Peers backed a cross-party amendment to the Fisheries Bill aimed at making environmental sustainability the prime objective to prevent over-fishing and damage to the marine environment. The Lords approved the amendment by 310 votes to 251, majority 59, in the report stage debate on the legislation.
Peers conducted the vote both remotely and in Parliament.
All Labour and Lib Dem peers voted against the Government, with just three Tory MPs rebelling.
The Fisheries Bill enables the UK to become an independent coastal state post-Brexit, with foreign boats barred from fishing in UK waters unless licensed to do so.
But independent crossbencher Lord Krebs said that, as currently drafted, the legislation did not guarantee the protection of fish stocks and the wider marine environment.
Lord Krebs, a former chairman of the Food Standards Agency, said whenever there was a trade-off between short-term economic and employment considerations and long-term environmental sustainability, short-term factors nearly always won.
He said: “This is what has led to over-fishing and long-term damage to the marine environment in many of the world’s fisheries.”
As a result, the peer wanted to ensure the Government’s commitment to the national environment was written into law.
Lord Krebs said this was Parliament’s “big chance to get the management of our fisheries on a genuinely sustainable footing and avoid the mistakes of the past”.
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch also backed the amendment and said the sustainability of Britain’s fishing stock must be the “number one priority”.
Lady Jones said: “It leaves behind the deals and the compromises that were an inevitable part of the Common Fisheries Policy and will put our fisheries on more long-term assured footing, with fish stocks to fish for generations to come.”
But environment minister Lord Gardiner defended the Bill and said peers were all seeking the same thing – a “vibrant and sustainable fishing industry with a greatly improved marine environment”.
He warned the amendment risks undermining the Bill’s carefully balanced approach to sustainability.
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The Tory said the industry could only be viable if it was environmentally sustainable and this was why the Bill gave equal weight to environmental, social and economic considerations.
He said the amendment would create a “hierarchy” of objectives and mean that in any circumstances “short-term environmental considerations would need to override even critical economic and social needs”.
Lord Gardiner warned the change could have a severe impact on parts of the UK fishing industry and could lead to the closure of mixed fisheries where most fish stocks were at a sustainable level but some were in recovery.
After the amendment passed, Lady Jones wrote on Twitter: “Excellent win this evening as Peers voted to support our amendment & make environmental sustainability the prime objective of Fisheries Bill.”