(1 year, 10 months ago)Commons Chamber
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
It is a pleasure to introduce the Second Reading of the Fisheries Bill under your chairmanship, Madam Deputy Speaker. If I may, I should like to begin my introduction of this legislation on a personal note. My father was a fish merchant, and my family have made their living from the sea for generations. That has given me a deep personal appreciation of the risks and sacrifices undertaken by those who go to sea to ensure that we have healthy and nutritious food. There are Members of this House who know those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in order to provide us with the food that we enjoy, and I would like to say that those who work so hard and take such risks to bring us the bounty of the sea will be first and foremost in my mind in our deliberations today. We are in all their debt.
I also want to underline the fact that I am deeply grateful to the team at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for the work they have done on the preparation of the White Paper that preceded this Bill, as well as on the Bill, the explanatory memorandum and everything that goes with them. DEFRA has some of the finest civil servants in the Government, but the fisheries team stand out. They are men and women of dedication, deep knowledge and commitment, and I am grateful to them, as I am also to my predecessors in this role as Secretary of State. Every single one of my predecessors has sought to do their best for the fishing industry, and it would be invidious to single any of them out. However, I want to pay a special tribute to three ministerial or ex-ministerial colleagues. My right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) has done an enormous amount to champion the interests of the fishing communities across the United Kingdom. My right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) has done an enormous amount to improve the operation of the common fisheries policy while we have been in it. And the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), has been an outstanding negotiator on Britain’s behalf, and in his time in office—which I hope will continue for many years to come—he has done an enormous amount for coastal communities across the country.
One of the pleasures in bringing forward the Bill is to be able to acknowledge that, whatever position individuals may have taken in the referendum on our membership of the European Union, there is a widespread recognition across the House that the common fisheries policy did damage. It did environmental damage to fish stocks and to our marine environment. It also did economic damage to the fishing industry, which has been such a critical part of this country’s heritage and which can again become a vital part of our economic future. The common fisheries policy did social damage as well, because coastal communities suffered. Their economies were hollowed out and businesses collapsed as a result of its operation. Whatever position we may have taken in that referendum, taking back control of our waters, leaving the common fisheries policy and once again becoming an independent coastal state will give us an opportunity to lead environmentally, to revive the fishing industry economically and to ensure that our coastal communities once more have the opportunity for a renaissance.
I agree with the Secretary of State, on behalf of the Scottish National party, about the damage the CFP did. However, the political text on the withdrawal agreement states that there will be:
“Cooperation…internationally to ensure fishing at sustainable levels, promote resource conservation… the development of measures for the conservation, rational management and regulation of fisheries… a new fisheries agreement on, inter alia, access to waters and quota shares”
and so on. That is the current form, in black and white. Although that might mean something new and better, is it not the case that, given the UK’s negotiating failures so far, what we will end up with will look very similar to the terms of the CFP?
No, not at all. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have enormous respect, for acknowledging many of the defects and flaws in the common fisheries policy, but we have been clear—this is reflected in both the draft withdrawal agreement and the accompanying draft political declaration on our future economic partnership—that we will be negotiating at the December 2020 Fisheries Council as an independent coastal state, ready to ensure that we decide on access to our waters, that we decide on total allowable catches, and that we decide on quotas, and it is on that basis that we can ensure that the interests of our coastal communities are respected.
Of course, as an independent coastal state, we will be governed by the United Nations convention on the law of the sea. That landmark piece of international law makes it clear that all independent coastal states will negotiate with their neighbours to ensure that the environmental health of fish stocks are preserved and that an equitable share of each nation’s bounty can be agreed, because we as a nation depend for the fish we eat not just on the fish in our waters—of course, we have the healthiest stocks of any country in the existing European Union—but on negotiating with other independent coastal states, including Norway, the Faroes, Iceland and others, to ensure that we get the mix of fish that consumers demand and that society has a right to expect.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that any party represented in this Chamber that promotes continued membership of the European Union is letting our fishermen down, because it is already promoting continued membership of the common fisheries policy?
My hon. Friend knows what she is talking about, and she is absolutely right. It is the case that the Scottish National party wants us to stay in the European Union, and therefore in the common fisheries policy. It is also the case that the Scottish National party’s MEPs, when given the chance to vote in the European Parliament, voted to stay in the common fisheries policy. However, I do want to acknowledge that there are independent members of the SNP who do not toe the line of their leadership. There are individual voters who have lent the SNP their votes in the past but who do not agree with that view. Also, to be fair, the Scottish Government and the Minister responsible, Fergus Ewing, in helping to ensure that this legislation can work for Scotland, have operated in a constructive manner, as indeed have officials in the devolved Administrations—sadly, we do not have the Executive in Northern Ireland, but the officials there have negotiated in good faith, as have the Labour Administration in Cardiff. I want to underline that the legislation we bring forward will see powers moving to the devolved Administrations. It will be a diffusion of power and a strengthening of devolution.
Many individuals and organisations campaigned very hard to get the firmest rules on sustainability as part of reform of the common fisheries policy. Will my right hon. Friend give them an assurance that any vessel fishing in British waters after we leave the European Union will be required to maintain the highest levels of sustainability for those fish stocks, and to work with the Government to do so?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Bill makes it clear that there are principles, to which the Government will be held, that ensure that fishing will be sustainable and that our marine environment will be restored to full health. The Bill also gives the Government powers to ensure that no vessel can fish in our waters unless it adheres to those high environmental standards.
Can the Secretary of State just be absolutely clear about this? At the end of March we will leave the common fisheries policy, but then we will immediately be back in it, by giving the EU the right to make all decisions for however long the transition goes on. It worries me very much when I hear more and more Ministers talking on the “Today” programme about the transition being extended again and again. Why did he allow the Prime Minister to accept in the withdrawal agreement that fisheries would stay as part of the transition?
I will give the hon. Lady, for whom I have enormous respect and affection, one piece of perhaps unsolicited advice: I find that in the morning it is better not to listen to the “Today” programme; Radio 3, or even Radio 2, ensures that I have a more equable morning. However, she makes a very important point about the transition period. A number of Members of this House hoped that in the transition period, when it was agreed earlier this year, the common fisheries policy would be outside, but there is one very significant departure from the overall transition period, which applies to the common fisheries policy, which is that the European Union acknowledged that from 2021 we will be an independent coastal state. Therefore, when we negotiate in the December 2020 Fisheries Council, although we will still legally be a member of the European Union, we will be negotiating then as an independent coastal state. That is why I said at the time that we need to keep our eyes on the prize of making sure that after that transition period we can have all the opportunities to do the right thing environmentally, economically and socially, as I mentioned earlier.
I would like to take as many interventions as possible, in fairness to all those Members who necessarily cannot stay for the duration of the debate.
A moment ago the Secretary of State offered the House some warm words about his commitment to sustainability. Could he therefore explain why the Bill contains only one vague mention of maximum sustainable yields? Can he give us a guarantee that, under his new vision for fisheries management, we will adhere to maximum sustainable yields and to scientific advice, as opposed to what we have done for years and years, which is to allow total catches to exceed those sustainable yields by up to 50%?
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way on that point, because it is germane to the point about co-operation with our neighbouring states and the implications arising from the transitional arrangements. Can he tell the House how the EU-Norway-Faroes mackerel deal, which is currently up for renegotiation and renewal in 2020, will be handled in practical terms, and what his Government are doing to ensure that the voice of our fishermen is heard in that important negotiation?
We will be taking part in bilateral and multilateral negotiations in the run-up to December 2020, in anticipation of being, as I have said, a fully independent coastal state from January 2021. We will be negotiating with all our neighbours in order to ensure that we get the very best deal for our fishermen. On the right hon. Gentleman’s second point, which was very fair, about collaboration with fishing organisations, in preparing the Bill we have worked with the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations and a variety of other producer organisations, and every single one of them has said that it wants to see the Bill on the statute book. Of course there will be debate in Committee, and there may well be amendments that can refine and improve what we want to do, but there is not a single representative organisation that speaks for the fisheries industry or for fish processors anywhere that does not want to see the Bill on the statute book as quickly as possible.
The one fly in the ointment is, of course, the elephant in the room: the withdrawal deal that the Prime Minister has produced in recent weeks. Can the Secretary of State confirm that article 6(2) of the protocol relating to Northern Ireland could be interpreted to read that every EU fisheries regulation in existence will continue to be applied to Northern Ireland fishermen alone if the backstop is applied?
I do not believe that is the right interpretation. I do recognise that a number of colleagues across the House have concerns about the backstop arrangement, but let me underline one point. Under the backstop arrangement, were it ever to come into place, the United Kingdom would be an independent coastal state. Some people have read the withdrawal agreement and taken it to mean that somehow the common fisheries policy would be extended if the backstop were to come into operation, and that we would not have control over our territorial waters and our exclusive economic zone. That is not the case. Even in the event of the backstop coming into operation, we will be an independent coastal state, and fishermen, whether they are in Northern Ireland or anywhere else in the United Kingdom, will be able to take advantage of the additional fishing opportunities that arise as a result.
Is the Secretary of State aware that article 6(2) of the Northern Ireland protocol enables vessels registered in Northern Ireland, but not vessels registered anywhere else in the United Kingdom, to sell their goods into the European Union tariff free? Does he therefore accept that vessels registered in Scotland, and indeed in the rest of the UK, will be at a competitive disadvantage when that part of the backstop comes into force, which, incidentally, under article 154 will be immediately?
The hon. and learned Lady draws attention to an important point. On the backstop, as the House will hear at other points, there are some who argue that Northern Ireland is placed at a competitive advantage compared with other parts of the United Kingdom, and there are some who argue that Northern Ireland is disadvantaged relative to other parts of the United Kingdom. One thing that is clear, however, is that Northern Ireland—an integral and valued part of the United Kingdom—when we leave the European Union, will leave alongside the rest of the United Kingdom and be part of one independent coastal state that is capable of taking advantage of all these fisheries opportunities.
Will the Secretary of State give us some idea of his ambition for after we leave the common fisheries policy? It seems to me that we could have a big expansion of our domestic fishing industry, with a lot more fish landed and a big increase in fish processing in the UK. Is that his ambition, and how big will it be?
A whopper, I am tempted to say. My right hon. Friend is right. Even the Scottish Government acknowledge that there could be a £1 billion bonanza for the United Kingdom if we manage fish stocks effectively. That makes it all the more surprising, when the analysis of the Scottish Government’s own statisticians has the bonanza at that level, that Scottish National party politicians in Europe and elsewhere are standing in the way of our leaving the common fisheries policy, in stark contrast to Scottish Conservatives.
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
I am very happy to give way to a distinguished English Conservative.
If the backstop is not implemented but the implementation period is extended, can the Secretary of State confirm that that would mean we have to remain in the CFP beyond the 21 months? Is he aware—perhaps he can reassure the House—that the French are circling, as we all expect them to do, with Sabine Weyand saying that the British
“would have to swallow a link between access to products and fisheries in future agreements”?
I note the reporting of what Ms Sabine Weyand said. One of the interesting things—again, I alluded to this earlier—is that different Members will have different assessments of the advantages and disadvantages that lie within the draft withdrawal agreement, but it is instructive that the negotiator on behalf of the European Commission, Ms Weyand, felt that she had to sweeten the pill, particularly on fisheries, to get EU nations to sign, because there is an acknowledgment on the part of EU nations that UK negotiators have safeguarded access to our waters and secured our status as an independent coastal state. The initial negotiating mandate of the European Union has not been satisfied in these negotiations with respect to fisheries, but the red lines laid down by our Prime Minister have been defended. It is absolutely critical, without prejudice to any other conversations, to acknowledge that.
On the powers of the devolved nations, the Secretary of State said during the Vote Leave campaign that one of the Brexit dividends is that immigration powers could be devolved to Scotland. Immigration is crucial to the seafood processing industry and to the fishing boats, particularly on the west coast of Scotland. Does he agree that Scotland should get control of immigration so we can manage our fishing industry?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I am grateful to those who work in the fish processing industry, and indeed to those who work offshore, who come from across the world, and not just from European economic area nations, to help ensure that industry is strong. That is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made it clear that our post-Brexit immigration policy will be truly global in scope and focused on making sure this country is an economic success, emphasising that we have taken back control.
The Secretary of State mentioned the red lines. The Prime Minister has told the House on numerous occasions that we will leave the customs union, yet the withdrawal agreement clearly envisages that we would remain in the customs union under the backstop and that, having entered, we could not leave unless the EU consented—the so-called “Hotel California” arrangement. The Prime Minister has also assured the House in very strong terms that she would never contemplate a border down the Irish sea, yet in the agreement, including the Northern Ireland protocol, exactly that is envisaged. I regret to say that, given that, I find it difficult to take seriously the commitments that the Prime Minister has now given to the House. If I have trouble believing her, why should I believe the Secretary of State?
My right hon. Friend, like all hon. Members, must make his own judgment on what he chooses to believe, and on who and what he wishes to support.
I will answer my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) and the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) before giving way. We have been told at different times that we will have to bend or buckle when it comes to fisheries. The Prime Minister and the negotiating team have absolutely not bent or buckled, which is why the European Commission’s own negotiator has had to attempt to sweeten the pill.
It will not have escaped my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford that other countries are expressing their dissatisfaction with the withdrawal agreement for precisely that reason. He spent a distinguished time as a Minister and as the Conservative party’s Europe spokesman, and he must know that if other countries are complaining that they have lost out, it is a sign that this country has secured an advantage.
Further to the Secretary of State’s earlier point about expanding fishing opportunities, I am happy to report that Brixham in my constituency has had another record year and in 2017 landed over £40 million-worth of fish, but it is now limited because it is at full stretch. Brixham is anxiously waiting to hear what my right hon. Friend will do to guarantee that it can have access to funds such as the European maritime and fisheries funds to allow it to expand. Brixham is really keen to get on with it.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I congratulate her on championing her constituency so successfully, and I thank the fishermen of Brixham for their work. In the EU we have the EMFF, which provides support for individual fishing communities, and this Bill makes provision for a replacement so that grants and loans can be provided for just such investment.
I want to believe everything the Secretary of State has said, but he will know that the industry has a long memory, and it can remember the last-minute sell-out in the original Common Market negotiations. The industry still fears that is going to happen again. Can he give a categorical answer that under no circumstances will any further concessions be granted?
I have been very clear about how determined we are to fight on fisheries. We have defended our red lines. My hon. Friend mentions what happened in the 1970s. I was a boy then, but the consequences had a profound impact on my family and on my father’s business. There is no way I can ever forget what happened then, and no way that I will be anything other than a resolute champion for the interests of coastal communities such as the one my hon. Friend serves and represents so admirably.
According to the withdrawal agreement, we will be in the common fisheries policy until December 2020. Who will represent the UK at the annual Fisheries Council meeting in 2019, after we have left the EU?
The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice).
Order. The Secretary of State has been very generous in giving way, but it is important that he is allowed to answer one question before taking another.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker. You are right to say that I want to make sure I can answer as many questions as possible, from Members in as many parts of the House as possible, but this is a well subscribed debate and I have been able to make only about two or three of the points I wanted to make while I have been answering questions.
But because this legislation is so important and because of the passions aroused, I am happy to give way to my hon. Friend.
I thank the Secretary of State for that. It would be nice if we could talk a little more about fish, and I want to talk briefly about bluefin tuna. For the first time in about 50 or 60 years these wonderful fish are appearing off the shore of Cornwall and up the west coast. When we have left the EU, will we look at having a recreational catch-and-release fishery for bluefin tuna? If we could discuss that, and if I could bring a delegation to see the Secretary of State to discuss it, I would be extremely grateful, because there is huge commercial and conservational opportunity attached to such a fishery.
I quite agree and we are actively exploring that. One of the points I was due to make is that recreational fishing is a crucial part of the life of the nation; it provides, through tourism and other expenditure, support for many important parts of our rural and coastal economy.
A bluefin tuna was washed up on Tolsta beach in Lewis last weekend. I would be happy to join any delegation with the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), because we have the same interests and needs. On the wider point, the Secretary of State mentioned “bend or buckle” a while ago. In the debate on 27 February 2018 in Westminster Hall, an astonishing number of Tory MPs supported this claim:
“Ideally, at 11 pm on 29 March 2019, we need to have absolute and 100% control of our fisheries, without it being part of any implementation or transition deal.”—[Official Report, 27 February 2018; Vol. 636, c. 290WH.]
That was echoed by loads of Tory MPs. Was that bend or was it buckle?
Interestingly, an extraordinary number of Conservative MPs were in that debate because an extraordinary number of Conservative MPs want the very best for our fishing industry. Scottish Conservative MPs have stood up for coastal communities in a way that the Scottish National party has signally failed to do. I will tell the hon. Gentleman who bent and who buckled. It was the SNP MEPs who bent and buckled in Strasbourg and Brussels when they agreed to keep us imprisoned in the CFP.
There are at least 65 co-operatives in the fishing industry, which are worth more than £48 million at the moment. Would not one of the best ways to help boost the fishing co-operatives sector, which keeps profits in hard-pressed coastal communities, be to ensure a radical reform of the quota system, two thirds of which is held by just three opaque companies?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. As we leave the CFP, there is an opportunity to reallocate quota. We have already seen a reallocation, with a 13% uplift for the under-10 metre fleet under this Government. There is a crucial point to make: some of the quota that is necessarily allocated is allocated for the types of stocks—pelagic stocks—of which the under- 10 metre fleet, simply because of the nature of where those fish are found, would be poorly placed to take advantage. So he is absolutely right to say there is a case for reform, but a significant amount of quota could not, at this stage, be allocated in the way that he might suggest.
I am keen to allow my hon. Friend, who has shown remarkable patience, the chance to intervene.
I thank the Secretary of State for allowing me to intervene and not avoiding me altogether. We have talked about a “bonanza” of fish and about recreational fishing, but will he give assurances that we will not bend from our standards on sustainability? After all, we are talking about a wild harvest; fishermen have to make money, but they cannot make it unless the stocks are sustainable. Does he also agree that the Bill has included references to the 25-year environment plan and the nature capital approach, and that this is the right way to go, demonstrating that our Government have the environment and sustainability at their heart?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we adhere to the principles behind the maximum sustainable yield. The early clauses in this Bill set out clear principles by which any Secretary of State must be bound in order to put the environment and sustainability first. More than that, as we all know, under the CFP we have not had policies that put the environment first. Now, as an independent coastal state, we can work with organisations ranging from Greenpeace to Charles Clover’s Blue Marine Foundation to ensure that we have a policy that is right environmentally and right economically.
I am pleased that we are now starting to put the environment first, but almost 80% of the UK fishing fleet is small-scale and it lands only 11% of the fish by value. Given that this fleet is not only more profitable to local economies, but employs more local fishermen and uses more sustainable fishing practices, will the Bill allow larger quotas to independent vessels under 10 metres?
Absolutely, the Bill explicitly allows us to ensure that new quota can be allocated to the under- 10 metre fleet, which exhibits all the virtues that my hon. Friend outlined. As I mentioned in response to the question from the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas), it would be inappropriate to transfer some aspects of quota, but it has been the case, not least under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), that we have already been transferring quota to the under-10 metre fleet, for the reasons that my hon. Friend mentions.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way; he is generous with his time. On the comments made by the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil), the Scottish Conservatives can safely say they will take no lessons on the CFP from the SNP, who would sell us straight back into it if they had their way of re-entering Europe.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right on that. I am tempted to say, because so far we have not had a pun in this debate, that the SNP wants to have its hake and eat it. The truth is that SNP Members pose as defenders of Scotland’s fishing communities, yet all the time we were in the EU scarcely a peep they emitted on behalf of the fishing industry. Now that we are leaving they still want to tie us to the CFP, because they put the abstract ideology of their separatist sentiment ahead of the real interests of Scotland’s communities, and that is why they were so decisively rejected by Scotland’s coastal communities at the last general election.
This point has been made, but I will make it again. I have the great honour of representing the fishing village of Mevagissey. The Secretary of State may remember that he promised to come to see the fishermen there—they are still very much looking forward to his visit. That thriving fishing community is made up of under-10 metre vessels. So will he confirm that this Bill will provide opportunities for our under-10 metre fleet to take advantage of the new quota that will be available, so that it can grow, thrive and rebuild the great industry that we have lost?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, one that was highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord)—
Will the Secretary of State give way?
I am about to use a word that I rarely use, but I am going to use it with greater pleasure than I have ever used it before—no! I am tempted to say: no, nae, never, no more. The one thing I did want to underline is that the under-10 metre fleet, for the reasons outlined before, is a crucial part of the health and vibrancy of coastal communities and of our fishing industry overall. The profitable nature of its enterprise and its commitment to high environmental standards should be emulated by others.
I am going to make a wee bit of progress now, if that is okay. One thing that is clear about this Bill is that it has benefited from the support of the devolved Administrations and of non-governmental organisations. As a result, it now allows us to ensure that, as an independent coastal state, we can do what so many have wished, which is fully control access to our own waters and allocate quotas as we wish. Clauses 7 and 8, 11 and 12 revoke the existing rights of EU nations to access UK waters and ensure that the UK will license individual vessels from other nations on our terms, in a way that is consistent with high environmental principles, to demonstrate that we will have taken back control, not just of our territorial waters, but of our exclusive economic zone extending 200 miles out around the whole of the United Kingdom. We will make sure, as a number of hon. Members have asked, that we put conservation first.
Our fish are a great natural, renewable resource. We need to make sure that the lessons of the past are learned and that the mistakes that have been made while we have been in the common fisheries policy, and that other states have made through over-fishing, are at last corrected. We need to make sure that the network of marine protected areas and marine conservation zones around our nation are used to regenerate fish stocks. We need to make sure that we have available the effective data so that we can set quotas and total allowable catches sustainably. We need to make sure that we use the world-leading science available in this country from CEFAS and others to ensure that we set a global gold standard for conservation.
One particular way in which the environmental argument has been accepted by some but applied in a way that can be economically harmful and sometimes environmentally counterproductive is the way in which the discard ban has operated. It is quite right that we should seek to restrict fishing that is carried out in a way that might damage the health and resilience of individual species, but because of the nature of much of the fishing that goes on in our waters, particularly but not exclusively in the case of the under-10 fleet, there is a risk of bycatch. No matter how sophisticated the gear, there is a risk that some of the fish caught belong to some of the species that we wish to protect, and that these choke species, having been caught by fishermen at a level that threatens sustainability, have to be deployed in a way that means that the fishermen can no longer carry on their business.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
No, not at this point.
We will introduce, as New Zealand, Norway and other nations have, an approach that means that fishermen can catch and can land, but if they exceed the discard ban, they will pay a penalty. That will ensure that we have a sustainable approach to fisheries, that we enable fishermen to carry on going to sea, and that we combine their economic resilience with the environmental resilience of the stocks that we wish to preserve. That change is an example of how we can change individual common fisheries policy rules and regulations by giving effect to the Bill and the framework that it will provide. It is clear from all the representative fisheries organisations that they recognise that individual aspects of the CFP need remedial action and reform. That can happen only if we allow the Bill to pass, which is why it is so important that it makes a speedy passage through the House.
Another point made by several hon. Friends and hon. Members is about the importance of protecting not only diversity at sea but diversity in the fishing industry itself. We need to ensure not only that the pelagic fleets that sail from Peterhead and Fraserburgh have new opportunities, but that those that fish closer to coastal waters—often, the under-10 metre fleets that colleagues have praised—have an opportunity to take advantage of new opportunities. As a result of this legislation, we will have additional quota that we can reallocate in a way that is equitable, fair and sustainable.
Before he moves on, will the Secretary of State give way?
What do the Secretary of State’s words on bycatch and everything else mean for spurdog bycatchers?
It will be easier for those who are responsible for that bycatch to ensure that they can continue to fish in a way that is both environmentally sustainable and economically resilient. I will come back to the hon. Gentleman in due course.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way; he is being very generous. I am trying to reconcile two things that he has said: first, that we are going to be more mindful of sustainability, and secondly, that we are going to catch more fish. The total allowable sole catch in the Irish sea is currently set at 40,000, when the scientific advice is that it should be zero. Will we be catching more or fewer sole in the Irish sea under the Secretary of State’s future plans?
When it comes to individual species, we will follow the scientific advice that CEFAS and others give us. Overall, however, as we take back control we will have the opportunity to catch more fish in our own waters. The majority of the fish that are caught in UK waters are not caught by UK vessels. Let me give the hon. Gentleman one example. I do not know whether he knows what percentage of cod caught in the English channel is caught by French boats—I do not know whether anyone in the House does—but it is 83%. What percentage of cod caught in the English channel is caught by UK vessels? Just 7%. That is a fundamental inequity in the allocation of national resources. The Bill will allow us to decide who catches what and where, and in line with which environmental principles.
It is not often that a piece of legislation comes before the House that provides us with an opportunity to say to some of the most fragile communities in our country, our coastal communities, “There is real hope and a chance of an economic renaissance. Your suffering has been recognised and we can make a positive difference.” It is not often that legislation comes before the House that, if passed, would see an industry potentially double in size and in its capacity to generate new jobs and new economic opportunities. It is very, very rare that legislation that comes before the House achieves such social and economic goals and at the same time allows this country to underline its credentials as a leader in environmental practice of a kind that other countries would wish to emulate. Not only does this Fisheries Bill manage to bring hope to coastal communities and to reinforce the economic gains of leaving the European Union, but it underlines our credentials as an environmental leader, which is why I commend the legislation to the House.
Order. I have now to announce the result of today’s deferred Divisions.
In respect of the question relating to taxation relief and international tax enforcement (Jersey), the Ayes were 302 and the Noes were 238, so the Question was agreed to.
In respect of the question relating to taxation relief and international tax enforcement (Isle of Man), the Ayes were 302 and the Noes were 238, so the Question was agreed to.
In respect of the question relating to taxation relief and international tax enforcement (Guernsey), the Ayes were 302 and the Noes were 238, so the Question was agreed to.
In respect of the question relating to the immigration health charge order, the Ayes were 300 and the Noes were 232, so the Question was agreed to.
[The Division lists are published at the end of today’s debates.]
Before I call the shadow Secretary of State to speak, let me say that I hope colleagues realise that there is a lot of pressure on time. A lot of people wish to speak so, apart from Front Benchers, obviously, I will be asking everyone else to try to keep their speeches below 10 minutes. I do not want to impose a time limit at this point, and that would, I hope, allow everybody to get in.
I join the Secretary of State in his words of support for all those who work in the fishing industry. It is important that we recognise them.
Amid all the ongoing chaos that we have seen over the Brexit negotiations, Ministers have consistently identified leaving the common fisheries policy as one of the few policy areas in which the Government’s deal can deliver. When the White Paper was published in July, the Secretary of State said:
“Outside the Common Fisheries Policy we can take back control of our waters and revitalise our coastal communities.”
He is also on record as having said:
“The day after we vote to leave, we hold all the cards and we can choose the path we want.”
I intend to set out why the Bill and the current approach to negotiations being pursued by the Government will not, in our view, “revitalise” our left-behind coastal towns, which have been hit hard by years of Tory austerity. I will also set out why, having heard the Secretary of State outline his position just now, I am even more convinced that only a Labour Government can secure the twin goals of a healthy marine environment and thriving coastal communities.
Will the hon. Lady explain to me why my late husband suffered financially, quite considerably, for 12 years under a Labour Government, but she is now blaming Conservative austerity? I have witnessed it myself. Will she explain why she has not admitted that and apologised for it?
We know that coastal communities have suffered from austerity, and I will be talking about that further. However, I do not think it is appropriate to talk about individual cases.
However, having said what I have just said, we do not oppose the Bill at this stage, as it has turned out to be a mostly enabling Bill for making future decisions. It is clear that the Government have some way to go before we can all be satisfied with what is before us today. I hope that Ministers will reconsider parts of this legislation so that we can reach a consensus on the direction of travel. We intend to bring forward a number of key amendments in Committee to make those improvements.
In addition to looking at quotas, the Secretary of State also talked about the need to revitalise coastal communities, which have been badly let down by successive Tory Governments and the eight years of austerity. I represent a coastal community myself and have seen that damage at first hand. Those communities have been starved of investment. They have reduced services due to local government cuts, lower wages and stalled economies. If we look at the 98 local authorities that are on the coast, 85% of them have pay levels below the UK’s average, and, to date, the Government have done nothing to address that. Labour believes that well-managed fisheries and sustainable fishing practices can help reinvigorate many of these communities. This is a unique opportunity, as we have heard from the Secretary of State, to transform the way that we manage our fisheries to improve lives by driving economic prosperity, tourism and environmental benefits to our beautiful and unique British coastal areas.
However, if we look at the current distribution of quotas, it is clear that the system is not working in a fair or equitable way. According to research by Greenpeace, more than a quarter of the UK’s fishing quota is owned or controlled by just five families on the rich list of The Sunday Times. We are well-accustomed to hearing about taking our fair share of quota at the European level, but many in our coastal towns and smaller fleet want to know when they will get their fair share of the existing national quota.
The Secretary of State has talked about the unfairness in quotas, but, in terms of the Bill in front of us today, the clear lack of proposals to redistribute existing and future quota can be seen only as an endorsement of the current unfair system. Labour will bring in amendments to improve that situation. Given what the Secretary of State said earlier, will he support us in those amendments?
Recreational fishing also has an important role to play in the development of our coastal towns. The Angling Trust believes that many towns could prosper by attracting anglers who would travel right across the UK and from overseas to take advantage of top-class angling in healthy, well-managed waters.
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. She talks about quotas and about who holds quotas. I have actually written to the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee for an inquiry into who holds quotas, where they got the quota from and where a quota might be better distributed, including the idea of community quotas and the geographical share of quotas. Is she supportive of such an idea?
We are looking for the Government to address the historic imbalance and inequality in the fishing industry that these quotas show. The companies that we have looked at have benefited from a system that has led to a long-term consolidation of quota into the hands of a very few operators. We are very keen to look at ways in which that can be changed.
May I take my hon. Friend back to the point that she was making about the impact of austerity on coastal communities? Does she not accept that, given the success of co-operatives, there might be an opportunity, through this Bill, to promote the co-operative sector in the fishing industry a little bit more, not least because one of the great things about co-operatives is that the surplus they generate stays within the local community?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We would certainly support increasing co-operatives. I understand that there is an opportunity to double the number of co-operatives if we go about it in the right way. That was an incredibly important point.
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. Obviously, she is talking about coastal communities. Does she recognise—unfortunately, I was unable to make this point with the Secretary of State—that processors will not have a bonanza? If they are trapped having to pay 11% to 12% to land filleted and processed fish in Europe, but can land their fish directly to fish processors in Poland, harbours, markets, ice producers and processors will crumble. Certainly, the fishing associations on my coast do not support the Scottish Fishing Federation. The Clyde Fishermen’s Association and the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation are not happy with this notion that all Scottish fishermen support Brexit—they do not.
Yes, that is a very important point about processors. I have a processor in my own constituency, so I fully understand the hon. Lady’s concerns. We want to see more British fish landed in British ports.
The hon. Lady was starting to make a good case for recreational angling before she was dragged away by colleagues who wanted to talk about commercial landings. Recreational angling accounts for about £2 billion into the economy, whereas commercial fishing accounts for about £200 million. If we want to maximise the UK’s fish stocks, as I am sure that you do, Madam Deputy Speaker, we need to focus on recreational angling and the value of recreational angling, and we need to have fish species that are largely kept back for recreational anglers.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that very well-made point. Yes, I support exactly what he is saying. We know that the Secretary of State also recognised in his speech the importance of recreational angling. If we are to achieve the goals that we are talking about, can the Secretary of State confirm that he intends to bring forward future measures to support recreational sea angling? If so, can he provide us with some details on those plans today?
Ministers, when questioned about their support for our smaller-scale fishing communities, often point to the Coastal Communities Fund. Members may be interested to know that, in response to a parliamentary question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch), it was revealed that only about 6% of the fund has been awarded to the fishing sector to date. If the Government really think that fishing is the lifeblood of coastal communities, why do they not back this up with the funding that the industry so desperately needs?
I am listening to the hon. Lady with great interest, but I am finding it very difficult to reconcile the issue of fishing generally with the demise of coastal communities. Does she not agree that, just as in rural areas, it is not just the issues surrounding agriculture and fishing that contribute to a decline in coastal communities; it is tourism, lack of a manufacturing base and the brain drain? When we look in her own constituency, for example, any increase in the fishing industry will not help the village of Flimby, as it needs a greater package than just additional resources for the fishing industry, which she seems to be advocating.
Well, of course, any kind of regeneration needs to cover a number of different areas, but we know that fishing would regenerate many, many coastal communities if we were able to land more fish into British ports and if we were able to change quotas. The Secretary of State has said that we have a huge opportunity here to regenerate our coastal communities through investing in fishing, but, obviously, we must have other funding as well, which is why I mentioned earlier the importance of tourism.
Let me turn now to trade. I understand that around 80% of what we catch, we export, and that 70% of the fish that we eat, we import, yet in the Bill there is no mention of trade, customs or tariffs. Labour’s commitment to membership of a customs union would reassure both processors and catchers that they could invest in their industry safe in the knowledge that they would have tariff-free access to the European markets.
I want to talk briefly about the marine environment. Labour welcomes the language in the Bill about reducing the environmental impacts of fishing, but the Bill provides only a vague future framework and does little to explain exactly what this would look like.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the marine environment. She knows that the EU banned electric pulse fishing and then gave a 10-year derogation for Dutch boats—I think, 100 of them—to carry on with it. This really is ruining the ecosystem and the Bill does not ban it. Is this something that my hon. Friend might seek to put into the Bill in Committee?
Yes, my hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I can confirm that we will absolutely look at this matter in Committee.
We are asking for more detail about discard charges as well as the environmental and sustainability objectives around maximum sustainable yield fisheries management. Labour would go further on environmental protections than the provisions outlined in the Bill, and would categorically oppose any move away from a science-led, ecosystems-based approach. As my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) mentioned, there is only a vague reference to MSY in the Bill, and no clear roadmap as to when and how this can be achieved. We would like to know whether Ministers are still committed to it as we leave the EU. We believe that stocks should at least meet this standard by 2020 and will seek to bring that into the Bill if the Government do not.
Will the Secretary of State respond to the concerns of environmental groups such as Sustain that are worried that the Bill’s objective to gradually eliminate discards is far weaker and slower than the EU’s commitment to end discarding completely within a set deadline? This is an important point.
I think it would be reassuring to the House to know that the Opposition share our disdain for the common fisheries policy, which has allowed foreign potentates to devise a policy, paradoxically, that is simultaneously bad for fishermen and bad for fish. The Secretary of State set out his view about how we can improve on that. Presumably Labour would want to join us in condemning the CFP.
I am trying to make it clear that we are not opposing the Bill; we really do want to work with the Government to improve it and make it better for both the fishing industry and coastal communities.
Importantly, we have been told that environmental standards are not going to be weakened after Brexit. However, we are concerned that the Bill could allow the UK to fall behind where we would be as a member of the EU, so we want to ensure that this is tightened up and clear. On the international level, we would boost support for an ambitious new UN treaty for the high seas. The Government must stand up for our sea life by leading efforts for large-scale international protection—a goal that has been limited to date by the ineffectiveness of the existing regulatory framework. British diplomacy is vital to fill this gap, and I hope that Ministers are taking this very seriously.
As we leave the EU, it is right that we put in place the framework to ensure that any deal on fishing can be implemented but, as have I said, we have concerns that the Bill falls short in a number of areas. There is no strategy to redistribute our existing quota so that the small-scale, often family-owned, boats can get a fairer slice of the pie. There is no provision for dealing with future trade uncertainty, nor any mention of customs or border arrangements. And despite the Secretary of State’s assurances, the Bill does not set out the full details as to how we will manage our seas more responsibly. Without sustainable management of operations there will be no fish and no fishing industry, so it is disappointing there is no commitment to getting stocks to a maximum sustainable yield by 2020.
What we are discussing today is fundamental to the future of British fishing, and it is crucial that we get the Bill right. I hope that the Secretary of State will take on board the real concerns that I have outlined. Earlier he mentioned the opportunity ahead of us to refine and improve the Bill. I would ask that he works constructively with the Opposition to make those improvements.
It is a great pleasure to speak in this fishing debate, and I very much welcomed the Secretary of State’s speech. On this grey November day in this House, where we seem to have little to cheer us up at the moment, fishing is one of the things that we can cheer ourselves up with, because we now have the opportunity to get more fish, for our fishermen and under-10 metre fleet to have more quota, and for anglers to access more fish, which is another great economic opportunity. There will also be more fish for our processors to process.
The whole thing about bringing back control of our fishing is that we can actually put right the wrongs that happened about 40 years ago. There is no doubt—those of us in and around coastal constituencies know this full well—that if anybody suffered when we went into the then Common Market, it was our fishing industry. As we consider the Fisheries Bill, let us make sure that we right those wrongs and get our stocks back, and ensure that those who fish in our waters—if we allow them to do so—fish under our rules and regulations. Let us ensure that we have a sustainable fishing policy.
I very much welcome the fact that the fisheries White Paper says:
“Fisheries will be a separate strand of our future relationship with the EU.”
For far too long our fisheries have been controlled by the EU under the CFP, and for too long our fishermen have been managed as a single EU exclusive economic zone. The Bill gives us the framework to take control of our waters, to come out of the CFP and to become an independent coastal state. The UK alone will be responsible for our exclusive economic zone of some 200 miles or the median line. Now we need to make sure that the Bill works. However, it can be improved, and I welcome the fact that the Labour party is taking a positive view on the Bill, because it always helps when there is not too much of a great political divide across the House.
It is not clear to me what practical arrangements the Government have made for enforcement when foreign fishing boats have access to our waters, because there is no doubt—under a no-deal Brexit, or any other Brexit that we achieve—that we will need to ensure that we have control of our waters. We also have to ensure that the cameras and systems on the boats that monitor fishing are working and not being switched off. Those systems not only cover quantities of fish and who is fishing, but work very well as far as discards are concerned. If ever there was a benefit of coming out of the CFP, is it with regards to discards. Not only is it a huge waste of resource to throw back into the sea good, healthy fish, most of which will die and probably putrefy the sea bed, but it is important that we land all the fish that are caught, as that means that we can have a proper monitor of what is in the sea and what is being caught so that we know that the science is absolutely right. Those of us who have been involved in fishing for many years, as many Members have, will find that while the scientists say one thing, the fishermen will tell us that they could walk to America on the back of cod because there are so many in the sea. There may be a slight exaggeration, but I think that Members get the gist of my argument.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. The root of the disjunction between science and the industry is the fact that the advice that is given is often based on data that are very old—almost two years old by the time they are used for decision making. Does he agree that in this brave new world of fisheries management, one of our first priorities ought to be the quick and dirty use of the data that are being harvested by the scientists?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention—he is right. I think that DEFRA is working much more with fishermen, and they will need to work more closely to ensure that the collection of that information happens more quickly. We also need to learn from the monitoring of how fish are caught and what is happening on the fishing boats, because all this is important. There needs to be trust between the fishermen and DEFRA officials, because that is sometimes lacking. There is a great deal that can be positive. I know that the Secretary of State and our fisheries Minister are really driving towards that, and I think we can do it.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. The point that is often ignored in fishing debates is that fish are born in one place, and then swim and live in another.
My hon. Friend makes a really good point. Fish will move, perhaps because of water temperature or where the food is. Also, of course, they do not always swim together. Cod swim together and haddock swim together, so we can go out and make sure that we catch only one species of fish, but other types of fish swim separately, and we will often catch many species. That is especially the case in the south-west waters, where we are very much a mixed fishery, and that is why the discards are so important. We do not want the fishermen to target particular species, but we want them to be able to catch fish and land it all. The challenge is going to be making sure that we recompense fishermen for delivering fish that they did not have the quota to catch, but do not stimulate them into catching fish that they perhaps should not be catching.
Does my hon. Friend welcome the study by one of the northern universities and CEFAS to look at zonal attachment as a way of assessing fish stocks within the United Kingdom 200 miles from the median line limit?
As always, my hon. Friend speaks great sense on fishing, and so she should, given her knowledge of it. Zonal attachment is an interesting way of looking at this. When we are managing our own waters, we should be able to manage that much more quickly, so that an area that can be fished can be opened up or, if an area needs to be closed down, for reasons of the environment or fish breeding, we can do so much more quickly.
Further to the point about zonal attachment, does my hon. Friend agree with Brixham fishermen that sprats would be an ideal kind of species to look at, because 90% of them are caught within the 12-mile limit but we have only 52% of the total allowable catch? Does he agree that that would be a much more sensible way to proceed?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. By moving to a different system, we perhaps remove ourselves from some of the existing quota restrictions. Because those are historical, and because we did not necessarily get a good deal—far from it—when we went into the common fisheries policy, we have the opportunity to do this.
I think I am going to use up most of my time at this rate, but I give way.
I thank my hon. Friend, who is being very generous with his time. He may or may not be aware that in 2015 Conservative MEPs tried to force the European Union to allow individual member states to use European fisheries funding to help fishing communities to implement the discard ban on the quayside. As we are now coming out of the CFP, will he join me in urging DEFRA and the devolved authorities to use the funding that they have to help to implement these new regulations on the quayside, because we are leaving it up to individual fishermen and organisations to do a lot of the work themselves, and some are working to very tight budgets?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. This is about how we help these fishermen. Can a certain amount of help be given regarding the fuel needed to bring back the fish? What is the value of the fish when it is brought in? Is it going to be sold on the open market, and do we then put a super-levy on it so that bringing it back is not too attractive? These are some of the issues that I am sure that our fisheries Minister and Secretary of State will deal with in due course, if not necessarily in the Bill.
My hon. Friend is displaying that his grasp of fisheries is at least as great as his grasp of farming. As he develops this thesis, which is essentially about replacing discards and quotas with closed areas and other measures to preserve fish stocks, will he say a word about industrial fishing? While it is true that fishermen should be able to keep what they catch, industrial fishing sweeps the ocean floor, and the CFP has been singularly ineffective at dealing with its environmental consequences.
My right hon. Friend makes an interesting point. We were talking earlier about pulse fishing, which is used in particular by the Dutch. That causes huge damage to not only the seabed but, potentially, fish stocks. I often think that going out to fish should be much more a question of licking a finger to see which way the wind is blowing, but it does not work like that anymore. We use huge sonar equipment so that we know exactly where the fish are, and we can hoover them up in massive amounts. As we fish, we therefore have to be careful that we keep the stocks sustainable. I always say that the difference between fishing and farming is that with farming, we can at least replace the stock if we want to, but fish are a wild stock and must be bred in the sea, so we cannot take out too many fish if we want to keep the stock sustainable. Those are very good points.
You probably do not want me to go on for too much longer, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I will do my level best to move on quickly. We need more clarity in the Bill about the practical arrangements, which we have talked about a lot, and I look forward to seeing more detail. In particular, I am concerned that fisheries might get bogged down in unnecessary bureaucracy. Many of these companies are made up of five employees or fewer, so we must ensure that the burden of bureaucracy is as small as possible.
There are concerns that once we have left the EU, we will no longer have an automatic right to land fish in any EU ports. That interesting point has already been raised today. While I am very enthusiastic about our getting out of the common fisheries policy and getting back these stocks of fish, we have to ensure not only that we have access to EU markets, but that too much of our fish is not landed in EU ports, because we have to make the best of the processing. All these things are essential. I know that some of them are not covered in the detail of the Bill, but they need to be recommended.
I feel that we can do a much better job with our own Fisheries Bill and by taking back control of our waters. Our fishermen, fish processors and anglers can and must have a better deal. I am sure that the Secretary of State and Ministers are aware that there is a huge expectation that we are going to do much better as an independent coastal state than as part of the common fisheries policy. Let us welcome the Bill, make a few little alterations that might be necessary, and do a much better job than has been done in the past under the CFP.
I would like to start with a couple of points that arose from listening to the Secretary of State’s speech. He claimed that the SNP has not opposed the CFP and, in fact, wanted the UK to remain in the CFP. He clearly does not recall the Fisheries Jurisdiction Bill 2004, promoted by then Member Alex Salmond and signed by the right hon. Members for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) and for Belfast North (Nigel Dodds) and some Tory and Labour MPs.
For the avoidance of doubt, that was a Bill designed to see the UK leave the CFP, in the name of the right hon. Alex Salmond, the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Nigel Dodds), the late Eddie McGrady, Elfyn Llwyd and Tory and Labour MPs. Does that not rather make a mockery of what the Secretary of State said earlier and show what a tenuous grasp of reality he has?
It certainly points to some short memories in this place.
Secondly, in March, the Secretary of State said that the Government had accepted a sub-optimal outcome for fishing in the Brexit negotiations. Will he tell us whether he still thinks that is so, and whether that view is reflected in the Bill? I look forward to that being addressed in the Minister’s closing words.
Could the hon. Lady give us a history lesson about what a former Member of this House did? Does she agree with me that my predecessor as the Member of Parliament for Moray, in the most recent general election campaign—[Interruption.] I notice she is getting a whisper from the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie). In the general election campaign last year, when asked umpteen times on the BBC whether the Scottish National party would agree to go back into the CFP if Scotland became independent and wanted to get back into the EU, my predecessor said yes. The party’s sole aim is to go back into the CFP.
On our terms, of course. That is the point the hon. Gentleman is leaving out.
If we are looking for a history lesson, let us remind ourselves about the Tories, who have been selling out Scottish fishing for nearly half a century. Under Ted Heath in the 1970s, fisheries were considered expendable. In the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher, the UK Government signed us up to the original doomed common fisheries policy, which consigned our fishermen to decades of mismanagement. John Major’s Tories signed up to a revised common fisheries policy in the 1990s, which scrapped vessels and destroyed livelihoods. In the 21st century, the Tories were attempting to enshrine the common fisheries policy in European treaties, while the SNP was trying to return controls to the fishing nations. Let us not forget that, very recently, Ruth Davidson was reported in The Times as calling fisheries a red line issue, and a Scottish Tory source was quoted as saying:
“We won a lot of votes in the northeast on the back of our stance on fishing and wouldn’t be able to show our faces in Banff and Buchan if we renege on this one.”
Does my hon. Friend not agree with me that the Scottish Tory MPs have made 20-gallon galoots of themselves with their resigning/non-resigning nonsense? I do not know if she knows exactly where they are just now, but are they going to be in or oot when all this has concluded?
I am as baffled as my hon. Friend on that particular issue; that is for sure.
Returning to my speech, I think the context of this Bill has changed somewhat as a result of the withdrawal agreement. Some of the content of that agreement makes some of the apparent intent of the Bill a little more difficult to deliver and more dependent on negotiation and agreement with the 27 remaining members of the EU.
Having said that, let me pay tribute to the EFRA Secretary for staying the course and being determined to see things through to their conclusion. That seems to be a principle or a staying power that is somewhat lacking in his colleagues—erstwhile colleagues, I should say. They may have fallen by the wayside, weary of the march, but he carries on indefatigably. I understand that his father, as he mentioned, was involved in the onshore side of the industry, so he certainly comes to the Bill with some knowledge, but with a rather poor recall of facts if the newspapers are to be believed.
I acknowledge that the Secretary of State comes to the table with a backstory—if not a backstop—but that does not mean that he necessarily comes with the solutions the industry needs. The withdrawal agreement that was greeted with such delight on the Government Benches keeps our fishing industry in the common fisheries policy for a further two years after Brexit day, although of course our lack of membership means that the EU will decide the rules, while we have no say in them, no say in how they should be implemented and no voice in the discussions about whether the CFP is meeting its policy objectives.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Obviously, the SNP has persistently voted against the common fisheries policy in the European Parliament, as the records show, as well as in this Parliament. My other point is: has the Secretary of State given her any reassurances about the customs union, which is critical for this excellent produce to get to its markets on the European continent?
Absolutely not, no. My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I hope he has jogged the Secretary of State’s memory a little with his first point.
May I mount a bit of shameless lobbying? To tackle illegal lobster potting, the Scottish Government have put a limit on recreational lobster fishermen, such as myself, of one lobster landing a day on the west coast of Scotland. As the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil), who represents Barra, will know, it is often very difficult to get your boat out more than once every four or five days. Will the hon. Lady ask the Scottish Government whether, instead of putting on a limit of one lobster a day, they will look at a limit on the number of pots a recreational fisherman can have—say, five or six—beyond which they would need to get a licence?>
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I am certain that the Scottish Government will be closely following the debate and that they will make a note of his request.
If the steady stream of Ministers heading for the exit delays negotiations on the future relationship between the UK and the EU, we could find ourselves in an extended period where our fishing industry just complies with the rules, rather than having someone in the room standing up for it. Mr Barnier has already suggested that it will last for at least two years, which could be an underestimate if we consider how long it took to reach the much simpler withdrawal agreement.
We may have to suffer the CFP for quite a few years to come and it may change to the advantage of the remaining members of the EU, and not to ours. We may lose markets to sell fish into, or at the very least, find that our competitive advantage disappears because we will be subject to the same tariffs as other non-member states. I hope they will be the same tariffs, but going by the poor negotiation results that we have seen so far, we may end up with higher tariffs that reduce our fleets’ traditional competitive advantage.
It will not come to that, of course, because the new fishing deal has already been written into the withdrawal agreement by the departing Brexit Secretary. On page 4, the political declaration tells us that he has agreed to a new fisheries agreement with access to UK waters and assigned quota shares being
“in place in time to be used for determining fishing opportunities for the first year after the transition period.”
That means that the common fisheries policy will carry on regulating our fishing fleets after we have left the EU. Taking back control has never sounded hollow.
It is a sad state of affairs for this Secretary of State to have to deliver that news, because in March he said that he feels a
“debt to fishing communities who are looking to government to deliver a better deal for them”
and promised that he would ensure that our
“fishermen’s interests are properly safeguarded”
during the implementation period. That period starts on 29 March and lasts for an indeterminate amount of time, during which access to some important markets might be limited. France, for example, is the UK’s most important export market for fish. It is nearly twice as lucrative in cash terms as the US, and almost three times as strong in export volumes. Spain, by the way, is just behind the US in cash terms and slightly ahead in volume. Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands and Germany are all significant customers for our fishing fleets. Two thirds of our fleets’ fish is exported—perhaps a case of EU citizens jumping the queue to buy fish.
Once the deals are done and we finally leave the CFP, however, we will still be in it. It is a conjuror’s trick, and not a good one. Last year, the Secretary of State spoke to leaders of the Danish industry and guaranteed them continued access to our waters after Brexit. Earlier this year, the UK embassy in Spain reassured Spanish trawlers that their access to UK waters was assured. The withdrawal agreement replaces common decision-making on the CFP as a member of the EU with CFP rules handed down from Brussels and no input from Ministers from these isles on behalf of the industry here. Well done to the Brexiteers—they certainly landed a whopper there.
The Norwegians sometimes describe their relationship with the EU as a “fax democracy”, because the rules just come down the line from Brussels. That seems to be what removing ourselves from the EU will do, except, of course, that the European maritime and fisheries fund money will vanish. We have heard nothing about what might replace that in due course.
We will be left to accept the rules that are handed down, we will lose access to the decision-making body and the funding from the EU, and we will have to deal with the consequences of the Government’s poor negotiation techniques and the uniquely weak position that they have left us in. When the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food gave evidence to the House of Lords’ EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee 26 months ago, he said that
“we have to recognise historic rights…In some sectors, for instance on scallops, access to the French part of the channel is quite important to the UK industry. I accept there are trade-offs. All these things will be a matter for negotiation in a new world.”
During the referendum campaign, the Secretary of State for Scotland said:
“I think the fishermen are wrong in the sense there is no way we would just go back to Scotland or Britain controlling British waters. There are a whole host of international rules and agreements even if we were outside the EU which would impact on their activities.”
Then of course there is the same problem agriculture has in relation to workforce planning. We will lose access to EU workers, who make up 58% of Scotland’s fish processing workforce and 70% in Grampian, where the Secretary of State’s family business was based.
Scotland’s seafood and fishing industries could be destroyed without access to EU markets. Scotland’s processing industry could be irreversibly damaged without access to EU workers. We also have to consider Scottish farmed salmon, the UK’s most valuable food export, and how losing the market advantage over Norwegian salmon that EU membership gives us could be utterly devastating. Scotland stands to lose a lot without access and there is little indication of how any of it might be replaced.
Fishermen in the north-east are often quoted as saying that more fish will be consumed in the UK, rather than exported. In my constituency, however, the south-west Scotland market consists of nephrops, crustaceans, langoustine and lobster. Some 85% are exported to the European market. It might well be that we all eat a little bit more white fish after Brexit, but I cannot see anybody being in a financial situation where they are going to be eating more lobster.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point and I am delighted that she brings up the interests of the south-west part of the country.
Once more, Scotland’s needs are massively different to the needs of England. Once more, we cannot have the Scottish industry locked into a rigid framework that will satisfy the English industry. Fishing, of course, has been a devolved matter since 1999 and the responsibility for nearly all the policy area rests in Edinburgh. I think the Government acknowledge as much, with the legislative consent motion they have asked for at Holyrood.
The industry cannot be squeezed into the same box as the English industry, but I appreciate the desirability of common frameworks to allow co-operative working on various issues—kind of like the EU managed with the CFP. Where such frameworks are sought and agreed by both sides they will be mutually beneficial, but they cannot be imposed. They must recognise the devolution settlement and respect it. There must be an element of trust that runs between Whitehall and Holyrood. Her Majesty’s Government must allow Scotland’s Government to govern in the devolved areas and this Parliament must allow Scotland’s Parliament to legislate in devolved areas.
This is a characteristically divisive speech from the hon. Lady. On the subject of division, can she explain how, under Scottish National party policy, Scotland will be better served when it has to go into negotiation with England for access to its waters, and how Scotland would somehow get a better result under the SNP policy when it has to negotiate with Europe alone and trade with an even smaller WTO box?
I am always amused when Scottish Tories stand up to talk about divisiveness and accuse the SNP of being divisive about anything.
Returning to a more serious subject, in general the provisions in the Bill which relate to this area seem to fit those provisions, and, while I reserve the right to check that I am correct in thinking that, I welcome the drafting of the Bill in this respect.
I cannot offer the same welcome to some other aspects of the Bill, such as the setting of quotas. Quotas for Scotland’s waters should be set in Scotland, just as quotas for English waters should be set in England and Welsh waters in Wales. That is devolution. I am sure the Minister or any Government Members would not want the Scots and the Welsh to set quotas in Cornwall, so they will understand why Scots would not want our effort limits set here. The same applies to foreign vessels in our waters. We know that the Secretary of State has been a little free with his pledges of access to our waters, but it should more appropriately be the devolved Administrations that determine such things.
The principle upon which devolution was determined, the division of responsibilities and powers, was that anything which was not reserved was devolved. Power does not flow from here to there, but is, rather, only held here where it is written in the devolution legislation. Matters determined on an EU platform but not written into schedule 5 of the Scotland Act 1998 are devolved and should go straight to Holyrood. They will go straight to Holyrood unless there is some power grab, some clawing back of responsibility, some deliberate diminution of Scotland’s Parliament. That would be unthinkable and we should do our level best to ensure that we do not legislate across that boundary.
Let us endeavour to ensure that we can modify the Bill appropriately so that we do not overcomplicate what should be a simple process. Let us make sure that the responsibilities and powers over our fishing waters and industries rest in the most appropriate places: the devolved Administrations for the most part, and this place, when there is no choice.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock)—it is always good news when she finishes. In a competitive field, fishing is a clear winner of the stakes of the area in which the EU has shown maximum incompetence and caused maximum damage. I was made the shadow fisheries Minister a long time ago, way back in 2004. I travelled all around the coast of the United Kingdom, down to South East Cornwall and up to Whalsay in Orkney and Shetland. I also went right across from east to west, seeing really successful fisheries in Norway, the Faroes, Iceland, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and down the coast of the United States, and I went to the Falklands. My conclusion, which I do not resile from, is that the common fisheries policy is a biological, environmental, economic and social disaster. It is beyond reform, and I do not resile from a single word of my Green Paper, written back in January 2005.
On the common fisheries policy, just in case the right hon. Gentleman should be tempted to try to rewrite history, I hope that he acknowledges that despite all the bluster that we are hearing from Government Members about the CFP, the Conservative party’s fingerprints are all over it. The Conservative party was compliant in its creation and has been actively implementing the CFP for the past 40 years. Will he acknowledge his party’s role in implementing it for the past four decades?
I remind the hon. Gentleman that this Green Paper was the policy on which we fought the 2005 general election, and his party opposed it. I will have no more humbug from the Scottish National party. We are sick to death of hearing from a party that supports the EU and then tries to weasel around on the CFP. The fishermen listening to this debate will be sick to death of this petty party political bickering. We have seen catastrophic damage to our most remote coastal communities, which could really benefit from a wonderful resource. We are world leaders in this area, yet we have allowed foreign fishermen to come in and take that resource. This resource could be a massive benefit to some of our most remote rural communities. We currently only take £900 million. That could go up to £1.5 billion to £2 billion, and if we processed the fish we could be talking about a £6 billion to £8 billion boost. That is a massively disproportionate benefit considering the remoteness of many of these rural communities.
My right hon. Friend has highlighted the role that he played as shadow fisheries Minister, and he did a great job. I was his predecessor in that job, and throughout the period that he described, the Conservative party was resolutely and entirely convincingly—to most people at least—hostile to the CFP, when parties sitting opposite had not woken up to the problem. The Conservative party has opposed the CFP consistently; other parties have failed to wake up and see the writing on the wall.
Let us move on to what we proposed in that Green Paper, on which we fought the 2005 election. There are a whole range of points, and looking at the clock, I see that I do not have time to go through them all now, but one is absolutely key.
First, there is the insane hostility of the European Union to modern technology. In Manomet in Massachusetts, I saw really interesting work on selective gear, but when I went back to Kilkeel, I found that that was being stopped by EU regulations. That is something that we really should look at.
The other issue is the insanity of discards. What is wicked is trying to fix a really local activity at a continental level. Someone mentioned that the data on which the European Union makes its annual decisions is guaranteed to be completely inaccurate because of discards and are probably six months to two years out of date. We do not know the level of discards—it is thought to be possibly 25%. It is absolutely disgraceful.
I remember going out on a trawler from Fleetwood and seeing baby plaice being cast back, because the mesh sizes were wrong. I went with the Secretary of State to North Shields not long ago. We saw baskets of whiting—completely healthy fish—that had to be cast back. I remember during the referendum campaign going to Looe with my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray), who is a witness to the terrible suffering in the fishing industry when people cannot afford enough labour—her husband died because he was alone on a boat. We should not forget that. We saw on the harbour wall a drawing for tourists of lots of different fish, but the one fish that was not there was haddock, and what is the problem off the coast? Her constituents are catching masses of haddock, because the fish have moved, but they have to be cast back. It is absolute insanity to have a bycatch problem and to address the discards without addressing the cause of it, which is the quota system.
I learned a clear lesson in the Faroes. The situation has been modified since, using techniques such a catch composition, but I ask the Minister to promise that we will do some pilots around the coast on catch composition-based effort control, because it means working with the grain of nature. It was mandatory in the Faroes to land everything. The Fisheries Minister there said, “You may not like what you find, but at least you know what’s going on.” Our scientists do not know what is going on because we discard so much. Technology has advanced enormously, as I saw at Succorfish in North Shields, which used modern equipment to track not just the boats, but soak times, catches, and so on. If we did this using modern technology, we could monitor every single fishing boat every hour. Every fishing boat would become a scientific vessel sending back data.
I saw that in Iceland years ago now. Fisheries management there would send out radio signals, and boats around Iceland would be told to move on because there were too many discards. Way back then, the UK was doing it in the Falklands—the same management based on accurate, instance data. I appeal to the Minister. I am not thrilled with clause 23 on discard prevention charging schemes—those will be good, healthy fish that should be sold to consumers. We should work out pilot schemes for mixed fisheries. I admit that Scotland is different—pelagic fisheries probably need a quota system—but I really make that appeal.
Probably the most important issue is whether we really will take back control. That was the promise in the referendum and in our manifesto, in which we made it clear that we would take back control:
“When we leave the European Union and its Common Fisheries Policy, we will be fully responsible for the access and management of the waters where we have historically exercised sovereign control.”
I would like the Minister to address this point. He is being bombarded with a helter-skelter of questions, but I ask that he take careful note of article 56 of the UN convention on the law of the sea, relating to exclusive economic zones—as he knows, those are 200 miles or the median line. Article 56(1) reads:
“In the exclusive economic zone, the coastal State has…sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters superjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and its subsoil”.
Can the Minister absolutely guarantee that every decision affecting our marine environment, as well as that which lives in it and that which is extracted from it, will ultimately be decided by sovereign UK politicians who come to this Dispatch Box and answer to this House? Can he think of any circumstances after we have left the CFP—I would like him to tell us exactly when that will be—in which decisions would be imposed on our fishermen that ideally our politicians would like to resist? That is the nub of the CFP.
The most shocking mismanagement has been imposed on this wonderful industry and these incredibly brave people because we have always been outvoted. When I was Secretary of State—we have discussed this in respect of the common agricultural policy, too—my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), who has just left his place, bravely did his best, but we were outvoted. I want an absolute guarantee that article 56(1) of UNCLOS will prevail and that the Minister will be able to come back and be answerable to every one of us for fishing decisions. There must be no circumstances in which appalling decisions can be imposed on us once we have left. That cannot happen. If it does, we will have let down the 17.4 million, as well as the 16.3 million who voted for us in the general election, and all those Labour voters—do not forget the 85% who voted in the general election to take back control. Can he please guarantee that?
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson).
I speak as a former shadow fisheries Minister, a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and someone who—as some Members who are present already know—grew up in Grimsby. I remember it as a bustling fishing port when I was a girl; moreover, it was the biggest in the world at that time. I remember the numerous trawlers in the docks, and the sense of pride among workers who were doing something that they knew was incredibly important: providing the nation with one of its favourite foods.
However, I also remember the decline that followed the so-called final cod war with Iceland. The devastation that it wreaked both economically and socially was vivid. I was a teenager at the time, but I remember areas, particularly around the docks—such as Freeman street and East Marsh—suffering disastrous consequences. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) will refer to that later. Gone, too, are many of the food processing plants that lined Ladysmith Road. Findus has gone. Birds Eye has gone, no longer anchored by the town’s status as one of the greatest food towns in Europe.
It is my witness of this decline, and the fact that my father was, for a period, a deep-sea fisherman—fishing off the coast of Iceland, at Reykjavik—that gives me an understanding of why our coastal towns and fishing communities matter more than their contribution to our national GDP would suggest. At this point, I want to pay tribute to all those who died serving the fishing industry. In Grimsby, every time a trawler went down or men were washed overboard—that was the commonest cause of death—the children in their primary schools would repeat the Fisherman’s Prayer and sing The Fisherman’s Hymn. It was all too common, particularly in the 1950s, for those children to have to sing that hymn and say that prayer.
Let me now deal with the Bill. I have a number of concerns about it. First, the Government’s stated aspiration is to develop “world leading fisheries”. Clause 1 sets out how this would be developed, including objectives such as creating a sustainable industry. We would all support that, but, unfortunately, the light-touch duties placed on the authorities potentially undermine the delivery of those aspirations. For example, while the Bill rightly contains an ambitious objective to ensure that all harvested stocks are recovered to, or maintained at, a biomass above that capable of producing maximum sustainable yield, the Bill places no duty on regulatory authorities to ensure that fishing pressure is managed in a way that delivers on that objective.
We have to ask whether the Government are really committed to restoring stocks, or whether it will put political pressures first, at the expense of the science and the data available. There is a history of those pressures leading to that kind of over-exploitation of our stocks, not just in our waters, but throughout the waters of the European Union.
Secondly, there are concerns in relation to our marine environmental regulations. The fisheries White Paper acknowledged concerns about a possible “governance gap” which could threaten accountability for the implementation of the regulations. It also suggested— as have consultations on the proposed environmental principles and governance Bill—that a new independent environmental regulator should have a role in relation to the marine environment. As things stand, this Bill is opaque about how the forthcoming environment Bill will protect our marine environment, and how the “governance gap” will be closed. Clarifications of those issues would be welcome as the Bill proceeds, and I hope that the Minister will comment on them when he winds up the debate.
Clause 28 will give new powers to introduce financial schemes to promote sustainable growth, and to improve the marine and aquatic environment. They will replace existing powers, and will allow new funding schemes to replace funding currently received under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. However, as the clause is currently drafted, those grant-making powers do not reference clause 1’s sustainability objectives, such as an ecosystem-based approach. That strikes me as rather strange and concerning, and, again, I would welcome clarification. I understand that the fisheries statement will reference clause 1 and the powers will come under the remit of the statement, but clarification would be welcome.
My final point relates to the very important fact that the fishing industry is not just about the catching side; there is still a very important processing and aquaculture industry alongside it, most of which, unsurprisingly, is based in or nearby fish-landing towns such as Grimsby and Immingham. Indeed, 21% of the industry is in Yorkshire and the Humber. It is an important provider of jobs in those areas, and for my home town of Grimsby it is still an important source of employment, with some 4,200 jobs dependent on the sector. These processing plants also export much of their product into the EU, in a market worth £1.3 billion, where we still enjoy a trade surplus. It is therefore vital in the drive to create world-leading fisheries that processing is not forgotten, as so far it has been in this debate. Full tariff-free access to the single market must be retained for the industry.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right about processing, and it also requires concentration on productivity, investment in technology and making sure our processing industry is as competitive as possible. I hope that can be debated during our deliberations on the Bill and included in the Government’s objectives.
I do not disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. Grimsby makes some of the very best premium products in the world. One of the local fish-finger producing plants can take the fish from the moment it has landed at Immingham and have it in the lorry going to the supermarket in six hours. One of the reasons why that is possible, and why the time from the moment of departure from Iceland to getting the product in the shops is concertinaed into a minimum, is the single market. That fish is as fresh as possible and those products are as good as they are because the single market has made it possible to ensure guaranteed standards while at the same time maximising productivity.
I am not going to give way again as many Members wish to speak.
Any failure to secure access to the single market, such as by sacrificing our access to the market in return for keeping access to our waters broadly to ourselves, will represent a betrayal and could decimate processing in areas where the jobs and economic activity it provides are vital. I am convinced that the processing side of the industry, which accounts for 64% of the employment in the sector, will not want its interests to be sacrificed on the grounds that we will give no, or very limited, access to our waters to foreign vessels.
We now have a withdrawal agreement on the table alongside the political statement, giving something of an indication of the direction of travel. This political statement however gives only the faintest glimmer of what will happen after the transition period, which is not good enough, particularly so far as fisheries are concerned. It is also true that this Bill, like the Agriculture Bill, is enabling and contains a number of Henry VIII powers. Like others in this Chamber, I worry about the use of this mechanism given the lack of effective parliamentary scrutiny that accompanies the use of statutory instruments. I therefore hope the Government will think more carefully about this Bill and allow it to be amended to ensure it gives greater clarity on the direction of travel of our fishing industry.
First, I want to thank the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) for her tribute to the bereaved families of fishermen, and I also want to put on record my grateful thanks to the Secretary of State. My family would also like me to say thank you. I would also like to pay tribute to the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen, and to the rescue services who go out in all weathers to ensure that our fishermen are safe.
The Bill provides the legal framework for the UK to operate under the United Nations convention on the law of the sea after we have left the European Union on 29 March 2019, something that my late husband and I worked towards since the late 1980s and early 1990s. However, it is important to look at the wider matter of the terms of our exit from the European Union, and at the political declaration that the Prime Minister is in Brussels talking about now. I know that the terms will be a cause of concern for many of my constituents and for the fishing industry throughout the UK.
It is no secret that many people feel that the UK’s rich fishing resources were sacrificed when we joined the European Economic Community. Agreeing to the principle of equal access to a common resource—the total EU pond—at the time was in my opinion a dereliction of duty by the then Conservative Government, and I would like personally to apologise, even though I was not a Member of this House in 1972. Indeed, I was not even old enough to vote. It was a dereliction of duty, and the disastrous permanent share-out of the catch for each species in UK waters from January 1983 has left the UK fishing industry a shadow of its former self. An example is that of channel cod, of which the UK is permitted to catch 9% a year while France takes about 80%. We now face a situation in which other EU vessels take five times more in monetary value from the UK exclusive economic zone than UK vessels take from all the other EU EEZs. I have to say to the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge that the massive value of that fish could benefit the economy of the United Kingdom, but at the moment it is just being given away, with other member states coming in, catching and taking away. There is no benefit to us in that arrangement.
On the morning of 14 November, it was reported that Sabine Weyand—Michel Barnier’s deputy who leads the EU’s negotiations at a technical level—said that the UK would be forced to concede on fisheries as part of the withdrawal agreement, meaning that Britain would have to
“swallow a link between access to products and fisheries in future agreements”.
The French are leading a group of other member states in demanding a link between access to waters and a trade deal. Lots of reports have shown this, but we must not accept such a link. That would be a complete repeat of what happened in 1971 when the UK Government caved in at the last minute and allowed equal access to a common resource.
I should like to associate myself with my hon. Friend’s comments in paying tribute to the various associations and organisations that support our fishermen. Does she agree that there is no precedent anywhere for access to a third country’s natural resources forming part of a trade agreement?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. In relation to Norway and the EU, access to resources is negotiated on an annual basis and Norway has tariffs attached to its fish. There is no link there, and it is completely wrong for people to say otherwise.
I see that my Cornish colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), is in his place. I was going to ask the Secretary of State this question, but I shall ask my hon. Friend instead. Will he please ask the Secretary of State to categorically reaffirm that British fish will not be used to buy a trade deal with the EU? Will he also ensure that only the fish that United Kingdom vessels—I do mean United Kingdom vessels, because Scottish vessels will benefit from this as well, as will those from Wales and Northern Ireland—cannot catch will be made available to other nations? Can he also assure me that, because the catch levels of the UK fleet have been artificially deflated since 1983, allowance will be made for UK fishermen to realise their total catching capacity?
The NFFO would like the Government to establish a formal advisory council to guide policy, promote collaboration between central Government, the devolved Administrations and the industry, and allow an ongoing dialogue in what is a naturally variable industry. An advisory council could play a leading role in the use of secondary legislation to ensure an agile and responsive approach to fisheries management.
It is understandable that the Bill refers to maximum sustainable yield as an approach to sustainable fisheries management. However, if maximum sustainable yield is set as a rigid, time-bound objective, it will prove unworkable. We have seen that happen time and again, and the CFP is the prime example. Setting quotas for sustainable fisheries management in mixed fisheries must take into account a number of different, and sometimes competing, factors. In an earlier intervention I mentioned zonal attachment, which is an important new way of looking at fisheries management and the assessment of stocks.
Where agreement between fisheries administrations cannot be reached, some sort of approach is needed that allows appeal. It would be useful if the Minister considered putting in place a dispute resolution system that would not impact on fisheries.
I have a few asks for the Minister. Will he look at clause 42, particularly subsections (3) and (5). We need a date for when the provisions come into force, because the fishing industry needs to be able to plan. It has accepted that the implementation period will not end until 31 December 2020, but it would be reassured if we inserted the words “no later than 31 December 2020” into those two subsections.
To sum up, setting aside the complex and controversial questions surrounding parliamentary approval for the withdrawal agreement, much still hinges on the negotiations ahead. The UK’s legal status has altered and its leverage in fisheries negotiations has changed dramatically, but unless that new status is used to address the distortions in quota shares, fishermen will question what it has all been for. English fishermen in the channel have struggled with a 9% share of the cod quota, compared with France’s 84% share—it has been exactly the same for haddock, which my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) mentioned.
To deliver the fair share of fishing opportunities that they rightly see as theirs, British fishermen, in this second round, will expect our negotiators to be as tough, astute and hard-nosed as they need to be to realise the benefits of our new status as an independent coastal state. I really hope that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have got that message from fishermen today.
Scotland has 8.4% of the UK population and 60% of the total catch, so fisheries are hugely important to ports such as Fraserburgh on the east coast, Lerwick in the north, Kinlochbervie in the west and, of course, on my own islands on the west coast. Fishing News, a great newspaper to read at the weekend in my constituency, had an article this week stating that the annual turnover of UK fisheries has hit £1 billion for the first time, which is remarkable. Fisheries are about 0.5% of UK GDP.
As Chair of the International Trade Committee, I am often told that sectors bigger than fisheries do not get the same attention, but in coastal communities we know why fisheries get such attention. They are integral to the lives we lead and to the people we know. Indeed, the Secretary of State mentioned the lives lost at sea in his opening remarks, and I personally know people who have lost their life at sea working as fishermen.
I worked as a fisherman a number of years ago, although not for long, over the summer, which is the right time of year to work in fisheries. I have always had sympathy for the guys who fish all year round. Fisheries are vital, and it is vital that we get this right. We know things have been wrong in the past, and there is a lot of expectation management happening at the moment—and it probably needs to happen.
The largest fishery organisation by membership in Scotland, the Western Isles Fishermen’s Association, has flagged a number of things as important and, as the MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, it is right that I repeat them. Those with Facebook friends in the Hebrides will know that at the weekend a large bluefin tuna washed ashore on a beach in Tolsta, on the east coast of Lewis. Bluefin tuna are all around. Indeed, Angus Campbell from Harris was in touch yesterday with a tag of a bluefin tuna that was found around Scarista in the west of Harris, and he regularly comes across shoals of bluefin tuna on his trips to St Kilda.
We expect to see a trebling of the allowable catch of bluefin tuna to 38,000 tonnes, and we are now seeing a lot of tuna in our waters, now seemingly all year round if a bluefin tuna has washed up in Tolsta in November, so our big ask—or our moderate ask—is that we have access to that allowable catch, as the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) said, both for catch and release for sporting use and for catch and sale. If the allowable catch is increasing threefold, surely one of the benefits we might see from this upheaval is that we have such access, because bluefin tuna are becoming increasingly plentiful in our waters.
The Western Isles Fishermen’s Association, through its excellent secretary Duncan MacInnes, has done a power of work over the past few years, and it raises a number of areas of concern. There is a concern about the over-10 metre fleet. The Highlands and Islands development board, which some will remember from years past, gave grants for an awful lot of vessels to be built, and some of those vessels are still catching and still contributing. There is a need to upgrade, to reinstate and to reconsider how exactly we retool and re-equip coastal communities to make sure they are ready to catch.
Western Isles Council runs a loan scheme in conjunction with the banks, and it has a very low failure rate, but we are looking for the Government to introduce a business loan guarantee scheme to assist the fishing industry, with similar terms to those offered in other industries.
The Western Isles Fishermen’s Association also refers to access to quota opportunities, and it notes that in the last 40 years the fleet has reduced from 273 vessels to 220, and the number of fishermen is down from 499 to 377. In addition, whereas pelagic and whitefish landings used to account for 97.5% by volume and 73% by value in 1973, the position now is that shellfish account for 96% by volume and 90% by value.
An Eriskay fisherman once told me, “I can remember a time when I sold off my rights to fish mackerel and herring to 20 boats and to 50 families on the east coast of Scotland.” I have written to the Chair of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ask that the Committee looks into who holds the quota, where they got the quota from and whether the quota might be better distributed and, of course, that it considers the idea of community and geographical quotas. Community quotas have worked very well indeed in other areas.
A prickly area that has not been properly touched on is seal management. I cannot resile from mentioning the volume of seals and the amount of fish they are taking. There is a colony of about 30,000 seals around the Monach islands, west of Uist. The annual consumption is 2.5 tonnes per seal, so an estimated 75,000 tonnes of fish are being eaten. A very conservative estimate of the value of that fish is about £1,000 per tonne, so we are talking about some £75 million of fish. I put this suggestion out there for people to ponder, but we could have a seal management plan that might involve something like contraceptive darts to limit the number of seals, because their numbers are out of balance with the marine environment. Perhaps a lack of killer whales is our concern and an issue in that area.
I mentioned the spurdog to the Secretary of State—he looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights and I had to say the word twice. The spurdog is a dogfish with a particular spur on its dorsal fin. It is often caught in bycatches at the moment; it cannot be landed and cannot be used. Fishermen have sent me photographs of 20 or 100 boxes of spurdog that they have caught. In this winter period—probably from about now until March—spurdog will regularly turn up in the nets. At one point when I was fishing, they were not great to spot with sonar—because of the lack of a swim bladder—although that might be different now, but they are certainly ending up in nets by accident. They are a nuisance to clear and fishermen cannot land them, despite their having value in other countries, so let us make sure something happens on this issue of spurdog.
One thing I want to mention is the expectation management that will probably be required. I can see from Government Members that Brexit will never be great for Brexiteers who have envisaged Brexit in a slightly different form, but in Iceland there has been a change in fisheries. Some 80 or 90 years ago, 24% or 25% of the Icelandic population were involved in fisheries, but now the figure is about 4%, and that is due to technology. Iceland wants to see fewer people involved in fisheries. The fishing concern HB Grandi, which is based in Reykjavik, wants to see itself with even fewer fishing boats than at present, such is the way technology is moving. Its fishing boats are very different from those we see; they are about the size of car ferries, and on board there are hot tubs and so on.
I see nods of knowledge from one Conservative Member.
Similarly, the Faroe Islands has managed to change a number of things. It recently introduced a concept in law under the Fisheries Minister, Høgni Hoydal, who was mentioned by the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), whereby the fish that swim in Faroese waters are the property of the Faroese people. The idea of fish being the property of the people of the relevant jurisdictions might be a useful thing for our jurisdictions in the United Kingdom.
I come on to one of the big things in fisheries. I received a text message before I got up to speak from Donald Joseph Maclean at Barratlantic, who is a first cousin once removed of mine, asking whether there is any movement on the EEA fishermen and getting guys on boats. We have been talking all summer to the Secretary of State and to the Home Office, but where the UK has got control it has done nothing. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid), the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and I all went to the Home Office to ask for this in May or June, but nothing has happened. We have lost a lot of money this summer because the Home Office, where the UK Government have control, has not taken its hands out of its pockets to help fisheries. Indeed, I was told in the Home Office, “Angus, it is our Conservative manifesto on one hand and the economy on the other” What is the answer? It is the economy, surely. But no, months later, nothing has been done, and that is absolutely negligent. I hope that if Donald Joseph Maclean is watching, this will at least help his blood pressure on this issue, because it is fair near bursting at times.
The hon. Gentleman talks about UK Government support for the fishing industry. Will he welcome their support in the recent Budget of £12 million that will support our fishing communities across our United Kingdom as we leave the EU?
If we look at where this is going, we see that it is not going to be the headline figure the hon. Lady states. I hope that she wants the UK Government to replace absolutely any loss of subsidy and grants from the EU, because that is going to be a big concern of fishermen. As a young fisherman in Castlebay told me, “I am lucky: I have got a fishing boat, through help from the European Union. Will that remain afterwards?” I said, “The Tories are in charge. I cannot guarantee that one at all.”
We have to think about our access to markets as well, and we have to be worried about a sell-out. We need to remember that when David Cameron went to Europe to try to find concessions, fisheries were nowhere near where he or the Conservatives were looking—not a cheep was heard. It was all about migrants but, as I have just said, we need migrants. We need people who come to help us on our boats and who work in our communities—they are very important. If one thing comes out from this debate, it should be that the Scottish National party has a big welcome for people who want to come and work in Scotland. We would have more people. My community wants them, my Government want them, my local council wants them, my local processing sector wants them and my local fishing boats want them. Only one office in London—the Home Office—is stopping people from coming, to the economic detriment of my community.
We should think of the patriotism that crops up in fisheries debates. Let us have some patriotism in landings as well. We must also think about aquaculture and about salmon, which accounts for a huge part of our industry. We have to be sure that nothing is stopped at borders. Once, at Prime Minister’s questions, I asked the Prime Minister about shellfish exports being stopped on lorries—she, too, was like a rabbit in the headlights. She did not quite understand that the catch goes live to France and Spain, because they pay the top prices. If we do not get to those markets, we will not replace them in the United Kingdom, because people here will not pay the price that is paid elsewhere for crab and shellfish, so we will see a loss. The £1 billion that I mentioned earlier would be lost and would not be as large an amount in subsequent years. The Government who are treading this path have a real responsibility. For years they ran along with the common fisheries policy and did not take anything on board, but now they take a different tack. We are watching what they are doing very closely, and we will watch them with a beady eye in the years to come.
Order. Members have not been too bad at sticking to the time limit suggested earlier, but as the House can see, a great many people still wish to speak. I would like to try to impose a voluntary time limit of six minutes. [Interruption.] I appreciate that this is a bit of a surprise for the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid), who has much to say on this subject, so I shall not hold him to six minutes, but everyone else is now warned.