Procedural requirements for regulations under section 31 or 33

Fisheries Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:30 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) 5:30, 17 December 2018

I beg to move amendment 71, in clause 36, page 22, line 24, leave out “negative” and insert “affirmative”.

Briefly, we tabled the amendment so that we could ask the Minister to explain why he believes that the negative procedure is the best option for this clause.

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

As I said, the Government have considered carefully the delegated powers in the Bill and the procedures that should apply to regulations. I will not rehearse the points I made about delegated powers and the precedents for this, but I will give the hon. Gentleman an indication of the technical issues that regulations under this part of the Bill may deal with. They may cover issues such as the catching, landing or selling of sea fish below a certain size—the minimum conservation reference size, as it is sometimes called—and the design of sea-fishing equipment. They may involve introducing a new selectivity measure for the squid fishery off the coast of his constituency, for instance. They may also involve minor issues to do with monitoring or enforcement of compliance.

We have a large number of technical conservation regulations under the existing common fisheries policy—some 90 bodies of regulations cover all sorts of things, from landing sizes to mesh sizes and from closures to prohibitions on landing small-eyed ray. Those are generally dealt with through delegated Acts that come from the Commission. We must have the power to make in-year amendments so that we can react quickly to changing circumstances by taking a stock off the prohibited list or putting it back on, and it is important that we have the ability to act expeditiously to manage our marine environment. Given that we have some 90 bodies of EU regulations and some 300 or 400 different technical regulations in total, I question whether there is appetite in this place for debating each and every one of those changes. The situation can be very dynamic and dozens of changes are made in a typical year.

On that basis, I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not see the need to press the amendment to a vote, and that I have been able to reassure him why we chose the negative resolution procedure rather than the affirmative procedure in this case.

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

I have lost count of the number of debates I have sat through in which we discussed whether to use the negative or affirmative procedure—“must” or “may”—but on this occasion the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport hits on a substantial point.

As we heard, the scope of regulations made under clauses 31 and 33 is defined by clause 34, which provides inter alia in subsection (2) that regulations made under clauses 31 or 33

“may create a criminal offence, but not one punishable with imprisonment.”

I am not surprised that imprisonment is not included, because I suspect the bulk of the offences created would be committed primarily by bodies corporate rather than private individuals. Notwithstanding that, offences created by regulations of this sort often attract financial penalties that run to several thousand pounds—sometimes tens of thousands of pounds—so they are not insignificant.

I deeply regret not challenging the Minister on this point when we debated clause 34.

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

I draw the right hon. Gentleman’s attention to clause 36(2), which sets out clearly:

“Regulations under section 31 or 33 are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure” if they cover a number of issues, including anything creating a criminal offence. Subsection (3) relates to the use of negative procedure on regulations left after those that fall under subsection (2) are taken out.

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

That answers my point. I do not think I need detain the Committee any longer.

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

You are getting ahead of yourself, Mr Hanson. I am not a Minister yet, but the coming general election will be upon us soon.

I am grateful for the Minister’s response. As he said, there will be a large number of changes. He might want to reflect on how any changes made under negative procedure can be reported in the Secretary of State’s fisheries statements, even though it is not necessarily required to do so.

There is an opportunity. Because we are expecting the Minister to deliver so much change in the first couple of years after we leave the common fisheries policy, having it summarised and repeated annually would enable greater scrutiny and understanding of those changes. That would be beneficial not only for the fishing industry but for those who seek to scrutinise the work of Government. On the basis of the Minister’s response, 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 parts of the clause earlier. I again simply highlight that it sets out a number of cases where it is appropriate to use the affirmative resolution procedure under subsection (2). That includes any regulations that impose fees or create a criminal offence. The remainder of the largely technical conservation measures that are of a lower order and need to be changed regularly are provided for under the negative resolution procedure under subsection (3).

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 36 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 37