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Topical Questions

Volume 684: debated on Thursday 26 November 2020

Since the last session of DEFRA oral questions, Royal Assent has been granted to both the Agriculture Bill and the Fisheries Bill. The Agriculture Act 2020 gives us the powers to transform the way in which we support farmers and build back nature in the farmed landscape, while the Fisheries Act 2020 gives us powers to become an independent coastal state, and decide who can fish in our waters and under what terms. We will be bringing forward new policies under both Acts in the weeks and months ahead.

My right hon. Friend’s Department is a very busy one right now, but may I ask him to look at the issue of animal cruelty sentences? I know that the Government are looking to legislate to increase sentencing. Animals feel pain and emotion, and all of us in this House have probably had terrible cases of animal cruelty in our constituencies, which can be upsetting for all our communities. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that there is a good level of enforcement for animal cruelty offences?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. The Government support extending maximum penalties and offences for animal cruelty. We are supporting a private Member’s Bill currently going through this House to achieve that. Should that not go through, we will introduce legislation in a later Session in this Parliament in order to do that. We are also working with local authorities and others to improve the enforcement of the current animal welfare legislation.

After the “News at Ten” exposé of foxhunters discussing how to put up the smokescreen of trail hunting when foxhunts break the law—exemptions that they describe as a “good wheeze”—is the Environment Secretary satisfied that the Hunting Act 2004 is as strong as it needs to be to stop illegal hunting? I am not.

The Hunting Act was brought forward by the Labour party, and there is now a consensus across this House that it should remain. Where there is a breach of that legislation, obviously the police can investigate, and they do.

No, that is not a good enough answer. We support the strengthening of that Act and I hope that the Environment Secretary will too. Forestry England has just announced a ban on hunts using its land in response to the exposé. Should not other landowners now follow this lead and ban trail hunters from their land as well?

The Government believe that the Hunting Act is sufficient. Where there are breaches, it should be enforced. It is for individual landowners to choose, as they always have done, whether they would like hunts on their land.

Ahead of 1 January, the Renaissance of the East Anglia Fisheries is stepping up its plans to revitalise the East Anglian fishing industry. Investment in port and processing infrastructure is vital, and I would be grateful if the Minister could outline the role of fishing in the national infrastructure strategy, what funds will be available and when they will be announced (909255)

For now, the residual bit of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund continues to be something that fishing communities can access, but we will be replacing the EMFF with a domestic fund, and we will say more on this in due course. I am aware of the REAF project in my hon. Friend’s constituency. There are great opportunities for fishing communities along the east coast to benefit from our departure from the EU.

Air pollution is estimated to lead to 40,000 early deaths per year, and here in London, in normal circumstances, some 2 million people are living with illegal levels of air pollution. So will the Secretary of State please commit today to accepting the Environment Bill amendment that would require him to produce an annual report on air quality that includes the work of public authorities and Government Departments in tackling air pollution? (909256)

Under the Environment Bill, we will have a 25-year environment improvement plan that addresses issues such as air quality. There will also be targets set for air quality under the Bill.

First, I very much associate myself with the Secretary of State’s remarks regarding the tragic loss of the Joanna C.The brilliant fishermen who come out of St Mawes and Falmouth and along the whole Fal estuary—indeed, around the entire Cornish coast—are delighted that the Fisheries Bill finally got it Royal Assent this week. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that this landmark Act will better the lives of these fishermen, as well as ensuring that our sea are sustainably managed to allow future generations of fishing families to prosper? (909257)

My hon. Friend and neighbour in Cornwall makes a very good point. As a fellow Cornish MP, of course I want to see the interests of the Cornish fishing industry prosper in the future. In many cases, we have had a profoundly unfair share of stocks in the Celtic sea, and that will now change.

After the 2007 floods in Hull, I campaigned for many years to get the Flood Re scheme introduced. However, there are problems with the Flood Re scheme, and I wonder whether the Government need to consider again their message about encouraging house building through schemes such as Help to Buy on areas that are prone to flooding at the same time as saying that house building should not take place in those areas. (909258)

We are in discussions on this matter with ministerial colleagues in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. The hon. Lady will be aware that a planning Bill is coming forward, and one of the things we have already said we would like to do is strengthen the role of the Environment Agency as a statutory consultee on future planning developments.

Many of my constituents farm some of the most visited countryside in the UK. Much of Derbyshire Dales lies in the Peak District national park. Those farmers understand that future Government support will be based on public money for public good. They view producing high-quality food such as milk for Stilton, beef and high-quality lamb as a public good. This goes hand in hand with delivering access to clean air and water, biodiversity, and soils that store carbon. It is a case, is it not, of how food production sits alongside the environment—a case not of either/or, but of both? Can I please have reassurance— (909261)

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Our future policy will be about incentivising, encouraging and supporting sustainable agriculture so that we have sustainable food production but also environment improvement.

The Chancellor did not pledge a single extra penny yesterday towards a green economic recovery, while wasting tens of billions on polluting new roads. Will the Secretary of State explain how that fits with the Government’s so-called green industrial revolution and net zero strategy? (909259)

Last week the Prime Minister announced a new round for the green recovery challenge fund—an additional £40 million—and the Chancellor yesterday confirmed the spending that we intend to put through the nature for climate fund as well.

This Government were elected on a manifesto commitment to maintain agricultural funding across all four nations. Despite the disingenuous political games being played by the Welsh Government and the farming unions in Wales, can my right hon. Friend confirm that yesterday’s statement from the Chancellor delivers on that commitment and safeguards funding levels for all our farmers in Wales? (909262)

Like the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Laura Trott), primary schoolchildren across my constituency have also raised the issue of plastic, so why is the Government’s plan to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042 years behind schedule, and why does it have such weak proposals? Is the Minister kicking Britain’s plastic waste crisis into the long grass? (909260)

I do not accept the point that the hon. Lady makes. We have recently banned plastic stirrers, plastic straws and plastic cotton buds. We are considering other bans on single-use items, and the Environment Bill brings forward extended producer responsibility.