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Leaving the EU: Fisheries

Volume 622: debated on Thursday 2 March 2017

2. What discussions she has had with representatives of the fishing industry on the priority to be given to that industry in the UK’s negotiations on leaving the EU. (908999)

First, may I welcome the hon. Member for Workington (Sue Hayman) to her place? It is very good to see her on the Opposition Front Bench and I look forward to working with her.

Mr Speaker, may I convey the sincere apologies of my farming Minister, whose plane has been delayed? He sends his very sincere apologies and we will write to you shortly.

Since the referendum, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers and officials have regularly met representatives from across the fishing industry. Fisheries will be a key area in negotiations. As a coastal state outside the EU, the UK will be responsible under international law for controlling UK waters and for the sustainable management of the fisheries within them.

I have an instinctive sympathy for anybody who is delayed by planes. It is a big part of my life.

The Secretary of State will be aware that before we had the common fisheries policy we had the London convention of 1964, which governed the access of foreign vessels to the six to 12-mile-limit waters. Is it the Government’s intention to remain a party to that convention after we leave the European Union?

What I can say to the right hon. Gentleman is that I am very aware of the issues around the London convention. We are looking at it very closely and will be able to comment on it in the near future.

There is no doubt that when we went into the EU back in the 1970s fishermen had a very poor deal on the amount of fish they could catch and on quotas. Is there not now a real opportunity to ensure we have better access to our waters and to larger quantities of fish, so that the industry can progress much further?

My hon. Friend is right that leaving the EU presents enormous opportunities for UK fishers. We will seek to get the best possible deal in our negotiations.

The Secretary of State knows that our fish processing industry is more important to our economy than the catching sector, and that it is very dependent on imports. We export more than 80% of what we catch, so is not maintaining tariff-free and other barrier-free access to the single European market more important than sterile arguments about fishing rights that could result in battles or worse?

I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. Our fishing communities around the UK provide a vital vibrancy to local communities and the rural economy, so I do not agree with the suggestion that processing is somehow far more important. We will seek the freest possible access to European markets, but when I was in China last year I signed a memorandum of understanding with the Chinese worth £50 million, which included UK seafood. It will be very important for us to be able to find new export markets.

Last Friday, I spoke at a seafood processing and fishing industry seminar in the Grimsby-Cleethorpes area. The industry recognises the opportunities of Brexit, but understandably it has some concerns. I welcome the Secretary of State’s reassurances to date, but can she give an absolute reassurance to the seafood processing sector that it will form a key part of the negotiations?

I had a very happy fish and chip lunch in Cleethorpes with my hon. Friend and I look forward to further such opportunities. He is right to point out that seafood processing is an absolutely vital part of our fishing sector. We are very much taking it into account in our negotiations on leaving the EU and in looking at opportunities around the world.

It is always a joy to learn about the culinary habits of the Secretary of State. We are most grateful for being provided with a little extra information.

Despite the fact that we are eight months on from the referendum, at a recent meeting with Scottish Ministers the Secretary of State was unable to provide any information on what powers over the rural economy will flow to Scotland after Brexit. Has Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader, let the cat out of the bag today in The Times? It looks like there will not only be a power grab, but a cash grab. When will the Secretary of State come clean and own up to what the Government plan to do with Scottish fishing and Scottish farming?

I think the hon. Gentleman will recognise that the UK market is incredibly valuable to all our fishing communities. It will continue to be very important. The Prime Minister has been very clear that no powers that are currently devolved will be, as he says, grabbed. They will continue to be devolved. What we are looking very carefully at is the best possible deal for all parts of the United Kingdom as we seek to negotiate Brexit.