Inside Parliamnet: Maastricht treaty vaunted as saviour of minke whales: - Gummer links approval to prospects of ending Norwegian whaling - Unconvincing promise to ban profiteering by football's ticket touts

Click to follow
Indy Politics
Minke whales could be spared the depredations of Norwegian hunters by the speedy passage of the Maastricht treaty legislation, John Gummer, Minister for Agriculture, suggested yesterday.

The link between the fate of these cetaceans and the European Communities (Amendment) Bill was one of the few arguments not deployed by ministers during the marathon committee and report proceedings.

Mr Gummer's case, nicely timed for Thursday's Third Reading debate of the Bill, is that if Norway joins the EC - as it intends - it will have to abide by the community's rules, including the ban on whaling and the sale of whale products. And one of objects of the Maastricht treaty is to make it easier to enforce EC rules.

In a statement to MPs on the outcome of last week's International Whaling Commission meeting in Kyoto, Japan, Mr Gummer said he was 'deeply saddened' by Norway's plans to go ahead with commercial whaling despite the IWC's decision to continue its moratorium. MPs were united in condemnation of Norway. Gavin Strang, Labour's agriculture spokesman, said it could not be right to apply for EC membership, then 'flout' the community's rules.

John Bowis, Conservative MP for Battersea, was the first to advert to the Maastricht treaty and its inherent benefits for whales. Mr Gummer gratefully enlarged on the connection, pointing out that up to now there had been no way of insisting that the moratorium be observed.

'The great advantage of Maastricht is that it makes that insistence possible, and the sooner that this House passes the Maastricht Bill and Britain can return to the centre of the community, the better for him and for us and for the whales.'

One of the conditions set by the Government for lifting the moratorium is the development of 'acceptable and humane methods' of killing whales. But the Labour MP Glenda Jackson said her constituents in Hampstead and Highgate believed that the phrase 'humane control' of whales was a contradiction in terms.

'Surely we should not be encouraging any method which would claim to kill whales humanely, no matter how long the 'good housekeeping seal of approval' were, but moving further and more swiftly towards a permanent and total ban on all whaling.'

Mr Gummer said he could not demand that. 'If we are to ask Norway to abide by her commitments, so we must abide by ours, and the IWC is clearly set up to manage whaling, it is not set up to abolish whaling.

'Ms Jackson does her cause harm by undermining the basis on which we have achieved this moratorium . . . Once we start saying that we don't actually approve of the IWC's basic constitution itself, then it will be very difficult to keep either Norway or Japan under control.'

Mr Gummer accused Labour's Dennis Skinner of 'lowering the tone' after the Bolsover MP said the Government had promised to protect the jobs of fishermen, miners, steelworkers and shipbuilders now on the dole. 'If the whales could just listen to me for a moment - don't believe a word this government says.'

Paul Flynn, Labour MP for Newport West, used the whaling exchanges to pursue his campaign against fox hunting, arguing that it exposed Britain to a charge of hypocrisy. But so comprehensive was Mr Gummer's riposte - that the whale was not a predatory pest that had to be culled - that Mr Flynn perhaps wished he had raised fox hunting in the debate on sport which followed.

It was not an event that had spectators in the public gallery sitting on the edge of their seats with sweating palms. Robert Key, Under-Secretary for National Heritage, declared that touting was 'a problem we cannot sidestep forever'. But in stating that the Government would legislate 'at the earliest opportunity' he was using a formula that could be translated as 'don't hold your breath'.

Mr Key was responding to Tom Pendry, Labour's spokesman on sport, who said it was estimated that fans paid pounds 138,000 in excess of the true ticket price by buying FA Cup Final tickets through touts. Mr Pendry has received two undertakings from the Prime Minister that legislation to prohibit ticket touting will be introduced 'as soon as parliamentary time allows'.

Mr Pendry also noted that two- thirds of the fans who invaded the pitch at a Manchester City game last March came from the pounds 7m new stand built by the club in response to Lord Justice Taylor's demand for all-seater stadia. Mr Pendry and Simon Coombs, the Conservative MP for Swindon, both appealed to Mr Key, without success, to reconsider the requirement for clubs in the Premier League, the First Division and the Scottish Premier League to be all- seated by August 1994.

Initiating the debate, Mr Coombs offered the congratulations of MPs to Rebecca Stephens, the 31-year-old journalist who reached the summit of Everest yesterday. He added: 'I understand that she comes from Fulham, and I cannot imagine a more excellent example of upward mobility than she has demonstrated today.'

Letters, page 17

(Photograph omitted)