The Secretary of State was asked—
Fly-tipping on farmland is a serious antisocial crime that damages the environment, human health and farm businesses, so tackling it is a priority for this Government. So far, we have strengthened the ability of the Environment Agency and local authorities to seize the vehicles of suspected fly-tippers. We have also given local authorities the power to issue fixed penalty notices. We are working with the National Farmers Union to increase reporting and to better target enforcement. I also recognise that this is a devolved issue, so my hon. Friend will be working with Natural Resources Wales.
Minister Coffey is a bit coughy this morning, Mr Speaker.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to stress the importance of tackling such criminality, so we are working closely with the Environment Agency to investigate further ways of doing that. We will continue not only to work with the police, but to create new powers so that we can get rid of criminals from the waste industry entirely.
Fly-tipping is a curse not only on farmland in Huddersfield, but up and down this country. It is usually associated with people who operate just above the law. They hire out skips, and then take the money, evade landfill duty, and tip the waste everywhere. We must have an Environment Agency with the powers and resources to do something about that.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We do work closely with the police in making fly-tipping a focus for the Environment Agency. I also draw to the attention of the House the fact that we are continuing to do more to help councils to tackle litter more widely. As we announced yesterday, we have plans not only to double fines, but to make it easier to tackle motorists who throw litter out of cars. The Government are very focused on this, and we are working with councils to make progress.
I support the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies). The trouble is that the fines are not heavy enough, which makes it easier to tip on farmland than to go to a waste disposal site. Unless we get some teeth and impose really heavy fines, we will not stop these people, who leave farmers with the huge problem of getting rid of the waste.
I recognise what my hon. Friend says. It is key that we continue to do more to work with farmers at a local level to ensure that their farms have better barriers against such access. Nevertheless, this is about targeting, getting intelligence, ensuring that we follow up people who are dumping, and using the full force of the law to deter such behaviour.
The Minister has outlined the importance of the issue and the role of the local councils. Will she indicate what incentives local councils can make available to homeowners to encourage them to use waste recycling centres, rather than harming agricultural land and farmers?
This matter is devolved in Northern Ireland. We are issuing new guidance with the Department for Communities and Local Government to try to clarify what councils should and should not be charging when people want to use the recycling centre. I know that councils want to do the right thing. Some £800 million is spent every year on tackling litter and fly-tipping, which is why we want to work with councils and the Environment Agency to make improvements.
The Warwickshire NFU convened a roundtable on this matter last month after a terrible spate of fly-tipping. It has two asks of the Minister: can we provide more briefing for magistrates so that fines are proportionate to the crime; and can we extend fixed penalty notices to the statutory duty of care for the disposal of waste on households?
Zero Waste Scotland estimates that Scotland’s deposit return scheme will save Scottish councils around £13 million a year in fly-tipping, litter-picking and kerbside recycling costs. Has there been any attempt to conduct a similar analysis in England?
We have issued a call for evidence on reward and return schemes for things such as plastic bottles. An independent committee will be looking at that. I know that the Scottish Government have asked our Department to work with them on their proposals. We are looking carefully at the report that came out a couple of weeks ago, but trying to extrapolate economic benefits on the basis of a handful of councils is not necessarily a straightforward exercise.
We are consulting on proposals to introduce a total ban on UK ivory sales, which we hope will contribute to eliminating elephant poaching. We will, however, consult on certain narrowly defined and carefully targeted exemptions.
The decline in the elephant population, fuelled by poaching for ivory, shames this generation, so I welcome the Secretary of State’s swift and robust action to address the issue. How quickly will the recommendations be implemented so that we can ensure we are doing everything possible to protect this magnificent species?
I thank my hon. Friend, as I know that she has been campaigning with young people across Wealden to ensure that there is heightened awareness of the direct link between the ivory trade and illegal poaching. We are hosting the illegal wildlife trade conference next year, and we will ensure that we work with countries, particularly in east and south-east Asia, to close down this evil trade.
I met some Angolan MPs last week who were unaware of a recent report stating that Angola’s elephant population has fallen from 200,000 to 3,400. Is not it the case that the world simply is not doing enough to protect the African elephant, as well as other animals and environmental species? We have to do more to save the planet, and the African elephant is a start.
I completely agree. We lose 20,000 of these magnificent creatures every year. It is simply not good enough for the world to wash its hands and say that this is a responsibility of only developing nations. We have to act together globally to ensure that the threat to this magnificent animal is properly met.
As my right hon. Friend examines the answers to the welcome consultation, will he disregard the scare stories being put about by certain parts of the antiques industry that say that old and much-valued artefacts will be destroyed under his proposals? That is not the intention. The intention is much more important—it is to help an iconic species that is on the verge of the risk of extinction.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. His campaigning has been inspirational, and he is right to call out the one or two isolated voices who have attempted to generate scare stories about our consultation. Significant organisations across the cultural, antiques and art market sector have welcomed the nature of the consultation, and I am grateful for their constructive approach.
Will the Secretary of State take it as a representation from me that the 1947 cut-off date is too late, and that he should also look carefully at banning the sale of antique ivory? Such a cut-off date could lead to the import of ivory that is purported to be antique, but is actually new.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. There is no reference to a 1947 date in the consultation, as had been mooted at one stage. Our view—I think it is also his—is that it is much easier to have a total ban for enforcement purposes, because there are unscrupulous individuals who will attempt to claim that artefacts are antiques when, in fact, they are nothing of the kind.
Beer is the UK’s third largest food and drink export with a value of nearly £600 million last year. Last week, I visited the Griffin Brewery in Chiswick, run by Fuller Smith & Turner, to launch a new British beer export strategy with the British Beer and Pub Association. Fuller’s now exports to more than 80 countries and is one example of our successes with exports. We have regular discussions with the Treasury on the beer industry’s contribution to our local economies and communities.
The Minister will be pleased to know that we have had some initial success in promoting and exporting Shropshire beer to Poland, but more needs to be done over the small breweries relief scheme to help breweries such as Battlefield Brewery in my constituency to unlock the potential for additional exports. Will he continue to press the Chancellor on this important project?
There are some great success stories in my hon. Friend’s constituency and in Shropshire. I did in fact discuss the small breweries relief scheme with the British Beer and Pub Association last week. I am aware that many microbreweries feel constrained by the current regime and have argued for changes to it. While this is obviously a matter on which the Treasury is the policy lead, I can say that we have ensured that those representations have been highlighted with the Chancellor.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) for raising this issue. St Peter’s Brewery in my constituency has built up a very good export business over many years. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is vital post Brexit, if we are to open up new markets and create new jobs, that such obstacles are removed?
I very much agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, I attended an event that we hosted in our embassy in Japan just last year to promote a range of British drinks, including British beers. They are one of our great success stories. The industry aims to increase its exports by around £100 million a year over the next few years, and there are some great success stories that we should champion.
Animal Cruelty: Sentencing
I had positive discussions with the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice prior to my announcement on 30 September that the Government plan to increase the maximum penalty for animal cruelty from the current six months to five years’ imprisonment.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer. Recent research from Battersea has shown that two thirds of the British public would indeed like sentencing to be increased, as the average sentence was only 3.3 months in 2015 once credit for a guilty plea was taken into account. However, will the Secretary of State reassure my constituents that the courts have indicated a desire for those increased sentencing powers such that they will actually get used once they are in place?
Absolutely. I thank my hon. Friend for raising this. He has a distinguished legal career of bringing prosecutions against individuals who have been responsible for acts of animal cruelty, and we are all grateful to him for his work. It is the case that the courts have indicated that there are specific, exceptional cases of genuine sadism for which a penalty greater than that of the maximum six months is required.
I welcome this proposal, having secured a debate on this issue in Westminster Hall in the last Parliament. This issue is extremely important, particularly in relation to dog fighting, which is an appalling act of animal cruelty. During last year’s debate, it was said that the policing of such crimes and the funding for that need to be increased. What is the Minister planning to do in that regard?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. Of course, sentencing decisions and, indeed, policing matters are devolved, but one thing we do at DEFRA is to work closely with the Home Office to ensure that examples of animal cruelty that need to focus the minds of police forces on more effective investigation are at the heart of our shared conversations.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic have similar sentences, and it is also the case that similar sentences apply in other Commonwealth jurisdictions, including Australia, Canada and New Zealand. It is a sign of our capacity to learn from other nations, both within and outside the European Union, about what a genuinely progressive approach to animal welfare might be.
We do not carry out post-mortem examinations on every badger removed in cull operations. However, we know from previous research that the prevalence rate of the disease in badgers in the high-risk area is typically around 30%. However, we do want to monitor trends as the cull is implemented, so a small sample of badgers is being collected and tested this year to explore different testing protocols that could be deployed to track the prevalence of TB in badgers culled in future years.
The basis for the roll-out of the cull was the randomised badger culling trials carried out under the previous Labour Government. Those trials showed that there would be a reduction in the disease through a badger cull. Indeed, research carried out earlier this summer by Christl Donnelly has confirmed that there is a 58% reduction in the disease in cattle in Gloucester and a 21% reduction in Somerset. That is within the range we would expect, based on the RBCTs.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I think I can dine out on that for a few more days.
I hear what the Minister says, but now that the culls are coming to an end, it is estimated that between 20,000 and 33,000 badgers were caught and dispatched in the roll-out. Is he seriously telling me that we will not test a significant proportion of those badgers so that we can at least have some scientific efficacy and know that there is some sense in what the Government are trying to do, even though Labour Members totally oppose it?
If the hon. Gentleman had listened to my earlier answer, he would know that I said precisely that we want to monitor trends in this disease, which is why we are starting to collect and test a sample of badgers to develop these protocols. A lot of post-mortem analysis was done during the RBCTs, and we know from that—it was not conclusive—that the typical prevalence rate of the disease in the badger population in the high-risk area is 30%.
Leaving the EU: Labour Supply
We are working with the farming and agriculture sector to assess the impact on this industry of leaving the EU. Following the decision to close the seasonal agricultural workers scheme in 2013, DEFRA set up the SAWS transition working group, which brings industry and the Government together to monitor seasonal labour. I met this group on 7 September. DEFRA is working with the Home Office to ensure that workforce requirements are considered in any future immigration system.
We regularly meet the SAWS transition group, as I said, and we work closely with Home Office officials on this. The Home Office has established a review by the Migration Advisory Committee. Indeed, its call for evidence closes this week—on 27 October. Over the past month, we have been encouraging all interested parties to contribute to that review.
There is a lot of discussion about the farming and agricultural sector but, as the Minister will know, the Department is also responsible for food and drink manufacturing, which is the largest manufacturing sector and also a very large employer. Will he assure me that that sector will not be overlooked?
I assure my hon. Friend that I regularly meet food processing companies and food manufacturers. He is right that some sectors, notably fish processing and meat processing, have become very reliant on east European labour, particularly over the past 10 years. We are ensuring that all the information provided by those sectors is fed back into the review that is being undertaken by the Home Office.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are planning for all scenarios. We have been very clear that we want a comprehensive free trade agreement with our European partners, and we want a close partnership to be put in place. However, if we want to be serious around a negotiating table, we obviously have to prepare for everything, and that is why we are also preparing for a no-deal scenario.
New Zealand has had an effective seasonal migrant workers scheme for farms for many years. Will the Government, at the very least, look at that? Will they also note that New Zealand has expanded its scheme to include the tourism sector, and especially the fishing sector? Such a scheme would prevent boats on the west coast of Scotland from being tied up due to lack of crews, especially at a time when we often see fine crews prevented from coming from the Philippines or Ghana. Due to barmy Home Office rules, the boats are tied up, at a cost to the economy.
We are indeed looking at the system in New Zealand, which is similar in many ways to the seasonal agricultural workers scheme that operated from 1945 to 2013 in this country. The Home Office had some other sector-based schemes, but the MAC concluded in 2013 that they were not being utilised and were therefore unnecessary, but as I said, there is a review led by the Home Office with the MAC looking at this question now. That is the right place to put that information.
Leaving the EU: Policy Framework
Since taking up my role, I have met representatives from the NFU, NFU Scotland, NFU Cymru, the Farmers’ Union of Wales and the Ulster Farmers Union, all of whom help me to shape my work.
In that case, the Secretary of State should be aware that the UK does not have a single agricultural industry; we have several. The needs of farmers and crofters in my constituency will be very different from those of dairy farmers in the south-west of England, but all will have to be accommodated in the framework. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore continue to engage with both NFU Scotland and the Scottish Crofting Federation, because in this they are the experts?
I quite agree. I had the opportunity to hear from representatives of the crofting sector when I visited Scotland. I make a commitment to visit every part of the United Kingdom and to work constructively with the devolved Administrations to create a UK-wide framework that ensures that we can preserve the internal market within the UK and get the best trade deals with other countries, but at the same time be sensitive to the specific needs of, for example, Orkney’s very fine beef farmers.
Their voices are certainly not ignored, not least because they have such an excellent and articulate representative in my hon. Friend, whose dramatically increased majority at the last general election is testament to his hard work on behalf of all his constituents.
Can I press the Secretary of State to confirm whether the Government have undertaken an assessment of the impact of Brexit on the food and drink manufacturing sector, and to explain how they have consulted with businesses as part of that process?
Not only have I spoken to the farming union representatives I mentioned earlier, but I have had regular conversations with the Food and Drink Federation and others across the food and drink sector. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that food and drink is the UK’s biggest manufacturing sector. We see huge opportunities outside the European Union to export more and make the most of British produce, because we are so lucky that British food and drink is the best in the world.
I thank my hon. Friend for his campaigning on this issue. It is vital that we do all we can to ensure that our insect population, and in particular our pollinator population, is protected. They are vital to the health of our environment. We are looking closely at the science in this matter.
Leaving the EU: Scotland
I made it a priority to engage with the Scottish Government as early as possible and I spoke to the Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary, Fergus Ewing, during my first week in office. We met for follow-up talks at the Royal Highland Show on 22 June. I also met Mr Ewing and representatives of the other devolved Administrations on 25 September, and we are due to meet again in early November.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that subject. I received a letter from my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Jack) on behalf of Scottish Conservative MPs setting out a very constructive suggestion on how to take matters forward. That is proof that having 14 Scottish Conservative Members here is a way of ensuring that the interests of Scotland’s farming and fisheries sectors are better represented than ever before in this House.
While my right hon. Friend is considering Scotland, may I remind him that many Scottish farmers are concerned about the reintroduction of lynx in the Kielder forest? Can he reassure me that my constituents and the Scottish Borders Council will be consulted before this moves forward?
May I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue? I visited his constituency in a private capacity in August to fish on the Tweed. I had the opportunity while there to hear from his constituents not only about what a fantastic job he is doing, but about their concerns about the reintroduction of lynx. I will of course ensure that we take full account of their views before any progress towards such a reintroduction takes place.
Leaving the EU: Finance
Leaving the EU is a great opportunity to design a new agriculture policy that is fit for purpose in the 21st century. As we develop plans for a new agriculture Bill, we are considering how best to deploy the financial support committed to agriculture and the farmed environment. At the heart of that policy will be a focus on delivering environmental outcomes and improving soil health. Other measures under consideration will address issues such as productivity, animal welfare and risk management.
As part of our work on innovation, we are considering grants to support investment in farms. Tax policy is obviously a matter for Treasury Ministers, but there are already annual investment allowances to support investment in farm machinery, and many farmers make use of them.
The uplands have some of the most important environmental benefits in the country, but the farmers have extremely marginal incomes. Will the Minister therefore commit to making no cuts to the support for hill farmers in the uplands?
We are doing quite a lot of analysis of sectors of the industry that could be affected by any future reform in agriculture policy. The hon. Lady is right to say that some farmers in the uplands are more financially vulnerable, and we are taking that into account. We have also been very clear that any change we implement would have a transition period to ensure that people can adjust.
Leaving the EU: Common Fisheries Policy
As the Prime Minister made clear to the House on 11 October, when we leave the European Union we will leave the common fisheries policy, and we leave the EU in March 2019. However, the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will bring across current EU legislation to provide continuity on the day we leave. In the context of fisheries, that will include the body of technical conservation regulations currently set by the EU.
That is very interesting: we will not have a voice at the table but we will have to abide by all the CFP rules. Can the Minister give an assurance to our industry, which exports more than 80% of what it catches straight to the rest of Europe, that it will not face any tariffs or other barriers during or after that transition period?
We are seeking a comprehensive free trade agreement and trade would continue as usual during the transition period. The right hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that we would not have a seat at the table. He is familiar with fisheries negotiations and knows that they are annual events, whether we are negotiating with EU member states at December Council, with EU-Norway or at coastal states meetings. We will become an independent coastal state on the day we leave the European Union in March 2019.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to listen to the views of the food sector and to ensure that it has a strong voice in the EU exit negotiations. Does the Minister share my view that the interests both of Scottish fishermen and of those in the other devolved nations must not be sacrificed during the negotiations?
I very much agree with my hon. Friend and I know that many Scottish Conservative MPs have worked closely with Scottish industry on the issue. The fishing industry is very important in Scotland. Roughly half of the industry is located there, and sectors such as the pelagic sector, which targets mackerel, the largest fish species that we target in this country, are of incredible economic importance. I reassure my hon. Friend that I regularly meet fishing industry leaders in Scotland to discuss their concerns.
May I take this opportunity to send our sincere condolences to the family of the crew member of the fishing vessel Solstice who sadly died at sea since the last DEFRA questions?
While the Brexit negotiations on the common fisheries policy continue, the fishing Minister will appreciate that the safety of our fishermen and women must be paramount. The Solstice is the third fishing vessel to sink involving the loss of life in the last two years where there has been a delay in launching lifeboats. With that in mind, will the Minister reassure the fishing industry that he is working with his colleagues in the Department for Transport to secure a full investigation into the Solstice, in order to rebuild confidence in the fishing community that the coastguard is able to respond quickly and effectively to incidents at sea?
I join the hon. Lady in offering sincere condolences to the family of the crew member who sadly lost his life with the loss of the Solstice in the west country. She will be aware that this issue is covered by the Department for Transport and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, but I have had the opportunity to discuss the matter with my colleague the shipping Minister, and I know that the marine accident investigation unit will carry out an investigation in the normal way. In addition, and to respond to the points the hon. Lady has raised, he has asked the marine accident investigation unit to consider whether we have adequately learned the lessons from previous accidents—which, as she said, have some similarities—and whether there are wider trends on which we ought to reflect and change policy.
Authoritative scientific analysis is hugely important for my Department, which is why I was so pleased earlier this month when our chief scientific adviser, Professor Ian Boyd, agreed to stay on for at least an additional year. I am hugely grateful, as I know my predecessors are, for his distinguished work. We are grateful to have him.
Is it appropriate for the 2 Sisters group to be allowed to undertake any mergers and acquisitions while the Food Standards Agency is conducting its investigations and until it has reported in full, not least in case any issues of corporate governance are uncovered during the investigation?
The hon. Lady raises a very important issue. She will be aware, of course, that the Food Standards Agency is answerable to the Department of Health and questions of mergers and acquisitions are matters for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. However, these were deeply concerning allegations and the whole House will want to ensure that they are properly investigated, to ensure that the highest standards of food safety are observed in all our processing plants.
As my hon. Friend points out, this significant barrier will substantially reduce the risk of flooding for almost 15,000 homes and nearly 1,000 businesses. He is right that I have received the report; the findings are now being considered by lawyers. This legal due diligence must be completed before I can make any final decision on granting the order. In the meantime, I can assure him that the Environment Agency is making all necessary preparations to start construction as soon as possible, subject to securing funding from the Treasury, which I am confident of.
In the referendum last year, people did not vote for dangerous levels of pollution and the weakening of environmental protections. It is all very well for the Secretary of State to make worthy speeches about a green Brexit, but as it stands, the Government’s repeal Bill makes this an impossibility. Will he now admit that the omission of the “polluter pays” principle and other environmental protections are a fundamental flaw, and will he work with me and other colleagues to guarantee the strongest possible protections for our environment as we leave the EU?
The hon. Lady raises a very important issue. It is absolutely right to draw attention to the fact that while there have undoubtedly been aspects of our EU membership, such as the common agricultural policy and common fisheries policy, that have been harmful to the environment, there have been welcome environmental protections, which we have helped to develop while we have been in the EU. I want to work with her, as I am working with others, to ensure that people can guarantee that the protections that they value stay in place.
I thank the Secretary of State for his comments. Clearly, many of our environmental protections come from Europe. Another victim of the repeal Bill that I would like to draw his attention to is the precautionary principle, which sets a benchmark to protect the environment from policy and developmental proposals that would do irreparable harm. Is his commitment to me now therefore a commitment to working cross-party to ensure that these vital environmental protections are transferred into EU law as promised, or is he happy for the EU to reclaim its reputation as the dirty man of Europe?
The hon. Lady perhaps made a slip of the tongue there, because I think she is probably worried about the UK being the dirty man—or indeed the dirty creature—of Europe. In short, the principles to which she alludes are valuable interpretive principles. We need to make sure they are consistent with the application of UK common law, but yes I would like to work with her and others.
We do want to plant more trees. We are trying different ways to accelerate the planting of trees. My right hon. Friend will also be aware of our manifesto commitment to plant 1 million urban trees. I am very hopeful that many of them will be in her delightful constituency. I am sure either I or the Secretary of State will visit in due course.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. The Government’s recently published clean growth strategy outlined our ambition for zero affordable waste by 2050. Policies and regulations, such as the packaging and waste regulations, are designed to increase recycling and reduce the amount of packaging that ends up in the natural environment. Almost all packaging is technically recyclable, although some local authorities and waste management companies choose not to collect it for various reasons. Next year, we will be publishing a new resources and waste strategy, in which I hope to set out more.
I met the hon. Gentleman to discuss this matter. We have been engaging with the Treasury about the site, because I know there is a particular issue he wishes to be progressed. The Treasury has oversight of the Crown Estate and the tax system and will consider the business case in due course, but I can assure him that the Environment Agency will continue to work closely with the local councils. They have removed the dangerous waste that was there.
From memory, about 90% or 95% of all animals slaughtered are slaughtered in the larger slaughterhouses which have CCTV. However, about half of all slaughterhouses do not, particularly some of the smaller ones. That is why we are bringing forward legislation to make CCTV compulsory in all slaughterhouses.
Eighty per cent. of Welsh farm income is rooted in the common agricultural policy. The Welsh Government are currently responsible for the distribution of that funding. Will the Minister confirm whether they will retain that responsibility post-Brexit, and whether funding received will be based on the needs of Welsh farms, not a simple headcount?
What I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that we are working with all the devolved Administrations and territorial offices to design a future policy. We want to ensure that all the devolved Administrations retain the ability to put in place the types of policies that are right for them.
Last Friday I visited Askham Bryan agricultural college in York. It says that the new exam framework does not work because assessment of, for instance, the felling of trees cannot be done in the tight window of the spring, and the harvest cannot be brought in during the spring either. Will the Secretary of State make representations to the Education Secretary about broadening the scope within which assessments can take place?
The fishing communities in my constituency and in neighbouring Grimsby are looking forward to Brexit in March 2019. What support will the Department give the industry to enable it to expand its trade with other countries, and to take up the opportunities that Brexit will offer?
My hon. Friend is right: as we leave the European Union we shall have a great opportunity to look afresh at access arrangements and shares of the total allowable catch, and we are working with the fishing industry to develop that opportunity. I met some of the leading fish processors this week—obviously, they are strongly represented in my hon. Friend’s constituency—to talk about issues that are concerning them at present.