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Topical Questions

Volume 738: debated on Thursday 19 October 2023

The Met Office has issued various warnings. Indeed, as the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), pointed out, we are preparing for potentially significant storms, which is why the Environment Agency has mobilised its emergency operations centre and why temporary defences are being lined up in different parts of the country. We continue to encourage households to register for flood alerts and warnings and to take action, where appropriate.

Ball Corporation has invested £200 million to create Europe’s largest and most modern aluminium drinks can manufacturing plant in Burton Latimer. Will the Secretary of State be kind enough to meet the company to explore her plans to support drinks can producers against potentially unfair market distortions as a result of the decision to exclude glass from the deposit return scheme?

I decided not to proceed with glass in the DRS because of the complications that would bring to its introduction; I would have thought his local company would benefit from that. However, I know that the chief executive recently had a constructive and useful meeting with the recycling Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), who will take away the comments from that for further consideration as we finalise our policy.

T2. I have received a host of emails from constituents, many with respiratory problems, who are rightly complaining about poor air quality. The smoke in the air was caused by heather burning on the moors, which resulted in a spike in poor air quality to levels that were four times the legal limit. Will the Government finally do the right thing and bring in an outright ban on these practices, which are affecting not only my constituents’ health, but the natural environment and the climate? (906503)

The hon. Lady will be aware of the action that has been taken—that Ministers required Sheffield City Council to take—to accelerate measures to improve air quality. On the wider measures that she talks about, we are not seeking to ban important practices, but of course things continue to evolve. Air quality is improving and she should be grateful not only to her local councils but to the Government for making that happen in her constituency.

T4. Dunstable downs rotary club is paying for 4,000 trees to be planted at Chute wood, on Dunstable downs. Will the Minister commend this action and commend other organisations to do likewise, given the crucial importance of tree planting in combating climate change? (906506)

That was worth the wait! I will absolutely commend Dunstable downs rotary club, and the work that this Government are undertaking, because trees are essential. They are the larder and the shelter for our wildlife. They are vital for our ecosystem. They protect us from flooding, prevent us from overheating and are at the forefront of this Government’s plan for the environment. That is why we are rolling out local nature recovery strategies to support more good volunteering in our local authorities.

Work is ongoing on avian influenza. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have suffered two years of catastrophic effects of that disease. Animal and Plant Health Agency vets are working round the clock with primary producers to protect their flocks. I do not want to jinx myself, but at the moment we are making good progress. We will continue to work hard with the sector to protect it and ourselves from that terrible disease.

As the Secretary of State knows, my constituency is chalk stream central, with the headwaters of the celebrated River Test, the Bourne rivulet and the River Anton, which runs through Andover. What can the Government tell me to reassure my constituents that the unique ecology of chalk streams is uppermost in their mind as they work to enhance our rivers across the country?

As my right hon. Friend knows, I know that area well. I used to live in Whitchurch, which has the River Test flowing through it. We are making progress with our chalk stream action plan, but he will also be aware of the amendment that the Government agreed to work with Viscount Trenchard on and which is now part of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, which I hope will become an Act very soon.

Some of the finest seed potatoes are grown in the north of Scotland. Right now, the seed potato farmers are worried sick, because a lot of their crop is below water. That also poses a question mark over the supply of seed for next year. I know that this matter is devolved, but as the Minister is a farmer will he put the maximum encouragement in the direction of the Scottish Government to please help the farmers?

The hon. Gentleman has done that with his question. I do not diminish the effect that the rain is having on the seed potato crop; once seed potato is under water for more than a week it will probably be destroyed. Scottish seed potatoes are some of the finest seed produced anywhere in the world and I encourage him to seek contact with the Scottish Government to get them to help.

Kirklees Council is looking to invest in its food waste recycling strategy, in line with the Environment Act 2021, but it is still waiting for full clarification and details that support that legislation. Will the Minister advise as to when that will be sent to councils?

That clarification will be coming very soon and within it the new simpler recycling approach will include mandatory collection of food waste.

Publicly owned Scottish Water has invested £668 million since 2010 in improvements and committed another half a billion pounds between 2021 and 2027. That is why Scottish Water has had its product—the waters around Scotland—classified as being in “good ecological condition”. Why do English bill payers pay the most and get the mankiest water?

The hon. Gentleman is wrong about that. There is a lot of chatter about water; we should never undermine the cleanliness of the drinking water that people enjoy. The interministerial group is working on different ways of measuring ecological status across the United Kingdom and we are looking to see what we might do about that. We made the change in 2016, which other parts of the United Kingdom did not, and we continue to work together as responsible Governments. I remind the hon. Gentleman, only 4% of storm overflows in Scotland are monitored—they would be better off getting on with that.