Tip: To match a phrase, use quotation marks around the search term. eg. "Parliamentary Estate"

Written Question
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: Working Hours
21 Jan 2022

Questioner: Chris Stephens (SNP - Glasgow South West)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what records his Department keeps relating to staff working times under Regulation 9 of the Working Time Regulations 1998; and how long those records are kept for.

Answered by Victoria Prentis

I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Easington on 17 January 2022, PQ UIN 102586.


Written Question
Food: Innovation
17 Jan 2022

Questioner: Chris Stephens (SNP - Glasgow South West)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what steps his Department is taking to promote innovation in the food system.

Answered by Jo Churchill

Defra recognises how central innovation and technology are to boosting productivity, enhancing the environment and feeding a growing global population. The Government is making significant investment to unlock innovation and translate our world leading research into practical, farmer-led solutions that improve productivity, environmental sustainability and resilience, and which move towards net zero emission farming systems.

We have several funding programmes open to industry as well as our own farming and food science research. These funding streams address key areas such as soil systems and land management, regenerative agriculture, sustainable feed and pest management, automation, alternative proteins, and precision farming.

The Government’s £90 million investment in the 'Transforming Food Production' (TFP) challenge, launched by UK Research and Innovation in 2018, is already supporting ground-breaking research and development to enable farmers and growers to harness the latest technology to produce high quality food, increase their productivity and move towards net zero emission farming systems by 2040.

On the back of this programme’s success, Defra launched a £14.5 million collaborative agricultural R&D competition called 'Farming Innovation Pathways' in spring 2021, targeting existing and new farm focused innovation, which will be delivered through the TFP initiative.

In October 2021, Defra launched the first £17.5 million share of funding in its ambitious new Farming Innovation Programme – as part of the proposed measures to stimulate innovation and boost sustainable productivity in England’s agricultural and horticultural sectors as we move away from the EU system of farming subsidy payments. This Programme will enable more farmers, growers, and agri-food businesses to become involved in collaborative agricultural and horticultural R&D, and will enhance knowledge exchange and adoption of innovation by farmers and growers to ensure innovation can make a real difference to the sectors. It will comprise three separate funds that will pull through innovation in different areas, from small farmer-led innovative research projects to larger industrial R&D projects that can transform the sector.

On January 19 we will launch the Improving Farm Productivity theme of the Farming Investment Fund, part of the £27 million grant scheme fund launched last November. Farmers and growers in England will be able to apply for grants to invest in cutting edge robotic and automation technology to boost productivity. Farmers will benefit from grants ranging from £35,000 to £500,000 to invest in innovative equipment including state of the art autonomous driverless tractors, and cutting-edge robots that harvest, weed and spray crops and voluntary robotic milking systems.

Defra is also engaged with the £47.5 million UK Research and Innovation led Strategic Priorities Fund in Food Systems, which is addressing planetary and health challenges to transform the food system.


Written Question
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: Artificial Intelligence
13 Nov 2020

Questioner: Chris Stephens (SNP - Glasgow South West)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what (a) artificial intelligence and (b) machine learning projects are being (i) undertaken and (ii) considered for his Department.

Answered by Victoria Prentis

I refer the hon. Member to the answer given to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central on 10 September 2020, PQ UIN 83796.

[questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2020-09-01/83796]

Defra recognises the potential for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to play an important part in ensuring that data and science are at the heart of decision making.

All of Defra’s ongoing and previous research projects, including a number involving AI and ML, are published on Defra’s research and development website: randd.defra.gov.uk Planned projects are advertised on Bravo: defra.bravosolution.co.uk.

Areas particularly benefitting from these tools include the interpretation of Earth Observation and automated sensor data, the development of advanced modelling techniques, and improved customer service.

We will continue to work in partnership across Government, with academia and industry to develop the use of AI and ML for Defra.


Written Question
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: Trade Unions
21 Jan 2020

Questioner: Chris Stephens (SNP - Glasgow South West)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, whether the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation affects the right of recognised unions in her Department to bargaining information as set out in Section 181 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.

Answered by George Eustice

GDPR has not affected the rights of unions in Defra to bargaining information provided under section 181 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.


Written Question
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: Pay
21 Jan 2020

Questioner: Chris Stephens (SNP - Glasgow South West)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, whether her Department complies with the requirement set out in section 3.1.8 of the Civil Service Management Code that time off with pay for safety representatives will not be set against facility time allowed under existing arrangements.

Answered by George Eustice

Defra, as with other Government Departments, has an obligation to provide reasonable paid time off to recognised trade union representatives to undertake trade union duties. This includes paid time off for safety representatives as set out in section 3.1.8 of the Civil Service Management Code.

Defra Health and Safety representatives can use their paid facility time for the following TU duties (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Representing employees in consultation and discussions with the employer on health, safety or welfare,
  • Investigating accidents, near misses and other potential hazards and dangerous occurrences in the workplace
  • Investigating a complaint made by an employee they represent about their health, safety or welfare in the workplace
  • Undertaking training relevant to the role of H&S representative, beyond “Stage One”

Defra makes the following provisions to enable Health and Safety Representatives to discharge their duties effectively, without using facility time.

  • Undertaking “Stage One” Health and Safety training, as this course is recognised as providing good basic standard training and the department wants to ensure those carrying out Health and Safety functions are properly qualified
  • Carrying out inspections where they form part of an agreed joint program
  • Attending Joint Health and Safety Committee meetings

In line with the legislative obligation, set out in the Trade Union Act (2016), information relating to facility time in Defra for relevant union officials is published annually, with facility time defined by that Act as including time off taken by a relevant union official that is permitted by the official’s employer, including where this arises under “Regulations made under Section 2(4) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974”.

The Government recognises there are significant benefits to both employers and employees when organisations and unions work together effectively to deliver high quality public services, but facility time within the public sector must be accountable and represent value for money.


Written Question
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: Pay
29 Oct 2019

Questioner: Chris Stephens (SNP - Glasgow South West)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, whether the pay system in her Department has been changed to take account of the Employment Appeal Tribunal ruling on Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council v Mr G Willetts and Others on holiday pay and voluntary overtime; and whether affected workers in her Department have been given back pay as a result of that ruling.

Answered by George Eustice

Following the Tribunal ruling, Defra made backdated payments to eligible staff and is currently working with a number of other Government Departments to change the pay system for the future.


Written Question
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: Equal Pay
22 Oct 2019

Questioner: Chris Stephens (SNP - Glasgow South West)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, how many equal pay reviews there have been in her Department since 2010; what the dates were of those reviews; and whether her Department plans to undertake an equal pay review in 2019.

Answered by George Eustice

Since 2010, Defra has undertaken two equal pay reviews. These were in April 2010 and February 2015. Defra is currently undertaking an equal pay review, and this should be completed in 2019.


Written Question
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: Brexit
14 Jan 2019

Questioner: Chris Stephens (SNP - Glasgow South West)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what estimate he has made of the additional staff required by his Department in the event that the UK leaves the EU (a) with and (b) without a deal.

Answered by David Rutley

Over 80% of Defra’s agenda is affected by the UK’s departure from the European Union and as a result many roles across the Defra group are now supporting work related to our departure from the EU, either directly or indirectly. We are unable to disaggregate between ‘deal’ and ‘no deal’ planning work.

As at the end of November, Defra group has recruited over 2300 staff including fixed term appointments, interims and staff redeployed from elsewhere in the group, to work on the UK’s departure from the EU. Over 2100 are already in post with the remainder working through pre-employment processes.

We are continuing to recruit further additional staff to support work related to leaving the EU and we are currently advertising or selecting to fill an additional 250 posts.

Resourcing activity is expected to be on-going through 2019/20 however we are currently in the process of finalising our total people resource requirements for the year following receipt in late December of a further £410m of Government funding to enable us to prepare to leave the EU on either a deal or a no deal basis.


Written Question
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: Staff
11 Jan 2019

Questioner: Chris Stephens (SNP - Glasgow South West)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, how many staff were employed in his Department on (a) 20 December 2018 and (b) 23 June 2016.

Answered by George Eustice

The total number of staff employed by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on 31 May 2016, 30 June 2016 and 30 November 2018 are shown below;

Month/Year

Headcount

31 May 2016

1,693

30 June 2016

1,693

30 November 2018

4,168

Staff in Post Data is only run as at the end of each month in order to provide information for published statutory returns. The data provided is in line with the figures published at Data.gov.uk - https://data.gov.uk/dataset/workforce-management-information-defra.

Along with other public sector employers, the department provides data to the Office of National statistics for the “Quarterly Public Sector Employment Survey”. The most recent publication was 11 December showing data as at the end of September 2018 and can be found here - https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/publicsectorpersonnel/bulletins/publicsectoremployment/september2018 .

ONS data for earlier reference dates can be found here – https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/publicsectorpersonnel/bulletins/publicsectoremployment/previousReleases

The Staff in Post data has to go through a lengthy resource intensive verification process to eliminate a high proportion of errors. To provide data as at 20 December would incur disproportionate costs.


Written Question
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: Universal Credit
31 Oct 2018

Questioner: Chris Stephens (SNP - Glasgow South West)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what estimate he has made of the (a) number and (b) proportion of staff in his Department in receipt of universal credit; and if he will make a statement.

Answered by George Eustice

Defra does not record or collate information on staff in receipt of universal credit.


Written Question
Animals: Disease Control
11 Apr 2016

Questioner: Chris Stephens (SNP - Glasgow South West)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what the preparedness is of the Animal and Plant Health Agency to react to and control a potential future animal health outbreak similar in scale to the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001.

Answered by George Eustice

The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), compiles the UK contingency plan for exotic notifiable disease that sits above plans designed by Defra and the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Governments.

These are key documents that describe the strategic, tactical and operational responses required to any incursion of exotic notifiable disease, such as foot and mouth disease. These plans are complemented by specific GB disease control strategies and APHA work with the Government Departments in each administration to produce the necessary operational instructions.

To ensure the plans and instructions are fit for purpose, the UK runs a national animal disease exercise roughly every other year on various exotic diseases and we regularly include foot and mouth disease in those exercises.

The next national exercise will be in June 2018 and will be based on a foot and mouth disease scenario.

APHA also create and manage an annual programme of regional or country exercises designed to identify best practice and any gaps in existing plans or procedures. They also run table-top exercises for APHA’s policy customers to identify issues that may arise from new and emerging threats such as African Horse Sickness.


Written Question
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: Pressure Groups
19 Oct 2015

Questioner: Chris Stephens (SNP - Glasgow South West)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what meetings her Department has had with representatives of (a) the Taxpayers' Alliance, (b) the Confederation of British Industry, (c) the Institute of Economic Affairs, (d) the Adam Smith Institute, (e) the Freedom Association, (f) the Politics and Economic Research Trust and (g) the Midlands Industrial Council in the last 12 months.

Answered by George Eustice

Details of Ministers' meetings with external organisations are published up to 31 March 2015 and can be accessed on Gov.uk at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/ministerial-quarterly-transparency-information-january-to-march-2015

Further publications of Ministerial meetings will be published in due course