Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. MacShane: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Redwood: I should like to debate the matter with a Minister. I know that the hon. Gentleman would love to be a Minister, but he is too candid to be made one. He occasionally tells us the truth, and the Government do not like that in their Back Benchers. They will not debate the issue.

When my right hon. and hon. Friends and I table questions on the five economic tests, we are always given stupid answers. We are not told exactly how the tests will be quantified; we do not know the period over which they are being measured; we do not know when we will have any kind of interim report or answer, and we have not had one so far. We cannot even be told whether the economic strategy that the Government are now following is designed to get us closer to passing the five economic tests. If we cannot be told exactly what the tests are, how they will be judged or scored, or when we will have a result, it is not surprising when our questions about whether we are getting any closer and whether the policies are designed to help us are blocked.

However, I am being distracted from what I wanted to do, which was to explore whether things are getting better rather than talking about the euro, which we clearly will not join. I am far more worried about the power that has been given away in the Nice treaty, which is real, rather than the euro, which the Government have no guts or courage to propose to the British people, and they are right not to do so.

I then visited a farm in my constituency. Thanks to the Government, I do not have many farmers left, but I do have one or two. The farmer I visited in the western part of my constituency told me a sad story. He said that, over many years, the farm had provided a good living for himself, his son and their families. However, in the past few months the son has had to seek employment elsewhere because there was no way in which the farm could sustain two of them. The farmer told me in confidence that, from time to time, he had difficult discussions with the bank manager, that matters are being watched week by week and that, if they continue much longer, he too will have to conclude that the farm that once sustained the two families can no longer sustain even him and his wife. That is a typical experience. Farmers are committing suicide because of the pressure. They are going out of business and their sons are leaving the land. We are in danger of no longer having people to farm Britain's beautiful farmland, yet the Government sit and watch but do nothing. Tell the farmers that things are getting better and they will only cry because they know that there is not a shred of truth in that for them.

I then visited the fishermen in the constituencies of a couple of my hon. Friends in Dorset. I chose Dorset because I do not think that any fishermen are left on the east coast where I went a few years ago. Most of them have been wiped out by a combination of the Government

13 Dec 2000 : Column 716

and the common fisheries policy. The few Dorset fishermen who turned up told me that there were not many others who could have turned up and that it was almost impossible to earn a decent living today. They also said that they did not think that their Government, their Chancellor and their fishing Ministers stood up for them, and they certainly have not brought anything back from Brussels for a long time.

When the Prime Minister went to Nice to give the country away in the draft treaty, why did he not even think about asking for a better deal for our fishermen or to get back our fishing policy? Does it not matter to him that a great maritime nation, which once had fishing boats stacked up in every port around its coasts, now has practically nothing left? When I was in Dorset, I was told of Spanish trawlers sighted off the coast with EU permission to research and investigate other types of fish that they had not yet taken away because they were clearly planning another pre-emptive strike on our fishing resources? The Government are a disgrace and the Chancellor should not say that the economy is doing well or things are getting better when he is wiping out the fishing industry.

Mr. MacShane: In the European debate two or three weeks ago, the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) announced that he was standing down at the next election because he felt that no party stood for the repatriation of the common fisheries policy. He was scandalised that no party would be standing for that, except perhaps the UK Independence party. In the light of the remarks that the right hon. Gentleman has just made, is he now saying that his personal policy is not that of the Conservative party, and that he is for the repatriation of the common fisheries policy?

Mr. Redwood: Yes, of course I am saying that I support the repatriation of the common fisheries policy. I have a great respect for my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill), but on this occasion I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend are a little behind events. If they care to read the Conservative party's draft manifesto and other documents, they will see that that has been adopted as official Conservative party policy. Had a Conservative Prime Minister gone off to Nice to negotiate a treaty, that would have been number one on his agenda. I am sure that we would have wanted something back before we thought of giving any power away. This Government give all the powers away then come home claiming triumph because they have not tried to do anything contentious.

Mr. Beard: Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the fishing industry's present parlous state is largely due to overfishing around these shores and in the North sea under the previous Conservative Government, who could have done something about it? Does he also recognise that, as that is the fundamental problem, to repatriate Britain's fishing policy will do nothing as fish do not happen to respect international boundaries?

Mr. Redwood: It so happens that we have potential control of the most important fishery in the EU, and I see no reason to have a common fisheries policy for the North sea when there is not one for the Mediterranean. That is not just, fair or balanced. Yes, of course, overfishing is

13 Dec 2000 : Column 717

the main problem. The overfishing is occurring now, the problem is getting worse and that is why I am holding the Government to account on it. I seem to remember occasionally making such points in the previous Conservative Administration, because it is true that the problem has not suddenly developed, but it is getting much worse.

What matters to the fishermen still left is what this Government are failing to do and the more severe quotas that have just been announced, which will further damage British fishermen. Many Spanish vessels have come in legally under the common fisheries policy, taken too many fish, left too little for our fishermen and caused the problem. That should be addressed and stopped. I do not know how the Government have the cheek to say that things are getting better when the textile industry is being flattened, the retail sector is in part being knocked sideways, the steel sector is being bulldozed, the car industry is being hit for six, farming is being smashed to pieces and fishing is being obliterated.

Ms Keeble: On fishing, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that most of the issue could have been resolved in the Merchant Shipping Act 1988? The then Conservative Government were challenged over the Act in the European courts and merely rolled over and played dead. They then introduced new legislation that caused the current circumstances, in which ships can legally come in and take quotas. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, when his party was in government, it could have reached crunch time with the EU, but chickened out?

Mr. Redwood: As the hon. Lady implied, a court case went against us. However, the whole point of raising the issue of the Nice treaty is that the rules should be renegotiated in such a major treaty. As the Prime Minister wanted to give away such a lot to our Commission partners, why did he not bargain on that matter? They did not know at the beginning that he wanted to give those things away. Why did he not stick out for something before he made all his major concessions? He was a lousy negotiator who showed all his cards at the beginning and did not ask for anything back for Britain.

I am being much delayed, rather like my next subject--the trains. When I was asking whether things were getting better, I went to my local station, where I hoped to catch a train to London from Reading. I was, of course, too optimistic about the Labour Government. Under the Conservative Government, there was a service every 10 minutes from Reading to Paddington. Trains were occasionally late, but that did not matter because a previous train would probably have been delayed, ensuring a service every 10 minutes. One could live with that. It was not perfect, but it was okay.

When I went to the station the other day, a train limped in after I had waited on the platform for a quarter of an hour. Passengers were told that it was the 11.58 to Portsmouth. A few people cheered, as they wanted to catch that train. The time on the station clock was 12.59 when the 11.58 limped in. Another half hour passed and a train for London finally arrived. No indicator boards were working at the station, so it was an interesting game. We were all on one platform and had to listen to the gobbledegook coming through the loud hailer. Whether or not one could understand that, one had to run to the

13 Dec 2000 : Column 718

platform where the train was arriving and ask the driver where he was going. If one was lucky, the train was going to London.

Well, things have really got better if that is the position that has been reached after three and a half years of the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions messing around with the trains.

Next Section

IndexHome Page