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Topical Questions

Volume 657: debated on Thursday 28 March 2019

I call the former president or patron of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, Sir Nicholas Soames.

I am very keen to see rare breeds survive, which is why I suspect the leader—ex-leader, rather—of the Liberal Democrats, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), is bobbing.

More to the point, tomorrow is the last day on which the permanent secretary at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be in her post. Clare Moriarty is an outstanding public servant. She is going on to become permanent secretary at the Department for Exiting the European Union. On behalf of my ministerial team, and I think Members across the House, I ask us all to record our thanks to an outstanding public servant for everything she has done to ensure that the environment, rural affairs and food have been at the heart of Government policy making and have been carried forward with the high standards of professionalism that we expect of a civil servant.

I thank my right hon. Friend and join him in paying tribute to an obviously very distinguished civil servant. One has to wonder what she has done to earn such a poisoned chalice.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that of all the landscapes in Britain, one of the most greatly cherished are the uplands? Does he agree that, inevitably, there is a good deal of concern and anxiety at this time as the Brexit policies unfold? Will he agree to receive a delegation from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Moorland Association to discuss with him some of the more pressing issues that are causing serious concern in an already hard-pressed community?

My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. Our uplands are one of our environmental glories, and it is critical that those who live and work in the uplands and those who, for a variety of reasons, feel that their way of life and some of the economic activities that sustain communities in the uplands might be under threat, have the reassurance of knowing that this Government are on their side. I would be delighted to convene such a meeting.

T2. The Government declared in response to the Somerset flooding that “money is no object”. This week, ground investigation works are starting on a £40 million flood risk management scheme for Preston and South Ribble. Will the Minister explain why a maximum bid of £1.3 million is available for the flood defence grant-in-aid fund for a project that cost £9.7 million to deliver, as outlined in the Lancashire County Council report regarding Hurleston brook, known as the Jacob report? (910092)

The House will be aware that we increased the amount of money being spent on flood defences between 2015 and 2021—£2.1 billion across those six years—better to protect more than 300,000 homes. The hon. Lady will be aware that there are formulas for how we can allocate money to projects. My right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) opened up the doors with a partnership funding approach, which is largely working. However, I am very conscious that the hon. Lady is doing diligent work on behalf of her constituents to get better flood protection.

T3. On a recent visit to the Northmoor Meat Company in my constituency, which deals in organic, sustainably sourced beef, raised on the banks of the River Thames, I also saw the great work that it does with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to provide scrapes and nesting habitats for birds such as lapwing and curlew. What are Ministers doing to help farmers, the real guardians of our environment, with conservation work? (910093)

My hon. Friend draws attention to just one of many ways in which farmers are making sure that our natural environment is enhanced. Our new environmental land management schemes should better reward farmers and allow other landowners, such as the RSPB, to continue their good work.

T6. Last week in Transport questions, the Minister of State, Department for Transport, the hon. Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), told me that the Government were taking the dangers of toxic air to children’s health “very seriously”, but that the issue was “complex and multifaceted”. Given that UNICEF tells us that 4.5 million children are growing up in areas with unsafe levels of particulate matter, does the Secretary of State agree that his colleagues in the DFT need to pull their finger out, because under existing plans, those toxic levels of air pollution will continue for the next decade? (910097)

I absolutely agree that we need to take the issue of air quality more seriously. It is absolutely the No. 1 environmental threat to public health, and that is why our recent air quality strategy, which I launched with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, was applauded by the World Health Organisation as an example for other countries to follow.

T4.   Chichester District Council has been incredibly successful in reducing litter throughout the district, thanks to its “Against Litter” campaign, in which over 170 areas have been adopted by residents, including me, who keep them clean and tidy. The council will fund the second phase of this project, which will tackle fly-tipping and increase knowledge of the realities of waste disposal, but what steps are being taken to ensure that Government bodies such as the Environment Agency support local authorities such as Chichester in these initiatives? (910094)

My predecessor in this role, now Leader of the House, introduced a national litter strategy, and since then a number of organisations, including Chichester council and my hon. Friend, both of whom I must congratulate, have been energetic in making sure that we deal with this scourge. My Department will do everything possible to make sure that every single arm of Her Majesty’s Government is committed to making sure that our natural environment is cleaner and greener as a result of joint efforts.

The hon. Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) might invite the Secretary of State to Chichester to observe the situation at close quarters; I feel sure that he will say yes.

The Secretary of State will have seen that it emerged in The Sunday Times last week that the Department for Transport has pressurised Heathrow to hide information about the noise levels that the hundreds of thousands of people living around Heathrow will experience if and when runway 3 goes ahead. Does he share my concern, and that of my and many other Members’ constituents, that people have been kept in the dark about the noise that runway 3 will bring, which will be way above WHO recommended levels and way above what most people experience at the moment?

The hon. Lady asks if I have read The Sunday Times; I tend not to read the Sunday newspapers—it is better for my health. She asks a very serious question, and I will raise it with John Holland-Kaye, the chief executive of Heathrow.

T5. Will the Minister reaffirm the Government’s commitment to ending single-use plastics? Will she also pay tribute to the almost 90 volunteers from across Southport who came out last week to help clean up our beach at Ainsdale? (910096)

The Government are absolutely committed to that aim. We are making good progress on regulations to achieve that, on cross-Government strategies, and on working with industry to do precisely what my hon. Friend wants. I praise the volunteers who went out litter-picking to keep the beach clean; I used to play on that beach as a child, and it is great to see that it is in safe hands under the stewardship of my hon. Friend, working with the local community.

Will the Secretary of State agree to meet Humber MPs to discuss making funding for a national flood resilience centre in the Humber area a priority in the comprehensive spending review?

The Minister with responsibility for the environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), has already done so, and of course I would be happy to do so at any time.

The Government have a fantastic track record on improving standards for animals. In 2015, the compulsory microchipping of dogs was brought in. However, there is an anomaly: there is no such provision for cats. The Secretary of State knows that I have a private Member’s Bill on cats that would mean cats were treated in the same way as dogs. I am grateful for my meeting with him last week. Will he assure me that the Government will do everything that they can to take the issue forward, so that cats get the same treatment as dogs?

Most studies now indicate that we have an excess of incineration capacity to deal with residual waste. Is there not a danger that, if we build more incinerators, waste that would otherwise be recycled will be diverted to those incinerators?

The UK has some of the highest standards of animal welfare in the world, but American attitudes to farm animal welfare remain very backward. Given that there is now a cross-party consensus in this House that we should enshrine recognition of animal sentience in law, should the Government not require the United States to pass equivalent legislation at federal level as a precondition to any trade deal?

That is a very good point from someone who was an excellent Minister. I so enjoyed serving with my hon. Friend. As ever, he shows that his commitment to animal welfare and to the highest standards in farming remains undimmed. We are very lucky to have him in this House.

We all know the Secretary of State is extraordinarily polite. Some people might think the Secretary of State is cultivating the hon. Gentleman for a purpose in the future. I know not what or when—no idea what that might be.

The east of England is a dry region with many houses planned for the future. Dr Robert Evans of the Global Sustainability Institute at Anglia Ruskin University tells us that many of the streams he regularly monitors are already drying up. What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that we have enough water for future houses in the region?

The hon. Gentleman is also a wonderful addition to the House of Commons. I would like to cultivate him. He is a tall poppy in this House and certainly no blushing violet. He makes a very serious point. I have been talking to Anglian Water and others recently. The Environment Agency chief executive, James Bevan, has pointed out that water scarcity is a significant environmental danger. We need to work together to deal with it.

My farmers warmly welcomed the launch of the seasonal agricultural workers scheme today; in fact, James Porter, who was mentioned earlier, is one of my farmers and welcomes the scheme. I will be meeting them next week to see how we can further improve it. Will the Secretary of State agree to continue conversations with the Home Office to ensure that the system can be monitored, increased and made permanent?

Absolutely. Were it not for the advocacy of my hon. Friend and her constituents, we would not have the seasonal agricultural workers scheme in place already, and I pay tribute to her for that work. It is her constituent who has been responsible, working with her, for bringing the scheme in. In stark contrast to the destructive and cynical sniping from the Scottish National party, Scottish Conservatives have been delivering for Scottish farmers.

Can the Secretary of State guarantee that not a penny of the £3.8 billion ring-fenced for agriculture in the proposed new scheme will be spent on schemes that are currently funded from non-CAP sources?

I was going to ask, Mr Speaker—I am going to extend it—whether you are a gardener. If you are, you will understand the value of healthy soil. Does the Secretary of State agree that soil is so important for delivering flooding control and healthy food, and for holding carbon, that we should give it top priority in the Agriculture Bill, call it a public good and pay farmers to deliver it?

Mr Speaker, can I thank you for granting my hon. Friend a long extension? She is absolutely right. Soil is at the heart of the fight against climate change, it is at the heart of good agriculture, and it is absolutely critical for making sure that our environment flourishes.

Does the Secretary of State still believe, as he has told me twice already, that other European countries are looking enviously at the United Kingdom’s attempts to withdraw from the European Union?

Other European countries are looking enviously at the United Kingdom Government and piteously at the Scottish Government, whose contortions on constitutional questions continue to lead other European statesmen to wonder why a great country with so many talented people is in the hands of such a parcel of rogues.

In light of Dieter Helm’s recent comments, how much weight does the Secretary of State give to food security in developing future farming policy?

I have enormous respect for Professor Helm, but food security is absolutely central to my Department’s and this Government’s mission.

Both farmers and consumers are concerned that future trade agreements will lower UK food standards. How will the Secretary of State ensure that future trade agreements maintain and improve our food quality standards?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise that, and I and my hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will be talking to the NFU and other farming unions later today about how we can make sure that standards are protected.