Fisheries Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:03 pm on 21st November 2018.

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Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland) 5:03 pm, 21st November 2018

I just hope that we get through the next six minutes without any major developments of that sort.

May I first associate myself with the remarks of the Secretary of State and others who have spoken in this debate about the very dangerous nature of fishing as an occupation? I was born and brought up on Islay on the west coast of Scotland, and I attended Islay High School, which, from memory, had in the region of 300 pupils. I calculate that at least five men have died in the course of their work as fishermen since I was at school with them. That is one very graphic illustration of the genuinely perilous nature of the work done by these men.

I very much welcome this Bill and the opportunity to contribute to the debate on it. Although my party does not have an automatic right to a place on the Public Bill Committee, I hope it might be possible on this occasion, as the Bill progresses, for me to serve on the Committee. Fishing is an enormously important industry in the constituency that I represent. In Shetland, it accounts for about one third of the local economy.

We essentially have an piece of enabling legislation before us. I have some concerns about the inclusion of some of the rather broadly drawn powers for negative resolution, but that was always going to be the case, because unless and until we know the full picture of the political settlement on which the future management arrangements will have to be constructed, it will not be possible to have an awful lot more.

It is clear, however, that the fishing industry looks forward to the next few years with a great deal of expectation. Clear promises have been made, particularly on the Government’s refusal to allow access to waters for foreign vessels in return for access to markets. The Minister will be aware that the industry looks to him and his colleagues to ensure that those promises are kept, but it is clear from—[Interruption.] I do hope my speech is not interrupting the conversation on the Back Benches. It is clear from the answer that the Prime Minister gave me last week that that argument is still very much in play, and it is something on which those of us who represent communities where fishing is important will have to work together.

There has been a lot of knockabout. There was talk of the Fisheries Jurisdiction Bill, which was a 10-minute rule Bill brought forward some years ago by Alex Salmond. Among the supporters of that Bill were Alex Salmond, Roy Beggs, Eddie McGrady, Austin Mitchell, Ann Winterton, Elfyn Llwyd, Angus Robertson, Michael Weir and me. As the last man standing from that somewhat eclectic group, it is useful to remind the House why that Bill was brought forward and supported by that coalition.

The context was that the industry was under the cosh as a result of the cod recovery programme that was then being imposed by the European Commission through the December Council arrangements. As representatives of an industry that did not have a lot of political clout or commercial force, we understood that we would be able to make its voice heard only if we worked together. Many of us came to that position from different starting points and through different routes. I say to all the hon. Members who have succeeded the former Members in that list that the same remains true today. We will get what we need only if we work together. I encourage hon. Members from both sides of the House to understand that.

The question that I want the Minister to answer is how the voice of our fishermen will be heard during the period after March next year and before the end of 2020, when the transitional arrangements will come to a conclusion. It was put to me rather graphically, and rather well, by a representative from Shetland Fishermen today, who said, “If you are not at the table, you will be on the menu.” We face that real risk during the transitional period.

How will we influence things such as the annual EU-Norway talks? I asked the Secretary of State and received a fairly broad answer, but perhaps I can get some more detail about how, in practical terms, when it comes to the renegotiation of the mackerel deal between the EU, Norway, the Faroes and Iceland, we will be able to get our point across. Essentially, we were rolled over once by the EU Commission on that. When we are not sitting at the table at the end of next year, how will we ensure that that does not happen again? Those concerns are not fanciful or insubstantial.