UK Fisheries — [Sir George Howarth in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:09 am on 12th February 2020.

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Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade Team Member), Chair, International Trade Committee, Chair, International Trade Committee 10:09 am, 12th February 2020

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.