“the EU’s most unpopular and discredited policy”,
so we would certainly be starting negotiations from that point.
The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations sent out a briefing in advance of the Second Reading debate in which it said:
“If the Government backs down on its promises to the UK fishing industry, many of the objectives that the Fisheries Bill is aiming to achieve will be impossible.”
I do not share the optimism about the Bill in the first place, but I do share the concern about the impact on the fishing communities being sold out by a UK Government once again—sold out to get a deal on the way in and sold out to get a deal on the way out.
Brexiteers relied heavily on the fishing argument during the referendum, promising that leaving the EU would produce a “sea of opportunity”. That was only ever going to be for some of the fleets, and I fear that it will turn out to be nonsense for all of them. The repeated promises of this Government to our fishing communities over years that Brexit meant taking back full control of the seas have turned out to be as empty of delivery as the emergency Brexit ferry companies were empty of ferries. Chief negotiator David Frost confirmed that the UK Government were offering a three-year transition period for EU fishers in UK waters on top of the four and a half years since the referendum, but we still do not know what follows that. It beggars belief that we are in the closing months of the transition period and we are still negotiating terms with our nearest and most important seafood export market. We still have no outline of what those negotiations look like or what the possible deals might be. Fishing communities that rely on exports for the finances to keep their communities alive are being left hanging, with no deal or no prospect of a deal, massive bureaucracy if they now want to export, and huge queues at the border posts with only some vague promises that their product might be prioritised by customs. As an Ealing comedy, it lacks the humour and the humanity but it certainly has the farce in spades.
At the very least, we once again ask the Government to take this opportunity to give some assistance to our Scottish fishing communities and right an injustice that has been hanging around for a very long time and where they might do a little to make amends. New clauses 1 to 7 make the case effectively for devolving control of the Scottish aspect of levies imposed by Seafish to Scottish Ministers. It has long been the view of the Scottish Government that the current arrangements for the Seafish levy are not fit for purpose in Scotland and have had an ultimately detrimental effect on the promotion of our fine Scottish seafood. The inequity of the red meat levy has taken years to be resolved. It is more than time that the issue was finally resolved and management transferred to the Scottish authorities, as would be consistent with devolved competencies.
The new clauses would enable Scottish Ministers to further support the industry and promote the quality and excellence of our Scottish seafood products. While we will press only new clause 3 to a vote, I urge the Secretary of State and the Minister to revise their opposition to these very reasonable processes. New clause 3 brings transparency to the levy finances and the details of their distribution across the UK. Transparency seems to me to be a good thing. Surely no one could argue against that, and I can see no reason why the Government continue to resist it. After all, the Minister knows that a commitment was made at the time of the Smith commission that the Scottish and UK Governments would work together to explore whether to revise arrangements in respect of levy-raising using the specific examples of red meat and seafood. Now the red meat levy problem is finally on its way to being sorted, but I am afraid that the commitment to properly explore arrangements for seafood has not been followed through on. There has been no such work and no such exploration to date of those legal and practical arrangements, which is why I would like to see on the record today a commitment to do that, with a timeline to follow shortly thereafter for the long-promised internal and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs review of sea fish, which would take on board all the matters covered in my amendments.