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Shellfish Industry

Volume 697: debated on Thursday 17 June 2021

The European Commission’s ban on the import of live bivalve molluscs from class B waters is wrong and unjustified. We have repeatedly told the European Commission that and we will continue to raise the issue. I am pleased to say that the Food Standards Agency has recently revised its shellfish waters classification process, ensuring that classifications are awarded in ways that are proportionate and pragmatic, and provide high levels of public health protection.

I thank the Minister for that incredibly helpful answer and for visiting my constituency yesterday to see the fishermen and shellfish industry of Brixham—it is deeply appreciated. She mentions the FSA’s report, so in the light of the Prime Minister’s answer yesterday, is there any chance that those recommendations can be brought forward ahead of September 2021?

I can confirm that my hon. Friend represents one of the most beautiful constituencies that I have visited, and it is full of positive and innovative people involved in the fishing industry. As he heard yesterday, the Prime Minister is doing everything he can to accelerate the process, as are we in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but it is important that the process arrived at by the FSA is both robust and fair.

The Government have got this one wrong and instead of blaming the European Union, they should see that the responsibility sits closer to home, with Ministers. Fishing businesses—shellfish businesses—will go bust if a solution is not found soon, and reclassifying waters is a partial fix at best. Being charitable to the Minister, if she thinks she has a case that the EU has acted unlawfully or incorrectly, why has she not begun legal proceedings against it?

I do not need the hon. Gentleman’s charity; I would like his support in representing our position to the European Commission. There is a process for doing this and we intend to follow it carefully. We have made it clear that we do not agree with its analysis of the situation; our shellfish from class B waters is fantastic to eat, and they have always done so. We will continue to use the proper processes, through the new Specialised Committee on Fisheries, and if necessary, we will continue to consider when and if legal action should become appropriate. However, I know, as a lawyer, that legal action is never a quick fix and there may be a better way to do this.

First, may I correct the Minister? She did not go to the most beautiful constituency in Devon when she visited Totnes, as she had come to Axminster, in my constituency, previously. The point about the shellfish is that the European Commission has acted very badly. I have sympathy with the Ministers and huge sympathy with the shellfish industry. The FSA can still move faster to reallocate waters from B to A. We also need all the agencies working together more quickly, and I would like to see some direct support to the shellfish industry, because we are putting shellfish businesses out of business, and no politician and no Government want to do that.

I had the most lovely lunch in my hon. Friend’s constituency the day before yesterday. It was unbelievably beautiful and the weather favoured us at River Cottage. It was just magnificent in every way and it was great to see him there. He also raises some important points about shellfish and rightly says that this is a very difficult issue. It is not one we wanted or would have chosen. We want to export class B molluscs still to the EU, and we think that that should be possible. However, we are looking in a granular way at how we can best support the industry. I am very involved in that work and have spoken to colleagues across Government, including repeatedly to those in the FSA and the Department of Health and Social Care. I reassure my hon. Friend that we are dealing with the issue in a proportionate and joined-up way.