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We do recognise the difficulties faced by the pig industry, and DEFRA works closely with the British Pig Executive. Indeed, my noble Friend Lord Rooker attended a meeting this week. The pig industry has mounted a campaign, and I attended its conference in Norwich last week. I had a clear message for the supermarket suppliers, which attended the conference: they must take care of the primary producer. When Asda produces a pack of sausages for 16p, that does not help the primary producer. We must support the pig
industrys campaign. I am sure that all hon. Members will do so, because it produces a fine product and its animal welfare is good. We recognise that feed prices are an issue not just for British pig farmers, but for European pig farmers across the board, who also attended the conference. We are working closely with the industry and we hope to see prices increase. The hon. Gentleman makes his point about the primary producers well.
Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole) (Lab): I endorse everything that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) said. I attended the British Pig Executive emergency meeting in the House earlier this week to discuss this very matter. I realise that my hon. Friend is working hard on the issue, but may I encourage him to ensure that public procurement includes British pork and pigmeat products? I know that contracts have to be tendered, but if he could include animal welfare standards in the specifications, that would not only receive wide public support, but ensure that British pig farmers across the country reaped the benefit of the fine standards on their farms.
Jonathan Shaw: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Of course we cannot restrict where people purchase their food from in public procurement, but we can put high welfare standards into the contracts. Many European countries will have high welfare standards, but I am sure that the British pig industry is confident that its standards will be as high as any other, if not higher.
Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): Farmers were very pleased to see Lord Rooker at the meeting earlier this week. We all thank him for taking the trouble to attend, and we know that he takes the industry seriously. The Minister mentioned that it was not possible to restrict purchases, but it is possible to improve labelling. Since there is already a requirement for the country of origin to be labelled for fresh fruit, vegetables and beef, does he agree that there is no legal impediment to having the same for pork and pork products, and that that would bring a significant extra benefit for British farmers?
Jonathan Shaw: The hon. Gentleman is right. We are seeing improvements in labelling. Supermarkets and independent stores are increasingly using the strength of local purchase. One can often see pictures of the farmer and the farm that the produce came from. That helps the consumer to make informed choices. I can tell the hon. Gentleman and the House that new food information proposals have come forward from the European Community that, in the case of meat, would require the countries of birth, rearing and slaughter where these are not the same. I hope that those proposals will go some way towards addressing his concerns. The Food Standards Agency is consulting on the matter. I am sure that he and other hon. Members who are concerned about the pig industry, as well as the industry itself, will make a contribution to that consultation.
We have to support the pig industry, which has run an excellent campaign called Stand By Your Hamperhaps hon. Members have seen the video, which is based on the Dolly Parton song and features leading members of the industry, including the fine gentleman Stewart Houston, chairman of the British Pig Executive. We do not want him to give up his day job and start singinghis singing
is perhaps not up to Dolly Partons standardsbut we do want him to continue leading the pig industry, which we need to support. We hope that we see better times this year and in years to come.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): With the contraction of the British pig herd, more and more pork products are imported into this country, yet 70 per cent. of those imports are not up to the animal welfare standards that we expect in this country. If the Minister could do something meaningful for the pig industry in this country, it would be to ensure that pork is produced throughout Europe to the same high standards as in the UK.
Jonathan Shaw: We have led in Europe on welfare standards, and the industry will highlight that in encouraging people to purchase its products. At the conference that I attended in Norwich, we were joined not only by the supermarkets but by animal welfare organisations saluting the good work of the British pig industry, as well as by pig producers from other European countries. We want to ensure that there is a level playing field and that other countries catch up with our lead.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): The UKs food security depends on a strong UK agricultural sector, diversity of supply and good trading links, particularly with our EU partners. We are currently more self-sufficient in food than we were 50 years ago, but we do need to respond to changing circumstances. I therefore intend to publish in the near future a consultation paper on ensuring Britains food security.
Tony Lloyd: I welcome my right hon. Friends comments. The 2006 DEFRA study of food security relied essentially on the fact that the UK is a rich and open economy, and talked about reliance on world markets. The world is changing, however, and food prices have gone up, with the poorest people in the world and in Britain suffering most. Some of the worlds producers are beginning to consider restricting exports of food stocks. In that changed environment, is it not vital that we consider what technology can do domestically, and the possibility of self-sufficiency or at least increasing local supply to guarantee security, particularly for the poorest people in our country?
Hilary Benn: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. As circumstances change, we must be prepared to respond in the right way. Ultimately, it would be difficult to close ourselves off entirely from the rest of the world, because it is not just a question of the supply of food but of inputs such as fertiliser and oil to plough the fields and do lots of other things. The House will welcome the fact that our self-sufficiency rose slightly last year from 59 to 61 per cent. for all foodstuffs, and from 72 to 74 per cent. for food that we can grow. We need to take into account all my hon. Friends points.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Will the right hon. Gentleman be mindful of the need for food security in the medium and long term when he enters further discussions on common agricultural policy reform? Until such time as farmers in the UK can trade on the world market at reasonable prices, it would be very foolish to cut away the financial assistance that they currently receive.
Hilary Benn: We want the farming sector to be strong and profitable and to produce for the market. We should welcome the recent rise in prices for a number of products, albeit that some sectors have had difficulties because of the increased cost of grain. We are seeing the market respond to increased prices with increased production. That might mean that the recent big spike in world prices will decrease in the years ahead, but not come down to the previous level. We need to ensure that the common agricultural policy supports that process. Europe is 90 per cent. self-sufficient in food, and we import no more than 30 per cent. of our food imports from any one European country. Therefore, we have a diversity of supply, which puts Europe in a strong position to support itself.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I hear what my right hon. Friend says, but does he see an important role for local food chains now, and particularly for the idea that people should produce food at home as well as purchase it? Will he talk to his colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government about the importance of the garden, which has been underestimated, and in particular about reassessing the role of allotments, because many people would grow their own produce but have not had the opportunity to do so?
Hilary Benn: I agree completely. The year of food and farming is in part about doing precisely that, not least encouraging some of the younger generation to understand that food grows not in supermarkets but in fields, allotments and elsewhere. I think that there is a growing interest in where food comes fromthe point raised in the earlier questionwhich can be seen in the growth of farmers markets and the efforts that some supermarkets are making to link the products that they sell with the farmers who have produced them. We should welcome that.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): The Secretary of State gave a relatively reassuring response to the lead question, but does he not agree that the lesson to be learned is that we still should produce more of the food that we need here in the United Kingdom? In that regard, will he ensure that the Government do not penalise the farming industry through increased taxation, not least increased vehicle excise duty, because vehicles such as 4x4s are essential for farmers to transport livestock? Will he further encourage the superstores not to increase their profitability but to ensure that they treat the farming community in this country more fairly?
On the first point on farmers resources and the fuel that they use in their vehicles, of course they benefit from red diesel, which currently provides a significant amount of support. I take the hon. Gentlemans point about vehicles. On supermarkets, farmers want a fair price for the product that they produce. That is why
I think that the whole House will welcome the fact that we have seen an increase in prices relating to milk, beef and sheep in the past few months, which is one reason why many in the farming industry are looking at the future with greater optimism than for some time.
Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): With a growing world population, growing world per capita consumption of food, the adverse effects of climate change and the pressure from biofuels, are the UK Government going to rethink their position on genetically modified crops?
Hilary Benn: The Governments position remains that we should follow the science, and that is what we have done throughout. One particular issue that I raised at the recent meeting of the Environment Council is the speed at which the European Union gives approval for new varieties of GM products to come into the EU. That is highly relevant when it comes to animal feed. A considerable amount of GM soya comes into the country and is fed to animals already. One concern is that prices are higher than they might otherwise be because of the slow approval process in the EU. We should go with the science and the advice on safety, but it is important that, acting in the light of those two things, we provide support to farmers who want to purchase those products to feed to their animals.
Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): If the Government are finally taking food security seriously, I am genuinely looking forward to the paper that the Secretary of State says he is going to publish.
Recently Lord Rooker admitted that Ministers took their eyes off the ball as far as the imposition of the integrated pollution prevention and control charges was concerned, on pigs and poultry in particular. What assurances can the Secretary of State give us that his eyes are firmly on the ball as far as two imminent issues are concerned: the proposed gold-plating by his Department of the nitrates directive and the proposed regulation of plant protection products, currently in Europe, which by his own officials estimate could reduce yields of domestic food production in this country by up to 30 per cent.? Will he tell us quite clearly not only that his eyes are on the ball, but that he will stop those things happening?
Hilary Benn: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that my eyes are very much on the ball. In relation to the second of those two issues, I raised that very point at the recent meeting of the Agriculture Council. The problem at the moment is that not enough of the other member states of the European Union seem to have woken up to the implications of what is being proposed. The United Kingdom is in exactly the right place in arguing the case that we have put and to which he refers.
On the first issue, we have had a consultation and will be responding in due course. We are very mindful of the implications of the nitrates directive for farmers, but I am also very mindful of the report just published by the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which says what I think we all knowthat the rest of Europe has done it and we need to get on with it.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Joan Ruddock): The Government have implemented nationally a number of measures to promote energy efficiency, such as the Warm Front scheme and the carbon emissions reduction target, which is an obligation on energy companies. Both schemes offer a range of insulation and energy-efficiency heating measures to vulnerable households who may be at risk of fuel poverty, and the community energy efficiency fund supplements those schemes in an area-based approach.
Jon Trickett: I am grateful for that response and for the Governments work taking fuel poverty seriously. In the Ministers constituency, like mine, many people are struggling to pay their fuel bills at the moment, so whatever the Government can do will help. Does she agree that the private sector could be encouraged to do more? Fuel bills charged by energy companies recently increased by 15 per cent., yet Centrica, for example, subsequently reported a 500 per cent. increase in profits, which caused much anger. Could private sector companies do more to help those who are fuel-poor partly as a result of the price increases?
Joan Ruddock: As my hon. Friend knows, the Government are extremely concerned about high energy prices. As the Prime Minister has said, we are constantly examining ways in which it may be possible to assist.
The carbon emissions reduction target requires energy companies to deliver improvements in domestic energy efficiency. More than half of that investment, which is equivalent to about £1.5 billion, will be directed at priority groupsthose on low incomes, the disabled and the elderlycovering everyone over 70 years of age. We must remember that all domestic consumers pay in the long term for the carbon emissions reduction target, so there is a limit on what the Government can do in further imposing on the energy companies. However, I hear what my hon. Friend says, and I hope that the companies act, because some voluntary contribution to meeting the considerable need at this time to assist the most vulnerable with high fuel prices would of course be extremely welcome.
Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): I welcome the Governments efforts to deal with fuel poverty today, in Hemsworth and elsewhere, but what are the Government doing to tackle fuel poverty in the future by creating renewable sources of energy in social and affordable housing, which would address some of our climate change problems and provide a complete answer to fuel poverty among poorer households?
The renewable energy strategy consultation will be released very soon. As the hon. Lady knows, the Government are paying a huge amount of attention to renewables. We are implementing more offshore wind energy than any other European country,
and we are also examining many other ways in which more renewable energy can be produced. All that would benefit low-income households, because we are talking about national supply. The Government will continue with their programmes to help those who are most vulnerable and we are exercised about the fact that we need to ensure that poor people can afford to keep their homes warm and keep themselves healthy.
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): What is my hon. Friends view on the adequacy of the budgets for the schemes that she has mentioned, and for the decent homes initiative, in order to bring about the increase in energy efficiency that is commonly seen in Scandinavia, for example? Does she share my concern about the adequacy of the grant maxima under Warm Front? That inadequacy is leading to many poor people having to make top-up contributions to obtain energy-efficient installations.
Joan Ruddock: Hon. Members have made many representations to my ministerial colleagues on the adequacy of Warm Front and the capital limit, and I can tell my hon. Friend that the Minister for the Environment has assured me that he is examining the limits, because we are aware of the issue. Taken together, Warm Front and CERT will deliver much more money for energy efficiency for the domestic consumer than in the previous three years, and we are already considering a strategy for beyond 2011.
Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): The Minister mentioned Warm Front and CERT, but in constituencies such as Hemsworth, there is a household-by-household approach, with individuals applying and each company trying to find customers in different streets in the area. She mentioned area-based approaches. Should they not be the dominant approach? Is it not far more efficient to take a whole estate or neighbourhood and sort out its energy efficiency, rather than having one van going to one house, and another van going to another?
Joan Ruddock: As I said, there are area-based schemes, and the Government have been piloting such schemes with local authorities. I visited a scheme only this week where the process is on an area basis, not household by household. We are learning from this experience; the schemes will go on for another three years, and are now self-sustaining. We will be able to apply those lessons elsewhere. The hon. Gentleman has a point, but at the moment there is sufficient scope for people to apply and to get the energy efficiency products and services that they need through the two schemes that we have in place.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jonathan Shaw):
We have held a number of discussions with the British Mountaineering Council on access to coastal areas for
climbers. We issued a draft Marine Bill in April which includes provisions to improve public access to the English coast.
John Mann: The Minister will be aware that Britain is one of the world centres for sea cliff climbing, with England alone having more sea cliff climbing than the entirety of the east and west coasts of the United States. Does the Minister agree that the way in which the British Mountaineering Council has managed wildlife restrictions over the past 40 years, in co-operation with conservation bodies, has worked well and is working well?
Jonathan Shaw: I am aware of the code of practice of the British Mountaineering Council, which ensures that its members are aware of nature conservation. It is important that we preserve sensitive and fragile biodiversity systems which are commonplace around our coast. The British Mountaineering Council is ambitious about increasing the opportunities to climb, and there will be more when the draft Marine Bill comes into being. We want to strike a balance between peoples access to climb cliffs and the preservation of important and sensitive nature conservation areas.
Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): Under his brief of access to coastal areas the Minister is responsible for the Discovering Lost Ways project. As he knows, a number of pilot schemes are under way, which are getting seriously bogged down in bureaucracy and red tape. Can he explain to the House what has gone wrong and how he will sort it out?
Jonathan Shaw: There was not a great deal of discovery of those ways, to put it bluntly, so we have stopped that project. We will bring together all the relevant stakeholders to see where we go from here. The concern has been that the lost ways will be scrapped under the 25-year rule. We will not do that until we consider them properly; they are important bridleways and routes of access through our countryside. We will bring together the relevant stakeholders, and work with our agents, Natural England, to find a way forward to discover the right way.
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