Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Secretary of State was asked—
Air Quality National Framework
The UK has made significant progress in improving air quality in the past decade, with lower emissions of all five major air pollutants. However, the UK is among 17 European countries, including France and Germany, that are not yet meeting EU emissions targets for nitrogen dioxide in parts of our towns and cities. To help to address this, the Government last year consulted on a clean air zone framework, which will be published shortly.
Following three humiliating defeats in the courts for failing to address the 50,000 deaths a year in this country due to poor air quality, and where the Government defended the indefensible, Justice Garnham ordered the Government to produce a new air quality plan by this Monday. Labour believes we need to go further with an air quality national framework as part of a clean air Act. What are the main pillars of the plan and how much resource has the Secretary of State allocated to addressing the UK’s poor air quality?
It is a great shame that the hon. Lady criticises this Government, who since 2011 have committed more than £2 billion to increase the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles and support greener transport schemes and have set out how we will improve air quality through a new programme of clean zones. In addition, in the autumn statement we announced a further £290 million to support low-emission buses and taxis, retrofitting and alternative fuels; and, as I say, we will consult on our plans to improve nitrogen oxide emissions very shortly.
I do not want to be intemperate with the Secretary of State, but this is just so much pie in the sky. Every time we have Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, she says that something will happen soon. When are we going to have our big natural environment report? When are we going to stop people being poisoned in our cities and towns like Huddersfield, and when are we going to see action—now, not next week, next month or next year?
Let me be very clear: the Government are totally committed to cutting harmful emissions that worsen our air quality. We have made great progress already in the past decade, which is more than the Labour Government did. Emissions went up on their watch. We absolutely recognise that there is more to do and we will publish our proposals very soon.
I am very concerned about people who bought diesel cars thinking that they were the best way forward. Will the Secretary of State discuss this matter with the Transport Secretary, the Treasury and the devolved Administrations to ensure that these people are not penalised? We need to find a way forward that looks after them.
The hon. Gentleman is exactly right. In taking steps to reduce harmful nitrogen dioxide emissions, we have to take into account the impact on ordinary working families and businesses. As the Prime Minister made very clear, we completely understand that people bought diesel cars under incentives from the last Labour Government. They bought them in good faith and we need to ensure that they are not penalised for the actions they took.
Will the Secretary of State consider a targeted diesel scrappage scheme that supports low-income families in particular? The opportunity to do so was missed in both last year’s autumn statement and the Budget.
I can assure the hon. Lady that the Government are looking at all possible areas both to reduce emissions of noxious substances such as nitrogen oxide and to ensure that we have good mitigation across the board to try to support ordinary working families. All types of mitigation are on the table.
Northern Ireland has very low air pollution with all areas in the low pollution band, but it is essential that the national framework is truly nationwide and encompasses Northern Ireland. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with her counterpart in the Northern Ireland Assembly to ensure that that happens?
I can absolutely assure the hon. Gentleman that we have had discussions right across the devolved Administrations on this subject. The UK Government and all the devolved Administrations take it very seriously. We are working together closely and we will make an announcement in due course.
Leaving the EU: Environmental Standards Regulations
The great repeal Bill will ensure that the whole body of existing EU environmental law will continue to have effect in UK law. Over time, we will have the opportunity to ensure that our legislative framework is outcome-driven and delivers on our overall commitment to improve the environment within a generation. I can assure the House that the Government will continue to uphold our obligations under international environmental treaties, champion high standards in environmental protection and continue to seek to influence other countries to do so.
Ensuring that environmental regulations are introduced in the great repeal Bill is fine: that is very important. At least as important, however, is ensuring that those regulations are permanent. Will the Government commit themselves to placing no limit on the timeframe within which regulations will remain in place to protect our health?
The country decided to leave the European Union last year. We are trying to provide as much certainty as possible to ensure that regulations continue to exist as part of UK law, and, as a consequence, that will be the case. It concerns me that the hon. Gentleman thinks we are somehow going to rip up the rule book, because that is far from being the outcome. We want a better environment for our future generations, and that is what the Government will deliver.
The Minister knows very well that the EU environmental regulations have been very helpful to people like me—and you, Mr Speaker—in holding the feet of HS2 to the fire when it comes to protecting our environment. Will she undertake not to allow any diminution in the protections that are afforded to areas of outstanding natural beauty, and to ensure that our exiting of the European Union does not hand HS2 a blank cheque enabling it to ride roughshod through our countryside?
My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Government have already committed themselves to upholding the highest environmental standards—standards that we cherish—in developing HS2, and, indeed, other infrastructure.
May I echo the call from my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) for a national framework rather than ad hoc local decision making, especially given that emissions are currently declining? Will the Minister bear that in mind while she is working on the EU air quality regulations? In drawing up the framework, will she take account of all causes of air pollution, properly cost the alternatives—I am thinking particularly of the costs to drivers and the taxpayer—and urge the Government to stop demonising diesel drivers?
I think it fair to say—and we have said it at this Dispatch Box before—that when we are tackling air quality issues we must work with local communities, because the solutions will vary and there must be targeted interventions. I am afraid—well, I am not afraid—that our Government are not demonising diesel drivers at all. It was the Labour Government who introduced incentives for people to start using diesel. It happens to have been the current Mayor of London who stood at the Dispatch Box in his last year in the Brown Government and said that Euro V emission standards would solve the problem. We know that that is not the case, but we are clearing up the mess. Together, we can work across party lines to ensure that we have cleaner air for the people whom we all represent.
One of the environmental standards that we can improve outside the European Union as much as inside relates to the state of the oceans. As the Minister knows, a massive amount of dumping of plastics is damaging sea life and coral wellbeing. A huge United Nations conference will take place between 5 and 9 June. Ministers will be busy doing other things, but what will this Minister do to ensure that the British voice is properly heard to ensure that something is done to clean up our oceans?
My hon. Friend will be aware that we launched our litter strategy recently. We know that a great deal of the litter that ends up in the marine environment comes from the land, and we must proceed with our work on that, because marine conservation is particularly important to us. We have continued to extend our blue belt, not only around the this country’s coastline but in overseas territories. As my hon. Friend pointed out, a general election will take place in the middle of the oceans conference, but I can assure him that the interests of the United Kingdom in providing global leadership will be well represented.
While the great repeal Bill may bring short-term stability and a working statute book when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, it remains to be seen whether this Government, or indeed future Governments, will take any action to erode the UK’s existing environmental policies. What assurances can the Minister give the constituents who have written to me expressing deep concern about environmental protections post-Brexit?
I can only continue to try to assure the House, and the hon. Lady’s constituents, that we made it very clear in the manifesto on which we stood in 2015 that we wanted to be the first Government to leave the environment in a better state than the one in which we found it, and that is what we will do.
On 24 November 2015, the then Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), announced that the UK Government would ban lion trophy imports by the end of 2017. What progress has been made in that regard, and what reductions in trophy lion hunting does the Minister expect to be made following the review of international treaties when the UK has left the EU?
I did not quite catch the opening of the hon. Gentleman’s question, when he referred to something from 2015, but I assure him that all these imports are undertaken on a case-by-case basis and that we continue to work with other countries to ensure that we conserve important species throughout the world. It is a key issue in which the UK is a global leader. We will continue to work with other countries and to have an influence.
The consultation closed on 28 February and we are currently examining the responses. Our intention is to introduce legislation this year, with a ban on manufacturing expected to apply from 1 January 2018 and a ban on sales expected from 30 June 2018, as was outlined in our proposals.
I strongly support the Government’s plans to ban microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products, but they account for probably only about 4% of the micro-plastics polluting our rivers and oceans. What are the Government doing to tackle the other types of micro-plastics which we want to stop polluting our oceans?
The consultation also sought to gather evidence on the extent of the environmental impacts of micro-plastics from other sources. We are reviewing the responses to that consultation, and any new evidence will be used to inform actions to protect the marine environment. I assure my right hon. Friend that we are also looking at the litter strategy, the use of plastic bottles and on-the-go consumption, but I remind her that we need to be careful as we take that forward as a lot of microbeads and plastics are the outcome of, for example, recycled bottles that are made into fleece.
I was recently rummaging through my wife’s collection of shampoos, and to my horror I found a plastic container of Olay anti-wrinkle, anti-ageing lotion, complete with exfoliating microbeads. Obviously, neither the Secretary of State nor her Minister would ever need to use such a product, but will the Minister get on the telephone to the chief executive of Procter & Gamble and tell him that selling that sort of product is completely outrageous and that it should be withdrawn from the market at once?
The leisure pursuits of the hon. Gentleman are truly extraordinary.
What I find extraordinary is that Lady Bellingham, who is a flawless picture, would even need these products. I am sure my hon. Friend will be buying flowers later today to make up for this.
It is fair to say that we are working with manufacturers now and a lot of them are already starting to remove these products proactively. That is good news, but we want to ensure that that avoidable pollution is taken out of our environment permanently.
Food and Drink Sector
We regularly meet EU counterparts at Agriculture and Fisheries Council and at Environment Council. Food and drink issues are routinely on the formal agenda and are frequently discussed at informal bilaterals, too.
The great and noble county of Lincolnshire is the bread basket of England and much of the food that we eat comes from that county. Glyphosate has been proved to be harmless by scientists. It is used by farmers in the safe production of wheat and the food we eat, so can the Minister assure me that once we regain control of our destiny its use will be reauthorised?
As my hon. Friend knows, the European Union is currently reviewing the use of glyphosate, but the European Food Safety Authority, the food safety agency for the EU, as well as the German authorities that led the work are very clear that it is a safe product. The UK has therefore consistently backed a position in line with the science to continue to authorise glyphosate.
My first DEFRA question, on 18 June 2015, was on convergence uplift. Now, €230 million should have flowed to Scottish farming. Since then, the Minister has demonstrated an uncanny ability to procrastinate, which my children could only envy. However, this is not children’s homework or getting to bed on time; it is fundamental money that is important to Scottish farming and it is now a matter of trust. The Minister wants us to believe that we can trust this Government with post-Brexit UK policy. Where is that money? How on earth can Scottish farming trust this Government and the Tories?
The hon. Gentleman and I have discussed this a number of times, and he is aware that the review that we intended to carry out last year was delayed because of the referendum, which has clearly changed the context dramatically. We continue to have discussions with Scottish industry; indeed, just yesterday I met NFU Scotland to discuss future agriculture policy.
What can be done to encourage the European Union to promote the processing of foodstuffs in developing countries? I am thinking particularly of olive oil and coffee, where the value added tends to be within the European Union.
The UK and indeed a number of other European countries have preferential trade agreements in place to support developing countries and give them tariff-free access to the European market. This is important to the development of some of those countries, and the issues that my hon. Friend raises are regularly discussed at the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council.
The fishing industry in my constituency is an important part of the food-processing sector. As part of the discussions with EU ministerial counterparts, what efforts will be made to ensure that there is no border in the Irish sea, thereby permitting fishermen to fish in both parts, as they currently can?
As the hon. Lady will know, there has been an issue with the voisinage agreement, a long-standing agreement between the UK and the Irish Republic. There had been an issue with the Irish courts on this, and I discussed it just a couple of weeks ago with the Irish Minister, when we also talked about the arrangements we might have after Brexit.
Like my constituency neighbour my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), I have the honour of representing a constituency whose farmers feed the country. Will my hon. Friend the Minister work to ensure that farmers in Louth and Horncastle and beyond are not put at a disadvantage with their EU competitors when these exciting new trade deals are negotiated?
My hon. Friend represents an important farming constituency, and I reassure her that I worked in the farming industry for 10 years and am passionate about it. I have been going up and down the country in recent months meeting farmers to discuss their concerns. We have a fantastic opportunity now on leaving the EU to design a new agriculture policy that is fit for purpose.
Press reports earlier this week suggest that the Danish Government may press for restrictions on UK fish imports to the EU if the Danish fleet loses access to UK—mostly Scottish—fishing waters when the UK leaves the EU. That would have very serious implications for Scottish fish producers, who currently export in the region of almost half a billion pounds-worth of fish to the EU every year. What conversations has the Minister had with his Danish counterpart this week, and what solutions is he proposing?
As I said, I have regular meetings with all EU counterparts; indeed, I believe that the Danish Minister is planning a visit to the UK in the next few weeks, and I hope to meet him then. The hon. Lady should not worry about the opening positions that people might take in a negotiation: what matters is not what people ask for but what the UK Government are willing to grant. I simply say this: the Scottish fishing industry does not want to be dragged kicking and screaming back into the EU. It wants to leave the EU and the common fisheries policy; it wants to take control of our waters.
The fishing industry is vitally important to my constituency. Will the Minister update fishers there and around the UK about if, and when, the Government will trigger their intention to withdraw from the 1964 London fisheries convention?
My hon. Friend makes an important point: there is a 1964 London fisheries convention which has access arrangements for a number of countries. As we have made clear on numerous occasions, we are looking at this very closely, and, as the Prime Minister said just two weeks ago, we hope to be able to say something on this shortly.
Since 2015, DEFRA has opened or improved terms for over 160 markets for agri-food commodities. Increasing access to markets is a priority set out in the food and drink international action plan. We work with industry to identify and prioritise new markets and increase export value.
In my role as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Nigeria, I have recently invited the Nigerian agriculture Minister to come to the UK. Does my hon. Friend agree that it will be important to show him the whole of the value chain in agriculture, in which we do so well?
I commend the work that my hon. Friend does in building relations and important trading links with Nigeria, which is an important trading partner. It is also an important market for some fisheries products, including mackerel. I am delighted to hear that he has invited the Nigerian agriculture Minister here to see some of the great work that we do through the supply chain and some of the technology that we use to reduce waste in the supply chain.
Does the Minister recognise that it is crucial to place the needs of the agricultural sector at the heart of the Brexit negotiations? Is it not clear that if the Government do not get their act together, a bad Brexit deal would leave British farmers and food producers facing the double whammy of cheap food imports and tariffs on their exports?
Access to the UK market is incredibly important for European countries as well. We export around £11 billion-worth of food and drink to the European Union, but we import some £28 billion-worth of food from the EU. That is why farming unions across the EU are telling their Governments that they must have a free trade agreement with the UK.
But how do the Government intend to deliver on these promises? The Country Land and Business Association is saying that the Government should admit that they cannot design a workable new agricultural policy in less than two years because DEFRA simply does not have the capacity to do so. The Government’s failure to reach an agreement could leave our farmers unable to compete at home and abroad. What specific guarantees can the Minister provide here today to rural communities across the country that farming subsidies and tariff-free trade will be guaranteed under a Tory Government?
We have some tremendously talented policy officials in DEFRA and in our agencies, and they have been working closely on the detail behind the design of future agricultural policy on some of those issues. The Prime Minister has made it clear that she is going to make an offer to the other European countries of a bold, ambitious and comprehensive free trade agreement.
One of the markets that farmers in northern Lincolnshire are hoping to expand is the production of crops that can be converted into bioethanol fuel. However, they are concerned about the Government’s commitment to this market. Can the Minister reassure them that this is a market for future expansion?
We see a role for bioethanol fuels, but we are also keen to ensure that we do not lose too much good agricultural land to biofuels. My hon. Friend will be aware that this is predominantly an issue for the Department for Transport, and I would invite him to raise it with that Department in the next Parliament.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) has just pointed out, markets are not only country-based but product-based. The UK has a tremendous market for lactose-free milk, most of which is imported. What can we do to encourage UK producers to develop that product and manufacture it in the UK?
We have a strong dairy industry in this country, and there are lots of opportunities of that nature. We have established the food innovation networks, and we have the agritech fund and a number of other funds to support innovative product development of that kind.
Leaving the EU: Food Prices
Energy prices and exchange rates are the key drivers of change in agricultural commodity markets, and they affect all the countries in the world, irrespective of whether they are members of the EU. Following the sharp spike in food prices in 2008, they levelled off in 2014 and fell by about 7% over the following two years. In the past year, they have seen a modest increase of about 1.3%.
I thank the Minister for his response, but the fact is that the Office for National Statistics is reporting a surge in food prices that is likely to continue. Children are returning to school hungry after the Easter holidays and elderly people are being admitted to hospital malnourished, but still the Government refuse to measure hunger and food poverty levels in this country properly. Is it not the case that they refuse to measure those things because if they did so, they would have to admit some culpability?
No, the hon. Lady is wrong; we do measure them. We have the long-standing living costs and food survey, which has run for many years and which includes a measure for household spending among the poorest 20% of households. I can tell her that household spending in those poorest households has remained steady at around 16% for at least a decade.
Ah, yes: on the matter of food, I call Mr Marcus Fysh.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Farmers across the south-west are rightly very proud of the high-quality food that they produce, be it beef, lamb, milk and so on. What opportunities from leaving the EU does the Minister see to ensure that they get a fair price for that food in the future?
As my hon. Friend knows, we have recently had a call for evidence and a review of the Groceries Code Adjudicator. Representations have suggested extending its remit further up the supply chain, and we are considering those representations. The Groceries Code Adjudicator has made a good start to improving the relationship between producers and supermarkets in particular.
I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman that I have had regular meetings with food processors. Just two days ago, I had a meeting with the new president of the Food and Drink Federation, and this issue has been raised. According to the Office for National Statistics, some 30% of employees in the food processing sector are from other European Union countries. The Prime Minister has been clear that she wants to safeguard and protect the rights of the EU citizens who are here and that she would expect that to be reciprocated—and that that can be agreed early in the negotiations.
May I gently remind the Minister again of the paradox that we starve the poor by refusing to buy their food from them?
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. As I mentioned earlier, we give preferential trade access to some developing countries: the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries are especially important in sectors such as sugar. It is important for them to develop those industries.
Ivory Trade Ban
My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue and I share her concerns. She will recognise that we want to get the proposals right, and we will consult as soon as we can.
Does the Minister agree that when the policy is in place rigorous enforcement will be one of the most vital elements?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend: robust enforcement will be important to ensure that the rules are effective. She will recognise that the police and border agencies do an excellent job of enforcing the current rules. We will work with them on how best to enforce the new measures, but she will also recognise that our strategic approach to tackling the illegal wildlife trade is about enforcement, strengthening criminal justice and tackling demand, so that together we can help to solve the poaching crisis.
Seasonal Agricultural Workforce
I very much enjoyed my visit to my hon. Friend’s constituency last week. It was a great pleasure to meet some of her growers, including those at Oakdene farm, to discuss seasonal labour. I am very aware of the horticultural sector’s concerns about labour supply issues. The Government plan to commission advice from the Migration Advisory Committee and to consult with businesses later this year.
The Secretary of State obviously had an agreeable excursion: I am very interested to hear about it.
I thank my right hon. Friend for coming to Kent to visit one of my local fruit farms and listening to the growers who assembled there, especially as it was during the Easter recess. Can she give me an update on the discussions that she has had with the Home Office about introducing the much-needed seasonal agricultural permit scheme?
I visited not only my hon. Friend’s constituency, but that of my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), so I had a lovely day in the county I grew up in. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) is right that this is an important issue. The Government have assessed the need for a pilot seasonal workers scheme, and have decided that the evidence shows that one is not needed. As I have said, the Migration Advisory Committee and a consultation with businesses later this year will seek to determine exactly what the need is, and the Government are committed to making a huge success of the food and farming sector as we leave the EU.
As this is the last DEFRA questions before the election, I remind the House of the Government’s twin ambitions for food, farming and the environment: to grow more, sell more and export more great British food; and for us to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. Only last week we published the first ever national litter strategy for England and announced a £10 million grant scheme to restore England’s iconic peatlands. We look forward to putting our case to the country.
What is my right hon. Friend doing to support our fisherman, in particular the under-10 metre fleet—that is 33 feet in English money?
I am glad that my right hon. Friend can still do the sums. The Government have taken several measures to make the inshore fleet more economically sustainable. For example, we have permanently transferred unused quota from over-10 metre vessels to the under-10 metre fleet, representing a 14% uplift to the under-10 metre fleet. We continue to top-slice the quota uplift, which is now more than 1,000 tonnes, in order to help the under-10 metre fleet.
Contrary to what the Minister of State said earlier, recent inflation figures reveal that food prices are rising at their fastest pace in three years, adding over £21 to the average household shopping bill in the last three months alone. When will the Secretary of State get a grip on a soaring cost of living that is affecting millions of families?
As I pointed out in answer to an earlier question, we saw the biggest spike in food prices in 2008 due to energy prices. Food prices fell by around 7% between 2014 and 2016. It is true that there has been modest increase over the last 12 months of 1.4%.
Rising food prices simply add to the burden on those with little money for food. The Food Standards Agency recently reported that one in four low-income families struggles to eat regularly, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission has shown that disabled people are more than twice as likely to live in food poverty. How much longer can the Secretary of State refuse to monitor and publish figures on UK food insecurity and food bank usage?
As I said earlier, we have always monitored spending on food through the living costs and food survey, and food spending among the poorest 20% has been stable at 16% for over a decade. This Government have put more people in employment than ever before, taking more people off benefits and giving them an income. That is how to tackle poverty.
My hon. Friend is right to raise the importance of natural flood management, which I saw for myself on a recent visit to Leicester when I launched a £1 million competition for natural flood protection. In the right place, it can absolutely help alongside more traditional measures. We are investing a total of £15 million to fund natural flood management schemes across the country, which will help to support many communities that are at risk of flooding, and we will continue to build the evidence.
We have already addressed the issue of seasonal workers in the agricultural sector, and it is important that we assess the needs there. As for workers who already work and have made their lives in this country, the Prime Minister has said that it is absolutely her intention to ensure that those rights are protected, provided that the EU reciprocates. It is exactly right to look after British workers who have moved to the EU at the same time as protecting the valuable contribution that EU citizens make in the UK.
My hon. Friend is a long-standing campaigner on that issue, which he and I have discussed on numerous occasions. The Government are committed to giving consumers as much transparency as possible and to improving labelling wherever we can. He understands that there are some difficulties—there is no single definition of halal or kosher, for instance—that make compulsory labelling complex. He is also aware that the European Union has been looking at the issue. Obviously, once we leave the EU there will be an opportunity for us to look at all these issues.
The hon. Lady might be aware that a significant decision was taken by the people of the United Kingdom last summer to leave the European Union. We have been clear about our ambition to make a huge success of the food and farming sector, and to be the first generation to leave our environment in a better state than we found it. On what that means for our plans, it is essential that we consult widely with all the stakeholders. They have clear evidence and ideas to give us for a future outside the EU that is more successful than ever.
As I said in response to the earlier question, the evidence is fairly clear. EFSA has studied the matter, and it believes that glyphosate is safe. It has always been the UK’s position to follow the science and the evidence on pesticide decisions, which is why we support the reauthorisation of glyphosate. We will continue to have an evidence-based, science-based approach to these issues when we leave the EU.
Does the Secretary of State agree that we need good science, good technology and good innovation? What will she do about the fact that ChemChina has taken over Syngenta, a leading scientific research company largely based in my constituency but with research centres in Jealott’s Hill? Syngenta is the fifth leading innovation company in our country that the Chinese Government have absorbed—ChemChina is not listed on the stock exchange, even in China. What is she going to do about it?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that pesticides and crop protection products are quite an integrated industry across the world. It is not uncommon for foreign-owned companies to be based and operating in the UK. We have some of the world’s best scientific expertise in this area, which is why companies choose to locate here.
I am delighted that we launched our litter strategy for England on 10 April. The strategy will seek to cut the £800 million annual bill to taxpayers for cleaning up after litter louts. We have delivered on our manifesto commitment to let local councils fine small-scale fly tippers. We have also given local authorities the power to seize and crush vehicles that are involved in fly tipping, and we are ensuring that community payback is used to clear up litter and fly-tipped waste.
Food processors in my constituency operate integrated processing, distribution and packaging plants across the UK and the Republic of Ireland. What assurances can Ministers give those companies that there will be no border restrictions that inhibit their operations between the UK and Ireland after Brexit?
As the hon. Lady knows, the Prime Minister has made it clear that she wants a bold, ambitious and comprehensive free trade agreement. We are looking closely at the issue of border controls, particularly in respect of the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. We talk regularly to industry on the issue, and we have a meeting with some of the devolved Administrations later today in which we will be looking at precisely these sorts of issues.
Lamb is trading at significantly lower prices this year than it did last year at this time. New Zealand lamb comes in during the winter, when our lambs do not, and there seems to be too much New Zealand lamb in our major retailers and not enough British lamb. I would like the Minister to bring it to the attention of the major retailers that British lamb should now be in the shops, which should not be packed with New Zealand lamb.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. At Easter, people really want to buy high-quality west country, Welsh and Scottish lamb, and indeed lamb from every part of the United Kingdom. We faced an issue this year, in that prices were actually very good during the winter, which meant that a number of sheep producers decided to sell their lamb early and so there has been less British lamb available at this time of year.
Will the Secretary of State be pushing for a total ban on ivory sales in the 2017 Conservative manifesto, equivalent to the unrealised pledge in the 2015 manifesto?
As I outlined to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) earlier, we are working carefully on the proposals and we hope to publish a consultation in due course.
Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), we in the west midlands are seeing a terrible spate of fly-tipping on a commercial scale, including of hospital waste and household waste. May I ask the Minister seriously to help the farmers with the costs of deterring these serious criminals from dumping such hazards on their land?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. We know that fly-tipping is a particular problem at the moment, which is why the Environment Agency is working with councils and with farmers to try to prevent waste from being dumped in the first place. We will continue to pursue waste crime as an urgent priority. People who despoil our countryside and our streets deserve to be sentenced to the full, but we need the evidence to do that, which is why sometimes these things can take time to develop.
Apart from the EU citizens already here, does the Minister recognise that food processors will need to continue to recruit employees coming to the UK from other EU countries?
Yes, absolutely. As I said, the Home Office is looking closely at future needs for businesses. We absolutely recognise that for businesses in the UK to thrive they will need access to some of the brightest and the best from around the world, and the Migration Advisory Committee and a consultation with businesses will be looking at those needs later this year.
Cleaning up the nation’s bus fleet is an important part of tackling air quality, but does the Secretary of State agree that smaller companies such as Southgate & Finchley Coaches in my constituency will need time to adapt, particularly where the cleanest vehicles are not yet available on the second-hand market?
My right hon. Friend is correct to point out that we need to work with industry. I know that the Department for Transport has been proactively working on plans for some time with manufacturers to make those improvements, so that as a nation we can make the technological changes to vehicle emissions that are important in improving our air quality.
Public Accounts Commission
The hon. Member for Gainsborough, the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission was asked—
Cancer Drugs: Funding
I can inform the House that the NAO published an investigation into the cancer drugs fund in September 2015, which set out the facts relating to the fund to inform consideration of what had been achieved. The NAO’s investigation followed up on a number of concerns raised during the earlier work on progress in improving cancer services. The investigation found that all parties agreed that the fund was not sustainable in its form at the time, and that NHS England was proposing a new arrangement for the fund. It also noted that NHS England did not have the data to evaluate the impact of the existing fund on patient outcomes.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Can he tell the House whether the Public Accounts Committee has actually looked at this issue?
I can indeed. This is a very serious matter that everybody wants to improve, so the Public Accounts Committee followed up on the National Audit Office investigation and recommended that the Department of Health and NHS England make better use of their buying power in order to pay a fair price for cancer drugs and improve data on patient outcomes. The NAO also followed up on several related issues in an April 2016 report. It recommended that the Department and NHS England should, in collaboration with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, consider affordability and ensure best prices for high-cost drugs.
The findings show that although 40 cancer drugs were available through the cancer drugs fund in 2013-14 and 2014-15, some 71% of patients were covered by the 10 most common drugs. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that surely that indicates a need to move those 10 drugs on to the NHS list? Does he believe those findings have had any effect on Government policy on cancer drugs and the cancer drugs fund?
Which drugs are approved by NICE is of course not a matter for the Comptroller and Auditor General, but I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. He makes his point well and I am sure the House has heard it.
I would like to ask the Second Church Estates Commissioner, my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman), what the Church of England is doing to help to protect churches throughout Northumberland from the theft of metal from their roofs.
Mr Speaker, do you wish me to reply to the question? The Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission cannot respond to it.
I rather thought that the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mrs Trevelyan) was posing a supplementary to Question 1, which was the basis upon which I called her. Never mind; it is not a great sin.
I have a feeling that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) has an insatiable appetite, and there is no change there.
Thank you for that compliment, Mr Speaker.
Is the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) aware of the real challenge, which has been brought to my attention by the excellent team at Huddersfield royal infirmary, that it is rare cancers that are the problem because they are very expensive to develop drugs for? There is a special case to be made for the treatment of and supply of drugs for these rare cancers. Is the hon. Gentleman aware of that minority group?
I am aware of that group, and the hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We all hear in our constituency surgeries the heart-rending cases of people who are denied life-saving drugs. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Public Accounts Committee are fully aware of this issue and are going to continue to put pressure on the Government with regard to the cancer drugs fund to ensure full transparency so that we are always aware of the problems and can assure affordability for all our citizens.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners was asked—
Religious Dress and Symbols: Workplace
The Church of England was very concerned by the judgment of the European Court of Justice that stated that blanket bans on the wearing of political, philosophical or religious signs do not amount to cases of direct discrimination, because that conflicts with the pre-existing rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. By leaving the European Union, we presumably stand some chance of resolving such inconsistencies.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is yet another reason to be pleased that last year the British people took the decision to leave the European Union? The ruling was deeply offensive to people of all faiths and totally unnecessary.
Yes, and it was completely at odds with the statutory purpose of the Church of England, which was put far better than I possibly could by the head of the Church, Her Majesty the Queen, when in 2012 she made it clear that the Church of England
“has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country.”
That is what we should be able to do if we can resolve this inconsistency.
Public Accounts Commission
The hon. Member for Gainsborough, the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission was asked—
Leaving the EU: Value-for-money Scrutiny
I assure my hon. Friend that, among the many opportunities provided by Brexit, there is a chance to revise the National Audit Office’s work programme. In fact, it is determined by the Comptroller and Auditor General and is regularly revised. Taking back control and leaving the EU will be a major task for Departments, but of course some Departments will be more affected by Brexit than others. The NAO is keeping in close touch with all Departments as they make their Brexit preparations. That is likely to mean additional work for the NAO, not least the audit of the new Department for Exiting the European Union.
Will the NAO audit the settlement with the EU?
Eventually that will indeed be a matter for the NAO. We are currently at a very early stage of our work: we are simply ensuring that all Departments, particularly the Department for Exiting European Union, have their tackle in order for this monumental task. I am sure that all Government Departments will do it most efficiently.
The hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Philip Boswell) is a member of this important Commission and therefore we ought to hear from the fella.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I should declare an interest, as I sit on both the Public Accounts Committee and the Commission itself. Further to the question of the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray), I asked the Comptroller and Auditor General of the National Audit Office what concerns he had about the additional workload on his Department as a result of Brexit. He has many concerns, as intimated by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), but said that he needs to know the details of the Brexit deal on the table before he can properly ascertain the impact. Is the hon. Gentleman confident that we will know the detail of this Brexit deal in 18 months’ time?
The hon. Gentleman is leading me astray. As Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission, which is charged with the budget of the National Audit Office and its work programme, I am not sure whether I am qualified to comment on the nature of the negotiations. I can give an assurance that the Comptroller and Auditor General believes that that is now a fundamental and really important part of his work. There is so much that could go wrong with efficiency in Government Departments in this task, and we will be keeping a beady eye on matters. With the hon. Gentleman’s help on the Commission, we will ensure that the Comptroller and Auditor General has adequate resources to ensure that the interests of taxpayers are protected.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners was asked—
Marriage: Preparation and Aftercare
I must pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his long-standing support of the institution of marriage. I am very pleased to tell the House that, since he last asked this question in 2011, the Church of England has launched the successful new initiative, “Your Church Wedding”, which is designed to increase the profile of church weddings, highlight the possibility for those seeking to be married, and offer more consistent marriage preparation and aftercare.
I am very grateful for that answer, but the fact is that marriage rates have unfortunately declined in recent years. I know that my right hon. Friend will agree with me that there is nothing inevitable about that, given that for a decade, between 1962 and 1972, they rose. As this is a real social justice issue, with the decline in marriage rates having a particularly significant impact on lower-income families, will the Church appoint a bishop to promote healthy marriage, with the aim of spreading best practice in every single parish across the country?
I genuinely believe that this new initiative will spread best practice. I am sure that all bishops regard themselves as a bishop for marriage. However, there is no doubt that there has been a decline in church weddings, and that is in part due to the fact that there has been liberalisation of the legislation around where couples can get married. None the less, we should celebrate the fact that they want to get married. I will finish with one good new trend: women over 65 are getting married in increasing numbers.
It is always useful to have additional information. We are most grateful to the right hon. Lady.
Number of Vocations
The number of people selected for training for ordained ministry within the Church of England has been stable for some time. However, the age profile of serving clergy means that larger numbers are retiring, leading to an overall decrease in the number of active clergy. The Church seeks to address that by increasing by 50% the numbers training for ordained ministry: an increase from about 500 to 750 by 2020.
That is an A* answer, but how can we do even better?
Quite simply, we need to make it easier for people who feel the call to enter ministry to do so more flexibly. The Church offers not only a three-year residential course to become an ordained minister, but part-time peripatetic provision. As a result of the apprenticeship levy, resources will be available to the Church for people to learn on the job. That should make it a whole lot easier for people to enter ministry.
Does my right hon. Friend believe that the number of vocations would be improved if the Church of England did more to protect its churches in Northumberland from metal theft, which leaves young ordinands with a lot of logistics to deal with when they should be focusing on their parishioners?
I must congratulate my hon. Friend on her ingenuity in raising the very important and serious matter of metal theft—an ordained minister cannot practise without a roof on their church. This is a serious problem. The Church of England offers guidance, and I refer hon. Members to the ChurchCare website. There is a range of metal substitute products that can be used even on listed buildings. Currently, there is a pilot system for marking lead, which is designed to help scrap metal dealers so that they can identify when stolen goods are being presented to them. This is a serious matter, and we are working closely with Government Departments to try to make it harder for the criminals to impede the desire of those who wish to minister in the Church and to make sure that the roof stays on.
I welcome that news, and the initiatives on raising the number of clergy vocations. Stealing metal from church roofs is indeed an unfortunate vocation. What are we doing in the Yeovil area specifically to stop such theft?
I do not have information on Yeovil specifically, but advice is available on the Church’s website for every diocese—unfortunately, every diocese is affected by this serious crime. In addition to the deterrents I outlined in my previous answer, there is a system for fixing or locking lead—perhaps I should not give it away in the House, because then the criminals will know about it. It is pertinent to my constituency, where that system was used after the second theft of lead from a church roof. The deterrence means that even in the dead of night it is possible to catch evidence of the crime taking place. I recommend the Church’s website.
Christian Communities: Africa
As this is likely to be the last question today, Mr Speaker, please allow me to congratulate the parliamentary unit of Church House on the splendid way in which they have briefed me throughout my two years as Church Estates Commissioner, for none of us can be complacent about returning to our existing posts after the general election.
This is a serious question. The Church of England and the offices of the two archbishops are in regular contact with the Church in Egypt, South Sudan and Nigeria directly through the Anglican Communion Office. They are most concerned about the recent attacks in Egypt, where on Palm Sunday 44 people died at St George’s church in Tanta.
The 2017 World Watch report by Open Doors states that persecution increased for the fourth year in a row during 2015-16, with murders of Christians in places such as Nigeria and Egypt, as the right hon. Lady mentioned. What practical measures can the Church offer to communities in such countries?
I attended that Open Doors event here in Parliament, where a Nigerian pastor spoke movingly about the violent persecution of himself and his congregation in northern Nigeria. With regard to Egypt, I am pleased to say that Bishop Mouneer has secured intensive security measures for the Christian Church in Egypt, including emptying the streets around churches and cathedrals of cars, and putting extra police on duty to protect worshipers before services begin.