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Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on two counts. First, he has given us a clear and concise report, in stark contrast to the muddle and acrimony of the former Government. Secondly, he has nailed the lie that he is a poor negotiator--a lie put about by Conservatives during the election campaign. We now know that it was the previous Prime Minister, not my right hon. Friend, who was the poor negotiator.

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On enlargement, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that our inner cities are suffering from unemployment and a lack of infrastructural development because of the previous Government? But enlargement will mean resources being drained away from the inner cities and poorer regions of Britain to the new countries. Can he assure us that he will consider that seriously in future negotiations?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right to say that it is important to get enlargement on the correct terms. The purpose of enlarging is to draw into the EU the countries of eastern Europe. That is of mutual benefit--it is not simply a one-way process--because we will create a larger trading area. Enlargement should also be used as a lever to reform the common agricultural policy, which is currently a scandal.

It is because we understand the problems of unemployment in the inner cities that we are committed to taking action on it.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): To return to the issue of quota hopping, can the Prime Minister not grasp that west country fishermen do not want tinkering with the licence? They want quota hopping stopped. Is it not a fact that, as a result of the Prime Minister's inactivity at Amsterdam, we will not get rid of a single quota hopper, and British fishermen will not be able to catch one extra fish? West country fishermen were looking to the Prime Minister for an exercise in statesmanship. They found, instead, that he sold their industry down the river.

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is factually wrong. The purpose of the agreement that we got is precisely to affect the activities of existing quota hoppers and of future quota hoppers as well. The key to that is the ability to change the licence conditions under which vessels operate.

The treaty protocol of the previous Government, which had not the slightest prospect of ever being negotiated, did not deal with the problem of existing quota hopping.

It is easy for the hon. Gentleman to get up and pretend to people that there is some easy answer in relation to quota hopping. There is not, and he should know that. People may get up and say, "I could have gone to Amsterdam and got the whole thing stopped overnight", but that is simply untrue. [Interruption.] It is said that it did not matter. That is unfair and wrong. It did matter, which is why it was a big part of our negotiation. It is most cruel and most deceiving to tell people that there is a simple solution, when one knows perfectly well that there is not.

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Common Fisheries Policy

4.31 pm

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Dr. John Cunningham): With permission, Madam Speaker, I will make a more detailed statement about the common fisheries policy and the agreement that the Prime Minister has concluded with the President of the Commission.

Fishing has an important place and a long tradition as an industry in this country. The Government intend to work with the industry to ensure its continued and sustainable future. That means devising a strategy to meet the challenges of low fish stocks and over-capacity.

We have inherited a series of profound problems as a result of the previous Administration's handling of fisheries policy, which lacked any sign of direction or support. One of their excuses for failure has been the problem of vessels owned largely by foreign interests which are United Kingdom-flagged and use UK fishing quotas. They give little or no economic benefit from their activities to our own fishing communities, because they are largely operated and crewed from other member states and land a high proportion of their catches outside the UK.

That is a long-standing problem, which the previous Administration allowed to develop and failed to solve. They could have addressed it in 1982, when the common fisheries policy was being negotiated, but they did not. Having failed to act then, they should have addressed the problem when enlargement to bring in Spain and Portugal was agreed in 1985.

However, the previous Government allowed matters to deteriorate and eventually last year proposed a draft treaty protocol which, it became clear, stood no realistic chance of success because they failed to secure support for it--nor is it clear that it would have dealt effectively with the existing situation. Not a single member state was willing to support the concept of a protocol proposed by the previous Administration.

In the weeks since 2 May, we have taken the matter up with the Commission and other member states. Our discussions included my talks with Commissioner Bonino on 20 May, and concluded in Amsterdam this week. The Government's efforts have now secured a constructive outcome.

In an exchange of letters between the Prime Minister and the President of the Commission, the Commission has set out measures that we can take, requiring UK-flagged vessels to demonstrate that their activities contribute substantial economic benefits for populations dependent on fishing and related industries in the UK.

The United Kingdom now has a basis for imposing on fishing vessels requirements that they comply with provisions to land a specified proportion of their catch--we envisage 50 per cent.--into UK ports, or have a majority of their crew resident in the UK, or commence a majority of their fishing trips from UK ports, or comply with a combination of measures. At present, many of these foreign-owned vessels contribute little or nothing to the economy of our fishing communities. The new rules would change this and ensure that benefits flow to our fishing communities and processors, by requiring the vessels to demonstrate that substantial economic benefits are secured.

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We intend to introduce new licence rules to implement these measures as swiftly as possible. We shall be consulting the whole fishing industry about the new rules before asking the Commission to give a formal opinion on them. In this way, we can ensure that our rules are effective, sensitive to the interests of all affected by them, and consistent with the various legal requirements.

Without effective enforcement, all our efforts to ensure the conservation of fish stocks will be undermined. That is why the importance of enforcement has been the second major issue that we have pursued with the Commission. We have insisted that more must be done to ensure effective and consistent application of the rules. It is essential that, wherever fishermen land their catches, they must be subject to equivalent measures. The Commission is committed now to examining improvements in enforcement, including strengthened obligations on member states. It will also look at the role of Commission inspectors. They will report later this year to the Council with proposals as necessary.

Meanwhile, we are taking steps ourselves to tighten various aspects of enforcement. I will announce these in a separate written statement to the House. They concern action to assist the Marine Safety Agency in ensuring that vessels and their crews are properly certified to comply with safety requirements and, in addition, steps to prevent evading quota rules and undermining conservation objectives by discarding fish already stowed on board.

We have also obtained from the Commission assurances about the involvement of local fishing interests in the decision-making process, and about the review of and prospects for the common fisheries policy after 2002. The Commission has confirmed that key elements of the common fisheries policy are widely valued and that it considers it unlikely that the fundamental principle of relative stability would be called into question or that there would be a desire to modify present restrictions on access to waters inside member states' 12-mile limits. We will be building on those assurances during future discussions about the common fisheries policy.

In total, I consider that this is a valuable outcome. We have secured some very positive results concerning the application of economic links, as well as making constructive progress on a range of wider issues, all of which are central to the Government's approach to the common fisheries policy. Because we have agreed a way forward with the Commission, we are in a much better position to avoid legal challenge to the measures we adopt. Measures proposed by the Commission to the Fisheries Council would be agreed by qualified majority voting.

There is much more to be done to put our fishing industry on a sound footing for the future. I now propose to take this action forward urgently. With my colleagues responsible for fisheries in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, I am inviting the leaders of the UK fishing industry to participate in high-level talks on the industry's future. The highest priority is to decide the way in which we implement rules to require the economic link. However, there is a much wider agenda. We must address the problems of enforcement, low stocks and over-capacity, as well as looking at other possibilities for change in quota and licence management and the scope for more regional involvement.

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The Government want to develop a realistic strategy to create a viable future for our fishing industry in the years ahead. These talks will start that process. We shall ensure that the industry is directly and fully involved.

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