It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I am grateful to Alex Cunningham for securing this debate on an issue that has been at the forefront of all our minds since October last year.
I should start by drawing attention to the fact that, as the MP for Redcar, I sit on the boards of both Teesworks and the Teesside freeport. I do not get paid to perform those roles; I sit on the boards to advocate for my constituents. However, I will first tackle the myth that has been spread online that somehow Teesworks, the freeport and, by implication, the Tees Valley Mayor are linked to dredging in the River Tees.
The Tees Valley Mayor has no control, legislative remit or authority over any of the Tees mouth. PD Ports is the statutory harbour authority and organises dredging activities. No dredging has taken place as part of the Teesside freeport, Teesworks or the South Bank Quay project, and any and all dredging must be done in accordance with the requirements and related regulations of the Marine Management Organisation, as has always been the case with all the dredging on the River Tees that has happened since the year dot.
I think it is a misconception to get lost in a conversation about dredging, because we know that contaminates exist in the riverbed. That is why sampling is undertaken before any dredging takes place; it is also why dredging that does not meet the requirements of disposal at sea is dealt with separately and handled onshore. While, as the hon. Member for Stockton North said, the joint investigation into the mass death of crabs has not been able to come to an absolute conclusion—no such investigation would ever be able to do that—it has been able to rule out chemical pollution and dredging as the likely cause of the crustacean die-off.
I am not a scientist. I am not trained in marine biology; nor is the hon. Member for Stockton North, and nor, indeed, is the Minister. We are here as politicians, to ask the pressing questions that need to be asked, to challenge ideas that are presented to us, and to accept the evidence when it is provided in an independent way, as is being done by the Environment Agency, the Marine Management Organisation, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, and every other organisation involved in this case. If someone thinks that all those organisations would somehow conspire to hide the real cause of these crustacean deaths, they must be having a laugh. That would not happen. Why would all these leading scientists come together to try to cover this up in some way? That does not make sense.
Instead of going down that route and accepting the evidence for it, my plea to the Minister is that she continues to ask challenging questions of those organisations but that the real message that she should take away—this is something that was mentioned by the hon. Member for Stockton North—is the huge impact that this mass-mortality event has had on towns and communities such as Redcar, Whitby and Hartlepool. If we are to have a fishing industry in towns such as mine, it is vital that the Government extend support when we are faced with these freak acts of nature.
As the hon. Member said, when I raised this issue at Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister highlighted the UK seafood fund, but we need to know how the Government will help the fishermen in Redcar today. Redcar originated as a fishing village in the 14th century; people have fished in Redcar for more than 700 years. Will the Minister please go away and consider what further help could be available for a community such as mine, to ensure that the thousands of crab deaths off our coast do not lead to the death of a 700-year-old industry?