Deadline for first fisheries statements and obligation to review

Fisheries Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 11th December 2018.

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Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water) 3:15 pm, 11th December 2018

I beg to move amendment 52, in clause 5, page 4, line 10, leave out “before 1 January 2021” and insert—

“at the latest one calendar year from the date of withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.”.

This amendment would ensure that the fisheries statements are published no more than one year after the UK leaves the EU.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 53, in clause 5, page 4, line 12, leave out “before 1 January 2021” and insert—

“at the latest one calendar year from the date of withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.”.

This amendment would ensure that the fisheries statements are published no more than one year after the UK leaves the EU.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water) 3:30 pm, 11th December 2018

Amendments 52 and 53 would ensure that the fisheries statements are published no more than one year after the UK leaves the European Union. Much debate has been had as to when that date will be, and I am sure that the Minister will not seek to deviate from the line that he has been given by the Whips on that date. However, given that this is a situation in flux, and the uncertainty in the Government at the moment, and without wishing to apply any normative judgment on whether that is a good or bad thing, we do not know the date on which we will be leaving. The amendment would therefore make the Bill more flexible, should the date of exit change.

We have established today that UK fisheries management policy needs to be dynamic and reactive to the fluctuating marine environment. As the fisheries management policy manages a national resource, it needs to be accountable through Parliament as well. The joint fisheries statement is also the first proper acid test for the state of UK fisheries post-Brexit, and will be Parliament’s first opportunity to hold the Government to account against the promises made in the referendum and in the Bill. The idea that we would have to wait almost two years for the first joint fisheries statement if we leave the EU in March 2019 without a deal is not good enough.

Early scrutiny is particularly necessary, given the lack of guarantee in the political declaration that a new fisheries agreement will be completed before the end of the transition period, in July 2020. Instead, parties will use their “best endeavours”. Despite endless gold-plated promises, there is a real fear among fishers that that vague language means that there is a final betrayal coming for the industry. Ross Thomson said that

“sovereignty of our waters could be sacrificed for a trade deal. That is unacceptable.”

I am sure that is a view shared by many in this place and in fishing communities around the country. Because there is no guarantee that there will be a new fisheries agreement with the EU by the end of the transition period, only a hope, there is a fear that once the spotlight has come off fishing a few months or years down the line, during a quiet moment of transition, the industry will be taken off to a quiet corner and betrayed in exchange for a free trade agreement with the EU. That is a real concern that fishers have expressed to me, sometimes in more colourful language than I have chosen to use. It is a valid concern that we need to address.

The Leader of the Opposition stated in the Commons that the concern is that all that we will do is enter into a new CFP but under a new name. I do not doubt the Minister’s sincerity in wanting to leave on the day that is Government policy today—rather than the one we might get tomorrow—but we do not want that to happen. It is out of his hands and I appreciate that. A hard date in the Bill may be useful for party political management on the Government Benches, but in creating an enabling Bill, we need to recognise that the date of exit may change and, therefore, 12 months from that date of exit is the first time that a fisheries statement should be presented to Parliament. That is the purpose of the amendments.

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

Setting out a particular date for completion when there are a number of scenarios that could unfold in respect of the withdrawal agreement and the nature of our exit from the EU does create some uncertainties—I would be the first to acknowledge that. As the hon. Gentleman said, things are currently in a state of flux.

I want to explain why we have chosen the 1 January 2021 as the date. When we drafted the Bill it was on the understanding and expectation that there would be an implementation period, during which we would be bound by the terms of the common fisheries policy until December 2020, when we would negotiate as an independent coastal state. The appropriate time to have this plan in place seemed to be January 2021. We chose the date on the basis of an expectation of an implementation period running until December 2020.

The second reason was that it gave us time to ensure that we can work through our differences across the four Administrations and have a plan in place. As well as the neatness of the measure commencing at the point at which the implementation period ends, it ensures that we give ourselves sufficient time to agree the plan and put it in place.

I know that a long-standing concern for a number of fishermen is that their interests may be traded for other elements of the future partnership. We have made it absolutely clear that we will not do that. We are absolutely clear that trade negotiations are separate from negotiations about access. The Government have tabled some amendments that we will discuss at a later date that I believe will give some reassurance to fishermen about that.

While I understand the point made by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, by the time the Bill reaches Report stage, we may all be slightly clearer as to the length of the implementation period or whether there is to be an implementation period at all and whether we leave without an agreement next March. I that suggest the hon. Gentleman keeps his powder dry on this issue until we all have greater clarity about what the future holds.

Finally, when making the case for his amendment, the hon. Gentleman suggests that the date on which we withdraw from the European Union could be a movable feast. I do not accept that. We are leaving the European Union come what may in March. The issue is whether there will be an implementation period and how long it will be. Will it go for the full duration until December 2020 or will it be possible to conclude it expeditiously? I therefore accept that there is an element of doubt about the length of the implementation period and whether there will be one. I suggest we revisit the issue of timescales for the production of the joint fisheries statement on Report, when I hope things will be clearer.

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

There are no surprises in the Minister’s response, but I enjoyed the phrase “we will work through our differences across the four Administrations”, given the time required to do that. I suspect that was the exact opposite of the sentiment that was exhibited in the dispute resolution debate.

There is significant concern among fishing industries that they will be sold out, just as they were during the transition period. Ministers, including this Minister, were advocating that fisheries should be excluded from the transition period up to a week before that policy changed. Fishers around our coastline have every reason to be sceptical about some of the promises that have been given.

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

Does the hon. Gentleman not accept the ultimate sell-out for British fishing would be to stay in the European Union and therefore stay in the common fisheries policy?

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

I understand that fishing was sold out on the way into the EU and there is a risk of it being sold out on the way out of the EU. A lot of our fishing communities share that concern. We need to recognise that. I respect the Minister’s desire to leave on the date that has currently been stated by the Government. As the Government are changing their mind about a lot to do with Brexit, and as this is an enabling Bill, should we not be flexible and be able to reflect possible changes during this period?

I am happy to take the Minister’s suggestion to keep my powder dry on this one and revisit it on Report. However, there is a genuine concern that fishing will be sold out, given any hard dates, and more work needs to be done to reassure fishers that they will not be sold out when it comes to the political agreement further down the line. A flexible date would be one way of doing that. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

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 54, in clause 5, page 4, line 15, leave out “6” and insert “5”

This amendment would ensure that the fisheries statements are subject to review every five years, instead of every six years.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 55, in clause 5, page 4, line 17, leave out “6” and insert “5”

This amendment would ensure that the fisheries statements are subject to review every five years, instead of every six years.

Amendment 56, in clause 5, page 4, line 22, leave out “6” and insert “5”

This amendment would ensure that the fisheries statements are subject to review every five years, instead of every six years.

Amendment 57, in clause 5, page 4, line 24, leave out “6” and insert “5”

This amendment would ensure that the fisheries statements are subject to review every five years, instead of every six years.

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

These amendments make a similar point to the earlier ones, in respect of the timeframe that we are looking at. They would remove the restriction of six years and replace it with five years. Six years is far too long to leave the Executive unaccountable if it is necessary to force them to change bad policy. That is why we wish to change the period from six years to five years.

Five years is the length of a fixed-term Parliament. It would mean that, in any given Parliament, there can be accountability for the policies that the Government are seeking to put in place via the Fisheries Bill. Otherwise, in a fixed-term Parliament of five years, there may not be an opportunity due to the period being set at six years. I encourage the Minister to look again at the arbitrary six years. We want to ensure that, every five years, at the start of a new parliamentary term, fisheries is right up there as one of the main policy items under review. Every new Parliament should have the ability to review fisheries policy.

As drafted, the Fisheries Bill gives the benefit of the doubt and too much discretion to people in office. There is not enough of a guarantee that the policies will achieve our fisheries objectives. We tabled the amendments to enhance scrutiny and to ensure that the Government’s aim to have truly sustainable world-leading fisheries is delivered.

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

It has been a little while since I mentioned the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, which was introduced by the previous Labour Government. I want to explain where the allegedly arbitrary figure of six years came from. It mirrors the approach set out in the Marine and Coastal Access Act in respect of the production of marine spatial plans. There is a requirement in the Act to review the marine spatial plans at six-yearly intervals. Our officials, when considering what would be appropriate—we wanted to have a consistent approach to the marine environment—took the view that, as marine spatial plans are reviewed every six years, that would seem to be the appropriate precedent to follow in respect of these other plans.

Six years has a precedent, and indeed one that some Opposition Members might have voted for—not the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, but other hon. Members—when the Marine and Coastal Access Act was passed. There is no precedent for five years. I understand that hon. Members may take the view that, under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011, five years is the typical duration of a Government, but clause 4 creates a power to amend the plan at any time.

Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford

I very much understand what the Minister is saying, but with climate change, things often happen much more rapidly than Parliament might make provision for. Does he not agree that there should be some flexibility, particularly in regard to changes in water temperatures and fish stocks, which are moving all the time? We should look at the evidence for the timing, rather than just look backwards to an Act from a few years ago?

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

I strongly agree, which is why we included clause 4, which gives fisheries policy authorities the ability to amend the plans whenever they choose to do so. If events move and we need to adopt a different approach to mitigate the effect of climate change because things happened faster than we thought, or there was an environmental challenge that had not been foreseen in the six-year plan, there is a power to amend the joint fisheries statement to reflect that change under any circumstances and at any time.

With the six years, we have chosen to adopt a timescale that has a precedent in the context of managing the marine environment. We also included a clear provision that means that, at any time, we can adapt and amend the plan in the way that my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford seeks, to ensure that it can respond to events.

I hope I have been able to inform the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport about the genesis of the choice of a six-year term as a starting point, and also about the fact that clause 4 gives us the power to amend the plans at any stage, which means that moving the time period to five years, as he suggests, is perhaps unnecessary.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water) 3:45 pm, 11th December 2018

I am grateful to the Minister for setting out why five years is not as good as six; none the less, I think there is a point about our effective scrutiny of the system. When the Marine and Coastal Access Act was initially enacted, it was at the start of that journey of organising marine plans and policies. We are now in a very different place, both politically and environmentally. I am grateful for the comments about climate change made by the hon. Member for Stafford. Our world is changing and our fisheries need to be more adaptable to the concerns around climate change.

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

In support of the principle of reducing the review period from six to five years, I tried to get in earlier on. I have concern about linking it to a parliamentary term, because as we know, despite the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, we have already had one Government that did not last five years, and the way things are going, it is highly probable that this Government will not, either, so I would be wary of linking it to a Westminster parliamentary term. That would also override the parliamentary cycle of the devolved Administrations. I am happy with five years, but we should be wary of how this is linked to the parliamentary cycles.

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

In seeking to move from six to five, that was merely to move from six years to five years, rather than necessarily to align with that parliamentary cycle.

Photo of Mike Hill Mike Hill Labour, Hartlepool

Would moving the period to five not mean that the Government of the day were accountable for actions they had taken, rather than leaving it to a sixth year, when potentially it would be a different Government and it could trigger a new way of assessing things? It could be a false trigger for the future.

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

I agree. Although I take the point made by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, that Governments may not last for five years—indeed, the reason that I am here and not doing my former job of advising on how to build skyscrapers is that the House decided to have an election and not use the Fixed-term Parliaments Act to see out five years—there is a possibility that these plans may not be reviewed within an entire, normal Parliament, which means that an entire batch of Members of Parliament for that parliamentary term will not have the chance to do this. I recognise the flexibility that the Minister has outlined.

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Bearing in mind the rationale that the hon. Member is now using, surely he should have drafted his amendment in the context of this being looked at within each term of Parliament, rather than on an arbitrary five-year basis?

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

No, I am quite comfortable that the words “leave out “6” and insert “5”” are entirely sufficient to deal with this clause; none the less, I take the point that the hon. Gentleman is trying to make. There is concern here about the frequency of scrutiny. If the Minister can reflect on that, there is a strong sense of our wanting to be sure.

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

Will the hon. Gentleman explain why he chose five years rather than four or three?

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

I can indeed; it is because two was suggested. Feedback from stakeholders was that they felt that six years was too long. A number of suggestions came back for different periods, two and three being some of those—indeed, Fishing for Leave was strong in its advocacy of two years. I felt that two years is too frequent, but six years is too long. Therefore, looking to lock it into the period during, in theory, a parliamentary five-year term, seems to be the right amount of time.

I am grateful for the flexibility that the Minister has set out. Should the Government change, I would expect that flexibility to be used by a Labour Government in moving that to five. I think that would be the right thing to do. However, on the basis of the discussion we have had, I am content not to push the amendment to a vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 6