South-west Agriculture and Fishing

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:59 pm on 19th October 2016.

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Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Conservative, St Ives 4:59 pm, 19th October 2016

I congratulate and commend my hon. Friend Scott Mann, who is my neighbour, on securing this important debate. Since the result on 23 June, I have met large groups of both fishermen and farmers, and although we all recognise that the journey ahead will not be easy or smooth, what they are asking for is quite straightforward and should easily be accommodated. Their priority is simply for experts in their sectors to be sat around the negotiating table so their expertise is fully understood and contributes to the debate about how we move forward beyond 2019.

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.