South West Water: Brixham Contamination

Luke Pollard Excerpts
Monday 20th May 2024

(1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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My hon. Friend raises an important point. It is not just those residents directly affected who are concerned; so too will be those in the surrounding areas. Indeed, some of the initial media reports referred to “south Devon”, which led many residents in the wider catchment to think that they might be directly affected. That is why the speed of the investigation and the work that the Drinking Water Inspectorate is doing is so critical, so that the facts can be quickly established. As I said, I spoke to the chief executive at the weekend. It has completed phase 1 of its investigation, and that work is ongoing.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)
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There is a crisis of confidence in South West Water. Its response has been hopeless, frankly. It has had poor communications, poor initial compensation, as every extra pound seems to be dragged out of it, and it has a record of failure on sewage. What will the Government do to help restore confidence that South West Water is not only competent and able to manage our water supply, but that the water that comes through our taps is safe for everyone to drink? How can we encourage people to have faith in the outstanding and brilliant tourist offer that we have in the south-west, which has been battered yet again by bad news because of South West Water?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the brilliant tourist offer, and there is work to do to support businesses, particularly in the hospitality trade, which will have been impacted by the reputational damage that the area has had as a consequence. I assure him that I made those points to South West Water. As I said in my statement, I have also spoken to it about compensation, which has moved, although there is further work to do, particularly with the business community. That is also why the investigation is so important, so that we get to the bottom of exactly what happened. That is important for residents who have had the disruption of the boil water notice, and for residents further afield.

Under-10-Metre Fishing Fleet: South-West

Luke Pollard Excerpts
Wednesday 15th May 2024

(1 month ago)

Westminster Hall
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Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)
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It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, Ms Rees, and I congratulate the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) on the way in which he introduced this debate. I echo many of his sentiments—on the fact that the under-10-metre fleet is important, not only to Cornwall, but to Plymouth and across the south-west; and on the rough conditions in which many go to sea to try to earn a living and to put fish on our dinner tables.

The first National Remembrance Day for those who work in the fishing industry was a welcome addition to the calendar, and I am glad that there were remembrance events all around our country to remember those we have lost at sea. Having a vibrant fishing community is important to our coastal communities, and I appreciate the work of the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay in supporting it in Cornwall. As we heard from him, what is good for Cornwall is often good for Plymouth and vice versa.

Most of my remarks concern the closure of Plymouth fish market, which will have a profound impact on the under-10-metre fleet—not only those vessels that land fish in Plymouth, but those that land fish in ports right across the south-west and then have that fish overlanded to be sold from Plymouth. The closure demonstrates a real fragility and uncertainty in the sector. Those who will be most affected by this are the small-scale local fishers who cannot relocate and who want to work out of a port where auctions are available. That includes fishers not only in Plymouth, but in ports right across south-east Cornwall and further into Cornwall.

It is clear that additional transport costs will be levied on those fishers, not only in the landing dues that they will have to pay to land in the port they normally land in, but also for the overlanding and the delays. It is really important that fish can be taken to market in a speedy and efficient manner to preserve quality, and therefore the value, of the fish. Any delay in that process risks loading further costs on a sector that has already struggled quite a bit.

I have spoken to Plymouth City Council about this. It has met Plymouth Trawler Agents and the Plymouth Fishing & Seafood Association, and has had discussions with Sutton Harbour Group, the landlords for the fish market site. We have received the news that PTA is closing, and I echo the thanks from my neighbour, the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray), to David and Alison Pessell. They have both been real stalwarts for our industry, and I wish them a happy retirement. However, the closure of PTA fundamentally undermines the viability of the Plymouth fish market, a building that needed to be updated anyway. There is a real concern that once it closes its doors on 17 May, an interim measure of transporting catch to other markets, whether Brixham, Newlyn or elsewhere, will soon be locked in as a permanent, additional cost to those fishers.

I think everyone wants to restore a market and an auction in Plymouth, which I would be grateful if the Minister could assist us to do. There is cross-party concern for this here, because we are all representing our fishers, who want to get a good deal. For instance, we need to ensure that the return of the fish boxes that is being asked for can be secured. That is a really strong investment that the PTA has made, but it is a big cost for fishers to replace them. Equally, grading machines need to be secure to ensure there is a possibility of a new operator coming forward without that heavy capital cost of reopening a market. We need to keep the options open for under-10 boats, particularly in being able to land their fish in Plymouth and other ports, and have it overlanded to Plymouth to keep the viability of that sector.

We need a new operator but, importantly, this must not be an opportunity for Sutton Harbour Group to bring forward plans for luxury flats on the site of the fish quay, which we know it has wanted to do for a great amount of time. Sutton Harbour offers incredible opportunities for high-density lateral living with beautiful views, but those flats should not be built on the fish quay. As soon as homes are built on the fish quay, the possibility of preserving a vibrant fishing industry in Plymouth disappears almost all together. We need to safeguard the fish quay land. The council has already made steps to do so in the local plan, but it must be viable for a new operator to take it over. That is why I hope the Minister will be able to convene support for Plymouth City Council, the Members of Parliament from the area, and the industry, to look at what measures, grants and support are available from Ministers and his Department to ensure that the barriers to reopening the fish quay and providing a new auction, are not set so high that it is impossible for anyone to take those steps. It is essential that a new operator is found in order to do that.

I did want to speak about the importance of ensuring that we continue the further roll-out of the Plymouth lifejacket scheme, with personal locator beacons. I realise that is a Department for Transport, rather than a DEFRA, responsibility, but it is important that we send the message that safety is valued. Given the importance of the Plymouth fish quay and the fish market there, I want to make sure that is heard. I hope the Minister understands the cross-party concern that exists for this in the far south-west, and I hope he will be able to support us in keeping the option open for a new operator to come in.

Neonicotinoids and other Pesticides

Luke Pollard Excerpts
Tuesday 5th March 2024

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)
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I thank my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Samantha Dixon) for introducing the debate in the way she did. There are strong supporters of bees and pollinators in all parties, and she set out clearly that there is genuine concern among the people we represent about the continued use of emergency authorisations of bee-killing pesticides for the sugar beet crop.

Having called similar debates in previous years, I am hugely passionate about this issue. I bloody love bees, and I am desperately concerned that the public’s concern about bees is not being reflected in Government policy. It is not being reflected in the way the Government follow expert advice or in the way they are treating this House on an issue they know matters to nearly every single Member of Parliament.

Gregory Campbell Portrait Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP)
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On the point about greater awareness, does the hon. Member agree that such debates are essential in not only the beekeeping fraternity but the wider community, who sometimes do not understand the importance of beekeeping and what it contributes to wider society? They are helpful in broadening knowledge among the 95% of the public who take beekeeping as a small, almost irrelevant pastime and do not see the importance.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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Beekeeping is a pastime that is enjoyed in rural and urban areas, and it is something that matters. It is not just about local produce; it helps to support an ecosystem that we all depend on—from our vibrant, beautiful gardens through to the food we eat. What matters to bees should matter to us all, because it affects every single one of us.

Bees, along with other pollinators, play a crucial role in our ecosystems. The decline in bee populations affects not only our country’s biodiversity but our food security. It is paramount that we as politicians take the issue more seriously. One third of the UK’s bee population has disappeared in the last decade, and the UK has already lost 13 out of our 35 native bee species. That should make us think about what we are doing to safeguard those remaining species and ecosystems, and how we are not only protecting habitats from being lost, but increasing available habitats for insects, for pollinators and for nature.

I have listened intently over many years—from when I sat on the Front Bench, where my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) is sitting today, to where I sit now—to Ministers talking about the importance of nature-based recovery and of encouraging more of our farmers to take nature-based solutions to heart. I welcome that change in language, and we have seen an important policy shift in recent years, but if we are to make it real and deliver that nature-based solution, emergency authorisations for bee-killing pesticides simply cannot sit alongside it; they are incongruous with it. Continuing the use of bee-killing pesticides amounts to environmental vandalism.

I back British farmers. One of my two little sisters is a farmer, and the other works in agricultural products. This issue matters. I represent an urban constituency in the south-west of England, but I know just how important farming is to the south-west and to our rural communities, because without farmers, there is no food. It is really important that we understand that, so I back farmers’ concerns.

I understand that there is a real issue around the viability of crops affected by the diseases that the emergency authorisations are seeking to address, but I want to look at those authorisations. When we left the European Union, the Government said they would follow the evidence and not make decisions without it—DEFRA said that on a number of occasions, even though a prominent former Environment Secretary might not have been very kind about experts. However, the Government are not following the evidence here. Will the Minister explain why they are not following the expert group’s advice? When do they expect to be back on track with that? Do they have alternative science that gives a different perspective from that of the expert group? And what guidelines have they given the experts about commenting on the authorisations?

It is important to recognise that this is the fourth year in a row where neonicotinoids have been allowed for emergency use, but if we look at the words in the emergency use authorisation, I doubt there has been an emergency for four years in a row. I echo my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester: four years in a row is not emergency use; it is a pattern that has allowed a type of behaviour to continue. If it was an emergency, there would have been one year of emergency use, and activity to correct that would have taken place.

In the first of the debates I called a number of years ago, one of the Minister’s predecessors told me that these were temporary emergency authorisations that would last only three years at most. We are now in the fourth year of temporary emergency authorisations, and I am not certain from anything I have seen from the Government that there will not be a fifth, sixth and seventh emergency authorisation if they are re-elected. I do not get the sense that there is a destination that the Minister is driving us towards, and what I would like to see is a clear destination.

Mark Spencer Portrait The Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries (Mark Spencer)
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I am grateful to the hon. Member because he is making an important point. It may be helpful to the House to understand that a further check and balance on the authorisation for emergency use is whether the threshold is met for the product to be deployed. Only where that threshold is met is the product deployed in the open market. In 2021, that threshold was not met, so the product was not deployed in the open market—that was not felt necessary. The science says that where there is an issue and a challenge, we will use the product, and where there is not, as in 2021, that product will not be allowed.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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I agree with the Minister about the thresholds, but they do not detract from the fact that the Government have effectively established a baseline that they will authorise emergency use of neonicotinoids every year, notwithstanding that emergency use is subject to a threshold being met.

I do not see how we can be in the fourth year of an emergency without some urgent and emergency action being taken to address it. It would be kinder and more honest in this debate to say that the Government now have a standing policy to authorise the use of bee-killing pesticides for sugar beet crops, but a threshold has to be met. For me, that would seem a more honest appraisal because, after four years, it is a reality that this is authorised every year, and I do not think it should be.

Dan Poulter Portrait Dr Dan Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich) (Con)
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I am sympathetic to a lot of the points the hon. Gentleman is making, but does he not think that authorisation every year is a fairly reasonable position to get to in the absence of an alternative to neonics? One important thing that has not been discussed in this debate is that there is currently no viable alternative to neonics when the threshold has been met. Until we are in that position, authorisation may well be the reasonable course of action.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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One advantage, or disadvantage, of having spoken in and called debates on the use of neonics is that I have listened to a number of Ministers cycle through the arguments for why authorisation is justified each and every year. In one earlier debate, the argument was put that we need to use the emergency authorisation because the new crop species are not yet online. In another, a Minister said that we need to use the emergency authorisation because the insurance scheme that would support sugar beet growers where there is disease in the crops is not yet online.

Those debates were many years ago, and we need to see honesty and transparency in this debate. I think the hon. Gentleman is saying that it would be reasonable to argue for using these pesticides if those things happen. What I am saying to the Minister is that we now have a standing policy that bee-killing pesticides are used on an annual basis, subject to a threshold. Let us be honest that it is a standing policy, and then we can debate whether the Government’s policy is right and what the alternatives are. At the moment, the annual reauthorisation is against the expert advice of the Government’s own scientific body, which does not support the position that we should be allowing these pesticides to be used on an annual basis.

Dan Poulter Portrait Dr Poulter
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I will give the hon. Gentleman a medical analogy—I am a practising doctor, as he may be aware. I may prefer certain medications over others and recognise that a medication I prescribe may have unpleasant side effects. Although I may wish that there was an alternative to that medication in development, at this moment it may be the only option available to me in my prescription repertoire to make the patient better. That is a similar situation to the one we are facing with the use of neonics. The issue here is what is being done to accelerate the finding of effective alternatives to neonics. That is the question we need to ask here, because we do not want to put farmers in a situation where the only viable treatment is completely banned.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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I am grateful for that intervention. I am not a doctor, so I will not try to butcher a health analogy that might be shot down. I think the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) is saying that we need to hear from the Minister about authorising neonicotinoids against expert advice, which the Government say they are following but are not, with a different excuse every year. I would like to see the destination we are going to. We have a standing policy now from DEFRA that that is authorised every year. It does not necessarily mean from what the Minister said in his intervention that they will be used every year, but they will be authorised every year. That is the standing policy.

The reality is that for the majority of years in this Parliament the Government have authorised neonicotinoids to be used in emergency cases. I do not believe we can have four years’ worth of emergencies. If a patient came to the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich four years in a row, I suspect he would challenge the use of the word “emergency” in that context. That is why I want this made clear. What is the Government’s destination? What is their plan? What are their alternatives for the use of neonicotinoids?

I do not want to limit what I say to farmers’ use of neonicotinoids. As this debate is about the broader use of neonicotinoids and we have established that neonics kill bees, that bees are essential for our ecosystem and that there is cross-party concern about the Government’s use of bee-killing pesticides, we have established that neonics are the problem. How they are deployed into our ecosystems is also a problem. We have looked at the neonic deployment in agriculture and sugar beets, but I want to talk about neonics in two other areas.

One is neonics’ use in imported food. For the countries where we have now signed trade deals that use neonics as standard in their agricultural production, how are we safeguarding our ecosystem and food supply against importing neonics in food, on coatings of food and in other agricultural products? We know that neonics, when exposed to the natural environment, get everywhere. We have seen studies recently, as cited in The Guardian only a month ago, that refer to neonics now appearing, according to a Swiss study, in children—in every child that was tested in the study. So we know that neonics are present.

We also know that neonics are present in our wildlife and in our rivers, as has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester, and in our wider ecosystems. So we need to look at how we are getting neonics into those things and where neonics are imported in food.

Also, I have a concern that neonics are being used in flea treatment far too frequently. Dog and cat owners, in an attempt to look after their pets and make the right decision, are using neonicotinoids. Fipronil and imidacloprid are two different types of neonics used in flea treatment. We are advised to use it on the back of our pet’s neck and we are not supposed to touch the pet until it is dry. In practice, we know that the effects of those neonics and their ability to spread last for the duration of that flea treatment. We are seeing more neonics going into our rivers and watercourses as a result of flea treatments.

At the moment there is not enough focus on that area. If we have established that neonics are a concern for bees, we also need to understand the direction of travel. I do not come with a prescription for the Minister to cut and paste into policy; I am saying there is an issue here. It is important that we have an honest debate with members of the public who, I believe, are trying to do the right thing by their pets. Many of them would be utterly horrified and aghast if they found out that in trying to do the right thing to support their pets and prevent diseases they are harming our wider ecosystem.

There is a debate worth having, as the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich suggested, on a destination and how we address the problem. The authorisation for emergency use of bee-killing pesticides on sugar beet crops affects a certain part of the country primarily. It does not affect every watercourse or river catchment area, yet we are finding neonics in a wider variety of areas when bee-killing pesticides are used, so it is incumbent on us all to make a strong case against bee-killing pesticides in agriculture and also look at bee-killing pesticides used elsewhere.

Professor Dave Goulson, whom my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester mentioned in her remarks and whom I met at a bee roundtable that I hosted a year or so ago to talk about bee-killing pesticides, warns that flea treatment harms fish and invertebrates that live in our waterways. Those are chemicals that were banned for agricultural use in the UK several years ago, and which remain banned for that use, but are allowed to be used in pet treatment—that is a question mark we have to look at. I have already spoken about the human health impacts; they are concerning and also need to be properly understood.

It is incumbent on all of us who campaign on bees, and who love bees, to make sure that our answers to this issue are clear on where we need to see action. The emergency authorisations for bee-killing pesticides in agriculture should end; they should not be allowed. I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge will restate the position he has held in every one of the debates on this issue that I have spoken in over the course of this Parliament—that we should stop.

However, it is clear that there are also other challenges that we need to look at and investigate. Could the Minister explain where else we can look, and what science his Department is commissioning about the wider use of neonicotinoids and their pollution of our wider ecosystem? I do not think that any one of us present has the answer, but if we can agree on the problem, that will at least get us moving towards starting to address it.

I thank the campaigners—not only the wildlife trusts—who have been working on this and who are championing insects. Apart from bees, insects get a pretty bad rap—there are not many charities holding out for the daddy-long-legs, but without insects there is a really significant impact on our ecosystem. Insects should be championed much more. They are not just scary creepy-crawlies; they are absolutely essential for a vibrant ecosystem and the nature-based recovery that we all want to see.

In particular I want to thank Anabel Kindersley of Neal’s Yard Remedies for her tireless campaigning on this matter. No debate could happen without her continued pressure on MPs and her encouragement of us to keep pushing further and further. Bees and nature matter; if we are not having that constantly said, there is a risk that the wider use of neonics becomes something that is just accepted, and that their authorisation becomes an annual occurrence that passes without a parliamentary vote.

In previous debates I have spoken about the importance of a parliamentary vote. If something damages our environment, as we know that these pesticides do, and that is against Government advice, and against the principles of evidence-based policymaking and “following the science” that the Minister’s Department has set out, there should be an extra step before it is authorised.

The reason we do not have a debate and a vote on authorising bee-killing pesticides in agriculture is very simple—the Government would lose that vote each and every time. The Opposition MPs would vote against it and their own MPs would vote against it, and that is why we do not have a vote on it. That in itself should tell us a story about whether the use of those pesticides is acceptable behaviour.

In this latest authorisation, those chemicals are being used against the Government’s expert advice, and that is ill-judged and wrong. There has been no parliamentary vote on it, nor do I think the Minister wants one—it will not happen. I do not think we can have an emergency four years in a row without bigger action. That is why, whether we like it or not, bees are an election issue, and matter to the voters who we all represent. They are in decline across the country, despite the incredible efforts of local councils planting wild flower meadows and bee corridors, and of local people encouraging the use of hives. Pollenize is an amazing community interest company in Plymouth that puts amazingly-painted beehives all over our city and collects the honey, supporting nature-based recoveries. However, despite their work we know that that recovery is not working in the way we want it to.

This is not just about the emergency authorisation of bee-killing pesticides; it is about something else as well. This involves habitat loss and the wider use of neonics in our economy, and we must look at all of those. I look forward to hearing from the Minister, but I also look forward to hearing from my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge, so that we can be absolutely clear that those bee-killing pesticides would not be authorised if there were a change in Government. I would encourage my hon. Friend’s position on this matter to go in that direction.

If that were the case, there would be a greater focus on the issue that the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich mentioned—finding better ways of supporting our farmers who are affected by this issue. Not all farmers are affected, but some are, and they deserve support. If this were a genuine emergency it would be all hands on deck to try and solve this matter, but four years later it is still not all hands on deck. Four years later we are still here, having emergency authorisations passed without a parliamentary vote, and bees are still dying. That is why this needs to change; we need a change of approach, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister and the shadow Minister what that approach should be.

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Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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rose—

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I give way to the shadow Minister.

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
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Let me give way to the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, and then I will take both points at the same time.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) said. The Minister set out the reasons for Cruiser SB’s authorisation. Could he be equally clear about the plan to address it? What measures are being taken, how are those measures being assessed and how can we as interested parliamentarians scrutinise progress against those measures, so that that we are not here next year having the same debate with the same possible alternatives, but not yet having them in action? Can he set that out in a reply to Members in this debate, or as a written ministerial statement, so that we can see what plan his Department is pursuing?

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
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The plan that we are pursuing is working with the sector and the scientific community to try and bring those advances forward as soon as possible. It is not possible for me to stand here today and predict what those advances may be in the next 12 months or five years. Clearly, we have to work with the sector. British Sugar is putting an awful lot of work into trying to improve sugar beet growing in terms of its practice and the products available.

To return to the point I was making, the aim of the threshold is to ensure that Cruise will be used only if there is predicted to be a danger to the sugar beet crop. Those criteria have been met at the moment. There must, of course, be special circumstances. Use must be limited and controlled, and the authorisation must appear necessary because the danger cannot be contained by any other reasonable means. That emergency authorisation allows a single use of neonicotinoid on a single crop under very strict conditions to mitigate the risk to those pollinators.

My decision was informed by the advice of DEFRA’s chief scientific adviser, the Health and Safety Executive and the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides. I also considered economic issues informed by analysis from DEFRA economists. The scientific advice concluded that with the proposed conditions of use there were no concerns for human health. In respect of environmental risk, potential risks to bees were considered in particular detail.

HSE concluded that a number of potential risks to bees, including acute risks to bees from all routes of exposure, were not of concern for this use of thiamethoxam under the proposed conditions of use. Further advice from the chief scientific adviser was that remaining risks, including those from following crops, were likely to be acceptably low given the conditions of the use proposed.

In taking the decision, we have wanted to be as transparent as possible and to give access to the information considered during the decision-making process. We have published documents outlining the key elements involved in making the decision, which can be accessed on gov.uk. That includes the HSE emergency registration report, where Members can access the full HSE risk assessment.

Looking to the future, we do not wish to see the temporary use of neonicotinoids continue longer than is strictly required. The development of alternative sustainable approaches to protect sugar beet crops from viruses is paramount. That includes, as I was saying, the development of resistant plant varieties, measures to improve crop hygiene and husbandry, and alternative pesticides. British Sugar, plant breeders and the British Beet Research Organisation are undertaking a programme of work to develop such alternatives. The Government are closely monitoring progress and in January provided £660,000 towards a precision breeding project to develop resistance to virus yellows in sugar beet, helping to expedite the transition away from neonics.

In addition, the Government recently held a roundtable with members of the British sugar industry and environmental organisations to discuss the industry’s progress on implementing alternatives. I have urged British Sugar and others in the sector to drive forward the plans so that their outputs can be implemented in the field at pace. This afternoon’s discussion gives us an opportunity to recognise the need to develop alternative, sustainable approaches to tackling these plant diseases.

The Government are fully committed to the agricultural transition to repurpose the land-based subsidies we inherited from the EU, which did little for the environment or farmers. That is why we are delivering on a new and ambitious system that rewards farmers and land managers for their role as environmental stewards, which starts with the sustainable farming incentive. Last year saw the roll-out of the sustainable farming incentive, which includes the introduction of paid integrated pest management actions. Specific actions to support more sustainable pesticide use include: paying farmers to carry out assessments and produce integrated pest management plans; establishing and maintaining flower-rich grass margins, blocks or in-field strips; and payments for not using insecticides or for planting companion crops. Those actions are already supporting farmers to minimise the use of pesticides and incentivising the uptake of alternative pest control methods. Encouraging lower-risk and alternative approaches to pest management will be a prominent feature of the national action plan on the sustainable use of pesticides, which will be published shortly.

As I have outlined, the decision to allow the limited and controlled use of new neonicotinoid-based pesticides on a single crop was not taken lightly and is based on the most robust scientific assessment. We will continue to work hard to support our farmers, and to protect and restore our vital pollinator populations.

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Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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I do not quite buy the Minister’s argument. Will he reflect momentarily on the other uses of neonicotinoids in our wider economy, including in flea treatments? I recognise that he may not have the answers in the folder in front of him, but this might be an area that he could ask his officials to investigate. We are at the start of exploring the issue, and I would be grateful if he could set out the path that he thinks would be useful to take in order to explore the matter further.

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
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I am more than happy to continue to explore that issue. It is interesting that the hon. Member should raise it at this moment in time because we are doing some work in that regard, and there is a statutory instrument coming on veterinary medicines and their deployment. He will be aware that some flea treatments require a veterinary prescription and some can be done under the jurisdiction of an expert—I hesitate to use that word; for example, it might be in a pet shop, where there is some expertise. Others treatments can simply be bought of the internet, so there are different levels of treatment. The Department needs to be careful that such products are of benefit to pets, but also of their impact on the environment. We will consider that robustly as we move forward. I thank him for highlighting that matter and thank hon. Members for their contributions.

South West Water

Luke Pollard Excerpts
Tuesday 5th March 2024

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - -

Thank you, Mr Henderson. It is good to follow my fellow Janner, the hon. Member for East Devon (Simon Jupp), who brought forward this debate. The performance of South West Water is not good enough: that is felt by the constituents both he and I represent. We need renewed cross-party pressure on the company to invest in the services required to cut sewage spills and to return reliable water usage all year round, as well as to address the concerns about drought in our area.

Raw sewage is the perfect metaphor for the last 14 years. For years, South West Water dished out huge dividends to its shareholders while dumping sewage into our rivers and seas. Our region deserves so much better than that. The most recent data from the Environment Agency has not been published for 2023, but the 2022 figures show there were more than 37,000 sewage spills in the south-west. In Plymouth alone, there were more than 2,000—an average of five spills every day, or 12,750 hours of sewage dumping.

According to South West Water’s live, interactive storm overflow map, as of half-past 3 today there are 26 bathing water locations across Devon and Cornwall that may be affected by the operation of overflows, including two in Plymouth. Having more data is a necessary part of being able to respond to the challenges of a lack of investment in infrastructure over a long time. However, that data must lead to enforcement and to a change in investment behaviour by South West Water in order to start shutting down those storm overflows for routine discharge.

All of us in this House recognise that, in the event of extreme weather, our water system cannot hold that much water—but we are not talking about extreme weather on a day-to-day basis; discharge is a routine daily occurrence from a water company that knows it should not be doing it, but is still doing it. I would like the water company to be more honest with customers and parliamentarians about what needs to be done to get to a point where all those storm overflows do not routinely discharge on a daily basis.

Richard Foord Portrait Richard Foord
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Member talked about how data on sewage spills is gathered. Does he agree that, rather than water companies having complete control over gathering data on sewage spills, that function ought to sit with the regulator, the Environment Agency?

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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I am not a huge fan of the Environment Agency—I like the people who work there, but there are just not enough of them. Certainly, since 2010, Environment Agency funding has been cut by over 50%, which creates real challenges in the efficiency of prosecutions. Prosecutions that take years do not represent justice delivered quickly, or fines going to the affected communities quickly; they represent justice delayed, and something that can be built into the company’s daily business operations.

I will pick up on a final point before I finish: the investment that South West Water is making at Devil’s Point in Plymouth. As a regular wild swimmer there—I swim all year round, in shorts or wetsuits, depending on the time of year—I am grateful that the Minister and his predecessor authorised the campaign I was running for a new bathing water status at Devil’s Point and Firestone Bay. That is very welcome. The data collection there shows excellent water quality nearly all year round, but the two private raw sewage outlets that pump untreated human effluent into that important part of Plymouth Sound are not acceptable. I am grateful to South West Water for starting the work on closing those and adopting those raw sewers, but that work is taking too long and I would like to see a greater urgency in delivering it. We know raw sewage is going into our sea, and the action taken there should be quicker.

I encourage the Minister to keep pressure on South West Water, because as a water company it is not investing enough in the infrastructure we need. I have long-term concerns about the amount of water in our system to prevent future droughts and water restrictions in the summer. I would be grateful if the Minister could keep that pressure on South West Water, so that the region gets the water and sewage services that we deserve.

Fishing Industry

Luke Pollard Excerpts
Thursday 29th June 2023

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Sheryll Murray Portrait Mrs Murray
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I completely agree that all conservation measures that are set for UK fishermen should also apply to other member states’ vessels and that they should be enforced.

A further matter I wish to raise concerns the implications for the fishing industry of the “work in fishing” convention 2007, which resulted from the International Labour Organisation conference of May 2007. I accept that this is not within my hon. Friend the Minister’s portfolio, but I ask her to urgently speak to the shipping Minister about the requirements for fishermen to have a medical carried out by a GP. The draconian measure being introduced will prevent fishermen and fisherwomen going to sea if they do not have a medical by November this year. I can understand why that is necessary on large vessels, where operations are similar to those of other large merchant vessels, but to apply the requirement to small inshore fishing vessels is in my opinion an unnecessary and unacceptable expense.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)
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Does the hon. Lady agree that the way that the regulation has been implemented has caused enormous stress and anxiety to an industry that already feels that regulations do not apply to them properly? The catch app and the roll-out of I-VMS—inshore vessel monitoring —have caused real distress to the sector. Does she further agree that the deaths we have seen at sea have come not from poor health, but from vessel instability and the lack of lifejackets being worn, and that Ministers should focus on where the risks are and where the experience is rather than going after a form of regulation that is just causing anxiety to our fishers?

Sheryll Murray Portrait Mrs Murray
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I do agree with the hon. Gentleman. I will come on to express my personal experience on that.

Furthermore, it places a disproportionate financial burden on small inshore fishing vessels. Article 10, paragraph 2 of convention C188 provides for exemptions from the requirement on the basis of

“size of the vessel, availability of medical assistance and evacuation, duration of the voyage, area of operation, and type of fishing operation.”

Sadly, all those have been ignored by the Department for Transport. The shipping Minister has allegedly refused to engage with industry representatives, and, indeed, refused to listen to cross-party MPs when we met last week. Some are here today.

As someone whose fisherman husband paid the ultimate sacrifice while striving to bring this valuable source of protein to our table, I fully support sensible safety measures being introduced. Indeed, working with the previous shipping Minister—I have told him I will mention him—my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), we were able to successfully find grant funding for the voluntary introduction of safety stop buttons for deck equipment aboard fishing vessels. I will be forever grateful to him for assisting me with that positive measure. However, fishermen do not need to prove their fitness to undertake their occupation. I know from 24 and a half years of being married to a commercial small boat skipper-owner that fishermen are simply not as stupid as the Maritime and Coastguard Agency would have us believe. My late husband suffered a heart attack and was stopped from fishing for a number of weeks while he recovered. He could not go back to sea until the Regional Fisheries Group was happy that he was medically fit to return. Why should he have had to undergo an unnecessary medical?

I looked at the incident reports on the Marine Accident Investigation Branch website, because they are all there. As far as I can see, there were no occasions when a medical condition was identified as a cause of an accident. Even our Royal Navy personnel, who must comply with specific fitness tests periodically, do not need a regular medical certificate from their GP. This is just another in a long line of complaints that I have received about the way that the MCA causes financial hardships and stress to the fishing fleet, which remains very close to my heart.

I end with the case of a 15-metre trawler based in Cornwall, primarily fishing out of Newlyn, and partly owned by one of my constituents. It suffered a catastrophic main engine failure on 19 April while steaming back to the Newlyn harbour from its fishing grounds, and was safely towed in by another vessel. The vessel underwent inspection by a local marine engineer, who deemed the engine beyond economic repair, resulting in the need for a replacement engine. Current regulations set by the MCA state that the company would have to replace the current engine, which is classed as tier 1, with a tier 3 engine that complies with emissions standards in place for new vessels.

The company appreciates the reasoning behind the regulation and the need to reduce emissions, but it is not always practical given the supply chain timeframes for such purchases and deliveries of tier 3 engines, especially in emergency circumstances where there has been unexpected engine failure. The engine must be swiftly replaced to get the vessel operating, back at sea and making an income rather than being out of action for around half a year. The MCA offers a process to request exemption from having to install a tier 3 engine, which the owners submitted with good reasons for their request and asking to install a tier 2 engine, which would allow the vessel to return to sea and ensure that the business remained viable.

Unfortunately, the exemption request was rejected by the MCA, which leaves the business in a very precarious position. The MCA offered the option of a temporary dispensation, which would allow the installation of a tier 2 engine until a compliant unit became available. However, that is not financially viable, as the total cost is likely to exceed £100,000 in machinery alone, excluding additional liabilities and lost time at sea for two engine installations.

I thank the Minister and the Fisheries Minister, the right hon. Member for Sherwood, for their support for our fishing industry. I welcome the Fisheries Minister’s comments and commitment, but I am asking that he speak to his colleagues at the Department for Transport to ensure that it matches that support. At the moment that Department appears very uncaring and with an attitude towards the industry—which is vital to the food security of our country—that could almost be described as contempt.

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Anthony Mangnall Portrait Anthony Mangnall
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The hon. Gentleman makes the point perfectly. If the exemption is there, let us use it. It takes nothing other than the Minister standing at the Dispatch Box to say that regulation 14 will be used. I get the sense that there may be some cross-party support on this issue.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
- Hansard - -

I was in that meeting as well. I do not wish to add to the piling on of that Minister, but there is a point to make about how regulations should be implemented, and there is a real problem with how this particular regulation is being implemented. Does the hon. Member agree that the way to build trust with the sector, which feels put on and over-regulated, is for the MCA, the DFT and possibly DEFRA to ensure that there is renewed trust between them and the sector? The absence of trust will not deliver the regulatory outcomes that the Minister wants and will only further corrode the already tense relationship between the fishing industry—especially those using small boats—and those who seek to regulate them.

Anthony Mangnall Portrait Anthony Mangnall
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman makes a fantastic point. Communication is key. We are not trying to overload the sector. We want to make sure that we take all the steps in the right way, but that means that organisations such as the MCA and DEFRA have to be very clear and concise. I say this to the Minister, and I am sure that the Fisheries Minister is watching: they have been proactive in engaging with us and very clear about this, so this is not me having a dig at them.

Anthony Mangnall Portrait Anthony Mangnall
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I absolutely agree. As ever, my hon. Friend adds huge weight and knowledge to the debates on this topic. I hope that officials and Ministers across all Departments are listening to the points that we are making.

I am taking up far too much time, but I will just make three other quick points. I should also mention that my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory) cannot be in this debate but wanted to emphasise that her view on medical certificates is very much aligned with those that have been expressed across the House.

Another concern about the fishing sector relates to the I-VMS—the inshore vessel monitoring system. That has been a difficult programme to roll out. We have to ensure that the MMO has learned from the shambles of the type approval process and does not repeat that. As the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) said, the MMO has to be open and transparent and must communicate in full with fishermen and the fishing community.

That brings me on to the catch app. I am perfectly willing and happy to accept that modern technology has a place in how we fish and farm, and that we must use it to our full advantage, but the app is still not functional. People still cannot enter some port locations or species or differentiate between male and female crabs. The computer literacy and, indeed, connectivity in some places across this country are of hugely varying quality, so there needs to be a bit of understanding. I have seen fishermen in my community suddenly being issued with non-compliance letters many months after the alleged incident happened. That only adds to the stress of those in a sector that is really under the cosh at the moment and which needs more support.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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The catch app and the type verification for I-VMS are two good examples of over-burdensome regulation. The threat of criminality if someone cannot successfully weigh a fish—within 10% of its weight—while at sea without marine scales seems to be home-grown, massively over-burdensome and costly red tape that creates additional stress. Does the hon. Member agree that there must be a better way of doing this to ensure that fishers can be taken with the Government when they change the laws, not pitched against them?

Anthony Mangnall Portrait Anthony Mangnall
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes. Where we have seen huge progress is that the Fisheries Minister has been extremely proactive on this. I hope I am not speaking for him when I say he has told me that he agrees with the points we are making. It is about how the MCA is putting this in and regulating it. We have to make sure that what we say in this Chamber and what is being said in Departments is translating through to the organisations that enforce it. If we get that right, we can suddenly do all the things that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport and Conservative Members are saying.

We have spoken a little about Brexit. There are huge opportunities outside the common fisheries policy, and Brixham in my constituency is a fantastic example of a fishing port that has had record sales since 2021. In 2021, it sold £43 million, in 2022 it sold £60 million, this year it is on course to sell £63 million and next year it is forecasting £67 million. By 2027, it expects to top £100 million-worth of sales. Brixham prepared for Brexit, and it is taking advantage of it. New boats are coming on line and being built, and the Government’s capital allowance is a huge support to the sector. Do not think we are being doom and gloom about the sector; it is about ensuring that we recognise the difficulties of gold-plated legislation, rules and regulations and try to unlock them to make it easier and simpler, and about ensuring that we really talk up the sector.

We need to talk a lot more about food security in this country, and we need to talk about how we can be more self-sustainable. Our coastal waters offer that opportunity. We must make sure that, when we come back with the three-yearly reports on food security, fishing and aqua- culture are fully embedded to help us answer the call for better food security and better local food on our plates.

It is a privilege to speak on behalf of the fishing community in my constituency and to know that so many colleagues on both sides of the House share similar views.

--- Later in debate ---
Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab)
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I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), who cannot be here today, for securing this important debate and I thank the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) for filling in for him today.

As colleagues can see and will know, I am not my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), the shadow Fisheries Minister; my hon. Friend has asked me to send his apologies to the House for not being here, so I am also filling in. However, as the Member for Newport West I am very proud of the port in our city and of the coastline and marshes further down the constituency, so talking water, fishers and our environment is very important to me.

I want to start by remarking on how consensual and agreeable the debate has been today. That is quite surprising, in my experience, but I hope the Minister will take away the fact that there has been so much cross-party agreement on the problems and the way to go forward on them.

I pay tribute to the fishers up and down the country who go out in all weathers, day after day. While there are many different sectors, often with competing and conflicting views, in all cases it is clear that they are extremely hard-working people in the UK’s most dangerous peacetime occupation. Too many lives are still lost and too many life-changing injuries still occur. During the pandemic and the lockdown periods, our fishers worked hard to support their local communities and to keep them fed, and we know they are all hugely valued.

However, I am sad to say that, for all their value, fishers have been sorely let down by this Government. The fishing industry, like so many UK sectors, was made a lot of promises in the run-up to 2016. It is fair to say that many feel that those promises have been broken or, at the very least, are yet to bear fruit.

At the end of 2020, Parliament passed the Fisheries Act 2020, which gave the Government the authority to act for us as an independent coastal nation outside the EU and outside the common fisheries policy. It allowed us to embark on bilateral agreements with our closest neighbours and potentially to negotiate much more favourable fish quotas for UK fishers.

The outcome of those negotiations was a huge disappointment and was greeted with widespread dismay. Under the terms agreed between the UK and the EU in the trade and co-operation agreement back in December 2020, the Government ceded access to fish in UK waters to EU vessels for six years and failed to establish an exclusive 12-mile limit. That result is a long way off taking back control of our waters. The financial consequences of those deals are far-reaching. The NFFO has calculated that the sector will see losses of £64 million or more a year, totalling more than £300 million by 2026 unless changes are secured through international fisheries negotiation.

The English distant fleet has, to all intents and purposes, been sold out. Jane Sandell, the chief executive officer of UK Fisheries Ltd, is exasperated. Referring to the deal with Norway as

“yet another body blow for fishers in the North East of England”,

she explains:

“The few extra tonnes of whitefish in the Norwegian zone won’t come close to offsetting the loss in Svalbard due to the reduced TAC. Defra knows this and yet they simply don’t seem to care about the English fleet.”

As a consequence, she has had to lay off 72 people in the last 18 months. I hope the Minister will be able to explain why the English distant fleet has fared so badly, and what she plans to do about it. I am talking particularly about the English fleet here, but I am concerned about DEFRA and the devolved Administrations working together. The Scottish and Welsh Governments have their roles, but DEFRA has a dual role and it needs to get it right.

The joint fisheries statement and the fisheries management plans pose additional challenges. Their objectives are certainly positive. We all want the UK to develop a

“vibrant, modern and resilient fishing industry and a healthy marine environment.”

I also recognise that it is no easy task to balance the need to produce a plentiful supply of food in the UK with our aspirations to ensure sustainable stocks and to protect, and repair the damage inflicted on, the marine environment. All three objectives are crucial. Maintaining stocks must be a primary goal for the fisheries management plans. It is in the interests of all concerned. Sadly, stock levels of cod in the west of Scotland have declined by 97% since the 1980s, and trawlers continue to operate in 98% of offshore protected areas.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend is making a good speech, and the many technical experts in the room will congratulate her on it. Does she agree that a good step to protect stocks and support UK fishing would be to ban foreign-owned super-trawlers that fish in our marine protected areas but do not land their catch in the UK and so do not create jobs in our country?

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for the industry. He has made that point perfectly well—as have many other Members—and yes, of course, I agree with him 100%.

Bycatch remains a serious problem. The Future Fisheries Alliance highlights studies that show that bycatch is responsible for the catching and killing of around 1,000 harbour porpoises, 250 common dolphins, 475 seals, and 35 minke and humpback whales in gill nets and other fishing gears in UK waters every year.

I spoke in a recent debate about marine protected areas as an important tool in safeguarding our ocean’s future. I am deeply concerned about the ecological state of our seas, rivers and lakes, and the innumerable threats that they face from human activity. This House has been made well aware of the shockingly poor quality of the water in many parts of the UK, and of the Government’s negligence when it comes to cleaning and protecting our waters. Indeed, poor water quality is a major threat to the livelihoods of our shellfishers in particular. Shellfishers in West Mersea made it clear to us that it is an all too regular occurrence that effluent being discharged into the sea has meant that they have had to stop work. Maintaining a healthy, pollution-free environment can also be in the best interests of food producers.

As I said, I welcome the joint fisheries statement and the fisheries plan, but I just do not think that they provide the answers required to create a thriving and sustainable fishing industry. We need a more strategic solution to balancing the need to produce food, maintain stocks and protect the marine environment. The NFFO is understandably concerned about the spatial squeeze. The Government need a robust response to the potential displacement of fishing areas as more marine protected areas are introduced and more offshore wind farms are proposed. However desirable MPAs and wind farms are, they literally reduce the size of the pool for the catching sector, as the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) highlighted.

Questions remain about how UK fishing plans will interact with third countries, the extent to which plans will be based on data, and how fisheries management is simplified in future, not made as complicated as under the CFP. Is there not a danger that Brussels red tape will simply be replaced with UK red tape? While our competitors have developed strategies to bolster their fishing industry and ensure that they have the best possible chance of selling their produce abroad, our Government seem intent on making life more difficult.

The shellfish sector offers several examples of that, as the hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) highlighted. Whereas numerous other European countries actively support the farming of Pacific oysters because they represent a sustainable method of producing high-quality marine protein, our Government actually hamper efforts to farm them—so much so that David Jarrad, chief executive of the Shellfish Association of Great Britain, has resorted to asking:

“Do we actually want a UK oyster industry?”

Moreover, our fishers are being held by UK regulators to much higher standards than their competitors when it comes to the system of testing our shellfish for E. coli levels. Of course, we all want to be assured that our food is safe, but surely the same standards should apply to imported goods. Our fishers are simply asking for a level playing field. To add insult to injury, the catching sector has been on the receiving end of additional regulation that is heavy-handed and disproportionate. The catch app, the inshore vessel monitoring system, and boat inspections by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency have been exacerbating the stress our fishers are experiencing. The medical fitness certificate is a particularly good example of the proliferation of red tape that has swamped the small fishing businesses under this Government. The hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) spoke eloquently about that.

Safety will always be a top priority, but insisting that all fishermen and women over the age of 50 fall below a certain weight is an expensive, onerous and hugely anxiety-provoking solution to a problem that does not exist. It is hard to find any accident in the reports of the Marine Accident Investigation Branch that has been caused by a fisherman or woman being overweight.

Those challenges are enough to be grappling with, but the industry faces a range of other problems, including the fight to keep afloat against the rising tide of rocketing fuel costs and rising interest rates that devalue the pound; labour shortages, which have been exacerbated by the covid-19 pandemic, and stricter immigration rules. It is little surprise, then, that the overall picture for fishing is causing concern—it is not the thriving industry we want to see. Preliminary economic estimates by industry body Seafish, reported in Politico, show that the number of active fishing vessels and full-time equivalent fishing-related jobs fell 6% in 2021-22 compared with 2019-20, continuing a decade-long trend.

It is no wonder that many of our brave fishermen and women are suffering from poor mental health. Those factors constitute an existential threat to hundreds of livelihoods. There has been plenty of lawmaking but no clear vision and no substantive answers to the challenges that the fishing industry faces. The Conservative approach to trade deals and negotiations with countries in distant waters is too often naive and amateurish compared with our long-experienced and wily competitors. What is the plan? Where is the vision? I hope the Minister can enlighten us today.

The Labour party takes a different view. We think that knowing our destination makes it more likely that we will get there. A Labour Government will take action on three priorities for the fishing sector. We will back our British fishing industry and work together to see them get a fairer share of the quota in our waters—more fish caught in British waters and landed in British ports, supporting British processing jobs. We will work with fishers themselves to deliver improvements in safety standards and make our regulatory approach proportionate and risk-based. We will ensure that foreign boats that are allowed to fish in our waters follow the same rules as British boats. We will use the many frameworks and conventions already in place to ensure that we have a sustainable marine environment that is safeguarded for future generations, while ensuring that our food security needs are met.

The task is not a simple one—nobody says that it is—but our fishermen and women deserve to be truly valued and supported for all the invaluable work they do.

Oral Answers to Questions

Luke Pollard Excerpts
Thursday 25th May 2023

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I assure my right hon. Friend that the Environment Agency will do the monitoring that is expected for all designated bathing water sites. I welcome what the water companies said last week—both their apology and their proposal to support more inland waterways to achieve the bathing water designation. However, let us be clear: the money announced by the water companies was what we were expecting, to comply with the storm overflows discharge reduction plan that we have already set in place. We will continue to ensure that the regulations promote bathing water sites, but the ultimate benefit of subsequent targeting and interventions will be improved water quality.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

I thank the Secretary of State for backing my campaign to designate Devil’s Point and Firestone bay in Plymouth as bathing waters. I am now targeting a sewage outlet that is pumping raw human sewage into Plymouth Sound all year round. Is it time to look again at the period during which water testing takes place in official bathing waters, and extend it from the period of 15 May to 30 September, since wild swimmers like me swim in bathing waters all year round, not just in the summer season?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The dates set down are pretty consistent across much of Europe, as the original regulations that we signed up to came from Europe. The dates reflect the fact that more people tend to go swimming in the summer, so bathing water sites are designated on that basis, although people will swim in different parts of the country all year around. I am pleased that Plymouth was granted that status, and I am sure people will welcome the extra investment that is likely to follow as a consequence.

Water Quality: Sewage Discharge

Luke Pollard Excerpts
Tuesday 25th April 2023

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

Raw sewage is the perfect metaphor for 13 years of Tory Britain. It is hard to find an NHS dentist or get a GP appointment, and it is hard to get a passport or find a lettuce or a tomato in a supermarket, but we can go for a swim among human waste, faeces, nappies and used condoms in our lakes, rivers and seas. Britain deserves so much better than this.

There were more than 37,000 sewage spills in the south-west last year. In Plymouth alone, there were more than 2,000, an average of five spills every single day—that means that it is only 1,220 sewage spills until Christmas for us Janners—so why has South West Water been let off the hook? It is failing as a company to close down the raw sewage outlets that we need it to close in order to have a protected and safe region. In Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, there have been 8,750 hours of dumping from 1,574 spills. In Plymouth, Moor View, there have been 4,000 hours from 540 spills, with more in South West Devon and in Torridge and West Devon, whose rivers flow past Plymouth. It is not good enough.

Clean water matters to me—it mattered to me when I spoke from the Front Bench, and it matters to me when I speak now. In 2017, I proposed that Plymouth sound be designated as the UK’s first ever national marine park. In 2019, we achieved that status, and thanks to £10 million of heritage lottery money, we are improving access to the water, celebrating Plymouth’s maritime history and cleaning up our waters. For the past year, I have been campaigning for Devil’s Point and Firestone bay to be designated as an official bathing water, with regular water testing so that people like me who swim in that part of Plymouth sound can see what we are swimming in. I am grateful to Ministers for agreeing to the campaign; that status starts in only a few weeks’ time.

The truth is that ending the sewage scandal is in the Government’s hands. They can mandate investment in closing raw sewage outlets in water company business plans. They can introduce automatic fines for sewage dumping. They can introduce mandatory monitoring for all sewage outlets and make sure each one of those monitors is working. They can introduce legally binding targets to end 90% of raw sewage discharges by 2030, and they can prioritise rivers and sewage in the next set of business plans. But they could do more: they could introduce more stormwater retention tanks, automatic fines and real-time data so that we can see what is happening, and they could close the gap between a spill and a fine that currently takes many years to deliver. I would also like to see more of the money from fines go to improve our environment. Higher-level fines nearly all go to the Treasury: we need more going to our environment to improve it along the way.

Farming on Dartmoor

Luke Pollard Excerpts
Tuesday 18th April 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

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Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)
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It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon (Sir Geoffrey Cox). I greatly enjoyed his speech; in fact, I enjoy nearly every one of his speeches. He has a style of delivery that every one of us in this House can only aspire to. He made a powerful case and I hope the Minister will listen. I do not represent part of Dartmoor—I represent an urban area of Plymouth—but Dartmoor is on our doorstep, and what happens in Dartmoor has consequences for the entire south-west, including Plymouth. That is why I want to support the case made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and to share his concern.

I met commoners on Dartmoor last summer. They operate in an incredibly complex environment of legislation and tough economic conditions, especially around the value of their produce. They also face myriad complexities in the rights of tenants to access certain land at certain times, and the conditions under which they are regulated. That balance is not quite where we need it to be for Dartmoor to thrive. We want Dartmoor to thrive; it should be home to a thriving community.

A good case has been made for an independent reviewer, but we have to look at why one is needed in the first place. That is because the system of regulation, the pace of change by Government, and the complex relationships between those who farm the land, those who own the land and those who visit the land is not in balance at the moment. That is the challenge to look at here.

As we have heard, there are 900 farms on Dartmoor. The south-west is home to a quarter of England’s agricultural holdings and a fifth of England’s total farmed land. That means that what happens for farming in the south-west is a signpost to what could happen to farming across the country. That is one reason I have argued to the Minister and the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), about the need for certainty for our farming communities, so that they can make informed judgments about their investments and future in agriculture.

I worry that the net effect of our agricultural transition from the common agricultural policy to a new future will result in fewer farmers, albeit larger farms; fewer payments from Government; and a greater adoption of technology. The effects of that in the south-west, where our farmers are more independent, there are more tenant farmers and the land is not necessarily as open to successful aggregation as the east of England’s flatter land, mean that we will produce fewer farmers, less of our land will be cared for, and there will be less stewardship in the way that Dartmoor and the surrounding countryside is looked after. I am not convinced that that is the direction that we, on a cross-party basis, wish to take agriculture in, so when the right hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon raises a legitimate concern about how this policy change, which may not have troubled too many headlines outside the agricultural press to date, will have a profound effect on Dartmoor, we should listen.

Mr Hosie, I declare an interest: my two little sisters work in farming. Indeed, they used to have their sheep on a farm in Dartmoor, exercising their right to graze them on common land, so they know this subject well, and I know the passion and determination of people who farm on Dartmoor. It is not just a job; it is a relationship, which in many cases goes back generations. People have farmed that land over many years and see no advantage in destroying it, denying access to it or disrupting the balance. That is really important, because sometimes there can be a view that farmers are deliberately destroying land to make a quick buck.

Environmental and farming policies have not always helped that case, but now we are in a better place. That is why we should look for the principles that the right hon. and learned Gentleman set out. First, we should look for greater certainty for the people who farm. That means giving them an understanding of what regulatory changes will happen and how they can plan for them. Changes that hit too early, too often and too hard have a disruptive effect on businesses and the landscape. Given the complexity of Dartmoor, we should look for a carefully managed transition from one state of agriculture regulation to another. The proposed change is too fast and too hard, without sufficient information for farmers to make a decent decision.

Secondly, we need to make sure that sustainability—environmental but also economic—is embedded as part of the policy. Having fewer farmers and fewer people managing the land has an adverse effect. Land that is not managed in a sustainable way by agriculture does not magically appear as dense forest. In many cases, it produces scrubland, which has a lower biodiversity and ecological value than farmland, so we need to see the transition properly managed.

The third principle is effective regulation and relationships. It seems to me that for the Minister to accept the case that has been made today about an independent reviewer, he must also accept that the way that Natural England has pursued the policy has not been as good as we would like. That means we need to make the case for change, but for sustainable change over time. That is where the three principles kick in.

I want to see the environmental land management schemes properly implemented. I want them to be sustainable and benefit all the different types of farming. But because our farming industry in the south-west is different from the agricultural sectors elsewhere in the country, ELMS need to be a success in the south-west, with our particular style of agriculture, farming and tenancy. That means we need a different way of doing it.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned rare breeds and talked about the importance of Dartmoor ponies. For those who do not follow the agricultural debate in detail, I think the headline of the debate will be, “There is a threat to Dartmoor ponies.” If we are to preserve rare breeds, particularly in Dartmoor, where we have rare breeds of not only cattle but sheep—generally, in the west country we are really good at growing grass, and we get our income from the animals that eat that grass—we need to make sure that the environmental land management scheme approach, and all the regulation that accompanies it, supports not only mainstream species that are being farmed, but rare breeds. I am sure Members have read the Rare Breeds Survival Trust briefing about the risks to rare breeds. I think its mantra of farming the right breed in the right place at the right density is one that we could all agree on, but how it is implemented here is quite difficult.

There is a challenge around ELMS in upland areas, which affects not only Dartmoor and the south-west but elsewhere. I see the hon. Gentleman from up north, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), who I am sure will say something similar when he gets to his feet.

We also need to look at why it is important to get this right. There is an ecological prize to be won for managing the transition to get us into the right place. We need to move towards making sure that farmers are not only supported, and sustainably, but that the outcomes are clearly specified. Changes hitting hard, without much notice, do not deliver that.

Finally, no debate about Dartmoor can pass without wild camping being mentioned briefly. We need to strike a balance, of which wild camping is a part. Sometimes, there is a simple headline to be got, but we need to see a proper balance, proper relationships and proper certainty restored. I am glad that the case on wild camping was brought, because it puts pressure on Parliament to update the laws to make sure that there is a proper right to roam, not just on the countryside, but also in terms of access to rivers and waters. In return, there needs to be a proper relationship between the people who visit the land, to ensure that it is looked after and to prevent over-exploitation, and the people who look after the livestock and the environment. There is a balance to be struck here.

I hope the Minister will take seriously the suggestion from the right hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon of an independent reviewer for what happens with farming on Dartmoor. This is something that Members on both sides of the House will be watching carefully.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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UK Food Shortages

Luke Pollard Excerpts
Thursday 23rd February 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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No, it is not.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)
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It is 2023, and there are crops rotting in the fields because there are not enough people to pick them, there are kids going hungry in all our communities and now we have rationing in our supermarkets, and it is not because people are stockpiling and panic buying salad, although a lettuce lasted longer than the last Prime Minister. I want the Secretary of State to have more grip, control and leadership on this issue. Her responses so far have been complacent. Unless she wants to go down as the Secretary of State for sewage, food shortages and rural poverty, what is her plan to properly address the food shortages we face? This is a serious issue for families across the country.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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This is a serious issue, but I am afraid the hon. Gentleman’s question shows his lack of knowledge and his bandwagon jumping. He suggests that there is nobody picking vegetables in our fields, but that is not the case right now. We have a supply chain that brings in food from around the world. I would love to hear about the farms in his constituency that are short of people to pick tomatoes or lettuces. It is probably as rare as—[Hon. Members: “As what?”] I was about to say that it is as rare as his wanting us to be successful. [Interruption.] What is the best way to put it? It is as rare as gold at the end of a rainbow. Perhaps he believes in fairy tales. He certainly does not know how the food supply system works. He jumps on a bandwagon, and he must be embarrassed. I hope his constituents reflect on the fact that he knows nothing about how their daily lives are affected by this.

Oral Answers to Questions

Luke Pollard Excerpts
Thursday 23rd February 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
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As I said to the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Neale Hanvey), the Government recognise that there are challenges with labour supply. That is why we increased the number of visas to 45,000, with the option of an extra 10,000 if required. The industry has not called on the extra 10,000 visas at this time, but we remain ready to deploy them if the industry can demonstrate that they are required.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)
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6. When she will next update the list of designated bathing waters in England.

Rebecca Pow Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rebecca Pow)
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The list of designated bathing waters is updated annually, as I am sure the hon. Member knows. We will give updates for the new list in May.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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As a keen wild swimmer in Devil’s Point and Firestone bay in Plymouth sound, which is the country’s first national marine park, I have been working with Plymouth City Council to declare that really special piece of water a designated bathing water. May I ask the Minister to don her wetsuit and join me in the sea, where I can show her not only that incredible piece of water and the expanding access to it—especially for people from poorer communities—but, importantly, the raw sewage pipe that occasionally emits appalling human waste into a special and environmentally important bit of our sea?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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I do wear a wetsuit when I go swimming in the sea—I am a bit of a coward, but I love to put my wetsuit on and go swimming in the sea.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, he will have to wait until May to see where we go with that particular designation, but we already have 421 designated bathing sites in England as of last year—that number has gradually been going up. The good news about those sites is that 93% of them are classed as “excellent” and “good”, so their record is extremely good. I will take a rain check on whether I join him for a swim.