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Written Question
Food: Imports
Thursday 21st July 2022

Asked by: Chris Stephens (Scottish National Party - Glasgow South West)

Question to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs:

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for International Trade on the impact of (a) trends in the level of and (b) barriers to imports on food security and availability in the UK.

Answered by Victoria Prentis - Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The UK has a highly resilient food supply chain, as demonstrated throughout the COVID-19 response. It is well equipped to deal with situations with the potential to cause disruption.

The capability, levers, and expertise to respond to disruption lie with industry. They have highly resilient supply chains, and this was proven in the initial COVID-19 response. The Government’s role is to support and enable an industry-led response.

The UK Government has well established ways of working with the industry and with the Devolved Administrations to monitor risks that may arise. This includes extensive, regular and ongoing engagement in preparedness for, and response to, issues with the potential to cause disruption to food supply chains.

The UK’s high degree of food security is built on supply from diverse sources, strong domestic production as well as imports through stable trade routes. We produce 60% of all the food we need, and 74% of food which we can grow or rear in the UK for all or part of the year, and these figures have changed little over the last 20 years.


Written Question
Food: Production
Thursday 23rd June 2022

Asked by: Chris Stephens (Scottish National Party - Glasgow South West)

Question to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs:

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what recent assessment he has made of the impact of the rise in the cost of living on food producers.

Answered by Victoria Prentis - Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Agricultural commodities are linked to global gas prices, and we recognise that farmers and food producers are facing increased input costs – namely fertiliser, energy, fuel and feed. We have taken steps to support farmers with fertiliser availability, brought forward BPS payments, implemented maize tariff reductions and introduced flexibility in the labelling of certain oils in products.


Written Question
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: Working Hours
Friday 21st January 2022

Asked by: Chris Stephens (Scottish National Party - Glasgow South West)

Question to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs:

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 - Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

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
Monday 17th January 2022

Asked by: Chris Stephens (Scottish National Party - Glasgow South West)

Question to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs:

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
Friday 13th November 2020

Asked by: Chris Stephens (Scottish National Party - Glasgow South West)

Question to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs:

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 - Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

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
Tuesday 21st January 2020

Asked by: Chris Stephens (Scottish National Party - Glasgow South West)

Question to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs:

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 - Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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
Tuesday 21st January 2020

Asked by: Chris Stephens (Scottish National Party - Glasgow South West)

Question to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs:

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 - Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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
Tuesday 29th October 2019

Asked by: Chris Stephens (Scottish National Party - Glasgow South West)

Question to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs:

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 - Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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
Tuesday 22nd October 2019

Asked by: Chris Stephens (Scottish National Party - Glasgow South West)

Question to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs:

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 - Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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
Monday 14th January 2019

Asked by: Chris Stephens (Scottish National Party - Glasgow South West)

Question to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs:

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 - Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

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.