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Topical Questions

Volume 692: debated on Thursday 22 April 2021

Today is Earth Day, an initiative that has been running now every year since 1970 and promotes engagement, awareness and individual action for our environment. The Government continue their own engagement with countries around the world in the build-up to COP26 in Glasgow later this year. As part of that programme, next Monday, along with the World Bank, I will be hosting the first dialogue on sustainable agriculture, setting out how changes to agriculture policy can incentivise regenerative agriculture and enhance environmental assets in the farmed landscape.

Given that food waste accounts for 19% of the UK’s landfill and that even the proposed targets in the Environment Bill to separate household food waste collections are unlikely to eliminate food waste in landfill by 2030, is it not time that his Department considered a food waste to landfill ban in England for food waste businesses that produce more than 5 kg of food waste per week?

We are obviously looking at this very carefully through our waste resources strategy and through the provisions in the Environment Bill. We will require local authorities to collect food waste through our consistent collections policy; that is an area that we are consulting on at the moment. Obviously, once food waste is collected separately we can treat it separately, and that could involve anaerobic digesters and other ways of dealing with this waste other than landfill.

Pet theft, especially of pedigree dogs, is a major issue in my constituency. What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice about introducing new measures to tackle this crime? (914580)

As I said earlier, I had meetings in March with both the Home Secretary and the Chancellor on this particular issue. We have set up a pet theft taskforce that is investigating it and, in particular, gathering the evidence to understand the scale of the

The year 2020 was the warmest year on record: more habitats were lost; more species were facing extinction; and more raw sewage was pumped into our nation’s rivers, seemingly without consequence for the water companies involved. On Earth Day, will the Secretary of State commit to take fast action against water companies that are pumping raw sewage into our rivers, killing fish, killing habitats and killing birds, and do so while committing to no further roll-back of environmental protections?

I have already acted in this area. The Department has established a taskforce to look at combined sewer overflows, which are one of the key sources of sewage pollution, and we are also putting a real focus on tackling sewage incidents in our future water strategy, which will inform Ofwat’s approach to the pricing reviews that it has with water companies.

According to research compiled by the Local Government Association, the manufacturers of food packaging in the UK contribute only about 10% of the cost of recycling their products. Does my right hon. Friend agree that as part of the efforts that we are undertaking to improve the recycling of waste food packaging, we need to see the manufacturers of that packaging contribute much more towards the costs of recycling their products, in line with the contribution they make in other countries, rather than leaving our council tax payers to foot most of the bill? (914583)

I very much agree with my hon. Friend on this matter. As he will be aware, the Environment Bill introduces the concept of extended producer responsibility, and we are consulting on that at the moment. In future, the manufacturers and the users of packaging for products will take responsibility for recycling it.

Waste incinerators emit toxins and pollutants that are harmful to human health and exacerbate climate change. I am pleased to say that local residents in my constituency of Cynon Valley have recently successfully campaigned against a waste incinerator through the Valleys For Tourism Not Trash campaign, and the Welsh Government have recently announced a moratorium on any future large-scale incinerators. Will the Minister commit to reconsidering the Government’s decision to exclude waste incinerators from their post-Brexit carbon emissions trading scheme and follow Wales’s lead by introducing a moratorium on future incinerators? (914581)

This is obviously a contentious area. However, energy from waste can be a way of extracting some use from it. It is often preferable to landfill and often has lower carbon implications because some energy can be generated from it. Nevertheless, there are some environmental concerns around this. That is why in England the Environment Agency has to authorise and license any such facility.

Charity shops are currently experiencing both a surge in donations and an increase in fly-tipping on their doorsteps. Many of the goods donated are of poor quality and simply cannot be sold on. This is causing significant extra waste disposal costs for charities, which have already seen their incomes diminish during the pandemic. What support can DEFRA offer through its new waste management plan to support the charitable community in this financial challenge? (914584)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Fly-tipping has become a scourge in recent years. It has become a growing problem, with organised gangs behind some of these waste crime incidents. We have already taken action to improve our surveillance and to improve the traceability of some of these products so that we can trace them back to the source that they came from and bring those responsible to justice.

A shocking report released by the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union has revealed that one in every five people working in the British food sector, which stretches from factories and distribution firms to cafés and supermarkets, live in households that have run out of food because of a lack of money. We live in arguably the sixth richest country on this planet and our workers are going hungry because of meagre wages. Does the Secretary of State agree that access to affordable and nutritious food is a basic human right, and will he commit to ensuring that the right to food is included in next month’s Queen’s Speech? (914582)

The Government monitor household spending on food very closely, and we agree that we want to raise earnings among the lowest paid. That is why it has been a long-standing policy of this Government to first introduce a national living wage and then increase it incrementally year on year, and we have done that to take the lowest paid out of poverty. As a result of that policy, household spending on food among the poorest households has actually fallen from about 16% to under 15%, which is the lowest on record.

I have been working with local councillors in Stoke Bardolph and Burton Joyce to work with residents and partner organisations to set up a flood action group that will help to take some preventive action and provide reassurance in part of the Gedling constituency that occasionally floods. Will my right hon. Friend join me commending those who are volunteering to join this group and tell me what steps the Government are taking to help to prevent flooding in Nottinghamshire? (914585)

I commend the work that my hon. Friend and those local volunteers are doing. We have our flood resilience forums around the country. The Environment Agency works with local government on them and on putting them in place so that communities can improve their resilience. More broadly, we have an ambitious capital programme of more than £5 billion over the next five years to invest in flood defences and to protect communities such as his.

In an earlier exchange about air quality, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), seemed to suggest that because there was no safe level of air pollution in the way it affects in particular our children’s lungs, that is a reason for rejecting a move to make legal the World Health Organisation standards. That is patent nonsense of course, but can Ministers look particularly at the position around our schools? It is where our young children are very vulnerable. Traffic idling can make pollution levels intense, particularly in urban areas. Is it not time now to take proper action and not simply hear fine words? Action now, Minister, please. (914589)

I am not sure that is what my hon. Friend said earlier, but she was making the point that since there is no safe limit of particulate matter and PM2.5, what we should be doing is focusing on additional measures such as overall population exposure, and that is indeed something we are looking at through the target-setting process in the Environment Bill.