Constitutional relations hit the rocks over fisheries bill

CONSTITUTIONAL relations between the UK Government and the Channel Islands were torn up yesterday.

Lord Gadiner of Kimble (28906216)
Lord Gadiner of Kimble (28906216)

A move by the UK to insert a route in a fisheries bill for it to legislate for the islands without their consent made it through the House of Lords, the last political hurdle before it becomes law.

Guernsey and Jersey continued to object to the move, which has been achieved by inserting what is known as a permissive extent clause into the bill, up until the last moment.

Talks have taken place with ministers, officials and Lords, but all to no avail.

The only concession by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs was to offer establishing a special committee to manage fisheries issues with the islands and to work out how international obligations will be managed.

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

Speaking in debate on behalf of the UK Government, Lord Gardiner of Kimble repeatedly stressed that the UK needed a mechanism of last resort to protect the British family should the situation arise when international obligations were not being met, for example illegal fishing.

Several Lords with Channel Island connections spoke out against the clause, urging the government to withdraw its amendment that was introduced only on 9 October in the House of Commons.

They questioned why it was needed if the government did not have any specific concerns and also cast doubt on whether it would even allow the UK to legislate should the islands not consent.

While both Guernsey and Jersey assemblies have the ability to instruct the Royal Court that they do not believe an act should be registered, it has never been tested what that would then mean.

If it was pursued it would likely lead to litigation to establish the position.

Summing up, Lord Gardiner said: ‘It is about all of us adhering to obligations which I said in my opening remarks play out for everyone in the British family, and therefore that last resort, that safety valve of having provision that enable adherence to international obligations that would have adverse impacts.’

He added: ‘The clause provides for the protection of the British family on the international stage and obviously we hope we will not have to use it.’

He likened it to a house insurance: ‘my view is I take out an insurance policy, I dearly hope my house doesn’t burn down, but I do have a backstop.’

Any breach of international obligations by any part of the British family could lead to an export ban on fish, he had said earlier.

Read the Guernsey Press opinion column here.

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