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21 Nov 2002 : Column 815—continued

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

Mr. Hayes: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will say that the industry has revived in Lowestoft. I should be delighted if that were the case.

Mr. Blizzard: When Opposition Members get put on their Front Bench, they do not think that they will be there long, so they make rash statements. Lowestoft has an inshore fleet comprising 18 vessels, and there are nine

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beam trawlers that stop fishing in the summer. The town also retains its fish market. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that he can talk down Lowestoft fish market and finish it off, he will have the fish merchants down on him.

Mr. Hayes: That is a pretty low intervention, from an hon. Gentleman for whom I have a great deal of respect—although he is not as big as he once was, as we were discussing just the other day. He knows what I meant when I said that the industry had declined dramatically in Lowestoft to the point of extinction. Of course there is an inshore fleet and a fish market in Lowestoft. There is still a thriving fish industry in Grimsby as well, but most of the product that it uses is imported. It is not caught in or anywhere near Grimsby. That is what shocks people. I acknowledge that Lowestoft is not dead in that respect, but the hon. Gentleman, who is a decent and honourable representative of that part of the world, will be as sad as I am that the fishing that it once enjoyed and for which it was famed came to an end just a few months ago.

The Minister tells us that the British fleet in England and Scotland is still unsustainable, despite the reductions. He did not give a very good answer to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who said that the decline in fish stocks is at least as much to do with the other threats to fish such as toxins and industrial fishing as with fishing for human consumption. The change in climate, for example, has driven cod further north into the North sea. The Minister was aware of those arguments but dismissed the intervention that pointed out the facts. The Minister has come to the view that the British fishing industry, even in its current form, is, in his words, unsustainable.

The decline in the fishing industry has cut by a third the number of boats that go out from British ports, but the amount of fish caught has fallen by only about 10 per cent. The Minister will say that that is the whole problem. However, he does not acknowledge that the reason for that equation is that our fish stocks continue to be fished by many other nations using methods that we regard as unacceptable. I will talk later in more detail about industrial fishing. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) made a telling intervention about it today, as he did a few days ago. We have yet to have a satisfactory answer. I do not say that the Minister does not have a noble record on this. I have had much pleasure over the last few weeks reading his speeches over many years—they are most entertaining and have been my bedtime reading. He has always been against industrial fishing but his assurances today will come as cold comfort to an industry that sees it perpetuated, particularly by Denmark and Norway.

Mr. Morley: I am proud to have negotiated with Denmark, in a very friendly way, a three-year closure off Scotland on Wee Bankie. It comes to an end this year. I welcome the opportunity to assure the House that it is my intention to continue that closed area because I think that our justification for the original closure still stands.

Mr. Hayes: I am grateful for that assurance but the Minister knows that industrial fishing does not occur only off the coast of Scotland. He would not want to deceive the House in any way, shape or form and he will

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acknowledge that industrial fishing is a massive problem in waters around the United Kingdom, particularly the North sea, and that the effect has been devastating.

This further plague of reductions is on a baseline already so eroded that, in many cases, it will be the end of the deep-sea fishing industry from ports up and down the country. This is decommissioning by bankruptcy.

Mr. Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness): Does my hon. Friend think that, if a tie-up agreement could be negotiated, other EU countries would stick to it?

Mr. Hayes: The Minister has personal experience of this, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing it to the House's attention. There was a tie-up agreement off the north-west coast in the early part of 2000—the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) will speak about this with some authority—and the Fleetwood fishermen, being decent and law-abiding folk, abided by it. I was speaking to them only the day before yesterday. Large Dutch and Belgian boats exploited those waters, to the Minister's enormous embarrassment, and he had to trade off a share of our quota in the North sea to bribe them out of the place.

Mr. Morley: I did not.

Mr. Hayes: That is not what the Fleetwood fishermen say. I hope that you will forgive me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I give rather more credence to what they say on this occasion. I am sure that the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood joins me in my high regard for those hard-working fishermen.

Mrs. Humble rose—

Mr. Hayes: I see that she is about to do so.

Mrs. Humble: Tempted as I am, I must intervene. The fishermen of Fleetwood saw the relevance and importance of the cod recovery programme, so they actively engaged in the debate. However, in the first year of the programme, they had concerns about which parts of the Irish sea were closed down. My hon. Friend the Minister met a delegation of fishermen in London and listened to what they had to say. That early closure was varied to take the views of the Fleetwood fishermen into account. I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that the way forward is to listen to fishermen's expertise and their knowledge of their own areas.

Mr. Hayes: The hon. Lady makes a separate but equally valuable point. Her point is different from that of my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness. She reminds the House that, when the tie-up agreement was enforced, the fishermen became aware that it was at the wrong time and in the wrong place because the cod had already spawned and moved on. The fishermen knew that before the scientists and drew it to the attention of the hon. Lady, the Minister and the scientists. To his credit, the Minister took note. That leads us to conclude that the fishermen must be involved in all these exercises from the beginning. There must be a partnership between scientists and fishermen. Too often, fishermen have been left out until it becomes clear

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that they know a great deal about fish stocks and the industry. I should have thought that that was obvious, and I am sure that the hon. Lady agrees.

Mr. Carmichael: The hon. Gentleman makes a compelling argument in favour of regional management. Can I take it that he will join us in the Lobby tonight to support the Liberal Democrat amendment?

Mr. Hayes: I always take Liberal Democrats seriously, usually in the Tea Room, where we enjoy many interesting discussions on this and other subjects.

Andrew George: More seriously than the Tories?

Mr. Hayes: The hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) knows what I mean. I shall talk later about our history together in fishing. He propped me up on a boat in the middle of the ocean when I was about to fall down. It could have caused a by-election, but he saved not only me but the people of South Holland and The Deepings from that experience. However, the point of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) deserves serious treatment, and I will address it later.

As well as meeting fishermen from Fleetwood and the east coast, I have also had the privilege, due to the generosity of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, of meeting a group of Scottish fishermen's wives. Tragically, they tell a similar sorry tale. Let us look at the effect of a dramatic reduction in white fish takes in Scotland. Let us consider the dependence of the east coast of Scotland on fishing and the proportion of people in the local economy engaged and employed in the industry. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan has the chart, and I am familiar with it. Fishing is responsible for anything between 20 and 60 per cent. of the employment in some of those communities, either directly or indirectly. Then there is the knock-on effect on the local economy and communities. Imagine the effect on the retail or service sector if we dramatically reduce the fishing income to those communities. I was genuinely moved by those ladies and I will not let them down.

It is predicted that about 30,000 jobs will be at risk in that part of Scotland, and some 175 boats have already gone. How can we talk about a baseline? How can we talk about the contribution that we have already made or, as the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood pointed out, the commitment that fishermen have already made to this programme of balance, conservation and restructuring?

All those things are being done in the name of conservation, as we heard from the Minister again today. He is as consistent on that subject as he is on industrial fishing. In 2001, he said:

By that measure, the common fisheries policy is palpably a complete and utter failure. Even if we could forget what it has done to the fishing industry and to the morale of those communities, we have only to think

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about what it has done to fish. Uniquely, the policy has damaged both fish and the people who catch them. There is something Orwellian about that.

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