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I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the future of UK fisheries.
Since the Fisheries Bill is currently proceeding in the other place, I felt that it was timely to call for this debate to discuss the massive opportunities that a future fisheries regime can provide the UK as an independent coastal state. The Fisheries Bill means that, for the first time in almost 40 years, the Minister will have autonomy under international law to set the rules that apply to fish stocks and access for fishing vessels operating in the UK 200 mile to median line exclusive economic zone. That should be seen as a massive opportunity for the UK fishing industry and allied industries. It will offer great potential for small boatyards such as C Toms & Son and Mashford Bros in my constituency, as well as others in constituencies right around the UK coast.
The purpose of this debate is to explore the many opportunities for the industry, which, although contributing a small proportion to UK GDP as a whole, has a disproportionate impact on the economies of small coastal communities where fishing is a prime industry. I urge the Minister to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated, and that the UK’s new status as an independent coastal state is treated as a great opportunity. I reiterate my message in previous debates: access to UK fishing waters must not simply be squandered to buy a trade agreement with the EU in other areas. I will do my best to keep my points as brief as I can, as I am sure that other Members will have their own points to make.
I welcome the reassurance by the Prime Minister last week that there is no need to abide by EU rules. He went on to say that British fishing grounds are “first and foremost” for UK boats. As someone who has campaigned for almost 40 years to highlight the gross disservice heaped on the industry when we joined the European Economic Community, it is refreshing to hear a Prime Minister say those words. I hope there will be determination to ensure that any future arrangement with the EU looks similar to that of Norway, and that access for non-UK vessels to fish in UK waters will be subject to annual agreements.
The Norway agreement sets a precedent for the way an independent coastal state works with the EU. We must not stray from that. The EU will not be happy, but let us look back in history to a precedent that it set when Spain and Portugal joined: the EU fleet needed to rebalance its size to the available resource, because those two member states brought with them very little resource of their own but very large fleets. The rest of the EU member states had to introduce a number of decommissioning schemes in order to balance the whole of the EU fleet to the available resource. As a consequence, many UK vessels were broken up and scrapped.
Faced with the loss of access to UK waters, the European Union must now reduce its own fleet to adjust. As an independent coastal state, we could be generous and give them time year-on-year to adjust; at the same time, the UK fleet could be allowed to grow. The annually set total allowable catches will allow the Minister and his Department to establish the real catching capacity of the UK fleet, which has been artificially suppressed from achieving its full catching potential because of the share it received under relative stability, set in 1983. Given that there is potential for the UK fleet to expand, fishermen could even invest in newer, more modern, safer and more environmentally friendly vessels.
Much has been heard about the lack of quota available to the under-10-metre fleet. It is worthwhile looking back to what led to that situation. Under the original common fisheries policy, the catches of that sector were estimated, and the fleet fished relatively unrestricted until the total catch was deemed to have been used. There would then be a total ban on landing a certain species, which incidentally also prevented shoreline leisure fishermen from landing that species.
The introduction of the Registration of Fish Buyers and Sellers and Designation of Fish Auction Sites Regulations 2005 changed that. Suddenly, it became clear that the present-day catch of the under-10-metre fleet had been underestimated, and officials held a number of meetings around the coast to try to find a solution. It was a former Labour Minister, the former Member for Scunthorpe, who failed to take timely action. After introducing fixed quota allocations for the over-10-metre vessels, he was left with no additional quota to allocate to the under-10-metre fleet. That was the beginning of this travesty. I pay tribute to the former right hon. Member for Newbury, who tried to provide additional quota to the under-10-metre vessels by top slicing any uplift in quota gained from each annual Agriculture and Fisheries Council—something that this Minister has continued.
Perhaps Ruth Jones would like to apologise to the under-10-metre fishermen for the action of her predecessors, rather than simply making statements, as members of her party have in the past, that are no more than political posturing. I remind her and the shadow Secretary of State that Plymouth fishermen, just like my late husband, have long memories: they will remember the proximate cause of the under-10-metre miniscule quota.
I turn to conservation. I recognise that we need to record how much catch each vessel lands if we are to comply with our obligations under international law. While we have protection under the UN fish stocks agreement about minimum fish size and gear that can be used, where we have a median line between us and a member state we must adhere to international law and ensure that any management regime respects the sustainability of fish stock in our waters. We must respect science and the maximum sustainable yields recommended. Larger vessels have a satellite-based vessel monitoring system introduced under the CFP, which has provided and continues to provide information on catch composition.
It is essential that smaller UK vessels receive their fair share of the quota. They should be allowed to fish regardless of quota for a number of days a year, provided that they have enough days to ensure that their annual fishing pattern can continue throughout the whole year. The minuscule share of quota for some species under the CFP for south-west fishermen is often attributed to the lack of historical catch data. I fully understand the intention of the new app the Minister has introduced. However, a trusted friend with vast knowledge of the fishing industry recently wrote to me that the Marine Management Organisation has introduced a new licence condition that requires skippers of under-10-metre boats to estimate, or guess, within a 10%—
I sincerely congratulate the hon. Lady on securing the debate. She is talking interestingly about the use of technology in fishing. I am sure she will agree that, as we move into this new era, investing in health and safety on the fishing vessels around our coast must be integral to any measures the Government take to support fishermen, particularly now we know that the investment from the European maritime and fisheries fund is going. We need certainty about how to move forward. Safety on vessels, where many people operate on their own, is crucial.
The hon. Lady mentioned the app. A number of fishermen have told me that it is difficult to use: certain species are difficult to record on it and, in some cases, it does not seem to work at all. I think it was given a one-star rating on Google for its effectiveness. Does she think that needs to be looked at?
If the right hon. Gentleman is patient, I will come to that.
To reiterate, my friend wrote that the Marine Management Organisation has introduced a new licence condition that requires skippers of under-10-metre boats to estimate, or guess within a 10% tolerance, the weight of all fish caught, species by species, before the fish have been landed. He went on to say that, with small quantities of fish, it is almost impossible to estimate that reliably within 10%. If a fisherman gets it wrong, he is liable to criminal prosecution, with a maximum fine of £100,000.
Given the mixed catch in the south-west, my friend continued, that could put an extra hour or two on the end of a long working day for an under-10-metre trawler. That is totally unreasonable and is not safe. There is no de minimis exemption for small catches; every fish has to be counted and its weight estimated. Over-10-metre vessels are exempt from having to log catches of less than 50 kg per species, which obviously reduces the problem of trying to estimate the weight of small quantities.
I have used the app myself, so I have seen some of the problems that fishermen encounter. My friend added that there has been a string of technical and practical problems with the app and the contact centre, which is open only during office hours. According to the app, some harbours and landing places do not exist, and it does not recognise that fishermen catch more than 10 different species. People have had problems getting through to the contact centre. As far as the app is concerned, the threat of criminal prosecution for estimating outside the 10% tolerance should be removed, and there should be a complete rethink about the new system.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on landing this timely debate. I apologise to her—and to you, Sir George—that I cannot stay for the whole debate; unfortunately, I have a clash, which I discovered only this morning.
My hon. Friend touches on all the problems with how to fish in a mixed fishery. Does she agree that one of the real horrors of the CFP is the extraordinary level of discards? The industry has said that the level widely across Europe is beyond 1 million tonnes; the House of Lords says it could be up to 1.7 million tonnes.
Our great advantage now is that we can design a system that is tailored to our fisheries and works with the grain of nature, so we can stop that horrendous waste. The only way to do that, which my hon. Friend touched on—it would be great if the Minister confirmed this—is not to trade the allocation of fish stocks in the upcoming negotiations. We must take back 100% control of our exclusive economic zone and all that is in it, and then negotiate—in a friendly, amicable way, as my hon. Friend said—annual reciprocal deals, so we have complete control of what is in our marine waters. That would bring a huge advantage to our coastal communities and, potentially, a massive improvement to our marine environment.
My right hon. Friend speaks with great authority. I congratulate him on the Green Paper that he produced. I cannot remember how long ago that was, but I congratulate him on his expertise and on his record as shadow Fisheries Minister. I concur completely with what he just said.
Will the Minister please meet fishermen’s representatives and fish auctioneers to ensure that the app is operated in a way that reassures fishermen? Something that could benefit UK fishermen is being interpreted as a tool to use against them because of the complexity of the app and the worry that it will be used as a tool for prosecution.
There is also an opportunity to introduce a new registration and licensing regime, and to reintroduce the terms of vessel ownership and associated conditions that were first introduced by the Merchant Shipping Act 1988. That Act was introduced to stop other nations from benefiting from UK fish quota by registering their vessels on the UK fishing vessel register. People who did that were commonly described as “quota hoppers”. Although the European Court of Justice ruled that that Act of Parliament was contrary to the treaty, the fact that we are now not members of the European Union provides us with an opportunity to ensure that those so-called quota hoppers comply with UK law.
I acknowledge that some measures have been introduced at EU level to provide that an economic link must be shown, but, as is often the case, those measures are at best weak. By restoring the terms of the Merchant Shipping Act, we could require individual owners, or 75% of the registered owners of a company, to be UK citizens. We could couple that with a requirement to land all catch in UK ports. That would not only bring economic benefits but allow us to enhance the enforcement of UK catch rules on vessels. Will the Minister speak to the Minister with responsibility for shipping to explore that? I have been considering introducing a private Member’s Bill based on the Merchant Shipping Act.
In summary, I thank the Minister both for his Department’s commitment to UK fishermen and for the Prime Minister’s commitment. I am sure I speak for all wives, husbands and partners of fishermen, present and former, when I say that we have seen the price they have paid while operating under the disastrous common fisheries policy. All they were doing was trying to provide an honest living for their families—fishing provided a comfortable living for my family for 25 years—and that is a tribute to those men and women who put to sea to put fish on our table.
Some of us have seen our husbands pay the ultimate price, but we have never lost hope. I look forward to seeing us adopt a strong stance in the forthcoming negotiations, and I urge the Minister and the Government to never surrender to the unacceptable demands of the European Union. We must not allow the pillaging of UK waters to happen ever again.
Order. I am anxious to cast the net as widely as possible. I think there are nine Back Benchers who wish to make a speech. I am not going to set a formal time limit, but if people adhere to a four-minute limit on speeches and are careful about accepting interventions, we should be able to get everybody in. I call Alistair Carmichael.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. I congratulate Mrs Murray on obtaining the debate, which, as Mr Paterson said, is timely. The next few months will certainly be formative for the future of fisheries management. I say gently to the Minister and those who are—at least today—above him in the food chain within government that, as the hon. Member for South East Cornwall said, the fishing industry has a long memory. She referred to Elliot Morley’s difficulties with the under-10-metre brigade. Fishermen also remember use of the term “expendable” from the 1970s and the view taken by the then Conservative Government. I urge caution for two reasons: first, we have to be careful once we start calling for apologies, because they can come bouncing back. Secondly, unless the promises made to the fishing industries and fishing communities are honoured in full, the Government will pay a very heavy political price in the future.
There is no reason why those promises cannot be met; it is simply a question of political will. The House and fishing communities will be looking closely to see whether the Government have the political will to deliver the deal that they promised fishermen. It is as a result of those promises that some Members on the Government side have their seats. I am a little sceptical, because there have already been two tests of that will. They could have shown that political will when the former Prime Minister did her withdrawal deal, but she put this area into the political declaration. They could have also shown it when the Prime Minister did his withdrawal deal, but again he put it into the political declaration. For the fishing industry, in terms of political will, we must hope that it is third time lucky.
The difficulties that have come from management of a quota system under the common fisheries policy are well documented, but let us not pretend that those difficulties were created just because the system came from Brussels. People in the fishing industry and fishing communities the length and breadth of this country know that, when it comes to remote, centralised mismanagement of the fishing industry, our own Governments in London and in Edinburgh—doubtless in Belfast and Cardiff too—are just as capable of treating the industry with that same high-handed attitude we have always complained of from Brussels.
There is an opportunity to reset that the system and put fishermen and scientists together at the heart of fisheries management. It does not matter whether we have a quota-based system, a days-at-sea system or some mix of the two; what matters is that the science on which decisions are made is sound and considered in a timely manner. Advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea is two years out of date before it informs a decision, so use of that is wrong and unproductive—and ultimately it is at the root of many of the difficulties we have had with quota mismatch between what is in the sea and what fishermen are allowed to take on to the deck. That is the opportunity the Government face as they construct a future system and the industry will be looking to the Minister and his colleagues in Government to ensure that they actually deliver.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend Mrs Murray for securing the debate—a debate that coastal communities around the United Kingdom, not least in my constituency, have been looking forward to for 47 years. I have spoken in a couple of these debates, and I have spoken about fishing in debates that had nothing to do with fishing whenever I had the chance, but this is the first one since we left the European Union on
At the end of 2020—after the transition period—we will be outside the common fisheries policy, we will take back control of our waters and become an independent coastal state like Norway, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and indeed the EU. That is what most British fishermen want, and I trust the Government to deliver it, not least because of the repeated assurances of the Minister, other Ministers and indeed the Prime Minister. I find it surprising how surprised the media are when such assurances are made. That is not to say, however, that we take anything for granted, particularly as we go into the negotiations. To save time, I will not echo the words of my hon. Friend or of my right hon. Friend Mr Paterson on the importance of getting the negotiations right; those views have been well represented. We will leave the CFP, but, as Opposition Members often remind us, that is not the end of the story. It is the first, crucial step towards reviving our fishing industry and our coastal economy more broadly. This debate is about what needs to be done to maximise that revival in the years and decades to come.
Under the CFP, British boats catch less than 40% of the fish in our waters—a ridiculously low amount compared with closer to 85% for Norway and 95% for Iceland. With the necessary support of both of Scotland’s Governments it is not unreasonable to expect that, over time, we will meet the objective of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation for fishing to be the fastest growing sector in Scotland in the next 10 years. I have made many such representations to the Minister, but what plans do the Government have to support growth of the industry not just in Banff and Buchan but around the United Kingdom?
As has been mentioned, last night the Fisheries Bill completed Second Reading in the other place and will now go to Committee. Opposition Members may be inclined or tempted to amend the Bill when it comes to this House. I tabled an amendment to the previous incarnation of the Bill, as did Mr Carmichael, to ensure that its commencement would take place no later than December 2020. That is now redundant, as we know that commencement will take place at the end of the transition period. In a recent briefing on the Bill, the SFF said:
“It is workable in its current form and should not be rendered unworkable through the addition of unnecessary amendments.”
It is well known that the fishing industry has had difficulty attracting young skippers and crew from local communities—it certainly has in my constituency for most of my adult life—and while exit from the CFP should go some way towards addressing that problem, we must ensure that the post-Brexit system gives opportunities to new and young entrants to the sector. In the short term there will continue to be a need for non-UK crew in the catching sector. In recent years, the industry, already seeing the “sea of opportunity” light at the end of the CFP tunnel, has made moves to attract more new and young entrants, becoming a more professional and safer industry in the process. However, the Scottish White Fish Producers Association estimates that it could take at least another decade before it becomes anything close to self-reliant on local labour. In the meantime, a limited number of non-EEA fishermen can enter the UK to work on our fishing vessels on a transit visa, but they can work only outside 12 nautical miles, which is a particular problem on the west coast of Scotland and the Western Isles—I am sure we will hear about that from Angus Brendan MacNeil. What discussions has the Minister had with the Home Office about that? What can be done?
The future of our fisheries industry is about more than the catching sector. CFP exit can unlock enormous economic potential in our coastal communities. In port towns such as Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Macduff in my constituency, the seafood industry looms large in its own right, and the wider economy also benefits from a thriving fishing industry. Marine engineering and manufacturing, including the only manufacturer of steel-hulled fishing vessels in Scotland, are found in my constituency. The growth of those industries immediately connected to fishing could spur a broader upswing in the coastal economy. More jobs and prosperity will produce yet more jobs and yet more prosperity. Again, we will fully achieve that only if the conditions are right. I mentioned the need for access to skilled migrant workers in the catching sector, but an estimated 70% of workers in the processing sector are born outside the UK. Will my hon. Friend the Minister comment on what is being done in that space? I would appreciate that.
I am aware of the time and want to allow other hon. Members to speak, so I will conclude. The Government have stood by the fishing industry throughout the Brexit process, bringing an end to decades of neglect under the CFP. If we continue to stand with the industry after December and make common-sense reforms and investments, we will make our coastal communities a great Brexit success story.
I thank Mrs Murray for bringing the matter forward, and for her commitment and energy. She is a credit to her constituency. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for the selection of the debate. It is essential, during this time of transition, that we get things absolutely right for our fishing industry. I refer to the industry, rather than to fishermen, because it is about more than the livelihoods of fishing families. It is about an entire industry—the suppliers, the hospitality industry, exports and wider matters. I must give credit where it is due—and not simply to the members of the fishing communities, who have been tireless in their work to secure the future of the fishing industry for the benefit of us all. I must also thank the Fisheries Minister; he knows that he is highly esteemed among all of us who are involved in the fishing sector, and I thank him for all his hard work. I also thank the Immigration Minister for his willingness to make himself available. There are four Members present—they know who they are—who have been working hard on the tier 2 fisheries exception. That is something where we want to see the full potential coming in.
Non-European economic area fishing crew has been an ongoing issue, and David Duguid referred to it. I look forward to working with him and others to bring forward a pilot scheme, which I hope can be endorsed post-Brexit. Our fishing fleet is competing directly with the EU’s, and that means that in Northern Ireland we are competing with Ireland’s fishing fleet. To reach our potential we must have skilled and experienced crews in place. That does not just happen, but it needs to happen for us to succeed. I am very much looking forward, now that we have left the EU, to the extra quota being dispersed among fishermen within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, so that we all gain. Just last week, it was mentioned in the press that the Government are to spend some £30 million on fishing enforcement vessels. It is heartening to know that the Government are spending that money, because it means that the EU fishing fleet cannot come willy-nilly into the waters around the UK and take advantage of the fish resources that belong to us here and not to them.
The Dublin Government first introduced legislation designed to resolve the issues around the recruitment of non-EEA fishermen in 2016, but Irish over-15-metre trawlers are entitled under the common fisheries policy to fish anywhere in the waters around Ireland and the United Kingdom. Ironically, non-EEA fishermen employed in Northern Ireland on over-15-metre trawlers are restricted to operating outside the UK’s 12-mile territorial limit. Again, that puts us at a disadvantage. There are not many options outside the 12-mile limit. We can contrast that to the options available for fishermen working, for example, from Peterhead or Fraserburgh, who have the whole of the North sea at their disposal. Even before the UK becomes an independent coastal state, Northern Ireland’s fishing fleet’s ability to operate competitively with our nearest EU neighbour is being compromised. It is clear to me that the fishermen in Northern Ireland—in Portavogie in my constituency and in Ardglass, Annalong and Kilkeel—need to have the same opportunities as those in the rest of the United Kingdom.
The dominance of the under-10-metre fishing fleet in England Wales is not reflected in Northern Ireland, and it therefore follows that the allocation on that merit does not suit our fleet. The under-10-metre question creates an issue for us, and I would appreciate it if the Minister would respond on that. I have corresponded with other elected representatives—MPs and those in the other place. Margaret Ritchie, who used to be the Member for South Down, will raise in the other place the fact that each devolved Administration must determine how to allocate the fixed quota allocation to its own industry. I am glad to see that. We have a Northern Ireland Assembly in place now and a Minister, Edwin Poots, who can do it, and make the right decisions.
You have been clear about the timings we should work to, Sir George, so my last point relates to the fact that Northern Ireland’s biggest market, as with most things, is mainly Great Britain. We need a clear view of how the trade will operate. I want to know exactly what it means. Will fishing boats landing their fish in Portavogie, Ardglass and Kilkeel have a tariff? Will they not have a tariff if they land fish in Scotland or Wales or England? While I welcome the Government’s commitment to no checks in the trade of food products with Great Britain, I have yet to see how it will work in reality. I urge the Government to give clarity on those essential aspects for the Northern Ireland economy.
The future is bright for the fishing industry, but it is in the Minister’s hands—no pressure. I beg him to work closely with his team, and to work closely with us, the elected representatives, and the regional administrations, so that this once in a lifetime opportunity can be exploited for the benefit of the UK as a whole.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Mrs Murray not only on securing this debate, which is so important, timely and relevant, but also on getting elected to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee yesterday—so well done.
I also enjoyed that privilege, so I look forward to working with her in keeping our friend the Minister on his toes.
There is no way to measure the enthusiasm and appetite in Newlyn, the port that I represent, and right around the coast of my constituency, for the end of the CFP madness. There are some asks from west Cornwall fisheries. What they really want is a fair share. No fisherman has ever said to me that they want exclusive access to all the fish in UK waters. What they want is a fair share of quota and fisheries resources. The Government have said all the right things so far, but fishermen are clear about trade and fisheries—arrangements must be kept separate—and about resisting the EU. We hear from a few individual member states that they will exercise a veto, and so on; but not many of the 27 are that concerned about our waters, and perhaps we should stick to our guns. We should hold our position and not give in to any sort of nonsense from people in, say, France.
However, fishermen are also clear about safeguarding access to the zero to 12 miles. I remember the day when the Minister came down to Newlyn and declared that we were revoking the London convention, which meant that we could restrict access to the 12-mile limit. With the end of the common fisheries policy, that is completed. That is valuable to my inshore fleet and to fishermen around west Cornwall. Fishermen and their representatives are asking for co-management, and they welcome indications from the Government about that. They do not want decisions made in Brussels just moving to Westminster or somewhere else. They want, as the Government have indicated will happen, to be involved in decision-making about the future, so that as those involved in the industry contribute to the discussion, debate and decision-making, unintended consequences of the kind we have seen up to now can be avoided
I want to touch briefly on two matters that are particularly relevant to west Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. If the intention is to maintain the effectively two-tier system of inshore and offshore fisheries, at some point we need to understand the definition of inshore, but today I am talking about the small-scale, low-impact fisheries—the small fishing boats that go out and do their work each day, land fish in the local port and then sell it, often quite locally. I believe that there is a real opportunity—a hunger and thirst—for a new chapter for that inshore fleet post-London convention and post the common fisheries policy.
There is already a natural restriction on that part of the fishing industry. For example, it is limited simply because of the weather—particularly the weather that we get around our coasts. I am sure that is true around Northern Ireland and Scotland as well. Days at sea are limited because of the weather that fairly small vessels can go out in. There is also the question of the capacity of the vessels and the types of gear they use. Already, before quotas and all sorts of other restrictions and legislation are introduced, there is a limit to what those vessels can catch and to the potential harm they can cause to quota, so I would like to think that we can be really ambitious about what can be achieved within the 12-mile limit for our small-scale, low-impact fisheries. They have an opportunity to provide good food for local communities and to see local coastal communities revived. We should not underestimate the frustration within the inshore fleet, especially since the introduction of registration of buyers and sellers legislation, as my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall mentioned. UK fisheries policy must deliver a new chapter for our fishing industry.
I will briefly mention infrastructure spend. In Newlyn we could spend £50 million to bring our port really up to where it needs to be. That would deliver an extra quay with deeper drafted vessels, boat lift, boat repair facilities and engineering—all the things that would deliver the kind of fisheries that the UK wants, and that would help to secure skills and revitalise our coastal communities.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. I congratulate Mrs Murray: we have been debating fisheries together for about eight or nine years in this very room. Fifteen or 20 years ago, I worked on a couple of fishing boats and, unfortunately, I have also known boys who have lost their lives fishing, which should remind us of the heavy price that people pay in the fishing industry. The hon. Member for South East Cornwall knows personally that heavy price. It is a very heavy price—sometimes the ultimate price.
I will re-emphasise a couple of points; I am aware of the restriction of time, Sir George, and I will try to be under my four minutes, to put a smile on your face by the time I have finished. First things first: what can we do now? As David Duguid correctly guessed, my first port of call has to be the non-EEA crews. We should and we could be helping the fishing industry now. The UK Government have the power. It only takes one stroke of the pen, and many of the problems in Northern Ireland, in the west of Scotland and, I think, in the north-east of Scotland could be cured. If only one of the Conservative Ministers could find a pen, they could write to each other and maybe allow some of the non-EEA crews in that we need.
I have in my hand a report given to me by the excellent lawyer who has been working in this area, Darren Stevenson. It is a “Report on the Government Task Force on Non-EEA Workers in the Irish Fishing Fleet December 2015”, with a foreword written by the Tánaiste, Simon Coveney. It shows a Government that is prepared to work with the industry, with the realities of the industry, and ensure that it facilitates people’s coming in. I did have to smile, however, that the self-reported amount of non-EEA crew was about 9.3%, but when inspections were carried out on 25 fishing vessels in Ireland in 2015, it turned out that the non-EEA crews were up to 42%. That did not seem to be a great problem for the Irish Government, who worked with the grain of what was there. In the CFP or out of it, as the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Banff and Buchan and Mr Carmichael all know, fisherman have for years been banging a drum at the Home Office to get that changed, and it has not changed at all.
There is something else that we should be thinking about in the fishing space at the moment. The big shout was that the UK will be leaving the CFP “when Brexit happens”. Now, allegedly, Brexit has happened—although at the moment the UK is in this phase of being a rule taker—but we are most definitely in the CFP. This is an opportunity for fishing reorganisation, and that is what people are talking about in the CFP.
When I look to the Faroe Islands and I see the control they have, I think to myself, “Why don’t the Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland have control of some aspects of their fishing?” We could have a sovereign wealth fund: our 200 miles in the Hebrides is about the only 200 miles that the UK has, so perhaps we could have a reorganisation of fishing entitlements within Scotland. The big boys of inequality in fishing should perhaps take a warning from that. I would like to see a change and make sure that some of the revenues in the fishery waters of the Hebrides go to the Hebrides.
There is also a danger, as we know, that the UK will trade that away. One way to maybe ensure that the UK Government cannot trade it away is not to give them the power in the first place, to respect devolution and make sure that this goes straight to the Scottish Government—who at the moment will not be at the negotiating table to hand it away, because the UK Government will not let them be there. I say to the Minister, “The EU can’t ask for something that you don’t have, and if you make sure that that’s in Scotland’s hands, it won’t be a problem for you.”
We should also be mindful of the immediate problem we have of selling catch to the European Union and the paperwork that will be required. There have been no full answers and no full guidance given to the fishing community and fishermen on that. I have eight seconds left, so I thank all hon. Members for their many reasonable and good contributions made in this debate. If the Minister is listening, change can come and it can be done well.
I apologise to hon. Members, as I have to step out at 10.30 am to chair an all-party parliamentary group meeting. I thank my hon. Friend Mrs Murray for securing this debate and for her work as chair of the all-party parliamentary fisheries group.
I am extremely fortunate that in my constituency I have Salcombe, Dartmouth and Brixham, making it unquestionably the most beautiful coastline in the country—as hon. Members will all agree. However, within my constituency lie three particularly prominent towns that benefit from our leaving the CFP. In Salcombe and Dartmouth, we have a shellfish industry that is booming, which is looking at exports both within the European Union and further afield, and I hope to be able to support that. I think my hon. Friend has raised some of the issues and concerns with the under-10-metre fleet vessels, especially with the recent introduction of the app. In Brixham, I have the highest-valued port in England in terms of catch.
I will use this opportunity to add my thoughts about the future of the UK’s fishing industry and how we might be able to support it. There is no doubt that the feeling in this Chamber has been that our fishing industry has been let down over the past 40 years and that we now have an opportunity in 2020, 2021 and the years ahead to reignite the relationship that we have with not only with our fishermen, but those waterside businesses, of which many are dependent on a vibrant coastal community infrastructure and economy. It is time that this House, this Parliament and this Government showed their dedication to those fishermen and those businesses.
That potential can be unlocked in a number of ways, first and undoubtedly by securing free and independent coastal waters, ensuring that we are not just talking about the freedom and right of navigation, but the freedom and right for us to fish those waters to the full extent, and allowing us to negotiate and renegotiate on an annual basis. We had colleagues from Norway in this room recently, discussing their arrangement with the European Union; I think that is something we would all like to echo, especially to the Minister, as something that the UK might seek to replicate and enhance in the coming years.
We must also ensure that we create a flexible working model that relies on co-management. Having a variety of multiple voices from different areas across the country feed into how we enact policy across our coastline would be of enormous importance and extremely useful. Having a ministerial representative for our English fishing fleet would be in line with what the devolved Administrations have, and something that I know my fishermen in Brixham are extremely supportive of.
Last year, to much applause, the Government introduced the maritime and fisheries fund. I welcome that for the communities that can bid, but my own port in Brixham—I repeat, the largest fishing port in England—has been unable to bid for that fund because it is a local authority port. I do not believe that it sends the message that we are supporting our fishermen when a Government-announced fund restricts their being able to bid. I hope the Minister and his team will work with me to help me to find a way in which we can support that port and other coastal communities.
As I have mentioned, there are a number of waterside businesses that I would like to explore in the years to come, whether that is boat building, dry dock facilities, fish processing plants, the restaurant trade, tourism or environmental conservation, many of which are included in the Fisheries Bill that is coming before this House. Those are all really welcome opportunities, but we must explore how we can increase infrastructure across the country to allow us to exploit the enormous benefit that they will have for our communities. Our fishermen are the stewards, and their success will breed success for other industries.
Mention has been made of the under-10-metre fleet, and I will touch on that briefly. First, there seems to be a problem for those under-10-metre vessels about where they are registering their catch. The lists are based on EU port data, which means that in my constituency a number of ports are not registered. We are unable to put in applications for bids because those ports are not registered on the EU data app, so when we would like to request funding for, say, winches or any equipment for those ports, there is an inability to do so.
The second thing revolves around digital connectivity: an app that is unable to connect—especially in my constituency, which lags some 9% behind the rest of the country in terms of digital connectivity—makes it near impossible for any fisherman coming in to be able to connect and register that catch before landing. That is something that I would very much like to see delivered.
Finally, Scotland is home, I believe, to a skipper training school, but there is not one within England that I have recognised, although I am very happy to be wrong on that. I am working with my own fishing roundtable, which held its first meeting two weeks ago, to see how we can explore opportunities to create a skipper training school, to encourage people into the industry and to ensure that people can see the vibrancy and opportunity within it. I hope we can explore the different avenues and potential for expanding that.
I will end on this: the Prime Minister is often quoted as saying that he is in favour of “oven-ready” deals or opportunities. It seems to me that there is a perfect opportunity for us to deliver for our coastal communities and to expand on an industry and a trade in which we have a long and fruitful history. I look forward to working with hon. Members across the House in doing so.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. I congratulate Mrs Murray on bringing forward this important debate.
I will make a few points. With devolution re-established in Northern Ireland, the Minister will have a friend in Northern Ireland under the Ministry of Edwin Poots, who has a proven track record in dealing with environmental issues as a farmer himself and as a person who has dealt with the fishing community over the years. I hope that that leads to a good rapport between the Department here and the Department in Northern Ireland, because we require good partnerships between Westminster and the devolved regions to make sure that we get our act together and that fishing interests across the entire United Kingdom are properly and fairly met. That is absolutely essential.
Northern Ireland promotes evidence-based protection of our marine environment, side by side with a sustainable and profitable fishing industry, which can only be done when there is good co-operation between fishermen, producers and processors, industry leaders and advisers and the Department. It is essential that those good relationships are honed and developed.
In the Irish sea, 80% of the UK’s fishing effort comes from Northern Irish fishermen, who need to be treated fairly and allowed to continue to have a profitable industry. The fishing industry expects to be part of realising the full potential that Members rightly alluded to, and the opportunities that people say will exist with Brexit have to become tangible and meaningful. As with Norway 40 years ago, the EU will have to accept a diminution of the share of catches from EU waters, which means that catches for non-EU boats will have to be properly negotiated and shared out. We want to make sure that our fishermen’s rights are properly enforced and protected by our Government; that sovereign British waters remain sovereign British waters; and that we get the lion’s share of the catch in those waters.
The Irish election throws up a particular challenge for Northern Ireland. With Sinn Féin now the largest party in both parts of the island, will it defend the EU policy that annually loots Northern Ireland fishermen’s rights? Let us see if it actually protects the interests of fishermen in the Republic of Ireland against the rights of fishermen in Northern Ireland. That will be a huge challenge for Sinn Féin, and no doubt for the Minister whenever he negotiates arrangements and agreements between our nations. It will be interesting to see what side Sinn Féin falls on. I would not like to hazard a guess; I suspect I know, but let us wait and see what ultimately happens.
There are four or five key issues that the Minister has to address. Crews have already been alluded to by several Members, and I know he will want to speak on that. However, there is a challenge for the Government as to how they will apportion catch within the UK to UK regions. That is absolutely essential. Fishermen are waiting to know the plan, and trust that it will be fair and proportionate. While the crews issue needs to be finalised, remember that Northern Ireland stands on the frontline with the EU, in terms of its land border and its sea border, and it is therefore absolutely essential that Northern Ireland’s fishermen are given protections and the absolute right to fish our sea without being encumbered by threats from Ireland.
A 2018 Select Committee report mentioned that we need a proper processing hub and a new harbour at Kilkeel, and I encourage the Minister to deliver that. Finally, what plans do the Government have to manage catches of lobster, salmon, mussels, oysters and other crustaceans on the north coast for smaller fishermen?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mrs Murray on securing the debate.
Over the next few months, the future of fishing in the UK will be the focus of much attention in Westminster, in the media and, most importantly, in those coastal communities that all here represent. We have a great opportunity to revitalise the industry, so that it can play a full role in the economy of towns such as Lowestoft, where in recent decades its importance has greatly diminished. Time is short, so I will make some brief comments, first on the Fisheries Bill, then on the upcoming trade negotiations and finally on how we should set about rebuilding the industry post Brexit.
The Fisheries Bill provides the framework within which the industry will be rebuilt. Generally, its provisions should enable us to do that, although consideration should be given to amendments to address the following issues. First, we should ensure a fairer distribution of fishing opportunities in favour of those inshore boats, the under-10-metre vessels that make up the majority of the East Anglian fleet. Secondly, full consideration should be given to how best to strengthen the economic link, so as to ensure that coastal communities have every opportunity to benefit from increased landings. Thirdly, the ability to fish sustainably should be ingrained in the Bill, and there must be no loopholes whereby unacceptable practices, such as electro-pulse fishing, can continue.
As the Government commence negotiations on our future trading relationship with the EU, I urge them to bear in mind at all times the importance of fishing in regenerating coastal communities and the role it can play in levelling out the economy right across and around the UK. The Renaissance of East Anglian Fisheries report, launched on
In the coming months, the Government must be proactive not on two fronts—the Fisheries Bill and trade negotiations—but three, because they need to put in place the management systems and infrastructure needed to rebuild the UK fishing industry. The REAF report sets out how we can do that in East Anglia. I am grateful to the Minister for his support for the project, but we need to implement the report’s recommendations. I will briefly outline how we should do this.
First, I would be grateful if the Minister asked his officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Marine Management Organisation to engage proactively with East Suffolk Council, which is supporting the project, to ensure that it moves forward quickly to the implementation stage. Secondly, the Minister has previously advised that the Government will carry out an hours-at-sea pilot. Our request is that this should take place in East Anglia. Thirdly, there is a need not only in East Anglia but all around the UK to invest in infrastructure. The fleet, our ports and our processing facilities are in urgent need of upgrading, and I urge the Minister to ensure that there is provision for that in the
I do not know whether hon. Members have had the pleasure of visiting Fleetwood, eight miles north of our famous neighbour, Blackpool, on the Lancashire coast. The town boomed in the first half of the 20th century, mainly down to the deep sea fishing industry, which at its height employed around 9,000 people in the town. Unfortunately, the second half of the 20th century was less kind to Fleetwood. Anyone who knows anything about fishing will know that the late 1960s and early 1970s saw the cod wars and the decline of the deep sea fishing industry.
Because Fleetwood was a deep sea fishing town, the loss of trawlers and fishing grounds in the north Atlantic hit our town hard. The last deep sea trawler left Fleetwood in 1982, three years before I was born. We now have only a small number of inshore fishing boats in the port. However, there being so few left does not mean that we do not have an emotional connection and a sense of identity around fishing. In fact, there are still many fishing industry jobs in the town, including in fish processing—and, of course, there is the biggest employer in the town, Lofthouse of Fleetwood, which manufactures the famous Fisherman’s Friend lozenges, which I am sure everyone is familiar with.
I cannot claim that the loss of the deep sea fishing industry is alone responsible for Fleetwood’s decline—the empty shops on Lord Street, the lower than average life expectancy and higher unemployment rates. It has to be seen in a wider context, with things such as cheap package holidays taking away from the tourist industry on the Lancashire coast and the Beeching cuts severing us from the national rail network—although I am optimistic that we might see some progress on that. The decline in the fishing industry in Fleetwood is an important part of the story of our town, and why so many of my constituents will be following today’s debate and the Fisheries Bill closely.
There are high hopes riding on the Fisheries Bill. Communities like mine have an emotional connection to fishing, despite many decades of decline. When communities such as Fleetwood voted to leave the European Union, under the banner of “take back control”, many were thinking about the fishing industry. Those people do not want to see us taking back control of our waters only for those waters to be ceded in a trade negotiation with the EU. That is what they fear. If that fear is realised, I cannot overstate the sense of betrayal that will be felt in coastal communities, not just in Fleetwood but up and down the country.
Turning to the Fisheries Bill, which has been the main focus of the debate today, I have two main asks that I would like the Bill to deliver. First, it has to be a requirement for fish caught under a UK quota to be landed in a UK port, because every one job at sea supports 10 jobs on shore. That could be a huge part of the regeneration of coastal communities up and down our islands.
We also want to see a redistribution of the UK quota away from the large multi-national companies, because two thirds of employment is generated by boats under 10 metres, which have only 6% of the quota. It would not take that much of a redistribution to have a disproportionately large effect in terms of regeneration and supporting jobs on shore, as well as at sea.
If we are truly to grasp every opportunity outside the common fisheries policy and to look to the long term, we need to look at how the fishing industry is supported to grow. That will require a holistic approach to issues such as safety: commercial fishing remains one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.
I will finish my remarks, Sir George, where I started: Fleetwood. On the Esplanade two bronze figures stand on the seafront looking out to the Irish sea. They are a memorial to all the fishermen who did not make it home. If, as I hope, we see a revival in fishing in the UK, it has to be one in which the Government take safety seriously and that supports the people who fish our seas, to put food on the plates of our nation.
I congratulate Mrs Murray on securing this important and timely debate. It gives us all, wherever we sit, the opportunity to set out our hopes and, perhaps, some of our fears over the change that is to come.
I was taken by the hon. Lady’s observations about how Norway and its relationship with the EU could set a precedent. That is a laudable ambition, but I would caution that the Norwegian Government seem to set greater importance by their fishing industry than the UK Government do, given the evidence of recent years. We will see how that transpires.
I was also taken by the comments made by Jim Shannon, about the prospect of no longer seeing EU vessels coming into our waters. I will touch on that later. My particular concern, which I share with many colleagues, is about the differentiated relationship that will potentially exist between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and whether we will see fish caught in Scottish waters landed in Scottish ports, or whether they will go through Northern Ireland for seamless access to important EU markets, that might not otherwise be accessed.
The hon. Members for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall), for Waveney (Peter Aldous) and for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) all spoke about the importance of making sure the economic opportunities were fully seized on shore; I completely concur with that.
My group and the Scottish Government will consider the Fisheries Bill carefully, to assess whether it delivers for Scottish fishing communities, in our view. We will seek to improve it throughout the process, wherever we have the opportunity. We will be guided by the sustainable and responsible vision for fisheries management set out in the Scottish Government’s “Future of fisheries management in Scotland: national discussion paper.”
It remains a matter of real concern that UK Ministers have taken power to set quota for Scotland-only stocks. Even if they have no intention of using it, it is a matter of concern that that decision has been taken. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about it.
In preparation for the debate I cast my mind back to a statement issued by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations in April 2018. They set out three criteria by which they would measure the success of the Government’s negotiating outcomes. Those criteria were about
“actual as well as legal authority” over fisheries; whether
“fisheries management decisions on shared stocks” would be made through bilateral annual agreements; and about the ability to secure “free and frictionless trade.” I will deal with each in turn.
Regarding the first criteria—
“actual as well as legal authority”— obviously, even as a coastal state, we will still be subject to the United Nations convention on the law of the sea and the concept of the total allowable catch, but if all we do is use the legal authority to take back control of the seas and repackage the status quo with a Union Jack around it, that will be very much a missed opportunity, far from the goals set out.
Secondly, I turn to “shared stocks” and bilateral agreements. I apologise, Sir George; at the outset I should have declared an interest. I am vice chair of the North Sea Commission’s marine resources group and had the opportunity to attend a fisheries conference in the Netherlands province of Flevoland. There, I had the privilege to hear Peter van Dalen, a Member of the European Parliament in the European People’s Party group, talk about an earlier stage in Brexit discussions. He thought there should be a link between access to waters and access to markets. We can instantly see the danger with that. Even if we manage to get the relationship right at the outset, given the imbalance in negotiating power and the importance of fishing to the economies of other countries relative to our own, bilateral negotiations are a risk. Access and quotas simply become a factor in annual politicking. I do not have a huge amount of confidence that UK fishermen, wherever they fish from, will necessarily always be the beneficiaries of that outcome.
Thirdly, “free and frictionless trade” depends on what sort of deal is struck, or indeed if one can be struck at all. A no-deal situation, or one that sees divergence or a lack of alignment, could create significant difficulties for exporting a product, whether it is a primary product or one at the value-added stage. For example, I am currently a member of Aberdeenshire Council, which, like all local authorities, provides environmental health officers. There remains a real concern about the need to provide export health certificates for catches, if they are required. That would obliterate small-value exports of single or small numbers of boxes. There are simply not enough EHOs to cope with what would be required. The qualifications to become an EHO are a Bachelor of Science degree and two years’ experience, meaning that people need to have a minimum of five years’ experience before they can sign off their first consignment.
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point and I agree that we do not have enough environmental health officers. As a current—and soon to be recovering—member of Aberdeenshire Council, can he explain why the council has to cut back on environmental health officers?
The hon. Gentleman would be better advised to direct that question to his colleague Councillor Jim Gifford, who is the leader of the council. As members of the same party they will have ample opportunity to discuss the question. My point was that it takes five years from scratch to build EHO capacity, and without that there is a huge problem, which we cannot gloss over.
There is also a need to have heat treated pallets for exports, wagons and drivers with appropriate credentials, and there is the prospect of delays at ports. For a perishable product, that is bad news, especially as the European Union accounts for 77% of total Scottish seafood exports by value.
The only area of opportunity that I could concede Brexit offers is in terms of the value that could come to fishing and coastal communities. However, that requires investment in skills and training and requires the manufacturers, the producers, to have access to product. As hon. Members said, it depends very much on zonal attachment and getting access to that product. It depends very much on free and frictionless access to markets. It also depends on freedom of movement. I sat through a rather dispiriting Government response to a debate yesterday afternoon in the main Chamber about freedom of movement. We absolutely do need to have that if we are to take full advantage.
It is very clear—
Thank you, Sir George. It is very clear that we have a Government in Edinburgh who take these issues seriously and are aware of them. I look forward to the Minister’s response to find out whether the same is true in London.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. I am still relatively new to this place, but I know, like many others, the very personal commitment to and passion for the UK fishing industry that Mrs Murray has. Although we may not agree on everything, we stand together on the frontline in the fight for a sustainable, productive and successful fishing industry in all parts of the United Kingdom. I shall take a leaf out of the book of Mr Carmichael and say that no apologies will be made today on decisions made over previous decades. Instead, we want to work together to ensure that the UK fishing industry thrives in the new post-Brexit era.
All hon. Members here will know that this is a topical debate. I welcome the opportunity to address some of the points raised by the hon. Member for South East Cornwall; to share the vision of Her Majesty’s Opposition for the future of UK fisheries; and to highlight some of the areas of concern on which we want real action in the weeks and months ahead.
The UK fishing industry is old and established—it is at the core of many communities up and down the country and in all four nations of the United Kingdom. From Grimsby to Holyhead and from Kilkeel to Aberdeen, many jobs have relied on the UK fishing industry for generations, and many dinner tables in the UK, and right across the European continent and beyond, have been blessed by the catches from our waters.
Hon. Members across the Chamber will remember the campaign slogans used during the EU referendum campaign in 2016 and the most recent general election: we will “take back control”, we will be “an independent coastal state” and we will “leave behind the common fisheries policy”. The Conservative party made so many promises, but there is very little to show for it so far. So many promises were made: it would be a huge betrayal if the Government failed to deliver on them or, worse still, sold out the UK fishers to get the trade deal that we were told was ready to go but that the Government are now furiously trying to secure.
The European Union has indicated that everything will be on the table to get a trade deal; the UK Government say otherwise. There will always be some form of brinkmanship during negotiations, but we cannot play games with our fishing industry. I hope the Minister will make that clear to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and to the Prime Minister himself.
Time is of the essence. Come
Her Majesty’s Opposition are clear, and as the shadow Minister responsible for fisheries I am clear, that we want UK fishers to get a fair and sustainable deal. I thank Peter Aldous for his expert comments on the need for sustainability, which is vital as we go forward. We want a deal based on the best scientific knowledge, and with the strict application of the maximum sustainable yield quotas that were sadly lacking from the common fisheries policy. The Government have an opportunity to create a flourishing and healthy marine environment—one with replenished stocks and that helps to deliver on our net zero carbon ambitions.
I want fishing quotas to be distributed more fairly, away from the select few who dominate ownership and to the smaller boats and fleets that use low-impact gear, as Derek Thomas so eloquently highlighted. Smaller operations create significantly more jobs per tonne of fish landed than the larger companies. We also want high levels of compliance with fishing limits, through the use of compulsory surveillance technology and an increase in inspection vessels to ensure that deliberate overfishing is punished; that was mentioned by Jim Shannon. I also want to be clear that British fish, caught in British waters, must land in British ports. That brings jobs and maintains livelihoods.
We should see an end to the unnecessary red tape that the Government send our fishers’ way. One example, obviously, is the catch app, which has been well highlighted today by my right hon. Friend Mark Tami, Liz Saville Roberts and, of course, the hon. Member for South East Cornwall. It is ill thought out, and we need the Government to pause and rethink.
One job at sea is worth 10 jobs on land. My hon. Friend Cat Smith highlighted the importance of onshore jobs associated with the fishing industry. We need to empower and enrich areas that have been let down by a decade of Tory austerity, and we can do that by delivering a sustainable and equitable fishing industry. We can do that by setting a requirement in the new licences to land at least 70% of the catch in our ports, supported by UK Government investment in green infrastructure. That will help in turn to grow the marine leisure and recreational fishing sectors.
I want to say a word about Northern Ireland and the real challenge facing the UK Government. The Government have indicated their commitment to the integrity of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but in reality they have put a border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and that border sits on the Northern Irish ports. It will have a significant impact on the territorial waters of the UK and the Republic of Ireland. These complicated issues will require serious and meaningful negotiation, and I urge the Government to ensure exactly that.
A frictionless border between the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe and the world will be key. Our fish and seafood, including shellfish, which Anthony Mangnall reminded us about, are all perishable and will diminish in quality, value and availability if they have to sit in customs for days on end. One major value of British fish today is that it can be anywhere in Europe in a matter of hours rather than days. We need to keep it that way.
I acknowledge the hon. Member for South East Cornwall’s constituency and family commitment to fishing. I hope that she will join me in holding the Government to account on their promises, so that together we can ensure that they do not put our fishers out of business.
I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend Mrs Murray, who, as a number of hon. Members said, has been a passionate campaigner for the fishing industry; her technical knowledge of this sector is second to none. It is great that she managed to secure the debate today, because of course we would generally have an annual fisheries debate in December, in the run-up to the December Council negotiations. Last December, however, all of us had other things on our minds—knocking on doors and delivering leaflets. It is therefore good and timely that we are having the debate now.
My hon. Friend explained in some detail the genesis of our problem with the common fisheries policy. It is essentially that in the 1970s, as we joined the European Union, we gave the European Union the right to control access to our waters—and at exactly the same time, we were being progressively driven out of our traditional fishing grounds in Iceland. The first, second and third cod wars culminated, in 1976, with British fishing vessels, the long-distance fleet, being excluded to 200 miles from Iceland.
My hon. Friend was also right in saying that while the EU was developing catch data in the late ’70s, we ended up with an appalling and unfair share of the catch, under what became known as “relative stability”—partly because our fleet was in Icelandic waters and therefore not fishing to the extent that it normally would in our own waters, and partly because of patchy data and patchy data recording. Relative stability has remained set in stone ever since. It is based on a reference period in the late 1970s that is not representative of the fish in our waters and not representative of what we were catching even at the time; it also it did not take account of the fact that much of our fish was being caught in Iceland.
Ironically, the defeat of the UK in the third cod war in 1976 led to the establishment of an international convention giving independent coastal states control of their exclusive economic zone out to 200 nautical miles or the median line. That was formalised in the UN convention on the law of the sea in the early 1980s. This is often not understood, but our right to control our exclusive economic zone is not something we must negotiate with the European Union; it simply happens as a point of international law, which is widely understood by the European Commission.
As my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall said, we are clear that we want to be like Norway: an independent coastal state in control of the resources in our waters, holding friendly annual negotiations with our neighbours—a mutual exchange of access as well as an annual discussion on the total allowable catch and who should have what share of that catch, species by species. Our approach will move away from the outdated, unfair and unscientific relative stability sharing mechanism that currently pertains in the EU to a modern, more scientific approach based on zonal attachment, as my hon. Friend Peter Aldous indicated. In those annual negotiations we will also seek a mutual agreement on exchange of access, deciding what species and areas that should involve, and what sharing arrangements should be attached to any mutual access agreed.
We are making good progress in preparing for this new world. Yesterday, Lord Gardiner took the Fisheries Bill through its Second Reading. It passed without incident. I was there for the closing speeches and I can report that all Members of the House of Lords were content to give the Bill a Second Reading. The Bill sets out several important things about our approach. First, it gives us a legally binding commitment to fish sustainably and observe maximum sustainable yield when taking part in fisheries negotiations, and to have a series of management plans for individual stocks, to demonstrate how we intend to get to sustainable fishing on each. Secondly, the Bill gives us crucial powers to control access to our exclusive economic zone and to require foreign and domestic vessels to have licences—and to attach conditions to those licences when people seek access to our exclusive economic zone. Thirdly, it gives us crucial powers to change technical conservation measures, so that we can make timely amendments—to closures for spawning grounds, to gear types and to nets, for instance.
My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall and others mentioned the new—currently not particularly popular—app, which we have asked the vessels under 10 metres to start using. I believe that is the right decision: if we want to move to a more sophisticated way of managing the inshore fleet—maybe to give them quotas that run for several months, rather than just one month at a time, or to experiment with effort-based regimes—it is important that we have reliable data on catch. Studies carried out by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science have shown that there is a significant mismatch between what is recorded through sales notes and what is being caught and observed on vessels, so we need to improve the quality of the data that we have.
It is worth noting that vessels over 12 metres and those between 10 and 12 metres have a two-stage process. They must record and log their catch data, which can be based on an estimate, but, in the case of the over-12s, within 24 hours they then must submit a landing declaration, which has the precise weight of each species. For reasons I entirely understand, the under-10s said that they did not want the administration involved in a two-stage process when we explored this option with them. They did not want to have to record catch data and a landing declaration.
Our approach—a one-system approach of catch data only—was designed at the request of the industry to make the process simpler. We think most fishermen can make reasonable estimates of their weight; they do not have to do it while at sea. They can do it when they have tied their vessel up. They can weigh the fish and submit the record as they unload it from their vessel. We are working with them to ensure we can make this work in practice.
My hon. Friend also mentioned the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, which is obviously linked to the well-known Factortame case, which became an important test case about the sovereignty of Parliament in relation to EU law. It established the principle that while the European Communities Act 1972 existed, EU law had supremacy over UK law. As a Parliament, we have remedied that situation by repealing the 1972 Act; in future, we could look again at provisions such as those in the Merchant Shipping Act. However, as we set out in our White Paper, our clear preference is to review the economic link and to look at whether some of those foreign-owned vessels should be required to land more of their catch into UK ports, rather than getting into a more difficult discussion about whether we should take those rights away from them, given that they bought the vessels in good faith. We do not rule out something like the Merchant Shipping Act, but we have no immediate plans for such legislation.
Mr Carmichael asked why fishing is in the political declaration. It is simply there to say that we will strive to have a partnership agreement with the EU, just as the EU currently has with Norway. We will use our best endeavours to get that by July. If there is no partnership by July, there is no consequence. International law is what it is, and we will still negotiate as an independent coastal state at those critical annual fisheries negotiations at the end of the year.
My hon. Friend David Duguid talked about the importance of having a plan to support the growth of the industry—particularly in his constituency, where there is a great deal of fish processing. My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney made a similar point in respect of the Renaissance of East Anglian Fisheries project in his area. My hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan is obviously very vocal on this, since the Prime Minister frequently asks me what our plan is to support our fishing industry and to put in place the infrastructure to ensure we can harness its potential as we leave the EU. We are giving some thought to that area.
Several hon. Members raised the issue of attracting new entrants, which is an area that we are looking at. We are examining some of the approaches adopted in the Faroes and in the USA, and we are working with Seafish and the Seafood 2040 industry group to review a number of recommendations for supporting new entrants coming into the industry.
Jim Shannon talked about the importance of resolving some of the questions about the Northern Ireland protocol, to ensure that trade can continue. We are absolutely clear that Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK customs union, but I appreciate that a few minor technical details regarding that protocol still need to be worked through. My hon. Friend Derek Thomas made a very good point about the importance of splitting trade discussions from fisheries. We are very clear that there will be a fisheries partnership agreement and then a trade agreement. He also made a good point about looking at the way we define inshore fisheries, asking whether the current definition is appropriate, and ensuring that we think about the inshore fleet as we move forward.
My hon. Friend Anthony Mangnall raised the issue of local authority ports currently being unable to access the maritime fund; that is another area that we are looking at. I am afraid that EU state aid rules are the source of the problem, and will be dealt with in the usual way, but we are considering that issue. Finally, Ian Paisley asked what we are doing about lobsters and shellfish. We are considering whether technical or catch measures could be put in place to manage those stocks.
I thank all hon. Members for attending this debate, which has been one of the best-attended fisheries debates I have seen in quite a long time. I think the Minister has heard the message loud and clear: we want UK fishermen to be treated such that, first and foremost, they can get the majority of fish in UK waters, just as the Prime Minister confirmed. We are looking to both the Minister and the Prime Minister to deliver on that promise.
Motion lapsed (