It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and also to follow Brendan O’Hara, because I have a message for him: it was a previous Conservative leader and Prime Minister who went to Europe, fought for the United Kingdom and brought money back from Europe. The SNP should not forget that.
I welcome the principle behind the Bill and the fundamental principle of taking back control of our fisheries. We have already debated what an enormous mistake it has been—for our fishing communities, our economy and our environment—to leave our fishing policy subject to EU control for the last 40 years. Nowhere is the damage the EU has caused to our country more evident than in the decline of our fishing industry and communities across the country.
All those who work tirelessly risking their lives to bring back the fresh fish we enjoy eating and supporting their families and communities should be remembered and respected for their endurance and sacrifice. Our fishing communities have seen their industry diminished, while billions of pounds of our money and taxes have been spent via the EU investing in other fleets, including the Spanish. We have seen the EU allocate more quotas for some species in our waters to other EU countries than to us. As we have heard—in fact, the Secretary of State gave this figure—84% of the rights to fish for cod in the English channel have gone to the French, leaving 9% for British fishermen. That is not right. In fact, about two thirds of the fish caught in UK waters are caught by EU fleets.
Successive British Governments have had to do more in the past, and that is part of the reason we now have the opportunity to take back control. We have seen controls that were placed on our fishermen, in our waters, to protect the environment completely ignored by the fishing fleets of other countries—famously so. Because of EU rules, Spanish and French fishermen in our waters have been able to ignore the environmental protections that we put in place and value.
Let me say to all those—especially Opposition Members—who think that the EU is some sort of guarantor of environmental standards, and that we are incapable of protecting our own environment, that we need look no further than the devastation created by the common fisheries policy to see that it is the EU that cannot be trusted with our environment. That applies specifically to discards—the CFP has caused large quantities of healthy fish to be thrown back dead into the sea—and to the French vessels that used to undertake bass pair trawling in our seas, damaging the seabed and ensnaring in their nets all marine life, including dolphins. Of course there has been reform, but the discard ban is flawed, and the only way in which we can support fishing communities and manage the marine environment in a sustainable way is to pass the Bill and take back control.
That, as my hon. Friend the Minister will know, is why the Bill is so important. It is an enabling Bill, but it leaves so much open to future decisions. It empowers Ministers to take control of our own waters, but some of that will happen only in due course. We may be vulnerable to not being able to take back the full control that we expect, and that our fishing communities across the United Kingdom expect too. There are fears that come the negotiations on the future relationship, our fisheries will once again be traded away.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mrs Murray for her speech earlier, but, more to the point, for the robust work that she has done consistently on this issue, and for being such an enormous champion of our fishing communities. If only we had more politicians who were so prepared to challenge and question. In response to a question from my hon. Friend last week, the Prime Minister said that
“the UK should be an independent coastal state able to negotiate the issue of access to its waters”.
However, as my hon. Friend has rightly said,
“Surely we should control access if we are properly leaving the European Union. Are we just leaving the Common Fisheries Policy in name only?”
This is about clarity. It would be a travesty if, after December 2020, the EU remained in control of our fisheries. In no circumstances should our rights to control our fisheries be negotiated away, and it is concerning that there is a risk that that could happen. There is ambivalence—a convenient ambivalence—in the language used in negotiations. Page 4 of the outline of the Political Declaration on the future relationship states:
“Within the context of the overall economic partnership, establishment of a new fisheries agreement on, inter alia, access to waters and quota shares, to be in place in time to be used for determining fishing opportunities for the first year after the transition period.”
Given the history of fisheries and the critical impact on fishing communities and the environment, I urge the Government not to lock our fisheries into a trade deal that would leave us in a place that is similar to our current position in the CFP. We must show leadership, and show that we will take back control over quota and over what can be fished in our seas. In future negotiations that we have as a coastal state, we should start from the basis that the fish in our seas are ours. The starting point should not be based on current EU agreements and the CFP.
There are many other concerns, a number of which have already been raised, but the fundamental principle must be that we are taking back control. Our Government will fight for our fishing industry and our communities around the country. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do this, and get it right.