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Straight Talking - July 2002

Roger Helmer's electronic newsletter from Brussels

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Fisheries - again

Last month I recounted the antics of the Spanish as they try to hoover up even more fish from British waters. This month I want to report on our Conservative policy on fisheries. There was some confusion out here in Brussels, following the departure of Ann Winterton from the Tory front bench, as to whether our policy of repatriating fisheries had changed. I took this up with Peter Ainsworth, and he wrote to me as follows:

"The CFP is beyond reform, and therefore repatriation of fisheries remains our medium term objective. In the short term, as you point out, the key priority is to keep the Spanish out of the Solent in January!".

So we have a two-stage policy. If we do nothing, our current derogation on six and twelve mile coastal fisheries expires in January, and the Spanish and other EU fleets can literally fish up to our beaches. Therefore our short-term tactical focus is to protect our coastal waters, and to make sure that the UK doesn't take more than its fair share of quota cuts.

But our medium term policy is quite clear. A future Conservative government will simply take Britain out of the CFP and restore British waters to the limits defined by international law. I hope this can be done by negotiation, but if not, I should support doing it unilaterally. Sadly, Peter Ainsworth has now retired from the front bench as a result of his wife's illness, but his place is taken by David Liddington, in whom I have great confidence.

Last month in Bratislava

In June, I went to Bratislava, Slovakia, as part of a European parliament delegation to a joint parliamentary committee. (No, I didn't know where Bratislava was until I was asked to go -- it's about 30 miles east of Vienna).

Slovakia is an accession state for the EU. Public opinion is mixed (although a majority are in favour of joining), but of course the Slovakian parliamentarians were all integrationists. As at all these events, the Commission had written the "Joint Report" in advance, and the best we could do was to amend it. I had tabled amendments to remove references to the "irreversibility" of enlargement, to an EU constitution, and to "the EU's main objective of closer integration". Rather to my surprise, I got the first amendment through, but the second one failed. I had made it clear that I could not support the joint report as a whole if it contained those references, so I and my Tory colleague Charles Tannock voted against.

By this time there were only eight MEPs left (two Italians had gone sightseeing). Both the socialist co-chairman and a hard-left MEP also voted against the report, as it omitted other amendments which they had favoured, so the EU side tied the vote at 4-4 -- and it therefore fell. (These things require a double majority from each side).

We nearly had a diplomatic incident on our hands. EU ambassadors and Commission officials ran about in panic. The press were dumbstruck.

The joint report OF the meeting was dead meat, and could not be revived. But in an extraordinarily cynical manipulation of the rules, we introduced a report ON the meeting under Any Other Business. For this new report, we reversed the offending amendments, and then passed the new report unanimously.

Was it worth all that excitement to change "OF" to "ON"? Well we also removed that reference to "irreversibility", and to an EU constitution, and to the "Main objective of closer integration". A small victory, but satisfying.

Give the BBC a call!

Most Tories I know get infuriated by the bias of the BBC. But now you can get back at them, on 0870 0100 222. Recently I was watching Songs of Praise on BBC1, and the presenter said "There is a shortage of doctors and nurses so that's why the government is spending much more money on the NHS". I phoned and asked whether it was Songs of Praise or a Labour Party political broadcast. They promised to pass the message on to the producer.

So don't just sit there. Hit back. Give 'em a call!

Looking for a speaker?

If you want a different speaker for a constituency function, why not call Zoe Aylward (0115 941 5328), the Press Officer for Chris Heaton-Harris and myself, who works in Nottingham. She can tell you a great deal about the work Chris and I are doing in the Brussels parliament, and about the thrills and spills of running a busy press office in the East Midlands. And unlike Chris and me, she's available mid-week.

She would be delighted to address your function, but she's just getting into the swing of public speaking so you might want to start with a modest coffee morning rather than a set-piece dinner!

Government in chaos over number plates

Late last year the government set out rules for British numberplates, based on an EU regulation. To avoid having a separate GB sticker, you could have that little blue flash with a GB on it -- but you had to have the EU flag as well. The media picked up the issue and the public demanded the right to display their own national flag, the Union Jack, or the cross of Saint George, Scottish Saltaire and so on. And the government backed down and agreed. But then they appeared to resile from their agreement, and the official advice became the EU flag only. As recently as a month ago, this was the official position on the DVLA web-site. So I wrote in April to Stephen Byers (remember him?), and in reply I received a letter dated May 14th from David Jamieson MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, apologising and agreeing that the web-site was wrong, and that we can indeed put national flags on number plates, instead of that sad little circle of yellow stars.

As it happens, I have had a Union Jack on my numberplates for years, and intend to keep it.

Nick Clegg loses his marbles

Last month I attended the Nottingham Federation AGM at the Notts Forest Football Ground. In a Q&A session, someone asked "What are our Lib-Dem MEPs doing? We never hear from them". "Don't worry", I replied, "Nick Clegg is busy in Brussels fronting-up a campaign to return the Elgin marbles to Greece".

There are arguments on both sides of the Elgin marbles debate. But with the risk of war in the Middle East and Kashmir, and British democracy under threat from the emerging EU super-state, Nottingham Conservatives were astonished that Nick Clegg has nothing better to do than to side with Greece against the British Museum.

The regionalisation agenda

On Saturday June 15th, Byron Rhodes, regional Conservative Vice Chairman, called a meeting of Conservative Councillors and other interested parties at Sandiacre Conservative Club for a briefing and debate on the government's regionalisation agenda. Byron's briefing was extremely helpful.

A variety of views were expressed, but the majority of voices shared Byron's view that regionalisation did not represent a real devolution of power, but in fact the centralisation of power away from traditional local government, and into remote bodies that the government would feel able to control.

Two remarkable statistics: with the number of assemblymen (and women) for the East Midlands estimated at thirty, each would represent over 100,000 voters -- nearly twice as many voters as a Westminster MP. Compare that with a local councillor who handles at most a few thousand voters -- and can be phoned when a local problem arises. And according to Theresa May, the cost of this new layer of government would be equivalent to three pence on the income tax.

If there is a referendum on a regional assembly, the choice will be between local services, local delivery and local accountability; or a new, remote layer of governance which is more likely to represent the government than the voters.

There is a European angle to this debate. The EU is seeking to dismember our country and undermine our democracy as it moves towards its objective of a Europe of regions governed from Brussels. Our choice is either to remain an independent, united, self-governing nation, or to become an offshore province in the emerging European super-state.

Regionalisation is also John Prescott's special project. If he has as much success as he had with transport, the regional assemblies will be a long time coming.

Quote of the Month

Headline, Daily Telegraph, June 10th: "Political considerations in member countries could cause early break-up of the euro". This is above an article by Patrick Minford. I apologise for quoting the same source two months running, but this was too good to miss.

One aspect of the great euro confidence trick is the sense they've created of permanence and inevitability. Patrick Minford reminds us that other great monetary schemes have fallen apart in the past -- France left the crumbling Gold Standard in the 1930s, while Germany provoked the collapse of Bretton Woods in the 1960s.

Many people seem to think that the euro is a new idea. In fact the past 150 years are littered with failed attempted to create monetary unions and exchange rate mechanisms -- the Latin Monetary Union in the 19th century, the Gold Standard, Bretton Woods, the Snake, the ERM, even the rouble, which was the common currency of the USSR. We can say two things about each and every one of these attempts -- they all failed, and they all damaged the participants. To suppose that the euro might succeed is truly the triumph of hope over experience.

We have already seen political considerations over-ride economic agreements. Both Germany and France have been let off the hook of the so-called stability pact -- a fact that does nothing to foster confidence in the new currency. According to Sir Alan Walters -- Margaret Thatcher's old adviser and a monetary economist with an uncanny success record in predicting monetary events -- the euro will be lucky to last five years.

Happy Holidays!