Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Michael Tomlinson.)
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for providing me with the opportunity to speak on this subject, which is incredibly close to my heart, and means a great deal to the people of Hull and many others across the country.
For the past 32 years, Hull has come together, with a date now fixed—the last Sunday in January—to remember and commemorate the more than 6,000 trawlermen of our city who lost their lives at sea. Although the covid-19 pandemic may have moved the annual service online last year, I have no doubt that Lost Trawlermen’s Day will, as soon as possible, return to its rightful place in the city and our civic life.
As someone who was born and bred in Hull, it is a source of immense pride, every year, that hundreds of people brave the January wind and cold on the banks of the Humber to attend the service to the lost trawlermen—that is how much it means to the people of our city.
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for raising this today. As the widow of a trawlerman, who lost her husband at sea, I genuinely believe that what he is asking for today is something that we should all support. I know that my family would really like to see a day when they can celebrate —my children celebrate their father and I my late husband. There are many fishermen’s wives out there who do not have anything other than a memory because they did not even have their husbands recovered. My friend has raised this but I genuinely believe that it has cross-party support. On these Conservative Benches, we believe as well that we should be doing this.
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady. She and I were elected together in 2010 and I remember that terrible event. She paid tribute to me, but may I pay tribute to her for what she has just said in this important debate?
People come together in the city. They do that because, at one time, Hull was the largest and most successful fishing port in the world and the city’s development was closely tied to the industry. That success came at a terrible human cost. The price of fish at market may have gone up and down but, at least until recent years, it was always high in terms of lives lost at sea. I think I am right in saying that it was Walter Scott who wrote, over two centuries ago:
“It’s not fish you’re buying, it’s men’s lives.”
Sadly, that was very true.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing this debate forward and pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her heartfelt thoughts.
I represent Portavogie, the second largest fishing village in Northern Ireland and I have known in my lifetime many a brave man lost at sea. Indeed, just last week, my office had contact with a widow who lost her husband at sea in 1986—35 years ago—and she still mourns him today. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the widows and the children of these men will be warmed in the knowledge that their loved ones have not been forgotten by us in this House tonight?
I do agree, and I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, because I know he is incredibly proud of the industry in his area and campaigns tirelessly for the interests of those who earn their living fishing at sea.
Fishing was and is a hard, tough and unimaginably dangerous job. In the mid-20th century, workers in the fishing industry were four times as likely to be killed as those in the UK’s next most lethal profession, underground coalmining.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because this is a proposition that I am sure will have support in coastal and island communities right around the country. I was brought up on Islay, with a population of 3,500 people, and even of those who were at school with me I can count no fewer than six who have lost their lives in the industry. The real benefit that would come from what he proposes is not just that it would be an act of remembrance but, in its own small way, it would help to improve the culture within the industry so that the many lives that were lost needlessly would not be lost in future generations.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman; the fact that he speaks as he does adds incredibly strong support to the argument. I think I am right in saying, having spoken briefly with the Minister prior to the debate, that to some extent we are pushing at an open door.
Fishing in Hull and the rest of the UK was not only deadly during peacetime. Trawlermen were on the frontline of both world wars, not only braving enemy action to keep those at home supplied with vital food when rationing tightened belts, but playing an active role in minesweeping, U-boat detection and saving lives at sea. At the height of the first world war, fishing trawlers on active service were lost at the rate of one every other week, with an average of half of all crew lost in every single incident. The contribution of fishing communities to the wider conflict has been woefully under-recognised, in my respectful view, and that must be addressed.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing this debate forward. As we both know, Grimsby and Hull have had a healthy competition over the years, because Grimsby is well-known as the world’s premier fishing port. On the point about the first and second world wars, however, does he agree that our minesweeping, our anti-submarine work, our convoy work and our armed trawling work has not been very well publicised, and that the 66,000 men around the UK who joined the Royal Naval Patrol Service helped to save the UK and to keep it fed, since fish was the only food that was not rationed at the time?
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady, who makes the point better than me, I suspect, and very passionately; I spotted the Minister listening intently while she spoke.
While fishermen are among those commemorated on the Tower Hill memorial in London, their relative absence from the wider story of this country’s war effort should be further evidence of the need for a National Lost Trawlermen’s Memorial Day. We mark Lost Trawlermen’s Day in Hull on the last Sunday in January, deliberately and for a significant reason: with high winds and stormy seas, it was always a perilous time for Hull’s fishing fleet, with many losses occurring at that time of year.
However, January 1968 marked one of the darkest periods in our city’s history, the triple trawler tragedy, when the St Romanus, the Kingston Peridot and the Ross Cleveland all sank within weeks of each other, with the loss of 58 lives. Only one man survived. The devastating blow dealt to Hull’s tight-knit fishing community was a call to arms, and the headscarf revolutionaries, led by Lillian “Big Lil” Bilocca, achieved more for safety at sea in a few days than others had achieved in many decades. Dr Brian Lavery paid tribute to her in his book.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. He talks of the triple tragedy, and I am old enough to remember the hush of cold silence over Grimsby when a trawler went missing. I remember regularly going down to Grimsby docks with my father, who worked on the docks all his working life. I went on the trawlers and saw how little protection they offered to the trawlermen, so I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on achieving not only cross-party support but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici) said, cross-Humber support, which is not always quite so obvious.
It is not just cross-Humber, as there is cross-Tamar support from Devon and Cornwall MPs. In Plymouth we have lost two trawlerman in recent years: one on the Solstice and one on the Laura Jane. In remembering them as individuals and the risks they take in going to sea, may I ask my hon. Friend to use this opportunity to talk about the need to invest in improved safety such as the further roll-out of the Plymouth life jacket scheme? A personal locator beacon is included on the life jackets, which takes the search out of “search and rescue” if a person goes overboard.
I thank and pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work on this issue over the past couple of years as shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. He is right, of course, and we should extend the scheme further not just to those most at risk but across the industry and to all fishers, because these relatively cost-effective, inexpensive things can save lives.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing this Adjournment debate. Further to what the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) said, we can greatly improve the safety of our boats. There will always be risks at sea, but we can minimise those risks by introducing better safety and more up-to-date boats. I would like to see us invest even more in fishing and fishing boats so that we can see our fishermen safer at sea.
The hon. Gentleman is right that the industry was never safe. Fishermen in Hull and across the country were referred to as “three-day millionaires” because they were paid well, relatively speaking, but when we think about it, they were not paid well enough. The risk of going out to sea on those vessels often meant they did not come home. He makes a good point.
If I may, I am keen to get back to “Big Lil” Bilocca. She is remembered with folk-hero status in Hull, and her legacy is the cornerstone of our respect for this once dominant industry.
The cultural institutions marking the contribution of trawlermen and the wider industry to the city of Hull have gone from strength to strength in recent years. Both the Arctic Corsair and the Spurn lightship have recently undergone dry-dock repairs to preserve them for generations to come, which I am delighted to see. It has chiefly been led by Hull City Council and its leader Daren Hale, and they have ensured that the “Hull: Yorkshire’s Maritime City” project undertakes the vital work needed to preserve and promote Hull’s 800 years of seafaring history.
I pay tribute to Hull City Council, which is clearly doing a lot of work on its fishing heritage. Will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to Fleetwood Town Council, which since 2017 has taken on responsibility for the two memorials to fishing in Fleetwood? There is one on Dock Street next to Asda and, of course, one on the promenade. As we have two memorials in one fishing town, does that not suggest that a national memorial could solidify how communities across the British Isles have paid the ultimate price to put food on the table?
I pay tribute to the Looe harbour commissioners, who have a memorial on the harbourside with my late husband’s name on it, among many others. I also pay tribute to Plymouth City Council, which has a memorial on Plymouth Hoe for merchant seamen. Every year, the fishing industry is included in Merchant Navy Day, but we really must look to have a fishermen’s memorial day.
I am grateful once more to the hon. Lady. She reminds me of how merchant seamen always remark of the bravery of fishermen. I think merchant ships used to be referred to as big boats, and seamen went out on big boats that had some protection, so they were safer, even all those years ago. Fishermen often went out on tiny vessels in perilous conditions, risking their lives on every occasion—no matter the weather—to put food on the table.
It is very much a team effort to mark the contribution of the fishing industry—not just to our city—and to commemorate those who lost their lives, and I am pleased to see that it has cross-party support in the Chamber. I pay tribute in particular to the founders and organisers of Lost Trawlermen’s Day, the St Andrews Dock Heritage Park Action Group—also known as STAND—in Hull, as well as my constituent Ian Bowes and his fellow tour guides on the Arctic Corsair, who are keeping the history alive for younger generations. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy), who is just as passionate about the subject as I am. She would have been incredibly keen to be involved in the debate, but unfortunately she could not be here. Most of all, credit must go to all the family and loved ones of trawlermen lost at sea, who have worked tirelessly to ensure that they were not forgotten.
Hull’s history as a city built around the fishing industry and off the backs of hard-working fishermen is mirrored in many towns and cities across the country. Fishing is an essential part of our identity as an island nation. For all the difficult arguments around national identity, I think that fish and chips is high on the list of those on all sides of the political divide.
The building of the railways in the mid-19th century at a stroke expanded the potential market for fresh fish, creating a direct route to supply the growing industrial working classes with affordable protein. Somewhere along the way, some bright soul paired the fried white fish with chips. It was a fabulous idea, for which I am sure Members across the House are entirely thankful. I am—although I am not sure that my waistline is very pleased. I am afraid to tell you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that it is something that I enjoy quite regularly.
I will spare some of the hon. Member’s blushes—we all like fish and chips a little bit too much. On a serious note, does he agree that we should also remember that, as Lloyd’s Register Foundation estimates, about 24,000 fishermen die around the world each year catching fish for all of us to eat?
That is an excellent point, and I have to confess that it is a point I had not intended to remark upon in my notes.
I believe the moment is long overdue for formal nationwide recognition of the contribution of trawlermen to our shared national story, and I urge the Government to take Hull’s lead and officially recognise the last Sunday in January, if at all possible, as the UK’s Lost Trawlermen’s Day.
I should make it clear, because I think it is an extremely important point, that the reference to trawlermen in the title of this debate is drawn directly from its use in Hull’s Lost Trawlermen’s Day. It is not in any way intended to exclude those who have lost their lives at sea fishing by means other than trawl—other methods are dominant in many regional industries—or, indeed, to exclude women at sea. I am happy for any national day to have a different title reflecting these very important facts. It is the principle of remembrance for those who risked, and frequently lost, their lives to put the national dish on the table that I am advocating tonight.
Although I am happy to be corrected, my understanding is that, in the absence of a formal mechanism by which the day would be instituted, the Minister could commit the Government today, from the Dispatch Box, to recognising Lost Trawlermen’s Day as a national day of remembrance, and I hope that he will. If the Government truly want to recognise the contribution of fishing communities to our national life, especially the sacrifice of those who never came back, they could perhaps commit some money as well.
We could establish a formal ceremony on the last Sunday in January with the Government’s backing. Exactly what form this should take is not for me or indeed for the Minister to decide, but I would respectfully suggest a public consultation to enable organisations working with current and ex-fishermen and families who have lost loved ones to have their say on this important issue. However, if the Government are willing to put some effort in and give fishing communities the respect they deserve, recognising the historic role they have played, they could do no worse than follow Hull’s lead.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) on securing this debate, and on the passion with which he delivered the speech and his enthusiasm for that national dish he mentioned.
The trawlermen of coastal communities around the UK make an invaluable contribution to our economy and to keeping our nation fed, but while we enjoy eating our fish in the warmth and comfort of our homes and restaurants, it is easy to forget the skill and the courage of the trawlermen who landed the catch. The coastal waters of the UK are hazardous, weather conditions and sea states can change quickly, and it takes a special person to work, day in and day out, in conditions that include high winds, towering waves, lashing rain and freezing temperatures.
These hazards were brought home to us all too tragically in my constituency in January when the fishing vessel Nicola Faith, sailing from Conwy harbour, went missing with all hands. An exhaustive search and rescue operation was launched, including shore-based coastguard teams and Royal National Lifeboat Institution crews from Conwy, Llandudno, Beaumaris, Rhyl and Hoylake, but to no avail. It would be two months before the bodies of skipper Carl McGrath and crew members Ross Ballantine and Alan Minard were eventually found off the Wirral and Blackpool. The vessel’s empty life raft had been recovered off the coast of Scotland a few days earlier, and the wreck was eventually recovered in May. We all now await the marine accident investigation branch’s report into these tragic events. I recite this as the plain record of tragic events, but the reality is a devastating loss for the families and loved ones of these young men.
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention, and I agree. The loss still resonates in communities in Hull and Grimsby months and years later, as we have heard, and remembering and celebrating the work of trawlermen and fishermen from of those communities is important.
I will conclude by placing on a record my respects to the crew of the Nicola Faith and extending my condolences to their families and loved ones. I also thank all those who participated in the extensive search, rescue and recovery operations. It is right that the courage and sacrifice of trawlermen lost at sea is remembered, and I welcome the consideration that has been given to that in the debate this evening.
I would like to add my condolences to everybody who has lost a loved one in the job that they were doing. In Grimsby, in the just under 100 years in which this has been recorded, we have lost more than 7,000 fishermen. I thank Doreen Tyson who did all the work as a researcher and supplied it to the Fishing Heritage Centre in Grimsby and to the Fishermen’s Mission. I suggest to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) that something that Winston Churchill said after the second world war will resonate for all time. He said:
“The work you do is hard and dangerous. You rarely get, and never seek, publicity. Your only concern is to do your job, and you have done it nobly.”
I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) on securing this important debate on the creation of a national Lost Trawlermen’s Memorial Day. Fishing and the courage of fishermen are woven deep into the fabric of this nation. Perhaps too few are truly aware of the dangers that fishermen face to put food on our plates, or of their place in our maritime history, serving our nation in peace and war to keep this country fed and protected.
I was particularly struck by the hon. Gentleman’s speech. More than 6,000 fishermen from Hull have lost their lives in the past 100 years, either through fishing tragedies or when their vessels were engaged in wartime service. More than 1,200 fishermen working from Hull died in the first world war; 300 Hull ships were used as minesweepers and for searching for submarines, and by the end of the war, only 91 Hull-owned ships were still afloat. Between 1939 and 1945, 191 trawlers from Hull were taken into military service, and 96 of them were lost. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici) is right to say that this sacrifice and this service are nowhere near well enough publicised. The work of the Royal Naval Patrol Service and others ought to be remembered by all of us in this House and across the nation.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) on securing this debate. Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that the number of people who are in the Chamber for this Adjournment debate tonight, representing all parts of the United Kingdom, just goes to show how much we owe the fishermen who have been described tonight? I should also like to add my thanks, through the Minister, to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy for visiting my constituency earlier this year and for signing the book of condolence in Fraserburgh. I think they both found it quite touching that such a memorial already existed, but I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman that a specific day for recognising our fishermen is a worthy cause.
I warmly agree with everything my hon. Friend says. We have heard moving speeches from Members on both sides of the House. The support from all parts of the United Kingdom and all political parties makes very clear how important this matter is to the entire country, and I commend all hon. and right hon. Members for having taken part and having made their contributions so movingly.
We have been hearing this evening about sacrifice and service. That tradition continues to this day and is likely to continue through the challenges of the covid pandemic. It is absolutely clear that we all owe a debt of gratitude to those we have lost. I start my thanks by paying tribute to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East for having secured this debate, and to his constituents, who commemorate the memory of those lost trawlermen already at the annual Lost Trawlermen’s Day held locally in Hull.
If I may, I shall take a moment to recognise that this country owes a debt of gratitude to all those who work in perilous working conditions—not just fishermen, but all those who work at sea to keep our critical supply chains moving. A timely reminder of this is the collision that took place early this morning between the UK-flagged Scot Carrier and the Danish-flagged Karin Hoej in Swedish territorial waters near the Danish island of Bornholm. The detail of the incident is still emerging, and I hope the House will understand that I must not comment further until the maritime accident investigation branches have concluded their investigations. What I can say is that I extend my thoughts and prayers to the families of all those seafarers who are still missing, and my very best wishes to all those involved, including those from the Swedish and Danish search and rescue services who have been responding to this incident today. I am sure I speak for the whole House when I thank them and salute them.
I must praise the critical role that the families of fishermen in Hull have played. Their work is the foundation stone on which we are building and improving fishing safety. Following the tragic loss of 58 lives on three fishing vessels—the triple trawler tragedy from Hull at the start of 1968—the campaigning of the headscarf revolutionaries led by Lillian Bilocca, Christine Jensen, Mary Denness and Yvonne Blenkinsop resulted in the first steps in improving fishing safety. They were all fishermen’s wives. How extraordinarily moving and poignant it is that we have in the House my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray), who added her devastating personal loss to the debate today. We thank her and salute her for her passionate work on fishing safety, ongoing for so many years.
Members were all as struck as I was by the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) about the hush of cold silence that descended over the town when a trawler was lost. The determination of the headscarf revolutionaries to see full crewing of ships, radio operators on every ship, improved weather forecasts, better training for crew and more safety equipment led to the publication of the Holland-Martin trawler safety report in 1969. At that time, more than 60 fishermen a year were being lost. As we heard from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), each one of those represents for their families mourning that never ends.
In 1975, we saw the first significant regulations introduced for fishing vessels of 12 metres and over. As the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East said, the introduction of the regulations is a testament to the work of the headscarf revolutionaries and those who supported them, and I pay tribute to them.
Fishing has changed since the 1960s and 1970s. When the Holland-Martin report was published, we had a sizeable deep water fleet; now our vessels tend to be smaller. Actual trawlermen, as the technical phrase is, are fewer, but the danger to those who fish commercially remains, albeit in different forms. I welcome the opportunity to recognise and highlight the real dangers that fishermen face every time they go to sea, as the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) rightly said, to provide food for us.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) on securing the debate. As, I think, the only current Member of the House who is married to a fisherman, I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for his kind words in suggesting that all fishermen need to be remembered, not just those who work on large boats. My husband works on an under-10 metre vessel. There is a bit of déjà vu because I mentioned it in my maiden speech, but we can send them out on a calm clear day, and then the weather turns and we do not know if they are going to come home safely or not. They can call you and say, “It could be two hours before I get back,” and the worry is very palpable. So I thank my hon. Friend for his words and hope that the memorial day will connect everybody in the country to their fishermen and their coastal communities, and to the dangers involved in bringing food to their tables.
I thank my hon. Friend very much for that intervention. She really brings home to us all the importance of what we are discussing. I very much hope that this debate and the idea the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East has had will help, as she says, to connect people. Perhaps that is the point the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood was making as well—about connecting people to an understanding of what others do in order to bring food to them. They both make that point exceptionally well and I thank them for doing so.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way on that point of connection and for reflecting on the contribution of our fishing industry during times of conflict. It is worth remembering that we have just seen the passing of the last man who was part of the Shetland Bus, Jakob Strandheim. That still lives very strongly in the communities I represent in Shetland, but as we get further from the memory of what they did, acts of commemoration like this will be all the more important.
The right hon. Gentleman is quite right, and I thank him for making that point. He is absolutely right that the memories of the sacrifices made by communities runs deep, but we must not be complacent. Those extraordinary acts of sacrifice, through the sheer passage of time become something we have to redouble our efforts to remember. There are those we have lost, but also, as we have heard, those currently working in what is a uniquely dangerous industry.
I believe there is merit in exploring further the idea from the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East, supported by so many Members across this House, of a national memorial day dedicated to those who have lost their lives. Consequently, I have asked my officials to explore the proposal further. I would like it very much if the hon. Gentleman and all the right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken were a part of that engagement as we consider the proposal further.
I am really pleased to hear those words from my hon. Friend, because there are so many people in my position, but they have no grave to visit, no body to bury, because some fishermen are lost at sea, never to be seen again. To give them a day when they will be able to pay tribute to their loved ones is very, very important thing. Believe you me, I know. I am one of the lucky ones.
I thank my hon. Friend for making the point so beautifully, so poignantly, so eloquently. All I can do is pay tribute to her again for her fortitude and for her passionate campaigning. I hope very much that she will take part in the work we do as we explore the proposal further. I am glad that it may offer her, and others like her, comfort and solace.
I hope the House will allow me, while we remember those we have lost, to say a word or two to focus on what we can do to make the industry a safer working environment for the men and women working in it today and in the future. The 1980s, 1990s and 2000s saw new requirements to improve safety. For example, we now have basic safety training for those who want to work on a fishing vessel. Skippers must have certificates of competency. We have better health and safety requirements, such as the need to assess risks. We have seen the progressive introduction of new standards for smaller fishing vessels. Those changes have had a significant impact on fatalities in fishing, which have reduced from 60 a year in the 1960s to an average of six in recent years, as we have heard. Of course, that is still too high. It is true that the numbers fishing at sea have reduced by about 45% since those days, while fatalities have reduced by 90%. That must show that the safety changes have had an impact.
While that is a massive improvement on where we used to be, sadly this year we have seen the loss of 10 fishermen to date. No one should lose their life to provide food for our plates, so there is more to be done to make fishing safer and to protect those who choose to work in this historic industry. After all, fishing remains the most dangerous industry in the United Kingdom. On average, there are approximately 53 fatalities per 100,000 in fishing, set against 0.5 per 100,000 for the general workforce. For us, this continued loss of life is unacceptable. To think otherwise would be a betrayal of the memory of those we have lost over the years.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Robin Millar) told us so movingly, the loss of life continues right up to today. The loss of the Nicola Faith on 27 January 2021 resulted in the loss of Alan Minard, Ross Ballantine and skipper Carl McGrath in the Colwyn Bay area of north Wales. Again, this matter is still under investigation by the marine accident investigation branch. While I can say nothing further, I of course send my condolences and thank my hon. Friend for his moving contribution.
What more can be done? Do we accept that fishing is dangerous and the loss of life therefore inevitable? My Department and I do not believe that to be the case. I say that as someone who reads all the marine accident investigation branch reports before they are published. I am determined that more can be done.
We should be encouraged by what has been achieved in Iceland. In the 1980s, it experienced on average more than 12 fatalities a year in its fishing industry. From 2017 to 2020, there were none. Our fishing industry can be safer. That is why the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the Sea Fish Industry Authority and the national fishing federations, partnered together in the Fishing Industry Safety Group, have the aim of eliminating preventable fatalities by 2027.
We know that in the UK, based on the investigations undertaken by the marine accident investigation branch, there are three main causes of fatality: people going overboard, vessel stability and personal accidents. The MCA and its partners are working tirelessly to address those challenges. I will say a word or two about each, if I may.
Starting with going overboard, ideally not going overboard in the first place is the best option. To help fishermen think about how not to go overboard, in 2018 new health and safety regulations were introduced that require risk assessments. Risks that might cause someone to go overboard now have to be recorded alongside steps to prevent it happening, or at least to reduce the chances. The new requirements cover everyone on board, not just those under contract.
Where the risk of going overboard cannot be eliminated, people must wear a personal flotation device. The industry has been working hard for many years to get fishermen to wear personal flotation devices. Seafish and the national federations have provided more than 8,000 devices free to crews, particularly those on small fishing vessels. We have heard from the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) how valuable that is and the massive difference it has made in his constituency. I thank him for his work, as well as other Members who have helped spread the word about personal flotation devices around our coasts and in their constituencies. Excellent work is being done by the RNLI and Seafish through practical demonstrations at environmental pools around the country.
Even with the great work that is going on, sadly we still see regular fatal incidents where fishermen enter the water and are found not wearing a personal flotation device. When the encouragement, training and guidance fail, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, as the regulator, can use its aerial surveillance capability to check that personal flotation devices are being worn when the risk of going overboard has not been eliminated, and it can take action.
I will say a word about vessel stability. Requirements have existed for larger fishing vessels since the introduction of new rules in 1975 as a result of the work of the headscarf revolutionaries, but no such requirements existed for small vessels, making up the majority of the fleet. Unlike going overboard, which normally involves just one person, capsize can be a sudden and catastrophic event that ends the lives of everyone on board. The loss of vessels such as the Stella Maris, the JMT, the Purbeck Isle, the Sarah Jayne, the Nancy Glen and the Heather Anne, to name but a few, led to the introduction in September of new stability requirements for smaller vessels.
We heard of the importance of safety and newer vessels and new safety requirements from my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), and he is right. Just last week, we saw the launch of the latest phase of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s “Home and Dry” campaign, with videos on how to conduct tests and avoid compromising a vessel’s stability. Since 2008, the MCA has invested more than £3 million to support training in stability awareness and other safety skills. It is anticipated that, next year, the MCA will consult on introducing mandatory stability training.
Although stability nowadays is a problem for small fishing vessels, the working environment of a fishing vessel, with the dynamic movement of the vessel and equipment, means that accidents for those on board are all too common. Despite the challenging working conditions, accidents are not inevitable. The good maintenance of equipment, safe operating systems, regular review of those systems and following good safety behaviours can reduce or eliminate the risks, whether someone is working a machine on land or fishing gear at sea. I am heartened that the industry has developed a free online safety management system that helps to achieve those things. I encourage all those fishing commercially either to adopt that system or develop their own in line with the MCA’s maritime guidance note covering the topic.
Yes, I wholeheartedly pay tribute to my predecessor for that work and to my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall for her passionate advocacy of that critical step. Thank goodness that is one step we have been able to take, but there is so much more to do, and I look forward to working with her and others on that.
Changes can take time to have an effect. Although we can introduce new requirements, have more robust enforcement, develop training, give guidance, run publicity campaigns and provide funding, ultimately, safety is the responsibility of the owners of the vessel on which people work and, undoubtedly, those on board. We must always remember those who, sadly, have died while fishing, and there is no better way of remembering than by looking to the industry to eliminate all preventable deaths in future. We should follow the lead of the headscarf revolutionaries by bringing together people with all groups, not just in Government, who can influence and drive change in the industry.
Ultimately, although the Government can support initiatives and introduce new requirements, only those involved in fishing can prevent further fatalities and we will need to work with them to help to improve their safety. However, we will not sit back and wait to see whether safety improves. In the new year, I intend to write to all hon. Members with constituency fishing interests. I would like to explore this and use their unique insight and knowledge gained through their work in their constituencies—their thoughts and ideas on what they, their constituents and others can do to improve safety in this critical industry.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his response to everyone tonight; it has been exemplary and we really appreciate it. He understands where we are all coming from. In my village of Portavogie, which I represent, we have a memorial—a statue of a fisherman in a sou’wester as he steers a boat. It epitomises and captures the feelings of us all in the area. I had a brother who fished on the boats and I have lost some dear friends over the years, so I understand the issue.
It is really important for the hon. Gentleman to get all the viewpoints, not just of those who are here, but of the fish producer organisations that have the knowledge of the local communities who have lost their loved ones. We can feed all that into the process. I think he is saying that that is what he wants to do, and if that is the case, that is the way forward.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said. That is indeed what I should like to do. I have been very struck by the tragedies about which I have read and heard since I have been fortunate enough to be in this post, and I should very much like to seek the aid of hon. Members such as him to ensure that communities, representatives, and indeed everyone who wants to feed in their views to assist this can have those views heard. Driving down those unnecessary fatalities is a goal towards which we can all strive, and of which we can be proud. It would be a fitting achievement, and a fitting tribute to all those who have lost their lives.
Let me end by leaving one thought with the House. Over this winter, if any of us or any of our constituents—anyone watching this debate—turns in for a late night after a fish-and-chip supper in a warm pub, deep in landlocked safety, I hope we will take a minute, just once, to tune in to the shipping forecast, with its calm gale warnings, and will think of those at sea, risking life and limb that we might be in bed, safe and warm and fed.
Question put and agreed to.