With your permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the future for Britain’s fishing industry. Today, we are publishing a White Paper, “Sustainable Fisheries for Future Generations”, which sets out how we can benefit both our economy and our environment when we leave the European Union, and take back control of our seas. The White Paper outlines how the Government can ensure that more of the fish in our waters is caught by our boats and benefits our fishing communities. We will also aspire to the highest environmental standards, so we can ensure that our seas are healthy and productive for future generations.
The United Kingdom is blessed by waters that contain some of the historically richest fishing grounds in the world. Those waters sustained a fishing industry that was at the heart of coastal communities from Shetland to Cornwall. Thousands were employed in catching, processing and marketing fish, which enjoyed a global reputation for excellence. But in recent decades both the health of our fishing industry and the management of our fish stocks has been undermined by the operation of the European Union’s common fisheries policy. As a result of the CFP, more than half of the fish in our own waters has been caught by foreign vessels. Access to fishing opportunities has been allocated according to out of date formulae which do not properly reflect either changes in our global climate or advances in marine science. During our membership of the CFP, we have seen jobs in fisheries decline, businesses go to the wall and communities hollowed out, but now that we are leaving the EU and taking back control of our waters, a brighter future beckons.
Today’s White Paper outlines how, as an independent coastal state, under international law, we will be in control of the seas that make up our exclusive economic zone—the waters up to 200 nautical miles out from our coastline or halfway between our nation and others. We will determine, in annual negotiations with our neighbours, who has access to our waters. We will also ensure that any additional fishing opportunities then available to our vessels are allocated fairly and thoughtfully to help support vessels of all sizes and communities across the UK. Fisheries will be a separate strand of our future relationship with the EU from the future economic partnership. Through the fisheries strand there will be a separate process, whereby the EU and the UK, as an independent coastal state, will negotiate on access to waters and fishing opportunities on an annual basis.
Outside the CFP we can also be more ambitious environmentally; we can make sure that our future fishing policies are truly sustainable, and that they protect and enhance marine habitats, in line with the goals of our 25-year environment plan. Sustainability is key to a successful fisheries industry. We will continue to work under the principle of maximum sustainable yield, and we will use the best available science to create a policy that ensures profitability and resilience for decades to come. We are fortunate that Britain is a world leader in fisheries science and marine conservation, and we will use that expertise and the flexibility that comes from new fishing opportunities to ensure the current methods of managing stocks, such as the ban on discarding fish caught over quota, work better and in the interests of both the industry and the environment.
We will also ensure that all foreign vessels seeking to fish in our waters will be allowed to do so only if they adhere to our high sustainability standards. We will deploy the most sophisticated monitoring technology to ensure those standards are rigorously policed and upheld. We will deploy not only technology, but the vessels, aircraft and people required to safeguard our waters. We will also consider whether and how to replace the European maritime and fisheries fund, which has supported the sector across the UK.
Of course, delivering for the UK fishing industry depends on close collaboration with the devolved Administrations. The White Paper sets out our approach to develop a UK framework for fisheries management that will respect the devolution settlements, and, where necessary, we will maintain the overall coherence of the UK’s fisheries policy. This will help deliver our international obligations and protect the functioning of the hugely important UK internal market.
However, there are specific opportunities that this White Paper outlines where we can better support the sector in England. We can look at new opportunities for those in the current under-10 metre category, who have suffered particularly badly from some aspects of past policy. We can also look at running a targeted scientific trial system based on effort, or days at sea, rather than a quota for some low-impact inshore fisheries, although of course any trial would have to ensure that the system’s operation was consistent with our commitment to sustainable fishing.
Over the past year, this Government have explained how we can deliver a green Brexit—a suite of measures that replaces the existing common agricultural policy and CFP with new approaches that better serve both our economy and the environment. Alongside replacements for the CAP and CFP, we have also introduced policies that contribute to a cleaner, greener planet and, in particular, healthier, more resilient rivers, seas and oceans. We have introduced reforms to the water industry; introduced a world-leading ban on the plastic microbeads in rinse-off personal care products; called for evidence on new measures to restrict the use of other single use plastics; and, subject to consultation, we are setting out how we might introduce a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles, ban the sale of plastic straws, plastic-stemmed cotton buds and plastic stirrers; and extend the 5p plastic carrier bag charge to all retailers.
We have worked with other nations, through the Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance and the G7, to further enhance the health and productivity of our marine environment, and the global leadership the Prime Minister has shown in securing cleaner seas has been recognised by the United Nations. Now, with our departure from the European Union, we can demonstrate even more ambitious leadership in our own waters. We can regenerate our coastal communities, we can ensure our fishing industry enjoys an economic renaissance, and we can do so by putting the highest environmental standards at the heart of everything we do. This White Paper charts that course, and I commend it to this House.
The Secretary of State made fisheries the poster child for the leave campaign, and a number of promises were made to the fishing industry and coastal communities about what Brexit would mean for them. So far, he has categorically failed to deliver, and there are fears that this White Paper is just more of the same. There is a huge gap between his vision and what he actually ends up delivering. Promises made about taking back control of waters during transition will not be delivered, despite what Ministers said right up to the point of their U-turn. This went against assurances the Secretary of State gave to this House and to coastal communities to take back absolute control of waters on day one, and he went on to assess his own performance as delivering a “sub-optimal outcome” for the fishing industry.
This White Paper is full of optimism for the negotiations, but the only deal so far agreed on fishing is that we will keep EU fishing policies during the transition period. We are not holding our breath that this will all go according to plan. Future customs arrangements will be key to the fishing industry but, given reports that the Secretary of State physically ripped up the Prime Minister’s preferred customs option, it is clear that the big decisions for the negotiations, including those on fishing, are a long way from being agreed. Some 70% of what we catch we export, and 80% of the fish we eat, we import. Why should the fishing industry believe his rhetoric today when fundamental questions on customs go unanswered? Trade and access are entirely separate issues according to the White Paper. So far, nothing about the EU’s negotiating position says this will work, so how realistic does he think this position is?
I welcome the commitment to be environmentally ambitious. In that case, will the Secretary of State support Labour’s proposals for national marine parks? I also welcome his commitment to collaboration with the devolved Administrations. What clarity can he give on the future fisheries workforce, including EU workers, who are so vital for the catching sector? Will every penny of European maritime and fisheries fund be replaced, and what is the mechanism for delivering that? Will the Treasury be taking a slice, as it plans to do for agricultural subsidies?
The White Paper talks warmly about the coastal communities fund, but a recent parliamentary question asked by my hon. Friend Holly Lynch revealed that only about 6% of the fund has been awarded to the fishing sector to date. If the Government really think fishing is the lifeblood of coastal communities, why are they not backing this up with the funding that the industry desperately needs? We do not have to wait until Brexit to give the small businesses that are the backbone of our fishing sector a better deal. The Secretary of State has powers today to adjust quotas and to help, especially, the under-10 fleet. So will he make a commitment today not to wait until Brexit to do the right thing and help those boats?
There is no point in catching more fish if it is going to rot at our border, awaiting export, trying to reach markets. Fishing communities such as those I represent need a fairer deal for the catching and processing sectors, which are the backbone of our local economies and which drive economic regeneration in our coastal towns. If the Secretary of State thinks he can avoid scrutiny on the promises made to the fishing sector in the past, he is sadly mistaken. Warm soundbites do not reassure coastal communities. I assure the Secretary of State that Labour will be holding his feet to the fire to ensure that the promises that he makes today are delivered.
I thank the hon. Lady for her generous welcome of so much of the White Paper. I thank her, too, for reflecting on its optimistic tone, which reflects the sunny disposition that is always there in DEFRA Ministers’ statements.
The hon. Lady asked what we have already achieved. Not only have we already achieved withdrawal from the London fisheries convention, but we have made it clear, as has the European Union, that although we of course will have a transition process, in the December 2020 Council—that is, even before the transition process ends—the UK will be treated as an independent coastal state and will negotiate as a third country. The European Union acknowledges that we will be leaving and negotiating separately at that point, and that is something that the whole House, and certainly the Opposition, can welcome.
The hon. Lady referred to the fact that 70% of the fish that we catch is exported, and of course it is, because, as I mentioned in my statement, it is high-quality fish caught by the brave men and women who go to sea. We will of course ensure through our future economic partnership, which is being negotiated separately, that we continue to have as-frictionless-as-possible access to European markets. Michel Barnier, someone whom I hugely admire, has himself pointed out that he wants to ensure that the free trade agreement that is concluded between the UK and the EU has neither quotas nor tariffs, so we can look forward to a bright future there, as well.
The hon. Lady mentioned national marine parks. That sounds like a great idea, but while Labour has been talking in the abstract about national marine parks, the Government have been getting on with the hard work of designating and protecting new marine protected areas around our coastline. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend Dr Coffey has built on the work of my right hon. Friend Richard Benyon to show how a Government who are absolutely committed to instituting appropriate protection for our coastline can make a real difference.
The hon. Lady was quite right to mention the under-10 fleet. As I mentioned in my statement and as is made clear in the White Paper, we want to ensure that new fishing opportunities are allocated in a way that supports that fleet but, again following the steps undertaken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury when he was fisheries Minister, quota has already been reallocated to support the under-10 fleet.
I wish to make one final point, which I suspect I may make a couple of times this afternoon. These opportunities arise as a result of our departure from the common fisheries policy. When an opportunity was given to vote for absence and departure from the common fisheries policy in the European Parliament, Labour Members of the European Parliament voted against it. It is all very well to will the end, but unless someone supports the means, which Labour has not done, they are not a true friend of our fishermen.
My right hon. Friend will know that there is no greater critic of the common fisheries policy than me, but I am sure he would agree that even had we not gone into it, we would probably still have a problem, because man’s technical ability to harvest vast quantities from the sea has been a problem the world over. I very much hope that the White Paper contains a firm commitment to an ecosystems approach to fisheries management and that within that there is the possibility of rebalancing fishing opportunity to try to assist the smaller, more local fishing fleet and give it a fairer cut of the opportunity.
When my right hon. Friend was a DEFRA Minister, he contributed significantly to improvements to the common fisheries policy, and fishing and coastal communities throughout the United Kingdom owe him a particular debt. He is right on both his points: it is the case that, in or out of the CFP, we have to make sure that conservation measures are at the heart of our future policy, and it is also right that we do more, particularly for coastal communities where they use inshore vessels, to ensure that opportunities are reallocated to benefit them and the communities and businesses built around them.
We have heard so much about red lines since 2016, but those red lines might now be considered red herrings. I have read the documents issued this morning. Given the commitment to
“continue to work with our European partners to regulate fishing and to set harvest rates”,
will the fleets still be subject to the CFP, but without a Minister at the table when decisions are being agreed? Given that maximum sustainable yield has been established and the Secretary of State has already made it clear to the Danish fleet that it and all others will still be welcome to fish in UK waters, will our fleets continue to be subject to the same quotas as they currently are?
Given that the UK Government
“will consider whether and how to replace” the European maritime and fisheries fund, is there a possibility that the fleets will receive reduced funding, or that funding might be redistributed on an uneven footing to suit a Government’s political ends? Is there even a possibility that the fleets will no longer receive funding at all? I note the point about the World Trade Organisation wanting to see an end to fisheries subsidies, but wonder whether raw, unfettered competition is really best for Scotland’s fishing fleet.
On partnership working, the Government say that frameworks will “not normally” be changed without the devolved Administrations’ consent. That “not normally” bothers me. May we have a guarantee that frameworks will not be put in place without the explicit agreement of the Scottish Government? Welsh and Northern Irish Members will no doubt press a similar case. May we also have a guarantee that no future changes will be made without unanimity—that no Administration will be overruled?
Finally, before Mr Speaker’s eyes turn disapprovingly upon me, I note the establishment of an English marine management reserve; will that have Barnett consequentials?
The hon. Lady’s anxiety was misplaced, as she had 14 seconds to spare. She was a model citizen and will now be esteemed throughout the House.
In response to the hon. Lady’s questions, I think the answers are no, no, no, no and yes.
The Scottish National party’s position on future fisheries is an uncomfortable one, because it has in the past represented some of the most important fishing communities in this country, but does so no longer. One reason why it no longer represents those communities in this House is its failure to stand up for them and its failure to demand our exit from the common fisheries policy. There is a fundamental weakness that no amount of faux outrage or weak punning can mask. I have the highest regard for individuals in the Scottish Government who are trying to work with us and our superb team of civil servants to ensure that we have frameworks that safeguard Scottish fishermen’s interest, but Scottish fishermen have no friends among the Scottish National party representatives in this place, which is why the SNP Benches are so scanty and their arguments even thinner.
Is this not a great Brexit opportunity to restore our fishing grounds and rebuild our fishing industry? Is it not the case that we have a huge opportunity to make sure that much more of our fish is landed by our boats, so that we ensure that our traditional fish and chips once again includes fish from our fishing grounds, properly looked after by a national policy?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. During the referendum campaign, he made a passionate and coherent case for many of the benefits that could accrue to Britain as a result of leaving the EU. My friend outside this House, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, who argued for a slightly different position during the referendum, made the point that when it comes to fish, certainly in the Conservative party, we are all Brexiteers now.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. As he said, “a brighter future beckons”. Will the Secretary of State confirm that, when we leave the EU and get fishing back into our own hands again and under our own control, the fishing-village initiatives and the grant assistance will still be available, so that our fishing sector will be sustainable for the long term?
Absolutely. It is our commitment to make sure that we support all the coastal and fishing communities throughout the United Kingdom that have suffered in the past, but for which a brighter future does beckon.
You will remember, Mr Speaker, that in 2005, having travelled all round the British Isles and visited many fishing nations in the north Atlantic and the Falklands, the Conservative party published a Green Paper on how a sane fisheries policy would be run and managed, and we fought the 2005 general election on that paper. This is a really great day. I heartily congratulate the Secretary of State for his clear statement that we will take control of the 200 miles. We said at the time:
“The Common Fisheries Policy is a biological, environmental, economic and social disaster;
it is beyond reform.”
Its most egregious fault is the disgusting issue of quota discards, whereby it is estimated that up to a million tonnes of fish are thrown back dead every year. The Secretary of State has gone into great detail. In the transition period, will trials be carried out on refined effort control, employing catch-composition percentages?
I am glad to see that Mr Paterson is back in the House and in rude health. May I just say that I do hope that, one day, he will tell us what he really thinks?
It is great to see my right hon. Friend Mr Paterson back in his place. He has been a pioneer of many of the policies that we are announcing today, and I am in his debt. It is the case that we have talked about introducing pilots of some form of effort control—days at sea—providing that that is consistent, of course, with important environmental and sustainable factors. We will be working with the industry to ensure that we bring in those pilots as quickly as possible.
On the radio this morning, the Secretary of State repeatedly cited Norway and Iceland as models for our future fishing relationship with the rest of Europe. He knows that Norway is in the European economic area, and that Iceland is in the European Free Trade Association, which guarantees them free and unfettered access to the European Union for their exports. Is not his claim that he can claim back quota that other countries currently hold while guaranteeing free and unfettered access for our industry’s vital exports to the European Union another cruel betrayal being perpetrated on our fishing industry?
The right hon. Gentleman served with distinction as a DEFRA Minister, and I take seriously his contributions on this matter. As I stress, there are two separate strands to our negotiations with the EU. There are negotiations that we will have as an independent coastal state. Iceland and Norway are very successful independent coastal states, which have control of their fisheries, and which also ensures that the fish that they catch are successfully exported. We will have a separate set of negotiations as part of the future economic partnership.
This statement and the White Paper are very welcome as they provide the framework to revitalise the Lowestoft and East Anglian fishing industry. Does the Secretary of State agree that now is the time for regional strategies to be developed within this national framework to ensure that coastal communities derive maximum benefit from Brexit? These strategies should look at issues such as the economic link, protecting the marine environment from such damaging activities as electronic pulse fishing, access to quota for small-scale fishermen and infrastructure investment.
My hon. Friend puts his finger on exactly those issues that we do need to make sure are at the heart of any developed regional strategy, particularly for fishermen in East Anglia. He is absolutely right.
The European Maritime and Fisheries Fund will allocate more than £250 million to UK fishing communities by 2020. The Secretary of State has chosen to ignore this question twice, so let me ask it in a different form: has the Treasury guaranteed that money after we leave.
Yes, it has. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has made it clear that EMFF funding, which is committed before we leave the European Union, will continue to be paid.
As an independent coastal state, we will be able to decide who can access our waters after 2020 and on what terms, but that will be subject to negotiation. Will the Secretary of State reassure the fishing community in my constituency that its interests will not be traded away after the transition period? In considering the environmental aspects of this, can he say whether those terms will also include a ban on electric pulse fishing?
I absolutely share the concern about pulse fishing, which has been articulated by my hon. Friends the Members for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) and for Waveney (Peter Aldous). Yes, absolutely. She and I may differ on one or two aspects of politics, but one of the many things that we are united on is our belief that we need to ensure that, as an independent coastal state, we control access to our waters, and that, separately, we secure the deepest and friendliest trade, economic and other relationship with the EU.
Oh, yes, there are lots of fish in Grimsby. Let us hear about the situation.
The Secretary of State made reference in his statement to the fact that more than half the fish in our waters are caught by foreign vessels. If the Government are so committed to supporting UK fisheries, why have four out of the six most lucrative fishing licences in the world been awarded to a Norwegian company rather than SG Fisheries or Fortuna Ltd, both of which are UK-led companies? Is that how he treats his true friends?
The Secretary of State knows that my anger and disappointment at what the UK Government agreed in March was echoed by many fishing communities in Moray. Therefore, I really do welcome what is in this White Paper, which has been roundly welcomed by the fishing industry, with the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation calling it a positive statement for taking back control of our waters. Will he confirm from the Dispatch Box that this UK Conservative Government will not allow a link between access to our waters and access to EU markets? Does he agree that the shambolic position of the SNP is indefensible considering that it wants to go straight back into the hated CFP, and will he accept my invitation to come to Moray to meet Moray fishermen to discuss his vision for the future for the UK as an independent coastal state?
Those are three bullseyes—back of the net, I am tempted to say, on three occasions. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we have separate negotiations, exactly as he requested. It is also the case, exactly as he points out, that the SNP is in a regrettable position on this issue, and my heart goes out to it and its supporters for having to justify their inconsistencies on this issue. It is always a pleasure to visit his constituency, and I will try to do so later this year.
May I welcome the substance of this White Paper? It has many of the things that I have long wanted and that the fishermen in my constituency would want to see there. Of course, whether we see it in the future will depend on the Government’s ability to hold fast on their promises of separating trade and access to waters, or at the very least a bit faster than they were able to hold to their promises on the transitional arrangements. Looking to the future for a fisheries management, the real opportunity here, surely, is to do things differently for our smaller inshore fleets. Will the Secretary of State take as his guiding principle a presumption of local management when it comes to arranging these opportunities for the future?
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the generous and constructive tone that he takes, which is of a piece with all his contributions in this House. Absolutely, in Shetland, in particular, there are communities that we want to work with precisely along the lines that he mentions.
My right hon. Friend should know that the fishermen just south of the Scottish border, along the north-east coast, are really pleased to see the progress that has been made with this White Paper, but the issue continues to be how we will tackle the choke species issue, because that is something that continues to concern them.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. One thing that we hope to be able to do is to use additional quota, which we can allocate to UK vessels to help deal with that particular challenge. It is also the case that the White Paper includes proposals, which we hope will make it easier for individual fishermen who catch over quota to be able to land all the fish that they have caught in a way that ensures that we can have environmentally effective management. We look forward to responses from the industry to our proposals.
I thank the Secretary of State for producing this paper and thank him especially for meeting the fishermen and the industry in Northern Ireland, ensuring that some of the points that they raised are reflected in this White Paper. That is a positive message. In his recent meeting with Minister Creed, did he discuss voisinage agreements, or good neighbour agreements, with the Republic of Ireland? Did he take the opportunity to remind the Republic of Ireland that a good deal for us with Europe will mean a good deal for the Republic of Ireland in our sea fisheries waters?
I thank my hon. Friend for allowing me to have conversations with a number of representatives of the fishing industry in Northern Ireland, which helped inform the paper. Absolutely, in conversations with Minister Creed and with other Ministers in the Irish Government, we have always sought, both in the voisinage agreement and in other areas, to try to work in the interests of all those who fish in our waters.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Will he confirm that taking back control of our waters will allow us to design a fisheries policies that will be beneficial not just to the commercial fishing industry, but to recreational sea anglers, and will he bear their interests in mind?
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. Indeed, the White Paper explains how angling, which is a hugely important part of the life of the nation, can benefit from the additional opportunities that accrue as a result of life outside the European Union. He is absolutely right to underline that, and we look forward to responses obviously not just from the fishing industry, but from recreational and other anglers as well.
Will the Secretary of State explain the logic behind retaining the existing system of fixed quota allocations for the current quota? As he will know, there has been a great deal of unhappiness about that. Three multimillion-pound companies currently control nearly two thirds of our fishing stock. If he wants to take back control, should we not be reviewing something that is now more than 20 years out of date?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. One of the things that my right hon. Friend Richard Benyon did when he was a Minister was to establish in law that we could move away from some of the FQAs, but appropriate notice needs to be given in order to do so because the way in which people exercise those rights has been safeguarded in law. However, the direction of travel that the hon. Lady outlines is one with which I sympathise.
We will need a growing and sustainable workforce if we are to land more of our own fish, yet approximately half those who undertake the difficult and poorly paid work done by crew on board fishing vessels are from outside the British Isles. What will be done to ensure that we have the workforce that we will need to rely on if we are to land more of our own fish?
I welcome the White Paper and its policies to revive coastal communities, which were being devastated by our membership of the EU and the impact of the common fisheries policy. I know that the Secretary of State is an enthusiastic supporter of the wellbeing of those communities, but given the Government’s record in the negotiations to date, will he give us an assurance and a guarantee that nothing will be conceded or done during negotiations on the future trade arrangement that would dilute the Government’s ability to deliver on the aspirations in the White Paper?
Absolutely. Today’s White Paper is a document that has been agreed across the Government. It represents the Government’s negotiating position and Government policy, and all Ministers and our negotiating team are united behind it.
I thank my right hon. Friend and his whole team at DEFRA for pulling the White Paper together—a lot of work has clearly gone into it. I also thank him for visiting the new fish market in Peterhead in my constituency earlier this week. I think that that was about the third time in the last year that he has visited Peterhead, which is most welcome. However, will he confirm that it is the Government’s position that market access for fisheries products is kept separate from the question of fishing opportunities and access to waters?
I thank my hon. Friend for the welcome that he and his constituents gave me on Monday, when I visited Peterhead for the third time this year. I also thank him and his Scottish Conservative colleagues for their support and for the detailed analysis that they have provided to ensure that we deliver on this policy. It has been a real pleasure to have Scottish Conservative Members who are absolutely committed to the health of the fishing industry and who—rather than trying to make cheap political points off the back of hard-working men and women, as some other parties in this House have sought to do—have put the welfare of the coastal communities that they represent in this House first. It is an exemplary way in which to proceed.
The Secretary of State said in his statement:
“The White Paper sets out our approach to develop a UK framework for fisheries management that will respect the devolution settlements”,
yet he did not properly engage the Scottish Government in the production of this White Paper. He stood at the Dispatch Box and just said, “No, no, no,” to the questions from my hon. Friend Deidre Brock about framework guarantees.
The White Paper itself says that frameworks will “not normally be adjusted” without the consent of the devolved institutions. We know what those weasel words mean. Page 22 of the document states:
“The powers concerning international relations, on access to waters and setting quota, will be exercised at UK level”.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s renewed commitment that we will leave the hated CFP by 2020. The only MPs in Scotland who pledged to leave the CFP during the election campaign were the Scottish Conservatives, because the SNP is desperate to drag us back in. Does my right hon. Friend share my belief that getting out of this disastrous EU institution will give renewed opportunities for coastal towns such as Arbroath in my constituency of Angus?
My hon. Friend is right. Voters in Montrose and Arbroath voted for Scottish Conservatives because they wanted us out of the common fisheries policy. That was why Scottish Conservatives won seats at the last general election, and it why the Scottish National party is in such an embittered position. In Strasbourg and Brussels, its representatives vote to keep us in the common fisheries policy, but in coastal communities, the Scottish National party pretends that it is the friend of fishing communities. I am afraid that such fundamental inconsistency from a party that calls itself the voice of Scotland is frankly a disgrace.
It is a pleasure to hear the DEFRA Secretary at the Dispatch Box. Even if I am not convinced by half of what he has said, he is always very entertaining, positive and upbeat. With his characteristic enthusiasm, he has repeatedly said that we are taking back control of our waters. For the avoidance of doubt and any ambiguity, are Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough exclusively British waters? Also, has he had the opportunity to speak to his good friend the Foreign Secretary to confirm the clarity that he is going to deliver to the House and the people of Northern Ireland as he steps up to the Dispatch Box?
The first thing to say is that I am in constant communication with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. The hon. Lady’s point about Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough has been very well articulated, but I would not want to cut across my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The hon. Lady is incredibly generous in the compliments that she pays DEFRA Ministers. May I simply say in return that we in DEFRA are huge fans of the hon. Lady?
I congratulate the Secretary of State on an excellent White Paper—the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee greatly looks forward to scrutinising it. Our fishermen will get their fish back. For 40 years they have been denied that, and it will be great to see. When we do our deals with the EU, will we also negotiate with Norway and Iceland? The fish move around, especially with the temperature of the water, so let us try to ensure that we do actually catch the fish.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I look forward to giving evidence to his Committee and I am grateful to members of his Committee for their support in the preparation of the White Paper. My hon. Friend is absolutely right; of course we are going to be negotiating with the European Union, but we also need to negotiate with other independent coastal states, including Norway and Iceland, in the interests of all who fish in our seas.
This morning I contacted the Welsh Fishermens Association, which tells me that four weeks of delays to our current trading relationships would leave the Welsh fishing fleet in danger of collapse, and that six weeks of delays would lead to catastrophic business failures. Will the Secretary of State outline how he intends to use his influence in the Cabinet to ensure that Welsh fishermen face neither tariff nor non-tariff barriers when trading with the EU in the future?
The hon. Lady makes a good point. As I mentioned earlier, it is the European Union’s position that it wants to conclude a trade agreement—whatever other aspects it may contain—with neither quotas nor tariff barriers. I hope that not only Welsh fishermen but fishermen across the country can benefit from that. I know that the hon. Lady’s daughter works in the fishing industry; I wish her all the best for the future.
As my right hon. Friend knows full well, the Jurassic coast sits in my constituency. Along it, the fishing industry—fishing line and shell fishermen—are relied on very much by local business, as has been described. Three marine conservation zones could be placed along that stretch of coastline. While the fishermen agree to look after fish stocks, they are concerned that the legislative process and the amount of bureaucracy could affect their livelihoods. Will my right hon. Friend reassure the industry that if these zones are implemented, they will not affect the livelihoods of fishermen, who are vital to the tourism sector?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Of course, the network of marine conservation zones exists to ensure that we can have healthy and sustainable seas for the future. I will, of course, do everything possible to provide reassurance to his constituents. Either I or a DEFRA Minister will make time to ensure that we can see them as well.
“in any significant or meaningful way before producing its White Paper”.
“final copy a few days before publication”.
Are these statements true? If not, will the Secretary of State undertake to place in the Library of the House a full record of the discussions that the Government had with the Scottish Government before publishing this document?
I do not think that anything in this document is a particular surprise to anyone. Of course we shared it with the Scottish Government. Our superb team of officials at DEFRA has been working Scottish Government officials in order to secure an outcome. The hon. Gentleman, for whom I have an enormous amount of respect, has been reduced to processology, because on the substance of the matter, I am afraid that the Scottish National party stands against the interests of Scotland’s fishermen because it wants to keep us in the common fisheries policy. This processology misses the point, which is that Scotland’s fishermen enjoy fantastic new opportunities as a result of a Conservative Government and the leadership shown by 13 superb Scottish Conservative MPs.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s White Paper and his statement. He will know that the seafood processing sector is of particular interest in the Grimsby-Cleethorpes area. I welcome the reference to that in the White Paper, as will the industry. Will he assure me and the industry that he will continue to work closely with it to ensure the continuity of supply that is so vital?
I absolutely will. The processing sector is absolutely critical. We must make sure, as I said earlier, not just that it has access to the labour it needs, but that we do everything to support it in terms of infrastructure and advocacy.
Just to be helpful to the Secretary of State, if he checks the European Parliament record, as I am sure he would like to, he will see that the SNP has, of course, consistently voted against the common fisheries policy.
Fishing communities that I represent—who, incidentally, have not elected a Conservative MP for some decades now—benefit hugely from the European maritime and fisheries fund. Can the Secretary of State assure me that any future funds will at least match what those communities would have had if we had remained in the European Union?
On the most recent occasion that Scottish National party MEPs had an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment, they stuck with the SNP position, which is to remain in the EU and, of course, to remain in the common fisheries policy as well.
I know that the hon. Gentleman—his re-election to this House by a slim but still clear margin is a reflection of his hard work—represents the constituents in Crail, Anstruther and elsewhere with all the energy and devotion that he brings to so many of his duties. He is right about the MFF: we do need to ensure that the future replacement continues to be as generous as before.
I welcome the statement, which will come as a relief to the sector in Newlyn and west Cornwall and is consistent with promises that have been made by the Secretary of State and the Fisheries Minister in Newlyn. After years of decline and the erosion of the fleet, skills and infrastructure as a result of the common fisheries policy, will the Secretary of State give careful consideration to how he and the Government can now support the sector to prepare for a more active and vibrant fishing sector in small coastal communities and larger ports such as Newlyn?
Yes, absolutely. It was a pleasure to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency. Of course, Newlyn is one of the most important ports in the south-west. We will do everything that we can to make sure that the harbour gets the investment it needs in order to regenerate and to take advantage of the additional opportunities that life outside the common fisheries policy can provide.
Four decades-plus ago, the trawlermen of the Humber were sold down the river by our membership of the European Union. There is still huge anger in our area about how they were treated, which probably explains why we sensibly voted by a margin of 67% to leave the EU. I therefore welcome this announcement. May I urge the Secretary of State to work with the Department of Communities and Local Government—or whatever it is called this week—on the management of the coastal communities fund to look at how we can use it to support more of our young people going into the fishing and food processing industries, and at how we can grow the sector?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I think that one of the reasons why the vote to leave was as high as it was in his constituency was not just memories of what had happened four decades ago, but his force of advocacy in putting the case for the benefits of life outside the European Union. He is right that we need to do a lot more for our coastal communities, which face particular social and economic challenges. Reviving the fishing industry and an economic renaissance in fish processing can help, but there is more to do. With a formidable advocate like my hon. Friend for communities such as Brigg and Goole, I am sure that the Government’s feet will be held to the fire.
As my right hon. Friend knows, we do not have a very large fishing fleet on the glorious coastline of Clacton-on-Sea, but we do have many fish and chip shops. Will he assure me that, post-Brexit, those who fish in our waters will be encouraged to fish sustainably so that we can enjoy the wide of variety of fish that we currently do?
It is always a pleasure to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency, and he is absolutely right. We need to make sure that sustainability is at the heart of everything we do so that we make sure that future generations have the opportunity to enjoy healthy waters and the harvest they bring.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker, and thank you for saving the best for last.
I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, which will be hugely welcomed by fishing communities across Cornwall, particularly Mevagissey and Newquay in my constituency. Will he commit to ensuring that as this policy is developed, the voice of our fishermen is heard and considered loud and clear, and particularly that of the under-10 metre fleet? May I gently remind him of his offer to come and meet the fishermen in Mevagissey? I look forward to seeing him there soon.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right—we do need to make sure that we continue to listen to representatives of the fishing industry, who played a big part in making sure that we got the White Paper to the position that it is in for publication today. I underline my gratitude to him for his invitation, which I am looking forward to taking up.
Finally, let me say that I am very grateful not just to hon. Members who have contributed so constructively to this exchange but, in particular, to the civil servants at DEFRA, who have done an outstanding job in preparing today’s White Paper. They do a superb job not just in making sure that the environment is at the heart of everything we do with regard to fisheries, but in supporting my hon. Friend the Fisheries Minister at every December Council. I am hugely grateful for the contribution that they make, as we all should be.