George Eustice – 2019 Speech on Tin Mining Subsidence

Below is the text of the speech made by George Eustice, the Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth, in the House of Commons on 9 July 2019.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Coal Authority to undertake remedial works on properties with subsidence damage as a result of tin mining; to make provision for the Coal Authority to make compensation payments in lieu of such works; and for connected purposes.

The Cornish tin mining industry left many great legacies. In its heyday, it generated extraordinary wealth for our nation. Between the 15th and 18th centuries, there was even a stannary parliament in Cornwall that had the power to veto certain tax proposals coming from central Government. The industry was also a catalyst for great invention and innovation. Richard Trevithick from Camborne invented the first steam locomotive, and William Murdoch from Redruth invented gas lighting—both inventions that shaped our modern world.

There were companies, too, such as Holman’s, which developed extraordinary drilling technology that was exported to mining operations around the world. When the industry declined in the late 19th century, Cornish miners took their expertise around the globe to build mines as far afield as Australia, South Africa, California, Mexico and South America. Today, we still have the world-famous Camborne School of Mines, located with Exeter University at Falmouth, and a new generation of companies is taking that heritage of drilling expertise to the oil and gas industry, and to renewables. There is even some discussion about reopening the last tin mine at South Crofty, as tin prices have recovered.

For those living in Cornwall, however, there is a less welcome legacy from tin mining—the problem of subsidence damage caused by historical mine workings. The subterranean area in Camborne, Pool and Redruth in particular, but also in many parts of Cornwall, is said to resemble a Swiss cheese. It is a complex network of tunnels and mines under the towns in my constituency.

Those mine workings pose several difficult problems for residents. First, there can be significant costs when damage occurs. One of my constituents had to raise a second mortgage on their property to secure £20,000 to put right a mining feature that had opened up in their front garden. Secondly, there is sometimes ambiguity over the liability of insurers. In general cases, insurers help when there is damage directly to a property, although they seldom assist when there are problems arising within the curtilage of a property but not to the structure of the building. They do not generally remedy features to prevent future damage.

The final problem this issue poses for my constituents and others in Cornwall is that there are many cases where people undertake a mining search with a particular company when they buy a property and the company tells them there are no issues, so they purchase a property and secure a mortgage, but often when they want to move and sell their home, they find that a different buyer will use a different mining search company that ​has different data available to it, and that reveals an issue that can make it difficult for a purchaser to get a mortgage.

The problems arising from mining subsidence damage are obviously not unique to Cornwall—coalmining took place in huge areas of this country—but what is unique to Cornwall is that there is no Government-backed scheme to assist residents with the problems they face.

There has been a long-standing Government scheme for coal. In 1957, when the Coal-Mining (Subsidence) Act was introduced, there was an opportunity to include tin mining workings, but it was not taken. In 1975, there was a new Coal Industry Act, which formalised the role of British Coal in giving compensation, particularly to the nationalised industry. Again, the opportunity to include tin was missed. In 1991, new legislation was introduced to consolidate the compensation schemes in this area, through the Coal Mining Subsidence Act 1991. Again, tin was excluded. In 1994, the Coal Industry Act assigned responsibility for these compensation schemes to the Coal Authority and, again, this excluded tin. My Bill would correct that long-standing oversight and end the prejudice against communities that suffer from subsidence damage as a result of tin mining.

It is sometimes said that coal is different, and it is sometimes said that coal is different because it was a nationalised industry. However, this claim does not stand up to any kind of scrutiny, because the 1991 Act applies to all damage caused by coalmining, whether that was pre-nationalisation, during the war or post-nationalisation, and whether it was private or public. Even after the nationalisation of our coal industry, there continued to be some private mines. Indeed, the original 1957Act on coalmining subsidence mainly addressed the issue of private mines, where the liability for damage could not be established.

Sometimes it is said that the geology of Cornwall means there are fewer problems. Cornwall is okay, people say, because it is built on granite and there are fewer subsidence issues. All I can say is that if a homeowner does have a subsidence event on their property, that is every bit as difficult for them as it is for any resident in a coalmining area. The fact that there could be proportionately fewer cases in tin mining areas, frankly, ought to make the Government more ready to act in this space. There is no need for the Treasury to fret about the cost of it all, because including tin mining would be a modest extension of the scheme.

The Coal Authority deals with between 500 and 600 claims in coalmining areas each and every year, and it has a budget of about £27 million, much of which is ​spent on remedying subsidence issues. In 2014, there was a triennial review of the functions of the Coal Authority, and in 2017 a separate, tailored review was run by the Cabinet Office. Both those reviews concluded that the current approach and the current system in the Coal Authority were fit for purpose. They considered other alternatives to compensate communities, but those were all ruled out. My contention is that what is good for coal is good for tin.

I am aware, from my discussions on this, that the Treasury—I think some officials in the Treasury—also took the view that there was an unfairness here, with coal being treated differently from other types of mining. Initially, I was encouraged by that, but the Treasury being the Treasury, it of course had a rather different solution to this, which was to pull the rug out from under the coal scheme, rather than to add tin to it. Thankfully, both the reviews and Ministers have ruled out such action.

My Bill would broaden the remit of the Coal Authority, placing an equivalent legal requirement on it to assist in subsidence cases in tin mining areas. The geographical footprint for tin mining—located, as it is, mainly in west Cornwall, although in other parts of Cornwall too and in some parts of west Devon—means there will be far fewer cases for tin mining than there are for coalmining. As I said earlier, the geology of Cornwall—built, as it is, on solid granite—means the Government could expect proportionately fewer claims coming from these tin mining areas than they currently receive from coalmining areas.

The addition of tin to the compensation scheme that has existed since 1957 would be a drop in the ocean for a Department such as the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. However, it would mean a great deal to those families and communities that are affected by the blight of subsidence caused by mine workings. Given Cornwall’s great contribution to the wealth of our nation and to the industrial revolution, I believe that the least we could do in this House is correct this historical oversight, prejudice and injustice against Cornwall and against communities suffering from tin mining subsidence.

George Eustice – 2019 Speech on the Religious Slaughter of Farm Animals

Below is the text of the speech made by George Eustice, the Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth, in the House of Commons (Westminster Hall) on 2 July 2019.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the religious slaughter of farm animals.

Before I get to the issue in the motion, I must say that free votes in the House are wonderful. Those moments when the party structures and the Whips withdraw from the debate—when there are no Whips to point to which Lobby to go through—allow each individual to engage with an issue using their own reason and judgment and can be incredibly refreshing for our politics. Some of the best-quality debates in Parliament take place under free-vote conditions. Cross-party alliances form and, in the end, the House tends to arrive at a sensible and proportionate consensus.

Of course, the party system developed because, if there were free votes on everything, the Government would not be able to get anything done or deliver any of their manifesto commitments, but issues of ethics and religious conviction have always been universally accepted as free-vote issues. For instance, we have free votes on same-sex marriages and on contentious issues such as abortion. My key contention is that religious slaughter should be made a free-vote issue by every party in the House.

Whitehall feels awkward about dealing with this complex issue and it is not sure what to recommend to Ministers. Governments of all shades have tended to leave the issue in the “Too difficult to address” box and have talked themselves into a stance that says, “Now is not the time to deal with it.” If we made it a free-vote issue for the House, we would liberate the Government of that burden of responsibility and, more importantly, liberate Parliament to address the issue.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)

I spoke to the hon. Gentleman beforehand to get his thoughts about what he was going to say. In my council area of Ards, there was an abattoir that carried out some of the ritual killings and stunned and so on. It created jobs and stability and there was a system in place, which seemed to be acceptable. Is he looking for changes in the methodology of killing or does he want to stop it entirely?

George Eustice

I will go on to advocate a package of measures to improve our law, having looked at the issue in some depth. I would stop short of banning it altogether, but we could make major improvements, which I will come to.

The history of our current derogation is long. The first regulations governing abattoirs and the humane treatment of animals in them were introduced through the Public Health Act 1875, which said that all animals should be “effectually stunned”. In 1904, a committee of the Admiralty considered in some depth the right methods of slaughter to deliver humane outcomes for animals and recommended that, without exception, all animals should be stunned. Subsequently, however, the Local Government Board issued a circular that drew on the advice in the 1904 report. It recommended that, as a general rule, all animals should be stunned prior to slaughter, but it created what has become a long-standing religious derogation for Jewish and Muslim communities.​

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP)

I declare a number of interests in the industry. The 2017 Food Standards Agency report revealed that 84% of Halal-slaughtered animals were stunned prior to slaughter. That means that when the speed of production is important, people will stun them.

George Eustice

I was going to come on to that. There is no barrier to using stunning for Halal, provided it is what is called a recoverable stun. That same FSA report also worryingly revealed that 25% of all sheep slaughtered in the UK are slaughtered without stunning. That alarming rise is difficult to explain.

Our laws were formalised by the Slaughter of Animals Act 1933, where the exemptions for religious slaughter were maintained. They have evolved from that through various stages, but the current position has not changed much since 1995. The principal plank of our national requirements on religious slaughter mainly revolve around standstill times. In the case of non-stunned slaughter, sheep cannot be moved until they have lost consciousness or, in any event, for at least 20 seconds. Cattle cannot be moved for at least 30 seconds, or until the animal has lost consciousness. There is a different requirement for chickens, which cannot be moved to the next stage of production until 30 seconds have elapsed or the bird has become unconscious. The purpose of those standstill times is to prevent stress on the animal.

It is worth recognising how animals die in a non-stun slaughter situation. For sheep, most of the evidence suggests—I have discussed this with officials—that they typically lose consciousness in somewhere between 10 and 15 seconds. It takes slightly longer for chickens, which lose consciousness in between 15 and 18 seconds.

The greatest concern, however, is always the impact on bovine animals—cattle—although they are small in number, because their physiology is complicated by the fact that they have a third artery that goes to the back of the head that continues to supply blood even after the cut has taken place. I apologise to hon. Members for going into the gruesome details, but if we allow such things to happen in our name, it is important to explain exactly what they are. For cattle, it typically takes 40 to 45 seconds for the animal to collapse—not to become unconscious, but to fall off its legs due to the lack of blood supply—and between one minute 20 seconds and two minutes for the animal to lose consciousness. A former Farming Minister, Jim Paice, once described a situation that he had seen when visiting a religious slaughter abattoir where it took six minutes for a bovine animal to bleed to death, which he said was a truly horrific event to watch.

I often hear from representatives of organisations such as Shechita UK that the cut is so precise and clean that it all happens very quickly, but there is not really any evidence to support that. In fact, in the shechita slaughter process, if the blood starts to clot in the throat cut, it is permitted for the slaughterman to push his hand into the wound and disturb the clotted blood to resume the flow. Those are difficult situations. For bovine animals in particular, it is a major cause for concern.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con)

I thank my hon. Friend for securing the debate and for his point about it being a moral issue. We rear animals as farmers and we want them to be stunned when they are killed. It is us men who decide how they are killed, not the animal. ​New Zealand has brought in stunning for all the Halal it does across the world, and it exports a lot to the middle east. When we leave the European Union, we will have the opportunity to have a similar system.

With shechita, I wonder whether we could not at least have post-stunning of bovine animals. What my hon. Friend has described is horrendous and we need to do more to relieve the suffering of those animals.

George Eustice

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I will come to how other countries address this challenge.

All sorts of difficulties arise through our current rules on halal and shechita or kosher meat production. There are a wide range of definitions of halal. As hon. Members have pointed out, some statistics suggest that 70% to 80% of all animals slaughtered under halal are stunned. The key requirement for halal is that animals receive an Islamic blessing and that any stun should be recoverable, so that in theory they could regain consciousness. It is very hard to define what is halal, because it ranges from simply playing a recording of an Islamic blessing, right through to non-stun slaughter.

In the case of kosher meat, there is a further problem. The hind quarters of an animal are not deemed kosher, even if the animal was slaughtered under kosher methods. That means that the rump of cattle and sheep ends up going into the mainstream market—usually the service trade through Smithfield, where unwitting customers in restaurants in London and other parts of the country buy the meat not knowing it has been slaughtered by kosher methods.

Giles Watling (Clacton) (Con)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the labelling of meat, so that consumers know the exact method of slaughter when they order their food from restaurants or supermarkets, might be a way forward to address overproduction and allow consumers to make an informed choice?

George Eustice

Labelling is indeed one option, which I was going to come to. It does not get us all the way, because we have the service trade, where labelling would be ineffective at helping consumers to understand how their meat was slaughtered.

If we had a free vote in Parliament, what types of issues might we want to consider? Although this is a sensitive issue, it is important to ask whether our current derogation accommodates a religious need, or whether it is more a cultural interpretation of such a need. There is wide variance in what is defined as halal, depending on local imams.

Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con)

I am trying to look at the consistency of what my hon. Friend has said. He has acknowledged that, as far as Jewish koshering laws are concerned, the animal has to be killed in a certain way, and certain parts of the animal are not allowed. He started by saying that he would stop short of banning it altogether—I think those were the words he used. How can he reconcile those two things? If we were to have stunning, it would in effect be a ban.

George Eustice

I was going to come on to that. Even within the kosher community, there is not a universal view on whether post-cut stunning should be permitted.​

A couple of years ago, I visited Kuwait and talked to a meat importer about the issue of halal production. He explained to me that the main requirement in Muslim countries in the middle east is that there is no pork contamination in the food they eat, which is why all their protocols focus predominantly on not sharing machinery between pork production and lamb, chicken or beef production, to ensure that there is no pork DNA. That is their primary concern, alongside ensuring that there has been an Islamic blessing of the food. When I explained to him that the issue of non-stun slaughter was contentious, he said it is predominantly a western cultural interpretation of the Muslim faith.

Interestingly, non-stun slaughtered meat is not a particular requirement in middle eastern countries. There are exceptions, but generally speaking that is not their primary concern. Indeed, non-stun slaughter is banned in Australia and New Zealand, which are the largest lamb exporters to all countries across the middle east, from Israel right through to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

The other point about kosher meat is that Shechita UK insists that it is most certainly not a religious ritual, and a Hebrew blessing is not given. It is simply the case that the ancient holy books describe a method of slaughter that they believe remains the most humane approach. The principal concern for Shechita is that there should be no injury to an animal before it is presented for slaughter. They regard stunning as an injury to the animal—that is their particular concern—but that is not a universal view. There has been some rabbinical support for the idea of post-cut stunning, and we know that some abattoirs producing kosher meat allow post-cut stunning of bovine animals.

I turn now to some of the options that we could consider. My hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) mentioned labelling, which is a complex area because there is no single definition of halal. The simplest way would be to label meat as un-stunned, because that is a clearly definable legal definition. That causes some concerns for Jewish communities. They argue that if we did do that, we should also list whether an animal has been killed through anaesthetic gas or electrocution, or all manner of other things. Farmwell, which is a leading charity in this area, established a system that all religious groups are willing to buy into: a coded approach of numbers from one to 10, denoting the method of slaughter. However, it does not deal with the problem of food entering the service trade, where unwitting customers would buy it.

There are a number of other things that we could do, including increasing the standstill time on bovine animals. The current limit of 30 seconds was probably due to a drafting error—we know that cattle do not lose consciousness that quickly. We could therefore move the minimum standstill time to at least one minute and 30 seconds or two minutes, to ensure that there is no movement of a bovine animal while it is still conscious. In conjunction, we could require a post-cut stun on all bovine animals, recognising that there is an issue with the physiology of bovines, which leads to a long and protracted death. I do not believe that a post-cut stun would violate the religious beliefs of either the Halal Food Authority or Shechita UK.

As an alternative, we could simply ban the non-stunned slaughter of bovine animals, recognising that there are issues with that. We could introduce a maximum standstill ​time, which is the approach taken in countries such as the Netherlands and France, where there is a requirement to use a bolt gun if a period of, say, 40 seconds has elapsed after a cut has taken place and the animal has still not lost consciousness.

We could introduce more formal quotas for abattoirs, which is an interesting idea. It is already the law that only food destined for Muslims and Jews is permitted to be slaughtered under our current religious derogation, but we know that there is a real problem with the mainstreaming of religious slaughter. We know that that provision, as drafted in our law, is unenforceable.

When I discussed that with departmental lawyers, their response was that if somebody maintains that they thought that the animal was destined for a religious community when they committed the slaughter, that is sufficient to satisfy the requirement, so it is entirely unenforceable. In Germany they have a much more sophisticated quota system. They make an assessment of the need of orthodox religious communities, and abattoirs must apply for a licence and demonstrate that they have an actual market for the food they are producing.

Sir Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con)

If I am fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr Rosindell, I will come back to the basic principle. On this specific point, Germany can do it, so why can we not do it? It is not good enough for departmental lawyers to say, “Oh, it’s all far too difficult,” which is effectively what my hon. Friend has said. There is a way through this. We know the market is oversupplied. It should be limited, should it not?

George Eustice

I agree that adopting a German-style model, whereby we put in place the measures and mechanisms necessary to enforce something that has been a facet of our law since at least 1933, makes a lot of sense, and is probably the easiest option for the Government, given the alarm that there has been about the growth of religious slaughter.

We could increase the period of standstill time before chickens move on to the next process. There is a very real concern at the moment that there is typically a moving shackle line for chickens, whose throats are cut randomly by people as they go past, but what happens if they miss a chicken? What happens if the chicken is not stunned through a water bath and they fail to cut its throat? The answer is that it probably proceeds to the next stage of production, which if I am not mistaken is a scolding tank to remove the feathers. It could enter that while fully conscious, which is horrific. We should be doing more to check that those birds genuinely lose consciousness before they move on to the next stage. It should not just be a moving shackle line.

Giles Watling

It is known that in many cases stunning fails during the process. Should we not clean up our act on stunning, as well as taking on the issue of labelling? I hate to drag my hon. Friend back to that issue, but why can we not put labelling on menus too?

George Eustice

So-called mis-stunning is also an issue. I am not pretending that religious slaughter is the only welfare issue. Another area of concern, about which I commissioned some work when I was Minister, is the make-up of the gas mixture used in the slaughter of pigs, which was also problematic. Clearly, because it relates to pigs, it has no religious dimension whatever. There are other issues, and mis-stunning is one of them. ​The point about mis-stunning is that even if they get it wrong, they are there immediately afterwards with a second stun, which can resolve the issue.

I will conclude at that point, because we have only half an hour and the Minister will want to come back on some of these points. I seek to liberate him, the Government and all his successors from having to wrestle with this difficult issue. Instead, they should make it a free-vote issue and give it back to Parliament to decide.

George Eustice – 2019 Speech on Hares Preservation

Below is the text of the speech made by George Eustice, the Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth, in the House of Commons on 14 May 2019.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit the killing or taking of hares during the breeding season; to repeal the Hares Preservation Act 1892; and for connected purposes.

One of the things that we all need to learn when we are first elected to the House is that it can be surprisingly difficult to get things done. A Minister who remains in one place for long enough will, slowly but surely, get important issues over the line, but not everything. For me, following my time in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, modernising our rules relating to hare preservation and, in particular, a close season on the shooting of hares remains unfinished business.

Hares are an iconic and much-loved species, famed for their boxing behaviour in March. However, their population has fallen to an estimated 800,000, from what was thought to be about 4 million in the mid to late 19th century. Our hare population is under increasing pressure from disease—including the rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus, which was identified in hares in January this year—and also from illegal hare coursing.

Let me take this opportunity to commend the work that the police are doing to tackle the illegal gangs who are responsible for hare coursing. Yesterday, I spoke to Phil Vickers, the national lead on these issues. We are now seeing far more police co-operation and co-ordination nationally. Police forces in Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, Humberside and North Yorkshire are working together and sharing intelligence. The police estimate that about 150 hardened individuals are responsible for the majority of these illegal hare coursing events. Last year, the police prosecuted 47 individuals in Lincolnshire alone, so progress is being made. The police would welcome some changes in the law, such as a provision to make it easier for them to seize dogs and recover the cost of kennelling them, but that will be a matter for a different piece of legislation on a different day. My Bill addresses the shooting of hares.

The Government estimate that about 300,000 hares are shot each year, mostly during February and March. That figure sounds quite high, so when I first heard it, I felt some scepticism, and I took the liberty of talking to a gamekeeper on the Babworth estate, Jonathan Davis, about how it was possible for it to have become so high.

The figures are broadly as follows. There are 3,900 registered shooting estates in the UK. It is estimated that about 80% of them do not shoot hares, mainly because those in the shooting community increasingly recognise the plight of our hares and want to play their part in protecting them. However, around 20% of shooting estates—that is 780—still run organised hare shoots. They typically run across three days and the average take per day is 100 hares. If we add to that some of the more informal hare shoots that take place on farms, especially in Lincolnshire and East Yorkshire, we quickly realise that an assessment of 300,000 hares killed per year is indeed realistic, and if we set that against the estimated population of just 800,000 hares nationally, we see that that is of great concern.​

A key tenet of all game and wildlife conservation is that we should protect species during their breeding season. That is why we have statutory close seasons on everything from ducks and pheasants through to deer, woodcock and geese. There are also animal welfare issues in targeting species during their breeding season. A baby hare—a leveret—will be dependent on its mother for typically four weeks after it is born, and if its mother is killed, the leveret will perish, which is a welfare concern.

As long ago as 1892, our Victorian forebears recognised the need to protect hares during their breeding season. The Hares Preservation Act 1892 introduced what was called a close time during the breeding season and it delivered this close time in those days through implementing a ban on the sale of hares or hare meat during the months of March to July inclusive. This 127-year-old law remains in force today, but it predates the advent of refrigeration and freezer technology, and it was also introduced in an era when hares were hunted predominantly for food, not shot, as now, for sport. As a result, the 1892 Act is hopelessly out of date; it is no longer effective. It is, indeed, no longer even enforced. It also leaves in place a peculiar anomaly and legal uncertainty in some areas that a game pie sold from the freezer by a pub cannot be sold during the months of March to July inclusive even though the hare may have been killed during the winter months.

My Bill would replace the 1892 Act with its ban on sale with a modern-day close season prohibiting the killing or taking of hares during the breeding season. Northern Ireland and Scotland already have such legislation in place; indeed, virtually every other European country that has a brown hare population protects its hares. We in England and Wales are unique so far in failing to do so, and this is an oversight that must be addressed.

In Scotland, the close season runs from the beginning of February, and I am open to discussion about precisely when the close season should be for England and Wales. My starting point is that at the very least it must replicate the provisions of the 1892 Act and cover the months from the beginning of March to the end of July, but there is a very strong case to have protection at least from the beginning of February, possibly even earlier, since we know that hares are capable of breeding during February, and in practice the shooting estates that still run hare shoots do not really shoot hares during the winter months because they are targeting game birds, and there are also safety concerns in shooting hares in a shoot if they are targeting, for instance, pheasants. What they actually do, when the close season for game birds begins at the end of January or beginning of February, is have another month or two when they run hare shoots; that gives them a commercial income during February and March.

I should add that I am also open to making provision to license culling in certain circumstances to prevent severe damage to crops, or to have some kind of limited farmers’ defence as provided in other legislation such as the Deer Acts.

Occasionally, this House passes small but important legislation, which can get forgotten or even neglected over time. Despite multiple better regulation initiatives by Governments of all colours over the decades, Ministers and Whitehall have collectively repeatedly decided that now is not the time to take action. This House has chosen ​not to repeal this hare legislation because it recognises that its intent and purposes are as valid, or more valid, today than ever before, yet this House and successive Governments have failed to take the action necessary to make this legislation effective in a modern era.

I want to persuade the House that now, finally, is the time to put this right and introduce a modern close season to safeguard our hares, because in January this year the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs identified the rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus 2, which has devastated our rabbit population, in hares for the first time, and estates right across East Anglia are reporting a worrying concern. With the instant die-off of hares and many hare carcasses being found, it is clear that the RHDV2 is having a devastating effect.

As our hare population—what is left of it—faces this threat, it is essential that we act now to reduce the mortality of our hare population and to afford our hares the protection they deserve.

George Eustice – 2019 Speech on Brexit

Below is the text of the speech made by George Eustice, the Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth, in the House of Commons on 1 April 2019.

For some time, I favoured a simpler and swifter Brexit, based on our leaving the European Union but rejoining the European Free Trade Association, and in so doing, making our existing rights and obligations as a signatory to the treaty establishing the European economic area operable. It would mean that we would have no customs union and an independent trade policy. We would be outside the common fisheries policy and the common agricultural policy, but we would accept regulatory alignment to reduce border friction. My motion was not selected, but this evening, I will support motion (D) in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles)—the so-called common market 2.0 option—for reasons that I will come on to.

There were two ways to address the issue of Brexit. One was to self-confidently resolve from the beginning that we would leave as a third country and prepare on that basis, and be willing to leave without an agreement if necessary. I would have supported the Prime Minister in that, had she seen that through. However, if the Cabinet always believed that we could not leave without ​a deal, it had to recognise that that would require significant compromise with the EU, which in turn would require the development of a cross-party consensus in this House. Now that the Prime Minister and her Cabinet have signalled that they are unwilling to leave under a no-deal scenario, we must try to secure a consensus.

Last Friday, the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement was defeated for a third time, but the vast majority of Government Members voted for the withdrawal agreement, albeit unenthusiastically in many cases. My contention this evening is that hon. Members who were willing to take a second look at the withdrawal agreement should also take a second look at common market 2.0. Certainly, it envisages a temporary customs union, but so does the withdrawal agreement, first through the implementation period, then through a probable extension to the implementation period, and finally through the backstop. It also envisages some regulatory alignment through membership of EFTA and the EEA, but that would be dealt with expeditiously under the motion. Under the withdrawal agreement, the UK is already committed to aligning its regulations in relevant areas. The extent to which we have border checks would depend on any divergence from that.

I believe that this option provides a way to compromise and a way forward for the House. It is far preferable to motion (C), the proposal for a customs union, which, as hon. Members have pointed out, does not make sense for an independent country such as this. It means that we would have our commercial interests traded away in the interests of other countries, and it would not solve the border issues.

George Eustice – 2018 Statement on Agriculture and Fisheries Council

Below is the text of the statement made by George Eustice, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in the House of Commons on 26 April 2018.

The Agriculture and Fisheries Council took place in Luxembourg on 16 April. Counsellor Rory O’Donnell represented the UK.

The most substantive agricultural item was a presentation by the European Commission setting out a proposal for a directive on “unfair trading practices in business-to-business relationships in the food supply chain”. The Commission’s presentation highlighted the UK’s Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA) as an example of best practice in this field. The UK outlined its agreement with member state action to tackle unfair trading practices, but stressed the need for any proposed EU-wide legislation to protect well-functioning existing national systems.

The Bulgarian presidency also provided the Council with an update on food losses and food waste, following the adoption of Council conclusions on tackling food waste in June 2016. The Council reaffirmed its commitment to meeting UN sustainable development goal 12.3 on food waste.

For fisheries, the focus of this Council was a presentation by the European Commission outlining a proposed multi-annual plan for fish stocks in western waters. The UK welcomed the proposal’s alignment of the western waters plan with the approach taken in the North sea plan, while reminding Council of the need to find solutions for by-catch stocks in the context of meeting the landing obligation.

Four further items were discussed under “any other business”:

the Spanish delegation requested clarification on interpreting the landing obligation in article 15 of the common fisheries policy

the presidency informed the Council of the outcomes of the TAIEX workshop on the role of wildlife in animal health management

the Polish and Danish delegations presented information on African swine fever

the European Commission informed Council about a proposed regulation on the transparency and sustainability of the EU risk assessment in the food chain.

George Eustice – 2014 Speech on British Farming

Below is the text of the speech made by George Eustice on 25th February 2014.

Introduction

It is a pleasure to be with you today at my first NFU Conference, but I would like to begin by giving Owen Paterson’s apologies. As many of you will know, he recently had an eye operation. Owen is not one who likes to rest – as I’ve discovered – so he has been itching to get back behind the wheel, but he has taken medical advice to make sure he allows for a full recovery, so that when he does return we will once again have him firing on all cylinders.

I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the great work that Peter Kendall has done over the past eight years at the helm of the NFU. I have joked before that Peter has almost seen as many farming ministers during his tenure as the Queen has seen Prime Ministers with, I think, no less than six of us over the last eight years.

But he took over at a difficult time for the industry when the horrors of the 2001 Foot and Mouth crisis were still very much fresh in everyone’s mind but I think he leaves the NFU at a time when the farming industry has far more confidence in its future and in its ability to meet future challenges. This transformation is in no small part due to the determination of Peter and his team. He has tirelessly made the case for British agriculture and put farming back at the heart of our countryside and rural communities, so Peter: thank you for what you’ve done and good luck in what comes next.

My message today is that the industry should have confidence in its future. Firstly, as Peter pointed out, there is growing consumer interest in food provenance. People want to know where their food comes from and how it was produced, and they are increasingly looking for locally sourced products.

Secondly, we have a rising world population set to top 9 billion coupled with increased demand for more westernised foods such as dairy products and meats.

As a result, demand for food is forecast to rise by 60 percent by 2050 and that means we need a vibrant and profitable farming industry in the UK to meet this rising demand and to supply these new markets.

Flooding

But before returning to these themes, I want to start by addressing the issue of flooding and the action this government is taking to get people’s lives back on track.

We have suffered the wettest winter for 250 years and the impact has led to thousands of properties being flooded and many families’ lives being turned upside down.

As the Prime Minister has said, we understand the hardship and disruption this causes families and businesses and we will do everything in our power to help the recovery operation now underway.

It was recently put to me in an interview with the BBC that the government was only announcing the actions it has taken to be popular. Believe you me, the one thing I have learnt over the past six weeks is that there is nothing popular about handling a floods crisis but the government has pulled out all the stops to meet this crisis head on.

Environment Agency staff have been out 24 hours a day making sure that flood protection assets have been working correctly. While it is of little comfort to those whose homes have flooded, it should be noted that the flood defence infrastructure we have in place has protected over one million homes that would otherwise have been affected.

We have also set up a crisis fund of £130m to help repair damaged flood defences. We have relaxed the Bellweather rules around government support to local authorities to ensure that they have the support they need.

We have given leeway to businesses affected so that they can delay paying Business Rates and we have instructed agencies from HMRC and the Rural Payments Agency to make allowances for these businesses affected by floods.

As the problem escalated, we put thousands of troops on standby to help protect communities, and the emergency services have worked around the clock.

There is nothing like a crisis to draw the farming community together. Perhaps it’s because we are used to it!

But countless farmers have been out there helping their local communities and their fellow farmers by offering straw or shelter and fodder to help those farmers affected get through the crisis.

Take, for example, the fantastic emergency response organised by the local NFU, and supported by farming charities, at the Sedgemoor Auction Centre to provide emergency fodder to those farms affected with many other farmers offering help.

In order to continue to support the recovery in the medium term, I can announce that Somerset County Council has agreed to work with the NFU to provide a continued storage site for feed and fodder. The site will be managed by two co-ordinators bolstered by a group of voluntary organisations and local businesses in order to make sure that farmers are able to get their businesses back up and running as quickly as possible.

The government will play its part too.

Today, I can announce further details of the £10m Farming Recovery Fund.

It will assist with 4 key areas of recovery offering support with uninsured losses to help get farms back into production again.

Firstly, it will help with the restoration of grassland. Secondly, it will support restoring productive arable and horticultural land, where soil structure has been damaged. Thirdly, restoring field access for vehicles and finally, improving field drainage.

To provide fast support for those farms that have been flooded, there will be an immediate response fund with grants for up to £5000 and which will cover up to 100 per cent of the eligible costs. This will be open for applications later this week.

There will then be a second part of the fund which will be held back initially so that funds are still available to help those farms which continue to be affected but where it is too soon to be able to assess the full extent of the damage.

Once we have a better picture of the scale of the damage we will reassess the upper limit for grants and we will keep the scheme under constant review so that it remains flexible and is targeted at those in greatest need.

We’ve also made changes to the Farming and Forestry Improvement Scheme to better help farms in flooded areas to build resilience and protect farm productivity in the future.

And from 1st April, rural homes and businesses affected by the floods will also have access to one-off grants of up to £5000, to help make them more resilient and better-protected from future flooding events.

Longer term, as Peter mentioned, we need to learn lessons. The Environment Agency has had river maintenance pilots underway since October.

These aim to allow farmers and landowners to de-silt their own watercourses without unnecessary red tape.

And we plan to have a new streamlined consenting mechanism in place by 2015.

In Somerset, the Environment Agency has overseen one of the biggest pumping operations the country has ever seen in recent weeks.

And we have committed to dredging the Levels as soon as it’s safe and practical to do so. We are working with local partners on a long term plan to reduce flood risk and improve resilience.

Finally, although there has been much predictable political debate about spending on flooding, the simple truth is that spending on flood defences is a major priority for this department. This government has continued to increase investment despite the challenges facing the public finances.

In the last four years we have spent over £2.4 billion on flood defence infrastructure compared to £2.2 billion in the final four years of the last parliament. In the years ahead we plan to invest record amounts.

In 2012 we increased spending by £120 million, and we insulated the Environment Agency from departmental cuts last year. We agreed an unprecedented 6-year capital settlement from 2015/16 to 2020/21 of £2.3 billion on flood defence.

The Rural Economy

But at Defra, as well as responding to emergencies, we also need to focus on creating the right environment for businesses to grow, and that requires a long-term economic plan. The rural economy is worth £211 billion a year. Rural areas are home to one fifth of the English population, yet they support nearly a third of England’s businesses. That’s around half a million businesses. Small and medium enterprises employ around 70 per cent of employees in rural areas and they are the lifeblood of the rural economy, and the engines of local growth. We need to get the conditions right for all these businesses to thrive. That means cutting the deficit, cutting fuel taxes, creating more jobs and improving skills wile sorting out the welfare system. This long-term economic plan builds a stronger, more competitive, economy and secures a better future for Britain by helping spread growth and prosperity all over our country.

For years, the rural economy and farms were ignored but today, the Government is doing everything it can to support them. And that means more jobs, more opportunities and more financial security for hard working people.

Economy and regulation

I said at the beginning of my speech that there were reasons to be optimistic about the future prospects of farming in Britain. But we will only realise that potential if we stick to this long term plan for growth. And today I want to talk about two key areas: cutting regulation and promoting innovation.

First on regulation. As many of you will know, I spent ten years working in the farming industry. And even 20 years ago, the burdens of regulation were high. It is partly because of my own experience in the industry that I want to bear down on the burden of regulation today.

This government has done a lot already.

At the beginning of this year Owen Paterson announced major changes to the livestock movement rules that we plan to implement in 2015. This will make it easier for farmers to manage movements from their holdings to grazing land.

We’ve just published the conclusion to the Red Tape Challenge on Agriculture.

In total we will scrap 156 regulations and simplify 134 more. And we’re going to slash guidance. Reducing by at least 80% the amount of guidance that farmers have to follow and saving them around £100 million a year.

We’ve also made progress on earned recognition which was one of the key recommendations of the Macdonald Review. 14 out of 31 on-farm inspection regimes now allow businesses to earn recognition, leading to reduced regulation.

Earned recognition in the Environment Agency Pigs and Poultry scheme saves farmers £880 a year. And on animal feed it could reduce the total number of on-farm inspections by 10,000 a year.

But while much has been done, there is more to do. We want to drive down the burden of farm inspections further.

We’re introducing new measures to enable agencies to target their inspections more effectively towards those businesses that pose the highest risk. And we are going to review the existing cross compliance regime to ensure that any sanctions are fair. We are pushing hard at an EU level for sanctions and penalties to be more proportionate.

So we will not let red tape hold your businesses back.

The farming and food sectors have a key role to play in this Government’s Long-term Economic Plan. They’re the drivers of local growth, and the foundation of economic security.

Innovation

But I want to talk about innovation. If we want a competitive and successful farming sector then, as well as reducing burdens on business we must also promote innovation.

After major advances in farming productivity in the immediate post war period, improvements in productivity have stalled in recent years. The UK has always had an excellent reputation for science and technology. We need to build on this to capitalise on the very real opportunities that exist for growth.

In July, we launched the first ever Agri-Tech Strategy in the UK committing £160m to translating our excellent science into industry-led, practical applications. £60 million will go on promoting the commercialisation of knowledge and £90m will go to developing world class centres of excellence in research. There has been a huge amount of interest already.

As well as innovation we need new entrants to the sector. All industries need new talent to move forward and farming is no exception. I want to move away from the position where only those who inherit a farm can own their own businesses. We need other models from profit sharing to contract farming to ensure that the bright young talent in agricultural colleges today can fulfil their aspirations. And as Peter mentioned, we need to promote the status of farming as a career in our schools.

Protecting plant and animal health

I want to say a few words on protecting plant and animal health, because safeguarding the health of plants and animals is not only vital to our environment but also to our farming industry and the wider economy, so where there are problems, we have acted.

One of the biggest threats to animal health and our livestock industry in the UK today is bovine TB. For anyone who thinks this disease is a problem for just a few farmers in remote parts of England they should just look at the facts.

Between January and November 2013, over 30,000 cattle were slaughtered, an average of over 90 cattle a day. The continued spread of this disease poses a growing threat to farmers in parts of the UK that have largely managed to avoid it until now.

We all know that BTb is a difficult disease to fight.

There is no single measure that will, on its own, solve the problem.

Instead we need to pursue a range of options which together can make a difference and turn the tide on the disease. It is why we are researching the potential for vaccines and it is why we continue to take further steps to improve cattle movement controls to limit the spread of the disease. But let’s be clear: there is no example anywhere in the world of a country that has successfully tackled TB without also dealing with the reservoir of the disease in the wildlife population.

While the badger cull policy is contentious, we believe that it is a vital element of any coherent TB eradication strategy.

Last year farmers in Gloucestershire and Somerset, the NFU, Defra and many others collectively took a very difficult but also very significant step forward in farmer-led efforts to tackle the disease reservoir in the badger population.

I pay tribute to the work of all those involved in the pilot culls often in the face of intimidation and harassment.

We have learnt many things from our experiences last summer, so it’s important that we give due consideration to the Independent Expert Panel’s report before making a decision on culling in new areas.

But without prejudging this decision, Natural England has encouraged anyone interested in a badger control licence to start planning ahead and make an expression of interest.

Exports

So, cutting red tape, encouraging innovation and safeguarding plant and animal health all set the right environment for farm businesses to grow. And I want to conclude by talking about some of the opportunities.

Yesterday I was in Dubai for the Gulfood exhibition, where over 100 British companies were present promoting British food and food catering equipment manufacturers.

Our exports to Dubai increased by 14 percent last year and there is growing demand for British dairy products and British lamb.

Owen Paterson has prioritised opening new markets since being appointed. In the last year alone we have opened up 112 markets for animals and animal products, contributing to an increase of nearly £180 million in these products to non-EU markets. The latest provisional figures show that British food and drink exports have grown to nearly £19 billion in 2013 and there is room to grow even further.

In just the last year:

– we signed a deal on pork with the Chinese that has contributed to £9 million of growth in the pork market, in addition to £12 million of growth in hides and skins;

– we secured a deal on beef and lamb to Russia worth up to £100 million over the next three years;

– we agreed a deal on porcine genetic material with China, which alongside live pig exports is worth up to £45 million over five years; and

– in October we re-launched the joint government and industry Export Action Plan, which commits us to deliver £500 million of value to the UK economy by supporting 1,000 companies with their international growth by October 2015.

The world’s population is growing. Tastes are changing and we want British Agriculture to be at the forefront of supplying these new markets.

Concluding remarks

So I want you to know that this Government backs the business of British farming. You are at the heart of our long-term economic plan.

We are working with the sector to increase resilience. And We are creating the right environment for businesses to grow and flourish. We are cutting red tape and farm inspections. We are encouraging all forms of innovation in agriculture. We are making significant progress in safeguarding our plant and animal health. Together, we are growing the rural economy.

We cannot do this without you. We need to work to ensure that the changes we make are the right ones and are implemented in the right way.

I look forward to working with you and your new President closely, making the sector ever more resilient, ever more successful.