Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 654: debated on Thursday 21 February 2019

It was a pleasure to be able to speak to the National Farmers Union conference in Birmingham earlier this week. Of course, farmers expressed concern about failures to ensure that environmental and countryside stewardship payments kept pace with reforms in other areas. I was able to assure them that we would guarantee bridging payments to ensure that those who have worked hard to improve our environment receive the support from the state that they deserve.

I congratulate the Department on the future farming plans it has announced today, but does the Secretary of State agree that the Scottish Government’s disengagement with the Agriculture Bill puts at risk payments to Scottish farmers post 2020 and that it undermines the UK internal market if the Scottish Government do not adopt UK frameworks?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. There is a stark contrast with the progressive approach being taken by the Labour Administration in Wales, who have engaged with the Bill and ensured that we legislate to give Welsh farmers confidence and certainty for the future. The Scottish Government, not for the first time, have decided to put separatist ideology ahead of the interests of Scotland’s farmers and food producers. Having visited Scotland twice in the past week, I have to say that Scotland’s farmers and food producers are scunnered with the Scottish Government’s attitude to their future.

T3. Foxhunting was banned in 2004, yet the practice remains widespread. Is it not time that the Government beefed up the Hunting Act 2004 and introduced prison sentences to deter people from taking part in and organising these barbaric sports? (909383)

There is a clear legislative framework following on from the ban introduced by the Labour Government, and this Government have no intention of changing that ban.

T2. Leaving the EU gives us the opportunity to enhance animal welfare standards, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has consistently said that, once we have left, we will control the export of live animals. Will the Minister confirm that all options are still on the table and that a ban remains a possibility? (909380)

It has been made clear, and it was a manifesto commitment, that once we leave the European Union, we will take early steps to control the export of live farm animals. We are considering all options in the context of our exit from the EU and as part of our broader commitment to further strengthen animal welfare standards.

T5. What steps have the Government taken to ensure that once we leave the EU pet travel scheme, the UK becomes a listed country so that people such as guide dog owners are not disadvantaged? (909385)

I assure the hon. Lady that we are working very closely with the EU and making the necessary applications. We want to ensure that the arrangements—particularly on health—fit everyone, but with guide dog owners in particular, we are working to see what more we can do to help.

T4. What is the Department doing to ensure future prosperity and high quality of life for Cumbrian upland and lowland farmers? (909384)

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. It is not only the vital food produced by farmers in lowland and upland parts of Cumbria but their work to ensure that one of the most beautiful parts of our country remains beautiful that deserves support. The provisions in our Agriculture Bill will ensure not only that food production is given the prominence it deserves but that environmental and other services that farmers are responsible for providing are properly rewarded.

T6. Scores of large, polluting cruise liners moor at Greenwich pier each year. What are Ministers prepared to do to support better efforts to regulate shipping emissions on the River Thames? (909386)

This is an historic issue. As the hon. Gentleman will know, it was his own local council that granted permission for the installation. Through the clean air strategy, we have specifically identified the challenges relating to shipping, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will want to continue to work with the Government to bring about improvements that would be suitable for his constituents.

The late Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin said that his countrymen were a sentimental people,

“easily moved by stories of cruelty”.

In that spirit, will the Secretary of State clamp down on puppy smuggling, by which means sinister foreign traders bring small dogs into this country, causing disease, distress and death?

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. He is absolutely right. From the time of Earl Baldwin to this day, people have looked to the Conservative party to safeguard the welfare of the nation and to stamp out cruelty. Puppy smuggling is one of the vilest types of crime against animals, which is why we have introduced provisions to ensure that it is only from appropriately licensed breeders that individuals can find the companion animals that give us all such joy in our lives.

Last week, as we have heard, thousands of young people, including hundreds in Cambridge, showed that they recognise that we are facing a real climate emergency. Would the Secretary of State like to meet some of them so that they can impress that sense of urgency on him? He might even meet some Sheermanites.

I should be more than happy to do so. This issue is very close to home for me as well. I appreciate that last Friday was an important day for many young people and an opportunity for them to say to my generation that more must be done.

Mr Les Stretton from Stapenhill in my constituency is a regular correspondent, but he is one of many constituents who have written to me expressing concern about the possible implications of a new trade deal with other countries as we leave the European Union, including a possible impact on the quality and standards of food imported into the country. We will debate trade deals later today, but will the Secretary of State confirm that on his watch there will be no diminution—no reduction—of standards in relation to food quality and animal welfare?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is a wish expressed across the House—and, indeed, given effect in one or two of the proposed amendments to the Agriculture Bill—that we do everything we can to ensure that the high-quality environmental and animal welfare standards that characterise British food production will be protected in the future, and that is absolutely the Government’s determined intention.

The Secretary of State told me a few weeks ago that he believed that other European countries would be looking enviously at the United Kingdom’s withdrawal agreement and its attempts to leave the European Union. Is that still his position?

Will the Secretary of State join me in thanking the thousands of young people who came out last week to demonstrate their concern about the environment and climate change for their enthusiasm? While there is much more to do, does he agree that the Government are already acting on many of their concerns?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Of course it is important that young people’s voices are heard, and the urgency with which they make the case for change is compelling and attractive. However, it is also true that the Government have taken steps—indeed, steps have been taken by successive Governments, and I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) in this regard—to ensure that we reduce emissions and play our part in the fight against climate change.

Minette Batters, the highly respected president of the National Farmers Union, said last week that the impact of a no-deal Brexit would be “absolutely savage”. She added that:

“I cannot imagine how bad it would look…we’d see a long-term future of just bringing cheaper imports in”.

It is clear from her comments that she knows her farmers. I know my farmers, and I know that they are worried. Will the Secretary of State guarantee that the Government will take no deal off the table?

I congratulate the hon. Lady on her question. She is absolutely right: Minette Batters is an outstanding public servant as leader of the NFU. I also know from the hon. Lady’s consistent work in the House since her election that she is one of the strongest and most diligent advocates for rural Britain, and I entirely understand her concern. Indeed, when I had the chance to speak at the NFU conference earlier this week, I made the case that in the event of no deal, our food producers would face significant tariff and other barriers. That is why it is so important for everyone in the House, when the opportunity comes, to support the Prime Minister in ensuring that we get a deal that safeguards Britain’s interests and allows us to leave the European Union in an effective fashion.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Further to the Secretary of State’s previous answer, on Monday he sought to reassure sheep farmers by saying that in the event of no deal he would be able to make payments to them, but because he has sat on the Agriculture Bill for 10 weeks surely he will not have the statutory powers to do that?

We absolutely do have the powers to do that and we will not hesitate to intervene if necessary. The hon. Lady, who represents the farmers in her constituency very effectively, knows that all of us recognise that a no-deal outcome is not in the best interests of British farming, so I hope she will join me in supporting the Prime Minister as she negotiates hard in Brussels and brings a deal back to this House, which I know the hon. Lady in her heart will believe is the right thing to do.