With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: 48, in clause 2, page 3, line 19, at end insert—
“(3A) For the purposes of this Act, a ‘UK fisheries statement’ is a statement made jointly by the fisheries policy authorities on progress towards achieving the fisheries objectives.
(3B) The first UK fisheries statement must be published within 12 months of this section coming into force, and each subsequent UK fisheries statement must be published within 12 months of the previous statement being published.”
This amendment would add a requirement on the fisheries policy authorities to publish a joint “UK fisheries statement” within 12 months of the section being brought into force
Amendment 49, in clause 2, page 3, line 19, at end insert—
“(3A) The Secretary of State must annually lay a statement before Parliament on progress towards achieving the fisheries objectives.
(3B) The first such statement under subsection (3A) must be laid before Parliament within 12 months of this section coming into force.”
This amendment would add a requirement on the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament an annual statement on progress towards achieving the fisheries objectives.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger.
Amendment 80 would add the proposed words to clause 1 and it should be read in conjunction with amendment 78. It provides for the fisheries policy authorities to publish, at least annually, an update on the progress that they have made towards securing the fisheries objectives. It would give the objectives true meaning and day-to-day relevance, rather than their being somewhat abstract from reality.
From the viewpoint of accountability and transparency, which in so many respects are missing from the current opaque fisheries management regime, it is important that this amendment should be considered. It would help to deliver a truly sustainable and world-leading system of fisheries management.
I tabled the amendment because I want to hear from the Minister what he plans to do to address these particular concerns.
It is a pleasure, Sir Roger, to serve under your chairmanship. The hon. Gentleman’s amendment sits in conjunction with amendments 48 and 49, which I tabled, in making sure that we would have an annual report from Ministers on progress. Given this morning’s debates, it is really important that there should be an annual opportunity for the scrutiny of Ministers in relation to this issue.
Currently there is a very unsatisfactory situation, as hon. Members need to scramble away and persuade colleagues on the Backbench Business Committee to have an annual fisheries debate in Westminster Hall. Indeed, we have one tomorrow, but I suspect that it will not attract the attention it should, because it is not in the main Chamber. The ability to have that annual presentation of reports by the Secretary of State and a good debate, with all Members of the House able to contribute, is a really important part of this amendment—in effect, that is what we seek. It also relates to when such a debate must take place.
As I recall, the expert witness from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was talking positively but incrementally about the movement towards opening out quotas, although that will take some time. Does my hon. Friend agree that such debates would help to monitor the situation?
I agree with my hon. Friend. When we are looking at such potentially seismic changes as doing away with the fixed quota allocation system and reallocating quota on a larger basis, it is important to have an annual opportunity in the parliamentary calendar for the Government to present the evidence, statistics and science behind where fisheries stocks are, along with progress towards any reallocation.
The other part of amendment 48 relates to the statement being published annually. There is confusion about when precisely the UK will exit the European Union and under what arrangements, but the amendment states in proposed new subsection (3B) that there would be a fisheries statement within 12 months of the provision coming into force. Effectively, whenever we left the European Union, be that in the fashion planned by the current Prime Minister or in a way not planned by her, within 12 months there would be a statement and we would have an opportunity to update and see progress against the fisheries objectives we debated this morning.
All the amendments seek a statutory requirement for the Government to publish an annual statement, updating the House and others on progress towards the fisheries objectives, but we already have a number of plans that mean we do not need to place a statement on a statutory footing. The White Paper commits us to an annual statement on our assessment of the state of stocks that are of interest to the UK and of our approach to setting fishing rates and other management measures.
Fisheries negotiations take place annually, which is why we have an annual fisheries debate. Next week is December Council, at which fishing opportunities for next year will be discussed. We have just been through the various coastal states, and the EU-Norway negotiations are concluding as I speak. To inform our approach to annual negotiations, we will inevitably feed data into organisations such as the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas—ICES—and publish both the data we have on progress on the state of fish stocks and our approach to doing that, so we do not need to place this on a statutory footing.
If something more formal were to be done, if it were judged that there needed to be more formal oversight of our progress towards the objectives, the right place to do that would be in the forthcoming environment Bill, which will establish an independent environmental body to monitor our progress towards the objectives set out in the 25-year environment plan. In relation to a more strategic approach to the delivery of the objectives and the plan, that is the right place to consider such an oversight role. We have in the Bill a statutory requirement for a joint fisheries statement and for a Secretary of State fisheries statement setting out our approach to delivering the objectives.
Finally, it is important to recognise what we already do. Every year, before we go to December Council we lay before the House a written ministerial statement that sets out our approach to the negotiations and the agenda for them, and we always lay a written ministerial statement after the negotiations have concluded, to update the House on progress.
I appreciate that we have other Bills coming and that there are other ways in which the reports may be obtained, but we have this Bill before the House at the moment, and it is this Bill that establishes the objectives and then the policy statements. Surely the mechanism for accountability should be within the Bill also, if it is to be meaningful.
The method for accountability is indeed in the Bill. There is a statutory requirement to publish a joint fisheries statement and for all the Administrations to pursue that statement to deliver those environmental outcomes and the fisheries objectives set out in clause 1. The issue here is whether it is necessary to place on a statutory footing the idea of publishing an annual statement. My contention is that there is no need, since we already have annual debates.
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport made an important point: there is a strong case for saying that, in the new world we are going into as we leave, rather than having that debate brought by the Backbench Business Committee, there should be a debate in Government time at the point the negotiations take place. I would certainly be willing to have conversations with colleagues in other Departments ahead of consideration on Report to see whether we could give such an undertaking.
We have already made a clear commitment in the White Paper to publish an annual statement of the state of the stocks. I do not believe it is necessary to put that on a statutory footing.
Does the Minister find it troubling that despite the fact that the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 has required DEFRA to carry out triennial reviews of the Marine Management Organisation since 2009, only one has taken place so far? Is he concerned that similar failings might accrue with respect to the Bill?
We regularly do triennial reviews. I do not think that the triennial reviews stem from the 2009 Act. I think there was a requirement to review the MMO after four or five years, and my recollection is that that did indeed take place.
My point is that it is not necessary for every report we might publish to be put into statute. I made the point in debating an earlier Bill that DEFRA produces many reports. Every June my box is inundated with annual reports of one sort or another. Some of them are required by statute. The vast majority are not, but we publish them anyway, as it is a means of being transparent with the public. Since we have given an undertaking in the White Paper, I do not believe any of the amendments is necessary. However, as I have said, I undertake to have conversations before Report with Government colleagues, to see whether we can give a more formal undertaking on the idea of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport about a more formal debate in Government time on the Floor of the House, rather than in Westminster Hall.
The Minister will remember, as I do, the days when the annual fisheries debate was held in Government time. When the Backbench Business Committee was introduced, it seemed logical that those general debates would go into Backbench Business time. The Government have now taken that on a step. It is not impossible that one day we may have a Government with sufficient authority and a sufficient majority to see a full and comprehensive programme of legislation through the House, in which case it is eminently foreseeable that the time available for a debate of the kind we are discussing will be squeezed out again. I suggest that that is why there is some force to the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport.
In DEFRA we have brought in more Bills—more significant pieces of legislation—in the past 12 months than at any time in recent history. Parliament is currently considering an Agriculture Bill that is the first such major piece of legislation since 1947. Of course, the Fisheries Bill will give us control of our waters for the first time in more than 40 years. So, at DEFRA at least, we are making good progress in getting through some critical legislation.
I hope that I have reassured both my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport that while it is indeed our clearly stated intention to publish an annual statement of the state of stocks, it is unnecessary to make it a statutory requirement in the Bill.
I have listened with interest to the Minister’s reply. I do not necessarily want to overburden the Bill—it is, as he says, an enabling framework Bill—with unnecessary rules and regulations. However, one of this Parliament’s best pieces of legislation was the Climate Change Act 2008, and that contains an obligation to report annually to the House. I hear what he says about the emerging environment Bill. I confess that I have not considered every step of that emerging Bill, and I am aware that certain organisations feel that we need to join up better the management of the marine environment and the land-based environment. On balance, being kind to the Minister, I will not press my amendment to a vote at this stage, but I will bear in mind his undertaking to look at this matter more fully on Report. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
We have had a comprehensive discussion about clause 1 through the consideration of a series of amendments. The key purpose of the clause is to set out our fisheries objectives, which are largely taken from the existing objectives in the common fisheries policy. The clause also commits us to all those objectives and includes descriptions of them. I do not intend to dwell on the clause any further, since, as I said, we have spent the past few hours discussing each of those objectives in great depth.
The Opposition will not vote against clause 1. However, I invite the Minister to reflect on some of the changes to the objectives that have been discussed. I also invite him to look at whether amendments can be introduced in the other place, especially in relation to fish being a public asset and marine safety. I think there was widespread agreement on that on both sides of the House, even if there was not necessarily agreement on the wording.
Among those who gave evidence to the Committee last week, a common recurring theme was that there was something of a disparity between the vision that was laid out in the White Paper, which the Liberal Democrats broadly welcomed, and the rather narrower vision that was left in the Bill. It is also fair to say that we would have hoped to find in clause 1 a number of aspects of the White Paper’s vision. It is disappointing that we have not made more progress. I have been around this place long enough to know how these things work, so I am not necessarily very surprised, but it is fair to put the Minister on notice that the Liberal Democrats will wish to return to certain issues in relation to clause 1 when the Bill goes back to the Floor of the House. Failing that, I am fairly certain that my noble Friends at the other end of the building will also have thoughts on this matter.