To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if he will make a statement on the consequences of the EU trade and co-operation agreement as it applies to the fishing industry.
As hon. Members will know, before Christmas the UK and the EU concluded a new trade and co-operation agreement, which established tariff-free trade in all goods and, among other things, sets a new relationship with the EU on fisheries. Before turning to the specifics of that agreement, I should briefly set the wider context.
The withdrawal agreement that was agreed by this House in January last year established the United Kingdom as an independent coastal state. Over the course of the last year we have taken our independent seat at the regional fisheries management organisations, including the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission and the North Atlantic Fisheries Organisation. In September, we reached a partnership agreement with Norway—our most important partner on fishing interests, and with whom we have responsibility for shared stocks in the North sea.
We have also developed new bilateral arrangements with our other north-east Atlantic neighbours, including the Faroes, Greenland and Iceland. We have recently commenced annual bilateral fisheries negotiations with the Faroes in relation to access to one another’s waters, and a UK-Norway-EU trilateral is about to begin to agree fishing opportunities on shared stocks in the North sea. There will also be a UK-EU bilateral negotiation on fishing opportunities for the current year in remaining areas. For the first time in almost 50 years, the UK has a seat at the table and represents its own interests in those important negotiations.
The trade and co-operation agreement establishes an initial multi-annual agreement on quota, sharing and access, covering five and a half years. It ends relative stability as the basis for sharing stocks. Under the agreement, we have given an undertaking to give the EU access to our waters on similar terms as now and, in return, it has agreed to relinquish approximately 25% of the quota that it previously caught in our waters under the EU’s relative stability arrangement. That means that we move from being able to catch somewhat over half the fish in our waters to two thirds of the fish in our waters at the end of the multi-annual agreement. The transfer of quota is front-loaded, with the EU giving up 15% in year 1. On North sea cod, we have an increase from 47% to 57%. On Celtic sea haddock, our share has moved from 10% to 20%. On North sea hake, we secured an uplift from 18% to 54%, and on West of Scotland anglerfish, we have an increase from 31% to 45%. After the five-and-a-half-year agreement, we are able to change access and sharing arrangements further. The EU, for its part, will also be able to apply tariffs on fish exports in proportion to any withdrawal of access.
Although we recognise that some sectors of the fishing industry had hoped for a larger uplift, and, indeed, the Government argued throughout for a settlement that would have been closer to zonal attachment, the agreement does, nevertheless, mark a significant step in the right direction. To support the UK industry through this initial five and a half years, the Prime Minister announced, just before Christmas, that we will invest £100 million in the UK fishing industry, and I will be bringing forward proposals for this investment in due course.
Finally, although it is not a consequence of the trade and co-operation agreement, the end of the transition period and the fact that we have left both the customs union and the single market does mean that there is some additional administration accompanying exports to the EU. I am aware that there have been some teething issues as businesses get used to these new processes. Authorities in the EU countries are also adjusting to new procedures. We are working closely with both industry and authorities in the EU to iron out these issues and to ensure that goods flow smoothly to market.
For years, this Government have promised our fishing industry a sea of opportunity, but, today, our boats are tied up in harbour, their propellers fouled with red tape manufactured in Whitehall. Boats that are able to go to sea are landing their catches in Denmark—an expensive round trip of at least 72 hours, which takes work away from processors and other shoreside businesses in this country. Our Fisheries Minister describes promises made by Ministers as “dreams” and apparently did not think it was worth reading the agreement as soon as it was made, even though every second counted. How on earth was it allowed to come to this? The EU trade agreement allows a grace period on customs checks for EU businesses. Why was there no grace period allowed for our exporters, and will the Government engage with the EU as a matter of urgency to make good that most fundamental of errors?
Yesterday, the Prime Minister told the Liaison Committee that compensation is being considered for our fishing industry. Who will be compensated, for what, and by how much? When will our scheme be published and what steps will be taken to help processors, catchers and traders in the meantime? On the loss of quota swaps and other mechanisms, as the Fisheries Minister said yesterday, this could be done Government to Government in-year. Can the Secretary of State explain today how the literally hundreds of producer organisation to producer organisation swaps done every year will be done on a Government-to-Government basis?
Finally, what will happen at the end of a five-and-a-half year transition period? A transition normally takes us from point A to point B. This transition takes us from point A to point A with a new negotiation. Is zonal attachment still the Government’s policy on quota shares?
This is a shambles of the Government’s own making; there is no one else to blame now. When will the Minister start listening to the industry? I make him this offer: I can convene a virtual roundtable of all the affected sectors today or tomorrow. Will he meet with me and them to sort this out? The time for complacency has passed.
May I begin where the right hon. Gentleman ended and say that we are looking and working very closely with industry on this matter? We are having twice-a-week meetings with all the key stakeholders and all the key sectors to help them understand these issues. Yesterday, we had a meeting with the Dutch officials; earlier this week, we had a meeting with the French; and, on Friday, we had a meeting with the Irish to try to iron out some of these teething problems. They are only teething problems. When people get used to using the paperwork, goods will flow normally. Of course, it would have been open to the EU to offer us a grace period, just as we have had a grace period for its goods coming to us. For reasons known only to the EU and the way that it approaches its particular regulations, that was not something that it was willing to do, so we have had to work with these arrangements from a standing start and, clearly, that causes certain issues.
The right hon. Gentleman asked what happens after five and a half years. As I said in my opening statement, after that period, we are free to change access arrangements and change sharing arrangements, and we will do so. He asked specifically about swaps. It is important to note that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has all of the information on all of the swaps that have taken place in recent years, since each of those producer organisation to producer organisation swaps requires the Government to agree them. It is, therefore, quite possible for us to build those swaps into the annual exchanges. Annual exchanges of fishing opportunities are a normal feature of annual negotiations, and we have also retained the ability to do in-year swaps on behalf of those POs.
The right hon. Gentleman has raised the issue of what the fisheries Minister said yesterday. I think the record will show that she did not say she did not have time to read the agreement; what she actually said was that her jaw did not drop when she was told what was in the agreement. There may be a reason for that, which is that she knew what was likely to be in the agreement for at least a week, since I had been discussing it with her and we were both in regular contact with our negotiators.
Finally, I am aware that the Prime Minister mentioned yesterday that the Government remain open to considering compensation for sectors that might have been affected through no fault of their own. We will look closely at this issue, but in the meantime, we are going to work very closely with the industry to ensure that we can iron out these difficulties.
The Secretary of State will be aware that fishermen in Cornwall have been very disappointed with the agreement reached on quota with the EU, and the fact that its vessels can still fish in our six to 12-mile limit. There is real concern that our inshore fleet, which makes up the vast majority of vessels in my constituency, will benefit little from this new deal, so what assurances can he give the fishermen of Mevagissey and Newquay, as well as fishermen across Cornwall, that the Government will be working with our inshore fleet to make sure it can benefit as much as possible from this new deal, and that those fishermen will be in a good position to increase their share of the quota when we come to the end of the adjustment period?
We left the London fisheries convention and gave notice under that because it is our intention that the six to 12-mile zone should be reserved predominantly for our own fishermen, and at the end of the five and a half years, that is exactly what we will be seeking to achieve. There are some uplifts for fishermen in the Celtic sea, and in particular those in Cornwall—as I mentioned earlier, haddock has moved from 10% to 20%—and the Celtic sea is also an area that often had its fishing interests affected by the ability of Ireland to invoke Hague preference, which depleted our share of some stocks, notably cod. With the absence of Hague preference, there will be some other uplifts in those areas.
Fishing has every right to feel betrayed and let down by this Government. The industry was promised a better deal, but they have not got one. Fishers fear some of the extra quota is just paper fish—fish that might not even exist, or are hard for British boats to catch. The promise to immediately exclude European boats from our six to 12-mile limit was broken, and the catch app and export systems are cumbersome, bureaucratic, and home-grown Tory red tape that the industry can ill afford. Shellfish exporters feel particularly betrayed: they are unable to export until April, because the Government failed to negotiate a deal that included them.
Yesterday, the PM promised compensation for those affected by export chaos, but Downing Street seemed to U-turn on this less than six hours later. Fishers deserve better than this incompetent Government, so when will the distant water fleet be able to go to sea again? When will the new avalanche of paperwork be scaled back? When will the £100 million be available for coastal communities? When will British fishers get the extra quota they were promised? When will the requirement to land more British fish in British ports finally be introduced, and when will this Government actually start standing up for our fishers with action, not just soundbites?
I know that in previous debates on fishing the hon. Gentleman has spoken of the importance of tariff-free access to the EU market, and the trade and co-operation agreement gives our fishing export businesses that access, which is particularly important for the shellfish sector.
It is not the case that shellfish cannot be exported at all until April. There have been certain issues regarding bivalve molluscs and getting the correct paperwork, and some issues around depuration and the ability to export stocks that have not been purified prior to export, but they do not amount to a ban on the export of shellfish.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the distant water fleets. It is a convention that in the absence of agreements on quotas—this is pertinent to the agreement we have with Norway—access is suspended, but we will seek access to Arctic cod in the usual way for those parts of our fleet that benefit from that stock.
The hon. Gentleman asked when fishermen will see the uplift in quota. As I made clear, the EU is giving up 15% of its catch in our waters in year one, so fishermen will see some important advantages in this very first year.
We are seeing teething issues arise for our fishing exporters, with health checks and customs documents causing some backlogs in exports to the EU. Will my right hon. Friend outline the steps his Department is taking to ensure that exporters know what is required of them, so that those challenges can be eased?
We have been working closely with authorities, particularly in France and the Netherlands, to understand the sorts of issues that they are finding. At one end of the spectrum, many of the issues are quite trivial, such as where the stamp is; we have even had questions about the colour of the ink used on the forms, pagination and the way pages are numbered. Those are all trivial problems that can be sorted out—indeed, some leeway is being given for such issues in France, given that there is sometimes a difference in interpretation. There are other, more significant issues, notably around import agents failing to pre-declare properly or at all. We are working closely with the industry on those, with regular meetings, to ensure that they are addressed.
“Stay in the UK,” they said in 2014; “Leave the EU,” they said in 2016; “A sea of opportunity,” they said in 2020—bad advice, backed by lies and disinformation, all down the line, and Scotland’s fishing industry is among those feeling the betrayal. Now, Scots businesses cannot get their product to their European markets, EU fishing fleets can still access our waters, and we are still subject to the CFP but now do not have a say in how it runs. Scots businesses have lost many thousands of pounds and communities are facing job losses. DFDS cannot take groupage loads until Monday at the earliest, because the Government made a mess of the paperwork system. Businesses may close and people may lose jobs because this Government messed up. Jimmy Buchan of the Scottish Seafood Association—once a Tory election candidate—said that Ministers are not doing enough. The sales director of John Ross told UK Ministers that the Brexit deal was worthless unless they took action. It is not just “teething issues”, Minister. It is chaos, and it is costing businesses shedloads of money. Who exactly do they apply to for compensation? Shall I give them the Minister’s mobile phone number?
As I said earlier, there have been some teething problems, particularly in Scotland, I know. DFDS established a hub system at Larkhall so it could group consignments together. It has had some difficulty getting the right information from some of the fishing businesses in Scotland. Food Standards Scotland is working hard to address the issue.
The hon. Lady says that the Government made a mess of the paperwork. She will be aware that the paperwork is the responsibility of the Scottish Government. I have spoken regularly to Fergus Ewing about this, and he maintains—I believe he is right—that there is no lack of export health certification capacity; the vets and the fish certifying officers are just trying to get used to complicated new paperwork. I will talk to DFDS later today to see whether there is anything we can do to help, but I pay tribute to the work that it and Food Standards Scotland are doing to work through some of the technical differences. The short answer to the current challenge is to work through each of the problems as they present themselves, so that they are not repeated and goods can flow smoothly.
The fishing community in Grimsby welcomes the deal agreed by the Prime Minister, particularly the springboard it gives us to take back more quota as the years go on, and our tariff-free arrangements. Can my right hon. Friend confirm when the details of the £100 million fund and the international quota swaps will be made available to us?
My hon. Friend’s constituency is home to the UK’s fish processing industry, and tariff-free access will be important for some of those sectors. She asked two specific questions. The first was on the new £100 million fund that the Prime Minister announced. We are working on the details of that and will in the next month or two consult on how the fund should be allocated and used. Secondly, she asked about the issue of swaps. Those negotiations with the European Union and the trilateral with Norway and the European Union are about to commence. We envisage that, probably in the next couple of weeks, there would be a final conclusion on how we manage the North sea, and that would include swapping arrangements.
Eight-five per cent. of the seafood caught by my local fishing fleet goes to customers in the EU. Along with boats right across the UK, they are currently tied up, as logistics firms will not accept any more produce due to the current customs chaos. Can the Secretary of State explain how he plans to resolve what he dismisses as “teething problems” and clarify what the Prime Minister meant when he talked about financial compensation for their losses?
We are working closely with the industry and DFDS to identify what we can do to address some of the problems that have been encountered. I am aware that late last week, DFDS suspended the groupage service that it was offering to smaller consignments and has focused on single larger consignments, particularly of Scottish salmon. I understand that it believes it has sorted out some of those problems and intends next week to resume some of those groupage consignments. There is a challenge here: in a group of several consignments, maybe three people would have got the paperwork right, but if one person has not, that can cause issues for everybody. We need people to pay attention to the detail and to get that paperwork right. We are working closely with the industry so that it can acclimatise itself to this administrative process.
My constituent Andrew Trust, the owner of Ocean Harvest, is finding that the high cost of border control charges, export health certificates, the need for a fiscal representative in France and the uncertainty that his fish will reach the buyer in the EU poses a real threat to his business. What compensating measures will the Government put in place?
The key thing is to get this process working more smoothly, and that requires traders to familiarise themselves with it. I have also spoken to fish operators in my constituency, which is in that part of the world. Those who have experience of exporting more widely around the world, including to the far east, are quite familiar with these processes and are coping with them, but for those businesses for which this is new, it will take time to get used to the paperwork.
Fishing communities across the country feel that their genuine concerns have been used for political purposes and they have ended up being sold down the river. Why does the Secretary of State think that fishers in Fleetwood and across the country feel angry and let down by the way they have been betrayed by his Government’s choices, and how much of the £100 million promised to the industry will be spent on improving port facilities in Fleetwood?
Port facilities will, indeed, be one of the areas that the new £100 million fund will address around the country; we want to build capacity there as our share of the catch grows. The Government have maintained all along that we were aiming for something closer to zonal attachment. As I made clear earlier, we took an important step towards that objective, with the EU giving up 25% of its catch in our waters as part of the wider agreement. Yes, we would have liked to have gone further, and after the first five and a half years, we will.
Pulse trawling, which uses electrical signals to drive flatfish such as sole from the seabed into nets, is highly controversial and damaging to our marine environment. Many in Marlow and Beaconsfield have written to me about how we can protect our marine environment moving forward. Therefore, can my right hon. Friend confirm that, with the end of the transition period at the beginning of this month, we have seen the last of this practice in UK waters?
I can. We have the freedom to regulate through technical measures in our own waters, and we have banned pulse trawling.
With fish exporters paying over £500 or £600 a day in extra paperwork since the Tory Brexit deal came into force, in what world does the Secretary of State believe that this represents frictionless, barrier-free trade, as the Prime Minister claimed the deal delivers?
There are no tariff barriers. We secured an agreement through the trade and co-operation agreement that means tariff-free trade in all goods, including fish.
While some of the benefits of leaving the CFP are going to be postponed for five and a half years, can the Secretary of State set out what action he is taking right now, with the powers that we do have, to benefit both the marine environment and the under-10 metre fishing fleet?
My right hon. Friend raises an important point, which is that while we have reached a quota sharing and access agreement for five and a half years, we do have the freedom to set our own regulations. We have already banned pulse trawling, and we are consulting on and will soon be bringing forward measures to further protect the Dogger Bank. We will continue to look for opportunities to use technical measures to enhance conservation in our waters.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his work to date on the particular fishing issues relating to Northern Ireland, but would he recognise that there are some outstanding matters, including a permanent commitment that Northern Ireland boats can land products in local ports without sanitary and phytosanitary or other checks, addressing the exclusion of Northern Ireland boats from all but two ports in the Republic of Ireland and ensuring that new quota allocations reflect the existing fixed quota allocation units?
Yes, there are some issues in Northern Ireland that we are working through. For the purposes of regulation, we have taken the position that Northern Ireland vessels should not require an SPS check or a catch certificate to land in their home port. Such an idea would clearly be ridiculous, so we are not requiring that, and we have agreed that with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs. There are some remaining issues about the Northern Ireland protocol and some of the easements we have had on trade and what will replace them, and we are working closely with the Commission and with colleagues in DAERA to agree on that.
Catching fish is one thing; landing and processing fish is quite another. If we are to be even more ambitious in five and a half years’ time and catch even more fish, what are the Government going to do in the next five and a half years to develop our fish processing industry?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point, and that is why the Prime Minister has announced this new £100 million fund, which will support the infrastructure at ports to cope with a growing share of the catch. We will also look at supporting processing as well, so that we can add value to the fish we catch.
The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations described the Prime Minister’s EU trade deal as “minuscule, marginal, paltry, pathetic” and some British fishers are now landing their catch straight on to the continent to avoid the Government’s red tape and the impending lorry queues chaos at the border, so does the Secretary of State agree that this is driving jobs away from the UK and hitting hard our coastal communities?
I do not agree with that. As I said earlier, we do recognise that fishermen would have liked a larger uplift, and we absolutely recognise that throughout the negotiation we were arguing for a move to a share that was closer to zonal attachment, but this does represent a significant step in the right direction, with a 25% loss of what the EU currently catches in our waters, and that will bring additional fishing opportunities to our own sector.
The fishermen of Salcombe, Dartmouth and Brixham are now faced with catch certificates, health certificates, and export documentation, all of which is extensive red tape and comes with a cost. What is the Department doing to reform that system, and to improve it and reduce bureaucracy? We are hearing reports from the EU that customs officials are deliberately delaying British exports on the European mainland. What steps have been taken to hold them to account, and to ensure a streamlined process and to ensure that the EU upholds its side of the deal?
The bureaucracy that we are having to fill in is obviously designed by the European Union, and in some cases, on many export health certificates, the form is a generic World Trade Organisation form that has not had a great deal of thought given to it. We think the paperwork could be improved, but we would need the EU to agree to engage with that. For now we have to work with the paperwork that it designates. It is EU bureaucracy, but we are working closely with European countries to get a better understanding of what is required.
DEFRA’s consultation letter of October 2020 on future quota arrangements contained much emphasis on zonal attachment and how it might be applied at UK level. With a small maritime zone, that would severely disadvantage Northern Ireland as only 20% of our quota holdings are in the Irish sea, and the Irish sea is shared by the UK’s four Administrations, plus the Isle of Man. Discrimination faced by Northern Ireland’s fishermen at the hands of the EU and its Hague preference must not be replaced by a form of discrimination within the United Kingdom. We believe that any departure from the established principle of fixed quota allocation units will disadvantage Northern Ireland’s fishermen. Will the Secretary of State confirm that he will not allow that to happen, and that Northern Ireland’s fishing fleet will receive its share of the additional quota on the basis of its existing fixed quota allocation share?
We have made clear that the existing entitlements that people would have had under relative stability will continue to be issued under the legacy FQA units approach, but when we get additional fishing opportunities, we want to be able to allocate those in a different way. We are working closely with all UK Administrations on a fairer sharing arrangement, and we recognise the particular issues in the Irish sea. We are conscious of that, and we are working closely with the Northern Ireland Executive on getting a fair arrangement.
I have been contacted by many fishermen from Moray and across Scotland who are raising their serious concerns and frustrations about the current situation, both here with the Scottish Government element at Larkhall, and because of the losses they are currently experiencing. One local skipper, Liam Gray from Buckie, agreed that I could share his returns from this week. He is averaging £30 a box for the fish he is landing, and £47 a box for the prawns. That is half of what he needs to cover his costs. Will the Secretary of State outline the discussions that he is having with the Scottish Government about the problems at Larkhall, and about the compensation scheme that is clearly needed by fishermen right across the country?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising those issues. As I have said, I am having a discussion with DFDS later today, to see whether we can offer help. It is working through a difficult situation, and working hard to address these problems, as is Food Standards Scotland. I have had numerous conversations on those matters with Fergus Ewing, and the Government have offered support should the Scottish Government want that to address these problems. January is always the slowest month in the fish trade, and the coronavirus pandemic has caused a lot of problems in the export market generally. The export market is quite weak, which is why the price of some fish has been lower.
We already know that if the period of disruption that we are witnessing is extended, European consumers will seek alternative suppliers and will be unlikely to return to Scottish suppliers. When asked how long it will take to sort the problems, the Secretary of State’s ministerial colleague, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid), said on the radio this morning, “How long is a piece of string?” Does the Secretary of State think that that is an acceptable answer for an industry that is facing what it describes as a “catastrophe”?
We are working very hard to make sure that that piece of string is as short as possible by having regular daily meetings with industry to try to iron out these problems.
Prior to our departure from the EU, 90% of Welsh shellfish exports were sent to the EU. Since the new customs system has been in place, The Lobster Pot, a family business on Ynys Môn, has had its imports arrive dead so that they cannot be used, and another, Menai Oysters, has decided to stop exporting until this problem is resolved. Can the Secretary of State please confirm to my Ynys Môn businesses what he is doing to speed up customs procedures and when they can expect to be able to securely export live shellfish?
I can assure my hon. Friend that we are working daily with industry to identify specific granular problems that are presenting themselves and then working with authorities in France to ensure that there is a common understanding of what is required so that we can speed up the passage of these goods.
The fishing industry is absolutely crucial to my constituency, and right now, as we have heard, it is in dead trouble. Everyone in the Palace of Westminster knows my stance on Brexit, but I am of a practical frame of mind, and I would like to offer my help to work with Ministers and with the industry to try to get this problem sorted, because that is what we must do. My right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) has made the offer of a roundtable discussion between the Government and industry. May I support that plea? Finally, financial compensation is going to be utterly crucial if the industry is to survive in remote parts of the UK like my constituency.
We are having roundtable discussions with the industry formally twice a week and are in conversation with it daily. We have helplines set up at the Animal and Plant Health Agency in Carlisle to tackle any of the technical issues that vets might have. We also have meetings with colleagues in this House to take on board any of the individual issues that they are receiving. I make this offer to any Member of this House who has a constituent bringing up a specific issue: do feed that back to us so that we can address the problems.
One catch brought to shore by Porthdinllaen fishing boats is scallops. Fair play to AM Seafoods of Fleetwood, which is still supporting Welsh fishermen by continuing to buy up scallops, but at present they have to be frozen as there is simply no way to get them to continental markets fresh. I am told that paperwork on both sides of the English channel now means an extra cost per consignment of 5%. This looks like a tariff and it hurts like a tariff to an industry that was promised a tariff-free Brexit. Could the Minister tell me how he is working with the Welsh Government to ensure the survival of Welsh inshore fishing, and will he admit that for our fishing communities this bare-bones deal is a no-deal Brexit by the back door?
It is certainly not a no-deal Brexit. There is a free trade and co-operation agreement that means that we have tariff-free trade in goods, including in shellfish. One of the key asks of the shellfish sector was that we sought to get a free trade agreement without tariffs. I regularly meet Lesley Griffiths, who attends the sub-committee we have that looks at some of the teething issues at the border, and we are in regular contact with her about the particular challenges in Wales.
Clearly the fishing fleet in the United Kingdom has been suppressed for the past 48 years, and as we come out and set our own policies, it will take time to develop the fishing fleets and, indeed, the fish processing centres. Will my right hon. Friend set out what the Government plan to do to ensure that our fishing fleet and fish processing centres are built up so that we can take full advantage of the fish in our waters?
There will be new opportunities with the uplift in quota that we are getting, but also the new requirements that we are bringing in to require vessels to land a greater proportion of their catch into the UK. The new £100 million fund announced by the Prime Minister will indeed go towards supporting that increased capacity at ports and in processing.
The shortage of vets to inspect fish, the lack of customs agents to process border forms and there not being enough time for businesses to adapt to new rules of origin are, I would suggest, a lot more than “teething problems”. The Secretary of State might want to rethink his analysis there, but what the fishing communities up and down our country want to know is when he will fix the problems caused by the Government’s failure to prepare for the new border arrangements.
We are working with the industry daily to identify the specific challenges that they are encountering, such as individual examples of why the French may have raised a query on an export health certificate. We are trying to deal with that and iron out that problem.
UK fishermen are understandably frustrated by the current situation at the borders. Can my right hon. Friend therefore update the House on what discussions he has had with our European neighbours, since the end of the transition period, to tackle the issue?
My hon. Friend raises an important point, because many of the problems we have are often down to different interpretations of the official control regime in different countries, with Ireland, the Netherlands and France in some cases having different views on what is required. We are working very closely with them. We met Irish counterparts on Friday. We met French officials on Tuesday and have further meetings planned with them, and we met Dutch officials yesterday.
In the lead-up to the trade and co-operation agreement, John Ross Jr in Aberdeen said that it
“had to endure the government issuing a barrage of useless information”.
D. R. Collin in Eyemouth has said that Brexit has more or less finished the business. Prices at the quayside at Peterhead fish market are now 80% below normal. All of that can be taken together with what was described on the front page of the Fishing News as the Prime Minister’s “Brexit betrayal”. Is it not the case that rather than the promised sea of opportunity, through their incompetence the UK Government are now in danger of delivering instead a sea of insolvency for the Scottish seafood industry?
The responsibility for issuing the export health certificates that are causing these challenges rests with the Scottish Government, but I would like to pay tribute to Food Standards Scotland, which is working very hard to resolve some of the issues being encountered.
The Minister will be aware of the plight of D. R. Collin, the seafood suppliers in Eyemouth in my constituency. I know that his officials and those at the Scotland Office are working exceptionally hard to find a solution to the problems that it is facing as it tries to export to the EU. I back-up the calls for compensation for those facing losses as a consequence of this, but can he reassure me that those in his Department are doing everything they possibly can to find solutions to the problems that D. R. Collin and others are facing in trying to export and continue to sell their fish to Europe?
I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that assurance. I will be talking to DFDS later today. I pay tribute to what it is trying to do to resolve these problems. Some of the paperwork is complex. Its plan for a consolidation hub at Larkhall is a good one. When we iron out these problems, the system will work.
First, I take the opportunity to ask the Secretary of State to thank the Fisheries Minister for taking a call from us on Christmas eve and again having her office contact us early on Christmas day and Boxing day to clarify the situation. I reject the character assassination that she has been subject to in the past 24 hours, and I think that should be put on record.
I welcome the demise of the Hague preference. That scheme discriminated badly against fishermen in Northern Ireland, but I appeal to the Minister to please not replace that discriminatory process of theft of our fish with a UK replacement that discriminates how quota is shared out within the four nations of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland fishermen will not tolerate using share-out to placate English fishermen who feel they have been let down. I am appealing to the Secretary of State to ensure that we get a fair share-out of that quota.
From Howth to Greencastle, Northern Ireland fishermen now face a deliberate hard border put in place by the Republic of Ireland. We are told that we cannot land in those traditional ports, yet boats from Skibbereen, in the very deep south of the Republic of Ireland, can catch mackerel in British waters and land them in Lisahally in Londonderry. When will the message go from the Government to the EU that we want a fair share-out in the process? If that cannot happen, I appeal to the Government to invoke article 16.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind words about the Fisheries Minister. He is absolutely right: she was across the detail of this agreement and was briefing colleagues in the House over the Christmas period.
The hon. Gentleman raises sharing arrangements within the UK. We are consulting closely with each and every part of the UK about how additional opportunities could be shared differently. He is also right that the Hague preference was against the interests of the Northern Ireland fishing fleet. That was a concept that the UK created in the late 1970s to try to get a fairer share, but, as is often the case with the EU, it is a system that ended up being used against our interests.
Let us head up to Birmingham with Mike Wood.
Dudley South, Mr Speaker.
Media reports at the weekend suggested that the EU trade deal prevents the UK from protecting our marine conservation. Can the Secretary of State confirm whether we have the legal powers to regulate the vessels and the forms of fishing that are conducted in British waters if we feel it is necessary to protect our marine wildlife and particularly our marine conservation areas?
Yes, I can absolutely make that point. The technical conservation measures are for us, and us alone, to make. There will be times when we may seek bilateral agreement with the European Union on that, but there will be nothing to stop us putting conditions on vessels, provided they are not discriminatory and do not aim to discriminate against the European Union.
While I welcome the Minister’s statement that he will be meeting stakeholders, I assure him that those stakeholders understand the issues; it appears to be the Government who have failed to grasp them, particularly with adjusted quota shares, especially in whitefish, which no amount of understanding or explaining forms will fix. When will there be an effective mechanism for allowing co-operation between UK and EU fishermen on adjusting fishing opportunities to fix the mess that this Government have created?
A common feature of annual fisheries negotiations, which will continue, is what are called the annual exchanges, where a swapping arrangement takes place Government to Government. We are very aware of the swaps that took place from producer organisation to producer organisation in the past. We have all that data. We are working with the industry to ensure that we get it access to the quotas that it actually fishes.
Other Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici), have raised the issue of the £100 million fund. When we are talking about infrastructure projects, £100 million is very limited. Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that he will press the Treasury hard for further funding, and that there can be some cross-working with the other funds that are available for coastal communities and regional funding?
Obviously we all know that, on every front, people would always like more money, but we also recognise that the Treasury has to balance the finances as best it can in these difficult situations. It is £100 million of new money, and it is in addition to the money that we have already made available to every part of the UK to replace the legacy European maritime and fisheries fund.
Thanks to the United Kingdom Government’s incompetence, the fishing industry is in chaos, not just in Scotland but across the United Kingdom, and many face bankruptcy. In a disastrous interview with Radio Scotland this morning, the Secretary of State’s junior colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid), told us that everyone knew there would be challenges with Brexit, so when will the Secretary of State be renaming the “sea of opportunity” the “sea of challenges”?
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) is absolutely right on this issue. We have been clear for the whole year, as we prepared for the end of the transition period, that new paperwork would be needed. It is inevitable that when we introduce the requirement for export health certificates, for instance—these are new processes for customs officials and so on in France to get used to—there will be some teething problems. That is what we are seeing and we need to work hard to iron them out.
As my right hon. Friend and fellow Cornish MP will know, crab and lobster exports are a big part of our fishing sector in North Cornwall. There have been reports in the press of delays specifically around export health certificates. Will the Secretary of State outline how widespread this issue is in the south-west and what we can do to expedite the customs processes to ensure that shipments are delivered faster?
The principal issue is that DFDS, which, as well as leading on logistics in Scotland has a significant presence in the west country, encountered some difficulties with the accuracy of the paperwork, in particular the export health certificates, and some particular issues with import agents failing to declare the correct information on the EU’s TRACES system. For that reason, it temporarily suspended mixed consignments—the groupage—until it had been able to iron out those problems. I understand that it may be considering starting that service again next week.
Recently, Jimmy Buchan, the chief executive of the Scottish Seafood Association, mooted the idea of an independent clearing house for Europe in Scotland, which would allow Scottish fish producers to receive written clearance for export before their goods had to leave Scotland. What consultations has the UK Government had with the Scottish Seafood Association on the viability of that idea?
We are working very closely with the industry on all these matters. In the short term, we have to sort out issues arising with import agents and declarations on TRACES and so forth. However, if in the medium term we can come to further arrangements with the European Union, we can look at that. With the hub at Larkhall, DFDS is trying to consolidate loads and do export health certificates in one place.
We have taken back control of our fishing waters. Now, I and many in Redcar and Cleveland want to stop supertrawlers damaging our wildlife, harming and sadly killing porpoises and fish off the Teesside coast. Will the Secretary of State outline the steps being taken to protect our seas from the practices of supertrawlers?
This is an issue that is often raised and refers, I think, specifically to a Lithuanian vessel that started to access our waters last year, targeting mainly horse mackerel. There are things we can do and are doing through technical measures. We have already banned pulse trawlers, which were predominantly a Dutch part of the fleet. We are also looking at new spatial measures to protect Dogger Bank.
“as a seafood exporter, it feels as though our own government has thrown us into the cold Atlantic waters without a lifejacket”.
Those are not my words, but those of John Ross Jr., an historic smoked salmon producer based in my Aberdeen South constituency. Will the Secretary of State stop patronising businesses by referring to this Brexit chaos as “teething issues”? Will he apologise to John Ross Jr. and can he confirm when he will deliver full financial compensation for all the damage his Government are currently causing?
The salmon industry in Scotland benefits from tariff-free access to the EU market. While there have been, as I said, some problems, particularly around groupage and mixed consignments, the salmon trade has continued. We estimate that there are about 20 to 30 lorries a day crossing the short straits predominantly carrying Scottish salmon.
I thank my right hon. Friend for all the work he is doing to resolve the issues around paperwork for our fishermen. My Ilfracombe fishermen have now brought the fleet in as they cannot transport their fish. Given that these issues are causing losses on both sides of the channel, is there an option for free customs clearance on perishable goods?
The solution is for us to work closely with authorities in France to get an agreement on what is required. To be fair to the French authorities, while they have, as I said, encountered some quite trivial paperwork errors, they have generally shown some forbearance and allowed those goods to travel through. There were problems with IT systems in Calais and Boulogne early in the new year that exacerbated the situation. Those have been fixed now. We continue to work with the French authorities to try to make sure that the process can be made as smooth as possible, so that goods continue to travel on time.
Right now, a few miles from here, there are 10 EU trawlers: eight Irish, one French and a Dutch factory trawler. All but the Dutchmen are steaming south towards the beautiful village of Killybegs—Na Cealla Beaga in Irish—in Country Donegal. In five years’ time, EU nations such as Ireland will lose about 25% of their access to mainly Scottish waters; perhaps two or more of those boats will not be there, but perhaps they will. Regardless, the EU promised Ireland €1.051 billion-worth of help. Will the Minister tell me why politicians such as Neale Richmond say Ireland feels “constant solidarity” from the European Union, while Scotland, which has already been hit by the losses from its biggest market—probably more than 25% right now—is getting little or no solidarity at all from the United Kingdom, certainly not €1.051 billion-worth, which has left fishermen threatening to dump their catch on the gates of Westminster next week?
Although we did not get the larger uplift that we wanted, and we did not get as close to zonal attachment as we wanted, we got a significant step in the right direction, with an increase of around 25% in our fishing opportunities, including in the pelagic sector, particularly around the west of Scotland, and in some of the mackerel quota, where there has been some additional uplift. We are aware that there are consequences for the EU fleets. They have had to give up some of that quota, and obviously their own Governments and the EU are considering compensation for their losses.
I am suspending the House briefly to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next item of business.