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UK Fisheries Bill debated in the House of Lords today

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Thursday 12 November 2020

Guernsey's government will continue to make strong representations to the UK Government that a Permissive Extent Clause in the UK's Fisheries Bill is unnecessary and Guernsey will work closely with the UK Government so that no attempt to activate the powers under that clause is required. The islands of the Bailiwick of Guernsey can and do choose which international agreements should be extended to them and consequently are best placed to ensure they meet those international obligations using their own policies and domestic legislation.

The UK Fisheries Bill is making its way through its final stages in the UK parliament and was considered again in the House of Lords this afternoon. Whilst the title and purpose of the Bill is in regard to fisheries, the main issue for the Bailiwick of Guernsey is a constitutional one - that the UK Government has attempted to insert a Permissive Extent Clause (PEC) in the Bill about the Channel Islands without the islands having agreed to it with the intention that the UK could, at a later date, extend certain provisions in the Act which allow the UK Secretary of State to implement international obligations in respect of the Bailiwick.

Deputy Jonathan Le Tocq, lead member of the Policy & Resources Committee for external relations matters, said:

"Guernsey's government has been disappointed that the UK Government considered it necessary to push forward with this amendment. We remain of the view that the clause is not necessary and not appropriate.

The Policy & Resources Committee is pleased to note that the UK Government has acknowledged that the islands take their international obligations extremely seriously and confirmed that the UK Government does not intend to use the PEC to extend the Fisheries Act, when it is given Royal Assent, unless all other options have been exhausted. That reinforces the point that the clause it is unnecessary and not anticipated to be used. However, should any future Government seek to extend this Act without our consent, or make any attempt to legislate without our consent, that would be contrary to our important and historic constitutional relationship with the Crown and would offend democratic principles. The Committee will continue to consider what further steps might be required for Guernsey, and the wider Bailiwick, to safeguard our legislative autonomy and to continue to develop our own international identity.

It is for Guernsey, and the Bailiwick, to decide which international agreements are extended to it and as a result the islands are best placed to fulfil these international obligations effectively using their own policies and domestic legislation. We have a demonstrable track record of meeting international obligations and can move swiftly to address and resolve international situations if needed, as we have in the past."

Assurances made by the UK Government and in Parliament

During the debate in the House of Commons on 13 October, Sir Bob Neill MP and Alistair Carmichael MP both spoke about the constitutional issues and the concerns of the Channel Islands in relation to the proposed PEC. The debate in the House of Lords today included speeches and questions by Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and cross-bench peers about the potential difficulties caused for the Channel Islands by the inclusion of the PEC without our agreement.

In a Ministerial meeting earlier this week, Victoria Prentis MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (DEFRA), expressed her respect and understanding for the Bailiwick's position about the inclusion of this PEC in the Bill and acknowledged that the jurisdictions of the Bailiwick take our compliance with our international obligations very seriously.

During the debate in the House of Lords today and in earlier published correspondence, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity). In his response to the Chair of the Constitution Committee he stated:

"I am very aware that the Crown Dependencies take their international obligations extremely seriously; and I am confident that they would meet any required commitments, legislating domestically if required."

Following a change to Guernsey's legislation, brought forward by the former Policy & Resources Committee in 2019, the exercise of the PEC will have to be referred to the States of Deliberation for approval and consent before it may be registered in Guernsey's Royal Court and then applies in the island.

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