The Opposition welcome the lead that successive Governments and devolved Administrations have provided in extending the use of longer-term catch quotas and

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supporting the stronger involvement of fishing communities in the management of quotas and fisheries waters. However, we believe that a stronger impetus is required to deal with the root cause of the scandal of discarded fish and by-catch: the delay in the introduction of an EU-wide ecosystem approach to fisheries management. The Commission has established that 88% of EU fisheries stocks are being fished beyond sustainable levels, and that 30% are near to collapse. The introduction of ecosystem management in this cycle of CFP reform is obligatory under the EU’s integrated maritime policy and is strongly linked to the marine strategy framework directive’s overarching commitment to the achievement of good environmental status. It is strongly supported by the Commission’s green paper on CFP reform, and has proven successful elsewhere in restoring fishing stocks in large-scale fisheries in California, the north-east of the United States and parts of Australia.

The introduction of ecosystem management would balance environmental, social and economic concerns and involve a range of policy changes, including the introduction of financial incentives to reduce the pressure on stocks of species nearing over-exploitation; further action on ocean acidification, which particularly threatens shellfish stocks; the regional management of fisheries waters; fishing area closures; the incentivisation of new technology to monitor what is being taken from the sea and landed on fishing boats; and the use of more selective nets and fishing gear to reduce levels of by-catch of younger fish and other species. The multiple small trawl nets now used to catch prawns in the North Sea, for instance, have led to a 50% reduction in discarded fish.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North pointed out, in Norway the use of minimum catch sizes has proven successful in reducing levels of discards and fishing of undersized or juvenile fish. However, OCEAN2012 has recommended an alternative approach: the introduction of a minimum marketing size that would still constitute a strong disincentive for the sale of juvenile fish. It also raises the significance of applying new bans on discards and by-catch to EU fishing fleets operating in third countries or distant-water fisheries.

Key to the success of such a system of fisheries management would be the greater involvement of the fishing industry in devising such schemes at a regional level and reporting on their effectiveness and compliance, together with improved monitoring of ports. As well as a prohibition on discards at EU level, however, over-fishing must be addressed. Simply permitting all caught fish to be landed and sold without proper enforcement may lead to the catching of undersized fish, with the further depletion of fish species that could thereby emerge. In the past, however, with cod, fisheries closures have led to displacement of fishing to adjacent areas, so any successful package of fisheries closures this time would require the active involvement of the fishing industry. There is support across many member states for the principle of introducing rights-based management of fisheries as a means of tackling overcapacity, although there is understandable hesitation about introducing a scheme of individually transferable quota rights that could see large-scale companies exert excessive dominance over the market.

Dr Whiteford: Does the shadow spokesperson share my concern that the privatisation of our seas through individual transferable quotas would inevitably over

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time lead to concentration and consolidation in the industry in such a way as to undermine these efforts in the longer term and hugely damage fishing communities?

Mr Bain: There is a real danger of that occurring, which is why I would refer the hon. Lady to the speech given by Commissioner Damanaki in Berlin in March. She reflected on and took on board the concerns that the hon. Lady has expressed and we wait to see how they will be phased into the reform proposals that are to be discussed in July.

The EU needs a common fisheries policy and it requires one that meets that challenges that the present policy has failed so abjectly to address. With a strong motion passed by this House today, concerted action by the European Commission and member state Governments, we can turn intentions into deeds worthy of the cause raised in the Fish Fight campaign. Let us work for an ecosystem approach to fisheries, let us introduce a regionalised structure to the common fisheries policy, let us establish long-term catch quotas, and let us provide incentives for new nets and new technologies. By those means, we will tackle the root causes and end the scandal of discarded fish that has so appalled so many people in this country.

5.42 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): I thank the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain), who speaks for the Opposition, for continuing the bipartisan approach on these matters. The relationship is challenging but it is vital that we continue what happened under the last Government and recognise that we are dealing with an industry in crisis and a marine environment that desperately needs the smack of firm decision making. It is great to have his support.

I welcome the debate and I believe that it firmly places the Backbench Business Committee in touch with issues that are of concern to our constituents. I welcome the contributions and hope to respond to many of the points later. I particularly pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) for the way in which he introduced the debate and I hope that we can all support the motion tonight.

The debate comes at a crucial time. The conscience of the nation has been moved by the sight of perfectly edible, quality fish being thrown into the sea, dead. That is an abomination in a hungry world, I am sure everyone agrees. That is the power of television. Most of us knew that it was happening, but few of us had seen it—it was happening over the horizon—but it has now been brought into people’s homes and they are outraged. What if half the lambs we slaughter in this country had been dumped on the side of the road? There would have been riots on the street. Now people know what is happening and that is a tribute to those who brought the matter of discards to the public consciousness.

The debate also comes at a crucial time because there is a window of opportunity to reform the common fisheries policy. I have been a Minister for only a year, but my assessment of the art of government is that one

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needs to know the difference between what one wants to change but cannot and what one wants to change and can, and to focus one’s energies on the latter. If I focused my energies on the former I might satisfy some of the hon. Gentlemen who have contributed today, but I would not deal with the problem that faces our marine environment, our fishermen and the coastal communities they support.

I might not be a rabid Eurosceptic, but I am no friend of the common fisheries policy. However, it is not the fact that it is common that is the problem—it is the policy that is wrong. As we have heard—the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) made this point very well—fish do not respect lines on maps. Many of the stocks that our fishermen exploit spend part of their lives in other countries’ waters. Our fishermen have always fished in other countries’ waters in the same way as other countries’ fishermen had historic rights to fish in our waters before our accession to the European Economic Community in 1972. I could spend a lot of time discussing that, but I was 11 when it happened and I prefer to deal with the here and now—with what I can do and what we can achieve.

A point that has been made by several hon. Members on both sides of the House is that we have to look at this issue in terms of an ecosystem approach. Whether we were in the EU or not and whether we were in the CFP or not, we would need a shared legal framework to manage our fish stocks. Our focus should be on getting the common framework right, which means getting rid of unnecessary and over-detailed regulation and managing stocks on a regional or sea-basin basis. It means giving fishermen clear entitlements to fish stocks and giving them a stake in the long-term health of those stocks.

Mr MacNeil: Will the Minister give way?

Richard Benyon: I am quite pressed for time and the hon. Gentleman has had quite a lot of air time, but if there is time later I am sure that the House would be delighted to hear him make his point again.

Getting the common framework right means integrating fisheries management with other marine environmental policies and applying the same principles of the sustainable use of marine resources both within and outside EU waters. Of course, it also means making sure that we have a reformed CFP that does all it can to eradicate discards. I welcome the fact that the EU Fisheries Commissioner sees this issue as a top priority, as I think she does. I make that point to my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris). At the meeting I attended on 1 March, the commissioner said that her predecessor had had a similar meeting five years previously at which everyone around the table had said how outraged they were with the process and nothing happened. I am not prepared to allow my successor to be here saying that something needs to be done in five years’ time. Something does need to be done and I am committed to working with the Commission and other member states to achieve discard-free fisheries.

Let me make a few things clear. The outrage that people feel about discards is shared by the Government and Members on both sides of the House. Our actions are not prompted by the Fish Fight campaign, but they are enhanced by it and we welcome it wholeheartedly. We are tackling this issue through the reform of the

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CFP, but we are not waiting for that reform. As has been said, important progress has been made with catch quotas, and the trials that were instigated by the previous Government have been extended by us. The hostility of fishermen to having cameras on their boats has been largely negated and they are now queuing up to get into these schemes. Hostility from other member states for that method of fishing management has largely disappeared and we have signed a declaration with the Governments of France, Germany and Denmark to see that that is introduced. Project 50% has also brought huge benefits in reducing discards.

I want to see a high-level objective of working towards discard-free fisheries in the new CFP with member states accountable and responsible for working to achieve that, managing what is caught rather than what is landed. There is a lot of focus on imposing a ban on fishermen discarding at sea. I can support a ban and I will be pushing for one—it is semantics whether we talk about an end to discards or a ban—but only if it is backed by genuinely effective, enforceable and affordable measures that encourage fishermen to be more selective about what they catch. That is crucial, and that point has been made by many hon. Members today. The last thing we want is to transfer a waste problem at sea so that it becomes a waste issue on land. How horrendous it would be to bury fish because there was no market for them, or simply to ban the symptom of the problem, rather than the cause, criminalising fishermen in the process. We must remember that a ban would be wrong for some species that can be returned to the sea alive. I pay tribute to the Members who tabled the motion for being willing to change it, and I make the point that sharks, skate and rays, many of which are critically endangered in EU waters, can often survive after being caught, as can many species of shellfish.

As well as providing fishermen with mechanisms to reduce discards we are tackling the problem in the UK through our Fishing for the Markets project, and several Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), spoke about the 54% of discards for which there is no market. The project seeks to find markets, which is extremely important.

In the few minutes remaining, I shall turn to some of the points that have been made this afternoon. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park made a very good speech in introducing the debate, and he mentioned the importance of a regionalised approach, which is absolutely key. In discussing ecosystems, we are talking about a sea basin approach—in some cases it is more local—in which we can manage fish. People talk about an abundance of fish at certain times of the year, but they may not be abundant if there is not co-ordinated action, which is why an ecosystem-based approach is important.

The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) made a familiar speech, and the points that he made were eloquently countered by the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) and by my hon. Friends. I pay particular tribute, as I did this morning, to my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), who made a courageous and powerful speech. I give her this absolute, determined pledge. I want the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 to be a beacon of how to do marine conservation. I want people around the world to come and see how we do things in this

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country. I am grateful for the commitment that fishers, all users of the marine environment and everyone who cares about it have shown in operating through that bottom-up approach.

I am not saying that everyone is going to be happy, but I will work night and day to make sure that what we achieve recognises the importance of socio-economic activities—there could be unintended consequences if we do not do so—and the fact that if fishing is displaced to other areas it could be damaging. I am therefore determined to make this work. I want to make absolutely certain that we do not lose our derogation, and my understanding from the Commission is that that will not happen.

I place huge weight on our under-10 metre consultation. I am passionate about the fact that the inshore fleet does a great deal for coastal communities and social life in coastal Britain, and I want it to have a sustainable future. Sustainability is as important for fish stocks as it is for jobs onshore, and I will work hard to make sure that our proposals are workable.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex), who made a thoughtful contribution. I shall grasp his thread of optimism, as I like what he said about multi-annual plans. I want to be the last Minister who has to go through that ridiculous charade every December in which we sit through the night negotiating. I am delighted that we achieved a relatively good result last December and that the Government, working with the devolved Governments, argued on the basis of sustainability on every occasion. However, it is an absurd system. Multi-annual plans take power away from politicians, which is why some countries do not want to lose the present system—they like the patronage it gives them. I want to work on multi-annual plans and end the horse trading that we have to go through.

I am conscious of time, so I shall pay tribute to the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer), whom I refer to the WWF/Industry Alliance, which builds on the Fish Fight campaign by taking the fight to my fellow Ministers in Europe, knocking on their door and saying that it wants change.

The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) also made a good speech. I refer him to the work of the Princes international sustainability fund, which currently values the north Atlantic tuna fishery at $70 million. If it was fished sustainably, it would be valued at $310 million, a massive increase. It is only by understanding that kind of difference in valuing our fish, rather than valuing them dead as we do at the moment, and valuing the potential social and economic impact that we will bring about that huge benefit. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Andrew George) for mentioning the Trevose box. He is right to point out that fishermen do so much to address sustainability themselves.

I want to give my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park a few minutes to respond to the debate and so will conclude my remarks. The Government share the priorities expressed by the motion. I can reassure the House that those will remain at the heart of our thinking as we press strongly for a reformed CFP and continue to address discarding in the UK fleet. I am fully behind the intentions of the motion, although I am not sure that it reflects the full scope of the

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Government’s ambitions for CFP reform. We have an intensive diplomatic effort ahead to negotiate the reform we need, and we must get the detailed measures right, including those on discards. We can do that only by working with our fishing industry to develop effective measures. I welcome the tabling of the motion and the spotlight that the Fish Fight campaign has shone on the current CFP’s failings at a time when we have a once-in-a-decade opportunity to overcome them.

5.56 pm

Zac Goldsmith: I start by again thanking the Backbench Business Committee for making this debate possible. We have heard some superb contributions from Members across the House, and every speech added something unique, which was very important. I also want to thank the shadow Minister and the Minister for their supportive comments and for staying throughout the entire debate, taking notes furiously and responding to the various points that were made. That is not always the case in such debates, so I appreciate it.

I wish to offer particular thanks to the Fish Fight campaign, which was mentioned again and again throughout the debate. There is a direct link between its campaign outside Parliament and this motion in Parliament. It is a perfect example of hundreds of thousands of people mobilising their representatives in Parliament and moving an issue that not many people find interesting to the top of the political agenda, for now at least. I pay tribute to those campaigners, who have done a superb job. The debate probably would not be happening, and certainly not with such a motion, without their involvement.

The motion is ambitious. I will not repeat all the arguments used at the beginning of the debate because I will run out of time, and kill the motion myself in doing so. If it is passed with the support of the House, which I think it will be, we will see an absolute commitment to ending discards and a new regulatory regime that recognises the difference between small, traditional fishermen and their industrial competitors. Crucially, we will see the beginning of a process in which we will regain control over those crucial 12 sovereign miles. In my view, nothing is possible without that. It is a central part of the motion. I once again thank the House and the Backbench Business Committee.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Does the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) wish to move her amendments? No? We shall therefore decide on the motion before the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House welcomes the Fish Fight campaign; and calls on the Government to vote against proposed reforms of the EU Common Fisheries Policy unless they implement an ecosystems-based approach to fisheries management, end discards in relation to all fish and shellfish with derogation only for species proven to have a high survival rate on discarding, require that all fish and shellfish are harvested at sustainable levels by 2015, ensure the involvement of fishers and other stakeholders in decision-making processes and enable the UK to introduce higher standards of management and conservation in respect of all vessels fishing within its territorial waters, taking into particular account vessel size and environmental impact.

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Business Support (Lancaster and Fleetwood)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr Newmark.)

5.58 pm

Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to talk about my constituency. It is always a pleasure and an opportunity to give Ministers more information about the needs of the area, as I am sure it is a pleasure for them to hear it. I want to focus on the experiences and needs of businesses there, and say a little about the economic development that is also needed.

By way of background, Fleetwood is an old fishing port that is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year; I am almost repeating what I said in the previous debate. The fishing fleet has seriously declined over the past few decades, to the point that, although a few dozen fishing boats are registered at Fleetwood, only three boats actually now fish from the site. Until recently, Stena Lines ran a ferry route from Fleetwood to Larne in Northern Ireland; it withdrew the route back in December.

Fish processing is the main industry, and the internationally famous Fisherman’s Friend is also a large employer. Transport links are poor, however. According to the Association of Train Operators, Fleetwood is part of one of the largest urban areas in the country without a direct rail link, something that I raised—

6 pm

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—( Mr Newmark .)

Eric Ollerenshaw: I raised the issue of a direct rail link in a Westminster Hall debate a couple of weeks ago, and the only other transport link is a single-lane road, the A585, from the motorway. The overriding story, as everyone in Fleetwood will say, is that the town has suffered significantly in recent years, largely as the use of the port has declined.

Lancaster, at the other extreme of the constituency, is also an old port city, and it has a great heritage. Its medieval castle includes the only example left in England of anything that was built by John of Gaunt, and its tourist potential is strong. Lancaster university is ranked in the top 10 by The Times, it has a large campus and its research is driving many business developments in the area. What Lancaster lacks is a large modern department store, meaning that its retail business pales in comparison with places such as Preston, which is increasingly taking business away. I hope that a proposed development, known as Centros, will resolve that in the next few years, so long as English Heritage can overcome some points of detail which have held up the project.

We also have a large rural area, with small hill farms and various other businesses established around the city boundaries, but again there is a problem with a lack of rural broadband, particularly in the hills surrounding Lancaster, so the question is: how do we help business and the private sector in Lancaster and Fleetwood to grow?

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Much of what is needed is the same as what businesses need all over the country, and I will start with the generic, throw in some local examples and then move on to some more constituency concerns. The outcome of Project Merlin, to get the banks to lend more—an extra £11 billion this year compared with 2010—is obviously welcome, but perhaps one of the biggest complaints that I still receive, from small businesses especially, is that they continue to struggle to secure finance from the banks, whether new capital or just an overdraft extension. In many cases there is simply a lack of good customer service, with bank managers and decision makers not being available.

For example, Mr lain Bailey, a small businessman based in Lancaster, says that he still struggles to engage productively with his bank when he needs to; that

“many businesses feel banks have left us all adrift”;

and that it is simply

“up to the businesses themselves to sort things out!”

My local chamber of commerce, Lancaster chamber of commerce, in its most recent members survey on finance and banking, received a number of disconcerting comments. Here are just a few examples from individual businesses in Lancaster. One said:

“Our bank is very unhelpful at the moment and have no leeway and appear to be too inflexible.”

Another business person said:

“I was refused a formal overdraft increase but allowed excess at punitive cost.”

A further business noted:

“Even though we had a business account with our bank for over 25 years they refused to even give us an answer when we applied for a loan.”

And finally, one more business explained:

“I asked to increase my overdraft to help ease cash flow but our bank forced us to reduce it by £10,000 instead!"

It is clear that in some cases the banks are still not living up to their end of the bargain, so perhaps the Minister will let me know where we are on bank lending, and whether there is any mechanism that will allow businesses, or perhaps MPs acting on their behalf, to report ongoing problems for his Department to follow up.

I welcome the end of the Northwest Regional Development Agency, and the new local enterprise partnership structure should lead to more targeted, specific and relevant assistance for places such as Lancaster and Fleetwood. One problem with the Northwest Regional Development Agency involved the fact that, for many of us in the region, the view rapidly developed that the north-west began and ended in Manchester and on Merseyside. Sadly, I will have to return to that theme later, but if I do nothing else today I hope to make it clear to the Minister that that is definitely not the case.

I also think that the new local enterprise partnership—LEP—structures can lead to more direct input from local businesses, and that can only be good for ensuring that schemes are of real practical value. In Lancashire we have taken slightly longer than some other places to get our LEP agreed, but I thank the Minister’s Department for its help in finally enabling us to bring the various parts of Lancashire together. I put on record my personal thanks to the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) for his efforts in trying to ensure that Lancashire finally got a Lancashire-wide LEP.

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However, in the interim period local businesses are very uncertain about how the new regime will work. The Lancaster chamber of commerce—and it is not alone—says that it needs more clarification on what support there will be, who will deliver it, and how to access it. Once Business Link regional services close, people wonder what vehicle will be used to keep businesses informed of what support is available. They need to know more about the mechanisms that will be available to support and encourage new businesses, to assist potential high-growth businesses and to encourage business development in areas of deprivation, and about how the interrelations between the various councils, regenerations and Government bodies is to develop. There is still work to be done, especially as our LEP has only just started to be set up. I urge the Minister to ensure that there is as much communication as possible with local businesses, and particularly local chambers of commerce, over the next few months so that the various communities can begin to plan properly for the future.

According to the Library, 42.2% of the population of Lancaster and Fleetwood is employed in the public sector—the 37th highest proportion in the UK. As cuts are made to public spending, the Government’s agenda for growth in the private sector will be disproportionately important in constituencies such as mine, and I want to ensure that we get our fair share of resources and that all that can be done to encourage private sector growth in my area is done.

The regional growth fund is a big opportunity for businesses, an opportunity for individual companies, and a help in regenerating the whole area. In the north-west we have welcomed the Government’s recognition of the distinction between the south-east and the east and the rest of the country, and the fact that the regional growth fund’s priority is our kind of area. The first round of successful regional growth fund bids lists an impressive number of jobs that the supported first round schemes will help to create or maintain in the wider north-west.

However, my concern about the first round process is that a lot of the criteria are determined by European subsidy rules, which in effect means that support for large companies can be offered only to particularly low-employment or deprived parts of the country. Assisted areas in the north-west include Liverpool, St Helens and parts of Manchester. The other parts of the north-west are missing. For example, a major manufacturer based in Lancaster that employs 150 people wanted to expand, and was looking into the possibility of bidding for regional growth fund money to do so. It was determined that it could provide 50% more jobs through its expansion. However, its turnover was above the threshold for assistance outside the special assisted areas, and it was effectively hamstrung in terms of accessing regional growth fund money. I remind the Minister that this is about the possibility of new jobs.

Those rules have thus resulted in most of the resources of the first round regional growth fund bids going to big city areas such as Manchester and Liverpool—precisely the situation that I had hoped the break up of the RDAs was going to help to avoid. We accept that this will help my constituents, many of whom either already commute to Manchester each day or would be prepared to do so. However, I hope that phase 2 of the bidding process will include more support for north-west companies

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outside Manchester and Liverpool—companies that can show that they can provide the extra jobs and growth that I understood were this Government’s priority.

Perhaps that would be more likely to happen if more bids were accepted from small and medium-sized enterprises, but the return on investment required for a successful regional growth fund bid has in some ways limited applications from that sector. SMEs often do not have the resources to compile the data required for entering into the bidding process—at least not on their own—and so we come back to support for businesses in terms of information and guidance to help them through the bidding process.

That brings me on to the related subject of enterprise zones. I broadly welcome the Government’s creation of enterprise zones. They have the potential to bring much-needed investment into areas that need jobs and regeneration. They also have a key role to play in closing the north-south divide and rebalancing the economy, which is a major aim of the Government. Of the 11 zones that have been announced, the two in the north-west are in—you’ve guessed it—Manchester and Liverpool. Although I welcome those zones because they will drag business northwards and create hubs of industry that neighbouring areas can feed off, I am concerned that, yet again, it is the big cities of the north-west that will get the immediate benefit. I hope that more original locations will emerge when the remaining 10 enterprise zones are allocated, possibly helping areas further north than Manchester. An enterprise zone on the Fylde coast, for example, would be welcome, because it would help to provide jobs not only for my constituents in Fleetwood, but in the wider areas of Blackpool and Fylde, as well as providing new business orders for local businesses.

Transport infrastructure is also necessary for businesses to thrive. The coalition has done well in that area so far. After years of underinvestment in our transport network under Labour, in just one year there has been a lot of good news for the north-west, and for my constituents in particular. The renewal of the west coast franchise offers extra capacity for the overcrowded rail services on that route. In the longer term, High Speed 2 offers more capacity, speed and choice for journeys to London and, ultimately, Scotland. It might also open a direct link to Heathrow and the channel tunnel.

Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con): As usual, my hon. Friend is making a passionate case for his business community. He makes an important point about high-speed rail. Is he aware that evidence from other countries shows that the success of a high-speed line often depends on the degree of connectivity to the termini of those lines from areas such as his? We should do all we can to encourage businesses to make their voices heard in the current high-speed rail consultation.

Eric Ollerenshaw: My hon. Friend makes a significant point. High Speed 2 is critical to the north-west and to Yorkshire. We should talk about it as a line that will go from London to Manchester and from London to Leeds, and eventually from London to Glasgow and from London to Edinburgh. As hon. Members may know, I have said in other places that I do not see why we do not start building south from Glasgow and

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Edinburgh now, while the areas around London argue about where their terminus will be. The point is clear: High Speed 2 is vital in the long term for business in my area, and in my constituency in particular.

The other helpful development is the proposed northern hub, which will allow faster and more frequent services between the cities of the north and bring an estimated £4 billion of benefits to the region. That will be good for business and for job creation. In particular, the electrification of the line from Preston to Blackpool will be a major help to the growth of business in my area.

I am also pleased that the Department for Transport has finally agreed that the M6 to Heysham link road should go ahead. It has been on the drawing board for 50-odd years. When it is finally built, it should lead to better communication to the port of Heysham, which will help businesses and attract new businesses on both the Morecambe and Lancaster sides of the River Lune, and along the M6 corridor.

David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the new link road will create pockets of investment in my constituency and in his constituency next door?

Eric Ollerenshaw: Absolutely. I thank my hon. Friend for his support in working with the chamber of commerce, the county council and Ministers to help them see the importance of that scheme, which promises much for business.

The transport links to Fleetwood remain poor. I have raised with Ministers the fact that although there is about four and a half or five miles of railway line in Fleetwood, unfortunately there are no trains on it. There is a plan, with the support of the council, to get that development, which needs capital of about £6 million. I will come back to those figures in a minute.

My last general point is that I fully support the plans to reduce the amount of red tape that businesses have to fight through. We need economic growth, and it is only right that we should make it as easy as possible for businesses and entrepreneurs to start up companies and create the jobs that are so badly needed. That is the greatest area in which businesses have asked me for support and talked about their hopes from the coalition.

The Government’s war on red tape—the red tape challenge, I think it has been branded—is welcomed by all businesses. I know that many previous Governments have talked the talk, but I hope this Administration will finally walk the walk. I am particularly hopeful of that because I know that the Minister has that type of background and has personal experience. I am sure that he will put his full weight behind the deregulation drive.

Those are the general issues, but I also wish to mention one or two specific local examples to demonstrate the problems. The first is that of a company called Nitratec, which is based in Fleetwood and supplies trucks and trailers both new and used for the UK and export markets. It asked me to visit last year. It was having a particular problem in getting help to access export markets, particularly in some less usual export destinations. For instance, it was keen to grow into Africa and Kurdistan. As it happened, I was able to put it on to the British embassy in Iraq via a couple of contacts, and I understand that that side of things is

12 May 2011 : Column 1469

now going well. The lesson is that perhaps we could still be doing more to help companies understand where they can go to get assistance if they want to export goods or services. In that instance, it was just a fluke that I had contacts in the particular area where the company wanted to develop, but why should a business that has such potential have to rely on the chance nature of its MP’s contacts?

Increasing exports is, of course, a major policy plank for the UK. I note that only yesterday, the Foreign Secretary told the House that if we could increase the number of small and medium-sized enterprise exporters in this country from one in five to the EU average of one in four, the extra exports from Britain would more than cancel out the trade deficits that we have experienced in recent years. I hope that more can be done to help companies get on the right track.

I shall give another example. Paul Banks is a constituent of mine who has a start-up business in Lancaster called Image Alchemy. It is highly innovative, as I saw when I visited him a couple of months ago. His potential for further growth is extremely high, and Lancaster university’s environment centre has recently “adopted” him, marking his business out as worthy of support. His new prototype system was an immediate hit at a recent German trade fair and a fair at the national exhibition centre in Birmingham, and order inquiries came pouring in. To get the system to production he needs to get finance, which could mean the immediate creation of five new jobs in the community.

Mr Banks has funded the new product with his own money, but he has struggled to access local and EU funding designed to help expand small start-ups such as his. The bureaucracy that he has encountered in seeking a small five-figure sum has bogged him down with repetitive form-filling, but the rewards if his expansion can be aided are potentially huge. The key point that I wish to underline is the small sum needed to get the company launched. We need to make it easier for such businesses to find funding, especially when the sums needed are so small.

Another example is a scheme called the fish park in Fleetwood. One of the plans for the regeneration of Fleetwood was to develop a sea and shellfish processing park, providing a new unit for the already resident company AM Seafoods and various other units for some 20 SMEs. The industry is already worth some £135 million and 660 jobs to the local economy, but the enhancement and modern premises could mean the addition of 150 new jobs in a town that needs private sector growth.

A partnership between Wyre borough council, Lancashire county council and AM Seafoods is in place, and the plan is to split the costs 50:50 between the private and public sector. The public sector amount required is £6 million. The point that I am trying to make is that the sums needed in areas outside the major areas of deprivation are quite small, but the resulting employment would be quite large. In my postbag and my surgeries, virtually every fortnight I hear of a new business, whether small or large—although the businesses in my area are not huge—that has the same problem. Through innovation or expanding on existing orders, they could provide the extra jobs that the economy needs, but at the moment there seems no way for them to get assistance with that growth, and certainly not from the banks.

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I need to give the Minister time to reply. I should like him to reconsider regional stock exchanges, and I should like him to consider enterprise zones being part and parcel of every university campus, to enable universities to develop innovation. Most of all, I look for some assistance from the Government, or for them to put pressure on banks to provide that much-needed assistance, so that we get the growth we need.

6.19 pm

The Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning (Mr John Hayes): I am extremely grateful for the chance to respond to this debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw) on securing it. My last dealings with Fleetwood directly were around a decade ago, when, as shadow fisheries Minister, I visited that splendid town and stayed at the North Euston hotel, which is, of course, part of the Mount, which is perhaps the jewel in the crown—if I might put it that way—of Fleetwood.

How appropriate that we should today have this Adjournment debate following a debate on fishing, which forms such an important part of Fleetwood’s history. As I recall from my time as shadow fisheries Minister and from information I have gained somewhat later, 1,000 people are still employed in that industry, mostly in fish processing. As my hon. Friend said in his excellent speech, many more people are, I suspect, employed producing Fishermen’s Friends, which I understand are particularly popular in Japan.

John Ruskin said that the first test of a truly great man is his humility. I do not aspire to be a truly great man, but I do aspire to humility, and I should say at the outset that I could never know as much as my hon. Friend about his constituency, nor speak with the passion about it that he has demonstrated today. He comes to the House with a long and proud history in local government, and already, he has brought an energy, enthusiasm, commitment and, if I may say, an expertise to his dealings in this place as the representative of his splendid constituency.

I shall try to respond to as many of the points that my hon. Friend raised as I can, although he will appreciate that time is short. He knows how deeply the Government are committed to encouraging renewed economic growth and the new jobs and businesses that will spring from that, and I draw his attention to the work done leading up to today and the announcement on youth employment made this afternoon by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, with which I was pleased to be involved. They announced new policies for encouraging more apprenticeships, which is a subject dear to my heart, and for work placements and experience as a means of moving people from economic disengagement to engagement.

That will resonate in Fleetwood, as my hon. Friend suggests, but ensuring that we take advantage of the capital that lies, sometimes unused, among those who are currently disengaged, is a challenge for the whole country. The investment infrastructure to which he drew attention also means investing in human infrastructure. That is a central pillar of the Government’s macro-economic plans. It would be impossible to recalibrate the economy to make it more sustainable if we did not make that kind of investment, as he properly said.

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Just as the Government have been honest with the British people about the scale of the deficit and its implications, we must now accept that the struggle for growth will not be without its setbacks. For example, I was particularly saddened to hear from my hon. Friend of Stena Line’s recent decision to close its service between Fleetwood and Larne, although I understand that the service operated at a loss for some time.

Having said that, just as we accept bad news, we should celebrate good news—better tidings, if I can put it that way. Only the other day, I was heartened to read in the Blackpool Gazette, which is always on my bedside table, as one might imagine, that my hon. Friend had formally opened the delightfully named Strawberry Gardens pub in Fleetwood. I gather that that is the first pub to be opened by the new and even more inventively titled Fuzzy Duck brewery, which has been set up in his constituency. I can assure him of my best wishes for their success.

The creation of a small business such as that one illustrates a fundamentally important point, as my hon. Friend said, for small businesses are the bedrock of our economy. Businesses in Lancaster and Fleetwood are primarily small and medium-sized enterprises, and the issues they face are typical of those experienced by companies across the country over the past few years. SMEs account for more than 99% of private businesses, and about half of all jobs. I do not need to tell you that, Mr Deputy Speaker, given your background and your commitment to that sector based on personal and family experience.

As my hon. Friend suggested, I, too, have a background in business, having been a businessman in the IT industry before coming to this place. I fully appreciate his points about regulation and tax, and in particular about the need to invest in small businesses—and, for that reason, the importance of banks getting behind those businesses, to allow them to form and to grow.

What, he might ask, are we doing to help with all that? Well, we will enable better access to both debt and equity finance. We will ensure that we have a predictable tax system that rewards endeavour. We will also reduce red tape and ensure that the support that we provide SMEs is delivered in the most effective and efficient way possible. I hope to return to one or two of those points in more detail, but I want to emphasise access to finance in particular, as that was a central part of my hon. Friend’s speech. As he said, the flow of credit to viable SMEs is essential for supporting growth; and indeed, that is the core priority for this Government. We recognise the problems faced by small firms that do not have adequate security to obtain finance. That is why we have decided to continue the enterprise finance guarantee until 2015, to unlock up to £2 billion of additional lending to SMEs. The latest figures show that 18 businesses in my hon. Friend’s constituency have so far been offered and have drawn down EFG-backed loans worth over £2 million.

The EFG scheme is of course intended to complement rather than replace mainstream bank lending. This

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Government have made considerable efforts to get the banks to meet the demand for credit from viable SMEs. Under the Project Merlin agreement, the banks have committed to make available £190 billion of new credit in 2011, of which £76 billion will be for SMEs—a 15% increase on the £66 billion lent in 2010. Clearly Banks still need to make commercial decisions, and it is not for the Government to intervene in these. In view of that, I would encourage any businesses having difficulties with their bank to continue to engage with the bank to try to resolve the issue.

My hon. Friend also made the important point that we need an independent review of such matters when things do not go right; and indeed, an independent reviewer has been appointed to monitor the banks’ appeal processes. He will publish an annual report on the effectiveness of those processes. The appeal process that we have set up is sensitive to the very sound points that my hon. Friend made. He can feel absolutely assured that this Minister, in this Department, along with my hon. Friends, will ensure that small businesses get the backing that they need and deserve.

My hon. Friend also talked about business mentors and advice. It is critical that we establish a network of experienced business mentors offering practical advice to existing businesses and people who want to start a business. We are setting up a new business coaching for growth programme to enable new small businesses with high growth potential to realise that potential. We are also refocusing the Solutions for Business range of products, so that they are better focused on helping firms grow.

We are also establishing local enterprise partnerships. We expect the new LEPs to be able to provide help to small firms, both with advice and by bringing together useful partnerships that will allow the sharing of good practice across the private and public sectors. That increased coherence will help my hon. Friend’s constituency, as it will others, in the ways that he requested. As set out in the White Paper, local enterprise partnerships will play diverse roles, reflecting the differing local priorities in different areas. These will include ensuring that both planning and infrastructure investment support business needs, and working with Government to support enterprise, innovation, global trade and inward investment. He will also know that we announced 11 enterprise zones in the Budget. They will be hosted by LEPs and will bring together a wide range of tools and incentives in an unashamedly pro-growth way, giving power back to local communities and businesses.

My hon. Friend has done a service to this House in highlighting the important issues facing his constituency. They reflect those facing constituencies up and down this country. He can be assured that this is a Government who are pro-business, pro-enterprise, pro-growth, pro his constituency and pro-him.

Question put and agreed to.

6.29 pm

House adjourned.