Discard prevention charging schemes

Fisheries Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 17 December 2018.

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Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland) 4:30, 17 December 2018

I beg to move amendment 103, in clause 23, page 13, line 28, at end insert—

“(c) where monies raised through a charging scheme are spent.”

To bring transparency over use of money raised through a charging scheme, and to allow for it to be argued for a revenue to be ringfenced to be spent on research and investment in the industry.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 104, in clause 23, page 14, line 7, at end insert—

“(8) The Secretary of State must publish a report every year that reviews the charging scheme. This review will include—

(a) the amount of revenue raised through the scheme, and

(b) the use of revenue raised through the scheme.”

To require the Secretary of State to publish an annual review of the charging scheme.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

It is a pleasure to be back here under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. If you will indulge me, I will say a brief word about the conduct of the Committee’s business, which has been exemplary so far. We have managed to get through a lot of business. Nobody has taken too long, but we have managed a thorough exploration of the issues. You might be aware, Mr Hanson, that this week is significant for fishing communities, coinciding as it does with the advent of the annual December Fisheries Council in Brussels. Many of us here represent fishing communities and we know the importance of having the best possible representation at the highest possible level from our own Government. It is a fairly common view within our communities that the Minister should be there in attendance if possible. We therefore wish to finish the business of the Committee tonight if possible. Obviously, the matter is of long-term importance, but, for the communities that we represent, what happens in Brussels in the next day or two will be significant.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his comments, but it is a matter for every member of the Committee to determine when we complete our business. Sittings are planned until Wednesday, but if Members restrain themselves, completing business tonight could be achieved.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

Indeed, Mr Hanson. I will simply say this: not only from the point of view of those of us who represent fishing communities, but from the point of view of Parliament as a whole, it will do no harm for MPs to be seen at least in this regard as behaving like mature grown-ups.

The Committee will be aware that clause 23 seeks to introduce a discard prevention charging scheme for those who, for whatever reason, have taken over-quota fish. The amendments try to add a little more focus to that. Amendment 103 allows for the money taken from these finds to be ring-fenced and a specific purpose for the money to be identified. The specific purpose that I have in mind relates to fisheries management, conservation, and perhaps maritime or marine environmental schemes—measures of that sort. Given the general nature of the Bill, and with a view to the durability of the legislation, we have not sought to tie the hands of any future Minister with regard to what that specific purpose might ultimately be. It is a fairly novel approach to a scheme of this sort, but it is not without precedent.

The precedent that springs most readily to mind is the aggregates levy, which allowed money to be ring-fenced for spending in communities situated next to aggregate excavation quarries because they were in some way affected by the industry. It would be a very good signal to send, and such a measure would bring about a bit of confidence in the industry itself with regard to how the discard prevention charging scheme is administered.

Amendment 104 would make provision for an annual review to account for the money raised and how it has been spent. That would follow on naturally from amendment 103—if the Committee were minded to incorporate such a measure. It is an important point, but not one that at this stage, subject to what I might hear from the Minster, I intend to push to a vote.

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

It is good to see everyone back here. I think we all agree that discards should be prevented, and we all want more sustainable forms of fishing, but the discard ban that will kick in on 1 January worries fishers from Cornwall and Plymouth to Peterhead and Fraserburgh. They worry that their boats will be tied up because the ban will prevent them from going to sea.

We need a system that prevents discards and means fish caught without a quota are not wasted, chucked overboard or discarded. We heard in our evidence sessions from Aaron Brown of Fishing for Leave, who feels there are major problems with this part of the Bill. Helen McLachlan, and Debbie Crockard of the Marine Conservation Society, referred to the uncertainty about the consequences—intended and, importantly, unintended —of the scheme. Even Dr O’Brien did not entirely convince us that he knew how the scheme would work.

The amendments tabled by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland seem entirely sensible, but we are not convinced that the Government have suddenly found the right answer. It undermines this enabling Bill to set out the scheme in such detail without any scope for piloting or consultation to see what works and to develop the detail of the scheme in collaboration with fishers and marine conservation organisations.

I therefore would be grateful if the Minister answered a few questions about this part of the Bill. Where did the basis for the scheme come from? Are there any precedents in other countries? What evidence did the Department draw on when designing the scheme? What industry views were sought, what opinions were given, and how were they taken into account? Why does the Department consider that it is not appropriate to conduct a pilot or trial to test the key elements of the scheme before it is enshrined in primary legislation? Under the scheme, what will happen to the fish that are landed? How will the Department avoid requiring fishers to go to and from harbour to land fish, thereby increasing their carbon footprint?

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

It is, perhaps, pertinent that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland raised the December Council, since it will be dominated by the issue of choke species and making the discard ban work in practice. I can briefly reassure him that I joined our delegation by conference call at eight this morning and again at two, and I plan to be on the first train out there tomorrow, when the substantive negotiations will take place. In the meantime, my noble Friend Lord Gardiner is covering proceedings.

We looked at the idea of a discard prevention charging scheme because we all know, as we approach the final year of the landing obligation, that there are challenges with making it work as far as choke species are concerned. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, asked whether there is precedent for such a scheme. Iceland and New Zealand both have similar schemes, with a kind of overage charge.

I was attracted to that idea because it is rather similar to what we did when we first introduced dairy quotas. Initially, if a farmer went over his quota for milk production, he had to pour the milk down the drain—he could not sell it at all. The super levy was then developed, which meant he could sell it but there would be no economic value to him for producing it. We seek to do something similar here. We will establish a national reserve of quota to underpin the discard prevention charge. Rather than coming up with lots of complex rules, like we have now, to try to find exemptions or other de minimis ways of managing the discard ban, we want to ensure that there is no financial incentive for fishermen to target those fish. However, we do not want to prevent them from landing those fish should they run into stocks they had sought to avoid.

The shadow Minister also asked about consultation. This idea was set out in some detail in our White Paper. Since the White Paper was published, my officials have travelled the country—they have visited fishing communities from Newlyn right up to the north of Scotland—to talk to the industry about the plans we have outlined. I think it is fair to say that the industry recognises that there are many challenges with making the discard ban and the landing obligation work in practice as well as in theory. That is why it is open to this approach, which has a proven track record in some countries.

Finally, the shadow Minister mentioned that we had put the scheme in the Bill without having a pilot or any detailed consultation. I reassure him that clause 23(1) is clear that this will be done through regulations. Before we lay those regulations, we absolutely will consult thoroughly with the industry to ensure that we get the scheme design right. I also reassure him that it is absolutely my intention that we will pilot the scheme before rolling it out nationally. It is obviously quite an important policy and will be quite an important departure from the scheme we have now, and we want to make sure that we have the design right. I hope that, having given that reassurance, the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland will not feel the need to press the amendments to a vote.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

I am not entirely sure that the Minister embraced the substance of the amendments—that the money raised by this scheme could be ring-fenced, and that there should be some reporting mechanism or accountability for it. I am not trying to be difficult. Perhaps the Minister would like to intervene on me?

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

I did indeed miss out a part of my notes. I reassure the right hon. Gentleman that we are absolutely committed to transparency, and that existing Treasury rules require us to publish this information. Under the Government Resources and Accounts Act 2000, the Treasury has already directed the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to prepare, for each financial year, consolidated resource accounts detailing the resources acquired, held or disposed of, and the Department’s use of resources during the year. If the intention behind the amendment is that the money should be ring-fenced for conservation purposes, that is set out in clause 27(3)(c).

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

I am grateful to the Minister for that helpful intervention. I and others strongly suspected that the Treasury would be the least fond of this proposal. The Minister has confirmed those suspicions. However, that is not an unreasonable explanation, 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

I think we covered the key issues of the clause when I set out the purpose and the thinking behind the charging scheme.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 23 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 24