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MPs have been encouraged to back a flagship Brexit legislation which will implement controls on foreign vessels seeking to access UK fishing waters. Environment Secretary George Eustice said the Fisheries Bill gives the UK a chance to correct “shortcomings” in the EU-led approach to fishing for the “first time in almost half a century”. It comes as the chances of a Brexit deal between the UK and EU seem “unlikely” according to Brussels chief negotiator Michel Barnier.
He told the Commons: “Overall the UK fishing industry currently has access to just around half of the fishing opportunities that are in our own waters and that cannot be right.
“The Bill before the House today gives the UK the powers that it needs to chart a new course as an independent coastal state. It gives us the powers we need to implement the approach we outlined in our fisheries White Paper published in 2018.”
Mr Eustice said the legislation outlines the scientific and environmental principles which will guide future policy, adding to the Commons: “The Bill also gives us the power to control access by individual foreign vessels in our exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
“This includes the power to stipulate through a vessel licence firstly wherein our EEZ a vessel may fish, when it may fish there, what fish it may catch whilst there and what type of fishing gear it may or may not use.
“The ability to control and manage access to our waters will be crucial to ensuring that a fairer sharing arrangement prevails in future.”
Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans confirmed the SNP’s amendment to decline the Bill a second reading before it is “clear what kind of deal” will be made with the EU after the end of the transition period has been selected for consideration.
Shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard said that the Bill does not deliver the “coastal renaissance” that it should have.
He said: “Fishing is a policy area where, up to now, soundbites have often triumphed over substance and where dogma has often won out over detail.
“That must end now because fishers in our coastal communities cannot feed their families on soundbites and vague government promises.”
Mr Pollard continued: “This Bill is a framework Bill so is necessary light on detail but it does offer a centralisation of powers with George Eustice and doesn’t deliver the coastal renaissance that I think this Bill should have done.
“10 years of austerity has hit our coastal communities hard and now COVID-19 means we are standing on the precipice of a new jobs crisis, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 1980s.”
Neil Parish, Tory chairman of the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, explained it is time to put the fishing policy right.
He said: “EU vessels benefit by a ratio of six to one under the Commons Fisheries Policy, so it is time we put this right.”
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The SNP and Plaid Cymru have put forward an amendment refusing to give the Fisheries Bill a second reading until it is clearer what a UK-EU trade deal might look like.
SNP environment spokeswoman Deidre Brock told MPs: “We still have no idea what the agreement with the EU will look like and we still have no idea what the seascape will be that fishing businesses have to operate in.
“There is still no clarity. That deal is not going to be good for fishing communities.
“They remember that a previous Tory government sold them out in negotiations over Europe and now they fear the new generation of Tories will do exactly the same.”
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