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21 Nov 2002 : Column 834—continued

Mr. Austin Mitchell : I do not want to disturb the Liberal policy of squaring every circle, but is the hon. Gentleman saying that we should trust the scientists except in area VII?

Andrew George: No, I have already made my view clear. I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan and a number of arguments by my hon. Friends who will speak later from a Scottish and Shetland perspective. I am making a general point that the science needs to be properly and robustly challenged on scientific grounds, not on emotional or political grounds. I was giving the example of stocks in area VII—the western approaches—particularly hake, but cod and haddock as well, because the subject would not otherwise be raised in this debate. I am glad that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) gave me an opportunity to highlight that. There are serious uncertainties about the science and current information raises many questions. I therefore urge the Minister, instead of making hard and fast decisions that will affect the fishing effort from 1 January 2003—after all, fish stocks do not recognise human calendars—to take a more cautious approach, roll the debate forward if

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necessary and keep a watching brief on critical fisheries. We would ultimately regret decisions that resulted in thousands of fishing jobs being lost overnight.

Ann Winterton: I am a little confused as to why the hon. Gentleman thinks that we will be able to make decisions to roll over the management of fisheries into the new year. He knows as well as anyone else that there is a cut-off date of 31 December and that Spain must be accommodated thereafter. The Commission makes the proposal, and the Minister only has 10 out of 87 votes in the Fisheries Council.

Andrew George: I have raised with Commissioner Fischler the issue of the six-mile and 12-mile limits. If they are not resolved, he has confirmed that there are ways of rolling forward the debate.

I do not want to spend much more time on the issue, as we do not have long and I know that other Members wish to speak. We need to look at alternatives such as selective and sophisticated local measures. The Cornish Fish Producers Organisation has proposed the closure of two areas in the Trevose ground. We need reassurance that the scientific advice is adequate. If recovery programmes are to be effective, we must look carefully at proposals to invest in them. If lay-ups, closed seasons and closed areas are to achieve a recovery of stock, it would be unwise to decommission vessels. We should find ways of funding their tie-up for an agreed period so that when stocks recover they can continue fishing.

The Minister has just left the Chamber, but I was just going to tell him that he is highly respected, resilient, sympathetic, sensitive and modest. Given that he was not born yesterday, he would wonder what all that flattery is leading to. It is this: can he go to the next Fisheries Council meeting and demonstrate not only knowledge, understanding, resilience, sensitivity and modesty, but passion? Once he has understood and taken on board the scientific issues and weighed the arguments about the balance of scientific evidence, will he fight for the fishermen? There have been stand-up rows between our Prime Minister and other Prime Ministers on other matters. Fisheries are of such importance to our country that I urge the Minister if necessary to engage the attention of the Prime Minister and other Ministers to ensure that the urgency of the situation is conveyed to European Ministers.

Mr. Morley: For the benefit of the House, may I point out that the Government are engaged at all levels? Indeed, this week, a representative from No. 10, a member of the Prime Minister's personal office, met me for a long briefing on where we are with these issues, our priorities and what we want to do. The hon. Gentleman should not think that we are not engaged with every single level of Government in every single region of the country.

Andrew George: That is reassuring, but we would like public evidence of that engagement.

Finally, we can take decisions in haste, but we would repent at leisure, which is why I urge the Minister to consider our amendment carefully. If many thousands

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of people were made jobless in the manufacturing sector because of the closure of a factory, special taskforces would be set up, public money would be invested and urgent plans developed to deal with the problems. The fisheries problem is of equal severity, and I hope that the Minister will take on board the seriousness of the issue, given his clear and intricate knowledge of the subject.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Before I call the next speaker, a large number of hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. Unless contributions are considerably briefer, some Members will be disappointed.

3.29 pm

Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): I shall try to keep my remarks as brief as possible, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and shall try to represent as best I can the interests of the fishing communities of Scarborough and Whitby. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) and I both entered the House in 1997. Over the years, it has been a great pleasure to work together in the spirit of partnership that he has demonstrated this afternoon, and I shall take up where he left off.

From my perspective on the Government Benches, the Minister was right to draw attention to the interest and support coming from the highest levels of the Government. I hope that, through the Minister's work in future discussions at European level, we will be able to demonstrate to our fishing communities how seriously the Government take the issues facing the industry, as evidenced by the industry taskforce, which has been so important in my part of the world when the loss of other jobs has been threatened.

The fishing industry is linked to Scarborough and Whitby almost by an umbilical cord, and I want to consider some of the socio-economic effects of the current proposals on the people whom I represent. Earlier today, on behalf of the fishing community based in Whitby, I drew attention to the representations that I have received from Mr. Arnold Locker, a Whitby fisherman and the current chairman of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations. I understand that Arnold, with his colleagues from the NFFO, will be visiting the Minister early next week.

I take this opportunity, on behalf of colleagues from the North sea ports, to thank the Minister for the briefing that he is arranging for us next week. I, and the others who attend, will make the most of that. I was pleased to hear that hon. Members from all parts of the House will attend. That is as it should be; we should all listen and try to work on behalf of the communities that we represent.

At Question Time today, I raised the issue of enforcement. Mr. Locker asked me to convey to the House a clear message about the type of enforcement to which his boats, like the boats of most of the Yorkshire fishery, are subject. He tells me that the boats may be boarded three or four times a week, when they are out there trying to earn their living. Mr. Locker wants the Minister to argue as strongly as possible in future weeks for that approach to be replicated across Europe.

I was pleased to hear from Mr. Locker that he wanted more robust science— science that was more effectively supported, and would be more meaningful than what we

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have heard in recent years. Having spoken to the fishermen in Scarborough and Whitby over a number of years, I was gratified to hear such clear and unambiguous support for science from such an important leader of the industry. I hope that the Minister will be able to build on that in his discussions with the NFFO next week.

I mentioned the impact on local communities. The people who live in the old town of Scarborough—the bottom-enders—have lived in that community and gained a livelihood from fishing for generations. The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) referred to the number of deep-sea fishing vessels based in Scarborough and Whitby. I believe he said that there were four, but he did not mention the fact that over the years there has been a transfer of deep-sea vessels from the ports of Scarborough, Whitby and the rest of the North sea coast to the north-east of Scotland, as I am sure the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) would acknowledge.

Although the reference to the importance of the distinction between the English fishery and the Scottish fishery was dismissed, there is a strong historic link between my communities and those north-east ports. I say that in a spirit of solidarity, as we recognise that for every person involved in the fishing industry in England, there are probably three or more people working in the fishing industry in Scotland. We view the problem from a united community perspective.

The people of the old town in Scarborough and the fishing communities of Whitby are living on their nerves. They are so frightened. They are under pressure from the banks and from the people who try to help them with loans. There is a real sense that our communities are on the edge of a precipice. I hope that in his discussions with other members of the Government, the Minister will have regard to the serious psychological impact of the present situation on those communities. I hope that the public services will take account of the stress and trauma that relatively small but tightly knit communities such as mine are undergoing, and ensure that the appropriate support is available.

I take this opportunity to celebrate with the House the wonderful work done by organisations such as the Seafarers Mission and the fishermen's missions throughout the country. They are supporting fishing communities through extremely difficult times. In debates such as this it is traditional for the Minister to mention all the people who are, unfortunately, lost at sea as a result of their efforts to harvest the sea; perhaps he will do so in his concluding remarks. It is worth noting that the Whitby lifeboat has now celebrated 200 years of existence. That is an indication of how tightly knit that community is. We want to see fishing as a vibrant, sustainable way of making a living, and we want people to be able to go forward with the hope of future prosperity.

As the Minister knows, there was a small sign of hope for Whitby with the opening of the fishermen's apprentice school at the beginning of October. He has said that he will make every effort to visit the school in the new year, to see the work that is being done there. I can report to the House, including my hon. Friend, that people from as far afield as North Shields and further down towards Grimsby are showing great interest in the

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school as a centre of excellence. I hope that the skills and techniques being taught in that important facility will start to address in an English context some of the concerns highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran) when he said that there was a drift of skills away from the industry. The school is a vital sign that the industry will not roll over and die without putting up a strong fight.

The hon. Member for St. Ives called for a fighting spirit. The families who fish, work and live along the coast of Yorkshire have a message for the House about the living that they earn from the North sea. They not only want the Minister to do his best for them—they know that from this Minister, they do get the best, because of what he has done for their industry—but they want a realistic approach that delivers for future generations. That is how they want me to express their views to the House today. After today's debate, we want to see some punches thrown by our fisheries Minister on behalf of the United Kingdom fishery—although we do not expect him to emulate the manner of the Deputy Prime Minister when he visited a certain north Wales town. We want to hear about a real fight—but not necessarily with shouting—for a sustainable future for our communities.

I have three questions for the Minister, which I hope he will be able to deal with in his closing remarks. First, diversification into the prawn fishery has been extremely important for boats that go out of Whitby, and we discussed earlier the important issue of by-catches. Will the Minister consider making representations or giving some confirmation for fishermen who have diversified about the dispensation for the by-catch? Will there be an opportunity to consider making even more effort with the prawn fishery?

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