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Topical Questions

Volume 530: debated on Thursday 30 June 2011

My Department takes responsibility for safeguarding the environment, supporting farmers and strengthening the green economy. In addition, it has responsibility for animal health and welfare. Accordingly, I would like to take this opportunity to draw colleagues’ attention to the written ministerial statement and accompanying “Dear colleague” letter setting out the changes we are making to the pet travel scheme. I believe these changes strike the right balance between making it easier for people who wish to travel with pets and maintaining the protection people have a right to expect. They are consistent with our commitment to science-led, evidence-based policy making.

Tomorrow, the League Against Cruel Sports will hold a national conference on wildlife protection with the support of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and other organisations. On the eve of that conference, will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government have dropped their plan to hold a vote to enable the repeal of the Hunting Act 2004 in this Parliament?

We have not dropped our plan to hold a vote. That is part of the coalition agreement and it is in our business plan.

T3. The Secretary of State is aware of the recent UK National Ecosystem Assessment report, which Friends of the Earth has described as essential summer reading for all MPs. It estimates that the health benefits of living within view of green spaces are worth approximately £300. Given those economic benefits, what will the Secretary of State do to ensure we better value our national environment, in particular the green belt? (62895)

The National Ecosystem Assessment report should be compulsory reading for MPs, not least because the Minister for policy at the Cabinet Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr Letwin), described it as a game changer. The most important aspect of the report is the tool itself: 200 scientists from around the world came together to give us a scientific tool that enables us to estimate the true value of what nature provides for us for free.

T2. Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming Oxfam’s “Grow” campaign on sustainable farming and food? Has she met Oxfam, and what discussions has she had with Department for International Development Ministers on this issue? (62894)

As I have said before, what came over very strongly at the G20 from the Agriculture Ministers of the world’s richest nations was the responsibility we have not only to grow more food sustainably but to aid developing countries to grow more food sustainably themselves. We have good relationships with all our stakeholders and key non-governmental organisations—I would count Oxfam as one of them—and with our DFID colleagues in order to make sure we play our part.

T4. The Minister has already given a response on the inshore fishing consultation, but will he give my under-10-metres fishermen the assurance that all the responses will be carefully considered, including concerns about the suggested structure and the fact that there will still be people with quotas who no longer fish and have not done so for many years? (62898)

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that we will look at every response very carefully. We have had about 20 meetings around the coast, which were very well attended, and many of the areas of consultation were explained to the audience in such a way as to allay their fears. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Andrew George), we want to make life better for the under-10s and give them a more sustainable future.

Only two weeks ago, a gamekeeper was convicted for illegally killing birds of prey in my constituency. Is it not time to think about introducing a vicarious liability offence to ensure that landowners and estate managers supervise their gamekeepers more closely and more effectively?

There are very good laws in place to punish the illegal killing of any animal. If they are not being enforced, they must be and we will take steps to make sure that happens. However, this is also a good opportunity to applaud gamekeepers for the wonderful work they do in providing excellent biodiversity across our countryside.

T5. Further to the earlier answer to the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) about the groceries adjudicator, the Minister will be aware that the proposal enjoys widespread support in the farming industry, but there are concerns that farmers will be reluctant to volunteer information for fear of reprisals. Does the Minister agree that trade bodies such as the National Farmers Union must do their bit by collating and publishing information from their members, to help guide the supermarket adjudicator to the right target and identify bad practice? (62899)

I agree with my hon. Friend that there is widespread concern that individuals might be loth to make complaints because of the risk of being penalised by the retailer involved. As he will know, the draft Bill allows for third-party representations, but does not allow for representations from trade bodies. To give a precise answer, there is nothing to prevent the National Farmers Union or any other body from gathering information, publishing it and making things clear. Obviously, the adjudicator would then have discretion over whether to pursue the investigation further.

Given today’s worrying report from the Committee on Climate Change showing that the UK is in danger of missing its carbon reduction targets, will the Minister back plans supported by more than 100 organisations, including the Co-operative Group, WWF and the Aldersgate Group, and commit to introducing the mandatory reporting of corporate greenhouse gas emissions?

We are consulting on that, but I would like the hon. Lady to know that my Department is responsible for climate change adaptation and we are completely committed, together with the Department of Energy and Climate Change, to achieving our carbon emissions targets. We will do all that we can because this is such an important matter, as was outlined in the Foresight report. The challenge that we will face on food security if we do not tackle the combination of an increasing population and demand for food, hungry people and climate change means that we will be held to account.

T6. Given that the Government are in favour of animals being stunned before slaughter, when might we have some food labelling regulations that will mark kosher and halal products as such, so that those of us who object to ritual slaughter do not buy them inadvertently? (62900)

My hon. Friend rightly says that the Government believe that all animals should be stunned before slaughter, but we respect the rights of religious groups. However, this practice should clearly be restricted, wherever possible, to food for those religious groups. We face serious challenges in labelling and ensuring efficient systems of traceability. The Government are examining the matter and, as I am sure he is aware, it is being discussed in respect of the food information regulations in Brussels, although he will perhaps not wish to take that option further, given his views on that place. I can also tell him that we will shortly consult on the introduction of the new welfare at slaughter regulations and we will be raise this whole matter then.

Does the Minister agree that it is morally repugnant and an environmental disaster that the bulk of male calves born in this country are immediately killed and incinerated? Is it not about time we did something to change the way people see veal, as it is a wonderful product to eat? Could we not rename it “spring beef”, so that we could get over the prejudices that mean that these poor animals get no life at all?

Calves are born all year round, so I am not sure that the term that the hon. Gentleman proposes is quite right. That aside, I entirely share his view, although the number of bull calves being slaughtered at birth is now much lower than it was, because there has been a welcome increase in the consumption of veal. We need to make sure that this is UK veal and is what we call “rose veal”, whereby calves are reared in humane circumstances and not in some of the arrangements we see abroad.

T7. I am delighted that Octink, from my constituency, has been named one of the UK’s greenest businesses for the third year running. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me and with Will Tyler, its chief executive, who says that this approach is not only good for the environment, but helps his bottom line. What more can we do to promote the financial aspects and benefits of green business? (62901)

I applaud the green business that my hon. Friend has described, and I hope that she will convey my support for it. The Government have set up a green economy council, which I co-chair, and it is very encouraging to see just how many businesses, in all sectors of the economy, understand the importance of having both a green economy and a growing one.

Everyone in this House and across the country wants to eradicate bovine tuberculosis. Although the matter is devolved, what discussions does DEFRA have with the devolved Administrations about the science-based evidence, as we need to exchange this information, get best practice and eradicate this disease once and for all?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s desire to eradicate this disease. I assure him that my officials were in regular contact with Welsh officials prior to the change of Government in Wales and that I had discussions with the relevant Minister at the time. I have not yet discussed this matter, although I have discussed others, with the new Minister. I look forward to doing so, and our officials will continue to be in close contact. The hon. Gentleman rightly says that we need to make sure that, wherever possible, we are working in harmony on this.

T8. Thames Water’s chief executive said last week that the previous costing of £3.6 billion for the Thames tideway tunnel was “simply an indicative 2008 price”that would “inevitably increase”. The Minister will know that under the existing pricing, Thames Water bill payers throughout the region will each have to pay £65 per annum in perpetuity for the tunnel. Will he assure me and 142 other Members of this House that our constituents will get value for money for this project? (62902)

I can—and I am one of them. I can assure my hon. Friend that my constituents and his are absolutely in our minds. We meet weekly with officials from Ofwat and Thames Water, the issue will be discussed at the DEFRA supervisory board this afternoon and I shall meet the London boroughs and the Greater London authority next week to discuss the project. I can assure my hon. Friend that its price is foremost in our minds.