Fisheries Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:43 pm on 21st November 2018.

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Photo of Melanie Onn Melanie Onn Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Housing) 5:43 pm, 21st November 2018

It is a pleasure to follow Richard Drax. I wish to begin my remarks by thanking Associated British Ports in Grimsby for its annual remembrance service, which remembers the Grimsby fishermen on 375 wrecked trawlers that were used as minesweepers in world war one. This week divers discovered 307 of those that were lost, which have been sitting at the bottom of the sea for the past 100 years. There is a short video about it on the BBC news website. I also thank Fishermen’s Mission for its continued support for fishermen and their families in Grimsby, and for organising the annual lost fishermen’s memorial, which is much appreciated by the community in Grimsby.

I am pleased that the Secretary of State has returned to his seat, because he concluded his comments with his usual flourishing rhetoric. Although that might suit his populist aims, I ask him for a little caution. The promises of the leave campaign followed similar lines, promising communities like mine not so much a land of milk and honey as a sea of cod and haddock.

The Library briefing shows that landings in Grimsby have now reduced to around 4,000 tonnes of shellfish. Tackling my town’s health inequalities, education attainment levels, underinvestment in the public realm, low wages and high unemployment—things that would demonstrate that positive change is coming to my town—surely cannot come from just the two additional trawlers that fishermen have told me they expect to be able to afford to add post-Brexit. Surely those two trawlers are not going to change the fortunes of my town, solving years of complex issues of underinvestment and a sense of limited opportunity locally. If the Secretary of State wants to tell me otherwise. I would be grateful to hear him. There needs to be a sense of realism in this debate, rather than leading people down a false road.

I also hope the Secretary of State has had the opportunity to read the responses to the White Paper from Andrew Marr International Ltd, Peter & J. Johnstone Ltd and UK Fisheries Ltd, all organisations that play an essential role in the local Grimsby community. They provide employment in the community and in the fishing industry, investing in vessels and contributing to the country’s economy, as well as its dinner plates.

I echo the comments of my hon. Friend Angela Smith, who has returned just at the right time, about the importance of the processing sector to my town. It employs some 5,000 people doing everything, from those working in the fish market to those working on the auctions, to the independent traders who take the product around the country and to the filleters, packers, accountants, logisticians, managers and so much more. We really should hear more of their voices in this debate.

The Bill says that fishery and aquaculture products will not be included in a customs arrangement unless there is agreement between the EU and the UK on access to waters and fishing opportunities. Trawler operators in Grimsby have expressed concern to me that it is precisely because of the value of the catch and the benefit to those EU nations’ economies that there is such a desire to keep the two so closely tied. For vessels that are based in the UK and land in the UK there is little that can persuade them that there is any need to keep the lines of communication and good-natured trading relationships open but, as Grimsby has the benefit of both pelagic and distance fleet interests, particularly in landing, storage and processing, there is a bit of a conflict. The Government must consider carefully the whole UK fleet in all its sizes and purposes.

Where there is commonality, it largely comes through the hard work of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, which has taken a realistic and pragmatic view, with the benefit of knowing all levels of the industry well. The NFFO says it accepts that the sustainability of fish and fishing is important—of course if there are no fish, there is no fishing—and it is open to improving further the relationships with science and the broader industry, supporting a review of the quota system and advocating for an adaptive, responsive fisheries policy.

My time has run short very quickly. Concerns have been raised about the Bill, and the current framing provides for east coast vessels to fish in Scottish waters, but it still empowers Marine Scotland to provide the rules under which they fish. The Bill does not give any detail of what that will mean in practice, and there is concern that conditions may be placed on activity that cause unnecessary disadvantage due to issues such as the subtle differences in activity or in the place of landing. It is envisaged that there will be a memorandum of understanding among the devolved nations to agree a template for fishing management activities, but MOUs are not legally binding and can be withdrawn from at any time.