UK Fisheries — [Sir George Howarth in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:32 am on 12th February 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Richard Thomson Richard Thomson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business and Industry) 10:32 am, 12th February 2020

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.