I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Fishing is at the heart of coastal communities the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, from the Shetland Islands all the way down to Cornwall and some of the communities that I represent. Across the UK, the seafood sector employs about 33,000 people in often dangerous work, and I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all our fishermen, who risk the perils of the sea to bring fish to our tables, and, in particular, to remember the six fishermen who sadly lost their lives last year.
Of course, the industry has also been hit hard by the impact of the coronavirus on the export of fish, but once again, our resilient fishing communities have shown real ingenuity by finding new ways to sell fresh fish direct to our doors. However, the common fisheries policy has long been seen by these coastal communities as a policy that symbolised the unfairness of our EU membership and the failure of EU policy. It has granted uncontrolled access to UK waters for EU vessels. It has given the European Commission the legal right to trade UK fishing interests during international negotiations with our neighbours such as Norway and the Faroes, and the principle of relative stability has set in stone an anachronistic methodology for sharing quota dating back to the 1970s, which is profoundly unfair to the UK fleet and does not reflect the quantity of fish found in British waters.
For example, under relative stability, we receive just 10% of the overall quota for Celtic sea haddock, but our zonal attachment analysis suggests that our share should be around 50%. Overall, the UK fishing industry currently has access to just around half of the fishing opportunities that are in our waters, and that cannot be right. The CFP has also failed our marine environment. The misallocation of fishing opportunities combined with ill-conceived technical measures and a cumbersome decision-making process that is slow to correct errors, have all taken their toll on the health of our marine environment and the resources in our waters.
As we leave the European Union, we have the opportunity for the first time in almost half a century to correct these shortcomings. The Bill before the House today gives the UK the powers that it needs to chart a new course as an independent coastal state. It gives us the powers we need to implement the approach that we outlined in our fisheries White Paper published in 2018. The Bill sets out in statute the environmental and scientific principles and objectives that will inform future policy. It creates a legal requirement for a joint fisheries statement across the UK Administrations relating to those objectives, and it creates a legal requirement for the preparation of a series of fisheries management plans to ensure that continuous progress towards our objectives is secured.
The Bill also gives us the power to control access by individual foreign vessels to our exclusive economic zone. This includes the power to stipulate, through a vessel licence, where in our EEZ a vessel may fish, when it may fish there, what fish it may catch while there, and what type of fishing gear it may or may not use. The ability to control and manage access to our waters will be crucial to ensuring that a fairer sharing arrangement prevails in future.
Like many right hon. and hon. Members, I suspect, I have received emails from campaigners calling for a ban on super-trawlers in UK countries’ fisheries’ waters. My understanding is that there is no UK-registered super-trawler. I suppose that many citizens will be perplexed as to why there is no mention of this in the Bill. Is it not the reality that these provisions will be made in future trade deals rather than in legislation coming from this House?
The hon. Gentleman is wrong in that the Bill does provide the powers for us to exclude all these trawlers through the licence conditions that we have, and that is not affected at all by any trade deals. The reason the super-trawlers are there at the moment is that they are allowed to be under EU law. Some of them are registered in countries such as, for instance, Lithuania. Under EU law, they are allowed to fish in our waters and there is nothing we can do about it. If the House passes this Bill, we will be able to exclude those vessels if that is our choice.
The Bill also gives us the power to modify and introduce technical conservation measures relating to matters such as the type of fishing gear that can be used, and other requirements relating to equipment or area-based restrictions that help to conserve our marine environment and preserve stocks.
The Minister talks about the welfare of fishermen. Apostleship of the Sea tells me that the industry after Brexit will be just as reliant, perhaps even more reliant, on non-European Economic Area nationals. They enter this country, or this industry, under a very opaque system that almost pretends they are not there. As a result, they have no rights and are often abused in the workplace. After Brexit, can we ensure that we work with the fishing industry and other regulatory mechanisms to ensure that these people are properly cared for and we have a robust visa system?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. He is right that there is, in some sections of the fleet, quite a reliance on non-EEA crews. This issue has been raised. Of course, as we leave the European Union, we will also have an independent immigration policy. The issue that he addresses is very much one for the Home Office and for future immigration policy. But of course, as an independent country, we are free to make changes that we deem necessary or appropriate.
I know that there will be a great deal of interest in the House in the ongoing negotiations with the European Union and whether a future partnership agreement will include a fisheries partnership agreement. However, I would say to hon. Members that it is very important today to focus on the contents of this Bill. The powers in this Bill will be needed whether or not there is a further negotiated outcome on a future partnership with the European Union. The Bill does not prescribe a particular outcome but gives us the powers that are needed irrespective of that outcome.
I turn now to some of the specific clauses. The objectives set out in clause 1 range from the ecosystems objective and the scientific evidence objective to the newly introduced climate change objective, putting sustainability at the heart of a new framework for managing our fisheries. As we become an independent coastal state, we are taking back control of fisheries in the UK’s exclusive economic zone and leaving behind the outdated common fisheries policy, so clauses 12 to 19 of the Bill end the automatic access to UK waters for EU vessels. As I said earlier, there has long been an historic injustice in the sharing arrangements set in stone under relative stability. However, the CFP has also previously prevented us from extending certain technical conservation measures required of our own vessels to EU vessels accessing our waters. Schedule 2 extends to foreign vessels for the first time the technical statutory instruments that protect, for instance, undersized or vulnerable stocks.
Clauses 38 and 40 propose powers to bring forward secondary legislation to introduce technical measures for fisheries and to ensure aquatic animal health. Those powers are essential so that we can make timely changes and adaptations to policy, to reflect a changing marine environment. The powers will enable us to follow the latest scientific evidence on fish stocks, respond to technological innovation and make our data collection more effective.
We will be working with the industry, scientists and local communities to develop a more transparent fishing management policy that will help us to achieve healthy fish stocks and a diverse marine ecosystem. The marine environment is complex, and we will make science and sustainability a core component of our approach. We remain committed to ending the wasteful discarding of fish at sea, and we will use a range of tools to ensure that the landing obligation works in practice, as well as in theory, including through the prevention charging scheme, which is introduced under clauses 30 to 34.
My hon. Friend is a long-time expert in fisheries policy, with direct experience of all the difficulties and shortcomings of the CFP, and she makes an important point. We have a particular problem, due to the unfair sharing arrangements under relative stability, of what is called choke species affecting our fleet, where there simply is not enough quota for fishermen to even be able to land their by-catch. As she says, the lack of quota for choke species causes a risk that the fleet has to tie up because they simply do not have the quota available to them. We set out in our White Paper a fairer sharing arrangement, so that there will be fewer choke species, but also an approach to managing discards that will enable us to charge a disincentive charge on fishermen who land out-of-quota stock, rather than force them to discard it at sea in a very wasteful way—so we remove the incentive to target vulnerable species but give fishermen left in a difficult position an option that they can exercise.
Will the Bill allow us to give grant aid to fishermen to have more selective fishing tackle, to enable them to not catch the choke species that cause these problems?
My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. I know that he was involved in crafting some of these measures during his time in DEFRA, and I can confirm that those measures remain in place. We have powers in the Bill to make grant payments to fishermen, in particular to support them in fishing in a more sustainable way and investing in the gear that enables them to do that. I was about to come on to that point.
As we plan for our future, we need to recognise the immense value of fishing to our local communities, and we want to ensure that our own industry is able to benefit from the new opportunities that will arise. The powers in clause 35 mean that we can set up new funding schemes and grants to support the development of port infrastructure, the development of our fishing industry and its capacity to manage an increased catch and to manage those sustainability issues.
It is, of course, important that we look to the future. Some 95% of the Welsh fishing fleet is under 10 metres in size, and it is essential that, with this Bill, we ensure that they, too, can gain an advantage from this. Will the Secretary of State consider the potential of the quota reserve in enabling that small fleet to go after different species and thus ensure diversity and a more prosperous economic future for Welsh coastal communities?
The right hon. Lady raises an important point. We have, over the past five years, significantly increased the amount of quota in the inshore pool managed by the Marine Maritime Organisation to give increased fishing opportunities to the under-10 metre fleet, but we want to go further. Indeed, the White Paper sets out our approach to doing that. In the short-term we will not depart from the fixed-quota-allocations sharing mechanism that we have with vessels, but any new quota that comes as we depart from relative stability will be allocated in a different way. We have said that it is our intention to use some of that increased inward quota to increase opportunities for the inshore fleet.
The fisheries management plans in clauses 6 to 9 will provide a comprehensive framework to manage stocks in a way that respects the devolution settlements and improves accountability. The Bill also sets out, in clause 45, the extension of competence for Senedd Cymru in relation to fisheries to the Welsh offshore zone. That will allow Welsh Ministers to manage the full extent of Welsh waters in future.
My officials have been working closely with all the devolved Administrations. Their collaboration on the Bill has improved it. In fact, on fisheries, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has always worked closely with the devolved Administrations. Each December, the UK delegation, in annual fisheries negotiations, is supported by Ministers from all the devolved Administrations. Ministers may come from different political parties, but we all work together to secure the best outcome for the UK fleet. I welcome the fact that the Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all indicated that they are happy with the Bill.
I turn now to some of the issues debated in the other place and the amendments that were made there. Our view is that we must avoid the pitfalls of the cumbersome common fisheries policy. That is why, in Committee, the Government will be seeking to remove overly prescriptive amendments to the Bill made in the other place. Although they were well intentioned, they risk becoming counterproductive in practice. We must maintain the flexibility required to develop domestic policy tailored to the needs of the United Kingdom without creating complexity or uncertainty. We owe it to our fishermen and coastal communities to help them to benefit further from the fish caught and landed in UK waters as we take back control. We will therefore seek to overturn clause 18, which is unnecessary in light of the national benefit objective already set out in clause 1 and which reduces the flexibility we currently have in using licence conditions to implement an economic link. The fisheries White Paper made clear that we will be reviewing the economic link conditions in England. The Government are committed to doing so.
On that particular point, the Minister is quite right in that what has motivated local communities so much for Brexit is the need for them to gain benefit from that. The economic link is vital for that. Can he perhaps set out when the Government will complete their review of the economic link?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. As with all the work we are doing, this work is under way and we will be consulting the industry on it. I am not in a position today to give him an actual date for the completion of that work, but I can assure him—I know he has been a long-time campaigner on this issue—that we take this issue very seriously. We do want to strengthen the economic link. That is likely to include requirements on vessels to land more of their catch in UK ports. However, we have to proceed with some caution because the right economic link will vary depending on the species of fish. It is important that we do not inadvertently deny fishermen the ability to sell their fish at the best possible price by requiring them to land everything in the UK. That is why some balance has to be struck.
We will seek to remove clause 27 because a proportion of quotas is already guaranteed to the under-10 metre fleet and neither will the drafting of the clause address the need to attract new entrants. We will also be seeking to overturn clause 48, which is unnecessary and too prescriptive. We already have powers to increase the use of remote electronic monitoring, which we will be able to do once we have a greater understanding of how it would be deployed.
The Minister referred to the viability of the under-10 metre fleet, which is very important to us in Northern Ireland. Just last week the Northern Ireland Fish Producers Organisation gifted an extra quota to the under-10 metre fleet to enable it, with the help of Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland, to continue to be viable. As the Minister rightly says, it takes all the devolved Administrations, across the whole of the United Kingdom, to work together on behalf of those fleets, which is why the way in which this is managed locally is so important.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I know that fishing in Northern Ireland is particularly important to some communities, particularly when it comes to nephrops, and he is right that it has been a long-standing practice that producer organisations with unutilised quota will often gift some of it to the under-10s so that they have access to more fishing opportunities. In the longer term, it is important that we have a better framework to ensure that inshore vessels do not necessarily have to wait for a gift of quota, but have access to a fairer share of the quota in the first place.
We will also be seeking to overturn an amendment made to clause 1 that would seek to create a hierarchy in the objectives. We think this is unnecessary and unhelpful. Environmental objectives have already been given a degree of priority through the requirement for fisheries management plans, which is how we have addressed that issue.
In conclusion, I have always been clear that the UK will continue to be a world leader in promoting sustainable fisheries, so that we stop hammering vulnerable stocks and think about the longer-term future of our marine environment. We must follow the science, and I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to our fisheries science agency, CEFAS––the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science—which is home to some of the world’s most talented marine scientists. There are wonders swimming around our shores—some 8,500 different species. As an island nation, the UK can show the world that a better approach can deliver more balance, profitable fisheries and an enhanced marine environment. This Bill sets in stone our commitment to improve the health of our seas and gives fishermen the better future they deserve. This Fisheries Bill gives us the powers we need to do all these things as an independent coastal state for the first time in decades, and I commend it to the House.
Before I call Luke Pollard, I want to indicate that a six-minute limit will be put on all non-Front-Bench contributions from the very beginning, and it is likely to be reduced further.
It gives me great pleasure to respond to the Bill on behalf of the Opposition on its second outing in the Commons. Our fishers risk their lives every day to bring home food for us all. It is not a profession that comes without risk, and I join the Secretary of State in taking a moment to remember the six fishers who did not come back after their trips to sea last year.
Fishing matters to me. It matters to the people of Plymouth who I represent, with 1,000 jobs in the city, and to coastal communities across our four nations. Fishing is knitted into our national identities and our culture, our local flavours and, of course, our coastal economies. Recreational fishing—now larger than commercial fishing in GDP terms—matters to even more people. Labour will be supporting the Bill, defending the enhancements made in the Lords and proposing further necessary provisions.
The hon. Gentleman touches on a good point when he mentions recreational fishing. I think we have all received representations from the Angling Trust, but does he agree that, with the pandemic and more staycations, the opportunity for sea angling to bring real benefits to our coastal communities is crystal clear?
I do agree. There is a real opportunity in the waters around the south-west for a catch and release bluefin tuna fishery, for instance—it is a shame that DEFRA did not quite agree with me on that one—and there is certainly a real case for more support for the charter boat sector, which has been denied much of the support that it should have had throughout the coronavirus.
Fishing is a policy area where up to now soundbites have often triumphed over substance and where dogma has often won out over detail. That must end now, because fishers in our coastal communities cannot feed their families on soundbites and vague Government promises. Fishing needs to be more sustainable, both economically and environmentally. We need not only a fishing net zero approach and better management of lost fishing gear to stem the plastic pollution that it causes; we also need a replacement plan for dirty diesel engines, and better science to inform better quota decisions to protect fish stocks and jobs. Fishing needs a strategy to widen employment, to make fishing a career of choice for more young people in our coastal communities. It needs new methods and quota allocation to encourage new entrants, and a firm focus on viability and sustainability.
We know that coronavirus has hit fishers hard. The closure and disruption of export markets, the throttling of imports, the closure of restaurants and cafés and the huge drop in prices have made going to sea unprofitable for many of our fishers. The help for fishers that Labour argued for eventually came, but it took too long to come, and sadly it excludes some of the most innovative projects, such as the brilliant Call4Fish initiative that I have spoken to the Secretary of State about. DEFRA needs to learn the lessons here. It needs to look again at how it raided fishery support funding pots to pay for those schemes and at what the long-term cost to the industry will be of those pots having been raided.
Just as fish do not respect national boundaries, so our fishing sector is cross-border too. I support the move to zonal attachment from relative stability, which is an outdated method. There is a real case for that change. We import two thirds of the fish we eat and we export two thirds of the fish we catch. We do not eat enough locally caught fish, and our diets have been calibrated over decades to eat more of what is caught around Iceland and Norway than the wondrous ocean harvest of our own waters. We need to change that. That is why there can be no new delays at the border, no new burdensome customs checks and no new expensive Government red tape in implementing these and any future trade deals. We need to ensure that we can import and export as well as celebrating the fish in our own waters.
I thank my neighbour for that question. I know this is a point that she raises frequently, but it is probably one that she needs to raise with the Government rather than with the Opposition. We want to see our fishers supported, and I want to ensure that they get a greater and fairer share of quota.
Compared with the previous version, this Bill has thankfully been much improved, in part by Ministers adopting many of the amendments that Labour proposed in Committee during the Government’s first attempt at this legislation. I am glad that Ministers have taken the time to reflect on their decision to vote down those Labour amendments, and I am glad that this time round the Bill includes as much Pollard as it does pollock. I am sure we can agree that it is a good demonstration of constructive opposition.
I also want to note the improvements to the Bill that were passed by the Lords and in particular to thank Baroness Jones of Whitchurch for her efforts in the other place. The question now, which the Secretary of State has answered, is whether he will see fit to accept those amendments that improve the Bill. It is especially sad that he is choosing to reject the sustainability amendments and those that would generate more jobs in our coastal communities.
I respect the hon. Gentleman greatly, and he knows that, but does he not accept that the fishing sector wants a sustainable industry for the future, and that to achieve that, we need the co-operation of the sector? Does he acknowledge that the sector does not want the amendments that have come from the House of Lords?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that mention. I think he is choosing to call the fishing sector one single sector, but he knows as well as I do that the fishing sector has multiple sectors with different catches, different gears and different fishing approaches in different parts of our coastal waters. I know that not all fishers share the view that he has just put forward, because they have told me so.
This Bill is a framework Bill, so it is necessarily light on detail, but it does offer a centralisation of powers with the Secretary of State and does not deliver the coastal renaissance that it should have done. Ten years of austerity have hit our coastal communities hard, and now covid-19 means that we are standing on the precipice of a new jobs crisis, the likes of which we have not seen since the 1980s. The decline of fishing ports is a story told the nation over, but it does not have to be this way. Even before we see whether the promise of more fish from the Government will be delivered, more jobs could be created if Ministers were to use the powers they already have. I believe in British fishing. Growing the fleet, making fishing more sustainable and creating more jobs can all happen with improvements to this Bill.
Let me turn to the jobs in coastal communities amendment—clause 18—which the Secretary of State says he wishes to remove. I believe that if we catch fish under a British quota, Britain should benefit from that fish in terms of jobs and trade. I want to back our British ports to create more jobs and land more fish in Britain. Labour’s jobs in coastal communities amendment, which passed with cross-party support in the Lords, would establish a new national landing requirement, whereby two thirds of fish caught under a UK quota must be landed in UK ports. That would mean more jobs created in Grimsby, Plymouth, Newlyn, Portavogie, Brixham and Fleetwood, to name but a few. There are 10 jobs on land for every one job at sea, so landing more fish in Britain is a jobs multiplier.
Does the hon. Member agree that making it essential that people have to land their fish in the UK is actually detrimental to the industry, because UK fishers in the industry need to be able to land where they will get the better price?
I hear that argument, but I also hear that it is not in support of British ports when landing more fish could create more jobs, and I think we need to think about what benefit will be gained from leaving the common fisheries policy. If there is an argument for only supporting those with fish caught under a UK quota and landed in foreign ports, creating jobs in foreign ports, that is an argument the hon Member is free to make, but it is not one that will be made by the Opposition.
Labour’s jobs in coastal communities amendment is designed to ensure that whether the boat is Dutch, Spanish, French, actually British or just flagged that way, boats fishing under a UK quota would be required to land the majority of their fish in British ports. This would create a jobs boom for fish markets, processers, fuel sellers, boat repairers and distributors. With the virus, the recession and the consequences of austerity, could our coastal communities not do with more jobs? I hope the Government will agree with that, not continue to support fish being landed in foreign ports and not creating jobs in our communities.
No. I am going to make some progress, because I have gone on for some time.
The backbone of British fishing is our small boat fleet. These boats and businesses are the ones the British public want to see benefit most from our exit from the common fisheries policy. While industrial fishing has its place, I make no apology for wanting a fairer share for our small fishers. With just 6% of the quota, the small boat fleet has two thirds of the jobs, and I think it could have more quota. Reallocating quota along social, economic and environmental grounds, even if just 1% or 2% of the total catch were to be reallocated, could increase what small boats can catch by 25%. This is the second jobs multiplier that Labour has proposed in this Bill. It would be huge for our small boat fleet, helping give them a platform to invest in new gear and boats and to hire more crew.
Such rebalancing could easily be absorbed by the big foreign-owned boat operators within the current range of variation of total allowable catch, yet this is a policy yet again opposed by the Conservative party. I know the largest fishing companies, mostly foreign-owned, are strong supporters of the Conservative party, but, to borrow a phrase, Labour’s policy is for the many fishers, not the few. I hope Tory MPs will not be looking at their feet as the Whips demand total loyalty to Downing Street and require them to vote this amendment down when the time comes, because our fishing communities need a strong voice in Westminster, not just more Whips’ instructions at the expense of coastal towns.
Labour will be tabling an amendment to ban supertrawlers pillaging Britain’s marine protected areas. The Greenpeace campaign on this issue has attracted the signatures of a number of Ministers, but, sadly, of not a single DEFRA Minister. Labour will table an amendment to ban supertrawlers of over 100 metres fishing in marine protected areas. Britain has not one supertrawler of over 100 metres, so Ministers and Conservative Members have an easy choice to make: whether they are on the side of British fishers or foreign-owned industrial supertrawlers, harvesting huge quantities of fish and plundering the very habitats that Britain regards as special. I hope that would be an easy decision, but we will have to see.
I thank the hon. Member for that. I am not sure it is the main purpose of the Bill, but it is certainly a power that the Secretary already has. One of the key things about the amendments that Labour has tabled is that they are about using powers that the Minister already has. Whether or not there is more fish from any negotiations with the EU in the future, these are powers that the UK Government—the Conservative Government—could use today if they chose to do so. They do not need to wait until after
I am going to make some progress, because I only have limited time and I do not want to take time away from people at the end of the call list; apologies.
On safety, progress is being made towards making fishing safer, but much work still needs to be done. I want to see fishers wearing lifejackets all the time that come as standard with personal locator beacons which take the search out of search and rescue when boats go down or fishers are washed overboard. I want more work on stability, especially for smaller boats when they change gear. Remote vessel monitoring and CCTV on board—another amendment won in the Lords—will help to ensure that fishing stays within the law, but will also incentivise fishers to wear a lifejacket and come home safely to their families after each trip. I know that this is a cross-party concern, and I commit Labour to working constructively to help to save more lives, as we have in recent years.
I endorse what the hon. Gentleman says with regard to safety at sea, but there is another aspect to this issue that has become apparent to me recently, through the activities of the “Persorsa Dos”—a Spanish gillnetter that was quite reckless in its conduct off the shores of Shetland recently, endangering the lives of the crew of the “Alison Kay”. The UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency was powerless to investigate that incident because it happened outside the 12-mile limit. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me, and will he support in Committee moves to extend the jurisdiction of the MCA to a 200-mile limit?
I thank the hon. Member. I recall during the last Fisheries Bill Committee making the case that foreign boats in UK waters should be adhering to the same safety standards as UK boats. That is an argument that we can pick up in Committee this time around.
I want briefly to look at the quota allocations. In support of zonal attachment rather than relative stability, we need to recognise that this is a complex case. There are fishers with complex historical catch records; that needs to be looked at. That is why we need to make a clear case about how the fishing quota will change over time. Labour has proposed a phased draw-down period, not a rush to reallocate quota. That would give British fishers the chance to invest in new gear and recruitment, as well as giving time—if there is transfer from our EU friends—for those boats to be decommissioned and the workers retrained. Allocating quota in contested waters where there are complex fishing records is difficult, and it is an issue that will require careful negotiation with our EU friends. I want to flag to the Minister that British fishing needs continued access to distant waters to preserve current activities, because it is worth nothing that not all British fishers fish in British waters.
I realise that my time is running out, so let me briefly say that to achieve any of these grand promises made to fishing—not just the ones that have already been broken by Ministers, such as the solemn pledge that fishing would not be in the transition period—we need Ministers to keep to their word and stick to their timetables. Today the Government are a whole two months late on the new fisheries agreement. It was meant to be concluded by
“illegal fishing, border violations…violent disputes or blockading of ports” in the event of no deal. What additional resources has the Minister discussed with the Ministry of Defence for allocating to the Royal Navy to protect our fishers, and why is there nothing in the Bill to express the concerns around enforcement?
I want to see more fish landed in British ports, more of it processed here and more of it eaten here. I encourage Members to set an example by buying, eating and promoting local fish. Will the Minister tell the House whether zero tariffs will continue to apply to fish imported from Iceland, Norway and the Faroes? If so, what additional support will be given to our domestic industry?
What are the Government’s plans to incentivise processors to process more UK-caught fish? How will they encourage the biggest players—the supermarkets—to put more British fish on their shelves? I would like to see Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, M&S, Waitrose, Asda, Lidl, Aldi and the Co-op selling more British fish. I read out their names deliberately because I would like them to write to MPs to set out how they will sell more British fish, because that is a decision that they can take. We do not need Ministers to take it for them; that can be done by supermarkets and there is a case for their doing that.
Labour will support the Bill while proposing and defending the necessary improvements. It is a shame that the SNP is, with its amendment, playing politics with the Bill. Mock constitutional outrage will not feed the families of fishers in Peterhead or Fraserburgh, and nor would blocking the Bill at this stage help to put in place the legal certainty necessary after
On behalf of the fishers I represent in Plymouth and those for whom I speak in my shadow Cabinet role—the fish processors, distributors, merchants, chefs and scientists—I say that we need a Fisheries Bill that is focused on sustainability, viability and a better future for our coastal communities than we have seen for the past decade. We will not oppose the Bill, but we will argue strongly to defend the improvements made to the Bill in the Lords, to insert a new focus on creating jobs in fishing and to ensure that fishing is truly sustainable.
It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate and to very much welcome the Bill. In 2017, the previous Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee ran an inquiry on fisheries, focusing on the fisheries White Paper and the Fisheries Bill of 2018. The new Bill is largely the same and I welcome it because it takes back control of our fishing policy from the EU, which is something we have been trying to do for years. It will give Ministers and our devolved Administrations the power to decide fishing policy as an independent coastal state for the first time in more than 45 years.
If we implement the Bill and negotiate well with the EU and our other trade partners, fishing can be one of the great benefits of Brexit. In coastal communities such as mine in Devon, people write to me about the sell-out of our fishing communities in 1972, because it hurt their businesses and our towns and coastal communities. The Government are therefore right to drive a hard bargain on fisheries, because people really care about it. It is of social and economic importance to see the regeneration of our coastal communities after Brexit, and there is a huge benefit to catching more fish and then processing and eating it here.
Our fishing sector employs more than 25,000 people and around 18,000 work in the fish-processing industry. Most of our fisheries businesses are small family businesses, with more than 80% employing fewer than five people. These businesses are expecting a great boom from Brexit, so I hope Ministers are mindful; otherwise, perhaps they might be on the hook, too. There is great scope for growth under new fishing arrangements and I hope that UK negotiators will hold firm.
The UK has a very large fishing zone compared with many of our continental neighbours. Under the common fisheries policy, EU fishermen benefit hugely from reciprocal access to UK waters. In 2015, for example, EU vessels caught some 683,000 tonnes in UK waters, raising some £484 million in revenue, but UK vessels caught only 111,000 tonnes in EU member states’ waters, raising £114 million in revenue. That means that EU vessels benefit by a ratio of 6:1 under the common fisheries policy. It is time to put that right. We need to rebalance things and reduce EU vessels’ access to a more sustainable level. Of course, EU vessels will need to have fair access, but not at the same level as they have under the CFP. We need to get British fishing rights back.
If we grant access to EU vessels, we need to make sure that our fishing businesses can still sell into Europe as part of the deal. About 70% of fish and 85% of shellfish caught in the UK is exported to EU countries, but although we export most of the fish we catch, we import the same amount; between 70% and 80% of the seafood consumed in the UK is imported, with only about 30% of that coming from the EU. The fish we eat most comes from distant waters, not from UK waters. Cod, haddock, salmon, prawns and others are abundant in the northern waters between Norway and Greenland, and more than 80% of the cod and haddock we eat comes from those waters, so I hope that Ministers are also looking carefully at that. While negotiations with the EU are taking all the headlines, we need also to make sure that we have new deals in place with Norway, the Faroes and Greenland so that our businesses can access those waters.
On sustainability, we must remember that many fish stocks move between national waters and, because there is common access to them, they are at risk of being over-exploited. The Government are therefore right to put sustainability at the heart of the Bill. When we leave the common fisheries policy at the end of this year, we will have more control over our waters. That will be good for our environment but also for our local fishing industries and coastal communities, which will benefit from a greater cap, particularly for the under-10 metre fleet.
The Government are also wise to look at the Norway model for fishing. Norway has far greater control over its waters and acts quickly to shut down areas of over-fishing and to open up others. The Bill is a great opportunity to ensure that we can operate a more dynamic fisheries management system that can respond rapidly to changing circumstances and science.
The Bill is a significant opportunity to deliver a much needed revival for coastal communities and small-scale fishers, and I greatly welcome the direction of travel that DEFRA Ministers have set. It is also a great opportunity to put right the fact that we have discarded, over so many years, so many millions of tons of healthy fish. We have an opportunity now to make sure that we catch what we land, so that fishermen will target the fish that they can catch and sell, and we do not have that huge waste of resource in the future. The Bill is a great opportunity to realise a huge benefit from Brexit and to ensure not only that we catch more fish but that we and our coastal communities prosper from this extremely good legislation.
I beg to move,
That this House
declines to give a Second Reading to the Fisheries Bill [Lords] before it is clear what kind of deal will be made with the EU after the end of the implementation period and because the present approach of the Bill fails to secure a long-term sustainable future for the industry balancing the interests of the environment, the consumer and the producers of this industry which is so vital to the prosperity of fishing ports in Scotland, Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom.
It is always interesting to debate a Bill that comes from the unelected part of this Parliament, which is an unusual concept in a state that likes to imagine it is a democracy, but this Brexit Bill—one of many—will not, in actuality, offer the much heralded control of our waters that the Brexiters claimed it would.
As Lord Hain said during a debate on amendments to the Bill, failure to reach an agreement with the EU by the end of this year will mean that control of the waters around these islands is governed by
“the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea—UNCLOS —which requires co-operation and efforts to agree rules on access to waters, as well as setting catch limits and standards on conservation and management of marine resources.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 804, c. 26.]
That of course means that historical access to fishing grounds enjoyed by fleets from other nations will become part of the new framework, just as it became part of the common fisheries policy.
The sensible solution, of course, is to ensure that there is a deal in place before the end of this year, but the EU will seek to protect the fishing interests of its member states, so that will mean that those foreign fleets have access to our waters. Round and round it goes.
If there is no deal, the very important seafood fisheries will be denied access to their most important market: the EU. Given that those fisheries represent a substantial part of the employment in some smaller coastal communities, that is a very worrying prospect. It is not only bad news for them, though. Boats sailing from ports here will be denied access to waters that they currently access as part of the EU, including, as Luke Pollard mentioned, waters outwith the EU that we currently have agreements to fish in as a result of EU membership. It is a bourach, so it is, and it threatens jobs, income and the very survival of some communities.
Of course foreign boats will still have access to our waters, as the current Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster made clear when he was at DEFRA. Three years ago, Danish newspapers were reporting him telling representatives of the Danish fleet that they would have access, and, at about the same time, diplomats were telling the Iberian fleets that they would have access. I acknowledge that clause 17 appears to give the Scottish Government the right to control fishing in Scottish waters and the same rights to the Welsh and Northern Ireland Governments, but that is completely undermined by clause 12, which says that a
“foreign fishing boat must not enter British fishery limits” unless it has a licence, except if there is
“a purpose recognised by international law or by any international agreement or arrangement to which the United Kingdom is a party.”
That means that the devolved Administrations can work however they want to protect and enhance the marine environment and fish stocks. They can plan to protect coastal communities. They can look at ways of protecting jobs in the fishing industry and associated industries. They can put conditions on licences. They can limit fishing opportunities and they can limit catch and species. It means nothing—absolutely nothing—if the UK Government then sign a deal with another trading bloc or other states, which allow them access to our waters. It means nothing if those other fleets insist on their historical rights either, if UNCLOS is invoked and the UK is forced into the accommodation of other fleets, as referred to by Lord Hain. It does not matter how much the devolved Administrations want to do, they will not be able to prevent foreign fleets fishing in our waters, as they always have, licence or no licence.
Fergus Ewing told the Scottish Parliament Committee on
“I’m confident this Bill gives Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Parliament the necessary powers and tools to do that”— the preparation for the end of the transition period—
“in a way that respects devolution.”
Is the hon. Lady telling the House that she thinks Fergus Ewing was wrong in his assessment of the Bill?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows of course, with legislative consent motions, which is what the Cabinet Secretary was speaking about, a consent is needed, sought and approved only for the devolved areas. I will be speaking about other areas that are still reserved to this Parliament—for the moment anyway.
Let me return now to my speech. This also has a particular resonance here, because, as the reasoned amendment alludes to, we still have no idea what the agreement with the EU will look like and we still have no idea what the seascape will be in which the fishing businesses have to operate. There is still no clarity. That deal will not be good for fishing communities. They remember that a previous Tory Government sold them out in negotiations over Europe and now they fear that the new generation of Tories will do exactly the same. No deal would not be good for them either. It would remove their market at a stroke and open up our fishing grounds to foreign fleets without our actually having any agreed limitations in place.
There is no word on how the UK Government intend to police fishing. There is some talk of borrowing some vessels from the Navy, or of having the Navy undertake patrols, forgetting, of course, that the Navy’s surface fleet is completely overstretched and out of resources and that, frankly, nuclear submarines are not exactly the right approach to fishing infringements.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. She is being very, very generous. Whether that is wise is another matter. Regardless of the terms of the deal, or even if there is no deal, we will have to have a UK-wide framework Bill, which is what this is. She has heard the words of Fergus Ewing. Why, in view of what he says about the nature of this Bill and the co-operation of Scottish and UK Ministers, does she therefore now invite the House to decline to give it a Second Reading? Where is the sense of that for the fishermen in my constituency?
I have made it very clear that there are elements in this Bill that relate to issues that are still reserved, unfortunately, to this Parliament. I will address that later in my speech.
“You will have noted that I have recommended that we consent to the bill as introduced in full.”
So if what the hon. Lady is saying is correct, why does she disagree with the rural affairs Minister in the Scottish Parliament, who is a Minister in her own Government and is in her own party?
It is very interesting to hear the Scottish Tories being so protective of fishing communities. I only wish their current leader would go to make his apologies to Scotland’s farmers for the insults he offered them yesterday and the giant stooshie he created, which he will be some time recovering from. It does not matter how much the devolved Administrations want to do, they will not be able to prevent foreign fleets from fishing in our waters, as they always have, licence or no licence.
As we are talking about devolved powers, I wonder whether the hon. Lady shares my concern that we do not know the mechanism by which the quotas will be divvied up among the four nations, nor what the arbitration arrangements will be, but we also have the anomalous situation whereby the Government here will act as poacher and gamekeeper for the UK-wide consideration of fisheries and also for the English interests.
I absolutely agree. I think there are major concerns on this and the Bill does not provide any sort of genuine framework. It is full of unknowns. It is built on the shifting sands of a Trade Bill where we have no idea what the outcome will be. Should we just shrug our shoulders and crack on? The fact that this Government have had more than four years to come up with this Bill and this is what they have arrived at is a disgrace. [Interruption.] I am sorry, but Mr Carmichael is interrupting from a sedentary position.
We may be no longer contributing to the discussion on the common fisheries policy at the EU, but we will still, in effect, be subject to it or, even worse, getting the even less savoury end of the stick. Scotland’s fishing community is being sold out by the Tories once again: they were sold out as they went in and they are being sold out again as we leave the EU. Control of who can fish in Scotland’s waters will not be exercised by the Scottish Government, control over fishing in Wales will not belong to the Welsh and control over Northern Ireland’s fishing will not be decided in Stormont. Despite the bluff and bluster, that back door is wedged open.
There is a similar situation on the landing requirement, which was a creation of the amendment in the Lords—that only goes to show that it is not just the Government who do not get devolution. The landing requirement would be decided in Whitehall, after a brief consultation with the devolved Administrations—not an agreement with them, but a consultation. There is no scrutiny role for the legislators of the devolved Administrations, which are, after all, supposed to have a devolved competence in this area. The Scottish Parliament is being sidelined, as are the Senedd and Stormont.
Jack McConnell is the UK Government’s latest great champion in their futile campaign against Scottish independence, so it might be advisable for them to listen to him when he says, as he did in discussing this amendment, that he had
“some concerns about the constitutional principles relating to this amendment...I am concerned that the amendment simply talks about “consulting”
the devolved Governments—particularly the Scottish Government, who have clear legislative authority—rather than “agreeing”
with them a national landing requirement. I am interested in knowing the thinking on having a UK-wide national landing requirement imposed from the centre rather than agreed by consensus across the four nations”.—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 804, c. 270-71.]
I think that is code, from a former First Minister of Scotland, for, “It will never work.” So fishing devolved is fishing retained, and it does not end there. The right of foreign fleets to fish in Scottish waters will be determined more by the actions of the UK Government in entering into international agreements than it will be by the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament, as will be quotas and days at sea—or “fishing opportunities”, to use the jargon of the Bill. There is, in black and white, the preparation for the UK Government rendering our fishing communities subject to the CFP even after we have left the EU. Clause 24 allows the Secretary of State to determine the maximum quantity of seafish that may be caught by British fishing boats and the maximum number of days that they may spend at sea. That is qualified in subsection (2) as being exercisable in relation to satisfying
“an international obligation of the United Kingdom to determine the fishing opportunities of the United Kingdom.”
That is the CFP in a bilateral agreement. Again, the Secretary of State must consult, but does not have to reach agreement with the devolved Administrations. But those Administrations will be responsible for ensuring that the rules laid down by Whitehall are enforced—hardly a partnership of equals, is it?
In clause 38 more powers are reserved to Whitehall that would be more useful in the hands of the devolved Administrations, including provision about fisheries, aquaculture and other things, again sheltering under the umbrella of international obligations. There are powers to impose quotas, limit time at sea, mandate processing procedures, determine what gear can be used and how, decide how fisheries products can be marketed, impose regulations over landings, setting targets on marine stock and to monitor and enforce compliance with all those powers. That takes enforcement away from the devolved Administrations. Again, the requirement is only to consult, not to agree with the devolved Administrations.
I am confused. If the hon. Lady had her way, she would give control back to Brussels, including Ministers from many countries that do not even have a fishing industry and have other fish to fry.
The right hon. Gentleman will of course be aware that the Scottish National party Government are keen on rejoining the EU at some stage but of course reforming the CFP. The fact that we have decried the CFP for many years now is surely well known to the right hon. Gentleman, given his background. I am surprised that he is not aware of it.
Schedule 8 gives the Scottish Government the power to do the same thing in Scottish waters, but that does not allow the Scottish Government to dictate to England, Wales or Northern Ireland in the way that the English Government can dictate to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Likewise, clause 41 would in theory prevent the Secretary of State from making those regulations for the waters governed by the devolved Administrations—I am pleased to see the Secretary of State checking his Bill to confirm my point—if they relate to an area of devolved responsibility. We already know, though, that the argument will be that this is an international obligation, which is therefore reserved, and we know that this Government, frankly, have scant regard for the dividing line between their powers and the powers of the devolved Administrations.
So we will leave the EU; we will no longer have access to the markets that are so important to our seafood and fishing industries. Our fisheries producers organisations will no longer be recognised in the EU. We will not have control of our waters. Whitehall will be taking over some of the responsibilities and powers of the devolved Administrations. Landing requirements will be imposed from Whitehall, and the whole mess will be impossible to understand.
I have never been able to understand why anyone thought Brexit would bring benefits for fishing communities, but I now cannot comprehend how anyone thinks that there is anything other than disaster in this. I cannot support the Bill. It does not provide a framework for fisheries after Brexit. It does not protect our fishing communities. It does nothing to make things easier for those communities. It is an empty shell of a thing, and we should not be supporting it.
The matter of fisheries is still at the forefront of our negotiations with the EU. I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and our UK negotiators for holding firm against the unacceptable demands of the European Union for access to UK waters. All UK fishermen are looking forward to the end of the transition period with much optimism. My message is clear: do not surrender to the unacceptable demands of the European Union. It may be worth reminding them that they already have the mechanisms in place to adapt their collective fleet to their much-reduced resource. History has shown the impact of decommissioning on the United Kingdom fleet over the past 40 years, and it is time to redress that balance.
Turning to the Bill, it is essential that we have the management measures in place to ensure that UK waters are managed in a sustainable way for future generations. I have experience of fishing providing for my family for 25 years and can honestly say that every fisherman I know and have known throughout that time sees themselves as harvesters and not hunters. They put their lives at risk every day to bring this healthy source of protein to our plates. Some, like my late husband, paid the ultimate price.
Regarding our obligations under international law, I know the Secretary of State fully understands our commitment to the United Nations convention on the law of the sea and the UK fish stocks agreement with regard to sustainability and sharing access to the surplus catch with other nations. Adopting the best scientific stock assessments and ensuring that our processing industry has adequate supplies is really important. I believe the future is bright for so many other businesses connected to fisheries. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity could mean that our boatyards see a growth in new builds of fishing vessels that we have not seen for almost half a century.
No one I have spoken to, including the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations and the Scottish Fisheries Federation, is promoting an unmanaged free-for-all after
Turning to clause 18 on the national landing requirement, again, I fully understand the thinking behind that clause inserted in the other place. I can remember the effect of the famous Factortame case, which resulted in overturning the Merchant Shipping Act 1988. Introducing a national landing requirement would also remove the option for UK vessels to land their catch on to the most profitable nearby market in another nation and therefore deny the industry vital economic benefits. Clause 18 must be removed.
I now turn to clause 48 on remote electronic monitoring. If our Minister is able to introduce a management regime in a sensible way—a world-beating management regime—we could reduce discards without having remote electronic monitoring. I urge my hon. Friends to give priority to working collaboratively with all parties, including the fishing industry, to design a flexible and adaptive fisheries management plan for the future such that remote electronic monitoring is not required.
I have worked with so many south-west fishing friends over the years towards this historic moment: David and Alison Pessel; Paul Trebilcock and Jim Portus from the two producer organisations; the late Bill Hocking from Looe, who sadly passed away last year but deserves a tribute today for his decades fighting for the industry; my own brother-in-law Ian Murray and his colleagues in the Fishermen’s Mission; and some of my late husband’s colleagues, like Andy Giles, Jack Baker and Armand Toms and Ivor Toms, who keep me informed about what is happening both outside and inside the Eddystone.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and a good Cornishman, along with my hon. Friend the Minister, will use this Bill, which must be restored to its original well-thought-out form, so that British fishing is held up as a fine example of sustainability and conservation throughout the world.
Order. I will to try to get everybody in, but that does mean that after the next speaker, I will reduce the time limit to five minutes.
This Thursday is Merchant Navy Day, and in normal circumstances—if we can remember what they were—we would have been conducting a church service in my constituency, remembering not just the merchant fleet, but fishermen whose lives have been lost at sea. It is always a reminder, though we do not need to be reminded, of how dangerous fishing is. We particularly remember the 36 crew who went down with the Gaul on the night of 8 and
“the worst ever single-trawler tragedy”.
The boat had originally been the Ranger Castor and sailed from North Shields, and six of the men who lost their lives came from North Tyneside, so we know that fishing was, and fishing remains, a dangerous industry.
The Bill is a framework Bill: it will create a framework for the industry post the common fisheries policy. Some will describe it, I am sure, as a landmark Bill, and with or without a deal in the next few months, we need a framework going forward. As such, I would like to see a greater priority and a bigger mention for safety in the Bill. I can see only one fleeting reference to “health and safety” in the Bill, so I hope that as the Bill progresses, safety can be given a greater prominence and actually be on the face of the Bill.
The Bill rightly puts sustainability at the heart of our fishing policy going forward— the notion, put simply, that we never take more than can be replaced. To be fair, even the common fisheries policy recognised the importance of sustainability, but for its critics, it always seemed overcentralised and inflexible in its approach. We need to learn the best lessons from that, including in our fisheries management plan, which needs to be flexible and I hope will be at least regional. Actually, I hope that it will be as locally focused as possible, because only in that way will we recognise the different needs of different fisheries at any time.
There is a fairness issue that we also need to address in the Bill, and we have heard different views on it already in this debate—that is, the fair distribution of quota, particularly to under-10-metre boats. Currently, they receive around 6%. If that was increased by 1% or 2%, that would increase the quota for smaller boats by around a quarter. They are the backbone of many local fleets—North Shields in my constituency included—and they should be, in my view, at the heart of a sustainable approach.
A further pillar in the Bill is the desirability of landings in UK ports, which should accrue benefits to all parts of the UK. Again, I would like the Bill to go further and be more explicit. I do not think the Government would necessarily disagree with this as a principle: if fish are caught in UK waters, they ought to be landed in UK ports, because the Bill is about jobs, and important though the catching sector is, for every single job in the catching sector there are around nine jobs on land. The reality is that too many of our fishing ports struggle to survive. Ports such as North Shields require constant investment, and currently, for example, the protection jetty is being repaired using European fisheries fund money. It is unrealistic that the money needed for repair and regeneration will come from the industry or even from the ports, which are often struggling in these difficult times. If fishing is a national asset, fishing ports should be seen as part of the national infrastructure.
The Bill allows for the expansion of financial assistance schemes, but it is not clear from the Bill, or even from what the Minister has said today, what that will actually mean. The former Secretary of State told the House that fishing communities would be able to access the coastal communities fund, which was originally set up to regenerate resorts such as Whitley Bay in my constituency. I do not want to see competition between resorts and coastal fishing communities, both of which have needs and are highly deserving. I want the Minister who sums up the debate to confirm that the coastal communities fund idea has gone, particularly since the Minister in charge of it said that there is no guarantee that the fund will continue and it has not even been signed off by the Treasury for the next few years. Where will the investment that fishing communities need come from?
Let me finish on this point. North Shields is the biggest prawn port in England, with 95% of prawns landed sold in Europe. Those fishermen need a deal without tariffs and without delay. I have raised the prospect before of access to European markets closing even temporarily and fleets having to tie up. It has happened. It happened during the pandemic when the markets were closed, and I do not want to see that. We need a deal for fishermen. We also need a deal for the wider economy, and that will be very difficult. What we do not need is a deal bought by selling out the fishing industry in the way the Conservative Government did in the 1970s. There is not much time to get one, Minister.
“This island is made mainly of coal and surrounded by fish.”
It is not so well known that he went on to say:
“Only an organising genius”—
I think he used those words ironically—
“could produce a shortage of coal and fish at the same time.”
Of course, Nye Bevan never knew about the common fisheries policy and the destructive effect that it could have.
The coal industry is being consigned to the history books, but our departure from the EU will open a whole ocean of opportunities for UK fishermen. While one could, during the European referendum debate, debate the pros and cons of EU membership for many sectors, such as agriculture, no sane person could argue that the common fisheries policy has not been an unmitigated disaster. Deidre Brock said that no one could see the benefits of Brexit for fishermen—well, no one apart from every single fisherman I have ever spoken to. It is amazing that the SNP, while talking of independence, wants to consign the control of our fish stocks to the European Union once again.
It is often said that Ted Heath sold out the British fishing industry. It is not quite as simple as that, because at the point that we joined the European Union, the interest of most of the fishing industry, including boats from Hull and Grimsby, was in Icelandic waters. It was only after the seventh cod war—I think the first one was in 1898, when the steam trawler was introduced—that the Icelandics increased their limit from 3 miles, ultimately to 200 miles. The relative stability calculations were based on a British fishing industry that was in those distant waters around Iceland and the Faroes, which is why we got a bad deal at the start.
The problem is that at the same time that we were catching cod and haddock—the two most commonly eaten fish here; you can have them in either breadcrumbs or batter, and that is basically what the British people eat in terms of fish—foreign vessels were catching all those other species that are often on menus abroad but rarely on menus in the UK, such as the John Dory, the megrim, the saithe and the ling. We have tried time and again to get British people to eat those species, but no British person seems to want to eat a fish that looks you in the eye while you are eating it. That is one of the problems. We lost a vital source of that fish from Iceland, and we still import most of the fish we eat and export most of the fish we catch. We now have the opportunity to increase our share of quota over time. Just as importantly, as the right hon. Member for Tynemouth said, we need to secure a trade deal, so that lobsters caught off Scarborough and Whitby can be exported free of tariffs or impediments to France, Spain and so on.
Many wish that we could impose a strict 200-mile limit from day one, like Iceland did, and exclude foreign vessels at the beginning. That is not realistic for a number of reasons. The need for agreement on trade is one. Some of the foreign skippers bought quota fair and square from British skippers, and we need to treat them fairly. Most important, fish stocks do not respect our 200-mile exclusive economic zone. Relative stability has been replaced by zonal attachment, so the UK will, like Norway already does, have to agree the sustainable catch for each quota species and then divvy up between the EU and the independent coastal states such as the UK. Our share needs to increase progressively, by negotiation. We have a great Minister to do that, and great officials, such as Nigel Gooding CBE, who understand the complexity of the zones and species very well.
The Bill also underpins the sustainability of our seas. I mentioned the advent of the steam trawler. As vessels become more powerful and technically more advanced, it has never been more important to limit fishing to sustainable levels. If, as a farmer, I sent all my sheep to market, I would not be surprised if there were no newborn lambs the following year. We must make sure that we get the export markets, as several Members have said. On that point, I hope the Minister will say something about the nomadic scallop fleet. It is an internal issue, but every year we get nomadic scallopers off the coast of Yorkshire, destroying our crab and lobster beds, smashing up the fish and, more important, often towing away whole fleets of pots, which cost thousands of pounds.
The Bill is an important element of taking back control. I hope it reaches the statute book quickly, unsullied by any Lords amendments.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate. Members may be wondering why someone representing lovely but landlocked Luton North wants to talk about the Fisheries Bill, but the subject matters to us all, and many of my constituents have personally got in touch to share their valid and heartfelt concerns about the health of our oceans, the sustainability of our fishing industries and the quality of our supply chains. Whether they live by the sea or in an urban area, people care where their food comes from and they care about the people who provide it. As the transition period ends, concerns are rightly being raised about threats to our currently high welfare and safety standards in our food chains.
If we are to have a fishing industry in the future, the Bill should have environmental protections at its very heart. Smaller fishing fleets have been promised the earth by various Ministers, but still they are left wanting. The Bill offers a prime opportunity for the Government to rectify that, and I hope it will not be missed. The problem is not new. Over seven years ago, I joined campaigners and fishermen on Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise; back then, we were calling on the Government to redistribute the UK’s fishing quota to give a greater share to smaller, more sustainable UK under-10-metre fishing fleets. Seven years later, the Government have failed to take any action to distribute quotas more fairly.
On the Arctic Sunrise, one fisherman broke down in tears as he talked about how his livelihood, which had supported generations of his family, was no longer viable. He knew that when he hung up his nets for the last time, there would be no one to replace him. He described the quota system as being run by a cartel, and when the largest five quota holders control more than a third of the total UK fishing quota, with four owned by families on The Sunday Times rich list, we can understand why he and other fishers on under-10-metre fishing vessels feel that way.
Seven years after that campaign and that conversation with the fisherman, 50% of the English fishing quota is still held by foreign-owned companies. That is because the Government choose to give the lion’s share of the fishing quota to big foreign-owned companies, including the foreign-owned super-trawlers. That has a devastating impact on economies and the environment, and results in the loss of many historical fishing industries.
For many, fishing is not a hobby; it is a livelihood and, as we have heard, it is a dangerous one. Workers in the fishing industry risk their lives every day, and those on under-10-metre fishing vessels do so for very little reward. Last year alone, sadly, six fishers lost their lives. This Bill needs to recognise that fact and give adequate protections to those working in what has been described as one of the most dangerous occupations in this country.
With all that we know and all that we have heard, it is clear that there is a serious need to redraw fishing rights to give smaller vessels a bigger share of the quota, enabling them to spend more days at sea and catch more fish. The Government should not be waiting for this Bill or for Brexit. They could act now, if they chose to do so, and support environmentally friendly fishing methods, so that we have a UK fishing industry and enough fish in the seas to support a sustainable industry for generations to come.
I am very happy to be contributing to today’s debate because, as most hon. Members will know, Grimsby has a long and important historic and current link to fishing. It is a real pleasure to be able to speak here on behalf of the people of Grimsby. I believe that it is because of fishing that over 70% of people in Grimsby voted to leave the EU and, importantly, that historic numbers felt able to support this Government at the last election, to make sure that we leave the EU and get back our fishing waters. When I am out and about in Grimsby, the most commonly asked question I get is: “When are we going to get our fishing waters back, and are we going to get them back?” I say to my constituents: “Yes, absolutely.”
Grimsby’s association with the fishing industry goes back centuries, but the modern industry started in the 1800s. By 1900, 10% of all the fish eaten in the UK was landed in Grimsby. In the 1950s, Great Grimsby was the UK’s and the world’s premier port. What fishing brought to Grimsby was wealth, investment into the docks and a direct train link to London. That was the power of the fishing industry to us. Unfortunately, that industry has been taken away from us, first because of the cod wars with Iceland, which rendered us unable to fish in Icelandic waters, because Iceland wanted to be a sovereign fishing state, and secondly because of the impact of the common fisheries policy, which gave foreign trawlers more and more power to plunder our fishing waters.
My hon. Friend and I have met our local fishing representatives on a number of occasions. The point that comes over time and time again is the lack of fairness in the present arrangements. The other point that I think needs emphasising is that the EU’s attempts during the current negotiations to link trade to fishing quotas is totally unacceptable. Would she acknowledge that?
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. What the industry has been telling us for the last few years, and for the last few months that I have been working with him to ensure that we are listening to it, is that although we hear the EU talk about reciprocal arrangements, there is nothing reciprocal about the current arrangements. The fish that the EU catches in our waters is eight times the value of what we can catch in EU waters. We talk about the common fisheries policy following sustainability, but it does not. It does not do what we need it to do it all. To take a particular cod species, under the common fisheries policy we can currently catch 20% of the North sea saithe. If we had zonal attachment where the fish are actually in our waters, we could catch 75%, but at the moment our fishers have to steam away from our own fish. It is therefore absolutely vital that we are able to build on that.
The common fisheries policy, as we all know, is not fit for purpose. We need to make sure that we change it so that we are in control of what we want. The common fisheries policy is what really tore the heart out of Great Grimsby. For 40 years we have struggled to recover from that. The decline in the fishing industry in Grimsby is because we are not able to catch in the way that we want to or do what we want to ensure future sustainability. The reason for a decimated fishing industry in my town is not that we were not efficient in catching or because our customers did not want to buy fish from us.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and allowing me the opportunity to mention the great British fish and chip shop. I grew up enjoying delicious fish and chips from Jimmy and Jenny’s chippy in Scawby. I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that they fry a lot of British fish. Does she agree that across the House and across the country we can all help to support our fishing industry by being a part of her excellent campaign to encourage us all to eat more British fish?
I thank my hon. Friend. Yes, I heartily agree with her. We would like to process and fry more British fish, but unfortunately we are not able to catch it at the moment. I had a meeting with Seafood Grimsby and Humber a few weeks’ ago. It said that if every household in the UK had one extra portion of fish, it would bring in an additional £2 billion per annum for the Grimsby fish processing industry—and that is just to Grimsby. Think of the power of us being able to have more influence on how, when and where we catch our own fish in our own waters.
The decline in the fishing industry is something we really need to consider. Our constituents in Grimsby are looking for us to make a change. What happened with our fishing industry was caused by political events and decisions over which people in Grimsby had no power or say, and our industry was cut. After 40 years there is ongoing anger and resentment about that, but we can change it. We now have the ability to become an independent coastal state.
Today’s debate is the first step in this Parliament to making sure we are able to bring these decisions and accountability back home. The people of Grimsby are under no illusion that we will go back to the glory days of the 1950s, when they say you could walk from one side of the dock to the other on trawlers and not get your feet wet. What they are looking forward to is having a new modern fleet that they can welcome to the port. Our local trawler companies, with whom I have been speaking, have said that they have the men, they have the trawlers and they are ready to go from
Order. I am afraid the hon. Lady has used up her time. Just a reminder that the more interventions there are, the less time there is for others who want to get in. We are going to have to reduce the time limit fairly shortly. Interventions do prevent others from speaking. I call Rosie Duffield.
After a decade of austerity, coastal communities, like parts of my east Kent constituency, are in desperate need of investment, regeneration, better transport links and local jobs. Key to that regeneration, however, is our fishing industry, in particular smaller vessels such as those in Whitstable. They are often family-run firms that are the backbone of UK fishing and the heart of our coastal towns. Many, including the fishers in my community, feel all but abandoned and ignored by successive Governments as they prioritised the big commercial producers, especially when consulting on recent White Papers and during all pre-Brexit negotiations, discussions on quota and so on.
It is no secret that I fought very strongly for us to remain in the EU and that view was not entirely supported by the fishing community. I understand their concerns, in particular the problems caused by the common fisheries policy, as mentioned by the Secretary of State in his opening remarks. Our fishers simply need to be heard and listened to, as they are the absolute experts in their industry. In fact, in terms of data and knowledge, each fishing vessel is essentially a floating science laboratory in its own right.
Generations of families in Whitstable have been fishing waters in the North sea, but are increasingly worried about the future of their businesses and their livelihoods. During the covid-19 crisis, with many supermarkets shutting their fresh fish counters and it no longer being possible to export the 80% of fish that is usually exported, schemes such as “Fish Local”, launched by the Kent and Essex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority, have been launched to encourage people to buy locally-caught produce directly from suppliers. Our local oysters and whelks are famous, and one of the highlights of any trip to Whitstable is a visit to the harbour, and our fish sellers and restaurants. But we also rely heavily on our exports to Europe, and the supply to restaurants in France is essential to our local economy. Indeed, one of the many problems with Kent’s beleaguered “Operation Lorry Park” is that our fresh seafood, with its obviously limited shelf life, may be under serious threat when forced to sit in a giant tailback of heavy goods vehicles. The shambles of that scheme could have very damaging effects on our local fishing industry.
A passionate concern for so many in my constituency is our environment and the real climate crisis that is the responsibility of us all. Today—on our first day back in Parliament—activists are outside, reminding us that there really is no planet B. Our oceans, which cover 70% of the earth’s surface, are being overfished, and our very survival is dependent on the survival of our marine ecosystems. Sustainability has got to be at the heart of all of the legislation passed by this House.
Groups such as the Marine Conservation Society support Labour’s sustainability amendments, and there are detailed recommendations from Greener UK on how to tackle the climate emergency through ocean recovery that specifically relate to this Fisheries Bill, meaning that this is an important opportunity not only to cover the protection of our industry and future trade arrangements, but to bring about real environmental protections. In particular, Greener UK says that it supports the amendments that make environmental sustainability the prime objective of the Bill, as we currently fail 11 out of 15 indicators under the UK marine strategy. That just is not good enough. We need to make urgent changes now. It also points out that cod stocks have declined to critical levels and that there is woefully inadequate monitoring of the thousands of marine wildlife caught up in fishing gear in the UK each year.
The expert advice is there, the science is staring us all in the face, and people—especially young people—are rising up to protest about our lack of action on the climate emergency and the destruction of our planet. I urge the Government to listen, to heed the warnings, to support the Labour party’s calls to produce a net zero plan for the fishing sector and implement regional fishing rights to give smaller vessels a bigger share of the quota, and to use this Bill to stop further destruction of our planet before it is too late.
We are an island nation and our seas are integral to our history. Some individuals have told me time and again that fishing is a tiny part of UK GDP. What they failed, and continue to fail, to understand is that fishing and the fishing fleet are the beating heart of communities like mine.
As we move away from the disastrous common fisheries policy and embrace our first Fisheries Bill in 45 years, we can support ambitious new fisheries management plans that put the environment, data-led fish stock management and economic benefits for coastal communities at the centre of the legislation. In fact, it is rather ironic —on today of all days—when Parliament’s roads have been closed by Extinction Rebellion activists, that it is this Government who are delivering and creating the most environmentally friendly and sustainable Fisheries Bill that this country has ever seen. A healthy, managed fishery is the basis of a profitable fishing sector, which is particularly important in a mixed fishery like the one off the north Cornwall coast. Real-time data recording and a science-led approach not only means that fish are given the space to grow, from juvenile fish to adult fish, and are then able to breed and support sustainable stocks. A real-time data-driven approach has many much wider benefits for communities such as mine. Restaurants and pubs can take advantage of knowing what will be landed on any specific day and use that to adjust their menus.
I am pleased to see the introduction of fisheries management plans. No two fisheries are identical, and stocks on the North Cornwall coast are not identical to those caught on the south coast. A local approach is often required, and we can deliver that outside the common fisheries policy and the European Union. The Bill facilitates a move away from the European Union and respects our rights under the UN convention on the law of the sea to be an independent coastal state and decide who fishes our waters—a commitment made to the British people, and a commitment delivered.
I welcome the broadening of the grant-making scheme to support the industry, which will have to be helped to get back on its feet from after we entered the EU. Being able to tender quota locally will help ensure fishermen’s economic security at a time of much change. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shape our industry, which has been left out in the cold under the common fisheries policy, and I want to see that happen from day one.
Under the common fisheries policy, we saw the repulsive practice of electronic pulse fishing encouraged. That method of running an electric current through a pole on a seabed has single-handedly destroyed fragile marine environments and ecosystems. There are fisheries that are deserts because of that practice, and it needs to stop under this British Fisheries Bill. Furthermore, the introduction of marine protected areas will see a much wider array of seagrasses, which will help with our carbon reduction ambitions as a Government and meet our climate commitments.
There are, however, some points that I would like to raise with the Fisheries Minister. It is my belief that gill nets should be standardised to include pockets to let juvenile fish escape. Fish stocks have collapsed, and that has come about because juvenile fish have been caught up in these nets, and that practice should stop. While I am delighted to see angling recognised in the Bill, I call on the Department to allow recreational fishing in marine protected areas and to rethink this. Angling is not and has never been the reason for stock decline. I agree with the shadow Secretary of State on bluefin tuna fishing catch and release, which DEFRA should be considering. Such changes could create large economic benefits in coastal communities, and I ask DEFRA to look at that closely. I also plead with the Minister that, if there is a redistribution of quota or a distribution of extra quota, it is to the inshore fishing fleet.
In conclusion, a sustainable harvest is our objective outside the European Union’s disastrous common fisheries policy. This Bill goes above and beyond what I considered possible under our own fisheries Bill, and I am happy to give it my full support today on behalf of the residents of North Cornwall.
Moray is a constituency that has strong fishing links. Just last week, I was down at Buckie harbour speaking with fishermen from Moray and Banff and Buchan, the constituency represented by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who is here to listen to the debate. The sense of ambition and enthusiasm from those fishermen about the opportunities ahead for their industry was palpable. I hate to think what those fishermen must have thought tonight as they listened to the SNP spokesperson, Deidre Brock—a speech that was, sadly, insulting and condescending to an industry that means so much to Scotland. It is an industry that means so much to my constituency, the north-east of Scotland, the highlands and islands and every part.
That speech was not only insulting and condescending; it was also very confusing. Apparently we are supposed to believe that the SNP’s position is to separate Scotland from the rest of the UK, to take us back into the European Union to be governed by Brussels and then to reform the common fisheries policy—a policy that has not been reformed for decades and that has been to the detriment of Scottish and UK fishermen for the last 40 years. That is fanciful and is simply not a credible argument.
Despite my 10 or 12 attempts to intervene on the hon. Lady, she would not take an intervention, but if she had, I would have asked the SNP spokesperson on fishing why, if Fergus Ewing, the SNP Minister, is recommending legislative consent in the Scottish Parliament, SNP Members are opposing the Bill tonight. The hon. Lady said that it is because there are elements that the Scottish Government support that require an LCM, but the way the SNP plans to vote tonight, against the Bill’s Second Reading, would knock out all of those—the reserved areas and the areas where there is a requirement for an LCM, which the SNP wants to provide in the Scottish Parliament. The SNP Ministers are saying, “Accept this,” yet SNP representatives here do not agree with that. It is completely confusing.
The SNP often likes to quote representatives, policy advisers and debate briefings; I thought it would be useful to quote the briefing for this debate from the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, because it says: “The Fisheries Bill presents a once in a generation opportunity for the UK fishing industry to learn from the mistakes of the past.”
Why is the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation wrong but the SNP is right? Why are SNP Members going to troop through the Lobby tonight, against the advice of representative bodies and against the wishes of fishermen in Moray, in Banff and Buchan and in Angus? [Interruption.] Dave Doogan is laughing—he thinks this is funny. The SNP Front-Bench team are laughing. If they ever get their way, the future of Scottish fishermen will be back in Brussels rather than with the UK Government, who will deliver on our pledge. The Scottish Conservatives support Scottish fishermen. I do not think it is a laughing matter. If SNP Members really stood up for Scotland, they would not be voting the way they plan to tonight.
Only the SNP could take a sea of opportunity and turn it into an ocean of division. That is exactly what SNP Members plan tonight, because for the Scottish nationalists it is always Britain bad and Brussels good. That is not a message that I support, it is not a message that Scottish fishermen support, and it is not something that the Scottish National party should be putting forward tonight or at any point.
In this legislation there is an opportunity for the Scottish fishing fleet, for Scottish fishermen and for fishing communities. Many people I represent in Moray may no longer be active fishermen, but they have been in the past and are so passionate about their industry; or they may live in a coastal community that once thrived because of the fishing industry and want to see it returned. That can return with this legislation: we can revive our coastal communities because of this legislation, taking powers back from Brussels to here in the UK and devolving them to Scotland to ensure that our fishing industry can thrive once more. I want to see more young people in Moray choosing a career in going out to sea and in supporting the fishing industry. There has been an increase in boat building at Macduff Shipyards in Buckie because there is now renewed optimism. Because we are leaving the European Union, there is now an opportunity to take the industry forward, but not if we follow the path of the SNP.
SNP Members do not listen to this debate and speak among themselves, but I simply say to them that they have an opportunity tonight: they can vote en bloc as a Scottish National party—as Lobby fodder for Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP—or they can decide to stand up for fishing communities the length and breadth of the country. I hope that the whole party will reconsider its position, but just a few, or even just one SNP Member, should stand up for fishermen and vote with the Scottish Conservatives and the UK Government for this fishing Bill.
Well, here we are again. This is the sixth Parliament to which I have been elected: for the first four we had no fisheries Bill; for the fifth and sixth we have had one. The Bill is in essence the same as the one in my fifth Parliament. I agree with Luke Pollard, who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench, that the changes that have been made to this iteration of the Bill are welcome and should be supported. The Bill is welcome and I am delighted that across the House we now have this degree of interest in fisheries matters. It has not always been thus—it has often been the case that at the end of a year we have struggled to get 90 minutes for an annual fisheries debate—so I welcome the opportunity to give the issue the oxygen and scrutiny that it deserves.
As a consequence of the way in which fisheries has been dealt with over the years, we have been able to establish a fairly good, broad, consensual approach to the issue in the House. That has always been appreciated by the industry and worked to its benefit. In that regard, it is regrettable that the Scottish nationalists have tabled a reasoned amendment. I do not understand their reasoning. Given what their own fisheries Minister, Fergus Ewing, has said—to which I referred earlier—it defies reason as to why they would want the House to decline a Second Reading when he says that the Bill does what is necessary and respects the devolution settlement. Of course, this is a framework Bill, so it will be light on detail and we will always have to look to the later stages and to the secondary legislation to come. I hope that the same degree of interest will be taken in relation to that.
It is worth saying in parenthesis that the uncertainty that surrounds the fishing settlement would not be there if the Government had kept their original promise and put the fishing industry in the withdrawal agreement and not kept it in the political declaration. That was a significant strategic error for which we are now having to play catch-up. My plea on behalf of the industry tonight would be that we should all look to the best interests of the fishing industry and our fishing communities, rather than seeking to bring narrow party politics into it.
A lot has been said about the position of the under-10-metre fleet and the opportunities that will come as a consequence of the changes that are coming. There is some truth in that, of course, but we can give the inshore fleets across the United Kingdom all the quota they could possibly ask for and it will be of no use to them if they do not have the crew to put their boats to sea. In that regard, Sir Edward Leigh made a telling intervention on the Secretary of State asking for the issue of visas for non-EEA nationals to be taken care of. This is long overdue, and the Government really need to look at it. They do not need to wait for a deal at the end of the year; we have the powers to deal with this now, and the absence of any proper action in relation to it is becoming an ever greater problem for our inshore fleets.
I intervened on the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport who was speaking from the Opposition Front Bench on the question of safety and drew his attention to an incident that happened recently off Shetland, when a Spanish gill-netter that was actually registered in Germany—that tells a story in itself—behaved in such a way that it threatened the safety of the crew of the “Alison Kay”, a Shetland boat that was fishing in the same area. That is by no means unusual. It is the sort of thing that fishermen in my constituency have become accustomed to, and it has to be stopped. If this is a moment when the Maritime and Coastguard Agency can be given the powers to stop incidents of that sort, and to investigate and punish them, it is surely an opportunity that requires to be taken. I am afraid I do not see much on the face of the Bill that would allow that sort of change to be made, however, and I hope that the Minister will hear this and look kindly on any amendments when the Bill reaches its Committee stage.
The other thing about gill-netters is that they are one of the industry’s major contributors to plastic pollution. Leaving gill-nets lying on massive areas of seabed to be caught in the propellers of other fishing boats or merchant vessels and eventually to be washed up is an act of simple environmental folly. It is something that we have lived with for too long and we should live with it no longer.
Having seen the difficulties, unfairness and harm caused by the common fisheries policy, I believe that this opportunity to debate fisheries policy is welcome indeed. The fishermen and women I represent are looking for a tailor-made, world-leading system for fisheries management: a system that champions and protects our fishing heritage, creates a sustainable fleet and fishing industry and preserves fish stocks for generations to come. It is a complex task to transition from the common fisheries policy to our own policy, and I give credit to the Secretary of State, his team, his officials and the industry itself for the progress made so far. My fishermen and women say to me that a modern fisheries management model must be flexible and adaptable. Science, hand in hand with stakeholder-driven approaches, can deliver a healthy, vibrant, sustainable fishing sector for the ports I represent and across the UK as a whole, and lead to the coastal community revival to which the shadow Secretary of State referred.
The Lords amendment to clause 1 seeks to give precedent to environmental sustainability among the various elements of sustainability, but this could lead to the very opposite becoming the case. A better approach is to follow the findings of the DEFRA-supported UK-wide Future of our Inshore Fisheries initiative, which concluded that the future of inshore fisheries, and fishing and more broadly, should be determined through and delivered by co-management. The fishermen and women I know are not preoccupied with greater access to fish, prioritising economic gain and damage to the environment in order to maintain their fleet.
The fishing industry in the south-west has no interest in bankrupting the resources on which the next generation will depend. South-west fishermen have a track record of supporting restraint and caution in order to support the recovery of fish stocks over many years. South-west fishermen look for a policy that strikes a balance between the three pillars of sustainability: environmental, social and economic. As the Bill progresses, I cannot overstate the need to maintain a close working relationship with our fishing industry. The prize here is to include them in the management, design and decision-making process and to trust in the knowledge that they hold of the industry. If the Bill can enable a UK-owned UK fishing future, determined in harmony between Government, devolved Administrations and the fishermen and fisherwomen themselves then we really can create a sustainable and vibrant fishing sector for the UK that will help to revive our coastal communities and provide a future for fishing and also good nutritional food for all our tables.
Our oceans and seas are facing a devastating and diverse range of threats: overfishing, climate change, ocean acidification, dredging, plastic pollution and deep-sea mining. Modern slavery and human rights abuses are also all too prevalent in the industry. The Thai seafood sector is one such example. We need concerted global action on all those fronts, but I appreciate that it is not the purpose of this Bill to address them all. I was pleased, however, to see amendments passed in the other place, making sustainability a primary objective of the Bill and requiring remote electronic monitoring on all UK fishing vessels to ensure that they are adhering to standards and quotas. It was really disappointing earlier to hear the Secretary of State confirm that the Government will seek to overturn those changes in Committee.
I could say a lot about Brexit and the common fisheries policy and ignorance of how 55% of our quota is allocated to foreign vessels by the UK Government if I only had the time, but I will content myself with saying that theoretical legal freedoms over fishing rights are meaningless if we do not ensure that our fisheries are sustainable and that the fish stocks are actually there to fish. Fish stocks are a finite resource, yet fishing quotas are being set above scientifically recommended sustainable levels year on year. Estimates suggest that restoring fish populations would not only safeguard our marine life, but lead to £244 million a year for the industry and create more than 5,000 jobs. I support the Marine Conservation Society’s call for a legal requirement for all fish stocks to be fished at sustainable levels. The Minister will no doubt point to the fisheries management plans, but there is no requirement for a plan to be put in place even where the stocks are overfished.
As I have said, it was disappointing to hear the Secretary of State say that the remote electronic monitoring amendment will be overturned in Committee. Seabirds, porpoises, dolphins and whales are caught in fishing gear in UK waters in their thousands each year, but the true scale remains unknown because less than 1% of journeys conducted by UK fishing fleets are monitored. Just as we now have CCTV monitoring in all UK abattoirs, we need remote electronic monitoring of all UK fishing vessels to ensure that species are not mislabelled and that records of catches are legitimate.
Monitoring and enforcement are, of course, particularly important in our marine protected areas. The UK has called for the protection of at least 30% of the world’s oceans through the 30by30 initiative and there have been some flagship measures such as the Ascension Island marine reserve, which of course I welcome. However, those of us who have been in this place for quite a while will remember pledges to introduce an ecologically coherent network of 127 marine conservation zones and marine protected areas around the UK—work that was started by the previous Labour Government more than a decade ago and is still not complete. Indeed, there is every sign that the Government have no intention of completing it. As the Environmental Audit Committee, of which I was then a member as was the current DEFRA Minister in the Lords, said in its January 2019 report on sustainable seas, there is a risk of the existing MPAs becoming merely paper parks unless they are effectively managed and monitored, and that is simply not happening now.
The issue of supertrawlers has already been raised. Greenpeace estimates that, in 2019, supertrawlers spent nearly 3,000 hours fishing in UK marine protected areas. Shockingly, in the first six months of this year, the number of hours had already reached 5,590. After being contacted by more than 150 constituents about this, I wrote to the Secretary of State and I received a reply from the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Victoria Prentis, on
To conclude, I want to re-emphasise the need to embed sustainability as a core tenet of the Bill. Sustainable fisheries management is vital both for the long-term economic future of our fisheries and for maintaining biodiversity. However, as it stands, as both the Marine Conservation Society and Greenpeace have said, the Bill is full of legal loopholes and lacking in environmental safeguards. This is a real opportunity to make sure that we protect our marine environment and protect our fish stocks. I would urge the Government not to waste that opportunity.
It is a pleasure to be called to speak in this debate and to support this Bill, which will allow us to manage fisheries outside the common fisheries policy as an independent coastal state. For many people living in coastal communities in North West Norfolk, taking back control of our waters was an overarching reason for supporting Brexit. Now, as a country, for the first time in over 40 years we will control who can fish in our waters and the terms on which they do so.
I want to see us seizing the opportunities this freedom will bring, and getting the regulatory framework right is key to having a successful fishing industry in my constituency, across East Anglia and across the country, but I believe that the amendments passed in the other place to change the fisheries objectives in clause 1 remove the balanced approach that gave equal weight to environmental, social and economic considerations. Indeed, the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations has warned that these additions mean the Bill, as it stands, will create a more rigid system and one which is ultimately worse than the CFP. We in this House should heed those words and revert to the original proposals in the Bill that would help to deliver a sustainable and thriving fishing industry.
Taking the opportunities from leaving the CFP will require new investment, and that means regulatory certainty is needed for the industry. Last month, I met local firms Lynn Shellfish and John Lake Shellfish to talk about this Bill and the challenges and opportunities facing the sector. With a fishing fleet of about 70 vessels in King’s Lynn, Brancaster and along the coast, these businesses make an important contribution to the local economy, where we have one of the most productive fisheries in the country. However, they raised concerns about regulatory plans by the Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority for a new shrimp permit by-law. Under these proposals, there would be no limit to the number of permits that could be issued, nor any recognition of the historical track record. I have corresponded with my hon. Friend the Minister on these issues, and I ask that she scrutinise these issues seriously when they come to her formally, so we can deliver on our commitment to sustainable fisheries.
My fishermen are also concerned about the future of the Wash fishery order, which expires in 2022. Instead of seeking an extension, the regulator is proposing to make a new order, stating that, as a matter of policy, DEFRA is not considering any extensions to such orders. Again, I would be grateful to have a conversation with my hon. Friend the Minister to confirm the Government’s approach, and for her to encourage the regulator to take a more open approach with the industry and have a better dialogue than currently exists.
Like many hon. Members who have spoken in this House, I have had constituents contact me about supertrawlers. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State confirmed earlier that this Bill does provide the powers to license foreign vessels in UK waters and to tackle and ban supertrawlers as part of a sustainable approach.
Finally, on the theme of sustainability, one issue we must focus on as an independent coastal state is skills and bringing younger people into our industry. The Renaissance of East Anglian Fisheries group, on which my hon. Friend Peter Aldous has done so much brilliant work, has called for an apprenticeship scheme to replenish the high proportion of fishers who will be retiring over the next five to 10 years. This is a very welcome proposal, and one that I hope DEFRA will support and take forward.
In conclusion, this Bill provides us with the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the CFP and adopt a more flexible approach to managing our fisheries for the benefit of UK fishers.
Plaid Cymru has approached this Bill with three key criteria, the first of which is that any successor to the CFP must clearly deliver real benefits to Welsh fishing and to the sustainability of our marine habitats and coastal communities. Equally, the Bill should represent a vote of confidence in the future of our fishing industry, detailing practical regulation and ensuring accountable oversight. Also equally, it should place the UK’s four representative nations on a fair and mutual footing, with transparent mechanisms to arrive at quota allocations and a fair arbitration system. Those are not currently clear in this legislation. It is clear, despite some welcome efforts to empower Welsh devolution, which I hope will set a broader precedent, that this Bill currently falls short on those counts.
One key concern is that the Bill creates a leviathan of a loophole by failing to distinguish, in terms of fishery access, between British-registered vessels with British owners and those with foreign-based owners. For Wales, that is to continue the problems experienced at present; I understand that at best only 9% of the 83,000 tonnes of fish and shellfish caught in Welsh waters per annum are actually landed by Welsh vessels. Simply put, this Bill fails to ensure that the coastal communities of Wales would benefit from the harvest of our own waters in future. There is also very little substance here for the under-10 metre fleet, which comprises the greatest part, at some 95%, of the Welsh fishing fleet. That is why we would support an increase to the quota reserve available for fishing vessels of under-10 metres. That would improve the viability of small-scale fishing, be more sustainable and would drive economic returns by incentivising investment in smaller fishing ports. We have talked much about the need to ensure we have the crew, but we must ensure that it is worth investing in these ports, in order for us to be able to grow in the future.
Finally, the Bill ignores any discussion of successor funding to EU investment in our fishing and coastal communities, and how this would be handled by the Welsh Government. Without such changes, the Bill, in its current form, is a regulatory and economic lost opportunity, which fails to support Welsh fishing or our coastal communities in the way that, I am sure we would all agree, they deserve to aspire to. Furthermore, the Bill fails on the detail. Fishing is a dangerous industrial activity, yet measures to ensure safety on vessels are noticeably absent, and, despite outlining laudable objectives, there remains no duty on the fisheries authorities to deliver them. Coming from the village of Morfa Nefyn, whose port, Porth Dinllaen, has lost members of the fishing community in the past, this is something very close to my heart. I hope that with this legislation we will find the means of remedying this.
Finally, the Bill fails to account for the increasing variability of catches and, therefore, of income of fishing communities due to the migration of fish caused by factors including climate change. We run a risk of setting targets for ourselves if those targets will need to change to reflect difference in behaviours resulting from climate change in the future. Underpinning these flaws is this Government’s inability to resolve the UK’s constitutional question, which makes this place both the Parliament of England and of the UK. That has very real consequences for Welsh fishing, as this Bill would enshrine regulatory conflicts of interest in this place, against which Wales would have scant resources to defend the livelihoods of fishermen the length and breadth of the Welsh coast. That is why, although we support efforts to replace the CFP and of course welcome the further empowerment of the Welsh Government, we will be voting against the Bill, in order to encourage the Government to return with a better, more honest, more co-operative and more equitable framework for the future of Welsh fishing.
Before I begin, I wish to commend my hon. Friend Douglas Ross on an excellent speech, taking apart the SNP’s arguments for supporting its amendment. I also congratulate him on his recent election as the leader of the Scottish Conservative party. We saw tonight the determination and fight he will bring in taking our arguments to the Scottish people next May, when we intend to put him in Bute House as the First Minister of Scotland, replacing the current one, who has been long in that job.
What feels like a very long time ago, I was a junior staffer in the European Parliament. Part of my job was to attend the European Parliament Fisheries Council, where I saw time and again the views of our own MEPs, both SNP and Conservatives, representing our own fishermen overridden, outvoted and ignored by the combined votes of the Spanish and French. I worked on the deep seas fishing Bill through trialogue, a masterclass in European Union transparency and democracy: a closed meeting between representatives of the European Commission, the Council and the Parliament—no cameras, no public—where the finer points of EU law are thrashed out. Of course, the democratically elected arm of the EU is represented, but even then it can be represented by any MP, from any party, from any country and with any interest, and can be outvoted by the Commission and the Council. Even when the European Parliament did have a final say over fishing law, those fighting for the interests of the fishing industry routinely had the rug pulled out from under their feet, such as on the day in December 2015 when MEPs threw the industry into turmoil by voting to introduce immediately the demersal landing obligation, or discards, thanks in part to votes from the green group, in which of course SNP parliamentarians sat.
At the annual Fisheries Council in Brussels, agreements on the total allowable catches and quotas are agreed. Our Fisheries Ministers fought hard for British interests, but under the EU’s mantra of equal access to common resource—a concept only invented in 1970—on Britain joining the EEC, and bound by the common fisheries policy, their hands were tied.
This, for the past 40 years, is how fishing has been managed by the European Union. This is the system that the Scottish National party would have us sign back up to. European management of British fisheries has been undemocratic, untransparent and an unmitigated disaster for Scottish fishermen and our marine environment. In the north-east of Scotland, we cannot overstate the damage that the common fisheries policy and European management have done. The size of the Scottish fishing fleet has declined considerably since the 1970s, steadily falling year on year, particularly after British waters, which account for 14% of overall EU fisheries, became exploitable for Spanish and Portuguese vessels. Between 1992 and 2004, the Scottish demersal fishing fleet halved, from 800 to 400 boats.
Today, EU vessels fish six times as much in UK waters as UK vessels fish in EU waters, yet this is the system that the Scottish National party would have us sign back up to. Our fishing communities deserve better than to be traded away in European negotiations to secure concessions elsewhere, but this is the system that the Scottish National party would have us sign back up to. Tonight, this House has the chance to right these historic wrongs and deliver the Fisheries Bill that our communities and our fishing industry deserve.
The fishing industry, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations and even the Scottish Government welcome this Bill. It is a step forward, not only because it provides the framework for managing our fisheries as an independent coastal state, enabling the UK to control who comes into our waters through a new foreign vessel licensing regime, but because it establishes our UK-wide fisheries objectives, with a joint fisheries statement setting out policies to achieve these objectives. That will provide more transparency for our fisheries management policies than was ever seen under the common fisheries policy, with clarity and assurance for our industry.
But what do we see today from the Scottish National party, a party that is usually consistent in calling for clarity and assurance over Brexit? We see a shameful amendment that if passed would leave our fishing industry rudderless, without guidance or assurance about what post-Brexit fisheries management will look like. I think we owe it to our fishermen, who have suffered so much under the CFP, to give them that certainty and guidance on what a post-CFP world would look like.
The people of the north-east of Scotland are used to being let down by the Scottish National party, which is focused solely on central belt votes, but this Conservative Government will not let down the people of the north-east. We will not let down our fishing industry. We promised that we would give Great Britain and Northern Ireland its seat back at the table as an independent coastal state and we will. This Bill will deliver that, and I will be very proud to vote for it this evening.
There are high hopes riding on the Fisheries Bill. When communities such as Fleetwood voted to leave the European Union under the banner of “Take back control”, many were thinking about the fishing industry. However, “Take back control” was also shorthand for the regeneration of coastal communities, because for too long our coastal communities have suffered. Towns such as Fleetwood, which I am proud to represent, have lacked decent transport infrastructure and economic opportunities.
I want to see this Bill used as a launchpad for a coastal renaissance, with fishing playing a central part, because with 10 fishing industry jobs on land for every one at sea, that would directly lead to more jobs created in fish markets, processing and distribution. I was therefore pleased to see Labour’s “jobs in coastal communities” clause passed in the Lords, which would mean that two thirds of fish caught in UK waters would need to be landed in our ports. That would protect jobs at sea and create so many more on land, giving our coastal communities a real boost after they have been hit so hard by the covid-19 lockdown on top of years of austerity. Every extra £1 million of fish landed in UK ports creates up to 76 jobs in the wider economy. I hope that the Minister agrees that it makes common sense for fish caught in UK waters to be landed in UK ports, and that he will reconsider the Government’s position that clause 18 should be removed from the Bill.
The Bill establishes the legal framework for managing UK fisheries when we leave the EU’s common fisheries policy on
It is a source of deep frustration that, under this Government, we have seen UK fishing quota dominated by huge, often foreign-owned vessels that land their catch abroad. We need a real shift in favour of smaller vessels, which are the real backbone of the British fishing industry. In Britain, supertrawlers, big boats and larger fishing interests are pushing out smaller, more environmentally friendly vessels on which local communities and economies rely.
The Greenpeace investigation revealed that in the first six months of this year, supertrawlers spent 5,500 hours fishing in protected areas. Those areas are meant to safeguard vulnerable marine habitats; instead, those habitats are threatened by highly destructive industrial methods, including electronic pulse trawlers and trawlers that drag nets along the seabed. I hope that the Minister agrees that the Government really must act if they are to live up to their title of global ocean champion.
Fishers in under-10 metre boats represent 79% of the UK fishing fleet but still hold only 2% of the quota. The Government have always had the power to redistribute that quota, but so far they have failed. I hope that the Minister will rethink and keep clause 27 to require a minimum quota for new entrants to the sector whose boats are 10 metres or less.
Small boats are the backbone of the British fishing fleet, and they deserve the lion’s share of fish caught under a UK quota. I hope that as the Bill progresses, colleagues will work to seek opportunities to increase fishing and marine safety and invest in good new skilled jobs onshore and at sea. If, as I hope, we see a revival of fishing in the UK, it has to be one in which the Government take safety seriously and support the people who fish our seas and put food on the plates of our nation.
It is a pleasure to speak in support of the Bill as a representative of Brixham, Salcombe and Dartmouth, Brixham being the most valuable port in England and, of course, far superior to any Cornish port out there. Over the last nine months, I have had the privilege of engaging with representatives across the fishing sector, from Jim Portus to Beshlie Pool, the team of the Brixham Trawler Agents, and the harbourmasters of the three towns that I mentioned. Each of them has expressed their opinion on the Bill, each of them has been universally supportive of the Government’s proposals, and each of them has given me some suggestions for the development of this important sector that I would like to put to the Government for them to consider in the future.
I welcome the Bill, I welcome what the DEFRA Secretary has done, and I welcome the work that the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend Victoria Prentis, has done with Members across the House in listening to our concerns both before and during covid. She has been a huge support to the fishing sector, and I know that I speak for many in my constituency when I say how grateful they are to her and her team.
Members have already been drenched in facts and figures about the fishing sector and its relative decline, but the 29% decline in the fleet since 1996 and the 60% decline in fish landed in the United Kingdom since 1973 shows the adverse impact of our membership of the common fisheries policy. The Bill recognises the potential to rebuild those fleets, to increase the amount that we land across the United Kingdom, and to create new industry, whether through processing, boat building or other methods, to help our local and coastal communities.
I take some issue with what Luke Pollard said about the Government not offering support for the fishing sector. When I look at the seafood innovation fund, the maritime and fisheries fund, the covid fisheries fund, the fisheries response fund and the domestic seafood supply scheme, I see a Government who are supporting fishermen and helping them to grow in the years to come.
Over the covid crisis, we have seen markets withdraw from our fishing sector, unable to export to the far east or closer to home, but we have also seen the resilience and determination of our fishing sector to respond in new and innovative ways in order to supply its produce across the United Kingdom. The Government must learn from this and support those mechanisms. Some supermarkets closed down their wet counters, and fishermen and shell fishermen went to open up their own local delivery slots; we must look at how we can support those structures in the future. We must engage people with the fine British seafood on our coastline in the coming years. I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend Lia Nici said about supporting fine British seafood, and hope that we might start with every Government Department serving only British seafood.
I am sorry to return to the shadow Secretary of State, but I consider him to be wrong about clause 18. He talks about market access and ensuring that fishermen are only selling into British ports, but what we need to do is provide infrastructure spend on those ports so that they are the most attractive ports to European vessels as well as our own. My own constituency includes Brixham, which is, as I said, the most valuable fishing port in England, but with further investment, as the Prime Minister saw last year, it could double its revenue and put that money back into the local economy in an effective way that will secure the UK’s future fishing sector.
There is also the value and benefit of fleet improvements. Where we spend on infrastructure in our ports, we can help to grow our own fleet and rebuild our coastal communities—in places where we can retrofit our own vessels and create processing plants. All these things can come with such infrastructure; let us build our own vessels here. I am very pleased that the company Waterdance in my constituency has just taken possession of its brand new vessel, the “Georgina of Ladram”. With more vessels on the way, it has the potential to grow, and we should be supporting that.
My hon. Friend Mrs Murray so aptly made the point about fishing charities. We are extraordinarily lucky to have Seafarers UK and the Fishermen’s Mission here. The work that they have done throughout covid has been extraordinary, and we must ensure that we are listening to their recommendations about supplying and selling local produce in the United Kingdom. Finally, I have been very sad to hear that so many Members of the Opposition have not even opened the Bill and read the first page, which is completely directed towards sustainability. This is a good Bill and I look forward to voting for it.
Today is another important step as we take back control of UK fisheries. The Secretary of State has developed a unique understanding of the fishing industry, including that in Northern Ireland. I am confident that we can deliver a practical Bill, providing the flexibility needed to build and maintain sustainable fish stocks as well as an economically viable industry. This will provide a radical and welcome departure from the common fisheries policy.
We cannot allow ourselves to repeat the same mistakes of the past. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get it right. Sustainability objectives are central to the Bill, and that is right. Nevertheless, we must avoid a fisheries policy that prioritises one objective over every other objective, and which ties the Secretary of State’s hands in setting future total allowable catches or other policy decisions.
The Secretary of State is well aware of the dependence of the Northern Ireland fleet on nephrops. One challenge for the fishing industry in the Irish sea is dealing with unwanted catches of whiting. Much progress has been made, and I am delighted to say that an industry-led project designed to secure ways of minimising unwanted catches has received funding to continue. If progress was not being made, that funding would not have been approved. We cannot afford to have the hands of our industry mangled by rules that prescribe the closure of the sustainable and critical nephrop fishery, and artificial targets for whiting catches that are not met. Northern Ireland has proportionally the smallest sea area of any part of the United Kingdom. The resilience of the fishing industry there has been built on its ability to be nomadic, and I am glad that the Bill protects the rights of all UK fishermen to maintain equal access within all UK waters.
Marine protected areas and their designation are another important responsibility of the Secretary of State. Uniquely in the devolved context, the Secretary of State’s remit extends to the offshore waters of Northern Ireland. I would welcome devolution of that responsibility to bring us into line with the other devolved Administrations.
In the context of Brexit, a phrase I am continually reminded of by the local fishing industry representatives is, “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.” Progress has been made in negotiations about a future fisheries framework agreement. Therefore, this does have a bearing on how seafood is traded within the Northern Ireland protocol. I recognise that DEFRA officials are putting this issue under scrutiny to ensure that Northern Ireland’s fishermen are not penalised by the protocol.
Management of the UK fisheries is changing. Every part of the United Kingdom’s fishing industry has unique characteristics, none more so than Northern Ireland, so I would welcome confirmation from the Secretary of State and the Minister that the voice of Northern Ireland’s fishermen will have an equal place in any national discussions. Their voice must be heard. We will be supporting the Bill tonight and voting against the reckless amendment.
Leaving the EU is an opportunity not just to rewrite the rulebook but to create a totally new one. This is the first time in British history that we will have full control of our waters. The Fisheries Bill is a new venture into a more sustainable future full of opportunity, and in my constituency of Ynys Môn fishing and our oceans are central to our unique island community. Local archaeological evidence shows that our history with fishing goes back to prehistoric times. In current times, fishing vessels sail from many ports on the island, including Holyhead, Amlwch, Beaumaris and Cemaes Bay. Alongside long-established operations, I am thrilled to see a new generation of fishermen making a living from small independent boats such as the Boy James, which runs out of Amlwch. Local aquacultural businesses such as Menai Mussels use the island’s clean coastal waters to breed top-quality shellfish for global exports, and businesses such as Holyhead Shellfish supply local crab and lobster.
Our maritime heritage is still very much a way of life on Ynys Môn, and it is a way of life that we love to share with others. Sea fishing forms a major part of our tourist industry, and we have many charter fishing boats operating around the island, as well as bait shops supplying those fishing off the rocks in places such as Trearddur Bay and the Holyhead breakwater. However, the smaller vessels that are typical of Welsh fishing have been held back by the common fisheries policy that allowed larger vessels to control the waters further out from shore. EU vessels spend six hours in UK waters for every one hour a UK vessel spends in EU waters. It is clear that now we are leaving we will be able to take advantage of the huge opportunities that lie just off our coastline.
The Fisheries Bill is about creating a legal structure to facilitate opportunities for generations to come. The Bill carries many benefits for Wales. Equal access will be granted for all UK vessels to fish throughout UK waters. New powers will be granted to the devolved Administrations, and the fisheries administrations will publish a joint fisheries statement setting out how common objectives will be met. Importantly, this Government have learnt from the mistakes of the common fisheries policy, the chronically overcentralised and strict guidelines of which have diminished the ability of local institutions to manage fisheries in the way that they know best. Our new Bill allows flexibility with guidance to ensure effective and localised management.
It is important to remember that sustainability is not just an environmental concern. Although the environment is an important part of the term, there are two additional pillars: economic and social considerations. We must make sure that the management of fisheries provides a future for the economy of coastal communities, so many of which rely on this industry. Fishing can also be an important part of the social and cultural livelihood of those communities, where generation after generation have taken to the oceans. By prioritising sustainability and ensuring that our agreements with the devolved Governments are protected, we ensure that in instances where a local economy could be significantly harmed, we and they are able to take that into consideration and act in a way that balances the different components of sustainability, maximising the opportunities that this Bill can provide for coastal communities. This flexibility is crucial.
In conclusion, Madam Deputy Speaker, we must make sure that we do not repeat the mistakes of the common fisheries policies. We must learn and develop a better future for our fishing community and the next generation of fishers to come.
As the proud Member for a landlocked constituency in east Berkshire, I could perhaps be forgiven for sitting this one out were it not for the fact that the Bill is a key stepping stone on our emergence from the EU and takes back control of what is rightly and territorially British. By re-establishing the UK as an independent, autonomous and sovereign coastal state, it puts the pride back into our fishing fleet, reinvigorates our coastal communities, and puts sustainable fish stocks back on to our table.
Given that this is the first Bill of its kind since 1973, it is important that we get it right. There is a golden opportunity to put the interests of our fishermen first and to consider properly how we manage UK waters across all devolved nations. The Bill will protect our waters for future generations by preventing over-fishing, by relinquishing the nonsense of the EU common fisheries policy and by determining who can fish in our waters. Although it may vex some, taking back control will come as no surprise to those who read our 2019 manifesto, or to our hard-working fishermen, who have been ignored for far too long. By grasping new opportunities outside the EU but offering licences to foreign boats, this landmark legislation will allow us to decide who, when, where and how, thereby safeguarding UK jobs; and it will further cement the Union by offering equal opportunities to UK fishermen across all four zones of the UK.
There is a handful of issues that may require further consideration, and I urge the Minister to take note of them. One implied task is to prevent unlicensed vessels from plundering UK waters. Although the imposition of fines or impounding of assets will be a deterrent, enforcement action may also be needed. Back in the day, as a young Army captain, I was privileged to be involved with several fishery protection flights in the Falklands that used radar to excellent effect. Having identified unlicensed foreign vessels within territorial waters, our friends in the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force were then called upon to politely escort them off the premises. This may yet be a persuasive tactic in the northern hemisphere, too. Clarity will also be welcome about any new arrangement for managing British waters beyond the UK—around Gibraltar, Cyprus and the other overseas territories—and about the national landing requirement.
This important Bill fulfils another of the promises made to the British people at the last election. It will shape how our fisheries evolve in the next decade and beyond. Autonomy, self-determination and taking back control of our waters are sacrosanct. It is now time to reinvigorate our coastal communities, our jobs and our export markets after years of EU domination and inflexibility.
I am thankful for the opportunity to speak in this debate on an issue that is vital to many of my constituents. This is a Bill born of Brexit, and I, like many, am deeply concerned about Brexit. Even the best deal, which is largely unachievable by this Government, is still a bad deal. To be clear, there is no good deal on the horizon, and I have to tell anyone who thinks they can see one that it is a mirage. There shall be no Brexit bonus and there is little unity within this now isolated Union. Soon enough, there will be no Union at all, only its death rattle ringing in our ears. If I listen carefully, I can already hear it.
While we are still here, the Scottish National party’s MPs will continue to offer as much protection for our industries from shameful Tory ideology as we possibly can. That is why we tabled the reasoned amendment this evening. The fact is that we cannot ignore the threat of Brexit to trade, to labour and to the funding for our fisheries. We in the SNP will always put Scotland’s interests first. We will continue to ensure that we stand up for our fisheries and maintain having the finest produce not only to export but to consume. While we are in this place we will continue to stand up for Scotland’s fishing industry. For 50 years now the people of Scotland have seen Westminster Governments undercut, undervalue and talk down our fisheries: decades and decades of sell-outs. The ramifications of Brexit and the impact of such a ludicrous act of self-sabotage will be felt for a long time throughout these islands, no more so than in the fishing waters of Scotland and by none so severely as our fishermen. I can see that my friends from the north of Ireland may take issue with that statement, but I am just as confident that they will be in total agreement that Brexit will see this Union choke.
I am of course concerned about how the Bill may be felt in my constituency. Great towns such as Coatbridge and Bellshill may not be the first to come to mind when we are discussing fishing matters in Scotland or indeed the United Kingdom, but my constituency is home to many manufacturing, processing, packaging and distribution employers within the sector, and I am determined that they will not be left rudderless by the ineffectiveness of this Government. For example, the Scottish Shellfish Marketing Group in Bellshill has previously benefited from over £580,000 of assistance from the European maritime and fisheries fund, which allowed for monumental upgrades to factories and the development and purchase of revolutionary equipment. It cannot be denied that EU funding for my constituency has been a lifeline for the fishing sector in terms of sustaining local employment as well as increasing efficiency and productivity. This is not an industry that the UK Government can simply forget and hope it will be all right on the night. Fishermen across Scotland need certainty and reassurance, and they need to know that their renowned produce will continue to be premium in world markets. They need certainty and reassurance that their futures will be in safe administration, and it is apparent that that administration should lie, and will lie, with the Government in Scotland in an independent Scotland.
We saw recently with the Agriculture Bill that this Government and their Ministers are pretty ready, and it seems sometimes eager, to misinterpret their own Bills as they ram-raid them through this House. The monumentally catastrophic impacts that that will have on the people I represent and the people of Scotland as a whole are very clear. Poor-quality products will be allowed into our supply chain, putting our people’s health at risk. Ultimately, this Government passed up the chance to vote against that. I was worried then for our farmers and I am worried today for our fishermen. This Tory Government have failed, unsurprisingly so, to give any detail as to what will happen to our fishing industries when this doomed Brexit day does arrive. There is no deal, let alone any good deal. I, for one, will not stand idle when the economic consequences of this shameful Government—
It is a real joy and a privilege to be able to speak in this debate, because this is a historic moment that many people have been waiting a very long time to see. This is the moment when we take a very important step towards the UK once again having control over our own waters and the fish that are caught within them. Brexit gives us this opportunity to leave the EU common fisheries policy and to begin to undo the damage that it has caused to our fishing industry. I say “begin” because it is important that we manage expectations. Forty years of damage under the common fisheries policy is not going to be reversed overnight. We can take an important step in passing this Bill, but it will take many years to rebuild our fishing industry back to what it used to be.
For generations, fishermen in my constituency have often felt abandoned and left behind by politicians both here in Westminster and especially in Brussels. Many fishermen today are the sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters of those fishermen who felt let down and disregarded 40 years ago when the fishing industry, in their view, was sacrificed as a bargaining chip in the UK’s joining the Common Market. Across the board, the fishing industry has suffered heavily under the common fisheries policy, and the sense of betrayal by government runs very deep, but we have an opportunity, in passing this Bill and going forward, not only to rebuild our fishing industry but to rebuild their trust—and it is absolutely essential that we do that. For many people who voted in the referendum for us to leave the EU, how we deal with our fishing industry is the litmus test of how we deliver on Brexit. That is particularly true in many communities in Cornwall. I am pleased that the Government have stood firm in their negotiations with the EU. It is vital that we continue to do so. We cannot let our fishing industry down again. We must keep our word and we must build faith with it.
I know that the Secretary of State, as a fellow proud Cornishman, knows many of the fishing communities in Cornwall. Fishing is very much at the heart of so many of our communities right across our county. It is great to see that we have many young people coming into the industry again in Cornwall. It is so important, in passing the Bill, that we give them a clear message that they can have a good and prosperous future in the industry. That is why I welcome the Bill.
I would just like to briefly say to the Minister that it is welcome that recreational fishing is mentioned in the Bill. It is really important that we understand that fishing is not just about its commercial aspects. Many small coastal communities rely on tourism and recreational fishing, whether sea angling or charter boats, plays a very important part in that. I just ask that he makes sure that that is considered going forward.
I absolutely welcome the Bill. I believe it strikes the right balance of sustainability between the environmental, economic and social aspects that need to be in place going forward. I will finish by paying tribute to our fishing communities across our country. Fishing is still one of the most dangerous professions in our country and we should never underestimate the price they pay to deliver fish to our table.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. Ahead of today’s debate, like my hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy, I received hundreds of emails from my constituents in Jarrow asking me to support a ban on super trawlers and other destructive fishing vessels from UK marine protected areas—MPAs. These areas are designated to protect our precious biodiversity and we should do all we can to safeguard them.
As environmental campaigners such as Greenpeace have noted, the Bill in its current format misses the opportunity to ban industrial super trawlers from UK MPAs. MPAs exist to protect vulnerable ecosystems and marine life. They also benefit our local fishing communities as fish stocks are rejuvenated throughout our waters. It is therefore extremely concerning to read that an investigation by Greenpeace shows that fishing ships over 100 metres in length spent almost 3,000 hours fishing in UK MPAs in 2019. It has also been reported that super trawlers vastly increased their fishing in the UK’s MPAs during the covid-19 lockdown, while most of the UK’s smaller vessels were confined to port.
The Bill in its current format does not only contain a lack of detail regarding super trawlers and MPAs; it fails to include anything on how fishers will be assisted in cutting down on the use of harmful plastics or adopting the use of greener technologies, both at sea and during processing. There is also no statutory commitment for the sector to meet net-zero emissions. The Bill also fails to cover how the Government will stop foreign vessels undercutting UK boats on safety or employment standards. It is the case that most super trawlers land their fish in Denmark or other European countries. We need to ensure that the UK fishing quota is redistributed to smaller vessels away from super trawlers. That would mean more jobs in UK fishing communities and would make fishing more sustainable.
Alongside Greenpeace, many of my Jarrow constituents have called on me to do all I can to ensure that destructive super trawlers are banned from fishing in the UK’s MPAs. The ban would pave the way for a network of fully or highly protected MPAs to be off limits to all destructive industrial activities, covering at least 30% of the UK’s waters by 2030, bringing the UK in line with the international 30 by 30 target.
In conclusion, the Government have in fact called for the global community to increase protection of the world’s oceans to 30% by 2030. I hope that they will follow through on that commitment by supporting a ban on super trawlers fishing in marine protected areas.
I rise to speak in firm support of the Bill, which I was proud to sign off on during my time as Secretary of State. In these islands of ours, we have a proud history as a seafaring nation. Our relationship with the sea has shaped our history and culture and helped to make us the people we are today. Those who took to the seas in the past played a crucial role in making this country into one of the most powerful nations on earth, defending our shores for centuries, whether from the Armada in 1588 or from the Nazis during the grim struggles of the north Atlantic convoys.
As many have said today, our fishing fleet still does a difficult and dangerous job, putting their lives in peril on our stormy oceans. For nearly half a century, those fishermen have had a raw deal from the common fisheries policy. In so many respects, the CFP has been a disaster—economically, socially and environmentally. I see clauses 12 and 13 as a historic step forward in disapplying article 5 of the CFP and ending the automatic right of EU vessels to fish in our waters. For the first time in decades, those we elect in this country will determine who has access to UK fisheries and on what terms. Of course, as many have said, that does not mean a blanket exclusion of non-UK boats, but I think the Prime Minister was right to say that our target should be that “British fishing grounds” should “first and foremost” be “for British boats”. The new regulatory framework that we can now set up can achieve far better outcomes on the environment and sustainable fishing than the system it will replace.
Clause 1, unamended by the House of Lords, will ensure that environmental concerns and sustainable fisheries are at the heart of the Government’s approach. An “ecosystem approach” will help us to protect the seabed, conserve cetaceans and sea birds, and minimise impact on non-commercial fish species. Fisheries management plans have been added to the Bill in line with the Conservative manifesto commitment to a legal requirement for a plan to reach maximum sustainable yield for each stock.
Our fishing communities were betrayed when we entered the European Union and for 47 years, we have been powerless in this House to remedy that injustice. The Bill before us this evening will enable us to begin to right that wrong. The vote to leave the European Union means that we can finally take back control of our fishing waters and become an independent coastal state once again. This Bill, made possible by that brave Brexit vote, will allow us to give a far better deal to our coastal communities, and it will greatly strengthen our efforts to conserve our precious marine environment. I urge the House to back it this evening.
This Bill is exceptionally important for Scotland, and yet, not for the first time, a Scottish industry and its people find themselves subject to the rule of this place and the will of a Tory majority of MPs, which Scotland again rejected. We do still have some Tory MPs in Scotland, but as we saw with the Agriculture Bill and the Trade Bill, they vote with the Tory Whips rather than the people of Scotland, even if they find that impossible to defend afterwards, as Douglas Ross—who I see is no longer in his place—the latest in a line of new Scottish Tory leaders, found out to his cost yesterday.
While I am on that, I will be taking no lessons from the new leader of the Scottish Tories, the hon. Member for Moray, or his chief cheerleader, Andrew Bowie, when it comes to representing my constituents. They should remember that their constituents, like mine and those in every other constituency in Scotland, voted to remain in the EU.
I look forward to the scrutiny to which the Bill will be subject in Committee, but let me be very clear on one point: this is profoundly more important for Scotland than anywhere else on these islands, with 62% of UK waters in Scotland’s hands and 64% of the UK’s catch being landed in Scotland. In making that point, I pay tribute to the six Cornish MPs, four of whom have made contributions this evening, and in particular my colleagues on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Derek Thomas and Mrs Murray—very few in this Chamber speak with such passion and knowledge about fishing. I know that we have the same interest for our constituents; we just have a different ambition about how to get there. The same can be said of great ports such as Grimsby and Whitby, which have also been represented.
Let me be really clear on one thing. My colleagues in the SNP are being accused, despite never having said it, of being defenders of the common fisheries policy. We are no such thing. The SNP is no defender of the common fisheries policy, largely because it is indefensible in many respects. When Scotland re-enters the EU as an independent sovereign coastal state, we will be seeking to do so on our terms, as an independent country.
I read through the Bill, and I found myself asking, “What’s in it for the fleets operating out of Scotland, and in particular constituents in Angus?” I was challenged to represent the people of Angus—well, here it is. The catch in Angus, where, like the whole of Scotland, we voted to remain in the EU, is harvested by inshore fleets, predominantly fishing creels for crab and lobster. My constituents are unencumbered by foreign boats and need contend with neither quota nor tariff, as they access lucrative and very well-established markets in the EU for almost their entire customer base. I would like to thank the Minister for meeting me to discuss that priority for Angus fishermen.
The Brexit prospectus was very clear: foreign fleets are to be excluded from UK waters—simple. The Bill refers to that with details of the actions to be taken against infringement by errant skippers and owners and the nature of those penalties—all seemingly straightforward, except it is not straightforward, as complex international negotiations never are. They defy soundbite, which is problematic for a Government and Prime Minister whose stock-in-trade is soundbite.
In concluding, may I invite the Minister to advise my constituents what statecraft she and her ministerial colleagues will deploy to ensure that where EU boats are excluded in whole or in part, they do not take access to their markets with them when they are banished from UK waters? Can she also expand on the European maritime and fisheries fund? Scotland receives €108 million of the total UK quantum, and Ministers have been totally unclear about what will replace that.
This Bill is not only important for the UK fishing industry. It is also a statement of the repatriation of sovereign powers to the UK. We regain total control over our territorial waters. I speak for Hastings and Rye fishermen and many others around the UK when I say that the area within the UK’s 12-mile limit should be an exclusive zone in which fishing and access rights should be limited to UK fishing vessels only. That will ensure a better basis for future management of inshore fisheries, which is fundamental for Hastings and Rye fishing communities, who will benefit from thousands of tonnes of fish worth millions of pounds that are currently fished by other EU nations.
Although we have withdrawn from the London fisheries convention, clause 12 of the Bill does not make clear the 12-mile exclusive fishing zone within the British fisheries limit, and I stand up for Hastings and Rye fishermen who want clarity on that issue. They state that to issue licences to foreign vessels within the 12 miles of our shore would be a sell-out. The 12-mile limit is sacrosanct, and I would be grateful for clarity on that point.
The sustainable practices of small-scale fisheries of mainly under 10-metre boats cannot be marginalised or undervalued. Small boats, by their very nature, have less impact on the marine ecosystem than large boats, which often wreak considerable damage. Fishing must be about sustainability, but we cannot ignore the social and economic welfare that our local fisheries bring to local communities, fostering a sense of pride and encouraging tourism and hospitality businesses, for example. We must have a system that retains youth and supports family-based fishing enterprises in our coastal communities, and that is especially important when considering quotas.
Quota fairness is fundamental in fisheries management, with equitable opportunity for people who actually fish. Systems such as remote electronic monitoring that help conserve and monitor fish stocks and catches are arguably essential. Global trials of electronic monitoring show there is no doubt that this would incentivise better compliance and reduce discarding activity, but it is unpopular among fishermen, who have concerns about privacy, liability and cost. The costs to small-scale boats would be disproportionate, and fishing boats are living spaces as well as workplaces. Participation in electronic monitoring should be encouraged in large boats as a way of increasing public trust, more sustainable fishing and monitoring stock, rather than just compliance.
Fisheries management is challenging—needing to balance fishing capacity with sustainable fishing. This Bill promotes co-management of fisheries, and any electronic monitoring should be a constructive process based on the management of fisheries and addressing existing complexities. The British fishing industry has made clear its commitment to sustainable fishing post-Brexit. It is our duty to ensure that it has our support.
Although my constituency includes the waterfront of the River Mersey, we are not a fishing constituency, but the largest number of petitions from my constituents was against supertrawlers being allowed to fish in our marine protected areas. In Britain, supertrawlers, big boats and larger fishing interests are pushing out the smaller and more environmentally friendly vessels on which local communities and economies rely. A Greenpeace investigation has revealed that, in the first six months of 2020, supertrawlers spent over 5,000 hours fishing in protected areas. These areas are meant to safeguard vulnerable marine habitats. Instead, these habitats were threatened by highly destructive industrial fishing methods, including electric pulse trawlers and trawlers that drag nets along the seabed. If this Government are going to live up to their title of global ocean champion, they must act and act fast.
Under the common fisheries policy, EU fishing vessels landed more fish from UK waters than UK vessels landed from EU waters. Between 2012 and 2016, EU state vessels annually landed fish worth £575 million caught in UK waters compared with UK vessels landing only £96 million-worth of fish caught in the waters of other member states. As we prepare to leave the EU common fisheries policy, the UK has the opportunity to regulate our coastal waters, ban destructive industrial fishing from our MPAs and strengthen marine protection. These areas are not designated protection areas for nothing.
If we are to end overfishing and to create a sustainable fishing policy, we need to move away from the supertrawlers and large-scale fleets to smaller boats, because small boats are the backbone of the British fishing fleet and they deserve the lion’s share of fish caught under the UK quota. For every fish caught, the small-scale fleet creates more jobs than larger boats. Smaller boat owners have suffered huge financial uncertainty during covid-19. For many, the biggest part of their business is their boat, which still needs to be maintained, even if the business cannot operate. The Government need to commit resources to this industry, alongside coastal communities, to ensure not just their survival, but their growth.
Small fishers were unable to adapt to the upheavals caused by the covid-19 crisis as, throughout the lockdown period, their quota allocations for the fish they catch remained unchanged. If we are to develop a sustainable and environmentally beneficial fishing policy, we need to turn to the smaller fleets, which create local jobs, are less harmful to the marine environment and can ensure more fish are landed in the UK. That is why I am supporting clause 27, requiring a minimum quota for new entrants to the sector whose boats are 10 metres or under, plus clause 1(3) on the sustainability objective and clause 18 on the establishment of a national landing requirement to support small fishers and the coastal communities they serve by ensuring that a minimum percentage of fish caught by both domestic and foreign fishing vessels in UK waters are then landed at a UK port.
I want to stress how pleased I am that the Bill has been brought to the House for its Second Reading today. It will not only allow the United Kingdom again to become an independent coastal state but enable us to set a gold standard for protecting our seafood stocks. I am sure that, like me, many other Members will have had plenty of emails over the summer recess from concerned constituents regarding supertrawlers. I therefore hope that they will reassure their constituents, as I have done, with the fact that this Bill will provide the Government with the powers to protect British fish stocks while allowing our long-beleaguered fishing industry to thrive following the transition period. With climate change and conservation rightly becoming an increasing concern for the British public, I welcome the fact that the Bill will ensure that some of the richest seas in the world are not at risk of becoming empty, and that their biodiversity will be protected and strengthened.
The Bill is also of national importance because it will restore our position as an independent coastal state by replacing the outdated and highly damaging common fisheries policy. I do not represent a coastal constituency, but over the years many of my constituents have been dismayed at the way in which British fishermen have been disadvantaged by that policy. The Bill’s objective to end the automatic access of EU vessels to British waters is therefore most welcome. It will ensure that the previous injustices that saw our seas overfished by foreign trawlers are not repeated. As a result, the Bill will restore confidence in the British public that the British Government are once again in complete control of our maritime future. This will be hugely beneficial to the 12,000 fishermen who play such a vital role in our food supply chains.
As we embrace our new future outside the European Union, the United Kingdom must reassert its historic position as an outward-looking maritime nation once again. The Bill will inevitably allow this spirit to be recognised, and it will also ensure that in our waters, we will truly rule the waves once again.
I, too, pay tribute to all the fishermen who fish our waters, particularly those who fish off the beautiful cost of South Dorset. They are an integral part of our community, and a very valuable one, and we must fight to do all we can to retain them. I agree with the excellent point made by my hon. Friend Sally-Ann Hart that fishing within the 12-mile nautical limit should be for British boats. I, too, would be most grateful if the Minister could give some indication of whether that will be the case, when she or he sums up at the end of the debate—
I see a she there, but we do not know who is going to sum up the debate. That is why I added that disclaimer.
We all know that the fishing industry is totemic. Like all fishermen, those in South Dorset feel let down and neglected, as do many others in this country. Before I came here today, I spoke to Andy Alcock, a fisherman in Weymouth who runs three boats. He is secretary of the local Association of Weymouth and Portland Fishermen and Boat Owners. I asked him what his views were, and what he wanted me to say today. His views mirror mine. He says, “We want our waters back. That’s what you told us when we argued about leaving the EU, and that’s what we expect to get.” He says that 18% of all fish sold on the continent comes from within our 25-mile limit. He would rather that we caught that fish and sold it to them. Both he and I hope that Ministers will stand their ground during the negotiations with the EU and not allow fishing to become a bargaining chip.
At the beginning of this year, I reminded the Prime Minister of a question asked by my right hon. Friend Mr Paterson, who sadly is not with us at the moment. In December 2019, my right hon. Friend asked the Prime Minister:
“Will he guarantee that we will not make the mistake of the 1970s and allow the allocation of fishing resources to be a bargaining chip in the treaty negotiations? Will he guarantee that we will become a normal independent maritime nation and conduct negotiations on an annual basis for reciprocal deals to mutual advantage?”
The Prime Minister replied that we need
“to restore to this country the advantages of its spectacular marine wealth, and that is exactly what we will do, once we become an independent coastal state.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 444, c. 148.]
Nothing less than that will do.
The Bill provides for that and I welcome it. Of course I will support it tonight, but fears remain in the fishing industry that fishermen might still, at this late stage, be betrayed as negotiations reach a critical stage at the end of this year. I urge the Government to stand firm, whatever they do, and not to betray our fishermen or our country. We have fought so hard, and it would be a tragedy if we betrayed them on this issue.
I have a message for Mr Barnier: “Hands off our fish!” My wife, who speaks fluent French, texted me a short time ago, so if he is listening, I say, “Monsieur Barnier, laissez nos poissons!”
It is a pleasure to follow my neighbour, my hon. Friend Richard Drax, in this debate. I rise to speak in support of this Bill, because we can now look forward to becoming an independent coastal state. This Fisheries Bill gets us out of the EU common fisheries policy. A policy that has constrained and betrayed the fishermen of the United Kingdom for 40 years will finally be no more. The same, I am afraid, is true of the Fishery Limits Act 1976, which was passed by a Labour Government and which put the anchors down on our fleet of British boats in favour of EU-registered fishing vessels.
Our fishermen have looked on in despair for decades at this gross injustice, resulting in the number of working fishermen in the UK falling by 40% since the mid-1990s. It is the same despair that I and my hon. Friends from along the south coast experienced in October when the second largest trawler in the world, the Margiris, was trawling our coastline. This 465-foot floating fish factory dwarfs our own fishing vessels. It is capable of catching 250 tonnes of fish a day, in stark contrast to West Bay, in my constituency, which lands 250 tonnes a year.
This Bill removes the automatic fishing rights of foreign vessels and supertrawlers to our waters and it is this Conservative Government who will be able to return to our fishermen their fair quotas, which they rightly deserve, and should never allow these supertrawlers into UK waters again let alone into marine protected areas.
I should like to say in response to the SNP’s contribution a little earlier—forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker, but it all smelled a little bit fishy to me—that its reasoned amendment is a damp squid! Why? It is quite simple and straightforward. Not only do more than 92% of the fishermen in Scotland believe that we should leave the EU and want to be out of the common fisheries policy, but where is that second largest trawler in the world right now? It is off the coast of Scotland, due east of Aberdeen, trawling thousands of tonnes of fish from Scottish seas and from its fishermen. I regret to say that the SNP is out of touch with the fishing community and I am afraid that, on this point, it is like a fish out of water when it comes to this Bill.
In recent months, the coronavirus has demonstrated the strength of local producers to step up and feed local communities when it was needed the most, and no more so than in West Dorset, but people are demanding more. They want to know where their food and their fish are coming from. Leaving the common fisheries policy will enable our island nation to put more fish on British tables. It is good for our health, good for our economy and good for coastal fishing towns.
In coastal constituencies such as mine in West Dorset and that of my hon. Friend Richard Drax, the small fishing communities of Lyme Regis and West Bay, home to just 24 fishing vessels, will greatly benefit from this Bill. It will restore to them and to our fishing communities around the country not only the prosperity of times past but even more in the future: hook, line and sinker.
It is always a pleasure to follow Chris Loder. I thank him for the fishy puns that he threw in. There were three of them altogether, and he probably had a few more that he did not get a chance to say.
As the representative of a fishing village who takes his place in this House, I am happy to say that I have liaised with the fishing representatives of both Portavogie in my constituency and Kilkeel in South Down. I am content that I am speaking for them both and subsequently for fishing in Northern Ireland—for the Northern Ireland Fish Producers Organisation and the Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation.
With this Bill, we will free ourselves of EU bureaucracy. We will have a chance to fish in our waters, catch the fish that belong to us in our waters, land them at our ports and create the jobs. So if people want to know what the Bill is going to do for us, that is it. It is all plus, and we should look on the plus side.
It is clear that the Bill may not have all the perfections that it should have. We all know that a Bill will never be able to satisfy everybody, but I am content that the Bill contains all the principles that are needed, and while it is not everything that the fishermen would desire, it is acceptable. The Bill is workable, fair and fit for purpose. The purpose of the amendments to any Bill is to correct or improve it or to add value to what it offers. It is my opinion after careful consideration that the Bill is not improved by the Lords amendments, which will be discussed in Committee of course. Indeed, the argument has been well put to me that they detract from the purpose of the Bill to bring sustainable fishing back home. The House will have to decide whether it prioritises virtue signalling over truly effective sustainable fisheries management. I believe that the Bill retains the power within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the fishing sector must be core, as was said earlier, to delivering truly effective sustainable fisheries management.
Of the eight objectives included in the Fisheries Bill, five relate to fishing sustainably. That is fine. Without a functioning ecosystem and policies that limit fishing to safe levels, there will be no fishing industry. That is why I believe that the Lords amendments detract from what the Bill should do. I also believe that the evidence that some of those in the other place referred to in proposing their amendments, which will be discussed in Committee, used cherry-picked evidence. The risk that that presents cannot be overstated.
There has been chronic concern in the industry surrounding UK flagged vessels with non-UK beneficial owners catching fish in UK waters and landing them abroad. This provides little economic benefit for the UK and makes it more difficult for the UK authorities to verify that illegal, unregulated or unreported fishing is not taking place, as they cannot conduct physical landing checks.
There has been a call for remote electronic monitoring. Yet again, this appears to be another instance of an attempt to turn the Bill from a fisheries management tool into an enabler of environmental agendas. I am a proud environmentalist; I believe that we must be good stewards of the land and sea that we have been granted, and that we can be environmentalists and realists at the same time. It is not a contradiction. It can be done. A study suggested that a remote electronic monitoring regime would cost £5 million. That would pale into insignificance; the real cost would be about £60 million.
I want to make a quick plea to the Minister in the last few seconds in relation to non-EEC crews. It is so important that we have them in place. I ask the Minister again to give that consideration in Committee. He should also look at how seafood transits from Northern Ireland through Great Britain on its way to continental Europe.
We are happy that the Bill is coming through the House. My party will be fully supporting the Bill and we hope that in Committee we will have a chance to have an input and make some further changes that could help us.
I was on the Bill Committee for the last Fisheries Bill, which left Committee in December 2018, went off into orbit and was never seen again. This Bill, which is a variation of its predecessor, is in a better shape, but there are issues that need to be addressed if the Bill and the policies that it spawns are to revive the Lowestoft and East Anglian fishing industry, a blueprint for which was provided in the report by REAF—Renaissance of East Anglian Fisheries—of October 2019.
It is good news that the Government have commissioned both a project on the future of inshore fisheries and a study on low-impact vessels, which the New Economics Foundation is carrying out. However, it is concerning and disappointing that no East Anglian representative is on the project board for the former and that a workshop for the latter has not yet taken place in the region.
It is important that the benefits of the new UK fishing policy accrue to local communities. As I mentioned earlier, it is concerning that the economic link remains under review after three years. I accept that this is a complex subject, but the issue cannot remain in the long grass. Powerful companies may well be resistant to change, but with our departure from the EU, the status quo will become even more unacceptable. This criterion must be reviewed.
If we are to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reset our fishing policy, we must recognise the need to invest in infrastructure right along the supply chain, from the net to the plate, as my hon. Friend Anthony Mangnall articulated so well. Eventually, we will have the answer the question of who owns UK fisheries. The Blue Marine Foundation takes the view that ownership has been squatted, not by those in need but by a combination of high-net-worth individuals and non-UK interests. It is good news that the Government are consulting on the distribution of additional quota, but time is running out for decisions before
My final point is about the need for the new UK fishing policy to be truly sustainable. Very simply, we will have failed if supertrawlers continue to fish in UK waters and if practices such as electric pulse fishing are allowed to continue.
In conclusion, I believe we are moving in the right direction, though we are not there yet. Post Brexit, fishing must be different. Benefits must accrue to local people and local communities, and we must ensure that we do not just carry on with the same old system in a new set of clothes.
I am another of those who hesitated before rising, because I represent a landlocked constituency. However, I wish to make two brief points, both environmental in nature, which is something that matters a great deal to us all—I know it matters to my constituents. I am a member of the Marine Conservation Society and I am a diver. The health of the ocean matters a great deal to me, and I would like to focus on a couple of those points today.
A moment ago, my hon. Friend Chris Loder made a remark about the Margiris, the highly controversial supertrawler. He made a good point because he graphically illustrated how the UK Government have been unable to take the steps that other Governments around the world have to exclude that vessel and vessels like it. This Bill will enable us to do so, because it will end the automatic right of access and require any vessel coming in not only to have a licence but to comply with British standards, including environmental and sustainability standards.
That is critical, because over the years the CFP has presided over an ecological calamity, as well as the destruction of fishing villages and communities all around the coast. That is because it has allowed chronic over-fishing, putting pressure on cod stocks in particular, despite all the scientific evidence that has been present throughout most of this period. For example, last year the total quota for North sea cod was set 25% higher than the scientific advice, despite the stock being put back on a critical warning that it is on the brink of collapse. The CFP was intended to rule that out, but it has not done so—in fact, it has exacerbated the problem by allowing more fishing fleets to exploit the fish stocks in British waters.
Something that has not been raised much in this debate, although I am sure the Minister will touch on it in closing—I will be grateful if she does—is the other elements of the Bill that are helpful from an environmental perspective. In enabling us to control our own waters, it goes much further than simply banning unlicensed vessels, vital though that is. There is a climate change objective that introduces the concept of fisheries management plans to fish at sustainable limits for all stocks. There are improvements to the ecosystem-based approach, so that, as I understand it, fisheries management will recognise the full array of interactions within an ecosystem. It will enable marine conservation powers to regulate fishing for the purpose of protecting the marine environment, and powers to provide financial assistance for schemes in the fish and aquaculture industries for the purpose, among others, of improving the marine and aquatic environment. This is the third great reforming Bill produced by DEFRA—the other two are the Environment Bill and the Agriculture Bill—that includes the worthwhile and welcome policy of providing public money for public goods.
My second point is that all the arguments we have been making about increasing opportunities for our domestic fishing industries do not count for as much as they would if we could persuade people in Britain to eat more of the fish that are found around our coast. We have 8,500 species around our coast; 150 species of British fish are caught, but only about five are regularly eaten in the UK. We could do a great deal more to diversify what is put on our plates, and that would help not only our industries but the environment as well.
This is the moment that Leigh-on-Sea fishermen have been waiting for. This is the moment that their Member of Parliament has been waiting for—a real, tangible benefit from leaving the European Union: taking back control of our own waters. I particularly praise the Secretary of State—I am flattered that he has come into the Chamber to listen to my speech—for the parts of the Bill that deal with sustainability and protecting the marine environment. It is well known that Leigh fishermen catch the finest fish in the world—it is another reason why Southend should become a city—and they feel very sore that, for too long, small under-10-metre fishing vessels have been so badly treated. I am glad that the Bill will address that.
I want to raise a few local points with the Secretary of State and the excellent Minister who will wind up the debate, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend Victoria Prentis. Councillor Paul Gilson, who happens to be the chairman of Leigh town council, believes that a management team for each fishery area would be valuable, as the industry and fish in many locations are area-specific. Leigh-on-Sea fishermen have recently had to cope with illegal harvesting of shellfish—Southend’s coastline has suffered nightmarishly from this—and local feeling is that a taskforce to tackle illegal fish and shellfish harvesting, with powers to cross-warrant, would control the problem more carefully and effectively, combined with an active fishery protection force.
We also believe that, to improve the sustainability and continue the economic growth of the industry for future generations, more independent scientific surveys are needed. If surveys are undertaken by multinational logistics companies that have a personal industry in the ports and fishing industry, such as DP World, which is silting up the River Thames and causing some distress in the area I represent, they may not be as reliable or accurate as other ways of collecting data.
As many hon. Members throughout the debate have said, there really does need to be a change in the quota system. It is disgraceful the way that boats under 10 metres have been treated. We need to rectify these previous inequalities by changing the quota system and the category vessels that fall into that section.
The coronavirus pandemic has been a nightmare for everyone, but I am delighted that Southend fishermen have been promoting local fish for local people. It has been a great success, with local fishermen landing their catches at their local ports and selling to local communities directly through social media and general advertising. They have done extremely well.
In conclusion, this really is an excellent Bill. It will still allow foreign vessels in UK waters, subject to UK law and licences. We must ensure that we do not reduce our opportunities on a global scale. Leaving the European Union will of course give us more freedom in many aspects of life and business, an important one being the control of our fisheries and water, but if we allow foreign vessels to fish in our waters, we need access to theirs, with equal opportunities. European Union customers are dependent on fish caught in British waters. We need to maintain the competitiveness of our waters, as our fishing is worth between £6 billion and £8 billion.
It is a pleasure to speak on the Bill tonight. As we return to being an independent coastal state, I hope that the Bill will encourage more fishermen to take to the beautiful waters off the North Devon coast. Our small fishing fleet know our North Devon waters like no one else. For generations, the fishing families of Ilfracombe, Combe Martin and Lynmouth have acted as the stewards of our seas. It is vital that we manage our waters. The coast of my constituency is different from other parts of the UK. The Bill hands back the control we need, which can help all our fishermen.
The Bill gives the UK back control of our waters and enshrines our manifesto commitment to sustainable fishing. North Devon is home to the first UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and the commitment to sustainability is paramount to its future, as well as protecting the marine environment. I, and the fishing community of North Devon, want to keep our seas healthy and teeming with life. The Bill, without its amendments, provides us with the legal framework to keep it that way.
As I support the Bill tonight, I would like to take the opportunity to thank our fishermen, who risk their lives to keep fish on our plates. As the Bill progresses and EU negotiations proceed, I hope all involved will hear us when we “cry to Thee for those in peril on the sea.”
It is always a privilege to follow my hon. Friend Selaine Saxby. I do not have the same local points as she does with her fishing community—North West Durham is sadly landlocked, despite my attempts at expansion in the future—but I do have some local concerns. We have the Golden Fish Inn down at Delves Lane in Consett, Dave’s Fish and Chip Shop in Moorside and Craven’s in Wolsingham, among many others, who all sell our fine local produce from across the UK.
I am very glad to see, finally, that the Opposition Front Bench seems to have abandoned their leader’s previous policy of a second referendum, although I must agree with my hon. Friend Mrs Murray. I was quite worried about some of the suggestions made by the Opposition Front Bench spokesman: perhaps if they were in charge, there would be some form of negotiations on our fishing going on at this time.
I would just like to make two very brief points. First, my constituents voted for control of our borders. That includes our maritime borders as well. I am very glad to see that the Bill will do exactly that. Secondly, they voted for more control of our economy, including the environmental and regulatory parts of it. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House raised the issue of supertrawlers, about which there is widespread concern. I am glad the regulations will be for the UK Government to decide. I would like to see a little bit more leg from the Secretary of State and the Minister, if at all possible, on that.
Finally, the Bill also speaks to jobs in the UK, which is exactly what we want to see. This is about not only getting control, but being able to focus on what Britain does best. This is one of the proudest moments. I welcome this aspect of the Bill, which is focusing back on the UK what we do best. We have been a seafaring power for many years and over some decades our fishing industry has been in decline. I hope that this Bill marks a turning point in that.
It is a pleasure to close the debate for the Opposition tonight. From 2021, the UK will become an independent coastal state and for the first time in 45 years we will have control over who fishes in our waters and how much they can catch. We can use this historic moment to our advantage to combat the decline in wages and job opportunities faced by coastal communities and to create a sustainable UK fishing regime where the marine environment is protected and every effort is made to replenish our declining fish stocks. The Bill will impact not only the health of our seas, but our seaside towns, fishers and industry.
In today’s debate, three issues have come up time and again: the impact of covid-19 on our coastal communities, ports and smaller boats; the need to support our struggling fishers and those who live in seaside towns and villages by giving them a fairer share of fishing opportunities and landing catches in UK ports; and the importance of putting sustainability at the heart of future fisheries management. We have heard many passionate speeches from across the House this evening. My hon. Friend Cat Smith referred to the jobs and coastal communities amendment. She rightly highlighted that, in the fishing industry, 10 jobs are created on land for every one at sea. If the Government are serious about levelling up parts of the UK that have been left behind, they should support Labour’s call to land more UK fish caught in UK waters in UK ports.
My hon. Friend Sarah Owen said that
“people care where their food comes from and they care about the people who provide it.”
She is right and she rightly spoke passionately about support for smaller fishers and outlined the simple fact that the Government have always been able to have the power to redistribute UK fishing quotas. As has been discussed in the debate, one of the Bill’s main aims is to ensure a level playing field between UK and foreign boats. Surely that principle of fairness should extend to our own fleet. Small fishers are the backbone of local communities. They deserve the lion’s share of any additional quota that comes out of negotiations with the EU, as Sir David Amess touched on.
My hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy spoke of the sustainability objective that was passed in the Lords, and I share her disappointment that the Government intend to remove that amendment, along with the three other amendments won in the other place. Labour Members believe that this objective is a big step forward to creating a more sustainable fishing regime and that fisheries management plans must be legally binding if they are to be effective.
The Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State rightly paid tribute to the six fishers who lost their lives in 2019. Commercial fishing remains the most dangerous peacetime occupation in the UK. My right hon. Friend Sir Alan Campbell spoke about that and he highlighted that this Thursday will see Merchant Navy Day take place. The hon. Members for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) and for Waveney (Peter Aldous) pointed out that recreational fishing deserves recognition for its contribution not only to our national economy, but to smaller ports and communities. The covid-19 pandemic hit this sector hard, as lockdown regulations and social distancing measures made trips economically unviable, and it is so important that the industry gets the support it needs to get back on its feet.
Independently produced, peer-reviewed science must form the basis of all fisheries management decisions. My hon. Friend Rosie Duffield referred to each boat as a floating laboratory and she is absolutely right to describe how a lack of data on the state of fish stocks cripples our ability to make informed decisions and set fishing quotas at sustainable levels. Overfishing directly impacts the future viability of our fishing industry, and Scott Mann, along with other Members, was right to call for an end to electronic pulse fishing.
Mr Goodwill, a former Fisheries Minister, spoke with great expertise on this subject. Fish stocks do not respect the 200 nautical mile zone, so, as has been stated, Labour welcomes zonal attachment. In what I thought was a thoughtful speech, the right hon. Gentleman quoted the great Nye Bevan, acknowledging:
“Only an organising genius could produce a shortage of coal and fish at the same time.”
What an irony that the last majority Conservative Government destroyed our coal industry. We believe that we must ensure that our fishing industry does not suffer the same fate.
Lia Nici spoke passionately about the importance of fishing to her local economy. I was pleased to visit the Grimsby docks earlier this year, and I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to her predecessor, who fought hard for the Grimsby fishers during her time in this place.
My hon. Friend Kate Osborne made important arguments about the need to reduce plastic waste and for a commitment to reach net zero, which is clearly an oversight in the Bill and something that we hope to address in Committee. She, alongside my hon. Friend Kim Johnson and many others, spoke about the operation of supertrawlers in marine protected areas, and a ban was called for by Members across the House.
I agree with Mr Carmichael that not enough time has been given in this or other Parliaments to discuss our fishing industry. I share his concerns that the delay in bringing forward the Bill caused huge uncertainty for our fishing fleets.
James Wild spoke about the need to encourage young people to enter the UK fishing industry as a career. Labour believes in investment in skills, along with apprenticeships, and we will table an amendment in Committee that we hope the Government will support.
Labour calls on the Government to support smaller fishers and coastal communities, who have struggled to make a living, especially in the last 10 years, and have been some of the worst hit economically during the covid-19 pandemic. We want to right the wrong faced by small boats, which represent 79% of the UK fishing fleet but hold only 2% of the quota. That is clearly unjust. We want a commitment to land more fish in UK ports, bringing more jobs and growth opportunities to seaside towns. We will continue to push for coastal communities to get a greater share of economic growth, for jobs at sea to be protected and jobs on land to be realised, and for the Government to fulfil their promise of a legal commitment to sustainability.
As Members across the House have made clear, this Bill, together with the Agriculture and Environment Bills, represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to leave our environment in a better way than we found it. Healthy fish stocks have been proven to create a more resilient and productive marine environment and ecosystem. That leads to increased long-term catches and greater industry profits. For the sake of our coastal communities, which rely on our UK fishing industry and the thousands of jobs it creates, not just on boats but in processing, logistics and food services, we must put sustainability at the heart of our fishing policy. This Bill presents a chance to begin the process of making sure that UK fishers get a fair deal. We must do right by them and by our coastal communities.
It is a real privilege to close the debate on this important Bill. I will try to address what I can in the moments I have, but where I do not, I undertake to follow up specific issues with hon. Members directly; this has been a very wide-ranging debate.
There has clearly been a lot of interest in the status of the negotiations with the EU. Indeed, the Chairman of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend Neil Parish, also raised the important negotiations that are going on with Norway and the Faroes. I understand the level of interest, and of course I share it, but this is not the place to discuss the current position of those negotiations. The task before us tonight is to make progress with this important Bill. It is a framework Bill that gives us the power to implement whatever we obtain in the negotiations. The measures in the Bill are required regardless of the outcome of the negotiations, and we must press on with our legislative programme.
The Bill has been developed in collaboration with the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Administrations, and with their help it has been improved. As Mr Carmichael said, Minister Ewing recognised this last month when he confirmed the Scottish Government’s recommendation of consent for the Bill, saying:
“Unlike for other UK bills, the co-operative working between officials and indeed ministers in the Scottish Government, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the other devolved Administrations has demonstrated what can be achieved”.
At their request, this Bill gives the devolved Administrations more powers than ever to manage their fisheries. This is an opportunity to create tailored approaches to fisheries management across the UK.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Douglas Ross. It is clear, on tonight’s showing, that he will be an outstanding leader of the Scottish Conservatives, and we have seen tonight—if we ever doubted—that he is very firmly on the side of the Scottish fishing fleet. My hon. Friend Andrew Bowie made an excellent speech, and I would also like to mention the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend David Duguid, who, because of his ministerial responsibilities, was unable to speak in the debate. I think it is fair to say that the Scottish industry is well represented in this House, as those Members take a great interest in every decision that is taken.
In a perceptive speech, the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said that there is a great deal of consensus for what the Bill is trying to achieve, and many Members from across the House spoke about getting the balance right—namely, the complexities of managing a diverse ecosystem with the interests of an equally diverse fishing fleet.
My right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers made a stand-out speech. Of course, she helped to craft the Bill, and spoke passionately about its aims and objectives.
We heard some superb and wide-ranging Back-Bench speeches from across the House. The issue of safety was rightly raised on both Front Benches, and most passionately by my hon. Friends the Members for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) and for North Devon (Selaine Saxby), Sir Alan Campbell, Sarah Owen, who I welcome back from maternity leave, and many more Members across the House. Much work is being done on the issue. As Members have said, there is absolutely no need to wait for the outcome of the Bill to do this important work, and it is right to say that the Department for Transport, the Marine and Coastguard Agency, and Seafish are working hard on this issue. Unusual though it may be, I pay tribute to the shadow Secretary of State for the work that he has done to raise this issue again and again in this place. It is not a matter particularly for tonight’s debate, but definitely a matter of concern to all of us in this House—and that should have been heard loud and clear.
Other speeches that stood out for me included that of the former Minister, my right hon. Friend Mr Goodwill, who gave us an important historical round-up of why we are here. On the specific point that he raised, I will ask the Scallop Industry Consultation Group to raise the issue of gear conflict. I undertake to report back to him on that.
Many Members encouraged us to eat more local fish and to promote British seafood, and many noted what had been done during the pandemic to support that and said how much more direct selling was being undertaken at the moment. I refer specifically to my hon. Friend Lia Nici, who represents the proud port of Grimsby, my hon. Friends the Members for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall), for West Dorset (Chris Loder), for North West Durham (Mr Holden) and for Witney (Robert Courts)—all of them proud eaters of seafood who were encouraging their constituents to be the same—and, of course, my hon. Friend Sir David Amess. I am not sure that it is Government policy yet that Southend should become a city, but there can be no doubt that he sticks up for the rights of his fishing industry and the rights of his people to eat what they produce.
We also heard some passionate speeches about the marine environment from Kerry McCarthy and my hon. Friend Robert Courts. The strong voice of Cornwall was heard around the Chamber and, indeed, acknowledged by Dave Doogan, who accepted that many of the issues raised mirror those of his own fishermen. It is great to have so many Cornish colleagues who, in their own words, would say that they had done a proper job at standing up for the industry. My hon. Friend Cherilyn Mackrory, who is married to a fisherman, cannot be here tonight, but we heard strongly about the worries that Cornish colleagues have about the inshore fleet. I would like to reassure them that we are working with a number of recently formed groups—again, supported by Seafish—to collaborate on more sustainable management for specific stocks such as whelks and crabs. We have noted that parts of the industry have had louder voices than others in the past, and these new groups are an attempt to address that.
I should also mention the work of REAF, the Renaissance of East Anglian Fisheries, which was referred to by my hon. Friend James Wild and my hon. Friend Peter Aldous, who mentions it frequently in this place. Its report contains some excellent ideas, which the Government will continue to look into.
Fisheries management plans will revolutionise how we manage our precious fisheries. They will allow us to take a holistic approach to management, managing fisheries at an appropriate level, not fettered by lines on maps or differences between inshore and offshore, between Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities districts or even between Administrations. We will continue to work with industry and interested parties in a much closer way, developing plans together and ensuring that we use the best possible evidence and local knowledge, so that we can create a management for fisheries that is truly appropriate.
A number of Members mentioned funding. Of course, with a fairer share of fish and more opportunities, we expect that profitability and investment in the sector will increase. However, we recognise that this will take time, so I would like to restate that the Government will maintain funding for fisheries across the UK’s nations throughout the Parliament, as we said in our manifesto commitment. The Bill provides new, expanded funding powers, which will allow us to fund infrastructure such as port development and training—I see the right hon. Member for Tynemouth nodding; I know that that has long been a concern of his. These new domestic funding schemes will support our priorities, and as a devolved matter, each Administration will lead on their own programme.
We all recognise the importance of the inshore sector, not just our Cornish colleagues. I am really pleased that, over the summer, tourists have been able to travel to our coastal communities and enjoy the very best of what our seas have to offer. As a family, we enjoyed some wonderful weather in Tenby over the weekend. It has been rather a shock to come back, straight into this important Bill. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate those seafood businesses that have adapted and innovated as a result of the pandemic and are encouraging more and more people to eat locally caught and directly sourced fish. We are determined to continue to work on this as a Government; it is a real priority for us.
Fishing is a key part of our heritage as an island nation. The injustices felt by so many concerning the common fisheries policy loomed large in the debate over our decision to leave the EU. This Bill gives us the opportunity to put that right and reclaim our position as an independent coastal state. It is a framework Bill, and I look forward to working across the House to put meat on the bones of the Bill, but it does what it needs to do, which is give us the powers we need to act in a flexible and responsive way, providing sustainable fisheries for future generations. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The House divided: Ayes 49, Noes 326.
Question accordingly negatived.
The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
Question put forthwith (
Question agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.