It is always a pleasure to speak on this issue, and it is always good to see the regions of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland agreeing on something. It is one of many issues that unites us; we can all sing from the same hymn book about it.
I thank Douglas Ross for bringing the matter to the House and clearly setting the scene. I was a member of Ards Borough Council and I have represented Strangford in the Northern Ireland Assembly and do so now as a Member of Parliament, and the issue we are debating has been a key issue throughout. Fishing is in my blood; I never worked on the boats, but my brother did and I understand the issues clearly. When I was introduced to the fishing fleet in Portavogie, I became aware of the heightened level of danger affecting fishermen and fishing boats. That reinforces the importance of fishing to people in Strangford, and in Portavogie in particular, as well as in Ardglass and Kilkeel.
With all the Brexit talk and the decisions over deal makers and deal breakers, there is no one among us who does not think about the subject during most of the hours of the day. Probably we all do: it is Brexit in the morning for breakfast, then for lunch and dinner and before bed—and on getting up in the morning it is all Brexit. We shall have more Brexit before the day is out, and I hope our appetite for it will be as strong as it was when it started. None of us wants to face the prospect of a no-deal exit from Europe, but there are things that are deal breakers, and to me the exclusion of non-EEA fishermen needs to be one of the things that is gone with the wind.
We need security of employment for the fishing fleet in Portavogie, Ardglass and Kilkeel. We understand there is a need for Filipino fishermen in particular, because they are dependable and they work hard. The whole thrust of their life is to do the job, which is why the fishing fleet owners in Portavogie, Ardglass and Kilkeel want them. Other Members have made a similar point about wanting Filipino fishermen to be able to come here. It must be possible to hire crew based on who can do the job, and not what someone’s passport says. Fitness for purpose is something that has often been lost in the eurozone as we focus on nepotism as opposed to ability. We must ensure that, going forward, that is not the case and that if possible our vessels can be filled with home-grown crew, but otherwise with whoever can do the job and fit in best within the vessel.
We in this Chamber are all aware of the issues at play here. It is good to see the Minister in his place; I know this is not his direct responsibility, but we look forward to his response. There are five tiers to the points-based system. The tier 2 or general visa is the main category for bringing skilled non-EU or non-European Economic Area workers to the UK. Generally speaking, the tier 2 visa caters only for jobs that are classed at graduate level with a minimum pay of £30,000 per year, and for jobs that are on the official shortage occupation list.
Tier 3, for low-skilled workers, has never been used. It has always been assumed that any need for low-skilled workers can be met from within the UK or European Economic Area, but it cannot. That is why this debate is important and why the fishing fleets across the whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland need the opportunity to introduce this new tier system, enabling the Filipino fishermen to come to all the fleets across the UK and in Northern Ireland.