Fisheries Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:26 pm on 21st November 2018.

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Photo of Maria Caulfield Maria Caulfield Conservative, Lewes 6:26 pm, 21st November 2018

It is a pleasure to follow my neighbour, my hon. Friend Gillian Keegan. I, too, welcome the Bill as it is a clear indication that, after 40 years, we will leave the EU in March, and the UK will once again become an independent coastal state, responsible for managing its own waters. In Newhaven in my constituency, the fishing industry has been in decline for decades. A once thriving fishing port now sees its local fishermen away for long periods, often working for larger fishing fleets and unable to make a living independently. That is the legacy of the CFP.

The Bill provides a ray of hope for the industry, but let us be under no illusion: the changes in the Bill cannot be negotiated away as part of the withdrawal agreement or future trading relationship arrangements. Failure to secure the contents of the Bill will consign the UK fishing industry to the annals of history. I welcome many of the measures in the Bill, but particular highlights for me are the provision revoking the automatic access rights of EU vessels and the new powers for the UK to set catch limits, revoking EU powers to set EU quotas for our waters.

I have some concerns, however, that I wish to raise with the Minister. While the Bill will restore control of our waters, many people are concerned that the withdrawal agreement and, in particular, the future trading relationship paper could override the Bill, and that countries such as France and Spain could demand access in future negotiations. In the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, we heard evidence during our fishing inquiry that the UK will remain in the CFP until 31 December 2020, but we will leave the EU before that. I made the point to the Secretary of State that we have concerns that although the Minister may attend the annual fisheries negotiation in December 2019, he will not have a say to ensure that our fishing rights are not overruled in the transition period. It is really important to have clarity on that point. I would welcome being wrong about it, but we are nervous.

As my hon. Friends the Members for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) and for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) have said, we would also like the reassurance of the Bill including the date when we will actually leave. We want to see the date of 31 December 2020 written into the Bill. We would also like to see the insertion of an economic link into the Bill so that we are clear what we mean by “British”. Fishing for Leave has suggested that any British vessel should be 60% UK crewed and 60% UK-owned, retaining 60% of the catch landed. It is vital to ensure compliance with the term “British” if we are to deliver economic benefits to the communities we have heard so much about today. It is essential that we avoid multinationals buying up our entitlement.

Clauses 9 and 10 will grant powers to the devolved Administrations, but Northern Ireland does not have a devolved Administration, and it could be a while before one is restored. We would like reassurance that while Northern Ireland does not have an Assembly, civil servants will be given powers to prepare for the implementation of the Bill while an Executive is restored.

Following on from the points made by the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) about the voisinage agreement, the historical reciprocal arrangements are not in place and fishermen in Northern Ireland are suffering as a result. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said to the Select Committee this morning that that was a matter for DEFRA, so I am putting it back to DEFRA Ministers now. Either we need to challenge the Republic of Ireland Government to open up those fishing waters to fishermen in Northern Ireland, or in this Bill we can take back control and say that the Republic of Ireland cannot access UK waters until that dispute is resolved. I would very much appreciate it if the Secretary of State or the Minister were to comment on that. I will be grateful if these issues can be addressed either in Committee or on Report so that we do not have to table our own amendments.