Fisheries Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:43 pm on 21st November 2018.

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Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water) 6:43 pm, 21st November 2018

I will keep going. I apologise, but the hon. Lady has had enough chances.

The Bill constitutes a missed opportunity—a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to start afresh and create a truly world-class, sustainable fisheries policy. We need to get this right, but as it stands, the Bill fails in a number of critical ways. It fails to provide a fair deal for our small fleet, or attempt to break up large monopolies in the fishing industry. It fails to regenerate coastal communities and provide the renaissance that our coastal towns need. It fails to create a vision for the UK to have the most sustainable fisheries in the world. It fails to ensure frictionless access to the single market; indeed, given the Prime Minister’s bad deal, it poses the risk of tariffs on our fish, and we do not want tax on our fish. It also fails to ensure that there is supply-chain fairness across the board.

As was pointed out by my hon. Friend Melanie Onn, while in theory the Bill gives us greater access to our waters, it says nothing meaningful about redistributing quota more fairly across the British fleet. The fixed quota allocation system has been heavily criticised on both sides of the House during the debate, and it is unfair, but it has not been updated since the 1990s. If I had not been updated since the 1990s, I would still have bleached blond hair, wear cargo trousers, and believe that wet-look gel is a good idea. Times change, and so must our fishing regulation. As a result of the existing system, ownership of quota has become increasingly consolidated in the hands of a few, and we need to change that. We need to distribute quota so that it goes back into the hands of the many.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Workington said earlier, more than a quarter of the UK’s fishing quota is owned or controlled by just five families on the Sunday Times rich list. Quotas should be allocated according to transparent and ecological criteria, to the benefit of fishing communities. For example, a greater share should be offered in return for compliance with relevant regulations, participation in data gathering and good science, full monitoring and recording of catches, compliance with discard rules, and the application of high standards of workers’ rights, welfare and, especially, marine safety. Given the loss of two trawlers from Plymouth since my election, and a death in both losses, I am disappointed that the Bill does not contain more about enhanced marine safety as a qualification for additional quota. We need to reward best practice, not ignore that problem.

The UK has always had the ability to allocate quota to reward particular types of fishing practice or to support broader social and economic gains, but has chosen not to do so in a broad, meaningful way. Ministers have reallocated too little quota, although they have reallocated some. Labour wants smaller boats to be given a greater share of quota after Brexit. Small boats are the backbone of our fishing industry, the small and medium-sized enterprises of the sector, and they need our backing. The small-scale fishing fleet generally uses low-impact gear, and creates significantly more jobs per tonne of fish landed than the large-scale sector. In the UK, the under 10-metre small-scale fleet represents more than 70% of English fishing boats and 65% of direct employment in fishing, and it should be supported.

We have heard that recreational fishing would have huge potential with better management, and I agree. There is not enough in the Bill that values that sector—not yet, at least. More recreational fishing and more sustainable fisheries depend on better science to plug the gap in data. That means more baseline stock levels for non-quota species such as cuttlefish. If ours are to be the most sustainable fisheries in the world, we need to have the best science in the world. Indeed, the data deficiency that we currently see in our fisheries is one of the reasons why many of our fisheries cannot market their fish as sustainable. As we heard from my right hon. Friend Mr Campbell, we need to ensure that maximum sustainable yield is achieved by 2020, and that that date is put in the Bill.

There have been many good contributions from across the House. My hon. Friend Angela Smith mentioned the governance gap and the too frequent reliance on Henry VIII powers in this Bill, and that needs to be addressed. My hon. Friend Gareth Thomas talked about doubling the size of the co-operative economy, and in fishing we have a proud record of co-operatives; that should be supported. We need to ensure not only that EMFF funds are replaced—with every single penny replaced, not cut—but also that the other funding arrangements, as mentioned by my right hon. Friend Mr Campbell, are put in place. Local government need to ensure that they have the funds to invest in our fishing as well. As Mr Walker said, we must make sure we have a passion about fish, not just a passion about fishing. My hon. Friend Melanie Onn said we need to talk more about processing, which has the lion’s share of employment in the fishing sector.

My party does support this Bill, but we believe it needs more work in a considerable number of areas. Serious concerns have been raised on both sides of this House about fairness, funding, sustainability and trade. The fishing industry has been given grand promises by the Environment Secretary, and many others besides, only to have some of them broken time after time. While I believe that the fisheries Minister is honest in his efforts, I fear that those higher up in his Government are selling him out and that our fishing industries have been sold out too. That must not be the case with this Bill: no more betrayals; no more grand promises. To the Minister I say be up front and frank with fishers about the difficulties and opportunities, because I have not met a fisherman who is not equally frank, up front and honest in their response.

I genuinely believe that there is scope for this Bill to be improved with cross-party working, and I put the Government on notice that if we cannot achieve those improvements they should not necessarily count on our support in future parliamentary stages.