It is not often that Parliament is able to initiate legislation and make the Government listen, but we did just that last week in a historic vote on reform of the European Union fisheries policy.
The vote was principally about ending the scandal of fish-discards, where half the fish caught in the North Sea are thrown back into the ocean dead or dying as a direct result of the European Union’s landing quota system.
The discard issue caught the public imagination when Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall launched his very public ‘Fish Fight’ campaign. Nearly 700,000 people signed his petition calling for an end to discards, and many wrote to their MP.
On the back of the public wave of anger, I was able to table an Early Day Motion calling for a ban, and it quickly became the second most supported EDM since the General Election, with 240 MPs signing up.
That in turn persuaded the influential Back Bench Business Committee to allow me a full debate on the issue, to be followed by a vote.
The motion I put to the House goes beyond simply ending discards. It also demanded that we restore British control over our 12-mile territorial waters and bring in rules that distinguish between traditional, small scale fishers and their large industrial competitors.
One of the demands from our own fishing communities – principally from the under-10 metre fleet – is that we assert our control over what is described, wrongly, as our sovereign waters – the 12 nautical miles surrounding our coastline.
I say wrongly, because whereas the British Government is legally able to impose whatever rules it wants in those waters, from 6 miles out, those rules do not apply to foreign vessels. So when in 2004 the UK banned pair trawling for bass within 12 miles of the South West coast of England to protect dolphins and porpoises, the law was obeyed by British fishermen, but ignored by Spanish and French trawlers who continued to catch bass in those waters with impunity.
If we re-assert our control over these waters, we will not only be creating a fairer system, we will be able to provide welcome relief for our smaller boats against the onslaught of the factory fishing vessels, which have almost all the fish quota, and which use tools that are fundamentally incompatible with a sustainable future.
A rare proud moment for Parliament.