Thursday 28th March 2019

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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The Secretary of State was asked—
Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con)
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1. What plans he has for fisheries policy after the UK leaves the EU.

Michael Gove Portrait The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Michael Gove)
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The Government’s vision for future fisheries policy as we leave the European Union was set out in our July 2018 fisheries White Paper. A sea of opportunity exists for all of the United Kingdom’s coastal communities, provided we ensure that we vote to leave the European Union in an orderly fashion.

Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous
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I am grateful to the Secretary of State for setting the scene, but will the Government support the amendment to the Fisheries Bill tabled by me and colleagues that will promote the fairer distribution of fishing quota, more environmentally sustainable fishing methods and a much better and greater opportunity to revitalise coastal communities such as Lowestoft?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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My hon. Friend is an impressive advocate for fishing communities, not least his own in Lowestoft. He is absolutely right: as we leave the European Union, we must reallocate additional quota in order to ensure that under-12 metre vessels get a fairer share of fishing opportunities, not least because the way in which they fish is of course environmentally sustainable, and also contributes to the growth and prosperity of communities that have been neglected for far too long.

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab)
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Over the years, the face of the fishing industry has changed, as is reflected in the town of Fleetwood. We export 70% of what we land, and we import the vast majority of what we consume as a country. With a view to preventing fish rotting at the borders, what is the Secretary of State’s assessment of how tariffs or trade uncertainty could impact the industry after we leave the common fisheries policy?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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The agreement that the Prime Minister has negotiated with the European Union allows us to have tariff and quota-free access to the European Union. We can have the best of both worlds—not only, once more, full control over our exclusive economic zone with additional fishing opportunities, but the opportunity to ensure that that excellent produce finds a market in Europe and beyond.

Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)
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Under the withdrawal agreement, what is to stop the European Union saying, “Unless you allow us to carry on plundering all your fish as now, we’ll put you into the backstop”?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I have enormous respect for my hon. Friend, but I think he misunderstands the nature of the backstop. If the backstop were ever to come into operation—of course we hope it would not—no fishing vessels from any European nation could fish in our waters without our permission, and at the same time we would have full access to their markets. I repeat: the backstop is not a desirable outcome, but were we in it, we would be master of our own seas, and also able to export our fish to foreign markets.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I represent the constituency of Strangford and the fishing village of Portavogie. Will the Secretary of State outline to me what progress has been reported to him regarding the voisinage agreement, issued by his Republic of Ireland counterparts? In the past few months, they seized two Northern Ireland boats—British boats—and their crew.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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The fishermen of Strangford and the Ards peninsula are people close to my heart. It is absolutely right that since the recent actions we have been in touch with the Irish Government specifically in order to ensure that we can have a fair allocation of fishing opportunities across the island of Ireland and its waters. The Republic of Ireland Government know how seriously we take this issue, and how urgent it is to reform.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)
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I was amazed and disappointed this week that the Government whipped their MPs to vote for a huge loophole in post-Brexit fishing rules that would allow a cruel and inhumane method of fishing to continue. The 5% loophole that allows electro pulse beam trawling is cruel and destructive. It destroys our seabeds and kills juvenile fish, and it is so intensely destructive that it breaks the vertebrae of cod. Will the Secretary of State now work with the Opposition to bring forward a brief statutory instrument to close this loophole that allows UK boats to use this cruel and inhumane fishing method?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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We always want to work with the Opposition to ensure that the highest standards of environmental and marine welfare are maintained, but I should say that it is one of the opportunities that leaving the European Union gives us to ensure that Dutch vessels that have been using pulse fishing in our waters end that cruel practice.

Chris Davies Portrait Chris Davies (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con)
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2. What plans he has for farming policy after the UK leaves the EU.

Robert Goodwill Portrait The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr Robert Goodwill)
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The Agriculture Bill will underpin an ambitious new system based on paying public money for public goods. This will support a profitable farming sector that produces world-class food while protecting and enhancing our precious countryside.

Chris Davies Portrait Chris Davies
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Will my right hon. Friend reassure the farmers of Brecon and Radnorshire, and indeed the farmers of the United Kingdom, that whether there is a deal or no deal, their future will be of paramount importance once we leave the EU?

Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill
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I can reassure my hon. Friend that farmers will be of paramount importance no matter which scenario we end up with. With regard to upland farmers, I can reassure him that my Department is in close contact with the sheep sector in preparing for these scenarios. Indeed, at yesterday’s EFRA Select Committee I specifically referenced the effect of EU most-favoured nation tariffs on sheep exports in a no-deal scenario.

Nick Smith Portrait Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab)
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The Government talk about a trading relationship that is “as close as possible” with the EU, but they have repeatedly rejected the best way of securing it, which is a permanent customs union and strong alignment with the single market. Given that 90% of Welsh lamb exports go to the EU, will the Minister listen to Welsh hill farmers and press for the closer economic relationship that they need?

Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill
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Along with all the other options, the House rejected that option last night. It is a fact, of course, that 30% of the lamb produced in the UK is exported to the EU. Indeed, a large proportion of Welsh lamb, with its smaller carcases, meets that market. We are well aware of the problems that would occur. Of course, the best way to avoid that situation is to vote for the deal.

Caroline Spelman Portrait Dame Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con)
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I chair the all-party parliamentary group for the horse, and we heard yesterday that 87 horses were killed on our roads last year. Will it be possible under future farming policy to extend bridle-paths? Will the Minister consider extending the period for the registration of existing paths so that none are lost and so that our overstretched volunteers and authorities have time to confirm them?

Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill
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Yes, I am aware that a number of stakeholders are not aware of that deadline. I would be happy to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss that. One of the public goods that we could deliver through the Agriculture Bill is better public access, which could include bridleways to join up existing paths so that not as many horses have to use the roads.

David Simpson Portrait David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP)
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Looking at farming policy, the Government announced recently that they would allow farming produce into Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland tariff free. What is the Minister’s opinion on the European Union reciprocating that?

Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill
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By not only announcing our tariff regime for other borders but making it clear that we do not wish to have a hard border across the island of Ireland, we hope that the Republic of Ireland will show a similarly flexible view and that the European Union will not impose any restrictions that the Irish Government would not wish to follow.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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John Bercow Portrait Mr Speaker
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We are discussing farming and food, so there must be a case for hearing without delay Mr Richard Bacon.

Richard Bacon Portrait Mr Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con)
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Mr Speaker, because I can lip read, I know that you want me to ask a question about pork and pork products, and it is true that we have a very successful industry, but it is—unfortunately, from the point of view of this question—unsubsidised by the British taxpayer. However, farm payments are central to farm policy. One of the horses running in the 14.50 at Cheltenham recently was called Single Farm Payment. Unfortunately, the horse came last. Can Ministers tell us what implications there are for farm payments, or do they feel that, as usual, delays were inevitable?

Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill
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I can report to the House that performance of the basic payment scheme in 2018 was much better than in previous years, with 98.8% of payments being made. We have guaranteed that the system will apply for this year and next year. Moving forward, we will have an exciting new scheme under the Agriculture Act—as I hope it will then be—that enables us to green the economy and make basic payments to more environmental schemes.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley), said in a recent Delegated Legislation Committee:

“The Government look forward to negotiations on the UK’s future economic partnership with the EU, during which we will be able to discuss the relationship between the UK’s new GI schemes and the EU schemes.”—[Official Report, Eleventh Delegated Legislation Committee, 26 March 2019; c. 10.]

We now have confirmation that brand protections for high-quality products, including Scotch beef, Scotch lamb and Scotch whisky, have become bargaining chips in the big Brexit bodge, and that there will be no support on day one of a no-deal Brexit. What financial compensation will be offered to Scotland’s food and drink producers for this UK Government policy blunder?

Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill
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I have to say that that is a load of nonsense. British consumers rely on geographical indicators to ensure that products they buy from the continent are kosher—are the right thing—and I think they would expect the same from us. I think there would be very productive negotiations, and I hope that we would reach quite rapid decisions on most of them.

Lord Benyon Portrait Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con)
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There is a crisis of species decline in this country. While we can all see the virtues of operations like rewilding and species introduction, it is in the farmed environment where we will turn it around. Will my right hon. Friend assure us that in the Agriculture Bill and in Government policy, there will be a drive towards the right incentives to protect species and reverse the decline in biodiversity?

Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill
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It is not just that that is within the Agriculture Bill; it is front and centre within it and central to the way we will continue to support the agriculture industry and deliver the public goods that taxpayers want.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
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I very much agree with the Minister when he talks about the importance of Europe as an export market for our lamb producers and hill farmers, but last night 160 of his colleagues voted for a no-deal Brexit, including the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon). A no-deal Brexit would expose lamb exports to a 12.8%, plus €171.3 per 100 kg, tariff. Will that be good for sheep farmers?

Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill
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The best way of preventing a no-deal Brexit is to vote for the deal. Nothing yesterday was supported by the House. The deal is the best thing for agriculture, the future and our long-term relationship with the European Union.

David Drew Portrait Dr David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)
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The problem is that the numbers participating in countryside stewardship continue to plummet. Morale at Natural England is at an all-time low, and there is the real problem that no money is going into environmental land management schemes. What will the Government do to move us towards an environmental payment scheme?

Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill
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The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in some ways. We have not delivered the support for those environmental schemes that we should have delivered. I am pleased that the Rural Payments Agency has now taken that over from Natural England. I met its chief executive this week. If we cannot to get the money out on time, other farmers will not be incentivised to join those schemes, so my priority is to improve the situation, as we did with the basic payments scheme.

Liz McInnes Portrait Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab)
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3. What assessment he has made of the UK’s progress on meeting the Aichi biodiversity targets.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Dr Thérèse Coffey)
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The Government’s progress report was published this month, and of 19 targets assessed, five are on track and 14 show progress, but at an insufficient rate. The Aichi targets are multifaceted and global in scope, and they include a mixture of processes and outcomes, which are not always specific. Their assessment requires a degree of interpretation and judgment. Nevertheless, the report identifies progress, but there is more that we need to do.

Liz McInnes Portrait Liz McInnes
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I thank the Minister for that response. As she says, we are on track to miss 14 of the 20 targets. Given that they are meant to be achieved by 2020—next year—what talks has she had with the Treasury to achieve target 20, on mobilising financial resources? Will they be reflected in the forthcoming comprehensive spending review?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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As my right hon. Friend the Minister of State just pointed out, one of the changes that will be coming as a result of our leaving the European Union is that the UK—England, certainly—will have a new way of doing environmental land management, and the public services will be paid for by taxpayers. Many of the targets are quite nebulous—[Interruption.] Because they are not particularly specific and are open to interpretation and judgment. We are working carefully on that and have made excellent progress on marine conservation. We are doing global work to ensure that, when the next targets are agreed, which will happen next year for 2030, the UK will lead the way in ensuring that 30% of oceans are marine conservation areas.

Hugo Swire Portrait Sir Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con)
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15. I recently took Neil Garrick-Maidment, the excellent CEO of the Seahorse Trust in Topsham in my constituency, of which I have just become patron, to see the Secretary of State to discuss the illegal trade in seahorses. He will remember that 150 million seahorses are traded illegally for the curio and medical trade. Following that meeting, will he commit the UK to playing a lead role in preserving seahorses around the world? What measures does he suggest we can take to police the online trade in seahorses better?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State very much enjoyed that meeting and visit. He and I are committed to ensuring we do more to protect the wonderful species that are part of our natural habitat, including our marine habitat. We will work hard to do exactly what my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir Hugo Swire) is seeking to achieve.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab)
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Only about 4% of the world’s oceans are protected. Although I hear what the Minister just said about the aim to increase that, what work can we do with our overseas territories to increase that far more quickly, not least to have an overall target of reducing plastic in the oceans?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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The hon. Gentleman asks an important question. Once we designate the marine conservation zones, which I believe will happen in the next two months, the UK will have comfortably exceeded the 30% target that we have set ourselves for the rest of the world by 2030. One of the key things that I do at G7 Environment and in other forums is speak to other nations to see what more we can do to get more designations. The hon. Gentleman is also right about plastics. He will be aware that at the spring statement the Chancellor specifically referred to the overseas territories. Ascension Island will be moving its entire economic zone to fully protected status, and we will continue to work on the Blue Belt programme, which I think will be one of the greatest achievements of this Government.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Sue Hayman (Workington) (Lab)
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We have heard that the UK is on track to meet only five of the 20 Aichi biodiversity targets. This is an environmental and climate emergency. Does the Minister—and the Secretary of State—agree with the around 50 councils and thousands of young people who have declared an environment and climate emergency? Will they today commit to join Labour in declaring a national environment and climate emergency?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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We are already ahead of the game, with a 25-year environment plan published last year, and the strategies and the work that are ongoing. We are making significant improvements in improving our natural environment, and I genuinely hope that the whole House comes together and gets behind the plan to ensure that we leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Sue Hayman
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The question was: will the Minister commit to join me in declaring a national environment and climate emergency? The answer, to be honest, was a bit of a fudge. Labour is going to bring this forward, with or without the Government’s support. Will the Government think again and commit to announcing an environment and climate emergency, and will they commit to meeting the youth strike action for climate representatives?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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DEFRA will account for more than half the achievements under the Paris agreements, so I can assure the hon. Lady that work is very much under way on improving the climate and also the environment. This is about actions rather than words. I pay particular tribute to those who joined the Great British spring clean this weekend and who will do so for the next few weeks. I am very happy to work with young people, as we are with our Year of Green Action 2019. We are already working with the Step Up To Serve brigade, which we will be doing with the National Citizen Service.

Kate Green Portrait Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab)
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4. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the seasonal agricultural workers scheme. [R]

Robert Goodwill Portrait The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr Robert Goodwill)
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We regularly have detailed discussions on the seasonal workers pilot with colleagues across Government. I will continue to work closely with Home Office colleagues in particular to ensure the successful operation of the pilot.

Kate Green Portrait Kate Green
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Farmers say that the pilots began too late for this spring season, and the Home Office does not appear to understand the needs of the sector. On 14 February, James Porter of the National Farmers Union Scotland told the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Public Bill Committee that the pilot was too small scale and needed to increase immediately to 10,000 places. Will the Minister have discussions with his Home Office colleagues so that the labour needs of the sector can be met as a matter of urgency?

Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill
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The first workers under the scheme will be arriving in April. Indeed, I met one of my officials who had just come back from Ukraine to ensure that the scheme works well. There will be 2,500 workers coming in each year, and I will also meet with the president of the NFU this afternoon to discuss what views she may have on that.

David T C Davies Portrait David T. C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con)
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5. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the pilot underlines the Government’s commitment to ensuring that farmers have certainty post Brexit, and that the one way to ensure that that certainty continues is to vote for the deal when it comes back before the House?

John Bercow Portrait Mr Speaker
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With reference to the seasonal agricultural workers scheme.

Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill
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I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Let me make it clear that EU workers already here will be able to stay. During the implementation period, people will be able to come to live, work and study from the EU and there will be registration scheme. Indeed, in a no-deal situation, European economic area citizens will be able to live and work here without a visa for three months, and they can continue to stay here, applying for European temporary leave to remain for 36 months after that, so we are still open for EU workers to come here in every scenario.

Pete Wishart Portrait Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP)
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Two thousand five hundred—what an absolute and utter joke. The farmers and growers in my constituency are laughing at it. This is where an obsession with immigration gets us: to crops left to wither in the field. The NFU says that 90,000 workers are required for a feasible working scheme. When will the Minister get serious about meeting that target?

Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill
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I have already said that we will continue with the possibility of EU workers coming here. I know that a number of Bulgarians and Romanians continue to come here, and there are about 29,000 seasonal workers in the country. Of course, the best way to make sure that we get into a stable situation is to vote for the deal.

Stephen Crabb Portrait Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con)
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This issue is bigger than just seasonal workers on farms: throughout the rural economy, there are people working in food processing, logistics and a wide range of other sectors. We still need people from the EU to come here, so will the Minister assure the House that our immigration policy post Brexit will continue to be open and welcoming?

Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill
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I can absolutely give that assurance. There are 400,000 EU nationals working in the UK food chain, and we would be delighted for them to stay here, work and contribute to our economy. Indeed, I am told that one reason why some may not come is the weakness of sterling, but if we get the deal through, I would not be surprised if sterling hardened.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston (Mid Worcestershire) (Con)
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6. What steps he is taking to help improve welfare standards for puppies.

David Rutley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (David Rutley)
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The Government announced in December that we would ban third-party sales of puppies and kittens in England, and the necessary regulations are being prepared. The ban will address welfare concerns associated with the sale of puppies by dealers and pet shops and will build on recent improvements to the licensing of dog breeding and pet sales.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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As puppy smuggling is punishable as an animal cruelty offence, will the Minister confirm that legislation to introduce five-year sentences for animal cruelty remains a priority for this Government and will be introduced as soon as possible?

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley
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I can confirm that that is absolutely the case. As soon as parliamentary time allows, the Government will introduce legislation to increase those sentences from six months to five years. Like my hon. Friend, I have zero tolerance for the abhorrent crime of puppy smuggling. I look forward to discussing the matter more fully with him in the Westminster Hall debate that he has secured for next week.

John Bercow Portrait Mr Speaker
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Ah—Kerry McCarthy.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
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I was inspired suddenly, Mr Speaker.

I asked the Minister about this when he appeared before the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs yesterday: he says that he will bring back the sentencing Bill and the animal sentience Bill when we have parliamentary time, but we have spent an awful lot of parliamentary time sitting around, twiddling our thumbs and waiting for Brexit votes. He could bring forward that legislation very soon, could he not?

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley
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We look forward to bringing it back to the House as soon as parliamentary time allows.

Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con)
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Yes, five-year sentencing for animal cruelty must be brought in as soon as possible, but my question is about puppies being smuggled in from abroad. Under EU legislation, five puppies can be brought in legally. Very often, fraudulent veterinary certificates are issued, puppies come in very young and with no socialisation, and it is criminal gangs that profit. When we leave the European Union, can we cut the number of puppies that can come in legally from five to two?

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley
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I thank the Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee for raising that point, as he has done several times in the Committee. I can assure him that once we leave, we will be able to look at the number of puppies that can be brought in.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab)
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7. What recent discussions he has had with the Home Secretary on wildlife crime enforcement.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Dr Thérèse Coffey)
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I have discussed certain issues with Home Office Ministers; I am thinking particularly of recent discussions about hare coursing. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that it is for chief constables to determine how offences are enforced, but I welcome the move by police and crime commissioners to increasingly make that a priority for their local constabularies.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
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Foxhunting is illegal in this country, yet it is allowed and even encouraged by some landowners. This is not trail hunting; it involves the pain and suffering of animals before they are killed. Will the Minister confirm that she supports the prosecution of those involved in this cruel activity, including landowners—even if they are Members of this House?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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I think the hon. Gentleman was about to make an allegation against somebody. It is important that evidence be provided to the police, and it is for them to make a recommendation to the Crown Prosecution Service. If anybody is breaking the law on this sort of activity, I fully welcome prosecutions being made.

Robert Courts Portrait Robert Courts (Witney) (Con)
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What investigations is the Minister making on what drives rural and wildlife crime, so that the police can understand it and respond appropriately?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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Both DEFRA and the Home Office fund the national wildlife crime unit and support its work in investigating crimes. They undertake analysis and share intelligence with police forces. There are six wildlife crime priorities—badgers, bat and raptor persecution, illegal trade in species covered by the convention on international trade in endangered species, poaching and freshwater mussels, but more can be done locally, and I am aware that hare coursing in particular concerns many Members of Parliament.

Ben Lake Portrait Ben Lake (Ceredigion) (PC)
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The Minister will be aware of the devastating impact that dog attacks on livestock can have for farmers. What discussions are the Government having with colleagues about possible amendment to the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 to better enable police forces to address the matter?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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Strictly speaking, livestock is not wildlife, but there are protections and it will really be a case of local communities working together. A lot more could probably be done to educate people about how they control their dogs when they are out on a country walk.

Bambos Charalambous Portrait Bambos Charalambous (Enfield, Southgate) (Lab)
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8. What discussions he has had with local authorities on no-idling zones outside schools and hospitals to tackle poor air quality.

Stephen Morgan Portrait Stephen Morgan (Portsmouth South) (Lab)
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9. What discussions he has had with local authorities on no-idling zones outside schools and hospitals to tackle poor air quality.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Dr Thérèse Coffey)
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It is already an offence to leave an engine running unnecessarily when the vehicle is stationary on a public road. Local authorities can issue fixed penalty notices to drivers who leave engines running after being asked to turn them off. Westminster Council is probably the most successful at this, but I encourage local authorities to use their powers so that more people stop idling unnecessarily.

Bambos Charalambous Portrait Bambos Charalambous
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What discussions has the Minister had with the Chancellor about the need to establish ring-fenced funding for local authorities to implement measures to protect our children’s health where they are disproportionately affected by toxic air in areas where they live, learn and play?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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The Government are investing more than £3.5 billion in the strategy to improve air quality. I remind the hon. Gentleman that this matter is devolved to the Mayor of London. I know that he is seeking to be active on this, but there is more that local authorities can do today that is self-financing in order to improve air quality, including on this issue of idling.

Stephen Morgan Portrait Stephen Morgan
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Given that the Secretary of State accepts that air quality is a matter of social justice and health inequality, why is he doing so little to support low-income households to switch to cleaner forms of transport?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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I am not sure where the hon. Gentleman gets that impression from. We have offered grants to people who want to switch to electric vehicles. We are investing several billion pounds in different strategies to help people make that switch. We outlined other issues of air quality in our clean air strategy, which the World Health Organisation has said is something that every other country in the world should follow.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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John Bercow Portrait Mr Speaker
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Will the hon. Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) not seek to intercede at this time? His question might not be reached, but he has a similar inquiry. Get in there, man.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes (Walsall North) (Con)
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12. Thank you, Mr Speaker. I was just thinking the same thing, but I did not want to break protocol by trying.What assessment has the Department made of air quality on the M6 from junction 9 to 10A, where it cuts through my constituency, and what work can be done to mitigate the effect of traffic on air quality?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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I have met Highways England with the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), on several occasions. The chief executive holds a fortnightly meeting to discuss air quality and the progress that it is required to make under our air quality plan, and I am convinced that I can organise a direct meeting for my hon. Friend with him to discuss his specific issue.

Derek Thomas Portrait Derek Thomas (St Ives) (Con)
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Air quality around schools is a concern, and in my constituency and west Cornwall we are working up a plan to plant 20,000 trees with our school children by the end of 2020 to improve their air quality. Will the Minister meet me to see how we can deliver that ambition?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome anyone who wants to plant trees. I think it is fair to say that the scientific evidence does not definitively say that trees help air quality, but they are good in so many other ways. It is about improving the local environment. We must continue to do more to ensure that children are not affected by poor air quality, and I welcome activities around the country to achieve that.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
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10. What recent assessment his Department has made of the economic effect of rural crime on farmers.

Michael Gove Portrait The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Michael Gove)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There is no formal assessment of the cost of rural crime, but NFU Mutual, the highly respected insurance organisation, has estimated the cost of rural crime at £44.5 million in 2017.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
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Two weeks ago, I was due to meet the National Farmers Union and farmers from my local community. Unfortunately, on the day, one of the farmers could not attend because the previous night 19 ewes had been slaughtered in his fields. I understand that across Warwickshire we lost 27 ewes, slaughtered in the field, with entrails left there. It is a growing problem in our communities, among our farmers, with a significant economic impact on them. Part of the problem is down to lack of law enforcement and police numbers. Will the Secretary of State advise me on what I should say to farmers in my community about how to prevent this in future?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue. He once more brings to our attention a horrific series of crimes. I would hope that he and I will be able to talk to the local police and crime commissioner to ensure that they have the resources and powers required. If anything more is required, I am more than happy to talk to Home Office colleagues to ensure that the incidents he has drawn to the House’s attention are not repeated.

John Bercow Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the former president or patron of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, Sir Nicholas Soames.

Nicholas Soames Portrait Sir Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con)
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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Michael Gove Portrait The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Michael Gove)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very keen to see rare breeds survive, which is why I suspect the leader—ex-leader, rather—of the Liberal Democrats, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), is bobbing.

More to the point, tomorrow is the last day on which the permanent secretary at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be in her post. Clare Moriarty is an outstanding public servant. She is going on to become permanent secretary at the Department for Exiting the European Union. On behalf of my ministerial team, and I think Members across the House, I ask us all to record our thanks to an outstanding public servant for everything she has done to ensure that the environment, rural affairs and food have been at the heart of Government policy making and have been carried forward with the high standards of professionalism that we expect of a civil servant.

Nicholas Soames Portrait Sir Nicholas Soames
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my right hon. Friend and join him in paying tribute to an obviously very distinguished civil servant. One has to wonder what she has done to earn such a poisoned chalice.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that of all the landscapes in Britain, one of the most greatly cherished are the uplands? Does he agree that, inevitably, there is a good deal of concern and anxiety at this time as the Brexit policies unfold? Will he agree to receive a delegation from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Moorland Association to discuss with him some of the more pressing issues that are causing serious concern in an already hard-pressed community?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. Our uplands are one of our environmental glories, and it is critical that those who live and work in the uplands and those who, for a variety of reasons, feel that their way of life and some of the economic activities that sustain communities in the uplands might be under threat, have the reassurance of knowing that this Government are on their side. I would be delighted to convene such a meeting.

Rosie Cooper Portrait Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab)
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T2. The Government declared in response to the Somerset flooding that “money is no object”. This week, ground investigation works are starting on a £40 million flood risk management scheme for Preston and South Ribble. Will the Minister explain why a maximum bid of £1.3 million is available for the flood defence grant-in-aid fund for a project that cost £9.7 million to deliver, as outlined in the Lancashire County Council report regarding Hurleston brook, known as the Jacob report?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Dr Thérèse Coffey)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The House will be aware that we increased the amount of money being spent on flood defences between 2015 and 2021—£2.1 billion across those six years—better to protect more than 300,000 homes. The hon. Lady will be aware that there are formulas for how we can allocate money to projects. My right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) opened up the doors with a partnership funding approach, which is largely working. However, I am very conscious that the hon. Lady is doing diligent work on behalf of her constituents to get better flood protection.

Robert Courts Portrait Robert Courts (Witney) (Con)
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T3. On a recent visit to the Northmoor Meat Company in my constituency, which deals in organic, sustainably sourced beef, raised on the banks of the River Thames, I also saw the great work that it does with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to provide scrapes and nesting habitats for birds such as lapwing and curlew. What are Ministers doing to help farmers, the real guardians of our environment, with conservation work?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend draws attention to just one of many ways in which farmers are making sure that our natural environment is enhanced. Our new environmental land management schemes should better reward farmers and allow other landowners, such as the RSPB, to continue their good work.

Lilian Greenwood Portrait Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab)
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T6. Last week in Transport questions, the Minister of State, Department for Transport, the hon. Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), told me that the Government were taking the dangers of toxic air to children’s health “very seriously”, but that the issue was “complex and multifaceted”. Given that UNICEF tells us that 4.5 million children are growing up in areas with unsafe levels of particulate matter, does the Secretary of State agree that his colleagues in the DFT need to pull their finger out, because under existing plans, those toxic levels of air pollution will continue for the next decade?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I absolutely agree that we need to take the issue of air quality more seriously. It is absolutely the No. 1 environmental threat to public health, and that is why our recent air quality strategy, which I launched with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, was applauded by the World Health Organisation as an example for other countries to follow.

Gillian Keegan Portrait Gillian  Keegan  (Chichester)  (Con)
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T4.   Chichester District Council has been incredibly successful in reducing litter throughout the district, thanks to its “Against Litter” campaign, in which over 170 areas have been adopted by residents, including me, who keep them clean and tidy. The council will fund the second phase of this project, which will tackle fly-tipping and increase knowledge of the realities of waste disposal, but what steps are being taken to ensure that Government bodies such as the Environment Agency support local authorities such as Chichester in these initiatives?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My predecessor in this role, now Leader of the House, introduced a national litter strategy, and since then a number of organisations, including Chichester council and my hon. Friend, both of whom I must congratulate, have been energetic in making sure that we deal with this scourge. My Department will do everything possible to make sure that every single arm of Her Majesty’s Government is committed to making sure that our natural environment is cleaner and greener as a result of joint efforts.

John Bercow Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) might invite the Secretary of State to Chichester to observe the situation at close quarters; I feel sure that he will say yes.

Ruth Cadbury Portrait Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)
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The Secretary of State will have seen that it emerged in The Sunday Times last week that the Department for Transport has pressurised Heathrow to hide information about the noise levels that the hundreds of thousands of people living around Heathrow will experience if and when runway 3 goes ahead. Does he share my concern, and that of my and many other Members’ constituents, that people have been kept in the dark about the noise that runway 3 will bring, which will be way above WHO recommended levels and way above what most people experience at the moment?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady asks if I have read The Sunday Times; I tend not to read the Sunday newspapers—it is better for my health. She asks a very serious question, and I will raise it with John Holland-Kaye, the chief executive of Heathrow.

Damien Moore Portrait Damien Moore (Southport) (Con)
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T5. Will the Minister reaffirm the Government’s commitment to ending single-use plastics? Will she also pay tribute to the almost 90 volunteers from across Southport who came out last week to help clean up our beach at Ainsdale?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Thérèse Coffey
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The Government are absolutely committed to that aim. We are making good progress on regulations to achieve that, on cross-Government strategies, and on working with industry to do precisely what my hon. Friend wants. I praise the volunteers who went out litter-picking to keep the beach clean; I used to play on that beach as a child, and it is great to see that it is in safe hands under the stewardship of my hon. Friend, working with the local community.

Diana Johnson Portrait Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
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Will the Secretary of State agree to meet Humber MPs to discuss making funding for a national flood resilience centre in the Humber area a priority in the comprehensive spending review?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister with responsibility for the environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), has already done so, and of course I would be happy to do so at any time.

Rehman Chishti Portrait Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con)
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The Government have a fantastic track record on improving standards for animals. In 2015, the compulsory microchipping of dogs was brought in. However, there is an anomaly: there is no such provision for cats. The Secretary of State knows that I have a private Member’s Bill on cats that would mean cats were treated in the same way as dogs. I am grateful for my meeting with him last week. Will he assure me that the Government will do everything that they can to take the issue forward, so that cats get the same treatment as dogs?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a good Bill, and I am a cat owner. Let’s bring it on.

John Grogan Portrait John Grogan (Keighley) (Lab)
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Most studies now indicate that we have an excess of incineration capacity to deal with residual waste. Is there not a danger that, if we build more incinerators, waste that would otherwise be recycled will be diverted to those incinerators?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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That is a fair point.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth) (Con)
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The UK has some of the highest standards of animal welfare in the world, but American attitudes to farm animal welfare remain very backward. Given that there is now a cross-party consensus in this House that we should enshrine recognition of animal sentience in law, should the Government not require the United States to pass equivalent legislation at federal level as a precondition to any trade deal?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is a very good point from someone who was an excellent Minister. I so enjoyed serving with my hon. Friend. As ever, he shows that his commitment to animal welfare and to the highest standards in farming remains undimmed. We are very lucky to have him in this House.

John Bercow Portrait Mr Speaker
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We all know the Secretary of State is extraordinarily polite. Some people might think the Secretary of State is cultivating the hon. Gentleman for a purpose in the future. I know not what or when—no idea what that might be.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab)
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The east of England is a dry region with many houses planned for the future. Dr Robert Evans of the Global Sustainability Institute at Anglia Ruskin University tells us that many of the streams he regularly monitors are already drying up. What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that we have enough water for future houses in the region?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman is also a wonderful addition to the House of Commons. I would like to cultivate him. He is a tall poppy in this House and certainly no blushing violet. He makes a very serious point. I have been talking to Anglian Water and others recently. The Environment Agency chief executive, James Bevan, has pointed out that water scarcity is a significant environmental danger. We need to work together to deal with it.

Kirstene Hair Portrait Kirstene Hair (Angus) (Con)
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My farmers warmly welcomed the launch of the seasonal agricultural workers scheme today; in fact, James Porter, who was mentioned earlier, is one of my farmers and welcomes the scheme. I will be meeting them next week to see how we can further improve it. Will the Secretary of State agree to continue conversations with the Home Office to ensure that the system can be monitored, increased and made permanent?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Absolutely. Were it not for the advocacy of my hon. Friend and her constituents, we would not have the seasonal agricultural workers scheme in place already, and I pay tribute to her for that work. It is her constituent who has been responsible, working with her, for bringing the scheme in. In stark contrast to the destructive and cynical sniping from the Scottish National party, Scottish Conservatives have been delivering for Scottish farmers.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Can the Secretary of State guarantee that not a penny of the £3.8 billion ring-fenced for agriculture in the proposed new scheme will be spent on schemes that are currently funded from non-CAP sources?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will do my very best.

John Bercow Portrait Mr Speaker
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One sentence of fewer than 20 words—Rebecca Pow.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane) (Con)
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I was going to ask, Mr Speaker—I am going to extend it—whether you are a gardener. If you are, you will understand the value of healthy soil. Does the Secretary of State agree that soil is so important for delivering flooding control and healthy food, and for holding carbon, that we should give it top priority in the Agriculture Bill, call it a public good and pay farmers to deliver it?

John Bercow Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The crops have had plenty of time to grow.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Mr Speaker, can I thank you for granting my hon. Friend a long extension? She is absolutely right. Soil is at the heart of the fight against climate change, it is at the heart of good agriculture, and it is absolutely critical for making sure that our environment flourishes.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)
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Does the Secretary of State still believe, as he has told me twice already, that other European countries are looking enviously at the United Kingdom’s attempts to withdraw from the European Union?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Other European countries are looking enviously at the United Kingdom Government and piteously at the Scottish Government, whose contortions on constitutional questions continue to lead other European statesmen to wonder why a great country with so many talented people is in the hands of such a parcel of rogues.

Julian Sturdy Portrait Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con)
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In light of Dieter Helm’s recent comments, how much weight does the Secretary of State give to food security in developing future farming policy?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have enormous respect for Professor Helm, but food security is absolutely central to my Department’s and this Government’s mission.

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist (Blaydon) (Lab)
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Both farmers and consumers are concerned that future trade agreements will lower UK food standards. How will the Secretary of State ensure that future trade agreements maintain and improve our food quality standards?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise that, and I and my hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will be talking to the NFU and other farming unions later today about how we can make sure that standards are protected.

The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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1. Whether the Church of England plans to review its policy on shooting on its estate.

Caroline Spelman Portrait The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Dame Caroline Spelman)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Church Commissioners’ rural estate is almost entirely let, predominantly on secure tenancies, which include shooting rights. The Church Commissioners’ ability to influence shooting activities, as long as they are legal and do not breach tenancy terms, is very limited.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Bishop Wood is being used for shooting—land leased by the Church Commissioners to the Forestry Commission. Blood sports in exchange for blood money for the Church of England. What steps have the Church Commissioners taken to ban blood sports across their estate?

Caroline Spelman Portrait Dame Caroline Spelman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know that the hon. Lady wrote to the Church Commissioners, and they replied to her on 6 March. It is a long-established practice of the Forestry Commission, who are the tenants of the land that she refers to, that they inform people locally when a shoot is to take place, but I can make additional inquiries on her behalf. The Church Commissioners do not have a wide-ranging policy on shooting, because in the majority of cases shooting rates are contained within farm tenancies, many of which are lifetime tenancies.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Mr Speaker, you will know, as I know, that those who lease land from the Churches have a responsibility as lessee to control pests on that land—grey squirrels, foxes, pigeons, crows and so on. Does the right hon. Lady agree that those tenancy agreement terms, and that pest control, have to be enforced?

Caroline Spelman Portrait Dame Caroline Spelman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Without doubt, the hon. Gentleman is right. The Church Commissioners do have a responsibility to ensure that the terms of any tenancy are conformed with. To be perfectly clear about conservation, the Church of England is strongly committed to conservation, especially in its own green spaces. I am sure we all remember the campaigns that were fought to provide a haven for the hedgehog in churchyards, for example, and the Church’s commitment to work with Natural England on bat conservation. Conservation is at our heart.

Lord Austin of Dudley Portrait Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Ind)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

2. What recent assessment the Commissioners have made of the level of funding for the Archbishops’ Council's strategic development fund.

Caroline Spelman Portrait The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Dame Caroline Spelman)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Church Commissioners vote annually on the availability of strategic development funding. The funding is a 10-year programme, and the £270 million of overall funding for the programme that was agreed in 2016 is to be sustained over the period.

Lord Austin of Dudley Portrait Ian Austin
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Mr Speaker, you will recall from your celebrated visit to Dudley the beautiful sight of Top church, dominating the town’s skyline. I am sure you will want to join me in thanking the Church Commissioners for designating Top church a resourcing church, and for granting £2.5 million to pay for more staff, support for vulnerable people, its work in the deprived community and—together with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund—urgent repairs and much-needed restoration.

May I take the opportunity to say how grateful we are to the brilliant Bishop of Dudley, the Rt Rev. Graham Usher; our Archdeacon, the Venerable Nikki Groarke; the resourcing church leader, the Rev. James Treasure, and of course Maureen Westley, who has been the driving force behind the church for years, and the whole congregation at Top church?

Caroline Spelman Portrait Dame Caroline Spelman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Amen to that, Mr Speaker. I thank the hon. Gentleman. I will take those thanks back to the Church Commissioners. The hon. Gentleman’s question gives me, as Second Church Estates Commissioner, a chance to remind the whole House of the Church Commissioners’ commitment to helping communities, especially some of our poorest communities, to refurbish and regenerate their churches.

Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

How much of the strategic development fund is spent on building churches in new residential housing estates?

Caroline Spelman Portrait Dame Caroline Spelman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. It is a very important point that the strategic development fund is there not only for the restoration of very fine examples of English architecture, such as Top church in Dudley, but to establish new churches, often in communities where there has been no provision for places of worship. I reassure my hon. Friend. If he has candidates in his constituency, perhaps he would like to place a request through me to the commissioners, if that is what he seeks.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

A recent article in The Guardian stated that Scotland’s largest private forestry owner is now the Church of England. There are growing concerns in Scotland about the effects of that type of concentrated land ownership. Can the commissioner shed some light on what assessment the Church made of the impact of that investment decision on local communities?

Caroline Spelman Portrait Dame Caroline Spelman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The investment in forestry was part of the Church of England’s commitment to respond to its ethical investment strategy and move away from investments in, for example, oil sands and companies that may be producing products that do not accord with our commitment to tackle climate change. Investment in forestry obviously is a positive contribution to the climate. As part of the assessment of those investments, we take into consideration the communities that live in the places where we are invested.

The hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission was asked—
Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

3. What steps the Commission is taking to (a) identify and (b) prevent foreign influence on elections.

Bridget Phillipson Portrait Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is vital that there is no foreign interference in the UK’s elections, and transparency about who is spending money to influence voters is an essential safeguard. The Electoral Commission monitors party donations and campaign spending to ensure that the laws on foreign influence have not been broken. Where there are specific allegations that the UK’s political finance law has been broken, the commission can investigate, issue civil sanctions and refer cases to the police or the National Crime Agency for criminal investigation.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Sheerman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but from previous questions from my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) she will be aware of Russian influence. We know that that influence is happening and has happened. Many of us worry that we are not well enough organised to identify it. When can we get a coalition with GCHQ and security services that will reassure Members that interference, which we know is going on, can be stopped?

Bridget Phillipson Portrait Bridget Phillipson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. The Electoral Commission’s regulatory remit is confined in law to UK-based parties and other campaigners. It liaises with the UK Government and security services, working to ensure that our elections are free from foreign interference and to address the issue of threats to our democracy. Those questions might be well addressed to Government Ministers.

Craig Mackinlay Portrait Craig Mackinlay (South Thanet) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady has a unique relationship with the Electoral Commission; I perversely do as well now, and I have fast-track communication with it. I have lots of complaints about the Electoral Commission, but I raise one small thing. Let us try to repair the organisation one step at a time. Can we insist that it dates all its guidance and documents in the bottom left-hand corner, as we do in any other part of Government? Whether it is Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs or Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, there is always a date, but that is not always the case with Electoral Commission documents. Let us please just put that right.

Bridget Phillipson Portrait Bridget Phillipson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. I am sure that the issues he has raised this morning will have been heard. I will ensure that the commission responds in full to the issues he has raised.

Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

11. There is clearly a specific issue when it comes to the use of spending on digital campaigning. We now know that almost half of campaigners’ money is being spent on digital and social media platforms. What is the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission doing to ensure that our laws are updated to reflect that current landscape and that people who have power over the electoral system are held to account, transparent and do not create an atmosphere of mistrust?

Bridget Phillipson Portrait Bridget Phillipson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This is a growing area of concern. In its recent report on digital campaigning, the Electoral Commission recommended greater transparency on the sources of digital campaign materials and those paying for them and that the commission should be given greater powers to compel information from social media companies.

The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
Robert Halfon Portrait Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

4. What steps the Commission is taking to increase the number of apprentices in the House of Commons.

Tom Brake Portrait Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

To increase the number of apprentices, the House service has taken a number of steps. That includes expanding the range of apprenticeship programmes on offer from two to 14 since September 2018 and upskilling existing employees by enrolling them on apprenticeship programmes. The expansion of apprenticeship programmes will continue. Ongoing engagement and planning for apprenticeship roles across all House teams will ensure more quality apprenticeships are created.

Robert Halfon Portrait Robert Halfon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Mr Speaker, you have led the way in ensuring that young people are employed in the House in your scheme, and in supporting apprenticeships, but as we are the House of Commons and the Houses of Parliament, can we please set an example to our nation and not just coast along in terms of employment of apprentices and make sure we meet our 2.3% public target? I urge you, Mr Speaker, and the senior Clerk to rocket-boost apprenticeships so that we have hundreds of apprentices in the Houses of Parliament.

John Bercow Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What a splendid question!

Tom Brake Portrait Tom Brake
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I commend the right hon. Gentleman for his work to raise the profile of apprenticeships in the House. He will know that the House intends to increase the number of apprentices from 14 to 38 by the end of May. He will also be aware that that does not hit the 2.3% target, which the House intends to do by 2021.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What rates are House of Commons apprentices paid? The Government’s minimum rate is £3.70 per hour for under-19s and those over 19 in their first year. I would be interested to know how much apprentices in the House, who do a very important job, are paid. Would it not set an example to give them a much higher rate so that the rest of the country could do so as well?

Tom Brake Portrait Tom Brake
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am afraid that my briefing on the subject has no information on that, so I will write to the hon. Lady to confirm the rate. Hopefully she will be satisfied with the rate House apprentices receive.

John Bercow Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

And if the hon. Lady is not satisfied, we might have to look at it again, preferably sooner rather than later.

Chris Elmore Portrait Chris Elmore (Ogmore) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

May I press the right hon. Gentleman on the regional and national diversity of apprentices? We are a UK House of Commons and House of Parliament. It would therefore be good if apprentices from across the UK feel that they can access the schemes. We should also ensure that we are more diverse by ensuring that we have more women apprentices—they can become Clerk of the House or serve as head of security. Diversity is extremely important. We cannot just preach it; we must also practise it.

Tom Brake Portrait Tom Brake
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. He may be aware that the House works with Amazing Apprenticeships, an organisation that goes out nationally to 3,500 schools and colleges. Among other things, it is creating a short film about what happens in the House, which I hope has a positive impact on his diversity concerns.

The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Sheryll Murray Portrait Mrs Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

5. What progress has been made on implementing the joint accord between the Government and the Church of England on the use of Church land and buildings to support digital connectivity.

Scott Mann Portrait Scott Mann (North Cornwall) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

6. What recent discussions the Church of England has had with the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on using church spires to facilitate the provision of broadband in rural areas.

Caroline Spelman Portrait The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Dame Caroline Spelman)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It gives me very special pleasure to respond to my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) because it allows me to extend to her my very best wishes for her wedding on Saturday. I am sure the House joins me in that.

The Church of England is working with stakeholders to produce guidance for churches to be published in May. The guidance should assist churches in making the best use of the joint accord between the Government and the Church to support digital connectivity. Two hundred churches have taken up the opportunity of the new technology, adding to the existing 300 that had already done so.

Sheryll Murray Portrait Mrs Murray
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I thank my right hon. Friend for her good wishes. Is she aware of any specific problems that discourage parishes from taking up the opportunity to improve connectivity in rural areas such as South East Cornwall, and at the same time increasing parish income? If so, can the Government do anything to help?

Caroline Spelman Portrait Dame Caroline Spelman
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It is largely about awareness or perceived barriers—some people think it is impossible to be a candidate, but I reassure my hon. Friend that it is perfectly possible to install digital technology infrastructure even in listed buildings. I encourage her to raise awareness locally. Two churches in the Truro diocese were granted facility in 2017, but two is not many in the whole diocese. Anything that can be done to encourage other churches to look at the opportunity to improve broadband coverage in their area would be gratefully received.

Scott Mann Portrait Scott Mann
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It is a pleasure to be coupled with my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray). I wish her the very best in her coupling this weekend—a proper Cornish wedding in Westminster.

After discussions with the Church Commissioners officer, I am aware that there are no reasons why church spires cannot be used for boosting broadband signals in rural areas. I recently had a good meeting with Cornwall Broadband, a local provider, which would like to open a dialogue with the churches in Cornwall to utilise their spires. Would the Church Commissioners be interested in that dialogue, and what advice can the right hon. Lady offer to facilitate those discussions?

Caroline Spelman Portrait Dame Caroline Spelman
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The Church Commissioners would be interested, but the initiative comes very much from the diocese; I encourage them to make contact through the diocesan office. Some diocese have progressed faster with this opportunity, particularly in East Anglia—almost 300 churches in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex alone have installed this digital technology, for example. One of the key barriers is not knowing where the notspots for mobile and broadband signals are. All colleagues can get involved: if there is a tall church building in the vicinity of a notspot, perhaps this technology is for them.

The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)
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7. Whether the House of Commons plans to stock Plymouth Gin during the Mayflower 400 commemorations.

Tom Brake Portrait Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington)
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The House of Commons catering service does not currently stock Plymouth Gin, but will seek to stock some for the Mayflower 400 commemorations.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that answer, which will warm the spirits of people in Plymouth. Plymouth Gin is a fantastic gin, and Mayflower 400, which marks the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower from Plymouth to America, is a great opportunity. In these tough times, may I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that we look not only at the standard-strength gin, but Plymouth Gin’s Navy strength as well? We could all do with a little bit extra in these tough times.

Tom Brake Portrait Tom Brake
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. He may be aware of moves within the House to look at the availability of alcohol in this place; I am not sure whether the House will want to entertain the idea of double or triple-strength gins. However, he has put his point on the record and I will take it back to the catering services, including whether they want to stock the double or triple-strength gin that he proposes.

Mike Penning Portrait Sir Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con)
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As the House authorities are aware, wholesalers have a monopoly, particularly when it comes to putting beer into Strangers Bar. Red Squirrel Brewery, which is in my constituency, managed to get it in there after five years, but only after having to go through the wholesaler designated by the House. The margins made it almost unprofitable for it to put the beer in there. That is wrong: there should not be a monopoly in this House.

John Bercow Portrait Mr Speaker
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I say to those observing our proceedings that that interesting inquiry does relate to alcohol, but not to gin. It is a sort of side observation from the right hon. Gentleman, borne of his personal experience, for which we are grateful.

Tom Brake Portrait Tom Brake
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I assume that it is in order for me to respond very briefly, Mr Speaker. Clearly, the right hon. Gentleman has put on the record his concerns about how the process works, but he will also be aware that Members do at least, through the guest beer option, have the possibility of bringing their own specialist beers to the House.

The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Mark Menzies Portrait Mark Menzies (Fylde) (Con)
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8. What steps the Church of England is taking to mark the 25th anniversary of women’s ordination to the priesthood.

Caroline Spelman Portrait The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Dame Caroline Spelman)
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There are a number of significant anniversaries this year. It is the 25th anniversary of women’s ordination as priests, the 50th anniversary of women being made readers and the fifth anniversary of women being consecrated as bishops. The Archbishop of Canterbury has held a special service at Lambeth Palace to celebrate the anniversary, and events have also been taking place in diocese.

Mark Menzies Portrait Mark Menzies
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Throughout 2018, celebrations were rightly held in honour of the centenary of the women’s vote. What plans does the commission have to carry on in that vein for the 25th anniversary of women’s ordination to the priesthood?

Caroline Spelman Portrait Dame Caroline Spelman
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Our plans are to pursue our determination to encourage more women into the priesthood. For the record, I share with the House the fact that the number of female clergy is now at a record high: women now make up nearly a third of the 20,000 active clergy. More importantly, there are those in the pipeline: more than half those entering training for the priesthood in 2018 were women.

The hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission was asked—
Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP)
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9. What recent representations the Commission has received on fines imposed on Vote Leave.

Bridget Phillipson Portrait Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South)
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The commission found Vote Leave guilty of multiple breaches under electoral law and imposed fines of £61,000 in July 2018. Vote Leave made representations to the commission in June 2018, when it was notified of the commission’s proposals for penalties. The commission considered these representations carefully, in accordance with its published enforcement policy, before deciding on the penalties to be imposed. Vote Leave took up its right of appeal to the county court, and the appeal is listed for July 2019.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
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The Leave campaign was found guilty of sending almost 200,000 unsolicited texts to numbers it had harvested from a football competition with odds of 5 million, million, billion to one. Anyone who is good at trillions can tell me at the end. In view of the threatened economic damage from Brexit, does the hon. Lady really think that a fine of £40,000 is enough to put others off?

Bridget Phillipson Portrait Bridget Phillipson
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The Electoral Commission works closely with the Information Commissioner and others in making sure that our rules are followed, but the Electoral Commission, in terms of its responsibilities, continues to urge the Government to introduce legislation to strengthen its sanctioning powers for future referendums and elections. Its view is that the current maximum fine of £20,000 per offence could well be seen as the cost of doing business.

The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con)
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10. What plans the Church of England has to encourage more families to attend church this Easter.

Caroline Spelman Portrait The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Dame Caroline Spelman)
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Parish churches will be welcoming parents and families especially back to church this weekend for Mothering Sunday. What better year to record with grateful thanks all of those involved in making it possible for mothers to have their names on marriage certificates? Even though Mothering Sunday takes place during Lent, it is a feast day. In preparation for Lent, the Church has developed a free Lent pilgrim app and emails, and the campaign material is also available on Alexa.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. As she knows, Easter is a special time for us Christians as it represents the absolute core of our faith. There is something unique and special about spending it in church, so can she outline what work the Church of England is doing to reach out via social media and the internet to families who may not normally be church attenders to come and share that special joy with us?

Caroline Spelman Portrait Dame Caroline Spelman
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The Church has been winning awards for the range of innovative resources it uses to develop support for local churches and encourage their communities to use them. For example, there is achurchnearyou.com, a finder website that has more than 10 million visitors a year and has seen a big increase in the number of people using the site and spending time on it.

Hard copies of the Church’s materials are also available. Should the rigours of Brexit be too much, it is not too late for Members to avail themselves of the “Pilgrim Journeys” book of daily readings to get us through to Easter.