I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
It is a pleasure to introduce the Second Reading of the Fisheries Bill under your chairmanship, Madam Deputy Speaker. If I may, I should like to begin my introduction of this legislation on a personal note. My father was a fish merchant, and my family have made their living from the sea for generations. That has given me a deep personal appreciation of the risks and sacrifices undertaken by those who go to sea to ensure that we have healthy and nutritious food. There are Members of this House who know those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to provide us with the food that we enjoy, and I would like to say that those who work so hard and take such risks to bring us the bounty of the sea will be first and foremost in my mind in our deliberations today. We are in all their debt.
I want to underline the fact that I am deeply grateful to the team at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for the work they have done on the preparation of the White Paper that preceded this Bill, as well as on the Bill, the explanatory memorandum and everything that goes with them. DEFRA has some of the finest civil servants in the Government, but the fisheries team stand out. They are men and women of dedication, deep knowledge and commitment, and I am grateful to them, as I am also to my predecessors in this role as Secretary of State. Every single one of my predecessors has sought to do their best for the fishing industry, and it would be invidious to single any of them out. However, I want to pay a special tribute to three ministerial or ex-ministerial colleagues. My right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) has done an enormous amount to champion the interests of the fishing communities across the United Kingdom. My right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) has done an enormous amount to improve the operation of the common fisheries policy while we have been in it. And the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), has been an outstanding negotiator on Britain’s behalf, and in his time in office—which I hope will continue for many years to come—he has done an enormous amount for coastal communities across the country.
One of the pleasures in bringing forward the Bill is to be able to acknowledge that, whatever position individuals may have taken in the referendum on our membership of the European Union, there is a widespread recognition across the House that the common fisheries policy did damage. It did environmental damage to fish stocks and to our marine environment. It also did economic damage to the fishing industry, which has been such a critical part of this country’s heritage and which can again become a vital part of our economic future. The common fisheries policy did social damage as well, because coastal communities suffered. Their economies were hollowed out and businesses collapsed as a result of its operation. Whatever position we may have taken in that referendum, taking back control of our waters, leaving the common fisheries policy and once again becoming an independent coastal state will give us an opportunity to lead environmentally, to revive the fishing industry economically and to ensure that our coastal communities once more have the opportunity for a renaissance.
I agree with the Secretary of State, on behalf of the Scottish National party, about the damage the CFP did. However, the political text on the withdrawal agreement states that there will be:
“Cooperation…internationally to ensure fishing at sustainable levels, promote resource conservation… the development of measures for the conservation, rational management and regulation of fisheries… a new fisheries agreement on, inter alia, access to waters and quota shares”
and so on. That is the current form, in black and white. Although that might mean something new and better, is it not the case that, given the UK’s negotiating failures so far, what we will end up with will look very similar to the terms of the CFP?
No, not at all. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have enormous respect, for acknowledging many of the defects and flaws in the common fisheries policy, but we have been clear—this is reflected in both the draft withdrawal agreement and the accompanying draft political declaration on our future economic partnership—that we will be negotiating at the December 2020 Fisheries Council as an independent coastal state, ready to ensure that we decide on access to our waters, that we decide on total allowable catches and that we decide on quotas, and it is on that basis that we can ensure that the interests of our coastal communities are respected.
Of course, as an independent coastal state, we will be governed by the United Nations convention on the law of the sea. That landmark piece of international law makes it clear that all independent coastal states will negotiate with their neighbours to ensure that the environmental health of fish stocks are preserved and that an equitable share of each nation’s bounty can be agreed, because we as a nation depend for the fish we eat not just on the fish in our waters—of course, we have the healthiest stocks of any country in the existing European Union—but on negotiating with other independent coastal states, including Norway, the Faroes, Iceland and others, to ensure that we get the mix of fish that consumers demand and that society has a right to expect.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that any party represented in this Chamber that promotes continued membership of the European Union is letting our fishermen down, because it is already promoting continued membership of the common fisheries policy?
My hon. Friend knows what she is talking about, and she is absolutely right. The Scottish National party wants us to stay in the European Union, and therefore in the common fisheries policy, and the Scottish National party’s MEPs, when given the chance to vote in the European Parliament, voted to stay in the common fisheries policy. However, I do want to acknowledge that there are independent members of the SNP who do not toe the line of their leadership. There are individual voters who have lent the SNP their votes in the past but who do not agree with that view. Also, to be fair, the Scottish Government and the Minister responsible, Fergus Ewing, in helping to ensure that this legislation can work for Scotland, have operated in a constructive manner, as indeed have officials in the devolved Administrations—sadly, we do not have the Executive in Northern Ireland, but the officials there have negotiated in good faith, as have the Labour Administration in Cardiff. I want to underline that the legislation we bring forward will see powers moving to the devolved Administrations. It will be a diffusion of power and a strengthening of devolution.
Many individuals and organisations campaigned very hard to get the firmest rules on sustainability as part of reform of the common fisheries policy. Will my right hon. Friend give them an assurance that any vessel fishing in British waters after we leave the European Union will be required to maintain the highest levels of sustainability for those fish stocks and to work with the Government to do so?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Bill makes it clear that there are principles, to which the Government will be held, that ensure that fishing will be sustainable and that our marine environment will be restored to full health. The Bill will give the Government powers to ensure that no vessel can fish in our waters unless it adheres to those high environmental standards.
Can the Secretary of State just be absolutely clear about this? At the end of March, we will leave the common fisheries policy, but then we will immediately be back in it, by giving the EU the right to make all decisions for however long the transition goes on. It worries me very much when I hear more and more Ministers talking on the “Today” programme about the transition being extended again and again. Why did he allow the Prime Minister to accept in the withdrawal agreement that fisheries would stay as part of the transition?
I will give the hon. Lady, for whom I have enormous respect and affection, one piece of perhaps unsolicited advice: I find that in the morning it is better not to listen to the “Today” programme; Radio 3, or even Radio 2, ensures that I have a more equable morning. However, she makes a very important point about the transition period. A number of Members of this House hoped that in the transition period, when it was agreed earlier this year, the common fisheries policy would be outside, but there is one very significant departure from the overall transition period, which applies to the common fisheries policy, which is that the European Union acknowledged that from 2021 we will be an independent coastal state. Therefore, when we negotiate in the December 2020 Fisheries Council, although we will still legally be a member of the European Union, we will be negotiating then as an independent coastal state. That is why I said at the time that we need to keep our eyes on the prize of making sure that after that transition period we can have all the opportunities to do the right thing environmentally, economically and socially, as I mentioned earlier.
A moment ago, the Secretary of State offered the House some warm words about his commitment to sustainability. Could he therefore explain why the Bill contains only one vague mention of maximum sustainable yields? Can he give us a guarantee that, under his new vision for fisheries management, we will adhere to maximum sustainable yields and to scientific advice, as opposed to what we have done for years and years, which is to allow total catches to exceed those sustainable yields by up to 50%?
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way on that point, because it is germane to the point about co-operation with our neighbouring states and the implications arising from the transitional arrangements. Can he tell the House how the EU-Norway-Faroes mackerel deal, which is currently up for renegotiation and renewal in 2020, will be handled in practical terms, and what his Government are doing to ensure that the voice of our fishermen is heard in that important negotiation?
We will be taking part in bilateral and multilateral negotiations in the run-up to December 2020, in anticipation of being, as I have said, a fully independent coastal state from January 2021. We will be negotiating with all our neighbours to ensure that we get the very best deal for our fishermen. On the right hon. Gentleman’s second point, which was very fair, about collaboration with fishing organisations, in preparing the Bill we have worked with the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations and a variety of other producer organisations, and every single one of them has said that it wants to see the Bill on the statute book. Of course there will be debate in Committee, and there may well be amendments that can refine and improve what we want to do, but there is not a single representative organisation that speaks for the fisheries industry or for fish processors anywhere that does not want to see the Bill on the statute book as quickly as possible.
The one fly in the ointment is, of course, the elephant in the room: the withdrawal deal that the Prime Minister has produced in recent weeks. Can the Secretary of State confirm that article 6(2) of the protocol relating to Northern Ireland could be interpreted to read that every EU fisheries regulation in existence will continue to be applied to Northern Ireland fishermen alone if the backstop is applied?
I do not believe that is the right interpretation. I do recognise that a number of colleagues across the House have concerns about the backstop arrangement, but let me underline one point. Under the backstop arrangement, were it ever to come into place, the United Kingdom would be an independent coastal state. Some people have read the withdrawal agreement and taken it to mean that somehow the common fisheries policy would be extended if the backstop were to come into operation and that we would not have control over our territorial waters and our exclusive economic zone. That is not the case. Even in the event of the backstop coming into operation, we will be an independent coastal state, and fishermen, whether they are in Northern Ireland or anywhere else in the United Kingdom, will be able to take advantage of the additional fishing opportunities that arise as a result.
Is the Secretary of State aware that article 6(2) of the Northern Ireland protocol enables vessels registered in Northern Ireland, but not vessels registered anywhere else in the United Kingdom, to sell their goods into the European Union tariff free? Does he therefore accept that vessels registered in Scotland, and indeed in the rest of the UK, will be at a competitive disadvantage when that part of the backstop comes into force, which, incidentally, under article 154 will be immediately?
The hon. and learned Lady draws attention to an important point. On the backstop, as the House will hear at other points, there are some who argue that Northern Ireland is placed at a competitive advantage compared with other parts of the United Kingdom, and there are some who argue that Northern Ireland is disadvantaged relative to other parts of the United Kingdom. One thing that is clear, however, is that Northern Ireland—an integral and valued part of the United Kingdom—when we leave the European Union, will leave alongside the rest of the United Kingdom and be part of one independent coastal state that is capable of taking advantage of all these fisheries opportunities.
Will the Secretary of State give us some idea of his ambition for after we leave the common fisheries policy? It seems to me that we could have a big expansion of our domestic fishing industry, with a lot more fish landed and a big increase in fish processing in the UK. Is that his ambition, and how big will it be?
A whopper, I am tempted to say. My right hon. Friend is right. Even the Scottish Government acknowledge that there could be a £1 billion bonanza for the United Kingdom if we manage fish stocks effectively. That makes it all the more surprising, when the analysis of the Scottish Government’s own statisticians has the bonanza at that level, that Scottish National party politicians in Europe and elsewhere are standing in the way of our leaving the common fisheries policy, in stark contrast to Scottish Conservatives.
If the backstop is not implemented but the implementation period is extended, can the Secretary of State confirm that that would mean we have to remain in the CFP beyond the 21 months? Is he aware—perhaps he can reassure the House—that the French are circling, as we all expect them to do, with Sabine Weyand saying that the British
“would have to swallow a link between access to products and fisheries in future agreements”?
I note the reporting of what Ms Sabine Weyand said. One of the interesting things—again, I alluded to this earlier—is that different Members will have different assessments of the advantages and disadvantages that lie within the draft withdrawal agreement, but it is instructive that the negotiator on behalf of the European Commission, Ms Weyand, felt that she had to sweeten the pill, particularly on fisheries, to get EU nations to sign, because there is an acknowledgment on the part of EU nations that UK negotiators have safeguarded access to our waters and secured our status as an independent coastal state. The initial negotiating mandate of the European Union has not been satisfied in these negotiations with respect to fisheries, but the red lines laid down by our Prime Minister have been defended. It is absolutely critical, without prejudice to any other conversations, to acknowledge that.
On the powers of the devolved nations, the Secretary of State said during the Vote Leave campaign that one of the Brexit dividends is that immigration powers could be devolved to Scotland. Immigration is crucial to the seafood processing industry and to the fishing boats, particularly on the west coast of Scotland. Does he agree that Scotland should get control of immigration so we can manage our fishing industry?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I am grateful to those who work in the fish processing industry, and indeed to those who work offshore, who come from across the world, and not just from European economic area nations, to help ensure that industry is strong. That is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made it clear that our post-Brexit immigration policy will be truly global in scope and focused on making sure this country is an economic success, emphasising that we have taken back control.
The Secretary of State mentioned the red lines. The Prime Minister has told the House on numerous occasions that we will leave the customs union, yet the withdrawal agreement clearly envisages that we would remain in the customs union under the backstop and that, having entered, we could not leave unless the EU consented—the so-called “Hotel California” arrangement. The Prime Minister has also assured the House in very strong terms that she would never contemplate a border down the Irish sea, yet in the agreement, including the Northern Ireland protocol, exactly that is envisaged. I regret to say that, given that, I find it difficult to take seriously the commitments that the Prime Minister has now given to the House. If I have trouble believing her, why should I believe the Secretary of State?
I will answer my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) and the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) before giving way. We have been told at different times that we will have to bend or buckle when it comes to fisheries. The Prime Minister and the negotiating team have absolutely not bent or buckled, which is why the European Commission’s own negotiator has had to attempt to sweeten the pill.
It will not have escaped my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford that other countries are expressing their dissatisfaction with the withdrawal agreement for precisely that reason. He spent a distinguished time as a Minister and as the Conservative party’s Europe spokesman, and he must know that if other countries are complaining that they have lost out, it is a sign that this country has secured an advantage.
Further to the Secretary of State’s earlier point about expanding fishing opportunities, I am happy to report that Brixham in my constituency has had another record year and in 2017 landed over £40 million-worth of fish, but it is now limited because it is at full stretch. Brixham is anxiously waiting to hear what my right hon. Friend will do to guarantee that it can have access to funds such as the European maritime and fisheries fund to allow it to expand. Brixham is really keen to get on with it.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I congratulate her on championing her constituency so successfully, and I thank the fishermen of Brixham for their work. In the EU we have the EMFF, which provides support for individual fishing communities, and this Bill makes provision for a replacement so that grants and loans can be provided for just such investment.
I want to believe everything the Secretary of State has said, but he will know that the industry has a long memory, and it can remember the last-minute sell-out in the original Common Market negotiations. The industry still fears that is going to happen again. Can he give a categorical answer that under no circumstances will any further concessions be granted?
I have been very clear about how determined we are to fight on fisheries. We have defended our red lines. My hon. Friend mentions what happened in the 1970s. I was a boy then, but the consequences had a profound impact on my family and on my father’s business. There is no way I can ever forget what happened then, and no way that I will be anything other than a resolute champion for the interests of coastal communities such as the one my hon. Friend serves and represents so admirably.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker. You are right to say that I want to make sure I can answer as many questions as possible, from Members in as many parts of the House as possible, but this is a well subscribed debate and I have been able to make only about two or three of the points I wanted to make while I have been answering questions.
I thank the Secretary of State for that. It would be nice if we could talk a little more about fish, and I want to talk briefly about bluefin tuna. For the first time in about 50 or 60 years, these wonderful fish are appearing off the shore of Cornwall and up the west coast. When we have left the EU, will we look at having a recreational catch-and-release fishery for bluefin tuna? If we could discuss that, and if I could bring a delegation to see the Secretary of State to discuss it, I would be extremely grateful, because there is huge commercial and conservational opportunity attached to such a fishery.
I quite agree and we are actively exploring that. One of the points I was due to make is that recreational fishing is a crucial part of the life of the nation; it provides, through tourism and other expenditure, support for many important parts of our rural and coastal economy.
A bluefin tuna was washed up on Tolsta beach in Lewis last weekend. I would be happy to join any delegation with the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), because we have the same interests and needs. On the wider point, the Secretary of State mentioned “bend or buckle” a while ago. In the debate on 27 February 2018 in Westminster Hall, an astonishing number of Tory MPs supported this claim:
“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.”—[Official Report, 27 February 2018; Vol. 636, c. 290WH.]
That was echoed by loads of Tory MPs. Was that bend or was it buckle?
Interestingly, an extraordinary number of Conservative MPs were in that debate because an extraordinary number of Conservative MPs want the very best for our fishing industry. Scottish Conservative MPs have stood up for coastal communities in a way that the Scottish National party has signally failed to do. I will tell the hon. Gentleman who bent and who buckled. It was the SNP MEPs who bent and buckled in Strasbourg and Brussels when they agreed to keep us imprisoned in the CFP.
There are at least 65 co-operatives in the fishing industry, which are worth more than £48 million at the moment. Would not one of the best ways to help boost the fishing co-operatives sector, which keeps profits in hard-pressed coastal communities, be to ensure a radical reform of the quota system, two thirds of which is held by just three opaque companies?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. As we leave the CFP, there is an opportunity to reallocate quota. We have already seen a reallocation, with a 13% uplift for the under-10 metre fleet under this Government. There is a crucial point to make: some of the quota that is necessarily allocated is allocated for the types of stocks—pelagic stocks—of which the under- 10 metre fleet, simply because of the nature of where those fish are found, would be poorly placed to take advantage. So he is absolutely right to say there is a case for reform, but a significant amount of quota could not, at this stage, be allocated in the way that he might suggest.
I thank the Secretary of State for allowing me to intervene and not avoiding me altogether. We have talked about a “bonanza” of fish and about recreational fishing, but will he give assurances that we will not bend from our standards on sustainability? After all, we are talking about a wild harvest; fishermen have to make money, but they cannot make it unless the stocks are sustainable. Does he also agree that the Bill has included references to the 25-year environment plan and the nature capital approach and that this is the right way to go, demonstrating that our Government have the environment and sustainability at their heart?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we adhere to the principles behind the maximum sustainable yield. The early clauses in this Bill set out clear principles by which any Secretary of State must be bound in order to put the environment and sustainability first. More than that, as we all know, under the CFP we have not had policies that put the environment first. Now, as an independent coastal state, we can work with organisations ranging from Greenpeace to Charles Clover’s Blue Marine Foundation to ensure that we have a policy that is right environmentally and right economically.
I am pleased that we are now starting to put the environment first, but almost 80% of the UK fishing fleet is small-scale and it lands only 11% of the fish by value. Given that this fleet is not only more profitable to local economies, but employs more local fishermen and uses more sustainable fishing practices, will the Bill allow larger quotas to independent vessels under 10 metres?
Absolutely, the Bill explicitly allows us to ensure that new quota can be allocated to the under- 10 metre fleet, which exhibits all the virtues that my hon. Friend outlined. As I mentioned in response to the question from the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas), it would be inappropriate to transfer some aspects of quota, but it has been the case, not least under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), that we have already been transferring quota to the under-10 metre fleet, for the reasons that my hon. Friend mentions.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way; he is generous with his time. On the comments made by the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil), the Scottish Conservatives can safely say they will take no lessons on the CFP from the SNP, who would sell us straight back into it if they had their way of re-entering Europe.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right on that. I am tempted to say, because so far we have not had a pun in this debate, that the SNP wants to have its hake and eat it. The truth is that SNP Members pose as defenders of Scotland’s fishing communities, yet all the time we were in the EU scarcely a peep they emitted on behalf of the fishing industry. Now that we are leaving, they still want to tie us to the CFP, because they put the abstract ideology of their separatist sentiment ahead of the real interests of Scotland’s communities, and that is why they were so decisively rejected by Scotland’s coastal communities at the last general election.
This point has been made, but I will make it again. I have the great honour of representing the fishing village of Mevagissey. The Secretary of State may remember that he promised to come to see the fishermen there—they are still very much looking forward to his visit. That thriving fishing community is made up of under-10 metre vessels. So will he confirm that this Bill will provide opportunities for our under-10 metre fleet to take advantage of the new quota that will be available, so that it can grow, thrive and rebuild the great industry that we have lost?
I am about to use a word that I rarely use, but I am going to use it with greater pleasure than I have ever used it before—no! I am tempted to say: no, nae, never, no more. The one thing I did want to underline is that the under-10 metre fleet, for the reasons outlined before, is a crucial part of the health and vibrancy of coastal communities and of our fishing industry overall. The profitable nature of its enterprise and its commitment to high environmental standards should be emulated by others.
I am going to make a wee bit of progress now, if that is okay. One thing that is clear about this Bill is that it has benefited from the support of the devolved Administrations and of non-governmental organisations. As a result, it now allows us to ensure that, as an independent coastal state, we can do what so many have wished, which is fully control access to our own waters and allocate quotas as we wish. Clauses 7 and 8, 11 and 12 will revoke the existing rights of EU nations to access UK waters and ensure that the UK will license individual vessels from other nations on our terms, in a way that is consistent with high environmental principles, to demonstrate that we will have taken back control, not just of our territorial waters, but of our exclusive economic zone extending 200 miles out around the whole United Kingdom. We will make sure, as a number of hon. Members have asked, that we put conservation first.
Our fish are a great natural, renewable resource. We need to make sure that the lessons of the past are learned and that the mistakes that have been made while we have been in the common fisheries policy, and that other states have made through over-fishing, are at last corrected. We need to make sure that the network of marine protected areas and marine conservation zones around our nation are used to regenerate fish stocks. We need to make sure that we have available the effective data so that we can set quotas and total allowable catches sustainably. We need to make sure that we use the world-leading science available in this country from CEFAS and others to ensure that we set a global gold standard for conservation.
One particular way in which the environmental argument has been accepted by some but applied in a way that can be economically harmful and sometimes environmentally counterproductive is the way in which the discard ban has operated. It is quite right that we should seek to restrict fishing that is carried out in a way that might damage the health and resilience of individual species, but because of the nature of much of the fishing that goes on in our waters, particularly but not exclusively in the case of the under-10 fleet, there is a risk of bycatch. No matter how sophisticated the gear, there is a risk that some of the fish caught belong to some of the species that we wish to protect and that these choke species, having been caught by fishermen at a level that threatens sustainability, have to be deployed in a way that means that the fishermen can no longer carry on their business.
No, not at this point.
We will introduce, as New Zealand, Norway and other nations have, an approach that means that fishermen can catch and can land, but if they exceed the discard ban, they will pay a penalty. That will ensure that we have a sustainable approach to fisheries, that we enable fishermen to carry on going to sea and that we combine their economic resilience with the environmental resilience of the stocks that we wish to preserve. That change is an example of how we can change individual common fisheries policy rules and regulations by giving effect to the Bill and the framework that it will provide. It is clear from all the representative fisheries organisations that they recognise that individual aspects of the CFP need remedial action and reform. That can happen only if we allow the Bill to pass, which is why it is so important that it makes a speedy passage through the House.
Another point made by several hon. Friends and hon. Members is about the importance of protecting not only diversity at sea but diversity in the fishing industry itself. We need to ensure not only that the pelagic fleets that sail from Peterhead and Fraserburgh have new opportunities, but that those that fish closer to coastal waters—often, the under-10 metre fleets that colleagues have praised—have an opportunity to take advantage of new opportunities. As a result of this legislation, we will have additional quota that we can reallocate in a way that is equitable, fair and sustainable.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way; he is being very generous. I am trying to reconcile two things that he has said: first, that we are going to be more mindful of sustainability, and secondly, that we are going to catch more fish. The total allowable sole catch in the Irish sea is currently set at 40,000, when the scientific advice is that it should be zero. Will we be catching more or fewer sole in the Irish sea under the Secretary of State’s future plans?
When it comes to individual species, we will follow the scientific advice that CEFAS and others give us. Overall, however, as we take back control we will have the opportunity to catch more fish in our own waters. The majority of the fish that are caught in UK waters are not caught by UK vessels. Let me give the hon. Gentleman one example. I do not know whether he knows what percentage of cod caught in the English channel is caught by French boats—I do not know whether anyone in the House does—but it is 83%. What percentage of cod caught in the English channel is caught by UK vessels? Just 7%. That is a fundamental inequity in the allocation of national resources. The Bill will allow us to decide who catches what and where, and in line with which environmental principles.
It is not often that a piece of legislation comes before the House that provides us with an opportunity to say to some of the most fragile communities in our country, our coastal communities, “There is real hope and a chance of an economic renaissance. Your suffering has been recognised and we can make a positive difference.” It is not often that legislation comes before the House that, if passed, would see an industry potentially double in size and in its capacity to generate new jobs and new economic opportunities. It is very, very rare that legislation that comes before the House achieves such social and economic goals and at the same time allows this country to underline its credentials as a leader in environmental practice of a kind that other countries would wish to emulate. Not only does this Fisheries Bill manage to bring hope to coastal communities and to reinforce the economic gains of leaving the European Union, but it underlines our credentials as an environmental leader, which is why I commend the legislation to the House.
Order. I have now to announce the result of today’s deferred Divisions.
In respect of the question relating to taxation relief and international tax enforcement (Jersey), the Ayes were 302 and the Noes were 238, so the Question was agreed to.
In respect of the question relating to taxation relief and international tax enforcement (Isle of Man), the Ayes were 302 and the Noes were 238, so the Question was agreed to.
In respect of the question relating to taxation relief and international tax enforcement (Guernsey), the Ayes were 302 and the Noes were 238, so the Question was agreed to.
In respect of the question relating to the immigration health charge order, the Ayes were 300 and the Noes were 232, so the Question was agreed to.
[The Division lists are published at the end of today’s debates.]
Before I call the shadow Secretary of State to speak, let me say that I hope colleagues realise that there is a lot of pressure on time. A lot of people wish to speak so, apart from Front Benchers, obviously, I will be asking everyone else to try to keep their speeches below 10 minutes. I do not want to impose a time limit at this point, and that would, I hope, allow everybody to get in.
I join the Secretary of State in his words of support for all those who work in the fishing industry. It is important that we recognise them.
Amid all the ongoing chaos that we have seen over the Brexit negotiations, Ministers have consistently identified leaving the common fisheries policy as one of the few policy areas in which the Government’s deal can deliver. When the White Paper was published in July, the Secretary of State said:
“Outside the Common Fisheries Policy we can take back control of our waters and revitalise our coastal communities.”
He is also on record as having said:
“The day after we vote to leave, we hold all the cards and we can choose the path we want.”
I intend to set out why the Bill and the current approach to negotiations being pursued by the Government will not, in our view, “revitalise” our left-behind coastal towns, which have been hit hard by years of Tory austerity. I will also set out why, having heard the Secretary of State outline his position just now, I am even more convinced that only a Labour Government can secure the twin goals of a healthy marine environment and thriving coastal communities.
Will the hon. Lady explain to me why my late husband suffered financially, quite considerably, for 12 years under a Labour Government, but she is now blaming Conservative austerity? I have witnessed it myself. Will she explain why she has not admitted that and apologised for it?
We know that coastal communities have suffered from austerity, and I will be talking about that further. However, I do not think it is appropriate to talk about individual cases.
However, having said what I have just said, we do not oppose the Bill at this stage, as it has turned out to be a mostly enabling Bill for making future decisions. It is clear that the Government have some way to go before we can all be satisfied with what is before us today. I hope that Ministers will reconsider parts of this legislation so that we can reach a consensus on the direction of travel. We intend to bring forward a number of key amendments in Committee to make those improvements.
In addition to looking at quotas, the Secretary of State also talked about the need to revitalise coastal communities, which have been badly let down by successive Tory Governments and the eight years of austerity. I represent a coastal community myself and have seen that damage at first hand. Those communities have been starved of investment. They have reduced services due to local government cuts, lower wages and stalled economies. If we look at the 98 local authorities that are on the coast, 85% of them have pay levels below the UK’s average, and, to date, the Government have done nothing to address that. Labour believes that well-managed fisheries and sustainable fishing practices can help reinvigorate many of these communities. This is a unique opportunity, as we have heard from the Secretary of State, to transform the way that we manage our fisheries to improve lives by driving economic prosperity, tourism and environmental benefits to our beautiful and unique British coastal areas.
However, if we look at the current distribution of quotas, it is clear that the system is not working in a fair or equitable way. According to research by Greenpeace, more than a quarter of the UK’s fishing quota is owned or controlled by just five families on the rich list of The Sunday Times. We are well-accustomed to hearing about taking our fair share of quota at the European level, but many in our coastal towns and smaller fleet want to know when they will get their fair share of the existing national quota.
The Secretary of State has talked about the unfairness in quotas, but the clear lack of proposals in the Bill to redistribute existing and future quota can be seen only as an endorsement of the current unfair system. Labour will bring in amendments to improve that situation. Given what the Secretary of State said earlier, will he support us in those amendments?
Recreational fishing also has an important role to play in the development of our coastal towns. The Angling Trust believes that many towns could prosper by attracting anglers who would travel right across the UK and from overseas to take advantage of top-class angling in healthy, well-managed waters.
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. She talks about quotas and about who holds quotas. I have actually written to the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee for an inquiry into who holds quotas, where they got the quota from and where a quota might be better distributed, including the idea of community quotas and the geographical share of quotas. Is she supportive of such an idea?
We are looking for the Government to address the historic imbalance and inequality in the fishing industry that these quotas show. The companies that we have looked at have benefited from a system that has led to a long-term consolidation of quota into the hands of a very few operators. We are very keen to look at ways in which that can be changed.
May I take my hon. Friend back to the point that she was making about the impact of austerity on coastal communities? Does she not accept that, given the success of co-operatives, there might be an opportunity, through this Bill, to promote the co-operative sector in the fishing industry a little bit more, not least because one of the great things about co-operatives is that the surplus they generate stays within the local community?
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. Obviously, she is talking about coastal communities. Does she recognise—unfortunately, I was unable to make this point with the Secretary of State—that processors will not have a bonanza? If they are trapped having to pay 11% to 12% to land filleted and processed fish in Europe, but can land their fish directly to fish processors in Poland, harbours, markets, ice producers and processors will crumble. Certainly, the fishing associations on my coast do not support the Scottish Fishing Federation. The Clyde Fishermen’s Association and the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation are not happy with this notion that all Scottish fishermen support Brexit—they do not.
The hon. Lady was starting to make a good case for recreational angling before she was dragged away by colleagues who wanted to talk about commercial landings. Recreational angling accounts for about £2 billion into the economy, whereas commercial fishing accounts for about £200 million. If we want to maximise the UK’s fish stocks, as I am sure that we do, we need to focus on recreational angling and the value of recreational angling, and we need to have fish species that are largely kept back for recreational anglers.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that very well-made point. Yes, I support exactly what he is saying. We know that the Secretary of State also recognised in his speech the importance of recreational angling. If we are to achieve the goals that we are talking about, can the Secretary of State confirm that he intends to bring forward future measures to support recreational sea angling? If so, can he provide us with some details on those plans today?
Ministers, when questioned about their support for our smaller-scale fishing communities, often point to the coastal communities fund. Members may be interested to know that, in response to a parliamentary question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch), it was revealed that only about 6% of the fund has been awarded to the fishing sector to date. If the Government really think that fishing is the lifeblood of coastal communities, why do they not back this up with the funding that the industry so desperately needs?
I am listening to the hon. Lady with great interest, but I am finding it very difficult to reconcile the issue of fishing generally with the demise of coastal communities. Does she not agree that, just as in rural areas, it is not just the issues surrounding agriculture and fishing that contribute to a decline in coastal communities; it is tourism, lack of a manufacturing base and the brain drain? When we look in her own constituency, for example, any increase in the fishing industry will not help the village of Flimby, as it needs a greater package than just additional resources for the fishing industry, which she seems to be advocating.
Well, of course, any kind of regeneration needs to cover a number of different areas, but we know that fishing would regenerate many, many coastal communities if we were able to land more fish into British ports and if we were able to change quotas. The Secretary of State has said that we have a huge opportunity here to regenerate our coastal communities through investing in fishing, but, obviously, we must have other funding as well, which is why I mentioned earlier the importance of tourism.
Let me turn now to trade. I understand that around 80% of what we catch, we export, and that 70% of the fish that we eat, we import, yet in the Bill there is no mention of trade, customs or tariffs. Labour’s commitment to membership of a customs union would reassure both processors and catchers that they could invest in their industry safe in the knowledge that they would have tariff-free access to the European markets.
I want to talk briefly about the marine environment. Labour welcomes the language in the Bill about reducing the environmental impacts of fishing, but the Bill provides only a vague future framework and does little to explain exactly what this would look like.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the marine environment. She knows that the EU banned electric pulse fishing and then gave a 10-year derogation for Dutch boats—I think, 100 of them—to carry on with it. This really is ruining the ecosystem and the Bill does not ban it. Is this something that my hon. Friend might seek to put into the Bill in Committee?
Yes, my hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I can confirm that we will absolutely look at this matter in Committee.
We are asking for more detail about discard charges as well as the environmental and sustainability objectives around maximum sustainable yield fisheries management. Labour would go further on environmental protections than the provisions outlined in the Bill and would categorically oppose any move away from a science-led, ecosystems-based approach. As my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) mentioned, there is only a vague reference to MSY in the Bill, and no clear roadmap on when and how this can be achieved. We would like to know whether Ministers are still committed to it as we leave the EU. We believe that stocks should at least meet this standard by 2020 and will seek to bring that into the Bill if the Government do not.
Will the Secretary of State respond to the concerns of environmental groups such as Sustain that are worried that the Bill’s objective to gradually eliminate discards is far weaker and slower than the EU’s commitment to end discarding completely within a set deadline? This is an important point.
I think it would be reassuring to the House to know that the Opposition share our disdain for the common fisheries policy, which has allowed foreign potentates to devise a policy, paradoxically, that is simultaneously bad for fishermen and bad for fish. The Secretary of State set out his view about how we can improve on that. Presumably Labour would want to join us in condemning the CFP.
I am trying to make it clear that we are not opposing the Bill; we really do want to work with the Government to improve it and make it better for both the fishing industry and coastal communities.
Importantly, we have been told that environmental standards are not going to be weakened after Brexit. However, we are concerned that the Bill could allow the UK to fall behind where we would be as a member of the EU, so we want to ensure that this is tightened up and clear. On the international level, we would boost support for an ambitious new UN treaty for the high seas. The Government must stand up for our sea life by leading efforts for large-scale international protection—a goal that has been limited to date by the ineffectiveness of the existing regulatory framework. British diplomacy is vital to fill this gap, and I hope that Ministers are taking this very seriously.
As we leave the EU, it is right that we put in place the framework to ensure that any deal on fishing can be implemented, but, as have I said, we have concerns that the Bill falls short in a number of areas. There is no strategy to redistribute our existing quota so that the small-scale, often family-owned, boats can get a fairer slice of the pie. There is no provision for dealing with future trade uncertainty, nor any mention of customs or border arrangements. And despite the Secretary of State’s assurances, the Bill does not set out the full details on how we will manage our seas more responsibly. Without sustainable management of operations, there will be no fish and no fishing industry, so it is disappointing there is no commitment to getting stocks to a maximum sustainable yield by 2020.
What we are discussing today is fundamental to the future of British fishing, and it is crucial that we get the Bill right. I hope that the Secretary of State will take on board the real concerns that I have outlined. Earlier he mentioned the opportunity ahead of us to refine and improve the Bill. I would ask that he works constructively with the Opposition to make those improvements.
It is a great pleasure to speak in this fishing debate, and I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s speech. On this grey November day in this House, where we seem to have little to cheer us up at the moment, fishing is one of the things that we can cheer ourselves up with, because we now have the opportunity to get more fish, for our fishermen and under-10 metre fleet to have more quota, and for anglers to access more fish, which is another great economic opportunity. There will also be more fish for our processors to process.
The whole thing about bringing back control of our fishing is that we can actually put right the wrongs that happened about 40 years ago. There is no doubt—those of us in and around coastal constituencies know this full well—that if anybody suffered when we went into the then Common Market, it was our fishing industry. As we consider the Fisheries Bill, let us make sure that we right those wrongs and get our stocks back, and ensure that those who fish in our waters—if we allow them to do so—fish under our rules and regulations. Let us ensure that we have a sustainable fishing policy.
I very much welcome the fact that the fisheries White Paper says:
“Fisheries will be a separate strand of our future relationship with the EU.”
For far too long our fisheries have been controlled by the EU under the CFP, and for too long our fishermen have been managed as a single EU exclusive economic zone. The Bill gives us the framework to take control of our waters, to come out of the CFP and to become an independent coastal state. The UK alone will be responsible for our exclusive economic zone of some 200 miles or the median line. Now we need to make sure that the Bill works. However, it can be improved, and I welcome the fact that the Labour party is taking a positive view on the Bill, because it always helps when there is not too much of a great political divide across the House.
It is not clear to me what practical arrangements the Government have made for enforcement when foreign fishing boats have access to our waters, because there is no doubt—under a no-deal Brexit, or any other Brexit that we achieve—that we will need to ensure that we have control of our waters. We also have to ensure that the cameras and systems on the boats that monitor fishing are working and not being switched off. Those systems not only cover quantities of fish and who is fishing, but work very well as far as discards are concerned. If ever there was a benefit of coming out of the CFP, is it with regard to discards. Not only is it a huge waste of resource to throw back into the sea good, healthy fish, most of which will die and probably putrefy the sea bed, but it is important that we land all the fish that are caught, as that means that we can have a proper monitor of what is in the sea and what is being caught so that we know that the science is absolutely right. Those of us who have been involved in fishing for many years, as many Members have, will find that while the scientists say one thing, the fishermen will tell us that they could walk to America on the back of cod because there are so many in the sea. There may be a slight exaggeration, but I think that Members get the gist of my argument.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. The root of the disjunction between science and the industry is the fact that the advice that is given is often based on data that are very old—almost two years old by the time they are used for decision making. Does he agree that in this brave new world of fisheries management, one of our first priorities ought to be the quick and dirty use of the data that are being harvested by the scientists?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention—he is right. I think that DEFRA is working much more with fishermen, and they will need to work more closely to ensure that the collection of that information happens more quickly. We also need to learn from the monitoring of how fish are caught and what is happening on the fishing boats, because all this is important. There needs to be trust between the fishermen and DEFRA officials, because that is sometimes lacking. There is a great deal that can be positive. I know that the Secretary of State and our Fisheries Minister are really driving towards that, and I think we can do it.
My hon. Friend makes a really good point. Fish will move, perhaps because of water temperature or where the food is. Also, of course, they do not always swim together. Cod swim together and haddock swim together, so we can go out and make sure that we catch only one species of fish, but other types of fish swim separately, and we will often catch many species. That is especially the case in the south-west waters, where we are very much a mixed fishery, and that is why the discards are so important. We do not want the fishermen to target particular species, but we want them to be able to catch fish and land it all. The challenge is going to be making sure that we recompense fishermen for delivering fish that they did not have the quota to catch, but do not stimulate them into catching fish that they perhaps should not be catching.
As always, my hon. Friend speaks great sense on fishing, and so she should, given her knowledge of it. Zonal attachment is an interesting way of looking at this. When we are managing our own waters, we should be able to manage that much more quickly, so that an area that can be fished can be opened up, or if an area needs to be closed down, for reasons of the environment or fish breeding, we can do so much more quickly.
Further to the point about zonal attachment, does my hon. Friend agree with Brixham fishermen that sprats would be an ideal kind of species to look at, because 90% of them are caught within the 12-mile limit but we have only 52% of the total allowable catch? Does he agree that that would be a much more sensible way to proceed?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. By moving to a different system, we perhaps remove ourselves from some of the existing quota restrictions. Because those are historical, and because we did not necessarily get a good deal—far from it—when we went into the common fisheries policy, we have the opportunity to do this.
I thank my hon. Friend, who is being very generous with his time. He may or may not be aware that in 2015 Conservative MEPs tried to force the European Union to allow individual member states to use European fisheries funding to help fishing communities to implement the discard ban on the quayside. As we are now coming out of the CFP, will he join me in urging DEFRA and the devolved authorities to use the funding that they have to help to implement these new regulations on the quayside, because we are leaving it up to individual fishermen and organisations to do a lot of the work themselves, and some are working to very tight budgets?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. This is about how we help these fishermen. Can a certain amount of help be given regarding the fuel needed to bring back the fish? What is the value of the fish when it is brought in? Is it going to be sold on the open market, and do we then put a super-levy on it so that bringing it back is not too attractive? These are some of the issues that I am sure that our Fisheries Minister and Secretary of State will deal with in due course, if not necessarily in the Bill.
My hon. Friend is displaying that his grasp of fisheries is at least as great as his grasp of farming. As he develops this thesis, which is essentially about replacing discards and quotas with closed areas and other measures to preserve fish stocks, will he say a word about industrial fishing? While it is true that fishermen should be able to keep what they catch, industrial fishing sweeps the ocean floor, and the CFP has been singularly ineffective at dealing with its environmental consequences.
My right hon. Friend makes an interesting point. We were talking earlier about pulse fishing, which is used in particular by the Dutch. That causes huge damage to not only the seabed but, potentially, fish stocks. I often think that going out to fish should be much more a question of licking a finger to see which way the wind is blowing, but it does not work like that anymore. We use huge sonar equipment so that we know exactly where the fish are, and we can hoover them up in massive amounts. As we fish, we therefore have to be careful that we keep the stocks sustainable. I always say that the difference between fishing and farming is that with farming, we can at least replace the stock if we want to, but fish are a wild stock and must be bred in the sea, so we cannot take out too many fish if we want to keep the stock sustainable. Those are very good points.
You probably do not want me to go on for too much longer, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I will do my level best to move on quickly. We need more clarity in the Bill about the practical arrangements, which we have talked about a lot, and I look forward to seeing more detail. In particular, I am concerned that fisheries might get bogged down in unnecessary bureaucracy. Many of these companies are made up of five employees or fewer, so we must ensure that the burden of bureaucracy is as small as possible.
There are concerns that once we have left the EU, we will no longer have an automatic right to land fish in any EU ports. That interesting point has already been raised today. While I am very enthusiastic about our getting out of the common fisheries policy and getting back these stocks of fish, we have to ensure not only that we have access to EU markets, but that too much of our fish is not landed in EU ports, because we have to make the best of the processing. All these things are essential. I know that some of them are not covered in the detail of the Bill, but they need to be recommended.
I feel that we can do a much better job with our own Fisheries Bill and by taking back control of our waters. Our fishermen, fish processors and anglers can and must have a better deal. I am sure that the Secretary of State and Ministers are aware that there is a huge expectation that we are going to do much better as an independent coastal state than as part of the common fisheries policy. Let us welcome the Bill, make a few little alterations that might be necessary, and do a much better job than has been done in the past under the CFP.
I would like to start with a couple of points that arose from listening to the Secretary of State’s speech. First, he claimed that the SNP has not opposed the CFP and, in fact, wanted the UK to remain in the CFP. He clearly does not recall the Fisheries Jurisdiction Bill 2004, promoted by then Member Alex Salmond and signed by the right hon. Members for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) and for Belfast North (Nigel Dodds) and some Tory and Labour MPs.
For the avoidance of doubt, that was a Bill designed to see the UK leave the CFP, in the name of the right hon. Alex Salmond, the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Nigel Dodds), the late Eddie McGrady, Elfyn Llwyd and Tory and Labour MPs. Does that not rather make a mockery of what the Secretary of State said earlier and show what a tenuous grasp of reality he has?
It certainly points to some short memories in this place.
Secondly, in March, the Secretary of State said that the Government had accepted a sub-optimal outcome for fishing in the Brexit negotiations. Will he tell us whether he still thinks that is so, and whether that view is reflected in the Bill? I look forward to that being addressed in the Minister’s closing words.
Could the hon. Lady give us a history lesson about what a former Member of this House did? Does she agree with me that my predecessor as the Member of Parliament for Moray, in the most recent general election campaign—[Interruption.] I notice she is getting a whisper from the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie). In the general election campaign last year, when asked umpteen times on the BBC whether the Scottish National party would agree to go back into the CFP if Scotland became independent and wanted to get back into the EU, my predecessor said yes. The party’s sole aim is to go back into the CFP.
On our terms, of course. That is the point the hon. Gentleman is leaving out.
If we are looking for a history lesson, let us remind ourselves about the Tories, who have been selling out Scottish fishing for nearly half a century. Under Ted Heath in the 1970s, fisheries were considered expendable. In the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher, the UK Government signed us up to the original doomed common fisheries policy, which consigned our fishermen to decades of mismanagement. John Major’s Tories signed up to a revised common fisheries policy in the 1990s, which scrapped vessels and destroyed livelihoods. In the 21st century, the Tories were attempting to enshrine the common fisheries policy in European treaties, while the SNP was trying to return controls to the fishing nations. Let us not forget that, very recently, Ruth Davidson was reported in The Times as calling fisheries a red line issue, and a Scottish Tory source was quoted as saying:
“We won a lot of votes in the northeast on the back of our stance on fishing and wouldn’t be able to show our faces in Banff and Buchan if we renege on this one.”
Does my hon. Friend not agree with me that the Scottish Tory MPs have made 20-gallon galoots of themselves with their resigning/non-resigning nonsense? I do not know if she knows exactly where they are just now, but are they going to be in or oot when all this has concluded?
I am as baffled as my hon. Friend on that particular issue; that is for sure.
Returning to my speech, I think the context of this Bill has changed somewhat as a result of the withdrawal agreement. Some of the content of that agreement makes some of the apparent intent of the Bill a little more difficult to deliver and more dependent on negotiation and agreement with the 27 remaining members of the EU.
Having said that, let me pay tribute to the EFRA Secretary for staying the course and being determined to see things through to their conclusion. That seems to be a principle or a staying power that is somewhat lacking in his colleagues—erstwhile colleagues, I should say. They may have fallen by the wayside, weary of the march, but he carries on indefatigably. I understand that his father, as he mentioned, was involved in the onshore side of the industry, so he certainly comes to the Bill with some knowledge, but with a rather poor recall of facts if the newspapers are to be believed.
I acknowledge that the Secretary of State comes to the table with a backstory—if not a backstop—but that does not mean that he necessarily comes with the solutions the industry needs. The withdrawal agreement that was greeted with such delight by Government Members keeps our fishing industry in the common fisheries policy for a further two years after Brexit day, although of course our lack of membership means that the EU will decide the rules, while we have no say in them, no say in how they should be implemented and no voice in the discussions about whether the CFP is meeting its policy objectives.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Obviously, the SNP has persistently voted against the common fisheries policy in the European Parliament, as the records show, as well as in this Parliament. My other point is: has the Secretary of State given her any reassurances about the customs union, which is critical for this excellent produce to get to its markets on the European continent?
May I mount a bit of shameless lobbying? To tackle illegal lobster potting, the Scottish Government have put a limit on recreational lobster fishermen, such as myself, of one lobster landing a day on the west coast of Scotland. As the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil), who represents Barra, will know, it is often very difficult to get your boat out more than once every four or five days. Will the hon. Lady ask the Scottish Government whether, instead of putting on a limit of one lobster a day, they will look at a limit on the number of pots a recreational fisherman can have—say, five or six—beyond which they would need to get a licence?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I am certain that the Scottish Government will be closely following the debate and that they will make a note of his request.
If the steady stream of Ministers heading for the exit delays negotiations on the future relationship between the UK and the EU, we could find ourselves in an extended period where our fishing industry just complies with the rules, rather than having someone in the room standing up for it. Mr Barnier has already suggested that it will last for at least two years, which could be an underestimate if we consider how long it took to reach the much simpler withdrawal agreement.
We may have to suffer the CFP for quite a few years to come and it may change to the advantage of the remaining members of the EU, and not to ours. We may lose markets to sell fish into, or at the very least, find that our competitive advantage disappears because we will be subject to the same tariffs as other non-member states. I hope they will be the same tariffs, but going by the poor negotiation results that we have seen so far, we may end up with higher tariffs that reduce our fleet’s traditional competitive advantage.
It will not come to that, of course, because the new fishing deal has already been written into the withdrawal agreement by the departing Brexit Secretary. On page 4, the political declaration tells us that he has agreed to a new fisheries agreement with access to UK waters and assigned quota shares being
“in place in time to be used for determining fishing opportunities for the first year after the transition period.”
That means the common fisheries policy will carry on regulating our fishing fleets after we have left the EU. Taking back control has never sounded so hollow.
It is a sad state of affairs for this Secretary of State to have to deliver that news, because in March he said that he feels a
“debt to fishing communities who are looking to government to deliver a better deal for them”
and promised that he would ensure that our
“fishermen’s interests are properly safeguarded”
during the implementation period. That period starts on 29 March and lasts for an indeterminate amount of time, during which access to some important markets might be limited. France, for example, is the UK’s most important export market for fish. It is nearly twice as lucrative in cash terms as the US, and almost three times as strong in export volumes. Spain, by the way, is just behind the US in cash terms and slightly ahead in volume. Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands and Germany are all significant customers for our fishing fleets. Two thirds of our fleet’s fish is exported—perhaps a case of EU citizens jumping the queue to buy fish.
Once the deals are done and we finally leave the CFP, however, we will still be in it. It is a conjuror’s trick, and not a good one. Last year, the Secretary of State spoke to leaders of the Danish industry and guaranteed them continued access to our waters after Brexit. Earlier this year, the UK embassy in Spain reassured Spanish trawlers that their access to UK waters was assured. The withdrawal agreement replaces common decision-making on the CFP as a member of the EU with CFP rules handed down from Brussels and no input from Ministers from these isles on behalf of the industry here. Well done to the Brexiteers—they certainly landed a whopper there.
The Norwegians sometimes describe their relationship with the EU as a “fax democracy”, because the rules just come down the line from Brussels. That seems to be what removing ourselves from the EU will do, except, of course, that the European maritime and fisheries fund money will vanish. We have heard nothing about what might replace that in due course.
We will be left to accept the rules that are handed down; we will lose access to the decision-making body and the funding from the EU; and we will have to deal with the consequences of the Government’s poor negotiation techniques and the uniquely weak position that they have left us in. When the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food gave evidence to the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee 26 months ago, he said that
“we have to recognise historic rights…In some sectors, for instance on scallops, access to the French part of the channel is quite important to the UK industry. I accept there are trade-offs. All these things will be a matter for negotiation in a new world.”
During the referendum campaign, the Secretary of State for Scotland said:
“I think the fishermen are wrong in the sense there is no way we would just go back to Scotland or Britain controlling British waters. There are a whole host of international rules and agreements even if we were outside the EU which would impact on their activities.”
Then of course there is the same problem agriculture has in relation to workforce planning. We will lose access to EU workers, who make up 58% of Scotland’s fish processing workforce and 70% in Grampian, where the Secretary of State’s family business was based.
Scotland’s seafood and fishing industries could be destroyed without access to EU markets. Scotland’s processing industry could be irreversibly damaged without access to EU workers. We also have to consider Scottish farmed salmon, the UK’s most valuable food export, and how losing the market advantage over Norwegian salmon that EU membership gives us could be utterly devastating. Scotland stands to lose a lot without access and there is little indication of how any of it might be replaced.
Fishermen in the north-east are often quoted as saying that more fish will be consumed in the UK, rather than exported. In my constituency, however, the south-west Scotland market consists of nephrops, crustaceans, langoustine and lobster. Some 85% are exported to the European market. It might well be that we all eat a little bit more white fish after Brexit, but I cannot see anybody being in a financial situation where they are going to be eating more lobster.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point and I am delighted that she brings up the interests of the south-west part of the country.
Once more, Scotland’s needs are massively different to the needs of England. Once more, we cannot have the Scottish industry locked into a rigid framework that will satisfy the English industry. Fishing, of course, has been a devolved matter since 1999 and the responsibility for nearly all the policy area rests in Edinburgh. I think the Government acknowledge as much, with the legislative consent motion they have asked for at Holyrood.
The industry cannot be squeezed into the same box as the English industry, but I appreciate the desirability of common frameworks to allow co-operative working on various issues—kind of like the EU managed with the CFP. Where such frameworks are sought and agreed by both sides they will be mutually beneficial, but they cannot be imposed. They must recognise the devolution settlement and respect it. There must be an element of trust that runs between Whitehall and Holyrood. Her Majesty’s Government must allow Scotland’s Government to govern in the devolved areas and this Parliament must allow Scotland’s Parliament to legislate in devolved areas.
This is a characteristically divisive speech from the hon. Lady. On the subject of division, can she explain how, under Scottish National party policy, Scotland will be better served when it has to go into negotiation with England for access to its waters, and how Scotland would somehow get a better result under the SNP policy when it has to negotiate with Europe alone and trade with an even smaller WTO box?
I am always amused when Scottish Tories stand up to talk about divisiveness and accuse the SNP of being divisive about anything.
Returning to a more serious subject, in general the provisions in the Bill that relate to this area seem to fit those provisions, and, while I reserve the right to check that I am correct in thinking that, I welcome the drafting of the Bill in this respect.
I cannot offer the same welcome to some other aspects of the Bill, such as the setting of quotas. Quotas for Scotland’s waters should be set in Scotland, just as quotas for English waters should be set in England and Welsh waters in Wales. That is devolution. I am sure the Minister or any Government Members would not want the Scots and the Welsh to set quotas in Cornwall, so they will understand why Scots would not want our effort limits set here. The same applies to foreign vessels in our waters. We know that the Secretary of State has been a little free with his pledges of access to our waters, but it should more appropriately be the devolved Administrations that determine such things.
The principle upon which devolution was determined, the division of responsibilities and powers, was that anything which was not reserved was devolved. Power does not flow from here to there, but is, rather, only held here where it is written in the devolution legislation. Matters determined on an EU platform but not written into schedule 5 of the Scotland Act 1998 are devolved and should go straight to Holyrood. They will go straight to Holyrood unless there is some power grab, some clawing back of responsibility, some deliberate diminution of Scotland’s Parliament. That would be unthinkable and we should do our level best to ensure that we do not legislate across that boundary.
Let us endeavour to ensure that we can modify the Bill appropriately so that we do not overcomplicate what should be a simple process. Let us make sure that the responsibilities and powers over our fishing waters and industries rest in the most appropriate places: the devolved Administrations for the most part, and this place, when there is no choice.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock)—it is always good news when she finishes. In a competitive field, fishing is a clear winner of the stakes of the area in which the EU has shown maximum incompetence and caused maximum damage. I was made the shadow Fisheries Minister a long time ago, way back in 2004. I travelled all around the coast of the United Kingdom, down to South East Cornwall and up to Whalsay in Orkney and Shetland. I also went right across from east to west, seeing really successful fisheries in Norway, the Faroes, Iceland, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and down the coast of the United States, and I went to the Falklands. My conclusion, which I do not resile from, is that the common fisheries policy is a biological, environmental, economic and social disaster. It is beyond reform, and I do not resile from a single word of my Green Paper, written back in January 2005.
On the common fisheries policy, just in case the right hon. Gentleman should be tempted to try to rewrite history, I hope that he acknowledges that despite all the bluster that we are hearing from Government Members about the CFP, the Conservative party’s fingerprints are all over it. The Conservative party was compliant in its creation and has been actively implementing the CFP for the past 40 years. Will he acknowledge his party’s role in implementing it for the past four decades?
I remind the hon. Gentleman that this Green Paper was the policy on which we fought the 2005 general election, and his party opposed it. I will have no more humbug from the Scottish National party. We are sick to death of hearing from a party that supports the EU and then tries to weasel around on the CFP. The fishermen listening to this debate will be sick to death of this petty party political bickering. We have seen catastrophic damage to our most remote coastal communities, which could really benefit from a wonderful resource. We are world leaders in this area, yet we have allowed foreign fishermen to come in and take that resource. This resource could be a massive benefit to some of our most remote rural communities. We currently only take £900 million. That could go up to £1.5 billion to £2 billion, and if we processed the fish we could be talking about a £6 billion to £8 billion boost. That is a massively disproportionate benefit considering the remoteness of many of these rural communities.
My right hon. Friend has highlighted the role that he played as shadow Fisheries Minister, and he did a great job. I was his predecessor in that job, and throughout the period that he described, the Conservative party was resolutely and entirely convincingly—to most people at least—hostile to the CFP, when parties sitting opposite had not woken up to the problem. The Conservative party has opposed the CFP consistently; other parties have failed to wake up and see the writing on the wall.
Let us move on to what we proposed in that Green Paper, on which we fought the 2005 election. There are a whole range of points, and looking at the clock, I see that I do not have time to go through them all now, but one is absolutely key.
First, there is the insane hostility of the European Union to modern technology. In Manomet in Massachusetts, I saw really interesting work on selective gear, but when I went back to Kilkeel, I found that that was being stopped by EU regulations. That is something that we really should look at.
The other issue is the insanity of discards. What is wicked is trying to fix a really local activity at a continental level. Someone mentioned that the data on which the European Union makes its annual decisions is guaranteed to be completely inaccurate because of discards and is probably six months to two years out of date. We do not know the level of discards—it is thought to be possibly 25%. It is absolutely disgraceful.
I remember going out on a trawler from Fleetwood and seeing baby plaice being cast back, because the mesh sizes were wrong. I went with the Secretary of State to North Shields not long ago. We saw baskets of whiting—completely healthy fish—that had to be cast back. I remember during the referendum campaign going to Looe with my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray), who is a witness to the terrible suffering in the fishing industry when people cannot afford enough labour—her husband died because he was alone on a boat. We should not forget that. We saw on the harbour wall a drawing for tourists of lots of different fish, but the one fish that was not there was haddock, and what is the problem off the coast? Her constituents are catching masses of haddock, because the fish have moved, but they have to be cast back. It is absolute insanity to have a bycatch problem and to address the discards without addressing the cause of it, which is the quota system.
I learned a clear lesson in the Faroes. The situation has been modified since, using techniques such a catch composition, but I ask the Minister to promise that we will do some pilots around the coast on catch composition-based effort control, because it means working with the grain of nature. It was mandatory in the Faroes to land everything. The Fisheries Minister there said, “You may not like what you find, but at least you know what’s going on.” Our scientists do not know what is going on because we discard so much. Technology has advanced enormously, as I saw at Succorfish in North Shields, which used modern equipment to track not just the boats, but soak times, catches, and so on. If we did this using modern technology, we could monitor every single fishing boat every hour. Every fishing boat would become a scientific vessel sending back data.
I saw that in Iceland years ago now. Fisheries management there would send out radio signals, and boats around Iceland would be told to move on because there were too many discards. Way back then, the UK was doing it in the Falklands—the same management based on accurate, instant data. I appeal to the Minister. I am not thrilled with clause 23 on discard prevention charging schemes—those will be good, healthy fish that should be sold to consumers. We should work out pilot schemes for mixed fisheries. I admit that Scotland is different—pelagic fisheries probably need a quota system—but I really make that appeal.
Probably the most important issue is whether we really will take back control. That was the promise in the referendum and in our manifesto, in which we made it clear that we would take back control:
“When we leave the European Union and its Common Fisheries Policy, we will be fully responsible for the access and management of the waters where we have historically exercised sovereign control.”
I would like the Minister to address this point. He is being bombarded with a helter-skelter of questions, but I ask that he take careful note of article 56 of the UN convention on the law of the sea, relating to exclusive economic zones—as he knows, those are 200 miles or the median line. Article 56(1) reads:
“In the exclusive economic zone, the coastal State has…sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters superjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and its subsoil”.
Can the Minister absolutely guarantee that every decision affecting our marine environment, as well as that which lives in it and that which is extracted from it, will ultimately be decided by sovereign UK politicians who come to this Dispatch Box and answer to this House? Can he think of any circumstances after we have left the CFP—I would like him to tell us exactly when that will be—in which decisions would be imposed on our fishermen that ideally our politicians would like to resist? That is the nub of the CFP.
The most shocking mismanagement has been imposed on this wonderful industry and these incredibly brave people because we have always been outvoted. When I was Secretary of State—we have discussed this in respect of the common agricultural policy, too—my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), who has just left his place, bravely did his best, but we were outvoted. I want an absolute guarantee that article 56(1) of UNCLOS will prevail and that the Minister will be able to come back and be answerable to every one of us for fishing decisions. There must be no circumstances in which appalling decisions can be imposed on us once we have left. That cannot happen. If it does, we will have let down the 17.4 million, as well as the 16.3 million who voted for us in the general election, and all those Labour voters—do not forget the 85% who voted in the general election to take back control. Can he please guarantee that?
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson).
I speak as a former shadow Fisheries Minister, a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and someone who—as some Members who are present already know—grew up in Grimsby. I remember it as a bustling fishing port when I was a girl; moreover, it was the biggest in the world at that time. I remember the numerous trawlers in the docks, and the sense of pride among workers who were doing something that they knew was incredibly important: providing the nation with one of its favourite foods.
However, I also remember the decline that followed the so-called final cod war with Iceland. The devastation that it wreaked both economically and socially was vivid. I was a teenager at the time, but I remember areas, particularly around the docks—such as Freeman Street and East Marsh—suffering disastrous consequences. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) will refer to that later. Gone, too, are many of the food processing plants that lined Ladysmith Road. Findus has gone. Birds Eye has gone, no longer anchored by the town’s status as one of the greatest food towns in Europe.
It is my witness of this decline, and the fact that my father was, for a period, a deep-sea fisherman—fishing off the coast of Iceland, at Reykjavik—that gives me an understanding of why our coastal towns and fishing communities matter more than their contribution to our national GDP would suggest. At this point, I want to pay tribute to all those who died serving the fishing industry. In Grimsby, every time a trawler went down or men were washed overboard—that was the commonest cause of death—the children in their primary schools would repeat the “Fisherman’s Prayer” and sing “The Fisherman’s Hymn”. It was all too common, particularly in the 1950s, for those children to have to sing that hymn and say that prayer.
Let me now deal with the Bill. I have a number of concerns about it. First, the Government’s stated aspiration is to develop “world leading fisheries”. Clause 1 sets out how this would be developed, including objectives such as creating a sustainable industry. We would all support that, but, unfortunately, the light-touch duties placed on the authorities potentially undermine the delivery of those aspirations. For example, while the Bill rightly contains an ambitious objective to ensure that all harvested stocks are recovered to, or maintained at, a biomass above that capable of producing maximum sustainable yield, the Bill places no duty on regulatory authorities to ensure that fishing pressure is managed in a way that delivers on that objective.
We have to ask whether the Government are really committed to restoring stocks, or whether they will put political pressures first, at the expense of the science and the data available. There is a history of those pressures leading to that kind of over-exploitation of our stocks, not just in our waters, but throughout the waters of the European Union.
Secondly, there are concerns in relation to our marine environmental regulations. The fisheries White Paper acknowledged concerns about a possible “governance gap” which could threaten accountability for the implementation of the regulations. It also suggested— as have consultations on the proposed environmental principles and governance Bill—that a new independent environmental regulator should have a role in relation to the marine environment. As things stand, this Bill is opaque about how the forthcoming environment Bill will protect our marine environment and how the “governance gap” will be closed. Clarifications of those issues would be welcome as the Bill proceeds, and I hope that the Minister will comment on them when he winds up the debate.
Clause 28 will give new powers to introduce financial schemes to promote sustainable growth and to improve the marine and aquatic environment. They will replace existing powers and allow new funding schemes to replace funding currently received under the European maritime and fisheries fund. However, as the clause is currently drafted, those grant-making powers do not reference clause 1’s sustainability objectives, such as an ecosystem-based approach. That strikes me as rather strange and concerning, and, again, I would welcome clarification. I understand that the fisheries statement will reference clause 1 and the powers will come under the remit of the statement, but clarification would be welcome.
My final point relates to the very important fact that the fishing industry is not just about the catching side; there is still a very important processing and aquaculture industry alongside it, most of which, unsurprisingly, is based in or nearby fish-landing towns such as Grimsby and Immingham. Indeed, 21% of the industry is in Yorkshire and the Humber. It is an important provider of jobs in those areas, and for my home town of Grimsby, it is still an important source of employment, with some 4,200 jobs dependent on the sector. These processing plants also export much of their product into the EU, in a market worth £1.3 billion, where we still enjoy a trade surplus. It is therefore vital in the drive to create world-leading fisheries that processing is not forgotten, as so far it has been in this debate. Full tariff-free access to the single market must be retained for the industry.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right about processing, and it also requires concentration on productivity, investment in technology and making sure our processing industry is as competitive as possible. I hope that can be debated during our deliberations on the Bill and included in the Government’s objectives.
I do not disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. Grimsby makes some of the very best premium products in the world. One of the local fish-finger producing plants can take the fish from the moment it has landed at Immingham and have it in the lorry going to the supermarket in six hours. One of the reasons why that is possible, and why the time from the moment of departure from Iceland to getting the product in the shops is concertinaed into a minimum, is the single market. That fish is as fresh as possible and those products are as good as they are because the single market has made it possible to ensure guaranteed standards while at the same time maximising productivity.
I am not going to give way again as many Members wish to speak.
Any failure to secure access to the single market, such as by sacrificing our access to the market in return for keeping access to our waters broadly to ourselves, will represent a betrayal and could decimate processing in areas where the jobs and economic activity it provides are vital. I am convinced that the processing side of the industry, which accounts for 64% of the employment in the sector, will not want its interests to be sacrificed on the grounds that we will give no, or very limited, access to our waters to foreign vessels.
We now have a withdrawal agreement on the table alongside the political statement, giving something of an indication of the direction of travel. This political statement, however, gives only the faintest glimmer of what will happen after the transition period, which is not good enough, particularly so far as fisheries are concerned. It is also true that this Bill, like the Agriculture Bill, is enabling and contains a number of Henry VIII powers. Like others in this Chamber, I worry about the use of this mechanism given the lack of effective parliamentary scrutiny that accompanies the use of statutory instruments. I therefore hope the Government will think more carefully about this Bill and allow it to be amended to ensure it gives greater clarity on the direction of travel of our fishing industry.
First, I want to thank the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) for her tribute to the bereaved families of fishermen, and I also want to put on record my grateful thanks to the Secretary of State. My family would also like me to say thank you. I would also like to pay tribute to the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen and to the rescue services who go out in all weathers to ensure that our fishermen are safe.
The Bill provides the legal framework for the UK to operate under the United Nations convention on the law of the sea after we have left the European Union on 29 March 2019, something that my late husband and I worked towards since the late 1980s and early 1990s. However, it is important to look at the wider matter of the terms of our exit from the European Union and at the political declaration that the Prime Minister is in Brussels talking about now. I know that the terms will be a cause of concern for many of my constituents and for the fishing industry throughout the UK.
It is no secret that many people feel that the UK’s rich fishing resources were sacrificed when we joined the European Economic Community. Agreeing to the principle of equal access to a common resource—the total EU pond—at the time was in my opinion a dereliction of duty by the then Conservative Government, and I would like personally to apologise, even though I was not a Member of this House in 1972. Indeed, I was not even old enough to vote. It was a dereliction of duty, and the disastrous permanent share-out of the catch for each species in UK waters from January 1983 has left the UK fishing industry a shadow of its former self. An example is that of channel cod, of which the UK is permitted to catch 9% a year while France takes about 80%. We now face a situation in which other EU vessels take five times more in monetary value from the UK exclusive economic zone than UK vessels take from all the other EU EEZs. I have to say to the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge that the massive value of that fish could benefit the economy of the United Kingdom, but at the moment it is just being given away, with other member states coming in, catching and taking away. There is no benefit to us in that arrangement.
On the morning of 14 November, it was reported that Sabine Weyand—Michel Barnier’s deputy who leads the EU’s negotiations at a technical level—said that the UK would be forced to concede on fisheries as part of the withdrawal agreement, meaning that Britain would have to
“swallow a link between access to products and fisheries in future agreements”.
The French are leading a group of other member states in demanding a link between access to waters and a trade deal. Lots of reports have shown this, but we must not accept such a link. That would be a complete repeat of what happened in 1971 when the UK Government caved in at the last minute and allowed equal access to a common resource.
I should like to associate myself with my hon. Friend’s comments in paying tribute to the various associations and organisations that support our fishermen. Does she agree that there is no precedent anywhere for access to a third country’s natural resources forming part of a trade agreement?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. In relation to Norway and the EU, access to resources is negotiated on an annual basis and Norway has tariffs attached to its fish. There is no link there, and it is completely wrong for people to say otherwise.
I see that my Cornish colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), is in his place. I was going to ask the Secretary of State this question, but I shall ask my hon. Friend instead. Will he please ask the Secretary of State to categorically reaffirm that British fish will not be used to buy a trade deal with the EU? Will he also ensure that only the fish that United Kingdom vessels—I do mean United Kingdom vessels, because Scottish vessels will benefit from this as well, as will those from Wales and Northern Ireland—cannot catch will be made available to other nations? Can he also assure me that, because the catch levels of the UK fleet have been artificially deflated since 1983, allowance will be made for UK fishermen to realise their total catching capacity?
The NFFO would like the Government to establish a formal advisory council to guide policy, promote collaboration between central Government, the devolved Administrations and the industry, and allow an ongoing dialogue in what is a naturally variable industry. An advisory council could play a leading role in the use of secondary legislation to ensure an agile and responsive approach to fisheries management.
It is understandable that the Bill refers to maximum sustainable yield as an approach to sustainable fisheries management. However, if maximum sustainable yield is set as a rigid, time-bound objective, it will prove unworkable. We have seen that happen time and again, and the CFP is the prime example. Setting quotas for sustainable fisheries management in mixed fisheries must take into account a number of different, and sometimes competing, factors. In an earlier intervention, I mentioned zonal attachment, which is an important new way of looking at fisheries management and the assessment of stocks.
Where agreement between fisheries administrations cannot be reached, some sort of approach is needed that allows appeal. It would be useful if the Minister considered putting in place a dispute resolution system that would not impact on fisheries.
I have a few asks for the Minister. Will he look at clause 42, particularly subsections (3) and (5). We need a date for when the provisions come into force, because the fishing industry needs to be able to plan. It has accepted that the implementation period will not end until 31 December 2020, but it would be reassured if we inserted the words “no later than 31 December 2020” into those two subsections.
To sum up, setting aside the complex and controversial questions surrounding parliamentary approval for the withdrawal agreement, much still hinges on the negotiations ahead. The UK’s legal status has altered and its leverage in fisheries negotiations has changed dramatically, but unless that new status is used to address the distortions in quota shares, fishermen will question what it has all been for. English fishermen in the channel have struggled with a 9% share of the cod quota, compared with France’s 84% share—it has been exactly the same for haddock, which my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) mentioned.
To deliver the fair share of fishing opportunities that they rightly see as theirs, British fishermen, in this second round, will expect our negotiators to be as tough, astute and hard-nosed as they need to be to realise the benefits of our new status as an independent coastal state. I really hope that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have got that message from fishermen today.
Scotland has 8.4% of the UK population and 60% of the total catch, so fisheries are hugely important to ports such as Fraserburgh on the east coast, Lerwick in the north, Kinlochbervie in the west and, of course, on my own islands on the west coast. Fishing News, a great newspaper to read at the weekend in my constituency, had an article this week stating that the annual turnover of UK fisheries has hit £1 billion for the first time, which is remarkable. Fisheries are about 0.5% of UK GDP.
As Chair of the International Trade Committee, I am often told that sectors bigger than fisheries do not get the same attention, but in coastal communities we know why fisheries get such attention. They are integral to the lives we lead and to the people we know. Indeed, the Secretary of State mentioned the lives lost at sea in his opening remarks, and I personally know people who have lost their lives at sea working as fishermen.
I worked as a fisherman a number of years ago, although not for long, over the summer, which is the right time of year to work in fisheries. I have always had sympathy for the guys who fish all year round. Fisheries are vital, and it is vital that we get this right. We know things have been wrong in the past, and there is a lot of expectation management happening at the moment—and it probably needs to happen.
The largest fishery organisation by membership in Scotland, the Western Isles Fishermen’s Association, has flagged a number of things as important and, as the MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, it is right that I repeat them. Those with Facebook friends in the Hebrides will know that at the weekend a large bluefin tuna washed ashore on a beach in Tolsta, on the east coast of Lewis. Bluefin tuna are all around. Indeed, Angus Campbell from Harris was in touch yesterday with a tag of a bluefin tuna that was found around Scarista in the west of Harris, and he regularly comes across shoals of bluefin tuna on his trips to St Kilda.
We expect to see a trebling of the allowable catch of bluefin tuna to 38,000 tonnes, and we are now seeing a lot of tuna in our waters, now seemingly all year round if a bluefin tuna has washed up in Tolsta in November, so our big ask—or our moderate ask—is that we have access to that allowable catch, as the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) said, both for catch and release for sporting use and for catch and sale. If the allowable catch is increasing threefold, surely one of the benefits we might see from this upheaval is that we have such access, because bluefin tuna are becoming increasingly plentiful in our waters.
The Western Isles Fishermen’s Association, through its excellent secretary Duncan MacInnes, has done a power of work over the past few years, and it raises a number of areas of concern. There is a concern about the over-10 metre fleet. The Highlands and Islands development board, which some will remember from years past, gave grants for an awful lot of vessels to be built, and some of those vessels are still catching and still contributing. There is a need to upgrade, to reinstate and to reconsider how exactly we retool and re-equip coastal communities to make sure they are ready to catch.
Western Isles Council runs a loan scheme in conjunction with the banks, and it has a very low failure rate, but we are looking for the Government to introduce a business loan guarantee scheme to assist the fishing industry, with similar terms to those offered in other industries.
The Western Isles Fishermen’s Association also refers to access to quota opportunities, and it notes that in the last 40 years the fleet has reduced from 273 vessels to 220, and the number of fishermen is down from 499 to 377. In addition, whereas pelagic and whitefish landings used to account for 97.5% by volume and 73% by value in 1973, the position now is that shellfish account for 96% by volume and 90% by value.
An Eriskay fisherman once told me, “I can remember a time when I sold off my rights to fish mackerel and herring to 20 boats and to 50 families on the east coast of Scotland.” I have written to the Chair of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ask that the Committee looks into who holds the quota, where they got the quota from and whether the quota might be better distributed and, of course, that it considers the idea of community and geographical quotas. Community quotas have worked very well indeed in other areas.
A prickly area that has not been properly touched on is seal management. I cannot resile from mentioning the volume of seals and the amount of fish they are taking. There is a colony of about 30,000 seals around the Monach islands, west of Uist. The annual consumption is 2.5 tonnes per seal, so an estimated 75,000 tonnes of fish are being eaten. A very conservative estimate of the value of that fish is about £1,000 per tonne, so we are talking about some £75 million of fish. I put this suggestion out there for people to ponder, but we could have a seal management plan that might involve something like contraceptive darts to limit the number of seals, because their numbers are out of balance with the marine environment. Perhaps a lack of killer whales is our concern and an issue in that area.
I mentioned the spurdog to the Secretary of State—he looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights and I had to say the word twice. The spurdog is a dogfish with a particular spur on its dorsal fin. It is often caught in bycatches at the moment; it cannot be landed and cannot be used. Fishermen have sent me photographs of 20 or 100 boxes of spurdog that they have caught. In this winter period—probably from about now until March—spurdog will regularly turn up in the nets. At one point when I was fishing, they were not great to spot with sonar—because of the lack of a swim bladder—although that might be different now, but they are certainly ending up in nets by accident. They are a nuisance to clear and fishermen cannot land them, despite their having value in other countries, so let us make sure something happens on this issue of spurdog.
One thing I want to mention is the expectation management that will probably be required. I can see from Government Members that Brexit will never be great for Brexiteers who have envisaged Brexit in a slightly different form, but in Iceland there has been a change in fisheries. Some 80 or 90 years ago, 24% or 25% of the Icelandic population were involved in fisheries, but now the figure is about 4%, and that is due to technology. Iceland wants to see fewer people involved in fisheries. The fishing concern HB Grandi, which is based in Reykjavik, wants to see itself with even fewer fishing boats than at present, such is the way technology is moving. Its fishing boats are very different from those we see; they are about the size of car ferries, and on board there are hot tubs and so on.
I see nods of knowledge from one Conservative Member.
Similarly, the Faroe Islands has managed to change a number of things. It recently introduced a concept in law under the Fisheries Minister, Høgni Hoydal, who was mentioned by the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), whereby the fish that swim in Faroese waters are the property of the Faroese people. The idea of fish being the property of the people of the relevant jurisdictions might be a useful thing for our jurisdictions in the United Kingdom.
I come on to one of the big things in fisheries. I received a text message before I got up to speak from Donald Joseph Maclean at Barratlantic, who is a first cousin once removed of mine, asking whether there is any movement on the EEA fishermen and getting guys on boats. We have been talking all summer to the Secretary of State and to the Home Office, but where the UK has got control it has done nothing. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid), the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and I all went to the Home Office to ask for this in May or June, but nothing has happened. We have lost a lot of money this summer because the Home Office, where the UK Government have control, has not taken its hands out of its pockets to help fisheries. Indeed, I was told in the Home Office, “Angus, it is our Conservative manifesto on one hand and the economy on the other.” What is the answer? It is the economy, surely. But no, months later, nothing has been done, and that is absolutely negligent. I hope that if Donald Joseph Maclean is watching, this will at least help his blood pressure on this issue, because it is fair near bursting at times.
If we look at where this is going, we see that it is not going to be the headline figure the hon. Lady states. I hope that she wants the UK Government to replace absolutely any loss of subsidy and grants from the EU, because that is going to be a big concern of fishermen. As a young fisherman in Castlebay told me, “I am lucky: I have got a fishing boat, through help from the European Union. Will that remain afterwards?” I said, “The Tories are in charge. I cannot guarantee that one at all.”
We have to think about our access to markets as well, and we have to be worried about a sell-out. We need to remember that when David Cameron went to Europe to try to find concessions, fisheries were nowhere near where he or the Conservatives were looking—not a cheep was heard. It was all about migrants but, as I have just said, we need migrants. We need people who come to help us on our boats and who work in our communities—they are very important. If one thing comes out from this debate, it should be that the Scottish National party has a big welcome for people who want to come and work in Scotland. We would have more people. My community wants them; my Government want them; my local council wants them; my local processing sector wants them; and my local fishing boats want them. Only one office in London—the Home Office—is stopping people from coming, to the economic detriment of my community.
We should think of the patriotism that crops up in fisheries debates. Let us have some patriotism in landings as well. We must also think about aquaculture and about salmon, which accounts for a huge part of our industry. We have to be sure that nothing is stopped at borders. Once, at Prime Minister’s questions, I asked the Prime Minister about shellfish exports being stopped on lorries—she, too, was like a rabbit in the headlights. She did not quite understand that the catch goes live to France and Spain, because they pay the top prices. If we do not get to those markets, we will not replace them in the United Kingdom, because people here will not pay the price that is paid elsewhere for crab and shellfish, so we will see a loss. The £1 billion that I mentioned earlier would be lost and would not be as large an amount in subsequent years. The Government who are treading this path have a real responsibility. For years they ran along with the common fisheries policy and did not take anything on board, but now they take a different tack. We are watching what they are doing very closely, and we will watch them with a beady eye in the years to come.
Order. Members have not been too bad at sticking to the time limit suggested earlier, but as the House can see, a great many people still wish to speak. I would like to try to impose a voluntary time limit of six minutes. [Interruption.] I appreciate that this is a bit of a surprise for the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid), who has much to say on this subject, so I shall not hold him to six minutes, but everyone else is now warned.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker; I appreciate that, as I had already tried to pare down my speech to the 10 minutes suggested earlier.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Na h -Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil). As he mentioned, he, the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who unusually is not in the Chamber, and I have the same consistent issue of access not to EU labour—this is not a Brexit issue—but to the non-EEA labour on which the fishing industry has become dependent over the years.
I welcome this opportunity to speak about the Bill, and I welcome the Secretary of State’s opening speech. The fisheries sector is hugely significant in my constituency of Banff and Buchan. Peterhead is the largest white fish port in Europe, and a little further up the coast is the port of Fraserburgh. They are the two largest towns in my constituency. A little further around the coast is the smaller—but no less significant to its local community—port of Macduff. In terms of tonnage, almost half the fish landed by UK-registered boats is landed in my constituency.
Not just fishermen, but the wider communities around the coast of my constituency and of the UK have lost a great deal over the decades we have been in the common fisheries policy. There has been not only a loss of livelihood, the scrapping of boats and the closure of businesses, but fundamentally a loss of what identifies these coastal communities and the people who live there, who remember what once was. Quite rightly, the people in these communities look forward to making the most of the sea of opportunity presented by our leaving the EU and the CFP.
Everyone who speaks in this debate, and those watching in fishing communities around the UK, are keenly aware that Parliament will soon review the proposed EU withdrawal agreement, the impact on fisheries of which is not insignificant. It is therefore difficult to discuss the Bill without referring to the withdrawal agreement, the outline political declaration, or any new future fisheries agreement. I am very much aware of concerns expressed by fishing interests in my constituency and beyond. I have been reviewing the text of the agreement, as well as taking on board input from members of the fishing community, industry representatives and trade bodies, among a host of various stakeholders. My Scottish Conservative colleagues and I have made our position clear to the Government, and we look forward to working with Ministers to find a resolution to the range of concerns raised.
The variety of concerns can be summed up in two words: timings and leverage. On timings, we will leave the EU in March 2019, and when we do so, we leave the common fisheries policy. That is not a political decision, but a matter of legality—we cannot be in the CFP if we are not in the EU. Likewise, we cannot be in the EU, which would be the position of Opposition Members, and not in the CFP.
The agreement states that we enter an implementation period at that point, with that period ending on 31 December 2020. As others have mentioned, it would be welcome if clause 42 included the phrase “no later than December 2020”, because by that time, we must be in a position in which we have completed our first negotiations as an independent coastal state in time for our beginning to realise the opportunities that that presents for the calendar year 2021.
When we first enter negotiations in December 2020, we must have the maximum possible leverage. We have seen in recent media reports from the continent that EU fishing interests are far from pleased that the text of the agreement makes no mention of retaining guaranteed automatic access to UK waters post Brexit. If we are to have the maximum possible leverage in annual coastal state negotiations from December 2020, we must resist the EU’s demands for any continued automatic access to our waters. As the Prime Minister confirmed in her response to my question on this subject last week, we must not accept the EU’s attempts to link future trade agreements with automatic access to UK waters.
I assume that the hon. Gentleman understands that the trade agreement is equally important. Clearly, it is important that we are able to get products to markets. We talk about everything being in isolation, but we must look at this in the mix, because that helps the whole sector.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I will get to that point a little later.
The Fisheries Bill itself, and the White Paper before it, has been welcomed by organisations across the industry, including the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation. This vital legislation lays the groundwork for the revival of our fishing industry outside the common fisheries policy. It is important to note that, in the event of no deal, the Bill will ensure that all UK vessels can legally continue to fish in our own waters. For example, clause 7 revokes the CFP regulation that allows EU vessels unfettered access to our waters. Clause 8 introduces the common-sense principle that any foreign vessel that wants to fish in our waters must do so on our terms. This is taking back control of our waters, and it is the basis of the British fisheries sector’s revival. Clause 9 covers those UK fishing boats that are required to be licensed, as well as stating those for which licensing will not apply.
Clause 1 defines the fisheries objectives, as many Members have said, and chief among them is the sustainability objective, which ensures that fishing and aquaculture is environmentally sustainable in the long term and managed in a way that is consistent with contributing to the economy and to food supplies. I was going to go through all the other objectives, but as I am pushed for time, I will skip them.
Clauses 9 to 17 set out rules for the licensing of UK and foreign fishing boats—I just want to cover that briefly. Although the devolved Administrations are responsible for licensing boats in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, licences issued by any UK fisheries administration will be valid across UK waters. The UK Government will agree access arrangements internationally and, although each of the devolved Administrations is responsible for issuing licences to foreign vessels in its zone, it is encouraging to know that the UK Government will administer the system, having already been provided with consent by the devolved Administrations.
Clauses 18 to 22 cover the allocation of fishing opportunities, an area on which I would like specific clarification from the Minister. Clause 18 deals with the Secretary of State’s power to determine fishing opportunities. I would appreciate it if Ministers commented on the appropriateness of the Secretary of State setting quotas for lobster or brown crab in Scotland which, I believe, are subject to international agreement. Clause 22 is about the sale of English fishing opportunities. Given that English-registered vessels operate in Scottish producer organisations and vice versa, will the Minister please provide clarification on whether these would be available for all UK vessels?
Finally, let me say something about the future of the fishing industry in my constituency and of fishing communities around the UK. After decades of deterioration within the CFP, we will not see a full recovery overnight. Government support will be required, and this House has previously been assured of that support by the Prime Minister and others
“to secure a sustainable and profitable fishing industry that will regenerate coastal communities and support future generations of UK fishermen.”
I conclude by reassuring the Minister that after we leave the CFP and become an independent coastal state, with all the powers and control that that entails, I will look forward to continuing to work with the Government to deliver that ambition to regenerate not only the fishing industry, but the wider communities and economy for which the “sea of opportunity” will deliver.
This is an important Bill. Leaving the EU and the CFP will require effective management of our fisheries, and it is just as crucial that fishermen and fishing communities get as much certainty as possible, as far as there ever can be certainty in fishing. I think that fishermen will broadly welcome many of the provisions in the Bill, including those on controlling access to UK waters, quota and equal access for UK vessels in UK waters. However, I believe that there is still a strong case for ensuring a link between landings and home port, because it is important to recognise that fishing is more than just about catching fish; there are also issues about the sustainability of ports and port jobs.
I welcome any emphasis on a quota increase for smaller boats. Most of the North Shields fleet are under 10 metres. As been has already been said, these are the very boats most likely to land at local ports, and to fish selectively and environmentally. Despite the assurances of the Secretary of State, I still think that the Bill as drafted is in danger of missing an opportunity. If the largest five quota holders control a third of UK quota and half of UK quota is currently owned by big companies based overseas, there has to be an opportunity for a much fairer approach. Also, if 80% of the fleet are smaller boats, why is it that they get 6% of the quota? The Secretary of State attempted to give assurances for the future, and he will be held to those assurances.
I want to talk a little bit about politics—we have seen a little bit of it this afternoon—because every Fisheries Minister and every fishing representative I have ever met who has attended the annual Fisheries Council speaks about the debilitating effect of politics coming into play. Whoever the Ministers are, we must recognise the potential for politics coming into play in any alternative process. The NFFO itself describes the joint fishery statements, which it welcomes, as having scope for friction; that could be an understatement. For example, while there is support for equal access for UK vessels, there would be concerns for fishermen in my area if different regulations were introduced by different devolved authorities, so this may well prove to be a difficult matter.
I will mention another political risk for Ministers. The drift net salmon fishery in the north-east is a heritage fishery. The few licences that remain have come under pressure from successive Conservative Fisheries Ministers, who want to phase them out. Ministers have blamed the EU, saying that the fishery is part of a wider discussion on stocks. The fishermen say that it is about appeasing landowners who want to rent out fishing rights. They cannot both be right. In taking back control, Ministers need to recognise that they are going to have to own their decisions; they will not have the EU and the CFP to hide behind.
Also politically, the Bill puts a great deal of emphasis on secondary legislation. Now, it may offer greater flexibility and responsiveness, both of which would be welcome, but the emphasis, particularly in clauses 31 and 33, is on negative statutory instruments. I think we need to avoid replacing one inflexible framework with another, so I would generally favour affirmative SIs, as well as the establishment of an advisory council—perhaps on a statutory footing—that would include, for example, the NFFO.
On the issue of flexibility, I understand the reluctance to put a maximum sustainable yield in the Bill on a statutory basis, but if the Bill does have a vision of sustainability, as Ministers claim, and if they want the UK to be a world leader, the Government and other authorities need to be held to account for what this legislation delivers in the future.
Leaving the EU and the common fisheries policy means that we will no longer be able to access the European maritime and fisheries fund—a fund from which the UK has benefited by £190 million between 2014 and 2020. There is no guarantee in the Bill that this funding will be replaced, other than a vague reference to grants. North Shields is a working fishing port, so it needs constant investment. We hope that the protection jetty, which is crucial for the fleet, will be renewed. The problem, however, has not been the EMFF—it is not that bit of the funding that has proved difficult. The problem with funding is turning to local authorities that have had their funding cut, or turning to the port authority, which is concerned about the fall-out from Brexit. I want to hear what the Minister is going to do about making sure that ports like North Shields have access to funding in the future.
The White Paper talks about the coastal communities fund. That fund followed on from Sea Change, which the previous Labour Government introduced to implement regeneration in coastal and seaside towns. In my constituency, the successful regenerations of Tynemouth and Whitley Bay have partly been funded from those funds. But seaside towns sometimes have no link with the fishing industry. What we need to avoid at all costs, with a fund that is of limited resource, is getting competition and having to choose between something that will make the port work and something that is there to regenerate seaside towns so that people visit our coasts.
The EMFF includes money for data collection— €52.2 million between 2014 and 2020. It also pays, in part, for enforcement, with €45.2 million between 2014 and 2020. I ask the Minister: where will the money come from to pay for those essential elements of a future fishing policy? If we control our waters, and infringements are going to be regarded as offences, that needs enforcement, as the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) said. Last year, the Joint Maritime Operations Coordination Centre was established, but I understand from fishermen I talk to that its resources are stretched. In addition, we have dependencies in other parts of the world that require our help in policing the environmental protection zones that they have established.
So where is the money going to come from for enforcement? I fear, and many of my fishermen will fear, that it will come from a word often used in the Bill—“charging”. Fishermen operate small businesses, and, like many small businesses, they operate on the edge. A charging regime based on recouping the full cost of a regulatory regime may prove very costly. If clause 29 is anything to go by, we are talking about a substantial charging regime, and one that can be introduced and amended at the will of the Secretary of State through statutory instrument.
Let me turn briefly to something else that will determine the future of the fishing industry. Fishing is about catching fish, but it is also about selling them. The EU is our biggest importer and exporter, and market access is absolutely crucial. North Shields is the biggest prawn port in England; 95% of the prawns that are landed in North Shields are taken to be sold in Europe. They have five days to get there. Any delay, any bureaucracy or any tariff would put at risk not just the livelihood of the fishermen but perhaps the port itself. Fishermen tell me—I would like the Minister’s view on this—that if they do not have clarity by March 2019, or if there is no deal, they intend to tie up their boats, not just for weeks but for months on end.
The Government, as we have heard, have to stand by the promises that they have made. Fishermen felt let down when we went into the Common Market, and they will feel very let down if they do not get a good deal when we come out of the EU and the common fisheries policy. There is a lot in this Bill to commend it, and a lot of good ideas that should be applied whether we are in or out of the EU and the common fisheries policy.
It is always a pleasure to take part in a fisheries debate and, more importantly, a debate on a fisheries Bill. This Bill is naturally important to my constituency, and I welcome what it sets out to do. Fishing is an integral part of our coastal communities and their economy and culture, and it is part of our proud heritage in Cornwall, so I welcome this ambitious Bill for the fisheries industry as we leave the European Union and the common fisheries policy.
The CFP has damaged the whole UK fishing fleet. I am slightly concerned about the impact that the current withdrawal agreement could have on the UK’s sovereign control over our fisheries, but I commend the Bill and what it sets out to do. In North Cornwall, many of my constituents are quite rightly concerned about the impact that the CFP has had on coastal communities and the economy. I therefore welcome the revocation of the requirement for equal access rights for EU boats, which sits at the core of the Bill, to truly take back control of our waters and its resources within the UK and the Northern Ireland Executive economic zone. It is important to recognise that, as an independent coastal state under the UN convention on the law of the sea, nothing short of the UK Government having full control over access to fishing waters, sustainable quota and environmental measures being set in the UK is acceptable.
As the UK parliamentary bass champion, I fully agreed with Samuel Stone of the Marine Conservation Society when he said:
“This is the time for the UK to demonstrate strong leadership and to show that it can be ambitious and serious about the protection of our seas.”
I welcome the discard objectives in the Bill, which aim to gradually eliminate discards on a case-by-case basis by avoiding and reducing unwanted captures; that is particularly difficult in communities like mine, which are mixed fisheries. However, my understanding is that if the implementation period is extended, we will still effectively be in the CFP, we will still have to bid for quota and we will be subjected to the discard ban and the fines imposed under it.
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that it is worse than that? Not only will we still be in the CFP, but we will not be formally taking part in those discussions about quota. We will be invited to attend, and we may be consulted, but we will no longer have any proper influence.
That is my understanding of the withdrawal Act. The implementation period should come to an end as quickly as possible, because the discard ban and the fines that might come about from it would place our fishermen under immense pressure.
I welcome the commitments made to supporting sustainable fisheries by ensuring that all our harvested stocks are in line with maximum sustainable yield. I was told recently that we must follow the science, and that is equally important with fisheries management. It is great to see the UK committing itself to internationally defined standards adopted by most successful fisheries and fisheries management regimes around the world.
However, more could be done through the Bill to ensure that we meet those targets. A light-tough approach to the duties placed on authorities to deliver on these objectives risks the complete undermining of the Government’s stated ambition. There is an absence of duty on fisheries managers to set fisheries limits on exceeding levels, to restore stocks or maintain maximum sustainable yield, and a lack of deadline for restoring stocks above maximum sustainable levels. I therefore recommend a binding duty to ensure that, as soon as the Bill comes into force, fisheries managers cannot set fishing limits above scientific recommended levels. That would deliver the UK Government’s objective to restore stocks.
I firmly believe that we have a chance to invest in our fishing industry and bring innovation at a time of change and changing technology, to improve both safety and prosperity in the industry. I welcome the Budget announcement of £12 million for the fishing industry, with £10 million of that money coming from UK Research and Innovation, to establish an innovation fund to help transform the fisheries industry, and £2 million being set aside for fisheries safety projects across the UK and on-board safety equipment; I know that my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) has pushed for that for some time.
The fishing industry and its practices have not developed much over the last 40 years, and it is time we brought innovation into the industry. Taking back control of our fisheries policy gives us a chance to ensure that the UK is a world leader in sustainability and safe and productive fishing methods. Investing in technology and technological change will help the UK to stick to its scientific objectives, which commit us to contributing to the collection of scientific data. An example of where we have gone wrong in the past with a fishing technique that has not evolved is the gill net. Currently, juvenile fish can be caught in an overloaded net, and this is one area where the tech innovation fund could look at new ways of developing gill net mesh.
Technology can also boost productivity for independent fishing businesses, support entrepreneurship and provide the ability to create new real-time data to allow fish to be sold directly to restaurants straight off the boats. An example of this is an independent small business in Cornwall that uses an app to register and download fish information as soon as the fish has gone into the boat, so that it can be sold to restaurants as soon as the boat comes back.
In my last minute, I would like to talk about recreational angling, which is hugely important to coastal communities such as mine. I commend the support in the Bill for promoting recreational angling. One opportunity this Fisheries Bill affords us involves Atlantic bluefin tuna. Stocks have collapsed over decades from commercial overfishing, but with the return of these iconic fish to the British Isles—in particular, to Cornwall—we now have a real opportunity to grasp the nettle and embrace this opportunity. As an independent and sovereign member of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, we have the opportunity to request a quota, and I believe we should. A fish that is caught by rod and line and returned to the sea is worth six times more to the economy than a fish that is landed, killed and eaten. I will leave it there, but I commend this Bill.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise to colleagues for interrupting this important debate, but the House should know that in the past hour some journalists in Brussels have been tweeting that the proposed European summit this weekend will be cancelled. I have no idea whether or not this is true—it could just be journalistic speculation—but given the importance of that potential meeting for the future of this country, have you had any indication from the Government that a Minister may be prepared to come to this House at 7 pm, before we rise, to clarify the situation? [Interruption.]
Order. We will not have sedentary interventions at this point.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order, but he knows very well that it is not a point I can answer from the Chair. I could do so if I had had notice of the intention of any Minister to come to the Chamber, but I have had no such notice. However, I am quite sure the right hon. Gentleman appreciates that, as matters have developed outside this Chamber on the subject to which he refers, Ministers have been very assiduous in coming to the House as soon as possible to keep the House, Parliament and the country updated about what is happening. I have every confidence that as soon as a relevant Minister has something of importance to say, he or she will come to the Chamber to say it.
I just hope that we get through the next six minutes without any major developments of that sort.
May I first associate myself with the remarks of the Secretary of State and others who have spoken in this debate about the very dangerous nature of fishing as an occupation? I was born and brought up on Islay on the west coast of Scotland, and I attended Islay High School, which, from memory, had in the region of 300 pupils. I calculate that at least five men have died in the course of their work as fishermen since I was at school with them. That is one very graphic illustration of the genuinely perilous nature of the work done by these men.
I very much welcome this Bill and the opportunity to contribute to the debate on it. Although my party does not have an automatic right to a place on the Public Bill Committee, I hope it might be possible on this occasion, as the Bill progresses, for me to serve on the Committee. Fishing is an enormously important industry in the constituency that I represent. In Shetland, it accounts for about one third of the local economy.
We essentially have a piece of enabling legislation before us. I have some concerns about the inclusion of some of the rather broadly drawn powers for negative resolution, but that was always going to be the case, because unless and until we know the full picture of the political settlement on which the future management arrangements will have to be constructed, it will not be possible to have an awful lot more.
It is clear, however, that the fishing industry looks forward to the next few years with a great deal of expectation. Clear promises have been made, particularly on the Government’s refusal to allow access to waters for foreign vessels in return for access to markets. The Minister will be aware that the industry looks to him and his colleagues to ensure that those promises are kept, but it is clear from—[Interruption.] I do hope my speech is not interrupting the conversation on the Back Benches. It is clear from the answer that the Prime Minister gave me last week that that argument is still very much in play, and it is something on which those of us who represent communities where fishing is important will have to work together.
There has been a lot of knockabout. There was talk of the Fisheries Jurisdiction Bill, which was a 10-minute rule Bill brought forward some years ago by Alex Salmond. Among the supporters of that Bill were Alex Salmond, Roy Beggs, Eddie McGrady, Austin Mitchell, Ann Winterton, Elfyn Llwyd, Angus Robertson, Michael Weir and me. As the last man standing from that somewhat eclectic group, it is useful to remind the House why that Bill was brought forward and supported by that coalition.
The context was that the industry was under the cosh as a result of the cod recovery programme that was then being imposed by the European Commission through the December Council arrangements. As representatives of an industry that did not have a lot of political clout or commercial force, we understood that we would be able to make its voice heard only if we worked together. Many of us came to that position from different starting points and through different routes. I say to all the hon. Members who have succeeded the former Members in that list that the same remains true today. We will get what we need only if we work together. I encourage hon. Members from both sides of the House to understand that.
The question that I want the Minister to answer is how the voice of our fishermen will be heard during the period after March next year and before the end of 2020, when the transitional arrangements will come to a conclusion. It was put to me rather graphically, and rather well, by a representative from Shetland Fishermen today, who said, “If you are not at the table, you will be on the menu.” We face that real risk during the transitional period.
How will we influence things such as the annual EU-Norway talks? I asked the Secretary of State and received a fairly broad answer, but perhaps I can get some more detail about how, in practical terms, when it comes to the renegotiation of the mackerel deal between the EU, Norway, the Faroes and Iceland, we will be able to get our point across. Essentially, we were rolled over once by the EU Commission on that. When we are not sitting at the table at the end of next year, how will we ensure that that does not happen again? Those concerns are not fanciful or insubstantial.
The hon. Gentleman will have heard my comments in March when the agreement was concluded. It was apparent then that the Government—certainly the then Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and probably the Prime Minister—did not understand its importance. I hope that subsequent events have persuaded them of its importance and that we will not see any backsliding in the future, because they would pay a heavy political price for that.
This is not a fanciful or insubstantial concern. The Minister will know that the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea advice in relation to North sea cod will be looking at substantial reductions again this year. I hope we are not back to the situation in which we found ourselves at the turn of the century, but it is not impossible that we will be. The truth of the matter is that it was almost impossible at that point, with our Ministers sitting at the table, to make our voice heard and to get the deal that was needed. Without anybody at the table, I have to say that I think it will be impossible. The price for that failure to deliver during the transitional arrangements stands to be paid by our fishing fleets.
Madam Deputy Speaker, with your indulgence, may I take you to the sunlit uplands of 2028 as imagined by my great friends in the Angling Trust in this amazing press release?
“In South Cornwall, swathes of new guesthouses, hotels and restaurants have opened up to service the visiting anglers fishing for blue fin tuna in Falmouth bay. The millions of pounds this has brought to the region has resulted in hundreds of full-time equivalent jobs servicing anglers travelling from the UK and from overseas to take advantage of the world-class big game angling opportunities that Cornwall is once again offering.
Meanwhile, nearly a decade of management measures protecting the spawning bass stock in the southern North sea has turned Clacton-on-Sea into the go-to location for weekend Londoners now spending their money bass fishing and enjoying their catches cooked before them in one of Clacton’s many new seafood restaurants capitalising on the turnaround of the North sea into one of the UK’s most productive fishing grounds. More broadly, the Essex coast is once again seeing former charter captains, such as Stewart Ward, returning to the sea.
It is worth remembering that none of these dramatic developments would have been possible without the Government’s brave and radical decision when the UK left the EU to ensure fish stocks were managed sustainably and to maximise the return to the UK of the sustainable use of fisheries resources and protection of the marine environment.
The policy was controversial at the time, but the bold and ambitious move has paid off in ways even the most ardent supporter of such a policy could not have expected at the time. The UK is now a world leader in how to manage fish stocks sustainably, so they deliver the biggest benefits to society as a whole.”
The press release concludes:
“EU policy makers are now planning to follow suit in the next reform of the Common Fisheries Policy which, like the reforms before it, from 2002 to the last one in 2022 failed to live up to their promises.”
That is the prize—and, my word, is it a prize. Imagine people from around the world travelling to Cornwall to catch 500 lb tuna fish—not to knock the tuna on the head and put them in a refrigerated ship to be cut up on a slab, but to be part of a conservation programme so that they can be tagged, measured and released; a big game fishery that means people who love fishing and catching big fish do not have to fly to Kenya to do it? People from around the world will be flying to London and regional airports to get to Falmouth, so they can go big game fishing. This is going to be a fantastic opportunity. Charter skippers will be able to charge somewhere in the region of £1,500 a day to take three fishermen, fisherwomen or fisherpersons out. Wow.
As for bass fishing, what an opportunity: thousands of beds around Essex filled up with anglers at the weekends and during holidays with their fly rods and spinning rods, coming to Essex and other coastal communities and counties to catch bass; bass that are no longer plundered but preserved for game fishermen. Of course, I do not want to see commercial fishermen cut out of bass fishing, but I know there is a way of managing our bass stocks so both interests can have a sustainable future. As well as the big politics of Brexit, that is what we need to be discussing today: the fish, because the fish are really important.
I want to say a couple more things before I sit down—I said I would be brief. The management of our fish stocks, as far as recreational anglers are concerned, has been nothing short of catastrophic up to this point. Until 1 October, if I had gone bass fishing with my son and we had caught a bass each, we both would have been required to return them. Even if they had been above the 42 cm keep limit, it would have been illegal for us to keep a fish. That is not right; fish stocks belong to everyone. I see in front of me my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray), who speaks so passionately about fishing. She understands that they need to be shared out and that recreational fishermen need to be able to keep a fish or two, or maybe three, for their family and friends. That is not being greedy; it is connecting with nature and the sea.
I look around the Chamber and see colleagues who are passionate about fishing, but we need to have a bit more passion about the fish. We need to make sure that we have viable fish stocks for people to enjoy.
My hon. Friend is a fantastic spokesperson for the leisure and recreational fishing fraternity. Will he tell us how the ban on catching bass has affected the angling fraternity under the common fisheries policy and how they will benefit once we leave?
The press release that I quoted mentioned Stewart Ward, who is a constituent of my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois), who was sitting here a few moments ago. Stewart Ward lost his business. He was a charter skipper in Essex, and he wrote to me to explain why it happened. When people pay their £40 or so to go out on a fishing trip, they like to keep a fish or two, which is perfectly reasonable. It is a natural thing for someone to want to bring their catch home—it is part of the harvester in many of us. However, his clients and guests were not allowed to keep the fish, and they could not justify spending the money if they were not able to bring part—not all—of their catch home. It has had a damaging—some would say catastrophic—effect on the recreational angling fleet and those who enjoy recreational angling.
I have spoken for too long. I think I have made the case for fish, and I hope that we in this Chamber can continue to make the case for fish long after we have left the EU in a few months’ time.
As the Member of Parliament for Argyll and Bute, a constituency with an aggregated coastline longer than that of France, I am well aware of the importance of fishing and aquaculture to the economic wellbeing of my constituency and communities around the UK. I am also very aware of the dangers faced by fishermen, with the community of Tarbert, in particular, still mourning the loss of Duncan MacDougall and Przemek Krawczyk when the Nancy Glen sank in January this year.
As well as having an inshore fishing fleet, we in Argyll and Bute also export huge quantities of shellfish—some of the best in the world—and we are proud to be the home of many world-renowned salmon, halibut and trout producers. This means that there are significant differences between the industries on the west coast and those on the east, but that does not mean that they do not share common ground. First, they both rely on guaranteed, fast, unhindered access to markets. Secondly, they need to be able to recruit the right people to crew their boats, and they need sufficient numbers of people to process their catch quickly and efficiently and dispatch it to where it has to go—much of it to continental Europe.
They also share common ground on their justified fear of what is contained in the Government’s withdrawal agreement, because that agreement does not provide the frictionless trade that they want and need, nor does it guarantee access to the workforce that they require. Arguably, most damagingly of all, it puts Scotland’s fishing industry at a competitive disadvantage compared with Northern Ireland. In short, what the Prime Minister is proposing does not guarantee a bright future for the Scottish fishing industry.
The fishing industry, particularly on the west coast of Scotland, is facing a recruitment crisis. I was very pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) raise that issue, because we desperately need the ability to recruit fishermen to work on our boats and in our processing factories.
As I suspected we might, we have heard a great deal this afternoon about the shortcomings of the CFP, and I, for one, will not defend it, but let me be clear: as I said earlier this afternoon, despite all the bluster and obfuscation from the Conservative party, it was complicit in the CFP’s creation and has been actively implementing it for the past 40 years. Since 1970, the Conservative party has been in power for 38 years. From Ted Heath, to Margaret Thatcher, John Major and the rest of them, the Conservative party’s fingerprints are all over the CFP.
Let the record show that since the early 1970s the SNP in this place has been the consistent and vocal opposition to the CFP. I can understand why that makes nervous listening for Conservative Members. Despite their attempts to position themselves as the champions of Scottish fishing, the truth is that Conservative Governments down the years have time and again sold out the fishing industry when convenient. Deep down, they know that that is exactly what this Government are planning to do again. I look at the sprinkling of long faces on the Government Benches, and their demeanour is very different from what it was a year ago, because the Scottish Conservative Members know that they have been hung out to dry by their own Prime Minister and that the promises they made to the fishing communities in the north-east of Scotland before last year’s general election are absolutely worthless.
I am sure that the Scottish Conservative Members will have read, probably through the cracks in their fingers, the article by Mure Dickie in yesterday’s Financial Times, when he highlighted the reality of what is happening in the north-east of Scotland. One Peterhead-based fish wholesaler told him:
“I think we have been sold down the river once again. It is an absolute disgrace.”
He is right—it is an absolute disgrace—but this is what happens when it turns out that the one-trick pony cannot even perform the trick.
It certainly did not take long for the “cast-iron” guarantees of the 2017 general election to become the latest addition to the shameful roll call of Tory betrayal of the Scottish fishing industry. Does anyone believe that had Scotland been in control of its own fishing assets in 1972 we would have allowed this vital industry to be treated as a bargaining chip in the way it has been for the last four decades? Only an independent Scottish Government can adequately look after the interests of our fishing industry; only an independent Scottish Government will recognise the significance of this industry’s contribution to our economy; and only an independent Scottish Government can be relied upon not to use our fishing industry as a bargaining chip.
The stark truth is that the glib and hollow promises made last year by career-hungry candidates wearing blue rosettes are now unravelling, because they were all predicated on a UK Government acting in the best interests of the Scottish fishing industry. History has taught them nothing. I look forward to the day when an independent Scotland, as a member of the European Union, can help to shape a common fisheries policy that works for us and is of benefit to our neighbours as well.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and also to follow the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara), because I have a message for him: it was a previous Conservative leader and Prime Minister who went to Europe, fought for the United Kingdom and brought money back from Europe. The SNP should not forget that.
I welcome the principle behind the Bill and the fundamental principle of taking back control of our fisheries. We have already debated what an enormous mistake it has been—for our fishing communities, our economy and our environment—to leave our fishing policy subject to EU control for the last 40 years. Nowhere is the damage the EU has caused to our country more evident than in the decline of our fishing industry and communities across the country.
All those who work tirelessly risking their lives to bring back the fresh fish we enjoy eating and supporting their families and communities should be remembered and respected for their endurance and sacrifice. Our fishing communities have seen their industry diminished, while billions of pounds of our money and taxes have been spent via the EU investing in other fleets, including the Spanish. We have seen the EU allocate more quotas for some species in our waters to other EU countries than to us. As we have heard—in fact, the Secretary of State gave this figure—84% of the rights to fish for cod in the English channel have gone to the French, leaving 9% for British fishermen. That is not right. In fact, about two thirds of the fish caught in UK waters are caught by EU fleets.
Successive British Governments have had to do more in the past, and that is part of the reason we now have the opportunity to take back control. We have seen controls that were placed on our fishermen, in our waters, to protect the environment completely ignored by the fishing fleets of other countries—famously so. Because of EU rules, Spanish and French fishermen in our waters have been able to ignore the environmental protections that we put in place and value.
Let me say to all those—especially Opposition Members—who think that the EU is some sort of guarantor of environmental standards and that we are incapable of protecting our own environment, that we need look no further than the devastation created by the common fisheries policy to see that it is the EU that cannot be trusted with our environment. That applies specifically to discards—the CFP has caused large quantities of healthy fish to be thrown back dead into the sea—and to the French vessels that used to undertake bass pair trawling in our seas, damaging the seabed and ensnaring in their nets all marine life, including dolphins. Of course there has been reform, but the discard ban is flawed, and the only way in which we can support fishing communities and manage the marine environment in a sustainable way is to pass the Bill and take back control.
That, as my hon. Friend the Minister will know, is why the Bill is so important. It is an enabling Bill, but it leaves so much open to future decisions. It empowers Ministers to take control of our own waters, but some of that will happen only in due course. We may be vulnerable to not being able to take back the full control that we expect and that our fishing communities across the United Kingdom expect too. There are fears that come the negotiations on the future relationship, our fisheries will once again be traded away.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) for her speech earlier, but, more to the point, for the robust work that she has done consistently on this issue and for being such an enormous champion of our fishing communities— if only we had more politicians who were so prepared to challenge and question. In response to a question from my hon. Friend last week, the Prime Minister said that
“the UK should be an independent coastal state able to negotiate the issue of access to its waters”.
—[Official Report, 15 November 2018; Vol. 649, c. 461.]
However, as my hon. Friend has rightly said,
“Surely we should control access if we are properly leaving the European Union. Are we just leaving the Common Fisheries Policy in name only?”
This is about clarity. It would be a travesty if, after December 2020, the EU remained in control of our fisheries. In no circumstances should our rights to control our fisheries be negotiated away, and it is concerning that there is a risk that that could happen. There is ambivalence—a convenient ambivalence—in the language used in negotiations. Page 4 of the outline of the political declaration on the future relationship states:
“Within the context of the overall economic partnership, establishment of a new fisheries agreement on, inter alia, access to waters and quota shares, to be in place in time to be used for determining fishing opportunities for the first year after the transition period.”
Given the history of fisheries and the critical impact on fishing communities and the environment, I urge the Government not to lock our fisheries into a trade deal that would leave us in a place that is similar to our current position in the CFP. We must show leadership, and show that we will take back control over quota and over what can be fished in our seas. In future negotiations that we have as a coastal state, we should start from the basis that the fish in our seas are ours. The starting point should not be based on current EU agreements and the CFP.
There are many other concerns, a number of which have already been raised, but the fundamental principle must be that we are taking back control. Our Government will fight for our fishing industry and our communities around the country. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do this and get it right.
It is an honour to follow my friend the right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel) in this important debate. As Members have said, this is the first time in over 40 years that the House has considered primary legislation on what is one of our most important industries. While some Members might be churlish and blame the Conservatives for taking us into the CFP, the fact of the matter is that I hope they take us out properly, and get us out totally, completely and absolutely—free, unfettered and unbowed, with a new policy for our fishing industry once and for all. Little wonder there have been waves across the Chamber because of the excitement of our getting out of the European Union. The only reason why we are having this debate is that the people of this United Kingdom took a decision—“It’s time to leave.” I hope that the Bill honours that decision by over 17 million people and that we will leave the EU and do so properly. I look forward to that.
Those member states that wish to stay with the common fisheries policy and to be supplicant to the EU should consider their priorities. My nearest neighbour, the Republic of Ireland, takes 40% of its total allowable catch from our British waters and is further dependent for processing on British trawlers that have landed their catches from the seas of Northern Ireland.
Will the hon. Gentleman accept that I, as the Member for Argyll and Bute—a constituency that overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU—am indeed listening to my constituents when I stand up and fight for their right to remain in at least the single market and the customs union?
I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman represents his constituents in the way he wishes, and does so valiantly. He is of course entitled to do that and to have a different opinion on this matter, but we do have to leave the EU.
I want to address the issue of how the Irish Republic currently treats its neighbour, Northern Ireland. We have the voisinage agreement, which has not been raised today. It disgusts me that the Republic of Ireland keeps talking about not wanting a hard border in Northern Ireland and says that that would be a disgrace, yet has created what is effectively a hard border for County Down fishermen by breaking the voisinage agreement time and again. How is the Irish Republic going to treat Spanish fishermen when they are not allowed to fish in British seas after we leave the EU? How is it going to treat people from other member states? If it treats them in the way it has treated the people of Northern Ireland, those fishermen will feel a hard border within Europe also.
The Prime Minister talks about taking back control of our fishing, yet for the last two years, the Republic of Ireland has reneged on that agreement. We could have taken back at least that bit of control by saying, “Sorry, we’re not going to let your fishermen come into our area,” but the Government have not done so.
I thank the hon. Lady for making that point. We all know why the Republic of Ireland has decided to have this debate about the hard border: it has taken away from its having to address the important, hard questions that it should have been considering, such as what sort of trade relationship it should have with its biggest trading partner, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It did not want to address that matter; it wanted to hide behind the issue of the hard border to confuse things and camouflage the real, important issue.
I raise that matter because according to the European Union’s most recent report on fishing and agriculture, if the Republic of Ireland does not get a trade agreement with the United Kingdom, it will lose a staggering €5.5 billion from its agri-food and fishing industry. It has been reported that the study
“prepared for the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development lays bare the full potential impact of a hard Brexit and singles out the Ireland as one of the most badly hit member states.”
Yet what has that member state done? Has it tried to help in this? Has it tried to make the voisinage agreement work? No, it has done everything to penalise Ulster fishermen and Ulster farmers, and it should be ashamed of how it has behaved.
I hope that that sends the message to the Spanish and the French that that is how the Republic of Ireland is going to treat them, and about what sort of hard border it will have when it suits it. Little wonder that we have had so many problems with the Republic of Ireland over the past two years during this negotiating period.
The Fisheries Bill should lead to a revival of our coastal towns, as we have heard from across the Chamber today, and I hope that it really does. There is one way in which we could achieve that, and I appeal to the Secretary of State and the Minister to do this. During the transition period, will they use every effort possible, and every investment opportunity available, to invest in our coastal towns and put them in a state of preparedness by increasing their production ability and improving their harbours? I hope that we can do the same for Scotland as well. It is critical that we have harbours across our nation that are able to land the catches that will be available to us and that we have processing industries in place from Argyll and Bute in Scotland to Portavogie and Kilkeel. All those things should be put in place, and we can do that only during the transition period. If we are not ready then, we will not be ready when we leave the transition period. I hope that we actually do this.
There is a fear that the withdrawal agreement, the Fisheries Bill and the transition period, when they are taken together, all mean different things to different folk at different times. As the right hon. Member for Witham said, we need clarity in this debate. We have heard something of that today from the Secretary of State, but we need to hear more. We also need to ensure that all these things dovetail properly so that our fishermen receive the clarity of language and meaning that they are entitled to. We have already heard some discussion about whether article 6(2) actually means what it says. Will it, for example, penalise our fishermen if a backstop is brought into place? I believe that it will, although the Minister assures me that it will not. We need more certainty on that point. If the Secretary of State were a lawyer, he would not be recommending article 6(2) to a client, and if it will penalise our fishermen, we should not be accepting it for one of our key industries in Northern Ireland.
The Bill fails to account for crew shortages. The immigration White Paper is not yet ready, and we will be able to make sense of this matter only when we get that White Paper. I hope that we will hear words today that will address that issue and that we will know sooner rather than later what the immigration White Paper will say about addressing the key matter of crew shortages. In addition, Northern Ireland demands fairness in how it is treated in the sharing out of quotas between Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales. It is essential that we get that fairness; otherwise, it could be catastrophic for how we behave internally as a nation.
I also regret that the Bill does not refer to an advisory council to help with management. Such bodies have proved most beneficial in Norway and Australia. There is also the key issue of our Crown dependencies. The European Union is able to take fish freely from the seas around our Crown dependencies, and we need to ensure that we have some sort of an agreement with Crown dependencies such as the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. Finally, I pay tribute to the Minister as he prepares for his penultimate or final December Fisheries Council meeting. I wish him all the very best as he wishes bon voyage to Europe.
It is a pleasure to follow my friend and colleague the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley). I, too, would like to pay tribute to our fishermen. We have had our share of tragedy in South Dorset, and I have seen at first hand the effect of losing a trawler and its crew on the parents and friends involved. It is devastating, and I pay tribute to all those who bravely go out to provide food for our table.
Sadly, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) is not here at the moment. I agree with his enthusiastic sunny-upland vision of how his constituency would look in, I think, 2028. He had a vision of a time when fishing will be back in our hands, when all the bed and breakfasts will be full, when local fish will be served, and when Weymouth and Portland—the most beautiful part of this United Kingdom—will be full of fishing shops and of people visiting and enjoying the stunning countryside and coastline. That is the vision—it is sadly sometimes lost in the House—that we need to hold on to as we respect the vote that was taken in 2016.
Fish is a particularly totemic issue, and I believe that this is a matter of trust. In this place, however, trust has dipped to a terrible ebb. At Question Time today, we heard the Prime Minister say that there was a threat of no Brexit at all. Afterwards, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Ms McVey), who was sitting to my right, asked the Prime Minister to confirm that there would be a Brexit, come what may. She did, but those two statements are incompatible.
I would like personally to thank my hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, both of whom I have immense respect for. I know that they will work hard. The Minster, in particular—he has been in post longer than the Secretary of State—has worked extremely hard for our fishing and farming communities, so I thank him for all that he has done for my constituency.
The Bill revokes the EU legislation that currently sets the UK’s fishing opportunities, giving the Secretary of State powers to determine those opportunities. However, the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations has said:
“If the Government backs down on its promises to the UK fishing industry, many of the objectives that the Fisheries Bill is aiming to achieve will be impossible.”
The Government must not back down on their promises to this totemic industry. If we do, it will be to our shame. Clause 7, on “Revocation of requirement for equal access for EU fishing vessels”, clause 8, on “Access to British fisheries by foreign fishing boats”, clause 11, on “Foreign fishing boats required to be licensed if within British fishery limits”, clause 12, on “Power to grant licences in respect of foreign fishing boats”, clause 18, on “fishing opportunities”, clause 23, on “Discard prevention charging schemes”, and clause 28, which relates to grants to the fishing industry in England after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, will all become pointless if we remain in the customs union beyond the transition period.
Let us not forget that behind the scenes our European allies and friends—I regret to say this—are plotting and scheming, as they have been doing. We know that Sabine Weyand, Mr Barnier’s No. 2, told EU ambassadors in a leaked note that Britain
“would have to swallow a link between access to products and fisheries in future agreements”
after the transition period as part of any trade deal. She said:
“This requires the customs union as the basis of the future relationship. They must align their rules but the EU will retain all the controls.”
That sends a shiver down my spine, and I suspect that the fishing industry will feel the same.
We know that we will not have control of our waters until after Brexit day, which in my view is 21 months after March 2019. That is when this country, I hope, will be truly free. As I understand it, until that time we will remain in the CFP. Earlier I asked the Secretary of State whether extending the implementation period, rather than applying the backstop, would still keep us in the CFP. I would be most grateful if the Minister told us whether the answer to that question is yes or no.
I also seek an assurance that the fishing industry, Members of the House and all those in our fishing communities will not be sold out for the sake of some other deal that can be made with the EU. EU countries are making it clear that they will not accept being locked out of UK waters post Brexit. In return for Britain’s continued membership of the customs union after the transition, the EU will demand continued status quo access to UK waters for its trawlers, even though the UK will have departed from the CFP. The French, Danish, Spanish and Portuguese Governments are under particular pressure to deliver for their fleets.
I have an awful lot more to say but only 30 seconds remaining, so I will end on this note. I stand here on behalf of the many fishermen in my constituency—there are a lot in South Dorset—to ask those on the Government Front Bench not to let us down on this issue, and to get us out of the EU totally and utterly. Only then, I believe, can we move to the sunny uplands envisaged by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax). I wish to begin my remarks by thanking Associated British Ports in Grimsby for its annual remembrance service, which remembers the Grimsby fishermen on 375 wrecked trawlers that were used as minesweepers in world war one. This week, divers discovered 307 of those that were lost, which have been sitting at the bottom of the sea for the past 100 years. There is a short video about it on the BBC news website. I also thank the Fishermen’s Mission for its continued support for fishermen and their families in Grimsby and for organising the annual lost fishermen’s memorial, which is much appreciated by the community in Grimsby.
I am pleased that the Secretary of State has returned to his seat, because he concluded his comments with his usual flourishing rhetoric. Although that might suit his populist aims, I ask him for a little caution. The promises of the leave campaign followed similar lines, promising communities like mine not so much a land of milk and honey as a sea of cod and haddock.
The Library briefing shows that landings in Grimsby have now reduced to around 4,000 tonnes of shellfish. Tackling my town’s health inequalities, education attainment levels, underinvestment in the public realm, low wages and high unemployment—things that would demonstrate that positive change is coming to my town—surely cannot come from just the two additional trawlers that fishermen have told me they expect to be able to afford to add post Brexit. Surely those two trawlers are not going to change the fortunes of my town, solving years of complex issues of underinvestment and a sense of limited opportunity locally. If the Secretary of State wants to tell me otherwise. I would be grateful to hear him. There needs to be a sense of realism in this debate, rather than leading people down a false road.
I also hope the Secretary of State has had the opportunity to read the responses to the White Paper from Andrew Marr International Ltd, Peter & J. Johnstone Ltd and UK Fisheries Ltd, all organisations that play an essential role in the local Grimsby community. They provide employment in the community and in the fishing industry, investing in vessels and contributing to the country’s economy, as well as its dinner plates.
I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), who has returned just at the right time, about the importance of the processing sector to my town. It employs some 5,000 people doing everything, from those working in the fish market to those working on the auctions, to the independent traders who take the product around the country and to the filleters, packers, accountants, logisticians, managers and so much more. We really should hear more of their voices in this debate.
The Bill says that fishery and aquaculture products will not be included in a customs arrangement unless there is agreement between the EU and the UK on access to waters and fishing opportunities. Trawler operators in Grimsby have expressed concern to me that it is precisely because of the value of the catch and the benefit to those EU nations’ economies that there is such a desire to keep the two so closely tied. For vessels that are based in the UK and land in the UK, there is little that can persuade them that there is any need to keep the lines of communication and good-natured trading relationships open, but as Grimsby has the benefit of both pelagic and distance fleet interests, particularly in landing, storage and processing, there is a bit of a conflict. The Government must consider carefully the whole UK fleet in all its sizes and purposes.
Where there is commonality, it largely comes through the hard work of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, which has taken a realistic and pragmatic view, with the benefit of knowing all levels of the industry well. The NFFO says it accepts that the sustainability of fish and fishing is important—of course if there are no fish, there is no fishing—and it is open to improving further the relationships with science and the broader industry, supporting a review of the quota system and advocating for an adaptive, responsive fisheries policy.
My time has run short very quickly. Concerns have been raised about the Bill, and the current framing provides for east coast vessels to fish in Scottish waters, but it still empowers Marine Scotland to provide the rules under which they fish. The Bill does not give any detail of what that will mean in practice, and there is concern that conditions may be placed on activity that cause unnecessary disadvantage due to issues such as the subtle differences in activity or in the place of landing. It is envisaged that there will be a memorandum of understanding among the devolved nations to agree a template for fishing management activities, but MOUs are not legally binding and can be withdrawn from at any time.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend makes precisely the point that has been raised with me: leaving future rules under which boats may fish to the whims of what is, in effect, a gentleman’s agreement does not provide any assurance or security to the east coast industry. There is a sense of history repeating itself, as the same industry feels that the fisheries concordat has also not served it well and that those who make the decisions have not fully heard the concerns raised by this section of the fishing industry. As an MOU may be withdrawn from, there is also the issue of the proposed joint fisheries statements to address. The Bill would allow for a devolved Administration to walk away simply by stating their reasons. There really must be a dispute resolution mechanism; allowing for a collective statement to fall simply due to a lack of administrative preparations seems short-sighted at best, but it would also render such a statement useless.
I welcome this Bill, which will hopefully provide the framework for regenerating the Lowestoft and East Anglian fishing industry, which in the past has been an important component part of the local economy. It has sadly declined in recent years, with thousands of jobs being lost, but with the right support, the right management system and the right policies, the industry can be rebuilt, we can attract inward investments and the industry can play a key role in the regeneration of coastal communities, not just in East Anglia but around the UK.
Fishing has taken place off the East Anglian coast for more than 1,000 years. Lowestoft was previously the fishing capital of the southern North Sea and was the hub of an industry that included many other ports in the region. Today, East Anglia sits next to one of the richest fishing fields in Europe, but little local benefit is derived from it. To revive local fishing, the industry earlier this year formed REAF—the Renaissance of East Anglian Fishing. With support from Waveney District Council, an application was submitted to the Marine Management Organisation for a European maritime and fisheries fund grant for a study that will develop a long-term strategy for the future of the East Anglian industry.
The application was approved earlier this month, and work is just beginning on a project that will help shape a positive and profitable future for the industry as a whole, from the net to the plate. Its objective is to establish how the economic and social benefits of the fishing industry in East Anglia can be best captured and optimised. This exciting project can revive fishing along the East Anglian coast, but to do so it needs the right national policy framework in place, and that is what this Bill needs to provide. From REAF’s perspective, the Bill must provide the following: first, the East Anglian fleet must be able to catch and land sufficient fish so that those working on the boats can earn a reasonable living and can supply local markets, processing and retailing businesses—the existing quota system has treated them shabbily, and it must be reformed.
Secondly, the Bill must ensure that local coastal communities benefit from any increase in catches and landings. The economic link policy, which is in the CFP and which is being transferred to the emerging UK fisheries policy, must have teeth and must actually achieve its objective, rather than remaining a high-minded statement. There is a Lowestoft producer organisation, but its vessels do not land their fish in Lowestoft—they do so in the Netherlands and in Peterhead. We must have more boats landing their catches in East Anglian ports.
Thirdly, the duty to fish sustainably must be ingrained in the Bill’s DNA. Management decisions must be made locally, with local fishermen working closely with local regulators and local scientists using up-to-date local knowledge and science. I acknowledge that many fish stocks have improved in recent years, but we really can do better than we do at present, whereby the current system allows the abhorrent practice of electro-pulse fishing to continue, notwithstanding the evidence that it is devastating fish stocks, wreaking havoc upon the marine environment and preventing local East Anglian fishermen from earning a living.
Credit must go to the team at DEFRA, the Ministers and the officials for drafting the Bill in such a short time. We do not need a Bill that just does the job and ticks the necessary boxes; we need a Bill that lasts the test of time and becomes an exemplar for the promotion of sustainable fishing and the reinvigoration of coastal communities. Like most others here, I have received many representations from organisations and specialists with proposals on how the Bill can be improved. Although it is an enabling Bill and much of the detail will be set out in secondary legislation, I urge the Government to look closely at the proposals that have been put forward and to see how the Bill can be improved.
I re-emphasise that the allocation of quota must be fairer and accessible to all and should take place transparently, rather than in the existing opaque way. That will enable all fishermen from all communities to really benefit from Brexit.
I declare an interest: I am proud to speak on behalf of my daughter and her partner, who operate a fishing vessel out of Porthdinllaen. I am proud to represent the many coastal communities of Llŷn, Eifionydd and Meirionnydd, and all their fishing families.
Let me begin by outlining the special nature of the Welsh fishing industry, which is structurally different from that of the rest of United Kingdom, and especially different from Scotland’s, despite the devolved environment in which both nations operate. There are approximately 400 vessels in the Welsh fishing fleet, the vast majority of which are under 10 metres. These small boats operate in some of the most challenging and dangerous inshore environments. I have spoken to experienced fishermen, such as Brett Garner of Llŷn, as well as to long-serving spokesmen such as Owie Roberts of Edern and Jim Evans of the Welsh Fishermen’s Association, and I wish to convey some of their fears and aspirations as we look towards the future of Welsh fishing.
Trading in live produce with a short shelf life is a tricky business at the best of times, but the imposition of customs checks and any slowdown in the trade process will mean deterioration and mortality, making trade desperately difficult under many predictable post-Brexit eventualities. I note, too, that the valuable trade in whelks, which are the mainstay of many Welsh fishermen, the value of whose UK landings in June this year was £2.6 million, has South Korea among its primary destinations. That trade is enabled by an EU extended trade agreement. To state the bleeding obvious, the UK currently has no trade agreements with Korea directly. What discussions has the Minister had with the Secretary of State for International Trade to facilitate the future of this important local industry?
Tariff barriers would have an immense impact on viability, but non-tariff barriers could also be truly devastating. Welsh fishermen’s spokespeople have urged me to ask the Minister, given the vulnerability of fishermen’s livelihoods to any hold-ups in the transporting of their produce to European and worldwide markets alike, what plans he has to set aside financial support for inshore, small-vessel operators, in preparation for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.
Before quota responsibilities were devolved to the Welsh Government, which is currently the case, the Westminster Government authorised the sale of 88% of Welsh fishing quotas to Spanish businesses. They were content for the market to operate unimpeded and condoned the loss of resources for the Welsh fishing industry. Indeed, only 10% of Wales’s quota is currently held in Welsh waters, and only 27% of the quota is even caught in UK waters. That raises the question: why did Westminster permit quotas to be at the mercy of global businesses? How can the Minister assure hard-working fishing families that this will never happen again?
Wales being let down by Westminster is not an unfamiliar tale, but the responsibility for quotas was transferred to Cardiff. The Welsh Government could have made a stand for Welsh fishing and moved to install a moratorium on the sale of any more fishing quotas for businesses outside Wales, as the Scottish Government did in 2014. Instead, after we have left the EU and the withdrawal Act kicks in—with the consent of the Labour Government in Cardiff, I hasten to add—Wales will have gifted back to Westminster the legal capacity to do that.
I seek clarity on the following points. How will the Minister consult the devolved Administrations and what will be the nature of the joint decision-making mechanisms that he surely intends to establish? How does he intend to ensure that consent means consent and not really just the right to be told? If, as appears to be the case, the Welsh Government will now have some responsibility for all Welsh waters—namely from the coast to 6 miles, from there to 12 miles and now, at last, to the Welsh median line—this is indeed to be welcomed. I ask whether the financial resources will also reflect these additional waters. How will maritime and fisheries funding allocations be allocated after 2020 and can he confirm that that will be needs-based?
The reality of the Government’s position is that fishing opportunities and the withdrawal agreement’s political declaration remain utterly uncertain. How much of the fishing fleet’s livelihood are the Government happy to barter? Fishing communities seek clarity and certainty. The Minister’s Government presently offer scant comfort.
It is a great honour to be able to speak in this very important debate. As has previously been said, this is the first time for many decades that this Chamber has been able to debate primary legislation relating to our fisheries.
The fishing communities that I have the honour of representing have a long-standing and proud tradition of fishing that goes back many, many generations. In fact, many of today’s fishermen are the sons and grandsons of fishermen. I have two primary fishing communities in my constituency: in Newquay and in Mevagissey. The fishing port of Mevagissey is the second largest in Cornwall and, in many ways, is doing well and is growing. The age of its fishermen is younger than average, and those fishermen are active and looking to the future. I remind the Secretary of State again that he did offer to meet the fishermen of Mevagissey. Virtually every time I speak to them, they remind me that this offer was made, so it would be incredibly good if he came sooner rather than later.
It is a sad but well-established fact that our fishing communities have not fared well under the common fisheries policy. The industry was sacrificed in the 1970s as a bargaining chip when we joined the Common Market, and that sense of betrayal still runs very deep within our fishing communities. We should not under- estimate how strongly those feelings are still felt today. Therefore, it is understandable that many fishermen in Cornwall are still suspicious of the Government. Although some good commitments have been made to our fishing communities in recent months, it is absolutely vital that we see those words turned into actions and firm decisions and that we do not let down our fishing communities once again.
The CFP has failed effectively to manage our fish stocks and has all but destroyed the economic competitiveness of our UK fishing industry. Around two thirds of all fish caught in UK waters are now caught by non-UK vessels, and, of some fish stocks, around 85% of the quota is awarded to non-UK boats. By taking back control of our fishing waters and by taking back control of our quotas, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put right the wrongs that have been imposed on our fishing industry.
I welcome the clear commitments made by the Government and by the Prime Minister personally when she came, infamously, to Mevagissey last May, at the very start of the election campaign, before our manifesto was launched. She met the fishermen and made some very clear commitments to them, and that was welcome, but it is absolutely vital that we do not again sell out our fishermen.
We are an island nation, and being an island nation presents a number of big challenges. One of the huge opportunities that we have as an island nation should be access to our fishing waters and to reap the rewards that that provides for our nation. That is what leaving the EU and leaving the common fisheries policy will enable us to do. I therefore very much welcome this Bill. It is essential that it is enacted so that we have the mechanism in place to manage our own fishing waters once we leave the EU. This will mean that we will have everything in place to do that if we do end up with a clean global Brexit come the end of March.
We need to look carefully at the matter of discards, which is the most common concern raised by my local fishermen. Discards are an utter and shameful waste of our fishing stocks. As other hon. Members have said, those rules mean that we are not able to know exactly what the stocks are, so it is important that we get it right and put the mechanisms in place to deal with the issue.
I have great admiration for both the Secretary of State and the Fisheries Minister, and I know that they are very much on the fishermen’s side, so I would say to them that we have to ensure that we see through the commitments we have made to our fishing industry that we do not sell it out again for access to markets and that we give it the fair and right opportunity that it should have to reap the rewards of our UK fishing waters.
Before I get into my speech, I will confess my three interests in this Bill. First, like the Secretary of State, I had family—my grandfather, not my father—who worked in the fishing industry. My grandfather worked behind the wet fish counter in Tonypandy and in Barry. Secondly, I am a very keen angler myself; and thirdly, I am implacably opposed to Brexit, and this Bill and the fisheries debate more broadly is the greatest example I can think of to demonstrate the hollowness of the claims that were made by the Brexiteers, such as the Secretary of State, as well as the hollowness of the promises that he is holding out again today to fishing industries and fishermen right across the country.
On both sides of the Brexit debate, the issue of fisheries illustrates what a dreadful discussion we had, because the remain side ought to admit that the CFP is one of the great failures of the EU. It does not work environmentally and it has not worked for the fishing industry in our country or elsewhere, and we should acknowledge that. We should not seek to stay in or replicate the CFP; we should be trying to reform it. But the biggest deception, of course, was on behalf of the Brexiteers: the promise that leaving the CFP would allow us to take back control of our seas. It is a wonderful phrase, which we have heard from the Secretary of State today, but the seas that we are talking about—the Irish sea, the North sea and the English channel—are shared with the countries on the other side of them. The fish we get out of those seas are sometimes landed and processed on the shores on the other side of those seas, and the markets we rely on are very often on the other side of those seas. That exposes the hollowness of both the Brexiteers’ claims and many promises made in the Secretary of State’s rhetoric today.
The hollowness is also exposed by a paucity of detail because, frankly, this Bill is long on rhetoric and short on detail. The reason that it is short on detail is that very little is agreed in respect of the future of our fisheries. There are lots of promises, as there were lots of promises in the White Paper in July this year, but the truth is that almost nothing is determined in respect of the future nature of our fisheries and of our agreement. In fact, throughout the withdrawal agreement, it is very clear that nothing is agreed. On page 311 of the deal, it is stated very clearly that
“(‘fishery and aquaculture products’), shall not be covered…unless an agreement”
is established. I think that the Minister wants to get that agreement by June 2020, but there is no guarantee that that will happen. As many fellow Brexit supporters of the Secretary of State have pointed out to him and to Front Benchers today, in the intervening period—during the transition period—we will actually lose influence and leverage in respect of our fisheries.
Article 130 on page 206 of the withdrawal agreement states:
“As regards the fixing of fishing opportunities within…the transition period, the United Kingdom shall be consulted in respect of the fishing opportunities…the Union shall offer the opportunity to the United Kingdom to provide comments on the Annual Communication”.
It also says that the UK shall be invited to the “relevant…fora”. We will be consulted with, we will have the opportunity to comment and we will be invited, but we will not actually be official participants in the decision making—the key decisions on the size and scale of the quotas which, according to the Secretary of State, we ought to see taken back under our control. All that is a clear indication of the hollowness of the claim that we would exercise greater sovereignty as a result of our leaving the European Union.
The Secretary of State, I am not sure whether deliberately, spoke out of both sides of his mouth today. He said that we are going to be taking back control in order to exercise greater observance of the sustainable yields that we have ignored for many, many years when in the common fisheries policy, and at the same time he said that we were going to be increasing our fish catch. Those two things, I say respectfully to him, cannot both be true. We cannot, in future, be more observant of the scientific advice about what are the sustainable yields we can take from our stocks while at the same time taking more fish from our seas. That is the biggest and most egregious example of the fib that is being told to fishermen across this country. I hope that during the passage of the Bill the Secretary of State will clear up some of these misconceptions and is very honest with people about what Brexit could mean.
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith), because he referred to the restrictions of other oceans and other controlled waters, but I can tell him that actually, when a fisherman from Newlyn launches out to sea, they have 200 miles to go before they get into any sort of international waters. At the moment, as we have heard, they are allowed to access only 7% of the cod in those waters, and so it simply makes mathematical sense that if they get more share, they will get more fish.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) said, it is a long time since Members—a Member for St Ives, for example—have had the privilege of talking about primary legislation around a UK fisheries Bill. I am grateful to the Secretary of State and the Minister for—certainly in the case of the Minister—their repeated visits to Newlyn. They were both visitors to the largest Cornish fishing community by a considerable measure. I would suggest, although I do not want to upset my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay, that the tragedy of discard is that we probably discard more fish from Newlyn fishermen than are caught in Mevagissey. However, that is something we can discuss on another day.
There is great quality fish from Newlyn as well. Actually, that is an important point. The quality of fish caught around the Cornish coast is significant, and it is in demand from Europe. I therefore have no doubt that we will get to the point where Europe will continue to want and buy Cornish fish.
My local fishermen welcome this Bill, broadly because its primary objective is to promote sustainable fisheries management. They know more than anyone that sustainable fisheries management arrangements are the right thing, demonstrating a respect for the oceans and its contents and delivering a future for an essential food source and for skilled employment. They know that the UK, particularly Cornwall, is already a world leader in sustainable fisheries management. Fishermen in Cornwall, through the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation, already work on many fronts to promote conservation initiatives and safe working practice and to demonstrate their commitment to realising a sustainable future.
It is important to remind the House of the benefits of Brexit to our fishermen. We will be an independent coastal state. We will have control of access to UK waters and ensure that British fishermen get a fair deal and are able to catch more because of a commitment to sustain stocks. We will revive coastal communities. Perhaps the Secretary of State could talk to the Prime Minister, because we are concerned about permanent workers from overseas potentially being excluded through a new immigration policy, which would have a detrimental impact on our fishing sector. It would be great to get clarity on whether people from overseas who work full-time in fishing can keep their jobs. We will also be able to maintain and develop the UK industry’s role as world leaders in sustainable fisheries policy.
The Government must not extend the common fisheries policy beyond 2020 or adopt an interim arrangement allowing the EU to set rules binding UK fisheries in any sort of extended implementation period or backstop. Furthermore, the Secretary of State must confirm today that the Government will not sacrifice the potential of Brexit for the British fishing industry in any way and that they will reject any future proposals from the EU that seek to wrestle away control of access to UK waters. Should the Government back down on their promises, the Bill cannot be delivered, and we will have failed and betrayed our fishing sector.
My fishermen are watching this closely, and they understand the risks of not getting this right. They are paying their mortgages, feeding their families and paying their taxes because of the fishing they do day in, day out, and we should take that seriously when considering their futures.
The Cornish Fish Producers Organisation has set out three simple asks of the Government. First, it asks the Government to establish a formal advisory council to guide policy, promote collaboration between central Government, devolved Administrations and the industry and allow for ongoing dialogue in a naturally variable industry. It is important that fishermen and fishing experts are sat around the table in that advisory council.
Secondly, the CFPO asks the Secretary of State to ensure a practical approach to sustainable fisheries management. Maximum sustainable yields—a key part of the regime—could fail in the same way that the CFP has failed, so it is important that we look at many other options to secure a good, sustainable fishing industry. Finally, the CFPO asks the Secretary of State to set out a dispute resolution mechanism, so that when things go wrong, they can be properly resolved.
It is always a pleasure to speak in any fishing debate, as I have done every year that I have been in the House. I would like to begin by thanking the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee for the incredible work it has put into the Bill. It was a pleasure to work on submissions to the inquiry, as a member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, and to have the Committee over to Northern Ireland to see at first hand the success and the needs of the industry in Portavogie in my constituency. I was also pleased to have input from Ardglass and Kilkeel, and I am pleased to see a representative from the Anglo North Irish Fish Producers Organisation in the Gallery, to oversee what we are saying.
I have been contacted by a number of fishermen and fishing bodies, and all have welcomed certain aspects of the Bill, such as the powers for the UK to set quotas and control access over who may fish in UK waters and under what conditions, the expectation of bilateral agreements with the EU, Norway and others with which it shares stocks and the Secretary of State in a position to endorse the content of those agreements. It is important to get that right.
It is also important to ensure that the principle of equal access is upheld when issuing any additional quota gained from leaving the EU. It is essential for Northern Ireland that quota is allocated according to individual vessels active in the fishery or by existing fixed quota allocations. While there is support for the principle of equal access for UK vessels to operate in any of the waters within the UK exclusive economic zone, there is some concern that these freedoms could be compromised if devolved Administrations introduce their own separate measures. Other Members have said that, and I want to reinforce it.
No, I will not.
I would like to briefly talk about clause 10. I would add that all licences granted under the authority of the Bill—in other words, those issued from the date of the Act coming into force onwards—are non-transferable. I am an advocate of reviewing the licence system, and I believe that it would be a mistake for us to fail to close the loophole that caused massive issues to begin with.
The Bill sets ambitions and measures to minimise discards. The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations is one body that contacted me to highlight the belief that reducing discards is an important element of sustainable fisheries management, and it is pleased to see the Government taking a positive and workable approach. Much good work has been done. The Government should establish a formal advisory council to guide policy, promote collaboration between central Government, devolved Administrations and the industry and allow for ongoing dialogue in a naturally variable industry.
It is understandable that the Bill refers to maximum sustainable yields as an approach to sustainable fisheries management. However, if MSY is set as a rigid timebound objective, it will, as with the CFP, prove unworkable. Instead, the UK must develop an approach to sustainable fisheries management that learns from the failings of the CFP. The NFFO is calling for a more balanced and workable approach, with oversight from the advisory council, and I concur with that.
There is still nothing in the Bill to address the access to labour issues. The natural counter-argument is that labour is outside the scope of the Bill, but it is in fact a critical pillar of the sustainability objective. I believe we can and must address that matter through the Bill, and an amendment can and should be tabled to incorporate access to labour.
I see the Minister in his place, and just for the record, he and I have had discussions on various occasions about the voisinage agreement, which my hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) mentioned earlier. We have brought it up on every occasion we have met in this House, and in our meetings the voisinage agreement has been at the forefront of my mind and of his. He has told us in the past that it is his intention to pursue this legal matter through the courts and to ensure the waters covered by the voisinage agreement that belong to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are returned. Will the Minister respond to that in a very positive way?
In my last minute, I want to quote the words of a constituent:
“Setting aside the complex and controversial questions surrounding parliamentary approval for the withdrawal agreement, much still hinges on the negotiations ahead. The UK’s legal status has altered and its leverage in fisheries negotiations has dramatically changed but unless that new status is used to address the gross distortions in quota shares, fishermen will question what it has all been for.”
My constituent says there are
“many examples of where the UK has been systematically disadvantaged by the CFP over 40 years. To deliver the fair share of fishing opportunities”,
all the fishermen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
“in this second round, will expect our negotiators”—
we look to those who will be responsible for this—
“to be as tough, astute, and hard-nosed as they need to be to realise the benefits of our new status as an independent coastal state.”
Good times are ahead. The good times will come, and they will come with some abundance after 29 March. We look forward to it.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). Indeed, I am doing so for the first time.
We are all aware that since joining what was then the EEC, the UK fishing industry has steadily declined from landings of l million tonnes to about 400,000 tonnes today. Despite this, the industry still contributes £1.3 billion to the UK economy and provides over 34,000 jobs nationwide.
In the south-east, the industry is small, representing just over 1% of the jobs in the sector, but there are communities where fishing is the lifeblood of the town. Selsey in my constituency services much of the surrounding coast, including Chichester harbour, bringing in an annual landings turnover of £l million and boasting the best crab in the country. Selsey’s small but active fishing industry has about 15 boats, mostly of under- 10 metre vessels but with four of over-10 metres. Similarly, across the UK our fishing fleet predominantly comprises smaller vessels. Only about a fifth of our vessels are over-10 metres long. However, today we can see large vessels from France and Belgium fishing just 6 miles off the coast of Selsey. The vast majority of our local fishing is done within a 10-mile radius, so this is rather unwelcome.
We hope that change is on the horizon, as this Bill will set out the framework to make the UK an independent coastal state once again. With that, comes the ability to control our exclusive economic zone, reinstating our sovereign right to explore, exploit, conserve and manage our seas. This change will mean that foreign vessels will have to seek permission to fish here. In cases such as Selsey, I hope that will also mean we can provide some breathing space so our local fleet can access near-shore fishing grounds without competition.
One of the biggest changes brought about by this Bill will be our ability to implement a fair quota system, as currently it is anything but. As has been mentioned, in the English channel, the French take 83% of the cod; by contrast, UK fishers can take only 9%. It was therefore no surprise to hear the French President and his Europe Minister calling over the past few days for guaranteed access to our waters.
The UK has led the way to sustainable fisheries. We have been instrumental in setting rates at levels that will deliver a maximum sustainable yield by 2020, ensuring that species numbers remain stable for future generations. Self-regulation provides the opportunity to be more flexible and responsive to species population changes, allowing fishermen to take advantage of increases in fish populations. It has already been suggested that quotas for rays and skates could be increased by as much as 20%.
A big cause for concern within the industry is how to get more people into fishing. A New Economics Foundation report has highlighted that one of the biggest barriers for new entries is cost. New fishers willing to join the industry are required to purchase vessels with existing track records if they are to access quotas. That is a significant obstacle for those wishing to enter the profession, and it has the tendency to mean that older vessels are overvalued. I hope that in the near future the Government can work with organisations such as the NFFO to establish taster days and promote apprenticeships in this vital industry, which we can and should regenerate.
This debate is not about the disadvantage of the past but the opportunity of the future. The change ahead of us will reinvigorate our fishing industry and create prosperity for coastal communities, while continuing to ensure our fisheries are sustainable for future generations. I believe we can do all this and more, if we develop strategies to get more people into the industry who will help to bring in a new era of growth for our fishing industry.
British fisherman have faced decades of disadvantage, but by ensuring that our seas are once again sovereign we will turn the tides. I will end with a quotation from the president of the NFFO, Tony Delahunty, as he is a constituent of mine. He said:
“The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisation’s view is that the withdrawal and future agreement…is an extremely important first step towards a new future for the UK as an independent coastal state and are keen to ensure that there are no links between fishing rights and trade in future negotiations.”
It is a pleasure to follow my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan). I, too, welcome the Bill as it is a clear indication that, after 40 years, we will leave the EU in March, and the UK will once again become an independent coastal state, responsible for managing its own waters. In Newhaven in my constituency, the fishing industry has been in decline for decades. A once thriving fishing port now sees its local fishermen away for long periods, often working for larger fishing fleets and unable to make a living independently. That is the legacy of the CFP.
The Bill provides a ray of hope for the industry, but let us be under no illusion: the changes in the Bill cannot be negotiated away as part of the withdrawal agreement or future trading relationship arrangements. Failure to secure the contents of the Bill will consign the UK fishing industry to the annals of history. I welcome many of the measures in the Bill, but particular highlights for me are the provision revoking the automatic access rights of EU vessels and the new powers for the UK to set catch limits, revoking EU powers to set EU quotas for our waters.
I have some concerns, however, that I wish to raise with the Minister. While the Bill will restore control of our waters, many people are concerned that the withdrawal agreement and, in particular, the future trading relationship paper could override the Bill and that countries such as France and Spain could demand access in future negotiations. In the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, we heard evidence during our fishing inquiry that the UK will remain in the CFP until 31 December 2020, but we will leave the EU before that. I made the point to the Secretary of State that we have concerns that although the Minister may attend the annual fisheries negotiation in December 2019, he will not have a say to ensure that our fishing rights are not overruled in the transition period. It is really important to have clarity on that point. I would welcome being wrong about it, but we are nervous.
As my hon. Friends the Members for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) and for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) have said, we would also like the reassurance of the Bill including the date when we will actually leave. We want to see the date of 31 December 2020 written into the Bill. We would also like to see the insertion of an economic link into the Bill so that we are clear what we mean by “British”. Fishing for Leave has suggested that any British vessel should be 60% UK crewed and 60% UK-owned, retaining 60% of the catch landed. It is vital to ensure compliance with the term “British” if we are to deliver economic benefits to the communities we have heard so much about today. It is essential that we avoid multinationals buying up our entitlement.
Clauses 9 and 10 will grant powers to the devolved Administrations, but Northern Ireland does not have a devolved Administration, and it could be a while before one is restored. We would like reassurance that while Northern Ireland does not have an Assembly, civil servants will be given powers to prepare for the implementation of the Bill while an Executive is restored.
Following on from the points made by the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) about the voisinage agreement, the historical reciprocal arrangements are not in place and fishermen in Northern Ireland are suffering as a result. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said to the Select Committee this morning that that was a matter for DEFRA, so I am putting it back to DEFRA Ministers now. Either we need to challenge the Republic of Ireland Government to open up those fishing waters to fishermen in Northern Ireland, or in this Bill we can take back control and say that the Republic of Ireland cannot access UK waters until that dispute is resolved. I would very much appreciate it if the Secretary of State or the Minister were to comment on that. I will be grateful if these issues can be addressed either in Committee or on Report so that we do not have to table our own amendments.