Biodiversity Loss

Theresa Villiers Excerpts
Wednesday 15th May 2024

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Westminster Hall
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Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
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It is great to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) on securing a debate on this important issue. I absolutely agree with her that the protection of nature and wildlife is not some nice-to-have optional extra. From the pollinators that enable us grow crops and the marine life that provides our most popular national dish, to the trees that help us to breathe easily in towns and cities, biodiversity is vital for our survival and prosperity. As we have heard this morning, it is also vital for reaching net zero. If we are to have any chance of becoming carbon neutral, we need to plant millions of trees, re-wet peatlands and allow habitats to thrive in many more places.

Natural spaces play a hugely important part in our happiness, wellbeing and health. They are in many ways what makes life worth living. That is why I have always fought to conserve green spaces in my Chipping Barnet constituency. A huge amount of effort is under way to reverse the decline in the natural environment, as we have heard this morning. Much of that work is done under the Environment Act 2021, which I was proud to introduce to Parliament. The 2030 target of halting species loss is hugely important. The Environment Act also includes the toughest rules ever to bear down on the pollution of our rivers and waterways; measures to rid supply chains of illegal deforestation; measures to transform our waste and recycling system; and measures to crack down on litter and fly-tipping, which can so often defile our green and natural spaces and habitats.

While I was at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, I also introduced to Parliament the Agriculture Act 2020, which ended the common agricultural policy and replaced it with ELMs schemes to support farmers to protect and enhance habitats. I acknowledge the points made by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion but, despite the drawbacks, that is one of the most important and far-reaching nature-protection measures that has ever been adopted by this country, not least because it opens up a long, ongoing source of significant funding for the protection of nature.

Our exit from the European Union has enabled us to introduce additional protections for the marine environment, most recently to ban the fishing of sand eels in the North sea, which is a significant boost to our puffin population. Our overseas territories make us custodians of one of the largest marine estates in the world. We are taking truly world-leading action, protecting an area of ocean larger than India. Just in January we protected a further 166,000 square kilometres around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

Despite that action there is, of course, still a huge amount to do if we are to meet that 2030 target on nature and the 2050 target on carbon. We need every part of Government to play its part in delivering on those two crucial environmental challenges. I urge Ministers to consider supporting my Bill to ban the sale of horticultural peat in the amateur gardening sector. I also urge the dramatic scaling up of tree-planting rates. We must do all we can to prevent litter and fly-tipping from choking our natural spaces. We also need to protect the green belt from Labour plans to bulldoze it.

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Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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I have to take issue with that, because I am trying to say that we have the framework and targets in place. The OEP came out with a somewhat critical report, but it will have better evidence next time. We will produce the next environment improvement plan in the summer, and it will only be the second one. As the hon. Lady knows, this is tricky and complicated. We have teams of people working in DEFRA, such as biodiversity experts, and scientists feeding in on whether these are the right targets and how we will hit them, as well as advising us on how to set policy to get to the targets. A huge amount of work feeds into that. We are working closely with the OEP to ensure that it has the right data and evidence so that it can see the trajectory to the targets. I am not saying it is easy, but we have the plan.

I want to talk about some of the things that we are doing to make progress. We have to tackle this from every angle: for example, we have to create and restore habitats, and connect wildlife-rich habitats. We have to tackle the pressures on biodiversity and pollution and we have to take action for species. We have an overall nature recovery plan for large-scale habitat creation. That includes a number of schemes, and Natural England is working on building on that.

Nature-based solutions are a big part of that—they have been mentioned and are important. Only last year, we launched a new £25 million fund for nature-based solution projects. We are using nature-based solutions in a whole range of ways, such as flood control, biodiversity and sequestration. A huge amount of work is going on. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) recognised the complexities and the need to look at this from every single angle, which is why—as many have said today—our farmers are so important.

Farmers and landowners farm 70% of our land. We had a really successful Farm to Fork event yesterday in No. 10, with some positive outcomes. The farmers understand their role in producing sustainable, secure food supplies, but that must be linked to environmental recovery and protection. That is what all our new schemes are completely focused on, and they are world leading.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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One of the most alarming aspects of the nature crisis is the collapse in insect populations. It would be good to understand from the Minister what key things the Government are doing on that, including through the ELM scheme.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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That has been raised by many. We have a bee unit in DEFRA working on that, with our bee pollinator strategy, and on invasives such as the Asian hornet. We have to tackle all those issues. That is why integrated pest management is one of the planks of the new sustainable farming initiative. That pays farmers to do other things so that they do not have to use pesticides, such as use bio-controls, which I do in my own garden because I garden organically. That initiative is on a big scale and also harnesses technology and innovation. For example, if it is necessary to spray, just spot spray.

All of that technology is moving forward. Farmers are moving with us and being paid to do it. We have guaranteed the funds that they got from the common agricultural policy. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet was there when we announced all the new schemes at DEFRA. Leaving the CAP gave us a huge opportunity to do something completely different. That is under way and we have had 22,000 farmers sign up to our sustainable farming initiative already. It is the most successful scheme DEFRA has ever run, and it will increase.

Countrywide stewardship is still running and we have increased the payments. We are looking all the time at how the actions will operate and what we need to deliver those targets. I say to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion that we are looking at this all the time, and feeding it in to work out how we can hit the targets and deliver the food. That is very much what we are doing.

Peatland was mentioned by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and peat areas are hugely degraded. We know we have to focus on this area, so we have a special fund for that from our nature for climate fund. We have a target to restore 35,000 hectares by 2030 and we have already done 27,000 hectares. Great projects are going on all over the country, including in Somerset. Somerset, including the Somerset Wildlife Trust, has huge benefit from millions of pounds from these funds. They are doing good work, with the farmers and the Government, to restore these precious environments, though we need to do more.

We also have the species survival fund. Some individual species need special habitats, so we have a fund for them. We are restoring habitat in an area equivalent to the size of York to deal with certain species—on chalk rivers, coasts, coastal marshes and plains, including in Dorset. I went to Bucklebury Common and saw heathland being restored, where adders and nightjars are returning. With the right management, we are getting those creatures to come back.

National nature reserves were mentioned. Yes, they are a cornerstone; they are critical to delivering our target of 30% of protected land. We have 219 national nature reserves, and in 2023 and 2024 we created another three, with another three on the cards. Those are cornerstones, with farmers working in them as well, helping us to deliver nature. I say to our Scottish friends, who tell us how good they are on biodiversity, that they could look at why they have cut their tree-planting grants enormously. That is going to have a huge effect in Scotland.

There are other measures, such as local nature recovery strategies, that are being worked on. They will help to inform us where we want the nature—what should go where—and they are already under way. Biodiversity net gain is a game changer and, again, globally leading. To legislate so that every development has to put back 10% more nature than was there when they started is a game changer.

I must mention swift bricks because I am a huge swift lover. Yellowhammers are one of my favourite birds and we are getting them back through the hedgerow protections we have just introduced. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion made a good point about swifts. We have been talking to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities about that. Many developers are already doing swift bricks. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Sarah Dyke) mentioned it, and her planning authority could specify that it wants developments to have swift bricks. These things can already be done and I urge people to do them. There is a biodiversity metric on swift bricks. That is how developers work out the biodiversity net gain they must add. For example, they are looking at swift bricks and how many points they would get in the metric to see if they can get that into the net gain tool, so that piece of work is definitely under way.

Oral Answers to Questions

Theresa Villiers Excerpts
Thursday 9th May 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I refer the hon. Gentleman to the £2.4 billion commitment in our manifesto, which has been met in full.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
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3. What steps his Department is taking to help increase tree planting.

Rebecca Pow Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rebecca Pow)
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This Government have put in place the most comprehensive regime ever to increase tree planting. Crucially, it is underpinned by legislation in the Environment Act 2021 and legally binding targets to increase our tree cover to 16.5%, and supported and backed up by our £675 million nature for climate fund. To date, 15 million trees have been planted under this Government, more trees than in any other decade.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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Trees must play a crucial role if we are to meet our commitments on nature recovery and net zero, and they are a tremendous source of happiness, well-being and landscape beauty. To meet the ambitious tree-planting goals that the Government have set, can they streamline the permissions process? Some of the red tape seems disproportionate and in need of regulatory reform.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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I thank my right hon. Friend for the work she has done in her constituency to encourage tree planting, but she is right that the process needs to be fast and simple. We have taken that on board, and the Forestry Commission has recently introduced the woodland creation fast track, aiming to help to decide eligible woodland creation offers within just 12 weeks. To inform that scheme, it has developed a low-sensitivity map of the whole country to show people the best places to plant trees, or where they could think about planting trees, that are not on our best available agricultural land, which is important for food.

Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill

Theresa Villiers Excerpts
John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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I am not sure their knees could take it, but that is a further matter. I absolutely take the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, and he is right about expanding the scope so that people can show their skill in photography and show these magnificent creatures in their natural environment. That is the record they should have—not some grisly trophy on the wall. I fully understand his point.

I am also pleased that the hon. Gentleman raised the question about colleagues being here today. I realise where we are in the electoral cycle, and that we have elections everywhere across England and Wales in May. Many colleagues will therefore want to be out campaigning, so I thank colleagues who are here today and hope they will be able to participate to put across their constituents’ views. I hope that constituents understand the effort that sometimes has to be made to be here on a Friday, given constituency pressures.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
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I think it was the distressing case of the killing of Cecil the lion that alerted many people to what is happening. I, too, have many constituents in Chipping Barnet who want this Bill to go through. That is why I am here today to support it.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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I thank the right hon. Lady for coming in today, particularly because there are even more important elections taking place in her part of the country. She and I might take a slightly different view on them, but we are united on this issue today. It is important that we stress once again the cross-party support for this important measure.

I earlier highlighted the role of the hon. Member for Crawley, but I also pay tribute to many of those who played a part in keeping this campaign going over many years. I think of my old friend, Bob Blizzard, the previous Member for Waveney. He was a comrade in the Labour Government Whips Office, back in the days before the 2010 election. He was a great friend and also a great enthusiast—both for jazz, but also very much for this cause. After he had left Parliament, he encouraged me to take up this issue, and his involvement in the campaign to ban trophy hunting was enormously important, along with the campaign’s current director, Eduardo Gonçalves, who is sadly not well; I hope he will be cheered by the progress of the Bill later today. That is along with a number of celebrities. Sir Ranulph Fiennes has most notably been a stalwart in the campaign, as has Dr Jane Washington-Evans and Peter Egan, who initiated the e-petition.

Food Security

Theresa Villiers Excerpts
Thursday 21st March 2024

(4 months 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.

Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill  

Theresa Villiers Excerpts
Monday 15th January 2024

(6 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
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My new hon. Friend is quite right: we must ensure that we future-proof the Bill today. I am not convinced at the moment that the Government are completely sympathetic to all our amendments, which I find surprising.

If the Minister is looking for comparable examples, a similar power exists in the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022. Section 5(2) essentially states that, should the science materialise in sufficient strength to persuade the Secretary of State of the need to identify other animals as sentient beings, other species can be added to the legislation via secondary legislation. The suggested addition to this Bill would follow that precedent, and I urge the Minister to do the right thing by accepting the amendment. If he does not want to do it for me, I hope that he will do it because the Minister who took the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act through the House, the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), did exactly the same thing, for which I pay tribute to her.

This simple, holistic measure could help to expedite the progression of the Bill through Parliament. Would not that be a good thing for one and all? I want the Minister to know that in tabling amendment 5, I am trying to be helpful. I hope that he will accept my help and amendment 5. If the same principle is good for some animal welfare legislation, it has to be good for all animal welfare legislation.

Let me turn to the other amendments before the Committee. I have already indicated that amendment 1—rather like my amendments 2, 3 and 4—will do important work and would have the support of the Labour party if pushed to a vote. Today we are seeking to amend the Bill to ban the live exports of alpacas, llamas and deer, and to ensure that species can be added to the legislation at a later date. It is about future-proofing the legislation and making it fit for purpose. Amendment 5 is important.

I noted today a very interesting piece in The Telegraph, of which I know the Minister is an avid reader, talking about constituency-led multi-level regression and post-stratification polling carried out in September 2023. It found that more than two thirds of the British public feel that a political party that announced plans to pass more laws designed to improve animal welfare and protect animals from cruelty would have the right priorities. I hope that the Minister will accept our amendments, or, if not, be as detailed as possible in explaining his excuses. The people of this country are crying out for change and for a Government with the right priorities. If the Tories cannot deliver that, they should get out of the way, because we can.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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I am delighted that the strong cross-party support for the Bill is evident in the Chamber this evening. We all want to end live exports. After the disappointments of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, it is heartening to see the rapid progress that this new Bill is making through the House. The earlier Bill was blighted by a range of Opposition amendments on other issues that were not relevant to the core problem of preventing animals from suffering in long-distance transportation. I welcome the fact that the amendments tabled for today are less controversial and more specific to the matter that the Bill seeks to address.

I would certainly like to see the ban on live exports apply to Northern Ireland, but I am also very much aware of the need to comply with international trade rules. Animals are routinely moved across the border into the south for slaughter. Those are essentially local movements, so they do not give rise to the same animal welfare concerns as long-distance transportation and exports. Preventing those north-to-south movements entirely would be problematic, but finding a way to legislate to allow those exports to the Republic of Ireland to continue while stopping all others from the UK is not straightforward, particularly as the most favoured nation principle means that whatever trade benefits we give to one country outside of a formal trade agreement should generally be offered to all trading partners. I accept that there are exceptions to that, some of which include public concerns and ethical considerations, but it is a problem that is not easy to solve.

Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill (Instruction)

Theresa Villiers Excerpts
Monday 15th January 2024

(6 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
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I am grateful for that intervention. It is important, first, to remember that we are talking only about animals being exported for either fattening or for slaughter. Under the phytosanitary rules of the island of Ireland, the movement of cattle, sheep or pigs from England to Northern Ireland will then incur a 30-day standstill within Northern Ireland before they can be moved to the Republic. That makes it not commercially viable to use that route to get to slaughter or to fattening. I hope that colleagues will understand with sympathy our frustration that we are unable to extend the rules to Northern Ireland.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
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Does the Minister agree that the ban on using the Great Britain land bridge for live exports is one of the ways this Bill will provide big barriers to live exports continuing from Northern Ireland?

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
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My right hon. Friend is right in that live exports from Northern Ireland to the Republic will be able to continue; that is good for the Northern Irish agricultural economy and we do not want to stop that trade. However, this Bill, when we get to debating the actual Bill, is about stopping those long journeys from GB into continental Europe. We have not seen those since Brexit, but we want to ensure that they cannot return in the near future.

Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill

Theresa Villiers Excerpts
Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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My hon. Friend raises an important point. The Government have committed £4 million of additional investment through the smaller abattoir fund, recognising the importance of reducing animals’ journey times. As we have discussed separately, I am happy to meet him to discuss what more we can do in the context of smaller abattoirs, particularly recognising the specific issues of geography in his constituency.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
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I warmly thank my right hon. Friend for his kind comments about my long-term involvement. It is great that we no longer have EU barriers, but how can we be sure that we will not run into World Trade Organisation issues? What work has he done to ensure that the Bill survives any potential challenge on trade grounds?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I drew attention to my right hon. Friend’s long campaigning, and I will return, if I may, to the trajectory of this issue before addressing her point.

Calls for a ban intensified after 2012, when the Animal and Plant Health Agency intercepted a consignment of sheep due to sail from the port of Ramsgate and 42 sheep were humanely killed after being found unfit to travel. I welcome that, since the 1990s, we have seen export numbers decline significantly. In 2020, around 6,300 sheep were exported from Great Britain to the EU for slaughter, and around 38,000 sheep were exported for fattening. I am pleased to say that, thanks to the UK’s exit from the EU, there have been no recorded exports for slaughter or fattening from Great Britain to the EU since January 2021, and now is the time to enshrine that in law.

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Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab)
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If you will allow me, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to start by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend Mark Drakeford MS, the First Minister of Wales. Mark announced that he was standing down from the Senedd last week. I want to thank him for his friendship to me and pay tribute to his service to the people of Newport West and of Wales over many years. I wish him a very long, happy, healthy retirement.

Where is the Minister for animal welfare? Disgracefully, he is sitting in the other place, having been appointed to the House of Lords last week. The sudden appointment of an unelected peer in the days before Christmas does not inspire confidence that this Government care about animal welfare. The Prime Minister seems to have such little faith in his MPs, such a lack of trust with his Back Benchers, that he cannot find a single Member sitting on the Benches opposite to be the animal welfare Minister.

I welcome the Bill, on behalf of Labour Members, but it beggars belief that it has taken so long to bring this unnecessarily cruel trade to an end. With Christmas in a few days, I acknowledge that this is the season to be kind and festive. On that basis and with Tory Ministers finally doing the right thing, Labour will support the Bill, even if it is long overdue.

I gently say to the Secretary of State that Labour called for a legal ban on live exports for slaughter and fattening from or through Great Britain in 2019, and has been encouraging the Government to act ever since. The Opposition have long called for a ban on live exports because millions of farmed animals risk facing long-distance journeys every year when exported for fattening and slaughter, causing them unnecessary suffering. As we have heard from the Secretary of State, those journeys can cause animals to become mentally exhausted, physically injured, hungry, dehydrated and stressed. That is why the Bill and the changes it will bring about are so important. The Bill prohibits the export of relevant livestock from Great Britain for slaughter, and provides that a person who commits an offence in England and Wales under those clauses in the Bill is liable

“on summary conviction in England and Wales, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding the maximum term for summary offences, to a fine or to both”.

The Bill will make it an offence to send, transport or organise transport, or to attempt to send, transport or organise transport for livestock for export from or through Great Britain for fattening and slaughter outside the British Isles. The ban in the Bill applies to a range of livestock, including cattle, horses, sheep, goats, pigs and wild boar but, we note, not poultry. The Bill is narrow in scope and reach, and the majority of its provisions will extend to England, Scotland and Wales, so the House will be interested in hearing from the Minister about what concrete discussions took place with the devolved Administrations. The Secretary of State has already mentioned research and consultations, but what actual discussions were had with the Administrations in devolved areas?

I am proud of the Labour party’s track record on delivering progress on animal welfare in Government. We ended the testing of cosmetic products on animals in 1998 and stopped the cruelty of fur farming in 2000.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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In the last Parliament, Labour MPs and their leader did everything they possibly could to keep us in the single market. If they had succeeded, we would never have been able to ban live exports.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
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I thank the right hon. Lady for her intervention, but I am not sure that it is relevant to what we are talking about today. We introduced the Hunting Act 2004 and the landmark Animal Welfare Act 2006.

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Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
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I warmly welcome the Bill as further evidence of the Conservative commitment to improving standards of animal welfare in this country. The presence of the Bill on our agenda means, in my view, that this is a good day for Parliament.

This has been a long time coming. I am talking not about the demise of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, but about the decades-long concern about this issue. It was at the end of the Victorian era that the public first started to express their grave concern about the suffering of animals transported overseas for slaughter. Demands that this trade be brought to an end led to Committees being established by Ministers as far back as 1957 and 1974. An attempt to restrict exports in 1992 by the Major Government was blocked by the European Court of Justice on the grounds that it impeded the operation of the EU single market.

The trade peaked at over 2 million animals a year in the early 1990s and opposition to live exports also grew in the 1990s, as we have heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning). Very large-scale protests took place, including what became known as the battle of Brightlingsea in 1995. This saw a somewhat unlikely alliance between local Essex residents and animal rights protesters banding together to try to prevent the export of livestock through the town. While, thankfully, exports from the UK have stalled over the past few years, around the rest of the world about 2 billion animals are still subjected to excessive long-distance transportation.

As we have heard many times in this Chamber over the decades, live exports can involve animals crammed into trucks and on to ships for journeys in shocking conditions that can last several weeks, during which they suffer distress from mishandling, overcrowding, excessive heat and cold, motion stress, injuries, prolonged hunger and thirst, restriction of movement and an inability to rest. Of course, the UK livestock sent to Europe should in theory be protected by the EU’s rules on live transport—rules that I certainly fought to toughen up when I was an MEP—but as successive reports from the European Parliament confirm, these rules simply are not always complied with or enforced, so the suffering continues.

Moreover, there is a danger that some animals exported to European destinations, particularly Hungary or Bulgaria, may be sent on to the middle east, suffering even longer journeys and slaughter conditions that are frequently inhumane. Even the animals that stay in the EU can be subject to lower welfare standards. For example, Spain permits barren conditions to be used for calves, which would be illegal if deployed in this country, and cruel and illegal practices in abattoirs in France have been highlighted on a number of occasions, including in reports by the French Parliament.

Practical reasons may have brought this trade from Britain to a halt for now, but we must legislate to ensure that it does not start up again. Vital ethical principles are at the heart of this very long-running debate: the principle that, as sentient beings, animals cannot be treated simply as a commodity; the principle that a civilised society must ensure that all animals, particularly those used by humans as part of our food supply and for other purposes, are treated with compassion and spared unnecessary suffering; and the principle that sending livestock to other jurisdictions, over which we have no control, violates our moral responsibility to prevent unnecessary animal suffering.

Today is an opportunity for us to listen to our constituents, who tell us again and again that they want to end live exports for slaughter and fattening once and for all. I pay tribute to every one of my constituents and other members of the public who over these past decades may have signed a petition, attended a protest, written to their MP or just played a part in this long-running campaign. Like others, I want to thank groups such as Compassion in World Farming, including the redoubtable Peter Stevenson, the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, the RSPCA, World Horse Welfare and all those who have worked so hard to get us to this point, as well as figures such as Selina Scott and Joanna Lumley for their commitment and dedication to the cause over many years.

I welcome this Bill, because it will deliver the ban for which I have been campaigning for a quarter of a century, first as an MEP and then as an MP. I committed the Government to it when I was the Environment Secretary, and I secured its inclusion in the 2019 Conservative manifesto. That was the first time that Conservative promises on this issue extended beyond live exports for slaughter to include fattening as well. That was a crucial change, and it is a crucial part of this Bill.

The loss of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill was frustrating, but now we have left the EU and the single market, this House finally has the power to determine what our laws on this crucial question will be. With that freedom, now is the time to get this done to set an example to countries around the world where these hellish long-distance international journeys still continue, to ensure that animals produced in this country remain subject to our very high standards of animal welfare—standards determined by this Parliament—and to implement the long-held wishes of the constituents of each and every one of us. Mr Deputy Speaker, as I am sure you will agree, now is the time to ban live exports.

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Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)
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The first thing I want to do is thank my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth). She paid a lovely tribute to her predecessor, who would be very proud of the remarks she made.

I am here today not only on behalf of the numerous constituents across North Norfolk who have emailed me about live exports, but because this is a matter that I am passionate about personally. I have spoken on animal welfare matters in this place time and again, and I have posted on my social media many times about the importance of respecting, caring for and looking after animals of all shapes and sizes, right down to the tiniest. As Members will know, I am the UK glow worm champion, which always gets a slight chuckle here. Of course, the House will remember my record-breaking dark skies debate on the glow worms that inhabit Sheringham park in my constituency, which I led back in October. On a serious matter, however, we must put animal welfare at the forefront of all spheres of our decision making, and I am really proud that this Conservative Government are doing that time and again.

As the Minister will know, livestock farming—particularly pigs and cattle—is a crucial part of my North Norfolk agricultural market; I have been to see him enough times about it over the years. Locally, we ensure that animal welfare is maintained. Norfolk produces 6% of England’s livestock output, totalling just under £600 million. With that economic backdrop in mind, I am a firm believer that this Bill, when enacted, will bring substantial advantages to local farmers in North Norfolk as well as to our agricultural heartlands, as we have heard from Members of different parties this evening. It will not only bring economic advantages, it will also enhance our local farmers’ capabilities to produce high-quality local food.

In North Norfolk, we go to extraordinary lengths to look after animal welfare. Last summer, I visited the Paterson farm in Worstead, in the wilds of North Norfolk, and saw the wagyu herd. I did not even know what wagyu was at the time.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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It is delicious.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker
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It is.

There was relaxing zen spa music playing in the calving shed. I said, “Is that for the farmhands?” No, it was not. It was to keep the calves and the birthing herds calm, so that they were relaxed and, in turn, all those animals were looked after. Of course, the meat was less stressed as well. That is taking animal welfare to the absolute limit. I do not suggest that every farmer implements a public address system in their calving shed, but it shows the level of care that my farmers take over the welfare of their herds.

This Bill is supported not just by my constituents, but by industry representatives across Norfolk and the UK more widely. I do not think that anyone has mentioned that the National Farmers Union supports it as well, as does the RSPCA. Although it is great that we will no longer see the fattening and slaughter of animals transported overseas, which will be outlawed—it is great that we have not seen that since 2021—it is also important that we get on and pass this legislation swiftly through Parliament, and put it permanently into practice. I will have particular pride when residents come up to me and say, “Name me a benefit of Brexit,” because I can now turn round and say there is yet another one. This legislation is only possible because we have been able to take back control and sovereignty of our lawmaking. By doing away with decision making being bound by the European Union’s animal transport laws, we have been able to introduce this Bill.

No animal should be reared for slaughter and have to suffer in this way. We have changed track, and we have been able to do that by leaving the European Union. We will now continue our world-leading status on animal welfare.

Animal Welfare (Kept Animals)

Theresa Villiers Excerpts
Wednesday 21st June 2023

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon
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I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention—it is an absolutely accurate interpretation. I was at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home in her constituency when news came that the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill was being ditched. The irony was not lost on a charity that campaigns and works so hard for our animals.

Labour has always placed animal welfare high on our list of policy priorities, which is why the Government have been dragged here kicking and screaming today. The Tories have promised, promised and promised again on animal welfare, but they fail to deliver.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
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Labour fought as hard as it possibly could to reverse the referendum result and keep us in the single market. If Labour had succeeded, we could not have banned live exports or cracked down on illegal puppy imports.

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon
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That begs the question of why on earth the Government are so bashful about bringing forward new powers and freedoms as a result of us leaving the European Union. Surely we should be embracing them—bringing them forward for the benefit of our much-loved animals—but they have not done so, even on an issue that is not controversial across the House. I assume and hope that there is support to end puppy smuggling and stop the export of animals that we care about. I will come on to that later, but I am afraid that it is a missed opportunity, despite Government Members’ comments.

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Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
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I was pleased when I heard the Opposition had put this subject on the agenda and this morning I was even thinking that I would perhaps be joining them in the Lobby. That was until I read their motion, which is obviously a deeply cynical ploy. I do not think anyone on the Government side of the House should be party to it. Playing politics with the welfare of animals is completely unacceptable.

No one in this House cares more about the issue of live exports than I do and I am determined that the Government will deliver on that manifesto commitment. We have had the clearest of assurances from the Government on that. Today, I reiterate my call: we need those single-issue Bills to come forward to this House as soon as possible. I know that is a message the Minister here will have heard. I hope we hear that across government and we can get that legislation to this House, so we can vote for it, get it through and get a ban on the statute book.

I will continue to raise that issue with Ministers at every opportunity because the live export of animals for slaughter is cruel. It causes distress, suffering and injuries and it is time it was brought to an end. In this country, the live export of animals for slaughter has been a concern for about 100 years. Many of us will remember the protests of the 1990s, but successive UK Governments were powerless to do anything about it because of single market rules. Now we are free of those rules, the time has come to end this cruel trade. If animals are reared in this country, we need to take responsibility for the circumstances in which they are slaughtered. That must mean ensuring that they are slaughtered at the closest point to where they are reared which is practical and viable.

I also want to see a single-issue Bill brought forward to crack down on illegal imports of puppies, about which so many of my colleagues have spoken today. That is another cruel trade and we need to crack down on it—again, this is a benefit of our departure from the single market and the EU. I pay tribute to the work of the Dogs Trust in highlighting that issue. I want the rules to be changed. I want visual checks to be a routine part of the process of checking on imports of dogs. I want that legislation to come forward as quickly as possible. So I appeal to the Government to bring forward the legislation. When it is here, we should table no amendments. We should get on, back these Bills and put them on the statute book.

World Ocean Day

Theresa Villiers Excerpts
Thursday 8th June 2023

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Sally-Ann Hart Portrait Sally-Ann Hart (Hastings and Rye) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered World Ocean Day.

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairship, Mrs Latham. Our ocean, our largest ecosystem, is a precious natural resource and for too long we have taken it for granted and somewhat abused it. Over and illegal fishing in some parts of the world, pollution, including by chemicals, plastics and nutrients, and overdevelopment along coastlines have all contributed to our ocean not being as healthy as it should be. There is an urgency to tackle global climate change, and given the right focus, support and investment, the ocean is one of our best and most cost-efficient nature-based solutions. As an island nation, our national seas also have huge social and economic value for the UK and especially for our coastal communities. The ocean is our bright blue hope.

Today is the 31st anniversary of World Ocean Day, which gives us the opportunity to highlight and support the implementation of worldwide sustainable development goals and to foster public interest in the protection of the ocean and the sustainable management of its resources. This year it specifically raises awareness and supports the goal and the commitment from global leaders to conserve at least a third of our land, water and ocean by 2030, known as 30x30. It also builds on the high seas treaty agreed in March this year by a number of nations to protect the world’s biodiversity in international waters.

The historic high seas treaty took 10 years of negotiations to reach agreement. It aims to safeguard and recuperate marine nature and provides the ability to more easily realise the target of establishing 30% of the global ocean as marine protected areas by 2030. The treaty also strengthens governance of the world’s ocean by providing the framework to manage the ocean and sustainably use its biological resources. Prior to the treaty, there was no means for nation states to declare marine protected areas beyond their national jurisdiction. The new treaty supports a holistic ocean governance framework as a means to implement the obligations to protect and preserve the marine environment, as included in the United Nations convention on the law of the sea.

That is an important step as the ocean covers 70% of the planet’s surface area and produces around 50% of the oxygen we breathe. It has a hugely significant role to play in slowing down the rate of climate change. Since 1978, more than 90% of the Earth’s increased heat and 40% of carbon emitted from burning fossil fuels have been absorbed by the ocean. Furthermore, it is estimated that the ocean has absorbed between 25% and 30% of all carbon dioxide emissions caused by human activity, making it the largest carbon sink in the world.

The sea is home to most of our biodiversity. According to the United Nations, 3 billion people globally rely on the ocean for their livelihoods, and around 200 million people are employed either directly or indirectly in related industries. However, the UN also states that carbon emissions from human activity are causing ocean warming, acidification and oxygen loss.

A debate about the ocean could cover many topics, including plastic, sewage, chemical or nutrient pollution, marine protected areas, fishing, and renewable energy opportunities and risks. I am sure that some hon. Members will discuss those today. I want to focus on blue carbon and ocean-based solutions to climate change, which, worryingly, are disappearing and require urgent global restoration and protection. We also need to conserve and use ocean resources sustainably, as healthy oceans and seas are essential to human existence and life on Earth. For too long our ocean has been the missing part of our path to net zero. It is essential that Governments across the world take rapid action to increase the ocean’s critical role in tackling climate change.

Our oceans offer significant solutions that can mitigate and combat climate change. It is predicted that blue carbon ecosystems could sequester and store around 2% of UK emissions per year. There is huge potential lying beneath our waters, which have yet to be fully realised.

According to estimates from the Office for National Statistics, the UK’s salt marshes and subtidal muds and sands alone captured at least 10.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2018—the real amount could be as much as six times higher. That carbon sequestration, according to the ONS, is of significant economic as well as environmental value—valued at more than what is earned from exploiting our oceans for oil and natural gas.

Let us not forget that our coastal salt marsh areas can help protect against flooding from sea level rise if properly restored, maintained and managed. Seagrass meadows provide among the most productive ecosystems in the world. An area the size of a football pitch can support more than 50,000 fish and more than 700,000 invertebrates, which is good news for our marine habitats and fishing communities around the UK. One acre of seagrass can sequester 740 lb of carbon per year, or 83 grams of carbon per square metre, which is the same amount emitted by a car travelling 3,860 miles.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
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Does my hon. Friend agree that there is not enough understanding of how important blue carbon is or of the crucial role that the ocean could play in absorbing and capturing carbon? It is, therefore, great that we have the opportunity to debate it today.

Sally-Ann Hart Portrait Sally-Ann Hart
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Yes, I completely agree with my right hon. Friend. One issue is that we do not yet have enough data and research to truly evaluate the amazing role that blue carbon can play.

UK coastal habitats such as seagrass and salt marsh provide an estimated £48 billion of economic benefits to society, despite occupying only 0.6% of the total land area. Based on available data, the Office for National Statistics values the UK’s marine natural capital assets at £211 billion, so protecting and restoring the UK’s marine natural capital assets preserves more than the environment. It has value for people and the economy.

Maintaining and, more importantly, restoring and improving marine ecosystems to sequester carbon is vital in mitigating climate change. Fully restored, our coastal ecosystems could capture emissions equivalent to one third of the UK’s 2028 emissions and save an estimated £6.2 billion in spending on artificial flood defences by 2050. It is essential that the UK Government take further measures that protect and restore our marine areas, ensure greater research and provide more sustainable funding for all types of blue carbon and carbon dioxide removal. But no Government can fund entirely the actions needed to unleash the full power of nature. They need to look carefully at how they can encourage and facilitate private sector funding.

There are new fledgling organisations such as the social enterprise Bright Tide, which was founded by Harry Wright. Bright Tide is doing a sterling job in working with businesses to address urgent climate and biodiversity challenges around the world. I ask the Minister to outline what the Government are doing to recognise and facilitate funding to protect ocean nature-based solutions.

Also, will the Minister update the House on the measures that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has taken to ensure that blue carbon habitats are restored, increased and properly protected? Our ocean is incredibly important to coastal communities such as mine—beautiful Hastings and Rye—because many livelihoods, from fishermen and tourism to aquaculture and renewable energy, depend on a healthy, clean and functional coastal environment to ensure long-living and sustainable industries. Without careful planning and review of impacts from human activities, both the environment and livelihoods are at risk.

I chair the all-party parliamentary group on coastal communities and the all-party parliamentary group for the ocean. Coastal communities and our national seas are interlinked—co-dependent. The APPG for the ocean’s first inquiry, into blue carbon and ocean-based solutions to climate change, produced an excellent and comprehensive report, “The Ocean: Turning the Tide on Climate Change”, and three of our eight recommendations were echoed in the Government’s recent environment improvement plan. They include our recommendations to remove trawl or dredge zones, which can destroy marine ecosystems and disturb seabed carbon stores, from UK MPAs; create highly protected marine areas; and include more aspects of marine carbon storage and sequestration, specifically seagrass and salt marsh habitats, in the UK greenhouse gas inventory.

Our report also highlighted that investing in coastal and ocean-based solutions can considerably boost industry and the economy in coastal areas. As an MP for a coastal community and as chair of the APPG on coastal communities, I recognise at first hand the solutions that the ocean can offer in mitigating and combating climate change. I also recognise the added value, huge benefits and potential that ocean-based solutions can have for coastal communities in creating new skills and jobs in tourism, ecotourism, seabed mapping activity, the renewable energy industry, environment and ecology, aquaculture, fishing and so on. Nature is the most cost-effective solution in combating climate change, as well as providing added value. We must unleash her power.

The report also highlighted that blue carbon and ocean-based solutions are often neglected in conversations about climate change, despite the fact that the destruction of marine habitats such as seagrass—the wonder grass—may be of greater consequence than land-based destruction such as deforestation. Why are they overlooked? Part of the reason is the lack of understanding, research and data. Certain types of ocean-based solutions, such as those that could occur in the open ocean or seabed, are even less understood and require greater mapping to understand the clear benefits. It is time to review our ocean, not only as something that needs protecting, but as a useful tool—a living, breathing organism that can help us tackle climate change.

Finally, with the increasingly diverse uses and potential uses of the ocean and the growth in areas designated for marine conservation, there are clearly growing spatial pressures on our ocean—spatial squeeze. That may have an effect on our more traditional industries, such as our fishing fleets. I know that the fishermen of Hastings and Rye are concerned about that. We must ensure that offshore renewables—windfarms and tidal stream energy for example—blue carbon habitats, marine protected areas, fishing grounds, aquaculture, cables, oil and gas all coexist, where possible, so that there is space for all without detriment to traditional industries such as fishing or to the marine environment. There is an argument to be explored for a new approach to marine spatial planning that involves the co-management of our national seas and greater accountability for regulators. I would be keen to hear the Minister’s thoughts on that.

By protecting, researching and investing in ocean-based solutions and blue carbon habitats, the UK can ensure that our net zero targets are met, that coastal communities can benefit from significant opportunities and that the ocean becomes an active player in climate change mitigation. We all need to work together to ensure that that happens.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
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It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Latham. I warmly thank and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart) on securing this debate on World Ocean Day. She is a great champion of coastal communities in general and Hastings and Rye in particular.

As we have heard, the ocean covers 70% of the Earth’s surface and is the largest carbon sink on the planet. To take just one example, salt marsh and seagrass habitats can store and hold massive amounts of carbon for thousands of years, so there is huge potential for ocean-based solutions—so-called blue carbon—to play a key role in delivering net zero and protecting the climate from disaster. At the same time, well-managed blue carbon projects can help deliver levelling up through the creation of new high-paying, high-quality jobs in coastal communities.

The massive potential of blue carbon was highlighted in the report, “The Ocean: Turning the Tide on Climate Change”, published last year by the APPG for the ocean, of which I am a member. In it, we pointed out that we cannot hope to succeed in our ambitions on combating climate change without using ocean and land-based carbon removal solutions, so we need better mapping of the blue carbon habitat within the UK’s exclusive economic zone. We also need more research, more data and a better understanding of the capacity of the marine environment to absorb and store carbon. That goes beyond salt marshes and seagrass to include ideas such as seaweed cultivation and ocean alkalinity enhancement.

To harness the potential of blue carbon, it is vital that we do more to protect the marine environment and the biodiversity it contains. That brings me to plastic. Plastic pollution is one of the great tragedies of our time. Plastic is a versatile material that has many benefits, but we must find a way to reduce its use, recycle more of it and, above all, ensure it is disposed of responsibly. It is shocking that, less than a century after its invention, such a vast volume of plastic has made its way into every corner of the ocean. I feel genuinely disturbed when I see pictures of the impact that it has on wildlife, including of young birds that perish because they are fed plastic by their parents, which mistake it for food. We have to do something about the situation. I know the Government are taking a strong, leading role in tackling the scourge of plastics pollution and have passed some of the world’s first laws against microbeads in personal care products, which was a big step forward.

I also welcome the fact that the Government pioneered the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance to seek the international action that is so crucial. They are also leading the Global Ocean Alliance to meaningfully protect 30% of land and sea by 2030, but there is a vast amount of work that still has to be done. For example, we need to consider how to reduce the flow into the sea of microfibres from clothing. In that regard, I commend the campaign led by my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa), the National Federation of Women’s Institutes and the Marine Conservation Society for filters that catch such fibres to become mandatory in new washing machines sold from 2025.

Let us also see the delivery of the Government’s long-promised extended producer responsibility and deposit return schemes to promote plastic recycling, reuse and responsible disposal. I have mentioned that to the Minister many times; she knows my views. I hope that the frankly chaotic situation with the Scottish National party version of DRS will not jeopardise getting a workable scheme in place across the whole of the UK.

Above all, we must have more concerted action globally if we are to tackle the problem of plastics pollution in the ocean effectively. Progress on that is being made, too: the draft high seas treaty agreed in March signals a real intent to ensure that human activities in the high seas are consistent with conservation objectives. I urge the Government to engage energetically in securing the international treaty on plastics that is vital in driving forward the rescuing of our oceans.

In conclusion, we have a responsibility to act against plastic pollution and the destruction of precious ocean habitats. Together with our overseas territories, we are stewards of one of the world’s largest marine estates. This nation built a vast empire largely because we had the most powerful Navy on the planet, which has protected our shores and our freedom ever since it was founded by Alfred the Great over 1,000 years ago. Our continuing links with the overseas territories are one of the last legacies of that once-mighty empire, so let us use those ties of friendship and history to work with overseas territories to push forward with further protection for the seas and oceans that have played such a seminal part in our island’s story. It is essential that we safeguard them for the future.

Oral Answers to Questions

Theresa Villiers Excerpts
Thursday 25th May 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
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Of course we recognise that challenge, and that is why we are protecting the most vulnerable households. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has introduced targeted support worth £26 billion to support those very people. More than 8 million households are eligible for means-tested benefits. They will receive extra cost of living payments totalling £900 per household in 2023-24, and over 99% of the cost of living payments for this year have already been made.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
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Will the Minister ensure that our farm support programmes, as well as delivering crucial environmental goals, make it easier for farmers to make a living from growing food? That will feed through into lower food prices.

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
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It is worth stating again that food production is the primary purpose of farming in this country. We will always back our farmers to produce great-quality, high-welfare food, but we can do that at the same time as improving our environmental output and biodiversity.