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My Lords, this amendment is very much about marine conservation, the marine environment and the science, based on data collection. I will just put it into context. We currently have three Bills in Parliament that strongly affect the environment: the Environment Bill, the Agriculture Bill—which has just entered this House and had its Second Reading—and this Fisheries Bill, now on Report.
The Environment Bill is excellent in a particular area, in that it introduces the concept of net gain in biodiversity. That is quite radical, and I absolutely congratulate the Government on putting that in the Bill in a very practical way. It is a framework Bill but puts that in as a specific measure.
In the Agriculture Bill we have the ELMS—environmental land management scheme—which, although this is not actually mentioned, is the whole basis of the finance and how state aid in the agricultural industry will happen. This too is a very radical move on the environment, and I congratulate the Government on their courage in moving the way that that system works.
We can mirror that move forward in terms of the environment and conservation in this Bill by finding a way of practically enforcing the regulations and by greater collection of scientific data through fisheries, as well as all the scientific investigations that take place. In the fisheries area, I congratulate the Government particularly on the Blue Belt programme and everything we are doing in overseas territories on the marine environment and conservation, but also on their determination to keep the discard ban and the so-called landing obligation, which was in the common fisheries policy largely because of the British Government’s advocacy in the European Union.
But as the energy and environment sub-committee that I have the privilege of chairing found, the evidence is completely undeniable that the landing obligation—the discarding rule—is not observed by fisheries fleets. I am talking not just about the UK but across the European Union. It is imperative for the future of the marine environment that it is. The EU, essentially, wants us to obey the rules of its club.
What are the benefits of remote electronic monitoring, which is what this amendment is about? That is the technology. It is tried and tested but not compulsory in this part of the world. I think in Chile it is and has been found to be successful. It is recognised by all authorities—and, I think, by the Government as well—that this is by far the most effective way of ensuring that we can do two things. One is collecting data, not just on discarding but on fishing collection and bycatch. The other is that it is one of the few ways of ensuring that discarding does not happen. It cannot be done by aerial surveillance or drones. All those other technologies we have are not sufficient to do it and have been largely unsuccessful in enforcing that policy in the past.
So, what are the benefits of remote electronic monitoring? First, there is data and, secondly, we can see what bycatch there has been. It is a technology the costs of which are going down quite steeply, and the cost of capital investment and data transfer are not huge, whereas other costs of monitoring and enforcement are rising, whether we have observers on boats or the existing very expensive processes involving naval vessels, marine management patrol vessels or Marine Scotland. The costs of those services have been rising over time. It is an effective means of enforcement. It would apply to foreign as well as UK vessels. This is particularly important as the UK becomes an independent coastal state, as we are likely as a result of our negotiations to have some foreign vessels fishing in our waters.
One of the most important arguments about good enforcement that works across the seas is that it is fair. It means that those who cheat do not get away with it and, more importantly, those who keep to the rules are not disadvantaged commercially. That is not just a commercial issue but an ethical issue. The difficulty is this. Two years ago now—we were still part of the European Union and this policy was coming in as a European policy—I went to a conference in Copenhagen that was primarily a scientific conference. What came out very clearly from that was that member states and scientists and fishers from those states all said—we heard this in the evidence to our Select Committee—that they want to do this but will not be the first to do so because it will be an unfair disadvantage to their fleet if they move on it first. Now, that situation is different for the United Kingdom because from
That is also why it clearly makes a lot of sense that this applies to the United Kingdom as a whole. It would be very strange indeed if we had different regulations in Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales. I realise there are some devolution issues that the Minister brings up about this Bill. Indeed, if he said to me that he does not like the amendment as it is, but he will include it applying solely to England, I would be sorely tempted to accept that offer to get around the devolution problem. Someone has to move first in this area, be ahead of herd and have the courage to protect the marine environment in a way that cannot otherwise be done.
Lastly, this amendment primarily applies to larger vessels—the approximately 1,200 vessels that are more than 10 metres. For the under-10 metre fleet, we have to work it out more carefully, which is why there needs to be the consultation I have put in the amendment. It may be that those who fish with pots, for instance, would be excluded from this scheme. It would not necessarily make sense for that type of fishery to be included.
This is a real opportunity for Defra and the Government to move ahead on this issue. I have said in the amendment that it needs to be done within three years. That is easily possible; the technology is there. As the Minister knows, there have been a number of successful trials of this technology within the UK. Although there have been voluntary schemes, no vessel will volunteer to undertake it. It needs to be done across the fleet as a whole. On that basis, for the future of our seas, our marine environment and a tried-and-tested technology that is waiting to happen, I beg to move.