Fisheries statements

Fisheries Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 11 December 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney 2:15, 11 December 2018

I beg to move amendment 87, in clause 2, page 2, line 37, at end insert

“and their policies for distribution of fishing opportunities.”

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 88, in clause 2, page 3, line 17, at end insert—

“(j) distributing fishing opportunities.”

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney

These two amendments seek to obtain clarification on what one might describe as the elephant in the room in current fisheries management—that is, the fair distribution of fishing opportunities. The current situation is one of haves and have-nots, and we have heard that what is now known as the under-10-metre sector falls into the have-nots. The Bill provides no clear forum for the four nations of the UK to discuss and consider appropriate methods of distributing fishing opportunities to their fishing vessels, and that needs to be better co-ordinated and more coherent. These amendments would require the pursuit of a detailed, decided and considered approach to the distribution of fishing opportunities, and I would welcome clarification on the approach that the Minister is pursuing in order to address this issue.

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

The hon. Gentleman’s amendments are worthy of decent consideration, because the distribution and redistribution of fishing opportunities plays a key part in what we are discussing today. It is therefore worth spending a few moments reflecting on what has been said. The amendments are brief, in terms of the number of words, but substantial in their potential impact.

More transparency about how quota is allocated to our fishing fleet would be welcome, because the allocation causes much distress among fishers. Some want more, and some do not have any at all. We would support transparency, but we would like to go further. We have tabled amendments, which we will come to later in our consideration, that would ensure that future and existing allocations of quota were distributed under social, environmental and economic criteria. There was much talk on Second Reading and in the evidence sessions about the unfair imbalances of quota between large and small fleets, and the amendments would improve transparency and accountability in how those quotas are given out.

Even under the common fisheries policy, the Minister has the power to reallocate quota, so it is important that we understand the approach taken to allocating quota annually, whichever party is in power. An often-cited critique of the European Union is that the size of the pie, in terms of quota, has been restricted. The debate needs also to focus on where that pie is shared out—how it is distributed between large and small boats and different fisheries—and its economic contribution to the UK.

The fixed quota allocation system, which was heavily criticised for being unfair at the outset, has not really been updated since the 1990s. Indeed, in the evidence session last week, the hon. Member for Waveney made a strong case as to why there is an opportunity for understanding how quota is allocated. As a result of the existing system of ownership, fishing quota has become increasingly consolidated among large-scale interests. Griffin Carpenter from the New Economics Foundation said:

“In essence, fisheries have been accidentally privatised. Every year, quota is allocated to the same holders”.––[Official Report, Fisheries Public Bill Committee, 6 December 2018; c. 102, Q196.]

Photo of Mike Hill Mike Hill Labour, Hartlepool

My hon. Friend is again quoting from the expert witnesses that came before us. Will he confirm that one of the ideas for fairer distribution of quotas was to regenerate coastal towns such as Hartlepool and regenerate their fishing communities?

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

I thank my hon. Friend for his point. The opportunity to redistribute quota could have a beneficial effect on coastal communities across the country, from the west country to other parts of the UK. That is effectively what Griffin was saying in his remarks about understanding how quota has been allocated, and it is why the amendment is so important. It would help us better to understand the basis on which quota is allocated, particularly as a quarter of the UK’s fishing quota is owned or controlled by just five families on The Sunday Times rich list.

The small-scale fleet has generally been excluded from the FQA system and producer organisations. Quotas should be allocated on transparent social, economic and environmental criteria to the benefit of fishing communities and coastal communities. We heard that in our evidence sessions, and the idea enjoys support from both sides of the Committee, although we are yet to find a form of words on which we can agree. A greater share could be offered for complying with relevant regulations, such as taking part in data gathering, fully monitoring and recording catches, complying with discard rules and applying high standards of workers’ rights, welfare and marine safety. Through that, we have an opportunity to allocate quota in a fairer way that supports greater public goals and assets. Those are objectives that we all share.

There may be more fish after the UK leaves the common fisheries policy if we get a drawdown of the quota held by our EU friends, but not amending the distribution of quota would exacerbate existing levels of inequality between parts of the sector and would fail to incentivise best practice. Small boats provide the backbone of our fishing fleet and make up the majority of the fleet, in terms of employment. They generally use low-impact gear and provide more jobs per tonne, but their share of quota has been limited to 4% to 6% of the total available quota, even though they employ 49% of the fleet. A greater understanding of how that can go, how quota is currently allocated and how it will be allocated in future will help transparency and, importantly, confidence among fishers in the system.

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

The hon. Gentleman is right about the evidence and discussions about how future quota should be allocated. The benefits need to be considered. Does he accept that the amendment could impact on the devolution settlements, because quota allocation is devolved to the respective Administrations?

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

It is really important that we are part of the devolution debate, to ensure that where powers have been devolved to a devolved Administration, they can take decisions on how to distribute their quota accordingly. Quota drawn down from our EU friends is additional quota, which can, in theory, be shared across all UK fishers across the four home nations. An under- standing of how that is allocated is an important function of transparency and part of how we make the system work.

This is an important amendment and I am glad that the hon. Member for Waveney has tabled it, because it gives us a chance to start a discussion on how quota is distributed and how it can be more fairly distributed in future to the benefit of our coastal communities with a greater share.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 2:30, 11 December 2018

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney for introducing these amendments. He has been a long-standing campaigner for a fairer deal for our inshore under-10 metre sector in his constituency. I want to set out what we have done to try to give more fishing opportunities to the under-10 sector, what we intend to do and set out in our White Paper, and finally address the specifics of his two amendments.

First, my predecessor, my right hon. Friend Richard Benyon, introduced something called fixed quota allocation permanent realignment, where he took unused quotas from the producer organisations and effectively drew it back into the pool. That led to the legal challenge that I referred to earlier, which the Government won. We therefore secured that fixed quota realignment of unutilised quota from producer organisations.

Secondly, when the discard ban was introduced and the landing obligation came in under the new common fisheries policy, I took a policy decision in 2014 that the first 100 tonnes of any additional quota through the discard uplift would be top-sliced and given to the under-10 pool to boost the number of fishing opportunities they had. Even if they have more haddock than they could possibly catch, we could nevertheless give the pool the quota and the currency it needed to swap in fish that it could select. These two measures together have given a significant uplift in the baseline quota that the under-10 metre sector have.

We have set out clearly our approach to the future in our White Paper. As we diverge from relative stability and have additional inward quota transfers, we will not allocate that quota just by divvying it out along existing FQA lines. While existing fishing opportunities for the time being will remain on an FQA system to provide stability, we intend to allocate any new quota with a different method. As I made clear this morning, one option we are looking at closely is whether an early priority should be to give additional fishing opportunities to the under-10 meter pool in advance, and over and above that which we have already done, as we gain additional quota and diverge from relative stability. I think I have demonstrated in the last few years my commitment to give more fishing opportunities to the under-10 metre pool, as did my predecessor.

Amendment 87 seeks to add a requirement to set out objectives for the distribution of fishing opportunities in the joint fisheries statement. In this clause, I think stumbles in a devolved issue, as the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun said. As I said earlier, although the UK Government have the power to allocate a quota to the devolved Administrations, it is for each devolved Administration to decide how it allocates quota to its own fleet and to the fleet registered in its Administration.

The proposal made by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney in amendment 88 raises an interesting point. I have looked at clause 2(2), which sets out the existing scope of the Secretary of State fisheries statement. Subsection (2)(e) talks about

“contributing to a fair standard of living for those who depend on fishing activities, bearing in mind coastal fisheries and socio-economic factors”.

Subsection (2)(h) talks about

“promoting coastal fishing activities, taking into account socio-economic factors”.

Should at least one of those options that links the socio-economics of fishing communities make explicit reference to the distribution of fishing opportunities? I hope he will take a steer from me that it is my intention to have conversations with other Government colleagues and Departments and, on Report, seek to suggest an amendment to one or other of the existing factors outlined in subsection (2) that could make a more explicit reference—I think it is currently implicit—to fishing opportunities.

On that basis, and with such a concession, I hope my hon. Friend will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. I hear what he says about amendment 87 and the fact that, as the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun said, it stumbles into devolution issues. However, I am grateful for the Minister’s undertaking to look at clause 88 in more detail with a view to coming back with more information addressing my concerns on Report. On that basis, I do not wish to push the amendment to a vote.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn

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

I beg to move amendment 50, in clause 2, page 3, line 17, at end insert—

“(j) promoting the development of fishing and aquaculture activities that conserve, enhance or restore the marine and aquatic environment.”

This amendment would add promoting activities to conserve, enhance or restore the marine and aquatic environment to the policies to be included in the fisheries statements.

Amendment 50 seeks to continue the discussion we had this morning on aquatic environments and the preservation of marine heritage on the seabed. Recognising the conversation we had earlier, I suspect the Minister may not be minded to support the amendment. However, it is worth spending a moment on the “marine aquatic environment” wording to ensure that it is consistent throughout the Bill. The concern is that the wording is inconsistent with, for instance, clause 31(2)(b). The amendment would ensure consistent application on the same basis in promoting the development of fishing and aquiculture activities that conserve, enhance or restore the marine and aquatic environment.

The Minister spoke earlier about the importance of protecting the marine environment and I am grateful for his words. We recognise that the fishing industry has played an important part over many years in discovering much of the marine heritage that has been snagged in its nets or gear and brought to the attention of archaeologists. Some of the UK’s most significant marine heritage assets have been discovered by fishermen. The important part of this measure is recognising that, although fishermen undoubtedly seek to avoid snagging their gear on underwater heritage assets because of the hazards and costs involved, impacts that cause damage to underwater heritage sometimes still occur. The stakeholders that we spoke to in advance of the Bill are keen that the relationship between those marine heritage assets and the fishing industry is understood in the Bill.

There are two elements. The Minister touched on the heritage aspect earlier when we discussed a similar amendment. The application of the consistent wording of marine and aquatic environment is also worth looking at.

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

We covered a lot of the substance of this in an earlier group of amendments. However, in clause 2(2)(c), we already have measures to adjust the fishing capacity of fleets to levels of fishing opportunity consistent with the precautionary objective. The need to fish sustainably and to control fishing so that it is sustainable is therefore covered. Delivering the precautionary objective is effectively to conserve and enhance the fish in our waters. Subsection (2)(d) promotes the development of sustainable aquaculture activities. The use of the words “sustainable aquaculture” picks up all that is needed in managing our approach to aquaculture.

The final bit, which is new, is a repeat of a discussion we had this morning regarding whether the wording should be “marine and aquatic environment”. As I said this morning, this is a Fisheries Bill about the marine environment and marine fisheries. We have a suite of separate legislation that deals with our fresh waterways. For instance, the Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) (England and Wales) Regulations 2017 cover in detail the approach the Environment Agency should take to deliver good environmental conditions in the freshwater environment. We have the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 and a licencing regime established through the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 that provides protection for heritage and shipwrecks and the like. The addition of “aquatic” is not appropriate for the reasons outlined this morning, but I hope the hon. Gentleman will recognise that fishing sustainably and having a sustainable approach to aquaculture are already dealt with in paragraphs (2)(c) and (d).

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

There is an element of ensuring consistency. The phrase “aquatic environment” is used in the later parts of the Bill under clause 31, so there is a consistency problem. I take note of what the Minister has said and, as a result, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: 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.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 6, Noes 9.

Division number 3 Fisheries Bill — Fisheries statements

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney

I beg to move amendment 15, in clause 2, page 3, line 24, at end insert—

“(e) the Minister with responsibility for English fisheries.”

To set the Minister with responsibility for English fisheries at an equal level to Scottish Ministers, Welsh Ministers and the Northern Ireland department.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment

Amendment 16, in clause 9, page 6, line 9, at end insert—

“(e) the Minister with responsibility for English fisheries.”

To require the Secretary of State to secure the consent of the Minister with responsibility for English fisheries regarding any amendments concerning licensing of boats in England.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney

The intent behind these amendments applies also to amendments 17, 18 and 19, and new clause 8. I would be inclined to describe this as the West Lothian question set to fishing. In principle, there is a lot to commend evolution in a fishing context. We are getting towards that regional, more local system of management, which a lot of people felt was one of the problems with the common fisheries policy. There is a concern that the English are being left behind and that we are not on equal footing with the other three nations of the United Kingdom. The amendments are tabled in the spirit of seeking to extract from the Minister a more appropriate and consistent political accountability for English fisheries. There may not be a problem immediately but I sense we might be storing one up further down the line.

There is a concern that the arrangements in the Bill concerning what is known as each “relevant national authority” are asymmetrical to the exclusion of the representative voice for English fisheries. There is a worry that the political representation for English fisheries is inconsistent and, at times, lacking political accountability. When the Bill refers to the national authorities, the arrangements for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are consistent. Those authorities are the Scottish Ministers, Welsh Ministers and the Northern Ireland Office. However, in the case of England, the arrangements are inconsistent. In some cases, the Marine Management Organisation is identified as the national authority; in other cases, the Secretary of State is identified as the fisheries policy authority.

The amendments serve to highlight some of those inconsistencies. The democratic framework and accountability of the national authority are clear for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, but not for England. To have English fisheries represented by either the MMO, which is the delivery arm of DEFRA, or the Secretary of State, whose remit is UK-wide, is anomalous.

There is a concern that the Bill currently leaves a democratic deficit for English fisheries. The perception of that has the potential to be heightened in future should the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs represent a non-English constituency. Looking around the room, I can see a lot of budding Ministers who fulfil that criterion.

It is for those reasons that I put forward the amendments on a probing basis. I request that the Minister considers a consultation to identify appropriate political representation and accountability arrangements for English fisheries management. At this stage, I would not be over-prescriptive of the precise details of who should be accountable over English fisheries or how the role should be established, but it is an issue that needs to be considered and I would welcome confirmation from the Minister that it is on his and his Department’s radar.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland) 2:45, 11 December 2018

It is an honour, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. The hon. Member for Waveney puts forward a clear and cogent case. It is something that needs to be looked at carefully in the context of the sustainability of our current constitutional arrangements. The key frustration for a lot of us, particularly the generation who have grown up under devolution, is the lopsided and asymmetrical nature of our structures.

It certainly causes frustration in this place for Scottish MPs when we have to deal with structures and policies that are not geared up for or reflective of devolution, and that are not considerate of those issues. It is time to bear in mind and take cognisance of those issues, in order to look at a new architecture for our legislative framework in the UK that reflects the reality of the past 20 years of devolution.

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

I confess that I did not anticipate, when we started scrutiny of the Fisheries Bill, that issues of such high constitutional importance would feature so prominently in the debate. One never knows how Committees will proceed.

The hon. Member for Waveney makes a good point. The current constitutional architecture remains unfinished. The unfinished business is the position of England, and whether it is England as a whole or the constituent parts of England is a debate that, frankly, people in England need to have. I wish them as much joy as we have had with that in Scotland for the past 30 years.

The hon. Gentleman’s amendment comes to the crux of the matter. As matters are currently ordered, the Secretary of State has a clear conflict of interest. On the one hand, he is expected to act as the UK Minister, holding the ring, as it were, between the different constituent parts of the United Kingdom, and at the same time he is supposed to be the English Minister. That is not a sustainable situation. It requires to be remedied and should be remedied, I suggest, through a more comprehensive and holistic approach to constitutional reform for our English cousins. It is also fair to say that this is not a situation that can last indefinitely. If we have to go through another round of salami slicing, taking it subject by subject, instead of region or nation by region or nation, then so be it, but clearly something has to change.

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

The amendment goes to the heart of many of the gripes about fisheries regulation in England. Who speaks for English fishing? There is an inherent conflict in the roles of the Fisheries Minister and the Secretary of State holding both English and UK-wide portfolios. Although it is tempting to engage in a debate about the emerging need for a federal settlement in the United Kingdom, that is probably a decision above our pay grades for the purposes of the Fisheries Bill.

However, the hon. Member for Waveney’s suggestion to look at where this will go is not necessarily a bad one. We have the opportunity to reset and reformulate fishing regulation and to start the journey on those bits that will take longer. The Minister has said that re-allocating FQA will take seven years, if that were to start straightaway. We recognise that some of the changes that the Bill is seeking to effect will not come into immediate force on the day that the Bill comes into force. The discussion that we need to have about the more devolved nature of fisheries is part of that.

If I may go further than the hon. Gentleman, there has also been talk about devolution within England. For instance, there is the potential with more empowered inshore fisheries and conservation authorities, and greater powers at a local level, to have a more thorough set of powers regionalised and localised, rather than just held in Westminster with an English Minister. This is therefore a good debate to have. I am not certain that the amendment will carry favour, but the hon. Gentleman is right to raise the concern.

On the question of who speaks for English fishing, I am sure the Minister will say that, currently, he does. That is something that we need to delve into, though it is probably a discussion for another day.

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

As my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney pointed out, this may be a variant of the famous West Lothian question. Perhaps we could dub it the Waveney question, as he has raised it. It is an interesting point, but as a number of hon. Members have pointed out, it goes much wider than what we will be able to resolve in this particular Bill.

In this country we have a devolved settlement; we do not have a federal system of government. The reason that a federal system of government would not work in the UK is that England is so much bigger than the other component parts. Under any kind of qualified majority vote we would still, effectively, have the dominance of England. It is because such a federal system would not work in reality, given the structure of the UK—unless we were to break up England, as the previous Government intended to do through a series of regional assemblies—that we need to make our devolution settlement work.

Devolution means that, ultimately, something is either devolved—in which case it is for the devolved Administrations to lead on—or it is reserved, in which case it is for the UK Government to lead on. Where there is a need for co-ordination and frameworks, it happens through a series of memorandums of understanding, concordats and other such arrangements, which feature prominently in this Bill and have always been prominent in our approach to fisheries.

The amendment would have no legal effect as it stands, because the Minister with responsibility for English fisheries is indeed the Secretary of State, so they are one and the same. For a Minister with responsibility for English fisheries to be able to do anything other than what the Secretary of State wanted, he would need to have an English Government who were separate from the UK Government; and if we had an English Government who were separate from the UK Government, we would need an English Parliament to hold that English Government to account. I do not think that that is an approach that we want to take at the moment, for all the reasons I have outlined.

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

Can the Minister reconcile the objections that he has just outlined with the Government’s attitude to English votes for English laws?

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

I can, because that is an absolutely sensible compromise to ensure that only English MPs should vote on those pieces of legislation that affect only English matters. I believe that that is not about having an English Government, but a procedure in our Parliament to ensure that English MPs vote on laws that affect their constituents.

There is another issue. I might say, what about Cornwall? Cornwall is slightly different, as you will know. The Fisheries Minister at the moment represents a Cornish seat, but there are representations from organisations such as Cornwall Council that seek to have more of a formal role for Cornwall in decision making. That links to the point made by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, that there may be a more formal role for the IFCAs, which could draw them into the consultations that we have ahead of the annual fisheries discussions. At the moment, we have meetings with both environmental and fishing stakeholders, and engage closely with them in the lead-up, but it may be that we should have a process for involving the IFCAs in part of that discussion. That may be one way to address the issue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney mentioned that parts of the Bill say “the Secretary of State” and others “the Marine Management Organisation”. This clause, which is about putting together a policy statement, clearly relates to the Secretary of State. The term marine management organisation tends to be used, in most clauses, in the context of its enforcement and licensing roles. Parts of the Bill use the term marine management organisation because of the powers it has under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 to manage licences and to carry out enforcement activities.

My hon. Friend raises an important point, but it goes well beyond the scope of the Bill. I would say this: in my time doing this job, I have never actually had any difficulty reconciling the role that I play as UK Minister in international negotiations, arguing the case for the UK, and the role that I play as an English Fisheries Minister, making decisions around the distribution of quota, technical measures to protect buried lobsters and a whole host of other things, which I agree for England only. It does not cause me any conflict. There are potential inconsistencies, as he highlighted, but I believe they are inherent in the devolved settlement that we have; over the last 20 years, we have learned to manage those effectively.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney

I accept that the Bill is not the right place to take account of these concerns, but it is important to air them, and that is what I have done. I sense that there might be a problem further down the line. I hope that I have fired a warning shot that that might be a problem and that we need to be awake to that, and to address it.

In the Fisheries Bill, we are setting out the new UK fishing policy—the UKFP—which will replace the CFP, in which we had the EU. I am not saying the EU is necessarily an umpire or an adjudicator, but it is another party, and it will be removed from future discussions. I suggest that the Secretary of State’s role could well come under closer scrutiny, and I sense that this issue could materialise as a problem sooner rather than later. On that note, although it is important that we have aired the issue, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3