[Mr Ian Paisley in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered future UK fisheries policy.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley.
I am sure right hon. and hon. Members know that the demise of our fishing industry under European Union membership was frequently discussed in the lead-up to the referendum in June 2016. Leaving the EU is a huge opportunity for UK fishing and for our fishermen, who need a positive vision of what can be achieved as a wholly sovereign nation. As we continue to debate and discuss what types of agreements and frameworks we should put in place for access to trade, we should not forget one of the easiest wins we can have from this whole process: taking back control of our fishing waters and handing them back to UK fishermen.
I commend the Minister, who gave great support to farmers and fishermen leading up to the referendum and continues to show diligent support to the fishing and farming communities. It is great to see the environment leading the way in Parliament and in the media, and I know the Minister will be fighting the corner for farmers and fishermen over at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, alongside the Secretary of State. I also know that he is currently working toward a new fisheries policy to be published in the next few months, and I hope that the contributions from right hon. and hon. Members today will help to shape that debate.
Brexit and fisheries in general should be considered in two phases: the implementation period and the end state. I will put on record my concerns about how an implementation or transition period could harm fishermen if not done correctly. Ideally, at 11 pm on 29 March 2019, we need to have absolute and 100% control of our fisheries, without it being part of any implementation or transition deal. If not, we could lock ourselves into future EU treaties and regulations, including the discard ban, which could see many of the boats that currently work in the UK going bankrupt.
One of the hardest things to see, as a member of the public, is dead fish being thrown back into the ocean due to a dysfunctional and rigid EU quota-based system. The discard ban could have huge ramifications for our fisheries. If, however, the Government enter into a transitional or implementation period that includes fisheries, there must be a clear and final termination clause so that the UK fishing fleet is not part of any EU treaty or regulation. We cannot be in a situation where we leave the EU for a few seconds and then join through the back door. I urge the Minister to stress those points to the Department for Exiting the European Union to ensure that fisheries are protected and treated separately.
On future fisheries policy, we need a system that no longer means our fishermen throwing tonnes of fish back into our oceans and our fishing fleet restricted by arbitrary quotas. We need a system based on sound science, and one which effectively monitors how many fish are being caught.
Does my hon. Friend agree that any future fisheries policy must have buy-in from experts who work in the industry? Even I would not dictate to fishermen how the stocks should be managed. The fishermen themselves know best, and they should have input into a management system.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I am sure she agrees that we need to look at the science, Government legislation and the industry. A holistic approach must be taken to ensure that our fishing industry is protected.
As I said, we need a system based on sound science, and one that effectively monitors how many fish are being caught, where they are being caught and what is being caught, so we can get an up-to-date and clear picture of the state of the current fishery and the health of the fish stocks within it. Throwing fish back into the sea gives distorted information and it is not good for conservation or for public perception. Only by landing everything we catch can we properly monitor our fisheries and implement appropriate fisheries measures to preserve stocks.
I know the Minister is aware of the work currently being undertaken by Fishing for Leave, the organisation that has set up a new fisheries model. I have met with the group recently, and it has shown me its proposals for an effort control system and a hybrid system. The organisation has modelled it, and it shows the principles of a time-at-sea model and a quota-based system. I will briefly explain what that means.
A time-at-sea model is already in place in places such as the Faroe Islands, but I do not believe we should look to replicate that exact model because a time-at-sea model generally allows for a race to the fish. Vessels therefore target the most valuable species closer to shore. Under Fishing for Leave’s proposals, we could have a system whereby fishermen were allocated an amount of net soak time over the course of a year and would be allowed a flexible catch composition quota target, which would stipulate how many of a specific species they should aim to catch as a percentage of their overall catch.
The clever part of that model is that the skipper, if he exceeds his catch limit, will have time at sea reduced equivalent to the value of the wrong species being caught. It is almost a reverse compensation measure—the skipper will not want to lose much time at sea, so it will be an incentive for him to go out and catch the species he wants to target. If after a couple of days at sea the skipper has exhausted his weekly allocation of hours used as time to compensate for that particular species, he will be on shore and losing time, and less fishing effort will be exerted on the overall fishery. That means that he will be able to land a nice, profitable catch of fish, spend more time at home with his family and to incur lower diesel and fuel costs at sea, and that the scientists will have lots of reliable data on which to base their information.
Under the current quota system, a boat could be out to sea for a number of days, trying to target a specific species and throwing away many dead fish of the wrong species. Further to that, under the proposed EU discard ban, a vessel would have to tie up after it exhausted the smallest quota number. Seafish modelling has shown that 60% of the UK’s fishing fleet would go bankrupt if we continued to enforce quotas while also enforcing a discard ban.
The Fishing for Leave model avoids the need for a discard ban and the risks that that would pose to fishermen. It also proposes countermeasures to ensure that some species are protected. By landing everything that is caught and monitoring where the boat is, we can harvest live data and know what is being caught and where. That will allow fishing authorities to determine accurately which species they need to protect or which areas need to be closed. When a boat goes to sea, it will have not only allocations of time and flexible catch composition quotas with catch limit sizes, but live data streaming telling it where it can fish, which species can be targeted and which authorities are responsible for developing those targets.
Of course, to make a time-at-sea model work, there must be a level playing field so that fishermen are measured by how long their nets are in the water. Within the model, that is known as net soak time. I know my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) introduced a days-at-sea model when it was trialled previously. I believe that that model was flawed because it did not include the net soak time data, so we were not able to see that boats were targeting species close to the shore rather than those species they were supposed to be going for.
Is not one of the big wins from this excellent scheme that we will not only land and eat more fish and have more output, but catch far fewer fish? That is great for the fish as well as for the fishermen and the fish-eaters.
I will come on to that point as I get through the rest of my speech—my right hon. Friend has pre-empted one of my thought processes.
Not only will boats not overfish inshore, as has happened in the Faroe Islands, but it will also bring another significant point to fruition: the days-at-sea proposal tended to lead to the targeting of fish within estuaries. We have seen significant pressure on our estuarine species. There is a much wider point here about estuaries and the ecosystems that exist within them.
I congratulate the Cornwall Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority on implementing a netting ban in a protected area in Cornwall to try to protect some of the species there. People target fish inshore because they face so much competition for the fish in the offshore reaches—they may not have negotiated as much of a quota as they think they are entitled to.
Under the time-at-sea model, all nets would have net soak time sensors, which would measure how long nets are in the water. As soon as the nets are deployed, the sensor would kick in and an on-board computer would start measuring how long the net is in the water for. That would allow fishermen to travel to their desired location without having their time deducted. I understand that the Secretary of State saw that technology on a recent visit to North Shields. When a haul is brought back on board, the crew can record every fish that is caught, and provide live accurate data for the authorities to calculate what the fishery looks like, creating a picture of stock sizes, species, maturity and sustainable yield.
Currently, under the common fisheries policy, thousands of tonnes of fish are thrown back into the water. That means wasted time, effort and cost for crews, millions of dead fish not being put to market, and less data for scientists and authorities. If we implement the model, I believe it can only be good for our fishery. Fishermen would hit the targets that they need to be viable, because they will be able to land everything they have caught. Meanwhile, the total number of fish being caught would be lower, because we would not be in a situation in which millions of fish are caught, killed and thrown back as fishermen pursue species for which they have not hit their quota.
I want us to conserve stocks and maintain a healthy and diverse fishery. This hybrid model can achieve that. I urge the Minister and his officials to meet Fishing for Leave to look at its model and the website it has built, which shows the process of how a fisherman can record catches and work within the current system. That said, it should not be the only fisheries management tool we should be look at—we should look at different models that could be appropriate to determine what is in Britain’s best interests as we fish our own waters again. Further to that, I urge the Minister to consider holding trials so he can pit all the models against each other. That would give a much better picture of the models, and we could see which was preferred and how it needed to be adapted to meet our needs.
That leads me on to how we can revitalise our fishing industry. This is a much wider point. As we travel around the UK, we see many former fishing communities, and we see at first hand the damage done by the common fisheries policy. I believe that the UK economy has been unbalanced for years. Globalisation has benefited urban areas, but that wealth rarely trickled down to rural coastal communities. That disparity was highlighted by the referendum result, but we now have an opportunity to rebalance UK plc. Through an effective fisheries policy, we can create jobs, increase productivity in coastal communities and bring life back to some of the coastal towns that have suffered.
It is also important that we consider the effects of post-Brexit trade deals on our fishing industry. At the moment, up to 60% of the fish caught in UK waters are exported to EU countries and further afield. I should imagine that the Department for Exiting the European Union and the Department for International Trade, which will oversee the future terms of our trade in fish, will look at this important policy and take into account how the industry exports.
It is right that we have a period of time and a policy in place that accommodates foreign boats in British waters and, likewise, British boats in European waters. In the spirit of co-operation with Europe, we should not want to shut the door on them immediately, but we should reach some sort of agreement where all our catches are landed through the UK.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that the Department starts to plan now for the fisheries protection part of the regaining of our waters, and creates that level of support and robustness in future, so that fishermen can have confidence that the UK will be able to support the final position?
I absolutely agree on enforcement. I am sure the Minister listened to that and will respond in his own way. I understand that we have not been particularly good at enforcing our own fishery. Our fishermen need that confidence to move forward.
On that point, some very large trawlers make their way into the Irish sea. They start at the very southern tip of the Irish sea and work their way right up. They are not necessarily from Great Britain—I am talking about the Spanish trawlers that come in and lift everything out of the sea in that area, leaving absolutely nothing after they have left. They can trawl right up to the beaches. We need protection zones within this policy.
I absolutely agree with that, too. The hon. Gentleman very well sums up the conversations that I have with my fishermen, who also feel the pressure from foreign boats off the 12-mile zone.
It is important to me that, when Britain takes control of its waters, it sets its own terms of access. We want our fishermen to be confident that, in post-Brexit Britain, we will have control of our territorial waters and that we will be able to export our fish to European countries and further afield without tariffs. If we leave the EU without a trade deal and are under World Trade Organisation rules, the tariffs for exporting seafood to the EU generally range from 0% to 24%. Both fresh cod and prawns currently attract a 12% tariff. For European economic area countries such as Norway, cod has a zero tariff, while prawns have a 12% tariff.
If we get a free trade deal, tariff barriers will not be a problem. I would certainly welcome that. On the other hand, we may face a situation in which the EU will settle for zero tariffs only if we give it some access to British waters. That question will need to be considered very carefully by the Minister and the fishing industry in general.
There is a disparity between the amount of fish we import and the amount we export. We currently export a staggering amount of fish and shellfish that could perfectly well be eaten within the UK. Approximately 52% of the seafood that enters the UK supply chain is imported from abroad or is landed by foreign boats. For example, nearly all spider crabs caught off the Cornish coastline are currently exported to Europe, with fishermen exporting 98% of all the crabs we catch. I want to know what is wrong with those crabs. Brown crabs are a fantastic species to eat, and we should celebrate the spider crab, which is a fantastic-tasting species—many restaurants in France regularly serve spider crabs. Likewise, we catch a fantastic collection of cuttlefish that is also exported. We must continue to import and export to serve demand from Europe, but there is certainly a case to be made for more British-caught produce.
Has the hon. Gentleman considered the problem of non-tariff barriers? I sit on the Exiting the European Union Committee. We were in Brussels last week, and the Norwegian ambassador was very keen to impress upon us that one main reason why Norway is in the single market is to avoid non-tariff barriers on its fish exports.
I take that point. Tariffs need to be looked at within the context of our Brexit policies right across the board, rather than just for fishing or agriculture.
If it is ultimately the case that the EU imposes tariffs on our seafood, there is an argument for Britain to become much more self-sustaining. We need to broaden our range and knowledge of seafood and encourage its consumption. I therefore urge the Minister to consider drawing up a strategy, either within a future fisheries policy or a separate policy, on how to encourage more British people to embrace seafood and try the different ranges of fish and shellfish that are caught on their doorstep.
The Minister is aware of the practice of electric pulse fishing, which is undertaken by Dutch trawlers. Given the likely negative impact that it is having on our fishery and our ecosystem, will he assure me that, under a future British fisheries policy, electric pulse fishing will be completely banned?
Taking back control of our fisheries was a huge issue during the referendum, but it has since taken a back seat. I hope we can put it back in the spotlight. The 29 March 2019 deadline is fast approaching, and we need a system that is ready to go. We need to be out of the common fisheries policy and out from under the auspices of the EU.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his excellent speech. One issue that the fishing community are very concerned about is the continued use of European boats in our waters if it is not made absolutely clear when we leave that we have our fishing waters back. I believe there is a continued-use element whereby they could claim that they were still allowed to fish here. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister could inform us, or perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) knows, how far that part of the negotiations has got and how clear it is that when we leave, we get our fishing waters back.
My understanding is that, once we leave, we fall back on the UN convention on the law of the sea, which means that we control our 200-mile territorial zone, but I would refer that question to the Minister to be answered in full. As we leave the common fisheries policy and the auspices of the EU, we should have 100% control of our waters, with our own fishing system in place that better serves our fishermen and is fairer to our fishery.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. I intend to call the first Opposition spokesman no later than 3.25 pm. With that in mind, I will not set a formal time limit yet, because you are all such good and obedient Members that you will keep your comments, I hope, to just below four minutes. I call Mr Jim Shannon.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate under your authority, Mr Paisley. I did not expect to be called first. I was hoping for more than four minutes, but that is by the bye; I will work to your guidelines.
I thank the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) for initiating the debate and giving this chance to those of us who represent constituencies where fishing is important. I know that every fifth word in this place seems to be “Brexit”. That term was unknown five years ago, but now the very state of the UK depends on the success of Brexit and the negotiating team. That is one job that I would not want to have, and I thank those who are so diligently putting in the work to make the exit from the EU as smooth and rewarding as possible. I look forward to the Minister’s contribution today. I know that it will be very positive, as it always is. Who would have thought when we joined what was purported to be no more than a trade and customs group that we would be in this position today? The lesson is clear: sovereignty is easy to let slip through our fingers, but infinitely harder to regain.
One of the industries that have been worst affected by a biased Europe is fishing. I had in my area a tremendous working fishing village in Portavogie, with two fish-producing factories and 120 boats. That is now down to 70. Why did that happen? Because of the European bureaucracy imposing quotas and days at sea—all the things that made fishing not work. At the same time, the Irish sea abounds with cod, yet all the scientists in Brussels, who never get off a warm seat, have the audacity to tell us that there is no cod there when there clearly is. The people who know that are the people who fish the sea. There are, therefore, very big issues to address.
When the nation voted to leave, the fishermen rejoiced. Indeed, every man, woman and unborn child in Portavogie voted to leave, because there was no doubt that that was what they wanted to happen. Nobody in Portavogie wanted to stay in Europe, and my constituency clearly reflected that opinion because a majority voted to leave. Our seas will be ours again. We will be able to thrive. We can pass our trade on to our families. We can hire the wonderful Filipino fishermen, who so greatly enhance our crews with their skill, dedication and commitment to our community, without the impossible red tape that forces us to take on European workers who do not have the same skill set or mindset. We can sell our products to our people at decent, affordable prices, which will benefit the restaurants and the consumers alike. However, the March 2019 deadline is striding towards us, and as yet our fishermen have none of the certainty that they crave and, indeed, deserve. Again, we look to the Minister for some confirmation in that regard.
I, along with many others in the Chamber, have seen the letter sent to the Prime Minister by the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation. The letter clearly outlines the needs of the fishing community and the villages and towns that rely on that community. It is crystal clear about the need for an immediate red line around our waters and the ability for fishermen to be just that: men who fish, and women who fish, without being used as political pawns. I for one do not see the families of Portavogie and surrounding areas or the families of Kilkeel or Ardglass as expendable. I see them as people who voted to leave, along with the majority of the United Kingdom, and who therefore deserve to leave at the same time as everyone else, in March 2019. No one has been fooled by the most recent Brussels fishing convention, which saw our quota increase, just in the last year. The fact is that Europe puts the true Europeans first. We are leaving and we are looking forward to the day when we do just that.
I am standing in this Chamber today to say that we cannot give a sop to the Europeans. For too long, they have controlled British waters with anti-British policies. That must end in March 2019. Would that it could end in March 2018. Boy, that would be an even bigger day. The cries of joy and relief would be heard from the most easterly port of Ballyhalbert right across the Irish sea to the coast of Scotland, where the Scottish nationalists would also want to take note of the message that was coming through very clearly. Their fishing communities would be echoing those cries.
Fishing is not a sop; it has been the lifeblood of coastal communities and other, supplementary industries and it has the potential to be so again. We must extricate ourselves from the EU muddle and do what is right. Leave means leave now, and that is exactly what we are demanding of the Minister.
There is growing concern among the members of the fishing community in west Cornwall, including the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation, about the terms of the UK Government’s proposed implementation period for Brexit and the potentially disastrous implications for the fishing industry. That is why I give particular credit to my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) for securing such a timely debate for our fishing industry. We never seem to have enough time to discuss this very important subject.
It is imperative that the UK Government confirm and demonstrate their commitment to leaving the common fisheries policy, and that commitment can be clearly demonstrated only by ensuring that fishing is not part of any transition or implementation deal and by the UK taking full responsibility for British waters on 29 March 2019. The entire UK fishing industry and its many supporters would consider a failure by the UK immediately to assert control of UK waters and manage fisheries as an independent coastal state extremely damaging. It would certainly be unacceptable to the Cornish fishermen I know and meet regularly.
It is clear that it would be a complete disaster for the UK to hand responsibility for its waters straight back to Brussels at the point of Brexit. In fact, it would be worse than an extension of the status quo, because we would be powerless to prevent French, Belgian, Dutch and other EU fleets from continuing to operate in UK waters and catch the fisheries resource there, under rules that they had decided without the UK having any say at all. The sector has been consistent and unambiguous in its expectation that full control over access to UK waters and management of our fisheries as an independent coastal state genuinely begins from March 2019, when we withdraw from the EU and CFP. An implementation period may make sense for some business sectors, but for the fisheries sector it would be disastrous.
The Cornish Fish Producers Organisation has set out a number of real and important reasons why fishing should not be part of a transition or implementation deal with the EU. I am sure that many hon. Members in the Chamber are aware of the things that the organisation has said. Logically, fisheries jurisdiction, access rights and quota shares should be dealt with separately from trade arrangements when the UK’s legal status in relation to fisheries changes on 29 March 2019. Norway, for example, maintains access to the EU single market under specific agreed arrangements, but it manages the fisheries within its own exclusive economic zone and enters into annual agreements on the management of shared stocks and quota exchanges as an independent coastal state. It is patently obvious that once the principle of the status quo on quota shares and access has been conceded for a transitional deal, the EU will use the same tactics and leverage when the UK seeks to negotiate a long-term trade deal with the EU. Fishing will again be a sacrificed pawn, irrespective of our legal status as an independent coastal state.
At the point at which the UK leaves the EU, in March 2019, UK Ministers and officials will no longer be party to decisions within any of the European institutions, including those that set quotas and make other rules on EU fisheries. It is an extreme understatement to say that it would be completely prejudicial to the interests of the UK fishing industry to tie us into fisheries management decisions in which we in the UK are mere rule takers. As an independent coastal state, the UK would be expected to take its seat in international fisheries negotiations, including those with Norway, other coastal states and the EU. Even the European Commission recognises that separate, bespoke arrangements will be required to include the UK in the decisions when setting total allowable catches in the annual year-end negotiations.
There is no legal or fisheries management reason why the UK should accept any precondition or artificial constraint on its right to negotiate the best deal that it can, including on access arrangements and quota share. I accept that a one-off, stand-alone arrangement for fishing in 2019 might be necessary, given that the UK leaves a quarter of the way through the fishing year, but it is essential that we leave the CFP this time early next year.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I congratulate the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) on securing this debate. It is an all too infrequent opportunity to discuss the health of our fishing industry.
This is a moment of great significance for our fishing communities. For decades the operation of the common fisheries policy has been centralised, bureaucratic and unresponsive. We now have the opportunity to do things better. Other hon. Members have spoken about what will happen at the point of departure from the European Union—29 March 2019. It is a matter on which I have questioned the Prime Minister twice and I have had a somewhat less than unambiguous answer. Will the Minister make clear what is going to happen? Other hon. Members have suggested that 29 March will be the end of it and we will be completely out of the common fisheries policy. The position of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation is that, having signed up to a year’s arrangements in December 2018, we would then honour those for the remainder of that period, which they call a bridging period, from March until December. That would offer the industry some of the certainty and smooth regulation that it craves.
It has to be clearly understood at the very heart of Government that any arrangement that would mean that UK fisherman continued to be bound by quota or total allowable catch arrangements made at the December Agriculture and Fisheries Council, which they had not been part of, would be totally unacceptable. We need to hear that from the Minister today. We need to hear it in the clearest possible terms.
I would like to hear the Minister’s view on the constitutional framework that is in place under the devolution settlement. Decisions currently made on fisheries management in Europe should, for my fishermen in Shetland and Orkney, be made in Edinburgh. That is the constitutional framework that comes from the various Scotland Acts. There is no good reason why we should anticipate anything different.
The hon. Member for North Cornwall spoke about the possibility of moving to an effort control system—a mixed quota and effort control system based on days at sea. These are all interesting ideas worthy of consideration. A move away from the quota system would be immensely problematic for the fishermen in my constituency and, I suspect, for those represented by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid). Many in the Scottish fleet have invested hundreds millions of pounds over the years in relation to the quota system. If there is to be any change, it has to be made with consummate care.
We can have any system in the world that we want, but it will fail if it does not do two things: first, if it does not have the co-operation and confidence of the fishing industry itself; secondly, if it does not operate on the basis of science that is properly reflective of the stocks that are in the sea. One of the big failings of the common fisheries policy in recent years is a growing divergence between scientists and fisherman, because much of the data that are used in making quota and total allowable catch decisions is two years old by the time that it is implemented. There has to be some quick and dirty way that that data can be analysed and used much more effectively to inform decision making. There is a great deal more that I would like to say, but time is not on my side. The important questions are already with the Minister. I look forward to hearing his answers.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) on securing this debate.
Lowestoft in my constituency was previously the fishing capital of the southern North sea; today it is a pale shadow of its former self. Brexit provides an opportunity to revitalise fishing off the East Anglian coast, and to maximise the economic and social benefits that the industry can bring to local communities and businesses in ports such as Lowestoft. I shall briefly outline the three ingredients required to bring about this renaissance, for which the forthcoming fisheries Bill must provide.
First, East Anglian fisherman must be given the opportunity to catch more fish. The region’s catch sector predominantly comprises the inshore fleet which, as has been well documented, does not get a fair slice of the cake. Moreover, we suffer from the worst excesses of the flagship debacle, with six vessels of the Lowestoft Fish Producers Organisation never coming near the port and landing their catches in the Netherlands and in Peterhead.
If the quota system is to continue, we need a radical reallocation in favour of locally based fisherman, so that they can earn a fair living and the full benefit of their hard work, often carried out in extremely harsh conditions, can be secured for the ports and communities in which they live and work. Secondly, going hand in hand with landing more fish in East Anglian ports, we need to invest in the infrastructure, skills and supply-chain businesses in those ports and the surrounding areas. While in many respects it is surprising how much of this supporting sector remains in Lowestoft and other East Anglian ports, my concern is that it does not have the capacity to cope with a significant increase in landing. The European Maritime and Fisheries Fund runs until 2020. Beyond that date it is necessary for the Government to assess the likely needs of the industry on a regional basis, then make the necessary funds available for a wide range of projects.
The research work to establish what is needed in East Anglia is now under way. The level of funding should at least match the current EU structural funds for fishing. It represents a good investment in UK plc. It will secure a good deal for coastal communities, providing a more diverse and secure economic base. It will help to rebalance the national economy in favour of areas that have suffered a great deal in recent decades. Finally, it is necessary to put in place a management system that has the full confidence and respect of all those working in the industry. This system must be based on science and it should be local, sustainable and collaborative.
In conclusion, we have a great opportunity to revitalise a uniquely British industry for the benefit of local communities that feel that they have been dispossessed and ignored for too long. This task will not be easy, as the industry differs in its make-up and needs around the country. We require a national policy framework that has the flexibility to respond to different demands, so as to allow the industry to flourish locally, all around the UK coast. I look forward to welcoming the Minister to Lowestoft next month, so that he can set out his vision for this national framework, and so that locally we can set about the task of providing that local plan that will enable the industry again to play a leading role in the East Anglian coastal economy.
Thank you, Mr Aldous—top of the class. I call Huw Merriman.
Thank you, Mr Paisley. It is a pleasure to be called to speak. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) for securing this debate.
If ever there was an industry that showed us the benefits of the UK leaving the European Union, it is the fisheries industry. In 2015, trawlers from EU member states took 683,000 tonnes from UK waters, whereas the UK fleet took 111,000 tonnes from member states’ waters, so we can clearly see the disparity. In the English channel, which is near my constituency, 84% of the cod quota is given to the French, leaving just 9% to the UK. The Danish trawling fleet takes 85% of all its fish from UK waters, so this is a fantastic opportunity that we should embrace.
Unfortunately, the inshore waters off of East Sussex, which I represent, have barely any fish. For that reason, I support the bid from the marine conversation zone for a new zone to be set up for Beachy Head East, which would run from Beachy Head lighthouse to Hastings pier. It has the huge support of my neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd). That area of water, which would run out for six nautical miles, is rich in marine biodiversity, but unfortunately the trawlers that have taken their catch have also taken absolutely everything else. That was brought home to us locally when a sea angling competition caught no sea bass whatever, despite that being the target of the catch. Although I am hugely optimistic for our policy post Britain leaving the European Union, I ask the Minister to note the words, “Beachy Head East marine conservation zone application” and the support that I want to press upon him, because the reality is, unless we protect and preserve our stock, there will be nothing there for future generations.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley.
Brexit creates a unique and golden opportunity to rejuvenate a multibillion pound industry for our nation. It is an opportunity, should we successfully grasp it, to create a sustainable and successful fishing industry such as those of Norway, Iceland and the Faroes. I am sure all coastal Members received a communication from the Minister with responsibility for coastal communities, my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry), about round five of the coastal communities fund, totalling £40 million. That is hugely welcome and I hope to promote bids from South Thanet, but we have in our coastal communities, on our doorsteps, especially my own, the ability to bring real added value to communities without additional help from the Government, welcome as it is.
A fishing industry that in 1950 employed 48,000 people is now down to just 12,000 people today. An added lunacy is that this country, described by Aneurin Bevan in 1945 as an island
“made mainly of coal and surrounded by fish”,
now imports 238,000 tonnes of fish a year worth £1.3 billion. We have a trade deficit in fish alone of more than a quarter of a billion pounds. Whichever way we measure the CFP, it has been an environmental, ecological and financial disaster. In 2012, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee found that 1.7 million tonnes of good fish were discarded annually across the EU: some 23% of the catch. In a world of want, that represents not only a moral outrage but an ecological disgrace. If the CFP is bad for our industry, it is even worse for our fish.
I do not know how the Fisheries Minister manages to be so cheerful when he goes to Brussels every December. I would guess he doesn’t. We face a total allowable catch allocation of quotas that bears little relation to what is on the ground. I speak to my local fishermen and they say there is an abundance of thornback ray, which is lumped together in the EU-wide skates and rays analysis as a whole. The EU considers skates and rays to be at risk, so our quota is remarkably low.
We have had problems with sea bass. A lot of my local fishermen who have not been able to catch sea bass have undertaken recreational fishing by taking day anglers out. In the first six months of the year, we are not even allowed to catch and release, let alone catch and keep. My fleet in South Thanet in Ramsgate is in the under 10-metre class. I propose that it receive the most light touch regulations, if not wide-ranging exemptions. It is completely environmentally friendly. It barely dents the stocks and it presents the most benefit to coastal communities. Such fleets represent 70% of the UK fleet, employ 65% of those working in UK fishing, yet they receive 4% of the total quota.
I fully support the effort control system proposed by Fishing for Leave, and I hope the Minister and the Secretary of State will look at that. What we do not want during the implementation period is to somehow get dragged along with a perpetual CFP. We have the opportunity for a Brexit dividend. We have an opportunity to take back control of our seas and to rejuvenate our local fishing communities. I call on the Government to exempt fishing from any transition deal. Really importantly, we need unilaterally to ban pulse beaming, which has been catastrophic on spawning areas, particularly against our demersal species.
Several hon. Members rose—
I am not imposing a formal time limit, but I ask Members to try to keep their speeches short.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I will try to keep my speech as brief as I can. Fortunately, many hon. and right hon. Members have already said a lot of what I was going to say. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) on securing today’s debate. It is great to see such a large turnout.
Now is an exciting time for British fishing. As we move through the process of leaving the EU and the CFP, Brexit provides a sea of opportunity for the fishing industry, but we need to maintain stability and security for our fishermen in the short term. Any radical shift in policy taken at this stage must be very carefully considered, and we should look to best practice abroad when deliberating on the way forward.
It was interesting to hear the example of the Faroe Islands, which I understand are moving away from the current effort-based system because they believe it has proven to be a contributory factor to the decline of their stocks. As I understand it, they depart from the effort-based system on 1 January 2019, as agreed by their Parliament last year. The Faroese Government stated:
“Small fishing vessels which conduct coastal fisheries on a smaller scale will, however, continue to base their activity on annually allocated fishing days.”
It is a hybrid approach that might be appropriate in some cases.
It is worth noting the great success that the Scottish fleet has had recently in rebuilding the number of stocks, including North sea cod. That has all been achieved within the current quota-based system. There has been broad agreement over the past few months on both sides of the debate that if we are to move towards an effort-based system, it should be piloted first on a small-scale fishery. If that shows promising results, it would surely confirm once and for all whether that is a way forward.
Iceland uses an effort-based system only for some stocks, specifically lumpfish and sea urchins. All other fishing is operated on a rights-based system. Effort-based systems are viewed over there as a useful way to manage small-scale targeted fisheries, not large-scale mixed fisheries. Of course, around the United Kingdom we have one of the largest, if not the largest, mixed fisheries in the world. Because of that, it is important to recognise that not all fisheries are made equal. Mixed fisheries in the northern North sea are vastly different from fisheries in other parts of Scotland, let alone the rest of the UK.
I want us to continue with the drive towards regionalisation that the UK Government have previously supported in a European context. Why stop at Edinburgh, for example, when it comes to Scotland? Where exactly we draw the line is something we will have further discussions about as we go through the process of leaving the EU and the CFP, but ideally the resource should always be managed by those closest to it, and, as other hon. Members have said, with the input of those who know the fisheries best: the fishermen themselves. I would like to see all fisheries managed at the point most local to the fishery, with the exception of some high-level decisions that will need to be taken at a UK-wide level, especially as we become a fully independent coastal state.
I will try to be as brief as my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid), Mr Paisley.
As I have said, any management system must have buy-in from the industry and must also be flexible enough to allow for massive fluctuations in stocks, such as the massive fluctuation in the bass stocks that we saw in the south-west this year. At the end of the day, fishermen cannot tell what is swimming into their net. They capture bass. If they cannot land the fish, they get discarded on the sea bed, dead, and that does not help anybody, particularly with the conservation of fish stocks. The system must also be able to accommodate mixed-species capture in a mixed fishery, such as we have in the south-west, to allow utilisation on board boats of all stocks that are kept and also to meet our obligations under article 62 of the United Nations convention on the law of the sea. We should utilise the maximum amount of scientifically approved stocks for the benefit of the United Kingdom fleet.
We joined the European Union at a time when I was connected to the industry, and I look to the Minister to provide me and the United Kingdom’s fisheries with the assurance that we shall not sacrifice access to resources to buy access to a market, which is what happened at that time. We have to put right the wrong that took place. I want the Minister to provide me with that assurance, as well as the assurance that on 29 March 2019 we shall leave the common fisheries policy. I fully accept the possibility that we will have to allow an implementation period. We owe that not only to British fishermen but to our European partners.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the London agreement provisions must be included as well, and they must not hang over?
As I understand it, we are leaving the London convention of 1964 as well.
Will the Minister confirm today that, even with an implementation period, we shall leave the common fisheries policy on 29 March 2019, and that access to resources will not be sacrificed to buy access to the market?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Paisley. I congratulate my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann), on securing the debate.
Like many other Members taking part in this afternoon’s debate, I represent a coastal constituency—31 miles of magnificent North sea coastline from St Cyrus to Portlethen. However, I am unlike most of those Members, in that I do not represent much of a fishing industry—certainly not as much as my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) or the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) represent. But the fishing industry is important to me, and should be to all Members, not just because of its impact on the communities that immediately rely on its success, but because fishermen are the best of British. The audacity, ingenuity and energy shown by individuals in the industry in the face of overwhelming odds, regulation, legislation, bans, plans and forced decommissioning should be commended. It is through their sheer determination and innovation, not the words of politicians and civil servants, that record landings are being made at Peterhead. Amazingly, last year North sea cod was recertified as sustainable. That is why we cannot let fishermen down now, and why before my election I signed a pledge committing me to do what I can to ensure that the UK is taken out of the common fisheries policy at the earliest available opportunity. That means 11 pm on 29 March 2019.
I voted remain in the referendum in 2016, but I have no reservations in saying that exiting the European Union can only be a good thing for our fishing industry. It will allow us to forge a new fisheries policy, freed from Brussels diktats and overseas interests, and away from that most harmful of European directives, on equal access to a common resource—a phrase invented only on Britain’s entry to the European Community. We will be able to derive and implement policies that work for our fishermen and our fishing industry.
To those—and they are out there—who think that fishermen do not care about the environment or sustainability and that somehow an independent UK will abandon our commitment to sustainable stocks and good management, I say that is nonsense. No other industry is as invested in protecting its future, the sustainability of its stock, and its environment as the British fishing industry. As one fisherman said to me not long ago, of course fishermen want sustainable fisheries: no fish, no industry—it is simple.
The Brexit vote has led to great optimism in the Scottish fishing industry, and not without good reason. Brexit offers a host of opportunities for reviving our fisheries and our coastal communities in general. It now falls to us to deliver it for them.
When I think of the time I spent in Brussels, sitting in sweaty rooms negotiating the reform of the common fisheries policy, I sometimes think, “Was that time all wasted?” I suggest that it was not, because the principles that we secured in the reforms are absolutely valid for the measures we need in future, to manage our fisheries after we leave the EU. The core theme that runs through the 25-year environment plan is the desire to leave the natural environment in a better state than the one in which we found it.
The marine environment is every bit as important as the terrestrial one, and key elements of the common fisheries reforms are consistent with that approach. A legal requirement to fish according to maximum sustainable yield, an end to discarding and to the top-down management of fisheries, and putting management of fisheries on a more local basis are key themes that should continue. The key principles should also be grounded in an ecosystems approach. Fish shoal in one area of sea, spawn in another and chase seasonally-dependent nutrition in another. Many of those areas cross national boundaries, so co-operation across those boundaries is vital. I want to hear what the Minister says about the Government’s thinking about that.
There is a cumulative effect from human activities. Overfishing, acidification, increased water temperature, cables and windfarms all have an impact on the management of our waters. There can be opportunities that come from that, and, in relation to marine planning as well as fisheries, I want a holistic view to be taken of the management of our seas. The fishing industry is a key part of that.
I join with every other Member of the House who has dissed the common fisheries policy, given the problems that it brought on our seas and coastal communities; but even if we had never gone into it, we would still face problems, because man’s ability to harvest from the oceans through increased technology has grown exponentially. We should still have faced the same problems of under-abundance that we face, to an extent, now—added to which the CAP made things much worse.
It is very important to consider how a legal requirement to fish sustainably, imposed under a pan-national organisation, is to be replaced by us as an independent state outside that organisation. The Secretary of State has spoken about the new body that will administer the environment, and what he said about that and about the process is also important. The Government will lay a national policy statement before Parliament, and that may require a separate marine policy statement. I hope that that, too, will be fundamentally linked to science and evidence, and that we shall produce a coherent, holistic system of management of our seas.
The phrase I now hear most commonly, by a big majority, from UK voters on the issue of Brexit is: “Get on with it.” They are amazed at how long it is taking. I take some comfort when Ministers assure us that the two years and nine months that will elapse between our decision and our departure will be sufficient to prepare everything needed for a smooth transition in the event that there is no agreement. I know that the Government want an agreement, and I wish them well with their negotiations, but it is important for us to learn that everything will be ready. I am sure that the Minister, an enthusiastic supporter of a UK fishing industry, is up there with the best in making sure that things are ready. I should like him to confirm that, because the Government assure us that everything will work on 30 March 2019, that will certainly be true of an independent fishery, if the general negotiations go badly.
Like many others who represent fishing communities, I urge the Minister not to allow the fishing industry to be sucked into any agreement over so-called long transition or implementation. Two years and nine months is quite long enough to work out what we are going to do, and to put in place the things that are needed. Will the Minister promise us, in the next year and a month remaining before our exit from the common fisheries policy, an early White Paper? It is time now, after extensive consultation and study, for us to have a statement of Government intent, to which fishing communities can respond promptly, so that we have a firm and settled policy that will indeed be kinder to our fishermen, fishing grounds, economic interests and fish stocks, as many have described.
Will the Minister promise that we shall then go on to legislate this year, so that any legal powers necessary for the new framework will be up and running in good time, by the time we leave on 30 March 2019? Does he agree with me, and with the sense I get from the debate, that the fishing industry is perhaps the worst damaged of all the many industries that have been damaged by various EU policies—although time does not allow us to talk about that—and that therefore it is even more urgent for fishing to be extracted from EU controls and direction, so that we can again give priority to local and UK interests, and to conservation interests? That is my challenge to the Minister: White Paper, legislation, independence, victory, better industry, conservation of fish stocks. A simple task—I know he is up to it.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your charismatic chairmanship, Mr Paisley, and I congratulate the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) on securing this debate and on his assiduous attention to fisheries. He is looking to 31 March 2019 and for no transition period at all, and said interesting things about effort control, the time-at-sea versus a quota-based approach, and a hybrid of the two. I am quite friendly with a Faroese fishermen, Høgni Hoydal—he has had his own efforts and struggles with his fisheries community. I will investigate further what the hon. Gentleman suggests. If I have understood correctly, he wants nothing to do with the common fisheries policy if we have a transition deal.
Net soak time is an interesting issue of which the Minister and hon. Members, should be aware. The hon. Gentleman talked about Britain’s fish—the UK’s fish—but when it comes to Brexit, we know that 111 powers will be going to Scotland, including on fisheries. I therefore take his use of “Britain” to mean “England”, but I will not overly chastise him because that happens from time to time. I note, however, the interesting idea—I am quite sympathetic to it—regarding all quotas, or fish, landed in the UK. When the Scottish fisheries Minister tried to implement such a measure, he came up against a bit of push-back, but it is worthy of consideration. If people are playing a patriotic game with fish catching, they can also play it with fish landing, and that would be well worth while.
The hon. Gentleman did not mention shellfish. I represent the Outer Hebrides, which has a consistent, long, 200-mile coastline and coastal waters, and 150 miles of land. It is probably the constituency with the largest sea area, and one of the largest in the Westminster Parliament, although sadly it is the smallest by number of constituents. We sell a lot of shellfish to the French and Spanish, and some even goes to China. Unfortunately, the good people of England cannot afford it, but if they are prepared to pay more, we are prepared to sell them shellfish from the Hebrides. It is the tastiest stuff to be found. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) said that the Norwegians were in the single market to avoid non-tariff barriers. Fisheries in the Hebrides are very worried about not being in the single market—non-tariff barriers are particularly important to them.
The hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) made an excellent speech—according to our charismatic Chair he was top of the class. I had him down as “thoughtful”, but I also noted “top of the class”, which indeed he was. His speech contained so many bits and pieces of information that I will have to go back and look at Hansard—perhaps with you, Mr Paisley—so that we pick up the nuggets in that veritable goldmine. His points about entitlements to a local fishery were important, as was the possible reorganisation of fisheries. We must remember that established fishing interests might not be that keen on such things, but the hon. Gentleman was very exercised about supporting communities that feel they have lost out over a number of years.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) was surprised to be called so early in the debate—I cannot imagine how or why that happened, other than due to his natural skill and assiduousness in debates. Last night, it was remarked that he was probably the only Member who is expected to turn up to Adjournment debates other than the Minister, their private secretary, and the person who secured the debate, and he deserves to be called for that alone. He said that boats have been lost to European bureaucracy, but we must remember that the UK Government signed up in the 1990s to scrap boats. We must also recognise the issue of technology—that point was touched on by the right hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon). Iceland has lost a lot of boats, and fishing communities there moan a lot about what they have lost because of the march of technology. At one time, 25% of Iceland’s population worked in fisheries; now it is 4%. Icelanders hope to have even fewer of their population working in fisheries, such is the march of technology. Their boats have saunas on them nowadays—that stuff is unimaginable to fishermen in the Outer Hebrides.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned crew from the Philippines, who play a vital role. The hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie) said that fishermen were the best of British, or the best of everything going—I used to be a fisherman myself, although I was not as good as half the lads I stood alongside—but 27.4% of our crews are from outside the UK, and a good number of them, as the hon. Member for Strangford knows, are from places such as the Philippines and Ghana. We need more of them.
Has the hon. Gentleman found, as I have recently, that notwithstanding the insistence that those crews work in the UK only on the basis of a transit visa, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs now insist that they pay income tax here?
HMRC and the Government have taken a number of steps to lose tax over a number of years, so it is interesting that they might be trying to have the best of both worlds, or have their cake and eat it, while leaving some of our boats unfortunately without fishermen.
I am mindful of time—I agreed to give up some of my time so that more Members could speak, because I think a plurality of voice is important. The hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) mentioned 29 March 2019, as did a number of other Members. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) expressed the frustration that we all feel with the centralised, bureaucratic and unresponsive CFP. The point about data collection every two years was important.
The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) mentioned the Danes. I was reminded of how the Secretary of State had one message for our fishermen when he was in Peterhead, but when he was in Copenhagen a few weeks later, quite a different message for our fishermen turned up on Twitter, together with a nice message for the fishermen of Jutland. Perhaps we can get that sorted out one way or the other.
Coal and fish were mentioned by the hon. Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay), as was Aneurin Bevan. I am tempted to ask who sold out the fisheries and closed down the pits, but I wouldn’t do that. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) made important points about the improvement in fish stocks. Nineteen key stocks are now about 70% fished to sustainability, up from 60% in 2015. There has been some improvement.
I have debated with the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) in this Chamber many a time. In fact, many years ago, she tragically lost her late husband and is forever held in respect in fisheries debates—we all listen closely to whatever she has to say.
The right hon. Member for Newbury was right in what he said about the tragedy of the commons. That can affect fisheries, and we must remember that under the previous fisheries policy, herring stocks collapsed from overfishing. We must look to ourselves, because we are as guilty as anybody if given the opportunity to go over the quota on fishing.
I would like to touch on a number of points, but will not because I promised to allow others to speak. However, I wish to stress the importance of migrant workers. We talk about getting migrant workers in for agriculture, but we need them for fisheries as well. People come from the Philippines and Ghana—I know some of them personally—and they live on the island I am from. They are fantastic men and we need more of them. They are great and they add to the community. We want them and there is no reason for not having them. It is usually the Minister responsible for immigration in London who stops them coming—everybody else wants them. I asked the Secretary of State what will happen to EU boats when he takes the quota from them, whether there will be a difference between a historic quota and a boat quota, and how and when that will happen. He dodged the question and said that the catch was going on
“to the plates of people from the Western Isles to the south-west of England,”—[Official Report, 25 January 2018; Vol. 635, c. 396.]
I said, “Good dodge”, and he said, “Thank you” in the Chamber, but today I am looking for more of a straight answer from the Minister.
Finally, the antipathy that I and many others feel towards the CFP is not really mirrored in Ireland, and I wonder whether they had better negotiators back in the ’70s and the ’90s than we had in Scotland going through London. Certainly, Ireland would not move discussions from Dublin to London, which is why we should start in Edinburgh this time round.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil), and I thank you, Mr Paisley, for chairing this debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) on securing this debate. He opened proceedings with an incredibly balanced and insightful speech, and has a passion for fishing. I think I speak for everybody when I say that we are all ears regarding any and all measures we can consider that will put an end to the wasteful practice of discards. I lend my support to his proposal to pilot schemes wherever possible, so that we can build that evidence base and inform the incredibly important decisions in the following weeks and months that will form the basis of future UK fisheries policy.
Today’s debate is timely and important considering that we are just over a year away from leaving the European Union, and phase 2, which will include negotiations on the future of fisheries, is about to begin. As with the annual fisheries debate last December, however, it is not entirely possible to use this opportunity to consider, scrutinise, or get to grips with the detail of fisheries policy post-Brexit because those negotiations have not yet happened. Nor have we had policy papers of any colour to help shape or steer the discussion. With the timetable for the fisheries Bill still shrouded in ambiguity, it brings me early in my speech to my first ask to the Minister. MPs on both sides of the House, as well as stakeholders across the fishing industry, would be grateful for any update on the timetable for policy papers and the fisheries Bill to assist with preparations for what will be an incredibly intense period once that process gets under way.
As we have already heard, there are a range of Brexit interests and opinions within the UK’s fishing community. People’s fears and aspirations for a post-Brexit policy vary significantly based on where they are in the country and what is being fished. Those fishing eels in Northern Ireland—I sympathise with the frustrations of the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon)—will have a different outlook to the trawlermen from Peterhead, and the large fish processors in places such as Grimsby will see things very differently from anglers in Lyme Regis.
To ensure that the Labour party has the most comprehensive understanding of those variations, at the end of last year we launched a consultation ahead of the upcoming fisheries Bill. We want to ensure that those with an interest can have a say in that process, and I am looking forward to going through those submissions in detail when the consultation closes.
The rhetoric of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has driven expectations for a significant uplift in economic activity in the fishing sector, which we are all keen to see. It will not have escaped the Minister, however, that much of this Government’s rhetoric on fishing has been far from harmonised with that of the EU27. Has the Minister seen, and had chance to reflect on, the draft statement produced by the European Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries—the PECH Committee—which will form the European Parliament’s resolution next month that will facilitate phase 2 of the Brexit negotiations? The statement makes it crystal clear that the EU27 will seek to ensure mutual access to waters and resources in accordance with the relative stability principle. It stresses that reciprocal market access for fishery products has to be negotiated as part of a free trade agreement or an association agreement, and that the level of access to the EU domestic market has to be conditional on the level of access for EU vessels to UK fishing grounds, linking both matters in the agreements.
That position could not be any more at odds with this Government or the Secretary of State. Faced with that, will the Minister outline for hon. Members the Government’s red lines on fishing? Will the Government seek to deal with access to waters and access to the single market separately, or accept the PECH Committee’s terms of both matters being intrinsically linked? How do they intend to build support for our position within the remaining EU27?
Could the hon. Lady clarify what the Labour party’s position is? Has she just read out the Labour party’s position? Is it what the PECH Committee has said?
No. I want to be clear that the policy statement has come from the PECH Committee of the European Parliament. We will all have our concerns. We are going through that consultation and will outline it in more detail in the coming weeks, but I am clear that we are about to embark on phase 2. That is the position of the EU27, and I am keen to get the Minister’s perspective on it.
With that in mind, I appreciate that the Government have been walking a tightrope for months. Despite his tough taking-back-control narrative, the Secretary of State apparently told the Danish market back in August of last year that
“boats from EU countries will still be able to operate in UK waters after Brexit, as the UK does not have enough capacity to catch and process all its fish alone.”
During the annual fisheries debate in December, I asked the Minister for the evidence base for that assertion, which has been contested by the representative fishing organisations that I have met—they have been mentioned in the debate. Can he add any more meat to the bones of that suggestion?
As an MP for a thriving fishing community, the Minister will be aware that access to European markets is incredibly important for our fishing industry. Although the level of dependence on the European market varies by sector, up to 85% of our crab, lobster and prawns are sold into Europe. We will need the freest possible trade with our neighbours if we are to satisfy the demand from European consumers for our top-quality shellfish.
Last year, the Financial Times reported on the Coast Seafood company on Norway’s west coast, which is obliged to pay 2% tariffs on exports of raw salmon, trout and herring to the EU. If it wants to sell processed products such as smoked salmon or salted fish, those are classed as value-added and, in the case of smoked salmon, face a tax of 13%. That is because Norway is outside both the EU and the customs union. The firm’s owner told the paper that the tariffs hold back the Norwegian industry. It is for that reason that Labour is committed to a customs union with the EU. We want to prioritise trade and ensure that those routes to market for our seafood products remain open. A situation where fish processing becomes uncompetitive would be a massive problem for constituencies such as Grimsby.
The Brexit Committee was told by Norwegian witnesses that, because Norway is not in the customs union, there are high tariffs on processed fish and they send their fish to Poland and Germany to be processed. Does the hon. Lady agree that, if the United Kingdom leaves the customs union, many fish processing jobs will be lost in Scotland and beyond?
That is the fear. There will be constituencies around the UK, such as Grimsby, where many jobs are involved in the fish processing sector. We seek clarity on that from the Government as we go into the negotiations.
Is the hon. Lady also saying that it is Labour policy that we should be prepared to bargain away fish stocks in order to get that customs agreement?
I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the opening speech, where we had a nuanced approach. That will be in the discussions. Access to markets will be important for our fish, but having control of our waters is incredibly important. The Government will have to strike that balance as they go into the negotiations, which is what we are reflecting on today.
In contrast, the Conservative Government have moved from saying that they want trade with the EU after Brexit to be tariff-free to saying that they want trade to be as tariff-free as possible. It is starting to feel as though we are moving only backwards against the Government’s, if not the leave campaign’s, initial bold assertions for a post-Brexit fisheries policy.
It is reassuring that there is firm common ground between the fishing industry, conservationists, recreational fishers and consumers alike that a sustainable approach to a new fishing policy is the only game in town. That was the theme running through a fisheries discussion of experts that I chaired on behalf of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology just last week. For a sustainable approach to work, however, we need two things if we are to have confidence in managing fish stocks responsibly. We need a means of robustly enforcing our approach, and we need to get the science right. Those two things have been mentioned in the debate today, and I am sure they will be considerations for the Minister in the coming weeks and months.
There is renewed public awareness of the need for action to preserve our marine environments—a point made passionately by the right hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon). I am hopeful that consumer movements will play an important role in reducing the plastic waste in our waters. The success of the Marine Stewardship Council certifications shows how environmentally aware consumers can bring about positive change. However, we will need Government action to prevent plastics and protect marine environments.
Labour are proud of our record in government and of introducing the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. We included bold commitments in our manifesto ahead of last year’s general election. We support the blue belt proposals for our overseas territories, and our recently released animal welfare plan announced a consultation on the creation of national marine parks. I hope that those matters will not be overlooked as the negotiations on the future of the UK’s fisheries policy move forward.
Marine protection and fisheries management, as we have already heard, are two sides of the same coin. If we get it right and set the standard both domestically and in our waters around the world, we can secure a flourishing marine environment and a strong and profitable fisheries sector. However, on many of the biggest questions faced by the fisheries sector, hopes are high, but we are still in the dark on much of the detail. There are plenty of opportunities for our fishermen and women and our coastal communities as we leave the EU, but what we desperately need from this Government is the road map, outlining just how we deliver against those opportunities.
Given that the mover of the motion had such a good innings, I do not intend to call him to make a wind-up. I call the Minister, George Eustice.
Thank you, Mr Paisley. May I begin my thanking my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) and congratulating him on securing this debate? I know that this is very important to him, as a fellow Cornish MP. All of us, including my hon. Friends the Members for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) and for St Ives (Derek Thomas), are very aware of the importance of the industry to our area.
We have had many contributions from Members from a whole range of coastal communities, including my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid), who has probably got more fisheries in his constituency than the rest of us put together. It is a huge industry in his constituency. We have also had very thoughtful contributions from many Members, including my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), who made some important points. The last reform of the CFP, which he was instrumental in, established some important principles. As we leave the European Union and the CFP, it is important that we do not lose sight of the fact that the principles behind policies such as fishing sustainably, using MSY as a key target and making a legal commitment to do so, the discard ban and the landing obligation were right.
Several hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), asked for an update on the situation. He will have noticed that we published our agricultural Command Paper today, and when it comes to fisheries, he does not have much longer to wait. That paper is well advanced: various drafts are being worked on and hon. Members can expect it to be published later in spring. My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Queen’s Speech set out a clear commitment for a fisheries Bill in this Session. The intention is for it to be introduced later this year, possibly—probably—before the summer recess. That is the timescale we are working to.
My right hon. Friend asked whether we would be ready in the event that we come out of the European Union at the end of March 2019 without any agreement, including without an implementation period. The answer is yes. On all fronts, Government are working on contingency plans to ensure that we are ready. In the case of fisheries, that predominantly means ensuring that we plan to have adequate capacity for processing catch certificates, for example, which will be important for our export trade, and adequate enforcement capacity to police our exclusive economic zone.
As we leave the European Union, the international legal position is straightforward and beyond doubt. Under the UN convention on the law of the sea, the UK becomes an independent coastal state, just like the Faroe Islands, Norway and Iceland. That means that we take control of our exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles or the median line, in which we have responsibility for managing access and managing that resource. UNCLOS also requires us to co-operate with our neighbours on shared resources and shared stocks, which we intend to do anyway.
Several hon. Members mentioned the 1964 London fisheries convention. Last July, under the terms of that convention, we gave two years’ notice of our intention to quit. That historic agreement gave us some access to some member states in our six to 12-mile zone, so it seemed important to withdraw from it at the same time as we review access arrangements.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) pointed out, there is a huge imbalance in the apportionment of fishing opportunities. In each year between 2012 and 2016, the EU fleet took 760,000 tonnes of fish on average from UK waters. In that same period, the average annual take by the UK fleet from EU waters was 90,000 tonnes. We have been clear that, as we regain control of access and the management of our resources, our intention is to rebalance that arrangement.
The hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) pointed out that the European Union’s Committee on Fisheries—PECH—would like things to stay the same, but it would say that. Why would it not, when the deal is so imbalanced? However, at the end of the day, it does not really matter what the European Union asks for, but what we are prepared to grant it. That is the approach that we will take. We will work in an honourable and sensible way with our European partners, while recognising that we will have control of our exclusive economic zone.
On that basis, does the Minister agree that we can have our fishcake and eat it?
That is a very good way of putting it.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall talked about some of Fishing for Leave’s proposals. I have met Fishing for Leave on several occasions. Our officials in the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science and in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have also met with it about its proposals.
At the heart of it, one of the things I have learned as a fisheries Minister is that nothing ever quite works—there are pros and cons to everything, because the marine environment is incredibly complex. As the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) pointed out, quota regimes tend to work well where there are single-species fisheries, particularly for pelagic fish such as mackerel. It would be inconceivable to move away from a quota regime if we were targeting those pelagic fish. An effort regime can work better where there is a highly mixed fishery with different species and where there is an inshore fleet with a limited quota, but it is quite bureaucratic to send small inshore fishermen out with a quota of 20 kilos of cod for an entire month and expect them to manage with that. We are looking at some of those ideas.
With regard to mixed fisheries, if we did have an effort regime, would it have the flexibility to compensate fisherman by allowing them to land the bass catches, for example, that they find in their nets?
If I have time, I will return to the bass. In principle, it probably does not make a lot of difference, because it would depend on the bycatch provisions.
There are pros and cons to those systems, and we are looking closely at them, as well as at the hybrid model that my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall outlined. It is something that we would want to introduce carefully—my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury, pointed out that his Ramsgate trial was not altogether successful.
My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall raised the issue of trade, but I regard that as a separate negotiation: there is a discussion on fisheries management and a separate discussion on trade.
There is a tension between having devolved matters in fishing and agriculture and a UK approach to trade. Does the Minister agree that there needs to be some reconciliation of that tension? How does he propose to deal with that?
Fisheries negotiations are international, so they are a UK competence, but we always take members of the devolved Administrations with us as part of our delegation. Trade and fisheries are both UK competences, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall that they should be kept separate.
We have a huge trade deficit in food with the European Union. A sensible basis for the discussion is that we will buy its food, if it buys ours. However, the difference in fish is not as big as some envisage, although we have a trade surplus. We export just over £1 billion of fish to the EU, but we import just short of £1 billion.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall mentioned the issue of spider crabs and promoting other fish species. A levy body called Seafish is responsible for that.
Several hon. Members rose—
I will try to make a little headway, otherwise we will not get to anybody else.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall also mentioned pulse trawling. I have previously made clear that we have concerns about that and I have asked CEFAS to look at it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous)—whose constituency is the home of CEFAS, the world’s leading centre for science in fisheries—raised the issue of the small inshore fleet, for which he has been a consistent campaigner. Through the discard quota uplift, we have already sought to give the inshore fleet a significant quota increase, but leaving the EU is another opportunity to look at some of those management operations.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay) mentioned the complex issue of skates and rays. There are over 20 different species of skates and rays, some of which are prohibited, and it is very difficult to get their management right. Our long-term objective is to break the composite total allowable catch down into individual species.
On the issue of bass, which my hon. Friends the Members for South East Cornwall and for North Cornwall raised, there should have been a larger bycatch provision for trawlers, as there was last year. We did not agree with the Commission’s approach, but we were unable to win the argument this time.
We have had a good debate. It was clearly not long enough, because nearly every hon. Member had their contribution cut short. I reassure hon. Members that we will have plenty of time to discuss the issue in future.
I have time to mention the issue of trade from countries such as Norway. Several hon. Members pointed to the small tariffs on those countries, but they ignored the autonomous tariff-rate quota allowances, which are tariff-free quotas that we could create and that the EU creates. On species such as cod, Norway does not pay tariffs and we import large quantities of fish from Iceland that is tariff free under the preferential trade or ATQ—autonomous tariff quota—system. There are many devices that we can use in international trade to deal with those issues.
I thank all hon. Members for their contributions, and no doubt we will have many more such debates in the months ahead.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered future UK fisheries policy.