HC Deb 24 June 2004 vol 422 cc1446-7
9. Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) (Lab)

If she will provide financial help for the Grimsby and east coast fishing fleet over the next two years. [180212]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw)

Fishing communities are already benefiting from various grants, which will continue, but we do not consider it a sensible use of public funds to maintain over-capacity in the fleet.

Mr. Mitchell

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but I hope that he will not enter into any premature no saying, without first studying the report by Andrew Palfreyman, commissioned by Yorkshire Forward, on how to arrest the decline in the catching side in Yorkshire and Humberside. It shows that we have already declined disproportionately—more heavily than in any other part of the country—and that unless support is provided, that disproportionate decline will continue. Owners will sell their track records to others who are receiving Government support–a code name for Scotland. That will lead to the industry falling below the critical mass necessary to support the jobs and facilities onshore. The report also says that it might lead to the closure of one or more white fish catching ports on the Yorkshire east coast. I hope that my hon. Friend will study the report closely—I am waving it at him as I speak—and that he will consider ways of helping the industry on the east coast of Yorkshire to ensure that it does not bear another disproportionate decline.

Mr. Bradshaw

I shall certainly study the report carefully. My hon. Friend is right to say that fishermen in his constituency have suffered disproportionately, but that is because the stocks that they have targeted—cod stocks in particular—are the ones that have become especially depleted. However, he is wrong to suggest that the Scottish industry is being treated differently this year. It is not: it has not received any of the tie-up grants, for instance, that I imagine my hon. Friend would advocate for the industry in his own area. In the end, the industry in his area wants a sustainable future, so that it can make profits. That will require recovery in the cod stocks, and that is why the measures that we have introduced are so essential.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con)

Is the Minister aware of the Wash inshore shellfish fishery in my constituency? Fishermen there fish for cockles, whelks, mussels and shrimps, and they are not interested in grants from the Government so much as in having a system of environmental health testing that is fair, compared with the EU. Has the Minister had a chance to visit the Wash fishery; and, if not, will he come and meet fishermen in my constituency?

Mr. Bradshaw

I should be delighted to consider a visit to the hon. Gentleman's constituency. I am well aware of the problem that he raises. We have been in discussions with the Food Standards Agency about the methods that have been used up to now to test the waters used by our shellfish industry. I believe that the latest statements from the FSA will address the concerns that the hon. Gentleman raises.

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