£15m for fishermen may cool rebellion

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A multi-million pound fishing compensation deal was on the cards last night amid Government efforts to defuse yet another embarrassing backbench rebellion, and the second over British fishing rights.

With the nine Ulster Unionists in the mood to abstain on tonight's Opposition Day debate, Government business managers were "taking nothing for granted'' in the face of a looming revolt from Cornish Tories and backbenchers who lost the party whip for rebelling over European payments, plunging the Government into the humiliation of a technical Commons minority.

In a direct rebuff to John Major's attempts to restore party unity, Rupert Allason, the MP for Torbay who has only recently had to whip restored after an earlier Euro-rebellion, last night joined a protest by eight of the nine "unwhipped'' members.

All nine signed an amendment calling for the UK to withdraw from the Common Fisheries Policy, the reimposition of national fishing limits and negotiation of reciprocal arrangements thereafter. The nine are expected to abstain in tonight's vote, along with the remaining whipless rebel, Michael Carttiss, MP for Great Yarmouth, and leading Euro-sceptic Bill Cash.

The rebellion comes amid mounting dismay over the CFP, compounded by last December's majority decision by EU heads of state to allow Spanish vessels into most of the traditional fishing grounds in the so-called "Irish box".

David Harris, the MP for St Ives, and Robert Hicks, MP for Cornwall South East, even tabled an amendment to strengthen the Labour motion, which says the agreement presents an unacceptable threat to the long-term economic viability of fishing communities in the UK and puts unsustainable pressure on fish stocks in already sensitive waters.

They and other Cornish MPs are are under constant constituency pressure over the policy. But following discussions between Mr Waldegrave and Treasury ministers, a significant sum, possibly at least £15m, could be added to the current £25m three-year scheme to compensate fishermen for decommissioning their boats.