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Mr. Quinn: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Nicholls: Even though this is supposed to be a serious debate, I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Quinn: The hon. Gentleman may recall that, in the European Standing Committee, we raised the issue of the culling of seals. On that occasion, I quoted the leader of the Conservative group in the European Parliament,

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who has visited my constituency. He suggested that Conservative policy was to cull seals because of their effect on fish stocks. Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether that is Conservative policy, or does he stand by his earlier comment about how policy is formulated in the Conservative party?

Mr. Nicholls: Fishermen all over the country, including the west country, are seeing their whole way of life devastated and destroyed, yet the hon. Gentleman thinks that he is making a clever point by talking about seal culling. That is contemptible.

The reason that national control can work is not because it will be conceded by Europe. Of course, it will not be--any more than Lady Thatcher's original budget rebate was conceded. That rebate was not negotiated. It came from a Government and a Prime Minister who had the confidence to say what they meant, and to believe in what they said. They were prepared to say, "This matters to us desperately, and therefore we are going to have it."

There is no possibility of the Labour Government approaching fishing with that degree of resolution, and anyone who doubts the forecast need only look at the history books. In the dying years of the previous Conservative Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry)--then the Minister responsible for fisheries--made it clear that, to deal with quota-hopping, he was prepared to say that no other progress could be made at any other treaty negotiations until that point was conceded. He said that because, belatedly, it mattered that much.

At the time, the then Leader of the Opposition said that the issue mattered to him that much as well. He also said that when the Labour party won the election, his position would be the same. What happened? When Labour came into office, Ministers said that there was no support for their position, so they would give in. The issue did not matter enough to them. The fate of the British fishing industry matters enough to us that we shall not take no for an answer.

Even a debate as serious as this must have its lighter moments, so I shall turn for a moment to the Liberal party. It does not understand that its policy--which it claims is the policy of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations--has been comprehensively rubbished by the Government. The Government, not the Liberal Democrats, would have to lead with such a policy.

The Minister is looking through his papers and cannot find the submission put to him by his own civil servants, saying what they thought of the Liberal party's policy. I will send him a copy later. I have many such documents, if he ever runs out. However, it was scathing in saying that the policy could not work. For the Liberal Democrats to say that they had the paper commissioned by people who did not know what they were talking about is not on.

If we carry on applying the CFP, we shall have to come back every year for more of the same. More dead fish will be slung back in the sea and there will be less hope for the British fishing industry. What is need is a party that has the guts to admit what it did wrong in the past and to face the consequences of that. We also need national control, and that cannot come a moment too soon.

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4.29 pm

Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): I am pleased to have the opportunity to take part in the debate. I was also pleased that the business managers and the Minister listened to what many hon. Members said in the Standing Committee about the need for a debate. Our procedure on this occasion needs to be closely looked at for future reference, as it is much more businesslike and removes some of the fireworks that have appeared in previous debates.

I am speaking on behalf of the fishing communities of Scarborough and Whitby. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) decided to concentrate on the history of the situation rather than the future. I represent a community in Whitby that had a tendency to look far too much to the past rather than the future. However, my fishing community--just like that of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble)--which includes fishermen, fish merchants and other producers, has worked together to create a forum that looks after the interests of the north Yorkshire coast. That community is very much looking to the future.

As the Minister knows, I am keen for him to visit Scarborough and Whitby soon to meet people who would like an opportunity to engage him on the subject of the industry's future. There is great optimism among people working in that vital part of my community.

In an intervention on the hon. Member for Teignbridge, I touched on the issue of the amount of fish taken by seals. When the Minister comes to Scarborough and Whitby, my local fishermen will want to raise that issue with him. I hope that he will take this as early notice of one question that he will be asked, and that he will seek scientific advice to deploy when the occasion arises. I understand that, in the House of Lords Select Committee report, Lord Jopling said that seal culling is vital to preserving fish stocks in the North sea. It is a problem around the British coast and I hope that the Minister will give it serious consideration.

I have been told by the fisheries forum in the north-east of Yorkshire that about 1,000 of my constituents are involved in the fishing industry, which plays a vital part in the area's economic life. Indeed, who would ever think of Whitby and Scarborough without thinking of its sea fish and the beautiful scenery in the port area? Although we are in many ways a community that has been declining since about the 1860s, those who work in the industry have innovated and literally changed tack, going out to look for other fish stocks and other ways of making a living.

The Minister will recall that I raised in correspondence with him the important issue of recreational fishing, which brings considerable extra revenue into the Whitby community. I am sure that that issue, too, will be raised with him when he visits--as will the salmon fishery on the Esk and, especially, the shellfish industry in my constituency.

The shellfish industry is a recent notable success, but that is due partly to the environmental catastrophe affecting our cod stocks. The northward drift of cod, combined with increased North sea temperatures, has given juvenile shellfish a better chance of survival. Some marine scientists say that a shellfish's chance of reaching maturity have increased to about 50 per cent.

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Consequently, the shellfish industry is flourishing, mitigating some of the effects of lower landings in the area. In recent years, landings at the ports of Scarborough and Whitby--unlike those of my colleagues from the Aberdeen area, which has had 40 per cent. reductions--are down by about 16 per cent.

The primary argument has been put strongly in today's Yorkshire Post. One of my constituents, Mr. Arnold Locker, the managing director of Lockers Trawler Ltd., of Whitby, has eight cod boats. He said that, because of yesterday's announcement, in the next year those cod boats will switch to catching prawns. His decision demonstrates the spirit that exists at the Whitby quayside, where people in the private sector are innovating and going forward.

Arnold Locker employs 56 crewmen and 40 people in a cod-processing factory. The Yorkshire Post rightly reports that morale is at rock bottom and that there is real difficulty in persuading and motivating crews to go out together to earn a living in the North sea. Mr. Locker said:

Mr. Locker's statement epitomises the type of story that I have been hearing regularly from my constituents. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran) clearly said, there can be no other industry that has such difficulty in forward planning. I should like to take this opportunity to welcome the Minister's preference for multi-annual targeting and a more structured long-term strategic approach to managing our industry.

I have noticed in the past few months that there is a new attitude among those who work on the quayside, those who want to go to sea and those work in Scarborough and Whitby's fish processing companies. I think that there is a growing realisation that solutions will be based on an international response. Although the cod recovery programme has been welcomed, the welcome comes with a small caveat. We desperately need transitional support for people such as Arnold Locker, so that they can implement the changes necessary to sustain work and businesses in communities such as those in Scarborough and Whitby.

Those communities are very remote from the main centres of our country. The community that I represent has qualified for objective 2 structural funding because of the decline in our fishing industry and its failure since the second world war. We have to change, set up partnerships and go forward. I still believe that there is a role for the regional development agencies in that process. The Minister may be aware that, over the Christmas period, I had meetings with the Yorkshire Forward RDA to try to persuade it to take a greater and more comprehensive interest in the serious economic needs of Yorkshire's relatively small communities. Such an interest is vital to the communities that I represent.

The impact of yesterday's announcement was summed up by Mr. Ian Duncan, the secretary of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation. Last night, in conversations with people from Scarborough, I was asked to quote him in the debate. He said:

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That summarises the feelings of people in coastal and fishing communities around the country. An amputation is occurring in the industry.

The Government are making real efforts to launch a concerted attack on social exclusion and poverty in many communities. However, if they do not act in areas such as Scarborough and Whitby, we shall be wasting good objective 2 funding and innovative action. Without that action, jobs will be created for the long-term unemployed in some areas, while the 1,000 people working in the fishing industry in my constituency will continue to face problems.

The current situation is not in kilter. I urge the Minister and all hon. Members who represent fishing communities to follow the initiative that I and other members of the all-party fisheries group are promoting to lobby and to argue the case for fishing communities with the Treasury. If there were ever a need for a joined-up approach, this is it.

I commend to the Minister a document that I think he mentioned himself--the World Wide Fund for Nature report entitled "Choose or Lose", by Malcolm McGarvie and Sarah Jones and published in December 2000. It deals with the recovery plan for UK fish stocks, and I consider it to be a very learned report. The executive summary provides a good blueprint, if taken in conjunction with the document produced by the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations and the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, entitled "Zonal management: a new vision for your fisheries".

The report shows how the fisheries industry can be sustainable. It is, as I have said, a blueprint for what should happen after we have completed the five or so years of the recovery plan--a plan that is being brought about through international partnership, international effort and the good offices of the Minister, who has argued the case for a sustainable industry. Sustainability, however, cannot be delivered by the industry or the fishing communities alone; it will require the help of the Treasury--of central Government--through whatever mechanism is necessitated.

I told my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) earlier that I did not think the Treasury was taking a negative attitude. I think it is taking an ill-informed attitude, and that it behoves us all to fill the vacuum.

I understand from the document released in Brussels yesterday that the plan must be implemented by 1 May 2001. Some weeks remain to us, but there is a missing component, which is not in the control of the fisheries Minister: we need a certain approach from the Treasury, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions--indeed, an approach from Departments across Government. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether any innovation is taking place at the highest level of Government, and whether the effects on remote communities are being considered.

The parallels are clear. These strike me as being similar to problems that have faced the coalmining community, or indeed the steel industry's problems in the Minister's own town of Scunthorpe. We need a national initiative--a UK across-the-board initiative. The key partners, along

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with central Government, local government and regional agencies, must unite in producing a sustainable plan that is properly funded.

The Minister visited my constituency several times in a different capacity--as countryside Minister. If he does so again we can promise him an interesting and challenging day. I hope that whenever that day comes--in the next few weeks, perhaps--he will address some of the issues that I have raised.

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