Official Report, Commons, 19/5/20; col. 503.]

So I have it on the strength of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster that trade, market access and fisheries quota are linked—and they are linked in these negotiations. The Government have to acknowledge that their hope is wrong; they are not wrong to hope, but wrong to think that it will actually happen.

The Government’s position is very interesting. They say that they want to keep fisheries and trade issues separate. They also say that they want us, as an independent coastal state, to be like Norway. These are two perfectly reasonable propositions, but the trouble is that Norway does not keep trade and fisheries issues separate. So, the Government’s two propositions do not work. Why do I believe this to be the case? The House of Commons Library briefing from only some six weeks ago, in reference to Norway’s entry into the European Economic Area, said—I apologise that it is a longer quote—that

“at an early stage in the European Economic Area agreement negotiations, the European Community”— as it then was—

“made it clear that the quid pro quo for any trade concessions it was prepared to make in respect of imports of fishery products from EFTA states would be increased access for EC fishing vessels to the fishery resources found in the waters of EFTA states.”

So market access and fishing quota are linked, and they have been linked even by the Norwegians.

Of course, the truth is that Norway and other states like it, including even Iceland, are surprised that we have not linked the two. As far as they are concerned, there is leverage on the UK’s part in that we are a very substantial market for the fishery products of the fishing fleets of Norway and other such states. They are expecting that leverage to be used to secure continuity arrangements for the United Kingdom fishing fleets in relation to the quota that we presently enjoy, not in Icelandic waters but certainly in Norwegian waters. More to the point, they are expecting us to seek additional access, and they are expecting these two things to be linked. I think they are surprised that the United Kingdom has not already proceeded down this path; perhaps the Government do not have the bandwidth to think beyond the EU negotiations to realise that it is perfectly possible to have these negotiations in a substantive way—with Norway, for example, or even with Iceland—before the point at which we have concluded our EU negotiations.

My contention is that there are negotiations that are not strictly fisheries negotiations—the EU-UK negotiation on a free trade agreement is a present and substantial example—being conducted by a Minister other than the Secretary of State and where this Bill, were it an Act, would not bear upon those negotiations. So, I am looking for the fisheries policy objectives—as stated, not least by the Secretary of State in the Secretary of State fisheries statement—to be reflected in the objectives of the Government in international negotiations. That is the message that I want to hear from my noble friend on the Front Bench.

I understand that putting into an Act of Parliament a duty for Ministers to have regard to specifics in international agreements is somewhat prejudicial to the prerogative power of Ministers in those negotiations. It happens sometimes, but it is generally avoided by Governments because, down that path, we arrive at the point where Ministers are mandated in international negotiations and are unable to reach the conclusions and comprises that they have to reach.

What does that compromise look like in the EU negotiations? It is interesting. It bears directly on the implementation of this Bill when it becomes an Act. I may be wrong but, in my view, what were originally apparently incompatible positions—those of the European Union and the United Kingdom Government—have moved, in the sense that the European Union has said that it is willing to accept the principle of annual negotiations. As I understand it, it has even accepted that zonal attachment may have a role to play in future, but its starting point, of course, is that there must be maintenance of the relative stability mechanism and adherence to historic catch levels.

If I understand the United Kingdom Government’s position and the EU’s position, there is clearly room somewhere for a compromise. That compromise is that, starting from our position now and in a process of annual negotiations with some movement beginning in the first year, we move away from historic catch levels and the RSM and moving toward zonal attachment. The question is: at what pace? Finding that compromise and the pace of movement will be key because neither side will be happy. Of course, that is often the essence of comprise: nobody is entirely happy but, equally, nobody is entirely disappointed.

I use that as an instance. These are important negotiations. They will have significant impacts on the fisheries industry, clearly. They are being conducted not by the Secretary of State but by the Government and led by a Minister other than the Secretary of State who is not a fisheries policy authority. I therefore want to know from my noble friend that the Government will —in these negotiations and in those that they conduct internationally, such as with Norway, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and others—have regard in future to the statements made about how they and the devolved Administrations propose to implement and achieve the fisheries objectives. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Young of Old Scone Baroness Young of Old Scone Labour

My Lords, this feels a bit like Groundhog Day because I jumped the gun yesterday and set off in support of Amendment 51 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, only to discover that it had been degrouped. Nevertheless, what was worth saying yesterday is worth saying today. I commend the noble Lord on a rather neat amendment. As he eloquently outlined, it aims to make sure that important elements that we are trying to deliver through this Bill are not traded away as a result of negotiations being run by people other than Fisheries Ministers.

Yesterday, I said that I remember vividly successive occasions when the noble Lord, Lord Deben, was Secretary of State—first for agriculture and then for the environment—and he used to come back and tell me and other NGOs in a rather crest-fallen voice that he had not been able to get what he wanted because a side deal had been done on something totally unconnected to the agricultural or environmental issue that he was trying to pursue. It could be as strange as an automotive deal, a backdoor pact on an immigration issue or whatever.

I support the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley: there is absolutely no point in having a Fisheries Bill that talks about fisheries and sustainability objectives if in fact they can be traded away in other negotiations elsewhere. I very much support this amendment.

Photo of Lord Naseby Lord Naseby Conservative 5:45 pm, 24th June 2020

My Lords, I shall be brief. It is difficult to see why Ministers negotiating international agreements specifically about, or relevant to, fishing policy would not have regard to fishing objectives. I listened to my noble friend and I was not persuaded by what he said. In any negotiation, and in any section of our society, there may be overwhelming reasons why something affecting UK Ltd causes certain other objectives not to be met, or indeed to be modified. Moreover, I was taught long ago that “must have regard to” is not a very definitive phrase—so I am afraid the amendment does not find much favour with me at all.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee, Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee

Well, there we are: the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, is not happy again. I have to say that one of my motives for putting my name to this amendment was the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, has such a good track record of getting amendments agreed by the Government. I thought that if there were one way of getting my name down and making sure I can tell my grandchildren that I got something into the Bill, it would be by following this amendment. I am very optimistic that the Minister will say yes.

More seriously, it is clear that the amendment makes eminent sense. The noble Lord’s analysis of EU negotiations is absolutely right. That became clear when we in the European Union Committee spoke with Michel Barnier yesterday: there will be a connection there. It is also my memory from my days in Select Committee going through international agreements being made, that there is already one of those—with the Faroe Islands, I think. It is a general free trade agreement that includes fisheries elements. So I am pretty sure that that is already happening.

Fisheries are often an important part of international negotiations. It makes absolute sense to me that the amendment should be made to the Bill and become part of the eventual Act. It is so easy, particularly for an area such as fisheries, to be forgotten when trade deals are done, and I would be a lot happier if a Permanent Secretary, or whoever was there, were reminding a Secretary of State that this has to be taken into account. I strongly support the amendment.

Photo of Lord Grantchester Lord Grantchester Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, for proposing the amendment, which would require Ministers to

“have regard to the fisheries objectives” in all relevant international negotiations, not just those relating wholly to fisheries. That is a welcome approach, particularly given the added emphasis that we have sought to place on sustainability and climate issues throughout the Bill’s passage.

Just as Ministers have to account for commitments set out in domestic climate change legislation and international treaties, it seems appropriate that they should also have regard to the fisheries objectives that we have spent so much time debating over recent months. I agree with the noble Lord’s argument that fisheries and trade cannot be separated into distinct propositions.

We know from previous ministerial responses that the Government are committed to upholding their international obligations, and that such obligations will feature heavily in the discussions that Ministers and their officials have with neighbouring coastal states. The Minister will no doubt have reasons why this matter does not have to be addressed in the Bill, but it would be all the more convincing to coastal communities to see this commitment enshrined for posterity at this opportune moment. I need not remind the House that the new trading relationships with the EU have yet to be concluded.

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend Lord Lansley’s amendment, which would require any Secretary of State and other Ministers of the Crown to have regard to the fisheries objectives in Clause 1 when negotiating international agreements relevant to fisheries. I note his concerns and appreciate his usual analytical approach in supporting his arguments. I support my noble friend’s desire to ensure that relevant international agreements support the achievement of the fisheries objectives. I reassure noble Lords that there are already provisions in the Bill, along with cross-Whitehall processes, that achieve this. I therefore think that this point is already covered.

As the House heard on Monday in relation to the amendments discussed then, policies on international negotiations on fisheries will be included in the joint fisheries statement, as international co-operation will be essential to achieving the objectives defined in Clause 1. Clause 10(1) requires fisheries authorities to exercise their functions in accordance with the policies in the joint fisheries statement, unless a relevant change of circumstances indicates otherwise.

As a matter of collective responsibility, all UK Government Ministers are required to abide by decisions on government policy. The joint fisheries statement will therefore be binding across government. In exercising their functions with regard to international negotiations, Ministers would have to do so in accordance with the policies in the joint fisheries statement, and thus the fisheries objectives.

My noble friend will also be aware, from his time in government and in the other place, that a proposed negotiating position is subject to government write-round as a matter of course. This ensures that, as part of collective responsibility, the interests of all Ministers are represented and incorporated into decisions, and collective agreement must be obtained.

If a negotiating position on a matter relevant to fisheries was proposed by another department which was contrary to the achievement of the fisheries objectives, the Defra Secretary of State would therefore have the opportunity to resolve this through Cabinet committee discussion. This established process provides a further safeguard to ensure that international negotiations undertaken by other departments, and which may have an indirect impact on fisheries matters—for example, negotiations relating to product labelling and product standards—have due regard to the fisheries objectives.

Further, it is the intention of the Bill to focus on fisheries management and fisheries policies. There is a risk that this amendment, as worded, would significantly broaden that scope, requiring any Minister in any department, during any negotiation, to consider the impact on fisheries, however tangential this might be. The combination of the provisions in the Bill regarding the joint fisheries statement, and the existing collective responsibility obligations on Ministers, ensures that Ministers involved in international negotiations will have regard to the fisheries objectives.

My noble friend mentioned the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster’s Statement in the other place, on 19 May. He said that:

“The EU, essentially, wants us to obey the rules of its club, even though we are no longer members, and it wants the same access to our fishing grounds as it currently enjoys while restricting our access to its markets.”—[Official Report, Commons, 19/5/20; col. 503.]

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was actually setting out the EU’s position, not advocating it as the UK Government’s position.

I would also like to mention at this point that we have had several rounds of discussions with Norway about our future fisheries relationship. Those discussions have been very constructive, and we look forward to concluding an agreement with Norway in the coming weeks. As my noble friend also observed, there are indeed grounds for optimism, about both pace and compromise, in our negotiations with the EU.

With this explanation, I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative

I am most grateful to all noble Lords who participated in this short debate. It was an important one, not least for the assurances that my noble friend has given us in response. That was very helpful in making it clear how government processes will ensure that while the fisheries policy authorities might apply to the Secretary of State, they will be treated as the responsibility of government as a whole in any international negotiations relevant to fisheries policy.

In customary times, my noble friend Lord Naseby and I are neighbours on the Benches back here. In best “Yes Minister” fashion, I shall say that, in future, I will always have regard to his views and take them into account.

I completely understand what my noble friend said about the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster’s remarks. He was describing the European Union’s position, and he was also describing the reality of negotiations. In these negotiations, trade, market access and quota will all be leveraged, one against the other; we have to understand and accept that, and deal with it. But that is a matter for the negotiations; what we are looking for in this debate is that the fisheries objectives are not pushed to one side. I am heartened by my noble friend’s response and her assurances. On those grounds, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 51 withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, we now come to the group consisting of Amendment 52. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once, and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division should make that clear in debate.