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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 601: debated on Thursday 5 November 2015

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Secretary of State was asked—

Farm Produce (Fair Practice)

First, I welcome the new shadow Front-Benchers to their positions. I am sure they will find DEFRA to be a fascinating and rewarding, if somewhat unpredictable, brief to be involved with.

In the last Parliament, we introduced the grocery code adjudicator to enforce the principle of the grocery supply code relating to fair practice in contracting arrangements. In addition, we have encouraged large retailers to offer contracts with prices linked to the cost of production. Many of them now do so for their liquid milk, and such contracts are popular with farmers.

What steps is the Minister taking to alleviate the severe cash-flow pressures on our farmers, and will he consider placing a floor in the market to protect the dairy and lamb industry?

We have worked hard with the European Commission to get a support payment. The Rural Payments Agency is processing that now—for Scotland, England and all other parts of the UK. We aim to get that out in the first week of December. That will offer some support to dairy farmers with their cash-flow problems. In addition, we are working hard in England to ensure that we can get the basic payment scheme payments out to farmers on time.

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for his response to last week’s debate on the impact of the living wage on fruit farmers. As he knows, fruit farmers in my constituency support the living wage, but they are worried that supermarkets will not pay them a price that recognises the increased cost of production. What steps is he taking to support the fruit farming industry on this issue?

My hon. Friend is right that we had a good debate on this issue last week. As a former strawberry farmer, I can say that supermarkets pay a premium for English fruit—the quality is superior and we have better varieties. It commands a premium over both Dutch and Spanish fruit.

The English Christmas could not exist without Stilton cheese, yet the Minister is refusing to allow the name Stilton to be given to the only English cheese made in the traditional way—Stilton cheese—because of some bureaucracy from DEFRA and him. An entire herd of cows in my constituency survives because of real, traditional unpasteurised English Stilton, with 45p a litre paid, keeping the dairy farmers in good profit. Will the Minister accept a full Stilton cheese to give to the Cabinet, and perhaps provide the biscuits to go with it, so that they can understand the price we pay by denying England its true traditional English cheese—and rethink?

I think that the company to which the hon. Gentleman refers is called Stichelton. It produces cheese using raw milk, and as a high-quality product it commands a premium over Stilton. Every single Stilton producer opposed changing the protected food name status for Stilton, and we believe that there should be some sense of consensus before changes to recipes are imposed on producers.

Dairy farmers in my Eddisbury constituency, who are on non-aligned contracts, are suffering from the volatility in world dairy prices. What is the Minister doing to assist in making them resilient to that market volatility?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. One of the key long-term aspects we are looking at is developing a dairy futures market so that farmers can help to mitigate and manage the risks of price volatility. Such a market works quite effectively in the United States, and the European Commission is setting up a high-level group to look at how to develop such a scheme in the European Union.

I, too, welcome the new shadow Front-Bench team. The failure of the market to provide a fair price for what farmers produce means that, for many of them, common agricultural policy payments make the difference between bankruptcy and continuing in business. The Secretary of State has been repeatedly asked to confirm whether those payments would continue in the event of a Brexit. Simply batting that question away is no longer acceptable. What will happen?

The RPA is making emergency payments worth about £2,500 to help the average Scottish dairy farmer through this difficult period. We are doing our bit to ensure that Scottish dairy farmers are helped.

Farmers can be helped to obtain a fair price for their produce if they act as retailers themselves through, for example, farmers markets and farm shops such as the excellent Roots in Barkby Thorpe and Cook’s in Newtown Linford, in my constituency. What assessment has the Minister made of farm shops as a small part of the way in which producers can be helped to sell their produce at a fair price?

I should declare an interest. My family run a farm shop, and I can add to my hon. Friend’s list Trevaskis Farm in Cornwall, which is one of the best farm shops in the country.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. In the last 15 years we have seen a huge surge of interest in food provenance—people want to know where their food comes from—and a significant rise in the turnover of farm shops, which are a good way of enabling farmers to protect their margins.

There is a perception among the dairy farmers whom I represent, and particularly among small farmers, that they are being individually picked off by some of the big supermarkets. What can the Government do to encourage and support the development of producer organisations and real collaboration between individual farmers?

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. We have been trying to foster the development of producer organisations, and Dairy Crest runs one that is very successful. We provided funds to support the development of dairy producer organisations through the most recent rural development scheme. As the hon. Gentleman says, ensuring that farmers can negotiate collectively is key to enabling them to deal with the fact that they are small and fragmented.

The number of dairy farms and dairy cattle in Northamptonshire has fallen by more than a third since 2001, largely because the common agricultural policy is rigged in favour of the French dairy industry. Other countries have negotiated early payments from the CAP this year. Why have we not done the same?

This year we decided to issue the full BPS payments as quickly as possible and as early as possible in the payment window. About 60% of the entry level and higher level stewardship payments have now been made. We are working on the dairy crisis fund, and we aim to issue the majority of basic payment scheme payments in December and the vast majority by the end of January.

Given that farmers are struggling, may I ask by what date the last farmer will have received this year’s cheque from the Rural Payments Agency?

As with all years, the payment window runs from 1 December until June. In each year there are some highly complex cases—typically involving non-governmental organisations, such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which run large schemes and do not receive their payments until later—but, as I have said, we expect to issue the majority in December and the vast majority by the end of January. We hope to issue the payments in respect of common land during February, because those cases are more complex.

Flood Plans (Gloucestershire)

2. What assessment she has made of progress on flood plans for Gloucestershire; and if she will make a statement. (902018)

There are two forms of flood plan that affect Gloucester. The Gloucestershire county council plan was agreed in 2014, and the national plans from the Environment Agency will be in place for the Severn and the Thames by next month.

The Minister will know how vulnerable Gloucester is to flooding. I am delighted to assume from his answer that the Environment Agency will have plenty of funds with which to establish a robust flood protection scheme, but does he see a role for other partners, such as Severn Trent Water? If so, will he tell us how that might work?

There are three elements in my hon. Friend’s question. First, I entirely agree that Gloucester is particularly vulnerable, because of its combination of fluvial and tidal flooding. Secondly, there is money in place for Gloucester: £5 million, with a six-year guarantee from the Treasury. Thirdly, I met the chief executive of Severn Trent two days ago. We are always interested in the role that other partners can play in ensuring that we have effective flood protection at a reasonable cost.

Food Waste

3. What progress her Department has made on meeting the UN target of halving food waste by 2030. (902019)

Britain is a leader in addressing the problem of food waste. We have managed to reduce household waste by 15% and retail waste by 7.2%, and the figures for 2014 suggest a further 3.2% reduction, but that will be dealt with mainly through the Courtauld 2025 agreement.

We know from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s documentary “Hugh’s War on Waste”, which was shown earlier this week, that supermarket practices such as unnecessarily strict cosmetic specifications for products are contributing to the huge amounts of waste in the supply chain. What is the Minister doing to ensure that supermarkets take much more responsibility for reducing food waste in their supply chains?

The supermarkets and retailers in general are a very important part of the Courtauld agreement. I pay tribute to some of the retailers: Tesco has made progress on bananas, and there has been progress from the Co-op on potatoes with the Marfona range, which reduces potato waste by 30%, but I absolutely agree retailers have to play a larger role in reducing food waste in general.

Does the Minister agree with me that consumers have a role to play, too? What is wrong with an over-bent banana? What is wrong with a particularly twisted turnip? They can still taste just as good. We have got to educate the consumer. What will the Minister do about doing just that?

The records of Ministers and shadow Ministers walking around with strange-shaped fruit is not always very positive. However, in order to encourage this I would be delighted to be seen eating a wobbly banana.

Will the Minister give the House some details of what discussions he has had with supermarkets in relation to food waste, and will he welcome the announcement by KFC who have done a deal with the Salvation Army to help hand out food so it is not wasted?

There have been a number of discussions. I absolutely welcome that move and pay tribute to that work with the Salvation Army. We should also pay tribute to Tesco, which now has a new app running with FareShare, and Morrisons, which has announced it will be putting all the food within the sell-by date over to charitable purposes. This is a really good lead and it is showing that a voluntary approach is working.

Tree Planting

We are committed to plant 11 million trees this Parliament. That is in addition to the 11 million we planted in the last Parliament, which is contributing to the highest woodland cover in Britain since 14th century.

The new national forest that covers much of my constituency has seen 8.5 million trees planted in the last 25 years, with another 126,000 planned for next year alone. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not all about quantity—quality is also important and these woodlands need managing so that the trees thrive for future generations?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. The national forest has been a fantastic achievement. We are celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. It was put in place by the John Major Government in 1995. It is an incredible boost to tourism, but I completely agree that we need to see a mixed variety of woodland being planted, including many of our important native trees such as the oak, the ash and the beech. We also need to make sure those woodlands are managed, and thanks to the Grown in Britain campaign we are seeing more of our woodland under management.

Does the Minister share my view that it is important for planning guidance to recognise the inherent interest in maintaining ancient woodland, and veteran trees in particular?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Ancient woodland is of huge historical value to our country. It also provides very important soil that we will never get back if we lose it, as well as a huge variety of trees, and we are committed to protecting it in the planning system.

The Secretary of State will be pleased to hear I represent the most biodiverse constituency on earth given the presence within it of the millennium seed bank at Wakehurst Place. Will she join me in congratulating Wakehurst on the work being done on the UK national tree seed project, testing the resilience of our native species?

Wakehurst Place is a fantastic national asset and is part of the Kew group, which is the jewel in DEFRA’s crown. Not only do we have the millennium seed bank and the important work it provides; we also have the world’s largest database of plants, which we are now digitising so we can benefit everybody in society.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her answers thus far. The importance of a well-maintained, well-managed woodland capability is clearly dependent on demand for timber. What role is there for Grown in Britain to manage that demand, and what extra role can it fulfil in future?

Grown in Britain is a fantastic campaign that is bringing together people from right across the timber supply chain to ensure that more of our buildings use British wood, perhaps by adjusting building standards, and that more of the furniture that we buy uses British woods such as oak and beech. Thanks to the Grown in Britain project, we have seen an 8% increase in domestic timber production between 2010 and 2014, and more of our woodland is now under management.

But may we have a note of realism from the Secretary of State? Until recently, her Government wanted to sell off those jewels in the crown. They wanted to sell off our national forest. Is it not a fact that more trees are dying of disease than are being planted? When will she take on the great estates of this country that have owned our land and exploited it for hundreds of years—[Interruption.] No, some of us remember, because we like John Clare, that there was something called the enclosures. Is it not about time that those great estates were made to do something positive, rather than just seeking planning permission for residential building?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. We are taking positive steps. We want to put our woodland in trust for the nation. I have just announced an extension to the Yorkshire Dales national park and the Lake District national park that will create the largest area of almost continuous national park in our country. We are building up Kew as a fantastic organisation and using our expertise to benefit countries around the world. I am incredibly proud of what we are doing in this area, and I wish that the hon. Gentleman would take more pride in it as well.

The Secretary of State said a moment ago that ancient woodland needed to be properly protected in the planning system, but it is the clear view of the Woodland Trust that the planning protections that are in place are not good enough. What representations will she make to the Department for Communities and Local Government to ensure that planning protection for ancient woodland is improved and made robust?

We absolutely do. What is more, we have just launched our 25-year plan for the environment. We are looking at natural capital and at the value of woodland. We also want to ensure that trees are planted in the right place, because where we plant them makes a tremendous difference. We must ensure that we build for the future.

Will the Secretary of State outline what plans the Government have, aside from the planting of new trees, for protecting and developing arboretums, which can contain some fine indigenous species as well as trees, flora and fauna from across the world, particularly in landed estates, which are a tourism asset?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I have mentioned Wakehurst Place, and I also have a fantastic arboretum in my own constituency, the Lynford arboretum. We are making sure that all the elements of DEFRA work much more closely together so that we can get the data out there to enable people to understand about our natural heritage and so that we can protect that heritage for the future.

The Woodland Trust is doing a significant amount of tree planting across the whole of the United Kingdom, and this Saturday a centenary wood will be planted near Limavady. What discussions are the Secretary of State and her Department having with the Woodland Trust to ensure that lots of woods and trees are planted in this centenary year?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right; the Woodland Trust is a fantastic organisation. We are working closely with it and with other voluntary organisations as part of our tree-planting programme.

I very much welcome the progress that the Secretary of State has mentioned, but the industry is still predicting a shortage of home-grown timber by the 2030s. Confor estimates that the UK needs to plant 12,000 hectares of productive woodland a year for the next 25 years in order to maintain supplies and preserve the tremendous contribution that trees make to our environment. Will she tell the House how she proposes to close that gap, to secure the land required and to help farmers and other landowners to play a greater role in developing new forests?

First, may I welcome the new Opposition Front-Bench team to their places? I am looking forward to meeting them over the Dispatch Box in the coming months.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we have a burgeoning timber industry in this country. We now have more demand for our native woods, which is important. It is important for biodiversity to bring more of our woodlands and forest under management. As part of the 25-year environmental plan and the natural capital approach, we will be looking at things such as how we can use the planting of trees to help flood defences. Last week, I went to see “Slowing the Flow” in Pickering, which is using the woodland—putting trees upstream—to help slow the flow downstream. There are a lot of opportunities to look at the environment more holistically so that we can both plant trees and help address our other environmental priorities.

Air Quality

5. What progress she has made in consulting on her Department’s draft plans to improve air quality; and when she plans to respond to that consultation. (902022)

Our consultation on plans to improve air quality in our towns and cities closes tomorrow. Plans will be submitted to the commission by the end of this year. This builds on £2 billion of Government investment since 2011 on measures to improve air quality.

I thank the Minister for that response. What action are the Government taking to address the fact that 7,000 Londoners a year are now dying prematurely as a result of toxic air?

We have launched a consultation on putting clean air zones in place across the country. This is the first ever national network of clean air zones, which will help to address our target of getting to compliance by 2020 in other cities and by 2025 in London. We are working closely with the Mayor to make sure that we introduce the ultra-low emission zones to help deliver that.

Is it not the case that 27 out of 28 member states in Europe are non-compliant with the air quality directive? Does my right hon. Friend see this proliferation of clean air zones as one very good way in which the UK could comply with those standards?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I know that she did a lot of work on this when she was Secretary of State. Our plans have been modelled and will achieve compliance by 2020 in cities outside London and by 2025 in London. Of course we need to work at a European level to make sure that we have real driving conditions reflected in the tests and that we have a coherent framework that reflects both air quality and car tests. There is still some way to go on that front.

Two Government decisions in the past week will have a dramatic impact on air quality. One was the decision to support a watering down of the tests that the Secretary of State has just referred to in Brussels. The other was the decision to announce half a billion pounds of taxpayer subsidy to a generation of diesel generators to plug the energy gap. Was she consulted on either of those?

On the right hon. Gentleman’s first point, this is the first time at a European level that we have agreed that the lab tests do not reflect the reality of what vehicles are emitting, and we have put in place a process to get to real-world conditions. This country has been pushing for that for some time and last week we succeeded in getting a path to achieving it. That is major progress, which will help us to deliver our air quality commitments.

I welcome what the Minister has said and what the Government are doing. More generally, does she agree that climate change must be partly responsible for changes to air quality?

We need to look at both carbon dioxide emissions and nitrogen oxides emissions to make sure that we are delivering reductions in both. That is exactly what our air quality plans are about.

The truth is that the Secretary of State launched her air quality consultation only after she was forced to do so by the Supreme Court ruling in April. As we have heard, there are now big question marks about the reliability of vehicle emissions modelling, particularly for the newest cars. Does she really care about the clean air crisis or is this something she is just trying to pass off to local authorities? Is the consultation just a cosmetic exercise to get ClientEarth and the Supreme Court off her back?

We are clear that the clear air zones that we have modelled use the very best data, so we acknowledge that there is a difference between laboratory tests and real-world performance, and that is factored in to our plans. In our consultation, we are considering incentives to ensure that what we want happens. I am absolutely determined to deal with the issue of air quality and to ensure that we are in compliance by the dates that I outlined earlier. We are looking at the incentives at the moment—that is part of the consultation—so that we can submit those final plans to the European Commission by the end of December.

Urban and Rural Areas: Inequality

We are focusing on rural productivity, and we have 10 main priorities: mobile broadband, transport, communications, investment in education and skills, investment in apprenticeships, houses, affordable childcare, making sure that we have in place everything that we need for businesses, rural enterprise zones and the localism to underpin all of that to deliver rural productivity.

I thank the Minister for his answer, and I am pleased that he mentioned rural broadband. In the village of Saughall, in my constituency, residents are being told to pay an extra £7 a month in premium to access fast broadband because they live in a rural area. Ofcom is acquiescing in that, but I remind the Minister that there are large amounts of public and European money to develop those networks. Will he please make representations to Ofcom to stop this discrimination, which is increasing the inequality?

I would be very interested to meet the hon. Gentleman and to hear more about this matter. That does seem an unjust situation. I would be interested to know the identity of the provider and why they are charging in that way. It certainly seems an important issue for rural areas in general, so I would be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman.

16 . I am also delighted to hear that the Minister is conscious of this issue. Some of the houses in about a third of the villages in my constituency do not have access to superfast broadband. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that broadband generally is as fast and as effective in rural areas as it is in urban ones? (902035)

I pay tribute to my hon. and learned Friend for the meeting that she held in South East Cambridgeshire last week, with more than 20 parish councils, British Telecom and Broadband Delivery UK. It is a really good example of how local MPs—and this is true across the House—can lead this kind of progress. There are new technological solutions that we are putting in place. We are very proud that, by the end of this year, the universal service commitment of 2 megabits will be available, but that will not be enough for the future, which is why I would also like to draw her attention to the Fell End build and benefit model where the Government, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, BT and local communities are finding out how to deliver fibre to the most remote rural communities.

Food Security

The factors that affect household food security are complex and difficult to measure. However, a recent report comparing OECD countries found that a proportion of those who said that they are finding it difficult to afford food went down from 9.8% in 2007 to 8.1% in 2012.

One million people relied on food-bank meals last year, which is an increase of 38% on 2013. In Oldham, 5,000 people, including 1,500 children, relied on Oldham food bank. Given the Resolution Foundation’s estimate that an additional 200,000 children will be pushed into poverty as a direct result of the social security and tax changes that this Government are intending to implement, what is the Minister doing, working across Government Departments, to address the issues of food insecurity?

Let me point out a number of things. First, food prices have fallen for the first time in around 15 years. They went down by 2.3% over the past year. In addition, since 2010, we have seen an increase in household disposable income; it is up by around £900 according to the Office for Budget Responsibility. Finally, we must bear in mind that the way to get people out of poverty and to tackle poverty is to get people off benefits and into work. That is exactly what our welfare reforms are doing.

Regional Food and Drink

This week, we launched the great British food campaign with some of our most talented food and drink pioneers across the country, including the Welsh Venison Centre in my hon. Friend’s constituency. The year of great British food will be 2016, and it will include trade missions, fantastic events and an incubator space at DEFRA.

Welsh lamb and Welsh water are key ingredients in the recipe of our economy’s success, so will my right hon. Friend commend the Radnor Hills water company in my constituency for investing in a new £7 million production line, securing the future of production and jobs? With lamb prices so low, will she also assure farmers in my constituency that she is doing everything she can to ensure that Welsh lamb remains on the menu for generations to come?

It sounds to me like my hon. Friend’s constituency is a food powerhouse and I congratulate him on the success of the Radnor Hills water company. We are the No. 1 exporter of lamb in the world and Welsh lamb is an important part of that success. I will be in China next week, trying to open that market for lamb, and I will continue to push the case here in Britain.

Lamb aside, and without being too specific, is there not a possible policy conflict between promoting some regional foods and the Government’s anti-obesity strategy?

Food and Farming Industry: Productivity

10. What steps the Government are taking to use science and data to increase productivity in the food and farming industry. (902029)

The Government are investing £90 million in centres for agricultural innovation to ensure that our world-leading science is improving farm productivity. Just last week, I visited the Rothamsted research institute to launch a new agrimetrics centre that will develop the use of modern data analysis and management.

I understand that the Minister is working on a 25-year food and farming plan and that many farmers and businesses in the north-west have been involved in the discussions. How central will data and technology be to the plan and what benefits will it bring to farmers and food producers in the north-west?

We held a workshop in Manchester as part of our food and farming strategy development and I am delighted that some of my hon. Friend’s constituents were able to contribute. Data and technology will form a crucial part of our food and farming plan. We are using the way in which we can harness data to improve plant health, animal health and crop yields, for instance. It is therefore vital to the future of our agriculture.

Flood Defences

11. How many flood schemes are due to begin construction in 2015 under the Government’s six-year flood defence programme. (902030)

The Government planned to launch 161 schemes in this financial year, providing extra protection for 70,000 households. As this is the Environment Agency’s flood awareness week, let me take the opportunity to remind everybody living in risk areas for flooding that there is a very important personal responsibility to remain in touch with the Environment Agency, particularly through the winter months.

I thank the Minister for the work that the Department is doing with the flood protection schemes in Fairhaven in my constituency. Fylde also suffers from inland flooding, so will the Department consider schemes to alleviate the flooding impacting on high-quality farmland in Fylde?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. I am glad that he recognises the work that has already been done along the Fylde coast, which is one of the top six projects for the Environment Agency. Nearly £80 million has been spent on protection along the Fylde coast. On farmland, the Dock Bridge pumping station and the work that my hon. Friend has done with farmers in situ are extremely important and I look forward to meeting him and the Environment Agency.

Insurance companies are suddenly ignoring the £23 million flood defence system in Morpeth in my constituency, telling residents that it is “irrelevant”. Christine Telford, who has lived in the same property for 21 years, has just been quoted between £3,000 and £4,800, with an excess of £7,500. What will the Minister do to put pressure on insurance companies to give affordable and realistic insurance premiums?

This is a very important point. With the Government spending a record amount of money on flood defence—about £20 million in this case—it is important to have a standard that flood insurance companies recognise so that when we make the investment householders can benefit from it. I am happy to consider the individual case.

17 . I was pleased to welcome the Government’s investment in repair work for the Barbourne brook culvert in my constituency last year, but investigations have since found significant deterioration in that culvert and there might be a need for some extra support. Will the Minister convene a meeting with the Environment Agency and Worcester City Council to discuss the issue? (902036)

Again, I shall be delighted to do so. Worcester is a special case, as it is on the Severn, like Gloucester. Much of the flooding there has affected assets, such as road assets. That culvert is central and I am happy to sit down with my hon. Friend and with the Environment Agency in order to address the challenges of that culvert.

Topical Questions

This week we launched the great British food campaign to grow more, buy more and sell more British food. We will be harnessing the expertise of pioneering chefs, entrepreneurs and farmers to build the UK’s reputation as a great food nation. In the new year we will be establishing the great British food unit to bring together DEFRA exports and UK Trade and Investment into a single team to support great British food companies. [Interruption.]

I think we are all aware that the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) is still chuntering away from a sedentary position about Stilton. We have heard what he has to say about Stilton.

On 22 January I expect to get a Second Reading for my private Member’s Bill—it is not a Government hand-out Bill, but I hope it will have Government support—abolishing the Department of Energy and Climate Change. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is, I understand, keen to have the energy element. Would the Secretary of State like to have the climate change section in her Department? I think the Government are looking favourably on this Bill.

Our Department already has a strong responsibility for climate change—climate change adaptation, which is baked into everything we do.

DEFRA’s budget was slashed by a third at the last spending review and it is in line for cuts of up to 40% this time, yet the Secretary of State does not seem to be fighting her corner to protect her Department. What is she doing to convince a Chancellor who is notoriously dismissive of environmental concerns and a Prime Minister who pays only lip service to them that DEFRA’s work on flood defences, marine conservation, biodiversity and much more matters, or which of those Tory manifesto commitments will she ditch?

DEFRA is a crucial Department. We respond to animal disease outbreaks, we are responsible for flood defences and we represent the largest manufacturing industry, the food industry, which I think has tremendous growth potential. But that does not mean that we cannot do things better. Today we have been talking about how we can digitise our records and help digitise such things as our farm inspections. We can do things more efficiently so that we can spend more money on the frontline, which is what I want to do.

T2. I very much welcome the Secretary of State going to China to promote great British food that is being produced to high welfare standards. What more would she like to do in co-operation with UK Trade & Investment to liberate more exports of great British food? (901998)

Of course, we will be promoting Stilton in China, alongside other British cheeses. It looks as though the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) would like to accompany me on the visit. It is not too late, if he gets in touch with my office. We are linking up UKTI and the DEFRA export—[Interruption.]

What I want to say is that we are creating a one-stop shop so that any food business—a cheese maker, a pork producer, a “gin-trepreneur”—can have a single point of contact to deal with the Government, and get their products overseas as soon as possible.

Who knows, we might have a statement to the House subsequently about the Secretary of State’s visit. I am sure the House would be extremely interested.

T4. To aid reduction in our carbon footprint, from 2018 it will be unlawful to grant new property leases with an energy performance certificate rating below E. What progress are the Government making on ensuring that as many of these properties meet that rating before civil penalties are introduced, and what encouragement are they offering to landlords to ensure that they bring their properties up to the highest possible EPC rating, rather than just making the necessary improvements to take them up to the minimum standard? (902000)

I am afraid that I do not have a great deal of detail on that issue now, so I will be happy to sit down with the hon. Gentleman and discuss it further. Climate adaptation is baked through our departmental policy. It sounds to me as though this is something we need to discuss with the hon. Gentleman, communities, local government and, in particular, the housing taskforce.

T3. “Water adds value.” That was the conclusion of the Canal & River Trust when it studied the economic, social and environmental benefits of waterways restoration projects over the past 20 years. Will the Minister join me in praising the hard-working volunteers of the Louth Navigation Trust, who for the past 30 years have been working hard to restore the Louth canal to its full glory? (901999)

I pay real tribute to the work of the Louth Navigation Trust. We are at an exciting moment with the Louth canal, with the potential removal of the Phillips 66 pipe. If we are able to deal with some of the land ownership issues and, in particular, work with my hon. Friend to talk with Merton College, Oxford, which appears to control access to the canal, then we can get what she and the Louth Navigation Trust have fought so hard for. I thank her for her interest.

T6. Among my constituents there are real concerns that the recently approved Enderby Wharf cruise liner terminal in east Greenwich will have a detrimental impact on already dangerously high levels of air pollution. Can the Minister outline how the forthcoming air quality strategy will protect my constituents from the noxious emissions that berthed cruise ships will generate at the site? (902002)

Of course, all emissions are factored into our air quality plans. We are working closely with the Mayor of London to ensure that London is brought into compliance by 2025, but we will look specifically at this issue, which was also raised in the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

T5. As a beekeeper, I recently met the British Beekeepers Association, with which I am keen to restart the all-party parliamentary group on bees. One of our prime objectives is to bring together farmers, scientists and environmentalists with the common aim of improving the nation’s bee colonies. Is the Minister willing to offer support and encouragement to such a move? (902001)

I am absolutely delighted to offer my hon. Friend that support and encouragement, and I will be more than happy to attend the all-party group. We have a new pollinator strategy in place, and around half the expressions of interest that we have received for the new mid-tier countryside stewardship schemes include pollinator packages. I can also report that our own DEFRA beehives are doing quite well and that we harvested our first honey this year.

T8. This Government are all over the place on the issue of fracking in national parks and protected areas. Having vowed to ban it in January, they last week proposed to allow it, and now they say that they want to ban surface drilling inside those areas again. Can the Secretary of State confirm whether fracking will be allowed under national parks and protected areas, and what effect that will have on noise, light and air pollution? (902004)

I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome the extra protection that the Department of Energy and Climate Change has put in place. Let us be clear that under the Environment Agency we have the best possible protection for the environment, to ensure that any fracking is done in a safe and environmentally friendly way.

T7. South Essex is home to many small and medium-sized food businesses. What progress has been made since the launch of the 2013 food and drink international action plan to help those businesses export more? (902003)

We run a food export forum with industry, which I chair, and we are making progress. We have now helped around 4,000 companies to export overseas, which is four times more than we intended to in the initial strategy.

T9. There seems to be a vast gap between the Government’s ambition for forest and woodland planting and reality. Yesterday, Confor and the Woodland Trust proposed at the all-party group on forestry a target of 7,000 hectares of planting a year. If it is planted sensibly, that could mean 15 million trees a year, but the funding currently available will help deliver only between 2,000 and 2,500 hectares a year. How will the Government work with Confor and the Woodland Trust to achieve more? (902005)

We are planting 22 million trees over the period 2010 to 2020. In the natural capital work that we are doing at the moment, we are looking at the value of trees in the natural environment and the contribution they can make to the economy, through the timber industry, and to things like flood defences. I am sure that that means there will be more in future as well.

T10. Bath residents will welcome the consultations in the Department on air quality, given the high levels of air pollution in the city, as the Secretary of State will know from her visit earlier this year. Will she confirm that this will help cities such as Bath to introduce low-emission zones? (902006)

I remember standing with my hon. Friend by the roadside in Bath and breathing in the fumes. The clean air zones that we are introducing provide, for the first time, a national framework that local authorities can adopt and put in place in their area to address air quality issues, so I hope that Bath is looking at that.

Given that Heathrow already breaches legal maximums for nitrogen dioxide, what advice is the Secretary of State giving to her Cabinet colleagues pondering the decision on the Davies commission report, and can we still expect that decision before Christmas?

The decision is clearly a matter for the Airports Commission, which is looking into this issue. On London air quality, the plans that we are putting in place, and have modelled very carefully, will bring London into compliance by 2025, which is well before the date for the airport.

Order. We have overrun, but I want to accommodate a couple of colleagues very briefly. I call Mr James Heappey.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

The dastardly EU has moved the goalposts on bathing water quality, and this morning we have found out that Burnham-on-Sea in my constituency has fallen short of the new standards. This will be of great concern to many in my constituency, particularly those involved in tourism. Will the Minister reassure us that all will be done to improve standards before next year’s readings?

This is an extremely important issue. I underscore the fact that these are advisory notices; they do not prohibit people from swimming in the water. In relation to Burnham-on-Sea, 250 missed connections have been identified by Wessex Water, which will invest £36 million. I have every hope that through its Streamclean initiative we should be able to bring Burnham-on-Sea back into compliance.

I am sure that the Secretary of State is aware of the vital work being carried out by the National Wildlife Crime Unit. With its current funding ending in March 2016, will the Minister take this opportunity to reassure it, and the public, that the Department, alongside the Home Office, will ensure that funding is maintained beyond 2016?

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

I congratulate the Government on last year starting the national pollinator strategy. Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the establishment of small bee habitats, particularly in urban areas, as set out by the BeeWorld initiative?

We are leading the way at DEFRA because we not only have beehives on our roof that have produced their first honey, but have established a pollinator-friendly garden with plants that attract pollinators. Putting in these pollinator-friendly plants is something that anybody can do, at school or at home.

Church Commissioners

The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners was asked—

Women Bishops

1. What assessment she has made of the effect of the introduction of the first woman bishop to the Lords Spiritual on the Church of England; and if she will make a statement. (902007)

I am delighted to be able to share with the House that the first female bishop, the Bishop of Gloucester, was introduced into the House of Lords on 26 October. The Church would like to put on record its thanks to my predecessor and to many hon. Members, including the hon. Lady, who have campaigned long and hard to see this day.

I am delighted that in July I was able to go along to the installation of the Bishop of Hull, Alison White, the first woman to hold that position, and of course we now have a woman bishop in the House of Lords. Will the right hon. Lady comment on whether the Church has an objective as to when we will see parity between male and female bishops in the House of Lords?

There are already seven women bishops. The next Bishop of Newcastle, to be introduced into the Lords on 26 January, will also be a woman. There are currently three vacancies in Oxford, Leicester and Lichfield, all of which are eligible seats in the House of Lords and which may be filled by women. The legislation passed this year enables these vacancies to be filled by female bishops in a quest to get a much better gender balance.

Public Accounts Commission

The hon. Member for Gainsborough, representing the Public Accounts Commission was asked—

BBC

2. What discussions the commission has had on the potential extension of the scope of the National Audit Office’s auditing of the BBC as part of the BBC charter review. (902008)

The commission has had no discussions on the potential extension of the scope of the National Audit Office’s auditing of the BBC as part of the BBC charter review. However, it is aware of the Government’s recent consultation on framing the new BBC charter, particularly the question of whether the NAO should be given statutory access to BBC accounts. The commission notes that the BBC’s own response to the consultation acknowledged the value of the NAO’s value-for-money studies of the BBC. Statutory access would give the NAO the right to audit the BBC’s annual report and accounts, and strengthen its scrutiny of value for money. I understand that the Government are considering the outcome of their consultation.

Although I am quite a fan of the BBC—I do not expect any cheers for that—I believe that no organisation should be its own judge and jury. Given my belief that Ofcom should have greater powers over the BBC, similar to those it has over commercial broadcasters, what is my hon. Friend going to do about making sure that the National Audit Office has full powers of investigation into the BBC?

That is an excellent question. I am proud that when I was Chair of the Public Accounts Committee we forced the BBC to accept, for the first time, that the NAO should do value-for-money accounts. There has been no complaint since then that the PAC has ever involved itself in any editorial decision whatsoever. The fact is that the BBC is a public body. It taxes everybody and has to be held to account. The Comptroller and Auditor General must be given full financial powers to go into the BBC and hold it to account for value for money.

May I beg the hon. Gentleman not to get carried away with the vendetta against the BBC that is being carried out by the Murdoch press and members of the Conservative party? The Public Accounts Committee has an honourable heritage of being fair minded, and I hope it will keep to that.

May I say absolutely clearly that the PAC will not get involved in any “vendetta” against the BBC? This is simply about value-for-money inquiries. For instance, the Comptroller and Auditor General, who certainly is completely outside politics, has expressed in public his concerns about the current arrangements. He does not have a statutory right of access to information. His staff are entirely dependent on what information the BBC chooses to give them in answer to their questions. His reports are badged with the BBC logo and they are always prefaced by a preamble prepared by the BBC Trust. The fact is that the BBC is a public body. It must be like other public bodies and held to account for value for money.

Long ago I used to do auditing of companies, and it seems to me that the BBC would be a prime target for that. Is not my hon. Friend surprised that the BBC has not requested that the National Audit Office gets involved?

It is not for me to question what goes on inside the mind of the BBC. All I can say is that there is general consensus that we must move forward into the modern age and the BBC must be like all other public bodies, and that this Parliament, through our Public Accounts Committee, must have full financial oversight so that we have a well-run organisation that uses public moneys efficiently.

Church Commissioners

The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners was asked—

Funeral Charges

3. What assessment the Church Commissioners have made of the effect of funeral poverty on fees paid for funerals. (902010)

The clergy witnesses at first hand the trauma when a family feel unable to give due recognition to a loved one. The Church does all it can to keep funeral costs down. A simple funeral in a Church of England parish church would cost a family between £200 and £300, depending on the style of burial.

I thank the right hon. Lady for her answer and welcome her to her place. Is she able to provide an estimate—if not now, in writing—of whether the write-off that some parishes are able to make for funerals is going up or down?

Jeremy Pemberton

4. How much the Church of England has spent on the employment tribunal involving Jeremy Pemberton; and if she will make a statement. (902011)

I am unable to answer the question about the cost of that case, because it is still litigation in progress and we are currently in the period when the claimant may appeal the tribunal’s decision.

I very much hope that the claimant does appeal. Do we not have a right as members of the Church of England to know exactly how much our Church has spent in our name to persecute this excellent priest? He has been stopped from being a hospital chaplain, a job which by all accounts he did superbly, because of the discriminatory approach of the Church of England. Particularly when we are celebrating the democratic election of the first openly gay, married priest to the General Synod, this is a ridiculous situation.

I come back to my point that the litigation is still in progress, and at the moment there is therefore no definitive sum that I can make transparent in the House. This is an ongoing matter. The Church Commissioners do not seek to incur legal bills, but the action was initiated by the litigant in this case. It is important to say that there will be a variety of views in the Church of England on the doctrine of marriage, and the Church has encouraged a conversation within the Church about that.

The Church of England has made many strides forward in the acceptance of gay unions among its clergy, especially in the acceptance of civil partnerships. As we have heard, despite that evolution, there are clear discrepancies in how the Church treats gay clergy who enter into a civil marriage. Will the right hon. Lady therefore speak to Church leaders to resolve such matters so that gay clergy do not feel discriminated against when it comes to practising their faith by devoting their life to God, while also marrying the person they love.

In respect to the specific case referred to in the question, the employment tribunal’s findings are known: it did not find in favour of Canon Pemberton. As I mentioned earlier, the important point is that the bishops themselves have initiated a two-year process of conversations about the Church’s approach to human sexuality. That process is underway, and it is for all of us to be involved with it.

Public Accounts Commission

The hon. Member for Gainsborough, representing the Public Accounts Commission was asked—

Kids Company

5. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the work undertaken by the National Audit Office on the charity Kids Company. (902012)

The Public Accounts Commission’s role is to assess the overall effectiveness of the NAO, not that of individual reports. I note, however, that the NAO conducted this investigation very rapidly—in about six weeks—to support timely parliamentary scrutiny by the Public Accounts Committee of this important subject earlier this week.

What did Ministers do wrong in relation to Kids Company, and how will the lessons learned be applied in future?

As Chair of the Public Accounts Commission, it is not my job to sit in judgment on Ministers. I would say, however, that the Public Accounts Committee and the NAO have moved very rapidly on this matter. They have had records from Departments going back 15 years, and they are producing a report as quickly as they can. Sadly, Kids Company has gone into receivership, so the NAO has not had access to any of the records held by it.

Church Commissioners

The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners was asked—

Carbon Footprint

6. What progress the Church Commissioners have made on their commitment to reduce the Church of England’s carbon footprint by 40% by 2020. (902014)

Five years ago, the Church of England made a commitment to reduce its carbon footprint by 80% by 2050, which is the same as the Government’s objective. Its interim target is 40% by 2020, and that has almost been reached already.

The director of investments of the Church Commissioners has co-signed a letter to the Chancellor outlining concerns about future renewables investment resulting from unsupportive Government policy. What steps are being taken to address those serious concerns?

The Church Commissioners have applied an ethical investment strategy to all their investments. As a result, the Church has withdrawn from investment in tar sands and other polluting forms of fossil fuel. The Church believes you must practise what you preach. In talking to the Government, it is itself demonstrating its commitment to tackle climate change.

Memorial Service: Civilians Killed in World War 2

8. Whether the Church of England plans to introduce an annual national memorial service to honour British civilians killed during the second world war. (902016)

As we approach Remembrance Sunday, this is an excellent time to remind hon. Members that during the remembrance service on Sunday, which we will no doubt all attend, there is a prayer that specifically relates to the suffering of civilians in the war. Coventry Cathedral is a national entity for recognising the suffering and loss of civilians, and other churches around the land recognise the loss particularly of civilians during the second world war.

My constituent George Taylor, who attends the Church of the Annunciation in Chislehurst, lost his mother and his young brother among 160 people killed when a V2 bomb fell on a shop in south-east London. It is perfectly right that we remember civilians on Remembrance Day, but equally, we want a special day to remember our armed forces and their dedication in all wars. Could we consider putting the work being done in individual churches and with the prayer on a more systematic basis, and could we also consider some further physical memorial in which the Church might play a part?

I invite my hon. Friend to look at the example of a church in Kennington Park, Lambeth, which unveiled a memorial in 2006 to those who had died in the blitz. In a single bomb attack, 100 people died. Perhaps his constituent and the churches in New Cross could look at whether they can achieve something similar in memoriam.