Friday, 13 May 2011

Aiming Low

John Redwood's blog is one of the most thoughtful, well-considered and genuinely informative on the web, particularly with regard to public spending and "the cuts".  It is, therefore, with some reluctance that I must express my disappointment in his recent piece on the Common Fisheries Policy, in which he crows that "those who follow these things will doubtless be pleased that the UK Parliament did do its duty yesterday on this issue" — a reference to a motion MPs just passed which "urged reform".
The work of Zac Goldsmith and the Backbench Business Committee, it sets out the following: "That this House welcomes the Fish Fight campaign; and calls on the Government to vote against proposed reforms of the EU Common Fisheries Policy unless they implement an ecosystems-based approach to fisheries management, end discards in relation to all fish and shellfish with derogation only for species proven to have a high survival rate on discarding, require that all fish and shellfish are harvested at sustainable levels by 2015, ensure the involvement of fishers and other stakeholders in decision-making processes and enable the UK to introduce higher standards of management and conservation in respect of all vessels fishing within its territorial waters, taking into particular account vessel size and environmental impact."
Worthy sentiments and, make no mistake, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Fish Fight campaign is, in essence, thoroughly laudable.

However, the idea that "calling on government" to "urge" the reform of the CFP represents Parliament finally "doing its duty" — after decades of decline in fishing communities and ecological mismanagement — is laughable.  European officials can quite easily claim that the current system — indeed, almost any system they care to implement — represents an "ecosystems-based approach" to fisheries management and "ensures the involvement of fishers and other stakeholders in the decision-making process".  These jargon-laden terms are far from being strictly defined, after all.

Anthony Blair sacrificed a third of Britain's EU rebate in a vain attempt to "encourage" reform of that other great EU calamity, the Common Agricultural Policy, and got precisely no-where.  The real duty of a sovereign parliament facing the problems presented by the CFP is not to help government down the same dead-end road, but to firmly assert its rights and the rights of the nation it represents — no ifs, ands or buts.  With qualified majority voting the order of the day, the EU has little incentive to listen to any country which willingly lays those rights aside.

As it happens, however, both the British government and the EU already seem to have committed themselves to ending discards, making Parliament's posturing on the matter somewhat superfluous. 

The chances of Britain being allowed to lay down terms and set quotas are close to nil, of course; not least because MPs and Ministers apparently would not dream of even attempting to take back such powers.  Norway and Iceland, meanwhile, have exclusive control over their fisheries out to 200 miles from their coastlines.  These have proved exemplary sources of sustainable employment, food security and renewable wealth for those countries for many years. 

It is thoroughly disheartening to see that, in comparison, the ambitions of British MPs — old Maastricht rebels like the venerable Mr Redwood among them — extend merely to squabbling for table scraps from Brussels.

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