They are paid for the hours that they work—or are engaged in employment—but they cannot actually fish until they are outside the 12-mile limit.
My second objection to the use of transit visas is that it does not work for the whole industry. It works better for some sectors: it works better for the bigger boats, albeit imperfectly, but for the smaller boats, working in the inshore sectors, it has very little to offer. Again, the fishing White Paper last week said that growth would be encouraged in the smaller boat sector, but it simply does not work for them. It is certainly no good for the prawn trawlers that have to work in shallower inshore waters, or for those who fish langoustines off the west coast in the Minch or the Little Minch. Those waters are fertile territories for those boats but are entirely within the 12-mile limit, so non-EEA crew are totally excluded.
The third concern is that those employed under the visas are left without many of the protections that the House has said over the years they should have. A few years ago, there were a few well documented and reported cases of serious welfare issues involving the crews employed under this system—paid well below the minimum wage and not given the basic employment protections that they would have if they were part of the normal land-based workforce. I hope that that is no longer the case, and I do not believe that it was ever widespread. I hope that it does not still happen, but I cannot escape the fact that it did happen and has been reported. That can be the consequence of leaving fishing crew in this strange, unsatisfactory, twilight world of the transit visas. It highlights the need for a scheme to allow proper engagement of deckhands legally and responsibly under a visa scheme.
The situation led to the creation earlier this year of the Fishermen’s Welfare Alliance, a coalition of industry bodies and other associated organisations, including the Fishermen’s Mission and the Apostleship of the Sea. I hope that the Minister has received and is considering the alliance’s submission about a new scheme. It is not in essence a new scheme: we seek the resurrection—or re-creation—of a limited concession that operated successfully between 2010 and 2012. Other such concessions exist, and the Minister will be aware of the recently renewed one for boats working in support of offshore renewable energy developments. Such schemes can be, and often are, drawn carefully for a specific purpose.
The outline of the concession scheme that is sought is one that guarantees conditions, safety and crew welfare that are compliant with UK legal standards. It would place limits on the duration of contracts of nine months and introduce cooling-off periods to prevent long-term continuous engagements. It would include the facility to transfer employment to another operator to encourage high standards and transparency, with regular contact with the maritime charities, such as the Mission and the Apostleship, to ensure the wellbeing and fair treatment of the crews that are employed. It would seek suitable assessments to ensure that only qualified and experienced crew from outside the EEA are engaged. There will be criminal records checks, reporting obligations on arrival and departure within service events. Such a scheme would require operators to sign up to an agreed code of practice governed by an organisation, possibly like the Fishermen’s Welfare Alliance, in whom the Home Office could have trust. Incorporated into that code of practice, there would be—
Motion lapsed (
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Craig Whittaker.)