Anthony Mangnall (Totnes) (Con)
If it is not too embarrassing to the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), may I say how sorry we are to see him return to the Back Benches? He has been a fastidious voice on fishing and a champion of coastal communities, across the whole of the country but also in Devon. I for one will welcome the fact that he will be on the Back Benches and able to work with me on supporting coastal communities, not least in the south-west, and on what more we can do for the fishing community. I totally agree that we should have an annual debate on fisheries; I am sure that in an example of cross-party unity we can find a way to make that happen.
I want to add to the hon. Gentleman’s words that we should also thank the independent lifeboats that are not part of the RNLI. I am in the process of setting up an independent lifeboat association, which he may like to lend his support to. I am also working on an aquaculture all-party parliamentary group to specifically address the points around live bivalve molluscs. It is too broad just to have an APPG on fisheries when there are clearly opportunities for what we can do within the LBM sector and indeed the shellfish sector.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing it. As ever, he gives a unique perspective on the difficulties faced by Northern Ireland, but he also emphasised that fishing across the United Kingdom has a particular opportunity to improve, to enlarge, to expand, to grow and to become an industry that is worth a great deal more than it is now, and that the opportunity lies with DEFRA. Of course, within my own constituency I have Brixham, Salcombe and Dartmouth, and I am very proud of them as fishing communities. I was very proud, a few weeks ago, to spend 24 hours at sea on a Brixham trawler, doing two hours on, two hours off—I can tell you, Ms McVey, they made me work for it. It was an extraordinary insight into the skill required to be a fisher in the UK, the risks that are taken and the hard work that goes into it.
I do not believe that the Brexit deal is botched; I believe it has provided a great deal of opportunity. When I have talked to my fishermen, I have met only one in Brixham who regrets our leaving the European Union and, in fairness, he has been quite quiet of late. It is important to remember that there are some positives to be mentioned here: 25% of existing EU quota will be transferred to the UK over the next five and half years, with an estimated uplift of £27 million, making the total £333 million. There is also the specific percentage agreed for existing fish stocks.
I want to come on to what happens after the transition period, because DEFRA can add a great deal more clarity on where we go beyond 30 June 2026. After the transition period, we will be able to negotiate total allowable catch on each of the 87 stocks that are mentioned in fish annex I and II. As I mentioned in my intervention on the hon. Member for Strangford, the creation of a Specialised Committee on Fisheries is particularly welcome, as is the fact that it will be meeting three to five times a year. I will come to that in a second.
There is undoubtedly an uplift and a broadbrush approach in applying this to the whole of the United Kingdom, which comes with its own problems. However, today’s debate offers DEFRA and the Minister the chance to reassure the fishing community that we are going to address the areas about which it feels most aggrieved. The first, as has been mentioned, is the six to 12-mile limit. That is perhaps the most egregious of the compromises made around fishing, which is particularly well felt. Two weeks ago, in Salcombe we were all tracking a French vessel that we believe—I am cautious in saying—came within our six-mile limit, and indeed did a great deal of destruction to a whole load of Salcombe crab pots. The response was to go through the MMO to report it, but nothing has been heard from the MMO by my Salcombe fishermen. There is clearly something at odds there.
On the six to 12-mile limit, we have the opportunity after the transition period to be very clear about what we want for that area. I ask DEFRA now to start talking about its intentions. I used to be a negotiator in shipping, and I understand that no one wants to reveal their hand, but it is important to give the clarity that we are going to go forward and ensure that that six to 12-mile limit becomes UK-only. That is what was expected before the deal; in fact it was a great surprise to many that it did not happen. Many fishermen in Dartmouth, Salcombe and Brixham made the point that their counterparts in France could not believe that we had given away that part of the deal.
As was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), supertrawlers, fly-shooters, are seen off the coast of the United Kingdom. We said that we wanted to deal with supertrawlers; we have to ensure that we are doing so. There is no greater image of our having let down elements of the fishing community than seeing those vessels. Let us be clear about what we want post June 2026.
The second point is around the money. It is welcome that £100 million has been put forward; it has shown commitment. I know the Minister feels passionately about what the levelling-up fund can do, as well as helping coastal communities. So, it is not just £100 million; it is plus the £4.8 billion in the levelling-up fund. It is great that pillar 1 has been announced, but I am tired of having to ask repeatedly when pillar 2 and 3 will come. I recognise that the Treasury controls the matter; I am not blaming the Treasury or the Minister. I am saying that a great deal of hope is pinned on that money, and the infrastructure and development that could be had to help expand the fleets in the UK, by building more boats, retrofitting and repairing them and training people to come into the industry. Those are important areas in which we can help grow the fleet and the industry. I ask again: when are we going to have pillars 2 and 3, and how quickly might we be able to apply for them and expand?
The third point is around the Specialised Committee on Fisheries. It is particularly welcome that the trade and co-operation agreement has outlined the different committees, including the one related to live bivalve molluscs on sanitary and phytosanitary measures. Those committees are still mired in a little bit of secrecy and opaqueness. The last meeting of the SCF was on 27 February. The only information that I can find— I am happy to be proved wrong—is the agenda. Our fishing communities across the whole of the United Kingdom need to understand what is discussed in those meetings and how they can have an input. We must ensure that we not only feed into the agenda, but get the response so that we understand that we are discussing the problems and trying to find the solutions, as the hon. Member for Strangford rightly said. It is also said that the group will meet between three and five times a year. I hope that the Minister will be a little more specific as to when. It is important that we have stuck-in-stone dates to ensure that we meet in the right places.
I have taken up far too much time. I just want to say that there is an opportunity. We know that places such as Brixham can make a great deal of money. In fact, it is having one of the most successful years on record. That is clearly not the case across the whole of the United Kingdom, but there are steps that DEFRA can take to reassure the industry, help expand it and help it grow. Given those who are in this room, there is a great deal of opportunity and willingness to work together across party.