EU Referendum: Energy and Environment

Rory Stewart Excerpts
Tuesday 12th July 2016

(8 years ago)

Commons Chamber
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Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
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The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is clear from what the Committee on Climate Change has said that the area in which the United Kingdom is falling behind most badly is not the power sector, but the transport and heating sectors. Of course, dealing with that does not rest solely with the Secretary of State; it also rests with her colleagues in the Department for Transport and the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Perhaps the Secretary of State would find it easier to explain how the UK might continue to benefit from the EU internal energy market—or does Brexit mean Brexit in this regard as well? We really do need clear answers to all these questions. Perhaps the right hon. Lady can tell us what will happen to the four clean energy projects that are currently being assessed by the European Fund for Strategic Investments. She knows that the European Investment Bank has been the UK’s biggest clean-energy lender, having put €31 billion into clean energy over the last five years. Has she identified a replacement source of funds for such projects?

Perhaps the Secretary of State can explain why, last week, the Government pulled their funding for the only large new gas plant that had managed to secure finance under the capacity market scheme after Carlton Power was unable to secure the investment that was needed for the Trafford plant. The capacity market has resoundingly failed to secure the new gas build that it was introduced to incentivise.

Perhaps the right hon. Lady can explain—after the failure of the green deal, and after acknowledging that neither the warm home scheme nor the energy company obligation is sufficiently well targeted to reach those most in need—precisely how she proposes to address energy efficiency and tackle the fuel poverty experienced by 2.38 million of our fellow citizens. Let me correct that, Mr Speaker: 1 should have said 2.38 million households, in England alone. Perhaps the right hon. Lady might also explain why National Grid warned on Friday that the lights were kept on only by emergency measures last year. The fact is that the Government’s energy policy has pushed us further towards energy insecurity.

Our purpose in securing this Opposition Day debate is precisely to ensure that the Government cannot ignore such pressing concerns following the referendum. The vote to leave was not a vote for blackouts and soaring energy bills; it is the Government’s responsibility to ensure that those things do not happen.

The Committee on Climate Change, which has a statutory duty to advise the Government on the most cost-effective route to decarbonisation, has always made it clear that early action is cheaper action. As its chief executive warned us last week, leaving the EU calls the mechanism of how we reach our targets into question. The Government’s policy failure has created a 10% gap in emissions projections towards our legally binding climate target for the mid-2020s, and they are nearly 50% short of meeting their intended target for 2030—that is, if the Secretary of State ever gets round to actually complying with her statutory obligation to set the target. I believe that that is now due to happen on Monday, which would make it only 18 days beyond the legal statutory limit.

Last year, the Environmental Audit Committee gave the Government a red card for their record on managing future climate change risks. The chair of the Infrastructure Operators Adaptation Forum concluded:

“we simply do not know the capability of the vast majority of stuff out there for current weather, never mind the future”.

The National Security Risk Assessment cites flood risk to the UK as a tier 1 priority risk, alongside terrorism and cyber-attacks, and, of course, it is our most deprived communities that face the greatest increases in flood risk. However, new evidence released today by the Committee on Climate Change renders starker than ever the threat to British households and businesses from a failure to manage climate change. Its published estimates show that, without increased Government action on climate adaptation, the number of homes at high risk from flooding will rise to well over 1 million even if we meet our current climate targets.

Rory Stewart Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rory Stewart)
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I apologise for intervening so early, Mr Speaker. Will the hon. Gentleman please explain the precise relationship between the European Union issue and the questions that he is raising about flooding?

John Bercow Portrait Mr Speaker
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The Minister is not intervening that early, although some people might think that the hon. Gentleman was approaching the conclusion of his preliminary remarks.

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Rory Stewart Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rory Stewart)
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Let me begin by paying a huge tribute to the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) for an extraordinary maiden speech. It contained five elements that, I think, encapsulated the heart of this debate. First, there was her extraordinary sense of history, and the commitment that she showed in talking about Nye Bevan and the Clean Air Act 1956. Secondly, there was her sense of responsibility, and of the scale of the challenge that we face. Thirdly, there were her energy and optimism. Fourthly, there was her sense of place: she said she thought people who said that Tooting was becoming a fantastic place were missing the fact that—as she felt—it had been a fantastic place all her life. Finally, there was her sense of the importance of humans in the history of the landscape, whether she was talking about the lido at Tooting or about her own community and family.

In general, through her rhetoric, through her language and through her love of this place, the hon. Lady—as the Member of Parliament who has entered the House at the moment when we are leaving the European Union—gave us a real reason to be optimistic about Parliament and the sovereignty of Parliament. The five elements that she contributed represent exactly what we hope to bring to the British environment in the future.

An enormous number of questions have been asked today. The shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), asked the Government to respond to specific queries on—I think—nine separate occasions. I counted 35 questions posed by him, and a further 117 posed by other Members. I have approximately nine minutes in which to answer those questions, and, with the House’s permission, I will therefore focus on the natural environment rather than on energy issues, with apologies to the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Callum McCaig)—Callum senior. I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Philip Boswell), who initiated an extremely erudite discussion of many energy-related issues, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat), who drew attention to a number of ways in which domestic legislation underpinned UK energy policy, and explained that some of the references to the European Union were a little misleading.

I shall not be able to engage as fully as I would like with the forensic speech made by the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), although it was an extraordinary speech which raised an enormous number of very important points. However, I shall try to deal with those points in the round.

In essence, four main types of point were made in this debate and they form the structure of an answer. First, the importance of being deeply optimistic about Britain’s future outside the EU was pointed out, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) and the Secretary of State. That is partly, as the Secretary of State said, because of the very real strengths that exist in this country. As Members on both sides pointed out, we derive immense positives from our membership of the EU, and they have been concisely listed. The hon. Members for York Central (Rachael Maskell), for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), for Bristol East and for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Calum Kerr) laid out the powerful progress made over the past 42 years in air and water quality, and that is driven by EU law and EU financial assistance, and by the structures of the EU that protected our landscape. As the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) pointed out, it is important for our international industry to ensure we have uniform standards so there is not a race to the bottom. We cannot simply think about this island as though we were not exposed to environmental factors from abroad; 85% of our birds are migratory, and between a third and a half of our air blows in from other countries—that is the air pollution coming into our country. Indeed, our terrestrial biodiversity is dependent on ensuring there is not acid rain and sulphur dioxide raining on the peat bogs and grasses on which we depend.

However, as my hon. Friends the Members for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) and for Poole (Mr Syms) pointed out, we in the United Kingdom had a strong tradition of environmentalism long before we joined the EU. Indeed, the history of environmental protection in the UK stretches back almost 1,000 years to the formation of the royal forests in Scotland and in England and the habitat protection brought in place to nearly 23% of our land mass at that period, and it carries on through the contributions of Walter Scott and Wordsworth to ensuring the protection of our landscapes. Indeed, over the next four years we will be celebrating several anniversaries: the centenary of the Forestry Commission, founded in 1919; the anniversary of our national parks, founded in 1947; and the anniversary of the Clean Air Act, passed in 1956.

There will be opportunities available to us from leaving the EU. The hon. Member for Brent North pointed out that there have been some advantages from EU funding for flooding, but there have of course been significant challenges too. One way in which we would like to address natural responses to flood management is by planting trees. In order to do that, we need to be able to look at flexible and intelligent ways of moving money between what are currently quite rigid budget structures. If we are dealing with farmers planting trees on their land to slow the flow of water, we need to think intelligently about how the payments we give for agriculture, the environment and flooding can work together, rather than against each other. When looking at laws, we need to ensure we remain flexible with regard to the best of modern science, and there are ways in which rigid legal structures brought into place by 27 member states have in the past made it difficult to respond to recent evidence. Members raised the question of inspections and fines as well, and, again, those rigid inspection regimes have, at their worst, sometimes discredited the very environmental regulations we wish to protect. Finally, as my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) pointed out, there are perverse consequences of parts of the CAP for the environmental conditions we value so much.

The principles on which we now need to move forward were laid out very powerfully by this House, and by the hon. Member for Bristol East in her initial intervention, and they seem to me to be sixfold. They are the principles of realism, of humility, of honesty about conflict, of being honest with the public, of confidence and of identity. I shall expand briefly on those principles. First, on realism, we have to acknowledge that leaving the European Union will not mean leaving government behind. People will continue to be frustrated by bureaucracy and they will continue to have to respond to procurement regulations. We will continue to have to operate in an international environment. We will have to make compromises.

On the principle of humility, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane rightly pointed out that not everyone in this country is always interested in the environment. We have to be realistic about our power and about our capacity as a Government to respond. On the principle of honesty about conflict, land remains a deeply conflicted issue. We must not imagine that simply leaving the European Union will overcome the serious conflicts between different land uses in our constituencies. There are conflicts between people’s desire to build housing, people’s desire to create renewable energy, people’s desire to produce productive food and people’s desire to protect the species and habitats that we value so much.

The principles of confidence and identity are perhaps the most important of all. The decision in the referendum was made by one of the most well educated, well travelled populations in the most mature democracy on Earth, and we need to ensure that we recognise the legitimacy of that democratic choice. We need to put our full energy and optimism behind it. We need to understand, in responding to this, that the British identity—this extends to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—is based fundamentally on our land.

In moving forward, we need to reassure people. As the Secretary of State pointed out, we need to play a full role in all our international conferences. We need to ensure, for example, that we play a responsible and reliable international role in the forthcoming conferences on biodiversity and on the convention on international trade in endangered species—CITES. We could also be far more imaginative.

Geraint Davies Portrait Geraint Davies
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Does the Minister accept that there is still a case for a second referendum on the exit package and the precise terms of our leaving the EU? We have only agreed to leave in principle; people have not yet seen what is in the can.

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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Absolutely not. I disagree strongly with that intervention. However, the hon. Gentleman has shown the optimism we need through his focus on technology, just as the hon. Member for Bristol East did through her focus on the markets in China and India. There is so much potential out there in the environment. We could show the lead in the Amazon rainforest. We could show the lead in defining, through our natural capital approach, what it means to take a British initiative—[Interruption.]

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing)
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Order. The Minister is saying some important things, but people are chatting.

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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In conclusion, land and the conflicts around land have been fundamental to the problems in our society since the days of Cain and Abel, but we can be confident in this country. We have extraordinary natural scientists. We have a rich civil society with 9 million people connected to environmental non-governmental organisations. We have extraordinary legal structures in place. We have incredible new Members of Parliament, such as the hon. Member for Tooting, bringing their energy and optimism to this House. If we can bring all that together, we can prove in the future, as we have proved over the last millennium, that the British landscape and environment, and their extraordinary combination of productive food and nature, can remain at the heart of our national identity for ever.

Question put.

Draft Water and Sewerage Undertakers (Exit from non-household Retail Market) Regulations 2016

Rory Stewart Excerpts
Thursday 7th July 2016

(8 years ago)

General Committees
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Rory Stewart Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rory Stewart)
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I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Water and Sewerage Undertakers (Exit from Non-household Retail Market) Regulations 2016.

It is a great privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I warmly welcome the new shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for York Central.

For the Committee’s benefit, let me provide a brief introduction to the regulations. They are set within the context of the Water Act 2014. People who were in the House at the time or who have taken an interest will remember that the Act basically did three things. The first thing was that it provided affordable flood insurance under the Flood Re process, which guarantees that people in a flood-vulnerable area are able to access flood insurance at affordable rates that are attached to their council tax bands. The second thing was that the Act provided for reform to the upstream water markets, which is complicated work that relates to what happens right up at the source of the water. The third thing, which is what the regulations are specifically relevant to, is the non-household retail end: the Act provided, not for individual houses but for businesses and others, an ability to have more efficient services. That involves billing, meter reading, handling of calls, complaint handling and water efficiency services.

I will give a couple of examples to show how the regulations are relevant to people. An organisation such as Tesco that has a lot of stores spread out across the country would be able for the first time to get a package to cover its thousands of stores and to get all its efficiency services—controlling the amount of water used, its bills and its complaints—handled centrally. That is also relevant to large water users. Imagine an electricity utility company or a brewer that uses a huge amount of water. Suddenly there is a market opportunity for a retailer to turn up and offer it a specific package. All Members present will be able to think of analogies, such as the way in which, in the electricity and gas markets, new people enter the market and are able to offer more tailored, more efficient and more affordable services.

Specifically, the regulations come out of an amendment to the 2014 Act. They focus on two things: one is the process that a retailer that wishes to offer such services has to follow in order to get approved, and the other—their exact focus—is the exit of the previous holder. Let us imagine that there were a water company in my constituency of Penrith that currently provides those retail services. The regulations define the conditions under which that existing company can leave the market and somebody else can come in.

This has been a very serious piece of parliamentary drafting, which has been going on for almost two years. The conditions that have been set out essentially revolve around five key principles that drive this type of regulation. The first, which is very important, is equivalence, which means that you as a customer will be able to get the same service from the new entrant that you had from the previous retailer—it is a guarantee for the customer. The second is what I would call a principle of competence, to assure that the acquiring retailer, which has been licensed by Ofwat, is competent to take over the service. The third is what I would call a principle of universality, to ensure that nobody is left out; to return to my example of a non-household customer in my constituency of Penrith, it is essential that when the transfer takes place they do not get left out of the system, so these regulations provide for that guarantee of universality. The fourth principle is one of control, allowing Ofwat to regulate the terms and conditions of transfer to customers. The final principle is what I would call a principle of transparency, to ensure that customers are kept fully informed through the process.

The regulations are all backed up by the provisions of the 2014 Act, which provides the framework under which Ofwat issues those licences. There has been a very thorough consultation process. Parliamentary counsel, as well as DEFRA lawyers and policy teams, have been engaged in great detail to make sure that we have tested all the principles, both with business and consumers, and that the regulations meet the needs of the age. These are sensible, well drafted regulations, which I am pleased to present to the Committee.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter, and I thank the Minister for his kind remarks.

I would like to speak on behalf of the Opposition today on these regulations. I first want to put on record my thanks for the enormity of work that has already been put in place in order to bring us to the point we are at today. Although I recognise that the 2014 Act has made it permissive to increase competition in the water and sewage industry for 1.2 million businesses, charities and public sector organisations, I want to ensure that we are thorough in our scrutiny of the regulations today. I therefore want to forward a number of questions to the Minister, to ensure that everything is watertight.

To start with, my questions are essentially on consumer protection. I want to know how long it is proposed that the exit process will take, bearing in mind that customers will need to be guaranteed the provision of the retailer before the exit is granted.

Secondly, I would like to ask how much notice a customer receives of their undertaker withdrawing from the market, since they may choose to continue a service with the retailer who has taken over the customers of the undertaker, or the customer may need time to choose an alternative retailer.

Thirdly, as the guidance notes say, there should be minimal disruption to the customer, but when it talks about minimum disruption, will there be any disruption and, if so, what disruption does the Minister envisage behind that?

Fourthly, I would like to ask about process, so that there is not confusion over billing, as has been seen elsewhere in the energy market when somebody exits the market and there is a change in licensee providing the service.

Finally on this point, I would like to know how customers will be communicated with about the changes of service provision, to enable them to maximise their choices.

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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I should be grateful if the shadow Secretary of State could clarify her fourth question on process, which I did not fully understand. There was a question on notice, a question on minimum disruption and then I missed the question on process.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
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I am more than happy to clarify that point. The question is so there is not confusion around billing between the different organisations. When somebody exits the market, there will obviously be a new licensee who is providing that service, and, as has been seen elsewhere in the energy market, there has been confusion about the billing process. We need to make sure that customers are able to be communicated with by one organisation and be clear that they are not billed twice.

It is also essential that customers experience no detriment and, while I recognise the principle of equivalence, detriment could occur to non-household customers. I therefore seek further reassurance on behalf of customers. For example, while outstanding complaints will be passed to the new licensee, the guidance is silent as to how potential liabilities will be addressed. That could result in remedies being less favourable to the customer. Can the Minister bring clarity to that, since the guidance simply states that this is dependent on the commercial agreement drawn up? A current customer would want confidence that the terms on which they raised their complaint would result in no less favourable outcome.

For customers whose undertaker withdraws from the market, can the Minister confirm that, should they choose to deal with a different licensee from that which took over the customer base from the undertaker, they will have two years through which to switch from and back to them again, should they choose? Again, this is slightly ambiguous, but I know was raised in the debate on the regulations in the other place.

With regard to the risks identified, I note that there is expected to be an increased financial risk both to Ofwat and to DEFRA. What assessment has been made of the size of the risk in the light of the already severe cuts to the Department?

Finally, I would like the Minister to clarify a couple of questions on consequential issues appertaining to the measure. One of the most important areas of work in the industry looks at water-saving initiatives. Clearly these must be across the whole water and sewerage industry, and not just seen as a customer responsibility. How will the undertakers and the licensees work together to ensure that water conservation remains a priority in this new fragmented environment?

The second consequential issue appertains to householders. Although these regulations do not appertain to householders, householders and non-householders currently deal with the same water companies. After April next year, that may not be the case. I note that in the other place’s scrutiny of these regulations, the Minister said that they would be subject to the current cost basis for their water and sewerage in this five-year cycle. However, what risk assessment has been made on the impact on households? If none has been undertaken, will the Minister look into the matter?

Labour recognises that the Government’s ambition is to protect the consumer in the light of the permissible action available from the 2014 Act through these regulations. Although we have concerns about further marketisation and fragmentation of the water and sewerage industry, we believe that, subject to the Minister’s response today, we will not be calling for the Committee to divide.

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Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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You can understand why I welcomed the shadow Secretary of State to her position, Mr Streeter. I think I have nine different questions here, which I will try to deal with one by one. If I miss anything, I am very happy to continue the debate through interventions.

I think the first question was around time and notice. The notice provisions are covered under regulation 12, as the shadow Secretary of State will be aware. Regulation 12(4) clarifies that,

“notice must be given…in the case of a person who is a customer immediately before the Secretary of State grants permission for the relevant undertaker to withdraw from the non-household retail market, at least 2 months before the exit date”.

On disruption, and the process we follow in terms of customer bills, the industry has set up a new company called Market Operator Services Ltd whose job is to build and manage a database of accurate information to enable switching and settlement.

There was a question on detriment and, in particular, complaints. This subject is dealt with in regulation 17, “Transfer of outstanding complaints”, at paragraph (3). As the shadow Secretary of State presumably knows, it went through a great deal of debate, both within the Department and with the parliamentary draftsman. Paragraphs (1) and (2) are largely laying out the terminology; the key to regulation 17 is paragraph (3), which states:

“Anything done by or in relation to the relevant undertaker in connection with the complaint is to be treated, on and after the exit date, as having been done by or in relation to the acquiring licensee.”

Clearly we all believe that excess words turn septic. The decision was that that was the clearest way of laying out the complaint. To return to my Penrith example, had I lodged a complaint as a non-household customer against the hypothetical Penrith Water Company that existed previously, at the date on which the exit takes place my complaint would become a complaint against the new company and would be treated as such.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
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On that very point, although I understand that the complaint will be dealt with, as with the old undertaker, by the new licensee, can the Minister confirm that the remedy will be the same with the new licensee, as per the commercial agreement?

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Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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This is a very important technical question. The understanding of the Department and our legal experts is that this would be governed through normal legal contract arrangements. That is why it has been left as a very short sentence, as we believe that the existing procedures, regulated by Ofwat, will be sufficient to ensure that the complaint process is properly handled. We believe that putting in excess words and trying to micro-manage the detail of the process will not end up in as good and transparent a result for the customer as simply making it clear that normal complaint procedures are followed for the new company, regulated by Ofwat, as they would have been for the pre-existing Penrith company. I am confident that this is the best and most straightforward way of proceeding, but I understand the shadow Secretary of State’s anxiety.

On the question of switching, there are two key principles that underlie the regulations: completion and permanence. Although there were some suggestions during the debate in the other place, as the shadow Secretary of State pointed out, that it might be possible for a customer to leave and return—to leave my putative Penrith company and then hop back to them later—we decided, after a great deal of consultation, that that is not the correct way to proceed. The correct way to proceed is that it is complete and it is permanent. The Penrith company leaves, the new entrant enters and that is the end of it. There is no way for the Penrith company to then come back into that market or for an individual non-household customer to move back and forth between their previous provider and the new one. That is very important in order to have the market opportunity and flexibility for a new entrant. Let us imagine that a Scottish retailer wished to come into the retail market. It would need to be able to pick up a critical mass of customers and would not be able to do that unless there was a clear and completed exit procedure that meant the customer could not switch back.

The shadow Secretary of State made an additional point about the financial risks to DEFRA and Ofwat. We have looked at that in considerable detail. We do not believe that there are any financial risks to DEFRA. The costs, in so far as they fall, will fall on the industry. There is a very detailed cost-benefit analysis of what that will mean for the industry. Our assessment, based on our best evidence from a team of economists, and agreed by the industry, is that instead of being a net cost for the industry, the benefits over a 30-year period are in the order of £200 million.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
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Could I just clarify the point about additional financial risks for DEFRA? My understanding is that the application to exit the market needs to be made to the Department. Therefore, surely that will mean that there are consequential risks as a result of administering the process.

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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The shadow Secretary of State is absolutely right. The applications are made to the Department, will be cleared by departmental officials and signed off by the Secretary of State, but as she will be aware, the application for determination is a relatively straightforward process. The Secretary of State must grant permission, unless it is contrary to the interests of the public or the relevant undertaker has failed to comply with regulation 9. The bulk of the due diligence is done through Ofwat granting a licence to the individual, and Ofwat has a serious process in place to decide whether somebody is a competent operator. If that individual has received a licence from Ofwat—in other words, they are a competent operator approved by Ofwat—all our Department will be looking for in that process is that the proper notifications to the public have gone through, that the proper forms have been filled in, and that there is a clear agreement on who is exiting and who is taking over that market to provide the universal service to the customer.

The final issue raised was about the issue of water conservation and household customers. Household customers is a future piece of business. We are now talking about that issue, but it is not covered by these regulations. I am very happy to talk to members of the Committee and to the shadow Secretary of State about the detail of household customers in future, when that comes forward. These regulations cover non-household customers.

Water conservation is central to our strategic work and we have to consider it in every way, on both the supply side, such as leakage from pipes, and the demand side, such as how to reduce water use. One of the things that these measures should do, particularly for big water users—I give the example of utility companies, brewers or Tesco—is to provide really good incentives to reduce water use. There is more that we could do right across this issue. Water meters will be an important part of reducing demand. Finally, we have a huge process going forward, led by the water industry but with DEFRA closely involved, that is looking at long- term infrastructure investments—that could include interconnecting pipes and new reservoir systems—to provide for the possibility of drought and climate change in the future.

Question put and agreed to.

June Environment Council

Rory Stewart Excerpts
Thursday 7th July 2016

(8 years ago)

Written Statements
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Rory Stewart Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rory Stewart)
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I attended the EU Environment Council in Luxembourg on 20 June along with my noble friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Lord Bourne). Roseanna Cunningham MSP also attended.

I wish to update the House on the matters discussed.

EU emissions trading system (ETS)

The presidency introduced its progress report on negotiations to reform the EU ETS, framed in the context of the Paris climate agreement. The Commission saw carbon leakage rules as a priority and cautioned against over-burdening national authorities and industry. The Commission called for more ideas from industry on how best to use the innovation and modernisation funds, and supported a focus on addressing the surplus of allowances in the system rather than direct price regulation.

In the ensuing policy debate, all Ministers supported the presidency’s progress report and proposals for next steps. The UK focused on the need to balance the reducing number of free allowances with appropriate carbon leakage support, protection of the market stability reserve, strengthening of the carbon price, and reaching agreement on ETS alongside the effort share decision.

Paris ratification: presentation from the Commission and Council statement

The Commission briefly presented its proposal for a Council decision on EU ratification of the Paris agreement, published on 10 June. The presidency then invited Ministers to endorse a Council statement calling for ratification of the Paris agreement by the EU and its member states as soon as possible.

Following proposals from other member states, the presidency presented a compromise statement which included references to climate finance, and which the Council agreed by consensus.

National emissions ceilings directive: state of play



The presidency set out the state of play of the negotiations. The presidency was disappointed agreement had not yet been reached, but noted good progress was made in the four trilogue meetings which had taken place. On the key issues of 2030 limits, flexibilities and the nature of 2025 ceilings, the institutions were still some way apart. Despite this, the presidency believed a deal was close and had been in contact with the European Parliament with a view to arranging a fifth trilogue meeting. The Commission fully supported the presidency’s efforts.

The UK along with other member states encouraged the presidency to make another attempt at a first reading agreement by the end of June. However there was some difference in focus between member states in terms of ambition and the need for realistic and attainable targets. A significant number of member states expressed a clear preference for an agreement built on the most recent presidency mandate.

AOB: NOx emissions by diesel

The presidency reported on recent discussion at Transport Council. The Commission reiterated its view that the main issue was member state implementation of the Euro 5/6 regulations. It noted the progress made on the adoption of the real driving emissions (RDE) and worldwide harmonised light vehicles test procedure (WLTP) proposals. The Commission called on member states to accelerate negotiations on the type approval regulations. The Commission said it intended to provide further guidance on the implementation of the Euro 5/6 regulations by the end of the year, but added this had to be based on a transparent exchange of information gathered during national studies.

The UK underlined the urgent need to resolve the issue to ensure health benefits and for member states to fulfil their legal obligations.

AOB: endocrine disruptors

The Commission presented its recently adopted package on endocrine disruptors consisting of a communication and draft Commission acts setting out scientific criteria in the context of EU legislation on plant protection products and biocidal products.

Council conclusions on Closing the Loop: Circular Economy

The Council adopted by consensus conclusions which responded to the Commission communication on an EU action plan for the circular economy. The UK welcomed the conclusions and, in particular, the call for EU action on microbeads which was supported by several other member states.

Council conclusions on illegal wildlife trafficking

Council adopted by consensus conclusions which responded to the Commission communication on an EU action plan against wildlife trafficking. The UK intervened in support of the conclusions and called for a robust EU commitment on trophy hunting at the convention on international trade in endangered species conference of the parties in September. The UK also called for action in working towards the closure of the Chinese domestic market for ivory.

AOBs

The Council noted updates from the Commission on: negotiations on aviation emissions in the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the outcome of which would have implications for the EU’s aviation emission trading system; the outcomes of the eighth Environment for Europe ministerial conference; and the UN Environment Assembly.

The Council noted presidency updates on: April’s “Make It Work” conference, an initiative which aims to improve EU regulation; April’s informal Council of Environment and Transport Ministers; and the recent “REACH Forward” conference on chemicals legislation.

The Council noted information provided by: the Commission regarding environmental implementation review; the German and Belgian delegations regarding the Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (BSal) virus affecting salamander and newt populations; and the incoming Slovakian presidency, who informed member states of the key environment priorities for its presidency—climate change, biodiversity, waste and water.

[HCWS68]

Oral Answers to Questions

Rory Stewart Excerpts
Thursday 7th July 2016

(8 years ago)

Commons Chamber
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Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con)
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2. What steps the Government are taking to prevent hunting trophies from threatened or endangered species being imported to the UK.

Rory Stewart Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rory Stewart)
- Hansard - -

The Government are absolutely clear that we will not allow the import of trophies from critically endangered species when it is unsustainable—tigers, for example. We have also increased the protection and controls on six other species, ranging from elephants to polar bears. We remain absolutely committed to banning the import of lion trophies unless we have significant improvements in lion conservation.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for that answer and the general thrust of it. Does he agree, however, that it is morally wrong to kill the most endangered species merely to put a trophy on the wall, and that it would make sense to look to ban more widely the importation of those trophies that come from the most endangered categories?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

I agree absolutely. All hon. Members would agree strongly that, if a species is critically endangered, it is not suitable to be hunted, let alone put on a wall as a trophy. We will look closely at scientific evidence across the range of endangered species. It will be extremely relevant to focus on that, with September and October being the time for the CITES conference in Johannesburg.

Lord Hanson of Flint Portrait Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Australia and France have both banned the use and import of lion products. What do they know that the Minister refuses to act upon?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

We are looking closely at what Australia and France are doing. We have been working on a common EU-US position in order to change practices in Africa. It makes a huge difference that we do this together as 700 million people in the EU and the US rather than trying to do it individually.

Margaret Ferrier Portrait Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Following the EU referendum vote, we have no idea how the EU action plan against wildlife trafficking will be implemented by the UK Government. Is the Minister in a position to provide any assurances to the House today?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

As my colleague the Minister of State has pointed out, the details of our position in relation to Europe will have to be determined by a future Prime Minister, but we played a very active role in drafting that plan and pushing for its contents. The hon. Lady will see in what we are doing in Vietnam our commitment to that plan. I reassure her that, certainly as long as I am in this position, the UK’s position is absolutely unequivocal.

Martyn Day Portrait Martyn Day (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

3. What assessment she has made of the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on rural development programmes.

--- Later in debate ---
John Stevenson Portrait John Stevenson (Carlisle) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T2. Following the floods in Carlisle, I am concerned that a group of leaseholders will not be able to get insurance under Flood Re. They consist of 68 long leaseholders with a management company as the freeholder with responsibility for insurance. That management company has not been able to obtain insurance so far. Will the Minister look into the issue and consider amending the legislation if necessary?

Rory Stewart Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rory Stewart)
- Hansard - -

In addition to welcoming the shadow Secretary of State to her position, may I also welcome my friend the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) to his position?

As for the flooding in Carlisle, my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson) is a great champion of his constituency. If there is an individual leasehold property, it would be covered with affordable insurance under Flood Re. Unfortunately, when there is a larger number of properties, such as the more than 60 properties that the landlord has in this case, it would be classified as commercial insurance and would require a bespoke, tailored commercial insurance product from the insurance industry. I am happy to look at the individual case, and the British Insurance Brokers Association is also coming up with tailored products exactly to address such commercial risks.

John Bercow Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister for his erudite treatise.

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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane) (Con)
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T5. The recent Environmental Audit Committee report on the important subject of soil highlighted that a significant proportion of our agricultural land will be become unproductive within a generation. Will the Minister therefore meet me to discuss the sustainable management of soils, so that emphasis is put on treating them as ecosystems, rather than as growing mediums? A monitoring scheme would really help.

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend correctly says that soils are not just for short-term production; they are incredibly important stores of organic matter. There is a lot that we can do, and are doing, on precision farming and shelter belts. Rothamsted Research is also doing work on this issue, but I would be delighted to meet her and to make sure that this is central to our 25-year plan.

Lilian Greenwood Portrait Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

More than half the population of England live within an hour of a national park, but many young people and their families struggle to get to them because rural bus services have been hit by devastating cuts and eye-watering fare rises. This is Catch the Bus week, so can the Secretary of State tell us what discussions she has had with the Transport Secretary about making our countryside accessible by public transport?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

DEFRA takes that very seriously; we have a responsibility for rural affairs. We have very regular contact with the Department for Transport on this issue, and we supported it on developing community bus schemes. There is much more we can do. As the hon. Lady has pointed out, without communications connections, which buses are central to, rural areas will be disadvantaged.

Craig Whittaker Portrait Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T6. On 27 April, the Prime Minister confirmed to my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) that the Government are working on a flood insurance plan for the many small and medium-sized businesses in flood-risk areas that are excluded from insurance cover. Will the Minister update the House on how those plans are going?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend has been an extraordinary champion for his constituency—indeed, he had a late Christmas day celebration a couple of days ago. I saw at first hand with him the devastation for businesses in Calder Valley, ranging from furniture shops to carpentry manufacturers. The problem on commercial insurance is, of course, that different businesses have different attitudes towards interruption payments and excesses. However, that is being addressed through the BIBA process and, most importantly, through the investment in flood defences.

Nia Griffith Portrait Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I fully understand the 2009 cut-off date for Flood Re, of which developers and local authorities should have been fully aware, but what more can the Minister do to make it legally binding to inform purchasers that they will not be eligible for Flood Re? What about properties that are downhill of new developments that have subsequently become more at risk as a result of developments built since 2009?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

Fundamentally, the answer to these issues is to ensure that we have good flood defences and that we build resilience in housing, but it is absolutely correct to say that we need to ensure that transparency is part of that. Somebody buying a house needs to know that it is at flood risk so that they can make an intelligent decision—ideally, it would be not to buy that house.

Andrew Stephenson Portrait Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T7. The excellent annual Trawden show takes place on Sunday 14 August. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Trawden and District Agricultural Society on organising the event, and does she agree that agriculture shows in communities play a key role in promoting agriculture to a wider audience?

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Mark Menzies Portrait Mark Menzies (Fylde) (Con)
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The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has a very important visitor centre at Fairhaven lake in my constituency. The Ribble estuary, one of the most important estuaries anywhere in the UK, attracts about 270,000 birds per year. What are the Government doing to ensure that local children are engaging with the RSPB and gaining bird knowledge?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

That is a fantastic result—270,000 birds. The Environment Agency and Natural England are working very closely with the RSPB in the Ribble estuary. Connecting children to nature is absolutely essential. If we are to protect nature for the future, people need to love it. The key is to ensure that children not only access nature, but understand it and respond to it.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
- Hansard -

EU Environment Council

Rory Stewart Excerpts
Wednesday 15th June 2016

(8 years, 1 month ago)

Written Statements
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Rory Stewart Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rory Stewart)
- Hansard - -

I will attend the EU Environment Council in Brussels on 20 June, along with my noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Climate Change (Lord Bourne).

Following adoption of the agenda, the list of “A” items will be approved.

Under legislative activities the Council will debate a proposal to reform the EU emissions trading system. The presidency will provide a state of play report on the ongoing negotiations with the European Parliament to agree the national emissions ceiling directive.

Under non-legislative activities, the Council will aim to adopt Council conclusions on the EU action plan for the circular economy and the EU action plan against wildlife trafficking. They will also discuss a Council statement on the ratification of the Paris agreement.

The following items are due to be discussed under any other business:

a) NOx emissions by diesel cars

b) Recent international meetings:

i) High-level meeting (Montreal, 11-13 May 2016) and preparations for the ICAO assembly (Montreal, 27 September to 7 October 2016)

ii) Second session of the United Nations Environment Assembly of the United Nations Environment Programme (Nairobi, 23-27 May 2016)

iii) Eighth Environment for Europe ministerial conference (Batumi, Georgia, 8-10 June 2016

c) REACH forward priorities for effective regulation (Brussels, 1 June 2016)

d) High-level meeting “Make it Work” (Amsterdam, 4 April 2016)

e) Communication on environmental implementation review

f) Global amphibian deaths—combatting the fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) infecting salamanders and newts in the EU

g) Informal meeting of the Environment and Transport Ministers (Amsterdam, 14-15 April 2016)

h) Endocrine disruptors

i) Work programme of the incoming presidency

[HCWS42]

Oral Answer to Parliamentary Question: Clarification

Rory Stewart Excerpts
Tuesday 10th May 2016

(8 years, 2 months ago)

Written Statements
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Rory Stewart Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rory Stewart)
- Hansard - -

I made a written statement on 2 March (HCWS569) to correct an answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) during oral questions to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on Thursday, 4 February (Official Report, col.1061). That statement corrected my previous reply so that it referred to an ‘enforcement undertaking’, rather than an ‘enforcement order’.

I wish to clarify that the enforcement undertaking was entered into voluntarily by E & JW Glendinning Ltd and the Environment Agency and was not ordered by the court. The Environment Agency discontinued the prosecution as a result of the enforcement undertaking. The enforcement undertaking does not relate to the “major pollution incident” to which my hon. Friend referred.

[HCWS715]

Oral Answers to Questions

Rory Stewart Excerpts
Thursday 5th May 2016

(8 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Christina Rees Portrait Christina Rees (Neath) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

9. What recent assessment she has made of the effect of slow broadband services on farmers and other rural businesses.

Rory Stewart Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rory Stewart)
- Hansard - -

Broadband is, of course, essential to farmers so that they can gain access to the latest precision farming techniques; to schoolchildren so that they can gain access to educational tools; and to small rural businesses so that they can overcome variance of distance and reach customers and markets that they would not otherwise be able to reach. That is why, from January this year, we have guaranteed a minimum of 2 megabits per second, with Government backing, and we aspire to reach 10 megabits per second by 2020 through a universal service obligation.

Christina Rees Portrait Christina Rees
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Public Accounts Committee concluded that “digital focus” for the CAP delivery programme was “clearly inappropriate” because of poor broadband service in so many rural areas. Indeed, the Committee’s Chair said that the programme was “an appalling Whitehall fiasco” that should have focused on the needs of farmers, rather than ending up as a digital testing ground that caused payments to farmers to be severely delayed. What commitments will the Minister give to guarantee that farmers will receive the service that they deserve from broadband providers and the United Kingdom Government?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

Some of those issues relate directly to farming and the Rural Payments Agency, but let me deal with the point about broadband, which is relevant to my part of the Department. We have made two separate commitments. First, if any farmer in the constituency of any Member wishes to gain access to a 2 meg connection that would provide access to Government databases, our grant scheme will provide the necessary infrastructure. Secondly, we have made a commitment to a 10 meg service through the universal service obligation.

Caroline Spelman Portrait Mrs Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

During a very constructive meeting with the Secretary of State, the Church of England’s representatives offered the use of church towers and spires to extend broadband and mobile phone coverage in rural areas. Will the Minister update the House on progress?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

Church spires are ideally located in remote rural areas to allow point-to-point broadband coverage and good cellular coverage. The offer from the Church Commissioners is greatly appreciated, and we are working closely with our colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to take advantage of the technological opportunities.

David T C Davies Portrait David T. C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con)
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10. What steps she is taking to encourage more people to consume meat produced in Britain.

--- Later in debate ---
Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove (Corby) (Con)
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11. What assessment she has made of the effect of changes to hedge-cutting regulations on (a) contractors, (b) farms and (c) hedge maintenance.

Rory Stewart Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rory Stewart)
- Hansard - -

We have consulted a range of people on hedge cutting, from the National Farmers Union and the Country Land and Business Association to various environmental organisations, and we have come up with a deal on hedge cutting that provides both protection for birds and derogations for specific agricultural activities.

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his answer. My constituent, Bob Rutt, is a contractor who specialises in hedge cutting, and the extension of the hedge-trimming ban has cost him thousands of pounds in lost revenue. He has no intention of harming wildlife, but the policy is seriously affecting his business. Will the Minister engage with farmers and contractors to ensure that conditions on the ground are taken into account so that arrangements can work for the contracting industry and conservationists?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

I am happy to engage with my hon. Friend and indeed farmers on this issue. It is important to understand, however, that certain birds, including blackbirds, turtle doves, goldfinches, bullfinches and whitethroats, have longer breeding and rearing seasons that last through August and into the beginning of September. There are two specific derogations that could affect my hon. Friend’s constituent: one relates to the planting of oilseed rape; and the other relates to seasonal grass, which allows him to get his equipment in, in accordance with agricultural practices. I am happy to discuss the details with my hon. Friend.

John Bercow Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is a veritable mine of information, is he not? We are deeply obliged to him, as I dare say the constituent of the hon. Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove) will be, to boot.

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Nicholas Dakin Portrait Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T3. We have already heard about the £1.6 billion profits of water companies and their £1.8 billion payout to shareholders. They are rich organisations, and some, to their credit, are already living wage accredited. Does the Secretary of State therefore back Unison’s campaign for the current living wage to be paid throughout the industry?

Rory Stewart Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rory Stewart)
- Hansard - -

We have to tackle such issues directly with Ofwat. As the hon. Gentleman will know, it is extremely important for the industry to ensure that there is a predictable future in which politicians are not micromanaging. We are going through a price review process and dealing closely with Ofwat, but we must ensure that neither I nor the Secretary of State try to micromanage an independent regulator from the Dispatch Box.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston (Mid Worcestershire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T5. The recent Groceries Code Adjudicator report showed that Tesco breached the code of practice by delaying payments to suppliers and demanding extra fees, which has been raised with me by farmers in my constituency. What are the Government doing to ensure that further such breaches do not occur?

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Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak (Richmond (Yorks)) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As a keen rambler himself, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), will be familiar with the coast-to-coast walk, which runs across both our constituencies. It is one of England’s most popular long-distance walks, yet it is not an official national trail. Will he meet me to discuss my campaign to give the coast-to-coast the formal recognition it deserves?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

I would be absolutely delighted to meet my hon. Friend, and in fact I propose that we meet by walking the national trail together.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There is growing concern about the environmental impact of microbeads, the tiny pieces of plastic that are found in many consumer products and are now swilling around in our oceans. The Americans and Canadians are moving to ban them. What are the UK Government doing?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

We are very clear that microbeads potentially pose a serious threat, because the stuff does not biodegrade and it can collect toxic material. We have run a research programme and have been working very hard to make sure that the full 500 million members of the European Union sign up to a common position, but if we cannot get a common position out of the EU, we are open to the possibility of the United Kingdom acting unilaterally.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar (Charnwood) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Part of the fantastically successful national forest falls in my constituency. Its benefits to the community are clear, as are those of woodlands and trees more broadly to the community and to air quality. What steps are the Government taking to encourage the planting of more trees across the UK, building on their success to date?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

I had the privilege of being in the national forest, and I can tell any Members who have not seen it that it is an extraordinary project, found between Leicester, Nottingham and Derby. It has regenerated 200 square miles of brutalised countryside and created one of the great new forests in Britain. We will be looking at taking forward ideas like that in the 25-year plan, and of course we are committed, as a minimum, to planting another 11 million trees between now and 2020.

Christina Rees Portrait Christina Rees (Neath) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Secretary of State please tell the House when the Government will deliver on their promise to ban wild animals in circuses?

Quiet Cities

Rory Stewart Excerpts
Tuesday 26th April 2016

(8 years, 3 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.

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

Rory Stewart Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rory Stewart)
- Hansard - -

It is a great privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. It is also a great privilege to respond to the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard). I pay tribute to him for raising quiet cities, a striking and original subject that has not previously come across the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs desk.

Quiet cities are interesting because, as recently as the 1960s, noise was not considered within Britain’s policy framework. In fact, a man called John Connell, an earlier incarnation of my hon. Friend, made it his personal campaign to put noise on the agenda. He led a great campaign, which began by addressing the issue of noisy dustbin lids. His big thing was to introduce rubber dustbin lids, instead of metal ones. His next revolutionary move was to introduce rubber milk bottle stands, so that people were not woken in the morning by the milk being put on their doorstep. He became interested in the issue of airport noise, and he was the first great champion of what is now known as the Boris island project—he tried to get the Japanese to buy into the estuary island. He succeeded in making the British Government and British law take noise more seriously. I am sure that my hon. Friend’s efforts, following that great tradition, will inspire us to look at quiet cities.

Although quiet cities have not previously been done in Britain, as my hon. Friend says, we have green cities, smart cities and slow towns. Yinchuan, in north-west China, is an example of a quiet city, as are Brisbane in Australia, and Hartford in Connecticut. Those places have tried to brand themselves around the idea of peace and silence, as has my hon. Friend. The website of Brisbane, Australia, for example, lists a series of things that are prohibited, all the way from A for air conditioners to R for refrigerators, with dogs sitting at D.

The Government are engaging with the idea, but it is a local authority lead. It is important that the idea of a smart city, a green city or, in this case, a quiet city is locally driven. It is about how an area brands itself and thinks about itself and what its values might be. Someone like my hon. Friend can inspire a city or a town to take that lead, and I know that he has been having conversations with the candidates for Mayor of London about how the idea could be part of the agenda for London. Our colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government have proposed coinciding the idea of pocket parks and green areas in cities with the idea of quiet areas, where there would be prohibitions on creating noise.

As the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd) suggested in his intervention on motorcycles, there are a number of difficult balances to be struck: one person’s noise is occasionally somebody else’s joy; one person’s noise may be somebody else’s music; one person’s noise may be somebody else’s supercar; and one person’s noise may be a vibrant city. We have to balance such things, and we have to get that balance right, which is why local leadership and local ideas will be important.

The Government have adopted a number of measures over the years to address noise, and I will tick off some of the issues that have been raised. On railway noise, there has been a massive rail grinding programme across the country, which is primarily for public safety and energy but is also significantly reducing the decibel levels created by trains. We have heard a little about laying new road surfaces, and we now have a £300 million programme, of which a significant proportion will be directed towards reducing noise and new highway roll-out. We have Euro 6 standards for engines, which will reduce the decibel levels created by individual engines. We have product standards, so when people go into a shop and buy, for example, a lawn mower, they will be able to see how many decibels that particular lawn mower emits. We have building regulations that have reduced the amount of noise emitted in the construction of hundreds of thousands of houses, as well as reducing the amount of noise heard by people inside by moving bedrooms away from the front and by installing triple glazing.

All of that reflects the common understanding in this room that noise matters. Why does noise matter? We put a value of approximately £6 billion to £7 billion a year on the damage done by noise to health and quality of life. That will remind hon. and right hon. Members of the kinds of calculations we do on air pollution, which causes some £14 billion or £15 billion a year of damage, but in fact noise is different from air pollution. Air pollution, as the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) has said in a previous debate, is a silent killer; people are often barely conscious of it.

Noise pollution causes significant health damage, largely driven by the effect on sleep and the stress that comes from loss of sleep. My father was severely deaf, and I was in a meeting this morning with a man who, through driving a vehicle in the 1960s, lost 70% of his hearing. He pointed out that the NHS spends £1,000 a year buying him new hearing aids. He sees three consultants a year, and the batteries of his hearing aids have to be replaced. His productivity in the workplace has been significantly affected by the fact that he cannot hear anything in meetings. The decision in the 1960s to save £500 by not putting a silencer on that vehicle has probably cost the public purse £20,000 or £30,000 over the life of that individual. There is not only a health impact; it is irritating, distracting, frustrating and infuriating to be disturbed by noise when tranquillity is at the core of what we care about.

Peter Dowd Portrait Peter Dowd
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We can talk in the abstract, but in my constituency the A5036, which leads down to the docks, is very loud. About half a dozen households on that road have been trying to get Highways England to provide acoustic amelioration. Will the Minister have a word with his colleagues in the Department for Transport and try to get Highways England to pull its finger out, if possible?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

I would be delighted to set up a meeting with transport colleagues on that issue, which I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising. That issue is a microcosm of the issues that we are facing across the country, and there is often a difficult balance to be struck. We want infrastructure, we want roads, we want railways and we want planes, but all of our infrastructure, all of our communications and all of our industrial heritage are causing noise issues.

Mark Pritchard Portrait Mark Pritchard
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I realise that the Government and local councils cannot do everything. Local council finances are being pressed, and we know the reasons and the background, but we can encourage a change in behaviour by incentivising councils, and by rewarding new home builders by giving them recognition, such as a quiet mark or the environmental awards that they seek. Government Departments and local councils should be leading nationally on setting the standard for quiet mark awards. Does the Minister agree?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend is in tune with a whole movement. He will be aware of the Noise Abatement Society, which now runs the annual John Connell awards. I am proud to have participated in those awards for two years in a row. They are a fantastic initiative, doing exactly what my hon. Friend is pushing for. We can probably work with the Noise Abatement Society, which has a lot of innovative ideas, on taking the awards further.

We are also making a large £600 million investment in developing ultra-low emission, particularly electric, vehicles, which will make a revolutionary difference. In fact, one of the issues with electric vehicles, of which colleagues will be aware, is that some people feel that they may be becoming dangerously quiet as they move through the streets. Huge progress can be made on electric vehicles, and we have new funds available to lay quieter roads in future.

I finish with a tribute. Parliament, and Westminster Hall, is a peculiar place. It is often difficult to work out how to come up with and drive through inspiring new ideas, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the novel idea of the quiet city. I encourage cities and towns across the country to think seriously about how different towns, ranging from Yinchuan to Hartford to Brisbane, have managed to create a culture around tranquillity, and the ways in which British towns and cities could take the lead in creating such a culture. In doing so, they would be accepting that from the very beginnings of human language, perhaps the most fundamental word—spiritually, emotionally and physically—has been the concept of peace.

Question put and agreed to.

Common Fisheries Policy (Article 17)

Rory Stewart Excerpts
Thursday 21st April 2016

(8 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Rory Stewart Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rory Stewart)
- Hansard - -

The Minister of State responsible for fisheries unfortunately cannot be here, but it is a great privilege for me to be here to hear those speeches, which revealed just how much care, affection and thought my hon. Friends the Members for Waveney (Peter Aldous) and for Newbury (Richard Benyon) have put into the issues of complex fisheries. I will reply quite briefly, as this is the Minister of State’s subject rather than mine, but I will make a couple of observations on DEFRA’s behalf.

First, we absolutely accept the importance of the inshore fleet. Its economic value is not just the amount of fish it catches but its contribution to ports and to fleets in general. The selective fishing done by inshore fleets—the under-10 metre vessels—is often more environmentally friendly and sustainable. It is less likely to have by-catch or disrupt spawning stocks. It is also much less likely to have issues with carbon emissions. Generally, it ticks almost every box for a sustainable fishery.

As my hon. Friends both pointed out very well, it is also true that this is not simply an issue of economics or the environment. Fishing is the lifeblood of the ports. We love to go to coastal communities and see fishing boats. Those boats simply will not be there if we do not protect the under-10 metre fleet. There is also a connection with our maritime heritage as a nation. It inspires us as a country to know that those vessels can continue to operate. It connects to tourism, the wider economy and the environment. For all those reasons, we need to pay attention to those fleets.

We must balance that, of course, with the interests of the offshore fleets. They catch far more of the fish we eat—about 666,000 tonnes are caught by the offshore fleets compared with about 42,000 tonnes caught by the inshore fleets. Of the 42,000 tonnes caught by inshore fleets, only about 5,000 are within the quota stock range.

About 5,500 people are supported by the offshore fleets. We know more and more about the benefit and fantastic nutrition that we get from fish, and about how good it is for our health and what a fantastically delicious and healthy food it is, and that depends on the offshore fleet as well as the inshore fleet. We need to consider how to get the balance right and swing the pendulum back.

The Government’s gut instinct is probably that the pendulum has swung too far in favour of offshore fleets, and we have now begun to push it back. As my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney acknowledged, we have recently allocated another 1,000 tonnes to inshore fleets. We have begun to use the opportunities provided by getting rid of discards to allocate more, and 10% of that quota goes to inshore fleets.

The challenge is to have a good strategic study to consider the 25 or 30-year future. Rather than my pontificating from the Dispatch Box on a subject about which I do not know a great deal, I would like my hon. Friends the Members for Waveney and for Newbury to sit down with our officials and talk in great detail through the issues that have been raised, and particularly the fantastic work that the hon. Member for Waveney has done on comparative studies, such as Swedish fishing methods, and the French, German and Canadian approaches.

Our current process is fantastic, and it is not only processing people but retailers, the industry, fish salesman, and coastal communities who are discussing what more we can do for the inshore fleet. To do that, we need from my hon. Friends details of how much more of the quota it makes sense to give that fleet, how much more it feels that it can catch, and how that will deliver economic benefit.

I have two small pieces of reassurance. First, it is true that we are already incentivising more sustainable ways of catching fish, and European Union grants are available to upgrade the type of nets that are used to get more sustainable catches. Secondly, we are already emphasising the economic links with people who possess those quotas in terms of providing jobs for coastal communities.

In conclusion, let me pay tribute to what was a serious and impressive piece of research that contained stimulating ideas. We must take up the challenge of thinking forward over a 25-year environment plan, and we must consider how to integrate fish and coastal communities into that. In addition to protecting this precious piece of maritime heritage, we must think about the fish themselves, because they are a finite and precious resource.

Question put and agreed to.

UK Dairy Sector

Rory Stewart Excerpts
Wednesday 20th April 2016

(8 years, 3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Rory Stewart Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rory Stewart)
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Unfortunately, I have been asked for answers to 31 separate requests—I have written them down—and I have been allowed only seven minutes to respond, but I will do my very best.

Fundamentally, dairy matters deeply to the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams), to whom I pay tribute for securing this debate, made a very powerful case for the importance of the dairy industry to communities. The hon. Member for Stirling (Steven Paterson) made a powerful case for the nutritional importance of dairy. The hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) made a deep and complex argument about the importance of dairy for our history and heritage. My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) pointed to the economic importance of dairy and, of course, the chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), made a strong argument for the importance of dairy for the farming industry in general.

The situation is genuinely terrible. Over the last decade, we have gone from having 13,500 dairy farms to having 9,500. We have seen that very directly in Cumbria, as the hon. Member for Workington (Sue Hayman) expressed so eloquently. In my constituency, from very large herds—thousand-cow herds in places such as Longtown, producing 10,000 litres per cow per year—right the way down to the herds of 50 or 60 cows in the Bailey valley, we now see them being sold in the marts and we see real pressure and psychological strain. As the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) pointed out, the regional factors are really important in places such as Cumbria and Northern Ireland, where access to the liquid milk markets in places such as London is much more difficult. Our prices are considerably lower.

The hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Calum Kerr) made a powerful argument about the global context in which the dairy industry operates, and the Labour shadow spokesman, the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), also made a very good statement about the context. Of course, global demand has dropped—Chinese demand alone has dropped by 23%. China matters: 30% of the global export market is China and Russia. At the same time, our production is going up. There is a real problem. Production was up last year globally by 6% and UK production was up by 2.7%. This is not just a UK problem. In New Zealand, the prices per litre for their milk are now down to 12p per litre. New Zealand production is falling, as we heard from the chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton.

We believe that things can be done. Despite the serious issues raised by both the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) about capital structures and the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Corri Wilson) about price, we think there is a great future. In China, the average person consumes about 30 kg of milk products a year. In Britain, the average per person is about 250 kg a year. There is huge upward potential in terms of such markets, which Britain can exploit, provided the United Kingdom can get from the short-term problems to the long term. That will be a real challenge.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) made points about the health of our herds. It is why we are taking the steps that we are, not just in bovine TB but in Johne’s disease, and there is all the investment we are putting into animal health. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton made points about supermarkets. Indeed, I join him in paying tribute to the steps that supermarkets such as Tesco have taken, particularly in moving towards British yoghurt.

The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) pointed to the serious problems on processing. We are looking at that seriously with European Union partners to see whether strategic investments could be made in processing in order to ensure that liquid milk, particularly from more remote parts of the United Kingdom, can be processed in the right place. The hon. Member for South Down raised some of the problems with the banking system. We are addressing that issue directly through conversations with the banks.

There are other steps—about 14 of them—that the Department is taking that were not addressed so much in this debate. It is important to bear in mind that underlying the dairy industry is considerable Government investment. On average, about £20,000 per farm comes from the Government. We have provided emergency support of £26.3 million for the current dairy crisis.

Cutting red tape is something that has not been discussed today. We estimate that by the end of this Parliament, we will have saved farmers in general £450 million by moving to single-farm inspections. We have invested £160 million in agri-science. That is absolutely essential for everybody talking about innovation. We are looking at inward investment and had the Chinese company, Yili, here.

The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent raised the issue of exports. The Secretary of State is currently in the United States, driving British food exports, and we are also driving them into Chinese markets. We are focusing a great deal on specialist producers. I would like to pay tribute, for example, to the movement in Swaledale towards yoghurt production.

That brings me to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak) on the advances that we ought to be able to make in markets, hedging and futures markets. We have a specialist working on that in DEFRA with very considerable experience in the financial industry. It is a very complex industry, but we believe that it is something we ought to be able to make progress on.

On producer organisations, which were raised by the hon. Member for Ceredigion and by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks), we have created the seed funding to launch producer organisations. We have created the legislative framework for those producer organisations.

On procurement, which the hon. the Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) raised, £60,000 of British Government money is being put into our schools to provide milk for our children. That is Department of Health money, proving that that Department recognises that milk is nutritionally beneficial to our children. The Justice Secretary has committed to milk coming into our prisons.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) and the hon. Member for Workington rightly raised issues about the Rural Payments Agency. I am therefore delighted to be able to announce that we will make part-payments to every farmer by the end of April: that means at least 50% of their payments by the end of this month to address this issue.

Finally, my hon. Friends the Members for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) and for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) raised the question of the Groceries Code Adjudicator. Again, I am delighted to announce on behalf of the Department that we are doing a full review of the powers and behaviour of the Groceries Code Adjudicator. That is being done by civil servants at the moment, and we will report back on progress and looking specifically at issues such as whether the adjudicator can address the processing industry.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Ceredigion for securing this debate and for the extraordinary quality of the argument, interest and commitment in this Chamber. The issue is unbelievably difficult and heart-breaking for farmers. Dairy farmers are at the core of our culture, history, identity, nutrition and heritage. The 17 measures that I have set out are contributions towards that, but ultimately we must get from a short-term crisis to a long-term future in which global demand for milk is rising and Britain is ideally placed to meet it.