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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:06 am on 17th July 2018.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 10:06 am, 17th July 2018

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that they bring skill; I think if the Home Office looks at this issue it will see the skills that the Filipino fishermen have. They should fall into tier 2, where we can enable them to be accepted. I think the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar is right when he says it is a simple issue. I read the same article in the paper that he did. The Home Secretary accepted that there was a methodology that justified the right for doctors and so on to come in. By the same logic, that should happen here as well, and I would like to see it take place.

We want to see the Filipino fishermen allowed in. Under the transit visa provisions, non-EEA nationals cannot come to work on vessels that operate wholly or mainly within the 12-mile limit. People who work, or employ people to work, on inshore vessels after they have come to the UK on a transit visa or sought to enter at the border to join a ship are breaking immigration law.

Even more important, prawn trawlers, for example, operate by dragging a trawl net across the seabed to catch prawns, so only certain parts of the sea can be fished. The sea off the west coast of Scotland, containing the sea of the Hebrides, the Little Minch and the Minch, is a particularly good fishing ground for langoustines, but these areas are also well within territorial waters, as is most of the sea around Northern Ireland. Prawn trawlers have one of the highest demands for non-UK crew. Therein lies a key issue for my constituents and for the constituents of other hon. Members present. The difference is down to geography and, as usual, the postcode lottery does not work in favour of my constituents.

I, along with other interested MPs— Mr Carmichael, the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar and David Duguid—met with the Minister for Immigration and had a very forthright meeting, in which we tried to press collectively, from our four different parties, the importance of this issue. I know that the fishing organisations in my area are currently working hard to address the fact that, despite the demands of their difficult and often dangerous job, fishing vessel crew members are not deemed to be sufficiently skilled to fall within the ambit of tier 2. We need these workers to be elevated to tier 2, or tier 2 to drop down to that level. I feel the frustration that the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar expressed; I am not always cool, but I try to make the case in such a way that people can understand the need to do it.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which I sit on with other colleagues and hon. Friends, is doing an inquiry into fishing. One of our recommendations is that the issue of Filipino fishermen should be addressed. I am conscious of the time, so I will make one last comment. The Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland did a trawl—if I can use that pun—across the whole of the UK and Europe for 150 job vacancies. That is the Department, not Jim Shannon or the local councils; it was the Northern Ireland Assembly when it was functioning. We got some 30 replies to that from the whole of Europe, and only 10 applicants were suitable for interview. Eight attended the interview; six were chosen, of whom one did not turn up; five took the jobs. We have 145 jobs that Northern Ireland’s DFI cannot fill.

We have done everything we can on this. The local Assembly has tried. We now look to the Minister and the Home Office to do the same thing as for the doctors and nurses—to bring in the Filipino fishermen who would help our industry to thrive. When we are out of Europe, on 31 March 2019, we will need an industry that is able to respond to what we can do when we advance. I thank the hon. Member for Moray again for introducing this debate. Everyone is united in this. All we need now is for the Minister to say, “Yes, let’s do it.”