The Secretary of State was asked—
National Food Strategy: Small-scale Family Farms
The Government thank Henry Dimbleby and his team for their work on the independent review of the food system. We are committed to carefully considering the review and its recommendations, and responding in full with a White Paper in the next six months. That will set out our ambition and priorities for the food system to support farms of all sizes and our exceptional food and drink producers.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the heart will be ripped out of the British countryside if small-scale family farms in Kettering and elsewhere go under as a result of industrial agriculture and the relentless pursuit of cheap food? What will he do to ensure that family farms remain an important and permanent feature of rural life?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the importance of small family farms in our agriculture system. A lot of the economic analysis done by the Government and companies such as AB Agri shows that some of those smaller family farms are technically the most proficient and often the most profitable, as they have attention to detail. The Government are going to be bringing forward more proposals to support new entrants to our farming industry so that we have a vibrant, profitable sector, with farms of all sizes.
The National Food Strategy has recommended that the Government must define the minimum standards we will accept in future free trade deals and a “mechanism for protecting them”. The report says that without that there is “serious peril” that tariff-free deals could not only “compromise” our own attempts to drive up these standards, but allow cheap imports, which would “undercut” our farmers. Given that the Trade and Agriculture Commission already made exactly that recommendation in its March report, almost five months ago, can the Secretary of State tell me when these core standards will be set out and whether that mechanism for defending them will be in place before the Australia deal is signed?
The Government are working on a sanitary and phytosanitary policy statement that will set out the UK’s farm-to-fork approach on these matters, the science of good farm husbandry and how that improves food safety standards. We also have some key things in our legislation, such as bans on the use of hormones in beef and of chlorinated washes. Those are in our legislation and will not change.
New measures to crack down on livestock worrying are being introduced as part of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. They will expand species and locations covered, and will enhance enforcement. Improved powers for the police will make it easier for them to collect evidence and, in the most serious cases, to seize and detain dogs.
Farmers in Aberconwy have been speaking to me about the threat that dogs out of control pose to livestock. Dan Jones, who farms the Great Orme above Llandudno, told me just yesterday about how five ewes were killed in two attacks in just one day. This week, I was pleased to support my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) in her Bill to amend the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, because this is a UK-wide problem. Will the Minister meet her, me and other north Wales colleagues to discuss how we can strengthen legislation further to deal with this menace?
I would be delighted to meet colleagues to discuss this important subject. New measures in the Bill specify that a dog will be considered to be at large unless it is on a lead of less than 1.8 metres or the dog remains in sight of the owner, who is aware of the dog’s actions and is confident that the dog will return if called .It is important that we continue to work on these details to get this absolutely right.
Abundance of Wildlife Species: Legislative Proposals
We have amended the Environment Bill to require a new, historic and legally binding target for species abundance for 2030 to be set, aiming to halt the decline in nature. The details of that target will be set out secondary legislation and the target will be subject to the same requirements as the other long-term legally binding targets set under the Bill.
The UK is among the most nature-depleted countries; half our wildlife has decreased since 1970 and one in seven species is now at risk of extinction. Given a decade of huge cuts, all the rhetoric and the modest uplift in Natural England funding cannot hide the fact that the Government have consistently missed United Nations biodiversity targets. Minister, in order to show leadership and set an example to the rest of the world, should a natural target not be set now, rather than wait, so that we can stop and reverse the decline of nature by 2030?
I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree that the Government are taking this issue really seriously. We are the first Government to set a target such as this, aiming to halt the decline of nature, and indeed recover it by 2030. We are working on the detail of that target. It will be set, along with all the other targets, through the Environment Bill, which will enable us to work together to raise up nature everywhere, and we will be announcing those targets in October 2022.
I have become accustomed to the flurry of press releases from the Department and the long list of initiatives that the Minister has a habit of reciting when questioned about biodiversity and species abundance. Does she agree with the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, the right hon. Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne), when he says:
“Although there are countless Government policies and targets to ‘leave the environment in a better state than we found it’, too often they are grandiose statements lacking teeth and devoid of effective delivery mechanisms”?
So, where is the plan?
I hope the hon. Lady will agree that the plethora of press releases demonstrate just how much work is going on in this Department. We are bringing through groundbreaking legislation that will put in all the measures that we need to tackle these really serious issues. So we have the targets in the Environment Bill and we have a whole range of grants and funds, such as the woodland creation grant and the Nature for Climate peatland restoration grant scheme. They are open now, and people can start applying for them, and we really are moving on this.
The England trees action plan, supported by £500 million from the Nature for Climate fund, announced a series of funds to support the creation of woodland over this Parliament. That includes over £25 million for our woodland creation partnerships this year, £6 million for the urban tree challenge fund for the next two years, a £2.7 million local authority treescapes fund for 2021-22, and £15.9 million for the woodland creation offer this year.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I thank my hon. Friend for her answer, and for the work that she is doing. Clearly, in urban and suburban settings, new trees are a lifeline to encourage the green lungs of the cities and towns around our country. What more can she offer to encourage local authorities to implement new street trees, which are appropriate to the setting, not only on streets, but also in parks and open spaces?
My hon. Friend raises a really important point. It is not just about planting trees in rural areas; our urban areas are so important, because that is where people engage with the trees. So I am sure he will be pleased to hear about the urban tree challenge fund, which is providing £6 million over the next two years to support trees in exactly the places he says—our towns and cities. We have also opened the £2.7 million local authority treescapes fund, to encourage more tree planting in non-woodland settings, but particularly along roads and footpaths, just as he is suggesting. I hope that he will be encouraging his local authority to apply for some of those grants.
Coastal State Fisheries Negotiations: Quota Share
It is very good to see my hon. Friend back in the Chamber after his illness. For 2021, the Government have secured fishing opportunities of around 628,000 tonnes of quota across all the annual negotiations—approximately 55,000 tonnes more than last year. The Government are now preparing for the next round of annual fisheries negotiations. We have held a series of briefings with stakeholders this month on the latest scientific recommendations, and we will be developing our negotiating mandate in the months ahead.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. The decision not to come to an agreement with Norway was met with mixed reactions across the different sectors within the industry. While the pelagic sector is undoubtedly doing well out of our new status, there have been challenges for the demersal sector. So can my right hon. Friend give a commitment that the Government are determined to deliver honesty of opportunity for all sectors in the industry—demersal as well as pelagic?
My hon. Friend is right. The pelagic sector in particular has benefited from the UK becoming an independent coastal state with more quota and less competition from Norway and the Faroe Islands, which have not had access to our waters this year. For 2021, the fleet received an increase of around 5,800 tonnes of mackerel compared with the year before. My hon. Friend is also right: we want to deliver for all sectors, which is why, in England, we have given a significant uplift to the inshore under-10 metre fleet with additional quota this year. It is also why, as I speak, we are in the final stages of negotiations on annual exchanges with the EU that will help the white fish sector.
The fishing industry knows that the Government have failed to negotiate real-terms quota data with the European Union, and it also knows that the Government have no idea—no idea—how much non-quota species are being caught by EU boats in our waters. With the shellfish ban on exports and British fishers being harassed for catch data that we do not require from EU boats, where in the Tory manifesto did it say that we would actually give away control of our waters, and where is the plan for fishing? Where is the plan?
I will take no lectures on these matters from the hon. Gentleman who wanted us to remain in the European Union and wanted to allow EU vessels to have the ability to fish in our waters without even requiring a licence to do so.
The Government have required all foreign vessels, including EU vessels, to have a licence to fish in our waters, and that sets certain conditions. We have access to vessel monitoring data so that we can track the precise location of all those vessels, and we are also working on methodologies now so that they must declare their catch when they leave our waters and when they enter our waters, and that will give us the data that he suggests that we need.
Compulsory Microchipping of Cats
The Government have a manifesto commitment to introduce compulsory microchipping of cats, and that was recently restated in the action plan for animal welfare. We carried out a public consultation, which ended in February, and DEFRA officials are currently analysing the 33,000 responses. We will publish the details of our proposals later this year.
So despite widespread public support, as the Minister confirmed, we are yet to have a timetable for the compulsory microchipping of pet cats. We know that 2.6 million unchipped pet cats in the UK have less chance of being reunited with their owners if they are lost or stolen, despite how heartbreaking the loss of much loved pets can be and the recognised need to improve animal welfare. Will the Government ensure that the consultation on cat and dog microchipping reports as soon as possible and announce their timetable for introducing regulations to make microchipping compulsory for pet cats?
I share the hon. Lady’s enthusiasm for microchipping cats. A total of 74% are already microchipped, including my own I am pleased to say. We will be working hard, as soon as we have responded to the consultation, to legislate as soon as possible. Only secondary legislation is needed to bring about changes if those are considered necessary, so I do not anticipate any great delay, and I reassure the hon. Lady that we are working on this at pace.
Seafood Response Fund
The seafood response fund gave funding to shellfish, aquaculture and catching businesses across the UK when they had been affected by covid or by trade disruption. The size of each payment was based on the average fixed costs for each business. For catching businesses, this was based on vessel size, and for aquaculture businesses, this was based on the number of people they employed.
Now that the Minister has had time to read the deal that the UK Government have signed, she will see that it is a bad deal and that there has been a lot of trade disruption. In January and February, Scottish companies were losing roughly £1 million per day. By the end of February, the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation stated that its members had lost £11 million. What does the Minister estimate is the total cost of covid and Brexit on the Scottish seafood industry? How much compensation has been paid to Scottish companies? How much compensation is still to be paid, and what has she done to resolve the issue of exports to the EU?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the extensive work that has been carried out by the Scottish seafood taskforce, chaired by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid), which has provided practical and sensible measures to assist with exports to the EU. On the specific fund, we were very careful to make it clear that Scottish businesses should not lose out, so the fund was available for all eligible UK businesses, and Scottish businesses were able to apply for a top-up if that was appropriate, so we were very careful to ensure that Scottish businesses were treated equitably.
Measures in the Environment Bill will help to address the problem of untreated sewage entering the rivers. On 9 July, Southern Water was fined £90 million—the largest sum yet for a water company—for persistent illegal discharge of raw sewage. Ministers have been clear with water industry chief executive officers on their companies’ legal duties. We are also tackling river pollution from poor farming practices. In addition to regulation and financial incentives, catchment-sensitive farming helps thousands of farmers to make water improvements.
Leighton sewage works pumped raw sewage into the River Ouzel for 149 hours in 2019, and in March this year waste water was pumped into the river for several weeks at Mardle Road. Volunteers Ruth Mundy and Liz Hooper report the absence of ducks, egrets and kingfishers, which were common in the past. Will the new director of water quality at the Environment Agency be able to achieve a rapid and sustained improvement?
I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting this issue. It is clearly unacceptable. I hope he will agree that we now have many measures in place; he has been involved in pressing for them. The storm overflows taskforce has been set up to deal with the sewage overflows, which, in our view, are used far too frequently. Much more monitoring is in place through the water companies. They have to publish a plan on this issue and the Government have to report back. We are really cracking down on the whole issue of water quality, which my hon. Friend is right to raise.
Support for Farmers
The agricultural transition plan sets out how support for farmers is changing. Instead of paying farmers subsidies based on the amount of land they own, we are introducing new schemes to incentivise good ecological practices. We will also offer grants to support new entrants to the sector, and to improve productivity and business planning.
The UK Government yesterday indicated that they were willing to break their own trade deal with the EU because of consequences that they told us would not happen. The EU may then very well implement tariffs on UK exports to the EU, as it has a right to do under the Tory-negotiated deal. That would be calamitous for our agricultural sector. The Minister will no doubt answer with reference to all the new deals that the International Trade Secretary is signing the UK up to, but just days ago the New Zealand Prime Minister warned that failing to keep to treaty commitments could threaten membership of the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. Will the Minister commit to covering the extra costs to farmers that this whole sorry mess is causing, or are the consequences of this ideological Brexit crusade to be borne by everyone but the UK Government and their Ministers?
I do not think it is any secret to the House that I was no Brexiteer, but I must say that for farming and fishing I think we have really gained from Brexit. In England, we do not think the environment can wait. We want to start paying our farmers public money for public goods; that is how they will be supported in the future.
Scottish Seed Potato Industry
The Scottish seed potato industry is renowned globally for its high health status and it is second to none. It exports to some 40 countries around the world and 80% of its exports are outside the EU—to markets such as Egypt and Morocco. As my hon. Friend knows, the EU has adopted a curious stance in respect of authorising Scottish seed potatoes. Although EU law provides a mechanism for equivalence to be recognised, the Commission has so far refused even to allow its Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed to assess our application. We are continuing to work with industry to unblock this issue.
We introduced a temporary six-month marketing authorisation that allowed EU seed potatoes to be marketed in England and Wales earlier this year. That has now expired, as agreed with the industry and the devolved Administrations. If any applications are received for marketing equivalence, the UK will consider whether seed potatoes have been produced under conditions equivalent to requirements in GB regulations. Of course, the sensible thing to happen is for the EU to apply its own rules and laws, and to assess the application that we have lodged with it.
The UK has a resilient food supply chain built on strong domestic production, open markets and an advanced logistics and retail sector. The impacts of the pandemic and labour shortages mean that it has been tested. We have been working with colleagues across Government to ensure that our food supply chain has the support that it needs. The Agriculture Act 2020 requires regular assessments of food security and the first of these will take place later this year.
Department for Work and Pensions data has revealed the shocking fact that, pre-covid, 42% of households on universal credit were food insecure. With the planned removal of the £20 uplift to universal credit, what impact assessment has the Secretary of State’s Department completed on the impact of removing the uplift regarding the food security of the 6 million people on universal credit?
We regularly monitor household spending on food. It is important to note that last year household spending on food among the poorest 20% of households was the lowest on record, at about 14%. That said, we absolutely recognise that there are individual households that struggle to afford food. That is why the Government have brought forward a number of initiatives over the past 12 months to support them through groups such as FareShare, as well as the holiday activities and food scheme.
There are crops rotting in the fields due to a shortage of people to pick them, there is a self-inflicted shortage of HGV drivers due to the Government’s poor Brexit deal, and there are now empty shelves across Britain because thousands of retail workers are doing the right thing and self-isolating. Why has the Secretary of State for food not got a grip on the lack of food security in the country, and where is the plan?
When it comes to labour, the hon. Gentleman will know that we have introduced the seasonal agricultural workers scheme, which has been crucial this year in providing farms with the seasonal labour that they need, and we have allowed 30,000 seasonal workers to come in under that scheme. We are also continuing to work with businesses on the issue of staff having to isolate. The Government will shortly be saying more about their approach on this to ensure that key critical infrastructure can continue.
We are introducing reforms to the waste sector that will help us to increase the amount of material we recycle. These reforms include introducing consistency in household and business waste collection in England, extended producer responsibility for packaging, and a deposit return scheme for drinks containers. Together, these measures will help us to meet our commitment to recycle 70% of packaging by 2030 and 65% of municipal waste by 2035.
Not only are we in Wales the third best at recycling in the world, but in Newport, under the leadership of Newport Council and Wastesavers, we are the top recycling city in Wales, and the reuse centre in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones) is one of three nominated for civic amenity centre of the year, with rates of 90%. Does the Minister agree that the Government can learn much from Wales and Newport?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I am not going to be sniffy about this: if we can learn lessons from anyone, I am never too proud. Equally, the challenges are different in every place. We have set our targets to increase our recycling rates here in the UK, but actually Wales, and Northern Ireland, will be joining us in the deposit return scheme. We very much welcome all the negotiations and consultations that we are having to ensure that that will work across the borders.
Leaks from Water Mains
Reducing leakage is an essential part of our ambition to improve water efficiency. Ofwat has set companies a performance commitment to reduce leakage by 16% by 2025. The water companies have further committed to deliver a 50% reduction by 2050, which could save up to 1,400 megalitres of water per day. I will require water companies to develop their water resource management plans on this basis.
The problem we have in Bromley is that 95% of the mains are cast iron, according to Thames Water, and are therefore much, much more liable to breaking, rather than the average in London of 50% to 60%. It means we have repeated leaks, often in the same place, patched up time and time again. We had 133 in one postcode area in four months, in one instance. This is actually causing real issues for my constituents. Can we have a specific programme to replace outdated Victorian infrastructure and bring it up to purpose for the 21st century?
I thank my hon. Friend for that, and I do realise the challenges that people are facing in his constituency. Repairing and replacing leaking pipes is, as he points out, absolutely critical; obviously, it is particularly critical to maintaining clean, safe, reliable drinking water to our homes and businesses. Identifying those leaks is challenging, and water companies are looking at innovative ways to improve outcomes. It is really for the companies to decide how to maintain their infrastructure, but we are pushing them with the targets that have been set. To minimise the disruption caused, they are required to provide notice of planned work to customers and local authorities.
Over the past 18 months, key workers in our food supply chain have worked incredibly hard to keep the nation fed during the difficult context of the pandemic. The recent hot weather has increased demand for some items, such as bottled waters, and staff absences have increased, but remain lower than seen earlier in the pandemic. We are working with colleagues across Government to support businesses in the food supply chain, and I take this opportunity to thank all those key workers working on farms, in food factories, in the distribution system and in our food retail sector for their extraordinary efforts.
The hon. Gentleman is incorrect in that the capital spending on floods is increasing to £5.2 billion. That is almost a doubling of the previous programme. We have held meetings around the Yorkshire area, and Yorkshire will be one of the key beneficiaries from that investment we are making.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Some of the challenges we have are typically with houses built in the Victorian era where, as she says, the street drainage system goes into the foul water sewage system. That can lead to it being overwhelmed at times. Most developments that have taken place since the 1960s do have surface water drainage separated from foul water sewage systems. We have set up a taskforce to look at how we can address this problem and, in particular, reduce the use of combined sewage overflows.
I had a good trip up to Newcastle-under-Lyme recently to meet residents and the pressure group Stop the Stink and to see and smell for myself the horrific emissions from Walleys Quarry, the local landfill site that has the dubious honour of being the smelliest tip in England. What engagement has the Secretary of State had with the owner of the site, Red Industries, to restore residents’ physical health and mental wellbeing and stop the stink? Where is the plan?
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) has been raising this issue with me, the Prime Minister and others consistently. There is a challenge. I have met him twice to discuss it. I have also met the local team in the Environment Agency dealing with this, and I have discussed it with the chief exec of the Environment Agency. One of the problems is that it is thought that some plasterboard was illegally dumped at the site. That is what is causing the current problem with hydrogen sulphide. The Environment Agency is working on a plan to flare those gases off, and we are doing all that we can to support them in that endeavour.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that this is a really big year for the environment internationally—not only with COP26 being hosted in Glasgow, but with the convention on biological diversity COP15, where we are going to be setting some crucial biodiversity targets. I am sure that either I or one of our ministerial team would be more than happy to speak to her event, and we are speaking to many other such events around the country.
I am regularly contacted by students in schools around the country on this great challenge. We have made some very important steps forward with the ban on some single-use plastics, and we intend to go further with such bans, and the levy on single-use carrier bags. We have, in our flagship Environment Bill, the proposal for extended producer responsibility, which will make the people who manufacture goods and use the packaging responsible for its recycling at the end of its life. That will be a significant change that will help reduce the use of plastics.
The UK Government work very closely with ICES. Indeed, our chief fisheries scientist at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science is the deputy president of ICES. ICES regularly receives submissions from CEFAS, and where we believe its methodology is incorrect, wrong or missing certain things, it is often our scientists in CEFAS who help to update that information. Of course, when we set quotas annually and set our position on that, we take into account a range of factors—principally the ICES advice, but other factors as well.
We are doing a very detailed piece of work on all the targets we intend to set under the Environment Bill, including on air quality, but also on water, biodiversity, and waste and resource management. We are looking very closely at two particular approaches to air quality. One is a concentration target for PM2.5— and I know there have been representations from people that it should be 10 micrograms—and the other is population exposure.
We have not cancelled culling licences, but it is the case that the intensive four-year culls in many parts of the country have run their course and have therefore ended. To answer my hon. Friend’s question, we are running field trials at the moment on that DIVA test, and we plan to have that vaccine in 2025.
The Department for Transport has already announced some plans to increase the speed of driver testing and to deal with some of those logistics issues. Secondly, we are working across Government to ensure that where isolation is needed we protect particularly important strategic infrastructure.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. We all have a role to play in this; people should take responsibility for their litter. We have taken some steps, such as fixed penalty notices so we can issue on-the-spot fines to people who do litter, but we need a culture change in this area.