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The CFP is on the agenda of the European Council meeting on 29 June. At that and subsequent meetings, will the Minister try to change the rigid rules that bind the hands of member states in international negotiations
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so that they abstain when they cannot reach consensus, thus condemning iconic species such as the bluefin tuna and perhaps whales?

Richard Benyon: I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, with whom I worked closely when we sat on opposite sides of the House, for his hard work in doing an awful lot for the fishing community.

I am bemused by the arrangements requiring members of the European Union with a long tradition in the International Whaling Commission, including ourselves, to find an absolutely solid position with EU colleagues. The hon. Gentleman is to be credited for taking an independent line on bluefin tuna. I will take up the matter seriously, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and other colleagues are also concerned about the voting procedure.

Huw Irranca-Davies: On the issue raised by the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd), I know that great expectations were raised in Hastings and elsewhere about the future of the under-10s fleet. I welcome the Minister's remarks about the work that has already been done, particularly with the SAIF-sustainable access to inshore fisheries-project. There was, however, an expectation of a master plan and an additional way forward, so will he tell us what that is?

Richard Benyon: I do not want to sound weak, but it is work in progress. I concede, and am the first to admit, that what seems incredibly simple in opposition can become more complicated, as the hon. Gentleman will understand. However, I am deeply mindful that we must recognise that fishing supports not only fishermen themselves, but communities. The Government will be focused on those communities. On the back of the SAIF project, we will bring forward answers in the medium term. We are looking to try to provide more quota and fishing capacity on a daily basis, and that will continue around the coastline.

Environment Agency

19. Elizabeth Truss (South West Norfolk) (Con): What plans she has to review the (a) functions and (b) accountability of the Environment Agency. [3955]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): In the Queen's Speech, the Government announced their intention to bring forward a Bill to reform public bodies. DEFRA is carrying out a critical examination of the number and cost of its arm's length bodies. The Environment Agency is being considered as part of that review.

Elizabeth Truss: I thank the Secretary of State for her answer. I am worried about the bureaucratic and remote nature of the Environment Agency's processes, specifically on the flooding of the A1101 at Welney and flood defences at Wiggenhall St Germans. Will she tell us how local communities can hold the Environment Agency's functions further to account and make it more responsive?

Mrs Spelman: One assurance I can give about unnecessary bureaucracy is that every one of the arm's length bodies with which DEFRA does business will be subject to the three tests applied to arm's length bodies
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across Government. They are: does it perform a technical function; does it need to be politically impartial; and does it act independently and transparently to establish the facts? The Environment Agency will be subject to those criteria.

I shall certainly take up my hon. Friend's concerns about flooding. She has made it clear on her website and in a number of interventions how anxious she is to ensure that her constituents are protected from flooding. I shall impress that upon the Environment Agency.

Mr Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State ask the Environment Agency to act independently and establish the facts of the use of aminopyralid herbicides, which have recently been licensed by the chemicals regulation directorate? They have got into manure and the toxic chemical has destroyed allotments in my constituency and allotments belonging to thousands of our citizens. She might not be an expert on the subject now, but I hope that she will take some responsibility and look into the misery that the chemical is causing.

Mrs Spelman: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, although I took my chemistry O-level so long ago that I have a little difficulty unravelling the description of the pesticide. There is also a pesticides inspectorate, but whether the Environment Agency or some other DEFRA agency is the appropriate body, I will take up his specific question.

Fishing Restrictions (Suffolk Coastal)

21. Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): If she will take steps to support fishermen in Suffolk Coastal constituency subject to restrictions in fishing activity arising from quota allocations and regulations on fishing vessels under 10 metres in length. [3957]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): As I said, I recognise the difficulties currently facing the inshore fleet. In the immediate term, the Marine Management Organisation is actively managing catch limits to keep fisheries open as long as possible, and is working to secure additional quota through swaps for stocks of importance. However, the current system is not sustainable in the long term. I plan to meet representatives from across industry and reflect on the outputs of the SAIF-sustainable access to inshore fisheries-project as a matter of priority. Common fisheries policy reform will also play a key role, where I want to see greater clarity on user rights and management devolved to local communities.

Dr Coffey: I thank the Minister for that reply. I hope that when he comes to my constituency to look at the impact of coastal erosion, he will make time to meet local fishermen and, indeed, enjoy some delicious fish and chips in Aldeburgh or Sole Bay. For too long, fishermen have felt remote from what goes on in this House, and direct access to a Minister for a short time would be very welcome.

Richard Benyon: I hope that I have got it across to many members of the fishing community that I am accessible and that they can approach me to explain their problems, which are often very local and specific
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to the area of coastline where they fish. I shall certainly take up my hon. Friend's kind offer of fish and chips in her constituency and have a detailed discussion with members of her fishing community about the problems they face.


22. Chris Skidmore (Kingswood) (Con): What plans she has to increase levels of biodiversity; and if she will make a statement. [3958]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): I assure the House that biodiversity is one of my highest priorities. I shall take action domestically through a White Paper on the natural environment, which will promote green spaces and wildlife corridors to restore and increase biodiversity. At international level, I shall ensure that the UK shows leadership in this international year of biodiversity by working to achieve a global agreement on a new biodiversity framework at the meeting of the convention on biological diversity in Nagoya in October.

Chris Skidmore: I am sure the Secretary of State agrees that a key aspect of improving our nation's biodiversity is planning. In Kingswood, our much treasured green belt has been threatened by the previous Government's disastrous regional spatial strategy and the plan to build 10,000 houses on it. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the urgent abolition of the RSS and returning powers to build houses to local communities will help to protect our green belts and defend biodiversity?

Mrs Spelman: I can reassure my hon. Friend that he is speaking to a Secretary of State whose constituency is entirely within the green belt and who has campaigned tirelessly on its erosion and, in particular, the unfortunate consequences of the phenomenon of garden grabbing. Those matters are the responsibility of the Department for Communities and Local Government and I am well aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government intends to abolish the regional spatial strategy and to protect and maintain the green belt, as my hon. Friend would like.

Farming Regulation

24. Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove) (Con): What plans her Department has to reduce the level of regulation on farmers; and if she will make a statement. [3960]

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): I refer my hon. Friend to the answer that I gave to Question 2.

Sajid Javid: I welcome those on the Front Bench to their new roles and I thank the Secretary of State for visiting Bromsgrove during the election campaign.

The Minister referred earlier to the review of EU regulations, but may I draw his attention to the fact that they are often not enforced by our major trading partners? While we enforce regulations harshly, many EU countries ignore them, so will the he consider that urgently?

Mr Paice: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that very important question. There is a huge amount of concern that some EU countries are less vigorous in enforcing regulations, and it is one of the issues that the
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taskforce will want to look into. I would just add the caution that when one looks closely at a matter on the ground, it is not always as clear-cut as it appears. If he has a particular case in mind, I will be happy to look into it.

British Waterways

25. Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab): What plans she has for the future of British Waterways. [3961]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): I made a statement on Monday 21 June on inland waterways policy for England and Wales. The Government consider that civil society has a valuable role to play in delivering public services as part of the big society. We will be looking in detail at options for a third sector model that will be appropriate for British Waterways, including the possible inclusion of Environment Agency navigations. No decisions will be taken until after the spending review.

Tristram Hunt: The Minister will know that Stoke-on-Trent is blessed with many things, and among them are the great canals of England: the Trent and Mersey and the Caldon canal, where we recently had the Hanley regatta. In order to become a proper third sector organisation, British Waterways needs an appropriate financial settlement following the comprehensive spending review and a longer contract with Government to replace annual grants. Can British Waterways' property endowment be put in a charity-locked mechanism, so that the Treasury does not sell it down the canal, and we can be assured that, as an example of the big-

Mr Speaker: Order. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I think that we have the gist of his question.

Richard Benyon: I am grateful for all those questions, and I look forward to debating this matter with the hon. Gentleman and other colleagues to whom it is important. I know that he is particularly interested in the heritage of our waterways. The answer to his question is yes. For the third sector model to work, British Waterways will have to have access to its estate, or a large proportion of it, for it to gear up funding for sustainable funding in the future. I can assure him that it will not proceed unless it is locked in in that way. Those are the negotiations that we are taking forward with British Waterways.

Topical Questions

T1. [3962] Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): I will be publishing my Department's priorities shortly in our structural reform plan, but I can share with the House that they are: to support British farming and food and encourage sustainable food production; to enhance the environment and biodiversity to improve the quality of life; and to support a strong and sustainable green economy, resilient to climate change.

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Peter Aldous: Fishing and farming are important industries in my constituency of Waveney in north Suffolk, and the forthcoming reviews of the CAP and the CFP provide a great opportunity to improve the prospects of those two industries. Can the Minister and her team assure my constituents that they will stand up for British farmers and fishermen and show the leadership to get them the best possible deal?

Mrs Spelman: I can assure my hon. Friend that the coalition Government are engaging effectively and constructively with the EU in the UK's national interest. I hope that the early evidence of the invitation to the commissioner, which was accepted last night, will demonstrate that we are taking the concerns of British farmers and fishermen right to the heart of European matters.

Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab): Sixteen conservation organisations have recently written to the Secretary of State urging her to protect agri-environment schemes from spending cuts. Given that every pound that we spend brings in money from Europe, and given that once biodiversity is lost, it is very hard to bring back, can she give the House an assurance that she will make the natural environment a priority in the decisions that she makes?

Mrs Spelman: I can give the right hon. Gentleman that absolute assurance. In answer to a question about biodiversity, I have just made it clear that I and the Department attach great priority to it, and agri-environment schemes are an integral part of ensuring good biodiversity.

T3. [3964] Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): It is a shame that the former Prime Minister and right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) made only a fleeting visit to the Chamber, as I would have liked him to have heard my question. Does the Secretary of State agree that the previous Government's payments agency was an expensive shambles? Will she visit Matching and other villages in my constituency and meet farmers who were threatened with financial ruin when payments were delayed? Will she take steps to simplify that service?

Mr Speaker: Order. May I say very gently to the hon. Gentleman and to other Members that topical questions in particular are supposed to be brief, and that a Member has a topical question-singular?

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): I shall try to reply with one answer. I fully understand my hon. Friend's concern. I would be very happy to visit his constituency, as I have done many times, and I am very conscious of the distress that the mistakes of the Rural Payments Agency caused to many farmers.

T2. [3963] Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): Earlier this year, Nocton Dairies submitted an application for a factory farm for 8,000 cows in Lincolnshire, and said:

Now the pig farmer of the year 2009 has submitted an application for 26,000 pigs to be held in a factory farm in Derbyshire. Does the Minister agree that we should resist that increasing industrialisation of our food production?

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Mr Paice: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for a question that tests many people, as she rightly identifies. I make two points. First, specific planning applications must, quite properly, fall to the local planning authority and are not for DEFRA Ministers to comment on. Secondly, on wider animal welfare issues, the coalition has made achieving the highest standards of animal welfare one of its absolute commitments. However, all the evidence is that management, rather than simple numbers, necessarily dictates the quality of animal welfare in any particular unit.

T6. [3967] Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Does the Secretary of State understand the frustration of people who hear the European Commission for ever promise to reform the common agricultural policy, and Governments of all parties promise to get it reformed, when nothing ever happens? Does she not agree that the failure to reform the CAP, which costs this country £10 billion a year, is yet another perfect example of why we would be better off out of the European Union?

Mrs Spelman: I perfectly understand the frustration of my hon. Friend and, in fact, farmers, who feel that we could and should get a better deal from the common agricultural policy. From the preliminary stages of the negotiations, however, I can share with him the fact that, across Europe, there is a clear consensus on lifting the regulatory burden on farmers. That augurs well for the issue being an important part of CAP reform and for my ensuring that the UK gets the best possible deal for its farmers, fishermen, consumers and taxpayers alike.

T4. [3965] Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Has the Secretary of State had the chance to talk to her colleague in local government about the building of 7,000 houses on Coventry's green belt in Keresley and Kings Hill? Will she honour her pledge to stop that proposal, which was put forward by the previous Conservative-controlled city council?

Mrs Spelman: I assure the hon. Gentleman that with the abolition of the regional spatial strategy the local plan is what determines where and how many houses are built. That will be a matter for Labour-controlled Coventry city council: it is within its gift to decide where the houses that are needed for the people of Coventry should go.

T7. [3968] Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): The electronic sheep tagging rules were introduced by the previous Government. Will the Minister review the practical operation of those hated rules? Traceability can surely be maintained without the unnecessary cost and bureaucratic burden on farmers and Government alike.

Mr Paice: My hon. Friend puts his finger on a key regulation for which I cannot find any sensible justification. Nevertheless, it is in place, but I plan to speak to the relevant commissioner about it in Luxembourg next week.

T5. [3966] John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): Will there be any cuts in taxpayers' subsidies to farmers in 2011 and in the consequential four years?

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