Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Secretary of State was asked—
Our ambition is to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it, and I am proud that that was in our manifesto. The Government are pleased to be supporting the COP21 Paris initiative to which the hon. Lady refers to promote a 0.4% average growth rate of carbon storage in soils worldwide. Opportunities are rather limited for most UK soil types to increase carbon stores, except for peat land, of which the UK has a high proportion. Our focus therefore is their restoration through Government funding and support for private sector initiatives, in which we are investing millions of pounds.
I thank the Minister for that reply and welcome her to her new role. Soil is a Cinderella ecosystems issue, yet it is vital for growing food, preventing floods, and capturing and storing carbon. The Environmental Audit Committee’s recent report welcomed the Government’s commitment to increase soil carbon levels by that 0.4% a year as part of our Paris climate commitments, but we could not find any evidence of Government policies to support that goal. With the environment plan and the carbon plan delayed, can she set out as a matter of urgency specific, measurable time-bound plans to improve the nation’s soil and peat lands?
I thank the hon. Lady for her welcome. I agree that soil health is absolutely critical and I note the inquiry of the Select Committee. The 25-year environment plan, which I hope will be out shortly—or at least the framework of it—will provide an opportunity for people to contribute to that. Meanwhile, the Government are investing in research to understand better how we can work more closely with farmers to improve soil health in the forthcoming years.
I do not know whether the Minister has had a chance to look at the Campaign to Protect Rural England’s publication of last August entitled “New model farming: resilience through diversity”. I hope that she will have a look at it and get a chance to see the CPRE’s suggestions for changing the measures of success for farming. This includes looking at diverse outputs from land management such as carbon storage, water retention and landscape character. Could she look at that and respond to the CPRE?
My right hon. Friend mentions a report that I have not yet read, but I am sure it will be in my box this weekend for me to digest. My hon. Friend the Minister of State has met the CPRE to discuss the matter. There are opportunities to continue to improve soil health. I visited Honeydale farm in Witney yesterday with the excellent Conservative candidate and we also saw a demonstrator farm. There are some interesting opportunities for modern agriculture and the countryside.
Soil is such an important part of the environment. It is not just a growing medium; it is very much an ecological habitat. Will the Minister kindly comment on whether we could have a soil monitoring scheme? Unless we know the actual state of our soils, we will not know how to deal with them.
I was pleased to meet my hon. Friend just the other day to discuss this matter. I have referred to the research that is happening—we are not waiting for the 10-year surveys. The opportunity afforded to us by leaving the European Union will allow the Government to take a holistic approach to improving the environment, including soil health. It will be a bespoke approach for this country, rather than one that is restricted by EU directives.
Clear food labelling is vital to show consumers exactly what they are buying. We want to promote the Great British food brand as strongly as possible. One of my top priorities is to look at what more can be done to make it easier for consumers to identify our high-quality home-grown food.
The Prime Minister recently said that, with Brexit looming, we will be able to choose our own methods of food labelling, but is there not a lot more that we could do on country of origin and method of production labelling? While we are still in the European Union, we ought to emulate some of our EU partners.
I certainly welcome the hon. Lady’s interest in this matter. As she will know, country of origin labelling is already mandatory for unprocessed beef, pork, sheep and goat meat, poultry, fruit and vegetables, olive oil, fish, shellfish, wine and honey. There are many additional voluntary schemes, which we are keen to support. As she points out, there will be further opportunities, as we leave the EU, to look at what more consumers would like to see from labelling.
The dairy industry has not really been able to label properly the Great British cheese, butter and milk that is the best in the world. Can we now take this opportunity to ensure that we get the British flag and label on our dairy products?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. He and I share an ambition for the strongest possible promotion of Great British food. He will be aware that the majority of dairy and processed meat products are compliant with the industry’s voluntary principles for origin labelling, but we can, of course, always do more, and we are working with the industry to look at what those options are.
I thank the Minister for her comments so far. In my constituency, many farmers have already diversified—Glastry Farm ice cream, Mash Direct and Willowbrook Foods are examples—but they have found difficulties with labelling. What help has been given to provide clear guidance and support? What initiatives are in place to provide that to new business and to make sure that the labelling is correct?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, it is an absolute Government priority that food information must not mislead—it must be accurate, clear and easy to understand for the consumer. There are clear guidelines on which foods must carry mandatory information but, as I have already mentioned, a number of food producers already go further on a voluntary basis to try to ensure that they meet consumers’ desires for more information about the food that they eat. I am very proud that the UK has some of the highest standards for food and food traceability in the world.
One Welsh business in my constituency that understands the importance and power of labelling and branding is Daioni, which exports organic British milk to China, Hong Kong, Vietnam and the Emirates, and has plans to expand further. Will the Secretary of State or one of her Ministers meet Daioni to talk about its plans for international expansion and to tap into its expertise in exporting Great British food?
I would be absolutely delighted to do that. Exports of organic dairy produce are a huge success for the UK. Later today, I am off to the Great British export truck, which is parked at Stoneleigh, to hear about British exports. I am off to the Paris food fair to promote Great British food next week, and I am off to China next month to do exactly that. I am always very keen to promote the export of Great British food.
The excitement in the Secretary of State’s life knows no bounds.
We have already designated 50 marine conservation zones, 99 special areas of conservation and 102 special protection areas within UK waters, so more than 17% of UK waters are now within marine protected areas. A third tranche of marine conservation zones will be designated in 2018, and I am proud to say that that will help to complete the blue belt around the English coastline.
I thank the Secretary of State for her reply. As well as the important habitats and wildlife that we have in our domestic waters, including those in the Thames estuary, the oceans around some of our overseas territories are home to hundreds of remarkable species. What action, if any, are we taking to protect them as well?
My hon. Friend is quite right to raise those wonderful marine habitats. I am delighted to say that marine protected areas were declared around Pitcairn and St Helena in the past month, and work is in train to develop MPAs around Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha, so the UK is set to double these protected areas to an area the size of India by 2020.
The right hon. Lady will know that the marine protections that have led to huge improvements in water quality and the conservation of our marine environment are underpinned largely by EU law. Can she guarantee now that, if we leave the EU, the standards that we currently enjoy will not be any less than they are now?
I can absolutely give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance. As he will know, the Prime Minister has announced that we will nationalise the acquis communautaire. The advantage of the approach is that while there is continuity of legalisation, we also have the opportunity to look at what is right for the UK, instead of the 28 member states. Marine conservation zones derive from UK legislation, and we remain absolutely committed to our ambition of being the first generation to leave the environment in a better place than we found it.
Marine habitats will also be protected by the promotion of sustainable fishing, as practised by the UK inshore fleet and boats that fish out of Lowestoft. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that she will use the opportunity presented by Brexit to secure a better deal for under-10 metre boats?
My hon. Friend may be aware that we have already moved some quota to the under-10 metre boats, and it is absolutely our intention, as we leave the EU, to seek a good deal for every part of our great British food, farming and fishing sector. Our fishermen do a fabulous job; we absolutely support them and are totally focused on what we can do to create a better, more sustainable fishing industry.
Does the Minister agree that while marine conservation is fine—Labour Members support it wholeheartedly—we have to stop polluting the marine environment with the waste that we pour into it, all over the world? We need the EU and global intervention to stop the horrendous pollution of marine life throughout the world.
Marine conservation zones are not just fine; they are absolutely superb. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman shares that assessment. I can give him, as a good example, the work that we did just last month to ban microbeads in personal cosmetics and so on. I pay tribute to hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber who have been fighting for that. We are putting that into action, and that is an example of the UK’s commitment to much more protection for our marine environment.
Further to the Secretary of State’s answer to the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), may I encourage the Secretary of State, and indeed the Minister of State, who has responsibility for fisheries, to engage with all sectors of the fishing industry when designing protections for marine habitats? If those habitats are to be effective, that is absolutely essential. The Minister of State knows that because he has a good record in this regard. Would the Secretary of State, or perhaps the Minister, be prepared to meet a delegation that I will bring from the Northern Isles, who are full of good ideas about what can be done?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise the importance of this sector in Scotland. We would be delighted to meet him. In fact, there are already a number of levels of engagement with analysing the opportunities that will arise from our leaving the EU. We will be very happy, keen and enthusiastic to meet his delegation.
Between the start of 2010 and the end of 2015, some 160,393 cattle were slaughtered and 3,961 badgers were removed under licence in England to prevent the spread of bovine TB. We will publish figures for 2016 in due course.
The loss of animal life as a result of trying to prevent this disease is absolutely horrendous. The Government are in the early years of a 25-year strategy to eliminate bovine TB. When does the Minister expect the low-risk area to be declared free of bovine TB?
We expect to have the low-risk area declared officially TB-free in the next four to five years—probably by the end of this Parliament. My hon. Friend makes a good point: this is a long haul. TB is a difficult disease to fight; it is slow-growing and insidious. That is why our strategy is very broad. The badger cull is one element, but we are doing many other things, including vaccination and putting in place cattle movement controls.
Not one single badger was culled in Wales due to the actions of the Welsh Government in supporting vaccination, but they face the same problem as authorities in England: a shortage of the vaccine. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that we can maximise the use of vaccines in England and Wales?
I ensured that we continued to have vaccine available for important trial work that we are doing, specifically on developing an oral vaccine that we could deploy on badgers, which could give us an exit strategy from culls, once that was complete. However, the right hon. Gentleman is right: the World Health Organisation has asked people to prioritise use of the available vaccine on humans. It is worth noting that the dose needed for a badger is sometimes 10 times higher than that for an infant, so we have to be careful about how we use the vaccine. That is why we have suspended the use of vaccines for the time being.
Minister, will we make sure that we work with all the devolved Governments, and the Irish, and learn from their expertise, so that we can know what, apart from badgers, may be carrying the disease, so that we can continually learn from each other, and so that we can deal with the problem really effectively?
Yes. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The chief veterinary officers in all the devolved Administrations work closely with our chief veterinary officer and veterinary teams to share experience and learn lessons. We know that Northern Ireland is using a “trap, vaccinate and remove” strategy, and the strategy in Wales is slightly different from ours in England. We are pursuing a wide range of strategies and do what we can to share evidence between the Administrations.
Tragically, the social costs of bovine TB fall largely on the farming community, but the enormous financial burden is shared with the taxpayer. Given that DEFRA has stated that there is considerable uncertainty in the value-for-money figures for the new cull, how will the Minister justify them to the general public?
I welcome the hon. Lady to her post. She and I served on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee for a number of years in the previous Parliament, so she has had a good grounding for the role that she takes on. The disease is costing us £100 million a year to fight. Doing nothing is not an option; we cannot put our head in the sand. That is why we need to pursue a broad comprehensive strategy. There is no evidence that any country in the world has managed to eradicate bovine TB without also tackling the reservoir of the disease in the wildlife population.
Rural Payments Agency
We are expecting payments under the 2016 basic payment scheme to be considerably improved from last year’s. The Rural Payments Agency received more than 86,500 BPS applications for 2016. A record proportion of these claims—over 80%—were received online, which will enable the RPA to process them more quickly. The agency is currently focused on paying 90% of farmers by the end of December.
The Minister will be aware that this is not a new problem; it has been going on for a long time. Non-payment or even partial payment causes a great deal of hardship to farmers. Given that the situation has been going on for so long, what more can he do to make sure that there is an improvement in the forthcoming year?
As my hon. Friend knows, we had tremendous challenges in year 1. This was an incredibly complex common agricultural policy with all sorts of additional auditing and recording requirements, and which carried with it complexity and caused problems for payment agencies right across the European Union. On his question about what we are doing to improve things, now that we have gone through last year’s difficult task of getting all the data on to the computer system, and now that we have 80% of claimants applying online, we believe that we are in a good position for the coming year because all the difficult work was done last year.
When the chief executive of the Rural Payments Agency came to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee earlier this year, he made a commitment to pay the majority of claims by 1 December, not 90% by the end of December. Four weeks is a long time for a farmer. Will the RPA make the majority of those payments at the beginning of the month?
The commitment was to pay 90% by the end of December. That has gone into the business plan for the RPA and is one of the targets that it is working to. The payment window does not open until early in December, but clearly we will be trying to pay, as we always do, as many farmers as quickly as possible.
Yes, the chief executive of the Rural Payments Agency has appeared in front of us several times at the EFRA Committee and promised to make payments by certain dates. There are cross-border farmers in my constituency and they are always at the back of the queue. Some of them were paid only last month, well outside the payment window. What more can my hon. Friend do to make sure that that does not recur?
With the complexity of the new system, there are always issues relating to cross-border claims, where farms have some of their holding in one Administration and some in the other. It is important that we share information as quickly as possible. We had a particular problem on the Scottish borders because Scotland had far deeper problems with managing the scheme than we had in England, and getting the data to make those payments was particularly challenging. I am aware that there were issues in Wales as well, and we will do all that we can to ensure that we do not encounter such problems in future.
Thousands of farmers have been pushed into acute financial hardship, anxiety or stress owing to the failure of the Rural Payments Agency. In the past year, 62% of payments were very late and many have still not been paid. Now the Government are planning further delays of payment, which is unacceptable. Why will not the Minister recruit the staff needed to pay everyone all they are owed by this Christmas and, in the interim, institute bridging loans?
We are not planning to cause any further delays, as I made clear. Last year when we had a difficulty we recruited some 600 additional people to process the claims and pay them as soon as possible. As I have already said, this year we are in a better position. We have 80% of claimants applying online and we have committed to pay at least 90% of claims by the end of December. In any normal year there will always be some cases that are incredibly complex, such as those put forward by the National Trust, whose large, complex claims always take longer to process.
It is fantastic that local food producers are developing labelling to highlight local food provenance, which really adds value to their products for the regional and tourist markets. As I said earlier, we want to do everything we can really to promote the British food brand. I am firmly committed to protecting the UK’s iconic food and drink products.
Mr Speaker, you might think of Newcastle upon Tyne Central as an urban constituency, but actually we produce excellent beef from the lucky cattle that graze the nutritious grass on the stunning Town Moor. We are developing Toon Beef labels, but labelling generally needs to be better if consumers are to make informed choices. What practical measures is she taking to ensure that the voluntary and mandatory requirements she spoke of reflect regional origin and animal welfare?
We are very proud that the UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world, the best food traceability and the best food safety. The hon. Lady is exactly right to point out the importance of labelling. We are doing everything we can. There is a lot of mandatory labelling, as she will be aware, but we also do a lot of work with businesses that want to label voluntarily, particularly for our iconic food products. I did a bit of research and found north-east Craster kippers, Wylam golden ale and other iconic names. I encourage her to apply for protected name status wherever possible, and we intend to support that.
This week is Seafood Week. Will my right hon. Friend outline what her Department has done to promote Seafood Week? I urge her to return to Cleethorpes so that we can have a less rushed plate of fish and chips than we had on her last visit.
I am always delighted to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency, because he always has something exciting in store for me. During Seafood Week we have established a working group with different seafood organisations. We are absolutely committed to promoting it, as we are with all our great British food. As I have mentioned, I am off to the Paris food exhibition and the China food exhibition to see what more we can do for our great British seafood and other food.
Department for Exiting the European Union
As he was one of my great Northamptonshire colleagues during the EU referendum campaign, I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that my Department is doing all it can to support DEEU on policy development and stakeholder engagement right across DEFRA’s portfolio. I will shortly meet my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union to discuss the enormous opportunities that EU exit presents for our food, farming and fishing sectors.
Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the Brexit dividends is that we can take the money that the EU currently gives to our farmers and give it out more fairly and efficiently after we have left the EU? [Interruption.]
My hon. Friend is exactly right. The fact is that the money we get from the EU was British taxpayers’ money in the first place. The first thing I did on joining the Department was to agree with the Treasury that the current levels of farming and environment support should remain until 2020 to give our farmers continuity. [Interruption.] Of course, once we have left the EU we can ensure that our policies deliver for farmers while improving the environment. We want to work closely with industry stakeholder groups and the public to ensure that our policies are simple, good value for the taxpayer and free from the unnecessary constraints that we see today.
Order. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), who is an extremely senior and cerebral Member of the House, keeps chuntering from a sedentary position about buried money—just in case colleagues had not heard what he was chuntering about. It would be good if he ceased chuntering.
I absolutely share the hon. Lady’s desire to see clean air—nothing could be more important. We are doing absolutely everything we can, and we will continue to be committed. As the Prime Minister has said, we will be nationalising the acquis communautaire, so the EU legislation will become UK law. Just today, as the hon. Lady may be aware, we have announced our clean air zone consultation.
Indeed, as my hon. Friend points out, a clean air zone in Nottingham—in the Nottingham South. We are doing that to try to ensure that we make some real, serious progress towards cleaner air and a clean and healthy environment for all.
I call Mrs Caroline Spelman.
Brexit creates an opportunity to put agriculture on a more sustainable footing, but can the Secretary of State reassure the House that Brexit will not change the international leadership the UK has provided on sustainable development?
I apologise: I should have referred to the right hon. Lady properly—Dame Caroline Spelman.
Absolutely, Mr Speaker—Dame.
I can totally give my right hon. Friend that reassurance. The UK, in leaving the EU, is absolutely determined to be more globally focused and, at home, to create sustainable policies that will make our food production and our environment more sustainable and better for our people and our economy. At the same time, we are determined to maintain and enhance our global leadership role in promoting sustainability for everyone in this world.
While the Scottish National party welcomes the Secretary of State’s commitment to maintaining pillar one EU funding until 2020, she should be aware that Scotland has some of the lowest payments in the EU; that is why the UK was given millions of euros in convergence funding. So, with the same enthusiasm she has demonstrated with every question today, will she deliver on her commitment to have this in place by the end of the year?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place, and I look forward to many happy days of fruitful discussions with him in the weeks and months ahead. I can absolutely tell him that we will be reviewing that by the end of this year. We look forward to meeting him and Members of the Scottish Parliament to discuss the interests of Scotland. We have a huge policy review; there are enormous opportunities, and I look forward to Scotland being delighted at the opportunities presented by Brexit.
May I welcome the Secretary of State to her place? I am sure she has had discussions with the Department for Exiting the European Union about the impact of the 16% fall in the value of the pound since the referendum outcome. In the light of that, what financial drivers to replace the common agricultural policy will she prioritise, with the mutual support of that Department, to enable farmers to plan now for the future and to remain productive while making the necessary progress on environmental measures?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her remarks, and I also look forward to working with her. May I also welcome all her colleagues to their places? A number of them I have worked with over a period of time on energy matters, with great, fruitful results, so I look forward to a constructive relationship. In answer to her specific question, those are exactly the issues we are now looking at—the opportunities for revising the support we give our food and farm producers, to make sure we can grow more, sell more and export more great British food. It will take time to properly evaluate what that policy set should be, but I hope shortly to consult broadly. I have already had informal consultations, and I will be working closely with the industry.
DEFRA leads on the conservation and management of whales and dolphins, keeping in close contact with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the UK has always taken a leading position on promoting conservation. The Government raise their opposition to Japan’s hunting of whales and dolphins at every appropriate opportunity. Most recently, I raised this issue with the Japanese Fisheries Minister during an official visit to Japan in April this year.
The international whaling ban has been extremely successful for many decades, but the minority of countries that do not respect it are looking to erode it. What further steps will my hon. Friend take to ensure that it is rigorously enforced?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. The UK strongly supports the global moratorium on commercial whaling and continues at every appropriate opportunity to call on all whaling nations to cease their whaling activities. I currently plan to attend the International Whaling Commission meeting in Slovenia later this year, when we will reiterate our opposition to commercial and scientific permit whaling and work constructively with other like-minded countries to secure the correct outcomes.
Following the referendum, we are working closely with all those with an interest in food, farming and the environment to seize the superb opportunities we now have to develop policies specific to the needs of the UK. Alongside this, we continue to prepare for winter weather by testing our response capability, quadrupling the amount of mobile flood defences and making our critical infrastructure more resilient.
The Secretary of State seems such a nice lady, so I do not know what enjoyment she can take from the thought of a fox being torn apart. May I take it from the silence of her and her Department lately that she has dropped the idea of having a vote in this House on foxhunting?
My mum says my sisters are much nicer than me, but, that apart, my view is very simple. Like my predecessor and her predecessor before her, I remain committed to the Conservative manifesto promise that we will have a free vote in Parliament on a repeal of the Hunting Act 2004.
I am shocked by the Secretary of State’s mother’s observations. I have a vivid imagination, but I find that utterly inconceivable.
I am very happy to reassure my hon. Friend that we have a robust regulatory framework in place to ensure that shale exploration is carried out in a safe, sustainable and environmentally sound manner. The Environment Agency can undertake announced and unannounced inspections, and if there is any breach of a permit condition or a serious risk to people or the environment, it can take a number of enforcement actions, including the immediate ceasing of operations.
The damage caused by storms last winter cost about £5 billion. Thousands of homes and businesses were flooded and there was significant damage to roads and bridges. The then Prime Minister said that “money is no object”, but councils are still waiting. Allerdale, for example, is owed almost £220,000. How many councils are still waiting for the promised funds, and why?
I welcome the hon. Lady to her place. We both represent coastal communities and we share the issue of flooding. She raises an important point. She will be aware of the Government’s commitment to spend £2.5 billion over six years, which has given the Environment Agency long-term funding. I will have to ask my hon. Friends in the Department for Communities and Local Government about her specific point on the recovery work and then write to her, but we are continuing to invest in such schemes, including in Cumbria, as she will be aware.
I am pleased to report that woodland cover in England is at its highest since the 14th century—well before I was born—and we are committed to growing it even further by planting another 11 million trees over the course of this Parliament. The second phase of applications for the woodland creation planning grant has opened; the first phase generated plans for over 1,000 hectares of woodland. I ask hon. Members to continue to encourage schools to plant trees and to endorse our excellent scheme with the Woodland Trust, which I draw to the attention of the House.
I commend the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central for standing up for rural residents, but I assure her that we are prepared to do that ourselves. The Government are committed to the universal service obligation of 10 megabits by the end of the decade. It is an ambitious programme that we will fulfil.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. As we leave the European Union, there are opportunities to manage our fisheries differently. We will work with colleagues in the Department for Exiting the European Union on these matters, as we develop a negotiating position. He may be aware that under the UN convention on the law of the sea, it is accepted that we would have an exclusive economic zone going out to 200 nautical miles or the median line. That will be the starting point for discussions.
The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that I met Lesley Griffiths last week to discuss these issues, and the Secretary of State plans to meet her shortly. We intend to work very closely with all the devolved Administrations as we devise a new agriculture policy for after we leave the European Union. We recognise the importance of that to every part of the UK and will engage every part of the UK.
I completely sympathise with all those who were flooded. It is an appalling thing to happen. Following the Boxing day floods, the Environment Agency carried out £500,000-worth of maintenance work in Bury to remove gravel, debris and blockages. A £1.5-million flood defence scheme was completed in November 2014, providing better protection for 164 homes and businesses in the Stubbins area of Bury. I will, of course, look into the point my hon. Friend raises about people who are still suffering from the damage done by last winter’s floods.
As I said in response to an earlier question, we will work very closely with all the devolved Administrations and, indeed, industry groups throughout the UK as we devise a policy for after we have left the European Union. Some elements are already devolved, but the general consensus is that there will have to be some kind of UK-wide framework. We have made no decisions on this yet and will work very closely with all the devolved Administrations.
I would call the right hon. Gentleman who is intently studying his iPad, but as he does not seem keen to engage we will leave him out for now. I am giving him due notice—he had his opportunity.
When the former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the current Lord Chancellor, visited my constituency in May, she visited the Orwell food enterprise zone and heard about the skills challenges faced by local small and medium-sized businesses in the food sector. She said that the Government were considering a proposal to allow large food businesses to share their apprenticeship levy with the local supply chain to encourage local buying of food and local skills. Has there been any progress on that?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I have been arguing for that to happen for some time, because some large food producers are caught by the levy but would rather use it further up their supply chain. In August, the Department for Education published proposals for funding apprenticeships in England from May 2017, which propose that from 2018, employers will be able to transfer up to 10% of their levy funds in any year to another employer with a digital account. That deals with this issue.
Marine habitats are a matter of real concern to my constituents, who are very concerned about the threat of underground coal gasification in the Dee estuary, so I welcome the Secretary of State’s earlier response on marine protected areas but would like to push her further on this point. Over the past two Parliaments the Government have created only 50 marine protected areas when their own advisers have recommended 127. Will she confirm that in the third tranche that she alluded to we will reach the recommended 127?
The original 127 sites were cited, but we have to follow the scientific evidence. That is the basis of this process. It is not about setting arbitrary targets but about making sure that we have a scientifically robust blue belt. That is what we will continue to do with the next phase of consultation.
Several farmers in my constituency of Louth and Horncastle have complained to me that the Rural Payments Agency has made mistakes in the land maps that determine how much they are paid. Will my hon. Friend help me to advise them on what can be done to address that, now and in future, so that farmers in my constituency receive fair payment for the land that is actually theirs?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Lots of farmers have been affected by the challenges we face in this first year of the new, more complex common agricultural policy scheme. A number of farmers —several thousand—had to go through a reconciliation process where we had to match some of the land-use codes they had with the land maps, which caused some complexity. I believe that the issue has now been resolved, but if she has any specific cases that are still a problem I am happy to meet her to discuss them.
Given the recent discovery of a livestock strain of MRSA in British meat products in UK supermarkets, what action is the Secretary of State’s Department taking to stop the emergence of resistant bacteria? Will she increase support to UK farmers on the use of antibiotics in meat production, to address real concerns about food safety and exports?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. He will be aware that the UK is the world leader on getting out the agenda that we need to reduce our use of antibiotics in agriculture and tackle the problem of antimicrobial resistance. The Government have a strategy that sets targets for reductions in the use of antibiotics in some livestock sectors. We are also investing in research to support other approaches to husbandry that reduce the need for antibiotic use. This is an important agenda that the Government take very seriously.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
The Church has 4,700 primary and secondary schools that seek to provide excellent education to 1 million pupils each year. These are not faith schools for the faithful but Church schools for the whole community, and the Church does not propose to change that. The 50% cap applies only to new free schools that are oversubscribed. The majority of our new free schools, like many of our existing schools, do not have any faith-based oversubscription criteria.
I welcome that answer. Newcastle is a city of diverse, strong and generally united and mutually respectful communities, and our faith communities make an important contribution. The rise of hate crime since the referendum emphasises the importance of teaching that we have more in common. Mrs Davison, the head of St Cuthbert’s in Newcastle, tells me that that school’s mix of students from varying faiths and none assists inclusivity and enrichment, and ensures that the school is representative of the community. Do the commissioners agree that the proposed changes threaten the benefits of inclusivity at this crucial time?
I share completely the hon. Lady’s concerns about the rise in hate crime following the referendum. Every Member in this House is concerned about that. I point her to what the Secretary of State for Education herself said about the education that Church schools provide:
“They have an ethos and a level of academic attainment that we are trying to achieve more broadly across the whole system.”—[Official Report, 10 October 2016; Vol. 615, c. 22.]
Church schools provide education for the community as a whole, not just those who go to church.
Anglican and Catholic Churches
The Archbishop of Canterbury recently visited Assisi and Rome to deepen and strengthen relationships with His Holiness Pope Francis, and the relationship between the worldwide Anglican communion and the Roman Catholic Church. That visit coincided with the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Anglican centre in Rome, which was itself the beginning of a process of healing and reconciliation.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her answer, but if I may, I will seamlessly move to relations with the Orthodox Church. Does she agree that the visit of Patriarch Kirill in the next week give us an opportunity to build bridges with the Orthodox Church at a time when our relationship with Moscow is perhaps not all it should be?
The hon. Lady is right. The Archbishop of Canterbury believes that deeper relations between all Christian Churches is a contribution to the peace that we all desire in such turbulent times. The visit by the Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’ is an opportunity not only to celebrate the 300 years of Russian Orthodox worship in London, but no doubt to discuss current affairs.
The Church of England, through its presence in every community and its large network of schools, is an enormous asset in building community relations. As we have just discussed, Church of England schools play a leading role in value-based education. That building of trust, awareness and community is an important bulwark against the spread of extremism.
With extremism being such a great threat to the UK, what plans does the Church of England education office have to expand its “What if Learning” approach, which was recently successfully piloted in more than 20 schools?
The Church promotes a number of schemes around the country to counter extremism and improve relations. The “What if Learning” scheme in schools has proved to be a good example of how we can help children from a very young age to understand the important principles of our society and the tolerance that we need to show to others of different faiths and points of view. We must also think about how we reach adults. I commend two schemes: the Church’s Living Well Together initiative, and the Near Neighbours initiative. I should like to take this opportunity to invite colleagues to hear more about those initiatives on 23 November at 4 pm, after the autumn statement, in the Jubilee Room.
Recent research on extremism suggests that a sense of humiliation, particularly among traumatised communities and individuals, is a major driver of extremism. Are the Church Commissioners aware of the need to look at bullying and traumatisation?
The hon. Lady is right that humiliation is a strong emotion that can lead to people taking strong positions and actions as a consequence. The Church is not just looking at that, but has rolled out those important initiatives. I commend to her initiatives such as Near Neighbours, funding for which came from the Department for Communities and Local Government, which demonstrated that, in our cities, there is a great opportunity to bridge the gap and speak into the humiliation that some people feel.
Does the right hon. Lady agree that it is imperative that those of other faiths are not left isolated in our communities, and that more help should be offered to facilitate community events to establish relationships that span the divides of religion?
The hon. Gentleman can speak with feeling on that subject. One of the most important things that the Christian denominations can do is work together to reach across to people of other faith, with whom we have a great deal in common, and defuse some of the misrepresentations of those faiths, so that the wider secular aspects of society know that we can speak and live in harmony.
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for South West Devon, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked
The Electoral Commission welcomed in August the publication of the Pickles report and recommendations on electoral fraud, particularly his support for the commission’s recommendations that the Government should consider introducing voter ID at polling stations in Great Britain. The commission will submit its response shortly to the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore), who is responsible for constitutional matters.
What can be done to ensure that staff at polling stations observe and enforce the rule that voters are accompanied to the polling booth only if they are blind or otherwise unable to make their mark?
There is Electoral Commission guidance for electoral registration officers on this very point. My right hon. Friend raises an important point. That should not happen, but I will refer his concerns to the Electoral Commission to see whether the guidance needs to be clarified or made more robust. I am grateful to him for raising it.
My hon. Friend knows that I have had long-standing serious concerns about electoral fraud in some parts of Bradford. I particularly welcome what he says about ID at polling stations. When might we expect the first elections to take place where that is the rule?
I am delighted to say that that is not a matter for the Electoral Commission, which has recommended this measure strongly since 2014. It is now a matter for the Government and this House to introduce this more robust new provision.
If someone wants to open a bank account, they have to produce all manner of identities. Yet to do the most important thing we can in our democracy, which is to vote, they do not have to produce ID. Can we expect to see that change?
I am delighted that my hon. Friend supports the Electoral Commission’s recommendation that registration and identification should be introduced at polling stations. It is now for the Government to respond.
I call Barry Sheerman. Where is the fella? He has beetled out of the Chamber. That is very unlike the hon. Gentleman. I call Mr David Hanson.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
The Church of England is working on two main levels to assist refugees being resettled under the vulnerable person relocation scheme. The Home Secretary went to Lambeth Palace on 19 July to launch the new scheme for community sponsorship, which demonstrates the importance the Church attaches to action as well as words.
The Church nationally has been very active on refugees. Parishes such as Holywell in my constituency have been very supportive and active, too. The Home Secretary has now apparently made a commitment to accept child refugees to the United Kingdom. What steps can the Church take to help with resettlement, particularly in the field of fostering?
The Church has reached out through its parishes to provide practical help—clothing, food and English language lessons—for the refugees in our midst. To be practical about expediting reuniting children with their families in the UK, the Archbishop of Canterbury has sent a youth worker to Calais. There is a call in all our parishes for more foster parents, so that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children can have a warm welcome and a safe home in our country.
LGBT Christians: Pastoral Care
I am unable to answer on the work of the Church in Wales, but the chaplaincy there recently launched in the diocese of St Asaph. It is true that the Church of England is operating a similar number of smaller scale projects. The best example I can think of is in Manchester, where a monthly communion service operates in some parishes specifically for the LGBT community.
I am delighted that, although the Church Commissioners’ writ does not run in the Church in Wales—we are not seeking to change that—the right hon. Lady has already noticed the excellent work of the diocese of St Asaph LGBT chaplaincy. Does she agree that now is the time for those of us who are Christian but not of the LGBT community to give more careful consideration to these issues?
Yes, absolutely. It is completely in line with the policy of the Church of England. The House of Bishops has consistently encouraged the clergy to offer appropriate pastoral support, including informal prayer with LGBT people, Christians and others. I think that that injunction is on us all.
The hon. Gentleman knows very well that I need no excuse to visit his beautiful constituency, having fought the election there in 1992. I was back there this summer visiting friends at Hodsock Priory, which I know he is aware of. The important and beautiful church at Scrooby is home to the festival that will celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim Fathers. I have looked into the needs that it may have. I suggest we work together to ensure that the event is a great success.
The right hon. Lady is very welcome to re-tread the streets of Scrooby, and if she does, she might care to bring one of the many descendants of the pilgrims with her. If, with her good contacts, she could arrange it, the most popular would probably be Mr Richard Gere.
If only! I know that what the hon. Gentleman is looking for specifically from the Church Commissioners is some assistance with the improvement to the facilities. I have looked into this question. The church hall has facilities to ensure that the event is a success, but perhaps if he encourages the church wardens to contact me or Church House, we can make sure the event is a great success, with or without a celebrity attendance.
Priests: Same-sex Marriage
I suspect the right hon. Gentleman wants to ask me, as he did before, about a specific case, but the case of Canon Pemberton is still pending a judgment from his appeal, so I am afraid I will be unable to comment on it in any detail. The Pilling report was commissioned by the Church of England at the start of a shared conversation about sexuality, which reached its conclusion at the Synod in July. The House of Bishops has asked for a summary to be created by the bishops reference group.
But with a growing number of priests, including now one bishop, deciding commendably to be open about their sexual orientation, and indeed their marital status, why is the Church of England spending our money pursuing a legal case against Canon Jeremy Pemberton simply because he is married?
Obviously the Church is on a journey with this issue, as many of us have been, but I would gently point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the Church was not the plaintiff. Canon Pemberton was the plaintiff and therefore the Church had to defend itself in a legal process. The initial case was lost and now Canon Pemberton has sought to appeal. There will be significant costs attached to that, but the Church did not initiate those legal proceedings.
Last month I attended, alongside my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), a service of thanksgiving for the world war one centenary cathedral repairs fund at Lichfield. Without the generosity of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne), it would not have been possible to effect the kind of repairs that many of our cathedrals have required just to remain open.
Derby cathedral is such an important asset to the city, bringing visitors and businesses to the wider region. Without the financial support of the world war one cathedral fund, the cathedral would potentially have faced closure to the public, due to the condition of the electrics and the roof. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating all the trades, craftspeople and apprentices who have worked to keep the cathedral open and to secure its future for at least the next 100 years? It is much improved.
I would be very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating them on all that remarkable work. In fact, Derby cathedral has received the third highest amount of world war one grant funding to date—nearly £1.4 million—to effect, as she said, roof repairs and completely refurbish the interior. There is no question but that these repairs have created jobs for skilled craftsmen and ensured a sustainable future for our cathedrals.