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Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Volume 589: debated on Thursday 11 December 2014

The Secretary of State was asked—

Brewing Industry (Beer Exports)

Britain’s breweries are now exporting 1.1 billion pints to 113 countries every year. Thanks to UKTI’s efforts with the brewing industry, British beer is enjoyed around the world from Brussels to Buffalo to Bogota. Brewing is a valuable part of our £100 billion food and farming industry.

St Peter’s brewery in my constituency is a past recipient of the Queen’s award for enterprise and international trade. It has built up a successful export business to more than 30 countries, and it wants to grow further. To allow it to realise its full potential, will the Secretary of State work with me and the Treasury to consider whether the calculation of progressive beer duty relief can be changed?

I would be pleased to work with my hon. Friend and Treasury colleagues on that issue. I was delighted to visit his constituency last week to see plans for a new tidal barrier in Lowestoft, and in future I look forward to visiting St Peter’s brewery and perhaps sampling some of its fine ales.

Dairy Farmers

Earlier this week I attended the northern dairy conference. Farmers—including those in the south-west—are experiencing tough conditions with prices having fallen significantly since spring. On 19 November I hosted a meeting of the dairy supply chain forum and we discussed a number of action points, including better country of origin labelling for British products in the EU, opening new markets for exports, and investing to improve competitiveness and add value to dairy products through the rural development programme. The south-west Dairy Crest factory at Davidstow has benefited from such public investment.

As a result of dramatically falling prices, many milk producers and farmers in the west country are producing milk at a loss, which is clearly unsustainable. Can the Government offer any help, and any hope?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. At current prices many farmers are indeed making a loss, and at the dairy supply chain forum we discussed volatility. The last two years have been a rollercoaster ride for the dairy industry—it had a dire year in 2012, last year was very good, but this year is bad again. We have considered whether we can develop a successful futures market, for example in skimmed milk powder or cheese products, to help farmers manage that volatility in future.

With volatility in the dairy industry impacting on farmers generally, does the Minister agree that the EU intervention threshold, which was agreed at 18p per litre in 2003, does not protect dairy farmers across the UK and is in urgent need of review? What representations will he make to Brussels on that?

I met Northern Ireland representatives from Dairy UK when I was in Brussels last week and they raised that point with me. The European Commission is looking at the intervention price, and our officials are working on what the appropriate price would be. Generally, an increase in that intervention price would tend to benefit other countries that have lower prices before it benefits UK farmers, but we are considering the issue.

The dairy price of 25p and falling means that farmers are producing at a loss. The dairy trade adjudicator can look at parts of the trade, but are there more ways to deal with the price, especially of processed cheese in the supermarket sector? The price of milk is dealt with by supermarkets, but processed cheese is not.

I have considered those issues, which I discussed last week when I appeared before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. My view is that our grocery code, together with the adjudicator, adequately covers retailers, and the Competition and Markets Authority has powers to consider issues further up the supply chain. Our dairy supply chain code is working successfully—the recent review by Alex Fergusson confirmed that—but we must focus on making it work better.

Like many farmers across the country, dairy farmers do not trade directly with supermarkets but deal with processors and food manufacturers. Does the Minister believe that opening up the responsibility of the groceries code adjudicator would bring greater transparency to the marketplace?

As I said, the Competition and Markets Authority already has some ability to look further up the supply chain. The dairy supply chain code covers 85% to 90% of all production. Crucially, it gives farmers the ability to walk away from a contract at three months’ notice if they do not like it. They can shop around. The code is working successfully.

Food Poverty

3. What estimate her Department has made of the number of people who used emergency food aid in the last 12 months; and what steps the Government are taking to reduce food poverty. (906571)

Research published in February by Warwick university found no systematic peer-reviewed UK research on why people turn to food aid. Subsequent reports by the all-party parliamentary group on hunger and food poverty acknowledge that people turn to food aid for complex reasons. The best way of reducing poverty is to grow our economy and get people back into work. Since 2010, 1.7 million more people are in work. We have also increased the income tax personal allowance to remove more than 3 million of the lowest earners from taxation. Finally, we have helped the most vulnerable to have access to nutritious food by, for instance, providing free school meals, and through projects such as Healthy Start.

Does the Minister agree not only that we should applaud people such as those who work for the Scunthorpe food bank, who do an absolutely first-class job, but that we should be ashamed that, in this year, in this century, people in one of the most prosperous countries in the world are surviving on food banks?

I join the hon. Gentleman in commending the great work that food banks do. I have at least two in my constituency and plan to visit before the Christmas period—I met the leader last week. People turn to food aid for many complex reasons, including mental health problems. We should recognise that food aid is not limited to the UK and is a global phenomenon. We have seen a big increase in the use of food banks in the US and other European countries.

May I commend to my hon. Friend the “Feeding Britain” report, which was funded with support from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s charitable trust? The report makes recommendations to a number of different organisations, including directly to the food industry, such as encouraging the redistribution of fresh surplus food to food assistance providers and voluntary organisations. Will Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers meet the food industry and the supermarkets to go through the report’s recommendations for the food industry, and see what action the food industry and supermarkets can take?

Yes, we will meet retailers and the food industry. The Waste and Resources Action Programme already has a working group to look at how barriers to the redistribution of food can be removed. We have always been clear that the redistribution of food is far better than recycling, and it comes first in the waste hierarchy.

We have not made enough progress in the three years since I introduced my Food Waste Bill, which tried to highlight the fact that up to 40% of the food produced in this country does not get eaten. Rather than just having voluntary discussions, has the Minister considered making the industry start to donate the food that would otherwise be wasted?

We made progress with the first two rounds of the Courtauld commitment. We have reduced domestic household waste by 15%, and waste in the supply chain has been reduced by more than 8%. There is further to go and more to do, which is why the third round of the Courtauld commitment set ambitious targets.

Is the Minister aware that the great benefit of food banks, particularly Isle of Wight and Trussell food banks, is that they are controlled and run by people who have absolutely nothing to do with the Government? Those on the Isle of Wight are brilliantly organised and supported.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The strength of those charities is that they are run by volunteers and are unencumbered by bureaucracy. That is one reason why we have resisted calls to put reporting obligations on them. We want them to focus on doing their good work rather than on filling out bureaucratic forms for the Government.

Social Tariff (Water Companies)

Eight water companies in England and Wales offer a social tariff on top of the nationally mandated WaterSure scheme. Several more are in dialogue with their customers about introducing a social tariff next year.

I welcome Northumbrian Water’s WaterSure tariff initiative to help low-income families, and I applaud its work with the StepChange debt charity and the award winning Know Your Money in Middlesbrough, but only six water companies are currently offering a social tariff to struggling customers, helping just over 25,000 people in total. What steps is the Minister taking to reduce regional disparities in support and end this postcode lottery?

The important point to note about tariffs is that they are funded within water company areas. As money comes from those areas, it is important that water companies discuss with their customers what the right level of support is, as there are different situations in different areas. The number of schemes is expanding. I, too, welcome what is happening in the hon. Gentleman’s part of the country. Northumbrian Water has worked hard to address these issues with its customers to ensure that it can take forward a scheme that works in its area.

Many of us in Yorkshire want not only a social tariff, but a social conscience. Yorkshire Water is owned by a Singapore investment trust, our electricity is owned by the Germans and our gas by the Chinese. Foreign companies, such as Lidl and Aldi, do not seem to have the same corporate social responsibility and social conscience as other companies. What is the Minister doing about foreign-owned utilities, such as Yorkshire Water, that do not have as much of a social conscience?

We have a strong regulatory system that looks at not just the value for money and investment that companies offer customers, but the transparency of their business models and how they operate. Yorkshire Water, for example, has a good debt management programme to help people who have in the past struggled to pay their bills. We are making progress on a whole range of issues, and I welcome the fact that companies are upping their game.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) pointed out, rising water bills are adding to the cost of living crisis. With one in five customers struggling to pay, but only six water companies currently offering support to little more than 25,000 customers, will the Minister acknowledge that he needs to get to grips with this problem by adopting Labour’s national affordability scheme to end the current postcode lottery to which my hon. Friend referred, and to ensure that hard-pressed consumers get the support they need wherever they live?

Since last year, water companies have been able to introduce schemes and they are doing so, but it is important that they take their customers with them and look at what works in their area. The schemes are not funded on a national basis. As I understand it, the Labour party’s proposal would not be funded on a national basis either, but in water company areas. It is important to look at the situation in each area.

Fisheries (Landing Obligation)

The North sea and North Western Waters regional groups agreed a discard ban for the pelagic sector earlier this year. Those plans were subsequently approved by the European Commission and will be implemented from 1 January. The Government are now developing the regional discard plans needed to support the introduction of the demersal landing obligation from January 2016.

The landing obligation comes into effect for the pelagic fleet in three weeks’ time and the revised regulations are still not in place. Of greater concern to me, however, is that there will be no consistent compliance regime for our boats and boats from non-EU countries fishing in our waters. That is unacceptable and it is undermining confidence in the policy before it has even got under way. Will the Minister look once again at the proposals brought forward by the industry to sort this out, and speak to the Commission?

I have had many discussions with the industry on the importance of having a level playing field on enforcement. Norwegian boats and other third-country boats with access to EU waters are required to abide by the discard plan. On enforcement, we got agreement at the EU-Norway deal just last week to ensure that that is now discussed. A working group will discuss how we ensure a level playing field.

Groceries Code Adjudicator (Fines)

6. What recent discussions her Department has had with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on the groceries code adjudicator’s ability to levy fines. (906576)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, policy responsibility for this issue rests with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. However, following concerns expressed by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee last week to both the Secretary of State and me, I have written to the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), who has responsibility for employment relations and consumer affairs, to bring this issue to her attention.

I am grateful to hear that the Minister is on the case. Yesterday I received a written answer from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which said that cross-ministerial discussions are taking place. When are the groceries code adjudicator’s first investigations likely to conclude? Will the statutory instrument be laid by then to allow her the necessary tools, should she need them?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I served on the Committee that considered the Bill that introduced the supermarket adjudicator, and I supported the introduction of fines. At the moment, this matter is subject to cross-Government discussions, and we anticipate an outcome some time in the new year.

Underlying the drop in dairy prices is the huge power imbalance between the small individual dairy farmer and the huge processor. It is not good enough that my hon. Friend is looking to beef up the voluntary code. Will he look closely at a statutory basis and extending the remit of the groceries code adjudicator to this very imbalanced relationship in dairy production?

If we were to have statutory oversight of the dairy supply chain code, we would have to put the code itself on a statutory basis. Because of EU legislation, however, that would make the code far weaker than what we have. For instance, farmers would not have the ability to walk away from contracts with three months’ notice. The course that my hon. Friend outlines would make things worse for farmers, not better.

River Thames (Cleanliness)

We are making good progress on cleaning up the River Thames, particularly in tackling the increasing raw sewage overflows into its tidal stretches. Thames Water will reduce overflows when the Lee tunnel becomes operational in 2015 and through upgrades to major sewage works across London. Once operational in 2023, the Thames tideway tunnel will capture almost all the remaining sewage overflows into the Thames in London.

Thames Water’s Mogden sewage works in Isleworth is the second largest of its kind in the UK. The company has pumped raw sewage into the Thames 23 times in the last year, and residents have struggled with odour from the plant for many years. Will the Minister meet me to discuss a better way forward?

I understand that Thames Water has spent about £30 million to address odour issues at the site and that Hounslow borough council is regularly monitoring it, but if issues remain for local residents, I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss them.

Flood Defences

8. How many flood defence schemes will be built as part of the Government’s six-year flood defence programme. (906578)

11. How many flood defence schemes will be built as part of the Government's six-year flood defence programme. (906583)

With permission, I will answer questions 8 and 11 together.

We will be investing £2.3 billion in more than 1,400 defence schemes over the next six years, protecting at least 300,000 homes and reducing overall flood risk by 5% by 2021.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the proposals within the Humber flood risk management strategy for protecting 110,000 dwellings and 20,000 businesses. The £80 million announced in the autumn statement last week was extremely welcome, but when will decisions be taken on how to spend the £80 million, and will there be an early decision on future proposals?

I congratulate my hon. Friend and colleagues on their work to put forward such an ambitious proposal. The Environment Agency is considering the proposal in detail, and we will publish a review in July 2015. We were delighted last week to announce £80 million of funding to improve protection for more than 50,000 households around the Humber estuary.

I call Daniel Kawczynski. Oh dear, the fellow’s not here. Never mind. I call a Member who is always here: Mr Neil Carmichael.

14. Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am grateful to the Environment Agency and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for funding £750,000 of investment in protecting my constituency by improving and maintaining defences along the Severn estuary, notably at Lapper ditch at a cost of £500,000. What assurances can the Secretary of State give me and my constituents, however, that this kind of investment and attention to the problem will be continued over the next few years? (906586)

This is the first time a Government have ever laid out a six-year forward capital spend proposal. It is an increase in real terms on the figure this Parliament, which in turn was an increase in real terms from the previous Parliament. We are also committing an additional £35 million for maintenance this year and next, which the Environment Agency has said will do the job of maintaining our defences.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that of the 1,400 schemes she has talked about, 1,119 are only partly funded and rely on 80% unsecured partnership funding and a 10% efficiency saving that nobody has yet identified? In fact, only 97 of those 1,400 schemes are both new and fully funded. She says that 300,000 households will have reduced flood risk, but this figure is the result of homes going from the category of “low risk” to that of “very low risk”, while the number of homes at “significant” and “high” risk of flooding will go up by 80,000 in the next six years. Will she also confirm that in order to get these figures to add up for the Treasury, she has had to value human life at zero?

Listening to the hon. Gentleman, I always feel that I am on the receiving end of a learned academic treatise, but a question would on the whole be preferred.

In this Parliament, we have already raised £140 million in partnership funding, which is 10 times the amount raised by the previous Government. This means that we are able to go ahead with more flood schemes and protect more homes than they were able to do. As I have made clear, the Environment Agency carried out a detailed assessment showing that overall flood risk will be reduced by 5% as a result of this funding. In the autumn statement, the Chancellor outlined his plans to give tax relief on private contributions to flood defence schemes, thereby making it likely that even more private sector companies will want to invest in flood defences. We are making it happen.

Brewing Industry (Packaging Waste)

The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), met the British Beer and Pub Association in March this year to discuss the producer responsibility regime for waste packaging. Officials have also met the BBPA as well as the Wine and Spirit Trade Association and individual brewing companies to discuss packaging waste.

I thank the Minister for being a long-standing supporter of the beer and pub industry. Will he join me in supporting the Sustain initiative by the BBPA, which is not only increasing compliance but reducing packaging costs to the brewing industry? Does he agree that this shows we have a listening Government, who listen to the industry about the glass recycling targets, which has saved the industry £15 million a year as a result?

I echo my hon. Friend’s words about the steps the industry has taken and I thank him, too, for the work he does to support this important industry. The scheme he mentions has come from within the industry: it is new and not for profit, has an excellent compliance scheme and is a good example of how the industry can organise itself to recycle more and to bring down the cost of compliance.

Rivers (Cleanliness)

We have made strong progress in cleaning up our rivers, which are now in far better health than they were 20 years ago. Pollution from sewerage works, for example, has gone down significantly, and phosphate pollution will fall by a further fifth and ammonia pollution by a further sixth by next year. Overall, this Government have improved over 15,000 km of rivers—and I am sure you will be interested to know, Mr Speaker, that this is equivalent to the length of the Amazon and Nile combined, but we know that more needs to be done.

I am enlightened by my hon. Friend’s answer, but does he agree with me that farmers who have managed their land and watercourses for many years are well placed to know how best to preserve them, and that if their watercourses should become blocked, they should be allowed carefully to clear them?

We wish to remove unnecessary burdens from farmers and landowners that might discourage them from undertaking their own watercourse maintenance. Seven new river maintenance pilots were launched in October, and these will test how we can ease consent requirements for watercourse de-silting, and improve partnership working, while ensuring that the environment is protected and, where possible, enhanced. The pilots form part of the catchment-based approach, which will ensure that discussions take place with all those involved in river maintenance, while achieving wider environmental outcomes through transparent decision making that involves and integrates environmental interests with others in these local steering groups for the pilots.

England Coastal Path

We are making good progress with coastal access. It has been implemented on three stretches of the coast in Cumbria, in Dorset, and in Durham, Hartlepool and Sunderland. A further stretch of the coast in Norfolk will be open tomorrow, and my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has announced that additional funding will be made available to complete the coastal path around England by 2020.

I welcome the announcement that funds will be provided to ensure that the path is completed by 2020. As co-chair of the mountaineering all-party parliamentary group, the pinnacle of APPGs—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] Thank you. As co-chair of the group, I pay tribute to the important and pioneering campaign of the Ramblers, supported by, among others, the British Mountaineering Council, which has demonstrated the strength of public support for this vital path. Does the Minister agree that the path will help to reduce physical inactivity, as well as encourage the local economies of coastal communities?

I am tempted to say that my hon. Friend speaks from the moral high ground, given his involvement in making the case for the healthy enjoyment of our countryside. Walking is a great activity, improving health and well-being, and coastal access will bring real benefits, giving local economies a vital boost by encouraging tourism.

What an opportunity, Mr Speaker! The coastline of England is a magnificent tourist attraction, with the potential to regenerate the economies of rural industries. Let us get on with it: let us provide access to the whole of the English coast, and tell the world about our glories.

I think that that was a question, although I am not entirely sure. In any event, I thank the hon. Gentleman for the sentiment, with which I entirely agree.

I think that the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) was operating in the spirit of a poet, and we are obliged to him for that.

Flood Defences

13. What plans she has to encourage communities to contribute towards flood defences; and if she will make a statement. (906585)

We are on course to generate up to £140 million of additional partnership funding during the current Parliament. Our success in that regard means that we can protect even more homes—an extra 300,000—by 2021, and deliver £30 billion of benefits to our economy.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her announcement 10 days ago, which was welcomed in my constituency. I am particularly grateful for her announcement of grant in aid for the long-term funding of sea defences along the Wash. Will she assure me of the Department’s full support for the community interest company project which is being led by my constituent Michael McDonnell?

I was delighted to hold a flood defence forum with my hon. Friend earlier in the year, when we also discussed the undertaking of a dredging pilot by internal drainage boards for the Ouse Washes. I am very keen for DEFRA to work with him and his constituent to ensure that we leverage the maximum possible funds for the important scheme to which he has referred.

Food Poverty

15. What estimate her Department has made of the number of people who used emergency food aid in the last 12 months; and what steps the Government are taking to reduce food poverty. (906587)

As I said earlier, the recent report by the all-party parliamentary group on hunger and food poverty concluded that people turned to food aid for complex reasons. The Government believe that the best way to help people out of poverty is to help them into work, and with that in mind we have created 1.7 million jobs since 2010. We are also helping the most vulnerable to have access to food by means of, for instance, free school meals and improvements in the welfare system.

The Minister may speak of “complex reasons”, but every week my office and I deal with people who have lost their benefits because of sanctions or confusion over delays in the payment of disability living allowance. This weekend I met a woman who had £1.37 to get her through the next week. Will the Government acknowledge that their decisions and their aggressive sanctioning are driving hundreds of thousands of people to food banks?

In fact, the timeliness of benefit payments has improved: 90% of payments are now made on time, which is an improvement on the position under the last Government. As for sanctions, the Department for Work and Pensions and jobcentres are ensuring that hardship payments are available to those who need them because they have been sanctioned.

Is it not a plain fact that pre-prepared food costs much more than food that is cooked at home? Will my hon. Friend join me in praising schools that teach children from both poor and wealthy families how to cook?

My hon. Friend has made a very good point. Our new school curriculum for primary schools includes learning to prepare basic dishes and understand more about food. If we can teach people to prepare their own food, they will find that it is often far cheaper than pre-packaged food.

Topical Questions

DEFRA’s priorities are leading the world in food and farming, protecting our country from floods and animal and plant diseases, improving the environment and championing the countryside and improving rural services. Bees and pollinators play a vital role in the health of our environment and economy. That is why on 4 November we published our national pollinator strategy. It sets out the first ever wild pollinator and farm wildlife package for farmers, commitments from major landowners, and how everyone, from schools to parks and gardeners, can do their bit to contribute.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. On her recent visit to my constituency, she saw and tasted for herself the excellent food and drink products that come from the area, produced by many excellent local companies. What role do businesses like these have in boosting British exports?

I had a very interesting visit to my hon. Friend’s constituency. Food and drink exports are now worth nearly £19 billion, and businesses like the one I visited play a key role in that growth. I enjoyed visiting Taylors of Harrogate, which now exports Yorkshire tea to China, and Bettys, with its confectionary brand, is part of our contribution to breaking the £1 billion mark in exports of confectionary around the world.

The Secretary of State has ministerial responsibility for food production and processing, so it is concerning that yesterday she transferred a question about campylobacter contamination in chicken, which had been on today’s Order Paper, to the Department of Health. The Food Standards Agency has said that 70% of chicken on sale in Britain, much of it produced here, is contaminated by campylobacter. That is higher than the salmonella infection rate in poultry in the 1980s. What is she doing to tackle this totally unacceptable state of affairs?

I can tell the hon. Lady that there is a project being run by the FSA and BOC to try to develop a treatment system of blast-chilling poultry to deal with this disease. Earlier this year the FSA ran an information campaign to raise awareness among the public of this problem, and as she is aware, the FSA has also recently published information about the incidence of campylobacter in poultry among a range of retailers.

The Minister sounds complacent. He has no plan to deal with this scandal, beyond transferring questions about it to other Departments. Food poisoning caused by campylobacter contamination in the poultry industry costs our economy and the NHS £900 million a year in days off work and treatment costs. It kills an estimated 100 people and makes 280,000 people ill every year. When will he stop being the mouthpiece of the food poisoners and start being the champion of consumers?

I simply say to the hon. Lady that, as she well knows, the FSA is the responsibility of the Department of Health. The FSA leads on food safety issues, including campylobacter. It is the FSA that has decided to publish this information, so it is right that the Department of Health should lead on this issue, but I totally reject the notion that I have been complacent: within the first week of coming into this job a year ago, I had our chief and deputy chief veterinary officers give me a briefing on the issue.

T4. There are 11 microbreweries, and even the Holmfirth vineyard, in my Colne Valley constituency in West Yorkshire. Will my right hon. Friend and the Department continue to support the success of the UK brewing industry, especially the businesses in my constituency, which are exporting their ales across the world, including to Australia? (906563)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and congratulate him on his work in promoting the brewing industry in Colne Valley. I know the Magic Rock brewery ales from his area are available as far afield as Australia, as he mentions, and there are other famous Yorkshire brands like the Ilkley brewery, which I visited recently, as well as the Black Sheep brewery, which are selling around the world. This is thanks to the GREAT Britain campaign and UK Trade & Investment, which are doing so much to promote our fantastic beer.

T2. There is concern about recent reports that indicate that the Government intend to bring forward the badger cull to early next summer in order to cull badger cubs. If these reports are accurate, is it not further evidence that this Government have reached new levels of desperation? It is cruel and it is bad science. The mass culling of junior badger cubs now is not a substitute for a serious TB strategy. (906561)

It has always been for the cull companies to decide when to start operations. The reality is that we inherited the highest level of bovine TB in Europe because the Labour party did nothing when it was in government. We are dealing with this with a comprehensive strategy that involves cattle movement controls, vaccination in the edge areas and culling where the disease is rife. That approach has worked in Australia, where the disease has been eradicated, and it is working in Ireland and New Zealand. We are determined to continue with that approach.

T5. I thank my right hon. Friend for bravely and rightly extending the flood payments and reliefs that were given to the communities that were flooded at the start of this year and to all those, including in Nottinghamshire, that were flooded in 2013. As a good Yorkshire girl, she recognised the injustice that was being done to the midlands and the north and she put it right. Will she join me in thanking all the groups in my constituency, including the Southwell flood forum, and those in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) that have campaigned on this issue over the course of this year? (906564)

I certainly thank my hon. Friend’s constituents, and I also thank him for the fantastic work he has done to promote this cause. It was right that we were able to bring forward those grants and I was delighted that, in the autumn statement, we were able to confirm £700,000 for flood defences in Southwell, which will benefit 235 houses.

T3. Mr Speaker, you will know that Newcastle is a thriving hub of life science, digital, creative and video gaming industries, but not everyone who works in the city lives there. People tell me that when they go home to rural Northumberland, they wish that this Government had delivered on Labour’s fully funded commitment to universal broadband for all by 2012. Does the Minister agree with them? (906562)

I welcome what the hon. Lady says about the industries in her part of the world. I would say to her that broadband is being taken forward. It is increasingly passing more and more homes in rural areas like my constituency and other rural areas around the country. Labour left us a legacy of an aspiration to do this; we are actually delivering on it and making a difference. We have further to go, but this is making a huge difference to those rural communities.

T7. The Marine Management Organisation says that it cannot meet me to discuss the disposal site at Rame Head South because of a judicial review. Will the Minister support my call to withdraw the existing licence and apply for a shorter one so that a new site could be investigated, the River Tamar could be dredged and we could care for the marine environment? (906566)

I understand that lawyers representing both parties in this judicial review are in discussions. I think the hon. Lady will agree that we need to ensure that we can continue to dredge the Tamar, which is a vital to the important port of Devonport. Also, I have always made it clear to her that I am willing to have meetings with residents, with the dredging company and with her to see whether it would be possible to identify an alternative site for the longer term.

T6. Around 10 million turkeys are slaughtered each year for the Christmas market. The vast majority are intensively reared and kept in sheds containing up to 25,000 turkeys, with no fresh air and very little light. They are fattened up so fast that they collapse under their own body weight. It is almost certainly too late to save this year’s turkeys, but what is the Minister doing to improve animal welfare standards in the future? (906565)

The hon. Lady should recognise that there are a number of free range turkey farms, and that these are growing in popularity as demand increases. I can tell her that we are in the process of reviewing all our animal welfare codes, and having discussions with the industry and with animal welfare groups such as Compassion in World Farming. It is our intention to get the new codes in place as soon as possible.

T8. One of the side effects of hydraulic fracturing at depth is the huge amount of contaminated water that has to be disposed of. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State take a close personal interest in the first fracking application, because at this stage Third Energy has had no detailed discussions with the relevant water company about how to dispose of the contaminated water safely? (906567)

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. Fracking is safe and has low environmental impact if it is done responsibly. The Environment Agency has been working hard to get the licensing process in place to make sure that groundwater is protected. I will certainly be keeping a close eye on this issue and working closely with the Environment Agency on it.

The landing obligation for fisheries is potentially a disaster for the Northern Ireland fishing industry, and it is to be introduced in January 2016. What discussions have taken place with the fisheries Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly about the effect the discard policy will have on the nephrops fisheries in the Irish sea?

I have regular meetings and discussions with representatives from the Northern Ireland industry, including earlier this week, when we discussed our approach on the total allowable catch—TAC—for nephrops for next week’s December Council meeting. The landing obligation contains many flexibilities: there is a de minimis; we can bank and borrow quota from one year to the next; and where there is high survivability we are able to put species back. There are sufficient flexibilities in the regulation to make this discard ban work, but there is detail we need to resolve, which is why we are issuing a consultation in the new year to begin that process.

Following on from the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), across rural England there are many concerns about the safety of the exploitation of shale gas, so can the Secretary of State confirm that no site will be given the go-ahead without approval from the Health and Safety Executive as well as the Environment Agency? They must be satisfied that any site will comply with strict safety criteria.

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is absolutely right about the HSE, and of course the local planning process also has to be gone through. I commend to him the paper produced by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering. They looked at these issues in detail and at experience from other countries, which shows that, provided the correct environmental regime is in place, fracking is safe to carry out and does have very limited impact on the environment.