British fishing boats required to be licensed

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

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

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 18—Licensing of fishing boats—

“The Marine Management Organisation must exercise its functions so as to secure (so far as possible) that—

(a) fishing boats are not used in contravention of section 9(1) (prohibition on fishing without authority of licence), and

(b) conditions attached to sea fishing licences under paragraph 1 of Schedule 2 are not broken, as a result of the exercise of rights sold in accordance with the regulations

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

The clause sets out the conditions under which British fishing boats would be licensed to fish in UK waters and prohibits fishing without a licence, except for stated specific exemptions. The Secretary of State may make regulations to add, remove or vary the exceptions listed. Scottish and Welsh Ministers and the Northern Ireland Government must be consulted prior to any such regulations being made.

If British fishing boats take part in fishing activities in UK waters that are not exceptions under subsection (2) without a fishing licence, the owner, charterer and master will be guilty of an offence. Further information on the offences and associated penalties is contained in clauses 14 to 16, which we will come to.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney

I will not detain the Committee long. New clause 18 is a probing one to seek clarification from the Minister on the extent of the MMO’s responsibility with regard to the licensing of fishing boats. I particularly seek clarification that the conditions will still apply when rights have been transferred. I am concerned that there might be loopholes that the ingenious might seek to exploit, and I would be grateful if the Minister could allay my concerns on that point.

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

The proposed new clause relates to the enforcement functions of the MMO. I can tell my hon. Friend that the MMO already has a wide suite of enforcement powers. I will get bored with mentioning this Act, but part 8 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 sets out the MMO’s powers. Section 238 gives it powers to enforce fisheries legislation; sections 246 to 254 give it powers of entry, search and seizure; and sections 264 to 287 give it fisheries enforcement powers, such as inspection powers, so the MMO already has a broad suite of powers in current legislation.

I reassure my hon. Friend that in the evidence session with the MMO, Phil Haslam, our head of enforcement, outlined the steps we are taking to increase our enforcement capacity. We have delayed the decommissioning of the three existing fisheries patrol vessels while adding four new ones, we have been working with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to build aerial surveillance capacity, and we have been working with Border Force and retraining its staff so its four cutter vessels can also be deployed on enforcement activity.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland) 4:15, 11 December 2018

Is it not a matter of regret for the Minister that Phil Haslam, the director of operations at the MMO, said its budget has reduced by 60% since its inception? Surely that has had an impact on its operational effectiveness.

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

The purpose of the Bill is to look forward. The important thing is having the capacity in place should it need to be called on. Currently, two fisheries patrol vessels are typically deployed in English waters. We will be moving to a position where we have access to up to 10 or 11 vessels, and aerial surveillance on top of that. That is a substantial increase in enforcement capacity, should it be needed. It may not be needed, but we do not yet know what scenarios we may face, so as a precaution we built in the capacity we might need.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 9 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 10