Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con)
It is a great pleasure to speak in this historic debate. After 40 years, we can now look at a fishing policy for the United Kingdom, and it is a great moment. I sat in the European Parliament for 10 years, and I do not think many in this House, whether they liked the common agricultural policy or not, would stand up and support the common fisheries policy, because it was not a great success. This is the moment to rectify many of the wrongs that happened. As I have said before in the Chamber, there is no doubt that when we went into what was the Common Market back in the 1970s, the fishing industry paid a heavy price, and it is time to put that right. Not only was the share of fish wrong for United Kingdom fishermen, but the policy also saw millions of tonnes of healthy fish being discarded over the years. We now have the opportunity to put that right.
I very much welcome the Bill. The Government will probably be delighted that I am fully supporting them tonight; I will make no further comment on that. I support Government new clause 8, because we need to bring back control of our waters, so that we can catch more fish and manage it more sustainably. We also need to remember that many fish stocks move between national waters, and because there is common access to them, they are at risk of being over-exploited. We can do much more to manage this as an independent coastal state than we could when we were part of the common fisheries policy.
I think we can all agree that the common fisheries policy was not ideal. It was cumbersome and slow, and getting 26 member states to agree to any changes in policy was almost impossible. Outside the common fisheries policy, we can shut down places that are being overfished more quickly, like Norway, and open up other fishing grounds that can be exploited. I am glad that Ministers have been closely following the way that Norway approaches its agreements. We have signed an agreement with the Norwegians, which shows that this can be done; there is only the mere detail of signing the agreement with the EU, but that is proving a little difficult at the moment. Each year, our UK fishing fleet lands £32 million-worth of fish from Norwegian waters, so this is an excellent start.
We eat a great deal of cod in this country, some of which we catch and much of which we import. We have to ensure that we keep our export markets, because we export much of the fish we catch. In coastal communities like mine—we have a little coastline in Seaton, Branscombe and Beer; it is not massive, but it is there—people expect to see great benefits from leaving the common fisheries policy, and we need to see that turned into a physical reality. The Government are right to drive a hard bargain on fishing in these negotiations, because it is something that people really care about. We said in our manifesto that we would bring back our sovereign waters and the fish that come with it. It is socially and economically important to see the regeneration of our coastal communities after Brexit.
Our fishing sector employs over 25,000 people. Around 18,000 work in the fish-processing industry, which is important. It is important to enhance the fish processing industry and we have a great need to market this great fish that we catch. We have the opportunity to improve our dietary habits and eat a little more different fish. Many of those can be caught in Cornwall, and even those of us who live in Devon would be very happy to buy some Cornish fish.
Most of our fisheries are small family businesses. Over 80% of them employ fewer than five people. We can grow the sector with access to more fish and good reciprocal deals. Lots of people say that the fishing industry is not important, but I believe that it is very important to this country because we are a coastal nation. It is interesting that we can and will eat more fish. The more we have control over our fishing waters, the more interest there will be in eating fish. People are becoming more and more interested in the food they eat, and fish will be very much part of that.
The UK has a large fishing zone compared with many of our continental neighbours. Under the common fisheries policy, EU fishermen benefit hugely from reciprocal access to UK waters. In 2015, for example, EU vessels caught some 383,000 tonnes in UK waters, raising some £484 million in revenue. In the same year, UK vessels caught only 111,000 tonnes in EU member states’ waters, raising £114 million, so there is a great benefit to leaving the common fisheries policy. EU vessels benefited by a ratio of 6:1 under the CFP. I do not think anyone could believe that that is fair. We need to rebalance this and reduce EU vessels’ access to a more sustainable level. We are an independent coastal state. We reclaim our waters, we reclaim the fish and then we sit down and negotiate, under our rules and regulations, what access there may or may not be to European vessels.
When we leave the common fisheries policy at the end of this year, we will have control over our waters. This will be good for our marine environment and good for local fishing industries and coastal communities, who will benefit from a greater catch, especially for our under- 10 metre fleet.
The Government have been wise to look at the Norway model when it comes to fisheries because Norway has far greater control over its waters and acts quickly to shut them down if they are being over-fished. The Fisheries Bill is therefore a great opportunity to ensure that we can operate a more dynamic fisheries management system. The Bill is also a significant opportunity to deliver a much needed reversal of the fortunes of coastal communities and small-scale fishers, and I greatly welcome the direction of travel of our DEFRA Ministers. I also look forward to being able to help the sea anglers of this country and make sure that they have access to fish, because they are a huge economic benefit to the fishing industry but also to recreational fishing.
I welcome the Bill tonight.