Thank you very much for your interest in the Agriculture Bill. I voted against the amendments and I want to take this opportunity to explain why.
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.
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 amendments with regard to their specific content. Amendments 12 and 16 create 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. I want us to be ambitious in the types of trade agreements we are seeking to strike but these conditions would likely make any trade agreements hard to negotiate and less beneficial for UK farmers.
It is for the reasons above that I will not be supporting amendments to the Agriculture Bill. I would of course be happy to correspond further if you have additional concerns.
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.
To be clear, I believe that climate change is one of the most important issues we face, and I support efforts to reduce emissions as soon as possible. I am glad that we have a legal commitment to net-zero by 2050 and I have been having discussions with colleagues about how we can achieve this sooner. I have also worked extensively with other Conservative MPs to see how some of the changes effected by the pandemic can be made permanent, such as the increased uptake of cycling and walking. Further, I have been looking at how we can use new legislation to capitalise on emission reduction opportunities. For example, I have been exploring how the Agriculture Bill could be used to encourage landowners to create carbon sinks, and I have been working on proposals to make the South West the first net-negative region of the UK.
However, I cannot support the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill. This does not mean that I do not want to tackle climate change or do so as quickly as possible, but that I believe the Bill is unrealistic in a number of respects. Some of the Bill’s provisions relate to commitments the Government has already made, whilst others I believe to be impractical such as the establishment of a Citizens’ Assembly. The past success of such assemblies is mixed, and I strongly believe that MPs should be responsible for these sorts of decisions. We are elected to represent our constituents and whilst not every constituent will agree with my decisions, I do make every effort to further the interests of North Devon in every vote.
It is clear to me that Extinction Rebellion are not interested in parliamentary democracy or the legitimacy of the decision-making process, but using any means necessary to achieve their aims. Their methods are particularly inappropriate in the midst of a pandemic and whilst I do not deny that climate change is a potential existential threat which requires our constant attention, it cannot be justifiable to put the health of the country at risk in so doing. If we are to tackle climate change, we require broad, public consensus behind the necessary measures. Extinction Rebellion’s tactics could hardly be better designed to undermine that.
I would like to take this opportunity to go over some of the UK’s achievements so far. The UK has the most successful carbon reduction record of any G7 nation, and we are successfully managing to decouple carbon emissions from economic growth. The UK was the first country in the world to write a commitment to net-zero into law, and we have played a leading role in the negotiation of international climate agreements such as the Paris Climate Agreement. The use of coal in the UK has all but disappeared, in stark contrast to other European countries like Germany.
That said, the UK must focus more energy on convincing other countries to reduce emissions in the way that we have. Bluntly, it is not enough for us to achieve net-zero if the other large economies of the world do not follow suit. The UK will be hosting the postponed United Nations Climate Change Conference next year, and I know that Ministers want to encourage the biggest polluters to urgently reduce their emissions.
Animal Welfare in Trade and Animal Sentience
It is self-evident 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.
Action is being taken to improve animal welfare at home and abroad by increasing maximum sentences for animal cruelty, banning third party sales of puppies, and introducing one of the world’s toughest bans on ivory sales. I believe these very welcome steps demonstrate exactly how seriously this Government takes animal welfare.
Having left the EU, I am pleased that the UK will now have the opportunity to do even more. A consultation will shortly be carried out on restricting live animal journeys, requiring approval for longer journeys and bringing forward welfare conditions for these journeys when they are necessary. The Government is also looking at proposals to ban the trade in pet primates, extending compulsory microchipping to cats and controlling the trade in hunting trophies from endangered animals. We are a nation of animal lovers and I am pleased with the commitments to make Brexit work not just for citizens, but for the animals we love and cherish too.
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.