(ii) for ‘environmental, social and economic nature’ substitute ‘environmental and social nature, thereby recognising the fishery as public property held on trust for the people’.”
I will start by giving some background information to the amendment, which sets out provisions on the distribution of fishing opportunities. At present, the distribution is inequitable and the system needs to improve. As we move to a UK fishing policy, we have a golden opportunity to bring about those improvements.
“use transparent and objective criteria including those of an environmental, social and economic nature” when allocating fishing opportunities. That is a good start, but the existing wording states that the criteria to be used may include “historic catch levels”, as well as the impact of fishing on the environment and its contribution to the local economy. The wording in the CFP, coupled with the lack of a requirement to prioritise environmental, social and local economic criteria, has meant that “historic catch levels” has often ended up being the sole basis on which quota is allocated, giving rise to the present inequitable and unsustainable distribution.
The five largest quota holders control more than a third of UK fishing quota. Four of them belong to families on The Sunday Times rich list and the fifth is a subsidiary of a Dutch multinational. Some 49% of English quota is held by companies based overseas. As is well documented and figures very prominently in all debates in this place, the small-scale fleet—the inshore vessels known as the under-10s—gets a raw deal. Those vessels hold only 6% of quota, notwithstanding the fact that for every fish caught, the small-scale fleet creates far more jobs than its larger scale counterparts. It lands 11% of fish by value in the UK, but employs 49% of all those in the industry. Similarly, more than 90% of the small-scale fleet uses passive gears, which are far better for the environment.
Solutions to the problems can be delivered through the amendments I have tabled to clause 20. Amendment 84 would legally enshrine fish as a public resource, as recognised in the Government’s White Paper. While the UN convention on the law of the sea already touches on the issue, we have a great chance to confirm in primary legislation the principle of the public resource. That in turn would establish the right foundation for distributing quota based on the delivery of public goods and environmental, social and local economic factors, as opposed to simply on the basis of historic catch levels. I look forward to learning from the Minister how we will take up this golden opportunity.
I am sure it will come as no surprise to members of the Committee that I agree with the hon. Member for Waveney on the amendment. When we considered amendments to clause 1, we spoke about fish being a public good. It is no surprise that fish is still a public good, and that should still be in the Bill. The White Paper states:
“We aim to manage these fisheries—and the wider marine environment—as a shared resource, a public asset held in stewardship for the benefit of all.”
That is the right objective, but it needs to be in the Bill.
The amendment gives the Minister a chance to do the right thing and include fish as a public asset for the benefit of all. The opportunity here is to be clear about the tone. In previous remarks, the Minister said that putting fish as a public good or a public asset in the Bill was unnecessary because it was already a de facto position, just as Parliament is sovereign. The argument about whether Parliament is sovereign is an argument because there are differing opinions on it, as we have seen in particular in the past fortnight. Just as the Minister has sought to mirror sections in other legislation, which he mentioned earlier, it would do no harm—I think it would be of huge benefit—if it were clear in the Bill that fish is a public good. I would have preferred that to be right up front, in the objectives in clause 1, but the hon. Gentleman is attempting to get it in at clause 20. That would be a good amendment and it is one that the Opposition will support.
I appreciate that my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney is a long-standing campaigner on these issues. He will know that the Government have taken a number of steps to give additional quota to the inshore pool. My predecessor took unused FQA units from producer organisations to give extra fishing opportunities to the inshore pool. For my part, I have top-sliced the discard ban uplift to give additional fishing opportunities to the pool, and we have made it clear that we intend to do more. As I outlined earlier, our approach to the allocation of fishing opportunities will be, for the time being, to retain some stability by allowing existing opportunities to continue to follow the FQA lines, but we have been clear that any new fishing opportunities that come as we depart from relative stability will be allocated on a different basis, as a first step.
I have made it clear that we have at least three approaches under consideration. One is indeed to give additional fishing opportunities to the inshore pool so that our inshore fleet, which, as my hon. Friend points out, often lacks fishing opportunities, will have more fishing opportunities as we depart from relative stability. Secondly, we have outlined our plans to create a national reserve of quota that can be used to help to make the discard ban work as well in practice as in theory. Finally, we outline in other places in the Bill the power to tender new fishing opportunities to producer organisations based on their environmental track record and on what they give back to communities.
I believe that all those things, taken together, mean that, in our White Paper and in the powers that we are taking in this Bill, we have the socioeconomic interests of coastal communities at heart. The Secretary of State plan outlined in clause 2 is explicit about ensuring that we take account of and have a plan for those coastal communities that depend on fishing for their livelihoods. I have already given my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney an undertaking that we will seek to tweak some of the language in that provision, but when it comes to the question whether fish is a public asset, it is incontrovertibly the case that it is. We had a debate earlier about our common law tradition, and in a test case brought by the producer organisations, Mr Justice Cranston cited Magna Carta, no less, to say that fish stocks were a public resource. Specifically, he said:
“Consequently there can be no property right in fish until they are caught. That submission was a useful reminder but common ground.”
The fact that fish are a public asset is beyond question, and I do not believe that that needs to be placed in the Bill, but I am happy, as I said under an earlier group of amendments, to consider the Secretary of State fisheries statement to see whether we can more specifically address the point that my hon. Friend has in mind regarding fishing opportunities.
I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation. On Tuesday, when we debated whether the public good should be one of the objectives of the Bill, I did take on board his point: as fish is a public good already, what is the point of having it as an objective? However, in this instance, we are trying to redistribute fishing quota more equitably so that local communities can benefit, so I do not think that the earlier argument relates this time around.
The Minister has already said that he will look at the fishing statements in a bit more detail. I just ask that, before we get to Report, we ensure that the criteria for the distribution of fishing opportunities are as good as they can be. There was every intention of doing that when the common fisheries policy was reformed in 2012-13, and his predecessor, our right hon. Friend Richard Benyon, did an lot of good work on it. However, fishing communities like the ones I represent are not yet seeing the benefits, and this strikes me as an opportunity to reinforce that point, to make sure it actually happens. I look forward to seeing what the Minister comes up with before Report, but I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Hon. Members: No.
“(5A) After that paragraph insert—
“1A The relevant national authorities shall distribute fishing opportunities made available to them, and may redistribute any fishing opportunities that were made available to them prior to the United Kingdom exiting the European Union. Any such distribution and redistribution must be carried out according to social, environmental and local economic criteria following national and regional consultation from relevant stakeholder advisory groups, including representative groups from across the fishing fleet, scientists, and environmental groups.””
This amendment would allow the redistribution of existing fishing opportunities, would also set criteria for the distribution of future and redistribution of existing fishing opportunities and require consultation.
Amendment 106 relates to the redistribution of fishing opportunities. A key aim of the Bill is ultimately to create a fairer system, and Members will forgive me if I take a moment to read out why it is so important. This is a key amendment for Opposition Members, and one that we believe would, if taken up, have a transformational impact on the health of our oceans and on the local economies of coastal communities right across the UK.
The logic of the amendment follows from the principle of fish being a public good, which, as we have just discussed, is not yet on the face of the Bill, but is something we all agree on. To acquire the right to fish, and use that for the public good, there should be a set of criteria that need to be followed to ensure that what we are taking balances out. The current FQA system is broken: half of English quota is held by companies based overseas, the small-scale fleet only holds 6% of quota, and the five largest quota holders—four of which belong to families on The Sunday Times rich list—control more than a third of UK fishing quota. Small boats provide the backbone of our fishing fleet, making up the majority of that fleet. They generally use low-impact gear and provide more jobs per tonne, but their share of quota is limited to around 4% to 6% of the total.
While there may be more fish for the UK after we leave the common fisheries policy, not amending the distribution of quota will exacerbate existing levels of inequality between parts of the sector, and will fail to incentivise best practice. The fixed quota allocation system, which has been heavily criticised for being unfair from the outset, has not been updated since the 1990s. Again, in the words of the hon. Member for Waveney:
“It is commonly recognised that the inshore fleet—the under-10s—has had a raw deal as far as access to quota and fishing opportunities is concerned.”––[Official Report, Fisheries Public Bill Committee,
As a result of the existing system, ownership of fishing quota has become increasingly consolidated among larger-scale interests.
I will make the same remarks as I made in yesterday’s debate on the UK fishing industry: in the fisheries sector, we do not talk about small and medium-sized enterprises in the same way as we would in manufacturing, but if fishing were like manufacturing, the small boats would be the SMEs of our economy. There would be a much greater focus on the support system given to them, the investment into them and the jobs they create, and on making sure that they have the right and fair allocation of quota.
In our evidence session, Griffin Carpenter from the New Economics Foundation said:
“In essence, fisheries have been accidentally privatised. Every year, quota is allocated to the same holders, and there is a legitimate expectation that that continues in future. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and other organisations are too scared to break that hold on the quota and say, ‘This year we will allocate quota differently.’ It has not been done; it is basically privatised now the claim is so strong. If there is ever a point to break that link, it is now.”––[Official Report, Fisheries Public Bill Committee,
I agree with him.
The small-scale fleet has generally been excluded from the FQA system and producer organisations, which has led to the decline of coastal communities and ports. Since 1938—a year I am sure we all remember well—the number of fishermen on UK-registered vessels has decreased by 76%. Fifty years ago, the UK had 50,000 fishers; now we have almost 12,000—a huge decline.
The small boat sector is shrinking every year. Between 2007 and last year, the number of fishermen on UK-registered vessels decreased by 9% from 12,871 to only 11,692. Since 2007, the number of fishermen on English and Scottish-administered vessels decreased by 10%. It has fallen by 22% in Wales, and in 2017, 42% of fishermen on vessels administered in Wales were listed as part time. Under the combination of an unfair system and Tory austerity, which mainly hits coastal communities, or has had a disproportionate effect on them, small-scale fishing activity in coastal communities the length and breadth of the UK is a shadow of its former self.
There is now an opportunity to reinvigorate our fishing industry through better and fairer distribution of quota. Fishing quota provides an opportunity to commercially fish a resource that belongs to everyone. Fishing should be seen as a privilege, not a right, but it has effectively been privatised, as I mentioned earlier. The Bill is our opportunity to change that. We do not want to rob big boats of quota and give it to small boats; we want to use the Bill to create a new criterion for allocating quota based on social, environmental and economic factors.
I acknowledge the opportunity that the hon. Gentleman is talking about. We heard evidence about possible opportunities for some future reallocation. How would his amendment work in principle in terms of the devolution settlement? Would it allow UK Ministers to redistribute Scottish quotas, or would it be an England-only matter?
I am grateful for that intervention, because it goes to the core of the amendment, which basically sets a different criterion for allocation. At the moment, quota is predominantly allocated on the FQA system. We are suggesting that there should be redistribution based on social, economic and environmental criteria, done on a species-by-species, zone-by-zone basis to take into account the varieties in our different fishing industries around the United Kingdom.
It is important that, when we set the tone for how fishing quotas should be allocated in future, the economic link that I spoke about earlier and the environmental consequences that the hon. Gentleman spoke about earlier are taken into account. That should be done by all fisheries Administrations, not just England or Scotland. It should be done by the entirety of the United Kingdom.
Quotas should be allocated on transparent social and ecological criteria to benefit fishing communities—for example, by offering a greater share for complying with relevant regulations, taking part in data gathering, fully monitoring and recording catches, and complying with discard rules. The UK has always had the ability to reallocate quota to reward particular types of fishing practice or to support broader social or economic goals, but has chosen not to seize the full opportunities that come from that.
Article 17 of the reformed common fisheries policy urged European member states to consider environmental, economic and social criteria when allocating opportunities. It was heralded as potentially revolutionary by senior EU officials when it was launched as part of the overall reformed CFP, but its lack of mandate meant that it failed to be implemented effectively in any EU member state. Greenpeace recently lost a case in which it made that argument in the High Court, but the Bill is a chance to fix that, using fairer criteria for the benefit of the small fleet in particular.
Across the north Atlantic, the small fleet employs five times as many people per $1 million of fish landed than the large-scale fleet. In the UK, the under-10-metre small-scale sector represents more than 70% of English fishing boats and 65% of direct employment in fishing. The small-scale fleet creates 10 times as many jobs per tonne caught as the larger fleet. We therefore believe that there is an opportunity to allocate more fairly the quota that may be drawn down from our EU friends, as the Minister set out.
Let us be clear, however: at the moment, given the differences between the Bill, the withdrawal agreement, the promises made in that agreement and the discussions that will take place as part of our future economic and political partnership with the European Union, there is heavy scepticism in the industry. It sees a risk of further betrayal and that we will not be able to draw down from our EU friends the quota that we had hoped for. In such circumstances, it is even more important that we ensure that the quota that we already have is allocated according to transparent social and economic criteria for the benefit of those communities.
Does the hon. Gentleman have a mechanism for ensuring that that redistributed quota does not become a tradeable commodity in turn?
That is at the heart of the current problem. The quota has been traded; indeed, a future Opposition amendment will deal with the problem that the right hon. Gentleman identifies of slipper skippers who trade their quotas as a commodity, using them not to catch fish but as financial instruments to derive income from by renting them out to others. We need to ensure that the economic criteria for redistributing the fishing quota take into account the importance of the quota holder’s using the quota to catch fish rather than as a financial product. Deriving income from a quota without using it damages the viability of the sector by increasing costs without increasing productivity.
I sympathise with the requirement to allow new entrants to get into the industry by giving them access to the quota, and I was thankful to hear the hon. Gentleman say that his amendment does not propose to rob Peter to pay Paul—or rob Peterhead to pay Plymouth, for that matter. However, when we discussed safety, it was mentioned that fishermen whose vessels are slightly more than 10 metres have shortened them, arguably creating a safety issue, and sold off their quota. How would he address the fact that many of those who are now small fishermen have benefited financially from selling off their quota in the past?
The hon. Gentleman’s point relates to the question whether fish is a public good. At the heart of it, as the Minister says, fish is a public good. The problem with our current fixed quota allocation system is that in many cases possessing a quota has become more profitable than using it for fishing. That seems to be an inherent flaw in the FQA system, so I am grateful that the Minister has set out his long-term intention to look at FQA and see where it gets to. The important thing is to provide determination and steel to the endeavours of the Minister—in his role not only as an English Fisheries Minister, but as a UK-wide Fisheries Minister— and of the devolved Administrations. Setting out the basis for any redistribution is really important, which is why our amendment states:
“The relevant national authorities shall distribute fishing opportunities made available to them, and may redistribute any fishing opportunities that were made available to them prior to the United Kingdom exiting the European Union. Any such distribution and redistribution must be carried out according to social, environmental and local economic criteria”.
There is a concern among many fishers, with and without a quota, that the current system does not work in the best way.
Our amendment would not mean big boats losing out—far from it. In all likelihood, only a small proportion of opportunities would be redistributed to the smaller fleet in the first instance, making a big difference to their livelihoods and the environment. We need to bear in mind that only 4% to 6% of quotas are currently held by smaller boats. Representatives of larger scale fleets told me that they comply with the principle of fairer distribution based on economic, social and environmental criteria. If they are living up to those aspirations they should have nothing to fear from this policy, because it is about incentivising best practice.
This is an opportunity to create a race to the top, rather than a race to the bottom, which is why the Opposition are bringing this measure forward. This new approach is entirely consistent with the White Paper’s recognition of fisheries as a public resource. It is also backed by Greenpeace, the entire Greener UK coalition, the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association, the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation and Charles Clover’s Blue Marine Foundation, while 6,500 people in coastal communities called for this change to the distribution of quota in the White Paper consultation.
“Given that this fleet is not only more profitable to local economies, but employs more local fishermen and uses more sustainable fishing practices, will the Bill allow larger quotas to independent vessels under 10 metres?”—[Official Report,
If we are to make real that hon. Gentleman’s aspiration, we must provide the ability and incentives to redistribute that quota, as amendment 106 seeks to do. Denmark’s fish fund—the quota reserved for new entrants or those with good environmental performance—shows that that is already happening. It is time we caught up.
My hon. Friend Sue Hayman, in her excellent speech on Second Reading, mentioned the hope placed in the Bill by people living in coastal communities across the UK. Without quota allocation there is no hope of taking back control. This attempt to redistribute quota is an attempt to make real the promises given by the leave campaign, and indeed by Government Ministers since—that taking back control will have a beneficial effect on those small coastal communities. If we do not provide the ability to redistribute that quota in support of those coastal communities, what are we doing here? That is why the amendment is so important. I will be grateful if the Minister could back it in his remarks.
As previously, I am in broad sympathy with the approach taken by the hon. Gentleman, but I am concerned that he suggests a big and fairly open-ended commitment here. As I implied during the evidence session, I fear that we would probably be at risk of producing a dripping roast for lawyers for some time to come.
Although it was probably never intended to be the case, fish quota has become a tradeable commodity over the years. Several fishing businesses have made and taken on fairly substantial financial commitments secured against the fact that they own quota and can derive an income from it. The words that start to come to my mind are “legitimate expectation”, and once that is the case we know that we will be heading towards the courts to determine the extent of that legitimate expectation, who has it and the basis on which it can be traded.
Not everybody who owns fish quota is a robber baron. Shetland Islands Council owns a substantial amount of fishing quota that it leases to local boats. That is for the public good, and I would be careful about interfering with the council’s property rights in that way. I would be very open to the idea of returning quota—quota that we do not currently have access to—being dealt with differently; it could be distributed in different ways. Some of the lessons of the past could be learned so that it did not become a tradeable commodity. The property rights could be defined in a very different way, which, with hindsight, we might wish we had done 30 or 40 years ago but did not.
As I say, the amendment would make a fairly big and open-ended commitment. I do not know whether it would necessarily be the best use of the money required. Before I went down this road, I would want to know a bit more than the broad principles. I would want to know how the practicalities would work. As the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport said, fish quota have essentially been privatised. He is effectively talking about nationalisation, and that comes with a price tag attached.
It is not about nationalisation; it is about the redistribution of fish quota, and the amendment is about being able to do so without a time limit. As the Minister said, distributing FQA takes time, which is why there is deliberately no time limit in the amendment. However, there is a commitment to consult with those groups, including the fishing fleets, to ensure it is redistributed fairly.
That is helpful, but I am not entirely sure about the hon. Gentleman’s distinction between redistribution and nationalisation. At the end of the day, we risk spending public money. I am not averse to that—it may ultimately be necessary, and I can certainly see the end that is to be met by it—but at the moment it is a little ill-defined. I would favour an approach that dealt differently with the returning quota, rather than mucking about with the existing quota. I am not averse to the idea, but we should not be blind to the risks that come with it.
The purpose of clause 20 is predominantly to bring across article 17 from the European Union and make it operable. Article 17 will come across as retained EU law. All we are seeking to do is to make changes that make it operable and preserve its intent.
Article 17 states:
“When allocating the fishing opportunities available to them…Member States shall use transparent and objective criteria including those of an environmental, social and economic nature. The criteria to be used may include, inter alia, the impact of fishing on the environment, the history of compliance, the contribution to the local economy and historic catch levels. Within the fishing opportunities allocated to them, Member States shall endeavour to provide incentives to fishing vessels deploying selective fishing gear or using fishing techniques with reduced environmental impact”.
I believe that article 17, as currently worded, captures many of the intentions behind this amendment and the last one moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney.
There is a technical issue with the way amendment 106 is drafted. It does not make specific reference to fixed quota allocations—FQA units—as a basis; it simply talks about trying to redistribute historical fishing opportunities. It is therefore trying to reallocate opportunities that have already been spent—the quota that were attached to the FQA units. I would argue that, from a technical point of view, it would make more sense to have made reference to FQA units.
Greenpeace has had a longstanding campaign on article 17, since at least 2015. In 2016, it brought a judicial review against the Government, arguing that we had not complied with article 17, and it was roundly defeated in that case. Mrs Justice Andrews stated during the case that
“there is a large volume of detailed rules, licence conditions, schemes and policies, including the Concordat and the Quota Management Regulations…which are published and openly available and which have been notified to the Commission. There is ample evidence that they include environmental criteria as required by Article 17, and that far from paying them lip service, they are afforded proper weight in the allocation process.”
The judgment of the European Court of Auditors was that the case brought by Greenpeace was wrong.
Greenpeace has had a longstanding campaign on article 17, but in my view it has been barking up the wrong tree. The truth is that if we want to address the issue of fishing opportunities for the inshore sector, we should not do it by clinging to some article in residual EU law. The correct way to do it is to include, as I have committed to my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney that I will, a reference to fishing opportunities in the Secretary of State’s fishing statement, where it directly links to the socioeconomic impacts on coastal communities—not to attempt to play with the wording of article 17.
The shadow Minister says that we should break the link with FQAs. I have been clear that we are breaking the link. As we diverge from relative stability, any new fishing opportunities will not follow FQA units. The correct chronology as we approach that issue is to say, “Let’s allocate new opportunities on an entirely new basis, not following the residual contours of FQA units, but for the purposes of stability in the short to medium term, let’s not meddle with those existing FQA allocations.” However, as I said earlier, it is absolutely open to a Government, at any point that they want to do so, to signal their intention to reallocate those FQA units.
The case law on that comes from the important test case brought by the UK producer organisations. In the judgment, Justice Cranston suggested that there is a type of property right attached to the FQA units, and that they would therefore probably need to be given in the region of seven years’ notice of the intention to move away from those FQA units. Indeed, the Faroes, which have recently embarked on that process, gave their holders of FQA units, or their equivalent to FQA units, a 10-year notice period before they reallocated them.
It is something that very much can be done in the future, but that chronology of perfecting a new, fairer and better way of allocating fishing opportunities, with new opportunities coming in as we depart from relative stability, combined with a signal being given at the appropriate time that we intend to look at FQA units themselves—along with the commitment that I have already given to look at referencing fishing opportunities in the Secretary of State’s fisheries statements—is the right way to address this challenge.
I am grateful to the Minister for setting out why this is what he wants to do, but that it is too difficult to do it in the way that we have set out. That is how I have interpreted his response. The important thing is that we are talking about setting a fairer framework for smaller boats in particular. I know the Minister seeks to label this as a Greenpeace initiative, and indeed Greenpeace is one of its supporters, but so is the organisation that represents small boats.
The amendment makes real the promises of the leave campaign. If we do not find a way of giving powers to the national fishing authorities to reallocate the existing quotas, what happens if no quotas come back at the end of the negotiations with the EU? What happens if people, admittedly above the Minister’s pay scale, come back with no additional quotas whatsoever? That is a very real risk at the moment. What happens if there are no unicorns in the nets of our fishers? That is the problem that we face.
The Minister cannot have it both ways. He says that he wants to reallocate FQAs. So do we, and there is an opportunity to do that. It is about asking, “How will we make a fairer system if no additional quotas come back?” If they do, I agree with the Minister that we need to reallocate them in a fairer way. Economic, social and environmental criteria are the ones that we agree on—there is commonality on both sides of the Committee Room in that respect.
If no additional quotas come back, because there is a real risk that our fishers will be betrayed in the upcoming negotiations, no matter how many reassurances Ministers give them, what then? The amendment gives Ministers the power to signal, and suggests that Ministers signal, that they wish to reallocate quotas based on those sound economic criteria.
That relates to the point that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland made regarding the notice period that someone is given. The Minister has answered that question by setting out from the legal judgment that it is a period of seven years. A proper period should be determined, via consultation with the industry and other stakeholders, for when those allocations should have their value reset. It should be set in the public’s best interest, as fishing is a public good.
It is important to set that notice period. That is why the amendment is so important: it encourages Ministers to signal their intention that they will reset FQAs and redistribute them in a fairer way. It might well be that there are whole areas and whole species that we would not want to redistribute. It might also be that there are zones and particular fisheries that we would want to prioritise, as the Minister has said in terms of the small amount of redistribution that his Department has done.
I am not asking the Minister to learn the words of “The Red Flag”, including the difficult second verse, nor to embrace socialism in a way that would offend his sensibilities; I am suggesting that he embrace an amendment that would make real the promises of the leave campaign to our small fleet and our coastal communities. Give the powers to the national authorities to redistribute, if they wish to—in effect, that is what this says. There is no compulsion on them to do so, but the strong indication is that that is the right thing to do.
That is why the amendment is so important. Without it, there is no focus either on redistributing existing quota or on correctly redistributing the quota that is coming over—if we get any. I caution that we should not presume that we will get any, because I fear that decisions made by pay grades far above those of all in this room—including yours, Mr Hanson, unbelievably—might be for quotas to stay as they are. No matter what amendments the Government make, I fear that those decisions are out of our hands. That is why the amendment is so important and why we will put it to a vote.
“(c) the Scottish Ministers,
(d) the Welsh Ministers, and
(e) the Northern Ireland department
The amendment would require that all “national authorities” in fisheries that must abide by the new approach to fishing opportunity distribution includes devolved Administration Ministers as well as the Secretary of State and the Marine Management Organisation.
I should point out that this would not interfere with devolved powers over fisheries. It would, as the CFP does already, simply set the legal mandate for future distribution criteria according to environmental, social and local economic factors. The actual process beyond that of identifying and agreeing the criteria through consultation with experts and the public, plus any administrative approach locally, would be in the hands of the devolved Administrations and not the Westminster Government. I would welcome it if the Minister could clarify the issues and set out what he believes to be the right procedure to deal with them.
I am happy to support this excellent amendment, because it seeks to ensure that in the distribution of fishing opportunities, Scottish Ministers, along with Welsh Ministers and the Northern Ireland Department—we hope, soon, a Northern Ireland Executive will be restored—would be recognised as “relevant national authorities”, alongside the Secretary of State and the Marine Management Organisation. The Labour party believes such an approach to be fair. It would ensure parity between Scottish Ministers and the Secretary of State.
In good faith, I urge the Minister to accept the amendment. A failure to do so would show that the UK Government are not at all committed to ensuring that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are equal partners in our Union of nations. The amendment is therefore critical.
It seems that we are in violent agreement on some things—we cannot do wrong for doing right, can we? Interestingly, I think that adding the amendment to the Bill would define the process and make it clear. That is why we also supported a clear dispute resolution mechanism being in the Bill. That, too, would have provided a clear, unequivocal process that would have allowed us to resolve these problems with the different partners in the UK. I have to say that I was rather disappointed that the SNP abstained on that amendment, but we are where we are. I think this is a worthwhile measure and it will be helpful for us to proceed on this basis. I urge the Minister, in good faith, to support it to bind our Union together even more.
As I have said many times, the Bill sits within the devolved settlement and it is for each Administration to make the changes that are needed to retained EU law to make it operable. The devolved Administrations are currently drafting many statutory instruments and other legislative vehicles to make retained EU law operable. In this Bill, we have chosen to make the changes that are necessary to make article 17 operable. None of the other devolved Administrations wanted us to include that in the Bill on their behalf. That may be because they intend to address these issues through legislation of their own.
My understanding is that the Labour Administration in Wales asked for it to be taken out. They no longer wished to be included in this clause. Clearly, hon. Members can ask a legitimate question: does that mean that no other part of the UK intends to abide by article 17 and are content to leave it inoperable; do they intend to address it in a different way; or have they not yet considered it, but might like us to add them to the list in subsection (6) at a later stage of the Bill’s passage? I will undertake further conversations with the devolved Administrations between now and Report to understand their intentions.
I hope hon. Members will understand that we respect the devolution settlement. Without the permission of the devolved Administrations, it is not proper for us to accept this amendment, since it is a devolved matter, but it is certainly an issue where we could have further conversations with the devolved Administrations ahead of Report.
“3 The documents and evidence forming the basis for allocation decisions must be made available to the public within 20 days of the decision being made.”
The amendment would ensure that documents and evidence forming the basis of any allocation decisions must be made available to the public, so as to enhance accountability and transparency in the quota-setting process. Lack of such transparency has been a key issue with the current FQA situation under the CFP. Indeed, many urban myths have developed. Myths that certain football clubs and car manufacturers own fish quota have been doing the rounds for many years. The European Court of Auditors judged the FQA system as not being fit for purpose. It has led to the trading and renting out of quota at punitive and prohibitive prices, solely for profit and often at great cost to the inshore fleet.
Once environmental, social and economic criteria are established in law as the priority for determining future quota distribution, the environmental and social criteria should be identified, but transparently, by engaging public consultation at both national and regional levels. At a minimum, they should align with the definition of environmental in the Environmental Information Regulations 2004. Social criteria could include aiding new entrants to the industry; local landing based opportunities, both in ports and in processing factories; increased landings in ports; and enhancing local cultural identity and tourism.
One of the complaints about the current system of quota distribution has been about its opaque nature and the lack of transparency. This fairly simple amendment provides the opportunity to address that issue and overcome one of the handicaps of the system that we have had to deal with to date. In that context, I am of a mind to press the amendment to a vote, although I welcome the Minister’s comments.
The argument in favour of the amendment has been powerfully put by the hon. Member for Waveney, but the sentiment is worth echoing. It is really important that, as we set up a new fisheries management system after Brexit, fishers have confidence in that new system. As we have heard, there is a great deal of suspicion about how the current quotas are allocated, and the ability to have that available for public scrutiny is important. We support the amendment.
The methodology for distributing existing quota between the four Administrations is set out in the publicly available UK quota management rules. In addition, each Administration have their own rules for allocating their existing quota, which, again, are already publicly available. The rules are also subject to consultation.
In our White Paper, we set out very clearly that we would have a revised methodology for the allocations, and it is of course our intention that they will be published. I understand the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney, but I encourage him to read what we already publish before taking the decision to press the amendment to a Division. We already have publicly available rules, which are published, and we have committed to publish new ones. We publish a great deal of information.
As I highlighted earlier, in the judgment in the Greenpeace court case, Mrs Justice Andrews said that
“there is a large volume of detailed rules, licence conditions, schemes and policies...which are published and openly available and which have been notified to the Commission.”
A vast amount of information is already published. I would like to share some of those documents with my hon. Friend for his weekend reading, and then he could consider whether he still has a hunger for more statutory requirements of this nature.
I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, and I take on board the nature in which he makes that offer. Over the years, so much suspicion has grown up over this issue. I feel that there is a need for transparency so that the industry and the public can have confidence in the system. I do think it appropriate to have what is a fairly minor amendment in the Bill, and therefore I will press it to a vote.
With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 19—Criteria for the allocation of fishing opportunities—
“(1) When allocating the fishing opportunities available to the United Kingdom between the relevant national authorities, the Secretary of State shall use transparent and objective criteria including those of an environmental, social and economic nature, recognising the United Kingdom fishery as public property held on trust for the people of the United Kingdom. The criteria used shall include, inter alia, the impact of fishing on the environment and the social and economic contribution to the local economy, and shall comply with the fisheries objectives set out in section 1 and any JFS or SSFS.
(2) When allocating the fishing opportunities available to them, English fisheries administrations shall use transparent and objective criteria including those of an environmental, social and economic nature, recognising the English fishery as public property held on trust for the people of England. The criteria used shall include, inter alia, the impact of fishing on the environment and the social and economic contribution to the local economy, and shall comply with the fisheries objectives set out in section 1 and any JFS or SSFS.
(3) When allocating the fishing opportunities available to them pursuant to sub-section (2), English fisheries administrations shall provide incentives to fishing vessels deploying selective fishing gear and/or using fishing techniques with reduced environmental impact, such as reduced energy consumption or habitat damage.
(4) The documents and evidence forming the basis for allocation decisions under sub-sections (2) and (3) must be made available to the public within 20 days of the decision being made, and such documents and evidence shall not be treated as exempt information under sections 21 to 44 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
(5) In this section ‘relevant national authorities’ means—
(a) the Secretary of State,
(b) the Scottish Ministers,
(c) the Welsh Ministers, and
(d) the Northern Ireland department.
(6) In this Act—
‘English fisheries administrations’ means—
(a) The Secretary of State;
(b) The Marine Management Organisation; and
(c) any of the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities.
‘English fishery’ means such sovereign fishing rights as exist in the English inshore region and the English offshore region.”
The new clause sets out criteria for the allocation of fishing opportunities. I would like to place on the record my thanks to Dr Tom Appleby, who appeared before us in last week’s evidence session, for his work on drafting these proposed provisions.
As I have mentioned, clause 20 is a reworking of article 17 of the common fisheries policy, which seeks to incentivise better environmental practice. As currently drafted, the clause permits the Secretary of State to distribute fishing opportunities to the devolved Assemblies and English fishermen. There is a concern that it is too complex. The new clause splits those obligations into two parts, as the roles are subtly different—one is a UK determination and the other is a determination with respect to England only. There is also a concern that the way the clause was incorporated by references makes it difficult to read. The new clause seeks to improve on that.
The new clause provides the following. First, it provides a UK function in subsection (1) and an English function in subsections (2) and (3). Secondly, unlike other public assets, the nature of the public ownership of UK fisheries is not settled in legislation—we heard the reasons for that on Tuesday—although the courts confirmed in the 2013 case that has been mentioned at length that fish are a public asset. It is important that the nature of that public ownership is settled, as that would enable UK administrators to manage and dispose of the asset properly, with appropriate powers and duties being granted. It is proposed that ownership should take the form of a public trust vested in the Secretary of State in a similar way to other Crown assets managed by such organisations as the Crown Estate Commissioners.
Thirdly, the distribution of fishing opportunities would include social criteria as a means of tying in the joint fisheries statements and the Secretary of State’s fisheries statement. It would also include a means of rewarding better fishing practices. Finally, since the documentation recording the reasons for disposing of fishing opportunities to the commercial sector would involve the distribution of a public asset, there would need to be unequivocal transparency.
We examined in last week’s evidence sessions whether quota reallocation would leave the Government and the fisheries administrations exposed to legal threats. It is important to consider that question with regard to the new clause. In so doing, I highlight two issues. First, Greenpeace sought independent legal advice, which concluded that these changes would be compatible with domestic and international law and that
“a challenge to a new system of quota allocation enshrined in an Act of Parliament would be unlikely to succeed.”
That conclusion is based on two key points. First, the mandate for reallocation would be placed in a new Act of Parliament that overrides any common law and, after Brexit, will be supreme. Secondly, in the 2013 case, Mr Justice Cranston stated that in his view FQA units could be deemed as possessions falling within article 1 of the first protocol of the European convention on human rights—the right to property. He also said that FQA units had no value if no quota had been allocated or they were unused, and in any case the interference with the possession of FQA units was in accordance with law and was justified.
Taken together, these two points mean that in the scenario of mandating quota reallocation in UK law, as we are now considering in our discussion of this Bill, this is compatible—
Will the hon. Gentleman explain how his new clause would work in terms of the devolved Administrations and how they manage their quotas?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point. The intention is not to interfere with that management through the current devolution settlement, so I do not think that he has a particular worry on this issue.
As I have said, the devolved Administrations would have a full role in this process; that should not present a problem.
This new approach would result in European companies that currently control UK quotas having to respond and show why they should keep this quota on the UK terms, and they would have to address the principles of sustainability and local employment. That approach is compatible with article 17 of the common fisheries policy and it would not be challenged by any other members of the EU. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
Subsection (1) revokes article 16 of the common fisheries regulation. That article provides for the Council to distribute fishing opportunities to member states, which obviously will no longer apply when we leave the European Union. Subsection (2), which we have debated in some detail, simply makes article 17 of the CFP operable in the UK.
I turn now to new clause 19, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney. We have rehearsed many of the points in our consideration of earlier measures and amendments, so I will not dwell on them in detail. I have already pointed out that I do not believe that we need a statement that fisheries resources are a national asset or public property, because that is self-evidently the case and our common law has always held as much. Indeed, recent case law has held that very clearly and we have a common law tradition on some of these matters.
I have already given my hon. Friend an undertaking that we will look at the wording of the Secretary of State’s fisheries statements, so that we can consider the catch opportunities and fishing opportunities in the context of protecting coastal communities and those who depend on fishing for their living.
A number of the other elements of new clause 19 are already accommodated by article 17 of the CFP, which we have now made operable. The commitment to have transparent objectives already exists and is made operable by clause 20, so I do not believe that this proposed change is necessary.
I will also point out that the new clause would have the effect of bringing into scope the devolved Administrations when the way in which they allocate quota to their own fleet is a devolved matter. It is for the UK to allocate limits for the whole of the UK and to make determinations of allocations to each Administration, but it is for those devolved Administrations to decide how they then go on to allocate things to their own fleet.
Finally, new clause 19(6) seeks to bring the inshore fisheries and conservation authorities within the scope of this provision. I say to my hon. Friend that that is inappropriate, since we are talking here about the allocation of fishing opportunities and quotas. The IFCAs have a role in inshore fisheries conservation doing things such as setting closures and sometimes putting limits on the type of gear that might be used to catch lobsters, for instance. What the IFCAs certainly do not do is play any role in the allocation of quota.
Since we are talking predominantly about the allocation of opportunities to fish quota species, it is not appropriate to bring the inshore fisheries and conservation authorities within the scope of this part of the Bill. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will see fit to not press his new clause.
We support the principles behind the amendment; it is extremely similar to amendment 106 and I refer back to the same arguments that I made on that.