Expert advisory council on fisheries

Fisheries Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 pm on 17 December 2018.

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“(1) The Secretary of State must establish a body called the Expert Advisory Council on Fisheries for the purpose of exercising the functions in subsections (4) to (6).

(2) The Expert Advisory Council on Fisheries shall consist of as many people as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.

(3) Before appointing any person to the Expert Advisory Council, the Secretary of State must consult with—

(a) the other fisheries policy authorities, and

(b) any other such organisations as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.

(4) The Secretary of State must have regard to the advice of the Expert Advisory Council on Fisheries before—

(a) publishing or amending a Secretary of State fisheries statement,

(b) making or withdrawing a determination of fishing opportunities under section 18, and

(c) making any regulations under this Act, unless those regulations are made under—

(i) this section, or

(ii) section 42.

(5) The Secretary of State shall publish the Expert Advisory Council on Fisheries” assessment, for a calendar year, of the state of UK fisheries, including—

(a) current stocks and their sustainability,

(b) species distribution within the Exclusive Economic Zone,

(c) the status of employment and skills in the fishing industry,

(d) present total catches and future projected total catches, by both volume and monetary value, and

(e) the economic and social value and impact of the fishing industry on coastal communities.

(6) The first annual assessment under subsection (5) shall be published within 12 months of this section coming into force, and each subsequent assessment must be published within 12 months of the previous such assessment.

(7) For a calendar year, no determination may be made under section 18 until the annual assessment under subsection (5) has been published for that year.”—(Luke Pollard.)

This new clause would place a duty on the Secretary of State to establish the Expert Advisory Council on Fisheries, and provides for the Council’s membership and functions.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

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

It is important that we stop using the fishing industry as a political football. This is what the expert advisory council would seek to do, and it would do so by giving a say to those who know the industry best and have its best intentions at heart. The new clause has the industry’s support. Barrie Deas from the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations told the Committee in evidence that his organisation would like to see an

“advisory council of people with experience of the industry, who understand the complexities of a highly diverse and complex industry” as well as being

“a kind of filter for legislation” that could also

“make recommendations and provide advice on new legislation coming through.”—[Official Report, Fisheries Public Bill Committee, 4 December 2018; c. 15-16, Q26-27.]

An advisory council would run new ideas past a panel of experts who understand the complexities and nuances of fisheries. The NFFO recommends the Australian model for reference. It suggests that an advisory council would formally guide policy and promote collaboration between central Government, the devolved Administrations, industry, scientists and other key stakeholders, allowing for

“an ongoing dialogue in a naturally variable industry” and guaranteeing that sustainability issues are fully considered, as well as playing a leading role in the use of secondary legislation to ensure an agile and responsive approach to fisheries management.

On a final point, the NFFO has also pointed out that the Bill is right to forecast an important role for secondary legislation. It suggests that the common fisheries policy would be inflexible and rigid, and that it is therefore more important for there to be expert input. Further talks about delegated powers used appropriately would allow a more dynamic approach and would protect against unbridled use of such delegated powers. The NFFO would like to see an advisory council playing an influential role in advising the Government on the requirements of each piece of secondary legislation.

Phil Haslam backed up this argument in our evidence session, saying that anything that increases the dialogue between scientists “can only help” in that respect. He was referring to the provisions of an expert group that would include scientists, conservationists, industry representatives and those responsible for enforcement. We hope that the Government can support this very sensible amendment, which has industry backing.

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

Fisheries management, and the politics surrounding it, is always at its worst when all the various stakeholders and parties retreat to their own silos and just lob howitzers at each other. We have seen how that works at different points over the years. It is unproductive. The secret to effective fisheries management, in my view, has always been to require there to be credibility from the system in the eyes of the industry, meaning that the industry has to be involved in the dialogue every step of the way. Getting fishermen, scientists, conservationists and the various Government agencies all in the room at the same time makes perfect sense. We have seen some measure of progress in this regard since 2002 and then in 2012, with the creation and then the strengthening of regional advisory councils, which—although they are an imperfect animal—have been a vast improvement on what we had before. This is a mechanism by which the industry, scientists, conservationists and others can all be kept in constant dialogue.

That would be an eminently sensible move, and the Minister would do well to note that this is essentially the policy put forward by the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations. Its willingness, as the voice of our industry, should be rewarded and encouraged. For that reason, I support the new clause and hope that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport will push it to a vote if the Minister does not have something positive to say about it. If he does push it to a vote, I will support it.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 10:15, 17 December 2018

I do not think that the new clause is necessary, because we already have extensive involvement with stakeholders, including environmental NGOs and the fishing industry. We are working with the industry now to establish what type of advisory infrastructure we might want to put in place after we leave the European Union, but we do not believe that it is necessary to put that on a statutory footing.

I want to explain to hon. Members what we do every year in the December Council. Every year, in September, we rotate around the UK—this year we were in London and the previous year we were in Cardiff. Everyone with an interest comes, from green NGOs to fishing representatives. We talk them through the stock assessments and the approach that we intend to take at the December Council. Through a day-long session with DEFRA, that wide group has input on the negotiating stance that we will take. We follow that up with a series of smaller meetings with individual groups such as green NGOs, groups with fishing interests and producer organisations, to get a clearer and more detailed input on their own particular issues. That, of course, informs our negotiating position.

In addition, we have a number of other models, such as the scallop industry consultation group. We also work closely with other fisheries science partnerships around the country and have an expert advisory group already set up to consider EU exit issues. None of those bodies is on a statutory footing, but all of them are useful to us. Obviously, we are considering how those could play into the future.

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

I commend the Minister for all those moves—they are exactly what he should be doing. However, this issue requires a Minister to be prepared to engage in that way. The Minister has been a Member for a good few years; he has certainly seen a few Fisheries Ministers in his time, and before he came to the House he saw other Fisheries Ministers who had a very different approach. Does he not understand that there is merit in putting the issue on the face of the Bill, to ensure that those who follow him will be required to undertake the same laudable steps that he himself has taken?

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

In fairness to all my predecessors, I should say that the convention that I have abided by was established a long time ago. Indeed, after the devolution settlement, the last Labour Government established the convention of a UK-wide delegation and we have had these stakeholder meetings annually ever since.

As I said, a number of other ad hoc advisory groups have been set up. The problem with putting a statutory body in the Bill in the way proposed is that that might become too rigid. The ability to bring together the relevant group of experts to address a particular challenge, through a particular taskforce—as we have done on scallops and EU exit, for instance—gets weaker.

We would also have to give a lot of thought about who should be on that advisory group. For example, we would need to consider which of the green NGOs had to be on there: it could not just be fishing interests, but would have to include many others besides. Nor is it clear that even a so-called panel of experts from the fishing industry and green NGOs would be able to do the work needed to draft and provide an annual assessment of the stocks; CEFAS does that highly technical piece of work—rightly, our technical and scientific experts provide that work for us. It is, of course, open to those who think they can to challenge such assessments, but the issue is not a matter of opinion but of scientific assessment that must be provided by groups such as CEFAS.

This raises an important point about how we engage with industry and green NGOs. I believe that we do so very effectively. We are not saying that we have a closed mind on having advisory groups in the future; we simply do not believe that the matter needs to be placed on a statutory footing—that would be too rigid and prevent us from being able to bring on board the expertise we need.

As I said, we will be talking with industry in the months ahead. I hope that I can reassure the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport that when we return on Report we may be in a stronger position to outline the type of approach we intend to take, to ensure that we have input from industry and environmental NGOs.

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

I realise that I have committed a schoolboy error in not following the advice of the Environment Secretary. The amendment starts:

“Expert advisory council on fisheries”.

If only we had called it the pre-eminent voices’, the greybeards’, the boffins’, the experienced practitioners’, the aficionados’, the hotshots’ or even the maestros’ advisory council, we might have got it through.

The new clause is the only real change that the NFFO wanted to the Bill. Although I would have liked the NFFO to push further on a number of areas, it decided to push only on one—this area. To deny the key concern of the key stakeholder for the fishing industry across the UK and describe it as too rigid will not sit well with the fishing federations across the country.

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

The hon. Gentleman is making a compelling case. Can he guarantee that his new clause will not impinge on the devolution settlement, but will fully respect the devolved competencies in Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff?

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

It absolutely should do that. That gives the Secretary of State the ability to have some flexibility. Effectively, we have a Government who consult, but do not like a requirement to consult, and who are engaging with expert voices, but do not want an expert group. I have to say to the Minister that his reassurance, “Don’t worry, this will be okay on Report,” would have been a lot more reassuring if that engagement and work had been done prior to the Bill’s coming out.

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

Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that it is already there? I have just explained in great detail how, every year as we approach a December Council, we engage a wide range of organisations.

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

Indeed, and Barrie Deas of the NFFO described the advisory set-up that exists already under the CFP. He has noted that its abolition via our exit creates a gap that needs to be filled by expert advisory groups, which is what the new clause suggests.

I understand that the Minister may not want to accept an amendment from the Opposition, so I encourage him to take the wording of it and tweak it ever so slightly, so that he can “make it his own”—to borrow a bit of Louis Walsh from “The X Factor”—and then bring it back later in the Bill’s progress, because this is something that the fishing industry wants. On that basis, I will be pushing the new clause to a Division.

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

The Committee divided:

Ayes 8, Noes 9.

Division number 18 Fisheries Bill — Expert advisory council on fisheries

Aye: 8 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

New Clause 16