Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 627: debated on Thursday 20 July 2017

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.

T5. Although the Government provide support for cattle farmers affected by TB, can the Secretary of State reassure me that goat and sheep farmers in Cheshire will get comparable compensation? (900608)

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)

The right hon. Gentleman, I am sure, is aware that we are working well together in government—[Laughter]—and I do not recognise the description he just gave as fitting any Member of this House.

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.