Non-EEA Visas: Inshore Fishing — [Mr Clive Betts in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:51 am on 17th July 2018.

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Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Chair, International Trade Committee 9:51 am, 17th July 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts, and not just on the same football team, which we have done from time to time here in the House of Commons. I congratulate Douglas Ross. As we know, he is no stranger to football matches either, because he is our referee and a linesman. He is correct to say that this is a much-needed debate, because we need people, primarily from the Philippines and Ghana, to work in our communities on the west coast of Scotland, as well as other places in Scotland and Northern Ireland. I want those people to come, as do my community, islands, fishermen, processors, bosses and staff. The local council wants them to come, as do development agencies and the Scottish Government. In short, I cannot think of anybody in my community who does not want fishing boats to work with able and skilled fishermen from primarily the Philippines and Ghana, which are non-EEA countries. The men I have met from those countries have been cracking, fantastic people, and we are fortunate that they have chosen to come to our part of the world to work.

About a month or six weeks ago, there was a report on “Channel 4 News”, and Alex Thomson came to my native island, Barra, to do a piece on why fishing boats were tied up. He could see clearly the lack of crew. As he was filming—this was one of the most instructive parts—Donald Joseph MacLean’s phone went off, and it was someone phoning from the Philippines, asking when he could come back. He had worked on Barra before, but he found himself stuck in the Philippines, desperate to return to the Hebrides to work, but he could not. I know of examples of other fishermen who want to return not just to Scalpay and Harris, but to the very boats and fishermen they worked with in the past, yet they are not able to do so.

Families want people to come back. These people are not immigrants; they are migrant workers and there is a huge difference. Their Government want them to come and the Philippine embassy in London wants them to come—I am struggling to think of anybody who does not want them to come. Indeed, these workers are much needed. The underlying case in our communities is that families are smaller. Thirty or 40 years ago, when I was a youngster, I was in a family of three and we were a small family. All the families I went to school with had six or eight children; one family had 14 children, and 10 or 12 was not uncommon. Now families have two or three children, and employment in my constituency is about half the UK average. When young people are trained, they usually do well in school and then go off elsewhere. Young people who get a start on fishing boats soon find themselves with capable handlers. They get a plethora of opportunities elsewhere, and they leave the fishing boats stuck without crew.

In many ways we are a victim of our own success, but unfortunately fishermen and fishing boats are at the bottom end of the pecking order. It is annoying that those boats are often tied up, as they are also the lifeblood of the communities that have enabled so many of us to put down an anchor. That situation of success is causing the current problems for fishing boats.

We need fishermen for the safety reasons outlined by the hon. Member for Moray. Imagine single-handedly taking a boat over 24 hours from the east coast of Scotland to Shetland. There are a number of reasons why, ideally, we do not want anyone to do such a job, but we need people with those skills. Despite what the Migration Advisory Committee says, these are skilled jobs. I will not go out on a fishing boat this summer to do a job that I know people from Ghana and the Philippines can do, and neither will the hon. Gentleman or the Minister for Security and Economic Crime. That is a fact of life.

Given all I have said, and the welcome that we wish to give people who come to the islands, the problem is simply down to a person in London saying, “No”. I have dealt with six or seven Immigration Ministers as, I am sure, has Mr Carmichael—the rueful grimace on his face indicates that he has had much the same experience over the years. When Damian Green was Immigration Minister, he was not afraid to make things happen, but now what is the fear? The fear is Daily Mail politics. I gave one Immigration Minister an article from The Mail on Sunday that supported the rights of these fishermen to come here, and the tension almost eased from his face. Unfortunately, for far too long this Government have been led by nasty treatment and thoughts towards migrants, which is costing our economies badly.

I encourage the Security Minister, and the Immigration Minister, to realise that they have many allies in this matter, and they should not be afraid of newspapers, or whatever, that might misconstrue what is going on. I will stand full square by the Minister, and if he manages to get a change today, he will find that the first press release will be mine, praising him for his courage in bringing about that much-needed change.