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Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury): I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new post, and wish him well.

Outside the House, the Prime Minister's press secretary is claiming the proposals as a victory. It was interesting to note that not even the Prime Minister had the gall to claim them as such; rather, he spoke simply about making progress.

How can an exchange of letters between the United Kingdom Government and the Commission be binding on anyone else? What possible status in Community law does such an exchange of letters have? What is even more curious is that the Minister said that he would be consulting the fishing industry about the new rules before asking the Commission for a formal opinion on them. What is in those letters? [Interruption.] Perhaps they can be put in the Library so that we can all read them.

How can such measures be binding on the Spanish and others? Given the Factortame judgment, any such proposals will almost certainly be struck down by the European Court of Justice. [Interruption.] It is little wonder that the Spanish Government have poured scorn on those proposals, as meaningless and devoid of effect. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) keeps interrupting from a sedentary position, but I suspect that he will find it difficult to convince fishermen in Scotland that the outcome is anything other than a sell-out.

During the general election campaign, the Prime Minister agreed, as did everyone else, that quota hoppers could be effectively dealt with only by treaty changes. Indeed, the Prime Minister went further than that during the campaign, when he said at the time of the Luxembourg Fisheries Council that a Labour Government "would not rule out"--

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Elliot Morley) indicated dissent.

Mr. Baldry: The right hon. Gentleman said that the Labour Government "would not rule out"--I challenge the Parliamentary Secretary to look up that quote--the Government using their veto at the Amsterdam summit to ensure that quota hoppers were dealt with through treaty changes.

In reality, the Government have made no attempt whatever to get treaty changes. That is a complete sell-out of the United Kingdom's fishing industry. The current proposals will not get rid of a single existing quota hopper; nor will they prevent the transfer of United Kingdom fishing licences to quota hoppers in the future. If there are to be national fishing quotas, it must be right that United Kingdom fish should be for United Kingdom fishermen. The agreement, however, does not give our fishermen one extra fish.

It is also clear from the right hon. Gentleman's statement that the Government have failed to defend the concept of relative stability. They have also failed to make it clear that our 12-mile fishing limits are non-negotiable.

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Does not the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that the fishermen of the United Kingdom will be appalled and angry at how they have been so comprehensively sold out and betrayed by the Government? This is a black day for those fishermen--a day when their interests were thrown away for a meaningless piece of paper and a cheap soundbite.

Dr. Cunningham: That long, boring and rather convoluted response barely merits a reply, but I shall deal with at least some of the points that the hon. Gentleman raised.

The hon. Gentleman seems to be saying that some progress is not as good as no progress. For 18 years, the Conservative Government made no progress, but, as the Prime Minister has said, we have made some reasonable progress.

Let us consider the hon. Gentleman's repeated reference to a change to the protocol. Not a single member state was willing to vote for the protocol. In any event, it would not have dealt with the existing problem. That is the reality. The hon. Gentleman kept on referring to the protocol, but it was a complete fraud committed on British fishermen. He knows that to be the case.

The Commission letter will be binding. The hon. Gentleman asked why we are consulting. We are consulting our own fishermen exactly because the new rules will apply to them, too. In case the hon. Gentleman is not aware of it, although I am sure that he is, plenty of our vessels land their catch at foreign ports. That is the reality, so we must consult our fishermen before changing the rules because they will be directly affected by them.

The hon. Gentleman said that he would like to see the exchange of letters. They have been in the Library since about noon today. They have been available.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray): We had to ask the Library for a photocopy just before 3 o'clock.

Dr. Cunningham: The hon. Lady intervenes from a sedentary position, and I should like to put it on the record that I sent in advance a copy of my statement to the leader or the spokesperson of every party in the House. Every party had a copy of my statement in advance of my making it. I have nothing to hide in making my statement.

The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) mentioned the consequences of the Factortame case. That case results from a bungled attempt by the previous Government to do something about these matters. The Government are now facing, as a result of the previous Government's bungling, 97 claims for compensation in the courts. That is the result of the previous Administration's incompetence.

The changes that I am announcing will affect both existing and future sales of British quota. The hon. Member for Banbury refers to the problem as if it is in some way the responsibility of the Spanish or Netherlands fishermen. What actually happened? Given the abysmal economic circumstances of the UK fishing industries, fishermen were forced out of business, and they willingly sold their quota to foreign owners. All that happened in three separate phases under the previous Government's administration. If we are apportioning blame today, it lies fairly and squarely with the previous Government's failed fisheries policies.

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There may be an attempt to challenge the new rules. I would not be surprised if that were to happen--I do not suppose that anybody in the House would be surprised. The fact, however, that we shall agree the detailed changes and implementation with the Commission gives us added strength in our ability to resist any such challenge.

The hon. Member for Banbury finished with a sort of rhetorical flourish in saying that what I have announced would not be welcome to British fishermen and fishing communities. The reality is that we have made some significant progress in seven weeks in office, while the Conservative Government made none in 17 years.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North): Is my right hon. Friend aware that we entered the Community without any agreement on fishing? The Conservative party, when in government under the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), did nothing to defend the distant water, middle water fleet or inshore fleets. When some of us tried to move the Adjournment of the House on that issue--that we should not go into the Community until the matter was settled--we were rebuffed by the Government of the day. That should be made extremely clear.

Since then, every Government have been seeking to improve the position of our fishermen. However, they have been playing from a hand that has held very few trumps, because the situation was lost at the outset. Therefore, my right hon. Friend is to be congratulated on such progress as has been made so far. It is showing an ability to try to negotiate with the Commission and eventually with our Community partners to try to bring at least some hope for the British fishing fleet.

As for the letters with the Commission, surely it would not be right to say that they are legally binding on it. They are merely a statement of intent on the part of the Commission, and any regulations that are made will be subject always to challenge in the European Court. On that basis, will my right hon. Friend seek to ensure that, in negotiating the new regulations, he bears in mind our fishing fleet and the fleets of other countries that also land in ports other than their home ports, so that we can get as many as possible of our partners in the Community behind us in pushing forward a new policy?

Dr. Cunningham: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is right to say that the problem stems from the complete neglect of the UK fishing industry at the time of our entry into the European Community in 1972, and has flowed on from there. It is--[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Banbury is mumbling on from the other side of the Dispatch Box. He had every opportunity to make some progress--his party and he himself--and they failed to do so.

First, the Commission is the guardian of the treaty and of European Union law. It will be in the interests of the Commission, and in this instance the President of the Commission, to ensure that the final details of licences that we shall discuss with our fishermen will be enforced.

Secondly, my hon. Friend's constituents--he represents one of the most important fishing communities anywhere in the UK--can be assured that we shall properly consult them about these changes and about the policy

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developments that we want to make about the future of their industry, so that they can have a secure and sustainable future.

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