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House of Commons Hansard
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04 February 2016
Volume 605
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T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. [903474]

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Following the severe flooding in the north of England over Christmas, the Government are working to help communities to get back on their feet and to restore critical infrastructure. We are taking forward two important areas of work: the national flood resilience review to assess how the country can be better protected from future flooding and increasingly extreme weather events and, in those areas affected by flooding, we are taking a catchment-based approach looking at what improvements are needed to flood defences and at upstream options for slowing the river flow.

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What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the supermarkets and farmers about food waste by the supermarkets?

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I held a round table meeting, with not just supermarkets, but food manufacturers, because we need to address the issue of food waste right through the food chain. We are working on the next step of the Courtauld agreement—Courtauld 2025—which will have voluntary targets to get both supermarkets and the food manufacturers to a better level.

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T6. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will reallocate fishing quota from those who hold it only as an investment to active, small-scale fishermen such as those who fish out of Lowestoft, who bring real benefits to their local community? [903480]

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My hon. Friend will be aware that we had a manifesto commitment to rebalance quotas, and we have already commenced that this year, with the quota uplift that comes with the introduction of the landing obligation. We have made it clear that we will give the first 100 tonnes, and 10% thereafter, to the under-10 metres, and this year it will give them an extra 1,000 tonnes of fish.

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T2. The recent Tesco case has shown the importance of the Groceries Code Adjudicator. Does the Secretary of State share the view of the National Farmers Union, the Farmers Union of Wales and many in the dairy sector that now is the time to consider extending the adjudicator’s remit right across the supply chain, from gate to plate, even if that requires legislative change? [903475]

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I am aware of the representations made by the NFU and of the conclusions of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in this regard. I know that colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are about to commence a review of the role of the adjudicator so far, and it may well be that as part of that they look at how the code is implemented. There would be challenges involved in trying to regulate things that far up, with thousands and thousands of different relationships to police, but we hear what has been said and we will look at this matter.

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T8. Cross-compliance rules prevent hedge cutting in August, yet the only bird that seems to be nesting at that time is the very prolific wood pigeon. The rules are preventing farmers from doing vital work, as they are unable to get on to that land during August. Will Ministers agree to look at this to see what can be done to change these rules? [903483]

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My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that I am always looking at the cross-compliance rules to see whether we can introduce proportionality. I do not agree with him that it is just the wood pigeon that is being protected; yellowhammers and other rare species that we are trying to encourage to recover also have second broods later in the year.

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One less well-publicised deal the UK has been negotiating with our European partners recently is the circular economy package, which could not only bring about significant environmental benefits, but create jobs and growth. The Government, however, do not seem to have a strategy for achieving the ambitious waste targets set out there or for unlocking the economic opportunities that would come from greater resource efficiency. When are we going to have a proper waste resources strategy from the Secretary of State?

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The circular economy package is absolutely central, and we are looking closely at it. We sat down with a number of different people last week specifically to address it. The key is in getting the right balance between preventing the resources from being wasted in the first place and the targets that the European Union is setting, but I absolutely agree that this is vital and I am very happy to include the shadow Secretary of State in these discussions going forward.

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I thank the Minister for that response —I hope the Secretary of State can reply to the next question. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation says that the huge growth in plastics production means that by 2050 there could be more waste plastic in the sea than fish. Just 5% of plastics are recycled, 40% end up in landfill and a third end up polluting our ecosystems. What is the Secretary of State doing to combat plastics pollution? For starters, how about doing what President Obama has just done and ban microbeads in cosmetic products?

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We are looking at the issue of microbeads, but I would point out that the plastic bag charge that we have introduced has brought about an 80% reduction in the use of plastic bags.

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Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the multimillion pound joint investment by the Environment Agency and my local authority in the work on the River Avon, which runs through my constituency, as it will help to reduce flooding for hundreds of homes and businesses across the constituency? Will she also look at further funding should the flood risk increase?

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I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I congratulate the Environment Agency and his local authority on that work. What we are doing as part of the national resilience review is making sure that we are properly protected right across the country. We are investing a record amount in flood defences, and doing it in a way that is fair. Therefore, our flooding formula reflects the number of houses and businesses protected wherever people live in the country.

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T3. I welcome the announcement of further marine conservation zones around our coast to protect our wildlife. However, back in November 2012, when the previous round of MCZs was announced, many in my constituency were very concerned that the zone to protect Hilbre Island was dropped at the eleventh hour, especially in the light of the licence for underground coal gasification that exists in the Dee. Why was Hilbre Island not included in this latest round? [903476]

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We ruled out Hilbre Island, following assessments by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, because the simple truth was that the features that people said were there were not there sufficiently for us to designate those areas.

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For farmers, farmgate prices are so low that the single farm payment is absolutely essential. Will the Secretary of State assure me that the Rural Payments Agency recognises that there are still too many farmers who have not received their payments, and that work is being done to ensure that, next year, we catch up so that we are not late in paying again?

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I completely agree with my hon. Friend. A number of farmers are facing cash-flow issues, which is why we are putting as much resource as possible into the RPA. We are now up to 77%, and we have paid out £1 billion. The cases that we are now dealing with are the more complicated ones, including those involving common land and cross-border land, which take extra time. As I have pointed out, we are dealing with a very complicated cap. One of my main efforts is to try to simplify that cap and enable farmers to make claims online this year so that the system will be faster next year.

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T4. No ifs, no buts, will the Secretary of State commit to maintaining the ban on foxhunting with hounds? [903477]

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We have been very clear in our manifesto. We retain our commitment to a free vote on this issue, with a Government Bill in Government time.

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Will the Secretary of State undertake that the Great British Food Unit will promote the superfood, Bury black pudding?

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I certainly will. I have had the opportunity to sample the great British Bury black pudding in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and I hope that it will become known around the world.

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T5. London breached annual pollution limits just days into 2016, repeating what happened in 2015. The Government were forced by the Supreme Court to publish plans on reducing air pollution. Does the Secretary of State think that her Department is doing enough to tackle air pollution? It is projected that there will be five years of this in London. [903479]

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As the hon. Lady said, we published plans just before Christmas to ensure that we comply with those air pollution levels. The level of roadside nitrogen dioxide has fallen over the past five years. We have invested £2 billion in that already, but we do need to do more, which is why we issued the plans just before Christmas.

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Seafood is nutritional and healthy and many thousands of people in the Cleethorpes and Grimsby areas work in the industry. What initiatives is her Department planning to promote the seafood industry?

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I thank my hon. Friend for his point. The Great British Food Unit has not just outposts around the world, but regional teams to help local businesses, whether they are in Cleethorpes or elsewhere in the country, to promote their food both in the UK and overseas. Certainly, seafood is a huge part of that.

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T7. Can the Secretary of State confirm that it was her signature on a letter last July promising to drive forward fracking in sites of special scientific interest and national parks, in complete contradiction to assurances previously given? May I respectfully suggest to her that, since she is the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, she should be standing up for the interests of the environment and rural areas, and not the interests of big globalised fracking companies that want to frack in rural Cheshire? [903482]

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As the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering made clear in their report, shale gas extraction is safe and has minimal impact on the environment, provided that it is correctly regulated. I am absolutely confident that we have very strong protections in place through the Environment Agency to do that.

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Order. I fear that this will be the last question. I am sorry, but progress has been very slow—very long questions and very long answers.

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Has my hon. Friend thought through the impact of the introduction of marine conservation zones on the under-10-metre fleet? That could have an effect on smaller, non-nomadic boats, which might be banned from fishing in their own grounds.

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I absolutely assure my hon. Friend that the interests of fishermen are taken into account when we make decisions on these designations. It is important to note that designation does not mean that we ban fishing; it may mean, for instance, limitations on the particular types of bottom-trawling gear that do most damage.

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Order. I am sorry to disappoint colleagues, but we really must move on.