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Topical Questions

Volume 663: debated on Thursday 25 July 2019

I am delighted to have been asked to take up the outstanding work previously begun by my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), and the team of dedicated public servants at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and its agencies. I look forward to working to deliver the Government’s historic commitment to hand on the natural environment in a better state than we found it, by driving up animal welfare, championing and supporting our country’s fantastic food, farming and fisheries, and ensuring that we seize the opportunities offered by Brexit.

I warmly welcome the Secretary of State to her role. My constituency has some of the best vineyards in the country, and places such as Breaky Bottom, Ridgeview and Rathfinny produce award-winning English sparkling wine. What steps will the Secretary of State take to promote English sparkling wine at home and abroad, and may I invite her to visit one of those vineyards to taste that wine for herself?

I would be delighted to take up the invitation to do a little tasting of the fantastic wines to which my hon. Friend refers. The GREAT campaign has a strong focus on the brilliant high-quality food we produce in this country. In June, English sparkling wine was promoted at various events in Japan, and the campaign plans to return there in September and October. In August and September we will support Wine GB at events in the United States.

I welcome the Secretary of State to her new position. When will we welcome back the Agriculture Bill and the Fisheries Bill? It is about time we saw them. We last saw them seven months ago, and we need them back.

As the hon. Gentleman will know, such matters are in the hands of the Leader of the House and the official channels, so he might wish to raise the matter during the business question. I assure him that we wish to press ahead with these matters as soon as we are able to do so. This Government are getting on and delivering on their priorities, including the environment.

T3. I am grateful for the answer that my right hon. Friend gave earlier. Grass-fed must mean 100% grass-fed, so that people with food allergies, and particularly those with a sensitivity to meat, know what they are buying. (912203)

My hon. Friend is right: people expect clear, honest labelling on their food, and if marketing terms are not used consistently, the Government should act. Clear labelling is important not just for pasture-fed livestock, but for organic food, which is trusted around that world.

T2. Like many colleagues across the House, I welcome the former Secretary of State’s comments last week, which committed to ensuring that the environment Bill contains legally binding targets on fine particulate matter, in line with World Health Organisation levels, and to updating the national air quality strategy to specify an obligation for local authorities to take official action to protect children’s health from toxic air. However, additional action without resources is not achievable. Will the Secretary of State commit to working with the Chancellor to ensure that vital resources are provided in the upcoming spending review? (912202)

Discussions on the spending review are already under way, particularly with the Mayor of London, and we are considering what more we can do to boost resources. Particulate matter is one of the key things we need to tackle right across the country. That is not solely about transport; it is also about domestic burning, and I am confident that we will bring forward regulations on how to reduce that.

T5. I, too, am delighted to see the Secretary of State in her new role. What steps will her Department take to encourage and ensure that local authorities recycle as much material as possible, thus avoiding it needlessly going to landfill? (912205)

In July, we published the Government’s response to the consultation on consistency in household and business recycling collections in England. The response sets out plans to legislate to ensure consistency between local authorities, which is vital to ensuring that we raise recycling rates, and to people having a consistent picture and a better understanding of the most effective ways to recycle.

T4. Will the Minister work with other Government Departments to establish a mandatory register for foxhunts and a mandatory reporting system for the killing of foxes, so we can see just how widespread this lawbreaking actually is? (912204)

The hon. Gentleman has raised that issue before. It is important that people obey the law, but I encourage him and others to take evidence to the police so that the Crown Prosecution Service can take forward convictions where that is appropriate.

T6. Yesterday, I was planning to record a video with then Secretary of State to commend the campaign I have run with the World Dog Alliance to outlaw the consumption of dogmeat in the UK. Sadly, events got in the way. I congratulate the new Secretary of State on her appointment. Will she join me and many colleagues in this place in supporting the campaign? Will she meet me and discuss it further? (912206)

Our new Secretary of State’s commitment to animal welfare is very clear. The Government share my hon. Friend’s abhorrence at the thought of eating dogmeat. I recognise both the substantive and symbolic nature of the issues he raises. As he knows, I am exploring actively with colleagues what else we might be able to do to send the clearest possible signal that this behaviour should never be tolerated.

Does the Minister share my concern that the Environment Agency states that Yorkshire Water has unacceptable environmental pollution performance, and that Yorkshire Water discharged sewage into the River Wharfe on no fewer than 123 days last year?

The Government absolutely take that seriously. Investment in sewerage has seen a huge reduction in phosphorous and ammonia entering waters, and the Environment Agency is very active on the issue. It undertakes checks of the ecological health of rivers regularly and it will, as will Ofwat, take action against Yorkshire Water when it fails.

Mansfield and Warsop are full of animal lovers, as is the rest of the UK. News of tougher sentencing for animal abuse is very welcome. What steps will the Department take, perhaps working with charities such as Battersea and others, to make sure that everybody is aware of the new sentencing rules, so that animal cruelty can be prosecuted as robustly as possible?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He makes a very good point. It is not enough just to change the law; we need to make sure there is a greater awareness of the changes that I hope are soon to be implemented. I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the coalition of charities that campaigned so hard for the proposed legislation, which will shortly come back to the House, to ensure that we raise the maximum sentences for animal cruelty.

In private, the Government are apparently briefing local resilience forums about the impact of a no-deal Brexit on food supply and food prices, and are predicting mass disruption. Will the Secretary of State confirm whether that is true, and will she stop keeping people in the dark? Will she publish this information, so all of us can see whether there are adequate contingencies in place?

Of course it is right that any responsible Government should prepare for any scenario. We are working closely with all stakeholders to make sure there is a proper flow and supply of food, whatever the scenario.

On Saturday, I met impassioned climate change activists Cliff Kendall and Donna Tyrelli. Cliff Kendall is on hunger strike to protect the environment. They suggest that the average household can reduce its energy bills by more than £250 a year by switching to renewable energy suppliers. What steps is the Department taking to educate households about such green initiatives that help to cut the cost of living?

There is a range of programmes under way to encourage people to switch, both to ensure that they get value for money and to talk up the advantages of moving to a more sustainable electricity supply. I will certainly be taking a personal interest in these matters in my new role.

Improving the energy efficiency of our homes is one of the best ways to tackle climate change, yet since 2012 there has been a 95% fall in home insulation programmes. What has gone wrong?

The Government have a strong record on climate change, but I acknowledge that we need to do more to ensure that people are able to insulate their homes. We will be working on that in the months ahead.

A year ago, Lewis Pugh was completing his long swim along the length of the English channel, from Land’s End to Dover. That incredible feat highlighted the need for full protection of our seas. What plans does the Minister have to expand the number of areas of UK waters under full marine protection?

Lewis Pugh was one of our “Year of Green Action” ambassadors and I am delighted that he continues to raise awareness of this issue. My hon. Friend will be aware of the 41 new marine conservation zones that we have designated. It would really help if the Scottish Government could also start designating more marine conservation zones, so that together as a United Kingdom we would have more than 30% of our areas protected. I wish my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) well with his highly protected marine areas review.

Will the new Secretary of State apologise to Scottish farmers for Westminster’s stealing £160 million of EU convergence uplift, and will she do something to sort out that injustice?

We have regular conversations with the Scottish Administration. We have made it clear that as we fund the new schemes in the United Kingdom, they will not be Barnettised and will take account of the nature of Scottish agriculture. Scotland will get a fair settlement.