South-west Agriculture and Fishing

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:48 pm on 19th October 2016.

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Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Labour, Exeter 4:48 pm, 19th October 2016

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?