Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for International Development, The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 1:21 pm, 23rd January 2020
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for initiating this important debate and I thank all Members for their contributions today. I am also grateful to members of the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee for its hugely valuable reports on the landing obligation.
I should note that this is my first, and therefore technically my maiden, speech in this House. Given that time is short, that we are here to debate a very specific issue and that I have already had an opportunity, some 10 years ago, to deliver a maiden speech in Parliament, I will keep my opening remarks to a minimum. Before I do, I thank noble Lords from right across the House for a surprisingly warm welcome. I can tell them that there is quite a contrast between this side of the building and the other. I thank in particular my two distinguished supporters, my noble friend Lord True, who I had the pleasure of working with when he led Richmond Council, when he really showed me how politics should be done at the local level, and my noble friend Lord Randall, who I first met in the other part of this complicated compound when he was the Deputy Chief Whip. It is a miracle that we remained friends but we did; I think it had something to do with our shared passion for nature. I also thank my noble friends and Defra colleagues Lord Gardiner and Lady Chisholm for their extraordinary patience in showing me the ropes here from the moment I arrived. Finally, for the same reason, I give my sincere thanks to the doorkeepers, the police officers, the Clerk of the Parliaments, parliamentary staff and Black Rod, who have all at varying times explained the procedures and prevented me getting horribly lost.
I had the honour of representing my home community of Richmond Park and north Kingston for nearly 10 years, with the exception of a short six-month window in 2016 when my constituents kindly sent me off on a short sabbatical. While I will miss working directly for my former constituents, I think we can agree they are not short of representation here in this House. It is a pleasure to see the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, on the other Benches. I think she will understand when I say that I have lost count of the number of times I have knocked on the door of a residence, to be told by a pleased-looking occupant that they are unable to vote in a general election. I sometimes resist asking why, just to cause a flicker of disappointment.
I know that my appointment to this House was not everyone’s cup of tea. One political rival described me—I apologise if this is inappropriate—as a turd that will not flush; a phrase my children are unlikely to let me forget. Equally, I know that many of those heroic people who are engaged in the battle to protect this extraordinary planet we inhabit and the species it holds are cheered by having another voice in Parliament. It is an enormous privilege. The environment has preoccupied me for as long as I remember; it dominated my work in the Commons. I am enormously grateful that I am able to continue working on it full time, as part of a Government who have made tackling these issues a top priority.
The environment may not be everyone’s most immediate concern in the way that education, health, security and so on often are; but given our total dependence on the health of this planet, the damage we are doing to it is self-evidently the most important issue. There can be no doubt that we are damaging the planet. It is estimated that each minute last year, the world lost the equivalent of 30 football pitches of forest. Since the 1960s—just a few years before I was born—we have lost half the world’s land animals; today, we are told that a million species face extinction. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, made this point graphically in her speech. Our marine environment has fared no better. As the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, explained, nearly a third of the world’s fisheries have either collapsed or are close to collapse. Half of the world’s coastal waters have been degraded and we are told that if trends are allowed to continue, by 2050 the seas will contain more plastic than fish if measured by weight.
All these things matter in and of themselves, but they matter to humanity as well. Forests, for instance, underpin the livelihoods of well over a billion people. Some 200 million people depend on fishing for their immediately livelihoods. Ultimately, of course, we all depend on nature, so we have an enormous amount to do to restore some form of balance in the relationship between our species and the surrounding world. I do not believe that any Government in the world are doing enough, but I am proud of what this Government are doing on land and at sea, at home and abroad.
The subject of this debate concerns the seas, broadly, so they will be my focus. As custodians of the fifth-largest marine estate globally, it is a source of immense pride that we are on track, through our magnificent Blue Belt programme, to protect an ocean area of some 4 million square kilometres around our Overseas Territories—an area roughly the size of India. Our Overseas Territories, incidentally, harbour around 90% of all our biodiversity. This is the reason why our Prime Minister has said repeatedly that two-thirds of the world’s penguins are British. I am not going to argue with the figure; I have used it myself from time to time. What better reference can there be?
Last year we committed additional funding for the Blue Belt programme and, as one of the Ministers responsible for this area, I am absolutely determined to see it grow much further still. I was also delighted that we committed in our manifesto to create
“a new £500 million Blue Planet Fund” from our overseas development budget, to help restore and protect ocean ecosystems around the world, and that the Government are leading calls for at least 30% of the world’s oceans to be protected by 2030. By yesterday morning, 12 countries had signed up to this fledgling campaign; by yesterday evening, Sweden had joined them and I am grateful for that.
We are making progress in our domestic waters, too. A quarter of UK waters are already in marine protected areas—an area almost twice the size of England. Masses of evidence from around the world show that marine protected areas work, but the evidence is also clear that much more needs to be done. That is why we have asked the former Fisheries Minister, Richard Benyon, to review whether the Government should introduce a network of highly protected marine areas in our waters. It was Richard, incidentally, who spear- headed calls to end the appalling practice of discarding, which is of course the subject of today’s debate.
That brings me to the issue we are discussing. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, whose question was repeated by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, I want to be clear that this Government remain committed to sustainable fishing and the principle of maximum sustainable yield, as well as to ending the appallingly wasteful practice of discarding fish. This will not change once we leave the European Union. However, leaving the EU and the common fisheries policy gives us a unique opportunity to introduce a sustainable, responsive and resilient new fisheries policy, one which both recognises and can overcome the challenges associated with ending discarding.
As both these excellent reports we are debating today have shown, implementing the landing obligation is far from easy. The first Select Committee report reviewed whether the full landing obligation would lead to large segments of the fishing fleet being choked, as well as how the choke risks could be mitigated. It reviewed how effectively the landing obligation was being enforced, and recommended the use of remote electronic monitoring as a compliance and enforcement tool.
The second report was published six months after full implementation of the landing obligation. It questioned why it had had only a limited impact, and in particular why the earlier identified choke risk had not materialised. It questioned whether this was due to lack of enforcement and compliance, and repeated its very strong call for the use of REM. The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, pointed out in his very eloquent speech that there was no doubt that one of the reasons for the difficulties was the nature of UK fisheries: the fact that our fisheries are so mixed. Moreover, the inherent risks of choke—exacerbated by the CFP’s outdated allocation of fishing opportunities, which is effectively based on fishing patterns of the 1970s—has made implementation of the landing obligation extremely challenging. This is particularly the case in areas where there is a need to protect and recover vulnerable stocks, often where the UK’s share of quota does not accurately reflect the balance in our mixed fisheries.
Leaving the CFP is a huge opportunity, which will allow us to address many of these issues. For example, in the Celtic Sea, where Celtic Sea cod numbers are low and haddock numbers are high, we would want to ensure that our share of cod quota was sufficiently high to enable our industry to catch the haddock it is entitled to catch. That does not mean—just to be clear —increasing the overall quota in EU waters: it means increasing our share of quota in UK waters to provide a more sensible balance and to minimise the risk of choke. We have instigated a comprehensive programme of research to inform this process, including a call for evidence last year. Among other things, we used this to ask what England could learn from allocation models used in other parts of the world—a point made by a number of noble Lords—how allocation could help tackle choke risk and how best to use quota to support coastal communities and ensure a sustainable industry.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, asked a question specifically about support for the under-10s. It is the case that, since 2017, all additional quota has been distributed to the under-10s as a direct policy—if not all, then a majority. I am happy to come back with a more accurate answer following this debate, but I believe that all additional quota has been passed to them. We will take what we have learned and will work with industry and other stakeholders to develop a new approach to allocating any additional quota we secure after leaving the EU.
As noble Lords will know, the Government will be introducing a fisheries Bill soon. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones—I thank her for the kind words in her speech—asked for more details of the timeline. I am afraid that I am not able to provide her with specific answers, but it will be here shortly and will be steered through this House by my noble friend Lord Gardiner. The Bill is designed to enable the UK to act as a responsible independent coastal state, taking control of the management of its fishing waters, and achieving world-class sustainable fisheries. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, the Bill will also ensure that we meet our manifesto commitments to include a legal requirement to end overfishing, to fish sustainably and to produce plans to recover fish stocks to achieve maximum sustainable yields.
I acknowledge that there are strong calls for a legal commitment to achieve MSY within a specified timeframe, and I have heard those arguments today. While clearly this is something we would like to do, it can be achieved only through international negotiations, because fishing stocks by their nature straddle international boundaries. As things stand, the number of stocks of interest to the UK being fished at MSY is rising. After the recent December Fisheries Council, 69% of those stocks will be fished at or below MSY in 2020. While this is good news, clearly much more remains to be done, particularly for those stocks for which we do not yet have sufficient information.
The Select Committee report highlighted the importance of using more selective gear to avoid unwanted catch. This is absolutely part of the Government’s approach to implementing a discards ban. Across the UK, £5.3 million from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund has already been used to support the landing obligation by improving port infrastructure to prevent the waste of fish that would otherwise have been discarded—a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. A further £4 million has supported more selective gear types, as well as diverting fishing activity to less restricted species. After the CFP, we are committed to introducing grant schemes of our own across the UK to continue that work.
The committee’s two reports raised concerns about the extent to which the landing obligation is being monitored in UK waters and the rules enforced. Through the Marine Management Organisation, the Government have put a lot of effort into ensuring that the industry has the right information available to support compliance. The equivalent organisations have done the same in the devolved nations. Alongside this, the MMO is stepping up enforcement. In England, between 2018 and 2019, the MMO more than doubled the number of inspections of landings. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, it has also nearly doubled the number of inspections at sea. In Scotland, inspections against landing obligation rules have also increased significantly. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford—I hope that I get these figures right—landings of undersized fish since 2016 have increased, although not by as much as expected. The figures that I have are that in 2016, 175 tonnes were landed, and in 2109, 358 tonnes were landed—so an increase, but not the increase that was anticipated.
I know that many noble Lords have a close interest in REM, and we have heard a number of calls today for the adoption of cameras on fishing vessels as soon as possible, not least so that our quota setting is based on proper science. The UK has consistently called for the adoption of REM across the EU. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, emphasised the importance of the UK taking the lead—a point repeated by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. At this stage in discussions, however, we are in a very tiny minority—perhaps a tiny minority of one.
After we leave the CFP, we will have the power to make this decision unilaterally, but, as the Select Committee reports have made clear, compliance for many fishers remains extremely challenging, and it may be that we need to facilitate the transition to the mandatory use of REM before it is introduced for compliance purposes. We discussed this point with the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, when we met in a meeting just a few days ago. We will work with industry, environmental groups, retailers and others on this as we consider the right approach.
Finally, as a number of noble Lords highlighted in the debate, fisheries is a devolved matter that is important to all parts of the United Kingdom. Obviously, we must work—and are working—as closely as we always have with our colleagues in the devolved nations, as well as those in the Crown dependencies, and we will ensure that their views are taken fully into account.
I want to end by saying that much of this work was begun by Richard Benyon in the other place when he was Fisheries Minister. It is only right that we should continue to lead the way after we leave the European Union. Once again, I thank noble Lords for taking part in this debate and for raising some extremely important points that I will take back to my department and discuss with my colleague here, my noble friend Lord Gardiner.