New Clause 8 - Agency arrangements between sea fish licensing authorities

Part of Fisheries Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 8:15 pm on 13th October 2020.

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Photo of Alyn Smith Alyn Smith Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 8:15 pm, 13th October 2020

I will speak to new clauses 1 to 7, which we tabled to try to improve this legislation. I spent 15 years in the European Parliament, alongside Neil Parish, working largely on fisheries reform, among lots of other issues. It is safe to say that the CFP is not the Scottish National party’s favourite policy and a number of things need to be done to improve it. It is the primary reason why Norway and Iceland are not EU members, although they are proudly part of the EU single market, for reasons also largely to do with fisheries and fisheries products.

If I learned anything in my time in Brussels, it was particularly about the marine ecosystem: everything is connected to everything else, and if one does not look at the whole picture, one makes poor conclusions. This Bill really is only part of the picture and it leaves the big questions—the existential questions for all our fishing communities and the people employed in fisheries—unanswered. Passing this Bill tonight, as I suspect Conservative Members will, is the easy bit; making good on the fine promises we have heard this evening will be an awful lot harder. Four years after the vote to leave the European Union and a year after we left the European Union—a fact that I regret deeply—we have yet to see the much vaunted advantages of that Brexit. It is a poor state of affairs that we are this stage in this stage of the proceedings.

The fishing industry is complex. It is not just about boats going to sea and catching fish. In Scotland, it is even more complex. We have a structurally different set-up to our industry in Scotland from that UK-wide. As we have heard throughout the debate, for every one job at sea, there are—depending on how one counts them—seven to 10 jobs on shore.

Stirling—by way of a counterintuitive point, as it is a generally landlocked constituency but for the tidal Forth—is one of the biggest UK producers of farmed prawns. The aquaculture department at Stirling University is engaged in world-leading, planet-saving research that is crucial to our economy. Tens of thousands of people are employed in aquaculture: in the prawn sector, the salmon sector and the inshore fishery, catching scallops and langoustines, and in the wider processing sector. All those thousands of jobs and all that GDP are utterly dependent on access, by which I mean tariff-free and frictionless access to the EU single market. That really does bring us to the nub of our scepticism about this Bill, which, as we have heard, the Scottish Government and Parliament have consented to because it is necessary, given that we have left the European Union. There is a need for a new legislative framework; we just do not think that this Bill answers the big questions.

The Norwegians joke that there is nothing in such a hurry as a dead fish on the back of a lorry. There are going to be lots of dead fish on the back of lorries wondering where they are going if we do not get a deal that ensures tariff-free and frictionless access. The vast chunk of fisheries’ economic activity is in grave danger in these ongoing talks, and this Bill answers none of their concerns and takes account of none of their interests.

This Bill is a framework for catching fish, and it is meaningless unless there is a deal for market access for all the other fish and fisheries products. The big questions are unanswered, so we have tried to make the legislation better with new clause 3 on the sea fish authority. We believe that more transparency in that structure would very much help the evolution of the organisation in the new challenges ahead. I urge Members to support the new clause, much though we have heard of the Minister’s scepticism this evening.

I am struck by the tone of this debate, as I was struck by the tone of the debate back in December, when I made my maiden speech, on the withdrawal agreement—the withdrawal agreement that so many Members on the Government Benches are now lining up to trash and the Government are looking to resile from in a “limited and specific way”, barely nine months later. The promises that have been made this evening are cheques that will not be cashed in the real world. When Government Members fail to deliver on their grand rhetoric—or, indeed, sincere hopes, genuinely held—they will have nobody to blame but themselves.