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Topical Questions

Volume 603: debated on Thursday 17 December 2015

I am sure that the House will wish to join me in expressing our sympathies to all those affected by the recent flooding in the north of England. I would like to express our gratitude to the emergency services, the military, the Environment Agency and volunteers who have worked around the clock to protect people and property. Earlier this week I visited Appleby, Threlkeld and Carlisle to meet local residents and farmers and see the recovery efforts for myself. The Government are doing all we can to ensure that every resource is available to help those areas get back on their feet.

I share the Secretary of State’s sentiments with regard to the flooding. British shoppers want to support British dairy farmers, but the current labelling of dairy products is often too complicated to make that a reality. Does my right hon. Friend support the excellent new campaign by the Yorkshire Post for clearer and unambiguous labelling of dairy products so that this Christmas we can all buy British with confidence?

My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion of Yorkshire farmers, and the Yorkshire Post is running a great campaign. I want to see British labelling on British dairy products right across the country. I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Wensleydale Creamery in his constituency, in the newly expanded Yorkshire Dales national park, and I have been eating their Yorkshire yoghurt ever since.

Happy Christmas to you, Mr Speaker.

This week the Paris talks and the devastating floods in the north reminded us of the importance of DEFRA’s climate change adaptation work. Also this week, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee raised serious concerns about the impact of further departmental budget cuts. Will the Secretary of State tell us her top three policies for making our country safer and more resilient to climate change?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Climate Change Secretary for the fantastic work she did in achieving the deal in Paris. I work very closely with her to make sure that we are adapting to climate change. Of course, the No. 1 issue on DEFRA’s agenda is making sure that we have the flood defences in place. That is why we have seen a real-terms increase in flood defence spending in this Parliament. We are spending £2.3 billion over six years compared with £1.7 billion in the previous Parliament. In the autumn statement, the Chancellor announced that we were protecting flood maintenance spending as well.

I thank the Secretary of State for that response, but I did ask for three policies, and it is a shame that she could only talk about one. It is little wonder, though, when her Department’s climate change unit has been slashed from 38 to six and expert advice is routinely ignored. The Select Committee warned this week:

“Successful delivery of vital environmental, agricultural and rural services will not be possible without strong leadership and a sharp focus on priority areas.”

When will we get that leadership and that sharp focus from the Secretary of State?

The key point is that we bake climate change into everything we do across DEFRA. Whether it is our programme to plant 11 million trees, our flood defence programme, which we are increasing in real terms, or our activity to make sure that biodiversity is taken into account for climate change, every single team in DEFRA has that as part of its plans.

T2. Northney ice cream, produced on Hayling Island in my constituency, is popular across the Solent region. Will the Secretary of State continue to promote local and regional British food plans and encourage our catering trade and supermarkets to do the same? (902764)

I am delighted to be visiting Northney in January to taste the ice cream with my hon. Friend. That might seem unseasonal, but I am sure it will be very nice. I am pleased to say that supermarkets are responding to the massive demand for British dairy. Marks and Spencer is moving from 80% to 100% of its cheddar being British, and Tesco has made a commitment that from early next year 100% of its own-brand yogurt will be sourced in Britain.

T3. In 2012, the then Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change stated that in addition to the environmental benefit, the UK Government expected carbon capture and storage expertise and products to be worth £6.5 billion to the UK economy by the end of the next decade. What economic analysis has been made of the effect of abandoning the carbon capture and storage competition? (902765)

This is clearly a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. She has a very clear plan to deliver carbon reductions, economic growth and lower bills for bill payers, and she is on track to do that. [Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) should not chunter from a sedentary position in evident disapproval of an answer that he had no right to expect in any case. It is principally a matter for DECC, so he ought to be saying thank you to the Secretary of State for proffering some sort of response. In a seasonal spirit, I am sure that that is what he will now do.

T6. I welcome the Secretary of State’s emphasis on the promotion of British food here and around the world. When I try to buy lactose-free milk, I notice that it all comes from Denmark. Will she ensure that the British dairy industry gets a grip on this and starts to produce lactose-free milk for what is probably the biggest market in Europe? (902769)

I thank my hon. Friend for pointing that out. There are also huge opportunities in producing UHT milk here and overseas, which I know the dairy industry is looking at. In January we will establish the Great British food unit, which brings together UK Trade & Investment expertise and DEFRA expertise so that we have a one-stop shop for businesses that want to export their fantastic products.

T4. The Forster family in Moss Bank in my constituency have farmed in St Helens for 125 years. In recent years they have opened a shop at their farm selling their own produce. What are the Government doing to help farmers like the Forsters to develop small business potential which not only showcases the best local produce but encourages people to buy local and eat local? (902766)

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. Through our rural development programme, we are supporting farm businesses that want to diversify and start retailing their own produce.

T8. Trees are a vital and precious feature of our natural environment, nowhere more so than in areas like Cheltenham, where they act as the town’s green lungs. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on how many trees the Government plan to plant over the course of this Parliament? (902771)

The Government have committed to planting 11 million more trees over the course of this Parliament. We hope we may even be able to exceed that target. We are particularly proud of a scheme we are developing with the Woodland Trust to plant trees and to educate primary schoolchildren about them.

T5. Given the challenges of adapting to climate change, how will the Department work towards mitigation and emission reductions that match the Paris agreement ambition of limiting global warming to 1.5 °C? (902768)

I am working very closely with my right hon. Friend the Energy and Climate Change Secretary to make sure that we hit our carbon budget, including in areas such as agriculture, biodiversity and tree planting.

I am appalled that the Secretary of State has announced today that she is stopping the vaccination in the edge areas, because it is exceptionally important, particularly when the number of cattle slaughtered has increased by 25% in Wales and by 6% in England. I understand the reasons why she has made that announcement, but will she look at DEFRA test SE3289, which is 95.5% sensitive and 98% specific, so that we can identify TB in infected badger setts?

The reality is that there is a global shortage of the BCG vaccine. Clearly, human health is the priority and we need to ensure that humans are protected against TB. Believe me, as soon as that vaccine becomes available, we want to restart vaccination in the edge areas.

T7. In 2013, the European Food Safety Authority found that neonicotinoids posed a “high acute risk” to honey bees. The e-petition against the use of neonicotinoid pesticides has so far gained more than 90,000 signatures, so what representations will the Government make to the European Commission’s review of its control of neonicotinoids? (902770)

We had a comprehensive debate on this issue following that petition last week. The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology is doing a comprehensive piece of research fieldwork on the impact of neonicotinoids on bees. We will ensure that that evidence is put to EFSA before it reaches its conclusions on the interim review next summer.

To carry on the Christmas spirit, since the Prime Minister was pictured enjoying a pint of Greene King with President Xi, the export of that fine beer from my constituency of Bury St Edmunds has gone up from 3,000 to 50,000 cases. It and other rural exporting businesses in the constituency are keen to learn what work the Department is doing, with the help of UK Trade & Investment, to help fund and organise trade shows and development visits in order to secure such important trade.

I was in China a few weeks ago, and one of the things we promoted was Greene King in Chongqing. We were accompanied on our visit by the biggest ever delegation of food companies—there were more than 80 companies with us. With the launch of the Great British food unit, which brings together UKTI and DEFRA expertise, I expect us to have even more in the future.

Value for money and efficiency in delivering help is important, but the Government also need to be flexible enough to respond to unforeseen events. Will the Secretary of State look urgently at helping the farmers severely hit by the recent flooding, by making at least partial payments from the basic payment scheme?

I met farmers in Cumbria earlier this week. We are identifying the 600 farmers and making sure that we get the basic payments out to them as soon as possible. We have also put in place a farming recovery fund, to which farmers will be able to apply from tomorrow, to give them the extra funding needed to get their farms back to normal.