Bruges Group exclusive
Dr Lee Rotherham
LR Mr Hayes, you’ve had something of a meteoric rise within the Conservative Party, so you won’t have appeared on the radar of some surfers?
JH Well it’s true I first entered Parliament with the 1997 intake. Before then I spent some twelve years as a Nottinghamshire County Councillor, and director of a successful computer company.
LR And in due course became Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party, a senior whip, and now a member of the Shadow Cabinet – covering agriculture and fisheries?
JH That’s right. It’s an extremely important brief, at an extremely critical time, so I feel very honoured.
LR Why’s it so critical?
JH Obviously we’re in a key period of policy formation, but as far as fisheries is concerned, it’s even more serious than that. At the end of the year the 10 year derogation runs out on our six and twelve mile limits. Currently, the various fisheries ministers are negotiating an extension with the Commission, but it’s by no means clear if any agreement will be reached, whether the agreement will be another temporary fix or more permanent, or for that matter what Britain will have to agree to for this temporary fix.
I’m sorry to say that with Labour in power we are seeing the same old excuses and denials. When Blair got elected, practically the first policy decision he made was to ditch any line on the quota-hoppers from the Amsterdam negotiations. The Liberal Democrats are also in hoc to the European ideal to bat an eyelid. They just mumble platitudes. The SNP are altogether too keen to set the Commission up as an alternative to the Commons to convincingly make an issue of the livelihood of thousands around Peterhead and Shetland.
LR But your policy is different?
JH Absolutely. You’ll remember that the Conservatives are still the only party to have apologised over the ERM, despite the all-party enthusiasm it engendered. Likewise, we acknowledge that the fishing industry has been repeatedly short-changed since 1972, despite the promises made to Parliament on accession to the EEC. As a Party, we want to save the industry while we still can, unlike those who stick their heads in the sand and hope the fishermen go away. If we do nothing, that is exactly what will happen – the fleet and the fishermen’s livelihoods will be destroyed.
The Common Fisheries Policy is the key to all this. It is a massive fraud, a conservation nightmare. We think of that awful oil wreck off Galicia as an ecological disaster, but it pales in comparison with the rape of the seas taking place as official EU policy. There’s the million tons of sandeels – the basis of the marine food chain – which get dredged up every year for factories, not even for human consumption! Then there’s the by-catches, the discards, the waste, which gets thrown back in the water to pollute the sea bed. It’s the sort of system that seems designed to turn people into criminals. And, of course, we in the UK have wildly enthusiastic inspectors who interpret the quota to the last fish, quite literally.
Fishermen already have to face one of the most dangerous work environments of all. The last thing they need is crazy regulations and red tape too.
LR So what would you do?
JH I’d return control of fishing policy to UK ministers in our sovereign parliament, accountable to their countrymen. That means taking all parliamentary measures necessary to do so.
LR Who do you respect in politics?
JH Well, certainly not those who place expediency before conviction – the hallmarks of Blairism. Actually, there are a number of Labour MPs who deserve real respect. Austin Mitchell, for instance, is a true and honest representative of the people. People like Austin, and Sir Richard Body – who has been so prophetic. Sir Richard resigned the whip on a matter of principle. As a former whip myself I’d better be careful what I say here, but one of his key complaints was that the Government of the day (yes it was Conservative but it’s the same policy today) denied that the twelve mile limits were at risk. So he resigned and forced the Government (his Government) to acknowledge the work done with Save Britain’s Fish, and the legal research which totally disproved MAFF’s line. To do that on a matter of principle, on an issue of constituency and national concern, takes political courage. And Richard was right.
LR What opportunities do we have to fix it all. Do we have to use the nuclear option?
LR … metaphorically, with the EU?
JH Well we certainly have opportunities. We’re not at the “nuclear” stage yet, as you call it, but we are pretty close. That all depends on whether this Government pulls its finger out. But first we have the current CFP discussions. The issue is on the table, but we have little idea what on earth the Government is prepared to defend or concede. Then there’s the Convention on the Future of the EU…
JH …Well that’s what they call it but it’s really on the structure of the EU, especially as not every European country is at the table. You might ask; have the Government tabled anything on fishing, or the CAP for that matter? Of course not! Because they do not regard farming and fishing as vital. By the way, I’d like to congratulate the Bruges Group for its involvement in the Convention. I gather your contribution has been the only one, the only one to date that has talked about abandoning these failed policies, and taking the responsibilities back from Brussels. On top of the Convention, there’s the IGC itself.
If anyone says disbelievingly, “Well, this is not reasonable - it’s not going to happen,” my response is, “Unless you ask you don’t find out”. In a set of negotiations which requires unanimity, we have a veto. And if we have a veto, we have an opportunity to win concessions. But it would appear New Labour doesn’t rate the future of the fishing industry highly enough to make an issue of it.
Actually, I find this deeply disturbing. The French threatened to block enlargement in 1995, unless the Norwegians gave way over access to their waters, which they did. The Spanish threatened a veto too on another zone, and won. Governments which take a stand can get things done. But we don’t have much time.
We face an emergency, and urgent action is needed.
To those who still hold that the CFP is marvellous, I say perhaps we should table two options. Either fishing gets handed back to the national governments, with a role for the regions, or we extend it to the Baltic, Mediterranean, and the parts of coastline off Overseas Territories. That should sober a few people up. I think we all know which way delegates would vote given such a choice.
LR But time as you say is nearly over, as is the time for this interview!
Thank you for your time, Mr Hayes.