Brexit: MPs vote to 'take back control of UK waters' as Fisheries Bill clears Commons

14 October 2020, 00:38

The Fisheries Bill cleared the Commons on Tuesday and will now be debated in the Lords
The Fisheries Bill cleared the Commons on Tuesday and will now be debated in the Lords. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

MPs have voted to "take back control" of the UK's waters after the Fisheries Bill moved a step closer to becoming law by clearing the House of Commons.

Environment minister Victoria Prentis said the legislation would give British fishermen a "once in a generation chance" to seize control of the country's natural resources under the flagship Brexit legislation.

The Fisheries Bill will allow the UK to become an independent coastal state once the Brexit transition period concludes at the end of this year.

It will prevent foreign fishing boats from trawling in British waters unless they have obtained a licence to do so.

Speaking in the Commons, Ms Prentis said: "This Bill sets in stone our commitment to improving the health of our seas.

"It gives our fishermen the better future they need and it is really an opportunity to seize a once in a generation chance to take back control of our natural resources and make sure we pass on healthier seas which are abundant with life.

"The Fisheries Bill gives us the power we need to protect our fish stocks and help our seafood sector. It sets a gold standard for sustainability and it allows us to bring fishing home."

Read more: MPs defeat Lords amendment aimed at protecting UK food standards

Read more: Boris Johnson and Angela Merkel hold talks ahead of October deadline

Jamie Oliver tells James O'Brien his fears for food standards post-Brexit

During the legislation's report stage, opposition amendments, such as Labour's proposal that sought to increase seafood landings into the UK, were rejected.

Shadow environment minister Stephanie Peacock said Labour were hoping to provide support for more jobs in coastal communities and to ensure the survival of the industry.

SNP environment spokeswoman Deidre Brock also warned: "It's notable that when Brexit negotiations ran into trouble recently, the first concession that the prime minister's hand-picked negotiator (Michael Gove) reached for was fishing.

"Straight off the bat, fishing was first to be sacrificed. A few years at first, but there will be more, step after step until the promises that (Gove) made to foreign fleets will be realised - their access to our waters will be assured."

Read more: Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron hold Brexit talks as deadline looms

Watch: Keir Starmer says Brexit deal 'can be done' as UK approaches deadline

Labour MP for Plymouth Sutton & Devonport Luke Pollard reacted to the vote with disappointment on Twitter.

He wrote: "Labour voted to ban supertrawlers over 100m wrecking our marine protected areas. The Conservatives voted against that ban."

A picture uploaded with the tweet read: "The Tories voted to let supertrawlers wreck our ocean wildlife."

However, the passing of the legislation was a cause for celebration for Conservative politicians.

Leader of the Scottish Tories Douglas Ross MP (for Moray) said: "The Fisheries Bill delivers for Scotland’s fishing communities. But tonight, yet again, we saw @theSNP vote against taking back control of our waters."

Meanwhile, Sheryll Murray MP for South East Cornwall said: "Fisheries Bill just received its Third Reading. We are taking back national control of sovereign waters."

The SNP's bid for devolved control over the Scottish aspects of the fishing levy, which would give Scotland a key say in deciding how that share of the money is spent, was rejected.

Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael warned that there remains a gap in the law governing UK fishing boats' safety at sea.

Tory MP Scott Mann (North Cornwall) suggested the government should create an app enabling fishermen to log their catches so that restaurants can ensure their produce is fresh that evening.

He said: "Can they (the government) also look at having a slick fisheries app that will log catches as they're caught to support sustainable fishing and promote quick turnaround so that many of our restaurants and pubs can benefit from having food directly out of the sea and on their plate that very evening - before 10 o'clock."

The Bill later received an unopposed third reading and will return to the Lords where further changes could be made.