House of Commons 21st November 2018
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Mr Deputy Speaker, I grew up in Grimsby, as many people in this Chamber know.
As a girl, I remember a bustling fishing port—the biggest in the world at that time—and I clearly remember the numerous trawlers, the sense of business, the sense of pride of workers doing something they knew was incredibly important.
But I also remember the decline as the years of plenty were replaced by years of what looked like famine. The devastation that it wreaked, both economically and socially, was vivid, with areas around the docks, such as East Marsh, suffering disastrous consequences.
To this day, some parts of the town are still some of the most deprived areas in the country.
Gone too are many of the food processing plants that lined Ladysmith road. Findus has gone. Birds Eye has gone, no longer anchored by the town’s status as one of the greatest food towns in Europe.
It is my witness of this decline and the fact that my father was for a period a deep sea fisherman, that gives me an understanding of why our coastal towns and fishing communities matter more than their contribution to national GDP would suggest.
It is this background too that explains why I am interested in this Bill, given that I represent a constituency which is about as far away from the sea as any in the UK.
Moving on to the actual Bill before us Mr Deputy Speaker, I have a number of concerns.
First of all, the Government’s stated aspiration is to develop a ‘world-leading fisheries’, with Clause 1 of the Bill sets out how this would be developed, including objectives such as creating a sustainable industry.
All good laudable aims.
Unfortunately, however, the light touch duties placed on authorities undermines how these aspirations will be delivered.
For example, in the area of Maximum Sustainable Yield, while the Bill places an ambitious objective to ensure all harvested stocks are recovered to, or maintained at, a biomass above that capable of producing MSY, the Bill places no duty on authorities to ensure that fishing pressure - one of the few things workers in the regulatory authorities can control directly – is managed in order to deliver the objective.
We have to ask the question, therefore, is the Government really committed to restoring stocks or will it put narrow political pressures first?
Secondly, there are concerns around the marine environmental regulations.
The Fisheries White Paper acknowledged concerns about a possible ‘governance gap’ which could threaten accountability for the implementation of these regulations.
This White Paper and the consultations which have taken place on the Environmental Principles and Governance Bill have both suggested a new independent environmental regulator would have a role in relation to the marine environment.
As things currently stand, the Bill before us is opaque in how the forthcoming Environment Bill will protect our marine environment and how this ‘governance gap’ will be closed.
Clarifications, therefore, on these issues would be most welcome as the Bill passes through its legislative process, and I hope the Minister today will make comment on this.
Clause 28 will give new powers to introduce financial schemes to promote sustainable growth and to improve the marine and aquatic environment.
These powers will replace existing powers and allow new funding schemes to replace funding currently received under the European Maritime Fisheries Fund.
However, as presently drafted these grant-making powers don’t reference Clause 1’s sustainability objectives on precaution, and an ecosystem-based approach, which for me seems strange and concerning and again clarification would be welcomed. I understand that the Fisheries Statement will reference Clause 1 and that the powers will come under the remit of the Statement, but clarification would be welcome.
My final point relates to the very important point that the fishing industry is not just about the catching side of the industry; there is still an important processing and aquaculture industry alongside it.
Most of which, unsurprisingly, is based within or nearby fish landing towns. It is an important provider of jobs in those areas.
Indeed, for my home town of Grimsby, it is still an important source of employment, with some 4200 jobs dependent on the sector.
These processing plants also export much of their product into the EU in a market worth £1.3bn, where we still enjoy a trade surplus.
It is therefore vital in the drive to create a ‘world-leading fisheries’ that processing is not forgotten.
This means full tariff-free access to the single market must be retained for the industry.
Anything else, such as a sacrifice of our access to the EU market in return for keeping access to our waters broadly to ourselves, will represent betrayal and could potentially decimate processing in areas where the jobs and the economic activity it provides is vital.
This brings me neatly to my closing remarks, Mr Deputy Speaker;
We now have a Withdrawal Agreement on the table alongside the political Statement giving an indication of a direction of travel.
This political statement, however, only gives the faintest glimmer of what will happen after the transition period.
Parliament is being asked to vote on essentially a blind deal which would not be negotiated until we leave the EU on March 29th next year.
It is also true that, like the Agriculture Bill, this legislation is enabling and contains a number of Henry VIII powers. Like others in this Chamber, I worry about the use of this mechanism, given the lack of effective Parliamentary scrutiny that accompanies the use of Statutory Instruments.
I hope, therefore, that the Government will think more carefully about this Bill, and allow it to be amended to ensure it gives greater clarity on the direction of travel as far as our fishing industry is concerned.