I was delighted to be able to be present at the Countryside Alliance’s “Rural Oscars” awards in the Cholmondeley Room of the House of Lords yesterday. A number of the local businesses that do so much to help local food economies and to sustain and champion local food production were celebrated for their outstanding work, and I was pleased that businesses from across England and Wales were celebrated in that way.
My constituency has a long coastline and, unfortunately, a large amount of plastic pollution, like the rest of our island nation. The coastal communities of Gower are working hard to gain plastic-free status, and thanks to an active community councillor, Susan Rodaway, beach cleans are taking place across the constituency. Will the Government heed the call of the Environmental Audit Committee and introduce a coastal clean-up fund to support the removal of plastic waste from our beaches and seas?
I know the hon. Lady’s constituency, and I know what a beautiful coastline it has. The beach at Rhossili bay in particular is one of the most iconic landscapes in the United Kingdom, and we need to do absolutely everything we can to free those landscapes and our marine environment from litter. I will look at her request. I understand that funding for these matters is devolved, but of course all the nations of the United Kingdom can work together to keep our seas and our beaches cleaner.
We strongly disagree with the position set out in that European Parliament report, and I can confirm that we will become an independent coastal state at the end of the transition period.
The Foreign Secretary and I—[Interruption.] —will be holding a conference on the illegal wildlife trade in the autumn. It will be our aim to ensure that many of the creatures that my hon. Friend mentioned—charismatic megafauna or, as you and I would think of them, Mr Speaker, attractive big beasts—are preserved for the future.
Not only do we hope to introduce legislation to improve the courts’ powers and access to additional sentencing sanctions for those who are responsible for acts of horrific animal cruelty, but we also want, as was confirmed by the Lords Minister in the Department for Exiting the European Union last night, to introduce legislation to ensure that the principle of animal sentience is recognised and, indeed, enhanced after we leave the EU.
T.S. Eliot said:
“When a Cat adopts you,”
you just have
“to put up with it and wait until the wind changes.”
A cruel wind may be blowing for the thousands of cat owners who put protective fencing in place to stop their much-loved pets joining the hundreds of thousands that are killed by cars on our roads each year. Will the Secretary of State, a noted cat owner, stand alongside those friends of felines, or will he send T. S. Eliot spinning in his grave and many cats to theirs, too?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising both cat welfare and invoking the spirit of T. S. Eliot. At the beginning of “The Waste Land”, T. S. Eliot wrote:
“April is the cruellest month”.
But this April will not be a month in which cruelty towards any living thing will be tolerated. We want to introduce legislation to ensure that the use of shock collars as a means of restraining animals in a way that causes them pain is adequately dealt with.
My right hon. Friend raises another important point in that containment fences can play a valuable role in ensuring that individual animals, dogs and cats, can roam free in the domestic environment in which they are loved and cared for. Several submissions have been made to our consultation on the matter. I know that my right hon. Friend cares deeply about the welfare of domestic pets and other animals, and he and others have made representations that we are reflecting on carefully.
Teesdale farmers tell me payments that should have been made under the higher level stewardship scheme are late. They are upland farmers on the lowest incomes. Will Ministers stop blaming Europe and sort out their own administration?
We have made a number of changes and are working very hard to deal with the current problems with countryside stewardship, and progress has been made. I would simply say that we are not blaming the European Union. It is true that it has changed the rules so that all agreements must be processed simultaneously, whereas they used to be processed across the year, which has caused major administrative problems both for the Government and for farmers.
Only 49% of the food consumed in the UK is produced in the UK, while our annual trade deficit on food and drink is now £23 billion a year and rising. What is the Secretary of State doing to address these challenges to our national security and economic sustainability?
The UK’s current food production-to-supply ratio is actually 76% for indigenous-type foods and 60% for all foods. That is not low by historical standards and has been relatively stable in recent years. However, we want to have a vibrant, successful, profitable food and farming industry, and our recent consultation sets out some thoughts to deliver that.
Following local concerns about an animal rescue centre in my constituency of Leigh, I was shocked to learn that in England there are currently no regulations or licensing requirements for pet rescue centres. Will the Government commit to introducing proposals to protect the welfare of animals in rescue centres?
We recently introduced new regulations and licensing requirements covering commercial boarding establishments, but there are no current plans to regulate rescue homes. We do not want to create unnecessary burdens on the charitable sector. However, many such establishments are members of the Association of Dogs and Cats Homes, members of which must already meet minimum standards.
I think we can all agree that we have great British food and great British farming, but we also have a processing industry that is 13% of our manufacturing sector. Why does the Command Paper not talk more about food, food security and food production, which are essential not only for our environment but for our food security in this country?
The Chairman of the Select Committee and I share a commitment to making sure that the food and drink sector can become an even more important part of our economy in the future. As well as the consultation on the future of food, farming and the environment, which the “Health and Harmony” Command Paper initiated, there is ongoing work to develop a sector deal as part of the broader industrial strategy, on which the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy leads.
Last week, the Secretary of State told my Committee that the agriculture Bill is no longer urgent as we have agreed a transition period with the EU. Farmers are the bedrock of Britain’s food industry, but if the European Communities Act 1972 is repealed in March 2019, what is the legal basis on which he will continue to make farm payments? Will it be through extending article 50 or through the transition Bill, taking us straight back into the EU for the transition period?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. We are consulting at the moment on how we can improve food labelling to ensure that we can provide consumers with greater choice, but it is also important to bear in mind that freedom of religious worship and practice is a core virtue of the United Kingdom. Although I believe very strongly in improving animal welfare standards, I also believe that we should show appropriate respect towards those individuals, from whatever faith background, who want to ensure that the meat they eat is prepared in accordance with their religious traditions.
The recent floods in York brought back into sharp focus the serious gaps that still exist in resilience planning and in the insurance market. What is the Secretary of State doing to advance that, and will he meet me to talk about these serious issues?
I would be more than delighted to meet the hon. Lady. She will be aware of the Government’s ongoing investment to improve defences, but I am more than happy to discuss further resilience measures that home owners and business owners can take.
Last weekend more than 35,000 volunteers collected 65 tonnes of plastic waste from 571 beaches across the United Kingdom, organised by Surfers Against Sewage. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating and thanking all those volunteers, and does he agree that we now have a grassroots unstoppable people’s movement determined to rid our coast of plastic waste?
Surfers Against Sewage has done an amazing job in creating wider awareness of what we all need to do together to cleanse our oceans and seas of litter. The Plastic Free Parliament campaign, and its encouragement of all Members of the House to move away from plastic and embrace appropriate alternatives is a model of social action, and one that I know you are anxious to embrace as well, Mr Speaker.