Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Secretary of State was asked—
The Government recently launched their resources and waste strategy, which outlines a new approach to addressing food waste. Actions include consulting on introducing regulations to make transparent reporting mandatory for businesses of an appropriate size, and the appointment of Mr Ben Elliot as the food surplus and waste champion to support our strategy.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be aware that some confusion is caused by disingenuous labelling with “use by” and “best before”, including in one example, on a packet of salt. What progress are the Government making in sorting out this nonsense?
My hon. Friend is right to point out that there can be confusion as a result of labelling. There has been leadership from the very top of the Government in pointing out that, when it comes to salt or jam, it is perfectly possible to consume healthy and nutritious food uninhibited by some of the nannying regulations and pointless bureaucracy of the past, and to eliminate waste.
What discussions have the Secretary of State or his officials had with local authorities, for instance, about how they can help with this strategy?
We have had extensive discussions with the Local Government Association and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. We want to move towards mandatory food waste collection across all local authorities, and we intend to ensure that resources are available to help them to do just that.
Anaerobic digestion of food waste used to be prohibitively expensive for local authorities, but now there has been a massive drop in the cost so savings are available for local authorities and businesses if they opt for this kind of food waste disposal. What measures can the Government take to promote this as a really good green method of reducing food waste?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Anaerobic digestion can play an important part in dealing with food waste and making sure that we have a truly circular economy. We want to work both with local authorities and with farmers and land managers to make sure that, where appropriate, anaerobic digestion can be expanded.
The Secretary of State will accept that food produced here that cannot go to market in the EU and cannot be sold here profitably will increase food waste. Will he reverse the change in the guidance on protected geographical indications that he issued last week and provide Scotland’s high-quality food and drink exporting industry with all the support that it needs to maintain protections across the EU rather than leaving producers to do it themselves all over again?
All the geographical indications that Scotland’s outstanding food producers and other producers enjoy will be protected in the future. The real danger to Scotland’s food producers is a Scottish Government who are not prepared, I am afraid, to use the Agriculture Bill that is currently before the House to provide our outstanding food producers with the legislative framework that they need. In that respect, I am afraid that the Scottish Government are being negligent, and not for the first time.
The Labour Administration in Wales have instituted household food waste collections across the nation. The anaerobic digestion industry in Wales is flourishing because it guarantees regular feedstock, and the amount of food wasted in the first place in Welsh households has reduced because people are thinking about what they do with their food. Meanwhile, in England, we get yet another consultation to add to the impressive mountain of strategies and consultations produced by the Department. Will the consultation lead to comprehensive doorstep food waste collections in England, will the Secretary of State’s Department seek the funding needed to enable local authorities to do the collections, and why will it take England four more years to do something that is already being done in Wales?
Yes, yes, and I yield to no one in my admiration for Wales.
A lot of food is destroyed before it even lands on the supermarket shelves. Carrots are not straight enough, tomatoes are not round enough. What is my right hon. Friend doing to promote wonky veg, which is just as beautiful and nutritious on the inside, even if it is not visually appealing?
Since my hon. Friend and I were at college together, both of us have been champions of wonky veg, and indeed other unconventional foodstuffs, and he is absolutely right: when it comes to food, the search for symmetry and for perfection is vain and, if the House will excuse the pun, fruitless. The true joy of food comes in appreciating the diversity of British food producers and the way in which wonky veg—or even, sometimes, unconventional cuts of meat—can be a source of great nutrition. In that respect, Mr Speaker, may I say that even though it is awful, sometimes it is a good thing to indulge in tripe?
Well, I must say I rather enjoyed that. I must say to the House that I did exhort the right hon. Gentleman to inject into his answers some philosophy, and I think he has already done that.
Puppies: Welfare Standards
The ban on third-party sales of puppies and kittens is an important step forward in improving welfare standards for puppies in England. When introduced, the ban will address welfare concerns associated with the sale of puppies by dealers and pet shops. It will also crack down on unscrupulous breeders who operate with little regard for animal welfare.
Will the Minister join me in thanking the Dogs Trust for all the work it is doing on the issue of puppy smuggling, and will the Government do all they can to stamp out this despicable trade, including reviewing border enforcement and the pet travel scheme?
I welcome the work of the Dogs Trust to highlight the abhorrent issue of puppy smuggling, and I thank it for its support for a ban on third-party sales. The Department is working in close collaboration with the Dogs Trust to tackle puppy smuggling. Our comprehensive approach to this issue encompasses international engagement, enforcement, public communications and tighter regulation. Looking to the future, leaving the EU will open up new approaches to managing our pet travel arrangements.
We all know the welfare of puppies is vital, but will the Minister enlighten us on what his Department is planning to do when it comes to stricter penalties for those who abuse puppies?
There are strict penalties available already, but we will be strengthening sentences for real attempts at animal cruelty from six months to five years. We are just waiting for the right time and legislative vehicle to do that. I know that in Northern Ireland there are already strong standards in place.
Serious and Organised Waste Crime
Last year, we commissioned a review of serious and organised crime in the waste sector. Recommendations from the review have informed our strategic approach to tackling waste crime. We have plans to prevent, detect and deter all forms of waste crime, including the creation of a joint unit for waste crime and a dedicated disruption team to deal with the threat of serious and organised criminal gangs.
Landowners, and particularly farmers, across Burton and Uttoxeter have been having to deal with the scourge of industrial fly-tipping. One farmer who I met in Uttoxeter was confronted overnight with a tsunami-like deposit of waste that was chest-height and went on for hundreds of metres. It was he who had then to deal with the consequences—not just cleaning it up, but paying for that. What are we going to do to support farmers, make sure that the perpetrators get caught and help to keep our countryside clean?
My hon. Friend raises an important point and is an indefatigable campaigner for everyone in his constituency. He is quite right not only that fly-tipping is a horrific crime that leads to environmental damage, but that it is doubly unfair for farmers and landowners who have to bear the costs of clearing the waste. That is why we have talked to magistrates and others to ensure that they appreciate that they have unlimited powers to fine those responsible for these crimes.
I thank the Secretary of State for that response, but will he further outline whether he intends to liaise with the Ministry of Justice to increase the judicial ability in these cases to make examples of those who repeatedly flout the rules, on the basis that the fine for being caught just once is less than the cost of disposing of ten times as much waste? In other words, will he make the fine fit the crime?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the “polluter pays” principle is central to good environmental management, and we must ensure that every arm of the justice system has the tools required to make sure that those who pollute pay a heavy price for their crime.
The cost of skip hire in Cornwall is disproportionately higher than in many other places around the country. The reason for that is that we do not have an aggregates recycling plant. Will the Department look at that and see whether there is anything we can do in Cornwall to reduce the burden on builders?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I will liaise with him, and of course Cornwall Council, to see what we can do to improve the situation.
Did the Secretary of State see the wonderful young people campaigning for the environment and against climate change last Friday? Some of them are in the Gallery today. Can we not harness the enthusiasm of those young people in tackling waste, waste crime and litter? They are out there plogging—clearing the planet up—so will he put his energy, action and leadership behind those young people?
I should say to the Secretary of State that I think I am right in saying that a couple of little Sheermanites are observing our proceedings today.
I was going to say that we have recently seen a number of new groups emerging in this Chamber. May I say that I welcome the growing number of Sheermanites in the Chamber? I am tempted to join them myself.
The serious point that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) made is absolutely correct. The idealism shown by our young people towards the environment is inspirational. In particular, we hope that through the Year of Green Action we can support youth and community groups across the country in taking practical steps to improve the environment around us and to raise awareness of the threat of climate change.
Cats: Welfare Standards
Cats are cherished members of our families, and it is important that we do all we can to protect their health and welfare. That is why the Government recently updated the welfare code for cats, which highlights the benefits of microchipping, neutering and other aspects of responsible cat ownership. It is also why we are banning third-party sales of kittens in England, which will prevent dealers and pet shops from selling young cats.
In the interests of equality between cats and dogs, will the Minister look at introducing mandatory microchipping for cats, as is currently the case for dogs? Cats Protection says that 62% of cats in shelters are not microchipped, and it would make returning wandering cats to their owners much easier.
I know my hon. Friend is a strong campaigner on this issue. The Government strongly recommend that cat owners get their cat microchipped and keep their records up to date. I am pleased that the proportion of cats that are microchipped has grown in recent years. Lost and stray cats do not pose the same public safety risks as dogs. As a result, our focus should be on publicising the benefits of microchipping rather than making it compulsory at this particular time.
Leaving the EU: Fisheries
The Government’s vision for the future fisheries policy as we leave the European Union and once again become an independent coastal state was set out in our July 2018 fisheries White Paper, “Sustainable fisheries for future generations”.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that reply. Brexit provides a great opportunity to revitalise the Lowestoft fishing industry, but to do so local fishermen must be able to catch enough fish to earn a fair living for themselves and to supply local merchants and processors. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Fisheries Bill will deliver the root-and-branch reform that is required to ensure the fair distribution of fishing opportunities?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. One of the benefits of leaving the common fisheries policy is that we can reallocate quota in such a way as to ensure that the inshore fleet and ports such as Lowestoft get a fairer share of the natural resources in our waters. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has pointed out, as well as supporting the inshore fleet, we can also end practices such as pulse fishing, which are environmentally damaging and lead to those who operate out of ports such as Lowestoft being distressed about the way in which other countries have been fishing in our waters.
Over the past 40 years, shellfish producers in my constituency have perfected the art of getting fish out of the sea and on to tables in Europe within a matter of hours, so they are dismayed that the Eyemouth fishing and supplies company D. R. Collin & Son has been refused every single ECMT haulage permit it has applied for. Will the Secretary of State explain why fewer than 1,000 of the 11,000 permits that have been applied for have so far been given out?
I will look at the issue. It is important that we make sure that high-quality fresh produce of the kind that the hon. Gentleman’s constituents are responsible for landing on our shores reaches appropriate markets. The one thing I would say is that the significant opportunities available to fishers in Scotland would be undermined by the Scottish Government’s policy of staying in the European Union and not leaving the common fisheries policy.
The Secretary of State has repeatedly given an assurance that there will be no further concessions in the EU negotiations on fishing, but he will be aware that the industry still has some reservations. May I invite him yet again to reassure it that there will be no further concessions and that the Government will hold firm to their present position?
Absolutely. We are going to become an independent coastal state, and as such we will decide who fishes in our waters. The threat to that position comes from Opposition Members who want to thwart our departure from the European Union, and who want us to stay in the common fisheries policy.
Seafood processors in Banff and Buchan have raised concerns about the possibility of them requiring ECMT permits if we leave the EU without a deal. What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Department for Transport to ensure that hauliers in the seafood sector can continue to transport to the EU27, regardless of the outcome of negotiations?
We have been talking to the Department for Transport and the European Commission to ensure that in the event of no deal we maintain access to European markets that is as frictionless as possible. As I know my hon. Friend and others are aware, it would be infinitely preferable to secure a deal, and I hope that Members across the House—including Opposition Members—will put the interests of their constituents ahead of ideology, and back the deal in the Prime Minister’s name.
Air Pollution: Deprived Areas
Last month we published the clean air strategy, which sets out concerted action to reduce emissions from a range of sources and to improve public health. The nitrogen dioxide plan is supported by a £3.5 billion investment in improving air quality and cleaner transport. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that air quality is a devolved issue, and the Welsh Government published their revised plan in November 2018.
The Minister knows that we have been successfully taken to court by the EU on four occasions for breaching air quality standards. Is she aware that teenagers are four times as likely to develop depression and other mental health conditions in highly polluted areas, which tend to be deprived, and that that risk is higher than that of physical abuse in bringing about mental health disorders? Will she guarantee that after Brexit we will maintain EU air quality standards, and enforce them as they change and improve so that we do not become the coughing man of Europe?
It is incorrect to say that the EU has taken the Government to court four times. We are in the middle of infraction proceedings, and we will be going on with that. Nevertheless, I am aware of the correlation put forward by scientists between air quality and depression, and that is something we need to tackle. The House will be aware that we have set in statute air quality standards until 2030, and we will continue to drive down emissions and pollution in our air. I am sure the Welsh Government will want to do the same.
The Minister will remember from the joint Select Committee report on air pollution, “Improving air quality”, that the Committees were dissatisfied with our knowledge about air pollution because direct measurements were not being made. What action is the Minister taking to ensure more accurate knowledge and measurements of existing pollution, rather than relying on models?
Local authorities undertake air quality monitoring, but not necessarily to the same level as is required for standards that have been set and agreed across the European Union. We will continue to increase the monitoring network across the country. Local authorities already have powers to tackle such issues, and we are encouraging them to do so.
We have undertaken activities to improve biodiversity through nature conservation sites, where we are looking to restore and create wildlife-rich habitats and support species recovery. Internationally, we have various programmes to tackle species decline in our overseas territories, particularly supported by the Darwin Initiative, and last year we introduced what is effectively one of the toughest bans in the world on the sale of ivory, which we believe will do a lot to preserve species such as elephants and rhinoceroses.
I thank the Minister for that answer, and I am sure she is as concerned as I am about the recent report on the decline in insect species. What action is being taken to address the increasing fragmentation of our landscape, which means that pollinator species are left isolated and unable to move between areas?
I think it fair to say that the wildlife corridors we are seeking to extend—some projects, future environmental management pilots, are already under way—give us cause for hope. We have taken effective action —for example, with the restrictions on the neonicotinoids. We need to follow the science and the evidence, and do what it takes to keep pollinators alive and buzzing.
Insect decline will be cataclysmic. Do we have a comprehensive plan?
I have tried to outline the different activities we are already taking and what is being planned. The year 2020 will be key. We have the convention for biodiversity, and we are already in consultation with other countries around the world on how we can tackle this global challenge.
Hon. Members are absolutely right to raise the issue of insect decline, but it is not just about insects. We know there have been huge declines in many birds and mammals, too. I am sure that like myself, Mr Speaker, as a child you enjoyed grubbing around for grass snakes and slowworms.
It is now much harder for new generations to do that. How will the draft environment Bill, which has been roundly condemned as toothless, ensure that this appalling ecological meltdown will be properly tackled?
Alongside the draft clauses we presented on governance in the Bill, we also published a policy paper. I am sure the hon. Lady will recognise that several of the items outlined in it will help us towards tackling the issue. This will be about a shift away from the common agricultural policy, where farmers are in effect just being rewarded for land ownership, and moving towards paying for ecosystem services. I believe that that will benefit all the different species to which she refers.
That is all very well, but another huge concern are the cuts to Natural England. Grants to Natural England have been cut by nearly half, and we now hear that there may well be further cuts of between £3.5 million and £8 million over the next year. How can that be justified?
The hon. Lady will recognise that the Government took a view in 2010 that we had to balance the books after the record deficit from the last Labour Government. There was a realignment of what needed to be done on Government funding. I believe that Natural England has the resources it needs to undertake its role. Natural England will continue to focus on what is best for preserving the environment in England.
Leaving the EU: Farming
Our plans for future farming policy are set out in the Agriculture Bill. At the heart of our new policy in England will be a system that pays public money for public goods, rewarding farmers for enhancing animal welfare, improving soil health and creating habitats for wildlife. We are also introducing measures to support investment in farm productivity and to improve fairness in the supply chain.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Will he update me on what steps the Government are taking, following a very serious case in my constituency, to give the courts the power to grant injunctions to prevent people who are on trial for animal cruelty from acquiring new animals as they go through that legal process?
I recall meeting my hon. Friend about a particularly difficult and tragic case in his constituency. His local authority did make a powerful case for there to be a power to have an injunction to prevent the restocking of farms while prosecutions were pending. Such injunctions are usually reserved for civil cases. It is already possible to confiscate animals under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, but I will look again at this issue as we consider future legislation.
Will the Minister reassure the House that food production will remain central to agricultural policy and that we will continue to encourage farmers to produce food of the very highest standard?
Yes, I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that guarantee. It is called the Agriculture Bill and it has provisions to allow market intervention to support that. There are provisions to improve fairness in the supply chain. Every five years, we currently have an assessment of our food security. The Bill is absolutely about producing food sustainably, not ceasing to produce food.
John Vernam, the chairman of Cherry Valley, the source of the majority of the world’s Pekin duck breed, came to see me recently to talk about his concerns about the effect of a no-deal Brexit. He says it will have a wide-ranging impact on the industry and on animal welfare and food standards. Can the Minister please prove that he is no chicken and reassure the poultry industry that he is actively encouraging the Prime Minister to avoid a no-deal Brexit?
My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) has also raised the case of Cherry Valley, and I have given an undertaking that I will meet it as soon as possible. The company exports live ducklings and imports ducks, and I am happy to look at its concerns. Obviously, on the wider issue, the Prime Minister absolutely wants to avoid no deal. That is why she is encouraging everyone to back the agreement that she has secured.
It would be nice to know when the Agriculture Bill is coming back to this place, given the months that have now fallen by the wayside. I ask the Minister on behalf of his boss, the Secretary of State: how are discussions going with the Chancellor on whether there will be tariffs on food imports?
The Government are currently in discussions about a tariff policy in the event of no deal. The options that are open to us are to have tariff-rate suspensions, which we are likely to do on goods that we do not produce, and to have autonomous tariff-rate quotas or lower applied tariffs. That issue is being considered by the Government and a statutory instrument will be laid before Parliament in due course.
Pollution: Schools and Hospitals
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State launched the clean air strategy last month alongside the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. That has been welcomed by the World Health Organisation as an example for the rest of the world to follow. As I referred to earlier, we continue to deliver our £3.5 billion plan to reduce roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations.
In my constituency, parents, schools and our local councils are working hard together to introduce school streets: timed road closures and a drop-off and pick-up time close to schools to reduce pollution, encourage cycling and walking and increase awareness of the urgent need for action on air pollution and climate change. Will the Secretary of State commit to a fully funded nationwide programme of school streets?
The Government are investing £3.5 billion and it is for local authorities to potentially apply to the clean air fund to undertake different activities. A lot of this is about cycling and walking and the strategy on changing transport. I am not aware of what the hon. Lady’s local authority has been directly involved in, but we have also been funding—say, through the London Borough of Islington or Spelthorne Borough Council—awareness campaigns run through schools.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes), I have many schools in my constituency that are very worried about air pollution in the surrounding area. The problem is not the powers—they have the powers to monitor it—but the finances. They do not have the resources either to monitor the air pollution or then to fix the problem. Is there any possibility of more resources being made available?
I am conscious that, certainly through Transport for London, London has had a substantial amount of money to improve air quality. I know that it is keen to do more, but local authorities have statutory duties to tackle this issue. They have had funding in the past and they are able to apply for funding in the future, and I would welcome the hon. Gentleman’s authority doing so.
Dog and Cat Meat
It is abhorrent to think that our beloved cats and dogs could be eaten. As the Prime Minister said, it is illegal to sell dog and cat meat and there are no abattoirs with a licence to slaughter these animals in the UK. We recognise both the substantive and symbolic nature of the issues raised, and we are exploring what more can be done to address this matter and to send a clearer signal that the consumption of dogs and cats should never be tolerated.
There are extensive restrictions in place on the commercial sale of dog meat for human consumption, and I understand that there are similar restrictions on cat meat. Despite those advances, amazingly, the private slaughtering of dogs and cats for private consumption is still legal in this country, and I want that to change. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to extend the current restrictions to cover the private consumption of dog and cat meat, as my amendment to the Agriculture Bill sets out?
There is no evidence that dogs and cats are being consumed in the UK, although I understand and agree with the sentiment behind my hon. Friend’s amendment to the Agriculture Bill. A ban on consumption raises issues of enforcement and prosecution, but I have asked DEFRA officials to explore what more can be done to address these issues. I look forward to having the opportunity to debate these matters further in Westminster Hall this afternoon.
Food Labelling Laws
The UK has world-leading standards of food information, backed by a rigorous legislative framework, but the Secretary of State has been clear that an overhaul of allergen labelling is needed and DEFRA is working with other Departments to deliver that. We are also committed to reviewing food labelling laws after EU exit, so that consumers’ confidence in the food they buy continues to grow.
My 15-year-old constituent Ethan McColgan has a severe nut allergy. He is one of 2 million people in the UK who have food allergies. Can the Minister reassure Ethan that this matter is an absolute priority for the Government, enabling him to identify and avoid foods that include nuts, and that manufacturers will be forced to comply?
The provision of allergen information to the public is very important. It is essential that all UK consumers have complete trust in the food they eat. I understand the concerns of my hon. Friend’s constituent and his family. On 25 January, the Government launched a consultation on how to strengthen the framework on allergens. I encourage her constituent and others in a similar situation to feed their views into that consultation as a matter of urgency.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Yes—even more so today than three weeks ago.
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:
“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.
Oh, very well, I will take one more question: Helen Goodman.
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.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners was asked—
Clergy Recruitment: Rural Parishes
With permission, Mr Speaker, as an ex officio member of the Church Commissioners I have been asked to reply on behalf of the Second Church Estates Commissioner.
The Church of England has over 10,000 rural churches and 45% of those who attend church go to rural churches. The Church supports these rural churches through its dedicated national rural officer, who provides advice, consultancy and training for dioceses. The Church has recently launched a new recruitment portal which currently displays all jobs in 30 of the 42 dioceses, enabling clergy to sort jobs by postcode and categories.
As rural parishes go, the parish of St Mary on the island of Lindisfarne, Holy Island, in my constituency must be one of the smallest, most rural but most magnificent. It has a permanent population of only 200 people but, living in the cradle of British Christianity, it has hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. So will the Leader of the House join me in welcoming to her post, and with an outreach vocation, the Reverend Canon Dr Sarah Hills, our new vicar of St Mary, Lindisfarne?
I understand that the religious community on Holy Island was founded by an Irish monk called St Aidan in 635 AD. I certainly welcome the Reverend Dr Sarah Hills to her post and wish her well with her ministry. She brings with her considerable experience from Coventry cathedral, where she led the international reconciliation team.
Does the Leader of the House recognise that it is not just in rural churches—it is in rural and urban churches—where the clergy plays such an important role in the community? Particularly at this time when youth services have declined and local authorities cannot afford them, the role of the Church in rural and urban communities is absolutely crucial.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the Church plays a huge part in our whole society, whether rural or urban, and I pay tribute to all the excellent work of our clergy and lay preachers right across the United Kingdom.
I am sure the Leader of the House will agree that it is not just church buildings that are of importance; it is the people within them and the work they do. Just two weeks ago I was able to do a tour of all the churches in Uttoxeter in my constituency. I talked to the people in those churches and witnessed first-hand the great work they do in our community by supporting people, particularly the sick and the vulnerable. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Christians across the country for the work they do in our communities?
The hon. Gentleman is a busy bee doing this extensive tour; it sounds absolutely enticing.
I certainly join my hon. Friend in thanking all those who do so much right across our country. I pay particular tribute to the work of the Church of England, which operates the single largest group of schools in the UK. Very often those schools are in small rural communities, and the schools and their teachers face big challenges, as do other rural services—distance, access to facilities, cost of living, the reduction in family sizes and so on. The Church has done a great deal to try to improve the sense of community right across our country.
I welcome the right hon. Lady to her place. Does she accept that one of the problems now is that we have so few ministers and so many churches to look after? In my own area, the Stroudwater team has three ministers to look after 15 churches, although we have had a vacancy recently. We ought to recognise that that puts enormous pressure on those ministers, and I hope that the Church is looking after their welfare.
I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in praising all those clergy who do so much, often working under quite some pressure and with large parishes to deal with. In 2017, the number of clergy who retired was 330, and I am pleased to say that the number that the Church is training is more than the number who are retiring.
Will the right hon. Lady outline whether she has considered the idea of more joint parishes—joining with other denominations—thereby involving the community and making more regular use of our beautiful historic buildings? Coming together, perhaps?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to point out the excellent work that some churches are doing to help and support their communities across the denominations. I would certainly encourage him to write to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman); she can perhaps tell him a bit more about some of the work that the churches are doing.
Metal Theft from Churches
The Church of England has unfortunately seen a steady increase in metal theft recently. Between 2017 and 2018, reports of thefts were up 25%. The rise is attributed to an increase in international metal prices. Additionally, significant thefts are being co-ordinated by organised criminals working in teams. The Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013 had great success initially, but I understand that the all-party parliamentary group on combating metal theft is working closely with the Second Church Estates Commissioner to see what further work might be necessary to reflect the organised nature of this crime.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Thieves recently took the lead from the magnificent 900-year-old Old Sodbury church in south Gloucestershire, but sadly, only part of the cost of replacing the roof was covered by the insurance. What discussions has the Church of England had with the Government and the insurance industry on the theft of metal and decorative objects from churches, so that we can be sure that these magnificent buildings can be protected for generations to come?
I am so sorry to hear about that theft. It is an unusual theft, in that it does not fit the recent pattern. The church of St John’s, Old Sodbury, estimates that about 150 square metres will need to be replaced at a cost of around £50,000, only some of which will be covered by its insurance. I can tell my hon. Friend that the Church is working with law enforcement, the metal recycling trade, Historic England and the all-party parliamentary group on combating metal theft to find ways to address these crimes.
The Church works closely with the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers, which supports local associations with a network of teachers, including one in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Following the recent successful recruitment of new bell ringers for the world war one anniversary, the Church was pleased to hear that many of the new members have decided to continue to ring with their local towers.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will she tell us what the Church of England is doing to encourage young people into bell ringing, so that we can foster the next generation of campanologists?
I hope that my hon. Friend will be encouraged to learn that more than 250 young people will gather in Liverpool this weekend to take part in the national youth ringing contest. The Church of England is delighted to see young people rediscovering the love of these traditional community activities. Church schools and parishes provide a range of support to children and young people, and initiatives such as these show how beneficial exercise and teamwork can be for young people’s wellbeing.
I must say to the House that I have observed bell ringing being undertaken in Winslow and in Lillingstone Lovell in my constituency, and very skilfully undertaken it was too. For my own part, I am bound to say that I think I was very maladroit when trying to bell ring. I found it a most strenuous activity. But there you go—perhaps with practice I might get a little bit better.
Will my right hon. Friend make representations to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport about the loss of income to belfries from letting them to telecommunication companies for their antenna? As a consequence of the cack-handed introduction of the telecommunications code, the loss of income is as disconcerting to bell ringers as it is to the vicar.
My right hon. Friend raises a worrying issue that I am sure the Second Church Estates Commissioner will be pleased to hear about and tackle on his behalf.
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South, representing the representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
Northern Ireland Parties: Donations
The Electoral Commission has ongoing dialogue with the Northern Ireland Office as the lead Department on the transparency of donations received by political parties in Northern Ireland. Copies of the relevant correspondence will shortly be placed in the House of Commons Library. The commission continues to urge the UK Government to bring forward additional secondary legislation to allow the publication of donations from January 2014 onwards, as envisaged by the original primary legislation.
The Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s interim report into “Disinformation and ‘fake news’” rightly criticised the shadowy and secretive Constitutional Research Council for having
“deliberately and knowingly, exploited a loophole in the electoral law to funnel”
£435,000 to the Democratic Unionist party during the EU referendum. The source of that money remains a secret and is beyond the scrutiny of both this Parliament and the public. Will the hon. Lady add her voice to those on the Select Committee and the Electoral Commission in calling for the publication of the source of that money?
I fully understand the hon. Gentleman’s frustration. However, the law requires the Electoral Commission to keep confidential all information about political donations and loans in Northern Ireland before 1 July 2017. The commission therefore regrets that it is unable to disclose information and its own work in fulfilling its statutory duties to give confidence to the public, parliamentarians and others.
The Electoral Commission has stated:
“We continue to urge the UK Government to bring forward additional legislation to allow the publication of donations from 2014 onwards.”
It is astounding that this Government refuse to allow those donations to be published, so will the hon. Lady call on the Government to remove the shield from those responsible for dark money?
The hon. Lady is right to add her voice to that of the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) in expressing frustration. I can only reiterate the Electoral Commission’s position, which is that it is unable fully to disclose information in this regard. However, it is for the UK Government to bring forward further legislation, should they so wish, to make such information available,
House of Commons Commission
The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
Divisions of the House
The exact time spent on Divisions is not recorded, but there were 198 Divisions in the Chamber in 2018, 28 of which were deferred Divisions. If we estimate that each of the 170 real-time Divisions took 15 minutes, then 42 hours and 30 minutes were spent collectively by Members of Parliament participating in Divisions in the Chamber in 2018.
Indeed, the Institute for Government estimates that we have spent nearly 49 hours trooping through the packed Lobbies, which must be in breach of health and safety. In a week when Westminster is in absolute chaos, does the fact that we wander through the Lobbies like elephants in some sort of circus not just highlight the fact that Westminster is broken and does not work for Scotland?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question, although I did anticipate that it would be about electronic voting, so he has rather wrong-footed me. However, he makes a point that I would personally support, which is that we waste an awful lot of time trooping through the Lobbies, and I would also support the rolling out of electronic voting as a solution.
The right hon. Gentleman will be delighted to know that I took his advice from the previous House of Commons Commission questions and wrote to the Chair of the Procedure Committee suggesting that it finally get to grips with the issue. I look forward to joining the right hon. Gentleman in giving evidence to the Committee and making the case for reform of the outdated Lobby voting system in the House of Commons.
I am not sure that I detect a question there. However, I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has finally acted on the advice I have given him and his colleagues on a number of occasions by raising the matter with the Procedure Committee, which I am sure will look at this with due consideration and, I hope, will come to the right conclusion.
May I suggest to SNP Members that, if they occasionally voted with the Government, they could use the time usefully in the Division Lobby by lobbying Ministers?
Again, I completely fail to detect a question there for me. However, I am sure SNP Members will have noted the suggestion that they should work closely with the Conservative Government in the Division Lobby.
Escalators: Underground Car Park
The maximum annual energy cost of running the escalator has been calculated as £2,820, including VAT.
This escalator is running all the time yet, compared with the escalator between the main estate and Portcullis House, it is used relatively infrequently. Would it be possible to install a button so that it operates only when required?
It may be that the hon. Gentleman does not burn the midnight oil and therefore may not be aware that, in fact, the escalator is switched off manually by engineers control between midnight and 6 am on sitting days and between 6 pm and 6 am during recess. He will be pleased to hear that the escalator is also switched off at the weekend. It is also fitted with sensors that slow down the motor when it has not been used in the previous few minutes.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Maintenance of Graves
With permission, Mr Speaker, as an ex officio member of the Church Commissioners I have been asked to reply on behalf of the Second Church Estates Commissioner.
It is not clear from the hon. Lady’s question whether it relates to an open churchyard or a closed churchyard. For a closed churchyard, the responsibility for maintenance and management is often held by the local authority. The regulation of an open churchyard, however, is managed under the faculty process, which is the Church’s planning process. Each diocese publishes guidelines on its website, and the regulations are there to make sure that churchyards remain places that we can all enjoy for years to come.
My question relates to a constituency case that I have raised with the Second Church Estates Commissioner in advance of this Question Time. Shelley Fleming, my constituent, lost her husband Keith in October 2017—he was aged just 49. When she was arranging his place in the church’s graveyard, she was not notified that there would be any restrictions on her choice of grave at the Great Coates St Nicolas church. I would like the Second Church Estates Commissioner to work with me to encourage the church to review its regulations to permit the laying of flush kerb stones to carefully and respectfully mark parishioners’ final resting places.
I am so sorry to hear of Keith’s passing, and I am sure everyone in the Chamber would pass on their great sympathies. It is such an incredibly young age to die.
The regulations that govern churchyards differ from those that govern municipal cemeteries, where the land is not consecrated. A churchyard almost always surrounds a church building, and memorial stones that may be entirely suitable for an urban municipal cemetery may be out of place when they are close to an ancient church, especially one in a rural setting. If a constituent wants kerb stones installed around a grave, this would generally require the special permission of the diocesan chancellor. I will ask the Second Church Estates Commissioner to write to the hon. Lady with more information about the regulations and processes.
House of Commons Commission
The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
The House of Commons Commission delegates the negotiation of pay and terms and conditions for House employees to the Commons Executive Board. Formal and informal meetings between House of Commons management and its recognised trade unions take place on a regular basis. Formal discussions relating to changes of pay, allowances and conditions of service for 2019-20 were last held on 3 December. Pay negotiations for 2019-20 will begin shortly, following agreement of the pay remit by the House of Commons Commission.
I draw the House’s attention to early-day motion 2025, which I have signed, concerning rates of pay for security officers. How on earth have we got into a situation where our security staff feel it necessary to ballot for industrial action? Will the House of Commons Commission get a grip on the management of the security department and tell it to start treating these loyal and essential men and women with decency and respect, and to pay them and treat them properly?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and for drawing our attention to this matter. He may be pleased to hear that the Clerk of the House has written to the Public and Commercial Services Union confirming that changes to rest breaks, which was a particular issue of concern, will be reversed as soon as is operationally possible. Initial talks have been held and the House awaits a further proposal from PCS for it to consider.