Before I call Scott Mann to move the motion, I remind Members that this debate will end at 5.41 pm. If Members wish to speak in the debate, could they please stand after Scott Mann has sat down so that I can be sure who is here to speak and who is here to intervene? I will give priority to Members from the south-west.
I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the effect of the UK leaving the EU on agriculture and fishing in the south west.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon, and I am grateful to be able to introduce this debate today. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary on her appointment in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Our farmers work incredibly hard in the south-west. They are the beating heart of our economy. I, like many, campaigned to leave the European Union to help our farmers and fishermen get a better deal. I believe that they have suffered under the EU and that Brexit will offer them more freedom and prosperity. South-west farmers manage 38% of Britain’s dairy herd and directly support over 8,000 jobs, with thousands more employed in the wider agricultural sector. The farmers and fishermen in the south-west will be directly affected by Brexit— I believe for the better.
There will be big benefits for fishermen in leaving the EU. They have suffered under the EU and its common fisheries policy and taking control of our territorial waters will only benefit. They get a very thin slice of the pie when it comes to quotas and that must change.
For farmers, the situation is slightly different and it is right that we try to offer them confidence as we head towards the exit door. They rely on the EU for farm subsidies and for tariff-free trade. Importantly, they also count on the EU for foreign labour, which is a particularly sensitive issue. On one hand, farmers say they want to continue having migrant workers; on the other hand, millions of people are calling for lower immigration. It is imperative that we strike the right balance.
In place of the EU’s common agricultural and fisheries policies, I would like to see a British agricultural policy and a British fisheries policy. The National Farmers Union would like a domestic agricultural policy that establishes a stable consensus on what farming can deliver for the economy, consumers and the environment. It is imperative that we continue to guarantee farm subsidies and I was pleased that the Chancellor has done so until 2020, which gives south-west farmers some much needed certainty. Farm payments must be processed faster than currently—I have had so many farmers complain to me about the Rural Payments Agency and the penalties that are imposed on them without any prior communication or justification.
My hon. Friend is making a very strong case for the south-west. My constituency, Taunton Deane in Somerset, is very reliant on farming. Does my hon. Friend agree that farmers do not want their livelihoods to be jeopardised during the two-year period of negotiations on how to leave the EU? They are asking for leeway, and whether we could still remain within the single market during that period.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. I will come on to the single market later in my speech. We need to be on the side of farmers, not working against them. A better subsidy system can certainly be achieved in the short term to install confidence.
We need actively to promote British produce at home and abroad. Leaving the single market is a fantastic opportunity to turn our attention to food producers and to become less reliant on imports, which can leave us at the mercy of currency markets. By making our agricultural sector much more diverse and profitable, Britain’s food chains could become more sustainable and less reliant on imports.
One avenue open to the Government is food procurement for our public services. Out of the EU, the Government could choose British food produce to supply our civil service, our schools and our armed forces. A policy and ethos of British food for British institutions would help our farming sector grow and be at the very heart of Government.
It is imperative that our farmers have access to labour. Certainly in the short and medium term, our farmers need access to workers from the EU. Just like British workers, EU migrants work incredibly hard—this debate is a good opportunity to highlight the contribution that they make to the economy in the south-west. According to statistics from the National Farmers Union, approximately 57% of workers in the meat sector and 40% in the egg sector are from within the EU. As we move forward, it is important that we balance the flow of migrant seasonal workers with the need to control immigration. I believe we can do both out of the EU. The National Farmers Union is in the process of drawing up its Brexit policy. One of its suggestions is the introduction of a seasonal agricultural permit scheme that would grant 12-month visas.
A British agricultural policy should champion agricultural employment, with joined-up initiatives from Whitehall for young and unemployed people to help them find work on farms. With such a policy we could end the nonsense of the three-crop rule and farmers being unable to bury their dead stock.
I would like a British fisheries policy that tears up the EU’s awful common fisheries policy. Restricted by the 12-mile limit, our fishermen have been treated extremely unfairly. It is time we addressed that and took back control of our territorial waters. Our south-west fishermen have felt like second-class citizens for far too long. We absolutely must stop that. British fishermen must be given priority, in parallel with the UK Government overseeing the management and conservation of fish stocks and quotas.
Under a British fisheries policy, Britain could extend its exclusive economic zone from 12 to 200 miles from the shore, as specified by the UN international convention on the law of the sea. With those waters, Britain could absolutely have control over its quotas, permits and conservation. Currently, the fishermen in the south-west are getting a very raw deal. For example, of the 4,500 tonnes of cod that can be landed, our fisherman only get 8%, while French boats get 74%; and of the 7,200 tonnes of haddock that can been landed, we only get 10%, while the French receive 67%. Those are not isolated examples—the same can be said for pollock, plaice, sole, hake and whiting.
Away from the sea, it is vital that we support our fishing communities in Cornwall, the south-west and around the rest of the UK. I have already had assurances from the fisheries Minister and his Department that they will offer support for fishing communities, and I hope the Minister will give me the same assurance today.
One big issue for fishing in the south-west is whether we allow European boats in UK waters and vice versa. There is definitely a balance that needs to be struck, as fish migrate around the coastline. With up to 80% of the fish caught in the south-west being exported to EU countries, it is important that we strike that balance, so that exports are not harmed and we maintain a good relationship with our EU counterparts. That said, our ability to strike free trade deals will also open up global markets for our high-quality shellfish and wet fish.
We need our farmers and fishermen in the south-west to have confidence in the process as we withdraw ourselves from the European Union. In the short term, we need to build confidence as an existing member. In the medium term, we need to lay out how we will secure and enhance our fishing and farming sectors. In the long term, we need policies in place that are more democratic and supportive, where our fishing and farming voices can be heard, and which are fully accountable to this place, Westminster, and not to Brussels.
There is so much potential for our farming and fishing sectors in the south-west. Over the next two years, I look forward to hearing how the Government plan to give a fairer deal and how we can grow our economy in the south-west as a result.
Order. Because of the number of Members who have indicated their wish to speak, with the authority of the Chairman of Ways and Means I am imposing a time limit of four minutes on speeches by Back Benchers. If many interventions are made, I may have to reduce that limit.
I will endeavour to stick to that time limit, Mrs Moon.
I congratulate Scott Mann on securing this debate. As he rightly says, leaving the EU has massive potential implications for agriculture and fisheries. I was very pleased by the assurance given by the Secretary of State in the House last week, in response to my question, that she would guarantee the current standards in environmental protection, so I will put those issues to one side for a moment.
The hon. Gentleman pointed, very rightly, to the importance of free trade within the European Union to both our agricultural and fisheries sectors. We export almost 40% of our lamb to the rest of the EU. He mentioned that we export 80% of the fish caught off the south-west. In my view, the best shellfish, crab and lobster in the world comes from the coast around Devon and Cornwall, but sadly, most of it goes straight to markets in France and Spain. I was not surprised when I saw the headline in the Western Morning News this week, which made very clear that our farmers’ main priority in the whole debate is that we remain members of the single market.
My first question for the Minister, therefore, is whether she is committed, as her first priority for the UK, to remain as a member of the single market. That is vital not only for tariff-free trade, but for access to the important labour mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, on which a lot of our farming and food industry completely depends.
If the Minister and the Government are not to accord importance to staying in the single market, I would like to know why not. If, as seems to be the case, the Government have already given up any hope of staying in the single market because of their wrong-headed and self-damaging obsession with cutting migrant labour, what levels of tariffs would she expect to be imposed on the sorts of the goods that we have been talking about, both agricultural and from fisheries, and what level of damage does she anticipate that that will do to our farming and fisheries sectors?
We have heard worrying reports that the Secretary of State for International Trade wants us to leave the European customs union. That would be an absolute disaster for our agriculture and fisheries sectors, and hit our economy with a fall of 4.5% in our overall GDP and a far worse fall for agriculture and fisheries. Has the Minister assessed the impact that leaving the customs union would have on our fishing and farming sectors? I will also be grateful if she could give us some idea of the expected impact on consumer prices, and imported food prices in particular, not only from the collapse in the value of the pound owing to uncertainty about our access to the single market, but from the increased prices that west country consumers will pay for goods if we leave the European Union, or are outside the single market or, even worse, outside the customs union.
Finally, given the importance of all those questions to the future of the important sectors that we are discussing, will the Minister guarantee to publish a full cost-benefit analysis of the possible and potential options for our future relationship with the rest of Europe and the world, so that the public and Members of the House may make a considered judgment before we are asked to vote on anything? Does she agree that it would be absolutely unacceptable for the Government, without consulting Parliament, precipitately to invoke article 50 as soon as March before we have clear answers to those important questions on which the future of our farming and fishing industries depend?
I can make my points to the Minister short. On farming, may I first make a plea for any priority for domestic agriculture policy to include the concept of food security? Food security has been a principle much spoken of but rejected by successive Governments, including the one in which the preceding speaker, Mr Bradshaw, served so honourably and in such a distinguished capacity. However, food security is vital, and therefore a vital component of any domestic agriculture policy.
Equally importantly, it is also vital for us to promote our agriculture in a way that we have failed to do in recent decades. The Dairy Council is the organisation charged with the promotion of the health benefits of dairy products, but it is not charged with the kind of marketing and advertising function that we see in countries such as New Zealand. I therefore urge the Minister to take from the debate my suggestion, and that of many dairy farmers throughout the country, that we need an agency or organisation that is devoted to the activity of marketing and promoting the fantastic dairy products of this country. The Dairy Council is not an organisation that is suited to that end because it is based on a research function rather on a marketing one.
We need to get behind British agriculture; we need to promote and advertise it in a way that we have not for many years; and we need a domestic policy that prioritises food security and domestic production. We also need a policy that decides very quickly what we will and will not support by way of direct Government grant.
On fishing, my plea to the Minister is to let any policy we design be based on local, sustainable fishing fleets that support coastal communities. This is our opportunity to ensure that a domestic fishing industry revives in the coastal communities that have been so hard pressed in recent years. It is our opportunity to deploy intelligence and flexibility, and to do away with blanket bans—despite the plentifulness of certain species of fish in the Bristol channel, we have a ray ban, a spurdog ban and bans that fishermen local to the area know are not right or intelligent. Instead, such bans should be flexibly designed. Any policy must support the interests of those fragile coastal communities.
The key areas and priorities that I urge the Minister to take away, therefore, are promoting, getting behind and marketing our British agriculture; and support and sustenance for coastal communities and local, sustainable fishing fleets.
It is a pleasure, as ever, Mrs Moon, to see you in the Chair.
I congratulate Scott Mann on securing the debate. It will not surprise him to hear that I do not agree with him about the benefits of the vote on
It is also important to stop using the European Union as an excuse for some of the deficiencies in policy. For example, the allocation of quotas between the smaller and larger fleets is to a large extent in the hands of the UK Government—the decision can already be made by them without the need for agreement with our European partners.
In the two and a half minutes I have left, I will talk about labour and workforce issues, and what restrictions on freedom of movement would mean for the sector. It has been estimated that 90% of British fruit, vegetables and salad are harvested by 60,000 to 70,000 seasonal migrant workers, many of whom come from the accession countries of eastern Europe. The vast majority come from other EU countries, and we need to answer the question of what would happen to the labour supply if we placed restrictions on freedom of movement, and whether it is something that can be dealt with through seasonal visas.
There is a fear that ill-thought-through restrictions on freedom of movement will mean that crops go unharvested, hitting food supplies, food production and farmers’ incomes, eventually putting them out of business. As we have heard, food sovereignty—food security—is a real issue in this country. At the moment, we produce less than 60% of the food that we eat, and 40% of the fruit and vegetables that we consume come from the EU. Things that can be grown here ought to be grown here, but that needs a supply of labour as well.
Last week, in Parliament I attended an interesting event organised by the Food and Drink Federation. Food manufacturers were talking about the impact of Brexit on them. I must admit that I had not realised the extent to which they depend on a skilled workforce from other European countries. They said that 27% of their workforce are non-UK EU citizens. Of course, some of those are at the lower end of the scale, filling the jobs that people perhaps do not want, or perhaps people are not prepared to work for below the living wage. Those businesses estimate that they will need 130,000 new skilled workers by 2024 and they were not confident that the Government’s existing policies on apprenticeships and on encouraging people to study the relevant subjects at university would pay off. They are already having difficulty recruiting and, understandably, their employees are already worried.
We had a debate in the main Chamber today about what will happen to EU migrants who are currently working in this country and whether they will be allowed to remain. What restrictions on freedom of movement will mean for both low and high-skill jobs is a real issue. I hope the Minister is discussing that with her colleagues in the Department for Exiting the European Union, the Home Office and the other Departments involved.
I congratulate and commend my hon. Friend Scott Mann, who is my neighbour, on securing this important debate. Since the result on
Fishermen in the south-west ask that we finally recognise that fish stocks in the west of England are different from those in other parts of the UK, where fishermen target a particular catch. When fishermen in the west of England put their nets out, they often do not know what they are going to catch. It is a mixed fishery, and the quota system has struggled to recognise and accommodate that. Those fishermen ask that we properly recognise their challenge when it comes to fishing in a mixed fishery. They also ask that they get a fair share of the total allowable catch. We all understand and know about the weighting against UK fishermen. Fishermen in other European countries are able to catch a much larger share in UK waters than UK fishermen, who are sometimes allowed to catch as little as 11% of a particular species. UK fishermen are asking that that situation is made fair.
I turn now to what farmers and food producers are asking for. I understand that under current EU regulations, as my hon. Friend referred to, we in the United Kingdom are not able to tell our public sector organisations that they must prioritise buying British produce. Because of that legislation, and because those organisations are not allowed to choose British producers over those from other European countries, UK food producers potentially lose out on billions of pounds. It would be fantastic to know that, during the negotiation and as we move forward, the Government will lead the way in buying British wherever possible and do everything they can to ensure that the British public know where their food comes from and the farmer receives a fair price. That alone will help significantly to mitigate the challenge that farmers and food producers face.
Both farmers and fishermen have requested that the Government promote fishing and farming as worthwhile jobs with secure futures. Parents often do not see that fishing and farming have futures for their children, and we need to do much more to encourage young people to take up those skills and increasingly high-tech fishing and farming jobs.
Finally, however we manage the movement of labour from outside the UK’s borders into the UK, we must not impose unnecessary barriers to foreign workers. We must strike the right balance so that our farmers and fishermen continue to enjoy the skills and labour that are available from countries around the world.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I congratulate my hon. Friend Scott Mann, who is a fellow south-west MP, on securing this important debate. This is the second debate in just over a week to which south-west Members have turned up en masse—to stand up first for tourism and now for agriculture.
I cannot claim to have any significant commercial fishing in my patch, but I have a lot of farming and I know how concerning the impact of Brexit is to farmers. There has been a lot of uncertainty in the last few years, with low prices, the poorly administered basic payment scheme and the prospect of a significant change to the agricultural subsidy regime once we have left the EU and therefore the common agricultural policy. I welcome the Chancellor’s announcement that the current agricultural funding under pillar one of the CAP will be maintained until 2020, but despite that commitment the UK Government will spend less on agricultural subsidy because we currently get such a bad deal from the CAP. That must be music to the Treasury’s ears. The end of the decade is not that far away, so the Government need to start articulating the long-term vision for farming in the UK now.
We have heard many voices from the south-west but none yet from Dorset. Although Dorset is the smallest county in the south-west, it represents nearly 10% of the agricultural workforce. Does my hon. Friend recognise that there are opportunities for the CAP system to be reformed, which farmers have been calling for, specifically in relation to the timing of payments, as my hon. Friend Scott Mann mentioned?
I agree very much. I will come back to the importance of getting the voices of individual farmers heard. This is a question not just of subsidy—although that is clearly what most farmers will be listening for most keenly—but of access to seasonal manpower and markets, and the regulations that will be in place to facilitate that access. I therefore welcome the initial announcement that all existing EU legislation will be brought forward as UK law and thereafter amended and improved in the UK’s interest. That at least gives farmers the reassurance that the standards and regulations under which they operate will not change in a blink.
As for access to the single market, I detect a little inconsistency among the farmers in my constituency. Many in my patch have called for greater protection of the UK market to reduce imports of cheaper, and frankly less tasty, produce from elsewhere. I am not sure that we should go down the route of protecting the market, because many an agricultural sector is exporting enthusiastically and we would like to see more do so. Instead, our challenge is to promote UK produce in the UK and abroad. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall that a first step in addressing that challenge should be to ensure that British-produced food and drink is prioritised in procurement for public services.
I also agree with my hon. Friend about the availability of migrant labour. As was said during the debate last week about the tourism industry, there is high demand for seasonal migrant labour to be able to come through. The points system that the Government moved away from—thank heavens—would not have achieved what our farmers and holiday parks need. We do not just want rocket scientists to be given permits to come and work in the UK; we want agricultural workers to come in on seasonal work permits too. That will clearly require a dynamic system for ensuring that we award the right number of seasonal agricultural work permits to meet the demands of the agriculture industry at any one time.
However people voted back in June, the CAP was bloated and broken. We now have a real opportunity to set up a system of our own that subsidises where necessary to ensure food security and make our agriculture industry more resilient, with more exporters and more profit. But a word of caution: there is a real danger that in the post-Brexit policy bun fight, the large, well-funded lobbying companies will have the loudest voice. We need to make absolutely sure that farmers, who are notorious for suffering in silence in the solitude of their tractors, get a seat at the table to come forward with their ideas about what the market needs to look like post Brexit. Farmers have incredible expertise, and it would be far better to hear them contributing to this debate than the well-funded lobbyists up in London.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Scott Mann on securing this debate. Like him, I see Brexit as a great bonus for farming and fishing in the south-west. It is a win-win—but so it should be, because we have significant investment in agriculture and fishing in the south-west. Some 72% of Devon’s land is farmed, and £2.7 billion of turnover in the south-west is due to agriculture. A third of all dairy and beef, and a fifth of all sheep and lambs are also from the south-west. Whatever happens post Brexit will make a big difference for us in the south-west.
I entirely endorse the comments made about the CAP by my hon. Friend James Heappey. It simply did not work, and it rewarded people in the wrong way. I am not suggesting that we should in any way remove its environmental role. We should continue that, but we should make it relevant and appropriate while ensuring that we encourage production. Many farmers I speak to say that there is absolutely no incentive to produce more. That cannot be right. We also have to get the balance right between the large landowner and the farmer with a small landmass to farm who has been short-changed against the big landowners in all sorts of different ways, in part because across Europe the farmers tend to farm across much larger tracts of land, and what works for them does not necessarily work for us.
Going forward, we certainly need to see better, targeted support that is more appropriate to the nature of our agricultural community, which is not the same as that of France and Germany. We also need to ensure that the regulations are properly scrutinised, because at the moment we have rules about the size of gates, the height of hedges and how much space is left between the hedge and crop, and much of that we do not need. There are similar issues. While we clearly want to ensure that animal welfare standards are at their highest, my farmers tell me that much of the red tape around what we need to do are unnecessary and so easy to get around that, frankly, they are rather pointless.
I totally agree with my hon. and learned Friend Mr Cox about marketing and labelling, because I think very few people really understand what that tractor means. We could get a proper scheme going, with proper support to encourage supermarkets and others to really promote British, and we could have legislation that made it clear where the word “British” or “produced” can and cannot be used, because it is unclear and the European rules are different from those we have here.
Does my hon. Friend agree that leaving the EU provides an opportunity for the UK to be more self-sufficient in food? Currently we are at just over 60%. We have a great opportunity for UK farmers to sell more of their products in the UK and for us to be less reliant on imports.
I totally agree. There is a huge appetite to buy local; it is just that people do not know how to do that. Those of us who live in rural communities are privileged in a way, because we have all sorts of farm shops and we all know about them, but those who live in the cities do not get the same opportunity, other than when there is a local market or whatever. There is certainly an issue in trying to bring the best of rural England to the cities and other parts of the country so that they can understand and see the benefits—certainly in taste—that we can bring them.
There are other things we could do, such as introducing a crop insurance scheme that looks at the challenges farmers face when over a year we have bad weather and a crop fails. If we did that, we could have checks and balances to help our farmers. However, we need something that really works and not something that creates a milk mountain—that would be the wrong way forward. Of course, we need to invest in science, because if we are to move forward and increase our market share and footprint, we need investment in research to go ahead.
With regard to the fishermen, I entirely support all that my Cornish colleagues have said. The quota system does not work. I am not suggesting that we should cut off anyone from fishing in our waters, but it needs to be fairer, because at the moment the French quota for plaice is twice as big as ours, for Dover sole it is two thirds more and for cod it is five sixths more than ours. That really is not acceptable.
We need a fair quota system. We need also sustainable fishing—at the moment that is largely ignored in large parts of Europe—and to deal once and for all with the discard problem, because although the EU has talked about that for many years, we still have not resolved it. There is much to do, and I am absolutely sure that the British Government can put agriculture and fishing first.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Scott Mann for securing the debate, which is particularly timely for me because I have my catch-up with the National Farmers Union at Crealy park in East Devon on Friday. We will hear a lot over the coming months and years about the threats and opportunities of Brexiting and it is up to us as parliamentarians to ensure that the opportunities trump the threats.
The threats are pretty obvious to the farming and fishing sectors. There are threats of access to markets—we do not know what shape they will take—and we have heard about freedom of movement issues, and of labour in particular, in the south-west, be that for people working in the poultry business or picking vegetables or daffodils further west. However, it seems to me that none of us will lament the passing of the common agricultural policy or the EU common fisheries policy.
We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to answer the question: does farming have a future? That is a question that, if we get it right, we will no longer have to ask ourselves. This is a time to shape our farming, shape our fishing and shape our countryside, to show people that there is indeed a future. It is self-evident, of course, that we continue with arrangements as they are for now. It does need the Secretary of State to confirm this; we can continue with the status quo until we sign the decree absolute in the divorce from the EU. It is what happens after that is important, as we change the existing legislation to reflect what we want for UK policy.
I think this is genuinely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our farming industries and I very much hope that Ministers in the Department will not spend the next few months or years talking to lobbyists or large organisations, but talking to the practitioners on the ground. I hope they will talk to the supermarkets and finally get some sense out of them in promoting British products at fair prices. I hope they will talk to the Environment Agency and Natural England and other organisations to ensure they are refocused to support a farmed countryside, not the sanitised version of the countryside as evidenced weekly by programmes that the BBC so loves, such as “Countryfile”—or, even worse, by the absurd Chris Packham.
My right hon. Friend is making a strong case. On that note, does he agree it is important that policies are developed that allow agriculture and the good industry to grow and, as he says, create a healthy, sustainable environment with the soil, air and water, ticking all those boxes at once? As he says, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Yes, and not all from the EU has been bad—that is the point. When we come to examine some of the legislation, and particularly some of the wildlife and environmental legislation, I strongly suspect that we will want to adopt quite a lot of it for ourselves. I very much hope Ministers will come to my constituency and speak to the principal and staff at one of the finest land-based colleges left in the country, Bicton. It should not be one of the few land-based colleges left in the country; we should have them all over the countryside. I hope the Minister or her colleagues will come and speak to them.
I hope Ministers will come and talk to dairy farmers such as Peter and Di Wastenage—who were farmers of the year in the Farmers Weekly awards in 2015 and who run a magnificent dairy herd—and address the issue of how we tackle the scourge of bovine TB and finally eradicate it, particularly in the south-west. I hope they will also discuss how we can deal with flood prevention and balance that against the needs of farmers.
I hope, finally, that we will discuss issues that are important in tourism but equally important to running farming businesses: rurality, services and broadband. Farmers need broadband. They are not only isolated in their tractor cabs, non-complaining. I am glad that my hon. Friend James Heappey has found so many non-complaining farmers—I would like to find out where they are, so perhaps he could tell me. Of course, farmers do get on with the job, but when they come home to fill in those myriad files—many of which I hope a new British farming policy will render redundant—they do need modern communications.
I think 75% of the countryside is already farmed. Let us make sure it is farmed properly and let us make sure it is farmed in the interests of the agricultural community. Let us make sure we have sustainability balanced with environmental requirements and deal, as my hon. and learned Friend Mr Cox said, with the issue of food security. On balance, yes, there are threats, but the opportunities more than outweigh the threats. We should be talking up British farming and British fishing because in the south-west it is our lifeblood.
Time is short, so I will congratulate my hon. Friend Scott Mann on bringing forward this debate, and endorse the many comments he and others have made about the importance of our farming industry. I would like to touch on: issues for our fishing industry, particularly fairness, markets, support and sustainability; our coastal communities—the Minister, whom I welcome to her post, will understand that, as she represents a coastal community—marine science; and the importance of talking to fishermen and farmers as policies go forward.
First is the issue of fairness—that is what fishermen are looking for. When 73 million of the channel fishing quota goes to British fishermen and 211 million goes to French fishermen, clearly that is out of balance. Fishermen tell me that they are unable to access waters within France’s 12-mile limit, but others are able to access waters within our 12-mile limit, so that again is an area in which we have an opportunity to make significant changes. Also, will the Minister also comment on the issue of quota hopping? That has long been a source of concern to our fishermen.
This is not just about our fishing communities and fishermen; it is about the onshore sector, markets and access to those markets. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Brixham market and Brixham Trawler Agents? Last week, Mike Shaw and his team topped the £1 million-mark for the value of the catch landed through Brixham market. That market was worth more than £23 million to our local economy in the past year. However, the majority of the produce that goes through that market is for export, principally to the European Union. Clearly, it is absolutely vital that we protect those markets, and that we do not drive the producer sector away from Brixham and other areas in the south-west to the European Union. I hope that the Minister will focus on that, as well as access for the important workers in that industry.
Many hon. Members have touched on support for our coastal communities, our fishermen and, indeed, for Brixham market and others. Although many grants have come from the European Union, we all accept that the money is recycled from our own resources. It will be terrific if we have more flexibility to use that money in a way that is right for our businesses and communities. Will the Minister comment on whether those processes will speed up, and become more transparent and less bureaucratic? We have a huge opportunity to do that.
There is also the important issue of sustainability. We will exit the common fisheries policy at a time when it finally seems to be getting its act together; the 2014 reforms have really started to make a difference. Continuing to look at this by sea basin area will be important. Clearly, under the United Nations arrangements, we will still rightly be bound to liaise with our neighbours when coming to these agreements; we cannot just unilaterally make changes. It is important that the Minister acknowledges the importance of having a commitment to a maximum sustainable yield and to protecting our marine environment.
We must also look at pollution controls and safety at sea. Those who put their lives on the line for us to put fish on our plate deserve an absolute assurance that safety will be foremost in the Government’s mind going forward.
I congratulate Scott Mann on securing the debate. While speaking within the terms of reference of the debate, I will also make some comments on Europe. In 2015, the UK’s deficit in trading goods and services with the EU was £69 billion, while the surplus with non-EU countries was £30 billion. The figures are clear. What is not clear are the steps that must now be taken to secure trade deals for companies.
We must remember that when article 50 is invoked and we leave Europe, the seas around the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will be open to all those who fly the British flag—to us in Portavogie, in my constituency of Strangford, as well as those in Brixham and in Looe; we look forward to working with our fishing comrades in the south-west. We must also remember that companies such as Rich Sauces service places as far away as America, while Pritchitts and Lakeview dairies are looking to markets in the far east. Those are farm products that are farmed and produced at home. We look forward to those opportunities, as do those in the south-west of England.
For years, red tape has bound farmers. Common-sense farming was no longer allowed, and farming became a pen pusher’s dream and a worker’s nightmare. I commend the Government, and the Minister in particular, for guaranteeing current EU farm subsidies, which make up some 50% to 60% of UK farm income, until 2020. The fishing industry has been slowly choked to death over the years. Our fishing boats have been forced to stay at home with no compensation while every other Tom, Dick and Harry fishes our seas. Our sea is heaving with fish—that is clear for all but the scientists to see— while our boat equipment is not suitable for fishing the seas that our fishermen need to fish, because the EU says so.
I will focus on where we go from here. For our fishermen, the answer is: we go back to work. We go back to fishing our seas sensibly, ensuring that we do not overfish them, that we do our part for marine conservation, that vessels have high safety standards, and that the fishing industry has the ability to thrive once again. We must also ensure that our fleets have the ability to access international waters, and that there is freedom, within whatever policy is put in place, to let fishermen do their job.
The Government, led by the Prime Minister, have a lot to do, and we encourage the negotiation team. The UK as a whole has a lot more to do to ensure that we ignore the uncertainty and make the most of this opportunity. We must feed into this process positively to ensure that our fishermen, our farmers and our expert food industry are able to grow from the decision to leave Europe, which I fully support and which they support as well. We can again stand on our own two feet, and we will do so knowing that we are striving at all levels, regardless of personal opinions, to deliver for all in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I thank Scott Mann for securing this important debate. He talked about why farmers are at the beating heart of our community and of the huge contribution that they make to the British economy. I know that is very important; I have a lot of farmers in my constituency. He also touched on the difficulties farmers have recently faced with Rural Payments Agency payments, and said that they really need Government support as we move forward towards Brexit. He also stressed the importance of maintaining good relationships with our friends in the European Union; we need to do that to secure the future of our farming and fishing industries.
The importance of this debate is shown by the number of contributions from hon. and right hon. Members. My right hon. Friend Mr Bradshaw talked about the importance of free trade with the European Union. Mr Cox discussed the need for food security—a point that came out strongly in the debate; it was picked up by my hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy, who also expressed concerns about what will happen to the seasonal workforce.
Jim Shannon talked about the importance of the fishing industry in Northern Ireland. He followed the hon. Members for St Ives (Derek Thomas), and for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), who talked about the particular challenges faced by the fishing industry in the south-west. James Heappey asked a pertinent question: what is the long-term future of our farming industry? Anne Marie Morris asked for better-targeted support, which we will of course need.
I regularly meet farmers from across my constituency. They are concerned about their livelihoods and how much support they will receive in the future. There may well be new opportunities, as has been mentioned, but it is also clear that there are substantial challenges ahead. As we know, many rural and coastal communities have benefited from EU funding through the common agricultural policy payments, no matter how much that agreement is disliked, and also from funding for regeneration in our coastal communities and town centres.
The implications of Brexit for our fishing industry are highly uncertain. Figures from the House of Commons Library show that the UK was allocated more than €240 million in funding between 2014 and 2020, which was matched by the Government. I ask the Minister if that level of funding will continue following Brexit. It was said during the referendum campaign that regaining control of territorial waters would allow Britain’s fishing industry to thrive, and that leaving the EU would mean cutting red tape for farmers. Will the Minister give us a progress report on how she is getting on with that?
My right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter also mentioned the collapse of the pound, and we know that inflation has risen sharply. That will have an impact on producers through, for example, fuel bills, and also on consumers, through the price that they pay for food. We still do not know what rural Britain will look like post-Brexit. We hope that it will not get worse, but it may by 2019. The media in the south-west are reporting that farmers and fishermen ae already concerned about the Government’s stance and about how the Government will defend their interests. What will the Minister say to reassure farmers and fishermen, not just in the south-west but across the country?
This country has benefited from billions of pounds of investment from the EU structural funds. Will the Government pick up that slack? Experts have forecast that Cornwall could, between now and 2027, need £1.1 billion of funding to match the EU structural funds payments. Will the Minister tell us if the Government will match that expected funding? Will they match the funding expected between now and 2017, which is the next tranche? I understand that civil servants are already becoming cautious about signing off projects that may not be completed before 2019. Will the money promised be ring-fenced and locally delivered? Rural and coastal communities have already been badly hit as a result of Government funding cuts.
We see significant uncertainty at a time when fishermen and farmers really need the reassurance of continued vital investment in the rural communities of which they are such an important part. We also need infrastructure investment for better transport, better phone signals and, as Sir Hugo Swire mentioned, better broadband.
How do the Government propose to replace and reform the current system of direct payments through the common agricultural policy? How do they propose to replace the funding provided through the EU’s rural development programmes? How do they propose to replace the EU funding for agricultural research programmes? Will they guarantee that the common fisheries policy regulations will not just be enshrined in UK law through the great repeal Bill, but will be retained, to give certainty to the fishing sector over future policy? Finally, how do the Government intend to make up for funding for the fishing sector derived from the European and maritime fisheries fund, once the UK has left the EU?
I know that there are a lot of questions for the Minister. I hope that she can give me answers today, but if not, I would greatly appreciate written answers.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I congratulate my hon. Friend Scott Mann on securing this timely debate. My hon. Friend the Minister of State had intended to cover this debate but regrettably is unable to be here today. The subject would be especially apt for him, as he represents a constituency in the south-west—a constituency of which he is very proud—where these issues are highly relevant.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend Mrs Murray is here supporting me. She is a great asset to our Department with her insight into this topic and especially the fishing industry. No debate in Westminster Hall would be complete without a comprehensive contribution from Jim Shannon, who yet again showed an ingenious way of linking his issues to those of hon. Members in the south-west. It is also a pleasure to welcome Sue Hayman. I believe this is her first Westminster Hall debate in her role as shadow Minister, and she made a very good job of it—well done to her.
Our priority is to ensure that we leave the European Union in the best way for the United Kingdom. That includes ensuring that our farming and fisheries sectors have a vibrant future, while recognising that the great repeal Bill offers, in the short term, the stability that the industry needs, which the hon. Member for Workington asked about. I assure Members that DEFRA will play a lead role in discussions and decisions on leaving the European Union. Mr Bradshaw brought up several issues about markets and article 50. He will be aware that the Government have not yet made any decisions on those matters, although we are clear that we believe we can trigger article 50. He will also know that there is an ongoing legal case at the moment, where the Attorney General is representing us.
We now have an unprecedented opportunity to redesign our policies, as my right hon. Friend Sir Hugo Swire said, to ensure that our agricultural and fisheries industries are competitive, productive and profitable, and that our environment is improved for future generations. Representing a rural constituency, I know that these are really good opportunities for us, particularly in the south-west, which has a long and proud farming and fishing history. Agriculture is vital across our country. Our farmers produce high-quality food to world-leading standards. Our farming heritage has shaped our landscape, defining us as a country, and contributes to a food chain worth £108 billion. It is all the more important for the south-west, with farming contributing even more to the south-west economy than the national average.
The Government have already recognised the importance of providing certainty to the agricultural and fisheries industries. In the summer, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that the agricultural sector will receive the same level of funding that it would have received under pillar 1 of the CAP until the end of the multi-annual financial framework in 2020. He later announced that all structural and investment fund projects, including agri-environment schemes and the European maritime and fisheries fund—known as the EMFF—signed before the autumn statement will be fully funded, even when those projects continue beyond the UK’s departure from the EU.
We have also confirmed that the Government will guarantee EU funding for structural and investment fund projects, including agri-environment schemes and the EMFF. Projects signed after the autumn statement that will continue after we leave the EU can continue if they provide good value for money and are in line with domestic strategic priorities. The hon. Member for Workington should therefore be assured. That provides the necessary certainty and continuity to our rural communities while we develop a new approach to supporting agriculture and fisheries and protecting our precious countryside and seas, which I hope gives some assurance to my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston.
As Members have set out, there are a number of similar issues and opportunities affecting agriculture and fisheries, but I will address each separately to give both their deserved airing. We recognise the need for early certainty for the agricultural industry, which is why the Government were clear on the commitment on pillar 1 to 2020 and have offered further guarantees under pillar 2. There are clear opportunities to support our farming sector to become more productive and more resilient to risks specific to the industry.
Operating outside the EU framework means we also have the opportunity to better realise some of the connections between agriculture and the environment. As Minister for the environment, I know some of these issues rather well, and I am looking forward to realising some of the great opportunities. More than 70% of our land is agricultural. There are substantial opportunities to deliver for the environment and tackle some of the totemic issues we face—air quality, water quality and biodiversity, to name just a few. We will want to embed key principles, building on strong foundations, to take a modern, open approach, using data and innovation to drive productivity, maximise new opportunities and ensure we minimise bureaucracy and red tape.
I must reiterate that although some EU rules can be burdensome, while we remain in the EU they still need to be met for farmers to receive their basic payment scheme payment. I am led to believe that 99.5% of BPS payments have been made. If there are any outstanding issues, hon. Members can contact my hon. Friend the Minister and bring them to his attention.
We are committed to developing two 25-year plans for the environment and for food and farming, as set out in the Conservative manifesto. I assure hon. Members that we will be working closely with the industry and the public on what is needed to drive agricultural and environment policies forward. There has been a wide range of contributions and thoughts on a future agricultural support system.
I am not concluding.
I assure hon. Members that there will be opportunities to contribute to shaping such a system in due course, but I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is already working hard on it.
My hon. and learned Friend Mr Cox referred to food security. I assure him that the UK has a high degree of food security, as shown by the 2010 UK food security assessment, which analysed the different global factors impacting UK food supply. One reason for our high food security is the size and competitiveness of the industry and diversity of supply. In terms of marketing, my hon. and learned Friend will be aware of the Great British Food Unit, which was launched earlier this year to promote exports, support inward investment and champion the excellence of British food and drink at home and abroad. It will be helping more and more companies to send their food and drink around the globe—including, I am sure, the 13 protected food names with south-west heritage, such as Dorset blue, Gloucestershire cider, Fal oysters and west country beef and lamb. Just yesterday my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State launched an ambitious plan to boost our exports up to 2020 while she was at a Paris food fair. She assures me that some of what she tasted was absolutely delicious and she did not need any dinner.
With regard to fisheries, the Government are committed to supporting the fishing industry so that it becomes more economically and environmentally sustainable. I recognise the important role the fishing fleet plays in the south-west, which is home to the largest number of fishing vessels in England. In particular, I am aware of Newlyn, in the constituency of my hon. Friend Derek Thomas. The south-west has a diverse fleet, catching a wide range of quota and non-quota species, and it is an important contributor to the wider food chain. With more than £100 million of fish landed by the south-west fleet in 2015, it plays a vital role in the local economy and provides much needed support to coastal communities, including Brixham harbour, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes referred and where last summer I enjoyed a pleasant beer watching the fish being brought in, while avoiding the seagulls.
Exit from the EU presents us with an opportunity to improve the way waters around the whole of the UK are managed, although it is important to note that even after we leave the EU, we will remain members of the UN and of other conventions. The UN convention on the law of the sea has quite clear provisions on the exclusive economic zone but also clear commitments to co-operate with other countries where there are shared fisheries. Operating outside the common fisheries policy will give us the opportunity to establish a new fisheries regime that better meets the UK’s needs, including, I hope, those of the south-west.
As with agriculture, we want to set some common principles for our fisheries policy. The UK has had some success in reforming the common fisheries policy to make it more sustainable with an agreement to fish to maximum sustainable yield and to end the wasteful discarding of unwanted fish. Ensuring that we continue to fish our waters sustainably will remain a priority, but there are of course areas where we might consider doing things differently—for example, making changes to technical regulations to better suit the specific conditions found in UK waters.
I want to address the labour issue. I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman, but I am happy to speak to him afterwards.
I assure hon. Members that I have heard their concerns today on labour as we leave the EU. DEFRA is aware that migrant workers from other EU countries will be one of the issues that will have to be resolved as part of our exit negotiations and future relationship with the EU. Our Ministers are currently working with colleagues across Government to understand all the issues and explore options.
On recruiting people into the industry, I remind hon. Members of our intention to develop thousands more food and farming apprenticeships. I am aware that Seafish, which has a national remit, has made progress on increasing the number of apprenticeships offered in the industry. My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall referred to five fishermen who did a fishing course in Looe in August. All five have jobs to go to, which is great news.
I assure hon. Members that DEFRA officials are working with the Department for Exiting the European Union. We will continue to listen and I look forward to future debates.
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (