Over the last two days in Parliament there have been some debates and votes on several amendments and clauses for two bills that the Government has already set out as their preferred laws for our nation. These bills are the Agriculture and the Fisheries Bills and the Government wants to get them passed without any changes very quickly as they both relate to the post Brexit arrangements and our future Trade Deals. The Government does not want any changes to these Bills because they are leaders of the most popular political party in our recent General Election and so they don’t want to be challenged. Clearly one approach is to assume that if they were to receive any changes that might make them appear incompetent and indeed many of us believe they are on many levels. Of course another approach is to acknowledge that whatever their intelligence as a Government, that a small group of individuals should not get to set out our nations rules without changes or else we are getting close to a form of dictatorship rather than a broad Parliamentary approach. The approach by this Government is similar to how many of their predecessors have acted which is the use of Political Party Whips to force, persuade or inspire their political party colleagues to vote with the Government and ensure that their less than perfect laws get onto the law books without any embarrassment.
Whilst this is not an unusual approach, these bills relate to the way in which our Government will deal with trade deals with both the EU and nations such as the USA. Whereas such matters would usually be dealt with over a meaningful period of time that allows a proper Parliamentary scrutiny to take place and gives time for external bodies to be able to help shape matters, we are now dealing with very urgent decisions and sadly the Government appears unwilling to work with people outside of their small advisory groups such as people like Dominic Cummings. The challenge for most people in the nation is that it is hard to understand what lies behind the various amendments and indeed the details of the law itself and so it may take several years before the reality of the Bills will be made clear. Of course there are media responses and some of these will assist us to understand the information. However they have limited opportunities to do so because of the limited numbers of newspapers and credible broadcast settings. There are also many criticisms of the media some of which come from politicians or their campaigners. Even when the media gets a chance to meaningfully explain what has happened, it nearly always comes after the decisions have been made and so our responses will be unable to change these decisions, even if our MPs would benefit from local views before they place their votes.
All of this convinces me that we need different ways of making laws in our nation, given that the decisions are supposed to be made on our behalf by MPs some of whom appear to be making incoherent decisions or at least voting in a different way to some of their views. Here are some of the comments made by MPs regarding the Fisheries Bill. There are only a very small number of MPs able to speak because of the way COVID is being dealt with in Parliament. Perhaps if more MPs could take part in the debates there would be a more comprehensive grasp of some of these issues than at present. Then there is the results of the votes. Clearly we need to challenge local MPs wherever possible to pay more attention to local views and to be willing to vote in a way that reflects our communities as opposed to how a political party demands the votes get made.
The comment by the MP for Bromley and Chislehurst (a Conservative) is responded to by the DEFRA Minister who is participating in this debate
Bob Neil: As things stand, the Governments and legislatures of both Jersey and Guernsey object. It is not just that they do not think a permissive extent clause is necessary; they object to its inclusion in the Bill. It is truly unprecedented for the Government to insist upon a permissive extent clause without the agreement of the relevant Crown dependencies. Why, even in an emergency, go down this rather provocative step? Why not wait until such time as an emergency arises and let them legislate, as they have indicated they would?
Victoria Prentis: The Government feel that it is important, given that these are significant matters of international law, that we retain the ability to legislate for the Crown dependencies if they do not show the inclination to do so when needed. We very much doubt that this will be necessary. I am sorry that they are upset by this stand, but I do feel that it is the right thing to do in the circumstances at the moment.
Then the Hastings MP, asks a question, which gets a response from the Minister which indicates that either the Bill is unclear or the MP is unaware of it.
Sally-Ann Hart: Many fishermen, including those in Hastings and Rye who manage the under-10 metre fishing fleet, voted to leave the EU to regain total control over our territorial waters. They are seeking clarity and reassurance on clause 12, and that no foreign vessels will be permitted to fish or be granted licences to fish in the 12 nautical miles off the UK coast. Can the Minister give that reassurance and clarity?
Victoria Prentis: I would be delighted to. The Government have been clear throughout that access to the UK’s territorial seas is out of scope for any fisheries framework agreement with the EU. Any access negotiated with the EU will cover only the UK’s exclusive economic zone, and not the 0 to 12-mile zone. That remains the case.
However later on there are some comments by other Conservative MPs which do not focus on the 12 mile boundary, but do focus on a similar matter. The first is from the Conservative MP for Totnes
Anthony Mangnall: I want to speak against two amendments tabled by the Labour party, notably amendment 1 on UK landings. The Opposition talk about the need for specifying percentages for what our fishermen should be required to land. Rather than restricting where our fishermen can go and where they can land their catch, is not the answer to develop our ports to make them competitive with European ports, so that we can attract not only our own fishermen, but fishermen from Europe to land their catch here? That is a more efficient way of building and sustaining the processing plants across the United Kingdom, and building the ports such Brixham in my constituency. That is what we need to be doing—not restricting where our fishermen go.
So Mangnall clearly wants a different approach to that expressed by Sally-Ann Hart in that he is not opposed to Europeans fishing near our land and indeed he wants them to bring their fish to our land, but of course he also wants to enable our fishing people to be able to take their fish to other places. Then we hear from the MP for Wokingham
John Redwood: I am almost seduced by Opposition amendment 1. It is an admirable idea that we should land more of our own fish in our own ports, but I am probably not going to make it to their Lobby, because they lack ambition—why only 65%? We heard from my hon. Friend Douglas Ross that the Norwegians and the Icelandics, who have had control of their own fisheries for much longer or never surrendered them, have much higher percentages than that. These are small, prosperous countries that took their destiny in their own hands, and they have a much finer fishing industry than ours—crippled as it has been for too many years by the common fisheries policy. So full marks to the Opposition for wanting, for once, to go in the right direction, but let us have a bit more passion and ambition, because it is a disgrace that, after all these years in the common fisheries policy, the overwhelming majority of our fish is taken by others, and it is a disgrace that this great fishing nation imports fish to feed ourselves. I want to see a much higher percentage than amendment 1 suggests, because I think we need the food for ourselves or we would be very good at processing it and adding value to it. I do not just want fresh fish for our tables; I also want to see us putting in those extra factories and processing plants in our coastal communities so that they can produce excellent fish preparations or derivatives of fish for our own purposes and for wider export around the rest of the world. This is crucial.
This seems really weird, of course if there were an amendment that was offering 100% then presumably Redwood would endorse it, yet he votes against a 65% call! By the same token
Along with these comments there were other themes such as this comment which is from the Bromley Conservative MP
Bob Stewart: I was under the impression that supertrawlers were registered and agreed by our own Ministry at the moment; I did not realise that they were not. The Minister implies that they are not.
Victoria Prentis: Part of the problem is that there is no officially agreed definition of a supertrawler, but it is fair to say that we have one UK-registered vessel that is over 100 metres in length.
Also there is a comment by the Liberal Democratic MP for Orkney and Shetland
Alistair Carmichael: The question is not about territorial waters; it is about operation within the exclusive economic zone, from 12 miles to 200 miles. The incidents off Shetland demonstrate beyond peradventure that there is no meaningful protection for our fishermen in those areas. Yes, the Minister is right that fishing is a dangerous industry, but it should not be made more dangerous by the sort of recklessness that we keep seeing, and if the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has no powers to enforce that, it is only going to get worse. And by the way, it is not a probing amendment.
Victoria Prentis: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that clarification and I look forward to working further with him on the important issue of safety. The MCA raised the particular issue that affected his constituency in June with the German Government and will continue to do so as hard as possible. We have also raised concerns with the French Government following the incidents in the Baie de Seine—perfectly lawful fishing activity by, I think, Scottish vessels—that took place on Sunday night. In conclusion, this is a good Bill that learns the lessons of the common fisheries policy, and I know that that is recognised across this House. It puts in place a framework to develop sustainable fisheries, which will benefit the nation as a whole as we become an independent coastal state.
There is also a couple of comments by the Independent MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr who was suspended by Plaid Cymru
Jonathan Edwards: Is it not the reality that many of the issues that the Minister is talking about now will ultimately be decided during the trade negotiations with the European Union?
Victoria Prentis: No, I do not think that is the case. When we pass the Fisheries Bill, as I very much hope we will do shortly, there will be no question but that we will be able to impose licence conditions at the end of the transition period.
And then a bit later he responds to comments by a Labour shadow Minister who is promoting the amendment
Jonathan Edwards: I strongly support amendment 3, but I am sure the hon. Lady will understand why, as a Welsh MP, I cannot vote for an England-only amendment, although I understand why it is England-only. May I implore her to ask her colleagues in Cardiff to bring forward similar measures for Wales, to protect Welsh waters?
All of these comments and the others that were made indicate that there are really important aspects of this Bill that needs much more indepth discussions. However inevitably the various amendments are all rejected by people whose comments indicate that they need a bit more support.
So the votes that took place on Monday and Tuesday were for the following subjects:
Clause 1 (which the MPs have called amendment 1)
334 Conservatives and DUP MPs vote against (this includes Sally-Ann Hart (and the other Sussex Conservative MPs apart from Peter Bottomley and Tim Loughton), Anthony Mangnall, Bob Neil, Victoria Prentis, John Redwood and Bob Stewart) vs 195 Labour, Lib Dem and Green MPs. The SNP and Plaid Cymru did not vote, presumably because of what the Welsh Independent stated?
Clause 3 (which the MPs have called amendment 3)
335 Conservatives and DUP MPs vote against (this includes Sally-Ann Hart (and the other Sussex Conservative MPs apart from Peter Bottomley and Tim Loughton), Anthony Mangnall, Bob Neil, Victoria Prentis, John Redwood and Bob Stewart) vs 65 SNP, Liberal Democrat, Plaid Cymru and Green MPs. It is not clear why the Labour Party are not participating in this vote.
Schedule 3 Sea Fishing Licences
329 Conservatives and half the DUP MPs vote against (this includes Sally-Ann Hart (and the other Sussex Conservative MPs apart from Peter Bottomley and Tim Loughton), Anthony Mangnall, Bob Neil, Victoria Prentis, John Redwood and Bob Stewart) vs 194 Labour, Lib Dem, half DUP and Green MPs. The SNP and Plaid Cymru did not vote, presumably because of what the Welsh Independent stated?
On the previous day there were 3 votes for the Agriculture Clauses. These were voted in a similar way with the following results
Contribution of agriculture and associated land use to climate change targets
343 Conservative MPs in favour vs 204 MPs which were Labour, Lib Dem, Green and one Conservative (Simon Hoare). No SNP or Plaid Cymru or DUPs voted.
Requirement for agricultural and food imports to meet domestic standards
328 Conservative MPs in favour vs 276 MPs which were Labour, Lib Dem, SNP, Plaid Cymru and even 14 Conservatives.
Application of pesticides: limitations on use to protect human health
346 Conservative MPs in favour vs 212 MPs which were Labour, Lib Dem, DUP, Green and one Conservative (Simon Hoare). No SNP or Plaid Cymru.