I have regular discussions with my Cabinet colleagues and, indeed, with all Members of the House about the benefits for the UK fishing industry of leaving the common fisheries policy and becoming, once more, an independent coastal state. The Government’s vision for this bright future was set out in the White Paper, “Sustainable Fisheries for Future Generations.”
We all know we cannot trust the Tories with Scotland’s fishing industry. After all, former Prime Ministers Ted Heath, Margaret Thatcher and John Major all sold Scotland’s fishing down the water. Now we know that the current Prime Minister has signed an agreement with the EU to
“build on…existing reciprocal access and quota shares.”
Can the Secretary of State help the House understand how that is in any way taking back control of the waters?
I have enormous affection and respect for the hon. Gentleman, and he makes his case with characteristic fluency, but I fear he has been misled. The truth is that, as an independent coastal state, we will be able to decide who comes into our waters and on what terms. It is perhaps rare for me to quote the French President, Emmanuel Macron—[Interruption.]
The soi-disant Jupiterian President was, nevertheless, speechless with rage on Sunday when he discovered that this withdrawal agreement and the future political declaration mean that France will not have access to our waters, save on our terms. His anger should be a cause for celebration on both sides of the House.
Yesterday the Prime Minister told Douglas Ross that, as an independent coastal state, the UK will be able to “negotiate access” to its waters with other countries. Constituents have asked me why, at such a pivotal and crucial time for the fishing industry in Scotland, there are no Scottish Tory constituency MPs in the Secretary of State’s Department in order to be a more effective and balanced Government.
Far be it from me to say but, as someone who was born in Edinburgh and brought up in Aberdeen, and who had the privilege of growing up in a household in which my father ran a fish processing business and his forebears went to sea, I think the interests of the fishing industry are very much at the heart of the Department. I would love to extend an open welcome to my Scottish Conservative colleagues to join the ministerial team but, sadly, the size of our ministerial team is a matter for the Prime Minister, rather than me.
One thing I would say, though, is that, in the consideration of our Bills in Committee, and in the shaping of policy in the interest of rural and coastal Scotland, Scotland’s Conservative MPs have been consistently more effective in delivering more money, more freedom and more rights even than the nicest and friendliest Scottish nationalist, which of course the hon. Gentleman is.
It is vital that the UK is in complete control of our fisheries after the implementation period ends, and that our fish stocks are not used as a currency to buy any trade deal. Will my right hon. Friend look at including in the Fisheries Bill a cut-off date of the end of December 2020, and will he urge the Prime Minister not to use our fish as a currency?
The fishing industry has no stronger friend in this House than my hon. Friend, and she is absolutely right to remind us that fishing will not be bartered away in the event of any final deal. I will make sure that we work with her to ensure that consideration is properly given in Committee to all possible safeguards for our fishing industry.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that detailed, practical point, and he is absolutely right. Notwithstanding the occasional disagreements on the Floor of the House, I have to say that the Scottish Government Minister responsible for fisheries, Fergus Ewing, has behaved, I think, in a very mature fashion in making sure that UK vessels can have access across the waters of the UK, while, of course, respecting, and indeed enhancing, the devolution settlement.
Regardless of what happens in the coming days and weeks, we are going to become an independent coastal state, like Norway, Iceland and the Faroes. Like them, we will have to come to a fisheries agreement with the EU. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in the negotiation of that agreement specifically, he and the officials in his Department should take the lead?
Yes, I do. It is vital that we are there getting the best possible deal for this country. I said that my hon. Friend Mrs Murray was probably the strongest voice for the fishing industry in this House, but there is stiff competition for that role now that my hon. Friend David Duguid is here. I look forward to working with him and other colleagues, and those in the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and elsewhere, who recognise that there is a sea of opportunity for our fishing industry as an independent coastal state.
The Secretary of State is characteristically keen to keep all his Back-Bench colleagues happy, and that will have been noted by the House.
In five weeks, the EU discard ban will kick in. While much attention is on what fishing will look like after Brexit, this poorly implemented discard ban before Brexit risks tying up our fishing fleet, especially mixed fisheries such as those in the south-west. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that the concerns of the fishing industry are listened to and that this ban does not result in its boats being tied up alongside?
It is not just Government Back Benchers whom I wish to be kind to; it is also Opposition Front Benchers, because the hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. It is the case that the management of the discard ban in the past, and potentially in the future, is a real issue of contention. My hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been talking to a number fishing industry representatives to see whether we can make sure that at this December Council we can put in place appropriate mitigation measures. One thing we can be sure of is that as an independent coastal state we can take appropriate conservation measures in a way that does not lead to those who are practising mixed fisheries facing the sorts of problems the hon. Gentleman rightly draws attention to.