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Topical Questions

Volume 671: debated on Thursday 6 February 2020

In recent weeks, DEFRA has been driving forward the biggest programme of legislation in Whitehall. That includes publication of our landmark Environment Bill, to introduce a new legal framework and demanding targets on matters such as nature, recycling and air quality. We have published our Fisheries Bill, to enable this country to take back control of its fishing waters and end the common fisheries policy. The Agriculture Bill has had its Second Reading, to ensure a brighter, greener future for our farmers. And of course, my team and I have played our part in securing the biggest election victory for the Conservatives in 30 years.

Data published in the recent climate change agreements biennial report showed the dairy industry delivering a 21% improvement on its energy efficiency over the last 10 years—the latest in a long line of sustainability wins for the industry. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, far from being a villain in the climate change story, the dairy industry is proving itself a force for good?

I very much agree. I pay tribute to the huge efforts made in the dairy sector to become more efficient and more sustainable. I know that those in the sector have further plans through the pioneering dairy road map, and I wish them well with that. We need to support UK agriculture in the tremendous efforts it is making to be part of the solution on climate change.

This Government have made much of the fact that we are leaving the EU and all its bureaucratic processes, but only to replace it with the catch app, a far more complex system for smaller fishing boats. Will the Secretary of State instruct the Marine Management Organisation to change the new catch app and remove the risk of criminality, which is causing so much anxiety for fishers in our coastal communities?

I have met officials on that matter. The reason we introduced the catch app is that, if we want to improve our management of the inshore fleet and offer fishermen, say, three months’ catch opportunities at a time, or even move to an effort-based regime, we need better, more accurate catch data. Those rules already apply to the over-12 metres and will in future apply to the under-12s as well.

T3. I am proud to represent many farmers in East Surrey who are the guardians of our beautiful countryside. Does the Minister agree that the best way to support those farmers and protect the environment is to buy seasonal and to buy British? (900667)

T2. If the biodiversity gain requirement is to make a real difference, local authorities will need additional strategic planners, ecologists and enforcement officers. What assessment has been made of the human and financial resources required, and will the Secretary of State confirm that those resources will be set out and funded in the forthcoming Budget? (900666)

Burdens put on local authorities through the Environment Bill will be fully funded. They will play a key role in helping with biodiversity net gain. They will also play a key role—as will other local organisations—in setting up our local nature strategies, which will inform what we do, and I very much look forward to that.

T4.   In Beaconsfield, we have many hard-working farmers, as well as local environmental groups such as Transition Town Marlow and Wild Marlow, which are leading the way locally in animal welfare and environmental protection. Will the Minister join me in welcoming the new standards that we are going to put in place for environmental protection and animal welfare as we leave the EU, and for the protection of our British farmers? (900668)

I will, indeed. Our departure from the European Union gives us the opportunity to introduce a new farming policy—a new system of farm support—that has sustainability and the environment at its heart. We can use that to support our farmers in the brilliant work they already do as stewards of our environment and countryside.

T6. Putney High Street is one of the most polluted streets in London and the country, although electric buses have helped a lot. Ammonia emissions, predominantly from farming, are rising and are above World Health Organisation safe limits. In London, particulates derived from that ammonia make the largest contribution to imported background or particulate pollution. Will the Secretary of State commit to tackling this issue of ammonia pollution in the Environment Bill? (900671)

We have a strong focus on these matters. The measures we will be bringing forward in the Environment Bill will help us to set challenging and demanding targets on those issues. Our new system of farm support will also provide support to farmers in reducing ammonia emissions. I know they are determined to do it. I understand completely the importance of delivering on this.

T5. Will the super-talented Minister for litter consider requiring drive-through fast-food restaurants to print the purchaser’s vehicle registration number on the receipt, so that the origin of roadside litter might be more readily identified? (900670)

I thank my hon. Friend, who is such a campaigner on this issue. It is a great idea. I believe that one fast-food chain is already considering doing this. It is something I have thought about myself when I am out on my bike and I see all the litter on the verges. Trust me, this Government are doing a great deal on litter, but we need to do more.

One way to reduce food waste is to rebalance the relationships between suppliers and supermarkets. Will the Government therefore commit to expanding the power of the Groceries Code Adjudicator and amending the groceries supply code of practice to better protect our farmers’ interests and reduce the amount of unnecessary food waste that can occur due to supermarkets’ excessively strict requirements?

Our Agriculture Bill has an entire section on fairness in the supply chain, enabling us to introduce regulations that build on what we have started with the Groceries Code Adjudicator to ensure that there is fairness and transparency in that supply chain.

I am sure the Secretary of State is aware that for many years animal rights activists and welfare activists for animal rights have been calling on Government to stop exporting animals on the hoof, and to let them be slaughtered in our slaughterhouses and go on the hook. Now we have left the EU, can the Secretary of State confirm that that sort of practice will cease?

We do want to see an end to live exports, and we will soon be consulting on measures to improve the welfare of live animals in transport. We hope that ultimately the effect of this will be an end to live exports overseas.

My constituent Mr Latimer, after exhausting every avenue to halt the flow of sewage on to the beach behind his very popular restaurant, ended up filing a complaint with the European Commission. The ruling from the Court of Justice of the European Union stated that the Government needed to rectify the problem within five years. That was eight years ago. Can he expect any action from this Government?

Will the Minister tell us what the Government intend to do in their upcoming legislation on dog smuggling to prevent the import of drugged dogs by busker gangs?

There are already laws and regulations in place to protect animals used by buskers. Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, it is a criminal offence to cause unnecessary suffering to an animal, or to administer an injurious or poisonous drug to an animal. If my hon. Friend has specific concerns, if he reported them to the police or the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, action could be taken.

Does the Government’s policy in relation to the standards of agricultural imports align with the views of the relevant expert trade advisory group?

As I have said, in our trade negotiations we will ensure that the outcome works for farmers and for the nation as a whole. We will defend our standards in future trade negotiations.

As part of her proposals for a deposit return scheme, has the Secretary of State sought to persuade her counterpart in the Scottish Government that the interests of consumers, producers and administrators will be best served by a system that covers the country—the UK—as a whole?

My hon. Friend raises a good point. Scotland introduced its scheme first. We are consulting to ensure our scheme is absolutely fit for purpose. We want ours to completely align and we are very much lining up with manufacturers and processors to get the right system that suits them.

During the debate before the election on restoring nature and climate change, the Minister, who is now in the Lords, told the House that a legislative response to the problem of burning peatlands was being developed. When can we expect to see legislation being published?

We are looking carefully at the issue of rotational burning on blanket bog. We are working closely with land managers to ensure that we see this practice come to an end. We have scrutinised the voluntary mechanisms and in due course we will have to consider whether to legislate in this area.