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4.58 pm

Mr. Alan Campbell (Tynemouth): It is pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) and my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Quinn). I make no apology for echoing some of the points that they raised.

I want to speak briefly on behalf of the fishing community in my constituency, principally in North Shields and Cullercoats. North Shields is an important fishing port in terms of the region that it serves and forms a significant part of the employment base in my constituency. An estimated 450 jobs depend on fishing in

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North Shields. That number is small when compared with some of the figures quoted by other hon. Members, but the jobs are important to us none the less.

It is stating the obvious to say that the announcement on closed areas in the North sea will prove very difficult for fishing communities, especially in the short term. Ironically, however, there will be a sense of relief in parts of North Shields. I understand that there was a proposal from some of our colleagues in Europe that areas adjacent to the north-east coast would be included in the list. I am delighted that the British delegation argued strongly against that, and that that will not now happen. That is the right decision--otherwise relatively small boats from North Shields would have been pushed further and further afield, making safety more of an issue. However, the measures proposed on closed areas will have a significant impact on fishermen the length and breadth of the east coast.

I listened with great care to comments from the Opposition Benches. I am to some extent sympathetic to and certainly acknowledge the concerns of fishermen in their hostility to the common fisheries policy. The CFP appears to have very few close friends, which is why it is in need of such radical reform next year. However, we should not take lectures from the Conservative party, which signed up to it in the first place and were in office for most of the time it has been in operation.

I understand that the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) came to my constituency at the end of last year. I say "understand" because he did not do me the courtesy of telling me that he was coming. He must have warned the fishermen, though, because they immediately put out to sea. I understand from press reports that he gave the clear impression that any future Conservative Government would pull out of the common fisheries policy. As I understand it, he has effectively repeated that statement today.

The hon. Gentleman spoke of national interest and national control, yet he complained that the shortcomings of the common fisheries policy in the past were due to states fighting for their national interests on quotas. The hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) quoted, as an authority, the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), a former fisheries Minister, and I am quite prepared to accept his words as quoted. However, the hon. Member for Banbury further said that people cannot argue for repatriating agriculture and fisheries policy without recognising that that would effectively mean withdrawal from the common agriculture policy and the common fisheries policy and that that is achievable only by withdrawal from the European Union. That is evidence that while bandwagons look like tempting vehicles in opposition, they do not make very reliable ones in government.

As a Government, we have a responsibility to the fishing community and the 450 jobs in North Shields. We also have a responsibility to the wider community, and withdrawal from the EU would put at risk 60,000 jobs in Tyne and Wear alone.

Mr. Nicholls: Why does the hon. Gentleman think that if we were to come out of the European Community all those jobs would simply disappear?

Mr. Campbell: Let me give the hon. Gentleman an example. In a month's time, Atmel will reopen the

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Siemens factory in my constituency, creating 1,000 jobs in the short term, and we hope that the figure will double over the next few months. Atmel came largely because we are a member of the European Union. My point is that we must do what we can for the fishing community but, at the same time, there must be a balance.

The fishing industry will face problems when it comes to the closed areas. The fishermen who I talk to do not hesitate to use the word "crisis". As we have heard, in some areas, the fish are simply not there for the taking. In the North sea last year, only 80 per cent. of the cod quota was actually found. If the fish stocks are simply not there, this is not an academic argument about whether we have the right to take fish. In accepting the emergency measures, we have to make sure that when they have come to an end--successfully, we hope--we have a sustainable UK fishing industry. As the House of Lords Select Committee report pointed out, there is no certainty about the ability of the marine eco-system to put right decades of damage, or the speed with which it might do so.

Like the fishermen of Scarborough and Whitby, North Shields fishermen have always had to adapt to difficult and dangerous circumstances. As one fishermen told me recently, "If we can't take cod, we take haddock." However, the extent of the quota cut and the closed areas will inevitably lead to competition for other species, thus adding to the pressure on prawn fisheries--as my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Quinn) confirmed. We need short to medium-term help while stocks recover; in the longer term, we must address the imbalance between fleet and stock capacity.

North Shields fishermen complain to me about increased compliance costs--I suspect that they have always done so. However, as the situation gets more difficult, it is harder for the boats to survive. For example, the cost of a Maritime and Coastguard Agency survey is about £70 an hour; for a fairly small boat that means an up-front cost of about £1,500. There is no longer an inspector at North Shields, so a journey has to be made to Glasgow or Hull.

Light dues, which I understand were introduced by the Conservative Government, can be between £3,000 and £4,000 a year. Some fishermen find it difficult to accept the dues; they argue that equipment already installed on their boats means that they do not need the lights. Nevertheless, they have to pay the dues.

The relatively high costs of fuel have been mentioned. No doubt it is true--as we have been told--that it is illegal to subsidise fuel. As has been pointed out, however, the French, the Italians, the Spanish and the Portuguese appear to find ways around that.

There are costs in complying with safety standards. I do not want to give the impression that fishermen do not care about safety or that they want to cut corners--of course they do not--but they want to know that, if the costs of safety compliance are high, help may be available to enable them to cope. Such costs might be as much as £10,000 or £15,000 for a fairly small boat.

There are also the costs of training grants, although my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has already reassured us on that matter.

The costs I have given may appear to be quite small individually, but added together they mean that an awful lot of fish would have to be caught before a boat could make a profit. I realise that my hon. Friend has heard these concerns before, so I underline the point made by other

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hon. Members: perhaps the Treasury should be listening--as my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) implied.

As well as helping fishermen ride out the storm and remain in the industry, we need to take a longer view. That might mean considering help for fishermen who need to or want to leave the industry. There is an imbalance between fleet and stock capacity that could well be addressed by a properly funded decommissioning scheme. There is a case for compensating boat owners, but it is just as important that we consider compensation and alternative employment opportunities for the people who work on the boats. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) referred to the review of salmon drift-net fishing in the north-east, which recommended buying out the remaining 71 licences in order to conserve salmon stocks--funding for which appears to be available.

I hope that the Treasury will realise that there is an urgent need for transitional aid, and that the structural funds of £60 million already pledged for the next few years will find their way to other regions as well as to the south-west. Fishermen are not subsidy junkies--nor am I--but, as times get harder, there is a strong case for help.

If a factory in North Shields employing 450 people was in danger of going out of business, and if that was symptomatic of a problem in a countrywide industry, I should want measures to be implemented. I should want a taskforce both to save those jobs that could be saved and to help people who no longer had a future in that industry to make a transition. I strongly support the message from my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran) about the success of the oil and gas taskforce and what could happen if there were a similar structure for fisheries. It would also give us the opportunity of bringing in players such as the regional development agencies to address issues of regeneration and employment onshore as well as at sea. As an island nation, we have made alarmingly little investment in our coastal communities, and that includes fishing.

The story is not all bad. We have some good things to say about the time that the Government have been in office. My hon. Friend the Minister has negotiated robustly for better than anticipated deals on quotas. We can point to the success of establishing the economic link between vessels and ports. We have targeted European funds at coastal areas affected by the decline in fishing and, for the first time, the whole of my constituency qualifies. However, in the current difficulties experienced by our fishermen, it is time that we stepped up our efforts.

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