Monday, June 22, 2015

Questions to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Last Thursday ( 18th June ) I watched the televised proceedings involving questions being put to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (  Liz Truss ) and her team ( George Eustace and Rory Stewart ). The Labour Shadow Team in place were Barry Gardiner, Caroline Flint and Angela Smith.

Having watched on previous occasions I was encouraged by the number of MP's in attendance which certainly exceeded totals on many previous times within the Coalition Government's term of office. As ever there was a wide ranging series of questions covering air pollution , flood defence, Broadband services in rural areas , farm subsidies and so on.  Given Liz Truss's previous promotion of international food fairs , cheese, farmers' markets and the like one could have been forgiven for thinking the Department was moving towards being a resurrected Ministry of Agriculture!  Whilst such support has clearly not gone away there was a much more balanced approach in evidence out of which came a couple or more useful snippets as to subject areas we might hear more about.

Asked whether she favoured the position of her predecessor, Owen Paterson, an out and out denier of matters relating to climate change, or the views of the Pope, she emphatically endorsed the latter. I was impressed by such an unequivocal declaration , but what it will mean in practice is anybody's guess. It suggests we're moving in a positive direction at last!

As far as the Hunting Act is concerned she outlined her support for a free vote taking place in Government time on whether or not it ought to be repealed. Interesting times ahead.  Whilst the confirmation isn't new or unexpected she confirmed that a pilot vaccination programme will occur in areas affected by TB and that further culls would be carried out of Badgers in the future.

Two questions arose relating to bees and neocotinid usage. As usual there was much referral to a National Pollination Strategy, bee habitats, the evidence relating to pesticide use being incomplete but that restrictions on usage were not yet lifted and so on. As ever the promise of reviews, "further consideration " and the like emerged. There was nothing that was unequivocal, set out in black and white and easily followed as far as I could see. More worryingly was some mention of two applications made via the National Farmers Union that were held to be confidential and commercially sensitive  ( and so we learned nothing about them!! ). The HSE are involved and one suspects there is request for limited use of some pesticides or another.  As an example of the sort of thing that does go on the House learned that some commercial operators using polytunnels to grow crops purchase hives of bees and then destroy them at the end of the season.  Clearly there's much to keep abreast of on this subject still!!   And it's all done in your best interests, folks. Really!
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