Fishing vote widens split in Tory party

Government pays £28m for narrow victory
Click to follow
The Independent Online
The Government last night averted another humiliating Commons defeat at a cost of £28m after a vote which further deepened the gulf between John Major and his diehard Euro-rebel MPs.

By a majority of nine, the Government scraped through the most crucial of two votes after more than doubling to £53m the compensation paid to fishermen whose livelihoods are threatened by a European deal on Spanish fishing rights.

But prospects of an early reconciliation with the nine Tory rebels who lost the whip in November evaporated as seven voted with Labour against the Government and two abstained. And the rebuff by the rebels will be reinforced today when they risk further charges of being a "party within a party" by launching their own manifesto for reform of the European Union.

It was only the support of most Ulster Unionists that won the night for the Government. Six of the party's MPs voted with the Government after William Waldegrave, the Minister of Agriculture, reinforced his pledge of extra cash help for the decommisioning of fishing boats with a promise that constitional arrangements being proposed for Northern Ireland would not include a cross-border body for marine fisheries.

David Harris, MP for St. Ives, and Rupert Allason, Torbay, joined the seven Euro-rebels in the revolt. The seven were Christopher Gill, Richard Shpeherd, Teresa Gorman, John Wilkinson, Sir Richard Body, Sir Teddy Taylor and Tony Marlow.

Those abstaining or not voting included: Nicholas Budgen and Michael Cartiss, the remaining rebels; William Cash, a leading Euro-sceptic; and three Ulster Unionists, David Trimble, John Taylor, and Ken Maginnis, who was absent.

Labour's motion, the subject of the first of the two votes, had been meant to maximise the Government's embarrassment over the deal which lets the Spanish fish in the traditionally British waters of the 90,000 sq mile "Irish Box".

Euro-rebels see the fishing deal, forced on the Government by qualified majority voting in the European Council of Ministers, as a classic example of Britain's loss of sovereignty. Announcing the concession to be added to the present £25m decomissioning scheme, Mr Waldegrave said: "The reason for this is that it is essential that the fleet we have is profitable and is trading at full capacity. That will secure its long-term future better than anything else."

Labour's failure to defeat the Government came despite a three line whip which saw Neil Kinnock fly back from Brussels where he is European Transport Commissioner. An amendment tabled by 25 Tory and Ulster Unionist MPs urged that the UK withdraw from theEU's Common Fisheries Policy and reimpose national fishing limits. Labour's motion stopped short of this, insisting only that the Government "convey" to the European Commission "the extent to which this agreement has undermined the credibility of the Common Fisheries Policy".

Sir Teddy Taylor, Tory MP for Southend East, denied today's "mission statement" from the Euro-rebels was a precondition for the supportive voting which ministers have said must precede restoration of the whip. He said the proposals were designed to reunite the party and allay what the rebels insist are the mounting fears of voters about the impact of European legislation.

Fishermen's anger, page 2

Major rebuked, page 11