Topical Questions

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons on 21st January 2021.

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Photo of Alex Davies-Jones Alex Davies-Jones Labour, Pontypridd

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

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

Over the past 48 hours, Storm Christoph has led to very high rainfall, leading to hundreds of flood warnings, particularly in areas around the north-west and Yorkshire, including in Chorley—your constituency, Mr Speaker. Four severe flood warnings have been issued, two in the Didsbury area of Manchester, and two in the Maghull area of Liverpool. Overnight, those in 200 hundred homes in Maghull and more than 2,000 homes in Didsbury were advised to evacuate. Water levels in the Didsbury flood basin have started to recede, but water will continue to work through the river systems in the north-west and Yorkshire in the coming days. More unsettled weather is expected next week, so we continue to prepare for further impacts.

Photo of Alex Davies-Jones Alex Davies-Jones Labour, Pontypridd

The Secretary of State may not be aware that last night’s rainfall has caused another landslip on a former coal tip in Rhondda Cynon Taf. The long-term management of these tips is a UK Government responsibility. We all need to do what we can to protect our local environment, and coal tips are a major part of our heritage here in the Welsh valleys. Will he therefore commit to working with his colleagues in the Cabinet to publish a strategy outlining the Government’s long-term plan for managing these coal tips?

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

We have been working closely with both the Secretary of State for Wales and the Welsh Government on this challenge, which we all take seriously. I know that discussions have taken place in the past with the national Coal Authority on this matter as well, and we will continue to work closely with the Welsh Government on it.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous The Second Church Estates Commissioner

I can visit the Lucombe oak at Kew Gardens, but not the rhinos at Whipsnade, and they are both out in the fresh air. Will the Minister press for the outside areas of zoos to be made available for the public to visit, just as they can go to Kew Gardens, as soon as possible?

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

We all very much hope to be able to lift the restrictions of lockdown as soon as possible. My hon. Friend will be aware that in the first lockdown, we allowed zoos to open after we allowed parks to open. Zoos are outdoors, but people tend to follow the same routes, so the risk is judged by Public Health England to be higher. However, I have sympathy with the issues zoos face, and we want to get them open as soon as possible.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Each year, 40,000 people die from poor air quality. Labour has tabled an amendment to the Environment Bill, on which there will be a vote on Tuesday, to put the World Health Organisation air quality standards into law. Can the Secretary of State tell me why his Government plan to vote against that amendment?

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

We are working on the air quality targets that will form part of our targets under the Environment Bill. We are looking at population exposure, as well as an absolute concentration target, and we are working with experts to assess what that concentration target should be.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I do not think that answer was good enough, and it speaks to a larger concern: the Government seem to be rolling back hard-won environmental gains. It will not just be Britain watching the votes on the Environment Bill; it will also be the Biden-Harris Administration. If Labour’s amendment is voted down, although it would prevent the Government allowing bee-killing chemicals, loosening the chemicals regime, and having a weaker environmental watchdog than we had last year, what message does it send about how much we can trust the Prime Minister when he speaks about “building back better”?

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

We have not changed our regulations on neonicotinoids, if that is what the hon. Gentleman is referring to. In common with 10 other EU countries, we have granted an emergency authorisation, which is an integral part of the precautionary principle. We have done so for a non-flowering crop, and we have also made it clear that flowering crops cannot be grown there for at least three years.

Photo of Caroline Ansell Caroline Ansell Conservative, Eastbourne

Six years ago, my right hon. Friend visited Sovereign Harbour in my Eastbourne constituency and saw ambitious plans for a whole new quayside development. Despite the challenges of covid, construction is in full swing. When the coast is clear, will he make a return visit to congratulate all those involved—and, importantly, to assure them that there are new opportunities ahead for the under-10 metre fleet, and that historical inequalities in quota will be levelled up?

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

I remember very well that visit to my hon. Friend’s constituency. It is always good to see such ambitious plans come into effect and start to take shape. I would be delighted to visit her constituency again, and to outline some of our plans to ensure better fishing opportunities for our inshore fleet.

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Engagement

Farmers in Cockerham, Winmarleigh and Pilling have experienced considerable flooding in recent years. The farms consist of grade 2 and grade 3 agricultural land—some of the most productive farmland in Lancashire—which is vital to our local economy. What extra support are the Government prepared to give farmers and the Environment Agency to make sure that such businesses can adequately protect themselves from flooding and continue to produce high-quality, nutritious food?

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

Floods have impacts on many communities —not only urban communities and households, but farmland, which can lead to the loss of crops. There is some weighting in the floods formula to protect farmland, and we have a number of schemes to help to remedy flood risks on agricultural land when flooding occurs.

Photo of Mark Eastwood Mark Eastwood Conservative, Dewsbury

Early last year, Storm Ciara forced the banks of the River Calder to burst, causing devastation in the Mirfield part of my constituency. Yesterday, unfortunately, we had a repeat performance in Mirfield when Storm Christoph hit, cutting off businesses and homes. Will my right hon. Friend reassure the people of Mirfield that action is being taken to prevent such destructive flooding events in future?

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

Late last year, we held a flood summit to discuss some of the particular challenges around the River Calder in my hon. Friend’s constituency. There have been a number of important projects around that area, including at Hebden Bridge, where I believe construction is well under way. Further projects are in the pipeline, and we continue to work with the Environment Agency to manage water catchments effectively.

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Conservative, Brigg and Goole

All that water from the Calder that we just heard about finds its way into my constituency via the River Aire, and we have, yet again, another nervous wait here in the lower catchment as the washlands start to fill and flood alerts and warnings are issued. Will the Secretary of State comment on the adequacy of the flood defence funding rules for communities such as mine, which repeatedly face flooding issues, or flood alerts and warnings?

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

My hon. Friend’s constituency is in a unique area with a unique geography, as he knows, and it does face frequent flooding—it was among the worst-affected when we had the floods last year. We will shortly issue a consultation on changes to the flooding formula, and one thing that we want is for greater weight to be placed on frequently flooded communities.

Photo of Wendy Chamberlain Wendy Chamberlain Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Wales), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I have a constituent who wants to start a lobster hatchery, but they have been shocked by the impact on the fishing sector of our departure from the EU. Should anybody interested in coming into the fishing industry even bother?

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

Of course they should, because in the white fish sector and the quota sector we have secured an uplift in quota that is front-loaded; the uplift is 15% next year. We will also have full regulatory autonomy on technical conservation measures, which gives us the ability to support the shellfish sector far better than we were able to in the European Union.