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Fishing (Essex)

10. Mr. David Amess (Southend, West): What recent representations she has received on the impact of the total allowable catch on fishing communities in Essex. [4677]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): I regularly receive representations on all fishing issues from all over the country.

Mr. Amess: Is the Minister aware that Leigh-on-Sea fishermen feel that if the cuts continue it will be uneconomic to go to sea and they would like levels to be underpinned? If he cannot achieve that, will he consider supporting our bid for European funding for a local hatchery, which would help to conserve stocks and offer alternative job opportunities?

Mr. Morley: I realise that there is pressure on inshore fishermen when there are stock reductions because of pressure on quota, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is underpinning on, for example, sole, which will benefit his local inshore fishermen. I understand that my officials have met his constituents, who are proposing schemes under this budget, and that they will give advice and pursue the matter.

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Rural Recovery (Cumbria)

12.30 pm

Mr. Speaker: We now come to written question No. 8.


The Secretary of State was asked—

Rural Recovery (Cumbria)

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when Lord Haskins will make his report on rural recovery in Cumbria; and if she will make a statement.[9471]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): First, let me apologise. I hope not to take up too much of the House's time, but, in view of the many strictures about announcements being made outside the House rather than inside, I thought it right to try to make it known to the House that the Government welcome the report by Lord Haskins that was published this morning. We are grateful to Lord Haskins for his work in consulting stakeholders in Cumbria and other areas affected by the foot and mouth disease outbreak, and for producing a lucid and thoughtful report. We shall respond to all his recommendations shortly.

As the House may know, Lord Haskins' main recommendation stated that affected small businesses needed help to see them through the winter. I am pleased to be able to announce an extension of the business recovery fund in the worst-affected regions. Some £14 million of central Government funding has been made available, plus £10 million from reprioritisation within the regional development agencies' budgets. That will provide an extra £24 million for rural recovery through grants to individual businesses and other measures such as tourism promotion. We shall consider later in the year whether it is possible to provide more.

I apologise to the Opposition for not having been able to give them more notice of this announcement; but, as I have said, I thought it right to share the information with the House at the earliest opportunity.

Mr. Martlew: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for taking the question. I also thank the Secretary of State for requesting it.

I am impressed by the report, which reaches conclusions that I consider essential in relation to Cumbria. We have had a major problem; the county's economy has gone into recession, although it will recover well. Lord Haskins makes 12 recommendations for the short term. The fifth is that £40 million should be made available for business recovery in the areas concerned, so I am rather disappointed that my right hon. Friend has announced only £24 million. Will she discuss with the Treasury whether the extra money is available? Without extra money, and extra money soon, good businesses in Cumbria and throughout the country that have been affected by foot and mouth will go bankrupt.

Margaret Beckett: I entirely accept what my hon. Friend says about the problems experienced in Cumbria,

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which he and many other Members representing the county have frequently drawn to the House's attention. I also accept that he is a little disappointed that I cannot provide at once the full sum identified by Lord Haskins—although I think that he will find that Lord Haskins, along with others, will feel that this is very much a step in the right direction.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey): This is a confused and innovative way of making an announcement to the House. I understand that no copies of the Haskins report are available in the Vote Office, although copies were made available to the media before DEFRA questions. I have managed to obtain a copy by dint of ingenuity, but it is not possible to ask questions and read at the same time. This is not an easy situation for any Member. If the Haskins report is as important as the Government have made out, surely it merited a full and proper statement to the House rather than the strange procedure that is taking place. We will, of course, study the report with great care.

Can the right hon. Lady say how much of the new money that she has announced is, in fact, new money? Does she accept that the Cumbria foot and mouth taskforce estimated that at least £150 million of help was needed in the county? Lord Haskins recommends considerably less, and I understand that she wants to cut the amount further. Will she comment on that?

Will the right hon. Lady act on the recommendation that an extra £40 million should be put into the business recovery fund, half of which is due to Cumbria? Can that amount be provided swiftly? Many businesses in Cumbria simply will not survive the winter without the extra help that is needed so urgently. When will she further discuss the matter and the recommendations with her right hon. Friends in the Treasury, and when will she report? I note that she says that she will report shortly, but rural Britain and Cumbria in particular would like a clear date.

Farmers in Cumbria and elsewhere depend on livestock markets. Will the right hon. Lady reaffirm her support for livestock markets, despite the report's recommendation that they need to be better regulated? Are not the main opponents of livestock markets the big food processing companies such as Northern Foods, which is, of course, run by Lord Haskins?

Margaret Beckett: I welcome all members of the Opposition Front-Bench team to their new responsibilities, which I should have done previously. I apologise to them.

I fear that the hon. Gentleman is mistaken in thinking that this procedure is innovative—it has been adopted before. I also say to him and the House that, had there been a question on the Order Paper to which I could have attached the announcement, I would certainly have done so. [Interruption.] The shadow Leader of the House groans, but if he reads the Order Paper he will find that even his ingenuity would have been taxed by working the announcement into any of the questions that were before us.

I simply say to the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) that this is not a Government report; it is Lord Haskins' report to the Government. It is available in the Library, and if it is not yet available in the Vote Office I regret that.

The hon. Gentleman asked a number of questions. It is of course true that other taskforces and bodies have made a range of recommendations, all of which run to hundreds

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of millions of pounds. My understanding is that one of Lord Haskins' observations is that those making such recommendations should be more realistic.

When I say shortly, I mean shortly. I shall pursue a discussion on all the various recommendations that are made. The recommendation on livestock markets is one that we shall examine when we consider the report. Of course I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman as he seeks to assimilate what he has been asked to comment on while devising his questions: Labour Members had years of practice at that.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): I very much welcome the report, which has come not a moment too soon. I am aware that it concentrates on Cumbria, but many other parts of the—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the hon. Gentleman put his question.

Mr. Drew: The report relates to other parts of the country, even though Cumbria was apparently the worst affected. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that some dates by which businesses must appeal for help can be extended, given that certain ones have passed? Will she also consider ways in which her ministerial team can go out and talk to farmers about how to move towards a more sustainable food policy?

Margaret Beckett: On my hon. Friend's last point, not only my team but the policy commission are engaged in that debate. I understand his points about businesses. One aspect that has led us to respond so speedily to the publication of the report is an understanding of the number of businesses that are in the queue, so to speak, and that have been affected by the existing position.

I did not deal with the point made by the hon. Member for East Surrey about whether the money is new. It is all money that will be newly available to people in such circumstances. I find the pretence that money that is available for the purposes for which it is to be used is somehow not available to be artificial and ridiculous.

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