Saturday, 3 December 2016

2016 Fisheries Debate in the House of Commons, December 1st.

Hansard: Fisheries debate in the House of Commons.

Starting with a selection of key points from some the 22 ministers who were present during the debate - kind of shows how seriously the HoC takes the sovereign rights of the fishing industry - having said that there have been less members present when discussing disability so we should be grateful perhaps.

Starting with Melanie Onn (Great Grimsby) (Lab) who opened the debate:

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the future of the UK fishing industry.

The debate has been an annual occurrence for some time, giving the Government an opportunity to hear MPs’ concerns and update them in advance of the December Council of Ministers. I thank the Committee for returning it to the main Chamber, as opposed to holding it in Westminster Hall, which unusually hosted it last year.

Giving the fishing industry such prominence in the European referendum reflects its importance. I can conclude only that our debate last year catapulted it to the front of people’s minds and made it central to the necessity to leave the EU. The only shame is that it was not given such high priority previously.

I appreciate that this is not the place for details, but for the ombudsman to insist that the compensation scheme will pay the maximum of £20,000 only to those who were at sea continuously for 52 weeks a year for 20 years is plainly nonsense.

The debate on the future of the UK fisheries industry is more pressing than usual owing to the decision that the country made in June to leave the European Union, which will surely have far-reaching consequences for the industry. As the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan said in our session in the Backbench Business Committee, fisheries may have more at stake than any other industry over the next few years of negotiations with Europe.​

The hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) said that Brexit would allow Britain to

“re-establish national control for 200 nautical miles”.

Those promises were not made by campaigners who had no prospect of being in a position to follow them through.

It is therefore disappointing that we have heard nothing in five months from the Government on their plans for the industry. Neither the Brexit Secretary nor the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary made any mention of fisheries in their party conference speeches.

The fact is that, although it is very easy for leave campaigners to blame the EU for the decline of the fishing industry, their version of history is partial at best. The sharpest fall in the employment of fishermen came between 1948 and 1960, which was before Britain joined the European Economic Community. Iceland has lost more fishing jobs than Britain since the end of the cod wars; the number of those employed in the Icelandic fishing industry has halved since the 1980s.

My point is that selling false hope, by suggesting that we will return to the industry we had in the 1950s simply because the CFP will no longer apply to us, just is not fair.

We cannot simply impose a 200-mile limit to achieve what the Minister promised. He will need to win it in negotiations with the EU. That will mean sacrificing other things. That is why the Government’s silence has been so worrying. It suggests that fisheries are not being given the importance required to secure what was promised. Nissan has already been given its own special deal. When can I tell the chief executive officer of Grimsby Fish Dock Enterprises to expect his invitation to No. 10?

Mr MacNeil

The hon. Gentleman mentions eastern Europeans, and this is a sore point for Hebrides fishermen at the moment because we cannot get the numbers of them in and boats are left tied up. There is a boat for sale in Scalpay because it has lacked a crew since August. We are dying to get people in from the Philippines, but blockages put in place by the London Government are choking the Scottish fishing industry.

Neil Parish

The adage is that when we entered the EU in 1972, we gave correct figures on the size of our catch, but others inflated theirs, meaning that when the catches were cut back, Britain ended up with very low quotas. From Grimsby to Scotland and all around the country, we can start to put that right. (Ed: It would be good to know what actual evidence the minister has of such catch fixing and can he, with any confidence, say that we submitted accurate catch figures and didn't under report at the time not appreciating the consequences?)

If I may, I will throw a few ripples into the pond, as I am not averse to doing. In the future, might we move from a system of quotas to one of fishing effort and days at sea? How will we control fishing in the future? We do not want discards—a lot of work has already been done about that, but there is still more to do. We want to land all the fish that we catch and to promote different species of fish in the country so that we eat much more of what we catch. One problem now is that 70% to 80% of what is landed on Newlyn harbour in Cornwall goes straight to France or Spain because we do not eat those types of fish.  
(Ed: Isn't that an export opportunity?)

Mr Alan Campbell (Tynemouth) (Lab)

Today will be very different, however, because this is the first post-referendum, pre-exit debate, and we and the wider audience outside the House, particularly fishermen, will be looking carefully for signs of what exiting the EU will mean for UK fishing.

The serious point is that Conservative policy has for two decades been about getting out of the common fisheries policy, so surely the Minister must have worked out what that means. As well as fishermen, the public, especially those who voted leave—I voted remain, but if I had been a fisherman, I would have voted leave—were encouraged to believe that the UK would have greater control of the 200-mile exclusive economic zone. They were also encouraged to believe that there would be a 12-mile limit, which is essential to protect the inshore fleet, which is the mainstay of the North Shields fleet in my constituency.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

On a happier note, there is good news in our fishing industry, which is often not reported. It comes after many years of decline. In 2005, for example, 90% of the stocks around UK waters were overexploited, but that has now fallen to 45%. A great deal of progress has been made in the last 10 years. The story of cod recovery in the North sea is thanks to some of the difficult decisions that we took when we were in government, and plaice and sole are doing well too. We need to spread that good news around the rest of our waters, because it translates into real people’s lives and incomes in regions such as mine. In the last 12 months, the markets of Brixham and Plymouth experienced record landings in terms of value.

First, there is the simple arithmetic of 26 against one in the negotiations, which will obviously make the Minister’s job very difficult. There will be an early test of that at the forthcoming Fisheries Council, where he knows as well as I do that it is those late night deals that matter, and the relationships built up with fellow Ministers over the years are what enable us to get the good deals for our own industry. I cannot help thinking that some of the chaos and antics and confusion around the Government’s messaging on Brexit will not be helpful in that endeavour. I wish him well in those negotiations, however, in a couple of weeks’ time.

I have asked several times in this Chamber already in recent weeks for some clarity from the Government about tariffs, because if we cannot have tariff-free access for those exports to the continent, what kind of future will there, not just for the markets, merchants and processors but for the catchers themselves?

In 2010, there were 1,500 at-sea inspections; that figure halved by 2015. In fact there is less enforcement now than there has ever been. There were 40 foreign boats fishing off the coast of Devon and Cornwall this week alone, as they are perfectly entitled to, and of course under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea rules boats are entitled to come through our waters, but how is the Minister’s 200-mile limit going to be enforced when we do not even currently enforce the rules as they stand? What naval assets can he assure the House will be available to do this work?

The point my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) made so excellently is that there are huge expectations, and hopes have been raised not just by the Minister but by the other Brextremists in this whole fisheries debate.

Mr Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con)

Brexit offers the most wonderful opportunity for our marine environment and for those who work in it. We should not underestimate that. We said that we would leave, which will mean leaving the common fisheries policy and re-establishing our control right back to 200 miles ​and the full exclusive economic zone. I was the shadow spokesman on these matters 11 and 12 years ago, opposite the right hon. Member for Exeter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) bravely got the discard ban through, but, unfortunately, it cannot work while we have quotas. As long as we have quotas, we will have a discard problem. We should move to controls based on days at sea, we should land everything, we should have accurate data—and no cheating—and it would be immensely cheaper and easier to administer. That would provide very accurate data for our local scientists, local fishermen, local recreational interests and local environmentalists to use in deciding how to handle the fishing.

There is one issue that I find extraordinary. When I went to New England, I saw selective gear being developed at Manomet, but when I came back to the UK I found out it was banned. The hostility of the EU to modern technology is bizarre. I would like to have a regime in which we actively promoted selective gear so that we could take out certain species surgically when fishing. On that, the ability to control the system has been enormously helped since I wrote the paper, because there has been a great improvement in GPS tracking, satellite observation and communications. We can put cameras on nets and on boats, so it is now very hard to cheat.

However, we will be in an enormously better position if we take back control, give power to local interests—not just the fishing industry, but scientists, councils and recreational fishermen—to decide what is good for their area, to adapt selective gear to that area and to agree permanent closed zones for spawning if necessary or temporary closed zones if there is too much fishing. If we do that, we will see an immediate improvement in the marine environment, and the jobs and prosperity will then come back. Leave means leave, which means going out to 200 miles and establishing local and national control.

Let us compare that with Iceland, where—I have been there, too—at an hour’s notice, vessels are told to steam on if they are catching too much of a certain species. That is proper control and, to go back to the point made by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), it is the sort of power we could give back to our local fisherman and those with an interest in the local marine environment. (Ed comment to put this into context - this rule applies to a single species - cod - which is what the boats target - contrast that with a typical Newlyn beam trawler or stern trawler lands , on average, over 30 species of fish in a single trip - making that kind of rule totally unworkable - and maybe when the minister was in Iceland he should have asked about their discard problem! - a typical example of people hearing what they want to hear - just like "we will take back control')

Derek Thomas (St Ives) (Con)

This annual fisheries debate provides the opportunity for MPs to reflect on the main issues confronting the fishing industry. The EU referendum result holds special significance for fishing in that, as we have heard, it affords the opportunity to leave the dysfunctional and, for the UK, highly disadvantageous common fisheries policy. Although I recognise that the pressing matter before us is the December Council negotiations, which will determine what fishermen in Newlyn and St Ives, on the Lizard and in West Penwith will be able to land next year, the 23 June referendum result gives the Government their best possible opportunity to build a sustainable and prosperous future for UK fishing. I understand why the Government generally want to keep their negotiating position on the EU close to their chest and I recognise that until article 50 is triggered formal negotiations cannot begin, but for UK fishing, our negotiating position could not be clearer: the EU should have no reason to doubt that we will take back our fishing rights under international law, and it is for the EU to negotiate with us its share of total allowable catch in UK waters. My personal view is that this is the kind of language that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs should be using. It is only fair that fishermen, both in the UK and around Europe, are clear about the future of their ​industry in UK waters. The fishing industry in the UK is united. It sees the referendum result as providing the best chance to right the wrong that, over decades, has dramatically reduced our fleet—particularly in the west—and made an already tough job so much tougher.

I have a met a number of fishermen and fishing industry representatives since June, and their asks are straightforward: the UK must ensure full and absolute control of UK waters out to the 200-mile limit, which will mean that fishing opportunities, access and the regulatory regime will then be determined by the UK Government, not the EU; the UK must secure a greater share of total allowable catches in UK waters; the UK must secure the continued tariff-free and unrestricted access to European markets; and the fishing industry must be at the heart of Government negotiations and the future management of UK fisheries. To deliver a positive outcome for fishing, it is essential that the experience and knowledge of the fishing industry are harnessed and used during and after negotiations to leave the EU.

While we are still in the EU, can the Minister please work hard to ensure that the maximum sustainable yield timetable is not allowed to become a dogma? It is better to take a little more time and safeguard the integrity of Cornish fisheries. With that in mind, proposals to cut monk by nearly 12%, megrim by 28% and pollock ​by 20% would cause considerable difficulty to fisherman in my constituency and it is not absolutely clear that the science supports such significant reductions. I particularly liked the suggestion from my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) regarding days at sea. I am sure that the over-10s in my constituency would welcome that idea.

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con)

As many of my right hon. and hon. Friends are saying today, the CFP is a fundamentally failed system. Any attempts to conserve our fish stocks through the CFP have always meant too little sovereignty for London and too little decentralisation from Brussels. To understand what the UK’s future fisheries policy should look like, it is important to examine what has happened over the last four decades.

The principle of equal access to the European Community’s fishing waters was agreed without any basis in the treaty of Rome. Fisheries became a common resource, and all member states’ fishing vessels were granted equal access. The 30th of June 1970 was also the day the UK handed in its application to join the Common Market, and because equal access had become EU acquis, the UK was obliged to accept that principle, even though it had no legal precedent. We abandoned our territorial waters when we became members of the European Community. As we all now know, joining the European Community also meant that we abandoned our sovereignty.

Many points highlight the absurdity of the CFP. First, there is the conservation policy of national quotas. The quotas, imposed in 1983, are a prime example of a decision taken in Brussels but left with each member state to implement. As has become all too clear, the consequence of centralisation is overfishing. Because the CFP is centrally managed, local authorities in countries such as Spain turn a blind eye to abuse. The system also results in the wholesale dumping of fish—a practice that was common among member states but illegal in, for example, Norway. That is proof that the EU quota system is unfit for purpose. The second point is decommissioning to reduce fishing effort. Since 1992, Britain has been required to decommission its fishing fleet because our waters have been overfished—by 19% in 1992, and then by 40% in 1996.

Dr Whiteford

I am desperately disappointed that the UK Government have chosen to use the status of EU nationals living and working in the UK as a bargaining chip in their Brexit negotiations. That has not just set a poor tone for what lies ahead, but created uncertainty for businesses and for ordinary, hard-working folk who have made their homes in our communities and do not deserve to become pawns in this unedifying game.

I will withdraw “two-faced”, although I said that it was that type of two-faced behaviour that discredits politicians. I did not make any reference to the right hon. Gentleman, although I think my context is very clear. I am happy to withdraw.

Arguably the biggest opportunities for the fishing industry in the current scenario will be: the ability to negotiate more effectively on our own behalf in future negotiations, rather than as part of the EU; and the possibility of securing a fairer share of the resources in our waters. A report published in October by the NAFC Marine Centre demonstrated that more than half the fish harvested in Scottish waters is caught by non-UK boats. I do not understand how anyone can see that as fair and equitable. The situation cannot be allowed to continue, and it must be addressed as a priority.

Inevitably, the run-up to next week’s fisheries talks has been somewhat overshadowed in this debate by Brexit considerations, but there are two major issues that I want to bring to the Minister’s attention. The first is the implementation of the discard ban. I know that I have been banging on about this for years, but the situation is urgent. Even if article 50 were triggered tomorrow, our demersal fleet would still be subject to the ban in 2018 and 2019. I do not think that there is a realistic way of implementing it in its current form, and I also do not see how it can be easily enforced

Finally, I want to make a key point. Our fishing industry has unprecedented opportunities to recalibrate and to flourish on a sustainable footing, but the biggest risk that we face is that those potential opportunities will be squandered and traded away in the wider Brexit negotiations. We know that there will be many competing priorities in the days ahead, and it is vital that fishing is not simply thrown into that mix to be horse-traded away against bigger, more powerful and more vocal industries, or strategic interests, as we try to secure trade deals. We need to recognise that our abundant fishing grounds are an invaluable natural resource and that we have a responsibility to steward them sustainably in the interests of our maritime communities and for future generations. Fishing has probably more at stake in this process than any other UK industry. I want assurances from the Minister that we will not see a repeat of the 1970s, when fishing interests were subjugated to other strategic economic priorities. The UK Government considered fishing to be expendable at that time, but they must not treat those industries as expendable now.

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con)

To ensure that the UK fishing industry has a bright future, the following issues need to be addressed. First, the Minister needs to secure what I know is his No. 1 objective of reclaiming control of our territorial waters, with the UK able to take responsibility for the seas out to 200 miles or the relevant median lines. Secondly, having done that, he should ensure that the 0 to 12-mile zone is exclusively available for our inshore fleet—the under-10 metre fleet that currently gets such a raw deal. Thirdly, it is necessary to address the flagship issue. It is not right that the six affiliated vessels of the Lowestoft producer organisation land no fish in Lowestoft. I know that the Minister is already looking into that and reviewing the economic link.

Brendan O’Hara

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the ban on recruiting non-EEA crew and the over-zealous actions of some Border Agency staff are forcing boats to get tied up, which is having a huge economic impact on already fragile communities in the west of Scotland and Northern Ireland?

Jim Shannon

That is quite clearly happening. I subscribe to what the hon. Gentleman says, with in mind. Boats from Portavogie were boarded by the UK Border Agency in the Clyde the week before last and had to return home single-handedly, which should never have happened.

Brexit clearly offers many opportunities for our fishing industry to contribute to the economy of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I get frustrated sometimes when I hear the negativity coming through. We start from where we are: our island nation is surrounded by some of the most productive seas in the world, which produce a resource of which so many others have been eager to avail themselves. Let us hope that our fishermen, and British fishermen, avail themselves of that resource. That will enable us to grow our marine economy and specifically our fishing industry, and to secure a traditional UK industry that UK citizens can be proud to be part of. In the meantime, Minister, I ask you and the Government to work with the industry, during what is a transitionary period, to resolve the issues on non-EEA crew.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con)

My Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport constituency includes a centuries-old fish market that now sells 6,000 tonnes of fish and shellfish annually and is the second largest fish market in England. About 40 fishing boats unload their catch at Sutton harbour daily, but up to 70% of what is sold in Plymouth is imported overland, which I am told is called overlanding.

Currently the UK and south-west fishermen fishing off our coast receive just 10% of haddock catches in our waters compared to France taking 66%; for monk, it is 18% to 59% for France; for whiting, it is 11% to 60% for the French; and for cod, it is a staggering 8% against 73% for France. We can therefore see why south-west fishermen feel so strongly that they were not considered when the original deal was done, and we must not allow that to happen again. But beyond the catching opportunities that must be resolved, there are many other areas where Government can offer to assist, building on good work already done by fishermen and helping our fleet become more sustainable and safer and take advantage of opportunities in this vital sector, to deliver the best economic value to the UK post-Brexit.

Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) (Con)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) on securing the debate. I shall follow the lead of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) in informing the House that I have an unpaid adviser, Mr John Ashworth, who is sitting in the Gallery today. He has supplied me with information on historical fishing rights, which will be the key point of my remarks.​

This is all about historical rights. To understand what is involved, we have to go back to a time that pre-dates our membership of the EEC. Back in the early 1960s, our Prime Minister was Harold Macmillan and the chief negotiator in our mission to join the EEC was Edward Heath. Our application at that time was vetoed by the French President, General Charles de Gaulle. At the time, our nation’s fishing limits were being extended from three to 12 nautical miles, so the historical rights did exist prior to our membership of the European Union.

The Government decided to hold what became known as the London fisheries convention of 1964 to sort out the arrangements for the future 12-nautical-mile zone, especially in relationship to our European friends. We split the zone into two, with a 0-to-six-mile limit zone and a six-to-12-nautical-mile limit. It was decided by the countries involved to give the coastal state exclusive use of the 0-to-six mile zone and partial use of the six-to-12-mile zone, allowing France, West Germany, Ireland, Italy, Holland and Belgium into that zone as they had habitually fished those waters. Perhaps this was a sop to the French, to persuade them to agree to our EEC membership, but it was to no avail because our application was blocked.

These arrangements came into legislation when we finally joined the EEC. Some would say that Edward Heath was too obsessed by our entry into the EEC to challenge the legality of the regulations, which set in train the decimation of the British fishing industry, the lifeblood of our coastal communities. The extent to which we can now clean the slate is open to question, and I hope that the Government will have the answers. If we remove ourselves from the common fisheries policy, we will presumably revert to the 1964 convention and the historical rights that the then fisheries Minister Mr Alick Buchanan-Smith referred to in his parliamentary answer of April 1981. We are able to give two years’ notice under article 15 of the London convention, but would that wipe the slate clean or would rights provided for under the 19th century conventions and regulations still have effect?​

Scott Mann (North Cornwall) (Con)

In summary, I call on the Minister to consider doing the following: redistribute the quota post-Brexit to the under-10 metre fleet; provide financial support to help people get back into the industry; remove the bag limits on anglers and introduce hook-and-line sustainable fishing methods for bass, and follow the science behind that; prioritise the under-10 metre fleet in the 0 to 12-mile zone to compensate for the removal of nets in the ​estuaries; support new producer organisations that represent the under-10 metre fleet, so that they have a place at the table when these discussions are happening; and introduce an environmental “fishing for plastics” scheme, which could help fishers to clean up our oceans and receive a payment for doing so. Many of our fishing communities in and around our coastline have seen a massive decline under the common fisheries policy. Now that we are back in control, we have the ability to shape our coastal communities once again.

Mr MacNeil

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A days-at-sea scheme has its own problems. It puts pressure on fishermen. Sometimes they might get only hours at sea. There is merit in looking at a lot of changes in the fisheries policy, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has his own thoughts on that. [Interruption.] He has a record of changing his mind over the period of a month—I might refer to that again as I go on in my speech.

On a happier note—

Mr MacNeil

Let me look at the right hon. Gentleman’s words again. He said that

“only a madman would leave the market.”

Has he changed his mind on that?

Mr Paterson

Will the hon. Gentleman please quote the rest of the clip? If he had watched the Andrew Neil show he would realise that those clips were very, very carefully chosen, and were then disproved by the rest of the sentences that followed. I will give him another chance: yes or no on days at sea?

Mr MacNeil

I would rather pursue this point. What did the right hon. Gentleman mean when he said that only a madman would leave the market? Let us put that in context with what others in his camp have said. Here is Daniel Hannan:

“Absolutely nobody is talking about threatening our place in the single market.”

Nigel Farage said, “Like Norway.” What did the right hon. Gentleman mean when he said that only a madman would leave the single market?

Mr Paterson

I am delighted to carry on with this exchange. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the rest of the sentences, he will realise that I, Dan Hannan and others—[Interruption.] The video was put up by a Liberal press spokesman, who was then completely shredded and harpooned by Andrew Neil live. It was proved that those were very selective short sentences from a longer clip. The hon. Gentleman is still ducking the question on days at sea. Does he agree that having days at sea would mean that we would not have discards? That would then get around the problem of not being able to land fish, which is very grievous for his constituents, and which he mentioned in his opening comments.

Mr MacNeil

I have already said that I am happy for anything to enter into the mix of discussions and negotiations post-Brexit. The right hon. Gentleman has not answered my question, so I will leave it be. People watching can make up their own minds about what he meant when he said that only a madman would leave the market. I am quite clear what he meant.

The debate should be remembered for the many points that were made, the information given to the Minister, and the expectations of the Minister in time to come. I noted from the comments of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) that de Gaulle was probably the original Brexiteer, in that he refused to allow the UK access to the European Economic Community.

I see your eyes, Madam Deputy Speaker, looking at the clock; you are hinting gently to me to get on with it. I hope the Minister will remember my three points, and the heartfelt plea from the west of Scotland and from Northern Ireland. For goodness’ sake, let our boats go to sea and, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, stop the overzealous activities of the border agencies that are working against the economic interests of the west coast of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Finally, at 4.43 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice)

I begin by commending members of the all-party group on fisheries for bringing forward this annual debate on fisheries as we approach the December Council.

This will be my fourth December Council arguing over fisheries quotas. In that time, some things have changed: we have more stocks fished at MSY than previously, and the numbers are growing. Some of the challenges, particularly in the North sea, have receded, and the stocks are in a better situation. However, in other areas, some things have stayed the same. We still have challenges with bass, and stocks such as cod, haddock and whiting in the Celtic sea.

Sadly, it is also still the case that fishing remains, as many hon. Members have pointed out, one of the most dangerous occupations. This is an opportunity for me to pay tribute to all our fishermen who take risks to bring sea fish to our table. I am also sad to report that over the past year, since our previous debate, nine fishermen have lost their lives. I know that all hon. Members will wish to join me in expressing our sincere condolences to the families and friends who have suffered those tragic losses.

I want to cover as many of the important points that have been raised in today’s debate as possible. The context for this year’s debate is clearly very different from those of previous years, following our decision to leave the European Union. We are committed to acting on the decision taken by the British people, to withdrawing from the common fisheries policy and to putting in place a new fisheries regime.

As an independent coastal state outside the EU, the UK would be fully responsible, under international law, for control of the waters in our exclusive economic zone and for the management of those resources within it, including fisheries. The Government remain committed to being a champion of sustainable fisheries and to ending discards, as set out in our manifesto. We are also committed to continued co-operation with other countries over the management of shared stocks. In future, our role in relation to the annual setting of quotas will change fundamentally, but our overall objective of championing sustainable fisheries and ending wasteful discards remains as strong as ever.

I am going to persevere, if I may. EU exit is an opportunity to develop arrangements for fishing that can better meet the UK Government’s objectives to deliver a financially self-sufficient and profitable seafood sector, and a cleaner, healthier and more productive environment.

I will return to many of the comments made by Members, particularly in relation to post-Brexit policy, but first I want to deal with the December Council. While we remain a member of the EU, we will, of course, continue to participate fully and constructively in the December Fisheries Councils and the related negotiations. They are vital to our industry, since they set the catching opportunities for the vast majority of commercially important fishing stocks.

The hon. Lady suggested that I made unrealistic pledges during the referendum campaign. During that campaign, I exercised my right to campaign as a free, independent MP, but I fully intended that the leave campaign would win, and I fully hoped that I would be back in position and able to see through the changes that I believe are necessary to deliver sustainable fisheries. We will abide by international law in the United Kingdom, and we will expect the European Union to respect and abide by international law. As several hon. Members have said, our European partners have a right to expect us, as the UK, to behave honourably and decently towards them as we put in place new fisheries arrangements and a new type of partnership. They can get that from us, and we should expect the same from them. It is important, as the shadow Minister said, that we get the tone right as we approach the negotiations. We are seeking change, but it is a requirement of UNCLOS that we co-operate with other countries, that we have regard to historical access rights and, crucially, that we work together on shared stocks.

Melanie Onn

The loss of seafaring skills was mentioned. The point made by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) about an academy is important. Perhaps that should be rolled out to coastal towns around the country.

Ultimately, I look forward to hearing much more from the Government about the fishing industry as we move towards negotiating our exit from the EU. I am not entirely assured, but I thank the Minister.

You can read the full transcript from Hansard here: