Post-Brexit Fisheries Management — [David Mundell in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 2:16 pm on 13th October 2022.

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Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 2:16 pm, 13th October 2022

Again, I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for mentioning that. He is absolutely spot on. I have the great pleasure and privilege of chairing the Scottish Affairs Committee and one of our first inquiries in this Session of Parliament was on labour shortages. I think food processing was identified as one of the first sectors that started to experience real difficulties. It needs to be addressed. There is most definitely a problem there.

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland for the all-party group’s report. I know that people will be watching this afternoon’s proceedings with great interest, and I recommend that they look at this very good report and its recommendations.

It is not just the all-party parliamentary fisheries group that is coming to the same conclusion after looking at the issues—it is everybody. The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations has produced a report on the economics of the UK’s trade and co-operation agreement with the EU for fishing industries. Its general conclusion is that there are very few winners and an awful lot of losers. The NFFO talks of a £64 million loss to the industry each year because of Brexit. In Scotland, we are trying to come to terms with that loss. We are trying to process it and see how we can start to address it with the limited powers we have in a funding envelope that is obviously not what we feel is required to deal with some of these issues. We have the bulk of the United Kingdom’s fishing industry. It is an imperative, important and iconic industry for us in Scotland. It brings 15,000 high-value jobs to some of our more diverse and hard-pressed rural and coastal communities.

Our seafood industry is world renowned. When I was in Singapore a few years ago, Scottish salmon opened up a sector that was bringing in all this seafood from Scotland. They could not shift it fast enough. Such was the provenance, idea and suggestion of Scottish produce that people wanted it—they wanted to be part of it. We now have a worldwide reputation as a renowned exporter of high-quality foodstuffs, in particular when it comes to our fish.

In 2021, fish and seafood exports were valued at £1 billion, which was 60% of all Scottish food exports. I know that trade has been dreadful with the EU, but prior to Brexit, things were relatively good between 2016 and 2019. We had annual exports of £618 million, with the bumper year for that in 2019—just before this disaster started to kick in. Now, Brexit trade barriers are expected to cause output in the fishing sector to be 30% lower than it was pre-Brexit. As well as the damage to EU markets, Brexit has ensured that the Scottish industry has access to fewer staple fish species than under the CFP.

We will wait to see what happens in 2026. I know we are in the transition period just now, but there is a great deal of unhappiness. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland asked us to think about the future. As we move forward, we have to start thinking about what will happen in 2026, when the transitional arrangements are lifted. I hope the UK Government get up to speed with their negotiating position and are able to argue more adequately on behalf of Scottish fishing.

What are the UK Government doing in response? They are doing several things. The total funding envelope was about £100 million across the whole sector to try to mitigate some of the damage. That £100 million seems quite generous and will certainly assist a number of fishers and processors in the sector, but Ireland—independent, small Ireland, with a smaller population than Scotland—has just secured €335 million to be distributed across its whole seafood sector and coastal communities in order to meet some of the difficulties and challenges of Brexit. They have difficulties that are not even close to the difficulties that we have because of Brexit, but that is the funding they get. The irony of all ironies is that €225 million of that funding is coming from EU funding in the form of the Brexit adjustment reserve.

Jim Shannon, whom I always enjoy listening to, must recognise that if the EU can do that for small, independent Ireland, surely we should be doing better in the UK for our fishing sector, which has taken the majority of the hit. Yes, Mr Mundell, I will stray into the constitutional debate—you know me, I like to bring up this little point. Does this not say something about the relative positions and conditions of independent Ireland in the EU and dependent Scotland as part of the United Kingdom? Independent Ireland is supported to the hilt, backed by the EU and part of a partnership, whereas I do not even know what the figure would be for Scotland—perhaps the Minister could clarify that. I tried to find exactly how much Scotland got out of it, but it will be peanuts compared with what independent Ireland will get from the European Union, which his Government dragged us out of against our national collective will, for which we will have to endure the consequences years down the line.

With Scotland not being independent, being subject to a Brexit that we did not vote for and without the EU support that Ireland has, the Scottish Government do what they can, but they cannot do all that much. We have limited powers. We have powers over fisheries, and there are things we can do. Again, I hope the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland will be satisfied with some of the deliberations we will have on these issues. We have put out a new fund to the seafood sector. We have the blue vision in Scotland and hope to do all we can for marine protection. We have given £37.75 million of funding to support our fishers. That is out of a budget that, again, is peanuts in comparison with Ireland, but we will do everything that we can.

I will come back to gill netting and some of the bigger issues around trawling. I do not know about everybody else, but my mailbag has been besieged by correspondence from people who are concerned by what they are observing, particularly the activities of supertrawlers in our marine protected areas. My constituents are upset and anxious about what they are observing and they are writing to me to raise this, which I am doing, because they want action. They want fast and decisive action because they do not like what they are observing. Our constituents have been concerned about the activities of supertrawlers for a number of years. We will have a consultation and we will take decisive action, and it is now up to the UK Government to try to do what they can. We are expanding the number of marine protected areas in Scotland. We will put another one in place over the next few years. People expect marine protected areas to do what they say on the tin: to protect the marine environment. They do not want to see supertrawlers operating in these areas, and I hope the UK Government get on top of this.

Where do we go from here? We are where we are. We have Brexit. The all-party parliamentary group report makes some reasonable suggestions about the way forward. The main UK parties—representatives of which are present today—often say that they are the parties of making Brexit work. I do not know how you make Brexit work, but one day somebody will tell me how something like this can be a positive. I have yet to see where that happens or how it comes down the line. Our ambition will always be to return to the European Union—to return, when it comes to fisheries, to a safe harbour with a set of consistent rules that apply across the EU.

I am terribly excited about my new role as the SNP spokesperson. Before I had it, I observed the disastrous negotiations and discussions that we have had as a new, independent coastal state. There were hours of inconclusive debate and negotiations with small nations such as Norway and the Faroe Islands. We now have to debate and negotiate with the EU, which comes prepared with all sorts of materials, background and experience. We come prepared to more or less give in before we even get anywhere.

I have no great idea that things are going to get better. The Minister may be able to convince me that there is some sort of future with Brexit, but I hope that in the next few years Scotland will make the decision to do these things on our own and start the process to get back into the European Union, where my nation belongs and where I know it will be properly supported.