Sir Alan Campbell contributions to the Fisheries Bill 2017-19

Wed 21st November 2018 Fisheries Bill (Commons Chamber)
2nd reading: House of Commons
Money resolution: House of Commons
Ways and Means resolution: House of Commons
3 interactions (1,347 words)

Fisheries Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
(Money resolution: House of Commons)
(Ways and Means resolution: House of Commons)
Sir Alan Campbell Excerpts
Wednesday 21st November 2018

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
David Duguid Portrait David Duguid - Hansard
21 Nov 2018, 4:42 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I will get to that point a little later.

The Fisheries Bill itself, and the White Paper before it, has been welcomed by organisations across the industry, including the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation. This vital legislation lays the groundwork for the revival of our fishing industry outside the common fisheries policy. It is important to note that, in the event of no deal, the Bill will ensure that all UK vessels can legally continue to fish in our own waters. For example, clause 7 revokes the CFP regulation that allows EU vessels unfettered access to our waters. Clause 8 introduces the common-sense principle that any foreign vessel that wants to fish in our waters must do so on our terms. This is taking back control of our waters, and it is the basis of the British fisheries sector’s revival. Clause 9 covers those UK fishing boats that are required to be licensed, as well as stating those for which licensing will not apply.

Clause 1 of the Bill defines the fisheries objectives, as many Members have said, and chief among them is the sustainability objective, which ensures that fishing and aquaculture is environmentally sustainable in the long term and managed in a way that is consistent with contributing to the economy and to food supplies. I was going to go through all the other objectives but, as I am pushed for time, I will skip them.

Clauses 9 to 17 set out rules for the licensing of UK and foreign fishing boats—I just want to cover that briefly. Although the devolved Administrations are responsible for licensing boats in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, licences issued by any UK fisheries administration will be valid across UK waters. The UK Government will agree access arrangements internationally and, although each of the devolved Administrations are responsible for issuing licences to foreign vessels in their zones, it is encouraging to know that the UK Government will administer the system, having already been provided with consent by the devolved Administrations.

Clauses 18 to 22 cover the allocation of fishing opportunities, an area on which I would like specific clarification from the Minister. Clause 18 deals with the Secretary of State’s power to determine fishing opportunities. I would appreciate it if Ministers would comment on the appropriateness of the Secretary of State setting quotas for lobster or brown crab in Scotland which, I believe, are subject to international agreement. Clause 22 is about the sale of English fishing opportunities. Given that English-registered vessels operate in Scottish producer organisations and vice versa, will the Minister please provide clarification on whether these would be available for all UK vessels?

Finally, let me say something about the future of the fishing industry in my constituency and of fishing communities around the UK. After decades of deterioration within the CFP, we will not see a full recovery overnight. Government support will be required, and this House has previously been assured of that support by the Prime Minister and others

“to secure a sustainable and profitable fishing industry that will regenerate coastal communities and support future generations of UK fishermen.”

I conclude by reassuring the Minister that after we leave the CFP and become an independent coastal state, with all the powers and control that that entails, I will look forward to continuing to work with the Government to deliver that ambition to regenerate not only the fishing industry, but the wider communities and economy for which the “sea of opportunity” will deliver.

Sir Alan Campbell Portrait Mr Alan Campbell (Tynemouth) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
21 Nov 2018, 4:45 p.m.

This is an important Bill. Leaving the EU and the CFP will require effective management of our fisheries, and it is just as crucial that fishermen and fishing communities get as much certainty as possible, as far as there ever can be certainty in fishing. I think that fishermen will broadly welcome many of the provisions in the Bill, including those on controlling access to UK waters, quota and equal access for UK vessels in UK waters. However, I believe that there is still a strong case for ensuring a link between landings and home port, because it is important to recognise that fishing is more than just about catching fish; there are also issues about the sustainability of ports and port jobs.

I welcome any emphasis on a quota increase for smaller boats. Most of the North Shields fleet are under 10 metres. As been has already been said, these are the very boats most likely to land at local ports, and to fish selectively and environmentally. Despite the assurances of the Secretary of State, I still think that the Bill as drafted is in danger of missing an opportunity. If the largest five quota holders control a third of UK quota and half of UK quota is currently owned by big companies based overseas, there has to be an opportunity for a much fairer approach. Also, if 80% of the fleet are smaller boats, why is it that they get 6% of the quota? The Secretary of State attempted to give assurances for the future, and he will be held to those assurances.

I want to talk a little bit about politics—we have seen a little bit of it this afternoon—because every fisheries Minister and every fishing representative I have ever met who has attended the annual Fisheries Council speaks about the debilitating effect of politics coming into play. Whoever the Ministers are, we must recognise the potential for politics coming into play in any alternative process. The NFFO itself describes the joint fishery statements, which it welcomes, as having scope for friction; that could be an understatement. For example, while there is support for equal access for UK vessels, there would be concerns for fishermen in my area if different regulations were introduced by different devolved authorities, so this may well prove to be a difficult matter.

I will mention another political risk for Ministers. The drift net salmon fishery in the north-east is a heritage fishery. The few licences that remain have come under pressure from successive Conservative fisheries Ministers, who want to phase them out. Ministers have blamed the EU, saying that the fishery is part of a wider discussion on stocks. The fishermen say that it is about appeasing landowners who want to rent out fishing rights. They cannot both be right. In taking back control, Ministers need to recognise that they are going to have to own their decisions; they will not have the EU and the CFP to hide behind.

Also politically, the Bill puts a great deal of emphasis on secondary legislation. Now, it may offer greater flexibility and responsiveness, both of which would be welcome, but the emphasis, particularly in clauses 31 and 33, is on negative statutory instruments. I think we need to avoid replacing one inflexible framework with another, so I would generally favour affirmative SIs, as well as the establishment of an advisory council—perhaps on a statutory footing—that would include, for example, the NFFO.

On the issue of flexibility, I understand the reluctance to put a maximum sustainable yield on the face of the Bill on a statutory basis, but if the Bill does have a vision of sustainability, as Ministers claim, and if they want the UK to be a world leader, the Government and other authorities need to be held to account for what this legislation delivers in the future.

Leaving the EU and the common fisheries policy means that we will no longer be able to access the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund—a fund from which the UK has benefited by £190 million between 2014 and 2020. There is no guarantee in the Bill that this funding will be replaced, other than a vague reference to grants. North Shields is a working fishing port, so it needs constant investment. We hope that the protection jetty, which is crucial for the fleet, will be renewed. The problem, however, has not been the EMFF—it is not that bit of the funding that has proved difficult. The problem with funding is turning to local authorities that have had their funding cut, or turning to the port authority, which is concerned about the fall-out from Brexit. I want to hear what the Minister is going to do about making sure that ports like North Shields have access to funding in the future.

The White Paper talks about the coastal communities fund. That fund followed on from Sea Change, which the previous Labour Government introduced to implement regeneration in coastal and seaside towns. In my constituency, the successful regenerations of Tynemouth and Whitley Bay have partly been funded from those funds. But seaside towns sometimes have no link with the fishing industry. What we need to avoid at all costs, with a fund that is of limited resource, is getting competition and having to choose between something that will make the port work and something that is there to regenerate seaside towns so that people visit our coasts.

The EMFF includes money for data collection— €52.2 million between 2014 and 2020. It also pays, in part, for enforcement, with €45.2 million between 2014 and 2020. I ask the Minister: where will the money come from to pay for those essential elements of a future fishing policy? If we control our waters, and infringements are going to be regarded as offences, that needs enforcement, as the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) said. Last year, the Joint Maritime Operations Coordination Centre was established, but I understand from fishermen I talk to that its resources are stretched. In addition, we have dependencies in other parts of the world that require our help in policing the environmental protection zones that they have established.

So where is the money going to come from for enforcement? I fear, and many of my fishermen will fear, that it will come from a word often used in the Bill—“charging”. Fishermen operate small businesses, and, like many small businesses, they operate on the edge. A charging regime based on recouping the full cost of a regulatory regime may prove very costly. If clause 29 is anything to go by, we are talking about a substantial charging regime, and one that can be introduced and amended at the will of the Secretary of State through statutory instrument.

Let me turn briefly to something else that will determine the future of the fishing industry. Fishing is about catching fish, but it is also about selling them. The EU is our biggest importer and exporter, and market access is absolutely crucial. North Shields is the biggest prawn port in England; 95% of the prawns that are landed in North Shields are taken to be sold in Europe. They have five days to get there. Any delay, any bureaucracy or any tariff would put at risk not just the livelihood of the fishermen but perhaps the port itself. Fishermen tell me—I would like the Minister’s view on this—that if they do not have clarity by March 2019, or if there is no deal, they intend to tie up their boats, not just for weeks but for months on end.

The Government, as we have heard, have to stand by the promises that they have made. Fishermen felt let down when we went into the Common Market, and they will feel very let down if they do not get a good deal when we come out of the EU and the common fisheries policy. There is a lot in this Bill to commend it, and a lot of good ideas that should be applied whether we are in or out of the EU and the common fisheries policy.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing) - Hansard

Order. Hon. Members have been very good in observing a time limit, but to make sure that everyone has a chance of speaking, I am now going to impose a formal time limit of six minutes.