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16 Jan 2003 : Column 866—continued

Mr. Morley: The work is still under way, but various agencies and other bodies are provided with funds to help communities affected by restructuring, and the fishing industry has as much as a claim to support as, say, a large factory that has had to close. Funds are already available to deal with such eventualities; it is a question of the best support that can be given to the industry.

Lawrie Quinn: There is a history of such funds' not reaching communities at the quayside. That is regrettable, and offensive to those affected by restructuring. Will the Minister try hard to persuade his colleagues in other Departments that fishing communities must be targeted?

Mr. Morley: I appreciate that necessity. In the last round of English decommissioning, funds to help fishing communities were made available through what was then the Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions. Some of my hon. Friends felt at the time that the funds were spread too thinly and were not aimed at the appropriate targets as effectively as they should have been, but I assure my hon. Friend of my determination that that will not happen this time. I will discuss the application of the funds with the regional development agencies: I have already given them written warning that I shall want to do so.

Mrs. Humble: When he looks at the economic packages, will the Minister consider giving financial support to keep the industry alive, rather than just providing money enabling fishermen to decommission their vessels and get out of the industry? Fishermen are suffering cuts now so that they will be in a position to fish when—hopefully—stocks recover in the future.

Mr. Morley: I understand my hon. Friend's point, but we cannot ignore such issues as state aid rules. However, we are trying to take all these points into account in putting the package together.

Mr. Salmond: There is plenty of scope in existing regulation and, for that matter, in the new Commission guidelines. But, as the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) pointed out, we want an aid package that sustains the industry. If the predominant part of the package is another decommissioning scheme it will be good news for the clearing banks, but few other people will benefit, and communities that depend on the fishing industry will suffer. There must be new money. Will there be new money from the Treasury, or will it be a case of reshuffling money that is already there?

Mr. Morley: I repeat that money is made available for circumstances such as these. It can be directed to communities and industries that need it. I appreciate the need for ongoing support, but whatever happens

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decommissioning will be an element, because when people simply are not viable and want a way out it is one of the answers. We cannot escape the issue of state aid, which makes provision of the kind of support at which some Members are hinting very difficult.

Andrew George: The Minister rightly says that decommissioning money can be provided, and that money is already available to help communities adjust to economic problems. What discussions has he had with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who told my hon.—and beknighted—Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Sir Archy Kirkwood)—[Hon. Members: XBenighted?"]—whom she told at Scottish Question Time that she was having discussions with the Treasury and considering additional packages? Is the Minister involved in those discussions?

Mr. Morley: I have discussed the matter with my right hon. Friend. As I have said, a range of issues are being considered. We are thinking about what we can offer, and how we can offer it. I cannot give details now because the work has not been completed, but an announcement will be made as soon as possible.

Mr. Peter Duncan: Will the Minister confirm that the purpose of these schemes is to ensure that the industry is viable when stocks recover?

The Minister mentioned the Secretary of State for Scotland. I think Scotland will have observed that its representative at Westminster is not present today, and that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is not present either. Those two absences from such a crucial debate are very significant.

Mr. Morley: I think the hon. Gentleman will find that a range of important issues affecting a range of people in the industry must be addressed by a very busy Department. I do not think that that was a very fair comment.

I can only say that, while I appreciate all the points that are being made, it should be recognised that existing funds are being allocated for exactly these circumstances.

Sir Archy Kirkwood: The Minister's position is clear, and obviously work is being done to try and quantify the package, but there is great uncertainty in the fishing communities. Is it safe to assume that when the Prime Minister meets the industry later this month that work will have been completed, and the money will then be provided?

Mr. Morley: As the hon. Gentleman will know, a number of Departments are outside my control—not least the Scottish Parliament, which is of course an autonomous body. They are doing their own work. The impact of the cuts does of course fall heavily on Scotland, and we should not pretend otherwise, but other Departments are involved and must be consulted. I can say, however, that I think the Prime Minister would expect the package to be ready by the time he meets the industry.

Mr. Savidge: I am pleased that we are talking about communities as well as decommissioning. In the past,

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some decommissioning schemes have seemed quite properly to consider the concerns of owners, but without considering the problems of employees and ex-employees sufficiently.

Mr. Morley: That is, unfortunately, in the nature of the structure of the available packages, but we must look at employment prospects and also at the potential opportunities. It might be possible to retrain people and to support those who might like to use their skills in, for instance, the marine sector.

Mr. Steen: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Morley: I will, for the last time. I sense that Members want to continue this interchange, but I want to finish my speech.

Mr. Steen: I merely wanted to say that the Minister has done terribly well for one or two minutes, and I do not propose to intervene further.

Mr. Morley: I appreciate that.

I think I have dealt with the main parts of the aid package.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Morley: I think I had better conclude.

Above all, our guide in this problem is the key principle that fisheries management must be sustainable. That principle guided us when we put in place better management tools. Those tools are not everything that we could have wanted in the circumstances, and we will continue to argue for changes in the light of the representations that the industry has made to us. I emphasise that we have not achieved a final shape in the process of putting in place recovery measures, and that the process is not at an end.

We recognise the impact of the proposals on the white fish sector, but the industry has many successful sectors. I believe that the industry has a good future, to which the Government are committed. This is the start of the process, not the end. We wish all sectors of the industry to be involved in the recovery programmes and to develop better measures for a profitable and sustainable future. I believe that we can achieve such a future, even though there is no doubt that there will be short-term pain in order to achieve the longer-term gain.

3.19 pm

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): I beg to move, in line 14, at the end, to add the words:

Many of our kingdom's fishermen face ruin. Fishing communities face devastation. That is the cruel light in which we must debate these matters in the House today.

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I have acknowledged before, and I do so again today, that there are hon. Members of all parties who are knowledgeable and concerned about fishing. The Minister is among them: he has a certain unlikely and curious charm, and that was evident in his speech. He was generous in dealing with interventions, and I hope that we can have a reasoned and civilised debate.

We last debated this matter before Christmas. That debate was held in a good spirit, but we did not know the extent to which the EU would punish our fishermen and their families. There can be few in the Chamber who know more about this subject than the Minister, and we sent him to defend our national interest, protect vulnerable communities and contribute to the development of an effective policy to ensure adequate fish stocks into the future.

Those were the vital tests that we set the Minister, more in hope than expectation. He failed those tests. He says that the outcome of the discussions is not a humiliation for the British Government, that the deal represents the best balance that could be achieved, and that the Government have attained all the objectives that they set. However, he simultaneously tells the House that the deal represents unfinished business, that it is a crude settlement and only the beginning of the process. He implies that there are more cuts to come. He says that the settlement is not the end of conservation, but just the beginning.

The Minister's failures will not be paid for principally by him, but by the thousands of fishermen and their communities—perhaps up to 50,000 people in total, if one takes the wider communities involved into account—who will suffer and pay with their livelihoods.

Fishermen and their representatives regard the December deal as so disappointing and damaging for three principal reasons. First, despite their economic consequences, the measures will not deliver stock recovery in the North sea. Secondly, the day-at-sea restrictions that will apply from February will push many vessels beyond economic viability but will not bring effective conservation. Thirdly, as the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Sir Archy Kirkwood) pointed out, the diversification of effort into derogated areas and small-mesh fisheries is an inevitable consequence of the scheme. A direct result will be that fishermen will struggle to fish in fewer and fewer areas, putting additional conservation pressures on those areas and on their stocks of fish.

What will be the effects on the communities involved? They are still waiting to hear the details of the financial support that they will need to avoid ruin. The hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) was right to say that this deal is not about decommissioning money but about giving those communities some interim payment or ongoing support to enable them to maintain their businesses until such time as fish stocks recover and can be harvested.

I make no projection about that, and no notional judgment about the figures but simply ask whether that money will be available. Will those communities be supported? If not, and if the Minister is right that the recovery programme will be successful—although I do not buy that argument—those stocks will be harvested

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by vessels of other nations. It is as simple as that. Britain will no longer have a fishing industry able to take advantage of them.

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