Fisheries Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:38 pm on 21st November 2018.

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Photo of Andrew Bowie Andrew Bowie Conservative, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine 6:38 pm, 21st November 2018

I am fully aware of that, Mr Deputy Speaker—I know I am chancing my luck. I start by paying tribute to two individuals who, when I was advising on fisheries issues in the European Parliament, did much to educate me in the world of fisheries, which to many is a foreign language. One of them is sitting in the Gallery this afternoon—Simon Collins, the CEO of the Shetland Fishermen’s Federation—and the other is a constituent of mine from the beautiful fishing village of Stonehaven, Mr Mike Park, who today received an OBE at the palace for his services to marine conservation. It is therefore more of an honour than usual, for professional, personal and geographical reasons, to speak in this debate, as we set a new and historic course, for the first time since 1973 setting our own regulations for management of the seas and determining who may fish in our waters and on what terms.

I strongly associate myself with the comments of the Secretary of State for Scotland, who, outwith this place, has said he is not interested in playing the resignation soap opera. [Laughter.] No, he is not. He has not resigned because, unlike SNP Members, he cares about fishermen and is working hard on this issue. He thinks it far too important to play politics with, which is something I wish the SNP would remember. As my hon. Friend Douglas Ross said, it might be why there are far fewer of them in the House than there were before the general election. If there was ever a time to focus on outcomes for Britain’s and Scotland’s fishing industry, that time is now. We face a sea of opportunity. The House today has a chance to develop a tangible legal framework in which the UK can operate as an independent coastal state, free from the restrictions of the hated CFP.

I am conscious that today’s debate is on the Fisheries Bill, not wider EU relations—not that anyone would know it—but for the Bill to be worth the paper it is printed on, colleagues need to take seriously the reaction across the channel to the withdrawal agreement. As was reported in yesterday’s Times, the French, Spanish, Belgian, Danish and Portuguese Governments want the Commission to reopen negotiations on fishing and impose tougher level playing field rules, and according to reports, and as confirmed by conversations I had today with British fisheries advisors in Brussels, France is leading a charge to guarantee a fisheries agreement giving French and other European fishing fleets access to British waters. I think that everybody in the House would agree that this is completely unacceptable. The Prime Minister has robustly opposed this from day one, and she needs the support of everyone in the House to continue to do so.

This is a good Bill. We are taking back control of our waters, but as it makes clear, we are not pulling up the drawbridge or building some imaginary sea wall down the North sea. We will continue to work with our European neighbours, but we will be negotiating with them as an independent coastal state in the same way as Norway and Iceland. Clauses 7 and 8 make that very clear, by revoking the existing shared equal access policy, setting conditions on non-British boats entering the UK exclusive economic zone and giving us real teeth as an independent coastal state.

As for those shrill siren voices in the environmental lobby suggesting that British control of our own waters will lead to a diminution of standards or a reduced commitment to the marine environment, I would remind them that it was the British Government who were most vocal on the need to implement a discard ban across the EU and who have driven up standards and pushed other countries to be as committed to sustainable fisheries as us and our fishing industry. The UK has always advocated a science-based approach to fisheries management and argued that total allowable catches should be in line with the CFP’s objective and be proposed and set at levels that are at least moving towards maximum sustainable yield-based exploitation rates. That said, DEFRA and the devolved Assemblies could do more to help fishermen and fishing organisations at the quayside to implement some of these environmental policies, as our MEPs demanded in 2015.