I know the value so many people here in North Devon place on access to the countryside, and I would like to reassure you that the new measures which have now been set out by the Secretary of State will not affect ramblers, the right to roam or rights of way. Instead, the new proposed measures will be applied in specific circumstances relating to trespass with intent to reside.
The Home Office consulted on measures to criminalise the act of trespassing when setting up an unauthorised encampment in England and Wales, and ministers also consulted on other measures to strengthen police powers in order to tackle unauthorised encampments. The views expressed throughout the consultation have been considered and have informed the Government’s next steps, including the conditions for the new offence which will be put to parliament for scrutiny.
A person must meet the conditions of the new offence for enforcement action to be taken against them, and the conditions for the new offence seek to ensure that anyone accessing the countryside, including ramblers and hikers passing through privately owned land, will not be caught by the new proposals. My ministerial colleagues are clear that the intention behind the new offence is to deter trespassers from setting up or residing on an unauthorised encampment and to support action to tackle unauthorised encampments where necessary.
Inland Water Bill: Rivers
I am delighted that having supported the Rt Hon Phillip Dunne’s Private Member’s Bill, the Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill, that the Government has announced that it will be supporting the measures included within this Bill.
The second reading has now become unnecessary as many of the measures have been agreed within the Storm Overflows Task Force, set up by the Minister last year in response to this Private Members Bill. The Storm Overflows Taskforce, which is made up of Defra, the Environment Agency, Ofwat, Consumer Council for Water, Blueprint for Water and Water UK, has agreed to set a long-term goal to eliminate harm from storm overflows.
Following recommendations from the Taskforce, water companies will also increase transparency around when and how storm overflows are used. The Taskforce update comes as the Government confirms it is also working with Philip Dunne MP in order to make progress on our shared ambitions to tackle sewage pollution in our rivers. I have spoken with members of Surfers Against Sewage, The Environment Agency and South West Water about a number of concerns with spillages onto beaches, our beautiful coast and into our rivers. I welcome this Bill as it will help shine a light on industry operations and help us in our fight against water pollution.
Deposit Return Scheme
We can be in no doubt that plastic is wreaking havoc on our marine environment and degrading our most precious habitats, and it is absolutely vital we act now to tackle this threat and curb the millions of plastic bottles a day that go unrecycled. I am deeply passionate about this issue, as we have so many beautiful beaches here in North Devon and are seeing more and more plastic waste, including bottles, littering our natural environment. I fully support Surfers Against Sewage and commend their fantastic work here in the constituency.
I am pleased that Ministers remain committed to developing a deposit return scheme in England for single use drinks containers to incentivise people to recycle plastic and glass. That being said, my Ministerial colleagues also recognise that the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the economy and society in unimaginable ways, with many people reassessing their values, decisions and priorities in both the immediate and longer term. On this basis, our second consultation currently being carried out builds on the first, offering a chance to explore further what the continued appetite is for a deposit return scheme in a ‘post-Covid’ context. The second consultation will also inform how a future scheme can be designed in the best and most coherent way possible to deliver on the objectives set out for introducing such a policy. I know that my Ministerial colleague are aware of the ‘all-in’ DRS proposition, and I am sure that the potential benefits to the environment will be considered thoroughly before any decisions are made.
Gene editing has the ability to harness the genetic resources that mother nature has provided, in order to tackle the challenges of our age. This includes breeding crops that perform better, reducing costs to farmers and impacts on the environment, and helping us all adapt to the challenges of climate change.
The potential of gene editing was blocked by a European Court of Justice ruling in 2018, and now that we have left the EU, this country is free to make coherent policy decisions based on science and evidence. Technologies developed in the last decade enable genes to be edited much more quickly and precisely to mimic the natural breeding process, helping to target plant and animal breeding to assist the UK in reaching our vital climate and biodiversity goals, in a safe and sustainable way.
It is important to note that gene editing is different to genetic modification where DNA from one species is introduced to a different one. Gene edited organisms do not contain DNA from different species, and instead only produce changes that could be made slowly using traditional breeding methods.
The Government has now consulted on the issue of gene editing, seeking views on proposals to end certain gene editing organisms from being regulated in the same way as genetic modification, providing they could have been produced naturally or through traditional breeding. This approach has already been adopted by a wide range of countries across the world, including Japan, Australia and Argentina, and the UK Government will now consider the evidence and will set out a response in due course.
I am assured that Ministers will continue to work with farming and environmental groups to develop the right rules and ensure robust controls are in place to maintain the highest food safety standards while supporting the production of healthier food.
2021 is a vital year for the ocean. Through our COP26 and G7 Presidencies, the UK will showcase global leadership in tackling key pressures facing the ocean, using its influence to advocate for greater action and global collaboration. Ministers also intend to publish an update to the UK Marine Strategy Part 3, outlining the programmes of measures that will continue to move the UK towards Good Environmental Status in its seas.
I have signed up with Sky Ocean Rescue and the WWF to become an MP Ocean Hero, to pledge my commitment to the UK seas through a new Ocean Recovery Strategy on World Ocean’s Day.
As you may know, at the recent One Planet Summit, the UK accepted the position of Ocean Co-Chair of the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People. Between this, and the UK-led Global Ocean Alliance, there are now over 60 countries supporting a target to protect at least 30% of the global ocean by 2030 as part of the aim for an ambitious post-2020 global biodiversity framework for adoption at the 15th Conference of Parties of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.
The protection, restoration and management of the marine environment is central to objectives in the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan. Further, it is encouraging that 38% of UK waters are in Marine Protected Areas and Ministers are focused on ensuring these are effectively protected. Ministers have also stated their intention to pilot Highly Protected Marine Areas in Secretary of State waters, and I look forward to reading the Government's response to Richard Benyon's review on this issue in due course.
Together with Vanuatu, the Government is driving forward ambitious action to reduce plastic pollution in the ocean through the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance, a growing group of 34 Commonwealth member states. The Government has also committed up to £70m to tackle plastic pollution, helping developing countries to prevent plastic waste entering the ocean, and has committed to start negotiations on a new global agreement on marine plastic litter and microplastics.
Finally, Ministers have committed to establishing a new £500m Blue Planet Fund, to help developing countries protect the ocean from key human-generated threats, including pollution.
The badger cull has been a controversial component of the bovine TB (bTB) eradication strategy, but I understand that the initial areas that have been subject to a cull have seen a significant reduction in incidence of the disease.
On 27 January 2021, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) launched a public consultation alongside a call for views on a range of proposals and longer-term options on cattle and badger control measures. These are in keeping with the Government’s response in March 2020 to Professor Sir Charles Godfray’s 2018 independent review of the bTB strategy.
Routine and targeted TB testing of cattle herds, movement restrictions on infected herds, and rapid detection and removal of cattle which test positive remains the cornerstone of the Government’s strategy, supported by statutory pre- and post-movement testing of cattle and slaughterhouse surveillance. Defra are in the process of increasing the frequency of mandatory surveillance testing across England’s High-Risk Areas (HRA) from annual to every 6 months, with some exceptions for lower risk herds. Defra also remain committed to supporting and strengthening biosecurity to limit the risk and severity of TB breakdowns on cattle farms.
Defra have a substantial and wide-ranging research and development programme, with a particular focus on diagnostics and vaccine development. Their primary TB research goal is to develop a deployable cattle TB vaccine. This work is on track to be completed by 2025, and the goal is to deliver on the significant investment that has been made to date in developing a candidate diagnostic test to detect infected animals among vaccinated animals to enable use of the vaccine. Although a cattle TB vaccine will not be the single solution to the problem of TB, it will be a strong additional tool at Defra’s and farmer’s disposal. Veterinary field trials aimed at generating the necessary evidence to enable UK marketing authorisations are scheduled to get underway in the coming months.
Ministers only ever envisaged that the badger cull would be a phase in the strategy to reduce the weight of the disease in the wildlife population. I am pleased that the ongoing consultation sets out the intent to phase out culling and accelerate the next phases of the strategy, especially improved diagnostic testing. This consultation also includes proposals to stop issuing intensive cull licences for new areas after 2022 and would enable new licences to be cut short after two or three years based on a review of the latest scientific evidence at that time.
Under the new proposals, any new supplementary cull licences, which are granted in regions after intensive culls are complete, would be restricted to two years and would not be reissued afterwards. I understand that some form of culling would continue to be an option in exceptional circumstances to address any local disease flare-ups. In parallel to the consultation, Ministers are also calling for views on possible future measures to accelerate bovine TB eradication in England, such as further improvements to testing, encouraging increased uptake of farm biosecurity measures, and rewarding low risk cattle purchasing behaviour.
It is also encouraging that work on developing a deployable cattle bovine TB vaccine continues at pace and is on track to be completed within the next five years, with field trials scheduled to commence in the coming months.
There is no single answer to tackling bovine TB, but by deploying a range of policy interventions, we can turn the tide on this terrible disease and achieve the long-term objective of eradicating it in England by 2038.
Animal research still plays a role in providing vital safety information for potential new medicines. Some aspects of the toxicological assessment of new medicines cannot be adequately assessed in humans, and animal data will be the only kind available.
Without animal testing it is highly likely that many potentially dangerous new medicines would be tested in healthy volunteers and patients in clinical trials, and Ministers believe that this would be quite unacceptable. However, animals are only used when there are no suitable alternatives, and by encouraging new cutting-edge approaches to science we will ensure that standards of animal welfare are improved. I am absolutely opposed to animal tests where alternative approaches could be used.
Bomb Disposal and Whales
I agree we should do all we can to protect the welfare of our marine life, especially the whale, and from my conversations with Ministerial colleagues I know they share my thoughts.
I recognise the significant impact that underwater noise from ordnance clearance and other activities can have on vulnerable marine species, and I am therefore pleased that Ministers are working closely with the Marine Management Organisation, nature conservation bodies and marine industries to reduce underwater noise. It is, of course, important that they ensure any clearance method used is both safe and effective.
I am aware that the underwater noise impact of using low order deflagration techniques for unexploded ordnance detonations is currently being researched. Two phases of a Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy funded project to characterise and contrast the acoustic fields generated by unexploded ordnance clearance using high order detonation, and using low-order deflagration, have now been completed. I understand that a third phase has now been initiated to allow further assessment of the clearance options. A potential fourth phase of the work involving offshore field work is also being actively explored in which comparative noise measurements would be made during actual unexploded ordnance clearance campaigns using both deflagration and high order detonations.
The outcomes from the third and fourth phases will allow an informed discussion to take place, however it will be for the regulatory authorities and the statutory nature conservation bodies to consider the best available scientific evidence when providing advice on these matters. I should be noted that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs does not expect to issue formal guidance on the use of low-order deflagration techniques until this research has been completed.
Climate and Ecology Bill
Tackling climate change is a priority for me and my Ministerial colleagues, and I am proud that the UK was the first G7 country to legislate to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
I do not believe citizen's assemblies have advantages over conventional policy making in this context. Previous experiences in Canada, for example, included citizens in the decision making process, however they failed to produce impactful or long-lasting results. I know that a Climate Assembly UK was formed as a result of work conducted by Parliamentary Select Committees. Ministers have assured me the Government will be looking closely at the findings, however I welcome that many of their recommendations, which were published in their report, are already either in place or in the pipeline as a result of the Government working towards net zero. Achieving net zero will affect everyone and it is important that we work together to achieve it.
While I welcome the increased awareness and debate this Bill brings, I do not believe that it is required as work is already underway.
Greener Educational Buildings
I see the UK’s future as being a world leader in the green economy. I believe we have made a great start on this with the pledge to reach net-zero by 2050, and I welcomed news earlier this year that Britain had been running coal free for a period of months.
That said, there is certainly more we can do. It is encouraging to hear the Prime Minister commit to making the UK the world leader in low cost clean power generation, and I welcome that a range of green recovery schemes have been announced. This includes over £3 billion of investment to transform energy efficiency in homes and public buildings; over £1 billion of support for ultra-low emission vehicles; £800 million to capture carbon from power stations and industry; £640 million in a Nature Climate Fund; and £100 million for research and development into Direct Air Capture technologies.
I am encouraged that the Department for Education was already encouraging schools to reduce their impact on the environment prior to the Covid-19 outbreak. Various schemes are available to help schools, including a capital investment programme that will be worth £22 billion between 2017 and 2021. Schools are also able to access the Salix loan scheme, which provides funding to the public sector with loans for projects to improve energy, reduce bills and reduce carbon emissions.
Polystyrene Body Boards
It is brilliant news that Westward Ho! have banned retailers selling polystyrene body boards, and I fully support them in doing so. Polystyrene body boards have an impact on the natural environment and I will happily support any other seaside location that chooses to follow Westward Ho!. I have been engaging with Plastic Free North Devon for some time now and support their fantastic work. To get something banned in law is very difficult, which is why I believe that local approaches are the way forward in reducing the number of polystyrene body boards here in the UK.
Additionally, Ministers are taking steps through the Environment Bill to keep products in circulation for longer, requiring products to be designed to be durable, repairable, and recyclable, as well as legislating for the use of extended producer responsibility schemes in a way that incentivises more resource efficient design.
The Pig Husbandry (Farrowing) Bill:
We have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world and a strong track record for raising the bar when it comes to welfare measures, such as banning battery cages for laying hens, sow stalls and veal crates, and introducing CCTV in all slaughterhouses in England. I know that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) intends to build on this and are currently examining the evidence around the use of cages for farm animals, including farrowing crates.
The UK Government has made clear that farrowing crates should no longer be used for sows, and I welcome that the pig welfare code clearly states that “the aim is for farrowing crates to no longer be necessary and for any new system to protect the welfare of the sow, as well as her piglets”. DEFRA’s pig welfare code of practice came into force on 1 March 2020 and it states the aim is for farrowing crates to no longer be necessary and for any new system to protect the welfare of the sow, as well as her piglets. It is worth pointing out that the UK has led the way in improving the welfare of pigs.
Deregulation of Gene Editing
Gene editing has the ability to harness the genetic resources that mother nature has provided, in order to tackle the challenges of our age. This includes breeding crops that perform better, reducing costs to farmers and impacts on the environment, and helping us all adapt to the challenges of climate change.
The potential of gene editing was blocked by a European Court of Justice ruling in 2018. Now that we have left the EU, the UK is free to make coherent policy decisions based on science and evidence. I know that technologies developed in the last decade enable genes to be edited much more quickly and precisely to mimic the natural breeding process, helping to target plant and animal breeding to help the UK reach its vital climate and biodiversity goals in a safe and sustainable way.
It is important to note that gene editing is different to genetic modification where DNA from one species is introduced to a different one. Gene edited organisms do not contain DNA from different species, and instead only produce changes that could be made slowly using traditional breeding methods. Currently, gene editing is regulated in the same way as genetic modification.
The Government is now consulting on the issue of gene editing, focusing on ending certain gene editing organisms from being regulated in the same way as genetic modification, so long as they could have been produced naturally or through traditional breeding. I understand that this approach has already been adopted by a wide range of countries across the world, including Japan, Australia and Argentina.
I know that Ministers will continue to work with farming and environmental groups to develop the right rules and ensure robust controls are in place to maintain the highest food safety standards while supporting the production of healthy food.
I am enthusiastic about promoting sport and recreation in our North Devon countryside, and understand the positive benefits outdoor activities can have both physically and mentally, especially during the pandemic. However, I am also mindful of the rights of communities and people who live or work on land adjoining water, and of the need to maintain our rivers' environmental integrity. We must seek to maintain this delicate balance to keep the enjoyment of our rivers and inland waterways by all users and interests. I believe this is best achieved through consensus and by local agreement.
I therefore support continuing to use locally agreed, voluntary agreements to increase river access for walkers, swimmers and non-powered craft. The rights of other users, as well as protection for wildlife and the environment, are important considerations. These sensitive issues can best be dealt with at a local level rather than through a one size fits all approach decided in Westminster.
I also fully support my ministerial colleagues' aim to make this the first generation which leaves the environment in a better state than we found it and I am pleased that over 50% of canals have now been restored, enabling an increasing number of people to enjoy the outdoors and get close to water.
I believe it is absolutely right that there should be sustainable thinking in Government, and I would like to assure you that the wellbeing of future generations is at the heart of UK Government policy. We are the first major industrialised country to have set a legal target for zero carbon emissions and I welcome the Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan which will allow the UK to forge ahead in eradicating the UK’s contribution to climate change.
Caroline Lucas and Lord Bird have brought forward Private Member’s Bills with the objective of putting sustainable thinking at the heart of public policy decisions. This legislation imposes obligations to act in accordance with a sustainable development principle.
I do not believe, however, that the Bills as they stand provide the right mechanisms for achieving these important objectives and have reservations about creating a new public body with additional duties. The Government has, however, listened carefully to the arguments made in support of these Bills and it remains committed to promoting the economic, environmental and social wellbeing of the country, never more important than in the context of this current pandemic.
Inland Waters Bill
I am delighted that having supported the Rt Hon Phillip Dunne’s Private Member’s Bill, the Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill, that the Government has announced that it will be supporting the measures included within this Bill. The second reading has now become unnecessary as many of the measures have been agreed within the Storm Overflows Task Force, set up by the Minister last year in response to this Private Member’s Bill.
The Storm Overflows Taskforce, which is made up of Defra, the Environment Agency, Ofwat, Consumer Council for Water, Blueprint for Water and Water UK, has agreed to set a long-term goal to eliminate harm from storm overflows. Following recommendations from the Taskforce, water companies will also increase transparency around when and how storm overflows are used. The Taskforce update comes as the Government confirms it is also working with Philip Dunne MP in order to make progress on our shared ambitions to tackle sewage pollution in our rivers.
I have spoken with members of Surfers Against Sewage, The Environment Agency and South West Water about concerns with spillages onto beaches along our beautiful coast and into our rivers. I supported the original Bill, and welcome this outcome, as it will help shine a light on industry operations and help us in our fight against water pollution.
Animal Cruelty Sentencing and Animal Sentience
It is clear that animals are sentient beings who can feel pain and suffering, and I would like to reassure you that strong action is being taken to reduce their risk of harm.
The Government is committed to making any necessary changes to UK law in a rigorous and comprehensive way to ensure animal sentience is legally recognised after the transition period and legislation will be brought forward when parliamentary time allows. This also includes ensuring the UK has an effective means of making sure animal sentience is reflected in future policy decisions. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is currently assessing how best to support Government departments in considering the welfare needs of sentient animals when they are developing and implementing Government policy, as well as continuing to engage closely with relevant organisations and authorities to enhance its policies on this issue further.
I am proud that this Government is taking further steps to elevate our reputation for animal welfare in this country. Ministers are taking advantage of our departure from the EU to deliver manifesto commitments to end excessively long journeys for slaughter and fattening of livestock. Alongside this, they are continuing to work on developing new laws on animal sentience and cracking down on the illegal smuggling of dogs and puppies, and remain committed to banning pet primates, introducing mandatory cat microchipping and implementing the Ivory Act.
Emergency use of Neonicotinoids
I and the Government continue to support the restrictions on neonicotinoids to protect pollinators, and emergency authorisations for pesticides are only granted in exceptional circumstances where diseases or pests cannot be controlled by any other reasonable means. These emergency authorisations can provide short term availability of a product if the applicant can demonstrate that this addresses a danger which cannot be contained by any other reasonable means, that the use will be limited and controlled and that the necessary protection of people and of the environment can be achieved.
Under the EU Pet Travel Scheme, owners can obtain a pet passport that allows them to travel with their animals to and from certain other countries, provided they meet the requirements for the scheme which include appropriate vaccination and microchipping.
I know that the non-commercial movement of cats, dogs and ferrets is covered by the EU Pet Travel Scheme which has three categorisations of third country. These are:
• Part 1 listed;
• Part 2 listed; and
Third countries are able apply to the European Commission to be listed under the EU Pet Travel Scheme.
I understand that the UK submitted its application to become a Part 1 listed third country in January 2019 and resubmitted the application in February 2020. Should the UK become a Part 1 listed country, there would be little change to the current arrangements, with only minor changes needed for documentation and, in most cases, no change for owners from what they currently need to do in terms of their animal’s health preparation. It is now for the Commission to consider the UK’s application for listed status.
Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) and Angling
I have received a number of emails from constituents who are concerned about HPMAs and the effect they may have on recreational angling. I have raised this with the relevant Minister and I enclose their response below:
A number of constituents have contacted me regarding the Agriculture Bill. I voted against the amendments and I wanted to set out why in detail. Please forgiven the length of this response but I thought it best to be thorough.
First, on standards, the Government will not compromise on our existing standards. Any new trade deals must mean high levels of environmental protection, animal welfare, and high food standards. The EU Withdrawal Act will transfer existing food safety provisions into UK law, including existing import requirements. Our restrictions on imports will preclude things like chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef from coming to our shores.
The UK’s food standards, for both domestic production and imports, are overseen the by the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland. These are independent agencies and provide advice to the UK and Scottish governments. They will continue to do so in order to ensure that all food imports comply with the UK’s high safety standards. Decisions on these standards are a matter for the UK and will be made separately from any trade agreement.
When it comes to negotiating new trade deals, agreed texts will be laid before Parliament alongside an explanatory memorandum and final impact assessment. MPs retain the power to withhold consent from trade agreements and if I believe a particular trade deal is not in our best interests, that is what I will do.
There are a number of issues with the rejected amendments with regard to their specific content. Amendments 12 and 16 created conditions which do not exist under any existing UK or EU agreement. It is unlikely that other countries would agree to the requirements stipulated by these amendments, and in some cases it would not even be possible for them to do so.
Making sure we do not allow trade deals to undermine our environmental and animal welfare standards is a cause I passionately support. The Lords amendments may have sounded perfectly reasonable but they would require all countries to have processes in place to show that they meet thousands of pages of UK environmental and animal welfare legislation. The cost would be prohibitive and also unnecessary. We import bananas from many countries including the Dominican Republic, Belize and Cameroon. We import coffee from Indonesia, Ghana and Vietnam and black tea from Kenya. We do all this under existing (EU) rules. If we had passed this amendment, a huge number of food imports from developing countries would have been banned.
I want us to be ambitious in the types of trade agreements we are seeking to strike but these conditions would make any trade agreements hard to negotiate and less beneficial for UK farmers or consumers.
If these amendments had succeeded we could import coffee from Vietnam if we did not have a trade agreement, but if we did have a trade agreement, we would likely have to ban coffee imports. Does that sound right? Our trade deals would become anti-trade deals. This would have produced an indefensible barrier to making new and better trade deals.
There are many other oddities that the amendments would have thrown up. Our geography and climate mean that we need strict legal controls on nitrate concentration in soils, yet these are inappropriate for many other countries. We have laws on what time of year farmers are allowed to cut hedges, yet it would be completely inappropriate to enforce these rules on countries that do not use hedges in the same way as we do.
The UK imported an average of £213mn of black tea per year between 2017 and 2019, of which £142mn was from Kenya. Similarly, coffee imports to the UK totalled, on average, £108m per year within the same time period, the majority of which was from Vietnam. All developing countries which produce coffee beans exported to the UK, such as Ghana and Indonesia, would be expected to provide evidence that they met UK carbon emission targets as set out in the Climate Change Act. Our Climate Act is not appropriate for many developing countries; yes, we want them to do more, and free trade deals can be a way of doing this, but to ask them to use our specific targets would be unreasonable and would make any future free trade deal impossible.
That is why the Government has agreed with campaigners to set up an Independent Trade and Agriculture Commission. This means we can look at each individual trade deal rather than using these amendments which would impose blanket regulations on every country, regardless of whether they were suitable. The Commission will advise on how best the UK can seize new export opportunities, while ensuring animal welfare and environmental standards in food production are not undermined.
Not supporting these amendments does not mean that I or any other MPs do not want high animal welfare, food or environmental standards or that I am not supporting farmers. There must be room for reasonable disagreement in politics and it is flatly untrue to suggest that anyone not supporting these amendments has an ulterior motive. Of course I want to support farmers in North Devon, especially given how central they are to our way of life and economy. There are, however, disagreements about the best way to do this.
We all want the best for our producers, processors and consumers. These amendments were not the right way forward for anyone.
My colleague Anthony Browne, MP for South Cambridgeshire, and Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Environment has also written a detailed article on the issue.
Compulsory Microchipping of Cats
The Government is committed to improving the welfare of cats and has a manifesto commitment to introduce compulsory microchipping of cats. Last year, Defra published a call for evidence on compulsory microchipping for cats, which attracted over 3,000 responses. I am aware that the responses are now being assessed, with a view to publishing the summary of these in due course. In the meantime, I would encourage all cat owners to make the sensible choice to microchip their felines, ensuring relevant records are kept up to date.
I will be attending the virtual drop-in with Cats Protection on 20th October, and I look forward to finding out more about the argument for compulsory microchipping.
Plastic Pollution Crisis
As a consequence of the pandemic, we have seen a resurgence in the use of single-use plastics. This is a deeply disappointing development and whilst the use of single-use plastics has been unavoidable in some cases, we must redouble our efforts to see production and sale drastically reduced.
I have been in contact with Surfers Against Sewage about this issue, and I have tabled a Written Parliamentary Question to the Environment Secretary about this.
Regarding the Environment Bill, it is due to be considered in front of a Public Bill Committee which will report on 29th September. When the Bill comes back before the House of Commons, I will carefully consider any amendments and I will seek assurances from the Secretary of State about his commitment to tackling plastic pollution.
Religious Meat Preparation
I want to encourage the highest standards of welfare at slaughter and would prefer all animals to be stunned. However, it is also important to respect the rights of Jews and Muslims to eat meat prepared in accordance with their religious beliefs.
Religious meat preparation is only permitted to be carried out by licensed individuals in approved abattoirs. Religious meat preparation is not permitted in any other place, even for personal consumption. There is no national or EU requirement to display the method of preparation on meat products but where this is included it must be accurate. Consumers should have the necessary information available to them to make an informed choice about their food, and looking forward, the Government has an opportunity to review food labelling to make sure that consumers can have confidence in the food that they buy.
I will follow this issue as the Government reviews its rules on labelling but I hope that the strict measures imposed on religious meat production provide some reassurance.
Animal Testing after Brexit
Ministers have stated their determination that there should be no need for any additional animal testing for a chemical that has already been registered to EU Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH). After the transition period, the UK will be able to establish its own independent chemical regime. Although both the UK and EU will operate REACH frameworks, the two systems will not be linked. This means that companies wishing to retain access to the UK market will be required to notify and submit registration data to the Health and Safety Executive to confirm the registrations and ensure compliance with UK REACH.
As I understand it, the data that supports each substance's registration in REACH is not owned by individual companies or the European Chemicals Agency, but by a commercial consortium of companies. Although there will be some UK companies that already own that data, others will need to negotiate access to fulfil the UK requirements. The Government has set out that to enable businesses to meet the separate requirements of the two markets, the UK and EU could, as part of a Chemicals Annex, agree data and information sharing mechanisms. I am aware that the UK is continuing to negotiate a deal on data sharing with the EU.
Badger Cull and Bovine TB
The badger cull has led to a significant reduction in the disease, but no one wants to continue the cull of this protected species indefinitely. That is why the Government asked Sir Charles Godfray to conduct a review, which concluded in October 2018. Earlier this year, in response to that review, the Government set out its intended next steps, focused around three key priorities.
The current vaccine will never provide full protection, so I am pleased that funding will be made available to accelerate the research and trial work needed with the aim of having a deployable vaccine in the next five years. Alongside this, an exit strategy from the intensive culling of badgers will begin. As soon as possible, a pilot Government-funded badger vaccination will be introduced in at least one area where the four-year cull cycle has concluded, with simultaneous surveillance of disease. The aim is to only allow future culls where the evidence points to a significant reservoir of Bovine TB in badgers.
Finally, the Government will invest in the deployment of better, more frequent and more diverse cattle testing so that we are able to detect the presence of the disease earlier and remove it from cattle herds faster. I am pleased that world-leading Bovine TB cattle vaccination trials are also set to get underway in England and Wales as a result of a major breakthrough by Government scientists. These trials enable work to accelerate towards planned deployment of a cattle vaccine by 2025, in the latest milestone to eradicate this highly damaging animal disease.
Ministers hope that any remaining areas who join the current cull programme in the next few years will then wind down by the mid to late 2020s. There is no single answer to tackling the scourge of Bovine TB but by deploying a range of policy interventions, we can turn the tide on this terrible disease.
Air pollution and fine particulate matter (PM 2.5)
I strongly believe that we need to take urgent action to reduce the amount of air pollution in North Devon but also across the whole United Kingdom. Through the Environment Bill, an ambitious, legally binding target will be set to reduce fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), and local powers will be increased to address the sources of air pollution. Our air pollution targets will be the most ambitious in the world.
The Government is committed to taking action on PM 2.5, as it is the pollutant that has the most significant impact on health. Ministers are developing a clear evidence-based process for setting the PM 2.5 target introduced in the Environment Bill. This process will involve thorough analysis and independent expert advice, considering economic, social and technological factors. It will also involve detailed analysis to assess what additional action would be needed to achieve potential targets.
I recognise the conservation and economic benefits that shooting sports bring to rural communities. A study in 2010 by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust showed that predator control resulted in significant increases in the breeding success of ground nesting birds such as curlew, golden plover and lapwing. I believe that individuals should be free to manage wildlife within the law, and that the Government should only intervene when there is good reason to do so.
All wild birds are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and there are strong penalties in place for offences committed against birds of prey and other wildlife, with most wildlife crimes carrying up to an unlimited fine and/or a six-month custodial sentence. To address concerns about illegal killing of birds of prey, senior Government and enforcement officers have identified raptor persecution as a national wildlife crime priority. The National Wildlife Crime Unit monitors and gathers intelligence on wildlife crime, including raptor persecution, and aids police forces in their investigations when required.
The Government is very concerned about hen harrier populations, which is why we took the lead on the Hen Harrier Action Plan. This sets out what will be done to increase hen harrier populations in England and includes measures to stop illegal persecution. A copy of the plan is available on gov.uk. C
The Joint Action Plan was published in January 2016 and I believe that it remains the best way to restore hen harrier populations.
It contains six actions which individually can bring benefits for harriers, but when combined, underpin each other and have the potential to deliver strong outcomes. It includes three measures to stamp out illegality, a trial toolkit comprising two measures for land owners to safely accommodate hen harriers on grouse moors and a measure to reintroduce them to suitable habitat in other parts of England. These six complementary actions have the potential to deliver strong outcomes and set out the expected benefits from each action, who is going to lead actions and the timescales for them to be achieved.
Ministers have always been clear of the need to phase out rotational burning of protected blanket bog to conserve these vulnerable habitats. Real progress is being made in promoting sustainable alternatives and I am pleased to hear that legislation is being looked at which could help achieve this. Ministers have also been encouraging landowners to adopt sustainable options and continue to work with them constructively. The England Peat Strategy will be published later this year which will detail further how we can protect, restore, and reduce damage to our peatlands.
The Common Fisheries Policy has restricted our ability to implement fisheries management measures within offshore Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The Fisheries Bill proposes a new power to allow the introduction of measures for conservation purposes.
The Fisheries Bill currently going through Parliament will help to protect our marine resources and develop plans to restore our fish stock back to more sustainable levels. This builds on a manifesto commitment which promised to introduce a legal commitment to fish sustainably as we become an independent coastal state once again.
As set out in the Withdrawal Agreement, during the transition period, we have agreed that we will continue to apply current fisheries rules and shared access to waters will continue until the end of 2020. While we are still part of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), EU registered vessels are legally entitled to fish in our waters.
We will automatically take back control of our waters, and others’ right to fish in them, at the end of 2020. For the first time in 40 years, we will be free to decide who can access our waters to fish and on what terms.
The Fisheries Bill prohibits any commercial fishing vessel (including foreign-registered vessels) from operating in UK waters without a licence. It also provides powers to attach conditions (such as the areas that can be fished, species that can be caught and the type of fishing gear that can be used) to fishing vessel licences. Foreign vessels operating in UK waters will have to follow UK rules, including the conditions that are attached to their commercial fishing licence.
I have made clear to Ministers the strength of feeling in North Devon that supertrawlers should not be able to operate in protected waters. Leaving the European Union gives us the opportunity to do this, and I will continue to engage with Ministers on this.#
Heat pumps are essential if we are to achieve net-zero carbon.
The argument for the 45kW cap is that this will target support where upfront costs are a particular barrier in transitioning to low-carbon heat. Typically, these installations are in households or small and medium-size enterprises. I do, however, recognise your concern that many bigger schemes need support too, and the consultation expressly seeks views on this very point. Both the consultation on future support for low carbon heat and on closure of and proposed reforms to the non-domestic Renewable Heat Incentive have closed and the Government is analysing the responses. However, as I have heard from several constituents on this, I have ensured that the Minister's office is aware of concerns about the suggested cap.
It has been pointed out to me that in the recent Budget, the Chancellor announced a £270 million Green Heat Network Fund which will fund large-heat pumps, solar thermal installations and waste-heat recovery in heat networks between 2022 and 2025. I understand that the Government will be consulting later this year on scheme design which will offer the sector to make the case for supporting larger heat pump projects. I am confident that with the right support they will play a massive role in Britain in decarbonising heat.
While we need target incentives correctly, I agree this is best achieved by consulting with industry and I would encourage you to respond to both consultations.
I completely understand how important the issue of general licences is, especially for a constituency like North Devon. The Government are currently analysing the evidence of their review into longer-term licensing arrangements. It is important that this is concluded as quickly as possible, but that the Department come to the right conclusion.
I am pleased that six general licences for the control of wild birds have now been reissued on a temporary basis ahead of new licences coming into force on 1 January 2021. No action is required by licence users, beyond the ongoing requirement to act in accordance with the licence conditions. DEFRA intends to publish new licences in November to allow user groups to become acquainted with the changes before they officially come into force.
As a result of the above, wild bird control on and near European sites and lethal control of gulls have been via individual licence this year. I appreciate the frustrations regarding individual licensing, and Ministers are working closely with Natural England to ensure that these issues are sorted as quickly as possible. I accept that many constituents have concerns about Natural England’s management of this, and I will make sure that Ministers have this reiterated to them.
Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) Alerts
Ensuring we have clean bathing waters in North Devon is vitally important for our environment, public health and our local economy. I take the issue very seriously and have been concerned that a number of constituents have contacted me regarding the reported Combined Sewer Overflow incidents in several of our coastal villages.
I have spoken with South West Water (SWW) to better understand the cause of these CSO alerts. Several MPs offices have been in touch with SWW with similar alerts in other parts of Devon and Cornwall. In their response they said:
“CSOs are the legacy of older combined sewer systems where sewage and surface water are removed in the same pipe. They act as a legal safety valve, helping homes from being flooded during intense or prolonged rainfall by temporarily discharging into watercourses and eventually the sea. The CSO will trigger due to high volumes of surface water and roof drainage being discharged into the sewers during wet weather from the older parts of the sewerage network. Consequently, the discharge is very diluted and the impact is limited and temporary. The Environment Agency issues permits for CSOs and regulate what we do to ensure we comply with strict environmental laws.
“Whilst recognising that there are now serious calls to remove CSOs entirely from the sewerage system they do act as vital safety valves to protect homes and property from sewer flooding. To remove them would require the full separation of all surface water from the sewerage system and would incur significant disruption to towns and villages costing many billions across the UK significantly increasing customer bills.
“The Clean Sweep programme transformed bathing waters in the South West by adding 40 sewage treatment works and the equivalent of 86 Olympic-sized swimming pools of extra storm water storage, at a cost of £2billion. Before Clean Sweep almost 40% of the region’s homes routinely spilled untreated raw sewage into the sea.
South West Water has a near real-time bathing water information service, BeachLive (www.beachlive.co.uk). This provides free alerts, through a web site and mobile app, when CSOs may affect bathing water quality, so informed decisions can be taken by both the public and beach managers.”
I am reassured that the consequences of these CSO incidents are only temporary and that they are working to address any underlying issues, especially those in Combe Martin, where I am working closely with SWW, the Environment Agency, the Parish Council and Combe Martin Water Watch Group to tackle concerns around bathing water quality.
“A large number of constituents have contacted my about the Agriculture Bill, the creation of a Food Standards Commission, and food standards in future trade deals. I would like to address each of these issues below but first, I want to make it absolutely clear that I will never support the lowering of our animal welfare or food production standards. Rejecting the amendments to the Agriculture Bill is entirely consistent with that commitment. However, I remain in constant contact with Ministers about this, and I have raised the concerns of constituents directly. I also raised this issue in the House of Commons on 9th June.
The Agriculture Bill makes a series of commitments on domestic food production, something I know a lot of farmers are concerned about. The Bill, after lobbying from myself and other colleagues with significant agricultural sectors, now includes a specific commitment to encouraging domestic food production. The Government will also be required to report on food security, and I know the Environment Secretary wants this Bill to lead to more of our food being produced here, and it is not true to characterise the Government’s position as wanting cheaper imports to replace our domestic production base.
We are now moving towards a system which does not reward farmers based on how much land they own, but on how they use that land. Farmers will be rewarded for providing ‘public goods’, which will encourage environmentally-friendly farming and increased domestic production of food. One of the lessons of the pandemic has surely been that we should produce more of what we consume here in the UK.
The Government have said that they will establish a Trade and Agriculture Commission, as many constituents and the National Farmers Union have asked for. Work is now ongoing to agree the terms of reference of the Commission, and I will engage fully with this process to ensure that is protects food standards.
The EU Withdrawal Act also rolls over all the existing EU food safety provisions and import requirements, meaning that we will prevent the import of inferior foods such as chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef. Any changes to these standards would require new legislation to come before the House of Commons and therefore MPs’ approval.
I have been contacted about amendments to the Agriculture Bill on food production standards. First, as above, our current import standards will prevent a lot of the products people are most concerned about from coming to the UK. Second, whilst I agreed with the intention of the proposed amendments, they would have had serious unforeseen effects that would weaken our ability to strike trade deals. If passed, the amendment would likely have prevented trade deals with some of our biggest trading partners, and the UK would have difficulty in rolling over existing trade deals such as with Japan. This would threaten our farmers’ exports, and potentially disrupt our existing food supply by preventing the import of products which up until now have been permitted. The prescriptive nature of the amendment would have made it practically impossible for the Government to comply before the end of the transition period, and we would face wider trade disruption as a result.
Finally, I have been in regular contact with the Secretary of State for International Trade and the Secretary of State for the Environment about this. I am continuing to raise this issue to reiterate that I will not accept lower food or animal welfare standards. Please see their joint letter below which clearly sets out the Government’s position.”
Food Standards and Future Trade Deals
In response to a large number of constituents concerned; I am supportive of the Government position thanks to these commitments made in writing by the Secretaries of State for Trade, and Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I will not support a lowering of food standards in our trade agreements.
Animal research still plays an important role in providing vital safety information for potential new medicines. It is worth remembering that, as a result of findings from animal studies, a large number of potential new drugs never get as far as being tested in humans. Some aspects of the toxicological assessment of new medicines cannot be adequately assessed in humans, and animal data will be the only kind available.
Without animal testing it is highly likely that a large number of potentially dangerous new medicines would be tested in healthy volunteers and patients in clinical trials, and I know Ministers believe that this would be quite unacceptable. However, animals are only used when there are no suitable alternatives, and by encouraging new cutting-edge approaches to science we will ensure that standards of animal welfare are improved.
I fully support all steps to establish new methods and to support the life sciences and research industry. However, existing scientific research methods ensure that, by the time medicines reach clinical trial, risks are significantly reduced.
We are a nation of animal lovers, so it is only right that we have some of the highest welfare standards in the world. In addition to fur farming being banned in the UK, I am pleased to note that the import of fur products is tightly regulated. It is illegal to import furs derived from cats or dogs, or products made from them. In addition, the fur and skin of endangered animals or fish cannot be imported without a valid permit.
As well as this, it is prohibited to import furs or fur products from 13 wild animal species originating in countries where they are caught in the wild by leg-hold traps, or trapping methods that do not meet international standards of humane trapping. Strict rules are also in place to ensure that animals kept for fur production are kept, trapped and slaughtered humanely.
I appreciate that there is considerable support for banning all imports of fur products. The UK continues to support higher animal welfare standards worldwide as the best way of phasing out cruel and inhumane fur farming and trapping practices that are banned here. Now we have left the EU, the Government has retained all the current regulations banning imports of cat and dog fur and seal products from commercial hunts, as well as controls on products from endangered species and humane trapping. Until the end of the transition period it is not possible to introduce additional restrictions on the fur trade, but at the end of that period the UK will have a unique opportunity to ensure we have the highest standards in every area of animal welfare.
The UK will also be able to press for high standards through international forums such as the World Organisation for Animal Health, CITES and others. The UK will retake our seat on these bodies and be able more effectively to promote and support improved animal welfare standards internationally.
I share your high regard for animal welfare, which I am pleased is protected by comprehensive and robust legislation. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 already makes it an offence to cause any unnecessary suffering to any animal, including gamebirds.
This legislation is backed up by the statutory Code of Practice for the Welfare of Gamebirds Reared for Sporting Purposes. The code recommends that when birds are housed or penned, the accommodation should be well constructed and managed and of sufficient size to ensure good health and welfare.
Specifically, the code recommends that barren raised cages for breeding pheasants and small barren cages for breeding partridges should not be used and that any system should be appropriately enriched. Keepers are required by law to be familiar with this code, which encourages the adoption of high standards of husbandry. Failure to observe the provisions of this code may be used in support of a prosecution.
These rules are enforced by the Animal and Plant Health Agency, as well as by local authorities, who can both carry out routine welfare inspections and investigate complaints. Prosecutions can be brought where necessary.
I am pleased that the Government has taken action to ban cages or close confinement systems where there is clear scientific evidence that they are detrimental to animal health and welfare. For example, the use of battery cages for laying hens has been banned since 2012.
Bats and the Environment Bill
The Government has committed to developing a Nature Recovery Network and, in the long term, to create or restore 500,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat outside the protected site series. A new framework for Local Nature Recovery Strategies will be legislated for in the Environment Bill, to help support the Nature Recovery Network - creating places that are richer in wildlife.
The Bill will also require the preparation and publication of Local Nature Recovery Strategies, mapping nature-rich habitats, so that investment can be targeted where it will make the most difference. The Government will provide data, guidance, and advice, but these local plans will embrace local knowledge to strengthen links between neighbouring communities and support the wider Network.
The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) will scrutinise Government policy to ensure the environment is at the heart of decision making. Crucially, it will have the power to run its own independent investigations and enforce environmental law, including taking government and other public bodies to court where necessary. I believe that it is vital we have the required protections and mechanisms in place to protect our wildlife.
Animal Welfare & Food Standards and Future Trade Deals
I can assure you that food and animal welfare standards will not be reduced in the pursuit of trade deals. Our manifesto commits us to maintaining and defending our high standards of food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection as we embark on our trade negotiations from around the world. Any future trade deal must work for British farmers and consumers. Legislation has already been passed which will mean EU standards on food such as chlorinated chicken have come into UK law. EU regulations on hormone-treated beef are already part of UK law. These prevent the use of growth hormones in imports and domestic production.
The Government has published its mandate for the trade negotiations between the UK and the US, and it makes clear that we will not compromise on our food, environmental, or animal welfare standards. I will ensure that the interests of our farmers in North Devon are protected because we cannot afford to undermine what is an essential sector for North Devon.
Nature & The Environment Bill
The Environment Bill will put the environment at the heart of all policy and hold governments to account if they fail to uphold their environmental duties. The Office for Environmental Protection, a new, world-leading independent regulator, will be established in statute to scrutinise environmental policy and law, investigate complaints and take enforcement action when necessary. This will ensure we succeed in leaving the environment in a better condition than we found it.
In the 25 Year Environment Plan, the Government committed to developing a Nature Recovery Network and, in the long term, to create or restore 500,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat outside the protected site series. The Bill will also require the preparation and publication of Local Nature Recovery Strategies, mapping nature-rich habitats, so that investment can be targeted where it will make the most difference.
I believe that the irresponsible use of the whip is completely unacceptable. The British Horseracing Association (BHA), the governing and regulatory body for the sport, requires that whips used in horse racing must be used responsibly, for safety reasons and only to encourage the horse.
The BHA policy on the whip was drawn up in consultation with animal welfare groups, such as the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare. The latest rules include a threshold on the number of times the whip can be used before racing stewards can consider an inquiry. If the rules are broken, the jockey may be banned from racing for a certain number of days depending on the seriousness of the offence.
In addition to sanctions from the sport, using the whip indiscriminately on horses could lead to a prosecution under the 2006 Animal Welfare Act, which makes it a criminal offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal. I would encourage anyone with evidence that a racehorse has suffered unnecessarily from being whipped to report it to the local authority.
I therefore believe that the provisions of the 2006 Act, coupled with the BHA’s rules on the use of the whip, provide adequate protection for racehorses.
All animals should be treated with thought and care. Trophy hunting involves pursuing another animal in conditions which causes stress, fear and pain, with hunters killing as a form of entertainment, not for food, to control pests or to protect other species.
I cannot see a justification to defend hunters who kill an animal which has been bred in captivity for the specific purpose of being hunted for entertainment. I believe action is needed to stop this sort of exploitation. I am therefore pleased that the Government has launched a consultation on options to restrict the imports and exports of hunting trophies to the UK - including a potential ban.
This consultation, alongside a call for evidence, will allow ministers to understand the public’s views on all sides of the debate and gather expert evidence to inform any next steps. It will run until the 25th February 2020 and you can take part, should you wish, by visiting https://consult.defra.gov.uk/wildlife-management/trophy-hunting-consultation/.
Nature and the Agriculture Bill
The decision to leave the European Union has created an historic opportunity to deliver a green Brexit, where environmental standards are not only maintained but enhanced.
The Agriculture Bill will enable a balance between food production and the environment which will safeguard our countryside and farming communities for the future. The Bill sets out how farmers and land managers in England will be paid public money for “public goods,” rewarding them for the work they do to safeguard our environment. This will help our country meet crucial goals on climate change and protecting nature and biodiversity.
In addition, the Environment Bill will place environmental ambition and accountability at the heart of Government. Legislative measures will be introduced to address the biggest environmental priorities of our age, including nature recovery, ensuring we can deliver on the commitment to leave the natural world in a better condition than we found it. A new framework for Local Nature Recovery Strategies will be legislated for in the Environment Bill, to help support the Nature Recovery Network and better direct investment in the environment and green infrastructure – creating places that are richer in wildlife and provide wider benefits for local communities.
Clear Access, Clear Waters
I am enthusiastic about promoting sport and recreation in the countryside, and understand the positive benefits outdoor activities can have. However, I am also mindful of the rights of communities and people who live or work on land adjoining water and so we must seek to maintain this delicate balance between the rights of all parties.
I therefore support continuing to use local, voluntary agreements to increase river access for walkers, swimmers and non-powered craft. The rights of other users, as well as protection for wildlife and the environment, are important considerations. These sensitive issues can best be dealt with at a local level rather than through a one size fits all approach decided in Westminster.
I share your concern about the health of our rivers and I am glad we have made good progress. More than 5,300 miles of rivers have been improved since 2010.This means our rivers are in the healthiest state for 25 years with otters, salmon, sea trout and other wildlife returning to many rivers for the first time since the industrial revolution.
As well as this, since the water industry was privatised, around £25 billion has been invested to reduce pollution from sewage, covering improvements in sewage treatment and in sewer overflows keeping our rivers clean.
I am in favour of strict targets on air pollution and ours have been described by the WHO as ‘an example for the rest of the world to follow’. The Government’s Clean Air Strategy aims to cut air pollution through new primary legislation. The Strategy details how the UK will go much further than the EU in reducing particulate matter pollution. It sets out to halve the number of people living in areas with high concentrations of particulate matter and it will mean legislation to give councils more power to improve air quality and ensure that only the cleanest domestic fuels and stoves can be sold.
The Environment Bill will build on this Strategy, and highlight our drive to go further to clean up our air. The Bill will set ambitious, legally-binding targets to reduce fine particulate matter and these targets will be among the most ambitious in the world, improving the quality of millions of people’s live.
Finn's Law Part 2
Thank you very much for contacting me about the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill.
I completely agree that we need to have the right legislation in place to ensure that those who are cruel to animals or who neglect their welfare are properly punished. The UK is a country of animal lovers and MPs must reflect that when making decisions. I am therefore happy to say that the Government will introduce legislation to increase the maximum sentence for animal cruelty to five years imprisonment.
This is on top of a number of other animal welfare measures such the ban on the use of animals in travelling circuses, passed last year. Moving forward, consultations are being set up to look at banning long journeys for animals being transported for slaughter and further restrictions on the trade in hunting trophies.
Friends of the Earth
I can absolutely assure you that climate change is at the forefront of my decision making and I am in favour of rapid cuts to carbon emissions. I want to continue the progress we have made thus far (a 25% reduction in carbon emissions over the past nine years) and redouble our efforts so that the planet is in a fit state to be passed on to future generations.
Putting the net-zero by 2050 target into law marked an important moment and showed just how far we have come as a country in forging a strong consensus behind climate action. I am concerned, however, that 2050 might be too late and I will be liaising with Ministers to explore whether we could achieve net-zero sooner.
I believe the best approach to stemming the flow of plastic is by taking action on land. The UK’s world-leading ban on microbeads will help stop potentially billions of particles from entering our seas every year, and over 15.6 billion fewer bags have been issued since the introduction of the plastic bag charge in 2015. I am also pleased that following an open consultation a ban on the supply of plastic straws, excluding those needed for medical purposes, plus drinks stirrers and cotton buds will come into force next April.
Since water privatisation, around £25 billion has been invested to reduce pollution from sewage, covering improvements in sewage treatment and overflows. In England, between 2015 and 2020, water companies are investing over £3 billion to improve their sewerage infrastructure. It is also encouraging to see tough enforcement action when things go wrong, as with the unprecedented fine of almost £20 million levied against Thames Water in March 2017 in response to six cases of avoidable sewage pollution.
I am pleased that 41 new Marine Conservation Zones have been created. The UK now has 355 Marine Protected Areas of different types, spanning 220,000 square km. No new activities deemed damaging may take place in these areas and existing harmful activities will be minimised or stopped to allow important habitats to recover.
A review has now been launched into whether and how Highly Protected Marine Areas, the strongest form of marine protection, could be introduced in English seas. This will help inform the Government’s work to expand and strengthen the UK’s Blue Belt to create richer habitats for marine life.