Debates between Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale and Lord Mackay of Clashfern during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 22nd Jun 2020
Fisheries Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Report stage:Report: 1st sitting & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report: 1st sitting & Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords & Report stage

Fisheries Bill [HL]

Debate between Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale and Lord Mackay of Clashfern
Report stage & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report: 1st sitting & Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords
Monday 22nd June 2020

(4 years ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Fisheries Act 2020 View all Fisheries Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 71-R-II(Rev) Revised second marshalled list for Report - (22 Jun 2020)
Lord Mackay of Clashfern Portrait Lord Mackay of Clashfern [V]
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My Lords, this amendment is of considerable importance. It seeks to set aside all the other objectives as less important, and it is apparent to me that at least some of them are essential. To set them aside would bring an imbalance to the situation, which is very strange—particularly since the objective is described as something that does “not compromise”. It is negative, it is to not do something; whereas an objective would normally be to achieve something rather than to prevent something happening.

I strongly support what has been said about the difficulties. I find it very hard to see how, with proposed new subsections (2)(b) and (2)(a) subject to the definition, you can have it as a prime objective.

I understood from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, that his principal reason for this amendment was to avoid a situation in which economic matters might prejudice the longevity and sustainability of the stocks. However, the objective as stated by the Government is clear; under it, the long-term interest of the stocks must be preserved. That is surely the sort of flexibility we need in a proper environmental and sustainability project. You cannot be sure from day to day exactly what will happen. There are not many effective prophets in the world; it is therefore very difficult to proceed without a long-term view of what you are aiming at, and it seems that that will be prejudiced if you knock out the other objectives, which are also very important.

The amendment says “prime” objective; it does not say that it is the only objective. However, I do not know how a court could say whether or not a particular objective had been considered “prime”. As has been said, it generally means “first”, although it can have other meanings. It seems to me that, as long as the objective is mentioned and then taken account of alongside others, that is what should happen. I do not think that this amendment achieves the kind of result mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. One of the mistakes of the common fisheries policy was too detailed and precise an attempt to control this aspect. The Government’s method of balancing this—the purpose of the clause as a whole—is excellent and would be damaged by this amendment.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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My Lords, the common fisheries policy was certainly flawed at times in its execution, but it had one advantage: the member states of the European Union were able to come together and resist, on occasion, short-term pressures on politicians in individual states to change fisheries policy. The collective agreement on fisheries policy ensured a strong element of long-termism in the decisions that were made. I worry that, as fisheries policy and regulation are returned to the United Kingdom, the pressure on politicians for short-term decision-making from those with a direct financial interest in the industry, when quotas and other decisions are reached, will still be there—as it is right now.

I have a vivid memory of the first year of devolution in 1999. An effigy of the then Fisheries Minister in the Scottish Government, Rhona Brankin MSP, was burned by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation at a demonstration because people were angry and wanted more short-term decision-making on quotas. That controversy, passion and anger impacted on individual Members of the Scottish Parliament and on the debate. In years to come, that impact was seen again and again with the sacrifice of the long term—I do not think it was ever sacrificed by Ministers but it was by individual politicians pushing Ministers to make more short-term decisions.

Contrary to what has been said by a number of other noble Lords, I think that being very clear that the sustainability objective is the prime objective is essential if the decisions are to be long-term. To have eight objectives constantly being balanced year after year without a prime objective would be an error. I therefore support Amendment 2 enthusiastically.

I support it for a second reason. The Government, like many other Governments around the world, are very keen to sign up to international goals and targets. In 2015, the then Conservative Government were supported by all parties in this Chamber when they agreed the United Nations global goals. Global goal 14 relates to the oceans and seas:

“Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.”

At first glance, that might seem to be about the marine ecosystem and pollution, which has been a big issue this past decade around the world, but the goal is also quite explicitly about sustainable fishing.

However, every time we have debated the global goals in your Lordships’ Chamber over the last five years, despite consistent support for them from three Prime Ministers from the same party—as recently as last month the current Prime Minister said in a statement that he hopes the UK will be able to move forward after the pandemic, charging towards achieving the global goals—the Government have never embraced the concept of the goals that they were central to agreeing in 2015: that they are universal and apply inside the UK as much as throughout the rest of the world.

If the sustainable development goals are to apply inside the UK as they do everywhere else, we need to start seeing that represented in the Government’s planning, budgeting and legislation inside the UK too. Therefore, starting a process of writing sustainability as a prime objective into more legislation in this country, and getting more long-term and less short-term decision making, would put us on a good course, and the Fisheries Bill is a very good place to start.