New Clause 8 - Agency arrangements between sea fish licensing authorities

Part of Fisheries Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 7:00 pm on 13th October 2020.

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Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 7:00 pm, 13th October 2020

All from the devolved authorities would like to see that, and the hon. Lady will recall that at the recent roundtable discussion between the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations and the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation the Minister said that a consultation will be taking place on the distribution of quotas between the devolved authorities. We are certainly looking forward to that. [Interruption.] And it has been launched today—good to hear.

New clause 3 would also mark a useful first step—long overdue—to giving effect to the agreed commitment in the Smith commission report. Fiscal transparency and accountability and a proper and thorough review of current arrangements would help determine whether an equitable share is being received and how to address any issues. This Tory Government may have forgotten the commitments made as part of that process to bolster devolution and strengthen Scotland’s powers, but we have not.

The Secretary of State made it clear the last time we debated this Bill that the involvement of the devolved nations had greatly improved it, but as that example shows, and as Liz Saville Roberts has mentioned, the Bill is simply still not good enough. It is a hastily cobbled-together mess, as we see when we look at the dozens of technical amendments tabled by the Government in a frantic attempt to tidy it up. I feel sorry for the civil servants who have had to operate under these conditions. We are left simply wishing that the Government had listened to the devolved Administrations when they were saying that we needed an extension before leaving the EU or, even better, when they argued against leaving the EU altogether. Here we are being asked to agree skeletal framework legislation simply to cover this Government’s intransigence and their British exceptionalist view—it is a fig leaf for the absence of a realpolitik attitude in Whitehall, and a failure to appreciate the situation that the UK found itself in before the pandemic arrived or the massively worse situation that unfortunately it finds itself in now.

We do know, but I will remind the House, that the law of the sea will be the fall-back position if, as looks increasingly and disturbingly possible, we end up in the worst of all possible worlds, with no deal. I know that some people have laid heavy bets on that scenario and stand to make a lot of cash from it, but massive wealth in the hands of some is no substitute for a decent living for many.

The Prime Minister, in his best Bertie Wooster chant, wants to, “Get Brexit done”, as if there is a crock waiting for us at the end of a rainbow, but even if we get a deal done, we have no certainty of the position for fisherfolk. As I mentioned, the Minister has announced just now that a consultation is being launched that will debate how any additional quota will be divided between the four nations, but that is if any additional quota is there to be shared. As the scientific advice and information from the Marine Stewardship Council makes clear, stocks are not in the best of health, so there may not be extra quota to share over that three-year extension to the transition period. Equally, the Government have not outlined what they intend to do about the large chunks of England’s quotas vested in foreign vessels or what they think might be a sensible way forward for reallocating those quotas over the next few years. Will it be the fishing equivalent of a Government land grab, or will things just be left well alone, so that the “sea of opportunity” remains nothing more than a “Narnia” tale to be recounted in years to come. The referendum was a couple of Tory Prime Ministers and two snap elections ago, but there still has not been anything worked out about how to deal with the fall-out. The light is dimming on our EU membership and only now, after this painfully long journey, is the question being asked about what to do. We recognise that some sort of legislative framework is needed; I should speak here to amendment 57 before I conclude. We propose inserting the word “short” before “long term” to ensure that sustainability is not an objective that can be kicked down the road and not dealt with until later, but must be worked on at all times. The UK, it must be admitted, is not achieving a sustainable fisheries management, so the amendment would encourage the UK Government to take into account sustainability when carrying out their duties. Our hope is that this will be seen as the constructive proposal that it is meant to be.