UK Fisheries — [Sir George Howarth in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:53 am on 12th February 2020.

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Photo of David Duguid David Duguid Conservative, Banff and Buchan 9:53 am, 12th February 2020

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 31 January.

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.