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Mr. Blizzard: I certainly agree. My fishermen say that if there are tie-ups and closure periods without compensation, the industry will simply be unable to manage and will be brought to its knees. If that happens, we fear for the future.
The Lowestoft plaice fishermen voluntarily use nets with a larger mesh, which is a key point for CFP reform. Why do we continue to allow smaller mesh sizes? How can fish recover if young fish are still being caught? It is madness not to address that crucial point. I want to emphasise that we must not penalise the plaice fishermen, whatever we agree we need to do for cod. I also have long-line fishermen in my constituency. Long-lining is an environmentally friendly and sustainable fishing method, although my fishermen cannot find any cod at the moment. They fear that stocks have already collapsed in the southern part of the North sea. They, too, are now at one with scientists. Last week, they came to see me and said that the "scientists were horrifically right" all along. Now they are looking for radical action to enable the cod that they fish to recover.
We hope that a reformed common fisheries policy will deliver more fish. However, what about the industry? Some people in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs say that they are concerned only with the fish, not the industry. If so, which Department sponsors the fishing industry? For my money, DEFRA is the only possibility.
We need to do more. We know that £11 million of the £22.5 million which my hon. Friend the Minister announced in April was from the previous grant regime. On a small point, while I am dealing with that, I should say that there are grants to encourage long lining, which
There is £6 million for decommissioning. However, my trawler industry has told me that, in practice, it is difficult to decommission because environmental controls have resulted in ever fewer scrap facilities to chop up boats. Trawlermen feel that they may not be able to decommission to the required standard within the proposed time scale. They are therefore looking for sufficient flexibility to allow them, more simply, to put their boats beyond economic repair so that they cannot take to the water, but also to receive interim decommissioning money so that they can finish off the boats later. Smaller fishermen are also asking for decommissioning to apply to vessels under 10 m where there are too many such vessels.
I shall not dwell on the next element of the £22.5 million package as I had an Adjournment debate on that in Westminster Hall. However, the £5.5 million fishing communities regeneration initiative was a travesty at every level. It was shared out between the regions, and certainly within the eastern region, in the wrong manner, and the money was often spent on the wrong things. Lowestoft lands almost 10 per cent. of England's catch, but it was offered a mere £65,000, out of £5.5 million.
We have, however, had a bit of a breakthrough: we were offered another £60,000. That is being spent on some jolly good measures, and I wish that I had enough time to tell hon. Members about them. Nevertheless, I urge Ministers to dig into that regeneration money and try to ensure that it is spent on things that relate to the fishing industry, not on some of the things that it is being spent on that do not relate to the industry at all.
The failure of the fishing communities regeneration initiative shows the need for a proper plan for the fishing industry. However, how can we work out such a plan when the industry is not nationalised but is a collection of private businesses? The Government have already developed such a model in the oil and gas industry. Three years ago, the oil and gas industry taskforce was established, comprising the leaders of that industry and officials from three Departments including the Treasury, and it was chaired by the Minister with responsibility for energy. It set itself a deadline and developed a plan for how that industry could get more resources out of the North sea, rather than closing down the operation more quickly than was necessary. The taskforce met the deadline and is now implementing the plan through another body called Pilot.
I believe that we could do in fishing what we have done in the oil and gas industry. If we do not, our fishing industry will simply wither away. Pieces of it would fall off haphazardly, which would be no good for fishermen, for the communities in which they live or for the country. I doubt that we would ever recover from it.
The WWF and NFFO report shows how investment in a transitional package can reap a rich return. If my hon. Friend the Minister can achieve such a plan and such a partnership, we shall have a future; we could look ahead with confidence. We have seen partnerships between scientists and fishermen and between fishermen and environmental organisations, but let us now see a
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): I certainly endorse what the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) said about fisheries regeneration funding and the need to get the best deal possible for his constituency. We will support him on that, because there are obviously important implications for King's Lynn as well.
The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn) spoke about industrial fishing. I concur with what he said 100 per cent. I note that the Minister has visited his constituency; I hope that he will visit mine and talk to my fishermen. Indeed, I hope that he will come to Conservative-held constituencies. I do not know whether he is prepared to do so, but he has an open invitation to come to west Norfolk to speak to our local fishermen.
I do not know why we are having this important debate on an Adjournment motion. We should be debating a substantive motion that would enable us to have a vote at the end. I am sure that the Government have nothing to fear when it comes to putting their case to a vote, but we obviously cannot have one this evening. None the less, I welcome the fact that we are having a full day's debate on this important subject.
As most hon. Members whom I have heard have pointed outI am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I was not present for the whole debate; I had to move some amendments in a Standing Committeethe background to the debate is the reform of the common fisheries policy. In the course of the next year, the Commission will have to table a proposal for reform of the CFP. I am pleased to see that it is beginning to accept the arguments for a radical decentralisation of the CFP. I note especially that Commissioner Fischler now appears to be convinced that the new regional committees should hold real powers and responsibilities, rather than act merely in an advisory capacity.
That is good news, but I still feel that the policy is fundamentally flawed. Hon. Members have spoken much about the cod and hake fishery, which is in crisis. We have heard about a proposed programme of savage cuts in quotas for the Irish sea, the western approaches and the channel. I think that there is also probably a genuine threat to the six-mile limit in terms of open access. The abandonment of that limit would have a devastating effect on the Wash shellfish fishery. The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby mentioned the very important point about Spain and Portugal having access to the North sea from 1 January 2003. He rightly pointed out that their quota share arrangements will limit their catch to non-quota species. However, there will, of course, be a significant by-catch of quota species, which is a serious concern.
I believe that the time has come for us not merely to reform the CFP, but scrap it completely and replace it with a series of bilateral arrangements between member states. If we continue to proceed as we are now, it will not work. We will be tinkering with a system that is fundamentally flawed. We must now move forward with
In the short time that remains, I should like to say a few words about the Wash inshore fishery, which is crucial to our local community. The main species of catch are shrimps, cockles, whelks, mussels and crabs. Forty boats and about 100 crew are involved in the King's Lynn fishing fleet. I think that the Minister knows that, as he visited the fleet during the previous Parliament. He will know that for every job at sea, there will probably be four jobs on land. On that basis, about 500 jobs in total are dependent on the fishery, which is crucial to the local economy.
As the hon. Member for Waveney pointed out very eloquently, we are not talking only about pure economics. The fishery is of huge symbolic importance. Some fishing families go back many generations. The Wash fishery and fishing folklore are deeply entrenched in the local psyche. He summed that up well.
There are various threats to the fishery. Resources in the Wash are being depleted, especially the shrimp fishery. The Minister knows that, under current regulations, white fish boats that meet their quotas are allowed to diversify into the shrimp fishery on their existing licence. There appears to be widespread support for a licensing system for inshore fishermen. I should be grateful if the Minister would comment on that.
Another important point relates to the structure of inshore fisheries. The legislation is too old. The Sea Fisheries Regulation Act 1966 and the Sea Fisheries (Conservation) Act 1967 need updating. The Minister knows that the 1966 Act is a rehashing of a 100-year-old Act. The legislation is therefore out of date, and the funding of sea fisheries committees badly needs reconsidering. Since 1966, extra responsibilities have been placed on the fisheries committees, especially environmental responsibilities, with no extra resources to accompany them. It is time for a new Bill to amalgamate legislation on sea fisheries boards so that they can address those extra responsibilities.
Other serious issues affect the Wash fishery, especially dredging, cable laying and the potential development of offshore energy in the form of wind farms. All have serious ecological side effects for marine ecosystems. They unsettle the sea bed and the silt-over of breeding grounds has a profound effect on shellfish habitats.
There has been much controversy about dredging. Although everyone feels strongly that dredging to replenish sea defences, for example the Skegness to Mablethorpe section of coastal defences, is acceptable, it is not acceptable to dredge sand and gravel for export. Roughly 30 per cent. of all offshore dredging is of minerals and sand for export. That is unacceptable. We are considering a delicate marine ecosystem. If dredging helps to support local communities and to sort out sea defences, that is one matter. But the commercial export of minerals is another.
As the Minister knows, the Crown estates have been through the pre-qualification process. The wind farms need permission from the Department of Trade and Industry, and I presume that there will be a public inquiry and that the Secretary of State will have the final say. However, on the pre-qualification site allocation, King's Lynn wind farm will have 60 turbines and the Cromer site
We must consider the construction phase for 60 large turbines. It will mean substantial disruption to fisheries. The completed turbines will be surrounded by exclusion zones. I have not worked out the exact square mileage for 60 turbines, but we are considering a substantial area of fishery in the Wash. The location of the turbines will therefore be crucial. If they are located in the wrong position, we could do irreparable harm to the shrimp fishery, the whelk, cockle and mussel fishery off King's Lynn and the crab fishery off Cromer. That damage would have a profound effect on an important community in my constituency. I ask the Minister to look carefully at that.
I said a moment ago that this resource is vital to the local economy. It is essential, particularly, at a time when the wider economy is starting seriously to suffer from the downturns in manufacturing, and in the telecoms and tech sectors. Jobs are being lost across the board in those sectors in west Norfolk, and elsewhere in Norfolk and Suffolk. We are also suffering from an appalling downturn in agriculture. It is crucial that this local fishing community is given maximum priority. It is part of our local heritage, and also forms an important part of our national heritage, which is why it is essential that it should be protected and maintained. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.