Access to British fisheries by foreign fishing boats

Fisheries Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 11 December 2018.

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Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney 4:00, 11 December 2018

I beg to move amendment 21, in clause 8, page 5, line 13, leave out “a” and insert “an annual British”.

The amendment applies to clause 8 and to schedule 2. There is concern that there are no provisions in the Bill for foreign vessels to comply with the same standards as UK vessels. Foreign vessels’ access to UK waters must be contingent on compliance with the same environmental standards as are applicable to UK vessels. That way, there will be a level playing field and the same high level of environmental protection will apply to all fishing in UK waters.

There is a worry—perhaps I am being alarmist—that the Dutch might be allowed to continue with the environmental vandalism that is electro-pulse fishing, which takes place off the East Anglian coast, and which we may or may not debate in more detail later.

I would welcome clarification from the Minister. I ask that he allay my concerns and assure me that the same level playing field will apply to all vessels in UK waters.

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

The amendment seeks to limit the time foreign boats have a licence to fish in UK waters to a single year. It is important that British boats take back control of our waters and the lion’s share of our quota, consistent with moving from relative stability to zonal attachment, which is where the hon. Gentleman is going. With regard to foreign boats, we need to explore this issue in much more detail and depth. There is concern about the simple timeframe, but the general principle the hon. Gentleman is following is a good one to explore further. I will sit down so the Minister can do precisely that.

Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford

A brief point: we talk about access to British fisheries, but I imagine we are talking about United Kingdom fisheries. I wonder whether British and United Kingdom are being used interchangeably, because we talk about United Kingdom later on. Could I have some clarification on that?

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

I can give my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney the reassurance he seeks. The amendment is unnecessary. The reason is that we are absolutely clear and explicit that in future, once the Bill comes into effect, it will be prohibited for any foreign vessel to fish in UK waters in the UK’s exclusive economic zone unless it has a UK fishing licence. I draw his attention to clause 11(1), which could not be clearer. It states that

“Fishing within British fishery limits by a foreign fishing boat is prohibited unless authorised by a licence.”

He should read that in conjunction with clause 12(3), which states quite clearly that

“A licence under this section may be granted so as to impose limits on the authority”.

That licence would govern the area in which fishing is authorised, so it could prevent fishing in certain areas; the periods, times or particular voyages during which fishing is authorised; the types of fish that are allowed be caught during a visit to UK waters; and finally, in subsection 12(3)(d)—of relevance to pulse trawling, which I know my hon. Friend feels strongly about—the method of sea fishing. That would give us all the powers we need to impose on all foreign fishing vessels a requirement to use a particular type of fishing method and a particular gear type. Without wanting to dwell on the detail, clause 31 also gives powers for the Administrations to set technical conservation measures in their waters, separate from the conditions which are attached to the licence. On that basis, I hope that the he agrees that the amendment is unnecessary.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford made a point about the use of the term “British” and whether we mean “UK” or “British”. In general, we talk in terms of a UK fishing licence, which is a licence issued by any of the Administrations in the UK. In the event of granting a licence to foreign vessels, the MMO, with the consent of the devolved Administrations, would issue a single licence on behalf of every part of the UK. A separate, long-established term in fisheries legislation from 1967 and before is “British vessel”, which tends to mean any vessel that is registered to the UK—including Northern Ireland—or to the Crown dependencies, or British-owned vessels. The term “British vessel”, which stems from an era in which “British” tended to be used in a different context to that of today, runs through our previous legislation and is used in parts of the Bill.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney

I thank the Minister for his latter clarification in response to the question from the hon. Member for Stafford. He has saved me from the embarrassment of shoddy use of language. I am also grateful to him for providing such extensive clarification and reassurances, and on that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

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

Clause 8 simply sets the terms under which foreign fishing boats may enter British fishery limits and replaces section 2 of the Fishery Limits Act 1976. Under that section, as amended by the Scotland Act 1998 and the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the Secretary of State and Ministers of devolved Administrations may designate, by Order in Council, the foreign countries whose vessels may enter British fishery limits.

Paragraph 8(1)(a) provides that a foreign vessel can enter British fishery limits only if it has a sea fishing licence. The effect of the clause is that all foreign fishing vessels will need the express permission of the UK to enter into our waters to fish. Subsection (2) requires that foreign fishing boats must leave British fisheries limits as soon as their fishing activities or other purposes for entering British fishery limits have been completed.

The purpose of the measure is to ensure that foreign vessels entering UK waters leave once their permitted purpose has concluded. Subsection (3) creates an offence against the master, and an offence of vicarious liability against the owner and the charterer of a foreign fishing vessel, for entering UK waters for any purpose other than fishing in accordance with a sea fishing licence, and under international law agreements or arrangements.

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

As we prepared for the Bill, a number of stakeholders expressed concern about a missing element: a requirement for foreign fishing boats to abide by the same standards as British fishing boats. As that is covered by an amendment we seek to table elsewhere in the Bill, I will not push it to a conversation or debate now. That is the only omission and, as the clause stands, we will not oppose it.

Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford

I will ask the Minister one brief question, if he will forgive my ignorance. Does this provision include access for the purposes of landing fish as well? Let us say that fish are being caught in other waters but are to be landed for processing in UK ports. How would this measure apply to that?

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

The direct answer is that there are other provisions in international maritime law that enable the passage of vessels for lawful purposes, including trade or landing fish elsewhere. The terms of the fishing licence will be specifically pertinent to the fishing activity that is permitted under that particular licence.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 8 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 9