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European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:48 pm on 9th January 2020.

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Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Conservative, North Shropshire 1:48 pm, 9th January 2020

No. I’m not giving way. We know where the Scottish nationalists are coming from, because they make the same point every time. Just to keep them happy, though, I will give them a little anecdote.

In the town where I was born, Whitchurch, we have six polling stations in one building, the civic centre. On referendum day, people came up to me off a building site, covered in dust, and said, “It is good to see you here, Mr Paterson, because it’s about them”. I asked, “Who’s them?” They said, “We can get rid of you, we can vote you out, but we cannot get rid of them”, and then they made the very telling point, “You can do nothing about them either”.

We had an interesting debate yesterday about this. We can do absolutely nothing about European law, which is imposed upon us. I had the honour to serve on the European Scrutiny Committee with my hon. Friend the Member for Stone. One day, a Labour Member was ill and a Liberal Democrat got stuck in the lift and we managed to vote that a measure on the dairy industry—of great interest to my constituents—would be passed for a vote on the Floor of the House. It would not have been amendable, but we could have made our points. What happened? The Leader of the House at the time, Margaret Beckett, turned up at business questions and said, “You’re not even having a debate”. That was the amount of scrutiny we had. I find it extraordinary that people do not welcome the chance to scrutinise Ministers. From now on, they will be able to harpoon Ministers who make bad decisions. They can have Adjournment debates and criticise law. We can get law amended and repealed. None of that will apply to European law until we pass the Bill.

There are so many areas where European law has damaged this country, but the winner by a mile is still fish. In 2005, as shadow Fisheries Minister, I wrote a green paper called “A Consultation on a National Policy on Fisheries Management in UK Waters”. It is the paper on which we fought the 2005 general election. For the first time, a serious political party proposed repatriating a power. I come from North Shropshire. One of the most fascinating experiences of my 22 years here was going all around the coast of the UK—right up to Whalsay, right down to Cornwall and Dover—but above all going to the maritime nations of Norway, the Faroes, Iceland, Newfoundland in Canada and then down the east coast of the United States. I also went to the Falklands. It was extraordinary to see how modern techniques could bring thriving fishing communities—some of the most remote communities in the world—wealth, prosperity, jobs and investment.

By contrast, in this country we have utter devastation. This wonderful occupation delivered wealth and jobs for centuries until we were stupid enough to give the power to the continental level, and we now have the shameful, wicked waste of 1 million tonnes of fish thrown back dead into the sea as pollution every year, and yet Opposition Members this afternoon are defending staying in the EU and the common fisheries policy.