House of Commons
Thursday 14 January 2021
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
I should like to add to my brief comments yesterday to pay tribute to Godfrey Cameron, who passed away on Tuesday. Godfrey was part of the security team who did so much to keep us safe here. He was a very popular and respected colleague, always looking to help and to make a difference. He will be greatly missed. Our condolences go to his wife, Hyacinth, and his children, Leon and Renee.
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Orders, 4 June and 30 December 2020).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Scottish Goods: US Tariffs
My right hon. Friend has been a huge champion for Scotch whisky. We have been working hard to de-escalate this conflict and get punitive tariffs removed on both sides of the Atlantic. That is the way forward, not escalating this tariff dispute.
The Secretary of State has worked incredibly hard in negotiating with the United States to try to find a bilateral settlement to the Airbus-Boeing dispute to facilitate a deal with the US. Of course she is aware of the significant damage that the Scotch whisky industry continues to suffer, with export losses now approaching a staggering £450 million. Will she reassure me that as soon as possible after the new US Administration is in place, she will urgently pick up negotiations on a deal to end tariffs? Will she update the House, before that, on what support she requires from other UK Government Departments to ensure that a deal is agreed by the whole of the UK Government?
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend about the urgency of ending this tariff dispute. I have been clear with the United States and the European Union that we want to de-escalate it and reach a negotiated settlement. This dispute has already been going on for 16 years and has caused much damage. I am seeking an early meeting with the new US trade representative, Katherine Tai, and this will be one of the items on my agenda. I am also working closely with the new Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on this issue.
I know that everybody in Government is working hard on this, but I want to reiterate the huge financial strain that the tariffs are having on the textile and cashmere industry in my constituency in the Scottish borders, which I fear will cost many local jobs. Will the Government consider offering financial compensation to the firms affected to protect local jobs and this industry?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. We are looking at supporting industry, including through the BEIS fund that will invest £10 million to help distilleries go green, and no doubt the Treasury is looking at other affected industries as well. If we had accepted the advice from Labour to put additional tariffs on US products such as sweet potatoes and nuts, we would likely be hit by more tariffs as Germany and France were, as announced on 30 December.
The Secretary of State has threatened to reimpose tariffs on the United States if the Airbus dispute is not settled, but that threat will only carry any impact if the US believes that we have the legal authority to carry it out. Will she agree to publish the UK’s legal advice or our exchange of letters with the World Trade Organisation to prove that she is not bluffing and that we genuinely have the authority to reimpose those tariffs if we need to do so?
I am very clear that we have the authority to impose those tariffs. We have acquired rights as a result of leaving the European Union. But I go back to the point I was making: the hon. Gentleman has advocated putting additional tariffs on products such as sweet potatoes and nuts, so presumably he thinks that we have those acquired rights.
Free Trade Agreements: Small and Medium-sized Enterprises
The Government have included, and will continue to seek to include, specific SME chapters in all our free trade agreements to ensure that SMEs are provided with the information necessary to make informed commercial decisions and seize the great new opportunities provided by these agreements.
The support for SMEs in the trade agreement is great to see, but may I ask the Minister to continue that with a free trade agreement for the USA that supports companies like Kromek in Sedgefield? It manufactures high-radiation detector material ingots that are shipped to the USA, attracting US import duty incorporating the price for worldwide sale, with the waste coming back to the UK for re-manufacture, attracting further UK import duty. The removal of those duties would clearly support high-value jobs in Sedgefield and increase the global competitiveness of an export-led UK business.
I thank my hon. Friend for that excellent question on behalf of his constituency company, and I can tell him that the US and the UK have a shared ambition to improve trade for our SME-focused economies on both sides of the Atlantic, to help companies such as Kromek. There are three specific areas we are looking at. First, we want to reduce or eliminate tariffs. Secondly, we will have a wide-reaching SME chapter. Thirdly, we are also looking at provisions on reimported goods as well. Those provisions will benefit around 32,000 UK SMEs that already export to the US, such as Kromek, but also future SMEs. That will grow that trade, which will suit our bustling and improving SME sector.
The trade agreement with the European Union is absolutely fantastic for our country as a newly sovereign nation, and it comes on top of deals already covering more than 60 countries. Can my right hon. Friend tell the House how he intends to go further still and secure opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region, which would particularly benefit small businesses in my constituency of Aylesbury, but also those across the UK?
We are seeking an SME chapter in all our future free trade agreements. SME chapters are an excellent way of assisting companies to navigate a free trade agreement. They distil information and make it easier, particularly for companies without expertise in trade agreements, which is generally the case for SMEs. In Asia-Pacific, we aim to include such chapters. We have already included one in an agreement with Japan, and we aim to include them in agreements with Australia, New Zealand and, of course, the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. We are aiming to do that to benefit SMEs in constituencies such as my hon. Friend’s in Aylesbury.
Food and Drink Exports
We are launching a new food and drink export campaign this year, which will encourage British businesses to take advantage of the deals we have struck, covering 63 countries around the world. As part of our Japan deal, we will be putting forward 77 geographical indications to the Japanese system, including Welsh lamb.
The Prime Minister’s Brexit deal is a great achievement, but could my right hon. Friend help with problems being experienced by companies delivering goods to Northern Ireland, such as dairy wholesaler Spear UK in Llandrillo in my constituency of Clwyd South, which saw delays last week due to additional paperwork and permanent extra costs for the customs agent and veterinary oversight?
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster gave a statement on this issue yesterday, and he is working hard with the Brexit business taskforce to deal with those issues. We also have the trader support scheme for Northern Ireland. I am pleased to say that freight volumes for Northern Ireland ports are at normal levels for this time of year, and there are no significant queues. Supermarkets are reporting healthy levels of supplies, but I certainly will pass on my hon. Friend’s issue to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to ensure that it is resolved.
The Secretary of State was copied in to a letter to the Business Secretary from Vicky Leigh-Pearson, the sales director at John Ross Jr, Aberdeen, salmon producers and exporters. It described in excoriating detail the “barrage of useless information” on Brexit, which added no value or clarity for such food and drink exporting businesses. Would it not be better to fix the problems at the UK-EU border, where real exports take place, rather than make vague promises about future promotional campaigns?
I observe that the hon. Gentleman did not support a deal, so effectively he wanted no deal for the people of the United Kingdom. I think it is a bit rich of him to raise issues when no deal would have been very, very tricky for the exporters he is talking about. Given that £200 million was given to the Scottish Government to prepare to minimise disruption, I suggest he takes up the issue with Nicola Sturgeon to see how that money has been spent to help Scottish exporters.
That was possibly the worst case of deflection I have ever seen, even from a Tory. The Brexit advice on offer to businesses such as John Ross Jr, which has an exemplary 30-year record in exporting,
“has fallen woefully short when it comes to one of the most important commercial issues of our time.”
Instead of vague promises about future campaigns, pathetic attempts at deflection and playing rather silly politics, would it not be better to fix the problems at the UK-EU border, where real exports happen, to protect real jobs and businesses?
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is working very hard with the Brexit business taskforce to make sure that disruption is minimised and businesses are given support. It is perfectly reasonable for me to raise the £200 million that has been given to the Scottish Government and how they are spending it, and the hon. Gentleman’s silence speaks volumes.
Not enough vets to inspect Scottish fish, not enough customs agents to process border forms and not enough time for exporters to adopt new rules of origin—it is no good the Secretary of State saying that the delays are temporary or promising compensation with money that has been already allocated to modernise the fishing industry, as the Prime Minister did yesterday. The Government have failed to prepare for the new arrangements at the border, so is it any wonder that a company such as John Ross Jr says that the Government have thrown them in the sea “without a life jacket”?
I am not quite sure what the question was, but I have been clear that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is running the Brexit business taskforce and that we are seeing disruption minimised and businesses given the support they need. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there is an urgent question immediately after this Question Time specifically on the fisheries issue, in which he will no doubt want to participate.
Brazil Trade Agreement: Environmental Standards
Britain will not sacrifice her high standards of environmental protection in any future free trade agreements. At present, we do not have a trade agreement with Brazil, but we are clear that more trade does not need to come at the expense of our values. The Secretary of State and I raised the pressing issue of deforestation most recently on 11 November at our joint economic and trade committee with Brazil.
I thank the Minister for his response, but in recent correspondence I have had with the Brazilian ambassador, he has refused even to acknowledge that deforestation is an issue in the Amazon. We have also seen recent reports in the press about terrible working conditions on Brazilian beef farms, which have been described as akin to modern slavery. What more can be done to ensure not only that these concerns are raised in discussions with Brazil but that any future bilateral trade deal is conditional on Brazil taking action to stop the abuse of workers and the deforestation?
The hon. Lady is right: there is, of course, more that can be done, which is why the United Kingdom has already committed £259 million to Brazil through its international climate finance programme to tackle deforestation. For example, the early movers programme rewards pioneers in forest conservation, and another programme led by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has protected the clearance of something like 430,000 acres in Brazil.
As we all know, Scotland opposed leaving the European Union, and leaving the European Union is going to cost the UK about 4.9% of GDP. Many are concerned that a trade deal with Brazil will be a threat to UK poultry and meat production. Will the Minister ensure that lower meat production standards do not get on the table in any way, shape or form? What is the GDP gain of a deal with Brazil? Do the Government have that figure, or is it similar to the Australia trade deal, which is projected to be 245 times smaller than the Brexit damage that the Tory Government have foisted upon the UK?
I thank the Chairman of the International Trade Committee for his question. I can be clear that we are firmly committed to upholding our high environmental, food safety and animal welfare standards now that we are outside the EU. Indeed, we have the agility and flexibility to enhance them where we believe that that is right. We can also go further on trade. That includes recently opening new opportunities for fish by securing approval from Brazil for seven new British fisheries facilities, which means that companies can now sell high-quality British fish to an import market that was worth almost £1 billion in 2019.
Continuity Trade Agreements
We have agreed trade deals covering 63 countries plus the EU, accounting for £885 billion of UK trade. No other country has ever negotiated so many deals simultaneously.
I commend the Secretary of State for her work securing the most ambitious digital free trade provisions anywhere in the world. The digital economy is worth £150 billion to the UK economy, and it is growing five times faster than the rest of the economy. Could the Secretary of State outline the work that she is doing, to update businesses on these exciting new provisions, so that they can make the most of the new opportunities?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that digital trade is vital, and the UK is a world leader in technology. Our Japan deal goes well beyond the EU-Japan deal in areas such as the free flow of data, the commitment to uphold the principles of net neutrality and the ban on data localisation. We are negotiating similar provisions with Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, and we are looking to accede to the CPTPP, which has a very strong digital and data chapter. We also have a trade advisory group involving leading figures from the tech industry so we can make sure we have the most up-to-date information when we are negotiating these deals.
It has now been 14 days since the provisional trade agreement between the UK and Cameroon entered into force, yet Parliament has still not even seen that agreement, let alone had the chance to examine, debate or approve it. While I fully understand the reasons for that, does the Secretary of State understand why Members of all parties believe that this episode just illustrates why—in fact, it is the latest illustration of why—scrutiny procedures need to be improved, which is the reason many will be voting for changes to them next Tuesday?
I like to say that scrutiny starts at home, so I suggest the right hon. Lady starts with her colleague, the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas), who presided over the EU’s signing of the CARIFORUM deal 13 years ago, which is still being provisionally applied. I am not quite sure why the right hon. Lady does not ask for a debate on that. [Laughter.]
These are serious matters. Cameroon has become, in the last three years, one of the most abusive, repressive and murderous regimes in the world today. We all know that that did not stop the Secretary of State reaching a trade agreement with it, but we do not even know what, if anything, the trade agreement says on this issue. Again, does the Secretary of State understand why Members on all sides of this House believe that there is a need for new laws, next Tuesday, obliging the Government to take proper account of human rights when negotiating and ratifying new trade agreements?
I had hoped that the right hon. Lady would have welcomed our announcement earlier this week on the action we are taking on forced labour in Xinjiang and making sure that Britain upholds its values when trading internationally. I would ask her to consider some of her previous actions, such as sharing a platform with Hamas and refusing to criticise Fidel Castro’s abhorrent human rights abuses. It is a bit much being lectured by a Labour Member on human rights, given her past record.
The DIT’s inward investment goal is to maintain the UK’s position as the No. 1 holder of foreign investment in Europe. That is why I am delighted to say that, according to the latest Office for National Statistics figures, the UK’s inward foreign direct investment stock stood at £1.6 trillion at the end of 2019. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development—the global equivalent of the ONS—the UK maintained its No. 1 status for FDI stock in Europe at the end of that year.
What an excellent question. My Department is committed to ensuring that exports and investment bolster our levelling-up agenda. That is why we operate a key account management programme, to support existing investors in priority levelling-up areas. D2N2 LEP—it sounds like something from “Star Trek”, but it is my hon. Friend’s local enterprise partnership—is currently receiving funding under that programme to identify foreign owned companies across the LEP area, including in Bassetlaw, which can be assisted with growth plans precisely to retain an increased number of jobs. Since March, we have also placed seven new officers in key markets overseas, who are specifically tasked with promoting investment opportunities in the midlands, not least in Bassetlaw.
Middle East: Trade
Britain has strong bilateral trading relationships with our friends in the middle east and a clear ambition to deepen them. That is why we have launched a joint trade and investment review with the Gulf Cooperation Council, with which total trade stood at almost £41 billion in the year to June 2020. We continue our work with other parts of the region too, particularly where we have trade agreements and are seeking to maximise new opportunities.
The recent report from the all-party group on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, which I chair, identifies opportunities for British bodies in energy, solar power, film production, higher education and agriculture, including quality pomegranates from Halabja, and it states that the Government should organise a second official trade mission once covid allows. Will the Minister talk with his colleagues, the Kurdistan Regional Government, and the APPG to consider how such a trade mission could boost investment and trade with our allies, who constantly seek British expertise, goods and services?
Sadly, such travel is somewhat restricted at this moment in time, but my right hon. Friend is right to highlight the opportunities across the whole middle east region. For instance, in the education sector, which I know is a particular passion of his, my Department has supported companies to win more than 30 contracts in the middle east, worth more than £58 million over the past year. I look forward to working with my right hon. Friend to take that forward.
Free Trade Agreements
I thank the distinguished trade envoy for his excellent question. My Department is turbo-charging efforts to help northern businesses take advantage of our trade deals and ensure that the benefits of FTAs are shared across the United Kingdom. Since March we have recruited an additional 30 international trade advisers, and 14 overseas representatives just for the northern powerhouse. We founded the Export Academy, equipping northern businesses with the knowledge, skills and tools that they need to create an export plan and, more importantly, to implement it. Since 2016, the DIT northern powerhouse team has led 83 trade missions to 23 countries, supporting 1,638 companies. My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that covid-19 has not stopped us, and that 272 northern companies have benefited from nine virtual missions that the northern powerhouse team has delivered since April 2020. Five further such missions are planned for delivery by the end of March 2021.
I am delighted to have recently joined the parliamentary export programme, which is a DIT-led initiative that focuses on promoting international trade. Fylde, just like Chorley, is home to numerous SMEs that currently do not export their goods and services, but would be well placed to do so. What support and advice will be made available to businesses that are looking to begin exporting and play their part in post-Brexit, global Britain?
I warmly welcome my hon. Friend to the parliamentary export programme and thank him for all he is doing for businesses in Fylde. In addition to the support I just outlined, I launched the export growth plan in October, with a £38 million internationalisation fund to provide grants for businesses to export. In December, I launched the UK Export Finance general export facility, providing working capital to exporting SMEs—the first product of its kind and available from all the major banks. In 2019, we were the only top 10 exporting country in the world to grow exports. All I can say is that we do not plan to let up.
Free Trade Agreements
We are determined that all regions of the United Kingdom should benefit from free trade agreements. Our English network of international trade advisers includes 30 giving export support in the south-east of England, all of whom have been trained to help companies take advantage of FTAs. We have a range of online resources, including country-by-country guides and tools on great.gov.uk such as “Find an online marketplace” and “Find export opportunities”, in addition to the wide range of webinars that the Department provides.
The Coast to Capital local enterprise partnership is soon to submit a freeport bid for the Manor Royal industrial area south of Gatwick airport. May I have an assurance from my hon. Friend that he will liaise with our right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in support of this excellent initiative?
I would not want to tread on my hon. Friend’s toes. As he understands, the selection process is ongoing and it will be decided by the Treasury, but obviously we are working very closely with the Chancellor and the Treasury team, precisely to ensure that the opportunities for freeports are assigned to the best possible places and that all the benefits that they can bring are realised, for the benefit of constituents such as my hon. Friend’s.
Free Trade Agreement: Australia
We have made good progress, and we are about to go into the third round of talks with Australia next month. I will be speaking to my counterpart, Dan Tehan, next week in advance of that, and we will be fighting to cut tariffs on vital British goods such as ceramics, which face a 5% tariff into Australia.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer and for everything that she and her team, and her negotiators, did last year to get continuity trade agreements for Newcastle-under-Lyme exporters such as Doulton Water Filters, which I met shortly before Christmas. For all our exporters, will my right hon. Friend set out how an agreement with Australia would also facilitate our accession to the CPTPP, which is one of the most vibrant markets in the world and would give us even more opportunities in the future?
A deal with Australia will be another important step towards CPTPP, where we will be negotiating a market access schedule with Australia. It is a high-standards, rules-based agreement covering £9 trillion of GDP and, importantly, it removes tariffs on 95% of goods. It has a strong data and digital chapter and it will mean more opportunities for exporters in Newcastle-under-Lyme.
Free Trade Agreements
Global Britain’s trade agreements will benefit food and drink producers and farmers by driving up growth and opening new markets to them. Just in 2019, Wales exported £123 million-worth of meat products globally, so a future trade deal with the US and others could reduce barriers. A deal with the US alone could boost the Welsh economy by £154 million, helping to create more jobs in my hon. Friend’s constituency.
On Christmas day, a local sheep farmer knocked on my door to give me a Christmas present—a box of swedes—as a thank you for the Prime Minister reaching our historic free trade agreement with the EU. Sheep farmers in Brecon and Radnorshire have warmly welcomed the deal with the EU, the largest market for Welsh lamb, but my farmers are not prepared to stand still; opening new markets through rewarding trade deals is essential to future-proofing the sheep sector. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will look to give sheep farmers across Brecon and Radnorshire every possible opportunity to get their lamb across the world?
My hon. Friend is a great champion of the farming industry in her constituency and across Wales, and I can assure her that the Government are committed to securing future free trade agreements that will open up markets for farmers in Wales. Indeed, the United Kingdom-Japan free trade agreement is particularly beneficial, as it will protect Welsh lamb under the new agreement on geographical indicators. Sheep farmers such as Rhug Estate have already welcomed the opportunity to export their high-quality lamb to Japan.
Educational Technology: Exports
The latest data gathered from a survey by the British Educational Suppliers Association indicates that UK EdTech exports are worth £170 million a year. That is expected to increase in light of the pandemic, which has lifted demand for EdTech products and services. The UK is well placed to take advantage of this trend as the fourth largest market globally. More important than the market value is the difference that good educational technology can make.
My hon. Friend will recall that, when we worked together on the international education strategy, EdTech was a key export growth area—and that was before, as he mentions, the focus that the pandemic put on its role. What can be done across Government to maximise the export potential of EdTech for the future?
My right hon. Friend is quite right. It was in his time as Secretary of State for Education that we built much closer ties between our Departments to make sure we could promote educational exports. He is also right to highlight the pandemic’s impact on EdTech. We are working with BESA, the British Educational Suppliers Association, and the Department for Education, his old Department, on a major EdTech event this month, which will connect companies with overseas buyers.
More activity is planned for later in the year in several key markets, supported by the international trade champion, Sir Steve Smith. That post, of course, came out of the work that my right hon. Friend did to develop the international education strategy. He will be pleased to know that we will soon be launching a refreshed international education strategy, in collaboration with the Department for Education and with the support of other Government Departments, that includes provisions to maximise EdTech’s export potential.
Services: EU Relationship
The trade co-operation agreement secures continued market access across key service sectors, including both professional and business services. The agreement also includes a commitment to review the services provisions with a view to making further improvements, along with a specific joint declaration on regulatory co-operation in financial services. Specifics will be taken forward by the Cabinet Office and Taskforce Europe.
Within a day of leaving the EU, shares worth billions of euros normally traded in the City of London flooded out of the EU to other European capitals such as Paris and Amsterdam. One trader told the Financial Times that this was a “stunning own goal” and only the beginning of the financial sector’s post-Brexit decline. We know that in Scotland seafood markets are already being decimated, but what is the Minister’s assessment of the damage Brexit will do to the UK’s financial sector and how many own goals can we expect in the future?
The memorandum of understanding on financial services ensures financial stability and consumer protection, and we look forward to that being negotiated. I was not surprised by this question, but I was a little bit surprised that the hon. Gentleman was the one asking it. It is not that long ago that he said:
“Leaving the European Union without a deal in place is an act of economic self-harm”.
But that is precisely what he voted for on 30 December.
The Prime Minister admitted that the deal is not up to the job on trade and services, and Brussels has made it clear that access will be restricted further if there is divergence from the EU’s standards. Is it the Government’s intention to give up access to that market, or will the UK remain wedded to the EU’s regulatory framework?
I have long experience in this space, having been a Treasury Minister, and there are of course advantages to the UK being able to set its own regulatory regime for financial services as the biggest financial services marketplace in Europe. I think the hon. Lady is wrong to characterise the treaty—she voted in favour of no deal—as not being good for services. There are good provisions on business travellers, excellent provisions on legal services, and very, very good provisions on digital and data. I am a little bit surprised that she is not more supportive of the deal.
UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement
The agreement that we have struck with the EU is great for the UK. It delivers on our promise to the British people and takes back control of our laws, our borders and our money. It proves that we can succeed as an independent trading nation, and builds on the deal that we have struck covering 63 countries around the world.
I was genuinely interested in what the Secretary of State would say, because so far none of the 30-plus free trade deals that she has rolled over with non-EU countries since 2019 is actually set to deliver any increase in exports compared with what was previously forecast. According to her own economic impact assessments, even the Japan trade deal, which she has lauded, will result in only a £2.6 billion increase in UK exports, not the £4.3 billion forecast inside the EU. Can she explain—preferably without reverting to wishful thinking, personal attacks or party political rants—exactly how Britain is going to be better off?
I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman’s political advice there. I note that he did not vote for a deal with the EU, even though he previously said that no deal was unacceptable. The figures that he is quoting on Japan from the EU are crude figures that are completely out of date and were created from data before the financial crisis in 2008. The fact is that the Japan deal that we have struck goes further and faster in areas such as data and digital, the creative industries, and food and drink—all areas where the UK has a comparative advantage. There are huge opportunities ahead, and I ask the hon. Gentleman to embrace them.
Over the last two years, the Government have placed, as the Secretary of State tells us frequently, more than 30 new trade agreements before the House. Every single one of them, of course, has been accompanied by an economic impact assessment.
The Secretary of State’s October agreement with Japan set a new standard for these documents, with over 100 pages analysing the impact of the deal on UK exports, jobs, business and growth. May I simply ask the Secretary of State, when are the Government going to publish the economic impact assessment for the UK’s trade agreement with the European Union?
The right hon. Lady will be well aware that the Department for International Trade is not responsible for negotiating the agreement with the European Union. That is a matter for Taskforce Europe, which has provided full data to this House. The House voted for the deal—including, I am delighted to see, the right hon. Lady.
I was not asking whether the Secretary of State was responsible; I was just thinking that, since she was in the Cabinet, she might know when the impact assessment was going to be published.
The reality is that we only need to watch the news to see the devastating economic damage being done to businesses across our country—especially the Scottish fishing industry—as a result of the new rules facing our exporters and the shocking way in which they are being implemented. Can the Secretary of State explain the logic? Why have the Government published full economic impact assessments for the trade agreements signed last month with Moldova and North Macedonia, but not for our trade agreement with the European Union?
The trade agreement with the European Union is something that the House has already voted on and supported, and which has happened. It is one of the largest agreements ever struck, duty free and quota free on products covering huge amounts of the British economy.
I encourage the right hon. Lady to move forward and focus on the areas for which the Department for International Trade has responsibility—namely, the 63 countries that we have covered with new trade deals, and our aspirations to strike trade deals with the US, New Zealand and Australia.
Human Rights Clauses: Trade Agreements
The United Kingdom has long promoted its values globally. We are clear that more trade does not have to come at the expense of our values. While our approach to agreements will vary between partners, it will always allow this Government to open discussions on issues, including on rights and responsibilities.
Following on from the Minister’s response, successive UK Governments have believed in the principle that all new trade treaties should contain clauses allowing those treaties to be suspended if the other party engages in serious abuses of human rights, yet the UK recently signed new treaties with Singapore, Vietnam and Turkey, none of which had those clauses, despite ongoing concerns about the records of those countries. Can the Minister please explain why?
The hon. Lady might be misunderstanding the nature of the continuity programme for rolling over existing agreements. I point out that, on Turkey, the underlying agreement dates from 1963, and there were no human rights clauses in that agreement, but that does not mean to say that we do not have a robust discussion with Turkey on human rights. The EU-Vietnam framework agreement was separate and was not necessary to achieve trade continuity, but again we have a good dialogue with Vietnam on human rights. The UK and Singapore have agreed a UK-Singapore political joint statement to reflect our close partnership. Once that is signed, it will be published on gov.uk.
We have spent much time in this Chamber quite rightly talking about the fate of the Uyghurs and China’s treatment of them. Does the Minister agree that that issue needs to be dealt with in any trade deal, to ensure that we are not endorsing such genocidal actions?
I am extremely sympathetic to the hon. Lady’s question. The Foreign Secretary delivered an extensive statement on this topic on Tuesday. Of course, the UK is not negotiating a free trade agreement with China. However, the Foreign Secretary announced on Tuesday a review of export controls, financial penalties for organisations not complying with the Modern Slavery Act 2015, strengthening the overseas business risk guidance and making sure that the Government have the information we need to exclude suppliers complicit in human rights violations in Xinjiang.
May I ask the Minister very simply why he feels it was appropriate to roll over a trade agreement with Egypt, a country that routinely detains and executes political opponents and religious minorities, persecutes its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and suppresses democratic freedoms, and why no effort was made to strengthen the human rights provisions in that agreement?
The continuity programme is all about rolling over the deals that are there. I do not believe that there was any diminution of human rights provisions in the agreement with Egypt, or certainly of the effect of those provisions. We have a regular dialogue with Egypt on these issues. There is an extremely difficult internal security situation in Egypt, which the hon. Lady will know has affected British nationals directly as well. It is careful to get that balance right in all our dialogues with countries such as Egypt.
In under two years, we have agreed trade deals covering 63 countries plus the EU, accounting for £885 billion of UK trade. This is unprecedented; no other country has ever negotiated so many trade deals simultaneously. In 2021, we will add to these deals: negotiations are already under way with the United States, Australia and New Zealand, and our planned accession to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership will hitch Britain to the fastest-growing markets around the world.
Accession to the CPTPP is a priority for this Government and a key part of our trade negotiation programme. We aim to make our formal notification of our intent to accede soon. This agreement will give huge opportunities for British business to export more goods. We already export more goods to the CPTPP countries than to China. For example, 95% of goods are tariff-free under the agreement, and the strong data and digital provisions will really help British tech firms.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), is running the Brexit business taskforce to ensure that the additional processes required of businesses are clear and to give businesses the support they need to be able to trade in the new environment.
No one in this House has done more than my hon Friend to champion the English language sector under the pressures of covid. I congratulate her on today’s question and on the debate that she led in, I think, July, to which I had the honour of replying.
We are determined to champion the interests of the English language sector. That is why it is a key member of the education sector advisory group, which I co-chair with my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities. We are determined across Government to ensure that it can access Government schemes for support. My hon. Friend is also right to say that we should look ahead, and that is why we have produced an enterprise management incentive suppliers catalogue for China and are working to replicate that for growing markets such as Indonesia and Brazil. We have to help those businesses to survive today, and we have to put in place support for the future so that they can grow once again and be such an important part of our education sector and, indeed, our wider cultural offer to the world.
The trade deals that we have secured are worth £885 billion of trade. What trade means is jobs. It means opportunities for firms to export abroad. It means strong supply chains for businesses across the United Kingdom. The FTAs that we have secured mean that UK traders will continue to enjoy preferential access to trade that covers 63% of UK trade. In the case of our deal with Japan, that deal goes further and faster, and that will bring more benefits to our tech companies, to our food and drink industry and, of course, to our fantastic creative industry.
This has attracted some attention. I would remind the hon. Member that he voted for no deal on 30 December. I would also refer him to the article written by the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in the New Musical Express this week, in which he said that the EU offer on this unfortunately fell short of the UK’s proposals and would not have enabled touring by musicians. He said:
“The UK pushed for a more ambitious agreement with the EU on the temporary movement of business travellers, which would have covered musicians and others, but our proposals were rejected by the EU”.
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He is a great champion of business in his constituency, and I can tell him that the deals with Canada and Mexico give vital certainty to businesses across the midlands, which export goods and services worth about £15 billion, in key sectors such as automotive, manufacturing and food and drink. I know that these opportunities, and new ones, will be taken up by businesses—manufacturers and others—on the Holmewood business park in Shirebrook and across the Bolsover constituency.
I observe to the hon. Gentleman that Japan has data adequacy with the EU and it is also part of the comprehensive and progressive trans-Pacific partnership, which has a strong digital and data chapter. So it is absolutely reasonable that we should be able to have both and be successful.
My hon. Friend is right to advocate so passionately on behalf of his constituents, particularly those who need that opportunity and that levelling up. This is precisely what the levelling-up agenda and the freeport programme are about, and we are determined that the benefits of our free trade agenda should be shared right across the country, including in Ipswich. Freeports will attract new investors and drive trade and exports, all of which will help to regenerate communities across the UK, through high-skilled jobs and new infrastructure. It is so important that we work together as a House to champion business and jobs. Forget there being a division in the Labour party, its Front-Bench International Trade team could not—
Order, Mr Stuart. This questions session has not been good, because I am beginning to worry that we have very good answers to those on one side of the Chamber but the answers to those on the other mean that they are not getting the respect they deserve. In fact, on one occasion we had, “No, it is not our responsibility”, but then suddenly when another Member asked, we had, “It is our responsibility”. I want us to be concise in our treatment and the way we deal with all Members of this House. They are representing constituencies, and I expect them to get full and thorough answers, and not the political games, on all sides, that seem to be being played.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question—he is right to raise issues on behalf of small businesses in his constituency. The Government are in constant dialogue with business representative organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses, for example at the Brexit business taskforce chaired by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The Government have of course provided an enormous amount of funding to make sure that businesses are ready for the end of the transition period.
Since we left the EU a year ago, no bureaucrats will ratify our trade agreements. The ratification of future free trade agreements will take place only once this Parliament has had the opportunity to scrutinise the detail of any trade deal and any necessary implementing legislation. We believe that our system of parliamentary scrutiny compares favourably with that of other Westminster-style democracies such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Our chemicals industry is extremely important and we are well aware of the issues in the industry with all its trade partners. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the EU deal is the responsibility of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, but I am sure that the chemicals industry will make its voice heard at the Brexit business taskforce. The Government stand ready to assist the industry, which, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, is vital for our future prosperity.
We are working very hard to de-escalate that tariff conflict and reach a negotiated settlement. I have been in discussions with the US and the EU and I will take up the matter on an urgent basis when the new US trade representative is confirmed in due course.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We are all well aware of the important role that Milton Keynes plays in technology innovation, electric vehicles and other transport technologies in particular, as well as other areas. That is why the UK is seeking to minimise the barriers to digital trade in particular, going further in the UK-Japan deal. We want to ensure that the UK is at the forefront of global dialogue on policy issues, for example, at the World Trade Organisation.
EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement: Fishing Industry
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if he will make a statement on the consequences of the EU trade and co-operation agreement as it applies to the fishing industry.
As hon. Members will know, before Christmas the UK and the EU concluded a new trade and co-operation agreement, which established tariff-free trade in all goods and, among other things, sets a new relationship with the EU on fisheries. Before turning to the specifics of that agreement, I should briefly set the wider context.
The withdrawal agreement that was agreed by this House in January last year established the United Kingdom as an independent coastal state. Over the course of the last year we have taken our independent seat at the regional fisheries management organisations, including the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission and the North Atlantic Fisheries Organisation. In September, we reached a partnership agreement with Norway—our most important partner on fishing interests, and with whom we have responsibility for shared stocks in the North sea.
We have also developed new bilateral arrangements with our other north-east Atlantic neighbours, including the Faroes, Greenland and Iceland. We have recently commenced annual bilateral fisheries negotiations with the Faroes in relation to access to one another’s waters, and a UK-Norway-EU trilateral is about to begin to agree fishing opportunities on shared stocks in the North sea. There will also be a UK-EU bilateral negotiation on fishing opportunities for the current year in remaining areas. For the first time in almost 50 years, the UK has a seat at the table and represents its own interests in those important negotiations.
The trade and co-operation agreement establishes an initial multi-annual agreement on quota, sharing and access, covering five and a half years. It ends relative stability as the basis for sharing stocks. Under the agreement, we have given an undertaking to give the EU access to our waters on similar terms as now and, in return, it has agreed to relinquish approximately 25% of the quota that it previously caught in our waters under the EU’s relative stability arrangement. That means that we move from being able to catch somewhat over half the fish in our waters to two thirds of the fish in our waters at the end of the multi-annual agreement. The transfer of quota is front-loaded, with the EU giving up 15% in year 1. On North sea cod, we have an increase from 47% to 57%. On Celtic sea haddock, our share has moved from 10% to 20%. On North sea hake, we secured an uplift from 18% to 54%, and on West of Scotland anglerfish, we have an increase from 31% to 45%. After the five-and-a-half-year agreement, we are able to change access and sharing arrangements further. The EU, for its part, will also be able to apply tariffs on fish exports in proportion to any withdrawal of access.
Although we recognise that some sectors of the fishing industry had hoped for a larger uplift, and, indeed, the Government argued throughout for a settlement that would have been closer to zonal attachment, the agreement does, nevertheless, mark a significant step in the right direction. To support the UK industry through this initial five and a half years, the Prime Minister announced, just before Christmas, that we will invest £100 million in the UK fishing industry, and I will be bringing forward proposals for this investment in due course.
Finally, although it is not a consequence of the trade and co-operation agreement, the end of the transition period and the fact that we have left both the customs union and the single market does mean that there is some additional administration accompanying exports to the EU. I am aware that there have been some teething issues as businesses get used to these new processes. Authorities in the EU countries are also adjusting to new procedures. We are working closely with both industry and authorities in the EU to iron out these issues and to ensure that goods flow smoothly to market.
For years, this Government have promised our fishing industry a sea of opportunity, but, today, our boats are tied up in harbour, their propellers fouled with red tape manufactured in Whitehall. Boats that are able to go to sea are landing their catches in Denmark—an expensive round trip of at least 72 hours, which takes work away from processors and other shoreside businesses in this country. Our Fisheries Minister describes promises made by Ministers as “dreams” and apparently did not think it was worth reading the agreement as soon as it was made, even though every second counted. How on earth was it allowed to come to this? The EU trade agreement allows a grace period on customs checks for EU businesses. Why was there no grace period allowed for our exporters, and will the Government engage with the EU as a matter of urgency to make good that most fundamental of errors?
Yesterday, the Prime Minister told the Liaison Committee that compensation is being considered for our fishing industry. Who will be compensated, for what, and by how much? When will our scheme be published and what steps will be taken to help processors, catchers and traders in the meantime? On the loss of quota swaps and other mechanisms, as the Fisheries Minister said yesterday, this could be done Government to Government in-year. Can the Secretary of State explain today how the literally hundreds of producer organisation to producer organisation swaps done every year will be done on a Government-to-Government basis?
Finally, what will happen at the end of a five-and-a-half year transition period? A transition normally takes us from point A to point B. This transition takes us from point A to point A with a new negotiation. Is zonal attachment still the Government’s policy on quota shares?
This is a shambles of the Government’s own making; there is no one else to blame now. When will the Minister start listening to the industry? I make him this offer: I can convene a virtual roundtable of all the affected sectors today or tomorrow. Will he meet with me and them to sort this out? The time for complacency has passed.
May I begin where the right hon. Gentleman ended and say that we are looking and working very closely with industry on this matter? We are having twice-a-week meetings with all the key stakeholders and all the key sectors to help them understand these issues. Yesterday, we had a meeting with the Dutch officials; earlier this week, we had a meeting with the French; and, on Friday, we had a meeting with the Irish to try to iron out some of these teething problems. They are only teething problems. When people get used to using the paperwork, goods will flow normally. Of course, it would have been open to the EU to offer us a grace period, just as we have had a grace period for its goods coming to us. For reasons known only to the EU and the way that it approaches its particular regulations, that was not something that it was willing to do, so we have had to work with these arrangements from a standing start and, clearly, that causes certain issues.
The right hon. Gentleman asked what happens after five and a half years. As I said in my opening statement, after that period, we are free to change access arrangements and change sharing arrangements, and we will do so. He asked specifically about swaps. It is important to note that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has all of the information on all of the swaps that have taken place in recent years, since each of those producer organisation to producer organisation swaps requires the Government to agree them. It is, therefore, quite possible for us to build those swaps into the annual exchanges. Annual exchanges of fishing opportunities are a normal feature of annual negotiations, and we have also retained the ability to do in-year swaps on behalf of those POs.
The right hon. Gentleman has raised the issue of what the fisheries Minister said yesterday. I think the record will show that she did not say she did not have time to read the agreement; what she actually said was that her jaw did not drop when she was told what was in the agreement. There may be a reason for that, which is that she knew what was likely to be in the agreement for at least a week, since I had been discussing it with her and we were both in regular contact with our negotiators.
Finally, I am aware that the Prime Minister mentioned yesterday that the Government remain open to considering compensation for sectors that might have been affected through no fault of their own. We will look closely at this issue, but in the meantime, we are going to work very closely with the industry to ensure that we can iron out these difficulties.
The Secretary of State will be aware that fishermen in Cornwall have been very disappointed with the agreement reached on quota with the EU, and the fact that its vessels can still fish in our six to 12-mile limit. There is real concern that our inshore fleet, which makes up the vast majority of vessels in my constituency, will benefit little from this new deal, so what assurances can he give the fishermen of Mevagissey and Newquay, as well as fishermen across Cornwall, that the Government will be working with our inshore fleet to make sure it can benefit as much as possible from this new deal, and that those fishermen will be in a good position to increase their share of the quota when we come to the end of the adjustment period?
We left the London fisheries convention and gave notice under that because it is our intention that the six to 12-mile zone should be reserved predominantly for our own fishermen, and at the end of the five and a half years, that is exactly what we will be seeking to achieve. There are some uplifts for fishermen in the Celtic sea, and in particular those in Cornwall—as I mentioned earlier, haddock has moved from 10% to 20%—and the Celtic sea is also an area that often had its fishing interests affected by the ability of Ireland to invoke Hague preference, which depleted our share of some stocks, notably cod. With the absence of Hague preference, there will be some other uplifts in those areas.
Fishing has every right to feel betrayed and let down by this Government. The industry was promised a better deal, but they have not got one. Fishers fear some of the extra quota is just paper fish—fish that might not even exist, or are hard for British boats to catch. The promise to immediately exclude European boats from our six to 12-mile limit was broken, and the catch app and export systems are cumbersome, bureaucratic, and home-grown Tory red tape that the industry can ill afford. Shellfish exporters feel particularly betrayed: they are unable to export until April, because the Government failed to negotiate a deal that included them.
Yesterday, the PM promised compensation for those affected by export chaos, but Downing Street seemed to U-turn on this less than six hours later. Fishers deserve better than this incompetent Government, so when will the distant water fleet be able to go to sea again? When will the new avalanche of paperwork be scaled back? When will the £100 million be available for coastal communities? When will British fishers get the extra quota they were promised? When will the requirement to land more British fish in British ports finally be introduced, and when will this Government actually start standing up for our fishers with action, not just soundbites?
I know that in previous debates on fishing the hon. Gentleman has spoken of the importance of tariff-free access to the EU market, and the trade and co-operation agreement gives our fishing export businesses that access, which is particularly important for the shellfish sector.
It is not the case that shellfish cannot be exported at all until April. There have been certain issues regarding bivalve molluscs and getting the correct paperwork, and some issues around depuration and the ability to export stocks that have not been purified prior to export, but they do not amount to a ban on the export of shellfish.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the distant water fleets. It is a convention that in the absence of agreements on quotas—this is pertinent to the agreement we have with Norway—access is suspended, but we will seek access to Arctic cod in the usual way for those parts of our fleet that benefit from that stock.
The hon. Gentleman asked when fishermen will see the uplift in quota. As I made clear, the EU is giving up 15% of its catch in our waters in year one, so fishermen will see some important advantages in this very first year.
We are seeing teething issues arise for our fishing exporters, with health checks and customs documents causing some backlogs in exports to the EU. Will my right hon. Friend outline the steps his Department is taking to ensure that exporters know what is required of them, so that those challenges can be eased?
We have been working closely with authorities, particularly in France and the Netherlands, to understand the sorts of issues that they are finding. At one end of the spectrum, many of the issues are quite trivial, such as where the stamp is; we have even had questions about the colour of the ink used on the forms, pagination and the way pages are numbered. Those are all trivial problems that can be sorted out—indeed, some leeway is being given for such issues in France, given that there is sometimes a difference in interpretation. There are other, more significant issues, notably around import agents failing to pre-declare properly or at all. We are working closely with the industry on those, with regular meetings, to ensure that they are addressed.
“Stay in the UK,” they said in 2014; “Leave the EU,” they said in 2016; “A sea of opportunity,” they said in 2020—bad advice, backed by lies and disinformation, all down the line, and Scotland’s fishing industry is among those feeling the betrayal. Now, Scots businesses cannot get their product to their European markets, EU fishing fleets can still access our waters, and we are still subject to the CFP but now do not have a say in how it runs. Scots businesses have lost many thousands of pounds and communities are facing job losses. DFDS cannot take groupage loads until Monday at the earliest, because the Government made a mess of the paperwork system. Businesses may close and people may lose jobs because this Government messed up. Jimmy Buchan of the Scottish Seafood Association—once a Tory election candidate—said that Ministers are not doing enough. The sales director of John Ross told UK Ministers that the Brexit deal was worthless unless they took action. It is not just “teething issues”, Minister. It is chaos, and it is costing businesses shedloads of money. Who exactly do they apply to for compensation? Shall I give them the Minister’s mobile phone number?
As I said earlier, there have been some teething problems, particularly in Scotland, I know. DFDS established a hub system at Larkhall so it could group consignments together. It has had some difficulty getting the right information from some of the fishing businesses in Scotland. Food Standards Scotland is working hard to address the issue.
The hon. Lady says that the Government made a mess of the paperwork. She will be aware that the paperwork is the responsibility of the Scottish Government. I have spoken regularly to Fergus Ewing about this, and he maintains—I believe he is right—that there is no lack of export health certification capacity; the vets and the fish certifying officers are just trying to get used to complicated new paperwork. I will talk to DFDS later today to see whether there is anything we can do to help, but I pay tribute to the work that it and Food Standards Scotland are doing to work through some of the technical differences. The short answer to the current challenge is to work through each of the problems as they present themselves, so that they are not repeated and goods can flow smoothly.
The fishing community in Grimsby welcomes the deal agreed by the Prime Minister, particularly the springboard it gives us to take back more quota as the years go on, and our tariff-free arrangements. Can my right hon. Friend confirm when the details of the £100 million fund and the international quota swaps will be made available to us?
My hon. Friend’s constituency is home to the UK’s fish processing industry, and tariff-free access will be important for some of those sectors. She asked two specific questions. The first was on the new £100 million fund that the Prime Minister announced. We are working on the details of that and will in the next month or two consult on how the fund should be allocated and used. Secondly, she asked about the issue of swaps. Those negotiations with the European Union and the trilateral with Norway and the European Union are about to commence. We envisage that, probably in the next couple of weeks, there would be a final conclusion on how we manage the North sea, and that would include swapping arrangements.
Eight-five per cent. of the seafood caught by my local fishing fleet goes to customers in the EU. Along with boats right across the UK, they are currently tied up, as logistics firms will not accept any more produce due to the current customs chaos. Can the Secretary of State explain how he plans to resolve what he dismisses as “teething problems” and clarify what the Prime Minister meant when he talked about financial compensation for their losses?
We are working closely with the industry and DFDS to identify what we can do to address some of the problems that have been encountered. I am aware that late last week, DFDS suspended the groupage service that it was offering to smaller consignments and has focused on single larger consignments, particularly of Scottish salmon. I understand that it believes it has sorted out some of those problems and intends next week to resume some of those groupage consignments. There is a challenge here: in a group of several consignments, maybe three people would have got the paperwork right, but if one person has not, that can cause issues for everybody. We need people to pay attention to the detail and to get that paperwork right. We are working closely with the industry so that it can acclimatise itself to this administrative process.
My constituent Andrew Trust, the owner of Ocean Harvest, is finding that the high cost of border control charges, export health certificates, the need for a fiscal representative in France and the uncertainty that his fish will reach the buyer in the EU poses a real threat to his business. What compensating measures will the Government put in place?
The key thing is to get this process working more smoothly, and that requires traders to familiarise themselves with it. I have also spoken to fish operators in my constituency, which is in that part of the world. Those who have experience of exporting more widely around the world, including to the far east, are quite familiar with these processes and are coping with them, but for those businesses for which this is new, it will take time to get used to the paperwork.
Fishing communities across the country feel that their genuine concerns have been used for political purposes and they have ended up being sold down the river. Why does the Secretary of State think that fishers in Fleetwood and across the country feel angry and let down by the way they have been betrayed by his Government’s choices, and how much of the £100 million promised to the industry will be spent on improving port facilities in Fleetwood?
Port facilities will, indeed, be one of the areas that the new £100 million fund will address around the country; we want to build capacity there as our share of the catch grows. The Government have maintained all along that we were aiming for something closer to zonal attachment. As I made clear earlier, we took an important step towards that objective, with the EU giving up 25% of its catch in our waters as part of the wider agreement. Yes, we would have liked to have gone further, and after the first five and a half years, we will.
Pulse trawling, which uses electrical signals to drive flatfish such as sole from the seabed into nets, is highly controversial and damaging to our marine environment. Many in Marlow and Beaconsfield have written to me about how we can protect our marine environment moving forward. Therefore, can my right hon. Friend confirm that, with the end of the transition period at the beginning of this month, we have seen the last of this practice in UK waters?
With fish exporters paying over £500 or £600 a day in extra paperwork since the Tory Brexit deal came into force, in what world does the Secretary of State believe that this represents frictionless, barrier-free trade, as the Prime Minister claimed the deal delivers?
While some of the benefits of leaving the CFP are going to be postponed for five and a half years, can the Secretary of State set out what action he is taking right now, with the powers that we do have, to benefit both the marine environment and the under-10 metre fishing fleet?
My right hon. Friend raises an important point, which is that while we have reached a quota sharing and access agreement for five and a half years, we do have the freedom to set our own regulations. We have already banned pulse trawling, and we are consulting on and will soon be bringing forward measures to further protect the Dogger Bank. We will continue to look for opportunities to use technical measures to enhance conservation in our waters.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his work to date on the particular fishing issues relating to Northern Ireland, but would he recognise that there are some outstanding matters, including a permanent commitment that Northern Ireland boats can land products in local ports without sanitary and phytosanitary or other checks, addressing the exclusion of Northern Ireland boats from all but two ports in the Republic of Ireland and ensuring that new quota allocations reflect the existing fixed quota allocation units?
Yes, there are some issues in Northern Ireland that we are working through. For the purposes of regulation, we have taken the position that Northern Ireland vessels should not require an SPS check or a catch certificate to land in their home port. Such an idea would clearly be ridiculous, so we are not requiring that, and we have agreed that with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs. There are some remaining issues about the Northern Ireland protocol and some of the easements we have had on trade and what will replace them, and we are working closely with the Commission and with colleagues in DAERA to agree on that.
Catching fish is one thing; landing and processing fish is quite another. If we are to be even more ambitious in five and a half years’ time and catch even more fish, what are the Government going to do in the next five and a half years to develop our fish processing industry?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point, and that is why the Prime Minister has announced this new £100 million fund, which will support the infrastructure at ports to cope with a growing share of the catch. We will also look at supporting processing as well, so that we can add value to the fish we catch.
The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations described the Prime Minister’s EU trade deal as “minuscule, marginal, paltry, pathetic” and some British fishers are now landing their catch straight on to the continent to avoid the Government’s red tape and the impending lorry queues chaos at the border, so does the Secretary of State agree that this is driving jobs away from the UK and hitting hard our coastal communities?
I do not agree with that. As I said earlier, we do recognise that fishermen would have liked a larger uplift, and we absolutely recognise that throughout the negotiation we were arguing for a move to a share that was closer to zonal attachment, but this does represent a significant step in the right direction, with a 25% loss of what the EU currently catches in our waters, and that will bring additional fishing opportunities to our own sector.
The fishermen of Salcombe, Dartmouth and Brixham are now faced with catch certificates, health certificates, and export documentation, all of which is extensive red tape and comes with a cost. What is the Department doing to reform that system, and to improve it and reduce bureaucracy? We are hearing reports from the EU that customs officials are deliberately delaying British exports on the European mainland. What steps have been taken to hold them to account, and to ensure a streamlined process and to ensure that the EU upholds its side of the deal?
The bureaucracy that we are having to fill in is obviously designed by the European Union, and in some cases, on many export health certificates, the form is a generic World Trade Organisation form that has not had a great deal of thought given to it. We think the paperwork could be improved, but we would need the EU to agree to engage with that. For now we have to work with the paperwork that it designates. It is EU bureaucracy, but we are working closely with European countries to get a better understanding of what is required.
DEFRA’s consultation letter of October 2020 on future quota arrangements contained much emphasis on zonal attachment and how it might be applied at UK level. With a small maritime zone, that would severely disadvantage Northern Ireland as only 20% of our quota holdings are in the Irish sea, and the Irish sea is shared by the UK’s four Administrations, plus the Isle of Man. Discrimination faced by Northern Ireland’s fishermen at the hands of the EU and its Hague preference must not be replaced by a form of discrimination within the United Kingdom. We believe that any departure from the established principle of fixed quota allocation units will disadvantage Northern Ireland’s fishermen. Will the Secretary of State confirm that he will not allow that to happen, and that Northern Ireland’s fishing fleet will receive its share of the additional quota on the basis of its existing fixed quota allocation share?
We have made clear that the existing entitlements that people would have had under relative stability will continue to be issued under the legacy FQA units approach, but when we get additional fishing opportunities, we want to be able to allocate those in a different way. We are working closely with all UK Administrations on a fairer sharing arrangement, and we recognise the particular issues in the Irish sea. We are conscious of that, and we are working closely with the Northern Ireland Executive on getting a fair arrangement.
I have been contacted by many fishermen from Moray and across Scotland who are raising their serious concerns and frustrations about the current situation, both here with the Scottish Government element at Larkhall, and because of the losses they are currently experiencing. One local skipper, Liam Gray from Buckie, agreed that I could share his returns from this week. He is averaging £30 a box for the fish he is landing, and £47 a box for the prawns. That is half of what he needs to cover his costs. Will the Secretary of State outline the discussions that he is having with the Scottish Government about the problems at Larkhall, and about the compensation scheme that is clearly needed by fishermen right across the country?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising those issues. As I have said, I am having a discussion with DFDS later today, to see whether we can offer help. It is working through a difficult situation, and working hard to address these problems, as is Food Standards Scotland. I have had numerous conversations on those matters with Fergus Ewing, and the Government have offered support should the Scottish Government want that to address these problems. January is always the slowest month in the fish trade, and the coronavirus pandemic has caused a lot of problems in the export market generally. The export market is quite weak, which is why the price of some fish has been lower.
We already know that if the period of disruption that we are witnessing is extended, European consumers will seek alternative suppliers and will be unlikely to return to Scottish suppliers. When asked how long it will take to sort the problems, the Secretary of State’s ministerial colleague, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid), said on the radio this morning, “How long is a piece of string?” Does the Secretary of State think that that is an acceptable answer for an industry that is facing what it describes as a “catastrophe”?
Prior to our departure from the EU, 90% of Welsh shellfish exports were sent to the EU. Since the new customs system has been in place, The Lobster Pot, a family business on Ynys Môn, has had its imports arrive dead so that they cannot be used, and another, Menai Oysters, has decided to stop exporting until this problem is resolved. Can the Secretary of State please confirm to my Ynys Môn businesses what he is doing to speed up customs procedures and when they can expect to be able to securely export live shellfish?
I can assure my hon. Friend that we are working daily with industry to identify specific granular problems that are presenting themselves and then working with authorities in France to ensure that there is a common understanding of what is required so that we can speed up the passage of these goods.
The fishing industry is absolutely crucial to my constituency, and right now, as we have heard, it is in dead trouble. Everyone in the Palace of Westminster knows my stance on Brexit, but I am of a practical frame of mind, and I would like to offer my help to work with Ministers and with the industry to try to get this problem sorted, because that is what we must do. My right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) has made the offer of a roundtable discussion between the Government and industry. May I support that plea? Finally, financial compensation is going to be utterly crucial if the industry is to survive in remote parts of the UK like my constituency.
We are having roundtable discussions with the industry formally twice a week and are in conversation with it daily. We have helplines set up at the Animal and Plant Health Agency in Carlisle to tackle any of the technical issues that vets might have. We also have meetings with colleagues in this House to take on board any of the individual issues that they are receiving. I make this offer to any Member of this House who has a constituent bringing up a specific issue: do feed that back to us so that we can address the problems.
One catch brought to shore by Porthdinllaen fishing boats is scallops. Fair play to AM Seafoods of Fleetwood, which is still supporting Welsh fishermen by continuing to buy up scallops, but at present they have to be frozen as there is simply no way to get them to continental markets fresh. I am told that paperwork on both sides of the English channel now means an extra cost per consignment of 5%. This looks like a tariff and it hurts like a tariff to an industry that was promised a tariff-free Brexit. Could the Minister tell me how he is working with the Welsh Government to ensure the survival of Welsh inshore fishing, and will he admit that for our fishing communities this bare-bones deal is a no-deal Brexit by the back door?
It is certainly not a no-deal Brexit. There is a free trade and co-operation agreement that means that we have tariff-free trade in goods, including in shellfish. One of the key asks of the shellfish sector was that we sought to get a free trade agreement without tariffs. I regularly meet Lesley Griffiths, who attends the sub-committee we have that looks at some of the teething issues at the border, and we are in regular contact with her about the particular challenges in Wales.
Clearly the fishing fleet in the United Kingdom has been suppressed for the past 48 years, and as we come out and set our own policies, it will take time to develop the fishing fleets and, indeed, the fish processing centres. Will my right hon. Friend set out what the Government plan to do to ensure that our fishing fleet and fish processing centres are built up so that we can take full advantage of the fish in our waters?
There will be new opportunities with the uplift in quota that we are getting, but also the new requirements that we are bringing in to require vessels to land a greater proportion of their catch into the UK. The new £100 million fund announced by the Prime Minister will indeed go towards supporting that increased capacity at ports and in processing.
The shortage of vets to inspect fish, the lack of customs agents to process border forms and there not being enough time for businesses to adapt to new rules of origin are, I would suggest, a lot more than “teething problems”. The Secretary of State might want to rethink his analysis there, but what the fishing communities up and down our country want to know is when he will fix the problems caused by the Government’s failure to prepare for the new border arrangements.
We are working with the industry daily to identify the specific challenges that they are encountering, such as individual examples of why the French may have raised a query on an export health certificate. We are trying to deal with that and iron out that problem.
UK fishermen are understandably frustrated by the current situation at the borders. Can my right hon. Friend therefore update the House on what discussions he has had with our European neighbours, since the end of the transition period, to tackle the issue?
My hon. Friend raises an important point, because many of the problems we have are often down to different interpretations of the official control regime in different countries, with Ireland, the Netherlands and France in some cases having different views on what is required. We are working very closely with them. We met Irish counterparts on Friday. We met French officials on Tuesday and have further meetings planned with them, and we met Dutch officials yesterday.
In the lead-up to the trade and co-operation agreement, John Ross Jr in Aberdeen said that it
“had to endure the government issuing a barrage of useless information”.
D. R. Collin in Eyemouth has said that Brexit has more or less finished the business. Prices at the quayside at Peterhead fish market are now 80% below normal. All of that can be taken together with what was described on the front page of the Fishing News as the Prime Minister’s “Brexit betrayal”. Is it not the case that rather than the promised sea of opportunity, through their incompetence the UK Government are now in danger of delivering instead a sea of insolvency for the Scottish seafood industry?
The responsibility for issuing the export health certificates that are causing these challenges rests with the Scottish Government, but I would like to pay tribute to Food Standards Scotland, which is working very hard to resolve some of the issues being encountered.
The Minister will be aware of the plight of D. R. Collin, the seafood suppliers in Eyemouth in my constituency. I know that his officials and those at the Scotland Office are working exceptionally hard to find a solution to the problems that it is facing as it tries to export to the EU. I back-up the calls for compensation for those facing losses as a consequence of this, but can he reassure me that those in his Department are doing everything they possibly can to find solutions to the problems that D. R. Collin and others are facing in trying to export and continue to sell their fish to Europe?
I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that assurance. I will be talking to DFDS later today. I pay tribute to what it is trying to do to resolve these problems. Some of the paperwork is complex. Its plan for a consolidation hub at Larkhall is a good one. When we iron out these problems, the system will work.
First, I take the opportunity to ask the Secretary of State to thank the Fisheries Minister for taking a call from us on Christmas eve and again having her office contact us early on Christmas day and Boxing day to clarify the situation. I reject the character assassination that she has been subject to in the past 24 hours, and I think that should be put on record.
I welcome the demise of the Hague preference. That scheme discriminated badly against fishermen in Northern Ireland, but I appeal to the Minister to please not replace that discriminatory process of theft of our fish with a UK replacement that discriminates how quota is shared out within the four nations of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland fishermen will not tolerate using share-out to placate English fishermen who feel they have been let down. I am appealing to the Secretary of State to ensure that we get a fair share-out of that quota.
From Howth to Greencastle, Northern Ireland fishermen now face a deliberate hard border put in place by the Republic of Ireland. We are told that we cannot land in those traditional ports, yet boats from Skibbereen, in the very deep south of the Republic of Ireland, can catch mackerel in British waters and land them in Lisahally in Londonderry. When will the message go from the Government to the EU that we want a fair share-out in the process? If that cannot happen, I appeal to the Government to invoke article 16.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind words about the Fisheries Minister. He is absolutely right: she was across the detail of this agreement and was briefing colleagues in the House over the Christmas period.
The hon. Gentleman raises sharing arrangements within the UK. We are consulting closely with each and every part of the UK about how additional opportunities could be shared differently. He is also right that the Hague preference was against the interests of the Northern Ireland fishing fleet. That was a concept that the UK created in the late 1970s to try to get a fairer share, but, as is often the case with the EU, it is a system that ended up being used against our interests.
Dudley South, Mr Speaker.
Media reports at the weekend suggested that the EU trade deal prevents the UK from protecting our marine conservation. Can the Secretary of State confirm whether we have the legal powers to regulate the vessels and the forms of fishing that are conducted in British waters if we feel it is necessary to protect our marine wildlife and particularly our marine conservation areas?
Yes, I can absolutely make that point. The technical conservation measures are for us, and us alone, to make. There will be times when we may seek bilateral agreement with the European Union on that, but there will be nothing to stop us putting conditions on vessels, provided they are not discriminatory and do not aim to discriminate against the European Union.
While I welcome the Minister’s statement that he will be meeting stakeholders, I assure him that those stakeholders understand the issues; it appears to be the Government who have failed to grasp them, particularly with adjusted quota shares, especially in whitefish, which no amount of understanding or explaining forms will fix. When will there be an effective mechanism for allowing co-operation between UK and EU fishermen on adjusting fishing opportunities to fix the mess that this Government have created?
A common feature of annual fisheries negotiations, which will continue, is what are called the annual exchanges, where a swapping arrangement takes place Government to Government. We are very aware of the swaps that took place from producer organisation to producer organisation in the past. We have all that data. We are working with the industry to ensure that we get it access to the quotas that it actually fishes.
Other Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici), have raised the issue of the £100 million fund. When we are talking about infrastructure projects, £100 million is very limited. Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that he will press the Treasury hard for further funding, and that there can be some cross-working with the other funds that are available for coastal communities and regional funding?
Obviously we all know that, on every front, people would always like more money, but we also recognise that the Treasury has to balance the finances as best it can in these difficult situations. It is £100 million of new money, and it is in addition to the money that we have already made available to every part of the UK to replace the legacy European maritime and fisheries fund.
Thanks to the United Kingdom Government’s incompetence, the fishing industry is in chaos, not just in Scotland but across the United Kingdom, and many face bankruptcy. In a disastrous interview with Radio Scotland this morning, the Secretary of State’s junior colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid), told us that everyone knew there would be challenges with Brexit, so when will the Secretary of State be renaming the “sea of opportunity” the “sea of challenges”?
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) is absolutely right on this issue. We have been clear for the whole year, as we prepared for the end of the transition period, that new paperwork would be needed. It is inevitable that when we introduce the requirement for export health certificates, for instance—these are new processes for customs officials and so on in France to get used to—there will be some teething problems. That is what we are seeing and we need to work hard to iron them out.
As my right hon. Friend and fellow Cornish MP will know, crab and lobster exports are a big part of our fishing sector in North Cornwall. There have been reports in the press of delays specifically around export health certificates. Will the Secretary of State outline how widespread this issue is in the south-west and what we can do to expedite the customs processes to ensure that shipments are delivered faster?
The principal issue is that DFDS, which, as well as leading on logistics in Scotland has a significant presence in the west country, encountered some difficulties with the accuracy of the paperwork, in particular the export health certificates, and some particular issues with import agents failing to declare the correct information on the EU’s TRACES system. For that reason, it temporarily suspended mixed consignments—the groupage—until it had been able to iron out those problems. I understand that it may be considering starting that service again next week.
Recently, Jimmy Buchan, the chief executive of the Scottish Seafood Association, mooted the idea of an independent clearing house for Europe in Scotland, which would allow Scottish fish producers to receive written clearance for export before their goods had to leave Scotland. What consultations has the UK Government had with the Scottish Seafood Association on the viability of that idea?
We are working very closely with the industry on all these matters. In the short term, we have to sort out issues arising with import agents and declarations on TRACES and so forth. However, if in the medium term we can come to further arrangements with the European Union, we can look at that. With the hub at Larkhall, DFDS is trying to consolidate loads and do export health certificates in one place.
We have taken back control of our fishing waters. Now, I and many in Redcar and Cleveland want to stop supertrawlers damaging our wildlife, harming and sadly killing porpoises and fish off the Teesside coast. Will the Secretary of State outline the steps being taken to protect our seas from the practices of supertrawlers?
This is an issue that is often raised and refers, I think, specifically to a Lithuanian vessel that started to access our waters last year, targeting mainly horse mackerel. There are things we can do and are doing through technical measures. We have already banned pulse trawlers, which were predominantly a Dutch part of the fleet. We are also looking at new spatial measures to protect Dogger Bank.
“as a seafood exporter, it feels as though our own government has thrown us into the cold Atlantic waters without a lifejacket”.
Those are not my words, but those of John Ross Jr., an historic smoked salmon producer based in my Aberdeen South constituency. Will the Secretary of State stop patronising businesses by referring to this Brexit chaos as “teething issues”? Will he apologise to John Ross Jr. and can he confirm when he will deliver full financial compensation for all the damage his Government are currently causing?
The salmon industry in Scotland benefits from tariff-free access to the EU market. While there have been, as I said, some problems, particularly around groupage and mixed consignments, the salmon trade has continued. We estimate that there are about 20 to 30 lorries a day crossing the short straits predominantly carrying Scottish salmon.
I thank my right hon. Friend for all the work he is doing to resolve the issues around paperwork for our fishermen. My Ilfracombe fishermen have now brought the fleet in as they cannot transport their fish. Given that these issues are causing losses on both sides of the channel, is there an option for free customs clearance on perishable goods?
The solution is for us to work closely with authorities in France to get an agreement on what is required. To be fair to the French authorities, while they have, as I said, encountered some quite trivial paperwork errors, they have generally shown some forbearance and allowed those goods to travel through. There were problems with IT systems in Calais and Boulogne early in the new year that exacerbated the situation. Those have been fixed now. We continue to work with the French authorities to try to make sure that the process can be made as smooth as possible, so that goods continue to travel on time.
Right now, a few miles from here, there are 10 EU trawlers: eight Irish, one French and a Dutch factory trawler. All but the Dutchmen are steaming south towards the beautiful village of Killybegs—Na Cealla Beaga in Irish—in Country Donegal. In five years’ time, EU nations such as Ireland will lose about 25% of their access to mainly Scottish waters; perhaps two or more of those boats will not be there, but perhaps they will. Regardless, the EU promised Ireland €1.051 billion-worth of help. Will the Minister tell me why politicians such as Neale Richmond say Ireland feels “constant solidarity” from the European Union, while Scotland, which has already been hit by the losses from its biggest market—probably more than 25% right now—is getting little or no solidarity at all from the United Kingdom, certainly not €1.051 billion-worth, which has left fishermen threatening to dump their catch on the gates of Westminster next week?
Although we did not get the larger uplift that we wanted, and we did not get as close to zonal attachment as we wanted, we got a significant step in the right direction, with an increase of around 25% in our fishing opportunities, including in the pelagic sector, particularly around the west of Scotland, and in some of the mackerel quota, where there has been some additional uplift. We are aware that there are consequences for the EU fleets. They have had to give up some of that quota, and obviously their own Governments and the EU are considering compensation for their losses.