Distribution of fishing opportunities

Part of Fisheries Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 13th December 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland) 3:30 pm, 13th December 2018

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.