New Clause 19 - Report on fish caught in UK waters but landed abroad

Fisheries Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 15th September 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

‘(1) Within 12 months of this Act being passed and annually thereafter, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report stating—

(a) what fish have been caught within the UK Exclusive Economic Zone but landed at ports outside the United Kingdom, Isle of Man, Guernsey or Jersey; and

(b) why such fish were not landed at a port in the United Kingdom, Isle of Man, Guernsey or Jersey.’—

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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

The new clause, which is consistent with the case made by Labour Members in Committee, would create an evidence base for the missing fish that our coastal ports are denied when it is landed in foreign ports. We know that Conservative MPs have voted down Labour’s jobs in coastal communities amendments, favouring the landing of fish in foreign ports rather than British ports. That does not create jobs in Grimsby, Hull, Plymouth, Newlyn, Portavogie and elsewhere.

The new clause seeks to understand how much fish caught under a UK quota is being landed in foreign ports. As set out by the shadow fisheries Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East, for every job at sea, there are 10 jobs on the shore. Landing more fish in our coastal communities creates more jobs in them, and creates the opportunity for more fish to be sold in the UK, supporting our domestic industry. The report proposed by the new clause, which would only create the evidence base for missing fish, would hopefully inform that debate.

When the Government voted against the jobs in coastal communities amendment that would have required two thirds of fish caught under a UK quota to be landed in British ports, I told the Minister that that would not be the end of the matter. Indeed, she should expect Labour to continue campaigning for the creation of jobs in coastal communities, especially given the jobs crisis that they face in particular. The new clause would create an evidence base, and it is hard to disagree with the merit of that. The promise of more jobs that was made to our coastal communities—with Brexit and with more fish being landed—can be realised only if more fish is actually landed.

Although the Minister and I are perhaps not on exactly the same page on the negotiations, she has a wee advantage over me as she knows what is going on— I hope so, anyway. But whether or not we get more fish, we still need to focus on creating support for our domestic industry. The new clause would require Ministers to produce a report setting out how much fish caught in our exclusive economic zone is landed in ports outside the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey, and to investigate why that fish was not landed in ports in the United Kingdom. To realise the benefits of landing more fish in the United Kingdom, we need to strengthen that economic link. It is important that Parliament has a voice on the public asset test.

I am grateful for the evidence that has been submitted even though we did not have an evidence session, and I note that the Clerk has been busy forwarding it to the Committee. Some of the evidence arrived after the objectives were debated by the Committee, so we have not had a chance to integrate it all fully, but one particular point is worth highlighting. Professor Richard Barnes, of Lincoln University, correctly points out in his submission that assuming that fish are already a public asset is incorrect, and that there is nothing about that in the Magna Carta, as many people think there is. There is nothing about it in international law necessarily —not that that is relevant here. He states:

“FQAs do not establish…stewardship responsibilities”,

and that fish are in effect private property through quota. He goes on:

“Establishing that fish are a public asset would be a critical first step in establishing a stewardship framework for fishing in the UK. It would create an opportunity for engagement in ongoing debates and decisions about how best to manage a valuable public good.”

It is a shame to miss out on that evidence. Are fish to be a public asset? The Minister voted down that amendment, but in effect she said that fish should be one and should be managed in that way. If so, an important part of the evidence base is to have an understanding of how much of that public asset derives an economic benefit to the UK and how much of it is deriving a considerable economic benefit to our European friends. We have no such understanding simply because Ministers have not yet chosen to use the powers they already have, whether in primary legislation or through licensing.

Should the Minister be thinking about adjusting the requirement to land more fish in British ports through the licence, having taken note of Labour’s amendment that was defeated—seeking to introduce the policy without giving the Opposition a win, so to speak—an evidence base would be important. That is what the report seeks to achieve.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Far from being missing, those fish are included in the statistics published by the Marine Management Organisation on the landings of fish by UK vessels as part of its annual report. The statistics include the ports and countries into which a catch is landed. Conservative Members are determined to support the UK fishing industry to get the best price for what it catches. The Government are clear that UK-registered vessels that fish against UK quota must demonstrate a link to the economy of the UK.

As I said last week, we will soon consult on proposals to strengthen the economic link to England, but those proposals will not mean that all catch must be landed into the UK, because we recognise that for some vessels it is more practical, sustainable or financially beneficial to land abroad. Our proposals do not mean that the Government will seek justification from vessel owners for their private and undoubtedly well-reasoned business decisions, which might be market sensitive and to do with the price that they can get for their catch.

The reasons why fish will be landed elsewhere relate primarily to price and market. Sometimes landing outside the UK will be necessary for safety reasons—for example, in a storm or because of mechanical issues. The new clause is not necessary, and I ask that it be withdrawn.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I will take up that opportunity, Sir Charles.

I am grateful to the Minister for confirming that the MMO publishes those statistics. As a recent response of hers to a parliamentary question showed, however, 50% of cod catches do not have a sales note registered, so how convinced is she that the MMO has the ability to track accurately what of the UK total allowable catch is caught and landed? That is why an evidence base is important.

I do not think the Minister has given an adequate reason for why there should not be a report into fish caught abroad. We are missing fish still from our economy. We do not have a strong enough economic link. UK ports are missing out on fish that could be landed in our ports. I encourage the Minister to borrow as much Labour policy as she possibly can from our jobs and coastal communities amendment, as I suspect she will. [Interruption.] A set of Conservative MPs are huffing and hawing about the idea, but I suspect that, in the weeks and months ahead, we will see the Minister in effect cutting and pasting large parts of our amendments.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I can find no other mechanism to answer the hon. Gentleman’s questions. We discussed this measure fully last week. He knows that we will consult on proposals for landing requirements. I look forward to working across the House with all those who have proposals in this area, but I will not accept that 100% of UK vessels’ catch will have to be landed in the UK. Conservative Members wish to support the fishing industry, and we do that best by letting them land where they can get the best price, where that is appropriate.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I did not detect a question in that intervention, so I am not sure I can reply. However, I would not want the Minister to be under a misapprehension about Labour policy. I believe she was attempting to paint a picture that Labour were suggesting that 100% of fish should be landed under a UK quota. She will know, because I am sure she has read the new clause and no doubt seen the considerable amount of media coverage in coastal communities on it, that we have suggested that two thirds of fish caught under a UK quota should be landed in a UK port.

I am sure that the Minister used the figure of 100% of fish to be landed in UK ports erroneously and was not seeking to suggest that Labour wants all fish to be landed in UK ports. Two thirds of fish landed in UK ports would create an enormous number of jobs in our coastal communities.

I am happy not to press the new clause, on the assumption that the Government will very shortly adopt Labour policy. Indeed, I encourage the Minister to go beyond Labour policy—perhaps into that negotiation zone between two thirds and 100%, which she spoke about—to ensure that we create more jobs in coastal communities. When she does, I will be pleased to support her for a second time in adopting Labour policy, like she may have done today.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.