Fisheries Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:05 pm on 21st November 2018.

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Photo of Owen Smith Owen Smith Labour, Pontypridd 6:05 pm, 21st November 2018

Before I get into my speech, I will confess my three interests in this Bill. First, like the Secretary of State, I had family—my grandfather, not my father—who worked in the fishing industry. My grandfather worked behind the wet fish counter in Tonypandy and in Barry. Secondly, I am a very keen angler myself; and thirdly, I am implacably opposed to Brexit, and this Bill and the fisheries debate more broadly is the greatest example I can think of to demonstrate the hollowness of the claims that were made by the Brexiteers, such as the Secretary of State, as well as the hollowness of the promises that he is holding out again today to fishing industries and fishermen right across the country.

On both sides of the Brexit debate, the issue of fisheries illustrates what a dreadful discussion we had, because the remain side ought to admit that the CFP is one of the great failures of the EU. It does not work environmentally and it has not worked for the fishing industry in our country or elsewhere, and we should acknowledge that. We should not seek to stay in or replicate the CFP; we should be trying to reform it. But the biggest deception, of course, was on behalf of the Brexiteers: the promise that leaving the CFP would allow us to take back control of our seas. It is a wonderful phrase, which we have heard from the Secretary of State today, but the seas that we are talking about—the Irish sea, the North sea and the English channel—are shared with the countries on the other side of them. The fish we get out of those seas are sometimes landed and processed on the shores on the other side of those seas, and the markets we rely on are very often on the other side of those seas. That exposes the hollowness of both the Brexiteers’ claims and many promises made in the Secretary of State’s rhetoric today.

The hollowness is also exposed by a paucity of detail because, frankly, this Bill is long on rhetoric and short on detail. The reason that it is short on detail is that very little is agreed in respect of the future of our fisheries. There are lots of promises, as there were lots of promises in the White Paper in July this year, but the truth is that almost nothing is determined in respect of the future nature of our fisheries and of our agreement. In fact, throughout the withdrawal agreement, it is very clear that nothing is agreed. On page 311 of the deal, it is stated very clearly that

“(‘fishery and aquaculture products’), shall not be covered…unless an agreement” is established. I think that the Minister wants to get that agreement by June 2020, but there is no guarantee that that will happen. As many fellow Brexit supporters of the Secretary of State have pointed out to him and to the Front Bench today, in the intervening period—during the transition period—we will actually lose influence and leverage in respect of our fisheries.

Article 130 on page 206 of the withdrawal agreement states:

“As regards the fixing of fishing opportunities within…the transition period, the United Kingdom shall be consulted in respect of the fishing opportunities…the Union shall offer the opportunity to the United Kingdom to provide comments on the Annual Communication”.

It also says that the UK shall be invited to the “relevant…fora”. We will be consulted with, we will have the opportunity to comment and we will be invited, but we will not actually be official participants in the decision making—the key decisions on the size and scale of the quotas which, according to the Secretary of State, we ought to see taken back under our control. All that is a clear indication of the hollowness of the claim that we would exercise greater sovereignty as a result of our leaving the European Union.

The Secretary of State, I am not sure whether deliberately, spoke out of both sides of his mouth today. He said that we are going to be taking back control in order to exercise greater observance of the sustainable yields that we have ignored for many, many years when in the common fisheries policy, and at the same time he said that we were going to be increasing our fish catch. Those two things, I say respectfully to him, cannot both be true. We cannot, in future, be more observant of the scientific advice about what are the sustainable yields we can take from our stocks while at the same time taking more fish from our seas. That is the biggest and most egregious example of the fib that is being told to fishermen across this country. I hope that during the passage of the Bill the Secretary of State will clear up some of these misconceptions and is very honest with people about what Brexit could mean.