Fisheries Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:14 pm on 21st November 2018.

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Photo of Sheryll Murray Sheryll Murray Conservative, South East Cornwall 4:14 pm, 21st November 2018

First, I want to thank 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 WeyandMichel 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.