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Pulmonary Disease

8. John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Health on the Health Protection Agency's investigation of the potential for mushroom composting to cause or exacerbate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. [3944]

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): The local primary care trust has been investigating the concerns that the hon. Gentleman has raised previously about possible health impacts from the mushroom composting plant in his constituency. I understand that its report is due in the next few weeks.

John Mann: If the report says there is a link of any kind, will the Minister act immediately to ensure that the health and well-being of my constituents and others is immediately protected?

Mr Paice: I cannot forecast what might come out in the report, so I am not going to make any commitments as to what the Government might do afterwards, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that, as I am sure he is aware, the preliminary findings of the PCT investigation show no links between the mushroom composting plant and incidences of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in the locality.

Workplace Activity (Natural Environment)

12. Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): If she will discuss with trade unions measures to reduce the adverse effect on the natural environment of workplace activity. [3948]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): I or my colleagues would be happy to hold such discussions.

Luciana Berger: With public sector employers having to make the longest and deepest cuts since the second world war, will the Minister recognise the role of trade union environment representatives in helping to achieve energy, water and waste savings? Can he assure me that managers in his Department regularly discuss and monitor environmental cost savings at joint union-management meetings?

Richard Benyon: I assure the hon. Lady that such matters are taken up. The general secretary of the Trades Union Congress wrote to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently about the trade union sustainable development advisory committee, wanting reassurance that the Government will continue with that organisation, which links employees with government regarding ideas for sustainable working methods. My right hon. Friend wrote back to Brendan Barber this week to say that my noble Friend Lord Henley will chair that committee in future. We certainly will be taking these issues forward in government.

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Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): I welcome the ministerial team to the Front Bench. It is good to see someone with some farming experience finally putting forward the case on behalf of DEFRA. Will the Minister confirm that in these difficult times, when decisions have to be made regarding cuts, consideration will be given to the Agricultural Wages Board, as its task could be dealt with through the national minimum wage procedure?

Richard Benyon: I can confirm that the future of the Agricultural Wages Board is being considered as part of the whole review of arm's length bodies and non-departmental public bodies, and that there will be an announcement soon.

Common Agricultural Policy

13. Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands) (Con): What recent discussions she has had with the farming industry and other interested parties on reform of the common agricultural policy. [3949]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): I have attended the Agriculture Council twice and have discussed the CAP with Agriculture Ministers from other member states. Last night, I hosted a dinner attended by the Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Commissioner Ciolos, my colleagues here and from the devolved Administrations, the Secretary of State for Scotland and other key UK stakeholders. We discussed a number of issues, including CAP reform, and I have more European visits planned in the coming months.

Karen Bradley: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. She will be well aware of the problems caused by the Rural Payments Agency's remapping exercise, particularly in non-flat areas such as Staffordshire Moorlands. Can she reassure farmers who are still waiting to agree their revised maps that the single farm payment will not be delayed and that they will not suffer undue hardship?

Mrs Spelman: I am sure that my hon. Friend's farmer constituents will be very grateful to her for bringing up this issue. If she gives us the details of any significant problems with the mapping in her area-I understand that they might relate to the slopes and gradients of the land-I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will look into it closely, as he has offered to chair the board of the RPA.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): May I also welcome the right hon. Lady and her team to their posts? I believe that her talks yesterday with the Scottish Government's Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment were very constructive, but will she clarify for the benefit of the House how she intends to work with the devolved Administrations? In particular, how does she see the future of pillar one support in the common agricultural policy reform process?

Mrs Spelman: I thank the hon. Lady for that question, and I can tell her that discussions with her honourable colleague from Scotland were indeed very constructive. I made it clear to him that I would always consult before
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taking a position ahead of any Council meeting. I added that we will have very close and good contact with all the devolved Administrations, and I said specifically that I am confident that pillar one and direct payments will continue.

George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) (Con): May I, on behalf of the people of Mid Norfolk, send a warm welcome to the members of the Government Front Bench? It is nice to see a DEFRA team with such a rich experience of the countryside, after 13 years of feeling rather neglected.

On CAP reform, will my right hon. Friend reassure the House and the people of Mid Norfolk that, as far as possible, we will seek a revised structure that rewards our farmers for growing food competitively? Such a structure should reward them for what they do in the countryside, for which they get no support at the moment.

Mrs Spelman: I thank my hon. Friend for those warm words. In fact, I should like to take this opportunity to say to all Government Members that the Front Bench is grateful for their admirable level of support. I can assure my hon. Friend that in the CAP reform negotiations, we will be seeking the best deal for farmers, consumers, taxpayers and the environment. There is no doubt that sustainable food production is a public good, and there is broad support across European countries for recognising the contribution that farmers make.

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): May I add my welcome to the Secretary of State and her ministerial team, and congratulate them on their new positions? Indeed, I extend that welcome to all new Back Benchers on both sides of the House.

A few moments ago, the Secretary of State mentioned her discussions with other interested parties, but do they include the Treasury? Reductions in the overall CAP budget might be attractive to the Treasury, but does she agree that that would be to the detriment of British agriculture? Will she assure the House that she will defend the interests of British agriculture, in both Brussels and Downing street?

Mrs Spelman: Of course I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. I just said that I was seeking to get a better deal for farmers, consumers, taxpayers and the environment, and he can be assured of that. DEFRA is an economic Department with a very clear role in the economic recovery that this country needs. It is absolutely at one with the objectives set out by the Treasury in that regard.

Animal Health Agency

15. Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): What recent discussions she has had with the farming industry and other interested parties on the Animal Health Agency; and if she will make a statement. [3951]

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): As has been mentioned already, the most urgent issue in animal health and welfare is bovine TB. I have reviewed the badger vaccine deployment project and have decided to proceed with one area near Stroud for the time being, in
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order to help maintain the capacity to train lay vaccinators. Badger sett surveys will also be completed in the Gloucester area, near Cheltenham. That change reflects the need to consider all our public expenditure carefully.

The previous Government appointed Rosemary Radcliffe to examine options for responsibility and cost-sharing for animal disease control. Unlike that Government, though, we will await the outcome of that report, as it may well include options for the agency's future. I have had a number of discussions regarding that review.

Harriett Baldwin: I thank the Minister for that answer, and may I also add my welcome to some fellow meat-eaters in the Front Bench team for this particular portfolio? I want to emphasise how important animal welfare is for farmers in West Worcestershire. A vet came to my constituency surgery recently and highlighted the fact that, while the AHA seemed to have spent a lot of time on management, computer systems and office work, it was not placing enough emphasis on its veterinary function. Does the Minister have any plans to tackle that?

Mr Paice: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I welcome her to this question session. She is absolutely right and, as part of our overall review of all arm's length bodies, we are looking for the sorts of efficiencies to which she has referred. However, I can tell her that the AHA has already instituted a road map for change that should deliver a significant tranche of savings, and a much more efficient business as well.

Rural Payments Agency

16. Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): What plans she has for the future of the Rural Payments Agency. [3952]

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): An independent review of the Rural Payments Agency, commissioned by DEFRA last autumn, has recently concluded. We will publish the recommendations of the review and our response to it shortly.

Andrew George: I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, and I wish him well in his work. As he knows well, each claim to the RPA costs £1,700, and the RPA has been characterised by mistakes and inefficiency throughout its years of operation. What reassurance can he give farmers in my constituency and throughout the country that those problems will improve?

Mr Paice: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I think he knows that the impossible we can do at once, but miracles take a little longer, and putting the RPA right probably comes within the last part of that saying. I assure him that I am extremely determined to get a grip on the problems at the RPA; I am conscious, as I have made clear over recent years, of the problems and the service to many farmers, and we have to get it right. When I publish the review I will also put forward the measures that we propose to take to address them.

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Flood Defences

17. Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): What estimate she has made of her Department's expenditure on flood defences in 2010-11. [3953]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): DEFRA's estimate of its expenditure in 2010 to 2011 on flood and coastal erosion risk management is currently £664 million. This does not include local authority expenditure, estimated at £87 million, which is funded by Government through the formula grant.

Grahame M. Morris: In welcoming the new ministerial team to the Front Bench, may I point out that on 23 March last year the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), the then shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said that it was

on flood defences? This was at a time when Labour was committed to protecting flood defence expenditure, which is very important in the north-east-in Morpeth and Carlisle-in view of the recent floods. Will cuts to her Department mean that key recommendations from the Pitt review will not now be implemented?

Mrs Spelman: I can give the hon. Gentleman an absolute assurance, because the coalition agreement states our commitment to taking forward the findings of the Pitt review on the 2007 floods. We are considering how best to put this into effect, against the difficult spending background, and as he will have heard earlier from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, this year, because the Environment Agency was ahead of the game with the amount of flood defences it had provided, there is no question of this important front-line service being compromised. In the spending review we will of course give priority to flood defences.

Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): The Secretary of State will be aware of the importance of the investment in sea defences in my constituency at Dymchurch, the Romney Marsh coast and Dungeness. May I ask that she continues to give consideration to the importance of that work when reviewing the budget in the future?

Mrs Spelman: My hon. Friend will not know this, but Dymchurch and Hythe have a special place in my heart because as a small girl I used to enjoy my summer holidays taking the light railway to such places. So I perfectly understand the importance of defending that part of the Kent coast with effective coastal defences.

Common Fisheries Policy

18. Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye) (Con): What recent discussions she has had with the fishing industry and other interested parties on reform of the common fisheries policy. [3954]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): Since May, I have had preliminary discussions with representatives of the fishing industry, and within the next two weeks I will meet the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and the New Under Ten Fishermen's Association, along with the EU Fisheries Commissioner, to discuss CFP reform specifically. I have also had discussions about CFP reform with other interested parties, including environmental non-governmental organisations, and shall do so again in the future.

Amber Rudd: I thank the Minister for his answer. I know that he is aware of the shameful way in which the under-10-metre community of fishermen has been treated in the past 13 years. What steps might this Government take to restore their way of life?

Richard Benyon: My hon. Friend is to be credited for her assiduousness on behalf of her constituency's fishing community. She badgered me when I was sitting on the Opposition Benches, and she continues to do so now. My answer will be in three parts. First, there is a longer-term strategy of reforming the CFP and getting an improved deal for vessels under 10 metres in length. In the medium term, we support the very good initiative on sustainable access to inshore fisheries, which was started by the previous Government. The project will report in the next few months and we will take forward its recommendations. In the short term, we can take on board the good suggestions made by fishing communities and hon. Members and try, when we can, to improve the lot of those communities through methods such as swaps of quota. This is not easy, but I assure my hon. Friend that I shall listen to the honest pleadings of her fishing community and do what I can to help them.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): I am grateful to the Minister for attending the meeting of the Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment commission on fisheries on world oceans day. Has he had the opportunity to read the letter that I sent him following the meeting in which I outlined the proposals for a marine fisheries recovery strategy that were made by the 16 nations represented on that day, and when might I expect a response?

Richard Benyon: I must apologise if I have not replied already. I thank the hon. Gentleman for inviting me to the event, which brought together people from across the world, and for chairing it so well. The event gave us the opportunity to show that what we are doing on marine conservation in this country is ahead of what is being done in many other countries, so people can learn from what we do. I assure him that I will reply to him as soon as I can and take forward the recommendations of that excellent organisation.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): I welcome the ministerial team to their positions. I know that they will do their very best in their roles and I ask them to keep the Department in good shape for us.

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