On the Chilcot Inquiry
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)
It gives me great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Witney (Robert Courts). I congratulate him most warmly on an excellent maiden speech. He talked with great descriptive beauty about his constituency. He used humour and he was serious. He talked about his own family’s political journey in having a Labour grandfather. My family has had a political journey in the opposite direction: of my two grandfathers, one was Liberal and one was Conservative. I noticed, however, that he did not talk about the political journey of his predecessor but one—an interesting journey that took place rather more recently than his grandfather’s. I thought that what he said about his predecessor was absolutely right, at a time when a lot of people are saying not very nice things about the previous Prime Minister. I am really pleased that the hon. Gentleman said what he did and put it on the record. I thank him for that.
Before addressing the motion itself, I would like to consider what we might be debating today instead. We could be debating the crisis in the national health service and social care. We could be debating the devastating impact on living standards of the Government’s autumn statement. We could be debating what the Scottish National party Government in Scotland might be doing with the powers they have, but resolutely refuse to use, to mitigate that. Or we could have used this precious debating time to put pressure on the Government to drop food and medicine to the people of Aleppo, who, as the French Government said today, are facing the worst massacre of civilians since the second world war.
But no, we are debating the motion before us—and why? SNP Members are furious, livid and incandescent with rage that Sir John Chilcot did not find that Tony Blair lied. After seven years and five independent inquiries, the lie that our former Prime Minister lied has finally been laid to rest, and SNP Members cannot stand it. The motion, of course, does not talk about lying. However, the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), who supports the motion, let the cat out of the bag when she told The Observer on Sunday
“The Chilcot report confirmed Tony Blair lied to the public, parliament and his own cabinet in order to drag us into the Iraq war.”
She has clearly not read the Chilcot report; it did no such thing.
Without going over the detail as we did in a very full debate on this back in the summer, let me remind the House briefly of what the Chilcot report did say. Volume 4, paragraph 876, says clearly that there was no falsification or improper use of intelligence. Volume 5, paragraph 953 says that there was no deception of Cabinet. Volume 1, paragraph 572 onwards, says that there was no secret commitment to war either at Crawford in April 2002 or anywhere else. Although outside the body of the report, as a number of hon. Members have pointed out, Sir John Chilcot himself, in his appearance before the Liaison Committee, said:
“I absolve him”—
“from a personal and demonstrable decision to deceive parliament or the public—to state falsehoods, knowing them to be false.”
Some people just cannot give up. Some people do not seem able to accept the possibility that reasonable people can come to different views on a difficult subject but do so in good faith. Some people cannot accept—
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
No, the right hon. Gentleman had half an hour and a lot of Members want to speak.
Some people cannot accept that however much one disagrees with a decision taken, it can still have been taken in good faith. So here we are debating a motion that seeks to distort and rewrite Chilcot and, in effect, put Tony Blair back in the dock. I am delighted that my own party is having none of this nonsense and that we will be voting against this mendacious opportunism in an hour and a half’s time.
I think there may be another reason why some people persist in trying to claim falsely that there was deliberate deceit in all this. They are more than a little nervous that as we look at what has happened in Syria, and is still happening in Syria today, where there was no intervention and we left a brutal dictator to continue to slaughter his own people, history will prove our former Prime Minister right.
On the letter from the NFU
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)
In his discussions with the Home Office, has the Minister talked about the letter written to it by the National Farmers Union warning that British fruit and veg will go unpicked this winter because of the current labour crisis in the horticultural and agricultural industries, and what is he doing about that?
The right hon. Gentleman is entirely right: the agricultural industry has traditionally relied on seasonal agricultural labour. These are matters that we are giving close attention to. Indeed, I discussed them only yesterday with representatives of farming unions.
On the UK Fishing Industry
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)
Let me begin, like a number of other Members, by taking a moment to remember all the fishermen who have left their families, friends and harbours this year, not to return. The pain in those communities is always palpable, and we must do more than we have in the past to ensure that we do not begin our fisheries debates every year by remembering people who have been lost. Let me also pay tribute to the work done by the Fishermen’s Mission and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in helping to keep our fishermen safe.
On a happier note, there is good news in our fishing industry, which is often not reported. It comes after many years of decline. In 2005, for example, 90% of the stocks around UK waters were overexploited, but that has now fallen to 45%. A great deal of progress has been made in the last 10 years. The story of cod recovery in the North sea is thanks to some of the difficult decisions that we took when we were in government, and plaice and sole are doing well too. We need to spread that good news around the rest of our waters, because it translates into real people’s lives and incomes in regions such as mine. In the last 12 months, the markets of Brixham and Plymouth experienced record landings in terms of value.
First, I should like the Minister to assure all of us that he will continue the successful policies that have led to this improvement—policies which, to give him credit, he has continued since we were in office—whether from inside or outside the EU. Secondly, I should like him to reassure us that the overall environmental objectives that successive UK Governments have fought to achieve for sustainable fisheries will be continued and embedded in UK law. We need to complete the network in marine protected areas. We also need to fully embed the birds and habitats directive, the bathing waters directive, the urban waste water treatment directive, the water framework directive, and the marine strategy framework directive in UK law through the great repeal Bill that the Government are proposing. I hope that the Minister will reassure us that that will be done.
I also hope that when the Minister goes to the Council in December, he will take a very tough line on bass. The state of bass around our waters is catastrophic, although that was completely avoidable. We have done far too little, too late. I cannot understand why we in this country do not adopt the policy that operates in the Republic of Ireland, where bass is treated solely as a recreational species. Many Members may not realise this, but if we look at the big picture, it is clear that recreational angling contributes more to our overall economy than the commercial catching sector. However, it does not have such a loud voice in the negotiations. The commercial sector will be breathing down the Minister’s neck when he is in Brussels, but I hope he will remember the words of the millions of anglers in the country—as well as those who run bed and breakfasts, and all the other services that anglers support—who say that they want a better deal on bass. We need a complete moratorium on commercial bass catching with no exemptions next year, with some allowance made for the recreational catching need.
I hope the Minister will not forget about the good progress that the Government have made on marine litter. That may not appear to be a big issue, but it is a huge issue for the marine environment. I commend the Minister for his successful plastic bag charge and on the proposed microbeads ban, but that ban must include detergents and other household products, not just cosmetics.
I do not doubt that many catchers in the UK commercial fishing sector did vote to leave the EU, partly based on a long-time grievance that they got a terrible deal under the then Conservative Government when we joined the Common Market, but my fear, which I think is shared by many in the industry, is that just as they were done over on our way in, they may be done over on our way out. There are two main reasons why they worry about that.
First, there is the simple arithmetic of 26 against one in the negotiations, which will obviously make the Minister’s job very difficult. There will be an early test of that at the forthcoming Fisheries Council, where he knows as well as I do that it is those late night deals that matter, and the relationships built up with fellow Ministers over the years are what enable us to get the good deals for our own industry. I cannot help thinking that some of the chaos and antics and confusion around the Government’s messaging on Brexit will not be helpful in that endeavour. I wish him well in those negotiations, however, in a couple of weeks’ time.
The second reason why the industry is nervous is the level of priority the Government will be prepared to give this sector, which after all represents a relatively small part of our economy compared with all the other sectors referred to—the manufacturing sector, the financial services sector and even the farming sector. There is a real worry that the fisheries sector will lose out because the Government will not take it seriously enough.
Another interesting long-term trend in fisheries is that, as several other Members have pointed out, it is now more of an import-export industry than a pure catching industry. Both imports and exports have grown exponentially and steadily over recent decades, partly because of our taste for white fish—cod and haddock—and partly because of our relative lack of enthusiasm, which I regret, for some of our more exotic, but not terribly exotic, species, which we therefore export in large quantities to the continent. I do not know whether anyone can guess what the main catch in terms of value is in the south-west at the moment. It is cuttlefish, a non-quota species, and almost all of it goes straight to the fish markets of Italy, to grace the tables of our Italian friends and relatives, and I am sure they enjoy it very much. We catch the best crab and lobster in the world off the south Devon coast; it almost all goes straight to France and Spain in salt tanks—what a waste.
We need to eat more of our own produce, but the point I am making is that because the export of fish is in many ways more important economically than catching, and more jobs and livelihoods rely on it, the issue of tariffs is very important. I have asked several times in this Chamber already in recent weeks for some clarity from the Government about tariffs, because if we cannot have tariff-free access for those exports to the continent, what kind of future will there, not just for the markets, merchants and processors but for the catchers themselves? I would like the Minister to give some clarity on how he will reconcile situations where the interests of the catching sector and the exporters are not aligned, which may sometimes arise. If, for example, we declare our unilateral 200-mile limit, how does he expect that to influence the mood of the 26 other countries we will be negotiating with over tariffs? I am rather nervous that it might antagonise them.
I want to ask the Minister about enforcement as well, as that is a matter of great concern that has not been raised yet in this debate. Regrettably, there has been a huge cut in enforcement under this Government. In 2010, there were 1,500 at-sea inspections; that figure halved by 2015. In fact there is less enforcement now than there has ever been. There were 40 foreign boats fishing off the coast of Devon and Cornwall this week alone, as they are perfectly entitled to, and of course under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea rules boats are entitled to come through our waters, but how is the Minister’s 200-mile limit going to be enforced when we do not even currently enforce the rules as they stand? What naval assets can he assure the House will be available to do this work? What access will we have to the vital EU monitoring system? Have we got guarantees that we will still be able to participate in that, or will we have to invent a whole new system or rely on a different sort of satellite system? This is crucial, because it is about fair play for the fishermen, and also confidence for the consumer that the fish being caught is caught legally and sustainably.
The point my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) made so excellently is that there are huge expectations, and hopes have been raised not just by the Minister but by the other Brextremists in this whole fisheries debate. My worry is that the recipe for what they are proposing is also a recipe for potential conflict, a race to the bottom and environmental degradation. I hope the Minister can give some clarity and demonstrate that he will have a sensible approach to the fishing industry that will not lead to that, and that he can give us some outline of a realistic long-term plan that recognises the need to collaborate over a finite and mobile resource, that catching will continue to have to be restricted in order for stocks to recover and thrive, and that that is what is really in the interests of our fishing industry, not conflict and a return to some mythical golden age that some imagine might be the case.