Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) Bill

Nigel Evans Excerpts
Friday 17th May 2024

(1 day, 8 hours ago)

Commons Chamber
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Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con)
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I beg to move amendment 1, page 1, line 10, leave out

“clarify the penalty that applies”

and insert—

“increase the penalty that may be imposed”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 2.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 2, schedule, page 5, line 29, leave out—

“not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale”.

This amendment increases the fine that can be imposed on a person convicted of the livestock worrying offence. It allows for an unlimited fine to be imposed.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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It is a pleasure to speak to my own Bill. It has its origins in the topics to be considered on the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, but for a variety of reasons, which I expect we may go into again on Third Reading, this is now a single-issue Bill. I also rise to speak to the amendments.

In Committee, there was considerable discussion on what penalties would be deemed appropriate. One concern I had—I tabled my own amendment—was simply to ensure that we were not in a situation where the penalties could in any way be less than what had been intended in the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953. There was no question of that in many ways because the penalty in the original 1953 Act was so small, but it did allow a situation to emerge where there was an increase in penalties or fines against owners of dogs if there had been repeat offences. That is what I sought to discuss with hon. Members, the Minister and officials, to ensure that that was not the case. I was delighted that the Government agreed with that principle and that officials were able to come forward with a different amendment, which I am delighted to be moving today.

Amendment 2 is the substantive amendment—amendment 1 is consequential to it—and if the House agrees to it, the person who commits an offence under the section is liable, on summary conviction, to a fine. There is no limit on that fine; it is an unlimited penalty. This has become a trend in legislation in recent times. That matters because Parliament is not putting in place a cap on what can be done. The flexibility that we can give to the courts is an important way of tackling unacceptable behaviour, such as effectively neglecting the conduct of a dog so that it attacks other animals.

I would still expect the Sentencing Council to issue guidelines regarding what will be appropriate, but in Committee it was deemed important to ensure that we reinstate that element of ensuring there could be an escalation, and not some arbitrary cap where Parliament decides once and for all on what the fine could be, depending on the severity of the offence. In Committee we heard of multiple situations involving either one ewe or lamb, or indeed several. As a consequence, I think it right to allow our courts discretion to adjust the fines accordingly, in line with what the public would expect.

Food Security

Nigel Evans Excerpts
Thursday 21st March 2024

(1 month, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
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I wish to start by thanking all three Committees for their excellent reports and for securing this important debate. Let me also highlight some shareholdings in my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

Food and drink is the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, contributing some £127 billion to our economy. The quality of what we produce is recognised throughout the world and plays a significant role in our global brand. As a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I know that farming is an integral part of our national identity, helping to bind our Union of nations together. The value of our upland farmers is particularly keenly felt across the nations and regions, and I pay tribute to them and all farmers, and indeed everyone involved in the food sector.

Clearly, farming is not just a job; it is a cultural identity at the heart of our rural communities. As we have heard, the role that farmers perform goes far beyond the food they produce; crucially, they are custodians of our natural environment and our iconic landscapes. Events of recent years have emphasised the huge importance of food security to every single one of us. A massive Government effort was focused on preparing for our EU exit, then on maintaining food supplies during the pandemic and, most recently, on dealing with the impact of the Ukraine war. In the face of all those challenges, the UK food supply chain has shown itself to have great resilience.

However, as the Select Committee reports show, further vital matters still need to be addressed, including by tackling the food price inflation of recent years. I really welcome the progress we are seeing on that, with yesterday’s fall in the overall rate of inflation. We also need measures to ensure that farmers get a fair price for what they produce, and it is good to have the Prime Minister’s assurance that the Groceries Code Adjudicator will continue as an independent body and not be merged into the Competition and Markets Authority.

Thirdly, we have to reduce carbon emissions from agriculture if we are to meet our net zero commitments and ensure that we transition to farming methods that give more space for nature. That includes tackling the serious problems we have with insects, which were highlighted by my right hon. Friend the Chair of the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee. Much depends on ELMS, which are replacing the common agricultural policy. We need to achieve the crucial balance of ensuring that they keep our farms viable and profitable, while securing public goods on nature and climate.

When I was Environment Secretary, I was dismayed to receive a certain amount of collective responsibility push-back because I wanted to assert that ELMS should help farmers earn a living. Of course they should do that, because a successful and profitable farming sector is crucial for food security, the importance of which every speaker has emphasised this afternoon. In the role I then played, I felt it was very important to add commitments on food security to what was then the Agriculture Bill, now the Agriculture Act 2020, including the three-yearly report. I welcome the progress towards an annual food security index report publication, as promised by the Prime Minister.

Real progress is being made on improving ELMS and the sustainable farming incentive in response to feedback and concern expressed by the farming community. I am confident that those programmes will be a huge improvement on the EU ones they replace, and that they will deliver substantial benefits in reducing carbon emissions and protecting nature. In particular, I commend the efforts that are being made to protect peatland habitats and care for hedgerows.

In my view, it would have been extremely difficult to deliver a successful transition to more sustainable farming without maintaining overall levels of funding for farm support. I fought successfully for the Conservative manifesto commitment to do that; I hope we see similar commitments in the forthcoming manifesto. Even with that funding, the transition continues to be complex and difficult. I appeal to Ministers to continue to engage closely with farmers and to make further alterations to ELMS, as and when it is needed in response to changing circumstances and as a greater knowledge base is built up in relation to the schemes. I emphasise that we should not follow the example set in Wales, where their proposals would do significant damage to our farming sector and thus to our food security.

We have one of the biggest science and research budgets in the world, including £168 million for agricultural innovation. All of these reports show that we must increase the uptake of new technology in the farming sector if we are to have a chance of meeting the crucial environmental and biodiversity goals we have been speaking about. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson), I think lifting the EU ban on gene editing technology is a tremendous step forward. It could play an important part in boosting our efforts to ensure we can feed an ever-growing global population in a way that is consistent with our commitments on climate and nature.

Finally, if we are to ensure we have resilient supplies of food and thriving agriculture in this country, these domestic goals must be at the heart of our trade policies. Like others who have served as DEFRA Secretary, I had a number of debates with ministerial colleagues on these matters. A key problem with the global trade system is that sanitary and phytosanitary rules are focused on concerns about human health, important as they are, and they are less clear on environmental and animal welfare standards.

I have always argued for permanent quotas to restrict imports in sensitive sectors, where those imports are produced to lower environmental and animal welfare standards than ours. There is little point imposing high standards at home if we simply import more food as a result, with the outcome that we offshore carbon emissions, biodiversity loss and animal cruelty. For those reasons, I have concerns about aspects of the Australia trade agreement, particularly in relation to the beef sector, but I warmly welcome the Prime Minister’s statement in advance of his Farm to Fork summit that permanent quotas would be used where appropriate. As far as I know, neither of his two immediate predecessors as Prime Minister was ever prepared to say that, and it demonstrates the Prime Minister’s strong commitment to British farming.

Our farmers here in the UK operate to some of the highest environmental and animal welfare standards in the world. We should be proud of them and we should back them. If we are to meet our goals on climate and nature, we must work closely with them to deliver a successful transition to net zero, while ensuring that everyone continues to have access to the safe, high-quality, affordable food that they need.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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I shall now call the speakers from the three Front-Bench teams, starting with the SNP spokesperson.

--- Later in debate ---
Philip Dunne Portrait Philip Dunne
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I am grateful to the Minister and all who have spoken for their warm words about the work of my right hon. Friends the Members for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill) and for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) from the other Select Committees, and the work that all members of Select Committees put into these reports. I share the Minister’s concern that not a single Back Bencher from any Opposition party contributed to this debate. All the contributions came from those on the Government Benches, but I welcome the remarks made by the Opposition spokesmen, the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar) and the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), who both seem to take food security seriously. We will have to see how that is converted into any action.

On the subject on action, I was relieved that the Minister sought to introduce some new definitions to parliamentary terminology. I have not heard a Minister use the expression “imminently” before. The expressions “soon”, “in the spring” and “when parliamentary time allows” are well recognised expressions for general delay and obfuscation, but I hope that “imminently” brings a new urgency. He also referred to his officials working “at pace”, so we look forward to that.

I conclude by congratulating and thanking Conservative Back Benchers for their contributions, in particular my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers), who, as a former Secretary of State, brings particular expertise to her contributions. She pointed out that we should not be looking to Wales as a blueprint for future food security, given the devastating impact that the proposals of the Welsh Government are having on farm incomes and food production. My hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mrs Elphicke) spoke about the importance of the effective border controls for phytosanitary requirements, as we rely on both imports and exports for food businesses and food security in this country. My hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson) brought his considerable expertise in animal health to the deliberations. I rather apologise for having personalised my intervention, but he is able to speak with considerable authority on the challenges of animal health. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) was referring to the challenges of waste in the food supply chain. She made important comments on that, which I hope we will see turn into action with the waste food report, whether that is “imminent”, “soon” or “in the spring”. Again, I thank all Members for participating in this debate.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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I shall put the question imminently, or indeed shortly, if not now.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered the matter of food security, including the effects on it of environmental change and of insect decline.

Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) Bill

Nigel Evans Excerpts
Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller (North East Bedfordshire) (Con)
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It is a great pleasure to speak to the Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), which I fully support. As you will know, Mr Deputy Speaker, she is well known in this House as being the main organiser of karaoke sessions. If her voice were in full throttle, I am sure she would have made her case with all the gusto with which she belts out songs at those karaoke evenings. Alas, we will have to wait for another day for that.

This is an important Bill. In my time in Parliament, I have been involved in amendments to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and, more recently, in my private Member’s Bill on hare coursing. This Bill gets the fact that it is not about the dogs but about owners. It is about the possession of the dogs. It is about trying to improve the behaviour of dog owners.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I hope that you will allow me a point of levity—it is kind of serious. My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) is about to speak. I fear that her contribution will include a story about her dog Violet, a lovely cocker spaniel. I therefore feel that I need to own up to something. It was one of those days when Back Benchers were asked to go canvassing in a by-election. Obviously, the Conservatives were looking forward to a resounding victory in that by-election. I was joined in a small group of Conservative Back-Benchers by my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn and some others. We were knocking door to door, and someone had to hold the cards and mark down people’s voting intentions. My hon. Friend decided that she would do that, and she entrusted to me the safe custody of her lovely dog Violet.

My hon. Friend asked me to go to house No. 1 and meet the family. I went to that door in that particular street, and immediately heard barking from inside. I took Violet and moved her behind me. The lady answered the door and said, “Don’t worry, he’s on a lead.” A few seconds later, her husband left with a dog—it was the dog that was on the lead. He left to one side, and my eyes carefully followed the dog, with Violet protected behind me. It was only when the gentleman got into his car that another dog came out and attacked poor Violet. One can imagine my hon. Friend’s feelings, barely three minutes after she had entrusted me with the dog, when I ran down the street with Violet in my hands, blood rushing from her neck.

My point is not only to put on record my apologies to my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn. I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) will be laughing, because he was there, too. My point is that control of animals is a risky business, whatever the circumstances. Control of dogs with the best of behaviour is a risky business. The Bill seeks to ensure that that behaviour is kept to the highest standard and, importantly, to bring up to standard some of the powers that the police need to enforce the law.

One of the issues related to the Hare Coursing Bill was that the police did not feel that they had the appropriate measures, in particular the ability to seize and detain dogs. In those instances, the dogs doing hare coursing were being gambled upon, and therefore were valuable to the owner. But in all cases the ability of the police to take away the dog and to charge the kennel has a deterrent effect. I am pleased to see those provisions in this Bill.

I am also pleased, perhaps unusually, to see clause 4, which gives a justice of the peace the power to authorise the police to enter and search a premises. A survey by the National Sheep Association asked how many times animals have been worried or attacked, and I think 70% of respondents reported such an experience, but in only 14% of cases—barely one in 10—did the owner of the dog alert the owner of the livestock to the crime. Either people do not feel that a crime has occurred or they do not think it is important enough, so a lot of the evidence and information will be taken away. Therefore, in these circumstances, it is crucial that the provisions in clause 4 are put into law.

I welcome this Bill, and I again congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal on moving it forward. This is a live issue, and I heard a case at a constituency surgery just last Friday. It did not involve livestock, but it certainly did involve out-of-control dogs worrying local people. My constituents are worried about attacks. In fact, one constituent’s dog had just been ripped to pieces by dogs that were loose. For the sake of my constituents in Moggerhanger, for those who have pressed the issue of dangerous dogs in towns and villages, for those who have suffered from hare coursing on their properties, and now for farmers who want to look after their livestock, I fully commend the Bill to the House.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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I think we are all awaiting an update on Violet. I call Virginia Crosbie.

Virginia Crosbie Portrait Virginia Crosbie (Ynys Môn) (Con)
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I start by congratulating—llongyfarchiadau—my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) on bringing forward this important Bill.

One of the first things I did as a new MP in 2020 was meet with local farmers Brian Bown, Celfyn Furlong and Peter Williams in the Tafarn Y Rhos in Rhostrehwfa, and they were concerned about livestock worrying. To ensure that my farmers’ voices were heard in Westminster, I undertook a journey to act on their behalf. I visited farmers like Tecwyn Jones at his farm in Bodedern and Gareth Hughes at Cleifiog farm in Valley. Tecwyn lost seven pregnant ewes and three rams in an attack by an unknown dog or dogs, described by police as “brutal” and “horrendous”.

I held meetings with Rob Taylor and Dave Allen from the North Wales Rural Crime Team, NFU County Adviser Iestyn Pritchard, the National Trust and DEFRA officers, whom I thank, to understand how the existing legislation is failing and what would be required to protect farmers and promote responsible dog ownership in future. For my Ynys Môn farmers, I am delighted that my name is on this important Bill as a sponsor, but credit should go to them for raising this important issue. My farmers made it clear to me that the legislation currently covering livestock worrying, the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, is outdated and no longer fit for purpose. This is hardly surprising given that it has barely been touched in over 70 years and has not kept pace with dog ownership, leisure trends, DNA technology or modern farming practice.

Working together, we developed a ten-minute rule Bill to amend the 1953 Act, which I laid before Parliament in July 2021. That Bill would have given the police powers to seize a dog or other items and to take DNA samples where they have reasonable grounds for suspicion that the dog has worried livestock; provided a clearer and tighter definition of the phrase “close control”, making it a legal requirement that dogs must be on a lead when near livestock of any kind; and removed the maximum £1,000 fine so that irresponsible dog owners realise the full financial impact of their actions.

The proposals in my Bill were subsequently put forward for incorporation into the proposed Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. However, in May 2023 the UK Government announced that, in order to get important legislation through Parliament, the kept animals Bill would instead be taken forward as a series of single-issue Bills. Like many, I was disappointed that the passage of the kept animals Bill was stopped. However, I am reassured that the Government have been true to their word and are putting the proposals through as individual pieces of legislation, as we can see in this important debate. I am delighted that DEFRA is now prioritising livestock worrying and has asked my right hon. Friend, the former Secretary of State, to take the changes forward in her private Member’s Bill.

Agriculture has been the backbone of Ynys Môn for centuries. At the beginning of the 13th century, the island was known as “Môn Mam Cymru” and “the granary of Wales”. In the 17th century, livestock rearing and dairy farming began to replace arable land. The systems of hedgerow enclosures still form our landscape today. Many of our farms are still small—most are between five and 100 acres—compared with those in other parts of Britain. Consequently, herds are relatively small, and livestock can feel like members of the family. That is why brutal dog attacks hit Ynys Môn farmers particularly hard.

Let me tell the House a little more about farmer Tecwyn Jones from Bodedern. Tecwyn went out one day to tend his sheep and found seven pregnant ewes and three rams dead in his fields. They had been killed by an unknown dog or dogs in what police described as a “brutal” and “horrendous” attack. When I visited Tecwyn’s farm, he told me about the impact that the attack had had on his business and his wellbeing. His account of the event was harrowing. He shared the awful moment when he found his sheep brutally killed: he came across one dead carcase after another in the pouring rain. Those sheep, which he had lovingly reared and cared for, had clearly suffered horrendously. Tecwyn was visibly upset and shaken when he related the story to me. The dogs that carried out the attack have never been identified. Even if a dog were suspected, the law has no teeth to identify and seize it unless it is found unsupervised at the scene of the assault. For Tecwyn, it was not just the financial loss that hit him—although that went into the thousands of pounds—but the emotional loss of those prized animals, which he had put time and devotion into rearing.

Tecwyn is not alone. This is a huge issue for farmers across the UK. Livestock worrying takes place when dogs that are not kept under proper control attack or chase livestock, particularly sheep. Although attacks are not officially recorded, and it is widely accepted that many incidents go unreported, it is estimated that around 15,000 sheep are killed by dogs each year. Over the pandemic, many of us were encouraged to get out into nature, and there was also an increase in dog ownership. That led to an increase in livestock worrying, which continues to be a problem today. National Farmers Union data indicates that the average insurance claim for attacks is over £1,300, and some claims reach the tens of thousands of pounds. In 2020, the cost of livestock worrying to the farming community was estimated to be £1.3 million.

The Government’s animal welfare action plan refers to the need to keep dangerous dogs legislation effective. I am very pleased that the Bill picks up many of the changes that I proposed three years ago, which included giving the police powers to seize a dog or other items and to take samples such as dental impressions where they have reasonable grounds for suspicion that the dog has worried livestock; and putting the financial responsibility on the dog owner rather than on the farmer. Dog attacks can cost farmers tens of thousands of pounds, so it is only right that the dog owner is made to pay for the damage caused.

Surveys show that only 40% of dog owners accept that their dog could injure or kill a farm animal, and that 64% of dog owners allow their pets to roam free in the countryside, despite half of them admitting that their dog does not always come back when called. Experience shows us that the natural instincts of even the most well-behaved domestic dog can take over when other animals are in close proximity. Even without physical contact, sheep can die or miscarry as a result of the distress and exhaustion caused by a dog chase. By their very nature, pet owners and farmers almost universally care deeply about animals, and much of solution to this problem is about raising awareness of the countryside code through legislation. It is vital that dog owners who live near or visit land on which livestock is being raised understand that.

As a dog owner myself—my cocker spaniel, Violet, sends her regards to my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller)—I hope that this legislation, alongside an effective communication plan, will serve to educate dog owners. On behalf of Tecwyn and all farmers who have suffered financial and emotional loss through dog attacks, I support this excellent and important Bill. Once again, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal on introducing it. Diolch yn fawr.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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I call the shadow Minister.

Protecting and Restoring Wetlands

Nigel Evans Excerpts
Wednesday 31st January 2024

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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I thank my hon. Friend for that point. We work widely on the international stage. Indeed, some of our Blue Planet fund and our Darwin fund go to working on wetland areas internationally, particularly restoring mangroves and work on climate change. We are already doing a great deal, but we can always learn from other countries. It should be a reciprocal learning process, and we will continue to work like that.

Through our plan for water, which was launched last year to tackle pollution, water pollution, storm overflows, agricultural pollution, plastics pollution, road run-off, chemicals and pesticides, work is going on to create wetlands to help solve those problems. Work is also under way in a number of catchments on wastewater treatment works to take out the phosphates, which are affecting some of the wetlands. Therefore, we are taking out the nutrients, but we are enabling the creation of nature-based solutions, including wetlands, to help clean the water as well, and that was also well referred to.

Wetlands can also play an important role in reducing flood risk through natural management. I am talking about the creation of wetlands to reduce and slow the flow of water. Back in September 2023, the Environment Agency and DEFRA announced £25 million of funding for improving flood resilience through these nature-based solutions.

I just want to touch on sustainable drainage systems, which, oddly, are a subject very dear to my heart— I have banged on about them since I was on the Back Benches. We are making big progress on the SuDS, as my hon. Friend will know, working with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Getting SuDS into all our developments can make such a big difference. Basically, SuDS are like mini wetlands within our urban habitats that can take the water and the run-off. They have myriad advantages in slowing the flow and reducing flooding, which is so nature diverse. I had a wonderful visit this week to the Bentley housing development in Finsbury Park, not very far away. All around the tower blocks were these SuDS, but they just looked like beautiful wetlands, which in fact is what they are. Many companies are already using them, and we are moving as a Government to get to that stage where SuDS have to be an integral part of our developments.

Wetlands can play an important role in addressing both the causes and the effect of climate change. That is why DEFRA is funding £300,000-worth of projects this financial year, to measure and verify the carbon storage potential of saltmarsh habitats, which, again, was raised by my hon. Friend. That will allow private investment to be leveraged through the saltmarsh carbon code. Basically, that means that a standard will be verified for carbon credits and for saltmarsh, which will then trigger a market and private finance can then be leveraged, much as we do with the peatland code. That is on the way, and I believe that is also one of my hon. Friend’s asks.

The Nature for Climate Fund is aiming to deliver the restoration of approximately 35,000 hectares of peatland by 2025. That is an area the size of Staffordshire. Somerset and many other areas are getting some of that money. This represents a tripling of historical average annual restoration funds for these areas. A great deal of that funding is going to the great north bog, a huge area that is currently being restored.

The England peat action plan sets out a strategic framework to improve management and protection of upland and lowland peatlands. We must not forget that all of those areas are basically wetlands. They are only effective wetlands when they are in a healthy state—basically wet—which is why we have to do this restoration work.

In the net zero strategy, we have committed to the aim of restoring approximately 280,000 hectares of peatland in England by 2050. That is building on that 35,000 hectares, which is well under way. And the £80 million green recovery challenge fund has also been a cornerstone in our efforts and has contributed to funding a range of nature-based solutions for climate mitigation and adaptation, including riverine, coastal, floodplain and grazing and marsh habitats. That fund, as many in this Chamber will know, was set up during covid to help with lots of the effects and to get people out into nature and the countryside, but also to create skills and jobs, and it is extremely successful.

We also recognise, as has been mentioned, the huge importance of improving access to both our green space and our blue space—blue space obviously being nature areas or space where there is water. Just what that means to us has been very eloquently outlined—my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison) and others touched on this. That point was very well made, and it is why this Government are investing a great deal in access to nature, which includes both blue and green space. Through our projects and committing in our environmental improvement plan to a world where everyone should not be further than a 15-minute walk from nature, including wetlands, we are embedding all this into what we do. Today is a great day because we are one year on from the start of our environmental improvement plan and we are celebrating all the great things that we rolled out over this year for the environment, although with more to do, because we have a framework, we have a plan and we have the targets.

This is not only about Government money; we are driving to attract money from the private sector into all this investment in nature and nature recovery. That is a latent and expanding market and there is significant opportunity for wetlands in that space. We have already stimulated investment in wetland protection and through creating programmes such as our natural environment investment readiness fund, whose third round was launched in December. That offers grants of up to £100,000 to help farmers start some of these projects—re-wetting, re-establishing wetlands, and finding out what crops they can grow in these re-wetted wetlands, and what viable markets they might be able to tap into.

I want to thank everybody who contributed to this debate—there is genuine and huge interest in wetlands in Parliament in every party. I recognise the work that my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud has done; she is a tremendous advocate, and I have listened closely to the points she has made. I think she admitted that we are doing a great deal more than she realised; that is because we recognise the importance of our wetlands. It is World Wetlands Day on Friday, and I hope everyone will be celebrating. People can watch my Instagram, with all those wonderful pictures from Slimbridge. I thank her very much again for her contribution on wetlands.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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What a lovely and fascinating debate to end the day on. Thank you and congratulations.

Question put and agreed to.

Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill  

Nigel Evans Excerpts
Monday 15th January 2024

(4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab)
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I beg to move amendment 2, page 1, line 16, after “goats,” insert “(da) alpaca,”.

This amendment would add alpacas to the definition of livestock covered by the Bill.

Nigel Evans Portrait The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr Nigel Evans)
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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 3, page 1, line 16, after “goats,” insert “(da) deer,”.

This amendment would add deer to the definition of livestock covered by the Bill.

Amendment 4, page 1, line 16, after “goats,” insert “(da) llamas,”.

This amendment would add llamas to the definition of livestock covered by the Bill.

Amendment 1, page 1, line 17, at end insert “(f) reindeer.”

This amendment adds reindeer to the definition of “Relevant livestock”.

Amendment 5, page 2, line 7, at end insert—

“(7A) An appropriate national authority may by regulations extend the list of ‘relevant livestock’ in subsection (4).

(7B) ‘Appropriate national authority’ in relation to the power under subsection (7A), means—

(a) in relation to livestock kept in England, the Secretary of State;

(b) in respect of livestock kept in Scotland, the Scottish Ministers;

(c) in respect of livestock kept in Wales, the Welsh Ministers.

(7C) The Secretary of State may not make a statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (7A) unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.

(7D) Regulations made by the Scottish Ministers under subsection (7A) are subject to the affirmative procedure (see section 29 of the Interpretation and Legislative Reform (Scotland) Act 2010).

(7E) The Welsh Ministers may not make a statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (7A) unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, Senedd Cymru.”

This amendment would allow the appropriate national authority to extend, by statutory instrument subject to the affirmative procedure, the list of livestock species which may not be exported for slaughter.

Clause stand part.

Clauses 2 to 7 stand part.

--- Later in debate ---
Mr Deputy Speaker, today allows us to use our new Brexit freedoms in a really positive way: to continue our country’s long-held mission to prevent cruelty to animals, implement a change for which our constituents have been calling for many years, and ensure that the animals we produce in this country retain the protection of the laws we make in this country. Along with others in this House, I have championed reform in this area for many years—as an MEP, a Secretary of State, and a Back Bencher. I strongly urge hon. Members to support the Bill in the Division Lobby this evening, so that we can end live exports once and for all.
Nigel Evans Portrait The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr Nigel Evans)
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I remind hon. Members that the occupant of this Chair is acting not as Deputy Speaker, but as Chair of the Committee of the whole House—I did try, but anyway, we all now know.

Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op)
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Thank you, Chair.

This is an issue that I am personally passionate about—I have spoken on animal welfare issues from both the Back Benches and the Opposition Front Bench many times since coming to this place six years ago. I am very pleased that Labour Front Benchers are supporting the Bill, but recognise the need to strengthen its provisions and for the protection of animal welfare to go much further. All animals deserve protection. I know two things about the British public: one, they are disappointed that it has taken us so long to get to this point; and two, they want to see much more. Where is the ban on keeping primates as pets? Where is the foie gras ban? Where is the action on puppy smuggling, and why has the trophy hunting ban not gone through as an Act?

The Bill is long overdue. In the 2019 general election, the Conservative party included this prohibition and many other animal welfare policies in its manifesto. Five years have passed, and we have had setback after setback. Maybe that reflects the number of Prime Ministers we have had over that period and their varying views on animal welfare, but this is the last in a series of delays that are being put right. Last year, when I was a Front Bencher, I was hugely disappointed that the Government abandoned the kept animals Bill. When I was at the Dispatch Box trying to bring that Bill back, they even voted against a number of their own policies. The British public will not forget. Maybe the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is different now, but the Minister is the same Minister who opposed us on that occasion. How many animals have needlessly suffered because of this delay? There are victims here—it is not a victimless delay.

It took a private Member’s Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Guildford (Angela Richardson) to tackle animal exploitation in the wild tourism industry, a measure that we all supported. The approach of the Government for a whole year, which they now seem to have abandoned, was to try to achieve animal welfare improvements through private Members’ Bills. I am glad that we are now back to having Government Bills on these issues, but where is the animals abroad Bill?

Nigel Evans Portrait The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Order. Just to help the hon. Member, could he refer to the amendments or new clauses that he is addressing? His speech sounds awfully like a Second Reading speech.

Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel
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Thank you, Chair. I will come to those now.

The amendments in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones) include a number of provisions to extend the scope of the Bill. I want to say a little bit about alpacas, which I believe are dealt with in amendment 2. In my constituency, I have seen a growth in alpaca farming. There are alpacas in Cookridge in my constituency, on the way to Leeds Bradford airport; Meanwood Valley urban farm, which is just over the border in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton), has alpacas; and, on Queensway in Yeadon, I recently spotted a number of alpacas in a field. This is clearly an area of expansion in the British farming industry, but there is also now quite a lot of alpaca breeding, so there is no need to export live alpacas to this country, because there is sufficient depth of alpaca farming to carry on that work. The same goes for other animals, including llamas and deer. We are overrun with deer; we certainly do not need the export of them.

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None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Nigel Evans Portrait The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Order. I remind the remaining speakers that they should be focusing on the amendments and clauses. They should be speaking to those, not making a Second Reading debate speech.

Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP)
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Of course, my party tabled amendments to the Bill that cannot be discussed and decided on because of the House’s earlier decision about the instruction to include Northern Ireland in the scope of the Bill. We will support many of the amendments that have been tabled, because we believe that the scope of the Bill should be as wide as possible and that while it mentions specific animals, there are other animals that may well be subject to exports in the future.

I do not know if those who tabled the amendments have noted the irony of what we are discussing. This is a Bill to ban the export of live animals, and we are seeking by various amendments to make sure that any other animals not named in the Bill can also be included. Here is the irony: since 2020, the area of the United Kingdom to which the Bill applies has not exported any live animals; the only part of the United Kingdom where there are substantial exports of live animals is the part of the United Kingdom that is not included in this Bill. I do not know if people have noticed the irony of that.

In fact, I remember that at the time when there was criticism of the Government for not bringing forward this legislation, one of their defences was that we had not had any live exports. Of course, we could have live exports in the future, but the Bill addresses an issue that is not an issue for the area included in the scope of the Bill and it ignores the part of the United Kingdom where there are massive exports. Some speakers have said that at least the problem of exports will be made a bit less of an issue because the land bridge is no longer available for exports from Northern Ireland to the rest of Europe. However, that is not the answer, because exporters will of course simply use a more circular and tortuous journey through the Irish Republic.

I first became involved in this issue maybe 20 years ago when I was on a motorbike holiday through the Alps in France. I had not spoken to anybody who could speak English for about two weeks, and I noticed a lorry with a Northern Ireland registration number. I was a member of Belfast City Council at the time, and we had closed our abattoir because the conditions did not meet EU standards. I thought, “There’s somebody from Northern Ireland. I’m going to follow that lorry, and when it stops, at least I’ll have somebody I can talk to.” I thought I would find somebody who could speak English and could understand my sort of English.

I followed the lorry along a long and windy road through the Alps outside a town called Nyons, and it finally stopped at an abattoir in a small village and unloaded its sheep. The sheep came from outside Ballymena, and the driver told me they had come down through the Irish Republic, across the sea, through France and up into the Alps. That journey had taken me on a motorbike—and not because I was going slow either—about three days, and these animals were being transferred to a slaughterhouse. Because I was interested in the issue, I wanted to see what the slaughterhouse was like. We had closed that slaughterhouse in Belfast, but the place to which these animals were being transferred for slaughter from Northern Ireland was like an outhouse of the slaughterhouse that we had closed in Northern Ireland because it did not meet EU standards.

That awoke me to the issue, because I did not think that animals were transported such a distance. This Bill, even with the amendments that have been tabled, will still leave that route open. The objective that the Government are seeking to achieve will not be achieved. It is ironic that we have a Bill about animal welfare that ignores the main source of concern about the transport of animals across the continent of Europe.

I know what the Minister said about the challenges, but I wonder whether he has considered the challenges for this Bill under WTO rules, which the Library has highlighted. There is a reason for not including Northern Ireland, but would he like to comment on the challenges that the Government anticipate may occur and what their response would be? Are they going to use the response of making exceptions?

Lastly—I emphasised this in my speech earlier and other Members have mentioned it—unlike the hon. Member for North Down (Stephen Farry), who is not here, I am more concerned about the objective of the Bill of protecting the welfare of animals than about protecting the relationship we have, through the Windsor framework, with the EU. I find it disgraceful that someone who represents a constituency where I know there is large concern about animal welfare is more concerned about keeping good relations with the EU than respecting and dealing with animal welfare considerations in the region with the biggest exports of live animals in the United Kingdom.

I wish the Bill well, and it may well be that without it there would be a return to live animal exports. It may well be that it is addressing a problem that is not there in GB. It is there in Northern Ireland, but it is not going to be addressed. I hope there will not be a loophole, because unfortunately, as a result of the agreements that the Government have made with the EU in respect of Northern Ireland, even the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill, which the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) has spent so much time on, is in jeopardy of being circumvented, because the hunting trophy exports could come through Northern Ireland and get into GB. That is one of the problems that need to be addressed, and it will not be addressed by this legislation, which will only exacerbate the difference between the part of the United Kingdom that I belong to and the rest of the United Kingdom.

Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill (Instruction)

Nigel Evans Excerpts
Monday 15th January 2024

(4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Bill to be considered in Committee
Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Before the House resolves itself into Committee, I draw Members’ attention to the instruction motion on the Order Paper, in the name of Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, to allow the Committee to make provision for the whole of the United Kingdom. The motion is subject to selection by the Chair, and the Speaker has decided to select it. I call Sammy Wilson to move the motion.

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Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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The Minister has indicated that he would like to respond to the instruction at the end, so I will call him and any other Front-Bench speakers before then.

Storm Henk

Nigel Evans Excerpts
Monday 8th January 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Robbie Moore Portrait Robbie Moore
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I will absolutely do that. It is incredibly important that people are able to get around as efficiently as they wish to. I am well aware that many of our assets owned and managed by Network Rail have been impacted by not only Storm Henk, but Storm Babet. I will ask the Environment Agency, as will departmental colleagues, to ensure that our assets are best protected. I will also pick that up with colleagues in the Department for Transport.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Finally but not least, I call Tobias Ellwood.

Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con)
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I welcome the financial support for flood-hit communities. Storm Henk has left its mark on Bournemouth, with local flooding and damage to our roads in the form of potholes. We know that if they are not repaired swiftly, they cause more damage to cars and bikes, and cost more to repair in the long term. The good news is that Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council has received £19 million to fix them, so the money is there, but the potholes are back. Will the Minister join me in encouraging the council to waste no further time in fixing them, and not to direct the money elsewhere?

Robbie Moore Portrait Robbie Moore
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When money has been provided by central Government, it is vital that all local authorities use it as quickly as possible. I urge my right hon. Friend’s Lib Dem alliance local authority to use that money as swiftly as possible, to ensure that his constituents are not negatively impacted.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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I thank the Minister for his statement. I have seen flooding at first hand in the Ribble Valley and know how devastating it is for everybody affected. I ask him to stay for the point of order.

Helen Morgan Portrait Helen Morgan
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On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Minister has frequently referred to a caucus of MPs who represent constituents along the River Severn. As the only non-Conservative, I am excluded from those meetings. I wonder whether you can advise me on how I can encourage my colleagues on the Government Benches to work more constructively and ensure that my residents are also represented.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
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I am certain that the Minister has heard the hon. Lady’s request and will be in touch.

Flooding: River Severn Catchment Area

Nigel Evans Excerpts
Wednesday 13th December 2023

(5 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Daniel Kawczynski Portrait Daniel Kawczynski
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I am very grateful for the very positive way in which my hon. Friend is responding to the points I have made. Will he also commit to visiting Shrewsbury in the new year to meet the River Severn Partnership and to see, in practice, some of the proposals that we wish to create?

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Before the Minister responds, may I urge him to face forward? I know the temptation is to look at Mr Kawczynski, but when he is facing forward he is speaking into the microphone, and it can be picked up by Hansard.

Robbie Moore Portrait Robbie Moore
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Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

I was coming on to that point. I am happy not only to pay my hon. Friend a visit, but to meet his colleagues who have been working on the business case in his constituency to make sure that we are able to take fully into account the proposals being put forward to my Department. I am always happy to get out and practically speak to people on the ground who are being negatively impacted by flooding. I hope that a visit, which I am more than happy to do, will be of value not only to him, but to me in my role.

I want to reiterate that I fully understand the anxiety and frustration felt by my hon. Friend’s constituents, which is why I am absolutely committed to providing full attention to and focus on flooding and flood resilience. Storm Babet provided significant challenges to many local authorities across England, and I hope that some of the reassurance I have provided him, through the amount of money that this Government are spending across England, gives him some sense of reassurance about how importantly flood resilience and flood improvement projects are taken by this Government.

I also want to outline quickly some other work that falls into other Departments. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has activated the flood recovery framework and its package of support includes these measures. There is the community recovery grant, from which eligible local authorities will receive funding equivalent to £500 per flooded household to support local recovery efforts. I know this has been rolled out on the back of Storm Babet and others. In addition, there is the business recovery grant, from which the Department for Business and Trade will provide eligible local authorities with up to £2,500 for each eligible small and medium-sized enterprise that has suffered severe impacts from flooding that cannot be recovered from insurance. There is the council tax discount, under which the Government will reimburse eligible local authorities for the cost of a 100% council tax discount for a minimum of three months. Finally, there is the property flood resilience repair grant, and areas flooded by Storm Babet have been able to benefit positively from that grant. The scheme offers a package of funding for property owners directly flooded by a specific weather event, and grants them up to £5,000 per property to install flood resilience measures. In addition, these grants will be supported by the existing Bellwin scheme, which can provide financial help to local authorities for the immediate actions that they take in the aftermath of an emergency, such as setting up rest centres and temporary accommodation.

To conclude, I want to reassure my hon. Friend that his debate has been absolutely welcomed by me as the Minister. He used the opportunity before this debate to speak to me very specifically on the level of detail with which his business case is being put forward, and I am more than happy to meet him and to pay a visit to his constituency so that I can understand the business case in more detail. Let me be clear: we will continue to improve the resilience to flooding of our villages, towns and cities across England and the wider UK, and we will do that in a holistic manner.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
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I thought we were going to have a two-hour speech. I was looking forward to that.

Question put and agreed to.

Water Companies: Executive Bonuses

Nigel Evans Excerpts
Tuesday 5th December 2023

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Steve Reed Portrait Steve Reed (Croydon North) (Lab/Co-op)
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I beg to move,

That this House regrets that 13 years of successive Conservative Governments have broken the water industry and its regulatory framework; is deeply concerned about the scale of the sewage crisis and the devastating impact it is having on the UK’s rivers, lakes and seas; believes it is indefensible that executives at UK water companies were paid over £14 million in bonuses between 2020 and 2021 despite inflicting significant environmental and human damage; condemns the Government for being too weak to tackle the crisis and hold water company bosses to account; calls on the Government to empower Ofwat to ban the payment of bonuses to water company executives whose companies are discharging significant levels of raw sewage into the UK’s seas and waterways; and further calls on the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to make a statement to this House by 31 January 2024 on the Government’s progress in implementing this ban.

I will continue, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Yes, otherwise that would be the shortest speech.

Steve Reed Portrait Steve Reed
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I will not be that kind to you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Our beautiful waterways have been polluted by the highest level of illegal sewage discharges in our history under this Conservative Government. Last year, there was at least one spill every 2.5 minutes—and that is just the spills that we know about, because not every spill is properly reported. Over a year ago, Vaughan Lewis, an Environment Agency whistleblower, warned the Government about serious failures of regulation. He said that

“it was impossible for the Environment Agency to know what’s going on”

because the Government had

“ceded the control of monitoring to water companies, which ended up being able to mark their own homework. They take their own samples and assess whether they are being compliant.”

Now, we have more evidence that that is precisely what has been going on.

Last night, the BBC’s “Panorama” investigation exposed yet another scandal—exactly what that whistleblower warned about in August 2022, which has been ignored by four Conservative Environment Secretaries since. According to the “Panorama” team, leaked records show that United Utilities deliberately downgraded and misreported severe sewage leaks, including discharges into Lake Windermere, one of the most beautiful places in England. Of 931 reported water company pollution incidents in north-west England last year, the Environment Agency attended a paltry six. It is as clear as day that the water companies are covering up illegal sewage discharges. That is a national scandal.

Sites of Special Scientific Interest

Nigel Evans Excerpts
Monday 18th September 2023

(8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Derek Thomas Portrait Derek Thomas
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, which I welcome. To be clear, the West Penwith moors SSSI was and is welcome; the problem is how Natural England has gone about it by including good farming land that risks the viability of farms without robust evidence of any real harm to the rough land, as we would describe the moorland. My experience from engaging with the Department is that it fully understands the concerns that I have raised; it is Natural England that seems to have ridden roughshod across farmers’ interests and their understanding of how to care for their natural environment. Everything has been determined by how Natural England officers would like it to be done.

Returning to water, the water supply on the farms is not just for livestock; as is often the case in rural areas such as mine where we are off grid, it is for the farmers’ homes and all the properties around them. At the moment, consent is being given for those farms to abstract water from the boreholes for a very limited time only.

I will give an example of the impact on a farm not far from where I live. I happen to live right on the edge of the moors, and it is the most beautiful part of the world; I would welcome a visit from the Minister, both to see West Penwith moors and to visit the farms and businesses impacted by the designation. This farm has two fields that have a mixture of acid pasture, ferns and heather, and grassland, which Natural England included in the SSSI with the rest of the farmland, which is already in Natural England’s higher level stewardship scheme.

The farmers objected to the inclusion of the two fields, as they were not part of the HLS scheme and were used as sacrifice ground for winter feeding of yearling Red Ruby Devon heifers that were out-wintered. Red Ruby Devons cope with the winters outside, as do many of the cattle we rear in west Cornwall, but they need supplementary food, such as bales of haylage in a trailer that is moved around every so often to avoid poaching. Visits by Natural England staff seemed to offer comfort, because of the 25 years of history that the farm has with the environmental sensitive area scheme and then the higher level stewardship scheme. Natural England acknowledged that the farm had been doing everything that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Natural England wanted, but as there was not a boundary between the rough land and the main grass pasture, all of it was in the SSSI and hence under restriction.

Natural England would only consider allowing the current winter grazing practice to continue if a fence, priced at £2,100, was erected to divide the two areas. What was the outcome? The farm decided not to squander hard-earned cash on a pointless fence, but to reduce stocking levels, as it will not be able to keep as many cattle out this winter. That leads to reduced cattle grazing on the moorland, making way for brambles and rhododendrons to invade. We have seen that already close to where I live. If hon. Members know anything about brambles and rhododendrons, they will know that, when an area is not grazed, it is extremely difficult to get rid of those invasive species—rhododendrons in particular. It will cost the state and the council enormous sums of money to clear them away.

Given the impact on this farm and many more besides, you will understand, Mr Deputy Speaker, why I stress that the science has to be right, and not just enough to get it through to become a SSSI. It needs to be right and done over a period of time to prove its efficacy. Natural England needs scientific rigour in its actions, but it has proved incapable of functioning to that level of detail. As I have said, its officers have not even tested the water, but have simply relied on a desktop survey.

I was disappointed after the hearing, as it was evident that the entire board, including the chair, demonstrated a failure to understand the landscape from both a historical and ecological perspective. More importantly, they failed to recognise that the existing designations and safeguards, which are already there to protect the very countryside I am talking about, offered an opportunity to pause the whole process in order to properly gather the evidence and scientific data that such a significant designation demands. That option was theirs for the taking, but they refused to take it.

I personally raised two queries affecting my constituents at the hearing and was promised a written response within weeks. Instead, the only time Natural England staff have made contact with me—that is, without my initiating the conversation—since the hearing was late last week, when they suggested that I might wish for an update. I can only conclude that that was triggered by my securing this debate. However, I know what is going on, because I have kept in close contact with Farm Cornwall, the National Farmers Union, the Country Land and Business Association and the farmers themselves. It is those hard-pressed independent organisations and farmers who have been communicating, not the publicly-funded quango whose job it is to do so.

The two issues which must be clarified are as follows. First, under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 under which the designation took place, if Natural England amends or withdraws a consent, and in doing so causes a loss, it should compensate. I was told by several farmers that Natural England advised that consent would be given if the applicant amended the application to a five-year consent period. I am advised that should a time-limited consent expire and a new more restrictive consent be issued, that provision does not kick in, so any loss is not subject to compensation. It appears that Natural England may be deliberately using the five-year time limit to obviate its obligation to compensate for loss if further restrictions are deemed necessary. I pressed the chair of the board to clarify that that is not the case, and I received assurances that I would receive clarification.

The second issue is the removal of clean land—the pasture land that I referred to earlier—from the designation. Some landowners expended vast amounts of money and were successful in demonstrating that their clean land should not have been included—hundreds of acres were removed prior to the public hearing. That was not the case for landowners who did not have the wherewithal or funds to pursue such measures. I cannot see how any of us can be confident that the clean land that remains in the designation deserves to remain so. The conclusion has to be that landowners who did not challenge in that way, who find their clean land within the SSSI, and have the restrictions and requirements to secure consent that go with it, may have received a different outcome if they had, like others, spent tens of thousands of pounds.

I raised both concerns at the hearing. I was promised clarification, but, as far as I am aware, neither the landowners nor I have received it. I am not alone in believing that Natural England is unfit for purpose: it has no relationship with the land and no farmers on the board—all board members are political appointees—it makes no reference to socio economic reasoning, and it has no plan for the land or for positive management of the SSSI. What is more concerning to me and, I suspect, to the Minister, is the poor state of the nation’s SSSIs. Natural England’s own recent reporting states that only 37.1% of SSSIs are in a favourable condition.

However, we are where we are, and I want to move forward to mend some of these challenges. Prior to the confirmation of the SSSI, Cornwall Wildlife Trust, Farm Cornwall and I began to engage with landowners to rally support for a landscape recovery scheme. We met the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer), to propose it, and a small number of meetings have taken place to bring farmers on board. That is still moving forward, and I understand that an application will be lodged on 21 September, later this week. However, trust in Natural England has been so undermined that some farmers understandably refuse to engage.

For years, we have managed Penwith moors through a nature partnership using funds such as countryside stewardship schemes. The only way that I can see to bring those landowners back on board is for DEFRA to agree that responsibility for managing a West Penwith moors and downs landscape recovery scheme is taken away from Natural England and placed with a local partnership, such as the Penwith Landscape Partnership, which was formed in 2014 to support the understanding, conservation and enhancement of the Penwith landscape as a sustainable living, working landscape—the very landscape that we are discussing today.

I believe that the Government must go further: the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 should be reviewed to see whether it is fit for purpose now that we have the Environment Act 2021 and many other tools to ensure nature recovery. The Act gives powers to an unaccountable body that, if recent examples across England are anything to go by, threatens our ability to reverse nature decline. Natural England is driving away the very people who understand and care about the issue. Nature recovery is not a desktop exercise for quangos to pursue but the lived experience of thousands of people who depend on the natural environment for their livelihood and to feed the nation. Nor can it be that, in its consideration of SSSI notification, Natural England has regard only to the environment; surely, it must recognise the social, cultural and economic impacts in its consideration. That is clearly a weak aspect of the law that the Minister must consider in her response.

DEFRA should also review how Natural England goes about executing its responsibilities. West Cornwall is not the only part of England where serious tensions exist between Natural England and organisations and individuals who care passionately about their environment and landscape. Natural England needs to be told in no uncertain terms that any restriction placed on those who own and farm land in the West Penwith moor and downs SSSI must be backed by robust and reliable evidence, such as recent datasets and a transparent and accurate water and soil testing regime. Farmers and landowners must be informed of their rights and their opportunities to support or object to the designation; be given adequate time to review the evidence relating to their land; and be given clear guidance on applying for operations requiring Natural England’s consent.

However, the Country Land and Business Association argues—rightly, in my view—for a bespoke SSSI transition fund to provide funding for the costs incurred when a new designation is introduced or Natural England prescribes management changes. Land managers in SSSIs face potentially dramatic changes to their enterprise, with no compensatory funding available for their loss of assets, or for the need to retain staff or invest in new equipment. Also, given the grave concern expressed by so many respected bodies and the columns that have been written on the subject, I implore the Minister to set up an independent review in relation to Natural England and the West Penwith moors and downs SSSI, as has been established for Dartmoor.

In conclusion, Mr Deputy Speaker—I do not wish to keep you longer than necessary—I express my sincere thanks to the landowners and farmers who, despite being under extraordinary pressure and stress during the process of designating the SSSI, engaged constructively and in good faith, hoping that common sense with a little respect for the way they had cared for, protected and enhanced the area for years would prevail. I also thank the NFU, Farm Cornwall, the Country Land and Business Association, Cornwall Wildlife Trust and the Campaign for Rural England’s Cornwall branch for the time, effort and expertise they have expended to try to bring Natural England to a place where much of the damage that has been done could have been avoided. I look forward to hearing the Minister address as many of the points I have raised as possible, and invite her to come to my constituency to see this wonderful part of the country for herself.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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The Minister has already been to my constituency.