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I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this annual parliamentary debate on UK fishing policy. I congratulate Dr Whiteford on opening the batting, hours before somebody else opens the batting down under. I also congratulate the Backbench Business Committee on granting this debate. It is important, and it would be helpful if next year, this debate took place in the Chamber.
Over the past 10 years, as the Conservative candidate and now the Member of Parliament for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, I have become aware how totemic the issue of fishing has become on the peninsula and how it can become the conduit for anti-EU sentiment. It goes much wider than just fishing. When I was a parliamentary candidate, I consistently said that I would say to Ministers that Plymouth is not Portsmouth; we are not 20 minutes away from Bristol and we would be very grateful if the Government took real notice of what happens in the south-west and on the peninsula, especially in relation to fishing.
Fishing is one of those issues that appears very regularly in the Western Morning News, the Herald in Plymouth and, of course, on the BBC's "Spotlight" programme. It is a very important community issue, which I believe receives great emotional support as well. I am afraid that Edward Heath's 11th-hour intervention and subsequent Government decisions to give Europe a greater say over our fishing policy, which affects our communities, was a very big mistake. It has made many of our fishermen very sceptical about the CFP and consequently very sceptical about some of the EU's conservation proposals too.
Many of our fishermen are horrified that the Austrians, who have no coastline whatsoever, should be able to have a say on the CFP, while other British fishermen feel that the UK Government gold-plates much of our EU fisheries regulation, whereas in Spain, of course, the inspectors are hundreds of miles away from the Spanish fishermen and ports, very rarely visiting them, and they are very lax on enforcement too.
Last Friday I spent the whole day, along with my hon. Friend Sheryll Murray and Alison Seabeck, seeing first-hand how Plymouth is a major global player in marine scientific research. I firmly believe that Plymouth needs to make more use of that research, to rebalance the economy, which is very dependent on the public sector. That research can help our economy immensely.
Our day included going to see the Royal Navy, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Plymouth university, the Marine Biological Association, the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science and the National Marine Aquarium, all of which I am delighted to say are based in my constituency of Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport. Although I would say this as a Plymouth MP, it was rather unhelpful that the previous Labour Government decided to put the Marine Management Organisation up in Newcastle rather than in Plymouth, although I am sure that that is something that might be reconsidered at a later date.
I very much want to invite my hon. Friend the Minister, who is responsible for fisheries, to come down to Plymouth to see some of the very good work that is taking place in the marine industry. If he would like to come and do that, I would be delighted to welcome him.