Financial assistance: powers of Secretary of State

Fisheries Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 17 December 2018.

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Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water) 4:45, 17 December 2018

I beg to move amendment 108, in clause 28, page 16, line 25, at end insert—

“(f) the gathering of scientific data relating to fishing, including but not limited to carrying out stock assessments, vessel monitoring and recording fishing catches.”

This amendment would enable financial assistance to be provided for scientific data collection.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 98, in clause 29, page 17, line 21, at end insert—

“(e) commissioning scientific research to support—

(i) fish stock management, food security and biodiversity, and

(ii) the development of low impact fishing techniques.

(f) any other administrative function relating to fisheries management.”

Amendment 109, in clause 31, page 18, line 24, at end insert—

“(d) the gathering of scientific data to inform management of fish stocks.”

This amendment would add scientific data collection to the conservation purpose for which Clause 31 enables the Secretary of State to make regulations.

New clause 21—Proceeds of charges and fees—

“(none) Any proceeds or charges received by the Secretary of State, the Marine Management Organisation or any Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority pursuant to sections 22, 23 or 29(3) shall be used to preserve the English fishery for future generations, which shall include—

(a) the commissioning of scientific research to support effective stock management and biodiversity;

(b) the commissioning of scientific or technical research into, and the development of, low impact fishing techniques;

(c) the administrative functions relating to fisheries management of the Secretary of State, the Marine Management Organisation and the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities; and

(d) such other objectives as may be set out in a JFS or SSFS

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

Amendment 108 would make it possible to provide funding for data collection, scientific research and better vessel monitoring. Just about everyone in this debate supports better data. Fishers would like the opportunity to prove that they are behaving sustainably and that there are more fish in the water than the scientists say. It would be money well spent, given the extra potential revenue if fisheries were recovered to their optimum economic output.

UK seas have historically been an abundant source of food, income and employment, but they are failing to meet their full potential. Government figures show that two thirds of our main commercial fish stocks are depleted, overfished or at risk of being depleted, or their status is unknown. With better scientific understanding of our fish stocks and the impact of fishing, fisheries management would be more effective, helping stocks to recover and our marine ecosystem to flourish.

Funding data collection makes good economic sense because the cost of stock assessments is very reasonable. Sustain calculates an initial cost of £190 million and then £19 million annually to assess all deficient stocks. Conservative estimates suggest that would catch £150 million more fish in the UK if all stocks were managed at their economic optimum. Better data could allow management to be more precise and responsive. It could give fishers the evidence that they argue for, for increased catches where sustainability is proven.

Data deficiency is a significant issue for the UK fishing fleet. Poor data is affecting the management of commercial opportunities for the most important species in the UK. As we heard in our evidence sessions, data deficiency is one of the main reasons why much of the fish caught in UK waters cannot be marketed as sustainable. For fishing to be sustainable there must be sufficient understanding of the population of the targeted species, and of the impact of fishing and/or the status of the sea floor ecosystems. Without that data, boats can be considered ineligible for Marine Stewardship Council certification, or receive a lower rating on the Marine Conservation Society’s “Good Fish Guide”. With better data, more UK fisheries would be eligible for sustainability certification, or would receive a better rating from the MCS. That would allow them access to the best markets for fish, including UK public sector catering.

In a recent report, Sustain found that UK fisheries are not verifiably sustainable and are losing out on millions of pounds’-worth of business, because companies look abroad for fish that meet their sustainable buying policies. Data deficiency particularly disadvantages small-scale fleets—80% of the stocks targeted by the large industrial fleet have stock assessments, whereas only 12% of those targeted by small-scale English fleets have adequate data to achieve sustainability certification. It is unfair on smaller boats if, even when they fish sustainably, they are unable to prove it. That is why amendment 108 would include the gathering of scientific data on fishing in the key provisions of the Bill. Amendment 109 would amend clause 31 to make

“the gathering of scientific data to inform management of fish stocks” an additional conservation purpose under the Bill. So data collection and data deficiency would be dealt with in those two separate areas.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney

I want to speak to amendment 98 and new clause 21. The amendment would make two additions to the list of what are called “relevant marine functions”, for which charges can be made. The first addition, following on from the remarks of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, would be the commissioning of

“scientific research to support…fish stock management, food security and biodiversity”.

Improving our science is very important. Secondly, the amendment would add a general

“administrative function relating to fisheries management”.

New clause 21 sets out three uses for which the proceeds could be used: the commissioning of scientific research to support effective stock management and biodiversity; the commissioning of scientific research into the development of low-impact fishing techniques; and

“the administrative functions relating to fisheries management of the Secretary of State, the Marine Management Organisation and the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities”.

It is important to incentivise the collection of scientific data and research so as to support fish stock management and biodiversity. Fisheries science and accurate data are essential, as things move forward, to put fisheries management on to an effective footing that will be sustainable in the long term. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s plans for that.

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

I understand that the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, on financial assistance, and those tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney, relating to the power to impose charges, have at their heart a concern that we need better quality scientific data. We have discussed that on a number of occasions. I broadly agree. We have made some good progress; stocks that were of data-limited status have moved on to have full stock assessments. There is undoubtedly further to go.

DEFRA already pays the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science to gather the data as part of its service level agreement. The issue is whether there is a need for clause 28 to include an additional purpose in relation to science. Our view is that there is not, for a number of reasons. First, the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, which is an EU fund, does indeed have a category for enforcement and science. That is made available to national Governments for doing the relevant work. Clearly, in an era where we are funding national Government activities directly from the Treasury we do not need a separate provision in the way that we do in the EMFF.

Our view is therefore that future grants to replace the EMFF should be directed at the fishing industry and aquaculture, to support those areas, and that the funding for the activities of CEFAS and science should come from the Government, and the powers to do that obviously already exist through the normal channels—the spending review processes and the funding that we make available to CEFAS through our service-level agreement with it.

As for making available additional financial resources, it is our view and our intention, which we point to in our White Paper, that some of the money raised from tendering—new quota and new fishing opportunities as we depart from relative stability—could be available for this purpose, to support additional investment in science. It is entirely reasonable to say that, as we gain additional fishing opportunities, some of the money raised from that should support science. It is also my view that some of the money from the discard prevention scheme could also go to supporting science, particularly to support more selectivity. Finally, clause 31, which we will obviously come on to, includes lots of provisions and purposes that will enable us to collect data and information relating to catches, which would inform our scientific knowledge.

Therefore, I understand the important point that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport and my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney are making—we do need to fund science—but I do not think that it is appropriate to put that in these particular clauses. However, it is something that we are absolutely committed to doing. Indeed, I hope that when we consider the Bill on Report I will be able to give more information on how we intend to focus the discard prevention levy or charge and any moneys raised from the tender of future fishing opportunities to support this scientific objective.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water) 5:00, 17 December 2018

I must say that I am troubled by a number of things that the Minister has said in his response. Given that the Government have not yet committed to replacing every single penny within the EMFF funding for our coastal communities, I do not think that we should base opposition to this amendment on trust that Treasury Ministers will side with us when it comes to delivering out the pennies because, quite simply, I do not trust the Treasury to fund our fishery science sufficiently on this issue. That is why an amendment that would provide for the Secretary of State to give factual assistance on the basis of supporting science is an absolutely key part of this process, because it would send a message about the tone and clarity that the Government are seeking to create that the funding of fishery science, the funding of stock levels and the funding of the ability to address data deficiency is a key priority.

We have already heard that there are a number of aspects to the Bill that are troubling in relation to the lack of clarity on data funding, and I have to say that I found the Minister’s reply unconvincing. I am glad that he is considering bringing elements back on Report, because clearly there is a problem here that he and his team have highlighted. I think this area is very important, so I will not withdraw the amendment.

Question proposed, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 6, Noes 9.

Division number 12 Fisheries Bill — Financial assistance: powers of Secretary of State

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

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

I beg to move amendment 111, in clause 28, page 16, line 25, at end insert—

“(1A) The Secretary of State must conduct a consultation on exercising the power to give financial assistance under subsection (1) to promote the development of sustainable public access to recreational fishing opportunities for the fish catching sector and leisure and tourism industries, taking into account socio-economic factors.”

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 25—Recreational fishing—

“(1) When any provision of this Act, including provisions inserted into other Acts by this Act, requires or permits the Secretary of State to consult with any person considered appropriate, the Secretary of State must consult with persons representing the practice of recreational fishing.

(2) The Secretary of State shall publish an annual report providing an assessment of the extent to which the provisions of this Act have—

(a) promoted recreational fishing, and

(b) had economic benefits attributable to the promotion of recreational fishing by the provisions of this Act.

(3) The first report under subsection (2) shall be published no more than 12 months after this section comes into force.”

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to consult on providing financial assistance for the promotion of recreational fishing, and to include representatives of recreational fishing when conducting a consultation under any other provisions of the Bill.

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

On Second Reading, I said that recreational fishing is entirely absent from the Bill at a meaningful level and that is not good enough. Recreational fishing is a vibrant, growing and important part of our coastal communities and needs due recognition by Ministers in the Fisheries Bill. Labour’s proposals are designed to give recreational fishing the prominence that a sector of this economic size deserves.

In the evidence session held by the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on Wednesday, Martin Salter from the Angling Trust talked about the vital economic link between recreational angling and coastal communities. The Bill is an opportunity to drive and create greater economic activity in our coastal communities. Mr Salter mentioned the booming recreational fishing sectors of Cape Cod and Florida, which are worth billions of dollars, as examples of what could be achieved in coastal communities in the UK. Wealth generated by recreational fishing boosts other industries such as tourism, including the bed-and-breakfast trade and all other aspects of hospitality and tourism.

Coastal communities depend on economic activity generated by the recreational fishing industry, but for recreational fishing to thrive and have a positive impact on our coastal communities, the industry needs investment, sustainable waters and healthy fish stocks. Amendment 111 would bring recreational angling within the new Government grants that will replace the European maritime and fisheries fund. The UK was allocated £190 million of EMFF funding for 2014 to 2020. It is vital that every penny from the EMFF be matched after we leave the European Union, but, sadly, Ministers have made no such commitment to date.

As well as the economic importance of recreational fishing to coastal communities, this activity plays a big part in the culture of those communities. Sea angling brings with it many social and health and wellbeing benefits. For children and young people, it is often their first experience of interacting with the natural world. The Bill must give us the ability to support recreational fishing. It could provide opportunities for young people to get involved in recreational fishing and encourage them to pursue a career or lifelong hobby in this sector. Nurturing this industry is crucial, because we know that that could lead to a renaissance of our coastal communities.

“Sea Angling 2012”, the study of recreational sea angling carried out by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, shows that total resident sea angler spending in 2012 was estimated to be £1.23 billion, equivalent to £831 million of direct spending, excluding imports and taxes. That directly supported 10,400 full-time jobs and almost £360 million of gross value added. The total economic impact was £2.1 billion of spending, supporting 23,600 full-time equivalent jobs and almost £980 million of GVA once indirect and induced effects were accounted for. That is a huge contribution to our coastal towns and cities.

Photo of Owen Smith Owen Smith Labour, Pontypridd

My hon. Friend is making a compelling case for including recreational fishing in the Bill. Does he agree that we are only starting to scratch the surface of the economic contribution that recreational fishing could make to our economy, and does he further agree that the Government could do so much to encourage, in particular, greater tourism into this country to take advantage of its great recreational fishing opportunities, if they were to highlight the importance of that in the Bill itself?

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

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention: he is exactly right. Indeed, this weekend I had conversations with Destination Plymouth about the new tourism marketing plan for my own city. We were talking about how the value of recreational angling and sea fishing could be further embedded as part of the tourism product for the far south-west, which would create more jobs, so he is exactly right.

Coastal communities benefit when good fishing attracts anglers. Let us not tie any Minister’s hands but explicitly lay out in the Bill that they have the power to award recreational fishing the grants it needs to grow our economy and grow the love of our marine environment.

New clause 25 also relates to the ability to provide financial assistance for recreational fishing and its importance as part of the wider development of sustainable practices in recreational fishing. According to figures from DEFRA—the Minister’s own Department—recreational fishing and sea angling are worth about £2 billion to the UK economy, generate about 20,000 jobs and support thousands of coastal businesses. Sometimes the economic benefits of the recreational sector can outweigh those of the commercial sector, but as we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd, it is not spoken about enough. We need to be louder and prouder about the contribution that recreational angling can make to our coastal towns.

In this Committee’s evidence sessions on the Bill, the Angling Trust rightly said that one of the “great failures” of the common fisheries policy was the failure to recognise recreational angling as a legitimate stakeholder in European fisheries. The Bill could put right that failure of the CFP. We could do that today by stating in the Bill that the UK Government recognise recreational sea angling as a direct user and legitimate stakeholder in the fisheries. That would be a win-win situation, as it would add to the very welcome news that we will have access to EMFF funding—I hope the Minister will confirm that. We need recreational fishing to be loud and proud on the face of the Bill, to send a message to the people engaged in the sector that we want that part of the economy to grow further, and that we value it.

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

I agree with just about everything the hon. Gentleman has said. This is a good example of how a small measure of Government investment could have a transformative effect and bring manifold returns. Some decades ago, the Highlands and Islands Development Board installed mooring buoys throughout the highlands and islands, which allowed many yachtsmen and other sailors to enjoy that part of the countryside. It brought in a tremendous amount of income, and tourism burgeoned over the years. The same is possible for those who are trying to increase recreational angling.

The hon. Gentleman’s amendment is very modest: it requires that consultation be held. It does not bind any Minister or future Minister to do anything. It is pretty clear that if we just leave this and wait for something to happen, it almost certainly never will.

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

I declare an interest: my brother is a keen angler who targets bass off the Cornish coasts, so I regularly hear from him about these issues.

Photo of Owen Smith Owen Smith Labour, Pontypridd

I am also a recreational sea angler for bass. Does the Minister agree that we could do much more for our economy in many parts of the country—not just the south-west, but off Wales and Scotland—if we did more to promote the prospect of bass angling?

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

It would be something if we could conserve bass. Indeed, that will be another important agenda item at this year’s December Council.

Photo of Owen Smith Owen Smith Labour, Pontypridd

Does the Minister agree that one of the ways in which we might conserve bass is by reserving those stocks solely for recreational angling?

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

I would not reserve them solely for recreational angling, but I have been in the vanguard of arguing for them to have a more generous bag limit than the Commission has hitherto granted.

I know that the Angling Trust has been promoting the amendment, and I am a big fan of Martin Salter. I bumped into him after the evidence session when he raised these points, and I said that I felt that he had a rather “glass half empty” view. As the shadow Minister knows, clause 28(1)(e) is absolutely explicit that we are creating powers to give financial assistance for

“the promotion or development of recreational fishing.”

That is a first. The EMFF and the European schemes have never had any provision whatever for targeted grant support for recreational angling.

Photo of Mike Hill Mike Hill Labour, Hartlepool

Hartlepool has a much-depleted offshore fleet these days, so recreational fishing is very much in the ascendency, particularly because we have got wrecks that generate good fish stocks. Does the Minister agree that that is important for tourism?

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

Yes, I very much agree. I hail from a Cornish constituency that is surrounded by water, so recreational angling is an important tourist activity. These issues are indeed very important. I have seen estimates that put the commercial value of recreational fishing at about £2 billion. We always have to be slightly suspicious of some of these figures, but there is no doubt that it is a commercially important sector.

Amendment 111 and new clause 25 seek to achieve slightly different things. With respect to amendment 111, I do not think that it is necessary to require a consultation, since in clause 28(1)(e) we have taken—for the first time and with very good reason—a power to give grants for recreational fishing. As I have said many times, DEFRA needs no encouragement to issue consultations. We have regular consultations on all sorts of issues—I think last year we had something like 50—and sometimes only a handful of people reply. I can guarantee the Committee that before introducing any grant scheme under clause 28(1), we would consult on its design and purpose, so I do not think that it needs to be placed in statute that we must run a consultation.

New clause 25, which seeks to address the issue from a slightly different angle, would require consultation on relevant provisions and the publication of an annual report to demonstrate how we are supporting recreational fishing. It is based on a potentially stronger argument than amendment 111, so I undertake to the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, that I will consider whether we can tweak clause 2 on Report to include among the socioeconomic purposes for coastal communities, to be set out in the Secretary of State fisheries statement, a specific reference to recreational fishing and the potential economics of it.

I think that that is the right way to address the issue, because the SSFS sets out our overall approach to the socioeconomics of fishing. Just as clause 2 is the right place to determine issues such as fishing opportunities for the inshore fleet, it might also serve the hon. Gentleman’s purpose if we make a tweak that refers specifically to recreational angling. He will understand that I need to have conversations across Government to get agreement for that, but having spoken to Martin Salter of the Angling Trust, I think that such a change would go some way towards mollifying his fears—he might even end up taking a “glass half full” view of the Bill.

Photo of Owen Smith Owen Smith Labour, Pontypridd 5:15, 17 December 2018

I have seen Mr Salter with a glass full or half full on many occasions.

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

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has; I think I have, too.

Having given an undertaking to look specifically into the possibility of making reference to recreational angling in the SSFS, where it best sits, I hope that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport will not see the need to press his amendment.

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

I thank the Minister for taking recreational sea angling and fishing so comprehensively on board in his response. It is good to hear that he intends to issue a consultation before any powers under clause 28(1)(e) are used. That commitment delivers on the intent of our amendment 111, and I am pleased that he is taking on board the concern expressed by recreational fishers that they should be given greater prominence in the Bill.

With respect to new clause 25, I will look carefully at what the Minister brings back on Report. There is an opportunity to do much more on recreational fishing; if he brings back the new clause, the Bill will be the better for it. On the basis of the commitments he has given, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 28 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 4