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Topical Questions

Volume 679: debated on Thursday 10 September 2020

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.

What is my right hon. Friend’s Department doing ahead of the upcoming winter to improve the fluvial transport capacity of the Rivers Arun and Adur, which is of great concern to farmers in my constituency of Arundel and South Downs?

The Environment Agency has completed capital schemes to reduce flood risk at Shoreham, Littlehampton and Arundel. Three maintenance projects on the Arun are due to be completed before winter, on the River Stor and at Greatham and Hardham.

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?

We are already running our own reviews in those policy areas through the national food strategy, which is run by Henry Dimbleby. Indeed, the powers in the Agriculture Bill give us precisely the ability to support local projects.

Two weeks ago, on a farm in Gayton in my constituency, I saw the damage being caused to the sugar beet crop by yellow virus. Will Ministers look seriously at the request from British Sugar and growers across Norfolk and elsewhere to follow the French example of a temporary derogation in respect of neonicotinoid seed treatments, to allow the industry to tackle the immediate issue while working on longer-term solutions? (905766)

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.

The Secretary of State’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) was slightly disappointing. The climate assembly was made up of 108 people, from all walks of life and from throughout the country, who considered the evidence and gave their time. The report makes evidence-based recommendations on how we should reach net zero by 2050. May I push the Secretary of State to give assurances that he will consider those recommendations and not give the climate assembly participants a slap in the face? Will he also ensure that recommendations are appropriately incorporated into legislation? (905765)

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.

In recent years, flooding Ministers have worked with me to deliver the multi-million pound Lytham Dock Road pumping station and the £17.4 million Church Scar sea defences. We now need that same level of focus to address considerable inland flooding in parts of Fylde. Will Ministers meet me to discuss how we tackle that challenge? (905767)

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.

One of the Government’s biggest successes during this pandemic has been their work with FareShare, which has allowed local food charities in my constituency, such as Evolve and Bestop, to get food out to vulnerable people. The DEFRA funding involved has diverted fresh food away from waste to those who really need it. Clearly, we have a long way to go in this pandemic, so is the Secretary of State considering extending this funding? (905771)

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.

One of the biggest issues that Gedling residents have written to me about since my election is the culling of badgers. I recently met representatives of the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust to hear more about the issue and the vaccination programme it is running, with DEFRA funding. Although it is important to follow the science in the decision making, there are concerns that the cull will eradicate some badger populations. Could my right hon. Friend tell me what criteria were used to determine the next areas where the culling will take place and what the extent of it will be? (905769)

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.

The Minister’s earlier answer on deforestation simply was not good enough. Why are the Government only consulting on due diligence measures to cover illegal deforestation, given that we know that many of the activities contributing to deforestation, for example, in the Amazon, are legal and that Bolsonaro for one is relaxing legal protections? We do not need a consultation to tell us that UK companies should not be complicit in destroying the Amazon, so will the Minister look at and support my amendment to the Environment Bill, which would require due diligence across the board? (905773)

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.

Fishing communities in my constituency were devastated by the terms negotiated by a Tory Government for European Economic Community membership. Now what little remains is threatened by Brexit negotiations and the Fisheries Bill. Fifty years on, what has changed, other than the constant sell-out of Scottish fishing communities? (905774)

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.

WWF has today published the “Living Planet” report, which paints a shocking picture of global biodiversity loss. However, it also finds that we can restore nature by taking urgent action on conservation and on how we produce and consume food. The Secretary of State mentioned his manifesto commitments on maintaining high environmental standards in trade deals. How can we trust those commitments when this Government cannot even stand by international law? (905802)

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.