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.