Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Secretary of State was asked—
Halal and Kosher Meat
1. If he will ensure that all halal and kosher meat is labelled at point of sale. 
In the first instance, the Government believe that it is for retailers and food outlets to provide their customers with such information. However, the European Commission is currently producing a study on options for compulsory method of slaughter labelling, and we will review the options when the report is published later this year.
The Minister is a good man, and I am sure he must understand the strength of feeling among the public about this issue. Surely it is in the best interests of everyone that halal and kosher meat be properly labelled, for the benefit of those who particularly want to buy it and those who particularly do not. Which consumers do the Government think will be disadvantaged by having meat fully and properly labelled at the point of sale?
I am aware of the strength of feeling on the issue, and my hon. Friend has been a long-standing campaigner on it, ever since his ten-minute rule Bill two years ago. There are two difficulties with the approach he suggests. In the case of halal meat, we must remember that about 80% is stunned anyway, so “halal” does not distinguish between stunned and unstunned meat. When it comes to kosher meat, we should recall that the hind quarters of the carcase are not deemed kosher anyway, so an approach along the lines he suggests would not help consumers who want to avoid unstunned meat. However, we will examine method of slaughter labelling when the European Commission produces its report, which is expected in the autumn.
Farmers and food producers raise the issue of labelling often with me and other Members. Can the Minister assure the House that his Department is doing everything it can to have clear labelling on all packaging, particularly after the horsemeat crisis and various other issues, so that we can have country of origin and even region of origin labelling on our packaging?
Some new labelling requirements from the European Union have just been put in place, to distinguish between animals that are born, reared and slaughtered in a particular country, reared and slaughtered there or simply slaughtered there. That is a major improvement. We have stopped short of having compulsory country of origin labelling on processed foods, because the European Commission report suggested that it would be incredibly expensive to implement. However, we do encourage voluntary labelling on such products, and there has been widespread uptake of that.
I am sure my constituents in Kettering would want to see halal and kosher meat labelled as such. Although the Minister is a good man, the response drafted for him by his Department was weak and pathetic. If we wait for the European Commission to rule, we will have to wait for ever. If his objection is that there is no distinction between stunned and non-stunned meat, why not label meat as such? Why cannot the UK do that ahead of the European Commission?
The advice we have received is that it would be better to introduce such regulation at European level. A number of other countries have considered it, including Spain and France, and have run into difficulties. However, my hon. Friend makes a good point—if one were to introduce compulsory method of slaughter labelling, I think one would go not for labelling as halal or kosher, for the reasons I gave earlier, but for labelling as stunned or unstunned.
Dangerous Dogs Strategy
2. What recent steps he has taken to implement the Government’s strategy on dangerous dogs; and if he will make a statement. 
On 13 May, new amendments to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 came into force, including higher sentences for dog attacks, an extension of the offence of a dog being dangerously out of control to all places, including private places, and a specific offence for a dog attack on an assistance dog.
In my constituency there has been a spate of vicious dangerous dog attacks, the latest on an eight-year-old girl named Grace Lucas, who suffered horrible injuries to her face. The real problems are a lack of education and, of course, irresponsible dog ownership. What are the Government doing to tackle those important issues?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Before I became a Minister, I followed the issue closely from the Back Benches. We are doing two things. Later this year we will introduce community protection notices, which will introduce new powers, for instance to issue orders to require an owner to keep their dog on a lead, muzzle their dog or put postbox guards on their door. In extreme cases, there will be powers to insist on a dog being neutered. I also agree with the hon. Gentleman about responsible dog ownership. That is why we are clear that anybody who is breeding dogs for sale should have a licence.
I recently attended a free Dogs Trust chipping event in Blacon in my constituency, and I noticed that a lot of people were unaware that it will be compulsory to have dogs chipped in England from 2016, and Wales from 2015. What is the Minister doing to ensure that dog owners are aware that that will be compulsory from 2016?
That is an important point and we must ensure that dog owners are aware of those proposals. We are working with veterinary practices across the country to ensure that they know about them and are passing the information on to dog owners. We will also run a communications exercise in the press to raise the issue.
3. What steps the Government have taken to respond to recent flooding. 
The Government have committed more than £560 million in support of those affected by the recent flooding. That includes an extra £270 million to repair and maintain critical defences that were damaged in the winter storms, targeted help for households through the repair and renew grant and council tax relief, and help for farmers and fishermen with funding for repairs through existing schemes. We have also provided businesses with business rate relief and a £10 million hardship fund.
I thank the Minister for his response. Despite the lessons of this winter, the Environment Agency is still set to lose hundreds of front-line staff because of DEFRA budget cuts. The agency’s chief executive has admitted that that will mean fewer resources for maintenance work. Does the Minister think it is responsible to cut the agency’s resources at a time when flood risk is increasing?
The Secretary of State and I work closely with the Environment Agency and talk to it about its key responsibilities. I met the chief executive yesterday to discuss issues of waste crime, and so on. He was clear that front-line vital services provided by the agency are protected, and it will use the expertise of more than 10,000 staff who will be in place throughout this year to do their work. They do a fine job.
14. Will my hon. Friend meet me and a representative from Cornwall council to work out funding for areas around my constituency that were damaged by floods and in this year’s storms? 
I will meet Cornwall council tomorrow and we can discuss those issues. I do not know whether my hon. Friend or a member of her staff will be there, but I will be happy to raise any local issues with the council so that we can work through them.
In February, the Prime Minister promised that “money is no object” in the Government’s response to the winter floods. Four months on, only £530,000 has been paid to farmers out of the supposed £10 million available in the farming recovery fund, and only £2,320 has been paid to fishermen out of the supposed £74,000 approved under the support for fishermen fund. Why is that much needed support not getting to the people it is supposed to be helping?
I reassure the hon. Gentleman that there is nothing “supposed” about those totals, and the money is there for people to bid for—the key question is encouraging people to do so. My hon. Friends and I, as well as agricultural shows, for example, continue to emphasise that people should apply for that money, and we have simplified the system. Many applications are currently being processed, and I encourage all people eligible for those funds—whether farming, fishing or the other funds I have set out—to apply and make use of that money.
Somerset is no longer flooded and dredging has started, which is good news. The Minister will know that one of our key asks is to have a sustainable future for maintenance, which involves setting up a Somerset rivers authority with its own revenue stream. Will the Minister update us on what progress has been made on that?
My hon. Friend and other Somerset Members have, understandably, consistently raised that issue, and I am delighted that the strategy put in place to deal with such matters is moving forward. Someone has been appointed to take the lead on that, and the Secretary of State was in the area last week. I spoke to people at the Royal Bath and West show, and I am delighted that all the measures that people think will make a difference locally can now be taken forward.
To underline the fact that the Government are directing funds to flood defences, will the Minister reassure me that appropriate funding will be available for maintenance and necessary new infrastructure to defend the Severn estuary?
During this financial year the Environment Agency will invest £380,000 in maintaining flood defences and structures on the Severn estuary in Gloucestershire, and an additional £2 million will be invested to repair flood defences and structures damaged during the winter floods.
4. What progress he is making on opening up new markets to British farmers and food producers. 
In 2013 we opened 112 markets for animals and animal products, helping increase exports to non-EU markets by £179 million, to £1.35 billion. We continue to negotiate with third countries, and so far in 2014 have opened 54 new markets.
Building on that success and the growing reputation for British food and drink abroad, which I know from my own experience as an exporter in the sector, what plans do the Government have to use international sporting events, such as the Grand Départ of the Tour de France which arrives in Harrogate and Knaresborough in just three weeks, as a platform further to promote that success?
My hon. Friend has been an enthusiast for this event coming through his constituency. He raises an important point. We will be looking to use all opportunities we can to promote British foods. Major sporting events are an excellent way for companies to showcase their products. UK Trade & Investment Yorkshire and the Humber is bringing in a series of buyers from around the world to meet local companies at a “meet the buyer” event at the Carriageworks in Leeds on Wednesday 2 July. Many of those buyers will then travel on to the International Festival for Business in Liverpool.
Our egg producers have been outraged to learn that Italy will face no financial penalties for its failure to implement the EU directive that outlaws battery cages. Our poultry farmers have invested millions of pounds to comply with the law, and, as a result, have put themselves at a competitive disadvantage in a very tough international market. Why does the UK implement EU directives that other countries see fit to ignore, and what will the Government do to support our poultry sector?
The Government have consistently raised concerns about other member states not complying with the rules on battery cages that were introduced two years ago. It is fair to say that the Commission has taken this matter seriously and has brought some cases against some member states in the European Court of Justice. We continue to maintain pressure on the Commission, but I believe it takes the matter seriously and is taking the appropriate action.
I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
The Minister will be aware of the drastic reduction in farm-gate beef prices and the effect that has had on confidence in the sector. Will the Minister tell us why he thinks that reduction has taken place? What is he doing to find other markets that will encourage an increase?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. This is one of the key issues being raised with Ministers as we go around agricultural shows. We will have a summit on the matter before the summer recess. A number of factors are driving this: it is partly due to changes in global commodity prices, but it is also clear that in some cases supermarkets are taking a larger margin than before. Regarding solutions, we are keen to open new export markets for British beef so that farmers can get a better price. We are also keen to ensure that there is fair contracting between farmers and processors, and between processors and retailers.
The Minister will be aware of my correspondence on the export of pork to China. From his correspondence to me on 8 May, I know that inspections are to take place with the authorities in Northern Ireland, as DEFRA regulates the negotiations on behalf of the whole of the UK. Will the Minister advise the House on when those inspections will take place? What is the possibility of approval following on from that?
The hon. Lady has raised this issue with me a number of times and we have had meetings on it. It was also raised with me at a meeting in Northern Ireland at the beginning of this year, and we continue to raise it with the Chinese authorities. When Mr Zhi, the Chinese farming Minister, was in the UK in April we took the opportunity to raise it again. We want more meat processors to be able to export pork to China and we need clearance for their plants. We will continue to keep up the pressure.
Exporting beef would improve the market here, and I know the Secretary of State has done an excellent job in China. Japan still bans our beef, right back from the days of BSE. We now have BSE completely under control, so it is time those markets were opened up again. Will the Secretary of State and the Minister do their very best to make sure that happens?
All I can say to my hon. Friend, who has been a champion of this industry for many years, is that we are working on many different fronts to create new markets. In the past year, we have opened markets for breeding cattle to countries such as China, for pig meat to Chile and for dairy to Cuba. In the year ahead, we will continue to look at exporting beef to Singapore and poultry meat to Papua New Guinea. The country is working incredibly hard to open as many new export markets as possible.
Pilot Badger Culls
5. What steps he plans to take to ensure that the monitoring of the pilot badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire is independently scientifically evaluated. 
DEFRA is currently working closely with Natural England and the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency to develop the detail of how the monitoring will be implemented, including auditing and evaluation procedures. The results and outcome of the monitoring of this year’s culls will be made publicly available after they have been completed.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that reply. Will he ensure that, in addition to that scientific examination, he also meets with the Welsh Assembly Minister who is dealing with this matter in Wales—not too far from his own constituency—where an alternative method, vaccination, is being undertaken? Will the Secretary of State agree to evaluate that as part of the process as well?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question. We have regular discussions with our counterparts across the border. We take information from them and they take information from us, so we are observing with interest the vaccination trial that is taking place over 1.5% of the surface area of Wales.
We learned late last year that the Government would not allow scientific evaluation of the extensions of the pilot culls. Then the independent experts reported that DEFRA had failed to meet its main test for humaneness and now we learn that Ministers have no plans to scientifically evaluate the second phase of the pilot culls, which are due to take place later this year. Is there any valid reason why scientific evaluation of the culls has been abandoned—or is the Secretary of State just allergic to scientific advice?
I welcome the hon. Lady to her post and congratulate her on her new position. I would like to reassure her that it was always our intention, stated right back in 2011, that an independent panel would assess the first year of the pilot culls. We have had some helpful recommendations from the panel, which we are taking on board, but I think she is unfair and underestimates the professionalism of the skilled staff we have in Natural England and the AHVLA, who will continue to monitor the culls this year.
6. What his priorities are for further CAP reform. 
I wanted to see the last round of CAP reform continue on the trajectory set by MacSharry and Fischler, so frankly, the end result was disappointing. Future reform should be driven by my departmental priorities of growing the rural economy and improving the environment, while providing value for money for taxpayers.
Will the Secretary of State join me in paying tribute to Sir Ben Gill, the former president of the National Farmers Union, who led the industry through very turbulent times some 13 years ago and also played a significant role in a previous CAP reform round? In doing so, can he say whether Britain will meet the Commission’s deadline of 1 August for submitting our greening proposals arising from the latest CAP round, and whether cash crops will be included in the UK submission?
I very much join the right hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to Sir Ben Gill, who only a few months ago came to see me to promote the British apple industry and was still playing a most constructive part. I also pay tribute to the role the right hon. Gentleman played when he was the senior Minister in charge at the end of the MacSharry period, when some serious reforms, from which we are currently benefiting, were pushed through. It is disappointing that that trajectory has not been continued. It is absolutely our intention to report to the Commission on time, on 1 August. I made a written statement earlier this week and I made further announcements on greening at the cereals conference yesterday.
I join my right hon. Friend in paying tribute to Sir Ben Gill, a former constituent and a very good friend to the farming industry. Mindful of my historic interest in this field, which is on the register, does the Secretary of State share my disappointment that the Commons Act 2006 register is woefully inaccurate and out of date, which means that those eligible for claims will be unable to make them, and that we will not have the paperless claims the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was promised when taking evidence?
I am grateful to the Chair of the Select Committee for her question. She is right to raise some of the technical issues that have been thrown up. It is very much our intention that the reform should be introduced in a manner that makes it as easy as possible for applicants to understand, and as easy as possible for the Rural Payments Agency to pay out, and we are pleased to see a significant number of applications by the digital method.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the disappointment, certainly in environmental quarters, that the full 15% modulation was not taken up by the Government for England—although the record for Scotland and Northern Ireland is as open to criticism in that respect. When it comes to any future reform, does he accept that taxpayers cannot accept large amounts of their money going to subsidise wealthy farmers? That needs to be changed, so will he give that commitment today?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. I remind him that we have agreed to go for a 12% modulation, and then review the position, having established what type of schemes are relevant, and possibly go on to 15%. We will spend £3.5 billion on improving the environment through our pillar 2 schemes. I am completely clear that I would like to continue the trajectory set in train by MacSharry and Fischler, whereby decisions pertaining to what crops are grown and what animals are raised should be left to the market, but there is a very real role for taxpayers’ money to be spent compensating landowners and farmers for the environmental work in respect of which there is no obvious market mechanism.
I would like to pay tribute to Sir Ben Gill and to draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Does the Secretary of State agree that any further CAP reform has to focus on the simple issue of using farm land to produce food because we have to tackle the important issue of food security, which is looming more and more and is ever-present in our society?
My hon. Friend is spot on. There are 1 billion people hungry in today’s world and we are heading for a further increase in population of 2 billion. We should be aware that there is no unlimited cheap, safe food beyond our shores—it was the position of the last Government that there was—so we as a Government absolutely want to see domestic food production increase. We already have a huge task: 30% of the food eaten in this country is imported, but could be produced here.
CAP (Common Land)
7. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the allocation of direct payments through pillar 1 of the CAP on common land. 
We published our assessment of the financial impact of changes to pillar 1 in chapter 7 of our response to the CAP reform consultation. We have held discussions with stakeholders about the future allocation of direct payments in respect of common land. The approach for the new CAP schemes, which begin in 2015, will take account of fairness, the need to minimise administrative burdens and the need to comply with the relevant European legislation.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. He will have gazed out on many occasions towards Cleeve common in my constituency. People are concerned that if there is a future prevention of claims for dual use, the funding will not be available to manage the common for purposes of wildlife conservation and indeed businesses. Will my right hon. Friend bear that in mind when he comes to take decisions on these matters?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. We are aware of the problem of dual use, but it is absolutely our intention that those who have common land should be eligible for new environmental land management schemes, which we shall publish shortly.
Many are concerned at the Government’s stance in the CAP negotiations—opposition to proposals to cap the amount a single farmer can receive in subsidies, for example. In the interests of transparency, does the Secretary of State agree that it is time for all Members to register any CAP-related payments they receive on the Register of Members’ Financial Interests?
I think that that question is one for the House authorities—perhaps the Leader of the House can deal with it later at business questions. I am not frightened of large businesses producing food efficiently. I refer back to what my hon. Friend the Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) said. We should wake up to the fact that there is not unlimited safe food beyond these shores. There is a huge increase in world demand for food, and we should concentrate on having good, efficient farming that produces food for our population and enhances the environment.
Nevertheless, the Government have established the principle in the benefits system of placing what I think is a reasonable cap on taxpayer-funded handouts. Does the Secretary of State agree that if that principle is okay for welfare recipients, it is also right to place a reasonable cap on taxpayer-funded handouts to people who do not actually need them?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. First, it should be put on the record that we agreed to a degressivity of 5% of £150,000, so there is a reduction, but I do not think we should be frightened of having large, successful farming businesses in order to feed this country.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the dispute in Northern Ireland over the allocation of the moneys resulting from the CAP reform. Will he do all that he can to ensure that there will be no party-political or partisan allocations of those moneys, and will he conduct an assessment to encourage the Department to allocate them fairly?
One of the major changes in this round, which we did negotiate, was absolute freedom for the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom to reach their own arrangements in regard to CAP reform and the way in which it is implemented. All four regulations are a matter for local politicians in Northern Ireland to resolve.
8. What recent estimate he has made of levels of UK fish stocks. 
The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea assesses the state of EU fish stocks annually. The next round of advice for the majority of European fish stocks, including those in UK waters, will be released on 30 June, and will inform decisions on 2015 fishing quotas that will be made at the 2014 December EU Fisheries Council.
Given that fishing is such an important part of Southend’s economy, it is very disappointing that stocks of sole, plaice, cod and herring have been depleted as a result of channel deepening via suction dredging. Will my hon. Friend please look into that, and ensure that the Thames estuary is pollution-free and full of fish again?
This issue was raised with me during a recent conference of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, and my hon. Friend has written to me about it as well. The chief fisheries science adviser at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science has subsequently overseen an initial investigation of the issue, and has prepared a detailed report that acknowledges that there has been a decline in stocks recently. The cause of the decline is not clear, but some have pointed the finger at the London Gateway development. Other possible causes include the discharge of surface water that may contain contaminants. Another meeting is planned for July, when next steps will be decided on.
Given that it is clearly in everyone’s interests for the UK fishing industry to modernise and, in so doing, to use good data to protect and grow fish stocks, why has the Minister allowed the Marine Management Organisation to relax its commitment to use a European Union grant that was specifically designed to support the sector for that purpose?
I do not accept that. The lion’s share of the European maritime and fisheries fund will be invested in selective net gear and used to support work relating to the discard ban.
Responsible drift netting plays an important role in the management of UK fish stocks, and has been a traditional part of fishing off the East Anglian coast for centuries. Can the Minister confirm that the Government will ensure that the European Commissioner’s proposed blanket ban on drift netting, which will destroy what is left of the Lowestoft fleet, is not introduced?
We are aware of the issue, and we think that the targeting of species such as herring, bass and salmon by UK drift net fisheries is a far cry from the type of drift netting with which the previous ban sought to deal in the Mediterranean. We will be negotiating for the application of a risk-based regional approach to ensure that the right fisheries are monitored and required to take the appropriate litigation action when that is necessary, without the imposition of a blanket ban on drift netting.
9. What recent discussions his Department has had with the UK Statistics Authority on the publication of official statistics of figures on Government spending on flood protection. 
Positive discussions have been held with the UK Statistics Authority about the publication of flood protection expenditure. We are in the final stages of firming up proposals, after which we will write to the hon. Gentleman giving the details. The robustness of the figures is already assured by our strict finance processes, and we will provide additional context for the benefit of a full range of users.
I remind the House that in February the head of the UK Statistics Authority wrote to me saying that the figures published by DEFRA on flood protection spending were unreliable, and expressing a preference for figures published in future to be quality-controlled by his department as official statistics. I think that that would do a great deal to restore public confidence that the Government are spending what is needed on flood protection. Can the Minister assure me that the Department will agree to do that, and will he make a public announcement before the summer recess?
I know that the hon. Gentleman has a long-standing interest in this matter, and that he has met my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to discuss it. He will doubtless be reassured to know that we are investing more in flood defences than the last Government. However, it is right for us to ensure that those figures are in the public domain. In his letter, the chair of the UKSA said that he broadly agreed with the statistics, but that they were not currently available for his assessment and he would need to look at them. We are discussing with the UKSA what it is best to do, and as I have said, we will write to the hon. Gentleman when the process is complete.
Trichinella in Pigs
10. What representations he has received on testing for trichinella in pigs. 
First, I would like to declare an interest: my brother is the chairman of the British Lop Pig Society, and he has made representations to me about the time it takes some abattoirs to carry out the trichinella test, which we are investigating.
The Food Standards Agency, which has responsibility for this policy area, formally consulted on the changes to trichinella testing in March 2014. Responses indicated broad support, but also that awareness of the changes is low.
We are grateful to Brother Eustice.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Outdoor or free-range pigs are very prominent in Suffolk, where the industry is important, and it feels there has been a stitch-up by the FSA with the pig marketing association. I recognise the FSA is not my hon. Friend’s ministerial responsibility, but it is very important that free-range and organic pigs should not be literally the sacrificial pig to satisfy the European conditions that are being imposed.
I understand the point my hon. Friend is making. There had been some indication at some point that all pigs should be tested for trichinella. We have tended previously to test only boars and sows that are cull sows. However, the argument for testing only outdoor pigs as a compromise is that outdoor pigs are more susceptible to picking up this type of tapeworm.
Wild Boar (Forest of Dean)
11. What assessment he has made of the effect of wild boar on the Forest of Dean and of proposals to contain their numbers. 
Small numbers of wild boar can benefit biodiversity by disturbing static ecosystems, and contribute to the local economy through wildlife tourism. However, in excessive numbers they can also damage specific wildlife sites and harm the tourism industry, as visitors can be put off by the presence of boar and the visual damage they cause. Local meetings take place every six months to consider the situation and proposals to tackle wild boar numbers.
I thank the Minister for that answer. We have to manage wild boar to keep the population under control. The deputy surveyor in the Forest of Dean is doing an excellent job and has the support of the community, including the local authority, and I would be grateful if the Minister endorsed that good work here at the Dispatch Box.
I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that I endorse the Forestry Commission’s approach, which engages with the local community he represents when considering the impacts of wild boar in the Forest of Dean and setting its own cull figures. While the Forestry Commission is neither expected nor able to control wild boar on anyone else’s land, I would expect it to work in co-operation with the other landowners and the local authority, as necessary.
T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. 
The priorities of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are growing the rural economy, improving the environment, safeguarding animal health and safeguarding plant health. This week we have announced, as part of the common agricultural policy, the criteria for the implementation of the EU’s rules on greening. While the latest round of CAP reform is disappointing, we remain determined to give our farmers sufficient flexibility to be free to do what they do best—producing food—while at the same time ensuring that we do not make the same mistakes as the last Government—designing a payments system that was so complicated that we saw £600 million being taken out of the rural economy in disallowance. Over the course of the next CAP, more than £3 billion will be spent on improving the environment.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. In March of this year in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), stated that the Elliott report would be published in the spring, but we are now into June. Will the Secretary of State enlighten us as to when we might expect the report and a statement in this House so we can discuss the issue of the protection of consumers from food fraud, as was exposed by the horsemeat incident last year?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. Professor Elliott produced a very interesting interim report, and I am pleased to say that some of its proposals have been acted on. I met him very recently and it is absolutely our intention that the report will be published soon.
T5. The national seed collection at Kew and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew are considered by many of us to be a national treasure. What are the Government doing to ensure the continuing vitality and viability of Kew Gardens? 
The Government of course recognise Kew’s obligations to care for the national collections under the National Heritage Act 1983. Against the backdrop of the deficit, the Department has continued to offer relative protection to Kew. Overall, the annual average of the Government’s funding of Kew over this spending review period is greater than that of the last. We continue to work with Kew as it puts in place plans to raise revenue and we continue to invest in the excellent work it does.
DEFRA has just published “Making the most of our evidence”—I have a copy here—which makes the ludicrous claim that the Department is in favour of science-based policy making. I note that the foreword is by the Under-Secretary in the other place, Lord de Mauley, not by the Secretary of State, so will the Secretary of State confirm whether he has read it?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. I read documents pertaining to my job as the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
That is an interesting reply. Which of the unscientific policies insisted on by the Secretary of State makes the most of our evidence? Is it his denial of climate change? Is it his ineffective and inhumane badger culls? Is it his fantasy biodegradable plastic bags? Or is it his national air quality strategy, which would make air pollution worse? Does this not illustrate that in practice the Secretary of State, who appears to be allergic to science, routinely ignores evidence in favour of his own eccentric, ideological views?
The hon. Lady has had months and months to work out that splendid rhetorical blast—I get on with the day job. I was at the cereals show yesterday talking to real farmers who are producing food, and welcoming the first investment in this country by Bayer—following our agri-tech policy—bringing in wheat testing and leading on to the breeding of wheat. That is what an active Department does. [Laughter.]
T7. Have Ministers been able to complete an assessment of the Environment Agency’s proposals to strengthen flood defences to protect the port of Immingham and the villages of New Holland and Barrow Haven, on the south bank of the Humber, following the December tidal surge? When will they be able to make an announcement? 
As the hon. Gentleman knows, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State visited the area with him during the flooding. Obviously, we will take advice from the Environment Agency and all the local bodies involved when coming up with plans to protect the area better. The Department for Transport will be included in that, given all the work it will be doing around the port of Immingham.
I am very glad that the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) has recovered his composure. I was genuinely concerned that his sides might literally split.
T2. If the Secretary of State is so assiduous and so passionate, how come he got nothing in the Queen’s Speech on the environment—the only thing mentioned is shale gas and fracking? Has he heard the “Farming Today” programme recently, which described the common agricultural policy deal as a “greenwash” which will do nothing for wildlife in this country? 
I listened to “Farming Today” yesterday and today, and I made it very clear that this is a disappointing CAP reform. The hon. Gentleman might wish to reflect on the fact that his previous leader, Mr Tony Blair, gave away a huge slug of our national rebate in return for CAP reform and totally failed to deliver. We are going to deliver £3.5 billion through our pillar 2 schemes for environmental work which he will approve of.
T8. Since May 2010, the Environment Agency has spent about £11.7 million in defending Crawley through improved flood defences, but during this wettest winter on record the area of Ifield Green was still affected. May I have assurances from the Department that it will press Crawley borough council to co-operate fully on further flood defence schemes? 
I agree that that partnership working is crucial to finding solutions in flood risk management, and I strongly encourage all parties, including Crawley borough council, to continue to work closely and to co-operate on flood risk management in the Crawley area.
T3. I never thought it would be possible that in this day and age, in one of the richest countries in the world, I would see my local churches and charities going out collecting money for food banks. Will the Minister pay tribute to those kind and caring people? Is this not in stark contrast to this rotten Government, who shower gifts on the wealthy while they watch the poor go hungry? 
I am happy to join the hon. Gentleman in welcoming the great work that is done by the food banks. I regularly visit one in my own constituency that does very good work, and we should celebrate that. On the wider point about food prices, which the Department is responsible for looking at, it is important to note that in the year to the end of April, food price inflation was down to 0.5% and food prices have actually fallen in the past couple of months, so this is now significantly below average inflation in the economy.
The removal of notifiable disease status for contagious equine metritis and equine viral arteritis is causing much concern in the world-class blood stock industry in this country. Is the Minister aware that the export of horses from the UK to Hong Kong, India, Qatar, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, UAE and other countries is likely to be hit because notifiable status is a prerequisite for horses in those countries?
I had the opportunity to meet my hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), the Minister for Skills and Enterprise, with a delegation from the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association. I understand the points they are making. Although those two diseases have a low impact and can be prevented through the application of the industry’s codes of practice, there could be some concerns about the impact on trade. That is why I have asked officials to look at the matter closely, to reassess the impacts on the trade, and to investigate alternative ways forward, such as burden sharing with the industry. I can assure my hon. Friend that we are looking at this closely and will take his views into account.
T4. More than 2 million households in England and Wales are spending more than 5% of their household income on water bills. Will the Secretary of State explain exactly what plans the Government have to give Ofwat more powers or to bring in measures that will require all water companies to tackle water bills for everybody, particularly for that 5% of households? 
I thank the hon. Lady for drawing my attention to what is happening with water bills. As companies are coming up to the price review period, bills will be levelling off or dropping. It is therefore vital that we have a strong regulator, so extra powers are needed. It is a strong message from Government that we are supporting it in its work as a good independent regulator, and that will lead to better deals for consumers.
I know that the Secretary of State intends to drive a hard bargain with the insurance industry, so he will be shocked to learn that a business in Bradford-on-Avon that was devastated by the floods at Christmas has had its business rate relief deducted from the assessment of its losses by its insurer. Clearly, it is not the Government’s intention that business rate relief should be a sop to the insurance industry, so will he use his relationship with the industry to ensure that this practice ends?
I and Ministers from other Departments hold regular round-table meetings with the insurance industry, and I will be sure to raise the issue that my hon. Friend has mentioned this morning.
T6. With beef prices falling, beef farmers in my constituency are keen to ensure that the Department uses its good offices to increase public procurement of beef for the defence industry, national health service, schools and others. Will the Minister please look at that urgently? 
I can confirm that Peter Bonfield is currently doing a piece of work for us on how we might improve the Government’s buying standard and have a more balanced approach to procurement so that price is not the only determinant. He is working on that and we expect to publish details of that plan later this year.
The collapse in beef prices is having a very damaging effect on the market. What steps can the Government take to ensure that where cheap imports from eastern Europe are for sale on supermarket shelves, shoppers know that they are cheap imports?
There is a requirement for country of origin labelling on all fresh meat. We are holding a summit later this summer to look at the problems experienced by the meat industry. It will consider those issues and how we might increase exports of beef.
T9. My hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) highlighted the importance of science-based policy making. Will the Minister tell the House how often the Marine Management Organisation’s scientific group has met since it was set up in 2010? 
I am afraid that I do not have that information to hand, but I will get in touch with the hon. Lady and give her that information.
The right hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
1. If he will visit Lichfield cathedral to discuss the service of remembrance and celebration of the life of Stephen Sutton. 
I am always happy to visit Lichfield cathedral. The whole country will have celebrated the life and achievements of Stephen Sutton. The recent service of remembrance and celebration at Lichfield cathedral demonstrates the importance of cathedrals as a focus for unity at times of local and national celebration, commemoration and mourning.
It is a shame in this instance that the Archbishop of Canterbury is not empowered to confer sainthoods. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Adrian Dorber, the dean of Lichfield cathedral, on seizing the moment and taking advantage, in the best possible way, of the great outpouring of passion and grief that people in my constituency experienced over the great work and life of a 19-year-old who died of cancer?
I agree that the experience of holding a vigil at Lichfield cathedral for Stephen Sutton helped to focus national attention on the remarkable courage and exuberance with which Stephen lived his last three years of life. He managed to raise £4 million for the Teenage Cancer Trust by telling his story and through his determination to make every moment of his life count.
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for South West Devon, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
Imprints in Social Media
2. What discussions the Committee has had with the Electoral Commission on updating guidance on the use of imprints in social media. 
In United Kingdom elections there is no legal requirement for imprints to be used in social media. However, the Electoral Commission’s guidance recommends as good practice that all campaign material should contain information equivalent to an imprint so that the identity of the campaigner is clear.
Last month my constituent Michael Abberton was visited by the police after a UKIP councillor complained about his tweeting a fact-check list of UKIP’s policies. That was clearly absurd, although I can see why UKIP did not want people to know its policies, and the police have apologised to my constituent. This raises concerns about the guidance, which has not been updated recently. Will the hon. Gentleman ask the commission to look at this urgently and produce more up-to-date guidance ahead of next year’s elections?
I think the guidance is clear enough. The issue is whether the Government are going to introduce as a matter of law the need for an imprint on social media campaigning material. As I understand it, that is a matter that the Government are still considering.
The right hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Chaplains in Schools and Academies
3. What estimate the Church Commissioners have made of the number of chaplains in schools and academies. 
There are nearly 380 Anglican chaplains working in schools. A recent report by the National Society found that a growing number of schools are paying for salaried chaplains.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Does he agree that school chaplains help to further the work of the Church in encouraging the spiritual development of our young people and giving them a better understanding of the pressures pertaining to modern society?
I do agree with my hon. Friend. As Her Majesty the Queen made clear in a speech at Lambeth palace in 2012, a long part of our nation’s tradition has been for the Church of England to promote tolerance and understanding of other faiths. An increase in the number of chaplains in schools furthers the promotion of tolerance and community integration.
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for South West Devon, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
Electoral Roll Status
4. If the commission will establish a process whereby every time a voter comes into contact with a public agency their electoral roll status is confirmed and non-registrants are encouraged to apply. 
It would be for the Government, not the Electoral Commission, to establish such a process. My hon. Friend may wish to raise the issue with the Cabinet Office directly, and probably already has. Although there will undoubtedly be practical and cost implications that the Government will need to consider carefully, the commission can see the benefits of involving public agencies in encouraging electoral registration applications. The commission will discuss this further with the Cabinet Office as the transition to individual electoral registration continues.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I am just a humble Back Bencher and my voice does not go very far in the Cabinet Office, but his considerable gravitas and that of the Electoral Commission would carry far more weight than my opinion. I welcome the Electoral Commission’s tentative endorsement of the proposal and urge it to meet the Cabinet Office urgently to see how it might be advanced.
I too am exceedingly humble but I certainly take my hon. Friend’s point. The Electoral Commission thinks there is merit in the scheme, although there are practical obstacles. For example, it would be necessary for every public servant at the point of contact with a member of the public to have access to the electoral register there and then to be able to give specific advice. The scheme is well worth considering as we all want to see as many people as possible entered on the public register.
The right hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
5. What representations the Church of England has made on Meriam Ibrahim. 
7. What representations the Church of England has made on Meriam Ibrahim. 
The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England wholeheartedly supported the call from the Christian Muslim Forum for the death sentence against Meriam Ibrahim to be dropped. The Church of England will continue to support the Archbishop of Sudan on this issue.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. The plight of Meriam Ibrahim is of great concern to churches throughout the country. St Anne’s parish church, Tottington, in the diocese of Manchester, where I serve as church warden, wrote to the Sudanese embassy two weeks ago setting out our concerns. Will my right hon. Friend urge the leaders of the Church of England to do all they can to keep up the pressure to secure the freedom of this lady?
My hon. Friend is right, and his constituents demonstrate that this concern is shared throughout the country. I hope that other communities and individuals who feel similarly will also write to the Sudanese embassy and that parliamentary colleagues will support early-day motion 71, tabled in my name, which has support from Members in all parts of the House.
A number of Pendle residents have contacted me to express their concern about this case and what it means for the Christian community in Sudan. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the issue is that the alleged crime of apostasy is in direct conflict with fundamental human rights, as set out in the UN universal declaration of human rights?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, and that point was reinforced yesterday by the Prime Minister. Article 18 of the UN universal declaration of human rights seeks to enshrine freedom of religion and the freedom to change one’s religion, whereas the alleged offence of apostasy makes it a hanging offence to change one’s religion. They are clearly incompatible. In international law, fundamental universal UN human rights must prevail.
The case of Meriam Ibrahim has come to particular public attention because it is so shocking in its detail, but of course she is just one of many people across the world who are being persecuted for their religious faith. What outreach work is the Church of England doing with other Christian Churches in the countries where persecution of Christians is a significant issue?
As at least two debates in this House in recent months have demonstrated, article 18 of the UN declaration of human rights seems to be an orphaned right. The Church of England and other faith groups have been working hard to ensure that the international community and the UN Human Rights Council pay proper regard and respect to article 18.
Listed Buildings (Repairs)
6. What estimate has been made of the cost of the backlog of repairs to the Church of England’s listed buildings. 
The Church of England’s 12,500 listed churches have an estimated backlog of repairs of £60 million, and the 42 cathedrals have an estimated backlog of £87 million over the next five years to keep them open and watertight.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that response. I recently visited Lincoln cathedral and met the dean, who told me that that cathedral has a backlog of repairs of £16.5 million. The right hon. Gentleman has done well to get money out of the Treasury, but in fact Lincoln could eat up all that money. What more does he think we could do to ensure that we preserve these vital national assets?
The hon. Lady is correct: this is quite a challenge, but I think one needs to recognise that several pots of money are available. There is the very welcome £20 million the Chancellor of the Exchequer recently awarded to cathedrals to keep for immediate repairs; the Heritage Lottery Fund has put aside £25 million a year for necessary repairs; the listed places of worship scheme totals £42 million a year; and of course we have to be grateful to the wider public, who raise approximately £115 million each year to spend on repairs to their parish church buildings. The hon. Lady is a Front-Bench spokesperson for her party on culture, media and sport, and I am always willing to discuss with her other ways in which she thinks further funds can be found.
Thousands of small parish churches are in desperate need of urgent repairs to heating, lighting and electrical systems, as well as roof repairs. How much or what proportion of the amounts that my right hon. Friend just mentioned relate to VAT due on those repairs?
My hon. Friend may recall that the Chancellor of the Exchequer made very generous provision of, if I recall correctly, £25 million to help to offset VAT costs on church repairs, so there is no reason why churches should be deterred from carrying out repairs and restoration by concerns about VAT bills.
8. What progress the Church of England has made on support for the provision of responsible financial services. 
The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Task Group has identified a number of initiatives to promote responsible credit and savings and is now implementing those initiatives across the country.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. The archbishop’s intervention has already had a profound and welcome impact. May I encourage the commissioners to do all they can to support that work through the clergy credit union, the use of premises, the promotion of volunteering and financial education in Church schools?
I entirely agree that progress is being made. Credit unions are now being set up in towns and cities across the country. I refer my hon. Friend and the entire House—it is always good to see so many Members present for Church Commissioner questions—to a rap released yesterday by the Church of England entitled “We need a union on the streets”. It underscores the views of the Church of England on payday lending and highlights credit unions as a better way to borrow. It can be found at https://soundcloud.com/the-church-of-england/we-need-a-union-on-the-streets. The chorus is:
“What we need is a union, we need a union on the streets
Everybody hand in hand, people can’t you understand”.
Biblical Literacy (Children)
9. What steps the Church of England is taking to increase biblical literacy among children. 
It is important to remind the House that the Education Act 1944 made religious education a compulsory subject in schools. I do not believe it is possible in England to properly teach religious education without ensuring that children have a proper understanding of Bible narratives.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we should see it not only as religious education but as part of our heritage and citizenship in this country, and that the stories of Noah’s ark, Adam and Eve and even the nativity should be part of that citizenship education? Is he worried about the recent poll that showed the low level of such knowledge among children and their parents?
I entirely agree. It would be very difficult, for example, for an A-level student to understand the work of T. S. Eliot without any knowledge of the Bible narratives. There is a responsibility on schools to teach religious education, and one would hope and anticipate that they would teach the Bible and Bible narratives as part of that. Families do that, as, of course, do the churches through Sunday schools.
Further to those comments on biblical literacy, will my right hon. Friend welcome the Heart 4 Harlow and Harlow credit save initiative, which provide help for financial affairs, particularly beating the loan sharks? When he is next in the area, will he visit Heart 4 Harlow, the faith community and the credit save initiative to see what they are doing?
Order. I would describe that as attempted ingenuity. The hon. Gentleman is seeking to shoehorn into the last question on the Order Paper that which he would have asked if he had been called on the previous question, but, because I am in a generous mood, let us hear Sir Tony.
I always welcome opportunities to visit Harlow and to support my hon. Friend, who is such an excellent constituency Member of Parliament.