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Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): I commence by saying a few words about Lawrie Quinn, my predecessor. Mr. Quinn was a very hard-working MP. As Hansard shows, he regularly attended these annual fisheries debates.
When my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) visited the constituency, he witnessed real anger in the fishing community. Some of the anger was directed at the Member of Parliament, but I suspect that it should have been more rightly directed at successive Governments who have failed to deliver for the fishermen of the north-east coast, and even more at the European Commission, which has failed to deliver a common fisheries policy securing, in the words of the Minister, sustainable fisheries and the marine environment. We have had 22 years of the common fisheries policy, which has not delivered those objectives. How much longer do we have to wait to
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realise that the solution to the problem is that which Conservative Front Benchers, and the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), suggested?
Fishing was a central issue during the election campaign. I am pleased to say that I had the warm support of the fishermen, not least because in one of the debates at Whitby community college before the election proper started, my predecessor said that not many people were involved in the industry any morethe implication being that it therefore did not matter. I must make it clear that every one of my constituents matters, not least the fishermen. We have a vestige of a once-great industry, but we must hold on to it. There is no point in having a cod recovery plan if, when it does recover, we have no industry to capitalise on the harvest of the seas.
My constituency includes the two fishing ports of Scarborough and Whitby. People from Scarborough rarely agree with people from Whitby, but one thing that they do agree on is that the fisheries policy promoted by this Government and, I am sad to say, the previous Government, has not worked. Last week, at Hull Crown court, 10 Whitby skippers and two Whitby trawling companies pleaded guilty to 55 charges of not properly recording fish landings. The accused represented 90 per cent. of the Whitby fleet. For three months during the late summer and autumn of 2003, only 50 per cent. of landings were recorded. They were fined £122,800. I must make it clear that there was no suggestion of fraudulent activity in relation to the Inland Revenue; in fact, tax was paid on all the fish landed and harbour dues were paid on the fish that came into Whitby harbour. In fact, DEFRA spent £21,000 on forensic accountants to try to determine whether any fraud of that kind might have been committed.
I must stress that the people involved are not wealthy men. Evidence given to the court revealed that the income of the skippers was between £8,000 and £20,000. The highest-paid skipper involved in the case earned one third of the salary of a Member of Parliamentwithout the generous pension provisions, I hasten to add. The biggest fine was levied on Arnold Locker of Locker Trawlers. Twenty-one offences involving seven trawlers resulted in Mr. Locker being fined £52,500. I am told that similar offences in French ports would have resulted in warnings being issued.
Fishermen such as Mr. Locker, who is the chairman of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, faced a terrible choice at the end of 2003: break the rules or go out of business. They faced a 65 per cent. cut, due to the recovery plan, and they had already invested in more quota and new vessels. Mr. Locker had a £1.5 million overdraft because of such investments in the future of the industry. The Whitby fishermen have also invested in the young people there. We have the best training in the country for fishermen, because the Whitby fishermen have faith in the future. There are also problems relating to days at sea and the increasing pressure on them.
I must stress that those fishermen are not dishonest men. They are decent men who have been driven to dishonesty by the common fisheries policy. We have seen 22 years of failure of that policy, in which stocks have crashed and employment has gone down. Those fishermen are the people who would be in the lifeboat if someone got into trouble in their yacht off the east coast
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and needed rescuing. They are not criminals; in many cases, they could be called heroes. The common fisheries policy is the problem, not the solution. While I cannot condone anyone breaking the law, I think that we can all understand the desperation that they would feel when faced with the loss of their business and their home, and perhaps with the family breakdown that could result from that.
What made the fishermen in Whitby even more bitter was the fact thatno disrespect to the Scotsthey knew that the Scots had been given a £50 million package to tide them over, consisting of £40 million for decommissioning and £10 million in interim aid. That worked out at £14,000 per vessel per month, or roughly £50,000 in cash to tide each skipper over. Skippers in the north-east of England got none of that money. In Northern Ireland, 16 vessels together received £900,000 to tide them over, and fishermen in Wales also got assistance. But England, for once the poor relation
Mr. Goodwill: Indeed. England got nothing. Mr. Locker sold four vessels. One went to Northern Irelandsurprise, surprise!and three went to Scotland. That enabled him to reduce his borrowing and to keep going. As I said earlier, there is no point in having a cod recovery plan if there is no industry in England left to capitalise on it.
Skippers and fishermen in Whitby feel that the science that is being used is in many cases not robust. I can understand why it is important to have figures that can be compared from year to year. However, much of the light tackle that has been used for the past 40 years to sample the stocks does not perform in the same way behind high-powered trawlers as the old tackle did. May I suggest to the Minister that we have a few years in which the two different types of tackle are used in parallel, so that we can also use modern fishing methods to sample the stocks? In that way, we would be able to pass the figures on from one year to the next.
I was going to say that the industry in the north-east had been decimated, but we know from our Roman history that decimation was what happened when a legion had not lived up to the standards of the empire and one in 10 of its soldiers were taken out. The situation in the north-east is worse than that. I have here the employment figures in UK fishing for the two years in question: 2003 and 2004. In Scotland in 2003, the figure stood at 5,276, and in 2004 it was 5,275almost the same. In England and Wales, the figure for 2003 was 6,270, and in 2004 it was 5,665, a reduction of 9.6 per cent. But in the north-east of England, the figure for 2003 was 695, and for 2004 it was 192. That represents a reduction of 72 per cent. in employment in the east coast fishery. That is worse than decimation; that is one in three people going out of the industry in one year because of the effects of the cod recovery plan.
I thank the Minister for attending a meeting in August that was facilitated by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). I presume that the "Great" in "Great Grimsby" refers more to the football team this season than to the fishing industry in that once great fishing port. During his speech, I could not help
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thinking that perhaps we should have sent him to Brussels to negotiate on our behalf, as he seemed to be talking an awful lot of sense[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"]
The meeting that the hon. Gentleman facilitated at DEFRA in August was attended by our fishing leaders, including Mr. Fred Normandale, a Scarborough fisherman, and we tried to come up with a way of facilitating some aid for the Yorkshire coast fishermen within the rules. Yorkshire Forward said that it would make £500,000 available to the industry over two years, and it was suggested that that money could be used to fund mandatory safety equipment. I understand the arguments of additionality in this context, because if something is mandatory, there is no real gain for the taxpayer in giving people money to do something that they have to do anyway. However, the industry and Yorkshire Forward thought that that would be at least one way of levering some money in to help the industry. The Minister was very helpful and listened to everything that we said at the meeting, but I am sad to say that, so far, no money has been made available.
So, what is the future for the fishing industry on the east coast? Looking back over the debates on the issue, in which my predecessor spoke every year, I see that there was never any good news. I wonder whether there will be a future for the industry. On the bright side, we have seen a renaissance in shellfishing. The port of Bridlington is now entirely a shellfish port. It has been suggested that we are fishing our way down the food chain: we have caught all the big fish and now we are going for the small stuff. The fleet in Scarborough has been switching over to shellfish, and there has been some investment in jobs on shore. Whitby scampi is also becoming famous.
There is a company in Whitby run by a gentleman called Mike Russell, the coxswain of the Whitby lifeboat, and he knows everything there is to know about lobsters. Everything that I know about them I have learned from Mr. Russell, and he has not told me half of what he knows. Whitby has developed a thriving export market to Spain, but I was interested to hear that only the good lobsters go there. A lobster casts its shell because the meat inside its body is bursting to get out. Those are the lobsters that we send to Spain. When it has cast its shell, it goes off somewhere to hide for a couple of weeks because it is particularly vulnerable at that time. When it comes out again, it is very hungry, so it goes into the first lobster pot that it sees. However, at that stage, it is not crammed full of meat; its shell is in fact quite empty. Those are the lobsters that we tend to eat in Britain. It would be uneconomic to transport those lighter lobsters to Spain anyway. When right hon. and hon. Members visit Spain, they should make sure that they try the lobster, as there is a fair chance that it has come from my constituency. If they visit my constituency, however, they should not pay over the odds for a lobster, because the chances are that it will be one of the outgrades, which, although tasty, do not have as much meat in them as those that they will find in Spain.
The brown crab is not as abundant as it once was. Whitby fishermen are developing a market in Spain for the velvet crab, however, which is much smallerit has a diameter of perhaps less than 10 cmand used to be thrown overboard or destroyed because it was predating
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on other species that fishermen wanted to catch. Before the election, there was an interesting culinary evening to which local people were invited to sample the velvet crab. I suspect that velvet crabs will not catch on in Whitby, however, because tackling one involves an awful lot of work for not too much meat.
Until a lorry arrives from Spain that can carry a full load of 25 tonnes, the problem posed by the velvet crab is storage. Currently, velvet crabs are being stored offshore in nets, which causes the problem of crabs predating on themselves. There is also the problem that if the seas are particularly rough when the lorry from Spain is scheduled to come, the fishermen cannot go out to retrieve the crabs. I am therefore pleased that Scarborough borough council and Yorkshire Forward are working together to get a quayside storage facility for velvet crabs, so that the fishermen can capitalise on something that they once thought worthless but is now becoming a useful source of income. I hope that that will go ahead in the next few months. I also hope that a local businessmen will get a franchise on that operation, because under the tendering rules it will have to go out to widespread tender. I am sure that we would all be disappointed to see that go to a large multinational company. I know that the borough council has that in mind.
On the bright side, Whitby also has a vibrant shipbuilding industry. It has a long tradition of shipbuilding, going back to the days of Captain Cook and before. The Parcol yard, which is on the banks of the River Esk, run by a Mr. Jim Morrison, is doing a good trade selling boats, mainly for the shellfish industry, to the Shetlands and Scotland. It seems to be the Scots who have the money to buy the boats. I was pleased to visit the yard shortly after the election, to see the tremendous work going on there, and to see that the tradition of shipbuilding is being carried on in Whitby, which is not the case in many of our traditional shipbuilding ports. Several people have said to me that it detracts somewhat from the traditional, picturesque view of Whitby, but Whitby can be successful only if it is a truly working port, with working fishermen and people working in the shipyard.
I invite the Minister, when he has time on his hands, which I am sure is not too often, to come to my constituency. I assure him that he will get a warm welcome. If the weather is inclement, we will take him either to the famous Magpie restaurant, where the queues snake around the block, or to Trenchers restaurant, which, many people contend, serves better fish and chips, although it is not as famous. If the weather is clement, I am sure that we can sit on the quayside and eat fish and chips out of the paper in the traditional way. He will then be able to hear first hand what the Whitby fishermen have to say, and he will experience the frustration and anger that they feel. They are proud men, who have worked for many generations in the industry, and who would like their sons and grandsons to go into that industry. Their real concern is that no industry will be left in two, three or four years if assistance is not forthcoming.
The frustrations of those fishermen are generally directed at the rules with which they must contend. I commend the work done by my hon. Friend the
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Member for North Shropshire in examining successful fishing communities such as that in the Faroe Islands. It has used long-lining and automatic baiting to catch the big fish and leave the little fish in the sea. We should also consider what Iceland did to take control of its waters and rebuild its industry. Norway, too, has a vibrant industrya couple of boats from Whitby fish in Norwegian waters and have seen how stocks are recovering there.
I am saddened that, in future, we will just see more of the samemore of the medicine that, in my view, is poisoning the patient. Surely now is the time for a different prescription, and for considering how we can take back control of our waters. I do not talk as a little Englander. I was, I am almost ashamed to say, a Member of the European Parliament for five years before entering this properas the Chief Whip told meParliament. I understand the difficulties of getting agreement in the Council. I understand how, with the presidency, the Minister's hands will be even more tied than normal. I understand the difficulties of trying to negotiate about fish with Czechs, Slovaks and Hungarians, who could not care less about the North sea or fishing in general, but who will negotiate and build coalitions with other countries, such as Spain and France, if they can get what they want on the agricultural front. It is somewhat bizarre that agriculture and fishing can be traded off against each other. I must declare an interest as a farmerI am responsible for supplying the chips to go with the fish. It is disappointing that the fishing industry often seems to be the poor relation when the Council decides the way forward, and that fishermen often get the rough end of the deal.
Fishermen who have pleaded guilty to breaking the law have no confidence in the rules that they are being asked to apply. They have no confidence that what they are being asked to do will deliver a vibrant and forward-looking industry in the future. I am sure that they do not like throwing dead fish back into the seawe have heard about 90 per cent. by-catchesas they realise that by doing so they are polluting the marine environment, not contributing to it. If we had a system whereby days at sea were controlled, and fishermen had to land everything that they caught, the industry would feel confident that what it was doing would deliver a future and the sustainable fisheries that the common fisheries policy was meant to achieve.
I commend the programme set out by my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire, and I hope that it will at least form the basis of a way forward. While I know that it has been said that negotiating an opt-out would be impossible, surely, for the sake of fishermen in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the north-east of England, we must try to build a future based on the confidence of the people who must implement the rules, not on a plan in which, in my opinion, the industry has no confidence. It is no wonder that so many fishermen, unfortunately, are ignoring the rules.
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