Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 647: debated on Thursday 18 October 2018

You and I, Mr Speaker, are very keen to ensure that there is appropriate protection for endangered species. We all know that charismatic megafauna and apex predators—the big beasts that attract public attention, and those at the top of the food chain—are increasingly under threat. That was why, at last week’s illegal wildlife trade conference, a London declaration commanded the support of more than 50 nations, all pledged to support our world-leading ivory ban and the other measures that we take to ensure that the species that we value are protected as part of an ecosystem that we can all cherish.

How does the Government’s strong support for fracking, against the wishes of communities who are worried about their local environment, fit in with the Secretary of State’s vision of a green Brexit?

It fits in perfectly. One thing we all know is that we will need a mix of energy sources in the future. Thanks to the leadership of this Government—I must single out for praise my right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth—we have seen a dramatic reduction in carbon dioxide emissions alongside economic growth, but hydrocarbons are a critical part of our future energy mix, and hydraulic fracturing will be an important part of that. We need only look at countries such as Germany that have, as a direct result of pursuing the wrong policies, increased greenhouse gas emissions and also not played their part in both dealing with climate change and ensuring that we have the required electricity for ultra low emission vehicles and everything else that will be part of a green future. It is absolutely critical that we are hard-headed and realistic; Conservative Members are, unlike sadly, on this one occasion, the Opposition.

We are having an oratorical feast today. It is just a terrible shame that the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) is not here, because I feel sure that he would have added to the flow of oratory.

T2. I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement on the convergence funding review, which hopefully will lead to fair funding for Scottish farmers, and also his further announcement about ring-fencing future agricultural funding so that my farmers are protected and not lumped together in other Government funding. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Scottish National party to work with this Government to make sure that Scotland is included in the Agriculture Bill so that we get a fair deal for my farmers and our constituencies? (907151)

I thank my hon. Friend and other Scottish Conservative Members who pressed for this review and collaborated to make sure its terms of reference were right. As a result, they have guaranteed a brighter future for Scottish farmers with a level of funding in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that is higher than that in England absolutely guaranteed in the future. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the Scottish Government and their Minister, Fergus Ewing, who is a great man in many ways, have, sadly, missed the opportunity to put forward an amendment to our Agriculture Bill in order to ensure that Scottish farmers have certainty in the future. Welsh Labour has collaborated and its statesmanship is to be commended; what a pity that once again the Scottish Government are letting down rural Scotland.

When did the Minister receive the Godfray review on the Government’s bovine TB strategy? When will he publish it, and will he commit to publishing it in full?

My hon. Friend is a great champion of the environment, especially in Cheltenham. He will be conscious that this is not a straightforward scheme to introduce. I recognise that many people will have seen such a scheme in other countries around the world, and while the front end is very simple, the back end is more challenging. We want a system that works across the four nations of the United Kingdom, and we are continuing to work on that.

T3. Once we leave the EU, what steps do the Government plan on taking to tighten the rules surrounding the pet travel scheme in line with the Dogs Trust recommendations in its latest report, “Puppy Smuggling—when will this cruel trade end?”? (907152)

I received a copy of that report just this week. The Dogs Trust does fantastic work. We have worked with it already on dealing with some of the problems of puppy farming, and once we leave the EU—when I hope we will be a listed country for pet travel—we can also review other steps that we might take.

The Secretary of State will remember meeting me recently to discuss the issue of pollution in the River Windrush, which is a matter of great concern to the people of West Oxfordshire, as shown by the strong attendance at West Oxfordshire District Council’s recent water day. I applaud my right hon. Friend’s speech in March in which he took the water companies to task for their performance, but will he elaborate on what steps he is taking to ensure that they improve their performance across all areas?

I was grateful to my hon. Friend for raising his constituents’ concerns about the condition of the River Windrush, and he is absolutely right to do so. We have subsequently got a commitment through Ofwat, the regulator, for all water companies to spend more on making sure that the environment that they safeguard is protected.

T4. Does the Secretary of State agree with those experts who argue that the UK has sufficient incineration capacity and that to increase it further could imperil recycling rates? (907154)

I commend the Government on banning microbeads, but may I urge them to now turn their attention to microfibres, Mr Speaker? I do not know whether Mrs Speaker does the washing, but every time we do a wash, 700,000 microfibres could go down the drain. I am joining the Women’s Institute to host an event on this in Parliament on 30 October; will the Minister join us?

I always feel better informed, and almost improved as a human being, when I hear the hon. Lady offer her disquisitions on these important matters.

I should like to thank my hon. Friend, who was an excellent Parliamentary Private Secretary in our Department. She is now able to ask questions in the Chamber again. I have already met the WI to talk about this matter, and there are certain things that people can do, such as using fabric conditioner to reduce the amount of microfibres that get released from synthetic clothing. She will be aware that we are considering a number of issues, and that is why we have had a recent call for evidence on the impact of tyres and brakes, which are also a notable source of microfibres in our marine systems.

T6. Regardless of our differences about our future relationship with the European Union, the Secretary of State and I will agree that a thriving food and drink sector is an endpoint that we want to get to at the end of whatever the negotiations will bring. Does he think that an extension to the transition period would be helpful in achieving that goal? (907156)

I know that they talk of little else in Crail, Anstruther and Leuchars. The one thing I believe in is that it is vital that we leave the European Union at the earliest possible point so that we can ensure that we are outside the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy, and that we take back control to ensure that Scotland’s food and drink manufacturers, along with food and drink manufacturers across the United Kingdom, can enjoy the benefits of being global Britain.

It is very good to see the hon. Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood). I understand why he was delayed, but it is good to see him here in the Chamber.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. We know that 82% of the beer that is drunk in our pubs is brewed in the UK. Jodie Kidd and other publicans will be presenting a 105,000-signature petition to Downing Street today to back the Long Live the Local campaign on beer duty. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Chancellor is fully aware of the contribution that our beer and pub sectors make to British farming, as well as to the wider economy and society?

My hon. Friend does brilliant work as the chairman of the all-party beer group, and he is absolutely right to say that we must look at beer duty. In particular, a case has been forcefully made for looking at duty relief for small brewers in order to maximise growth in that sector, so that we can all enjoy great British beer.

The European Food Safety Authority currently sets standards and issues detailed guidance on the safety and composition of infant formula. Can the Minister tell me what is going to happen once we leave the EU?

Since Tuesday morning, a burst pipe has been spewing raw sewage into the sea near the UK’s premier surfing beach, Fistral, in Newquay. Despite taking some initial action, South West Water now says that it will take several days to resolve the issue. Does the Secretary of State share my concern that this is going on for so long, and what action can we take to hold water companies to account to prevent such things from happening?

I absolutely am concerned, and I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), will be talking to South West Water later today to see what can be done.

Will the independent review into the allocation of domestic farm support, which was announced this week by the Government, also consider processes by which future financial frameworks will be agreed? To that end, would the formation of a dedicated intergovernmental body be something that the Government could explore?

The hon. Gentleman has made this point before, and it is a very fair one. I know that the Welsh Government have an opportunity to nominate a member of the panel, and I hope that that panel member will have an opportunity to talk to the hon. Gentleman about that matter.

I welcome the Minister’s earlier comments about seasonal agricultural workers, but can he tell the House what discussions he has had with the Home Secretary on the future labour requirements of the seafood processing sector, and the food processing sector in general, particularly in areas of low unemployment such as the north-east of Scotland?

I am aware that the catching sector in Scotland has some particular issues around the maritime exemption and Filipino crews. That is something that colleagues in the Home Office are looking at. When it comes to the needs of the food industry more broadly, the report by the Migration Advisory Committee pointed out that existing EU citizens will be able to stay, and also that tier 5 youth mobility can be used in this case.

On 20 March, at the Dispatch Box, the Secretary of State told us that

“in December 2020 we will be negotiating fishing opportunities as a third country and independent coastal state”.—[Official Report, 20 March 2018; Vol. 638, c. 163.]

Given this morning’s comments by the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Cabinet Office about extending the transitional period, how confident is the Secretary of State now that he will be able to meet that undertaking?

I was encouraged by my right hon. Friend’s reference to the small brewer relief scheme. Does he agree that it is one of the factors behind the amazing growth and success of the UK’s craft brewing sector, which includes such brilliant breweries as the Bluestone Brewing Company in my constituency?

I know that brewery, not from having visited it, but from having sampled its products. It does amazing work, and my right hon. Friend is right to champion craft beer. Mr Speaker, I hope that you and I will have the opportunity to share some very soon.

Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the schoolchildren and adult volunteers who spent two days planting a new orchard at the Charterhouse, one of Coventry’s medieval buildings, as part of a larger restoration and renewal scheme? Does he agree that the orchard is a fantastic community initiative and, as part of the wider project, a great educational resource for my city?

If I may say so, it is an exemplary use of parliamentary time to praise young people for doing the right thing, and I salute the hon. Lady for reminding us of what young people can do to inspire us about the future of nature.

The Secretary of State’s previous answer leads nicely into my question because he recently visited my constituency and met young Alfie Royston, who is doing so much to encourage other young people in the area to deal with the menace of plastic. Does he agree that we need to do more to harness the energy and enthusiasm of our young people in order to combat the problem?

Young Alfie is an inspirational leader and voice for environmental improvement. His school, Tollbar Academy, is one of the best performing in the country. Both that school and that young man are lucky to have in my hon. Friend an effective champion and a brilliant constituency Member.

Every community has the right to a decent, clean and safe environment. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the My Coldhurst Group and the Ghazali Trust on cleaning up their areas to make them safe for young people to play in?

Absolutely. We all have a part to play, and I congratulate the hon. Gentleman. He had a distinguished track record in local government before coming to this place, and his leadership in this area is exemplary.