The Secretary of State was asked—
We are already working with our partners to take action to protect and enhance chalk streams, which are precious habitats. That includes reforming abstraction, improving water quality through the Environment Agency’s water industry national environment programme and legislating to support those measures. However, as I said at a roundtable that I ran this week with water companies, chalk streams are vital. We have to do something to look after them, and we will be hosting a conference on this on 16 October.
I am grateful for that reply. Last year, water companies discharged sewage into our precious chalk streams and rivers in North West Norfolk and across the country 200,000 times. I welcome my hon. Friend’s efforts to tackle that unacceptable level. Will she instruct the Environment Agency to take more enforcement action, and will she commit that the new powers in the Environment Bill will be used to set tough, legally binding targets?
We know that effective regulation is the key to preventing pollution from impacting on water quality. That is why a range of enforcement and sanction options are open to the Environment Agency, which we expect to be used wherever necessary. We also expect water companies to set out how they will manage sewerage discharges through drainage and wastewater management plans. However, I acknowledge that further action is necessary, particularly on sewage pollution and combined sewage outlets. I referenced that at the roundtable earlier this week, and more work will be going on.
Recognising that commodity supply chains are a major driver of deforestation, the Government established the global resource initiative taskforce. Following the taskforce’s recommendations, we are currently consulting on proposals for a new world-leading due diligence law and working to forge an international alliance on supply chains at COP26. UK international climate finance is also used to protect the world’s most biodiverse forests, with £5.8 billion committed between 2016 and 2021.
I thank my hon. Friend for being on the ball about the Environment Bill in particular, which will be back before the House very soon and will deliver the Government’s manifesto commitment to deliver the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth. We understand the eagerness about measures in relation to due diligence, but we do not want to anticipate the outcome of the consultation. Any decisions on the next steps on these measures will be confirmed in the Government’s formal response to the consultation, which will be published after the consultation closes on 5 October, but we are very positive about it.
Food Production Standards
We have a manifesto commitment that, in all our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental, animal welfare and food standards. We have retained in law our existing standards of protection. We have laid before the House our negotiating objectives, stating that we will uphold those, and we most recently established the Trade and Agriculture Commission.
Many of my constituents, including Nimmi Soni, have written to me with their concerns about the Government’s commitment to protecting food standards. The Secretary of State is right that his party’s manifesto promised not to compromise on food standards in trade deals, but twice—twice—the Government have refused to support Labour amendments to put that into law. If over 70% of people do not want us selling food imported from countries with lower food standards, and more than 1 million people have signed a National Farmers Union petition for British food standards to be put into law, why are the Government refusing to do what the public want and expect? The country has a right to know.
In retained EU law, we have indeed put in place the existing prohibitions on the sale of, for instance, poultry washed with chlorine and beef treated with hormones. We have legal prohibitions and our own legal bans on certain practices. Those remain in place and will not change.
Yesterday was Back British Farming Day, but while our farmers are at risk of being undercut in future trade deals, it will take more than just one day of wheatsheaf wearing to protect them. Will the Secretary of State support the amendment in the House of Lords to put the Trade and Agriculture Commission on firmer footing, especially to offset the clear conflict of interest of Tony Abbott negotiating agricultural trade deals with Australia that could risk British farmers’ livelihoods further?
Tony Abbott is one of a number of people on the Board of Trade. Their role is to champion British exports overseas. They do not decide Government policy or the Government’s negotiating mandate; those negotiations are led by the Secretary of State for International Trade. We have set up a food and agriculture and trade standards commission. That has been done and it is already meeting. It does not need to be placed on a statutory footing.
Nancy Pelosi and several other American politicians have said that there will be no trade deal with the US if the UK reneges on treaties that it has signed up to, as the Government intend to do with the EU withdrawal agreement. Given that the UK Government dumped food standards from the Agriculture Bill to pursue a US deal that now appears dead, what options will the Secretary of State be looking at to restore those protections, and can we see guarantees on food standards for imports written into law?
There are a number of ways in which we secure standards on food imports. One is through the prohibitions on sale, as I have already mentioned, which include things such as poultry washed with chlorine or hormones in beef. There is the sanitary and phytosanitary chapter that exists in every trade deal that sets out our requirements for food safety and food standards of food coming in. Finally, of course, we use tariff policy to take account of certain practices in other countries.
What advice has the Secretary of State asked for or been given about the liability of the UK Government for damages arising from their failure to ensure that our current standards are upheld in any future trade deal? Will the Government be prepared to compensate farmers and other food producers whose businesses suffer as a result? Will consumers whose health is affected similarly be entitled to compensation?
Food standards and geographical protections go hand in hand, and despite the Secretary of State’s earlier answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), this Government are giving up on food standards and trade deals and are abandoning the EU’s protections on protected geographical indications. Those actions threaten Scotland’s high-quality produce, including whisky. What reassurances can he give to the whisky workers in my constituency that their industry will be protected, and will the Government do a welcome U-turn and seek to rejoin the EU’s protected geographical indication scheme?
We will not rejoin the EU’s scheme, but the withdrawal agreement makes provision in the area of protected food names and PGI s, and there will be recognition of the existing ones that have been set out. In addition, we will be establishing our own independent PGI and protected food name scheme to take new applications after we leave.
Measures to improve air quality are a key part of the Environment Bill, and we have engaged with stakeholders through the development of these measures to ensure that they are ambitious and impactful. We are confident that these measures, including the commitments to set two air quality targets, will deliver real benefits for air quality, and we will continue to engage and collaborate with stakeholders, parliamentarians and the public as we work to implement these measures.
Until lockdown, air pollution blighted the life expectancy and health of many of my constituents and, as traffic levels are starting to rise again, we are seeing the same problems of air pollution arise. Will the Government commit to including the World Health Organisation’s guideline on air pollution limits in the Environment Bill, and will they also include particulate matter as well as nitrogen dioxide in the legally binding targets?
As I have said, we have two air quality targets already in the Environment Bill and the WHO’s PM 2.5 is on there. We will consult on exactly how that will come through, which is absolutely right. All experts agree with that. The hon. Lady makes good points about coronavirus and the impact on air quality. The Air Quality Expert Group and others have done some very useful and significant research, which will be looked at in great detail to ensure that the right measures are coming forward.
Local modelling has revealed that 21 locations across Stockport will have nitrogen oxide levels above the legal limit in 2021. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury), I ask the Government to commit today to including nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter as legally binding targets in the Environment Bill.
The Environment Bill has a big section on tackling air quality, with two targets to be set. Many other air pollutants—five in total—are also tackled, and we already have targets in place for them as part of the clean air strategy. We have a comprehensive strategy, because we appreciate just how serious the issue of air quality is. We as a Government will be tackling that, including with clean air zones across the country, many of which are coming forward in the near future.
I thank the Minister for her responses to my hon. Friends the Members for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) and for Stockport (Navendu Mishra), but may I press her further? According to Labour research, almost 60% of people in England are living in areas where levels of toxic air pollution exceeded legal limits last year. That shocking statistic should jolt the Government into action. Will the Minister commit to incorporating World Health Organisation air-quality standards into the Environment Bill?
I welcome the shadow Minister to her place. As I have said, the Bill contains two targets, and PM2.5 is one of them. We understand that that is the most significant and impactful pollutant of our health, but we must consult on this issue. I have met many experts and specialists in this area, and we must wait for the actual data before we can finally bring those measures into the Bill and ensure that we get this right. As I said, clean air zones are being introduced across the country to tackle this issue through our clean air strategy.
May I point out to the food Minister, that contrary to what she might think—
National Food Strategy
Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I take this opportunity to thank Henry Dimbleby and his team for their work to examine our food system and the vital role it plays? We will consider their independent report carefully, and we expect the second part during the course of next year. The Government have undertaken to respond with a White Paper within six months.
My apologies, Mr Speaker; my excitement about this report knows no bounds, hence my enthusiasm. In my constituency, the Minister is now something of a folk heroine, thanks to this report. May I invite her to visit Blackpool and see how the recommendations on tackling holiday hunger will benefit the most deprived communities in the UK? Because we may be in a food desert, she might have to put up with a Greggs pasty for her lunch, but we will put on a good show for her none the less.
Animal Welfare Offences
Animal cruelty has no place in our society, which is why the Government are committed to increasing the maximum custodial penalty for animal cruelty from six months to five years. The Government are fully behind the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill, which will provide one of the toughest sentencing regimes in Europe.
I thank the Minister for her answer, but I have been really disturbed by recent reports in the local press regarding incidents of animal cruelty in my constituency. I certainly worry that individuals who are capable of deliberately inflicting pain and suffering on animals are capable of far worse. Will the Minster go a little further and give a guarantee that the maximum five-year sentence for the worst animal cruelty offences will be on the statute book by January 2021?
I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman, and we are all keen to do what we can to stamp out animal cruelty. Unfortunately, I cannot give any guarantees about the progress of parliamentary business, but the Second Reading of the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill, which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder) who is currently in his place, will take place next month. The Government fully support the Bill and hope that it will become law very soon.
I welcome the Minister’s confirmation that we will have a five-year maximum sentence for animal cruelty. The RSPCA has estimated that there were more than 100,000 instances of animal cruelty during lockdown. That is a great concern, and we want to ensure that action is taken. Will the Minister confirm that there will be greater enforcement and steps towards prosecution, to ensure that those who commit animal cruelty are brought to justice?
There has been much laudable support for this and many good intentions, but since 2016, when we had the Select Committee report recommendation to bring in five-year maximum sentencing, each Government have decided they are going to do it and it is still not done. My hon. Friend and constituency neighbour the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder) has put forward his Bill, so this is about making sure that the Government will support it and make time, in Government time, to get this through, because we must not prevaricate any longer. With a maximum six-month sentence, and only four months if someone pleads guilty, it is absolutely ridiculous that we cannot bring in stronger sentencing.
The Chairman of the EFRA Committee and the Committee have done their bit through their important work in this area in producing the report in 2016. The Second Reading of the Bill brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder) takes place next month, and I very much look forward to either attending the debate or following it very closely. I can reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) by saying that the Government strongly support that private Member’s Bill and fully expect it to be adopted very soon.
The Government are determined to help our farmers and food producers to increase sales domestically and internationally. We welcome efforts from all parts of the food chain to promote UK produce, including the promotional work done by groups like the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board. We have recently co-funded a consumer-facing milk campaign. We continue to work with the AHDB and others on future promotional work.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, which is very welcome indeed. Does he agree that food produced in other countries using techniques that drive up yield and drive down costs but are illegal here in the UK should be subject to import tariffs that make those techniques economically pointless?
I do agree with my hon. Friend. The use of tariff policy to protect producers and to safeguard against certain types of production is indeed a legitimate use of tariff policy, alongside other measures such as the sanitary and phytosanitary chapter that we are negotiating.
Healthy and Sustainable Food
We have commissioned the national food strategy independent review. Other Government policies are addressing healthy food provision, including the tackling obesity strategy, healthy start vouchers and free school meals. Sustainable food production is absolutely at the heart of our future agriculture policy.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Local welfare provision can be a lifeline for families on the brink of food poverty. That is why I warmly welcome the Department’s funding allocation of £63 million of emergency support back in July. I am growing increasingly concerned, however, that this funding is due to expire in October, at the same time that the furlough scheme is drawing to a close, food bank use is rocketing and we will be in the midst of a recession. What future funding will the Department allocate for local welfare provision?
We have put in place a number of interventions to help people struggling with food affordability, particularly in lockdown and its aftermath. We continue to keep all these policies under review. We have the free school meals voucher system that ran, as the hon. Gentleman says, over the summer, and there are other measures that we have been working on with local authorities.
Smaller Farmers: Supermarket Prices
We want farmers to get a fair price for their produce, and the Government are committed to tackling the contractual unfairness that exists in the agrifood supply chain. Through the Agriculture Bill, we are seeking to strengthen the position of farmers by improving transparency in the supply chain, and there are new powers in the Bill to introduce statutory codes of contractual practice.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply, but the supermarket Sainsbury’s is threatening to tear up the contracts of small dairy farmers in West Dorset that supply it with milk if they refuse to sell it a percentage of their calves. Does he agree that Sainsbury’s is abusing its dominant position, and will he support me in defending small farmers across the country from these predatory supermarkets?
I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this issue in more detail. We now have in place the groceries code adjudicator, which regulates the types of contracts that supermarkets can put in place and precludes certain practices, but through the Agriculture Bill, we can go further and stipulate further requirements in contracts in future.
This Government are investing a record £5.2 billion to deliver around 2,000 new flood defence projects to better protect 336,000 properties in England by 2027. Up to £170 million is also being invested to accelerate work on flood defence schemes that will soon begin construction, and I am very pleased to say that, largely thanks to my hon. Friend’s great campaigning efforts from the Back Benches, Tenbury Wells will receive £4.9 million in economic recovery grant to enable the completion of the scheme she has been championing and to better protect 570 jobs, 80 businesses and 82 properties.
I thank the Minister personally and the Secretary of State for all they did to ensure that funding will deliver a scheme for Tenbury Wells. May I ask her to encourage from the Dispatch Box the Environment Agency to crack on and get a socially distanced consultation under way on its preferred design?
I thank my hon. Friend very much for that and for all the work that she has done. Now that the money is there, she is itching to get on with the project. The Environment Agency has worked proactively to develop safe ways to work during the pandemic, and I am reliably informed that it will start a public consultation on the Tenbury flood risk management scheme this autumn. It will use socially distanced and virtual engagement methods that are covid-secure to ensure that it engages as widely as possible.
People in South Yorkshire are still waiting for the Prime Minister’s flood summit, which was promised last November, four months before the covid-19 lockdown in the UK. This is the second time I have asked the Secretary of State to explain the delay. Will he apologise and commit now to a date for the long overdue summit?
I thank the shadow Minister for that question. This issue has been raised a number of times. I have had many Zoom calls with Members from the area over the lockdown, and the difficulty with having the project has been that we have been in lockdown, but we have made major flood announcements, with £5.2 billion of funding. Many of the Yorkshire areas have benefited, but of course, if there are further conversations that the shadow Minister would like to have, we would be happy to have them.
Animal Welfare Standards
This country has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. We have modernised standards for dog breeding, changed the way we do pet sales, brought in a world-leading ivory ban and introduced mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses. We are going further, as we said we would in our manifesto, to end excessively long journeys for farm animals, to ban primates as pets and to ban imports from trophy hunting.
I thank the Minister for that answer, which will reassure the many Gedling residents who write to me on animal welfare issues. As our manifesto made clear, leaving the European Union gives us the opportunity to enhance standards, not reduce them. Given that, does my hon. Friend agree that we should perhaps stop playing party politics on this issue and get behind the many initiatives that the Government have introduced to promote high animal welfare standards and increased protection for animals in homes, farms and the wild?
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that there is a great deal of interest across this House and, indeed, among our constituents in issues concerning animal welfare. The UK is a leader when it comes to matters of animal welfare, but there is always more that we can and will do.
My family enjoys quality food bought directly from farms across my constituency, such as Ibbotsons in Sandbach, Glebe Farm in Astbury, Hall Farm shop in Alsager, the Cheshire Egg Co.’s dispenser at Pace’s farm and daily fresh Bidlea milk from Twemlow. What more can the Government do to help those and other rural businesses in my constituency to promote their high-quality local produce?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the delicious food—from lovely meat to the famous Cheshire cheese—that is undoubtedly available in her constituency. We are supporting initiatives to promote local produce, including through recent industry-led marketing campaigns. We will always champion our farmers and producers to grow more of our great British food.
The Fisheries Bill, which is currently in Committee and on which I will be spending the rest of the day, sets out a legally binding framework, including fisheries management plans, which will help to protect and recover stocks; to support a thriving, sustainable fishing industry; and, we hope, to safeguard the environment.
Sustainability means that coastal communities around the UK, such as Eyemouth in my constituency, can continue to fish for generations to come. When renegotiating access to UK waters, how will the Minister ensure that all boats comply with our rules and that our marine life is protected from overfishing?
In future, all vessels, both from the UK and elsewhere, will be subject to licence conditions set by the UK sea fisheries authorities. The conditions will set out the areas that can be fished, species that can be caught and types of gear that can be used when fishing in UK waters. Marine enforcement officers from all the fisheries administrations have the powers to inspect vessels and ensure that they comply with our rules.
As we approach the end of the transition period, DEFRA’s primary focus will be on putting in place all the necessary legislation for January, working with industry to ensure that we are ready for change, and putting in place the necessary capacity to enable us to deliver a smooth transition to becoming an independent country.
Seventy-nine per cent. of the climate citizens’ assembly agreed that economic recovery after covid must be designed to help to drive net zero, including through greater reliance on local food production and healthier diets. Will the Secretary of State commit his Department to review those findings and act on them?
The Government recognise that sugar beet growers face yield losses this year because of the difficulties in controlling aphids. We support the restrictions on neonicotinoids to protect pollinators, but we have always been clear that we remain open to applications for emergency authorisations under the current rules.
We are always open to recommendations, suggestions and proposals from people in all walks of life, whether they are on any type of formal committee or not. The point I was making was that we have our own national food strategy, which is itself running a large engagement process to engage people in many of these ideas. We will of course consider those ideas as we put together future policy.
I am more than happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss these issues. But since 2010, the Government have invested £181 million in flood defences in Lancashire to better protect about 37,000 homes, and over the next two years the Government plan to invest a further £21.6 million to support inland fluvial and coastal defence schemes, and better protect nearly 5,000 homes.
We work closely with FareShare, as we always have. As the hon. Gentleman points out, we did make available some additional funding to help it to support the financially vulnerable during this pandemic. Obviously, as we go into winter we keep all these matters under review.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. In our response to the Godfrey review, we set out our approach to dealing with bovine tuberculosis in the next five years. In response to the specific question, we look at epidemiological assessments in individual areas to see where particular strains are present in both badgers and cattle, and that drives the decisions about where culling is necessary.
As the Minister said earlier, we have a consultation out at the moment, and people will no doubt respond to it. But the evidence we have is that actually many of these countries do have laws in place and the issue is a failure to enforce those laws, and that is why we have consulted on that basis.
I fundamentally disagree with the point made by the hon. Gentleman. It was indeed against the interests of the fishing industry, right across the UK, to join the European Union and the common fisheries policy, which has meant that we have access to only half the fish in our own waters. Leaving the EU means that we can rectify that and get a fair deal for fishermen in every part of the UK, which is why the Scottish industry strongly supports the approach of the British Government.
Following the outbreak of covid among staff of Banham Poultry, in my constituency, more than three weeks ago, the company has had to shut down its plants, and slaughter or sell millions of pounds-worth of its chickens to competitors for pennies, without the compensation it would normally receive for culling in relation to animal health, incurring losses of about £2 million a week. The two family shareholders have made it clear that that is unsustainable without any signal of Government support or progress towards reopening. Given that the company received no help earlier in the year through covid interruption schemes or furloughing, because it was rightly deemed a strategic food business, and has had no compensation for culling, can my right hon. Friend give some signal today, before the company’s emergency general meeting tomorrow, that the talks with Government in the past fortnight will lead to some financial support, to avoid the loss of an historic business and local economic devastation?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I had a meeting with my officials yesterday to discuss the case. We understand the difficulties that Banham Poultry is facing, and I know that our officials are in constant dialogue with the company, as are officials in other Departments, including Public Health England and the Treasury.
The WWF report is a wake-up call for everybody around the world. At the heart of every piece of policy in DEFRA is the intention to build back nature, including through our agriculture policy, where we are encouraging sustainable agriculture; through the new targets and governance framework in the Environment Bill; through our approach to sustainable fisheries; and through our work on due diligence in the supply chain. This is a crucial time, and the UK is a world leader here. We have COP26 and the convention on biodiversity, which we will be involved with next year, and we will be championing the environment in all those international forums.