§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Mather.]
§ 9 am
§ Sir Walter Clegg (Wyre)
I am pleased to be able to raise the Adjournment debate even at the end of a long, weary all night sitting, and I would not have contemplated raising the debate unless I thought it was of great importance to my constituents.
I wish to bring to the attention of the House and of the Government the problems that confront the port of Fleetwood consequent upon the loss of its deep sea fishing fleet. Since the beginning of the century, Fleetwood has been the biggest deep sea fishing port on the west coast of England. During both world wars, its trawlers fed the country and its trawlermen manned many of the Royal Navy's minesweepers. The deep sea fleet was the heart of a thriving community. As a rough rule, it could be said that for every fisherman at sea there were five jobs ashore. The ancillary trades included merchants, dockers, filleters, fish processors, engineers, chandlers, transport workers, ice house workers, fish meal factory workers, ship's husbands and the clerical trades and employment that go with the administration of such an ancillary network.
The deep sea fleet, therefore, was a staple industry of the port. It was like the pit to the mining village, the steelworks to the steel town and the textile mills to the cotton and woollen towns.
It is crucial to my argument that the Government and the EEC should regard Fleetwood's loss of its deep sea fleet in the same way as they regard the rundown of the basic industries in coal, steel and textiles in particular.
I should like to give the House some basic statistics which have already been provided by Wyre borough council to the Department of my hon. Friend the Minister.
In 1963, the number of fishermen fishing out of Fleetwood was 1,583, a total which represented 11 per cent. of the employment in the Fleetwood exchange area. By 1981, that figure had fallen to 243, which represented nearly 2.8 per cent. of employment. Now there are virtually no deep sea fishermen sailing regularly from Fleetwood.
In 1963, Wyre borough calculated that some 4,000 jobs, or 28 per cent. of the total employment in Fleetwood, were dependent on the industry. All that has changed. It is easy to understand why. In 1976, we had a distant water fleet of 29 vessels. By 1982, it had been reduced to 10 vessels, and now in 1985 there is none. The decline of the deep sea fleet was not confined to Fleetwood alone. Hull, Grimsby and Aberdeen suffered in the same way.
The reason is not hard to identify. The decline was due not to the inefficiency of the industry or over-manning. It was due directly to the loss of the Icelandic fishing grounds, where for years the fleet had legally fished. There were no alternative grounds, either within our 200-mile limit or in EEC waters, that could make up the loss of the commercial fishing grounds off Iceland.
The long and complex negotiations for a common fisheries policy added to the uncertainty, and there is nowhere in sight a fishery that could replace the Icelandic grounds. Thus, the rush out to 200-mile limits, internationally recognised, sounded the death-knell of our deep sea fleet.
453 The position in Fleetwood now is that we have an inshore fleet of 69 vessels, many of them old, and those vessels are incapable of making up for the loss of the deep sea landings. These inshore vessels lack the catching capacity of the old deep sea fleet, and its ability to stay at sea in bad weather to maintain year round supplies. Indeed, the inshore fleet is having great difficulty in surviving. Its fishing grounds in the Irish sea have been clobbered by the incursions of foreign beam trawlers and the costs of nets, fuel oil and other vital equipment are constantly rising. The inshore fleet is living from hand to mouth and is being sustained only by the grit and determination of its fishermen. The fishing port is now reliant on fish sent overland, largely from Scottish ports.
We have seen in Fleetwood the loss of a staple industry. It is as though a pit, a steel works or a textile mill had closed in a community that depended on it. Nor were there redundancy payments from the EEC or employers for fishermen who lost their jobs. Because of the method of employment, the vast majority of Fleetwood's fishermen —as those in Hull, Grimsby and Aberdeen—got no redundancy, and certainly not the sums one hears mentioned for the steel industry, with over £20,000 being paid to some workers on being made redundant.
The fishermen who, through no fault of their own, lost their jobs, received no compensation. They have not been able, therefore, to start up the small businesses that have been started in some steel towns, where redundancy payments have been used to revivify industry in those places. The British Fishermen's Association is fighting the case for compensation to be paid, and I fully support it in that endeavour, but it will be a hard fight.
What help is Fleetwood getting to cope with the rundown of this staple industry? Precious little, is the answer. There are de-commissioning grants for some vessels, but they are paid for taking them out of fishing, not for increasing their fishing capacity. We were an assisted area, but that status has now been taken from us. With the loss of that grant has gone our access to EEC funding, which was proving useful to the community in helping to overcome the rundown of its staple industry. In January 1985, Fleetwood had an unemployment rate of 28.5 per cent. among men and 16.2 per cent. among women—a total of 22 per cent., compared with 17 per cent. for total unemployment in the Blackpool travel-to-work area of which we form a part, 16.7 per cent. in the north-west region and 13.7 per cent. in the United Kingdom as a whole.
As a direct comparison, in the Hull and Grimsby travel-to-work areas, which have similar problems to ours, the unemployment rates are 17.1 per cent. and 17.3 per cent. respectively. Both Hull and Grimsby and the textile areas of Lancaster and east Lancashire get help from the EEC regional development non-quota fund which, I understand, has been established to deal with areas where there has been a deep decline in staple industries. I believe that Fleetwood should be given similar treatment to help it diversity its industries and deal with the problems that the loss of the deep sea fleet has created.
It is not that the port is just sitting on its backside rattling a begging bowl. For example, the Wyre borough council has set up in the Fleetwood area the Wyre Development Agency, which was created with sponsors such as ICI and which, in its first year, created 186 new 454 jobs; and Wyre Community Services, acting as agent for the MSC, which provides up to 250 jobs a year on community programme and youth training projects.
To present a fair picture, the non-fishing side of the port has developed a roll-on, roll-off ferry service to Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, operated by Pandoro and B and I. It has increased its imports of grain and timber and exports of scrap metal. A great deal is being done to keep the non-fishing side of the port very active.
We need help to get more projects going which could increase the port's efficiency and the general structure of industry in the town. I could go on at great length about the other projects that are being undertaken and also mention many of the projects that have already been cited to the Department by Wyre borough council when its members came to see my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry—the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Mr. Trippier).
I am asking not for charity but for a fair deal from the Government and the EEC. I believe that Fleetwood's case has been fully made out. It is as powerful a case as that put forward by Hull, Grimsby or the textile towns. We have suffered from events far beyond our control. I plead with the Under-Secretary of State to ensure that Fleetwood gets a fair deal. That would only be justice.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. John Butcher)
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Sir W. Clegg) for taking this opportunity to raise an issue which is obviously dear to his heart. He mentioned a number of dilemmas and difficulties on behalf of his constituents who have been well served by him this morning in this, the dawn patrol of our all-night debate. Perhaps only an hon. Member who represents an erstwhile fishing industry has the stamina to endure the rigours of life in Parliament on such occasions and to come up with the first-watch speech on this issue.
I think it is right that the House should therefore thank my hon. Friend for bringing these problems, and particularly the problems of Fleetwood, to its attention. He has shown diligence in pursuing the interests of his constituents; indeed, earlier this year, as he has said, he accompanied a delegation from the Wyre borough council to impress further on my hon. Friend the Minister responsible for small businesses the problems of the area.
I can assure my hon. Friend that the situation in Fleetwood is not unknown to the Government, partly owing, as I said earlier, to the efforts of my hon. Friend in drawing them to our attention. The docks have suffered serious decline owing to the effects of the Icelandic fishing agreement, which excluded British vessels from Icelandic fishing waters. As my hon. Friend correctly pointed out, that was not the fault of those who were fishing and were based in Fleetwood. They were the victims of matters which were well and truely beyond their control.
This has, of course, caused problems regarding the rate and the structure of employment in Fleetwood. As my hon. Friend pointed out, the rest of the docks are successful and —excluding Liverpool, which is Merseyside — they make up Lancashire's busiest port. Between 1975 and 1980, the volume of trade through Fleetwood doubled to around 2 million tonnes per annum. Facilities available include a roll-on roll-off freight terminal, a berth for car and passenger ferries and a 55-hectare dockside estate, which is quite successful.
455 It would be wrong to give the impression that all is gloom in Fleetwood. There are one or two notable success stories.
With the decline of the fishing industry, Pandoro came on the scene in 1975 to provide a vital lifeline for the docks. Pandoro came in with a massive cash investment to establish a container shipping company linking Fleetwood with Ireland. Ten years on, Pandoro remains one of the biggest employers in North Fylde, with a work force of about 600 in England and Ireland. Services from Fleetwood have expanded and the company's investment in the venture has soared to near the £40 million mark. Today Pandoro's much-expanded services move 70,000 loads annually to and from Northern Ireland, in contrast to the 30,000 in the inaugural year.
My hon. Friend did not mention the potential of the Morecambe bay gas field and perhaps future offshore developments, but he will know that there are several developments on the horizon. We would hope to see Fleetwood and my hon. Friend's constituents participating in the potential in this area.
Britain is on the brink of the ninth oil round and tracts on the new frontier deep-water areas include blocks in the Irish Sea and areas to the north of the Isle of Man and off Cumbria, Lancashire and north Wales. Discretionary licences will be awarded by the Department of Energy probably towards the end of April or the beginning of May. The local central and west Lancashire chamber of commerce believes that there are oil and gas sources to be tapped which will be of benefit to the area. It is expected that Fleetwood will benefit as it had a strong involvement in the exploration programme leading up to the opening of the Morecambe bay gas field. I sincerely hope this will be the case.
Before I talk about the EC grants to which my hon. Friend has referred, I welcome this opportunity to explain to the House the basis of the new assisted areas map. The opportunity is welcome, as misunderstanding has been and still is rife. Many seem to have come to believe that the new map is biased—though which way it is thought to be biased depends on the viewpoint of the commentator.
That was not an assertion made by my hon. Friend, whose speech was founded in empiricism and was really a request for help on the basis that those unfortunate trends which have affected Fleetwood were not self-induced or indeed caused by those who work in not just the fishing industry but the subsidiary industries that supported that fleet in Fleetwood.
As we made clear in our White Paper, "Regional Industrial Development", the aim of regional industrial policy is the reduction of regional imbalances in employment opportunities on a stable, long-term basis. I dwell on that matter for only a moment because it is the assisted area map which, as my hon. Friend knows, dictates so much of what we can achieve in the European context. Indeed, specific types of help are excluded from those areas that the United Kingdom itself does not identify as assisted areas.
We invited views on the criteria for designating assisted areas, and over 300 submissions were received. Support for continuing to use unemployment as the main criterion in determining the policy was overwhelming. I shall refer to the figures that my hon. Friend mentioned. Those arguing that long-term unemployment was an appropriate 456 additional factor amounted to 18 per cent., fewer than those who argued in favour of industrial structure as the main factor or for peripherality.
Taking account of those submissions, our decisions on the map were based solely on areas' relative need for current and future employment opportunities. The main criterion was relative annual average employment rates. Relative long-term unemployment was also taken into account. In making our decisions on the map, we also took account of such factors as the relative pressures for new job opportunities expected to result from the varying age structure of the population in differing parts of the country. We also recognised that this may be affected by changes in local economic activity rates. Other factors were involved such as areas' differing industrial structure, and the occupations and skills of the population as they reflect the quality of local employment opportunities and the pool of entrepreneurial talent. We also considered handicaps to economic recovery, such as great distances from main markets and the general trend of industry to move out of the densely populated inner cities.
All those factors are objective criteria, but their relative importance is essentially subjective. We considered in great depth the scope for using a synthetic index. However, we concluded that no single index was capable of adequately reflecting the needs of areas, especially as account also needed to be taken of the relative positions of neighbouring areas.
So we came to the much-discussed travel-to-work areas and whether they could or should be used as building blocks for assisted area status. For areas that fall well short of being self-contained, the relationship between unemployment and job opportunities is greatly affected by the situation in adjoining areas—too greatly for such areas to be useful as the basis for a cost-effective regional industrial policy aimed at reducing disparities in employment opportunities.
Travel-to-work areas are the smallest units for which nationally comparable unemployment rates are available, and thus the best basis for a nationwide comparison of relative needs for employment opportunities. However, as colleagues and I have said before, their importance goes further than that, because new job opportunities are generally taken by people living in the whole local labour market rather than those solely in the immediate vicinity of the employment.
My hon. Friend is no doubt familiar with the case put forward by chambers of commerce up and down the country, which they summarised under the unemployment black spot proposals. They wish to see a much more focused regional aid and assisted area policy, particularly in areas of severe blight in inner cities. We looked at that matter closely. There was much sympathy for that approach, but we found that there was one flaw in it that tended to work against the areas of very localised and high unemployment. It was that there was no way that a Government, least of all an employer, could guarantee that any factory or enhanced activity set up in a particular location could automatically be totally staffed by those who live in the immediate vicinity of that new or enhanced facility. That "Realökonomie" tended to drive us back to the use of TTWAs. It is, therefore, within the travel-to-work areas that we find that unemployment rates on that general basis had a quite dramatic effect on who qualified or did not qualify for the coverage under the new assisted area map.
457 I fully appreciate the concern of my hon. Friend over the loss of assisted area status for the Blackpool travel-to-work area, but I can assure the House that we looked most carefully at the case for assistance for all such areas to see whether or not they merited continued prefential treatment over the rest of the country. But even with the substantially wider coverage of the new map, we could not justify continuing to assist all the areas previously covered on the old map.
It is for that reason that I have taken a little time this morning to explain the methodology which led to this decision. I am in no doubt that the decision was an unwelcome one, but I hope I have reassured my hon. Friend that it was an objective one in the impartial circumstances of national consideration.
On the question of how the Commission can help, the situation is that in December last year the Commission made proposals, in the form of a draft regulation, for measures under the European regional development fund to help with the development of new economic activities in certain areas affected by the implementation of the Community's fisheries policy. In broad terms, the assistance would be for areas where fisheries activities have been concentrated and have declined; but only areas meeting the criteria proposed in the draft regulation would be eligible. The criteria relate to employment and job losses in the fisheries sector and to the social and economic situation of an area.
Fleetwood is not one of the areas proposed by the Commission to be eligible for such aid. The Commission concluded that Fleetwood does not meet the criteria it has in mind. The Commission's proposals are that there should be nearly £7.5 million of assistance for the United Kingdom, the same amount for Denmark, and about £5 million for France. For the United Kingdom, the Commission has proposed that the aid should be available only to Hull and Grimsby. There is no doubt that Hull and Grimsby should be among the areas to benefit, but there are other ports in England, Scotland and Wales which also have a case to be accepted as eligible for aid on this kind of basis. Fleetwood has a case; and we shall press the case for Fleetwood — and other United Kingdom ports — to benefit as well as Grimsby and Hull.
458 As it is, we do not yet know when the Commission's proposals may come before the Council of Ministers for consideration, or what form the proposals will then take. The Commission's proposals were for the assistance to be made available under the non-quota section of the European regional development fund. However, the new ERDF Regulation which came into effect on 1 January this year made considerable changes in ERDF arrangements. Under the new regulation, there is no longer a non-quota section of the fund and the Commission has not yet said how its proposals will be related to the circumstances of the new regulation.
The proposals are for measures very much like the existing ERDF non-quota section measures under the old regulation for assistance to certain shipbuilding, steel and textile areas. Following the usual pattern, the assistance would not be for the fishing sector itself, but rather for the encouragement of alternative activities.
My hon. Friend has clearly demonstrated that Fleetwood is determined to help itself, but is looking for support to show solidarity with that self-help. The measures proposed include ERDF contributions to the cost of redeveloping and improving industrial sites where United Kingdom public expenditure is involved, measures for the promotion of tourism, and a range of assistance to help the development of small and medium-sized firms.
I cannot forecast what progress will be made with the Commission's proposals, or what the outcome may be; it is not entirely up to us. But we should like to see early progress and, as I have said, progress that would make the proposed assistance available to a number of United Kingdom ports, including Fleetwood.
The Department will again examine the comments that my hon. Friend has made on behalf of his constituents. We are grateful to him for keeping this issue to the fore. We appreciate the dilemma that the new map has caused him and a number of my hon. Friends from neighbouring parts of Lancashire and Scotland, who are in the Chamber.
I once again thank my hon. Friend for raising an issue of importance to many of my hon. Friends, and one that his constituents feel is crucial.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at half-past Nine o'clock on Wednesday morning.