Sea Fish Industry Authority: powers in relation to parts of UK etc.

Fisheries Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:00 pm on 17th December 2018.

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“(1) The Fisheries Act 1981 is amended as follows.

(2) In section 2(1) (duties of the Authority)—

(a) after the third “of” insert, “(amongst other things)”,

(b) delete the words “as a whole”.

(3) After section 3 (powers of the Authority), insert—

“3A Exercise of functions in relation to different parts of the UK etc.

The Authority may exercise its functions separately and differently in relation to—

(a) the sea fish industry in different parts of the United Kingdom,

(b) sea fish and sea fish products landed in different parts of the United Kingdom,

(c) sea fish and sea fish products trans-shipped in different parts of the sea within British fishery limits adjacent to different parts of the United Kingdom.

3B Delegation of functions

(1) The Authority may authorise any other person to exercise on its behalf such of its functions and to such extent as it may determine.

(2) The Authority may give to any person authorised under this section to exercise any of its functions—

(a) financial assistance (by way of loan, grant or guarantee),

(b) other assistance including assistance by way of the provision of property, staff or services, for the purposes of those functions.

(3) The giving of authority under this section to exercise a function does not—

(a) affect the Authority’s responsibility for the exercise of the function, or

(b) prevent the Authority from exercising the function itself.”.

(4) In section 11 (accounts and reports), after subsection (7) insert—

“(7A) The report must include details of how income received from levies imposed under section 4 has been applied in the financial year in respect of each part of the United Kingdom by the Authority in exercising its functions including in particular details, in respect of each part of the United Kingdom, of how the income has been applied by the Authority in—

(a) promoting the efficiency of the sea fish industry in that part,

(b) promoting the marketing and consumption of, and the export of, sea fish and sea fish products relating to that part.”.

(5) In schedule 1 (the Sea Fish Industry Authority), in paragraph 16—

(a) before sub-paragraph (1) insert—

“(A1) The Authority must appoint a committee for the purpose of assisting the Authority in the exercise of its functions in relation to the sea fish industry in Scotland.

(A2) The committee is to consist of or include persons who are not members of the Authority.

(A3) The Authority must consult the committee on the exercise of its functions in relation to the sea fish industry in Scotland.”,

(b) in sub-paragraph (1), before “committees” insert “other”,

(c) in sub-paragraph (2), for “such committees” substitute “committees appointed under this paragraph”.”—

This new clause would give the Sea Fish Industry Authority greater flexibility to exercise its functions separately and differently in different parts of the UK. It would also require Seafish to report how income received from the levies it imposes has been applied in respect of each part of the United Kingdom.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Inclusive Society)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I rise to speak to new clause 1, which has been tabled in my name and in those of my hon. Friends the Members for Kilmarnock and Loudoun and for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock).

It has been a long-held view of the Scottish Government, and, indeed, of many in the sector, that Seafish, because of the way it is currently constituted, is not sufficiently flexible to meet the needs of the entire sector and requires radical reform. Many have made the case that there is an inherent flaw in Seafish attempting to represent all of the UK while operating in an area in which policy is devolved. In trying to represent the whole of the UK fishing industry, Seafish is viewed by many as providing insufficient support to the sector in Scotland, which all too often results in the poor or unsatisfactory marketing and promotion of Scottish seafood.

The main objective of the new clause is to devolve both the control over funding and the Executive powers of Seafish to Scottish Ministers. It would also devolve control of the Scottish aspects of the fishing levy, giving Scotland a key role in deciding how the Scottish share of the fishing levy should be spent. We believe that this new model will provide much greater flexibility for Seafish to exercise its functions separately and differently in the different parts of the UK. The new clause would also require Seafish to report the income it receives from the levies it imposes and how those are applied in each part of the United Kingdom.

As I have often said in Committee, not only is fishing devolved but there is absolutely no standardised version of the fishing industry across the UK. From Truro to Thurso and beyond, it is multi-layered, complex and nuanced, and is often very localised. Given that there is no one single fishing industry pursuing a common set of clear, shared objectives, it is surely ludicrous that we still have a one-size-fits-all fishing authority charged with securing a sustainable, profitable future for all parts of the seafood industry. How can Seafish practically offer regulatory guidance and service to the industry—including catching, aquaculture, processors, importers, exporters and distributors of seafood—as well as looking after restaurants and retailers in such a complicated and differentiated industry?

This is not an attack on Seafish or the people who work there. Rather, it is recognising that, with an aggregated coastline of almost 20,000 miles containing a host of different fishing practices and interests, it is in an almost impossible situation in trying to work in the best interests of everyone.

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

I have made the same point as the hon. Gentleman often enough myself. However, the industry in Scotland surely encompasses the full range of practices that he identifies across the whole of the United Kingdom. How would devolution help to address that?

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Inclusive Society)

I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I represent a west coast constituency and he represents a northern isles constituency, which are vastly different from that represented by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan. It is about devolving power to as local a level as one possibly can. If Scottish Ministers are given the power to act on behalf of a much smaller area and a much smaller concentration of the industry, I think it will much better serve the industry as a whole across Scotland.

The Bill gives us the perfect opportunity to reform the current system to ensure that that levy can be better used to promote the range and quality of Scottish seafood, both at home and abroad. If Scotland were allowed to take these investment decisions, it would allow us to properly support the industry by promoting the quality and excellence of Scottish seafood products, both at home and across the world. It would also allow us to maximise the benefits of Scottish provenance, which is so important when marketing ourselves, particularly abroad, while supplying top-quality products to consumers.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland)

The Labour party fully supports the new clause, which seems like a sensible measure that would allow for a degree of variation in the way that the Sea Fish Industry Authority operates in different parts of the UK to reflect the fact that every part of the UK has a distinctive fishing industry that reflects its local circumstances, as the hon. Gentleman said. The new clause also requires Seafish to report on how the income received from the levies it imposes has been applied in each part of the United Kingdom. Again, that seems like a sensible suggestion to ensure that there is transparency in the way in which the levy is applied in each part of the UK. Therefore, we will support the new clause.

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

We disagree with the new clause and think that it is unnecessary. The issue of Seafish and the seafood levy was looked at in detail as part of the Smith Commission recommendations as recently as 2014. The new clause would go beyond what that commission recommended, which was that the power to impose levies should not be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

However, we have taken account of some of the issues raised by the Scottish Government and by Richard Lochhead, the Minister at the time. In response, as well as having permanent Scottish representatives on its main board, Seafish established a separate Seafish Scottish advisory committee early this year to advise the board on how the levy should be invested in Scotland. The Scottish industry is also well represented in the sector panels that advise on Seafish’s UK priorities, as I have said.

In 2011, a consultation on the Sea Fish Industry Authority’s regional structures showed little industry support for the kind of devolution of the levy that the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute outlines. Indeed, just 20% of stakeholders supported such a model. A Scotland-focused levy would reduce Seafish’s overall ability to carry out its UK-wide priorities. It would reduce economies of scale and potentially cut across some of our other approaches as a UK-wide entity.

The levy setting already requires the consent of all the devolved Administrations. Periodically, when we want to review the levies, we have a discussion with the Scottish Government about exactly what they should be. There are arguments about which should go up and which should go down, but we have achieved unanimous agreement that we should make the levy change only once, so I do not accept that Scotland does not have sufficient influence at the moment.

Seafish publishes an annual report that sets out in great detail all its activities and funding, how it operates and what its priorities are. I therefore do not believe that we need additional requirements in that regard, since it is already done.

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

I thank the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute for tabling the new clause, because it is an important topic to discuss and there is no doubt that our current system is capable of improvement. I sound a couple of notes of caution, however, in relation to the proposal for devolution.

We risk breaking up the support that is available by geography rather than by sector. The inshore fishermen in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, who are catching nephrops, langoustines and others, probably have a fairly strong community of interests with those who are catching in the Irish sea and in the south-west.

Likewise there will be a community of interest in the other sectors, such as the pelagic sector at the other end of the country, the white fish sector and so on. Although I would never close the door on that sort of thing, from my experience, I would require a bit more persuasion that the industry wants or is asking for that kind of reform.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Inclusive Society) 9:15 pm, 17th December 2018

The Minister said that this issue was talked about in 2014. I think he would agree—I suspect that no one would disagree—that in politics 2014 seems a long time ago and much has changed.

I appreciate the support from the hon. Member for Glasgow North East, who talked about transparency, and he is absolutely right. In response to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, it is really important that this new clause is seen as a genuine attempt to improve Seafish. We are not seeking to undermine Seafish; we are seeking to improve how it works and how it can work best for the multitude of Scottish fishing industries. I agree that there is a community of interest, particularly in Northern Ireland, but that community of interest will be severely undermined by the imposition of the backstop that we talked about earlier this evening.

This change would work because it would allow a Scottish Seafish to promote all Scottish seafish across both coasts and the northern isles, and it could work. At the moment, Seafish does not work well for Scotland.

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

I just want to tease out the issues here a little bit. I ask this question in a spirit of genuine inquiry, because I do not know the answer to it, but I would think that a lot of the inshore boats—the foreign boats in particular—around the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and certainly on the Clyde will fish as far down as the Isle of Man and around there, so what, in this context, actually constitutes “Scottish seafish”?

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Inclusive Society)

One would presume that it is where the catch is landed, or where the boat is registered. So when a boat comes back to Tarbert, or Oban, or the right hon. Gentleman’s home island of Islay, that would constitute “Scottish seafood”. I do not need to tell him how important that Scottish provenance is and how important it is to get those langoustines to Madrid or Paris as quickly as we possibly can. If we have an organisation that is at front and centre about Scottish provenance, I think that would certainly be a step in the right direction.

As I say, I do not think that Seafish is working particularly well for Scotland at the moment and that is something we have to address. So, with your permission, Mr Gray, I will push this new clause to a vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 7, Noes 9.

Division number 15 Fisheries Bill — Sea Fish Industry Authority: powers in relation to parts of UK etc.

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

New Clause 2