UK Fisheries — [Sir George Howarth in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:49 am on 12th February 2020.

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Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 9:49 am, 12th February 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. I congratulate Mrs Murray on obtaining the debate, which, as Mr Paterson said, is timely. The next few months will certainly be formative for the future of fisheries management. I say gently to the Minister and those who are—at least today—above him in the food chain within government that, as the hon. Member for South East Cornwall said, the fishing industry has a long memory. She referred to Elliot Morley’s difficulties with the under-10-metre brigade. Fishermen also remember use of the term “expendable” from the 1970s and the view taken by the then Conservative Government. I urge caution for two reasons: first, we have to be careful once we start calling for apologies, because they can come bouncing back. Secondly, unless the promises made to the fishing industries and fishing communities are honoured in full, the Government will pay a very heavy political price in the future.

There is no reason why those promises cannot be met; it is simply a question of political will. The House and fishing communities will be looking closely to see whether the Government have the political will to deliver the deal that they promised fishermen. It is as a result of those promises that some Members on the Government side have their seats. I am a little sceptical, because there have already been two tests of that will. They could have shown that political will when the former Prime Minister did her withdrawal deal, but she put this area into the political declaration. They could have also shown it when the Prime Minister did his withdrawal deal, but again he put it into the political declaration. For the fishing industry, in terms of political will, we must hope that it is third time lucky.

The difficulties that have come from management of a quota system under the common fisheries policy are well documented, but let us not pretend that those difficulties were created just because the system came from Brussels. People in the fishing industry and fishing communities the length and breadth of this country know that, when it comes to remote, centralised mismanagement of the fishing industry, our own Governments in London and in Edinburgh—doubtless in Belfast and Cardiff too—are just as capable of treating the industry with that same high-handed attitude we have always complained of from Brussels.

There is an opportunity to reset that the system and put fishermen and scientists together at the heart of fisheries management. It does not matter whether we have a quota-based system, a days-at-sea system or some mix of the two; what matters is that the science on which decisions are made is sound and considered in a timely manner. Advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea is two years out of date before it informs a decision, so use of that is wrong and unproductive—and ultimately it is at the root of many of the difficulties we have had with quota mismatch between what is in the sea and what fishermen are allowed to take on to the deck. That is the opportunity the Government face as they construct a future system and the industry will be looking to the Minister and his colleagues in Government to ensure that they actually deliver.