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Common Agricultural Policy

Volume 570: debated on Thursday 21 November 2013

12. What progress he has made on reform of the common agricultural policy; and if he will make a statement. (901180)

A common agricultural policy reform deal has been agreed between the European Agriculture and Fisheries Council, the European Parliament and the Commission. Overall, the CAP package does not represent a significant reform, but we did improve the Commission’s original proposals, increased flexibility and fended off attempts by others to introduce a number of regressive measures. Our formal consultation on CAP implementation in England was launched earlier this month and will run until 28 November.

I am grateful for that reply. In order for British farmers to remain competitive in world markets, it is important that the CAP helps them to meet the reasonable constraints that stop them simply turning the British countryside into ranch and prairie. Is the Minister content that, as drafted, the CAP will deliver public goods without simply giving money to large farmers who do not need it?

One area we are looking at in our consultation is how to develop an agri-environment scheme in pillar two. We are keen to build on the fantastic track record we have in these areas. It has always been the Government’s position that we can do more for the environment by spending through pillar two rather than through pillar one. That is why we have aimed to keep as simple as possible the greening measures in the conditions for the single farm payment.

Earlier this week, I met leaders of the Scottish National Farmers Union who had come all the way to London to express their deep concern that the CAP convergence uplift, which the UK received only because of the historically low area payments in Scotland, is to be split four ways. Does the Minister accept the principle of convergence and, if so, will he look again at how to bring the review process forward before 2016?

As the UK Government, we have had to take an approach that is fair to all parts of the UK. The reality is that farms in Scotland tend to be larger and the per hectare rate has been lower historically because the land is less productive, but the average farmer in Scotland receives about £25,000 a year, the average farmer in England receives approximately £17,000 and the average farmer in Northern Ireland receives less than £8,000. On that basis, Scottish farmers are getting more than farmers elsewhere in the UK.

Topical Questions

DEFRA’s priorities are growing the rural economy, improving the environment and safeguarding animal and plant health. As part of our determination to leave the natural environment in a better state than the one we inherited, I am pleased to announce today the designation of 27 marine conservation zones in the waters off the English coast. The new MCZs will protect nationally important habitat for species and build on the 30,000 sq km of inshore and offshore waters that are already protected. Since 2010, the area of inshore marine sites surrounding them has increased substantially. With the MCZs designated today, just under 25% of English inshore waters are now within protected areas.

I would like to draw the Secretary of State’s attention to an outbreak of bovine TB in my constituency in County Durham this month. Will he explain how badgers are the cause of the spread of bovine TB in my region?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise the fact that this disease is spreading and it allows me to draw attention to the fact that we are bringing in even more rigorous cattle movement controls. We know perfectly well that the disease is spread by cattle. It is also spread by wildlife, and that is why we are going to bear down on both, and we will make an announcement shortly on cattle movement.

T2. In 2011 more than 23 tonnes of illegal elephant ivory was seized across the world. What action are this Government taking internationally to counter this disgusting and barbaric trade? (901161)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. Two weeks ago I went to Lewa in northern Kenya where the situation is shocking—since I have been there a number of elephants have been killed. Ivory is being sold at $2,000 a kilo and rhinoceros horn is selling at $65,000 a kilo. We offered immediate help to the rangers who are working very bravely there, so that some of our paratroopers could help train them. We are organising a conference at Lancaster house in February to which a whole number of nations from right across the world will be invited, in order to enforce better, to reduce demand and to end up with sustainable alternative activity in these countries.

T3. A few weeks ago we asked the Secretary of State about plans to take helpful food additives out of flour. What are the results of those plans, and is he thinking of looking at any other foods and taking away things that we know can help people? We do not want people to suffer because they are not getting the things they need. (901163)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. We look at various regulations the whole time. We are studying that matter and we will make announcements in due course.

T4. My right hon. Friend is no doubt aware that Lincolnshire produces a quarter of the nation’s food and does quite well in recycling waste, but with 15 million tonnes of food across the country going to waste annually, what steps is his Department taking to encourage the uptake of anaerobic digestion? (901164)

Government financial support and action under our anaerobic digestion strategy and action plan is leading to growing uptake of AD. Since the strategy was published the number of plants has increased from 54 to more than 120 and a further 200 projects have planning permission.

T6. The Government claim that excluding homes built since 2009 from the Flood Re insurance scheme is sending a message to developers not to build in flood-risk areas, so can the Minister explain to me why posters heavily promoting the Government Help to Buy scheme are plastered around Kingswood in my constituency, even though my constituents will be outside the flood insurance scheme in an area that is prone to flood risk? (901166)

The details of the scheme agreed with industry, which I welcome and we look forward to taking forward in the forthcoming flooding Bill, are predicated on what was agreed under the previous regime. We are happy to debate this, of course, and if the case is made to change it, we will look at that. As the hon. Lady says, however, our current plan is to send a very clear message that we do not want to see further building on the flood plain.

T5. Farmers in Fylde are losing thousands of pounds each year and homes are at risk from flooding in the fields around Main Drain and Liggard Brook. The Environment Agency came up with options to resolve this, but funding was denied. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how we can move this vital work forward? (901165)

Over several months—indeed, nearly two years now—I have frequently raised the issue of the health effects on certain individuals of low-energy lighting. Has the Department made any progress in its negotiations with Europe on this issue?

That is not an area I have discussed in recent weeks, but I am happy to write to the hon. Lady about any progress we have made on it.

T7. Does the Minister share my concern about the apparent monopoly British Telecom has in installing broadband in hard-to-reach areas such as Monmouthshire under the terms of public schemes? (901167)

My hon. Friend is clearly making a case to examine this. There have been a number of reports into our delivery of the broadband programme saying our approach will lower risk and reduce cost to the taxpayer. If my hon. Friend has any specific concerns and he would like to write to me, I will be happy to examine them.

Proposals were made for 127 marine conservation zones, which it was agreed were necessary to create an ecologically coherent network. It is therefore very disappointing that the Government are going ahead with only 27 zones, and if press reports are correct they will not be consulting on the second tranche until 2015. Why is there such a delay?

We have made it clear that there will be two further tranches. I can confirm that next year, we will begin the research work necessary to start identifying some of the next sites. We will launch the formal consultation for the next tranche at the beginning of 2015, but that does not mean we will not be doing work in the meantime.

Fishermen in my constituency are periodically economically reliant on dredging around the Eddystone reef. Will my hon. Friend consider issuing permits that would expire after retirement or sale of vessel to allow them to continue to earn a living?

One of the principles of the marine conservation zones is that we want to development management measures locally with the inshore fisheries and conservation authorities, the Marine Management Organisation and harbour authorities. We want them to be constructive and, given how technology is developing, it is possible still to fish sustainably, in a way that protects many of the features we are trying to protect through these designations.

Asthma UK has condemned the Government’s proposals to reduce air quality monitoring across the UK. Will the Minister drop these damaging proposals?

We want to focus our efforts on reducing air pollution, and we are confident that we will have enough information coming back from monitoring to ensure that we can update the position. As I said in answer to a previous question, this issue remains a Government priority and we will take action on it at European, national and local levels.

There is conclusive scientific evidence that sheep as a species is not infected with a prion that causes new vCJD. Nevertheless, certain regulations relating to sheep, such as the compulsory splitting of carcases over 1 year old and the ban on on-farm burial, are based on the belief that sheep are so infected. What will the Minister do to take forward an investigation to ensure that these costly regulations can be brought to an end?

My hon. Friend makes a valid point, because no vCJD prions have been found to be present in sheep. The European Food Safety Authority looked at this issue in 2010 and concluded that the spinal cord from sheep aged over 12 months should still be removed as a precautionary measure. However, we are investigating alternative methods of spinal cord removal that do not require splitting the carcase, and continuing to raise with the Commission the case for reviewing the current controls.

If the amount of air quality monitoring taking place is being reduced, how will we know that air quality is improving? How does this work?

There will still be air quality monitoring; we are talking about the level of monitoring. We want to focus resources on where we can do the most on this issue.

I am pleased that the marine conservation designation for the Stour and Orwell site has not been approved. I thank the Minister for that, and can he assure me that it will not be reconsidered in future rounds?

Throughout all the assessments we have made of these designations, we have taken account of socio-economic factors, and in the case of Stour and Orwell that was one of the effects we looked at. We recognise the importance of those ports to the economy, both locally and nationally, and that is why we decided not to designate in that instance.