Food and Drink Sector

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th April 2017.

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Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough 12:00 am, 20th April 2017

What recent discussions she has had with her EU counterparts on the food and drink sector.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

We regularly meet EU counterparts at Agriculture and Fisheries Council and at Environment Council. Food and drink issues are routinely on the formal agenda and are frequently discussed at informal bilaterals, too.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

The great and noble county of Lincolnshire is the bread basket of England and much of the food that we eat comes from that county. Glyphosate has been proved to be harmless by scientists. It is used by farmers in the safe production of wheat and the food we eat, so can the Minister assure me that once we regain control of our destiny its use will be reauthorised?

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

As my hon. Friend knows, the European Union is currently reviewing the use of glyphosate, but the European Food Safety Authority, the food safety agency for the EU, as well as the German authorities that led the work are very clear that it is a safe product. The UK has therefore consistently backed a position in line with the science to continue to authorise glyphosate.

Photo of Calum Kerr Calum Kerr Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Environment and Rural Affairs), Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Digital)

My first DEFRA question, on 18 June 2015, was on convergence uplift. Now, €230 million should have flowed to Scottish farming. Since then, the Minister has demonstrated an uncanny ability to procrastinate, which my children could only envy. However, this is not children’s homework or getting to bed on time; it is fundamental money that is important to Scottish farming and it is now a matter of trust. The Minister wants us to believe that we can trust this Government with post-Brexit UK policy. Where is that money? How on earth can Scottish farming trust this Government and the Tories?

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman and I have discussed this a number of times, and he is aware that the review that we intended to carry out last year was delayed because of the referendum, which has clearly changed the context dramatically. We continue to have discussions with Scottish industry; indeed, just yesterday I met NFU Scotland to discuss future agriculture policy.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, South West Wiltshire

What can be done to encourage the European Union to promote the processing of foodstuffs in developing countries? I am thinking particularly of olive oil and coffee, where the value added tends to be within the European Union.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The UK and indeed a number of other European countries have preferential trade agreements in place to support developing countries and give them tariff-free access to the European market. This is important to the development of some of those countries, and the issues that my hon. Friend raises are regularly discussed at the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council.

Photo of Margaret Ritchie Margaret Ritchie Social Democratic and Labour Party, South Down

The fishing industry in my constituency is an important part of the food-processing sector. As part of the discussions with EU ministerial counterparts, what efforts will be made to ensure that there is no border in the Irish sea, thereby permitting fishermen to fish in both parts, as they currently can?

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

As the hon. Lady will know, there has been an issue with the voisinage agreement, a long-standing agreement between the UK and the Irish Republic. There had been an issue with the Irish courts on this, and I discussed it just a couple of weeks ago with the Irish Minister, when we also talked about the arrangements we might have after Brexit.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Conservative, Louth and Horncastle

Like my constituency neighbour my hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh, I have the honour of representing a constituency whose farmers feed the country. Will my hon. Friend the Minister work to ensure that farmers in Louth and Horncastle and beyond are not put at a disadvantage with their EU competitors when these exciting new trade deals are negotiated?

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend represents an important farming constituency, and I reassure her that I worked in the farming industry for 10 years and am passionate about it. I have been going up and down the country in recent months meeting farmers to discuss their concerns. We have a fantastic opportunity now on leaving the EU to design a new agriculture policy that is fit for purpose.

Photo of Eilidh Whiteford Eilidh Whiteford Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Social Justice and Welfare)

Press reports earlier this week suggest that the Danish Government may press for restrictions on UK fish imports to the EU if the Danish fleet loses access to UK—mostly Scottish—fishing waters when the UK leaves the EU. That would have very serious implications for Scottish fish producers, who currently export in the region of almost half a billion pounds-worth of fish to the EU every year. What conversations has the Minister had with his Danish counterpart this week, and what solutions is he proposing?

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

As I said, I have regular meetings with all EU counterparts; indeed, I believe that the Danish Minister is planning a visit to the UK in the next few weeks, and I hope to meet him then. The hon. Lady should not worry about the opening positions that people might take in a negotiation: what matters is not what people ask for but what the UK Government are willing to grant. I simply say this: the Scottish fishing industry does not want to be dragged kicking and screaming back into the EU. It wants to leave the EU and the common fisheries policy; it wants to take control of our waters.

Photo of Sarah Wollaston Sarah Wollaston Chair, Health Committee

The fishing industry is vitally important to my constituency. Will the Minister update fishers there and around the UK about if, and when, the Government will trigger their intention to withdraw from the 1964 London fisheries convention?

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend makes an important point: there is a 1964 London fisheries convention which has access arrangements for a number of countries. As we have made clear on numerous occasions, we are looking at this very closely, and, as the Prime Minister said just two weeks ago, we hope to be able to say something on this shortly.