Fishing Industry

Part of Delegated Legislation – in the House of Commons at 11:42 pm on 20th November 2000.

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby 11:42 pm, 20th November 2000

I am most grateful for that contribution, and I support absolutely what my hon. Friend has just said about the need for intervention and about my hon. Friend.

The first meeting was on 6 September, when the fishermen were told that officials would examine all options. At the next meeting on 15 September, they were told that this is a short-term crisis and that the United Kingdom had neither the funds nor the mechanism to provide a package of emergency aid to offset the price of fuel. My answer to that is: where there is a will there is a way, and the will and the way have existed in other countries, so why not here? What emerges from the account of that meeting given by the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations is that there was no sense of urgency about helping the industry.

Ministers referred to light dues. We have been talking about light dues for 10 years, ever since they were introduced. They should never have been put on in the first place, but they have not been taken off. We have been talking about satellite monitoring costs for three years, and there is no sign of help for the British industry. There are the GMDSS—global maritime distress and safety system—costs, survey charges and all the other regulatory burdens. There is talk of looking at those, but how urgently will they be looked at? When will they be looked at? What will be done about them? It is an urgent crisis now. The discussions at the meeting seem to have exasperated the NFFO, because nothing was said about help in an immediate crisis, besides looking at ways to reduce fuel consumption, which the industry is doing anyway quite naturally.

The Government hope for a major restructuring package. They hope that it will be done on the European scale, with money coming from the European Union, rather than the British Government. There is a need for a restructuring package, but from what I understand from the fishing industry, even the European Commission is blowing hot and cold on that proposal. The latest wind is apparently colder than the previous wind.

Why does fishing always have to be the fall guy? I know that the finances of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food are in a mess. I know that it has difficulty fulfilling all its commitments. I know that there has been a huge expense for agriculture, but why is it always fishing that is cut? Why is it never fishing that is helped, in the way that agriculture has been helped? Why is help postponed, apparently till the Ides of Brussels? Why is it always so slow to emerge from MAFF?

Given the Treasury's usual tactic of blocking access to European funds, what hope do we have of getting help from Europe? The answer must be support for the British fishing industry that is comparable with that provided by European Governments—certainly some form of support is needed. It is not beyond the ingenuity of Government to find a way to support the fishing industry to see it through the immediate crisis.

There is a long-term restructuring package. That is true; the Government have talked about it. We need that, but not now. What we need now is immediate help to survive: support to keep fishing going in the light of escalating fuel costs. The only answer must be an emergency package now.

I therefore say to the Minister—who has had to listen patiently to an argument that he has heard many times; he always does listen—that he must do something. The British fishing industry needs help to keep going and to benefit from the major restructuring package that might be planned. However, to keep the industry going, something must be done. Please do something-do something now.