The Secretary of State was asked—
Government Contracts: Climate Emergency
How grateful I am, Mr Speaker, to hear you say that there can indeed be no opposition.
Tackling the climate change and environment emergency is a cross-Government priority and an issue that I discuss regularly with Cabinet colleagues. The greening government commitments include specific targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving sustainable procurement. Those commitments demonstrate the Government’s leadership in improving the environmental sustainability of their own estate, and the 2018 revisions to the Green Book have also improved the evaluation of the natural capital impacts of Government decision making.
Tomorrow, young people in Nottingham will demonstrate because we are not moving quickly enough on our climate emergency. This House declared such an emergency on 1 May, saying that the Government should
“set ambitious, short-term targets for… low carbon energy and transport”.
When we will see those targets?
It is already the case that we are the first Government of a developed nation to embrace the ambition of reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. I congratulate the Members across the House who have campaigned to ensure that that commitment is at the heart of this Government’s proposals—indeed, it is a vision—to ensure that we leave a cleaner, greener planet for the next generation.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Foreign Secretary and the Foreign Office team on their amazing diplomatic success in the negotiations with Italy, which mean that next year’s global climate change conference is almost certain to come to London?
The Foreign Secretary has done an outstanding job on the diplomatic stage and will continue to do so. Co-operating with our partners across western Europe, including Italy, will ensure that the 2020 conference of the parties brings nations together to deal with this global challenge. The Secretary of State for International Development has also played a distinguished role alongside the Foreign Secretary in using our global footprint to ensure that our planet is in a more sustainable state.
I congratulate the students in his constituency and so many other students across the country on helping to ensure that our climate and environment emergency is at the heart of our decision making. We will put greening government and greening the whole country at the heart of our decision making in the forthcoming spending review.
Food Producers: Overseas Marketing
I met with the Secretary of State for International Trade yesterday, and he told me that he had just come back from Turkey, where he had been exploring opportunities for British trade, including in food and drink. On Monday, I signed an agreement with China which means that British beef could be back on Chinese dinner plates by the end of the year, which could be worth £230 million over five years to our world-class beef producers. Those are just two examples of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for International Trade working closely to raise the international profile and reputation of the UK’s high-quality food and drink products, to open new markets, and to boost our exports.
It has been great, as it says on the can. DEFRA’s “Food is GREAT” campaign supports DIT’s trade promotion activity, including at trade shows and meet-the-buyer events. It helps businesses to succeed in overseas markets by ensuring global recognition of UK excellence in food and drink, while encouraging our food and drink companies to export more.
This just shows what a barmy army we have on the Government Front Bench. To want more beef to be produced and shipped thousands of miles to China shows that they have not learned the lessons of sustainability or climate change danger. They had better learn those lessons quickly and do something to save our planet.
British breakfast cereals are among the best in the world and none is finer than Weetabix, which is based in the Kettering constituency and which sources its wheat from farms within a 50-mile radius of the factory. Will my right hon. Friend be the great British breakfast champion?
At the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that the EU would continue to protect UK protected geographical indications because they are European law. That seems to be incorrect. Was he mistaken, or did someone mislead him? Will he now put the record straight?
Geographical indications are important not only for producers but so that consumers know they are getting the real thing. It is important that we get that protection in our negotiations with the EU through the implementation period while, at the same time, talking to other trading partners around the world who may have different systems. We need to ensure that those systems dovetail closely with ours.
We are keen to export seafood around the world. Brown crab from my constituency is exported to China, whelks are exported to South Korea, and I hope that the Americans will enjoy even more of our seafood and other products when we leave the EU and can negotiate trade agreements around the world.
I want to press the Minister on geographical indications, which are vital in our marketing of goods and products made across the country. In the event of a no deal, about which the frontrunner in the Tory leadership contest seems quite keen, protections for Cornish pasties, Buxton blue cheese, traditional Welsh perry, Cornish clotted cream and Whitstable oysters, to name but a few, will be at risk. What steps is DEFRA taking to ensure that those vital goods produced by our farmers and growers are protected come Halloween this year?
In a no-deal situation, we would wish to set up our own scheme and to negotiate with our friends across the channel to ensure some degree of co-operation, but I stress that no deal is not an option I would want to support. We need to get a deal, and we need to get it over the line. If, like me, Opposition Members had voted for the deal on the three occasions it came before the House, we would have left the European Union on 29 March and we would be in a much better situation for UK producers.
To increase tree planting rates, we have changed how our main grant schemes work. The woodland carbon fund now supports infrastructure such as roads and is available for smaller projects. The countryside stewardship woodland creation grant is now open for applications all year, rather than in short windows, which demonstrates the Government’s commitment to planting 11 million trees during this Parliament.
I thank my hon. Friend for his response. However, his passion for planting trees seems to be in conflict with the practice of both Network Rail and Highways England, which have decimated thousands of mature trees that lined the railway and motorway embankments through Long Eaton, Sawley and Breaston in my constituency and that acted as a vital natural sound and visual barrier. May I urge him and his counterparts in the Department for Transport to intervene to ensure that mature trees are reinstated on those embankments as soon as possible?
My hon. Friend is, and continues to be, a strong champion for Erewash in all ways. I recognise that removing trees can be concerning, which is why DEFRA is working closely with the DFT to deliver a new policy for Network Rail, with the aim of improving its current approach to managing vegetation so that it enhances biodiversity on our rail network. That is in line with the recommendations of John Varley’s review of Network Rail’s vegetation management.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his efforts in helping to achieve our wider target. As I have explained, we are working hard to make our current schemes much more flexible. We will also be introducing the woodland carbon guarantee—£50 million in the Budget—and we launched the £10 million urban tree challenge fund just a few weeks ago.
Will the Minister join me in celebrating the 9 million trees planted over the past 30 years to create the new national forest? My constituency, at the centre of it, has seen a massive improvement in not only the environment but the quality of life, for visitors and residents alike.
I have had the chance to go to the national forest in my hon. Friend’s constituency on two occasions, and he is a fantastic champion and ambassador for the national forest. We need to take lessons from that and apply them in the northern forest as well, to see what the exciting opportunities can be.
The role of tree planting in tackling climate change is well documented. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) promised during his leadership bid to plant 100 million trees. The Minister has been mentioning targets, so it is disappointing to read this week that the Government are falling woefully short—by 71%—of their targets. Can the Minister explain why that is? What is he doing about it? How long will it be before we see the Secretary of State’s targets actually met?
We have set out a clear target of planting 11 million trees in this Parliament. We are at 3.6 million now and on the trajectory to achieve that target of 11 million, so I assure the hon. Lady that we are working in that direction. We have also set out strong aspirations to increase our woodland cover from 10% to 12% within the 25-year environment plan. We have stretching targets and we will move further forward.
Leaving the EU: Food Shortages
The Government have been undertaking extensive work to prepare for a no-deal scenario for the past two years, to ensure that trade continues to operate smoothly from the day we leave. We have long-established relationships with industry, and we are working closely with key stakeholders to prepare for all scenarios. The UK has a high level of food security, built on diverse sources, and this will continue to be the case when we leave the EU.
In reality, only just over half of the food we eat is made in Britain, with more than a third coming from the EU. Given that the Food and Drink Federation is predicting that after a no-deal Brexit fresh fruit and veg would run out after two weeks, why are the remaining contenders in the Tory leadership battle continuing to entertain this damaging prospect? Does he not agree that scurvy back on our streets is more important than the whims of fundamentalist party members’ wishes?
The hon. Lady has ruined a perfectly reasonable question by exaggerating. Of course we are preparing for every eventuality. As we have said already in these questions, a deal is the best outcome, and we all have a responsibility to help deliver that. We are preparing for all outcomes.
Can the Secretary of State reassure my local businesses, which supply millions of people across the UK with high-quality food products, that enough refrigeration units will be in place to cope with the predicted delays at UK ports after our exit from the EU?
The hon. Gentleman can be assured that I have regular meetings—each week—with the main stakeholders in the food industry to prepare for no deal. We are looking at all eventualities. Primarily, we are looking at how we can ensure the flow of trade; that is our vital priority.
Yesterday, the Rural Payments Agency announced that it will make payments next month to all those who have been waiting on the historical revenue payments, and therefore every farmer who has been taking part in environmental and countryside stewardship schemes, which deliver important benefits for our environment, will receive the money that they deserve.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, because many farmers in my constituency have regularly complained to me about the delays in countryside stewardship scheme payments. Will he expand on that answer for those who, in some instances, have had to wait more than 600 days for payments?
My hon. Friend is a brilliant advocate for Hertfordshire farmers and indeed for workers across the English countryside. He is absolutely right: past performance has not been good enough. That is why I am so pleased that the RPA’s chief executive, Paul Caldwell, will make sure that all back payments are cleared next month.
Last Thursday, the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Sue Hayman), and I visited Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Services. We met farmers who had not been paid for 18 months, so payments in July would be welcome. Will they get interest on the late payments?
Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami), as we leave the European Union we will build up more and more environmentally friendly agricultural policy, so stewardship schemes will be more important than ever. There has been a loss of faith in them, and I am worried about the future programme, because farmers really do not like the complexity and have waited far too long for their payments.
My hon. Friend makes a fair point; the schemes have been bedevilled by unnecessary complexity in the past. It is critical that as we leave the European Union and have new environmental land management schemes, they are both simpler and more effective in supporting farmers in the wonderful work that they do.
I know that, as always, you are my biggest fan, Mr Speaker.
I hear what the Secretary of State says, but one reason for the current collapse in the take-up of environmental agri-ecology schemes is the slowness and lateness of payments, which is bedevilling the pilots for the environmental land management schemes. Will the Secretary of State assure me that those pilots will now get under way?
We have strengthened the national planning policy framework to make it clear that all development within its scope should achieve net gains for biodiversity. We have consulted on proposals to mandate biodiversity net gain for development, and will use the forthcoming environment Bill to legislate for a net gain system.
Large infrastructure projects may require an environmental impact assessment of the likely effects. In the case of nationally significant infrastructure projects, the EIA forms a part of the planning process and the development consent order. I assure my hon. Friend that each consenting regime has appropriate enforcement mechanisms.
West Oxfordshire wants the design of the Oxfordshire Cotswolds garden village to enhance, not harm, the environment. What guidance have Ministers given to developers on how garden villages can enhance things such as wildlife corridors and biodiversity in new developments?
Well-planned, locally led garden communities can play a vital role, not only in meeting the country’s housing needs and providing a stable pipeline of high-quality homes but by providing such opportunities as my hon. Friend referred to. In fact, they will be mandated to do so, to improve wildlife corridors and promote health and wellbeing and quality of life. That could be a win-win for my hon. Friend’s constituents.
We have updated the planning guidance for the planning policy. As we set out in the consultation, we intend to develop in the environment Bill an update of metrics for biodiversity and wider environmental net gains. We will provide practical tools to support developers and, critically, local planning authorities to achieve better environmental outcomes for every development.
A 38 Degrees petition started by Norman Pasley from Bristol is calling for legislation on the installation of swift boxes in all new housing developments, and it has more than 130,000 signatures. As parliamentary species champion for the swift, I urge Ministers to support the campaign. Perhaps the Secretary of State in particular would like to make it his legacy from his time at the Department.
Hopefully, the hon. Lady will be swift in her praise for the work we are doing with the forthcoming environment Bill. As the species champion for bitterns, which are literally booming as we speak, I know that this issue matters. We want to take more proactive approaches to how we protect species. I am not sure whether a swift box in every single house is the right thing, as opposed to all sorts of other things such as beetle hotels—there is a wide variety—but we need to make sure that we encourage a wide range of biodiversity for birds, for wildlife and for the protection of nature for future generations.
The crowing from the Department about their bird policy this morning is rather touching. The Minister will be aware that changes by the water undertakers to discharge water regulations are causing concern for the Bathroom Manufacturers Association and house builders. Will she meet me and a small delegation to discuss how future developments can better look after our waste water?
The RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts, which both have fantastic reserves in my constituency in the Newport wetlands and the Magor marsh, are strongly supportive of establishing a nature recovery network to restore and repair habitats. Will the Government commit to putting that on a statutory footing?
That is absolutely the case. My right hon. Friend spoke to me this morning about this issue. I will follow up on it, because when major infrastructure projects go ahead, it is important that people should have confidence, and while some vegetation might need to be removed, HS2 is supposed to be planting at least 5 million trees. We will make sure that it does so.
Seasonal Agricultural Workers Pilot Scheme
The Government have introduced a new immigration pilot scheme for 2019 and 2020 to enable up to 2,500 non-European economic area migrant workers to come to the UK to undertake seasonal employment in the edible horticultural sector. DEFRA and the Home Office will evaluate the outcome before taking any decisions on future arrangements.
Government Members seem to be obsessed with 31 October. That is a pity, because harvest is coming rather sooner, and I wish they would show a similar interest in that. The National Farmers Union has made it absolutely clear that we need a permanent, fully functioning system and that at least 10,000 new workers are required in this area. Why will the Government not act, and why will the Home Office not take proper action?
It is important that we evaluate the pilot before moving further. From my point of view, we are meeting the requirements. We had 700 workers here already by the end of May and we expect to reach the peak in the middle of the summer picking season, although the Home Office might look at how many of those workers go back to the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Moldova at the end. We will need to evaluate that after the pilot before going further.
Absolutely. We understand how big an issue this is. Some 28% of those working in food and drink manufacturing, including fish processing, are from the European Union. That is 106,000 people. It is important that they understand that, whichever way we leave the European Union, including no deal, they will still be able to come here to work and participate in these important industries.
In November 2018 we announced that we will consult on a new English tree strategy, setting out how we will accelerate woodland creation to reach our aspiration of increasing woodland cover in England from 10% to 12% by 2060. The consultation on the English tree strategy will be launched later this year, and our recently reappointed tree champion is leading our engagement on this.
But clearly the strategy is not working when councils such as City of York Council fail to sign up to the White Rose Forest project. As we have heard, the Government have failed to reach their target by 71%, so there is no chance that we will see a growth in the number of trees across our country. Will the Minister look at mandating local authorities to sign up to the Government’s initiative?
We will do all we can to encourage local authorities to get involved. It is good to hear that Yorkshire Water is planting 1 million trees in Yorkshire. We need to do more, particularly in the hon. Lady’s area, with natural flood management techniques upstream. There is lots we can do.
Rare and Native Breeds
Our rare and native breeds are an important genetic resource. There are several purposes under clauses 1 and 2 of the Agriculture Bill for which financial assistance could be provided to support our genetic heritage.
I declare my interest in that my family are long-standing breeders of both the British Lop pig and pedigree South Devon cattle, but genetic diversity is critical to maintaining resilience in our livestock sectors, and protecting genetic resources is a primary responsibility DEFRA. Will the Minister therefore agree to convene a meeting at DEFRA of representatives of our native and rare breeds to discuss what support would be appropriate for them under future policy?
I was already aware of my hon. Friend’s considerable interest in this policy area. I am pleased to tell him that a workshop with breed societies will be taking place in London on 12 September to look at the issues that he has in mind. Later today I will be visiting the Lincolnshire show, where I hope to see some of the rare breeds that are bound to be there.
This is all very encouraging, but I must say that as we are discussing rare breeds, I feel a great sense of personal sadness that we are not joined this morning by the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames), who knows a thing or two about these matters.
As does my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis).
I probably should also declare an interest in South Devon cattle, as my family have bred them for generations as well. However, I wanted to ask the Minister about rare wildlife, if I might segue into the matter. Given all his work on general licences recently, what communications has he had with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds about sites of special scientific interest and the work it does culling birds in those areas?
It is important, particularly for ground-nesting birds, that other bird species that can predate on them and damage their nests are controlled. The RSPB carries out that work on land that it controls, and I hope that it will continue doing so to protect those particular rare species.
Badger Culling Programme
During 2018, badger control operations in 32 areas of England were all successful in meeting their targets. According to Natural England’s chief scientist, the results show that
“industry-led badger control continues to deliver the level of effectiveness required by the policy to be confident of achieving disease control benefits”.
Assessments of the effectiveness of badger control are published annually on gov.uk.
Given the extended roll-out, it is estimated that about 150,000 badgers will have been culled by the end of 2020. This animal, which has been around since the ice age, faces extinction in various parts of the country. What would the Secretary of State say about investing the money in a national badger vaccination programme? To quote the Wildlife Trusts, should not the Government be investing in “medicine, not marksmen”?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. When it comes to dealing with bovine TB—a terrible disease that damages the lives of cattle and the livelihoods of farmers—we need to consider all steps that are appropriate. Culling and vaccination are both tools in our armoury.
Clean Air Strategy
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has regular discussions with his counterpart at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. Discussions are also held at an official level about delivering the clean air strategy and relevant provisions that we hope to bring forward in the forthcoming environment Bill. Local authorities will continue to play a vital role in delivering improvements to the air that we all breathe.
The Minister knows that Bath has a considerable air pollution problem. Idling cars make a measurable contribution to inner-city pollution. I recently tabled a private Member’s Bill to give local authorities greater enforcement powers to stop idling cars. Will the Minister consider my proposal to strengthen anti-idling legislation?
One local council that could do a much better job on air quality is Labour-controlled Hammersmith and Fulham, by reopening Hammersmith bridge. The diversion of traffic through Fulham and Chelsea is horrendous. Will the Minister join me in calling on the council and the Mayor of London to introduce proper air quality monitoring, particularly on Fulham High Street, to properly assess the catastrophic impact of the council’s decision?
Leaving the EU: Fisheries Policy
The Government’s vision for future fisheries policy as we leave the European Union is set out in the fisheries White Paper “Sustainable fisheries for future generations”, which was published in July 2018.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm his commitment to boosting investment in the fisheries sector to help with expansion outside the common fisheries policy but also to promote export opportunities and the UK domestic market for Scottish seafood after Brexit?
Absolutely I will. The UK Government will work with the Scottish Government to make sure that we have investment in port facilities in Peterhead and Fraserburgh, and that we have the marketing budget necessary to ensure that the power of our United Kingdom is harnessed to help Scots fishermen and, indeed, Scottish fish processors.
The Secretary of State has already promised Danish and Iberian fishing fleets that their access to UK waters will continue unhindered after Brexit. How many promises has he made to other foreign countries, and what percentage of the quotas is going to be reserved for UK fishing?
I have promised no such thing. What I have promised is to ensure that we are out of the European Union and out of the common fisheries policy, in stark contrast to the Scottish National party, which wants to keep us in the European Union and in the common fisheries policy. The Scottish National party and the Scottish Government claim to stand up for Scotland, but at every turn they prefer the politics of grievance and the ideology of separation to the interests of Scotland’s fishermen and Scotland’s citizens.
I am delighted to announce that Tamara Finkelstein OBE has been appointed as the new permanent secretary at DEFRA. She is the fourth woman in succession to be permanent secretary at this Department. With respect to the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), I do think it is a very, very good thing if important institutions in this country are, wherever possible, led by women.
I congratulate the new permanent secretary at the Secretary of State’s Department. It is always good to see senior women in leadership roles.
The Government have set out a new net zero emissions target. Putting our country on track to meet that in order to tackle the climate emergency is going to take urgent and bold action, so will the Secretary of State commit to bringing forward the date to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars to 2030, allow onshore wind facilities to be built again, and re-establish the Department of Energy and Climate Change?
Those are important points, well made. Bringing forward the target by which we get rid of petrol and diesel cars is always kept under review. At the moment, we believe that the target is achievable and stretching, but we will of course keep it under review as more progress is made. On renewable energy, we lead the world in offshore wind, and we have also done a huge amount on solar energy, in particular—99% of the solar power generated in this country has been generated since 2010. I pay tribute to Ministers who served in the coalition Government between 2010 and 2015 for their work in this area.
The environmental impact of bags, including bags for life, can be reduced simply through reusing them. We will be publishing our response on extending the carrier bag charge to all retailers very soon, so we are not currently considering stopping the use of plastic bags altogether. In our bio-economy strategy, we have committed to issuing a call for evidence, because it is important to note that these biodegradable bags need careful treatment when they come to the end of their life.
Following the recent Scottish deposit return scheme proposals and the conclusion of the Government’s consultation on a DRS, can the Secretary of State tell us how the Government intend to learn from best practice? Does he hope to emulate the 98.5% recycling rate achieved by Germany for plastic and glass bottles and metal drink cans? Will he commit to a deposit return scheme that matches the ambition of other Governments in Europe, to achieve a UK-wide standard, as suggested in “Our Waste, Our Resources”?
This is something that the Government have worked on extensively. I have visited several countries, including Germany, and it is fair to say that not all deposit return schemes take glass. As I have said to the House before, the front end of these schemes is very simple, but how we make the back end work is complex. That is why it is taking some time. We are considering carefully with the devolved Administrations how we can make progress, and I hope we will be able to announce more soon.
I agree. The Smithills estate was where the first tree of the northern forest was planted, which is a very important step forward. It is a great site, overshadowed by the wonderful Winter Hill TV mast. I love it, and I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support for it.
The River Mersey, which originates in Stockport and flows through my constituency on its journey to Liverpool, has been named and shamed by Greenpeace as proportionately more polluted than the great Pacific garbage patch. That follows a University of Manchester study showing that microplastics in the river bed sediment were higher than in any other environment. What work is the Department doing to address the issue of microplastics entering the waterways, and what pressure is being put on the industry to address it?
I grew up in Liverpool, and it is sad to hear that terrible statistic revealed by Greenpeace. I think it is fair to say that the Government have already taken action by reducing microplastics from certain cosmetic products and rinse-off products. We will do more by taking forward the ban on plastic straws and other single-use plastic items. We will continue to work with the water industry on what more we can do about filtration, so that we keep plastics out of the rivers.
Given the extraordinarily high contribution of cars on our roads to poor air quality, will the Secretary of State lobby the Department for Transport to review all major road schemes to see whether they will contribute to poor air quality, and look at modal shift, to get people off our roads and out of their cars?
The hon. Gentleman knows of what he speaks, as a distinguished former taxi driver, as well as a very effective spokesman for the people of Eltham in the borough of Greenwich. We absolutely do need to take account in all new road building schemes of the impact of pollution.
Yesterday I was able to sponsor National Refill Day with Water UK. Reusing our water bottles means that we could get rid of millions of plastic bottles that we do not need. It is about not only recycling plastic, but using a lot less. Does the Secretary of State welcome that?
The Heathrow masterplan released this week promises 40,000 more vehicles on our roads, 6 million more tonnes of CO2 released per annum and new noise for hundreds of thousands of households. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Secretary of State for Transport about the environmental consequences of Heathrow expansion?
Increasingly enviously, and I think it is the case that other European Union countries, many of which I love, are looking enviously at the gallimaufry of talent that exists on the Government Benches at this time. I suspect that those other European Union countries appreciate the festival of democracy in which we are currently engaged.
Order. Before we turn to the next session of oral questions, I must advise the House that the urgent question I had granted to the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) has now been withdrawn by the hon. Gentleman, so we will proceed from Question Time to the business question, and then to the two ministerial statements that are scheduled to follow it. That is really for the benefit of Members’ timekeeping, so that they know when the sessions they may wish to attend will be.