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Rural Economy: Leaving the EU

Volume 617: debated on Thursday 24 November 2016

3. What assessment she has made of the potential effect of the UK’s decision to leave the EU on the rural economy. (907455)

Rural areas account for a quarter of all registered businesses in England. Small businesses continue to be an important part of the rural economy, with 29% of those employed in rural areas employed in small businesses that have one to nine employees. Leaving the EU gives us an opportunity to have policies to support the rural economy that are bespoke to the needs of this country.

Scotland’s food and drink exports are worth more than £2 billion to our national economy, and businesses in my constituency of Ochil and South Perthshire contribute significantly to that total. However, many in the agricultural workforce are seasonal workers from other EU states who take advantage of the single market’s free movement policy. Given that, can the Minister provide a guarantee to rural businesses in my constituency and beyond that those seasonal workers who come to Scotland for produce-picking and food and fish processing will still be able to work here after the UK has left the EU?

My right hon. and hon. Friends are well aware of this issue, which is not unique to the hon. Lady’s constituency. She will recognise that this will be part of ongoing discussions within Government and, of course, with the EU.

14. Does the Minister agree that in addition to the effect on the rural economy, leaving the EU will enable us to take back control of animal product imports without the EU wildlife trade regulations impinging on us? Will she look at stricter regulations for lion trophy imports? (907469)

I attended the convention on international trade in endangered species in September this year, when we secured greater scrutiny of trade in trophies to ensure the sustainability of lion exports. We already have suspensions in place for some countries where hunting cannot be considered sustainable at the current time. For example, we are refusing imports of lions and lion trophies from Mozambique, apart from animals hunted in the Niassa reserve, where hunting is considered to be well managed and sustainable.

One of the characteristics of European structural funds has been support for post-industrial areas. Areas such as mine in west Wales have been huge beneficiaries of structural funds to boost training and businesses. What assurances can the Minister give that west Wales will continue to have access to such funding streams post-2020?

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already given an assurance that schemes signed in advance of the autumn statement would be honoured in full. He has also continued to give the assurance that as long as funding schemes that are being developed offer good value for money, we will continue to support them in all parts of the United Kingdom.

12. Will Ministers confirm that in the Brexit negotiations, the Government will focus on promoting efficient and competitive British farming, enabling farmers to reinvest in the countryside and the environment, rather than funding what my Cheshire farmers call costly and complicated bureaucratic schemes? (907465)

My hon. Friend is right to point out that by leaving the EU, we have the chance to design policies that are bespoke to the needs of this country. My right hon. and hon. Friends are actively engaged in developing those options right now, with my support, and at looking at what potential environmental schemes could be at the heart of any future agricultural support.

Agricultural and fisheries businesses right across Scotland depend heavily on freedom of movement and access to the single market. Why will Ministers not simply guarantee that people will have their rights protected post-Brexit, which would clear up the uncertainty and allow those businesses to plan for the future?

The Government’s intention is to provide a smooth transition as we leave the European Union, but the hon. Lady will be aware that these matters are actively being considered and will form part of any future negotiation.

Does the Minister agree that if we are to make a realistic attempt at becoming economically productive, we have to make sure that our infrastructure works—and that includes the internet? Small businesses in rural areas would be able to thrive if it did.

My hon. Friend is right to stress the importance of access to the internet, and to other mobile network operators. That is why the universal service obligation has been enshrined in law through the Digital Economy Bill, and will be in place by the end of this Parliament.