Examination of Witnesses

Fisheries Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:28 am on 4 December 2018.

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Bertie Armstrong and Barrie Deas gave evidence.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire 9:30, 4 December 2018

I am delighted to welcome the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and the National Fisherman’s Federation Organisation to give evidence. For the sake of Hansard, will you kindly introduce yourselves before we start questions?

Bertie Armstrong:

Certainly, in alphabetical order, I am Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, which is the trade association that looks after the catching sector in Scotland. It has nine constituent associations and a geographical spread. It covers some 450 fishing boat businesses from smallest to largest.

Barrie Deas:

I am Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, which is the representative body for fishermen in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Q What have been the main shortcomings of the common fisheries policy from your perspective, and what would you hope to achieve through a domestic fisheries policy?

Bertie Armstrong:

The central ill of the common fisheries policy is the matter of the distribution of catching opportunity—the so-called relative stability—which places us, from our waters, in the position of 60% of the seafood assets removed from our waters being in the hands of non-UK EU fishing nations. The relative figures for other coastal states, one of which we will become on Brexit day, are Norway 85% or thereabouts and Iceland 90%. So the primary ill is common access to our waters and statutorily giving away that amount of our natural capital.

The second ill of the CFP is that it is distant and remote, and the process is effectively moribund. It is dysfunctionally distant. It is centralised by treaty and cannot be uncentralised or regionalised to any proper extent. The Bill must seek not to replace one unworkable system with another.

Thirdly, and finally, some political elements of the CFP in terms of practical fisheries management are counterproductive and unworkable. For instance, no one wishes to discard our perfectly edible fish, but the way it is linked to the CFP will simply not work.

Barrie Deas:

I very much share Bertie’s views. The essential problems with the common fisheries policy for the United Kingdom lie in its inception, which was based on the principle of equal access, and ten years later, the principle of relative stability that allocated shares that do not reflect the resources that are in our waters. The comparison is with what we would have been had we been an independent coastal state for the last 45 years, like Norway. It is a huge disparity.

We are tied into an asymmetric and exploitative arrangement. The departure of the UK from the EU and therefore from the common fisheries policy provides us with the first opportunity to break free of that. The content of the Fisheries Bill is extremely important in terms of taking the powers to control who fishes in our waters—the access arrangements—and to renegotiate the quota shares.

I very much share Bertie’s view that the common fisheries policy has been cumbersome to deal with and very remote from where the impact of the decisions are felt, which has led to a huge gulf between fairly grandiose legislation and failure at implementation level. The gulf between primary legislation and its implementation has been recognised by the Commission and in the common fisheries policy. In recent years there has been an attempt to address it by introducing an element of regionalisation. Unfortunately, the treaty of Lisbon and the introduction of co-decision making into fisheries involving the European Parliament has moved active decision making even further away from where it counts and where its effects are felt. In that sense, we have moved in the opposite direction.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Q Obviously, at the moment every part of the UK has access to each other’s waters. The Bill protects that in the first clause by having a key purpose of equal access. Are you happy with that approach?

Barrie Deas:

Yes. I think there always has been the right of UK fishing vessels from any part of the country to fish anywhere in the waters. We think that is an important principle that should be retained. The NFFO has some problems with the impact of the devolution settlement on fisheries, which makes it much more complex, but the fundamental principle of equal access for UK vessels is one that we support.

Bertie Armstrong:

Likewise, the Scots fleet would like to continue to be able to catch its prawns off South Shields as well as in the Fladen Ground, but we are too small. I think the central and relevant point is that there has been no arm-wrestling and no desire for regionalisation of the catching area. The heft of the UK exclusive economic zone is great because of the area and its seafood contents; it is not great in terms of home nation fleets. I do not think there is any sense in splitting it up, or any requirement to do so.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Q Finally, on the issue of a fair sharing methodology in future international negotiations, do you share the approach outlined in our White Paper, which is a move to using zonal attachment as the basis for future sharing arrangements?

Bertie Armstrong:

From my point of view, in the strongest possible terms, there has to be some sort of principle for division. Given the fact that there will be access as we have access, for instance, to Norway, there will be access by European boats to UK waters. We need to be very careful not to put anything on the face of the Bill that is obstructive.

Barrie Deas:

The most extreme example of the distortion in quota shares is English channel cod: the UK share is 9% and the French share is 84%. Other examples include Celtic sea haddock: our share is about 10% and the French share is 66%. Those kinds of distortion have been part and parcel of relative stability and equal access, and they need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

The principle of zonal attachment is used in the division of quota shares between the EU and Norway, so it is already accepted by the EU in that context. Obviously, it does not work to their advantage in relation to the UK, which is why it is not unexpected that they are very unhappy about the change. The broad picture is that the principle of zonal attachment, reflecting the resources that are in the UK water, should be the basis for allocating quotas in the future, in our view.

Bertie Armstrong:

May I add a practical example of the ills of not doing that? To make a discard reduction or ban, or a landing obligation, work, the fishing opportunity in the area has to resemble what is in the ocean. The great distortions of the CFP mean that you simply cannot make that work, because you get choked immediately on having caught all of one species and still having quota for another. There needs to be an underlying principle, and zonal attachment is the one that, by common sense and instinct—apart from the fact that Norway has accepted it—makes the most sense. If we approach the whole of our new role as a coastal state with the idea that common sense and sustainability are central, we will do well.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water)

The Minister asked about redistribution of quota from our EU friends to UK fishers. Do you feel that there are enough powers in the Bill to give certainty about how redistribution will take place, and is redistribution a nice-to-have aim and objective, or is it something that will actually happen if it is included in the BillQ ?

Bertie Armstrong:

The Bill in its present form enables the UK to work as a coastal state in the way that other coastal states do, so the answer to that is yes. We would be greatly comforted by the insertion into the Bill of a date of assumption of sovereignty. The self-suggesting date is the end of the transition period—the implementation period, in our parlance. In other words, the end of December 2020.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

I am very sorry, but I am finding it hard to hear you, perhaps because I am a bit deaf. Would you mind speaking up a bit?

Bertie Armstrong:

I will, forgive me. The date of the end of December 2020 should therefore be inserted into the Bill so there is a commitment to becoming, in practical terms, a coastal state.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water)

Q Do you get a sense that there is a plan for how quota will be drawn down against our EU friends, rather than our having the ability to have control our waters, and then have the same quota share between UK and EU fishers?

Bertie Armstrong:

There is a whole fisheries agreement laid down in the withdrawal agreement, which is yet to happen. That is the point. Your question does not indicate from whom I would seek that answer. There is a whole fisheries agreement to be negotiated. Well, we say negotiated, but you need to ask, “Who owns this place?” After Brexit, we own this place. This is the UK’s natural capital. That places a pretty strong trump in your hand of cards for the negotiation.

At one end of the spectrum of the fisheries agreement is, “None of you get in at all and fish anything,” which is absurd. At the other end of the spectrum is, “We’re going to give up and shut the fleet down. You can have at it and have the lot.” The negotiating ground is in between. We would like to see, in the fullness of time, the UK’s fishing opportunity representing zonal attachment or something close to it. That is what should be the result.

Barrie Deas:

The UK will be an independent coastal state under international law. The United Nations convention on the law of the sea carries certain rights and responsibilities, including the responsibility to co-operate on the shared management of shared stocks. That is a starting point. There is a very important link between access rights and the renegotiation of quota shares. You can use the EU-Norway example as the most relevant model for future management. The UK is engaged in bilateral negotiations with the EU. That will be about setting quotas and total allowable catches at safe levels. It will also be about access arrangements for the coming year, and it will be about quota shares. That link between access and quota shares is the key to delivering a change and rebalancing of quotas to the UK, where needed. There will be a certain degree of access for European fleets—how much is to be negotiated—and there is the rebalancing of the quota shares. Those two things should be inextricably linked, and that is where our leverage lies in addressing the quota distortions that are there at the moment.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water)

Q Okay, but there is nothing in the Bill necessarily that gives certainty about when that drawdown period will take place against it.

Witnesses:

indicated assent.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water)

Q On the economic link, having fish caught under UK quota but landed in foreign ports means that the economic link between the UK quota—fish in UK waters—and the benefits to the UK is not always naturally construed. How much fish, especially from quota owned by foreign boats and caught by our EU friends, is landed in UK ports at the moment? How much should be landed, if we are to impress that an economic link should be included in the Bill?

Bertie Armstrong:

It is a complicated question. We should look to other coastal states. There is great assistance in looking at other models. Iceland and Norway—to cite the pair of them again—place much stronger economic links on ownership of vessels and ownership of the stewardship of the fishing opportunity, which is less strong in the UK because of EU regulation. Everyone will know that in the late 1970s the UK attempted to apply a 75% ownership limit to foreign investment in fishing vessels and lost in the European courts because that was illegal under European law. It had to be 75% European ownership. There is an opportunity downstream to have another look at ownership.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water)

Q But that is about ownership rather than about landing, is it not?

Bertie Armstrong:

The first thing that happens if you make rules about landing is that you have a boat full of mackerel and you cannot land it until Friday, which is very prejudicial. If we are to make rules about landings which make instinctive perfect sense, to capture the economic activity into the land, we must have a sensible vision of how much volume we will need to cope with and how that will be done seasonally. Making simple rules is likely to produce more problems than it will solve. It would be more helpful to have a vision for the UK fishing industry. In the withdrawal from the EU lies the opportunity effectively to double the economic activity associated with UK fishing, including the whole of the supply chain. As long as we are ready for that, the landings will take place into the UK. We look forward to the day when all UK fishermen will want to land their fish into the UK, because we are a world seafood leader and that is where they will get their best price.

Barrie Deas:

The principle is that UK quotas should bring proportionate benefits to the UK. That is the starting point. The question is how you do that. The obligation to land a certain proportion of the fish is there in the current arrangements—the current economic link—but there are other options to meet that question of equivalence. Requiring all fish to be landed in the UK would mean an intervention in the market, because if there are economic benefits to landing particular species abroad where there is higher value, there is obviously an economic purpose to doing it that way, so we have to be careful about that. It is right that the economic link requirements are reviewed in the new circumstances, but I quite like the idea of having the flexibility, as long as there is an equivalence, and it is all linked back to the fundamental principle that UK quotas should bring proportionate benefit to the UK.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney

I have two questions. Do you think the Bill will lead to increased fishing opportunities both for new entrants and for what until now have been called the under-10s, although I think it is important we try to get away from that descriptor? Picking up on the Minister’s comments about equal allocation across all UK fisheries for all UK boats, do you think that principle lies comfortably with the sustainable management of individual fisheries? I say that because thereQ is a concern that it is difficult to do that when you get boats from other parts of the UK coming into waters off the East Anglian coast, and not only off the East Anglian coast. It is a concern that has been raised with me about waters off the north-east. Yesterday I was hearing about problems with managing cuttlefish down off the south-west where this problem had arisen. I would welcome both your views on those two issues.

Barrie Deas:

On increased fishing opportunities and how they could be allocated, for a number of reasons, including case law in the English courts, but also the stewardship that comes along with rights of tenure, which have been an important factor in stabilising our fisheries over the last 20 years, our federation takes the view that for existing quota it should remain the same, but for additional quota we think there is a conversation to be had on the most appropriate use of that. There is a range of options.

Perhaps we are being a bit narrow here. You alluded to the division line at under-10, which has, I think, caused distortions in the fleet and unintended consequences —you have a cohort of high-catching under-10s, sometimes called rule beaters or super-under-10s, that have kind of distorted fishing patterns. There is recognition that we need to move beyond that now. In that context, there is an issue about how you define genuine small boats—genuine low-impact vessels—and I accept that. My organisation would be very interested in taking them out of the quota system altogether. That does not mean not taking into account their contribution to mortality. In a sense, it is a reversion to what we had in the early days of under-10 metre management, where sufficient quota was allocated and we did not have to have monthly quotas for that class of vessels. There is a very interesting conversation to be had about the future and new entrants and how the genuine low-impact fleets fit into that.

Equal access has been an important principle and there are dissatisfactions wherever you have a nomadic fleet arriving on the doorstep of a local fishery. That would be true of our boats fishing in bits of Scotland, I suppose, and certainly you hear these kinds of things about Scottish boats fishing off the Northumbrian coast or down in the south-west. Fishermen are competitive. They are competing with each other as well as with foreign fisherman. That is the context in which you have to situate that particular issue.

Bertie Armstrong:

Mr Aldous, your question was about new entrants in under-10s. The enabler for a better deal for new entrants in under-10s will be the uplift in opportunity for fishing that comes with Brexit; otherwise, we presumably have fixed the problems already with the fishing opportunity available. The situation is different as you go around the coast. The small-vessel fleet in Scotland has a different character and tends to use creels, or pots, to catch shellfish—that is a great generalisation; there are others—so there is a different set of problems. It is generally inshore and small scale and is therefore best sorted out locally, but I think there will be a better deal for all with the uplift in opportunity.

There is another abiding principle here. If you are going to make alterations to arrangements for fishing, the fish need to be there to be caught. It is one thing to give someone tons of fish; it is quite another if the fish are not there in prime condition with a business plan for getting them landed and into a logistics chain. Much is made of the big mackerel catchers in the pelagic fleet, and much is made of rather lurid statistics about what percentage is held by what number. You cannot catch 250,000 tonnes of mackerel in winter, 100 miles to the west of the British Isles, with hand line under-10s—you simply cannot. But a few hundred tonnes to the hand line under-10s, provided the local arrangements pay attention to making sure there is a whole logistics chain and they are going to get that fish to a place where somebody wants it, is where the opportunity lies.

My final input, on behalf of slightly larger-scale fishing, is: be careful what you mean by low impact. The carbon footprint per kilogram of fish of a pelagic trawler catching mackerel is very much smaller than any other form of fishing, because you catch volume efficiently and quickly. There are many aspects to this.

In answer to the question, yes, there is extra opportunity, but there has to be extra opportunity to distribute. The problems are largely regional and should be sorted out regionally. We need to be careful not to place excessive detail on the face of the Bill. I suggest that a lot of this is best done by secondary legislation.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy)

Mr Armstrong, in answer to an earlier question you suggested that we might see a date of what you called sovereignty over quotas and waters. You suggested that the end of the implementation period as it is now—December 2020—was the ideal date. How does that square with the fact that there may be a backstop arrangement and the Prime Minister has said that, depending on what happens, we might need to extend the implementation period? How would inserting a date in the Bill work with the other flexibilities that are still to be resolvedQ ?

Bertie Armstrong:

I would wish to dispense with the flexibility to extend for fishing the implementation period by placing a date on the face of the Bill. There will undoubtedly be some resistance, but that would not be up to me. That is why we would like to see that in there. We are on record as being less than completely happy that the implementation period applies to fishing at all, because legal sovereignty over the waters and the resource therein comes on Brexit day. However, we are where we are, and we recognise that the withdrawal agreement has compromises all over the place. We therefore, with reluctance, accepted the implementation period compromise, but we would not wish to see it extended at all.

The backstop has been much described, particularly over the last few days. Clarity is helpful on what happens. There are two preconditions: if the backstop clicks in and is applied and there is no fisheries agreement in place by that stage, and there is no prescription of what is in the fisheries agreement, tariffs will apply. Fishing will be cherry-picked out of the trade arrangements. Tariffs will apply to fish—which, by the way, the Scottish Government study indicates would not necessarily be a terminal problem—and access to our waters for other UK fleets would cease. So it would be a mess of large proportions and we are rather hoping that it would not apply.

I see some puzzlement about the lack of access for anybody else. If there is no fisheries agreement—and there is precedent on this, with EU-Norway arrangements, for instance—there is no access to each other’s waters.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

May I lay down a red line, particularly for our detailed consideration of the Bill, starting next week? The backstop and all that is not in the Bill. Those are, of course, important matters and they do have some relevance to and bearing on it, but our purpose today—and, indeed, during the process of consideration in detail, as of next week—is to consider in detail the words that are on the face of the Bill. Therefore, next week I will take a tough line on the broader political considerations and say that they are, I am afraid, simply out of order. They are important, but let us focus on the Bill.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy)

Q I accept your guidance, Mr Gray, but clearly there is the suggestion of the clear date versus how that would fit into the bigger picture. It is the same thing when we talk about future quota allocations and how that will work. Mr Armstrong mentioned the issue of tariffs in his answer. In yesterday’s questions to the Attorney General he said that the backstop arrangements meant that Northern Ireland would have tariff-free access to the EU and tariff-free access to Great Britain, whereas no other market will have that. Is that a concern, and how could that be addressed in this Bill?

Bertie Armstrong:

To be honest, that is not where our focus lies at this point in time; it is on making sure that the Bill as an enabler of—I will use the phrase “the sea of opportunity”—makes it on to the statute book, rather than on the details of what does and does not happen to Northern Ireland in the event of a backstop.

Photo of David Duguid David Duguid Conservative, Banff and Buchan

Going back to Mr Pollard’s question about UK vessels landing elsewhere, for example Norway, can you say a little about what motivates fishermen to land elsewhere? What changes are required in our ports or onshore infrastructure to make landing in the UK more attractive, and is that covered by the Bill?

Barrie Deas:

Money. That’s it, really. [Laughter] I had better say a bit more. Over the last 20 years, markets for fish have developed and diversified. Peterhead has become the pre-eminent white fish port in Europe. Flat fish tends to go to Urk in the Netherlands. South-west ports are sending prime, high-value fish to the continent, and then there is the shellfish market. From time to time there will be price differentials. Also, it can reflect where the vessel is fishing: for example, it might make sense to go to Denmark and land for one trip and then land back into Peterhead for the next, or to land into France. Fishermen are commercial animals. They are very much driven by catching fish but also by marketing fish, and price is key.

Bertie Armstrong:

I would reinforce that. At the slight risk of crossing the red line again, and as I keep saying, the elevation of the UK to the world stage would mean that, in the simple arithmetic of volume and value, we would overtake Iceland. It would allow us the sort of conditions that our own processing industry would want to entice not only all our own landings but perhaps some from others as well. However, it is a matter of commerce and business, generally.

Photo of David Duguid David Duguid Conservative, Banff and Buchan

Q So there is the favourable price that you might get from landing elsewhere, but is there something about the ports or the processing facilities, in Norway for example, that the UK needs to catch up on? Could we do something through the Bill to help improve that? When you mentioned money, I thought you were talking about investment in our onshore facilities as well as the price on the market.

Barrie Deas:

Over time, and with rebalanced quotas, there would be opportunities, because of the greater throughput, to look again at all these issues. I am not sure what you could put in the Bill particularly that would be helpful, given that this is a dynamic commercial issue that you are addressing. I certainly think that it is an important issue, but I would have to be persuaded that the Bill is the right place to address it.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

Good morning, gentleman. I do not want to dwell on the date, but I think it will be an important part of our discussions when we come to line-by-line scrutiny. Your suggestion is that the date would be 31 December 2020, which is the currently envisaged end of the transitional period. You are resistant to any idea that we should extend the transitional period. How do you see fisheries management working from 29 March 2019 to 31 December 2020Q ?

Bertie Armstrong:

The provisions, as we understand it, are that we will act as a coastal state-designate during that period, participating fully in the coastal state arrangements that will set the catching opportunity for 2021.

Bertie Armstrong:

It would mean that, between now and then, there would need to be the construction of coastal state arrangements that include the United Kingdom as a stand-alone coastal state, and for the United Kingdom to participate in that. This is probably in 2020, but not before.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

Q That is the December Fisheries Council in 2020 anticipating the conclusion of the transitional period. You say that that is the position as you understand it. Is that on the basis of your discussions with the Government?

Bertie Armstrong:

It is also as laid down in the withdrawal agreement. Happen as may, it turned up in a paragraph of the legal advice yesterday, which was not actually advice on what we ought to do on fisheries but was a repeat of what was in the withdrawal agreement.

Barrie Deas:

The December Council later this month will be the last time that the UK participates as a member state. The whole apparatus of European decision making will then not apply to us; we will not have MEPs and we will not be involved in any of the decision-making forums. The transitional period is a little bit anomalous and strange, because the UK will be part of the EU delegation to EU-Norway next year but will not be in the room for co-ordination. There is some uncertainty about how that will work in practice, and we need clarity on that. I agree with Bertie that an implication of the withdrawal agreement is that in autumn or December 2020, there will be bilateral or trilateral negotiations with Norway that will set the quotas, quota shares and access arrangements for 2021. That is my understanding.

Barrie Deas:

No—in 2019 we are in the implementation period. It is slightly anomalous that there is a lack of clarity about how that will work in practice. It is governed by a good faith clause for both parties, but it is still uncertain how that would work in practice.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

Q For the purposes of what would currently be the divvying up of whatever comes out of the EU-Norway arrangements, what is our status at the December Council in 2020? Are we there as the start of a new bilateral—is that how you understand it?

Bertie Armstrong:

I know for a fact that you understand this, Mr Carmichael, but there is a point of principle that is worth mentioning. The December Council is something of a distortion of importance, because effectively it takes the pie piece—the amount of opportunity that was agreed in coastal states arrangements for the EU—and, in terms of relative stability, it fiddles about with the details and ratifies them. That will be of no real interest to us in times to come. This year it will be of extreme importance, but in times to come we will be involved in the rather more important division of the north-east Atlantic fishing opportunity. As an owner of a very significant piece of the north-east Atlantic, we will genuinely be at the top table, to use a hackneyed phrase. The December Council is not any form of top table; it is arm wrestling inside the EU for an already settled fishing opportunity.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

Q We anticipate that this year we will have a difficult December Council, given the science and what we know about North sea cod and other species. In my experience, these years very rarely come along in isolation. I think the anxiety is about how we are able to influence these decisions. The decisions that were made back in 2002 and 2003 about cod stocks in the North sea were central to the prosperity of the fleet. If we are not at the table in 2019 and 2020, how will we avoid becoming the dish of the day?

Barrie Deas:

Those concerns have to be there for the negotiations in 2019 for 2020. Science is going to be the basis of the decisions on total allowable catches. There is the good faith clause, but we do not understand the mechanics of how the UK will be consulted as we have been promised. However, 2020 for 2021 is an entirely different scenario: all other things being equal, the UK will be negotiating as an independent coastal state and will carry a great deal more political weight as a result.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

Q Have the Government ever given you any explanation of why they put us in this position in the first place? They were not going to give in, but then they gave in. Did they tell you why?

Barrie Deas:

I think the answer is that a transition or implementation period was agreed to give business a chance to adjust to leaving the EU

Barrie Deas:

The whole acquis—the whole body of EU law, including fisheries law—applies. As much as we would have liked to sidestep that, the Government made a calculation that that was not available or realistic.

Bertie Armstrong:

Clearly the industry was not in the room when that happened. As I understand it, there would have been no agreement and it would have been stuck with four or five nations. Of the 27, half do not have a coastline. These pressures apply to a maximum of 11, but more like four or five, nations—

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

Mr Carmichael, that is your last question. We are all drifting beyond the Bill. We have four questioners and 10 minutes to get them in.

Bertie Armstrong:

There is certainly a matter of relevance, although it remains subjective rather than objective. If we become dish of the day, there will be a time when we are a sovereign state with a complete grip on what happens in our waters. It would therefore be unwise for short-term gain to be exacted at that stage, providing that the Government of the day retained their backbone.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Inclusive Society)

Mr Armstrong, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation suggests that you represent every owner and skipper from Solway to Shetland. For the record, could you tell us who you represent and about the diversity of the fishing community in ScotlandQ ?

Bertie Armstrong:

We represent the 450 businesses that are responsible for most of the quota species. For the non-quota species, a large number of vessels are one handed or two handed. They belong to no associations—that is not being dismissive, but if you are a one-handed fisherman, you do not have much time for politicking. We have the whole of the Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation and the whole of the Orkney Fisheries Association, but not the Western Isles Fisherman’s Association or some of the smaller associations down in the Clyde.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Inclusive Society)

Q Clause 1(7) on page 2 and clause 10 on page 6 talk about the location of home ports and how licences will be administered by Scottish Ministers or by a Northern Ireland department. As regards your membership, how important is it that, within the confines of the Bill, there is a level-playing field across the United Kingdom post-Brexit, and that one part of the UK is not given a competitive advantage over another in fishing?

Bertie Armstrong:

I am not seeing much in the Bill that awards that. Be aware of the stats here—I am about to make a statement of fact, not opinion. About 60% to 65% of the UK’s fish landings by volume and value come from the Scottish fleet. That is just an observation of the facts. With access to waters, the position of the ports, where the fish live, and a couple of decades of contracting and rationalising the industry, we have ended up with quite a lot of concentration in the core areas of Scotland.

I am aware—I am very concerned—that there should be a level-playing field and no prejudice against any area, but I am comforted by the fact that business will take care of that, as long as there is nothing obstructive. The whole point of the future is the increased economic activity, which business will take care of.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Inclusive Society)

Q So you have no concerns that any one part of the United Kingdom may be given a competitive advantage against another post-Brexit?

Bertie Armstrong:

It would be helpful if you framed the question as to which part you think is prejudicial.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Inclusive Society)

Q If Northern Ireland were given preferential treatment ahead of Scotland, Wales and an English fleet.

Bertie Armstrong:

We are back to the backstop, and that will kick in only if the backstop kicks in. Anybody’s guess around this room is as good as anybody else’s guess.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

We are drifting a little. I am keen to extract maximum benefit from our witnesses. We have three more questioners, so I will move on, if you do not mind, Brendan.

Photo of Bill Grant Bill Grant Conservative, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock

Gentlemen, notwithstanding the desire to have a date of sovereignty in the Bill, which may or may not be possible, in general terms are you content with the Bill?Q

Barrie Deas:

Yes, I think the broad thrust of the Bill goes in the right direction. We have some concerns about particular aspects of it, but the Bill is necessary in order to give Ministers the power to set quotas, albeit in the context of international negotiations, to negotiate as an independent coastal state, to control access to our waters, and, on that basis, to renegotiate our quota shares. That is the main thrust of the Bill, and that is really important.

We also completely understand, having been within the common fisheries policy for so long and having had direct experience, that top-down, over-centralised management is not effective, sustainable management. We need the flexibility to adapt. Fisheries seem to be particularly prone to unintended consequences; you think you are doing one thing, and it generates perverse outcomes. We need to be able to address those in an agile, very prompt fashion, and the Bill contains those delegated powers. I know that there are political concerns about Henry VIII powers, and so on. I think those are valid concerns. As parliamentarians, you have a role in scrutinising secondary legislation.

We would also like to see an advisory council. They have something similar in Australia. They actually have something similar within the common fisheries policy, not that we would necessarily want to follow that particular model. An advisory council of people with experience of the industry, who understand the complexities of a highly diverse, complex industry, would be a kind of filter for legislation. We would like that counterweight, as well as parliamentary scrutiny, but we absolutely understand the need for delegated powers.

Bertie Armstrong:

We met, discussed and agreed that as the common position for the two main federations in the UK. We would be a little more concerned about excessive additions to the Bill, rather than dissatisfied with the Bill as it stands.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland)

Clause 19 sets out that the Secretary of State must consult devolved Administrations and the Marine Management Organisation when setting total levels of catches and days at sea. However, the clause does not define the manner or rigour of that consultation, or indeed any other form of consultation with stakeholders or interested parties. Do you feel that there could be an opportunity to enhance the Bill and clause 19 with further definition of what that should entailQ ?

Barrie Deas:

That relates to the idea of an advisory council to run new ideas through a panel of experts—people who understand the complexities and nuances. It would be advisory. We understand that the job of Ministers and fisheries managers is to manage, but we think that an advisory council could add something, as it does in other countries—I would certainly recommend looking at the Australian model. It could make recommendations and provide advice on new legislation coming through. That is one of the areas where the Bill could be tweaked in the right direction.

Bertie Armstrong:

In that clause, there is the little anomaly of adding the Marine Management Organisation. It is an organisation good and true, no doubt, but if you are talking about, as Barrie has described, a council of administrations, it is rather an ill fit for the MMO. Perhaps it would be a technical adviser.

Barrie Deas:

To build on that point, when you see that consent is required from the Secretary of State, Ministers for Scotland, for Northern Ireland and for Wales, and then the MMO, which is the delivery arm of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, it does seem, as Bertie says, an anomalous situation.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

I apologise to the remaining questioners, whom we have not been able to squeeze in. We have run out of time, bar a few seconds, so I shall simply say thank you very much to both witnesses for extremely useful evidence that will greatly add to our consideration of the Bill next week. Thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to come and give evidence to us this morning.