Fisheries Management — [Sir Charles Walker in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall on 13th July 2021.

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Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Administration Committee, Chair, Administration Committee 9:25 am, 13th July 2021

Okay, everybody, you know what the rules are. Mr Carmichael will lead off. The three Front Benchers have 10 minutes each, and there will be two minutes at the end for Mr Carmichael as well.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered fisheries management after the UK’s departure from the EU.

It is, as ever, a pleasure to serve under you in the Chair, Sir Charles. First, I place on the record my gratitude to the Backbench Business Committee for allowing time for this debate.

Before turning to the business of today’s debate, I want to say a few words about the recent and very sad passing of David Linkie, former editor of Fishing News. David’s work on Fishing News was more than just journalism; it was a mission to give a voice to the fishing industry and to the communities that depend on it. I will not claim to have agreed with every word he ever wrote, but we do not have to agree with someone to acknowledge their passion, sincerity and commitment, and in David, all that and more shone through. His contribution will be missed, and I am sure that hon. Members from all parts of the House will want to send condolences to his family.

I hope that David would approve of what today’s debate is about, which is giving a voice in Parliament to our fishing industries—industries that were promised so much by politicians, from the Prime Minister downwards, and that now look to him and them to deliver on what they promised. When the holding of today’s debate was first announced, I put out a call for evidence to hear the views of people in the industry and its associated sectors. I anticipated a healthy response, but even so I was astonished at the volume and content of what I received. The emails came in from all around the coast, from catchers, processors, engineers and traders, and all with the same message: the deal struck by the Prime Minister on Christmas eve is not what they were promised and, six months into its first year, it is causing massive difficulties.

One Shetland skipper spoke for many when he wrote:

“I run a small wooden 22-metre trawler around Shetland. We have a ridiculously small cod quota and we find it impossible to avoid cod, there is more cod around Shetland right now than at anytime in living memory but our quota is minuscule. It has been said by skippers recently that you can catch your year’s quota in one day! There are also plans to cut the cod quota further in 2022, so it begs the question why are we still using the broken quota system the EU put in place now that we are an independent coastal state?”

Magnus, a 19-year-old fisherman from Whalsay, who has plans to buy into a whitefish boat with a few close friends and so is the future of this industry, asked:

“Why is the fishing industry having to fight their own Government for survival? Why do their advisory boards have no qualified fishermen or ex fishermen or fish processors advising them? Why are they allowing uncontrolled fishing by foreign vessels in our waters?”

From Cornwall, at the other end of the country, a skipper wrote to me as

“someone who has fished for 40 years from my home village of St Mawes in Cornwall.”

He said:

“There were 18 boats worked here when I started, all with 2 or 3 crew and now we are down to the last 2 trawlers, both working single-handedly due to the constant negativity surrounding the industry. With Brexit we had a golden opportunity, the one and only chance to keep these vessels out to at least 12 miles, the meridian line would be the next goal but no, an unbelievably weak Government has put us in a worse position than before.”

In coastal and island communities around the country, the anger and frustration felt by fishermen is almost palpable. They feel let down and used, and they want answers. At the start of the year, we saw catastrophic gridlock as exporters seeking to take advantage of what would traditionally be the busiest week of the first quarter were unable to get their fish to market in continental Europe. Promises were made then that British businesses would be compensated for their losses, and I spoke to one local exporter in Shetland who was looking at a loss in the region of £50,000; he was not alone. The Minister and the Secretary of State made big promises about compensation schemes, but how did that work out? I spoke to the same person again yesterday. He had sought to mitigate his loss by selling his fish at a much lower price on the domestic market and, in doing so, he managed to limit his loss to £20,000 rather than the £50,000 loss that he had originally faced. When he applied for help to meet that restricted loss, he was told that because he had sold his fish—he had done the responsible thing—there would be no assistance for him. If, when the Minister promised in January to help exporters, she had meant that to qualify for that help, they would have to leave their fish to rot, she should have said so. Will she revisit how that compensation scheme has worked?

Processors have been badly hit as a result of their inability to source the labour that they need to run their businesses. One major processor in Peterhead told me a few weeks ago that he was constantly at least 10% down on his required staffing levels. That means that either he is paying overtime to his staff, or he has to restrict the range of work that he takes on; either way, it has a massive impact on his profitability. What is the Minister doing to bring home to our colleagues in the Home Office the need to ensure that the processing centres have access to the skilled labour that they need?

The Prime Minister’s deal was deficient in many respects. For the catching sector, one of the most dramatic of those was the loss of easy access to in-year quota swaps. The Secretary of State assured us that those could easily be agreed on a Government-to-Government basis. However, as we enter the third quarter of the year, having only recently and finally established the quota entitlement for this year, we still do not know how these in-year quota swaps are going to work. Can the Minister tell us when the industry might expect to be told how it will get access to the extra quota that it needs? With every week that passes, this becomes more urgent.

Another theme that came through loud and clear from fishermen in every part of the country was their unhappiness at the inequality of treatment when it comes to sea boardings by fisheries enforcement officers. In Scotland, that is the responsibility of Marine Scotland. Marine Scotland figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show a massive disparity between the approach to UK boats and to the French and Spanish fleets, which are allowed to go about their business virtually unmolested. Why is that? Is it, as was suggested to me, because fisheries protection officers do not have the same access to real-time catch data from foreign vessels as they do for UK boats? Again, the complaint is the same around the coasts; it seems that what is true of Marine Scotland is true also of enforcement agencies south of the border.

The Minister has heard me speak before about the practice of gillnetting off the west of Shetland. This practice is environmental lunacy. It is just about the most unsustainable form of fishing imaginable: it contributes massively to the problem of plastic pollution in our oceans and means that for several square miles of water at a time, local boats are excluded from fishing areas that they have traditionally seen as their base grounds. For years, we were told that this was something that we had to live with as part of the common fisheries policy. That no longer applies, so why do we still allow it?

The Minister also knows, because I have told her, of the friction between local boats and gillnetters. When the Fisheries Act 2020 passed into law, I urged her to give the Maritime and Coastguard Agency powers to police the waters in our exclusive economic zone, between 12 miles and the 200-mile limit. She knows how close the Alison Kay came to disaster in her encounter with the Spanish gillnetter Pesorsa Dos. I have to tell the Minister, though, that the situation continues to be bad, and that in fact it is getting worse.

On Monday 28 June, Ross David Robertson and his crew, in his trawler Mizpah, were operating in traditional grounds north of Shetland when they were confronted by the Genesis FD 19, a 30-metre, 298-tonne longliner. It crossed the bow of the Mizpah and came within three metres of hitting it. Ross David Robertson told The Fishing Daily,

“‘We are trying to fish on grounds to suit our quota allocation but can’t get fishing because of these vicious wolf packs chasing us off. The seamen ship off these guys are totally horrendous. Put the fishing to the side on this matter, it’s the danger they put both vessels in that’s totally against the law,’ says Ross. Asked if he has experienced this before, Ross says that he has, and it is a growing concern for him and skippers across the fleet, but they are afraid that the authorities are not doing enough to protect the fleet and one day it will lead to a tragedy. ‘Yes, it’s happening too often,’ he said. ‘Last year another vessel did the same to us and I reported him to the Coastguard and MAIB but I didn’t hear any outcome, so I just presumed it was a waste of time.’”

I have met the Minister and officials from her Department and others about this, and they all come out with lots of good and detailed reasons why it is awfully complicated and difficult to fix. These reasons no longer hold water, however. Will it require a boat to go to the bottom of the sea before somebody takes responsibility and acts to end this irresponsibility?

I am aware that I have already taken quite a lot of the time given to today’s debate. I have a lot more to say, but I am afraid that that must be left to others. In January, I asked the Secretary of State if he would meet me and industry representatives to discuss the problems facing the industry. He ignored the request then and has done so since, so I make it again today. Will the Minister sit down with Members of this House and industry representatives? Will she listen to us and engage? If not, I fear the anger and frustration in the industry will only grow. Our fishing industry still has enormous potential, but to realise that potential requires political will. Do the Minister and her colleagues have that political will, and will they use it for the benefit of our fishing industries and the communities that rely on them?

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Administration Committee, Chair, Administration Committee

The right hon. Gentleman said that he would speak for 12 minutes, but has actually spoken for 11 and a half, so he is top of the pops. I call Mr Neil Parish. There is a four-minute time limit on contributions.

Photo of Neil Parish Neil Parish Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee 9:36 am, 13th July 2021

It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate arranged by Mr Carmichael, for which I thank him. I am standing right next to the Minister, so I will try to be nice to her. It is not an easy job being a fisheries Minister at the moment, because there are many problems to sort out. I will get through all the problems as quickly as I can, and I hope that there may be some solutions.

First, on fishing in Norway, can we apply a temporary trade remedy with Norway to try to get our boats access to these waters? Naturally, we fish for cod in Norwegian waters. As far as shellfisheries are concerned, we still have major problems on the west coast, Wales and others, where we are still unable to trade from class B waters. We have been trying to sort out the different waters, but that seems to be hitting the buffers as well. This really needs to be sorted. It is not all the Minister’s fault. The European Commission could have been, and needs to be, much more amenable to get this to work. We must not be held up as an example to others that may leave the European Union. I rather fear this is where we are with shellfishing.

On international quota swaps, the lack of international swapping has left some companies with less quota than they had before Brexit, and it has left all companies with less flexibility over their quota management. Quota swapping is a key tool in compliance with landing obligations. English fish producer organisations collectively would like, believe it or not, a system that stays as close as possible to the previous one, so that swaps brokered by the producer organisations can be checked and signed off by all devolved Administrations and the swaps can occur at any point during the year. Otherwise, they cannot land the fish they catch. We have worked so hard on this over the years to try to ensure that we stop discarding fish.

The key principles are that whichever devolved Administration donates the quota should receive the incoming quota, and the organisation donating the quota should receive the full incoming quota, so that the levels of quota are kept where they are. There is no fisheries Minister for England, which means that English viewpoints are under-represented in the fisheries discussion. The process for Scotland should not necessarily be adopted for England if other processes would be better for management of English quota.

There are many things for the Minister to do. My final point is probably more for the Chancellor, and I have talked about this before. We must make sure that we give new fishing boats the same capital allowances of 18% a year so that our fishermen can have new boats, new gear and much better safety. That would be much better for the environment and much safer for our fishermen. At the moment, they get only 6% on a new boat and 18% on an old boat. The boats could be made in the north of England. We could have a north-south divide in so far as we could provide the north of England with great employment, and we could have fishing boats all around the country. It is up to us to now develop our fisheries, and I believe that we can.

Once the Minister has flattened out all the little local difficulties with the European Commission, we can get on and actually benefit from leaving the common fisheries policy, because environmentally it was disastrous. We will need to get stuck in so that our fishermen can get back to being able to fish and land what they catch.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Administration Committee, Chair, Administration Committee

Mr Parish, you were four minutes exactly. I am sorry, colleagues; these things are a nightmare to chair because other colleagues pull out at the last minute, but I can now up you to five minutes until further notice. [Laughter.] Seriously, if you put in for these debates, do try and turn up. As you have just seen, a colleague has been discriminated against because of another colleague’s failure to show. I call Angus MacNeil.

Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade Team Member), Chair, International Trade Committee, Chair, International Trade Committee 9:41 am, 13th July 2021

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles, and to hear that we are getting an extra minute. I recall that you and I entered Parliament at the same time, so it adds to the joy. As a co-sponsor of this important debate, along with Luke Pollard, I congratulate Mr Carmichael on securing it. I associate myself with his words about David Linkie, the Fishing News editor, who seemed to be ever-present at fishing exhibitions in Glasgow whenever I went there over the years.

Before I go much further, I would like to mention the Norwegian fishing deal and UK fisheries. I have a letter from Sir Barney White-Spunner, who points out:

“The recent…deal with Norway heaps more pain on an already hamstrung distant waters fleet. At the same time that Norway removed our right to fish for cod in its waters, the UK has given them the right to sell the self-same cod without any tariff at all to UK chippies. In effect the UK government has given the Norwegians the greater part of our market overnight and achieved nothing in return for English fishermen. We are calling on the government to apply a temporary trade remedy to bring the Norwegians back to the negotiating table.”

That deserves to be highlighted and brought to the fore in this debate. Many in the fishing industry in all parts of the UK are suffering quite badly.

I do not want to mention too much—I know I have been given five minutes, but I hope I will be under that time—but I want to talk about the cost and bureaucracy involved in fisheries at the moment. Before Brexit, three quarters of Scottish fishermen’s exports went to the European Union, but there has been an almost exponential rise in costs. Barratlantic, a local fish factory in my constituency, tells me that whereas a mere delivery note used to suffice, it now needs a catch certificate, packing lists and commodity codes, scientific names on consignments, a commercial invoice and an import and export declaration form. It pays the French Government VAT at 5.5%, and it also needs a health certificate. With the health certificate and all the rest, it needs to bring to the fore about eight pieces of paper before it starts exporting, whereas a delivery note once used to suffice.

The upshot is that the export cost to get a product to the continent has trebled from 32p per kilo to around £1 a kilo. Whereas consignments could be sent in three to four pallets, they now have to be sent in pallet loads of 10 to make matters viable and economical. Obviously, that affects the bottom line of many businesses. The Government really have to look quickly at ways of streamlining.

The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland and I have been in touch with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on several occasions to try to get these matters streamlined so that multiple data entries and paperwork are not required. Some things could and should be digitised to enable the transfer of data from one place to the other without the onerous time. The eight pieces of paper that I have mentioned translate into a lot of hours and cost for people who need to get their product to the important markets where we export three quarters of our product.

The final thing I will mention is the £100 million scheme that was promised in January, although apparently the Scottish Government are still waiting for details of that compensation for fishing. Hopefully, the UK Government will be awake and quickly moving on that, because six to seven months has passed and things in Government often move slowly. However, the big promises were there and the big promises should be delivered. The promises were there because of the incompetence that was rained upon those selling fish produce to continental Europe as a result of Brexit and the deal that was struck, which meant all that bureaucracy had come into play.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney 9:45 am, 13th July 2021

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Sir Charles, and I congratulate Mr Carmichael on securing this debate, which I believe is the first fisheries debate that has been held since the signing of the trade and co-operation agreement at the turn of the year. Taking into account the fact that fisheries was centre-stage in the Brexit debate, it is long overdue.

Normally, we have fisheries debates immediately before the annual fisheries negotiations with the EU; straight afterwards, there is invariably a statement in the main Chamber when the Minister announces the outcome of those negotiations and Members have the opportunity to ask questions on behalf of their communities. This year, these particular negotiations, which were historic because they were the first conducted by the UK as an independent coastal state, were understandably concluded only last month, yet it appears that they have been conducted behind a wall of silence. There was no opportunity for colleagues to raise concerns beforehand and there has been no formal and full Government statement since.

The main headline seeping out of the negotiations is that it was agreed that the tonnage limits for the total allowable catch for non-quota species would not be enforced this year. That primarily advantages the EU fleet, it will lead to increased effort in fishing grounds that are already under enormous pressure and it will damage the English inshore fleet. That is hardly an auspicious start to the management of our own waters and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will address that concern in her summing up.

Brexit provides an opportunity to manage our waters in a better and more responsible way, for the benefit of both the marine environment and local people in coastal communities, such as Lowestoft. Around the UK that can play an important role in levelling up, and internationally we can be a global exemplar.

In East Anglia, the fishing industry came together with local councils, Seafish and the New Anglia local enterprise partnership to produce a report—the Renaissance of East Anglian Fisheries study, or REAF. The recommendations of that report have been adapted as a result of the disappointing outcome of the Brexit negotiations and I shall briefly highlight some of the revised proposals.

First, it is important that our fishing stocks are sustainably managed to bring economic benefits to local coastal communities. In the short term, the management of the under-10 metre pool system should be improved to better support the inshore fleet. That requires the Marine Management Organisation to change its approach to trading and valuing quota for the pool.

Secondly, the Government must ban bottom-trawling in marine protected areas, especially on the Dogger Bank. They should also look to restrict engine power in MPAs, which would not only safeguard our fisheries for future generations but reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Thirdly, the southern North sea should be managed as a mixed species fishery, with quota allocations and catch limits in line with the requirements of the discard ban. Funding and practical support should be provided to enable fishermen to trial new types of gear designed to minimise by-catch.

Finally, we need to make more use of data to better manage conflicts between fishing and other marine activities, such as wind farms. That can lead to arrangements that better manage the impact of displacement, which can have devastating impacts on local communities.

In conclusion, we have the opportunity—a golden opportunity—to put in place a world-class system of fisheries management. We have not yet grasped that opportunity. However, I hope and anticipate that, in her summing up, my hon. Friend the Minister will lay out the route map that will enable us to do that.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Administration Committee, Chair, Administration Committee

Just for the record, the next speaker on the list, Tom Randall, was added in error; he is not a withdrawal. He is due to speak in a debate later today.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Attorney General) 9:50 am, 13th July 2021

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Sir Charles; it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I thank Mr Carmichael for securing today’s debate. The comments by Peter Aldous were extremely pertinent—I am very much aware that he is in the party of Government and I am in the party of the Opposition, so perhaps I can express things in slightly different way, but I think his comments were very useful.

Having now come on to the theme of being in one of the Opposition parties, I hope that the Government will apologise to the UK fishing community for the disruption that has marked our departure from the EU, from the start up to the present day. There was, of course, no oven-ready deal. The Government left our fishing industry, and especially the Welsh shellfish industry, high and dry. Overnight, Welsh producers were cut off from their main export market, and that debilitating uncertainty is ongoing. Questions remain about how water is classified and the impact of that on the shellfish industry, particularly in England and Wales.

After years of promising control over our seas, the UK Government folded on the issue of access to UK waters. With asymmetrical interests within the UK fishing industry on access, perhaps one obvious route would be to better involve the Welsh Government in negotiations with the EU, so that we can ensure equitable and sustainable access to Welsh and European waters. However, I understand that the UK Government have seen fit to include the territorial waters of south Wales in an access region stretching from Grimsby in Lincolnshire, around the southern English coast and Cornwall, to Fishguard. Historically, only 10 EU vessels were licensed to operate in south Wales’ waters under the old area regime system. This huge new region opens up Welsh waters to 120 licensed EU vessels.

There is a series of questions here. Could the Minister explain why Wales’ devolved control over our territorial waters appears to have been swept aside? Were the Welsh Government consulted? Did they give up the means to manage conservation of Welsh fish stocks voluntarily, or did the Minister’s Government impose this action without consultation or consent? In addition, what assessment has the Minister made of the potential effect of displacement on Wales, especially on non-quota species, as the UK Government introduce marine conservation zones and highly protected marine areas around England?

If English vessels cannot fish locally, there is a real risk that they will put unsustainable pressure on Welsh stocks because of the Government’s actions. Equally pressing is the challenge of displacement facing our fishing communities as a result of a combination of measures, including a huge expansion in the area devoted to offshore wind farms and improved protection for marine environments. While the Welsh Government have control over marine protection—allegedly—they do not have control over the seabed on which offshore wind developments depend.

One solution would be devolution of the Crown Estate to Wales, as has happened in Scotland. That action would further holistic fisheries management in Wales and support not only our decarbonisation efforts, but the viability of our fishing industry. While I welcome the co-operation between the UK and devolved Governments on joint policy statements, it is essential that such co-operation is grounded in dialogue.

I cannot overstate this: the fishing industry has the knowledge and the vested interests to make conservation work, not from a distant office, but from the living environment of the sea. That would prevent a repeat of the key flaws within the common fisheries policy, such as the landing obligation, and would ensure that fair and sustainable practices were supported across the UK industry. I would particularly welcome any comment by the Minister on how the UK Government are addressing the issue of unlicensed fishing in UK waters, and what support they are offering to the Welsh Government on that issue.

I hope that today’s debate will improve the UK Government’s awareness and responsiveness to the challenges facing both the Welsh and the UK fishing industry, and I would welcome the opportunity to take these matters further in a meeting with the Minister. Diolch yn fawr.

Photo of Wendy Chamberlain Wendy Chamberlain Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Wales), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 10:54 am, 13th July 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I congratulate my right hon. Friend Mr Carmichael on securing the debate. He and others have outlined the challenges faced by the industry, which impact communities across the UK, including the East Neuk of Fife in North East Fife, which I represent.

There is no doubt that fishing has faced and is facing a number of issues. Some of them are longer term, such as changes in consumer taste, the impact of overfishing and the climate emergency. I echo the comments of Liz Saville Roberts, expressing her faith in the expertise of the industry to help tackle that climate impact. We know that the short-term and more acute factors are covid over the past year and a half and Brexit. If we look to future management—the topic of the debate—it is clear that those two are the most critical and acute.

Alongside my hon. Friend Deidre Brock, who will speak later, I serve on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, which has had three sessions, since the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, specifically focused on food and drink and fishing. At the first session, in February, attended by Neil Parish in his role as Chair of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, representatives of the industry outlined a profound sense of disappointment, anxiety and betrayal about how the Government had handled the UK’s departure from the EU in respect of the industry.

The only hope for the future expressed by those representatives at that first session was for the negotiations in 2026 to be handled differently. It was clear that the impact on the industry was now acute and distressing, and that the Government are wholly to blame for that position. Export areas such as groupage have been impacted, which suggests that there has been no assessment of the impact, and that the fishing industry has been made lots of promises but left to fend for itself. No grace period was granted, despite requests. The industry had less than two weeks to respond with a plan related to the EU agreement.

At the second session, in April, I asked Donna Fordyce whether the Scottish and UK Governments were doing enough to progress electronic transmissions—to help move bulk market exports—and streamlining, which would reduce those errors. We again raised the issue of longer-term plans, particularly around funding. I echo the request to the Minister by my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney for more detail on what funding might look like. Elspeth Macdonald pointed out at that session that 60% of landings are in Scotland, and that that needs to be reflected in funding.

As others have outlined, having left the common fisheries policy, the industry still seems to be impacted by that, plus further restrictions brought about by our third-country status in relation to the EU. For example, regarding the haddock quota that we had under the common fisheries policy, the 57% that the Government obtained during the Brexit deal as a result of in-year quota swaps was a 5% cut in quota for that type of fish. We clearly need progress on in-year quota swaps, not just for this year but moving into 2022, so that the industry does not make further losses.

Although agreement has been reached in 2021, it is clear that a lack of progress for future years is critical. What is the progress for 2022? The likely risk is a knock-on effect. Will negotiations for that start next month, as discussed and expected at the Scottish Affairs Committee?

Hon. Members will have often heard a famous quotation by the American poet Maya Angelou, which is usually very motivational:

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I would ask the Minister and the Government to reflect on how the fishery industry is feeling as a result of the past 18 months.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Administration Committee, Chair, Administration Committee

The next speaker withdrew with plenty of notice, so did not secure the ire of the Chair. We now move to Mr Stone.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 9:59 am, 13th July 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I congratulate my right hon. Friend Mr Carmichael on securing this highly important debate—one that is very important to my constituents. As an aside, I have to say that I am personally very grateful that my right hon. Friend is where he is, because he has a considerable knowledge of fisheries from his constituency and that is very helpful to me. I do not have as great a knowledge, which is why I am glad that he is where he is.

I want to use three examples to underpin what I am about to say. The first is that of a gentleman whom I have mentioned before in this place. I had a conversation with him this morning. He is Mr William Calder, the owner of Scrabster Seafoods—the Minister and I have spoken about this gentleman. Today, Mr Calder has put it to me pretty starkly by saying that the cost of getting a 30 kg box of fish, such as monkfish, to his market in Brittany has just about doubled, and that is really eating into his business. It is a local business that employs locally, and it has been in existence for some time. By coincidence, yesterday he had an email from one of his hauliers, saying, “I am really sorry. Because of the situation and the way business has dwindled a bit, we are going to have to up our prices to move your fish from A to B.” Then there is something that I have mentioned several times: every hour and every day of delay cuts into the product being sellable at the end of it all, because absolute freshness is key. So that is Mr William Calder, my good friend, and anything that we can do to help him would be very welcome indeed. I shall return to him in a couple of minutes.

The second person I want to mention is my friend Mr Peter Sinclair, whom I have mentioned to the Minister before. He is the owner of a fishing trawler called the Reaper, and he has made the point to me that a boat owner is more likely to be inspected if they are British than if they are a foreigner. By means of a freedom of information request, my party has established that the stats say that a British boat owner is five times more likely to be inspected than a French or Spanish owner, which is not good.

That takes me to my third gentleman, who has had considerable newspaper coverage, not least in the Thunderer—The Times. Mr Ian Mackay is the skipper of the Loch Inchard. At the beginning of June, he rightly highlighted a most unfortunate incident—the sort of incident that my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland has referred to—whereby he went to his fishing ground expecting to be trawling, only to find that French boats, and sadly some boats flying the British flag, had established long lines. That meant that they pretty abruptly told him to get out of it and that he could not trawl, because he would damage their fishing gear. Eventually, after much aggressive toing and froing, he established an area of the ocean where he could trawl, but that sort of aggressive behaviour is simply not on.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland said, where is this going to end? Mr Mackay had boats cutting across his bows. We could well end up with deaths at sea, and that is something we cannot possibly countenance. I return to Mr Peter Sinclair, who has suggested to me that we should look seriously at some form of penalty for boats that have indulged in that sort of behaviour. Possibly an effective penalty would be to ban them from landing their fish in a British port. That would need to happen only once, and they would soon learn their lesson.

If we could have a meeting with the Minister, that would be very helpful indeed. I compliment the Minister on having had conversations in the past—I give credit where it is due—but promises were made to the fishermen about compensation and trying to sort out the problems, so I echo others’ call for a roundtable meeting involving the industry. That would be best. I have mentioned Mr Sinclair, Mr Mackay and Mr Calder because I know them personally from face-to-face discussions. If we have a roundtable discussion, it is absolutely important that they are at the table and are not just being spoken to remotely by an agency. I am afraid that Marine Scotland can seem a little remote in the way that it deals with fishermen. I am not aware that it has too many face-to-face conversations. I hope I am wrong in that; if I am wrong, I apologise, but that is the impression I get.

For your amusement, Sir Charles, I come from fisherfolk from the Black Isle on the highland side of our family. I think I might be the only Member in this place who actually once worked in a fish factory—I spent a winter in the Faroe Islands. We are a maritime nation. Salt is in our blood. Fish is good for the health of the nation. For hundreds of years we have taken our fisherman very seriously and we feel we owe them a debt. Now is the time for us collectively to pay that debt to them and show just how much we value them. They are brave people doing a difficult job. We do not want their lives to be made any worse.

Photo of Anthony Mangnall Anthony Mangnall Conservative, Totnes 10:05 am, 13th July 2021

It is a pleasure to be able to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. Let me start by congratulating Mr Carmichael; we have a good tradition of following one another in debates, and it is always a pleasure to hear him speak with such knowledge on this issue.

I recently arrived at Westminster and am privileged to represent Brixham, Salcombe and Dartmouth, which have fine fishing fleets and a fine fishing tradition, which I hope I will ably represent in this place. I also pay tribute to David Linkie; I did not know him, but I did see his work and I know how much he meant to the industry. On that note, I also pay tribute to Jim Portus, who has stepped down as the head of the South Western Fish Producer Organisation, and I wish Juliette Hatchman the best of luck in taking on that new role. She will certainly have a number of us to deal with in the south-west.

I take the right hon. Gentleman’s point that there is an opportunity for the fishing industry and there must be political will. At the same time, we must ensure that we are not playing party politics with this issue, because there are opportunities in leaving the European Union, one of which has recently been recognised. The Minister knows that all too well because I have been knocking on her door almost daily about it. It relates to bivalve molluscs and the gradations of our waters, and the fact that the Food Standards Agency has moved significantly in the last eight months to allow us to challenge anomalous results. Each of our constituencies will be impacted differently by that, but it is extremely welcome to see how we can move at pace. After organisations have been asking for those changes for 30 years, we have managed to see some of them come through in eight months. I hope we might see a little bit more of that approach. We can never give certainty, but we can look at reforming our domestic legislation and providing opportunities for the fishing fleets in our coastal communities.

The second point I would like to make is about highly protected marine areas and the Benyon review. I understand the point that Lord Benyon is making in the review, but we must also have faith in our fishermen to look after their waters. They want future generations to be able to make money and have a business and a livelihood; they want to look after their waters and their coastlines as much as we do. Whatever we do with highly protected marine areas, we must make sure it is in conjunction, co-operation and discussion with the fishing fleets.

I hope the Minister and the team at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will engage with as many people in this place and outside Westminster to find the right balance, so that we can operate in highly protected marine areas in a way that will work. There is also a move on the environmental side of offshore wind farms, which are also heating up.

In a rare moment of cross-party unity, I find myself in agreement with the Chair of the International Trade Committee, Angus Brendan MacNeil about the maritime fisheries fund, which I believe has now been replaced by the fisheries and seafood scheme—FaSS—about the £100 million. DEFRA has been generous about that, but it does not mean anything until it is produced. I appreciate that the Department has to jump through hoops with the Treasury, but a lot of people have been waiting close to seven or eight months to hear when that will happen.

Speaking of certainty, we have a transition period. We have an opportunity to provide a degree of certainty to the industry about what our future relationship with the European Union will be after 2026. I hope we can begin that process of reassurance, build up the opportunity to develop our fleet in our coastal communities and ensure that people understand where we are going and why the trade and co-operation agreement we have now is what it is. There is room for opportunity.

The Minister was very kind and gracious to come down to Brixham; unfortunately, I was not able to be there, but I know she met a number of my constituents. She will have heard a great deal about non-total allowable catch species. We need further discussions about what goes beyond 2021, because right now there is uncertainty. The disparity between what EU vessels can catch in our waters and what we can catch in their waters is of grave concern. There is a lot more we can do.

Two specialised trade committees have been established that will be linked to fishing: the first is on sanitary and phytosanitary measures and the second is on just fishing. How will those committees be set up, who will be put on them and what representation will there be from Westminster and DEFRA? The committees offer us an enormous opportunity to streamline the process of ensuring that we can get our exports up to where they need to be, which so many other Members have raised as a point of concern.

To end on a positive note, I received the statistics this morning from Brixham fish market. It is now earning £800,000 per week. In previous years, it was £300,000 to £400,000. It is selling 40% up on previous years. It is looking forward to a very prosperous summer. I know that is not the case universally across the United Kingdom, but it is worth noting that my fishermen in Brixham, England’s most valuable fishing port, are painting a very positive picture. I was asked the other day what they were doing on 5 November and they said: “We built the effigy of you, but we are just deciding whether to burn it.” I have been told they are not intending to quite yet.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Administration Committee, Chair, Administration Committee

There is plenty of time for them to reconsider that, though, isn’t there?

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Inclusive Society), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 10:10 am, 13th July 2021

It is a pleasure to see you in your place, Sir Charles, for this morning’s important debate. I congratulate Mr Carmichael on securing it.

Since 2016, the Government have repeatedly told fishing communities that there is a post-Brexit bonanza waiting for them, famously describing it as a sea of opportunity. In preparing for today’s debate, I contacted four fishing businesses in four different parts of my Argyll and Bute constituency to ask them exactly what that sea of opportunity had delivered to them. I spoke to Jonathan MacAllister, a trawler owner and skipper who fishes out of Oban; Connie Macaskill, the office manager of Easdale Seafoods; Fiona McFarlane, director of Islay Crab Exports; and Jamie McMillan, the owner of Lochfyne Langoustines. From Oban in the north to Islay in the south, they all tell a story of an industry struggling with falling prices and loss of markets, an industry drowning in bureaucracy and red tape, and one struggling to cope with labour shortages and facing huge transport and logistical problems. That is an existential threat to the industry in the west coast of Scotland.

Jonathan MacAllister has seen the price he gets for his catch fall by a third since 2019. The routine of landing his catch at Kilkeel in Northern Ireland is now time consuming and wrapped up in customs paperwork and red tape. That is assuming he can get a crew to go in the first place, as the new skilled worker visa is actually more of a hindrance than a help in recruiting non-domestic crew. He now struggles to get spare parts for his boat. The engine is American, it is distributed via Holland, the refrigeration unit is German, the condensers are Italian and the boat’s electronic control unit is manufactured in Denmark. He can no longer get vital spare parts quickly and cost- effectively, while the cost of delivery has soared too.

A few miles down the road at Easdale Seafoods, Connie Macaskill’s office manager job now requires a forensic knowledge of French customs and VAT regulations. Like so many other small exporters, Easdale Seafoods has had to adapt quickly to change its practices and has spent an awful lot of money just to stay afloat in this sea of opportunity. Although fish are zero-rated for VAT, Easdale Seafoods still has to pay VAT in advance and then reclaim it from the French authorities, which use the single euro payments area business-to-business scheme. However, very few banks in the UK are set up to use SEPA B2B and currently, this very small Scottish company has thousands of euros tied up with the French VAT authorities and has no idea when it is getting them back.

Like many Scottish seafood exporters, the shortage of qualified heavy goods vehicle drivers has added another layer of complication for Easdale Seafoods. It is the same on Islay. Fiona McFarlane’s company, Islay Crab Exports, is suffering from the lack of qualified HGV drivers, but that is just one of the Brexit-related problems facing the business. More pressing is a shortage of workers. Jobs that were once filled by EU nationals now lie unfilled and the business needs double the number of processors that it currently has. Fiona told me yesterday: “We have worked hard building our business and have invested in the future. I desperately need people to work. There are people who want to come and work, but it is just not possible.”

We live in an economically fragile constituency, and the situation is unsustainable. It was laid out starkly by Jimmy McMillan of Lochfyne Langoustines. He employs 23 people in the village of Tarbert. He exports about 40%, the cost of getting that to market has soared and three hours of every day is spent dealing with Brexit-related paperwork. His costs are £300 to £500 a day in customs fees alone. That is the reality of Brexit for the fishing communities of Argyll and Bute. That is the reality of the “sea of opportunity”. That is why we voted against Brexit.

I will leave the final word to Fiona MacFarlane:

“If people had all the information and knowledge of what Brexit really meant, they would have voted differently. Someone should be held accountable to the country for misleading the people.”

She is absolutely right.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Administration Committee, Chair, Administration Committee

Last but not least from the Back Benches, Mr Jim Shannon.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 10:16 am, 13th July 2021

Thank you, Sir Charles, and I thank Mr Carmichael for setting the scene.

I am pleased to speak in a fisheries debate. I represent the village of Portavogie in my constituency. I am familiar with it. At the advice centre there fishermen give me their updates every month on the issues that are hurting them and the fishing sector. I am also pleased to speak on behalf of many fishermen across Northern Ireland—not just those in Portavogie but those in Annalong, Ardglass and Kilkeel as well—because they come to me with those issues through the fishing organisations.

Some good news to start with reached Northern Ireland on Friday afternoon: an email from the Marine Management Organisation advised fishermen that access to Ireland’s inshore waters—those between nought and six nautical miles off shore—had been restored, thus reflecting their traditional fishing patterns around the island. Some 140 fishing vessels from Northern Ireland and some 190 fishing vessels from the Republic of Ireland have been licensed to fish in each other’s waters. That is just getting things back into line again on that one issue.

I always start with the good news, before any other news, which is perhaps not as positive. Part of the hard sea border erected against our fishermen has been removed, and we are grateful for the efforts of all involved in securing that. We must now redouble our efforts to restore access for all Northern Ireland and southern Irish fishermen to territorial seas round the island of Ireland, especially between six and 12 nautical miles offshore.

An irony of the trade and co-operation agreement, the TCA, is that access to territorial waters inside the 12 nautical miles for EU fishermen was written into the agreement in an area stretching from the Humber to Saint David’s head in Wales. Mutual access is not available for UK fishermen to access waters off the County Cork coast, in waters known as ICESInternational Council for the Exploration of the Sea—sub-area 7.g. Regardless of the historical nature of the fishing industries in both parts of the island of Ireland and the call to avoid a hard border on the island, access for our fishermen in Northern Ireland—from my port of Portavogie, and Ardglass and Kilkeel—has been denied.

Last Friday’s announcement, therefore, was a partial fix and I repeat calls to the Minister. I have the utmost respect for her and—I say this honestly—she is very responsive to the issues that I bring to her attention, and to the fishing organisations, and we really appreciate that. I want to put that on the record. I again call on the Minister to seek a resolution. I ask her to make this matter a top priority at the UK-EU specialised joint committee on fisheries.

What we are seeing in the Irish sea as a result of the hard fisheries sea border is displacement of fishing effort. Geographically speaking, the Irish sea is a small area and increasing competition for space is bringing all kinds of pressures to bear. At least 80% of the UK’s fishing effort throughout the Irish sea emanates from Northern Ireland, but sometimes, regretfully, at least a perception exists that there is a communication problem between the statutory authorities in England and the fishing industry in Northern Ireland. Again, I call on the Minister to ensure that the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Natural England and the marine planning division of the MMO all fully engage with industry representatives in Northern Ireland.

I again wish to commend the Minister for being in contact and working with the Northern Ireland Fishermen’s Federation, in particular Alan McCulla and Harry Wick under the NIFF banner. It is a good relationship, which is working, although perhaps we need to tighten it up a wee bit.

I also call on the Minister to encourage our officials in the various statutory authorities to give more than simple lip service to terms such as “adaptive management” or “co-management scheme”. Nature is an evolving ecosystem and its management must not be set in concrete for generations to come. I want to reflect on what was said earlier about the management of MPAs, which complicates fisheries management, as does the construction of offshore wind farms. Increasingly, the eastern Irish sea is presenting itself as one giant offshore energy generation scheme. The Crown Estate’s fourth round of offshore leasing reinforces a squeeze on fishing operations in the Irish sea. There is a real danger that these developments are impinging on fish spawning and nursery grounds. It is not good enough to tell fishermen to reduce or move their fishing activities through the MPA process, when that creates a sense that they have been told to move on to make space for windfarm developers.

Over the past few years, ICES set out to track ecosystem interactions in the Irish sea, through its WKIrish programme—the workshop on an ecosystem-based approach to fishery management for the Irish sea—without, it would seem, any further discussion on how the ecosystem model could be incorporated into fisheries management. This point was raised last week at the UK sea fisheries science panel, with reference to an annual briefing to industry and other stakeholders about the ICES fisheries science advice for 2020. Perhaps the Minister could respond on that point as well.

Fisheries management boils down to livelihoods. We talk about the quota system. How that dividend is allocated within the UK has not been finally settled. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will soon be launching a further consultation on the allocation in 2022. Fishermen in Northern Ireland were let down by the allocation methodology used in 2021. We know that the Secretary of State is supportive of zonal management, but, like him, the Minister is well aware that that would penalise Northern Ireland because our maritime economic zone is small. I suggest to the Minister that, if special cases can be made for other parts of the UK—for example, Wales; I welcome that—a similar case should be made for Northern Ireland, given its relatively small part of the UK quota share.

Neil Parish spoke about Norway. I will not repeat that, as time does not allow. Will overfishing of mackerel by Norway result in reduced catches for UK fishermen? That is practical fisheries management in action.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Administration Committee, Chair, Administration Committee

We now have 10 minutes each for the Front-Bench spokespeople. We start with Deidre Brock for the SNP.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 10:22 am, 13th July 2021

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I commend Mr Carmichael for securing this timely debate today, in which I am very pleased to participate. He began by setting out the staggering number of problems that fishing organisations are experiencing. He spoke of the promises made, by the Prime Minister downwards, to the fishing industry—promises broken, with little regard for the impact. He posed a question from a young fisher of his acquaintance that I found particularly telling—why is the fishing industry having to fight its own Government to survive? That is a very good question.

Numerous Members have outlined details of the great difficulty being experienced by those in the fishing industry. As the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland commented, the anger and frustration felt by fishing communities is palpable. It certainly is among those representatives who have been in touch with me.

Peter Aldous made some interesting points. As he said, this debate has been a long time coming, and there has been a lack of transparency around this year’s negotiations—in comparison, ironically, with what happened when the UK was still part of the EU. I would be pleased if the Minister could address that issue.

Liz Saville Roberts called for apologies to the fishing industry and commented on Wales’s devolved control being swept aside, which is something we are certainly familiar with in Scotland. I note her calls for devolution of the Crown Estate to Wales, as has occurred in Scotland. My understanding from industry representatives is that relationships have improved considerably since that happened in Scotland, so I would certainly encourage her to pursue that aim.

My hon. Friend Brendan O’Hara made an excellent speech. He spoke of an existential threat to the fishing industry. His words were brimming throughout with a deep knowledge of the problems being experienced by businesses in his constituency and the harshness of the impact of Brexit on those businesses.

What of the sunlit uplands of Brexit? What a mess has been made of people’s lives in the name of taking back control. It was a nonsense, pursued by an unthinking herd of populist and arrogant politicians. It is causing massive damage. Some of us predicted damage, but I do not think any of us grasped just how bad it would be.

It has been particularly bad for Scotland’s food and drink industry, as we have heard, and for smaller producers, especially, who have seen their overseas markets disappear. Fishing got a huge skelping and it is not really feasible to transport fresh fish halfway round the world to sell into the Australian market, no matter how fabulous a deal the Government think they have done.

Fishing is, of course, a far more important industry for Scotland than it is for England, so it was a prime candidate for the flinging-under-the-bus treatment during the Brexit negotiations—and that is what happened. Now, there is no sea of opportunity, no easy access to the EU markets and no help from Government. They will say that there is £100 million available, but where is it, how is it being distributed and how come we are not getting any details? Even more importantly, do the Brexit Government think that that is enough to compensate for the damage that is being done to the industry?

When damage is done to the industry, it affects not just the crews on the boats but the communities back on land, many of which, certainly in Scotland, are sustained by fishing. Removing the industry will remove the lifeblood from those communities. Scotland’s coastal communities could be facing the same devastation in the 2020s that Thatcher’s Governments visited upon the industrial towns of Scotland’s central belt.

I am aware that this Government will not listen to the voices calling for action. We are well used to the sneering contempt from the Leader of the House, the airy-headed enthusiasm of the International Trade Secretary and the blank refusal of the DEFRA Secretary to acknowledge problems. Week after week, we hear the Prime Minister refusing to acknowledge the problems that are so evident to the rest of us.

Before Brexit, three quarters of Scotland’s seafood exports went to the EU, bringing in revenues of over £600 million in 2019. Since Brexit, those exports have been held up by red tape and logjams at the ports. Our fleets are still subject to the common fisheries policy, thanks to the atrocious deal negotiated by the UK Government. Members do not have to believe me that it is a terrible deal; they just have to ask the guy who negotiated it. Lord Frost thinks it is a terrible deal, too—that is one bowl of Frosties that is anything but terrific.

The Food and Drink Federation has produced figures showing that EU sales have all but halved—a £2 billion loss to the UK economy right there. These are not teething troubles. They are disasters happening in real time under the view of a Government that do not give a damn. It is clear that the Government had no idea what Brexit would bring and had not thought about the difficulties that would be put in the way of traders. They gave no consideration to the complex administration that takes hours of extra time—hours precious to the small and medium-sized enterprises that make up the bulk of the sector—or to the need for customs agents, health certificates and battling miles of bureaucratic red tape, the extra costs fishers now bear for fishing gear supplies, or the delays and extra costs of now exporting not just to the EU but to Northern Ireland. I now hear that Danish and Irish sectors are, unsurprisingly, picking up the lost UK market and that they are seen as more stable suppliers after confidence in the UK drains away.

We should not allow the Government to forget the difficulties that their hostile environment approach to immigration is causing the sector. Non-domestic crew who are brought over to Scotland under the new skilled worker system are being sent back because they fail the advanced English exam required of skilled workers, which comes at a great cost to skippers, who are left with no crew. The UK Government must look urgently at where they can usefully intervene to resolve that issue.

In September 2020, I remember being shouted down by virtually every Member present on Second Reading of the Fisheries Bill for daring to say that it was in no fit state to be passed any time soon. I gave a number of reasons, the primary one being that we had no idea what sort of deal the UK’s Brexit negotiators would arrive at or what the fall-out would be. Well, we ken noo, as they say in my neck of the woods.

I read again the Secretary of State’s speech at the start of that debate. It was stirring stuff—some would say a triumph of starry-eyed optimism over actual knowledge and foresight—pummelling once again the CFP punch-bag, though forbearing to mention the many advantages the EU brought in the way of open markets and easy access, and, ironically, lambasting it for its

“anachronistic methodology for sharing quota”, which we are still largely subject to, and the

“uncontrolled access to UK waters for EU vessels.”—[Official Report, 1 September 2020; Vol. 679, c. 65.]

Which, again, we are still basically subject to.

We were told that the Bill gave the UK powers that were needed irrespective of the Brexit outcome—powers that have ultimately come to nothing as fishing interests were sold away in those negotiations. I look forward to reading in years to come the close analysis of those deliberations and exactly how hard the negotiators fought for our fishing communities’ interests. That information will surely come out, as will, perhaps, a published account of the meeting between the Secretary of State, his officials and several blazingly angry fishing representatives after the truly terrible outcome of the Brexit agreement was finally made public.

It is actually quite useful to go back over that Second Reading debate to remind myself of the deception practised on our fishing communities by the Government and many of their MPs. Were Back Benchers really as convinced as they sounded then of the benefits of Brexit? I remind hon. Members of what one Conservative Member said during that debate:

“Only the SNP could take a sea of opportunity and turn it into an ocean of division.”—[Official Report, 1 September 2020; Vol. 679, c. 93.]

I will return the favour now and say that only the hated Tories, with their hearts of stone, could pledge to the fishing communities of Scotland a bonanza, and then just shrug as it turned into a sludge of mendacity.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 10:30 am, 13th July 2021

I pay tribute to Mr Carmichael for the way he introduced this debate. This is a deeply political area. It genuinely matters, and it is important that we do not take cheap shots because people’s livelihoods depend on it. The way in which the right hon. Gentleman introduced this debate shows why he is held in such high regard by Members on both sides of the House.

I would also like to pay my respects on behalf of the Labour party to the friends and family of David Linkie. It is really important that we have robust journalism on fishing at this time, especially because so many promises have been made and so many promises have been broken. It is important that those people who serve fishing communities, both in this place in elected roles and in journalism, are as professional and thorough as David was, so I pay tribute to him.

As this is a fisheries debate, although not the annual fisheries debate that Peter Aldous from Waveney mentioned, I would also like to pay tribute to all the fishers who go to sea every single day to catch our food—it is the most dangerous peacetime occupation and they deserve our thanks—as well as organisations such as the coastguard and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which exist to save lives at sea. I support all efforts to continue allowing them to legally save lives at sea. If someone is drowning in the channel, they should have a legal right to save them. Sadly, that is not the Government’s current position with the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, and I hope that the Minister, in support of saving lives at sea—something so important for this debate—will have words with the Home Office to say that saving lives, wherever they come from, is the right thing to do.

Photo of Anthony Mangnall Anthony Mangnall Conservative, Totnes

I think the hon. Gentleman has overlooked the National Coastwatch Institution, which is made up of thousands of volunteers, has extraordinary stations and does so much of the good work he has mentioned.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to say thank you to my stepmother, who is one of those officers along the coast in Boscastle in North Cornwall. I thank him for that.

This is a debate that has been prompted by Brexit. It is because of the promises made by Ministers about fishing—the sea of opportunity, the additional fish—that we are here today. It is interesting that those who attended these debates before Brexit have not always done so after Brexit. Having made the case for Brexit, and then made the case for a harder form of Brexit, many of them are not here to stand up for their fishing communities in the way that those communities now need. As a small but perfectly formed representation of the south-west, we know that that is really important and we need to do it.

The betrayal of the promise on the six to 12 nautical miles is something that fishers find unforgivable. Wendy Chamberlain was right to say that we should assess this on how fishers feel. Well, let me tell you: fishers feel betrayed, they feel abandoned and they feel lied to. That is because they have been betrayed, they have been abandoned, and in many cases they were lied to by prominent people whom they respected because of the offices they held and whom they believed would tell the truth, when that was not always the case. That is why the Members in this room, whom I genuinely believe care about their fishing communities regardless of which party they are in, must now clear up the mess that has been made by the Prime Minister and his botched Brexit deal. If we do not, fishing businesses will go under, and that is simply unforgivable.

I want to address a number of issues and to pick out others that have been raised by colleagues. The first is the plight of small boats. Throughout this debate, hon. Members have alluded to the extra difficulties for those people who work on our small boat fleet—the backbone of the British fishing fleet. In 2019, the Seafarers UK report, “Fishing Without a Safety Net”, found that many of those small businesses were struggling to afford the vital safety equipment that has been put in place. I very much enjoyed the Minister’s foreword to that report, which said:

“Small-scale fishing is a cornerstone of local coastal communities around our shores.”

She was right then and she is right now, but that is why I am so confused about why so much of the support provided by the Government throughout the covid period went to large fishing companies and not to the smaller fishing companies. So much potential help for those small businesses escaped them because of technicalities and because the people who sat on those boards did not value sufficiently those small boats and initiatives such as the brilliant Call4Fish, which came from Plymouth and helps provide those small boats with a domestic market. As we heard from the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, those small businesses were subsequently penalised because of how those rules were drawn up. I do not think that that is right. Anthony Mangnall is right to say that the delays in bringing forward that money are unacceptable. The Minister and I will no doubt pick that up when we discuss the statutory instrument on MMO funding tomorrow morning. It is unacceptable that, eight months after we left the European Union, fishers have not been paid the money that was promised to them. Ministers need to sort that out pretty fast.

Ministers have been speedy to enforce on those small boats the catch app—a needless piece of home-grown, Conservative digital bureaucracy that is sinking many of those businesses. The catch app requires fishers to weigh their fish before they are landed, on scales that do not exist on small boats and that are not marinised. When those same fish are landed and get put through a grading machine, the same information is provided. We know that handling fish for extra time reduces their quality and price, yet the Government are forcing needless Conservative digital bureaucracy on fishers. It is simply nonsense, and I encourage the Minister to please look at that again.

I am also really concerned that much of the so-called windfall stock—the uplift in fish quota—does not exist. They are paper fish, deliberately enhanced and inflated in the stock assessments leading up to Brexit. We will not get them. I am not convinced that we are getting those extra fish; indeed, because of problems with quota swaps and with the science, many of our fishers up and down the coast are now seeing reduced quota. It is not the sea of opportunity that they were promised.

The hon. Member for Waveney, who knows that I am a big fan of his, praised his REAF initiative, and I would also like to praise it. It is a great example of what happens when communities come together. There are similar examples around the country and he does a good job of promoting his.

I would like briefly to pick up on shellfish. We are facing the potential collapse of the shellfish industry because the Government failed to negotiate a proper export arrangement for our shellfish. Live bivalve molluscs are a really important part of the industry not just in the south-west and in Wales but right across our coast. It is simply not acceptable that they were excluded and that a solution has not been put in place. Simply blaming the EU was the tactic before we left the EU. We now need solutions, not blame. Simply reallocating class B waters does not make those waters any cleaner or any better. If anything, the Government are opening themselves up to legal risk by saying that these waters are no longer as dirty as they were. We need a proper solution to the issue of the export of live bivalve molluscs. If that does not happen, businesses in the south-west and around the country will go bust within months. That simply has to be addressed. I encourage the Minister to listen very carefully to Conservative, Labour and other party Members who represent coastal areas.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I will not at this time, I am afraid.

I had hoped to be able to raise a number of points. In the spirit of praising people when they get it right, I want to thank the supermarket Aldi for stocking British fish. They are mainly Plymouth-caught fish. Whenever we go down the meat aisle at a supermarket, we see flags aplenty—we see the heritage of where that meat comes from—but we do not see that down the fish aisle. Why is that? It is because we mainly export the fish we catch and import the fish we eat. At a time when the Government have made importing and exporting more complicated, more costly and more difficult, we need to buy and eat more of our own fish. Well done to Aldi for taking a punt on that. I encourage other supermarkets, which will no doubt have their monitoring alerts for this, to stop ignoring British fishers and to put British fish on their shelves.

The plight of the distant water fleet is often ignored. It is a sector of our economy that has been hugely betrayed. I pay tribute in particular to the Labour MPs in Hull, who have fought the case on behalf of our distant water fleet. Those fishers are a living, breathing example of the betrayal that has been perpetrated against them.

The Minister will know that Sir Charles, I and other Members of Parliament have an interest in the bluefin tuna catch-and-release trial, which will ensure that those wonderful, amazing fish are not simply caught and eaten when they are in our waters, but can be used to propel and support the recreational fishing industry. The announcement that the Minister was hoping to make about that is a few months overdue, so I would be grateful to her if she could touch on it.

We have not spoken much about non-quota species in the debate, but it is a really important area. Non-quota species are the financial foundation of our entire fishing sector, and the Government’s deal allows EU fishing boats to take and exploit our non-quota species. They have failed to negotiate a real-time transfer of data, so we cannot even see to what extent they are doing it. That needs to be resolved urgently, to support our small boat fleets.

On a point that I hope everyone in the House will welcome, the Minister for Digital and Culture, Caroline Dinenage, made an announcement today that will be a real boost for Plymouth. The campaign to have Plymouth Sound designated as the UK’s first national marine park—a campaign launched by a Labour MP, supported by the then Labour council, and now supported by a Conservative council—now has the support of the Government, with a £9.5 million boost that will support marine jobs and help bring our oceans and seas closer to people living on land. If we have learned anything from the debate, it is the fact that what happens at sea matters. We need more people to understand the fantastic array of marine life at sea, the importance and fragility of marine coastal habitats, and the importance of those jobs.

I want a proper debate on fisheries on the Floor of the House when we come back from the recess. I want to see proper, robust scrutiny ahead of any annual negotiations, which were mentioned by MPs on the Government side. Most of all, with an impending reshuffle and uncertainty about whether the Environment Secretary will still be in his place, I want the Prime Minister to apologise to fishers for the poor deal. I want him to take a personal interest in ensuring that those businesses do not go bust and in protecting the future of this industry. It is a brilliant industry and full of fantastic, innovative people. They deserve a proper plan to support their sector.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Administration Committee, Chair, Administration Committee

And we shall support Aldi. Victoria Prentis, can you leave two minutes for Mr Carmichael at the end?

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 10:42 am, 13th July 2021

Of course, Sir Charles. It is always a pleasure to take part in a fisheries debate, and I thank Mr Carmichael for organising it with our friends on the Backbench Business Committee. I thank all who have spoken today. If I may class them together, they are a group of colleagues with whom I deal very frequently on fisheries matters—I would include you in that as well, Sir Charles. It is always good to hear from colleagues, and my door is always open. We have had many bilateral and trilateral meetings over the last few months, and I encourage colleagues to continue to get in touch on behalf of their fishing industries.

I pay tribute to the fishing industry for its resilience, and to all who work in the seafood supply chain. I am reminded of that by my hon. Friend David Duguid, who represents Peterhead and who is sitting in the Public Gallery. It has been a very difficult 18 months for the industry. The pandemic forced the closure of hospitality both at home and abroad, which has led to an abrupt loss of our markets. As we have heard again and again, exporters have had to adapt to the new conditions that we were subject to as we left the single market. On recent visits to Brixham—my hon. Friend Anthony Mangnall was kind enough to mention that—and Grimsby, I met many people, including the great Jim Portus, who were really impressive and dedicated to this industry. Their expertise and knowledge will allow us to manage our fisheries in a way that is flexible and sustainable, and that enables us, I hope, to take advantage of our new opportunities.

On the future of fisheries management, there is a great deal to do about the administration. The 2018 fisheries White Paper laid the foundations for devising our new fisheries management rules. The Fisheries Act 2020 provides the regulatory framework. The TCA recognises the UK’s regulatory autonomy and that means that each of the four Administrations can reform fisheries management.

Fisheries management plans will allow better spatial management within a very complex marine environment, identifying where fishing can take place in an area while minimising environmental impact. We will start to develop our first fisheries management plans in England this year. We are also preparing a full list and timetable for the implementation of fisheries management plans in the joint fisheries statement that we plan to consult on in the autumn.

Quota was mentioned by many hon. Members, including the Chairman of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton. We have put in place a new method to apportion additional quota between the fisheries administrations. In England, we have allocated additional quota in 2021 based on a new method that gives the fleet segments of quota in the stocks that are important to them and also takes into account their capacity to fish that quota. My hon. Friend represents England very well, if I may say so—as do many hon. Members in this room and outside it—and he need have no fears on that front.

Quota swaps, which were also mentioned by many Members, are important. That is why the TCA provided for an in-year quota exchange mechanism, which will be established by the Specialised Committee on Fisheries. In the future, we expect quota exchanges just to be part of annual negotiations. I am very pleased to say that we have agreed with the EU an interim basis for fishing quota transfers, before the specialised committee establishes a longer-term mechanism.

The details are still being worked out, but we expect an exchange of lists to take place next week on 20 July, when the UK and the EU co-chair the first meeting of the specialised committee. Lord Frost has assured me and others that the devolved authorities and Crown dependencies will be fully involved in the process, which obviously matters to them. I am pleased to say that we have now got to a point of real resolution on this issue, and I know that many people within the fishing industry are working up—PO to PO—the details of exchanges at the moment.

On control and enforcement, which was also raised by many Members, we have a 24/7, effective and intelligence-led enforcement system, which is co-ordinated by the Joint Maritime Security Centre. In English waters, we have really increased resource dedicated to fisheries protection and we continue to work on this. We have made additional Government investment of £32 million in this space over the last three years. The MMO has doubled the number of marine enforcement officers since 2017, and it has two dedicated offshore patrol ships at sea and increased aerial surveillance. All this complements the existing electronic monitoring system. In terms of landings to inspect at sea, in the first six months of this year there were 228 inspections by the MMO at sea, of which 131 were on EU vessels.

The safety of the UK fleet remains our highest priority; the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland has raised safety with me repeatedly and rightly, and I am always very keen to hear from him on it. We continue to monitor the presence and activity of vessels across our waters. I am aware of recent reports raised by the right hon. Gentleman and others of UK vessels being subject to bullying behaviour. It is really important, and I have stressed this to Jamie Stone and others in the past, that any such incidents are reported in real time, whenever possible. It is true that there is an area where, if the threshold for criminal activity is reached, UK police require, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the consent of the Home and Defence Secretaries and the flag state to take action. However, that does not preclude communications going straight to the vessel immediately, nor the gathering of evidence, which can be done by MMO officials, Marine Scotland officials or the police. That is why it is so important that these incidents are reported immediately.

That is a matter of great concern to both me and ministerial colleagues. I speak regularly about it to colleagues at the Department for Transport; we met at the end of last year to discuss it. We continue to work on a long-term solution. Last week was Naval and Maritime Security Week, which is a reminder that we need to continue to focus on this important issue. We work with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Seafish and the Fishing Industry Safety Group to lower the number of preventable accidents and deaths at sea.

I turn to funding. This year, the Government have spent £23 million on emergency compensation and £32 million on the replacement scheme for the European maritime and fisheries fund. We have also announced new funding, aligned with our reform of fisheries management.

The £100 million announced by the Prime Minister at the very end of last year will support investment to modernise and develop the seafood sector. It will focus on three pillars: infrastructure projects for the development and modernisation of ports, harbours and landing sites across the UK; the advancement and roll-out of science, innovation and technology across the catching and processing sectors; and projects that develop tailored training and qualifications. We will be hearing future announcements about that investment—probably starting with the science, innovation and technology strand, or pillar, of the £100 million—very shortly, certainly this summer. A large amount of money is involved and it is important that we get this right.

My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes raises the issue of live bivalve molluscs with me several times a day. I am as angry as any colleague present that the EU changed its rules on the importation of our class B molluscs; I take that up with it at every opportunity and will continue to do so. We are looking at a number of options to support the industry, including grant funding in England to facilitate business adaptation through the fisheries and seafood scheme. We are working on securing access to new markets, promoting domestic seafood consumption and reviewing the classification of shellfish harvesting areas while—of course—protecting public health.

Photo of Neil Parish Neil Parish Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

How quickly can the money be got to the shellfishing industry? That is really important because otherwise many will go out of business.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The fund is already open and we are debating a statutory instrument tomorrow that will facilitate the spending of that fund. The money will in the longer term help people adapt their businesses to help with depuration or possibly canning, but it will not help everybody. One of the solutions that I have just outlined ought to be helpful to all our live bivalve mollusc industry. I continue to work closely with colleagues from around the country on this and to bring the matter up with the Commission whenever we have the opportunity.

My hon. Friend Peter Aldous made a powerful speech; he is keen, as ever, to support the inshore fleet. He is right that there is not a one-size-fits-all management approach, which simply would not work. We need to draw on local knowledge to make sure that our fisheries management plans are suitable going forward.

I would be delighted to meet Liz Saville Roberts. Access is a reserved issue; the Welsh Government had to consent to the licensing of EU vessels in Welsh waters. We are not concerned that all those vessels will go and fish in Welsh waters, but we are concerned, for example, about valuable non-quota stocks such as scallops. We are working closely with the scalloping industry on the protection of those stocks and with the Welsh Government on management measures. I will be happy to fill the right hon. Lady in on any point.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am sorry too, Sir Charles. I was going to talk about digital solutions, on which we have all worked together, and about Norway and the Faroes. Finally, we have had an 11% uplift in domestic consumption this year. There is a bright future ahead.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 10:54 am, 13th July 2021

Thank you for chairing what has been an excellent debate, Sir Charles; we have covered just about every sector and geographic area possible. It is unfortunate that nobody from Cornwall made it on to the call list. That was one notable omission.

Essentially, we can pull two strands from this debate. The first is how very different things could have been if we had had the implementation period, for six months or so, to bed these arrangements in. We said we needed that, but we did not get it.

Secondly, as we have heard from the different examples around the country, the worst fisheries management has always been the most centralised. If the Minister takes nothing else from this debate, she must take back the need to engage with the industry, devolved Administrations and local communities as widely and effectively as possible.

When the Backbench Business Committee offered us 90 minutes on a Tuesday morning, they asked whether that would be good enough. I replied, “Consider your hands duly bitten off!” I hope that they will feel that we have made good use of the time this morning. I want to see this subject back in the Chamber with a longer debate because this is really just the tip of the iceberg.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Administration Committee, Chair, Administration Committee

Thank you, Mr Carmichael. You and other colleagues have used the time extremely well; perhaps you could have done with a little more.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered fisheries management after the UK’s departure from the EU.

Sitting suspended.