Neil made a speech on the future of the UK Fishing Industry in a Backbench Business debate in the House of Commons. You can read the speech below or watch it at this link:
Neil: It is a great pleasure to follow Melanie Onn, who made a good and passionate plea on behalf of fishing and fishermen in this country. I will begin by talking about the present situation and then expand a little on the direction of the fishing industry after we leave the EU. The Minister has the unenviable job in the very near future of spending probably nearly all night in Brussels as our fishing levels are thrashed out.
The current Minister will have the unenviable task of sitting down with Ministers from across the whole of Europe to thrash out in great detail how much and where we can fish cod, sole, hake and so on. Our fishermen throughout the whole country, and especially those in the west country, will expect a very good deal from him because he is such a magnificent Minister. We expect him to come back with more fish in his pockets and in his suitcase, and to ensure that we have those opportunities. We have to remember that we will still be fishing under the common fisheries policy for another two to three years. For our fishermen, with their quotas and all the things that they need to do, we need to sustain the fishing industry in the years ahead. Many crews on our fishing boats are central and eastern Europeans. Their labour is needed, so we need to ensure that everything is in place.
Angus MacNeil (SNP): 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: It is perhaps not quite the British Government who are “choking” the industry, as the hon. Gentleman says. I do accept, however, that there is a perception among those coming to work from central and eastern Europe about whether they are welcome here, and therefore whether they want to come. The value of the pound has also made working here not quite as lucrative, so there has been a knock-on effect.
Margaret Ritchie (Northern Ireland - SDLP): This issue has an impact on fishermen and the fishing industry in the west of Scotland and in County Down, where we have three fishing ports. We rely, by and large, on the efforts of non-EEA fishermen. We have found that the blockages are coming from the Home Office. We urgently need statutory regulation to address this issue, otherwise our fishing industry will die.
Neil: The hon. Lady puts her powerful point on the record. We cannot necessarily hold the fisheries Minister responsible for everything that the Home Office does, but the hon. Lady makes the very good point that we need support and labour not only from inside the EU, but from outside it, so that we can man our fishing boats.
Brendan O'Hara (SNP): To reiterate the hon. Lady’s point, the Scottish and Northern Ireland fishing industry is in crisis. Will the hon. Gentleman use his position to help us to speak to the Home Office and build a case for allowing non-EEA fishermen to work in the west of Scotland and Northern Ireland fishing industry? We face a crisis and we need all the help we can get.
Neil: I understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from, although there is a limit to my influence and power. That said, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee will be carrying out an inquiry on fishing, which is probably more urgent now. Part of that inquiry will involve looking at and taking evidence about all these things—support, labour and how we run our fishing industry. I can give him a commitment about that. I give way to the hon. Gentleman for Northern Ireland; I am not sure of his constituency.
Jim Shannon (Strangford): It is Strangford. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not know that—I thought that everyone in the House knew of Strangford. It must have slipped his mind. Ms Ritchie, two SNP Members—I am sorry, but I cannot remember their constituencies—and I met the previous Minister to make a definitive case for the retention of the Filipino fishermen to ensure that the boats in Scotland and Northern Ireland could survive, but it was not agreed to. Responsibility therefore lies not with Europe but—I say this with the greatest of respect—with the Immigration Minister.
Neil: I thank Jim Shannon—I knew his name, but not his constituency—for his point, which I am sure that the Minister has registered. We are hearing the strong view that this is about not just how and where we fish and what we catch, but the labour to man our fishing boats. The situation in Scotland and Northern Ireland shows how integrated and inter-reliant our fishing industry is. As we move into this new world, securing access to other waters will be a great challenge, but we will probably also have to share our waters with those who have historically had rights here. Perhaps we can use that fact in our trade negotiations as we move towards a new policy. 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.
Callum McCaig (SNP): The hon. Gentleman suggests that the fishing industry could be used as part of trade negotiations. The Scottish fishing industry learned a sore lesson when it was previously sold out in negotiations. We need assurances that that will not happen again, and that the industry will not be a pawn in trade negotiations.
Neil: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We must make clear our ability to take our fishing rights out to the 200-mile limit, as well as where exactly we will have those rights and how we will deal with others’ historical rights. If we can get the whip hand—if we can secure 200-mile rights—we can get a very good trade deal, as well as a very good deal for Scottish fishermen. It will be interesting to see how we unravel what has been in place for 40 years. I know that the Minister is confident of getting these rights back to 200 miles. It will take some doing, but if we can achieve it, we will be in a very good position.
Mike Weir (SNP): The hon. Gentleman talked earlier about the prospect of the fisheries Minister facing long nights in Brussels, but it strikes me that we have to negotiate with the EU and other nations. We already have talks with Norway about fishing quotas. The process will be extremely complicated, so how confident is he that post-exit trade talks will produce a better deal than that which we get from the CFP?
Neil: I think that the hon. Gentleman was asking that question of the Minister rather than me. We look forward to hearing from the Minister how he believes this will work. It can work, however, and if we secure these rights, it can work extremely well.
As we move forward with fisheries policy, we will have to put in place conservation measures. It must not be open season to fish everywhere all the time. Norway can close a zone within 24 hours if it is being overfished. It can react much more quickly than other nations because it is one country reacting for one area, so there are some positive aspects even with conservation.
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.
There is a lot of positive work that can be done. I want the Minister to carry on fighting in Brussels to secure a good deal for our fishermen that will see us through the next few years. Then, yes, let us get these rights back, but as we get them back, let us manage our own fishing sensibly. If we let others into our waters, let us get something back under reciprocal arrangements. That is the way we can build this key industry back up. In Ireland, where there are open borders between Northern Ireland and the Republic, these things will have to be dealt with even for fishing. I will die in a ditch over the need to keep open the border between Northern Ireland and southern Ireland, not only on land but on sea, because there is no doubt that that is the future for Ireland. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to speak and thank Members for their interventions.