If I may take a few moments, Madam Deputy Speaker, I have just received a text message alerting me to the news that a good friend of mine, a guitarist and former band member, has just died following a two-day battle with coronavirus. I send my love and prayers to his wife and pay tribute to a gentle giant, an awesome guitarist and a true family man. Rest in peace.
More than four years have passed since the referendum vote that set out the future of our nation as a full, sovereign Union. That has dominated the political debate in this Chamber and outside the Westminster bubble. One only has to take a look at the map of the leave vote to understand the impact of the coastal communities in deciding the future of our nation.
The sea and our insularity as an island have always been fundamental traits of our history and our identity as British, English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish. Because of our geography, we have always had to find a way to connect with other nations by crossing the seas and the channel, to boost our trade with nearby nations and to attract the best projects and talent from around the world. We had to navigate. We would not be such an outward-looking nation if we were not an island. While my constituency is not directly on the sea, I was born just a few miles away from the beautiful Yorkshire coast, and my granddad Walter Naulls was a fisherman over in Hull. I am sure if Walter were alive today, he would be cheering on and welcoming this Bill and the opportunity to take back control again of our waters.
In Yorkshire, whether in Whitby, Morley and Outwood or the dales, we all know the importance of fisheries to our economy. Our seafood sector is worth £1.4 billion per year and employs 12,000 people. British ships land around 400,000 tonnes of fish in UK waters, while EU states’ vessels annually land almost double that in our waters. Thanks to Brexit, we will have access to and be in full control of our waters on our own terms, able to regulate access by third countries. Our fishing communities will not be left behind and we will grow thanks to this legislation.
This is an extremely ambitious deal, which offers only a glimpse of what we were able to do when leaving the EU. As a strong advocate for animal rights, I would like to commend my hon. Friend the Minister and her predecessors for the strong environmental approach that they have taken to this Bill. Adding references to the national benefit objective, along with the powers to make further provision on aquatic and animal health and the Government’s commitment to high standards, are extremely encouraging changes. The Bill will not only protect our fishermen, their families and the communities that rely on them but protect our marine fauna, creating a strong and legally binding framework that can leave the environment in a better state than we inherited, thanks to the quota levels set for fishing.
The objectives set out by the Bill for the fisheries policy authorities, particularly on sustainability, the ecosystem, the bycatch and the scientific evidence, are a sign that leaving the EU does not mean compromising, but rather enhancing, our environmental and animal welfare standards. Taking back control of our waters means maintaining the health of our seas, and the Bill offers a unique opportunity to be world leaders on sustainability, which is vital for our oceans and for future generations. I was pleased to read this positive feedback from the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations:
“The Bill is an important and necessary step towards managing our fisheries in ways that can bring real advantages to our coastal communities.”
The Bill not only enables us to take back control of our waters as a sovereign nation but gives control back to the fishing communities, with a strong focus on devolution. Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh boats will be licensed by Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh Ministers. The Bill gives more powers to the devolved Governments, who will be responsible for the positive trickle-down effect on coastal communities. I believe that, outside the EU, the Government are paving the way forward for others to follow. With its focus on communities, no compromises on animal welfare and the protection of our economy and, importantly, our sovereignty, the Bill is a clear indication of what taking back control really means.