(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if he will make a statement on the progress of negotiations relating to future fisheries management arrangements after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing this urgent question and for giving our fishing communities a voice in the Chamber today.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for this opportunity to update the House. I begin by paying tribute to the hard work of the Ministers and especially the civil servants in our country’s negotiating team, who this weekend concluded an agreement on the nature and length of the implementation period, which will help us to prepare for life after Brexit. Taskforce 50, on behalf of the EU, and our own team of dedicated civil servants secured an agreed text, which will now go to the March Council of the European Union at the end of this week, and after that the Prime Minister will update the House on Monday.
The House will be aware that there are important legal and technical questions relating to fisheries management, which means that it occupies a special position in these negotiations. Both the EU and our own negotiators were always clear that specific arrangements would have to be agreed for fisheries.
Our proposal to the EU was that, during the implementation period, we would sit alongside other coastal states as a third country and equal partner in annual quota negotiations. We made that case after full consultation with the representatives of the fisheries industry. We pressed hard during negotiations to secure this outcome, and we are disappointed that the EU was not willing to move on this.
However, thanks to the hard work of our negotiating team, the text was amended from the original proposal, and the Commission has agreed amendments to the text that provide additional reassurance. The revised text clarifies that the UK’s share of quotas will not change during the implementation period, and that the UK can attend international negotiations. Furthermore, the agreement includes an obligation on both sides to act in good faith throughout the implementation period. Any attempts by the EU to operate in a way that harmed the UK fishing industry would breach that obligation.
These arrangements will of course only apply to negotiations in December 2019. We are at the table as a full member state for negotiations in December 2018 and, critically, in December 2020 we will be negotiating fishing opportunities as a third country and independent coastal state—deciding who can access our waters and on what terms for the first time in over 40 years.
It is important that we use this transition period to ensure that we can negotiate as a third country and independent coastal state in 2020 to maximise the benefits for our coastal communities, ensure that we can control who accesses our waters and on what terms, and ensure that we manage our marine resources sustainably. We are already looking at a range of data to support consideration of future fishing opportunities, including the nature of catches and zonal attachment of stocks in the UK exclusive economic zone.
There is a significant prize at the end of the implementation period, and it is important that all of us in every area accept that the implementation period is a necessary step towards securing that prize. For our coastal communities, it is an opportunity to revive economically. For our marine environment, it is an opportunity to be managed sustainably. It is critical that all of us, in the interests of the whole nation, keep our eyes on that prize.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. The problem he has, of course, is that as recently as two weeks ago, the Prime Minister did not see this as a necessary step. I have to tell him—if he does not already know it—that the mood in fishing communities today is one of palpable anger. This is not what they were promised. The basic question that the Secretary of State has to answer today is: if the Government can let us down like this on the deal for the transitional period, how do we know they will not do it again when it comes to the final deal? When it comes to it, will they trade away access to waters for access to markets or anything else?
The House also needs to hear today how this bizarre arrangement is going to work in practice. The EU deal with Norway and the Faroes on mackerel is due to expire at the end of this year. We had thought that it would be rolled over for 12 months. Will that still be the case, and what barrier will there be to the EU Commission agreeing another bad deal for our pelagic fleet? With regard to the operation of a discard ban, the Secretary of State should know that British boats have a particular problem with hake as a choke species. That is a problem for our fleet and for nobody else. Does he really expect that the other 27 member countries are going to come up with a solution to something that is a problem only for us and not for them?
It is reported that the Government Chief Whip told his Back Benchers yesterday that
“it’s not like the fishermen are going to vote Labour”.
If that is true, it betrays a certain attitude. The Secretary of State should not be complacent: he should not take it for granted in the future that they will be voting Tory either.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his very fair and detailed comments. The first thing I will happily acknowledge is that there is disappointment in fishing communities. As someone whose father was a fish merchant and whose grandparents went to sea to fish, I completely understand how fishing communities feel about the situation at the moment, and I share their disappointment.
Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman asked about future negotiations and the role that we will play. There is a unique 12-month period, leading up to the December Council at the end of 2019, when the EU will argue on the UK’s behalf, but the UK will be there, as part of the delegation and consulted, in order to ensure that all the legitimate interests that the right hon. Gentleman raises are fairly represented.
The right hon. Gentleman also raised the whole question of the discard ban and choke species. The truth is that every single fishing nation is affected by the discard ban and choke species, and that we operate collectively with our neighbours to ensure that we have the correct means of marine conservation, because unless we have a system that involves choke species and a discard ban, we can have the overfishing that in the past has sadly led to an unhappy outcome for fishing communities.
The final point I would make is that of course no one takes anyone’s votes for granted—certainly not the votes of those who work so hard to ensure that we have food on our plates—but I would say one thing. The only party in this House actually committed to leaving the common fisheries policy is the Conservative party—I should say in fairness that our colleagues in the Democratic Unionist party share that position as well. It is critically important that we all ensure that leaving the common fisheries policy at the end of 2020 enables us all to ensure that the communities the right hon. Gentleman represents in Orkney and Shetland, and the communities we all have the honour of representing, benefit from the new freedoms that that will bring.
I know that the Secretary of State knows that 45 years ago the fishermen felt they had a very bad deal. They want their fishing rights back. Can he reassure me that, as we have this interim deal, we can register ourselves as an independent coastal state, so that on 1 January 2021 we have complete control of our waters?
Yes, my hon. Friend, the Chairman of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, is absolutely right. One of the critical things we can do is make sure, not just from 1 January 2021 but in December 2020, that we are negotiating as an independent coastal state. We will be able to join the regional fisheries management organisations in advance of the December 2020 negotiations—organisations that any independent coastal state has to be part of to secure fishing opportunities and ensure that the marine environment is adequately protected.
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) for securing this urgent question and to the Secretary of State for his response. However, I am afraid I still have several questions.
The Secretary of State, alongside the Fisheries Minister, has asserted time and time again that the UK would take back absolute control of our waters from day one of leaving both the European Union and the 1964 London fisheries convention. However, following announcements made in the last 48 hours, we now know that the rest of the Government has been having very different conversations with the EU27. The announcement made by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, ahead of formal phase two negotiations, made it clear that the UK would continue to be part of the common fisheries policy for the duration of a 21-month post-Brexit transition period, extending up to 2020.
The announcement that Britain’s share of the total allowable catch will remain unchanged during the transition period contradicts all other previous Government statements in relation to post-Brexit fisheries, and it is understandable that many coastal MPs and fishing communities feel so angry and let down. The Government’s failure to meet their previously stated aims through negotiations is one that now requires greater explanation and examination on the Floor of the House. The Government must be absolutely clear about who is leading the negotiations on fishing and what their position is. Have the Government failed to secure their desired position, as advocated by the Secretary of State and the Fisheries Minister, or was that never the position of our negotiating team and the rest of the Cabinet? If that red line has moved, can the Secretary of State tell the House whether there has been an exchange, and if so, what was secured instead?
Less than a month ago, in a Westminster Hall debate on the UK’s fisheries policy secured by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann), I asked the Fisheries Minister whether he had seen the draft proposals from the European Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries—the PECH Committee—and what the Government’s response was. He informed me that
“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.”—[Official Report, 27 February 2018; Vol. 636, c. 314WH.]
With that in mind, can the Secretary of State now be explicit in outlining what the Government are prepared to grant the EU in relation to fisheries? Can he also inform the House what the transition arrangement with the EU will mean for the London convention?
The Secretary of State will have seen the comments from the less-than-satisfied representative fishing organisations and the bold statements—and actions—of his own Back Benchers. Any post-Brexit fisheries policy must be rebalanced to work for our coastal communities and have a sustainable approach at its very core. What we need now from the Government is a move away from the chaotic approach we have seen this week and, instead, honesty and clarity about their negotiating position and exactly what that means for the fishing industry.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her questions. The first thing to make clear is that we are leaving the London fisheries convention, and we will be fully out of the convention, as we will be out of the common fisheries policy, by the time the implementation period ends.
However, it is also important to recognise, as the hon. Lady mentioned, that our share of the total allowable catch during the implementation period, including 2019, will not be altered. That is a protection for all those who want to make sure that we have the stability required to prepare for the additional opportunities that will come at the end of the implementation period.
The critical point remains that the dividing line—I hesitate to say it is a red line—between the Government and their supporters and the Government’s critics is that we believe that, when we leave the European Union, we should leave the common fisheries policy. It is not the position of any other political party in this House that we should leave the common fisheries policy and take advantage of the opportunities that accrue. In that regard, the comments of my hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food about the capacity of the UK to say what it will and will not accept refer clearly and unambiguously to what will occur after the implementation period ends and we are an independent coastal state outside the European Union.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, which is in a very similar vein to the one I submitted. That shows the level of interest in this subject on both sides of the House.
The Secretary of State will understand that there is no way I can sell this deal in the transitional period as anything like a success to fishing communities in Moray, Scotland or the UK. However, will he confirm that, when we leave the common fisheries policy in 2020, we will have full control over fish stocks and vessel access, because fishing communities that feel let down and angered by the Government at the moment need that guarantee?
I entirely understand my hon. Friend’s point. I think people not just in Buckie and Portsoy but across the north-east of Scotland—indeed, across the United Kingdom—will be disappointed that the proposal we sought to ensure would apply for 2019 does not apply for that year. However, it is important to recognise that this is a 12-month additional extension to the maintenance of the EU acquis and that we accept that the greater prize, which my hon. Friend is quite right to remind the House of, is available only if we ensure that we leave the common fisheries policy, take back control and make it absolutely clear to other countries that access and quotas will be in our hands.
It is a big concern with the Conservatives that it is always somebody else’s fault. When the Conservatives took us into the common fisheries policy, Scotland’s fishermen were described as expendable, so they are used to Scottish Tory sell-outs. But, given the matter of days involved here, even Scotland’s fishermen will be surprised at how quickly this one was turned around.
Will the Minister tell me at what point our fishermen became a bargaining chip, or has that been the case all along? Does he agree that we are now in the worst of all worlds, because we are in the common fisheries policy but we have no say? Will he tell me why, over the years, when the SNP has proposed changes to bring greater control over fishing policies, those have been rejected? Does he agree that that is because fishing is a big industry in Scotland and important to the Scottish Government, but it means nothing at Westminster?
Psychologists have a phenomenon called projection. It means that when someone describes someone else, they are really talking about themselves. It is very interesting that the Scottish National party spokesman should talk about people always blaming somebody else and things always being somebody else’s fault. As members of a party that has raised grievance to an art form, SNP Members have a damn cheek making that case. They have a particular cheek in this case, because it is the stated policy of the Scottish National party to stay in the European Union, to stay in the single market, to stay in the customs union and to stay in the common fisheries policy. The ones who are committed to giving Scottish fishermen, and indeed all fishermen across the United Kingdom, a brighter future by leaving the CFP are the Conservative party and this Government. I think that the 90 seconds of concentrated—I do not know what the word is, but it is probably unparliamentary, Mr Speaker—cant that we have just heard from the hon. Gentleman will be met with the derision it deserves.
In fact, I think it was 56 seconds. The right hon. Gentleman has indulged in a bit of statistical rounding.
Will the Government go to the Council this week and say that this deal from the EU is unacceptable and that we voted to take back control of our fish, our money, our borders and our laws? We have accepted a two-year, nine-month transitional period, so will the Government just get on with this?
I completely understand my right hon. Friend’s feelings on this matter. I just want to reassure him that our negotiating team negotiated hard, in good faith and armed with the support of our fisheries industry to try to get the best possible deal. We did not get everything we wanted, but it is the view of this Government and, I think, the majority of people in this House that we need to make sure that this implementation period succeeds so that we can grab the greater prize that Brexit provides at the end of it.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) on securing this urgent question, on the same subject I also submitted one this morning.
The truth is that the Tories are treating this industry as expendable. The Secretary of State talked about revival, but the industry cannot revive based on the status quo that the Government have delivered on the CFP. Does he understand why my constituents will see this as a total sell-out, with us not even having a say at the negotiating table for the next two years?
It is certainly not the case that anyone on the Government side of the House regards fishing communities or the fishing industry as expendable. That is why we are investing more in the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science—our top-level marine scientific advisory body. It is why we are investing more in the Marine Management Organisation, which will be responsible for making sure that our fisheries industry is effective. It is why we are investing more in fisheries protection vessels to ensure that the sea of opportunity that comes outside the CFP can be properly taken advantage of.
The idea that we do not care about fisheries and that we are not investing in their future is, I am afraid, simply not true. The hon. Lady may express disappointment, and I express disappointment that we did not secure everything we wanted in these negotiations, but it is vital that we all focus on the bigger prize ahead of us. I completely understand why some people in the House —I exempt the hon. Lady—want to make partisan points, but, honestly, the future of our fishing industry is bigger than that.
Why will my right hon. Friend not specifically answer the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross)? Why can he not give a guarantee that, in 2020, we will actually take back control over our fishing and our waters?
I believed—and I must apologise to the House if I did not make this clear—that I had made it clear in my original statement that, even before the transition period ends in December 2020, we will be negotiating as an independent coastal state. I hope that is a sufficient guarantee and reassurance to my hon. Friend and to my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross).
Given that we export such a large proportion of our prawns and other shellfish to Europe, should we not have the freest possible trade with Europe?
I am slightly concerned by my right hon. Friend’s tone in relation to the negotiations, which suggests that the European Commission would not allow us something. In a negotiation, it is surely a question of what importance we put on something as to whether we get it. Therefore, I ask my right hon. Friend, what did we get in return?
The big prize that we have secured is an implementation period that allows us as a country to prepare for all the benefits that Brexit will bring. I campaigned with my hon. Friend to ensure that Britain can leave the European Union, and it is important that we do so in good order. This transition period allows us the time and space to do just that.
As the Secretary of State well knows, meetings of the Fisheries Council tend to go on into the early hours, when they reach decisions on quota and catch. Will he clarify whether, under the terms of the transitional agreement, Britain will have the possibility of being in the room when those decisions are made, or does article 125 of the draft agreement mean that we will only be able to provide comments? If we can only provide comments, what impact does he expect those comments to have when final decisions are taken in the meeting itself?
It is clear that we will be consulted, and not just in a perfunctory way. The scientific advice and evidence that our top-level marine scientists generate will shape and frame the negotiations. I should say that it is only for one year—in December 2019—that we will be in that position. The principle of the European Union operating in good faith towards the UK is one that I take seriously, because if the European Union were to act in a way in that one year that demonstrated bad faith, then, apart from the mechanisms that police the withdrawal agreement and the implementation period, it would also be the case that Britain, having taken back control of its waters, might be in a position to be less generous than the EU would want us to be.
The economies of Cleethorpes and the adjoining town of Great Grimsby have never fully recovered from what local people see as a betrayal in the original negotiations to enter the EU. Since then, successive Governments have not given sufficient attention to coastal communities. Will the Secretary of State assure me that his and other Departments will give greater support to such communities, particularly now that they have to wait that little bit longer before the benefits of leaving the CFP become fully evident?
My hon. Friend is exactly right in two areas. First, we are waiting a little longer before we can properly take advantage of being outside the common fisheries policy. Secondly, there has been an historical neglect not just of the fishing industry, but of coastal communities. This Government have sought to reverse that trend through the coastal communities fund and the investment that I mentioned earlier. It is vital that we recognise that the challenges that coastal communities face—the decline of fishing has been one of them—require intervention from all Departments to ensure that the people whom my hon. Friend represents so well have a brighter future.
I must declare an interest. My daughter, Lisa Roberts, and her partner, Shaun Williams, bought a fishing vessel last year, and they are ambitious and excited at the start of their business venture. However, what the Minister proposes means that they now face a maelstrom of perishable foodstuffs held up at customs, continued pressure on seafood species and no say over quotas for alternative catches. In what way has he not used the fishermen and women of Wales as Brexit bait?
I wish the hon. Lady’s family all the very best in taking to sea. Coming from a family with a fishing heritage, as I mentioned earlier, I know both the risks and the rewards that come from pursuing fishing opportunities. In her admittedly eloquent question, she conflated a variety of issues relating to customs, total allowable catch, quotas and trading opportunities. Let me make it clear that when it comes to the future negotiations, negotiations over trade should be entirely separate from negotiations over fishing access and opportunities.
It is just as well that the implementation period is shorter than was sought, isn’t it?
As ever, my right hon. Friend sums up my thoughts with more pith and elegance than I can ever aspire to.
The Minister is sometimes so able that he beguiles the House and we are unsure of what he believes. Following the example that he has just given, will he offer two yesses to these questions? First, when we leave, will we totally control our fishing waters? Secondly, will he please offer every fishing port free port status?
I can say yes to the first question, but the second question is above my pay grade. As for knowing what I believe, the best guide has always been the right hon. Gentleman’s capacity to get to the heart of the matter, as he does so effectively on this issue.
Brixham in my constituency lands the most valuable catch in England. Will the Secretary of State visit Brixham to meet all parts of the sector to discuss their serious concerns that the terms of the transition could end up being reflected in the final deal?
My hon. Friend has privately been a persistent, effective lobbyist on the behalf of the fishermen of Brixham and all those associated with the industry, and I thank her for her work. The industry in Brixham has a highly effective and able advocate, and I will of course visit the fishermen in her constituency to explain to them how we intend to ensure that the opportunities available to them will be theirs to enjoy after the implementation period.
When will the Secretary of State explain article 157 of the draft agreement that was discussed between the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and Michel Barnier? It sets out a new joint committee between the EU and the UK for deciding all matters relating to the transition period, including fisheries and citizens’ rights—absolutely everything—but gives Parliament no power whatsoever to have any say on any of those issues. Having heard about the Secretary of State’s decision today, how can Parliament have a voice during the transition period?
The hon. Gentleman takes his duties as a scrutineer of the Executive very seriously. The one thing that I would say is that the draft agreement covers a wide variety of issues, and he alludes to an important one. Obviously, I am here to answer questions relating specifically to fishing. I hope that the draft agreement will be agreed at the March Council, and with your permission, Mr Speaker, the Prime Minister will be here on Monday to make a statement. The hon. Gentleman will have the chance to get his question fully answered then.
Like many fishermen across Scotland, I feel badly let down by this deal, because we are not going to be taking control of our waters as quickly as we had hoped. Will my right hon. Friend give me the guarantee that the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation seeks, which is that we will take control of our vessels and waters after we finally come out of the transition period as we leave the European Union?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising the role of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation. Its chief executive, Bertie Armstrong, has been an extremely effective advocate on the industry’s behalf, and his response today, balancing the disappointment felt by many with the determination to ensure that we get absolutely the right deal at the end of the process, was constructive. That approach was reflected in my hon. Friend’s question, and it is absolutely the case that we will seek to secure the opportunities that the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and other bodies want to secure.
What a load of codswallop from a Secretary of State who is all out at sea on this issue. The Government will never, ever again be trusted by Scottish fishermen. He drew a red line with the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, but that red line has gone—hook, line and sinker. Will he save us some time and tell us about the next betrayal that Scottish fishermen can expect from his Government?
I have enormous respect and affection for the right hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] The fact that he is not right honourable does not diminish the respect or affection that I have for him. My point is that it is the Scottish National party’s policy to remain in the single market and the common fisheries policy. As a result, his capacity to criticise any other party in this House for seeking to secure additional opportunities for fishermen in Scotland or elsewhere is undermined by the fact that he does not believe in giving those opportunities to anyone.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, but he will remember his visit to Newlyn, where he heard of significant multimillion-pound plans to invest in the harbour to make it ready for this new dawn of fishing. I hate to prolong the point, but will he categorically confirm that who fishes in UK waters from 2021 will be our decision? Will he confirm that we will regain that control? Will the Government announce a fund to improve and enhance our vessels, our ports and our processing plants to prepare for that day?
I enjoyed my visit to Newlyn, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his work on the behalf of his constituents—he is untiring. The first paragraph of article 125 of the draft agreement makes it clear that we will fix fishing opportunities for the duration of the implementation period. Given that the implementation period ends in December 2020, the December 2020 Council and negotiations that fix fishing opportunities for 2021 and beyond are not covered by the agreement, so I can give him the reassurance that I hope he and his constituents seek.
Unlike some of those who have been trying to work themselves into a lather about this decision, the Secretary of State and I canvassed support to leave the common fisheries policy and the EU in its totality. I remember the promises that were made when we visited Aberdeen, and many people will be alarmed and concerned about the draft agreement. He has said that the EU will act in good faith during the transition period and not seek to undermine existing fishing communities. Given its record to date in the negotiations, how can he be sure that legislation, directives and rules will not be put in place further to undermine the fishing industry, leaving nothing to negotiate for at the end of the transition period?
My right hon. Friend has been a consistent campaigner to leave the EU and the CFP. The role that he plays on the Exiting the European Union Committee, as a champion for those who have always argued for that, is exemplary. I strongly sympathise with the concerns that people express about the past record of Governments on the fishing industry. What I would say is that the opportunities that will exist after we leave are considerable, and it is only one year—December 2019—when we will rely on that good faith provision with respect to fisheries. As I mentioned in response to questions from Labour colleagues, if the EU were to choose to act in a way in that year that was against our interests, the consequences that would follow for all would not be happy.
For decades, EU trawlers have plundered our waters and fished in ways that have caused damage to our marine environment. It seems that the Scottish Government are prepared to accept that situation in perpetuity—[Interruption.] Indeed, we have heard comments that they do not trust the EU for a year; I am afraid I have not trusted the EU in its negotiation strategies over the fisheries policy for a very long time. Can the Secretary of State confirm that we will have greater control not only of our fisheries, but of our fishing processes, which have been so damaging to the marine environment and which a lot of us would be very glad to see an end of?
My hon. Friend makes two very important points. Yes, it is not just the case that the fishing industry benefits by being outside the CFP; our marine environment also benefits. She also makes a very important point about the Scottish Government. They want to keep us in the common fisheries policy and deny Scottish fishermen the opportunities of leaving the CFP. In that position, their protestations ring hollow this afternoon.
The paradox is that Conservative Fisheries Ministers have been very successful in the common fisheries policy in negotiating more sustainable catches. In the Secretary of State’s 25-year environment plan, he talks about all fish stocks being recovered to and maintained at levels that can produce the maximum sustainable yield, which is an exact replica of the EU common fisheries policy. However, in that plan, he neglects to mention the linked application of the precautionary principle to fisheries management. Can he reassure the House that in the future fisheries Bill, there will be no return to the bad old days of days at sea or fishing effort?
A number of very important points were raised in that question. First, yes, previous Fisheries Ministers in this Government—in particular, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon)—have done an outstanding job on improving the common fisheries policy and in making a bad situation better. Secondly, the hon. Lady is absolutely right that in the 25-year environment plan, there is an absolute commitment to ensuring that we follow the science, so that we have the best approach towards making sure that fish stocks are healthy and sustainable in future.
On the broader point about the precautionary principle, it is clear that during the time that we have been in the European Union, although a number of things have worked against the environmental interests of this country and our marine environment, the precautionary principle properly applied can be a very powerful tool to ensure that our environment is protected and enhanced. We will be saying more in due course about the environmental principles that have evolved during our time in the EU and the means by which we will hold the Government to account to keep in line with those principles.
Order. Colleagues, I granted this urgent question because I was very clear in my mind that the matter warranted the attention of the House of Commons today. I think the judgment has been vindicated by the level of interest in participating. I am keen to accommodate the inquisitorial appetite of the House, but given that there are two statements to follow, there is now a premium on a degree of brevity. That is normally demonstrated by the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne), but he has already asked his question. May I exhort colleagues to follow his excellent example?
I will keep this short. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we owe a debt to our fishing communities and that we must not guarantee to the EU, at the end of this implementation period, any level of access in favour of a longer-term trade deal?
Today is St Cuthbert’s day, so it is right to celebrate the wonderful seafood of Northumberland, from Craster kippers to Lindisfarne oysters, which are enjoyed by my constituents and exported all over the world. However, should the coastal communities that depend on them ever have believed that a Tory party funded by the City would prioritise a deal on fishing as highly as a deal on finance?
It is St Cuthbert’s day, and I believe that on this day, St Cuthbert was given a gift of fish to sustain him, so it is a day that is resonant for a number of reasons. One thing I would say is that it is a Conservative Government who have been investing in the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, the Marine Management Organisation and all the steps required to ensure that we can take advantage of the opportunities that arise when we leave the CFP. It is also a Conservative Government who have been investing in fisheries protection vessels to ensure that the hon. Lady’s constituents and others are properly protected when their fishing interests are engaged.
Of course, Jeeves always used to encourage Wooster to eat more fish on the grounds that it was good for the brain.
As the British fishing industry has been hammered over decades with our membership of the common fisheries policy, the Secretary of State has now given a guarantee that we will be leaving towards the end of the implementation period. Will he use his good offices to ensure that we find imaginative ways to support the fishing industry as we embark into this new era?
Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right and, indeed, that point was made very well by my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas). We will be saying more with the publication of the fisheries White Paper about additional steps that we want to take to support the fishing industry in preparing for life after the transition period.
When will we know the detail about the great prize and bright future that the Secretary of State refers to—before or after 29 March 2019?
I share the disappointment of north-east fishermen that the transition deal falls short of what they had hoped for. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that on 1 January 2021, we will leave the common fisheries policy, take back control of our waters and set our own fisheries management policies and our quotas? Will he look at including that in the fisheries Bill, and does he share the concern that I and the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation have that the Scottish National party Scottish Government would keep us in the common fisheries policy in perpetuity and that that would sell Scotland’s fishermen out in perpetuity?
My hon. Friend is absolutely every right in every particular. It was instructive that when the chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation was interviewed on the radio earlier today, he made it clear how disappointed he was by the Scottish Government’s determination to keep us in the common fisheries policy.
Given the assurances that I and others were given over the past year right from the Prime Minister down that we would leave the common fisheries policy at the end of March 2019, who was actually negotiating this and did they really care about fishing? I would like the Secretary of State to answer this: did the officials actually argue that we could be left out right away and that it would be nothing to do with the implementation period?
The hon. Lady asks a very direct question. That absolutely was the case. We had an immensely hard-working team of officials who negotiated incredibly hard on our behalf. They were in constant touch with Ministers every step of the way, and they encountered intransigence on the part of the EU, which was disappointing—I make no bones about it—but one thing that cannot be faulted is the hard work, mastery of detail and determination of the civil servants in DExEU and DEFRA to get the very best deal for Britain, and I will not hear a word said against them.
Going forward, what confidence or guarantee can my right hon. Friend give that control of our seas will not be sacrificed on the altar of Brexit?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to stress that one of the great prizes of Britain leaving the European Union is taking back control of our territorial waters. That is why we must maintain our eyes on that great prize at the end of this process.
I am the daughter of a man who was a member of the Grimsby deep-sea fishing fleet in the late 1950s, so I know that it is one of the hardest jobs in the world. That does not stop me understanding, however, that the processing side of the industry is incredibly important to coastal communities such as Grimsby and Peterhead. On that basis, will the Secretary of State guarantee that the processing side of the fishing industry will not be sacrificed to other priorities in trade deal negotiations?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. I have had productive talks with representatives of fish processing organisations, and we absolutely appreciate that they have specific demands on both access to other markets and labour. We respect their demands and will do everything possible to help them achieve them.
The SNP has admitted that it would hand powers over fisheries not to Edinburgh or London but back to Brussels. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that that will not happen?
I can give an absolute guarantee that under no circumstances will I ever adopt the craven and abject surrender that the Scottish Government would offer the EU by accepting that the CFP should persist ad infinitum.
The future of the fishing industry is a politically sensitive issue in Hull—UKIP has talked about a fishing fleet being re-established there—but was not one of the main promises made to the people of Hull that we would retain our territorial rights around fishing from day one, and has that promise not been broken?
No, we will. When the implementation period ends, the exclusive economic zone that is ours to police and control will be ours to police and control.
If during the implementation period, the EU cannot cut our quota, what is to stop it increasing its quota? That said, those of us who are bitterly disappointed at this outcome will take no lectures from those who never want to take back control.
I entirely understand my hon. Friend’s position. I explained earlier the good faith provisions and the other guarantees that are there. The outcome is not what we wanted, but it does afford our fishermen protection during the implementation period.
Fishermen in Plymouth feel utterly betrayed by the decision announced yesterday. What does it mean for the reform of the unworkable discards ban that was promised next year and which is especially important for mixed fisheries in the far south-west?
The discards ban is necessary to ensure responsible management of all species, but we are working on how to apply it in a way that ensures that the legitimate concerns the hon. Gentleman raises on behalf of his constituents are properly addressed.
The Secretary of State will not be surprised to learn that fishermen in mid-Cornwall feel very disappointed, and in some cases angry, at yesterday’s announcement. When he visits Devon, will he come that little bit further and meet the fishermen of Cornwall as well, and in doing so will he lay out very clearly that the implementation period will affect only one year’s quota negotiations, that their quotas will be protected during that time and that at the end of the transition period we will take back control of our fishing waters?
Absolutely. My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head, and I look forward to meeting him in Mevagissey later this year.
In defence of this negotiating debacle, the Secretary of State says the Government always knew there would be important legal and technical questions to be resolved. If so, why less than 10 days ago did he and Ruth Davidson promise fishermen across the UK that we would be leaving the CFP in March 2019?
It is the case that important questions need to be resolved, but the one thing the SNP is promising is that we will never leave the CFP. It is instructive that in so many of their questions SNP Members talk about Ruth Davidson but never about a single fisherman, species or community; they only attack the leader of the Scottish Conservatives. Why? They’re feart.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that under yesterday’s transition agreement we can continue to market fish and fish products seamlessly and frictionlessly into the EU, and that that is his aim for the time after the transition period has ended?
Yes, it is absolutely the case that we want as friction free a trade arrangement as possible with the EU, and indeed with other nations.
In my constituency on Friday, the talk of the day was: let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate. In ’74, when we joined the Common Market, Edward Heath sold the fishing sector for a bowl of pottage. In 2018, can the Secretary of State give an absolute guarantee that the fishing sector in Portavogie, in my constituency, and also at Ardglass and Kilkeel, has not been and will not be sold out by a transitional arrangement that leaves the EU in control of fishing policy?
I appreciate the issues the hon. Gentleman raises, and I will do everything possible to address the concerns of fishermen not just on the Ards peninsula but in Kilkeel and elsewhere. I look forward to working with him and colleagues across the political divide in Northern Ireland to provide that reassurance.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the prize of agreeing an implementation period. How will the UK’s voice be heard and respected in the annual quota allocation for 2020?
I hope that my hon. Friend will be reassured to know that in 2020 the UK will be negotiating as an independent coastal state. [Interruption.] The negotiations in 2019 will take place on the basis that we will be consulted and that our science will be part of the process by which arrangements are reached, and of course the good faith provisions and other arrangements and guarantees I discussed earlier will be there to safeguard UK interests for that limited 12-month period.
The quotas for 2020 will now be set by the EU after some consultation with the British Government. Now that the ball has been handed back to the EU, what guarantees can the Secretary of State give to the industry that he will get the ball back?
My hon. Friend reasserts the vital point that were the EU for any reason in 2019 to behave contrary to our long-term interests, it would also be contrary to its long-term interests. I agree that the opportunities available to us after the transition deal are critical and that we must secure them. That has meant accepting a sub-optimal outcome in the deal, but it is only for an additional 12 months, and we must keep our eyes on the prize.
Far from providing “a sea of opportunity”—to use the Secretary of State’s own words—all this deal does is underline, as the Heath, Thatcher and Major Governments did before, that the Tories are happy to throw Scotland’s fishing industry over the side. Is it not time that he and his Scottish Tory sprats were also discarded?
Again, I note that questions from the Scottish nationalist Benches have contained more mentions of the Scottish Tory leader and bad puns than adherence to either science or economics. The SNP will have to do better than name calling and joke making if it is ever to be taken seriously as a defender of the interests of Scottish fishermen.
All fishing communities up and down the nation will have hanging their heads in shame at this disgraceful discussion so far. The list of Tory sell-outs is endless: in the 1970s, Ted Heath said that fishermen were expendable; in the ’80s, Margaret Thatcher signed up to the original doomed common fisheries policy and consigned our fishermen to decades of mismanagement; while John Major signed up to a revised CFP that had scrapping vessels and destroying livelihoods at its very heart. Given this continual betrayal, can the Secretary of State honestly say that things will be any different post-Brexit?
Absolutely. I have enormous respect and affection for the hon. Gentleman, who I think is a great campaigner, but I must respectfully point out that, although I do not doubt his passion and commitment, the platform on which his party stands would keep us imprisoned in the CFP, as opposed to opening us up to the opportunities that exist outside, which we and our friends in the Democratic Unionist party support.
I make it five Conservative Scottish MPs who have asked for the same promise from the Secretary of State, but he has been so obsessed with his #SNP line that he has not given that guarantee. Is this not the Secretary of State who promised that Scotland could have devolved power over immigration if we left the EU, and was that promise not worthless? Is this not the same Secretary of State who promised, barely a week ago, that we would definitely leave the CFP in March 2019, and was that promise not worthless? Is it not the case that any promise he makes in the future to the people of Scotland will be just as worthless as his promises in the past?
It was the promise the SNP made to keep us in the CFP and the EU that was comprehensively rejected at the ballot box by the votes of people in north-east Scotland and in fishing communities. I am afraid that Scotland faces a simple choice: does it remain within the EU and CFP under the SNP, or will it be liberated, as will be the case if this Government have their way? On that choice so much hangs, including the future of the SNP.
Again, it just goes to show that at any negotiating table we want someone who will stand up for the issues that matter. Be it Brexit or the CFP, Scotland and Scotland’s fishing community are expendable once again in the eyes of the UK Government. At what stage did the Secretary of State know that fisheries would be a bargaining chip, and what did the Government secure in return?
Both sides—both the UK and the EU—made it clear that fisheries would have to be handled separately from many of the other issues that would be addressed during the implementation period, and it was always clear that we would have to have specific arrangements. One of the things that are different about fisheries is that even before the implementation period ends, we will be operating independently outside the constraints of the European Union. It is also the case that, having secured the capacity to operate independently in December 2020, we will be in a position to secure the larger prize of life outside the common fisheries policy, a prize that the SNP rejects.
We know that Heath was the one who said that Scottish fishermen were expendable, and Thatcher was the one who took us into the CFP. We talk about fish quotas. Just this morning, on Radio Scotland, Niels Wichmann, the head of the Danish Fishermen’s Association, said:
“Britain has never ever challenged the quota shares that we have used every year in the annual negotiations”.
It does not matter whether we are in the CFP or not; the UK Government cannot be trusted. Does the Secretary of State agree with that?
I enjoyed hearing again a quotation that I had heard a few minutes ago. Repeats from the SNP are quite something. More particularly, however, the hon. Gentleman’s question betrayed a misunderstanding of the principle of relative stability which underpins quota negotiations.
I have suggested several times over the years, including in the Chamber, that only when all the fishing waters of Europe have been returned to their own countries will the fish stocks and fishing industries of Europe be saved, and that the UK must lead the way in that process. Will the Government now publicly urge the complete abolition of the common fisheries policy, which has been such an unmitigated disaster?
My admiration for the hon. Gentleman knows almost no bounds. He is right: the common fisheries policy has been bad not just for Britain, but for fish throughout the European Union. My only hope is that he will not only have an opportunity to see our shared ambition for a Britain outside the European Union fulfilled, but will be able to persuade socialist and progressive colleagues across the European continent to reform their own governance in a way that is genuinely liberating, as he has long advocated.
As I look across at the faces of the Scottish Tories who are once again witnessing the United Kingdom Government betraying Scottish fishing communities, never has the phrase “done up like a kipper” seemed more appropriate. Can the Secretary of State explain to the bewildered fishing communities in my constituency why he has signed them up to what he described nine months ago as the “disastrous” common fisheries policy for a further two years, on worse terms than they are currently experiencing?
Listening to yet another Scottish National party spokesman denying the reality of the SNP’s adherence to the common fisheries policy and attempting to cover it up with a weak pun, I felt that I was witnessing yet another audition for someone to appear on Alex Salmond’s rt.com talk show. It is the combination of bad taste and poor humour that has been exhibited by so many on those Benches.