Written statements

Government Ministers and a small number of other Members of the two Houses can make a written statement to one or both Houses.

Written statements are published below shortly after receipt in Parliament. They also reproduced in the next edition of the Daily Report and of Hansard in the relevant House.

Written statements made before 17 November 2014 were published only in Hansard:

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WS
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Made on: 21 April 2020
Made by: George Eustice (Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs )
Commons

Update on Defra sectors

Coronavirus presents unprecedented challenges to the businesses we rely on to provide essential services which keep people safe – including food supply, water and waste.

Many businesses in these sectors have benefited from Government schemes to support all businesses, including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, and the Small Business Grant Scheme and support for the self-employed.

Beyond this, the Government has taken specific action to support the food, farming, water and waste sectors in the delivery of critical services.

  • Fisheries: The fishing sector has seen considerable impacts because of the closure of restaurants both here and in Europe and severe market disruption. Last week we announced a new £10 million support scheme to help the catching and aquaculture sector in England and boost local supply chains. Vessel owners and aquaculture businesses will receive payments to help cover their fixed costs. On Monday we began to contact eligible vessel owners. The MMO has published the details of the scheme on gov.uk.

  • Dairy: In particular, the dairy sector has felt a significant impact as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Between 5 and 10 per cent of total milk production goes to the food service trade and there is therefore a small proportion of milk production that currently has no home. The vast majority of Britain's 10,000 dairy farmers continue to supply their contracts at the usual price and larger processors have been largely unaffected by the market disruption because of their scale and diversified nature. In order to support the affected farmers, on Friday we announced that we will set aside some elements of competition law to make it easier for processors to come together and voluntarily work out how to ease production down in order to create the space in the market for that milk that currently has no home and to support a recovery in the spot price. We have asked the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (which supports the interests of dairy farmers and the wider farming industry) and Dairy UK (which represents the processors) to coordinate a proposal and discussions are already underway.

  • Livestock: There has been a drop in demand in various cuts, for example steaks, leading to carcass balance problems in the beef, poultry meat and pig meat sectors. We have encouraged supermarkets to put steaks on promotion and, while the price of beef cattle has reduced in recent weeks, retailers are also reporting an increase in meat sales. Although the price of beef cattle, poultry and pigs has dropped, it still remains higher than in previous years. Quite a lot of beef, poultry meat and pig meat has gone into storage so we continue to monitor this market closely.

  • Waste: The waste sector has been impacted by social distancing, staff shortages and an increase in waste produced by households compared to a decrease in demand for commercial collections. Defra has published guidance to local authorities to help them prioritise their waste streams to keep important services like black bin bag collections moving, and worked with the waste sector to develop an online platform called WasteSupport which facilitates the sharing of resources between local authorities and commercial operators. This was launched by the sector at the end of last week. We are looking at how we can keep other services operating such as household waste recycling centres, and are aware of reports of increases in fly-tipping.

  • Supermarkets: following a significant spike in consumer demand, we have now seen stock levels in supermarkets improve and panic buying has stopped. To support the food sector, the government temporarily relaxed competition law and regulations relating to driver hours and delivery times so that the sector could work together to keep putting food on the shelves.

  • Ornamental horticulture: the closure of garden centres has had an impact on some specialist plant producers in the ornamental horticultural sector. Online sales have been able to continue and the Government is keeping the situation under review but concluded last week that it was too early to ease any restrictions on such retail environments. The First Secretary set out the five tests on which the Government would base any assessment of easing the current measure. We must all continue to stay at home, in order to protect the NHS and save lives.

The Government will continue to support these essential services; I want to thank all those who have rallied in an extraordinary way to respond to this unprecedented challenge.

This statement has also been made in the House of Lords: HLWS188
WS
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Made on: 16 March 2020
Made by: George Eustice (Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
Commons

Independent Reservoir Review Report

On 3 September 2019 my Rt Hon Friend the then Secretary of State (Teresa Villiers) commissioned an independent review following the Toddbrook Reservoir incident (31 July/1 August 2019) where part of the spillway collapsed following significant heavy rainfall. The damage did not breach the reservoir dam itself, but as a precaution, some 1500 people in Whaley Bridge were temporarily evacuated while the dam was made safe. The Review has been led by Professor David Balmforth, supported with technical expertise from Dr Peter Mason and Dr Paul Tedd. The review panel has provided me with a comprehensive report. This sets out their findings into what might have led to the damage, whether there was anything that could have prevented or predicted it and identified lessons for wider reservoir safety. (Full Terms of Reference for the Review are on Gov.uk:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/toddbrook-reservoir-incident-2019-independent-review)

I would like to thank the review panel for their detailed investigation of what led to this incident.

Report Findings

This report explores the causes of the spillway failure at Toddbrook and concludes that a combination of factors led to the partial collapse last August. It has identified that the original design of the auxiliary spillway was “inadequate and not fit for purpose” and that this was “exacerbated by intermittent maintenance over the years.” which when combined with the level and force of flow over the spillway at the end of July ultimately led to the partial collapse on 1 August. It has not been possible to determine which factor was the primary cause of failure on the day, and finds that : “With consistent good quality maintenance over the years leading up to the event, the spillway might not have failed during this event. However, it would have been unlikely to survive the probable maximum flood which is many times greater than the flood in which it failed.”

The report identifies that there may be a lack of understanding of the risks to spillways within the reservoir community, and has made recommendations to address these. For example, the design concerns had not been identified previously, including at inspections prior to 2018, and the report notes that ‘’had the drawings been reviewed at the time of the 2010 inspection, the deficiencies in the spillway design might have been identified then and remedial action taken’’.

Good practice examples have been highlighted, and used to inform recommendations for the whole reservoir community – this includes the provision of a package of historical information to inspectors, such as the original design drawings that were provided by the Canal and River Trust’s (CRT) supervising engineer for the 2018 inspection. These were used by the inspector to identify potential concerns relating to the spillways longer term viability leading to a requirement under a Measure in the Interests of Safety (MIOS)[1] for CRT to investigate further.

The review also found that communication between those involved could be improved and strengthened for the avoidance of doubt in the future. The inspection report “was written in a style often found in inspection reports’’, but this “did not convey any sense of urgency or require any precautionary measures” which the CRT then relied on to determine their work programme. It further identified that although the inspector provided initial feedback on the need for a robust maintenance programme to CRT engineers at the time of the inspection, “it would appear that this had not been completed some 8 months later when the incident occurred’’ . It was not until the CRT received the final inspection report in April 2019, combined with internal arrangements to communicate earlier, that full consideration was given to any of the required actions. The review panel find that “ Given the significance and credibility of risks to the reservoir, our view is that more could have been done to communicate the urgency of the MIOS and statutory maintenance to the Owner at an earlier stage’.’

As a result of his review, Professor Balmforth reports that compliance with the current legislation is good: “ Overall there is 97% compliance, so reservoirs are believed to be safe’’, but have concluded “ … as the incident at Toddbrook so aptly demonstrates, a compliant reservoir might not necessarily be safe’’ and “There is clearly a need to close the gap between compliance and safety’’.

Report Recommendations

Professor Balmforth has made 22 recommendations in his report for application across the reservoir network and community. These include:

  • Eight recommendations covering the inspection of reservoirs covering improved guidance, detailed inspections of spillways and the wording and timing of reporting to owners.

  • Two recommendations on the supervision of reservoirs covering the reporting of condition by supervising engineers and the actions needed by the responsible person(s) for safety within the owning organisations.

  • Four recommendations proposing further work is done to consider the implementation of or changes to the current legislative framework

  • Five recommendations for improved operations and maintenance, including the responsibilities of the owners and greater powers for the regulator to enforce statutory maintenance requirements

  • Three immediate actions to be taken as a result of the spillway design concerns identified at Toddbrook, which are already in hand

The Government has accepted all the recommendations.

A full list of the recommendations and the government response to each one is in Table 1 below. The report will be published today on Gov.uk:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/toddbrook-reservoir-incident-2019-independent-review

Incidents such as that at Toddbrook are very rare and this report confirms that we have a strong record of reservoir safety and that compliance, including by the Canal and River Trust, with our safety regulations is good. We should not, however, be complacent and need to ensure our approach continues to be fit for purpose, so I will be asking Professor Balmforth to lead a second stage review, which will undertake a wider assessment reservoir safety legislation and its implementation.

Reservoir Safety Work already underway

Defra and the Environment Agency have contacted all large raised reservoir undertakers to identify any which may have similar design concerns to those found at Toddbrook. Any identified will be expected to have an urgent inspection/investigation to ascertain what remedial work may be needed. The Government will also consult on making a requirement for all large raised reservoirs to have an emergency contingency plan in place.

Defra commissioned a research study into Small Raised Reservoirs in 2017, which has recently been completed. The report will be published shortly and includes evidence about the number of small raised reservoirs and the risks they pose. This evidence will be used to assess any need for possible changes to the legal framework in determining if there is a case to extend current regulations to reservoirs between 10,000m3 and 25,000m3 capacity. The research also considered options for risk designation and my officials will review the findings and engage with stakeholders in assessing whether changes are needed.

[1] Under the Act and to an engineer MIOS actually means that if certain work is not carried out within certain timescales then the reservoir could become unsafe

This statement has also been made in the House of Lords: HLWS155
WS
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Made on: 05 March 2020
Made by: George Eustice (Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs )
Commons

Bovine TB

I am updating the House on today’s publication of the government’s response to Professor Sir Charles Godfray’s independent review of our 25-year strategy to eradicate bovine TB (bTB) in England by 2038.

BTB is one of the most difficult and intractable animal health challenges that England faces today. Around 30,000 cattle have to be slaughtered annually due to infection. Our cattle breeders suffer the loss of prize winning animals and valued herds and this loss creates considerable trauma in the farming industry.

BTB is a very difficult disease to eradicate for a number of reasons. It is a slow moving, insidious disease which is difficult to detect. The diagnostic tests that exist are not perfect; the disease can survive in the environment for several months. BTB is harboured in wildlife with badgers being a known vector. The BCG vaccine provides only limited protection and does not cure infected badgers. There is no example of a country that has successfully eradicated bTB without also addressing the presence of the disease in wildlife.

However, the United Kingdom (UK) has previously managed to turn the tide on bTB and we can do it again. In the 1930s around 40% of cattle herds suffered from bTB. A combination of cattle movement controls, testing and slaughter of infected cattle and wildlife controls through badger culling managed to bring the disease to near eradication by the early 1980s.

However, since the late 1980s, bTB has spread and the 2001 Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak led to a suspension in testing and then widespread restocking of farms. This meant that in the first five years of this millennium, the disease once again spread rapidly and became our number one animal health challenge.

Our 25-year strategy to eradicate bTB published in 2014 is founded in science. It applies the lessons of our history in previous attempts to control the disease as well as evidence from other countries around the world and trial work conducted in the UK during the 1970s and, more recently, during the Randomised Badger Culling Trial conducted between 1998 and 2007.

The cornerstone of our strategy, as before, is a policy of regular testing and removal of infected cattle from herds. We have also incrementally introduced tougher restrictions on cattle movements from herds at risk of infection and more sensitive tests. We have introduced measures to encourage greater risk management and more information for the keepers of cattle. We have also deployed wildlife controls in areas where the disease is rife and we have deployed new biosecurity measures to try to break the cycle of infection between cattle and badgers.

Since the initial badger cull pilot in 2013, a policy of badger control has been rolled out in many parts of the High Risk Area (HRA) in the south-west and west of England. As of 2019, 57% of the HRA is now subject to a licensed cull of badgers. This policy, while difficult and inevitably contentious, is starting to yield results. The latest epidemiological analysis conducted by Downs and others has shown that the incidence of the disease in the first cull areas of Somerset and Gloucester has fallen substantially, by 37% and 66% respectively.

However, the badger is an iconic, protected species and no one wants to be culling badgers forever. An intensive badger cull was only ever envisaged as a phase of the strategy, not a perpetual state of affairs. Therefore, five years into the current strategy, it is appropriate to take stock and consider how the policy might be evolved. That is why the government asked Sir Charles to conduct a review of the bTB strategy which concluded in October 2018.

The UK benefits from world-leading science and the government believes we should deploy our expertise to accelerate the development of a deployable cattle vaccine against bTB. While the current BCG vaccine will never provide full protection, the government will accelerate work to authorise a test that can differentiate between the disease and the vaccine, and will provide the funding necessary to initiate the research and trial work needed towards the aim of having a deployable vaccine in the next five years. Vaccination is manifestly easier to deliver to herds of cattle than to wildlife and could significantly reduce the spread of the disease both between cattle and between cattle herds and wildlife. BTB is a global challenge and not every country can afford to test and remove cattle. The UK can harness its world-leading science in developing solutions such as vaccination that would also be valuable to other countries trying to fight the disease.

The government will also begin an exit strategy from the intensive culling of badgers, while ensuring that wildlife control remains a tool that can be deployed where the epidemiological evidence supports it. As soon as possible, we intend to pilot government-funded badger vaccination in at least one area where the four-year cull cycle has concluded, with simultaneous surveillance of disease. Our aim is to identify an exit strategy from culling in those areas that have completed the four years of intensive culling by deploying vaccination to the remaining badger population.

While the government must retain the ability to introduce new cull zones where the disease is rife, our aim will be to allow future badger culls only where the epidemiological evidence points to a significant reservoir of the disease in badgers. We envisage that any remaining areas would join the current cull programme in the next few years and that the badger cull phase of the strategy would then wind down by the mid to late 2020s, although we would need to retain the ability to cull in a targeted way where the epidemiological evidence requires it.

In the Edge Area, where some vaccination projects have been supported, our aim will be to ensure that badger culling is only authorised in areas where the epidemiological evidence points to a problem in badgers. We will continue to support badger vaccination projects in areas where the prevalence of disease is low. We will also investigate the potential for projects where adjacent vaccination and culling could complement each other in controlling disease. Changes to our guidance to Natural England on licensing badger control will be subject to consultation.

Finally, the government will invest in the deployment of better, more frequent and more diverse cattle testing so that we are able to detect the presence of the disease earlier and remove it from cattle herds faster. As a first step, the frequency of mandatory surveillance testing in two counties which form part of the HRA – Shropshire and Staffordshire – will increase from annual to six-monthly from later this year. We expect this to be extended to all parts of the HRA from 2021. Improving the efficacy of our testing regime through better diagnostics is a key component of a successful strategy.

There is no single answer to tackling the scourge of bTB but by deploying a range of policy interventions, we can turn the tide on this terrible disease and achieve our long-term objective of eradicating it by 2038.

This statement has also been made in the House of Lords: HLWS139
WS
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Made on: 24 February 2020
Made by: George Eustice (Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs )
Commons

Response to consultation on cleaner domestic burning of solid fuels and wood

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs published the Government response to the consultation on cleaner domestic burning of solid fuels and wood on Friday 21st February. This consultation ran between August and October 2018.

Wood burning stoves and coal fires are the single largest source of the pollutant PM2.5 (Fine Particulate Matter), emitting twice the contribution of industrial combustion and three times the contribution of road transport. This form of pollution consists of tiny particles which penetrate deeply into body tissues, including the lungs and blood. Long term exposure can cause cardiovascular disease, strokes, asthma and lung cancer, shortening lifespans. It has been identified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the most serious air pollutant for human health. The WHO has stated that coal is a known carcinogen and strongly recommended against its use in domestic burning.

These proposals are in line with our Clean Air Strategy, which sets out our strong commitment to achieve our National Emissions Ceiling targets. We have legally binding commitments to reach specified emissions ceilings for 2020 and 2030 for five key emissions – nitrous oxides (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2), fine particulate matter (PM2.5), ammonia (NH3) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). With domestic combustion identified as the single largest contributor of PM2.5 emissions, it is essential to make changes in this area to make progress towards achieving these emissions targets. This announcement comes after statistics released on 14th February showed the significant progress that the government has made in tackling air pollution, with nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide, particulate matter, and non-methane volatile organic compounds all down significantly since 2010. However, the statistics also highlighted the impact of the increased popularity of domestic burning on PM2.5 pollution, emphasising the importance of these measures.

The consultation response sets out our intention to phase out the sale of house (bituminous) coal and wet wood for use in domestic burning to improve the health of millions by encouraging burners to use cleaner fuels. Wet wood is wood that has not been adequately seasoned and contains high levels of sap. Burning wet wood can result in at least twice the amount of smoke emissions than that produced when seasoned or dry wood is burned. When wet wood is burned, the heat output is significantly reduced, and chemicals build up on the inside of the stove and chimney, which increases the risk of chimney fires.

The accompanying Impact Assessment shows that the benefits accruing from the expected reduction in PM2.5 and Sulphur Dioxide from these proposals will reach in excess of £7 billion over the period 2020 to 2030, with the cost to business over the same time period being less than £125m.

Furthermore, concerns raised about the impact of these policies on those in or at risk of being in fuel poverty have been taken on board and additional research was carried out to review the cost and efficiency of a range of solid fuels (house coal, wood and manufactured solid fuels). This research shows that manufactured solid fuels are more efficient on an energy density basis which means they are cheaper to burn than coal. The full report has been published alongside the Government response.

In the light of the consultation and the evidence available, it is proposed to end the sale of wet wood and house (bituminous) coal in a phased approach between 2021 and 2023, giving both the public and suppliers time to move to cleaner alternatives such as dry wood or manufactured solid fuels. These proposals will come into effect in several stages:

  • Wood sold in volumes of less than 2m3 will be required to be certified to show that the moisture content is 20% or less from February 2021.

  • Wood sold in volumes over 2m3 will need to be sold with guidance on drying and advice on the issues of burning wet wood from February 2021.

  • Small foresters will be allowed a further 12 months to become compliant with the legislation. They will need to be compliant with the 20% or less moisture content and be certified by February 2022.

  • Manufactured Solid Fuels will need to be certified to confirm that they have a sulphur content below 2% and do not emit more than 5g of smoke per hour from February 2021.

  • Bags of traditional house (bituminous) coal will no longer be available for sale from February 2021.

  • Sales of loose coal via approved coal merchants will be phased out by February 2023.

This statement has also been made in the House of Lords: HLWS111
WS
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Made on: 06 February 2020
Made by: George Eustice (Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)
Commons

January Agriculture and Fisheries Council

The UK did not attend the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels on 27 January 2020.

The UK Government decided that until the 31st of January UK Ministers and officials only attend EU meetings where the UK has a significant national interest in the outcome of the discussions.

WS
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Made on: 27 January 2020
Made by: George Eustice (Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food )
Commons

January Agriculture and Fisheries Council

The Agriculture and Fisheries Council takes place in Brussels on 27 January.

As the provisional agenda stands, the main item for agriculture will be an exchange of view between EU ministers on the regulation on CAP transitional rules. The Commission will also present on the agricultural aspects of the Green Deal, followed by an exchange of views on this.

This will be followed by a presentation from the Croatian Presidency on the work programme during the Presidency.

This statement has also been made in the House of Lords: HLWS58
WS
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Made on: 16 January 2020
Made by: George Eustice (Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food )
Commons

December Agriculture and Fisheries Council

I represented the UK at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels on 16, 17 and 18 December.

On fisheries, the focus of the Council was EU quota negotiations, involving decisions on fishing opportunities for the next year for quota stocks in the North Sea, Atlantic, the English Channel, Irish and Celtic Seas. Fishing opportunities are set under the rules of the reformed Common Fisheries Policy, which aims to have all stocks fished at sustainable levels by 2020 at the latest.

Prior to the Council, a number of negotiations had taken place with third countries, such as EU-Norway, which set fishing opportunities for certain stocks. The EU share of these opportunities were endorsed at the Council.

This year member states agreed on significant cuts in cod quotas due to scientific concerns on the state of cod stocks in the Irish Sea, West of Scotland and Celtic Sea.

The UK took a lead on setting zero total allowable catch (TAC) for Celtic cod, which ensured that the agreed quota would allow the Celtic Sea fleet to avoid being tied up before they fished their target species quota.

To further protect vulnerable cod stocks, the UK has also successfully pushed for enhanced rules on sustainable fishing practices such as changing net sizes, to help cod stocks recover.

Concerning seabass, Ministers decided to slightly increase the by-catch levels in the Northern areas and grant additional flexibility in their management. The bag limit for seabass recreational fisheries was set to two specimen per fisherman per day under certain conditions, and only from 1 March to 30 November 2020 for Northern seabass.

Total fishing opportunities agreed for 2020 included increased quotas for:

  • North Sea haddock (+23%)

  • Sole in the Western Channel (+19%)

The Commission also provided a general approach on regulations on Baltic Cod and Western fisheries herring. It announced that it will take measures to help fishermen cope with the harmful socioeconomic effects of the severe fishing restrictions on cod and Western herring in the Baltic Sea that are already in place and agreed for 2020.

The primary focus for agriculture was a debate on the Post 2020 CAP reform package, including three legislative proposals: the first on CAP strategic plans; the second on financing, management and monitoring of the CAP; and the third on common market organisation (CMO) of agricultural products. The Commission proposed a new delivery model that would allow member states more flexibility in the way they use EU funds and would allow them to tailor their programmes.

In the discussion that followed, EU Member states’ ministers broadly welcomed the report, considering it as a good basis for continuing work under the incoming Croatian Presidency. They indicated that the "new delivery model" and the "green architecture" were the main elements requiring further debate - the latter also in light of the recently published "European Green Deal" Communication. Amongst further issues, interventions in certain sectors and coupled support were also mentioned as elements which should be discussed further. Ministers stressed the importance for the agricultural budget to be in line with the proposed enhanced environmental and climate ambition.

The Council also adopted a conclusion on EU action to protect the world’s forests during a ministerial lunch debate. Member states welcomed the Commission’s political guidance on protecting and restoring the world’s forests.

Five other items were discussed separately under ‘any other business’:

  • The Presidency informed the Council of the issue with long-term funding of the EU minor use of pesticides coordination facility (EUMUCF).

  • The French delegation informed Council about their views on informing consumers about the origin of food products.

  • The Presidency updated Council about the Conclusions on the updated EU bioeconomy strategy.

  • The Spanish and French delegations updated Council about the impact of US tariffs on European agrifood products.

  • The Czech delegation informed Council of budget flexibility within the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund 2014-2020.

This statement has also been made in the House of Lords: HLWS38
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