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Dr. Cunningham: As my hon. Friend says, the problem of the sale of the UK quota--which is what we are discussing--is one of a number of important and difficult problems. It is not--I am candid about this--a problem which will be easily or quickly resolved. People have legally acquired the quota: these were willing sales and legal purchases. No protocol on earth would have obliged those people to give up what they had legally acquired.

As for conservation and closing some areas, the Parliamentary Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), is looking into that in some detail. We would not flinch from taking strong action if we concluded that that was the best way in which to improve conservation and prevent the fishing out of our important fisheries. Most sensible fishermen recognise that, if there are no fish, there is no future for them and their industry.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes): I represent the second largest fishing community in England and Wales, in Brixham. I am anxious to tell the Brixham fishermen exactly what the statement means for them.

Can the Minister tell us whether one extra fish will come to British fishermen as a result of the deal? If no more fish will come to them, will one boat under a flag of convenience come to the British fishing fleet? If that does not happen, will the British quota come back to Britain--even one fish of it?

If that does not happen, what will become of 50 per cent. of the fish that are landed on the Brixham dock? Will they have to be driven all the way to Holland and Spain--which would pollute the environment, and make the fish that arrived three or four days later not fresh for the people of those countries? What is the advantage of the deal to the Brixham community?

Dr. Cunningham: I am not sure what the advantage of the hon. Gentleman's intervention was to the Brixham community.

The advantage is that, for the first time, we have made some progress. We are not making over-the-top claims for progress on resolving the problem of the sale of the UK quota, which took place when the hon. Gentleman was sitting on the Government Benches behind his right hon. and hon. Friends the Ministers. I did not hear him say too much about it while it was going on.

We are making some progress, which means that more fish will be landed in Britain. The protocol to which the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends gave so much credence would have had no impact on the existing situation--even if it had obtained some support from other member states, which it signally failed to do. If the hon. Gentleman wants to help Brixham fishermen and their communities--and I understand that he would naturally want to do that--he can tell them that this is the first significant step towards regaining some economic benefit for them, following what has happened to fishing in Britain over the past 17 years.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South): Inevitably, part of the problem lies with British fishermen who have sold

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their quotas. Much of the solution to the problem of fish conservation lies in the hands of fishermen. What are the Minister's plans for seeking talks or involving fishermen in an attempt to find solutions to the problems that face their industry?

Dr. Cunningham: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right. In the context of quota selling, it must be said that the economic circumstances in fishing communities and the neglect of the fishing industry drove many fishermen, in some desperation, to sell their quotas, at a time when the previous Government were taking no notice of their problems--indeed, in some respects they were making them worse.

I assure my hon. Friend that we shall involve fishermen and fishing communities from the outset in the development of new policies to produce a sustainable industry. It would be absurd for the United Kingdom, as a maritime nation, not to have a sustainable fishing industry. We are determined to secure that, and that means taking some tough decisions on conservation, which is all the more reason for us wanting to engage fishermen from the outset. That is why we shall call them to a meeting as soon as possible.

Mr. William Thompson (West Tyrone): Can the Minister say how long he expects the consultation process to go on? Can he guarantee that, when the proposals go to the Commission, they will be accepted? Will we get to the position where we are with beef, so that amendments will be sought, time will go on and on, and little advantage will be gained?

Dr. Cunningham: The consultation process will take, I hope, a relatively short period in respect of the licence conditions that I have mentioned. Of course, engaging in talks with fishermen about the future of the industry so that it is viable and sustainable will take considerably longer.

The hon. Gentleman asks about proposals going to the Commission. My right hon. Friend has secured in the letter from the President of the Commission a commitment to those licence changes. I do not think that there is a prospect of the President of the Commission wanting to see that to which he has committed himself in that letter frittered away.

Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood): I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on his announcement. Only last week, I made my maiden speech and urged the Government to include quota hopping in their discussions on Europe. Therefore, I am pleased that today we have the proofs of those discussions. My constituents will be pleased that fishing is at long last at the forefront of Government policy. For many years, it was ignored or pushed behind other issues that were seen as more important. I represent an area that was once--

Hon. Members: Question.

Madam Speaker: Order. I will deal with this. The hon. Lady is a new Member. Let us have a little tolerance. Time is passing, and I asked for quick questions and quick

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answers, but I have not had any response yet. I should like to have it now. I ask the hon. Lady to put a question to the Minister.

Mrs. Humble: I do apologise.

Madam Speaker: We all know her constituency very well, and we like it.

Mrs. Humble: The question that I shall be asked when I go back and talk to Fleetwood fishermen will be about the nature of the consultation. They will be pleased that there is to be consultation, but they and I would like more details about its nature and its timetable.

Dr. Cunningham: I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) in the House. For that matter, I am delighted to see all my hon. Friends who represent fishing ports. It shows that all the bluff and bluster by the Conservative Government did not save the necks of many Conservative Members who represented fishing communities.

I shall write to my hon. Friend about the consultation process, and give her the assurance that her constituents in Fleetwood will have every opportunity to put their views to me and my colleagues.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills): Although I think that the House supports the Minister in his admirable objective of trying to safeguard coastal and fishing communities and to conserve our fishing stocks and the integrity of our economic zone, is not, in truth, the real trouble that fishing is a European Union competence--that is where the trouble lies? If the Minister were accountable and responsible within our domain, we would have a more effective fishing and conservation policy. In their discussions, will he and his right hon. Friends consider how and why--in what way--a European Union competence over our fisheries and our economic zone is in our national interest?

Dr. Cunningham: The hon. Gentleman is really asking whether it is in Britain's interest to be a member of the EU. So long as we are a member of the EU, we are bound by the provisions of the common fisheries policy and, whether he likes it or not--whether I like it or not--we have to work within the confines of that policy. It is all the more important, therefore, that we do have a constructive, positive approach to EU membership. It is no accident that the new Labour Government's change in approach to dealing with our problems in the EU is showing some results, where none flowed from the belligerent, loud-mouthed and aggressive attitude of the previous Administration.

Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): On behalf of the fishing communities of Scarborough and Whitby, it is important that we have broken the deadlock on this whole issue. The reason I am here to represent those communities is that the Conservative party failed to deliver the consultation that it long promised, and its many other promises to fishing communities in Scarborough and Whitby. I should like know in some

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detail what my right hon. Friend the Minister proposes to do about regional initiatives to ensure that we conserve fishing stock, and about taking a more global approach to ensure that we achieve regional solutions to regional problems. After all, fish do not know any boundaries.

Dr. Cunningham: My hon. Friend has the distinction of representing two fishing ports; most of us are lucky to represent one. I cannot give him the detail now about how we intend to develop our thinking on regional involvement. It is exactly for that reason that we want to begin talks with fishing community representatives. There would be little point in having talks if I were going there simply to impose on them a blueprint that we had already decided; but, again, I assure him that his constituents in Scarborough and Whitby will have every opportunity to be involved in those discussions.


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