Topical Questions
Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
9:30 am

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Grahame Morris (Easington, Labour)

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

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Owen Paterson (The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; North Shropshire, Conservative)

DEFRA’s priorities are growing the rural economy, improving the environment and safeguarding animal and plant health, and I am today pleased to announce £3 million of funding from the anaerobic digestion loan fund, which will enable farmers to obtain funding to set up small-scale anaerobic digestion plants. The technology will not only save farmers money on energy costs, but will provide them with the opportunity to boost their income by exporting electricity to the grid. It will also help them cut waste and reduce the amount of artificial fertilisers they use. This funding is an example of this Government’s commitment to sustainable economic growth and environmental improvement. The two are not mutually exclusive.

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Grahame Morris (Easington, Labour)

I want to ask about food banks and, in particular, about the answers the Minister gave a few moments ago in response to questions from my hon. Friends the Members for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) and for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger). I understand that in April 2013 DEFRA commissioned important research to review evidence on the landscape of food provision and access. Given that this information and research will be very helpful to Government in targeting policy to the most needy, why is it not being published? I know the Minister is new in post, but can he expedite this, because a promise was made that it would be posted on the Department’s website?

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Owen Paterson (The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; North Shropshire, Conservative)

I am happy to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question. We undertake research on a whole range of areas and this obviously cuts across a number of different Departments, with whom we are consulting.

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Simon Wright (Norwich South, Liberal Democrat)

Will the Secretary of State ensure more people are able to enjoy access to woodlands, particularly those close to our towns and cities?

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Dan Rogerson (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; North Cornwall, Liberal Democrat)

We are consulting on the future of the publicly owned forest and management of forestry issues generally and looking at what we will take forward. There are many

excellent landowners, such as the Woodland Trust and the National Trust, who encourage public access and enjoyment of woodland and I look forward to working with them and other landowners to ensure we increase access for everybody.

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Huw Irranca-Davies (Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs); Ogmore, Labour)

A National Audit Office report today shows the response to the horsemeat scandal was hampered by confusion caused by the coalition Government splitting the Food Standards Agency’s responsibilities in 2010. It also raises concerns over the reductions in food testing, public analysts and local officers working on food law enforcement since this Government came to power. So will Ministers now accept their share of responsibility—or is this the fault of the badgers?

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George Eustice (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Camborne and Redruth, Conservative)

The Department will look at this report from the NAO and study its recommendations very carefully, but I have to say there is no evidence that the division of the FSA’s role has contributed to this, and, more importantly, we have appointed Professor Chris Elliott to look at this whole issue in great detail and his report will be key.

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Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock, Conservative)

Given the importance of exports to the country’s economic recovery, what is my right hon. Friend doing to help producers and exporters open up foreign markets?

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Owen Paterson (The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; North Shropshire, Conservative)

Only this week I was in Cologne, taking our largest ever delegation to the world’s largest food fair; last month, I was in Moscow, where we announced a trade deal opening up the market for beef and lamb which will be worth up to £100 million over three years; and our work last year in opening up China has led to a 591% increase in pork exports in the first six months of this year.

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Stephen Timms (Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions); East Ham, Labour)

My constituents who work at Tate & Lyle have been very appreciative of the Secretary of State’s efforts to secure a level playing field for cane sugar refiners in the European market. His former ministerial team were very diligent on this issue. I welcome his new team and wonder whether he can reassure the House that they will be equally determined on this issue.

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George Eustice (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Camborne and Redruth, Conservative)

I can, indeed, give the right hon. Gentleman that reassurance. The EU sugar regime is one of the most distorting parts of the common agricultural policy, and we had great success in negotiating the removal of sugar beet quotas in 2017. However, he rightly says that we need now to take those trade barriers down, and time is of the essence. We are therefore pushing the European Commission to ensure that all opportunities to secure additional trade concessions are taken at the earliest opportunity.

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Duncan Hames (Chippenham, Liberal Democrat)

The Secretary of State will recall the petition I sent him that was collected by Climate Friendly Bradford on Avon; more than 1,000 Wiltshire residents were calling for a charge on single-use plastic carrier bags. How will the Minister ensure that neither the Chancellor nor the supermarkets cling on to the cash it collects?

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Dan Rogerson (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; North Cornwall, Liberal Democrat)

Although in England we cannot mandate where the money will go, because the relevant primary legislation, the Climate Change Act 2008, does not allow for that, we will discuss with retailers how the money raised should be spent and encourage them to give the profits to good causes. We have an expectation that, as in Wales, the money raised should benefit good causes.

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Graeme Morrice (Livingston, Labour)

Is the Secretary of State aware of the most recent piece of scientific research on the Cayman turtle farm? It supports the position of the World Society for the Protection of Animals that:

“There is no humane way to farm sea turtles”.

Will he, along with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, take decisive action to alleviate the suffering of these endangered animals?

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Owen Paterson (The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; North Shropshire, Conservative)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. The matter he raises is of real concern to a number of Members who have written to me. We are taking what actions we can, but we are the Government of the UK, and he has to remember that.

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Stephen Mosley (City of Chester, Conservative)

Poaching in some parts of Africa is getting so bad that Tanzanian Minister Khamis Kagasheki has called for a shoot-to-kill policy to deal with poachers, following the loss of half of Tanzania’s elephants in the past three years. On current trends, it is estimated that the African elephant will be extinct in the wild by 2025. What action are the Government taking to tackle the illegal trade in endangered species?

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Owen Paterson (The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; North Shropshire, Conservative)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this shocking issue, on which he is absolutely right. The problem is even worse in respect of rhinoceroses; we lose one every 11 hours. So this Government are taking a world lead. We are calling a conference on 13 February next year, and we intend to co-ordinate world action—with western countries, with the countries where these animals live and with the countries where there is significant demand—before these iconic species become extinct.

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Julie Hilling (Opposition Whip (Commons); Bolton West, Labour)

Whether or not the Government see sense next week and accept our amendments on dog control notices, that will not resolve all the issues relating to dangerous dogs, including controlling breeding, and ensuring that puppies are properly socialised and that children and adults are educated about dog ownership. Does the Minister agree that we still need a full dog welfare and control Bill?

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George Eustice (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Camborne and Redruth, Conservative)

Actually, I do not agree. There are lots of bits of legislation covering many areas, but the laws are in place. We need to ensure that they are better understood, which is why we have published guidance this week pointing out what community protection notices can do and how they can be used by practitioners.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

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Bob Neill (Vice-Chair, Conservative Party; Bromley and Chislehurst, Conservative)

Will the Secretary of State meet me and my hon. Friend Joseph Johnson to discuss the persistent and serious breaches of control of the Waste4Fuel site on the boundary of our constituencies, which the Environment Agency appears to be unable to cope with?

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Dan Rogerson (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; North Cornwall, Liberal Democrat)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the concerns of his constituents about this site. I have looked into the issue, am aware of it and discuss it with the Environment Agency. If he and my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington wish to meet me to discuss it, I would be happy to do so.

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Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North, Labour)

Does the Minister share the concern of Stoke-on-Trent boat club, and the Association of Waterways Cruising Clubs all over the country, about DEFRA’s deferment of the decision to stop Environment Agency navigation waters going over to the Canal and River Trust? Will he urgently review that situation and raise it with the Treasury?

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Dan Rogerson (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; North Cornwall, Liberal Democrat)

The hon. Lady has obviously been concerned about these matters for some time. I would be happy to hear more from her about the details and perhaps we could take the matter forward on that basis.

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Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale, Liberal Democrat)

Do my right hon. and hon. Friends share my alarm at the growing practice of Natural England’s insisting on the removal of sheep from land under new stewardship projects? Given the absolute need for the UK to be able to provide more of its own food, is that not a dangerous step? Will Ministers take action?

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Owen Paterson (The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; North Shropshire, Conservative)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, which touches on our conundrum in the hill areas, where we clearly want to increase food production but also want to improve the environment. We will be consulting shortly on whether we modulate a significant sum from pillar 1 to pillar 2 and what the shape and form of those pillar 2 schemes might be. I am absolutely clear that we have a real role to play in helping hill farmers to keep the hills looking as they do and to provide them with sufficient money to provide food.

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Diana Johnson (Shadow Minister (Home Affairs); Kingston upon Hull North, Labour)

Is it acceptable that properties built after 2009 and small businesses will not be covered by the Government’s new flood insurance scheme?

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Owen Paterson (The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; North Shropshire, Conservative)

We are working very closely with the Association of British Insurers on the new scheme, which will replace the statement of principles, and we are looking in detail at a range of different options. We do not propose to extend the scheme to post-2009 properties.

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Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall, Conservative)

Local people have for many years expressed concern about the Whitsand bay dump site. They have identified an alternative site; will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss the reclassification of that alternative site?

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George Eustice (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Camborne and Redruth, Conservative)

I know that the issue is important for my hon. Friend and I would be more than happy to meet her and others affected by the decision.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

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John Bercow (Speaker)

Order. I am sorry to disappoint colleagues, but I think that Mr Philip Hollobone must be the last questioner.

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Philip Hollobone (Kettering, Conservative)

To better understand the spread of TB in wildlife, why are the badgers that are being culled not being tested to see whether they are infected or not?

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Owen Paterson (The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; North Shropshire, Conservative)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. Let me clarify in simple terms: carcases that have been shot would not give an accurate reading following post-mortem.