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Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Volume 584: debated on Thursday 17 July 2014

The Secretary of State was asked—

Rural Mobile Coverage

I start by paying tribute to my predecessor, the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), who did so much to champion British food and farming, improve the environment and promote rural growth.

Mobile coverage is vital for rural businesses and households, and 99% of premises already receive 2G coverage. Our 3G mobile data coverage is better than that of many other European countries. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and I will be working hard to eradicate not-spots.

I welcome the right hon. Lady to her new position. I hope she will ensure that the excellent work she was doing to encourage girls and boys into science, technology, engineering and maths subjects will be continued by the new Minister.

The Prime Minister seems recently to have discovered that it can be quite difficult to get decent mobile coverage in Devon—well, bully for him. Is it not the case, however, that this Government’s abandonment of our universal coverage principle, as well as the bungling of the broadband roll-out, represents a betrayal of the rural economy of absolutely epic proportions?

I thank the hon. Lady for her congratulations. I am still passionate about science and maths, and getting more women into those areas and indeed into agriculture. Getting more high-skilled people to look at agriculture as a career option would provide a fantastic opportunity. We are investing £150 million in the mobile infrastructure project to help address those areas of low mobile coverage at the moment.

I welcome the Secretary of State to her position and very much look forward to her appearing before the Select Committee. From 1 January, all farm payments will have to be digital by default. In Thirsk and Malton, 22% will have no fast-speed coverage, yet that just happens to be where all the farmers are. Will she hold out a hand of friendship to those farmers to ensure that they can access broadband for their farm payments?

I will be delighted to work with the hon. Lady and the Select Committee; I am very much looking forward to that. We know that 70% of farmers are already processing their payments online. She is absolutely right that some do not have access to online payments at the moment, which is why the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), who has responsibility for farming, is making centres available that will be able to advise those farmers and help them get online.

I, too, welcome the hon. Lady to her new position and look forward to her appearance before the Select Committee. We know from the report on rural broadband that we carried out last year that the lack of adequate broadband has been identified repeatedly as one of the key barriers to growth in rural economies. In view of the fact that so much money was allocated to England and to the devolved Administrations, what assessment has been carried out of its effectiveness, given that for topographical reasons many rural areas have not yet received their access?

I agree with the hon. Lady about the vital importance of broadband for rural businesses in this country and for exports, which I am passionate about promoting. We know that the extent of broadband coverage has increased significantly from 45% of premises in 2010 to 75% now. I agree that we need to do more, which is why I am working on that along with my right hon. Friend the Culture Secretary.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on her promotion to the Cabinet. I was pleased when the Government gave £150 million to the mobile infrastructure project, but have been disappointed at the lack of progress in my own constituency so far. Will she please make it one of her early tasks to look at that project and do whatever she can to speed up progress on it, which is vital?

I thank the hon. Gentleman. Promoting rural growth certainly will be one of my main priorities, and I believe mobile coverage and broadband coverage are both vital to that objective.

Kosher and Halal Meat

We believe that, in the first instance, it is for food retailers and food outlets to provide their customers with reliable information. I know that my hon. Friend is a long-standing campaigner on this issue, but, as I have explained to him before, the introduction of a compulsory labelling scheme for halal and kosher meat would present challenges, because there is no single unified definition. Nevertheless, the European Commission is currently conducting a review, and we will consider its report when it is published later in the year. [Interruption.]

That is one way of ingratiating oneself with a new Secretary of State, Mr Speaker.

Is the Minister aware that the Jewish and Muslim communities would be happy with full labelling of halal and kosher meat if all other meat products were also fully labelled to show the method of slaughter? I am sure that many consumers would want to see such labelling. Will the Minister proceed with the introduction of comprehensive labelling showing the method of slaughter, including halal and kosher, given that it clearly commands widespread support?

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I shall do my best,

As I have said, the European Commission is considering the issue. It is most likely to consider whether the animal was stunned or unstunned, because there is a clear definition in EU law. I am aware that groups in both halal and shechita say that they are open to exploring that further, and I look forward to having a dialogue with them and considering the European Commission report when it appears in December.

I am very pleased to see that the Minister survived the Prime Minister’s cull. The point that he has made is absolutely correct: it is a question of whether the animal has been stunned or not stunned. It is an animal welfare issue. Is it not the case that the majority of halal meat is from animals that were stunned? Surely that is the line that the Government should be pursuing in Brussels: “stunned” and “not stunned” labelling.

I entirely agree. There is a clear legal definition of “stunned” in EU law, namely that stunning renders the animal insensible to pain immediately. In the case of halal, some 90% of poultry and lambs have been stunned, and we should recognise that fact.

Consumers are entitled to know exactly what is going on. Does the Minister agree that what we need in all our slaughterhouses is CCTV to give them that further assurance?

We considered the issue of CCTV in slaughterhouses during our consultation on slaughterhouse regulations last year, and concluded that it would not improve the situation much. Indeed, CCTV had already been installed in some of the slaughterhouses in which problems had been exposed by, for instance, Animal Aid, and it had not prevented abuses. However, we keep an open mind.

My constituents believe that halal and kosher food should be labelled as such, but if there are already clear EU legal definitions of “stunned” and “not stunned”, what is there to prevent the UK Government from pressing ahead with labelling food in that way?

Having looked into the matter exhaustively, we concluded that if we introduced “method of slaughter” labelling, it would be best to introduce it at European level, because that would be safer and clearer legally. Spain considered introducing a national labelling scheme in 2012, but the Commission ruled against it.

Flood Defences (Gloucestershire)

The Environment Agency maintains a strategic overview of flood and coastal erosion risk management. According to its assessment, publicly maintained flood defences in Gloucestershire protected more than 2,500 homes, as well as businesses and agricultural land, from flooding over the winter. A condition assessment following the events of the winter showed that less than 1% of the flood defences in Gloucestershire were damaged by the floods.

What resources will be available in the future so that my constituents, especially those who live along the vale, can be reassured that they will not get wet when flooding really threatens them?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns on behalf of his constituents. However, as part of the £270 million we have allocated to repair and maintain critical defences, £4 million has been allocated to Gloucestershire—£1 million to carry out maintenance and £3 million to repair flood risk management assets damaged in the storms, to ensure they are returned to and maintained at target condition for the winter.

Food and Drink Exports

Food and farming is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK. We have fantastic products, and sales are a real success story. Exports of food and drink have increased by £1.2 billion since 2010, to a value of £18.9 billion. Since 2010, we have negotiated 564 market access agreements with 109 countries, including those on pork to China and beef to the USA.

May I start by joining in the congratulations to my right hon. Friend on her new role and welcome her to the Department? Will she join me in celebrating the £210 million investment in the Nestlé factory in Hatton in my constituency, where the production of Dolce Gusto coffee will be centred? Will she congratulate Fiona Kendrick, the chief executive officer of Nestlé, on record exports last year from this south Derbyshire factory?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her promotion of food and farming in her constituency and the massive success in securing this investment. It is fantastic to know that coffee produced in Hatton will be enjoyed from Houston to Hannover as a result of this new investment, and I wish this every success.

18. Is the Secretary of State concerned about the export of food and drink packaging used in this country? Is she looking at measures to introduce things such as packaging recovery note offsets to ensure that such packaging is recycled in the UK rather than exported? (904937)

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, and that is certainly something I will be looking at and discussing with my junior Ministers.

In 2012 the Agri-food and Drink Export Forum said that it would report on the progress it was making. The organisation is doing good work, so will the Secretary of State tell us what progress has been made and when we will get the result in report form?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I understand that the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), who has responsibility for farming, has already had a meeting with the organisation. Like my predecessor, I am passionate about increasing our food exports, as that is very important, and I look forward to working on it.

Leading voices in the food and drink sector in Scotland have recently made it clear that they see that it is in their interests, as exporters, that Scotland should remain in the United Kingdom and the UK should remain in the EU. The Secretary of State and I probably agree on the first point, but does she agree that it is in the interests of the food and drink sector in the UK that we should remain in the EU and not withdraw from it?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point about the UK: we are better together and we speak better as a single voice. That is very important. What I would say about the EU is that I have every faith that the Prime Minister is going to secure a fantastic renegotiation so that we have the benefits of trade, but with a reduction in bureaucracy and red tape.

There are 400,000 people in the UK directly employed in the food and drink sector, which is the one I was working in before I came here. We still import a higher proportion of our food and drink than any other country in the G20, so may I urge the Secretary of State to continue all the focus on redressing that balance and on exports?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend about that, which is why we are focusing on opening up more markets to British food—the US market is being opened to beef, which is a fantastic opportunity. But we also need to be encouraging more of our young people to look at food, farming and agriculture as a career, because fantastic skilled jobs are available and we need to make the idea of working in food and farming much more mainstream.

I welcome the Secretary of State to her post and wish her well. She will know that food fraud and authenticity issues and crises, such as the horsemeat scandal, which was presided over by her predecessors, can quickly destroy the value of UK food exports and the confidence of UK consumers in our food industries. Why, then, has the final report of the Elliott review of the horsemeat scandal, promised in the spring, not been published? Will she undertake to publish it before we go into recess?

We have received the Elliott report and we are looking at it at the moment; it is something that I am absolutely working on. We have made a priority of biosecurity and of ensuring that our food is safe, and we are working hard on that area.

Plant and Tree Health

On 30 April, we published a plant biosecurity strategy, which addresses the recommendations of the Tree Health and Plant Expert Biosecurity Taskforce and sets out a new approach to plant and tree health. We have also produced a prioritised plant health risk register, the first of its kind globally; published a new tree health management plan; undertaken work on contingency planning; continued to commission high quality research; and recruited a senior chief plant health officer.

Given the importance of trees to our economy and environment, not least in my constituency of Nuneaton where we recently lost a number of trees to disease, what action are the Government taking when specific threats are identified?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this. We have produced a prioritised plant health risk register to identify risk and to agree priorities for action. We have also produced new contingency plans for plant diseases and we will be testing them in an exercise later this year. The measures in the new tree health management plan set out clearly the approaches that we are taking, for example against chalara, phytophthora ramorum and oak processionary moth. As soon as we were aware of a threat to plane trees, we moved quickly to impose an import restriction on them.

May I, through the junior Minister, congratulate the new Secretary of State? I have enjoyed sparring with her in education debates. Sometimes, I have agreed with her, but I have never tried to sit on her. May I send a message on trees and plants? I know that evidence-based policy is what she believes in, so when we are dealing with disease in trees and plants, let us use the evidence and the scientific advice. Can we also do that with badgers?

The Department believes in heeding scientific advice and taking action on it, especially with regard to the issues that are under discussion. The newly appointed senior chief plant health officer, who offers us such advice, is doing incredibly valuable work.

When we see the diseases that are here and that are coming down the track, it is easy to get into a state of despair about how our countryside will look in 10 or 20 years’ time. Will the Minister assure us that we have learned all the lessons from past diseases; that the approach to phytophthora ramorum of destroying millions of larch trees has worked; and that the new chief plant health officer will be able to tackle many of these emerging problems?

My hon. Friend and predecessor is absolutely right to focus on this. As I have said, we have made it a priority in the Department and we have learned the lessons. Any Minister or Department that sat back and claimed they had learned everything would not be telling the truth. We must continually learn from what is out there, and work with colleagues across the world to look for new threats. What we are doing with these contingency exercises is not just to plan for what happens but to walk through it and to ensure that we are aware of the new threats that could arrive in this country.

The recent threat of ash dieback and indeed the horsemeat scandal show that the Food and Environment Research Agency plays a vital role in detecting and responding to threats to our natural environment and the food chain. Does the Secretary of State intend to continue with the privatisation of the research agency?

Because FERA has done such excellent work, we are keen to expand its remit so that it works with partners in the private sector to make sure that all that expertise is used to its full effect in this country and to advise other jurisdictions abroad.


6. What steps the Government have taken to respond to recent flooding; and if she will make a statement. (904924)

The Government committed around £560 million to support those affected by the recent flooding. This includes an extra £270 million, to which I have referred in a previous question, to repair and maintain critical flood defences. We are helping households and businesses through the repair and renew grant, council tax and rates relief. Farmers and fishermen are receiving funding for repairs through existing schemes. We are supporting businesses through a £10 million hardship fund.

In my constituency, surface water flooding is a big problem. Will the Minister tell us what he is doing to ensure that councils, the Environment Agency and the water companies work together to protect communities such as those in my constituency, especially as councils and the Environment Agency have faced very significant cuts in their budgets?

I know the hon. Gentleman recently raised the flooding in Maghull with the Environment Agency. Watercourses and rivers are the responsibility of the agency, but surface flooding, as he said, is the responsibility of the lead local flood authority. I have been talking to the Local Government Association about chasing all councils to ensure that their plans are in place, so that we can be as reassured about surface flooding as we are about other forms of flooding and that all the procedures are in place.

On one of the hottest days of the year, flooding may seem a dim and distant memory, but the effects are ongoing in Romsey. Not a single Government Minister has yet been to my constituency to see what needs to be done. Will my hon. Friend care to visit Romsey to see for himself the work that desperately needs to be undertaken to safeguard the town from future flooding events?

Ministers have undertaken a great number of visits across the country and I would be happy to join my hon. Friend in a visit to her constituency. She is right to point out that we are experiencing some hot weather, which brings its own challenges, but we also have the threat of storms over the weekend, so we are keeping a close eye on what might result from them.

I thank the previous Secretary of State who, in his last few days in office, confirmed to me in writing that the Department will in future publish statistics on flood protection expenditure as official statistics. Will the Minister inform the House when that change will take place and whether, crucially, it will be before the next election, so that we can have clear figures?

I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) was able to write to the hon. Gentleman to reassure him about that approach and I am pleased with the welcome that the hon. Gentleman has given it. We have debated the matter on many occasions. We will now discuss how that change will come in and will introduce it as soon as we possibly can.

Will the Minister arrange for the Secretary of State to maintain the closest possible contact with Somerset colleagues about Somerset? In particular, can we have an early meeting to discuss the two outstanding issues: the sluice on the Parrett and the Somerset rivers authority?

As my hon. Friend knows, both the previous Secretary of State and I took a close interest in what happened in Somerset and made several visits there. I know that the new Secretary of State will also want to do that. I am sure that she will meet him soon, as will I.

The Government’s response to the winter floods was slow and chaotic. Four months on, parliamentary answers from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs show that, of the £10 million pledged by the Prime Minister to Somerset farmers, only £403,000 has been paid out, and only £2,320 has been paid out to one fisherman in the south-west. The Prime Minister has gone from “money is no object” to “out of sight, out of mind.” What will the Department do to ensure that people get the help they were promised?

I first want to correct the hon. Lady’s misapprehension. The money is not only for farmers in Somerset; it is for farmers across the country. We have received applications from the north and the east, and from other counties in the south-west. Those applications are being approved. Applicants will be paid once the work is carried out, so unless she wants to interfere in those farming businesses and tell them that they must carry the work out in the next week, we will have to wait until the work is actually carried out before we can pay them.

Shooting Sports

The Government recognise the important contribution that shooting sports make to rural life, the economy and the environment. Although there are no Government assessments or official statistics, I am aware of a recent industry-funded study, which estimated that shooting is worth £2 billion to the UK economy and supports around 74,000 full-time jobs. It also assessed that the industry spends nearly £250 million a year on conservation.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on her new appointment. I appreciate that she and the Minister are busy at the moment, but may I draw their attention to the report by the Sport and Recreation Alliance, which outlines the enormous economic benefits to rural areas that shooting brings? Will the Government continue to support this excellent form of recreation?

As I said, we recognise the value of shooting sports. Indeed, I referred precisely to the report that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. Shooting sports have an important role to play in rural communities and contribute to our economy.

I thank the Minister for that response. Almost 1 million people participate in shooting sports in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The recreation is worth £2.5 billion through spending on goods and services. What discussions has the Minister had with the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and the Countryside Alliance about how to complement the good work that they do in the countryside?

Tomorrow, I will be attending the CLA game fair and, among others, I will meet the British Association of Shooting and Conservation and the Angling Trust. I look forward to discussing some of the issues on their agenda.

Bovine TB

8. What recent reports she has received of progress made by other countries on bovine TB by tackling the disease in both cattle and wildlife. (904927)

The Government are aware of the success in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, the United States and the Republic of Ireland in tackling the scourge of TB. For instance, in New Zealand the number of infected herds has reduced from 1,700 20 years ago to just 66 in 2011-12, whereas in the Republic of Ireland the number of BTB reactors fell by 65% between 1999 and 2013. All those countries have pursued a strategy of tackling the reservoir of the disease in the wildlife population as well as other measures.

As we seek to tackle this dreadful disease, is not one of the main lessons from the countries the Minister listed that while we must be prepared to use every tool available to us, we must also continue to develop new tools that might as yet seem out of reach?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. The 25-year strategy to eradicate TB, which was published earlier this year, emphasised the fact that no one measure will tackle the problem. We need to pursue a range of measures, and that is why we are constantly improving our cattle movement controls and why we are spending £4 million a year investing in research into vaccines. It is also why we are continuing to develop effective cull methods.

17. The new Secretary of State is not answering this question personally, but perhaps she might do so later. The science clearly criticises the Government’s culling policy and this House has voted twice to end it. When will the Government change their mind? Do we not now have an opportunity, with the new broom, to do so? (904936)

I disagree with the hon. Lady. The evidence is very clear that no country has ever eradicated TB without also tackling the reservoir of the disease in the wildlife population. The randomised badger culling trial showed very clearly that in the four years after it concluded there was a significant reduction in the incidence of TB. I meet farmers, some of whom have closed herds but have repeated breakdowns and some of whom have been under restriction for 12 years, and although they are not bringing cattle on or off their farm, they have a reservoir of the disease in the wildlife population.

The Minister will be aware of the disappointment and anger among the farming community in Dorset that the badger cull was not extended to Dorset this year despite the support of both the former Secretary of State and the Prime Minister. Will the Minister reassure the farming community in Dorset that DEFRA is on-stream to roll out effective control of bovine TB in Dorset next year?

As the former Secretary of State made clear in his statement, we listened to the recommendations of the independent expert panel. It made recommendations to improve the methodology of the cull and we are going to implement them this year. Our view is that we should improve and get the methodology of the cull right in the two existing pilots before we roll out new ones. Clearly, we will reassess the situation once this year’s culls have concluded.

Regulatory Burden (Farmers)

We are making good progress in reducing regulation. We are putting in place earned recognition, which sees high-quality farmers benefiting from fewer inspections and less red tape, and now 14 out of 31 inspection regimes allow earned recognition. The Food Standards Agency has reduced dairy inspections by more than 8,000 a year and the Environment Agency’s pigs and poultry scheme is saving members £880 a year.

I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on her well-deserved promotion. She will be a champion for rural communities in Norfolk, in Cheshire and across the country. It is vital that we go further to reduce the regulatory burden on farmers so that they can go on doing what they do best. With that in mind, will she tell the House what specific progress we are making under the red tape challenge?

I thank my hon. Friend for his congratulations and look forward to working with him on this issue, as I know that he is passionate about getting rid of the red tape that hampers farmers in doing what they do best. We intend to improve or remove 56% of the 516 regulations examined by the agriculture red tape challenge. As Secretary of State I want to continue to work to get rid of red tape and box-ticking, focusing instead on the outcomes we deliver in economic growth and environmental improvements. It is the outcomes that matter, not jumping through hoops.

Climate Change

10. How much her Department has spent on adaptation to climate change; and if she will make a statement. (904929)

DEFRA spent £8.3 million in 2013-14 under its core adapting to climate change programme. This included £4.1 million to the Met Office Hadley centre for the provision of world-leading climate science, and £1.6 million to the Environment Agency’s climate ready support service to help organisations across England adapt to a changing climate. Adaptation is mainstreamed across Government. Other Departments and other DEFRA programmes also fund activities that build resilience to climate change.

But with the previous Secretary of State having raided the adaptation budget by 40% in the space of just one year, it is actions, not words, that count. Will the Minister take this opportunity to depart from the sceptical views of his former boss, recognise that climate change is a serious threat to our national security and reinstate flood prevention as a key departmental priority?

The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that actions speak louder than words, which is why this Government are spending £3.2 billion on flood prevention and coastal erosion risk management, compared with £2.7 billion in the previous Parliament.

Over the current spending period it is anticipated that £10.7 billion will be spent on subsidies to low-carbon electricity generation, while only £2.2 billion will be spent on flood defences. Does the Minister agree that adaptation measures designed to protect people’s homes would be a much more effective investment than spending money on unilateral mitigation measures which cost jobs, put up electricity prices and give no defence to people in the short run?

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman that it is an either/or situation. Of course we need to invest in adaptation, which is what we are doing, as I set out in relation to flood prevention, but we also need to take action on mitigation, and I am proud of this Government’s progress on our commitments on carbon.

Topical Questions

I am delighted to have been appointed to this important role and to have such an early opportunity to answer questions. In the 48 hours since my appointment, I have not quite been able to speak to everyone or look at every issue, but I know from my work in Norfolk how vital this Department is. Food and farming and improving our natural environment are central not only to our rural communities, but to everyone in the country, and I want them to be a mainstream concern that everyone is part of. I believe that we can both grow our economy and improve our environment, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to do that.

The M60, the M62 and the M602 run through my constituency, so it is definitely not very rural. We have extremely high levels of air pollution from road traffic. Indeed, the Highways Agency has had to shelve its plans to widen the M60 near my constituency because that would have brought too much road traffic and made our unacceptable air pollution worse. Now that the European Court of Justice has ruled that the Government are failing to meet their air pollution targets, does the Secretary of State know, after 48 hours, what plans Ministers have to tackle air pollution in areas such as mine, to prevent my constituents from suffering respiratory disease and early death?

Let us be clear. Air quality is very important, as is protecting and enhancing the environment. This is a huge challenge for lots of countries, and it is something I am working on with colleagues to address. We have invested more than £2 billion in measures since 2011 to reduce emissions from transport sources.

T3. My constituents in Avonmouth suffered an unacceptable infestation of flies earlier this summer. The response from all parties involved, particularly the Environment Agency, was slow: it looked at the source of the problem, which was slow, not at the effect on my constituents, who suffered unacceptably. What will we do to ensure that there are plans in place for such emergencies and that agencies such as the Environment Agency respond quickly to residents’ concerns? (904911)

I understand that we await the final judgment from the Court of Appeal on this issue. I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss how we can ensure that the Environment Agency takes swift and effective action when such concerns are raised.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on her promotion and welcome her to her new job. However, I am appalled to hear the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), confirm that she is going to continue with the discredited, unscientific, inhumane and ineffective badger cull. Is she aware that Professor David Macdonald, the chief scientific adviser to Natural England, which will have to license the culls, has described them as an “epic failure”, adding:

“It is hard to see how continuing this approach could be justified”?

Will she at least undertake to ask the independent expert panel which reported on the safety, humaneness and effectiveness of year 1 of the cull to report on year 2?

I thank the hon. Lady for her congratulations. Let us be absolutely clear: the reality is that bovine TB represents a massive threat to our dairy and beef industries. We are looking at the potential loss of over £1 billion of economic growth in our country. We need to look at the best scientific evidence. I have already spoken with the Department’s scientific adviser about this precise subject. We are progressing with our programme, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State outlined.

That was a disappointing reply. I am afraid that the Secretary of State has just flunked her first test and missed a golden opportunity to put scientific evidence back where it ought to be in DEFRA—at the very centre of decision making. I would be grateful if she answered this question: will she now give an undertaking to ask the IEP to report on year 2 of the culls, as it did on year 1—yes or no?

Let us be absolutely clear: we are asking Natural England, which is a proper expert body, to assess how the culls are going and look at what we can do in future. We must use every tool in our toolbox to address this threat to our beef and dairy industries.

T4. I draw hon. Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I welcome the Secretary of State to her place. She has already demonstrated her commitment to UK food, but does she agree that large supermarkets, such as Tesco, should be encouraged to stock in-season products, such as British lamb, rather than discount New Zealand lamb, during our peak production period? (904912)

I completely agree that British beef and lamb are fantastic products, as is British pork—as an East Anglian MP, I obviously do a lot to promote British pork. I understand that Tesco has entered into a two-year contract with 200 British lamb farmers to help supply British lamb, but I think that we can do more to encourage not only supermarkets to offer local, seasonal food, but people to consume it. That will help our environment and our economy.

T2. The Burry inlet in my constituency is once again experiencing mass cockle mortality. Last Thursday, in response to action taken by some of the cockle pickers in my constituency several years ago, the European Commission issued a reasoned opinion in which it named nine agglomerations that are failing to meet the waste water directive, including excessive spills from Gowerton and Llanelli into the Burry inlet, where there are sensitive waters. Although the Welsh Government will clearly be involved, it is the UK Government who are answerable to the European Commission. Will the Minister meet me to discuss this serious issue? (904909)

I will not seek to unpick the devolution settlement because, as the hon. Lady quite rightly says, this is a devolved matter. The Welsh Government and Natural Resources Wales will be playing a key role in enforcement and in looking for a way forward, as will Welsh Water, but if she would like to write to me with further details, I will be happy to look into her concerns.

T9. I welcome the Department’s commitment to safeguarding our bee population. Now that the pollinator strategy consultation has closed, when will the Government respond and address public concerns about the effect of pesticide use? (904917)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that this is crucial for the future. We will finalise the strategy when we have received and considered the recommendations from the Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry into the draft strategy, which was launched in May and is due to report at the end of July.

T5. Does the Secretary of State share my concern that so few young people in our country ever visit the countryside? If she does, will she join my campaign, as many Members across the House have done, to raise £1 million—£5,000 from 200 constituencies would do it—so that more young people from underprivileged schools can visit the countryside? (904913)

I will look into the hon. Gentleman’s campaign. In my previous role as an Education Minister, we introduced the subject of food into the curriculum, both where it comes from and practical cooking, as well as bringing horticulture and agriculture into the design and technology curriculum, precisely to help more children and young people understand where our food comes from and to build the skills they need to work in the food and agriculture industries.

Small-boat fishermen in South East Cornwall and throughout Cornwall are concerned that a discard ban, along with their tiny share of the UK quota from the EU total allowable catch, will affect their economic viability. Does the Minister agree that repatriation of UK waters should have preceded a discard ban? Will he take forward a request to include repatriation of UK waters in future negotiations?

On the small fleets, I point out to my hon. Friend that we have reallocated some of the unused quota from producer organisations to the under-10 metre fleet. My predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), made considerable progress in reforming the common fisheries policy. We now have far greater regional control, with member states multilaterally deciding the management plans, and flexibility on quotas and a legally binding commitment to sustainability.

T6. May I press the Secretary of State to talk to her colleague, the Health Secretary, about how GP services in rural areas are under threat? That is a particular concern in my constituency. I urge her to push this point because they are facing a big threat—bigger than that faced by those in many other areas. (904914)

I will certainly be working with the Health Secretary, along with colleagues in other Government Departments, to make sure that we enhance and protect rural services.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her appointment as Secretary of State, but is she not just a little disappointed to discover that 90% of her new job is simply to carry out instructions from Brussels?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend that a lot of red tape is being passed down to us from Brussels. That is why I am determined to negotiate strongly at a European level as well as making sure that agriculture is part of our overall discussions on the EU.

T7. My constituents and people around the United Kingdom are facing a cost of living crisis. This Government are not doing enough on water affordability. With fewer than 25,000 people eligible to benefit from social tariffs offered by just three water companies, does the Minister believe that the Government’s voluntary approach is insufficient in helping those struggling to pay their water bills? (904915)

When the hon. Gentleman says “voluntary approach”, I assume that he is referring to water companies’ implementation of social tariffs. More companies are taking up the option of bringing in a social tariff, having consulted their customers about whether it is right for their area. The biggest thing we can do for people with regard to water bills is to keep the cost down. We have been clear on this matter in our messages to Ofwat. It has taken action and the companies have responded.

Was the Department’s press office correct in giving the impression last Friday that at least 20 staff will be retained at Alnwick after Steria’s Shared Services organisation moves its operations from there next June?

My right hon. Friend is understandably taking a close interest in the future of what has been a very efficient office. As he knows, Shared Services, with Steria, has bid for contracts on which it was unsuccessful. However, other DEFRA teams at that location will continue to work there in situ.

T8. Earlier in this Parliament, the Secretary of State supported selling off the public forest estate. Does she still? (904916)

We are not going to sell any of the public forest estate. I speak as an MP who has in my constituency one of the largest lowland forests, Thetford forest, which is a fantastic resource for people and nature.