South-west Agriculture and Fishing

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:38 pm on 19th October 2016.

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Photo of Scott Mann Scott Mann Conservative, North Cornwall 4:38 pm, 19th October 2016

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.