UK Fishing Industry — [Sir Henry Bellingham in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:22 am on 12th December 2018.

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Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland) 10:22 am, 12th December 2018

It is a pleasure, as ever, to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Henry. I congratulate Mrs Murray on securing the debate, but observe in passing that it is somewhat unsatisfactory that we are in Westminster Hall and limited to 90 minutes on a Wednesday morning. This debate was traditionally part of Chamber business, and happened in Government time. I understand the reasons why it was taken out of Government time, which I think were sound. However, it was always the understanding that time would be available, and for us to have to rely on a ballot for the annual fishing debate is unsatisfactory. I hope the Minister will make representations to those in charge of business management within Government to ensure that we are not put in this situation again.

As I listened to Brendan O'Hara talk about Alex Salmond’s Fisheries Jurisdiction Bill, I reflected on the fact that it was when the hon. Member for South East Cornwall was here lobbying on behalf of that enterprise that I first met her. It is worth reflecting on the fact—I say this as the last man standing who was a sponsor of that Bill—that the argument advanced by the Conservatives who supported Alex Salmond’s Bill was that it was perfectly possible to come out of the common fisheries policy while remaining in the European Union.

Times change, and arguments of a different nature seem to be advanced these days, but it is worth putting those historical accuracies on the record. Also on a point of historical accuracy, Deidre Brock said that Alex Salmond wanted to abolish the common fisheries policy. That was a tweak that I introduced; originally, Alex Salmond’s Bill was for withdrawal from the common fisheries policy. Personally, I was never persuaded that that was possible, but it is all largely academic and of historical interest these days.

The Fisheries Council, to which the Minister will travel next week, is the last that we will know in the current set-up. It will be interesting to see what we are able do this time next year if we are out of the European Union but still part of the common fisheries policy, as the transitional arrangements would suggest. It will not be an easy Council. The Minister is aware that the scientific advice, especially in relation to North sea cod, is challenging, and that will produce a difficult outcome. I am sure he will argue with some force and vigour that the interests of our fleet should be maintained. I wish him well in that enterprise. I would be interested to hear how he anticipates advancing that argument this time next year, when we will not be at the table. As the hon. Member for South East Cornwall said, we will not have a voice.

Ahead of that, there is, today and tomorrow, the EU-Faroes bilateral in relation to pelagic stocks. The apportionment allows the Faroese fleet access to 30% of the mackerel in EU waters—something of a misnomer, because they are essentially Shetlands waters. We have been burdened with an exceptionally bad deal. It allows us access to 30% of the stocks in their waters, but frankly 30% of quite a lot can hardly be compared with 30% of very little, which is essentially what we get out of the deal. Will the Minister tell me what he has done to influence the progress of the talks and to ensure that the interests of the pelagic fleet in Shetland in particular are better treated than they have been in the past, and how he anticipates such an arrangement will work in the future?

Other hon. Members spoke about the need for visas for non-EEA nationals. I led an Adjournment debate on that on 11 July. The Immigration Minister told me that she accepted that it was something that needed

“work as a joined-up Government.”—[Official Report, 11 July 2018; Vol. 644, c. 1084.]

I wonder how that work as a joined-up Government has been going; it does not look particularly joined-up from where I see it today. However, it is of enormous importance. As the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute said, it particularly affects the inshore fleet, but it also has a serious effect in relation to the bigger boats in the whitefish and the pelagic sectors.

Essentially, to get round the lack of proper working visas, fishing crews are having to come in on transit visas. The welfare issues surrounding that are well documented. The real difficulty is that it leaves fishing skippers having to fish where visa regulations allow them to, not where they know they will find fish. Eventually that will have an impact on safety—we all know that. That is why the issue cannot be kicked down the road any more. The subject commands attention on behalf of fishing communities represented on both sides of the House. I have been on delegations with the hon. Members for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid), for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon). As we come to the end of the year, I say to the Minister that if he is genuinely part of a joined-up Government, we need to see a resolution to this issue.

I have had my six minutes, Sir Henry—I could talk for an awful lot longer. I leave a minute, which I hope might be given to the Minister, if the Front Benchers can maintain good discipline, so that we all have an opportunity to intervene on him when he speaks.