Fisheries Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:54 pm on 21st November 2018.

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Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Conservative, North Shropshire 3:54 pm, 21st November 2018

Let us move on to what we proposed in that Green Paper, on which we fought the 2005 election. There are a whole range of points, and looking at the clock, I see that I do not have time to go through them all now, but one is absolutely key.

First, there is the insane hostility of the European Union to modern technology. In Manomet in Massachusetts, I saw really interesting work on selective gear, but when I went back to Kilkeel, I found that that was being stopped by EU regulations. That is something that we really should look at.

The other issue is the insanity of discards. What is wicked is trying to fix a really local activity at a continental level. Someone mentioned that the data on which the European Union makes its annual decisions is guaranteed to be completely inaccurate because of discards and are probably six months to two years out of date. We do not know the level of discards—it is thought to be possibly 25%. It is absolutely disgraceful.

I remember going out on a trawler from Fleetwood and seeing baby plaice being cast back, because the mesh sizes were wrong. I went with the Secretary of State to North Shields not long ago. We saw baskets of whiting—completely healthy fish—that had to be cast back. I remember during the referendum campaign going to Looe with my hon. Friend Mrs Murray, who is a witness to the terrible suffering in the fishing industry when people cannot afford enough labour—her husband died because he was alone on a boat. We should not forget that. We saw on the harbour wall a drawing for tourists of lots of different fish, but the one fish that was not there was haddock, and what is the problem off the coast? Her constituents are catching masses of haddock, because the fish have moved, but they have to be cast back. It is absolute insanity to have a bycatch problem and to address the discards without addressing the cause of it, which is the quota system.

I learned a clear lesson in the Faroes. The situation has been modified since, using techniques such a catch composition, but I ask the Minister to promise that we will do some pilots around the coast on catch composition-based effort control, because it means working with the grain of nature. It was mandatory in the Faroes to land everything. The Fisheries Minister there said, “You may not like what you find, but at least you know what’s going on.” Our scientists do not know what is going on because we discard so much. Technology has advanced enormously, as I saw at Succorfish in North Shields, which used modern equipment to track not just the boats, but soak times, catches, and so on. If we did this using modern technology, we could monitor every single fishing boat every hour. Every fishing boat would become a scientific vessel sending back data.

I saw that in Iceland years ago now. Fisheries management there would send out radio signals, and boats around Iceland would be told to move on because there were too many discards. Way back then, the UK was doing it in the Falklands—the same management based on accurate, instance data. I appeal to the Minister. I am not thrilled with clause 23 on discard prevention charging schemes—those will be good, healthy fish that should be sold to consumers. We should work out pilot schemes for mixed fisheries. I admit that Scotland is different—pelagic fisheries probably need a quota system—but I really make that appeal.

Probably the most important issue is whether we really will take back control. That was the promise in the referendum and in our manifesto, in which we made it clear that we would take back control:

“When we leave the European Union and its Common Fisheries Policy, we will be fully responsible for the access and management of the waters where we have historically exercised sovereign control.”

I would like the Minister to address this point. He is being bombarded with a helter-skelter of questions, but I ask that he take careful note of article 56 of the UN convention on the law of the sea, relating to exclusive economic zones—as he knows, those are 200 miles or the median line. Article 56(1) reads:

“In the exclusive economic zone, the coastal State has…sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters superjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and its subsoil”.

Can the Minister absolutely guarantee that every decision affecting our marine environment, as well as that which lives in it and that which is extracted from it, will ultimately be decided by sovereign UK politicians who come to this Dispatch Box and answer to this House? Can he think of any circumstances after we have left the CFP—I would like him to tell us exactly when that will be—in which decisions would be imposed on our fishermen that ideally our politicians would like to resist? That is the nub of the CFP.

The most shocking mismanagement has been imposed on this wonderful industry and these incredibly brave people because we have always been outvoted. When I was Secretary of State—we have discussed this in respect of the common agricultural policy, too—my right hon. Friend Richard Benyon, who has just left his place, bravely did his best, but we were outvoted. I want an absolute guarantee that article 56(1) of UNCLOS will prevail and that the Minister will be able to come back and be answerable to every one of us for fishing decisions. There must be no circumstances in which appalling decisions can be imposed on us once we have left. That cannot happen. If it does, we will have let down the 17.4 million, as well as the 16.3 million who voted for us in the general election, and all those Labour voters—do not forget the 85% who voted in the general election to take back control. Can he please guarantee that?