Ben Bradshaw

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Commons Interventions December 17

On Northern Ireland

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

If the Secretary of State is serious about wanting a solution in the national interest that commands majority support in Northern Ireland, the rest of the United Kingdom and this House—I am delighted to say that that would seem to include my own Front Benchers—why does he not bring to this House a motion, on a free vote, on staying in the customs union and the single market?

Mr Davis

We were elected on a manifesto that said that we would leave the customs union and single market—full stop.

On Jerusalem

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

Q7. The recognition by Donald Trump of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel will do grave damage to the prospects for a just and lasting peace settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, which has been British, and indeed American, foreign policy for decades. Was she consulted about that announcement, and, if so, what did she say? Will she, here and now, unequivocally and clearly condemn it? [902781]

The Prime Minister

I intend to speak to President Trump about this matter, but our position has not changed—as the right hon. Gentleman says, it has been a long-standing one. It is also a very clear one: the status of Jerusalem should be determined in a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and Jerusalem should ultimately form a shared capital between the Israeli and Palestinian states. We continue to support a two-state solution. We recognise the importance of Jerusalem and our position on that has not changed.

On pulse fishing

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

3. What steps his Department is taking to tackle pulse fishing in EU waters. [902792]

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (George Eustice)

There are some concerns about the impact of pulse trawling on certain species of fish, in particular gadoids such as cod. Earlier this year, I asked the Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science to review the science on pulse trawling. The preliminary advice concludes that while the impact on the seabed is typically smaller than for traditional beam trawling, there are some detrimental effects on fish species such as cod. Once CEFAS has completed its work, we will decide what steps are required next.

Mr Bradshaw

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. He will be aware, I am sure, of the concerns of fishers in parts of south-east England about the impact of Dutch electric pulse fishing on the stocks that, surprise surprise, move across national boundaries and are consequently shared. At the moment, we have a voice at the table and we can influence, alongside other, more conservation-minded northern European countries, policies such as that on electric pulse fishing. How will we exert the same influence if we leave the European Union?

On the EU Referendum

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

9. What assessment has been made of the adequacy of resources available to the Electoral Commission to undertake multiple investigations into the EU Referendum campaign. [902819]

Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South)

The Electoral Commission has experience of undertaking multiple investigations and is confident that its resourcing for this year is sufficient. Nevertheless, it recognises that its workload in this area has increased. Early in 2018, the commission will be submitting its budget for the next financial year for scrutiny. It is for the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission to agree the estimate before its submission to Parliament.

Mr Bradshaw

I hope that the Speaker’s Committee will ensure that the Electoral Commission has all the resources it needs to do this important work. As well as investigating Russian interference, which the Electoral Commission’s chairman, John Holmes, confirmed it was doing yesterday, will my hon. Friend comment on ​whether the commission is examining whether there was any collusion between Vote Leave, Leave.EU, Labour Leave, BeLeave, the Democratic Unionist party and Veterans for Britain? Will she also comment on whether the role of the United States hedge fund billionaire, Robert Mercer, is being investigated?

Bridget Phillipson

I know that the commission has had useful and positive engagement with my right hon. Friend about these matters. Various investigations are under way, so it will not be possible to comment further, but I can assure him that once any investigations are complete, the commission will decide whether any breaches have occurred and, if so, what further action may be appropriate. The outcome of all investigations will be publicised on the Electoral Commission website in due course.

On Palestinian statehood

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

Further to the Minister’s answer to the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), who asked, “If not now, when?”, the Minister will be aware that one of the most grievous consequences of this decision is the impact on Palestinian public opinion. More and more people are giving up on a two-state solution. With Britain’s particular historical ​responsibilities, is it not time to honour the overwhelming vote in this House back in 2014 and recognise Palestine as a state?

Alistair Burt

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I make frequent visits to the region—I was there recently—and yesterday I expressed to the Palestinian representative in London my views on the President of the United States’ anticipated speech. Recognition of the state of Palestine is not necessarily a consequence of what we heard yesterday. It is not tit for tat; it is more important than that. Accordingly, it should be a decision made by the United Kingdom at a time when we believe it is in the best interests of the process of peace. That is the view for now.

On the UK fishing industry

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

May I associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) about marine safety organisations and fishermen’s welfare organisations? I am thinking particularly of the Fishermen’s Mission, in a year which, thankfully, has been one of the better ones in terms of fatalities at sea.

I do not know whether you have had an opportunity to watch the wonderful BBC series “Blue Planet II”, Madam Deputy Speaker. If you have, you will have been inspired and moved by the wondrousness of our marine environment, but also by its vulnerability and fragility. While environmental degradation on land is visible to us—we see forests and species disappear, and we see desertification—what has been happening in our oceans for far too long has remained invisible to all except a dedicated band of marine scientists and divers, but now, thanks to that fantastic programme, it is there for all of us to see.

Melanie Onn (Great Grimsby) (Lab)

When my right hon. Friend watched that programme, was he as concerned as I was by the amount of plastic being ingested by some of the marine life that later goes into our food chain?

Mr Bradshaw

Indeed I was. Thankfully, plastics are one of the more visible aspects of marine pollution, because we see them washed up on our beaches and the Government are taking action, but a great deal else that goes on is still invisible.

There is another big difference between land-based and sea-based environmental degradation. The sea is a place where the ancient human activity of hunting and gathering continues, and continues apace. As has just been pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), other human activity, such as the use of plastics, has its impacts, but much of it is invisible. Man-made climate change is leading to ​the warming and acidification of our oceans, with yet unknown consequences. It does not affect just marine life—including fish, as an edible resource—but the roles that the oceans themselves play in regulating our climate, our oxygen levels, and basically everything that makes human life on earth possible.

For most of human history, oceans and fish were simply plundered. That did not matter when there were relatively few human beings and fishing technology was relatively antiquated, but in the last 100 years or so, population growth and technological progress have completely changed that equation, with, in some instances, devastating consequences. We all know the story of the near-eradication of bluefin tuna, turtles, cod off the north-east coast of the United States, and, in our own case, cod in the North sea. However, things have changed. Because of what was going on in the early noughties, politicians began to take notice and take action. There was collective endeavour, and it has worked. North sea cod has made a fantastic recovery, thanks to the difficult measures and decisions that I took as a fisheries Minister, which were massively criticised by the fishing industry at the time. There has even been progress on the high seas, which is much more difficult because of the lack of an international legal framework.

As anyone—I hope—can appreciate, managing our seas and fish stocks sustainably demands that countries work together. As has been said so often during our debates over the years, fish do not respect national borders; they swim about. Unlike the hon. Member for South East Cornwall, I have real concerns about the potential of Brexit to reverse the welcome progress that we have seen in the last 15 or 20 years. Let us be honest: the status quo is not a disaster. The hon. Lady herself spoke of recommendations for increased catches at this year’s meeting of the Council of Ministers. I wonder why that is the case. My local ports, Brixham and Plymouth, have just reported their best years in terms of the value of their catches. Species such as cuttlefish are doing incredibly well, and are being exported straight to markets in Italy, France and Spain. Our crab and lobster are also valuable exports.

Mrs Sheryll Murray

Is the right hon. Gentleman seriously saying that British fishermen want to stay in the common fisheries policy?

Mr Bradshaw

Some do, but they tend to be quiet, because they are shouted down by Members of Parliament like the hon. Lady. If she has honest conversations with sensible fishermen who care about the long-term sustainability of their stocks, she will find that not all of them share her views, and it would be inaccurate to suggest that they do.

As I was saying, some of our most valuable catches—and we in the south-west have enjoyed a record year in that regard—are exported straight to the markets of the European Union, tariff-free, while we are in the common fisheries policy. As a nation, we also depend on imports for 80% of what we consume, because of our taste for cod and haddock. So what will happen in the event of a bad deal or no deal, in terms of tariffs on these vital exports and the vital imports on which our producing and processing sector depend, and about which my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby will speak later?​
The Brexiteers have sold the idea that if we leave the EU and unilaterally declare these marvellous limits, our fishers will suddenly get all these extra fish and massively increased quotas, and our boats, which currently fish in other people’s waters, will be able to carry on regardless, and our vital exports will be completely unaffected. Like so many of the promises made by these modern-day wreckers, this is a cruel deception on our fishers and their communities. We need only look at the problems we have had this week with the Irish land border; imagine what will happen if, as the Brexiteers are proposing, the UK suddenly and unilaterally moves the international marine borders, and, in effect, declares fish wars on all our neighbours, excluding them from fishing grounds they have fished for hundreds of years and stealing the quota they consider legally theirs. It is a recipe for mayhem.

It is also a recipe for environmental disaster. We know from fisheries management all around the world that if international and supranational co-operation and collaboration break down, it is the fish and the marine environment that pay the price. The second cruel deception being played out is that the Government are likely to make fisheries a priority. We need only look at its value to our economy, compared with financial services, pharma and others. Are our Government honestly going to pick a political fight for fisheries, when all these other sectors are worth more to our economy? It is a cruel deception.

I have two further points. First, I ask the Minister to make bass a recreational stock, as Ireland has done, with huge success. I also ask the Minister to keep a place at that negotiating table, and when he goes to Brussels later this month, I ask him to stick with the science: stick with the evidence, and think about the fish and their future, and a healthy future for our fishing industry.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con)

It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) for initiating it. I know of her great experience in the fishing industry. As she, above all others, will know from her personal loss from fishing, safety at sea is paramount. I pay tribute to her.

We look forward to our very able fisheries Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), going to the December Council and coming back full of fish, and making sure that we have sufficient quota for our fishermen, because there is the science now to be able to say that for most quotaed species there are enough there for our fishermen to catch.

I am amazed that the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) is so pessimistic about the common fisheries policy. Whether we were a Brexiteer or a remainer, I think we can all accept that the one section of society that got well and truly stitched up when we first went into the common market was the fishing industry, because it put forward quotas that were reasonably accurate, while others put forward quotas that were not, and we landed up with a very small supply of what were potentially our own fish.

Mr Bradshaw

I completely agree: I think we were stuffed —if that is parliamentary language—when we joined. But I am not pessimistic about the common fisheries policy; ​I am realistic, and the hon. Gentleman must acknowledge that in the last 15 to 20 years, since we undertook these reforms, the picture has been improving.

Neil Parish

I accept that there have been improvements to the common fisheries policy, but there were many improvements to be made. We are getting on now to having discards banned from the common fisheries policy, which we as a nation can work on much better. We can also use a fishing management system similar to the Norwegians, where we can shut down an overfished area very quickly; they can do it within a day, whereas it is impossible to move that fast when there are 27 countries trying to come to an agreement. There are great opportunities to be had. There is no doubt—there are figures to prove it—that the European fishing vessels take from our waters some £530 million-worth of fish and we take about £110 million-worth of fish from their waters, so whichever way we look at it, there will be benefits for our fishermen.

On UK fishing

Mr Bradshaw

Do those potential obstacles to the frictionless trade my hon. Friend talks about include the loss of regulatory alignment, which is the topic of the week?

Melanie Onn

Yes. I will come on to regulatory alignment and the variance thereof.

I want to talk briefly about Norway, because it has been mentioned in the debate, and it is often cited as an example of how Britain’s fisheries sector could thrive outside the common fisheries policy. However, what is not mentioned is the effect Norway’s position has had on its seafood processing sector. By opting out of the CFP, Norway has had to accept losing market access in fisheries. According to the CBI, this trade-off has seen the majority of its seafood processing sector relocate to the EU, with Britain being a substantial winner from that situation. Under that agreement, Norway can sell fresh fish to EU countries with a minimal 2% tariff, but with 13% on processed fish.

Similarly, while we can currently buy fish from Norway and Iceland tariff-free, that may not be the case in just over a year’s time. The Minister must fight to ensure that this is not the outcome waiting for Britain after we leave the EU. It would be absolutely catastrophic for jobs and industry in Grimsby.

Mr Bradshaw

And more expensive fish and chips.

Melanie Onn

And more expensive fish and chips, as my right hon. Friend says from a sedentary position.

I met the Minister with a delegation from Grimsby’s seafood processing sector last month to discuss ways to ensure that our ports and industry could continue to grow post-Brexit, so I recognise that this issue is on his agenda. However, perhaps he could just update the House on what work he is doing to prepare the sector for the changes coming down the line.

On the NHS

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

The Minister quoted selectively from the chief executive of NHS Improvement, who also made it absolutely clear he did not think the NHS has enough money overall. In the real world, ​as opposed to the fantasy world inhabited by Conservative Ministers, Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS, has repeatedly told the Health Committee that the NHS cannot do what the Government are asking it to do with the current money. Is it not clear that there will be no £350 million a week extra for the NHS? There will be less, because of the impact of Brexit and the economic incompetence of this Conservative Government.

Mr Dunne

I was actually quoting the chief executive of NHS Improvement.

On the Single Market and Customs Union

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will get a lot of support from the Labour Benches if his amendment is pressed to a vote. To be fair to our Front Benchers, they have made it clear that they think the option of staying in the single market and the customs union should remain on the table after the transition. The right hon. Gentleman was not quite fair in his description of our Front-Bench policy as I understand it.

On NHS waiting times

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

With patients in Exeter now waiting more than a year, in pain, for vital surgery—well beyond the 18 week-maximum guaranteed ​in the NHS constitution—can the Secretary of State explain the contradictory statements of the Chancellor, who said at the time of the Budget that he expected significant “inroads” to be made into growing waiting time lists, and the NHS England board, which met the following week and said that NHS waiting time standards

“will not be fully funded and met next year”?

Mr Hunt

I have been waiting for the right hon. Gentleman to issue the press release welcoming the £1.4 million of extra funding that the Royal Devon and Exeter got in the Chancellor’s Budget, but for some extraordinary reason it has not been forthcoming. Let me tell him that, as many people have commented, the NHS got a lot more money than it was expecting in the winter announcement—

Mr Bradshaw

Answer the question.

Mr Hunt

This is money that will, to answer his question, make a big difference in helping the NHS get back to meeting its constitutional waiting time targets.

On EU withdrawal

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

Just as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) took evidence this morning from the Environment Secretary, the Health Committee took evidence yesterday from representatives of the pharmaceutical industry. They were completely realistic about the fact that the Government are not going to get any special sectoral deals, and that there will not be any cherry-picking. They unanimously made it clear to us that the only solution for us is to stay in the customs union and the single market, certainly for the transition and possibly—hopefully—beyond that.

Ian Murray

That is the key. We will have had 64 hours of debate in this Committee by the time we vote at 10 minutes past nine this evening. If we distil all our debates over those 64 hours, we get to the conclusion that we should stay in the single market and the customs union. I cannot understand why the Government have decided to throw that entire strategy out the window, probably for ideological reasons.

On Russian interference

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

It gives me enormous pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins). I commend him for the work he is doing. I wrote to his Committee at the beginning of this year suggesting just such an inquiry, and I am absolutely delighted that it is doing one.

When I began asking questions about this issue more than a year ago, it is fair to say that I was treated as a bit of a crank. I am very pleased to say that we now have multiple investigations and inquiries, including that of the hon. Gentleman’s Committee. We have the ISC investigation, multiple investigations by the Electoral Commission, and the Mueller investigations. However, what strikes me, and rather worries me, is that these are all being carried out by independent or parliamentary bodies, not by the Government, who are responsible for maintaining our security and defences, and have the power to get to the truth at the bottom of all this.

I have already put much of the evidence and allegations into the public domain, and time is limited, so I will restrict my remarks to a series of questions for the Minister. I hope that he will begin to address and ​explain what seems to be the Government’s insouciance in dealing with this problem. Why are the Government not investigating this threat themselves but leaving it to others such as parliamentary Committees and judicial inquiries—foreign judicial inquiries, at that?

The central question that several hon. Members have already asked is this: have the Government tasked our intelligence and security services with investigating Russian subversion as a high priority? The information I have from my sources is that they have not. If that is the case, why not? Russia is classified as a tier 1 threat, but the six-point national security strategy does not even mention defence against Russian interference in our political system. That is not good enough. I would be grateful if the Minister could listen to these questions, or at least his officials could, so that they can pass him the answers.

What are the Government doing to support the work of the Committee chaired by the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe, who has given an admirably robust response to the completely inadequate response from the big tech companies showing nothing short of contempt for Parliament? He needs the Government and the intelligence services to support the very important work that he is doing. What are the Government themselves doing to get the tech companies to reveal Russian ad purchases and make it easier to identify and block troll, bot and other Russian-backed accounts on social media? What discussions have the Government had with UK media companies about adopting the kind of voluntary agreement that was reached very successfully in France not to report material that had been accessed by illegal hacking?

What co-operation are the Government giving to the Mueller inquiry? When the Foreign Secretary last answered a question from me on this, he said that he had received no request for help from Mueller. However, given that several of the senior figures who have already been indicted by Mueller conducted their central activities here in Britain, it is completely inconceivable to me that there could not have been contacts between the US investigators and authorities and the British authorities. So either our own agencies are not keeping the Foreign Secretary in the loop, or he misspoke in his reply to me. Perhaps the Minister would like to set the record straight.

I have tabled several written questions to various Government Departments about contacts between Ministers and the Legatum Institute, and the replies are still outstanding. I would be grateful if the Minister could chase up those replies.

Will the Minister look into, or ask our intelligence and security services to look into, the roles of Vladimir Antonov, who is subject to an EU arrest warrant, and Roman Dubov, and any relationship they may have had in the past with the former UKIP leader, Nigel Farage? Would he care to comment on reports that broke just before this debate started that a man who has been arrested in Ukraine on suspicion of being a Russian spy was photographed with our Prime Minister in Downing Street back in the summer?

This question is more for our party leaders and Whips than the Minister, but surely it is time for British politicians to stop making useful idiots of themselves by appearing on and taking money from Kremlin propaganda outfits such as Russia Today and Sputnik. A lot of the ties between the Putin regime, the far right ​and the alt-right are well documented, but it pains me to say that there are still some useful idiots on the left in British and international politics. My message to them is that Russia is a nasty, nationalistic, ultra-conservative and corrupt kleptocracy. It is racist and homophobic, and it makes no secret of the fact that it wants to undermine our democracy. It this debate does anything to give the Government a bit of oomph in tackling this threat and get some reality into our political discourse, it will have been very worth while indeed.

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