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Report from Bournemouth No 2

Posted by Helen Friday, October 15, 2004

These reports are coming through in a trickle, I fear, but other matters intervene. However, since they are of fringe meetings that did not see the light of day in the mainstream media, they may still be interesting to our readers.

This one is about fish, inevitably, as the subject is, apparently, high on the Conservative Party’s agenda. But first, a little background information:

Save Britain’s Fish has existed for a long time; probably almost as long as Britain’s membership of the Common Fisheries Policy. Its activity was little known and achieved even less until it was taken over by John Ashworth, engineer and conservationist, Tom Hay, fisherman and Sheryll Murray, political activist and fisherman’s wife. Between them, with some help from various other sources, they transformed the organization into something the eurosceptic movement can be proud off.

They put together a great deal of research and winkled out all kinds of information about the genesis and development of the CFP. (Believe me, it was not easy to get hold of most of that information.)

They have also run a series of very successful meetings at party conferences, explaining to delegates how the system works (or does not work, depending on your point of view). Other meetings took place in Parliament and around the country.

The party conference fringe meetings have always been among the most popular, packed to the rafters, and not only because fish and chips are invariably served afterwards.

The meeting in Bournemouth was as successful as ever. It says something for the good name of Save Britain’s Fish that people rushed away from the conference centre as soon as Michael Howard stopped speaking (or, perhaps, even before) in order to get to the meeting, some way along the promenade.

The star of the show this year was, undoubtedly, Owen Paterson, the Conservative spokesman on farming and fisheries, as he explained in detail what, in his opinion, a putative Conservative government will do to honour its manifesto promise.

Mr Paterson was in no doubt that the fisheries policy has to be reclaimed and turned into a national one. Beyond that, he refused to be specific. Having travelled round the Britain and to other fishing countries, like the United States, Canada, Iceland, the Faroes, he has accepted that policy cannot be made away from the particular locality. He envisaged a national framework, which will be decided in detail, implemented and administered locally.

His one stipulation was that everything that is caught must be landed. At present, because of the impossible rules the CFP is based on, nobody has any idea how much fish is really caught in Britain, by British or any other fishermen. Clearly, it is impossible to make policies on that kind of non-data. When some disagreement was expressed by representatives from Cornwall, Paterson replied that this argument proved the need to implement the national policy locally.

It is perhaps unfortunate that at this stage Mr Paterson could not answer the most difficult of all questions: what will happen if the other signatories of the treaty insist that no matter what sort of legislation the British Parliament passes, they have every right to go on having equal access to Community waters. That, as Rudyard Kipling said at the end of The Jungle Book, is another story.