Yesterday the Backbench Business Committee showed its worth once again by putting on two good debates. In the first the Commons agreed unanimously that it did not like the idea of charging taxpayers £15 to go up Big Ben. Many of us feel that free access to the Palace of Westminster is part of our democracy. Big Ben is a symbol around the world of the Mother of Parliaments. British taxpayers deserve free access to it along with the other main public parts of the Palace. They pay enough for it through taxes.
The second was more fundamental. The House wants a better deal from the EU over our fishing grounds. The disgrace of the Common Fisheries Policy has united most MPs, whether from coastal towns or inland locations, whether from Conservative or Labour, in wanting a new approach. We arel united in condemning the absurd discard policy, where fihermen have to throw dead fish back into the sea where they have been caught against quota rules. Yesterday there was universal agreement that the UK should have much more control over its own fishing grounds.
My view is we need to cease to regard our fishing ground as a common resource. I do not just want some greater power to manage the grounds. I want the full power back to decide on who has access and on what terms. One of my colleagues, arguing for subsidiarity rather than for freedom in these matters, said that the fish in British waters did not swim around with a UK flag on them. I responded that nor do they swim around with the twelve stars of Europe on their backs.
Fishing is a classic example of a common policy organised by the EU which has conspired to do harm to the fishermen, to the fish buying public and to the fish. It has been bad for conservation and bad for business. It should be well up the list of powers we want back. It is one of the best examples for those making the case that the UK would be better off out. The Commons motion did not go as far as I would have liked over fish, but it did remind the government that even this Parliament is in a mood for more UK self determination. The latest polling shows that by a large margin UK voters want the UK Parliament rather than Brussels to make important decisions over our borders, our defences, our economy – and our fish. It is now up to the government to see what power they can bring back. They have aroused expectations. They will need to be firm of purpose in negotiating a new approach.