The Secretary of State was asked—
Brexit: Environmental and Animal Welfare Standards
The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will convert the existing body of EU environmental and animal welfare law into United Kingdom law. The Government have made it clear that we intend, as a minimum, to retain our existing standards of environmental and animal welfare once we have left the EU. We have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world and I intend us to remain world leading in the future.
In Chelmsford during the recent election, more constituents wrote to me about animal welfare issues than about all other issues put together. People care, and British farm standards on animal welfare are world leading. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that British farm standards are not undermined by cheaper, less welfare friendly products from other parts of the world after we leave the EU?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her election in Chelmsford and also thank her for her dedicated work in the European Parliament on many of these issues. I, like her, received many representations from constituents about these issues, and my commitment is clear: while we want to lead the world in free trade, we also want to remain a world leader in animal welfare. There will be no compromise on our standards as we seek to ensure that we pilot a better position for British farming and British trade in the future.
15. Fine words, but our bee population requires more as the research published in the peer review journal Science demonstrated just a few weeks ago. Will the Secretary of State today pledge to end the use of neonicotinoids in the UK and tell us whether the precautionary principle adopted by the European Union will be transposed into UK law? (900600)
I share the hon. Gentleman’s commitment to ensure that our bee population and our pollinators are protected. I pay close attention to the science in that report, and we will ensure that our policy on neonicotinoids follows existing EU protections and is enhanced in line with the science.
Absolutely. Before we entered the European Union, we recognised in our own legislation that animals were sentient beings. I am an animal; we are all animals, and therefore I care—[Interruption.] I am predominantly herbivorous, I should add. It is an absolutely vital commitment that we have to ensure that all creation is maintained, enhanced and protected.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his place and thank him for his visit to Wakefield during the recent election. He can rest easy in the knowledge that he played some small part in my return to this place.
The UK’s participation in the EU’s registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals, or REACH, regulation system allows us to protect the environment and human health, and allows UK businesses to sell exports worth £14 billion to the EU each year. It is our second biggest export after cars. The Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry into the future of chemical regulation heard that the legislation cannot be cut and pasted. There are severe concerns about market supply chain freeze and regulatory disruption. How will the Secretary of State regulate chemicals when we leave?
I do not envy the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs the task of transcribing legislation, because 80% of what it deals with is at a European level. However, is it not the case that there are important stakeholders, such as the water industry, that are quite clear that they want the whole canon of legislation to be transcribed as it is into national law?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. She was an outstanding Secretary of State in this Department, and the leadership that she continues to show in this area is outstanding, too. She is absolutely right: we want to transcribe and read across existing protections, including the precautionary principle, and then enhance them as and when appropriate.
We need to be aware that there are always forces that will lead some small farmers occasionally to want to co-operate with others—to meet capital investment requirements, for example. One thing is clear: I do not want to see, and we will not have, US-style farming in this country. The future for British farming is in quality and provenance, maintaining high environmental and animal welfare standards. We have a world-leading reputation based on doing things better, and that will not be compromised while I am in this Department.
Leaving the EU: Farming
Leaving the EU presents a major opportunity for UK agriculture. We will be able to design new domestic policies that benefit British agriculture, the countryside and the environment. We have announced our intention to introduce an agriculture Bill in this parliamentary Session in order to provide stability to farmers as we leave the EU. We have pledged to work with industry to devise a new agri-environment system, to be introduced in the following Parliament.
One of the most promising opportunities after we leave the EU will be to expand the range of markets available to our farmers, but that will come with corresponding challenges. Will the Minister please explain what the Government propose to do to open the new markets that will be available to the farmers of west Oxfordshire while maintaining our high standards, which are not always observed in other parts of the world?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Since 2015, DEFRA has opened around 160 new markets to quality British foods. In the future there could be opportunities to export more British produce, particularly meat and dairy. However, as the Secretary of State has made clear, we value our high standards in food production and animal welfare, and they will not be compromised as we develop future trade agreements.
Does the Minister agree that the role played by the massive farming base in Northern Ireland—pigs, poultry, grain and dairy—must be utilised and enhanced? What discussions have taken place with the Ulster Farmers’ Union on the needs of the farming community post-2019 and vital subsidies?
The hon. Gentleman makes an incredibly important point. Agriculture is very important to the Northern Ireland economy—its dairy and poultry sectors are particularly strong. I have previously meet the Ulster Farmers’ Union leaders. Indeed, I met one of the dairy companies from his constituency only yesterday. This Saturday the Secretary of State is planning to meet the president of the Ulster Farmers’ Union.
Tapadh leibh, Mr Speaker. Farming and crofting leaders in Scotland hope that agriculture will be fully controlled in Scotland post Brexit, and according to fishing leaders the Secretary of State has intimated that the Scottish Government will control fishing to 200 miles—incidentally, Na h-Eileanan an Iar is probably the only constituency to reach 200 miles of the exclusive economic zone. Therefore, can I have it on the record that the Government will indeed be back in this position and that farming and fishing for Scotland will be controlled in Scotland post Brexit?
Some of these matters are obviously already devolved. I think that everybody recognises that there also needs to be some kind of UK framework to protect the integrity of the UK single market. On leaving the EU, we will take control of our agriculture policy, and there is an opportunity to give all the devolved Administrations more control than they currently enjoy to be able to do that while protecting the integrity of the single market.
Yes; my hon. Friend is absolutely right. We believe that there should be careful risk-based assessment when it comes to regulation. We also have a great opportunity to change the culture of regulation. The reality of the common agricultural policy, as it exists now, is that there are far too many complex rules against which farmers are judged. We have an opportunity to simplify that and have a much more effective system going forward.
The National Farmers Union says that the number of seasonal farm workers coming to the UK has dropped by 17%, and a report published this week states that
“the silence from Government on the labour question is astonishing.”
Food production, processing and packaging rely heavily on migrant labour—the Office for National Statistics states that they make up 41% of the workforce. Why are the Government ignoring the industry’s warnings? Will they compensate for the loss of produce as a direct result of this complacency, and will they ensure that the food manufacturing industry continues to have access to the workforce it needs?
There is no silence from the Government on this issue—indeed, there was a debate in Westminster Hall just last week where we discussed this issue in detail. We have the seasonal agricultural workers scheme transition group, which monitors seasonal labour requirements. It met in March, it had informal discussions last week, and it will meet again later this week. In addition, the Home Office intends to commission the Migration Advisory Committee to do a piece of work on the labour needs of this country after we leave the EU.
Well, that all sounds marvellous, doesn’t it? So why does the report say we have a looming food crisis if everything is under control? It says we could actually run out of some foods after Brexit. One of the authors, Professor Tim Lang, accuses the Government of a
“serious policy failing on an unprecedented scale”
for their handling of the food security situation. The Secretary of State is notoriously dismissive of expert advice, but does he accept the findings of this report, and will he meet me and industry representatives to urgently discuss the food crisis before us?
The issue with that report is that it has not looked at the issues as closely as we have in DEFRA. We have been studying all these issues at tremendous length. The truth about food security is that it depends on increasing food production globally at a sustainable level and on open markets around the world, and those are challenges whether we are in or out of the EU. There is nothing about leaving the EU that will affect our food security.
CAP Successor Scheme: Scotland
Since being appointed as the Secretary of State, I have met the Scottish Agriculture Minister and the Scottish Environment Minister at the royal highland show. I will continue to work with all of the devolved Administrations, and indeed to consult more widely, on the design of any new system of agricultural support.
Those are nice, kind words from the Secretary of State about how he will work with the Scottish Government, but the blatant reality is that clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is one of the most naked power grabs ever seen, because it allows the Westminster Government to impose decisions in devolved matters. Will the Secretary of State confirm that, despite his rhetoric, this means that Westminster can impose a successor CAP system on the Scottish Government?
What I can confirm is that the conversation I had with the Scottish Agriculture Minister and the Scottish Environment Minister was cordial. We have committed to working constructively together, and each of the devolved Assemblies and devolved Administrations has a role to play in helping us to design the successor regime to the common agricultural policy.
The greatest agricultural event not just in Britain, but in Europe and indeed the world—the royal Welsh show—is taking place next week. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me and with the 250,000 people who attend the event that, in a pre and a post-Brexit world, the best showcasing of agriculture is taking place in Builth Wells?
I can absolutely confirm that to my hon. Friend. I am looking forward to going to Builth Wells on Monday. It will be my second visit to Wales in a week; I was in Cardiff last week talking to NFU Cymru, the Farmers Union of Wales, and the Country Land and Business Association in Wales. As someone whose wife is Welsh, my affection for my hon. Friend’s constituency—and, indeed, for the royal Welsh show and for Welsh agriculture—is second to none.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker—[Interruption.] Well, I think we are all on the same page in the Conservative party and singing from the same hymn sheet.
We have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world, and I am continually building on this. We plan reforms to pet sales and licensing, to live exports, and to welfare at slaughter, and we are considering some other animal welfare measures as well.
I thank the Minister for his answer. Like many colleagues in the House, I have received huge volumes of correspondence on this issue. Will he commit to consulting closely with environmental and animal welfare groups when establishing these new regulations?
Absolutely. May I take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend not just on her election to this House but on her brilliant maiden speech yesterday? Consultation with environmental and animal welfare groups has been at the heart of the approach that DEFRA has taken, and it has also been central to developing the new policy agenda that I hope to take forward.
I am very concerned about the potential impact on animal welfare in Dudley of illegally dumped waste at the Rowan Oak site in Shaw Road. Local businesses are furious about the amount of time it is taking the Environment Agency to deal with this. Will the Secretary of State look at this personally, talk to the Environment Agency, and help me to get this matter sorted out?
The hon. Gentleman is a doughty champion for his constituents, never more so than in raising this case. I have already talked to the Environment Agency about the increase in the number of illegal waste sites and the damage that that does to human and, indeed, animal health and welfare. We are reviewing how we investigate and prosecute the criminals behind this activity.
I am actively reviewing this matter. As my hon. Friend knows, I am not someone who will automatically reach for stronger criminal sanctions as the only route to dealing with a problem, but there are particular cases of animal cruelty where we may well need to revisit the existing criminal sanctions in order to ensure that the very worst behaviour is dealt with using the full force of the law.
Across the country, complaints are still frequently made to the police concerning the killing and chasing of foxes and hares by hounds as part of organised hunts. What steps will the Secretary of State take to ensure better enforcement of the Hunting Act 2004, which clearly represents the will of the British people?
Leaving the EU: Food Security
Food security depends on global factors including increasing global production sustainably, reducing waste, and ensuring open markets to facilitate trade around the world. With regard to the EU, we are prioritising securing the freest trade possible, including an ambitious and comprehensive free trade agreement and a new customs agreement.
Does the Minister accept the definition of “food security” provided by the former Government chief scientific adviser, Sir John Beddington—notably, that food security is characterised as requiring a food system that is sufficient, sustainable, safe and equitable? By reference to which indicators of food security will DEFRA be judging the food security consequences of the post-Brexit food and agricultural system?
The Foresight report to which the right hon. Gentleman refers set out that this country has a high level of food security. We have open markets, and a relatively high level of self-sufficiency as well, although that is not the key factor in food security. The report actually highlighted that there were no issues on food security. As I said earlier, we do not believe that leaving the EU has any impact on food security at all.
Food security can be enhanced by supporting the export of great British foods throughout the world. It is no surprise that I love British food and drink—particularly Lancashire cheese and British beer, both produced in my constituency. Will the Minister ensure that as we approach Brexit and these trade deals, we do a lot more to ensure that many more markets around the world can enjoy the food that I enjoy here in this country?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We made it clear in our manifesto that we want to open new markets and to produce more and export more great British food from this country. He cites some great examples from his own constituency. We continue to press hard to open new markets and create new opportunities.
The Secretary of State said earlier that he was not in favour of mega-farms, yet there has been a 26% increase in the history of this Government. This has an effect not only on food security, animal welfare and food standards, but on the structure of our British farms, including the future of tenant farms. What will the Minister say to tenant farmers about their security after Brexit?
I had a meeting with the Tenancy Reform Industry Group just a couple of weeks ago, where we discussed in detail the issue of tenancy law, including whether we could review the workings of existing farm business tenancies and whether we could do more to encourage models such as contract farming, share farming and franchise farming to create new opportunities for new entrants.
The Government are absolutely committed to supporting and strengthening the rural economy to allow good businesses to grow and thrive. We have invested nearly £2 billion of public funding in delivering superfast broadband. We have the universal service obligation, and we will be securing improvements to mobile connectivity in rural areas.
The best way to help the rural economy is to keep farmers in business. Will my hon. Friend will give me a modest little birthday present today, and undertake to be positive about reintroducing a deficiency payments scheme? That scheme was very popular with farmers before 1972, and the United States introduced such a scheme after 2002 that was not contrary to World Trade Organisation rules. The scheme would actually help the rural economy greatly.
We will study my hon. Friend’s comments carefully. I must admit that I was born in 1971, so I do not have any direct knowledge, but he will know of the ongoing support that the Conservative Government will continue to give farmers, and we have made a commitment to continue that stable support as we transition out of the EU.
One of the best things the Government could do to support farmers in my constituency, particularly sheep farmers, is just give them simple clarity about whether they will be paying tariffs on their exports to Europe of sheep products. That will be key to their ability to plan their investment with certainty during the next 18 months.
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government have set out the approach we intend to seek for a comprehensive free trade agreement with the European Union once we depart from it. We want to provide such clarity as soon as possible, and he will be aware that the negotiations are ongoing.
17. I note that the Minister is aware that the cost of the bureaucracy related to applying for common agricultural policy subsidies has been considerable for farmers over recent years. Will she reassure me that this cost under the new British agricultural policy, or whatever it ends up being called, will be considerably lower and that it will be easier to apply for? (900602)
I am very happy to assure my hon. Friend that our future agricultural policy will be designed in a way that reduces needless and energy-sapping bureaucracy. We expect it to be simpler than the CAP, but she will recognise that we have a duty to ensure that taxpayers’ money is spent carefully and transparently. We will continue to reward farmers and landowners, who manage our precious countryside, in a way that supports the best environmental outcomes.
In the Minister’s answer to the original question, she mentioned the roll-out of rural broadband. May I appeal to the Minister by saying that the roll-out is taking far too long in many communities, including my own constituency? What more will she do to speed up the installation of superfast broadband in rural areas?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Welsh Assembly Government are working closely with local communities and BT Openreach to reach such places. I am sure he will be able to follow up on that directly, but I will pass on his concerns to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Digital.
EU Markets (West Country Food Exporters)
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I have a number of leading west country food manufacturers in my constituency, including Falfish and Rodda’s cream, both of which are successful exporters. In addition, we are working closely with trade organisations, such as the Food and Drink Federation, to understand the needs of the industry. We have been clear that we intend to put in place a new partnership with the EU, which will include a comprehensive free trade agreement.
The Minister will know that 80% of west country fish and 30% of our lamb is exported straight to EU markets, free—currently—of tariffs and other barriers. Those food producers will be extremely concerned by the comments today of the International Trade Secretary, who appears completely relaxed about the prospect of leaving the EU with no deal. Does the Minister agree with him, or with the Chancellor, who said that this would be a very, very bad thing?
As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the UK has a significant trade deficit in food and drink products with the EU, so the EU needs access to our market as well. We have a significant deficit of around £18 billion a year, and I believe it is in the EU’s interests, therefore, to secure a free trade agreement too.
I am afraid I am not going to speak about fish today, Mr Speaker, but another time I will be happy to do so.
Farmers in Somerset expect their Government to negotiate continued tariff-free cross-channel trade, and hundreds of thousands of farmers across the EU expect the same of theirs. What are Ministers doing to secure engagement now between Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and Europe’s national customs agencies to ensure that timely and appropriate data exchange keeps agricultural trade smooth after we leave the EU?
We have set out plans in this Session for Bills dealing with trade and customs, and those Bills will address the issues that my hon. Friend has raised. I know that colleagues right across Government are working in a great deal of detail on customs issues to secure an agreement.
The Government have committed to providing the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of the Parliament. We have also announced our intention to introduce an agriculture Bill in this Session to provide stability for farmers as we leave the European Union, and of course we will continue to protect and enhance our natural environment.
The average hill farm has an annual income before CAP payments of minus £10,000, and therefore hill farming as a sector is under enormous pressure, despite the fact that it is utterly fundamental to food security, to the protection of our environment and, indeed, to the maintenance of the landscape that has just won the Lake District world heritage site status. Will the Secretary of State reflect on the fact that successive Governments have used the common agricultural policy as an excuse for not providing direct, tailored support for hill farmers? Will he use this opportunity to promise me, the House and hill farmers across the country that he will introduce a hill farm allowance to protect our uplands and the hill farming industry?
A very well-crafted question, and may I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his re-election in Westmorland and Lonsdale and take the opportunity to pay tribute to the dignified and principled way in which he has led his party? He is absolutely right that hill farming and upland farming matter. The proposition he puts forward is not the only way of ensuring that we can maintain the environmental and broader cultural benefits that hill farming brings, but I shall do everything possible to ensure that as we replace the common agricultural policy, the needs of hill and upland farmers are met more effectively than ever before.
I thank Members very much for supporting me in becoming the Chair of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. As we reform our support systems for agriculture, and our environmental schemes in particular, we can make them less complicated—we will not have to count trees, work out whether a tree is a sapling and so on—and ensure that we can retain water and do everything that we want to do with the environment, as well as producing food. We have an ideal opportunity to do that as we bring the new British farming policy together.
I add my voice to those of everyone in the House in congratulating my hon. Friend on securing re-election as Chairman of the Select Committee. Once again, he absolutely hits the nail on the head. As we move outside the European Union, our system of agricultural support must protect farmers through the vicissitudes they face; and, critically, the environmental benefits that farmers secure for us every day must be at the heart of any new system of support.
May I wish every Member of the House an enjoyable recess and hope that they will take the opportunity to sample some of the range of great British food and drink that is available, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) pointed out, as they holiday in these islands? Over the next few days I will be visiting Northern Ireland and Wales, and I very much enjoyed my earlier visits to Scotland. Agriculture and fisheries are stronger as part of our United Kingdom, whichever part of it we are privileged to represent.
Of course, the finest food to be found anywhere includes Shetland lamb and Orkney beef, which are always best eaten in the community of their production. Anybody who wishes to join me over the summer recess in Orkney or Shetland will be very welcome. Those fine products get a lot of protection from the protected geographical status and protected designation of origin schemes, which we currently enjoy as part of the European Union. What is DEFRA doing to ensure that our food producers have protection that is at least as good after we leave?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. As someone who recently had the opportunity to sample Orkney’s fine smoked cheese at the royal highland show, may I add my praise for the produce of the beautiful islands he represents? Geographical indicators are of course a very useful tool. We want to ensure that, outside the European Union, British food, from whichever part of these islands it originates, can have its status and provenance protected at the heart of effective marketing.
T4. Considering that my right hon. Friend has managed to complete 99.2% of the common agricultural policy payments in England, what assistance and co-operation can he offer the devolved Administration in Edinburgh, who have managed only to reach 90.4%? (900607)
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. It did not surprise me, though it may have surprised others, that we increased the representation of Scottish Conservatives in this House by 1,200% at the general election, not least in the north-east and Ochil and South Perthshire, where farmers are suffering as a result of the maladministration of the Scottish Government. Many of them are asking why the Scottish Government cannot learn from the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs and, instead of prating on about independence and constitutional uncertainty, learn from their partners in the rest of the United Kingdom.
The Secretary of State talks a great deal about gaining control of our waters after Brexit, but, as usual with this Government, so much of the detail is sadly lacking. Since 2013, three British-based vessels of the Royal Navy fishery protection squadron have not been exclusively used for fisheries enforcement. The Government’s own figures show that the number of boats boarded by the fishery protection vessels has plummeted from 1,400 to just 278 over the past six years. Will the Minister explain what, “Take back control of our waters,” actually means and why fishing enforcement has dwindled so dramatically under this Government? Will he agree to conduct an urgent review to assist the level of fisheries enforcement required now and after Brexit?
I can tell the hon. Lady exactly what taking back control means. When we leave the EU we automatically, under international law, become an independent coastal state. That means that we will have responsibility for managing our exclusive economic zone, which is 200 nautical miles or the median line. We already enforce those waters. The hon. Lady raises concerns about the number of vessels, but most of the work these days is digital. We have a control room in Newcastle that monitors the movement of every single fishing vessel in the country.
My right hon. Friend is right. There is a particular problem in Cheshire, which is why two years ago we introduced six-monthly surveillance testing. We held a consultation in December on changing the way in which we calculate compensation rates on other species, including sheep and goats. The pig industry has some concerns and we are reviewing and addressing them. It is important to recognise that we already pay compensation to people with sheep and goat farms affected by TB.
T2. Is“thick as mince, lazy as a toad and vain as Narcissus”an appropriate description to use for a fellow Cabinet member? If hard Brexiteers in our Government are falling out in that way, how on earth can the Secretary of State expect our European Union partners to take our negotiations seriously? (900605)
T6. Farmers in west Oxfordshire welcome the Government’s assurance that CAP funding will be guaranteed until 2020 and for structural schemes for the lifetime of the scheme. Could the Government give further assurance as to what assistance will be given to farmers who plan on a five-year cycle? (900609)
I have been very clear to farmers that, in moving to a new system, we recognise the importance of a gradual transition. We have been very clear that we will work with farmers and industry over the next year or so as we work out our plans. We will then put in place a gradual transition from the old system to the new.
T3. Many of my constituents in Blaydon have suffered badly from landfill sites on their doorstep. What plans does the Secretary of State have, first to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill, and secondly to ensure that environmental protections are not only preserved but strengthened in the Brexit process? (900606)
I welcome the hon. Lady to the House. I am sure that she will be a worthy successor to David Anderson, the gentleman with whom I worked previously. I assure her that we are working with councils to identify the barriers to increasing recycling in their areas. One London borough recycles less than 15% of its waste whereas other areas recycle more than 60%. There are lessons that we can share, and I am actively engaged in that, including in working with the Environment Agency on the proper regulation of landfill sites.
T7. My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Chris Davies) has drawn the House’s attention to the fantastic show in his constituency. I wish to draw hon. Members’ attention to the most spectacular summer’s day out in Worcestershire, the Hanbury show, which is held in my constituency. However, the farming communities in Inkberrow, Hanbury and the Lenches, who take part in the show with their fantastic produce, are concerned that, post-Brexit, there will be standards that affect the import and export of their products and have a negative impact on their trade. Will the Minister give us specific reassurances on that? (900611)
The Hanbury show is indeed a famous and strong agricultural show. The Secretary of State addressed the point earlier. We are clear that we prize our high standards of animal welfare and food and that they will not be compromised in any future trade agreement.
In Blaenau Gwent, we are proud of our Tudor Brewery. However, although beers can trade on their Britishness, there is no guarantee that they are produced on these shores. With calls to buy British ever louder, what are the Government doing to ensure that customers know that British brands are made in Britain?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good case and I look forward to enjoying a pint of Blaenau Gwent-brewed beer before too long. Outside the EU, we will have the capacity, should we choose to exercise it, more effectively to brand British food as British. As I said earlier, Members of all parties recognise that provenance matters for food and drink, and British is always best.
Last summer, I was pleased to meet key representatives from the charity Surfers Against Sewage. I congratulate them on their battle against plastics in our seas and marine environment, including the Solent and the River Itchen in my constituency. The summer holidays are due to begin. Will Ministers outline the work that we are doing around our coastlines, particularly the Solent and the Itchen, to ensure that they are safe for water sports and our local wildlife?
I, too, congratulate Surfers Against Sewage on not only its direct activity, but its ongoing campaigns. I was therefore pleased to meet Hugo Tagholm in the past year. Our beaches are of better quality than at any time since the industrial revolution. Last year, we introduced tougher bathing water standards, and even under those tough standards, 93.2% of England’s beaches were rated excellent or good. I visited the Itchen last month. I am aware of some of the challenges, including the pressures of abstraction, but we will do what we can to improve the ecological as well as the leisure quality of rivers and beaches.
Further to the question from the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), will the Secretary of State say exactly how he will ensure that products such as traditional Grimsby smoked fish, produced by the excellent Alfred Enderby’s traditional smokehouse in my constituency, retain their protected geographical indications?
As someone who grew up with the scent of smoked fish in their nostrils, because that is what my father produced, I am committed to making sure that we have the best protection. Only last week, I visited H. Foreman & Son, who now enjoy a designation as providers and producers of London cure smoked salmon. As we have just discussed, we will have the opportunity outside the EU to ensure that British food can be more effectively branded as British and best.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the thought that must sit in his head as he plans a new management system for our fisheries is that it has to be on an ecosystems basis? That will allow him to ignore the simple blandishments of so many people who claim that there is a one-size-fits-all approach to fisheries management, which was the big failing of the common fisheries policy.
My right hon. Friend is right. He was a brilliant fisheries Minister, who was responsible within the EU for ensuring that the common fisheries policy, imperfect as it is in so many ways, was reformed to deal with discards and to develop our fish stocks on a more sustainable basis. Outside the EU, as an independent coastal state, we can do even more, but he is right that conservation must be at the heart of our policy.
May I return to the issue of animal welfare? The Secretary of State will recognise that the use of antibiotics in farming is part of an animal welfare regime. However, there is massive concern that overuse of antibiotics is destroying their effectiveness, both for animals and humans. What can be done to reverse this trend?
The Veterinary Medicines Directorate and our chief vet have been working very closely with the Department of Health on plans to reduce the use of antibiotics. Great success has been achieved in sectors such as poultry, where there has been a substantial reduction of some 40% to 50% in antibiotics use. Often it is about adopting different approaches to husbandry to reduce reliance on antibiotics, but although a lot of progress has been made, there is more to do.