UK Fisheries — [Sir George Howarth in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:40 am on 12th February 2020.

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Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Labour, Newport West 10:40 am, 12th February 2020

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 1 January 2021, we need to be ready to go with a new policy, a new approach and a new plan. Yesterday, the other place saw the Second Reading of the Fisheries Bill, as David Duguid stated. It has been heralded as the Government’s flagship attempt to deliver for the UK fishing industry. As my noble Friend Baroness Jones of Whitchurch said yesterday, the Bill sets out a framework to regenerate the fishing sector in the United Kingdom. At its core is the UK’s right, following our departure from the European Union, to operate as an independent coastal state under the UN, as Ian Paisley so forcefully expressed. The Government have made much of the potential of that to deliver for British fishers, but we all know very well the challenges that they will face in trying to negotiate a deal with our European partners—a deal that must receive the approval of every one of the 27 remaining nations.

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.