In the House of Commons this week, Labour’s Angling spokesman, Reading West MP Martin Salter challenged the Conservatives to guarantee to keep the angling rod licence and the £24million it generates for fisheries should they form the next government. Mr Salter was reacting to recent comments by Conservative leader David Cameron in the Angling Times in which he failed to commit to retain the rod licence. This followed a pledge by the former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith to scrap the rod licence without any commitment to replace the funding for fisheries by a consequent increase in grant-in-aid from the Exchequer.
By contrast, Labour’s Fisheries Minister Huw Irranca-Davies gave a cast-iron guarantee that his party would not only retain the rod licence but would ensure that the funds that it generates will remain in fisheries and not be spent elsewhere.
At DEFRA questions on Thursday (25th March), Mr Salter asked:-
“The Minister will be aware of the hare-brained plan set out by the last but one Leader of the Opposition to abolish the anglers’ rod licence, which was hinted at again this week by the current Leader of the Opposition in his Angling Times interview. Based on today’s figure, that would mean stripping £24 million or 70 per cent. from the Environment Agency’s fishery budget. This means no restocking, dirtier rivers and a bleak future for Britain’s 3 million anglers. Would the Minister confirm the Government’s commitment to retaining the anglers’ rod licence and its income for fisheries work?”
Huw Irranca-Davies replied:-
“My hon. Friend has put me on the spot somewhat, but I can give him a guarantee on the matter. The rod licence is one of our rare hypothecated levies, and the proceeds from it go directly back into river management. The guarantee that I give him is that, when this Government are returned, we will make sure that that continues, to the benefit of anglers and others”
Speaking afterwards, Mr Salter said:-
“Britain’s three million anglers are not stupid and they know fine well that politicians seeking power will do anything and say anything to get their votes. The difference with me is that I don’t just talk about fishing, I do it and I speak up for what has been one of my lifelong passions at every opportunity in Parliament. Of course I welcome any would-be Prime Minister’s support for angling but why has David Cameron not come out of the closet before and why does he wait until now before paying pre-election lip service to our sport?”
“The Tories have got a long way to go before they can match Labour’s commitment to angling and it is worrying that they clearly still have the future of the rod licence on their agenda. We won this battle six years ago and in the current economic climate there is absolutely no prospect of any government of any political persuasion replacing the £24million of invaluable funding that would be lost to fisheries from other budgets. I am pleased that Labour Ministers have given a cast iron commitment to retain the rod licence, whereas Cameron is still promising “to have a conversation” about it.”