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Topical Questions

Volume 563: debated on Thursday 16 May 2013

DEFRA’s priorities are growing the rural economy, improving the environment, and safeguarding animal and plant health. In recent weeks, we have helped farmers respond to the pressures created by the recent severe weather, not only through immediate support, but by bringing together the banks, farming charities and industry to co-ordinate farmers’ short-term access to finance and build the long-term resilience of their businesses. As we seek to enhance rather than merely protect our natural environment, we are exploring the potential for biodiversity offsetting, so that we can improve our cherished habitats and wildlife, while enabling the rural economy to prosper.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. In Medway this summer, following a successful bid to the central Government weekly collection support scheme, recycling will be collected weekly. What action are the Government taking to enable more local authorities to increase their recycling rates?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The UK is on track to meet its 50% household waste recycling target. Decisions on collection regimes are for local councils to make, taking into account local circumstances, including local logistics, the characteristics of the area and the service that local people want. The Government are encouraging a number of councils to run incentive schemes for various kinds of recycling collection, through the reward and recognition scheme and the weekly collection support scheme. The Government have also introduced higher packaging recycling targets for business, which will help to increase household recycling rates.

T3. A draft Bill on banning wild animals in circuses was published by DEFRA in April but did not feature in the Queen’s Speech. Will the Secretary of State confirm whether that Bill will be introduced in this House in this Session or not? (155356)

The Bill has been introduced to the House for pre-legislative scrutiny. It is in the hands of the Select Committee at the moment, and I am not going to pre-empt the outcome of the Select Committee’s considerations.

T2. May I return the Government to the issue of antisocial behaviour caused when a large number of dogs are packed into a small garden, which not only causes a nuisance to neighbours, but is not good for the dogs themselves? I have written to the Home Office about this, the letter has been transferred to DEFRA, and I have not yet had a response. May I please have a meeting with the relevant Minister? (155355)

I am sure that that will be possible. The relevant Minister is Lord de Mauley, to whom I will communicate my hon. Friend’s request. I hope it will be acceded to.

Almost a year ago, the then Secretary of State told me that a deal on flood insurance was imminent. Is not the real villain of the piece here the Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who has blocked a deal being reached? Is this not another example of a shambolic Government, who have had three years to sort this matter out and now have to get a further month’s extension, with there still being no guarantee that a deal will be in place after that extra month?

That is complete nonsense. The Chief Secretary and senior Ministers are all working closely together on this issue. I am sorry that we may have nearly shot the Labour party’s fox. We are working closely with the Association of British Insurers and we will deliver a good deal.

T4. What is my right hon. Friend doing to make sure that the new single farm payment forms are as short as possible? (155357)

That is a very interesting point, because one of the main principles underlying our negotiation for common agricultural policy reform has been that whatever comes out has to be simple and deliverable. One of the mistakes made back in 2005 was that we had an over-complicated system and a lack of resource to deliver it, and as a result we had a shambles in the Rural Payments Agency.

In answer to previous questions from me about how we can protect people from the adverse effects of low-energy lighting, Ministers indicated that they would need to get support from other European partners. What steps have they been taking in the past six months to do that?

I am delighted to report that at 6.15 am yesterday we got an agreement that the Council of Ministers is now in a position to do a deal with the Parliament that means we will, at last, see a meaningful end to the practice of discarding perfectly edible fish. This is part of a radical reform of the common fisheries policy, for which Members from all parts of the House have been calling for a great many years.

We have made it very clear that this Department will cover the marginal costs to the police forces involved of policing the cull, when it takes place. Obviously, the level of costs will be entirely dependent on the level of illegal activity in the areas in which the cull is taking place.

T6. The Secretary of State often makes reference to the common agricultural policy delivering public goods for public money. Does he agree that the delivery of increased amounts of safe, high-quality, affordable food from this country’s farms is one such public good? (155359)

I certainly do agree. The clear intention of CAP money is to support those areas where the market does not provide, as I know my hon. Friend would agree. But we need a thriving agricultural industry in this country, and that means that we ensure that for the future we have the food security that this country desperately needs.

Calcium, iron and other nutrients have been added to white flour in this country for over 65 years, and it is very worrying to hear that the Government are considering possibly scrapping that. Does the Secretary of State see that as an important addition to nutrition for families, particularly in hard-pressed times, or simply a regulatory burden that he wants to get rid of?

We are considering a review of the national rules relating to bread and flour as they apply to England. We held a public consultation seeking views on possible deregulatory options, which closed on 13 March 2013. We are analysing the 47 responses that we received, in conjunction with the Department of Health. We are committed to ensuring that any policy decision on the removal of mandatory fortification will take into account an assessment of the health impacts, the impact on industry and the implications for other parts of the United Kingdom and the interests of consumers. We intend to announce our decision before the summer recess.

T7. Is the Minister aware of any international examples of disease control that could be applicable in the bid to control bovine TB in the UK? (155360)

In opposition, I visited the USA; I went to Michigan. Last month, I went to Australia and New Zealand and I shall shortly be visiting the Republic of Ireland. What they all have in common, in getting rid of this horrible disease, which is a zoonosis, is that they bear down on disease in cattle and they bear down on disease where there is a reservoir in wildlife. That is exactly what we intend to do.

In recent days, it has emerged that burgers served in Leicester schools that were classified as halal contained pork. There have been similar examples elsewhere in the country. Will the Secretary of State undertake to have urgent discussions with the Food Standards Agency to ensure that halal food is indeed halal food?

This is a matter of great concern to consumers; I perfectly understand that. That is one reason why we have had meetings with the religious authorities, and of course with the Food Standards Agency. It is the responsibility of manufacturers, processors and retailers to ensure that what they provide is what they say they are providing. Certification is a matter for the religious authorities; that is not a Government issue, but we will work closely with them to ensure that what people eat is what it says on the label.

T8. Hill farmers across Britain were badly affected by the severe weather at the end of March and in early April. Some of the worst hit were in Macclesfield. Will my hon. Friend confirm to the House that the payment process will be clearly communicated, and that the very welcome funds will be available at the earliest opportunity? (155361)

I certainly will. All the key information was announced yesterday; the hon. Gentleman may be aware of that. The National Fallen Stock Company will administer the scheme both for farmers who are members of the company and those who are not. Farmers should visit the National Fallen Stock Company website or call its telephone helpline to get the details and check whether they are eligible. Applications must be received by 30 June and payments are expected to be made by the end of July.

The Government said that the pilot badger culls are being carried out to test whether badgers can be killed humanely. They still have not released the criteria by which the cull will be assessed to ascertain whether it is humane. When will those criteria be published—or is the Minister holding them back because he knows perfectly well that they will demonstrate that it is not possible to kill them in a humane way?

It is always interesting when people know the results of a trial before it is carried out. These trials will indicate whether it is possible to effect this cull in a humane, a safe and an effective way. That will be reviewed by an independent panel, quite independent of the Department and those taking part in the cull, and we will then assess that and report to the House in due course.

T9. Pillar two funding of the post-2014 CAP arrangements is vital to continue the rural development in the Vale of Glamorgan. Local decision making and administration has been key to that success in the past. This is at risk. Will the Secretary of State do everything possible to ensure that it is maintained? (155362)

The Welsh Assembly Government are developing the next rural development programme for Wales. We are in a difficult positions in that we have not quite reached the conclusion of the negotiations. When the European Commission confirms the UK allocation of pillar two funding, we will be in a better position to assess the funding available for each of the UK’s Administrations.

Does the Minister think that the fortification of bread and flour with nutrients is a burden on business or an important way of ensuring that hard-pressed families facing the cost of living crisis get the nutrition that they need?

I think we should hold a consultation, listen to the results and then reach a decision. That is what we are doing.

T10. I recently met my National Farmers Union branch on a farm in Barrowford to discuss the challenges that many are facing, with many leaving the industry. What steps is the Minister taking to encourage new entrants to the industry? (155363)

That is absolutely crucial. We need to attract the best and the brightest into farming, the other land-based industries and the food industry. It is the biggest manufacturing industry in this country. That is why a short time ago I launched a future for farming review, which is under way. I hope that it will provide us with a clear picture of where the barriers are and where the opportunities are for attracting people into these industries.