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Department for Exiting the European Union

Volume 615: debated on Thursday 13 October 2016

7. What support her Department is providing to the work of the Department for Exiting the European Union. (906547)

As he was one of my great Northamptonshire colleagues during the EU referendum campaign, I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that my Department is doing all it can to support DEEU on policy development and stakeholder engagement right across DEFRA’s portfolio. I will shortly meet my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union to discuss the enormous opportunities that EU exit presents for our food, farming and fishing sectors.

Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the Brexit dividends is that we can take the money that the EU currently gives to our farmers and give it out more fairly and efficiently after we have left the EU? [Interruption.]

My hon. Friend is exactly right. The fact is that the money we get from the EU was British taxpayers’ money in the first place. The first thing I did on joining the Department was to agree with the Treasury that the current levels of farming and environment support should remain until 2020 to give our farmers continuity. [Interruption.] Of course, once we have left the EU we can ensure that our policies deliver for farmers while improving the environment. We want to work closely with industry stakeholder groups and the public to ensure that our policies are simple, good value for the taxpayer and free from the unnecessary constraints that we see today.

Order. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), who is an extremely senior and cerebral Member of the House, keeps chuntering from a sedentary position about buried money—just in case colleagues had not heard what he was chuntering about. It would be good if he ceased chuntering.

11. Improvements to air quality and action to tackle road transport pollution in this country have been driven by EU legislation and the enforcement mechanisms that underpin them. In September the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), alongside the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), was asked seven times by the Environmental Audit Committee whether the Government would retain EU air quality limits following exit from the EU, but she failed to give that commitment. Weeks later, why has she still not confirmed that EU air quality limits will be retained or improved, or explained how they will be enforced, which is essential to cutting premature deaths? (906552)

I absolutely share the hon. Lady’s desire to see clean air—nothing could be more important. We are doing absolutely everything we can, and we will continue to be committed. As the Prime Minister has said, we will be nationalising the acquis communautaire, so the EU legislation will become UK law. Just today, as the hon. Lady may be aware, we have announced our clean air zone consultation.

Indeed, as my hon. Friend points out, a clean air zone in Nottingham—in the Nottingham South. We are doing that to try to ensure that we make some real, serious progress towards cleaner air and a clean and healthy environment for all.

Brexit creates an opportunity to put agriculture on a more sustainable footing, but can the Secretary of State reassure the House that Brexit will not change the international leadership the UK has provided on sustainable development?

Absolutely, Mr Speaker—Dame.

I can totally give my right hon. Friend that reassurance. The UK, in leaving the EU, is absolutely determined to be more globally focused and, at home, to create sustainable policies that will make our food production and our environment more sustainable and better for our people and our economy. At the same time, we are determined to maintain and enhance our global leadership role in promoting sustainability for everyone in this world.

While the Scottish National party welcomes the Secretary of State’s commitment to maintaining pillar one EU funding until 2020, she should be aware that Scotland has some of the lowest payments in the EU; that is why the UK was given millions of euros in convergence funding. So, with the same enthusiasm she has demonstrated with every question today, will she deliver on her commitment to have this in place by the end of the year?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place, and I look forward to many happy days of fruitful discussions with him in the weeks and months ahead. I can absolutely tell him that we will be reviewing that by the end of this year. We look forward to meeting him and Members of the Scottish Parliament to discuss the interests of Scotland. We have a huge policy review; there are enormous opportunities, and I look forward to Scotland being delighted at the opportunities presented by Brexit.

May I welcome the Secretary of State to her place? I am sure she has had discussions with the Department for Exiting the European Union about the impact of the 16% fall in the value of the pound since the referendum outcome. In the light of that, what financial drivers to replace the common agricultural policy will she prioritise, with the mutual support of that Department, to enable farmers to plan now for the future and to remain productive while making the necessary progress on environmental measures?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her remarks, and I also look forward to working with her. May I also welcome all her colleagues to their places? A number of them I have worked with over a period of time on energy matters, with great, fruitful results, so I look forward to a constructive relationship. In answer to her specific question, those are exactly the issues we are now looking at—the opportunities for revising the support we give our food and farm producers, to make sure we can grow more, sell more and export more great British food. It will take time to properly evaluate what that policy set should be, but I hope shortly to consult broadly. I have already had informal consultations, and I will be working closely with the industry.