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Topical Questions

Volume 722: debated on Thursday 17 November 2022

I pay tribute to the previous ministerial team, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Jayawardena) and my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann), on the work that they did while they were Ministers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I have just returned from my fourth climate COP, the UN climate conference in Egypt, where I held productive bilateral meetings with a range of counterparts from India to Japan. Yesterday, I was delighted to announce a new big nature impact fund for our country of £30 million as seed investment to bring in other private investment that will help us to plant more woodland, restore precious peatland and create new habitats, as well as bring green jobs to our communities. We should be proud of what we are achieving, and indeed the work that we are doing to unlock financing around the world, but it is critical that we have a great global effort, so that, as we head into the financial negotiations ahead of the COP15 on the convention on biological diversity in Montreal next month, we come together to ensure that we have ambitions for the future of our planet.

Carshalton and Wallington residents warned the Lib-Dem-run council that the incinerator that it campaigned for in Beddington would one day want to increase its capacity. Sadly, they have been proven right, because it is now seeking to burn more. I know that the waste minimisation strategy calls for the phasing out of incineration, so does my right hon. Friend agree that residents should get involved in the Environment Agency consultation to say that they do not want to see that increase?

It will be no surprise to anyone in this House that Liberal Democrats often say one thing to get elected and then do the exact opposite. We should be aware that generating energy from waste should not compete with greater waste prevention, reuse or recycling. Consideration must be given to the Government’s strategic ambition to minimise waste and our soon-to-be-published residual waste reduction target, and I agree that my hon. Friend’s residents should respond to the consultation in full force.

T2. Since the Boxing day floods in 2015, my residents on Riverside Drive have been living in fear. They recently found out that the works will be further delayed until 2026—11 years after the first floods. Moreover, a nearby floor basin project has increased the volume of water in its part of the River Irwell, meaning that the river now rises at a faster rate than before, adding more stress for my residents. I have raised the issue many times in Parliament, and I have asked successive Ministers to come to visit Bolton South East to see it for themselves and speak to residents. I ask the new Secretary of State to do the same. (902222)

I am not committing to visiting the hon. Lady’s constituency, but I am very concerned about what she just relayed. I have already asked for the Environment Agency to meet for a deep dive on the flooding budget. There is a frequently flooded fund, which can support constituencies such as hers, and we need to make sure we are delivering effective action. That also goes for councils, which need to make sure they have cleared the gullies, so that we do not get these levels of surface water flooding.

T3.   I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The packaging industry is ready to play its part in creating a world-class recycling system, and extended producer responsibility with a deposit return scheme and consistent household collections of waste will achieve that, but Government responses to consultations on the latter two are still awaited. Given that businesses are expected to do their bit by starting to record complicated packaging data for EPR from 1 January next year, in just six weeks’ time, could the Secretary of State say when the responses to those schemes will be available? (902223)

Following consultations on the two schemes my hon. Friend mentions, intensive work is going on in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to make all the schemes link up, because these are complicated issues. I can assure him that we are aiming to publish our responses to the outstanding consultations by the end of this year.

T4. Under the previous Prime Minister, it was reported that the best and most versatile land would be re-categorised to include category 3b, with a view to blocking development, including solar power, from that land. Is that still the Government’s intention? (902224)

It is really important that we make the best use of our land, to have the food security that was referred to earlier. It is also important, when considering land use, that we think about the best place to put renewable energy. By and large, I think most people in this country would agree: let us have good agricultural land for farming, and let us use our brownfield sites for other energy projects too.

T5. I was grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), for her response to my Adjournment debate last week about our campaign on bathing water status for rivers, and specifically the River Nidd in Knaresborough. Will she meet me to discuss that campaign and the process for inland bathing water accreditation? (902227)

I hear that it was a lively debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on his campaign. We are actively encouraging more applicants for bathing water status, and I look forward to receiving the application for the River Nidd and discussing it with him. As I think my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland said in that debate, it is time to get your Speedos out.

There have been many warm words from successive Secretaries of State on saving nature. Many species may soon be extinct, including the red squirrel, the water vole and even the hedgehog. Two years ago, I was on the Environment Bill Committee, and much was made of new targets. The 31 October date for those new targets was missed. Can the Secretary of State be clear today: what is the date for publishing those targets and taking action on saving nature?

I would like to reassure the hon. Member that we remain absolutely committed to publishing our environmental targets, and I have been meeting partners, including farmers, environmental organisations and the people managing protected landscapes. The most important thing is that we deliver on the outcomes clearly set out in our 25-year environment plan.

T6. Communities in tiny villages such as Arlingham in my patch, a beautiful peninsular on the River Severn, are desperately worried about proposals for large solar farms. I welcome what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said about protecting agricultural land, but can she confirm that she is speaking with colleagues across Cabinet, so that we can tighten up this policy and provide clarity? I am not somebody who thinks these things should be banned, but we need to do better on giving clarity to businesses and communities. (902228)

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She will be aware that planning policy is a matter for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and solar policy is a matter for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, but she should be assured that my officials are working closely with those Departments to ensure that we get the right balance between boosting our food production and delivering long-term energy security.

Can the Secretary of State guarantee that the outstanding statutory deadlines we have spoken about on air, water and so forth will be published before COP15, so that we can lead by example? If she cannot guarantee that, does she agree that that bodes incredibly ill for the deadlines in the utterly misguided and reckless Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill? If we cannot meet these deadlines, how will we meet those?

I completely understand why Members of the House are concerned that the Government have not come forward with the secondary legislation as set out in primary legislation, and I have already expressed my disappointment. I assure the hon. Lady that we are working at pace to get those targets in place. I am conscious that we are still working on certain aspects of that, but I hope to try to get them done as quickly as possible.

I thank my right hon. Friend the fisheries Minister for rapidly acceding to the Committee’s request to set up an independent panel to investigate the cause of the mass shellfish mortality off the north-east coast last autumn. When does he expect that panel to be established and when might he expect it to report its findings?

Obviously we want to set it up as soon as possible and we want it to assess all the available evidence. All interested parties want to make sure that we identify the challenge. A number of—if I can use the term—red herrings have been thrown into the mix, so establishing the true facts as rapidly as possible will be the ambition of this rapid inquiry.

Some 80% of UK firms say that they are struggling to trade with the EU because of Tory Brexit red tape. Scots exports to the EU have been slashed by 13%. The cost to households in Scotland as a consequence of Brexit averages £900 a year. Additional Brexit checks for meat exports are being imposed on 14 December that will further hammer the agricultural sector. Where is the promised Brexit dividend for farmers? So far, all they can see from the Tories are restrictions and red tape.

One day, the hon. Lady will have to accept the result of the referendum and the fact that Brexit took place. We are embracing those opportunities in the Department. We are doing trade deals and promoting British products around the world. We are proud of what our British producers produce. We should get on the front foot and big them up, rather than being negative.

I welcome the Secretary of State to her place and, hopefully, will welcome her soon to Newcastle-under-Lyme to see Walleys Quarry for herself. As she knows, that major issue has been blighting the community for some time. Although the odour is getting better, we still have no accountability. There are two investigations going on—criminal and regulatory. Does she agree that it is imperative for the Environment Agency to bring those investigations to a conclusion as soon as possible so that my constituents can have justice and accountability?

As my hon. Friend knows, I cannot comment on an ongoing investigation, but I can confirm that the EA is continuing to work closely to regulate the operator and to consider appropriate action in compliance with the enforcement and sanctions policy. That includes ensuring that the operator continues to implement all the 20 or more measures that were recommended, which, I think he will agree, are starting to have a real effect.