Biodiversity Loss

Jim Shannon Excerpts
Wednesday 15th May 2024

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Westminster Hall
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Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Hansard - -

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Rees. I thank the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) for securing this debate. I have said it before and I will say it again: she is the environmental conscience of us all in this House. She brings forward issues that we all support. I should qualify that, by the way: I do not always agree with everything, but there are many things that she brings forward that I support. I thank her for that.

It is good news that the Government are committed to halting the decline in species abundance and protecting 30% of land and sea by 2030. As with our net zero targets, we must ensure the correct strategies are in place to achieve that. I am here to discuss how Northern Ireland can play its part. I always bring a Northern Ireland perspective to these debates. I am ever mindful that the Minister does not have responsibility for Northern Ireland, but I believe in this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland working together to achieve many goals that are helpful for us all.

At the end of 2023, it was revealed that Northern Ireland is one of the most nature-depleted areas in the world, according to the 2023 “State of Nature” report. I was shocked to learn that 12% of species assessed across Northern Ireland are at threat of extinction, which is what the debate is about, and the hon. Lady set the scene well. The report revealed that the abundance of farmland bird species has on average fallen by 43% since 1996. It also found a 14% decrease in the number of flowering plants in Northern Ireland since 1973, so there is lots for us to do in Northern Ireland, and we have some targets that the Department back home—the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs—can try to achieve. Among the species that have been identified as at risk of extinction are the basking shark, the Atlantic salmon and the Irish damselfly —the first two being native to Northern Irish and Republic waters. We have been hearing recently about blue-green algae appearing in Northern Ireland waters. Lough Neagh, the biggest freshwater lake in the UK, has been severely affected in particular.

Having healthy seas will help to regulate the climate and reduce the negative impacts. I represent the fairly coastal and agricultural constituency of Strangford, which is full of biodiversity, and that is why I am a great supporter of preserving nature and taking those small but necessary steps to protect it. There needs to be a joint approach and effort throughout the United Kingdom and further afield to do so. I declare an interest as a landowner and member of the Ulster Farmers’ Union. We have planted on our land and farm some 3,500 trees and created two ponds for habitats. We have retained the hedgerows to ensure that the young birds, butterflies and insects can thrive. We have also been told to, and we have to, control the magpies, crows and foxes. We try to keep that balance in the countryside, and we are doing that—hopefully—fairly well.

I have also been involved in a project for black bees. Irish black bees are almost extinct, but they are coming back. Chris and Valentine Hodges have been instrumental in that. There are three estates close to us that have them, and we have them at our farm as well. Irish black bees are coming back because people are making an effort.

Having sustainable habitats protects species, as they have the environmental conditions and resources needed to survive. It is understood that DEFRA has a target to create and restore some 500,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitats. We have seen this year especially a drastic increase in the amount of rainfall. Of course, the rainfall has been enormous these past three months, but there has not been a lot in other years. Changing weather patterns alter the seasonal timing of certain species’ life-cycles and can lead to ecological mismatches. On habitat loss, level rise will affect coastal habitats through saltwater intrusion and erosion.

There are recommendations for improvement, which include setting targets we can meet, ensuring robust monitoring, and co-ordinating a joint approach across the whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to ensure that as a collective we can tackle biodiversity loss. I praise the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion for the work she has done on the matter. I am keen to learn more about what steps we can take to preserve nature, and so I look to the Minister for answers on how we can do it much better.

Christina Rees Portrait Christina Rees (in the Chair)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before I call Alex Sobel, I would like to thank all Back-Bench speakers for sticking within the informal time limit—I appreciate it.

Under-10-Metre Fishing Fleet: South-West

Jim Shannon Excerpts
Wednesday 15th May 2024

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Westminster Hall
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Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Hansard - -

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and I congratulate the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) on securing it.

I understand the title of the debate—it is very clear what it means—and I will pose some questions about how the south-west is treated in relation to this issue, and about the importance of under-10-metre boats. I absolutely appreciate the hon. Member’s desire to make his fleet the centre of debate, but under-10-metre boats need support right across the United Kingdom, not just in the south-west. In his introduction, the hon. Member referred to the 3,000-plus under-10-metre boats in the United Kingdom. I have some in my own constituency, and I will raise a couple of issues. Although the Minister is not directly responsible for fishing in Northern Ireland, he has some responsibility for the allocation of quotas, and I want to put that on the record.

Taking into account the fact that the visa process is costly for skilled workers who are not paid in the highest band, it is clear that we really need support in recruiting and training local crew. I am sure the hon. Member and many others present will agree that the same recruiting and training is important, no matter where we are in the UK. We need initiatives to bring new entrants into the industry, which is as applicable to my constituency in Northern Ireland as it is to the south-west. Fishing is not necessarily top of the careers choice agenda in urban schools, so how do we make it more attractive? The fact is that if we do not begin to attract younger people to fishing, we will not have a secure British fishing future, regardless of quotas.

I urge a note of caution on the under-10-metre quota allocation, to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I know it is important, but there may be a variety of opinions on that. I point out the obvious: any review of quota allocation mechanisms to ensure that under- 10-metre boats get a bigger slice of the cake may be at the expense of existing quota holders. If a UK-wide approach is taken, that could be difficult for the fleet in Northern Ireland, which already struggles to make ends meet.

I did my advice centre in Portavogie last Saturday. Most of the issues from the people who came to see me were about fishing. If at the end of the quarter of the year there is some quota that has not been used, rather than lose that quota it would be appropriate to disperse that among the under-10-metre boats. I must flag this to the Minister: there must be cognisance of the Northern Ireland fishing fleet and the Scots fleet when discussing the allocations. I know the Minister always tries to be helpful in his responses to any questions that I ask in the Chamber. Any sweeping generalised changes might not prove popular with some of my fishermen back home.

I wish to briefly raise the issue of zero-catch advice on pollack, and possibly the recent scallop closures, and encourage the Government to engage early with fishermen. The hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay had an Adjournment debate on this. He spoke extremely well, as he always does, and he got a fairly good response from the Minister. I think he was pleased and certainly I was encouraged by that, but when it comes to engaging early enough with fishermen, the mitigation strategies and alternative management measures might be developed in a more timely fashion to ensure that information and engagement drives our approach in these areas.

I support what the hon. Gentleman says. I will support others who speak as well because they all want the best for their fishermen, as do I. With that, I support what the hon. Gentleman said.

World Species Congress

Jim Shannon Excerpts
Tuesday 14th May 2024

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Westminster Hall
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Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I absolutely will, and I intend to go through some other examples in our nations that we should also be celebrating.

We stand at a pivotal moment in history. We face a global biodiversity crisis where the fate of over 1 million species hangs in the balance due to human disruption and the destruction of habitats. There is simply no more time on the clock. The UK is one of the worst countries in the world for nature loss, with just 3% of our land and 8% of our seas sufficiently protected in nature terms. The 2023 “State of Nature” report makes worrying reading. It states that in the UK native species have on average declined by 19% since 1970 and that nearly one in six species are now threatened with extinction.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I thank the hon. Lady for introducing the debate; she is absolutely right to do so. Does she not agree that the protection of the species we have is vital and that we as a nation and, indeed, our Government have a greater role to play in the protection of native species in the UK, as well as more widely? We in this United Kingdom can play our part globally as well, which is highlighted by the World Species Congress.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. We cannot see any of those declines in isolation, because more than half of plant species have declined. Among the world’s worst-hit groups are pollinators such as bees and butterflies, falling by 18% on average. I am ashamed to say that this has left the UK with the lowest level of biodiversity among G7 countries.

--- Later in debate ---
Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Sadly, I agree. We want leadership, which I—and from what it sounds like, those on the Labour Front Bench—feel is lacking at the moment. As my hon. Friend rightly says, these targets should not just be our end goal; they are signposts that we can follow to get to the peak of ecological restoration and healthier habitats, which I think all of us want.

Of course, climate change is a key driver in nature’s decline, and the loss of wildlife and wild places both contribute to climate change itself, leaving us ill-equipped to reduce carbon emissions and to adapt to change in the future. We must therefore recognise that climate and biodiversity crises are intrinsically linked, and take comprehensive and joined-up approaches that tackle both the climate emergency and the nature crisis together. Only then will we start to turn the tide. We are falling behind, but there is hope. Organisations and charities across the country are working hard to recover species and restore nature. I am particularly pleased with the massive contribution that these organisations are making to reintroduce native species, rejuvenate ecosystems and rekindle hope for the future.

There are several exciting examples from across the UK, and I thank my colleagues, the hon. Members for Vale of Clwyd (Dr Davies) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon), for raising two of them. Let me give some more. Take, for example, the Scottish wildcat in the Cairngorms national park. The population of these highland tigers has plummeted as a result of human-wildlife conflict and significant losses of native woodland, to the extent that they are now functionally extinct—that is to say, there is no longer a viable wild population for the future. Now, however, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland have worked to breed and reintroduce this iconic species, the last surviving native cat in Britain, to the beautiful Scottish landscape.

In Wales, there has been impressive work to reintroduce the native pine marten by the Vincent Wildlife Trust, assisted by Chester zoo, helping to pull this species back from the brink. European pine marten populations have declined dramatically, and by the 20th century, they had mostly disappeared from their once-intensive habitats in the UK. I am pleased to say that not only have the pine martens been reintroduced to Wales, but they have also been successful in breeding a viable population that can create a new stronghold for the species and ensure its survival.

In Northern Ireland, Belfast zoo is working with partners to secure the long-term future of the increasingly rare red squirrel, which is threatened by the invasive grey squirrel. This breeding and reintroduction scheme has taken place for many years now, and is proving effective.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
- Hansard - -

Near where I live, Rosemount, Ballywalter and Mount Stuart all have a red squirrel programme, so there are others outside the zoo doing that. On bees and pollinating, just again for the hon. Lady and for Hansard, the black bee used to be a very scarce and almost extinct species of bee in Northern Ireland, but is coming back through the efforts of Chris and Valentine Hodges, who live just down the road from me. They have black bee projects across a lot of estates, and even on my own farm. There is a lot being done not just by the zoos, but by individual people as well.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It also seems appropriate to mention the farmers who, without those pollinators, are really suffering. I am pleased that today the National Farmers Union is at the Farm to Fork summit, and I hope the Government listen to it.

Finally, in England the Wildwood Trust has worked to reintroduce bison into Blean woods near Canterbury. Remarkably, those are the first bison to roam freely in the UK in thousands of years. They will help to reshape the landscape to make the area more resilient to climate change, and reverse species decline through the natural management of woodlands. Paignton zoo and the National Marine Aquarium have collectively restored acres of seagrass to our coastline, creating vital carbon sinks as well as homes for species such as seahorses.

This is not just in the UK. The UK’s overseas territories have 94% of our unique native wild species, and 11% of those are threatened with global extinction. Zoos are also working to recover species. In Dominica and Monserrat, for example, a consortium of zoos, including Chester zoo and the Zoological Society of London, is helping bring back the mountain chicken frog, one of the world’s largest frogs, often weighing up to a kilo. They are called that because they taste like chicken, which has been one of the problems. The frog has been almost wiped out by over-hunting and disease.

Despite the commendable efforts of these conservation powerhouses, the stark reality remains. The rate of species loss is accelerating at an alarming pace, but things are looking up for the mountain chicken frog and the population is back on—not on the menu but on the climb. Those shocking statistics serve as a sobering reminder of the magnitude of the crisis we face. According to the Worldwide Fund for Nature, species are disappearing at a rate a thousand times faster than the natural background rate. We may be witnessing the sixth mass extinction event in the Earth’s history. Despite that, it appears the Government do not have a realistic plan to recover species in the UK. Indeed, under the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs described species reintroduction as “not a priority” for the Government.

Although species reintroduction is just one part of the road we must take to protect the intricate web of life that sustains our planet, it is an important one, because conserving our remaining wildlife is not enough. We must also take action to support nature’s recovery, and I urge the Government to act accordingly. I hope that any future Labour Government would certainly work hard to ensure that the UK meets its 2030 targets.

Sir Charles, you may be aware that as part of the COP15 agreement, every country is now obliged to revise its plan, formerly called the national biodiversity strategy and action plan, to bring it in line with a new global framework. Conservation organisations up and down the country, including zoos and aquariums, are patiently waiting for the UK’s publication. There is real concern, however, that it will not include nearly enough ambition and urgency.

Will the Minister confirm that the UK’s plan will outdo expectations, and will not just be a rehash of old promises? Will it contain new plans to fill the gaps? Will the Minister also announce when it will be published? The publication of the NBSAP could be the perfect opportunity for the UK genuinely to show its global leadership credentials, with the whole of the UK working together to produce an ambitious and co-ordinated plan for nature. To do that the UK’s vibrant conservation sector of non-governmental organisations, which includes zoos and aquariums, must be fully engaged in formulating and executing this plan.

Will the Minister agree to take advantage of this fantastic opportunity to ensure that we really put nature on the road to recovery by 2030? The World Species Congress acts as a spotlight on the work needed to ensure that nature can thrive. I have already mentioned some of the successes that we are seeing in the UK. They are proof that it is possible, but we need a national effort. Nature cannot wait. Only immediate and decisive action will put us on the right path to restoring nature across our United Kingdom and further afield. We need help to accelerate species recovery and reverse the red, so I urge the Government to prioritise this existential issue.

Agriculture

Jim Shannon Excerpts
Monday 13th May 2024

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Mark Spencer Portrait Sir Mark Spencer
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend will understand that the basic payment scheme did not motivate food production at all, as it was not linked to it. As we move to the new regime, we are promoting better productivity through grants for better equipment. We are investing in new technology. Alongside that, we are pushing to improve gene editing and gene technology, to try to make agriculture more sustainable and more productive at the same time. As we go through this transition, we are certainly keen to increase the productivity of our agricultural sector.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I thank the Minister as always for his positivity about the farming sector. The farmers’ union has asked me a specific, technical question that I would like to have on record. Does the Minister agree that since the transfer window for delinked payments closed on 10 May, clarity is needed that that will not apply to cases of inheritance, with the ability to transfer ownership not affecting payments that can be made when a business is passed on through a death in a family? Should that not be reiterated to those who may believe that they would lose necessary payments? The Minister may not be able to answer that right away, but could he let me know?

Mark Spencer Portrait Sir Mark Spencer
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Member will be familiar with how matters of inheritance tax are for the Treasury rather than this Department, but we want to see that fair transition between generations so that family farms can be passed from one generation to the other to continue to maintain our landscapes and produce top-quality food, as we have for a long time. I will ensure that he gets the right answer to his question as soon as possible.

Our new schemes are investing in the foundations of food security and profitable farm businesses, from healthy soils to clean water. This year, we have increased payment rates for our environmental land management schemes by an average of 10%. Some payment rates went up by significantly more: species-rich grassland rose from £182 to £646 per hectare.

--- Later in debate ---
Mark Spencer Portrait Sir Mark Spencer
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I should be clear and gently push back when my hon. Friend mentions reductions. The budget for the basic payment regime was £2.4 billion, and £2.4 billion is still the budget. So the size of the cake is completely the same, but the way in which the cake is being cut is different. Those are the changes we are making. The way in which we are dividing that cake is different, which is causing some challenge to some farmers.

My hon. Friend mentioned farmer confidence and the fact that some farmers are saying that productivity rates will be lower this year than they have been in the past. I think there is some truth in that: many farmers—I again draw attention to my entry in the register—have experienced unprecedented weather events and have been unable to plant crops, so they will see lower productivity this season. We are very much aware of that, and we continue to talk to farming representatives about how we can help to mitigate some of the impact later this year.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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The Minister is gracious in giving way, which I appreciate very much. If farmers cannot plant their crops, they cannot produce the food, as he knows. If they cannot produce the food, prices increase. The Government are committed to reducing inflation, as they should be, and we welcome the fact that it is coming down. However, if we do not help the farmers with food production, inflation has the potential to rise. What can the Government do to alleviate those problems?

Mark Spencer Portrait Sir Mark Spencer
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman highlights a long-term challenge that we face: if we are going to be impacted by climate change and increasingly difficult weather patterns in future, we need to ensure that farmers have the resilience needed to manage those. That means investing in gene technology to make sure that we have varieties that can deal with different swings in climate, new machinery, new technology and new farm equipment. We were able to take money from the basic payment scheme and invest it in grant schemes, in order to help farmers invest in the new machinery and technology to mitigate some of those impacts. There is a lot that we can and are doing to help them along on that journey.

Sport Horse Industry: Import and Export Controls

Jim Shannon Excerpts
Tuesday 30th April 2024

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Helen Morgan Portrait Helen Morgan (North Shropshire) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the impact of import and export controls on the sport horse industry.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Dame Caroline. Horses are among the most travelled animals in the world, and in the UK we are lucky to have a thriving competition and breeding industry. My constituency of North Shropshire is home to a significant amount of that activity in the sport horse sector, with centres of excellence for both artificial insemination of mares and competition training.

Implementation of new import controls went live today. They have been causing consternation in the industry, with an additional issue around export controls for live animals and animal products, which are also having a significant impact. I will come to each in turn. I note that the issue of export controls is for the Department for Business and Trade and not necessarily for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. When I sought this debate last week, the former did not want to take it and advised that I speak to DEFRA.

I will focus a bit more on import controls because that is the Minister’s area of expertise. I hope he will take on board some of my points about export, and work with his colleagues in the Department for Business and Trade to consider some of the challenges being faced in the industry in that area.

First, on imports, we all recognise that there is a serious risk of disease, and that biosecurity is a top priority. I am not here to suggest otherwise. More than 95% of sport horse mares are artificially inseminated using chilled equine semen. It is important to have checks on that, so that we do not import unwanted diseases into the country. However, it is important to remember that these are high-health animals that are carefully monitored here and on the continent. There has never been an incident of disease imported in this manner. When looking at the type of checks that might be suitable, we can take that into account and consider what is proportionate to the risks. The logistical challenge of classifying those products as high risk at the border control point has the potential to cause havoc in the importing process.

I am grateful to Ministers in DEFRA, including Lord Douglas-Miller, who met me and one of my constituents who is affected by this problem. A pilot scheme is being run from today, with checks on those products carried out by the inseminating vet rather than at the border control point. I hope that pilot is successful, because it would remove some of the logistical problems of importing a product that has to be used within 48 hours of collection. It is collected in Europe and it takes time to transport it to the UK. The logistics of getting it to its courier and destination are very tight. The pilot is a welcome development and I thank the Department for listening carefully.

It is important to note that getting to this point has been chaotic and that the change of process was made with only weeks to go. I understand, from speaking to the British Horse Council earlier this week, that that process is being piloted at East Midlands, though not at Stansted airport, where a smaller proportion of these goods come through. We now have a dual process, which is not ideal because there is scope for confusion and for the process to break down at Stansted. Businesses affected by this problem have wasted considerable time in getting ready, and expended much worry over the potential outcome, so the process has not been ideal.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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The hon. Lady is outlining a specific case, but we in Northern Ireland also have a specific case, which the Minister will know, in terms of the protocol and the Windsor framework, which has curtailed the movement of livestock within the UK. Does the hon. Lady agree that while her case is specific to her and her constituents, we have a specific case too? Might the Minister in his answer also consider how movement of livestock, and particularly of horses, from Northern Ireland to Great Britain can be addressed?

Helen Morgan Portrait Helen Morgan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. As always, it is highly relevant to the issue. There is an issue around Northern Ireland, because there is a risk that with different controls we compromise our biosecurity and that people use Northern Ireland as a back door to circumvent those controls. It is therefore important that we have consistency between all the devolved nations, including Northern Ireland.

We are talking about an £8 billion industry in the UK, so it is not such a niche issue and it is well worth ensuring that the industry can operate effectively. We have had a lack of clarity on charges. It is my understanding that both East Midlands and Stansted border control points are not Government-run and that there is a lack of clarity about the level of charges. Again, it is difficult for businesses to plan for a big change that is coming in if they do not know exactly what it will involve.

A lot of the effort has focused on the import of germinal products, but we have stallions in this country whose products are being exported. If we streamline and make the process of import cost-effective, which is very important, we are unfortunately putting our exporters at a disadvantage compared with European producers. This is therefore the point when I ask the Minister to work closely with the Department for Business and Trade to see if we can streamline the export process and put our own stallion breeders on a level playing field.

One of the reasons there has been concern about the process is that vets did not have access to the TRACES system—a database maintained by the EU and used to monitor health and travel documents in 90 countries. Will the Minister clarify whether the UK systems will be able to interface with that system and whether that has been properly tested? Also, out of interest, why did we not stick with the TRACES system, which might have reduced some of the cost in the process of moving horses in and out of the country?

We have talked about germinal products, but I also want to talk about live horses. As I mentioned at the beginning, sport horses are some of the best-travelled animals in the world. They go to Europe frequently to compete, and this is essential for breeders to prove their breeding and competition credentials; thousands of horses go every year. A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky to meet Safira from Springfield Stud in North Shropshire, who has been selected for the Brazilian Olympic team. She travels backwards and forwards to Europe regularly and it costs hundreds of pounds each time because she has to have export documentation and a veterinary check. That process is not streamlined and it is expensive.

That is also an issue for the thoroughbred industry, about which I confess I know less. Thoroughbred horses have to be naturally covered, which means a lot of international movement is required in the industry to ensure gene pool diversity, leading to a huge associated cost every time a horse moves in and out of the country. There has been an estimated 18% reduction in imports of thoroughbred horses, which shows the scale of the problem and its potential impact. There is also evidence of a reduction in the number of European horses coming here. UK businesses, such as Springfield Stud in my constituency, are considering moving to northern Europe to avoid some of the cost and red tape involved. That is hugely damaging to the industry and has the potential to affect North Shropshire in particular.

I want to return to the point that, in this debate, we are discussing high-health animals, whose health is continuously monitored. Many are held in quarantine before they are used to produce semen, and they must have high levels of documentation and accreditation to go and compete with other horses across Europe, so the risk around them is potentially quite low. I therefore ask the Minister: how can we slim down the process and reduce the cost and red tape involved so that breeders stay in Britain and continue to effectively compete in Europe?

The identification process, I am informed, is one such area for improvement. There are about 70 passport-issuing bodies in the UK feeding into a central database, and because there are so many bodies involved, the data is inevitably of variable quality. My understanding is that the Government have accepted that this needs to be simplified and improved and the industry is waiting on the statutory instrument needed to do it, but it has been repeatedly delayed. I wonder whether the Minister could give us a date on which that change will come in, so that we can see a more streamlined database for health and travel documentation.

I also want to touch on the point that the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) made about the importance of consistency. My understanding is that Wales is set to follow the same set of rules as England. Obviously, that is very welcome, but it is very important that the Government work with their Scottish counterparts to ensure that we have consistency throughout the whole United Kingdom and that we do not see people trying to get through loopholes and back doors because of a lack of joined-up thinking. When that happens, our biosecurity is put at risk. It is important to ensure that we have the same types of controls across the whole country.

We have a threat to the efficient operation of a valuable and thriving UK industry that we are all proud of. I have a particular interest in it, because eventing and show-jumping horses are important and thriving in North Shropshire. DEFRA is moving in the right direction on some of these issues, but the process so far has been more chaotic than we would like. We want the Department for Business and Trade to be involved as well, because horses move backwards and forwards and we do not want to disadvantage our own breeders.

Before I finish, I would like to thank David Mountford from the British Horse Council, Claire Sheppard from the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association and Jan Rogers of the Horse Trust for making sure I was well informed before this debate. I also thank my own constituents, Tullis Matson from Stallion AI and John Chambers from Springfield Stud, for taking the time to explain their concerns and their issues to me in so much detail.

Food Waste and Food Distribution

Jim Shannon Excerpts
Tuesday 16th April 2024

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Westminster Hall
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Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) for leading today’s debate. It is estimated that total food waste in the UK amounted to 10.7 million tonnes in 2021. Most food waste comes from households, equating to some 60%, followed by farms, at 15%, manufacturing, at 13%, and retail, at 2%. It is clear that we need to do more as a collective to tackle our food waste statistics, so it is good to be here to discuss the issue. It is not just something that the Minister gives us the solutions for; it is something that we, as elected representatives, and communities must work together on.

I was shocked to read that the edible parts of household waste amounted to £17 billion. That is the equivalent of £250 per person per year, or £1,000 for a family of four. In Northern Ireland in 2021, Minister Lyons called for a crackdown on food waste. It was estimated that Northern Ireland accounted for 25% of the content of our non-recycling bins.

I want to give a couple of examples to illustrate what has been done in my community. At the end of the day, major shopkeepers, including Asda and Tesco, give perishable goods to community groups, which in turn give them to needy families and elderly people. What they do is incredible. I never knew this until I went to see the local warehouse just before Christmas, but Jude Bailey, the lady in charge of it, also does great work by collecting chicken and ready-made meals. The companies keep that food for 24 hours, but after that time they give it to the warehouse group, which freezes it and in turn makes meals. I was really impressed by what it does. Its volunteers make a free meal for the community every day so that the food is not wasted. That is similar to what the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin) described. People are incredibly kind. Jude and her team of committed Christians show their faith through helping others.

We waste not only food but a large amount energy, and there are carbon emissions associated with growing and transporting food. In Northern Ireland, we have successfully diverted 1 million tonnes of biodegradable waste from landfill since 2015, but there is still an excessive amount of waste to be addressed. We are all guilty of throwing out too much food and not making use of what we have in our kitchens, but we do not realise the full extent of the environmental damage that that can cause.

This will be a trip down memory lane for you, Ms Vaz. In the ’60s, when I was a child, nothing was lost in our house—and I mean nothing. We owned a shop, and the family home got what we did not sell. That was not because the food was bad—I am a pensioner now, so it did not affect me in any way. I have held on to my health for many years, so that indicates that the food was okay. When the cheese went a bit blue, we cut off the blue bit and ate the rest, and it did not do us any harm. In this day and age, that probably would not happen, but we did it. Everything was used, and the collie dog got whatever we did not eat. My goodness me: as children in the ’60s with a very capable family, we were examples of using everything in the house.

Sharon Hodgson Portrait Mrs Hodgson
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The hon. Gentleman is making a very good point that I did not make in my speech. He brought this figure to my mind: although we all think that waste in this country comes from supermarkets and restaurants, 70% is from households. Does he agree that we need to start in our own households, exactly as he is describing, if we want to solve the problem of food waste?

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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Absolutely, and that is the point that I am trying to make. I said to the Minister before the sitting that I do not expect him to give us all the answers. We have the answers individually and in our communities.

I am thankful that I have a very frugal wife who is careful with our grocery and shopping lists, but I understand the pressure on young families, who are busier now than I could ever imagine. Both parents work, and when they come home they carry out homework and take the kids to football or to Boys’ Brigade or Girls’ Brigade. When do they make meals? They have to rinse out containers for the recycling bin. They may envisage making dinner six times that week and buying groceries, but when the timings are changed for football or the school choir, or the kids need to be dropped off, it is hard for them to do that.

We have rightly moved away from girls-only home economics classes. I am impressed when I go to schools and see equal numbers of young boys in the same class, doing the same work and learning how to cook. Before I was married, it was bacon butties—toast and bacon under the grill. I will not say how often I used the grill and how often it was cleaned. I think I survived well as a single man, but when I got married, life changed. I thank the Lord it did.

It is clear from the figures that have been cited today that we need to take action. I am a great believer in education not simply changing our generation but equipping future generations with the tools to do better than we are currently doing, and I will finish with this comment. Households on low budgets need help to know how best to use their food, but households with higher budgets need the same lessons, because this is not a tale of income; it is a tale of mindset, as the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) said. We all must change our mindsets to be better stewards of our resources, food, money and, of course, time.

UK Food Security

Jim Shannon Excerpts
Tuesday 19th March 2024

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Westminster Hall
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Sarah Dyke Portrait Sarah Dyke (Somerton and Frome) (LD)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered UK food security.

It is an honour to see you in the Chair, Mrs Cummins, and to open this important debate. The most widely accepted definition of food security is when all people at all times have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food, which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. That definition is built on four pillars: supply, access, supply stability and nutritional value. Food resilience is a critical aspect of ensuring food security and sustainability in the UK, and it needs to be incorporated into our agrifood systems.

The UK may score well on supply, with the Government food strategy observing that we produce about 75% of what we consume, but that number hides a range of self-sufficiency levels and some of the future problems that we will encounter. For example, the UK produces only 53% of the vegetables and 16% of the fruits that we consume. That makes our fruit and veg supply vulnerable to outside factors, as seen when a shortage of tomatoes hit the UK last February. When we consider that we import most of our fruit and veg from southern Europe, a region that will be heavily impacted by climate change, it is essential that we focus on putting in place the necessary measures now.

Food security is paramount to our national security. It is crucial that we take a holistic view of our food supply chain.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I commend the hon. Lady for securing the debate. Coincidentally, back home in Northern Ireland, Ulster University has just revealed that one in 10 UK adults live in households classified as marginally food insecure—10% are reported as living in households with moderate or severe food insecurity. She is right to bring this matter to Westminster Hall. Does she agree that more could be done in our schools, to extend free school dinners universally, to ease off on parents and, more so, to ensure all children have access to one healthy and nutritious meal each day?

Sarah Dyke Portrait Sarah Dyke
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. I will come on to that later in my speech.

We must ensure sustainability in our food production, which encompasses the nutritional quality of food, its accessibility and the stability of supply. When we talk about the sustainability of food production, we must first look inwards at food being produced at home. British farming is facing a crisis. I hear daily from members of my own family, neighbours and friends about the challenges that they are facing, and their concerns and anxieties regarding their business.

For that reason, I feel honoured to work alongside organisations such as the Farm Safety Foundation, which campaigns to raise awareness of the mental health crisis facing farmers and farm workers. The immense pressure that the industry has faced over recent years is taking its toll financially, physically and mentally. Many farms across the country are on the precipice, with 110,000 farms having closed their farm gates since 1990. Many farmers do not know whether they will survive the next 12 months.

Oral Answers to Questions

Jim Shannon Excerpts
Thursday 14th March 2024

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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My hon. Friend has been a real constituency champion in highlighting some of the flooding issues that have occurred in North Warwickshire and Bedworth. Of the Environment Agency investment over six years, £24 million is going specifically into protecting 800 properties, and I know we will have further discussions on the work that he is doing locally to tackle flooding.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I thank the Secretary of State for his response. As he will know, the Northern Ireland Assembly is back up and running. We have a Minister in place to deal with flooding, but money must be spent wisely and effectively. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Northern Ireland Assembly Minister at this early stage to ensure that lessons learned here on the mainland can be used back home, where over the past year flooding has become an exceptional problem that worries many people?

--- Later in debate ---
Robert Courts Portrait The Solicitor General
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The Attorney General visited the CPS East Midlands office in Leicester just last month, and she tells me that she was impressed to hear about the work that prosecutors have been undertaking to tackle recent and historical instances of child sexual abuse in particular, securing lengthy sentences for the perpetrators. That is an excellent example of the importance of joint working between prosecutors and the police, which I have referred to.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Are you the shadow MP for Kettering or something? I hope this is linked to the question.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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I welcome the Minister’s answer. The Minister is responsible not only for Kettering and the east midlands, but for the United Kingdom. What one- to-one support can be offered to victims of sexual crime across the United Kingdom, to improve their experience of the criminal justice system?

Robert Courts Portrait The Solicitor General
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his ingenuity in managing to squeeze that in. That was an excellent bit of Order Paper operation. I am happy to meet him to talk about what we are doing in his area to smooth the experience of victims of crime who have to go through the criminal justice system. They have suffered trauma already; the system should not add to that.

Zero Total Allowable Catch: Pollack

Jim Shannon Excerpts
Monday 11th March 2024

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Steve Double Portrait Steve Double (St Austell and Newquay) (Con)
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I am grateful for the opportunity to bring this debate to the House. The subject might be considered fairly niche, but it is incredibly important to many people in my constituency and across Cornwall. It was suggested my opening line should be, “Never mind the pollacks—here’s the Adjournment debate,” but of course I could not possibly say that.

I begin by thanking the Minister. I am grateful to him for responding to the debate. He has been willing to engage and meet with colleagues who have sought to raise concerns about the issue over many weeks. I thank him for his engagement—I hope it will not end now—as he has been working with us to find a solution to the challenge. He is aware that the decision to have zero total allowable catch for pollack, which was made in December and took effect from 1 January, is damaging the livelihoods of many fishermen in Cornwall.

It is estimated that upwards of 40 boats that either operate out of or land their catch in Mevagissey, Newquay and Fowey, in my constituency, rely on pollack catch for a significant amount of their income. As has been reported by the media, the Hunkin family have said that they stand to lose around £200,000 this year alone from the decision to have zero quota for pollack, which represents about two thirds of their total revenue.

In fact, the issue affects fisheries across Cornwall. In the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann), boats would operate from Padstow and Port Isaac, and in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray), boats would operate from Looe, Polperro, and, in the far west, Newlyn. The decision is having a serious impact. Although pollack is caught from many ports around the UK, the decision has had a disproportionate impact on the inshore fishing fleet that operates out of Cornwall.

We all accept that the recommendation by the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas that pollack should have a zero quota put Ministers and officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in an incredibly difficult position. After that recommendation was made, it would have been very difficult for the UK not to go along with it. We all acknowledge that. However, as a result of that decision, many fishermen had their ability to make a living taken away overnight. To put that in perspective, the 570 tonnes of pollack quota that was available to vessels operating from Cornish ports represent a loss of £2.3 million to the Cornish economy.

That loss impacts not only fishermen, but supply-chain businesses that serve and support the fishing industry. The harbourmaster at Mevagissey, Andrew Trevarton, has estimated that the loss of pollack quota will result in a loss of 20% of Mevagissey harbour’s income, and there is no prospect of an easy way to replace that income. It is difficult to overstate how important having a thriving, operating fishing port at Mevagissey is to the economy of that village. It attracts about 800,000 visitors every year, largely because it is a living, operating fishing port—not a museum, but a thriving part of the fishing industry in Cornwall.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I commend the hon. Gentleman for securing the debate. I spoke to him beforehand. As he rightly says, issues with pollack fishing seem to be more prevalent in the south-west. In Northern Ireland, we do not have the same concerns. Despite that, allowing certain fish to be caught only as bycatch is impacting the livelihoods of local fishermen. Does he agree that if these issues start to arise further afield than the south-west—for example, in fishing ports in Northern Ireland—and the Minister tonight decides to assist the hon. Gentleman, the same grants and opportunities should extend to all areas of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

Steve Double Portrait Steve Double
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The case that I am making is on a very specific issue: the impact on a specific part of our fishing industry of the removal of the pollack quota at such short notice. We all want a thriving fishing sector right across the United Kingdom. We want fishermen and businesses that support the sector to thrive and be profitable right across the UK. We need policies that enable that to happen, but what we face in Cornwall and other parts of the south-west is very specific. It relates to the short timeframe in which vessels and fishermen must adapt, because the quota went from 1,500 tonnes to zero virtually overnight.

Neonicotinoids and other Pesticides

Jim Shannon Excerpts
Tuesday 5th March 2024

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Hansard - -

It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Henderson. I congratulate the hon. Member for City of Chester (Samantha Dixon) on setting the scene so very well on a subject that should really interest us all. If it does not, then there are questions to asked—that is the reason we are all here. It is a pleasure to see the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), who has a deep love of farming. It is an especial pleasure to see the Minister, who is always here whenever debates such as this are to be answered. I know that he, like me and others in this room today, understands the importance of the subject.

I declare an interest—not because I am a beekeeper, but because my neighbours down the road, Chris and Valentine Hodges, are. A couple of years ago, I let them put some of their beehives on to my land, because I wanted to see the natural environment that I live in enhanced. It quite clearly has been. They have what is called a black bee species, which is almost extinct; they are responsible for ensuring that it comes back. This is not just on my farm, but in the constituency across the whole of the Ards peninsula, up into North Down and as far over as Strangford lough. By the way, the honey is absolutely gorgeous. Every morning before I leave my house, I have two spoonfuls on my brown toast. Fibre is very important when getting to a certain age, so the honey gives me that wee bit of flavour and taste, and I thank the Lord for it. It is really special.

I am ever mindful of the responsibility that we hold to be good stewards of our environment, which I know is an obligation that our farmers honour in every sense. All the farmers I know want to do that; I know the Minister does that, and other people here do the very same. Many farmers see themselves not as landowners but as caretakers of the land for future generations, as the hon. Member for City of Chester said clearly in her introductory speech. The responsibility for producing food that is safe is of great importance. For that reason, many old-school farmers—I am probably one of them—have encouraged their children to attend agriculture college to get a basis of generational knowledge, while working hand in hand with modern techniques, and to be taught how to get the most out of the land and diversify where necessary. Our agriculture colleges are vital to the future food security of this nation, and that should also be noted today.

The complexity of grant applications and red tape has been somewhat reduced, but it is still a matter of concern to the farming community. The need for the Ulster Farmers’ Union—the sister organisation of the National Farmers Union in England—is very clear. The two work together and provide some of the best insurance rates possible; maybe I am a wee bit biased, because all my insurance is with the Ulster Farmers’ Union. That is why I looked to see what the NFU’s view was on this issue, knowing that it has hands-on knowledge and science at its fingertips.

I can understand that there are situations in which the use of these pesticides is important. Most recently, the Government approved an application from NFU Sugar and British Sugar for the emergency use of the seed treatment on sugar beet seed in 2024. That was a vital application, and we need to look at it and recognise why that decision was made and its implications. The authorisation was granted on the condition that the product will be used only if the threshold for virus lessons is reached. Michael Sly, the chair of the NFU Sugar board, said:

“The British sugar beet crop, which safeguards more than 9,500 jobs, continues to be threatened by Virus Yellows disease.”

That terrible disease can do all sorts of damage to the countryside and to bees in particular. He continued:

“In recent years the disease has caused crop losses of up to 80%.”

We cannot ignore that; those are the facts, figures and statistics. He went on to say:

“I am relieved that this has been recognised by Defra”—

particularly the Minister who is here in Westminster Hall today—

“in granting the derogation which will be invaluable if we see a return of severe pest pressure.

An independent, scientific threshold is used to forecast the severity of pest pressure on the British sugar beet crop and any seed treatment will only be used if this threshold is met.”

So there are conditions; this is not a wild abandonment of the process, which is very much controlled. DEFRA and British Sugar have it well under control. Mr Sly added:

“the industry will again deliver a comprehensive stewardship programme to ensure safe and responsible use of the treatment if the threshold is met.

Led by the British Beet Research Organisation, the homegrown sugar industry is working hard to find viable, long-term solutions to this disease.”

This process is about the long-term vision and how we find a cure or something that ensures that this disease does no more damage.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am the first person to say that we need to look at insecticides and make them safer. However, I represent a constituency that produces a large amount of sugar beet, and this derogation is for a limited period and for a non-flowering plant in its first year, so pollinators will not be at risk from it. The fact that we are spraying the seeds of this plant actually mitigates a huge amount of risk. I think the public do not fully appreciate that absolutely key point.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that very salient and helpful intervention, which put the facts on the record. He explains why and how these things have been done, the controls that are necessary and why these things are necessary, and I am sure nobody here will have any concerns about the way they have been done, how long they will last or their importance. As I said, Mr Sly concluded by saying that the homegrown sugar industry is working hard to find a viable long-term solution to the disease, but it is imperative that we recognise the necessity for that.

To conclude, that application shows the level of thought that must go into having an application approved by British Sugar. The use of these harsh chemicals is not the first solution; it is a final solution. For that reason, I believe that they should remain available, but they should always—always—be closely monitored. We owe a duty to our environment, but also to our food security. The balance between them is so delicate, but it can be struck; I believe in my heart that if there is a will, there is a way. I look to the Minister, as I always do, to ensure that we in this House are doing the best we can to put the garden back in the shape that it should be in.