Theresa Villiers debates with Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

There have been 20 exchanges between Theresa Villiers and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Mon 15th June 2020 Environmental Protection 3 interactions (521 words)
Tue 19th May 2020 Oral Answers to Questions 5 interactions (110 words)
Wed 13th May 2020 Agriculture Bill 3 interactions (589 words)
Thu 19th March 2020 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (48 words)
Mon 10th February 2020 Flood Response 64 interactions (2,826 words)
Thu 6th February 2020 Oral Answers to Questions 72 interactions (1,491 words)
Mon 3rd February 2020 Agriculture Bill 36 interactions (2,773 words)
Tue 21st January 2020 Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Bill 26 interactions (1,781 words)
Thu 31st October 2019 Oral Answers to Questions 70 interactions (1,429 words)
Mon 28th October 2019 Environment Bill 46 interactions (2,587 words)
Thu 17th October 2019 The Climate Emergency 37 interactions (2,509 words)
Thu 25th July 2019 Oral Answers to Questions 44 interactions (1,170 words)
Fri 8th February 2019 Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill 3 interactions (54 words)
Thu 18th October 2018 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (40 words)
Wed 10th October 2018 Agriculture Bill 3 interactions (30 words)
Wed 18th July 2018 Litter Strategy (Westminster Hall) 8 interactions (1,900 words)
Thu 26th April 2018 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (26 words)
Mon 26th February 2018 Leaving the EU: Live Farm Animal Exports (Westminster Hall) 17 interactions (1,521 words)
Thu 11th January 2018 Forestry in England (Westminster Hall) 3 interactions (1,169 words)
Thu 26th October 2017 Oral Answers to Questions 8 interactions (89 words)

Environmental Protection

Theresa Villiers Excerpts
Monday 15th June 2020

(2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Mr Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD) - Hansard

I wish to make a few brief remarks in support of the introduction of these measures. I congratulate the Minister on bringing them forward. She and I campaigned on this issue on many occasions when she was on the Back Benches, so it is good to see her have the opportunity to bring them forward in government.

The territorial application of the regulations is limited to England and Wales, but as others have observed, much of this plastic waste ends up in the sea, and the sea joins us all, so we are as likely to find this waste on the beaches in Orkney and Shetland as we are in Cornwall. This concerns and affects my constituents substantially, and I am sure that they will be as pleased as I am to see this progress being made.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) made the fair point that this is just a statutory instrument, and we need to look at the nature of our consumption as a whole. He is right about that. I would add to that wider view the relationship between developed western countries and developing countries, because so many of these items put into the waste system are not dealt with in this country; they are exported. We find it difficult to control what happens, and it is effectively a case of being out of sight and out of mind. That is why it is infinitely preferable to cut off the use and supply of these items at source, which is the effect of the regulations.

I add my voice to those who have referred to the need for a deposit return scheme. That is overdue, and I would like to hear from the Minister—in so far as she is able to say, while remaining within the ambit of the debate—when we might expect to see some concrete proposals. I know that she has a personal and political commitment, so it would be good to hear what we can do to help her push that through Government.

These regulations are timely. I am sure we have all noticed that the great progress we have made on the removal of disposable coffee cups and the rest of it has faced a setback as a consequence of the covid-19 pandemic. In fact, I notice that we have plastic cups back at the Table at the front of the House. That is probably a consequence of the concern that people naturally have about transmission; I make no criticism. But we will have to deal with this, because the pandemic may be with us for months, but the damage done by plastic pollution and microplastics will be with us for decades, if not centuries.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con) - Hansard
15 Jun 2020, 12:02 a.m.

Like others, I support this SI to ban the supply of single-use plastic stirrers, cotton buds and straws. I think the range of exemptions proposed is fair. I also believe that it is reasonable to have postponed implementation, so that businesses and local authorities did not have to deal with this in the midst of the pandemic.

As a modern economy, we will always need single-use plastic—the covid emergency alone will have seen the use of hundreds of millions of single-use plastic items—but as a society, we need to get much better at treating plastic as a precious resource to be used only where necessary, and reused and recycled wherever possible. It is plastic waste that is the problem, not plastic. Plastic as a packaging material is safe, secure, hygienic and cheap. It is also tough and long-lasting, which has a hugely negative environmental impact when it is not properly disposed of, because it can last centuries in the natural environment.

Tackling plastics pollution is one of the defining environmental challenges of our generation, which is why I welcome the energetic campaign run on this issue by the Daily Mail and Sky. There is an important place for bans such as the one we are considering as part of a wider strategy to address plastics pollution, because these regulations are an important means to push producers to switch to more sustainable materials and to push all of us to dispense with items that are not essential.

This will only be effective as part of a wider package of measures. I therefore join others who have spoken this evening in urging the Government to maintain progress on extended producer responsibility. We also need to see the long-awaited deposit return scheme delivered in accordance with the timetable set by the Government, and we need to ensure that both those schemes operate in a way that minimises costs for business at a time of turbulence in the economy. I also ask the Minister when we will see the carrier bag charge extended to smaller retailers.

It is important to emphasise again that domestic action alone is not going to solve this problem; if we are to address the scourge of plastics pollution in our oceans, we need to use our aid budget to support the developing world positively and energetically in dealing with their plastic waste responsibly. Significant steps have been made through initiatives such as the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance, but addressing this kind of issue should be included in the UN convention on biological diversity, and preferably COP26, too.

Turtles choke on plastics, dolphins can drown if they get tangled up in it, seabirds can inadvertently feed it to their young, and marine life ingests millions of small pieces of it. Plastic is a tremendous asset for our society and our economy, but we must become much more responsible in how we use it, because of the terrible harm it can do when thrown away. We must act to prevent the environmental disaster of plastics in our oceans, and I welcome this statutory instrument as a helpful step forward in achieving that goal which we all share.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow - Hansard

First, I must welcome the shadow Minister. I do not believe we have confronted each other yet. I look forward to working with him, on the Environment Bill in particular, and I thank all other Members who have joined in the debate today. That shows how passionate we are about plastic and getting rid of it, and I will address some of the points that were raised.

I was slightly disappointed that the shadow Minister referred to this as a missed opportunity and said he is highly critical of steps being taken. I believe he is unaware of quite how much is under way, and I look forward to working on the Environment Bill with him and exposing to him just how committed the Government are and how much is being done through not only that Bill, but the resources and waste strategy.

We obviously recognise how important this subject is, and I want to touch on a few of the things that are being done: we already have the microbeads and microplastics ban; there is a huge reduction in single-use carrier bag usage; we have launched the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance, which was referred to just now, to stimulate global action; and we are delivering on our promises through the resources and waste strategy and seeking powers through the Environment Bill. Under those powers, there will be a charge for single-use plastic items, the deposit return scheme for drinks containers will be introduced, the packaging waste regulations will be reformed, and greater consistency in household and business recycling collections will be introduced—I touched on that earlier.

Oral Answers to Questions

Theresa Villiers Excerpts
Tuesday 19th May 2020

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous - Hansard

Our hope is that the proposals under consideration, which I have just outlined, will mitigate the possible detriment to respondents from complaints that may be unfounded. Freeing bishops from direct judicial involvement in disciplinary matters would enable them more easily to offer the pastoral support my hon. Friend refers to. We are also exploring how to supplement ecclesiastical legal aid to support those responding to complaints.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con) - Hansard

To ask the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, what steps the Church of England is taking to maintain remote access to church services during the covid-19 outbreak. [902793]

Andrew Selous Portrait The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Andrew Selous) - Hansard

I can tell my right hon. Friend that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Easter day sermon was listened to by 5 million people and that the Alexa Church app has had a 70% increase in usage in the last month. Perhaps most notably, “The UK Blessing”, co-ordinated by Gas Street Church, Birmingham, has been downloaded 2.6 million times, and according to the Prime Minister is a sensational singing masterpiece to which he has awarded a point of light.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard

I warmly welcome the huge efforts going into ensuring that people have remote access to church services, but there are some situations when that is not a substitute for meeting in places of worship with one’s family, so can I urge the Church Commissioners and my hon. Friend to speed up the introduction of small-scale funerals within churches, with social distancing observed, because of the comfort they can bring to people bereaved by this terrible crisis?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous - Hansard

I know what a deeply difficult issue this is. The Church will work with the Government on these issues to do safely what my right hon. Friend asks. She will be aware that cleaning in many of our churches is done by volunteers, some of whom are elderly and may have difficulty coming in between funerals, but the point she makes is very valid and has absolutely been noted.

Agriculture Bill

(Report stage: House of Commons)
Theresa Villiers Excerpts
Wednesday 13th May 2020

(3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher (Don Valley) (Con) [V] - Hansard
13 May 2020, 3:49 p.m.

While my constituency is primarily known as a former mining area, agriculture has always played an essential role in the local economy of Don Valley and continues to do so. Consequently, as the Government have confirmed that there will be no extension to the transition period, this Bill is more necessary than ever, and its passage today will provide farmers and many other individuals in my constituency with reassurance on several issues.

I appreciate that Members in all parts of the House are concerned about environmental sustainability in food production, as can be seen in the Opposition’s amendment 26. Yet this amendment is wholly unnecessary, as clause 1(4) already outlines that the provision of any financial assistance by the Secretary of State to agricultural businesses would have to take into account whether such assistance would encourage food production in an environmentally sustainable way. I am pleased with the addition of this requirement, as it will ensure that the often wasteful aspects of the common agricultural policy will become a thing of the past.

Furthermore, I am pleased that clause 17 will require the Secretary of State to report to Parliament at least once every five years on food security in the United Kingdom. This is particularly relevant at this moment in time. Like so many of my colleagues across the House, I have had dozens of concerned constituents email me about the lack of food in shops as a result of the panic buying that we unfortunately witnessed last month. Some were even scared that the UK would run out of food. Yet I am concerned that the Opposition’s new clause 4 would add such a large number of requirements to the Secretary of State’s reporting that the original purpose of clause 17 would be lost. I appreciate that the new clause is designed to encourage the consumption of healthy food, but clause 17(2)(e) already states that the data put forward by the Secretary of State will include statistics on

“food safety and consumer confidence in food.”

This would inevitably touch on aspects relating to the nutritional value of food and consumers’ confidence that the food available to them was healthy to consume.

This has been a robust debate and I have appreciated the diverse range of views that have been expressed across the House. I end simply by stating that this Bill has my full support and will ease some of my constituents’ environmental and food security concerns.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con) - Hansard
13 May 2020, 3:54 p.m.

This may be an agriculture Bill but it is also one of the most important environmental reforms in decades—a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change the way that land is managed in this country for the better.

Frankly, the dry phrase, “public money for public goods”, does not really convey the importance of what we are seeking to safeguard through clause 1 of this very important Bill: the air we breathe into our lungs every minute of the day; the precious soil that nurtures the crops that feed us; our rivers, streams and waterways; our hedgerows and wildflower meadows; our ancient woodlands and our rolling hills; the stunning country- side that is one of the greatest treasures of this United Kingdom we are lucky enough to call home. Of course, the “public goods” covered in the Bill also include the civilised and compassionate treatment of animals and the struggle to protect our planet from climate change.

To make a success of these reforms, we need, first, to give proper weight to food security. I was pleased to see this added to the Bill during my time as Secretary of State. Secondly, these reforms must be properly funded. I fought to secure a Conservative manifesto commitment that farm support would be maintained at current levels in every year of this Parliament. Bitter experience shows how hard it is to deliver change on this scale in the context of a shrinking budget.

Thirdly, we need sufficient time for a managed and orderly transition to ELM. If the Government want to stick to their seven-year timetable, I am afraid that we will need to see more detail very soon on how ELM will operate. Fourthly, in designing ELM we need to get the right balance between, on the one hand, ensuring that the schemes are widely accessed by farmers, including upland farmers, and can be delivered in practice; and, on the other hand, ensuring that significant, measurable, positive outcomes are delivered in relation to crucial public goods.

In this Bill, we are setting out on a path that has been closed to this Parliament for nearly half a century. Successive Governments have pushed CAP reform, but generally returned empty-handed from the Council tables in Brussels. Replacing the CAP means that we can deliver a better, brighter, greener future for farming in England, but we will not be able to realise that vision if we expose our farmers to unfettered competition from US imports produced to lower standards of animal welfare and environmental protection. We are already asking a great deal of farmers as we phase out basic payments. They will face even greater challenges if the negotiations with the EU do not initially deliver a free trade agreement. If we add in the complete liberalisation of trade with US producers, that would be a hit from which many livestock businesses would not survive. The aftershock would be felt in all four corners of our United Kingdom because of the centrality of livestock farming to communities in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and of course the north of England too.

The Conservatives were elected on a manifesto with commitments on animal welfare and the environment which are more far-reaching than any before in the long history of our party, but allowing unrestricted imports from jurisdictions with far weaker rules would mean offshoring carbon emissions and animal cruelty, not reducing them. If we are to keep our promises on the environment and on the decent treatment of animals, they must be reflected in our trade policy and in the Bill this afternoon.

Mr Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op) [V] - Hansard
13 May 2020, 3:57 p.m.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I would have loved to have been with you this afternoon in the Chamber, but I am not allowed to be with you. I cannot look you in the eye, but I am here speaking up, I hope, for my constituency of Huddersfield, where we do have farms and farming. We are, of course, the centre for the great Syngenta, one of the leading agricultural science companies in the world. It used to be owned by my old employer, Imperial Chemical Industries—ICI. It is now owned by ChemChina, which is an arm of the Chinese Government.

Things are changing. What the Bill is about, and why I support the amendments that have been tabled, is getting the balance right, across parties, between having good-quality food for our constituents and our children to feed the people of this country and our need for a secure supply chain. Nothing has taught us more about supply chains than the recent coronavirus scandal and the terrible deaths that have been caused by it. The fact of the matter is that we have to have secure food supplies.

Only recently, there was a leaked document—I have to say from the Government side—that said, “Why do we need a farming sector any longer? Why don’t we do what we do with everything else and get the cheapest possible deal in the global supermarket?” That is not the answer. We now know that we must have not only a vibrant farming sector but one that is compatible with a highly skilled and well managed industry. It also needs to be compatible with a diverse and bountiful countryside in which species are not being eradicated and where industrial agriculture does not destroy habitat.

I believe that this is Hedgehog Awareness Week. That is no laughing matter. When I was a young person it was very common to see a hedgehog in a garden. They have almost been eliminated in our country, as have many bird species, through an industrialisation of agriculture about which we must all be wary.

It would be wrong in this debate not to say that farming is under threat from the unscrupulous practices of many of our supermarkets. Getting that relationship between farming, the retailer and the supermarkets is extremely important. It is easy to say that our farming is the best. Our farming, where it is good, is very good indeed, but it is not perfect. We have a lot to learn from experience around the world, and not only in terms of high science, good management, good skills training and paying people well who work on the land. The fact of the matter is that we have to get the balance right between all those competing goals.

I am not someone who gets carried away with campaigns, but I hate the fact that we are eliminating the lovely British badger. I believe that that is a wrong-headed, contrary to science campaign, and we should all deplore that.

There must be a right balance between the countryside, the environment and high-quality agriculture, as well as the opportunity for young people who want to become farmers to get hold of some land and get started. Very largely, the push for local authorities to sell off their land during the recent austerity has meant that many young farmers do not have that opportunity. There is much to go at beyond this Bill. Let us all do it together.

Oral Answers to Questions

Theresa Villiers Excerpts
Thursday 19th March 2020

(4 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that there is a role for the Government. We must take action to set aside any obstacles to making the food supply chain operate in a way that ensures that people have food. On food banks, as I said, we are in discussion with supermarkets. We have also had discussions with them about competition law, and we will take whatever action is necessary to ensure that they can jointly plan their approach to these matters. For the most vulnerable, we are working on proposals that my colleagues in MHCLG will announce shortly.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con) - Hansard

Getting home deliveries to potentially millions of self-isolating households is a massive logistical exercise. Is it time for the Government to think about further intervention, including, I am afraid, the suspension of competition rules, so retailers and haulage companies can work together to meet this huge national challenge?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice - Hansard

My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. That is why earlier this week we had a detailed workshop with both retailers and food processors to identify what they would like to do and what changes to competition law we would need to consider and implement. We are working on that right now.

Flood Response

Theresa Villiers Excerpts
Monday 10th February 2020

(6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Theresa Villiers Portrait The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Theresa Villiers) - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:09 p.m.

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement about the significant flooding caused by the heavy rain and severe gale force winds brought by Storm Ciara.

First and foremost, I extend my condolences on behalf of the whole House to the family and friends of the individual who lost his life in Hampshire earlier today; our thoughts are with you.

I also express my support and sympathy to all those whose homes or businesses have been flooded over the weekend. Flooding can have appalling consequences for each individual affected, and I want to provide the assurance today that the Environment Agency, local government and the emergency services are working hard to keep people safe in all the areas affected by this devastating storm.

Storm Ciara brought rainfall ranging between 40 and 80 cm in 24 hours across much of northern England. The highest levels were recorded in Cumbria, with 179.8 cm of rain falling over the course of the day. Particularly severe impacts have been felt along the River Calder in Yorkshire, along the River Ribble in Lancashire, along the Irwell in Greater Manchester, and on the Eden in Appleby. Regrettably, four of these communities—the Calder valley, Whalley and Ribchester, the Rossendale valley and Appleby—were flooded in 2015.

The current estimate is that more than 500 properties have been flooded, but this number is expected to increase as further information is collected. The latest number of properties confirmed to have been flooded are 40 in Cumbria, 100 in Lancashire, 150 in Greater Manchester and 260 in Yorkshire. Defences in Carlisle have held. There is local road disruption across the affected areas, and a shipping container is stuck under Elland bridge. One severe flood warning was issued over the weekend to communicate a “risk to life” along the River Nidd at Pateley Bridge. This has now been removed; flood defences were not overtopped and no properties were flooded. Our coastal communities have also been affected, in parts of the south-west and north-east of England, where high tides, large waves and coastal gales have occurred.

The weather is expected to remain unsettled, and 97 flood warnings are currently still in place. Although river levels in West Yorkshire and Lancashire are now receding, we must expect high river levels further downstream in South Yorkshire over the next few days, so we urge people in at-risk areas to remain vigilant, not to take unnecessary risks and to sign up to receive Environment Agency flood alerts. Some coastal flooding is probable tomorrow, but it is not expected to be in the more serious category.

Extensive work is taking place in the affected areas, including clearing debris that can block up river flow. Environment Agency teams have been deploying temporary flood barriers where necessary. I pay tribute to all the dedicated professionals who are working so hard on the emergency response to the situation—operating flood defences, supporting communities and keeping people safe. That includes the hard-working staff of the Environment Agency, along with local authority teams and, of course, the police and fire services. I also thank all the volunteers who are part of local flood action groups that are helping with the response effort.

Every effort is being made to keep people safe, and I can confirm that the Government are today activating the Bellwin scheme, which will provide significant financial support to the local authorities in the areas affected by Storm Ciara, helping them to fund the cost of recovery. I encourage councils in the areas affected to consider applications to the Bellwin fund.

In a changing climate, we all want our country and our communities to be better protected from flooding, and more resilient when severe weather occurs. In the areas hit by flooding over the weekend, at least 25,000 properties and businesses have been successfully protected by flood defences. But we know that more needs to be done, and we are determined to deliver.

Since the events of Boxing day 2015, we have been taking action on a range of schemes to strengthen defences and improve resilience. We are investing more than ever before in these defences through a £2.6 billion programme up to 2021 to manage flood and coastal erosion risk. This will enable better protection of over 300,000 properties. Early in 2016, we committed an unprecedented £35 million to improve flood protection for homes and businesses in Mytholmroyd, Hebden Bridge and across Calderdale. Construction in Mytholmroyd is progressing and we expect the defences there to be completed in in the summer. We have built 25 new flood defences in Cumbria and Lancashire, protecting 23,100 homes, and 59 new flood defences in Yorkshire, protecting 13,200 homes. In the autumn, I announced an extra £60 million to boost flood schemes in the north, including £19 million for Calder valley. Our manifesto commits us to a further £4 billion of new funding in the five years up to 2026.

In 2016, we introduced the Flood Re scheme to make insurance cover for flooding more affordable and more accessible. Following the flooding in November, I announced an independent review of the data on insurance cover to ensure that that scheme is working as effectively as possible. Since the incidents of 2015, we have strengthened and improved our system of flood warnings, and we have established a flood recovery framework to prepare for and guide flood recovery schemes.

This Government are determined to maintain and enhance our readiness to respond when extreme weather hits our country. Our swift activation of the Bellwin scheme today, and our investment in the biggest ever programme of flood defence improvement, illustrates that determination. We stand ready to help communities to recover from flooding. We are investing in the defences needed in the warmer, wetter, less predictable climate that the scientists tell us we must expect in the years to come. I commend this statement to the House.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op) - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:16 p.m.

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of her statement. I join her in sending our condolences to the family of the man who died in Hampshire.

On behalf of the Opposition, I thank the emergency services, the Environment Agency, local councils, volunteers and communities who have worked tirelessly to protect homes and businesses, and to rescue people and animals from rising waters, fallen trees and debris, as well as all those who have worked to reinforce flood defences, not forgetting the RNLI and our coastguard too.

The reality of the climate crisis is that more extreme weather will happen more often and with more severe consequences, especially for those who live and work in areas of high flood risk. As the climate breakdown escalates, we are seeing an increase in the frequency and intensity of deadly weather patterns. Much more needs to be done to prevent flooding, to alleviate carbon emissions through habitat restoration, and to return flood plains to a natural state. Building homes on flood plains must stop.

The Government need to ask themselves: since Parliament declared a climate emergency, what are they doing differently on flooding—on protecting our communities? Austerity has had a devastating impact on our environment. There have been unprecedented cuts to our local authorities across the country, including the councils that have been most affected by the increased flooding and increased risk of flooding. The Environment Agency has seen its staffing levels fall by 20% since the Government came to power. I want Ministers to look afresh at what can be done now that Parliament has declared a climate emergency. A new plan for flooding should recognise the realities of the climate crisis, reverse the cuts to our frontline services, invest in comprehensive flood prevention, promote land use change, encourage habitat restoration, and acknowledge in the funding settlements for councils the higher risk in areas that face flooding so often.

I recognise that some new flood schemes have been delivered, but the list that the Secretary of State gave out is of what she has done, not what she will do, in response to this flooding. Will she accept that a comprehensive plan for flooding is now needed? Is it now time for Ministers to recognise that requiring match funding for some flood schemes means that poorer communities lose out compared with richer areas? The Environment Agency said only last year that it needs £1 billion a year to protect our communities, and a new approach on flooding. When will Ministers listen to their own Government agency and fund flood protection properly?

Does the Secretary of State have a date for the much-trailed flood summit that the Prime Minister promised last year? Will the trials of the new environmental land management scheme be targeted at the areas where flooding has been most severe this time? What action is she taking to ensure that homes and businesses that have been denied insurance and are still outside the current Flood Re scheme get the affordable protection that they so deserve?

Water is incredibly destructive and can destroy homes, businesses and livelihoods. Many of those flooded this time have been flooded before. Can the Secretary of State give them an assurance that the warm words and Government press releases this time will result in more action than they saw the last time they were flooded?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 2:54 p.m.

Where those on the two Front Benches completely agree is on the urgent need to tackle the climate crisis, because inevitably our changing climate leads to more extreme weather. This Government have the most ambitious programme in the world to decarbonise our economy. We are decarbonising faster than any other G7 economy, and we were the first major developed economy to make the legal commitment to net zero. I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman that habitat restoration, nature-based solutions, peatland restoration and tree planting are all a crucial part of our programme to tackle climate change, but they can also play a critical role in mitigating the impact of flooding. We are determined to deliver on those programmes, which is demonstrated by the revolutionary Environment Bill we have put forward.

I agree that the planning system must take into account flood risk, and there are important principles in the planning system to ensure that it does so. In relation to council funding, I reiterate that the Bellwin scheme was opened this morning by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and I encourage local authorities to submit their applications as soon as possible.

With regard to Environment Agency funding, we are absolutely committed to investing in ensuring that our flood defences are as strong as they can be and that we become more resilient to flooding. That is why our manifesto commits a further £4 billion over five years. We do have a comprehensive plan for flooding, and those investments will be made over the coming years.

The shadow Secretary of State is concerned about match funding, but one of the successes of the funding programme is that we have managed to draw in sources of funding for other areas, to maximise the impact we can have on flood defences. He makes a valid point in relation to environmental land management. We certainly would want to involve a range of locations in our tests and trials, and I very much hope that some of the areas affected by flooding today can be part of that.

Finally, Flood Re has significantly improved access to insurance, and it has kept the costs much lower than they would otherwise be. Virtually 100% of people now have the option of quotes from at least two companies when choosing insurance, but we recognise that there was concern in South Yorkshire after the November flooding incident, so we are reviewing the scheme independently to ensure that it is working as effectively as possible to help people insure in these circumstances.

Jason McCartney Portrait Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con) - Hansard

Fast-flowing torrents of water damaged homes and businesses across my constituency over the weekend, with communities such as Milnsbridge, Linthwaite, Marsden, Slaithwaite, New Mill, Brockholes and many more suffering at the hands of Storm Ciara. Does the Secretary of State agree that we must get councils clearing culverts and drains of leaves? Does she also agree that, when it comes to housing developments, we must stop this tarmacking and paving of our green fields, which gives no space or capacity for rain run-off when we have severe storms such as these?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:19 p.m.

I want to take this opportunity to express my support and sympathy for all my hon. Friend’s constituents who have been affected by the very severe weather at the weekend. I certainly agree that it is important for local authorities to undertake appropriate drain clearance as part of their efforts to mitigate flood risk. I also believe that it is important for our planning system to recognise the value of maintaining gardens and green spaces as part of our overall strategy to prevent flooding and mitigate its impacts.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP) - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:24 p.m.

I thank the Secretary of State for giving us advance sight of her statement. I would like to associate myself and my colleagues with the condolences expressed by the Secretary of State to the family and friends of the gentleman in Hampshire who so sadly lost his life, as well as to those who have seen their properties and businesses affected. I would also like to give our thanks to the volunteers and the many in the public services who have worked so hard over the past 48 hours to keep people safe.

Of course, climate change means that extreme weather events of the kind we have seen in the last 48 hours will become more and more frequent, as will the kinds of statement that the Secretary of State has sadly had to make today in consequence. What steps will her Government take to further improve the resilience of the transport network to cope with events such as we have seen, and will she undertake to be engaged with all the Governments in this island as the aftermath of Storm Ciara is dealt with?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:25 p.m.

Our £2.6 billion of investment in flood defences up to 2021 has a very strong emphasis on ensuring that our transport networks are more resilient. I would also emphasise that on those matters and many others we are keen to work with the devolved Administrations to the mutual benefit of all our citizens.

Mary Robinson Portrait Mary Robinson (Cheadle) (Con) - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:26 p.m.

Many of my constituents who were flooded last year watch severe weather warnings with dread, expecting to be flooded again every time they see them, and many of them have not been able to apply successfully for Flood Re insurance or for resilience funding. What can the Department do to communicate to councils the importance of working with the people affected—the victims of flooding—to enable them to access this resilience funding?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:26 p.m.

I would certainly encourage all local authorities to engage with residents affected by flooding in particular areas and with the various schemes that are available.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:27 p.m.

I cannot begin to convey the sense of absolute devastation across Calderdale that, for so many residents, we are in the same position again, having been flooded in the Boxing day floods in 2015. To update the Secretary of State, we are now looking at 400 residential properties flooded, 400 businesses, eight schools and two care homes, and two bridges have sustained damage. I have written to her today with a number of asks. Will she agree to meet me and representatives from Calderdale Council to go through those in detail so that we can start the recovery? Will she commit to making available the flood grants that came so quickly after those 2015 Boxing day floods, so that we can start that process straight away?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:27 p.m.

I want to extend my sympathies to all the hon. Member’s constituents—it has been devastating for many of them—and I would be very happy to meet her and representatives from her constituency to discuss what has happened and how we can help in the future.

Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con) - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:28 p.m.

I thank the Secretary of State for her time yesterday, for making herself available and for the support and help she gave. As I have told her, many of my constituents who were flooded over the weekend are exactly the same people who were flooded on Boxing day 2015, which really is completely unacceptable. Can she assure me that the flood defence programme the Government have in place will ensure that my constituents in Shipley will not have to suffer this fate yet again?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:28 p.m.

I am afraid there can be no absolute guarantees on flooding, but I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government are determined to press on with their major investments in our flood defences to better protect thousands of homes and businesses across the country. Certainly one of the things we will do as a result of what has happened over the weekend is take a fresh look to make sure that everything possible is being done to keep those flood defence projects on track for delivery.

Liz Saville Roberts Portrait Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC) - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:29 p.m.

There are two essential railway lines in Dwyfor Meirionnydd: the Conwy valley and the Cambrian coast lines. Neither has trains running today, following river and sea flooding. Given that the rail infrastructure of Wales is reserved to Westminster, what is the Department doing to work alongside the Welsh Government and ensure that essential communication links in Wales are resilient in the face of climate change?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard

My Department has very extensive contacts with the Welsh Government on a range of issues. Obviously, in circumstances like this, it is essential that there is excellent working between the devolved Administrations in relation to the transport network. That is what is under way, and it will continue.

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith (Arundel and South Downs) (Con) - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:30 p.m.

Will the Secretary of State join me in paying tribute to the hard-working staff of the Environment Agency in West Sussex and nationally, who have been working diligently at antisocial hours, not just over this weekend, to protect life and property, but in many cases since the flooding in mid-December? I also thank her for making the link between the planning system and the incidence of flooding.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard

I certainly join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the hard-working staff of the EA and all those involved in the response to this emergency. They do a tremendous job, and they need our support in very difficult circumstances.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab) - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:30 p.m.

May I say to the Secretary of State that three months on from the floods that hit my constituency in November, many people are still suffering and are still out of their homes, and I am afraid Government help for those particularly without insurance, despite promises made, is inadequate? May I direct her to the issue of matched funds, raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) on the Front Bench, because what this means in South Yorkshire is that, although the Government have said they are making up to £1 million available—itself a measly sum compared to the need—that money is not being released because £600,000 has been raised from local businesses and people, but it does not reach the £1 million? This is penny-pinching, narrow-minded and wrong, so may I ask the Secretary of State to look at this again because it is just wrong for the people in my constituency?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:31 p.m.

I am more than happy to look at this, but I would emphasise that there are many successful examples of where funding has been sought from a range of sources, including businesses, which has led to very successful results, including in Sheffield and South Yorkshire.

Holly Mumby-Croft Portrait Holly Mumby-Croft (Scunthorpe) (Con) - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:31 p.m.

The recent flooding incidents show very clearly that there is a need for better resilience and better planning for flooding events. May I ask the Secretary of State to look closely at the bid submitted by Humberside fire authority, along with Hull university and North Lincolnshire Council, for a national flood resilience centre at a site in Scunthorpe?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:31 p.m.

Yes, I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance, and I understand that DEFRA officials have been engaging with the people putting forward the bid, which will be looked at very seriously.

Rachel Reeves Portrait Rachel Reeves (Leeds West) (Lab) - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:32 p.m.

Kirkstall in my constituency was devastated by floods on Boxing day 2015, and we were on high alert all day yesterday. In many ways Leeds had a close escape yesterday, but there remains a £23 million gap between what the Government have committed to flood defences in Leeds and what is needed to protect us against the floods we experienced just four years ago. We had a lucky escape yesterday but may not be so lucky next time. When will the Government release that £23 million so that Leeds gets the flood defences we need?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:32 p.m.

As I have said, we have an extensive programme that we are in the course of delivering; we are determined to do that to ensure that many more homes and businesses are protected from flooding.

Andrew Percy Portrait Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con) - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:33 p.m.

Brigg and Goole and the Isle of Axholme is probably the most flood-prone constituency in the country. We are grateful for the hundreds of miles of flood defences that protect us and for Governments of all parties over the last decade and a half announcing more money for flood projects after events, but the problem at the moment actually is not so much accessing funding for capital projects but ongoing maintenance, which is absolutely vital to ensure our ditches and dykes are free to take the water. I urge the Secretary of State to continue the excellent work on capital funding, but to look at what maintenance funding has been made available to drainage boards, local authorities and the EA?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:33 p.m.

My hon. Friend makes a very valid point. In many areas, capital spending is not effective unless it is accompanied by resource spending to ensure that appropriate maintenance takes place, and nowhere is that clearer than in relation to floods. That, no doubt, will be considered at the Budget and the spending review.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op) - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:34 p.m.

Promises broken and programmes undelivered: tomorrow morning at five o’clock the River Ouse is likely to rise to the same level as under Storm Desmond, yet we have seen a lack of delivery on issues such as insurance, upper catchment management and even putting in resilience in the city itself. Will the Secretary of State not only expedite action but meet me to discuss the threats that flooding causes my constituents in York?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard

I will be very happy to meet the hon. Lady. The situation in relation to the Ouse is indeed still very serious, but I reassure her that significant numbers of flood defences have been built over recent years. As I said in my opening statement, we fully recognise that there is more to do, particularly as the climate is changing and extreme weather events become more common, but a huge amount of effort has gone into delivering flood defences, and more is on the way.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con) - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:34 p.m.

Recent months have led to a very difficult start of the season for many farmers, particularly arable farmers forced into exceptionally late drilling. Given that farmers are likely to be very badly affected by these latest floods, what reassurances can my right hon. Friend give me that farmers will receive the support and assistance they need?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:34 p.m.

So often, farmers are the victims of flooding and the providers of heroic help to others who are also affected by flooding. We will be working closely with the farming community in the days ahead to see what assistance can be given.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD) - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:34 p.m.

I, too, want to pay tribute to the emergency services, who have responded so well. My heart goes out to the families and communities who have yet again been hit by this disaster.

There is no denying that the climate emergency causes such extreme weather events. Planting millions of trees is one part of responding to the climate emergency. Indeed, the right hon. Lady’s party has pledged to plant millions of new trees every year. Do the Government have a plan for where those millions of trees will go, and when will it be published?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:34 p.m.

The Government are already running a range of schemes to promote the planting of trees, including the urban tree challenge fund, where we announced successful bids at the weekend. We will publish further details in our tree strategy for England, which will come out in a few weeks’ time.

John Lamont Portrait John Lamont (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (Con) - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:34 p.m.

I am sure the Secretary of State and many Members will have seen the dramatic pictures from Hawick in my constituency, where Sonia’s Bistro and the Bridge House bed and breakfast collapsed into the River Teviot. That was devastating for the business, but thankfully nobody was injured. May we pay tribute not only to the emergency services but to the Hawick flood group and all the other volunteers who made sure that that building was evacuated, and kept many other communities and people safe from what could otherwise have been a disaster?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:34 p.m.

I am very happy to do that. The Hawick flood group volunteers deserve our praise and thanks, as do so many volunteers in similar groups around the country.

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris (Easington) (Lab) - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:34 p.m.

I join the Secretary of State in praising all agencies, including the Environment Agency, local authorities, police and volunteers. Will she also recognise the enormous contribution of our fire and rescue services in dealing with recent flooding? In order that they are properly resourced, equipped and trained for these responsibilities, as a one nation Conservative will she agree to extend a statutory duty on flood response to fire and rescue services in England, in line with the duty that already exists in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:34 p.m.

I very much join the hon. Gentleman in paying a warm tribute to the fire and rescue services for their efforts in this situation and in so many others around the rest of the year. I will certainly give consideration to the other matters he raises regarding the duties relating to flooding.

Virginia Crosbie Portrait Virginia Crosbie (Ynys Môn) (Con) - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:34 p.m.

Many of our coastal communities, which are vital to our economy, will be particularly badly hit by Storm Ciara. Will the Secretary of State assure me that she will do everything in her power to ensure that those communities receive the support and assistance they need at this critical time?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:34 p.m.

We will be doing that. We appreciate the really difficult circumstances that our coastal communities have faced over recent days. We will be doing our best to support them in the days ahead.

Dame Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab) - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:34 p.m.

As a Hull MP, may I add my support to the comments made by the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft) on basing a national flood resilience centre in the Scunthorpe area?

I want to ask the Secretary of State about Flood Re. What is her advice to those who are not covered under the present scheme—leaseholders, homeowners who live in properties built after 2009 and businesses, particularly microbusinesses or businesses run from home—and are finding it very difficult to get any insurance?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard

These matters will be considered in the independent review, which is under way. I am also happy to raise them directly with Flood Re.

James Daly Portrait James Daly (Bury North) (Con) - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:39 p.m.

Parts of my constituency have been underwater since yesterday, particularly Redvales and Ramsbottom. Redvales has benefited from the £40 million Radcliffe and Redvales flood defence scheme—the Government provided £7 million—for which we are grateful. It has mitigated some of the problems that we saw yesterday, but Ramsbottom does not have its own flood defence scheme. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and other relevant agencies to ensure that Ramsbottom has a flood defence scheme at the earliest opportunity to protect local residents and businesses?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:39 p.m.

I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the situation and see what more can be done. I reiterate to him and all Members whose constituents have been affected by flooding my sympathy and support for those going through this extremely difficult time.

Scott Benton Portrait Scott Benton (Blackpool South) (Con) - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:40 p.m.

Along with my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker), I was in Brighouse yesterday, where I am a councillor, helping some of the businesses affected by flooding. He is still in Calder Valley helping with the relief efforts and discussing the response with the Under-Secretary. The Government’s response to the devastating floods in 2015 was excellent. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the same support package will be offered to householders and businesses who have been affected once again?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard

We will be looking at the appropriate response. I emphasise that there are plans for improved flood defences for Brighouse, on which we hope work will start very soon.

Dr Neil Hudson Portrait Dr Neil Hudson (Penrith and The Border) (Con) - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:41 p.m.

I am sure that the thoughts of the whole House will be with all those families who suffered as a result of the storm and floods over the weekend. Penrith and The Border was hit very hard and my thoughts go out especially to the communities in Appleby. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that she will mobilise efforts across the whole Government to ensure that we can support these people as quickly as possible?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:41 p.m.

I can give him that assurance. The DEFRA emergency operating centre has been activating. We are leading cross-government efforts to make sure that everything possible is done to ensure that people are kept safe in these difficult circumstances. I convey my sympathies to those in Appleby who are facing the trauma of flooding.

Harriett Baldwin Portrait Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con) - Hansard

Will the Secretary of State join me in thanking the contractors for Worcestershire County Council who have been clearing all the fallen trees from our roads? In Worcestershire, we have the River Severn, the River Avon and the River Teme, so we experience frequent river flooding. Six new flood defence schemes have been built in West Worcestershire, but we still need more. How much of the £4 billion—the increase in flood defence funding she has announced—has already been programmed?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard

The Environment Agency has a fairly long pipeline of flood defence improvements, but it will be important to consider the representations that my hon. Friend made in future decisions on the allocation of that £4 billion fund.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con) - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:42 p.m.

My right hon. Friend has twice mentioned the planning system. In my view, too many houses are still being built on floodplains, causing problems not only for them but for houses downstream from them. Will she work with colleagues from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government so that where the local authority planning decision is overturned on appeal the Planning Inspectorate always encloses a condition that the local authority must approve a satisfactory drainage system?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard

My hon. Friend raises very important points. It is vital to ensure that our planning system properly takes into account flood risk, and I will continue to engage with colleagues in MHCLG on how we ensure that takes place.

Mike Wood Portrait Mike Wood (Dudley South) (Con) - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:43 p.m.

Flooding in urban areas such as Dudley South is often made worse by overflowing drains, often caused not by blockages in the drains but downstream in the water waste pipes. Will my right hon. Friend keep pressure on water companies properly to maintain waste water drainage pipes to ensure that our local communities do not suffer an unnecessary risk of flooding?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:42 p.m.

I will certainly maintain the pressure on water companies to act responsibly on flooding and to play their part in mitigating it, as is the case with the pressure that we apply to them to improve their record on pollution.

Richard Drax Portrait Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con) - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:44 p.m.

I offer my sympathy to all those who have been affected and my praise to all those who have played such a significant role in trying to ensure that everyone is safe. On a visit to North Yorkshire, I saw at first hand the damage that flowing water can do in the small gullies that, under normal circumstances, hold virtually no water, and to the small rural communities whose houses dot the side of the gullies. Huge stones and mud ripped down the hillside, undermining the homes. Who do these people go to in order get that fixed and ensure that in years to come their homes are literally not swept off the hill?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:44 p.m.

It is crucial that we support rural communities as part of our programme to improve flood defences. We have seen on our television screens in recent days the potentially devastating impacts of severe weather. No system can protect everyone in all circumstances, but flood defences will be an important part of our agenda to level up all parts of the country, including rural areas.

Ruth Edwards Portrait Ruth Edwards (Rushcliffe) (Con) - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:45 p.m.

For too many homes, businesses and villages in Rushcliffe, flooding is a recurring issue. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to reconsider what support we can offer to areas that repeatedly flood and how we can encourage the many different agencies and organisations involved in preventing and responding to flooding to better work together to prevent it in the first place, because it is a very complex landscape for residents to navigate?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:45 p.m.

A huge amount of cross-government and cross-agency work is being done on resilience and flood programmes, but I am sure that more can be done. We will want to learn lessons from the events of recent days.

Dr Kieran Mullan Portrait Dr Kieran Mullan (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con) - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:45 p.m.

I thank the Secretary of State for her responsiveness to the flooding over the weekend. On this occasion, the issues in my constituency were minor, but I have been told by residents that those affected by flooding from the River Weaver in Nantwich in November have still not had the support they deserve to help them to recover and get their homes and businesses back on track. Will she meet me to see what we can do to make sure that the Environment Agency and Cheshire East Council work together to look after residents affected since November?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:45 p.m.

Yes, I will. It is very important that people affected by the flooding in November can access the package of support that was introduced. I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to talk about it.

Ben Everitt Portrait Ben Everitt (Milton Keynes North) (Con) - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:45 p.m.

My beautiful constituency is not immune to flooding, and neither is it immune to the reckless growth ambitions of the Labour-led council. We must take steps to look after the houses that are already there. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that the Government remain committed to protecting an extra 300,000 houses from flooding?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:45 p.m.

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. Our £2.6 billion programme is designed to protect 300,000 properties and give significant protection to agricultural land and the transport system. It is a record level of investment. We are investing more in flood defences than any previous Government, because we know how important that is in the context of a changing climate.

Steve Double Portrait Steve Double (St Austell and Newquay) (Con) - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:45 p.m.

Flooding is not only caused by heavy rain. Coastal areas in my constituency regularly experience flooding when heavy storms coincide with high spring tides. This can result from storm damage to harbour walls or coastal erosion. Will the Secretary of State make sure that our future plans include funding to build resilience into our coastal regions?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:45 p.m.

Supporting our coastal areas is an important element of our plan for improving flood defences, so I can give my hon. Friend those assurances. I should take this opportunity to highlight to everyone that we are not out of the woods yet, and that difficulties in coastal areas could continue, so people should try to avoid taking unnecessary risks in those areas.

Joy Morrissey Portrait Joy Morrissey (Beaconsfield) (Con) - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 4:45 p.m.

Will the Secretary of State join me in paying tribute to Buckinghamshire County Council, the emergency services and volunteers who worked tirelessly to clean up wind-blown rubbish after the flooding at the weekend? Will she consider community payback schemes using ex-offenders to help with dredging and other things we need to prevent flooding in the future?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard

I am happy to reiterate my support and thanks to those involved in the relief effort in my hon. Friend’s constituency and across the country. On getting ex-offenders involved in such programmes, I should note that much of this work is quite specialist, so I am not sure how that would work, but I welcome her suggestion.

Mr Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans) - Hansard

I thank the Secretary of State for the conversation I had with her yesterday as I was inspecting flood damage in Ribchester and Whalley in the Ribble Valley. I am extremely grateful.

Bills Presented

Oral Answers to Questions

Theresa Villiers Excerpts
Thursday 6th February 2020

(6 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Craig Tracey Portrait Craig Tracey (North Warwickshire) (Con) - Hansard

1. What steps her Department is taking to tackle organised waste crime. [900648]

Theresa Villiers Portrait The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Theresa Villiers) - Hansard
6 Feb 2020, 9:34 a.m.

Waste crime blights local communities and our environment and this Government are determined to tackle it. Over the past six years, we have invested £60 million in measures to achieve that. Last month, we launched a joint unit for waste crime, led by the Environment Agency, and including the National Crime Agency, HMRC and the police. This new unit will help us crack down on serious and organised crime in the waste sector.

Craig Tracey Portrait Craig Tracey - Hansard
6 Feb 2020, 9:34 a.m.

Fly-tipping in particular is an issue that costs our local councils and landowners hundreds of thousands pounds annually to clear up, with rural communities particularly affected. Just last week, the village of Austrey in my constituency was targeted yet again. What additional resources and powers can we give our local authorities and police to eradicate this scourge once and for all?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
6 Feb 2020, 9:35 a.m.

I fully appreciate how strongly my hon. Friend’s constituents feel about that issue, as do mine in Barnet. We are giving local authorities additional powers through our Environment Bill to tackle fly-tipping. We have also already enhanced their powers to search and seize vehicles, which may be involved in this menace, and we have granted them power to issue fixed penalty notices, and I encourage them to use those powers.

Mr Kevan Jones Portrait Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab) - Hansard

I welcome the Minister’s answer, but I must tell her that landfill tax fraud is a multi-million pound business. From my experience in the north-east of England, where there is some good co-operation going on between various agencies, the problem is with HMRC, which will not investigate unless a certain threshold is hit. I asked for feedback on prosecutions in one high-profile case that was activated four years ago and found that, to date, nothing has happened.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
6 Feb 2020, 9:36 a.m.

That is one reason we are bringing together the relevant agencies in this new joint unit. They include HMRC, which is absolutely determined to crack down on tax fraud and evasion of all sorts. The right hon. Gentleman has his point on the record, and I am sure that the issue will be raised in the new joint unit.

Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con) - Hansard
6 Feb 2020, 9:36 a.m.

Fly-tipping ranges massively from lorry loads of hospital waste to a sofa. Farmers are then expected to dispose of that waste at their own cost. We quite rightly welcome what the Secretary of State says about taking lorries, vans and cars away from people, because we really must stop this crime.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
6 Feb 2020, 9:37 a.m.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are determined that our new joint unit to tackle this issue will ensure that those who are responsible for waste crime of all sorts, including fly-tipping, pay the price for what they are doing and are held to account.

Neil Gray Portrait Neil Gray (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP) - Hansard

Fly-tipping is a major issue in my area, not least because of changes in policy from North Lanarkshire Council. One way of stopping such crimes is by increasing the recycling rate and targeting particular sectors, such as the construction sector, which has a particularly bad problem with waste pollution. Will the Secretary of State outline potential areas such as training staff in those sectors to ensure that they are aware of how to recycle properly?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
6 Feb 2020, 9:37 a.m.

Of course, training in this area is very important. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, as far as England is concerned, our new Environment Bill contains an extensive list of measures to improve rates of recycling, and yes, we hope that that will be part of a wider strategy to cut down on waste crime and ensure that more of our waste is recycled, and that all of it is treated appropriately.

Felicity Buchan Portrait Felicity Buchan (Kensington) (Con) - Hansard

2. What recent discussions she has had with the Mayor of London on improving air quality in London. [900649]

Break in Debate

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab) - Hansard

4. What her policy is on the compliance of imported agricultural goods with UK (a) animal welfare, (b) environmental and (c) food safety standards after the transition period. [900651]

Theresa Villiers Portrait The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Theresa Villiers) - Hansard
6 Feb 2020, 9:42 a.m.

As we set out in our manifesto, we are committed to upholding our high standards of environmental protection, food safety and animal welfare. Now we have left the EU, our high standards, including import requirements, continue to apply. We will not dilute our standards, or put the UK’s biosecurity at risk, in our future trade negotiations.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah - Hansard
6 Feb 2020, 9:43 a.m.

My constituents benefit from the glorious countryside of Northumberland and County Durham—landscapes shaped by small-scale farmers. Those farmers would be devastated by unfair competition from the American agro-industrial machine, with its lower animal welfare, food and environmental standards. The Secretary of State talks a good talk and reads a good brief, but she will not put anything into law, so will she now unequivocally condemn any Government who trade away our high food, environmental and animal welfare standards?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
6 Feb 2020, 9:44 a.m.

I can assure the hon. Member that we will not trade away our high standards of environmental protection, animal welfare or food safety. We will make sure that our trade negotiations work for our whole country, including the farmers she mentioned. I met farmers in Northumberland only a few days ago and had those very conversations.

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

On Monday, the Secretary of State heard from both Opposition MPs and MPs on her own Benches that she had to put our high environmental standards into law to prevent US agriculture from undercutting them in any trade negotiations. Now that a few days have passed since that debate, has she reflected on the fact that there is cross-party support for putting those promises into law and will she do the right thing and put them in the Agriculture Bill?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
6 Feb 2020, 9:45 a.m.

I reiterate what we said in a debate last week: our high environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards are already in law, including legislating to prevent the importation of chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef, and our manifesto commits us to continuing to defend robustly those standards in future trade negotiations.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard - Hansard
6 Feb 2020, 9:45 a.m.

I am afraid that is not a good enough answer from the Environment Secretary, because unless there is a specific clause in the Agriculture Bill that guarantees that there will be no undercutting of British farmers by imported US agriculture in particular—produce grown to lower animal welfare and environmental standards—no one will believe a word that the Environment Secretary has to say. The Trade Secretary is today publishing a document that will apparently lock those standards into law, so if it is good enough for the Trade Secretary, why is it not good enough for the Environment Secretary to put the same commitment into law?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
6 Feb 2020, 9:46 a.m.

As I have said, those commitments are already in law, and the Government will defend them in our trade negotiations. There is a cross-party consensus in this House that we value our high standards. We will continue with those high standards; we will not compromise them in trade negotiations.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP) - Hansard
6 Feb 2020, 9:46 a.m.

How will the Secretary of State ensure that ractopamine-treated pork and turkey meat from the United States stays out of our food chains?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
6 Feb 2020, 9:46 a.m.

As I have said, we will ensure that all food coming into this country meets our high sanitary and phytosanitary standards and our high standards of food safety. We will not under any circumstances compromise biosecurity or human health in our trade negotiations.

David Duguid Portrait David Duguid (Banff and Buchan) (Con) - Hansard
6 Feb 2020, 9:46 a.m.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s and the Government’s commitment to maintaining high food, welfare and health standards, but can she update the House on what plans there are for a food standards commission, as requested by the National Farmers Union of Scotland?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
6 Feb 2020, 9:47 a.m.

I have discussed that with the National Farmers Union, and there is real merit in its proposal. We continue to consider it, but I can assure my hon. Friend and the House that, whatever the mechanism, we will engage very closely with farmers and other stakeholders as we take forward our trade negotiations.

Andrew Bridgen Portrait Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con) - Hansard
6 Feb 2020, 9:47 a.m.

Can my right hon Friend put the House at ease and confirm that any trade agreement will have to be ratified under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 and that this House will therefore have a full opportunity to scrutinise any effect of trade deals on our food standards?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
6 Feb 2020, 9:47 a.m.

I can; this House will be involved in scrutiny of our trade negotiations, and I look forward to having those debates with hon. Members.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD) - Hansard

13. It is absolutely right that we focus on high-quality standards in our trade deals with the rest of the world, but the reality is that 90% of Cumbrian farm exports are to the European single market. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that my farmers next January will not be facing crippling taxes and tariffs on their exports? [900663]

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the Government are clear that we are seeking a free trade agreement with the European Union without tariffs. That is something that the Prime Minister and his team will be working on in the months ahead.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con) - Hansard

5. What steps her Department is taking to increase tree-planting rates. [900652]

Break in Debate

Colleen Fletcher Portrait Colleen Fletcher (Coventry North East) (Lab) - Hansard

14. What plans she has to increase the number of trees planted each year. [900664]

Theresa Villiers Portrait The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Theresa Villiers) - Hansard
6 Feb 2020, 9:48 a.m.

Our manifesto commits us to increase tree planting to a rate of 30,000 hectares a year by 2025 across the UK. Our £640 million nature for climate fund will help us to deliver a massive uplift in tree planting, as part of wider efforts to become a net zero carbon economy.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham - Hansard

The Secretary of State will know that many of us are leading on planting plans in our constituencies, working closely with local councils, local wildlife trusts and so on. A good example is the new arboretum at lower Westgate Street in Gloucester, which was planted at the beginning of January. However, does she agree that there is a risk that, however many thousands of trees we plant in our constituencies, somebody will always say that we should have done much more? Is there an opportunity for some independent body to make an objective assessment of how many trees can realistically be planted in urban constituencies such as mine?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard

My hon. Friend makes a good point about setting appropriate targets. We plan to work closely with local authorities as we drive forward with our commitment to plant more trees. The Environment Bill contains important changes to the planning system—for example, an environmental net gain—that will encourage investment in nature, biodiversity and tree planting.

Jason McCartney Portrait Jason McCartney - Hansard

Does the Secretary of State agree with me and the Woodland Trust that we need to get local councils writing emergency tree plans that identify land for tree planting, and that we need to ensure that developments that come forward from housing developers include a minimum of 30% tree canopy cover?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
6 Feb 2020, 9:50 a.m.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s ambition for tree planting in his local area. As I have said, changes to the planning system should incentivise investment in tree planting and nature. Programmes such as the urban tree challenge fund could provide a great opportunity for local authorities to play their part in delivering this tree-planting effort.

Colleen Fletcher Portrait Colleen Fletcher - Hansard
6 Feb 2020, 9:50 a.m.

Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the pupils of Good Shepherd Catholic Primary School in my constituency, who recently planted 130 saplings in a new eco-area at the school? Does she agree that the new eco-area at the school will be a great educational resource for the students, helping them to learn more about the natural world while also helping to improve the local environment in Coventry North East?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard

I do congratulate them; it sounds like a wonderful effort. Our Environment Bill provides for local nature recovery strategies that are led by the local authority, but which I very much hope will involve engagement with schools and enthusiastic groups such as the one mentioned by the hon. Member.

Dr Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab) - Hansard
6 Feb 2020, 9:52 a.m.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the prime purpose of planting trees in the present climate crisis is to provide an effective carbon sink to produce the negative carbon emissions that offset other carbon emissions in a net-zero world? The Committee on Climate Change suggests that that means planting perhaps up to 50,000 hectares of trees per annum up to 2050—perhaps 2.4 billion trees. Does she agree that the present target in the clean growth plan of 11 million trees is tiny—especially as it is currently being missed by 71%—and almost amounts to “greenwash”? When is she going to get real on tree planting and management, and adopt measures that will secure the billions of trees we need and not the millions she is projecting?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard

Where I would agree with the shadow Minister is that we do need massively to step up our tree planting in this country, and that is what we are determined to do, particularly by working with the devolved authorities as well. I encourage everyone to take the message out to their constituents that they can get involved with these programmes through the countryside stewardship woodland creation grant, the woodland creation planning grant, the woodland carbon fund, the woodland carbon guarantee and the urban tree challenge fund. We will soon be consulting on a tree strategy for England to drive forward further the crucial task of planting more trees in this country.

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con) - Hansard

Councils are required to deliver a five-year supply of sites for housing. Has not the time come for us to require councils to provide a five-year supply of sites for tree planting?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard
6 Feb 2020, 9:53 a.m.

That is a very interesting idea. I hope that the process of local nature recovery strategies that we are establishing under the Environment Bill will embrace the kind of idea that my hon. Friend has just floated.

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris (Easington) (Lab) - Hansard

6. When she plans to introduce a deposit return scheme for (a) glass and (b) plastic. [900653]

Break in Debate

Stephen Crabb Portrait Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con) - Hansard

T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. [900665]

Theresa Villiers Portrait The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Theresa Villiers) - Hansard
6 Feb 2020, 9:59 a.m.

In recent weeks, DEFRA has been driving forward the biggest programme of legislation in Whitehall. That includes publication of our landmark Environment Bill, to introduce a new legal framework and demanding targets on matters such as nature, recycling and air quality. We have published our Fisheries Bill, to enable this country to take back control of its fishing waters and end the common fisheries policy. The Agriculture Bill has had its Second Reading, to ensure a brighter, greener future for our farmers. And of course, my team and I have played our part in securing the biggest election victory for the Conservatives in 30 years.

Stephen Crabb Portrait Stephen Crabb - Hansard
6 Feb 2020, 9:59 a.m.

Data published in the recent climate change agreements biennial report showed the dairy industry delivering a 21% improvement on its energy efficiency over the last 10 years—the latest in a long line of sustainability wins for the industry. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, far from being a villain in the climate change story, the dairy industry is proving itself a force for good?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard

I very much agree. I pay tribute to the huge efforts made in the dairy sector to become more efficient and more sustainable. I know that those in the sector have further plans through the pioneering dairy road map, and I wish them well with that. We need to support UK agriculture in the tremendous efforts it is making to be part of the solution on climate change.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab) - Hansard
6 Feb 2020, 9:59 a.m.

This Government have made much of the fact that we are leaving the EU and all its bureaucratic processes, but only to replace it with the catch app, a far more complex system for smaller fishing boats. Will the Secretary of State instruct the Marine Management Organisation to change the new catch app and remove the risk of criminality, which is causing so much anxiety for fishers in our coastal communities?

Break in Debate

Claire Coutinho Portrait Claire Coutinho (East Surrey) (Con) - Hansard

T3. I am proud to represent many farmers in East Surrey who are the guardians of our beautiful countryside. Does the Minister agree that the best way to support those farmers and protect the environment is to buy seasonal and to buy British? [900667]

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers - Hansard

Yes, I do.

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist (Blaydon) (Lab) - Hansard

T2. If the biodiversity gain requirement is to make a real difference, local authorities will need additional strategic planners, ecologist and enforcement officers. What assessment has been made of the human and financial resources required, and will the Secretary of State confirm that those resources will be set out and funded in the forthcoming Budget? [900666]

Break in Debate

Joy Morrissey Portrait Joy Morrissey (Beaconsfield) (Con) - Hansard

T4.   In Beaconsfield, we have many hard-working farmers, as well as local environmental groups such as Transition Town Marlow and Wild Marlow, which are leading the way locally in animal welfare and environmental protection. Will the Minister join me in welcoming the new standards that we are going to put in place for environmental protection and animal welfare as we leave the EU, and for the protection of our British farmers? [900668]

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers -