Tomorrow is World Oceans Day, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will travel to Canada to ensure that, in common with other G7 countries, we do everything we can to make sure that our marine environment is healthy. Much of the Government’s groundwork for the conference was undertaken by the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend Dr Coffey; I know that everyone in the House will wish her well for a speedy recovery and a return to the Front Bench.
May I join my right hon. Friend in sending good wishes to our hon. Friend Dr Coffey? Will he perhaps come to Staffordshire to see the excellent soft fruit, vegetable and salad farming that goes on there and also to discuss the needs for the future, in particular labour needs and needs for addressing the challenges and opportunities that lie before us?
Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I had the opportunity to visit soft fruit and salad growers in Cambridgeshire and in Norfolk recently and I appreciate the labour concerns that they have. I will take the opportunity to visit Staffordshire as soon as I can.
The Government’s 25-year environment plan sets out commitments to protect our natural environment. Will the Secretary of State outline the steps that he is taking to recognise and protect local wildlife sites, which are currently under threat of development from proposed changes to the national planning policy framework?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising that question. I have had the opportunity to discuss these issues with the Minister of State for Housing and Planning, and we want no weakening in any protection for these sites.
I am sure the Secretary of State is aware that, if implemented, these proposals could effectively unprotect 42,000 sites in this country. May I ask whether he was consulted by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government before this policy was put forward? If yes, how did this get into the policy, and if he was not consulted, why not, when the Government have such a strong commitment to the environment?
Without going into all the conversations that we have had—and we have had a series of them with colleagues in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government—the inference that many have drawn from the way in which the consultation has taken place is not one that we considered to be warranted. That is why I provide the reassurance that I have at this Dispatch Box, and I know that colleagues in the MHCLG will do so as well thanks to the hon. Lady’s question.
Small UK independent under-10 metre fishermen have historically been the big losers in the common fisheries policy. My fishermen in Newhaven are disappointed to learn that, post Brexit, fishing policy meetings are being held with big quota holders. Will the Minister commit to including the small independent under-10 metre fishermen in post-Brexit fishing policy discussions?
I can reassure my hon. Friend that I regularly meet members of the under-10 metre sector. Their trade body, the New Under Ten Fishermens Association, meets regularly and is actively engaged in discussions about future policy.
Given the recent report that indicated there is an excess of incineration capacity in the United Kingdom, which is discouraging recycling, is there not a case now for a tax on incineration, or even a moratorium on new incinerators?
Strange to relate, but heathland grazing is an innovative way to manage some of the most wild and beautiful parts of our natural environment in Dorset. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss the Rural Payments Agency in general and its policy towards heathland grazing in particular?
I absolutely will. My hon. Friend and I both have heathland in our constituencies and both of us know from personal experience how important grazing can be to the effective management of lowland heathland. It is absolutely the case that the RPA, under Paul Caldwell, is doing a good job, but I am absolutely committed to making sure that we support those who do such valuable work more effectively.
Westminster has not stolen anything from Scotland’s farmers. Indeed, it is only thanks to the strength and the unity of the United Kingdom that Scotland’s farmers have a firm platform on which to build. One of the things that I thought was striking at the general election, which we all remember with such fondness occurring only 12 months ago, was that Scottish National party colleagues, many of them talented individuals, lost their seats to Scottish Conservative and Unionist colleagues because rural Scotland knows that its interests are better represented by the party of the Union than by the divisive, grievance-mongering separatists who masquerade as Scotland’s voice but who are, in fact, Scotland’s girners.
I thank my right hon. Friend for raising that issue. We have no intention of rolling out badger culling throughout the low-risk area. However, in response to one single incident that we have had in Cumbria of an outbreak that has got into the badger population in a limited way, we have consulted to ensure that we have the option to deal with that following veterinary advice and the advice of our chief scientific adviser.
The Secretary of State is using his current role to flirt with radicalism—in particular, taking cheap shots at the payments made to the landed aristocracy. Rather than capping total amounts paid in the future scheme, would it not be more sensible to look at the rate of return and the marginality of the land?
The hon. Lady, who is a former Treasury civil servant, makes a vital point. As a Conservative, when I take shots at the landed aristocracy, they are not cheap. I find that when the landed aristocracy want others to undertake shooting with them, they often ask quite a high price.
The Secretary of State obviously speaks with experience of these matters, of which I confess I have none.
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point and for her advocacy for this cause. We are listening with respect to the arguments that have been made by her constituents, Members of the other place and the public about the need to maintain and enhance high environmental standards. That is why we will be looking with interest at some of the amendments tabled by Back-Bench colleagues.
Just before the recess, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government made an announcement about proposals for a consultation to create a single shale gas regulator. Can the Secretary of State assure the House that there will be absolutely no change to the powers of the Environment Agency to protect our environment on fracking sites?
Yes, I can. The Environment Agency has been very clear about the vital role that it plays in providing assurance that environmental safeguards are always in place when hydraulic fracturing or other forms of hydrocarbon extraction take place.
Single sentence questions now.
The Department’s own family food survey found that even when poorer households buy cheaper food, they still spend a higher proportion of their income on it than average households, because of low wages. Does the Secretary of State still stand by his patronising comments that poorer people find “solace” in eating cheap junk food?
My comments to the all-party parliamentary environment group, which were inspired by a very good question from Kerry McCarthy, were explicitly designed to say that we should not patronise or judge people on poorer incomes for the choices they make. I know that Mrs Lewell-Buck is very busy, but had she been there she would have had a better understanding of the context in which those comments were made.
We recognise that biodegradable packaging should be an alternative to existing forms of packaging wherever possible. We are considering how we can change the taxation and regulation of packaging in order to facilitate the use of biodegradable materials.
What is the Secretary of State going to do to stop the ludicrous and unpleasant practice of farmers illegally putting up great big hoardings in their fields, on the side of motorways? Surely one of the things that makes the British landscape different from elsewhere in Europe is that we have legislation to prevent that.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s commitment to ensuring that our green and pleasant land stays beautiful, and I will investigate this matter.
What reassurances can my right hon. Friend give the all-party parliamentary group on endangered species that the protections in the Ivory Bill will be in place in time for the illegal wildlife trade conference in the autumn?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The conference, which will take place on 10 and