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Topical Questions

Volume 630: debated on Thursday 26 October 2017

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.

T2. The £100 million Boston flood barrier is probably the biggest public investment in the town’s entire history —promised and delivered under a Conservative Government. I know that the Minister has had the public inquiry’s report; can she update the House on when we are likely to start actually building the thing? (901418)

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.

T4. The Government are committed to planting 11 million trees. May I encourage the Secretary of State to ensure that many of them are planted in Chipping Barnet? He would be very welcome to visit to see those trees planted in our wonderful green spaces. (901420)

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.

T3. Like many other MPs across the House, the Secretary of State and I supported CAMRA’s general election pledges for beer and pubs, because we recognise the role of pubs in our communities. Is he putting pressure on the Chancellor to freeze beer duty in the Budget? (901419)

Conversations between the Chancellor and myself are fruitful. They are fruitful because they are intimate and therefore I cannot say any more.

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 may need to refer the hon. Lady to Hansard and I will write to her. I am aware that we generate food waste, but that all of it goes to anaerobic digestion.

T8. Does my right hon. Friend agree that as powers are repatriated from the EU, everywhere in the UK should feel the benefit? Would he be willing to visit my constituency to meet colleagues and representatives of Scottish agriculture to understand local concerns, and to discuss the potential placement of further UK Government Departments in Scotland? (901424)

I would be delighted to visit my hon. Friend’s incredibly attractive constituency which is well represented in this House. I will seek to do so very early in the new year.

T6. Do we expect progress in sorting out abandoned waste sites owned by the Crown Estate, such as the one at Sandy Lane in my constituency? (901422)

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.

We support the research work by the European Food Safety Authority. Its conclusion is very much that glyphosate is safe and that is why we have supported its re-authorisation. On pesticides, we will always take an evidence-based approach.

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?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that important point, which I will indeed put to the Education Secretary.

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.