Before we begin, I remind Members that they are expected to wear face coverings when they are not speaking in the debate, in line with current Government and House of Commons Commission guidance. I remind Members that they are asked by the House to have a covid lateral flow test twice a week if coming on to the parliamentary estate, which can be done either at the testing centre in Portcullis House or at home. Please also give each other and members of staff space when seated, and when entering and leaving the room.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered allocations to UK-EU fisheries following the UK’s departure from the EU.
Thank you, Ms McVey, for allowing me to speak. I especially thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this debate. We all tend to think that somebody else is going to request a debate on this topic, but when I spoke to the Committee Chairman, the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), I realised that that had not happened. Therefore, we arranged it very quickly on Thursday evening and Friday morning, and were kindly given this spot.
It is so important to have this debate, and it is a pleasure to see so many right hon. and hon. Members in their places. I am especially pleased to see the Minister in her place. She has a wonderful appreciation of fishing and a good working relationship with the fishing organisations in Northern Ireland. They speak highly of her. I know them well, so I know that when they speak highly of somebody, they have earned it—well done for that.
Last Friday was a grey, breezy and cold day at Portavogie, Kilkeel and Ardglass harbours in County Down. Part of the fleet was in port, part of the fleet is scattered around the British Isles, and some of them are fishing in the North sea. Others have diversified into offshore, energy-related projects and are deployed away from home. Some of the trawlers opted to stay at home and were tied up at the beginning of October, and they have no plans to put to sea until the new year. The prawn fishery is the mainstay of the County Down fleet and, by and large, catches drop off during the autumn. I hold an advice surgery in Portavogie on the second Saturday of every month, and my workload comes from the fishing issues in the village. Seasonal gales impact on fishing operations, too, as does the increased cost of fuel, which, other than crew wages, is the single biggest overhead for a trawler and has impacted substantially on the profitability of fishing operations, adding to the challenges.
Those are the factors that fishermen have to deal with year to year. However, in autumn 2021 they have been further complicated by the political closure of fishing grounds that fall within the maritime zone of Ireland, or the EU, in the Irish sea. As I often do, I will provide a Northern Ireland perspective—I am sure that hon. Members would be disappointed if I did not. The particular reason that I want to provide that perspective is that I represent the second biggest fishing port in Northern Ireland.
The sea border with Ireland is only a few minutes’ steaming time from Kilkeel. At this time of the year, access to those waters is vital for the local fleet. However, 11 months into the new relationship with the EU, issues such as mutual access by fishermen from both parts of the island to the waters are yet to be fully resolved.
A key concern of industry is that the Government have not been clear about the benefits gained and losses made by leaving the EU. Does the hon. Member agree that the Government must prioritise transparency and engagement with the industry?
I do agree with that. That is one of the thrusts of my comments this morning: the Minister and the Government must ensure that we have transparency and a settled perspective for the fishing fleets in Kilkeel, Portavogie in my constituency, Ardglass and across the whole of Northern Ireland.
French fishermen and the French Government complain about the UK not issuing enough fishing licences to fish in waters off the south coast of England. The sentiment in Northern Ireland is that we wish we had half of France’s problems when it comes to fishing opportunities and the ability to catch fish whenever we can. Following the 2016 referendum, a wagon train—or, to use a pun, a boatload—of officials from London visited County Down to gain an understanding of the fishing fleets’ operations and the path to market for seafood landed at the ports. The interdependence of fishing operations was recorded multiple times. The routes to the markets in GB, the EU and further afield were clearly explained. What was the result of that? We are still wondering.
The first part was the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol. Senior fisheries officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs visited Northern Ireland in early January 2020 to proclaim the benefits of the protocol for the fishing industry. We do not see those benefits. The “best of both worlds” was proclaimed on the tin and we heard that the proof of the pudding would be in the eating—we heard all the wee puns that we all use every day—but, as we often find, the devil is in the detail.
I understand what the hon. Gentleman is talking about, having been to Portavogie and Kilkeel myself. Does he agree that one of the complications of the protocol relates to the movement of fish, particularly prawns and scampi, from Scotland to Northern Ireland? None of it is marketed in Northern Ireland, because it all goes back to Whitby, in my constituency, to be processed. Does he agree that this is a problem that needs sorting out? The movement between GB and Northern Ireland is not just about retail, but about processing goods as well.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and I thank him for identifying that issue. He is a fellow member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and I am very pleased that we visited Portavogie. I also know that he has a particular interest in fishing. Just last week, we discussed some fishing industry issues that were of interest to both of us, and we are on the same page on them.
On 24 December 2020, the second part of the result was unveiled: the trade and co-operation agreement. The UK’s objective of becoming an independent coastal state was realised. Increased shares of fishing opportunities were secured, albeit at lower levels than in the expectations that had been raised by London.
What did that mean for local fishermen? According to the protocol, access to the EU market would be near seamless for seafood from Northern Ireland. That was good news, but there was one issue: fishermen would have to catch and land the seafood before they exported it, as referred to by the right hon. Gentleman. Regardless of neighbourhood agreements dating from the 1960s, Northern Ireland fishing vessels were excluded from all waters around Ireland, and vice versa, from 1 January.
The neighbourhood or voisinage agreement extends to inshore waters. Significant economic pain was endured until this matter was resolved in mid-2021. As we approach the first anniversary of the TCA, waters between six and 12 miles remain out of bounds, yet, right now, it is access to these waters that counts. To use an analogy, they are like a farm that straddles the land border. Imagine the headlines if a landowner was unable to work his land on the other side of the border to which he lives. We have examples of that in Northern Ireland, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) is aware.
This is particularly frustrating because, despite the hours upon hours of explaining these issues to officials from London, and despite Dublin exuding its desire for free trade between both parts of the island, a deal was struck with the EU that ignored fishery access issues around the island of Ireland. The frustration that fishermen in my constituency and across Northern Ireland have is palatable. The TCA permitted access for EU fishermen—French fishermen—to waters off England’s south coast. English fishermen continue to be abhorred by that, and we support them.
To cap matters off, the TCA confirms that fishermen from the Isle of Man can have access to Irish or EU waters in the Irish sea, from which Northern Ireland’s fishermen remain excluded. My goodness, it is hard to believe. You could not write this story. You could not make this up. It is quite unbelievable.
Leaving the critical issue aside, there is then the issue of getting the fish and shellfish ashore so they can be processed, packed and exported. That is the very issue referred to by the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill). Fishermen can catch a fish beyond the harbour at Portavogie, Kilkeel or Ardglass, but when they bring it back in they are subjected to all sorts of rules, tariffs and levies.
Some £100 million-worth of seafood is exported annually from Northern Ireland. Around 60% by value goes to GB, including to Whitby and other places, while 30% goes to the EU and 10% to the rest of the world. The protocol and the TCA combined confirm that the waters around Northern Ireland, including the water that local fishing vessels float on in their home ports, is sovereign UK territory. It is the land mass that is the EU’s single market. Remember that what we currently have is implementation of some 20% of the protocol. It has permitted seamless trade between Northern Ireland and the EU, but what would the result be if the protocol was implemented in its entirety, as some would like?
It is ironic that if the protocol is implemented in its entirety, every time a locally owned fishing vessel, based in a local harbour such as Portavogie in my constituency, returned to its home port in Northern Ireland, it would have to comply with EU regulations requiring it to act as though it came from a third country—my goodness—such as Iceland, Norway or Russia. Northern Ireland’s fishermen would be foreigners in their home ports. It is simply absurd. It is hard to comprehend or understand, or to even find out why this is happening.
My hon. Friend is alluding to the foolhardiness of some public representatives talking about the rigid implementation of the protocol, and has quite rightly alluded to the problems that would come about if it were to be fully implemented. Does he agree that this is all the more reason to put in place a specific, bespoke problem-solving process to bring this matter to a head between the EU and the United Kingdom Government, to try to resolve what, in the grand scheme of things, are comparatively small problems between the EU and the UK?
I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution, and I agree wholeheartedly with him. It seems to us that the problems are not insurmountable: they can be overcome if there is a willingness to find a solution. I believe our Government are willing to do so, but I do not think there is the same willingness among the EU to participate and come up with solutions. My job, as a public representative—everyone else probably feels the same—is not about problems, but about solutions. We have solutions, so let us make sure that through our Minister and our Government, we can achieve them.
My hope will always be that that committee will come up with workable solutions, so that we can solve some of these problems. However, this has gone on for so long that we are now getting to the stage where, if we do not do something quickly, we are going to have really serious problems.
Her Majesty’s Government have agreed that this is absurd. We were told that the matter would be resolved through the Joint Committee, but that did not happen. We read with interest the latest proposal from the European Commission to resolve the impasse, but there was nothing there. Over the past few weeks and months, representatives from the Northern Ireland Fishermen’s Federation have met officials in London and the Minister, and I am really looking forward to her giving us an update in her response. I know that she has already had discussions with Minister Edwin Poots at the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, so I would be keen to get some idea of what is happening there as well. We have engaged with the fisheries Minister in Dublin on issues such as the designation of landing ports there, a subject in which the UK Minister understandably took a very keen interest recently. The sense they have is that commitments were made but that those were empty promises that have not materialised. To make another pun, actions speak louder than words, and we do not need words today, but actions.
Northern Ireland’s fishing industry is a problem child for some. The analogy is that Northern Ireland’s parents, London and Dublin, have gone through a divorce and the details are still being worked through. Unfortunately, it seems that neither of the parents actually wants us—I am sure the Minister will confirm that she wants us, and we will be greatly encouraged by that when we find it to be the case. In the meantime, the fishing fleet is in survival mode.
The covid pandemic has complicated the scene further, and markets have yet to recover to pre-pandemic levels against a background of increasing overhead costs. Northern Ireland’s fishermen have faced challenges before—worse challenges, some would suggest—and having represented the village of Portavogie at three levels for some 36 years, as a councillor, in the Northern Ireland Assembly and as its MP, I have a deep interest in fishing in Portavogie. My brother used to fish in those boats; I know many people who also fish in Portavogie, and we have regular contact with them. They are resilient, but for many, that resilience is running thin. There are potential solutions to the protocol-related issues, but they require meaningful engagement. I am seeking that meaningful engagement: I am seeking solutions, as the hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) referred to in his intervention, not what the fishermen regard as a lack of interest from London and the begrudging approach by Dublin.
Seamless trade? Ask the processors who face expenses and disruption on a daily basis as they struggle with added bureaucracy when they move seafood from GB into Northern Ireland for processing, as the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby referred to, before it is all shipped back to GB. We were immersed in red tape and bureaucracy when we were in the EU; now we are out of the EU, we are still immersed in it, so there has to be a change in how we do this.
The Government are committed to the levelling-up process. I have welcomed that, and will continue to welcome it in all places, but ask a Northern Ireland fisherman who has seen their share of the new Brexit quota diluted, and quota currencies such as North sea sandeels wiped out because of decisions taken by Ministers here at Westminster, about levelling up. My constituents have been left worse off than their GB colleagues. Despite the recommendation of the Migration Advisory Committee that fishermen be added to the list of skilled occupations, allowing managed recruitment from overseas, the Government have not yet fully addressed that recommendation. However, we did get some concessions on it, which I welcome.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing this debate. On the question of crew from outwith the European economic area, does he agree that the problem is that the level of language competence demanded in order to meet the skilled migrant profile will not actually be applicable to many of those seeking to come and work on these boats, and that for as long as that remains the case, the problem will be unresolved.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for a very useful, honest and helpful intervention. Many of us think that the standards set are too high to be achieved. That is an issue that comes up whenever I do my constituency surgeries in Portavogie.
The Government have told us that we should wait until we see the impact on the labour market from the covid pandemic. Last week the Prime Minister confirmed that more people are in employment in the UK than ever before. The right hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that we need standards that are achievable, so that we can let people in and fill the vacant spaces in the fishing sector.
Labour shortages have put the processing side of the industry under increased pressure, too. A Scottish seafood processing business that supplies fish for the Queen said last month that it is having to turn away business as a result and desperately needs Government support. Does the hon. Member agree that this part of the industry must not be overlooked or forgotten when it comes to Government support packages?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. In my constituency, it is not just about catching fish offshore; it is also about the processing that we have on land. Everyone who speaks will refer to that. The right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby referred to it in his intervention, and it is really important that we focus on the sector as a whole.
As I draw my speech to a close, I do not want to set the scene of Northern Ireland’s fishing sector as one of gloom and doom. However, those involved in the sector find it ironic that at this time of the year, the focus of intervention has not been on the annual round of total allowable catch negotiations, which are ongoing between the UK, EU and other coastal states. Fishing opportunities for nephrops, cod, haddock and herring in the Irish sea remain critical, and a solution to the abundance of spurdog is a priority for the management of the Irish sea’s ecosystem. As always, our fishermen face serious challenges every day.
Being a fisherman is probably the most dangerous job that anyone can do in the United Kingdom. There is a high level of fatalities, and fishermen go out in all weather. When I go to the harbour and visit fishermen, I can never really get my head around how people can sleep in the foetal position in about 3 feet of space while their boat is being tossed about in the water. That is the job that fishermen do. They acknowledge that there are more challenges on the horizon, driven by climate change targets and the increasingly shared nature of the marine environment. The marine protected areas, the promotion of offshore wind energy, and blue carbon are among the new issues on which our industry, through the Northern Ireland Fishermen’s Federation and the good offices of Alan McCulla and Harry Wick, is seeking to be proactive.
There is a future for the sector in Northern Ireland. Let us be positive, and let us have the glass half full as we look forward. It can be done; we just need the will to do it. This is clearly spelled out in the DAERA report on the fisheries and seafood development programme, published earlier this year by my colleague Edwin Poots, the Northern Ireland Minister with responsibility for fisheries.
The UK has become an independent coastal state. Let us be proud of our fishing industry, rather than create a sense that it is expendable. It is not expendable, and it must never be expendable. It creates jobs and is a massive earner for my constituency of Strangford, as the Minister knows. It is an incredible earner for Ardglass, Kilkeel and Northern Ireland as a whole. As I said earlier, our products go all over the UK, the EU and the world, so we are keen and anxious to find out where we are in relation to the fishing sector in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—particularly in Northern Ireland, from my perspective.
Actions speak louder than words. With that being the case, I look forward to the Minister’s response. I hope her words turn into actions, and then we will all benefit.
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms McVey. I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing the debate.
It is fair to say, almost a year on from the signing of the trade and co-operation agreement with the EU, that its provisions were disappointing; that there have been subsequent developments that have been disturbing from the perspective of the domestic industry; and that we are yet to grasp the opportunity that managing our own fisheries provides to revitalise coastal communities all around the UK. That said, I retain both confidence and hope that UK fishing can have a bright future. Off the East Anglian coast, the Renaissance of East Anglian Fisheries initiative is moving forward. Its recommendations have been revised in the light of the trade and co-operation agreement and, with support from the Blue Marine Foundation, its strategy is now being implemented.
I shall briefly highlight some of the challenges that the Government must address, by looking at individual fish species. Lowestoft, as a fishing port historically, was built on herring. The good news is that herring are back in the southern North sea and are being landed in Lowestoft by vessels that are fishing in a sustainable and responsible way. However, two issues need to be addressed if we are to make the most of this opportunity.
First, the stocks must be nurtured and properly managed. That cannot be done if high-powered fly-shooter fishing boats, particularly from the Dutch fleet, are allowed to fish our waters without any restriction. It seems perverse that while that is happening, the Marine Management Organisation is spending its time crawling over vessels in Lowestoft, making sure that they comply by dotting every i and crossing every t of their regulations. Secondly, we need to rebuild the local processing sector, so that the full value of the catch can be retained in the local economy. At present, the herring are landed in Lowestoft and driven overland to Cornwall for processing. That is ridiculous, and funding, whether through the £100 million seafood fund, the shared prosperity fund or some other source, must be provided to help leverage investment into local processing facilities.
While increased herring catch is a fact, the opportunity to catch more sole and plaice is a fiction. The trade and co-operation agreement provided for the UK to receive a substantial uplift in sole and plaice quota, when the stocks did not exist. That was both a misrepresentation and highly irresponsible from the viewpoint of sustainably managing our fisheries. Can the Minister confirm that appropriate precautionary management measures have been put in place to ensure that, in future, the science and the reality are properly synchronised and are not so clearly out of step?
Finally, it was concerning that this year, the total allowable catches for non-quota species in UK waters were not enforced. That has proved disastrous, both from the perspective of sustainable fisheries management and for the UK inshore fleet. Large and well-resourced EU vessels licensed to fish in UK waters were, in effect, allowed a free rein to fish for valuable non-quota species. Can the Minister confirm that that mistake will not be repeated in the coming year, and that protective measures will be put in place to ensure that small boats are not crowded out by larger and better-resourced vessels?
In conclusion, the UK has not made an auspicious start to its return to being an independent coastal state. That said, in REAF and from all around the UK, there are people and businesses with great ideas and a desire to get on with the task of rebuilding our fishing industry. What they need from Government as quickly as possible—and I sense that time really is of the essence—is a coherent, sustainable strategy for the management of English fisheries that will be properly enforced. They need the opportunity to quickly roll out local fisheries management plans and they need provision of seedcorn funding for the rebuilding of our local infrastructure and facilities.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing this debate. There should be an annual fisheries debate in the parliamentary calendar, ahead of the December Fisheries Council, so that we can give as much power to the Minister’s elbow as possible to ensure that the deal that she goes to negotiate, albeit from outside the room, is as good for our fisheries as it can be.
Fishing matters. It matters in Plymouth, where there are nearly 1,000 jobs that rely on not only the catching but the processing sectors and the associated trades—supply chains and exporters. Fishing matters because it is part of our identity. Plymouth is no different from other coastal communities that I see represented around the room, in that we want to see our fishers get a better deal than they have so far.
I agree with the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) that we have started our time as an independent coastal state quite poorly. That is because of a botched Brexit deal, because of overpromising to our fishers and because, frankly, when it came to the crunch, fishers were regarded as disposable by the negotiators. They must not ever be regarded as disposable. This industry matters.
Fishing does take too many people; it is a dangerous profession. We need to remember people at home and abroad who lose their lives to accidents at sea or are injured. Progress is being made on safety. I would like to praise Clive Palfrey, RNLI coxswain and former fisherman, for his work taking the search out of search and rescue by starting to put locator beacons on lifejackets as part of the Plymouth lifejacket scheme, which the Minister supported with a grant. It has been a huge success, and we should continue to encourage its continued nationwide roll-out because it will save lives.
I pay tribute to the RNLI. It provides support for our fishers 24/7, all year round. In particular, I thank the people who have dedicated their entire lives to it. Milf—or Dave Milford, as he is better known—has given 32 years’ service to the RNLI at Plymouth. The fishing industry’s gratitude to him is echoed by me and many others whose lives he has saved. He also has an amazing nickname, which helps. Coastguards and the National Coastwatch Institution, which my stepmother is a member of, also do a super job all year round.
In the pandemic we saw the fishing industry hardest-hit, not only by a botched Brexit deal, but by the closure of the export and domestic markets. I want to give a shout-out to Call4Fish, a super Plymouth initiative that started out on a shoestring budget and is now supporting fishers nationwide to sell their catch directly from the back of their boats. That was thanks to the Seafarers’ Charity and fishmonger hall charities, who helped by putting their confidence in that. It shows that we continue to be pioneers in Plymouth. I would have liked a wee bit more support from DEFRA on that initiative, but there is still time.
I am afraid that, when it comes to fishing policy, all is not well. Fishers do feel betrayed, especially over the six to 12 mile promise that was broken. They feel betrayed that much of the money that has been promised to them in redeveloped opportunities has not come through. I know that the Minister will look kindly on an application made by Plymouth to help us redevelop our own fish market and bring our facilities into the 21st century. That will not only provide better, more cost-effective locations for landing, processing and selling fish, but will make sure that we have a sustainable future for the industry in Plymouth; we are also supporting the industry right around the south-west coast.
The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations report by former senior DEFRA negotiator Gary Taylor set out the numbers that many of us suspected. There were losses by our fishing industry of £64 million a year. That is not just eating away at margins, but breaking businesses. We need to recognise that exporters have been hit in particular because of the additional red tape and costs, and other problems. Many small exporters have simply stopped exporting—stopped selling into our EU markets.
Problems remain, especially with live bivalve molluscs around the south-west: although some waters have been reclassified as grade A—the hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall), from further up the Devon coast, is very cheerful about that—not all those waters have. Businesses that still fish in grade B waters are unable to export their live bivalve molluscs to markets in the European Union, and I worry whether, after another season of that, there will be any business available for them. That needs to be addressed.
The French disputes over the past few months have been difficult for our fishers. They have added extra caution for people going to sea and extra worry about fishing in French waters in particular. I would like the Minister, when she gets to her feet, to explain what lessons have been learned, especially from the details of the fishing boat that was detained having been left off the database provided to the French by the UK authorities. A little bit of honesty would go a long way in supporting that.
Fishing in the Channel Islands is an important part of the sector; they are part of our big family that has been hit by a botched Brexit deal. I hope that the Minister responds to that point.
Turning to the December fisheries council, what are the Minister’s expectations around shared stocks and what is the science that we are asking for in relation to that? Much of the extra promised fish that the Government made a lot of in their announcement is paper fish: it only swims on spreadsheets. It does not exist in the sea; it was a fabrication and a fiction, and fishers know it. How can we ensure that any deal that may come out of the December fisheries council that affects our shared stocks will be based on science and will be catchable? What are we doing in relation to non-quota species? There is a real concern about how some of that sits.
I would like the Minister to recognise that the absence of a deal with Norway on fishing in distant waters is causing real pressure—not for fishers in Plymouth, but certainly for the fishers that I met when I went to Hull to see the distant water fleet there. There is a real concern that the lack of a deal with Norway will collapse that part of the sector, which is a proud part of not only Hull’s fishing past, but its present and future.
Finally, I would like to know the Government’s plan for net zero for fishing. Each and every time our fishing boats go to sea they consume an enormous amount of diesel, pumping a large amount of carbon into the atmosphere. I would like the Government to have a strategy with a date by which fishing will become net zero—not just because they are buying offsets for the larger companies, but because they are decarbonising their propulsion and fishing in more sustainable ways. I have posed quite some challenges there, but I have enjoyed my chance to serve on the Front Bench, and I warn the Minister that I will continue to ask difficult questions from the Back Benches about fishers, especially for those from Plymouth.
If it is not too embarrassing to the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), may I say how sorry we are to see him return to the Back Benches? He has been a fastidious voice on fishing and a champion of coastal communities, across the whole of the country but also in Devon. I for one will welcome the fact that he will be on the Back Benches and able to work with me on supporting coastal communities, not least in the south-west, and on what more we can do for the fishing community. I totally agree that we should have an annual debate on fisheries; I am sure that in an example of cross-party unity we can find a way to make that happen.
I want to add to the hon. Gentleman’s words that we should also thank the independent lifeboats that are not part of the RNLI. I am in the process of setting up an independent lifeboat association, which he may like to lend his support to. I am also working on an aquaculture all-party parliamentary group to specifically address the points around live bivalve molluscs. It is too broad just to have an APPG on fisheries when there are clearly opportunities for what we can do within the LBM sector and indeed the shellfish sector.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing it. As ever, he gives a unique perspective on the difficulties faced by Northern Ireland, but he also emphasised that fishing across the United Kingdom has a particular opportunity to improve, to enlarge, to expand, to grow and to become an industry that is worth a great deal more than it is now, and that the opportunity lies with DEFRA. Of course, within my own constituency I have Brixham, Salcombe and Dartmouth, and I am very proud of them as fishing communities. I was very proud, a few weeks ago, to spend 24 hours at sea on a Brixham trawler, doing two hours on, two hours off—I can tell you, Ms McVey, they made me work for it. It was an extraordinary insight into the skill required to be a fisher in the UK, the risks that are taken and the hard work that goes into it.
I do not believe that the Brexit deal is botched; I believe it has provided a great deal of opportunity. When I have talked to my fishermen, I have met only one in Brixham who regrets our leaving the European Union and, in fairness, he has been quite quiet of late. It is important to remember that there are some positives to be mentioned here: 25% of existing EU quota will be transferred to the UK over the next five and half years, with an estimated uplift of £27 million, making the total £333 million. There is also the specific percentage agreed for existing fish stocks.
I want to come on to what happens after the transition period, because DEFRA can add a great deal more clarity on where we go beyond 30 June 2026. After the transition period, we will be able to negotiate total allowable catch on each of the 87 stocks that are mentioned in fish annex I and II. As I mentioned in my intervention on the hon. Member for Strangford, the creation of a Specialised Committee on Fisheries is particularly welcome, as is the fact that it will be meeting three to five times a year. I will come to that in a second.
There is undoubtedly an uplift and a broadbrush approach in applying this to the whole of the United Kingdom, which comes with its own problems. However, today’s debate offers DEFRA and the Minister the chance to reassure the fishing community that we are going to address the areas about which it feels most aggrieved. The first, as has been mentioned, is the six to 12-mile limit. That is perhaps the most egregious of the compromises made around fishing, which is particularly well felt. Two weeks ago, in Salcombe we were all tracking a French vessel that we believe—I am cautious in saying—came within our six-mile limit, and indeed did a great deal of destruction to a whole load of Salcombe crab pots. The response was to go through the MMO to report it, but nothing has been heard from the MMO by my Salcombe fishermen. There is clearly something at odds there.
On the six to 12-mile limit, we have the opportunity after the transition period to be very clear about what we want for that area. I ask DEFRA now to start talking about its intentions. I used to be a negotiator in shipping, and I understand that no one wants to reveal their hand, but it is important to give the clarity that we are going to go forward and ensure that that six to 12-mile limit becomes UK-only. That is what was expected before the deal; in fact it was a great surprise to many that it did not happen. Many fishermen in Dartmouth, Salcombe and Brixham made the point that their counterparts in France could not believe that we had given away that part of the deal.
As was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), supertrawlers, fly-shooters, are seen off the coast of the United Kingdom. We said that we wanted to deal with supertrawlers; we have to ensure that we are doing so. There is no greater image of our having let down elements of the fishing community than seeing those vessels. Let us be clear about what we want post June 2026.
The second point is around the money. It is welcome that £100 million has been put forward; it has shown commitment. I know the Minister feels passionately about what the levelling-up fund can do, as well as helping coastal communities. So, it is not just £100 million; it is plus the £4.8 billion in the levelling-up fund. It is great that pillar 1 has been announced, but I am tired of having to ask repeatedly when pillar 2 and 3 will come. I recognise that the Treasury controls the matter; I am not blaming the Treasury or the Minister. I am saying that a great deal of hope is pinned on that money, and the infrastructure and development that could be had to help expand the fleets in the UK, by building more boats, retrofitting and repairing them and training people to come into the industry. Those are important areas in which we can help grow the fleet and the industry. I ask again: when are we going to have pillars 2 and 3, and how quickly might we be able to apply for them and expand?
The third point is around the Specialised Committee on Fisheries. It is particularly welcome that the trade and co-operation agreement has outlined the different committees, including the one related to live bivalve molluscs on sanitary and phytosanitary measures. Those committees are still mired in a little bit of secrecy and opaqueness. The last meeting of the SCF was on 27 February. The only information that I can find— I am happy to be proved wrong—is the agenda. Our fishing communities across the whole of the United Kingdom need to understand what is discussed in those meetings and how they can have an input. We must ensure that we not only feed into the agenda, but get the response so that we understand that we are discussing the problems and trying to find the solutions, as the hon. Member for Strangford rightly said. It is also said that the group will meet between three and five times a year. I hope that the Minister will be a little more specific as to when. It is important that we have stuck-in-stone dates to ensure that we meet in the right places.
I have taken up far too much time. I just want to say that there is an opportunity. We know that places such as Brixham can make a great deal of money. In fact, it is having one of the most successful years on record. That is clearly not the case across the whole of the United Kingdom, but there are steps that DEFRA can take to reassure the industry, help expand it and help it grow. Given those who are in this room, there is a great deal of opportunity and willingness to work together across party.
It is a pleasure to serve under your stewardship, Ms McVey. May I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing the debate and associate myself with the remarks from the hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) about the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard)? I have seen quite a few Labour Ministers and Front-Bench spokespeople on fisheries in the last 20 years. Without reopening old wounds, they ran the full range of competence and commitment, but the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport was very much at the top end of that range, and we will miss his contributions from the Front Bench. However, I welcome the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) to his place. He has big shoes to fill and I am sure we all wish him well.
It is worth reflecting for a second or two on how different this debate is today from the ones that we had, it seemed, almost every two or three weeks this time last year in the run-up to the negotiations. At that point, the people who are in the Chamber taking part today, who by and large represent coastal and fishing communities, were squeezed down to two or three minutes at most as there was a progression of people standing up to hail a new dawn. Ultimately, it turned out they did not know the difference between a codpiece and a cod end, and they are more remarkable for their absence today. Even those from fishing communities who were most extravagant in their promises are remarkable for their absence today. Although I am not going to name anyone, I would not want anybody to think that it had gone unnoticed.
As others have said, the TCA did not deliver what was promised. The real difficulty for the Minister and her colleagues now is that the terms of that TCA are such that, despite the protestations of the Prime Minister, come 2026 it is very difficult to see how that will change. First, the consequences for other sectors of any change in relation to the fisheries provisions would be so severe that it is difficult to see any Government in five years’ time making that sacrifice if they were not prepared to make it this time last year.
Secondly, the terms of the TCA will be changed only if there is a Government strategy, and I am afraid the one common thread that we have heard from every contribution here today is the total absence of any Government strategy on what they will do with fisheries policy now that we are no longer part of the European Union and the common fisheries policy. I would be delighted to be wrong about that. When the Minister answers, we will be listening carefully. At the moment, I see absolutely no sign of it.
The hon. Member for Totnes spoke about the SFC—the fisheries committee. That illustrates quite well some of the challenges that we now have because that is where the decisions will be made about in-year quota swaps. Those are absolutely critical to producer organisations up and down the country, but the SFC is at best going to meet four times a year. We have to have a mechanism. POs cannot just expect to do their in-year quota swaps four times a year. That business was being done on a weekly and sometimes daily basis under the old arrangements.
The Minister will recall the discussions that we had at the start of the year and the utter chaos that there was. What was described then as teething problems seems to continue today. If my children had taken that long to teethe, I might well have put them up for adoption. [Laughter.] The teething problems have an exceptionally long tail. I have been in correspondence with the Minister over one exporter from Shetland who had £50,000-worth of fish that was due to be exported in that first week; he was not able export a penny piece of it. As a consequence, he sold it on the domestic market for £20,000—a loss to his business of £30,000. Had he left the fish to sit and rot, he would have got £50,000 in compensation from the scheme set up by the Minister, but because he mitigated his loss—in the best interests of his business and the taxpayer—he was told, “No. You have sold your fish, so you will not get a penny piece of compensation.” As a result, he is £30,000 out of pocket. In what universe does that make any sort of sense? It all contributes to the feeling among the catchers and processors and exporters that they are just a wee bit embarrassing and a wee bit too much trouble for this Government to care about. When the Minister replies, will she explain how that compensation scheme has been left to work the way it is?
I will close on the question of the availability of crew, which is something that everyone in this room has campaigned for. It was a major advance when we got the Migration Advisory Committee to accept that deckhands are, in fact, skilled labour. However, the fact is that we are no closer to a workable solution. The insistence that deckhands should have a B2 level of language competence means that the skilled labour concession is virtually meaningless to the industry. The Minister should speak about that to her colleagues in the Home Office—I very much hope that she will.
While there is an awful lot more that I could say about the availability of labour in the processing sector, I see that time is against me. I conclude my remarks, hoping that we may have a more substantial fisheries debate in the main Chamber again in years to come.
Unfortunately, I had to miss a meeting that I had arranged with the Minister and Alan McCulla of the Northern Ireland Fishermen’s Federation a few short weeks ago, but the meeting nevertheless went ahead. I am grateful for a listening ear from the Minister, and that she is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, someone who gets it. I understand that the meeting provided a useful opportunity for the Minister to hear first hand from Mr McCulla about some of the practical—verging on dangerous—issues fishers in Northern Ireland are already coping with as a result of the protocol, as well as their fears if the protocol was implemented in full.
Let us be clear. The protocol has already hit hard many parts of society in Northern Ireland, but our fishing industry risks being hit even harder. Restrictions to the east-west seafood trade and issues around the non-designation of landing ports in Ireland would pale into insignificance if the protocol were implemented in its entirety; my hon. Friend very articulately outlined some of the ludicrous scenarios that would exist if that happened.
Some claim that the protocol has its advantages. “Look,” they say, “at the seamless trade in seafood between Northern Ireland and the EU.” If only it was the best of both worlds, as some have proclaimed. The protocol was signed up to by this Government but it is heavily weighted in favour of the Irish Republic, which seeks to punish Northern Ireland fishers, among others, because Brexit finally ended the discrimination suffered by our fishermen under the EU’s common fisheries policy. That discrimination effectively stole fishing opportunities from UK fishermen in the Irish sea and gave them to fishermen from the Republic of Ireland. There was not much love shown by Dublin towards Northern Ireland on that matter for 30 years.
Imagine the strength and unity of the mighty European Union being threatened by part of an island off an island on the western periphery of Europe that is home to a fishing fleet which equates to 0.4% of the EU’s fleet. Of course, we wish for a good relationship with our nearest neighbour. Our fishermen wish to fish in the same waters. They wish to sustainably manage shared stocks in the Irish sea in an area that is 70% sovereign UK territory. They continue to welcome fishermen from across these islands to the harbours in Northern Ireland, but they should not be subservient to the EU.
The Minister is well aware of the challenges facing the industry—some historical, some new. The annual total allowable catch negotiations are ongoing. DEFRA engagement with industry stakeholders on this and a range of other issues has been somewhat impaired. Technical conservation measures in the UK’s Celtic prawn fishery that is dominated by Northern Ireland fishers, access to pilot fisheries for spurdogs, decisions around the management of sandeels, future management of non-quota stocks—the list goes on of policies where our fisherman have felt somewhat excluded, not by the Minister personally but by the Department.
Challenges can become opportunities and the Minister has heard about progress with plans to develop the fishing harbours in Northern Ireland. Indeed, I hope she can attend an event that I am organising here in Westminster next Wednesday to hear more on the issue. As an island nation and independent coastal state, there is a renewed focus on the marine environment and the real estate there. Competition for space threatens the sustainable exploitation of our sea for valuable seafood. The fishing industry is not expendable for other interests, which is regretfully how the industry feels. Rather, Government should work with fishers from Northern Ireland and elsewhere around the United Kingdom to look for ways of harnessing the unique and specialised skills of fishermen.
Finally, I make no apologies in saying that I want the best for our fishermen and for everyone involved in the fishing industry in Northern Ireland. The protocol, the TCA and the way London has treated Northern Ireland’s fishermen in apportioning new quotas, as well as the way Dublin continues to punish Northern Ireland’s fishermen, falls far short. Actions do speak louder than words, and we ask for actions.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms McVey. I very much commend the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for bringing the debate to this place. As always, we hear valuable information when listening to Members’ contributions on the lived experiences of their constituents, and I thank them for that. The hon. Member for Strangford catalogued a number of the failures so far to resolve some of the problems his fishers are facing since Brexit, describing many members of the industry as being in survival mode and as seeking meaningful solutions, including to the red tape that was supposed to be swept away by Brexit, but which snarls businesses and costs them dearly.
The hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) spoke of his disappointment and some of the challenges regarding individual fish species. He called for investment in local processing plants, and asked for science and reality to be rather more closely synchronised, and that is a fair point. I join other Members in lauding the efforts of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard). He has been an excellent colleague. I appreciate all he has done on the Front Bench, and I wish him very well as he returns to the Back Benches. He spoke of the betrayal felt by fishers across the industry as a result of the Government’s actions. He spoke of paper fish, which was an interesting way to put it, and asked what is actually catchable. We are all looking forward to the Minister’s response on that. He also outlined the importance of DEFRA’s response to the net zero challenges of the fishing industry.
The hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) offered the Minister the opportunity to reassure fishers about the big problems they are facing, so we are all very much looking forward to that. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) suggested that some MPs could not tell a cod head from a codpiece.
Sorry. That raised a chuckle across the House but, more seriously, he made the point about the difficulty of seeing how the problems of the TCA can actually be resolved, and reminded us that what was once described as teething problems seems actually baked in and are clearly having a dramatic impact on so many in the fishing industry.
It seems right, when we speak in a debate on fishing, and particularly after the stormy seas of the past few days, to remind ourselves of just how dangerous an occupation fishing is—it is the UK’s most dangerous peacetime occupation—and of what our fishers risk to bring us this incredible food. I must commemorate and salute those who have paid the ultimate price, current fishermen and their families, and the fishing communities whose remarkable strength and resilience, despite at times almost overwhelming challenges, can be seen each and every day.
We must also salute and offer our deepest thanks to the many organisations that offer aid and support to those communities. Not all heroes wear capes—some wear bright yellow wellies. I thank the volunteer crews of the RNLI for their truly heroic efforts. Every day around our coasts, they go without hesitation where others fear to, and I offer our deepest thanks to them for helping to bring home fishermen safely to their families. I also thank the Fishermen’s Mission for its work. It is there for seafarers whenever things go wrong, and its support and pastoral care is just remarkable; the comfort that it provides is priceless. I must also mention the wonderful Seafarers’ Charity, formerly Seafarers UK, in particular for its swift response at the start of the pandemic. Within days, it had set up desperately needed grant systems to help fishermen and merchants, quickly getting money out of the door and into fishing businesses that might not be here today had it not been for that rapid response. The pandemic hit all of those charities’ fundraising efforts hard; I urge anyone watching to please, if they can, choose one or more and give, so that their incredible work can continue. The need for their support continues to grow.
We all look forward to a time when we can come to a fisheries debate in this House and not have to honour any loss of life in the previous year. That will not happen by itself or by accident. It will be as a result of innovative fishermen such as John Clark, from Banff, who worked tirelessly on the design of his new vessel, Reliance III, with the shipyard at Parkol, to place crew safety at the heart of the deck design. A continuous safety rail around the boat ensures that crew can have their safety harnesses attached as they work on deck, stopping them washing overboard in poor weather. In the new design of the main winch, bespoke safety guards protect against snagging risk. Clark and Parkol Marine Engineering are really at the vanguard of the latest developments—and hats off to them. I hope that they and others, using their deep knowledge and understanding of the challenges that the sea presents, continue to show us the way to improve safety, and I hope that others follow their lead.
Obviously, negotiations on catch allocations are ongoing, and the Scottish Government are working for successful negotiations that deliver a sustainable stock management process and a solid financial future for the sector. Discussions with Norway, the Faroes and the EU across all negotiation forums have, I believe, been constructive, with all sides very keen to decide bilateral and trilateral agreements where there are shared fishing interests. Those agreements with Scotland’s closest fishing partners are key to successful and sustainable stock management. Of course, no agreements have yet been concluded, and talks are planned to continue over the coming weeks. However, with the negotiations taking place against the background of COP26, I know that we are all very much aware just how important it is to secure a deal that actually strengthens the financial future of the sector and the sustainability of fishing stocks—not just for short-term prospects, but for our children and our grandchildren to enjoy healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans both today and tomorrow.
Although fishing is a devolved matter, whatever the outcome of those negotiations we are unfortunately still left with the Tories’ Brexit deal with the EU, which leaves Scotland and the UK with less trading power than we had as part of the EU and has resulted in generally lower catch stocks for Scotland’s fishermen. Once again, we find our Scottish fishing fleets and businesses impacted by this Westminster Government’s mishandling of the TCA and their seemingly endless appetite to pick fights with the French. Our fishing industry has been greatly damaged. It might be the case that the licences the French say are outstanding belong to vessels that do not have the right to fish UK waters under the TCA that this Government signed us all up to, but who knows? There has been so little transparency on that matter, and without those details, it is impossible for the rest of us to judge for ourselves. When the Minister gets to her feet, can I ask that she lets the rest of us in on what is happening, specifically how many French applications have not been met with the issuance of a full or temporary licence and remain outstanding; how many of those relate to access to fishing waters outside of 12 nautical miles; how many relate to access to Jersey waters; how many relate to access to the English six to 12 nautical miles; and whether any other EU states are waiting for licences to be issued?
I was hoping that the hon. Lady would get around to talking about her own party’s policy which, as far as I understand it, is for an independent Scotland to rejoin the European Union and give those new-found freedoms and independent status that it would have as a fishing nation back to those people in Brussels who Scottish fishermen voted to be free from.
It is interesting that someone who is as pro-Brexit as the right hon. Gentleman still continues, in the face of all the criticisms that have been expressed today, to defend the TCA and the negotiations entered into by his Government. As he has heard me say several times before, our intention is to renegotiate when we re-enter Europe as an independent nation.
In respect of the processes that the Government are using to determine whether those French boats are due a licence, what is the benchmark for the evidence they require? Those who use boat diaries, for example, treasure them like gold, so can the Minister say whether those diaries are being accepted? Are any other forms of evidence being accepted? Of course, all of this could have been avoided if the Government had not rushed through the TCA, but had taken just a few minutes to spell out what evidence was going to be acceptable to them. The conflict with the French that this has caused was entirely predictable and preventable, so I would be grateful if the Minister will confirm whether the Government even tried to have that detail added to the TCA that could have averted all this.
Finally, the next few weeks—the run-up to Christmas—are hugely important for sales and exports, so what assurances can the Minister offer Scottish fishermen and merchants that their goods will continue to pass without disruption caused by what is, I have to say, a very English problem? I put the Minister on notice now that if we continue to see an escalation and goods are delayed or stopped, I will be coming back to this place to demand a proper compensation package for Scottish fishermen and merchants. Scottish businesses should not bear any more losses because of this Government’s incompetence or lethargy in their handling of the TCA. I know that I have asked a lot of questions, so if the Minister would like me to assist, I am happy to write to her with all of them so that we can get the answers that many in the fishing industry seek.
As ever, Ms McVey, it is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, and I think we are all grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for allowing today’s debate and to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for introducing it so expertly. I also endorse the comments made by several speakers about the fact that this really ought to be a debate held in Government time in the main Chamber, and should take place on an annual basis.
I thank the many speakers who paid gracious tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard). Much as I am pleased to be here this morning, I would rather that it were in other circumstances. Those tributes were most gracious, and the fact that he is here this morning speaks volumes about him as a person. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
I will start by echoing some of my hon. Friend’s words, and paying thanks and tribute to all the fishers who go out all the time in all weathers. Agriculture is a dangerous occupation, but fishing is clearly even more dangerous, and all those people deserve our thanks. I have often turned on the radio in the morning around this time of year and heard successive Ministers talking about fishing—it is that time of year, isn’t it? Sometimes those Ministers were my friends, when Labour was in government; other times, they were people I knew, dealing with these complicated questions on the radio, often with interviewers who, I sometimes suspected, were struggling even more to understand the complexities involved. People might have imagined that those questions were a thing of the past now that we are an independent nation. However, we all know that in the real world, whether a nation is inside a bigger trading bloc or outside it, the negotiations go on, exactly as the hon. Member for Strangford pointed out. There was red tape, and guess what? There is still red tape. Is that not remarkable?
Perhaps the most obvious observation is that the key thing is for a nation to ask itself how it gets on with its neighbours because, whatever world we live in, that is a key question. It is a question that Labour is now focused on: how to make the new post-Brexit world work for the UK and, in this case, particularly for the fishers and those who process fish. Whenever I come to do a debate, I often turn first to the Library briefing because it is always excellent and full. I often turn to the news items near the end because that gives a flavour of what has been going on. How has it been going? BBC News online asks, “Why is there a row over fishing rights?” The Times reports “French fishermen shut off port” and The Maritime Executive says French fishermen blockade channel ports. The Telegraph says French fishermen threaten to blockade and “Britain and the EU stand on the brink of a trade war”. The Times states “Lord Frost warns EU against ‘massive retaliation’”. I could go on. When we think about it, it has not gone that well over the last year, is it?
If that is what the press thinks, what do the fishers think? I find myself turning to the NFFO report on the “Brexit Balance Sheet”. It is pretty damning. In response to the trade and co-operation agreement deal, the NFFO says:
“The UK fishing industry was shocked at the scale of the UK’s capitulation”.
Those are strong words and ones I have heard around the room this morning. It was
“a decision made at the highest reaches of Government”
that came about
“despite the promises, commitments and assurances made during”
the campaign by some of the Members who clearly are not here this morning.
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. Just as he should not judge a book by its cover, neither should he just look at those headlines and think that it is all doom and gloom. He is welcome to Brixham at any time to see one of the success stories of the fishing industry. Why does he give the NFFO report and its number greater weight than the MMO report that said there was a £143 million uplift from the TCA?
I am always happy to listen to all voices, but these are people who have a strong interest in the industry. The report carries on to say:
“Access to fish in UK waters—a key bargaining lever in annual fisheries negotiations—was ceded to the EU for 6 years (at least)”,
as we have already heard. We even failed to secure an exclusive 12-mile limit, which is something that most coastal states take for granted.
We have heard from other Members why we got to this state, because we all remember what was happening this time last year. I am sure the Minister will remember the desperate telephone call over new year to try and explain what had been going on. We know what had been going on: it was rushed and botched. As my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport said, the fishers were betrayed on this issue and became the problem child and so on. I suspect the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill) wants me to give way.
Of course, we are all disappointed at the delay in becoming a truly independent coastal state. Does the hon. Gentleman also recognise that, as a country that exports most of the fish that we catch, we still have access to the European markets, which is as important for many—particularly for shellfish fishermen off the Yorkshire coast—as the fisheries agreement for quota stocks?
I absolutely recognise that point. The point I am making, though, is that things have not gone well over the past year and it is entirely reasonable, a year on, for us to challenge the Minister as she goes into negotiations. To complete the point about the NFFO report, in the introduction by Barrie Deas, where the Government’s figures mention £148 million in additional benefit for the UK fishing fleet by 2026, the NFFO’s figures suggest a £300 million loss. I do not dispute that different people can cut the figures different ways. They are not simple issues. I just report what people are telling us.
In this morning’s debate, we have heard about the complexity of the issues and the range of experiences around the British Isles. It is an extraordinarily complicated industry and, frankly, I do not think the Opposition have to make the points because they have been well made. The hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) made a powerful contribution, and I am sure the Minister heard loud and clear the problems to which he alluded. Throughout this year, my hon. Friends have raised repeated concerns about the plight of small boats, particularly through the pandemic. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport has been relentless in criticising the hapless catch app, which was quick to be implemented in contrast to the speed at which support for small boats was not supplied. We also heard about the paper fish in the quotas. Sadly, hon. Members have made the point that the quotas are not always as they seem, and the quota swaps issues, complicated as they are, clearly are not working for our people. The shellfish sector was in the headlines at the beginning of this year and the problems continue. If it has had problems, so too has the distant water fleet.
I could not help noticing the Minister’s visit to Norway in the summer to meet the splendidly named Odd Emil Ingebrigtsen, who was Norway’s Minister of Fisheries at the time. I am glad that she went, but what were the consequences of the visit? What progress has been made? That brings me to a series of questions that are not dissimilar from some that have been raised by right hon. and hon. Members, and which I hope that the Minister will be able to answer. Will she spell out what the Government’s objectives are for December’s Agriculture and Fisheries Council? Will she tell us where the Norway deal is for our distant water fleet, particularly those based out of Hull? Will she make a statement to the House on the outcome of any deal and any quotas?
In conclusion, it is absolutely clear that the Government were guilty of overpromising and underdelivering. Thankfully, the Opposition want exactly the opposite, and we want to build on developing a new, constructive relationship with our neighbours—not to get headlines, but to get the outcome that our fishers need.
I join others in thanking the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for securing the debate and for making a rather lyrical speech on the current situation in Northern Ireland. I think it is fair to say that the Northern Irish industry is extremely well represented at all levels. Alan McCulla and Harry Wick are in frequent contact with us, I spoke to Edwin Poots last night, and I enjoy working closely with the hon. Members for Strangford, for Upper Bann (Carla Lockhart) and for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) on all these issues, which are important to the industry.
I also join others in paying tribute to the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard). I agree that it is very decent of him to turn up this morning, and I know that nothing would keep him away from a fisheries debate. We in DEFRA—I speak for the whole team—have enjoyed his time on the Front Bench and enjoyed working with him constructively. I know that fishing matters to him and that his work on safety issues will be viewed as some of his most important work on the Front Bench. I noted what he said about Clive Palfrey and Dave Milford, or Milf, whose nickname I look forward to learning about—I fear that I know it. I also note what right hon. and hon. Members of different parties said about the RNLI and other heroes in yellow wellies, which I thought was a very good way to describe them. They do so much to help with the safety of our fishermen, and in very dangerous conditions that exist right now.
I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall), who is a great champion of his fishing industry and who is doing exciting new work on aquaculture, which I look forward to being part of. I am glad to hear of the success of Brixham this year. I have visited it, and it is truly impressive. The domestic sales from Brixham market are an achievement that people should be very proud of.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) is a regular correspondent and interlocutor on fisheries matters too. I ask him to hold on for the joint fisheries statement, which is coming very early in the new year. I am working on a draft at the moment, and in that will be the plan and a list of potential fisheries management plans. I am also looking at my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), who represents the REAF initiative, which is very much the forerunner of some of this work. I look forward to working with both the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend on these issues very early in the new year.
I will make progress, if I may, because I have an awful lot of questions to answer and I want to leave time for the hon. Member for Strangford to sum up.
As all the experts in the House know, the annual fishing opportunities negotiations are under way, and I hope that they will come to a happy conclusion in the next few weeks. Our aim, which the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) asked about, is to secure a package of fishing opportunities and access arrangements for 2022 for fisheries that are consistent with our fisheries objectives, as set out in the Fisheries Act 2020, and that are informed by the best available scientific evidence. We are currently working very hard to deliver this through negotiations with the EU, with Norway and with the Faroese. We are determined to be a pragmatic negotiating partner.
We are pleased that the high-level negotiations with the coastal states have recently concluded and there has been successful agreement on the setting of global total allowable catches for 2022 mackerel, blue whiting and Atlanto-Scandian herring, in line with the advice provided by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea.
UK-EU bilateral negotiations began on 11 November. So far, they have covered a range of topics including TAC allocations and special conditions, sea bass and non-quota stocks. Really good progress is being made. We intend to conclude these negotiations by the end of next week, in time for the EU to go through its internal processes, as was envisaged in the TCA.
We are also currently in the midst of trilateral negotiations with the EU and Norway, and bilateral negotiations with Norway and the Faroe Islands. They have been positive and constructive so far, and last Friday I had a useful meeting with new Norwegian Minister of Fisheries, as Odd Emil Ingebrigtsen is no longer in post. We are cautiously optimistic that we will reach agreements that will support the long-term sustainability of North sea stocks, as well as maximising opportunities for UK industry. Arctic stocks are one of a number stocks we are considering in our bilateral negotiations with Norway. I know how important they are.
On the apportionment of the additional quota we received in the TCA between the UK Administrations, there is no consensus in industry or between the fisheries administrations about how to use this additional quota. There is always a high demand for more quota but sharing out quota is a zero-sum game. More for one Administration of course means less for another.
This year, following extensive consultation, we went for a blend of 90% track record and 10% zonal attachment. Our approach was welcomed by many but some, including some members of the industry in Northern Ireland, felt we should have taken a different approach. We have been reviewing how this new method for allocation between the fisheries administrations worked this year and will be launching a public consultation soon to help us develop methods for the future. I look forward to hearing from all right hon. and hon. Members here about how that should be done. We have been working closely with all the devolved Administrations on this; it is not easy.
The first part of the £100 million seafood fund, mentioned by many and announced on 11 September, is to provide a £24 million science and innovation pillar. This will support the industry to work jointly with scientists to gather new data to help us manage our fish stocks more sustainably. It will also help us gather new data on gear selectivity and improve understanding of the ecosystem benefits and impacts of aquaculture. I heard what my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes said about net zero, and it will also help with our path towards that. It will help fund projects which develop innovative ideas and technologies, such as new biodegradable packaging for seafood in order to reduce single-use plastics.
I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend and others that further details on the future pillars are expected next week. I expect to hear from many of the Members currently here about their views and ideas for spending that money. The infrastructure pillar will invest in ports, processing and aquaculture facilities for the fishing industry.
I am absolutely not going to agree on my feet at this point who should be getting that money, but I fully expect all hon. Members in this Chamber to be putting in their bids with enthusiasm. It is a generous scheme, and I am hopeful that those who put in decent bids will be suitably rewarded.
The third pillar—skills and training—will be aimed at attracting new entrants into the fishing industry and encouraging employment opportunities. That will help in the longer term with the labour shortages that several hon. Members mentioned. I am pleased to hear that the MAC report helped with including deckhands—although I heard what the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said—who were added following the last recommendations. The MAC is being reviewed again next year, and it is important that we from the fishing industry look closely at the shortage occupation list.
I would be delighted. We have discussed the case in the past, but I would be delighted to meet the right hon. Gentleman to discuss it again.
Moving on to exports, which the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport alluded to, while we had a difficult start to the year, the sector is showing real signs of improvement. August seafood export values were similar to pre-pandemic levels. Some EU and indeed non-EU exports are still down, but UK salmon exports are up significantly, by 25% on pre-pandemic levels. As hon. Members understand, there is a complicated combination of difficulties, very much related to the closure of hospitality across Europe, which have made exports really challenging this year.
We continue to support exporters through our seafood industry forum on trade and to engage as closely as we can with industry. One particularly useful taskforce was set up by the new fisheries envoy, my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid). We will continue to work with the sector, particularly through the Scottish seafood industry action group, to overcome future export challenges.
A number of hon. Members asked about licensing; for specific numbers, I refer them to the written ministerial statement that I laid a couple of weeks ago. Under the terms of the TCA, almost 1,700 EU vessels have now been licensed to fish in our waters. We have granted 98% of EU applications for fishing licences, 123 of them for the six to 12 nautical mile zone.
We are taking a reasonable and evidence-based approach to licensing that is compliant with the TCA. We have been extremely flexible about the evidence we will accept, even accepting survey data, for which we paid, when no other information is available. We have engaged in extensive discussions with the European Commission and French authorities—I last met the commissioner on Friday. Where the evidence provided has been satisfactory, licences have been issued. Where it has not, the door remains open to looking at more evidence.
We continue to work with the Commission and the French authorities on an approach to direct replacement vessels, and we are working very hard on that at the moment. The arrangements for the Crown dependencies under the TCA are slightly different from those for the UK. Both Jersey and Guernsey are taking a reasonable and evidenced-based approach to licensing and we are supporting them wherever necessary.
In conclusion, it is clear that we are making progress since leaving the EU. We are in the middle of annual negotiations, where we think we will be able to secure the fishing opportunities we need. I look forward to sharing the outcomes of those opportunities with the House.
I will not, because the hon. Member for Strangford is about to close the debate.
The additional quota uplift provided for in the TCA has been apportioned among nations using a blend of track record and zonal attachment, and we will look at how we review that work for future years. I admire the industry for its resilience and feel confident that the £100 million will provide the support the sector needs. Under the terms of the TCA, we have granted 98% of EU applications and are working well on the outstanding issues. There is still work to be done and I look forward to working with all Members to ensure that our fisheries are managed in a sustainable way that protects our marine environment.
I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions. The combination of viewpoints in the debate shows that the fisheries sector is important for all parts of the United Kingdom, and our debate has encompassed all parts of the United Kingdom. The right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill) referred to the stocks of prawns coming across to Northern Ireland, reinforcing the point that we need each other. We had hoped for some comment from the Minister on how her meeting went with Edwin Poots—I am sure she will follow up, as she always does.
I thank each and every person who spoke today, including about infrastructure and safety on the boats. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) spoke about promised fish becoming paper fish. We need the promised fish. As I said, we need action, not words. We need the words and the action to follow the words.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) referred to the availability of crew. He, I and others in the House have pursued that issue unashamedly over some time. The Minister referred to a review in the new year. I think we will all feed into that review, and I look forward to it. The hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) referred to fishing being the most dangerous job in peacetime. We need safety on the boats.
I welcome the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), to his place. I thank the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport for all that he has done in his contributions in this House.
The Minister referred to the importance of fishing for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We thank her for all her hard work and her endeavours on behalf of the fishing sector and for the special relationship she has—if I can say that to other Members—with our spokespersons in Northern Ireland. We wish her well in the negotiations, because she will be our voice for all the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We need each other. I always say that we are better together. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is better together, fighting together and standing together, with our Minister at the forefront.
I too would like to extend praise to the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) for all his hard work and his contributions.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered allocations to UK-EU fisheries following the UK’s departure from the EU.