The Secretary of State was asked—
Leaving the EU: Animal Welfare
With just two short weeks before the Christmas recess, may I take this opportunity to wish you, Mr Speaker, and all the staff of the House, who do such a superb job, a happy and peaceful Christmas and a prosperous new year?
We have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. The Government are making CCTV mandatory in slaughterhouses, increasing maximum sentences for animal cruelty to five years, banning microbeads that harm marine life, and banning the ivory trade. On leaving the European Union we will go even further.
The Secretary of State has done more for animal welfare in recent months than was achieved in many years previously, and we all owe him a debt of gratitude for that. Will he assure the House that as we will be leaving the EU, the customs union and the single market in 2019, we are making preparations now to ensure that, for example, the banning of live animal exports and the import of foie gras can be achieved?
My hon. Friend has been a passionate and successful campaigner for animal welfare during his entire career in the House of Commons, and he is right to say that there are now opportunities to take steps to improve the treatment of live exports—or potentially to ban them—as we leave the European Union. The steps that we take when we put animal welfare at the heart of all we do must be consistent with our broader negotiating objectives as we leave the EU.
On animal welfare standards, whether we are in the EU or outside it, will the Secretary of State consider the importance of labelling so that people know what they are buying? When a label says that a chicken has been reared outside or been stunned or not stunned, people must be able to trust that they know what has happened.
The hon. Gentleman is right: there is confusion and uncertainty in the minds of some consumers as a result of current labelling. Already, farmer-led schemes such as the Red Tractor scheme ensure that people know that animals have been kept to the highest welfare standards, but we can go further and I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman on that.
My hon. Friend makes a very acute point. It is in the nature of single market rules and the European Union that some animal husbandry practices, which we would not tolerate in this country, apply to things that we sometimes import. We must consider how we can improve animal welfare standards all round.
Will the Secretary of State set out what discussions he has had with the Welsh Government about moving forward on animal welfare once we leave the EU, regarding both that Government’s responsibilities and the responsibilities that will come back from Europe to the Secretary of State?
I commend Lesley Griffiths, the Welsh Labour Minister who is responsible for this area in the Welsh Assembly Government, for the constructive way in which she has engaged with DEFRA over the past six months. I hope to see her next week to carry forward discussions on this and other areas.
I very much welcome higher welfare standards, cameras in slaughterhouses, and tougher sentencing, but as we enhance our welfare, we will also add cost to production. We want to ensure that our consumers eat high-quality product with high welfare standards, and that we do not import inferior quality meat with lower welfare standards.
The Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee makes an excellent point—I know that the Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into the impact of leaving the European Union on food standards overall. Critical to high food standards is the viability and improved productivity of our farmers who do such a wonderful job.
The Northern Ireland Assembly has passed more stringent legislation on animal cruelty than the UK mainland. What discussions has the Secretary of State’s Department had with the Northern Ireland Assembly about bringing similar measures into operation in England and Wales?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are many ways in which Northern Ireland sets higher standards than we do in the rest of the UK, and I have always taken the view that we can learn a great deal from every part of the United Kingdom, not least the cherished Province which I love so much.
Future Trade Agreements: Agriculture
Ministers and officials meet regularly to discuss the promotion of UK agriculture. Only last night I was talking to the Secretary of State for International Trade, to ensure that in the next 12 months we place the promotion of British food at the heart of our joint governmental endeavours.
As the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Nigeria, I recently hosted a visit of the Nigerian Agriculture Minister to the UK. Does the Secretary of State accept that the UK is leading in innovation and education in agriculture, and that we have a lot to offer that country?
My hon. Friend has done an outstanding job as trade envoy to one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and there is much that we can do together to improve the transfer of technology between our two countries. Nigeria offers huge opportunities to our exporters, which I know my hon. Friend has done much to help to advance.
Surely the Secretary of State realises that the food and farming sector is terrified about the impact of leaving the European Union? Does he agree that the fact there has been no impact assessment by him or his Department on what will happen to farming in food in this country is a disgrace?
Will the Secretary of State impress on the International Trade Secretary the fact that it is not just about goods, but about services? Will he join me in congratulating the British Horse Society on its 70th anniversary year and on being invited to provide an accreditation system for riding centres in China?
My right hon. Friend, who did an outstanding job when she was Secretary of State, is absolutely right. No country in the world has a finer equestrian tradition than our own. We can build on that tradition to ensure that services are provided to international markets.
As everyone in this House will know—as a fellow Scot, the Secretary of State will know it very clearly—Scotland has some of the largest protected food names in the EU, with high-value products such as Scotch beef and Scotch salmon accounting for some £700 million in sales, yet there has been absolutely nothing from the Government on whether that will continue post Brexit. Will he give a clear indication and a clear commitment today that our participation in this vital scheme will continue or be replaced within the UK?
I thank the hon. Gentleman, who has in his role been a passionate and effective advocate for Scottish industry. Yes, we want to make sure that geographical indicators and schemes that ensure high-quality foods from all parts of the United Kingdom are recognised within Europe and across the world. We want to ensure that appropriate schemes exist in the future so that we can provide recognition to our trading partners, as well as ensuring that the markets we care so much about are protected.
There are some concerns about the impact of pulse trawling on certain species of fish, in particular gadoids such as cod. Earlier this year, I asked the Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science to review the science on pulse trawling. The preliminary advice concludes that while the impact on the seabed is typically smaller than for traditional beam trawling, there are some detrimental effects on fish species such as cod. Once CEFAS has completed its work, we will decide what steps are required next.
I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. He will be aware, I am sure, of the concerns of fishers in parts of south-east England about the impact of Dutch electric pulse fishing on the stocks that, surprise surprise, move across national boundaries and are consequently shared. At the moment, we have a voice at the table and we can influence, alongside other more conservation-minded northern European countries, policies such as that on electric pulse fishing. How will we exert the same influence if we leave the European Union?
The right hon. Gentleman is right that pulse trawling is predominantly carried out by about 84 Dutch vessels, which mostly fish in UK waters to catch those species. Once we leave the European Union, we will decide the terms of access. That will give us the clarity and the ability to be able to ban certain approaches if we want to.
The European Union is currently proposing draconian measures for our recreational sea anglers. They will stop recreational fishing for half the year. These ridiculous proposals should be resisted. I seek assurances from the Minister that he will stand up for our recreational sea anglers.
The situation with bass is precarious, which is why I and the UK Government pressed for emergency measures three years ago. However, we believe it is important that the current International Council for the Exploration of the Sea advice is benchmarked to take account of measures that have already been brought in. We will be arguing for a more proportionate package this December.
Leaving the EU: Food Prices
The key drivers of food price changes are exchange rates, weather events and oil prices. These factors affect all countries in the world, whether they are members of the European Union or independent nation states. We therefore assess the impact of leaving the EU on retail food prices to be marginal.
During the EU referendum campaign, the Secretary of State claimed that food prices would fall after a vote for Brexit, yet new data from the Office for National Statistics shows that food prices last month were up by 4.2% on 12 months earlier. My constituents will be feeling the pinch of those increases this Christmas. Will the Minister confirm that an analysis of food prices has been conducted, and that it is not just in his imagination? If he has published that analysis, when will it be in the public domain?
In the 18 months leading up to the referendum food prices fell by 7%, and in the 18 months since they have risen by 4%. Changes in food prices of plus or minus 5% are fairly typical. The fact is that whether a country is inside or outside the EU, the key drivers of food prices—weather events, exchange rates and oil prices—remain the same.
What discussions has the Minister held with the Department for International Trade about assessing the current EU non-tariff barriers on the pig products that are so important not only to my constituency, but to the broader constituency area of Suffolk?
I am aware that the pig industry is very important to my hon. Friend’s constituency. The UK has a close relationship with Denmark. Danish Crown, including its subsidiary Tulip, is a major investor in the UK, and since the decision to leave the European Union it has increased its investment, with the recent acquisition of new businesses. We are having discussions, but we have a strong and vibrant pig sector.
The Minister said that Brexit would not have much impact on prices. I suggest that he speak to his former Conservative colleague Laura Sandys, the head of the Food Foundation, which has said that Brexit could mean an increase of £158 a year in what the average family spends on fruit and veg. Will he ensure that the horticultural sector, which has been much neglected by successive Governments, is given the priority that it deserves in the agriculture Bill?
The UK now has the second highest rate of food insecurity in Europe. In October, food and drink prices increased faster than at any other point over the last four years, and the latest Trussell Trust figures show a 13% increase on last year in the number of emergency food parcels issued. How will the Secretary of State and the Minister address the shameful increase in hunger and food poverty that is taking place throughout the country on this Government’s watch?
With all due respect, I do not think that that really answered my question. Yesterday the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union admitted that Ministers had carried out no proper assessment of the impact of Brexit on any UK economic sector. Food prices are rising. What assessment has DEFRA made of the impact of Brexit on those prices?
As I have said, we are carrying out this work, but our current assessment is that the impact is marginal. Economists sometimes make the mistake of not taking account of the fact that we have tariff rate quotas—that means that we already have a high degree of tariff-free trade—and the fact that the commodity price represents only a small part of the overall value of the shopping basket.
Veterinarians play a vital role in safeguarding UK public health, enabling trade and maintaining animal health and welfare. More than 31% of the UK veterinary workforce is supplied by veterinarians from outside the UK. We cherish and value their work, and we want to ensure that they can continue to make an important contribution.
I appreciate the Secretary of State’s reply. Britain leads the world in both food hygiene and animal welfare, but that is now at risk. The British Veterinary Association reckons that 95% of the vets in our abattoirs are from the EU, and that many of them are leaving. Will the Secretary of State release the impact assessment that I am certain he will have carried out, and will he tell us what action he is taking to protect our meat industry, animal welfare and food safety from that clear and imminent threat?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. He is right: more than 90% of the veterinarians in our abattoirs come from the EU27 countries, and I and my Department have been talking to representatives of the profession to ensure that those who do such a wonderful job continue to feel valued and to play the important role they do in assuring the public of the very high standards of food hygiene.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the slaughter of UK animals should take place in UK abattoirs overseen by appropriately qualified vets, and will he take steps to ensure that the evil and cruel trade of live animal exports is ended when we leave the EU?
Leaving the EU: Farming
The common agricultural policy has been a bureaucratic quagmire that has undermined British agriculture and failed our environment. Leaving the EU allows us to bring clarity and purpose to agriculture policy in the UK for the first time for 45 years. We are committed to introducing an agriculture Bill in this Session and will outline further plans next year.
I am grateful to the Minister for his remarks. Many farmers in my constituency in the bounteous county of Essex supported Brexit, but some did not. What reassurances can he give them that the Government are straining their many sinews to ensure that new and emerging food markets are open to them after Brexit?
We will be working with colleagues in the Department for International Trade to open up new markets. There are opportunities, particularly in sectors such as dairy. We have also been very clear that we will maintain the agriculture budget for this Parliament—that is a manifesto commitment—and that we will have a smooth transition from the policy we have now to the new policy.
EU Convergence Uplift Funding
I met the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing, on 6 November, when we discussed EU convergence uplift funding, and I most recently met the National Farmers Union of Scotland on 31 October, when that funding was one of a number of issues discussed. I look forward to seeing the Scottish Cabinet Secretary next Thursday, and also, thanks to the intercession of my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Colin Clark), to meeting representatives of the NFU of Scotland on that day as well.
Back in September, key farming organisations, including the NFUS, wrote to the Minister on convergence uplift. I have been told that the Government have not yet responded. Why have they not responded, and will the Minister fix the scandal now by committing to give Scottish farmers the £160 million they are rightfully due?
I absolutely recognise, and indeed have explained to the hon. Gentleman’s Scottish National party colleague, that the issue of convergence uplifting is ripe for reassessment. I have discussed the issue not just with the Scottish Cabinet Secretary, but with farming union representatives, and I know it will be raised when we meet next week.
The resilience of flood defences is good. In October, the Environment Agency’s assessment showed that over 95% of the flood defence assets it maintains in the highest risk areas were at, or above, the target condition, and in Cumbria the proportion was 97.5%. We have repaired all the flood defences damaged in the winter of 2015. We know there is more to do to help communities in Keswick as well as other parts of Copeland and across Cumbria. That is why we allocated £58 million extra for flood risk management schemes.
My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of that particular village. I am aware that the shortlisting of options is due to be completed next month, with a target date of the end of 2019. I will be meeting her and her colleagues from Cumbria next week to discuss the details further.
Hard flood defences such as the Foss barrier and whole catchment management solutions are vital for cities such as York, but it is essential that those strategies equally protect smaller communities. Can the Minister assure me that communities south of York will not be forgotten as we progress and continue to develop flood management schemes?
I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. The York long-term plan will use a whole catchment approach to flood risk management. It includes upper catchment management changes, which will be a key component in reducing risk to York and other communities downstream, including the ones to which he refers. I can assure him that the modelling by the Environment Agency ensures that hard flood defences in York will not impact on the communities he has mentioned.
It is two years since the devastating floods hit York, yet last week the residents of Clementhorpe learned that their barriers were going to be further delayed and that they will not have protection until at least 2019. What will the Minister do to ensure not only that that programme is speeded up, but that the residents of York are protected in the intervening period?
Since the floods of December 2015, when about 600 properties were flooded, we have invested £17 million to upgrade the Foss barrier. That includes eight high-volume pumps to provide an even greater standard of protection than before, and we have developed a five-year plan to invest £45 million in new defences that will better protect 2,000 properties.
Following Storm Desmond and Storm Eva in 2015, the Government made welcome direct payments for resilience work to residents who had been devastated by the flooding. Following the floods in Galgate last month, however, the Government told Lancaster City Council that that flooding was not severe enough to warrant the same assistance, despite 143 homes being vacated because of flood damage. Will the Minister make representations to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and urge him to allocate money to fund essential flood resilience work in flood-affected communities like Galgate, right across the country?
As I have indicated, the overall level of flood defence resilience is good, including in Lancashire. I am very concerned about the people who suffered that shock flooding the other week, and I will of course meet the affected MPs. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) is seeing me next week to discuss this very matter.
Leaving the EU: Departmental Preparation
My right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) put in place a major programme of work to prepare for the UK’s departure from the European Union, planning for a number of scenarios, and we in DEFRA keep the effectiveness of that work under continual review. It is led by outstanding civil servants, to whom I wish to pay tribute now.
We know that, in several areas, EU rules have prevented us from improving standards of animal welfare. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that he is now doing the detailed preparation so that on day one of our freedom, he will be ready to take action, including to ban the trade in the export of live animals?
By next summer, the UK chemical industry will have spent £250 million registering its chemicals. It is united in wanting to remain within the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals—REACH—scheme and to avoid EU tariffs of between 4% and 6% on its goods, so why is the Secretary of State proposing to double its regulatory burden by setting up a new agency here? Why is he playing politics with our second largest manufacturing sector?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. I am delighted that Phil Hogan, the outstanding Commissioner for Agriculture, has secured assent for the reauthorisation of glyphosate for five more years. It is, as my hon. Friend makes clear, a valuable tool for ensuring that we can move towards no till or min till agriculture, which in itself is an environmental gain.
My colleagues and I are working hard to try to get the Northern Ireland Executive restored, but in the absence of an Executive will the Secretary of State ensure that he has discussions with the permanent secretary at the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland to ensure that our sector and its niche markets are protected beyond March 2019?
Absolutely. I am looking forward to representatives from DAERA coming to DEFRA next Thursday for the latest in our series of talks. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman and his Democratic Unionist party colleagues, who ensure that my ministerial colleagues and I are kept up to the mark with the policies that need to be shaped in the interests of Northern Ireland’s farmers and fishermen, who do so much to ensure that there is healthy food on all our plates.
Food and Drink Sector: Industrial Strategy
I am delighted that the industrial strategy White Paper, which sets out plans to boost productivity and earnings across the UK, recognises the importance of the food and drink sector, which is why we have announced a new food and drink sector council as part of the strategy.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. He will be more aware than most that, owing to the quality of the product, the seafood processing industry in my constituency is less concerned about access to markets after we leave the EU than it is about access to labour. What discussions has he had with representatives of the Scottish seafood processing industry or, indeed, the Home Office to address such concerns?
There is no better champion of the Scottish fish processing industry than my hon. Friend, and it was thanks to his work that I was able to attend a roundtable in Aberdeen a couple of months ago, at which fish processors were able to put to me their specific demands. Since then, I have talked to the Home Secretary and the Immigration Minister about precisely those issues. I must say that were it not for my hon. Friend, that argument would not be happening at the heart of Government and it would not be being heard and acted upon. He is a brilliant advocate, and the people of Peterhead, Fraserburgh, Mintlaw, Turriff and the other communities in his constituency are exceptionally lucky to have him.
The hon. Member for Northampton South (Andrew Lewer) has just waved at the Chair, which may be analogous to, although not quite the same as, the conventional method of bobbing, but I am going to deduce that the hon. Gentleman is interested in contributing to our proceedings.
Absolutely. We all know that Carlsberg is primarily a brewer, but if Carlsberg did MPs, my hon. Friend would be the premium brand—fizzy with a great head and always a pleasure to spend time with of an evening. He is absolutely right that we need to ensure not only that major brewers can invest in this country, but that premium artisanal brewers have their interests represented, and that is what the industrial strategy will do.
All that remains is for the Secretary of State to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his characteristic acuity, which I know is a preferred phrase of the right hon. Gentleman. No doubt it will be in evidence at the next oral questions—we very much hope so.
Leaving the EU: Environmental Law
The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will ensure that the whole body of existing EU environmental law continues to have effect in UK law. Last month, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced that we will consult on the creation of a new national policy statement on environmental principles and on a new independent and statutory body to hold the Government and, potentially, public authorities to account on their environmental commitments.
I thank the Minister for her response. The Government have boasted that they will leave the environment in a better state than they found it in, so does the Minister agree that we need to enshrine in law not only equivalent, but even better levels of environmental protections after we leave the EU?
I agree with the hon. Lady. We are absolutely committed to that, and it has been in our manifesto for the past two years. Aspects of the environment are improving, and with our 25-year environment plan, which will be published shortly, we will continue to set out that agenda for the next generation.
Leaving the EU: Puppy Welfare
We are actively looking to see what we can do in this area. Leaving the European Union provides us with new opportunities to deal with the illegal trade in puppies.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that, once the EU pet travel rules have been transferred to the UK statute book, the scheme will be reviewed as a priority, taking into account the recommendations of the Dogs Trust? As he well knows, the trust has campaigned tirelessly for a number of years to change and improve the scheme.
It is not just the Dogs Trust that has campaigned; the hon. Lady has campaigned, too. She and the Dogs Trust are right that we need to look at the law. We hope to make announcements even before we leave the European Union about how the law can be improved.
I place on record my thanks to the Dogs Trust because, of the two dogs in the Gove family home, one is a rescue dog that the trust was responsible for finding.
We discussed the vital importance of the veterinary profession during our earlier exchanges on the question from the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron). I thank the nation’s chief veterinary officer, Nigel Gibbens, for his years of service as he moves on and leaves the Department. He has done an outstanding job, and the country is grateful for his service.
The UK’s terrible air pollution is getting worse and does not respect local authority boundaries. When can we expect an air quality plan that makes a real difference, or will the Secretary of State continue to shunt responsibility to councils that have neither the resources nor the powers to address this nationwide challenge?
Air quality is actually improving. I recognise the challenges on roadside NOx, but hopefully the hon. Lady is aware of the £90,000 grant given directly to Ealing Council to help to address particulates. We are preparing a wider clean air strategy, with a consultation next year.
My hon. Friend has been a clear and consistent advocate for higher standards of animal welfare, both before and since she entered this House. It is absolutely the case that we are committed to ensuring not just that we recognise the principle of animal sentience, but that we provide appropriate and stronger protection in UK law. We will shortly be bringing forward proposals on the appropriate legislative vehicle for that protection.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his work in this area. He has also been a great champion of the Woodland Trust’s work. I met the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government yesterday to discuss precisely this issue, and I hope that we can bring forward proposals when the 25-year environment plan is published next year.
Thanks to my hon. Friend’s advocacy, I have had the opportunity to visit one of the distilleries in his constituency. I hope to be able to visit many more over the next few weeks, months and years. He is a brilliant advocate for the interests of the Scotch whisky industry. There are huge opportunities as we leave the European Union. There has been a particularly dramatic increase in exports of single malts since 2000 because of the effective and principled advocacy of people like him. Whether it is Glenlivet or Aberlour, they roll around the tongue perfectly, and they both have no better advocate than my hon. Friend.
We have been considering this carefully. I hope that we will be able to make an announcement on the publication of our abstraction plan within the next month. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will enjoy reading it, and I am happy to discuss it with him later.
Cornish food and drink is some of the best in the world, whether it is our amazing dairy products, such as Rodda’s cream, which is made in the constituency of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, or Tribute beer, which is brewed by St Austell. What conversations is the Secretary of State having with the Secretary of State for International Trade about the possible new markets for Cornish food and drink once we leave the EU?
I thank my hon. Friend for mentioning Rodda’s, which is obviously a world-leading food company. It has been very successful in exporting its cream to the far east and other markets. We are in regular discussions with the Department for International Trade and, as I said earlier, there are export opportunities for our great food producers.
I am tempted to quote from the American poet, whose name I temporarily forget, who made the point that “I contain multitudes”. The truth is that we want to go further than existing EU law to protect animal welfare. A better legislative vehicle is available, and we will make an announcement about that next week.
Cats Protection has highlighted the fact that when the UK signed up to the EU pet travel scheme, we had to abandon the previous requirements that cats coming into the UK needed compulsory treatment against tapeworm and ticks. When we leave the EU, may we reinstate these regulations?
The hon. Lady makes a good point. Only last week we announced that we would be simplifying countryside stewardship and having four principal routes that farmers can take. I look forward to working with her to ensure that the farmers she represents have access to this money, which will ensure that her beautiful constituency receives the cash it needs for further environmental enhancement.
There was huge applause for the Government’s decision to ban the UK ivory trade, but there is now growing evidence of an increase in the trade in hippo ivory. With only 100,000 or so African hippos left, the slightest increase in demand could spell disaster for that species. May I urge Ministers to extend the proposed ban to include other ivory-bearing species such as hippo, narwhal, walrus and the like?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The scope of our proposed legislation is so far restricted to African and Asian elephants, but the consultation is still open, so I will take what he says as a submission. We are very keen to see what we can do to protect all endangered species and their habitats, and this may be one way of achieving that.
When we leave the EU, the UK will be able to set its own farm support policy. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of whether, if the EU continues farm support, the UK will have to do so, because otherwise British farming could be severely disadvantaged?
My hon. Friend is one of the most formidable and knowledgeable experts on the agri-food business in this House, and he is absolutely right to say that we need to keep pace with what is happening in other markets to ensure that we support farmers to continue the work that they do. It is thanks to his advocacy that National Farmers Union of Scotland representatives will be coming into DEFRA next Thursday, when I look forward to discussing how we can ensure that they and their colleagues get the support they deserve in the future.