I beg to move,
That this House has considered the future of the UK fishing industry.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting the debate. The hon. Members for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) and for South Down (Ms Ritchie) spoke alongside me before the Committee last month, and the hon. Members for Waveney (Peter Aldous), for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) also put their names to the motion.
The debate has been an annual occurrence for some time, giving the Government an opportunity to hear MPs’ concerns and update them in advance of the December Council of Ministers. I thank the Committee for returning it to the main Chamber, as opposed to holding it in Westminster Hall, which unusually hosted it last year.
Giving the fishing industry such prominence in the European referendum reflects its importance. I can conclude only that our debate last year catapulted it to the front of people’s minds and made it central to the necessity to leave the EU. The only shame is that it was not given such high priority previously.
Many Members will know of my town’s history and of how big a role fishing played in it because I have spoken about it often. Although fishing has largely left Great Grimsby, the seafood industry continues to thrive. I take every opportunity to speak on the subject because fishing remains a big part of Great Grimsby’s identity.
The legacy of the post-cod wars industry demise still has victims, and the search for a solution to the Government’s failure properly to compensate fishermen who lost out on pensions because of maladministration remains on my radar for the widow of one such fisherman. The Great Grimsby Association of Fishermen and Trawlermen has been fighting for 40 years for justice for the fishermen of Great Grimsby. They are still fighting for James Greene, who sadly passed away this year having not received what I believe to be his full entitlement. The association continues to pursue the case on behalf of his widow. Will the Minister meet me and offer his assistance in the case? I appreciate that this is not the place for details, but for the ombudsman to insist that the compensation scheme will pay the maximum of £20,000 only to those who were at sea continuously for 52 weeks a year for 20 years is plainly nonsense. Given the experience of those fishermen of the original compensation scheme, and of the subsequent scheme to rectify the errors and oversights of the previous one, he will understand the association’s caution in accepting official agencies’ assessments.
The debate on the future of the UK fisheries industry is more pressing than usual owing to the decision that the country made in June to leave the European Union, which will surely have far-reaching consequences for the industry. As the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan said in our session in the Backbench Business Committee, fisheries may have more at stake than any other industry over the next few years of negotiations with Europe.
Those in the fishing industry have been given reason to be hopeful about the future. During the referendum campaign, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) came to my constituency for a Vote Leave flotilla along the Humber, when he said:
“If we leave the EU, we can help our industry recover, perhaps taking our cue from Iceland.”
The hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) said that Brexit would allow Britain to
“re-establish national control for 200 nautical miles”.
Those promises were not made by campaigners who had no prospect of being in a position to follow them through. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden is now the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union; the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth remains as the Minister with responsibility for fisheries; and the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), another leading light in the Vote Leave campaign, is his boss as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. They could not be better placed to implement what they pledged just a few short months ago.
It is therefore disappointing that we have heard nothing in five months from the Government on their plans for the industry. Neither the Brexit Secretary nor the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary made any mention of fisheries in their party conference speeches. For the Government to achieve what the leave campaign promised British fishermen, they need to put the industry at the top of their agenda. I wrote to both Secretaries of State before the summer recess asking them how they planned to deliver on their promises. The Minister who replied had no answers to the questions I asked, and gave me no assurance that the Government have thought about how they can secure what communities such as mine expect.
The fact is that, although it is very easy for leave campaigners to blame the EU for the decline of the fishing industry, their version of history is partial at best. The sharpest fall in the employment of fishermen came between 1948 and 1960, which was before Britain joined the European Economic Community. Iceland has lost more fishing jobs than Britain since the end of the cod wars; the number of those employed in the Icelandic fishing industry has halved since the 1980s.
The hon. Lady makes an excellent point about the nature of fisheries. One hundred years ago, about 24% of the Icelandic population were involved in fisheries, but it is now down to about 4.3%. I was in Reykjavik in June at a fishing firm that hoped to have even fewer people working in fisheries, such is the technological drive for improvement in the industry.
Fewer people are involved, and the hon. Gentleman shows that being outside the European Union is not necessarily a panacea for the fishing industry. The Government have a lot to live up to. The fact is that the common fisheries policy came about when fish stocks were falling, new environmental concerns were discovered, and new technologies reduced the number of workers per vessel, as he says. That is not to say that the common fisheries policy is perfect—I do not think anybody would suggest that—or that the UK will not benefit from no longer having to abide by it. My point is that selling false hope, by suggesting that we will return to the industry we had in the 1950s simply because the CFP will no longer apply to us, just is not fair.
We simply cannot assume that being free from CFP regulations and quotas will allow our fishermen to do whatever they want. There will still need to be restrictions on quotas and fishing zones to prevent overfishing and trawler wars. Look at what happened in Canada. It is in charge of its own waters and cod fishing has been a major industry there for 500 years. In 1992, overfishing had caused stocks to collapse to such a low level that the Government had to order a ban on catching cod. More than 20 years on, the moratorium remains in place. British fishermen understand this. For example, the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations’ model for the industry post-Brexit retains the landings obligation, albeit a reformed one.
The hon. Lady makes an excellent point. I wonder whether she noted the words of the Secretary of State for Scotland, who on 15 June said that
“the idea we would go back to a position where we were entirely in control of our own fishing is not one that is realistic.”
I thank the hon. Gentleman for drawing that to my attention. I was not aware of that, but I have to accept that that position is not realistic. The fact that the idea was shared throughout the referendum campaign as a key point for fishing communities, which have really felt the brunt of economic decline and a collapse of their main industry, bordered on the irresponsible.
For the UK fisheries industry to see a good outcome from Brexit, it needs to be a Government priority. We cannot simply impose a 200-mile limit to achieve what the Minister promised. He will need to win it in negotiations with the EU. That will mean sacrificing other things. That is why the Government’s silence has been so worrying. It suggests that fisheries are not being given the importance required to secure what was promised. Nissan has already been given its own special deal. When can I tell the chief executive officer of Grimsby Fish Dock Enterprises to expect his invitation to No. 10?
When I wrote to the Secretaries of State for Exiting the EU and for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs before the summer, I asked what conversations they were having with appropriate representatives of the Icelandic Government. There was no answer in the reply, but they will need to have those conversations to secure a 200-mile exclusion zone. Why have they not already begun discussing the new opportunities that will be available to British vessels once we have left the EU? We cannot return to the conflict of previous years, but that is the risk if they do not start speaking to our neighbours.
The fisheries Minister visited Cleethorpes and spoke to my local paper during the referendum. He knows what an emotive subject this is for people in my area. He sought to give them hope that Great Grimsby’s fishing fleets of the past could return. I was therefore genuinely angered to read his comment in the press a month ago that it will be fishermen in the Channel and the west country who will benefit from post-Brexit reforms to fishing quotas. How convenient that he omitted to mention before the referendum that he did not foresee Brexit benefiting fishermen in the Humber!
I am also very concerned about the effect of Brexit on the fishing industry that exists today in Great Grimsby, which is mainly food processing, manufacturing and trading. Grimsby fish market is the largest in the country, and huge quantities of fish are imported from Iceland and Norway to be processed and then sold in Britain or exported to mainland Europe. Because of the global nature of these businesses, they are vulnerable to changes in the value of the pound. Many businesses in Grimsby are based outside the EU, but pay no tariffs on fish imported from Norway and Iceland because of their membership of the European economic area. Of course, no tariffs are paid on the £900 million of seafood Britain exports to the rest of Europe. If we no longer enjoy tariff-free trade with these countries, I fear the fish processing industry will really suffer. Many manufacturers in Grimsby are already working to fine margins, so any increase in cost could force them to reduce staff numbers, or well-paying employers, such as Icelandic Seachill, may have to reduce their wages and worsen conditions for staff. The other likely outcome is that families across the country who have been feeling the squeeze for a decade will be asked to pay more for fish. They will choose cheaper, less healthy alternatives instead—I know that the Minister is very keen to encourage people to eat more fish.
Businesses, as well as the thousands of people employed in the fish trading and processing industries in Grimsby, need reassurance from the Minister today. Fishermen want to hear that the Government understand the need to prioritise their industry, so that they can deliver on what has been promised.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), who made a good and passionate plea on behalf of fishing and fishermen in this country. I will begin by talking about the present situation and then expand a little on the direction of the fishing industry after we leave the EU. The Minister has the unenviable job in the very near future of spending probably nearly all night in Brussels as our fishing levels are thrashed out.
Several I expect. I think that the right hon. Gentleman partook in such meetings when he was fisheries Minister.
The current Minister will have the unenviable task of sitting down with Ministers from across the whole of Europe to thrash out in great detail how much and where we can fish cod, sole, hake and so on. Our fishermen throughout the whole country, and especially those in the west country, will expect a very good deal from him because he is such a magnificent Minister. We expect him to come back with more fish in his pockets and in his suitcase, and to ensure that we have those opportunities. We have to remember that we will still be fishing under the common fisheries policy for another two to three years. For our fishermen, with their quotas and all the things that they need to do, we need to sustain the fishing industry in the years ahead.
Many crews on our fishing boats are central and eastern Europeans. Their labour is needed, so we need to ensure that everything is in place.
The hon. Gentleman mentions eastern Europeans, and this is a sore point for Hebrides fishermen at the moment because we cannot get the numbers of them in and boats are left tied up. There is a boat for sale in Scalpay because it has lacked a crew since August. We are dying to get people in from the Philippines, but blockages put in place by the London Government are choking the Scottish fishing industry.
It is perhaps not quite the British Government who are “choking” the industry, as the hon. Gentleman says. I do accept, however, that there is a perception among those coming to work from central and eastern Europe about whether they are welcome here, and therefore whether they want to come. The value of the pound has also made working here not quite as lucrative, so there has been a knock-on effect.
This issue has an impact on fishermen and the fishing industry in the west of Scotland and in County Down, where we have three fishing ports. We rely, by and large, on the efforts of non-EEA fishermen. We have found that the blockages are coming from the Home Office. We urgently need statutory regulation to address this issue, otherwise our fishing industry will die.
The hon. Lady puts her powerful point on the record. We cannot necessarily hold the fisheries Minister responsible for everything that the Home Office does, but the hon. Lady makes the very good point that we need support and labour not only from inside the EU, but from outside it, so that we can man our fishing boats.
To reiterate the hon. Lady’s point, the Scottish and Northern Ireland fishing industry is in crisis. Will the hon. Gentleman use his position to help us to speak to the Home Office and build a case for allowing non-EEA fishermen to work in the west of Scotland and Northern Ireland fishing industry? We face a crisis and we need all the help we can get.
I understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from, although there is a limit to my influence and power. That said, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee will be carrying out an inquiry on fishing, which is probably more urgent now. Part of that inquiry will involve looking at and taking evidence about all these things—support, labour and how we run our fishing industry. I can give him a commitment about that.
I give way to the hon. Gentleman for Northern Ireland; I am not sure of his constituency.
It is Strangford. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not know that—I thought that everyone in the House knew of Strangford. It must have slipped his mind.
The hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), two SNP Members—I am sorry, but I cannot remember their constituencies—and I met the previous Minister to make a definitive case for the retention of the Filipino fishermen to ensure that the boats in Scotland and Northern Ireland could survive, but it was not agreed to. Responsibility therefore lies not with Europe but—I say this with the greatest of respect—with the Immigration Minister. There is a scheme for seasonal—
Order. The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to make a speech later, if he leaves enough time after his intervention.
I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon)—I knew his name, but not his constituency—for his point, which I am sure that the Minister has registered. We are hearing the strong view that this is about not just how and where we fish and what we catch, but the labour to man our fishing boats. The situation in Scotland and Northern Ireland shows how integrated and inter-reliant our fishing industry is.
As we move into this new world, securing access to other waters will be a great challenge, but we will probably also have to share our waters with those who have historically had rights here. Perhaps we can use that fact in our trade negotiations as we move towards a new policy. The adage is that when we entered the EU in 1972, we gave correct figures on the size of our catch, but others inflated theirs, meaning that when the catches were cut back, Britain ended up with very low quotas. From Grimsby to Scotland and all around the country, we can start to put that right.
The hon. Gentleman suggests that the fishing industry could be used as part of trade negotiations. The Scottish fishing industry learned a sore lesson when it was previously sold out in negotiations. We need assurances that that will not happen again, and that the industry will not be a pawn in trade negotiations.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We must make clear our ability to take our fishing rights out to the 200-mile limit, as well as where exactly we will have those rights and how we will deal with others’ historical rights. If we can get the whip hand—if we can secure 200-mile rights—we can get a very good trade deal, as well as a very good deal for Scottish fishermen. It will be interesting to see how we unravel what has been in place for 40 years. I know that the Minister is confident of getting these rights back to 200 miles. It will take some doing, but if we can achieve it, we will be in a very good position.
The hon. Gentleman talked earlier about the prospect of the fisheries Minister facing long nights in Brussels, but it strikes me that we have to negotiate with the EU and other nations. We already have talks with Norway about fishing quotas. The process will be extremely complicated, so how confident is he that post-exit trade talks will produce a better deal than that which we get from the CFP?
I think that the hon. Gentleman was asking that question of the Minister rather than me. We look forward to hearing from the Minister how he believes this will work. It can work, however, and if we secure these rights, it can work extremely well.
As we move forward with fisheries policy, we will have to put in place conservation measures. It must not be open season to fish everywhere all the time. Norway can close a zone within 24 hours if it is being overfished. It can react much more quickly than other nations because it is one country reacting for one area, so there are some positive aspects even with conservation.
If I may, I will throw a few ripples into the pond, as I am not averse to doing. In the future, might we move from a system of quotas to one of fishing effort and days at sea? How will we control fishing in the future? We do not want discards—a lot of work has already been done about that, but there is still more to do. We want to land all the fish that we catch and to promote different species of fish in the country so that we eat much more of what we catch. One problem now is that 70% to 80% of what is landed on Newlyn harbour in Cornwall goes straight to France or Spain because we do not eat those types of fish.
There is a lot of positive work that can be done. I want the Minister to carry on fighting in Brussels to secure a good deal for our fishermen that will see us through the next few years. Then, yes, let us get these rights back, but as we get them back, let us manage our own fishing sensibly. If we let others into our waters, let us get something back under reciprocal arrangements. That is the way we can build this key industry back up. In Ireland, where there are open borders between Northern Ireland and the Republic, these things will have to be dealt with even for fishing. I will die in a ditch over the need to keep open the border between Northern Ireland and southern Ireland, not only on land but on sea, because there is no doubt that that is the future for Ireland. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to speak and thank Members for their interventions.
Order. I hope that we will not need to apply a formal time limit, because this is a good-natured debate in which I expect all hon. Members to be courteous to others by limiting their speeches to just under 10 minutes. That way, everyone will get a fair chance.
I will attempt to do exactly that, Madam Deputy Speaker, with a brief contribution.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) not only on securing it, but on her speech. In our annual fisheries debate, we remember those who have lost their lives at sea over the year in what is still the most dangerous peacetime industry. We thank those who work to keep fishermen safe, particularly the volunteers at the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, and those who work with and support fishing communities, such as the Fishermen’s Mission.
In my experience, fisheries debates follow a familiar pattern: we bring a shopping list from the fishermen and fishing organisations in our constituencies, and then the Minister responds to the debate and goes off to the Fisheries Council. In all honesty, we are often more interested in what he brings back from Brussels than in what he says at the end of the debate—I mean no disrespect to the Minister, but that has been the pattern of fisheries debates for as long as I can remember. Today will be very different, however, because this is the first post-referendum, pre-exit debate, and we and the wider audience outside the House, particularly fishermen, will be looking carefully for signs of what exiting the EU will mean for UK fishing.
I know that the Government are reluctant to share their exit plans for fear of damaging negotiations, and it might be that in some policy areas they do not actually have a plan, but they cannot say that about fishing, because in every one of the five general elections I have fought, my Conservative opponent has stood on a platform of getting out of the common fisheries policy. In 2010, the Conservative candidate in my constituency, who is now the excellent hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton)—I imagine her seat does not have a big fishing fleet—launched her campaign on Fish quay in North Shields with the slogan “A Fresh Face for the Future”. I remember that because I launched my campaign the next day holding a rather large fresh salmon under the slogan “Fresh Fish for the Future”. That was the end of the sloganising for that campaign.
The serious point is that Conservative policy has for two decades been about getting out of the common fisheries policy, so surely the Minister must have worked out what that means. As well as fishermen, the public, especially those who voted leave—I voted remain, but if I had been a fisherman, I would have voted leave—were encouraged to believe that the UK would have greater control of the 200-mile exclusive economic zone. They were also encouraged to believe that there would be a 12-mile limit, which is essential to protect the inshore fleet, which is the mainstay of the North Shields fleet in my constituency.
If the UK has more control of our waters, we should have control of—or at least a fairer share of—what is caught in those waters. We need a fit-for-purpose management system that is based on proper science, with scientists working alongside fishermen, as far as possible in real time. We need environmental standards that are at least as high as those we enjoy inside the European Union. I do not think fishermen should have anything to fear, because someone who is a fisherman has to be conservationist and an environmentalist—that is their livelihood. Given that much of the prawn and shellfish landed at North Shields are put on to lorries and taken to the continent for consumption, we also need to make sure that we get a fair trading agreement. When the Minister responds to the debate, I hope that he will at least begin to sketch out what such a policy will look like. That is what we are looking for, and all the people he is going to meet at the Fisheries Council will be looking for those signs, too.
I want to raise two local issues. I make no apology for having raised them before, because we are now working and thinking in a different context. The first is about access to the Farne Deeps, which is the most important prawn fishery. The prawn fishery is the most important element of the viability of North Shields. I thank the Minister not just for the action that he and his Department have taken to protect and safeguard stocks, but for the action he has taken, and plans to take, to deal with the twin-rigged trawlers that are doing a great deal of damage to the marine environment. Does the Minister believe that exiting the common fisheries policy will strengthen his ability and that of the UK Government to act in such situations? If the Minister prefers to write to me about that, I am happy for him to do so.
My second local issue relates to access to funding, and the need to repair and regenerate North Shields port. North Shields is virtually alone on the east coast in retaining a sustainable fleet. It has a fish market—ironically, it was paid for by EU funding—and an integrated port structure. It is at the central part of the North sea and the heart of the prawn fishery, acting as a hub for the east coast.
The port is profitable—anyone speaking to fishermen would be told that it was profitable—and sustains somewhere in the region of 1,200 jobs, but it does not have access to resources for either large-scale repair or long-term infrastructure investment. Work has been completed on the west quay, but the part of the quay that is nearest to the fish market, where the boats land the catches, needs urgent work.
The interested parties are already working together—the Port of Tyne, the company that runs the fish quay, the local authority and many others. Often, however, when it comes to the question of money, there is a lot of shuffling of papers and staring at the floor, because the reality is that the resources are not available to carry out repairs of such size and cost. Infrastructure investment is therefore needed, for which the area has traditionally looked to the European Union. It beggars belief that the EU will agree to make a large amount of money available if we are going to exit at some point in the near future, so I ask a simple question: if not through EU funding, where will the funding come from?
We were told—we saw it on the side of a bus—that we would save £350 million a week if we exited the EU. I work that out at £50 million a day, so the amount that North Shields needs for such important work is equivalent to the contributions that we would make in the length of time allowed for this debate. I want to know from the Minister what help we will get in the future. Will the Government guarantee funding where the EU in the future cannot? Unless we get that guarantee, the viability of North Shields—and, I imagine, other ports—will not be guaranteed, and the jobs that depend on the port will not be guaranteed either.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell), and, like him, I am going say a few words about my local fishery in a moment. We have been the beneficiaries of the expertise of my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), and I agreed with the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) and, indeed, the right hon. Member for Tynemouth when they pointed out that fishing is a dangerous profession. Every year, lives are lost at sea. The fishermen in our constituencies are going out, day after day, in some of the most demanding conditions imaginable.
Before I come on to the CFP and the future, I would like to say something about the Wash. The Wash fishery is one of the most successful in Europe. More than 100 boats fish out of King’s Lynn, Boston and the smaller ports such as Brancaster and Wells. About 40 boats fish out of Lynn, and for every job on the boats, there are probably five onshore—engineers at a small boatyard, for example, and specialist businesses dealing with re-equipping and re-fitting fishing gear. Some engineers specialise in hydraulics, but there is an entire onshore industry that supports the fisheries. There are some important fish processing businesses, as well, including John Lake Shellfish Ltd and Lynn Shellfish. Between them, they employ a significant number of people.
Fishing is very much part of Lynn’s heritage, as superbly portrayed in the True’s Yard Fisherfolk Museum in King’s Lynn, which depicts the story of the old North End fishing quarter of Lynn. It was, of course, Queen Elizabeth I who granted Lynn fishermen the right to
“free and uninterrupted use of the Fisher Fleet for ever and ever”
and a day. King’s Lynn was, in fact, the first port in the UK to join the New Hansa, a consortium of ports in Europe that were originally members of the Hanseatic League.
Fishing is thus an incredibly important part of my constituency, and the mainstay of the Wash shell fishery is the shrimp harvest. There are other target species, including cockles, whelks, mussels, some crabs, lobsters and some whitefish. Let me say a few words about the shrimp fishery first.
Shrimp is an all-year-round fishery, so it is incredibly important to keep the processing plants open all year. One of the leading fishermen in King’s Lynn is John Lake, who said to me the other day that it was “the glue” that holds “the entire fishery together”. The Minister will know that the 2016 harvest was a record one. There were superb catches. The Wash shrimp fishery is now the best in Europe, and quite a lot of the catch is exported, so the lower pound has been highly beneficial. On average this year, exports have been between £350,000 and £400,000, which is obviously good for the balance of payments. This is bringing in a great deal of resources and money to the fishermen.
As the Minister also knows, a potential crisis is looming. Already 40% of the original fishing grounds in the Wash are no longer available because of the RAF bombing range and the exclusion zone around the 1,000 or so offshore wind turbines. The number of conservation areas has been increased, and there has been an increase in sand extraction. For those reasons, fishermen have lost 40% of the fishing grounds that were available about 20 years ago. That makes it even more remarkable that we have had a record shrimp harvest.
There is a potential problem coming our way, and I should like the Minister to look into it. The Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority is consulting on the introduction of a permit scheme that could lead to a significant reduction—about 14%—in the shrimp grounds. There have been suggestions of possible damage to soft, muddy or mixed sediments. However, one fisherman told me that beam trawlers have been going out into that part of the Wash for 200 years, and one really strong north-east gale will do far more damage in one day than they could do in a year.
This is coming from the European Union: EU regulations are putting pressure on EIFCA. I urge the Minister to look at this matter urgently, especially given that we are leaving the EU. Perhaps he could call a meeting with members of EIFCA and talk it through with them. We want proper evidence. We want a peer-reviewed survey, and we want a proportionate, common-sense approach to the problem. The Minister has already made a pledge to look at it, but I urge him to look at it again, because the fishery will be under a great deal of pressure if that does not happen. One of the great jewels in our crown will be lost, and that is an incredibly important consideration in my constituency.
The cockle fishery has a shorter season, but the stocks have been prolific recently, and the fishermen have been helped by the fall in the pound. In this case EIFCA raised the quota from 2 tonnes to 3 tonnes per vessel, which has been beneficial. We have therefore had a good season. However, there has been an ongoing debate about methods of cockle fishing. The suction dredging technique is preferred by the bigger commercial fishermen, but the artisanal fishermen use prop washing: they anchor the boat and turn the engine on, and the boat then goes round in a circle stirring up the sediment. When the tide goes down, the boat will alight and the hand-raking will commence. That is the traditional artisanal way of fishing, and because it is successful and is popular among the artisanal fishermen, suction dredging has been banned for the last few years.
However, there are parts of the Wash where prop washing cannot take place, because the stock of cockles is too sparsely distributed. The technique only works in areas where there is a concentration of cockles that can be stirred up. In recent years, significant amounts of stock have simply gone unfished. Let me give the Minister an example. Fishermen told me the other day that in the Boston main fishery, on the western side of the Wash, between 9,000 and 10,000 tonnes of large cockles—which are worth roughly three times as much as the smaller ones—went unfished, and went to waste. That is between £9 million and £10 million worth of stock, at about £900 a tonne, so it was an appalling waste. Had suction dredging been permitted on an ad hoc, one-off basis, the harvest could have been extended and a great many extra cockles could have been brought in, to the benefit of the fishery.
I hope that the Minister will deal with those points when he winds up the debate, but if he does not have time to do so, perhaps he will write to me.
Let me end by saying that I think there are massive opportunities post-Brexit, although things will not be in any way easy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton pointed out, difficult and challenging negotiations lie before us, but surely, with a certain amount of imagination and innovation, we can ensure that those bilateral and trilateral arrangements are put in place, and we can reset our fisheries policy so that we have a UK fisheries policy and can get the best possible deal for UK fishermen, particularly those in Scotland. I remember that, in my youth, every single port in Scotland had a fisher fleet. The CFP has been a disaster for UK fisheries. We now have a huge opportunity to reconfigure it, and rebuild fishing policy for the future in the interests of UK fishermen. I know that the Minister cannot give away his negotiating position, but I hope that today he will spell out his vision of the future of UK fisheries. We wish him well.
Let me begin, like a number of other Members, by taking a moment to remember all the fishermen who have left their families, friends and harbours this year, not to return. The pain in those communities is always palpable, and we must do more than we have in the past to ensure that we do not begin our fisheries debates every year by remembering people who have been lost. Let me also pay tribute to the work done by the Fishermen’s Mission and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in helping to keep our fishermen safe.
On a happier note, there is good news in our fishing industry, which is often not reported. It comes after many years of decline. In 2005, for example, 90% of the stocks around UK waters were overexploited, but that has now fallen to 45%. A great deal of progress has been made in the last 10 years. The story of cod recovery in the North sea is thanks to some of the difficult decisions that we took when we were in government, and plaice and sole are doing well too. We need to spread that good news around the rest of our waters, because it translates into real people’s lives and incomes in regions such as mine. In the last 12 months, the markets of Brixham and Plymouth experienced record landings in terms of value.
First, I should like the Minister to assure all of us that he will continue the successful policies that have led to this improvement—policies which, to give him credit, he has continued since we were in office—whether from inside or outside the EU. Secondly, I should like him to reassure us that the overall environmental objectives that successive UK Governments have fought to achieve for sustainable fisheries will be continued and embedded in UK law. We need to complete the network in marine protected areas. We also need fully to embed the birds and habitats directive, the bathing waters directive, the urban waste water treatment directive, the water framework directive, and the marine strategy framework directive in UK law through the great repeal Bill that the Government are proposing. I hope that the Minister will reassure us that that will be done.
I also hope that when the Minister goes to the Council in December, he will take a very tough line on bass. The state of bass around our waters is catastrophic, although that was completely avoidable. We have done far too little, too late. I cannot understand why we in this country do not adopt the policy that operates in the Republic of Ireland, where bass is treated solely as a recreational species. Many Members may not realise this, but if we look at the big picture, it is clear that recreational angling contributes more to our overall economy than the commercial catching sector. However, it does not have such a loud voice in the negotiations. The commercial sector will be breathing down the Minister’s neck when he is in Brussels, but I hope he will remember the words of the millions of anglers in the country—as well as those who run bed and breakfasts, and all the other services that anglers support—who say that they want a better deal on bass. We need a complete moratorium on commercial bass catching with no exemptions next year, with some allowance made for the recreational catching need.
I hope the Minister will not forget about the good progress that the Government have made on marine litter. That may not appear to be a big issue, but it is a huge issue for the marine environment. I commend the Minister for his successful plastic bag charge and on the proposed microbeads ban, but that ban must include detergents and other household products, not just cosmetics.
I do not doubt that many catchers in the UK commercial fishing sector did vote to leave the EU, partly based on a long-time grievance that they got a terrible deal under the then Conservative Government when we joined the Common Market, but my fear, which I think is shared by many in the industry, is that just as they were done over on our way in, they may be done over on our way out. There are two main reasons why they worry about that.
First, there is the simple arithmetic of 26 against one in the negotiations, which will obviously make the Minister’s job very difficult. There will be an early test of that at the forthcoming Fisheries Council, where he knows as well as I do that it is those late night deals that matter, and the relationships built up with fellow Ministers over the years are what enable us to get the good deals for our own industry. I cannot help thinking that some of the chaos and antics and confusion around the Government’s messaging on Brexit will not be helpful in that endeavour. I wish him well in those negotiations, however, in a couple of weeks’ time.
The second reason why the industry is nervous is the level of priority the Government will be prepared to give this sector, which after all represents a relatively small part of our economy compared with all the other sectors referred to—the manufacturing sector, the financial services sector and even the farming sector. There is a real worry that the fisheries sector will lose out because the Government will not take it seriously enough.
Another interesting long-term trend in fisheries is that, as several other Members have pointed out, it is now more of an import-export industry than a pure catching industry. Both imports and exports have grown exponentially and steadily over recent decades, partly because of our taste for white fish—cod and haddock—and partly because of our relative lack of enthusiasm, which I regret, for some of our more exotic, but not terribly exotic, species, which we therefore export in large quantities to the continent. I do not know whether anyone can guess what the main catch in terms of value is in the south-west at the moment. It is cuttlefish, a non-quota species, and almost all of it goes straight to the fish markets of Italy, to grace the tables of our Italian friends and relatives, and I am sure they enjoy it very much. We catch the best crab and lobster in the world off the south Devon coast; it almost all goes straight to France and Spain in salt tanks—what a waste.
We need to eat more of our own produce, but the point I am making is that because the export of fish is in many ways more important economically than catching, and more jobs and livelihoods rely on it, the issue of tariffs is very important. I have asked several times in this Chamber already in recent weeks for some clarity from the Government about tariffs, because if we cannot have tariff-free access for those exports to the continent, what kind of future will there be, not just for the markets, merchants and processors but for the catchers themselves? I would like the Minister to give some clarity on how he will reconcile situations where the interests of the catching sector and the exporters are not aligned, which may sometimes arise. If, for example, we declare our unilateral 200-mile limit, how does he expect that to influence the mood of the 26 other countries we will be negotiating with over tariffs? I am rather nervous that it might antagonise them.
I want to ask the Minister about enforcement as well, as that is a matter of great concern that has not been raised yet in this debate. Regrettably, there has been a huge cut in enforcement under this Government. In 2010, there were 1,500 at-sea inspections; that figure halved by 2015. In fact there is less enforcement now than there has ever been. There were 40 foreign boats fishing off the coast of Devon and Cornwall this week alone, as they are perfectly entitled to, and of course under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea rules boats are entitled to come through our waters, but how is the Minister’s 200-mile limit going to be enforced when we do not even currently enforce the rules as they stand? What naval assets can he assure the House will be available to do this work? What access will we have to the vital EU monitoring system? Have we got guarantees that we will still be able to participate in that, or will we have to invent a whole new system or rely on a different sort of satellite system? This is crucial, because it is about fair play for the fishermen, and also confidence for the consumer that the fish being caught is caught legally and sustainably.
The point my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) made so excellently is that there are huge expectations, and hopes have been raised not just by the Minister but by the other Brextremists in this whole fisheries debate. My worry is that the recipe for what they are proposing is also a recipe for potential conflict, a race to the bottom and environmental degradation. I hope the Minister can give some clarity and demonstrate that he will have a sensible approach to the fishing industry that will not lead to that, and that he can give us some outline of a realistic long-term plan that recognises the need to collaborate over a finite and mobile resource, that catching will continue to have to be restricted in order for stocks to recover and thrive, and that that is what is really in the interests of our fishing industry, not conflict and a return to some mythical golden age that some imagine might be the case.
Order. We now have even more Members who are enthusiastic about taking part in the debate, so I ask hon. Members to speak for something under eight minutes, please.
It is a great pleasure to be called to speak in the debate, and to follow the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw). I wholeheartedly endorse his opening comments, in which he paid tribute to the bravery of the crews and of their families who wait behind in terrible weather, wondering whether they are going to see those brave fishermen come back.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) on securing the debate. I pay tribute to her predecessor, who was a great stalwart of the industry but who drew a completely different conclusion from hers on these matters. Frankly, I think he was right.
Brexit offers the most wonderful opportunity for our marine environment and for those who work in it. We should not underestimate that. We said that we would leave, which will mean leaving the common fisheries policy and re-establishing our control right back to 200 miles and the full exclusive economic zone. I was the shadow spokesman on these matters 11 and 12 years ago, opposite the right hon. Member for Exeter.
As a supporter of the UK remaining in the single market, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will spell out the importance of tariff-free access for shellfish and other goods from Scotland, the UK and elsewhere going into the European market, and into France and Spain in particular.
I am not recommending staying in the single market because, as the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU said, a couple of weeks ago 20 countries were accelerating their sales into the single market from outside faster than we were doing from within. However, I am fully in favour of zero tariffs.
I have answered the hon. Gentleman’s point, and I am going to carry on.
Eleven years ago, I spent a fascinating two years going all round the British Isles. I went to wonderful places such as Whalsay in the far north, Northern Ireland and right round the coast of Britain. I saw tragically damaged communities and marine environments. I also went to Norway, the Faroes, Iceland, Newfoundland, the east coast of the United States and the Falklands. I saw improving marine environments and prosperous fishing communities in those areas. I saw wealth being grown there. I drew conclusions from this, and I wrote a consultation paper, which I published.
The right hon. Gentleman is right. The common feature of all the jurisdictions he mentions is that their fisheries management systems have the fishermen at their heart. This is not a question of where control is exercised; it is a question of what we do with it. Whitehall is just as capable as Brussels of excluding fishermen from fisheries management.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his helpful intervention. I draw his attention to the paper that I launched in Scotland in 2005, on which we fought the 2005 election. It advocated the establishment of national and local control, which is exactly what he is talking about. He is absolutely right. In that paper, I concluded:
“The Common Fisheries Policy is a biological, environmental, economic and social disaster; it is beyond reform. It is a system that forces fishermen to throw back more fish dead into the sea than they land; it has caused substantial degradation of the marine environment; it has destroyed much of the fishing industry, with compulsory scrapping of modern vessels and has devastated fishing communities.”
I am absolutely clear that leaving the CFP would give us the chance to change all that.
The first thing we would change is the craziness of the quotas. At the moment, we throw back more fish dead into the sea than we land. A Scottish fisherman told me this morning that he estimates that a 50% discard equates to 1 million tonnes of healthy fish being thrown back each year, worth £1.6 billion annually and the equivalent of 2 billion fish suppers. That is criminal insanity. We are across the gulf stream, and we have deep waters with a strong supply of food. The industry could have a tremendous revival if we revive our marine environment.
We must replace the current quotas and turn them into the equivalent of days at sea. I saw this happening with great clarity in the Faroes, where it is mandatory to land everything. The Minister in the Faroes told me, “We might not like what we find, but we know exactly what is going on.” Let us compare that with the problem that the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), will have when he goes to the Council next week. The EU fisheries policy is based on information that is guaranteed to be at a minimum 50% inaccurate and probably six months out of date.
Let us compare that with the Falklands, where—I saw this when I was there—the figures are transmitted to senior scientists in London overnight, and if a vessel collecting hake is taking too much bycatch, it is told to steam on.
Let us compare that with Iceland, where—I have been there, too—at an hour’s notice, vessels are told to steam on if they are catching too much of a certain species. That is proper control and, to go back to the point made by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), it is the sort of power we could give back to our local fisherman and those with an interest in the local marine environment.
I am absolutely clear that we have to switch from the current quota system. If we have any quotas, it is inevitable that we will have discards. During the referendum campaign, I gave a speech in Looe and, on the harbour-master’s wall, there was a helpful tin sign with pictures of all the fish. I say all the fish, but, hang on, there was no picture of a haddock. What is the biggest thing fishermen are catching off Looe at the moment? It is haddock. They have not even got a quota, so they are chucking them all back. It is absolutely crazy. We should land everything, and everything with commercial value should then be sold. That is the only solution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) bravely got the discard ban through, but, unfortunately, it cannot work while we have quotas. As long as we have quotas, we will have a discard problem. We should move to controls based on days at sea, we should land everything, we should have accurate data—and no cheating—and it would be immensely cheaper and easier to administer. That would provide very accurate data for our local scientists, local fishermen, local recreational interests and local environmentalists to use in deciding how to handle the fishing.
I am looking at the clock, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I will mention a few other points that were in my paper. Before I do so, will the Minister—if he will take a note—get a derogation and do a trial on the basis of days at sea? The Dutch have done a trial on electric pulse beaming, starting off with six boats in the first year and going up to 100 boats after six years. I would like the Minister to choose a mixed fishery area—possibly the south-west, where he comes from—for an immediate trial converting existing quotas into days at sea to see whether we can replicate the huge success of the Faroes in improving the marine environment, growing stocks and bringing back prosperity.
As part of our administration of fisheries, it is very important that we plan temporary closures. For boats taking too much bycatch, absolutely hourly management can, with radio, be given to local scientists and fishermen if we create the right framework. In my paper, I proposed having fisheries management authorities, which would be a combination of all the parties I have mentioned. I would have inshore authorities for out to 12 miles—in the channel, it would go a little further—and a smaller number of them for out to 200 miles. They would work on the basis of local knowledge, with local scientists, and adapt techniques to their area.
There is one issue that I find extraordinary. When I went to New England, I saw selective gear being developed at Manomet, but when I came back to the UK I found out it was banned. The hostility of the EU to modern technology is bizarre. I would like to have a regime in which we actively promoted selective gear so that we could take out certain species surgically when fishing. On that, the ability to control the system has been enormously helped since I wrote the paper, because there has been a great improvement in GPS tracking, satellite observation and communications. We can put cameras on nets and on boats, so it is now very hard to cheat.
One of the Labour Members mentioned improved supervision, and we will have to put more money back into this to ensure that people do not cheat. However, we will be in an enormously better position if we take back control, give power to local interests—not just the fishing industry, but scientists, councils and recreational fishermen—to decide what is good for their area, to adapt selective gear to that area and to agree permanent closed zones for spawning if necessary or temporary closed zones if there is too much fishing. If we do that, we will see an immediate improvement in the marine environment, and the jobs and prosperity will then come back. Leave means leave, which means going out to 200 miles and establishing local and national control.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), who brings his customary clarity and simplicity to today’s arguments. However, I disagree with a great deal of his analysis of the problems. It must be stressed rather more than it has been that taking back control is only part of the answer. There is then the question of what we do with it.
If we are to construct our own domestic fisheries management system, there is an opportunity to put fishermen, conservationists and scientists at the heart of fisheries management—proper regional and local management—and to use scientific advice. The right hon. Gentleman said that 50% of such advice was wrong. I doubt that, but I do know that it is at least two years out of date by the time it informs the decision-making process. We need a better way of using that information to inform the process so that whether we use quotas, days at sea, closed areas or whatever, the information on which we rely properly and accurately reflects the stocks in the water.
We must not forget that even if we leave the European Union and even if we have control over the waters as others have suggested, that would not be the end of our interaction with the common fisheries policy. We share waters in the North sea, the English channel and the western approaches in the Irish sea, and other countries have historic rights of access to our waters. If they continue to mismanage stocks in a way that was unfortunately a feature of the past, that will have continuing impact on our fishermen, too.
I wish the Minister well as he goes to the December Council meeting. In the light of everything else, it will perhaps be a trickier negotiation than in recent years, but the environment will be slightly less febrile than when the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) was fisheries Minister. I go back 12, 13 or 14 years in such debates, and back then we thought it possible that the spawning stock biomass of North sea cod had reached a point from which there would be no recovery. In fact, we have a seen a quite remarkable recovery in North sea white fish stocks, but that has not happened by accident—a thought that occurred to me as the right hon. Gentleman was explaining the changes. I think around 47% of stocks are still overfished—too high, but a significant improvement on where we were. That improvement is a consequence of the changes made in fisheries management, in particular the creation of regional advisory councils, and of the significant pain that was borne by the fishing industry and communities during the decommissioning programmes of 10 years ago.
The attractions of this opportunity to the catching sector are pretty obvious, but there are concerns for the future beyond that sector. The processing sector heavily relies and has relied for many years on the availability of workers from other EU countries. Those people want to know what their future will be. If we are to have a set of World Trade Organisation rules and if there are tariffs on trade, that will have a seriously disadvantageous impact on processors, which will also hit the catchers. That is why it is crucial to get clarity as early as possible.
Like the right hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell), I want to bring a few items from my shopping list to this debate. The Minister has already heard my worries about the Faroese deal on mackerel. There was enormous scepticism among the Scottish pelagic fleet, the Shetland pelagic catchers in particular, when the deal was brokered a few years ago. However, they did accept that they would give it a go. They gave it a go, and it is clear that that scepticism was, if anything, understated. This deal really is not working, as was highlighted recently by the report from Seafish, which pointed out that in 2015 Faroese boats caught almost 33,000 tonnes of mackerel in EU waters, mostly in Scotland’s, while Scottish boats got absolutely none from the Faroese waters. Worse, if the Faroese boats choose to land their fish in Scotland, they are then penalised by their Government. The Minister will know that the talks on the next iteration of this deal are to be held in Brussels on 6 and 7 December, so may I instil in him the strongest possible resolve in tackling this, because the imbalance of this deal becomes more egregious with every year that passes?
I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman is concerned about the fact that this document excludes the question of those parts of the fishing industry that I suspect would be of concern to him in relation to the joint management with Norway. The European Scrutiny Committee drew attention to that and I wonder whether it is a matter of concern to his constituents.
Without actually knowing what “this document” is, I am not sure; I am afraid that my eyesight is no longer good enough to be able to read the title from here. Wittingly or otherwise, the hon. Gentleman has hit on a very important point, which is that although we always get excited about the December Fisheries Council meeting, the real deal is the one done with the EU-Norway talks. That is where the shape of the fishing entitlement of the fishermen in my constituency is determined, and we look forward to hearing from the Minister exactly how we will interact with those talks in the future. A trilateral discussion surely seems sensible, but we will wait to hear what he intends in that regard.
I am sorry, but I want to keep within the time limit if I can.
The landing obligation also continues to be a source of concern, as a result of the so-called “choke species”. This year, stock levels of cod, haddock and whiting in the North sea are particularly healthy—they are there in abundance—but there is a real danger that they could be excluded as a result of having these choke species. Again, that is an example of why it is so important that when the science is used to inform the decision-making process and quota it is accurate and up-to-date. It would be utterly perverse if Shetland’s white-fish fishermen were to be punished for fishing in waters where the stocks were healthiest.
Other Members have also spoken about the position on non-EU crew members, which has been particularly acute in my constituency. The basic problem is not just the indifference of the Home Office; the way these rules operate, if they are allowed to operate, means that they are pushing fishermen into fishing where the immigration rules allow them, rather than where is safe or where the fish are to be found. Surely the Minister should be speaking to the Home Office about that.
This annual fisheries debate provides the opportunity for MPs to reflect on the main issues confronting the fishing industry. The EU referendum result holds special significance for fishing in that, as we have heard, it affords the opportunity to leave the dysfunctional and, for the UK, highly disadvantageous common fisheries policy. Although I recognise that the pressing matter before us is the December Council negotiations, which will determine what fishermen in Newlyn and St Ives, on the Lizard and in West Penwith will be able to land next year, the 23 June referendum result gives the Government their best possible opportunity to build a sustainable and prosperous future for UK fishing. I understand why the Government generally want to keep their negotiating position on the EU close to their chest and I recognise that until article 50 is triggered formal negotiations cannot begin, but for UK fishing, our negotiating position could not be clearer: the EU should have no reason to doubt that we will take back our fishing rights under international law, and it is for the EU to negotiate with us its share of total allowable catch in UK waters. My personal view is that this is the kind of language that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs should be using. It is only fair that fishermen, both in the UK and around Europe, are clear about the future of their industry in UK waters. The fishing industry in the UK is united. It sees the referendum result as providing the best chance to right the wrong that, over decades, has dramatically reduced our fleet—particularly in the west—and made an already tough job so much tougher.
I have a met a number of fishermen and fishing industry representatives since June, and their asks are straightforward: the UK must ensure full and absolute control of UK waters out to the 200-mile limit, which will mean that fishing opportunities, access and the regulatory regime will then be determined by the UK Government, not the EU; the UK must secure a greater share of total allowable catches in UK waters; the UK must secure the continued tariff-free and unrestricted access to European markets; and the fishing industry must be at the heart of Government negotiations and the future management of UK fisheries. To deliver a positive outcome for fishing, it is essential that the experience and knowledge of the fishing industry are harnessed and used during and after negotiations to leave the EU.
The UK must achieve a stand-alone fisheries policy that describes the regulatory framework that the UK fishing industry will come under post the common fisheries policy. It will have to consider issues such as access, fishing opportunities, technical regulations and landing obligation arrangements. This whole debate is about the future of fishing and I see no reason why a draft framework along those lines cannot be produced soon. That will help to give the industry confidence and stability for the future.
There are significant positive outcomes for the UK fishing industry and UK plc if we get this right. A commitment to regain control of, and manage, UK waters provides the foundation for a sustainable fishery, delivering superior long-term socio-economic returns to society. A sustainable and prosperous UK fishing sector would make a significant contribution to the regeneration of coastal communities, attract fresh blood into the industry, and make it a viable career option for young people. The increased supply of fish landed on UK shores will increase exports and place the UK consumption of fish as part of a nutritious staple diet back on the agenda and help to address food security concerns.
As the Minister considers those thoughts, I want to bring Members’ attentions briefly back to the December Council negotiations. The Minister, who is from my neighbouring constituency, will fully understand that the Cornish fleet is unique in its diversity. I understand that the ultra-mixed fisheries in the south-west present a real challenge in these negotiations. It is important that we view the outcome of this month’s negotiations as an overall package, as opposed to an isolated issue. Progress continues to be made towards maximum sustainable yields, which, in the end, will deliver the security that the fishing industry needs. However, in the Minister’s negotiations, it is essential to balance progress towards maximum sustainable yields with protection for the livelihoods of fishermen around the coast of west Cornwall.
While we are still in the EU, can the Minister please work hard to ensure that the maximum sustainable yield timetable is not allowed to become a dogma? It is better to take a little more time and safeguard the integrity of Cornish fisheries. With that in mind, proposals to cut monk by nearly 12%, megrim by 28% and pollock by 20% would cause considerable difficulty to fishermen in my constituency and it is not absolutely clear that the science supports such significant reductions. I particularly liked the suggestion from my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) regarding days at sea. I am sure that the over-10s in my constituency would welcome that idea.
Finally, sea bass fishing is once again a hot topic and affects sea anglers, the inshore fleet and the over-10s. All agree that we need to achieve a sustainable supply of bass. I know what the Commission is proposing and accept that hook and line fishing offers the best chance to allow fish stocks to recover. However, I urge it please to consider the broader commercial fishing fleet. The Commission’s proposals are misguided and harmful. As they stand, every bass caught in a net will be discarded dead, every bass caught in a beam trawl will be discarded dead and any bass caught in a trawl over the 1% catch will be discarded dead. It makes no sense to penalise fishing vessels in west Cornwall that pick up bass as a bycatch by forcing them to discard this valuable fish.
There is much more that I could say, but, in summary, I ask the Minister to be bold about the UK’s fishing industry post our exit from the EU and to fight hard, as he has done and continues to do, on behalf of our fisherman, particularly those operating in mixed fisheries, at the December council.
The hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) did very well on the time limit. He was well under the time limit and no discarded minutes—excellent—but I now have to ask hon. Members to take about seven minutes or everyone will not get in.
These debates are difficult for many of us who are pro-European by nature. I am a pro-European but I concede that the common fisheries policy has ill served the fishing industry since its introduction. This is one area where the Scottish National party has tried over many years to get powers back—unsuccessfully, as it transpired. My right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond), who at the time represented the constituency of Banff and Buchan, introduced his Fisheries Jurisdiction Bill, which was backed by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) and others from parties around the House.
It has always struck me that the regulation of fishing was not one of the powers that the EU should have. However, during this time of negotiation, we should bear in mind the importance of the single market to our seafood sector. In 2015 Scotland exported £438 million-worth of seafood to the European Union. It is our second largest food and drink export after whisky, both of which are produced very well in North East Fife. We have the European maritime and fisheries fund, which is worth €107 million to Scotland, and the coastal communities fund. Maintaining our coastal communities goes beyond the fishing industry to include other industries as well.
Although we are pro-European to our fingertips, we have to be honest with ourselves about the European Union. I do not think that the fishing industry has always been best represented by the United Kingdom as a member state. It was, after all, the United Kingdom Government back in the 1970s who described our fishing industry as being “expendable” when we joined the European Union. [Interruption.] Indeed; my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) is right that it was a Conservative Government who described the industry as expendable. As the powers come back, what is there to say that that attitude has changed since the 1970s? That is a concern for fishermen and fishing communities the length and breadth of the United Kingdom.
It was not just the Conservative party. I sometimes fear that this place never quite got to grips with devolution in 2010. I sincerely hope, for the benefit of our fishing industry, that this Government get to grips with devolution and will respect the powers that have already been devolved to the Scottish Parliament and to those in Cardiff and Northern Ireland as well. I remember that in 2010 the Labour Government decided to send the Minister with responsibility for bees to a crucial fishing industry meeting, rather than sending the Minister who had the greatest responsibility for our fishing industry, Richard Lochhead. More recently, a Liberal Democrat Minister was sent to the salle d’écoute—that is, the listening room, for the benefit of Conservative Members—in 2006 during crucial negotiations.
Devolution has changed the context in which we have these debates. I sincerely hope that our fishing industry will be respected during the process of the UK leaving the EU.
My hon. Friend is making a fine speech and a fine point. When we look at the UK’s exclusive economic zone and the 200-mile limit—just about only my constituency reaches that far—there are 773,000 sq km under UK control, but of that 462,000 sq km are Scottish and 311,000 sq km belong to the rest of the UK. That means that when we get the powers back from Brussels, as the Brexiteers have promised us, we must ensure that there is no grab in London and that the mismanagement of Scottish waters is not simply transferred from Brussels to London.
As usual, my hon. Friend makes a good point.
Finally, as Conservative colleagues are thinking about this issue, I would like to refer to Conservative MEP Ian Duncan, who said Scotland should play a leading role in international fisheries negotiations post-Brexit. He said:
“All future negotiations between the UK and external partners such as Norway, Iceland, the Faroes or the EU must include Scotland not just as a full partner, but as primus inter pares”—
he went to St Andrews, so he could not help using a bit of Latin, and it means first among equals. He went on:
“It is clear that in the future, Scotland will need to play a key role on all external fisheries management bodies.”
When the Minister responds, I hope he will bear those words in mind, as well as the fact that devolved Administrations have certain responsibilities. There is fine produce in Anstruther and Pittenweem, as well as across Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, and it deserves to do much better than it does under the common fisheries policy.
I thank the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) for securing this important Backbench Business debate. Her constituency includes one of the UK’s biggest ports, which has been badly affected by the CFP. I also pay tribute to her predecessor, for the reasons my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) gave.
As many of my right hon. and hon. Friends are saying today, the CFP is a fundamentally failed system. Any attempts to conserve our fish stocks through the CFP have always meant too little sovereignty for London and too little decentralisation from Brussels. To understand what the UK’s future fisheries policy should look like, it is important to examine what has happened over the last four decades.
The principle of equal access to the European Community’s fishing waters was agreed without any basis in the treaty of Rome. Fisheries became a common resource, and all member states’ fishing vessels were granted equal access. The 30th of June 1970 was also the day the UK handed in its application to join the Common Market, and because equal access had become EU acquis, the UK was obliged to accept that principle, even though it had no legal precedent. We abandoned our territorial waters when we became members of the European Community. As we all now know, joining the European Community also meant that we abandoned our sovereignty.
Many points highlight the absurdity of the CFP. First, there is the conservation policy of national quotas. The quotas, imposed in 1983, are a prime example of a decision taken in Brussels but left with each member state to implement. As has become all too clear, the consequence of centralisation is overfishing. Because the CFP is centrally managed, local authorities in countries such as Spain turn a blind eye to abuse. The system also results in the wholesale dumping of fish—a practice that was common among member states but illegal in, for example, Norway. That is proof that the EU quota system is unfit for purpose. The second point is decommissioning to reduce fishing effort. Since 1992, Britain has been required to decommission its fishing fleet because our waters have been overfished—by 19% in 1992, and then by 40% in 1996.
Many members have spoken out against the CFP over the years—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union being one of them. He has also spoken positively about the Icelandic system, where fishing quotas are market based and tradeable. That system creates an incentive to conserve fish for the future.
Now that we are leaving the EU, we must leave behind centralised quotas, equal access and subsidised ships. That will not bring back the estimated 115,000 UK jobs we lost due to the CFP, but I believe it will recreate new jobs along the coast. Equally importantly, we must regain control of our territorial waters. There are many challenges ahead of us in the upcoming Brexit negotiations, but, from a political and environmental perspective, the Government have a massive opportunity that must not be missed. I urge them to consider the example set by Iceland and to introduce fair, tradable national quotas, making the best use of our resources and, most importantly, making them sustainable so that they are protected for the future.
As is customary, I would like to take this opportunity to pay my respects to those who have lost their lives at sea over the past year, and to pay tribute to the work of the RNLI volunteers, our coastguards and the Fishermen’s Mission. They all play an essential role in the lives of our fishing communities. Earlier this year, I joined the crew of Fraserburgh lifeboat on a training exercise to raise awareness of its “Respect the Water” campaign. Every time I go out on the North sea, I am reminded of the dangers that our fishermen face in their day-to-day working lives.
More fish were landed in my constituency last year than in Wales and Northern Ireland combined. In fact, Peterhead and Fraserburgh alone landed about three quarters of the quantity of fish landed in the whole of England. No communities anywhere in the UK are more heavily dependent on fisheries than those of the Buchan and Banffshire coasts, and the industry supports thousands of jobs onshore, offshore and in the wider supply chain.
The UK’s decision to leave the EU has enormous implications for our fishing and fishing-related industries and coastal communities. It might present significant opportunities, chief among which would be the possibility to right some of the historical wrongs of the common fisheries policy. However, there are also big uncertainties, as well as questions that have not yet been answered and, indeed, possible risks for some sectors.
The nature and timing of the UK’s exit from the EU, and the tone of the negotiations, including on what type of Brexit the UK pursues, will be of enormous consequence to our fishing industries, both onshore and offshore. It is no secret that many fishermen voted to leave the EU, and the main driver for that among those whom I have talked to is the failures and frustrations of the CFP. When I ask them what they want, however, most of them say that they want to be in a similar position to Norway: outside the EU and the CFP and able to negotiate for ourselves; but within the single market and able to export produce easily to lucrative EU markets and to take advantage of free movement.
Scotland exported fish and seafood worth more than £438 million to EU countries last year. That represents nearly two thirds of our entire food exports, so the industry is hugely important. We need to maintain that ease of market access, but we also need to acknowledge that access to many of our non-EU export markets is currently facilitated via EU trade agreements. It is absolutely imperative for our fishing industry that the UK does not fall off the cliff edge of a hard Brexit. That would create huge problems for parts of our processing sector, and a bonanza for our neighbours—and competitors—in Norway and Iceland.
The other benefit of retaining single market membership is that there is no part of our fishing industry that does not rely on the free movement of labour. That is particularly acute in the processing sector, where EU nationals make up a large proportion of the workforce.
Aberdeen no longer has a fishing industry—it is safe to say that it was lost to the advent of oil, not to the EU—but it retains a processing sector, a significant proportion of whose workforce comes from elsewhere in the European Union. Does my hon. Friend agree that the sector is at risk if there is no protection for those workers?
Of course I agree with my hon. Friend. That point has been raised by Members from many parts of the UK.
A significant proportion of the fish caught by Scottish boats is already landed in ports overseas, notably in Norway. If we were to lose any processing capacity in Scotland because of labour shortages, we would lose part of the high-value end of our supply chain. We would lose exports and revenue and, critically, we would jeopardise hundreds of local jobs that the free movement of labour has anchored in our geographically peripheral coastal communities.
I am desperately disappointed that the UK Government have chosen to use the status of EU nationals living and working in the UK as a bargaining chip in their Brexit negotiations. That has not just set a poor tone for what lies ahead, but created uncertainty for businesses and for ordinary, hard-working folk who have made their homes in our communities and do not deserve to become pawns in this unedifying game.
In or out of the EU, it is overwhelmingly in the interests of our fish processors and exporters to stay in the single market. Whatever our eventual constitutional destination, even the most ardent Brexiteers recognise that we will still have to negotiate with neighbouring coastal states over shared stocks and reciprocal access to our waters. It would be absolutely daft to get ourselves into a position where we can finally ditch the problems with the CFP and recover access to the fish in our own waters, but be unable to get that fish to market. In that regard, I was surprised to hear the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) say that he was in favour of leaving the single market, because I was looking the other day at a video clip of him on the “Murnaghan” programme saying
“only a madman would actually leave the market.”
I do not know what has prompted this turn of insanity, but I think the right hon. Gentleman should clarify.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me a chance to clarify. Perhaps she should have watched the Andrew Neil programme a little later, on which that ridiculous video was completely shredded. A number of us—about four or five—who campaigned to leave were absolutely and totally misrepresented—[Interruption.] I went on to say, if the hon. Lady will just restrain herself for a moment, that there are about two countries in the world—I think it is Somalia and North Korea—that do not sell into the single market. We want to sell into it.
I am very confident that I have quoted the right hon. Gentleman correctly from the clip I saw. I think it is exactly that kind of two-faced language that discredits politicians and makes people doubt our integrity on issues that we are concerned about.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it parliamentary to talk about “two-faced language” when I have just explained that I was wholly misrepresented by that ridiculous video?
I would have jumped up anyway if the right hon. Gentleman had not. I think that the hon. Lady should withdraw “two-faced”.
I will withdraw “two-faced”, although I said that it was that type of two-faced behaviour that discredits politicians. I did not make any reference to the right hon. Gentleman, although I think my context is very clear. I am happy to withdraw.
Arguably the biggest opportunities for the fishing industry in the current scenario will be: the ability to negotiate more effectively on our own behalf in future negotiations, rather than as part of the EU; and the possibility of securing a fairer share of the resources in our waters. A report published in October by the NAFC Marine Centre demonstrated that more than half the fish harvested in Scottish waters is caught by non-UK boats. I do not understand how anyone can see that as fair and equitable. The situation cannot be allowed to continue, and it must be addressed as a priority.
Inevitably, the run-up to next week’s fisheries talks has been somewhat overshadowed in this debate by Brexit considerations, but there are two major issues that I want to bring to the Minister’s attention. The first is the implementation of the discard ban. I know that I have been banging on about this for years, but the situation is urgent. Even if article 50 were triggered tomorrow, our demersal fleet would still be subject to the ban in 2018 and 2019. I do not think that there is a realistic way of implementing it in its current form, and I also do not see how it can be easily enforced.
There is a consensus about the idea that it is undesirable to throw marketable fish back into the sea, but I am not sure that we are any nearer to finding a way to make the discard ban work in the mixed fisheries of the North sea under our current quota allocations and arrangements. It has been relatively straightforward to do so in the pelagic sector, but there is a major problem for the white fish fleet with so-called choke species, such as hake and saithe, which are abundant in our waters but for which we have insufficient quota. Selective gears, quota swaps and other avoidance measures will take us only so far, and we absolutely must not get ourselves into a position where boats are tied up because of this. That cannot be allowed to happen.
We should focus our energy on securing healthy stocks that are sustainably harvested. Reducing discards is obviously one part of that, but it is a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. I hope that the Minister will make addressing the situation a priority at the December Council, because we urgently need a workable solution.
The other issue on which I want to push the Minister echoes a point made by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael): the untenable situation regarding the EU-Faroese bilateral deal on mackerel. The deal that was reached in 2014 allows the Faroese fleet to fish 30% of its coastal states share of mackerel in Scottish waters, and that is not an acceptable or sustainable position. I think that a reduction is an achievable goal, so I hope that the Minister will work for it.
Finally, I want to make a key point. Our fishing industry has unprecedented opportunities to recalibrate and to flourish on a sustainable footing, but the biggest risk that we face is that those potential opportunities will be squandered and traded away in the wider Brexit negotiations. We know that there will be many competing priorities in the days ahead, and it is vital that fishing is not simply thrown into that mix to be horse-traded away against bigger, more powerful and more vocal industries, or strategic interests, as we try to secure trade deals. We need to recognise that our abundant fishing grounds are an invaluable natural resource and that we have a responsibility to steward them sustainably in the interests of our maritime communities and for future generations. Fishing has probably more at stake in this process than any other UK industry. I want assurances from the Minister that we will not see a repeat of the 1970s, when fishing interests were subjugated to other strategic economic priorities. The UK Government considered fishing to be expendable at that time, but they must not treat those industries as expendable now.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) for playing the lead role in securing the debate. Two weeks ago, I secured a debate in Westminster Hall on the future of the Anglian fishing fleet. I will not repeat in detail what I said then, but I shall outline the key factors that I believe should be taken into account in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations and the features that should be incorporated in a new UK fishing policy.
Many of us will have been on different sides in the referendum campaign. We now need to put that battle behind us and grasp the opportunity that has been presented to breathe life back into this great British industry. Before I consider that, I want to ask the Minister to raise two issues at the Council of Ministers meeting on 12 December. First, he needs to address the plight of sea bass. Last year’s disproportionate restrictions on anglers and increased commercial catch limits were bad for bass, bad for the charter boat fleet and bad for fishing tackle shops. Secondly, the Minister must do all he can to stop Dutch electro-pulse beam trawling, which is currently decimating our fish stocks in the North sea.
I urge the Minister to do all that he can to ensure that there is a fishing pillar in the Brexit negotiations. In the past, many have felt that the industry was the sacrificial lamb in negotiations. That must not happen again.
To ensure that the UK fishing industry has a bright future, the following issues need to be addressed. First, the Minister needs to secure what I know is his No. 1 objective of reclaiming control of our territorial waters, with the UK able to take responsibility for the seas out to 200 miles or the relevant median lines. Secondly, having done that, he should ensure that the 0 to 12-mile zone is exclusively available for our inshore fleet—the under-10 metre fleet that currently gets such a raw deal. Thirdly, it is necessary to address the flagship issue. It is not right that the six affiliated vessels of the Lowestoft producer organisation land no fish in Lowestoft. I know that the Minister is already looking into that and reviewing the economic link.
It is important to bear in mind that many fishermen in East Anglia and around the UK coast specialise in shellfish, which they export to the EU. The processing industry does likewise. Their interests need to be safeguarded in the Brexit negotiations, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs should work closely with the Department for International Trade to open up new global markets, for example in the far east.
It should be acknowledged that the negotiations will not be straightforward. There will be a lot of devil in the detail and a disentangling of reciprocal fishing rights that have built up over centuries. That means that it will take time to complete the exit negotiations and it will be necessary to put transitional arrangements in place.
Although there is a great deal to do in the short term for Brexit negotiations, it is important to look ahead and think strategically about the shape of the new UK fishing policy and what it needs to incorporate so that fishing can play a lead role socially, economically and environmentally in coastal communities, many of which have had it tough in recent years. I suggest that the UKFP should include the following ingredients. First, we need to start with a clean sheet of paper, rather than simply transferring the common fisheries policy into UK law through the great repeal Bill and then amending it. We must have our own bespoke fishing policy, and I would like it to include promoting the end of discarding sensibly and pragmatically, and working with neighbouring countries to manage shared fish stock sustainably. I would also include policies that mirror articles 2 and 17 of the CFP, which promote a sustainable approach to fisheries management.
Secondly, the UKFP should be set in a wide context, recognising the role that fishing can play in regenerating coastal Britain, reversing years of social and economic decline, rebalancing the economy and improving productivity. Thirdly, the UKFP must be underpinned by science. That means a pivotal role for the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, which is based in Lowestoft in my constituency. It has a key role to play in ensuring that we better manage our rich and precious marine resources, and in monitoring and enforcement. It is vital that the Government commit to ensuring that Brexit does not lead to a reduction in funding for scientific research.
Fourthly, the management of fisheries needs to be localised. The fundamental structural flaw of the CFP is that fisheries are managed from a distance. That said, I recognise the great work done by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) to address that concern. Local management needs to involve those working in the industry on a day-to-day basis, and could well mean a role for enhanced inshore fisheries and conservation authorities. If we put in place a management system in which we can be confident, it could lead to an enhancement of the British fish brand, which will be important in marketing fish both at home and overseas.
Fifthly, we need to address the elephant in the room of reallocating quota. I acknowledge that that is not a straightforward task, but it is not right that 61% of English quota is held by three foreign companies, and that only 1.5% of national fishing quota goes to the smallest category of boat, even though they make up 75% of vessels. Quota should be available only to active fishermen. I recognise that the Minister has done much to address that and to rebalance quota in favour of the under-10 metre fleet, and that there may well be legal issues to address, but the whole industry must come together to find a way forward. As things stand, I do not support a system of individual transferable quotas, but there could well be a case for setting up a small-scale producer organisation that can give smaller boats a voice and greater control to help to rebalance the industry. Finally, special emphasis must be placed on supply-chain building all the way from the net to the plate.
To sum up, we have a great opportunity ahead of us to put in place a new policy framework that gives the fishing industry all around the coast a fresh lease of life. To grasp that opportunity, we need to have in mind at all times the three R’s: repatriation, reallocation and regeneration.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) for securing the debate along with other hon. Members. I also pay tribute to those in the fishing industry, including fishermen, fish producer organisations, the Fishermen’s Mission and those in the processing sector. It is clear to me that the processing and catching sectors are vital if we are to create a fishing industries economic hub.
Two of the County Down fishing ports in Northern Ireland—Ardglass and Kilkeel—are in my constituency. They are vital to those two economies. We wish the Minister well and fair speed in advance of the negotiations in Brussels, but the most important thing apart from quotas and the total allowable catch allocations is the crewing of trawlers, which I mentioned in an intervention. The Minister and his Government colleagues will be aware of the serious problem that fishing crews have had in recruiting local people to work in our fishing fleet. That has resulted in qualified and experienced non-European economic area crew being drafted in to work on fishing vessels, particularly in Ireland and Scotland.
As the Minister may know, that is not the first time I have raised that issue with the Government—I have raised it with him and with his colleagues in the Home Department. I and colleagues representing constituencies on the west coast of Scotland, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), had a meeting back in January with the then Immigration Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire). So far, there is no resolution. Recently, two Scottish National party colleagues representing west of Scotland constituencies and I met the new Immigration Minister. Again, there has been no resolution. To that end, we make a plea to the fisheries Minister today for that urgent meeting for the fishing industry with his ministerial colleague from the Home Department to resolve this issue, with representatives of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation along with the Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation.
Does this not typify the problem with the United Kingdom? Switzerland has 26 cantons. Half the visas are controlled by the cantons and the other half are controlled centrally. In the UK, where those in Westminster do not understand the issue, we are struggling. We are on bended knee trying to get people into our fishing boats. It is very frustrating.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his very helpful intervention. Let me make it quite clear that without intervention and regulations our fishing industries will be tied up. That is not scaremongering; that is a fact.
On total allowable catches and the December Council, we have improving science for many Irish sea stocks. Nephrops remain our number one priority. The annual International Council for the Exploration of the Sea advice indicates increased stock levels, which we hope will translate into increased catch opportunities in 2017. A greater increase than the 9% currently proposed would be very welcome.
Irish Sea haddock represents another good news story. It is disappointing that our fishermen have had to wait so long for an increase in the quota for haddock, but I urge the Minister to make up for lost time and all the science-based arguments he has had to hand to secure the maximum possible increase at the forthcoming Council. I understand that haddock and Irish Sea cod are due to be benchmarked by ICES in the new year. There might be a temptation to hold back at the Council until the benchmarking exercise is completed. I urge the Minister to push for the maximum scientifically justified quota increases in the week after next—that is vital.
Another issue for us is Irish Sea herring. I realise that herring has a tendency to drop down the list of ministerial priorities in Brussels negotiations, but I urge the Minister to keep that stock, which is vital to my fishing community in Ardglass, on his radar. It was the first of the stocks to be certified to Marine Stewardship Council standard, and there remains a frustrating gap in terms of developing a management plan for this fishery.
The Minister will be making decisions on the third tranche of marine protected areas in the near future. Will he ensure that the joint negotiating committee engages fully with the industry and other relevant agencies in Northern Ireland before making its recommendations to him?
The issue with the voisinage agreement, a unique and historic fisheries agreement between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, has now become more apparent due to Brexit. I urge the Minister, in his discussions with the Irish Government—I met them some weeks ago—to ensure that they remedy the specific legislative challenge on this agreement, which is the result of a decision made by the Irish Supreme Court. We must ensure that Northern Irish fishermen are allowed to fish in Irish waters, and vice versa.
There is an issue relating to the Isle of Man and scallops that impacts on west of Scotland fishermen and fishermen from the County Down ports. They must be able to obtain licences.
In summing up, I want to highlight the need for the economic hubs to be established in Ardglass and Kilkeel, where much good work has been done to try to work with all the engineering industries. The Minister has seen this matter at first hand during his visit. We want a proper negotiation and the best possible deal, notwithstanding the impact that Brexit will have on the industry.
Order. There is still an informal limit of seven minutes, but it has been broken every single time since I have been in the Chair. Unless we stick to it, I will have to apply a formal limit.
I will do my very best, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I was glad to appear before the Backbench Business Committee with my neighbour, the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), to secure this debate, and I congratulate the Committee on allocating it to the main Chamber.
My constituency has a rich maritime history. I remember from my childhood that Grimsby was always referred to—accurately—as the world’s premier fishing port. The House of Commons Library referred me to an article from The Economist last year stating that Grimsby had had the world’s biggest fishing fleet, with more than 600 trawlers, as well as the world’s largest ice factory, which still stands today and is a derelict reminder of things past. Cleethorpes and Grimsby, though they value their own identities, are one, and the fishing industry has been an essential ingredient of the local economy. For decades, it was built on fish, and the industry remains vital.
I obviously join those who have paid tribute to the many fishermen who have given their lives. I am old enough to remember the hush that fell over the streets of Grimsby and Cleethorpes when a trawler was lost—a silent, cold, eerie feeling. Today, the fish market, fish processing and a handful of near-water vessels provide the jobs, and it is on today, tomorrow and, as the motion mentions, the future that we must now focus.
The importance of fishing and its associated industries is highlighted by figures provided by the Commons Library. Last September, 3,500 people—5% of those working in the local authority area—were employed in the manufacture of fish products in north-east Lincolnshire. Last year, the Minister visited Grimsby seafood village, which sits in the part of Grimsby docks that is in my constituency, and he will recall how the premises’ owners and tenants and those who worked there were focused on the future. Its website reads: “Where tradition meets technology”.
The Minister will appreciate as well as any of us the opportunities for the industry that Brexit can provide. He visited Cleethorpes during the referendum and will have appreciated the strong feelings of local people. In the North East Lincolnshire Council area, 70% supported leave, which came as no surprise to me, and in many ways was a verdict of failure on the CFP. The industry was sacrificed in the original Europe negotiations and has never fully recovered. The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations described the CFP as “dysfunctional” and the fishing industry as having been “expendable” in those negotiations of the 1970s. It is absolutely right.
When I raised that point in the House this morning during Question Time, I was heartened by the reply from the Minister of State in the Department for Exiting the European Union:
“I can assure my hon. Friend that the fishing industry is at the forefront of our considerations. We have already had several meetings with the industry’s representatives and will continue to do so.”
It must remain at the forefront of our considerations. The NFFO and the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation recognise the opportunities that life outside the EU can bring. Their briefing note to MPs ahead of this debate says that
“there are real opportunities for sustainable economic growth that Brexit can deliver for coastal communities”
and points out that Brexit provides
“the structure for an ambitious new fisheries management regime that will ensure significant economic benefit for fishing communities once the UK regains control of its Exclusive Economic Zone.”
They believe that this will
“pave the way for environmentally sustainable, high yield and profitable fisheries.”
On 2 October, The Sunday Telegraph business section carried a feature on the Grimsby and Cleethorpes area headed “Optimism”. The author said that as she left Cleethorpes railway section, she saw a sign saying “Fantasy Land”, when it should of course have read “Fantasy World”. I put that to one side. When she attended an event on the newly refurbished Cleethorpes pier, one of the speakers was the chief executive of the Government agency, Seafish. He is quoted as saying that there are
“plenty of reasons to be positive.”
I am sure that we would want to go along with that.
I know that it has been a priority for the Minister to regionalise the management of our fisheries rather than have them micro-managed from Brussels, and that he has achieved some considerable success in that respect. We can now look to a future when we can make those decisions for ourselves. Brexit must deliver fair national quota shares that broadly reflect the resources located in UK waters; a 12-mile exclusive zone providing adequate protection for our inshore fleets; balanced and proportionate access arrangements; the opportunity to manage the UK’s fisheries resources in a flexible and responsible way; and an arrangement that will allow EU-UK free trade in fisheries products.
Steve Norton, who until last month was chief executive of the Grimsby Fish Merchants Association told me yesterday that although there are uncertainties, we have a unique opportunity to right the wrongs of the past and give the industry hope for renewed prosperity. He went on to say that successful negotiations could create new jobs and sustainable growth. The industry has confidence in the Minister, and I hope that in his winding-up speech, he will be able to provide some reassurance on the points that I have raised.
It is a pleasure to speak in the debate. I want to cast Members’ minds back to films and TV—“The Perfect Storm”, for example, and “the Trawler Wars”, which I believe captured the pressures that fishermen are under.
Back in January, I was speaking to one of my constituents, a fisherman from Portavogie, who was pondering the year ahead. He said to me, “Jim, everything should be looking good for 2016. We have more prawn quota, quayside prices are stable and the cost of fuel is lower, but there is one big shadow hanging over the industry—will I have any crew?” Some Members have spoken about that. I told my constituent about the meeting that I, the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) and colleagues from Scotland held with the then Immigration Minister, who is now the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Twelve months later, this issue still rankles and is still a matter of concern. We need to move it on. Indeed, it has deteriorated further.
Questions about fishing mainly or predominantly outside the UK’s 12-mile territorial limit mask a wider issue for the larger part of the fishing industry—not just the part I represent in Strangford, but right across these islands and especially in Northern Ireland and Scotland. I refer to the failure to recruit UK citizens to begin a career on our fishing vessels.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the ban on recruiting non-EEA crew and the over-zealous actions of some Border Agency staff are forcing boats to get tied up, which is having a huge economic impact on already fragile communities in the west of Scotland and Northern Ireland?
That is quite clearly happening. I subscribe to what the hon. Gentleman says. Boats from Portavogie were boarded by the UK Border Agency in the Clyde the week before last and had to return home single-handedly, which should never have happened.
It is easy to identify the problems; the question is how to fix them. One huge step forward was taken on 23 June when the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland voted to leave the EU. I have every confidence in that, as we move forward to the future. Every man, woman and unborn child in Portavogie voted to leave the EU, as did the majority of people in my constituency.
At her party conference a few months ago, the Prime Minister unveiled the great repeal Bill and discussed the proposal whereby, come Brexit day, much EU legislation could be transposed into UK legislation. It is logical to conclude that 40-plus years of European legislation cannot be replaced overnight, and that it will take time systematically to work through it and to replace and amend diktats from Brussels to make them fit for purpose. Nevertheless, the fishermen I represent did not vote to leave the EU only to have the common fisheries policy replicated in UK law.
When it comes to the negotiations, the Minister needs to be aware that the CFP, as it is now, is certainly not one that the fishermen of Portavogie want to see replicated in the future. There are some things we need to keep, but not that. Portavogie had 130 boats when we joined the EU; there are now 65 boats, which is down to EU red tape, bureaucracy and a stranglehold, preventing people from moving forward.
There are those in Northern Ireland who do not understand why fishermen voted for Brexit. The reality of what my constituents had to cope with could be summed up by one EU rule—the Hague preference. Since 1991, that EU rule, which was enshrined in the last review of the CFP, has effectively forced British fishermen in the Irish sea—predominantly those from Northern Ireland—to surrender more than 10,000 tonnes of cod, valued at almost £30 million, to their colleagues in the Republic of Ireland. That is but one instance in which our colleagues in the Irish Republic may express solidarity with their friends in Northern Ireland, but reality speaks louder than words. It will be interesting to see how matters progress.
The Hague preference regime affects more than just the UK’s allocations of cod in the Irish sea, but cod is often regarded as the iconic species for our entire fishing industry. The cod wars of the 1970s in Iceland were the manifestation of a policy that witnessed the demise of the UK’s distant water fleet, with fishermen displaced into British waters which, by that stage, were under the competence of Brussels. We well remember the solidarity that was afforded to the UK’s fishermen by European colleagues during those tense days: we remember what they did for us.
I am keen to make progress, because I am conscious of the time. In 2008 the EU agreed what was described as a long-term cod management plan. Thanks to my party colleague in the European Parliament, Diane Dodds, the cod plan has been “defanged”, if I may adopt a phrase used by industry. At a stroke, the unjustified cuts in total allowable catches that have remained a feature in the Irish sea can be stopped—and indeed, I hope, reversed—in 2017. We are eager to maintain sustainable fisheries.
The maximum sustainable yield highlights another inconsistency in EU policy. Other Members have mentioned the imminent introduction of the discard ban, so I will not say a great deal about it now, but according to the EU, which effectively drafts the advice provided by ICES, more cod equals a zero TAC, against the background of a discard ban. One EU policy means that cod cannot be retained on board, while another means that they cannot be discarded. There is no logic in that. Illogical and inconsistent policies from the EU contribute to the undermining of confidence in the fishing industry, and hence to a lack of new recruits to the fleet.
I have three asks for the Minister. Pragmatic and sustainable fisheries management in the Irish sea calls for decisions at the EU‘s December Fisheries Council that will secure a realistic cod TAC that reflects bycatches in the nephrops and haddock fisheries, an increased TAC for area 7 prawns reflecting the positive scientific advice that is already on record, and at least a 60% increase in the haddock TAC, reflecting the valuable resource that is available for harvesting today. Those decisions cannot be delayed.
Brexit clearly offers many opportunities for our fishing industry to contribute to the economy of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I get frustrated sometimes when I hear the negativity coming through. We start from where we are: our island nation is surrounded by some of the most productive seas in the world, which produce a resource of which so many others have been eager to avail themselves. Let us hope that our fishermen, and British fishermen, avail themselves of that resource. That will enable us to grow our marine economy and specifically our fishing industry, and to secure a traditional UK industry that UK citizens can be proud to be part of. In the meantime, Minister, I ask you and the Government to work with the industry, during what is a transitionary period, to resolve the issues on non-EEA crew.
On Wednesday morning, in Westminster Hall, there was a debate on the seasonal agricultural workers scheme. The Minister referred to Marine Products Exports Development Authority schemes. I suggest an MPEDA scheme to deal with the EEA issue. We need to keep our ships and boats on the sea. I have asked for a meeting with the relevant Minister, which my hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) and I will attend with all our local fishing representatives.
I wish you well in your negotiations, Minister. I ask you to maintain and increase the quotas. We encourage you, Minister: you have our full support as you proceed with the negotiations.
Order. I remind Members that when they say “you”, they are speaking to the Chair. The Minister should be referred to in the third person.
I enter the debate with a certain amount of trepidation, having listened to speeches from both my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) and my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), who is a great advocate in this regard.
Before I go further, let me pay tribute to Terri Portman, in my constituency, who helped me to ensure that—hopefully—my speech will be well informed. I also thank Dave Pessell, who runs Plymouth Trawler Agents, and the Devon Wildlife Trust, which has been incredibly helpful to me in this whole matter.
I am going to let you in on a secret, Madam Deputy Speaker: since I last spoke in one of these debates, I have been elected chairman of the all-party group on fisheries, so hopefully I know a little bit of what I am going to talk about. I succeeded my good friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray), who has been made Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
My Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport constituency includes a centuries-old fish market that now sells 6,000 tonnes of fish and shellfish annually and is the second largest fish market in England. About 40 fishing boats unload their catch at Sutton harbour daily, but up to 70% of what is sold in Plymouth is imported overland, which I am told is called overlanding.
Plymouth has a global reputation for marine science engineering research, which includes the Royal Navy, the National Marine Aquarium, the Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the Marine Biological Association, which, interestingly, was set up in the 1870s to explore whether we could ever overfish our waters.
Since my election six years ago, I have called and campaigned for UK fishing waters to be brought under national control. I feel it is the fishermen who are best placed to conserve our fishing stocks; after all, why would they not want to do so, given that they would be destroying their own livelihood? While I voted and campaigned for us to stay in the EU, the whole business of the common fisheries policy has been a running sore for the fishing industry, most certainly down in my neck of the woods. It is a totemic issue.
I feel that this decision provides our fishing industry with a unique opportunity to rebuild. Plymouth’s fishermen and women who supported that did so because they feel there are real opportunities. Now we as a Government have got to rise to, and deliver on, that challenge. Many fisherman in the south-west feel they were simply forgotten on the way as a discussion was taking place about other matters, too.
Whatever mechanisms are developed to manage and allocate fishing opportunities in the future, the south-west fisherman must never lose out again. I am sure my hon. Friend the Minister agrees with that, as he also represents a south-west seat.
Currently the UK and south-west fishermen fishing off our coast receive just 10% of haddock catches in our waters compared to France taking 66%; for monk, it is 18% to 59% for France; for whiting, it is 11% to 60% for the French; and for cod, it is a staggering 8% against 73% for France. We can therefore see why south-west fishermen feel so strongly that they were not considered when the original deal was done, and we must not allow that to happen again. But beyond the catching opportunities that must be resolved, there are many other areas where Government can offer to assist, building on good work already done by fishermen and helping our fleet become more sustainable and safer and take advantage of opportunities in this vital sector, to deliver the best economic value to the UK post-Brexit.
Locally, some pioneering initiatives are being worked through between the local authority and the industry. They will rely on assistance from the European maritime and fisheries fund, and as we look to the future post-Brexit we must endeavour to fund and deliver programmes that continue to offer support to these innovative types of work-streams, and also make sure that fishermen operate in a safer environment; that is a big issue that many Members have talked about in this debate.
My fishermen are very keen to do a number of things, and I will want to show my hon. Friend the Minister many things when he visits Plymouth in the new year. Sutton harbour has an opportunity to develop a very good set of facilities in order to be able to deliver an effective fishing industry. One thing it is looking at doing is delivering an academy to make sure people can be taught not only how to fish safely but understand the concept of what is happening. We have a lot of fishermen with 40 years’ experience and we must do more to engage with their knowledge to ensure that the academy is established.
We need to use this opportunity to deliver for our fishermen in the south-west, very much along the lines of what my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) advocated earlier. I have fought my parliamentary seat regularly, and in the run-up to the 2005 general election he came to my constituency and we met several recreational fishermen. [Interruption.] I already have a copy of the report, thank you. We certainly need to ensure that we do not give the French, or anyone else, the opportunity to get the better of us. As the old Napoleonic toast said, it should be a case of “confusion to the enemy” if they will not let us participate as we want to.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) on securing the debate. I shall follow the lead of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) in informing the House that I have an unpaid adviser, Mr John Ashworth, who is sitting in the Gallery today. He has supplied me with information on historical fishing rights, which will be the key point of my remarks.
Before I begin, however, I want to plug the town of Filey in my constituency. I do not know how many hon. Members have visited this beautiful town, but I would strongly recommend it. It has beautiful beaches and a historic promenade. It is proudly old fashioned, and has fantastic fish and chips. It was once a thriving fishing town, but today it has only seven small boats. They are licensed by the Environment Agency, but all the licences will expire in 2022, ending any heritage fishing in the town. I know that the Minister is willing to try to find a solution to this problem, and I appreciate his support. We would like to see fishing retained in the town. In the 1960s, there were around 20 cobles in the town, but they have all gone. There is a widespread belief that the common fisheries policy has been responsible for the decline, so it is little wonder that there was a massive cheer from that seaside town on 24 June when we voted to leave the European Union. The fishing industry sees leaving the EU as an opportunity to design a brand new, clean-slate domestic fishing policy—I do, too—but, sadly, life is never quite that simple.
This is all about historical rights. To understand what is involved, we have to go back to a time that pre-dates our membership of the EEC. Back in the early 1960s, our Prime Minister was Harold Macmillan and the chief negotiator in our mission to join the EEC was Edward Heath. Our application at that time was vetoed by the French President, General Charles de Gaulle. At the time, our nation’s fishing limits were being extended from three to 12 nautical miles, so the historical rights did exist prior to our membership of the European Union.
The Government decided to hold what became known as the London fisheries convention of 1964 to sort out the arrangements for the future 12-nautical-mile zone, especially in relationship to our European friends. We split the zone into two, with a 0-to-6-mile limit zone and a 6-to-12-nautical-mile limit. It was decided by the countries involved to give the coastal state exclusive use of the 0-to-6 mile zone and partial use of the 6-to-12-mile zone, allowing France, West Germany, Ireland, Italy, Holland and Belgium into that zone as they had habitually fished those waters. Perhaps this was a sop to the French, to persuade them to agree to our EEC membership, but it was to no avail because our application was blocked.
These arrangements came into legislation when we finally joined the EEC. Some would say that Edward Heath was too obsessed by our entry into the EEC to challenge the legality of the regulations, which set in train the decimation of the British fishing industry, the lifeblood of our coastal communities. The extent to which we can now clean the slate is open to question, and I hope that the Government will have the answers. If we remove ourselves from the common fisheries policy, we will presumably revert to the 1964 convention and the historical rights that the then fisheries Minister Mr Alick Buchanan-Smith referred to in his parliamentary answer of April 1981. We are able to give two years’ notice under article 15 of the London convention, but would that wipe the slate clean or would rights provided for under the 19th century conventions and regulations still have effect?
Once we have untangled those legal knots, I know and welcome that the Government will listen carefully to thoughts and ideas from across the fishing industry. Clearly it is important to consult widely to identify and articulate the optimal solution. The two main fishermen’s federations are obvious stakeholders, but will Ministers consider other views and interests to ensure that we provide new, small business opportunities for young and old and, of course, ensure environmental protections and the sustainability and recovery of fish stocks? Our wider economy will not be best served by simply preserving the status quo in order to protect a few individual interests.
Most of the licence holders in Filey are in later life and some are moving towards a time when they might consider hanging up their nets. Their situation needs to change, and we need a new system in place sooner rather than later. It is right that the Government continue to take proactive measures to tackle overfishing. Fishermen recognise that, which is why many favour a system involving days at sea, as mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish). There would be no discards and everyone would know what has been caught and where, which could open up more opportunities and new competition.
I am often reminded that fishermen are custodians of the sea. We, the British people, own it, and in a few years’ time full responsibility should lie with us in Parliament. It will be our job to ensure that we create a viable future for our fishing industry for the next generation and the generations after that.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), and I add my thanks to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) for securing this important debate. It is always a delight to take part in Parliament’s annual fisheries debate, which is even more significant in the light of the historic decision on 23 June to leave the European Union. The barometer of success for our negotiations will be tested in many ways. In rural areas such as North Cornwall, however, both farming and fishing will be held up and examined closely against the backdrop of the common agricultural and fisheries policies.
I would like the Secretary of State and Ministers to take up several policies on the behalf of my residents in North Cornwall. Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to be able to secure a debate in the Chamber on bass fishing, after which I was announced as parliamentary sea bass champion.
Is my hon. Friend aware that I am the champion for hedgehogs?
My hon. Friend has mentioned that on more than one occasion. I am aware that he supports hedgehogs.
I came to the Chamber earlier this year to speak on behalf of recreational anglers, who fared badly in last year’s discussions with Ministers and EU officials. Disproportionate restrictions were placed on anglers and increases in commercial landings during specific months were announced. It is now time to act. I welcomed the comments of the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) and believe that now is the time to follow the science on bass. All indications point to stocks being at a critical level. I have been on the record before to ask for hook-and-line commercial and recreational bass fisheries, and I speak again for that today.
I have received a number of letters this week from anglers, many of whom have signed the online petition, and the gist of those letters was virtually the same: “Dear Scott,”—we are obviously on first name terms—“I have grown up fishing for bass around Cornwall. I used to catch lots of school bass. Sometimes we would have competitions to see how many bass we could catch on the same worm. Over the last 10 years, I have caught fewer and fewer. I haven’t become a bad angler overnight. I am now lucky to catch at all if I go out. Please do something to protect the stocks. Best wishes, Concerned from North Cornwall.” In fact, a number of inshore fisheries and conservation authorities are putting proposals in place to remove gill nets from estuaries, and I welcome that. I say politely but forcefully to the Minister: please release the bag limits on anglers and support the proposals for sustainable fishing in 2017.
Of course, there are many who fish commercially in and around our estuaries, and with Britain leaving the EU we have the ability to rebalance quota allocations and ensure that our under-10 metre fleet have species that they can target. We could shape a new coastal 0 to 10-mile nautical plan for this country. We also need to consider small producers’ organisations, so that they can put their case on what they are looking for and we can ensure that everyone, from the hook-and-line fishermen and the under-10 metre fleet to the bigger fleets, has a fruitful future after Brexit. A new British fisheries policy could look after hook-and-line fishermen, the under-10 metre fleet and the broader commercial sector, and I welcome that.
The new changes to the fishing licence have not been touched on. A number of carp anglers have for a number of years called to have three rods on their licence, and I welcome the change that the Environment Agency has made. Changes have also been made so that children under 12 can have free licences, so that we encourage more people to become the anglers of the future. That, too, is to be welcomed.
I wish to ask the Minister about one specific environmental scheme. I have heard of cases where boats across our seas come across plastics. They remove the offending items and bring them back to the land but then find that the local authority wishes to charge them a disposal fee. That is clearly nonsense and I suggest that fishers could be encouraged after Brexit to clean the seas by receiving a payment for landing these unwanted items, as plastics are filling our seas. I know that the Government have already made concessions on microbeads, which is to be welcomed, but does a scheme such as the one I am proposing exist already? Are there plans to implement one?
In summary, I call on the Minister to consider doing the following: redistribute the quota post-Brexit to the under-10 metre fleet; provide financial support to help people get back into the industry; remove the bag limits on anglers and introduce hook-and-line sustainable fishing methods for bass, and follow the science behind that; prioritise the under-10 metre fleet in the 0 to 12-mile zone to compensate for the removal of nets in the estuaries; support new producer organisations that represent the under-10 metre fleet, so that they have a place at the table when these discussions are happening; and introduce an environmental “fishing for plastics” scheme, which could help fishers to clean up our oceans and receive a payment for doing so. Many of our fishing communities in and around our coastline have seen a massive decline under the common fisheries policy. Now that we are back in control, we have the ability to shape our coastal communities once again.
This has been a good and lively debate. Perhaps the one complaint is that my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) said that there were too many interventions from the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar—that is a scurrilous allegation!
First, I wish to put on the record my own pleas, just as many other Members have done. I represent a coastal community; indeed, it is one of the few constituencies—perhaps the only one—that reaches the 200-mile exclusive economic zone. Our current pleas are about tuna, dogfish and herring. We would like to have some tuna quota, as tuna are passing regularly through the Hebrides—about 200 miles west of the Hebrides, within the Hebrides to St Kilda area—as Angus Campbell of Kilda Cruises sees frequently when he goes out there. That call is backed by the Western Isles Fishermen’s Association secretary Duncan MacInnes, with that organisation of course being the biggest fishermen’s association in Scotland.
The second area where we need support and help is on dogfish. We need a bycatch allocation, because friends I went to school with have been in the unfortunate situation of having to dump perfectly good dogfish. I worked as a fisherman on two separate occasions, and on one of those, more than 20 years ago, we were specifically targeting dogfish. That was of course ended because of the unsustainability of that fishery, but again dogfish are coming back and it is a shame to catch these fish, which are later marketed as rock salmon, only to dump them over the side and not use them. Of course we also need to do something about herring, my third point, because herring are appearing on the west coast in great numbers and are being caught as bycatch, but there is no quota allocation and so again they are being dumped. I hope that the Minister was listening to those three points.
The hon. Gentleman has given three very good examples of why quotas do not work, and why we should move to a days-at-sea scheme. Does the Scottish National party support that?
A days-at-sea scheme has its own problems. It puts pressure on fishermen. Sometimes they might get only hours at sea. There is merit in looking at a lot of changes in the fisheries policy, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has his own thoughts on that. [Interruption.] He has a record of changing his mind over the period of a month—I might refer to that again as I go on in my speech.
On a happier note—
When I mention the right hon. Gentleman again, perhaps I will take his intervention then. Time is of the essence now.
The hon. Gentleman accused me of changing my mind. I have proved the point to him quite clearly. If he looks at the full length of the video, he will see that I did not change my mind. He has a second chance now: yes or no to days at sea?
Let me look at the right hon. Gentleman’s words again. He said that
“only a madman would leave the market.”
Has he changed his mind on that?
Will the hon. Gentleman please quote the rest of the clip? If he had watched the Andrew Neil show he would realise that those clips were very, very carefully chosen, and were then disproved by the rest of the sentences that followed. I will give him another chance: yes or no on days at sea?
I would rather pursue this point. What did the right hon. Gentleman mean when he said that only a madman would leave the market? Let us put that in context with what others in his camp have said. Here is Daniel Hannan:
“Absolutely nobody is talking about threatening our place in the single market.”
Nigel Farage said, “Like Norway.” What did the right hon. Gentleman mean when he said that only a madman would leave the single market?
I am delighted to carry on with this exchange. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the rest of the sentences, he will realise that I, Dan Hannan and others—[Interruption.] The video was put up by a Liberal press spokesman, who was then completely shredded and harpooned by Andrew Neil live. It was proved that those were very selective short sentences from a longer clip. The hon. Gentleman is still ducking the question on days at sea. Does he agree that having days at sea would mean that we would not have discards? That would then get around the problem of not being able to land fish, which is very grievous for his constituents, and which he mentioned in his opening comments.
I have already said that I am happy for anything to enter into the mix of discussions and negotiations post-Brexit. The right hon. Gentleman has not answered my question, so I will leave it be. People watching can make up their own minds about what he meant when he said that only a madman would leave the market. I am quite clear what he meant.
The debate today was hosted tremendously well by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), who follows an illustrious predecessor, the much liked Austin Mitchell. She was absolutely right in saying that this debate should be not in Westminster Hall, but on the Floor of the House of Commons. She mentioned the Brexit promises. Certainly, whatever the promises were, they are changing over time. She made a good point about the number of people involved in fisheries. Indeed, Iceland has seen that number fall quite a lot.
A number of Members intervened on the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, particularly on the issues that affect me and Members from Northern Ireland, especially the lack of fishermen and the effects on fishing boats. Ultimately, of course, there is the effect on the Exchequer. If the boats are not going to sea, they are not earning money and not paying taxes, and that has a bad effect on the UK’s balance of payments, which, as we know, is not great at the best of times.
The right hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell) made a thoughtful speech. He pointed out the dangers of the occupation, and thanked the RNLI in particular for the work that is done to keep people safe. I know that myself, after the loss of the Louisa in April this year. I was one of the last people to see the boat as she went down the west side of Barra at one in the morning. The following people were lost: Martin Johnston, aged 29, from Halkirk in Caithness; Chris Morrison from Harris; and the skipper, Paul Alliston. Happily there was a survivor, Lachlan Armstrong. That is the cost of fishing. The skipper of one of the boats that I worked on years ago lost his crewman and a friend of mine, Gerry Gillies, just over a year ago. That is the price of fishing.
The hon. Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham) mentioned the fisheries in King’s Lynn and the Wash. It is interesting to hear his frustration with the marine protected areas. He will know that it is not just in Norfolk and the Wash that these conservation zones are bringing frustration to fishermen. They are doing so across the country.
The right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) made an excellent and very thoughtful speech about what being in and out of the EU might mean, whether fisheries would lose on the way out as they lost on the way in, and what exactly tariffs would mean for those selling into the European single market. At present that gives us an advantage in some places. However, many in the fishing community who voted for Brexit might have voted in frustration with the common fisheries policy, not to lose access to the single market.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) made the point that CFP interaction would continue. He spoke about the cod recovery plan and the pain that that involved, combined with decommissioning. He mentioned that 47% of stocks were still overfished, such are the pressures on fisheries.
The right hon. Gentleman and another Member spoke about the success of the Faroese in managing to gather 33,000 tonnes of mackerel in Scottish waters. As time goes on, we might see what successful and experienced international trade negotiators can achieve. The Faroe Islands have a population of 50,000 and, when they go toe to toe with the European Union of 500 million, we see that their more experienced trade negotiators are more wily trade negotiators, especially when they know the importance of something close to them, as fisheries are. Perhaps when the UK draws up its own international trade deals, we will be doing so with inexperienced trade negotiators. We should study the success of the Faroe Islands and watch that we do not get mugged in the course of those negotiations.
My hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) made a speech heavy on facts about what fisheries were contributing to Scotland—£500 million-worth of farmed salmon that goes out, compared with £438 million-worth of fish caught by fishing boats, showing that farmed fish has a bigger export value, which I found surprising.
The debate should be remembered for the many points that were made, the information given to the Minister, and the expectations of the Minister in time to come. I noted from the comments of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) that de Gaulle was probably the original Brexiteer, in that he refused to allow the UK access to the European Economic Community.
I see your eyes, Madam Deputy Speaker, looking at the clock; you are hinting gently to me to get on with it. I hope the Minister will remember my three points, and the heartfelt plea from the west of Scotland and from Northern Ireland. For goodness’ sake, let our boats go to sea and, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, stop the overzealous activities of the border agencies that are working against the economic interests of the west coast of Scotland and Northern Ireland.
It is a pleasure to speak for the Opposition today. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) on securing this debate. Much of it has focused on the challenges and opportunities of Brexit, and we have had knowledgeable and often passionate contributions from the hon. Members for St Ives (Derek Thomas), for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham), for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner), for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford), for Waveney (Peter Aldous), for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) and for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), and the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson).
My constituency, Workington, includes a stretch of the Solway firth. There are around 75 fishing boats landing about 4,000 tonnes of fish annually. We have a fish processing plant in Maryport which recently reopened, helped by a grant from Allerdale Council, creating 60 jobs. In 2012 a report examined the demand for and ability to supply locally caught fish and seafood to the hospitality sector. I am sure that many colleagues have visited Cumbria and will be aware of that sector’s importance to our economy. Last year, the Cumbrian Fisheries label was launched, with the idea that if fish are sold locally, the greater the profit will be for the fishermen and the processors. Backing the scheme are several businesses in my constituency, including the Maryport Fishing Co-operative, the award-winning Fyne Fish and the Trout Hotel in Cockermouth.
This Saturday is Small Business Saturday. What better way to support the local community than to go down to the high street and purchase locally caught fresh fish? Cumbria is famous for its sausages. I see no reason why it cannot also be famous for its fish and shellfish. I can personally recommend Solway potted shrimp.
It is important that the Government make headway on the future of our trading relationships. As about 80% of the British catch is exported, primarily to the EU, Brexit negotiations need to take into account the impact that a less-than-ideal trade deal could have on the industry.
I am concerned that although DEFRA and the Marine Management Organisation have experienced severe budget cuts, their responsibilities will only increase. How will the Government ensure they are properly resourced? How many additional staff are being recruited? The looming regulatory deficit represents a big challenge. A streamlined DEFRA will have its work cut out because of the sheer amount of secondary legislation that we will need to replace European legislation.
Members on both sides of the House have talked about the shortcomings of the common fisheries policy, but we must recognise that recent reforms have had positive impacts, including improved sustainability and a stop in the decline of some stocks. What financial drivers will the Government put in place as a successor to the CFP while keeping in mind environmental protections and fishing business sustainability? How will we ensure that we have an effective maximum sustainable yield and that the other objectives of the CFP are incorporated into UK legislation? How do the Government intend to make up the shortfall in the funding for the fishing sector that is currently derived from the European maritime and fisheries fund?
We have to work to align our fisheries regulations with those of our EU neighbours to stop us from returning to a situation of competitive overfishing. Although we have the opportunity to look at quotas and access arrangements, it simply is not the case that we will get exactly what we want—as the Minister knows, we will get what we can negotiate. I am worried about the regulatory vacuum that we might have between our getting rid of the CFP and having our own regulations in place. What is DEFRA’s plan for that transitional period? The Minister has talked before about the unfairness of the current reciprocal access arrangements, under which other EU countries benefit more from access to our waters than we do from access to theirs, so what does he regard as a fair reciprocal arrangement?
We must think carefully about trying to maintain tariff-free access for fishery exports to the EU, and we must not be surprised if the EU then tries to bargain for increased access to UK waters. Norway is in the EEA and has a number of fisheries interests in the UK, particularly processing plants and aquaculture. If we leave the EEA and the customs union, what will that mean for companies exporting to the EU, which is where most of our high-value fish go? Is there not a danger that those companies will up sticks to avoid tariffs? How can we secure British jobs?
We must seek to preserve conservation measures established under EU law. The sustainability of fish stocks has to be a priority. I support the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) and the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) about sea bass. How can we have continued commercial netting of a stock that is below critical levels? The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) talked about recognising scientific advice when looking at long-term sustainable fishing. I implore the Minister to ensure that future policy does exactly that, taking advice from not only ICES but CEFAS. What key environmental protections will DEFRA ensure are upheld in the negotiation process? The future of sustainable European fish stocks and the long-term livelihoods of thousands of people depend on that.
Finally, on Brexit, we must remember that building and maintaining good relations with colleagues is important—for the Minister and his European counterparts at the upcoming Council, but also across parties. I am willing to work constructively and closely with him to ensure we end up with the best deal possible for our fisheries so that we can secure a sustainable, long-term future for our industry.
I begin by commending members of the all-party group on fisheries for bringing forward this annual debate on fisheries as we approach the December Council.
This will be my fourth December Council arguing over fisheries quotas. In that time, some things have changed: we have more stocks fished at MSY than previously, and the numbers are growing. Some of the challenges, particularly in the North sea, have receded, and the stocks are in a better situation. However, in other areas, some things have stayed the same. We still have challenges with bass, and stocks such as cod, haddock and whiting in the Celtic sea.
Sadly, it is also still the case that fishing remains, as many hon. Members have pointed out, one of the most dangerous occupations. This is an opportunity for me to pay tribute to all our fishermen who take risks to bring sea fish to our table. I am also sad to report that over the past year, since our previous debate, nine fishermen have lost their lives. I know that all hon. Members will wish to join me in expressing our sincere condolences to the families and friends who have suffered those tragic losses.
I want to cover as many of the important points that have been raised in today’s debate as possible. The context for this year’s debate is clearly very different from those of previous years, following our decision to leave the European Union. We are committed to acting on the decision taken by the British people, to withdrawing from the common fisheries policy and to putting in place a new fisheries regime.
As an independent coastal state outside the EU, the UK would be fully responsible, under international law, for control of the waters in our exclusive economic zone and for the management of those resources within it, including fisheries. The Government remain committed to being a champion of sustainable fisheries and to ending discards, as set out in our manifesto. We are also committed to continued co-operation with other countries over the management of shared stocks. In future, our role in relation to the annual setting of quotas will change fundamentally, but our overall objective of championing sustainable fisheries and ending wasteful discards remains as strong as ever.
I am going to persevere, if I may. EU exit is an opportunity to develop arrangements for fishing that can better meet the UK Government’s objectives to deliver a financially self-sufficient and profitable seafood sector, and a cleaner, healthier and more productive environment.
I will return to many of the comments made by Members, particularly in relation to post-Brexit policy, but first I want to deal with the December Council. While we remain a member of the EU, we will, of course, continue to participate fully and constructively in the December Fisheries Councils and the related negotiations. They are vital to our industry, since they set the catching opportunities for the vast majority of commercially important fishing stocks.
I have already had many meetings with stakeholders. We had a meeting with the devolved Administrations and stakeholders in Cardiff some weeks ago. The Government’s objectives in the forthcoming Council are to secure a fair and balanced deal that supports our fishing industry and the long-term sustainability of our fisheries. We will seek to increase the number of stocks being fished sustainably. That means managing stocks at maximum sustainable yield wherever possible, although some stocks might need to undergo a staged transition to MSY, especially where we need to avoid discards and bycatch.
We and other EU member states have made good progress in putting fisheries on a more sustainable basis. For example, 31 of the 59 stocks for which we have full analytical assessments in the north-east Atlantic and surrounding waters are now fished in accordance with MSY, compared with just 19 a little more than a decade ago in 2004. Some important stocks in the North sea have recovered or are in the process of recovering. While the North sea cod stock is still rebuilding, we are close to fishing it sustainably, and we will be able to bring it under the landing obligation from next year. I am pleased also that agreement has been reached to sustainably reform the EU’s discredited cod recovery plan. That was key to making the landing obligation work for cod, by removing automatic cuts in effort.
We will therefore support increases in catches when they are supported by the science. Equally, we will agree to reductions in catches where they are necessary to protect the long-term health of a stock. That applies, for example, to sole in the eastern English channel and to cod in the Celtic sea.
The Commission’s proposals generally reflect the science, although there is still a tendency to ignore the significant weight of evidence that exists on, for instance, data-limited stocks. If we look around the country, we will see that there are issues in the west country, as my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) pointed out, with stocks such as pollock and monkfish. We have particular challenges with megrim; full analytical data have changed the recommendation in relation to that stock. I am aware that in Northern Ireland we will have the now almost annual discussion around nephrops. We will make the case that the total allowable catch set previously has been under-exploited, so we still believe that we do not need to reduce it as much.
Finally, I want to make a point about the EU-Norway deal, which is especially important to Scotland, and the coastal states agreement. EU bilateral fishery agreements with Norway, the Faroe Islands and Greenland, and the coastal states agreement on mackerel, blue whiting and Atlanto-Scandian herring, remain of the utmost importance to the UK fishing industry. This year’s negotiations have already resulted in positive outcomes for the UK, with increases in quota for mackerel, blue whiting and Atlanto-Scandian herring, which we estimate to be worth in excess of an extra £20 million for the UK fleet. However, more needs to be done to secure the long-term sustainability of those stocks.
I turn to some of the points made by hon. Members. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), who opened the debate, made the point that I attended her constituency during the referendum campaign. I did—I shared a platform with her predecessor as we made the case for leaving the EU. The hon. Lady mentioned the cod wars. Overwhelmingly, the developments that had the greatest impact on the fishing industry in Grimsby, where our long-distance fishing industry was based, were the three cod wars during the late 1960s and early 1970s. After the cod wars, it became effectively a norm of international law, through the UN convention on the law of the sea, that countries would have an exclusive economic zone extending to 200 nautical miles. Ironically, we would be asking, going forward, for something that is now a norm under international law, and which became so after our loss of the third cod war.
The hon. Lady suggested that I made unrealistic pledges during the referendum campaign. During that campaign, I exercised my right to campaign as a free, independent MP, but I fully intended that the leave campaign would win, and I fully hoped that I would be back in position and able to see through the changes that I believe are necessary to deliver sustainable fisheries. We will abide by international law in the United Kingdom, and we will expect the European Union to respect and abide by international law. As several hon. Members have said, our European partners have a right to expect us, as the UK, to behave honourably and decently towards them as we put in place new fisheries arrangements and a new type of partnership. They can get that from us, and we should expect the same from them. It is important, as the shadow Minister said, that we get the tone right as we approach the negotiations. We are seeking change, but it is a requirement of UNCLOS that we co-operate with other countries, that we have regard to historical access rights and, crucially, that we work together on shared stocks.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) and my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), who has written papers about fisheries, highlighted an important area of future management—the relative merits of a control system based on effort and days at sea, and a quota regime. The truth is that there are pros and cons to each. A quota system is generally considered to make far more sense for pelagic species, with single-species stocks being targeted. In a very mixed fishery, as we have in parts of the west country and parts of the inshore fleet, an effort-based regime with a national target for quota arguably makes more sense.
My right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire highlighted the experience of the Faroe Islands, and I confirm to him that we are looking at the approach taken there, just as we are looking at the approach taken in Iceland and many other countries around the world. He asked me to consider whether we might do a pilot in this area. We have not ruled that out, but we are not yet in a position to make a decision to go forward with it.
The right hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell) talked about the Farn Deeps. He will be aware that we agreed with the Commission last year to take some steps on that nationally and to get agreement on technical measures. We have taken steps to try to safeguard that fishery, predominantly for the local fleet around North Shields. He asked whether leaving the EU strengthens our position. It probably does, in that that will make it easier for us to put in place technical measures without our necessarily having to get agreement at EU level. He also mentioned infrastructure. While we are in the EU, we still have access to the European maritime and fisheries fund, and obviously we will look at other options in the future.
My hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham) mentioned shrimp fishing in his constituency. He is aware that that is a matter for IFCA, which is consulting at the moment. It is suggesting a restriction on 14% of the special area of conservation, which is less than 14% of the fishery.
The right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) and many others mentioned trade deals. It is important to point out a misunderstanding that some hon. Members, including the shadow Minister, have. Although Norway and Iceland are in the European economic area, and therefore part of the customs union for other goods, the EEA does not cover fisheries. With fisheries, we have a series of preferential trade agreements. It is therefore incorrect to claim, as several hon. Members have, that Iceland and Norway are in the customs union or the EEA for the purposes of fisheries. That is not the case.
The right hon. Member for Exeter and my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) mentioned bass. We hope to make progress this year. They know that I have consistently made the case in the past two years. The science suggested that the measures that we took last year would get us to MSY by 2018. Since then, the science has deteriorated and there has been poor recruitment, so there are some challenging decisions to make and we have consistently argued for change.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) mentioned the access given to the Faroes, particularly to some of the pelagic species. He knows that those negotiations are currently led by the EU and that, although we often raise objections and concerns, they can be overruled as things stand. It is one of the reasons why the pelagic fishing fleet greatly looks forward to the UK leaving the EU and regaining its seat in important coastal states negotiations.
Several hon. Members mentioned choke species. I am aware that that is an issue. Indeed, the UK, as chair of the north-west waters regional group, put it on the agenda of the November Fisheries Council. We are working on several possible options, including a de minimis bycatch exemption or a group total allowable catch for some of the small species. That is not an insurmountable problem, but we recognise the challenge.
The hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) mentioned the importance of involving Scotland in the negotiations. I can confirm that we are doing that. The Scottish fisheries Minister always joins me in the trilateral discussions with the presidency and the Commission. However, it is important that the UK Minister who is accountable to Members of Parliament from right across the UK represents the UK at those discussions.
We have heard many other points, which I am sure that hon. Members will raise with me afterwards. We will seek a balanced deal, and we have exciting times ahead as we develop our future fisheries policy.
I am disappointed that the Minister has not offered a meeting to discuss the outstanding compensation claim case on behalf of the widow of Jim Greene. I hope that that was an unfortunate oversight and that, perhaps after the debate, he will offer me some of his valuable time.
It has been an excellent, generally good-natured debate, with lively and wide-ranging contributions from hon. Members of all parties. Ultimately, it has proved that the subject fully deserves a debate in the main Chamber. I thank all Members who have contributed to making the debate so worthwhile. I recognise that contributions have come from all four nations of our great United Kingdom.
It has been right to remember those who have lost their lives. Let me mention those seamen who took on the wartime role of minesweeping, without any of the modern sonar equipment with which we are blessed, at great cost to them and their families. I was very privileged to attend a moving Armistice Day remembrance service at the royal docks this year.
The loss of seafaring skills was mentioned. The point made by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) about an academy is important. Perhaps that should be rolled out to coastal towns around the country.
Ultimately, I look forward to hearing much more from the Government about the fishing industry as we move towards negotiating our exit from the EU. I am not entirely assured, but I thank the Minister.
[Relevant document: Eighteenth Report of Session 2016-17 from the European Scrutiny Committee, Chapter 5, Fisheries: catch quotas and effort limitation for 2017, HC 71-xvi.]
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9 (3).