Inside Parliament; Heseltine caught up in fine points of fish fiasco

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Indy Politics
The foul smell of a fish fiasco enveloped Michael Heseltine at Question Time yesterday as Tory Eurosceptics reacted with predictable anger at the decision of the European Court of Justice in favour of Spanish fishermen.

With the Scott report fading in MPs' minds, Mr Heseltine could reasonably have expected an easy time, deputising for the absent Prime Minister. But once again the treatment of the fishing industry by European institutions has galvanised the sceptics.

According to Tony Marlow, Conservative MP for Northampton North, the court's go-ahead to Spanish fisherman to claim millions in compensation for being banned from UK waters was an assault on British sovereignty.

The Tory John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) asked the Deputy Prime Minister to reassure his constituents about the "grave consequences" of the European Court' retroactive decision". He urged Mr Heseltine to endorse comments by the fisheries minister Tony Baldry that "the quota-hoppers have to go" and that the Government would raise the issue at the Intergovernmental conference [IGC].

"It is obviously a decision which we regret and one which we shall certainly take up in the context of the IGC. We believe that there have to be changes," Mr Heseltine replied.

He gave much the same unspecific answer to another sceptic, Nicholas Budgen, who asked if the Government's proposals to the IGC were accepted by other EU members, would they give protection against judgements of the Spanish fishermen type.

Despite a warning that half a million Tory votes could be lost, the Government yesterday set its face against a cross- party move to ensure the highlights of all sporting events remain universally available to viewers and listeners.

The former Labour sports minister Lord Howell wanted to add a new clause to the Broadcasting Bill to end live coverage deals which prevent highlights been shown on other channels. A classic example was Monday night's clash between Newcastle United and Manchester United, shown exclusively on Sky Sports.

The Government has already bowed to pressure to guarantee that the sporting "crown jewels" - eight "listed" events including the FA Cup, Olympics and England Test matches - remain on regular television.

But Lord Howell told the House, as the Bill was considered on report, that unless action is taken to protect the rights of the public, events such as the Ryder Cup, the Open Golf Championship, Cheltenham Gold Cup, Royal Ascot and the Five Nations' rugby tournament could disappear from the TV sets of millions of homes.

Dire political consequences were seen by the Conservative Earl of Harrowby, who warned ministers: "I can think of no better way of losing for my party 500,000 votes at the next election than by denying the general public the opportunity to watch not the finals of Wimbledon but the whole of Wimbledon."

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