I am no stranger to this issue—I live some 10 miles from the last working fishing village in the Province, Portavogie. I have watched this village go from hundreds of boats—and the livelihoods provided on the boats—and two fish processing factories to the loss of both factories and to having some 60 boats in the harbour. Women who could shell prawns quicker than we could pick up a hand to lift one were out of work and unable to use their skills in a different way. I have to say, the best prawns in the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are from Portavogie—I do not care what anybody says. They are sold the world over, including across Europe, and everybody says that Portavogie prawns have a special taste. I can only agree and I am very pleased to put that on record.
We are pleased that at long last we are leaving the EU and the shackles that tied down the fishing boats in my harbour in Portavogie and across Northern Ireland and the whole of the United Kingdom. They will be away and we will have the freedom of the seas, as we used to, and our fleet will hopefully grow from 60 to the 120 that it once was. The red tape and the bureaucracy will be away as well, so is it not great news that the promise of
None of what has happened is because there is no desire for fish, or a lack of fish to land—this is all down to the EU’s deliberate policy of giving the EU a living while excluding our own. These policies made sons decide it that was not worth the danger of the sea and the stress of the paperwork to continue generations of fishing, and it was heartbreaking to see. I am ever so thankful that this has to come to an end, and more than that, we have an opportunity to feed into the laws that will govern us. I am proud to stand here on behalf of my fishermen in Portavogie, as well as the fishermen of Ardglass and Kilkeel, whose MP is yet to come to this House to represent them—that is a fact as well.
I thank the Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation and Alan McCulla for all their work, as well as Harry Wick from the Northern Ireland Fish Producers’ Organisation for all he has done. I also commend Mrs Murray; we have had a friendship and relationship with her for a long time.
I am broadly supportive of the Bill and the Lords amendments. In particular, amendment 42 is of great interest to me, as I said to the Minister. We have been pushing regarding the designation and management of marine-protected areas in the Northern Ireland zone being devolved to Northern Ireland for many years. The interpretation that we have been given on amendment 42 is that it provides the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs with powers to make orders relating to the management of fishing activities in the Northern Ireland offshore region for conservation purposes. I believe that we are disadvantaged compared with Scotland and Wales. The Secretary of State retains the power to make designations in the Northern Ireland offshore region. Consideration was given to transferring designation powers to DAERA, but it was not within the scope of the Bill. That is what I tried to raise in my earlier intervention and I seek reassurance from the Minister in relation to that.
As one of my fish producers organisations said to me regarding amendment 42, we need to seek assurances or a commitment on the mechanism and the timeline for transfer of designation powers so that we might get Government agreeable to that and ensure that the ball keeps moving. This is too important, Minister, to be lost after the Bill passes. The Secretary of State and I have worked well over the years. I have the utmost respect for him and all he does. He is not here tonight, and we know why, but the Minister is here and I am very pleased to see her in her place. I ask for a timeline by which I can see the completion of not simply this Bill but the important intention behind it: to bring fishing home for everyone in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
I am pleased that the environmental factor ranks highly; I thank the Minister for that. That is the very thing that the fishing sector wants to see, and it is the way forward. Fishermen want to see a pledge for the future, because their ability to feed their family and pay their bills goes hand in hand with the need to ensure that fish are thriving. Rather than the red tape that sought to tie our fishermen while releasing other fishermen, we can and must work hand in hand to allow this industry to thrive, as it has the potential to do.
I gave you my word, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I will conclude. As I have said, this Bill is not the fisherman’s dream. The fisherman’s dream is one with no more Europe. The fisherman’s dream is one where we can fish the seas around the United Kingdom of Great Britain free. The Portuguese, the Spanish, the Dutch and all those other EU countries think that they can come in and do whatever they want—not anymore, because we are in charge, and we are going to do it our way. We will be ever the compassionate brother and sister that we should be, and we will consider a system whereby they can also fish the seas, but it will be under our rules and our waters, and we will control that. We can look forward to finally shaking off the shackles of Europe and embracing the best of British fishing across the whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—better together, and that includes my comrades on these Benches.