Labour to force vote on fishing

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The Independent Online
Labour yesterday threatened a Commons vote over the Government's failure to keep Spanishtrawlers out of vital UK and Irish waters as fishermen and rebel Tory MPs condemned the Brussels decision, made on Thursday after a 31-hour discussion.

Gavin Strang, Labour's agriculture spokesman, called for a statement from William Waldegrave, Minister for Agriculture, when the Commons returns next month, saying if the Government did not provide a debate on this "historic failure" then the Opposition would consider using a supply day to decide one.

That would raise the potential for a government defeat, with Eurosceptic MPs yesterday condemning the European Union decision, by qualified majority voting, and with Tory MPs in the South-west deeply unhappy that the Spaniards will be allowed access to much of the "Irish box" from 1996.

David Harris, Tory MP for St Ives, and a pragmatic pro- European, dubbed the decision "diabolical" and "manna to the Eurosceptics". It would have repercussions not just on British fishermen but on attitudes to Europe, he said. "I suspect this marks the beginnings of the end of the Common Fisheries policy. The EU has over-ridden very genuine national and regional issues, and I think that will have consequences well beyond fisheries policy."

Sir Richard Body, who resigned the Tory whip last month, said the decision meant "the end of our fishing industry".

Sir Teddy Taylor, a Euro-rebel, feared "because the Spaniards are not particularly good at policing their fishermen, we could end up with near anarchy".

Mr Waldegrave yesterday accepted the deal was not perfect, but emphasised Britain had secured agreement to keep the Spanish out of the Irish Sea and Bristol Channel, even if they would have access to waters off south-west Scotland, Ireland and the Cornish coast.

"I would have liked more," Mr Waldegrave said. "But at the beginning of the week we would have been rather happy to know we were going to get this much. This is all a bit like Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill arguing about who's going to shoot the last buffalo. Unless we know how to conserve fishing stocks better, there won't be any fish for anybody."

In the West Country, fishing leaders yesterday pledged to back a campaign to pull out of the Common Fish Policy.