Topical Questions

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th June 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford 12:00 am, 7th June 2018

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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.

Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford

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?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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.

Photo of Sue Hayman Sue Hayman Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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.

Photo of Sue Hayman Sue Hayman Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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.

Photo of Maria Caulfield Maria Caulfield Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

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?

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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.

Photo of John Grogan John Grogan Labour, Keighley

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?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I know that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will look with interest at that submission for the forthcoming Budget.

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Conservative, Mid Dorset and North Poole

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?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Infrastructure and Energy)

As an indicator of the future, will the Secretary of State confirm once and for all that Scottish farmers will not see any of the £200 million EU convergence uplift money that Westminster has stolen from them?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Conservative, New Forest West

What about badger culling in low-risk areas?

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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.

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

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?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

In the past couple of days I have received a veritable flurry of emails from my constituents, who want to ensure that our environmental laws will be strengthened, or at least maintained, after Brexit. What reassurance would the Secretary of State like to give to the people of Chelmsford?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee

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?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative, Stirling

What consideration has the Secretary of State given to including hippos and other ivory-bearing species in the Ivory Bill?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

We are looking forward to discussing this in Committee and looking sympathetically on well-made cases.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Shadow Minister (Education) (Children and Families)

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?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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.

Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Conservative, Witney

What are the Government doing to introduce and increase the use of biodegradable packaging?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

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.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I share the hon. Gentleman’s commitment to ensuring that our green and pleasant land stays beautiful, and I will investigate this matter.

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean Conservative, Redditch

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?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The conference, which will take place on 10 and 11 October, is critical in bringing together international co-operation to help safeguard endangered species. I hope that, with the leave of the House, we will have legislation on the statute book well before then.