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Amendment 52

Part of Fisheries Bill [HL] - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 24th June 2020.

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Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 6:45 pm, 24th June 2020

My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord’s amendment and I can be unequivocal in saying that the Government fully support the principle behind it.

Let me be clear in emphasising the importance that the Government place on this country, as an independent coastal state, having the best possible monitoring and enforcement. To achieve that, it is important that we remain flexible and do not prescribe one specific action in the Bill. Leaving the common fisheries policy and taking the Bill forward with its many enabling powers means that we can now design and implement the right policies to fit our diverse fisheries. We must indeed grasp this opportunity, working in close co-operation with all those who have an interest in a healthy marine environment, including the fishing industry. I agree with my noble friend Lord Naseby that this will best be done by working in consort with the fishing industry,

I am very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, referred to the Environment Bill, the Agriculture Bill and the Fisheries Bill. They all make very clear the Government’s intent to enhance the marine and terrestrial environments and all that goes with them.

As I made clear at earlier stages of the Bill, lawyers have advised that the Bill already provides the Government with the necessary powers, in paragraphs (h) and (q) of Clause 36(4), to mandate the use of remote electronic monitoring on both domestic and foreign vessels—I emphasise that point—fishing in English waters or across UK waters, if that is agreed with the devolved Administrations, as provided for in Clause 40.

The Clause 36 provisions also allow the Government to introduce new and emerging monitoring and enforcement technologies. We all agree that we want to move to a situation where the UK has the best possible monitoring and enforcement regime. However, REM may well find itself being replaced by something more contemporary and more effective in the near future—a point that my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern alluded to. In terms of good law-making, putting something on the face of the Bill that we are already able to do and know that we will want to change in the future is, in our view, not desirable. Instead, providing for its use in secondary legislation allows us to remain flexible and to react more quickly to the latest scientific and technological advances.

The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, referred to other future technologies, and these are being explored by the MMO, including through a joint project with Defra looking into the use of drones more widely. The MMO has previously used a drone to review aquaculture compliance and has used drone data to inform another investigation. Were we, in future, to legislate for these advances in technology, we would be able to do so through secondary legislation.

In addition, I remind noble Lords that monitoring and enforcement are devolved policies. The amendment covers the whole of the United Kingdom, which is contrary to our devolved settlements. It is also contrary to the spirit of the Bill with regard to how we develop fisheries policy, where we seek to build consensus with our devolved Administrations. A number of noble Lords, including my noble friends the Duke of Montrose and Lord Randall and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, asked about this, and I will be very straightforward in my reply. The Scottish and Welsh Governments do not support the amendment. REM is being used in their waters in different and appropriate ways. For example, the Scottish Government are rolling it out across their scallop fleet, but their view is that the broad-brush approach in this amendment is not welcome.

In response to a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, we have small inshore boats that can catch as little as a couple of pots of shellfish or a box of white fish on a single fishing trip, larger boats that use multiple gear types throughout the year and target many different species, and large pelagic vessels that can catch hundreds of tonnes of pelagic species in a single fishing trip. Each of these would benefit from different approaches to enforcement, as the risks are different for each of them. Even with the differentiation between over and under-10-metre vessels, as set out in the amendment, a one-size-fits-all approach to managing these diverse over-10-metre fisheries does not, in our view, work. The amendment does not reflect this variation. Instead, it calls for a blanket rollout of REM on all over-10-metre vessels, irrespective of the fisheries in which those vessels operate or their impact on the marine environment. To put it into context, in 2018 there were more than 514 over-10-metre vessels in England alone.

Another point I should raise is that REM is not just an enforcement tool. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, referred to this. It can be used to collect scientific data on things such as catch composition or to assess which gear type is most selective. This could in turn help us better understand the health of our fish stock and wider marine environment. As an amateur ornithologist, I was interested in my noble friend Lord Randall’s points about fulmars and guillemots. It is right that we maximise the benefits of any electronic monitoring by ensuring that wherever possible it can address multiple objectives. However, that brings new questions which must be addressed. For example, we expect that the images collected for enforcement purposes may not be wholly appropriate for scientific data collection. We must ask ourselves what changes we can make to the camera set-up that will allow us to do both.

I also want to use this opportunity to draw out some other issues we must address before committing to a rollout of REM. The first is cost, including up-front costs such as hardware and installation and even greater ongoing costs such as maintenance and storing and reviewing the data collected. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that the initial cost of an REM system is around £9,000. That does not cover any ongoing costs, which also need to be factored in. We believe it is right that we conduct a full cost-benefit analysis of all our options to make sure that we are using the most effective tools for the job. REM costs are not insignificant. Indeed, profitability across the 10-metre sector can vary, and some segments operate with very low profits.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, the Government do and will consider all technology. I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising what is going on in other countries because we want to make sure that we get the right technology for all our fisheries and our marine environment. Clearly, we must work closely with all our neighbours, including those in the EU and other coastal states, to ensure we have compatible monitoring and enforcement systems. This amendment recognises that we would need time to work through issues such as how we would store data and share it between countries before requiring REM to be used on foreign vessels fishing in UK waters. Sensitive personal data could be collected via these systems, so we must have a robust data protection approach in place before a widespread scheme could be rolled out.

I say to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering and to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, who mentioned England, that the Government have already taken a number of steps to test and, where appropriate, use camera equipment in our fisheries, so I gently chide the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulescoomb, about her suggestion that perhaps we are not doing anything. We are already undertaking these matters. We are running the English fully documented fisheries scheme whereby we put cameras on vessels operating in the North Sea cod fishery. This scheme has shown that REM can be an effective tool to monitor and enforce the landing obligation. Defra is also launching a project this year to use electronic monitoring in the complex mixed Celtic Sea fishery, focusing on generating scientific evidence on catch composition. This will build on previous studies in the south-west focused on haddock. We expect data collection to start in the autumn, with initial results emerging next year.

On the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, about data on shellfish, there are a number of projects already under way relating to non-quota shellfish and improving the quality and quantity of data collected for these fisheries. One of the projects to improve data collection in England is a king scallop stock assessment programme that is jointly funded by Defra and industry at a cost of around £450,000 per year, and there are further projects.

The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, also asked about the implementation of real-time closures. Indeed, the United Kingdom already closes certain fisheries at certain times of the year to protect juvenile or spawning fish.

The Government are developing an integrated package of reforms to be phased in over the coming years, once we have left the transition period and the Bill receives Royal Assent. This will include new tailored approaches to monitoring and enforcement. I think we are all on the same page as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. We all understand, since we are good custodians, that monitoring and enforcement will be vital for both domestic and foreign vessels fishing in our waters. I say candidly that there are strong reasons why setting out in the Bill explicit requirements to use REM—I have explained to noble Lords that we have been using it and undertaking trials—when it might be superseded by new technologies, could inhibit the UK delivering the right policy. I am dutybound to draw that to your Lordships’ attention.

I know exactly what we all desire. I am sure that the noble Lord will say that it is not happening fast enough, but we need to work with industry and with the devolved Administrations. We need to work with our partners in other waters as well. We all like action this day, but sometimes these things should be done in consultation and by working together to get them right, although I absolutely respect the desire for action this day. I hope, with that rather lengthy explanation, that the noble Lord will at least feel able to consider withdrawing his amendment.